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Last night, as I was thinking about what I would say in the debate, I heard about someone who had been awarded €2,000 in compensation for a delay in the hearing of an appeal in the criminal court, on the basis of his pain and suffering. The award was made to a convicted killer—a man who had been convicted of murdering a young shop worker in the constituency I now represent—and it was made by the European Court of Human Rights. I do not wish to initiate a debate on that issue; I raise the case simply to illustrate why members of the public will not understand why the European Court of Human Rights deems it reasonable to award such a sum to someone who is serving a prison sentence, at a time when the House is considering cutting compensation payments for people who are victims rather than perpetrators of crime.

I have no problem with the idea of making offenders pay. Indeed, I would support anything we could do to ensure that a man who had been awarded that amount of compensation in such circumstances was immediately made to pay it into a fund to help victims of crime, and I hope that Ministers will give serious consideration to such an arrangement.

We have heard some powerful speeches today. For instance, we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) about a young man from Glasgow—another shop worker—who had suffered an extremely serious attack. I, too, heard the testimony of that young man. He was not out late at night, on the town; he was simply going home at lunchtime to see his young daughter, and he was the victim of a most horrific crime. He talked about flashbacks. He talked about going out in the street, and, every time he saw someone’s face, imagining that it might be the face of his assailant.

That young man’s message to us was that our job is to cut crime, not to cut compensation to victims. I cannot believe that Members who came to this place to represent their constituents, whatever their party, ever thought that they would not see it as their job to represent the interests of victims first and foremost in such circumstances. I know in my heart of hearts that there are Members on the Government Benches who believe that and who do not want to vote for these measures.

I want to continue in the spirit of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, so let me stress that there is time to change this. There is time to work on a cross-party basis. We have now been through delegated legislation Committees, and we have had a chance to express our view that this is not an appropriate way forward. There have been Opposition offers to work with others, too. Let us take that opportunity. We must not send the message to the victims of crime that we do not care about or understand their pain and suffering.

On the victims of sexual abuse, there have been many warm words in the past few weeks, but I have to say that I was horrified earlier when we got no answer from the Minister to this question: in what circumstances would a child under the age of 15 who had been sexually abused not automatically be deemed eligible for compensation? I hope the Minister who responds to the debate will make it clear that all such children will be treated as victims, and that compensation will be payable. Anything else would be a disgrace.

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I shall conclude in a few moments, as I genuinely want to hear what the Minister has to say. Let me comment on the cost of this scheme, however. Ministers have been at best obfuscating and at worst have, perhaps, used different figures at different times to suit their arguments. We had some clarity today from the former Minister, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), about the real motivation behind the scheme, however. The suggestion that because there is a backlog or legacy of cases to be dealt with, the amount of money allocated to the scheme should be cut does not make sense. The cost of the scheme has been stable over the years. The Government should ensure the legacy cases are cleared, but they should also ensure that future victims of crime do not suffer as a result of the length of time it has taken to resolve the legacy cases.

We do have time to put this right, but we must today send out the message that the entire House—not just one party or some Members—cares about the victims of crime and that it is not going to force through these measures. I know that many on the Government Benches do not agree with them. It is time that they stood up for their constituents now and in the future.

6.38 pm

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Throughout the debate, we have heard a catalogue of problems and failures in respect of the scheme, as well as some cases of terrible suffering. We have heard the Minister state how important victims are to the new Justice Ministers, and we have heard about a back-of-the-envelope hardship fund that will help perhaps 1,000 innocent victims, instead of the tens of thousands of blameless victims who are being denied financial support by the cuts these same Justice Ministers are forcing through.

Very few Conservative and no Liberal Democrat Back Benchers have spoken in defence of these cuts. The architect of the scheme, the former Minister, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), told us that the real reason for what is happening is to make cuts, rather than to help to support victims or provide more resources. He has told us the truth today. We also heard from a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), and a single, solitary Tory Back Bencher. Conversely, from the Labour Benches we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) and my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark), for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson).

We have heard plenty of contributions about the real impact of these cuts, so let me explain simply to the House what Justice Ministers are proposing. Let us suppose a thug mugs the little old lady who lives on our street. If the thug breaks her finger, her jaw or her ribs, or puts out a cigarette on her, or if she suffers impairment to her speech from the callous battering the thug metes out—or if she endures all of those—under this scheme she will be entitled to zero criminal injuries compensation. Is that really what Government Members came into politics to do?

What happens to the have-a-go hero Dad who races out of his home to protect his son from being beaten up—or worse—by the local louts but instead finds

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himself on the receiving end? He may be stabbed in the ensuing scuffle and be rushed to hospital, where dedicated NHS staff save his life. When he applies for financial compensation to cover the lost wages while he has been off work, he will find that, because he has been made redundant a few times during the past three years and has had a few weeks out of work while seeking a new job, he will receive no compensation for loss of earnings from the scheme. Is that what Government Members came into this House to do?

I recall the Justice Secretary talking about the young soldier beaten up by hoodlums. What happens to serving soldier Mr Kent who suffered a fractured jaw with a single punch from a yob after a disturbance last year in York and required repeated hospital surgery? Under the Justice Secretary’s new scheme, Mr Kent would be entitled to zero financial recompense following the mindless attack he suffered—so much for the Justice Secretary’s concerns about our soldiers. Surely Government Members must be starting to realise that what Justice Ministers are doing is wrong.

What happens to the young child savaged by a neighbour’s dog? Children under the age of 10 are more likely than any other age group to suffer severe injuries after being attacked and to require plastic surgery. What happens to six-year-old Rebecca who was mauled by a dog while playing near her home in Byker, Newcastle? She was left terrified and pouring with blood. She was rushed to hospital and had surgery for wounds around her eyes, nose, cheek and mouth. Under the new scheme, irrespective of the seriousness of the injuries—even if the victim dies—there is no financial help from the scheme for victims of dog attacks, unless the dog was used deliberately. Perhaps that is what Conservative and Lib Dem Members came into politics to do.

A judge from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal has commented on the proposals, using phrases such as:

“potentially brutal and will lead to gross injustices.”

Another phrase used was:

“I confidently predict”—

that they will—

“lead to a substantial increase in challenges to decisions and gross unfairness.”

The judge has also called the proposals “astonishingly vague” and said:

“If the government believes it is saving money...it is gravely mistaken.”

Finally, the judge said that the proposals were

“perverse and grossly unfair to victims of crimes of violence.”

That is what an expert has said about the proposed new scheme.

Between the end of the year and the 2015 election, on average, in each constituency, more than 100 seriously injured victims of crime will see their criminal injuries compensation abolished or severely cut if the Government’s proposals are passed. Every MP meets, and is sympathetic to, victims of crime who have suffered. Do Government Members really want to have to explain to more than 100 seriously injured constituents and their families why their desperately needed compensation payment was targeted, as we have heard, by the Government for cuts?

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Let me spend a moment dispelling any myths that might have been fostered in the minds of Government Members. We have heard that the scheme is unsustainable and unaffordable—that is untrue. The tariff scheme is sustainable and stable at current budget. The high cost in 2011-12 was for 78 victims from the pre-1996 scheme—so their cases really have to penalise 90% of future victims? The pre-tariff liabilities have been reduced to 35 cases as at 30 Sept 2012, with estimated liabilities under £100 million, and will soon be cleared. Tariff bands 1 to 5 are supposedly there to deal with minor injuries that do not need compensation—that is not the case. They are there for injuries that have a disabling effect for at least six weeks and are therefore not minor. We have heard that money will be focused on the most seriously injured—that is not the case. No victim of crime will receive a penny more from the new scheme. Many of those most seriously injured will lose out the most, because of drastic cuts to compensation for loss of earnings, the exclusion of dog attack victims and the tighter conditions on reporting and co-operating.

We have heard that £50 million will be provided by offenders for victims, but there is no link between offenders contributing more and this scheme. Government Members need to appreciate on what we will vote this evening. Will they vote to defend the defenceless—those blameless victims injured through no fault of their own —or will they vote to wipe out payments on tariffs 1 to 5, to cut loss of earnings payments and to punish children who are subjected to horrific dog attacks?

Mr Blunt: The shadow Minister must come back to basics. If he does not support the statutory instrument and wants the full expenditure to continue—I assume that he also wants all the other victims’ money that we are having to find—he will have to suggest what else will go. Otherwise, he will have to do the same as the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark), who was honest enough to say that taxes will have to go up.

Robert Flello: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain why 90% of future victims will have to lose their compensation because of the 35 pre-1996 cases. Is he suggesting—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett) wants me to answer, he should give me a chance to do so rather than heckling from a sedentary position.

The hon. Member for Reigate was the architect of this appalling scheme. He has confessed to the House today that it is about cuts and nothing else. We heard from him about the financial situation, and he asked where the money will come from. It is quite simple. We will work alongside the Government to look at ways to address this—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to finish? To put it quite simply, saying to some of the most innocent, blameless and hard-up members of our communities that they must dig into their pockets to pay for this is outrageous. We have heard the hon. Gentleman’s view, so let me return to what Government Members must do.

Before they vote this evening, Government Members must think carefully about whether, in good conscience, they can oppose the motion. If Members, like those on

7 Nov 2012 : Column 970

the original Committee, feel that victims of violent crime deserve better and that cutting payments to the vulnerable, injured and incapacitated is wholly unacceptable, they should be brave enough to vote with their conscience. This is a shameful scheme, hellbent on adding financial insult to injury.

We are talking not about figures and statistics but about real people who will be significantly affected by today’s decision—people in our constituencies who are seriously injured and look to us to help them through the criminal injuries compensation scheme. We heard from colleagues on the Opposition Benches that compensation for loss of earnings will be reduced from a maximum of £750 a week to just £85 a week. We heard about Frankie, who was stabbed and robbed, and about the counselling that was needed. We heard about the financial stability of the scheme. We heard about Andy Parish, a postman, and the issue of dog attacks, and we heard that victims of crime will have to find £50 of their own money to obtain medical records. Somebody who has been attacked and been out of work as a result will now have to find £50 even to start the process—incredible. The few Government Members who took part—only one of whom is not part of the payroll or had not formerly been part of the payroll—kept muddling some of the issues.

We heard Members ask where the detail of the hardship fund was. That is a good question. Where is the detail? As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East said, it all fits into the Tory template: exaggerate costs, mix the issues, use some standard language about floors and targeting and then set up a hardship fund.

In the words of Lord Dilhorne, “Sympathy is not enough.” We will work with the Government, but I urge Members from all parties to reject this appalling scheme and vote for the motion this evening. In doing so, they will send a message to Justice Ministers that paying off the deficits from the pockets of the poorest, most vulnerable and most blameless is not acceptable and not what right hon. and hon. Members came into Parliament to do.

6.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): I have listened with great care to the points made by hon. Members in today’s debate and I shall respond in a moment to some of them. In his opening speech my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice set out the principal reasons for reforming the scheme. He made it clear that proper support for victims and witnesses is a very high priority for this Government.

The public expect the criminal justice system to have at its heart the interests of those who have suffered. That includes paying compensation in certain circumstances, but the question for any responsible Government is what those circumstances should be. My right hon. Friend sought to set our changes to the criminal injuries compensation scheme in the context of all the changes we are making to the support that we provide for victims and witnesses. It would be foolish to consider them in isolation. The key point that the Government want to make is that we seek broadly to maintain overall spending on victims, not to cut it, but to change its composition so that money is used more effectively.

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As to the criminal injuries compensation scheme itself, there are two main problems, which were highlighted so eloquently and clearly by my hon. Friends the Members for Reigate (Mr Blunt), for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Enfield North (Nick de Bois). The first is that it is in financial difficulties. I know that Opposition Members have made much of their disagreement with us over this, swallowing whole the briefings provided by trade unions, but the fact is that the scheme does need to be put on a sustainable footing.

Mr Andrew Smith: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Grant: The second point is that the design of the criminal injuries compensation scheme is inadequate and the policy rationale flawed. Compensation is in many cases poorly targeted, with millions of pounds spent on relatively minor claims such as sprained ankles. Worse than that, over the past decade, nearly £60 million has been paid to 19,000 claimants who were convicted criminals. So, instead of taking money from an unaffordable scheme and using it to give cash for minor injuries months or even years after the event, our plans seek to make a structural change in the nature of the help that we give to our victims.

Mr Smith: Will the Minister give way?

Hon. Members: Give way!

Mrs Grant: The scheme will be focused on the most serious cases involving innocent victims, reducing the burden on the taxpayer by £50 million. Linked to this, spending on victims services will be increased by a similar amount, but with the money—crucially— coming from the pockets of the criminals themselves. A major step in that direction was the implementation on 1 October of the statutory instrument giving effect to changes to the victim surcharge. The money raised from offenders will pay for more and better services for victims, providing the practical and emotional support they need. We believe as a matter of principle that that is a better response than compensation for lower-end injuries.

Reform is necessary and it will protect the criminal injuries compensation scheme in the future. I explained last week why we are making changes to the tariff of injuries. Tariff payments will, in future, be available to those most seriously affected by their injuries and those who have been victims of the most distressing crimes. The right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) and the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) all raised concerns about the tariff. I know they will not be persuaded by our removal of bands 1 to 5 or the graduated reduction we have made to bands 6 to 12, but the rationale does, notwithstanding their assertions, stack up. It is wholly consistent with our policy of focusing on those most seriously affected by their injuries—

Katy Clark: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Grant: A policy that not only sees bands 13 to 25 protected in their entirety, but sees awards for sexual offences and patterns of abuse protected at their existing levels, wherever they currently appear in the tariff.

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Hon. Members: Give way!

Mrs Grant: The hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) raised the issue of late reporting in these cases, but I can confirm that the new discretion introduced into the scheme—

John McDonnell: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I hope that it is a point of order, not a point of frustration.

John McDonnell: It is a point of order. The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice referred earlier in the debate to a letter being circulated about the compensation scheme relating to the legislative proposal, but it was circulated only to Conservative Members and not to Opposition Members. Therefore, we want at least either to see the letter or to have the Minister explain it to us. That is why Members are seeking to intervene.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that engages the Chair. The point has been put on the record, but the Minister will wish to continue her speech.

Mrs Grant: In the Delegated Legislation Committee last week, I said that, although we saw no merit in making further changes to the scheme, we were nevertheless persuaded that something ought to be done for certain low earners who were temporarily unable to work due to their injuries and who would no longer fall within the scheme. I announced a hardship fund that aims to meet a pressing need for people who might well find themselves in real financial difficulty.

Opposition members of the Committee were critical of the lack of detail I provided on that occasion. However, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice provided details today in his opening speech, and it is a great shame that the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) seem unable to acknowledge the fairness and decency of the fund and recognise that it will help some of the very poorest people in our country.

Sadiq Khan: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Grant: No. I have been very generous in taking interventions in three debates so far, so I will make my points and will not waste any more time.

Moving on, we have defined eligibility for the scheme more tightly so that only the direct and blameless victims of crime who fully co-operate with the criminal justice process obtain compensation under the scheme. That is surely right. Those with unspent convictions will not be able to claim if they have been sentenced to a community order or been imprisoned, and those with other unspent convictions will be able to receive an award of compensation only in exceptional circumstances. Not only that, but applicants will need to be able to demonstrate a connection to the UK through residency or other connections.

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The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and many others have been critical of our approach to dangerous dogs, because in future the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority will pay only where the dog was set upon the victim by its owner. A similar approach already applies to injuries caused by motor vehicles; in order for the applicant to be eligible, a car has to have been deliberately driven at him or her. Contrary to our critics’ assertions, that will not have much of an impact on claimants because awards for dog attacks are few. That said, aggressive dogs of course present a serious and growing problem, which is why the Government are active in that area, with work going on at the Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and elsewhere.

The last major element of the scheme is special expenses. As is consistent with our policy of focusing payments on the most seriously affected, we have retained the vast majority of those payments in their entirety. However, we have made it clear that the scheme should be one of last resort in relation to special expenses and that payments will be made only if the claim is reasonable.

Finally, we have made some changes to the process of applying for compensation in order to make the scheme easier for applicants to understand. For the first time, for example, the evidence required to make a claim is being included in the scheme, which is a simple but plainly very helpful change. The Government believe that the draft criminal injuries compensation scheme provides a coherent and fair way of focusing payments towards those seriously—

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 209, Noes 289.

Division No. 97]

[

6.59 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bain, Mr William

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

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

Miliband, rh David

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mudie, Mr George

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

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

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thornberry, Emily

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Chris Ruane

and

Nic Dakin

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Brine, Steve

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evennett, Mr David

Fallon, rh Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Green, rh Damian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

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

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Hunter

and

Mr Robert Syms

Question accordingly negatived.

7 Nov 2012 : Column 974

7 Nov 2012 : Column 975

7 Nov 2012 : Column 976

7 Nov 2012 : Column 977

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Question put.

Social Security

That the draft Benefit Cap (Housing Benefit) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 16 July, be approved.—(Mr Swayne.)

Madam Deputy Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 21 November (Standing Order No. 41A).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Children and Young Persons

That the draft Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Disclosure and Barring Service Transfer of Functions) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 15 October, be approved.—(Mr Swayne.)

7 Nov 2012 : Column 978

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Church of England (general Synod) (measures)

That the Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure (HC 671), passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament. —(Sir Tony Baldry.)

Question agreed to.

Petition

Ridge Fire Station (Hastings)

7.15 pm

Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): I wish to submit a petition on behalf of the residents of Hastings and Rye, collected by me, other local residents and the campaigner Phil Bailey. There are more than 5,000 signatories.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Hastings and Rye and the East Sussex area,

Declares that the recommendations put forward for local consultation by the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Authority to downgrade the service at The Ridge Fire Station in Hastings will have a negative effect on response times, and could therefore put the lives of local residents at risk.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Local Government and Communities to support local residents in opposing the recommendations made by the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Authority and contained within the Hastings Review.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.

[P001129]

7 Nov 2012 : Column 979

Planning and Localism

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

7.17 pm

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I am most grateful to the House for granting this debate. A commitment to localism was at the heart of the Conservative campaign in 2010, so much so that the Conservative party manifesto was entitled “Invitation to Join the Government of Britain”. Our meaning was clear: in government, Conservatives would trust local people to make decisions about the things that mattered in their communities.

In the manifesto section on planning, we promised specifically that

“people in each neighbourhood will be able to”

choose

“what kind of development they want”;

that

“new housing estates, will have to be designed through a collaborative process”;

and that planning inspectors with no stake in the decision will no longer be able to rewrite local plans. Like many of my colleagues, I stood in village hall after village hall and sold that vision of a better politics.

Why is localism important? It is important because the closer the decision is to the people whom it affects, the better it will be. Why? That is because of accountability. If I or my councillors make a decision, we know we can be held accountable, not only at the ballot box but in the street. My constituents will see me at surgeries and the supermarket, or perhaps enjoying a glass of orange juice in one of Stratford’s very fine public houses. If they do not like a decision, they can stop me and tell me why. Therein lies the strength of British democracy. We came into government because we wanted to undo the damage wrought by arbitrary target setting, anonymous officialdom and centralised control. We came into government to do away with the dictatorship of the clipboard-wielding jobsworth, yet time and again Members of the House and the people of this country have been let down by localism.

We had just such a decision last week in my constituency—the Secretary of State’s decision to endorse an inspector’s report on 24 October approving 800 new units on greenfield land on the edge of the town of Stratford-on-Avon. In a single stroke, the decision shattered my constituents’ belief in the Government’s commitment to localism. It grants permission for a village-sized development to be welded to the edge of this important, historic town and to build a new link road directly behind the cottage in which William Shakespeare’s wife grew up, which is a significant tourist attraction. Anne Hathaway’s house is a grade I listed building, it has a registered listed park and garden, and is the location of Shakespeare’s second-best bed, an item he famously bequeathed to his wife in his will. History is silent, of course, on who got the best bed. Anne Hathaway’s cottage is an integral part of the Shakespeare story, which itself is an integral part of the story of our island, our culture and our language. It is no less a piece of this country’s heritage than

“The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples”

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of this nation’s capital. Anne Hathaway’s cottage has survived the English Reformation, the civil war, the industrial revolution and even 13 years of Labour. The question for my constituents is whether it will survive the careless stroke of a planning inspector’s pen.

This is not about a modest conservatory extension to Anne Hathaway’s cottage. It is a decision that will create a permanent scar on the landscape, breach a historic town’s boundary and begin an urban sprawl into what are currently open fields. In the planning inspector’s own words, there will be “harm” to Anne Hathaway’s cottage and, moreover,

“a degree of adverse effect on tourist numbers cannot be ruled out.”

Some, such as my hon. Friend the Minister, might say that opposition to this development is just nimbyism, but they would be plain wrong. Stratford district council is doing the right thing. It knows that the area needs more housing. It has already planned for an increase of 15.6% in housing numbers. That is 500 more homes than the regional spatial strategy demanded and makes a total figure of 8,000 new homes in a relatively small district. What it had not planned for, however, is 10% of the 8,000 total being placed in one wholly unsuitable location.

In effect, this decision was a test case—the old system of centrally imposed targets and top-down decision making versus bottom-up planning and locally determined, evidence-based housing targets. There are no prizes for guessing on which side a planning inspector, an individual whose very existence relies on the top-down approach, came down. It is, however, deeply disappointing that a Secretary of State who has been so keen on promoting localism chose simply to rubber-stamp this decision and accept its flawed logic. Despite the inspector’s view, if we subscribe to localism there is no question about a five-year land supply in the district. There has never been any suggestion that this land, adjacent to a historic property and on the special landscape of Bordon hill, would ever be considered acceptable for development.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me that as the council’s local plan review contains the land west of Shottery, it has, as the inspector put it,

“accepted that the harm created was acceptable”.

However, if that is the case then the Minister, like the inspector has failed to recognise that the land was only included as a result of a top-down imposition. The location in question was introduced by a planning inspector in 2005, following an examination of the local plan review. When the council voted to reject its inclusion it was told by the inspectorate that it would have no adopted plan unless it was included. So in 2005 an inspector overrode the wishes of elected members and rewrote the local plan. In 2010, we promised that inspectors would no longer have that power, but two years later this Government used the land’s inclusion by a bureaucrat, against the wishes of elected members seven years ago, to override a locally determined decision that was in line with locally determined emerging policy.

Thanks to this decision, Stratford district has again found that an inspector has effectively rewritten its local plan, imposing an increased housing target that is over and above that defined in both the local plan review and the draft core strategy. According to the inspector, the council’s housing target must now be between 11,000

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and 12,000 houses, a 25% increase over current numbers. Thanks to the continued power of an unelected inspector’s recommendation, the council’s chance of having that figure overturned, regardless of its evidence base, is slim, and it is now having to re-do much of its core strategy weeks before it was due to be submitted. This is not the localism that we were promised.

Again, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will have an answer. He no doubt buys into the inspector’s view that there is no evidence for the council’s 8,000 figure, but the very same evidence report that the inspector references for the arbitrary 11,000 to 12,000 figure also provided evidence for the 8,000 figure, stating that a figure in this range has “the least environmental impact” and—importantly—is

“the option likely to do the most to preserve the character of the District.”

That character is relied on heavily for the tourism trade on which Stratford so depends.

The alternatives that the council’s independent consultants put forward were described in their report as scenarios in which

“the environmental impact is high”

or

“the impact on the district’s character is hard to judge”.

However, that would certainly be “higher” than if the council adopted a target in the lower 8,000 range.

The inspector wrongly declared that officers had recommended a figure of between 11,000 and 12,000, but that only happened in the dreams of the developers, not in real life. Even if it had, of what importance would it be? It should be elected representatives who make policy decisions, not unelected officials. Otherwise, we might as well do away with councillors, and, by the same thinking, Secretaries of State, in favour of letting the bureaucracy at the centre run the country. That is the central issue here. Either we believe in localism and trust the people to make the right decision, or we do not.

That is not to say that localism is easy. Not every local plan will succeed. Some will undoubtedly fail, but central Government cannot have it both ways. Either we believe in the capacity of local people to make good decisions about the future of their communities, or we admit that localism was just a vote-winning slogan and that people cannot be trusted. I believe, however, that we are quick learners. If one area is making decisions that benefit it significantly more, then similar decisions elsewhere will not be far behind. That is basic human nature and that is why localism, given a chance, will work.

I am extremely grateful that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has stayed to listen to my speech, and I am hopeful that the planning Minister will stand up and revoke his decision and allow the people of Stratford to have their choice. If he does not, however, I would like him to answer some specific questions. When will the west midlands regional spatial strategy be revoked? How does he defend his use of an outdated local plan review to justify housing being approved on a site when elected members expressly voted against the site in question, only to be told by an inspector rewriting their local plan that it must be included? When was the decision on Shottery made? If it was made in late

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October, how can this decision, which rewrites the housing numbers, not be premature in the face of a local plan that was to be submitted less than a month later? If it was made earlier, when the core strategy was, in the words of the inspector,

“at a relatively early stage”

rather than weeks away from submission, why was it not announced then?

How can the Secretary of State defend the newly imposed figure of 11,000 to 12,000 houses when there is, in the council’s view, no more evidence base provided for that figure than the 8,000 figure put forward by the council? How can the Minister defend an inspector effectively rewriting a local plan when we expressly promised that that would no longer be the case? Finally, what is his answer to those who say that this kind of decision sets a precedent for the next tranche of localism, namely police and crime commissioners, and suggests that if the centre deems fit, it will simply overrule any local decision?

7.28 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Nick Boles): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) on securing the debate on a subject of such great importance to his constituents. He is not just my hon. Friend, but I hope, even after the strength of feeling that he has expressed tonight, my friend—and he is not just my friend, but one of the great talents and one of the most effective constituency representatives to be elected alongside me in 2010. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure you remember—I certainly do—his speech in May when he moved the Loyal Address. The whole House was moved when he talked of his family arriving in Britain with £50 in their pockets, refugees from tyranny in Iraq. He talked of his pride in representing Stratford-on-Avon, one of England’s most beautiful and historic towns. He paid tribute to another self-taught, self-made and self-created man: William Shakespeare, in my view the greatest Englishman who has ever lived.

I can understand my hon. Friend’s determination to protect Stratford-on-Avon from inappropriate development and his disappointment at this recent planning decision. I hope that he will appreciate that I cannot comment on the details of the decision, because it is still open to legal challenge by the authority or, indeed, anyone else. It would be wrong for a judge to comment on his or her court judgments, and in this capacity the Secretary of State acts in a quasi-judicial role. The reasons are set out fully in the decision letter.

I would like to reassure my hon. Friend about the Government’s commitment to localism in planning, while also illuminating the responsibilities, as well as the powers, that localism entails. The last Government believed that they could solve Britain’s long-standing and severe housing crisis through regional spatial strategies and centrally imposed housing targets. Whatever the merits of the original concept, the facts are clear: they failed miserably. They infuriated local communities, such as Stratford-on-Avon and many others, and infuriated and undermined the councils that represented them. Those councils, quite understandably, responded by dragging their feet in making plans and doing their best to challenge and evade those regional housing targets.

7 Nov 2012 : Column 983

What was the result for house building? It stalled during an economic boom, so when this Government came into office, we embarked on a different approach. We decided to give local authorities, representing local communities, the power to plan and the responsibility to provide housing to meet housing need in their areas. We encouraged them to adopt local plans, and communities —those that wanted to—to adopt neighbourhood plans to reflect local views about how their places should develop. We also decided that regional strategies would go.

We are trying to make as much progress as we can, within the law, to get rid of those regional strategies, but thanks to our old friend, the EU directive, this has taken longer and been more painful than we had hoped. But we are making good progress. Today we published the consultation on the strategic environmental assessment of the north-east plan, which means that we have now published consultation papers on five of the outstanding plans, and we hope to be able to respond to the consultation and all the comments it attracts shortly—and by that I mean months not years. We are making progress and there is light at the end of the tunnel, although we all wish that we had reached the end sooner.

I could take the easy way out and blame the Shottery decision entirely on the regional spatial strategy—that nasty hangover from a dictatorial Government—but it would not be wholly honest to do so. The regional spatial strategies came up with numbers for a region’s objectively assessed housing need. Local plans need to determine equally objectively assessed local housing need in a local authority area. I want to help local authorities, not just in Stratford-on-Avon, but elsewhere, to understand both the powers and the responsibilities enshrined in the national planning policy framework, so that they can equip themselves to prevent such decisions in future.

England has a chronic and severe housing shortage, and we will fail the next generation of hard-working people if we do not build more homes for them to raise their families in. The national planning policy framework is therefore clear that councils must estimate their housing need based on an objective assessment of all available evidence and identify five years’ supply of deliverable, developable sites.

7 Nov 2012 : Column 984

If an authority has an up-to-date local plan, with identified sites to meet five years of objectively assessed need, it has all the powers it needs to resist speculative applications for development on sites that lie outside the local plan. Such an authority need fear nothing from the Planning Inspectorate or even clipboard jobsworths such as me. However, if an authority does not have a plan or even a draft plan that contains an objective assessment of housing need and identifies five years of developable, deliverable sites, it runs the risk of its decisions being overturned on appeal, as happened in the case of Shottery. I know that Stratford-on-Avon has been working on a draft plan and has commissioned a housing options study to inform it. I welcome that, but the regrettable truth is that rates of housing supply in the district of Stratford-on-Avon have been lower than those in Warwickshire and England as a whole. Like many authorities, therefore, Stratford-on-Avon still has much work to do.

The good news is that the Government’s approach of devolving power and responsibility to local authorities is working. Forty-eight local plans have been adopted since May 2011, and 65% of councils have published a plan for public consultation. We also have 100 neighbourhood plans up and running, and we are supporting more than 200 communities to take control of the future shape of their towns and villages. I am delighted that Stratford-on-Avon’s neighbourhood plan is making progress, and I would like to offer my hon. Friend all my support and that of my officials to help to achieve the truly local control of planning that he and his constituents seek. I know that the answer I have been able to give this evening will not satisfy him or his constituents fully, but I hope that he and they understand that this Government have put in place that power and responsibility, which will enable the people of Stratford-on-Avon to take control of their town and preserve it for many generations to come.

Question put and agreed to.

7.37 pm

House adjourned.