I would like to have some idea from the Minister—either now or after contributions from right hon. and hon. Members—of how he will take this matter forward. He has indicated that he has concerns about certain issues, but he has not yet shared with the House the details of what they are. What is his timetable for discussion with his European Union colleagues on these matters? Does he have a timetable to try to resolve the issues? Does he intend to return to the House at some point to sign up

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to the document, or has it been kicked into the long grass because he knows that, ultimately, Members such as, I suspect—with due respect—the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) and others would vote against the measure, no matter what was brought forward, as a matter of principle? If that is the case, the Minister should be honest with the House, because we will certainly return to this matter in due course, when we have seen the advice that he has received, as far as he can share it with us. I sense that this is not just about the operation and practice of the measure; rather, I sense that there are certain elements on the Government Back Benches with a fundamental objection to the principle of such co-operation.

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): Many Members on the Government Benches agree that we should co-operate. However, does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that we can co-operate without giving up control in some of these policy areas and without subjecting ourselves to the authority of the European Court of Justice, which is what this directive is about?

Mr Hanson: Case proved, m’lud: the hon. Gentleman, along with the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood and others, does have concerns about this issue in principle. What I take from the Minister this evening is that the advice that he has received from operational organisations points to concerns about the ability of the measure to deliver what it should deliver, which is an increase in the assets taken from criminals and terrorists, and their repatriation to the United Kingdom. If that is the reason he is lukewarm this evening about progressing the measure, I will look at that in detail. If the reason is the pain and suffering that hon. Gentlemen such as the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood and others may bring upon him—because of their fundamental objections to further European co-operation on such matters—that is something that we will also revisit in due course. If the Minister can provide us with a timetable for further discussion and examination of the issues, and if he is saying that he will rule out for ever signing up to this—[Interruption.] If he would like to say that on the record, that would be helpful.

James Brokenshire: I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we do not rule anything in, and we do not rule anything out. It will depend on how the negotiations proceed. The EU itself will be leading the timetable, and the presidency will take that forward. I understand his desire for a timetable, but that is not within my gift.

Mr Hanson: We have heard an interesting development in the consideration of the order this evening. There has been a clear position change from that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, only two weeks ago.

James Brokenshire indicated dissent.

Mr Hanson: I am afraid there has. The Minister has explained this evening the basis on which he has made his comments on the order. I will seek to obtain further information on that, as that would represent valuable progress. I suspect, however, that underneath all this

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there is a slight concern about the reaction of some Conservative Members, who will undoubtedly raise the concerns that I have mentioned, during the rest of the debate.

10.5 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am grateful to have been called so early in the debate to represent the European Scrutiny Committee, replacing my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who is away. I apologise if, in comparison to him, I am more loquacious.

I want to start by raising a few points relating to scrutiny. The Minister was gracious in accepting that there had been problems with it. The document was first made available for an opt-in decision in the middle of March, with a three-month time scale for making a decision which ends on 15 June. It is a pity that Her Majesty’s Government could not have made up their mind on this matter slightly earlier in the process.

I also want to raise a point about the other place. The debate in this House was cancelled on the ground that we were unable to debate the matter until the Government had made up their mind, but in the same circumstances the other place was able to debate it. I am not entirely sure whether that is a discourtesy to the other place or to us, but it seems odd that such a rule should apply in one place and not the other.

James Brokenshire: Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. There was a distinction, in that the debate in the other place was on an Opposition motion, rather than a Government motion.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful for that clarification. I should also like to say, for future reference, that I have been given hope that the Government might occasionally listen to what the House says, and that having debates before a decision is finally made would not necessarily be a bad thing. It might be a pious hope that speeches made from these Benches might influence the wise thoughts of Her Majesty’s Government, but it is one that I hold to. I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation, but I hope that we can have better scheduled debates in future. From a personal point of view, I believe that the slot at the end of business on Wednesdays is extremely convenient for most people.

It is also a shame to be having this debate now, when half the members of the European Scrutiny Committee are away in, of all places, Europe. They are visiting Cyprus, in preparation for Cyprus taking over the European Union presidency. I was glad to have the opportunity of staying in the House. Like you, Mr Speaker, I prefer not to leave. I believe that you require specific permission to leave the country, and I would not mind being under the same constraint myself.

I shall move on to the substance of the opt-in decision, and to the Minister’s comments. It is tremendously important that, under our current law, any freezing order requires the order of a court, but that would not be the case under the proposed document from the European Union. It is unsatisfactory to allow the administrative freezing of assets without a court interfering. That is an important principle of justice, and on that basis alone it would be wise of the Government not to opt in to the directive.

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As the Minister said, the directive would offer no direct benefit to our domestic asset recovery regime. That being the case, the only argument for opting in would be to have more Europe, and that is not the policy of Her Majesty’s Government, who are committed to keeping Europe closely under watch and limiting any extension of its powers. It is therefore difficult to see what changes to the draft directive the Government would find acceptable in order to make it better, or whether there is any prospect of their insisting that anything that happened under it should require a court order before being implemented. It would be interesting to know from the Minister what would be the consequences of our not opting in—by what would we be bound in our existing agreements and how would they develop, and what would be our ability to maintain bilateral arrangements with other member states in future? Might that not be a more suitable way of approaching the matter?

There are concerns about the standing of the directive under European constitutional law. As the Minister and other Members know, we have the ability to opt out of a great number of the crime and justice directives in 2014, but—and there is a but—if we signed this proposed directive, it would not be part of that block opt-out and it would remove our ability to opt out of three other directives that we have so far opted into. The block opt-out does not apply to EU policing and criminal justice legislation adopted following the Lisbon treaty’s entry and coming into force where the UK decides to become bound by it, and neither does it apply to pre-Lisbon treaty legislation that was amended once the Lisbon treaty came into effect. The three pieces of pre-Lisbon EU treaty legislation that we would lose are on money laundering, the identification, tracing, freezing, seizing and confiscation of instrumentalities and the proceeds of crime under the framework decision 2001/500/JHA on the same subject, and another framework decision on the confiscation of crime-related proceeds. We would thus be tightly binding ourselves into all our future confiscation and money laundering policies being determined at the European level.

George Eustice: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that the longer we delay our decision about whether to exercise our block opt-out under the Lisbon protocol, the more it can be undermined by subsequent directives such as this one coming along. Does he agree that we should make a decision sooner rather than later about whether or not to exercise that block opt-out?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am in complete agreement, and the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) might not be surprised to know that I would opt out of everything at every possible opportunity—and I am more than happy to admit that and to have it held against me in evidence by suitable authorities in future. It is important not to get sucked into more changes through the development of existing pre-Lisbon directives that then become binding and are not subject to the opt-out.

The other important aspect is that this directive does not apply exclusively to cross-border activities, as it applies in the UK alone where we are enforcing standards that apply to crimes committed purely in the UK, so we need to raise the question of what the European dimension is in all cases. If any directive is suitable, is it this

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directive, or should a completely different one be reframed relating to cross-border activities? That poses all the questions about recognition of foreign countries’ laws and enforcements that we raised with the Minister.

We have those problems to face in a once-and-for-all decision, but I also want to look at what the European Union document states on this issue and the basis on which it has been produced. The two legal bases are article 83(1) and article 82(2) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Article 83(1) includes provisions on organised crime, which the European Commission has decided includes almost any serious crime that could be mentioned, so we can see immediately in that justification part of the general European creep in using the treaties to extend the Commission’s remit—indeed, the EU’s own documentation admits that.

The other legal basis, article 82(2), is all about the facilitation of mutual recognition, so although the current document is not about mutual recognition specifically, this is part of the basis of the directive coming into force. There is some broad contradiction between how the directive will be applied and the legal base used for it. I think we should be suspicious of the EU extending its powers on a basis that it then does not wish to use. Why is it doing it that way?

I know that many other Members wish to speak, but I want to say a little about the way in which the European Union reached its decision. As can be seen in the document provided for the debate, it considered five policy options. The first was the status quo, which it immediately rejected as being completely unsatisfactory. Each of the subsequent options had a slightly more European context than the one preceding it. The second option was non-legislative:

“promoting implementation of existing confiscation obligations… and promoting… existing mutual recognition obligations”.

The European Union did not like that one.

The third option was the “Minimal legislative option”, involving

“transposition and utilisation workshops plus additional policy actions addressing identified deficiencies in the existing”

legislation. Lo and behold, the European Union did not like that one either.

The fourth option was the

“Maximal legislative option without mutual recognition”.

I do not think that “maximal” is a word, Mr Speaker, but your vocabulary is better than mine. Perhaps I should ask you to rule on it later in the day. That option, it was said, would provide many benefits, and

“would consist of all policy actions which do not involve legislative action in relation to mutual recognition.”

Finally, there was policy option 4.2:

“Maximal legislative option including mutual recognition”.

We can see exactly how the process operates. The European Union issues a discussion document and considers all the options. “What should we do? Should we just leave it to the nation states? No, that will not do: we cannot trust them. Should we just do a little bit that will ease the process and make it a bit better? Should we round some of the corners to make them smoother? No, we had best not do that; the European Parliament would not like it.” That is one of the arguments that it uses. “We must go for the maximum option. We must go for the most federalist option. We must go for the

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option that brings in the European Court of Justice to rule over laws that apply purely in the United Kingdom and purely in the criminal justice area.” That is how the European Union operates.

Her Majesty’s Government were absolutely right to decide not to opt in at this stage, and they should remain right by robustly refusing an extension of EU powers which is, as always, being introduced in the area where it is hardest to oppose. The suggestion is that there are all those nasty people out there, and that if we all club together we will be able to deal with them. However, a Bulgarian enforcement order on some Englishman who has mislaid a parking ticket is not a way of reducing crime. What we need is a robust British system—which I think we already have—that is subject to fair controls and court orders. We do not need a further power grab by the European Union.

10.17 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). I do not know whether he was implying that the Government were holding the debate this evening because the European Scrutiny Committee had gone to Cyprus, but I am glad that he was left behind—or remained behind—to participate in it.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I should have thanked the Government rather than criticising them, because they gave me a chance to speak for a little longer than normal.

Keith Vaz: I am sure that the Government are most grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s thanks.

Last night I was present at the launch of a document produced by the hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) about the operation of the European arrest warrant and what it has delivered over the last few years. I know that the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) is a frequent commentator on its justice and home affairs implications for our country.

I think that we should be cautious in dealing with these matters. The EU document needs to be considered with great care. I am not one of those who believe that we need a directive in order to secure co-operation between EU partners, but I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) deserves the explanation that he seeks. I think that he deserves to be told why the Minister in the other place was so enthusiastic about the directive, and why the Government have apparently changed their mind. Of course, if there is a valid explanation, and if the various agencies—the Serious Organised Crime Agency being one of them—make representations to the Government pointing out that this is going to create problems for our legislation, it is important that that advice is shared not only with the Minister, but with the House.

The hon. Member for South Ribble (Lorraine Fullbrook) and I recently returned from an official visit to Colombia as part of a Home Affairs Committee delegation, where we were looking at the drugs trade. We noted a very important fact: only 2.6% of the profits from the trade in cocaine remain in Colombia. Some 97% of cocaine

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profits are administered and laundered within the European Union—in our country and other countries of the EU. That means that our existing structures are not used appropriately enough to catch the people who are responsible for drugs having become the biggest illicit activity in the world.

Even though a directive would help, it will not provide the answer. The Government are right not to opt in unless and until there are further negotiations, therefore. We need to make sure that the structures that are in place in the various countries of the EU can work together to catch those responsible for laundering the profits from drugs. I hope that the Government will use the time that will be available to them as a result of their decision not to opt in constructively and productively, and that they look at the institutions and organisations and make sure that that co-operation is improved. There are, of course, organisations—such as Europol and Interpol—which can be used effectively. I do not think Europol is used enough. We have a very good British director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, who was trained at SOCA. We must co-operate much more closely, without legislation from Brussels being needed.

Drugs is one example. The other is human trafficking, which is the third biggest illicit activity in the world, with profits of £32 billion a year. Through our co-operation with the Romanian authorities in Operation Golf, we showed that it is possible to have mutual co-operation with other EU countries without having a further directive, if there is willingness on the part of our European partners to work with us to deal with illegal activity.

Mark Reckless: The right hon. Gentleman mentions Europol and the issue of trafficking. Does he recall that when the Home Affairs Committee visited the Greek-Turkish border, one of the issues we found was that the structures of Europol were not well designed to secure co-operation with Turkey? Very often, the European basis of Europol and the insistence on doing everything through that framework was getting in the way of practical co-operation.

Keith Vaz: I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is also a fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee; he is absolutely right. The EU looks at these issues only within the confines of the EU. Because Turkey is not a member, it is not included in any aspects of co-operation. An example of that is the way the RABITs were deployed in Greece to deal with illegal immigration. Because the UK was not part of Schengen, we were not allowed to be a formal part of the activity of the RABITs. As a result, we were left marginalised.

Mr Speaker, I can see that you are about to tell me that I am out of order. [Interruption.] Oh, you are not. You were frowning, Mr Speaker, and I have known you long enough to know that a frown may have indicated that you were about to stop my flow. Let me go back to the original reason behind this debate. I was tempted along the other path by the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless).

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman was concerned that I was frowning. Perhaps I can satisfy simultaneously his curiosity and that of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). I have made inquiries, as the hon. Member for North

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East Somerset would expect, and I am now in a position to tell him and the House that the word in question, maximal, is the penultimate word in the second column of page 1,720 of the new “Shorter Oxford English Dictionary”. I know that the hon. Gentleman already knew that, but I am just reminding him.

Keith Vaz: I am enormously grateful that my speech will go down in history as the one in which you made such an important ruling, Mr Speaker, and thank you very much for choosing my speech in which to do it.

Let me conclude by saying that I hope the Minister will use the time available to the Government to make sure that the structures I have described are used to their maximum to ensure that we get the greatest amount of co-operation.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Before the right hon. Gentleman finishes, will he kindly tell me what the heck a RABIT is?

Keith Vaz: Of course. A RABIT—rapid border intervention team—is a rapid deployment force used by the EU to go to countries that face influxes of migrants who are illegally trying to enter the European Union. It is not the furry thing that runs around the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

When the Minister winds up—I will read his reply in Hansard, and I apologise, Mr Speaker, for not being here for the wind-ups—I hope that he will look at the issue of the new National Crime Agency to see whether any of this affects the way in which the NCA is going to deal with the mutual co-operation that exists between our agencies and other EU countries. I have mentioned the visit that the hon. Member for South Ribble and I made to Colombia. The one agency that was praised, from a front-line commander in the middle of the jungle that we visited to the President of Colombia, President Santos, was the Serious Organised Crime Agency. It was praised particularly for the way in which it has worked with the Colombians and with other Governments throughout the world to combat illegal drug activity.

James Brokenshire: As the right hon. Gentleman will not be here for the wind-ups let me say now that I will reflect on his comments. I am certainly very appreciative of and recognise the work that SOCA undertakes around the globe in a number of different regions. The development of the NCA, and certainly the utilisation of legislation on the proceeds of crime, will be part of our approach to strengthening and developing our response to organised crime. The NCA is one part of that.

Keith Vaz: I thank the Minister for that answer.

Finally, when we spend money on organisations such as SOCA, on which we spend £0.5 billion pounds a year, we expect value for money. We expect it to be able to go out there and seize assets. At the end of the day, that is how the public will judge the effectiveness of these organisations. Working with our European partners can only help us to achieve that. We do not need more legislation or, necessarily, more directives, but we do need the co-operation of our partners to succeed.

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10.28 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, who has been able to put Members’ minds at rest on the subject of RABITs this evening. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who was loquacious, in the earlier Defamation Bill debate, on the joys of coalition. I wanted to point out to him that I feel a particularly heightened sense of joy on coalition partnership working during these European Union debates.

There are a couple of points that I should like to make on this subject. I am sure that all fair-minded Members will acknowledge the value of a robust EU-wide regime for freezing and confiscating criminal proceeds, because cross-border crime is a serious and growing threat to the UK. Inevitably, one of the consequences of the four freedoms of the single market—the free movement of goods, services, people and capital—is the growth in cross-border organised crime and proceeds of crime. I am sure that Members will also agree that it is important that the UK maintains its European and international lead on these issues. That has been the UK’s position since 1998. Indeed, the EU’s 1998 joint action, which the directive would replace, was a UK proposal. Currently, in almost every respect, UK domestic arrangements match or exceed the minimum rules in the directive, so opting out permanently would threaten the UK’s leading role.

I agree that the text of the directive is not perfect and that the UK must use its active observer status to improve it and opt back in. As the Minister indicated, there are legitimate concerns about how the draft directive would interrelate particularly with our non-conviction-based confiscation powers. In response to my intervention on that point, he said that there would be no guarantee that the directive could be changed to accommodate our non-conviction-based confiscation regime. I wonder, however, whether he has any intelligence about whether that would be likely, given the extent to which these non-conviction-based confiscation schemes operate in other EU countries. I hope that he can reassure me that the UK will use its status to seek to galvanise support for ensuring that our non-conviction-based confiscation regime can sit within the scope of the directive and secure other changes deemed preferable so that we can opt back into the directive post-adoption.

10.32 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I want to place on the record my extreme disappointment at the timing and last-minute nature of this debate. We have had the documentation since March, but things have been left till the last minute. One debate was cancelled and now this debate is being held when the majority of Committee members are on an important pre-presidential visit to Cyprus. Those of us who are here are here because other commitments prevented us from going.

The timing of this debate is therefore unfortunate and does not bear out the spirit that the Minister for Europe promised when he said he would continue to honour the enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of justice and home affairs opt-ins. In a written ministerial statement in January, he said that such debates would form part of

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a package of measures intended significantly to strengthen Parliament’s oversight of EU justice and home affairs matters and make the Government more accountable for their decisions in the EU. It is unfortunate, therefore, that this debate has been called at the last minute and at such short notice, as it has not given hon. Members a chance to prepare.

The Minister talked about having influence without intending to opt in. Will he clarify how he sees the UK continuing to influence the process if we are not opting in at this stage? Will he expand on his explanation of the types of changes in the draft directive that would be needed for the Government to opt in to the directive, even after it has been adopted? I thank him, by the way, for the detailed letter sent to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), and the negotiating objectives, which are particularly helpful. If the Government do not secure the necessary changes, would there be any other ways in which some sort of mutual recognition could be established? Does the Minister see any particular ways forward on that? Lastly, what would be his assessment of the implications for broader international co-operation on the freezing, confiscation and recovery of proceeds of crime, not only with EU partners but even further afield, if the UK does not participate in this directive? It is important that we know both sides of the question. With those few remarks, I conclude.

10.35 pm

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): I support the motion, and I commend the Minister and the Home Secretary for taking a wise decision. I wish to speak briefly because after years of our sleepwalking into many mindless EU regulations, we are at last getting some substantive scrutiny of and rigour in how we take these decisions under this Government and in this Parliament. I also wish to commend the European Scrutiny Committee and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). That Committee has become the nightwatchman for Parliament on these matters, and on this directive in particular.

This draft EU directive is flawed. The Minister has explained one of the specific law enforcement problems with it, but beyond that there are six reasons why Britain should not opt in. The first of those is the basic issue of principle: the directive empowers the state to freeze assets without a court order being obtained first, and that extraordinary proposal is contrary to the fundamental tenets of justice in this country. Given the exponential increase in security legislation in this country since 9/11 and the many examples of broad powers being expansively interpreted by law enforcement agencies, whether inadvertently or otherwise, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and elsewhere, the retention of judicial oversight before making such an order is vital.

Those who want to make a practical rather than ideological argument in favour of opting in should note that in the UK a court can be asked to issue a property freezing order at any time and, if necessary, without notice to the affected party. The risk that assets might be moved if a court order was first sought are not a

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good reason for us to legislate along these lines. The decision to deprive an individual of their property should always require a judge’s consent.

Mark Reckless: Although the Labour Chair of the Home Affairs Committee took a different view, how does my hon. Friend react to Her Majesty’s Opposition apparently, in principle, supporting opting into this directive, despite the issue of principle, to which he refers, of the state taking away a private citizen’s assets—freezing them—without any reference to a court?

Mr Raab: I thank my hon. Friend for that. I think we saw a classic piece of fence-sitting. There is a clear contradiction in the position set out by the shadow Minister, which I shall refer to briefly in due course.

The second argument against opting in is, as the explanatory memorandum explains, that there has been no formal domestic consultation yet, so the House does not have the official and formal views, based on operational law enforcement experience, of the police, SOCA, the intelligence agencies and other departments, let alone external experts and groups, on the need for and the practicability of what is being proposed. The Government are therefore right to be cautious and not to be bounced into signing up to a broad new law with far-reaching implications that have not been properly thought through. I noted that the shadow Minister has explicitly requested some gist, explanation or consultation in respect of the nature, character and substance of those submissions, yet without having seen them, he would be happy to opt in anyway. I respectfully suggest to him that the ideological view in this debate and in this House is his, in favour of more JHA integration, irrespective of the scrutiny of the merits and the substance.

The third argument against opting in relates to the costs associated with this directive. Those remain unquantified, but they could well be substantial. The directive will require changes to UK primary legislation. It would introduce new data collection requirements, specifically for evaluation purposes at the EU level. Those would create a pointless administrative burden for UK authorities and lead to an additional bureaucratic tier of EU monitoring of our practices. In addition, as has been said and as the explanatory memorandum explains, the directive’s insistence on effective remedies could add to the legal aid bill, just as we are taking difficult decisions to reduce it which require uncomfortable sacrifices at home.

The fourth objection is that the UK already has ample powers in the area of asset confiscation and freezing. The Government’s explanatory memorandum states:

“We believe that the UK exceeds many of the minimum requirements and so we do not foresee that it would have an impact on the number of cases.”

If anything, those powers have become too broad in the post-9/11 era. The amount of money confiscated by the UK authorities rose by more than 500% between 2003 and 2009, which is scarcely the symptom of a weak regime. The reality is that the directive is neither necessary nor desirable.

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, the UK framework for dealing with the confiscation and freezing of assets is perfectly robust. Let us be honest about this—I think that the shadow Minister should be honest

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about it: by legislating on this matter in Brussels, we would be legislating for the failings of other EU member states whose regimes are criticised by the Commission as “underdeveloped and underutilised”. In other words, we are expected to sign up to this blunt EU directive to try to encourage other EU states to pull their socks up. That is not a satisfactory basis for legislation in this country. For one thing, most of the failings in other member states arise less from legislative defects and more from deficiencies in operational law enforcement capabilities. The statement from the Commission suggests that the problem is less one of legislation and more one of law enforcement.

The Home Office recognised that point in its explanatory memorandum, which states:

“The UK does not consider that non-legislative options have been fully considered”.

That is the fifth objection to opting in. If there are alternatives to legislation, why have they not been thoroughly and properly examined by the Commission before it rushed to churn out yet another intrusive and in certain respects draconian directive?

The final objection is the impact on the UK’s 2014 opt-out decision on crime and policing, which has already been mentioned. Every time the UK opts in to one of the 130 or so measures that are subject to our block opt-out, that measure is removed from the list of laws that the UK will have the chance to repatriate by 2014. In other words, if we opt in we will automatically become subject to the jurisdiction and interpretation of the Commission and European Court of Justice. Given that Brussels will be assuming competence over broad and, for the UK, unprecedented security powers, that is not an ideological issue but a major constitutional one.

The directive is in part draconian, but it is in whole costly and unnecessary. It conflicts with basic principles of British justice and would undermine Britain’s opportunity to wrest back democratic control of justice and home affairs legislation. There is no good reason why Britain should opt in—the Opposition have not advanced one—and for principled and practical reasons, we should remain out. I commend the Home Secretary and the Minister for their rigour in reaching this decision based on the substance and merits of the matter.

James Brokenshire rose—

Mr Speaker: I think the Minister is seeking briefly to reply to the debate.

10.42 pm

James Brokenshire: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I will be brief given the late hour. I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions tonight and I think that the debate shows the importance not just of the subject matter but of debating such decisions in the House to allow a full exploration of all the issues before a final decision is made.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who are members of the European Scrutiny Committee, let me underline the comments I made at the outset. The Minister for Europe is alongside me on the Treasury Bench tonight and we

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will work with the Committee and consider ways in which we can seek to ensure that Government decisions are communicated to the Committee and the House in advance of such debates so that we can facilitate further scrutiny and examination of the matters before us. I give the House a commitment that we will take that forward after this evening’s debate.

On the issue of mutual recognition, it may be of assistance if I say that the UK already succeeds in recovering assets from member states and other countries outside the EU in the absence of a directive. Some of that co-operation is a result of working through an existing mutual legal assistance framework on criminal matters that exists independently of and will not be affected by the directive. As I have said, the directive does not and is not intended to contain any further mutual legal assistance measures. However, as I said, we will explore the options for new mutual recognition for both conviction and non-conviction-based confiscation as these measures have the potential greatly to improve our ability to recover the proceeds of crime held in other member states.

I certainly recognise the emphasis on practical co-operation—a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) and by the Chair of the Select Committee. Practical co-operation is a very important aspect, which I underline in my discussions with other EU members in relation to this subject matter.

I can tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) that I have stated clearly in my letter to the European Scrutiny Committee that irrespective of whether the UK opts in to the directive, we will take an active part in negotiating the directive to shape it in the national interest. In response to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), may I say that we have set out in our letter to the Select Committee our negotiation objectives? I will consider ways in which we may be able to share information with him on that and in relation to the representations that we have received from law enforcement partners in connection with the directive.

Ultimately, the risks posed to our domestic non-conviction-based confiscation powers are too great. We will seek to negotiate the directive into a more acceptable form and we will keep the progress of those negotiations under close consideration. We believe that the right approach is not to opt in at this stage, but to stay out and negotiate, to underline the need for continued focus on our international relationships in respect of asset recovery and to ensure that we have a robust system to monitor this. If necessary, I shall come back to the House in the future, should the situation change. At this stage we do not judge that opting in is in the best interests of our country.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 7641/12 and Addenda 1 and 2, a draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime in the European Union; and supports the Government’s intention to not opt-in under Protocol (No. 21) to the European Union Treaties at this stage.

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Backbench Business Committee

10.47 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I beg to move,

That Mr David Amess, Mr David Anderson, Bob Blackman, Jane Ellison, John Hemming, Mr Marcus Jones and Ian Mearns be members of the Backbench Business Committee.

I am grateful to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, at this late hour and I apologise for delaying the House to debate the motion. I shall outline the factual position that has brought us to where we are this evening. The concept of the Backbench Business Committee emanated in the last Parliament from the Committee on Commons reform, commonly known as the Wright Committee. The Backbench Business Committee was created by Standing Orders made in the House on 15 June 2010.

The Committee has responsibility for scheduling debates on 35 days, at least 27 of which must take place in the Chamber. This represents a significant amount of parliamentary time in each Session to schedule debates on matters of genuine interest to Back Benchers—more than that afforded to Opposition parties. Before these reforms, Back Benchers had not been able to bring forward substantive motions regularly to the Floor of the House since the late 19th century.

On 12 March 2012 the House amended the way in which the Chair and other members of the Backbench Business Committee were elected, with the following effect: first, to ensure that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee will always be a member of the non-governing party; secondly, to bring minority parties into the fold by allowing the Backbench Business Committee to invite a Member from a party not represented on the Committee to participate in its proceedings; and thirdly, to amend the rules on electing members of the Backbench Business Committee to reflect exactly what happens now in other Select Committees.

There would be elections within the three major party groups, and it was the Members who emerged from these elections that the Committee of Selection, which I have the honour to chair, selected for membership of the Backbench Business Committee. That forms the basis of the motion on behalf of my Committee that we are debating now.

10.49 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) for introducing the debate and the Leader of the House for facilitating it, albeit through gritted teeth. It also gives us an opportunity to congratulate all the Back-Bench Members who have been elected to serve on the Backbench Business Committee this Session. My purpose this evening is certainly not to criticise any of those elections, but to point out that they are elections for one year and that this time next year we will be electing not a Backbench Business Committee, but a House business committee, because the coalition agreement specifically states:

“A House Business Committee, to consider government business, will be established by the third year of the Parliament.”

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We are already in the third year of the Parliament, so if a House business committee is not established before the next Queen’s Speech, the coalition agreement will not have been complied with. Given that the powers that be might think it much more convenient to start those new arrangements from the beginning of a new Session, I presume that arrangements will have to be made to ensure that the House business committee can start at the very beginning of the next Session and that we will not have the sort of delay we got this year between the Loyal Address and the Government’s response on what the business of the House would be.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend therefore assume that the formation of the House business committee in due course will automatically mean an end to the Backbench Business Committee? It could be that both could continue.

Mr Chope: Perhaps that is possible, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The debate gives the Deputy Leader of the House the opportunity to confirm for the avoidance of doubt, as lawyers would say, that the commitment in the coalition agreement will be complied with, and when he gives that commitment perhaps he would also answer my hon. Friend’s question on whether there will be a House business committee and the Backbench Business Committee or just one covering both important subjects.

It would also be wrong if the Members present tonight did not pay tribute to the work of the Backbench Business Committee in the previous Session, which was a very long Session and the Committee’s inaugural one. Its members were effectively pioneers and I think that they served the interests of fellow Back Benchers with dedication and distinction. I would like to mention three Members in particular: my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and for Shipley (Philip Davies). They are not on the list of Members to be reappointed to the Committee, and I think that when hon. Members look back on its work over the previous Session they will realise what an enormous contribution those three hon. Members made.

In the previous Session the Backbench Business Committee ensured that Back-Bench debates, to a large extent, reflected the priorities of Back Benchers and our constituents, rather than those of the Government, which I think was a very refreshing change from our previous procedures. Notable highlights included the debates on prisoner voting and on the case for a referendum on our relationship with the European Union. It should be noted that both debates were on substantive motions on which the House was able to express a clear view. I think that the Government certainly found the expression of a view on prisoner voting helpful, although perhaps they did not find the expression of a view by 81 Conservative Back Benchers on an EU referendum quite so helpful. Nevertheless it was an opportunity for the Government to hear what Back Benchers thought on those subjects.

I would urge the new members of the Committee whom we will appoint tonight not to be intimidated by the Whips into always selecting for debate bland subjects that do not have substantive motions with teeth, because if we always did that, we would not be serving the best

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interests of Back Benchers and our constituents. I urge those Members to ensure that we have some substantive motions.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): One of the best things about the Backbench Business Committee is that it includes votable motions, and Back Benchers should be able to table motions and have them debated and voted on to ensure that if the Government or, indeed, the Opposition of the day are going off kilter the temperature and viewpoint of the House can be taken.

Mr Chope: I agree absolutely.

I raise this little subject because, immediately after the election and certainly on the Conservative side, one of those who was successful sent out a circular, saying that he would try to ensure that there were no motions on which we could vote on Thursdays. If the Government and the Whips decide that the only day to be allocated for Back-Bench business is going to be a Thursday, and Backbench Business Committee members throw in the towel early on and say, “We’re not going to have any substantive motions on which we can vote on Thursdays,” we will be in a rather sorry state of affairs, so I hope that those people who are on the Committee, and who may aspire to be on the House business committee in due course, realise that Back Benchers want some substantive motions. That does not mean every time—but quite often.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I should like to defend the idea that votable motions on a Thursday are not in the interests of Back Benchers, because the danger is that the Government will simply impose a one-line Whip and any vote held on a Thursday will be rather meaningless, as people will not attend in sufficient numbers. I believe that my wish to have a votable debate on the renewal of Trident has been shortlisted and is somewhere in the queue for future debate, and I hope that that votable debate, which would not be worth having if it were not votable, will be held on an evening other than a Thursday so that people are present and the temperature within and across parties can be measured accurately.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I am with him all the way on his campaign to have a debate about that all-important issue of renewing our nuclear deterrent.

This coming year offers an opportunity for the Backbench Business Committee to work with the Government more closely on developing what will eventually become the House business committee, and that work must mean looking at opportunities for such debates and at fitting them in throughout the whole week, rather than thinking of them as something to be held on a Thursday. I hope that that is one thing the first-class Chairman of the Committee takes forward during this Session.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend will recall that, when it suited the Government, on the occasion of the debate about whether there should be a referendum on our membership of the European Union, the debate was moved from a Thursday to a Monday.

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Mr Chope: Exactly. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The debate was moved because the Government took the view that they had to get their Ministers and payroll involved in the vote, but I am not sure that that is the right approach for the Government to take. They should be quite prepared to say, “This is the view of Back Benchers, and we, the Government, will listen to the views of Back Benchers.” Back Benchers should vote on a substantive motion, and, if they agree on something that is not Government policy, the Government should not regard it as an issue of confidence in them; they should listen to what has been said. Up to now, one difficulty has been the Government’s interpretation of any motion by Back Benchers in Backbench Business Committee time as a potential attack on their integrity.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that, since the debate and vote on holding a referendum on our membership of the EU, there has been some potential for change in the Government’s position? The Chancellor is talking about a vote on any reshaped relationship with the EU, and even yesterday we had a written ministerial statement entitled, “Post-EU Competitiveness Council”.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Such circumstances show that, although some of us may think that the Government do not listen enough, they certainly do sometimes, and we must be grateful for that. Indeed, we know that they have listened on prisoner voting. Then yesterday the Home Secretary came here and said that she wanted us to express a view on an important issue so that we could, in effect, try to influence the interpretation of the judges on article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

Dr Julian Lewis: Although the Government certainly did not enjoy the experience of the vote on a referendum on Europe, might they not, taking a broader view over time, come to reflect on the fact that Parliament as a whole was a definite gainer from that vote and that a lot more interest in, and respect for, Parliament resulted from it?

Mr Chope: I am sure that that is absolutely right. We should accept that the Government have done Parliament and Back-Benchers a good turn in facilitating the work of the Backbench Business Committee. Nothing that I have said so far is intended to pour cold water on that radical reform of our procedures in this House.

My final point concerns the problems that are caused when there is a delay in setting up a Committee. Some Members were surprised when on 24 May, at column 1285 of Hansard, the Leader of the House announced that there would a debate on mental health and that the subject was “previously suggested” by the Backbench Business Committee. That debate is scheduled to take place this Thursday. The use of the word “suggested” contrasts strongly with the provisions of Standing Order No. 14(3D), which says that such business shall be “determined” by the Backbench Business Committee. It is a pity that the Leader of the House did not spell out that, notwithstanding that expression of intention, the debate would need to be confirmed by the Committee after it had been formed and was essentially only provisional business if it was to count as Back-Bench rather than Government business. Perhaps the Government will

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want the Committee to meet them tomorrow to give the green light to Thursday’s business being Back-Bench business—in effect, one of the 27 days allocated for Back-Bench business—rather than Government business on a Government motion.

That shows why some of us are rather sceptical about the Government’s use of words in what they put down on the Order Paper. I, for one, will be looking closely at how they prepare to deliver on their commitment in the coalition agreement to set up the House business committee in the third year—not the third Session—of this Parliament.

11.2 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Let me once again put on record my tribute to the work already done by the Backbench Business Committee in the first Session, as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) said. We had some very good debates, including debates on Hillsborough and on wild animals in circuses, the resolution of which issue we still await.

Labour Members are happy with the process undertaken to elect the new Backbench Business Committee. The parliamentary Labour party has run its election to the Committee and is more than happy—in fact, proud—to put forward my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and for Gateshead (Ian Mearns). I am sure that they will be fine members of this new institution as they join its wonderful Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who has shown real leadership in taking the Committee’s work forward.

As for the House business committee, Labour Members await with interest developments on that front. In particular, we will be looking to see whether we get U-turn No. 35, or perhaps No. 36, when we do not see the committee materialise over the next year or two. That would be one of the biggest U-turns of all, as this commitment goes straight back to the coalition agreement.

Mr Chope: On what basis can the hon. Lady possibly suggest that the coalition agreement will be breached in that fundamental respect?

Angela Smith: Perhaps we will see tomorrow one of the reasons why.

It remains for me to congratulate all those who have been elected. I hope that this Committee will be as successful as the previous one in the forthcoming Session.

11.4 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I am grateful to the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) for introducing the motion on behalf of the Committee of Selection. As he rightly said, the sole purpose of the motion is to bring into effect the results of the ballots held in the respective parties to provide for the constitution of the Backbench Business Committee. One might imagine that that was a fairly straightforward process. One might imagine that having elected Members to the Committee, the House would wish for the Committee to undertake its work at the earliest opportunity.

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Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The concern of some Members tonight is why it has taken so long to bring the motion forward. The House has been sitting for a number of weeks since the elections. People are concerned about why the Government have delayed the Backbench Business Committee in coming forward.

Mr Heath: Uncharacteristically, the hon. Gentleman is simply wrong to say that there has been any delay. At the very first opportunity following the elections in the various party groups, the matter was put before the Committee of Selection, and the Committee of Selection took the very first opportunity to put it on the Order Paper. There was an objection, so we could not form the Committee. That is why we are debating the matter—again, at the very first opportunity that the House has had—to bring it into effect.

There has been absolutely no delay. Matters have proceeded as quickly as possible. That is why I was a little flabbergasted to find that we would have to have a debate. As I said, I would have thought that the House would have wanted the Committee to be constituted as quickly as possible. Of course, there are legitimate reasons why hon. Members might wish have wished to have a debate. They might have felt that there had been procedural irregularities in the elections. However, I have heard no arguments of that kind. Indeed, quite the reverse: I have heard Members congratulating the hon. Members who have been elected. I am glad that they seem to have the acclamation of the whole House.

Mr Nuttall rose

Dr Julian Lewis rose

Mr Heath: Who shall we go with? Let’s go with the hon. Gentleman at the back.

Mr Nuttall: On the constitution of the Backbench Business Committee, does my hon. Friend think that it is rather demeaning that the minor parties have only observer status, rather than full membership?

Mr Heath: No, I do not think that it is remotely demeaning. It is the result of what the House decided just before the close of the last Session. The House has debated that matter and I do not intend to repeat the arguments.

Now, would the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) like to intervene?

Dr Lewis: I thank the Deputy Leader of the House, as always, for giving way graciously. Given that we have the opportunity of this debate, would he care to use it to reassure Back-Benchers that the Government have no intention whatsoever of trying to prevent votable motions from being debated on days other than Thursdays?

Mr Heath: Whether the Government have any mechanism to do that is in the hands of the Backbench Business Committee, which was set up by this Government. Incidentally, it was not set up by the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), who was so concerned about the progress towards a House business committee that her Government would not allow a Backbench Business Committee of any kind. We set it

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up and are very proud of its progress over the past year. I am pleased that it has managed to do the work that it has done, and I look forward to it doing its work in the years ahead.

Charlie Elphicke rose

Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman wants to delay his own Adjournment debate. I am happy to allow him to intervene.

Charlie Elphicke: I have a very brief point. Sometimes, the Leader of the House is given a hard time about how things are with the Backbench Business Committee. However, is it not right to say that it was very much his brainchild to make it happen and to implement it? Should not the House recognise that he has fostered this major improvement in our parliamentary machinery, which the previous Government did nothing about?

Mr Heath: I am perfectly happy to take credit on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for implementing what was clearly set out in the Wright Committee report. I thought it was a great shame that the report was not implemented by the previous Government, but it has been and will be by this Government. I commend the Wright Committee’s report to everybody who wants to see the way forward on some of the relevant issues.

Mr Chope: Will the Deputy Leader of the House give way?

Mr Heath: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, who seems to misunderstand some elements of the Wright Committee’s report, would do well to revisit it. I will let him intervene and explain what I have got wrong.

Mr Chope: Well, I do not think I have long enough to be able to do that in an intervention.

There have been references to a House business committee, to consider Government business, being established by the third year of this Parliament. Is that going to happen?

Mr Heath: Again, I commend the Wright Committee report to the hon. Gentleman. He will find that he was simply wrong in some of the points that he made earlier about the Committee’s suggested structure for determining House business.

I move on to the last substantive point that needs to be made. The hon. Gentleman seemed to take exception to the fact that the Government had attempted to facilitate the Backbench Business Committee’s procedures for this week.

Mark Reckless: Will the Deputy Leader of the House give way?

Mr Heath: No, not for the moment. Let me explain what the Government have been attempting to do.

It seems that there is some objection to the fact that the Government have tried to help the Backbench Business Committee by providing the debate that it would normally have scheduled this Thursday. We are committed to the

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Backbench Business Committee having time for Back-Bench debates at an average of once a week, although not necessarily every week consecutively, and we have kept up that average.

We felt it imperative that we reserved time this week for a Backbench Business Committee debate. Did we pluck a subject out of the air for that debate? No, of course we did not. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House asked the Chair-elect of the Committee, who of course was its previous Chair and so has some experience, what she felt would be an appropriate subject for debate this Thursday prior to the Committee being formally instituted. She undertook to consult the new Committee’s members-elect to see whether they had views, and she took into account the requests that had come forward. She suggested that we might provisionally propose that there be a motion on mental health, tabled by Back-Bench Members and in the name of the hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan).

The Government are now being criticised for providing at the earliest opportunity what members of the Backbench Business Committee wanted. We are told that we are wrong to have done that. I reject that criticism, which I think is frankly rather stupid. All that we have done throughout the process has been to say that we will do whatever we can to help the Committee in its work. Had the Committee been set up last night, it would have met today and agreed the subject for debate on Thursday. I have every confidence that the subject it would have chosen was the one that its members asked for. If the Government are to be criticised for helping the Committee and facilitating its setting-up at the earliest opportunity, I fail to understand what more we can do to assist Back-Bench Members. I believe that we have acted entirely properly.

Mark Reckless: Will the Deputy Leader of the House give way?

Mr Heath: I think the debate has now covered all the topics that could conceivably be relevant to the motion, and I hope that the House will now have the opportunity to move swiftly to a conclusion.

Question put and agreed to.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation


That the Motion in the name of Sir George Young relating to the Electoral Commission shall be treated as if it related to an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice of a motion has been given that the instrument be approved.—(Mr Dunne.)

Sittings of the House (21 June)

Motion made,

That, at the sitting on Thursday 21 June—

(1) the House shall meet at 9.30 am, and will first proceed with any private business, petitions, and motions for unopposed returns;

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(2) Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House) shall apply to the sitting on that day with—

(a) the omission of paragraph (1) and of the proviso to paragraph (7); and

(b) the insertion of references to 2.30 pm as the moment of interruption;

(3) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business), no opposed business shall be taken after the moment of interruption;

(4) no questions shall be taken, save as provided in paragraph (5) below;

(5) At 11.00 am the Speaker may interrupt the proceedings in order to permit questions to be asked which are in his opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business, statements to be made by Ministers, or personal explanations to be made by Members;

(6) If the House is in committee at 11.00 am, and the Speaker’s intention to permit such questions, statements or explanations has been made known, the occupant of the chair shall leave the chair without putting any question, and report that the committee has made progress and ask leave to sit again;

(7) the proviso to paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 88 (Meetings of general committees) shall not apply;

(8) no general committees shall meet after 2.30 pm;

(9) when a substantive motion for the adjournment of the House has been made by a Minister of the Crown, the Speaker shall put the question forthwith; and

(10) there shall be no sitting in Westminster Hall.—(Mr Dunne.)

Hon. Members: Object.


Rural Transport (Brafferton, Darlington)

11.15 pm

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): The petition has been signed by 85 of the 150 residents of the small but beautiful village of Brafferton in my constituency, from which Arriva has decided to withdraw the only bus service, meaning that the only shop within walking distance is the motorway service station.

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The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Brafferton,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that in order to maintain a reliable rural transport network in Darlington Borough, additional funding needs to be provided for rural bus services.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to ensure that there is funding in place to maintain the provision of reliable rural bus services in the Darlington Borough.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Dangerous Dogs

11.16 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I must declare an interest in this petition, because the event that led to it occurred in my garden, where a dog was savaged—brutally—by a pack of 10 dogs. I said to the owner of the dog that I would present the petition only if it achieved at least 1,000 signatures, because I thought it would be improper for me to benefit from a parliamentary procedure on my own account. Instead, we received thousands of signatures, not only from my constituency, the village of West Harptree and neighbouring villages, but, thanks to The Daily Telegraph, from across the country.

The petition states:

The Humble Petition of Deborah Bowler,


That the Petitioner believes that attacks by dogs made on all other animals should be made illegal and that owners should be legally responsible for their dogs’ actions.

Wherefore your Petitioner prays that your Honourable House shall urge the Government to consider legislating to make owners accountable for their dogs’ actions in the case of attacks on other animals.

And your Petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.


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Port of Dover

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

11.17 pm

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I am delighted to have secured this debate on the future of the port of Dover. In Dover and Deal in my constituency, the port of Dover is a cornerstone of the local economy. It dominates the seafront and is a key facility for the ferry industry, which employs around 5,000 people, and it serves as nationally important transport infrastructure. The port is a major asset of the town of Dover.

For all those reasons the future of the port is considered to be critical by people of my constituency, yet there is much concern about the port, which is more formally known as the Dover Harbour Board. The catalyst for the deep concern about the future of the port was its being put up for sale in the dying days of the Labour Government. That came as a shock to my electors, who do not want to see the port sold off to the French or anyone else. They see the port, nestled as it is at the foot of the white cliffs of Dover, as the English border. They feel that the port, every bit as much as Buckingham palace, Big Ben or Stonehenge, should remain for ever England. That view is shared by people up and down the country.

The privatisation move made people think more deeply about how things were going at the port. The more they thought about it, the more concerned they became. First, there is great concern that the harbour board has been in conflict with its key customers, the ferry companies. The board has been seeking to increase mooring fees by a third in a serious downturn. Moreover, the ferry companies feel that they have provided the harbour board with £60 million for investment in infrastructure, which they feel has not been made. The situation has resulted in litigation and has injected much acrimony and uncertainty into the local economy of a town that has more than its fair share of deprivation.

Secondly, the business at the port has not been doing very well in recent years. In 2008, the turnover of the harbour board was £60.774 million; by 2011, it had fallen by 10% to £54.74 million. In 2008, the operating profit was £15.53 million; by 2011, it had fallen to £9.868 million—a fall in profits of 34%. One might think that that was just down to a general reduction in traffic because of the economic downturn, but the figures give the lie to that notion. They show that more traffic has been going to the channel tunnel. In 2008, Dover accounted for 65% of cross-channel freight; by 2011, the figure was down to 62%. In 2008, 61% of cross-channel cars went through Dover; today, the figure is just 54%. In 2008, 64% of cross-channel coaches went through Dover; by 2011, the figure had fallen to 60%. Reflecting on those figures, people rightly feel that the harbour board should be working together with its key customers to win market share and beat the competition. It should certainly not find itself in conflict with its key customers.

There are also concerns about pay in the boardroom. In 2007, the compensation of the harbour board in total was £402,000. By 2011, it had risen to £546,000—a rise of 36%, at a time when wages across the country had barely risen at all and when operating profits had

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fallen by pretty much the same percentage. That concern has been increased because the port’s turnover and profits have fallen over the period, and the harbour board has been sacking hundreds of long-serving port workers. There are also concerns about infrastructure maintenance, as the Dolphin jetty recently collapsed.

Overall, my electors feel that the current situation at the port is simply not acceptable. They sense that there has been a record of failure and a promise of more. They feel that there is a lack of accountability, partnership and co-operation to deliver the best future for Dover. There has been a lack of partnership with the port’s stakeholders. My electors do not want to see the port sold off; they want it to be more of a success, and to see greater investment in the infrastructure and regeneration of the seafront. Regeneration is particularly needed in the western part of the port, around the now derelict harbour station. Regeneration is key to making the best of Dover. We are talking about a beautiful regency town that was lost in the cross-channel shelling of the second world war. Regenerating the seafront is overdue, and, if effected properly, could make Dover a jewel in the crown of the nation once again.

That was the situation that I was confronted with on my election to serve the people of Dover and Deal in 2010. My electors wanted to see investment, but no sell-off. The harbour board is a public body—it is a quango of the Department for Transport—so it has the ability to raise funds, albeit with great difficulty, because they come on to the national balance sheet. My electors wanted to see greater partnership and greater accountability to the residential and business community. They also wanted to bring forward regeneration and investment. As it was in 2010, so it is today. For that reason, it is clear to me that the community and businesses should get together and buy the port. The Prime Minister came into office promising the big society and a community right to buy. It is for that reason that the People’s Port Trust was set up: to take over the port. The People’s Port Trust was set up as a charitable mutual society, like a building society or trade union. Anyone living or working in the Dover district can join for just £10.

Funding was raised in the City of London to buy the port, in the same way that one would buy a house with a mortgage. The revenues would be underpinned by the ferry companies, ensuring the lowest possible cost of funds and the lowest possible mooring fees for the hard-pressed ferry operators, which have been suffering from predatory pricing by the state aid-backed channel tunnel. The People’s Port Trust directors are highly skilled, and include people such as Sir Patrick Sheehy, who ran British American Tobacco, the multi-billion pound cigarette combine, and Algy Cluff, the entrepreneur who opened up the North sea to oil exploration back in the 1970s. The funding commitments have been made by serious institutions in the City of London; this is a serious bid by a community that is serious about having greater control over its future.

Buying the port would ensure that it would remain forever England, and that it would be safeguarded by the community for the nation in perpetuity. Buying the port would ensure the accountability of its board to the community and businesses. It would reconnect the port with the community, and especially the ferry companies, which provide many thousands of local jobs and almost all the moneys that the port has. The People’s Port Trust

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would ensure that there would be a real focus on investment and regeneration under a costed plan for the long term, in contrast to the vague promises put forward by the harbour board in its plan to take forward the privatisation that Labour was so determined to see.

That Dover should become the people’s port and a landmark of the Prime Minister’s big society is the clear, settled will of the community—a will demonstrated by 98% voting in favour of the people’s port in a statutory local referendum, and a will and motivation underlined by the fact that the People’s Port Trust now has more than 1,000 members. The question is how the will of the community and local businesses can be implemented. The harbour board has remained determined in its desire to follow through the privatisation policy of the last Labour Government, but there is now a different Government. This Government do not need slavishly to follow the sell-off plan of the previous Government.

That brings me to a number of questions about the future. As the Government appoint the harbour board members, could they not exercise their control to enjoin the harbour board to work more closely with the community and businesses on the new big society plan that the community so clearly wishes to see? In the past, directors of the harbour board have been appointed by the Department under the old-style quango appointment system involving the great and the good. In some cases, it seems that the harbour board has largely been left to choose its own directors. That has led it to become provider-focused, and not sufficiently customer or community-focused.

Would it not be possible to have community and business involvement in making future appointments in an open and transparent appointment process in which the Department appoints the brightest and best through open competition? That would enable the port to become more customer and community-focused. There is an opportunity coming up to make that happen. The chairman of the harbour board retires at the end of this year, and its chief executive retires next year. Those appointments are key to how the harbour board operates and behaves, and they are made by the Department. Will the Department consider making the appointments under the new, open and competitive process that I am suggesting?

Moving to the privatisation process that is now under way, I understand that, once started, it is hard to stop. The Ports Act 1991 was aimed at selling off ports, rather than not selling them off. The process has dragged on, however. The harbour board has been slow to put proposals to Minsters for a decision to be made. It keeps changing its submission and seeking further bites of the cherry. It was meant to submit its final proposal earlier this year, but it has still not done so. It is claimed that the proposal will be tabled in July. Will Ministers ensure that if the proposal is not made in July, the process will be brought to an end? This matters, because the people of Dover need to know what the future of the port will be. The uncertainty is having a negative impact on the local economy.

There is, of course, an alternative to privatisation. It is for Ministers to use the new powers contained in the Public Bodies Act 2011. Those powers would enable the harbour board quango to be reformed. In that way, the community port proposal could be taken forward and

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implemented. I understand that Ministers do not believe that they can use those powers unless or until the privatisation process has been completed, whether it is accepted or rejected. I want to ask whether Ministers have taken independent legal advice on that matter, because it seems to me that, as the Public Bodies Act 2011 was passed after the Ports Act 1991, the Public Bodies Act can trump the Ports Act. Ministers could therefore start the process to reform the port under the Public Bodies Act, as Parliament has given them powers to do so more recently than it gave them powers to make a decision under the Ports Act.

That matters because, given the behaviour of the harbour board, few people in my constituency seriously believe that the harbour board should be allowed to make any decision on the future of the port of Dover. They feel that the Department should take direct control and work with the community and businesses to find a more positive way forward—ideally, the one involving the people’s port, because that is the people’s will and the mandate that I have received as the constituency Member of Parliament.

I hope the Minister will consider these matters and will be able at least to consider some of the points I have raised this evening. I hope that it is understood that, as the Member of Parliament for Dover, my aim is to deliver a stronger future for Dover, to see the long-desired regeneration of Dover and renewed economic success for a town that has not had its fair share of jobs and money in recent times, and to ensure that an asset that is important to the nation as a whole is managed more effectively in the future for the benefit of the community and of our country. If we get the right future for the port, Dover could be a town transformed into the jewel of the nation’s crown that it always used to be. That is the future that I and the community wish to see.

11.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): It is a pleasure to respond on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government to the debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) on the future of Dover. It is a subject that we have discussed privately and publicly many times, and we will continue to do so. I unashamedly pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s tireless work on behalf of his constituents on the issue of the future of Dover. The town has a wonderful tradition and history, and its future is enormously important not just for Dover but for the future of the UK, which needs growth to get us out of the economic situation that we inherited.

I accept many of my hon. Friend’s points. He touched eloquently on the point that I am fairly restricted in what I am able to articulate from the Dispatch Box this evening—I know what he would love me to say—so I hope he will understand that I cannot fall into proverbial potholes, which might have serious consequences as we take the process forward following receipt of the further submission from the harbour board in the near future.

As my hon. Friend alluded to, Dover has been a vital artery into the UK for many years. To this day, this great nation of ours, being an island nation, still relies enormously on our ports and our maritime industry. We are going through a renaissance as a maritime nation, with more and more shipowners registering their ships

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under our flag. We in the UK are not a flag of convenience; we are very strict about what ships are under our flag, which is one reason why others are attracted to the UK.

More than 90% of our international trade is conducted through our ports. Many have not had the sort of investment that my hon. Friend and others would like to have seen over the years. I think the polite term is that maritime has been a bit of a “poor relation” in transport matters. That certainly does not apply during the two years in which I have had the support of two Secretaries of State and the Prime Minister for the maritime industry.

Port capacity at Dover, particularly roll-on, roll-off issues, has to be addressed because we expect the amount of roll-on, roll-off to double by 2030. My hon. Friend touched on recent issues concerning Sea France. If he does not mind, I shall not dwell much on the acquisition of Sea France by Eurotunnel, which has been agreed by the French courts over the last couple of days—not least because we are closely studying that decision to determine whether it might be detrimental to competition for both the other ferry operators in Dover. My hon. Friend knows that I have met them on more than one occasion. They are worried about their margins, particularly in the light of pressures from emissions legislation, which adversely affects their profits.

Since I have been the Minister, the Department has had to make three important quasi-judicial decisions. The harbour revision order to which my hon. Friend referred, involving the western docks—also known locally as terminal 2—was issued in 2009. Objections by the ferry operators to harbour dues for 2010 and 2011, and a transfer scheme under the Ports Act 1991, which was originally put forward in 2010 by Dover Harbour Board to permit the port to be sold off, also need to be considered. Two of the three quasi-judicial decisions have been made in the last two years.

I know that my hon. Friend was keen for the harbour revision order to proceed. I do not think that it came as an enormous surprise when, after an 11-day public inquiry, the inspector sided with the board rather than the ferry operators on the question of the harbour dues. That is the decision that has always been made, which worries the Secretary of State and me. We will examine the legislation to ensure that it is fit for purpose, because that is obviously necessary if it is always at the back of people’s minds that no one has ever won.

The third decision that needs to be addressed is that involving, for want of a better word, the privatisation of Dover. My hon. Friend said that he did not want the port to be sold to a foreign national, a foreign country, or indeed anyone except the people of Dover. I respect and understand his view, but, as he well knows, it is not quite as simple as that. We are awaiting a further submission from the harbour board, whose chairman I have met in the last couple of weeks. I stressed to him that the Secretary of State and I considered it crucial for the board to produce its revised submission as soon as possible after the decision on harbour dues.

Let me explain what the Government seek from the harbour board. The criteria include an expectation that the Secretary of State

“'will not approve an application for the sale of a trust port”—

which is what Dover is—

“unless the sale is considered likely to deliver an enduring and significant level of community participation.”

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I hope that the members of the harbour board have noted that. They know it for a fact, but I think it important to reiterate it as we await their written submissions.

My hon. Friend mentioned regeneration. I have visited Dover as a tourist over many years, but in recent months I have been there to meet members of the local authority and the harbour board, as well as local dignitaries including my hon. Friend. I know that it is imperative for the people of Dover to be able to see the tangible benefit of the wealth that it can produce, but my visits, correspondence and meetings with the hon. Gentleman and other local representatives have left me in no doubt that they cannot see it at present.

When I met representatives of the Unite union recently—a meeting facilitated by my hon. Friend—I encountered deep concern about the lack of investment, as it was described to me. I have put the points that were raised with me directly to the chairman and chief executive of the board, who have addressed themselves to many of them. I am not certain that the people of Dover, my hon. Friend or the union will accept some of their assurances, but I wanted to ensure that the concerns expressed to me by my hon. Friend and the union were put to the board formally, and to make public the point that our discussions had reached.

I genuinely believe that Dover has an exceptional future. I know that other countries around the world look to it—notwithstanding its problems—as a model for the development of their own roll-off ferries. I was in Taipei recently. Relations between Taiwan and mainland China are becoming exceptionally good—so good that roll-on, roll-off capacity is no longer anywhere near good enough so the authorities are looking to add five new ports. Members of the management at Dover were in Taiwan because the Taiwanese want to buy some of their skills and specialist knowledge on how to have so much movement through a port with a very small footprint and without having the best road infrastructure in the world. That infrastructure issue is also a reason why the western port—terminal 2—is so important.

I am disappointed that the harbour board feels that the market is not currently at a level that will allow for active development of the western port to go ahead, although I understand its decision. I intend to discuss the issue with the board soon. We should not just wait for the market to move; we must be ready when the market moves. The local authority is very keen for the western port to be developed so we can move forward and have regeneration.

I am sorry that I cannot at present do many of the things my hon. Friend asks me to do. I will consider all the points he has raised, however, but the quasi-judicial process that is under way may impose some restrictions.

I should pay tribute to the Bishop of Dover for the work he has done in bringing the community together. Others, as well as elected politicians, have a role to play, and he has done very helpful work.

My hon. Friend mentioned board appointments. We already have a situation in which there are advertisements for board vacancies so local people can apply for them; the posts will be advertised locally as well as in the national press. My hon. Friend asked whether there might be local involvement on the selection panel, too. I will look into that. At present it is not the case, however.

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I am sure my hon. Friend knows that I was asked to extend the membership of the board by several members for two years. I looked into that and decided that, as we are currently waiting for the submission and so forth, a one-year extension was the maximum period I was willing to consider at present. I did that not to cause instability in the board, but to do the exact opposite: to make its members concentrate their minds on the future and the need to address the situation in Dover.

To be fair, that situation was created by the previous Administration, who pushed the privatisation agenda forward without carefully thinking through what that would actually do. They opened a Pandora’s box. What we now need to do is open things up fully, so that nationally we can get the full benefits of a much more efficient and growing Dover port, and at the same time the people of Dover and Deal have ownership and get tangible benefits, even if they are not involved in the day-to-day running of the port. Anyone who knows

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anything about the running of a port knows that it is absolutely crucial to have experts in there running it and overseeing the business side of things. It is a very skilful job to run a port.

In conclusion, although this is a very frustrating time for the workers, the unions and their representatives in Dover, it is also quite an exciting time. If we can all get this right—that is the most important thing—a great national asset with wonderful history, which is known around the world, could work brilliantly for the local people and the country as a whole. It could enhance this great maritime nation in which we live.

Let me conclude the debate by addressing a point that I found slightly amusing. Whatever happens, the cliffs of Dover are not for sale—not to anybody from any nation—as they sit outside the port of Dover.

Question put and agreed to.

11.45 pm

House adjourned.