House of Commons
Monday 6 July 2009
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Kingsnorth Climate Camp (Policing)
The Home Office has received a number of items of parliamentary and public correspondence relating to the policing tactics employed at Kingsnorth climate camp in August 2008.
My constituents, James Chan, Stephen Halpin and Sunil Bhopal, attended the Kingsnorth camp and report that the police played music between 5 and 6 am, and prevented water and food from getting into the camp. Does the Minister think that that is acceptable policing, and will he tell the House what lessons have been learned from that as we look forward to the climate change camps this summer?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those points. He will know that the National Policing Improvement Agency, Kent police and the inspectorate of constabulary have looked at these issues. I am shortly expecting some reports on how policing was undertaken at the camps. It is important to recognise that the Government and the police are committed to allowing peaceful protest, and that we take the concerns that have been raised about some issues at the climate camp extremely seriously. I will receive shortly, and will publish for the House, reports on those issues, and I will look at what lessons can be learned.
Has the Minister had the opportunity to read the Home Affairs Committee’s report on the Kingsnorth camp and the G20 protests, in which we made specific recommendations about the tactic of kettling? Do the Government have a position on the use of kettling as a tactic by the police in policing protests? If not, when will the Government be in a position to give us their views?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his report, which will be a good contribution to the debate on policing tactics. He will know that as early as tomorrow we are expecting a general report from the inspectorate of constabulary and Denis O’Connor on the protests at the G20 and some general issues. I want to reflect on that report and to respond in due course about the tactics that were used. I will consider those issues and respond to my right hon. Friend and the Committee’s report in short order.
There appears to be a repeating pattern at protests, including the Kingsnorth climate camp, of some police officers failing to wear their identifying numerals. We saw that at the Countryside Alliance protests in 2004, again at the G20 protests—despite the assurances of senior officers beforehand—and, astonishingly, again at the Tamil protest in Parliament square just a day after the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had made it clear that that practice was unacceptable. What are Ministers doing to ensure that some police officers do not tar the reputation of the vast majority who are disciplined, public-spirited and unashamed to be identified as citizens in uniform?
I regard it as a matter of course that police officers should be able to be identified in whatever activity they undertake, and that will be one of the issues that we consider in relation to the policing of this protest and others. We are expecting a report shortly, as I have said, and I raised in a letter to Kent police of 24 June the need for me to see their report of the incidents at Kingsnorth. I have had an assurance from the chief constable, Michael Fuller, in a letter dated 3 July that he intends to publish the report on the incidents. I want to obtain the facts, look at the issues and ensure that the lessons are learned.
National Identity Scheme
Our research shows a consistent level of public support for the national identity service and, in the past six months, we have received more than 1,000 letters from the public about identity cards. More than 60 per cent. of these were in support, including many asking how to apply for an identity card.
The Secretary of State will note that his colleague made it clear in a Delegated Legislation Committee last week that this scheme, now revised, is not for the prevention of terrorism, the reduction of crime or the stopping of legal immigration, but it is claimed that it will derive £6 billion net benefit for our country. What is the purpose of the scheme, and how can that figure be justified?
When we stood at the last election on a manifesto that promised to introduce identity cards, there was no mention of tackling terrorism. Identity cards will have some benefit in that area, but that is not why they are being introduced. The reason, supported by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the Opposition before the last election, was that it would be madness to introduce biometric passports, with all the information, and not use that opportunity to provide people with a convenient, safe and secure way to prove their identity in a world where the need to prove identity is a constant daily occurrence.
The Prime Minister claimed that he had scrapped the plans for the last general election, when he was going to call it, because he was going to win. It seems that the Home Secretary said that he is going to scrap compulsory identity cards because they are popular with the public. Does he not accept that all the arguments in the past by his predecessors that identity cards are essential to combat terrorism and to tackle crime have all been totally spurious?
No. The reasons that we set out to the British people—in an election that we won—on why we would introduce ID cards are exactly the reasons for introducing them now. We have not scrapped cards; we are accelerating their introduction—[Laughter.] It is absolutely true. We planned to sign a medium-term contract next year; we are now going to sign it in the autumn. We planned to trial the scheme just in Manchester this year; we are now going to trial it across the whole of the north-west. We planned to trial it airside at London City airport; we are now going to trial it throughout London. It will be welcomed by the population. We already have applications for cards and we have not even begun the process of distributing them.
I do not know when the Government stated that. The Government certainly did not state it in our election manifesto of 2005, when the British people supported us and elected us to government. There was no mention of compulsion in that manifesto. The Identity Cards Act 2006, which went through both Houses of this Parliament, had no mention of compulsion. This is a voluntary scheme. I happen to think that, in terms of airside workers, we will make much more progress and have many more people carrying cards if we remove the element of compulsion, explain the benefits and ensure that people sign up to them voluntarily.
The Prime Minister is having some difficulty in being clear, to put it charitably, about the level of public expenditure over the next few years. Will the Home Secretary do his bit by pledging to scrap the huge cost of ID cards in order to get the public debt and finances into a more stable condition?
We will have more time to debate this issue at 7 o’clock this evening, but I have to tell hon. Members, including Opposition Members—at my press conference I used the term diddly-squat, which is probably not recognised by Hansard writers, let alone by British journalists—that the idea that the national debt could be halved by the abolition of ID cards is simply ludicrous. The amount of money that has to be spent on a scheme where the recipients and beneficiaries of identity cards will pay for them is very small. Scrapping the scheme now will gain very little and waste an awful lot.
I opposed identity cards when some Tories wanted them before 1997, and I am pleased that they will not be compulsory. Will there not be a certain amount of suspicion on the part of various officials and authorities with a voluntary scheme if UK citizens do not have an identity card? Is not the whole idea of British citizens’ having such a card simply distasteful?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s long-held and consistent view on this issue. As he says, he held that view when the whole Conservative party was in a different place. I respect his position, although I do not agree with him on this point. There has been a voluntary ID card in France for many years. My French friends would look askance at any suggestion that that somehow breached their civil rights—
A lot of people will sympathise with the Home Secretary, because he is having to cope with the denouement of a failed policy. This business goes to the credibility of Parliament. Why does he not face up to it, get up to the Dispatch Box and say, “Look, we really thought this. It was a silly idea, and we are going to start again to examine how we can promote security and individual identity?” That would be the sensible way forward. I realise that he cannot do that today, but I urge him to take the subject back to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister and to say, “Look, let’s get real, grand old Duke of York.”
My hon. Friend is already reverting to the French way in his questions. I fundamentally disagree with him. We are committed to a biometric passport. The Prime Minister said when he came to office in 2007 that that passport could be used as an identity card. People will have the choice of whether to get an identity card as well. I believe that my hon. Friend agrees that we need to have compulsory ID cards for foreign national workers. In today’s world, it is absolutely rational and sane to offer people a single system of proving their identity, which locks in their identity, using all the technology that we need to put in place for the biometric passport anyway.
I, too, welcome the confirmation from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the scheme will be a voluntary one, but what does he say to those people who suggest that, in some respects, the scheme will not really be voluntary? It is said, for example, that people will need an ID card to get a passport if they want to leave the country. Can he clarify the position as regards passports and ID cards?
The scheme is of greater use: if people want to use ID cards, instead of their passports, to travel around Europe, for instance, they can. Many people will find that attractive, particularly people who would rather pay the lower amount and only ever want to travel around Europe. Many other people will find it extremely convenient to take out an ID card, perhaps as proof of age, rather than taking their passports, which are more valuable documents, thousands of which get lost on Friday and Saturday nights in cities all over the country. This is a matter of pragmatic convenience, and I really do believe that, in terms of Labour party policy, my right hon. and hon. Friends are on the right side of the public argument.
Let us explore the voluntary nature of the card. Later today, we will debate a statutory instrument that sets penalties for failing to inform the authorities about changes in personal information on ID cards. If it is a voluntary card, why are penalties attached to failing to provide that information? What does voluntary mean in this context? Specifically, if someone volunteers for an ID card and has one for a period, can they then say, “I don’t want one anymore.”? If they can, those penalties are pointless; if they cannot, the Home Secretary should come clean and tell people that, if they volunteer once, the scheme is then compulsory for the rest of their lives.
That is a nonsensical position by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. The simple fact is that the Opposition support the introduction of a biometric passport. The introduction of such a passport means that there will be a national identity register, which will contain people’s addresses. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head—so he would have a biometric passport, but no means of linking it back to the individual who took it out. That argument is absolute nonsense. Exactly as now, if someone changes address, they should inform the passport office, and if they do not, there will be a fine, because we want to ensure that the people who receive passports are the people who say that they want them. The nonsense of the Opposition suddenly turning into civil libertarians, which was news to many of us, and the nonsense that identity cards are somehow an Orwellian concept from “Nineteen Eighty-Four” would be a complete mystery to 24 of the 27 European Union member states that have them.
Can I have one, please? I should like the same rights as the majority of other European citizens. I should like to travel around Europe on an ID card. I am ready to be photographed now, before I get much older. I am ready to give my details; I have to give them to everyone in the House of Commons and in the newspapers. So can we have a privilege for MPs: an accelerated path for those who would like ID cards before the rest of the population gets them? I think that we would have a very good take-up.
The Government’s strategy for countering international terrorism is assessed formally on a regular basis. Our revised strategy, which was presented to Parliament earlier this year, is one of most comprehensive and wide-ranging approaches to tackling terrorism in the world. It sets out how we are, first, tackling the immediate threat through the relentless pursuit of terrorists and disruption of terrorist plots; secondly, building up our defences against attacks and our resilience to deal with them; and, thirdly, addressing the longer-term causes, so that we can stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism or violent extremism in the first place.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer. However, in the past, Britain has allowed extremists to come to this country. In the case of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, there was an enormous amount of dithering on the part of the Government. What does the new Home Secretary propose to do to ensure both toughness and consistency when it comes to dealing with extremists who wish to come here?
I do not think that our record on that is as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I think that we have been very firm. Certainly, a points-based immigration system and the new visa system—incidentally, we have already found 4,000 people trying to come into the country using false identities—will help us. All of that, together with one of the best, if not the best, counter-terrorism resource in the world, which has many thousands of dedicated people working day in and day out, will protect us and ensure that our intelligence and security systems work properly for the people of this country.
One very important component of counter-terrorism strategy is protecting critical energy infrastructure. How does the Secretary of State propose to assist police forces such as Dyfed-Powys, which covers my constituency, where there is now a major concentration of oil, gas and power station facilities? A significant additional burden has been created for the local force. What is the Secretary of State’s view on how the costs should fall?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman: that issue is one of the most important parts of our anti-terrorism strategy. It is, of course, the subject of a separate and dedicated police presence, both in the regions and nationally. On how the costs fall, we are putting £2.5 billion into counter-terrorism in 2008-09. That will go up to £3.5 billion by 2010-11. I am sure that the issue of the right proportion to spend nationally and locally can be decided in a rational discussion with the regional security forces.
I was very sorry to hear, in response to the previous question, that the Home Secretary believes that the identity card system will be a significant plank in counter-terrorism. How can that be when a good proportion of terrorists in this country are home grown? Those people will not be subject to the constraints of a voluntary ID card system in any case.
I hope that my hon. Friend heard correctly. I am saying that the identity card can be a tool; it is not the whole toolbox. Anybody who is dealing with counter-terrorism—I have talked to some of them already—will say, “Well, it certainly won’t do any harm, and it can be of some help,” but if anyone believed that it was the fundamental approach to tackling terrorism, that would be wrong.
My hon. Friend asks how the system could work. We know that the al-Qaeda training manual suggests that every agent should have a number of different identities. The fact is that locking in a person’s identity through their fingerprints and their biometrics ensures that no one else can pick up that identity. That will be an extremely useful tool in the fight against terrorism.
I am not exactly au fait with what the hon. Gentleman is talking about; I do not know whether anyone else in the House is, but it certainly sounds a very important issue, and I will look into whatever point he wants to raise. I imagine that the security forces would ensure that there was a co-operative approach on that, but if he knows different, perhaps he could let me know.
Indeed, I do know different. Of course, last week, 12 people died when a rail tanker containing liquefied petroleum gas exploded in Italy. Last year in the UK, nearly 2,000 lorries were stolen. That includes examples of theft of similarly flammable materials. The US Department of Homeland Security has warned about the use of such trucks in terror attacks, so will the Home Secretary please go back to his office, put in place an urgent review of the situation, and make a written statement to the House later this week about what he can do to address the situation.
I can do all of that, but let us not play games at the Dispatch Box. If the hon. Gentleman, who is in an important position, had a concern about security in this country, he should have been on the phone to me last week, not saving it up for a clever, smart question at Home Office questions.
Overseas Students (Visas)
Since the implementation of tier 4 of the points-based system on 31 March 2009, Ministers have received a number of representations on the system for issuing visas to students from overseas countries.
One of your own Ministers has described student visas as a major loophole in Britain’s border control. What winds people up in towns such as Gravesend and Northfleet and across the country is the perception and the reality that you have mismanaged and not controlled—
The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government introduced the points-based system for the very reasons that he mentioned—to ensure that it is simple, transparent and robust, and that it does the job. Through student visa applications, it monitors who is coming in and it is making a difference by tightening up the loophole to which the hon. Gentleman referred. That is why we are doing it.
One of the key concerns surrounding student visas is ensuring that appropriate checks against fraud are made. The Minister for Borders and Immigration has suggested that for visa applications from Pakistan and Afghanistan, officers based in Islamabad have more than 11 minutes to carry out initial fraud and forgery checks. Can the Minister tell the House precisely how much more?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary informs me that the hon. Gentleman’s figures are wrong, and that that is not the situation. We have more than 200 individuals dealing with visa applications in Islamabad, and that is important. My hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration would be present today, were he not in Calais announcing £15 million worth of new technology to stop people coming into the country via Calais. We will look at those issues, but I advise the hon. Gentleman that his perception is not our perception on the matter.
The Minister will be aware that because of the system, a significant number of foreign students, particularly from countries such as the United States, have thrown in the towel in their attempts to come and join courses at UK universities. A number of public universities in the UK will be in financial difficulty because their students will not be turning up from overseas in September, and the future looks exceedingly bleak. Will he please look into the matter and, for once, co-ordinate with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills?
Again, from our perspective the points system is meant to be simple, transparent, objective and robust. There is an online calculator where people can examine this. A phased introduction of the scheme is taking place. We have had a number of applications to date and the number of failures has been very small. I will certainly consider the points that the hon. Lady raises and pass them on to my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, but the purpose of the system is to make sure that we know who is coming in, that it is secure and that it provides robust and transparent operations.
Policing Priorities (Public Participation)
The single confidence target puts the public at the heart of local policing. The policing pledge guarantees regular public meetings that will help determine local priorities. We are strengthening police authorities’ responsibility to consider the views of the public. All this is backed up by a strengthened inspectorate acting in the public’s interest.
Would it not be a much better idea simply to elect people capable of making those decisions? If the Minister thinks that is a good idea—it seems to work elsewhere in the English-speaking world—it is our policy, so the best way of implementing it would be to have a general election very soon.
I could happily fight an election in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency on the basis of crime. He knows that over the past five years, domestic burglary in Hampshire has fallen by 22 per cent. and vehicle crime in Hampshire by 26 per cent. Police numbers in Hampshire are up and Hampshire funding is up by £109 million over the 11 years of this Government to date. If he wants to fight on those figures showing crime down, investment up and more police officers, I will happily take him on.
A moment ago we discovered that the Home Secretary pays no attention to the information that he gives in written answers to me, so let us try another written answer. Why has the amount of time that police officers spend on incident-related paperwork risen so sharply in the past year? How is that consistent with the stated aim of the policing pledge for officers to spend 80 per cent. of their time on patrol?
The hon. Gentleman will know that that is old information. It dates back to a period before the policing pledge was implemented, and since the pledge has been implemented, the situation has improved dramatically. If he looks, as he will do later this year, at the figures on front-line services and reductions in bureaucracy, and at the action that we have taken since the pledge was implemented 12 months ago, he will see a great improvement. He will know also that my colleague Jan Berry, who has produced an independent report, will produce shortly further recommendations for Ministers to improve still further on reducing front-line bureaucracy. That is what the issue is about. Again, I say to the hon. Gentleman: crime down, police numbers up. That is a record on which I am very happy to argue the toss with him.
The Government keep all counter-terrorism legislation under regular review. That includes control orders, where we are currently considering the impact of the recent House of Lords judgment.
While many people will be grateful on a one-off basis that the Home Office has given the relevant papers for Abu Rideh to leave the country and join his family abroad safely, will not Ministers now accept that the case made from the Liberal Democrat Benches consistently and by former Law Lords regularly, and now upheld by the senior court of the land, is that control orders should go and go now and be replaced by alternatives that uphold civil liberties rather than take them away?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I am not able to comment on individual cases, but the House of Lords judgment obviously raises a number of key issues. We are reflecting on those issues, and I assure him that, as before, the various House of Lords judgments will ensure that we remain fully compliant with human rights legislation. We need to look at and reflect on the question of disclosure in some control order cases, and I shall report on behalf of myself and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the House on the outcomes very shortly. We have written to the High Court to outline the Government’s approach; it is content with that; and we will respond very shortly.
Illegal drug use is a hidden activity and the actual number of people addicted to any drug is unknown. However, it is estimated that 329,000 people in England were problematic drug users in 2006-07—that is, people using either opiates, crack cocaine or both.
The estimate is 329,000, so, ever since I gave detailed recommendations to the previous Home Secretary, and the one before that, and the one before that, the numbers have gone up. Yet, the numbers in my constituency have gone down, as they have for overdoses, deaths, hospital admissions from overdoses, and burglaries. When will the Minister’s Department look at those recommendations and see why the system that is used in my constituency, and in Australia, Sweden and many other countries, is working and dealing with drug addiction, unlike the Government’s own policy?
I am delighted to talk at any time with my hon. Friend about what works in his constituency, but he knows that we can report success in a number of areas. For example, this summer the millionth person is likely to go through the drug intervention programme, and overall drug use is down. We are not complacent in any way, but I do believe that we are making progress.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) raises a very important point. Does the Minister agree that how successful his Department and the Prison Service are at dealing with drugs in prison matters very much, first, because of the difficulties in prison and, secondly, because of the difficulties when people leave prison? Is he satisfied that the Prison Service is appropriating enough funds for the treatment of drug addicts and to deal with the problem?
Funding has gone up significantly to achieve the results that the hon. Gentleman looks for in prisons. Of course, we want action to rid people of their drug habits and to end the link with acquisitive crime before they enter prison, but he is absolutely right: we need a seamless system. This means that when someone is in prison they receive the treatment that they need, that it continues when they leave and that, hopefully, they can break the habit and return to a normal life.
I saw the report from Portugal and I was left with the impression that it is too early to say what the effect of its change in policy has been, and we have to be careful in the message we send out about the harm that drugs do. We look at what happens in a number of countries around the world to make sure that we can learn lessons.
Is it not the case that many who resort to illegal drug use end up in prison because they commit crime to feed their addictions? The best and most cost-effective way to deal with the problem is to ensure that the treatment that such people need is given before they have to resort to crime. The fact is that not enough places are available. Would not ensuring that more places were made available now be a cost-effective and smart move by the Government?
It is expensive, but for every £1 invested we save £9.50 across the life of a drug user. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need early intervention, and we also need to make sure that there are resources for treatment. We are seeking to achieve, and are providing, those things.
Incidence of Crime (Nottingham)
Nottinghamshire received general grants of £132.5 million in 2007-08, £136.9 million in 2008-09 and £141.4 million in 2009-10—an overall increase of £9 million, or 7 per cent. As a result, chief constables have flexibility in using the resources and Nottingham’s police-recorded crime fell by 14 per cent. between 2005 and 2008.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that crime has fallen not only because of the excellent work of the police and the crime and drugs partnership, but because of the pre-emptive and early-intervention work of children’s, health and employment services? Will he consider the possibility of redistributing discretely some of the money saved within the police service, so that more effort can go into intervening on children effectively and early, and so that those children do not become offenders?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. All that investment in early prevention, children and support to families has a good downstream consequence in reducing reoffending and stopping people entering the criminal justice system in the first place. The results will undoubtedly mean that policing resources are saved downstream. He makes an interesting suggestion; justice system reinvestment into other areas is key. I want Nottingham police to use up front the resources saved from the 14 per cent. reduction in crime, to help crime prevention methods such as those that he has mentioned.
National Identity Scheme
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago—before he arrived.
I thank the Secretary of State for that helpful answer. Is he aware that disquiet about ID cards extends well beyond Home Office matters to data held about health and many other aspects that involve many other Departments? The Government are clearly having great difficulty in keeping such electronic data secure. Will the Secretary of State ask his colleagues throughout Whitehall whether they, too, will contemplate a climbdown and decide to leave such data in private hands?
There has not been any climbdown. However, we need to be absolutely clear. When the House enacted the Identity Cards Bill, it put in place safeguards, checks and balances to ensure that the use of the information was restricted to the public interest, according to the terms of the Bill. The information on the identity card will not include people’s health records, criminal records or other information that various people raise from time to time. It will include basic information such as gender, age, address and the necessary status of the individual. It will not include any other information.
Three independent reports confirm that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. The National Audit Office reported that two thirds of people stop committing antisocial behaviour after one intervention; the proportion rises to nine out of 10 after three interventions.
I thank the Minister for his reply. As he will know, in serious cases of antisocial behaviour, the victim, the police and the local authority have to work together to compile sufficient evidence to get the case to court. The period taken is far too long. What else can the Minister do to shorten that period and lessen the suffering of the victims of antisocial behaviour?
It is important that swift progress is made. It is also important that victims feel as if they are at the centre of the process. That is why we are looking not only at the time taken to bring cases to court, but at appointing people such as the victims’ champion to ensure that victims are at the heart of everything we do.
A form of antisocial behaviour that can affect a whole community is kerb crawling and prostitution. The residents of Chalvey in my constituency have taken to standing on the streets themselves to collect the car registration numbers of kerb crawlers. What comfort can the Minister give them that we will be more effective in tackling this kind of antisocial behaviour?
Could the Minister respond to a scenario whereby the local council is asked under the safety partnership scheme to provide funds to root out antisocial behaviour but has no money to do so? Who should then step in to make amends to the households that are being disturbed by such behaviour?
Local partnerships, of which local authorities are a key part, have a key role to play in tackling the problems in their local areas. Local councils have had increased budgets over the past few years in order to bring that to the table, and that is precisely what they should be doing. Residents have every right to look to the local authority, as well as to the police and other agencies, to step up to the mark with regard to antisocial behaviour.
What representations has my hon. Friend had from social landlords, local authorities and others about the effectiveness of means by which they can act as witnesses on behalf of those who are victims of antisocial behaviour? In so many instances, victims of such behaviour are too frightened to give evidence in their own right and instead look to others to act on their behalf, but in my experience there is a long way to go before we find that that is working effectively.
This is about building people’s confidence so that they feel confident in bringing forward their concerns about tackling antisocial behaviour. It is also about building confidence across the criminal justice system to ensure that in these circumstances people are seen as the victims, not as perpetrators. We talk to local authorities, the police and social landlords about a range of issues, and I am happy to talk further to my hon. Friend about this matter.
In relation to young people and antisocial behaviour, can the Minister say what discussions take place across Government Departments and with local authorities to provide facilities for young people? We want joined-up government that is tough on the causes of problems as well on those who create them.
That is an important part of what we do. Of course, we have to send out a strong enforcement message saying that if people get involved in antisocial behaviour and break the law, they should fear the consequences. Across Departments, we look to produce what are referred to as diversionary activities, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights when the problems are worst in local communities. We also work through organisations such as Positive Futures.
National Identity Scheme
Again, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
I was aware of that, actually. I do not know what point the hon. Gentleman would make about it, but I would say this: as I made absolutely clear earlier, we are not saying that identity cards are being introduced because they will free us of a terrorist threat; they are being introduced for several reasons. I note from that specific case in Madrid that one of the perpetrators was traced through his identity card.
Chorley Forensic Science Service Laboratory
The future of the Forensic Science Service laboratory in Chorley will be considered as part of the consultation process being undertaken by the FSS. No decision has yet been taken about the future of Chorley or any other laboratory site.
I take it from that that the Minister is going to work overtime to ensure that the Chorley laboratory remains. As he knows, this Government were elected on being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Will he ensure that they continue to put criminals behind bars? The north-west region has the second biggest rate of crime being committed, and it would be absolute nonsense if this Government were to consider closure. I look to my hon. Friend to state now that he will do all he can to ensure that Chorley remains open.
I work overtime most of the time, but I am quite focused on this issue. We need to ensure that we have a Forensic Science Service that is capable of continuing to perform a critical role in bringing people to justice, but it needs a viable and sustainable future. That is what the transformation programme is all about, and I am quite sure that my hon. Friend will continue to make his strong case.
The Home Office puts public protection at the heart of its work to counter terrorism, cut crime, provide effective policing, secure our borders and protect personal identity.
This has been a constant theme of my discussions with the police, and I expect it to be a theme of the Association of Chief Police Officers conference this week. We need to get the balance right, and of course no one is suggesting that there should be any interference with the ability of the courts to judge each case on its merits. However, many police believe that there should be a debate about sentencing law so that those brought to justice are carried through the courts process. That is a matter for discussion between myself and the Secretary of State for Justice. We talk about these issues all the time, and that is a very important part of our ongoing dialogue.
There are two points to be made in response to the hon. Gentleman’s very important point. First, his experience in Crewe is not reflected in statistics nationally. Generally, 65 per cent. will comply on the first occasion, with something like 78 per cent. doing so on the second occasion and 95 per cent. on the third. That is in the context of antisocial behaviour that is sometimes going on 365 days a year.
I do not think that there is a need for rafts of new legislation. All the powers are there; they just need to be used. So my second point is that if there is one aspect that we need to look at again—we will do so in legislation in the fifth Session—it is the fact that parenting orders are discretionary, not mandatory, when youngsters come before the courts again for a breach of an antisocial behaviour order. That is one element on which we can usefully fill the gap in legislation.
To some extent, the problem is demand-led, but my hon. Friend is right to suggest that we need a robust framework to ensure that when those practices need to take place, they are carefully monitored. The Government are also keen to find alternatives to animal testing. We are committing to that not only our political will, but increased resources.
First, the case is the subject of a judicial review and I do not think that I can say anything helpful about that. However, there were reports this morning that the hon. Gentleman’s colleague in another place had written to me to ask me, as Secretary of State, to use my “undoubted discretion” about the case. I have no discretion over prosecutions. The High Court confirmed that in January, when it said:
“The decision to prosecute is exclusively one for the Director”—
of Public Prosecutions—
“and not in any way for the Secretary of State.”
It is now some months since the points-based system came into effect. I am sure that I am not the only hon. Member who has experienced an increase in immigration casework, not because of the principle of the points-based system, but because the guidance is sometimes not as clear as it might be, simply because the system is new. The Department has probably received a lot of correspondence on the matter. When will the Government review the points-based system to examine the sort of cases that hon. Members are bringing to light?
Even as we speak, the Migration Advisory Committee is considering the matter. The system has worked well; no system is perfect and this one is comparatively new, so I have no doubt that we must ensure that the guidance is clear. We must consider whether people are applying through the wrong tier. There are sometimes problems when people try to come in under tier 1, and they would be much more successful if they applied under tier 5. We can undertake and then publish the results of that useful exercise very soon.
I do not think that we are breaching Magna Carta. One has to have one’s address on a driving licence and inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency of any change. The point that I was making about passports is that we are introducing a new biometric system to ensure that people cannot forge the identity of the passport holder. We have a huge problem with that, and it is sensible, sane and rational to ensure that people keep the details of their addresses up to date. Relax: it does not mean the end of thousands of years of British democracy.
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing told the House this afternoon that the Department is putting another £15 million into further clamping down on illegal immigration between Calais and Dover. On what is the money being spent? What is being done to encourage the French to deal appropriately with the encampments in Calais?
The news is hot off the press: my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration has just reached that understanding. We have agreed to invest a further £15 million in strengthening our controls in Calais and other juxtaposed locations in France. Investment will be made on the understanding that the French will effect significant returns of illegal migrants from northern French regions. It is therefore aimed at, first, making the route from France to England secure, and secondly ensuring that France sends back more immigrants from northern France. That looks like a balanced agreement.
This is about the Forensic Science Service bringing forward a consultation on the future of its business. We will of course work closely with the Forensic Science Service, but it is for the service itself to engage with the work force, stakeholders, MPs and anyone else with a view on such matters, to ensure a viable and sustainable service for the future.
But there is an area where the Secretary of State has discretion, and that is in relation to the Government’s policy towards extradition. Why are we still sending people to the United States under a one-sided extradition treaty? Is it not now time to renegotiate that treaty so as to provide for extradition between our two countries that is firmly based on the principle of reciprocity?
I disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have a one-sided extradition treaty. I have looked at it carefully over the past few weeks. An awful lot of hyperbole is spoken about this issue—it is almost as if the US were an enemy of this country. The current extradition treaty with the US ensures equal co-operation between the UK and the Department for Trade and Industry US. This issue comes up periodically; I remember that it came up in relation to the Natwest three when I was at the Department for Trade and Industry. Perhaps hon. Members will remember the marching through the streets in relation to that case, but it all went very quiet—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) says from beyond the Bar that he was one of the people marching, but we did not hear much after the Natwest three pleaded guilty and were prosecuted. I do not believe that we have an unbalanced treaty; I think that it is a fair treaty between the US and the UK, and one that serves both countries well.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is now a big backlog of applications for residency cards from spouses of European Union citizens. What will he be able to do to tackle that backlog?
We are seeking to address the legacy of cases involving families and dependents, and involving asylum seekers, as well as those inherited cases involving nationality. We are making progress—I believe that we have a date, around 2012, by which we would have that backlog completed—at the same time as dealing with current cases effectively. Some 60 per cent. of asylum seekers are now dealt with within six months, and that figure will be up to 90 per cent. very soon.
On the question of unnecessary police paperwork, is the Secretary of State aware that years and years ago, when the Select Committee on Home Affairs was looking into the issue and the Chairman was the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), who is now the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Ministers came before the Committee and gave exactly the same answer that the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism has given this afternoon, namely that there might have been problems in the past, but the Government have just taken measures to put everything right? When the Home Secretary comes before the Home Affairs Committee, will he be prepared to quantify the figures that his right hon. Friend has given this afternoon and also explain what the Government—
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that 2007-08 saw the fourth successive annual improvement on the percentage of time spent on front-line policing. If he looks at some of the measures that we have taken, such as scrapping the police time sheet, which has freed up an estimated 260,000 police hours, axing the stop-and-account form and introducing 18,500 extra handheld devices, he will see that the measures that we have taken have resulted in the improvements seen over that period.
What discussions has the Home Secretary had with the Foreign Office in respect of the arbitrary decision by the Premier of Bermuda to allow people from Guantanamo Bay to settle in Bermuda, when that is a matter for the competence of the United Kingdom Government in London and, I believe, the responsibility of the Home Secretary? We need to be told what is happening.
Does the Home Secretary understand the concern of the people of Berkshire about the large number of out-of-court disposals that are taking place, even for serious crimes such as grievous bodily harm? Is not this a worrying diversion from established local justice?
It is sometimes important to use out-of-court disposals to ensure that there is swift and effective justice, and that we reduce police bureaucracy, exactly as the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) has requested. That is why those out-of-court disposals are taking place. They have a positive benefit for the victims. They also have the positive benefit of not criminalising very young people who would otherwise go on to become involved in much more serious crime downstream.
Despite what the Government might say, police officers are spending more time on paperwork. Do the Government disagree with the chairman of the Police Federation, who has said:
“Government red tape is the…obstacle standing in the way”
of increased front-line policing?
I have just given the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) the figures that show that front-line policing has seen its fourth successive annual improvement since 2003-04. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser) will know that Jan Berry and the Police Federation have both been very supportive of the measures that we have taken to date. I am expecting a report from Jan Berry on bureaucracy shortly. The hon. Gentleman will see from the improvement measures that we have taken that there is a real difference on the ground, and that we are putting the police where they should be: on the beat in front of local people.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills if he will make a statement on MG Rover.
I would like to ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills—or his representative on earth—to make a statement on the Companies Act inquiry into the collapse of MG Rover, including an explanation of why the results of the Government’s investigation cannot now be made public in whole or in part.
I am very pleased to be here to respond to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question. On 31 May 2005, the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry appointed Guy Newey QC and Gervase MacGregor, a forensic accountant at BDO Stoy Hayward, to examine the issues raised by the Financial Reporting Review Panel and the events leading up to the appointment of administrators on 8 April 2005.
After the collapse of MG Rover, a number of factors concerning the affairs of the company—including issues raised by the Financial Reporting Review Panel, which examined the published accounts of the Rover Group—resulted in the Secretary of State deciding to appoint Companies Act inspectors to carry out a thorough investigation. The inspectors were appointed under section 432 of the Companies Act 1985 and had wide powers to require documents and the attendance of witnesses, including directors, officers and agents of the company. They investigated the affairs of the MG Rover Group, its parent company Phoenix Venture Holdings, and MGR Capital Ltd, between the purchase of MG Rover Group from BMW in May 2000 and the date of its entering administration. The inspectors are independent of the Department.
The inspectors carried out a thorough review, and delivered their report to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on 11 June 2009. The Secretary of State has studied the report in full and taken legal advice on the next steps. After considering the report in its entirety, he has asked the Serious Fraud Office to review the report and consider whether there are any grounds for a criminal investigation. Following legal advice, this report will not be published at this time, in order to ensure that any criminal investigation or prosecution that the SFO might decide to take is not prejudiced. Publication now could also prejudice the possibility of a fair trial. The discretion of the Secretary of State to publish a Companies Act report when inspectors are appointed under section 432 is only to publish the whole report. The legislation does not provide for the report to be published in part.
Does not that reply show that the Government’s consistent approach to difficult questions about the car industry has always been to put them into the long grass? Does the Minister recall that, on 31 May 2005, the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, while declining to answer questions about the Government’s role in the affair, set up the inquiry, saying:
“I have asked them to report to me as quickly as possible and in a form which will enable the report to be made public.”
Does the Minister not accept that four years later, after £16 million-worth of taxpayers’ money has been spent on this inquiry, it is quite inadequate now to decide to refer the issue again—this time to the Serious Fraud Office, which could have been brought in long ago? Is it not obvious that the whole point is to continue to avoid publication and to avoid answering questions about the Government’s own role in this embarrassing affair?
Will the Minister try to answer today, if he is able, the question of why that particular consortium was selected by the Government to buy MG Rover from BMW in the first place, which was never clear? Will he also explain why, before the 2005 election, another Secretary of State spent £6.5 million-worth of taxpayers’ money on a loan to keep the company alive through the general election campaign—a decision later described by the National Audit Office as a waste of public money?
Most particularly and finally, is the Minister not aware that the former MG Rover workers are hoping to benefit from the MG Rover trust fund, which holds £16 million from asset sales, but that none of that money can be disbursed until this report is published? The workers are innocent victims of the Secretary of State’s ingenious discovery of another reason to avoid publication. Will he not reconsider the decision and just reflect on the fact that the Government’s policy towards the car industry today shows the same combination of indecision and inactivity that it has shown on the inquiry into the affairs of the late MG Rover, which we are considering today?
I made it clear in my statement that the investigation under the Companies Act 1985 was an independent investigation carried out by individuals who are entirely independent of Government. The length of time taken by the investigation has been the result of the work carried out by the inspectors, and it would have been quite inappropriate for the Government to intervene in that investigation. It is surely the correct decision—as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), as a learned member of the Bar, will be aware—to consider the report and the evidence as a whole before making any decision to refer any investigation to a criminal authority such as the Serious Fraud Office. That is precisely the approach that the Secretary of State has undertaken. The report was delivered as recently as 11 June. The Secretary of State has acted quickly and has made a decision based on consideration of the evidence to refer this matter to the Serious Fraud Office. That decision has not been taken lightly; it is a serious matter and the Secretary of State has taken the entirely correct approach.
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on any allegations concerning the specifics of the history of MG Rover, because any comment I make, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware, could itself be prejudicial to any future criminal inquiry. I am very well aware of the position of those former employees of the MG Rover group, and of the trust fund, because of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). I am afraid that it is quite appropriate to refer these matters to the Serious Fraud Office, and until that inquiry and investigation is resolved, I regret that no further steps can be taken with regard to the trust fund.
The decision to make a referral in this way raises extremely serious questions—not least, as has already been mentioned, concerning the manner in which the original investment decisions were taken, and what due diligence may or may not have been undertaken with regard both to the deal itself and to those involved in it. It also raises some fairly serious questions about what PricewaterhouseCoopers was doing for four years, and how the process has reached this particular point. In reaching the decision to make a referral to the Serious Fraud Office, what regard did the investigators have to the report of PWC, the administrators, which dealt with whether there was improper conduct? Can we now conclude that prima facie evidence of improper conduct has indeed been found?
May I pursue a point that has already been made? Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer about the employees, it seems remarkably unfair that four years on they should still be waiting for payments. What can the Department do to expedite the payments that may be due to those employees?
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, it would be inappropriate to draw any conclusions at this stage from the Secretary of State’s decision to refer the matter to the Serious Fraud Office. Any specific allegations that have been made will be considered in the context of the report as a whole, and the Serious Fraud Office will report in due course. I think that it is in the interests of all parties for its report to be delivered as expeditiously as possible, but the decisions to be made are in its hands, and we shall simply have to wait until those decisions are made.
May I pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who would be here if he were not stuck in traffic on his way to the House? May I also point out that Whips, who usually have to remain silent, are none the less present? For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Steve McCabe) is present, but is unable to speak on behalf of his constituents.
I hope that none of the parties will use the MG Rover affair as a political football. Having referred it to the Serious Fraud Office, Ministers have less influence on the timing of the final report than they had before. Once the Minister has been given an indication of how much longer it might be delayed, will he engage in serious discussions on whether the trust fund can be released before its publication? I think that after four years, the most important aspect of the affair must be the position of the workers. They have been most affected by it, and they have a right to look to us to resolve it as quickly as possible.
As someone who represents a great many former Rover workers, may I tell the Minister that they are simply outraged at the time that it has taken for the report to be completed, and at the £16 million price tag that has been put on it? They now want answers. They want to know why they lost their jobs, and why, on the demise of MG Rover in April 2005, none of the company’s assets still belonged to it. Bearing in mind that there may be an investigation, can the Minister at least put a finite time limit on when the report will be put in the public domain, thereby ensuring that the people who have been most affected by this whole tragic case can have access to the £16 million trust fund that is their desert and right?
I have, of course, a great deal of sympathy for the former workers at MG Rover. I well understand their frustration over the time that the investigation has taken. However, as I said earlier, the investigation conducted under the Companies Act was an independent investigation, and it would not have been appropriate for the Government to curtail it. It has been a complex investigation involving a great deal of work over a longer time than any of us would have wished, and for that reason I hope that the further step of referring the matter to the Serious Fraud Office can be dealt with as soon as possible. However, as I have said, the Serious Fraud Office is an independent body, and the matter is now in its hands.
I support what my Birmingham colleagues have said about the Rover work force. It is important for the trust issue to be resolved as quickly as possible. If my hon. Friend were to agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), would he ensure that precedents were addressed? I was not able to get reports on, for example, H. H. Robertson—which collapsed in the Tory days—into the public domain. There must be consistency across the piece.
Fairly or unfairly, at a time of deep political cynicism among the public, the general feeling will be that this is an attempt to delay an embarrassing admission of guilt until after the general election. Will the Minister therefore say whether it is likely that any parts of this report that are not sub judice will contain criticisms of the Government? Are there any such criticisms of the Government in the report?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, but I regret that it would not be appropriate for me to make specific comments on the content of the report because, as I have already pointed out, these issues are now in the hands of the Serious Fraud Office and any statements that I might make concerning the detail of the report could prejudice further criminal proceedings.
I have to make a rather unusual declaration of interest because, along with Mike Whitby and Carl Chinn, I was one of the people who opened negotiations with BMW and then got kicked out as a community representative from the bid, and although we may have residual legal rights, we would not wish to exercise them other than in the interests of the wider community. It is the wider community, of which I too am a representative, that needs to be thought of. A cost of £16 million for a report, plus £16 million in the trust fund, is a lot of money. I therefore ask the Minister to consider whether it might be possible to negotiate a further contribution towards that from the Phoenix directors, to ensure that we can bring this to a conclusion that will benefit those who have suffered the most: the work force.
I have already made it clear that I have great concerns for the work force and that I will discuss their position with colleagues in the Department. I am very concerned about the trust fund, and we clearly need to facilitate access to that as soon as possible. At this moment, however, I am afraid that the investigation and the referral to the SFO must take precedence.
During the Minister’s disappointing statement, should he not have apologised for the fact that the Government traduced the previous owners, BMW, whose headquarters are in my constituency, and which did the right thing by the work force by selling for nothing to the new owners? Should he not also apologise for the Government’s failure to accept the bid from Alchemy, which was clearly seen by everybody who knew anything about the industry as the only way to save jobs?
Everyone shares the desire, which the Minister has pointed to, for a expeditious report, but will he try to ensure that the SFO’s report is comprehensive enough to take into account the actions of the Government in their negotiations before May 2000 when the bid took place? Both my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) have alluded to this concern. There is a feeling that the fraud did not start recently, but may have taken place as much as eight years ago.
Were Ministers or officials at the Department made aware of any concerns about illegal activity taking place at MG Rover at any time over the past four years? Is it really only since receiving the final report that Ministers became aware of a serious fraud?
As I have already made very clear, it is appropriate to consider all the evidence in this case. That is the step that was taken by the Secretary of State at the conclusion of the presentation of the report on 11 June, and it is on the basis of the consideration of all the evidence that the matter has now been referred to the SFO.
I wish to make a brief statement. Last Thursday, at the end of the statement on swine flu, by which time I was no longer in the Chair, the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) raised a point of order about the apparent leaking earlier that day of the contents of my own statement announcing that the deputy speakership posts would be subject to election in the autumn. The Chairman of Ways and Means gave a holding reply to that point of order, and I now wish to respond substantively to it.
I share the dismay of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford that this leak occurred after I had, as I pointed out in my original statement on the deputy speakerships, consulted Government and Opposition Whips, as a matter of courtesy. I am confident that this leak did not come from my staff, and I know that it did not come from me. I wish in future to feel able, in advance of any comparable statement, to consult others before making it. However, I give notice today that if such a leak occurs on any future occasion, I shall no longer feel under any obligation to hold such consultations in advance. I am sorry that I have to be so blunt so early in my speakership, but this sort of behaviour is precisely what harms the reputation of this House, and I do not intend to tolerate it.
Building our Common Future
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the White Paper on international development that I am publishing today. Copies of both the White Paper and this statement have been placed in the Vote Office.
We stand at a critical juncture for international development. Although millions have been lifted out of poverty over the past decade thanks to sustained economic growth, reforming Governments, debt relief and increases in aid, much of that progress that we have seen is now imperilled. The global recession, the climate crisis and ongoing conflict and fragility in many countries threaten now to turn back the clock on the development gains made since the beginning of this century. The White Paper therefore sets out how the Government will pursue the fight against global poverty, and places new emphasis on four key areas: supporting growth; tackling climate change; tackling conflict and fragility; and improving the international system. I will say more about each of those areas in turn, but I will first set out the context for the White Paper.
The past decade has, of course, seen real achievements in the fight against global poverty: aid increases and debt cancellation have helped to get 40 million more children into schools around the world; the number of people with access to AIDS treatment has increased from just 100,000 to more than 3 million today; and the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has fallen from a third to a quarter. Yet it is clear that with 9 million children dying each year, 70 million denied the opportunity to go to school, and a billion people around the world still without enough to eat, the world remains far from meeting the millennium development goals set in 2000.
Now the global recession threatens to trap as many as 90 million more people in poverty, which would push back progress towards the first MDG—the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger—by as much as three years. The likely impact of the economic crisis is a stark reminder that the gains made in moving towards the MDGs can indeed be fragile. Those gains are also threatened by the advance of climate change—if temperatures continue to rise at current levels, an extra 600 million people will be affected by malnutrition by the end of the century—and by the effects of conflict and poor governance. Each year, at least 740,000 people are killed as a result of armed violence, with many more injured or disabled. So unless all three of those global challenges—the recession, climate change and conflict—are tackled, the MDGs will be pushed further out of reach.
Now is therefore not the time to turn away from the mission to tackle global poverty. I am proud to say that the Government are keeping the promises that we made to dedicate 0.7 per cent. of national income to development assistance by 2013. By next year our assistance will be equivalent to 0.56 per cent. of national income, in line with the European Union’s collective commitment, and by next year we will have nearly trebled our bilateral and multilateral aid to Africa since 2004. Half our global bilateral aid will be invested in public services, helping to get 8 million children into school across Africa, and delivering not only our promised 20 million anti-malaria bed nets by next year, but an additional 30 million treated bed nets by 2013. We will work with others to help developing countries provide free health care to their citizens, and we will press the international community for more support to save 6 million mothers and babies by 2015.
We will continue to tackle sickness, hunger and illiteracy across the developing world. We will also support developing countries to pursue economic growth, to protect their citizens from the impact of climate change, to help resolve conflicts and to build capable, accountable and responsive states.
Let me take each of those challenges in turn. I am sure that we would all accept that growth is the exit route out of poverty and aid dependence. Fifty years ago, income rates in east Asia were equivalent to those in Africa; today, incomes in east Asia are five times higher. In the midst of this recession, we will help to protect 50 million poor people in more than 20 countries from the worst effects of the present downturn. We will press for the rapid delivery of the commitments made by the G20 at the London summit to provide further financial support to the poorest countries. We will work towards concluding a successful and equitable Doha development round that would boost the global economy by more than $150 billion a year.
We will help developing countries to build fairer and more sustainable economic growth, double our agricultural research funding, and provide investment for infrastructure and reforms that will help African countries to trade with each other and the world. The Fairtrade label now certifies more than £1 billion-worth of goods, helping more than 7 million producers and their families around the world. We will continue to support that success story, and indeed quadruple our support for Fairtrade and ethical trading.
We will advance our work with law enforcement agencies to clamp down on bribery and corruption, which have a parasitic effect on many economies. DFID support to the Metropolitan police has already led to the recovery of £20 million of assets and the freezing of £131 million of assets. We will now triple our investment in these efforts, supporting the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service, and helping the Met to pursue more investigations across more countries.
The scale of the economic crisis and its impact on the developing world is now clear, but climate change presents, if anything, an even greater long-term threat to the prospects of alleviating poverty in the developing world. Two weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change launched the UK’s Copenhagen manifesto, setting out our detailed proposals for an ambitious deal in Copenhagen at the end of the year.
This White Paper will ensure that new and additional finance is made available, over and above our aid commitment to reach 0.7 per cent. of gross national income. We will also increase our investment in helping developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but set a limit of up to 10 per cent. of official development assistance.
We will also give countries practical support to help in that process of adaptation, including by supporting the world-renowned Hadley Centre to model the effects of climate change in developing countries. We will also encourage low carbon development by investing in clean technology and tackling avoidable deforestation.
Alongside the climate and financial crises, the third great threat to continued progress in reducing global poverty is the continuing and enduring level of conflict and state fragility. One third of the world’s poorest people live in conflict-affected or fragile countries. Half of all children who die before their fifth birthday live in such places. If we are to make further progress towards meeting the millennium development goals, we must work differently in those countries and directly address the causes of war and weak government. Half of all our new bilateral aid will go to fragile and conflict-affected countries. We will place security and justice alongside other basic services—tripling spending on those areas and addressing violence against women in particular as a priority. We will also create jobs, benefiting 7.5 million people in five fragile countries by 2013. In all fragile countries, we will help to develop joint strategies with our colleagues in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. Internationally, we will press for the United Nations, the World Bank and the European Union to provide rapid assistance in the aftermath of conflict.
It is increasingly clear that global challenges demand global solutions. If we want to make real progress in solving the economic crisis, the climate crisis and the persistence of ongoing conflict, we will need to work more, not less, through the international system. But if international institutions are to live up to these new responsibilities, they must become more accountable, more responsive to and more able to address current challenges, and more representative of all their constituents.
The White Paper sets out our strategy for improving the effectiveness of international institutions in tackling global poverty in the years ahead. We will invest a higher proportion of our new aid resources through the international system in return for securing key reforms. Our funding for the United Nations will be subject to performance and will be increasingly channelled in ways that encourage UN agencies to deliver as one in developing countries. We will push for the creation of a single, powerful UN agency for women by merging existing structures and will at least double our core funding for work on gender equality to the UN.
In Europe, we will press for the EU to create a single development commissioner, to re-prioritise resources towards fragile countries in Asia and the middle east and to make poverty reduction a primary aim of all EU external policies such as those on climate and security. We will continue to press for improved governance and performance of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the regional development banks so that they can do more to support poor countries during the downturn. To meet growing humanitarian demands, we will lobby internationally for a stronger humanitarian system and humanitarian access, including through increasing the UN’s central emergency response fund.
In turn, we will maintain our own rigorous focus on aid effectiveness and the effectiveness of DFID as an organisation to deliver on its mission of poverty reduction. At this time of economic challenge, we will work harder than ever to ensure that every pound of UK aid contributes to direct and tangible results. We will prioritise our efforts and work in fewer countries. We will deliver an additional £155 million of efficiency savings by next year by making value for money improvements in our research budget and other areas.
As well as meeting our commitments on aid effectiveness made in the Paris declaration and in the Accra agenda for action last September, we will further improve the transparency of the projects we fund through a new searchable database on our website. We will set aside at least 5 per cent. of budget support funds to help developing countries’ Governments to improve accountability to their citizens. We will establish deeper and broader partnerships with civil society organisations and the private sector, doubling our central support to civil society to £300 million a year and launching a new innovation fund to help community groups and individuals in the UK to support small but innovative development projects.
Finally, as the Select Committee on International Development noted in its recent report, signs that the downturn is beginning to undermine previously strong support in the United Kingdom cause concern for all of us who are concerned about development. The White Paper sets out our plans to do more to help show the UK public how Government assistance is helping to fight poverty, including through the use of the new UKaid logo to increase the visibility of our work.
In conclusion, the mission of the Department for International Development, as clearly set out by the White Paper, will remain reducing poverty and supporting sustainable development. A world in which too many countries lack not only the basics of life but the opportunity to fulfil their aspirations diminishes us all. For the Government—and for many people across the United Kingdom—this is a profoundly moral cause, but in the 21st century development is not merely a moral cause: it is also a common cause.
Order. I am extremely grateful, and I am sure that the House will be. However, the Secretary of State modestly exceeded his allotted time. I hope that the House will take it in the proper spirit when I say that in future, in accordance with Standing Orders, I am keen to enforce those time limits, principally in the interests of Back Benchers.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. There is much in the White Paper that we welcome, not least since it adopts a number of themes and specific ideas that the Opposition have been championing now for more than four years. We welcome his commitment to do more on agriculture and to focus on women, who bear the brunt of conflict and poverty. We look forward to hearing how he will breathe new life into the very important Doha process.
This time of economic crisis, which particularly affects the world’s poor, is a time not to withdraw our support but to redouble our international development efforts. Poverty breeds extremism, incubates disease and drives migration and conflict. Tackling poverty and deprivation is not merely a moral duty that we must discharge with passion and rigour—it is also in our best national interest.
It is also a matter of relief to many of our fellow citizens that this is no longer a Labour or Conservative agenda but a British agenda that commands widespread support. The Government are clearly listening to Conservative arguments on international development, particularly on the need to improve our performance in fragile states.
Over the past few years, I have seen for myself the impressive work done by DFID staff in a number of conflict-affected countries—the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Burma, the Somalia border, Iraq, Afghanistan and the west bank—and I pay tribute to DFID’s brave staff, who put themselves in harm’s way in those places. One thing that has emerged from those visits is the intense difficulty of operating effectively in such environments. Security costs are often astronomic. The capacity of the Governments with whom we work is frequently, by definition, very low or non-existent. Insecurity makes monitoring and evaluation difficult. The risk of corruption is high. Local politics is often opaque and complex, and there is a real risk of aid exacerbating tensions.
As the recent highly critical evaluation of DFID’s performance in Afghanistan has shown, we need a dramatic improvement in the effectiveness of our aid in conflict and war zones. What estimate has the Secretary of State made of the increased security cost to his Department of working more in fragile states? He will be well aware of the National Audit Office report that found that only half of DFID projects in the most insecure countries achieve their aims and that almost a quarter suffer from fraud or financial problems. Does he accept that, if we are to get value for money from our spending in those countries, we need radically to improve the quality of our aid effort and demonstrate that through independent assessment and validation, so that any lessons can be learned?
The Secretary of State is rightly keen to raise the profile and visibility of British aid, but he will be aware that, in this age of austerity, spending on rebranding will be very carefully scrutinised. How much does he estimate that the rebranding exercise will cost? What value-for-money inquiries and cost-benefit analysis did he undertake before announcing this policy? Does he recognise the risk that UKaid could be confused with USAID. Does he agree that the most effective way to raise awareness and public support for British aid is to focus on the outcomes and achievements that it generates, rather than on the inputs so beloved of the Government?
The White Paper has been launched during the dying days of this Labour Government. The country and Britain’s international development effort need a renewed sense of direction. There are some good points and sensible suggestions in the White Paper that we strongly support, because many of them originated on this side of the House. I hope that we will all have the opportunity to debate them at more length over the coming months, for the prize of a more effective British international development effort is clear: a better life for millions of people and a safer world for Britain.
I thank the hon. Gentleman both for his welcome of the White Paper and his warm words of congratulations to the staff of the Department. It has been a great privilege for me over the past couple of years to work with an extremely expert, experienced and dedicated staff, and I think that there is a consensus on both sides of the House that they are among the best of British and that they deserve our congratulations.
Although the challenge of climate change is a key theme of the White Paper and we all recognise that recycling is a necessary part of responding to climate change, the hon. Gentleman will notice that we did not accept all the Conservatives’ proposals—for example, the recycled assisted places scheme, under which British aid money would be spent on promoting private education in developing countries. By contrast, the key theme of the White Paper is extending access across the developing world to public education that is available to all. It has not been because of ideological dogma that DFID has come to be recognised as a global leader over the past decade; it is because we have undertaken the hard yards of investing in new schools, new classrooms and new teachers and worked closely with Governments and a range of other organisations, including non-governmental organisations, to deliver those changes.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his brass neck in suggesting that there is widespread support for the DFID budget, as his statement comes only a week after it was exclusively revealed on the Conservative homepage that only 4 per cent. of endorsed Conservative candidates support the protection of DFID’s budget—less than one in 20 does not seem to me to be a commendation of the proposals advanced by Opposition Front Benchers. However, I am confident that, if we take the right steps, there will be a broad consensus in favour of the proposals set out in the White Paper.
The rebranding—the use of the UKaid logo—is a necessary step in response to concerns that the public have expressed not just to the Department but to the International Development Committee about the profile of UK development expenditure. Frankly, perhaps in the past, DFID has been the best-kept secret in the British Government, and I make no apology for the expenditure that has been incurred in making sure that we have branding that will, I believe, resonate with the British public in time, as a reflection of their long-standing commitment to the concerns of international development.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the quality of international aid. Perhaps the most obvious example, given the question that he posed, is Afghanistan. He asked what the independent assessments were. I reflect on the recent Oxfam report on Afghanistan, in which the Department for International Development was highly commended for working, albeit in challenging circumstances, with the Government of Afghanistan. We will continue to pursue that course, with all the necessary caveats relating to corruption and the protection of British taxpayers’ money, because we believe that it offers a better, more sustainable way to deliver aid. Finally, I genuinely believe that there is potential for public consensus on development in the future. I believe that the White Paper takes a significant step towards answering the questions that the British public have had in their minds.
May I, too, thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of the statement and the White Paper? However, I echo the shadow International Development Secretary’s plea for a full debate on this substantive issue as soon as possible. In a world of enormous disparities of wealth and life experience, we clearly have huge moral responsibilities to provide official development assistance, as the White Paper recognises. However, in a world that is increasingly globalised and interdependent, and where the consequences of poverty, conflict and climate change affect all of us, there is also a clear national interest in supporting developing countries as they tackle challenges of an unprecedented nature and scale.
We on the Liberal Democrat Benches will study the White Paper carefully, but we certainly support the identification of conflict and climate change as key priorities, alongside the still-important focus on poverty, hunger and disease. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the White Paper does not signal a departure from the primary pro-poor focus of his Department? The resources required to deliver on the priorities are underscored by the welcome continued commitment to the 0.7 per cent. target, but we still have no indication of how that spending level will be reached.
In the absence of a comprehensive spending review, will the Secretary of State publish his Department’s detailed planning assumptions, showing how it wants the resources to be allocated in the run-up to 2013? In the absence of a strategic defence review, will he tell us how other Departments will be reconfigured to make effective use of the welcome extra resources planned for conflict issues? On interdepartmental working, will he confirm that as he allocates funding to deal with climate change and conflict to other Departments, his Department’s increased resources will not simply be laundered to the Ministry of Defence and others to bail them out of the Government’s overall Budget crisis?
The Secretary of State’s ambitious agenda is being set out at a time when his Department continues to reduce its staffing complement. Surely that means that ever-larger cheques will be written to international organisations, so how will he ensure that he achieves his avowed intent to improve accountability and transparency in the provision of development assistance? Finally, he pledges the rapid delivery of the recent G20 commitments, but how can anyone take that seriously when a key part of it, the G8 countries, have failed miserably to deliver on the Gleneagles promises of four years ago?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome endorsement of the themes of conflict and climate change in the White Paper, and indeed for his broad agreement, if that is not to prejudge the debate that I hope we can have in the months ahead on the themes that the White Paper sets out. I am happy to give the confirmation that he seeks that the focus of the Department will remain poverty reduction—the pro-poor focus, as he describes it. The themes that emerged in the White Paper reflected the insights that we have garnered in recent years, which showed us that to deliver fully on the millennium development goals and that pro-poor agenda, we needed better to incorporate climate change, and the challenge of working in fragile and conflict-affected states—and indeed with the whole multilateral system—than we have perhaps done in the past.
As for the Government’s position on forward public expenditure, it is of course the Government’s long-standing position that we will meet the target of 0.7 per cent. by 2013. The credibility of that claim rests not simply on its recent reiteration by our Prime Minister, but on the fact that as recently as the previous spending review, we were clearly on track to meet that commitment, and that continues to be the case.
On the hon. Gentleman’s rather inelegant but challenging phrase about interdepartmental working and the laundering of the DFID budget, I simply ask him to reflect on the fact that it is not a former Prime Minister of the Labour party and a former Foreign Secretary of the Labour party who have, in recent days, argued for the reincorporation of the Department for International Development into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; that proposal came from Members on the Conservative Benches. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are sincere in our commitment that DFID should remain a separate and distinctive Cabinet-rank Department that is determined to work effectively with our colleagues in the Foreign Office and in the Ministry of Defence.
In relation to the issue of accountability and transparency that the hon. Gentleman raises, we have listened carefully to recommendations from the International Development Committee on how we could improve our website to make sure that there is a searchable facility whereby we will be able to provide better and more accessible information, not just here in the United Kingdom, but internationally.
On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, I can assure him that, in the days between now and L’Aquila and in the preceding weeks, the British Government will be and have been arguing with our G8 colleagues that now is the time to publish what could be called a Gleneagles framework whereby the whole world will be able to judge by the time of the L’Aquila summit which countries have met their Gleneagles commitments and which countries have fallen behind. I welcome the fact that as recently as last month one stated categorically that the British Government were meeting their Gleneagles commitments. I hope that in the days between now and L’Aquila, other countries will reflect on their responsibilities and set out credible recovery paths.
Order. Eighteen Members are seeking to catch my eye. I am naturally keen to accommodate as many of them as possible. I therefore look to each Member to ask one brief supplementary question and, of course, to the Secretary of State to offer us a characteristically succinct reply.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this important White Paper. Will he and his fellow Ministers back up the very welcome commitment to seek a single UN agency for women by working with other countries to make sure that they give that commitment and the financial support to such an agency? That will make a tremendous difference in developing countries, where women do most of the work.
Let me begin by succinctly paying tribute to my right hon. Friend’s long-standing concern and campaigning on development issues. I am able to give her the assurance that she seeks. As recently as last week, when Helen Clark, the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, was in the Department, I was able to discuss with her the importance of the coherence of the UN’s effort, and nowhere is that effort more needed than in relation to a single agency dealing with the gender question.
I thank the Secretary of State for the White Paper, and for taking account of many of the recommendations of the International Development Committee. He is right to say that in the present climate aid, is needed more, not less, and we need public understanding and backing for that. On the conflict country support, will he clarify how many fewer countries the Department will operate in? If 50 per cent. of the bilateral money is going into conflict, what will that mean in a situation where multilateral donations are rising? Can he put a figure on the sum we are talking about?
I fear that I will have the opportunity to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s questions in a great deal more detail shortly, when I appear before his Committee. Let me record my gratitude for the work of the Committee; it has been invaluable in framing our analysis and our prescription in the latest White Paper.
On the specific point that the right hon. Gentleman raises, this is not a sudden handbrake turn for the Department. He is as aware as I am that over recent years we have reduced the number of countries in which we have been working—my recollection is that we have done so by about 10 in recent years. We plan to continue that progress on the basis of the best principles of aid effectiveness, rather than a sudden move towards working in conflict and fragile affected states. However, we also want to see an improvement in the effectiveness of the multilateral system so that some countries can take more of the burden than they have done in recent years.
When donor countries pool their resources in multilateral institutions, they raise substantially more people out of poverty per pound spent than when countries go it alone with their own bilateral programmes. I am pleased to see the Government’s commitment to multilateral aid in the White Paper, but what will they do to persuade other countries to do the same?
As in so many areas, I hope the Department has the opportunity to lead by example. I do not see a choice between increasing the resources to the multilateral system and improving our policy influence over those multilateral institutions. I believe we can demonstrate to other donors a continuing—indeed, increasing—commitment to those institutions, at the same time as convincing them that they can have real influence to ensure a progressive outcome to the policy agenda.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s emphasis on growth as the only sustainable route out of poverty, and I am delighted that he has decided to reverse the mistaken and long-standing decline in the share of aid going to agriculture and infrastructure, but does he agree that the countries that have been most successful in growing out of poverty are those that have traded out of poverty? Will he therefore put more emphasis on extending duty-free, quota-free access to all low-income countries, not just less-developed countries, and on making more generous and simple the rules of origin, which at present inhibit many countries in taking advantage of duty-free access?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has prior knowledge of many of those issues from the globalisation report that he published some time ago, but, as the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) suggests from the Front Bench, in relation to economic partnership agreements, some progress has been made on one of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman addressed.
On duty-free and quota-free access, however, there is a judgment to be made about whether we should push the development part of a multilateral deal, or whether we best serve the interests of developing countries by going for a comprehensive conclusion to the Doha round. It would be a great risk at this stage, with the election of a new Congress party Government in India and a more realistic prospect than there has been recently of a breakthrough on Doha in the months ahead, if we averted our gaze from the prize of a Doha deal and looked at what would, none the less, be an important part of a deal for developing countries.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that no Government have been stronger in their resolve to try to conclude the Doha round than the British Government. Our Prime Minister continues to take a very active role, discussing with Pascal Lamy and others what progress can be made, and, as I have said, on the basis of certain changes among key players, I feel a cautious optimism that we may see real progress in the months ahead.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the US Government tie US aid very tightly, in some respects, to US foreign policy objectives. Can he confirm that he has no plans to do the same in the UK when it comes to UK aid by, for example, reintegrating DFID with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
Yes, I am very happy to give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. Distinguished members of the Labour party do not propose that approach; it is, however, the approach of the former Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary from the Conservative party.
I hear that it is not the position of Conservative Front Benchers. They do not seem to command the support of the former Prime Minister, the former Foreign Secretary or the prospective candidates of the Conservative party: quite whom they speak for is really for them to answer.
The Minister has made a big virtue of spending an increasing proportion of our aid through international bodies, but does he consider it wise to spend ever-increasing amounts of money through the European Union? It is widely regarded as being pretty poor when it comes to spending money efficiently, and it has been widely criticised for spending money on populations that cannot be described as among the world’s poorest.
Once again, Conservative Back Benchers seem to be rather at odds with Conservative Front Benchers, because, if I recollect properly, the leader of the Conservative party recently made a speech in which he said that the European Union had a key role to play in climate change and in tackling global poverty. However, I do not want to intrude on private grief.
On the hon. Gentleman’s substantive point, I agree that the European Union has a central role to play in tackling global poverty, and I welcome the real strides that have been made in reforming the EU’s development budget in recent years. The case that we will make towards the end of the year for a powerful single EU development commissioner will strengthen the arm of those who want further reform in the EU. However, this issue exposes a fundamental difference between the parties: some on the Opposition Front Bench argue for multilateralism but do not command the support of all their party; on the Government Benches, there is a universal consensus that there should be excellence in our bilateral programme and that we should work multilaterally to tackle global poverty.
In congratulating my right hon. Friend on the extremely effective and compassionate work carried out by his Department, whose role before its existence was one responsibility of a junior Minister in the Tory Foreign Office, may I ask what success he is having in getting aid into Gaza, which I know he has visited, but off which in international waters last week the Israeli navy committed an act of piracy against an aid ship and kidnapped its crew?
I am grateful for the words offered by my right hon. Friend, who has a long-standing commitment not just to the concerns and suffering of the people of Gaza, but to people throughout the developing world. He knows, as I do, that the Government have been pressing hard on the Israeli Government to allow not simply access for the aid we have provided, but for aid workers from a range of British NGOs to undertake their vital humanitarian work. We have not seen the progress that all of us, from all parts of the House, would have liked from the Israeli Government, but we continue to press the case for humanitarian supplies to be allowed free and unfettered access to Gaza. Ships should not need to travel to the coast of Gaza, because there should be free and unfettered access in Rafah and at the other land-based crossings, and I assure my right hon. Friend that we will continue to press that case to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Ministers.
I have learned from my discussions with Commonwealth Members of Parliament that the thing that upsets them more than almost anything else about international aid is how much of it is spent on consultants’ reports, which are fairly widespread when aid is given, not only by the UK but by countries throughout the world. Will the Secretary of State assure us that he will look critically at how much of his departmental money goes on consultants’ reports? Will he ensure that the money spent on them is minimised as much as possible so that more money gets through to the front line?
I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on that matter. I shall set out the details in the letter, but my recollection is that there has been such a reduction recently. However, I come back to the latest independent review of DFID’s work; it said that DFID was a world leader in aid effectiveness. That did not happen by chance, but by choice. We are continually looking at how we can deliver aid most effectively. Obviously, that varies from country to country, but I am glad to say that we have made progress that has established DFID as a global leader in recent years. However, we are never complacent.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that poverty reduction requires us to focus on climate change; that was a welcome part of his statement. Will he go slightly further and recognise that in tackling climate change as part of the anti-poverty strategy, we must focus on land-use change and ecosystem services, which are a part of the parcel?
I recognise the centrality of both those issues to the challenges described in the White Paper and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the service and work that he has undertaken, particularly on forestry.
In 2005, I was privileged in taking seven busloads of my constituents to the streets of Edinburgh in our shared plea to make poverty history. Unless we now engage in the policy consequences and challenges of climate change, poverty will become the future for billions of our fellow citizens. That insight underpins the policy prescriptions of the White Paper.
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the non-governmental aid organisations about prioritising some of the budgets on security and justice? Given their aims and campaigns, does he enjoy their full and unqualified support for that prioritisation?
Anybody with even a fleeting acquaintance with development NGOs in the United Kingdom knows that they never agree with each other, never mind with every paragraph of a White Paper—even one from the Department for International Development. In recent weeks, we have been unstinting in our efforts to try to ensure a genuine consultation and dialogue with the NGOs; if I remember rightly, we have had eight or nine regional consultation events around the country to make sure that not only London-based NGOs, but those right across the United Kingdom, can contribute.
We have received about 2,500 responses to the White Paper from a range of institutions, individuals and organisations. Some of the concerns that they might have had about our full commitment to NGOs have been answered by the doubling of our funding to civil society organisations. Whatever issues they might have about the focus on conflict in fragile affected states, they are issues on which we can work with NGOs in the years ahead.
In eight weeks’ time, I shall be in Tanzania—at my own expense—looking at what is being done by British university students working in Tanzanian schools for the summer. They are there under the auspices of READ International, a charity of which I am patron. Does my right hon. Friend agree that however good the relationships between voluntary organisations in this country and services in developing countries, and between our Government and Governments such as Tanzania’s, our aim has to be to ensure that the capacity of Governments in developing countries is sufficient for them to make their own decisions about how they manage services such as education? That is preferable to a paternalist or dogmatic approach to the sort of education that should be delivered, which appears to be the message coming from some on the Conservative Benches.
I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of capacity-building and the continuing country-led development that runs like a golden thread through the White Paper. I pay tribute to the organisation he describes and to the thousands of others across the United Kingdom that undertake vital contributions to the task of development. Their work inspired us to announce a new innovation fund in the White Paper. It will allow small organisations in constituencies across the country to apply for often small sums that could facilitate exactly the kind of visit that my hon. Friend is making.
I applaud the renewed emphasis on agriculture and infrastructure. What are the two biggest research projects that the Secretary of State’s Department is undertaking, and from which other projects does he intend to save £155 million?
We are undertaking a significant programme of agricultural research; we committed £1 billion towards research only last year. I will set out the figures for the hon. Gentleman in correspondence later. We have looked carefully at finding ways better to align that spend in what is a significant envelope to ensure that we get the most effective return. Our particular focus on agricultural research, which has moved up the agenda relative to the traditional health research that we have performed for several years, stems from our belief that it is the most effective way of engaging effectively within agriculture. Under a previous Government, there were a large number of agronomists within DFID, as well as many field-based workers. That is no longer the most effective contribution that we can make, which is instead to contribute to the raising of agricultural productivity, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, in a manner that was achieved on the Indian sub-continent 20 to 30 years ago.
I very much welcome the new emphasis on fragile and conflict countries and my right hon. Friend’s intention to develop joint strategies with the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. Should the statutory definition of poverty reduction be found to be a hindrance in that development of joint strategies, either here or in working with other countries, will he have an open mind in reconsidering some of those parameters?
I read with some interest a recent report indicating that statutory change was necessary, but that has not been my experience as Secretary of State for International Development; indeed, I struggle to think of a single instance where I have felt constrained in the choices put before me under landmark legislation passed by this Labour Government. It is vital that we continue to be trusted as an organisation that sees poverty reduction as its core task, while at the same time working in an effective and collaborative manner with our colleagues in the Foreign Office and the MOD.
The Kettering-based charity, Casa Alianza, is a world leader in providing effective aid to street children, particularly in central America, many of whom suffer abuse at the hands of state authorities and local and national police forces. What emphasis does the White Paper place on helping the growing number of street children across the world?
The White Paper contains language on the challenge of urbanisation, which is directly related to the issue of street children. There is a strong and continuing focus on the need to provide basic health services, which are essential to the needs of street children. At the same time, we are considering the challenge of providing education, because many street children find themselves in circumstances where they are denied formal education. We are also seeking to increase our investment in social protection, because in many households it is the absence of income that has driven children on to the streets. I applaud the efforts of the charity in question, which are reflected in several other charities working on this important issue across the United Kingdom. If the hon. Gentleman sends me further details of the charity, I shall certainly be interested to have a look at them.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the growing concern in Parliament and beyond about the scandal of vulture funds. How will the White Paper allow the Government to further their work in tackling this issue?
The formal answer to my hon. Friend is that my colleagues in the Treasury lead on these issues. I would simply reflect on the fact that, as in other areas of policy, the challenge is to build a consensus on how we can move forward. I recognise that there is strong pressure growing as regards vulture funds. I take heart from the fact that in an equivalent campaign in relation to tax havens, we have seen, as a result of the leadership of our own Prime Minister at the G20, decisive action that I hope will be taken forward in Pittsburgh in September.
The House is aware that many of the countries to which funds go have high levels of corruption and the leadership probably have overseas bank accounts. In the interests of proper accountability, is the Secretary of State able to give us a percentage of the amount of money given by his Department that reaches the people for whom it is intended rather than a Swiss bank account?
It is a sad fact that corruption is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, and it is almost inevitable that if we have a Department focused on global poverty reduction, it will be working in environments where there is a real challenge in relation to bribery and corruption. It is for exactly that reason that we put such emphasis on building the capacity and public financial management of those countries. However, we have a zero-tolerance policy in relation to the misuse of British aid, and if the hon. Gentleman is aware of any examples of aid being misused anywhere across our global network, I will be grateful to take receipt of them.
I also welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. He will be aware of a recent meeting that I had with him and an agency called Christian Blind Mission, which works in the field of preventive procedures against blindness and child poverty right across the developing world. Does he agree that organisations such as CBM and others in the UK deliver the value for money that he mentioned in his statement?
As I shared with the hon. Gentleman when I met him and a representative of CBM, I think my ancestors would cry out if I did not pay tribute to such organisations, given that both my grandfather and grandmother were medical missionaries. We are fully aware of the contribution that organisations such as CBM have made over many years to tackling the scourge of blindness in the developing world.
I also shared with the hon. Gentleman the recent experience that I had on the Thai-Burma border, where a Scottish surgeon, using his holidays from work as an NHS surgeon in Aberdeen, had flown out and people had walked across the border from Burma to receive free treatment at a hospital on the border. I hugely admire the work of not just CBM but many other committed people of conscience and good will in this field. I would certainly welcome the opportunity to take forward our dialogue with that organisation.
I warmly welcome the White Paper, with one caveat, which perhaps the Secretary of State’s grandparents would agree with. Malaria is killing millions of people, particularly children under five, in sub-Saharan Africa, yet it is not one of the key priorities such as climate change and conflict. Will he look again at that and ensure that we do nothing to threaten the funding for malaria research and prevention, and indeed consider increasing it? That is one of the key ways in which we can help the world.
I should correct the hon. Gentleman. I emphasised in my remarks the fact that we are taking forward our spending on malaria. I am glad to say that we will be increasing the number of treated bed nets that we were committed to prior to the White Paper, because I have seen for myself in developing countries, and our experts have seen, case after case in which insecticide-treated malarial bed nets can make a huge difference to the rate of infection and reinfection. That is why I made a judgment that we should not end our commitment at 2010 but take it forward thereafter, and I am proud to reiterate that today.
[15th Allotted Day]
Young People in the Recession
I have to tell the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
I beg to move,
That this House deeply regrets that young people are amongst the principal victims of the recession; is profoundly concerned that limits on entry to higher education mean tens of thousands of suitably qualified young people will be left without a university or college place in autumn 2009; is concerned by reports that graduates face the worst job prospects for decades; regrets that the number of young people starting an apprenticeship is falling and that the number of young people not in any kind of education, employment or training has risen to nearly one million; regrets that Ministers did not support proposals to fund 25,000 new Masters degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects in this year’s Budget; and calls on Ministers to refocus Train to Gain provision to provide 100,000 extra training places and support the thousands of apprentices who risk losing their training places during this recession.
Youth is bound to hope. Benjamin Disraeli wrote that
“the Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity.”
As the recession bites, young Britons are being bitten hard; their hopes torn apart, their futures damaged. I move this motion, in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, in sorrow. We are sorrowful for the school leavers who hoped to go to university but will not; sorrowful for the graduates who hoped to find good jobs but cannot; sorrowful for the forgotten army of 1 million youths not in education, employment or training, who once dared to dream but now do not. Every Member of the House should share my sorrow that Britain in 2009 has come to this, and share my anger at a Government who could have done more and should do better.
As the economy shrinks, unemployment grows. The number of NEETs went up even in the good times. As the economy grew, we failed to give opportunities to young people, so what hope for them now? I hope that the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, who I know is a man of good faith and cares about these things, will apologise for the fact that we failed to provide opportunity for so many young Britons in constituencies such as his and mine. He knows that, as the economy grew and jobs were created, three out of four went to people coming into Britain rather than to people already here. As the demand for skills grows, the number of learners in further education plummets, advanced apprenticeship places fall and adult learning has all but disappeared from communities throughout the country.
As Britain’s chance to compete becomes ever more dependent on a highly skilled, educated work force, the number of people with level 3 skills and above remains less than that in France and in Germany. According to the OECD, Britain is ranked 17th out of 30 nations for the number of people with above low skills. The UK suffers from a burning skills shortage; throughout industry, companies are firefighting that disaster and need a swift and effective response to the crisis. Almost two thirds of companies need skilled workers to satisfy demand, with shortages particularly keenly felt in the energy, water, engineering and construction sectors, according to the training provider, Empower Training Services Ltd.
I want to put it on record that I value the work of trade union learning representatives—I know that that applies to those on the Treasury Bench and hon. Members of all parties. They will therefore be as interested as I am to consider the TUC’s most recent report on Britain’s skills gap. It states that throughout Europe, between 40 and 45 per cent. of young people between the ages of 20 and 24 are in education or training—nearly double the UK rate. It states that 40 per cent. of adults aged 25 to 59 in work in the UK have no education beyond the age of 16, compared with 32 per cent. in France and only 13 per cent. in Germany. It also states that in France and Germany, between 60 and 65 per cent. of the population have qualifications equivalent to NVQ level 2 or above compared with only 40 per cent. in the UK.
I hope that Ministers will not go into denial today. I hope for a refreshing bout of honesty when they speak in the debate. If that happens, it will be clear that the number of those not in education, employment or training has grown by approximately 50,000 under Labour. The Government themselves class one in six 18-year-olds as NEETs, the highest figure since records kept under the current method began in 1994. We are failing those youngsters—failing to give them hope, opportunity and a chance to be the best they can. Failing them means failing us all; it is not right that Britain’s hopes should be dashed in that way. The Government know that it is not right, and we know that they are not right for Britain.
Let us consider details that some on the Treasury Bench will find difficult. I do not want to be unnecessarily unkind; none the less, the House and the people we represent have a right to explore those details. First, let us consider university entrants. University clearing places are expected to fall by two thirds—that is why we highlighted university entrants in the motion. An estimated 16,000 new course places will be available on A-level results day, compared with some 43,000 in 2008. Despite that staggering fall, research suggests that demand for degree courses increased by almost 65,000. The Government have effectively put a hold on the number of university places in September, due to growing pressure on public finances. There are expected to be around 650,000 undergraduate courses this year. Any chance that the Government ever had of reaching their 50 per cent. target now looks remote.
The Million Plus group of universities says that that cap will leave thousands of bright teenagers on benefits. It states:
“Young people who might have gone to university face the real prospect of being relegated to the ranks of the long-term unemployed, with all the personal, family and health… consequences which this brings.”
Interestingly, unlike in earlier recessions, a wide range of social groups will be affected. The group argues that everyone will be affected, from working-class school leavers to middle-class students. Some research suggests that students from the least advantaged backgrounds who, typically, tend to apply later for university, may be worst hit. That is certainly the view of the National Union of Students. Indeed, NUS president Wes Streeting has said:
“I have no doubt that those worst affected will be from the very backgrounds this government has sought to attract.”
So much for widening participation.
It has been reported in The Times that
“when the Government cut 5,000 places for this autumn, just as the recession was prompting record numbers of applications, a serious squeeze became inevitable.”
The Higher Education Funding Council has warned universities that they will suffer a cut in funding if they try to increase numbers. What does that mean in practice? The Minister knows the answer, so I hope that he will endorse, if not every word I say, then much of the sentiment. As a result of the changes,
“popular universities will stick rigidly to their offers so as not to exceed their quotas, rather than allowing some flexibility for promising candidates who don’t quite make their grades. And there will be far fewer places in clearing”.
That is what all the reports from the universities and elsewhere are telling us.
I am sure that the House would like to learn what the hon. Gentleman’s pledges for this year would be if he were in government, so would he care to tell us how many additional university places he would pledge to fund this year and whether he would match the Government’s September guarantee for each 16 and 17-year-old to have a place in education or training this year?