HOWEVER, I start by saying that the late scheduling of today’s Committee sitting is rather unfortunate. There will be noble Lords who would have wished to table amendments to today’s debate but who, given that the sitting was scheduled only on the last sitting day before Recess last week, may not have had the opportunity to do so.
BARONESS SMITH rose on the floor of the House of Lords to make an impassioned plea to not let Grangemouth go the way of Coryton. Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab) said: “My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, I raised the issue of refinery capacity in the UK previously, when the highly efficient refinery at Coryton in Essex had to close down.
“My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. I join in his comments of support for Doreen and Neville Lawrence and their family. I suspect that no words can give comfort in a situation such as this. Having had to cope with the horror and the tragedy of the murder of their son Stephen, they had almost 20 years of campaigning for justice before anyone was brought to book for his murder.
My Lords, asylum seekers sometimes wait years for a decision and delays are increasing. As we have heard, that leaves genuine refugees in limbo and makes it harder to send failed cases home. We currently have a shambolic situation whereby 300,000 people are trapped in the immigration asylum backlog, with 90,000 cases being written off so far or given effective amnesty because papers have been lost in some cases.
My Lords, I am not sure that that really answers my Question. Perhaps I can be clearer. Government cuts mean that 15,000 fewer police officers will be in place by the time of the next election. It is not therefore rocket science to understand that last year 30,000 fewer crimes were solved.
The Minister will be aware that forensic evidence is a key part of bringing criminals to justice. Can I direct him to yesterday’s evidence from Michael Turner QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, to the Science and Technology Committee of the other place? He said that following the Government’s abolition of the highly regarded Forensic Science Service, the quality of expert witnesses being used by the crown was now, in his words, “variable”.
BARONESS Smith of Basildon rose on the floor of the House of Lords to question the process that may have allowed a
terror suspect to abscond. Baroness Smith said: “My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question. He will understand that it is of enormous concern that Ibrahim Magag, who is subject to a TPIM-a terrorism prevention and investigation measure-has been able to abscond, particularly when the judge who reviewed his previous control order said that, “it is too dangerous to permit him to be in London, even for a short period”.
“Even the recent fall in net migration is due to British citizens leaving the country and the fall in student numbers. Time and again, the chief inspector has found problems but, despite commitments to his recommendations to make the system more efficient and fairer, it just does not happen. “We now even have the Mayor of London accusing the Government of turning a blind eye to long-term illegal immigrants.
“The purpose behind the amendments is to suggest an alternative definition for the “sensitive information” ouster of the court’s jurisdiction. The reality is that less information is being shared with the UK as a result of fears that the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction might mean that the UK Government were forced to disclose intelligence shared with us, thereby breaching the control principle. We have heard that from the reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, to whom the Minister referred, as well as from members of the ISC and the Government. I know that we have assurances from the US that we will never be denied life-saving intelligence, but I refer the House to the comments made on this issue in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, who said that that was no consolation to her, given the position that she has held. She went on:
The Electoral Commission fears an 18.5% turnout for these elections. That is not surprising, given that the elections will be held in November when it is cold, wet and dark, and that the candidate information has been made available online instead of in the normal leaflets for every household, as in similar elections. May I press the noble Lord on this point and ask him what level of turnout he would accept as evidence that the Government have respect for the police and the candidates and that this is a serious policy and not something dreamt up on the back of an envelope?
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the budget that will be required for the additional responsibilities to be taken on by the National Crime Agency; what assessment they have made as to whether there will be any additional costs arising from the new responsibilities; and whether any such costs can be met from existing budgets.”
Two women every week are killed at the hands of their abuser in England and Wales and two recent murders in Harlow have been linked to domestic violence. Yet domestic violence is a still a largely hidden crime, which isn’t give the priority it needs to keep people safe.
In my case, it would have been much easier. If I had had the whole of Basildon as my constituency, rather than part of Basildon and part of Thurrock, the constituency would have been bigger but I would have dealt with two local authorities and one police force.
“My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation and the information that she has given to the House on the two sexual offences orders. I shall take them in reverse order. On the notification requirements order, we are broadly supportive but I have a couple of questions, and I was able to have a brief discussion with the Minister earlier to give some indication of what I wanted to ask.
She warned: “Once the refining capacity is gone and the site is converted to a depot to receive imports of refined fuel we’ll never be able to get it back.”
“Does he accept the strong criticism from the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration that the problems at Heathrow are caused by massive cuts of 15% of the staff, at the same time as massive organisational changes and a massive lack of good management; or, does he agree with the Immigration Minister in the other place, Damian Green, who says that since May 2010 there has been the wrong kind of wind?
“My Lords, some of the people who I most worry will not be able to afford the heating they need are those on pre-payment meters. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, told me in a Written Answer on 19 February that pre-payment meter customers now pay on average £20 less than standard credit customers for gas and electricity.
“The department is seeking to collect data around social participation through the 2011-12 Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework indicator, which focuses on enhancing the quality of life for people with care and support needs.
I was particularly interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham. He expressed concern over the political nature of the comments of my noble friend Lord Knight. While he paid great tribute to my noble friend’s political skills, we have to understand that economics and politics are inextricably linked, and that it is political judgment that has led to the economic decisions that the Government have made.
I can think of few Bills that have caused so much controversy and concern in Parliament and in the country as a whole. I was told before I came back into the Chamber this evening that in just 36 hours, 100,000 people have signed a petition collected by 38 Degrees in support of the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Hennessy. That is a hugely significant number.
The information is not available in the format requested because the department does not hold data on the number of hospital sites that have renewable energy generated on site. However, the department does collect data, through estates returns information collection (ERIC), on the amounts of renewable fossil and non-fossil energy consumed annually by each National Health Service organisation.
The Baroness said: “My Lords, I would like to ask the Minister about her comments on protecting front-line services. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said that front-line services would be protected.
I welcome the Government’s amendments and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments. I appreciate that it caused some confusion when I first raised this. As the noble Baroness generously said, when she first wrote to me, her officials and government Ministers had understood that the legislation as drafted would not allow for charging. It was completely inadvertent, as she said, and they had not appreciated that a consequence of the Government’s proposals to expand and increase charges would lead to community fire safety being charged for.
Baroness Smith asked: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take in response to the finding in the recent Frontier Economics report that investment in the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service services in preventative care for older people provides significant savings for the National Health Service and local authorities.
On several issues, I share the concerns that have been raised, notably around the sale of community assets, the governance arrangements in local government and on social housing. It is worth reflecting that when we debate social housing and flexibility of tenure, we are talking about someone’s home. People want security of tenure; they want to ensure that they can bring up their children, that they can go to work and that their children can be secure in their school in long term. We need to understand the concern that that has raised with so many people who are currently in social housing or who long for social housing and spend years on the waiting list.