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House of Commons

Tuesday 8 January 2013

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)

Motion made, That the Lords amendments be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Lords amendments to be considered on Tuesday 15 January.

Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)

Motion made, That the Lords amendments be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Lords amendments to be considered on Tuesday 15 January.

Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)

Motion made, That the Lords amendments be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Lords amendments to be considered on Tuesday 15 January.

Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)

Motion made, That the Lords amendments be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Lords amendments to be considered on Tuesday 15 January.

City of London (Various Powers) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 15 January (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Member Recalls

1. Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): When the Government plan to bring forward proposals on the recall of hon. Members. [135547]

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The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): Happy new year, Mr Speaker.

The Government published our proposals on the recall of MPs last year, and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee then published its report in June last year. We submitted an interim response reaffirming our commitment to establishing a recall mechanism and are now taking the proper time to reflect on the Committee’s recommendations.

Ian Murray: Happy new year, Mr Speaker. I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for that unvarnished answer. Given that one of the justifications for introducing recall is improved confidence in our democracy, what is his view of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s statement:

“We are not convinced that the proposals will increase public confidence in politics”?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The Committee made a number of recommendations about our proposals, but equally it accepted that all parties had made a manifesto commitment to introduce some kind of recall mechanism and acknowledged, as I think everyone does, the difficulty in trying to define serious wrongdoing precisely and determine who should define it and who should set off a trigger for a recall by-election. It is precisely those kinds of difficult dilemmas that we are now trying to address, because we do not want to resile from the commitment to legislate to introduce some kind of recall mechanism.

Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries

2. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): What his policy is on the review of parliamentary constituency boundaries. [135548]

4. Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): What his policy is on the review of parliamentary constituency boundaries. [135550]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Miss Chloe Smith): The boundary commissions are continuing with the boundary review in accordance with the legislation that requires them to report before October 2013.

Jim Dobbin: Yesterday’s coalition renewal document, “The Coalition: together in the national interest”, includes a vote on the boundary change proposals for constituencies. I know that the Minister is to answer, but I would like to know whether the Deputy Prime Minister will campaign for a no vote.

Miss Smith: I think that the parties within the Government have made their positions clear on the matter. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, there will be a vote, it will take place, and I suppose that is that.

Mr McKenzie: Does the Minister believe that it is right to redraw parliamentary boundaries on the basis of data from which millions of eligible voters are missing?

Miss Smith: It is the Government’s intention to proceed with the individual electoral registration programme, which will increase and improve the accuracy of the

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registers we work with. It is really important that we all continue with the support that there is across the House for those proposals.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Can my hon. Friend guarantee that the next general election will be fought according to the new parliamentary boundaries recommended by the Electoral Commission, and that it will be fought with individual voter registration?

Miss Smith: I think that the answer to my hon. Friend is best given within the point that there will be a vote on those proposals, as I think he knows. On individual electoral registration, I can confirm that the programme is proceeding as planned, and I am happy to give him further details on that.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): If the Lib Dems are still voting against the recommended parliamentary boundary changes, should this House not have the earliest opportunity to vote on the issue, thereby possibly saving unnecessary public expenditure at a time when the public finances are limited, and when should such a vote take place?

Miss Smith: I am terribly sorry to be boring, but there will be a vote on those proposals.

Electoral Register

3. Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to ensure that under-represented groups are included on the electoral register. [135549]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Miss Chloe Smith): As I mentioned in my previous answer, it is important that we ensure that all those who should be are included on the electoral register, including the under-represented groups to which the hon. Lady’s question refers.

The Government, politicians, parties, electoral administrators and plenty of others have a role to play in encouraging people to register to vote. The Government are committed to doing all they can to maximise registration, including among under-registered groups. They are looking to modernise the system to make it as convenient as possible and are running various sets of data-related pilots to find out how we can best identify unregistered groups and add them to the register.

Jessica Morden: Does the Minister agree that the annual canvass is a really important part of ensuring that under-represented groups are on the register and that any attempts to water down the frequency of the canvass, or give powers to Ministers to abolish it altogether, should be avoided?

Miss Smith: Our current plans for electoral registration do include the annual canvass, which will continue to be used for as long as it remains the best way to ensure that the register is as complete and accurate as possible.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will the Minister clarify what penalty, if any, will be imposed on those who fail to return an individual electoral registration form?

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Miss Smith: There will be a set of penalties that relate to those actions. I will be happy to write to my hon. Friend so that he gets the fullest possible detail.

14. [135560] Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): When does the Minister expect a national online electoral registration system to be in place?

Miss Smith: Many Members take an interest in that issue. I do not have a specific date to give the hon. Gentleman. The Government are looking at the matter and I shall be happy to discuss it further with him.

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): We all want a register that is complete and accurate. The Electoral Commission’s recent damning report on the move to individual voter registration in Northern Ireland is extremely worrying, yet the Government have decided to speed up the implementation of individual voter registration and to remove the safeguards that Labour put in place.

All this is happening at a time when local authorities are having to make record cuts, including to the amount that they can devote to electoral registration. Given the criticism levelled by the Electoral Commission’s report, what extra are the Government considering to avoid a repeat in the rest of the UK of the experiences in Northern Ireland, which could see millions of eligible voters dumped off the electoral register?

Miss Smith: I think the right hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting some of what the report says. The evidence from the report is that continuous registration is working for the majority of the population in Northern Ireland. The report notes that many of the key lessons from the experience in Northern Ireland have already been addressed by the proposals. It also states:

“The findings from this research do not undermine the principle of individual electoral registration or mean that the introduction of this system in Great Britain will necessarily lead to similar declines in accuracy and completeness.”

Commission on Devolution in Wales

5. Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): What assessment he has made of the work of the Commission on Devolution in Wales. [135551]

6. Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the work of the Commission on Devolution in Wales. [135552]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): On 19 November, the Commission on Devolution in Wales delivered a thorough and clear analysis of the options for fiscal devolution in Wales. The Government welcome publication of the Commission’s report and will respond formally in due course.

Mr Williams: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, and I welcome his welcome for the work of the Silk commission. We have an opportunity to enable our Assembly to be truly accountable—not just for the money that it spends by way of the block grant, but for the money that it raises through taxes, through a partial devolution of income tax. Surely that would be an important facet of a strengthened and accountable

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National Assembly. Will my right hon. Friend guarantee that part 1 of the Silk recommendations will be enacted in legislation during this Parliament?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I can certainly confirm that we will respond in full well before part 2 of the Silk commission proceedings is concluded. We aim to provide our full response to part 1, about the fiscal aspects of further devolution to Wales, by spring this year.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend’s praise for the report, which is thorough and thoughtful. It is radical; it suggests devolving up to about a quarter of total money spent in Wales to the Welsh Assembly itself. It actually goes further in important respects, notably on varying income tax rates, than the Calman-like process on which it was modelled.

Glyn Davies: The Silk commission recommended that the National Assembly for Wales should become more financially accountable through being given responsibility for raising tax. Does my right hon. Friend believe that this can happen only after a referendum takes place to secure the support of the Welsh people, even if a firm commitment is made in the manifesto of the party or parties that form the next Government?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, the Silk commission has on it representatives of all four parties in the Assembly, and it was a unanimously supported recommendation that the change in income tax recommended in part 1 should be implemented only once a referendum had taken place. Obviously, we will look at this very closely. We are acutely aware that it represents a cross-party approach within Wales itself.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Have the Deputy Prime Minister and the Government considered a floor to the Barnett formula to ensure that Wales does not lose out?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman may know, back in October the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made it clear that we would work with the Welsh Administration to look at the convergence or, as is the case at the moment, divergence of funding in Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We have also made it clear that while there is a legitimate debate around the future of the Barnett formula, our priority remains the stabilisation of the public finances.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Given the need for change, supported by all parties on the Silk commission, and the Deputy Prime Minister’s enthusiasm, together with that of his party, will he make every effort to ensure that part 1 of Silk is legislated on during this Parliament?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I said, we all need to take a careful look at part 1 and take a collective decision within the coalition Government on how we respond to it. As Ministers in all parts of the coalition have said, it is an extremely thorough and thoughtful piece of work representing a cross-party approach in Wales, and we will respond to it with similar seriousness before the spring of this year.

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Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend given any consideration to communities that straddle the Anglo-Welsh border—for instance, the Chester economic sub-region, including north Wales and Chester—and the impact that this will have on people who live and work on both sides of the border?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has identified one of the issues that makes some of the tax recommendations in part 1 of the Silk commission slightly more complicated in certain respects than the devolved tax arrangements in Scotland, principally because the border area between England and Wales is more populous than the border areas between Scotland and England. That is one of the things that we are seeking to address right now in our internal deliberations.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): In the very slim mid- term review, a commitment is given to the Government’s responding to the Silk commission, as the Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed this morning. Will he give a commitment that there will be no unilateral reduction in the block grant to Wales?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I think we have done better than that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, back in October the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made it clear that we would work with the Administration in Cardiff before each public spending review to monitor the convergence or divergence between the funding settlements in both places. This commitment has not been made by previous Governments here in Westminster. That is a demonstration of our willingness to respond to some of the concerns about the future funding arrangements within the United Kingdom, particularly as they affect Wales.

Local and Central Government Powers

7. Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): Whether he plans to examine the balance of power between local and central Government. [135553]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): The Government are clear that we must disperse power in our society. That is why we have initiated a historic shift away from Westminster to put our counties, cities, towns, villages, neighbourhoods and citizens in control of their own affairs. I look forward to seeing the final report on the relationship between local and central Government from the hon. Gentleman’s Select Committee inquiry as we continue the process of reform.

Mr Allen: The Deputy Prime Minister will know that three out of the four nations within the United Kingdom now enjoy some form of devolution; the one that does not enjoy any devolution, effectively protected by statute, is England. Will he engage with local government at the right moment to discuss how devolution can be made effective through local government, and will he also engage with the Select Committee, which is due to report on this very matter at the end of this month?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I certainly stand shoulder to shoulder with the hon. Gentleman on his long-standing critique of the over-centralisation of power in Westminster and Whitehall. I know that he has welcomed some of

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the initiatives that we have taken. They do not provide all the answers, but they are significant steps in the right direction. The retention of 50% of business rates by local authorities is probably the biggest act of fiscal decentralisation in England for several years. The city deals, in my view, are a radical template of a wholesale transfer of responsibilities, ranging from transport and capital investment to skills and training, to local authorities. The question that the hon. Gentleman’s Committee is posing is whether that can be done in a more systematic, neat and formalised way, and I am certainly open to look at any suggestions in that respect. It is the tradition in this country to do things in a slightly more informal and uneven way, but his Committee’s report will be taken very seriously by us in government.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend set out what powers have been devolved from central Government to the big society?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, whether it is in planning, control over business rates, significant powers over skills, transport and capital investment in our cities or in the enactment of a general power of competence—whereby we recognise in law for the first time the general power of competence for local authorities—I believe that, in all of those areas, as well as, of course, the new referendum powers available to local neighbourhoods and local authorities, we have made a significant step towards creating a more decentralised nation.

Topical Questions

T1. [135563] Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): As Deputy Prime Minister I support the Prime Minister on the full range of Government policy and initiatives. Within Government I take special responsibility for this Government’s programme of political and constitutional reform.

Paul Burstow: Yesterday the Government, in their mid-term review, reaffirmed their commitment to the principles of a cap and reform of means-testing to end the care lottery in this country. Will the Deputy Prime Minister now go further than just considering principles and commit this Government to introducing legislation, through the draft Care and Support Bill, during the life of this Parliament to give effect to that cap and give people the peace of mind they deserve?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I can confirm that in the coming weeks we will publish our detailed response, which will address the issue of how to avoid individuals and households having to face catastrophic costs in funding their care. We have said all along that we believe in the principles and the basic model set out by Andrew Dilnot. Of course there is an issue about how to pay for this in the future, but as my right hon. Friend has rightly identified, the first step is to enshrine that approach in legislation, which we will seek to do during this Parliament.

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Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): If the Deputy Prime Minister votes for the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill tonight, he will be voting to make millions of low-income families worse off. Will he confirm that two thirds of the people who will be hit by the Bill are not lying in bed with the curtains drawn—which, anyway, is no way to speak about unemployed people—but are actually in work?

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is obvious that a measure that deals with both out-of-work benefits and tax credits affects people both in and out of work. The challenge for the right hon. and learned Lady and her colleagues is to explain to this House and the British public, first, why she could support a 1% limit on the pay increases for doctors, nurses and teachers in the public sector, but not take exactly the same approach in this area, and secondly, where she is going to find the £5 billion that this measure will save over the next three years. Would she take it from the NHS? I know that Labour’s health spokesperson thinks that increasing spending on the NHS is irresponsible. We do not. Would she take it from schools? Would she take it from social care? Those are the kinds of answers that this House deserves from the Labour party before the vote takes place tonight.

Ms Harman: Even the right hon. Gentleman should be able to work out that 1% if someone is earning more than £100,000 a year is a great deal more than 1% if someone is struggling on a low income. His Government are failing on the economy—that is why they are borrowing £212 billion more than they had planned.

On fairness, will the right hon. Gentleman admit that tonight’s vote will mean that, while someone earning more than £1 million a year will be better off by £2,000 a week because of their tax cut, a working couple on tax credit will be worse off because their increase of 38p a week will be wiped out by inflation? The Government have failed on compassion as well as on competence, so why will he not vote with us against the Bill tonight?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The biggest tax measure, which will benefit more than 20 million basic rate taxpayers, is about to take place in April. A two-earner household on the basic rate of tax will be £1,200 better off because we are increasing the tax allowance by the largest amount ever. I would have thought that the right hon. and learned Lady would welcome that. It means that someone on the minimum pay will have had their income tax slashed by half.

On the upper rate of tax, the right hon. and learned Lady’s party makes great play of the 50p rate. It is worth putting it on the record that the 50p upper rate of tax existed for only 36 days of the 13 years that her Government were in office. I know that they had a deathbed conversion to the 50p rate, but they pretend that they were believers all along. Actually, the upper rate of tax under Labour was 40p. Under this Government, it will be 45p. Justify that!

T5. [135567] Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Like many hon. Members, I read the mid-term review with great interest. Much of it is welcome, but I was concerned by the line on page 32 that states that

“provision is made for Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain on proposals to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples.”

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Why will the Deputy Prime Minister not support that common-sense proposal, which would help hard-working families across the country?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a carbon copy of the wording in the coalition agreement. My party has always taken this stance because I have always struggled to explain to people why someone who happens not to be married should pay more tax than someone who happens to be married. If such a measure were put before the House, it would be very difficult to explain to people why those who are not married should be stung with higher tax. That does not seem to me to be right.

T2. [135564] Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): When the Deputy Prime Minister entered the coalition, did he foresee that at the halfway stage there would be a sixfold increase in the number of people using food banks, there would be predictions that half a million more children would be living in absolute poverty by the end of the Parliament and that he would champion legislation described by the Child Poverty Action Group as “poverty-producing”, as he will later today? Is he not thoroughly ashamed of his record?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am proud that this coalition Government have come together to clear up the monumental mess left by the hon. Lady’s party. After all, it was her shadow Chancellor who went on the prawn cocktail charm offensive in the City of London to suck up to the banks, which created the problems in the first place. It was the Labour Government who presided over the shocking tax system in which a hedge fund manager paid less tax on their shares than their cleaner paid on their wages. It is this coalition Government who have ended that scandal.

T6. [135568] Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing forward legislation on the succession to the Crown. However, does he think that it is necessary to push it through in one day as if it was emergency terrorism legislation, when Parliament has a job to do to ensure that it is correctly drafted and that any concerns or unforeseen difficulties are addressed properly?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Making a small, concise amendment to an Act that has been on the statute book since 1701 is hardly acting hastily.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): 1700.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am being corrected by the historians on the Opposition Benches. None the less, this is something that has been on the statute book for more than 300 years. Let us remember that this is a very specific act of discrimination against one faith only. The heir to the throne may marry someone of any religion outside the Church of England—Muslim, Hindu and so on—but uniquely not a Catholic under the terms of the Act of 1700 or 1701. This is a precise change and it is being co-ordinated precisely with all the other realms that have to make the identical change in their legislation.

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T3. [135565] John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): The last former East Midlands MEP, who had a radio show, soon disappeared into political oblivion. When will the Deputy Prime Minister give the voters of Sheffield, Hallam the opportunity to vote on recalling him?

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is always a pleasure to answer the hon. Gentleman’s somewhat incoherent but none the less punchy questions. I do not want to disappoint him, but I am afraid there are not millions of people hanging on his every word spoken in the Chamber. I think that as politicians, we should go out to be where people are rather than expect them to come where the politicians are. I make no apology for making myself available to members of the public on the radio or in town and village halls up and down the country, as I do every week.

T8. [135571] Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Given the huge distortions in the current parliamentary boundaries, does the Deputy Prime Minister really believe that by reviewing boundaries only every eight to 12 years we will have a fair and unbiased electoral voting system?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I have said before, my own view, in light of the events that have disrupted the package of political reforms to which the coalition Government had committed in the coalition agreement, is that we should delay the implementation of the next set of boundary reviews by a full parliamentary cycle.

T7. [135570] Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Support through the tax system for families in Scotland with their child care bills amounted to a miserable 1p a day in the past year, and the Resolution Foundation says that half the benefit of the Deputy Prime Minister’s current voucher plan for child care goes to people in the top fifth of the income bracket. Is he not going to have to do a lot more than his complete absence of plans yesterday to prevent the second half of the coalition from being as big a disaster for families’ child care costs as the first half?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman is commenting in detail on plans that have not been published yet. We have not yet finalised the details of our new investment in support for families facing high child care costs, but we will do so in the weeks to come. I point out to him, though, that it is this Government who have introduced 15 hours of free pre-school and child care support for every three and four-year-old in this country, which no Government have done before. It is also this Government who, from this April, for the first time ever, will be providing 15 hours of free pre-school and child care support to two-year-olds from the most disadvantaged families in this country. Government Members are proud of that.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Why is the fact that an Act has been in existence for more than 300 years an argument for amending it, together with the Bill of Rights and the Act of Union with Scotland, in a single day? I would have thought the argument was very much in the opposite direction.

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The Deputy Prime Minister: As I sought to explain to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) earlier, we are removing one specific, highly discriminatory provision from the law, on the faith of people whom heirs to the throne may marry. That discriminatory provision was introduced in the early years of the 18th century in response to the activities of Louis XIV of France, and I simply do not think it is necessary now in 21st century Britain.

T10. [135573] Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister is starting to have the same trait as the Prime Minister of not answering questions. May I try again? Is it not the case that after the vote this evening, 3,900 people in my constituency who claim in-work benefits and do the right thing will be worse off while millionaires get a tax cut of £2,000 a week?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I said before, the Labour rate for top taxpayers was 40p, so the hon. Gentleman needs to justify his support for 13 years for a lower rate applied to millionaires than will be introduced—[Interruption.] I know Opposition Members do not like it, and they are shrieking at the top of their voices, but the record shows that for the whole time of the Labour Government, apart from 30 days towards the end, the upper rate was 40p. We are introducing an upper rate of 45p. That is the first point.

The second point is that I hope the hon. Gentleman would celebrate with his constituents the fact that as of April this year, every single basic rate taxpayer in his constituency will be £600 better off because of the changes in the income tax allowance that we have introduced since the general election.

T9. [135572] Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): There is no doubt that the Government have to make some tough decisions, but what comment would my right hon. Friend make on the overall impact of Government policies on social mobility?

The Deputy Prime Minister: One thing we have learned is that if we could shift social mobility by pouring billions of pounds into the tax credit system—the Labour party’s approach—that would have worked a long time ago. In fact, despite a huge transfer of money through the tax credit system, social mobility barely budged during 13 years of Labour government. That is why we are investing more in early years initiatives and providing more child care support, and why we are giving more support to two, three and four-year-olds and—most importantly—providing £2.5 billion through the pupil premium to help the education of the most disadvantaged children in the country. We believe that that is the way to promote social mobility over time.

T13. [135576] Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): The Labour-controlled Welsh Assembly is not implementing tuition fees, and Liberal Democrat Assembly Members support that. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with his Liberal colleagues in Wales?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We have a devolved approach to higher education in both Wales and Scotland. Under the new system introduced in England—unlike that over which the right hon. Gentleman presided

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during Labour’s time in office—students will not pay any up-front fees at all. That includes thousands of part-time students who for the first time do not need to pay any up-front fees. Because of the way we are introducing what is, in effect, a time-limited graduate tax, all graduates will pay out less from their bank account every week and month—even if for longer—than they did under the system introduced by Labour.

T11. [135574] John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): I welcome the second wave of city deals for the next 20 largest cities, but what about smaller cities such as Carlisle? Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that they too will have the opportunity to reach a deal with the Government to have increased powers devolved to them?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend will know, the first wave of city deals applied to the eight biggest cities. We then invited 20 cities and communities to submit bids for the next wave, on which we hope to decide in the coming months. I very much hope that the city deals will not be just a one-off experiment in devolution but that they will act as a template for further devolution across the country.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): The coalition agreement states that the Government will introduce

“extra support for people with disabilities who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials.”

Will the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on progress with that?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As the hon. Lady may know, there is a £2.6 million access to elected office fund, and the wider access to elected office strategy was launched in July last year to deliver on the coalition agreement commitment to provide extra support to tackle the obstacles she mentions. The fund will be open for applications until the end of March 2014, and so far there have been 11 applications, including from independent candidates.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Can the Deputy Prime Minister assure the House that the Succession to the Crown Bill will give the public confidence that the relationship between Church and state will be unaltered, even if a future monarch should marry a Roman Catholic and the ensuing child is a Catholic?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I can give the hon. Gentleman complete reassurance that the provisions in the Bill will not in any way alter the status of the established Church in this country and the monarch as head of that Church. We have had monarchs who have married Catholics. I think Queen Anne of Denmark was married to James I of Scotland—I may be corrected by our historian, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), from a sedentary position. There is absolutely nothing in the provisions that will alter the status of the Church in the way feared by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner).

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The coalition agreement commits the Government to the appointment of new peers to create a second Chamber

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that is more reflective of votes cast at the 2010 general election. Is the Deputy Prime Minister seriously saying that he will appoint 24 new UKIP Members of the House of Lords and 16 new peers to represent the British National party, or is it more about stuffing the other place full of Tory and Lib Dem cronies?

The Deputy Prime Minister: With respect, I think the hon. Gentleman has grasped the wrong end of the stick. The coalition agreement says that the appointments we make to an unreformed House of Lords—pending the long-awaited, and now even more long-awaited reform of the other place—will be made according to the proportion of votes won by parties at the last general election. That is precisely what we intend to do.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I wish the Deputy Prime Minister a happy new year. Was one of his new year resolutions to decide that, if he thinks a policy is right, it should be rushed through in a day? Will he answer properly a question he has been asked before? Why will the succession Bill be rushed through in a day under emergency legislation procedures? Those procedures should be used only for emergency legislation, which the succession Bill is not.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I wish the hon. Gentleman a happy new year too—and Mrs Bone. It is important to stress that the Bill is not a capricious legislative initiative on behalf of the Government. It was solemnly agreed at the Commonwealth summit in Perth by all the Commonwealth realms. It has also been subject to extensive discussion between officials in the Cabinet Office and the royal household, and between Governments and officials of this country and of the Commonwealth realms. We have said that we will take the lead in setting out the legislative provisions for the other Commonwealth realms. The legislative change is very precise, which is why we are keen to proceed as quickly as possible.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister would like to take this opportunity to enhance his concern for people in difficulties. More than 60,000 people have signed a petition asking that the Government carry out a proper cumulative impact assessment of the changes to disability benefits. Will he ensure that that happens?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am curious to know whether the hon. Lady believes that those impact assessments were delivered in full under the Labour Government—I do not recall them. She will know that we are on the verge of introducing a very significant change in the way in which disability benefits are administered in the years ahead, from the disability living allowance system to the personal independence payment system. That change will mean that many who have received disability benefits for years when there has been no check on whether they need it will finally, for the first time, be asked to be subject to certain objective tests. The change will also mean that people who do not currently receive benefits or support for their disabilities will receive it for the first time. We have been transparent in setting out our proposals.

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The Attorney-General was asked—

Serious Fraud Office (Senior Staff)

1. Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): What steps he is taking to recover payments made to former senior staff at the Serious Fraud Office that were not properly authorised. [135612]

3. Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): What steps he is taking to recover payments made to former senior staff at the Serious Fraud Office which were not authorised by the Cabinet Office or Her Majesty’s Treasury. [135616]

The Attorney-General (Mr Dominic Grieve): As set out in my statement to the House on 4 December 2012, on learning of these agreements and payments, the new director of the Serious Fraud Office sought legal advice on whether the arrangements might be reopened and on whether money might be recovered. The advice he received is that the agreements, although entered into without the necessary approvals, are binding on the Serious Fraud Office.

Mr Spellar: If one of our constituents is overpaid on tax credits, or on their housing or council tax benefits, which often occurs through no fault of their own, the state claws the overpayment back, yet the Serious Fraud Office has made unauthorised redundancy payments to bureaucrat fat cats—some of nearly £500,000—but seems to be doing nothing to recover them. What, therefore, will the Attorney-General do to get the money back? Perhaps he could get a new lawyer, but he could also take action against those responsible for irresponsibly giving away public money.

The Attorney-General: I share the right hon. Gentleman’s disquiet about what has happened. Nevertheless, it is the duty of the director of the Serious Fraud Office, who is the accounting officer in this context, to take legal advice and to observe it when he receives it, and the legal advice he has received is quite clear. It is perhaps worth making one further point. The vast majority of the sums paid out would have been in line with the civil service compensation scheme. In my judgment, some payments may well not have been in line with the scheme, but the majority were—I would stress the totality of the sums involved. Should there be any further developments, I will inform the House of them. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I do not consider the matter to be satisfactory—it causes me disquiet, and the Public Accounts Committee may well wish to look into it.

Grahame M. Morris: I thank the Attorney-General for his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar). In that spirit of openness, will he publish the findings of the independent investigation into the payouts commissioned by the current director of the Serious Fraud Office? Will he also indicate whether any legal or disciplinary action will be taken against the individuals responsible?

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The Attorney-General: On the first point, my office and the Serious Fraud Office have received requests for this information, and we are currently considering whether any further information can be released. I would like to see as much of the information released as possible.

On the second point, it is right to make it clear that the person responsible for making these payments is no longer working in the civil service.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Attorney-General realise that this is merely a symptom of something seriously wrong with the Serious Fraud Office in terms of its leadership, culture and record over recent years?

The Attorney-General: May I recommend that the hon. Gentleman look at the report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate on the Serious Fraud Office, as he will see that it has many laudatory things to say about the way in which the SFO has operated and sees it as capable of achieving significant outcomes in challenging cases? That is not to say that I do not think that there is room for improvement—I certainly do. A new director, David Green, has been appointed, and I have every confidence that he will be able to make the necessary changes. For example, he will be implementing the changes that the inspectorate recommended, and it will of course make a follow-up report to track that progress.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): While we are on the subject of the efficiency of the Serious Fraud Office, may I ask the Attorney-General how it is that, despite the appalling behaviour of some bank staff in some British banks and the enormous fines that have been imposed on those banks by the regulatory authorities in both New York and London, no senior banker in this country has yet been prosecuted for complicity in serious criminal banking offences?

Mr Speaker: I know that in respect of this question the right hon. Gentleman will have in mind fraud in particular, which properly concerns the Serious Fraud Office. He did not say it, but I know that is what he meant.

Sir Peter Tapsell: I withdraw the word “criminal” and insert the word “fraudulent” instead.

The Attorney-General: I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, in whichever context. The Serious Fraud Office is carrying out a major inquiry and investigation into the LIBOR scandal. The conduct of the investigation is obviously a matter for the SFO, but the matter has not been ignored.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): The Attorney-General has referred to the report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate. I have read it, and it says that the Serious Fraud Office needs to improve its performance and appears to be suffering considerable resourcing problems. Will he consider the suggestion by the director of the SFO that the agency be allowed to retain more of the proceeds of crime that it confiscates? Might that be a way in which it could increase its funding?

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The Attorney-General: The hon. Lady raises an interesting question which may turn out to be a good subject for debate in this House at some point. There is clearly potential for changing the rules on the retention of the proceeds of crime by prosecuting agencies, but it is equally right to point out that it is not an uncontroversial subject. Disquiet is expressed about prosecutors being dependent on asset seizure for the way in which they operate, and that also raises some profoundly difficult ethical issues. For those reasons, I would counsel caution about whether that is necessarily the right way forward, although I am open-minded about any improvements that can be made on funding.

Tax Evasion

2. Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): How many successful prosecutions for tax evasion the Serious Fraud Office has completed in each of the last five years. [135615]

The Solicitor-General (Oliver Heald): It is the Crown Prosecution Service rather than the Serious Fraud Office that prosecutes tax evasion cases. The records of the Crown Prosecution Service show that in 2008-09 there were 226 convictions, and the latest figures, up to November 2012, show 349.

Simon Hughes: We had a major debate on tax avoidance yesterday, and I think the country and Parliament want us to be very tough on tax evasion. Can the Solicitor-General assure us that the Government and the Crown Prosecution Service will concentrate on large national and international companies, and not on the small fish, so that ordinary people realise that they are not being singled out when much bigger prizes are available from much naughtier people?

The Solicitor-General: I can certainly give my right hon. Friend the assurance that from top to bottom the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has given us a target of increasing prosecutions fivefold, and all parts of Government will tackle this issue hard. From the point of view of the Attorney-General’s office, my right hon. Friend may be interested to know that we have been referring cases where sentences are unduly lenient to the Court of Appeal. It has recently been established that seven years’ imprisonment should be the starting point for significant tax fraud cases.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Tax fraud is estimated to cost the Government £3.3 billion. What steps are the Serious Fraud Office and the Department taking to address that?

The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service, with the police, is working extremely hard on tax evasion cases to ensure that as many as possible are brought to court. As I mentioned, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has set the target of a fivefold increase in cases. The figures I read out show that since 2008-09, there has been a major increase in the number of convictions.

Child Abuse Victims

4. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): What steps he is taking to support victims of child abuse in the prosecution process. [135617]

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The Solicitor-General (Oliver Heald): The Crown Prosecution Service takes all allegations of child abuse very seriously. Supporting victims of child abuse is vital to successful prosecutions. The CPS works closely with the police and voluntary sector agencies to ensure that proper support is provided to victims at all stages.

Anas Sarwar: In the past two years, reports of child abuse have shocked the entire country. Currently, at least 13 inquiries are taking place, including three BBC inquiries into Jimmy Savile, a Department of Health investigation into Broadmoor, a CPS inquiry, and inquiries into child protection in Rotherham and Rochdale. What discussions has the Minister had with other ministerial colleagues to ensure all that work is pulled together, and to ensure that all victims of child abuse receive the support and protection they deserve?

The Solicitor-General: The Director of Public Prosecutions is working closely with all other authorities and took a personal lead in September by holding a round-table to consider how child sexual exploitation offences can be tackled. Witness care units are important and new Crown Prosecution Service guidance on child sexual exploitation is due in the new year. A great deal is being done, and special measures are being put in place to help witnesses give evidence.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): My hon. Friend is probably aware that a small team is looking into the history of cases of child abuse complaints in Northern Ireland. One member of the team is an ex-senior inspector in the Metropolitan police who explained to me that, looking back at cases from 1920, believe it or not, one stark fact is the astonishing lack of support for victims, including from the Crown Prosecution Service. Would my hon. Friend be interested in meeting him at the right time to consider whether there is anything from his expertise and research that would be of help?

The Solicitor-General: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that offer, which I will certainly take up. He is right to say that support for witnesses is crucial to enable them to give their evidence in a confident and effective way. That is why the witness care units, the use of the voluntary sector supporters and the other work going into special measures at court to make it easier for witnesses to give evidence are all important. I look forward to the meeting.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome the steps taken by Keir Starmer and Nazir Afzal to try to reorganise how the Crown Prosecution Service deals with these matters. However, the fact remains that in relation to Rotherham there have been no prosecutions this year in the whole of south Yorkshire, despite 600 victims having been identified in the past few years. Does the Solicitor-General share my concern? Can we please see more prosecutions of the perpetrators?

The Solicitor-General: As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, it depends on the police investigating cases thoroughly and then on the Crown Prosecution Service reviewing them to see what evidence is needed. A full review was carried out after the Rochdale case, which was particularly concerning. That was last autumn, since when the CPS has been working on the new

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guidance, which I hope will lead to more prosecutions. I accept the need for more prosecutions in this area, but we want to establish best practice, and that guidance will be out soon.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): On another form of child abuse—female genital mutilation—there have been no prosecutions whatsoever in this country since it became illegal. Does the Solicitor-General share my hope that the Director of Public Prosecutions’ robust new action plan will lead to more progress in this area?

The Solicitor-General: Yes, I certainly do. I have personally raised and discussed this subject with the DPP and was delighted that he held the round-table last September, which led to the robust action plan that my hon. Friend mentions. That is about improving the evidence available, identifying what is hindering investigations and prosecutions, exploring how other jurisdictions deal with these cases and ensuring that the police and prosecution work together closely on what are very difficult cases.

Human Trafficking

5. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): How many prosecutions for human trafficking there have been in the most recent period for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. [135618]

7. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to increase prosecutions for human trafficking. [135620]

The Solicitor-General (Oliver Heald): The Crown Prosecution Service charged and prosecuted 64 cases where human trafficking was the main offence between 1 April 2012 and 2 January this year, and has prosecuted other human trafficking cases using other legislation. The CPS is working with law enforcement and other agencies to improve investigation and prosecution and to encourage victims.

Fiona Mactaggart: Those figures sound a little better than the ones previously published that suggested to me that out of 25 European countries Britain had fewer prosecutions for human trafficking specifically than all bar Malta, Slovakia, Estonia and Finland. What effect does the Solicitor-General believe the relatively low level of prosecution for specific human trafficking offences has on the potential for future human traffickers?

The Solicitor-General: Of course, it is very important that we prosecute cases of this kind, but I make the point to the hon. Lady that the figures I read out and which are often quoted relate to cases where human trafficking was the main offence, but quite often with human trafficking, as she will know, the main offence is a violent assault or a rape, and it is the more serious offences that are flagged. In another 111 cases, in addition to the 64 I mentioned, human trafficking was one of the offences, but the main offence was a rape or major conspiracy.

Andrew Selous: There have been relatively few prosecutions for human trafficking involving forced labour, compared with, say, sexual exploitation, although

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there have been major successes in my own county of Bedfordshire and, just before Christmas, in Gloucestershire. These forced labour exploiters often earn enormous sums of money. What can we do to take some of that money to help the police fund these complex and difficult investigations?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend will know of the Connors case, which was finally concluded yesterday —an appalling case involving vulnerable people being forced to work by the criminals concerned. It is important that we tackle these cases, but the main offence was introduced only in 2010 and related to events that occurred after that date, so we are very much at the early stage of bringing these cases to court. The Connors case is one of the first. An agreement has been reached with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, however, to refer cases to the police, and other steps are being taken to toughen up on internal trafficking.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Has the Solicitor-General had any indication of the number of cases where files were submitted and the decision was taken not to prosecute, or of the number of decisions that were based on concerns about the witness capacity of the victims?

The Solicitor-General: I will look into that and am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman, because I do not have the information here. The Crown Prosecution Service is anxious to prosecute in this area if the evidence is available. All too often it is difficult to obtain the quality of evidence from overseas that one would want in order to prosecute effectively. There is also the problem that victims need a great deal of support and encouragement. All these matters are being addressed, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman on his point.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I welcome what the Government are doing in this field—they are being very proactive—but does the Solicitor-General share my concern that there is a temptation for the Crown Prosecution Service to choose lesser charges for which it is easier to secure a conviction, such as immigration offences, which results in traffickers getting a lower sentence than if they had been prosecuted for human trafficking?

The Solicitor-General: I would dispute that. As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), many human trafficking cases involve other offences, which are often more serious. With sexual exploitation cases, where there are continual rapes and serious offences of that sort, it is right to charge for rape as the principal offence because it is more serious in some ways. I therefore do not accept that the Crown Prosecution Service is going for lower charges. This is a matter that we in the Attorney-General’s office keep under review.

Law of Contempt

6. Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): Whether implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson report will affect the enforcement of laws of contempt. [135619]

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The Attorney-General (Mr Dominic Grieve): Lord Justice Leveson has provided detailed recommendations on how best the press might be regulated in future. Those recommendations and their implementation will be considered by the Government and Parliament. Whichever regulatory model is finally chosen, the law of contempt remains applicable. When appropriate, I will continue to bring proceedings against publications that create a substantial risk that the course of justice in proceedings will be seriously impeded or prejudiced.

Graeme Morrice: What consideration has the Attorney-General given to Lord Leveson’s view that further guidance is needed on press coverage of police investigations and that

“save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances…the names…of those…arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press or the public”?

The Attorney-General: I have noted what Lord Justice Leveson has said and it may be something to be incorporated in press regulation. The current position on the law of contempt is that proceedings are active from the time of arrest. Those considerations are not identical to those that Lord Justice Leveson was considering, but they raise the issue that after arrest the press has to have in mind the possible impact on the fairness of the trial process thereafter. That could include naming a suspect; equally, it might be perfectly acceptable to do that.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): There is continuing concern, nevertheless, about the almost habitual naming of suspects after arrest, which in the minds of many of us has the potential to cause real prejudice. Will my right hon. and learned Friend do all he can to monitor the current situation and ensure that the law is prosecuted to its full effect?

The Attorney-General: My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am certainly mindful that in many of the contempt matters brought to my attention the problem has arisen in the period between arrest and charge. Of course, if the House were minded to change the law on anonymity, which has been floated previously in private Members’ business, that could be done by enacting legislation. However, let me make it quite clear that this would need a legislative solution, not one that I can in some way “magic up”. The law of contempt has to be applied free of all political considerations, and that is what I try to do as best I can.

Mr Speaker: I would not want the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) to feel socially excluded, so we will accommodate him, but he needs to be very brief.

Serious Fraud Office

8. John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the Serious Fraud Office’s ability to conduct a succession of large-scale inquiries. [135621]

The Attorney-General (Mr Dominic Grieve): The recent report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate demonstrates that the Serious Fraud Office

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has the ability to conduct large-scale inquiries, although there is scope for improvement. Funding for the Serious Fraud Office is kept under constant review. There is a set budget for the SFO, but as the Prime Minister has previously made clear in relation to the LIBOR investigation, if the SFO needs more resources, they will be provided.

John Robertson: Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that none of the additional funding promised for the LIBOR investigation has been received by the Serious Fraud Office, and will he explain why? It is envisaged that the investigation will take three years. Why so long?

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The Attorney-General: The undertaking is for up to £3.5 million for each of the next three years to be made available as and when required. When the SFO requires it, it will be made available.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Attorney-General. I remind the House that, in addition to the two urgent questions granted today, there is a statement followed by a very heavily subscribed Second Reading debate on the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill. The UQs will therefore be run strictly to time, but depending on the level of interest, it might not be possible to accommodate all colleagues who are interested. I shall do my best, and I invite the House to do the same.

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Ibrahim Magag

12.35 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the disappearance of Ibrahim Magag.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): On 26 December 2012, Ibrahim Magag, a Somali-born British national who is subject to a terrorism prevention and investigation measure, failed to report for his overnight residence requirement. As I told the House yesterday, the police believe that he has absconded, and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

On 31 December, at the request of the police, I asked the High Court to revoke the anonymity order that was in force in relation to Magag. The police subsequently issued a public appeal for information that might lead to his location and apprehension. The Government took steps to inform Parliament of this incident as soon as it was lawful and operationally possible to do so. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), spoke to the Chairmen of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee on 31 December. This was followed by letters to both Committee Chairmen, to the shadow Home Secretary and to you, Mr Speaker. Copies of the letters were placed in the Library of the House on the same day.

The statements that the police issued on 31 December and 2 January confirm that, at this time, Magag is not considered to represent a direct threat to the British public. The TPIM notice in this case was intended primarily to prevent fundraising and overseas travel. The Government do not believe that Magag’s disappearance is linked to any current terrorism planning in the UK. Nevertheless, we are of course taking this matter very seriously.

The police are doing everything in their power to apprehend Magag as quickly as possible. Although I cannot give operational details, I can confirm that the police, the Security Service and other agencies are devoting significant resources to the search for Magag. Members of the public with any information relating to the search should contact the confidential police anti-terrorist hotline.

Before the shadow Home Secretary stands up again, I would like to remind the House that this is not the first abscond of a terror suspect. In six years of control orders, there were seven absconds, of which six were never apprehended. Magag’s abscond is serious, and the authorities are doing everything they can to locate him. I will update the House when there are further developments as soon as it is possible to do so.

Yvette Cooper: Ibrahim Magag is still missing after 13 days, and the Home Secretary clearly has no idea where he is. The first priority must be to find him, and she should tell us more about the additional resources being put into the search. Will she also tell us what the threat assessment really is? She said that the risk simply related to “fundraising and overseas travel”, yet the courts

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have said that Magag has attended terrorist training camps in Somalia, that he was fundraising for known terrorists and that

“the operational tempo and capability of the group of extremists based in London will be degraded by removing his operational role from London”.

Does the Home Secretary think that that threat assessment still holds?

How was Magag able to abscond in the first place? Was he even under surveillance at the time? Cabwise, a trade news service for London cabbies, reported yesterday that Magag

“used a London taxi in the vicinity of Triton Street at around 17:20 on 26 December.”

Is that true? Is the Home Secretary worried that surveillance can be shaken off simply by jumping into a black cab?

The Home Secretary allowed Ibrahim Magag to return to London. She has not answered the question from the independent reviewer, David Anderson, about whether it would have been harder to abscond in the west country, where Magag was made to live under a control order and where it would have been harder for him to get help from his associates, harder to hide and harder to get forged papers. She knows that relocation makes it harder to abscond, because she has included it in her draft emergency terror legislation.

The Home Secretary referred to the early years of control orders, but David Anderson, the independent reviewer has said:

“The absence of absconds since mid-2007 has coincided with the trend away from light touch control orders, and/or the more extensive use of relocation.”

The right hon. Lady chose to ditch relocations, and she has personally made it easier for people to abscond. Other people previously relocated under control orders are also now back in London on terrorism prevention and investigation measures. Could any one of them simply jump into a black cab tomorrow and be off?

Will the Home Secretary ask the independent reviewer urgently to investigate the failures of this case and to review the issue of relocation? She has ignored security advice before and someone involved in terrorism is now out on our streets. She must not ignore the evidence on relocations. She should put the national interest ahead of her political interests and stop ducking the issue. Is it not time that she took some responsibility and sorted this mess out?

Mrs May: I am very sorry that the shadow Home Secretary chose to pursue that line in relation to this case. Let me repeat the key fact that she does not seem to want to accept—that this is not the first time that somebody has absconded. She seems to think that it is all down to the difference between control orders and TPIMs, but in six years of control orders there were seven absconds and six of the individuals involved were never apprehended.

The right hon. Lady keeps saying that it is all down to whether we have the power to relocate, but relocation powers were available throughout the history of control orders and they did not prevent seven absconds by control order subjects. If she will not listen to me, perhaps she will listen to the police and the Security Service, which made it absolutely clear at the time TPIMs were introduced that there should be no substantial

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increase in overall risk and that appropriate arrangements were in place for the transition from control orders to TPIMs—and that remains their position.

The right hon. Lady asked about the current level of risk. I repeat what I said in response to her question—that the statements the police issued on 31 December and on 2 January confirm that at this time Magag is not considered to represent a direct threat to the British public, and that the Government do not believe that his disappearance is linked to any current terrorism planning in the UK.

The right hon. Lady made a number of references to David Anderson, the independent reviewer. He has said:

“The only sure way to prevent absconding is to lock people in a high security prison.”

I agree, which is why we provided extra funding to the Security Service and the police when we introduced TPIMs to maximise the opportunities to prosecute terrorists in open court and to minimise the risk they pose to national security. The alternatives—whether we are talking about TPIMs or control orders—are highly useful disruptive tools, but because they do not involve locking people up, as the history of control orders shows, there will always be a risk of abscond.

Currently, the police and other agencies are, as I have said, working very hard to apprehend Ibrahim Magag. They have taken the operational decisions that needed to be taken and the way in which they pursue their inquiries is an operational matter for them. When the dust has settled, we will look again to see whether any lessons need to be learned. The independent reviewer produces an annual report that covers TPIMs, and I fully expect him to cover them in his review. I say to the shadow Home Secretary, however, that all she has done in highlighting this matter is to demonstrate the weakness of her argument, as what she says about TPIMs was also true of control orders. I hope that the whole House will join me in supporting the police, the Security Service and other agencies in continuing their work and in keeping our country safe.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. To maximise the number of participants in these exchanges, I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members to ask single short supplementary questions and, of course, to the Home Secretary to provide us with her characteristically pithy replies.

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Since the previous Government introduced the Human Rights Act 1998, it has been more difficult, has it not, to strike the right balance between the rights of terrorists and the proportionate protection of society from the threat they present? Should we not be thinking about the long- term future of the Human Rights Act, notwithstanding the support it has from Opposition Members?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend tempts me down a road that, if I were to travel down it, would probably necessitate a rather longer response than the pithy answer you have requested of me, Mr. Speaker. I can tell him, however, that the Government are looking at the Human Rights Act, and that the Commission on a Bill of Rights is considering what legislative support we should have in relation to human rights.

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Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I thank the security Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire)—for contacting me about this matter on new year’s eve. May I briefly express two concerns? First, it has been alleged that Magag was forging passports while he was in the camp in Somalia. Can the Home Secretary confirm that the police have his passport so that he is not able to travel abroad? Secondly, will she personally review the arrangements for the other nine people who are subject to TPIMs, in order to be satisfied that they are all in place and are secure?

Mrs May: The issue of the passport has not been discussed openly in public, but given the right hon. Gentleman’s position I shall be happy to talk to him about it on Privy Council terms. As for his second question, when one TPIM subject absconds, the agencies take appropriate steps to look at other TPIM subjects.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Does the Home Secretary agree that the whole concept of internal exile without trial is abhorrent? Labour should never have introduced such a Stalinist, authoritarian approach, and she was right to get rid of it. Someone who has committed a terrorist offence should be tried, convicted and jailed, not exiled indefinitely without trial.

Mrs May: As I explained in my response to the shadow Home Secretary, one of the purposes of the extra resources that we provided for the Security Service and the police following the introduction of TPIMs was to improve their ability to identify opportunities for prosecution. As was pointed out by the independent reviewer, the best place for a terrorist suspect is behind bars.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Home Secretary decided to rebalance in favour of civil liberties rather than security, and that cost £50 million. Will she answer this question? Did the absence of relocation affect the ability of this individual to abscond?

Mrs May: When the Government took office they decided to review counter-terrorism legislation. There was a public consultation, and a number of changes were made as a result. It is possible for people to abscond from wherever they are; indeed, three of the control order subjects who absconded did so from outside London.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Is not one of the root causes of the current problem the fact that members of the Labour Government allowed so many of these people to have visas and passports, letting them stay in the United Kingdom? Is it not time that we rounded up as many of them as possible, and established grounds on which to strip them of their visas and passports and deport them to whichever hellhole they came from and wish to emulate?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes his point in his normal forthright manner. I can tell him that the Government view national security as an absolute priority

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and take every possible step to keep the public safe, through deportations when they are possible, through the application of TPIMs, or through other measures.

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): On many occasions the Home Secretary has been at pains to reassure the House that the extra measures are sufficient to mitigate any increased risk caused by the absence of a relocation power and the move from control orders to TPIMs. Why were those additional resources not effective in this case?

Mrs May: It is true that when we introduced TPIMs we made extra resources available to the Security Service and the police. However, as I said in my original response in relation to whatever powers actually exist, the best place for a terrorist or a terrorist suspect is behind bars, because without that there is a risk of absconding.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the crude political posturing of Labour Members is all the more ironic given that they did not even vote against TPIMs when the Government proposed their introduction, and given that they lost seven people under control orders, six of whom have never been seen again?

Mrs May: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The point that the shadow Home Secretary seems incapable of accepting is that under control orders with relocation powers, seven people absconded.

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): The Home Secretary is at pains to say that it is not all about relocation, and she reminds the House that she chose to legislate to give these suspects access to mobile phones and the internet, and for a sunset clause that would kill this regime off after two years even if the threat level from the individual had not changed. Given the disappearance of Mr Magag, does she not regret regarding increased risk to the public and unnecessary extra pressure on the police and the security services as an acceptable price to pay and as, in the end, a civil liberties pose rather than a move to increase national security?

Mrs May: I am confident in the TPIM package that was available—the TPIM measures plus the extra resources that were made available to the Security Service and the police. We of course consulted on them at the time this was done. As I said in response to the urgent question from the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), they were clear that there was no substantial increase in risk, and that remains their position.

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to avoid such dangerous individuals being loose in our society is to improve our ability to intercept their communications? Will she therefore agree to carry on supporting the telecommunications Bill—which I hope will come before the House—so that our agencies can do the best job they can?

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Mrs May: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to improve and develop the ability of the agencies to have access to communications data. That, if I might gently remind my hon. Friend, is not about intercepting data. Intercept of data is a separate issue under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, but it is true that we need access to those communications data. As terrorists and others—organised criminals, paedophiles and others—use new means to communicate, it is important that the Government have access to the communications data from those new means of communications.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): The Home Secretary has repeated several times this afternoon that the Security Service and the police advised that there would be no substantial increase in risk as a result of the introduction of TPIMs, but the question that she is singularly failing to answer is how she can justify any increase in risk to the safety of this nation. Or is she saying that the absconding of Mr Magag and the more relaxed conditions that allowed it to happen are now part of an additional but acceptable risk that she is prepared to take?

Mrs May: I say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I have said to him on a number of occasions, because he has asked a number of questions in relation to TPIMs—[Interruption.] He says from a sedentary position that he will continue to do so, and I will continue to answer them in the same way. When we looked at the legislation, we did introduce the TPIMs. One of the purposes of the TPIMs was to ensure that people were better able to find evidence that would lead to prosecutions. Extra resources were given to the Security Service and the police at the time, and the Security Service and the police at the time and now are clear that there was no substantial increase in risk.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): In my experience, the very best way of stopping potential terrorists in action, in thought or in any deed is to relocate them. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the measure? I was always uneasy about changing from control orders.

Mrs May: I have to say to my hon. Friend that my view, as I have stated this afternoon, is clearly that the best way to deal with terrorists and terrorist suspects is to be able to prosecute them and put them behind bars.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Apparently, during the period that he was supposedly subject to a TPIM, this man was allowed to meet regularly with other known extremists. Why did the Home Secretary think that was a good idea?

Mrs May: For every individual who is placed on a TPIM, there is a particular package of measures that is part of that. The details of that are operational matters. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the package of measures is carefully considered for each individual and is reviewed regularly.

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that more people absconded under the previous Government than under this Government? While she is at it, will she remind the

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House that under the previous Government and under the control order regime there were more absconds that were not based in London?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend has put it well and put it on the record. It is the singular fact that the shadow Home Secretary is reluctant to accept—indeed, will not accept—that there were seven absconds under control orders, and six of those individuals were never apprehended.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Even if Magag does not pose a direct, imminent terror threat, as the Home Secretary claims, does she not accept that his presence in a city such as London is of great concern and risks radicalising young vulnerable people such as some in my constituency? What assurances can she give that that will not happen?

Mrs May: We take that individual’s abscond extremely seriously, as I have said. The police, the Security Service and other agencies are working and putting resources into trying to apprehend him. That is entirely right and, as I said earlier, I hope the whole House will support the police and the other agencies in doing that.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does not the fact that six people absconded under the control orders and were never found show the major flaws in the control order system? Can my right hon. Friend set out how the TPIM system, with the extra resources thrown at it, is much more advantageous?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head: the Opposition fail to accept that under the control order regime there were seven absconds, six of whom were not apprehended. That was under a regime that had the relocation power. What we did with TPIMs and in giving extra resources to the police and the Security Service was to put in place the regime that was appropriate for national security, but which also should allow greater opportunities for prosecution.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): The background to this is clear. Under control orders, people absconded, so the extra power to enforce their relocation was used and as a result, during the next four years, no one absconded. The Home Secretary made a political decision to get rid of that power and allowed this man to come back, live where he wants, mix with whoever he likes and as a

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result, within 12 months he has absconded. That is what happened. It is clear. Is it true—yes or no—did he just ring a cab?

Mrs May: The situation that the hon. Gentleman portrays in the whole of his question is not the situation that pertains. I made it clear in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) that for any individual on TPIMs a range of measures can be applied, including, for example, listing those with whom they may not associate. Those measures are put in place for each individual. They are carefully considered and regularly reassessed.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real issue is not about relocation orders but about the extra resources that were given to the police and security services when TPIMs were introduced? Can she reassure me that those extra resources are being used with specific reference to this person so that he can be apprehended as soon as possible?

Mrs May: The extra resources that were available were to be used on the introduction of the TPIMs and for a period of time in terms of the individuals who were on TPIMs and the TPIM regime that had been introduced. In relation to resources for the potential apprehension of Ibrahim Magag, I am assured by the police and others that they have the resources that they consider necessary to be able to conduct the inquiries and the search they are conducting.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, why cannot we all be told whether the authorities have Magag’s passport? Do not the public have a right to know?

Mrs May: Perhaps I can answer the question in this way. There are certain facts in relation to an individual that are not publicly known because they are subject to an anonymity order, and there are various legal issues relating to that. If I may go away and check those issues, and if it is possible to make a public reference in the House in relation to the passport issue, I will place a letter in the Library of the House.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Home Secretary and colleagues for their co-operation.

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South London Healthcare NHS Trust

12.58 pm

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the trust special administrator’s report on South London Healthcare NHS Trust and the NHS in south-east London.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt): I have today published the final report of the trust special administrator to South London Healthcare NHS Trust and laid it before Parliament. I received the report yesterday and must now consider it carefully. I am under a statutory duty to make a decision by 1 February on how best to secure a sustainable future for services provided by the trust.

The trust special administrator began his appointment on 16 July. He published his draft report on 29 October and undertook a consultation on his draft recommendations between 2 November and 13 December. More than 27,000 full consultation documents and 104,000 summary documents were distributed during the consultation and sent to 2,000 locations across south-east London, including hospital sites, GP surgeries, libraries and town halls. A dedicated website was established to support the consultation, the TSA team arranged or attended more than 100 events or meetings and the consultation generated more than 8,200 responses.

I understand the concerns of hon. Members and, indeed, the people living in areas affected by the proposals, especially in Lewisham. They have a right to expect the highest quality NHS care, and I have a duty to ensure that they receive it. However, they will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to give a view on the report’s recommendations only one day after receiving it.  To do so would be pre-emptive and would prejudice my duty to consider the recommendations with care and reach a decision that is in the best interests of the people of south-east London.

However, I have made it clear that any solution would need to satisfy the four tests outlined by the Prime Minister and my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), with respect to any major reconfigurations: the changes must have support from GP commissioners; the public, patients and local authorities must have been genuinely engaged in the process; the recommendations must be underpinned by a clear clinical evidence base; and the changes must give patients a choice of good-quality providers.

The challenges facing South London Healthcare NHS Trust are complex and long standing, but to fail to address them is to penalise other parts of the NHS from which resources must be taken to finance the biggest deficit anywhere in the NHS. To date, it has not proved possible to ensure that South London Healthcare NHS Trust can secure a sustainable future for its services within its existing configuration and organisational form. In appointing a special administrator to the trust, the Government’s priority was to ensure that patients continue to receive high-quality, sustainable NHS services, and I will consider the special administrator’s report with that objective in mind.

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Dame Joan Ruddock: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Neither I nor my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) are opposed to change or to greater efficiencies, but we are opposed to the destruction of Lewisham hospital, which is a solvent, well-regarded trust that meets all its performance and financial standards.

There is a fundamental question at stake. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) has made it clear that the powers associated with the failure regime under which the TSA acts were not intended to be used to encompass the services of other hospitals. Yet in order to tackle the huge financial deficit sustained by South London Healthcare Trust, the TSA proposes to close Lewisham hospital’s accident and emergency services, including the acclaimed children’s A and E, to end all medical and surgical emergency care and to demolish maternity services. He then proposes to sell off half the hospital’s land. That cannot be justified. Each year around 120,000 people use Lewisham A and E, more than 30,000 children use the children’s A and E and more than 4,000 babies are born in the hospital. There is no current capacity at any of the other hospitals in the area to provide for those patients.

These proposals amount to a major reconfiguration by the back door, and they are opposed by virtually all the health professionals in the area and by the people of Lewisham. Does the Secretary of State believe that a reconfiguration of services in south-east London is necessary? If he does, he needs to propose one with the relevant consideration for patient safety and health care standards and that meets his four tests. These proposals do none of that and must be rejected.

Mr Hunt: First, I want to recognise the right hon. Lady’s real concerns about the proposals that have been made. I also recognise that they reflect the concerns of many of her constituents and, indeed, many people in Lewisham. Her point about scope is one I replied to in my letter to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) before Christmas. I have taken legal advice on that and been told that under the unsustainable provider regime, which the previous Government put into law, an administrator must initially look at a trust’s defined area, but if they conclude that the defined area is not in itself financially sustainable—they have a duty to come back with a financially sustainable solution—and if it is necessary and consequential, they need to look at a broader area. Of course there is interrelation between different parts of the south-east London health care economy. However, I will be getting fresh legal advice on that point, because I recognise that it is extremely important.

I welcome the fact that the right hon. Lady recognises that changes need to be made. I also hope that she understands that I have a duty to address this issue, which has affected hospitals in the South London Healthcare Trust area for many years. The deficit of the trust amounts to £207 million in the period since it was set up, and that is money that must be taken away from other parts of the NHS. I have a clear duty to address that issue. I will not comment on specific proposals today, but I will be very happy to meet her and her colleagues from Lewisham in order to hear from them directly about their concerns. Indeed, I will be meeting the trust special administrator on 10 January so that

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I can ask him any questions about his proposals before I make my decision, which must be within 20 working days.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I remind my right hon. Friend that the Beckenham Beacon is not only modern, but extremely central. I stress the incredible value it could have in south London. I very much hope that the services currently provided there will increase, rather than decrease, at the end of this consultation.

Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend for again speaking up for his constituents, as indeed I have done as a constituency MP on many occasions. I want to reassure him that the four tests we have outlined for any major changes to health care services would indeed apply to the Beckenham Beacon and that, were there to be any changes, we would need to be satisfied that they would have strong, local, clinical support, that his constituents had been properly consulted and that there was clear evidence that change would be beneficial.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): I apologise for missing the start of proceedings on this urgent question.

It has long been accepted that difficult decisions are needed to secure the sustainability of health services in south-east London. That is why recommendations from the review, “A Picture of Health”, were agreed under the previous Government. The trust special administrator has adopted many of those proposals, which we welcome.

However, the review presented today goes way beyond that and takes the NHS into new territory. It uses powers passed by the previous Government in a way that was never intended and, in so doing, sets a worrying precedent whereby normal processes of public consultation are short-circuited and back-door reconfigurations of hospital services are pushed through. The Health Act 2009, which I took through this House, states that

“the administrator must provide to the Secretary of State and publish a draft report stating the action which the administrator recommends the Secretary of State should take in relation to the trust.”

In making recommendations that have a major impact on another trust, is the Secretary of State not going beyond the powers this House has given to him? He has acknowledged that he needs to commission fresh legal advice, which suggests to me that the legality of the process is in doubt. Will he publish all the legal advice he has been given so far and give a commitment that any new legal advice he commissions will be made available?

As this is a financially driven process, the people of Lewisham have justifiable concerns about whether it is safe to close their A and E and downgrade the maternity services. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that a clinical case has been established behind these major changes? Given that all A and E departments in south London are currently overstretched and operating at full capacity, people will need to be convinced that these changes will not put lives at risk.

Finally, will the Secretary of State give a guarantee today to the people of Lewisham that, if he accepts the TSA’s recommendations, they will have the full consultation rights that come with any hospital reconfiguration, including the ability to challenge the clinical case and, if necessary, to refer it to the Independent Reconfiguration

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Panel? This process is attempting to rewrite the rules on making changes to hospital services, bypassing the intention of the House. It will send a shiver through any communities without a foundation trust, as it raises the prospect that their hospital will be able to be used as a pawn to solve problems in another.

People in Lewisham feel a huge sense of unfairness and I am sure that that will be shared by people across the House. The onus is on the Secretary of State to justify the changes and ensure that rules governing hospital changes are fair and respect the essential rights of all communities to be fully consulted and involved in any decision affecting their services.

Mr Hunt: We have followed to the letter the processes laid down in the law that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government passed. We followed the procedure extremely carefully. This is the first time that the procedure has been invoked, so we have taken extra legal advice to make sure that the processes followed strictly adhere to the letter of the law. I will continue to take legal advice, because I want to make sure that we absolutely follow the wishes of the House in how we carry out the procedure.

Unlike the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, we have introduced new safeguards for any major changes made to NHS services. Those safeguards did not exist when the right hon. Gentleman was Health Secretary. We have said that we will not accept any changes unless there is proper consultation of the local population, clear evidence and clear local clinical support. We made that commitment in the four tests, which did not exist under his Government.

I will not accept any of the changes that the special administrator proposes unless I am satisfied that all four tests have been met. They include proper local consultation, because I consider that to be extremely important.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): The report mentions an increase in elective surgery in Darent Valley hospital—my local hospital, which is just over the Kent border with south London. Although the hospital has enjoyed extra funding from the Government, it still has capacity issues. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the knock-on issues are taken into account before he makes any decision?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. One of the most important things that I have to consider in the next 20 days is what he describes as the knock-on impact of all the proposed changes. I have a duty to find a solution that is financially and clinically sustainable for the South London Healthcare NHS Trust area. However, I need to consider the knock-on effects everywhere else, including in Lewisham and my hon. Friend’s constituency.

As well as legal advice, I will be seeking clinical advice and want to make sure that my officials agree with the financial considerations made in the report. I will consider all that advice in enormous detail before I come to any decisions.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for agreeing to meet Members with Lewisham constituencies about this matter. Representatives of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, which is made up of local GPs, local hospital doctors

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and the public, are also very keen to meet the Secretary of State to put our case directly to him about why it is important to retain a full, admitting A and E and full maternity service at Lewisham. Will he agree to meet them?

Mr Hunt: I want to meet colleagues from the House but, as I am sure the hon. Lady will understand, I want to be careful not to restart the whole consultation process that has been happening in what I believe is a very thorough way in the past few months. However, one of the things that I will be considering very carefully—and I will listen to any points that the hon. Lady makes when I meet her—is whether the consultation has been done properly, as it needs to be done and as was intended by the legislation. I will not accept any changes unless I am satisfied on that point.

Dame Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s apparently open-minded approach to the proposals, which have caused enormous clinical alarm in our hospitals as well as local concern.

Two particular issues affect my constituents and those of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) in relation to King’s College hospital. I ask the Secretary of State to take them seriously. First, should the proposed closures at Lewisham hospital go ahead, that will impact on the King’s College hospital paediatric A and E, which is already overstretched; the staff have enormous concern about their ability to meet any additional demand.

Secondly, will the Secretary of State agree that discussions currently under way to merge the managements of King’s College hospital with those of Guy’s and St Thomas’s should be suspended while the extensive reorganisation threatens the stability of a number of hospitals? If they were to go ahead in parallel, that would risk engulfing our hospitals with preoccupations about reorganisation rather than there being a focus from our world-class hospital staff in south London on treating the patients that we represent.

Mr Hunt: The right hon. Lady makes two important points. As she knows, I visited King’s College hospital just before Christmas and was incredibly impressed by what I saw. I visited the geriatric ward and was really impressed, and I am sure that the paediatric service is outstanding as well. It came across to me as an extremely well run hospital. I will, of course, make sure that I consider the impact of the changes proposed by the trust special administrator on King’s, just as I will consider the impact on all surrounding hospitals.

With respect to the merger proposals, because the legislation requires me to come to a decision within 20 working days, the right hon. Lady will find that I have to make and publish my decision quickly enough to ensure that any impact from the changes is properly considered by the people pursuing the possibility of a merger between King’s, Guy’s and Tommy’s.

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Mr Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): The Secretary of State will understand that I have not been able to read the entire trust special administrator’s report in the hour or so I have had access to it. However, while I was reading the report, it became clear that a great deal of concern was expressed during the consultation about the implementation of the proposals. Indeed, the report highlights the fact that following previous reorganisations, costs have increased rather than reduced as a result of the very process of reorganisation.

Given those worries, will the Secretary of State agree to meet representatives from other boroughs, who are equally concerned? I remind him that he declined my request for a meeting on the trust special administrator’s draft report; I hope he will not decline to meet now that we have the full report. In particular, will he consider the implications for patient care and services of a major reorganisation, which can be disruptive and fail to deliver the savings envisaged?

Mr Hunt: I heed absolutely the right hon. Gentleman’s warning that reorganisations are not always the panacea that they are made out to be. We need to be absolutely clear that, if we accept the proposals, they will deliver a sustainable, robust and clinically sound outcome for the right hon. Gentleman’s and neighbouring constituents, as the trust special administrator believes they will. I shall be delighted if the right hon. Gentleman attends the meeting with other MPs affected by the proposal. I shall hear what he has to say further at that meeting.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The Secretary of State has to recognise the serious contradictions between the proposals in the trust special administrator’s report and the Conservative manifesto before the last general election. If he were to accept the proposals, particularly in relation to A and E, that would be a serious betrayal of promises made to the electorate. There are also the changes expected from the “A Picture of Health” proposals for Queen Mary’s hospital in Sidcup in relation to overnight elective surgery. How much is the Secretary of State bound by the specific promises made in the Conservative manifesto before the election when it comes to making a decision on the report?

Mr Hunt: We were concerned in the run-up to the last election at the pace and scale of many of the reconfigurations pursued by the last Government. That is why when we came into office we paused the reconfigurations and introduced the four tests—an additional safeguard to make sure that reconfigurations were not done without local clinical support.

We wanted to avoid what had happened so often, including in my own constituency—an alliance of Health Ministers and NHS managers riding roughshod over what local people wanted. We wanted to stop that, so we put in place new systems. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be comforted by the robustness and thoroughness of the processes that we are now going through.

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EU Fisheries Negotiations

1.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I represented the UK at the fisheries part of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 18 to 20 December. Richard Lochhead, Michelle O’Neill and Alun Davies attended for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales respectively.

The annual December round of negotiations for total allowable catches, or TACs, and quotas is a difficult process, and this year was particularly challenging. UK fishermen were facing automatic 25% reductions in the time they can spend at sea, as well as significant decreases in TACs and quotas. I entered this year’s negotiation clear in my mind that decisions on quotas or on days spent at sea need to be based on three clear principles: following scientific advice, sustainability, and the need for continued discard reduction. We adhered to these principles throughout, and I am pleased to report to the House that the UK Government secured a deal that was good for the health of our seas and for the UK fishing industry.

We secured agreement to end automatic reductions to the number of days fishermen can spend at sea, overcoming legal obstacles in the cod recovery plan. The number of available days in 2013 will be at the same level as 2012, giving fishermen the time to fish sustainably, avoiding discards and juvenile fish. The quota for North sea cod in 2013 will be decided during the EU-Norway negotiations next week. We removed the requirement for this to be based on an automatic 20% reduction, instead enabling the quota to be set on the basis of scientific evidence. Reflecting the latest science, the UK is calling for a rollover of the TAC to decrease discards, increase the likelihood of achieving maximum sustainable yield by 2015, and improve the stock biomass. This outcome, together with our success in removing proposed restrictions on discard reduction programmes, means that our highly successful and innovative catch quota scheme, which effectively eliminates discards, can continue to grow and develop this year.

On fish quotas, where the scientific evidence showed that significant cuts in quota were necessary for the health of the stock, we accepted them—for example, in the case of North sea nephrops, Celtic sea herring and Rockall haddock—but where they were not justified we successfully managed to fight huge cuts to quotas across a number of different fish stocks. The proposed cuts to quotas were often not supported by the available evidence and would have led to an increase in the discarding of perfectly edible fish. Successes included mitigating a 55% cut in south-west haddock to 15%, a 48% cut in west of Scotland haddock to 30%, and overturning a 12% cut to a 6% increase in nephrops around Northern Ireland. Because a number of stocks are improving, we were able to increase quotas for them this year. For example, we secured increases in quota for plaice and sole in the channel, nephrops in the west of Scotland, and cod and whiting in the south-west. We are hoping to secure increases in many of the North sea stocks, in line with the scientific advice, as part of the EU-Norway discussions next week.

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Through the night the UK team battled hard to reach an agreement that ensures the long-term sustainability of fish stocks while providing short-term catching opportunities for our fishing industry. The package we secured helps all sectors of the industry, large and small, and delivers benefits for all parts of the UK—north, south, east and west. It was a good result for the UK fleet and for sustainable exploitation of the fish on which our fishermen depend. It also supports our wider objectives on the reform of the common fisheries policy, and it was a timely coincidence that the European Parliament was voting on CFP reform at the same time that the annual quota negotiations were taking place. I was very pleased that ambitious provisions to eliminate discards, set fishing rates sustainably and allow for regional decision making were voted through. This was an important step forward for the reform process, and it bodes well that the final package we will negotiate this year will include the radical reforms we all agree are needed.

1.24 pm

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.

I sympathise with the Minister for being forced to sit through the night at the Fisheries Council at the end of last year in what I am confident he would describe as a Kafkaesque experience. Does he agree that our fishing industry deserves better than this undignified and often chaotic annual round of negotiations each December? More to the point, does he agree that public and industry confidence in the negotiation framework would be enhanced by a substantial degree of transparency? By holding meetings behind closed doors, the Council prevents us from evaluating the logic behind its decisions. What measures does the Minister plan in future to open up these negotiations to a healthy dose of public scrutiny?

We are at a critical point for fisheries management, and common fisheries policy reform is at the top of the agenda. May I wish the Minister every success during the EU-Norway negotiations on the North sea cod quota next week? Labour Members welcome the news that automatic cuts to the North sea cod quota and a reduction in the number of fishing days at sea have been avoided. Given public outrage at the shameful waste of discards, any change in policy that increased discards would have been unacceptable. Is the Minister aware of concerns within the fishing industry that the vote by the Council of Ministers to amend the more problematic parts of the cod management plan could be subject to legal challenge from the European Parliament? Can he guarantee that the Council’s vote will not be overruled by the outcome of such a legal challenge?

The Minister told the House that proposed cuts to quotas were “often not supported by the available evidence”. Will he give us examples? Can he confirm that despite the Council’s, and his own, public support for evidence-based policy-making, about half of all quotas have been set above levels advised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea? He reported that the Council was able to increase quotas for those stocks that are improving. Can he confirm to the House that all these quota increases were unambiguously supported and recommended by the scientific evidence?

What discussions, if any, took place at Council regarding the ongoing dispute between UK and Icelandic fishermen on disputed north-east Atlantic mackerel stock? Was

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the Minister personally involved in any discussions on the possible enforcement of EU sanctions against Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and will he update the House on this crucial issue?

Is the Minister fully aware of the increasing importance to Scottish processing plants of the blue whiting quota, and will he bear this in mind as he approaches the EU negotiations with Norway next week? Total allowable catch for blue whiting increased significantly in 2012 but is still constrained by our commitment to swap quotas for North sea cod with Norway—a move that largely benefits Spain and Portugal.

Lastly, given the importance to these annual negotiations of quota distribution within the EU, will the Minister update the House on when he expects to be able to publish the full, comprehensive and up-to-date list of who owns the UK fishing quota, long promised by this Government?

I welcome the Minister’s statement and wish him every success in future negotiations. So long as he continues to represent the fight for the sustainability of the UK’s fishing industry and of our vital natural resource, he will continue to enjoy our conditional support.

Richard Benyon: I would expect nothing less from the hon. Gentleman.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his sympathy about the absurd and ridiculous processes that one has to go through. With the reform of the common fisheries policy, we have a golden opportunity to end some of the absurdity, if not all of it. We can cease the ridiculous charade of a Minister like me discussing fishing net sizes with a Commission official perhaps 1,000 miles from where the net will be used. That is a technical matter that should be decided locally with fishermen. That is why our regionalisation agenda as part of the CFP reform is so important.

The system can also be improved through better long-term management plans. The cod recovery plan is a bad plan, but that should not dissuade us from pushing for more long-term management plans that are scientifically based and worked through with the industry, taking away from politicians the late-night horse trading and making the system much more evidence based. We want to see more of that.

The hon. Gentleman raised an issue about cod. Where cod effort continues to be reduced, the incentive is then for fishermen to fish as soon as possible after leaving port, and that might not be the most sustainable place for them to catch fish—it might be where cod are spawning or where there are more juvenile fish. We want to encourage them to go to the places where there are the larger fish that they can target sustainably.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether this will be subject to a legal challenge. It may well be—these things happen. I was very clear that I did not want the livelihoods of our fishermen or the sustainability of our seas to be the totemic issue on which inter-institutional rivalries would be sorted out. Therefore, the decision we took to support the presidency in sorting out this element of the cod recovery plan was the right one. It may well end up in court and I cannot guarantee the result, but we have secured a sensible solution for this year.

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The hon. Gentleman asked about the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. ICES looks at individual fish stocks rather than, as is the case in this country, mixed fisheries, so we do apply other scientific advice. On cod, we got ICES to agree that our rationale was right that if we had progressed down the route proposed by the Commission, it would have resulted in more discards.

Mackerel remains our absolute priority. It is this country’s biggest by-value catch and I am determined to do all we can to get Iceland and the Faroes back to the negotiating table and find a solution. If not, sanctions remain on the table.

I will write to the hon. Gentleman about blue whiting, because that is a more technical issue.

We inherited an extraordinary situation whereby we do not know who owns quota in this country, which is daft. We have set about our determination to resolve that issue this year, so I hope that at some point in 2013 we will be able to explain to the House whether or not quota is actually owned by football clubs and celebrities, as is constantly made clear to me. We have yet to find out and are working hard to achieve that.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I congratulate the Fisheries Minister on enduring the final throes of an out-of-date policy. Could he assure the House that cod quota will be extended to our hard-pressed, initial under-10 metre fleet? That is extremely important.

On the common fisheries policy, it is music to the ears of fishermen that we are proceeding on the grounds of sustainability, sound scientific advice and, indeed, a discard policy that should work. Will he assure the House that regional control will amount to control by him and his colleagues for the North sea fishermen and, indeed, by the fishermen and the regional advisory councils themselves?

Richard Benyon: I thank my hon. Friend for her remarks. Yes, I can confirm that cod is an important stock for the inshore fleet as well as for others. It is welcome that cod stocks are increasing. That is in so small part thanks to the work being done by fishermen in all sectors to improve the biomass of this important staple of our diet. It is not entirely good news—there are still cuts to cod quotas in some areas—but the general trend is increasing. We need to reflect on the fact that 1 million tonnes of cod will be caught off Norway and in the North sea this year. This stock is improving dramatically not very far from us. It is not improving quickly enough, but we are working hard to achieve that.

I agree with my hon. Friend that sustainability is important, not just because we mind about the health of our seas, but because we mind about the future of our fishing industry. We want an increased biomass and it is through increased stocks that more businesses will progress and become more profitable.

I absolutely concur with my hon. Friend’s comments on regional management. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been banging this drum for a long time. We want fully documented fisheries where the technical measures that are currently decided by a top-down centralised system are decided locally on an

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ecosystem basis, so that in an area such as the North sea it is the countries that actually fish in it that will decide how it is managed.

Mr Frank Doran (Aberdeen North) (Lab): I join in congratulating the Minister on this very good result that is obviously welcomed by the fishing industry. He is well aware of the trials that are taking place in Scotland to improve discards. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is anxious that they progress as quickly as possible and feel that it would be extremely beneficial to have an extra quota of fish specifically to pursue the research. Is the Minister prepared to argue for that in next week’s Norway discussions?

Richard Benyon: What we managed to achieve was to get the argument understood. We are not talking about more mortality; we are talking about landing more fish that would otherwise be discarded. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that fishermen from his part of the world have led the way on a whole range of measures. Some have been technical and have involved their gear, while others have involved real-time closures, but the really important scheme is the catch quota scheme, which has involved fully documented fisheries. The scheme has been praised from the commissioner downwards as the way forward. We want it to become the norm and, in many respects, for it to be much extended, because under that scheme practically no cod will be discarded from vessels this year. That is an incredible achievement by those fishermen and the people who have worked with them on such schemes, and we want to see more of that.

Mr Speaker: I congratulate the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) on his CBE in the new year’s honours list. I also congratulate his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) on her OBE in the same list.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I, too, congratulate the Minister on the tremendous progress that has been made on regionalisation. It has long been an ambition of the UK Government that more decision making and management of the common fisheries policy be done locally. Could he give us other examples of how this will benefit the UK fleet and ensure that it has a happy future?

Richard Benyon: I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent honour.

Many benefits can be achieved from proper, effective regionalisation. Ending the top-down, centralised control of small and detailed technical measures is an important way forward. Ensuring that local fishermen work with scientists and developing the concept that every single vessel is a scientific platform can only be achieved locally. We cannot achieve what we want to achieve on discards without regionalisation. It has been a real battle to push this through the Council and other forums. I am really pleased that the fisheries committee of the European Parliament recognises this. We now have to make sure that it is followed through in the bizarre processes that we have to go through for the rest of the year, in order to ensure meaningful reform. I assure my hon. Friend that this is a priority for us.

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Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): The Minister will recall that I have called on a number of occasions for the abolition of the common fisheries policy and for the Government to press that on European colleagues. I still believe that we should do that. Would it not be sensible to return to the national limits that we used to have, so that we can manage our fish stocks and monitor our fishing? That is how the Norwegians do it, and their fisheries are much better than ours.

The question that I really want to ask relates to Spain, which has in the past refused to give information about its fishing. Indeed, there have been suggestions that it is landing black fish illegally. Is Spain being properly regulated now?

Richard Benyon: Sadly, Spain is not alone in having had problems in the past with black fish landings. We have to make sure that all houses are in order when we criticise countries for failing to obey the rules. I want to make it absolutely clear that if people land black fish—illegal, unreported and unregulated landings of fish—they are stealing those fish from our fishermen. People such as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) have made that important point consistently.

The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) is consistent in his view of the common fisheries policy. I certainly would not have started from this point, and I think that most Members would agree with that. As we develop the policy further, we need to recognise that the “common” part of the common fisheries policy is not necessarily wrong. We need to manage this on an ecosystem basis. Fish may spawn in one country’s waters and then swim to those of another country. They do not have passports and we need to manage the situation on a sea basin basis, and that is where our regionalisation agenda is going.

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Commission’s draconian and inflexible stance, particularly on stocks with a precautionary, rather than an analytical, TAC, is a clear reason why management and decision making should be devolved to the local nation states that have a real interest in the sea basin area? Will he argue for that in the CFP review negotiations?

Richard Benyon: I thank my hon. Friend for her continued interest in this issue. Her knowledge is important in guiding us and making sure that we are on this agenda. I assure her that we are. I want fishermen from her part of the world to take responsibility for the detailed management, technical measures and other sustainability issues that we require of them, rather than feeling that yet another layer of control is being imposed on them. That is what is driving people out of the industry and making fishermen feel that they do not want their children or grandchildren to go into their industry. I am determined to see a degree of regionalisation that is effective in delivering that.

Several hon. Members rose—