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Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I greatly welcome the simplification of the existing scheme, the introduction of a flat-rate state pension, and the credits for people who have undertaken caring responsibilities and women who have taken career breaks. My hon. Friend has corresponded with me about current pensioners and people who will retire before 2017. What more can he say to reassure my constituents who fall into those categories that they will not lose out terrifically to people on the new system?

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend has raised a crucial question. There is some anger and some suspicion that somehow we are throwing money at future pensioners and ignoring today’s, but I can give a categorical assurance that that is not what we are doing. The budget for the new system is the same as the current budget. It is important to note that we are not simply taking the basic pension of £107, sticking 30-odd quid on it, and ignoring all today’s pensioners. We are combining the basic pension, the state second pension and the savings credit into a single flat payment. It is not comparing like with like just to compare the current basic pension with the £144 pension; it is a much more complex process.

Mr Speaker: Order. I always listen intently to what the Minister says, but in a bid to make face-to-face contact with his hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), he is standing sideways. Facing the Chair is always to be preferred.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Does the Minister agree that pensions means-testing seriously undermined a culture of savings built up over many decades? Will he assure us that, following this reform, people will not be punished for making proper provision for their old age, as they were under the last Government?

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is quite right. The nightmare scenario under automatic enrolment would be people opening their newspapers and reading, “Don’t bother to save small amounts of money; the Government will just claw it back.” We are confident that by sorting out the state pension we will not only deal with the position of people at the bottom of the pile, but will make auto-enrolment the success that we all want it to be.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I congratulate the Minister, who has demonstrated his mastery of a highly complex subject. In particular, I warmly welcome the decision to reduce means-testing significantly. Under this Government—unlike the last one—those of my constituents who put small sums away for their retirement will not find themselves little better off than those who do not save.

Steve Webb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generous comments. Just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is trying to make work pay through the universal credit, we want to make savings pay through

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the single-tier pension. I believe that if we can do both those things, we shall have done a good and important job.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I welcome the statement. At present, British citizens who work overseas can build up a contribution record by making voluntary contributions. Will that continue under the future system?

Steve Webb: We do envisage that there will be a system of voluntary contributions. We will have to examine issues such as the price for a year of voluntary contributions, because obviously the pension is bigger, but we envisage that the idea that someone can fill gaps will still be a part of the system.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I very much welcome today’s statement that a single-tier pension is going to apply to new pensioners after 2017. On Sunday, I met a constituent at my supermarket advice surgery in ASDA in Colne who is in receipt of the basic state pension and pension credit but is unsure whether, as part of wider reforms, pension credit would be replaced by the new universal credit and other pensioner benefits. Will the Minister give clarification on that point?

Steve Webb: There will be knock-on effects when the universal credit is introduced: because housing benefit will no longer be paid for people of working age, we will have to incorporate housing benefit for pensioners in the pension credit system. There will be knock-on changes, but we envisage, certainly for the foreseeable future, a continuing separate pension credit system.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I, too, welcome the value these reforms will give to people who have taken time out to care for children and, in particular, for elderly relatives. Does this not send out a clear message that this Government are indeed on the side of families and value them in retirement?

Steve Webb: We do indeed believe that, as with a year of paid work paying national insurance, a year bringing up a young child or looking after an elderly or disabled person is an equally valuable contribution to society and should be recognised as such going forward.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): As I understand it, 750,000 women will be £9 a week better off under these pension reforms. Will a widow who married early, spent the vast majority of her life looking after the home and children and whose husband then died be better off under these reforms?

Steve Webb: As I said in reply to a question a moment ago, where someone has already become a widow and acquired prospective pension rights because someone has died, we will not take those away from them. In future, we want to make sure that every man and every woman builds up a pension in their own right, rather than depending on the contributions of a spouse. But where people have already got those entitlements, they will retain them.

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4.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Mali and on the United Kingdom’s limited support to the French military deployment to assist the Government of Mali. On 10 January, Mali’s Islamist rebel groups, including significant terrorist elements, moved south from their northern strongholds and captured the town of Konna. From there, they posed a danger to Mali’s second and strategically important garrison of Mopti, and potentially to its capital, Bamako. The situation in Mali is a serious concern for the UK; it would not be in our interests to allow a terrorist haven to develop in northern Mali. As a responsible member of the Security Council, we must support the region in limiting the danger of instability in that part of Africa threatening UK interests.

This latest violence follows a year of instability in Mali. In January 2012, Tuareg nationalist rebels under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad—the MNLA—reignited a long-standing armed rebellion against the Malian state. Fighting opportunistically alongside the MNLA, but with a very different agenda, were two terrorist groups: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. Another mainly Tuareg group with an Islamist agenda and strong ties to other terrorist groups, Ansar Dine, also fought against Malian troops. In March 2012, Mali experienced a coup d’état by army officers concerned that the Malian Government were not responding effectively to the threat from these northern groups. Shortly afterwards, Islamist rebels took advantage of the instability caused by the coup to establish control of the north of the country—70% of the territory, including 10% of the population. Following strong pressure from the Economic Community of West African States, the military junta then passed control to an interim civilian-led government.

Along with the international community, the UK has been concerned by the potential for terrorist groups to establish a safe haven in northern Mali that, if left unchecked, could pose a threat to Europe and the UK as well as to our interests in the region. Together with the international community, the UK has been promoting an effective political process in Mali, which includes a road map to democratic elections and a mediation process between the Malian Government and the northern political groups. Both the political and the military tracks—and, in the longer term, economic development—must contribute to a strategy to strengthen the whole region and make it less vulnerable to humanitarian and political shocks.

The United Nations Security Council met for an emergency session on 10 January to discuss the movement of extremist forces south and concluded that recent events posed a direct threat to international stability and security. Furthermore, it emphasised the urgent need to counter the increasing terrorist threat and reiterated its call to member states to assist the settlement of the crisis in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 2085, issued and agreed on 20 December 2012.

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In response to the statement by the United Nations Security Council and in the light of the fast-emerging threat to the city of Mopti, the Government of Mali made a direct request to the Government of France for assistance. France commenced the deployment of a military contingent on 11 January. The Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff discussed the situation with their French counterparts on 11 January. On the afternoon of 12 January, the United Kingdom received a French request for limited military logistic support to its deployment to Mali and the Prime Minister spoke to President Hollande later that evening. They discussed the deteriorating situation in Mali and the importance of limiting civilian casualties, expediting the deployment of regional forces and co-ordinating international efforts effectively. During that phone call, and on the basis of advice provided by the Ministry of Defence, the Prime Minister agreed to the French request for limited logistic support and directed the Chief of the Defence Staff to make aircraft available.

I wish to inform the House that two C-17 transport aircraft have been assigned to assist in the deployment. Additionally, a small detachment of technical personnel has deployed to Bamako airport to assist with the reception of UK aircraft. I am informed by my MOD colleagues that on arrival in Paris one of the aircraft faced technical problems, which engineers are currently working on. My MOD colleagues will provide additional information on that in due course. In the coming days, the African-led force, AFISMA—or the African-led international support mission—will begin deploying to Mali to bolster the Malian forces in the aim of restoring Mali’s territorial integrity.

Separately, the EU is considering a military training mission to help to build the capacity of the Malian forces. As the December European Council made clear, the mission has a clear training-only mandate and no combat role. UK support for the mission and for the Council decision is currently under parliamentary scrutiny, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will discuss it with the European Scrutiny Committee on 16 January. The EU training mission will support and is in line with the UNSCR obligations on Mali.

I assure the House that British forces will not undertake a combat role in Mali. The Prime Minister has authorised a limited logistical deployment following a direct request from one of our closest allies. The National Security Council will meet tomorrow and will be briefed on the latest developments in Mali. Government Ministers, alongside the Prime Minister’s special representative for the Sahel, my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr O'Brien), will work with the French Government, the region and international actors such as the UN to put in place the short-term resolution to the crisis and the longer term conditions for security and economic development. The UN Security Council will meet again this afternoon to discuss the crisis.

The House will no doubt be concerned about the humanitarian situation in the region and what the UK is doing to alleviate that situation. The UN reports that more than 200,000 people have been displaced inside Mali and another 210,000 have fled as refugees in the region. In addition to the immediate support to France, the UK has contributed £59 million in humanitarian aid to the Sahel region through multilateral organisations.

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In December 2012, the Department for International Development agreed a further £15 million in humanitarian aid to the region and funds from the UK have been put to work to help the immediate needs of the Malian people.

Finally, I would like to reassure the House that the safety of British nationals and personnel remains of paramount concern. Our travel advice has advised against all travel to Mali since the coup in March 2012. That was updated on 11 January this year to advise British citizens remaining in Mali to leave by commercial means, if possible. Our embassy in Bamako is in regular constant touch with the British community there, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London is, of course, working to ensure that contingency measures are in place.

The threat posed by the instability in Mali is of grave concern to the UK. We must not allow northern Mali to become a springboard for extremism and create instability in the wider west African region. The ferocity and fanaticism of the extremists in northern Mali must be not be allowed to sweep unchecked into the country’s capital. France, which has an historic relationship with Mali, is quite rightly in the lead. In the coming days we will be focused on the regional and international diplomacy we must achieve to check this emerging threat.

4.51 pm

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Office Minister both for his statement and for advance sight of it. We were slightly surprised that on the day of Defence questions, the statement was not made by the Ministry of Defence, especially given the difficulties experienced today by one of our C-17s—although with the Defence Secretary absent, that is probably understandable.

On behalf of the Opposition, I clearly state our support for the commitment that is being made in support of our close and important French ally, acting in pursuit of a Security Council resolution which stated

“its grave concern about the consequences of instability”

in northern Mali

“on the region and beyond . . . the continuing deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation”


“the increasing entrenchment of terrorist elements including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)”

and affiliated and other extremist groups. That resolution went on to call on member states to provide assistance to Mali’s armed and security forces as soon as possible in order to restore the state’s authority over its entire territory.

It is important, therefore, to be clear on the strategic purpose of this military engagement and the end point that is sought. Is it to enable the transitional authorities to regain control of the entire north of the country, as outlined by the Security Council in October, or just to halt the southern advance of rebel forces? Those extremist groups operating in the Sahara and Sahel regions are responsible for guerrilla attacks, suicide bombings, attacks against Government, military and civilian targets, as well as for gross abuse of human rights.

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As the Minister said, this is not just an issue for Mali, important as that is; it is an issue for stability across the region, especially as there are concerns that AQIM has been networking with other terrorists groups in the region, including in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. It is very clearly against the interests of international security that they should be allowed to establish a base in Mali. From our own Government’s experience of the successful intervention in Sierra Leone, we know how effective timely, well executed military action can be. That depends on good intelligence. There is a concern that the fall to Islamic militants of the southern town Konna—the strategically important town in Mali which led to the French taking action—appeared to take the international community by surprise. Why was that? Why was the intelligence not better, and how can it be improved?

I realise the difficulty in commenting on security matters, but the French President, Francois Hollande, has ordered an increase in domestic security in the aftermath of recent French military operations in Mali and in Somalia. Now that we are engaged in assisting the French operation, can the Minister reassure the public that our Government are taking similar action here in the UK and also to protect the position of British citizens abroad?

While supporting this action, the British people will want to understand the military consequences of the announcement. Our first current military priority must remain Afghanistan, so can the Minister say whether the deployment of British military aircraft will impact on ongoing operations in Afghanistan or other commitments? Will he also say over what period the aircraft will be operational in Mali, and what will be the cost to the defence budget?

Given the leakage of weaponry from Libya, what assessment has the Minister made of the risk from surface-to-air missiles to our and other countries’ aircraft? I raised that point several times with Defence Ministers in 2011, so I hope that the current Ministers are more seized of its importance than Ministers were then.

What will be the involvement of other nations, obviously beyond the commitment of the French? It has long been intended that the lead on supporting the Mali Government should be provided by an African-led force, so does not the present French deployment only emphasise the urgency of that? Will the Minister set out what steps are being taken to speed up efforts to achieve that, and when does he expect that the African force led by ECOWAS will reach the UN-authorised level of 3,300 personnel on the ground?

We want to be clear about the underlying objectives of the mission. Is it viewed as a one-off British contribution, or does it mark the beginning of a phased engagement that could see further British capabilities playing a part in the future? There are press reports today about trainers being sent and RAF drones being prepared, and the Minister indicated that ground crew will be in theatre, so will he clarify the position?

Essential as military action is, it is not sufficient, and the lasting stability that we all want in Mali, and in west Africa more generally, will be realised through a political process involving a successful, inclusive mechanism for transition to a permanent political authority in Mali. The involvement of regional partners, especially the Algerian Government, will be important. What discussions have taken place between us—and indeed our allies—and

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the Algerians on this matter? Will the Minister provide the House with the Government’s assessment of the likelihood of such a transition and the potential for lasting political stability and reconciliation?

Long-term stability will come through the developmental process, which is why we support the governance and transparency fund in Mali—I am pleased that the Secretary of State for International Development is in the Chamber—and west African food aid programmes. In recognising the threat, it is essential that we also recognise the need to focus on longer term preventive measures that can limit the requirement for military action—that is to say that interventionism should be about proactive developmental work as much as reactive military responses. Will the Minister update the House on how the Government are ensuring that our developmental priorities are linked to our security objectives in north-west Africa?

Finally, I am sure that the Minister, with his usual courtesy, will seek to ensure that any escalation beyond what has been announced today is brought to Parliament for its approval.

Mark Simmonds: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support. His remarks will be extremely helpful as we continue diplomatic discussions with our international partners.

I understand that the deployment of the two C-17 planes was discussed earlier during Defence questions. The reason it was decided that the Foreign Office should take the lead on the statement was the complex diplomatic and regional foreign policy implications of this limited deployment.

The right hon. Gentleman was correct to highlight the UN Security Council resolution. As he will probably be aware, resolution 2085, which was adopted just before Christmas, was the second to set out, under chapter VII, a whole series of policy strands that need to be followed to promote security and territorial integrity in not only Mali, but the wider region. Included in those strands is the all-important matter of human rights, which he was absolutely right to mention.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what we wanted to achieve, and I can summarise that in two specific strands: first, to diminish significantly the presence and influence of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and the allied terrorist groups; and, secondly, to secure a democratic Government who are acceptable to the whole people of Mali—in the north and in the south—and who provide basic services. Priority should therefore be given to a lasting political process.

The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that security, as it relates to the UK, is constantly monitored and under review, but at the moment we do not feel that it is necessary to raise the threat level beyond substantial. I can confirm that there will be no impact on the priority operations in Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister has made it categorically clear that the initial supporting deployment will be for a period of one week. He has also made it clear that no combat troops from the UK will be involved, and we have no plans to provide more military assistance.

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The right hon. Gentleman was also right to pinpoint the importance of the African Union and ECOWAS-led force. One of the proposals under discussion is to bring forward that deployment, and some member states of ECOWAS have already suggested that they will be willing to put troops into Mali. Togo and Senegal are the first two that immediately spring to mind. He is also right to highlight the importance of Algeria in this process. I can assure him that both the Prime Minister’s special envoy, my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr O'Brien), and the Foreign Office have been discussing this matter with the Algerian Government and their representatives in New York. It is essential that we bring back the territorial integrity of Mali as part of what we want to do.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of long-term sustainable development, and that is why the Foreign Office is working closely with DFID to make sure that there is not only a political solution but sustainable economic development to break the cycle of conflict in the northern part of Mali.

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that Ansar Dine’s close links with Boko Haram is another reason why this organisation cannot be viewed in isolation, and obviously has potential to interact and encourage further terrorist activity? Does he also agree that if the EU deployed a training team, it would be in our interests to support it, and that it would make sense to do that from our training mission in Sierra Leone?

Mark Simmonds: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I know that as my predecessor in the Foreign Office he had significant involvement in monitoring this situation. He is absolutely right to highlight the potential danger and links between the respective terrorist organisations in the northern part of Mali, in northern Nigeria and elsewhere in the Sahel. He is also absolutely right to highlight the importance of the potential EU training mission to build capacity in the Malian military forces to ensure that they have the capacity to retake the northern part of Mali and to hold it once the territorial integrity has been regained.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) I commend the decision taken by the Prime Minister to give this practical support to the Government of France. Will the Minister spell out in a bit more detail the consequences for the west African Commonwealth countries and their stability were effective and firm action not taken to deal with the threat in Mali straight away?

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the Prime Minister’s correct decision. He is also right to highlight the potential for the terrorist activity taking place in the northern part of Mali spreading to other parts of not just the Sahel but west Africa. There are clearly potential dangers from the threats that have been articulated by those in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb not only to those in Europe, but to economic and social development and to the alleviation of poverty, which is abject in some parts of the Sahel and in northern Mali, and to the commercial interests of UK firms in the region.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Some northern groups, such as the MNLA and even Ansar Dine are not straightforward jihadists, and there have been genuine grievances in the north around issues such as poverty and disempowerment, all of which suggests that a political solution as well as a political response might be possible, given enough subtle use of local intelligence and negotiating skills. Can Britain ensure that subtlety in negotiating skills are deployed alongside the Mirage jets, especially since Britain is widely regarded as rather more neutral in the region than France?

Mark Simmonds: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point: this is not a simple picture. A variety of groups are involved in northern Mali—not only those associated with terrorist activities but, in some cases, those associated with the Tuareg people, who have not necessarily been sufficiently engaged in the government of Mali in recent years. An important process is in place, established under the auspices of the United Nations and set out in UN Security Council resolutions, that encourages dialogue and discussion with those who want to play a responsible part in trying to find a satisfactory and peaceful solution, in the long term, to the future of Mali as a credible sovereign state.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Will the Minister update the House on the planned European Union mission to Mali and the potential for UK participation in that? How would it operate in the circumstances that exist on the ground there? Will he give an update on the position of other EU partners, including the Danes, who have apparently been considering logistical support today?

Mark Simmonds: The European Union training mission in Mali, which will be discussed under the common security and defence policy, involves a few hundred training personnel being sent to Mali to build capacity in the Malian military and security forces to enable them to reduce the influence of the terrorist activity taking place in the northern part of the country. The detail is still being discussed, but recent events at the end of last week mean that these discussions need to be expedited so that the Malian military can have the capacity not just to retake the northern part of their country but to make sure that they can provide security and stability in the months and years ahead.

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): When did contingency planning for this begin in the Ministry of Defence or at Permanent Joint Headquarters? How big is the small detachment in Bamako, and how many RAF personnel will be deployed to France?

Mark Simmonds: The discussions relating to the problem in northern Mali have been going on for some considerable time in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of the Defence and the Department for International Development. The response that the Prime Minister gave to the request from President Hollande, who was responding to a request from the Malian Government, was a crisis response. It was not a detailed, thought-through response—it has been thought through since—but a response to a particular need at a particular time of crisis. As my hon. Friend will be aware, these things are monitored persistently and continually. I do not have

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the numbers with me on the military personnel who are being deployed to Paris and Bamako, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the number of people operating the military aircraft and those who will be protecting them will be very small.

In response to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), the Danes have said that they are going to make commitments on logistical support, as have others in the international community beyond the immediate region.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): The Minister will be well aware that there is a great deal of antagonism towards the Malian army and its human rights record in the north of the country, that the Tuareg people have been systematically excluded from the political process, and that that has laid very fertile ground for this conflict to break out. Is he concerned about mission creep and the unintended consequences of Britain’s and France’s involvement in a war that will create a growth in the forces he is seeking to oppose, rather than bring about the political settlement that is necessary to achieve peace and prosperity for the people of the country?

Mark Simmonds: I reiterate that the Prime Minister made it very clear that we were offering only limited logistical support—two C-17 planes and no combat troops—and have no plans to provide more military assistance. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, though, to say that it is necessary to bring the Tuareg and their representatives into the political process and the political governance structures of an integrated Malian state. That is being discussed at the United Nations and at a regional African level, led by the African Union and other senior figures in ECOWAS.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The House totally understands that no combat troops will be deployed, yet technical personnel will be sent to Bamako airfield to service the large aircraft that will presumably bring in equipment such as tanks. When those aircraft land, will those technical personnel include force protection personnel, possibly including personnel from the RAF Regiment, who are actually soldiers?

Mark Simmonds: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The capital of Mali is pronounced “Bam-ack-co”.

Just to clarify the matter, there are currently no plans for NATO to be involved in Mali. The EU has drawn up a mission comprising 400 men, about 250 of whom will be force protection, and they are due to deploy later in the year. My hon. Friend asked a specific question about the number of military personnel who will be there to operate and to defend, if necessary, the aircraft when they are in Bamako. I will have to let him know about that.

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Does the Minister share my scepticism at the French Foreign Minister’s prediction that French soldiers will be out of Mali in a matter of weeks? That seems pretty unlikely to me. On the comparisons with Sierra Leone, does the Minister agree that it would be wrong to make the wrong comparisons? ECOWAS was deployed in Sierra Leone, and I understand that it will quite rightly be deployed in Mali, but the situation in Sierra Leone required

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British troops to go in and defeat the terrorists there. The second point on Sierra Leone is that there were no jihadi extremists with an international dimension, including al-Qaeda. Sierra Leone was a specific situation, fuelled by blood diamonds. For all those reasons, I believe that the situation in Mali could become an incredibly long-drawn-out morass, and we must be careful to promote a political solution to it.

Mark Simmonds: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. He is right to highlight the complexity of the situation, and the fact that it will take some considerable time to arrive at a complete solution—a political resolution to the problem and providing stability to enable the northern part of the country to be part of the territorial integrity of Mali. The United Nations resolutions are absolutely clear that the political process is a fundamental part of finding a stable, long-term solution to the problem. I very much hope that the French-led military operation, to which we are providing limited logistical support, will be a short time-frame deployment. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the diplomatic, political and economic processes will take some time.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Is it not the case that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are not dead, and that there is now an arc of terror from Somalia in the east of Africa right up to Algeria and now down to Mali in the west? Will the Minister confirm that, while Britain and France are offering support, there will be a Malian and African solution to the problem? Does the situation in Mali not underline the fact that today’s fragile states can become tomorrow’s failed states, which can have a direct and sometimes costly impact on the British national interest?

Mark Simmonds: I agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right to set out the trajectory that can be put in place when the international community does not act expeditiously to resolve particular problems. The African Union and ECOWAS have been seriously engaged with this problem for some considerable time, and I can assure him and the House that, in all the discussions held with senior African political figures in the region and elsewhere, with the United Nations and with other political figures around the world by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr O’Brien) and me, and by other Foreign Office and Defence Ministers with an interest in this area, there has been unanimity of concern and purpose that the international community needs to act in a co-ordinated way to resolve this difficult and dangerous problem.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): On the specific issue of the C-17 that is experiencing difficulties at present, is it the intention of the Ministry of Defence to release a further C-17 airframe should the problems with that aircraft not be resolved, and does it have the capacity to do so?

Mark Simmonds: That is an operational matter for the military to decide, but I can inform the hon. Gentleman and the House that the spare parts for the plane that is not functioning as it should be at present are on their way to Paris as we speak.

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Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): To what extent do the Government believe that the insurgency in the north of the country has indigenous support, and to what extent, if at all, are outside Governments supporting the insurgency, as far as we can tell?

Mark Simmonds: From the information that I have, I can inform my hon. Friend that there is limited support from the population who live in the northern part of Mali for the terrorist activities taking place. The atrocities that are being committed are appalling, including not just the prevalence of sexual violence and rape, but the abduction of children and persuading them, through appalling means, to participate in the military conflict. Stoning, amputations and other participation in extreme sharia law are also taking place. That is not the main reason we are providing limited logistical support, but it starts to paint a picture of why most of the people in northern Mali are not supportive of the terrorist activities and Islamist atrocities, and, indeed, why so many of them—approximately 200,000—have left the northern part of Mali.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): As well as condemning the vicious behaviour of the rebel forces, will the Minister address more directly the clear human rights violations of Malian Government forces? On the complicated cast of support and tendencies on the rebel side, do the Government share the suspicion of some credible observers that there is Qatari and Saudi support for some of the rebel forces, and have they addressed those regimes about the matter?

Mark Simmonds: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of human rights, which he will not be surprised to hear is an integral part of the training that will be given to the Malian Government to ensure that they are well aware of the way in which the military should behave when they go into the northern parts of Mali. He will also not be surprised to hear that, on Saudi Arabian and Qatari involvement, I have seen no evidence to support the reports in the media that they are supporting terrorists in the northern part of Mali.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): Islamic extremists have been threatening civil society and committing gross atrocities in west Africa for many years, but the situation in Mali is a marked escalation of violence. As in Afghanistan, the Islamists have been brutal in their suppression of women’s rights in Mali. Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that he will work closely with the Department for International Development to ensure that Malian women are fully involved in any future conflict reconciliation?

Mark Simmonds: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the appalling level of atrocities taking place against women, particularly in the northern part of Mali. I know that she will be pleased to support the Foreign Secretary’s preventing sexual violence initiative, which we are pushing forward and engaging with very seriously across many African countries and elsewhere in the world. My hon. Friend is also absolutely right to highlight the importance of the involvement of women at a much earlier stage in the resolution of conflict, both in northern Mali and elsewhere.

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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): The Minister in his statement reassured the House that British forces will not undertake a combat role in Mali. Could he give an assurance that British forces will not undertake a combat role in future unless there is a debate and vote in this House?

Mark Simmonds: I reiterate what I said before: the Prime Minister made it clear that this is limited logistical support and that there will be no combat troops on the ground. We have no plans to change the military support that we are giving.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Will my hon. Friend say more about the conversations that he has had with Mali’s neighbours, many of which share with it porous borders and the threat of al-Qaeda in Africa? Has he discussed the contribution that those neighbours could make to tackling the threat in Mali?

Mark Simmonds: My hon. Friend is right to make that point. The neighbouring countries are extremely concerned about the possibility of the terrorists expanding their area of control into their countries because of the porous borders. They are keen for the region, under the auspices of the international community at the United Nations, to resolve the problem as far as is possible as quickly as possible. There is great concern about the increasing migration from northern Mali that may occur if the problem continues, and the knock-on that that may well have in Europe. Another problem is the criminality in parts of the Sahel, including drug, cigarette and people smuggling. All those problems need to be resolved as much as is possible, and the international community is working to that end.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Why us again? We have no post-colonial obligations to Mali. Even without mission creep, we are already exposed to possible terrorist reprisals because of the actions that we have taken. We have seen 618 British lives lost in two wars where there was little direct threat to British interests. Why are the Government so eager to put at risk the lives of British citizens in order to become the policeman of the world?

Mark Simmonds: The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not share his analysis. As we have discussed, there are serious concerns not just in the UK, but in Europe and the rest of the international community. China and Russia are concerned about what is happening as well. We are right to provide limited logistical support to the French, who are taking the lead because of their historical links with Mali. The two main reasons we are doing this are security and to support the region in ensuring that the conflict does not spread.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Has a timeline for the transition to democracy been discussed, so that the military can go back to the borders, there can be a civilian Government and the United Kingdom cannot be accused of supporting a military dictatorship?

Mark Simmonds: Of course, there is not a military dictatorship in Mali at the moment. Although there was a coup d’état in March, pressure from ECOWAS, the

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regional African economic group, ensured that the military handed over to a civilian-led transitional Government. My hon. Friend is right about the importance of the success of a political track alongside the military track. That is why, as set out in both UN resolutions, there are detailed timelines for the transition from the current civilian-led Government to a democratic process. However, before that can happen, there needs to be security and stability in northern Mali to ensure that those who live there can participate in the democratic process.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Charities based in my constituency have been active in northern Mali, in particular in Timbuktu, to improve the medical and educational facilities, the local economy and agriculture. They are concerned about the well-being of the people with whom they are working. Will the Minister commit to supporting those charities when a degree of stability and security have been re-established in starting their work again, which is greatly valued by the local people?

Mark Simmonds: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks and, through him, I thank the charitable organisations in his constituency for their excellent and dedicated work. He will be aware of the terrible destruction of some historic Islamic icons that were an essential part of the historic make-up of Timbuktu. I am happy to provide support to the charitable organisations that he talked about. I suggest that he also take up the matter with my right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers in the Department for International Development. It is essential that, when the security situation allows, humanitarian assistance and further assistance to build capacity in the provision of services are allowed in to ensure that people in northern Mali have a proper state under which they can lead happy and fulfilled lives.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I should like to pursue the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). There are obviously people in Mali supporting this action, but how many people are coming from outside the country to support it, and how many countries around Mali appear to be supporting it—not the Governments, of course, but the local people?

Mark Simmonds: I would say three things in response to my hon. Friend. The French deployment is of course at the request of the Malian Government, and the limited British support is at the request of the French. There is no doubt that the terrorist activities in the northern part of Mali have attracted people from outside northern Mali to participate, which is one reason that the matter needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

In response to my hon. Friend’s final point about the support from regional countries, from the discussions that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends in various Departments have had, I think I can assure him that almost all Governments, and therefore people, in the region support finding a long-term, satisfactory solution to the current problems in Mali.

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Crime and Courts Bill [Lords]

Second Reading

5.26 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Our laws need to keep pace with our changing society, and our law enforcement response needs to stay ahead of the changing threat. We have achieved a lot in the past two years. Our police reforms are working—crime is down 10%, and the front-line service is being protected. However, we need to do more to ensure that there is an effective, national response to the threat from serious, organised and complex crime. At the same time, the civil and criminal justice system that we inherited is just not equipped to deal with the challenges of today. Our courts need to be tough on wrongdoing, our non-custodial sentences need to command public confidence and our judiciary needs to reflect contemporary society. The Bill will address all those issues.

Together, the Bill’s provisions will bring our justice system into the 21st century, ensure a focused, effective crime-fighting response to the threats that we face today and better prepare us to fight crime and secure our borders. Over the past two years, the Government have already implemented the most radical reforms that law enforcement has seen in a generation, but there remains a fundamental paradox in policing that we need to correct. While Governments over the years have focused on local policing, they have consistently neglected the threat from serious, organised and complex crime. That threat is far-reaching. It involves about 30,000 individuals across the country and 7,500 organised crime groups, at an estimated annual cost to the economy of up to £40 billion.

However, the real cost of organised crime can be seen in the communities that it terrorises and the lives that it wrecks—the young people whose lives are cut short by drug addiction; the women who are trafficked and forced into prostitution; the children who are denied a childhood through sexual abuse and exploitation; and the elderly and vulnerable who are robbed of their savings through fraud.

In 2011, we set out the first truly comprehensive strategy to combat the threat from organised crime, “Local to Global”. The Bill will establish the agency that will spearhead our operational response by cutting crime and protecting the public. Whereas the law enforcement effort is currently patchy and fragmented, the National Crime Agency will bring a decisive, intelligence-led response to organised crime.

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): The Home Secretary will be aware that the Serious Organised Crime Agency has a network of offices around the world where it does an excellent job in combating narcotics and serious crime. Can she confirm that under the new arrangements those excellent networks and offices will be kept open, even though they may be more streamlined and even more cost-effective?

Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reflecting on the valuable and important work that SOCA does around the world. The international network will continue

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to be maintained. There may obviously be changes over time, depending on requirements and where the intelligence leads us, but it is intended that the international network, which is widely respected because it does such good work, will continue under the National Crime Agency.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I support the restructuring of the landscape of policing but I am a bit concerned about the budgets. When the head of the National Crime Agency gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee he said that the agency would have a budget of £400 million. As the Secretary of State knows, SOCA’s last budget was £400 million, and that of the National Policing Improvement Agency £392 million. The difference is £400 million. Where will the additional money from the merging of those two organisations end up?

Mrs May: The right hon. Gentleman will know that not all parts that were under the NPIA are going into the NCA. Other sections of the NPIA are effectively going into parts of other organisations—some will come to the Home Office; the College of Policing that we have set up will look at standards and training. It is not possible simply to take the two budgets, add them together and say, “Where is the money going?” The money for the National Crime Agency will come from the precursor agencies, but as for other bodies, we will obviously have to look carefully at its budget at a time when forces and others are having to take cuts.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I want to say again how well regarded SOCA is. When the Home Affairs Committee looked at drugs policy around the world it was clear wherever we went that there was huge respect for SOCA, its brand and the work it does to counter narco-trafficking. One recommendation in the Committee’s report on drugs was that we should try to preserve the badge of SOCA—perhaps as a serious overseas crime arm or something—so that we would not have to explain to lots of countries why we had changed its name. Will the Home Secretary look at that idea?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for once again reiterating the good work that SOCA does, and I recognise that there is a brand issue. SOCA is being brought into the National Crime Agency and there will be a serious organised crime command within that agency. What the international parts of the NCA are called, and how they are configured with other commands in the NCA, are currently under discussion.

The National Crime Agency will be a visible, operational crime-fighting agency. It will have four commands—I have just referred to that issue—that will allow it to lead the national response on organised crime, border policing, economic crime and child exploitation. It will fulfil the coalition commitment to create a dedicated border policing command, ensuring a joined-up response to those who seek to enter the UK illegally or in order to do harm. It will be home to the national cybercrime unit, bringing together existing capabilities to keep the public safe from online threats.

The NCA will hold the single authoritative intelligence picture of organised crime affecting the United Kingdom, underpinned by strong powers and duties to ensure it

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can share relevant information across law enforcement bodies. Part 1 of the Bill will give the National Crime Agency the ability to task and co-ordinate the law enforcement response to organised crime. Individual police forces will continue to play an important role in tackling criminal gangs, but the NCA will ensure its resources are used in the most effective way.

To ensure the right operational response at the right level, the Bill also provides for co-operation and tasking between the NCA and police forces. I would expect agreement to be reached locally about which agency is best placed to take action against a given criminal group. Where—exceptionally—agreement cannot be reached, the Bill provides the necessary backstop powers for the NCA to direct the provision of assistance or that a particular task be undertaken.

The NCA will be operationally focused with an experienced crime fighter at its head. The Bill provides for clear governance arrangements, with an operationally independent director general answering directly to the Home Secretary for delivering the agency’s strategic priorities. Keith Bristow, the NCA’s first director general, has made it clear that to undertake his role effectively he will need an open and responsive relationship with police forces and police and crime commissioners. The Bill will ensure this by requiring that the devolved Administrations and key figures in law enforcement are consulted on the NCA’s annual plan and its strategic priorities. From the director general downwards, NCA officers will need to be equipped with the necessary powers to do their job, so the Bill provides for NCA officers to be designated with the powers of a constable, customs officer and immigration officer.

Given the vital crime-fighting role that NCA officers will have, it is inconceivable to me that their work should be disrupted through industrial action. Although my preference is to reach a no-strike agreement with the relevant unions, the Bill includes a back-stop statutory prohibition on industrial action. Few would wish to contemplate the police being able to strike, and I am pleased that in the other place no one argued against applying the same restrictions to operational NCA officers.

Before moving on to other aspects of the Bill, I want to touch on a possible future role for the NCA in respect of counter-terrorism policing. The House will be aware that the other place voted to remove what was clause 2 of the Bill, which enabled counter-terrorism policing functions to be conferred on the NCA by order. The debate in the other place was about the level of parliamentary scrutiny that should be given to such a decision, not whether the NCA should take on counter-terrorism policing in the future.

I have been clear that no decision on this issue has been taken and that none will be taken until after the NCA has been established and following a detailed review. However, the creation of a national crime agency with a national remit to combat serious, organised and complex crime invites the question whether it should take on national functions in respect of counter-terrorism policing. I do not come to this question with any preconceived ideas about what the answer should be, but it was prudent, in my view, for the Bill as originally introduced to have included a future-proofing provision.

I also recognise the points raised in the other place about possible future decisions on counter-terrorism policing and sensitivities in Northern Ireland. Indeed,

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the original clause, as drafted, provided strong protection for the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in relation to counter-terrorism policing in Northern Ireland. I will continue to reflect on the debate in the other place before deciding how best to proceed, and I am sure that the House will want to come back to this issue during the later stages of the Bill’s consideration.

As well as establishing the NCA, we need to ensure that both the NCA and its law enforcement partners have the powers they need to fight organised crime in all its manifestations. In combating fraud and other economic crimes, the Bill confers on the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Prosecution Service the ability to enter into deferred prosecution agreements with organisations alleged to have committed economic wrongdoing. These agreements will enable prosecutors to impose tough financial penalties and other sanctions on organisations for wrongdoing as an alternative to protracted court proceedings with uncertain outcomes.

To support the fight against immigration crime, part 3 of the Bill extends to the UK Border Agency’s financial investigation teams certain surveillance and property interference powers available under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Police Act 1997, as well as asset seizure powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Under the law as it stands, there is an artificial distinction whereby these powers are available to Border Agency staff investigating customs offences, but not to those investigating immigration offences.

On the Proceeds of Crime Act, we need to ensure that our ability to seize money and assets derived from criminal conduct is not undermined by legal loopholes. I can therefore announce that we will table amendments to the Bill that will restore the civil recovery scheme to the position it was commonly understood to be in prior to the Supreme Court’s decision last summer in the case of Perry. In its judgment, the Court held that the scheme only applied to property within the jurisdiction of the UK courts. This judgment significantly weakened the reach of the Proceeds of Crime Act, and it is right that we should take action to prevent those who engage in criminal conduct here from being able to put their ill-gotten gains beyond the reach of the UK courts.

As well as strengthening enforcement at the border through the NCA and UKBA, the Bill will ensure that we can make the most effective use of resources by closing a long-standing loophole in the immigration system. Part 3 of the Bill removes the full right of appeal against refusal of an application for a visa as a family visitor. I know this provision has caused a number of hon. Members some disquiet.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): It has indeed caused a great deal of disquiet and is a repeat of what happened when the Conservatives were last in office. Is it right and proper that someone refused permission to come here for a family visit is denied the right of appeal? In effect, that means that the immigration officer would decide on the application and be the jury. As I understand the position, at least 50% of such appeals are successful. Is that why they are being abolished?

Mrs May: No. What I say to the hon. Gentleman and others who have concerns is that this is the only visitor category that retains a full right of appeal. As a result,

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I think we see some abuse in this system. It is better to focus the resources available for the immigration appeals systems on those appeals, such as on the refusal of asylum, that could have a far greater impact on the lives of the individuals concerned.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): May I ask the Home Secretary to expand on two things? First, will she expand on her suggestion that initially the right of appeal in visitor cases extended beyond families, because that is simply not true? I introduced it as Home Secretary, and it was only ever applied in respect of family visitors and not more widely, as I remember. Secondly, can she explain what she means by the word “abuse”? Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have plenty of appeal cases, and the purpose of the appeal is to filter out those appeals that are genuine from those that may be an abuse. Since at least a third of appeals are successful, however, there is no possible argument for abandoning this right of appeal.

Mrs May: The right hon. Gentleman is right that the family visit route is the only visit route that has this right of appeal. Of course, it is not being abused in all cases. I mention the word “abuse”, because what often happens in the system at the moment with these appeals is that a decision is taken by immigration officers on the basis of the evidence available to them at the application stage. When the appeal goes forward, further evidence is introduced, and it often does not have the same degree of attention and consideration given to it as is given by immigration officers to the evidence given to them in the application process. What we see is not an appeal against the decision of the immigration officer. In many cases—I would say in most cases—an appeal is heard on the basis of different evidence.

Several hon. Members rose

Mrs May: I am happy to give way to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), and there are one or two others.

Mr Straw: Our constituencies differ. Over the past 30 years, I have dealt with hundreds of visitor appeals, and I have to say to the right hon. Lady that what she is being told by her officials is very different from my experience. In the vast majority of cases that go to appeal, the initial evidence has been made available by the applicant, here and abroad, to the entry clearance officers. It is the fact that that evidence has not been properly treated by the immigration officers that then leads to appeals. I ask her to look at the evidence base on which she is relying.

Mrs May: I say to the right hon. Gentleman that in many cases the appeal process for family visit visas is being used just as a means to present fresh evidence into the appeals system in support of the application, and that is not the point of an appeals process. There is another point for individuals who go through the appeals process: if fresh evidence is available, they should make a fresh application. It takes less time for a fresh application to be considered than for an appeal to be

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considered. With a fresh application, people will on average be able to have a decision within 15 days, rather than eight months with the appeals process.

Mr George Mudie (Leeds East) (Lab): In all fairness to the applicants, the Home Secretary should withdraw the word “abuse”. Is it not true that the independent commissioner for the UK Border Agency continues to show concern about applicants being turned down for not sending in documents that they were never told in the first instance were required? If she continues to say the applicants are abusing the system, then in all fairness she must say that UKBA entry clearance officers are abusing the system. Does she not agree that the system does not need to be abolished, but to be made to work more sensibly?

Mrs May: Let me say to all hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have raised this issue that analysis of a sample of 363 allowed family visit visa appeal determinations in April 2011 showed that new evidence produced at appeal was the only reason for the tribunal’s decision in 63% of those cases. In only 8% of cases was new evidence not at least a factor in the allowed appeal. If people have new evidence, they can make a fresh application. It will be heard and considered, and a decision will be given to them in far less time than it takes to go to appeal. A system of appeal is about appealing against the original decision, not appealing against the original decision plus bringing forward extra evidence.

Dr Huppert rose

Mrs May: I really think I have answered questions about this issue, which I am sure will continue to be a matter for debate during the Bill’s progress.

Just as we are bringing the law enforcement response into the 21st century, so this Bill will ensure that our courts and our laws can meet the challenges of today’s society. Part 2 will enable the courts to deal robustly with wrongdoing and will ensure confidence in the system of non-custodial sentencing. For serious offenders —particularly those who use violence—a prison sentence will usually be the appropriate punishment, but where a custodial sentence might not be appropriate, the public must have confidence in the alternatives. A community order that is not perceived as a credible sanction or a fine that is not paid simply brings the criminal justice system into disrepute.

The provisions in part 2 will change that. For the first time, the courts will be required to include a punitive element in every community order. They will also be able to impose a new electronic monitoring requirement, which makes use of global positioning system technology to monitor an offender’s whereabouts. This will protect the public by deterring crime and assisting with detection. Alongside that, the Bill provides for courts to defer sentencing after conviction to allow time for restorative justice. We know that around 85% of victims who participate in restorative justice conferences are satisfied.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I warmly welcome the provisions relating to restorative justice. Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that restorative

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justice will work properly only if the victim is involved and consents to it? In many serious cases, restorative justice will not be the right option.

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is essential that the victims are comfortable with going through the restorative justice process. The figures show that around 85% of victims who participate are satisfied with the response, but it is important that no victim should feel that restorative justice is being in any sense imposed on them. It must be something that they are willing to go through—he is indeed right about that. Restorative justice can also support rehabilitation by helping offenders to realise the consequences of their wrongdoing. This provision will help to put victims at the heart of justice.

At the same time, we are strengthening the ability of the Courts Service to exchange information with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions, so that the courts have the income and benefits data they need to set fines at a level that properly reflects the means of the offender and supports the enforcement of those fines. We are also making it clear that the courts can take account of an offender’s assets when determining the level of a fine, which will ensure that criminals who seek to disguise their wealth are made to pay their dues.

Finally, the provisions in part 2 will bring the judiciary into this century by ensuring that it reflects the communities it serves. Progress has been made in recent years, but it has been slow. Just over one in five judges in our courts are female, and the proportion of black and ethnic minority judges hovers at around just 5%. We need to do better, particularly at the upper echelons of the judiciary. The Bill therefore includes a number of provisions to encourage progress in this area, including provision for part-time and flexible working in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. At the same time, we are providing that where there are two candidates of equal merit, preference may be given to a candidate from an under-represented group.

Keith Vaz: I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way to me a second time. I warmly support what she is proposing. Some of us have been campaigning on the issue for a number of years. I think this will have an effect and will change the nature of the judiciary in this country. I hope, however, that one other issue will also be followed up. I see the Lord Chancellor sitting next to the Home Secretary, and I want to raise the issue of feedback. When in the past ethnic minority and women candidates have applied and been turned down, they have not received effective feedback on how to develop their career in the judiciary. It is not just about changing the law; it is about changing the practices of the Judicial Appointments Commission and the Ministry of Justice to make sure that people have this information.

Mrs May: The right hon. Gentleman raises what I think is an important point, and I can assure him that the Lord Chancellor has heard what he said, and will reflect on those comments and look into that particular issue.

As we bring our courts into the 21st century, our laws must follow suit. Part 3 provides—

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Mr Bellingham: Before my right hon. Friend moves on from part 2, may I ask her for a quick bit of advice? Does she agree that the single family court idea is a very good one? Does she agree that one crucial part of family law is the need for more mediation? Can she assure us that mediation will be built into the system in as many places as possible?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks. The introduction of the single family court is an important measure. I believe that it will get over previous problems with variations in approach and application, which is significant. It has long been my view that, as far as possible, we should encourage mediation—I know it is being looked at by the Ministry of Justice—and it could be a way of reducing the antagonism and bitterness that, sadly, happen all too often when matters get into the courts rather than being dealt with beforehand through mediation.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Before my right hon. Friend moves on from part 2, does she agree that it is bizarre that in 2013 we have this Victorian situation whereby each county court represents its own individual personality? I welcome the changes in the Bill, but will she lean over and ask her right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary whether we will move quickly on this issue to improve justice in the county courts and to cut costs?

Mrs May: Yes, we will do everything we can to improve efficiency in the system and we will look at the whole issue of individual county courts versus a national county court system, as it were. This is part of the Bill. My hon. Friend makes a valuable point about the personalities of county courts.

Part 3 provides for a new drug-driving offence. Over the past 40 years, the drink-driving laws have played an important role in making our roads safer. There is already an offence of driving while impaired through drugs, but it is difficult to secure a conviction, given the need to prove impairment. Drugs were a contributory factor in about 3% of fatal road incidents in Great Britain in 2011, resulting in 54 deaths. This compares to 9% or 166 deaths from drink-driving. We need to adopt the same robust approach to drug-driving as we do to drink-driving.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con) rose

Dr Huppert rose

Mrs May: I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), whom I was about to commend.

Gavin Barwell: In that case, I should have waited before intervening. I first raised the issue of drug-driving at Prime Minister’s Questions on behalf of my constituent Lillian Groves, who was killed outside her home property by a driver under the influence of drugs. The Prime Minister met Lillian’s family, and on their behalf, I would like to thank him, as well as Home Office, Justice and Transport Ministers, for the speed with which they have enacted the change in law that the family was looking for.

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Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I commend him for the campaign he has led on this issue, following the death of his constituent Lillian Groves. He has been resolute on this issue, and I am pleased that we have been able to find a vehicle through which to bring forward this new offence so quickly. The Bill introduces an offence of driving with a concentration of a specified controlled drug in the body in excess of the specified limit for that drug.

Dr Huppert: I thank the Home Secretary for giving way to me a second time. Much depends on what the aim is and how the specified limit should be set. Will she confirm that the aim is to set a level for drugs that is equivalent to the current legal alcohol limit in the blood of 0.08%, and to measure the drug concentration that would indicate the same level of impairment? Is my understanding correct?

Mrs May: My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary and I are currently considering the controlled drugs to be covered by the offence and the limits that should be set for such drugs for driving purposes. As a Government, we have taken a robust, zero-tolerance approach on illicit drugs through the drugs strategy. As we consider the detail of this policy, we will want to send an equally strong message that people simply cannot take illegal drugs and drive.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I particularly commend the provisions on drug-driving. Given the problems I have seen as a practitioner, I am aware of the difficulty of proving the offence. Has consideration been given to further extending provisions beyond controlled drugs to include the impact of psychoactive substances, not least legal highs? We know of the impact they can have in terms of impaired driving, so has consideration been given to broadening the nature of the offence in this provision?

Mrs May: As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), the Secretary of State for Transport and I are looking at what should be covered by this offence, taking into account the drugs that can be identified and the levels that should be set for them. The Department for Transport is taking expert advice on what it is possible to identify within the bloodstream and within people’s bodies at the time that tests are taken.

I know that legitimate concerns have been expressed about the impact of this offence on those who take controlled drugs on prescription—for long-term pain relief, for example—but we have no intention of preventing people from driving where they are taking medication in accordance with medical advice, so the Bill includes provision for a medical defence. We will also want to take into account views expressed in response to the required consultation on the draft regulations, but I believe we must take a strong stand against those who would put other lives at risk by driving under the influence of drugs.

The Bill also delivers on our coalition commitment to ensure that the law is on the side of people who defend themselves when confronted by an intruder in their home. Few situations can be more frightening than when someone’s own home is violated. Faced with that

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scenario, a person will do what it takes to protect themselves and their loved ones. They cannot be expected dispassionately to weigh up the niceties of whether the level of force they are using is proportionate in the circumstances. If the intruder is injured, perhaps seriously, in such an encounter, the householder should not automatically be treated as the perpetrator where, with hindsight, the force used is considered to have been disproportionate. Clause 30 will ensure that, in such a context, the use of disproportionate force can be regarded as reasonable, while continuing to rule out the use of grossly disproportionate force.

I know this change in the law will be particularly welcomed by my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Patrick Mercer), for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) and for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), who have campaigned on this issue for a number of years. I congratulate them on having successfully brought this issue to the attention of Parliament and the public.

Let me now deal with clause 38, which would remove the word “insulting” from the offence of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour in section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. This was added to the Bill in the other place. I respect the view taken by their lordships, who had concerns that I know are shared by some in this House about section 5 encroaching upon freedom of expression. On the other hand, the view expressed by many in the police is that section 5, including the word “insulting”, is a valuable tool in helping them to keep the peace and maintain public order.

There is always a careful balance to be struck between protecting our proud tradition of free speech and taking action against those who cause widespread offence with their actions. The Government support the retention of section 5 as it currently stands, because we believe that the police should be able to take action when they are sworn at, when protesters burn poppies on Armistice day and in similar scenarios. We have always recognised that there are strong views in both Houses. Looking at past cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions could not identify any where the behaviour leading to a conviction could not be described as “abusive” as well as “insulting”. He has stated that

“the word ‘insulting’ could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions.”

On that basis, the Government are not minded to challenge the amendment made in the other place. We will issue guidance to the police on the range of powers that remain available to them to deploy in the kind of situation I described, but the word “insulting” should be removed from section 5.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend. Many of us have been campaigning on this issue for years, and the Government have listened—well done.

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend.

Finally, let me give the House notice of another set of amendments that we will table in Committee. Members will recall that on 16 October, when I made a statement on our extradition arrangements, I indicated that I would present legislation as soon as parliamentary time allowed to make two key changes to the Extradition Act 2003. The first would introduce a new forum bar to extradition, and the second would transfer to the High

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Court the Home Secretary’s responsibilities for considering representations on human rights grounds. I have decided that we should seize the opportunity provided by the Bill so that we can give effect to the changes as soon as possible.

I am grateful to the House for allowing me to explain those key provisions. The Bill will build on our reforms of the policing landscape by delivering an effective national response to serious and organised crime and securing our borders, while also strengthening public confidence in the justice system. Its provisions are timely and important, and I commend it to the House.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. A time limit will be announced after the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has finished her speech. Members who are preparing the length of their speeches in their heads should think in terms of not much more than 10 minutes.

6.1 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): The Home Secretary has made some big promises about the Bill today. She has said that it will transform the fight against organised crime—indeed, to hear her speak one would think that there was no fight against organised crime before the Bill was drawn up—and that it would solve the problem of economic crime, transform punishment and rehabilitation, stop illegal immigration, and save money, all at the same time. One might think that this Bill alone would persuade all dangerous criminals to stop in their tracks and embark on a life of charity work.

You will forgive Labour Members, Mr Deputy Speaker, if we express a bit of scepticism about the claims that the Home Secretary has made—although we support many of the measures in the Bill—because we have heard such promises about her legislation from her before. When she stood before us to present one Home Office measure, she told us:

“With a strong democratic mandate from the ballot box, police and crime commissioners will hold their chief constable to account for cutting crime.”—[Official Report, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 708.]

That “strong democratic mandate” turned out to be 15% of the public voting and 3.6% voting Conservative. Introducing the terrorism prevention and investigation measures, she promised that

“public safety is enhanced, not diminished, by appropriate and proportionate powers.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 69.]

As a result of those measures, terror suspect Ibrahim Magag is now on the run, and unless the Home Secretary has any more information with which to update the House, we must assume that she, and we, still have no idea where he is. He was last seen getting into a black cab.

The Home Secretary told us:

“it’s clear… that we can improve the visibility and availability of the police to the public.”

She also said that

“lower budgets do not automatically have to mean lower police numbers”.

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The result has been 15,000 fewer police officers, and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has concluded that the police are less visible and less available too. So we start with a certain caution about the promises that the Home Secretary has made. The Bill does not live up to the billing that she has given it. Even when the intentions are good, there are areas in which the detail does not stack up, and Labour Members believe that she is still missing an opportunity to change course on some of the wider policies that are making it harder for the police to keep the public safe.

Parts of the Bill are very valuable. We believe that more can and should be done to strengthen the fight against serious and organised crime, and that more can and should be done to introduce greater diversity into the judiciary. I welcome the points that the Home Secretary has made about that. We also support stronger action against drug-driving. People who drive dangerously, and even kill and maim, on our roads because they have taken illegal drugs and cannot control their cars should be caught and prosecuted. We also think it right for gang injunctions to be imposed by the youth courts; and it is certainly about time we did away with the offence of scandalising the judiciary. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) will comment on many of those justice issues when she responds to the debate.

Let me say a little more about the central reforms in the Bill. The central measure is intended to strengthen the Serious Organised Crime Agency and to rename it. In fact, the vast majority of the National Crime Agency’s work will be what SOCA does now. We agree that SOCA should be strengthened: it has done very important work, but given the changing patterns of national and international crime, it should have more powers and scope. The valuable work that it has done so far, which the Home Affairs Committee has looked at, includes achieving a conviction rate of more than 90%, and bringing to justice people involved in the organising of illegal immigration, drug trafficking, slavery and cybercrime. However, the police need to do more in certain key areas in which action by individual forces alone is not sufficient, including serious organised crime—which can cost up to £40 billion a year—and people trafficking. The number of international and cross-border crimes has been growing. Economic crimes cost an estimated £38 billion a year, and new offences such as cybercrime are becoming increasingly complex to handle.

Keith Vaz: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the worrying things about SOCA, despite its success in many respects, was that it seized less than it cost overall? It is important not just to create organisations such as the National Crime Agency, but to benchmark them to ensure that they meet the expectations of the public and Parliament.

Yvette Cooper: I agree with my right hon. Friend. Evidence given to his Home Affairs Committee by the new head of the National Crime Agency suggested that it did not necessarily expect to increase the amount that it seized, so we shall want to monitor its work closely. As my right hon. Friend says, it is likely that more action will be expected. We think that more can be done overall by all police forces, particularly in regard to matters such as the proceeds of crime and child exploitation.

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The recent Savile case shows quite how much needs to done throughout society to increase protection and prevention.

We agree that more action is needed in each of those areas, and the Bill provides an opportunity to ensure that more action is taken, but if we look at each area in turn it is not clear to us that the Home Secretary’s proposed measures will be sufficient. She has said, for example, that the National Crime Agency will be able to do more to deal with international crime, but in fact its hands will be tied. She wants to pull out of European co-operation on justice and home affairs. She is keen to opt out of the European arrest warrant, and wants to ditch the sharing of data with other European police officers on sex offenders who travel across borders. The arrest warrant has been used to bring back 39 people suspected of serious child sex offences, 65 people suspected of drug trafficking and money laundering, and 10 people suspected of human trafficking. Those are the very criminals whom the National Crime Agency is supposed to pursue.

It would be helpful if the Home Secretary, or the Minister who responds to the debate, told us how many of the police officers and crime experts who are currently working on international and cross-border crime support the plans to opt out of European co-operation, and how many of them think that the work of the National Crime Agency will be easier or harder if the Government opt out.

Mr Djanogly: On the basis of the right hon. Lady’s rationale, I assume that she will be very pleased by the introduction of the single family court. There will be a single point of entry between the courts, and judges will work together in those courts so that the child cases to which she has referred can be dealt with better and faster.

Yvette Cooper: I think that the reforms of family courts will have a great many benefits. They are the result of independent reviews, and a considerable amount of work over some time, to establish how those courts can be improved, particularly from the point of view of the children involved. We certainly support measures in the family courts that can improve support for children, including child protection.

There are clearly problems on the international front in regard to the work that the NCA will do. Let me now deal with some of the issues on the domestic front. The Home Secretary has said that she wants to strengthen national action against serious crimes, but, as was pointed out by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the new National Crime Agency faces increased responsibilities with a budget 20% lower than that of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. It will supposedly do everything that SOCA did while picking up new responsibilities from the National Policing Improvement Agency, doing extra work at Britain’s borders, and expanding work on tackling cybercrime and on tackling economic and financial crime. It is going to do this with, by my assessment, a cut in the budget of at least £80 million—as the Home Affairs Committee Chair has suggested, the budget cut could be considerably more.

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The detail of how the NCA will work remains confused. We still do not know how it will relate to the new police and crime commissioners, who will not be consulted on the NCA’s strategic priorities but whose forces will have to respond and do what the NCA says. Legally, the Bill provides for the NCA to direct chief constables over resources and priorities in their areas, but can a police and crime commissioner who disagrees sack the chief constable? How will this be resolved? What will the relationship be between the NCA, the UK Border Force and the UK Border Agency? Will the NCA be able to task border officials in the way that it will be able to task chief constables, or is the border command to be simply a co-ordinating committee? Questions are also unanswered in relation to the economic command. What will the relationship be with the Serious Fraud Office and with the City of London police on economic crime? Will the NCA be able to set tasks for the SFO, or is the economic command just another co-ordinating committee?

None of those things is clear. The Home Office has promised that many of the questions would be answered by the framework document, yet it still has not been published. Under pressure from their lordships, the Home Secretary has finally published an outline framework document, but it is hardly illuminating; all it gives is a list of bullet points. For example, it contains the heading:

“Accountability to the Home Secretary”.

Under that heading the bullet point simply reads:

“How that accountability relationship will be supported by Home Office officials”.

That is all it says, so this is not a framework document; it is simply a Home Secretary to-do list.

Again, we are being given a lack of detail, even though we know that detail matters. The Home Office’s failure to provide the detail in debates in this House on previous legislation has caused considerable problems; one such example was the failure on detail that meant that £350,000 had to be spent reprinting the ballots for the Welsh police and crime commissioner elections.

Big policy areas are also not being addressed here. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is being absorbed into the NCA, despite the reservations of many experts. More importantly, the Home Secretary is missing the opportunity to strengthen the work on child protection and tackling sexual exploitation at a vital time, and to set up an overarching review, led by child protection experts, into how Jimmy Savile was able to get away with terrible abuse of children over many years.

The Home Secretary also referred to the counter-terror measures raised in the House of Lords, where her proposal to transfer counter-terror from the Met to the NCA has raised considerable alarm. I welcome her saying that she will consider the points raised on whether that should be done in primary legislation rather than in secondary legislation. The former Met commissioner Lord Blair said:

“in my lifetime no change more significant than this in the policing arrangements to protect our nation has ever been contemplated…Such a decision deserves primary legislation”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 November 2012; Vol. 741, c. 115.]

Former Met commissioner Lord Condon has said:

“This is a hugely important matter that deserves primary legislation rather than an affirmative order…History tells us that

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more than 80% of terrorist incidents in this country happen in London.”—[

Official Report, House of Lords,

27 November 2012; Vol. 741, c. 116.]

Of course, even more of the counter-terror problems will lie with the Met now that the Home Secretary has removed relocation from control orders.

Mrs May: May I just correct the right hon. Lady on one point she made? She said that this Bill dealt with my “proposal” to move national responsibility for counter-terrorism policing from the Met to the NCA. I made it clear in my speech that I have no preconceived idea on this matter, but as we set up a national crime agency to deal with serious, organised and complex crime it is right that the question be asked, when that agency is up and running, about where it is appropriate for counter-terrorism policing to lie. That will take place after a proper review. As I say, I have no preconceived idea about this, so it is not the case that this Bill deals with a specific proposal.

Yvette Cooper: I must then say to the Home Secretary that she does not need to legislate for it now. If she has genuinely not made a decision, why take pre-emptive legislative powers for a decision she has not yet taken and a review she has not yet done? She will know that the nature of the Home Office means that Home Office legislation is always being introduced, and there will be plenty of opportunity for primary legislation and a proper debate in this House and in the other place. How are Members of this House and Members of the House of Lords, where, as she knows, there is considerable expertise on counter-terror and on policing, supposed to debate a hypothetical proposition—she now says she has not yet made it—and a decision she has not yet reached? It would be far better to respect the expertise in the other place and the views of this House by not legislating now on this matter, by holding a proper review, and by having that genuine debate on it and then coming back to the House with proper proposals in primary legislation, if she so concludes that it is the right thing to do.

We will also wish to discuss other areas of the Bill in Committee. I hope that the Home Secretary will also now accept the Lords amendments on the regulation of bailiffs, adding safeguards to prevent abuse. We also hope that she will support our proposals to go even further with stronger powers for immigration officers to tackle illegal immigration. She has raised the issue of the forum bar, on which she wishes to introduce amendments, and we hope that extensive discussion can take place on that. We have discussed it briefly when she has made statements to the House before and we are keen to work with her on how to make that bar effective. As she knows, some legislation is already on the statute book on this issue, but all sides have found it difficult to work out how to make the detail work. We therefore look forward to those discussions.

We also wish to discuss stronger checks and balances for the NCA through the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The safeguards in respect of the IPCC looking at the NCA are astonishingly weak in the Bill, and we hope the Home Secretary will strengthen them. She will also know from the points that hon. Members have made that there is concern about visa appeals. The point she needs to consider is that in a third of cases looked at by the inspector the entry clearance officer

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had not considered the evidence properly. That was not about new evidence; the entry clearance officer had not considered the existing evidence properly. So there is a serious concern about the quality of the initial decision making.

We also want to deal with the issue of section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. I hope that before that comes up in Committee the Home Secretary and her Ministers will be able to provide the House with an assessment of the impact of section 5 on different groups, particularly vulnerable and minority ones. Many people have said that the existing section 5 has formed some kind of protection for them, so it would be helpful to know that before we reach that point in Committee.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Does that mean the Labour party does not share the welcome voiced by the two parties on the Government Benches for the Government’s acceptance of clause 38 and the removal of the word “insulting” from the Public Order Act?

Yvette Cooper: Like the Home Secretary, I have always questioned whether there was a case for removing this measure in the first place. If she has carried out further analysis and believes it can be removed while maintaining protection for groups that might be discriminated against or where the police need to have the flexibility to respond effectively, we would be keen to see that evidence before we get to Committee. It is important to ensure that we protect freedom of speech, but it is also important to ensure that we can protect vulnerable groups from unfair discrimination.

Dr Huppert rose

Mr Leigh rose

Yvette Cooper: I will give way, but I say to hon. Members that this issue will be covered in Committee.

Dr Huppert: Has the right hon. Lady seen the letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions highlighting the fact that there has been no prosecution using this provision that could not have been achieved in other areas? There is a big difference between insulting and abusive action, and if there is no risk to prosecutions free speech can be safely defended in this case.

Yvette Cooper: I am aware of the points the DPP has made, but I simply ask, because this is important, that the Government undertake an equality impact assessment on the impact on different groups, in order to be sure that they are doing the right thing before this matter reaches Committee.

Mr Leigh: It is not clear what the Labour party’s official position is. This consultation has gone on for more than a year, and everybody knows the arguments one way and the other. The Labour party opposed clause 38 in the other place, so what is it going to do in Committee?

Yvette Cooper: As did the Government in the other place, and we look forward to their evidence on this measure’s impact on different minority groups.

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The problem with the Bill is that it will not deal with the wider difficulties facing policing and the perfect storm of the Home Secretary’s making that we now face. At a national level, she has abolished the NPIA without any clue about what to do with its functions. We now have the National Crime Agency, the College of Policing, NewCo—the new IT company—police and crime commissioners and police and crime panels, but we have no clear view of how any of them will work together. The Bill does not set out how that clarity should be provided.

At the same time, the Home Secretary is cutting 15,000 police officers—the very people who need to do the job of fighting serious and organised crime in every community. The number of young police officers as new entrants has dropped by 50%, yet the most experienced officers are going too. Half of all police forces do not have a permanent chief constable and the officers left in the middle are facing a crisis of morale, with 95% saying that they believe that the Government and this Home Secretary do not support them.

Fewer criminals are being arrested and fewer are being prosecuted, international co-operation is being undermined and counter-terror powers are being weakened; now there is confusion over these reforms. I hope that the Home Secretary will make further improvements to the Bill, but, more importantly, I hope that she will rethink her wider policy on policing and crime before it is too late.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. We will start with a 12-minute limit on speeches, although that does not mean that Members have to take 12 minutes, of course. That limit may well be reduced later this evening.

6.20 pm

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): I want to support some of the many excellent provisions in the Bill, and in particular the inclusion of drug-driving as an offence on which the police can act at the roadside in a proportionate and simple manner. There have been many such cases of which I have been made aware and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on having campaigned on the issue with great success.

I am disappointed that the Government have not taken the opportunity to go slightly further and consider road traffic offences more generally, including the laws on those who drive while medically unfit. Of course, the problems caused by drug-drivers and those who drive while medically unfit are incredibly similar from a public safety point of view. In both cases it is an offence to drive, but the law is not effective in preventing the problem.

Arguing for the drug-driving offence in another place, Lord Henley recognised that although being unfit through drugs is an offence, it is not prosecuted often enough because of the difficulty the police have in trying to prove that the driver is sufficiently impaired. That has hampered the police in taking drug-impaired drivers

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off our roads and the new provision will give the police a proportionate power to do so and punish them appropriately for endangering the public.

I do not consider those who drive while unfit for medical reasons in the same category as drug-abusing drivers; nor do I believe that they should necessarily be punished as severely as they might be under the Bill. Drugged and drunk drivers have made a decision to incapacitate themselves, whereas those driving while unfit for medical reasons might not have done. The effect on our roads is the same, however, as that driver is incapacitated while driving a vehicle that can kill.

The police should have the power to take a licence away or prevent someone they believe to be unfit to drive from doing so until it can be established otherwise. We know that 1,100 casualties and 50 deaths are caused every year by drug-driving, but I cannot quote the number of casualties on our roads caused by people driving while they are medically unfit—for example, because their eyesight is impaired—because we do not record the figures. In my short time as a Member of this House, however, several tragic cases have been brought to my attention.

One such case was brought to me by one of my constituents, whose niece, Natalie Wade, died on the way to buy her wedding dress, mown down by a driver who categorically knew he was unable to see appropriately to drive but continued to do so. He refused to recognise his obligation to report that to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which is what we require medically unfit drivers to do. Hon. Members might also be aware of the case of a lady called Cassie McCord, who was killed by a driver with impaired eyesight who had been stopped three days earlier by the police. The police were unable to prevent him from driving, he continued to do so and she died when he ran her over only three days later.

We do not stop such people driving but we need to avoid these preventable deaths. The very least we could do is allow the police to do their job, and when they recognise that individuals are clearly unfit to drive for whatever reason—drug-driving or medical impairment—we should allow them to act.

Dr Huppert: The hon. Lady is making an extremely good point and she is absolutely right to say that we must focus on the level of impairment, not the cause. If it is a question of road safety, we must focus on a solution whereby people who are unfit to drive for medical reasons or because of drugs or alcohol that they have recently consumed should be unfit because they have reached a threshold of impairment, not because of the cause of that impairment.

Rebecca Harris: Someone who is apprehended by the police because their driving is impaired by alcohol can have their vehicle taken from them at the roadside, and the new provisions will go a long way towards ensuring that that happens more often with drug-driving and that we can prosecute drug-drivers more readily and more easily. If a person fails a roadside sight test, however, such as that which one needs for a driving licence, it is impossible for the police to take their keys and require them to have an eye test. Perhaps we could extend the scope of the Bill—I hope in Committee that

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we can take the provision one step further and consider those who are medically unfit to drive, for whatever reason.

6.25 pm

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): My earlier ministerial responsibility in the Home Office tempts me to say a great deal about the Bill, which I recognise as a classic Home Office Christmas tree Bill. If time allowed, I would want to say more about why I believe clause 30 to be completely unnecessary, given the repeated assurances of the police and Crown Prosecution Service that if householders act instinctively and honestly in defending themselves they will always find the law on their side. I would also want to say a little more about my views on clause 38, although the Home Secretary has confirmed the Government’s position on that. I welcome that decision—[Interruption.] I gather that my welcome is welcomed, but I doubt that the sky will fall in as a result of the Government’s decision. We shall see.

In the time available, I want to focus on two particular areas. The first concerns clause 31 and schedule 15, which deal with non-custodial sentencing. I support part 4 of schedule 15, which deals with electronic monitoring. Tagging continues to play an important part in the criminal justice system, but there is a case for extending electronic monitoring beyond that and including location monitoring. In certain cases, the technology is available, at a cost that is coming down all the time, to allow individuals who pose a threat to others or the wider community to be monitored. I hope that the Home Secretary and other Ministers will take the new power when it is enacted and use it imaginatively to enhance public protection.

I have less problem than some of my good friends in the House of Lords with making it mandatory for community sentencing to have a punitive element. The Home Secretary is right. If victims and the public at large are to be expected to have confidence in community sentencing and if we are to ensure that prison is reserved for the serious and dangerous offenders, the public will expect a punitive element to that sentencing. Great care should be exercised, however, and it is important that the Minister should offer assurances tonight and in Committee about the care that is being taken to ensure that the punitive element is purposeful and offers protection for vulnerable offenders, particularly those who suffer from mental health problems. It is entirely possible for a punitive element to be rehabilitative at the same time. When we make such provisions, we need to trust the sentencers to ensure that they get the balance right between all the different principles of sentencing in each individual case.

I welcome part 7 of schedule 15, which could be renamed the Corston clause. It requires that special provision should be made for female offenders. We have talked about that for a long time and Baroness Corston did some amazing work in her report. She, like many others, continues to advocate that provision and part 7 gives legislative enforcement to her recommendations.

I am strongly in favour of part 2 of schedule 15, which covers the deferral of sentence to allow for restorative justice. We are all increasingly agreed that if an apology, explanation or some form of reparation can be offered

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to a victim of a crime that helps them to rebuild their lives following the trauma that they have had to face, we should all support that. That is at the heart of what restorative justice is all about. More detail is needed, and I hope that in Committee Members will have the opportunity to explore in more detail what might be required to use the provisions in the Bill as a launch pad for further development.

The Bill sets a time limit of up to six months for the deferral. That is too vague. I draw the Home Secretary’s attention to the Northern Ireland Youth Conference Service, which requires a deferral of four weeks only. Within that four-week period, a restorative justice conference must take place and a plan must be drawn up and brought back to the court. I can tell the Home Secretary that in 97% of cases, that task is performed and completed within the four-week period. There is a 70% victim participation rate and a 90% victim satisfaction rate. I commend that to the Home Secretary and I hope that in Committee the time scale issue can be given closer attention. It should be made clear in the Bill that victims have a right to attend a restorative justice conference. It should not be left to local discretion or priority; it should be clear in the legislation.

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice will need to say more about how he intends to make sure that consent is obtained, particularly if deferral is being considered at the end of a trial which has been difficult, when emotions are raw and an understanding of restorative justice may not be at the forefront of people’s mind, especially if someone has been the victim of a crime. We need a better understanding of how consent is to be obtained, because the consent of the victim is crucial to the process.

The Minister also needs to make it clear, perhaps in the Bill as well, that restorative justice is not just for minor offences or for cases on the cusp of custody. Restorative justice offers extensive capability and opportunity, right across. I confess that I was sceptical about whether restorative justice could be used in, for example, serious sexual offences, but having met and heard a victim of rape speak about her restorative justice process and how it had helped her to rebuild her life, I think we should set no limits on the use of restorative justice if the victim of the crime feels that it can be helpful to them in rebuilding their life.

We need to understand how the deferral process interacts with other objectives which the court might have—for example, setting time limits on delay. We could not have a court that was making good use of restorative justice being penalised because that was leading to delay in the outcome of the court process. We await further detail from the Minister about how that will happen.

My final point in relation to schedule 15 and the restorative justice element, about which I hope we will see more detail as the Bill is considered by a Committee, is that all this must be underpinned by appropriate training and quality standards for restorative justice right across the country. The Restorative Justice Council, to which I pay tribute for the tremendous work that it has done over a number a years, is leading this work, and I know that Ministers respect and appreciate the work that it is doing. I look forward to hearing assurances from the Minister that the Restorative Justice Council will have the resources, status and support necessary

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to make sure that at long last restorative justice can be brought from the margins of our criminal justice system firmly into the mainstream.

The other issue that I wanted to touch on in my brief remarks relates to part 1, the creation of the National Crime Agency. I am not against the creation of the National Crime Agency. I want to see a powerful agency co-ordinating and leading the fight against organised crime, but having read the Bill, I do not see the great advantage—the great move on—that the legislation is going to bring about, over and above what we have already. Of course we want an agency that can defeat organised criminal gangs and take their criminally gained assets away from them, but we already have that with the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The Home Secretary was completely wrong to dismiss the efforts of previous Governments, as if they had never made any attempt to counter organised crime. That is nonsense, and if the right hon. Lady is honest with herself, she knows that.

When the Serious Organised Crime Agency was launched in 2006, it had two key issues to address in respect of its organisation. One was to bring the staff together from four different organisations and later from the Assets Recovery Agency. The second was to build operational relationships with the police. Anybody who has followed this over the years knows that it has not been plain sailing all the way, but a huge amount of progress has been made. There should be much greater ministerial acknowledgement of that and the good work that the Serious Organised Crime Agency has done—a base from which the National Crime Agency can begin to build in the future.

There are three specific issues that I want to touch on. The first is about the so-called super-affirmative order. I firmly support its removal from the Bill, which happened in the other place. There is a judgment and a decision to be made about who should be in the lead on counter-terrorism. It rests with the Metropolitan police, and if there is to be a change, the Home Secretary should come to the House and argue for and justify that change. I find it ironic and incomprehensible that the Home Secretary, who thinks that enhanced terrorism prevention and investigation measures and any decision about extending beyond 14 days the period of pre-charge detention should be allowed only through primary legislation, was proposing to give herself through secondary legislation such a key strategic decision. I encourage her to leave the Bill as it is and not to be tempted to seek secondary authorisation through the Bill.

Clause 4 sets out the operational relationships between the National Crime Agency and other organisations. This should be extended to key strategic relationships, not least with police and crime commissioners now that they are established in England and Wales.

My final point is about the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which I was proud to launch in 2006—a unique partnership between children’s organisations, law enforcement and those who operate in the internet industry. When the consultation began, which the Home Secretary started, many feared that the National Crime Agency would mean a downgrading of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. We have had firm assurances and the explanatory note, and the Home Secretary herself has spoken about the

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four commands, one of which is the child exploitation and online protection command. I have yet to be convinced of why that requirement should not be in the Bill. If there is to be a change, it should not be left to a Minister or to the director general of the National Crime Agency. If there is to be any change to CEOP, it is this House that should have the final word.

6.37 pm

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins). He made a characteristically thoughtful speech and we have much to learn from it. I agree with a great deal of what he said, particularly in relation to restorative justice. Like him, I have been to a great many prisons in England and Wales. I have been to about 65 of the 142 that we have in this country and in Wales. Where there was restorative justice, there was a great deal of satisfaction for the victims of those crimes, as well as better behaviour from the criminals. It is important that we get the right people involved in restorative justice, but I commend it as a principle.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Home Office’s proclivity for producing Christmas tree Bills. I would rather flippantly say that the Home Office has produced more Christmas trees than Norway over the past 30 years or so, and the Bill is another fine example. I do not want to denigrate this particular Christmas tree, even though we are well beyond 6 January, because one aspect of it is particularly to be commended. That is the bit that I invented. I refer to clause 32. It is the shortest clause in the Bill and it reads:

“Schedule 16 makes provision about deferred prosecution agreements.”

The right hon. Gentleman, when dealing with restorative justice, referred obliquely to the second shortest clause in the Bill, clause 31, but that is 300% longer than the clause that I am talking about.

Neither the Home Secretary nor the shadow Home Secretary thought it appropriate to talk about deferred prosecution agreements, and why should they? They have plenty of other things to talk about in detail—[Interruption.] I am sure the Home Secretary would like me to correct what I said. Yes, she did mention the subject in passing. I shall mention it in the few minutes left to me, but in rather more detail than she had time to do. Before doing so, I declare my interest as a practising member of the Bar.

Corporate economic crime damages the British economy in monetary and reputational terms, and we are not dealing with it effectively. That is not to say that everything in the past has been hopeless or a waste of resources, but it is time for us to do things better.

Since our Government came into office in May 2010, we have made structural changes to improve our strategic capability. We have a new director of the Serious Fraud Office in David Green, a relatively new chief constable of the City of London police, Adrian Leppard, and there is a new focus on economic crime in the Crown Prosecution Service and the Financial Services Authority, which is soon to change its name. During my two or so years in government, it seemed to me that we needed to do something more and that we should think seriously about introducing deferred prosecution agreements, which are an American procedure.

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DPAs will be not a substitute for either investigations or prosecutions of companies, but an additional and much-needed weapon in the prosecution’s armoury that provides the flexibility to secure appropriate penalties and better outcomes for victims. They are modelled on a long-established system in the United States, but they will be adapted to suit our criminal justice system with far more judicial oversight. In the United States federal courts, DPAs are concluded and promulgated with little, if any, judicial oversight, but when I spoke to judges in America last spring, it seemed to me that those judges were beginning to chafe at the inadequate role that they play in this aspect of the American criminal justice system. The first thing that I learned when I was in America was that we need to engage our judges in this new means of dealing with economic crime.

We are not talking about non-prosecution agreements or other forms of non-criminal—and therefore civil—action to deal with economic crime; we are simply talking about deferment. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East talked about the deferment of penalties; this is about the deferment of prosecutions of corporate entities, companies, partnerships and unincorporated associations.

Law enforcement agencies say that they do not have the tools that they need to tackle increasingly complex economic crimes. Serious Fraud Office investigations can last up to three and half years, with a cost to the agency of approaching £1.5 million, but they do not guarantee success and they leave victims waiting far too long for reparation. A suspect company is disadvantaged by a lengthy and expensive investigation that takes the focus of its management, which is often new, away from the company’s core functions and frequently leads nowhere, save to collateral damage to innocent third parties. On this point, I often cite the example of Arthur Andersen, which became involved in the Enron scandal in the early part of this century. The company collapsed as a consequence of its prosecution by the United States Department of Justice. Some 100,000 people lost their jobs, and pensioners and suppliers to the business were affected. It did not really help that the Supreme Court quashed the convictions some time later because the company had gone and irreparable collateral damage had already been caused to innocent people.

DPAs will allow prosecutors to tackle economic crime—the crimes that will be susceptible to DPAs are set out in paragraphs 15 to 27 of schedule 16, but essentially they are fraud, bribery, money laundering, market fixing and so forth—more effectively and efficiently, but without losing sight of the aims and needs of justice. In appropriate cases, companies will be prosecuted regardless of whether the facts come to light following a police investigation, through self-reporting or via a whistleblower.

A prosecution against a company will be initiated, but continued to trial only if tough requirements, such as the payment of financial penalties and compensation for victims, the recovery of ill-gotten gains and compliance with measures to prevent future offending, policed by independent monitors, are not adhered to within a given period of deferral or suspension. The agreement, and then its precise terms, will have to be formally approved by a senior judge before being announced in open court, which is different from what happens in the United States. The process in this country will very much form part of the criminal justice system and will not permit private deals made behind closed doors.

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Prosecutors will come to know of a company’s conduct through investigation by the authorities, via a whistleblower from within the company, or following self-reporting by the company’s board. Discussions will then follow between the prosecutors and the lawyers for the company. Those will initially be confidential. They might take days or even weeks, but they will continue until the picture is clear. The prosecutors will then consider the facts. On the basis of the information in front of them, they will decide to do nothing; to hand the case over to a foreign jurisdiction, if appropriate; to prosecute, if that is in the interests of justice; or to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement.

Unlike the position in the United States, it will not be open to the prosecution and the company simply to agree between themselves the penalty, the compensation, the monitoring regime and the length of the deferment. The draft agreement must be put to a senior judge in chambers at a private hearing to which the press and the public are not admitted. The judge will need to be persuaded that it is in the interests of justice for there to be a DPA, and that its terms are fair, reasonable and proportionate.

Although the judge will not be able to order the prosecution to prosecute to trial, he can, in an appropriate case, refuse to sanction a DPA or its terms. The parties would then need to renegotiate the terms in the light of the judge’s criticism, or the prosecution must consider whether it ought to prosecute in the normal way. In reality, it is unlikely that the parties will go before a judge in a case when only a full prosecution is merited, or with terms that suggest either oppressive or feeble conduct by the prosecution, but the judge must approve the DPA before the case goes any further. If the agreement is approved, the judge moves into open court, the company is publicly identified and the terms of the DPA are promulgated to the world at large. Those terms will be reportable by the press. They will appear on the SFO or CPS websites, and they will be known to the world’s stock exchanges.

If a company fails to comply with a DPA after it has been announced, depending on the nature of the breach, the prosecution may either take the matter back to court, and apply to terminate the agreement and bring a prosecution, or it may apply to vary the terms, such as by increasing the extent of monitoring or the length of the deferment period. If the company complies and shows that it can be trusted to conduct its affairs within the law before the end of the deferment period, the parties may apply to vary the terms, such as by bringing the DPA to an early conclusion or removing the monitor.

DPAs will achieve justice through appropriate penalties and the recovery of the proceeds of crime. When sanctioned by a judge, they will provide benefits for victims without the unpredictability, expense, complexity or time associated with a lengthy criminal court process and trial. A DPA will bring certainty and a speedy resolution. It will enable a company, especially if it is being run by a new board, to clear the decks and make a clean start. DPAs will enable commercial organisations to be held to account, but without the collateral damage that I identified earlier.

Most importantly, given that DPAs will be concluded in open court, the public will know about the wrongdoing admitted by the commercial organisation and its consequences. There will be no question of companies

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burying their wrongdoing in their annual accounts. Experience from the United States shows that even well-known British companies enter into DPAs with a realisation that they are different from plea bargains or civil recovery orders.

The Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the Serious Fraud Office will issue a code of practice for prosecutors, which will be publicly available, to guide the decision-making process behind DPAs It is also proposed that the Sentencing Council, the statutory body made up of judges, practitioners and academics that publishes sentencing guidelines, will produce guidelines for economic crimes in the near future so that prosecutors, judges and lawyers acting for errant companies will be able to enter into and conclude DPAs with clarity and certainty about the relevant penalties.

DPAs will not be a “get out of jail free” card. The courts cannot send a company to prison but, under a DPA, it would have to admit its wrongdoing and agree to stringent and wide-ranging terms that are tailored to the facts of the case. The agreements are a means of bringing errant companies publicly to justice swiftly, effectively and economically, and it is time that we brought them into our criminal justice system.

In conclusion, I thank all those in the Attorney-General’s Office who worked with me on this proposal, especially my former private secretary, John Peck, as well as all those in the Ministry of Justice who helped me to bring it forward. I also thank the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary for getting the provisions into the Bill.

6.49 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) and to commend the measure that now appears in the Bill.

Ever since the principles of British policing began to be established two centuries ago, there has been a natural and inherent tension between the demand of the British public that policing should be local and the reality that many of the threats that individuals face arise nationally and internationally. The history of British policing in part reflects an effort to try to square the circle of the demand for local control and the reality of national and international threats. When there were 125 police forces in England and Wales alone, the circle was squared by the Metropolitan police having a dual function not only as the force for Greater London, extending far beyond Greater London’s boundaries, taking in a third of Surrey, big chunks of Essex and Hertfordshire, but as a national force as well. For the 30 years following the seminal Police Act 1964, there was a further squaring of the circle by successive Governments, effectively detaching the police from local influence by ensuring that police authorities had very little in the way of democratic representation and the Home Office reigned supreme.

Over the past 20 years that has changed. A succession of measures, in which I was involved partly, has led to increasing local involvement in policing—first when I started the abolition of the role of the Home Secretary as the police authority for London; then with the gradual strengthening of the powers of the Mayor for London as the police authority; and much more recently with

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the establishment of police and crime commissioners. Taken together, those things mean that the accountability of those for our territorial police forces will increasingly be based on local considerations. That being so, there is a greater danger than ever before that national and international concerns could be marginalised. It is for that reason that I welcome the establishment of the National Crime Agency—the result of gradual development that began in 1992 and of many changes under Labour’s Administration. For those who have a weak stomach, as it were, I should say that it is inevitable that the Bill should give powers of tasking to the new director general of the National Crime Agency by which he or she can issue orders, effectively, to local police forces. Without that ultimate power, there will be an imbalance in the priorities that territorial forces can set.

I also happen to believe that there is a very strong case indeed for handing over counter-terrorist policing to the National Crime Agency, as the London police focus becomes more and more local. If that is to happen, however, it is essential that it is by way of primary legislation, not by way of super-affirmative orders. I care about the Minister’s reputation, so I tell him to stay away from super-affirmative orders. They can lead only to a vale of tears. Some Labour Members have gone down that vale and have been only too delighted to have been hooked out and extracted by right hon. and hon. Friends.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I have been listening very carefully to what has been said. How would the right hon. Gentleman see the police and crime commissioners fitting in if the National Crime Agency were in charge of local police forces?

Mr Straw: My point is this: the establishment of the police and crime commissioners is a matter of party controversy, and we will see whether they are embedded or whether there is some change. In any event there has been an increasing focus on giving local people greater say over local policing, and I strongly support that, but it means that national and international priorities—the threats that lead to quite a lot of local crime—could be marginalised. That is why there is a powerful case for a National Crime Agency and the kind of powers of direction that are inherent there. As I say, we have to go a stage further and accept that there will be two levels of policing—a national police service and the local police services—and ultimately the national police service, the National Crime Agency, will have the power to direct the local police services to ensure that national priorities are met.

On the reform of the courts, I welcome the unification of the county courts, which makes complete sense. I particularly warmly welcome the establishment of a single family court. That arises from the review of family justice under David Norgrove, which I established with support from the then Opposition. I am really pleased that, thanks not least to Mr Norgrove’s great acuity and sensitivity about the way in which the system needs to reformed and further changed, it looks as though the review will have important and beneficial consequences.

I changed the law on self-defence back in 2008. I understand why the Justice Secretary was faced with a blank in his proposed speech to party conference and

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thought he needed to say something on this issue. I doubt very much whether it will make any difference at all, because the practice and the law have already changed satisfactorily, but I certainly will not oppose the measure and I do not think my right hon. Friends will either.

The next issue is the right of appeal on applications for visitor visas. I ask the Minister and his colleagues to look again at the arguments that have been advanced to them by Home Office officials. No one—I say this without any levity at all—has greater affection for Home Office officials than do I. I went to great lengths in my memoirs—available in all good bookshops—to defend and to celebrate officialdom, not least in the Home Office. I never sought to blame officials when it is Ministers who set policy and implement it. However, the truth is—I may give away a secret, but too bad—that it is inconvenient for there to be a right of appeal in visitor cases. There was a lot of resistance to it when I introduced the right of appeal in 1998, and I can disclose that throughout the rest of my ministerial career, about once every two years there was a proposal from other Ministers, once I had left the Home Office, to abolish the right of visitor appeal. I blocked it, whatever position I was in. That is why it survived.

Keith Vaz: Another secret missing from my right hon. Friend’s memoirs is the fact that when I was entry clearance Minister he was one of my biggest customers. The important point about that is that the element of discretion—the need to look again at the decision—is absolutely vital, whether it is a Minister saying that they will overturn the decision or whether it goes to appeal. With the reluctance of immigration Ministers to exercise discretion, it is vital that people get the chance to look again.

Mr Straw: My book is being reprinted, I am pleased to say, but when there is a revised edition I will add that. The truth is that—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. As successful as the right hon. Gentleman’s book is, I am sure that we do not need to get bogged down in his book sales. We look forward to the next volume.

Mr Straw: The truth is that my right hon. Friend had to make those ministerial decisions because visitor appeals had not been introduced at that stage. Ministers will end up with a lot more demands on their plate, among other things, if they take the route of abolishing visitor appeals.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that this provision is more important than it was when he introduced it, because a number of our constituents will not be able to satisfy the current price of bringing a husband, for example, into the country, and it is therefore likely that there will be many fathers who can never even see their children in this country?

Mr Straw: I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says.