northern ireland (miscellaneous provisions) bill (programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill:

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(1) Clauses 1 to 9 shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

(2) The remainder of the Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Committee

(3) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(4) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 18 July 2013.

(5) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

(6) When the provisions of the Bill considered, respectively, by the Committee of the whole House and by the Public Bill Committee have been reported to the House, the Bill shall be proceeded with as if it had been reported as a whole to the House from the Public Bill Committee.

Consideration and Third Reading

(7) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(8) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

Programming Committee

(9) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House or proceedings on Consideration or Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(10) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Mike Penning.)

Question agreed to.

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Backbench Business

Careers Advice in Schools

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): If you could take 10 minutes, Mr Birtwistle, I think we will be able to get the other speakers in.

9.15 pm

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of careers advice in schools for 12 to 16 year olds.

I will do my best to keep to 10 minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for putting this subject forward for debate today. One of the main reasons that I wanted this subject to come before the House was so that I could set out the business reasons for careers advice. There is a major boom in manufacturing that is being put in doubt by a lack of skills and the age profile of the people working in the industry. I will provide some statistics relating to my constituency of Burnley. Cities Outlook 2013 placed Burnley 10th in the country for private sector job growth: growth of 3.5% in the past 18 months against an average of 1%. That is a remarkable recovery, and it happened because we are a manufacturing town. Burnley has climbed 16 places to 22nd out of 63 UK cities in the recovery from recession, and is rated as No. 1 out of 63 cities for the proportion of jobs in manufacturing. We are one of the top manufacturing towns in the country.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend, coming as he does from my home town of Burnley, for securing the debate. With engineering and manufacturing companies reporting recruiting difficulties because of skills shortages and too few students choosing to study engineering and manufacturing, does he agree with the North West Business Leadership Team’s recent report, “Skills for Industry”, that the creation of a single, signposted point of contact to aid recruitment into these fields—a recognised organisation for employers offering jobs, and for students and their careers advisers who are interested in applying to do engineering and manufacturing—is urgently needed?

Madam Deputy Speaker: This debate ends at 10 pm. I would like interventions to be brief and to follow the courtesies and convention by being relevant to the point being made by the hon. Member at the moment the intervention occurs. We will then get everyone in.

Gordon Birtwistle: I have read that report and I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.

The Paris air show took place recently and it is a fantastically successful showcase for the British aerospace industry. We are a small country, but we are second in the world for aerospace manufacture. I spoke to Martin Wright, the chief executive of the North West Aerospace Alliance. I said, “You must be absolutely delighted with what has happened at the Paris air show, with Rolls-Royce and Airbus getting big orders.” He said, “Yes, we are absolutely delighted, but we have a major problem: the capacity is full. We cannot produce the product we are selling at the Paris air show.” When I asked him why, he

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said, “Well, there are plenty of companies doing it, but the problem is they come up against a brick wall of skills shortages.” As my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) said, the skills shortages happening now are of major concern to business, but even worse are those that will happen in future. We need to resolve that problem.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The aerospace firm Magellan, which employs many people and apprentices in Northern Ireland and my constituency, has a co-ordinated plan working with schools for 12 to 16-year-olds and those going into further education. Is that the sort of plan the hon. Gentleman would like to see across the United Kingdom?

Gordon Birtwistle: Yes, that is what I am trying to persuade the Government to do.

Why careers advice? Careers advice for young people should start at aged 11 when a child leaves junior school and moves into secondary school.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): Earlier.

Gordon Birtwistle: Yes, and even earlier.

I want to share some examples with the House of the problems there are with our careers advice provision. I spoke to a young lady who went to college in Blackpool. When it came to choosing a career, she said she wanted to be an engineer. Her teachers and careers advisers said, “You’re far too clever to be an engineer. You should be a doctor or a lawyer.” She said, “Well, I can’t stand the sight of blood and the last thing I want to be is a lawyer.” She got a job as an apprentice at BAE Systems at Warton and last year was awarded the apprentice of the year award. BAE Systems sent her to university and she is now on a fast track to management within the company.

The second example is of a young gentleman who went to college in Chester. When he left Chester, he went to Oxford. He was at Oxford university for three months and hated it—he thought it was a complete waste of time and that he was spending money for no return—so he left and got a job as an apprentice at Airbus. When he had served his time at Airbus, the company sent him to university, and he is now a section leader with Airbus. He was pleased to tell me that he had just bought a brand-new Mini and had been delighted to go around on a Friday night, pick up his Oxford friends and take them out for a drink. He had been earning while learning—that is our new apprentice slogan—and so could afford to buy a new Mini, while all his friends who went to Oxford were having problems, could not get a job and had debts coming out of their ears. He was happy to take them out for a drink in his brand-new car on a Friday night.

A wide range of careers advice is required from age 11, but what can we do about it? What careers advice is being offered in our schools? I suggest it is minimal. It is minimal because many of the people giving it have only ever been teachers and unfortunately have never been in the workplace—there are jobs, particularly in Burnley, they do not even know exist. There is light on the horizon, however: there is a company in Burnley called Positive Footprints. A young lady called Lesley Burrows,

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along with three of her friends, Josh, Lynne and Sarah-Jane, set up this company. She is working in a couple of schools where she has set up a virtual jobcentre. From age 11, every time a child comes to school, they will walk through a jobcentre in which is displayed every job available in Burnley and the surrounding area. Those young people can see what is available and can approach one of these four people and ask them, “What is this job?” Positive Footprints can then advise them on what the job is and the child can decide whether they fancy doing it. When they reach 14, they can apply for one of the jobs, so Positive Footprints will show them how to apply for a job, how to write a CV, how to get a reference and so on. And if they really fancy that career, they can speak to the company and ask whether they can go and see what it does. In that way, the young person can be aware of what the job involves. That is the right way forward, and I see no reason why the Government should not adopt such a system to show young people what the future holds.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I am really impressed by my hon. Friend’s story about the female entrepreneurs, and by the young lady to whom he referred earlier who had decided to do an engineering apprenticeship. Does he agree that it is really important for young people to be made aware of the vast number of opportunities out there, and of the GCSEs and A-levels that will help them to fulfil their potential rather than simply do what they feel they might like to do?

Gordon Birtwistle: I agree entirely. We need to show young people what is available in the big wide world. Unfortunately, the advice that they are being offered at the moment is coming from a narrow band of people in school and from their parents at home. There is far more in this world than those people know about.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Gentleman has referred to positive opportunities. Does he agree that it is important not to stereotype young people? For instance, not every engineering job is meant for a male; such jobs also offer opportunities for females. Does he also agree that more such jobs that were at one time thought not to be for females should now be offered to them?

Gordon Birtwistle: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. That young lady in Blackpool was an absolute star. She and a group of young people sat round a table with me, and half of them were young ladies. They were all working at BAE Systems producing Typhoon jets, the finest and fastest jets anywhere in the world. They showed my how they fitted the enormous engines into the aeroplanes and how they wired them up for their missile systems. I was proud of what they did, and I was proud of them for doing it.

The problem is: can we afford to take these extra measures? I agree with the Government when they say that we have to chop back revenue spending. We have to cut the deficit, but this would be investment spending. We have to invest in the young people of the future. That might cost a little, but we will get a return on that investment year after year. Basically, we cannot afford not to do this. We have to be able to afford to do it; otherwise, our young people will be out of work, our industries will be bereft of quality staff and the skills

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will disappear as older men and women leave their jobs. I asked the biggest company in Burnley about the age profile of its skilled engineers who screw together the thrust reversers that fit on the back of the Trent jet engines that Rolls-Royce makes. I was told that their average age was 47. In another 20 years, those guys will have gone. Who will replace them? At the moment, there are very few people who could do so. We have to get on with it.

Fiona Bruce: Is my hon. Friend aware that the same applies to electrical engineering? Dutton’s in Middlewich in my constituency is having to fly in engineers from Europe and Ireland to supplement the skills that it can find here.

Gordon Birtwistle: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. This is happening in every business. It is happening not only in mechanical engineering but in electrical engineering and construction engineering.

We need to train young people for the future, and that starts with careers advice at school. We need to show young people what is available, what they need to do and how they can get involved with the appropriate industries. The Minister is a young woman and she knows what is going on in the world. I am confident that she will take this on board. I hope that she understands that careers advice for young people is an investment that this Government have to make.

9.29 pm

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle), who should be commended for securing the debate. Like him, my interest in these matters stems principally from my role in supporting manufacturing in Parliament, and from the feedback that he and I have received from our meetings on that subject.

In the current economic climate, in which all sides agree that youth unemployment is still unacceptably high, it follows that the issue we are discussing is of paramount importance. Governments of any political make-up have a duty of care to ensure that young people are given the best possible opportunities. Careers advice in the UK, however, is extremely patchy and often of poor quality, and frequently both. The problem has not been improved by some of the reforms that the Government have introduced.

In the short time available, my aim is to outline the two main areas where I feel careers advice is suffering: first, the fundamental lack of consistency in the offer of careers guidance to students up and down the country; and, secondly, the concerns that I and, I know, many employers have about the quality and standard of careers guidance as it relates to the needs of our economy. I will conclude by offering suggestions about what the Government could do to reverse this worrying trend.

The first area where I believe problems of careers advice lie is the fact that it is often not delivered. One of the conclusions in the Education Committee’s report, “Careers guidance for young people: the impact of the new duty on schools”, published earlier this year, was:

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“The Government’s decision to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools is regrettable...this has led, predictably, to a drop in the overall level of provision.”

I understand that more than eight out of 10 schools across the country have reduced the careers advice provided to pupils, and that dedicated careers services have frequently been axed.

In my borough of Tameside, where my constituency is based, Government cuts to local authority budgets have meant that careers advice and guidance services for young people have been fundamentally slashed—first by 65%, and then a year later by a further 50%. The effects are already becoming clear, as a recent study by the Education and Employers Taskforce showed: 12 to 16-year-olds have widely mismatched job ambitions, with a clear lack of understanding of what jobs are out there, of how to get them, and of the pay and expectations that go with them.

It is clear that this transfer of responsibility has exacerbated a postcode lottery in careers advice, which the Government appear to acknowledge in their response to the Select Committee report, by accepting

“that some schools are still adjusting to their responsibilities under the new duty”.

The question we must ask tonight is whether pupils are getting the information they need to make informed career choices. The evidence at the moment says that they are not. This has to change.

My second point is about the quality and standard of careers advice, particularly with regard to the needs of employers. As a vice-chair of the associate parliamentary manufacturing group, I hear from many manufacturing companies that feel that young people have little or no understanding of their sector or their employability needs. Those points were vividly illustrated by the hon. Member for Burnley. Only recently, John Cridland told the Government that careers advice is on “life support”, and that not enough was being done to help youngsters in a rapidly changing job market.

It is important to remember that both pupils and employers suffer. A CBI report recently found that employers felt 55% of school leavers lacked the right work experience, with this being a real problem in the manufacturing industry—an industry that I and many colleagues believe is absolutely vital to this country’s economy.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making some powerful points. Like me, he is passionate about manufacturing. I would like to hear what he would suggest the Government do to bridge the gap between the needs of young people and the needs of employers. With BAE Systems in my constituency, I am passionate about that subject.

Jonathan Reynolds: I would like to see a number of specific things applied to all aspects of career advice. In manufacturing, one of the principal things to change is the perception. I find it incredible that some people still believe that manufacturing is somehow a dirty industry and not the high-tech example that we see in BAE Systems. Challenging gender stereotypes is another highly important issue for manufacturing. What may be harder to achieve is getting it across to people that while BAE Systems and similar companies are important, it is the associated supply chain that really generates the

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wealth and the opportunity for jobs. My constituency predominantly has companies of that sort; it would be valuable if we could get more information out about the success of those companies, particularly in export markets where many are doing very well relative to the rest of the economy.

I am pleased that the Government have said in response to the Select Committee’s report:

“Good careers advice should be informed by labour market intelligence…grounded in the realistic context of the needs of today’s employers”.

I also welcome the commitment that there will be a

“strengthening of the relationship between the National Careers Service and Local Enterprise Partnerships.”

However, more action is needed to support such overarching themes and changes. The Government have said that in carrying out the new duties, schools are expected to work in partnership with employers as appropriate. What direct, on-the-ground support does the Minister envisage will be made available to schools to allow that to happen?

In an economic climate in which jobs are already scarce, careers guidance for 12 to 16-year-olds appears to be in emergency care. We often hear about the danger of a lost generation, and the not in education, employment or training figures are unacceptably high. Therefore, high-quality and readily available careers advice, appropriately matched to the needs of our economy, is absolutely vital. All is not lost, however; the Government can do a lot to remedy the situation. They do appear to be listening, and they have accepted that there is more to do, particularly in helping local authorities meet their statutory needs. A more fundamental change of attitude is needed, however, so that careers advice is not seen as an afterthought, but is at the heart of a child’s education—I agreed with the Minister’s heckle on the hon. Member for Burnley, that such advice must begin earlier than the age of 12.

Schools need more help—both financial help and guidance—from the Government, but it does not necessarily have to be at high cost. Crucially, to raise standards and quality across the board, I believe Ofsted should inspect careers advice in schools. I know that Ofsted has requested that, and the Government are currently reviewing it.

I hope the Government listen carefully to all that is said in this important debate. I hope that they take on board some of the constructive suggestions, which I hope they will hear. We all want a system that meets both the Government’s objectives and the needs of the employers in our constituencies, and I hope the Government will bring forward further plans to help promote that.

9.36 pm

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): It is an honour to follow distinguished Members from the north-west—it is interesting to note that all those who have contributed to the debate so far, with one honourable exception, have come from the north-west of England, and that shows the enthusiasm and commitment across the House on this vital subject.

I am delighted to speak in this debate on careers advice. Like my hon. Friend the Minister, I spent most of my career in business. She fully understands the importance of enterprise, initiative and risk taking. I remember the burning passion she expressed in her maiden speech to increase the focus on maths, science

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and technology, and to move them from geek to chic— I agree with that, and I leave it to hon. Members to decide who has been most successful in taking that forward.

Like the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle), I want to focus my remarks on careers in business, in relation to which pupils have historically not been well served by careers advice. One of the key questions children should be asked is, “Hands up, who wants to have a career in business?” In the past, the answer to that question has too often been equivocal; that answer not only shapes the life chances of young people but has a major bearing on the competitiveness of this country. It is absolutely vital that we encourage more pupils to embrace the culture of enterprise and that we signpost that career trajectory for them.

The days of careers advice being simply a one-to-one meeting between a careers adviser and a pupil in a room somewhere in a school, looking at some book, have long gone. That model is hopelessly out of date, is 20th century in its focus, and fails to notice that young people have embraced new technologies and new approaches to gathering information. I believe passionately that we need to look at completely new models to engage youngsters—practical business engagement projects, which signpost ways into careers, that are relevant to young people and to what needs to happen in the world of business.

I welcome the Government’s moves to create the National Careers Service and to require schools to secure independent careers guidance on a full range of education and training options It is also right, and critically important, that clear destination measures are published, so that we know the outcomes of such activity. I hope that the destination of many more young people will be a career in manufacturing, enterprise and commerce. Like many others, I await with interest the report of the Ofsted thematic review. I want to see how we can raise ambitions, help people to improve their skills, and raise awareness. We should never be shy of taking on those important tasks.

Sadly, according to a recent CBI survey, 70 % of employers feel that school leavers do not demonstrate enough business awareness. An Ofsted report on business education, published in June 2011, went further, saying that students taking part in business-related education often had

“only vague ideas about the economy”.

That must change.

In 2012, just 58,000 pupils in England chose to take GCSEs in business studies, whereas 70,000 took GCSEs in drama and nearly 98,000 took them in physical education. Of course, a GCSE in business studies is not the only, and perhaps not even the best, benchmark of business education, but if a dedicated course in business studies is demonstrably not appealing enough to young people, or rigorous enough to be endorsed and recognised in further and higher education, we need to think about how else we might work the thread of business, economics and enterprise into the skills set and the career trajectory.

It is a sad fact that too many of our students are not particularly likely to be “signposted” into thinking about business skills and the need for a career in business. They are also unlikely to continue their business education

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after graduation. I am glad that the Government have woken up to the idea that it is about time to step up a gear in the global race.

Australia has just conducted a nationwide consultation on the place of economics and business in a future-orientated school curriculum. It plans to start introducing business and economics themes into formal education at an earlier stage than was suggested by the hon. Member for Burnley, when children are only 10. Australia’s aim is to ensure that the resulting knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs and values encourage students to participate in economic and business activities, so that the country can compete fully in the Pacific rim. I believe that we should take every possible step to improve our own country’s competitiveness on the international stage.

It is vital that we bring more local business leaders into the classroom to put the case for business and act as positive role models. What we need and want are careers in action, not careers in abstract. Local champions can bring much-needed experience to schools, nurture talent, and excite pupils by showing them what can be achieved and how to set about achieving it. The Federation of Small Businesses has recently been trying to increase by hundreds the number of schools and colleges that engage with businesses, and is encouraging many of its members to become school governors. I believe that its work is vital. Much more can be done in schools to prepare pupils for their future careers in our future economy.

This is not just about the classroom, however. We need to build on best practice in extra-curricular activities. Exceptional work is being done at All Hallows Catholic college in Macclesfield, where enterprising students in all age groups have been encouraged to set up their own small businesses, face a “Dragons’ Den”-style panel of judges, and engage with local businesses—Manchester United, for one. When finalising their business plans and marketing strategies, they receive input from those businesses. What is more, the profits that they make are put back into the local community, and into the work that is done to support those in India who are needier and more deserving. Those amazing activities have completely changed the culture in the school.

More businesses need to come forward to engage with schools. Siemens, in nearby Congleton, recently involved local schools in a “rollercoaster challenge” to interest people—particularly young people—in engineering. Competitions such as that are practical ways of making young people think about what they could do with their careers, and about their GCSE choices. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), would be keen to agree that, further south in Cheshire, Bentley is providing fantastic work experience.

I could move on to talk further about apprenticeships, but time does not permit me to do so. There are so many options that we can bring to bear to help us in this vital task. Winston Churchill wrote in his inspiring book, “My Early Life” that the world was made to be

“wooed and won by youth.”

We need to embrace that sentiment in the way we provide careers advice, to help the next generation of business leaders in the UK to be not only highly skilled, but properly advised and fully motivated to improve the nation’s economic competitiveness.

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9.45 pm

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): We have had an interesting, if petite, debate. All Members present share a belief in the value of careers guidance, but that might not be shared by the Government Whips Office.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) on securing this important debate. He spoke brilliantly and passionately about rebalancing the economy and how that might be undermined by skills shortages, with particular reference to the aerospace industry and the question of a gender divide and the number of young female engineers. I take on board, too, his point about the challenge of providing careers advice in schools. That is why the Opposition thought it was an error to take £200 million out of the previous career Connexions service, which did not serve to follow the policy through into schools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) spoke brilliantly about patchy careers advice and the effect that can have. He rightly highlighted the critique provided by the Education Committee, which said it was regrettable that the careers advice function had been moved into schools. He spoke, too, of the axing of dedicated careers services. We have seen that right across the piece, which is why this debate is so important. The Government careers policy is directly opposed to everything the hon. Member for Burnley seeks to put in place to rebalance our economy. My hon. Friend also spoke very well about the mismatching of jobs to ambitions. We should also note the comments of the Government social mobility tsar, Alan Milburn, about young people not doing the right A-levels, and then seeking to go to university with very good grades only to find that they have been poorly advised as to what degree to pursue.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) drew on his career in business to argue strongly for a more business-focused careers guidance, and for getting business advocates into schools. Like us, he is hopeful that the destination measures will provide some degree of clarity. He contrasted the business GCSE with the drama GCSE, but that was a little unfair, I think, as one of the great business strengths of modern Britain is our drama industry—our cinematic and theatrical industries. He was right, however, to urge that business advocacy in schools.

The Labour party agrees with the Education Committee that independent careers advice and guidance has never been as important for young people as it is today. We also start from the point that this is a question both of social justice and of rebalancing the economy.

It could be argued that bringing careers guidance into schools has crippled potential pathways to technical and vocational education for many students. While the academic route of following GCSE, A-level and then maybe a degree is clearly understood by many teachers, providing more specific advice about vocational qualifications, traineeships and apprenticeships, and how to marry that with a level 3 qualification, takes real knowledge and understanding of the system, which those who are asked to advise in schools might not possess. If we want greater achievement in our technical and vocational sector, we need to get talent into those quarters. Moreover, it is simply not in the interests of schools to outline alternative routes, and for a

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Conservative-led Government usually so attuned to the threat of producer interest, the allocation of careers advice to schools has been an own goal. Very few schools have the bravery to explain to their pupils the full diversity of further education and vocational pathways while the loss of their pupils’ funding stream is at stake. We recently heard evidence from an excellent teacher from one of the Harris academies, who said, “We bring in outside external guidance and we tell them to tell our pupils that they cannot go to the college up the road. We have no interest in losing those funding streams.” What we then lose as a country is the capacity to go down vocational and technical routes that are more complicated to pursue.

We are troubled not only by the impartiality aspect, but by issues of funding, insufficient practical guidance, a poorly defined approach to how we share best practice, a capabilities deficit and an accountability regime that is nowhere near robust enough. We look forward to the Ofsted thematic review, which I understand has now been pushed back to September, clarifying some of these issues.

On funding, the Labour party acknowledges that in the current fiscal climate it is not appropriate to provide additional funding, but the Government should not present the withdrawal of the £200 million that used to fund careers advice as consequence-free. Schools have each faced a £25,000 stealth cut as a result of this money not being transferred along with the statutory duty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde suggested, we need to know what actions the Minister is taking to provide guidance and support, and to disseminate best practice. As I understand it, head teachers have to know the names and addresses of CORGI-registered boiler technicians for their schools, but they have no guidance about or lists of qualified careers advisers. Head teachers can fix the boiler but when it comes to their pupils’ careers they are not necessarily given the right amount of information.

Let me end by returning to the Government’s social mobility adviser, Mr Alan Milburn. He wrote:

“High-quality information, advice and guidance”—

on careers—

“is crucial in helping young people to develop ambitious but achievable plans, which are more likely to lead to positive outcomes.”

He dedicated his career to improving careers services, raising aspiration and increasing social mobility, yet only this weekend he criticised the Government’s “half-hearted” and incoherent approach in this area. He said:

“I don’t get the sense that this is sufficiently part of the DNA of what this government is about”.

I very much hope that the Minister can convince us otherwise, or else we are facing exactly the kind of skills shortage and unbalanced economy that the hon. Member for Burnley so wisely warned us of this evening.

9.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) on securing this debate and on his role as apprenticeship ambassador. He came up from an apprenticeship and succeeded, and that sends a good signal to young people today. I am delighted to speak in this debate. I am sure that hon. Members know that the reason my hon. Friend the

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Under-Secretary of State for Skills is not here is because he is so committed to Department for Business, Innovation and Skills policy that he is trialling shared parental leave.

I agree with what hon. Members have said about there being a mismatch on skills. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley pointed out that many businesses are struggling to recruit people with skills in maths, science, technology and engineering, and we have figures suggesting that 23% of businesses have identified skills shortages, particularly in that area. One thing I am passionate about is promoting mathematics, the subject with the highest earnings premium at A-level, at degree level and beyond. One of this Government’s aims is to ensure that within a decade the vast majority of students will be studying the subject to 18. At the moment, this country has the lowest proportion doing so in the OECD. That is a major reason why we do not have enough engineers coming through, either from apprenticeships or at graduate level.

We know that an hourglass economy is developing across the globe, where higher levels of skills are going to be required of all our people. We need to ensure that students have good advice and as high an aspiration as possible from a very early age. I think it is too late to start this in secondary school; the evidence suggests that many children, especially girls, form clear ideas about the kinds of career they will go into when they are in primary school. It is very important that we see the role of primary teachers as also helping to develop aspirations and broaden horizons. I was pleased recently to speak to the Personal Finance Education Group, which, as well as talking to children about how to manage money, is also keen to talk to them about which careers will lead to the greatest long-term rewards. One thing it is very keen to promote is engineering. I am very pleased that it is going to primary schools to do that.

We are also revising the new design and technology curriculum so that there is much more of a focus on industrial application, and are working with businesses to ensure that it is flexible and can offer that. I know that many local primaries in my constituency are already doing such work and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) that we need to convince people that they can be chic and geek from an early age, so that more students do such subjects. I think people can be chic and geek now.

I also agree with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) that careers must be at the heart of a school. That is why we have integrated such provision as a core duty for schools. Subject choice and career choice go hand in hand and year after year we have seen too many students closing the doors on careers they could have had by not making subject choices that keep their options open. It is entirely sensible that schools should have that duty. I was at Springwood high school in King’s Lynn on Friday and I saw the provision working well in practice. The school does tremendous research on the local and national jobs market, seeing what careers are available; encourages students to aspire at all levels; works with local employers; and runs visits to universities around the country. Each student has a teacher mentor who ensures that they get good advice all the way through. I do not think that careers advice is a one-off—it is the role of schools to ensure that they do not just talk about future careers

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but encourage students to choose subjects, to try harder and to work at things that will be successful in the future.

The school has independent advisers, too, and the new destination measures we are introducing give schools a strong incentive in that regard. The best schools, of course, are already doing that. What is most important, however, is something that we have not discussed enough in the debate—that is, the subject choices students make, particularly at the age of 14.

The Government have introduced the English baccalaureate, which has encouraged more students to study triple science and languages, keeping careers options open. We know that the CBI has said that 72% of businesses want students who study languages. We are also introducing the tech bac from 16 to 18 so that there is a high-value qualification, including level 3 maths and an occupational qualification. There are strong, rigorous options for technical and academic education. We are also introducing a new computing curriculum so that students learn to programme from an early age, which is vital to fill the massive shortage we have in technical occupations.

Schools have a strong incentive to deliver. I do not think that there was a golden era of careers advice. In fact, Alan Milburn, whom the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) is fond of quoting, admitted that

“throughout our work, we have barely heard a good word said about the careers work of the current Connexions service.”

That was the service provided under the previous Government.

We have introduced a national careers service, set up by the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), and given schools a strong role so that they can help students not just with aspirations but with critical things such as subject choice. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools has said that we will consider Ofsted’s thematic review of careers to ensure that we make any changes we have to make. Our aspiration is for every student in this country to use their talents to the maximum and have strong aspirations for the future.

9.58 pm

Gordon Birtwistle: My role as apprenticeship ambassador for the Government brought me to believe that we had to do this—[Interruption.] I am not a tsar. Russians are tsars, and I am not a Russian. I will never be a Russian.

As apprenticeship ambassador, I have met dozens of young people and I can only say that I am immensely proud of them. They are leading this country into the future. A young lady at Blackpool was told that she was too clever to be an engineer and that she should be a doctor or a solicitor, and her parents did not speak to her for a month when she went to BAE Systems. That young lady epitomises what we should have. She is top of the pile.

Speaking to those young people made me believe that we need to invest in them. We need to invest in the careers advice they need. That is not a waste of money—it is good for the country and good for social returns. For

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many years, it will give this country the people to drive us on in a secure future with a rebalanced economy. Let us get on with it.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of careers advice in schools for 12 to 16 year olds.

Business without Debate


Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 145),

That this House agrees with the Report [19 June] of the Liaison Committee.—(Mr Evennett.)

Delegated Legislation

Water Industry

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

That the draft Water Industry (Specified Infrastructure Projects) (English Undertakers) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 15 May, be approved.—(Mr Evennett.)

Question agreed to.

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


That the draft Education (Amendment of the Curriculum Requirements for Second Key Stage) (England) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 16 May, be approved.— (Mr Evennett.)

Question agreed to.

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

Town and Country Planning

That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 20 May, be approved.—(Mr Evennett.)

The Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 26 June (Standing order No. 41A).

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

Financial Services and Markets

That the draft Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Referral Fees) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 21 May, be approved.—(Mr Evennett.)

Question agreed to.

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

Dangerous Drugs

That the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Temporary Class Drug) Order 2013 (S.I., 2013, No. 1294), dated 3 June 2013, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4 June, be approved.— (Mr Evennett.).

Question agreed to.

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Business of the House


That at the sitting on Wednesday 26 June:

(1) notwithstanding paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), the motion in the name of Mr Andrew Lansley relating to Amendment of private business standing orders may be taken at the time of public business;

(2) proceedings on that motion and on the motion in the name of Mr Andrew Lansley relating to electronic deposit of documents for High Speed 2 Hybrid Bill may continue, though opposed, for up to one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such motion;

(3) the Speaker shall put the Questions on the motion relating to electronic deposit of documents for High Speed 2 Hybrid Bill forthwith following the decision of the House on the motion relating to amendment of private business standing orders, and such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; and

(4) Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Mr Evennett.)


National Railway Museum

10.1 pm

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): On Friday, the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and I were presented with this massive petition about the National Railway museum in York, which is quite simply the world’s best railway museum. If you want to see the original engineering drawings by George Stephenson for the Rocket, they are there; if you want to see the engine that 75 years ago set the steam engine world speed record, the Mallard, it is there. The petition is signed by Steve Hughes, editor of The Press, York’s daily newspaper, and 13,500 other people from the City of York.

The petition states:

The Petition of Steve Hughes, Editor of “The Press” York and the people of York,

Declares that the Petitioners note with concern that the National Railway Museum, one of the most treasured attractions in York and the UK, and one of the world's best transport museums, is threatened with closure.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to ensure that the National Railway Museum remains open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Police and Crime Commissioners

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

Mr Speaker: Twenty-six years and 13 days after his original election, I call Mr Keith Vaz.

10.3 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I had no idea you were keeping count so very carefully, Mr Speaker, but thank you for reminding me.

I am delighted to be able to raise the issue of police and crime commissioner accountability on the Floor of the House tonight. I am pleased to see the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice here to answer the debate, having appeared before the Select Committee on Home Affairs only last week.

On 15 November 2012, 41 police and crime commissioners were elected, representing a total population of 48 million and covering individual populations of up to 2.6 million people, earning salaries of between £65,000 and £117,000 a year, and between them controlling billions of pounds of spending on police in England and Wales. Since 2010, the Home Secretary has embarked on what can only be described as a revolution in policing: whole organisations have been changed, some have been abolished, some merged, and others are at this moment in a state of limbo. Names that we have become used to, such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the National Policing Improvement Agency and police authorities, have been or will be replaced by the College of Policing, the National Crime Agency and 41 elected police and crime commissioners. The police commissioners were introduced to bring a democratic element into the new landscape of policing. I fully support the vision behind them, which is one of the democratic accountability of our police service.

Allegations today that undercover officers spied on the Lawrence family are just one of a number of recent events in policing that have shown why this new element of democratic accountability is vital to the landscape of policing. In creating the commissioners, the Home Secretary was seeking to construct a new and better, more accountable policing edifice. However, it has become clear that there may be a number of structural faults, and if these are not addressed quickly, this gleaming new building will collapse.

The birth of the commissioners was a long and difficult one. The original election date had to be changed, voters did not receive a formal election mailing—they were asked to look at websites—and there was a record low turnout. In Devon and Cornwall, Commissioner Tony Hogg was elected by only 5% of the electorate. In Wales, at a Newport polling station, not a single vote was cast. The commissioners are a new breed, although some of them are known to us. Six commissioners are former Members of Parliament, including Alun Michael from South Wales, Jane Kennedy from Merseyside, Paddy Tipping from Nottinghamshire, Vera Baird from Northumbria, Sir Graham Bright from Cambridgeshire, and Tony Lloyd from Greater Manchester.

Subsequent to their election, the first actions of some commissioners were to make appointments to their offices, which vary hugely in size, from 40 staff in Tony Lloyd’s Greater Manchester office to just four in

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Vera Baird’s office in Northumbria. There are 16 Conservative, 13 Labour and 12 independent police commissioners. The House will know that there has been much controversy over political appointments. The Committee heard from the West Yorkshire commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, for example, who appointed the wife of his party’s regional director in Yorkshire and Humberside, who oversaw his selection, to become his deputy on a salary of £53,000. Both the Labour West Midlands commissioner, Bob Jones, and the Conservative Northamptonshire commissioner, Adam Simmonds, made political appointments to the post of assistant commissioner.

Not a week has passed without articles in newspapers about the activities of some commissioners, and I shall give just four examples. Newspapers reported that three police officers were arrested after allegedly leaking details of Cumbrian Commissioner Richard Rhodes’s undeclared expenses to the press. Richard Rhodes has written to my Committee to clarify the position, and we have published his letter on our website. The Mail on Sunday ran a splash raising questions about the office of the Thames Valley commissioner, Anthony Stansfeld, who is the Prime Minister’s local commissioner. Last week, the Watford Observer said that in April alone, in his capacity as Hertfordshire commissioner, David Lloyd accepted hospitality with outsourcing companies Serco and Capgemini. It was also revealed by the newspapers that the Surrey commissioner, Kevin Hurley, ran a private security firm, and it was claimed that that was a conflict of interest. Mr Hurley denies that. The House and the public need to decide if that is just press speculation or something more serious reflecting general unease about the activities of some commissioners.

So much is not known about the commissioners that the Select Committee decided to produce a report to set out all the issues and to provide an easy way to refer to what the commissioners were doing, effectively creating a central register of interests. I want to thank Richard Benwell for his hard work on the Committee’s register. Our report was prompted by a lack of transparency: the fact that the Government refused to collate such a register themselves led to our decision to produce one.

In May 2013, four commissioners had still not published the required budget data online: Humberside’s Matthew Grove; Norfolk’s Stephen Bett; North Wales’s Winston Roddick; and Suffolk’s Tim Passmore. Twenty-three commissioners have yet to publish the full statutory information required.

Despite the permanent secretary telling the Committee on Tuesday that he had e-mailed his own staff saying that the Home Office needs to be much more transparent, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice has refused to disclose details of meetings that have taken place between the Home Office and commissioners. His excuse was that it was on the website, yet he answered in full a similar question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) on 12 December. Ministers need to be open and transparent with Members of the House when they ask questions about police and crime commissioners, rather than referring them to Home Office websites.

Transparency is vital to allow a full and fair analysis of the momentous decisions that some of the commissioners have to make. The biggest power they wield is the ability

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to hire and fire chief constables. This month Gwent’s commissioner, Ian Johnston, apparently forced the chief constable of Gwent, Carmel Napier, to retire. The reason he cited was that she was hostile to the idea of commissioners and their relationship was “never going to work.” We hope to hear from both the Gwent Commissioner and the former chief constable at the Committee in the near future. In Lincolnshire Commissioner Alan Hardwick’s suspension of Chief Constable Rhodes was later reversed by a High Court judge, who called it “irrational and perverse.” Ten chief constables have resigned or retired since November 2012.

The police and crime panels are meant to hold commissioners to account on all these issues. They are the only groups standing between commissioners and a four-year period in which they can, in effect, do whatever they like. However, as soon as the cold light of scrutiny was shone on them by the Committee, we found that these panels were often compromised by political allegiances, and some lacked the guidance, legal advice and legal powers that they required. The Kent police and crime panel never scrutinised Commissioner Anne Barnes’s decision to appoint a youth and crime commissioner on a salary of £15,000. Gwent’s commissioner, Ian Johnston, admitted to a group of Labour Gwent MPs that until the details of his meeting with Chief Constable Napier were leaked, he had had no intention of informing the panel of the full details of her departure.

The Lincolnshire police and crime panel did not meet for two months to discuss the suspension of Chief Constable Rhodes. The panel chairman told the Committee that it received poor and confused legal advice and in the end the chairman had to write to the Minister asking what to do. Just a few days after appearing before the Committee, Lincolnshire’s panel chair, Councillor Ray Wootten, resigned after “inadvertently misleading” the Committee. Apparently it was he who was confused, not the legal advice that he had been given. He and the other panel chairs we heard from, Councillor Patricia O’Brien in Suffolk and Councillor Peter Box, issued a plea that the Home Secretary had left them alone in their mammoth scrutiny task and they needed more help and support to achieve proper scrutiny.

The situation is so serious that Sir Hugh Orde, one of the country’s most distinguished police officers and the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has branded the system for holding commissioners to account

“the worst system you can possibly have”

and demanded a meeting between chief constables and the Home Secretary—an astonishing statement from someone as senior as Sir Hugh, and a statement that I hope the Government will listen to. I hope that when the Minister replies, he will tell the House when and where this meeting between Sir Hugh and the Home Secretary will take place. I hope he will not refer me to a website.

London’s own police and crime commissioner, Mayor Boris Johnson, and his relationship with Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan commissioner, is proof that with proper scrutiny, the system can work. We can also look to Leicestershire, where Commissioner Sir Clive Loader and Chief Constable Simon Cole get on very well indeed. We want to see relationships like this replicated across the country.

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Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Tom Winsor, recently told the Committee that he thought there was scope for the inspectorate to have a greater role in the new landscape. HMIC should take over publication of the central register of interests started by the Committee, as well as the register of chief constables’ interests, which still does not have a home. The chief executive of the College of Policing, Alex Marshall, should ensure that police and crime panels have a representative on the college’s board, and indeed the college should provide them with training, guidance and legal advice.

As the level 2 transfer deadline approaches, some commissioners will choose to take over important matters such as procurement. The Home Secretary has said that she is looking at commissioners taking over 999 contracts, including for ambulance and fire services, which is a most interesting idea.

A number of these issues would never have arisen in the first place if the Government had done as the Select Committee recommended in our report on the new landscape of policing published earlier this year, in which we suggested the introduction of a “Magna Carta”. This would be an agreed document, signed by police and crime commissioners and chief constables, setting out the rights and responsibilities of the various parties.

There is unquestionably a very important role for commissioners in the new landscape. I want to pay tribute to the work that many of them do; it is no easy task to take the first steps in a completely new and important area of policy. The police need to be accountable to the taxpayer for the money they spend, the priorities they choose and, indeed, the mistakes they make. However, we must ensure that there is a sound process in place for making commissioners accountable. After all, we will have to wait another three and a half years until the next election, and nothing can be done until then. That is why my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee have agreed to conduct a major inquiry into commissioners on the anniversary of their elections. We want the public to have their say on this important issue. If the police commissioners are to assume their place as the bedrock of more transparent and accountable policing in the Home Secretary’s new landscape, we must get the process right, and we must get it right now.

10.17 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) on securing the debate and am grateful for his support for the Government’s vision of a more accountable police service. He made the standard disobliging remarks about turnout at the elections, but I should point out that 5 million people voted, which is approximately 5 million more than the number who elected anyone who sat on a police authority.

The police and crime commissioners have been in office for six and a half months, and in that relatively short time they have made a significant impact. Crime has fallen by more than 10% under this Government and has continued to fall since the PCCs were elected, against the challenging economic climate. PCCs not only represent the most significant democratic reform of policing we have seen; they are also proving to be central figures in helping to cut crime. In the past

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six months all the PCCs have published their police and crime plans and engaged with the public in a way that police authorities did not, and indeed could not. PCCs have made pledges and put in place measures to improve services offered to victims and to protect the vulnerable from those who would prey on them.

The right hon. Gentleman listed a series of newspaper articles criticising PCCs and said that they were appearing almost weekly. I merely observe that articles that are critical of Members of this House appear almost daily, but that does not mean that parliamentary democracy is a bad thing. Newspapers are there to criticise, and elected representatives are there to defend their position.

I am genuinely puzzled by the right hon. Gentleman’s objection to looking up information on websites. The internet is common these days and many can access it; it is the easiest way for the public to access information. He is as capable as anyone in the country of accessing information on a website.

Keith Vaz: When a Member of Parliament asks a question of a Minister about when they have a meeting with a police and crime commissioner, the Minister should answer the question rather than saying, “Wait until it is published in three months’ time”. That is my point. I have no problem in accessing the internet.

Damian Green: I am delighted to hear it. As I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman at the Select Committee last week, this Government are the most transparent ever. Previous Governments, including the Government of whom he was a leading and distinguished member, did not routinely publish the meetings their Ministers had in the way that my ministerial colleagues and I do.

I do not accept at all the right hon. Gentleman’s implication or accusation that the Government are in any way trying to hide information about meetings. Indeed, as he pointed out, I replied in some detail to the shadow Policing Minister about a meeting I had with police commissioners. Any imputation that such meetings are covered up is factually inaccurate.

As a result of the arrival of police and crime commissioners, we are seeing the development of innovative and challenging thinking that cuts to the heart of crime reduction and prevention in our communities. That thinking is the work of a disparate group of individuals who are nevertheless united in their commitment to a single goal that cuts across party politics or ideological leanings—that of cutting crime, reducing the harm that comes to our citizens from those who would wish to do them harm, and making our streets and communities safer places to live.

Those innovations, brought about by the police and crime commissioners, can be split into three broad groups: challenging the criminal justice system to deliver for victims and the vulnerable; challenging local partners to play their part in cutting crime; and challenging forces to drive the changes needed to ensure that front-line services are maintained and improved.

Let me illustrate some of the ideas being brought to life. In the first group, we see examples such as Martyn Underhill, the independent PCC for Dorset, who is developing a victims bureau where victims are supported throughout their journey through the criminal justice system by a single point of contact. Another example is

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Shaun Wright, Labour PCC for South Yorkshire, who is allocating extra funding to assist the work to prevent child sexual exploitation.

In the second group, Matthew Ellis, the Conservative PCC from Staffordshire, has focused on the interaction between the police and those with mental health issues. He is looking at how officers can reduce the time spent with such individuals, without compromising the service to those who need it. Sue Mountstevens, the independent PCC from Avon and Somerset, is establishing a business crime forum for business leaders to provide input into policing best practice on such areas as CCTV security, security staff and joint initiatives. That will be coupled with prevention work with communities and schools.

In the third group, we are seeing PCCs challenge forces to drive essential changes. PCCs of all kinds are looking at how the police can work more closely with the fire service. Sir Graham Bright, the Conservative PCC from Cambridgeshire, has begun work to exploit better the existing IT systems to provide the opportunity to automate and improve the flow of information across the force. That work is designed to get key information to the officers on the beat when they need it and provides the opportunity for the public to access the police quickly through digital means.

Such innovations have not come about by accident, but by design on the part of the individual PCCs. That is a direct result of the Government achieving what they set out to do all along with the introduction of PCCs—to shift accountability away from Whitehall into the hands of locally elected representatives, who understand the needs and the priorities of the people in their areas far better than policy makers in Whitehall ever could.

The right hon. Gentleman implied that some kind of accountability gap is developing between Whitehall and PCCs. That is not the case. This Government have given serious thought to how we can improve the accountability of the entirety of policing, not just the leadership, and that is why we are seeing improvements in the information that is available to the public. In the case of PCCs, the Home Secretary rightly retains backstop powers that we do not envisage using, but the day-to-day management, governance and oversight of the forces have transferred into the hands of PCCs. The legislation that underpins PCCs is enabling legislation, not preventive legislation. The supposed accountability gap is a fiction created by people who cannot bear to see the transference of accountability away from Whitehall, where it was held for so long—indeed, for too long. The truth of the matter is that what we have seen demonstrates that we were right all along. The challenges and, indeed, controversies that we are seeing are the product of PCCs doing the job they have been elected to do.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly made a point about the availability of information. I share his desire for increasing transparency. We are working towards ensuring that key elements of the information required by legislation are published on the national website. We are confident that this will enable the public to access even more easily the information they need to hold their PCC to account. Under the specified information order, PCCs have to publish a register of interests, including every pecuniary interest or other paid interest, budgets, contracts and tenders, senior salaries, expenses, and key

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decisions. We have been clear that it is not the role of central Government to establish and maintain a national register of interests. This is not co-ordinated because the public want to hold their own local PCC, and not all 41 PCCs, to account.

Significant structures and safeguards are in place to ensure that PCCs are able to fulfil the role that the Government intended for them. PCCs already benefit from appropriate checks and balances, as befits their status as democratically elected individuals, through locally elected councillors with strong powers to question the PCC, through the statutory framework that underpins the office of PCC, and ultimately, of course, at the ballot box. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, PCCs work every day in the full gaze and scrutiny of the media.

Specific safeguards include the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which brought PCCs into being. That is enhanced by the Policing Protocol Order 2011, a document that has been commended in the House of Lords for its ease of comprehension. These documents clearly set out the powers that police and crime panels have to provide supportive scrutiny to their relevant PCCs. Those powers include, but are not limited to, the power to ensure that the appointment of a chief constable is subject to the scrutiny and the potential veto of the panel; the power to ensure that the dismissal of a chief constable is open to proper scrutiny and follows clear procedure; and the power to require that information held by the PCC is made available to the panel and therefore to the public.

If there have been failings in the system—the failings that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned—they may be the result of chairs of panels, and panels themselves, having a lack of understanding of the powers they hold and the role they fulfil. We are confident that panels have the powers they need to fulfil their scrutiny roles. He mentioned the incidents in Lincolnshire. As he knows, the chairman of the panel there wrote to the Home Office asking for advice about whether he could hold a scrutiny meeting. I wrote back to him saying that he could, and he chose to ignore that advice. With the best will in the world, there is not a lot more that the Policing Minister can do when asked for advice than to give it, and if the chair of the panel—former chair; he has subsequently left the job—chooses to ignore it, that is a matter for him.

The protocol is explicit:

“At all times the Chief Constable, their constables and staff, remain operationally independent in the service of the communities that they serve.”

That could not be clearer. Regardless of which PCC is in office, the police have the discretion to use their judgment when deciding who to investigate or arrest, and must by law be wholly without influence of the PCC.

There have been several high-profile cases where the performance of the chief constable has been challenged by the PCC. That is a positive symptom of the shift in accountability from Whitehall to PCCs. It is right that the role of chief constable and the post-holder are open to challenge, and that PCCs have the mandate to challenge them on behalf of the people they represent. It would be a disservice to PCCs and chief constables, who are professionals, to suggest that they would be unable to maintain a professional and productive working relationship having come through any such challenge.

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There has been criticism of the size and structure of the offices of PCCs. Indeed, we have heard some tonight from the right hon. Gentleman. There are significant variations. In the examples that he gave, that is partly because of the difference in size between Greater Manchester and Northumbria. However, PCCs have the mandate and the knowledge to determine what is needed to carry out their remit. Who else is better placed to judge that? Equally importantly, all information regarding the offices of PCCs is available to the public, so people will be able to take into account the value for money that their PCC has delivered when they next cast their vote. That is also true of the appointment of deputies and other figures who support the PCC in their duties. Whether those appointments are appropriate or necessary is not for me to say; it is for the public to judge at the ballot box.

PCCs have been complying with the requirements that we made on them to be transparent. The Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Order 2011 requires PCCs to publish key information. That includes

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a register of interests that must include all other pecuniary or paid interests, expenses, budgets, contracts and tenders, senior salaries, and key decisions. The intention is for the public to use that information to hold PCCs to account. I would contrast that with the situation that used to obtain with police authorities.

Police and crime commissioners are doing much that all Members of every party can be proud of. Those actions are a function of the shift in accountability from Whitehall to PCCs. The innovation and ambition in PCCs’ plans for their areas are testimony to their dedication to the role, their commitment to the people of their areas and their desire to make a real change, which is precisely what is happening. It is evident to me that PCCs are doing exactly what Parliament had intended and many of them are doing it extremely well.

Question put and agreed to.

10.33 pm

House adjourned.