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As my hon. Friend will doubtless be aware, we also recently announced a review of the available evidence on amplitude modulation—AM—noise produced by wind turbines. The aerodynamic noise—the noise produced by the rotating wind turbine blades—includes a steady component, as well as, in some circumstances, a periodically fluctuating, or amplitude modulated, component. One form of AM, commonly referred to as “blade swish”, is an inherent feature of the operation of all wind turbines and can be explained by well-understood mechanisms. It is therefore often called “normal amplitude modulation”—NAM. Some AM, however, exhibits characteristics that fall outside those expected of NAM and can potentially give rise to increased annoyance. Such characteristics include a greater depth of modulation or a changed noise character. For that reason, it is sometimes called excessive amplitude modulation. Research suggests that that form of AM is caused by sudden variations in the direction and speed of the wind, which mean that the wind hits different parts of the turbine blade at different speeds, causing it to stall momentarily. The stalling can then produce a whooshing sound that some people find irritating. The evidence to date indicates that the incidence of AM from wind turbines in the UK is low, but we are committed to increasing our knowledge and understanding of the potential impacts of wind turbines and therefore we keep our evidence base up to date.

Mr Cox: I had cause to look into this some years ago, and I found that a good deal of the research that was being done on wind for the Department was being carried out by experts or consultants retained and used by the wind industry itself. I hope that the figures and the research the Minister is referring to are genuinely independent.

Matthew Hancock: The research is being done by the Institute of Acoustics and it is hard to argue that it would make anything other than a fully objective statement and analysis. We need a view on appropriate advice about the impact of this excessive amplitude modulation and what thresholds might be set in planning considerations, which comes back to the point made earlier about the tighter planning conditions we have already put in place and that we propose in future. We are preparing a specification for the review and intend to publish an invitation to tender soon. I will take into account the point that my hon. and learned Friend makes to make sure that we are careful to ensure that the analysis undertaken is truly objective and we will appoint a contractor to conduct the review as soon as we can after the conclusion of the tendering exercise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough mentioned planning and the changes we have introduced and propose to introduce in the next Parliament under a majority Conservative Administration. We have already set out how we are putting in place measures to protect consumers from the cost of supporting wind farms, but we must also protect communities from poorly sited wind farms that are put up in a way that ruins England’s green and pleasant land.

Mr Bone: The Minister is being very generous and is going into extraordinary depth, but I think he is now moving on to the planning issues and I must remind him that my Bill deals only with wind farm subsidies, not planning matters.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am the one who has to worry about these issues. In fairness, the Minister has been tempted to deal with nuclear, offshore and other subjects.

Matthew Hancock: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough would do a remarkable job in your seat, but I am grateful for your guidance.

I want to mention planning, not least because it was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and because it forms part of the wider arguments about whether we should have subsidies for onshore wind in the future and whether we should end subsidies for onshore wind in the way set out in the Bill or in a careful and measured way, as I have set out.

We have been very clear that wind farms must be well sited to receive planning permission and that communities must be taken into account before planning decisions are made. The reforms we have made to the planning system bear that out. We have also made it compulsory for developers to have pre-application consultations with local communities on onshore wind developments of more than two turbines or when the hub height of the turbine exceeds 15 metres. That means that developers need to engage seriously with communities even before submitting a planning application.

We have also published new planning practice guidance on renewable energy, updated last year, which will help deliver the balance required by the national planning policy framework. That will make it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. This is what I was referring to earlier when I said that saving the global environment must not be done in a way that damages our local environment. The new planning guidance has also been published to assist local councils and planning inspectors in their consideration of local plans and individual planning applications.

I also want to touch on the planning recoveries issue mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and by the hon. Member for Sunderland Central. Our new planning practice guidance and the requirement for developers to consult local communities before they submit a planning application are crucial steps in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind developments and ensuring that local communities are listened to whether there is a subsidy in place or not, as set out in the Bill. Of course, however, some communities remain concerned when a local planning decision is challenged on appeal.

It is important that local communities continue to have confidence in the appeals process and that the environmental balance expected by the national planning policy framework is reflected in decisions on renewable energy deployment. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced a temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria for a period of six months. In doing so, he explained that he wanted to give particular scrutiny to planning appeals involving renewable energy developments so that he could consider the extent to which the new practice guidance met our intentions. Since that planning guidance was issued, more appeals have been dismissed than approved for more significant

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turbines, reversing the trend before the guidance was issued, when more approvals were approved than dismissed.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has found that the guidance is helping to ensure that decisions reflect the environmental balance we need to see, as set out in the framework, but he also recognises that the guidance is relatively new and that some development proposals might not yet have taken on board its intent. That is why after careful consideration he decided on 9 April 2014 to extend the temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria and continue to consider for recovery appeals for renewable energy developments for a further 12 months. We will continue to monitor the impact of recoveries on onshore wind and on investor confidence more broadly. There you have it, Mr Deputy Speaker.

We have been very clear about the fact that onshore wind plays a role in our energy mix. It produced 7% of the UK’s electricity in the last quarter, but we need to ensure that we tackle the challenge of climate change in the way that incurs the lowest possible cost. In the next Parliament, we will in time remove the subsidies from onshore wind, but I hope that that will happen as part of a wider move to drive down the cost of subsidies, especially as the cost of renewables falls and as some renewables, such as solar, are financed reasonably cost-effectively and reach parity with fossil fuels. That will significantly change the debate about renewables because we will reach a point where going green reduces costs, rather than adding subsidies to consumers’ bills.

We should stick to that clear direction and vision, and we should do so in a way that allows the House to abide by its commitments. I take on board the point about the Bill’s intention, which is consistent with the Prime Minister’s words, even if the technicalities are slightly different.

I have not dwelt at all on the utter chaos and catastrophe of the Opposition’s policies, the inconsistencies of which were well drawn out in the debate. I am not going to go there, and I will not talk about how no one can have a freeze that is not a freeze and how the freeze policy was launched by someone standing next to an ice block, so to describe it later as a cap seems inconsistent with the intention at the time.

It is a great pity that the Opposition have no credible policy to speak of, but I suppose that only shows why it is vital that we have a successful outcome to the general election, so that we can continue with the goals that we have set. I look forward to working further on the Bill’s details with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, but it is clear that the costs of subsidies for wind are falling. We are bringing them down through the power of the ingenuity of mankind and the price discovery of the market. We are clear that we will remove future subsidies for onshore wind, and we will be careful to ensure that local planning considerations and the beauty of the local environment are taken into account. Although I have considerable sympathy with the Bill, it is not the right way to go about the stated policy, and the Government will therefore resist it.

12.50 pm

Mr Bone: I have listened with great interest to the Minister’s speech, which went on for just over three quarters of an hour. We seem to agree, which is good.

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He certainly does seem to support the Prime Minister’s policy. My Bill supports the Prime Minister’s policy. I guess that the Government may be forced to ask Ministers and the payroll to vote against the Bill only because of the Liberal Democrats. I should like to test the will of the House by pressing the motion to a Division, so that Members have a chance to show whether they are for or against wind farm subsidies. If they want to support the Prime Minister, they will support the Bill. If they want to oppose the Prime Minister, they will go through the No Lobby.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The House divided:

Ayes 7, Noes 38.

Division No. 171]


12.51 pm


Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Davies, Philip

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Percy, Andrew

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Peter Bone


Mr Christopher Chope


Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Bingham, Andrew

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brake, rh Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brokenshire, James

Brown, Lyn

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Creasy, Stella

Dromey, Jack

Elliott, Julie

Eustice, George

Evans, Jonathan

Freeman, George

Garnier, Mark

Gwynne, Andrew

Hancock, rh Matthew

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Susan Elan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Leslie, Chris

McCann, Mr Michael

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Pound, Stephen

Selous, Andrew

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Stewart, Bob

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Wallace, Mr Ben

Webb, rh Steve

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr David Evennett


Greg Hands

Question accordingly negatived.

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Foreign National Offenders (Exclusion from the United Kingdom) Bill

Second Reading

1.3 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As I said in the debate on my previous Bill, I will try to be brief, because there are many other Bills that we want to deal with today. I am grateful to the excellent Minister for Security and Immigration for being here.

This is only a two-clause Bill, but it is perhaps slightly more controversial than the one on getting rid of wind farm subsidies. The idea is straightforward: if someone comes to this country, commits an offence and is given a term of imprisonment, at the end of that term of imprisonment they should be deported to the country that they came from. That should be done quickly, and they should not be allowed back. People in my constituency and up and down the country are furious when people who come to this country legally, and receive our hospitality, commit an offence and then remain here. It seems wrong that they should do so.

The Government have been very good—I am sure the Minister will speak about this—at taking certain foreign prisoners back to where they came from. My Bill extends the rules to include countries to which foreign prisoners cannot at the moment be returned. I particularly refer to countries in the European Union. Under my Bill, once foreign prisoners were sent back to the European Union, they would not have the right to come back. They would be removed without reference to any human rights legislation. It is rather important that I read part of clause 1(1), so that the House understands this:

“Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972, or any other enactment”.

This is a very simple Bill. It will say that this Government are sovereign, and absolutely have the right to return home foreign prisoners who have committed an offence and are jailed. When they are sent back, they will be banned from coming back to this country. That is in clause 1(2), which refers to

“measures to prevent an individual excluded under subsection (1) from entering the United Kingdom.”

Where the law permits the removal of foreign prisoners, the Government are keen to do that, and they have done a lot of work on it; but when the Minister speaks, I think that we will find that, for various reasons, their desire to return foreign prisoners to where they came from is thwarted. Much of that is to do with human rights legislation. All the Bill does is remove that hurdle and deal with migration from the European Union. If someone who committed an offence in this country was sent back to the European Union, they would not be allowed back in.

Those are simple measures that are understood out in the country. I hope that this is the sort of thing that will be dealt with when, after the 2015 election, a Conservative majority Government renegotiate the European Union superstate. I hope that the idea that we can decide to send people back and not let them back in will be a red line.

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Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not consider, on reflection, that his definition of “qualifying offence” is perhaps a little too wide? It could include a serious motoring offence.

Mr Bone: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention, but no. A person who has been jailed for up to five years for careless driving should be sent back. We are considering situations where someone has received a term of imprisonment. It is quite difficult to get a term of imprisonment without doing something pretty seriously wrong. I am very clear on this point: if someone comes to this country, accepts our hospitality and then abuses it by committing a criminal offence that leads to imprisonment, they should be excluded from this country, either at the end of the term of imprisonment or earlier, if the Government so wish.

Sir Greg Knight: As I read my hon. Friend’s Bill, the person concerned does not have to have been sent to prison; they just have to have committed an offence that “may” be punishable with imprisonment.

Mr Bone: My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. He is referring to clause 1(4):

“‘qualifying offence’ shall mean any offence for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed by a court of law.”

I think the intention is for that to apply to someone who would go to prison, having gone through the judicial system. The Government could at that stage say, “I’m sending you home, rather than you going to prison.” I understand the argument that my right hon. Friend makes—that that may be imposed by a court of law. I sincerely hope he will consider serving on the Bill Committee so that we can look at that in some detail. Now that we have been granted an extra Friday—I am not sure whether everyone in the House realises that we are sitting on 20 March—and as there has been no real explanation of why we are sitting on that day, I assume—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. The sitting on 20 March will be for the debate on the Budget, not for private Members’ Bills.

Mr Bone: I understand that, Mr Deputy Speaker, but this is a wonderful place—a mystic place—and sometimes things change. The Opposition might see the Budget as such a great thing that there was nothing they could oppose.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I want to hear a discussion of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, not of that Friday.

Mr Bone: You are right, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am usually misled by—egged on—no, I am not going there. I do not want to take up a lot of time because there is another very important Bill to be reached later.

I am pretty sure that the sentiments represented by the Bill are what the Government would like to do, but the Minister might find that there are obstacles that he thinks derive from the European Communities Act 1972 or other enactments, but the Bill sweeps those away at a stroke. It would allow the Government to do what the British people want—for this place to be sovereign in making the laws of this country.

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What annoys people is that someone who has come from abroad, committed a serious offence and been sentenced to a significant number of years in prison can claim, on the basis of his human rights, the right to remain in this country. People think that foreign criminals who do that should be deported and not allowed back in. I know that the Minister will have figures on how many we would like to send back, but that is a very small proportion of the number of foreign prisoners who could be sent home. I want to see all foreign prisoners sent home.

With reference to what my right hon. Friend said, if offenders have been convicted in a court, I am happy to save money by having them deported rather than sent to prison or for them to be deported during their time in prison. We cannot allow them to claim that they have some right to stay here, having come into this country and abused our laws. It is such a simple Bill that I hope there is not much opposition in the House and we can quite quickly give it a Second Reading.

1.13 pm

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): When people come to Britain, they should abide by the law. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is right that those who abuse our hospitality and commit serious crimes have no place in this country. Indeed, in my own constituency, if I am approached by someone seeking leave to remain in the country who, for example, has committed a serious crime and in particular has gone to prison, it is my practice to refuse to take the case up with the Home Office. It is true to say, I think, that the whole House wants to see foreign criminals deported.

The Prime Minister said that this would be a priority for his Government, but as with so many promises he has made, he is not keeping to his word. Last year more than 500 fewer foreign criminals were removed than in Labour’s last year in office in 2009. On top of that, the National Audit Office released a scathing report in October 2014 on the Home Office’s management of foreign national offenders. It found that more than a third of failed removals were the result of factors within Home Office control. The factors included poor use of IT, a lack of communication, failure to use the powers available, cumbersome and slow referral processes and inefficiency in processing—the list goes on. A third of failed removals could otherwise have been dealt with quickly and properly.

Worse still, more criminals have absconded under this Government—a 6% increase since 2010. In its very interesting report, the NAO stated that we have worse systems in our country than other European countries for preventing foreign criminals from entering in the first place, due in part to the delay in joining the second-generation Schengen information system, which we finally joined only a month ago. Our joining was delayed because of the Home Secretary’s decision to exercise the opt-out on co-operation with Europe—a fact that put border security at risk and has longer-term consequences for the safety and security of our country.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, therefore, to make the argument that he makes today, and we agree that there need to be more stringent controls on foreign offenders, but we do not agree with the proposals in the

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Bill, even if we agree with the intentions. It would put Britain in contravention of the European convention on human rights at the very time we are arguing in foreign policy terms that countries such as Russia and Ukraine should respect the European convention, and that countries such as Belarus should sign up to the convention. The Government’s legal advice on the matter has been clear. We agree with that advice and consequently cannot vote for something that is illegal.

A similar proposal was debated in the course of the Immigration Bill. The Home Secretary stated that it was incompatible with the European convention on human rights, and that she was concerned about the practical application of the new clause, arguing that it would

“effectively hinder our ability to deport people for a period of time because there would be considerable legal wrangling about the issue.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2014; Vol. 574, c. 1051.]

We support the principle behind the Bill that more foreign criminals should be deported, especially given how poor the Government’s track record has been, but if the Bill were passed it might well have the unintended consequence of creating legal barriers to deportation as foreign criminals tied up the courts with challenges to their deportation.

Mr Bone: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the principle, but he says that we cannot implement it, basically because of the Human Rights Act. I guess he is saying that he would rather foreign prisoners stayed here because of the Human Rights Act than agree with the principle of getting them sent home. Is that the position of the Opposition?

Jack Dromey: We are absolutely in favour of a rigorous approach to dealing with a problem that has rightly caused public outrage. There have been some very serious cases of foreign criminals who have come to our country, having committed appalling crimes in their own country, and then committed appalling crimes in this country. On the issue of principle, we are with the hon. Gentleman 101%. The question is what we do about it in practical terms. I gave the examples from the National Audit Office report, which stated that a third or more of the problems that had been identified were a consequence of Home Office practices. So we are in favour of a sensible debate about a much more rigorous approach. We agree with what the Government have said, but our concern is that we should not inadvertently create endless wrangling in the courts; rather, we should try to improve the system to ensure that those who commit serious crimes are sent back to their country of origin.

1.19 pm

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on moving the Second Reading of his Bill today. I understand and share his desire to be firm in respect of foreign nationals who come to this country and commit crime, abuse our hospitality and create risk in our communities.

This Government have been firm in several ways in making changes to the law and to the process—the manner in which we go about dealing with these issues. We have other initiatives in policing and within the Home Office. We are also working cross-Government in doing our utmost, with other countries, to deal with

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documentation issues to make sure that identity is established and that foreign national offenders are returned having served their sentences. I entirely understand the points that my hon. Friend makes. In dealing with his Bill, I intend to set in context the changes that have been undertaken, their ongoing impact, and the focus that remains absolutely at the forefront of our minds in Government in seeing that more foreign national offenders are removed from this country.

I must firmly rebut a number of the accusations made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). Labour in government created a system mired in bureaucracy where foreign national offenders were not considered appropriately, with systems established under the legacy UK Border Agency that were not fit for purpose. It therefore ill behoves him to suggest that there is any lack of rigour, focus or determination on the part of this Government to assure our borders and to ensure that we have the appropriate checks in place to deal with the very serious issue of foreign national offenders.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): My hon. Friend will have seen page 25 of yesterday’s Daily Mail, which had a full-page article headed “Europe’s most wanted”, saying that they are here in the United Kingdom. It has pictures of 16 foreign criminals, mainly from eastern Europe, many of whom have been convicted in their own countries, who are on the run in this country. What is being done about this? It seems as though nothing much is being done about it.

James Brokenshire: A significant amount is being done. We are preventing a number of foreign national offenders from getting into this country in the first place by strengthening the data that we have at our borders through our warnings index and making sure that our Border Force officers have that information. There is the impact of the Schengen information system—the new means by which we are able to gain advantage from information from Europe such that people are unable to get into this country in the first place. There are also dedicated teams available to respond to those who abscond.

As my hon. Friend suggests, there is a further initiative to make the public aware. We have used that overseas to identify British citizens on the run in other European countries. I pay tribute to the work of the National Crime Agency in working with our counterparts in Spain and with Crimestoppers to ensure that those who are fleeing justice in this country are apprehended and brought to justice in this country. A significant amount of work is being done in-country on identifying those who would do us harm and on preventing people from coming in at the border—not forgetting those who are fleeing justice from our shores and who need to be brought to book here in this country. That is why this work is being undertaken.

Jack Dromey: I totally agree with the point about strengthening our borders. No doubt the Minister will welcome our proposal for an additional 1,000 border guards. He says that the Government have dealt with what he claims were past problems in relation to Labour’s track record. They have been in power for five years. Can he explain why more criminals have absconded under this Government—a 6% increase since 2010?

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James Brokenshire: I welcome the fact that the Opposition now apparently want to ensure that we have the appropriate checks at the border. That was not the experience when they were in government. Once this Government came to power, we were able to have the 100% checks at the border that were not there before. We scrapped the old UK Border Agency and created Border Force, with the focus, the culture and the agenda to have tough and rigorous checks at the border while making sure that that is done efficiently and effectively to allow people to pass through, using technology to advance that process.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Labour’s promise of 1,000 extra border guards. That is virtually the only promise or pledge that we have heard from Labour on the important issue of immigration and tightening and securing our borders. Even so, surprisingly enough, the sums do not add up. The cost is apparently to be met by additional charges for those in electronic visa waiver schemes. On our calculations, that would generate perhaps an extra 20 or 30 border guards. There are also questions about whether the scheme would cost more to administer than it would deliver in revenue. I look forward to hearing some further details from the Opposition as to how their numbers add up and how their proposal would work.

I want to highlight this Government’s record in having removed just under 5,100 foreign national offenders from the UK in the past year. That is against a backdrop of an increase of nearly 30% in litigation by those seeking to game the system to delay their removal from the UK. Partly because of the delays that we inherited due to the legal system that we had, sometimes the courts have allowed people to be discharged from custody in those circumstances. That is why we introduced the Immigration Act 2014 to speed up the process in terms of those rights, whereby if someone’s life is not at risk or in danger, they can make these legal challenges, but do so outside the UK. These important measures, to a large degree, deal with the underlying concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough has expressed in his Bill. The fact that we have, as I said, removed just under 5,100 foreign national offenders from the UK in the past five years is due to a great deal of attention and careful joint working among a number of Government Departments—the Home Office and colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

My hon. Friend’s Bill, as I read it, is intended to deal with the issue of exclusion—in other words, ensuring that once someone has been removed, they stay removed. I will explain how the existing regulations and practice, both on EU and non-EU citizens, are intended to operate. There are a number of different aspects. To have a robust and rigorous system, we need a joined-up system.

I will touch on the issue of preventing those who should not be here from coming to this country in the first place and the excellent work the police and others are doing to identify foreign national offenders. Confirming a person’s identity can be challenging. When we want someone to be removed, we need to obtain a passport or other evidence in order to prove their identity; to get travel documents to ensure that they can be deported; and to make sure that the receiving country does not simply return them to our shores.

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There has been some important and excellent cross-governmental work to deal with those barriers to removal.

A range of measures and powers are used to remove foreign national offenders from the UK. The primary power is automatic deportation for non-European economic area nationals who are convicted in the UK and given a single custodial sentence of 12 months or more for one conviction; or, where automatic deportation cannot be applied, we can seek to deport on conducive grounds, including looking at the cumulative effect of offending and whether it is in the public interest to seek to deport.

Once a person has been deported they are prohibited from entering the UK while the deportation order against them remains in force. A deportation order has no expiry date: it remains in force indefinitely unless a decision is taken to revoke it. That demonstrates the strength and purpose behind our existing deportation system, and it is important to recognise that we have strengthened it further through the Immigration Act. Border Force checks against the warnings index to identify whether anyone coming through our border is subject to those outstanding deportation orders. Perhaps that will reassure my hon. Friend that, under the existing system, we are able to keep out people who have been deported from this country.

Mr Bone: I am grateful to the Minister for going into this matter in such depth. I am reassured by what he says, but—he can correct me if I am wrong—I do not think that that system applies to the European Union.

James Brokenshire: I was planning to address that specific point. My hon. Friend is right about the distinction between EU and non-EU and how it applies to deportation. However, I hope he will recognise the steps the Government have taken to put in place re-entry bans. The right of free movement is part of a broader and bigger debate than that related to the Bill and I certainly do not want to stray beyond it, Madam Deputy Speaker, but my hon. Friend’s intervention referred to our ability to keep out those who have been removed to other European countries. We have the right to impose a re-entry ban, because free movement is not unqualified. Under the existing requirement of free movement, a person has to exercise their right to work, to study or to set up a business. If they do not exercise any of those rights and abuse that power and our hospitality and freedoms by committing a crime, they should be removed and kept out, and our re-entry ban of one year helps us facilitate that. We may well wish to return to the issue in the fullness of time.

The Government’s approach was set out clearly by the Prime Minister in a speech just before Christmas, when he addressed those measures he wants to change in order to ensure that rights of free movement work in the best interests of this country. That is a broader debate than that on the specific issue of foreign national offenders.

Last July, new powers came into force to stop criminals using weak family life arguments to delay their deportation. The Government had already made it clear that article 8 of the European convention on human rights should not be used to place the family and private life rights of criminals above the rights of the British public to be protected from serious criminals.

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Section 19 of the 2014 Act put into statute the principle that the law should be on the side of the public and that the starting point is to expect that foreign criminals will be deported. The more serious the offence, the greater the public interest in the criminal’s deportation. Section 19 ensures that the courts can be in no doubt about when the public interest requires the deportation of foreign criminals.

We also changed the law so that when there is no risk of serious irreversible harm, foreign criminals can be deported first and have their appeal heard later. Those who have an appeal right will be able to appeal only once. Last October, the number of grounds on which foreign criminals could appeal against their deportation was cut from 17 to four. It is important to recognise that the system that we inherited allowed appeal after appeal after appeal to delay removal and frustrate the justice system. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough understands the frustration that that built up and has recognised it in the Bill.

We have changed the law and changed the rights of appeal. We have also removed a significant number of foreign national offenders year on year, despite having to deal with the legal system we inherited and despite seeing a near 30% increase in the number of legal challenges. Our changes are not about denying people a right of appeal, but about streamlining an appeals system that offered too many bites of the cherry, took too long to conclude and, inevitably, led to foreign criminals remaining in the UK for longer than should have been the case.

We will always seek to deport serious foreign criminals. When the level of offending does not meet the threshold for deportation, we will take administrative action to remove offenders who have no right to be in the UK. Administrative removal is an effective outcome. Subject to certain exceptions, foreign national offenders who have received a custodial sentence can be administratively removed from the UK and will face a mandatory refusal under the immigration rules on entry clearance or leave to enter the UK.

The other power that is used to keep foreign national offenders out of the UK is exclusion, although I suspect it is not the exclusion envisaged in the title of my hon. Friend’s Bill. To avoid any misunderstanding, exclusion is a decision taken personally by the Secretary of State that is used to prevent a foreign national who is outside the UK from entering the country. Exclusion decisions are taken on the basis that the person’s exclusion from the UK is not conducive to the public good. As with a deportation order, an exclusion decision prohibits the person from entering the UK while it remains in force. It is similarly not time limited.

I think that my hon. Friend will recognise some of the ways in which we have used that power. Aside from cases of foreign criminals, we have used it to keep hate preachers out of the country. This Government have used exclusion to keep about 80 hate preachers out of this country, which is more than under any previous Government. I hope that that gives him some assurance on the firm and rigorous approach that the Government take in seeking to assure the security and safety of the citizens of this country from foreign national offenders and others who would seek to foment tension in our communities and the criminality that may arise from that.

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My hon. Friend sought to draw a distinction between EU and non-EU citizens or, to use the technical terms, European economic area citizens and non-EEA citizens. It is important to understand that distinction. The free movement directive, by which all EU member states are bound, provides that EEA nationals and their family members have certain rights to live and work in other EU countries.

The UK has implemented the directive by way of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006, which provide the power to deport, exclude or administratively remove EEA nationals and their family members from the UK. EEA nationals can be deported from the UK on grounds of public policy, public security or public health. All EEA nationals who receive a custodial sentence are considered for deportation or administrative removal, including individuals who engage in persistent low-level offending. We take a robust approach when considering and pursuing the deportation of EEA national offenders, working within the terms of the directive.

A decision to deport cannot be made solely on the basis of a person’s previous criminal convictions and we must balance other factors. Therefore if the Bill intends that an EEA national convicted of an offence in the UK should be deported solely on the basis of that conviction, regardless of the nature of the offending and without the assessment of the case’s individual circumstances or the proportionality of deportation action, it would not be consistent with the freedom of movement directive.

My hon. Friend sets out his desire for a general approach, but other issues are at play. This is a complex picture, and I have highlighted one element in the freedom of movement directive. There is also the refugee convention, in which I know he has taken a long-standing interest, and other provisions are contained in that. We must therefore understand when legislating in this House the number of different international obligations, conventions, treaties—not to mention the European convention on human rights, which we can return to later—that we would need to consider. Perhaps the issue is a little wider and more complex than the Bill understands or recognises.

Mr Bone: I am grateful to the Minister for going into that point as it goes to the heart of the Bill. That is why it states:

“Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972,”

The basis of the Bill is to have a common approach so that someone from outside the EU is not treated one way while those from within the EU are treated differently. I am not sure that the Government are supportive of that view.

James Brokenshire: Clearly, a distinction is drawn in existing law between EU and non-EU, or EEA and non-EEA—my hon. Friend understands that—and we must therefore consider our current obligations. He will have a different view about the overarching relationship with the EU, and that is a broader and bigger debate of which this Bill is part. I know the clear views he has expounded and will continue to expound, and I appreciate and recognise that.

Over the past year the Government have focused on increasing the volume and pace of deportation of EU national offenders, in some ways recognising some of

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my hon. Friend’s points. For example, in July 2014, to coincide with changes introduced through the Immigration Act 2014 for non-EEA nationals, we amended EEA regulations so that for the first time an appeal against a deportation decision no longer automatically suspends the removal of an EEA offender. The Government recognise the distinctions drawn in international obligation and existing law, and we are making changes that respect and recognise that. Yes, those changes are also obligations, but where we have made changes on one side, we have sought to do so on the other side as well, and I would point to that example. As a result of those changes, EEA national offenders can be removed back to their national member state where there is no risk of serious irreversible harm before the conclusion of the appeal process. That concept of being able to remove someone and not have to wait for an appeal has been reflected on the EEA side as well as the non-EEA side.

Mr Bone: The Minister is being generous, but why is there a provision to stop someone going back to a European Union or EEA country? Surely all those countries must be regarded as safe places to return people to.

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend will know that, from time to time, judgments in our courts in relation to prison conditions or other ancillary issues can be used, and argued in courts, to seek to prevent removal. It is important to restate in our regulations that the measure should have parity, in essence to provide certainty and assurance if legal issues are raised by someone seeking to delay, defer or frustrate their removal on the grounds that, in some way, the conditions on the ground in another EEA member state should prevent them from being removed.

I come back to the issues I touched on at the outset of my contribution on ensuring that we have a system that joins up, so that we have that sense that it deals with all the matters at hand in preventing people who have a criminal record from coming to this country in the first place. I have highlighted the introduction of the second generation Schengen information system, which will give us access to 35,000 alerts for people wanted for crimes within the EU. We will stop and arrest people at the border before they enter the UK and commit further crimes. That is the ability that the new Schengen information system gives us.

I should remind the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who speaks for the Opposition, of the Government’s commitment and focus. We introduced the second generation Schengen information system. It is not about a delay or deferral on the basis of political aspirations or focus, as he suggested. We have had to invest in and work through significant technical and other system issues with the relevant agencies at EU level. We have shown that focus for many years. We have ensured that investment to ensure that we can join the second generation Schengen information system from April and have the benefits of it. That is why we have focused on seeing that that happens.

Our ability to access information on overseas convictions is also significantly improving. Under this Government, checks on foreign nationals going through the criminal

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justice system have increased by more than 700%, including more than 72,000 since April 2014 by the Association of Chief Police Officers criminal records office. The figure in January alone was 11,745. With the increasing use of the European criminal records information system, those figures will continue to rise. In the last financial year, checks were made on around 30% of foreign nationals arrested. We aim to double that to 60% by the end of this financial year. From November 2014, the Metropolitan Police Service has mandated 100% checks. By the end of January, the, ACPO criminal records office estimates that it was checking around 67% of foreign nationals arrested nationally.

Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): The House will be grateful to the Minister for his very thorough response, but I am sure he appreciates that he would not like to offend the will of the House by denying it the opportunity to debate the Bill that follows. May I invite him to consider the clock and allow a debate on Second Reading of the Fixed-Term Parliaments (Repeal) Bill, given that his reply has been both thorough and brilliant?

James Brokenshire: I recognise my right hon. Friend’s interest in further business of the House, should this debate allow it to be possible. I hope he understands that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough has brought a significant issue before the House. For that reason, it is right that the Government give appropriate scrutiny and consideration on Second Reading, to determine whether the Bill should pass. Because of the complexities and issues at hand—and the steps that the Government have taken and the further steps that I would like us to take as a majority Conservative Government with a focus on dealing further with issues that arise from the European convention on human rights—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough would highlight and identify this point as a relevant issue in terms of the legal challenges that can be brought to try to prevent people from being removed. That is why we specifically dealt with the issue of article 8 in the Immigration Act 2014.

Mr Bone: The Minister has convinced me not to proceed with the Bill, so he does not need to continue to speak indefinitely.

James Brokenshire: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for indicating that he supports the Government’s approach to this important issue. I welcome the opportunity that we have had this afternoon to debate the issue. It is an issue of concern to the public and one on which the Government have rightly focused in our work to date. We wish to do more through a British Bill of Rights under a Conservative Government after the general election because we think that is necessary. I welcome the support that my hon. Friend has given the Government and I hope that he understands that, although the Government are unable to support the Bill, we recognise the issues that he highlights and why we have taken the steps that we have. The issue will continue to have the focus that I have outlined this afternoon.

Mr Bone: The Minister has given such a great explanation that I wish to withdraw the Bill.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.

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Fixed-term Parliaments (Repeal) Bill

Second Reading

1.52 pm

Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill seeks to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, with effect from 8 May this year which, as everyone will know, is the day after the general election. A short-term fix can do long-term damage. So it is with the decision to introduce fixed-term five-year Parliaments. It might have been good for now, but it will turn out to be bad for the future.

Until recently, general elections were governed by the Parliament Act 1911, which allowed for a maximum parliamentary term of five years. Crucially, though, it afforded the sitting Prime Minister the authority to call an election at any time. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 changed that to a rigid five-year term, with no easy mechanism for shortening that period. Consequently, everyone has known for years that the date of the next election will be 7 May 2015.

The Prime Minister’s power to dissolve Parliament under the historic royal prerogative has—at least for the time being—lapsed. The new fixed term of five years can only be curtailed if two thirds of MPs vote for Dissolution, or if the House of Commons passes a vote of no confidence in one Government, but fails to pass a vote of confidence in an alternative one within a fortnight.

We can all see why that was agreed. The only way a viable government could be formed after the 2010 election was for Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to join as one to create a parliamentary majority. Let us be honest about it: the Liberal Democrats needed to guard against being wrong-footed by a Conservative Prime Minister exercising his historic right to pick the election date and choosing to do so at the worst time for the Liberal Democrats. A deal to agree how long the Government should last was therefore an essential part of the glue that bound the Coalition together. The agreement to stay the course has served the country well, but a permanent constitutional change will not.

A fixed term in office and predetermined election dates might suit a presidency, but they do not, in normal circumstances, suit a Parliament. Unlike a presidency, where the top person remains one and the same, Parliament is an organic institution. Its characteristics and composition can change in one year, let alone five. Some MPs will die or resign; others may cross the Floor, and in the course of our history, parties have split or merged. Between elections, the nature of Parliament, which underpins the energies and legitimacy of the Government, can change dramatically. The pressures and changes in the Commons can be at their most acute when there is a tiny majority for the Government or, worse, when there is no straightforward majority at all.

There have been many occasions in our history when it has been best for the country to have a general election at moments that would have been nigh-on impossible had we this Act. After the February 1974 election, Ted Heath tried unsuccessfully to hang on as Prime Minister before accepting that the arithmetic was against him. The Wilson Government that took over felt obliged to return to the polls just a few months later,

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achieving a wafer-thin majority. Jim Callaghan’s Government fell once the Scottish and Welsh nationalists deserted the Labour Government after the devolution referendums of 1979. John Major governed with a very slim majority between 1992 and 1997—don’t I remember—with by-election defeats making the Government live on an ever sharper knife edge.

The point is that all these Prime Ministers had the option, when the make-up of Parliament changed, to pull the plug and seek a stronger mandate from the voters. Even when they chose not to, the House of Commons had the power to force their hand with a simple vote of no confidence, as in 1979. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act, however, erects new hurdles that make it harder to dissolve Parliament midway through its term, and as a result, it is a recipe for political horse trading and coalition manoeuvrings, which, I maintain, will weaken, not strengthen public confidence in our politics and Parliament.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I agree with absolutely everything my right hon. Friend is saying. Does he recall that there was no commitment to anything like this in the Conservative party manifesto before the last general election? Indeed, the only proposal was that, should there be a change of Prime Minister, it should trigger a general election within six months.

Sir Alan Duncan: My hon. Friend is right. The debate at the time concentrated on what would happen if a Prime Minister changed in the course of the Parliament—that has happened many times in our history, and I maintain that it is the right of Parliament to decide such matters through the leaders chosen by parties.

Because the policy was absent from our manifesto, the current coalition was negotiated behind closed doors, even before the House had met after the election, but that will be as nothing compared to the public anger if coalitions are formed, broken and reformed within the five-year term of a Parliament without any new election taking place to give them legitimacy and if the Act is used as the excuse for not going back to the people, pushing power into the hands of politicians and denying it to the people who give us our authority. If the Government were to lose a confidence vote, the Prime Minister could not, as they could in the past, call an election and dissolve Parliament. Under the Act, the Opposition would have a chance to cobble together their own majority by wooing potential partners and doing what could be seen as unseemly deals by making promises to buy little pockets of support in the House.

All this would happen hidden from view in the corridors of Westminster, with a ballot box nowhere in sight. In this scenario, the leader of a smaller party acting as kingmaker could simply walk away from their coalition partner and prop up the coalition without taking the trouble to ask any voter for their opinion.

However, if a party had a slim overall majority and wished to refresh its mandate and ask the people for their view, it could do so only by repealing the Act—which would be the easier option—as I am trying to do, I hope with the foresight that seems to be lacking in the major parties, or by tabling a motion of no confidence in itself, a step that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has described as an act of voluntary euthanasia. Even if that were tried, it

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might not get through, because some in marginal seats might defy the Whip to vote against their own Government in order to preserve their own lives in this House. That is an argument I have heard echoed, from someone supporting the legislation, on the grounds—would you believe it, Madam Deputy Speaker?—that they cannot get a mortgage for their second home unless they can commit to a five-year job. Thus, the constitutional structure of this House and the laws we make are in some cases being determined by rational financial judgments by Members of Parliament looking after their own interests. Who can be said to be bought by money, except by looking at a case like that? It makes some of the other influences on this House look puny.

These are unintended, permanent consequences of an Act that was designed to fix a temporary problem. It is in every party’s interest and every voter’s interest to have strong, accountable Government. To do so, all parties should realise that what was done—and for a good reason: to hold together this five-year coalition—is not going to work in the future and will have perverse consequences. It compels all of us to combine now, before it can be said to be in any one party’s interests, to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and to make the change effective from the day after the election on 7 May.

I should make it clear that I have received significant indications of support, resting at the moment at between 100 and 200 colleagues, on both sides of the House, of all ages and from all sorts of constituencies, who say that they think this was wrong. We do not know what the outcome of the next election will be, but many think it will be less certain than many we have seen in the past. If it is uncertain, this Act will render it even more so and will have very perverse influences over the proper actions and complexion of the politics of this House. If we do not repeal this Act now, we will all regret having to live with a law that was suitable for holding together one term of Parliament, but will turn out to be wholly inappropriate for all of those that follow.

2.3 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): I am very glad to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) and the, to my mind, wholly persuasive case he made for the repeal of this legislation.

I should hold my hand up right at beginning. Like, I am sure, most if not all of us here, I think there are votes that with hindsight we regret. I did vote Aye on Second Reading of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act Bill, believing that it was an issue that was worthy of debate in the House, but I am glad to say that I abstained and refused to support the Government on Third Reading.

The case that is made for fixed-term Parliaments rests in part on the assertion that if the Prime Minister is able to pick his or her spot to hold a general election, they can do so to the best party political advantage of their own party. The falsity of that argument was of course conspicuously demonstrated in February 1974, when Ted Heath decided to go to the country on “Who governs Britain?”, and the electorate in their wisdom decided three weeks later: “Not you, Ted.”

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I had very valuable and close personal experience of another such demonstration of the falsity of the argument in 1978, when I was Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary. We began our usual weekend tour in a washing machine factory in Somerset. At about half-past ten, I had to extract Margaret from her characteristic scientific and housewifely close inspection of a washing machine to tell her that No. 10 had just announced that Prime Minister Jim Callaghan would be making a ministerial broadcast at six o’clock that evening. It was, of course, an electrifying moment. The news could mean only one thing: the Prime Minister was going to call a general election.

So the day proceeded, with mounting excitement. There were hugely growing crowds wherever we went, and a hugely increased number of television crews. Margaret always had a profound sense of Conservative party history, and we ended up, ready to deliver the programmed evening speech, in Tamworth. There we were, at 5.59 pm, in Margaret’s suite at the hotel, when, on the dot, the expected courtesy call came through. The operator said “The Prime Minister’s private secretary is on the phone. He wishes to speak to Mrs Thatcher.”

Margaret, with wonderful aplomb, deputed her diary secretary, Caroline Stevens, to take the call. Caroline took the call, which was very brief, and then said “Mrs Thatcher, the Prime Minister’s private secretary has asked me to tell you that at six o’clock the Prime Minister will make a broadcast announcing that he is not going to call a general election.” No such ministerial broadcast had ever been made before, and I do not think one has been made since.

If Jim Callaghan had gone to the country in October 1978, would he have won? At the time, most of the pundits agreed that it would have been a very, very close-run thing. But, as we all know, after the winter of that year—the winter of discontent—Jim Callaghan’s Government was dead in the water by the following May.

The question with which the Bill presents us is this: what is the right choice once the Government of the day have lost the confidence of this elected House, by however small a majority? Let it not be forgotten that, when we won a no confidence vote before the May 1979 election, we won by a majority of just one. I am absolutely clear in my own mind about what should not happen in such circumstances. No Government should be perpetuated behind closed doors on the basis of “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. There should be no negotiations between political leaderships with no reference to the House and with no reference whatever to the electorate.

The crucial democratic principle must surely be that the day when an elected Government of this House lose the confidence of this House, by however small a majority, is the day when it is for the British people and the British people alone to decide the future of the Government in a general election.

2.9 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) on a stirring speech in which he spoke with great authority. The freedom of the Back Benches has allowed him to speak out on a great many issues, and I find myself agreeing with him uncomfortably often.

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The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that having fixed terms is a substantial departure, and not only for this Parliament: Parliaments and Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are now moving towards the five-year fixed term, with important but limited caveats on when elections can take place—a two-thirds majority vote or a motion of no confidence.

Section 7 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 makes provision for these matters to be revisited in 2020, which is not that far away, albeit clearly not sufficient for the right hon. Gentleman and others who have spoken today. I am not going to rehearse at length the arguments for and against fixed-term Parliaments, as they are well known. I certainly cannot match the anecdotes of the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), but I can try to be a proceduralist and statistical and say there is some evidence from the university of Oxford that over the past 70 years the ability of a Prime Minister to choose his time has, notwithstanding the mistakes Edward Heath and James Callaghan may have made, on the whole given an advantage amounting to an estimated 6% of public support, which is not insignificant.

I think civil servants are very fond of fixed-term Parliaments—I suspect that might be an argument against—and in terms of certainty and allowing better planning, fixed-term Parliaments are an asset. I could tell a small story of my own here. In 2007, when there was some rumour of a general election being called, I remember disappearing into the tunnel on the Eurostar with an announcement imminent, and I came out the other end not knowing whether we were in the middle of a general election campaign or not. I mention that only to say that although a lot is said about the time wasted in prolonging Parliament, quite a lot of time and nervous energy is wasted in planning for elections that never happen.

Perhaps the main argument against fixed-term Parliaments is what we have seen over the past year, in what has been called the zombie Parliament. The rather sad way in which business has been dragged out and has collapsed or has been of an insubstantial nature has not been a great credit to this House. I am not sure, however, that one can draw the conclusion from that that is entirely the fault of fixed-term Parliaments, or fixed-term Parliaments of a particular length. It might simply be due to the way this Government have conducted their business. In the Labour party manifesto of 2010 there was a proposal to move towards fixed-term Parliaments, but of a four-year duration. That was our preference, and it may be our preference again in the future.

I believe that, given what is in the 2011 Act, the best course of action is to wait until 2020 and see what happens, and then take a slightly more considered view than can be taken in the course of one Parliament on whether fixed-term Parliaments are working and five years is the appropriate length of time. The right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton, who has more experience and wisdom than I do in these matters, might be entirely right. I simply say that I think it is a little precipitate, having gone through the process of getting us to where we are, immediately to reverse that decision. There might be an overwhelming consensus—not just one of 100 or 200—for reform again when we get to that stage, but for the present purposes I say that we are, reluctantly, unable to support his Bill.

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2.14 pm

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Joseph Johnson): This short Bill would repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 in its entirety. The Government have been consistent and clear since their formation about their commitment to parliamentary reform and to making our system as transparent and fair as possible. Indeed, even before the formation of this Government, there were references in all three of the major parties’ manifestos to reform of this nature. If I may, I shall refresh hon. Members’ memories on this front. The Labour manifesto stated:

“We will legislate for Fixed Term Parliaments”.

The Liberal Democrats said that they would

“Introduce fixed-term parliaments to ensure that the Prime Minister of the day cannot change the date of an election to suit themselves.”

The Conservatives said that they would make use of the

“Royal Prerogative subject to greater democratic control so that Parliament is properly involved in all big national decisions”.

That last statement would certainly give cover for the introduction of fixed-term Parliaments, which we went on to do.

Mr Chope: If those words mean what the Minister thinks they mean, how can they be consistent with the specific pledge in the Conservative party manifesto that within six months of a change of Prime Minister there should be a general election?

Joseph Johnson: The wording was obviously broad in its scope—[Laughter.] It could be interpreted in a number of ways, and it might have had specific reference to the Executive powers relating to declaring wars, armed conflicts and so on. However, it certainly gives a degree of cover for the introduction of fixed-term Parliaments.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act was introduced to remove the prerogative power of dissolution through fixing parliamentary terms for the first time in general election history. The Government believe that there are numerous advantages to fixing parliamentary terms. First, the Act prevents the incumbent Prime Minister from calling a general election to their own schedule—for example, when their popularity is particularly high or when it is to their party’s advantage to do so. This enhances the democratic status and standing of our political system overall. The Government believe that it was wrong that Prime Ministers were able to use their position by choosing to hold general elections to their own schedule, and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee also acknowledged this as a key reason for the Act.

Secondly, removing this power from the Executive and giving it to Parliament enhances the democratic credentials of our political system overall, as Parliament alone can trigger an early election. It was the view of the PCRC that this significant surrender of Executive power was arguably unprecedented in this country’s history.

Mr Chope: But that is not correct. Parliament can do that only if there is a two-thirds majority, and even then it cannot force a general election because, following the

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vote of no confidence, it would still be open to the Executive and the Opposition to put together some sort of deal. We effectively have a five-year Government dressed up as a five-year Parliament.

Joseph Johnson: There is a degree of flexibility in the provisions that allows for the premature dissolution of Parliament, and various scenarios are possible, including the one to which my hon. Friend has alluded.

In addition, the Act provides a number of useful advantages to the Government, Parliament and wider society. Not only does it provide greater predictability and continuity, enabling better long-term legislative and financial planning; it also provides much greater political stability. That is not the stability of the graveyard or a zombie Parliament, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) alleged in his speech; quite the contrary. This is not a zombie Parliament; the Government have shown themselves to be active all the way through to these last few weeks.

Let us look at some of the statistics. In this Parliament, the House is due to sit for more days than in any of the three Parliaments under the last Administration. In the 2010-15 Parliament, we will sit for 734 days, compared with 718 days in the 2005-2010 Parliament, 585 days between 2001 and 2005, and 643 days between 1997 and 2001. By the end of March, 23 Bills will have been passed in this Session alone, of which four have received Royal Assent: the Finance Bill; the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill; the Childcare Payments Bill; and the Wales Bill. That compares with the 13 Bills in the last Session of the last Parliament under the Labour Government.

Fixed terms have allowed us to plan the legislative programme effectively and ensure that we have enough time for full parliamentary scrutiny, which is essential in our model of representative democracy. In this Session alone, we will have legislated on: modern slavery; consumer rights; reforming stamp duty; tackling serious crime; supporting working families with child care costs; reforming pensions; devolving powers to Wales and Northern Ireland; and counter-terrorism. The list goes on, but I wish to pick out three Bills as emblematic in demonstrating why this is not the zombie Parliament the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) claims it is.

The Infrastructure Bill, as was, will provide a £3.9 billion boost to the economy over the next 10 years by improving the funding and management of our major roads, streamlining the planning process for major projects and supporting house building. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill backs entrepreneurs who run our small businesses—they are the backbone of our economy—and those who are looking for work. The Bill cracks down on costly tribunal delays, sets a deregulation target for each Parliament and helps businesses to get credit from banks, ensuring they expand and create jobs. The Pension Schemes Bill, as was, contains reforms that are the biggest transformation of our pensions system since its inception and will give people both freedom and security in retirement. By no longer forcing people to buy an annuity, we are giving them total control over the money they have put aside over their lifetime and greater financial security in their old age.

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There is no sense in which this can be described as a zombie Parliament, given not only the quantity of Bills, but their quality and that of the scrutiny to which they have been subjected. This Government have published more Bills and measures in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny than has been done in any other Parliament, and we have more than doubled the number of Bills receiving multiple days of scrutiny on Report in this House.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Minister is clear about the great progress we have made in this Parliament on scrutiny, but he has left out one thing. He has not mentioned the business of the House committee, which we pledged to introduce within the first three years. It has not been introduced, so what happened there?

Joseph Johnson: I am just about to address this Government’s reforms to the workings of Parliament and they touch on some of the themes I think he is interested in. Parliament exists to ensure: that the Government are held to account; that the nation, in all its diversity, can have its voices heard; and that issues that matter to all, not just those in power, can be aired. In that respect, this Parliament has been signally more successful than many of its predecessors. Half the business—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues, may I say that although he is, of course, speaking perfectly in order, it is only fair to give him advance warning that discussion of the business of the House committee would not strictly come under the Bill before us? He has given notice that he intends to address that issue, but I do not think he does intend to do so now. I am certain that he has many more issues that he wishes to address.

Joseph Johnson: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall skate past that issue.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I wish to put on the record the fact that having opposed this Bill—not the one before us, but the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, before it was enacted—at every point on the compass, I entirely support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) is proposing and I am entirely unconvinced by the arguments that there has been a substantial amount of movement by the Government on any of these matters.

Joseph Johnson: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Obviously, it is now on the record that he previously opposed this Bill—

Sir William Cash: Not this Bill!

Joseph Johnson: The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

Let me return to my thread. Half of the business of Parliament is now decided by Parliament rather than the Executive—far more than ever before. Before 2010, Back Benchers controlled no time at all and could not initiate substantive motions or debates. Now, most Thursdays are taken up by debates chosen by the MPs who form the Backbench Business Committee, not Ministers. Back Bencher-initiated debate on questions such as cervical cancer, contaminated blood and mental health have ensured that unfashionable but vital issues

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are properly aired on the Floor of the Commons. Of course, a significant amount of time allocated for Commons business is also given to the Opposition for the debates they choose on the questions they consider vital.

The Procedure Committee recommends that there should be broadly 150 days in a Parliamentary Session. Of these, 20 days are allocated to the Opposition, 27 to the Backbench Business Committee, three to estimates, five to the Queen’s Speech, four to the Budget and 13 for private Members’ Bills. That leaves 78 of the 150 days in Government control, but some of that will include House business, which the Government introduce. As a result, in this Parliament the Government have controlled just over half the time allocated for debate, a lower percentage than ever before. That is not a zombie Parliament. It is a democratic Parliament, in which the power of the Executive is limited and the role of those holding the powerful to account is augmented.

On top of the amount of time that the Government allocate to others for debate is the amount of time that Mr Speaker allocates to others to hold the Government’s feet to the fire. This is not a zombie Parliament when it comes to how Mr Speaker and his Deputy Speakers have used their power to grant any Members the right to ask urgent questions, initiating mini-emergency debates on any topic or issue by calling the relevant Minister to the Floor of the Commons. So far in this Parliament, there have been 148 urgent questions. In the 2005 to 2010 Parliament there were 50, and in 2001 to 2005 there were just 40. So, there has been a 270% growth in that use, the opposite of what one might expect in a zombie Parliament.

Sir William Cash: I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says, but there is a need to reform this Parliament as well. Some of the things that he is saying might be of some interest to some people, but there are those of us who believe that the whipping system, which results in Bills not being properly considered and being given programme motions that prevent Members from debating essential questions, is a complete travesty. When he is considering these matters, will he propose reforms to deal with the Whip system as well?

Joseph Johnson: Bills not receiving proper scrutiny, if that is indeed the case, lies to a great extent in the hands of the Opposition rather than the Government, in the sense that 70% of Bills have completed their passage through the House without having exhausted the time available to them in Committee. The Government are making plenty of time available for scrutiny, but the Opposition are failing to take advantage of it.

In addition to all these merits, the Act provides a number of useful advantages to Government, Parliament and wider society. It provides greater predictability and continuity, enabling long-term legislative and financial planning. It gives those institutions whose work is affected by Parliament or Government much greater scrutiny. The timing of polls is now known and there will be less concern about policies or procedures being implemented that might only have a short-term or rather narrow self-interested objectives.

The Act also brings to an end the political and media speculation about the likely date of the next election, a feature of previous general election build-up periods that has all too often been an unhelpful distraction to the work of government.

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Is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act too prescriptive? That question was asked, and although the Government are of the view that early or late general elections should be avoided, the Act is sufficiently flexible to cater for those rare but unavoidable situations in which an earlier or later general election is required. Under the Act the Prime Minister of the day can lay an order before both Houses to extend the date for a maximum of two months to deal with unexpected developments, although they must spell out their reasons for taking that step.

In addition, the Act provides for early elections to be called if a motion is agreed by at least two thirds of the House or without Division, or if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative Government are provided by the House within 14 days. This procedure builds in the necessary safeguards that will avoid future Prime Ministers routinely attempting to call early elections.

Although early evidence shows that the certainty that the Act brings has many benefits—for example, in work planning—it will be for the next Government to examine how the Act has operated in this Parliament. Not only will such an appraisal help the next Government in their own work planning, but it will help to inform any amendment that might be needed—

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 20 March.

Business without Debate

Road Fuel Pricing (Equalisation) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 March.

Household safety (Carbon monoxide detectors) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (12 September), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 27 March.

Working Time Directive (Limitation) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (23 January), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 20 March.

Bat Habitats REgulation Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (16 January), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 20 March.

6 Mar 2015 : Column 1255

Defence Expenditure (Nato Target) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (9 January), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 20 March.

Convicted Prisoners voting Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (5 December), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 20 March.

Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill)

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 March.

Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (24 October), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 20 March.

House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 March.

EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 March.

Wild Animals in Circuses Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 March.

6 Mar 2015 : Column 1256

Housing Association Transfer Ballots

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

2.33 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate. I confess that I had hoped to see on the Front Bench the Minister responsible for housing, but it is always a pleasure to see the Deputy Leader of the House. To accommodate him to an extent, he has had sight of the points that I want to make, given that I assume that, as a London MP, he has volunteered to cover for his hon. Friend and given how difficult these occasions are for colleagues outside the capital with commitments to family, friends and constituents.

The key question that I will ask is whether council tenants, who have the right to vote to transfer out of local authority control to housing association control, should also have the right to sack that housing association for poor performance and/or failure to deliver on their promises. I would be grateful to the Minister for any answer to that. I will return to that question several times.

However, first I would like to cover some of the history. In 1997, when Labour came to power, there were some 2 million homes below the decency threshold. Local authorities had difficulty raising capital and addressing the difficulties. Housing associations provided an opportunity to refurbish run-down estates that had lacked investment for years—in some cases, decades. To a certain extent, that is why house building was secondary in the initial years of the Labour Government.

In my constituency of Poplar and Limehouse, there were over 20 ballots to transfer out of local authority control, and the vast majority of those votes were won. There was huge investment and transformation; many blocks, streets and estates got new kitchens, bathrooms, double glazing, central heating, and security, and there was good property management on many estates. In Poplar and Limehouse, there are 15 main housing association providers. I would categorise five of those as excellent to good, five as good to average, and five as average to poor. The key question that I asked the Minister at the beginning, and that many of my constituents are seeking an answer to, is: can poor providers that have failed to deliver be sacked, and can tenants vote for another housing association, or to revert to local authority control?

The principle is straightforward. In any other contract, whether it relates to a service, a purchase, or a business, the person who signed up to the contract can return the goods, implement sanctions, seek compensation or sack the company delivering the goods, just as Members of Parliament can be sacked on 7 May at the general election; voters will determine whether we have delivered for them, as an individual or a member of a political party. There is an interesting comparison with leaseholders.

Those who purchased properties under the right to buy are obliged to contribute to refurbishment. Many of those situations are problematic. Tower Hamlets Homes in my constituency is addressing a number of those types of problems, and we are grateful for that. On leasehold estates, where there is the most private new build in east London, leaseholders have the right to

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manage their own estate. It is easier done in theory than in practice, but they can have a ballot and sack their property management company, or the company running the estate; it has been done. That prompts the question: if it is okay for private leaseholders to sack their property management company, why is it not right for tenants of registered social landlords to sack their housing association, which fulfils many of the same functions?

The Minister will probably know that the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey) and me, ably led by the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), have done quite a bit of work on leasehold reform. I am happy to say that Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government have engaged very positively with this. They acknowledge the loopholes for unscrupulous management companies, and we are hopeful that we can make more progress in the months and years ahead to give leaseholders better rights under the law.

The whole issue of redress for housing association tenants not only seems worth examination but demands an answer. I am advised that Councillor Joshua Peck on the London borough of Tower Hamlets Labour group has called a special meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Monday 16 March to address serious problems in at least three housing associations, including One Housing Group and Circle Housing. However, it is not clear what powers the local authority has, apart from the power to remove those housing associations from the council’s list of preferred partners. The Minister might be able to give us some clarity on that. I recognise that the Minister present is not the Minister responsible for housing; obviously, I would be very happy to get a written response in due course on any issues that I raise that this Minister cannot respond to.

Do the Government believe that the abolition of the Tenant Services Authority in 2010 was a mistake? The authority was empowered to help tenants, but its abolition seems to have left a void. Are the powers of the Homes and Communities Agency adequate? It seems to be able to issue criticism, but tenants ask what it can actually do. What are the powers of the housing ombudsman? Is that the appropriate body to which to address complaints about weaknesses, mistakes and poor performance of housing associations? Councillor Marc Francis has documented the failures of One Housing Group in particular. There is a history of Government involvement in pressing that organisation not only to up its game, but to accept that it has weaknesses, rather than being in denial about its failure to deliver to tenants who are paying it good money.

Opinion solicited from the university of East London legal advice centre for Councillor Dave Chesterton suggested, somewhat ambiguously, that there is no right to sack poorly performing housing associations. In a nine-page document the School of Business and Law legal advice centre, in response to Councillor Chesterton’s question, stated:

“You therefore seek advice in order to inform the tenants of these estates whether they are entitled to a re-ballot . . . We regret that our research did not lead us to any legal authority to enable us to advise you favourably on the legal question you posed.”

I thank UEL for the research, but the question remains wide open and it lies at the door of the Minister.

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The National Housing Federation describes affordable housing as one of the biggest challenges for London. In 2012 in the mayoral election one of the biggest policy differences between Labour and the Conservatives was that Labour proposed that any new developments should be 50% social housing, including social rented, key worker, shared equity and first-time buyers housing. New developments should not be all private. The Conservatives’ policy was that developers and local authorities should be able to negotiate, but basically that the market would decide. I apologise to the Deputy Leader of the House for the fact that I do not know what the Lib Dem policy was. I suspect that it was closer to ours than to that of the Conservatives, but I may be wrong.

What we want is not gated estates or ghettos for rich and poor, although obviously price will make some properties unavailable to many people in society and there will always be some division. We do not want artificial barriers between rich and poor, or people being forced to leave their communities and families. We want mixed communities. The Homes for Britain campaign states that housing is one of the biggest issues facing not only London, but Britain. The campaign, supported by many of my excellent housing associations in Poplar and Limehouse, including Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association, Tower Hamlets Community Housing and Eastend Homes, acknowledges that all the political parties agree that we need to build more homes. The alternative is spiralling costs and unaffordable homes for far too many people, in the capital at least.

However, that pressure leads to anomalies. On the Isle of Dogs, around the towers of Canary Wharf in my constituency, developers are trying hard to get planning approval ahead of an agreed master plan for the area. There is keen local concern and worry about the scale, the pace and the density of development and the increased pressure on local services—on schools, GP surgeries and transport services, all of which are already under huge pressure. Councillor Rachael Saunders, leader of the Labour group, with support from the other political parties, is doing all she can within the confines of the law as it stands, but before the master plan, developers have greater opportunities. As opposed to some developments, such as the development at Wood Wharf by Canary Wharf, where the developer has fully engaged with the council, some developers do not engage with the local authority and those pressures are felt keenly.

Even One Housing Group is said to be looking to replace its four estates of 2,000 homes with 8,000 to 10,000 homes. One might expect unscrupulous property-driven developers to try to cash in unfairly, and we look to the council to do all it can to rein them in. But for a housing association to be operating the same practices is disappointing, to say the least.

Many proposed developments will have much higher population densities than the recommended 1,100 habitable rooms per hectare. I know that the Minister has this information because we sent him a copy this morning. One of the main legal questions we wanted to ask, with which we supplied him, was about part 2, chapter 7, sections 192 to 269 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, which suggests that tenants could have been empowered to sack or recall their housing associations and failing providers. I would be grateful if the Minister

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could give a response to that today, but otherwise I would be happy to receive a written response in due course.

Housing is one of the most basic human needs; it is crucial for well-being and development. It needs not only to be built and maintained well but to build communities and not ghettoes. Thousands of people in Poplar and Limehouse, Tower Hamlets and all over east London need regulated protection. That does not currently exist, whether for leaseholders or for former council tenants in properties that are now run by housing associations. I hope that the Minister can clarify this area of considerable concern and give us some hope that there is a solution we can look forward to.

2.46 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing this debate. I thank him for providing the notes for his speech so that I will, I hope, be able to respond directly to the points that has raised, albeit perhaps not with the answers that he is hoping for. If he feels at the end of the debate that there are points that I have not addressed, I will be happy to ensure that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), who apologises for not being here, provides a written response.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is doing with him in relation to leaseholders. I think all Members of Parliament will be aware of the difficulties that leaseholders often face, so we would all welcome any reform that can come through that work.

The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the decent homes initiative, which was initiated by his party in government. That was a good, sound programme. Rightly, however, he noted that in its initial stages it may have meant that the building of new properties was not taking place. We are all trying to catch up with that now. It was certainly a very important programme. In my borough, it is still ongoing. As part of that, there is lots of scaffolding up on the St Helier estate to provide new roofs.

The hon. Gentleman touched on affordable housing. I think we are in agreement about that. Unfortunately, I am underwhelmed by what the Mayor has achieved in that respect in London. Relatively few properties have been built, and there is clearly a strong demand for that.

The hon. Gentleman rightly focused this debate on the significant issue of whether tenants have the right to throw out their housing association. I will give him a very clear response to that shortly.

I agree that we need to build more homes and fix the housing market. The Government’s measures on the economy are part of that. In ensuring that the economy is working, we are getting the investment that is needed into the housing market and keeping interest rates down for home buyers. The situation is starting to turn round. Since 2010, over half a million homes have been built, and there are now 700,000 more homes in England

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than in 2009. I am pleased to say that house building is now at its highest level since 2007. We have recovered from the crash, in terms of house building.

The hon. Gentleman referred to stock transfers, which have played an important role in providing investment in housing stock. As a result of the transfers that have taken place in his borough and elsewhere, transformations have been carried out, improving local communities and quality of life for tenants.

Since 1988, about 1.3 million former council homes have been transferred to the ownership of housing associations. That has enabled billions of pounds of investment in bringing homes up to a decent standard. It has also supported the delivery of thousands of new affordable homes by the newly created housing associations, although I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is not enough. There is a cross-party consensus—I think it will be identified in all the party manifestos—that there is a need to do something about housing, particularly affordable housing. Every party—my party, the hon. Gentleman’s party and the Conservative party—has set out what it wants to achieve.

The hon. Gentleman made specific reference to part 2, chapter 7 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, under which enforcement powers are open to the Homes and Communities Agency regulator to use in dealing with a failing or failed provider. They are not open to tenants. In the housing association sector, however, tenants’ rights are protected through a range of mechanisms.

That leads me to the points the hon. Gentleman made about the abolition of the Tenant Services Authority and the role of the HCA regulator. The enactment of the Localism Act 2011 abolished the TSA and transferred its remaining functions to the HCA. It also significantly scaled back the regulator’s role in the proactive monitoring and enforcement of consumer protection standards. The rationale for that is that the vast majority of landlord-tenant issues are locally based. They are most effectively resolved at a local level by tenants and their representatives, not by a national regulator.

The Act gave back to tenants and their representatives the power to hold landlords to account, giving MPs, councillors and recognised tenant panels a formal role in resolving complaints at a local level. That can include referring complaints to the housing ombudsman if they cannot be resolved locally. The housing ombudsman, and the tenants themselves, can, of course, raise specific concerns with the HCA regulator. The regulator does not have powers to mediate in or resolve individual cases, but will investigate where there is evidence of serious detriment and, in extremis, have far-reaching powers to intervene where there is evidence of serious mismanagement. The regulator has the powers to initiate a statutory inquiry if it feels that to be necessary, and that can lead to muscular interventions in the housing association management structures or to forced mergers or takeovers where the boards are not fit for purpose. I am glad to say that the regulator rarely needs to use such powers.

I now turn to the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about One Housing Group and sacking housing associations. I am afraid that, as his legal advice suggests, there are no powers available for tenants to sack or fire their housing associations. Clearly, I do not wish to underestimate the impact felt by the individuals whose lives are affected by mergers of the members of One

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Housing Group, or what they may see as very real grievances. However, it would not be appropriate for the Government to intervene in individual cases of this nature.

The Localism Act placed the power to scrutinise landlords’ performance and hold them to account back in the hands of tenants and their elected representatives. Where the ombudsman finds in favour of a complainant, it may order the landlord to pay compensation or take other steps to provide redress. I should make it clear, however, that the role of the Ombudsman is focused on the provision of housing services by landlords. Its role does not extend to constitutional changes within housing associations.

On affordable housing supply, overall this Government’s approach to the sector has been appropriate and is delivering results. Despite the fiscal constraints, we have secured capital resources for affordable housing. Almost 217,000 affordable homes have been delivered in England since April 2010. In comparison—the hon. Gentleman may have referred to these figures himself—under the

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previous Administration the number of social rented homes fell by 420,000 between 1997 and 2010.

With £19.5 billion of public and private investment, our affordable homes programme is on track to deliver 170,000 new affordable homes between 2011 and 2015, and more than 144,000 homes have already been delivered. Another £38 billion of public and private investment will help ensure that 275,000 more new affordable homes are provided between 2015 and 2020. I hope that all parties and future Governments will sign up to that. It means that over the next Parliament we will build more new affordable homes than during any equivalent period in the past 20 years.

I have directly addressed the hon. Gentleman’s specific question and I am afraid that the answer is no. I will conclude by encouraging him to contact me again if he feels I have not addressed any of his points adequately.

Question put and agreed to.

2.55 pm

House adjourned.