“Do you think it is right that your taxes are going to educate my children and your boss’s children?”

It clearly had not crossed his mind that those factory workers might have children who wanted to go to university, had the talent to do so and deserved support.

The damage that the Government’s policies are doing to social mobility is not just at undergraduate level. There is deep concern in our universities that the transition from undergraduate courses to postgraduate taught courses will be affected by higher fees. The Browne review did not consider the issue, but many professions now require a taught master’s qualification and others expect it. If that route is closed to those who cannot afford to add to their debt, we will have taken an enormous step backwards.

The Government’s higher education policy is deeply damaging to our universities and deeply unfair to students, so I hope that the House will support the motion.

9.36 pm

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) is spot-on about the effect of such high tuition fees on those wanting to apply for postgraduate courses. Like him, I want to focus on one particular issue, which is clearly linked to the Government’s plans for higher education and their policy of £9,000 tuition fees, but which has not been given such a high profile in the debate so far.

As others have mentioned, Ministers wanted students to consider degrees costing less than £9,000, to reduce the Treasury’s exposure to student debt. What has not been highlighted in the debate is Ministers’ plan significantly to increase the role of commercial, for-profit universities owned by private shareholders to help to achieve that objective. They have significantly increased the number of courses run by such institutions for which students can secure a student loan.

I should say that there are already a large number of students studying and doing well at private universities in the UK. However, it is far from clear that Ministers have grasped the scale of risk involved in allowing an even bigger expansion of access to student loans for commercial universities without proper safeguards. In the US, the for-profit higher education world has been rocked by a series of scandals involving very high drop-out rates, very low degree completion rates and aggressive recruitment practices. Indeed, according to a recent American Senate investigation, in the three previous years almost 2 million students had withdrawn from for-profit institutions without completing a degree but with significant personal debt. One such institution had a drop-out rate of 84%.

11 Sep 2012 : Column 243

I accept that Ministers have said that some safeguards are needed as the commercial, for-profit part of the universities sector grows. It would be helpful if the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), whom I congratulate on his appointment, set out in his response a little more detail about the Department’s plans.

For-profit commercial universities are still much less well regulated than mainstream universities. Surely Government Members would want the marketplace, as they describe it, for university education at least to be on a fair basis. Surely all for-profit companies offering a university education that want to recruit students who can access publicly backed loans should be subject to the same information and publication requirements as public universities. Those requirements should include student data and financial information and, as I made clear in my intervention on the Minister—uncharacteristically, he resorted to blather and ducked the question—be subject to freedom of information legislation.

When he replies to the debate, I encourage the Minister not to follow the example of his right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science but to answer the question: when will Ministers bring forward plans to require commercial, for-profit universities to be subject to freedom of information legislation? When will they be required to provide the same level of data and information as mainstream universities so that they can be held to account in the same way?

Mr Willetts: Briefly, we are using the designation power—the power to designate courses and institutions—much more actively than the previous Government. That will ensure both the financial strength and the quality of provision in courses at alternative providers. There are still differences in the regulatory regime and it cuts both ways—FOI legislation cuts one way, equalities cuts the other, but that is the power we are using.

Mr Thomas: I say gently to the Minister that it is interesting that he and his colleagues in the Treasury are examining whether commercial, for-profit universities should be exempt from VAT in order to create a level playing field, but other sensible regulations, such as the requirement to be answerable to FOI legislation, as mainstream universities are, do not apply. Our collective experience of banking regulation and its failings, about which hon. Members across the House have uncomfortable memories, ought to encourage Ministers to be wary of market failure. As I have said, surely commercial universities that want exemptions should be properly held to account.

In her excellent opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) set out clearly how this policy of higher tuition fees exemplifies the Government’s failures in a series of other areas. Our motion outlines a clear, sensible alternative, and on that basis, I commend it to the House.

9.41 pm

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): I begin by commending all speakers for the Opposition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne

11 Sep 2012 : Column 244

East (Mr Brown) was forensic on debt, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) was impassioned about participation. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) was sharp on upskilling as was my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) when she spoke about the chaos in the FE sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) spoke about teaching, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) about social mobility, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) about the problems of private providers.

We move from one fee fiasco in higher education to another in further education. In her opening remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) spelt out the uncertain future that faces the nearly 400,000 adult learners affected by the proposals. That situation came about as a direct result of the blood offering made by Ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to the Chancellor’s cuts in late 2010. As if appalled by the implications of what they had done, they then sat on the issue and dithered for over a year before commissioning any surveys or discussing its practical consequences with stakeholders. Those consequences are now putting huge pressures on the FE sector.

FE colleges, which are key drivers of social mobility and hubs within our communities, are being hit left, right and centre by Government policy. First they were saddled with the 25% cut in resource grants, then the abolition of the education maintenance allowance put a strain on their budgets and, for the first time in many years, they have seen a fall in the number of enrolments of 16-to-18 years olds. They are now confronted with an FE loans policy that operates on a base assumption that student numbers will drop by 20%. In fact, the Department expects as many as 45% of learners—up to 150,000 people based on current numbers—to drop out, and that will hit learners old and young alike as the viability of college courses is affected.

The system is inevitably more complex than HE loans because of the varying start dates, course durations and the costs of FE courses, and no central administration similar to that of UCAS has been entrusted to the Student Loans Company. I say no more. Many hon. Members bare the casework scars from that organisation, and there are no pilots in place to trial the new system.

Mr Willetts: We sorted it out.

Mr Marsden: You have not. With their ability to offer a second chance, FE colleges are at the vanguard of promoting social mobility and loans could be a huge barrier to that. Four thousand pounds is a huge amount of money during the recession and could be a major deterrent for learners, restricting the social mobility that I thought the Business Secretary was keen to promote. He should not just take my word for that, but should listen to his party’s immensely respected former spokeswoman on education in the Lords, Baroness Sharp. In May this year she said:

“I cannot understand why we, as a government, why on earth we are pushing forward with loans for level 3…I really think that if we are concerned about social mobility, it’s very important that we try to overturn it.”

11 Sep 2012 : Column 245

She speaks for women, with whom level 3 FE courses are popular. The Departments statistics show that women make up roughly two thirds of the cohort who will be hit by FE loans. For many women—those doing low-paid jobs or juggling family and caring commitments—a £4,000 a year loan is not a realistic proposition.

My discussions with women learners around the country reminded me of the outlook of many of my women students when I was an Open university tutor. They wanted to broaden their horizons and welcomed what their completed qualifications could offer them. However, none felt they would be able to do those things under a loans system. The Government, and not least the Minister, have told us that we should forgo Government activity in favour of nudge theory. The jury may be out on the latest intellectual fad, but Ministers need to be reminded that people can be nudged away from things as well as towards them.

HE access courses are a popular route for female learners, so I am glad that, after a long campaign, the former Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning announced a series of concessions before the summer recess. That was a welcome first step, but his successor needs to ensure that those commitments are implemented rapidly and effectively. Even so, Million+ warns us in the briefing for today’s debate that the net result of the overall changes will, in the long term, be fewer mature learners, and that progression by those who want to study later in life will be undermined.

However, the Government have not budged an inch on scrapping direct financial support for level 3 and above apprenticeships and forcing apprentices to take on individual loans. In responding to the FE consultation, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills specifically counselled the Government that not just large employers are concerned and lukewarm about the proposals, but adult apprentices themselves. UKCES gave the Government at best an amber light, and at worst a red light, and yet they press ahead. If huge numbers of adults drop out, the Government’s much-vaunted drive to increase apprenticeships, which is heavily dependent on increases in post-25 apprenticeships, will be in tatters. The numbers will simply fall off a cliff. That might blow a hole in the Government’s hubris, but more importantly, it will deny the life chances of tens of thousands of adult learners.

At the other end of the age spectrum, grants are offered for small and medium-sized enterprises to take on 16 to 24-year-olds, but they are moving at a snail’s pace. That is why the Opposition proposed earlier this year to expand the number of apprenticeships, by buddying up with large employers and expanding group training associations. In the meantime, local authorities, including many Labour local authorities, must pick up the slack as the Government stall and flail around. Councils such as Liverpool, Wakefield, Barking and Dagenham, Knowsley, Dudley, Oldham, and my council, Blackpool, work with local colleges and providers to place young people in quality apprenticeships.

Many young people are still unable to access some of the most competitive apprenticeships without the necessary pre-apprenticeship training. The Government’s fiascos—they first allowed and then curtailed short-term apprenticeships—have wasted precious months and years, as the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said in its September newsletter. Young learners in further education face a double-whammy. Those not in

11 Sep 2012 : Column 246

education, employment or training and those just above have not had the training and support to allow them to access apprenticeships, while those in the middle must compete with young people who have stronger academic grades.

On top of that, Department for Education Ministers have failed to fulfil their part of the FE bargain by dropping work experience from the schools curriculum, dropping independent advice and guidance, and by failing to help young people to climb the FE or apprenticeship ladders. They do not say that that is what they are doing; they simply abdicate their responsibility for providing frameworks to make those things happen.

The classic example is the Government’s response to Jason Holt’s excellent review on how small and medium-sized enterprises could be given more support and encouragement to take on young people. The Department’s response to his plea to them on careers advice and guidance was this:

“Whilst we welcome the specific suggestions made by Mr Holt …we believe it should be up to schools, together with local partners including employers, to determine how best to address this challenge”.

I am therefore not surprised that, in this week’s issue of Further Education Week, Mr Holt states:

“I am disappointed the Government has not taken more notice of my proposal…I had hoped they would require schools actively to promote apprenticeships and to put a stronger emphasis on equipping pupils with…skills…there is still no obvious structure in the school system to encourage young people to think of apprenticeships…The Government’s decision to hand the baton to already hard-pressed and financially constrained schools will result in little actually happening.”

When I chided him on this last week in Question Time, the Secretary of State said that he did not regard the hands-off approach at the Department for Education as the last word on active Government. The new Under-Secretary of State for Skills, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), has a golden opportunity. He is a Minister in the Department for Education as well as BIS. Will he take up the cause and address Jason Holt’s concerns? His predecessor would have done so.

At the same time, little or nothing has been done to respond to the pleas from business to get involved in such programmes—again, waffle but no action. This is a dithering Government. For all their talk of being joined-up, the chasms and conflicts between the Department for Education and BIS are widening. They have wasted the best part of two years, failing to use billions of pounds of public procurement to guarantee apprenticeships from companies bidding for large contracts.

While the Opposition have been working closely on policies to give young people a linked partnership of opportunities—from school days and college through to further education, including for older learners—the gap between the two Departments has become a chasm. While they want to erect barriers, we want to build bridges. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said this week, we need a skills system that does not leave us a country where the 50% who do not go to university feel completely left out. We plan to build that new agenda with schools, young people, businesses and trade unions working to fashion new vocational training systems. My right hon. Friend has said it all: while the Government dither, we are stepping forward. I commend the motion.

11 Sep 2012 : Column 247

9.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills (Matthew Hancock): I rise to propose that the House oppose the motion. We have had contributions of great passion, not least from the right hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) and for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), both of whom supported fees in principle but wished that they were lower. They both generously set out where they agree with what the Government have done, not least on improved contact hours and the focus on employment outcomes, which surely must be crucial. I listened carefully to their points and welcome their constructive approach, particularly because each argued that, in this competitive world, having a first-rate university and further education sector is critical for our ability to compete in the world. I welcome many of their comments, but would go further. The right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East even said how he would pay to reduce fees. I will come to that in a moment.

That constructive approach was in sharp contrast to the contribution from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), who is not in his place. He talked about application numbers, but did not point out that the number of 18-year-olds in the country is falling. We therefore have to look at the proportion of 18-year-olds applying. According to UCAS, the proportion applying this year was higher than in any year of the previous Labour Government. Every Opposition Member should remember that fact when listening to the anecdotal numbers. If there are fewer 18-year-olds, surely we should look at the proportion of them applying to university.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) made a powerful speech and, in particular, celebrated studentfinance2012.com, which busts many of the myths sadly propagated by Opposition Members and instead points out what happens to students when they go to university, and when and how much they pay back. I commend the work of studentfinance2012.com. Indeed, I am sure that the fact that the proportion of applications is higher than in any year under the Labour Government is partly because students look at facilities and think very hard about how they are going to go to university.

The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) argued strongly about social mobility. By contrast, I had a lot of respect for, but disagreed with, the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass). She made an impassioned argument against fees, as did the hon. Gentleman. She also focused on the need to reform the GCSE system. She made an effective speech, and I agree that the GCSE exam system needs to be reformed.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) and for Reading East (Mr Wilson) focused on access, saying that universities should be free to make decisions about access. The Minister of State set out the duty to protect the rights of universities to select students. Les Ebdon’s comment that one poor student should be able to go to university for everyone in the top 20% is indeed a laudable aim. I agree with him about that, and I think broad education reforms will be needed, not least free schools, academies, the pupil premium and the focus on improving education throughout our system, including in schools, all of which will be important.

11 Sep 2012 : Column 248

Tristram Hunt rose

Matthew Hancock: I am sorry, but if the hon. Gentleman had been here at the start of the wind-ups, I might have given way to him.

Tristram Hunt rose

Matthew Hancock: No, I am not giving way. If the hon. Gentleman will not come back for the wind-ups, he is not going to have another say.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) raised concerns about applications from low-income students and asked about FE loans. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden)—with whom I look forward very much to working—also made the argument about FE loans. Rather like with part-time students in HE, the FE loans policy will remove up-front costs. Following the package that was set out by my predecessor in July—which was welcomed by the Association of Colleges, as well as the hon. Gentleman and others—I very much look forward to working with him and the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on the design of the package, and to talking to him about it soon.

The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) argued against profit-making universities.

Tristram Hunt: Will the Minister give way?

Matthew Hancock: I will give way to people who were here for the start of the winding-up speeches, but not those who make a speech and then do not come back.

Tristram Hunt rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. The Minister is clearly not giving way. I think that much we have established.

Matthew Hancock: It was very clear.

My hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) and for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) effectively made the case that we all have a responsibility to let everybody know that no one will pay a penny in their fees until they are earning over £21,000. Let that message go out from here. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley was typically passionate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire showed strong support for Derby university and for apprenticeships.

Tristram Hunt: Will the Minister give way?

Matthew Hancock: No.

Finally, in the short amount of time available to me, let me say that Government Members faced up to the difficult challenges of funding higher education. However, we do not know what the Opposition stand for. It is like a multiple-choice question. Which is the answer? Is it the graduate tax? We know that the Leader of the Opposition is in favour of a graduate tax because he said:

“I want to have a graduate tax.”

Or is the answer lower fees, paid for by axing bursaries and access schemes and by cutting courses—

11 Sep 2012 : Column 249

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Question put accordingly (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House divided:

Ayes 224, Noes 285.

Division No. 63]

[9.59 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Percy, Andrew

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Julie Hilling and

Heidi Alexander

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Andrew, Stuart

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Munt, Tessa

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stride, Mel

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Anne Milton and

Jenny Willott

Question accordingly negatived.

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11 Sep 2012 : Column 251

11 Sep 2012 : Column 252

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.

Question agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House congratulates all those who have recently achieved their educational qualifications; notes the number of

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full-time higher education students in 2012 is expected to be higher than in any year under the previous administration; believes that the pupil premium, which is designed to raise the attainment of pupils from low-income households, represents a powerful mechanism for widening participation in higher education; welcomes the increased spending on widening participation in higher education, including the higher maintenance grants, the National Scholarship Programme and the extension of tuition loans to part-time students; further notes the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ recent finding that the new student finance system “is actually more progressive than its predecessor: the poorest 29 per cent of graduates will be better off under the new system”; supports the extra information provided to prospective students through the student finance tour and the Key Information Set; further supports the efforts being made to ensure the best possible match between students and institutions, with one-quarter of all undergraduate places removed from centralised number controls; and congratulates the Government for working with employers to deliver an unprecedented increase in apprenticeships, with 800,000 new starts since September 2010.

Business without Debate

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

EURODAC

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 10638/12, relating to a draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of ‘EURODAC’ for the comparison of fingerprints for the effective application of Regulation (EU) No.[.../...] (establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person) and to request comparisons with EURODAC data by Member States’ law enforcement authorities and Europol for law enforcement purposes and amending Regulation (EU) No. 1077/2011 establishing a European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice; and supports the Government’s recommendation to exercise the right to decide whether or not to opt in to the Directive in accordance with Title V of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.—(Karen Bradley.)

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Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

EU Readmission Agreement with Turkey

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 11720/12, a draft Council Decision concerning the signing of the Agreement between the European Union and Turkey on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation, and No. 11743/12, a draft Council Decision concerning the conclusion of the Agreement between the European Union and Turkey on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation; and supports the Government’s recommendation to opt in to the draft Council Decision on conclusion.—(Karen Bradley.)

Question agreed to.

Petition

Post Office Facilities (Bargeddie)

10.15 pm

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): It is a privilege for me to present this petition on behalf of my constituents, who wish to see in the village of Bargeddie both existing postal services maintained and additional ones in due course.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of the Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill constituency,

Declares that the Petitioners support the continued presence of the Bargeddie post office as well as the maintenance of DVLA provision and other facilities there.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to make provision for the Bargeddie post office to remain open and for the provision of DVLA and other connected facilities to be continued.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.

[P001116]

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Wayne Moore

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

10.16 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): May I start by welcoming the Minister to his place and his new role, and also extend my thanks to him for contacting me in advance about this evening’s debate? I am very pleased to have secured this Adjournment debate concerning my constituent, Mr Wayne Moore. I sought this debate as a previous Government Minister had refused to meet me about my constituent and because of the appalling way he has been treated. I will set out the facts and the key issues.

In May 2008, Wayne Moore was working as a chef in Germany, as a self-employed contractor for an agency employed by the Ministry of Defence. On 25 May 2008, he was seriously assaulted by a serving member of the British forces. He was so seriously hurt that he had to be revived twice. This attack has had considerable consequences for Wayne in terms of continuing illness, long periods of not being able to work, depression and anxiety, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

After the attack, I would have expected the Royal Military Police immediately to carry out a thorough investigation to put a case together for the relevant prosecuting authority to act upon in a timely manner. However, what appears to have happened is a very shoddy, inadequate investigation. We now know that although CCTV had been viewed at the time, it was not captured as evidence. Forensic evidence was not obtained and medical evidence was not properly sought and looked at. It is important to note that the Special Investigation Branch originally took a statement from Wayne. That happens only when serious assaults take place, which indicates the severity of the attack. I understand that the assailant was identified by a witness, but Wayne was never invited to confirm the identity of the attacker. It came to light later, when a local MEP asked whether the German police had been notified at the time of the assault, that once again a mistake had been made in the initial investigation as the RMP had wrongly thought both assailant and victim were British forces; it had not even been bothered to find out that Wayne was a civilian.

Of further concern was the fact that after such a vicious attack on a contractor of the British Army, the British Army provided no victim support or other care and advice to Wayne. He was not contacted or kept informed of the progress of the case in those early weeks and months, and this pattern was to continue for the following four years. So Wayne contacted his then constituency MP, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who wrote to the MOD on 14 August to find out what was going on, asking whether Wayne would be asked to confirm the identity of his attacker and whether there was to be an identity parade. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and his caseworker, Roberta Crawley, for their hard work and persistence over the years that followed in challenging the Ministry of Defence on Wayne’s behalf. I also pay tribute to Paul Carbert, in my office, for his work over the past year.

The first letters from the MOD initially claimed that Wayne had left Germany and not given contact information to the Army. That was wrong and the MOD later had to

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admit that contact information had been provided by Wayne in June. It also said that an identity parade would be arranged, and a video identity parade by electronic recording was scheduled to take place at Wayne’s home on 23 September 2008. However, less than 24 hours before, on 22 September, he was told it was to take place at a barracks, which was both insensitive, because of the location of the attack, and very short notice. After the ID parade, nothing further was heard. Wayne had to chase the outcome and be told that he had identified the wrong person. That was never confirmed to him in writing.

On 15 November 2008, the MOD said that the case file was being completed and would be sent on to the appropriate authority and, once it was finalised, Wayne would be sent an inquiry outcome notification letter to update him on progress. On 26 November 2008, a letter was apparently sent to Wayne, but he never received it. If the Minister looks at that letter, he will find that it certainly gives the impression that the case had been sent to the prosecution authorities and that the perpetrator would be brought before the courts. As Wayne did not know that, he contacted his MP again and the hon. Member for Cheltenham wrote again on 15 December 2008 and 13 February 2009 raising concerns about what was happening and about the conduct of the investigation. On 9 March 2009, the MOD stated that a letter had been sent on 26 November 2008 but also agreed that a review of the investigation was to take place. A letter dated 31 July 2009 from the relevant Minister said that the review was taking longer than expected but expressed the hope that he would be able to advise of the outcome in the near future.

I now want to refer to the letter that then did follow, that of 19 August 2009, which listed the findings of the independent review of the military police’s involvement in the case. I shall read a couple of sections of that letter. It came from an MOD Minister and it stated:

“In summary, the Reviewing Officer has concluded that although there were missed investigative opportunities in this case, these errors would not have altered the outcome of the investigation. Nevertheless, it would appear that the RMP and the Army did not provide Mr Moore with the support that he should have been able to expect from this Department. I apologise for this and I can assure you that a number of lessons have been learnt.”

“As part of the Review, the RMP Reviewing Officer identified a number of missed investigative opportunities: CCTV footage was viewed but not recovered; potential witnesses to the assault were not identified; opportunities to recover medical and forensic evidence were missed and there were unnecessary delays, which in one case led to a witness declining to provide identification evidence. Importantly, there was a general lack of higher level supervision which led to the investigation as a whole taking too long.”

It continued:

“While the identification of further witnesses and more complete medical evidence may have given the Commanding Officer and his legal advisers a more detailed understanding of the facts, it is the view of the Reviewing Officer that this would not have changed the outcome of the investigation.”

It also said that the reviewing officer had “highlighted failings” in relation to

“how Mr Moore, as a victim of crime, was kept informed of progress of the investigation and of the subsequent decision not to charge the alleged offender with any offence.”

It also commented on how the outcome notification letter could have misled anyone reading it.

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As a result of that letter, Wayne Moore had a personal meeting with the reviewing officer, Lieutenant Colonel Grainger, who, it transpired at the meeting, was ignorant of many of the facts of the case. He thought that there had been “a coming together” of the two men, but did not know that Wayne had been resuscitated twice and also that the SIB had been involved. In Lieutenant Colonel Grainger’s own words, it would have been involved only in life-threatening cases.

So the hon. Member for Cheltenham wrote asking for a further review on 23 October 2009, and in February 2010 the relevant Minister sent the case to the independent case file assessor. In April 2010, the independent assessor recommended a more detailed look at the medical evidence and at whether any variation to the seriousness of the original offence should be considered.

On 8 September 2010, we had a new Government and a new Minister. The Minister wrote that he was getting on with obtaining the medical evidence and that it would be sent to the Service Prosecuting Authority. On 31 March 2011, the Minister wrote again saying that it had taken a long time to get the medical evidence and that he was now seeking information from the SPA on how to proceed.

Further chasing letters were sent by the hon. Member for Cheltenham in May, June and July 2011. Finally, an e-mail from the SPA in July 2011 confirmed that the case had never been referred and a letter from the Minister in September 2011 admitted that the case had never been passed on. That is one year’s further delay in Mr Moore’s case. I became involved in the case in October 2011.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I commend the hon. Lady for securing this debate and for the extremely diligent and committed way in which she has pursued and taken up this very disturbing case. Does she agree that it demonstrates a truly appalling series of failings in the investigations, the administration of the case by the different authorities, the communications between them and, above all, the communications between those authorities and Mr Moore, who has only ever sought justice for the injuries he received?

Diana Johnson: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point, which he makes very well. It clearly sets the context of the debate.

I met Wayne in October 2011 when he moved to Hull and on 31 October 2011 I raised concerns with the then Minister about the fact that the case was progressing so slowly. The Minister said that the case was still under consideration by the SPA and I chased that again. Wayne finally received a letter dated 10 April 2012, nearly four years after the original assault. It stated that the SPA had concluded that there was no realistic prospect of conviction, and suggested that Wayne was drunk when the attack happened and that the attacker was acting in self-defence. That was the first time that this version of events had been suggested and I must say that I was shocked that after four years Wayne was being accused of assault. It also occurs to me that if the Army really thought that that was what had happened, it had completely failed in its responsibilities to investigate the case fully.

I therefore asked for a meeting with the Minister to discuss the case on 23 May 2012. I was refused, which is why I have come to the House and why I sought a

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debate from Mr Speaker. I believe that there has been a catalogue of errors and incompetence from start to finish in the investigation of the attack on Wayne Moore. From the file it is quite clear that Ministers were signing letters in good faith, but I believe that those letters were misleading in retrospect. The Ministry of Defence needs to look very carefully at how Ministers were put in that position.

I believe that the MOD has to explain a few things. The first is the delay and incompetent investigation by the military police at the start. I find it incomprehensible that the MOD could conclude that the missed investigative opportunities would not have altered the outcome of the case. Secondly, the MOD must explain the lack of updates and support for Wayne, a victim of a serious assault, and its failure to deal with matters in a timely way. Thirdly, it must explain the perceived bias of an investigation in which the alleged attacker was a member of the armed forces and the victim was a civilian. Fourthly, it must explain why the first review was carried out by Lieutenant Colonel Grainger, who clearly did not know the facts of what had happened, and whether the MOD feels that a new review should now take place with all the evidence made available.

I think that the MOD should apologise to Wayne for how the Department has acted over the past four years and for trying, four years on, to claim that Wayne Moore was the perpetrator of the assault when that question was never raised before and has caused him enormous distress. I realise that the Minister present this evening is a new Minister, but I hope that he has some answers for Mr Moore, who feels very aggrieved about how he has been treated. He is a law-abiding citizen who is doing his best and who has been out of work for many years now, and he feels that he has been very shabbily treated.

10.29 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr Mark Francois): If the House will allow me a brief indulgence, after two and a half years in the Whips Office and the vow of Omerta that goes with it, it is a pleasure to be able to speak in the House of Commons again. Now that I have that ability, may I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on securing this debate on the case of her constituent, Mr Wayne Moore, who was allegedly assaulted on 25 May 2008 in Germany? I note that the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) is also in the Chamber and I am well aware of his long interest in this case as Mr Moore’s constituency MP, before Mr Moore moved to Hull.

I was sorry to learn the details of this incident, as I am for Mr Moore, who has clearly suffered following the events of 25 May 2008. That was made plain by the Member of Parliament who now represents him. I hope that this debate will help answer any outstanding concerns Mr Moore may have. I am sure, though, that the House will also understand that I will be unable to cover some detail relating to the case publicly, not least for reasons of data protection and legal privilege. However, I can confirm that this incident was initially investigated by the Royal Military Police. It may help at this juncture if I explain that the RMP undertook the investigation under the agreement with the German authorities covering the basing of our forces in the country as part of the

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NATO alliance, which is known as the status of forces agreement. This is because the accused was a British serviceman and the incident took place on a British military base. The service police work very closely with their civilian colleagues, both in the UK and when our forces are deployed overseas.

The initial investigation commenced on 26 May 2008. It concluded in November that year, and the matter was passed to the chain of command of the accused for their consideration. In December, following legal advice, the commanding officer made a decision using his statutory authority under the Army Act 1955—the legislation that was in force at that time—not to prosecute any individual in relation to the incident. The case was therefore discontinued at that stage. Following representations from Mr Moore, a lieutenant colonel from the Royal Military Police conducted an internal review in July 2009, which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North mentioned. He conducted a thorough review of the case and the relevant evidence, and identified a number of missed investigative opportunities. CCTV footage was reviewed and found to have no evidence of the incident in question, but was not recovered; some potential witnesses to the incident were not identified; and there were avoidable delays that, in one case, may have led to a witness declining to provide identification evidence. Nevertheless, he concluded that those shortfalls would not have materially altered the outcome, not least because other evidence, including witness evidence, contradicted Mr Moore’s version of the incident.

The Royal Military Police’s chief officer, the Provost Marshal (Army), wrote to Mr Moore to offer his personal apologies for these failures in the investigative process and to suggest a meeting with his staff to explain their findings in more detail. Mr Moore took them up on this offer and later that year the Royal Military Police met the hon. Lady’s constituent and explained their findings to him directly.

Following that review, Mr Moore continued to express reservations about the way in which the matter had been investigated and again asked that the matter be reopened. Accordingly, in March 2010, the Royal Military Police asked a retired civilian detective chief superintendent with many years’ experience in this area to undertake a further independent review of the case to provide additional external assurance of the investigation. This further review concurred with the Royal Military Police’s own assessment that although some investigative opportunities were missed in the case, as the hon. Lady said, they would not have altered the outcome of the investigation. It was, however, suggested by the detective chief superintendent, that obtaining further evidence from medical sources who treated Mr Moore in Germany at the time and subsequently in the UK might provide grounds to allow investigators to refer the case to the Service Prosecuting Authority under the new legislative framework of the Armed Forces Act 2006, which had recently come into force in October 2009.

As such, the chief officer of the Royal Military Police set about obtaining further medical evidence in support of Mr Moore’s case. Unfortunately, and despite the efforts of police investigators, it took until March 2011 for all the additional information to be provided. I should point out here that these medical sources were

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not military and there was considerable delay on the part of the civilian medical authorities in providing the necessary information. The issue of patient/doctor confidentiality and data protection, and the difficulty this poses to police forces wishing to pursue fully all lines of inquiry, is an issue that we recognise, and one that faces many police organisations, not only, in fairness, those in the military.

As a result of that further work, the case was referred to the Director of Service Prosecutions. Having received the file, prosecutors requested further clarification, which required a short period of further work. Once that was complete, they properly applied the “full code” test, which requires the prosecuting authority to judge whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction—is it more likely than not?—and, if so, whether prosecution is in the public, including the service, interest. In this case they considered that there was not a realistic prospect of conviction and, therefore, no charges were brought.

Because of the role it plays within the service justice system, the Service Prosecuting Authority is rightly independent of both the chain of command and the Ministry of Defence and falls under the superintendence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. That is analogous to the Crown Prosecution Service being independent of the civilian police. I hope that the hon. Lady will therefore understand that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on its decision.

What I can say is that the Director of Service Prosecutions has reviewed the case personally and not only provided an assurance that the correct assessment processes were followed but endorsed the decision that there was no realistic prospect of conviction. Accordingly, the managing prosecutor wrote to Mr Moore to advise him formally of the outcome, explaining the reasons for the conclusion he reached and provided Mr Moore with the opportunity to request a meeting to discuss the reasons in more detail, which I understand he has not, to date, pursued. The Solicitor-General subsequently reviewed the case papers and did not dissent from the decision.

No one can deny that, following the independent case review in early 2010, this case was more protracted than anyone would have wished. In that sense, the hon. Lady has a perfectly fair point. We also recognise that there were failures properly to support and inform Mr Moore of the status of the initial investigation and subsequently through the review process. I hope that the hon. Lady is assured, as I was, by the willingness of the service police to consider her constituent’s concerns and review the case not once, but twice, including by an independent assessor. As I know she will appreciate, the vast majority of police investigations within the service justice system are managed quickly, efficiently and effectively. Nevertheless, in the small percentage of cases in which investigative mistakes have been made, it is vital that the police are open and honest enough to hold their hands up and apologise, and I believe that this case highlights their willingness to do so.

Diana Johnson: I think that the Minister is coming to the end of his contribution and wonder whether he might be willing to comment on the allegation that has now been made against Mr Moore four years on—that he perpetrated the attack—which was not raised before and has caused him a great deal of distress.

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Mr Francois: I understand the hon. Lady’s point and think that I will have time to refer to it in my conclusion.

I would not want to leave the House with the impression that the delay that occurred in this case, for which the RMP has apologised, is the norm within the service justice system: it is not. Members will be aware that the three services each have their own police forces—the Royal Navy Police, the Royal Military Police and the Royal Air Force Police—which have statutory powers devolved through the Armed Forces Act. They are deployed wherever the armed forces are based and, because the armed forces reflect society, are expected to deliver the full spectrum of law enforcement capability and investigate all types of crime. They are therefore trained to standards set by the National Policing Improvement Agency and, where necessary, advanced technical training is provided by the civil police.

Last year more than 2,500 cases were investigated by the Royal Military Police alone and over 600 cases were prosecuted by the Service Prosecuting Authority at courts martial. The average time to trial in 2011 was 111 days, which compares favourably with, for example, magistrates courts, which have average completion rates of 144 days for all defendants, although I accept that it is difficult to make direct comparisons because of the unique nature of some service offences.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the service police. For the most part, they do an outstanding job in difficult and sometimes exceptionally dangerous circumstances. Of course they sometimes get criticised—every police force in the country has been criticised at one time or another—but it would be wrong to draw broad conclusions from individual cases. Some cases result in convictions, some in acquittals, and some, for various reasons, do not proceed to trial. That is the nature of any criminal justice system, whether service or civilian. The key thing is for organisations to acknowledge when mistakes are made and to learn from them. I can assure the hon. Lady that that is what has happened in this case. Lessons have been learned. Royal Military Police investigative policy and practice is continually developed and adapted in the light of experience and emerging civil police best practice. Furthermore, since Mr Moore raised his concerns, a code of practice has been introduced by the Ministry of Defence detailing the services to be provided by the armed forces to the victims of crime. This is designed to ensure that victims are properly supported and that at every stage of the investigation and prosecutorial process they are kept fully informed of progress in their case.

Ultimately, we accept that there could have been improvements in the way the case was initially investigated. I am conscious, however, that it has now been reviewed and considered by the Royal Military Police, by a senior retired civilian detective, by the Service Prosecuting Authority, and by the Solicitor-General, so it has been looked at in great detail four times already. I have also discussed the case personally with the Provost Marshal (Army) as well as consulting staff from the independent Service Prosecuting Authority. I have been assured that the case has now been exhaustively investigated and that the correct decision not to prosecute was reached. Part of the reason that decision has been made is that,

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as I said, the witness statements that have been made available clearly contradict the version of events that has been provided by Mr Moore.

I know that the hon. Lady’s constituent continues to suffer as a result of the events of May 2008. Nevertheless, his suffering is not in itself proof that a crime was committed, and after repeated, careful and independent consideration of the events in question the conclusion has always remained the same—that there is no realistic prospect of convicting any individual in relation to this matter. I hope that in saying that I have been able to answer fairly clearly the point that she put to me in her intervention, but if she feels that I have not, I will gladly give way again.

Diana Johnson: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene again. If he is now saying, four years on, that the witness statements contradicted the original account of what had happened, why was an investigation not taken forward against Mr Moore? It seems very convenient that four years on the tables have been turned on him and that this was not raised much earlier if there was evidence.

Mr Francois: I understand the hon. Lady’s question. I do not think that there was evidence sufficient to prosecute Mr Moore for what happened in this case, just as I do not think there was evidence sufficient to prosecute the accused, as it were. Given that the case has been reviewed four times, and having looked into this, I am confident that the previous decisions were correct. However, I absolutely respect the hon. Lady’s doggedness in wanting to get to the bottom of what happened on behalf of the member of the public she represents. I hope that she will feel that I have tried to answer her question directly.

The Service Prosecuting Authority’s offer to meet Mr Moore further to explain its decision not to prosecute remains open. Under the circumstances, particularly as explained to the House by the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Cheltenham, I strongly encourage Mr Moore—the hon. Lady might want to play some part in this—to take the Service Prosecuting Authority up on this offer in the hope that he could then put these questions to it directly and that that might enable it to answer those questions and perhaps to help him to come to terms with what has happened. I can only make that suggestion from this Dispatch Box, but I hope that the hon. Lady’s constituent will take it up because, given the long and complicated history of this case, it would be helpful if he sat down with and put these questions directly to the SPA so that it could reply directly to him. I can drop a hint in that regard, but I cannot force the hon. Lady’s constituent to take it.

In conclusion, I hope that I have done my best to address directly the points that have been put to me. I commend the hon. Lady and her friend on the Liberal Democrat Benches, who is also my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, for the way in which they have approached this case. I hope that I have done my best to put their concerns to rest.

Question put and agreed to.

10.45 pm

House adjourned.