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Finally, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised a number of issues, particularly around the insurance industry. He mentioned the fact that some insurance premiums are not available in Northern Ireland in the way that they are across the rest of the mainland UK. It is worth emphasising something that he said at the end of his contribution, which is that we need to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerable. That should be the cornerstone of this Bill, and I do not think that anybody in the House would disagree with that.

It is also important to look at the competition in markets to give consumers confidence. Last year, Teresa Perchard from Citizens Advice said:

“Consumers have a long memory. When energy companies say ‘trust me’, to consumers, their experience says that they should expect the opposite. Consumers do not feel powerful in many markets.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow looked at some of those markets that the Government must deal with if they do not want the Consumer Rights Bill to be irrelevant. She mentioned energy, pensions, payday loans and banking. Those are just a few of the industries that may be affected by the Bill.

Finally, let me turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) who brings experience to this debate through the Scottish Consumer Council. She highlighted the sensible approaches in the Citizens Advice briefing, one of which must be about giving information to consumers when they are purchasing goods through stores or online. I have often been met, when reaching the till in a store, with a nice sign that says that my statutory rights are not affected. I know that that is a statutory requirement, but it is completely beyond me what it means. If we turn over till receipts from many organisations, we would find a whole plethora of legislation that a Philadelphia lawyer would find difficult to pick through never mind someone who just wants to return a pair of shoes that are either too large, too small or not to their liking. There is something in that Citizens Advice briefing that I hope the Committee will look at when it takes through this Bill. For example, there might be some simple proposals to ensure that information for consumers is clear.

There is also a substantial body of evidence that shows that businesses are not aware of the rules. Will the Minister address that in her response? What will the Government do to ensure that there is a wide understanding of the new rules among businesses as well as consumers? Yet again, the Business Innovation and Skills Committee deserves a considerable amount of credit for its detailed analysis in that particular area.

Finally, will the Minister seriously consider the research that has been mentioned, commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses, on treating small businesses as consumers? I know that that is incredibly difficult and complex, but they are a huge pillar of the economy and much of the detriment goes not only from businesses to consumers but from businesses to businesses—indeed, the detriment tends to go from large businesses and Government Departments to small businesses. We should consider that in Committee.

Healthy, fair and competitive markets and effective methods for information sharing across providers are vital to building an economy that works for both consumers and businesses. Well-informed consumers make better customers for businesses, improved markets make better

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businesses for customers, and better informed citizens get better outcomes when redress is required. We will support the Bill on Second Reading but encourage the Government to improve it in Committee to ensure that the opportunity is not lost truly to make a step change in consumer rights in this country.

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jenny Willott): This has been a wide-ranging debate with many useful and, on occasion, entertaining contributions from Members of all parties. I thank Members for their considered views.

I agree with the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) that this is an important area of work. When something goes wrong for a consumer, it can be devastating, as he said. The Bill will provide remedies for consumers with a wide range of problems, from a broken toaster to a dodgy kitchen installation and for things worth from a few quid to thousands of pounds. The wide range of matters encompassed by the Bill shows how complex an area this is.

I shall try to address as many of the points that have been raised as I can, but as a number of Members have said, we will have further opportunities to discuss the detail in Committee. Contrary to what the Opposition have argued, the Bill will provide a substantial improvement to consumers’ rights, remedies and protections. It is true that it consolidates the current law, which, as a number of Members have said, is spread across eight pieces of legislation and more than 60 sets of regulations. It also brings in major new rights for consumers, however, particularly in digital goods and services, although they have been completely overlooked by some Opposition Members.

It is important to note that the Bill has widespread support among consumer and business groups. The economic benefit is estimated to be more than £4 billion over 10 years. It is more than just minor tinkering, as some Members have suggested; it is an important piece of legislation.

I found the speech made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) rather disappointing. She seems not to have read the Bill in detail as she seems to have rather a poor grasp of what it does and does not do. She barely mentioned much of what is in the Bill and I hope that she has a chance to read it in detail before Committee.

I am proud that the Government are taking such important action to improve the rights of consumers, when the previous Labour Government did very little over 13 years. For example, as a number of Members mentioned today, the issue of cowboy builders was raised repeatedly during the previous Parliament but no action was taken. The coalition Government are doing something for consumers rather than just carping from the sidelines.

As I said, the hon. Member for Walthamstow did not talk about a lot of the issues in the Bill. She laid out an extremely long wish list of things that she wanted to add to the Bill rather than engaging with what was already there. I appreciate that this is the sort of Bill that many people spot gaps in and want to add to, but there is more to it than that.

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Hon. Members raised a number of issues that they want included in the Bill, including banking, utilities, telecoms and ticket touting. At the risk of disappointing them, I do not propose to go into much detail on those issues as they do not fall within the remit of the Bill. Although I have sympathy for many of today’s speakers and with a lot of the issues, many are issues for other Ministers and Departments to tackle.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow and a number of others mentioned concerns about consumers having access to their own data. We agreed that that information can be key to empowering consumers to take well-informed action. The hon. Lady mentioned midata and the voluntary approach the Government have taken to it has already had success, with all the major energy companies now providing midata downloads so that their customers can access their data in a consistent and machine readable format. My Department is reviewing progress on the voluntary programme and we wrote to chief executives of companies about that in November. The review, which will be completed in March, will help us to decide whether to use the power in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 to require companies to release the data they hold on consumers, but we hope that the voluntary approach will make progress. There is progress and I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes that.

Members on both sides of the House expressed concern about lookalike websites. As they will know, misleading information and advertising has long been the subject of consumer protection legislation, which was substantially updated and extended in 2008. Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, it is illegal for a trader to mislead consumers to the extent that the average consumer is likely to make a decision that they would not otherwise make. That is slightly wordy, but it includes giving a false impression of cost, such as charging for something that would otherwise be free. That encompasses the example given by the hon. Member for Walthamstow of fake HMRC websites. We accept that there is a problem, but further legislation is not required. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has written to public enforcers to draw the issue of copycat websites to their attention and to ensure that the law is enforced appropriately.

Sheila Gilmore: If the law is there to deal with this problem, why is it still happening? A constituent contacted me about this only the other day. He was not uneducated or stupid in any way, but he was taken in by one of these websites. What should he do?

Jenny Willott: If the hon. Lady would listen, I just said that the Department has written to public enforcers to ask them to enforce the law properly. The problem is clearly still happening, and we are all aware of instances of it. Recently, there were reports about the issue on the radio, particularly about the fake HMRC websites. There are lots of things that are illegal that still go on until there is a crackdown. This is one such thing, and we are doing what we can to encourage public enforcers to take action to close down websites that are clearly in breach of the law.

On a technical point, the issue of devolution was raised by a number of Members from Northern Ireland, and I should like to clarify the situation. The issues covered in the Bill are reserved to Westminster with

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regard to Scotland and Wales, but they are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The devolved Administrations in all three nations were consulted throughout the drafting process, and both Cardiff and Edinburgh are perfectly satisfied with the measures and are happy for them to be implemented across England, Wales and Scotland. I completely agree with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that we are all part of one country and that it is important to be consistent across it. I am glad to be able to tell him that the Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed to a legislative competence order so that the Bill will apply across the board to the whole of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There will be consistency in the application of all the measures to the whole of the UK.

Mrs Hodgson: Will the hon. Lady clarify something? I think I heard her say that some of the issues raised by hon. Members did not fall within the remit of the Bill, including the point that I made about the secondary market in controlling ticket touts. Am I correct in thinking that she is not going to respond to any of my points?

Jenny Willott: Some of the issues that the hon. Lady raised related to unfair contract terms, which I shall come on to in a minute. Many other issues relating to banking legislation and the regulation of energy markets do not fall within the remit of the Bill, and they are the responsibility of other Departments. However, I shall come on to the points that she made about ticket touting.

As the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) said, many good businesses already offer enhanced rights to their customers. The Bill will help them, because it will create a level playing field, and it will help us to have fair competition. The hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) made it clear that the Bill will bring significant benefits to businesses, saving them time and money, and helping them to provide a better service to customers. It will also make the market more competitive, which helps everyone.

On the specific matters raised, the hon. Member for West Bromwich West mentioned the issue of deductions for use when a product is returned to the trader. As he said, we accepted some of his Committee’s recommendations, and it is vital that we begin the debate by recognising the fact that current legislation allows for a deduction for use whenever the customer exercises their second-tier right to reject. The Bill strengthens that by saying that a deduction for use cannot be made until after the first six months from purchase with a limited exception. As a result of the pre-legislative scrutiny, ably led by the hon. Gentleman, we decided to tighten and limit that exception even further. It is important to maintain the ability to deduct for use, but to ensure that there is a fair balance between the rights of consumers and the pressures on business.

The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) raised the issue of time- limiting the period available for repairing products, as did another hon. Member. A number of factors will be beyond the control of the trader and a fixed time limit may impose a significant burden on them. When providing a repair the trader

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must carry out a number of actions, including taking delivery of the goods, diagnosing the faults, and perhaps sending the goods away for repair or ordering in parts. Similarly, the trader may have to order in a replacement. We are concerned that imposing a time limit may lead to a reduction in the quality of the repairs, which may in turn lead to a loss of faith in the repairs, and ultimately to an increase in the number of goods being rejected. We do not want to see that, so we do not propose to lay down a specific time limit in legislation because it could be counter-productive to the interests of consumers.

A number of hon. Members raised the issue of digital content. For the first time, the Bill introduces consumer rights for digital content. We are one of the first countries in the world to legislate in this area. I hope that as well as benefiting consumers, this will help to give this sector of the economy a competitive edge in the future. Such an important and rapidly growing industry needs to be governed by a clear and effective consumer framework. Many consumers assume that they have rights at the moment and are confused and concerned when they find out that they do not. We heard from a number of Members about the scale of this. During the last year, 16 million consumers have had a problem with downloaded material. I accept that, where possible, we should align the digital regime with goods and services to make it as clear and simple as possible for consumers, but we should do that only where it makes sense, and we need to ensure that we neither over nor under-regulate this important sector to ensure that it can grow.

Another issue that was raised by the hon. Member for West Bromwich West concerned the outcome-based quality standard for services. The Bill reflects the current position, which, as he knows, requires services to be undertaken with reasonable care and skill. As part of the consultation ahead of the Bill, the Government asked for comments on additional proposals to move the services regime closer to the regime for goods by introducing an outcome-based quality standard for certain services, but the responses that we received gave a wide range of views, including contradictory views on whether an outcome-based standard would be easier to understand. While in some cases, such as repair or certain installation services, it may be quite simple, in other cases a view on the quality of a service is subjective, and therefore much harder to determine.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the issue is complicated and difficult. I completely understand where he and his Committee are coming from, but the Government feel that the evidence does not fully support the conclusion that they came to and we have decided to stick with the current legal position requiring reasonable care and skill rather than introducing an outcomes-based quality standard. The current system is understood and it seems easier to apply, rather than introducing a new system that could be complicated and subjective, particularly as there are strong views on either side.

Mr Bailey: I hesitate to have a mini-debate, but the difficulty is that under the reasonable care and skill provision, anybody who felt that they had a case to bring against a service provider would have no other course of action but a recourse to law. It is extremely difficult for them to prove that if they are not professionally qualified in the service that has been provided for them.

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An outcomes-based approach would at least give clarity and strengthen consumer rights because they would know that if they took action they had a much better chance of winning.

Jenny Willott: Because the services sector is so incredibly broad and varied, what is the case in one area would not necessarily be the case in another. For example, I like the way my hair has been cut, but someone else might not have the same view. That is much more subjective and difficult to identify, whereas whether or not it has been cut with due care and attention is a totally different matter. It is clearly a difficult issue, and one to which I am sure we will return in Committee, because there are strong arguments on both sides. It is a matter of weighing up the evidence and deciding which side to come down on. There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer; either is a possible outcome.

Alternative dispute resolution and an ombudsman service were mentioned. I believe that we must first consult on how to implement the alternative dispute resolution directive, which the Select Committee mentioned in its pre-legislative scrutiny. Having a single consumer ombudsman is one of several options that we are considering, but it would not be appropriate to legislate for that until after we have properly consulted and decided which avenue to pursue and how to pursue it. We intend to publish a consultation document shortly, and I look forward to hearing people’s views on what approach we should be taking and on having a single consumer ombudsman, but this Bill is not the vehicle for that.

I would like to clarify a point made about collective redress. The hon. Member for Windsor mentioned the right of small businesses to participate in collective redress. The proposals in the Bill on competition-based measures and collective action will be available to consumers and small businesses in the specific area of the competition tribunal. On the broader issue of whether small businesses should be eligible to access more of the rights in this legislation, I understand that research by the Federation of Small Businesses will be produced fairly shortly. I am interested to see the case it makes. I am fairly sympathetic to the idea, but I do not think that this legislation is the place to introduce it, because it is specifically about business-to-consumer relationships, not business-to-business or consumer-to-consumer relationships. We want to maintain that clarity. However, this is an issue that will come up again, so I look forward to reading the FSB research.

The unfair terms legislation relates to a very complex area of law. The Bill will make it easier for businesses to apply the law in practice while ensuring that consumers are not tripped up by the small print. The Government agree that consumers should be protected from terms that allow traders to make unilateral changes to a contract, and the so-called grey list of potentially unfair terms already includes terms that permit the trader unilaterally to alter the characteristics of a consumer contract. Through the Bill, we are protecting consumers from terms that are not made prominent and are left in the small print, because they can be considered for fairness by the court. We think that will address many of the problems that have occurred.

To respond to one of the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, under recent regulations implementing the EU consumer rights directive, traders

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cannot hide costs; they must make all charges and costs clear up front before the consumer buys. That will come into force in June 2014. We have already taken action to tackle hidden costs and do not believe that we need to legislate on it further.

As the hon. Member for West Bromwich West said, we also looked at proposals to make it harder for businesses to change terms, even when they are flagged to consumers as liable to change in certain circumstances, but we believe that could make businesses less likely to offer consumers good deals and bargains for fear of not being able to be flexible in future and to respond to changes outside their control. Our concern is that consumers would ultimately lose out, which clearly we do not want to see. That is why we have not gone ahead with those proposals.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) talked about the charges added by ticketing authorities. That will be covered by the provisions on unfair terms. If consumers are subject to extra charges that are hidden, that would be covered by the measures in the Bill. We have also legislated to prevent companies from charging more to process a credit card payment than it actually costs them, so that should offer customers further protection. I am sure that we will debate that further in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) raised the important issue of funding for those who tackle breaches of consumer law, and that was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, BIS is providing additional funding of about £13 million through the National Trading Standards Board for enforcement to tackle national issues, which is separate from the budget for local issues. It will ensure better co-ordination across local authority borders and improved intelligence-gathering.

Ultimately, the provision of local trading standards services, which I know is the concern, is a matter for individual local authorities, but by supporting the National Trading Standards Board we are working to help trading standards services make better use of their money and co-ordinate better across borders. We are also helping trading standards officers to make more efficient use of their time by introducing 48 hours’ notice for routine inspections, which was welcomed by the hon. Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly). Businesses, especially small ones, welcome the requirement for notice, because it means that they can ensure the right people are present and that the paperwork is ready, which saves time for both businesses and trading standards officers.

We do not believe that the measure will reduce the ability of enforcers to tackle rogue traders and breaches of consumer law as it applies only to routine visits. Trading standards officers can still turn up unannounced if they feel that providing notice would defeat the purpose of the visit or if they suspect a breach or an imminent risk to public health and safety. The introduction of notice only for routine visits will help trading standards to operate more effectively and efficiently, and save time and effort for both trading standards and small businesses.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) raised the issue of collective action, as well as the cost to consumers of taking individual action. The Bill will tackle that by giving public enforcers more flexibility to seek redress on behalf of consumers, so it will substantially

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improve the likelihood of consumers being able to get redress without having a court case, which is better for everybody, both consumers and businesses.

We are allowing for the business and the enforcer to reach agreement without the need to go to court, although the option to seek a court order will be available if agreement cannot be reached. The Bill will also allow for more flexible options to get the right solutions—for example, agreeing new delivery times for overdue goods, which might be more appropriate for the customer, or putting in place a better complaints system and joining an ombudsman service, as well as financial recompense. There is therefore a broad range of things that businesses could agree with enforcers to find a way forward. We want a system that is flexible enough to provide the most appropriate redress for consumers, and we believe that that is the right way to do so.

A couple of hon. Members mentioned the need to let people know about their rights and asked what we are doing to let them know about the changes. We have established an implementation group with members from the business community, consumer groups and the enforcement community. It is helping us to put together a strategy to ensure that consumers and businesses know about their rights and the changes that will be made by the Bill.

I completely agree with hon. Members who highlighted that information is absolutely key. The whole point of the Bill is to make legislation so much simpler that consumers will be much more able to understand their rights and to act when they feel that they have not been given the service or quality of goods they deserve. That is very important to us, and we are making sure that it runs alongside our work in the House.

The Bill will improve clarity and reduce the complexity of consumer law for both businesses and consumers. It will reduce the cost and time spent by both parties in resolving disputes, and it will lead to happier consumers and more successful businesses. The consumer law framework will be made fit for purpose in the 21st century by the introduction of a new category of digital content, and it will encourage consumers to shop around and take a risk on new businesses, helping our burgeoning digital industry to grow and to create wealth and jobs. The reforms will also build on and enhance the success of the current consumer and competition law enforcement regimes, making markets fairer and clearer. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Consumer Rights Bill (Programme)

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

That the following provisions shall apply to the Consumer Rights Bill:


(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 13 March 2014.

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

Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of the proceedings.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Consumer Rights Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Consumer Rights Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(a) any expenses incurred by a Minister of the Crown or a government department under the Act; and

(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Consumer Rights Bill (Carry-over)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 80A(1)(a)),

That if, at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament, proceedings on the Consumer Rights Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order 118(6)),


That the draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 16 December, be approved.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order 118(6)),


That the draft Special Educational Needs (Direct Payments) (Pilot Scheme) (Extension and Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 13 January, be approved.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order 118(6)),

Northern Ireland

That the draft District Electoral Areas (Northern Ireland) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 18 December, be approved.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

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Mr John Elam

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

4.56 pm

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to have this Adjournment debate this evening.

I am pleased to see the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims in his place. I do not expect him to be able to respond in detail to the important issues that I will raise, but perhaps while he listens to my speech he will reflect on what advice he can give on the best course of action to take the matter forward.

The last case that I raised in which I felt a serious injustice had been done was that of Private Lee Clegg, a soldier in Northern Ireland who was convicted of murder. After the intervention of his solicitor, Simon McKay, other Members from both Houses and myself, he was eventually cleared of the crime.

I want to make it clear that I do not raise these matters lightly. On the whole, our legal system is fair and just. It was with great pleasure and pride that I served as a Minister in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice under the last Government. I therefore raise this case knowing the confines within which Ministers may speak because of operational issues and the legal process. I raise this case this evening because a number of things have happened that have made me want to put it on the record.

Mr John Elam was convicted of a conspiracy to commit fraud and received a 10-and-a-half-year jail sentence in April 2008. He has now been released on licence. He has always maintained his innocence and has sought to appeal against his imprisonment. He had an appeal in 2010 that was turned down.

A constituent of mine came to see me to raise his concerns about the safety of the conviction and the role of certain officers in West Yorkshire police. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Members of Parliament are approached by many people who feel that the legal system has operated against them. Sometimes it is difficult to unravel what the issues really are. As any other constituency MP would do, I wrote to the appropriate Departments and West Yorkshire police, and I contacted Mr Elam’s then solicitors, Keith Dyson and Partners. I also had meetings with the West Yorkshire police commissioner.

My interest was stirred even more when differing accounts of the case emerged. According to West Yorkshire police, Mr Elam was an international criminal who had connections to the Russian mafia and was involved in money laundering and the drugs trade. However, according to his solicitor, Mr Elam was the victim of police intimidation and a dirty tricks campaign, which included a lack of disclosure at his appeal. I am not a lawyer, so I was unsure what legal avenues were available to resolve the conflicting stories. As MPs do, I asked around, seeking advice and receiving information from many sources. The responses led to my interest in the case deepening further.

Mr Elam had only one previous conviction, for common assault—he threw a Toby jug at a pub landlord. How did that minor criminal evolve into an alleged international

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criminal? According to West Yorkshire police, they were interested in Mr Elam in 2005 and sought approval to have him monitored and placed under surveillance as a dangerous criminal. Operation Teddington was set up, and a very large amount of resources was spent on the process. Covert action was used to monitor the bank accounts of the Medina Trading Company, which consisted of a restaurant and a car wash. Mr Elam has always admitted his involvement with the Medina company and its directors.

The Yorkshire bank held the accounts of the Medina company, and an employee of the Yorkshire bank at that time, Mr Richard Shires, passed on information relating to the accounts, and cheques, to DC Casey of West Yorkshire police, as confirmed by affidavit. During my investigations into the matter, I have submitted a number of freedom of information requests to West Yorkshire police, through which I have discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires was a serving special constable in West Yorkshire police at the time the information was passed on. I have also discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires subsequently became a paid constable in West Yorkshire police and continues to serve to this day. I have tried to discover through a recent freedom of information request whether those Richard Shires were one and the same, but at this time I have not been provided with that information.

If those Richard Shires were one and the same, there was a clear conflict of interest, and more to the point, the credibility of the information and cheques passed to DC Casey would be called into doubt. I think all would agree that it would never be appropriate for a bank employee who was also a serving special constable to assist with the inquiries of the very same police force he worked for.

At the trial, the Crown was represented by Mr Sandiford, QC. No evidence was given about the wider concerns relating to Mr Elam’s criminal associations. In fact, Mr Sandiford stated:

“The prosecution case here is that the conspirators sought to conceal the fact that Mr Elam was the true owner of the companies acquiring the business in order to defraud creditors.”

In summing up the case, His Honour Judge Wolstenholme said to the jury that

“what you must do is take the view that, well, something dishonest was going on with one or more of the defendants. They must all have been up to something, even if you are not sure what.”

Subsequently, Mr Elam was convicted.

Mr Elam’s case, supported by his legal team, portrays an entirely different account of the chain of events. Mr Elam claims that he was approached in the summer of 2004 by a police officer demanding £150,000 in cash to be paid immediately, and £30,000 annually thereafter. In March 2005, the police investigated Mr Elam’s business practices using the covert name Operation Teddington. It is alleged that, in June 2005, 49 officers were redeployed from the anti-terrorist taskforce to work on Operation Teddington.

As I said, in September 2005, Mr Richard Shires was a paid employee of the Yorkshire bank. He accessed bank accounts relating to the Medina restaurant and secured more than 3,000 cancelled cheques. A written affidavit by Mr Shires confirms that he delivered a bundle of those cheques to DC Casey. The Yorkshire bank also confirms that it never received an order to produce from the courts.

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In 2006, John Elam was arrested, and then the Crown court trial began. Despite a wide-ranging three-year investigation, involving more than 300 officers, Mr Elam faced a single charge of conspiracy to commit fraud. He was convicted and served his sentence in Wakefield prison as a category A prisoner, the highest security level. He had also been treated as a category A prisoner during his time on remand. Mr Elam suffered a stroke in prison and needed external medical support.

It is my contention that, whatever the true situation, a number of questions remain unanswered and there are a number of public interest concerns. First, was a production order properly served to Yorkshire bank, and what was the role of PC Shires? Secondly, what was the true cost of Operation Teddington, and were officers diverted from the anti-terrorism taskforce, who at the time were dealing with the 7/7 bombers in west Yorkshire? Thirdly, why was Mr Elam considered to be a category A prisoner, and who was the police officer that demanded money?

I know the Minister cannot respond directly to individual cases and that the Criminal Cases Review Commission will take a fresh look at this case, but I am seriously concerned enough to raise these issues and the fact that, while out on licence, Mr Elam still faces issues related to the recovery of the proceeds of crime. A hearing that was suspended in October is due in February. I have tried to contact West Yorkshire police on a number of occasions about those issues, and I will continue to do so. I was heartened today when I had a more co-operative response from West Yorkshire police because they knew this debate was taking place, and I hope to take the matter further.

These are serious allegations and this is a serious case—as I said, I do not usually promote and push issues where I do not feel that a cause needs to be looked at. This is a sensitive case, but it is important that as constituency MPs we raise such matters when they are put to us, and that we try to get the best result for the constituents we represent, particularly where justice and the work of the police are concerned. It must always be held utmost that the police operate in a proper manner and that our legal system is operating at its best.

I want to put this case on record. I am sure it will not end here and that we will have to deal with other issues. However, I believe that the other bodies involved—they know who they are—should look at this case in greater detail, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.

5.6 pm

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Damian Green): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) on securing this debate and thank him for recognising at various stages in his speech that I will inevitably be constrained in what I can say in response to the specific points he has raised. He served in a distinguished capacity in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office under the previous Government, so he will recognise that as a Minister in both Departments I am doubly constrained in what I can say. I will, however, respond to his points about miscarriages of justice, applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and police matters.

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Consideration of alleged miscarriages of justice is a matter for the independent Criminal Cases Review Commission, and ultimately for the appeal courts. I am aware that Mr Elam has made an application to the commission. It is therefore not a matter for the Government and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that case on their behalf. I understand that Mr Elam has made a complaint to West Yorkshire police that is still ongoing and being investigated by the force’s professional standards department. Again, that disqualifies me from commenting on it.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the background to the case, and I understand that Mr Elam and a number of co-defendants were prosecuted as a result of a major operation by West Yorkshire police. There were a number of criminal trials against Mr Elam and other defendants in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Mr Elam was convicted of offences including assault and conspiracy to pervert justice, conspiracy to defraud, and doing acts tending or intending to pervert the course of justice. Custodial sentences were imposed following conviction, which have been served, and I understand that Mr Elam has appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal, against sentence on one occasion, which was heard in 2007, and twice against conviction—both those appeals were heard in 2010.

As I have said, Mr Elam has made an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was established by the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. Its purpose is to review possible miscarriages of justice. Since 31 March 1997, the commission has operated with the power to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice and refer convictions and sentences to the relevant appeal court for a new appeal. Its remit extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The commission replaced functions that were previously carried out by the Secretary of State. Parliament established the commission specifically to be a body that is independent of the Government.

A commission review is rightly a long and thorough process. If Mr Elam’s application to the commission concerns all the criminal proceedings to which he has been subject over a number years, the review will be complex and lengthy.

It should be noted that the commission has strong statutory powers to enable it to discharge its functions. It can direct and supervise investigations; approve the appointment of officers to carry investigations on its behalf; and gain access to documents and other relevant materials. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the power in section 17 of the 1995 Act, under which the commission can reasonably require any person serving in any public body to produce to the commission any document or other material that can assist it in the exercise of any of its functions.

Of course, “public body” includes the police, so the commission’s powers pursuant to section 17 operate irrespective of any duty of confidentiality and allow the commission access to information of the highest sensitivity. Accordingly, as I am sure the House can see, the commission has the power to obtain and review the papers and materials held by West Yorkshire police, provided the commission believes it reasonable to do so, in connection with its review of Mr Elam’s conviction. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman that, when the time comes, the commission can access and consider all material relevant to the review of Mr Elam’s application.

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The commission has confirmed that an application from Mr Elam was received in January 2013. Mr Elam is now at liberty and, as I understand it, the case is not yet under active review. The commission has informed me that it recently wrote to advise Mr Elam that the estimated date for the allocation of his case for review is January 2015. I appreciate that that is some two years after the original application was made and that, given the complexity of the case, it is likely to be some time before an outcome is reached once the review is under way.

In addition, the commission has explained to me that it operates a system of priority for applicants who are in custody. For cases requiring a substantial review, the review is generally started 12 months earlier when applicants are in custody than when somebody is at liberty. Currently, the wait for those in custody is unduly long. The commission is concentrating on allocating those cases to reduce the maximum waiting time.

As I have said, although the commission prioritises applications from people in custody, I am advised that it has a policy for affording priority to any individual case when appropriate. Perhaps Mr Elam wishes to pursue that, or perhaps the hon. Gentleman can discuss with Mr Elam whether that is an appropriate course of action in his case. I should take the opportunity to repeat that the Government should not, and indeed cannot, in any way intervene or be seen to be intervening in a matter for the commission and, if appropriate, the appeal courts.

On the West Yorkshire police investigation, I understand from them that Mr Elam’s solicitor contacted them at the end of last year to make a complaint about an officer involved in the 2005 investigation. West Yorkshire police’s professional standards department is currently in correspondence with Mr Elam’s solicitor about the matter and currently awaits a response. As the hon. Gentleman has said, Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan, the head of the West Yorkshire police professional standards department, has spoken to him and informed him of the sequence of events surrounding the original complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The complaint was thoroughly reviewed, and the response was sent on 18 September advising that there was no evidence to support the allegation. A formal complaint was recorded by West Yorkshire police’s professional standards department and, although Mr Elam and his representatives have been advised that the complaint will be subject to disapplication on two occasions, there has been no response to the letters.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman was advised that the process would not stop West Yorkshire police’s professional standards department from taking action

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on the information, especially if there is a suggestion of misconduct or criminality. I believe that Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan has also offered to meet the hon. Gentleman to go through any outstanding allegations or suggestions of misconduct. As well as that offer—it is obviously a matter for him to decide whether to take that up—the professional standards department strongly encourages Mr Elam, or any other person, to contact it should they have information that they believe may be relevant or of value. I think that that is all I can appropriately say at this stage.

If after those stages Mr Elam is not satisfied with how his complaint to West Yorkshire police was dealt with, or how he was notified of the outcome, he can appeal a decision to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is the statutory guardian of the police complaints system. There are, therefore, further steps that he can take if he wishes to do so.

The hon. Gentleman raised three important specific points at the end of his speech. Let me address them as far as I can. The issue of the production order to Yorkshire Bank and the role of Mr Shires is specific to one or more of the criminal cases brought against Mr Elam. If that is a case he has asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission to consider, it will investigate the issues fully. It is therefore not appropriate for me to speculate on them. Information on the costs and diversion of police resources for the purposes of Operation Teddington is an operational matter for West Yorkshire police, so I refer the hon. Gentleman to it for the answer to that. On the question of where Mr Elam served his custodial sentences, the decision on which custodial facility a convicted prisoner is sent to is made by the National Offender Management Service. Its decision is informed by information and intelligence from various sources, and the directorate of high security has a responsibility to act on that information. It is not within its remit to investigate the details of the information provided by the sources it uses.

It is clear from the important matters raised by the hon. Gentleman that there are issues that need to be looked into further. As I have explained, the relevant and appropriate bodies are looking into those matters now. I therefore think that the sensible way forward is to allow the application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to take its course. I hope that that satisfies the important points raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

5.18 pm

House adjourned.