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I do not agree with that analysis of the situation. The UK Border Agency will, as my hon. Friend says, deal with the legacy cases by the summer of next year, but as we have explained to the Select Committee we are also in the process of archiving cases that go back-I do not wish to make a partisan point-to 1981.
The time to conclusion on asylum is now under six months for 60 per cent. of cases. In 1997-to make a partisan point-the average time to a decision, not a conclusion, was 22 months. The Government and the agency should get some credit for dealing with the legacy problem.
T5.  Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If we are to have a real increase in the visibility of police on the streets of Britain and in the clear-up rate for offences, and a real reduction in police response times and the time that they spend behind closed doors, is not the suggestion this morning by Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, that we should have a full review of policing one that should have the immediate agreement of the Government?
Alan Johnson: Sir Hugh Orde was calling for a royal commission. I do not agree with that suggestion, although I am keen to talk to Sir Hugh Orde about this. He is a man of great experience and I respect his views considerably. However, it is not the case that because the last royal commission was in 1962 there has to be another one at intermittent periods. We used to have royal commissions that went on for a long time during which everything was preserved in aspic because nobody knew what would happen next. We should consistently review our methods of policing to ensure that they keep pace with advances in technology and changes around the world, for instance in counter-terrorism, and we are doing that. Ronnie Flanagan's report, the Green Paper and the White Paper, and many other changes over the last few years have revolutionised the way in which the police do their work. We need to continue to change to meet the challenges of our times.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Several times in the past few weeks, including today, I have heard the claim that mephedrone is killing young people. The cases that I have looked at suggest that the young people concerned were taking more than one drug, including alcohol. Should we not be getting across to young people the fact that if they choose to take a cocktail of drugs, they are putting their lives at risk? Mixing cocaine and alcohol, for example, produces the very toxic cocaethylene.
Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend, with his usual scientific analysis, is making the case for why we have to wait for the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to report on wide-ranging and close analysis of the problem before saying whether mephedrone is a dangerous drug. We might all have views on that, but they should be driven by the scientific evidence. Once that report is made to me-I hope that that will happen as soon as possible after 29 March, when the council's next meeting is scheduled-then we can make an informed decision.
T6. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con):
To return to the issue of dangerous dogs, the Minister will know that the London Mayor, his deputy Kit Malthouse and various local authorities, such as Hammersmith and Fulham, are working extremely
hard on the problem. As a follow-up to my earlier question about the incident in Normand park last Thursday, the resident concerned was clear in praising his local councillor, Councillor Sarah Gore, along with Greg Smith and his team. Will the Minister agree to meet Councillor Greg Smith and Kit Malthouse to see how local authorities can do something serious about the problem, rather than using the Government's failed insurance scheme?
Meg Hillier: We are always keen to work with anyone, and I will certainly pass on the request for an invitation to the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), who deals with the issue on a day-to-day basis.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Why did it take over two years to set up the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, and, bearing in mind that it is a mass meeting of 22 members who were appointed in February, what opportunity does it have to report back during this Parliament? What is its current programme and what are the Minister's expectations?
Alan Johnson: My answer is that I am rushing off after this Question Time to appear before that very body; it is the first time that it has called Ministers to appear before it. My hon. Friend raises an important point about the role of the Committee. The only thing that I am absolutely convinced about is the need for such a Committee. However, as it is new, and as it deals with such wide-ranging issues, to a great degree it has a major say in how it shapes the way its work will pan out in future.
T7.  Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Does not the recent concern about legal highs demonstrate the contrast between the speed at which new dangerous drugs can come on to the market and kill people, and the slow process of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the Government in taking real action to tackle the issue? Is it not the case that serious questions are now being asked about whether the ACMD and the classification system are fit for purpose?
Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is being unfair to the ACMD. For a start, it has led the world on legal highs such as Spice and GBL, and it was there before anyone else. Secondly, the ACMD could have been a lot quicker in bringing its report forward if-
One of the newspapers said that Professor Nutt's sacking had delayed the report by six months, but as I sacked him only five months ago, that seems a bit difficult. To return to the important point, however, the report could have been done more quickly had the ACMD looked just at mephedrone. However, it decided-this had the support of the House when we discussed the matter-to look at that generic group of drugs, so that when it makes a decision, and if that decision is
carried into law, we do not allow the manufacturers of such drugs to make small chemical changes and continue to make them available. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) is doing a disservice to the ACMD, whose vision has enabled us to deal with that whole family of drugs, rather than just one.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about paid advocacy and lobbying. These issues are, rightly, of great concern to this House and to the public. The highest standards are expected of Ministers, former Ministers and Members of this House. The public are entitled to be completely confident that, when Ministers make a decision, it is made in the public interest and that there is no impropriety whatever.
Allegations have been made in respect of ministerial decisions in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in respect of food labelling, ministerial decisions in the Department for Transport in respect of National Express and the east coast main line, and a decision in the Department of Health in respect of that Department's advisory group for a programme board for people with mental health problems and learning difficulties in the criminal justice system.
I can tell the House that Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and in the Department for Transport are clear that those decisions were made properly in the public interest. Civil servants in the Department of Health who took the decisions on the advisory group are satisfied that they made the correct decision in the public interest and were not responding to any inappropriate or undue influence. In each of the cases raised, the Departments concerned have looked into the allegations and confirmed that they are satisfied that the decisions have been made without the impropriety alleged.
The Prime Minister today sought the Cabinet Secretary's assurance that the Departments had looked into those claims. The permanent secretaries made inquiries, as they would into any such serious allegations, and they have assured the Cabinet Secretary that they were satisfied that there had been no improper influence on Government policy or ministerial decisions. They are setting this out in public statements today.
I want to reassure hon. Members and the public that Ministers act in the public interest. They make decisions in the public interest. That is a fundamental part of the duties of their office. Ministers are bound by the ministerial code, which is based on an acceptance that ministerial office brings with it serious responsibility and a duty to the nation. The code was strengthened and updated in July 2007. Allegations of a breach of the ministerial code are investigated by Sir Philip Mawer, the independent adviser on ministerial standards. Ministers have to act within the ministerial code, and, if they do not, they cannot continue as Ministers. That requires them to act in the public interest and not in any private interest. From 1 October last year, the Government now publish, for the first time, on a quarterly basis, details of Ministers' meetings with outside interest groups. It is therefore fully transparent which organisations a Minister has met and what the meeting was about.
The position on former Ministers is that they must not take any proposed employment of any kind unless it has been approved by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. That has been the position since 2007, when we strengthened the process by making it a requirement for two years after leaving ministerial
office instead of one year, and making it a requirement to get approval rather than just to notify, as was previously the case. Former Ministers are also governed by the rules that apply to all Members of this House or, if they are in the House of Lords, the rules that apply to all peers.
Members of this House are required to abide by the code of conduct for Members of Parliament, which was reissued, updated and strengthened in June last year. Fundamental to the code of conduct is the requirement for hon. Members to abide by the seven principles of public life. The rules that embody those principles are stringent and extensive, and breach of the rules is dealt with, following a complaint or a self-referral, by an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and, if necessary, by action by the Standards and Privileges Committee. Any allegation that a Member of this House has broken the code of conduct will be thoroughly investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards so that the House can, if necessary, impose the appropriate sanction. We have high standards, clear rules and a clear remedy for breach, and that is how it should be.
Members of Parliament are paid a salary. If an hon. Member takes on any other work for which they are paid, they are, since June 2009, required to register every payment made to them, including the amount and what they were paid for. That ensures that, if any hon. Member is getting paid over and above their MP's salary, the public know who is paying them and for what. Failure to register a payment is a breach of the code of conduct.
The rules relating to civil servants state that they are required to abide by the civil service code, which has now being put on a statutory footing in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. Breach of the code is dealt with by the Cabinet Secretary and the civil service commissioners.
I turn now to those who seek to be MPs. Following the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Government have issued guidance to all candidates standing at the next general election about the voluntary disclosure of their financial interests, including their tax status.
Following the report of the Public Administration Committee in January last year, the Government have been working with the lobbying industry to establish a register of lobbyists. Building on that work, and in the light of the latest allegations, we think that that should be put on a statutory footing. There should be a legal register of lobbyists, which would require people to register as lobbyists and to register the identity of the clients on whose behalf they were acting. This is necessary to give the public confidence that that is the law and that it will be complied with. I commend the statement to the House.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con):
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for an advance copy of her statement. However, it leaves a number of unresolved issues. The fact that the Leader of the House has had to come to the House to explain the situation is a clear indication of the seriousness of these allegations, which threaten to become, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) warned, the next big scandal in Westminster. Does she agree that the
sight of former Cabinet Ministers offering to lobby Government on behalf of corporate interests for private gain, in one case as a kind of "cab for hire" for up to £5,000 per day, will have deeply appalled the public and further undermined trust in politics at a moment when we all hoped that we were turning the corner.
The public will now expect the Government to treat these revelations with the seriousness they deserve, but rather than clarifying the facts, Downing street appears to be doing the opposite. Does the Leader of the House not recognise that the Prime Minister's decision to rule out a proper inquiry before the television programme has even gone out was simply the wrong response, particularly as the Secretary of State for Transport has just confirmed in another place that he spoke to the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers) about the east coast franchise? Does she not agree with me that the allegation that public policy was in some way altered by ex-Ministers lobbying for corporate clients to the possible disadvantage of the taxpayer and the consumer needs to be fully and impartially investigated and that the Cabinet Secretary should carry out an appropriate review, as requested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude)?
The House will have heard what the Leader of the House said about the internal departmental review, but does she not agree with her colleague, the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, who said on the radio at 1 o'clock that
"the Cabinet Secretary will want to assure himself that nothing has gone wrong at the Departmental end".
Should not the results of this review be put in the public domain? In ruling out an inquiry, has the Prime Minister followed due process? Who exactly has he consulted in the course of the last 24 hours to satisfy himself so quickly as to the veracity or otherwise of these claims?
Does the Leader of the House recall that I asked her for a debate on the Public Administration Committee's report into lobbying back in October at my first business questions? With the benefit of hindsight, does she regret never finding time for that debate? Why did the Government drag their feet on this report for months? The Committee published its original report in December 2008, but the Government did not respond for almost a year, instead of the recommended six weeks. The original PAC report clearly stated that
"with the rules as loosely and as variously interpreted as they currently are, former Ministers in particular appear to be able to use with impunity contacts they built up as public servants to further a private interest."
"the general assertion that former Ministers in particular are able to use improperly and with impunity contacts they have built up while in office".
Moving forward, does the right hon. and learned Lady agree with me that the advisory committee on public appointments should be placed on a statutory basis? If she does, what explanation does she have for the Government not supporting the amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill tabled on 2 March in my name and that of my hon. Friend the
Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), which would have done exactly that? Does she agree that we need to review the two-year time limit for ex-ministerial appointments, giving a longer horizon than is currently the case?
The country will expect the Government to deal with these issues thoroughly and promptly. If they are not finalised before Dissolution, does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that it will be the first responsibility of an incoming Government to instruct the Prime Minister's adviser on the ministerial code to undertake a full review of this episode so that Government can learn the lessons of what has gone wrong and then change the rules to prevent a recurrence of this scandal in the future?
Ms Harman: The shadow Leader of the House referred to the "cab for hire" quote. I think I can say on behalf of all hon. Members that that is not what anyone in this House of Commons wants to see, and it is certainly not what the public want to see. The matter is to be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
The right hon. Gentleman said that public policy had been altered in respect of transport. I refer him to what I said in my statement, and to today's statement by the Secretary of State for Transport in the House of Lords. Public policy was not altered in any way. It is absolutely refuted and strongly denied that there was any alteration of public policy. The Secretary of State for Transport said that
"there is no truth whatsoever in the suggestion that Stephen Byers came to any arrangement with me on any matter relating to National Express."
"I told Mr. Byers that such a move would undermine the rail franchise system and would not be in the best interests of taxpayers."
"I have looked into the allegations made over the weekend about improper influence by former ministers on departmental policy making and decision making in relation to National Express rail franchise business. Having made inquiries, I am satisfied that there was no impropriety on the part of ministers or officials in the Department. The Secretary of State for Transport has also made a statement in the House of Lords which rejected any allegation of impropriety."
The right hon. Gentleman asked why we had not found time for a debate on the register. We found time to debate a motion that I had tabled and to which the House agreed, although it was not without controversy. We found time to ensure that information about every penny earned by Members of Parliament over and above their pay as Members would be available, so that the public would be fully in the picture in regard to who was paying Members of Parliament over and above their salaries, and for what.
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