Mr Lansley: The Duke of Wellington in Bourn in my constituency is well known for that purpose. My hon. Friend makes a good, important point well. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State Education is among those at the vanguard of believing that an understanding of history, and of the narratives that form an essential part of it, is an essential part of our understanding of

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who we are and where we come from, and what kind of people we are and what we can achieve. From that point of view, I am sure the Secretary of State shares my hon. Friend’s view—as will Members on both sides of the House—that we must ensure we achieve such understanding of the history of this country in schools.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): May we have a debate on the situation that arose in north Wales, where a Liberal Democrat pretended to be an independent? There is evidence that that has happened in still higher-status positions than police and crime commissioner—in the Deputy Prime Minister, we have a Tory pretending to be a Liberal Democrat.

Mr Lansley: I cannot speak from personal experience of Mr Winston Roddick in north Wales, but I referred to the matter earlier in response to the shadow Leader of the House. To that extent, I have some knowledge of it.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): May we have an early debate on crime prevention, so that police forces around the country can learn from the excellent Hands Off project, created by Bedfordshire police, in which owners’ property is marked by their DNA? That has been used successfully and enthusiastically in schools, and has great potential to cut crime.

Mr Lansley: That sounds like an intriguing, if slightly alarming, mechanism. I had heard of highlighter pens, but not of DNA marking. Members and police services might be interested in that. My hon. Friend will no doubt agree that that illustrates the importance of innovation and new technology as essential parts of the process of fighting crime. I hope police and crime commissioners will demonstrate not only their responsiveness to public views, but their ability to embrace innovation.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Halton is the 27th most deprived borough in England and Wales, and has high unemployment. I was therefore shocked to receive a letter last week from the permanent secretary at the Department for Education informing me that it was shutting its Runcorn site, with the loss of 220 jobs. The letter states that a report would be available on the website, but it was not. Only through the good work of the permanent secretary’s office did I manage eventually to find the report, but it left more questions unanswered than answered. May I ask the Leader of the House for his help? Does he agree that the Department should brief MPs in detail on the reasons for decisions of that magnitude, so that we can ask questions? Will he use his influence and ask his colleagues in the Department to ensure that the meeting I have requested happens sooner rather than later?

Mr Lansley: I will of course ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Education whether they can meet the hon. Gentleman as he has requested. I do not know the circumstances, but I judge from what he says that the Department’s intention, through the permanent secretary, was to inform him of the decision. I will check how that was achieved to ensure that he and Members get notification of announcements affecting their constituencies in future.

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Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): May we have a debate on yesterday’s report on sexual grooming by gangs?

Mr Lansley: The House will have been shocked, as my hon. Friend no doubt was, by the report. The House, through the Backbench Business Committee, was able to debate child sexual exploitation last week. The issue has been debated, but we must press forward, and my colleagues are doing so with the tackling child sexual exploitation action plan and other measures. The interim report made a number of recommendations that we must pursue. We must also look at the recommendations from phase 2 next year, but be ready now to take all the action we can, as illustrated by my hon. Friends’ response to last week’s debate.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), during a statement earlier this week, called for a full debate in Government time on the situation in the middle east. The response of the Leader of the House today was as incoherent on the issue as the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were in trying to justify not supporting Palestinian statehood. This is a serious situation with a fragile ceasefire, the threat of a ground attack and 160 dead. May we have a debate as soon as possible?

Mr Lansley: We will of course consider that. I had a conversation with my right hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) and he was clear in encouraging us to consider having a debate on the middle east. I have not been able to find time now, but it is open to hon. Members to seek such a debate using the time available to the Backbench Business Committee. Likewise, it is open to the Opposition, which has time for a debate next week should they wish to use it for that purpose. I think what I said was simply a reflection of what has been said many times by the Government and was repeated by the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday: what we want to do is secure the best possible progress in negotiations and use the ceasefire to make progress quickly. His response illustrated that urgency and the Government’s view that precipitating a vote at the United Nations was not necessarily the best way of making progress.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time on community first responders, in particular on maintaining and improving training capacity? They do such a lot to ensure that people in rural areas are looked after when ambulance response times are often so slow.

Mr Lansley: I share completely my hon. Friend’s support for and appreciation of community first responders. Ambulance service trusts across the country have achieved the most consistent performance to date in responding to category A calls. However, while they meet the overall targets well, we know that response time is variable and particularly difficult in rural areas. Those of us who represent more rural areas appreciate how community first responders can make an important, additional contribution.

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Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): Can we have a debate on the ever-increasing price of gas and electricity, and the obscene profits posted by the organisations who provide those utilities? Mr John Bisset, who is a community activist in my constituency, said that when he goes to the post office each week many elderly people approach him and say that they are unsure of the Government’s position, following the Prime Minister’s recent statements. I hope that such a debate will allow us to clarify that position.

Mr Lansley: I imagine that the hon. Gentleman will therefore have been appreciative and attentive when the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change gave evidence to the Select Committee. He made it clear that—as the Prime Minister and Ministers have said at the Dispatch Box, and as I repeated at previous business questions—we will ensure that people have access to the best possible tariffs. That is exactly what the Secretary of State has now made clear we will do, and further announcements will be made shortly.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): We were all inspired by the success of our sporting heroes this summer. The challenge now is to get ordinary people involved in local sports, so can we have a debate about grass-roots community sport and the vital work of our county sports partnerships? Will the right hon. Gentleman also commend West Yorkshire Sport in my area for putting on the first Olympic legacy “Be Inspired, Get Involved” community sports fair next Wednesday at Lawnswood school?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I very much appreciate that. In my experience, sports partnerships have made tremendous strides in enabling competitive sport to prosper in schools around the country and have not limited but encouraged wider participation in sport among young people. That is why, as Secretary of State for Health, I provided additional financial support to organisers of sports partnerships. I share my hon. Friend’s view. We have discussed this point previously at business questions, and I hope that initiatives will emerge that enable us to debate the sporting legacy and the future of sport in this country, given the tremendous opportunity we have following the Olympics and Paralympics.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister today rejected my request in a parliamentary question that we ensure that independents standing for election declare any political party membership at the time of their nomination. Given what my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said about Winston Roddick in my area of north Wales and given the sympathy I sense the Leader of the House has with this issue, may we have an early debate on transparency of independents at local, national and regional elections?

Mr Lansley: Those issues are governed by statute, and an opportunity to discuss them might arise in a debate on electoral registration and administration in due course.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Harrogate high school is receiving funding for a complete rebuild from the priority school building programme. May we have a debate on capital investment in schools,

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particularly considering that the current scheme is achieving better value for taxpayers than previous schemes and that capital is being used to provide the extra school places we need?

Mr Lansley: I would be delighted if that opportunity were to arise, particularly given that secondary schools are now being built for £6 million less, on average, than under the Building Schools for the Future programme. I have seen evidence of that in my own constituency, where a new school is being built, as a free school, employing composite laminated timbers prefabricated in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on the living wage, so that we can explore why councils such as Tory Croydon, which does not pay the living wage to its employees, charges a higher level of council tax than neighbouring Labour Lambeth, which does?

Mr Lansley: The right hon. Gentleman might like to talk to his own Front-Bench team about whether they wish to discuss the matter, as Opposition time is available next Wednesday. He might like to press that case on them. I would be happy to debate the matter, however, because it would enable us to discuss not only our support for a living wage but the efficiency and value for money delivered by Conservative local authorities relative to Labour ones.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): On 18 October, the House passed a motion calling on the Government to reverse their decision to disband the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. May we have a statement on when and how the Government propose to respond to that motion?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will recall that Ministers responded not only at the time but at questions subsequently. The Army will continue to implement the changes announced on 5 July by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or Defence, and further uncertainty for serving Fusiliers would be unhelpful. We now need to support them through the battalion merger as they look to the future.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): When will the Leader of the House schedule a debate about the misery that falling real wages are causing to the living standards of millions of people across our country? Is he aware that this morning the Office for National Statistics published data showing that wages rose by only 1.3%, on average, across the UK and by only 0.9% in Scotland, but that the inflation rate has been, on average, 3.1%? Is that not another example of the Government’s complete economic incompetence?

Mr Lansley: If the hon. Gentleman wants to persuade his hon. Friends to have a debate on the economy next week, we will be happy to have that. We could explain how inflation has fallen, how unemployment is rising, how we have cut the deficit by a quarter, how we have spending under control and how we have low interest rates as a consequence of the confidence that people across the world have in the Government’s fiscal consolidation. I know that he and the right hon. Member

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for East Ham (Stephen Timms) are interested in the level of the minimum wage and living wage. That and other issues, including equal marriage, will be debated by the Youth Parliament in the Chamber tomorrow. They might like to watch.

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the House considers the order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998—a significant piece of constitutional legislation, giving the Scottish Parliament the power to conduct a referendum that has the ability to affect the entire constitutional position of the United Kingdom—it will do so on the Floor of the House and for a whole day?

Mr Lansley: I have not been able to announce that business yet, but I will fully take into account my hon. Friend’s views when we schedule it in future.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In July, the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told me that there was to be an announcement about the new agreement between the insurance industry and the Government on flooding insurance. Some 500 of my constituents wrote to the new Secretary of State recently but have not had a response. With the inclement weather, flooding is obviously becoming more of an issue. Can the Leader of the House tell us when that statement is to be expected?

Mr Lansley: I recall the Secretary of State making it clear at questions recently that continuing progress was being made in those discussions, but that there were complex discussions to be had with the Association of British Insurers and others. I will of course discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that under the current circumstances people will be reassured if such a statement can be made, but clearly it is dependent on the outcome of negotiations.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): In recent weeks it has become clear that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s work on the BBC “Newsnight” investigation into allegations of child abuse in north Wales was highly inaccurate and lacked even the most basic journalistic rigour. On Monday 12 November, I wrote to the bureau asking journalists there to detail any payments they had received from the BBC for that work and to return this licence fee payers’ money. As yet I have had no response. Can we have an urgent debate on whether an investigation should be carried out into whether any organisation profited from this shoddy work of journalism, which has caused distress to so many and so damaged the reputation of the BBC?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raises an important point. Many colleagues will share his view about this. I can reassure him that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has provided no public funding to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Broadcasters are independent of Government, so whether they work with the bureau or any other organisation is a matter for them, but it is also incumbent on them to ensure that they maintain the tradition of strong investigative journalism—which we all appreciate and

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which is an essential part of public service and commercial broadcasting—in a way that maintains high standards. That is the balance—I think we will be debating this a lot in coming weeks—of achieving freedom and having a mechanism of scrutiny and accountability, which a free press and free broadcasters enable us to have, while maintaining high standards.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): May we have a statement on why the Government have overspent by £1 billion on their misapplication of the academies programme, as outlined by the National Audit Office? Its report says:

“DfE was unprepared for the scale of the financial implications”

of this rapid expansion. Can such a statement indicate where budget cuts to children’s services, funding cuts to underperforming schools and funding cuts to 16 to 19-year-olds staying on in education have been made, and also provide an explanation to Department for Education staff in the Tees valley who have recently been sacked?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have read the National Audit Office report to which he referred, which also says that the rapid expansion of academies schools was a significant achievement, which it is. It will have important benefits, through the increased autonomy and accountability that it brings and by delivering improved standards for our children. That is an investment worth making. As for future debates, no doubt there will be an opportunity at questions or for the Liaison Committee to consider whether it wishes to follow up on that report.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): May we have a debate on the importance of the post office network, which in my constituency provides such an important public service? My constituents will welcome the fact that it recently won the new Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency contract and that over £1.3 billion is being invested in the network, so that we can finally say that the era of post office closures in this country is over.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. Hon. Members have often asked me about it, and I could quite properly say nothing about it that would be prejudicial to continuing contract negotiations. But now that the contract has been won, I am pleased to say that we can really celebrate the fact that the Post Office has won it. I think Members across the House will appreciate it, and as we made clear in the past, it allows us to ensure that the Post Office can not only secure business from Government, but maintain its offer of business in many communities across the country that were threatened under the last Government.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): May we have an early debate on the Charity Commission in England, with a view to reviewing the Charities Act 2006 to ensure that previously accepted religious charities, such as the Plymouth Brethren, are not threatened with the removal of their charitable status?

Mr Lansley: I will, of course, discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I have had occasion to meet, by way

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of example, members of the Plymouth Brethren in my constituency, who have raised these issues with me, and I will of course discuss them with my colleagues.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Earlier this year, the all-party group on pharmacy published its report on the shortage of medicines from local pharmacies. The group had a meeting earlier this week with my noble Friend Earl Howe, the Health Minister responsible for pharmacy, to give us an update on the Department of Health’s progress, which was not as fulsome as I would have liked it to be. May we please have a debate on that important issue, so that my constituents can know where they stand on the future supply of the important medicines on which they depend?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will be aware, because we discussed the subject when I was Secretary of State for Health, that the supply chain for medicines is very complicated, and that it can be a very small number of medicines that are in short supply at any given moment, sometimes for reasons outside anyone’s control. For example, recently there were fires in Italy, which led to the inability to access the right medicines at the right time; but in so far as it can be managed, the Department has been pursuing supply chain initiatives that are intended to enable that to happen. I will talk to my hon. Friends at the Department of Health. I know they will want to be as helpful as they possibly can be in showing how we can improve reassurance for patients about their access to medicines.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): The currency or value of GCSEs has been undermined over the past 15 years or so. Atlantic college, based in my constituency, established the international baccalaureate some 50 years ago, and has maintained the rigour of that qualification. May we have a general debate on qualifications, to expose the failure over the past 15 years and to learn from other organisations how we can maintain rigour in our qualification system?

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Mr Lansley: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I think he might say to Atlantic college that if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the examination system in this country is increasingly going to imitate the initiative from those decades ago. I know from my constituency that those who have used the IB have thought it a very successful means of reassuring themselves about standards. I hope that the English baccalaureate, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education last September, will enable us to apply some of those principles successfully across the school system. As for a debate, I do not have immediate time available, but I know that the House would appreciate the opportunity to debate the subject as soon as we can.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I attended the Huddersfield Examiner business awards earlier this month, and saw at first hand all the wonderful, enterprising businesses going out there and making it happen, and I proudly wear the “Huddersfield Place to Make It” campaign badge, which celebrates manufacturing in Huddersfield and my Colne Valley constituency. May we have a debate on all the wonderful, enterprising businesses in our constituencies that are going out there creating jobs and creating wealth for our nation, in sharp contrast to the doom-mongering mithering from the Opposition Benches?

Mr Lansley: Huddersfield has a proud legacy of manufacturing and an inspiring future in it, too. The Government are setting out to ensure that we rebalance our economy. We understand that we are going to have to pay our way in the world in a global race, not least by reinvigorating the manufacturing heritage of this country with new technologies, first-class innovation and very high productivity. I know that Yorkshire and Humberside will be at the forefront of that. The regional growth fund projects have demonstrated how many good projects are coming forward. It will not have escaped my hon. Friend’s notice that, later today, the House will have a debate in Backbench Business Committee time to discuss the reinvigoration of manufacturing in this country.

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Voting Eligibility (Prisoners)

12 noon

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): I wish to make a statement about the Government’s approach to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on prisoner voting. This is a subject that provokes intense debate, not least in this House. The House will know that, from as early as the case of Hirst in 2004, the Court found the United Kingdom’s bar on prisoners voting to be “general, automatic and indiscriminate”, and concluded that it was, in the Court’s view, in violation of article 3, protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights, which covers the right to free and fair elections.

The previous Government committed to implement the judgment, and issued two consultations which did not resolve the issue. Litigation has continued in the domestic and Strasbourg courts. In the case of Greens and MT in 2010, the Strasbourg Court again found that the UK was in violation of article 3, protocol 1 of the convention, and gave the UK six months to bring forward legislative proposals to remove the violation. That deadline was stayed pending the UK’s intervention in a further case, Scoppola, involving the Italian Government. In that case, the Attorney-General argued in person before the Court that national Parliaments’ discretion to determine policy on this issue should allow for a complete bar on prisoners voting.

The judgment in the Scoppola case was handed down in May of this year. It concludes the Strasbourg Court’s consideration of the issue. In that judgment, the Court made it clear that, in its view, the “margin of appreciation” afforded to individual Council of Europe member states to decide on how far prisoners should be enfranchised was wide, but confirmed its position that a complete bar was outside that margin. The judgment restarted the clock on Greens and MT, and it requires the Government to “bring forward legislative proposals” to give effect to the judgment by tomorrow, 23 November, and to enact the required legislation.

The Prime Minister has made clear, on the record, his personal views on this subject, and I have done the same. Those views have not changed. However, the Government are under an international law obligation to implement the Court judgment. As Lord Chancellor, as well as Secretary of State for Justice, I take my obligation to uphold the rule of law seriously. Equally, it remains the case that Parliament is sovereign, and the Human Rights Act 1998 explicitly recognises that fact. The current law passed by Parliament remains in force unless and until Parliament decides to change it. As Lord Justice Hoffmann put it in a case in 1999:

“Parliamentary sovereignty means that Parliament can, if it chooses, legislate contrary to fundamental principles of human rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 will not detract from this power. The constraints upon its exercise by Parliament are ultimately political, not legal. But the principle of legality means that Parliament must squarely confront what it is doing and accept the political cost.”

Last month, the Attorney-General made it clear in evidence to the Justice Committee that

“it is entirely a matter for Government to make proposals but ultimately for Parliament to determine what it wants to do. Parliament is sovereign in this area; nobody can impose a solution on Parliament, but the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations”.

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The judgment requires the Government to bring forward legislative proposals for Parliament to consider. It will then be for Parliament to scrutinise and to decide on them. So I have today laid before Parliament a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny, and the Leaders of both Houses are writing to the Liaison Committees proposing that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to conduct that pre-legislative scrutiny. We judge that pre-legislative scrutiny of this nature is appropriate, given the significance of this issue and the strong views on both sides that exist right across this House.

The draft Bill sets out three different potential approaches for the Committee to consider. Presenting a draft Bill with that range of options reflects the spectrum of views that we know exist on this question. However, it will of course be for the Committee, once established, to consider whether approaches beyond those canvassed in the draft Bill should also be considered by Parliament in due course.

The first approach in the draft Bill is for prisoners sentenced to less than four years to be entitled to vote. A four-year bar has previously been discussed by Parliament. The second approach would limit the vote to prisoners sentenced to six months or less. The final approach would effectively restate the current position that anyone incarcerated following conviction would not have the vote.

The Committee will want to consider these approaches, their consequences if they were in due course adopted by Parliament, and whether there are other options—for example, the Italian system, found to be compliant by the Court, which disfranchises prisoners post-release. The Committee will, I am sure, consider evidence on this and other approaches. It may also want to reflect on the consequences for the rule of law and the UK’s international standing of Parliament’s ultimate decision. The Committee may also wish to think about practical implementation. The administrative consequences and costs for the Prison Service, the courts and the electoral registration system and electoral registration officers of different approaches could be significant.

The House will want to note that this draft Bill does not yet deal with territorial extent. Any Bill introduced into Parliament would need to extend to the whole of the United Kingdom, although the Bill is currently drafted for England and Wales only. The Government will engage with the devolved Administrations during the pre-legislative scrutiny process to ensure that the legislation applies correctly in Northern Ireland and Scotland, in recognition of the interaction with devolved policy matters,.

When the Joint Committee has finished its scrutiny, the Government will reflect on its recommendations. We will continue the legislative process by introducing a Bill for full debate and scrutiny as soon as possible thereafter.

I have set out in some detail for the House the background to the draft legislation that I am publishing today, and the respective roles of Government and Parliament in resolving this issue. I commend this statement to the House.

12.7 pm

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I thank the Justice Secretary for allowing advance sight of his statement. This issue has been controversial since the 2004 Hirst v. UK case

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when the European Court of Human Rights ruled our blanket ban on prisoner voting was contrary to article 3, protocol 1 of the convention. The Labour Government disagreed with the Court’s decision. It is not, and never has been, Labour’s position to give prisoners the vote. That is why we appealed the decision and continued to challenge it until we lost office.

Under this Government, I am afraid, there has been a lack of consistency on prisoner voting. On 20 December 2010—the last day before the Christmas recess—this Government snuck out a written ministerial statement announcing that prisoners on sentences of under four years would get the vote. This meant roughly 30,000 prisoners getting the vote. Information we sought showed that 4,188 offenders convicted and sent to prison for burglary would get the vote—so much for this Government being on the side of innocent homeowners. Had the Government’s original plans gone ahead, 5,991 offenders convicted of violence against the person, 1,700 offenders convicted for sexual offences and even 67 rapists would also have been given the vote. I asked the Government at the time for their legal advice that supported giving violent and serious prisoners the vote, but they declined to provide it. The Government then performed one of their earlier U-turns and in a debate on 10 February 2011, Back Benchers from all sides voted overwhelmingly to maintain the status quo.

I welcome the fact that the Attorney-General appealed to the European Court again in the Grand Chamber this year, but many of us remember the previous Lord Chancellor boasting that he would use our once-in-a-generation opportunity of chairing the Council of Europe to ensure that the European Court changed the rules so that civic and social issues such as this would not be adjudicated on in this way. Once again, the Government over-promised and under-delivered.

We will digest the details of the draft Bill, and will work with the Government to ensure that it receives the pre-legislative scrutiny that it deserves. Like my predecessors in the last Labour Government, I am unhappy with the European Court’s ruling on prisoner voting. I think that the Court got it wrong. This is not a case of our Government failing to hold free or fair elections, or an issue of massive electoral fraud; it is a case of offenders, sent to prison by judges, being denied the right and the privilege of voting, as they are denied other rights and privileges. This issue should be within the margin of appreciation that nation states are given by the European Court.

Let me make clear that I am passionate about punishing and reforming offenders. I believe in intervening aggressively to address the offending behaviour of prisoners, ensuring that they can read and write, addressing alcohol and drug dependency, treating mental illness, providing job training so that prisoners can find employment later, enabling them to work in prison and to find somewhere to live, providing a mentor to help them with those tasks, and much more. I meet many offenders, ex-offenders and experts, and I know that the idea that depriving prisoners of their votes makes them more likely to reoffend —or less likely to reintegrate themselves in society—is absurd.

That being said, I respect the rule of law, and we must uphold it. We do not and cannot abide only by judgments with which we agree. This issue is part of the bigger picture of our membership of the European convention,

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a membership of which Labour Members are proud. We acknowledge its role in protecting human rights throughout Europe for more than 60 years, and the fact that it gives the United Kingdom more leverage over other countries that are less scrupulous in their approach to human rights. It allows us to press others to improve their human rights records, just as the Foreign Secretary rightly did this week with the Syrian opposition coalition.

Parliamentarians need to know the Government’s legal advice on what is needed to enable our obligations under the convention to be discharged. We also need to be clear about the ramifications of any decisions that Parliament makes, as there is a risk that choosing the wrong option could lead to compensation claims from prisoners and to our being in breach of the rule of law. That is why I wrote to the Justice Secretary last week—as I did to his predecessor—to request that his legal advice be published so that Members in all parts of the House could make an informed judgment. He has not responded yet.

I should be grateful if the Lord Chancellor would answer a number of questions. Will he make available to the House the legal advice on which his draft Bill relies, and if not, why not? Does he agree with all the Attorney-General’s views on this matter? When will Parliament vote on his three options, and which of them will he recommend to the Joint Committee and the House? Finally, will he confirm that no compensation will be paid as a result of the announcement that he has made today?

Chris Grayling: I am sorry that the shadow Justice Secretary did not take the measured approach that was taken by the shadow Home Secretary at the weekend. When he talks of a lack of consistency and commitment, he should remember that the Attorney-General went personally to Strasbourg to argue the case for this country. That does not suggest to me any lack of determination on the Government’s part.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the previous Lord Chancellor. I pay tribute to him for the progress that he made in the Brighton declaration. These are not easy matters. We are dealing with a very large number of countries, and it is difficult to reach unanimous agreement. I think that my predecessor took a good first step towards securing the reforms that are needed—and I agree that reforms are needed: indeed, I personally take the view that further reforms are needed. I think that I have been very clear about that over the past few weeks. Unless and until such reforms happen, however, we must also recognise the reality of our international obligations, and Parliament must decide what approach it wants this country to take. Having heard the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks, I am not entirely certain what approach he wants us to take, but I think it important for Parliament to be in a position to make the decision.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the legal advice. I do not think that the Attorney-General’s views on this matter are any great secret: he has given evidence to Committees of this House during the last few weeks. Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman will recall that on no occasion under the last Government was advice given to them by the Attorney-General willingly published. However, I will give careful thought to the issues that he

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has raised. I want to be as helpful as possible to the Joint Committee, and I am willing to consider what methods are available to us that are appropriate and follow due precedent.

The right hon. Gentleman asked for clarification of the implications of all this. It involves complex matters that need to be discussed by Parliament, which is precisely why we need pre-legislative scrutiny and should not head straight into a Bill. Both this Government and the last Government have talked about the importance of pre-legislative scrutiny, and this is exactly the kind of Bill that requires it. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about voting intentions. That is a matter for the House to consider. When we reach the point at which a Bill is before the House, every Member will consider how he or she wishes to vote, but, for now, let us wait and see what the Committee comes up with.

As for the right hon. Gentleman’s question about compensation, I hope that the Court will—as it should—view my announcement as the first step in the process that it has asked us to complete, and that the issues to which he referred will not arise.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. There is much interest in the statement, and I am keen to accommodate it, but I remind the House that there is a further piece of business within the hands of the Government to follow, and then three pieces of business under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, the last of which, in particular, is very heavily subscribed. I am keen to accommodate the interest, but I appeal to colleagues to help me to help them, and that is done through brevity.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): If the House agrees to the establishment of a Joint Committee, should not that Committee consider other options, such as restoring voting rights only in the last stages of a sentence? What makes me feel sick is the thought either of criminals cashing in from compensation because we have not sorted this out, or of Britain using the same arguments against international human rights jurisdictions as states with truly appalling human rights records.

Chris Grayling: Let me say in answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question about the different options that it will be for the Committee to decide whether there are other elements that it wishes to see in a Bill. We have tried to put together a simple framework within which consultation and discussion can take place. That will undoubtedly involve considering whether there are other options, in terms of either the scope of the Bill or some of the operational issues that underpin it.

As for the right hon. Gentleman’s point about other countries, I must make clear that I do not equate a legitimate democratic debate about these matters in this democratic House of Parliament with some of the extraordinary abuses of human rights that we have seen elsewhere in the past, and all too often today. These are very different issues.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): Does the Justice Secretary accept that on matters of fundamental human rights, the United Kingdom, under successive Governments,

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has been impeccable in observing the judgments of the Strasbourg Court, even—for example, in respect of terrorist suspects—when it has disagreed profoundly with those decisions? Long may that continue.

Given that we are talking about the rule of law, does the Justice Secretary also accept that—in breach of ideas of the rule of law that are based on consent—the Strasbourg Court has extended its jurisdiction from fundamental human rights to social and civic rights, for which we have not signed up? As Lord Hoffmann, the former Law Lord, has said, the Court “lacks constitutional legitimacy” in respect of such matters, and

“has no mandate to unify the laws of Europe”

on subjects of this kind.

Chris Grayling: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. I think it is worth recalling that when the convention was written, back in the 1950s, Stalin was in power in Russia and people were being sent to the gulags without trial. That is what the convention was all about, but over the past 50 or 60 years the Court has moved it away from those fundamentals, and into a territory that many of us find deeply unsettling and wrong. I think there is a compelling case for reform, but while the current situation continues, we must none the less respect the laws of which we are part, and put to Parliament the questions that I am putting to it today.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): As the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has just demonstrated, this is a non-partisan, parliamentary issue—a matter of debate across the House. In that context, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on doing exactly the right thing in the Bill and handing the decision back to Parliament. I am sure, given the debate that the right hon. Gentleman and I secured some time ago, that the House will effectively decide on the status quo, but that is for the House to decide. If that is what the House decides, does he accept that it will set a precedent, and that every time the European Court goes beyond the remit set by the treaty, to which we did sign up, Parliament will reserve the right to correct it and put things back into proper law?

Chris Grayling: My right hon. Friend has set out clearly the legal position: Parliament has that right. It has been endorsed in the comments made to a Committee of this House by the Attorney-General, as it was in the House of Lords 13 years ago by Lord Justice Hoffmann. That is the legal position—Parliament is sovereign, and long should it remain so.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Are we not in grave danger of insisting on the British way on a relatively insignificant matter and giving an open invitation to other, oppressive countries in Europe to mistreat their prisoners? I recall meeting a woman in a Turkish jail who had been given a 35-year sentence for murdering her abusive husband. As someone who has been involved in these matters for the past 15 years in Europe, may I say that we are sending out a signal that other countries may behave in line with their own national interests and traditions, and that those traditions are to oppress their prisoners and to ignore human rights?

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Chris Grayling: If the Court in Strasbourg were following those fundamental principles to which the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) referred a moment ago and concentrated on serious human rights problems, the issues we are talking about today simply would not have arisen.

Mr Speaker: It is time to call a knight of the realm. I call Sir Gerald Howarth.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): In thanking you, Mr Speaker, and in congratulating my right hon. Friend, may I suggest to him that it is an affront to the British people that judges from such A-list countries as Andorra, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg should be seeking to usurp the judgments of this sovereign Parliament? In so doing, they have, as the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) implied, discredited themselves. It is not we who are discredited by this judgment; it is they who have discredited the Court.

Chris Grayling: I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on these matters. What I would say as Lord Chancellor is that it is important always to remember that judges, whoever they are and in whichever court they are, be it the European Court or a national court, have the right to reach the decisions they reach. We may violently disagree with those decisions, but they have the right to reach them, and it would be a sad day when they no longer had that right. Our job and duty as legislators—the job of national Parliaments such as this—is to exercise sovereignty when we wish to do so. If we do not like the decisions that judges take, we always have at our disposal the ability to change the law. My statement today indicates to Parliament that the legal precedents before it are very clear: it has the right to disagree with the decisions reached in the Court in Strasbourg, but it would be for Parliament to decide whether it wishes to exercise that sovereignty.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Do the Government want to pass this decision to Parliament without providing it with the legal advice or any estimate of the potential compensation claims that might be met if we do not comply?

Chris Grayling: Absolutely not; I intend to be as helpful as possible to Parliament. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has already been extensive in his evidence-giving to Parliament about the legal position. There is no secret and nothing to hide; we want Parliament to have access to all the sensible advice. I am certain that my right hon. and learned Friend will be willing to give evidence before the Joint Committee.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Just because there may be a bipartisan consensus does not mean that it is right or rational, and it certainly does not include me. May I volunteer to serve on this Joint Committee, and may I ask those who give evidence the following? Is denying the vote to someone who has been sentenced to jail after being convicted of a crime a deterrent? It clearly is not. Is it a punishment, given that most criminals have not voted in their lives? Is it a

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penance? Or is it part of rehabilitation? Having discussed Strasbourg, we ought to start discussing why we are doing this to prisoners.

Chris Grayling: It is clearly a matter for Parliament to decide. There may be divided opinions, in different ways, on whether or not to give votes to prisoners and on which form any reform should take. That will be debated in the coming months, but surely it is ultimately the job of Parliament to decide which of many options it wishes to adopt.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Can the Lord Chancellor confirm the position on judges’ discretion on sentencing and the sentencing guidelines? Is there room in the Bill for that, given that the length of sentences could change over time?

Chris Grayling: It would not be my intention to try to add additional dimensions to the Bill. It is important that it concentrates on the core issues in relation to prisoner voting and the decisions of the European Court. There will be other opportunities to debate matters relating to sentencing when we discuss Bills that are before the other place and will, I trust, be before this House in the coming years.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his robust position. Can he confirm that the legal advice is that Parliament, not the European Court, has the final say? Will Ministers be free to vote for no change?

Chris Grayling: As regards voting, I shall leave that question until we see what the Committee has brought forward. As for Parliament having the final say, I can tell my hon. Friend that it absolutely does so. That is clearly what the Law Lords ruled 13 years ago and it is clearly what the Attorney-General has advised. It is also absolutely right—our national Parliament should be sovereign.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Let us suppose that this House were to accept the most modest of the Minister’s extensions of voting rights to prisoners—the option for sentences of less than six months. What assurances can he give us that at some point in future that, in itself, would not be found to be incompatible by the European Court?

Chris Grayling: It is unlikely; the indications from the Court are that a level of reform of that kind would be sufficient to satisfy it that we had conformed to the judgment. That is one reason we have put that option in the Bill for consideration. A number of people have suggested more minor changes, but we do not believe that those would be sufficient to satisfy the Court. One can never say never about anything, but our expectation and belief is that that option would end this matter for the foreseeable future.

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): What sanctions are available to the European Court of Human Rights to apply against the UK Government if they are judged not to have complied with the judgment sent down?

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Chris Grayling: Ultimately, if this Parliament decides not to agree to rulings from the ECHR, it has no sanction. It can apply fines in absentia, but it will be for Parliament to decide whether it wishes to recognise those decisions, as it is with all decisions. Of course, as Lord Justice Hoffmann said in 1999, there are political consequences for the UK if Parliament chooses to take that decision.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is right and proper that convicted prisoners should not be able to vote while they are in prison. I very much welcome the Minister’s commitment to consult the Scottish Government at the pre-legislative stage, but may I seek his assurance that he will prioritise keeping to a minimum the burden on the Scottish Prison Service, the Scottish Court Service and those who administer elections?

Chris Grayling: I will certainly give the hon. Lady that commitment. I should say that I spoke to the Scottish Justice Secretary this morning ahead of this statement, as I did to his counterparts in the other devolved Administrations. It is important that they play a part in the discussions that lie ahead. Of course, one factor that needs to be a part of the discussion is what the burdens will be on those who have to administer systems to provide prisoners with the vote, if indeed that is what Parliament chooses to do.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Prison governors have more regular contact with prisoners than any of us in this House. Does the Justice Secretary therefore agree with the past president of the Prison Governors Association, who has said:

“The blanket ban on sentenced prisoners’ voting is out of step in a modern prison service and runs counter to resettlement work which aims to ensure that prisoners lead a responsible, law-abiding life on release”?

Chris Grayling: What my hon. Friend has just brought before the House is one example of the kind of views I expect to be submitted to the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. I am sure that the views of prison governors will be listened to with interest.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Of the 43 member countries of the European conventions, which ones maintain a blanket ban on prisoner voting?

Chris Grayling: Seven countries have done so. Most recently, Italy was before the Court and has made an amendment to its system. Of course, each country will form its own decision based on the system it has in place and the sovereignty of its Parliament. There has been some suggestion that ours is the only country that has even contemplated failing to implement a decision of the European Court, but I should tell the House that if we look at the record of different members of the Council of Europe for implementing decisions over the years, we see that this country stands near the top of the list.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to nail the myth about the so-called blanket ban? We do not have a blanket ban in this country; remand prisoners, contemnors and fine defaulters retain the right to vote. Will he

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assure me that it is for this Parliament to consider a range of options, which I hope the Joint Committee will consider carefully?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point about those in our prisons who vote, including fine defaulters, people on remand and people who are between verdict and sentence. I can give him an absolutely clear assurance that it will be for Parliament to decide whether it wishes to see more prisoners with the vote or simply to retain the number at that level.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know that the Edinburgh agreement devolves the franchise in the forthcoming independence referendum to the Scottish Parliament but that Acts of the Scottish Parliament have a very different relationship with the European convention on human rights from Acts of this Parliament. Have the Scottish Government contacted him to put on record their position about whether prisoners will have the right to vote in the referendum? Should any prisoner decide to sue, will that Government or this Government be liable in the courts?

Chris Grayling: The legal position is very clear: this is a reserved matter for this Parliament and not for the devolved Assemblies. As I mentioned, I have already had a discussion with the Scottish Justice Secretary. Clearly, one issue that will have to be addressed in the pre-legislative process is what will happen with the Scottish referendum. We have already started that conversation and it will continue.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Should we not set store by precedent? Am I right in believing that when we signed up to the convention, before the 1960s, those serving as misdemeanours for fewer than six months were allowed to vote but felons serving for more than six months could not? Of course we must be sovereign, but is that not the sort of compromise that could be reached to ensure our continued membership of the Council of Europe?

Chris Grayling: That is a very interesting point. It will be for my hon. Friend, given his expertise on these matters, to make representations to the consultative Committee, which we hope will be able to consider all these issues before it forms a view of what this Parliament should do.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, which was very clear. I understand that no matter what the European Court says in the future, if Parliament decides that prisoners will not get the vote, with which I agree completely, that is the end of the matter. What if compensation claims are still made and won in the European Court? Will the Government refuse to pay out any compensation?

Chris Grayling: If Parliament decides not to change the current position, that will clearly, as per the ruling from Lord Justice Hoffmann, generate a political issue between the United Kingdom and the Council of Europe. The Joint Committee will wish to consider that as part of its deliberations. As for the consequences, we cannot know what they will be until that decision has been

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taken. The legal position is very clear. The hon. Gentleman mentioned fines, and as I said earlier, this Parliament is ultimately sovereign and can decide whether it will accept a ruling of the European Court of any sort or whether it will not.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I want to get everybody in and do not want to disappoint anyone, so we need short questions and speedy answers.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Many members of the public will believe that this decision is because of the Human Rights Act. As the Lord Chancellor has said very clearly that it is not, will he confirm whether he supports repealing that Act?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the question refers back to the original convention and the structures that have been in place since the 1950s. I support reform of that system and I have been quite clear that I intend on behalf of my party to introduce proposals before the next election. If the whole House decides to adopt those proposals, that will be great. Otherwise, we will fight the campaign on them.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will not the whole of the British people welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Justice has come to the Dispatch Box and put their views first, making this Parliament sovereign and ignoring the Mickey Mouse court in Europe?

Chris Grayling: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments. He has been a great champion of the rights of Parliament and I think that Parliament’s role in this and other matters is enormously important. I am very glad to put it at the centre of a vital decision for this country.

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): May I commend the approach taken by my right hon. Friend? This is a matter for Parliament and Parliament alone to decide, but the processes he has outlined to the House today, including pre-legislative scrutiny, will take some time. Can he assure me it that will be drawn to the attention of the Court that this House will need a proper amount of time to consider these detailed matters and for reflection?

Chris Grayling: I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. Pre-legislative scrutiny is a part of the legislative process that is now supported strongly on both sides of the House. It has been used on many occasions for other Bills. In the case of a Bill as controversial and with as many permutations as this one, I shall make it very clear to the Court that this is the start of a parliamentary process and an important part of the response to what it has asked us to do.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Many people will accept that prisoners serving custodial sentences rightly surrender many of their civil and social privileges and rights. What does the Secretary of State think about

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the proposal that one determining factor on reinstating any of those rights to vote should be proximity to the end of a sentence?

Chris Grayling: There is a perfectly coherent argument to be made by those who believe that, and it is undoubtedly one of the areas I expect to be discussed by the consultative Committee. I should also say that I would expect the different Select Committees with an involvement in this area to want to contribute to the process, too. I have no doubt that what the hon. Gentleman has just described will be one of the options discussed.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): The option that gives prisoners with lower sentences the opportunity to vote would therefore include some prisoners who have been convicted of electoral fraud. Does the Secretary of State regard that as appropriate?

Chris Grayling: We have different rules for those convicted of electoral fraud, who are banned from voting for an extended period. The Government have no plans to change that, but the issue will be discussed as part of the review process and we will see the will of Parliament. I do not believe that that is necessarily the same legal issue as the broader one about the availability to prisoners of the right to vote.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on emphasising the importance of parliamentary sovereignty. In that context, will he assure us that this is not an area in which the European Union and the fundamental rights agency have any competence whatsoever?

Chris Grayling: I wish I could give my hon. Friend that complete assurance, but there is another case pending on the right to vote on European elections, rather than national elections, that will be heard in our Supreme Court next summer. That is another thing that is not entirely welcome, but we will have to see what the judgment is when the time comes.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I am still not clear about the issue of compensation. What advice has the Secretary of State received about what the situation will be if Parliament restates the present position and current prisoners decide to claim compensation?

Chris Grayling: The legal position remains that Parliament has the right to say no to any decision of the European Court of Human Rights, whatever that might be. It is clear that that is its absolute right but, as Lord Justice Hoffmann said, there is a political consequence of doing so. I do not make light of the challenge or debate that would follow if the decision were not to give prisoners the vote.

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): The Secretary of State has just mentioned that a number of leading EU countries have ignored judgments of the ECHR on the grounds of parliamentary sovereignty. It was stated at the time that their international reputation in various forums, such as the UN Human Rights Council, would suffer. Is there any evidence of that happening and has any analysis being carried out?

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Chris Grayling: I have no evidence of such issues. Some people have suggested that if Parliament chooses to exercise its right of sovereignty, the UK would become a pariah state, but I must say very clearly that I simply do not accept that. I believe that Parliament has the right to exercise its sovereignty. It will be for Parliament to decide in this situation whether it wishes to exercise that sovereignty, but I do not believe that if it chooses to do so, Britain will somehow turn into a nation with an appalling human rights record. Our human rights record stands comparison with anyone’s.

Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): As a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I have had the opportunity to discuss the issue with senior members of the European Court of Human Rights in a particular context. There are 47 member states of the Council of Europe and very many of them—France is one; Malta is another—hold prisoners for very long periods without trial in clear breach of the convention on human rights, about which the ECHR chooses to do precisely nothing. Would it not be a good idea for the ECHR to concentrate on enforcing article 5 and such matters rather than meddling, as the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has said, in matters that are not even within its remit?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is the problem; at the moment, we have a Court that is drowning in hundreds of thousands of cases in areas that the originators of the convention would never have considered relevant to what they were creating. That has taken the judges in Strasbourg away from the fundamental principles that they are supposed to be there to protect, so I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): The European convention on human rights was set up in the aftermath of the second world war to ensure that the horrors of Nazi Germany never happened again. It was never the intention of its framers to give Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess the vote. Does not that make it clear that there is a difference between the convention and the Court? That is why Parliament will have a moral mandate to defy the Court.

Chris Grayling: I really believe that is the central issue, which is why I feel so passionately that we need to reform the system, which has moved a long way from the noble motives of its conservative creators, who were trying to address some of the appalling situations that people in Europe found themselves in at the time. It was not about whether prisoners had the right to vote; it was about people being put in mental hospitals for the rest of their lives without trial as an excuse for taking them out of the political process. That is the kind of thing we should be fighting.

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on doing something previous Secretaries of State for Justice have not done, which is invoke parliamentary sovereignty, but I gently suggest that that takes us only so far. It is likely that ambulance-chasing compensation claims will be made, so will he indicate what steps he is taking now, by way of contingency planning, to prevent any prisoners from

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making claims, in either the European Court of Human Rights or English courts, for denial of their alleged human rights?

Chris Grayling: I cannot say too much about all the detailed plans I have at the moment—I am in the early stages of thinking through some of the broader issues—but one point I will make is that I have asked the question about the use of the legal aid system for purposes that I do not believe it was designed for. I hope to bring forward further thoughts on that before too long.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I draw the House’s attention to my recently published book on prison reform.

I have represented hundreds of people who were in prison, not one of whom ever said to my good self that they were busting for a chance to vote; I assure the Secretary of State that that was not the intention of many I represented. What is the proposal in the option for considering short sentences of a few weeks or even a few days in custody?

Chris Grayling: Under the proposal to give the vote to prisoners who have received a sentence of either six months or less or four years or less, someone given a very short sentence would be eligible for a postal vote in prison. Of course, whether or not they are given that vote would depend on what Parliament and this House decide.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am appalled by the lack of legal training for so many of the so-called judges of the European Court of Human Rights, incensed by the Court’s repeated attempts to traduce the sovereignty of the British Parliament, and cognisant of the fact that there would be no Court and no human rights in Europe if this country had not stood alone against Hitler in 1940. My constituents want their MP to vote to ban prisoners from voting, and in that they will not be disappointed.

Chris Grayling: We have had one or two early statements of intent from Members, some of which have not surprised me at all. I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about these matters and is an effective advocate for both his constituency and his point of view on these issues, which I know is shared across the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) made clear, those views are not unanimous across the House and, therefore, I think that we will have a constructive and lively debate before Parliament reaches its view on the way forward.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): I strongly welcome the stance my right hon. Friend has taken. Does he agree that everybody supports the concept of genuine human rights but it is this sort of nonsense, whereby the Court interferes in the internal affairs of a country with an impeccable record and tries to micro-manage our system, that gives the whole concept of human rights a bad name and undermines the work the Court should be doing?

Chris Grayling: I absolutely agree. It is a little-known fact that at university I was chairman of the Amnesty International group and campaigned for Soviet prisoners

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of conscience. That work is a world away from some of the areas the Court is currently considering, which is why I believe it needs serious reform.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments today about Parliament being sovereign on this issue and on how he is vigilant on legal aid. It would be completely unacceptable to my constituents to see legal aid paid to convicted criminals.

Chris Grayling: On legal aid, there will always be people we might find repellent but for whom we must provide financial support so that they can defend themselves in a fair and open justice system, but that does not mean that our legal aid system should be open to abuse for purposes it is not intended to serve. That is why I have asked my officials to look closely at that area and consider what changes are necessary.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Will the Secretary of State clarify that it will be open to Parliament to decide that non-violent offences tried summarily by the magistrates would comply with the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights and that using the sentencing guidelines and the experience of the judiciary, which is independent of interference and hears the evidence, should be a vehicle for deciding whether or not prisoners are entitled to vote?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend has put forward a further option for the eventual legislation, and I encourage her to take it to the Committee for its consideration.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): My constituents are horrified by the prospect of prisoners being given an entitlement to vote. Further to the issue of those given short sentences, will the Secretary of State comment on the position of offenders who are given community sentences?

Chris Grayling: Those who are given community sentences are currently still able to vote and we have no intention of changing that, although one option that has been adopted in some other European countries, Italy particularly, is having tighter rules for those released after a prison sentence. That is clearly an option that the Committee might wish to consider.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that he will uphold our obligations under international law. I welcome the middle option of six months or fewer as something that those of us who are not implacably opposed to prisoners having the right to vote under any circumstances could consider. Will he qualify that further and comment on whether further restrictions could be added to that option—for example, eliminating from the list of eligible people those who have a record of violence or taking into consideration their previous convictions?

Chris Grayling: Those issues could certainly be discussed, but the Court has indicated to us that, were we to implement a measure that took the bar lower than the six-month sentence point, it would be unlikely to see our approach as compliant with the original ruling. Whether an exception for violence could be made is a matter that needs careful consideration in Committee.

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I do not have the legal basis to rule it in or out at the moment, but the six-month threshold is certainly where the Court has indicated that it sees the line being drawn.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only is it fundamentally wrong for prisoners to be given the vote, but it is British courts that see all the evidence and take away the freedom of those people, so why on earth should it be European courts that overrule us?

Chris Grayling: As a great believer in the principle of subsidiarity, I think that, where possible, national courts should take decisions on all but the highest points of principle. That, of course, is not where we are at the moment with the European Court of Human Rights, which is taking decisions on issues that, in my view, should certainly be a matter for national courts.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The Secretary of State is absolutely right: this is not just about the important matter of prisoner voting; it is about the even more important matter of the very sovereignty of this House and this Parliament. To that end, can he reconfirm that the legal advice is clear and unequivocal that it is this Parliament, not the European Court of Human Rights, that has the final say on this important matter?

Chris Grayling: I absolutely confirm that. That advice has come from distinguished legal figures at both ends of this Parliament, from the former Law Lord, Lord Justice Hoffmann, and a current distinguished legal figure, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who have given identical advice on the sovereignty of Parliament and its right to take the final decision on the matter.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I warmly welcome the Lord Chancellor’s statement and look forward to being able to vote again in favour of maintaining the status quo. In the meantime, will my right hon. Friend please confirm that the pre-legislative scrutiny will in no way be rushed and that when the Joint Committee comes to consider the draft Bill every single issue will be explored and every interested person will be given the time and opportunity to put their views in full and to be examined about them?

Chris Grayling: Given the wide range of views expressed in the House today, it is clear that there will be an extensive and broad-ranging debate, and it would be entirely wrong to curtail the parliamentary process and prevent legitimate views from being heard.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that voting is a right, but it is also a responsibility? Prisoners are in prison precisely because they have shown a lack of responsibility, so they should not have the right to make decisions over other people by voting in elections.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend has articulated one of the clear views held in the House on this issue. The issue commands very strong opinions, and I believe that

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today I have offered Members such as my hon. Friend the opportunity not simply to express their view, but to vote to express it.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I absolutely agree that deciding whether prisoners should have the right to vote is properly a matter for this Parliament, but I am concerned that the United Kingdom may well find itself either asked to pay fines or outside the judgment of the European Court. Britain has an admirable reputation for leading the world in respect of the rule of law, so will my right hon. Friend work with the other 46 members of the Council of Europe to find ways of avoiding the confrontation we seem to be heading for, which will almost inevitably involve curtailing the ambitions and scope of the European Court?

Chris Grayling: I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is my view that reform must come, and I am very pleased to have heard today that that is clearly the view of Opposition Members as well. The former Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), made a good start with the work done before the Brighton declaration, but my view is that there is a long way still to go on this matter.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Parliament is rightly seeking to reflect the public’s horror at the prospect of prisoners getting the vote, so why not tap into that by putting the options in a referendum coinciding with the next police and crime commissioner elections, in which we want more people to vote?

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Chris Grayling: That is an intriguing idea, but, sadly, I think the European Court will not allow us to wait four more years before reaching a final decision on this matter. I think Parliament will have to vote before then.

Bills Presented

Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Theresa May, supported by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Danny Alexander, Secretary Chris Grayling, Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Secretary Maria Miller, the Attorney-General and Damian Green, presented a Bill to make provision about interviews held during certain investigations under schedule 3 to the Police Reform Act 2002; and about the application of part 2 of that Act to matters occurring before April 2004.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 93) with explanatory notes (Bill 93-EN).

Equality Act 2010 (Amendment ) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Frank Field, supported by Diana Johnson, Andrew George and Mrs Eleanor Laing, presented a Bill to amend the Equality Act 2010 to remove discrimination against women in relation to consecration of bishops in the Church of England; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 January 2013, and to be printed (Bill 94).

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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

12.52 pm

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 19 November, be approved.

The Government are determined to do all they can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We would therefore like to add Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, known as Ansaru, to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the 11th proscription order under that Act.

Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation

“is concerned in terrorism if it—

(a) commits or participates in acts of terrorism,

(b) prepares for terrorism,

(c) promotes or encourages terrorism”—

including the unlawful glorification of terrorism, or—

“(d) is otherwise concerned in terrorism.”

If the test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation.

In considering whether to exercise this discretion, the Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors: the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom; the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box in dealing with counter-terrorism matters. I had not realised the Immigration Minister was now going to be responsible for counter-terrorism within the Home Office, but I am glad he has got this portfolio as well. Is there any indication as to how many supporters Ansaru has in the UK?

Mr Harper: The right hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, may be pleased or disappointed to know that I am handling this order, but my fellow Minister, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, retains responsibility for security matters. He is out of the country today on Government business, so I am dealing with the order on his behalf.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not answer the question he asks. There are things I am not able to say in the House, based on intelligence issues. If he will forgive me, I would prefer not to answer his question directly.

Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation concerned. That includes open-source material, intelligence material, legal advice and advice that reflects consultation across government,

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including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. These decisions are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is right that the case for proscribing new organisations must be approved by both Houses.

Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary firmly believes that Ansaru is concerned in terrorism. Members will appreciate that I am unable to go into detail, but I can provide a brief summary. Ansaru is an Islamist terrorist organisation, based in Nigeria, which publicly emerged in January 2012. It is motivated by an anti-Nigerian Government and an anti-Western agenda, and is broadly aligned with al-Qaeda. It is believed to be responsible for the murders of British national, Christopher McManus, and his Italian co-worker. Franco Lamolinara, in March 2012.

In conclusion, for these reasons I believe it is right that we add the organisation to the list of proscribed organisations under schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I commend the motion to the House.

12.57 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I thank the Minister for his statement, and congratulate him on his pronunciation of the full name of this group. I shall refer to it as Ansaru.

We support the Government on issues of national security and work with them on the basis of cross-party co-operation. As the Government are acting today against a group that was identified as an independent entity only in January 2012, I commend them on their speedy action.

As the Minister has said, under section 3 of the 2000 Terrorism Act a group can be proscribed if it

“(a) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, .

(b) prepares for terrorism,

(c) promotes or encourages terrorism, or

(d) is otherwise concerned in terrorism.”

Obviously, the Opposition are at a disadvantage in evaluating the evidence against such groups, as we do not have access to the same intelligence data as the Government. However, based on what is in the public domain and the brief summary the Minister was able to give today, we are satisfied that the Home Secretary is justified in coming to the conclusion that Ansaru meets these criteria, and we will support the motion.

Members will be particularly concerned to hear about possible links between Ansaru and the kidnap of Chris McManus and his Italian colleague, Franco Lamolinara. The treatment of Mr McManus and Mr Lamolinara was barbaric and despicable, and it is right that the UK Government should take action against any group that commits such acts of terror against UK citizens.

Ansaru has also been linked to the long-established Boko Haram sect, which is not proscribed. I hope the Minister will commit today to keeping the status of Boko Haram under review. So far the actions of this group have been largely confined to Nigeria, but I hope the Government will act to proscribe Boko Haram if links to the UK emerge.

Finally, I remind the Minister of his party’s commitment, made repeatedly when it was in opposition, including by the now Prime Minister, to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Conservatives have now been in power for two and a

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half years, yet Hizb ut-Tahrir is still a legal organisation in the UK. Now that the Minister has the responsibilities of government I wonder whether, in respect of that organisation, he regrets playing politics with national security while in opposition.

1 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I fully support the motion that the Government have put before the House today. One of the features of the fight against terrorism is that the Front-Bench teams unite as they have today in supporting what the Home Secretary proposes.

We must, of course, give the Home Secretary the benefit of the doubt. I am sure she has looked at this case very carefully indeed. I am certain that she, like previous Home Secretaries, does not take lightly the decision to proscribe an organisation. However, I want to raise a number of concerns that I have raised in the past, and that the Select Committee has raised, that have not been really been answered by the Government. I am glad to see here the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who is also a member of the Select Committee and who played a leading part in producing the report that we published at the end of last year on the roots of radicalism.

Of course it is right that when the Government have the evidence, and the security services and others give advice to the Home Secretary, they should initiate a ban. Despite the fact that we have had successive orders on the Floor of the House that have gone through relatively quickly because of the support of the Opposition, the concern expressed by the Select Committee, which has not really been answered, is that the orders are not time-limited. Once the proscription is put in place, there is no revisiting it unless there is an application by the group concerned to get itself de-proscribed.

In the time that I have been in the House, there has been only one example of a group being de-proscribed. That was the People’s Mujahedeen, which in the end had to go to court in order to get the proscription lifted by the then Government. The concerns that I have raised have been raised with me and with the Home Affairs Committee by a number of groups including, for example, members of the Tamil community, who were concerned at the banning of the LTTE, an organisation that no longer exists, whose leaders have been executed or dissipated. It does not function, yet that proscription remains in force. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have members of the Tamil community in their constituencies and they have raised this concern. That is why it is important that the Government should take a view on the matter.

Whenever Ministers have come to the House before to talk about proscribing organisations—in this case, Ansaru—we have raised the point but we have never received a response with a definitive answer. David Anderson, QC, the reviewer of counter-terrorism appointed by the Government, has favoured a time limit. In Australia there is a time limit of two years. There should perhaps be not an automatic de-proscription, but at least the opportunity for senior Home Office officials to review the decision and to see whether the organisation has changed. One of the points that was made to the Home Secretary the last time she used proscription against an organisation—I think it was Muslims Against Crusades—

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was that organisations can change their name, but still function. By changing their name, they become, in a sense, a new organisation.

The points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) about Hizb ut-Tahrir are relevant. I know the Prime Minister is very keen to ban this organisation. He has said so as Leader of the Opposition and as Prime Minister, but he has come up against advice that has been given, presumably, by those who give advice whose names we do not know —obviously, because by the nature of their job they have to operate in the shadows. They have clearly said to the Home Secretary that in respect of Hizb ut-Tahrir there is no case to proscribe, but that there is in respect of Ansaru.

We in the House probably know more about Hizb ut-Tahrir than we do about Ansaru. Many of us, myself included, probably discovered this organisation only when we knew that a proscription order was going to be issued on the Floor of the House today. In the case of Hizb ut-Tahrir, we know what its members are up to, we know about their activities, we know what they have said, but still they are not proscribed.

It may seem odd that Members are asking for more proscription and at the same time are asking for time limits, but when an organisation ceases to exist and members of settled communities, though not members of that organisation, are loosely associated because they come from the same geographical area, such as members of the Tamil community who are settled in this country, obviously there are concerns.

I hope that when the Minister replies, he will at least give us some indication—I appreciate that this is not his area of responsibility—when we will know that the Government have made up their mind in respect of the response to the Select Committee’s report published a year ago. That will assist us, as I am sure it will assist David Anderson, QC, in our deliberations on this very important subject. On the substance of the order, I fully support what the Government are doing today. I have faith in the Home Secretary’s judgment. I know that she would do this only if she felt that it was the right thing to do, and I hope the order will go through with the support of the whole House.

1.6 pm

Mr Harper: Let me deal with the issues that have been raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). The hon. Lady spoke on behalf of the Opposition, and I thank her for their support, as I thank the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee for his support. This is always a difficult area, because as the hon. Lady said, there are things that the Government know which they are not able to share publicly. I am grateful for what she and the Chairman of the Select Committee said about my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Proscription is a tough but necessary power. Its effect is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. It makes it a criminal offence for a person to belong to that proscribed organisation, to invite support for it, to arrange a meeting in support of it or to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member of that organisation. Proscribing Ansaru will

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also enable the police to carry out disruptive action against any of its supporters in the UK and—picking up the point made by the Chairman of the Select Committee—ensure that it cannot operate effectively in the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned de-proscription. Anyone who is proscribed can apply to the Home Secretary to be de-proscribed. If that application is refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal which is able to consider the sensitive material that underpins proscription decisions.

The Chairman of the Select Committee also mentioned the report that David Anderson, QC, has recently produced and also the Select Committee’s report. The Government have carefully noted the comments that David Anderson made in his report about the de-proscription process and the Home Secretary will respond shortly to the report, so the right hon. Gentleman may not have too long to wait to find out the Government’s view.

Keith Vaz: I know that we have become used to the word “shortly”, but it may well have been used a year ago, when we were told that there would be a response shortly. Is that this year? Is it next year? [Interruption.]

Mr Harper: As my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary says, the waiting time is getting shorter. I will not put an exact date on it, because when I have done that in the past I have inevitably disappointed people. The right hon. Gentleman will clearly have less time to wait than he did when he heard a Minister say that last year.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North mentioned Boko Haram, which operates in Nigeria. For very sensible reasons, the Government do not comment on whether any group is under consideration for proscription, but we are deeply concerned about violence, whether terrorist or otherwise, in Nigeria. We remain committed to working closely with the Nigerian authorities to tackle the security situation in Nigeria. When the Prime Minister met President Jonathan in February this year, he re-affirmed our shared agenda. We have experience

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on counter-terrorism policy and various frameworks for dealing with it, and we work closely with our Nigerian colleagues to support them in any way we can in combating the security challenges that they face.

The hon. Lady mentioned Hizb ut-Tahrir. As she knows, that organisation is not proscribed in the United Kingdom. As I said, proscription can be considered only when the Home Secretary believes that an organisation is involved in terrorism, as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East suggested though, it remain an organisation about which the Government have significant concerns, and we continue to monitor its activities very closely.

The final issue that the Chairman of the Select Committee raised was organisations that change their name but not necessarily their activities. Section 3(6) of the Act allows the Home Secretary, by order, to specify an alternative name for a proscribed organisation, and we keep the list of organisations under review, including consideration of whether they are operating under any alternative aliases.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): Is there a streamlined process for claiming that a group with a new name is still the old group? Instead of having to start again and prove that the group under the new name is a risk, is there is a quick and simple process for saying “This is the old group under a new name”?

Mr Harper: Yes. If we proscribe a group on the basis of all the information we have about it, and it then tries to change its identity, there is provision in the Act to allow us to specify an alternative name without having to go through the process of reconsidering all the legal tests that the Home Secretary has to carry out.

I hope that with those answers I have dealt with the questions that were raised, and that the House will support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 19 November, be approved.

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Backbench Business

Universal Credit

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I inform the House that by convention only Dame Anne Begg will speak in this debate. Interventions are allowed, but no other speeches.

1.11 pm

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of the publication of the Third Report from the Work and Pensions Committee, on Universal Credit implementation: meeting the needs of vulnerable claimants, HC 576.

Today the Work and Pensions Committee published a report, “Universal credit implementation: meeting the needs of vulnerable claimants”. Universal credit is a new working-age benefit that, if the various IT systems work—fingers crossed—should be easy to operate for the majority of claimants. Almost all our witnesses supported the principles of universal credit, but as we took evidence it became clear that there were concerns about how those who will find the new system difficult are to be helped. That explains the title of our report. The Government’s approach is to design a system that works for the majority before they then assess what additional support more vulnerable claimants might need. However, we have significant concerns that insufficient progress has been made in deciding what the additional support will offer, how it will be delivered, and who will qualify for it. There is therefore a risk that this help will not be in place for the implementation of universal credit in the first pathfinder areas from April next year.

The report highlights several areas of concern. First, “digital by default”, as the Government call it, means, in effect, that all claims and all changes in circumstances will have to be submitted online, which might cause problems for a sizeable minority of people. On the single monthly payment per household, we are concerned about who within the household will be the recipient. We are worried about potential delays in the system that could mean not only that one benefit is delayed but that all moneys that are due to go into the household are stopped for one reason or another. Another concern is that under universal credit the housing costs of someone in social housing will no longer be paid directly to the landlord but will be part of the single monthly payment.

The Government’s emphasis on planning for the majority means that that is where all the work has been done. There has not been enough detail on the so-called exceptions policy and on how people who are not managing—those who are not in the majority—will be picked up.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for presenting this very important report. I think she will agree that one of the Committee’s major concerns was that the concept of exceptions—people who might get additional help or assistance, or who might not be subject to the monthly payment rule—was very unworked-out. It would be helpful to get some of the detail so that these things are anticipated rather than dealt with once people have got into trouble.

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Dame Anne Begg: Indeed. We hope that in response to our report the Government will give more detail—put more flesh on the bones—on exactly how the exceptions service will work and how it will identify vulnerable people. I will have a bit more to say about that later.

Another area of concern is the ambitious implementation timetable. We think that there is a danger that the Government have a degree of blind faith in thinking that all the IT systems will work. We would love to share their feeling that everything is all right, but we have seen in the past how other Government IT systems have not lived up to expectations.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Did the Committee note the concern of the Federation of Small Businesses that only a quarter of small businesses are aware of the need to provide real-time information to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs? What did the Committee recommend as regards those communications?

Dame Anne Begg: We heard a lot of evidence from members of employers’ organisations and from organisations representing accountants, and others, who were concerned about HMRC’s real-time information requirements, on which the system strongly depends. They felt that there was not enough knowledge among employers who will have to operate the process. One of our recommendations was that the Government should be liaising more closely with those organisations and helping with publicity. Another recommendation was that the Government should be wary of trying to keep to the ambitious timetable that has been set.

The Committee has two other areas of concern. First, there are still decisions to be made about how to deal with passported benefits. Secondly, the decision to localise council tax benefit seems to fly completely in the face of the basic principles of universal credit. That might create extra computer problems, because the Department for Work and Pensions’ computer system would have to interface not only with the HMRC’s computer systems but those of local authorities.

Let me look at these matters in a bit more detail. “Digital by default” sounds great in theory, but it might be more difficult to manage in practice because the number of people likely to be applying for universal credit who do not have access to a computer or are not digitally aware or computer literate will be much higher than in the general population. We are keen that the Government should lay out exactly what will happen in the case of claimants who are unable to make any kind of digital claim, because we understand that there will not be a paper form. Indeed, the Government expect that only 50% of claimants will make their claim online in 2013, when universal credit starts to be rolled out.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on her speech. Does she agree, though, that many people find the existing multiple claims processes very difficult to deal with and get right? Does she also agree that there are advantages to people using computers and becoming familiar with the internet because it will help them to get into work, where they may well be expected to do those things?

Dame Anne Begg: As we say in the report, it will not be a problem for the majority of people, but it will be for some. We must remember that the people who will

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get universal credit are not just run-of-the-mill out-of-work claimants; some will have very severe disabilities because employment and support allowance is part of the new system. Some people will have quite profound barriers to accessing benefits of any kind on the internet. We hope that they will have help, but it would be useful for the Government to spell out in more detail exactly how that help will be accessed.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): I am delighted to have joined the Select Committee, albeit after the evidence for this report was taken. When the Committee reviewed the draft report, we discussed the issue that many of those who may struggle are the very people who struggle at the moment. It is important that we do not suggest that universal credit will be the source of the problem, because some of the same people struggle now. As my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) said, there are opportunities in going digital such as having translation online and different ways of presenting information. A mass of paper is often more confusing.

Dame Anne Begg: Indeed, but a large number of our witnesses said that there are people who are managing in the present system who will not necessarily manage under the new system. Somebody who is struggling at the moment with a paper form will almost definitely struggle with an online form, but there are people who can manage a paper form who will not be able to manage an online form.

As housing benefit will go not to the landlord but to the individual, there are other groups that the current system supports who might have difficulties managing under universal credit.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): Given the difficulty that many people have accessing applications through IT, does my hon. Friend recognise that this change will lead to a massive surge in demand for the help of advice centres? Does she have any thoughts on the additional support that such centres will require to help those people?

Dame Anne Begg: Indeed, the report makes a strong recommendation on ensuring sufficient funds to support Citizens Advice and other advice and welfare rights groups. When they appeared before us, Ministers promised that there would be additional resources for such organisations. There is a recognition that that there will be difficulties, certainly with initial claims and when people move on to universal credit. It would be foolhardy of the Government to say that there will be no difficulties, and I do not think that they are saying that. There are bound to be difficulties, and that is where such organisations have an important role.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that only on Friday Ofcom published new statistics showing that 10% of the population simply have no access to broadband?

Dame Anne Begg: I thought that the figure was 20%, but perhaps the hon. Lady has given a more recent figure than the one that was available when we wrote the report. There is no doubt that there will be challenges for people because of “digital by default”.

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Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): I entirely take on board the point about the lack of digital access for certain people. That is a problem across a range of Government services, and not just in this area. Does she agree that moving away from multiple applications for a large swathe of different benefits will provide a benefit, for want of a better word? I am sure that, like me, she is visited by many constituents who simply do not know what benefits they are entitled to and are not claiming them. Universal benefit should help to prevent that.

Dame Anne Begg: That is why most of our witnesses supported the basic principles of universal credit. I do not like to say that it will simplify the benefits system, because I do not think there is such a thing as a simple benefits system, but it will be more coherent, transparent and understandable.

However, there is an inherent problem in the single payment. At the moment, if somebody makes a mistake in their housing benefit claim, only their housing benefit is affected, and if they make a mistake in their child tax credit claim, only that tax credit is affected. As universal credit will be a single benefit that is paid in a single monthly payment to each household, if one of those things goes wrong for one reason or another, it could mean that a family’s whole income is withheld. That is why it is a real challenge for the Government to get it right. It might mean that some individuals and households do not get their benefit at all. By the time that is picked up, it might be too late. The concern is over how quickly such people can be helped and how quickly they will be able to access the system. One of our key recommendations is about the speed of that identification.

George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): I notice from the report that the Committee is keen to ensure that there is digital access via smartphones. I believe that the Government are looking at that idea very carefully and will implement it. I imagine that the hon. Lady will welcome the idea that people will be able to check their real-time universal credit status when they are out on the street or on the move, and will thus have a much better idea of what they can and cannot do when out shopping or transacting in any way.

Dame Anne Begg: Ministers’ responses suggest that the smartphone technology may be some way off. There are issues with the security of the data. We have had some assurances from the Government on that. This is such a big reform that we could not, in our short inquiry, look in detail at all of these matters and their implications. That is the challenge for the Government.

On the implementation timetable, the Government have made great play of saying that there will not be a big-bang effect, because universal credit will not come in for everybody on one day, but will have a slow roll-out. In the pathfinders that will operate from next April, it will be the easy claimants that are seen to first, such as single people who are on jobseeker’s allowance. However, people’s circumstances change, so it is imperative that the Government can foresee how universal credit will work in all circumstances for it to work even in the first cases. It will be no comfort to a claimant who receives no benefit in 2013 because there are failures in the system or because it cannot cope with their change of circumstances for the Government to say that the

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problems will be sorted out by 2017. For each family, there will effectively be a big bang when they make a new claim or when they move on to universal credit. We are hopeful that the Government are alert to those concerns.

Jane Ellison: While there is cautious hope that the IT systems will work, the report acknowledges that if they do work, particularly the real-time information element, it will alleviate many of the problems that we see in our surgeries, such as when people forget to report changes in their circumstances and end up with enormous arrears. That is a particular problem with tax credits. There is therefore the potential to solve one of the biggest problems that affects many of our constituencies.

Dame Anne Begg: As the hon. Lady said, that is all dependent on the IT. A lot of what we are talking about is dependent on the IT. That brings me on to my next point.

We were not persuaded by the assurances from HMRC that everything would be fine. We were concerned that there appeared to be no proper contingency planning for where the IT does not work as expected or at all. The points that we make in the report are based on the premise that it will work. Our concerns therefore come on top of any problems that might arise because of the IT.

The report expresses concerns about the additional costs of disability. Ministers have told us that the total expenditure on disabled people as a whole will not be reduced under universal credit, but we are concerned about individual disabled people whose entitlement will be reduced. Existing claimants will obviously have transitional protection, so they will not lose out in cash terms immediately, but that protection will erode over time and will be lost if their circumstances change.

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Kate Green: Was the Committee concerned that the protection for existing claimants, which means that they will not lose out unless there is a change in their circumstances, might act as a disincentive to enter into work, because they might worry that the job will not work out and that they will have to go on to universal credit for the first time, which could mean receiving a lower payment than they had previously?

Dame Anne Begg: A number of witnesses pointed out to the Committee that there can sometimes be unintended consequences and that people’s behaviour does not always follow a logical pattern. What my hon. Friend has said might be logical in certain cases.

Many decisions must still be made on passported benefits. The Committee acknowledges that it is a difficult issue, but it is essential for the Government to make a decision. A lot of working families depend on passported benefits, and that is one of the elements that will make work pay. I do not have time to consider in detail the localisation of council tax, although I have a feeling that Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions might share a few of the Labour party’s views on that, even if they do not say so publicly.

The concerns set out in the report about the impact of universal credit on vulnerable claimants are significant and should give the Government cause to reflect on the speed at which they plan to proceed. This is an important reform for the Government, who have been willing to go where no other Government have feared to tread. Many have described it as a brave, radical step that should provide a more coherent and transparent benefit system for working-age people. It is therefore important that the Government get the implementation right, and ensure from the start that all 8 million households affected by the reform will be able to access the help they might need to make a claim. The success of universal credit will be judged not on how well it works for those able to manage it, but on how well it serves the most vulnerable in society.

Question put and agreed to.

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Life-saving Skills in Schools

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Before I call the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) I inform the House that we intend to finish this debate at about a quarter to 3. I am seeking to protect the next debate, so once the hon. Lady has moved the motion I will decide whether to apply a time limit, and if so, I shall inform the House what that limit will be.

1.32 pm

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House believes every child should leave school knowing how to save a life.

First, a big thank you is due to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and the Backbench Business Committee, because without them this important issue would not have been given air time. This matter has concerned a number of Members for many years, and I pay tribute to those who have fought on this issue, including my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), and the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell). It is something about which Members across the House feel strongly and passionately.

What do I mean by emergency life-saving skills? For most of us that includes some of the basic things that can be done for an individual before professional trained help arrives. It usually includes putting people into the recovery position and enabling them to lie down and feel safe; helping people who are at risk of choking or have severe bleeding injuries; and, perhaps the most well known, CPR—cardiopulmonary resuscitation—when somebody’s heart has stopped and they are not breathing.

Why has this issue been raised in connection with our schools and schoolchildren? Most of us are passionate about the fact that if anything in life is truly important, it is life itself and how to save it. That being the case, the more widely spread life-saving skills are, the better off we will be as a community and society. If we start with schoolchildren we build a pyramid, and slowly but surely we begin to inculcate those skills into society.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): The hon. Lady is introducing this debate very well indeed. When I was at school I did full St John Ambulance training that involved three or four days on a course and was extensive. Training does not have to be like that, however; it can be quick, effective, short and clear instruction that could result in saving many lives. Children are often at home in the kitchen near their parents and would be able to save a life if they had clear instruction.

Anne Marie Morris: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It takes two hours—that is all—to teach CPR. Indeed, if CPR is applied, a person is three times more likely to survive. It is well worth while. A third of all deaths in the UK result from cardiovascular disease and there are about 124,000 heart attacks each year. Heart attacks are perhaps the most common situation in which people need life-saving skills.

Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. Does she agree that great work has been done by the charity SADS—Sudden

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Arhythmic Death Syndrome—UK? In my constituency, Robert and Maggie Underwood have already secured 14 defibrillators for our schools and campaigned tirelessly for that charity.

Anne Marie Morris: My hon. Friend gives me added ammunition and I am delighted to hear what has happened in her community. That is absolutely first rate.

Although we talk mainly about heart attacks, there are more cases of cardiac arrest generally but we are not necessarily as aware of them. A person can suffer an arrest if they lose an excessive amount of blood, suffer a lack of oxygen, become very hot or very cold, or have a blood clot on the lung. It could happen to anybody. It does not have to be someone who suffers from heart disease or is elderly; it could happen to any of us here.

As was alluded to earlier, 60,000 cardiac arrests happen outside hospitals—two thirds in the home and one third in public. In the public arena there is often a witness, and in half those cases somebody who would be able to do something if they were properly trained. Irreversible brain damage to an individual who is not helped can take place in very few minutes. Every minute counts and there is a 10% reduction in someone’s chances of survival for every minute that passes. That must be put in context with the time the ambulance takes to arrive. The target at the moment is eight minutes, and 75% of ambulances make that. If we do our maths, however, we can see that it does not leave long to get professionals to the site.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not just about heart attacks? Unbelievably, a four-year-old in my constituency who is a carer for her mother undertook training with the local ambulance crew. She was able to put her mother in the recovery position and managed to save her life. That was at four years old.

Anne Marie Morris: That is a wonderful example of what can be done. There is often a sense that this issue applies only to older children, but younger children can also learn valuable skills.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does she agree that if we educate pupils, they in turn can educate their parents? A school in Cheshire teaches emergency life support, and I understand that a parent of one of its pupils was able to administer the appropriate action when confronted with someone choking in a restaurant.

Anne Marie Morris: That is an excellent example and I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution.

If we look across the world, the UK does not find itself in a happy, comparable position in terms of the teaching of ELS and survival rates. Our survival rate following a cardiac arrest is pretty poor and quite variable—it depends on where someone is in the country. The survival rate for those who suffer an arrest is between 2% and 12% after they leave hospital. The British Heart Foundation estimates that 75% of people are untrained. That means that only 25% of the population have some training and the number of people in our community who are able to help is very small.

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Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): My hon. Friend is generous in giving way. Speaking to the British Heart Foundation today, I discovered that only 13% of children leave school with some sort of training in CPR. Although I have reservations about making such training compulsory in schools, does she agree that making CPR courses available to children and encouraging their use in schools is key?

Anne Marie Morris: It is key that courses are available and recommended, but I will come to compulsion later. My hon. Friend is right that the number of children who have access to training is relatively small, but all credit to the British Heart Foundation, which started its Heartstart programme in 1996. We now have courses in life-saving skills in 400 of our secondary schools. The problem is that it has taken 16 years to cover only 10% of secondary schools, so it will take an awfully long time to get to 100%.

The position in Europe is much better. Eighty per cent. of residents of Scandinavia and Germany have first aid skills because they learned them in schools and elsewhere. The survival rate from a shockable cardiac arrest in Norway is 52%, whereas our survival rate is between 2% and 12%. Compulsory training is common in Europe—Norway, Denmark and France are good examples. Across the pond, 36 US states have legislation requiring the training. The cardiac arrest survival rate in Seattle is twice what the survival rate is in the UK, and 50% of the population is trained.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a lack of understanding in this country that young people suffer cardiac arrest? We need to do more, because it is not just an older persons’ illness.

Anne Marie Morris: The hon. Gentleman makes an appropriate point. He is right. There is an additional benefit—on top of the volume of people who will end up trained—because cardiac arrest happens to young people as well.

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): The hon. Lady is extremely generous in giving way, and I congratulate her on securing this debate. She mentioned a number of countries and US states where training is compulsory. Compulsory training could give us much greater chances of survival. I hope she will tell us she is in favour of mandatory training.

Anne Marie Morris: The right hon. Lady makes an appropriate and fair point. As they say in business, what gets measured gets done. We have training in this country, but it is not measured. There is no record of how much CPR is included. ELS is included in personal, social, health and economic education, but it is not consistent. We consequently do not get the results that other countries get.

Why do we raise the issue of life-saving skills now? We are doing so in part because we have the evidence, some of which I have just shared with the House, but there is also clear public support. In response to the British Heart Foundation survey in February 2011, 86% of teachers said ELS should be included in the curriculum, and 78% of children said they wanted to be taught it. The evidence is that they enjoy it, and that it gives them a broader sense of self-worth and value

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within the community. Seventy per cent. of parents believe it should be taught. This will not be an uphill battle, because everybody wants it.

There was a moment when ELS became front and foremost in everyone’s thinking—when Fabrice Muamba tragically collapsed on the football pitch in March. But for an individual with ELS skills coming on to the pitch, he may not have survived as well as he has. That led to the Love Heart campaign in The Sun—well done to The Sun; that was a great campaign that attracted a lot of support. Ultimately, a petition of 130,000 signatures was delivered, asking for us to ensure that we have ELS training in schools. Support in the charitable and third sectors is huge. The British Heart Foundation, the British Medical Association, Cardiac Risk in the Young, St John Ambulance and the Red Cross support it—I could go on, but I am conscious that time is not on my side.

As hon. Members have said, there are some great examples of the community providing training voluntarily. Dawlish community college in my constituency does one whole day on emergency life-saving skills for year 10s. A recent Ofsted report found the school to be good, and outstanding for leadership and management. Does that not show?

What is the way forward? The first option is to continue with the status quo, but as we have seen, results are patchy. ELS is included in PHSE, but it is not mandatory or delivered consistently. CPR is often not included. My view is that we will not achieve what we need to achieve as a society with the status quo.

The second option is making ELS a mandatory piece of the PHSE curriculum. Under the current review, although PHSE will not be mandatory, the Minister has said that bits of it will be identified and made so. ELS could be included in the science or physical education curriculums. The Minister could also consider including it as a compulsory element in teacher training, so at least our teachers will have the training. She could also think about including it as a necessary part of the National Citizen Service programme.

The second option has been debated on many occasions, and the objections to it have been very much the same each time. Let me briefly rehearse them and say why they no longer stand ground. The first argument is that the curriculum is too full and teachers need choice. I agree that the curriculum is too full and that we need to ensure that the core subjects are taught well, but I also agree with choice. It is appropriate to consider what is included in PHSE. When the matter was last debated, even my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who was then the answering Minister, could see the priority of ELS. He was lobbied to include knitting in PHSE, but agreed that knitting simply does not have the same value as ELS. It is perfectly possible both to include it and to retain flexibility in the curriculum. As I have said, it is only a two-hour course. On choice, we could say to schools, “It is compulsory, though you have the choice of including it in PHSE, science or PE, but it must be measured by Ofsted.” That would give flexibility.

The second argument usually advanced against the proposal is cost and resource. The British Heart Foundation has estimated that it will cost £2,200 a year per school, but that is not a huge amount of money. The charitable

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sector, trainee doctors and general practitioners can get involved in teaching on a voluntary basis. They will do it for free, and the cascade principle says that if we teach the teachers, they will teach others and so on. I suspect that the number of people wanting to get involved and to help for free would make this a relatively inexpensive activity.

We must set that against the cost to the public purse. If an increasing number of people have brain damage when they need not have it and are kept on life support machines in hospitals, or if there is an increasing number of people who survive but who must be supported at home, the bill goes up. A day in hospital costs £400 or £500. As hon. Members know, disability living allowance can be £131 a week. That adds up to a sizeable bill. It is not just about money—there is also a cost to the family and society. As a nation, we believe in prevention rather than cure. The question, therefore, is not whether we can afford to do this, but whether we can afford not to.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this important issue to the Floor of the House. I was contacted by a constituent whose brother-in-law had a huge heart attack at the age of 46 while at work. If a colleague of his had not had CPR skills to keep him alive until the ambulance arrived, he would have passed away. Does that not emphasise how important it is to give our young people those skills for the whole of their lives to help to save other people’s lives?

Anne Marie Morris: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and leads me to the third and final objection I suspect will be raised, which is the problem of physically damaging somebody’s health through CPR by, for example, breaking a rib. No one has ever been sued for helping somebody in those circumstances. When a person has a cardiac arrest, they are almost clinically dead—only the brain is still going. So someone helping a person who has had a cardiac arrest cannot do any more physical damage because the person is pretty much dead, and no one has been sued; indeed, I do not believe that people in this country would support such legal action. In exchange for training, these young people have a huge opportunity.

In conclusion, the case has been made for emergency life-saving skills to be taught in schools consistently, to ensure it happens in all schools. It is the right thing to do for society and for the economy. It is not just a decision for the Secretary of State for Education. For all the reasons I have mentioned, the Minister should work with the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the Cabinet Office. This is a broad issue. Not making it mandatory is the triumph of hope over experience.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. There is now a seven-minute limit on speeches.