Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 472: debated on Monday 25 February 2008

House of Commons

Monday 25 February 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]




That Mr Simon Burns be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Alistair Burt be added to the Committee.—[Mr. McLoughlin.]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Student Visas

1. What account she takes of the contribution of foreign students to the UK economy in taking decisions on student visas. (188113)

Foreign students benefit our country to the tune of almost £8.5 billion a year. Students will be included in the new points system, which will make the system easier to police.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Overseas students make a valuable contribution to this country’s economy. Universities recognise both that and their role as sponsors under this new visa scheme, but they are still unclear about how it will be administered. Will he talk to education institutions about how the new certificates will be administered and, above all, how the new registration requirements will be monitored?

My hon. Friend is right that big changes will be introduced in the granting of visas to students under the points system. In particular, a new register will come into place with much tougher obligations on colleges to report events such as non-attendance and extended periods of absence, but, more importantly, students will, for the first time, be tied to a specific institution—they will not be able to come in under the sponsorship of one organisation and switch in-country to another. As these are big changes, I plan to publish blueprints of how the new system will work as early as possible so that there is as much time as possible for us to discuss the details with universities. I will certainly make sure that I talk to universities in my hon. Friend’s area as we try to get these proposals right.

Foreign students undoubtedly make a valuable contribution to this country’s economy, but with one in five students dropping out of full-time education, many of whom are foreign students, how confident is the Minister that universities are communicating foreign student drop-out rates to the Border and Immigration Agency?

We introduced changes in April last year, through a change to the immigration rules, that made it mandatory for education institutions to keep effective records on, for example, enrolment, and to report those records to the BIA when asked to do so. The new proposals under the points system take that tightening of the system a stage on, so that it becomes mandatory for universities and other higher education institutions to report not only students who do not turn up for their course, but extended periods of absence. We are giving universities time to prepare for these changes because we realise the new burdens that will be put on them, but I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that the system needs to be tighter in future.

Is the Minister aware that a large number of language schools are completely bogus and are nothing more than a front to get people illegally into this country? What action is he taking against such bogus language schools?

We are determined to take colleges off the register of licence sponsors whenever we come across evidence of such abuse, and if the hon. Gentleman has information about colleges perpetrating such abuse I would, of course, be grateful to receive it. Well over 100 colleges have been taken off the register over the last year and a half, thanks to the work of the BIA.

Foreign students make a valuable contribution to many of our disciplines, particularly in manufacturing industry. However, there is one discipline through which they make little contribution to the UK economy: journalism. Will my hon. Friend therefore make sure that foreign journalists who apply for visas come here on the basis that they deal with factual evidence and factual evidence only?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation. It is important for it to be much harder for organisations to get on to the appropriate register in years to come. Under the points system, it will be easier to police new regulations on how colleges get on to the register. I will, of course, look at any new ideas for such requirements that my hon. Friend might like to suggest.

Police Numbers

2. What representations she has received on police force strength following the publication of the Flanagan review. (188114)

The Flanagan report makes it clear that we must think seriously about how we can make best use of police resources to meet the demands that the service faces. The changes that Sir Ronnie recommends could release up to 7 million police hours—the equivalent of 3,500 extra officers. I welcome Sir Ronnie’s contribution to the debate, and the strong case he makes for reform to improve the outcomes that we can all achieve for the public.

The Home Secretary did not really answer my question, but she will know that I asked what representations she had received about the Flanagan report. May I commend to her an excellent article by Gloucestershire’s chief constable in The Citizen last week, in which he refers to Sir Ronnie’s recommendation that damping be removed? If that were to happen, Gloucestershire would lose 100 police officers or have 6.5 per cent. added to its council tax. Will she rule out the removal of damping?

It is because we ensured not only a 2.9 per cent. overall increase in revenue support for police forces, but a floor increase of at least 2.5 per cent. for all authorities that the hon. Gentleman’s authority has been protected at that floor. We managed to find the balance between moving partially towards the formula for which many hon. Members on both sides of the House have called and protecting police forces such as his.

May I express my gratitude to Sir Ronnie Flanagan for the expeditious and efficient way in which he conducted this review of policing? I know that the Secretary of State shares my view, which motivated the commissioning of this report, that we need to reduce bureaucracy and red tape. How quickly will she be able to act on his recommendations, particularly the important ones such as the streamlined reporting of crimes, which is being piloted by Staffordshire police?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his prescience in asking Sir Ronnie to undertake the review when he was Home Secretary. He is right to say that it contains many important recommendations, including the one to which he refers. That approach is being piloted in Staffordshire. It reduces the reporting down to one page of recording for the vast majority of crimes and enables more emphasis to be placed on caring for victims. I expect to be able to roll it out much more widely very quickly—in fact, before the end of this year.

The Government have indicated that they want the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland. Does the Home Secretary accept that many people across the divide in Northern Ireland would much prefer additional resources to provide more police officers on the ground to combat criminal activity before we go down the line of devolving policing and justice?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, extra resources are being made available and ongoing discussions are taking place about the governance of policing in Northern Ireland. The point that Sir Ronnie makes has wide relevance. He says that the reforms that he has proposed, upon which we are acting and which I am sure will be relevant in Northern Ireland, will enable us to maximise police officer time spent on the front line and to use our resources as effectively as possible.

As the Home Secretary knows, the Select Committee on Home Affairs launched its new inquiry into policing in the 21st century this morning in Newark and tomorrow we will examine Sir Ronnie and his findings. Will she confirm that the police constable is central to the Government’s strategy on policing, that all the other parts, such as police community support officers and new technology, are secondary to that visible commitment to policing and that there is no question of a reduction in police numbers as a result of this report?

Nothing in this report implies a reduction in police numbers. My right hon. Friend is right to say that the office of constable lies at the heart of policing, which is why officer numbers have increased by 14,000 since 1997. That increase has occurred alongside increases in other police staff, who work alongside those officers to do the job that our communities expect of them and that they are delivering so successfully.

The Flanagan report, which the Home Secretary welcomes, states that

“maintaining police numbers at their current level is not sustainable over the course of the next three years.”

Will she unambiguously pledge to the public and the police that those numbers will not be cut?

I believe that between 1993 and 1997 police officer numbers fell by 1,100. We are increasing the resources available to support revenue funding for policing by 2.9 per cent. both next year and the following year. We are providing the resources necessary for chief constables to make the required decisions about their force’s staffing levels of police officers and others. It is difficult for Conservative Members to make a credible case for increased resources when they have not supported the increases in resources and they had such a pitiable record in government.

Alcohol Restriction Zones

3. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of alcohol restriction zones in reducing levels of alcohol-related crime. (188115)

No assessment has been made nationally of the effectiveness of designated public places orders; however, I am aware that some local authorities—Southampton, for example—have made assessments of their DPPOs. The fact that more than 554 DPPOs are in existence suggests that they are effective in combating alcohol-related crime and disorder.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The Stafford town centre zone was so successful in cutting crimes of violence and public disorder that last year the police, the council and the public agreed to extend the zone, so does that not show how effective the measure can be in tackling alcohol-related crime? Does my hon. Friend agree that to tackle alcohol-related crime, we need more measures such as the zones and the more general application of laws that permit the police to seize alcohol in public places?

I agree with my hon. Friend and I am pleased that he has referred to the success of designated public places orders, because there has been a massive increase in their number. Personally, I am surprised that there are not even more of them spread out across the country. My hon. Friend is also right to point out the need for further powers to be given to the police and for further campaigns. He will be aware that a number of such campaigns have been conducted recently, including confiscation of alcohol from schoolchildren during half-term. We hope to see many more such activities in due course.

What are the Minister and the Home Secretary doing about the problem of cheap alcohol? Will they respond to the initiatives taken last week by Tesco and others?

I have already discussed with Tesco the proposal it made and we shall consider how we take the matter forward. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a review of pricing and promotion is being undertaken by the Department of Health. The report is due in July; we look forward to it and will take appropriate action then.

We are all very aware of the growing number of under-age drinkers who drink excessively in our streets and parks. Will the Minister tell us how the new confiscation measures will work to ensure that young people do not simply reoffend and carry on with the same practices?

To stop young people reoffending we must first stop them believing that they can drink in public and act in any way in public without consequences. My hon. Friend is right to point out that our confiscation campaigns are directly focused on young people, to say that it is not acceptable to drink in public and then to use that as an excuse to vandalise and commit other acts. The confiscation powers enable the police, where they believe there is a risk of disorder, to confiscate alcohol from young people and, alongside our campaigns to tackle under-age sales, we believe they will make a real difference to the problems that I know exist in many estates across the country.

This week, a Home Office report is expected to show that in the year after the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003, crimes of serious violence committed in the early hours of the morning jumped by a quarter. In January 2005, the Government claimed that giving local councils the right to charge pubs, clubs and other alcohol retailers for the costs of policing was a priority, through the establishment of new alcohol disorder zones, yet three years on they are still not in place. Why not?

We will bring forward measures to introduce alcohol disorder zones in the near future. The hon. Gentleman referred to the review of the Licensing Act; the interim report into the implications of the Act, which we published last July, showed that serious violent crime over a whole night had actually fallen by 5 per cent.


The Security Industry Authority will undertake a feasibility study of various policy options for the regulation of vehicle immobilisation companies—commonly known as clampers—in the private sector, the results of which will be available in early 2009. Further details will be published in the SIA’s business plan for 2008-09.

First, may I say that it is a pleasure to see you in your place, Mr. Speaker? May you long stay there, as a reminder that in this country the Speaker is chosen not by an attempted coup from the Press Gallery, but by the Members of the House of Commons.

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that since 1992 wheel-clamping has been banned in Scotland, yet in the midlands and the rest of England cowboy clampers still inflict outrageous penalties on motorists. Will she give civil servants clear instructions to put a stop to that outrage, not in 2009 but this year?

I thank my right hon. Friend and congratulate him on the tenacity and vigour with which he has pursued the issue for a number of years. Scotland has a different legal jurisdiction, under which theft is defined differently, which is why such activity is illegal there.

Fees are supposed to be reasonable, and it is intended that anyone who is clamped can raise the matter, because the individual clamper will be registered and licensed by the Security Industry Authority. There is recourse while we take the time to ensure that we get a proper, proportionate response.

In high-density, high-rise developments such as Winterthur way in my constituency, where residential parking was limited by design, the threat of wheel-clamping is part of everyday life. Will the Minister ensure that the review places enough emphasis on not just deterring unwanted parking but protecting residents to ensure that they are not penalised unnecessarily as part of the process?

The hon. Lady rightly mentions the balance that must be struck: people who are clamped are not happy about it, but there is a clear need to protect landowners and residents from illegal parking. I would welcome her comments and her input into the suggestion of options for the feasibility study. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), will take up the very points she raises.

But are there not clear rules at the moment that forbid the absolutely outrageous behaviour of private companies that clamp people’s cars and charge exorbitant rates? Is it not the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Government to make that very plain to the public, who are getting fed up with such behaviour?

The law requires individual clampers to be licensed as members of the Security Industry Authority. They must charge a reasonable fee and have adequate signage in place. If any individual has any concerns, they have recourse to complain to the SIA. We hope that we will be able to tackle the concerns that hon. Members have raised in the ongoing study.

Surely that is not the case. Under present legislation, there is no control over the fees charged to unclamp a car. Extortionate fees are being charged, and nothing can currently be done about it. When will the Government introduce fresh legislation to put that right?

I am in danger of repeating myself. We recognise the points that hon. Members raise, but fees currently have to be reasonable. However, there is clearly concern, which is why we are undertaking a feasibility study to ensure that we get a balance between fees charged and protection for landowners. That is what we are going to do, and we will unveil plans in 2009.

Is not the way forward simply to restrict wheel-clamping to the police and to directly employed, accountable staff of local authorities?

My hon. Friend is welcome to put his views as part of the ongoing review, but there would be some issues of cost for landowners were they forced to use only a limited, narrow group of suppliers.


The Government are tackling cannabis use through a comprehensive package of measures as part of our national drug strategy, including prevention, education, early intervention, enforcement and treatment.

The Government’s message on cannabis use to young people is consistent and clear: cannabis is harmful and illegal, and should not be taken.

The Minister will be aware that there is alarming evidence of links between cannabis use and mental health problems for young people, particularly schizophrenia and psychosis. The Government’s “Talk to Frank” website states:

“There’s also increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems such as schizophrenia. If you’ve a history of mental health problems, depression or are experiencing paranoia, then taking this drug is not a good idea.”

Does the Minister accept that that could mislead young people into believing that, if they have no history of mental health problems, it is safe to take cannabis? Will he ensure that the advice is strengthened to make it clear?

I will look at it, but I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. He is right to point out that there is increasing concern throughout the House and the country about the link between stronger strains of cannabis and mental health. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced a review. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, is looking into it and will make its recommendations in late April, which the Home Secretary will consider.

My hon. Friend ought to be aware that reclassification is part of the issue. We ought to reclassify cannabis. Not only has it got stronger, but the results of long-term cannabis use have been shown. Let us not continue to talk; let us take action and reclassify it as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend is right to express his views with such passion. We are all concerned about the increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health issues. That is why we are statutorily required to consult the ACMD, which is what we are doing. We must wait for its advice, which we have asked it to give as quickly as possible. That advice will come at the end of April, and then my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider it.

Does the Minister accept that there is no evidence that increasing the classification to class B would reduce cannabis use, just as there was no evidence that reducing it to class C increased its use? Is it not crazy for him and his colleagues to purport to have evidence-based policy making if they are willing to reject the advice of the ACMD when it reports?

That is a better answer than I could probably make! In all seriousness, the point made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) demonstrates the need for the Government to have a statutory committee to consider the issues. The point that he makes has been made in public for the first time to the ACMD. That is a change that we brought about—different opinions have been put to the ACMD by scientific advisers, health professionals and all sorts of people, including his point about cannabis and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). The advisory council will judge the issues, come to a view and make a recommendation to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and she will consider it. That will be evidence-based policy.

Early this month, Dr. King, an adviser to the Home Office, told the advisory council that the use of home-grown cannabis in the UK has risen from 15 per cent. to 70 per cent. The Government have put most of their attack into preventing cannabis from coming into the UK, but will my hon. Friend tell me what he is going to do about the home-grown stuff, the use of which has so greatly increased?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Last year, the police undertook an enforcement campaign, Operation Keymer, which targeted so-called cannabis factories in residential areas. The drugs strategy that we are due to publish shortly will address that issue, saying that we need more of that type of enforcement activity. As well as issues about drugs and cannabis farms, we are concerned about the increasing evidence of a link between trafficked children and cannabis factories.

Inward Migration

In 2006, the net inflow of migrants to the UK was 191,000. For those who take an interest in the issue, as I know the hon. Gentleman does, that is about 15 per cent. lower than the year before and about 22 per cent. lower than in 2004.

My constituency has borne, and continues to bear, the brunt of the shambles that this Government call an immigration policy. Does the Minister think that my constituents will be reassured by a policy involving a belated points-based system but no upper limit on the number of people allowed to come to the United Kingdom?

I respect the passion with which the hon. Gentleman presents his argument, and I know that he recently held a debate in the House—I think it was last week—on the impact on public services that he sees locally. However, when I look at the proposals for caps on migration, I find it difficult to see how they would capture, touch or affect more than one in five of the newcomers who entered the UK in 2006. I believe that the points system will capture at least three in five, and I therefore think it is the right way forward for carefully controlling migration to the United Kingdom.

With regard to the administration of immigration law, will the Minister take whatever action is open to him to stop solicitors taking up asylum, leave to remain and nationality cases in which there is no need for legal representation—cases for which these greedy shysters grab money, and which they far too often bungle, so that they then have to come back to Members of Parliament? In addition to taking whatever action he can, will he ask the Law Society to investigate?

The position in my right hon. Friend’s constituency sounds a little bit like that in mine, but he has a far more distinguished record than I have in helping constituents with errors made by immigration lawyers who claim to be acting in their clients’ best interests. One of the biggest things that we can do to help resolve the problem this year is to make the law far simpler. That is why later this year we will introduce a Bill to simplify the immigration system and immigration law, some of which dates back pretty much to when I was born.

Is the Minister aware of last week’s OECD study, which showed that there are more British immigrants overseas than overseas immigrants in Britain? The implication of our experience of negative net immigration is that if immigrants returned to their country of origin, we would have more people here, not fewer.

I had not spotted the report to which the hon. Gentleman alludes, but he is absolutely right to say that sometimes when we hold debates about the number of people coming into the UK, we forget that, for example, in 2006, of the 529,000 people who came into the UK, 77,000 were British citizens.

My hon. Friend is aware of the growing concern among some sectors of the work force, particularly in the building trade, about maintaining rates of pay because of the large influx of EU migrants coming to work in the UK. There are no simple solutions to the problem, but does my hon. Friend think that we should implement measures such as those in the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, or allow multidisciplinary enforcement teams to go to workplaces such as building sites and make sure that people are properly qualified and are there legitimately? What can he do to implement such schemes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing those issues with me, both in the Chamber and outside. I said last year that I think that in the next couple of years we need to double the Border and Immigration Agency’s budget for enforcement, and we need to use a portion of those resources jointly with other parts of Government, so that where possible we come together with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and national minimum wage inspectorates to take a concerted approach to tackling abuse of workers from abroad, who are often vulnerable, and to stop the undercutting of British wages.

The Minister’s latest attempt to affect levels of migration was last week’s Green Paper. He will have noted that it united opinion across the spectrum—against it. The Guardian said that Ministers should have

“more…respect for the facts”.

The Independent described it as

“Clumsy steps in the wrong direction”.

The Sun said that it was “a gimmick”, and the Daily Mail said that it was “simply barmy”. I will spare the Minister the verdict of the Daily Express. Ministers were clearly trying to talk tough. To that end, page 34 of the paper says:

“Probationary citizens will not…be entitled to access mainstream benefits”.

Can the Minister name a single benefit that is available now that will not be available under the new regime?

I am grateful to hear the spectrum of opinion that the hon. Gentleman mentioned; it might be a good sign that we have got things right. If he studies the issue in detail, he will soon realise that we propose a five-year cap on temporary leave. That will mean that quite a few benefits based on national insurance contributions, such as incapacity benefit, the state-based pension and those NI-based payments that require more than five years of contributions, will no longer be available to those coming into the country on temporary leave. The message that we want to send is simple: if someone wants access to mainstream benefits, they should have to earn their citizenship in Britain. People should not be allowed to sit on temporary leave for indefinite periods.

Gangs/Gun Crime

I set up the Tackling Gangs action programme in September to undertake law enforcement and community engagement activity in areas of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool where guns and gangs are a particular concern. An action day in November resulted in 124 arrests and the seizure of 10 real and over 1,000 imitation firearms. Early indications from a survey of front-line staff show that they believe youths are less at risk now of involvement in gangs and gun crime than they were six months ago.

In thanking my right hon. Friend for her comprehensive answer, may I tell her that, particularly in my part of north-west London, the gang and gun culture is corrosive and massively dangerous and destructive, not just to the young children dragged into that murderous web but to the rest of us, who are literally caught in the crossfire? What lessons have been learned from the Tackling Guns action programme that can be applied to north-west London?

In the areas on which we focused, we have learned important lessons about how to identify gang members at an early stage, and how to use all the resources in the hands of the police, particularly things such as covert surveillance, to do so. We have learned more about how we can mediate and put in place services that prevent the escalation of violence between gangs. We have learned about how we can prevent young people from being drawn into gangs in the first place, and how to ensure that there are exit strategies to get them out at the end. Alongside that, we have taken action to cut off and reduce the supply of guns into the country. All of those are aspects of success of the Tackling Gangs action programme, and they can all be shared more widely at the end of the programme.

The Home Secretary said that 10 guns were confiscated. She will know that some estimates say that 70 guns a week on average are imported illegally into the United Kingdom, because of our porous borders. Years ago, the Home Affairs Committee recommended the introduction of an X-ray system at all ports of entry. Nothing has happened. When are we going to stop illegal importation of arms into the United Kingdom?

First, we have made sure that the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs increase the priority in resources focused on this issue. Secondly, specific operations have looked at some of the suggested routes in for illegal working and, thirdly, the new UK Border Agency can focus its combined resources on ensuring that we cut even further the import of illegal guns.

Antisocial Behaviour Orders

Three independent reports, including the Home Affairs Committee report of 2005, the Audit Commission report of May 2006 and the National Audit Office report of December 2006, have confirmed that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. We have also appointed Ipsos MORI to undertake a qualitative study investigating the circumstances in which different antisocial behaviour interventions are most effective. Antisocial behaviour orders are just one of these. The outcome is to be published some time in 2008.

Does the Minister not accept that antisocial behaviour orders, sadly, have not been the success that many Members of Parliament would wish them to be?

Oh no they have not. The National Audit Office, which the Minister cited, indicated a breach rate of 55 per cent., and the rate in Durham is as high as 74 per cent. When are we going to try to tackle the situation before young people start to become antisocial? Can we not give greater encouragement to the sea cadets, the Army cadets, the air cadets, the scouts, the guides and other uniformed organisations, to give young people a purpose in life at an early stage?

I am tempted to say that the National Audit Office said, “Oh yes they are”. In my constituency and in constituencies throughout the country, people want more, not fewer, antisocial behaviour orders because they see their effectiveness in dealing with antisocial behaviour. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point when he asks whether we have to rely solely on antisocial behaviour orders. Of course we do not. Those are a consequence for people who act in an antisocial way, but it is an important part of policy to try and prevent that in the first place, including through parents, families and the uniformed organisations of the sort that he mentioned.

I welcome the approach taken by the Minister, and emphasise that the experience in my constituency and in the black country is rather different from that outlined by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). The opinion locally is that if we are to combat crime, there must be a high level of community involvement. Antisocial behaviour orders not only provide a fast-track method of dealing with individuals, but give reassurance and incentives to local communities to get involved in anti-crime initiatives. Will my hon. Friend ensure that that element is reinforced at local level in community policing?

My hon. Friend makes a thoughtful contribution. As he says, antisocial behaviour orders are one part of the answer when dealing with antisocial behaviour, but alongside that there need to be other initiatives not just by the police, but by the local authority, schools and all the other agencies working together to tackle problems. As part of that, it is important to involve young people, as my hon. Friend said. When we talk about antisocial behaviour, it is incumbent on us to remember that the vast majority of young people in this country are decent, hard-working and growing up in difficult times. They want something done about the small minority who are a problem as much as the rest of us do.

The ASBO unit at north Northamptonshire police is overwhelmed with work because it is far from straightforward to persuade magistrates to issue an antisocial behaviour order. It is meant to be a weapon of last resort. What speedy and effective penalties are in place to ensure that parents are held responsible for their children’s behaviour?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the fact that, as I said, antisocial behaviour orders are one part of the solution, but he is right to point out that alongside that we hear the cry, “What are parents, schools and families doing?” Other measures are available, such as acceptable behaviour contracts. Parental contracts are also available to the courts to ensure that the minority of parents who refuse to take responsibility for their children are encouraged to do so. Where parents refuse to do so, surely being encouraged to do the right thing and look after their own children is part of the solution as well.

What steps can my hon. Friend take to encourage local authorities that have consistently failed to use antisocial behaviour orders against antisocial tenants to do so, instead of leaving people at the mercy of awful tenants next door to them? Can we stop local authorities constantly offering mediation, which puts the victim on the same level as the perpetrator, and encourage them to tackle those who make decent people’s lives a misery?

I know that my hon. Friend has been working hard in her local area, and that awful and tragic events have recently taken place there. She is right to point out that we need to ensure that existing laws are enforced and acted on. That is why we recently published a document to send out to local authorities and to the police reminding them of the powers that are available. May I add a point that I made to my hon. Friend—whether it is antisocial behaviour, kids on the street or antisocial tenants as she described, it is important that they do not merely receive warning after warning, and that sooner or later there is a consequence for their action. If that means tough action with respect to antisocial tenants, that is what should be used.

Terrorism Legislation

9. What plans she has to review legislation concerning the offence of possessing articles for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism. (188121)

All counter-terrorism legislation, including the offence of possession for terrorist purposes under section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000, is subject to regular review. In the light of the Court of Appeal judgment on 13 February in the case of Zafar and others, we have considered whether any change to the legislation is needed. We have concluded that no change is required.

In the light of that court case and the ever-growing number of young men from Lancashire being radicalised into extreme forms of Islam, does the Minister recognise that the 2000 Act has not stemmed the flow of such material? Will he consider introducing an offence of possessing propaganda for the purpose of recruitment or radicalisation, to go further than the current Act?

Those points are perfectly reasonable, but as I have said, we have reviewed the 2000 Act, not least in the light of what is available in the Terrorism Act 2006. We think that most of the areas are covered at the moment. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Director of Public Prosecutions has said that the specific judgment on section 57 was

“specific to the facts of the case”

and was therefore unlikely significantly to affect existing convictions or forthcoming prosecutions. He subsequently wrote a letter to The Times, published on Saturday 16 February, in which he stated:

“We do not expect any significant read across, either to existing convictions or to forthcoming trials, which do not share the specific facts of this case. Far from ‘terror law’ being ‘in tatters’,”—

as some would have it—

“the Terrorism Act 2006 appears to deal with any perceived difficulty on these facts.”

Topical Questions

Effective and visible neighbourhood policing for local communities is a key element in the fight against crime. From April, neighbourhood policing teams will be working in every area of England and Wales and I want everyone to have the opportunity to shape their team’s priorities for fighting crime in their area.

Today I am announcing, with the police, the launch of the Name in Every Neighbourhood campaign. Over the next few weeks, every household will hear from, be able to contact and be able to influence their local team. A new national neighbourhood policing website will let the public find the names and numbers of their local team, and the use of contracts between the police and the public will help to deliver this important change. I congratulate police forces across the country on helping to make neighbourhood policing a reality.

There is growing concern in Scotland about the operation of the Counter-Terrorism Bill—in particular, clause 27, which would allow offences committed in Scotland to be tried in England, and, theoretically, vice versa. Does the Secretary of State understand that that is fraught with difficulty? Will she assure me that if the provision goes on to the statute book, it will operate only after the agreement with the Lord Advocate of very clear guidelines for its operation?

If there are linked attacks in, for example, London and Scotland, it is important that it should be possible, through the proposals that we are putting forward in clause 27, for both those linked cases to be prosecuted in one place. That is what the universal jurisdiction that we are proposing would enable us to do. When countering terrorism, it makes sense for us to be able to prosecute in the place where the investigation takes place, wherever that is.

T2. Today, the Addaction report has said that the cost of illegal drug use has been £110 million in the past 10 years and that just 10 per cent. of total spending is going on drug treatment. This week, the Government are set to unveil their strategy on drug treatment. Will my right hon. Friend consider how we can work with the police and the north Staffordshire safer communities partnership? Furthermore, will she meet Professor Crome of the Edward Myers centre, to see how we can make sure that successful police operations, such as the Nemesis operation, get more and more people into drug treatment? (188089)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Operation Nemesis in Stoke was fantastically successful and led, I believe, to a 20 per cent. reduction in crime. If we are to bear down on and reduce crime, getting drug-misusing offenders into treatment is absolutely essential. The drugs intervention programme that we have introduced is one part of that, and my hon. Friend will be aware how that operates. I understand that there are one or two difficulties in her local area with commissioning of services. Perhaps the best way of taking that problem forward is for us to discuss it, and I will be happy to do that if she wishes.

The announcement made today by the Home Secretary, and earlier outside this House by the Prime Minister, of a new emphasis on neighbourhood policing is very welcome. However, what assurances can the Home Secretary give that the phone service will not be hit by 101-style budget restraints, that local residents will have access to ward-level crime and conviction data enabling them to be knowledgeable in holding local teams to account, and that more police, not fewer, will be available for a visible presence on the beat?

First, on local crime information, we have committed to ensuring that by July this year crime information is available for local people on the basis of their areas. Secondly, we have been clear, not only with the additional numbers of police officers but with the police community support officers who are playing such an important role in neighbourhood policing, that those teams need to be visible and accessible. The success that we have already seen in some areas of this country in rolling out neighbourhood policing shows us the potential that there will be when it is everywhere from April.

T3. My right hon. Friend is well aware that the Government are committed to police community support officers. Does she share my concerns that there are seven absent or vacant posts for PCSOs in Chorley, leaving the Clayton area very vulnerable to crime, as that is the worst community support officer reduction that has taken place so far? Will she speak to the chief constable to seek to ensure that those vacancies do not remain open? (188090)

It is of course the responsibility of chief constables to ensure that they are making the best use of the resources that they have in relation to police officers and to police community support officers, but given that eight years ago there were no police community support officers and now there are 16,000, I hope that those vacancies will not remain empty for long.

Later this week, the European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule on whose DNA is to be permitted to remain on the United Kingdom’s database. Does the Home Secretary agree that decisions of this kind should be made not by unelected foreign judges, however distinguished, but by elected Members of this Parliament? Regardless of the merits of the argument on that particular question, what representations is she making to the court to increase what it calls its margin of appreciation so that fewer decisions of this kind are made in Strasbourg and more in this House?

The DNA database has been a fantastic crime-solving tool and is something that we fully support. It would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on the Government’s defence in the case of S and Marper, which is going to court on Wednesday. We will await the outcome of that and take action as necessary, but our position is very firmly that the DNA database is valuable and we want to retain it.

T4. May I tell the Home Secretary that there is great concern in Cleveland about how the funding for Cleveland police is allocated? Only recently, Cleveland’s chief constable, Sean Price, said:“There is a basic flaw in the way we are treated in terms of funding allocation. Cleveland is grouped with metropolitan forces when performance is measured yet we are” also “classed as a shire force”. Will the Home Secretary look at how the funding is allocated so that we get fair funding? (188091)

I met very recently the chief constable, Sean Price, and the chair of the police authority, David McLuckie, to talk about this and a range of other matters. I have to say two things. First, Durham is not unique in having an urban core and a rural surround and the challenge of both those aspects of policing. Secondly, colleagues on both sides of the House are rather impatient that we get to the formula agreed upon three years ago rather than reopening a new one. However, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Cleveland if they want to discuss further, outwith the current budget round, the specifics of the formula and how it relates to Cleveland.

T5. I welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on neighbourhood policing, and in particular, the creation of the new website. Would she confirm that my constituents will be able to access details about their neighbourhood policing teams at the click of a button? Will she join me in congratulating the Wiltshire constabulary on creating 23 neighbourhood policing teams, covering the whole of my constituency, and indeed the whole of Swindon? (188092)

Yes, I can confirm that from next month, the website will ensure that people can know the names and telephone numbers of teams who will be working day in, day out with them in their neighbourhoods. Wiltshire constabulary deserves congratulations for the way in which it has responded to the challenge of ensuring that we have visible, responsive policing in every neighbourhood in this country.

In the last two years, the number of killings with a knife has jumped by 18 per cent. Can the Home Secretary tell the House why, in 2005, she voted against increasing the maximum sentence for knife possession to five years?

We, of course, have implemented an increase in the maximum knife sentence from two years to four years. Alongside that, as I announced last week, we are undertaking a range of actions to ensure that we are able to cut knife crime, particularly among young people where—I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on this—it is a particular concern.

The right hon. Lady says that she has implemented the law, but of the more than 6,000 convicted of carrying a blade in a public place in 2006, just two got the maximum sentence. Does she accept that a one in 3,000 chance of punishment deters no one?

Serious punishment is obviously an important part of countering knife crime, which is why we will change the situation so that there will be a presumption of prosecution for those who are caught carrying knives. Secondly, we will make it more likely that those carrying a knife are caught, by investing in the opportunity for police to use search wands and portable arches. Alongside that, through the extra investment into the roll-out of programmes such as the Be Safe project, which takes place in schools and teaches young people about the implication of carrying knives, we will try to prevent young people from even thinking about carrying knives on the street in the first place.

T6. Security at our airports is important to us all, particularly those of us who fly to be here. Once again, today, a bunch of lunatics managed to get on to a plane and off it, and then climbed up on top of it to drape a sign from its tail. That could have been someone with explosives. The shuttle from Glasgow had just arrived, and I walked by the plane at the time. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be an investigation into today’s debacle at Heathrow airport? (188093)

Yes. This is a country in which we believe in the right to protest, but protesting in a way that could put in danger, and certainly inconveniences, those travelling on our airlines is clearly irresponsible.

T7. Both the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary, in response to recent oral questions from myself, have refused to say how many MPs have been bugged. Will the Home Secretary say how many MPs have had their conversations intercepted over the last 10 years? If she fails to do so, will there not be an assumption that there is a Government cover-up? (188094)

My constituency has again been blighted by the establishment of a so-called cannabis café, to the great annoyance of local residents. It acts as a magnet for all sorts of low life coming into Lancing. Despite the best endeavours of the police, who have raided the place five times, no prosecution has been brought to close it down. It is heavily fortified, well beyond what is required for a legitimate café, and a constantly fired furnace is used to burn the evidence the minute any police come in. I have written to the Home Secretary, but can she offer any help so that places such as this, which are clearly trading illegally and are fortified well beyond their needs, can be closed down, as local residents want?

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to speak to me straight after questions, I shall meet him to discuss that quite deplorable situation. I have not heard of anything quite as bad as that with respect to cannabis cafés. We need to ensure that we nip the situation in the bud, so that people see the serious consequences of such practice, and so that it does not spread anywhere else in the country. I will be pleased to hear the details because I have not heard of anything like that anywhere else in the country.

In our country there are organisations that promote bad behaviour and drug abuse, such as the Bullingdon dining club at Oxford, which is famous for hard drinking, bad behaviour and drug abuse and is also responsible for the decline and fall of many of its members. Will the Home Secretary say whether there is any indication over a 20-year period that the use of cannabis in clubs like the Bullingdon dining club is any higher or lower or about the same as it was when the Leader of the Opposition was an active member of that club in 1988?

What I can say to my hon. Friend is that cannabis use—indeed, all drug use—is lower now than it was in 1997. Cannabis use is lower among young people. I agree with him that we need to find positive role models for young people to encourage them to live their lives as we would hope that they would.

A young boy in my constituency who spat at his sister recently spent the night in the Essex police cells and may end up with a record. This unpleasant but not extraordinary incident consumed a massive amount of police time and resource. When can we get back to dealing with those things through parents, families and common sense, thus saving police time?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is always difficult in this place to comment on the details of individual cases. It is precisely in order to ensure that police forces across the country can concentrate on the things that matter to local people that we will ensure first that there is a neighbourhood policing team in every area from April and secondly, as part of the new public service agreements that we will introduce from April, that there will be more flexibility for local forces to concentrate on local priorities.

The Home Secretary said in response to an earlier question that she wants to roll out neighbourhood watch schemes in every neighbourhood. That will not happen if North Yorkshire gets a similar police funding settlement to the constituency of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar). Will she please review the police funding for the forthcoming financial year and introduce rurality and sparsity factors to the way in which the funding is allocated?

As I suggested in an earlier answer, we are still seeking to implement the formula agreed some two or three years ago. The hon. Lady may want to get together with other MPs and look specifically at the rural dimension and at restoring the rural policing element of the old formula, which will clearly be at the cost of something else—I am sure that her urban colleagues would have something to say about that. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and a cross-party group of MPs to discuss the matter further. If we do not have the formula right as regards the rural dimension and rural policing resources, I am happy to talk about it.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You were good enough to inform Members that a review of Members’ allowances was to take place. As I understand it, you informed us that there should be a debate in July in connection with the Baker review on salaries and that the report on expenses and allowances should be ready for the autumn. As I say, we appreciate your keeping us informed. May I put it to you, Sir, in view of the public concern over the whole issue and the rather misleading impression that we are all on the make at public expense that, if it is in any way possible, the review should have greater urgency and should not wait until the autumn? I put it to you, too, that the matter is causing damage to the reputation of the House. The sooner we can resolve it, the better.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that the House unanimously—including him—agreed to put the matter to the Members Estimate Committee, which I chair. The House has charged me with a responsibility and I will carry out that duty until the House decides otherwise. That is a good thing for the reputation of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given the comments of the chief inspector of prisons at the weekend about the crisis into which the system has been plunged, could you tell me how I, in my relative naivety, can persuade the Government that the matter calls for an urgent statement, especially given that the Secretary of State for Justice is telling magistrates not to put people in prison?

The hon. Gentleman should table questions on those issues. If he wishes, he could apply for an Adjournment debate. Those are ways in which he can help matters.

Business of the House (Lisbon Treaty) (No. 5)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 January],

That the Order of 28th January be further amended as follows: in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 6, in the third column:

(a) for ‘4½ hours’ substitute ‘4 hours’, and

(b) for ‘1½ hours’ substitute ‘2 hours’. —[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

Question agreed to.

Treaty of Lisbon (No. 6)

[6th Allotted Day]

I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

I beg to move,

That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning international development.

The challenge of eliminating global poverty is one of the greatest that faces our generation. Succeeding will require the concerted efforts of Governments in the developed and developing world, the private sector, civil society, individual citizens and the European Union.

The Lisbon treaty gives the European Union an opportunity to move on from years of debating the reform of its institutions to looking out on to the world and dealing with the issues that matter to the people of Europe. Not only in this Chamber is tackling global poverty much debated. In 2005, nearly 250,000 people took to the streets of Edinburgh to call on world leaders to help make poverty history. On one October day last year, more than 1 million Europeans stood up and spoke out against global poverty.

The Lisbon treaty will strengthen the European Union’s development assistance by ensuring that development aid is used to reduce poverty, humanitarian aid is allocated on the basis of need and non-aid policies take account of development objectives.

The Secretary of State speaks of giving aid to less developed countries. Given that the European Union has not been able to sign off its accounts for many years, what confidence can the public have that the European Union can monitor the funds given to other countries to ensure that they go to the people who genuinely need them rather than into dictators’ pockets?

I cite the example of the European development fund, the accounts of which have been signed off for several years. There was a qualified positive statement in 2006, but the qualifications were linked to the need to strengthen control in delegations. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the EDF is an example that I hope other elements of the European Union budget will follow.

I am sure that we are all glad that any account can be signed off in the European institutions. However, other European Union trade policies specifically prohibit the sort of development that makes the difference between poverty and wealth in underdeveloped countries. Is my right hon. Friend happy for us to hand over so many international development powers to those whose interpretation of representation is frequently a large house in a small country?

I know of my hon. Friend’s long interest in European matters, but I fear that she labours under a misapprehension in suggesting that significant development policy powers are being handed over as a consequence of the Lisbon treaty. It has been established for many years that the European Union and, in the case that we are considering, the United Kingdom Government have a role to play in development assistance. Rather than perceiving EU development policies as a barrier to achieving the UK’s objectives in development, we should view them as a mechanism whereby our objectives can be advanced.

On the European development fund, does the Secretary of State agree that the delays between decision and distribution are unacceptable and have a front-line impact on the people who suffer most? Is not it time to bring more of the money from Europe back to the Department so that we can get funding to people on the ground far quicker?

The first person whom the hon. Gentleman would need to convince of that policy is the leader of his own party, who has argued that global poverty is one of the three key challenges that the European Union should accept. Rather than disputing the Government’s position on the Floor of the House, the hon. Gentleman might want to discuss the matter in the first instance in the corridors of the Conservative party.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree about the importance of trade policy in international development. Does he therefore regret that the Lisbon treaty, rather than reforming trade policy, reinforces the fact that trade policy is set in the secret and entirely unaccountable article 133 committee?

If I recollect, the 133 committee has existed since the treaty of Rome. It is not a decision-making body; it is a discussion body. As a former Minister with responsibility for trade, I know that matters come to Trade Ministers or other Ministers in the Council of Ministers for decision. I would respectfully say to the hon. Gentleman that given the weight in international affairs of countries such as China—we had the UK-China summit in recent weeks—it is hard to advocate the case for our being more effective in securing our trade objectives as a country of 60 million if we withdrew from a European Union of 27 member states. If, for example, he is honestly suggesting that we would be more effective in advancing the case of the Doha development round, which I know many Conservative Members support, if we spoke as a single country of 60 million, rather than as part of a European Union of 27 member states, perhaps the best place to start would be with those on his own Front Bench.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for being so generous in giving way. Last week we heard the case for isolationism; now we are hearing the case for protectionism. I hope that he will be robust in telling the Tories that we are no longer in the 18th century.

I am not sure that my right hon. Friend is being fair—perhaps we should say the 19th century, because I am told that there are some modernisers on the Conservative Front Bench these days, although the case is as yet unproven.

However, my right hon. Friend’s point is well taken, and it is this. One reason we are so keen, working with the European Commission, to support the Doha development round is that if it were true to the promises made back in 2001, its conclusion would not simply serve the interests of the developing world, but be one in the eye for the protectionists and the isolationists. There are too many isolationists, both in Europe and on the Front and Back Benches in other parts of the House. Many of us recognise that in a world of such interdependence, it is through the collective strength of the European Union that we can tackle many of the biggest changes. Ironically, that is what the Leader of the Opposition now asserts, when he says that the European Union should be allowed to take a lead on climate change or global poverty. However, as we have heard in only the first few minutes of this debate, he has got some convincing to do of his own Back Benchers.

The European Scrutiny Committee received a report on EU development last year, in which one of the Secretary of State’s predecessors commented that

“one cannot easily determine what goals have been set and what progress has been made in achieving these”.

Does the Secretary of State not think that it might have been better had the treaty concentrated on reforming the acknowledged deficiencies in the existing programme, rather than giving more powers and money to the European development programme?

Whether it has been the work of Neil Kinnock or Chris Patten, there have been significant reforms in recent years. The treaty of course sets the legal framework, but there is a range of administrative structures that sit below the legal framework which are matters of ongoing consideration and deliberation. I began my remarks by reflecting back to 2005. Most of us who felt pride in seeing the G8 commit to its goals then, not least the significant uplift in aid to Africa, recognised that the European Union set the pace. If one considers that or the consensus on development—again, achieved during the British presidency—it is fair to say that real progress has been made.

I fear that I will not be able to convince those on my own side as effectively in the time remaining, but I have their best interests at heart.

Strengthening the development efforts of the European Union is a matter of direct concern to many of the world’s poorest people. Collectively, Europe is the world’s largest aid donor. In 2006, members of the European Union together provided £32 billion of aid, which accounted for more than half of total global development assistance. As the world’s largest single market, Europe is the most significant trading partner for developing countries and provides leadership on issues of great importance to them, including climate change, on which Europe lobbied in support of developing countries at the Bali conference and on which it set unilateral targets for greenhouse gases and established the world’s first international carbon trading system.

The Lisbon treaty provides the next step in the evolution of the European Union’s efforts to reduce poverty. During the cold war, the European Commission, along with other donor countries, too often provided politically motivated aid. However, in the late 1990s and the early years of this decade, important reforms were made to both EC and UK aid. Here, this Government established the Department for International Development in 1997, untied aid in 2001, and introduced the International Development Act in 2002, establishing poverty eradication at the heart of the UK’s aid efforts.

The Secretary of State is pushing at an open door when it comes to convincing many of us that co-operating with the European Union on this matter is a sensible approach. Will he, however, address the points on which there was serious disagreement between the Government and the EU during the negotiations on the treaty? For example, many of us would see the establishment of DFID as one of the achievements of this Government but, with the treaty, international development will be subsumed under, and answerable to, the external action policy. In other words, foreign policy will come first, and international development will come second. References to the most disadvantaged—that is, the pro-poor policy—will be removed by the treaty, and many of us are worried that this will result in a foreign policy that is much more geared towards middle-income countries, in contrast to the pro-poor policy that has been commendably pursued by DFID since the Doha round and the establishment of the millennium development goals.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious and constructive point. I am grateful to him for acknowledging the success of the Department for International Development in recent years. He is right to recognise that the principles of the Union’s external action are set out in article 24 of the Lisbon treaty, which, for the sake of clarity, I will read to the House. It refers to

“democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.”

In the light of that definitive list of principles informing the external action of the Union, I would ask the hon. Gentleman, with the greatest of respect, to suggest which of them would contradict the best development policy as developed by the Department for International Development in recent years. Given the specificity of poverty reduction being identified for the first time, I would suggest that those principles provide a strong foundation for one of the key areas on which I hope there is common ground across the House.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving me the opportunity to intervene again. One could have made exactly that point when the Overseas Development Administration was part of the Foreign Office. Those of us who were junior Ministers in the Foreign Office at the time will remember that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs controlled the international development budget. Those budget and policy arrangements were very different from the kind of creative tension that now exists in the Cabinet between the Secretary of State for International Development and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Under the Lisbon treaty, international development will be put under foreign affairs, and my concern—and that of many non-governmental organisations—is that that will skew the way in which international development is seen in the European Union, particularly in regard to supporting middle-income countries in northern Africa and elsewhere.

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have to say that I am not convinced by his case. Again, let me read directly from the treaty, this time from article 161. It states:

“Union development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty. The Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries.”

I would argue that the explicit reference to the eradication of poverty—in the immediate term, the primary objective of the reduction of poverty, and in the longer term, its eradication—itself provides the reassurance that the hon. Gentleman is seeking, in terms of having confidence as to the basis on which aid is going to be spent.

I will make a little more progress, then I will happily give way.

As I have said, important reforms of the European Union were made in the late 1990s and the early years of this decade. Brussels, the Kinnock reforms of the European Commission, and Chris Patten’s work on reforming the European Council’s external assistance have helped to make aid better targeted and more effective than it was in the past. Indeed, the improvements in EC aid have been recognised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s development assistance committee and by the House of Lords European Union Committee. In a 2004 report, the latter noted that the European Commission had made significant improvements in aid management and organisational effectiveness, and, as I have said, in 2005 the United Kingdom, as holder of the European Union presidency, was instrumental in designing the European consensus on development. The consensus defined a common European approach to development based on the pursuit of the millennium development goals, and clarified how the Commission works within that common approach.

Some Members may believe that the UK’s contribution to aid through the EC would be better spent through our own bilateral channels—indeed, that has already been said today—but I believe that such a retreat from our European aid commitments would act against the best interests of the world’s poorest people. By providing a proportion of our aid through the European Commission, we encourage other member states to raise the level of their commitment. The focus on development and Africa during the UK’s presidency of the G8 in 2005 unquestionably galvanised European support for the breakthrough commitments by the 15 richest member states to spend 0.7 per cent. of national income on development by 2015. I simply do not believe that that commitment would have been achieved had this not been an issue on which we work together in Europe.

One of the Department’s successes has been in focusing on lower-income countries, on which 81 per cent. of its money is now being spent, while the comparable figure in Europe is 32 per cent. Does the Secretary of State fear that some of the Department’s excellent focus will be diluted by the treaty?

I do not recognise the percentage given by the hon. Gentleman. Certainly European support continues to be provided in the European neighbourhood, not least as a result of the changes that have taken place since the accession of the A10, but I understand that in the European development fund, which has already been mentioned, the figure is closer to 90 per cent. I do not think that any embarrassment should be felt about the fact that the European Union, whether it is working in the Balkans or in north Africa, has a considerable interest in ensuring that there is greater stability and prosperity on the EU borders. That in itself has merit and is important work.

Given that the European Union is such a large donor, disbursing about $10 billion of aid in 2006, does it not make more sense to get the EU aid policies right by staying in there? Does the treaty not help us by focusing on poverty alleviation?

I could not agree more. I think that to act otherwise would genuinely constitute a retreat, not just in terms of Britain’s national interests—I see the European Union as a means by which we can effect change on a broader canvas and more globally—but in doing a disservice to the world’s poor. They need not just a successful bilateral aid programme from the United Kingdom, but the delivery of effective aid over a number of years from major players in the European Union. That is the intention behind the work in which we engage regularly with other development Ministers.

May I take up my right hon. Friend’s point about aid effectiveness? He will be aware of today’s coverage of the impact of higher food prices on the provision of humanitarian aid, especially food aid. How does he expect not just the UK but the EU, with its big responsibility for agricultural food production, to be able to deliver food aid to the neediest people?

I sense that my hon. Friend is referring to Josette Sheeran, the director of the World Food Programme, who spoke on the radio this morning. I have had an opportunity to speak to her within the last month, when we discussed the issue of globally rising food prices. She said then, and repeated today, that she considers the World Food Programme’s stocks to be cause for concern.

I think that we shall have opportunities to work with ECHO, the European Humanitarian Aid Office, but many of us in the development community are turning our minds to the issue. For a number of years there have been relatively low commodity prices, including relatively low food prices, but given that the global population was 2 billion back in 1927 and will be 8 billion by 2027, continuing to provide decent and affordable food will pose a challenge to the international community.

The Secretary of State has made a case for the division of aid between expenditure through the European Union and direct expenditure. Can he confirm that the proportion of British aid being spent through the EU is approximately 40 per cent., and, whatever the proportion, is it Government policy for it to be maintained in the future?

I fear that I am not able to offer the hon. Gentleman a precise figure or recollection, but I will ask a ministerial colleague to confirm the figures. However, I do not believe the proportion to be anywhere near as high as 40 per cent. My recollection is that the United Kingdom contributes approximately £1 billion through a combination of European development fund and general European contribution, but for the sake of providing clarity to the House I will ensure that the specific figures are offered later.

On our policy moving forward, there are certain obligatory payments in terms of the European budget, but we have been strong supporters of the European development fund, which of course exists outside the mainstream European budget, because we have been convinced as a result of both its focus on low-income countries and the effective influence we have been able to wield over it, that it provides a useful tool in our armoury for influencing other European countries to deliver aid effectively.

On the subject of delivering aid effectively, does the Secretary of State welcome, as I do, article 210 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which appears on page 135 of the consolidated text of the EU treaties? Paragraph 1 states:

“In order to promote the complementarity and efficiency of their action, the Union and the Member States shall coordinate their policies on development cooperation and shall consult each other on their aid programmes, including in international organisations and during international conferences. They may undertake joint action. Member States shall contribute if necessary to the implementation of Union aid programmes.”

That kind of co-ordination should, one hopes, do away with overlapping aid programmes, which we have sometimes seen in the past. In that sense, it is a great step forward.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I was in Sierra Leone on Saturday, and when travelling through Freetown one sees literally dozens of signs representing different aid programmes that over time have worked in the country. As I said in a speech to a broad cross-section of Government Ministers and civil society, I hope that the next time I visit Sierra Leone I will see fewer signs and more co-ordination. It seems to me a basic aspect of best development practice that there is a great interest in all of us securing effective co-ordination between donors.

Beyond showing the level of Europe’s dedication to addressing global poverty, providing aid through the European Commission is beneficial in a number of practical ways. The EC works in developing countries where the UK does not. Because the EU represents 27 member states, we are stronger when we speak with one voice—whether on trade policy or other matters. Also, the EU collectively takes a leading role in many aid areas, including humanitarian assistance.

Today, the European Union plays a major role in tackling poverty.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that EU aid not only benefits people in Africa and Asia, but has played a vital role in places such as Kosovo? Does he not also agree that the NATO intervention in Kosovo has helped that country move towards a fairer, more democratic society, and that it is not an unpardonable folly, as it has been characterised by the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)?

I remember vociferously disagreeing with the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan back in the happy days of May 1999, and I continue to disagree with him not only on the conduct of the Scottish National party’s policy, but on the policy that he advocated in relation to Kosovo. When Minister for Europe, I had the opportunity to visit Kosovo on a couple of occasions, and it is clear to me that it makes the case for so-called “soft power” on behalf of the European Union. We have a direct national interest in ensuring a degree of stability and prosperity in the Balkans. I defy any Member of any party to explain how we could have been as effective in influencing the western Balkans without the prospect of stabilisation in the first place, and the eventual prospect of a European future for many of those countries.

I shall make a little progress before giving way.

I do not particularly mind whether the principal magnet for those countries moving towards democratic standards and norms was the prospect of joining the world’s largest single market and thereby securing prosperity, or the fact that the EU is now a beacon of modernity, because the engagement of the EU in countries such as Bosnia and Kosovo will be benign in years to come, as it represents an effective deployment of soft power.

I strongly agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that last point, as I hope to make clear later if I am called to speak. However, I wish to address now a point on which we did not agree a few weeks ago. I raised with the right hon. Gentleman the question of the linkage between aid policy and foreign policy and diplomacy. He ripped into me—[Interruption.] Yes, he did—and in a very unkind way, I thought. He reverted to discussing the “aid for trade” link that there used to be in this country, although that was not the issue I had raised. Surely he understands that the EU links aid with trade, as well as with foreign policy. He thinks that is the wrong thing for this country to do, so why should we put so much money into an EU aid policy that makes those linkages?

It says something about the hon. Gentleman’s standing that in response to his suggestion that I had ripped into him, I said that I hoped I had not done so—although the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), said that he hoped that I had. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if any discourtesy was extended to him in my earlier answer. His substantive point is important. He wants to know whether we can be sure that aid policies, be they the UK’s or the EU’s, have a firm foundation of poverty reduction. The insertion into the treaty of specific language on poverty reduction should give him, and hon. Members on both sides of the House, the assurance that they seek.

Surely it is incredibly important to have an EU perspective, so that we can influence the approach of other groups, agencies and partners. I am thinking in particular of other big aid donor countries, such as the United States. Surely a united European position helps us to influence what countries such as the United States do.

The point is well taken, although I would draw the House’s attention not to the example of the United States but to that of the new EU member states. When I was Minister for Europe, I had the opportunity to visit a number of the so-called A10 countries. Partly because of their lack of historical engagement in Africa, for example—I say this with the greatest respect to them—they would not have naturally alighted on development assistance as a measure of their commitment to modern global society, but for a collective and individual judgment that supporting international development was part of being a good European. Notwithstanding the cultural differences across the EU’s 27 members, that is why we are all collectively strengthened by working together on an issue such as international development. We bring the collective strength not of one country but of 27 countries to tasks such as tackling global poverty, which are big enough for us all and demand the engagement of us all.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in areas of conflict, and particularly in fragile states, the division between defence, security and development becomes increasingly blurred and the need to interlink those policies becomes more pressing? The European Union has a specific advantage in that role, because it can co-ordinate the approach of 27 different member states, as opposed to states acting separately.

I agree with my hon. Friend. In July, I had the opportunity to visit El Fasher in northern Darfur, where I saw the work being done by, among others, the European Commission. In Bangladesh, the Cyclone Sidr effects were mitigated by support provided by the European Union. Thus in fragile or conflict-affected states the European Union has a role to play. It can often complement the work being done by member states.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most important and decisive things the European Union can do to assist the developing world and create that level playing field is to reform the common agricultural policy? In 2005 Tony Blair said that he wanted not only to reform the CAP but to abolish it. What progress has been made towards that laudable aim, and how does this treaty help?

There will be a fundamental review of the European Union’s budget, and I should also mention the so-called CAP health check. On the basis of my experience as Minister for Europe, when I was party to the previous series of negotiations on the European Union budget, I respectfully suggest that if the hon. Gentleman is serious about having an impact on that budget, the last thing he would wish to do would be to rip Scotland out of the United Kingdom, in which we are one of the decisive and major players in the European Union, and render himself less relevant to the central discussions about the CAP or the EU budget.

As I suggested, European aid is helping to make a difference in the fight against poverty. In India, the Commission has helped to construct more than 77,000 school buildings and reduce the number of children out of school from 25 million to 14 million in just five years. Humanitarian principles will for the first time be enshrined in EU law, ensuring that humanitarian aid is allocated purely on the basis of need, without consideration of the recipient’s origins or beliefs. This is aid that really matters, because the EU is the world’s leading humanitarian aid donor, helping some 18 million people in more than 60 countries every year. Indeed, last July when I visited northern Darfur I saw the kind of support being provided for people by the European Commission.

Thirdly, the Lisbon treaty will improve coherence across all the EU’s external actions—the source of some discussion already—ensuring that development objectives are taken into account in policies likely to affect developing countries. Such reform is as important as the changes to European aid, for although aid assistance will be necessary to tackle poverty in many developing countries, it will not be sufficient. Eliminating global poverty will require, beyond aid, the establishment of a global environment that allows developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty. The European Union can play an important role in creating such a global environment, through helping countries to manage the risks of conflict and climate change and to maximise the opportunities of international trade.

Economic growth is the surest path out of poverty, and trade is crucial to growth, as has been borne out by experience within the European Union.

I have been generous with the House, so I shall make a little progress.

By 2006, the single market had boosted gross domestic product by an average of £360 for every person in the EU. Nearly 60 per cent. of the UK’s trade is with other EU member states, and 3 million British jobs are linked to the export of UK goods and services to the EU. As well as being our most important market, the EU is of course the major trading partner for many developing countries and a major player in international trade negotiations.

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s generosity in giving way. Today is the start of Fairtrade fortnight. The right hon. Gentleman rightly says that trade is in many ways more important than aid for developing countries, so what steps are our Government taking to try to remove some of the protectionism within Europe, which prevents many developing countries from making fair trade agreements with the UK and our EU partners?

One of the specific steps we are taking is to increase our support for Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International—an international confederation that works beyond the boundaries of the UK. As the hon. Lady knows, the Fairtrade Foundation supports the growth of fair trade and ethical products in the UK, but the labelling organisation has a wider international mandate. That support is important and reflective of our international approach. I am proud to say that the UK has the most developed fair trade and ethical market anywhere. Our challenge is both to broaden and deepen the range of fair trade products purchased in UK shops and to support international efforts to make sure that fair trade products are available not just in the UK but elsewhere.

As I was saying, the UK has been working to keep the EU’s focus on fulfilling the promise of the Doha development round. As a result of the EU’s economic partnership agreements, 35 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have secured duty and quota-free access to EU markets. We now need a clear road map from the European Commission setting out how EPAs can be fully implemented to serve best the interests of the poor.

The Secretary of State knows that, in common with several of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches, I take a considerable interest in third-world matters. He has just referred to economic partnership agreements. Does he agree that there are severe criticisms from non-governmental organisations of how EPAs work in practice? There is strong concern about some aspects of climate change policy, as applied by the EU in relation to biodiesel. There is also the problem of corruption and related issues and the failure of the Court of Auditors, not to mention the question of the CAP. Is the right hon. Gentleman not giving us rather a rosy picture of what the EU can achieve?

I think the hon. Gentleman must be making up for lost time, as a number of those points were dealt with before he was in the Chamber. However, I shall endeavour to deal with at least the first point that he set out. I pay due respect and deference to his interest in the concerns of developing countries, particularly in relation to water and sanitation. He has a long-standing commitment to and interest in those matters, and it is right that all of us on the Labour Benches should acknowledge his role and expertise in those areas.

However, I am not convinced by the characterisation that the hon. Gentleman offers of the practice of EPAs, not least because they have been agreed only in recent months and weeks, and they are not yet in force—but I fully accept that there are continuing concerns about some of the policies. Last Friday I was in Ghana, where I spoke with the President of Ghana, who expressed concerns. Ghana has signed an interim agreement, and the President is keen to ensure that the full development potential of the EPA is realised in the weeks and months ahead.

Since we set out our policy in 2005, it is fair to say that, alongside the Germans, Swedes and Norwegians, we have been unyielding in our efforts in the Council of Ministers constantly to advocate that EPAs should recognise that reciprocity under World Trade Organisation rules need not mean symmetry—in the sense that there can be longer opening periods in developing countries.

Secondly, we have advocated effective aid for trade to support those countries’ transition to a more open-market environment, and we will continue to argue the case for that at Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings. When I attended such a meeting with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in November, we met heads of Caribbean nations, who signed a full EPA before the end of last year. They look to the United Kingdom to argue their case in the corridors of the European Union, and I am glad to say that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), and I sought to fulfil that obligation by making clear the case not just for the disbursement of support for sugar and bananas but, more generally, for the kind of EPA that emerged. It is a matter that we care about and are concerned about, and we have continued to act to advance it on behalf of developing countries.

Before the Secretary of State tells us that he has been to Bangladesh, I shall say that I was there last week. I pay tribute to Department for International Development staff there, particularly Chris Austin and his crowd, who were working down in the cyclone-hit areas. One thing that struck me was the amount of aid that we are giving to such a country. I should like a firm assurance that our commitment to countries such as Bangladesh will not be diluted by the new agreement with our colleagues in Europe. Such countries desperately need the resources that they are getting from us, and the help from DFID and NGOs. Is the Secretary of State absolutely convinced that those will not be diluted in any way?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that although the hon. Gentleman beat me to Bangladesh—at least this year—I had the opportunity to visit in December, when I met Chris Austin and his team. The hon. Gentleman will be aware from his visit that in Dhaka, I was able to announce a significant uplift in the support that we offer to Bangladesh. In many ways, it is on the front line of one of the great challenges that is faced not just by DFID, but across the developed world: simultaneous human development and climate change. That is why we have worked so hard with Chris Austin and the team in Dhaka, who are doing an outstanding job on our behalf to frame policies that recognise not only the need for adaptation, but the pressing humanitarian difficulties that still afflict that country.

When I travelled down to the cyclone-affected areas in Bangladesh, as I know the hon. Gentleman did, I felt huge pride in the work being done not just on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom, but by a range of agencies, such as Save the Children, which was running a centre for many children who had been orphaned as a consequence of the cyclone. It is a huge credit to such organisations that, even in a country as far away as Bangladesh, British agencies working with partners from Bangladesh can make a real difference on the ground.

While my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is on his Cook’s tour of the subcontinent, will he tell the House whether he thinks the European Union and the United Kingdom have the balance of international aid right, given that there are more poor people in India than in the whole of Africa?

Of course my hon. Friend is right to recognise that there are vast numbers of poor people in India, which partly explains why the Department’s largest bilateral programme is with India. He also makes the fair, broader point that given the appropriate focus in the Department on low-income countries, we need to be mindful of the fact that there continue to be large numbers of poor people in middle-income countries. Equally, it is important to recognise that it is reasonable to look to a country such as India, whose aid dependency is diminishing as foreign reserves rise, to have a growing capacity to take responsibility for the poor people within its borders. In that sense, we have an effective development relationship with India, which was a subject of discussion between our Prime Minister and Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, at the recent UK-India summit, but we need to continue to watch the situation.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), if there are so many poor people in India, why is India running the biggest single overseas aid programme of any country in the region bar Japan? Surely Indian money should be kept at home, rather than used to meddle and extend India’s political reach in other countries in the region.

I get the sense that my right hon. Friend has a particular concern relating to India’s foreign policy, and perhaps that of the Government, so I shall leave that matter alone. I observe, though, that countries such as China that have historically been recipients of international aid are increasingly taking their place as responsible global citizens and contributing, for example, to IDA 15, the World Bank’s latest replenishment round. We all have an interest in supporting countries such as China in playing a bigger role in multilateral aid organisations such as the World Bank.

As well as helping to change the rules so that developing countries can play a part in international trade, we must help them to build their capacity to do so. The European Union has made a commitment to spend €2 billion on aid for trade by 2010 to help countries compete, and the UK has committed to spend £100 million a year on it by 2010. The European Commission is also forging a global reputation for the quality of its road infrastructure programmes. Roads are vital to increasing trade links within and between countries. In a region of south-west Tanzania criss-crossed by rivers and streams, the Commission has rehabilitated the road network, helping growers to reach marketplaces, farmers to access banks and teachers and students to travel to school.

However, the promise of increased trade cannot be realised in a country riven by conflict. Europe’s history shows that there can be little development without security, and developing countries live that reality. On average, a civil war leads to economic costs of more than £25 billion, and the equivalent of 20 years of lost development. Resolving and preventing conflict beyond European borders must be a priority for both UK and European aid. The UK’s new stabilisation fund of £600 million over three years is being established jointly by the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence in order better to prevent and respond to conflict in developing countries.

The European Union’s support for the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo showed that the EU too can play an important stabilisation role. The tragic violence that followed the election result should not mask that country’s achievement in holding its first democratic elections for 40 years. Some 2,000 EU troops supported the UN to maintain a peaceful environment and ensure high voter turnout, EU logistical support transported 1,000 tonnes of ballot papers throughout a country the size of western Europe with almost no infrastructure, and the first European police mission in Africa provided training and support to Kinshasa’s police force.

As we have heard, climate change is one of the greatest threats facing development. Dealing with dangerous climate change is a clear priority for my Department, because developing countries, which are least able to cope with the effects of climate change, are most immediately vulnerable to suffering its consequences. We are therefore working across Government towards a global post-Kyoto framework, helping to build a global low-carbon economy and protecting the most vulnerable against the impact of climate change.

Earlier this month, I announced that my Department will spend more than £100 million over the next five years on researching the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable developing countries and helping those countries to put that information to good use. The UK will also play a role within the European Union to mitigate further climate change and help poor countries to adapt to the change that is now inevitable. The EU is recognised as a global leader on climate change. EU negotiators played a key role in securing agreement for a global adaptation fund for developing countries at the Bali conference, Europe’s unilateral pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 per cent. by 2020 shows the seriousness of our intentions, and our emissions trading scheme is the first of its kind in the world. We need to ensure next that the emissions trading scheme links with others to become part of a global carbon market, press ahead with negotiations for a post-Kyoto deal, and establish more funding to protect the most vulnerable.

As we debate the terms of the Lisbon treaty, we live in a world where more than 1 million people are killed by malaria every year, 72 million children are denied the chance to go to primary school and 980 million people continue to live on less than 50p a day. Britain can choose either to retreat from that challenge or to rise to it. This Government believe that we must tackle global poverty, which is why our aid budget will rise to over £9 billion by 2010, roughly three times what it was in 1997. We also recognise that we cannot tackle this global problem alone, which is why the Prime Minister, with Ban Ki-moon, has called for the creation this year of a global partnership for development. That partnership must include the European Union, the developing world’s largest donor and biggest trading partner. Britain can choose either to retreat from Europe or to engage with it and help Europe to be a world leader in the fight against global poverty.

The Lisbon treaty will improve Europe’s efforts to tackle hunger, disease and illiteracy around the world. Those who seek to attack the treaty by attacking its development provisions risk doing great harm to the interests of the world’s poorest people. I commend the motion to the House.

I beg to move, To leave out from ‘House’ to end and to insert instead thereof:

“disapproves of the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of international development because the Treaty does nothing to improve the efficiency of European Union aid, increases the influence of the EU’s foreign policy over its humanitarian aid and development assistance, decreases the freedom of member states to react to international crises, diverts resources to a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, downgrades the least developed countries, is ambiguous about competence on international development, and overall is a step backwards in the provision of aid to the developing world.”.

Today’s debate on international development provisions in the treaty is welcome, and I hope that the Secretary of State will join in the consensus—embraced by his predecessor, among others—that we should have more debates on international development in the House. It is a subject of huge interest to our constituents, and it is vital at this time. International development deserves a much higher profile in this place.

I welcome the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), to his new post. One of the most satisfying aspects of international development policy is that it is not a Labour, Conservative or Liberal subject, but a British policy and a British agenda. Perhaps, like me, the hon. Gentleman will see it as his role to try to keep the Secretary of State and his Ministers up to the mark in successfully pursuing our common objectives, which our generation has a real chance of achieving.

We welcome much of what the Secretary of State said today, particularly his comments towards the end of his speech about climate change. We Conservative Members have argued for some time that the issue for Europe is tackling the three great challenges of our age: global poverty, global warming and global competitiveness. Many of the European Union’s policies—on trade, migration, sanctions and foreign policy—have profound impacts on international development.

Europe experiences at first hand the impact of poverty. Every year, thousands of young men and women—often bright, hard-working, motivated people, sometimes the cream of Africa—risk their lives seeking to make the perilous crossing from Senegal and Libya to the Canaries, Malta or Italy in search of a better life. They place themselves in the hands of the modern equivalent of the slave trade. Any attempt to deal with the migration challenge that the EU faces must have an international development aspect.

The EU is one of the world’s biggest donors. It provides 57 per cent. of the world’s official development assistance, which amounted to some €45.3 billion in 2005. About a sixth of that—€7.5 billion—was managed by the European Commission. That aid went to approximately 160 countries, territories or organisations. The Commission has about 3,500 aid and development staff. There is no doubt that the EU is a major player in international development; that is why it is so disappointing that the treaty bypasses many issues that are literally vital to billions of poor people around the world.

The treaty misses the opportunity to support open markets and to significantly rejuvenate the EU’s aid programme, which, despite recent improvements, is still underperforming. One of the Secretary of State’s distinguished predecessors, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), whose contribution is greatly underrated, but not by Conservative Members, branded the European Union’s aid

“an outrage and a disgrace”.

She said that EU aid is

“skewed quite dreadfully against the poorest countries”,

and that

“You can’t keep throwing money and people into an inefficient organisation”.

There have been improvements since then, but we should face facts: British aid, on the whole, is much better than that spent through the EU. It is better managed, more focused on tackling poverty, and more decentralised.

Many things need to be done urgently to improve the quality of European Union aid. The treaty of Lisbon touches on some of them. We welcome the legally enshrined emphasis on poverty eradication, but the treaty ignores many issues, which I shall mention later. It is on those key issues that the Government need to focus.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the improvements that have been made to the way in which the European Union disburses and manages its aid budget, but does he not realise that it is absurd for the Opposition to demand that EU aid, and trade policies towards developing countries, be made even more effective while they oppose a treaty that will make it easier for Britain to secure its objectives within the EU, and while they pursue policies that would leave Britain isolated and ineffective within the EU? We cannot have both a weak Britain and an effective Europe.

I reject entirely the right hon. Lady’s supposition. One can have better aid effectiveness from Europe without the treaty. I shall make it absolutely clear how that could be done.

Before my hon. Friend does so, does he agree that it is curious that, listening to the Secretary of State, one would think that this was a treaty of perfection? Over the days in which we have debated the Lisbon treaty, the Government have sought to pray in aid the support of a number of non-governmental organisations. Has my hon. Friend seen early-day motions 990, 1011 and 1012, which express the concerns of Oxfam, Save the Children and ActionAid, and use the words, “concern”, “caveats”, “omission” and “reservations”? The Secretary of State did not make reference to any of that: it was as if NGOs’ concerns simply did not exist.

My hon. Friend is on to something. However, in deference to Ministers I should say that the crimes of which he accuses the Government were committed by the Foreign Secretary, not the International Development Secretary.

They are indeed a collective Government, and I shall come on to the very point that my hon. Friend made.

I was talking about the issues on which the Government must focus in the debate. They not only support a treaty that does the European aid effort too little good and too much harm but, with their usual dishonesty and lack of direction, they support the treaty without the consent of our constituents, whom the Government assured—indeed, promised—a referendum if the situation arose. We may be in no doubt, as previous debates have underlined, that the Government have once again gone back on their word, supporting bureaucracy over democracy, by denying the public a say.

In fact, the Government’s approach to the debate on EU aid is typical of their disingenuousness, for the very reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). The Government misrepresented the views of some our leading NGOs by claiming that they supported the treaty. They are now pushing for the very reforms of EU aid that they previously opposed in negotiations. On 21 January, the Foreign Secretary said:

“One World Action, Action Aid and Oxfam have announced their support for the measures on development co-operation.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1241.]

The Foreign Secretary had clearly not read the excellent briefing note prepared by BOND—British Overseas NGOs for Development—on the treaty. In precise and measured terms, it sets out both the things that the NGO community supports in the treaty and those that it opposes. Such disingenuous manoeuvres by the Government do not reflect well on them. Indeed, a representative of a leading NGO called my office the day after the Foreign Secretary made his misleading claim to clarify the fact that that NGO did not have a position on whether the treaty as a whole should be ratified or whether there should be a referendum. Today, a group of NGOs, including Oxfam and Christian Aid, have written an open letter, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury said, distancing themselves from the Government’s claims that the NGOs back the treaty.

In the interests of clarity, and in the light of the observation by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) that we are, indeed, a collective Government, may I draw the attention of the House to the letter that was sent to my colleague, the Minister for Europe, on 18 November 2007, signed by Charlotte Imbert, the general secretary of BOND, which stated:

“The EU Reform Treaty, in our view, has the potential for the EU to deliver a stronger poverty focus, and greater coherence in its development and humanitarian work. We welcome the fact that in the Treaty the eradication of poverty is the primary focus of development co-operation, offering a legal basis and purpose to European development assistance. The Treaty also represents a significant positive shift whereby all EU policies that affect developing countries will need to reflect (and not undermine) development and humanitarian objectives”?

I am not sure whether that clarifies the views of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell).

It certainly does not. The right hon. Gentleman is quoting selectively from a document. If he looked at the early-day motions, and followed what I said carefully, he would know that the suggestion was that the Foreign Secretary misrepresented the views of BOND and others. That is absolutely clear from the early-day motions.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned parts of a BOND paper with which he agreed. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the Conservative party, mentioned the more sceptical parts with which he agreed. Does he agree with the parts of the paper that the Secretary of State has just quoted, or is he picking selectively from that BOND paper?

The hon. Gentleman has just undermined the Secretary of State’s statement, by accepting that the BOND paper was a carefully nuanced examination of the treaty—both good and bad points. The point that I am making is that the Foreign Secretary said clearly—I quoted him directly—that BOND and the NGOs were in favour of the treaty. That is not the case, as is apparent if one reads the whole letter.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he agrees with everything that BOND states, or does he agree only with parts of the paper?

There is much in the letter that BOND issued, as I said, and much more with which I agree, but I will not give a careful dialectic for every word in the document.

The Foreign Secretary’s misrepresentation of the NGOs’ position is worrying for two reasons. First—

Order. I get a little uneasy when words such as “misrepresentation” and “mislead” are brought into debate. I know that there is probably the inaudible qualification “inadvertent”, “mistaken” and so on, but we are starting to get into difficult territory when those words are used. I urge caution on the hon. Gentleman.

Thank you for keeping me on the straight and narrow, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

First, the representations of the NGOs’ position by the Foreign Secretary show that he has not examined closely the many concerns that they have raised about the treaty with regard to international development. I am sure that Ministers are aware of those concerns, and I hope that they will urgently meet the Foreign Secretary to raise them. Secondly, they show yet again that the Government are willing to indulge in deceitful arguments to promote the treaty. This comes as no surprise—

Order. It is unacceptable to pursue that when I have given a ruling. There is no direct accusation against a person. That is one thing, but the very fact that such words are used creates a sense of unease. Our debate should be above that level.

The Government’s approach comes as no surprise, given their determination to force through the treaty, which brings about major constitutional changes, without adequate scrutiny and without letting the British people have their say.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, my Birmingham colleague. I will not ask him to go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) did when he asked whether the hon. Gentleman agreed with every word from BOND. However, does he agree with this aspect of what BOND said:

“The implementation of the EU Reform Treaty will be the only real opportunity between now and next Financial Perspectives in 2014 to ensure that there is greater coherence between development cooperation and other EU external action policies and to improve effectiveness and impact of EC development cooperation”?

Does he agree with BOND at least on that point?

The implementation of the treaty could be an opportunity, but it is not the only opportunity, as I shall explain.

The hon. Gentleman’s intervention gives me the opportunity to say that I have been truly shocked by the menacing bullying tactics used by the Government Whips Office to cajole and intimidate their Back Benchers into the pro-Government Lobby. Some particularly appalling reports have been carried in the excellent newspaper, The Birmingham Post, which this week celebrates its 150th anniversary as Birmingham’s leading newspaper.