6.11 pm

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Like the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), I want to talk about some of the issues that affect people in my constituency. I feel a little out of place in this debate: so many Members from rural constituencies have talked about either the rural idyll or the rural hell that I feel, as I represent an urban constituency, that I should perhaps not venture into the discussion. However, fuel prices do of course affect urban as well as rural areas.

I wish to develop points about issues such as community transport, which is essential for a lot of elderly people to be able get to activities such as lunch clubs, and to get out of their own homes instead of being housebound. The local organisation in my area is struggling because of the reductions in grants, which are a result of local government cuts. Its core funding, which allows it to be run and administered, has been cut, and at the same time fuel prices are increasing. If it increased its charges to the organisations that use it, that would just bounce the problem on to another set of voluntary organisations—the ones that provide lunch clubs and other activities.

Mr McCann: Does my hon. Friend accept that as well as the austerity cuts in the United Kingdom Parliament, with the Government going too far, too fast, which is having a disproportionate effect, the Scottish National party Administration in Scotland are making unsustainable spending decisions? They are placing the burden on local government, which in turn has to make tough decisions about local spending.

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Sheila Gilmore: We have had the experience of four years of a council tax freeze, which people no doubt think is a wonderful thing on one level, but which is presenting huge problems to voluntary organisations.

The other organisation that I wish to mention briefly is a social enterprise—a laundry service—operating in my constituency. It not only provides a valuable service but tries to be commercial and turn a profit so that it can reinvest. It employs many people with learning difficulties, for example, and provides them with valuable training. However, that laundry service goes round collecting sheets and towels and so on from hotels and other large organisations, which involves transporting them to and from the people contracting with it. That organisation, which will certainly not benefit from being able to reclaim VAT, for example, is struggling in this financial climate, yet it is an important organisation, because it provides not just a useful service but valuable employment opportunities for people who otherwise might not be able to get them. We cannot contemplate it ending.

Mr David Hamilton: I agree with my hon. Friend. Many people employed in the voluntary sector work across the city, but they do not have access to buses to enable them to do so, and therefore require vehicles. This issue has a direct effect on those workers, many of whom are part timers, and raises costs for them.

Sheila Gilmore: I wholly agree.

One of the fascinating things about this debate—I mentioned this in an intervention—is the rediscovery, it would appear throughout the House, of the fact that taxes on expenditure are indeed regressive. I would ask that this rediscovery be carried into the further debates that we will no doubt have on VAT, in the autumn statement and into the next Budget. We made the point over and over that the increase in VAT would particularly harm those on lower incomes. Some Government Members try to argue that it did not really do that, because richer people spend more and therefore pay more VAT. However, as a proportion of income and in terms of the effect on family income, it is indeed those who earn least who are affected. I am therefore pleased to see that we all apparently now agree on the regressive nature of such taxes.

Finally, we should not see this debate and our environmental ambitions as an “either/or”. We should not appear to be saying that we no longer want to make our country a greener place. We need to invest in green manufacturing industries, which will enable us to get out of this position. It is interesting that the motion refers to the tax take going down, which many people have simply put down to increased fuel costs. However, many other things could have reduced the tax take, such as fewer people working, fewer people paying tax and fewer people travelling, not just because of cost but because they do not have jobs to go to.

Again, this comes down to what we have said about the economy. If we let it run down and down, both demand and income to the Treasury will be reduced, and we will not cure the deficit, as is becoming increasingly obvious, as this Government are having to borrow more.

6.18 pm

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on his tireless campaigning to secure this debate. I think

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it was back in February that I last spoke in a debate on fuel prices. Indeed, it should be a tradition that we debate fuel prices two or three weeks before every Budget or the autumn statement. The last debate was a great success, because shortly afterwards the Government scrapped the 5p rise and introduced a 1p cut. We hope that our new Minister will follow that trend and that the next 3p rise will be scrapped, with perhaps even a small cut made to encourage people.

The price of fuel is one of the topics we debate where so many of our constituents feel the pain personally, either as individuals or in the businesses they run.

Mr McCann: It is nice of the hon. Gentleman to give way, because he will remember that I followed him when he made his maiden speech in the House. Does he think that his constituents are feeling the pinch of the increase in fuel prices attributed to the VAT increase that his Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition introduced?

Nigel Mills: I am tempted to say that I will give way again to the hon. Gentleman if he will tell us whether he voted against the VAT rise. We have heard a great deal of concern expressed today about the VAT rise, but it is surprising that those feelings are so strong, given that most Members did not vote against it. We have often said that we had to introduce that increase in part to fix the mess that Labour left for us. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take away that £12 billion or £13 billion of tax revenue, he will have to find a way of replacing it. I shall return to the question of fuel prices before I run out of time.

The point has been well made that this issue is all-pervasive, in that fuel costs affect everything that we buy. Today the headlines are telling us that inflation has fallen to 5%. Who on earth would have thought that we would be reading such headlines? The last thing that the Government want to do is put up fuel prices, which would affect everything that we buy, thereby pushing up inflation again.

Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation is particularly difficult for people living in rural areas? One of my constituents who was unemployed has found a job further afield. He is earning £17,000, but he is spending £3,000 of that on petrol.

Nigel Mills: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I have similar situations in parts of my constituency. Petrol prices are much higher there than they are in large cities. I have perhaps had a bit of luck recently in that Asda has opened a branch in the past year, which has pushed some petrol prices down a little—not that I like to pay tribute to supermarkets all that often.

Governments of both parties have spent nearly 20 years putting up petrol prices, and they have justified that in part by saying that it would encourage us to change our behaviour by buying smaller cars and driving less. Well, I think we have all got that message now. I have a smaller car that does many more miles to the gallon, as have most of my constituents, and many of the businesses that I talk to have reformed the way they transport their

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goods in order to reduce the number of lorry loads. The message is already out there, and we do not need any more nudging. We all understand it, and there is little more that we can do. For many people, their journeys are essential, and we risk pricing them off the road and out of economic activity completely.

The price of fuel is high. In fact, the underlying price—excluding the duty—has increased by about 20% over the past two years. There is no need for an inflationary rise in the duty to ensure that the price goes up in line with inflation, because the price has already risen by that amount. I cannot see any justification for a price rise on that basis. The only argument left for a further fuel duty increase is the fact that we need tax revenue, but this would be an especially bad way of generating that revenue, given the damage that it would do to our economy at this difficult time. I therefore urge the Government to scrap the rises that are planned for next year, and to try instead to find a way of reducing the duty in order to stimulate the economic activity that we need.

6.22 pm

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on securing the debate, but I would like to express my disappointment, and the disappointment of the many dozens of people in Chesterfield who have written to me about this matter, that the motion demands so very little of the Government. It calls on them to “consider the effect” of fuel duty increases, to “examine ways of working” with industry, to “take account” of market competitiveness and to “consider the feasibility” of a price stabilisation mechanism. That is hardly a manifesto for change. Is that what 110,000 people wrote to Members of Parliament about? We are asking so very little of the Government today. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”,

and the hon. Gentleman must be very blessed indeed. His request to the Government will greatly disappoint the many people who have written to me.

I recognise entirely that the cost of fuel is just one of many costs that are going through the roof, resulting in many people in our constituencies really struggling at the moment. The cost of energy is a significant one, and the cost of food is going through the roof. Inflation is going up, wages are stagnant and the people in our constituencies are struggling desperately. I welcome the fact that Conservative Back Benchers are finally showing an understanding of the principle of the Government forgoing revenue in order to deliver economic growth, reducing the deficit through the higher tax revenues that result from people having more money in their pockets. It was exactly that principle that persuaded me to vote in favour of shelving the increase, when Conservative Members were not doing so. Having arrived at that point, however, it is bizarre that Conservative Members should think that the issue is purely about fuel, and that all the other reasons why people have no money in their pockets and why consumer confidence is so low are not significant. They focus solely on fuel.

This issue is having a massive impact on businesses. The hon. Member for Harlow started by saying that some businesses do not pay VAT, so they are okay. However, small businesses pay VAT, as do public services,

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charities and ordinary people out there who are paying it the whole time. The significance of this should not be underestimated. Over the past 15 years or so we have seen a reduction in the amount of tax on fuel as a percentage of its cost. The peak period of the highest tax on fuel was back in the mid-90s. Since then, we have seen a reduction. Over the course of the last few years, we have seen a massive increase in the cost of petrol. The tax has been significant, but the big increases recently stem from the profiteering of the fuel companies—


Is that an attempt to intervene? I was not inviting one, but I am happy to oblige.

Andrew Percy: The point I have been trying to make is what the hon. Gentleman might think of his Government’s decision to escalate the escalator and push through 12 rises. It is a bit difficult being patronised by a party that did all that to fuel prices.

Toby Perkins: The escalator was the invention of the previous Conservative Government. The reality is that when the major fuel protests broke out in 2000-01, the amount of their income that people were spending on fuel was far less than it is today. All the revenue is coming in now, and Conservative Members say that the Government were generating too little money in years gone by. They stand before us today with all the benefit of the money that has gone in over the years, yet for all the talk we hear from people such as the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), we have a motion before us that asks the Government to consider whether they can do something. If the massive increase in fuel duty over the years is so awful—I think it has gone up a lot—why do we not have a proposal that is a bit stronger? Why is the motion so feeble? [Interruption.]

We have also heard from Conservative Members—[Interruption.] If they want to intervene, they can do so, but I will not just be barracked. According to Conservative Members, there is a huge amount of support for the 1p reduction, which will save motorists £274 over the Parliament. At the same time, people are spending £300 or £400 extra in VAT, so this does not add up. We need a stronger motion, so that we can really help to put some money back into people’s pockets.

6.28 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on the assiduous campaign he has fought on this issue, which has generated massive interest across the Chamber in response to the great pressure on our constituents. I was pleased to add my name to the motion, as I recognise the impact of fuel prices on individuals, particularly those in rural communities such as the villages around my constituency, many of whom have to rely on their car and spend a substantial proportion of their income on fuel.

In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), I want to concentrate my remarks on the impact on business—and particularly on small businesses—as a generator of growth in our economy, just as I did when we last debated the matter on 16 March. I will deal first with the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker): the price gap in the UK between petrol and diesel, which is up to 8p a litre. The duty is, of course, the

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same; it is the higher cost of production that leads to a higher price. That is the reverse of the situation 10, 15 or 20 years ago. Frankly, as the gap widens, there is a disincentive for business to run more fuel-efficient vehicles powered by diesel. There is no reason for having the same rate of tax on fuel, and having a lower rate for diesel would greatly assist business.

The differential between the price of diesel in the UK in comparison with mainland Europe is also important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) said. That presents a significant advantage to overseas competitors, particularly haulage businesses, many of which are based in my constituency in the middle of England. The Government are losing revenue as UK-based operators fill up their tanks on the continent, and there is evidence that they are specifying vehicles with larger fuel tanks for the purpose. The location and size of those tanks also raise safety issues, especially in view of the horrendous accident on the M5 only a few weeks ago.

In our last debate on this issue, I said that businesses needed certainty and stability in regard to the price of fuel. That is often their most important consideration as they negotiate the prices at which they sell to their customers. I used to run a business that used delivery vehicles to supply goods. We had 10 vans and 10 sales reps. The cost of fuel was a major budget consideration for that small business. Between January 2009 and January 2011, it increased by £1,000 a month before VAT—£12,000 a year. Most of those increased amounts cannot be recouped, because businesses are not able to raise their prices. Loss of profitability and the fear of generating loss have led to massive concern about the price of fuel.

Mr Marcus Jones: I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that the problem is even worse for small businesses that are not registered for VAT and therefore cannot reclaim it.

Mark Pawsey: I also note that, according to research conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses, one in 10 businesses says that if something is not done about fuel prices, it will need to lay off staff. A quarter say that a freeze on wages is attributable to the cost of fuel, 36% say that they will have to reduce investment in new products and services, and 78% say that their overall profitability will be in jeopardy. The situation would, of course, have been worse under Labour, which—as we have heard from Government Members on many occasions—introduced a fuel duty escalator involving seven increases. Had it not been for the action taken by the Government, fuel would now cost 6p more per litre.

I know from my career before I entered the House how important fuel prices are to the business sector. I hope that in his autumn statement the Chancellor will be able to give the necessary support to hard-pressed households and to businesses.

6.32 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Let me begin by thanking the many constituents who have contacted me to express their concern about fuel prices. The debate has covered a wide range of issues. Having listened to all of it, I have concluded that there is a unanimous view throughout the House that higher fuel prices are hitting people hard

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at a time when household budgets are being squeezed as a result of rocketing energy prices and rising food prices. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), whom I congratulate on securing the debate, mums, ordinary families and small businesses are being affected by the level of fuel prices. It is now clear that the Government’s decision to increase VAT to 20% in January, pushing up the price of petrol and the cost of living, was a serious mistake.

Jim Shannon: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that transport is the single biggest item of expenditure for most households, ranking above food, power and housing, at a time when the level of inflation is also increasing? Does he believe that a decrease of 1p, 2p, 3p or more on the forecourts would make a difference?

Nic Dakin: I think that a decrease on the forecourts would be very welcome to ordinary families and businesses.

The Tory tax of choice, VAT, is a regressive spending tax, and I welcome the recognition on the Government Benches that that regressiveness is damaging household incomes. New EU growth figures have been published today. They show that the UK’s economic growth is slower than that of all the other EU countries except Greece, Portugal and Cyprus. It is therefore essential that there is action now. We urgently need action to get the economy going again. That is why organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses are supporting Labour’s five point plan for jobs, including cuts in VAT, tax breaks for small businesses that take on extra workers, and taxes on bankers’ bonuses to create 100,000 jobs for young people.

I want to focus on young people, as these fuel taxes are creating difficulties for them in getting to learn and getting to work.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Does he agree that young people in rural areas, including in my constituency, often have to travel long distances to get to college or apprenticeships, and that they have been particularly hard hit by the abolition of the education maintenance allowance and other measures, which have squeezed their incomes disproportionately at the same time as fuel prices have risen?

Nic Dakin: My hon. Friend very clearly makes a point that I, too, was going to make. We fear that the number of young people who are unemployed will rise to over 1 million this week. If that happens, it will be desperate for the people of this country.

Fuel duties and fuel taxes are a barrier to young people getting to learn and getting to work. That is why, in this Chamber last week, the Youth Parliament identified transport as its major concern.

Finally, I wish to draw attention to the absurd increases in the Humber bridge tolls for local people, including those in my constituency. The tolls have risen from £2.70 to £3 for a single journey. They are therefore the highest tolls in the country. I am pleased that the Economic Secretary is present on the Treasury Bench, and I welcome the interest the Government are taking and the review of the Humber bridge tolls. Whatever

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happens to fuel taxes, I hope we will also look at the Humber bridge tolls, which are a tax on local businesses and local people. We must give them a better deal.

6.37 pm

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): This has been a very important debate. It has also been timely, because VAT on fuel and high fuel prices are just two of the essential costs that are currently squeezing family living standards throughout Britain and strangling business confidence. It is also timely as today’s inflation figures reveal that inflation is still at 5%, which is more than double the Government’s now-forlorn target. This country has higher inflation than any country in the eurozone apart from Estonia.

The debate is timely, too, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) just said, the unemployment figures will be published tomorrow. We all hope that we will not see the dole queue growing on a Tory watch, as it so often has done in the past. Most importantly, it is a timely debate because the Chancellor has a brief window of time in which to change his mind and take action before he appears at the Dispatch Box in 14 days. He has a chance to do something, and the need to do something has been the theme of this debate.

Almost 20 Government Back Benchers representing constituencies across the country—from Wyre Forest, Argyll and Bute, Penrith and The Border, Cleethorpes, Burton, Congleton and High Peak among other places— have spoken in the debate. All of them pleaded with their Government to do something about high fuel prices in this country. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on securing this debate. He put the case most eloquently in an interview he gave on Radio 4 this morning, when he said that what he wanted from his Government were tax cuts for millions of hard-pressed people, not tax cuts for millionaires. We on the Opposition Benches entirely agree with that sentiment. The occupants of the “millionaires’ row” of the Government Front Bench may be less keen, however. [Interruption.] Yes, perhaps present company should be excepted, I confess. Normally, there are a few more millionaires on the front row. Tonight, they are a bit short. Perhaps they would like to come in.

Several hon. Members rose

Owen Smith: I am not going to give way on that point.

What all those Back Benchers have wanted is action. The crucial difference between what they have called for today and what has been called for by Opposition Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Livingston (Graeme Morrice), for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke), and my hon. Friends the Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) and for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) and many others, is that we want something substantive done. For example, we want what we might have seen in the motion had it pursued the line of thought that the e-petition did. We want to see something tangible. What Opposition Members have called for is straightforward.

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We have said, “Cut VAT by 3p on a litre of petrol, reverse the tax increase that the Chancellor put on ordinary working people in the Budget and get the economy moving.”

Mr Reid: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Owen Smith: I will not give way because we do not have much time. [Hon. Members: “Go on.”] I will give way once.

Mr Reid: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that such a policy would require the unanimous consent of the EU Council of Ministers? How long does he think it would take to get that agreement?

Owen Smith: Interestingly, the Government tried to tell us that there was no prospect of our seeking a derogation in respect of VAT on petrol, but they are, in effect, seeking a derogation for their rural subsidy—or their rural special pilot. [Interruption.] We are not opposing it, but we are saying that they could go further than simply seeking a derogation for rural areas; they could cut 3p off VAT right across the country, not just on fuel, but on all things, and get the economy moving. That is what they could do. There is a reason for them to do it, and here they should have listened to the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). She gave a very interesting speech and it was interesting to hear a Conservative Member acknowledge, so many years after Conservatives have protested that it was not true, that VAT is a regressive tax. VAT hits the lowest-paid people the hardest, and VAT on fuel does exactly the same.

It is very instructive today that so many Conservative Members should have signed the motion, albeit this bowdlerised, Whip-friendly motion. It is evidence that Conservative Back Benchers, unlike those on their Front-Bench, are perhaps concerned about the living standards of ordinary people in this country. It is also evidence that they have spotted, at last, that they were sold a pig in a poke by their Chancellor at the Budget last year. What he said when he announced, with such great hubris, that he was putting fuel in the “tank” of the economy was that the Government were going to have a fair fuel stabiliser—this is the fair fuel stabiliser that he had been promising since 2008. Hon. Members may remember that this was a pledge to link the prices of unrefined petrol and refined petrol in order to smooth out volatility. Of course that is not what Conservative Back Benchers got at all. They have not got a mechanism that smoothes out volatility or that connects petrol prices to oil prices. They have not got what they all stood on as a manifesto pledge. This is yet another broken promise from this Government.

Robert Halfon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Owen Smith: I will not give way. What they have got instead is more smoke and mirrors from the Government. They have got what one commentator referred to as the Chancellor taking one policy and giving its name to another one. The casual observer would think that they had fulfilled their manifesto pledge, but in reality, of course, they have not done so.

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Robert Halfon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks; I am glad to hear that he was listening to the “Today” programme. He talked about a vulgarised Whip motion, but that same motion was signed by 13 Labour MPs, including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner).

Owen Smith: I presume that the hon. Gentleman could confirm—I am not going to give way to him once more to give him a chance to do so—that he spoke to the Whips beforehand. I say that because the motion does not reflect what he wanted in his e-petition. What the motion rather coyly says is that the Government should

“consider the feasibility of a price stabilisation mechanism”,

thereby conceding that what the Chancellor said he was delivering is fiction. It is not a stabiliser; it is merely a gimmick, as we have come to expect from this Government. Why should anybody trust the Tories on fuel tax? Similarly, we should not trust them on VAT because they always say that they are not going to put VAT up and when they get in, they do.

At this point, I must give Government Members a bit of a history lesson, because we have heard such rot this afternoon about the Labour Government’s record on fuel tax. Between 1979 and 1997, during the last period of Tory government, the Tories increased fuel duty fivefold—not a five-point plan but a fivefold increase in fuel duty, which went up from 8p to 45p by the time they left office. During the ’90s, when they invented the fuel duty escalator, fuel duty increased from 59% to 75% of the price per litre. That is what we inherited when came to government. It was left to Labour effectively to stabilise prices by freezing successive—[ Laughter. ] Hon. Members may laugh but they really ought to read the facts before they come into the Chamber and speak. Let me quote from the House of Commons note that was prepared for this debate:

“Duty rates were cut or frozen for around six years from early 2000…By autumn 2008 duty was lower…in real terms”

than at any point since 1996.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Chloe Smith): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Owen Smith: In a moment. What is the reality of what the Government did—[Hon. Members: “Stop pointing!”] I think she is worth pointing at. What is the reality of what the Government did in the Budget? It merely takes us back to where we were in 2008. Far from it being a substantive change, this is once again smoke and mirrors from the Government. They say there is nothing they can do but there is a choice—there is always a choice in politics.

Miss Smith: Did the hon. Gentleman vote against the Finance Bill measures? Did he vote for the fuel duty cut that we proposed?

Owen Smith: We have heard that utterly specious remark all the way through. We voted against the entire Budget, which we feel is choking off growth in this country. There is a choice the Government could take—they could choose to act. They should act today and implement a plan—plan A or plan B, we do not mind what it is called. They should just do something.

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6.47 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Chloe Smith): I very much welcome the opportunity to debate this motion and I shall happily correct a few points that the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) has just made. Most importantly, this is a chance to listen to and consider the contributions of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on securing the debate and moving the motion and I apologise to him for missing a few minutes of his speech initially. Let me take this chance also to congratulate the Backbench Business Committee and the 100,000 and more petitioners who have put this issue forward for debate today. Unlike many Opposition Members, I do not disparage the motion. I respect this as an avenue of democracy.

Even though average pump prices have fallen over the summer, there is little doubt that the cost of fuel remains a very difficult issue and a concern to many families and businesses across the country—and, indeed, to young people. The hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) mentioned students and the Youth Parliament. Let me say for the record and for the hon. Members for Pontypridd and for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell), that both my primary and secondary schools were comprehensives. I fully respect the needs of all those across the whole of society.

Elizabeth Truss: Does the Minister agree that many people in rural Norfolk where she grew up will struggle to find an alternative to using their car, and that we need to reflect that in our policies?

Miss Smith: I welcome that point from my hon. Friend and near neighbour. I should like to reassure her constituents, as well as motorists up and down the land, whether they are in rural, suburban or urban areas, that this Government have listened to their concerns and will continue to do so. However, today is not the day to try to change taxes—that is for the Budget. Today is to listen.

From our first Budget last year—indeed, from when we were in Opposition, when we said, as the hon. Member for Pontypridd has pointed out, that we would introduce a fair fuel stabiliser—this coalition Government have listened and acted. In the Budget in March, we announced a £2 billion package to support motorists at a time of record pump prices. However, the Labour party, including the hon. Gentleman, whom I do not believe was there at 4 am when many of the rest of us were, failed to support that package, which was supported by the Federation of Small Businesses on behalf of, for example, van drivers.

Before I come to specific points raised in the motion, I will explain why the Government took the action that they did in the Budget.

Owen Smith: Does the hon. Lady agree that the price stabiliser is not what it was described as being by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister when they were in opposition? It does not link pump prices to oil prices.

Miss Smith: It is the Labour party that wants a price stabiliser, and I shall come to that. Our fair fuel stabiliser aims to do other things, and I shall deal with that in due course.

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Motoring is an essential part of everyday life for many households and businesses, and the cost of fuel affects us all. The Government recognise that the price of petrol is a significant part of day-to-day spending. We know that high oil prices are causing real difficulties with regard to the affordability of motoring. It is important that a responsible Government listen, consider and act.

It was the previous Government who, in the 2009 Budget, introduced a fuel duty escalator. That involved planning for seven fuel duty increases after the 12 that they had already made. None of those planned increases was subject to either oil price or pump price movements. Despite what Labour Members may claim now, and the synthetic anger referred to earlier in the debate, the previous Government had no plans whatever to support motorists. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) said, “We are where we are.” It is regrettable that the previous Government did not act to prevent us from being where we are. From the very beginning of this coalition Government, we have looked at how we could ease the burden on motorists. We acted with a £2 billion plan to ease that burden.

Mr Tom Clarke: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Smith: I am terribly sorry, but I am very short of time. I need to explain how we acted. We acted by cutting fuel duty by 1p per litre from 6pm on Budget day.

Several hon. Members rose

Miss Smith: Time is short; hon. Members will appreciate that I need to press on. We acted by cancelling the previous Government’s fuel duty escalator for the rest of the Parliament. We acted by introducing a fair fuel stabiliser that will better share the burden of high oil prices between motorists and oil companies, and we acted by ensuring that there are no fuel duty increases at all this year.

Fiona O'Donnell: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Smith: No. I am sorry, but there is not time.

I need to explain to the hon. Lady that we deferred the inflation-only increase that was planned for April 2011 to January 2012, and deferred the 2012-13 increase to 1 August 2012.

Owen Smith: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Smith: No, I will not. I need to press on.

There have been calls for the Government not to go ahead with those two duty increases. I can understand that, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor understands that, but let us not forget that those increases remained in the Budget so that we can deal with the record deficit that we inherited. This is a time of international instability, and the difficult decisions that the Government have taken to tackle the deficit have made Britain safer for householders. Our reduction plan has led to low interest rates, which help householders through their mortgages.

Fiona O'Donnell: Will the hon. Lady give way?

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Miss Smith: The hon. Lady will appreciate that I need to leave time for Back Benchers to respond to the debate. In addition to the cut in fuel duty, which hon. Members have, of course, welcomed today, the Budget announced further support that will benefit motorists. Our fuel duty cut came on top of the freeze in vehicle excise duty for hauliers that hon. Members mentioned.

Fiona O'Donnell: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Smith: No.

Fiona O'Donnell rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The Minister has made it absolutely clear that she is not giving way for the duration of her speech.

Miss Smith: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I need to explain that our fuel duty cut was on top of an increase in approved mileage allowance payments; that helps employees and volunteers who use their own cars. I think that, in the light of their speeches this afternoon, my hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), and for High Peak (Andrew Bingham), will welcome that. That is all on top of the increase in the personal allowance, cuts in corporation tax, above-inflation increases in child tax credits, and the triple guarantee for pensioners. That is real help for motorists, businesses and families, as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) said.

Let us not forget that although the Opposition have talked so much today about helping motorists, they could not even bring themselves to offer their support for the fuel duty cut, or the increase in the supplementary charge on oil and gas companies to fund it, in the Finance Bill debates.

Owen Smith: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Smith: No; I am terribly sorry. Today, average pump prices are approximately 6p per litre lower than they would have been if we had continued with the previous Government’s planned escalator, which the Opposition are so keen to airbrush out of history. That means that a typical Ford Focus driver would have been £56 better off in 2011-12, and an average haulier £1,700 in 2011-12. [ Interruption. ] Opposition Members are chuntering and trying to suggest that motorists would be better off under their plans for an escalator and a VAT rate of 17.5%. We know that the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) was planning to increase VAT.

The Opposition cannot say where £12 billion of extra expenditure would come from, and it is simply not true that motorists would at present be better off under the previous Government’s plans. When comparing the changes that we announced in the Budget with the previous Government’s fuel duty and VAT plans, pump prices are approximately 3p a litre lower. By the end of the Parliament, average pump prices will be 3.5p a litre lower. Cutting fuel duty and scrapping their escalator will more than offset the impact of the increase in VAT.

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I shall quickly address the issue of whether oil price falls this summer have been passed on at the pump, which is a matter of concern to hon. Members who have participated in the debate and to many of our constituents. For motorists to realise the benefits, as we all wish them to do, retailers need to pass those on at the forecourt. Individual pricing decisions are for retailers—we have heard about competition from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) and others—and the Office for Fair Trading is not aware of any evidence that would allow it to launch an investigation.

The Chancellor has made it clear that although the Government can control the duty rate it cannot control the world oil price. After such a good debate, I hope that I speak for Members from all parts of the House in saying that we all want motorists to benefit as much as possible from falls in oil prices. A number of complexities mean that pricing is not the same at every petrol station in every part of the country, but overall prices today are lower than they were at the beginning of the summer, just as they were lower at 6 pm on Budget day after we cut prices by 1p. They are 6p a litre lower because of the actions taken by this Government.

Furthermore, I regret to say that the motion is wrong about fuel duty receipts, which have not fallen by £1 billion since 2008. Official receipt data show that receipts have increased in recent years. Let me deal briefly with the fair fuel stabiliser. The support we are providing to the motorist needs to be paid for. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) referred to sound Conservative principles, and this is one of which I am proud—things must be paid for—and it is fair that companies make a higher contribution. Only in that way can we support the motorist in a way that is fair, affordable and transparent. Updates on the introduction of a rural fuel duty rebate will be available to hon. Members who are interested in that, and we must do what we need to do in a sustainable manner.

6.57 pm

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): It is an honour to wind up the debate, which has been far ranging and widespread, both geographically and in content. Luckily, it was a virtual tour of our constituencies—had it been a driving tour, it would have cost a veritable fortune.

The debate has taken place after much pressure from outside, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) who, since coming to the House, has been a great champion of this issue. In fact, in the previous Parliament, he might well have spoken for the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. I hope that I am not damaging his career too much by giving the praise that only an SNP Member could give to boost it in that way.

The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) have pointed out that the House has been rotating around us nationalists. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) pointed out in an intervention that the SNP has been constant on the issue, and whoever has been in government and opposition have played their points as such. The price of diesel, at £7 a gallon in my constituency, is damaging to families and, in particular, to businesses.

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Tom Blenkinsop: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr MacNeil: I cannot give way.

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Worcester (Mr Walker) and for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), pointed out that tax was up, but revenue was down. As the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) said, it is a regressive tax, which is something that we should change. Three years ago, Iceland had a huge crash, but today it has lower unemployment and a greater growth rate. Interestingly, the cost of its fuel is about two thirds the cost in the UK. The UK has the highest petrol taxes in Europe, with Greece in second place. The message is surely going out to the Treasury and the Chancellor: no tax rises in January.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House welcomes the 1p cut in fuel duty at the 2011 Budget, the abolition of the fuel tax escalator, the establishment of a fair fuel stabiliser and the Government’s acknowledgement that high petrol and diesel prices are a serious problem; notes that in the context of the Government’s efforts to tackle the deficit and 5 put the public finances on a sustainable path, ensuring stable tax revenues is vital for sustainable growth; however, believes that high fuel prices are causing immense difficulties for small and medium-sized enterprises vital to economic recovery; further notes reports that some low-paid workers are paying a tenth of their income just to fill up the family car and that high fuel prices are particularly damaging for the road freight industry; considers that high rates of fuel duty may have led to lower tax revenues in recent years, after reports from leading motoring organisations suggested that fuel duty revenues were at least £1 billion lower in the first six months of 2011 compared with 2008; and calls on the Government to consider the effect that increased taxes on fuel will have on the economy, examine ways of working with industry to ensure that falls in oil prices are passed on to consumers, to take account of market competitiveness, and to consider the feasibility of a price stabilisation mechanism that would work alongside the fair fuel stabiliser to address fluctuations in the pump price.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Several hon. Members were not called in this evening’s debate because it was very popular and there were time constraints. That will be noted for further debates.


Antibiotic Action Initiative

6.59 pm

Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): I am pleased to see that many hon. Members have turned up for the formal presentation of the petition tonight. I had the honour of having the parliamentary launch of the Antibiotic Action initiative on Wednesday last week, when a formal petition of more than 4,300 signatures was handed in at No. 10 Downing street.

The petition states:

The Petition of supporters of Antibiotic Action, a national initiative of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the treatment of common and serious bacterial infections will be seriously compromised unless urgent steps are taken to stimulate investment in the discovery and development of new antibiotics, further declares that to support the discovery, development and bringing-to-market of new antibacterial agents, opportunities should be identified to safely streamline and accelerate the licensing processes for new antibiotics; declares that the commercial challenges faced by industry in developing and bringing new antibiotics to the marketplace should be addressed, and declares that more partnership between academia and pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies in the UK should be encouraged, in order to maximise the conversion of discovered-candidate molecules into licensed antibiotics available for use on the NHS.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to review the licensing processes for new antibiotics, conduct a review of the commercial challenges faced by the pharmaceutical industry in developing and bringing new antibiotics to the marketplace and encourage more partnership between academia and pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies in the UK.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Independent Police Complaints Commission

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Alistair Carmichael.)

7.2 pm

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to debate the Independent Police Complaints Commission, an organisation that has taken on increasing importance in recent months. It is right in such a debate to begin by thanking all local officers in Tottenham for the work that they do day in, day out. The vast majority of them serve us very well indeed. Some of those brave men and women serve their own community, and it is clear that they put others ahead of their own needs. All of them put their lives on the line to keep Tottenham safe, and I thank them for that.

However, for all the bravery of those officers, things very occasionally go wrong, and when they do individual officers must be held to account for their decisions and actions. There is no way of escaping Tottenham’s recent history: there is a history of people in Tottenham dying during or following police contact. I wish to God that this were not true, but anyone who has lived in Tottenham knows just how those deaths have strained the relationship between some of our residents and the police. With the death of Cynthia Jarrett in 1985, Roger Sylvester in 1999, and Mark Duggan this August, Tottenham’s history has been punctuated and measured by these tragic events.

Of course, deaths in police custody or following police contact are not only a Tottenham issue, as, for example, the unexplained death of Christopher Alder in Hull more than a decade ago shows us, and they are not just an issue for the black community. Recent years have seen the deaths of Ian Tomlinson and Jean Charles de Menezes due to police actions. But in Tottenham we do seem to bear our share of these tragic events.

It takes years—decades—of effort to build community relations and to foster a two-way sense of trust between residents and the people who should be their police. Despite a lot of good work, it is the list of deaths that everyone remembers. It is not just the fact that a person has died following contact with the police that is important; how the death is investigated and who carries out the investigation are just as important. That is what I want to discuss this evening.

Before describing how I think the IPCC can be improved, it is important to recognise that the journey to the creation of an independent complaints authority has not been short or without controversy and resistance, because we have come a long way indeed. In 1985 Lord Scarman produced his groundbreaking report on the Brixton riots four years previously. He was deeply concerned about the total breakdown of trust between the police and some of the communities they were supposed to serve. His report called for an independent body to be set up to investigate police complaints as a means of restoring trust.

Unforgivably, it would be another 19 years before the IPCC opened for business. Instead of the Government agreeing to what was so obviously needed, deckchairs were duly rearranged and the old Police Complaints

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Authority was set up to replace the Police Complaints Board, but it proved just as hapless. Changing a word in the title proved easier than changing the way of working, because in those days it did not matter whether it was the Police Complaints Authority or the Police Complaints Board that conducted the investigation. They were not investigations for the victim, their family or the concerned community; they were investigations by the police and for the police.

The opening of the Stephen Lawrence murder trial yesterday again brings the failures of the Police Complaints Authority into sharp public view. The Macpherson report on Stephen’s death highlighted these failures perfectly. It noted that the authority’s report on the Metropolitan police’s handling of the death was known as the Kent report, principally because the Kent police handled the inquiry into the Metropolitan police. The Kent report began making excuses for the Metropolitan police in its preface:

“The depth of detailed scrutiny applied in the complaints investigation could have found fault in most police criminal investigations. The reader of this report should bear in mind that the benefit of hindsight and the luxury of having time to assess all of the information that was available to the MPS is bound to reveal errors, omissions and flawed judgement.”

The Macpherson report highlighted the shocking extent to which the Police Complaints Authority examined whether racism impacted on the Met’s investigation, stating:

‘Many officers were asked directly whether racism had an impact upon their activities in the case. Predictably they replied in strong terms denying such impact. The result was the finding by Kent that: “Kent Police have found no evidence to support the allegation of racist conduct by any MPS officer involved in the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.”’

Scarman’s warning in 1985 about the lack of independent oversight of the police had become, 12 years later, the whitewash of the Kent police’s so-called investigation of racism in the Met. Like the Scarman report, the Macpherson report called for an independent body to investigate police complaints.

Thankfully, one Home Affairs Committee report later, the Government listened that time and the IPCC was set up in 2004. Make no mistake: the IPCC is certainly an improvement on what went before, as the police are not investigating themselves. We are pleased about that, but not very pleased, and certainly not content. The death of Mark Duggan tells us why we should not be content with what we have, because it is not yet good enough.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this important and timely debate. Does he share my concern, and that of members of the Home Affairs Committee, that several months after the current chair of the IPPC announced that he was leaving, there is still no replacement? We now understand that the job is to be advertised again. Does he agree that there needs to be a permanent chair to provide that organisation with good leadership?

Mr Lammy: I totally agree with my right hon. Friend. I was surprised when I found out that that important role in our country had been vacant for so long. I hope that when he comes to the Dispatch Box to reply to the debate, the Minister will explain that.

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The IPCC has two roles, police scrutiny and public guardianship. It is charged with investigating complaints independently, and with the fullest scrutiny, but its role does not stop there. Given that it investigates on behalf of all of us, it must communicate and work with the public.

In the case of the death of Mark Duggan, it remains to be seen whether the IPCC fulfilled its primary duty to scrutinise the actions of the police on 4 August, but it is vital that the commission does all within its power to convince the Duggan family and the wider Tottenham community that its investigation is thorough, impartial and independent. Without that, we will be back to the bad old days of the Kent report and the police investigating police, and I hope that the IPCC do not take us there.

We wait to see whether the IPCC will fulfil its primary duty, but even in the days immediately after Mark Duggan’s death it was clear that it had failed completely and utterly in its secondary duty—that of guardianship. Mark Duggan’s family were forced to learn of the death of their son and father from watching television. That is beyond unacceptable. Why did nobody from the IPCC contact the family on the day of his death, when it had opened its investigation? Despite warnings from people throughout the community, the IPCC failed to communicate with the family until two days after the shooting, and even then it was unable to communicate anything of substance to them. That is not good enough.

Despite employing 15 media officers, the IPCC failed to make an appearance in the media to reassure a sceptical public—certainly in my community—that it would investigate Mark Duggan’s death thoroughly, impartially and independently. Its inability to fulfil that responsibility is difficult to explain. There was no direct communication by the IPCC to the affected communities in Tottenham in the hours and days after Mark Duggan’s death. Would it have been too difficult to hand-deliver a letter to residents of the affected areas, reassuring them of the investigation, explaining the known facts and appealing for calm and co-operation? No, it would not—but yet again, that did not happen.

In the absence of any word from the IPPC, a dangerous vacuum was allowed to open up, and rumours were allowed to take hold in the place of hard facts. That is not good enough. When the supposed facts were released to the media, they were quickly retracted. It was put out that there had been an exchange of fire in the incident that led to Mark Duggan’s death, but that turned out not to be true. Why did that happen? Again, that is far from what we would expect of an organisation with the role of public guardianship.

To this day, communication between the IPCC and Tottenham residents, as well as with the wider black community, appears sparse at best and unthinking at worst. That has to change. The magnitude of the IPCC’s task is immense, and some of the signs leave little hope in the strained community that I represent. Two thirds of people have heard of the IPCC, a number that has barely budged since the body was founded seven years ago, but one third of those think that it is part of the police—again, a figure that has barely budged. Ethnic minorities are even less likely to have heard of the

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IPCC, and they are more likely to believe that it is part of the police. That is the scale of the challenge awaiting us.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of any police investigations in other regions of the United Kingdom, such as Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, that could be a catalyst for, and an example of, an improvement on what he has described?

Mr Lammy: I am grateful for any suggestions, and I suspect that the Government will be, too. I know that communities beyond the black community have had concerns about how the police investigate the police, and I am sure that in Northern Ireland there are lessons that need to be carefully reflected on, developed and learned.

The IPCC has to do more to convince a sceptical public that it is truly independent and has learned the lessons of Scarman and Macpherson. I hope that the Duggan inquiry will go some way towards doing that, but the IPCC, given the way in which it handled those initial days, has made things hard and has not lived up to those expectations. What assurances can the Minister give the people of Tottenham that the Duggan inquiry will be thorough and independent? A good start would be to address the shocking statistic that 30% of IPCC investigators are former police officers, and far fewer are from an ethnic minority background. Investigators such as police officers must look like the communities they are working in, and the IPCC must never allow itself to appear simply as a replica of the old Police Complaints Authority. What assurances can the Minister give that those figures will change?

The IPCC can work only under its current powers, and it is time for those powers to change. At the moment the IPCC cannot compel a police officer to speak to it unless that officer is a named suspect in a criminal investigation. The IPCC needs the power to speak to everyone, including the police, right up to the top. Will the Minister assure me that the IPCC will be given the powers to compel police officers to co-operate with its inquiries?

At the moment the IPCC does not have the power to suspend a police officer pending an investigation. The officer involved in the Mark Duggan case has not been suspended and is still working. The Minister will understand that members of the community that I represent find that quite incredible. Will he assure me that the IPCC will be given the power to suspend police officers who have been involved in a death due to police contact?

At the moment the IPCC does not have the power to initiate its own prosecutions following an investigation. In the Roger Sylvester case, as in others, power is often handed to the Crown Prosecution Service, which then does not prosecute. There is an inquest that brings in an unlawful killing verdict, and the families feel very let down indeed. The initial inquiry should have that prosecution power in the first place. Will the Minister explain why the IPCC finds itself caught between the coroner, the CPS and the police in relation to its powers, and say whether he will review what powers are needed following the concerns that have been raised not only in the cases I have mentioned, but in successive cases over many years?

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At the moment, the IPCC does not own the scene of an investigation until some time after an incident has taken place. The scene of the Duggan death was not owned by the IPCC until hours after the shooting. That has to change. Will the Minister assure me that the IPCC will own the crime scene right from the beginning in recognition that there can be tremendous concern and anxiety about the fact that the initial officers caught in the incident can effectively own the scene for hours before any degree of independence takes over? The IPCC budget is tiny. It is £35 million a year, which is less than that of every single force in the country.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I want to mention something I have learned from recent meetings with the IPCC. Is my right hon. Friend aware that a very limited and relatively small number of cases are managed cases, so the vast bulk of work that the IPCC is dependent on is dealt with by the police themselves?

Mr Lammy: With that budget, one can understand that the IPCC simply cannot get through the level of complaints that are being made. In fact, a sub-set of complaints is in effect being handled by the police. Again, we will need reassurances about whether the budget is appropriate for the sort of organisation that has to be armed to do this job independently and effectively. This is why there is a trust deficit in what the organisation does, and I hope that the Minister will respond to it.

The Minister will, of course, need to start by reviewing the many deaths that take place following police actions. Since 1999, according to the Library, 322 people have died in or following police custody, yet not one police officer has been jailed for any of those incidents. These are shocking figures. I ask the Minister to reflect on the sheer extent of those figures, whether he is content, and whether there should not be some independent review into that aspect of its work.

I hope that the Minister will commit to an inquiry into the disgraceful revelations regarding the handing over of the wrong body to the family of Christopher Alder, who died in police custody in April 1998. Mr Alder was a paratrooper who fought for his country, yet he was left to choke to death, handcuffed on the floor of a police station in Hull. The fact that his family found out just two weeks ago that the body they buried was not in fact his, and that he is in a mortuary over a decade later, is a disgrace and of tremendous concern in a civilised country. I hope that the Minister will undertake an inquiry and get involved. I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, in his seat; I am sure that he is as concerned as I am.

We need a review of deaths in police custody. We need a review of the IPCC’s powers and resources, and we need to understand that it is truly independent. My community waits to see its conclusions in relation to the death of Mark Duggan, and I hope that the Minister can reassure them.

7.21 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this debate. I appreciate his long-standing interest in this topic and

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his immediate concerns about the ongoing investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into the events surrounding the shooting of Mark Duggan in his constituency on 4 August. The whole House will recognise the passion with which he speaks on these issues and, I believe, will share his overriding concern, which is to secure community confidence in policing. That confidence is essential to ensure policing by consent, which we so prize in this country.

I join the right hon. Gentleman in praising the police for the work that they do, including that to secure order on our streets in the summer. That work is often difficult and dangerous. It is nevertheless imperative that when there are instances where police action goes wrong and there is culpability, there must be a robust system to ensure that that confidence in policing is maintained. That is as much in the interests of the police themselves as of those of us who guard the public interest to ensure that it happens.

I should like to address two key issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised. First, I will set out the background to the IPCC, including how it is set up and the way it operates, and deal with some of the issues relating to budgets and staffing. Secondly, I want to turn to the future and set out the issues confronting the IPCC in the context of the Government’s overall programme for reform of the system to ensure that we can maintain confidence in the police complaints system and that it plays a key role in the new policing landscape.

The police are a monopoly public service and their officers exercise coercive powers over citizens. They are expected to, and must, uphold the highest standards of behaviour and provide a policing service that enjoys the confidence of the public. The police complaints system is an important safeguard in holding the police to account. The complaints system should focus on allowing people who are dissatisfied with the provision of a policing service to make a complaint, and that complaint to be responded to appropriately.

There needs to be public confidence in the integrity and independence of the complaints system. It was the importance of that independence that gave rise, for the reasons the right hon. Gentleman described, to the establishment of the IPCC, in preference to the bodies that preceded it, in 2004 under the Police Reform Act 2002. It is worth reiterating that the IPCC is independent by law and makes its decisions independently of the police, Government, complainants and interest groups. This means that all complaints must be dealt with in accordance with legislation and the guidance issued by the IPCC and agreed by the Home Secretary. All complainants who have their complaints dealt with by the police in the first instance have a right of appeal to the IPCC. It independently investigates the most serious incidents and complaints. It regularly reports publicly on the outcome of investigations and it makes local and national recommendations as appropriate to ensure that the same things do not go wrong again. Its reports have to stand up to the scrutiny of inquests and courts.

The Government no more direct the IPCC than we direct police forces. It is essential that it remain an independent body.

Keith Vaz: When do the Government intend to appoint the new chair of the IPCC and why has that position been vacant for so long?

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Nick Herbert: I will come on to that issue.

I would first like to respond to the concerns of the right hon. Member for Tottenham about the proportion of IPCC investigators who come from a police background. He said that about 30% of investigators and about 10% of the IPCC’s staff overall come from a police background. Let us put it the other way around: the vast majority of investigators—70% of them—do not come from a police background. The contribution of those from a law enforcement background is vital in ensuring that the IPCC conducts competent and robust investigations. The idea that the IPCC is an organisation that consists of police officers investigating other police officers is a grotesque caricature, because of its make-up, the way it operates, and the way Parliament established it.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of the IPCC’s budget. Its budget is some £35 million a year and it employs approximately 400 staff. That does not make it a small organisation by any standards. Shortly before I was elected to the House in March 2005, the IPCC had a total of 72 investigators, deputy senior investigators and senior investigators. In March this year, it had 121 such investigators. Its role has broadened in some respects, but it is not an organisation that has been starved of public funds. Of course the IPCC needs to manage with a diminishing budget during the current period, because all policing organisations have to make savings. Nevertheless, in 2010-11 it started 164 investigations and completed 154, which is more than 50% more than in the previous year. I therefore do not believe that allegations about resourcing can be made about this organisation.

John McDonnell: What proportion of complaints lead to managed investigations that are investigated directly by the IPCC?

Nick Herbert: I do not have that figure to hand, but I am happy to let the hon. Gentleman have it after the debate. Of course, we have a structured system that ensures that the commission has the overall supervision of complaints, which I will come to, and that it deals directly with the most serious complaints. That is as it should be.

The IPCC will not become complacent, nor will this Government let it. Having made those points to the right hon. Member for Tottenham, I do not want him to think that I am dismissing what he has said. I hope he knows that I am not.

Following four years’ operational experience, the IPCC conducted a review of the police complaints system, the aims of which were to check how well the system was delivering against the original aspirations and to ensure that it continued to improve. The review found that some of the statutory provisions for the handling of complaints were unnecessarily bureaucratic or no longer necessary. Through the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which we have just passed, the

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Government are introducing reforms that will put an emphasis on police accountability and make the police complaints system more effective and efficient. That will mean giving police forces additional discretion to deal with low-level complaints, which will free up the IPCC to deal with the most serious and high-profile complaints. It is important to distinguish between matters of public concern about performance issues, in which case what often matters is that there is strong police accountability and responsiveness, and those on which there are serious complaints about a breakdown that needs investigating by the commission.

We are giving the IPCC new powers to recommend and direct that unsatisfactory performance proceedings be brought against an officer when a complaint reveals that their performance is unsatisfactory. We are also giving the commission more flexibility in how it carries out its administrative functions, so that it has the freedom to direct more resources to carrying out its investigations. Those changes and others will improve the handling of police complaints by removing bureaucratic processes from the system, but it is important to realise that we are not stopping there.

In July, on the back of the revelations about phone hacking, we announced to Parliament that we would give further consideration to whether the IPCC needed additional powers, including the power to question civilian witnesses during the course of its investigations, and whether it should be given greater powers to investigate institutional failings in police forces. As the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, the IPCC is also in the early stages of a review of its powers, resources and approach in relation to investigations arising from deaths following police contact. That is obviously a very serious issue, and I know the IPCC has been in touch with him, and will keep in touch, about that piece of work. I will take the closest interest in it as well. In addition, we are setting up police and crime commissioners, to be elected a year from today, to hold the police to account.

I also want to respond to the points made about the IPPC’s chairmanship. I am aware of concerns that we do not have a permanent chairman at the moment. We are taking particular care over the position, precisely because it is crucial to ensure the success of the IPCC. A new chair should be in place early in the new year, but until then Len Jackson, a highly effective individual in whom the Government have complete confidence, has agreed to remain interim chair. We are determined to secure the right appointment to the organisation, because we invest considerable importance in its independence and integrity. It has new challenges to meet and old challenges that still have to be met. I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s concern about it, and I want to assure him and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee that the Government will continue to ensure that the IPCC does the job that it was set up to do—

7.32 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).