Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I am sure that during his earlier exchange with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) about the merits of Nigel Farage, the Leader of the House simply forgot to say how delighted we all were

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that Mr Farage failed to get elected to the seat of Buckingham at the last general election. May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the amendment that stands in the name of the whole Procedure Committee, the chair of the 1922 committee, the chair of the parliamentary Labour party, and other hon. Members, to order No. 9 about the calling of amendments at the end of the Gracious Speech? Can the Procedure Committee therefore invite the Leader of the House to bring it on early in the new year?

Mr Lansley: I am, of course, familiar with the amendment to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and it has been on the remaining orders for some time. I confess that time is pressing but the issue is not pressing in that sense. If I may, I will advise the House in due course about when it would be suitable to debate that matter.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Further to the earlier question from the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), will the Leader of the House offer the prospect of a full statement, before the House rises, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about what the UN Secretary-General has described as a deeply concerning situation in South Sudan, with more than 500 people dead since the weekend, 20,000 people seeking refuge with the United Nations, and violence spreading out from the capital, Juba? Will the Leader of the House give a full guarantee to concerned families about the safety of UK nationals who are still in that country?

Mr Lansley: I deliberately gave a fuller answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) than I might otherwise have done, because I am aware it is the final day before the House rises and there might not be another opportunity for Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers to update it. If the hon. Gentleman is in his place, and were he to catch the eye of the Speaker, it is open to him to raise the issue again during the pre-recess Adjournment debate that follows statements to the House. I took care this morning to ensure that what I said was up to date and full regarding the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s response to the situation.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Ministers have now admitted that there are delays in processing personal independence payments, which are impacting on people with long-term debilitating illnesses such as cancer. Will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate in Government time so that we can examine why those delays are occurring and what the Government are doing to remedy them?

Mr Lansley: I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has previously raised this issue with Ministers. To be practical, during the recess I will ask Ministers to respond to him directly so that we can see the position early in the new year.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The behaviour on the Government Benches yesterday during the food bank debate, with Members laughing at the plight of individuals having to go to food banks, was truly shocking to my constituents and many other people up and down this land. May we have a debate

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about the huge increase in the numbers of homeless people and people sleeping rough, and see whether that also causes amusement on the Government Benches?

Mr Lansley: I am sorry but I do not accept at all the hon. Lady’s premise about the debate yesterday. I think it best for Members not to assume that because they can see what is happening on the other side of the House, they can also hear what is happening. Frankly, that brings the House into disrepute unnecessarily, which is not something I would encourage. On rough sleeping and homeless people, the Government continuously try to ensure that as few people as possible are sleeping rough, and that support, including hostel places, is available for all those who are sleeping rough.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): The Leader of the House will know that the Department for Transport has been promising all year to publish a Green Paper on graduated licensing for newly qualified drivers, to try to reduce the number of young people killed on our roads. This morning, in answer to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), essentially said that the matter is being postponed indefinitely. May we have a debate on that or a statement from the Department for Transport, so that the House can be informed about what is going on?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman knows that we have discussed this matter before in business questions, so I am interested in the point he makes. I confess that I have not seen that answer to that question. I will look at it and talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport to see whether we can advise him further on their plans.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): On Monday of this week, 615 of my constituents lost their jobs at Sharp’s solar plant in Wrexham when investment, which was hard won in 2004 under the previous Government, ended. May we have a debate on this Government’s chaotic investment policy on renewables, which is deterring international investors from bringing jobs to the UK for constituents such as mine, who will have no jobs this Christmas?

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Mr Lansley: I heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, set out plans that are giving people increasing confidence in the prospects for renewables investment in this country. I will of course look at the situation the hon. Gentleman raises, which must be of concern to his constituents in Wrexham in particular, and ask my hon. Friends at the Department for their response. The general context, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, is that we are making tremendous progress on private sector jobs, with more than 1.6 million more private sector jobs since the election.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Happy Christmas, Mr Speaker.

May we have a debate on the proliferation of low-paid bogus self-employment arrangements, especially in the hospitality industry, which are responsible for so many personal cost of living crises?

Mr Lansley: Happily, the hon. Gentleman may recall that during the autumn statement the Chancellor set out some of the ways Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is continuing to bear down on schemes that are clearly designed to avoid tax. If I recall correctly, they included issues relating to the question of employment and self-employment, and they will be pursued in that context.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone in the House.

May we have a statement, as early as possible next year, from a Treasury Minister to tell us why millionaires are paying less tax this Christmas than they were last, before the Chancellor makes a decision in the Budget to ensure that millionaires pay less tax next Christmas than they are this?

Mr Lansley: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I do not think we need a statement. First, as I said earlier, the 1% with the highest incomes are paying 30% of tax. Secondly, the highest rate of income tax is now higher than it was in every month of the previous Labour Government, except for the last month. Thirdly, 2.7 million of the lowest earners have been taken out of income tax altogether.

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Detainee Inquiry

Mr Speaker: Before I call the Minister without Portfolio to make his statement, I should say to the House that the subject matter concerns certain right hon. Members personally. I know that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) wishes to catch my eye. I have said to him that in these exceptional circumstances I am prepared to allow him latitude in phrasing his remarks and rather more time to make them than would be usual. Even so, I know he appreciates that brevity will assist, as this is not a debate.

11.43 am

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr Kenneth Clarke): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on a report being published today by the former Court of Appeal judge, the right hon. Sir Peter Gibson, on the treatment of detainees. It may first be helpful to remind the House of the circumstances in which Sir Peter’s inquiry was set up.

In the statement he gave to the House in July 2010, the Prime Minister explained that questions had been raised about the degree to which, in the years immediately after the horrific events of 11 September 2001, British officers had worked with those from foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done. The Prime Minister made it clear that it has never been suggested that United Kingdom intelligence officers were themselves directly responsible for the mistreatment of detainees. Nevertheless, the allegations of involvement had done harm to our reputation as a country which believes in human rights, justice and the rule of law and had called into question the robustness of the rules under which our services operate.

The Prime Minister then set out his determination and the determination of the whole coalition Government to get to grips with these allegations so that the security services could get on and do their vital job of keeping us safe. First, he announced that we would seek to settle the civil compensation cases brought against the Government by the former Guantanamo detainees. In due course, a significant settlement was agreed with them in November of that year. Secondly, he introduced vital reforms to improve the operational, parliamentary and judicial regulation of the agencies. Thirdly, he invited Sir Peter Gibson to hold an inquiry that would deal properly with the historical allegations. Sir Peter was asked to begin immediately with his preparatory work, and his inquiry was due to start formally when the police investigations into these matters had concluded. The Prime Minister made it clear that he expected the inquiry to take no longer than a year.

Sir Peter and his panel and the Government have been frustrated in their hopes of progress by how long the police investigations have taken. It was not until January 2012 that the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police issued a joint statement announcing that there was insufficient evidence to bring prosecutions in the two criminal investigations that had been preventing the start of the inquiry’s public work, but at the same time they also announced that new investigations would begin into alleged renditions to Libya in 2004. Of course, it is important that these matters be investigated

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properly by the police, but it raised the prospect of a still further indeterminate delay before Sir Peter could begin to call witnesses and hear evidence.

With the panel’s agreement, therefore, I announced in a statement to the House that the detainee inquiry would produce its report based solely on its preparatory analysis. This report was to highlight any particular themes or issues that should be the subject of further examination. A classified version of the report was to be presented to the Prime Minister, and an open version was to be made public. Nevertheless, the report is a substantial piece of work and the product of extensive independent analysis of some 20,000 written documents, some of which have not been examined by any previous review. It finds no evidence in the documents to support any allegation that UK intelligence officers were directly responsible for the mistreatment of detainees held by other countries overseas, and no material has been referred to the police for further consideration, but it identifies 27 issues that require further examination, grouped under four broad themes: interrogation and treatment; rendition; guidance and training; and matters relating to policy and communications.

The period concerned was one in which we and our international partners were suddenly adapting to a completely new scale and type of threat from fundamentalist religious extremists, and many UK intelligence officers had to operate in extraordinarily challenging environments, subject to real personal danger. Everyone in the Government and the agencies accepts, however, that this bravery has to be combined with clear rules of proportionality and accountability to ensure that we uphold the values we are working hard to defend. So, while we accept that intelligence operations must be conducted in the strictest secrecy, we also expect there to be strict oversight of those operations to ensure that at all times they respect the human rights that are a cornerstone of this country’s values.

The questions raised by Sir Peter’s report, combined with the other reviews that have been conducted of the period, paint a picture of Government and agencies struggling to come to terms with the new level of threat faced by this country. It is now clear that our agencies and their staff were, in some respects, not prepared for the extreme demands suddenly placed on them. The guidance regulating how intelligence officers should act was inadequate. The practices of some of our international partners should have been understood much sooner. Oversight was not robust enough, and there was no mechanism in the civil courts for allegations against the security and intelligence services to be examined properly. Most of those problems related to a relatively short period of time in the early 2000s, but they risked some damage to our reputation as a nation that prides itself on being a beacon of justice, human rights and the rule of law. I believe I speak for the whole House when I say that if failures and mistakes were made in that period, it is a matter of sincere regret.

From its very first days in office, this Government have been determined to enact reforms that ensure that the problems of the past cannot be repeated. Those reforms, and changes made under the previous Government, mean that the framework within which our agencies now operate is very different from that during the period that Sir Peter’s report describes. We have finalised and published consolidated guidance, setting out very

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clearly how intelligence that could lead to a detention should be handled, and how detainee interviews overseas should be conducted. Compliance with this guidance is monitored by the independent Intelligence Services Commissioner who reports annually to the Prime Minister. We have made it clear that Ministers must be consulted whenever an intelligence officer involved in a planned operation believes a detainee is at serious risk of mistreatment by a foreign state, even if that raises the risk of a terrorist action going ahead. We have dramatically improved Parliament’s ability to oversee the actions of the agencies—we did that through the Justice and Security Bill, which I took through the House on behalf of the Government last year. The Intelligence and Security Committee is now a Committee of Parliament, fully independent of Government, and the Prime Minister can no longer appoint its Chairman. It can require information of the intelligence agencies, not just request it. It has a new statutory right to review past intelligence operations and, for the first time, the Committee and its staff will have direct access to agency papers.

Finally, the Justice and Security Bill, which is now an Act of Parliament, introduced new court procedures to ensure that if allegations are made that things have gone wrong, even the most secret intelligence activities can be examined by an independent judge in a civil court of law. The combination of these reforms means that a line has begun to be drawn under a difficult period of the past. Despite that, it remains important that we deal properly with the 27 issues that Sir Peter’s report raises. It would be wrong to leave those issues, many of which relate to matters of policy, unexamined for the unknown amount of time it will take for the police to complete their related investigations. Equally, it would be wrong to ask a judge to examine material which in any way could compromise a live criminal investigation. It is the combination of those police investigations and the fact that they thwart a judge’s inquiry that have led to the frustrating delay in this case, which is felt by everyone involved.

Therefore, the Prime Minister has discussed and agreed with the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament that it will inquire into the themes and issues that Sir Peter has raised, take further evidence, and report to the Government and to Parliament on the outcome of its inquiry. Additional resources will be provided to the Committee to undertake that work, so that it does not affect the work it is currently doing on the killing of drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich earlier this year, and its work on the following inquiry it has announced it will be undertaking into the necessary balance between privacy and security as regards communication interception.

To assist the Committee with its work, the Prime Minister has already asked the agency heads to provide him with full and detailed responses to the questions raised in the panel’s report for which they are responsible. He has also asked the Intelligence Services Commissioner to provide his views on current compliance with those aspects of the consolidated guidance that he monitors. Both of those reports will be made available to the Committee in full by the end of February next year.

I hope and expect that by the end of next year the ISC will have finished its report. I also hope that the police will have finished their investigations. It will then

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be possible for the Government to take a final view as to whether a further judicial inquiry still remains necessary to add any further information of value to future policy making and the national interest.

11.55 am

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I thank the Minister for his statement and Sir Peter Gibson for his work and the interim report.

As I respond to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s statement, I should make it clear that I have not had sight of the redacted version of Sir Peter Gibson’s interim report, which is published today.

I am confident that I speak for the whole House when I say that MPs from all parties condemn all forms of inhumane, cruel and degrading forms of treatment. Our freedoms and the high standards we promote in protecting human rights distinguish us as a nation, and our influence across the globe is strengthened as a result. Those freedoms are fundamental to our society, and our security and intelligence services work on an ongoing daily basis to protect us and the freedoms we hold dear.

We owe those services a debt of gratitude for keeping this country safe from threats—work that is dependent on men and women taking grave personal risks on a daily basis. Again, I know I speak on behalf of Members from all parties and the public in thanking them for their crucial role. Notwithstanding the crucial work that the agencies do to keep us safe, any allegations of involvement by members of our security and intelligence services in serious breaches of the law need proper and full investigation.

Any acts that might contravene the law in the ways alleged would run counter to everything our nation stands for and believes in. For that reason, it is important there is a full and proper investigation, exposing any wrongdoing and bringing those responsible to account. We also need to ensure that the appropriate lessons are learned and that there is no repeat in the future. We need to do that in as independent, open and transparent a manner as possible, in a way that maintains the confidence of the public.

It is now almost two years since the Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and announced that his Government’s inquiry, led by Sir Peter Gibson, was to be abandoned because of ongoing criminal investigations. I have some questions for the Minister that I hope he will be able to answer this afternoon. Why has there been such a long delay in the publication of Sir Peter Gibson’s report? Of course, we understand why sensitive parts of the report need to be redacted, but who decided which sections were redacted?

The Minister was categorical in January 2012 that a future judge-led inquiry would be restarted at an appropriate time in the future. That is particularly important in light of the commitments made by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister that it had to be an independent judge-led inquiry. Bearing in mind that the interim inquiry by Sir Peter Gibson has identified 27 issues that require further examination, why have the Government changed their mind about the importance of the restarted inquiry also being judge-led?

There are recent examples of a judge successfully examining material in an inquiry without compromising criminal investigations. Will the Minister therefore explain

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why he has handed the inquiry into the issues that Sir Peter has raised over to the ISC rather than a judge? I have great respect for the Committee’s work and recognise that it has increased powers and increased resources, but does the right hon. and learned Gentleman believe that his original aspirations—and those of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary—for the inquiry to be as independent, open and public as possible can be met by such an investigation?

Bearing in mind that much of the litigation in this area will inevitably be conducted under closed material proceedings, the scope and coverage of which the Government extended last year to include such cases, does the Minister agree that there is even more reason to ensure that any investigation is as independent and transparent as possible, and has the confidence of the public? Does the Minister believe that the public will have greater confidence in an ISC investigation than in a judge-led one? If so, will he explain his thinking?

Organisations representing detainees and their families had concerns that Sir Peter Gibson’s original inquiry was not compliant with articles 3 and 6 of the European convention on human rights. They chose to disengage from the process. I asked the Minister back in January 2012 what he intended to do to ensure that the inquiry’s legitimacy was bolstered by working to re-engage those groups and organisations. The interim findings, published by Sir Peter Gibson today, could have been used as an opportunity to show the non-governmental organisations and the public that the judge-led inquiry was working under its terms of reference to win back the confidence of the public. Does the Minister think that that is an opportunity missed?

My final question for the Minister is what additional steps he and the ISC will take to address the perception—fair or unfair—that today’s announcement of the ISC taking over the inquiry is a whitewash? Ultimately, the key aims are to get to the bottom of what happened and to ensure that lessons are learnt and justice is done, as well as maintaining public confidence. We will work constructively in any way we can to satisfy those aims.

Mr Clarke: First, I certainly share the right hon. Gentleman’s frustration with the delay, which was not contemplated by the Prime Minister or anyone in government when we embarked on this process. Indeed, we are extremely anxious to inquire as necessary as quickly as possible so that we can draw a line under this matter, learn lessons and ensure that the House can be totally confident that there would be no similar problems in future. The delay has been caused by the length of time taken for the police to investigate these matters. No politician has control over the police and it is right for them to inquire into issues where they believe it is justifiable to do so, but the result has been a timeless delay. Nobody has been able to proceed, in Sir Peter Gibson’s case, to the calling of witnesses and the taking of evidence, because that could compromise any criminal procedures and investigations that needed to take place in due course.

I join the right hon. Gentleman in praising the work of Sir Peter and his panel in producing this report, which, in the circumstances, is extremely valuable, but as the panel makes clear, it can come to no conclusions and make no findings of fact or conclusive allegations

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against anybody, and nor can it clear anybody conclusively, because it relied on documents that were frustrated when it came to calling witnesses.

Only one passage in the report is redacted. We did our best to reach agreement with the panel on the redactions and we were anxious to publish as much as possible, as was the panel. The redactions relate to a matter that is already subject to a public interest immunity certificate in the courts. In my and the Government’s opinion, there was no going back on that. Sir Peter and the panel acknowledge in the text that the redaction is of no significance to the general narrative and the issues set out in the report.

The Prime Minister was quite clear about preferring a judge-led inquiry. When he said that almost two years ago, I said we would set up the judicial inquiry once the police investigations were over and we could get the inquiry under way. That has not proved possible, however. Nobody contemplated at that time that in December 2013 we would still be trying to work out when we would be capable of proceeding.

A judge-led inquiry normally involves the publication of evidence as the inquiry proceeds, although in cases such as this the evidence is sometimes redacted. The whole process of a judicial inquiry could conceivably compromise a criminal investigation. It is true that some recent inquiries, such as that conducted by Lord Justice Leveson into a totally different matter, proceeded although criminal investigations were taking place, but Lord Justice Leveson avoided, very scrupulously, any areas that might compromise the criminal investigation. The trouble with Sir Peter Gibson’s scope is that the only matters that he is considering are the subject of criminal investigations, so the same situation could not arise. The Prime Minister has therefore come up with the solution of referring the issue to the Intelligence and Security Committee in the House of Commons.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can be persuaded that that is a very good way of proceeding. The ISC’s inquiry can start now, whereas a judge-led inquiry could not. Moreover, the House of Commons has greatly strengthened the ISC. When we debated these matters last year, Members in all parts of the House agreed that we should make the ISC independent, more powerful, and capable of calling for, rather than merely requesting, the information that it wanted. I think that we now have an opportunity to demonstrate that its work is a valuable addition to all the other requirements in our constitution to ensure that the activities of our intelligence services are properly accountable, and that, as far as is feasible, there is some democratic oversight of what can be done.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman reminded me that, two or three years ago, non-governmental organisations and perfectly reasonable lobbies had criticised Sir Peter Gibson and refused to co-operate with him because, in their view, his inquiry did not comply with article 3 of the European convention on human rights. I remember that exchange, which disappointed me at the time. The organisations concerned appeared to be arguing for a full-blooded public inquiry in which everyone would be represented—detainees present, press sitting in the gallery at the back—and in which a great deal of evidence would be produced that would be of enormous value to this country’s enemies. No country in the world would sensibly deal with matters in that way. I think that the process we are adopting, with the use of the ISC, is the

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best way of ensuring that our intelligence services remain as strong and effective as we all want them to be, that their bravery is respected, and that they are protected when they carry out work on behalf of all of us, while also ensuring that there is proper scrutiny and a proper inquiry so that we can be reassured that the highest ethical guidelines are being followed.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): May I, through the Minister, give the House an assurance about the work that the Intelligence and Security Committee has agreed to undertake?

As Members will know, in 2005 and 2007 the Committee published reports on the treatment of detainees and on rendition. Those reports turned out to be unsatisfactory and incomplete, because the intelligence agencies had not provided the Committee with all the relevant information, which, at the time, they were under no statutory obligation to do. As the Minister has said, that has now changed: the agencies are required to provide all the information, and the Committee’s own staff can go directly to them and inspect their files. It is on that basis, and on the basis of the extra resources that we will be given to prevent our other work from being interfered with or delayed, that the Committee believes that it can fulfil this duty, and is very willing to do so.

Mr Clarke: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for explaining why we gave the ISC more powers, and why that very powerful Committee, with its very strong membership, is capable of exercising its responsibilities and—we hope—producing the information that we require. The Gibson report did indeed indicate that when it had previously tried to conduct inquiries into detention and rendition, the Committee had not been given access to much fuller information involving all the incidents of detainee mistreatment that had been complained about, and the full internal investigations of rendition that had taken place. I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend’s Committee will rectify that when it returns to the subject.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for allowing me a response at greater length than is usual. May I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his statement and the care he has taken in handling this matter, which I personally appreciate, and may I say that I share many of the sentiments he has expressed?

I greatly welcome today’s announcement that the Intelligence and Security Committee will now inquire into the questions raised by Sir Peter Gibson’s interim report, and that all relevant witnesses will be able to give testimony in person? Such a further inquiry is, surely, imperative given that the 27 sets of issues Sir Peter identifies have been based entirely on the available documents, and not on any statements, or oral examinations of witnesses?

May I tell the House that, as Foreign Secretary, I acted at all times in a manner that was fully consistent with my legal duties and with national and international law, and that I was never in any way complicit in the unlawful rendition or detention of individuals by the United States or any other state?

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Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware, as Sir Peter brings out in his interim report and has long been known more widely, that in early January 2002 I agreed that the UK should not stand in the way of UK nationals who were detained in Afghanistan by the United States being transferred to Guantanamo Bay, and that I did so after careful legal advice and because, at the time, it was the only practical alternative to their remaining in custody in Afghanistan? But will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also accept that we never agreed in any way to the mistreatment of those detainees or to the denial of their rights, that we made repeated objections to the United States Government about these matters, and that I was able to secure the release of all British detainees by January 2005?

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that we should never forget the context: that the period covered by this report was the aftermath of the world’s most appalling terrorist atrocity ever, on 11 September 2001, and that in this period there was a continuing and profound anxiety about further terrorist outrages to come—anxieties that were all too well placed, as we all discovered on 7 July 2005?

Finally, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that throughout this difficult period it was the exemplary professionalism and bravery of our armed forces and of the staff of our intelligence and security agencies which ensured that, in so far as was humanly possible, our nation and its people were kept safe?

Mr Clarke: I have the greatest respect for the right hon. Gentleman and I have considerable sympathy with him for the frustrating personal position in which he finds himself. There has been briefing around this matter and allegations have been made, and he has had no opportunity of appearing before Sir Peter and giving evidence, which he was anxious to do, and helping Sir Peter and the panel establish what actually happened during the period in question. He will now have the opportunity to do so when the ISC looks into these matters. Obviously, I cannot give any opinion on the issues the right hon. Gentleman raises because they relate precisely to what we are trying to get someone to investigate and reach a conclusion on, but it is certainly the case, as Sir Peter’s report makes clear, that one of the issues that will have to be looked at is whether Ministers were properly informed in full about what was going on and what necessary ministerial authorisation there was.

I also share the right hon. Gentleman’s final sentiment. I hope that all Members agree that we want the toughest and most effective intelligence services we can get and that we want our intelligence services to be at least as effective as those of any other nation. But we are a democracy and we also want to know that what they do is proportionate, complies with essential ethical standards and is authorised by a Minister, and that all the activities are carried out by people who are accountable to the Ministers responsible and to Parliament as well, when possible. That is the conclusion I hope we will eventually reach.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): The security services do a great job and they deserve our support, but I do not think this statement will help them. It is

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truly shocking that Britain has facilitated kidnap and torture, and the decision to abandon this judge-led inquiry will, I think, come to be seen as a mistake. Does the Minister agree that it is as essential for the standing of the intelligence services, on whom we depend, as it is for the wider public that we get to the truth about the extent of Britain’s involvement, as only that way can we restore trust? The Minister has said that the ISC will complete this work, but what confidence can the public have in its conclusions when that same body wrongly concluded that Britain was not involved in 2007, only to be flatly contradicted by a High Court ruling the following year? Is it not the case that the ISC’s new powers about which we have just heard are in any case heavily qualified—papers may be withheld on grounds of sensitivity and the ISC’s remit on operational matters is only permitted in certain circumstances?

Mr Clarke: First, I share my hon. Friend’s determination that we get to the truth of these matters and that they are investigated. Indeed, I share his concern that anybody from the United Kingdom should be involved in unlawful rendition, and I used to support his campaigns when we were both in opposition. I disagree with him about the way we are progressing now. The judge-led inquiry cannot proceed with taking evidence from people and publishing evidence alongside continuing police investigations which may or may not lead to some further criminal proceedings if anyone is eventually prosecuted. The question is do we, frustratingly, just continue to wait—I think it is more than three years since the Prime Minister made his statement—or do we seek to demonstrate that we really have now got a parliamentary Committee with the powers and authority required to do the job and report back to this House and the Prime Minister on its findings and recommendations?

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is dismissive of the Committee’s powers. He took part in the debates last year. We have considered them and the Committee has far more powers than it previously had. One of the things it will be looking at is how, when the previous Committee investigated treatment of detainees and rendition, it did not appear to have been supplied with information that was in fact being shared with others inside the Government and which had been assembled by the agencies for their own use. I think it is highly unlikely that that will be repeated and I think the present Committee can be relied upon to use the powers to demand papers and to go to the offices and look through the records of the agencies in order to revisit its conclusions on those matters.

Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab): May I ask the Minister to confirm my understanding of what he has said, which is that Sir Peter and his team have identified a large number of questions, many of them fairly familiar, to which they have been unable to find answers in the documents they have studied, and that in consequence they have not drawn conclusions? I ask him to reaffirm that that is the case, because my strong suspicion is that there will be those who will try to draw conclusions nevertheless.

Mr Clarke: Given that somebody has been briefing in advance, which I give the assurance is certainly not me or anybody with my authority, it is already clear that

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people are drawing the conclusions that we would anticipate them drawing if they already happened to be on one side of the argument or another before we started, and that, I am afraid, will continue. The right hon. Lady makes an extremely important point, and Sir Peter makes it clear at least twice in the report he is publishing today that it is quite wrong, and indeed impossible, to make findings of fact, and certainly any findings concerning any individuals involved, before he has called evidence, called them before him if necessary, given them an opportunity to explain and completed these investigations. That is why this inquiry identifies issues, which the ISC will now consider and decide whether and how to pursue. It has not made any findings of fact. In this country it would be quite wrong to make findings of fact of any kind, or to draw adverse inferences against anybody, when nobody has given any evidence, nobody has been challenged, and nobody has been given a chance to give their own explanation of events.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): May I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) that the agencies do not have the power to withhold sensitive material from the ISC, of which I am a member? If they wish to do so, they have to appeal directly to the Prime Minister. In every other respect, they have to give us what we want to see. May I also remind the House that the ISC has been keen to get to grips with this matter, and that it actually started its own investigation, which had to be stayed when the Gibson inquiry was set up? Finally, may I give the House a personal assurance that, notwithstanding the context of trying to bring Libya back within the comity of nations, there are members of the ISC—one third of whom are senior Labour Members—who, far from endorsing any whitewash, would take a great deal of convincing that it was ever reasonable, proportionate or justifiable to supply people to Colonel Gaddafi’s regime?

Mr Clarke: I endorse what my hon. Friend says about the determination of the ISC to help the House to bring these matters to a proper conclusion and to form its judgments on them in due course.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Is not the heart of the issue the lack of effective accountability of the security services, and the fact that the ISC is not an ordinary parliamentary Committee? It is appointed by the Prime Minister and reports to him. Are not the Minister’s proposals just a way of sidestepping the need for a serious examination of the accountability issue and for holding an independent judge-led inquiry rather than the process that has been set out?

Mr Clarke: I have addressed that point already, and I would have hoped that my earlier answer would have satisfy the hon. Gentleman. My starting point is the same as his. We need the intelligence services, and I share the gratitude that many have expressed for the bravery and determination that they demonstrate in protecting the citizens of this country from the undoubted threats to their lives and safety. I want intelligence services that work properly. Indeed, I hope that they will steal the secrets of our serious enemies. I also hope that they will alert us to what those enemies are proposing to do, and help us to frustrate them. It is the experience

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of quite a number of people in this House that that is exactly what the intelligence services do, and that they do it very effectively.

It is also important, as the hon. Gentleman says, that what the intelligence services do is proportionate to the scale of the risk posed, that they are accountable and that, when they start going in for subterfuge, it is authorised by a Minister who is democratically accountable to this House. That is what marks out our intelligence services from those of totalitarian regimes, and that must always be the case. Those standards must apply to all the activities involved, including collecting data, surveillance and the activity of the agencies in the field. I am afraid that, in the modern world, such activities will always be necessary to protect the safety of our citizens, so long as we are not damaging our values and so long as we can be confident that everything is accountable and authorised by the proper people.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): The Foreign Affairs Committee published its human rights report in October. In it, we expressed our concern that no progress had been made in agreeing with human rights groups how a successor to the detainee inquiry might proceed on a more transparent basis. I have heard what the Minister has just said about human rights groups, but given that we owe a lot to their efforts—there would have been no Belhaj investigation without them, for example—will he initiate discussions to see whether any common ground can be established?

Mr Clarke: It is also possible that there would have been no Belhaj investigation if someone in Colonel Gaddafi’s entourage had not carelessly left their papers lying about when fleeing Tripoli. That is no doubt one of the matters that will be inquired into in due course. I have the greatest sympathy with the human rights organisations; they are on the side of the angels, and they expound principles with which I wholeheartedly agree. However, I continue to believe—as I stated when we were arguing about closed sessions in civil proceedings last year—that they are being wholly unrealistic if they think that the intelligence services can be effective while the details of all their operations are being discussed in open court. We are not here to feed the media, or to help people who are gathering evidence for whatever civil litigation they might wish to bring. We are here to ensure that we have truly effective, working intelligence agencies that protect the citizens of this country. We make them accountable, but we also need to exercise common sense and have regard to their safety as we go about inquiring into their activities.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the report, and I believe that the whole House will welcome the statement from my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). We would expect nothing less from such a distinguished parliamentarian who has served the House and this country extremely well. May I reiterate the point that he made about the importance and desirability of oral evidence being taken? Much has been written about that, but perhaps we will now have the opportunity to set out the facts.

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Mr Clarke: I very much hope so. Like me, the hon. Gentleman obviously regrets that it has taken three years to get to this point. I hope that the ISC will be able to report back by—who knows?—the end of next year.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): It seems curious that, if a judge-led inquiry cannot proceed while a police investigation is going on, an ISC inquiry should be able to proceed. Another, more interesting, issue is the question of democratic accountability. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) is a man of deep experience, and we are lucky to have him in the House. If the time should come when he decides to step down, however, we will need procedures of democratic accountability. Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister look into implementing the proposal in the Wright report that there should be an elected Chair of the ISC, subject to prime ministerial veto, who is ideally a member of the Opposition?

Mr Clarke: As I said in my statement, the problem with a judge-led inquiry is that it is normal, having taken evidence from witnesses, for it to produce evidence as the inquiry goes along. The ISC can proceed in whatever way it wishes, however, and it is not likely to do that. So we can start to proceed with the ISC inquiry, whereas to proceed with a judge-led inquiry could be more difficult and would certainly give rise to some controversy. I do not think that one route is necessarily preferable to the other, so long as both are strong, independent and effective in coming to their conclusions.

Whether we have done enough to strengthen the ISC will no doubt be easier to decide when it has completed the three important reports that it is working on. It is now looking into the background agency information on the murder of Lee Rigby, as well as examining the whole question of collecting material, surveillance and the balance between security and privacy. And it is now going to look into the considerable matters of detention and rendition, although I presume that it will not undertake all those inquiries contemporaneously. We wish the members of the ISC well in their labours; they have taken on a considerable amount of responsibility. If, at the end, we decide that the Committee needs to be strengthened further, that will be the time to look into that. It will not be a matter for me anyway; it will be for the House to decide on the procedures for appointing the Committee.

Mr Speaker: It is clear that the members of the Committee are not only immensely distinguished colleagues—it would be impossible to overstate the extent of their distinction—but destined to be very busy bees in the period ahead.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): My right hon. and learned Friend has already mentioned this point, as has the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), but may I reiterate how grateful we should be to the men and women of the security services? They often work in dangerous and lonely conditions, and they have to act with great gallantry, for which they get scant recognition. The House must recognise that fully.

Mr Clarke: I agree entirely with my hon. and gallant Friend. He understands how much the forces in the field, as well as the public in this country, depend on the accuracy of the intelligence available to them and on

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the ability of the people who work on our behalf to infiltrate the organisations with which we unfortunately sometimes find ourselves faced. I endorse all his sentiments in full.

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): My right hon. and learned Friend is to be commended for the candour and openness of his statement to the House today. Is it not clear that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) was dealing with unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances in the aftermath of 9/11, and many people, of all different political persuasions, looking objectively at the decisions he took, will conclude that he discharged his duties then with complete responsibility and acted with total integrity?

Mr Clarke: I would expect that, certainly, and absolutely nothing in this report casts doubt on that integrity at all. The right hon. Member for Blackburn has the misfortune of being named in it because he had that most responsible office at the time, but he has already given his statement, as it were, to this House and it is quite obvious that the problems he was dealing with were immense and unprecedented, and that a great deal was done while he was Foreign Secretary to protect this country from further harm.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Following on from the questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) and for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), will my right hon. and learned Friend be able to give an undertaking on behalf of the Prime Minister that the reserve power to refuse sensitive information to the ISC will not be used?

Mr Clarke: As there is that reserve power, I cannot give an absolute guarantee that it will be a dead letter when we start. The Prime Minister is as anxious to get these matters resolved—to draw a line under them—as everybody in this House is. So it is inconceivable to me that the Prime Minister will be persuaded to start using reserve powers just to cover up embarrassment or to avoid the thing going too far, and I certainly hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is reassured by that; it is not what the reserve power is for. Unfortunately, there are occasions when there are just disagreements about how dangerous it is, or otherwise, for particular information to be disclosed widely at all. The Prime Minister has the invidious task of making the final decision on that if a real conflict arises, but there is no reason to anticipate at this stage that the ISC and the agencies are going to be in any conflict that would give rise to that.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that perhaps the answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) is that the ISC’s proceedings will be covered by parliamentary privilege. Has an assessment been made of the effect of privilege on the course of the ongoing police investigation, as I suspect it would be helpful in making sure that the two inquires are kept separate?

Mr Clarke: It is certainly important that the two are kept separate. I seem to recall that when the ISC was given its new status there was quite a bit of discussion

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about the extent to which privilege would apply to this particular parliamentary Committee, which is of course set up by statute, which is not usual for most of the others. I assume that the ISC can afford the full protection of privilege to the witnesses who are called before it, and that, again, ensures that they cannot suddenly find that this is all being held against them if they find themselves later, by any chance, in the unfortunate position of having to give evidence about the same facts again.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I understand that there were junior operatives on the front line who were raising these issues quite early on and whose concerns were ignored by the management of many of the agencies. Can my right hon. and learned Friend reassure the House that procedures are now in place for those who have information to be able to blow the whistle and for their concerns to be taken seriously?

Mr Clarke: I will not try to paraphrase the report, but that is one of the things it raises; there were about 40 occasions when our officers were raising queries about the treatment of detainees they were involved with and sometimes joining in the interrogation of. The question is: how were the queries handled? Not all of them appear to have been referred to Ministers, but these are the issues that are raised. This does underline that the agents involved were perfectly alert, and had the usual sensitivities, to the fact that the foreign officers with whom they were liaising were not necessarily following the same standards that we would wish. The thing I should emphasise, and should have emphasised more as I have gone through, is that this is what the consolidated guidance put out by the Prime Minister underlined when he put it out; it provided absolute clarity, for the first time, about how such concerns should be handled, and gave much better and clearer guidance to the officers themselves about what they should do if they are becoming concerned about the conditions in which detainees are being held.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): These matters are clearly difficult for the police to investigate. My right hon. and learned Friend, like everybody else, is clearly frustrated at the amount of time this is taking. In his discussions with the Home Office, has he come to the conclusion that this is due to a lack of resources, of leadership or of co-operation with other Governments? What can be done to speed up the police investigation?

Mr Clarke: I wish I could find some way of speeding up the police investigation—I have wished that several times in the course of the past two or three years. But it is a fundamental principle that police investigations in this country are not subject to political control, and it is just not possible for a Government Minister to start intervening and questioning or second-guessing what the police are doing. I am assured that the police are carrying out thorough investigations and I only have estimates of when they might finish. That is why we have come to the situation, which has dissatisfied some of my colleagues, where we really have to get on and inquire into this, and the best way of proceeding is to put our new ISC to the test.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Minister and to colleagues.

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High-speed Rail

Mr Speaker: Before I call the Chair of the Transport Committee to make the Select Committee statement, it might be helpful to the House if I explain, again, briefly the new procedure, to which it agreed recently and first used last week. In essence, the pattern is the same as for a ministerial statement. Mrs Louise Ellman will speak to her subject for up to 10 minutes—there is no obligation to take all that time—during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of her statement, I will call Members who rise to put questions to Mrs Ellman on the subject of her statement and call Mrs Ellman to respond to those in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. These interventions should be questions and should be brief. Front Benchers may take part in the questioning, although it would be seemly for them to hold their horses, as I am keen first to hear the contributions of Back-Bench Members.

12.37 pm

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op) (Select Committee Statement): I am pleased to have this opportunity to make a statement about the Transport Committee’s recent report on high-speed rail. The crowded west coast main line currently combines long-distance inter-city, inter-regional and commuter passenger services, together with freight. Network Rail predicts that by the middle of the next decade the line will be unable to meet demand for new train paths and there will be increasing levels of overcrowding. In 2011, we looked in detail at the Government’s proposals for a new high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham and onwards to Manchester and Leeds. Phase 1 is due to be completed by 2025, and phase 2 by 2032-33. This proposed new line is a major piece of national rail infrastructure and must be seen as part of the wider rail network. We commissioned our own research into HS2, and considered the capacity the alternatives could provide. We concluded that only HS2 could deliver the step change in capacity needed to accommodate forecast long-term demand on the line.

Our new report looked again at HS2, in the light of the revised strategic case published by the Department for Transport in October and the research by KPMG on the line’s regional economic impact. The Department’s case rests on a prediction of 2.2% per annum growth to 2036. Demand is assumed to stop growing after that, only three years after completion of the line. Capacity remains the key issue and no new information has emerged to challenge the conclusion we reached on this question two years ago. Alternatives to HS2, based on upgrading the existing line and changes to train configurations, would not provide a long-term answer to the capacity challenge. These alternatives would themselves be costly and cause considerable disruption over a long period.

In addition to addressing capacity issues, the line will increase connectivity between our major cities. It can help to promote growth in the UK’s city regions and contribute to a rebalancing of the economy. This, however, is not automatic. Local authorities and local enterprise partnerships must develop economic development strategies to ensure that this takes place, and the Government must back these. The Department must become more proactive in ensuring that HS2, as part of the nation’s infrastructure, brings maximum benefit.

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UK firms and workers must have the opportunity to secure employment from this major investment, starting with its construction. This requires specific initiatives to make businesses across the country aware of the possibilities. Action must be taken to enable all regions to benefit from improved services and a more successful economy. KPMG’s assessment of the regional economic impacts has generated considerable controversy. This is useful work, but there are limitations to its findings and the research should be developed further.

The report highlights the varying effects HS2 can have on different areas. This research reinforces the importance of taking steps to ensure that the benefits are spread as widely as possible. Work should now be prioritised to widen access to the high-speed network, improving journey times on the classic railway and promoting additional local and regional services on capacity freed up by the new line. This means that the Department, HS2 Ltd and Network Rail must work together.

Control of costs is essential. The estimated cost of HS2 over a 20-year period is £28 billion, plus £14 billion contingency and £7.5 billion for rolling stock. These are major amounts of money—

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend give way? [Interruption.] I am sorry for trying to intervene.

Mrs Ellman: It is vital that the costs are actively managed.

Consideration should be given to speeding up delivery, including looking at options from building north to south, as well as northwards from London. Sir David Higgins, the incoming chairman of HS2 Ltd, should address this. Indeed, Sir David has already told the Committee that he will be looking at these issues, and we will be pursuing this further with him.

Concerns have been expressed that funding for the new line will squeeze other transport budgets. This is a serious issue. There is, however, no evidence that this is happening, looking at projected funding allocations, and we would not accept this situation if it arose. Vigilance is required.

Any major investment of this nature taking place over many years inevitably involves risks, but the risks of not going ahead with HS2 outweigh the risks of doing so. Without this investment, the west coast main line will become increasingly overloaded. Commuters will suffer overcrowding and delayed journeys. It would not be possible to provide new services, and the growth of rail freight will be stifled. Governments will be tempted to raise fares to control demand. The opportunity to reshape the economy and boost growth in the north and the midlands will have been lost. As our continuing debates about airport capacity show, once the opportunity to make a bold investment decision for the future has been missed, it may have gone for decades.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on taking part in this procedure, which is new and must be a little daunting. Perhaps she will forgive me for thinking that I was listening to another Government Minister presenting a report. I find it surprising, after two years, that the

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Transport Committee, whose role it is to scrutinise the Department for Transport, has produced a 27-page report—eight pages of which list contents, so it is probably a 19-page report—on what is, in effect, the largest infrastructure project in the western world. I hope her Committee will be returning to the subject again and again and asking the right questions.

Why did the Committee take oral evidence only from the supporters of HS2 or paid Government consultants, when there were 29 others who responded, including many of those who expressed criticisms of HS2? If the hon. Lady is so concerned about the control of costs, why is she advising the Government on how to spin their lines on cost by suggesting that they refer to a £28 billion sum, rather than the £50 billion that has been budgeted? If she is aware of the risks, as she said in her statement, can she tell me whether she has read all the Major Projects Authority reports on this project, and if so, can she tell us more about what she plans to do to identify those risks that are still being concealed by the Government?

Lastly, if Sir David Higgins has been asked to find ways of reducing the cost of HS2, and if the hon. Lady’s Committee has asked him to consider building phase 1 and phase 2 concurrently, and incorporating the Heathrow link in phase 1, what examination has she made of the effect of that on the bottom line of this project which—forgive me if I say so—may be pushing the price tag up even further?

Mr Speaker: I gently remind the House that the latitude that I thought it appropriate to extend to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) in the previous set of exchanges was exceptional and should not now be mimicked by other right hon. or hon. Members.

Mrs Ellman: The right hon. Lady raises a large number of questions. I will attempt to answer some of them, but I am mindful that other hon. Members wish to make a contribution and ask their questions in the limited time available to us.

I am aware that the right hon. Lady has a long-standing opposition to the project and that she is assiduously putting forward the concerns of her constituents. However, this is a national issue and I remind her that this report is a follow-up to a major inquiry conducted two years ago, where independent consultants were appointed to conduct new research into the specific alternatives put forward as possible replacements for the HS2 proposals. The recent inquiry considered 33 pieces of written evidence, in addition to the evidence we heard, and the issues raised in those written pieces of evidence were used as a basis for questions to the witnesses we had in front of us. We also questioned Sir David Higgins before his appointment to HS2 Ltd and we will continue to do so.

Costs are important, and it is important that those costs are broken down, so that people can see the individual components. Yes, I have read the reports, and ultimately those reports must be analysed against the need to provide continued capacity for the increasing demand on the line from passengers and for freight. This is a continuing process and the Committee will consider what further work it intends to do on this,

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together with the very detailed work that will take place on the hybrid Bill, should approval be given for that to go forward.

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): It would be idle of me to pretend that I am in favour of this project. In view of the fact that the report pays very little attention to compensation and mitigation measures, will my hon. Friend agree to the Committee looking into the proposition that the measures for compensation and mitigation that apply in my constituency are not even half as good as those measures outside London? For example, it would cost an extra £170 million to put the HS2/HS1 link in a tunnel that goes under Camden Town—that, apparently, has been ruled out on grounds of cost—when £2.759 billion is being spent on tunnelling elsewhere, with £812 million being spent in the Chilterns alone?

Mrs Ellman: My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the serious issues relating to compensation, which might well affect his constituents, and I take seriously the points he raises. The Committee concentrated its inquiry on the project’s strategic impact. However, I accept that the points he raises are extremely serious. Our remit is to consider the strategic impact of the proposed investment. There are other avenues by which the issue he raises can be addressed, but I will report his comments to the Committee for its consideration.

Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on introducing the report. In another life I served very happily alongside her on the Transport Committee. She stated that the Committee’s support for HS2 is not unqualified, particularly with regard to the Heathrow connection. Has the Committee considered what impact the expansion of aviation in the south-east, whether through further capacity at Heathrow or elsewhere, would have on the project? Does she think that it would have been better to wait until we have the Davies report?

Mrs Ellman: I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. He draws attention to the importance of having an integrated transport policy so that rail, road, aviation and maritime issues can be considered together, and the Committee made remarks of that nature in our initial report two years ago. However, decisions have to be made. The Committee repeats its concern that no decision has yet been taken on the serious question of a direct link to Heathrow. However, we do not have the remit to look at aviation policy at the moment. Indeed, our recommendation is that we think there should be a third runway at Heathrow, but we do not have the authority to take a decision on that. Currently the timetable set out by the Government means that the Davies commission will not report until the summer of 2015. No guarantee has been given on when a decision on airport capacity will be made after that, although I hope that it is soon. Given the timetable for High Speed 2, it seems impractical to say that no decision could be taken on that until well after 2015. However, the point he makes is important and well taken.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I welcome the report and place on the record my support for the High Speed 2 programme. I particularly endorse what

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my hon. Friend has said about the importance of connecting the strategy for HS2 with local and regional economic strategies. She will be aware of the fear that HS2 might serve to draw investment and business activity from north to south, rather than in the opposite direction, so it is important that proper economic planning takes place to address that. Does the Committee have plans to consider local transport strategies, which are important in ensuring a match between strategic plans for HS2 and the development of local economies, and for investment not only in local rail networks but in local bus networks, light rail and other forms of local transport?

Mrs Ellman: My hon. Friend draws attention to the great importance of local, and indeed regional, work being conducted to ensure that the potential benefits of High Speed 2 are enjoyed in all parts of the country. Initially, the responsibility for doing that is being taken up in some local areas—I know that a lot of work is being done in the west midlands and in the Manchester area—but it is not good enough to leave that entirely to those local and regional authorities. In the Committee’s future questioning of Ministers and High Speed 2 itself, and specifically Sir David Higgins, I intend to pursue that issue so that, as well as individual authorities taking their own initiatives, there is some kind of national oversight of what is being done. After all, this is one of the biggest national investment decisions to be taken for a very long time. There has to be some responsibility from the Government as well as from localities to ensure that its benefits are felt and that the work to ensure that that happens is carried out.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): On a day when the newspapers are full of reports of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s concern that the armed forces are being hollowed out, does the hon. Lady understand why some of us feel that such a costly project betrays a warped sense of priorities? In particular, has her Committee devoted any attention to the fact that even in the short time that the project has been in the public domain the estimated cost has increased from about £30 billion to about £50 billion? What concept does she have of our being able to stick even to that higher figure?

Mrs Ellman: The report emphasises that costs must be controlled and that the whole programme must be actively managed to ensure that there is good value for money. In looking at value for money, we must consider the impact that the investment can have and the consequences of not making it. The consequences for the nation would be that our national network would not be able to deliver the results that are required for a prosperous economy that can benefit all parts of the country.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Committee’s unanimous conclusion that there is a political, economic and transport case for building southwards, from Leeds and Manchester, at the same time as building northwards from London. I want to ask a specific question about the Committee’s support for building additional links between the conventional and the high-speed networks. It is already proposed that there should be a spur from the Yorkshire arm of HS2

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to link with the conventional track at York, with high-speed trains running as far as Church Fenton, which is five miles from York. Would it be possible to upgrade that last five miles so that people in York, which is a major rail hub, could use high-speed services directly—an example of the sort of improvement in connectivity that the Committee is considering?

Mrs Ellman: My hon. Friend draws attention to the importance of connectivity and ensuring that all parts of the country benefit. He indicates a specific proposal that would improve connectivity to his constituency and the areas around it. I hope that he will put that proposal forward, perhaps developed by the local authority and the local transport authority, during the consultation so that it can be considered as part of the wider benefits of HS2. It is exactly the kind of thing that the Transport Committee advocates should be taken forward.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): It would be great if all the jobs were British, but does the hon. Lady agree that, under EU rules, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to keep all the work within the United Kingdom, and that we will have to have companies coming in from outside to build the track?

Mrs Ellman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The issue of jobs is extremely important. It is absolutely essential that opportunities are given to UK companies and workers to take advantage of the employment opportunities that will be provided by this major scheme. The Committee has already raised this issue and been told that there will be a road show conducted by HS2 Ltd that will go across the country promoting job opportunities—similar to the way in which action was taken in relation to Crossrail. Following the road show, it is absolutely essential that Ministers become involved and ensure that the promotion of job opportunities is a major part of the scheme.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I welcome the Committee’s continued support for HS2, as I welcome the investment in my constituency in the interchange at Old Oak Common. Would that support not be consolidated if we had certainty on matters, particular the Heathrow link, which the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) mentioned? The Government seem as intent on delaying that decision as they are on pushing the project forward. At the very least, will my hon. Friend endeavour to ensure that the moribund proposal for an estuary airport is withdrawn? We might not agree on the number of runways we want at Heathrow, but if we had certainty that Heathrow would continue to thrive, we could resolve that issue, which would mean certainty on the route of HS2.

Mrs Ellman: My hon. Friend raises an important point. I agree about the importance of securing the Heathrow link. I repeat what I have said previously in relation to the possibilities of an estuary airport: the problems in relation to cost, environmental impacts and the need to close Heathrow airport and London City airport are likely to be insuperable barriers to its being pursued further.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): My constituents are understandably worried, as I am, that the KPMG report indicated that there could be a net economic disbenefit to Kettering of £50 million. Will the Transport

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Committee encourage the Government and HS2 Ltd to commission further research from KPMG or another independent body to try to assuage some of the genuine concerns in constituencies such as mine? If High Speed 2 does come, surely all of us would want it not to have a negative impact on large parts of our country.

Mrs Ellman: The hon. Gentleman raises very important issues. The KPMG report is a very useful piece of research that identifies areas that are due to benefit from High Speed 2 but also areas that would not benefit. When the Committee questioned KPMG about its findings, it became clear that some considerations had not been taken into account, including the latest information on rail improvements being planned for the areas concerned, the possibilities of rents being increased, and the impact of freight developments. Those are just some examples of aspects that had been missed out. Our report says that further reports should be commissioned, and I am sure that the Committee will take a continued interest in that. More research in this very important area should be pursued. It is vital not just that areas that are seen to benefit are made aware of that, but that areas that are worried that they would not benefit are able to get maximum support so that they could share in the positive aspects of HS2.

Mr Sheerman rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. The fact that the hon. Gentleman sought to intervene on the Chair of the Transport Committee when I had indicated at the outset that the procedure was analogous to that of a ministerial statement, in which hon. Members should not intervene but rather wait their turn, suggests to me that he was not present at the outset to hear my wise words. Moreover, I have since been advised that he did indeed beetle into the Chamber a couple of minutes into the hon. Lady’s statement. The concepts of the hon. Gentleman, on the one hand, and brass neck, on the other, are by no means unrelated. In a spirit of Christmas generosity, on this one occasion I shall allow him to put his question, which I think he wants to hear and which he imagines that perhaps the House might also wish to hear.

Mr Sheerman: My office is a long way from here, Mr Speaker, and I ran as fast as I could. I apologise to you and to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). She knows that I am a great admirer of hers and of the work of her Select Committee, and of Select Committees in general.

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My hon. Friend also knows that I started off as a passionate supporter of HS2 until I started reading the international research that suggests that rather than empowering regional cities and making them more affluent and wealthy, such projects have the opposite effect and would drain even more power and influence away from the regions towards London and the south. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills came out with a very similar view this morning. Did my hon. Friend take evidence about that research, and did she take evidence from the former Chancellor of the Exchequer? Why did she put so much emphasis on KPMG? Those of us who live in Yorkshire and saw what it did—or failed to do—in the banking sector do not trust KPMG further than we can throw it.

Mrs Ellman: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and thank the Speaker for permitting these important issues to be raised. The Committee questioned KPMG because it had conducted the most recent research on this very specific area. However, the Committee’s reports are based on contributors additional to KPMG.

When we conducted our original major inquiry two years ago, we visited France and Germany to see for ourselves the impact of high-speed rail. It became clear that there are major potential benefits to high-speed rail provided that the local and, in the case of France and Germany, regional authorities take advantage of them and provide the necessary economic development support to make them a reality. That is what I would like to happen here in the UK, and that is what the Select Committee report advocates.

Mrs Gillan rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. In respect of this new procedure, I said to the House that an hon. Member may expect to be called only once. However, as the House will know, just occasionally hope can trump expectation. I call Mrs Cheryl Gillan.

Mrs Gillan: A very happy Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), who has dealt with the questions with charm and a great deal of skill. This is merely a point of clarification. In response to my earlier series of questions, the hon. Lady said that she had read the MPA reports on HS2. Can she confirm that that is the case?

Mrs Ellman: I have read the reports put forward on HS2. I have not read reports that have not been disclosed in public.

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Point of Order: Rectification Procedure

Mr Speaker: On a point of order in connection with the code of conduct to rectify a failure fully to declare an interest, I call Mr Ian Murray.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker—thank you very much. On 11 September this year, I spoke in a debate on part 3 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, when I said:

“I also refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.”—[Official Report, 11 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 1002.]

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for the robust but fair way in which she has dealt with the complaint and the conclusion that she reached. Following her advice, I now recognise that I should have gone further than just drawing the House’s attention to the register and should have referred to the specific entry in the register that was relevant, and also should have done so earlier in the debate. I therefore apologise to the House.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as the House will be.

Bill Presented

Energy Demand Reduction Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Sir Andrew Stunell, supported by Zac Goldsmith, Dr Alan Whitehead, Joan Walley, Mr John Leech, Mark Durkan, Kelvin Hopkins, Katy Clark, Natascha Engel, John McDonnell, Dr Julian Huppert and Mike Gapes, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to draw up and implement a strategy for energy demand reduction; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February, and to be printed (Bill 150).

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Backbench Business

Christmas Adjournment

1.7 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.

I wish to raise a number of issues before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, and I promise the House that I will get through them as quickly as I possibly can. There is a danger that I will appear grumpy throughout my speech, because I have a long list of complaints about all manner of things, but I assure the House that I intend to be cheerful right at the end.

You and I, Mr Speaker, care about this place, and anything I am going to say about it is in no way a criticism of your good self. Under your stewardship, you have introduced a number of changes to our proceedings. We get through the Order Paper and we have the Speaker’s lectures; there are all manner of things that I absolutely welcome. However, there are a number of developments in the House that I am not a fan of. I think it was a big mistake to change our Tuesday sittings to the hours that we have now. I very much regret that we have Prime Minister’s questions only on a Wednesday; I would like to return to 15 minutes on a Tuesday and a Thursday. The Press Gallery is constantly empty, and we need to look at what its purpose is these days. Since we changed our sitting hours, the wonderful staff of the House of Commons, who work so hard, have been affected. The catering facilities have been devastated, and that has had all sorts of repercussions for a number of our staff—I greatly regret that.

I am also worried about little things, such as access to the Crypt. When I first came here, I could press the bell to draw the attention of someone in the Members’ Cloakroom and gain admittance immediately, but now a song and dance seems to be made if Members want to take their constituents to see the Crypt. The point of this place, as I have always understood it, is that there were 646 democratically elected Members of Parliament and everyone worked here to support us in our work, but it is increasingly as if we are the strangers in our own place.

I think we should have a dedicated police and security force. I do not understand why that is not the case. It used to be a job for police officers as they approached retirement, but we are increasingly seeing new police officers every day and two or three officers carrying guns around. I do not understand what is going on.

Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): As a previous Chair of the Joint Committee on Security, I have to say that the security threats to this place have increased over the years and that the idea of having only eminent but elderly police officers who are approaching retirement does not necessarily fit in with today’s policing needs.

Mr Amess: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I have been here so long that one of the officers who carries a gun came up to me and asked, “Do you remember taking me around the House of Commons

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when I was a schoolboy?”, so I understand that things have changed dramatically in the time I have been here. I am not complaining about that; what I am saying is that there seems to be constant change in personnel. I think it would be better to have an established group who understand how the place works. I certainly do not approve of the constant, huge change.

I worry about this place. The damage started in 1997, when huge powers went to quangos. If the place were shut for a few weeks, would anyone notice? That is what I worry about. Where has the power gone from this place? I fully accept that I am no longer fashionable: I do not send e-mail Christmas cards, I am not on Twitter, I do not blog and I am not on Facebook.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): My hon. Friend’s very life is a statement of fashion. On his point about where power has gone, this year’s Session must be the first time that Parliament has stopped a war on which the Executive were hellbent.

Mr Amess: I am so glad my hon. Friend has reminded me of that. I tell everyone that it has been a long time since my being here has made a huge difference, but I and other colleagues certainly made a difference over Syria. If only I had had the good sense to do that earlier on Iraq, things might be different.

My second moan is about the Chilcot inquiry, on which £7.4 million has been spent. I want the results, just as I did on Leveson. I have asked lots of questions and I am told that the reason for the delay is the huge number of recorded conversations involving the two previous Prime Ministers and President George W. Bush, but I am certainly not going to shut up on this matter. I want the Chilcot report and I want to know exactly what went on behind the scenes.

The Freedom of Information Act has led to all sorts of consequences for all of us. It is crazy that people can make requests without us knowing who they are or their addresses. Why do the media host abusive remarks that are very offensive to constituents and, occasionally, politicians, although, of course, we have extremely broad backs? It is absolutely gutless that we do not know who the people are or their addresses. There is no reason for the media to host such very offensive remarks, which are often about constituents.

On air pollution, there is a hidden killer among us, in the very air we breathe: small particles—particulates—created largely by processes of combustion. Once breathed in, they attack the cardiovascular system and cause excess mortality. The proportion of mortality caused by particulates in England is 5.4%, but in my constituency the figure is 5.7%.

Some of the environmental damage arises out of burning coal or biomass, but a lot also comes from the tailpipes of cars. In fact, particulate emissions from diesel have been increasing.

Road fuel gases offer impressive reductions in particulate loads. In fact, particulate emissions from cars running on road fuel gases are negligible. Thanks to a concession from a previous Conservative Government, fuel duty is lower on road fuel gases than on petrol and diesel.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman was making a very good point about emissions from cars, but then he spoiled it by making a

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party political point about fuel duty, which is neither here nor there. As a fellow east Londoner—the hon. Gentleman is originally from east London—I say to him that east London is in desperate need of river crossings. Opponents say that they would encourage traffic and create more emissions, but the emissions in east London are caused mostly by static traffic that cannot move because it is sitting on either side of the Blackwall tunnel. There are more bridges in west London and less pollution. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that pollution can be dealt with by moving traffic, as opposed to static traffic?

Mr Amess: The hon. Gentleman and I celebrated West Ham beating Tottenham 2-1 last night and I absolutely agree with him. I hope that a number of us will persuade the Government to support a new crossing.

The nice thing about cars running on gases is that they offer the motorist a cheaper and cleaner alternative. The autumn statement contained a 10-year pledge to keep stable the advantage of certain road fuel gases over conventional fuels. That is all to the good, but the road fuel gases that are being given that boost are used not in ordinary vehicles, but only in heavier or commercial vehicles. The only fuel to receive a knock in the statement was autogas—or liquefied petroleum gas—which is another road fuel gas used by 160,000 British motorists, so they have been put on the trajectory of a gradually reducing benefit from running cleaner cars. It seems an oversight to discriminate in favour of some fuel gases, so I hope the Treasury will look at that issue.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) is the secretary of the all-party group on fire safety and rescue and I am its chairman. He and I know that it is becoming increasingly apparent that we are not learning many lessons from serious fire incidents. If we look at the causes of major incidents over the past few decades, we will see that there are many common features and similarities. One example is the 2009 Lakanal House tower block fire, in which six people were killed and 20 injured. Many of the causes of that fire, as well as other, more recent fires, were the same as the Summerland fire 40 years ago. The Summerland inquiry recommended that architectural training should include a much extended study of fire protection and precautions. Yet 40 years later, what on earth has happened? I believe that many lives are being lost unnecessarily because we are not implementing that advice. I hope the Government will do something about it.

I am also worried about the Disclosure and Barring Service, previously known as the Criminal Records Bureau. A number of my constituents have had issues with it and one constituent in particular—a young man with Asperger’s—is finding it very hard to find employment because of it. A DBS certificate is now needed before people can apply for many jobs, including in schools and even cleaning positions, but my constituent is not able to obtain such a certificate, because it has to go through a recognised organisation. Given that the certificate is required before people can start jobs, my constituent is in a very difficult position.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Does the new system forbid me from taking my children and other children to a cricket match when it is a school event, or has that silliness been sorted?

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Mr Amess: I am not sure it has been sorted, but I will write to my hon. Friend on that particular point. It is crazy that individuals are not able to make stand-alone applications but have to go through an organisation. That needs to be changed.

Last month, head teachers in Southend West had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Education. It was a first-class meeting in which the one issue they raised was their concern about school governors. Head teachers require advice and guidance on a vast array of issues in order to ensure that their school is well governed. Although parents may have the will and dedication to be school governors, they do not always have the specialised knowledge. Head teachers in Southend feel very strongly that they need more professionals from the financial sector. They would be an important asset to many school boards and would provide important and necessary advice. Not enough financial professionals are currently volunteering for such posts, so I hope that the Secretary of State will send out a message about getting more of them to be school governors.

Lots of my constituents have issues about the changes in how blue badges for disabled people work. I simply think that the new system is crazy. One constituent who has difficulty with mobility was previously eligible for a blue badge and had one for six years. I thought that as someone aged, they encountered more difficulties, but under the new system it seems that as they age, they suddenly become more able, which is crazy. Since the policy changed in April, my constituent has been told that he is no longer eligible and his appeal has subsequently been rejected. Only this morning, I was told that a young lady with one arm, for whom we managed to get a blue badge for the past three or four years, has suddenly had it stopped. That is absolute madness: something needs to be done and someone needs to take responsibility. On this occasion, I ask the coalition Government to fix the problem.

I am the chair of the all-party group on hepatology, and hepatitis is a public health issue of great concern to me. Public Health England estimates that some 215,000 people are living with hepatitis C in the UK, and it is shocking that many of them remain undiagnosed. Hep C is an infection that causes significant liver damage, potentially resulting in cancer, and it can go undiagnosed for many years owing to the lack of symptoms or their generic nature. Despite the high figures, further data from Public Health England suggest that if treatment was increased to just 10% of those with moderate hepatitis C and 20% of those with more advanced hepatitis C, the number of people experiencing liver failure or liver cancer would fall by more than 2,000 in the next 10 years. In my constituency, Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust ranks 31st among hospitals in England for the use of hepatitis B and C treatment, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s innovation scorecard, and that could certainly be improved.

I have received constant criticism from my constituents about SEPT—South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust—mental health services. All hon. Members know that mental health services are Cinderella services, but when we meet constituents who have a loved one with a mental health problem and we try to get assistance for them, we find that services are often lacking. I hope in the new year to have a dedicated Adjournment debate on that subject.

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For anyone who wants to know, mental health services in my area were headed until last month by Dr Patrick Geoghegan. When I was the MP for Basildon, he was a hospital porter. I am not sure how someone goes from being a hospital porter to being the chief executive—I think that he was paid £230,000—but I could go on and on about it. He took retirement last month, but the culture continues: he has been replaced by his long-serving deputy. That situation is simply not good enough. I have complained to Monitor, the Care Quality Commission and the health service ombudsman, but I seem to be getting absolutely nowhere, so I ask the Deputy Leader of the House—I think that he smiles occasionally—to have a word with the Minister of State, Department of Health to see whether he can be more robust on the issue.

At this time of year, we think about animal welfare. I spoke in a debate on live animal exports last year, including about how the long-distance transport of live animals causes them huge distress. The exotic pet trade, in particular, is a huge cause of animal suffering. It is also a conservation issue for some species, a concern to human health and safety, and a possible source of invasion by non-native species, which costs the United Kingdom about £1.7 billion every year in management and control.

In 2002, I co-sponsored a ten-minute rule bill, the Endangered Species (Illegal Trade) Bill, which called for increased penalties under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976, including in relation to exotic pet trading. If only that Bill had become law 11 years ago, we would not be in the mess we are in now. It would be good to have a wider debate about the Belgian and Dutch models, in which a positive list limits the type of animals that people are allowed to keep. That is supported by the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe.

I will end on a cheerful note. I have a constituent called Ray Woodcock, a great granddad, who recently broke the Guinness world record for the highest bungee jump into water. He jumped 383 feet from a crane into a flooded quarry to raise money for the Southend Taxi Drivers Charity Fund for Children. I think that is absolutely marvellous.

I want to link that to my final point, which is about the city of culture. Hon. Members will be aware that I was somewhat disappointed that Southend was not chosen as the city of culture for 2017, but I am delighted to tell the House that Southend was selected last month as the alternative city of culture. The launch took place at Genting casino, with Patti Boulaye announcing who had won as the alternative city of culture. We also had James Bourne, Jo Wood and an array of celebrities—Bruce Forsyth and Lee Mead are supporting us—of which the list goes on and on. I have to tell the House that, as of a month ago, Southend-on-Sea is at cultural war with Hull city: the Thames versus the Humber; Leigh-on-Sea fish versus faggots; Southend United versus Hull City. Between now and 2017, the United Kingdom and the world will realise how rich the culture is in Southend.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and everyone who works here a very happy Christmas and a wonderful new year.

1.27 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I join the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) in wishing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the House

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staff a happy Christmas and a great 2014. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman, a fellow West Ham supporter, especially on the day after one of our rare wins this season, which has struck a cheerful note. I will not speak on as many subjects as he did. I want to cover only two—the Deputy Leader of the House is nodding in approval—which are the individual case of my constituent Mrs Afsana Lachaux, and the firefighters pension dispute, about which I shall speak briefly.

Afsana Lachaux is a friend of mine, who has been a constituent. She moved to Dubai, but is now stranded there. She is a UK citizen and a Muslim in a Muslim country, but being a woman, she is at a great disadvantage because she is in dispute with her husband over the custody of their child following the breakdown of their relationship.

For nearly three years, I have tried to help the family to resolve this case. I had very good support from the former Foreign Office Minister, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), and I have engaged with the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), while our staff in Dubai have also tried to do what they can to help, so I am not making any criticism about that. There has been criticism from the family, who do not think that enough is being done by me, the Foreign Office or our consular staff in the Emirates, but if I was in the family’s position, I would probably feel exactly the same. Their relative—their mother, their sister—has been completely stranded. She has been accused by her estranged husband, who has a record of domestic violence, of all manner of criminal activities. She has been arrested by the Dubai police. She has been jailed. She has been beaten up. She has had the most horrendous experiences at the hands of the Emirati authorities in Dubai.

Sadly, although Afsana is a Muslim, because she is a woman in a Muslim country and because she is being reported by a man, even though he is French and, I believe, is not a Muslim, she has to explain and defend herself to each set of police officers who come to arrest her and, when she goes to report at police stations and is detained, she has to go through the elaborate process of explaining her circumstances all over again. She is not able to work and is surviving on what her family can send to her from London.

To compound Afsana’s misery, she found out last month that her husband had divorced her and had successfully sued for custody of their child in a sharia court in Dubai more than 12 months ago. The rule in the UAE and under sharia law is that if 12 months have lapsed and the decision of the court has not been challenged, it is no longer appealable and is upheld. She was divorced and lost custody, but was not even aware of the fact.

As Members can imagine, this woman, who has been brutalised, feels totally isolated, completely let down by everybody in authority and persecuted by the authorities in Dubai. She has now found out that she has lost those legal cases. That is a dreadful situation to be in.

I am taking the opportunity to raise the matter this afternoon to demonstrate to the family that people here care about Afsana and that the Foreign Office and the consular officials are working on the case. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has agreed to meet me and I have had meetings with his predecessor

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on the matter. We have tried to meet the French ambassador. I have had a meeting in the past two years with the UAE ambassador. Sadly, given that child custody is involved and given the nature of the case, it is very difficult to penetrate the legal procedures in the Emirates and in Dubai.

I want to place on the record my appreciation for the efforts that have been made. I hope that we can redouble them to help Afsana escape and to challenge the custody decision of the courts in Dubai. Afsana’s sister, Rosina Aman, who is my constituent, and her son, Rabbhi Yahiya, will appreciate everything and anything that can be done to help their relative.

The second issue that I want to raise is the firefighters pension dispute. There is pretty much consensus among those on both Front Benches that the retirement age for firefighters had to be changed. That was certainly the case when I was fire Minister. The terms of the pension scheme were that firefighters had to take compulsory retirement after 30 years’ service or on reaching the age of 55. It was felt that a number of firefighters could work and wanted to work past that. The changes to the rules were supported by the Labour Government and they have been amended recently by the coalition.

There has been a big change in the situation that has led to the fire disputes that have raged across our country for months. When we put forward our proposals, my understanding was that firefighters would not be penalised if they had to retire early on the basis of fitness or health and that their pensions would not be unfairly reduced if they could not stay on until 60. That has changed partly because of the cuts, partly because of austerity and partly because of the success of the fire service in reducing the number of calls, fires, deaths and injuries. That is partly the result of better building regulations and procedures being introduced over the past 50 years, notwithstanding the point that the hon. Member for Southend West made about fires, which was entirely valid. Overall, because we mostly live in double-glazed and insulated homes with central heating and because fewer people smoke, there are fewer fires. The fire service’s education and prevention teams have been extremely successful in reducing the number of fires, and therefore the number of injuries and fatalities. The authorities therefore think that we need fewer firefighters and fire stations.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we discard far too early the experience of firefighters who have given most of their lives to saving lives? If firefighters are not fit to do the really physical work, there are key jobs that they can do in fire prevention, fitting smoke alarms and giving general advice to all sorts of public authorities. Their experience should be used for the betterment of society, not thrown away.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because that is exactly the point that I was trying to establish. When we anticipated the extension of the retirement age to 60, we did not think that every operational firefighter would be fit and healthy enough to work until 60. We thought that opportunities would be found for them in back-room jobs in fire prevention, school education and all manner of support roles to ensure that we took advantage of, and did not waste, the

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experience that they had accumulated over many years on the front line. However, because of austerity and the cuts and reductions that have been made in the service because we do not need as many fire stations and firefighters, there are many fewer such positions for firefighters who are not fit to fulfil other duties.

Under the new rules that the Government are trying to push through, firefighters are faced with a massive reduction in their pension if they go before 60. We never anticipated that there would be such a punitive element in the pension arrangements because, as part of the new deal, firefighters are being asked to contribute another 2.6%, which takes their deductions up to 12.6%. Many of us know the fire Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), and we have a lot of time for a number of the things that he does. Everyone on the Government Front Bench keeps describing the firefighters pension scheme as generous. It is a good scheme, but they are expected to pay 12.6% for it and the reason for that is deaths and injuries. The scheme is valid and valued, as it ought to be, because of the nature of the job.

Colleagues regularly stand up in this House to applaud the role that has been played by the emergency services in dealing with some tragedy, disaster, flood or storm. These people risk their lives for us on a daily basis. In their view, they are being forced to take industrial action because nobody is listening. They might have to take a hit of up to a 50% cut in their pension because they cannot last until 60. I am 61 and am relatively fit. I know what that job is about because I did it for 23 years. I know what it is like to be on strike. No emergency service worker wants to go on strike. They risk their lives for 365 days a year and then they have to walk out the door and deny the community that they want to protect the ability, discipline and professionalism that they have built up.

This is a monstrous situation. My appeal to the Deputy Leader of the House is that he takes the strong message back to the fire Minister, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Prime Minister that we need serious negotiations. As the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said, if there are places for firefighters to work away from the front line, they will fill those places.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I will raise this matter, among others, when I speak. My hon. Friend should be aware that the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union has received a letter from the fire Minister that is dated 18 December, which suggests that he is willing to meet again. The union is responding immediately because it is willing to meet the Minister any time, any place. However, there must be serious negotiations to settle the dispute. There is the potential to avoid strike action if the Minister is serious.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful to my hon. Friend because it is excellent news that the fire Minister has held out an olive branch to the Fire Brigades Union by saying that he is prepared to sit down with it, and that the union is contacting the Department for Communities and Local Government to set up the meeting. Nobody

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here wants to see any more fire strikes. Another series of strikes has been announced but I am convinced that nobody in the fire service wants to see more strikes. The last thing that the general public want to see is the withdrawal of any emergency service, with the cost and disruption that it causes to the authorities who have to provide the best possible cover.

In conclusion, I am grateful to the Foreign Office for what it is doing. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for indicating that the fire Minister has extended an offer of talks. I hope that those talks take place. Like the hon. Member for Southend West, I conclude by wishing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the staff a very happy Christmas.

1.40 pm

Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): To me, this is a bit like groundhog day; this debate seems to have come full circle. The only difference is that I used to be on the Opposition Benches when I took part in it. I am delighted to see that some of the familiar faces from recess Adjournment debates are still around. It is one of the best opportunities we have to raise issues that we cannot always raise over the course of the Parliament.

As I said, I possibly come a little bit like the ghost of recess Adjournments past, and Members who are listening keenly may be able to hear the jangling of chains from my previous jailors, which I have not quite thrown off. Keeping to the Dickensian theme, I come here, as always, with “Great Expectations”, but I am rather of the Micawber school and think that something will turn up. There was a lot to be said for Mr Micawber, and his view of economics is one we would all share in with regard to annual income and expenditure. Hon. Members across the House ought to remember that.

While on the subject of Mr Micawber, when my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) spoke about culture and Southend—the two words are closely linked—I was reminded of an excellent production of “David Copperfield”. Mr Micawber, and various other roles, were played by a gentleman called Adrian Preater from Hotbuckle Productions, which is touring around the country. If any hon. Members wish to see that production in one of their local theatres, I can probably supply them with upcoming tour dates in the spring, and would be happy to do so. At the moment—I am reticent to say this, Madam Deputy Speaker—the company is appearing in a pantomime in Walton-on-Thames and doing MacLaddin. I am afraid that is somewhat Scottish in nature, and possibly takes a rather comical view of that, which I am sure would be disapproved of, although I hope to go and see the production at some stage. I am plugging the company so much because I am hoping for a role in its pantomime next year, and that at least one colleague from across the House will join me as one of the other ugly sisters, or something. We will have to see.

I have a few areas bottled up that I wish to discuss, and I will try not to detain the House for too long. My remarks will be more a trailer of things to come in the coming year; I will not really touch on some of the big feature films such as High Speed 2 and the third runway, because those will probably run and run. While we all

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enjoy Christmas, however, there are many people affected by those major transport infrastructure plans who have yet another year of great uncertainty ahead.

In my borough—not in my constituency but that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd)—are the wonderful, superb facilities offered by Hillingdon outdoor activities centre. That is very much under threat because a certain railway is planned to go straight through its middle and it will not be able to function. We are all trying to find a site for its relocation because it is a fantastic facility. It is not just for young people; it has lots of facilities for disabled people and serves a wide area. It is almost unique and must be found a new home if HS2 goes ahead.

We are discussing those who will have an uncertain Christmas and future, and I know the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) will almost certainly mention what will happen to many of his constituents who face losing their homes, places of worship and, as we know, the places where the dead are buried. Those serious issues concern us greatly and I understand the passion they engender.

We are lucky to have in the Colne valley a lot of gravel pits that are used for various things such as sailing and wildlife habitats. I shall visit the Broadwater site in January to see whether anything can be done to relocate the Hillingdon outdoor activities centre there.

I must declare my interest as a member of four wildlife trusts. It is always difficult to balance different interests with different habitats. Apart from looking at the impact of HS2 on my constituency, I will look seriously at its impact on ecology all along the line. Not too far from my constituency, a little further up the line, are colonies of Bechstein’s bats. That may not seem the most pressing issue, but they are an endangered species in Europe and we must take serious note of that, as well as many other things. Although it is unlikely that Mrs Randall is listening to this debate, I am hoping she knows that on my Christmas list is a bat detector. I now have a bit more time and I am going to try to find where all the bats are. They can be detected by their different frequencies. In the new year, if anyone sees me walking around holding something in my hand outside the House of Commons or in the environs of the Palace, I will be trying to find out “who’s bats” and where they are.

Reading the report earlier, I noticed that HS2 will also impact on the barn owl population, although there are some measures to address that. I hope that when HS2 Ltd looks at such matters, it will take the advice of wildlife trusts, and others, on how to mitigate the impact of the project.

The country can set an example, but on an international scale there is one pressing area in which I know the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been active and where we must keep up the pressure. The Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is threatened because 80% of the land has been allocated for oil concessions. It was, I think, the first wildlife park, and it was set up a long time ago at the beginning of the 20th century. It contains important biodiversity, including mountain gorillas and okapis. We must keep up that pressure, and although it is not strictly within our competence, this country is in a position to lead on those issues.

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Where we do have competence is in our own country, and in the forthcoming months I shall raise the issue of the protection of our upland habitats. England’s habitats are vital stores of beauty, biodiversity and sequestered carbon, but they seem to be mismanaged. They sustain populations of endangered or critically listed species such as black grouse, curlews, hen harriers and freshwater pearl mussels. Despite the protection that has been afforded in many ways, a lot of bird species have declined in numbers.

While not wishing to seem too ambitious with my Christmas list, I have asked for something else—in fact, I have actually purchased it to ensure I get it because by and large in this world it is better to make sure we get what we want. It is an excellent piece of work—a bird atlas—compiled recently by the British Trust for Ornithology. It is a follow-up to a previous work, and before any of us had heard of the big society, this was an example of the big society in action. Volunteers go throughout the British isles, map the bird species they have seen over a period of several years, and then put them into a huge compilation. The important thing this time around is that we can compare it with the previous one, which I think was published 10 years ago, and see exactly what has improved and what species have declined. Some populations have declined dramatically—the whinchat population is down by 57%; curlews are down by 44%; and lapwings by 32%—and we have to take note of that. There have been huge reductions in some species. Not all of those problems are man-made. Some are due to climate change. However, there are things we can do.

One of the things that I am most upset about is the striking loss of a species called the hen harrier. The male hen harrier is a magnificent grey creature. The female is also magnificent, but not quite so grey—more brown, really. It is estimated that its habitat in England could sustain more than 300 pairs. Last year was the first time ever that no hen harriers bred in England—a direct result, I think, of man’s intervention. Unfortunately, one habitat that hen harriers like is the grouse moor—grouse are one of their favoured prey. You can probably sense, Madam Deputy Speaker, where the conflict lies. Grouse moors are managed commercial interests. However, they do not have to be managed quite in the way they are and some offences that are committed will be criminal.

A recent report by the Law Commission set out recommendations following consultation on potential changes to wildlife law. Much in the report was very good. I was a little disappointed to see that it did not go down the line of suggesting that the Government should introduce a provision for vicarious liability, where employers are legally responsible for wildlife crimes committed by their employees. I know that is a contentious subject, and if I was still in the Whips Office I would be tut-tutting because it falls into the “rather difficult” category. However, we cannot afford to lose species such as the hen harrier just because commercial interests have taken the view that wildlife is in their way. We must do something about it.

The first wildlife laws were introduced in 1954. I am pleased to say that it was 10 years later, in 1964, when I was a very small boy, that I first became a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I have been a member for 50 years. It is an interest that was with me a long time before I gained all the other interests that I mention in this House or elsewhere.

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On the subject of crime, legal aid charges for the criminal Bar have not previously been within my competence or even interest, but I have suddenly become aware of them. Raising this matter will, unfortunately, put me slightly at odds with some of my colleagues, but I think these things have to be said from time to time, and at Christmas they may just forgive me for doing so. I am lucky, because I am not a lawyer—the legal profession is probably very lucky that I am not one too, but that goes without saying. I have discovered that the criminal Bar and criminal barristers are receiving a real-terms reduction of 30% in very high cost cases, and there are other reductions as well. In real terms, they are losing income. It is very easy for us in this House to think of all barristers as being extremely well paid and that they can afford it and so on. That perception is rather like the one of Members of Parliament: we are portrayed as always being extremely well paid, and that we can do without this and that.

Sometimes the truth is not always the popular perception. In fact, only a few—a significant few—earn very high fees. The level of competence in defence cases will be reduced, because chambers will use their most junior members. I apologise to the legal profession for not quite understanding exactly what goes on, because I try to keep well away from the law—I find, by and large, that that is a useful thing to do. I can see, however, after talking to people, that the reductions could lead almost to the extinction of the self-employed criminal Bar as a specialist referral profession of excellence. There will be an increase in cost to the taxpayer eventually, even though the reason for the reductions is to make savings; I will come back to the issue of savings in a moment. There might also be an impact on the quality of the judiciary, because the judiciary are promoted from the criminal Bar and people will have been taken out of the system. What worries me most is that what we value most highly in this country is, I think, our legal system: the jury system and the fact that people can get a high-quality defence when they need it.

I understand why we have to make savings— Mr Micawber was right. I also understand, however, that there are costs involved with prisoners not turning up on time. I am sure that if I was sitting on the Opposition Benches I might mention some of the organisations, which are more private than public, that are responsible for bringing prisoners to court. The interpreter system is costly and sometimes interpreters are not always there at the right time. Any delays in the court system—aside from the potential misery caused to defendants, the prosecution and witnesses—bring with them a large element of cost. That all has to be looked at, and I will return to that. I may have to do a bit more work on understanding how it all works—I always think that when people talk about the Bar, they are talking about something else, but I shall have to move away from old habits.

Moving effortlessly on to my final remarks, as I mentioned earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, one of my previous roles was Chair of the Joint Committee on Security. In that role, I found a greater understanding of how this place is secured and looked after. I would like to thank publicly the work of the police and the security people in this place. I would also like to thank the Metropolitan police. I was listening

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to the “Today” programme earlier and the Metropolitan police have not had the best of years. That always happens when one or two things have gone wrong, or when there has been a bad apple. That can happen, as we know, in every walk of life and in every profession. We should not lose our faith in the Metropolitan police and we should thank them for what they do. While we are back at home on Christmas day, or whatever we are doing over Christmas, police will be guarding the Palace of Westminster. They will be outside Downing street, whatever the weather, and potentially subject to real threats. I remember going out with the police a few years ago. They had just had a call through to go to a pub where a big fight was going on. They did not know what to expect—there could have been knives or firearms—but they went out of the van unarmed. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude. I still think, as I am sure many other Members do, that we have the finest police service in the world.

I would also like to thank publicly—because they are not seen publicly—the civil servants who helped me when I was in the Whips Office, both in opposition and, more especially, in government. They were wonderful. They had to put up with all sorts of things going on. Do not think for one minute, Mr Deputy Speaker, that government is anything but a smooth and efficient operation without crises and so on, but occasionally such things might happen, and at those times two people in particular, Mr Roy Stone and Mr Mark Kelly, have been on hand. Normally they work under the title of “the usual channels”, but they are more than that; they are absolutely unusual in their devotion to duty and their abilities. I would like to put on the record my thanks to them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I was not deputy Chief Whip, but I was Vice-Chamberlain of the Household, and I saw at first hand the excellent work of “the usual channels”, which must be one of the most modest generics ever dreamt up for two of the most professional civil servants that one could possibly come across. I fully endorse everything the right hon. Gentleman says about the usual channels.

Sir John Randall: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. We know exactly how hard those people work.

In conclusion, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to wish everybody in the House, regardless of what side they sit on or what their views are—even, just about, those who want to build a runway in my borough—a happy Christmas. We are going to have an exciting new year. That is my promise to hon. Members.

2.1 pm

Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Ind): I want briefly to talk about eating disorders, a subject that I have become aware of in detail recently and which deserves a lot more time. I have done a wee bit of research, and although it might have been discussed at length in this place, I do not know that it has, so I think it deserves more time. I will briefly mention it now, and then perhaps go away, do a bit more research and come back to speak about it in the new year. It would not do for a Member to speak about something they did not know much about, would it? That would never happen.

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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): It happens every day.

Eric Joyce: No way. I cannot believe that level of cynicism, to be perfectly honest. We all research our subjects well before speaking.

I recently became aware of several such cases in the UK, including in the English health system—I am not simply talking about my own constituency, in Scotland, where this is a devolved issue. The number of young people suffering from eating disorders, particularly anorexia, has grown considerably. They tend to be in their early teens and they tend to be girls, although not always. It becomes obvious to parents when their child loses a substantial amount of weight, which can happen quickly, and there are various patterns that are easily observed. In the first few stages, it will sometimes seem that the child is trying to lose weight, perhaps to fit into a dress, because of fashion imperatives or whatever. Some weight is lost quite quickly, and the parents will be watching, but not necessarily thinking it a medical issue.

Then it continues. Over a brief period of perhaps three or four months, I child can lose 25% of their body weight. A child who is, say, 8 stone or 8 stone 2 lbs can drop below 6 stone very quickly before the parents have grasped what is going on. Then, they will alert their local GP, who might, or might not, be completely switched on to the subject, and in due course, they might, or might not, get a referral to local services dealing with that kind of thing. The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) briefly referred to mental health services in his area. The configuration of those services is pretty much the same in most areas, as far as I can see, although they operate slightly differently in Scotland.

By the time it gets to the NHS, the problem will usually be quite advanced. Often, if the child continues to refuse to eat, they will be admitted to accident and emergency in a period of weeks because their vital organs will be starting to fail, and they will be going slightly mad—that is my non-clinical term. The essence of it is that once a child gets to that stage, it is very hard and takes a long time for them to recover, because people have to persuade them of the common sense of eating—that it is good for them, that they should treat food like they would medicine. It will take years and years to get that child back on track, if ever they do get back on track, so it is essential that the disorder is identified earlier.

It is clear from reading papers by excellent organisations such as Beat that there is a gap in provision. Beat is an organisation that works on this issue, and I urge Members to google it and look at its website. The gap in provision is no one’s fault, as such; it is simply that the NHS, despite a considerable increase in funding over the past 10 or 12 years, is hard pressed. It works its budget hard, but by the time people approach the local services for those with eating disorders, they do not have the resources.

This is a subject that should concern everyone in this place. Having spoken to a lot of people about this, I have noticed that if someone has a child heading towards being admitted to A and E, their best chance is to put them in a private hospital using private resources. There is a clear pattern. The NHS will do what it can, but if someone can afford private health care, the child will stand a much better chance. This is not just about

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jumping the queue or opting for minor elective surgery; it is about life and death—some 20% of sufferers actually die—and the well-being of young men and women over many years. If a parent can beg, borrow or steal the cash, my advice, unquestionably, would be to use private provision.

We should all be sitting up and paying attention to that, because it is clear that the relevant services in the NHS are overwhelmed. Hon. Members might have a few cases, but my instinct is that we will all have more of them in the relatively near future, because it is a growth area. People are still not terribly sure what eating disorders are, but I can assure hon. Members, from the cases I have looked at, that they are devastating for those involved, and it is clear—this is what worries me most—that private provision is people’s best chance. The NHS should look carefully at how it resources its relevant mental health services for eating disorders.

I will stop there, Mr Deputy Speaker, except to wish you and every Member of the House a wild and crazy, or quiet and pleasant, Christmas.

2.7 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce). If he wishes, I invite him to my constituency, because South Staffordshire and Shropshire mental health care trust has an excellent unit dealing precisely with eating disorders. I had the pleasure of visiting it a few months ago, at the invitation of Sarah Robertson, a constituent of mine. He is most welcome to come and see the excellent work it does and find out more about it.

I wish to remember the men and women of 3 Mercian who are currently serving in Afghanistan. It is one of the regiments due to be disbanded, but I am glad that the name of the Staffords will be remembered. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) will know, it will be combined—we hope—with the names of the Cheshires and the Sherwood Foresters.

Bob Stewart: It is definite that the Staffordshire regiment will live on in the Mercian regiment. It must do. It is a great regiment. It will combine with the Cheshires and the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters. From my point of view, as an ex-Cheshire officer, we will get a huge number of Victoria Crosses when the Staffords join us; my regiment only has two.

Jeremy Lefroy: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. We all share his sentiments, and our thoughts and prayers are with 3 Mercian and the other regiments and units serving in Afghanistan, including the tactical supply wing of the RAF, which is also based in my constituency.

I want to dwell for a moment on the report of the trust special administrators on the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which came out yesterday. There are a number of good things in the report. Within the remit they were given—I think that that will need to be considered by this House because it needs quite a lot of change—they have done some good things. Those include recommending a merger of the University Hospital of North Staffordshire with the Stafford element of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. They have also recommended that Cannock hospital goes to the Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals Trust. For Stafford,

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that is a good thing. We will become part of a large university hospital trust and be able to share services across a wider area. In addition to the excellent staff that we already have, we will be able to attract high-quality staff from across the country.

We are also retaining our accident and emergency department. At the moment, it is open for only 14 hours a day, but that is better than the nothing that was proposed earlier this year. However, I still believe that we need a 24/7 A and E department. Perhaps our use of the current department will reveal the need for an increase in hours, but at least we have retained the department and we can build on it in the future.

We have also retained acute services. At the start of the year, it was thought that Stafford would become a community hospital—not an acute hospital. I am glad to say that those fears have not been realised. The recommendations also include, for the first time, provision for a frail elderly unit, which is incredibly important as it builds on the work of the Cure the NHS group, founded by Julie Bailey, and the Francis report that came out as a result of that. I hope it will be a beacon for the care of elderly people across the country. It will show that in Stafford we can do such things to the highest standards. We will also have a large range of other services. The trust special administrators have said that 90% or more of current attendees at Stafford and Cannock will be able to continue to use those services. Cannock hospital has also been retained. In fact, more work will go on at Cannock, 60% of which has been unused for many years. I welcome that, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley).

A lot of good things are going on in Stafford, and I welcome that. However—and this is a big however—there are things that I oppose and will continue to oppose, the most important of which revolves around paediatric services. Yes, there will be a paediatric assessment unit, but it will be linked with A and E and, therefore, open for only 14 hours a day. That means that children who get sick overnight will have to travel 20 or more miles to the nearest unit. That is not acceptable for my constituents or indeed for the constituents of surrounding constituencies. In addition, it will not be a consultant-led paediatric unit, and it will have no in-patient beds for children. That is a problem for children who turn up at night with serious illnesses, or perhaps a very high temperature. Their parents will be extremely worried and will want their child to be taken in and observed for perhaps a day or two before they return home. If the child’s condition is more serious, they will want them sent to a major unit such as in Stoke or Birmingham.

Provision for those who need in-patient child and adolescent mental health services in Staffordshire—indeed, throughout the country—is not nearly sufficient. Our general hospital in Stafford takes in a number of such young people, some of whom are suicidal. It should not have to do that, but it takes them in because there is nowhere else for them to go. I do not believe that the administrators’ proposals take that into account, although the issue was raised in the consultation.

The original proposals said that no women could give birth in Stafford, unless they were having a home delivery, but I am glad to say that the administrators

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have listened to the people and have recommended that we should have a midwife-led maternity unit. However, that is still not enough, because we need a consultant-led unit. With our growing town, the Army coming in and the number of houses being built, we will get up to the 2,500 to 3,000 births a year in the coming year, and that will justify such provision, networked together with the University Hospital of North Staffordshire. I will continue to make that case to Monitor and to the Secretary of State.

The question of the critical care unit was also raised. I am glad to say that the administrators accepted the need for a level 3 critical care unit at Stafford, but we need to look at the details in the report, because I want to ensure that the unit is robust and will be maintained and sustained. There are question marks over that, but as I am not an expert on the matter, I will have to wait for the consultants and clinicians in my constituency to get back to me with the details.

I pay tribute to the community in Stafford, Cannock and the surrounding areas who have shown such resilience. When downgrading the hospital to a community hospital was first proposed, they showed tremendous support for its work. As is well known, the hospital has been greatly troubled over the years, but it has come on tremendously in the past two or three years. Only two weeks ago Stafford had the best hospital standardised mortality ratio in the whole of the west midlands. That is a far cry from where it was four or five years ago. I pay great tribute to the community for coming together in marches of up to 50,000 people.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): Many of the things that the hon. Gentleman describes are of course familiar to me, given that Lewisham also experienced the first ever use of the trust special administration process. Earlier in his remarks, he referred to the remit that the TSA had been given in Staffordshire. He said that that remit may have to be looked at in future. What are his thoughts on clause 118 of the Care Bill, which looks to extend and augment the powers of trust special administrators in the future?

Jeremy Lefroy: I am pretty sceptical about it. When that Bill comes back to the House, I will make some remarks on it if I am given the opportunity to do so. In fact, I would take my remarks much wider than that. I have written a paper to Monitor on all the faults of the TSA process that I have experienced at first hand. One in particular is that when an administrator is installed, the trust loses its board. The chief executives and the executives lose their support. I am not saying that the TSAs do not try to do some work, but their focus is on the financial side and the future. Inevitably, they are not so focused on running the hospital now, and that is a serious omission. There are many other serious points that I want to make, and I would welcome a debate on the whole matter.