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I will not rehearse the point I made on Second Reading on the move by Sinn Fein and the DUP, supported by both Governments, to change the rules on inclusion so that the only parties that voted for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister would be entitled to go into Government. That was their plan, which thankfully we were just about able to stop in the St Andrews agreement. Simply trusting these matters to the lead of Sinn Fein and the DUP gives the rest of us misgivings. We want more assurances about the role of the Secretary of State on reserved powers that she, or any successor, would have.

Making significant matters reserved and moving more of them into the locus of devolution raises an issue about an outstanding part of the agreement that we have still never arrived at: a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights was meant to protect people against any egregious decisions made by a party or parties collectively, or a Minister or Ministers collectively. That was to be part of the protections included in the Bill of Rights, and we still do not have them. When the Secretary of State and the NIO seem to be inert and indifferent to having a Bill of Rights, some of us have difficulty in relying on the reserve protection of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State and the Minister of State need to address this, and other issues, as the Bill progresses.

I understand that these amendments will not be pressed to a Division, and I am glad of that. The same would apply to any amendments in my name, I hasten to add, and to the relief of the Committee.

Mike Penning: This part of the debate has been enhanced by the presence and knowledge of the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy). He has saved me from going through half my speech to explain how we came to 108.

Clause 6 is a huge nudge to the Executive and the Assembly. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, there is general agreement that trying to— [Interruption.] I am sorry if I promoted the hon. Gentleman in a way that perhaps he would not want to be promoted. I do apologise. There might be general agreement, but there is not consensus. Until we have consensus, this cannot be addressed, which is why, sadly, I will oppose both amendments. I am sure that the amendments were tabled with the right feel for what is going on, but we have to get the decisions made. The Secretary of State will have powers under the new reserved matters, but this is another stage forward, another movement on. If we want continued normalisation under the devolved Administration, it is important that the Government do everything we can, with the help of Her Majesty’s Opposition, to get consensus, rather than just general agreement.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does the Minister accept, however, that some of the smaller parties, if the veto rests with them, will always be tempted to veto any change, including this necessary change to the structures and numbers of people elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly? All that could be vetoed by small parties with a party political interest in ensuring that there is no change, and of course that prevents Government from becoming more efficient in Northern Ireland.

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Mike Penning: I understand exactly where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, but at the end of the day, 108 seats were created to ensure that the smaller parties were represented. It is for the people of Northern Ireland to work out among themselves, in a mature democracy, what that number should be—for instance, whether it should be five per constituency, as the hon. Member for Foyle said. I have heard the concerns about going down to four, but that is not for us to dictate. At the end of the day, this has to be decided in Northern Ireland, which is why, sadly, I ask Members to oppose the two amendments and support clause 6.

Mr Dodds: I have listened carefully to the Minister. Clearly, the contribution from the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) has been received warmly because we recognise the part he played as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and as Minister of State before that; he was widely praised for his efforts during his tenure, and we thank him.

There is a view across most of the parties in Northern Ireland, with the exception, I think, of Sinn Fein, that the Assembly is too big and should be reduced in size. Until we can get that cross-community support in the Assembly, we are where we are, but at least the Bill recognises movement, in that it makes this a reserve matter, rather than an excepted matter, and so puts it more within the Assembly’s bailiwick. Our view, in tabling the amendments, was that the more that was done, the better; it shows maturity and demonstrates that the Assembly is developing. It shows that issues such as the make-up of the Executive, how it is appointed and elected, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister should all be more within the remit of the Assembly.

I have heard what the Minister has said, and I also heard his earlier comments that he was listening carefully to the matters being raised and would reflect upon them. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Extension of term of Assembly

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Ms Ritchie: I approached clause 7 by way of a probing amendment that was not selected. I sought information on Second Reading about why the mandate of the current Assembly was being extended from a four-year term to a five-year term, given that the people of Northern Ireland voted for parties on the basis of four, not five years.

Many political representatives, including the current Secretary of State and the former Secretary of State, have stated that there is insufficient consensus on extending the term, while the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee compiled evidence that clearly suggested there was insufficient evidence and did not agree with extending the term to five years. I understand that three parties—at the centre, shall we say—supported extending the mandate: the Democratic Unionist party, Sinn Fein and the Alliance party. On the other hand, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Ulster Unionist party did not.

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I believe in democracy. Members were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly on the basis of four, not five years. That is a very different position from that in Scotland and Wales. In November 2011, when people stood for election and sought mandates in Scotland and Wales, they did so on the basis that those terms would be five years. It was very different in Northern Ireland. I did not get that mystery unlocked on Second Reading, so I now ask the deputy Secretary of State if he will provide me with an explanation; I am sure he will be happy to do so.

Mr Dodds: I want briefly to put on record our view, which we also stated on Second Reading.

We believe that the argument for moving the date of the Assembly election is strong, not least because that is what is happening for Scotland and Wales. There is no logical, coherent reason at all to challenge the Government position—that we should also extend the mandate for the Northern Ireland Assembly by one year, to ensure that a Westminster election and an Assembly election are not held on the same day. That is important because they are probably the two most important elections that are held. Council elections are obviously significant, as are elections to the European Parliament, but when we are electing the legislature and the Executive for the Northern Ireland Assembly and also representatives in this House, it is inevitable that one of those elections would dominate the media and the political debate to the exclusion of the other, to a much greater extent than with other elections. For that reason, clause 7 is important.

Dr McCrea: Does my right hon. Friend accept that some issues that are relevant for the people of Northern Ireland can be dealt with only by the Northern Ireland Assembly—as opposed to international issues, for instance—and that a clear division between the two election dates would prevent muddying of the water?

Mr Dodds: Yes, I agree with that. The decision was taken for Scotland and Wales when we debated the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, while the position in Northern Ireland was left open to allow for further consultation and discussion with the political parties there. That discussion was held. It was carried out in a very full way—indeed, in many respects there was more consultation and discussion about this issue than many others. A view was reached that is supported by a clear majority among the parties represented in the Assembly, and it is also a cross-community view. Of course, not every party agrees with it, but that is a significant development.

Naomi Long: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government’s proposal as it stands not only ensures that the next set of elections will not happen concurrently, but reduces the opportunity for that to happen in future, with the result that there will be less ad hoc-ery—for want of a better term—in setting election dates? The Government’s proposal will ensure that they no longer coincide, which is to be welcomed.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Lady anticipates the exact point I was going to conclude with. Clause 7 takes care of the problem for 2015, but by permanently fixing the Assembly

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term at five years—again, as in Wales and Scotland—it also takes care of any future problems with overlaps between Assembly and Westminster elections.

For those reasons—and also because the clause ensures that Northern Ireland is absolutely four-square in line with the other devolved legislatures, in Scotland and Wales, as part of this great United Kingdom—I am more than delighted to support the Government on clause 7.

Stephen Pound: I yield to no person in my admiration for the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), for many reasons. One is because of the marvellous new expression we have heard this evening: “ad hoc-ery”. In the past we have had “what-aboutery”, but “ad hoc-ery” is absolutely marvellous—I thought he was a Taoiseach in Ireland many years ago, but that is neither here nor there.

The clause as it stands is supported by Her Majesty’s Opposition, principally because we think it is logical and sensible, and equalises the various devolved Assemblies. However, if anyone thinks that choosing a particular five-year period will ensure that no problems occur in future, they have another think coming, because there has never been a time in European political history when so many anniversaries have been queuing up to come down the road. We can therefore pretty much guarantee that whenever the Assembly votes, it will be the anniversary of something, and whenever the Assembly votes, there will be no guarantee whatever that it will be synchronous with this House. However, it would be sensible and far better—and, I think, rather more appreciated by the democratic community—if there were a fixed term in this particular case. A fixed term for this House we can discuss later, but for tonight, the position of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition is that we support the Government’s proposal that there should be a five-year term, as there is in Wales and Scotland.

9.30 pm

Mike Penning: We debated this matter extensively in the Second Reading debate, during which the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) referred to me as the deputy Secretary of State almost all the way through her contribution. I should have corrected her then, but I shall do so now. I am the Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office, and I am very proud of that. I have never heard of a deputy Secretary of State. It might well have been corrected by Hansard, but I thought I would mention it anyway. I also fully acknowledge that I am not going to convince the hon. Lady that no conspiracy took place that suddenly made us change our mind on this matter. In fact, 70% of the MLAs asked us to move the election by one year to 2016.

Ms Ritchie: Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: I want to make a tiny bit of progress, if the hon. Lady does not mind.

As the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) suggested, we should never take anything for granted, but the provisions for the one-year extension and the five-year term should, in theory, keep the Assembly elections separate from the UK general elections. However, this is not set in stone, and nor is the five-year fixed term for this House. Parliament could dissolve and we could have an election here. That is a fact.

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Ms Ritchie rose

Mike Penning: I will give way to the hon. Lady. I am being very rude, and I apologise.

Ms Ritchie: I am grateful to the Minister of State for giving way. Will he consider this possible evidence? The report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the draft Bill states:

“Nevertheless, we did not hear any compelling evidence to support this proposition.”

That is, the proposition to extend the mandate from four to five years. The report also states:

“We are concerned that extending the current term to 2016 would be contrary to the expectations of the electorate at the last Assembly election in 2011 and recommend, therefore, that the current Assembly term should end, as planned, in 2015.”

I would be obliged if he could explain why the proposals are now in the Bill.

Mike Penning: On this question, we disagreed with the Select Committee. We agreed with it on some things, and changed the draft legislation accordingly, but we did not agree with it on this matter.

Mark Durkan rose

Ms Ritchie rose

Mike Penning: I will not give way. I have finished speaking on clause 7, and I hope that the Committee will allow it to stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Appointment of Justice Minister

Mark Durkan: I beg to move amendment 18, in page 7, line 4, leave out from ‘is’ to end of line 41 and add—


‘(2) Any provision by Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly which provides, by virtue of section 21A(3) or (3A) of the 1998 Act, for the method of appointment of a Minister in charge of devolved policing and justice functions, shall be repealed.

(3) Any Minister in charge of devolved policing and justice functions shall be appointed in the same way as other Northern Ireland Ministers.’.

The Temporary Chairman (Katy Clark): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clauses 8 and 9 stand part.

Mark Durkan: Amendment 18 deals with the appointment of a Justice Minister. I shall not go through the history of the various bits of legislation that have gone through this House—many of them steered through by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain)—to provide for all sorts of permutations and models for appointing such a Minister. The main parties settled on a version that would allow the Minister to be elected by means of a cross-community vote in the Assembly. Of course, the party that gained that Ministry could then end up having a surplus of ministerial positions over and above its entitlement under d’Hondt.

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The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) will recall the tortuous negotiations that we had, and the fact that we were determined that there should be some sort of proportional system, be it d’Hondt or Sainte-Laguë. We went through the various permutations, and d’Hondt was the one that most people were familiar with, because of their experience with the European Parliament. It was deliberately chosen as an inclusive arrangement and to create a situation in which parties were not in a position to vet or veto each other’s ministerial appointments. We actually used that language in the discussions and the negotiations; the parties did not want to be in a position of being able to vet or veto other appointments.

Nevertheless, when it subsequently came to the arrangements for appointing a Minister of Justice in the context of the devolution of justice and policing, there was a departure from that principle—for all the various circumstantial and other reasons with which we are all familiar. I shall not take the Committee’s time in either rehearsing or rebutting them this evening.

If people went for that formula, straying outside the terms, principles and promise of the agreement, they did so on the basis that it was needed to get the devolution of justice started and it was a way of breaking the impasse ensuring that there were no more standoffs. The progress made overall and in the context of justice and policing, means that we have time to consider whether the exceptional arrangements made in and around the position of the Ministry of Justice should still continue.

This clause is designed to end the aberration in the sense of a party being over-represented—over and beyond the d’Hondt entitlement—but that does not simply correct the matter in itself. As I pointed out on Second Reading, it creates other anomalies and potentially some pressures on the parties.

Naomi Long: Does the hon. Member acknowledge that it deals with a second anomaly, too, which is that a Justice Minister could be removed from post by a cross-community vote? That could lead to a different aberration, whereby a party could end up with less than its d’Hondt entitlement to Ministries. Is not that issue relevant as well?

Mark Durkan: Yes, I recognise that. When these measures originally went through, I made a point about the unequal situation and said that the power in the hands of two particular parties in respect of the Justice Minister’s position was potentially abusable. That anomaly clearly needed remedying as well. We always believed that this should be done as part of d’Hondt, and we believed that the number of Departments could have been adjusted at the time—not to add to the number of Departments, but to keep to the 10 that had been approved, absorbing a Department of Justice. The parties chose to go this way and even to add an additional Department even though their stated position was that they wanted to reduce the number of Departments in Northern Ireland.

In our view, the future Justice Ministry—when the Northern Ireland Executive is next appointed—can be decided and allocated in the same way as other Ministries

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under d’Hondt. We already have a situation whereby there is more tick-tacking, contact and understanding between the parties in advance of d’Hondt being formally run in the Assembly than was originally envisaged or required at the time of the agreement. Some of the issues are about the sensitivities around who will take what post and what might be detonated by that. Those issues will have to be dealt with in the context of the negotiations.

We view d’Hondt as the mechanism for appointing a future Minister of Justice, as with all other Ministers, in full knowledge that that will create a number of difficulties and uncertainties at a number of levels—we have those problems with other ministerial appointments in any case. There are questions this week about existing Ministers, their appointments and the attitudes of parties towards the rules and the spirit of the pledge of office and so forth. It is not as though the issue of the Minister of Justice is the only sensitivity, as there is also sensitivity about the possibility of d’Hondt leading to the Minister of Justice post going to only one political party. There are clearly sensitivities in relation to other matters, which is why the position of the Policing Board and the whole Patten architecture is so important as well. There are various proofs related to the exercise of the powers and responsibilities of a Minister of Justice that have been well observed and honoured in respect of the current Minister, but they would be equally obligatory for any future Minister appointed under d’Hondt.

Naomi Long: As I said on Second Reading, I support clause 9. I acknowledged at that time the existence of the twin anomalies that because Justice Ministers were appointed outwith the d’Hondt process, they could end up with a Ministry more than they were entitled to under d’Hondt, and could also lose that Ministry on the whim of a cross-community vote—although I must add, in fairness to parties in the Executive who may feel fearful, that that has not been exercised, or been threatened or in any other way intimated, by any of them.

I am grateful for the way in which the Government have negotiated and listened to what has been said by my party and others, and I welcome the clause. I think it important that including the Justice Minister in the d’Hondt system will result in a fairer arrangement, whether we gain or lose in party-political terms.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Lady is right to say that there has been no threat or attempt to change the Justice Minister under the current arrangement, that the Northern Ireland Office has listened, and that by and large the parties in Northern Ireland have agreed with this provision. However, in the light of what was said by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), may I ask whether she agrees with me that no attempt is being made to change the current special arrangements relating to the role and functions of the Minister vis-à-vis the Executive?

Naomi Long: That is entirely consistent with what the Government are proposing. The issue relates simply to the Minister’s appointment and security of tenure. Concerns were raised by my own party and indeed by other parties, and the Government, having listened to other parties in the Executive, took those concerns on board and formulated proposals which addressed them. That was helpful.

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I have to say that my view of how an Executive should be formed in future differs from that of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and his party. We have been open and honest about the fact that we would much prefer the reforms of the Assembly to include a move away from d’Hondt and towards the election of all Ministers by means of a cross-community vote, because we believe that that would enhance collectiveness in the Executive. There would have to be agreement among the Northern Ireland parties for that to happen. I should add that I do not consider d’Hondt to be a normal way of appointing Ministers; I consider it to be a mechanism resulting from the Good Friday agreement which was required to manage an abnormal political situation. I hope that, when we seek to reform the Assembly more widely, that will be on the table for discussion along with everything else. However, I support what the Government are attempting to do, and oppose the attempt to change it.

Stephen Pound: I welcome what has just been said by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long). I hope that the Committee will forgive me for observing that the entire debate, which began so many hours ago, has been conducted in a positive, mature, sensible and serious manner, which I think is to the credit of all Members.

Let me also say on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, as a matter of formality but also as a matter of personal desire, that we entirely understand why the Secretary of State has been detained elsewhere. We understand how difficult things are at present, as we approach Friday, and we understand very well that the right hon. Lady’s first duty must be to ensure peace and good order in Northern Ireland. The Opposition make no criticisms whatsoever. In fact, we feel that the Minister of State has made a very good fist of it, as he often does.

It is a great pleasure for us to hear the frequent encomiums to my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy). We must never forget the part that he played in bringing us to where we are at present. I think it important to recognise the contribution made by many people, not just those who are in the Chamber tonight.

If there is one theme that could be said to have run consistently through the entire debate, it is the contrast between what we would like to do and what we think we can achieve. In the various statutory instruments discussions we have had, I have invoked St Augustine, and apparently I misquoted him when I said it was the great doctor of the Church who said “Make me pure, but not quite yet.” I received a letter in English from Canon Bernard Scholes telling me I had completely misunderstood the Augustinian theory on that, so I shall look to certain colleagues on this, probably the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), to whom I always defer in matters of theological exactitude.

9.45 pm

On a serious point, we all know where we want to be. The question that has faced the House tonight, dramatically over and over again, is this: do we proceed without full consensus—without that organic growth, without that cultural change—or do we legislate and let the people catch up, or do we let legislation follow the people? In the context of Northern Ireland, we simply have to

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realise that consensus is crucial. We cannot operate on any basis—on any level, in any area—without that consensus. The key point of the Belfast agreement, the Good Friday agreement and all subsequent agreements has been a hard-fought and hard-won consensus.

Tonight’s debate has shown we can proceed in a good spirit, overwhelmingly moving in the same direction. There is no doubt about that. The only question is about the speed at which we approach that desirable place.

Having made that point, I move nothing, I criticise no one, I thank many people, and I am delighted to say to the Minister that we have supported him more often tonight than I ever thought we would in my lifetime.

Mike Penning: May I repeat the thanks expressed on Second Reading to Her Majesty’s Opposition for the supportive way they have looked after me in my new role? I look forward to being with the shadow Minister tomorrow, up on the Committee Corridor once again, when we consider another piece of secondary legislation.

I genuinely wish I could support the amendment, but I cannot, as we are not yet in the right position to do so, as the shadow Minister suggested. This is a difficult situation, but I think everybody accepts and understands why the Justice Minister was first appointed in this way and then subsequently again in 2011. We have moved on from that, however. While what we propose in clauses 8 and 9 is not perfect, it does move us forward and address the anomaly in the position of the Justice Minister. We were formally approached by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to look at putting in place a provision that addressed this anomaly. We have done so through clauses 8 and 9, which is why I hope they will be agreed to.

Mark Durkan: I thank the Minister for what was a very straight and straightforward reply. It was exactly as expected. I would not have expected the Government to be moving. I expected that the best we would get would be mutual engagement, but no mutual adjustment. We have had mutual engagement, and there has not been adjustment. I fully understand the points made by other Members as well.

The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said that there are provisions around the Minister of Justice in terms of the Executive locus. That is precisely what I was referring to when I talked about some of the standards that are there, which are well honoured by the current incumbent, and which apply equally to all other Ministers as well. The existing protections do not need just to apply to the means of appointment, and there are also obligations and standards in place. However, recent events show that we might have more to do either here or in the Northern Ireland Assembly in respect of increasing the robustness of some of the standards around ministerial probity and accountability.

On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill (Clauses 1 to 9) reported, without amendment (Standing Order No. 83D(6)), and ordered to lie on the Table.

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Business without Debate

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

EU Strategy for an Open, Safe and Secure Cyberspace

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 6225/13, a Joint Communication on a Cybersecurity Strategy for the European Union: An Open, Safe and Secure Cyberspace; supports the Government in welcoming the strategic vision of the Strategy; and notes the Council Conclusions on Cybersecurity. —(Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

Delegated Legislation

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

Capital Gains Tax

That the Collective Investment Schemes (Tax Transparent Funds, Exchanges, Mergers and Schemes of Reconstruction) Regulations 2013 (S.I., 2013, No. 1400) dated 6 June 2013, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7 June, be approved. —(Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

Electoral Commission

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6) and Order, 18 June),

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Anthony Hugh Burton Hobman as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 1 January 2014 for the period ending on 31 December 2017. —(Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

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That the Motion in the name of Secretary Vince Cable relating to Financial Assistance to Industry, in respect of Digital Region Limited, shall be treated as if it relates to an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice has been given that the instruments be approved. —(Mr Swayne.)


Services for Stafford Hospital

9.51 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I have the great honour and privilege to present this petition to support services at Stafford hospital which, along with other petitions on similar terms, has been signed by 50,346 of my constituents and those of neighbouring colleagues. The petition expresses the deep concern of a community whose hospitals face the threat of a downgrade following the appointment of the trust special administrators and proposals by the contingency planning team to remove services from the hospitals. The petition has been collected by volunteers across the community.

The petition reads:

To the House of Commons.

The Petition of residents of Stafford and surrounding area,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the Trust Special Administrators, Jeremy Hunt and any other individuals responsible for the future of Stafford Hospital should support the hospital and save its acute services.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department of Health to ensure that Stafford Hospital retains a 24/7 A&E department, level 3 critical care and emergency service and full maternity services.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Dalgety Bay (Radiation)

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

9.52 pm

Mr Gordon Brown (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Lab): I rise to raise an issue—radiation contamination in Dalgety Bay in my Fife constituency—that I have raised with the House on two previous occasions: in November 2011, when I first asked Ministers to take action; and in March this year, when I suggested that the time was now overdue for action. I regret having to come back to the House, but I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to raise this issue, because we now have greater evidence of the scale of the contamination and of the risks inherent in it.

We are now faced with a choice, because in the next few months the Ministry of Defence will have to make a decision, as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency will be bound to designate this area as the only radiation-contaminated area in the United Kingdom if action is not taken by the MOD as soon as possible. It is an amazing fact that we have nuclear waste sites, we have nuclear submarines and we have weapons in different parts of the United Kingdom, but this small beach in the heart of my constituency, which is on a walkway, the coastal path of Fife, is liable to be named the first ever radiation-contaminated area in the UK. I want to do everything in my power this evening to persuade the Minister that it is within his power and the power of his Department to stop that.

Dalgety Bay is already the first area of the United Kingdom where a risk assessment study has had to be done to measure the extent of radiation contamination and where what is called an appropriate person report—a report under the legislation dealing with radiation contamination—has been produced and has concluded that the polluter of the area is indeed the Ministry of Defence. Today and tomorrow, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment is meeting in London to discuss the risk assessment report. In my view, it will reach the same conclusion as Health England: that the area is contaminated, that action must be taken as soon as possible and that the polluter should take responsibility for doing so.

Although I have raised the issue in the House for 18 months, it is only in the past few days that I have discovered the scale of the problem in the greatest detail, thanks to the risk assessment report and to the appropriate person report, of which the Minister will no doubt be aware. That makes it clear that the contamination of the beach area in Dalgety Bay arises from the fact that starting in 1946 and for 13 years, wartime fighter planes and other planes in the possession of the Royal Air Force were scrapped and incinerated before the ash, including radiated parts, was dumped in the area of Dalgety Bay. In 1946 alone, 800 planes were scrapped and their parts dumped in this area of my constituency. From 1946 to 1959, not a few planes—not tens, or twenties, or scores—but hundreds were broken up before their parts were incinerated and the ash, including radiated parts, was dumped in the area.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency report, which has just been published, states:

“The total number of radioactive…particles… that have now been recovered since the beginning of our investigation in September

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2011 is over 1,000. Of these sources, five had a radioactivity content of greater than 1 MBq of Radium-226…Four of these sources were located in the area which is currently cordoned off and the fifth on an area in front of the headland which is only accessible at low tide.”

There is no doubt in the view of SEPA that dumping of materials took place, that they have radioactive content, that because of coastal erosion the particles are being brought up to the surface and that action will now have to be taken.

Only a few days ago, I also discovered that there is a huge difference between what the Ministry of Defence admits privately and confidentially behind closed doors about what has happened and the public statements it has made. I very much regret having to bring this to the House, but on 14 December 1990, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of pollution sent a memo to Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Minister at the Scotland Office at the time. It is written by someone called Mr Wright and the copies went around a number of different people within Government. Mr Wright said:

“I attended a meeting with the MOD to discuss the possible origins of the contaminated material and to consider how best to proceed. MOD confirmed that some 800 aircraft were scrapped during 1946 at the nearby…HMS Merlin and that the aircraft would have contained instruments and equipment luminised with radium.

There is evidence that the debris from demolition work at the air station was used for infilling purposes between 1946 and 1959.

This information, together with the nature of the contained debris which has been found leaves little doubt as to the origins of the contaminated debris which has been found…and is likely that there is more material buried in the area inland from the beach.”

He went on to say:

“I am glad to report that”

the MOD

“seem willing to help both with further monitoring and with any remedial action which might be necessary.”

So there, in 1990, we have an admission that the Ministry of Defence is not prepared to make today—an admission that it refused to make when the responsible persons report, naming it as a polluter, was published. That is a memorandum from within the Government machine, from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of pollution, making it absolutely clear that the Ministry of Defence had not only admitted culpability, but was prepared to take the remedial action I have been demanding for some time.

In 1992, a similar report was done, in which the Ministry of Defence named Dalgety Bay as one of the polluted areas. Again, after 2000, it is absolutely clear from the report of Mr Fred Dawson, who was the head radiation protection officer dealing with the safety officer at the MOD, that the Ministry of Defence was advised by him, at that time, that it would be found liable, and that there was significant reputational damage involved in denying liability in this area.

When so many people and expert agencies have made it absolutely clear that the material is radioactive and was dumped by the Ministry of Defence, and that the infill has made possible the tip at the sailing club and at Dalgety Bay head, why does the Ministry of Defence still refuse to accept responsibility? It requested a lawyer’s report as well as an expert report by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Why, when it was published, a few days ago, did the Ministry of Defence

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say that it was not satisfied, that it doubted the veracity and accuracy of the report, and that it was not yet prepared to accept its culpability in this matter?

In the risk assessment report, which I have read in some detail, and the appropriate persons report, there is a year-by-year catalogue of the actions taken by the Ministry of Defence, through the Royal Air Force, which used the airfield for breaking up planes, incinerated the planes, prepared the ash for dumping, and removed the ash to the dump, which eventually became the ground on which part of Dalgety Bay—the new town—is built. At no point is it made clear by any witness that the Ministry of Defence is anything other than liable for this.

Why has the Ministry of Defence insisted on trying to pass the buck to other people in the area who have no responsibility for this contamination? The developers, the property owners, and the sailing club, which has had to change its constitution to protect itself from the fall-out from this, have all been suggested, by the Ministry of Defence, as being potentially to blame, when it is absolutely clear from every document we have that the Ministry of Defence is responsible. Unfortunately, it has to accept its role as a responsible polluter in the area.

This matter is made more difficult by the response of the Ministry of Defence to the risk assessment report by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. In a Ministry of Defence letter of 28 June to SEPA, a copy of which I have been given—it is very short and rather dismissive, I am afraid—the Ministry cites four objections, three of which are entirely technical and, I believe, easily dealt with, but one of them simply beggars belief. Key issue No. 1 is what it calls

“‘theoretical’ object—it is not clear whether an object with the properties required”—

that is, with radiation inherent in it—

“has been found or whether there is simply the possibility that such an object might exist.”

However, these objects were admitted in 1990. The fact that these particles were there was admitted in 1992. The Ministry of Defence’s own contractor found hundreds of these particles; 3,000 have been found in the bay.

The Dalgety Bay and Hillend community council has done a study of the work done by the Ministry of Defence contractor, and I am grateful to Colin McPhail, the chairman of the community council. It covers 100 trial pits and six bore holes. Some 84% of the material comes from the tip, and in 47% of the articles, there is radium-226. In 75% of the articles discovered, there is debris from the airfield. There can be absolutely no doubt that these are not theoretical objects, but particles that have been discovered. After all this time, the debates that we have had in the House of Commons, the letters that have been exchanged, the protests of the community council, and the evidence that the Ministry of Defence has received, it really is beyond me that the Ministry of Defence can believe that it is dealing with a theoretical issue, not a practical issue; there are contaminated particles that have to be either removed or covered up if the safety of residents is to be guaranteed.

If the Ministry of Defence thinks, in theoretical terms, that all the objects have been discovered and no further objects are going to rise to the surface, it is

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wrong. These objects are being discovered at the rate of 1,000 a year, and because these materials, as I know, do not decompose or disappear of themselves, they are likely to continue to come to the surface as a result of coastal erosion. As the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has told me, there is a cache of contaminated ash and clinker in areas of made ground which form the current coast in the area of Dalgety Bay.

In the letter that the Ministry of Defence sent to SEPA, it refers to a review that it is doing, and I would be grateful to hear the details of that. It says that it will take into account the findings of Public Health England, but Public Health England has already stated on 28 June that is agrees

“that radium-226 contaminated objects recovered from Dalgety Bay include objects that could give rise to radiation doses that exceed the relevant criteria”

of the regulation.

We know that the objects under consideration are not theoretical, but real. We know that the finds of these items are likely to continue over the years. We know that Public Health England already considers this a health issue that must be dealt with. We know that the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation will make a disposition on the matter tomorrow.

For two years now, the area has been in limbo. The beach area has been fenced off. The sailing club has had to change its constitution, as I told the House. House prices may yet be affected. The Ministry of Defence is trying to persuade residents in the next town, Rosyth, that that should become the site for the decommissioning, dumping and breaking up of nuclear submarines, telling them that there is no health hazard involved. When the MOD engaged in a consultation on the issue, the residents of Rosyth, who have a history of working with the Ministry of Defence through the naval base and, still, the royal dockyard, the major objection that the residents of Rosyth raise to the decommissioning and dismantling of submarines at Rosyth is that if the Ministry of Defence cannot be trusted to deal with radiation contamination at Dalgety Bay, how can they trust it to deal fairly with them over the dismantling and breaking up of submarines at Rosyth?

The Minister who dealt with the matter in the past said that if contamination is proven, if risks remain, and if the Ministry of Defence is found to be responsible, it will voluntarily, without the need for a designation order, fund the clean-up operation to remove the blight that is in the area for years and decades to come if nothing is done.

With these two major reports we have moved from the world of ifs to the world of certainties. Contamination has been proven. Risks do remain. The Ministry of Defence is responsible, and it is no use the Minister coming to the House this evening and saying, “If contamination is proven, if risks remain or if the Ministry of Defence is responsible, it will act.” These three facts are established. They are not theoretical, but real. They are not what might be. but what is. We have moved from the world of conditional statements that could have been made two or three years ago to unconditional certainties.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency was asked only to judge the balance of probability in these matters. It has actually shown that the problem is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence beyond all

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reasonable doubt, in my view. It is now time for the Ministry of Defence to do the decent thing. It should own up, clean up the area, pick up the bill for that because it is the responsibility of the MOD, and it should hurry up, because the residents of Dalgety Bay should not have to undergo another winter when further coastal erosion causes more particles to appear, the health risks to be mentioned by residents, as they are now, and the damage to get worse. I urge the Minister, even at this late stage, to accept responsibility and to get on with the clean-up of Dalgety Bay.

10.8 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Andrew Murrison): I start by warmly congratulating the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) on securing this debate. It is an important subject and he has expressed his views passionately, as I would expect. He has been, if I may say so, an assiduous Member of Parliament in his attention to this matter, securing Adjournment debates in November 2011 and in March this year. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary tells me that the right hon. Gentleman has also had a long conversation with him, when he covered much of the ground that he covered this evening and which I hope to cover in the time available to me tonight.

I well understand the right hon. Gentleman’s passion for this subject given his long association with the area and the local community he represents, and if he is agreeable to the notion, I look forward to visiting Dalgety Bay before too long. We have a duty to those we represent to present a balanced view that neither sensationalises nor causes unnecessary anxiety, and I know the right hon. Gentleman will want to do just that. Contrary to the impression he gave, however, the Ministry of Defence has never sought to abdicate its legal responsibilities, much less “pass the buck”. In fact, we have acknowledged that in all likelihood our historical activities introduced radium into what was Royal Naval Air Station Donibristle and HMS Merlin. Moreover, we have demonstrated a serious commitment to supporting the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and expended £825,000 to date undertaking a site investigation, as well as a monitoring and recovery programme along the foreshore. The right hon. Gentleman will recall the work we have undertaken in a number of gardens belonging to his constituents where radium was discovered, at a cost of some £500,000.

On recent statements in the press concerning a memo allegedly from the MOD, the document we are aware of, dated December 1990, is from Her Majesty’s industrial pollution inspectorate to the Scottish Office—I think that is what the right hon. Gentleman referred to in his remarks. We have found no evidence to corroborate claims that 800 aircraft were destroyed in 1946 through burning, and the resultant waste material—including ash—deposited on the beach or within the headland prior to 1959. Interestingly, the memo mentions the disposal by burial of waste arising from the scrapping of aircraft at a location inland from the beach, which we understand may be a former quarry. The memo also appears to acknowledge the MOD’s willingness to assist the regulator, then Her Majesty’s industrial pollution inspectorate—a situation not dissimilar to today when the MOD is assisting SEPA with its statutory inspection of the beach and adjacent shoreline.

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The question is whether there is significant risk of significant harm, and the extent to which the activities of those who controlled the land after the MOD impacted on the current situation. The right hon. Gentleman cannot dismiss the latter point because that is the statutory test.

Mr Gordon Brown: Has the Minister read the risk assessment and the appropriate persons report? If he has, will he acknowledge that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has established beyond any reasonable doubt that none of the people whom the Ministry of Defence thought may have been responsible for adding to pollution in the area is deemed responsible? If the statutory agency responsible for reporting on these matters is not believed by the Ministry of Defence, what are we to believe?

Dr Murrison: It is not a question of not believing statutory agencies, but I must report to the right hon. Gentleman that SEPA has been less than helpful in this matter. That is why there is a need for a further meeting, which my officials have scheduled, at which I hope such issues will be fully worked through. I am sure he would agree that in matters such as this where there is controversy over the evidence, and particularly the risk assessment that is central to this—

Mr Brown rose

Dr Murrison: If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will get back to him when I can. It is essential in controversial matters such as this that we are absolutely clear about the science, and particularly the risk assessment. That lies at the heart of our difficulty with some of the work that SEPA has done. At the end of this month, however, officials will meet SEPA and—particularly in the light of evidence to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded that may be forthcoming in the next few days—I hope we will be able to plot a way forward.

Mr Brown: Will the Minister publish the advice that was given to the Ministry of Defence before it talked to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of pollution? Will he tell us, as a freedom of information issue—I have asked for this information to be provided—what Ministry of Defence officials said to those people who were in touch with the inspectorate when it prepared the report in 1990? As far as the advice on the risk assessment is concerned, the Ministry of Defence’s objections essentially come down to one major point: it suggests that it does not believe that these sources have been found at the level of radiation required. Yet the people who have actually been doing the excavation are contractors employed by the Ministry of Defence.

Dr Murrison: I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has submitted a freedom of information request, and of course we will, as far as we can, respond to it. I must say that we have already looked for some of the documents cited by SEPA but cannot find them. Naturally, we will comply with whatever he requests, and if we have the information, will certainly provide it to him.

I believe that considerations of the sort I have outlined in relation to risk and who is responsible for management of the land are germane to this discussion. Indeed, they

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are key to understanding whether designation is required and how the material has come to be within the foreshore. Ultimately, the presence of radium at Dalgety Bay must be viewed and addressed in the light of the statutory regime for contaminated land, rather than correspondence from the 1990s.

Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): Does the Minister not agree with the former head of radiation protection at the MOD, Fred Dawson, who has warned that

“denial of liability could result in a long, drawn-out, expensive process at the end of which the MOD will be found liable and suffer significant reputational damage”?

Dr Murrison: Well, the aim of the Ministry of Defence is to do the right thing. We are bound by statute, but I hope that it will not come to statute because, as I have explained, our intention is to comply with statutory authorities voluntarily, but we need to explore the methodology that has gone into their assessment and take into account the views of Public Health England, which, despite its name, is of course the adviser to the Scottish Government on radiation matters—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath says from a sedentary position that it has given its view, but I think that he has given a partial account of it. If I can make some progress, perhaps I will be able to give a fuller account of what Public Health England has actually said.

My technical and legal experts have reviewed the two most recent reports by SEPA and identified issues relating to the adequacy and validity of both the risk assessments and the appropriate person report. Those concerns relate to the interpretation and use of fundamental scientific and legal principles. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had sight of the independent review by the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, formally part of the Health Protection Agency, but I must say that it hardly gives a ringing endorsement of SEPA’s approach and shows that many of our concerns are well founded. Those concerns lie at the heart of what this is all about and what I think he is trying to characterise as our unwillingness to make progress on the matter, which I think is unfair. I hope that he will understand that, when faced with professional opinion—

Mr Brown rose

Dr Murrison: If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will continue, because I think that I have been reasonably generous in giving way. I have four minutes left and it is important to put forward the Government’s side on the matter.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that when we are faced with evidence that is not entirely congruous in some important respects, it is essential that we take stock. A robust, evidence-based risk assessment is required that accords with accepted best practice and is scientifically rigorous. Without it, we simply cannot understand the level of risk posed to health and ensure that suitable and sufficient measures are in place to protect the public.

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To that end, we have previously emphasised to SEPA the importance of a credible risk assessment and raised serious concerns with it about its approach, concerns that have been reinforced by the findings of the recent review undertaken by the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, which concluded that the likelihood of a member of the public inadvertently ingesting an object contaminated with radium that could cause them significant harm is less than one in 10 million. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that radium is predominantly an alpha emitter, so ingestion is the key route by which harm can occur, notwithstanding the fact that radium and its decay products emit both beta and gamma radiation. SEPA confirmed at the last Dalgety Bay forum in May that the management measures currently in place remain sufficient to manage the risk to the public such that the risk remains very low, and arguably these measures exclude any area at Dalgety Bay from designation.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that in his first Adjournment debate he openly acknowledged that up until October 2011, when two high-activity items were discovered, there had been no evidence to suggest that there was a potential threat of any significance to public health or, for that matter, the presence of extensive contamination. As early as 1998, the annual risk of contracting a fatal cancer through inadvertent inhalation or ingestion was found to be less than one in 1 million: in his words, a “negligible risk”. He also went on to draw comparison between—

Mr Brown: Will the Minister give way?

Dr Murrison: No, I will not. I do not have time; I am very sorry.

The right hon. Gentleman also went on to draw comparison between Aberdeen and Dalgety Bay based on a 1995 study that found that the highest ambient external radiation dose rate found at Dalgety Bay was two thirds of that found naturally in the granite in Aberdeen.

The scoping risk assessment undertaken by the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards in 2012, which took account of the two high-activity objects found in late 2011 and the subsequent find in April 2012, together with the current management measures, concluded that the risk of attributable cancer was actually less than one in 100 million. In addition, the most recent cancer study published by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment in December 2012, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, found no evidence of the occurrence of cancers in the local population that could be attributed to the presence of radium-226.

Mr Brown rose

Dr Murrison: I have one minute left and I will not give way.

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, who was of course in high office for 13 years and did nothing on this subject, that he needs to be very careful indeed about raising fears in his local population. He knows full well that Government will comply with statute but, more than that, will do anything they can voluntarily to protect public health, but it has to be on the grounds of

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science and a proper risk assessment. To that end, my officials will be meeting SEPA later this month to discuss the methodological problems with the science and come to some sort of way ahead. I personally look forward to visiting Dalgety Bay in the very near future, and I look forward to further discussions with the right hon. Gentleman on this subject.

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Question put and agreed to.

10.22 pm

House adjourned.