By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill actually passed through the House. Philip Davies and Christopher Chope did not talk out the Bill - which they are certainly adept at doing - as expected, and it passed through to Third Reading. The Government supported the Bill - although it was a private member's bill, rather than a government bill - and tough action for illegal scrap metal dealers is on its way.
There's going to be a strange spectacle today in the House: a Tory private member's bill supported by many Tories (and many other MPs) looks likely to be talked out of Parliament by two Tories, despite the Government supporting it.
The legislation before the House is the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, introduced by Richard Ottaway. This is an issue where plenty of support for action exists, and which has the power to get traction outside Westminister. Nevertheless, Philip Davies and Christopher Chope have tabled tens of amendments, ensuring the Bill will not get passed today.
There are some legitimate concerns about whether the content of the Bill is strictly limited to eradicating illegal scrap metal dealing. One can read the many, many amendments, and find Davies and Chope have attempted to remove from the text, for example, a clause which would mean "No person aged under 21 shall sell or attempt to sell scrap metal."
But why has such a widely-supported policy of getting tough on illegal traders been left to a private member's bill, where proper, helpful amendments cannot really be made? Why is the Government willing to take another series of negative attacks from Labour, especially during Remembrance weekend?
James Brokenshire, a Minister at the Home Office, implied that the Government supported tougher measures. He told ITV News last night:
"I well understand the impact that these appalling crimes have when you have a monument to remember those who’ve given service to our country. We’re certainly examining the options – the Prime Minister has indicated that as part of our review of theft more generally, the sentencing guidelines council looking at that, whether there is justification for further enhanced measures where attacks take place against these types of monuments because I well recognise the concerns, the anger that is generated when these take place. It’s also looking at whether we can get further regulation of the licensed premise, to actually put that into place – there’s a Private Member’s Bill that’s being debated in Parliament tomorrow."
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
By Joseph Willits
Follow Joseph on Twitter
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire MP, has answered questions from four Tory MPs about the Government's plans to combat metal theft. Brokenshire said that "the Home Office is discussing with other Departments what legislative changes are necessary to assist enforcement agencies and deter offenders". Some of the measures to do so, he said, would include "introducing a new licence regime for scrap metal dealers and prohibiting cash payments" and establishing a "metal theft taskforce" together with the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Responding to a question from Gravesham MP Adam Holloway about the financial implications of metal theft, Brokenshire said the cost could be "anywhere between £220 million and £777 million per annum". Holloway asked whether there was "any argument for seizing the entire inventories of metal dealers found to be purchasing what are effectively stolen goods". Brokenshire confirmed that this was one of the reasons for a new taskforce, "to inform intelligence and ensure that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice".
In a break with convention, Conor Burns - who was elected MP for Bournemouth West at the general election - secured his own adjournment debate at the end of business on Thursday in which to deliver his maiden speech.
He chose to raise issues asociated with the many schools across the country (of which a number are in his constituency) teaching English to foreigners. He argued that the Labour Government imposed restrictions upon those seeking to attend such schools which risk damaging the economy not only in his constituency, but in Britain as a whole.
Here are the highlights of what he told the Commons:
"More than 500,000 students a year choose to learn English in Britain. That figure accounts for almost 43% of all students who choose to travel abroad to learn English. It is estimated that they contribute more than £1.5 billion to the UK economy every year. It is appropriate that we talk about this in the context of the Budget that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor introduced earlier this week. We have been talking about diversifying the UK economy, away from sole reliance on the financial services sector, and this is a massive export for our country and a contributor to the bottom line."
"Why am I raising this subject now? It has become a problem because of what the previous Government did in their dying months of office. Immigration became a rising political topic as we got closer to the general election, and the previous Government, in an attempt to be seen to be doing something, did the old civil service Sir Humphrey thing: "We must do something; this is something, so let's do it." They changed the criteria on the requirement for competence in the English language that was needed for someone to come to Britain to study English. They also changed the student visa arrangements so that such a person had to return to their country of origin to extend their visa.
"I wish to draw attention not just to the question of the English language schools and the employment that they generate in Bournemouth and Poole, but to the welcome additional earnings in the household budgets of the host families who welcome students into their home, and to the boost to the local economy when students' family and friends come to visit, stay in local hotels and use local restaurants. Professor Fletcher of Bournemouth university has estimated that they contribute more than £200 million to the local economy in the Bournemouth and Poole area."
"The previous Government were right to recognise that there was a problem with some bogus schools, and they put in place measures to try to deal with them. Prior to the introduction of the points-based system, it was estimated that up to 50,000 students could be using the student visa system as a way of staying in the United Kingdom illegally. In April 2009 they introduced the new system, which forced schools to gain Government accreditation and led to the closure of several thousand bogus language schools. Great strides were made in tightening up the system.
"On 12 November 2009, only months after the system was put in place, the then Prime Minister ordered a review of it due to concerns about those coming in to study at below degree level. The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Mr Woolas) said about that on 11 December 2009:
"I would like to make it absolutely clear that no firm decisions as to whether and what changes ought to be made to Tier 4 have yet been taken. The responses we have received from all parts of the education sector have suggested that there is the potential for some of the broader review questions to affect the UK's attractiveness as a destination for study if they are implemented. Damaging the education sector is not the aim of the review."
"However, the reality is that the outcome of the review has done just that. I wish to go into some detail about what the change to the English language requirement has done. I shall quote a letter from my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Eden, who posed a simple question to my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration on 20 May. He wrote:
"The simple question that needs to be answered is how are students that are coming to this country to learn English supposed to be able to qualify in English language proficiency in order to receive a student visa?"
"It is not just a very basic understanding of English that they require. The definition of B1 competence, which is the equivalent of about an A* GCSE, is that a student can "understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans."
"It seems to me that if someone is able to do all that, they are pretty fluent and would not necessarily need to enrol themselves on an English language course. We are saying to students, "Learn English so you can qualify to come here to study and learn English in Britain." It is painfully ridiculous."
He went on to express his fear that English language schools in other parts of the world will take the students instead and that the UK will lose out, before concluding:
"I hope that the Home Office will continue to review the changes that the previous Government implemented. We can learn much from other countries and how they handle matters. I am not standing here simply to complain about the previous Government's actions because that is futile. The coalition has an opportunity to review much of that and find other solutions. For example, we could move to a bond system - I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration examined that before the election - whereby the student pays an up-front sum of money, which would make absconding much less likely. We could have an assessment level, whereby we examined the risks posed by students from particular risk countries, and we could have a classification system, whereby we perhaps relaxed the rules for others.
"The changes that the previous Government made are having a profoundly worrying and detrimental effect on businesses in my constituency and throughout the country. I hope that the Under-Secretary will examine all the alternatives because we can be proud of the English language schools sector. The English language is one of our greatest assets. English is the language of world commerce, and if we shut off the ability of those schools to thrive, to welcome people to our shores and to enable them to immerse themselves in our language, our culture and our values, in time we will look back and realise that we made a very fundamental mistake."
As the BBC reports, the Government is promsing to review the situation, with Home Office minister James Brokenshire saying in replying to the debate:
"The Government are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK, which is why we are determined to encourage legitimate students to come here for study. The UK is the second most popular destination for international students-second only to the United States. We must therefore ensure that our immigration system does not inhibit the education sector, which we recognise has to compete in an increasingly competitive global market."
"The Minister for Immigration intends to undertake a thorough evaluation of the student system in the coming weeks and months, to ensure that the measures currently in place strike the right balance between providing a user-friendly route for bona fide students and education providers and keeping out those who would seek to abuse the student system. Let me be clear: the Government want to encourage genuine students who seek to benefit from our world-class education system and to take away knowledge, skills and a sense of our culture, which they can then put to good use in their home countries."
Home Office questions came around yesterday.
The most interesting questions were about the holding of DNA samples. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith outlined the Government's position:
"The national DNA database plays a key role in catching criminals, including many years after they might think that they have got away with their crime, eliminating the innocent from investigations, and focusing the direction of inquiries. In 2007-08, 17,614 crimes were detected in which a DNA match was available. Those included 83 homicides and 184 rapes. In addition, there were a further 15,420 detections resulting from the original case involving the DNA match. Those occur when, for example, a suspect, on being presented with DNA evidence linking him to one offence, confesses to further offences.
The specific ruling [by the European Court of Human Rights] was on a blanket policy of retention of the fingerprints and DNA of those who had been arrested but not convicted, or against whom no further action was being taken. The Court also indicated that it agreed with the Government that the retention of fingerprint and DNA data
“pursues the legitimate purpose of the detection, and therefore, prevention of crime”.
I announced in December our intention to remove all those aged under 10 from the database. That has now been carried out. When we bring forward proposals to change the blanket approach to retention, we will give particular consideration to those aged under 18, and to how the protection of the public can be balanced with fairness to the individual."
Wells MP David Heathcoat-Amory posed a question on civil liberties:
"What does the Secretary of State say to Mr. Daniel Baker, a constituent of mine who was a victim of mistaken identity? He was never charged with any crime and is entirely innocent, but the police are retaining his DNA against his wishes. When will the Secretary of State start recognising the liberties of the individual, and stop regarding everyone in the country as a suspect?
Jacqui Smith: I think that the case study that I cited a minute ago identified some of the important benefits of DNA retention. There are real-life cases in which people have been made safer by the retention of DNA post-arrest. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent can apply to the police force, in exceptional circumstances. That is why— [Interruption.] That is why I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will look closely at our proposals for a more proportionate way of dealing with the retention policy."
The Home Secretary had described a case where a man arrrested for violent disorder was released without charge. However, a DNA sample was taken. Several months later a rape occured. Skin taken from below the victim's fingernails was matched to this man's sample, and he is now in prison.
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling went with the same issue:
"This is a very straightforward and simple issue. It is, right now, illegal to store the DNA of innocent people over long periods on the DNA database, but as of today, the Government are still doing that. Why?
Jacqui Smith: I have made it very clear to the hon. Gentleman that we have looked in detail at the judgment in the case of S and Marper and we will bring forward proposals very soon—and when we do so, I hope that Opposition Members will engage with them with slightly more sophistication than they have done today.
Chris Grayling: But this is illegal now, today. Furthermore, it is a principle in our society that people are innocent until proven guilty. This Government have a habit of throwing away many principles in this society, but that is one that should be sacrosanct. In the case of the DNA database, however, they appear happy to abandon the principle. They are also happy to store the data of babies and children. Their actions are clearly morally and legally wrong. Why will they not just stop keeping this data illegally, right now, today? Why will they not stop now?
Jacqui Smith: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a period of time during which, quite rightly and reasonably—not least given that the Government’s approach to the retention of data was upheld in the UK courts—there is consideration and proposals are brought forward. That is what the Government are doing, and he obviously was not listening when I said that no DNA of children under the age of 10 is kept on DNA databases now."
The Government has proven itself utterly inept at holding people's personal details, but I don't have any other objections to them holding DNA samples for individuals. Indeed it would seem to have lots of advantages. I suppose one other worry is that most of us are not in a position to question the authority of scientists who assure us that DNA samples match - something I always think of when someone says they are in favour of the death penalty "when there's no doubt".