House of Commons
Monday 14 December 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—
Police Community Support Officers
The White Paper on policing, published on 3 December, places police community support officers at the centre of the Government’s efforts to reduce antisocial behaviour, including proposals shortly to give extra powers to PCSOs to tackle firework abuse and graffiti.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. PCSO Ryan Carroll, with whom I was out last Saturday in the Weaste area of Salford, will be absolutely delighted that this Labour Government are committed to funding our police community support officers. This is in marked contrast to the policies of the Opposition, who wish to make deep and savage cuts to our public services. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this Labour Government’s support for the fantastic work of our PCSOs remains firm and unwavering?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her support. She will know that it is Labour Government money that has introduced 16,000 PCSOs across the country. Indeed, we have not done just that: for next year, we have committed some £332 million—a 2.7 per cent. increase—to help to support them still further. She will also know, I hope, that in her borough of Salford we have committed a range of support for next year, including part of a £2.5 million package to help to support work against antisocial behaviour. That is all Labour Government money, and it will all be under threat under the Tories.
I am not going to try to score political points. I pay tribute to the role of community support officers, but is the Minister aware that quite a lot of their salary is paid by local town councils, parish councils and borough councils? These councils are finding it increasingly difficult to continue to pay this part of the PCSOs’ salary. As a result—certainly in Cheshire—a number of community support officers are going to be put out of work. Is that not a shame? What will the Government do about it?
I agree that partnership with local authorities is extremely important. I know that the hon. Gentleman would wish that support to continue, and we have committed a considerable amount of money— £332 million next year. That partnership work is important and some authorities are considering it.
I hasten to say, without being party political, that it is not Labour authorities that are doing that.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that in my part of Sheffield, the incidence of criminal damage has gone down, with 200 fewer victims last year. Police community support officers are playing a key role in that. Is he committed to continuing with the neighbourhood policing model? Police community support officers function really well when they are supported by other agencies and organisations that focus on neighbourhoods.
Indeed, the neighbourhood policing model was reconfirmed in the White Paper only 10 days ago. The funding of £332 million for next year includes PCSOs and neighbourhood support for policing. It works, because antisocial behaviour perceptions and concerns among individuals across the country have fallen from 21 per cent. in 2003 to only 16 per cent. in 2009, largely because of the 16,000 PCSOs on the doorstep.
Detention of Children (UK Border Agency)
I have recently assumed responsibility for this area of policy and I most recently met officials on 8 December. However, clearly I meet regularly with officials on this issue.
The report published last week by the coalition of the royal medical colleges made it clear that children who are detained in immigration removal centres suffer from mental health problems and consider self-harm and occasionally even suicide. There can be no other area of law or public policy where the interests of the child lag so far behind considerations of administrative convenience or political expediency. When will the Government act to end this disgraceful practice?
Clearly, we do not wish to detain families with children where that is avoidable. However, detention is considered when a family has reached the end of the line—when appeals have been made and refused—and they are only detained for a matter of usually a few days immediately prior to a flight being taken. Let me point out that the report in question considered only 24 cases out of those of the 382 children who were in detention during the period of the report—fewer than 10 per cent. It did not take into account the views of the clinicians who worked with those children and who know them. There are many pressures on children, and it is not clear that those pressures and problems arise merely from detention.
The Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families recognises that this is a very difficult area, but the whole issue of people in prison and children in prison has not been wonderful under any Government of any party. Could we be more sensitive in the way we treat these children and ensure that they have the full package of support, even for a short time?
I can reassure my hon. Friend on two counts. First, children who are detained have a full package of support, including education and access to health care. Crucially, they are with their parents, from whom I would not want to see them separated. Secondly, my hon. Friend raises a wider point about how we deal with such children. We have a pilot running in Glasgow, with Glasgow city council and the Scottish Government, to try to find alternatives. That pilot follows on from one in Kent, and we believe that it is much better and might achieve better results.
This is not as small a problem as the Minister seems to be suggesting. It was revealed in parliamentary answers in June that 470 children, most of whom were under five, were in such detention. Contrary to the impression that the Minister has given, a third of them had been incarcerated for longer than a month. Does she accept that being locked up is traumatic for many young children and is likely to leave psychological scars? Does she accept that the practice of incarcerating children so young is in contravention of the UN convention on the rights of the child? Will she now agree with me—
I am not sure where to begin! Seriously, though, I must first correct the hon. Gentleman’s figures. Up to 30 September this year, 25 children were detained for seven days or less—in time for a flight—five were detained for eight to 14 days, and five were detained for 15 to 28 days. A further 10 were detained for 29 days but for less than two months, and none were detained for longer than that. That is an average of just under 16 days. This is always a difficult issue, but we are a Government who are not afraid to duck the tough challenges. [Interruption.] Indeed, we are not. It is important that children are not separated from their parents, and I am not sure what the alternative is. If a parent repeatedly refuses to go when their case reaches the end of the line, they have some responsibility. They are offered many packages, but some choose not to take them and are then detained. I would not want to see young children separated from their parents.
I am glad that the figures have been updated, but the figures that I quoted were from the Home Office. Why has the Home Office not learned lessons from Canada and Sweden, which have abolished the practice of holding children in custody while their parents await clarification of their status? Surely, any means other than custody of ensuring that those people do not abscond would be preferable—the tagging of adults, for example.
We go to great lengths to make sure that we do not detain children. It is only in extreme cases in which parents repeatedly refuse to leave of their own accord that we do so. It is important that the family are a united group at the point at which they are destined for removal. I repeat the simple but important point that I, as the Minister responsible, would not want to see young children separated from their parents.
In the past 12 months, 98 under-10s were removed, and 350 individuals in England and Wales, under the exceptional case procedure.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Across the Thames Valley police area, DNA data for 10,500 under-18s, a good number of whom are children from my constituency, are held. I accept that it is useful to have a DNA database, but we need to be careful that we do not stigmatise children. What steps is he taking to remove the records of innocent children from the DNA database?
We are bringing forward proposals in the Crime and Security Bill to address the concerns of the European Court of Human Rights. We are introducing measures regarding children that we believe are more proportionate and that will meet the Court’s requirements, but it is important to recognise that the presence of the DNA of people who have been arrested but not convicted forms an important part of the DNA database, which helps to detect up to 40,000 crimes a year.
Last month, a black rock band from Brixton who were playing at The Oak public house in Burntwood, Staffordshire, were wrongfully arrested after their gig—vehicles, dogs and a helicopter were used—because of a false alarm with good intent. The chief constable of Staffordshire rightly withdrew their DNA samples because no offence had been committed. Is the Minister happy with the Association of Chief Police Officers’ guidelines, and is he confident that other police officers in other circumstances would be able to respond as rapidly and rightly as the chief constable did in that case?
We are looking at the guidance that is currently available, but as part of the Crime and Security Bill we are also bringing forward measures to make sure that the deletion of people from the database is put on a statutory footing for the first time, which will be an important step forward.
The proposals the Minister talks about are clearly designed to be the minimum change possible to avoid being declared in breach of the European Court of Human Rights again. Instead, the Minister could adopt the Scottish system, which allows records for the innocent to be kept normally for only three years. Will he admit not only that his proposals will continue to alienate respectable people from the police, but that crucially the Scottish system has a 16 per cent. higher success rate than his system in matching profiles from crime scenes to names on the database? It is not only fairer, but actually more effective in combating crime.
The Scottish model was not based on any research because none was available at the time. The hon. Gentleman talked about deletion after three years and used the word “normally”. In fact, it can be three years plus two years, plus two years ad infinitum. Thus, by comparison, that system could for some people be more draconian than our proposals. It is also based on keeping samples rather than profiles, which is one of the most significant criticisms that the European Court made.
Although undoubtedly there are arguments for what the Minister says, and the Home Affairs Committee recognises that, people have been arrested when there was no evidence against them and they feel there is a stain on their character. That should very much be borne in mind in this controversy.
Police Services (Administrative Burden)
This issue is frequently discussed in meetings between Ministers and police organisations. It has also been recently addressed in the report by Jan Berry entitled “Reducing Bureaucracy in Policing”, published on 2 December 2009.
The Minister mentioned Jan Berry, the Government’s adviser on reducing police bureaucracy. She was recently asked whether the police were spending more time away from their desks. Her answer was:
“If you talk to police officers they would say it has remained the same or got slightly worse.”
Does the Minister agree?
We are trying to ensure that we reduce the amount of unnecessary paperwork that police officers do, and in fact it has fallen over the past five years. Jan Berry’s report, published just over 10 days ago, gave us 43 recommendations. We have accepted 13, we shall be looking at 22 with her over the next year and we are still examining a further eight. There is a lot of work to be done, but we are committed to reducing unnecessary bureaucracy.
The Minister talks about unnecessary bureaucracy. Surely part of the unnecessary bureaucracy has been processing reoffending criminals let out under the early release scheme. Has the Minister made an assessment of how much that has contributed to police bureaucracy?
The hon. Lady will know that there have been and continue to be pressures on the prison system. I was Prisons Minister at the time, and the early release scheme is a temporary measure, which is determined to ensure that we release individuals 18 days early. The reoffending rate on that is extremely low, but it obviously remains a matter of concern and is under review by my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, and will be ended as soon as practicable.
The hon. Gentleman should keep up. There is only one target on policing from the Government —the confidence target of 60 per cent. by 2012. We have improved from 45 to 50 per cent. over the past year and we are on target to reach it by 2012. I suggest the hon. Gentleman goes back to his constituency and looks up the facts in future.
If it appears that the administrative burdens of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 contributed in any way—however small—to the tragic death of four-year-old John Paul Massey in my constituency last month, will my right hon. Friend agree to review it? Will he also call for a detailed report from Merseyside police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, who are investigating the matter, so that we can fully understand how complaints made to the police were not followed through and the Government can respond where possible?
My right hon. Friend raises an extremely important issue. That was a tragic death. She will appreciate that there is an ongoing police investigation by Merseyside police. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about what steps, if any, we need to take to ensure that we prevent such an incident from occurring again. We will certainly look at the lessons and make sure we do all we can to stop the use of dangerous dogs in this way.
The hon. Gentleman will know that we are working through a range of recommendations. If he looks at the stop and account forms, for example, he will find that we have saved 690,000 hours of police time on such stoppages. We have reduced or removed 27 of the 36 data streams from the Home Office. We are making real efforts to reduce police bureaucracy. Jan Berry accepted that in her recent report, and we will continue to do so. Every step we take reduces police time—for example, there are 6,000 more officers on the front line, whom we have been able to release just by tackling bureaucracy since 2003-04.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will take questions 6 and, I believe, 25 together.
The implementation of tier 4 of the points-based system took place on 31 March 2009, replacing the previous arrangements for overseas students to come to study in the UK. This ensures that only those colleges and schools which provide quality education and take responsibility for their students are licensed to bring in international students. We continuously monitor the systems, and where improvements can be made we will make them. The Prime Minister recently announced a review of certain elements of tier 4.
I thank the Minister for that response. Last month the Prime Minister gave his first speech on immigration for some 18 months. Having ignored the warnings about loopholes in the immigration and the visa systems for so long, why is he now rushing to implement a policy that will hurt legitimate language schools?
That is slightly unfair. The introduction of tier 4 was in part to clamp down on the area about which I know the hon. Gentleman had been concerned—the so-called bogus colleges. We estimate that about 2,000 of those shut down or ceased that part of their operations. In a cat and mouse game, in which we are dealing with attempts at illegal immigration, continuous review is sensible. On the language point, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider my letter to hon. Members which emphasises that we have issued a consultation to look at what can be done, not a set of definitive proposals, as he seems to fear.
I hope the Minister will not take any lessons from the Opposition, given their general approach to foreigners and immigrants to this country. It must be a good thing if foreigners come to Britain and then speak English with an English accent, not an American accent or some other sub-English accent. Our universities need foreign students, both for economic reasons and for Britain to have a spread in the world as those students go back to their own countries as graduates. I ask my right hon. Friend to err on the side of British universities in this sensitive case, rather than respond to the xenophobic fetishes of the Opposition.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The value to the United Kingdom of overseas students is very great indeed in cultural and economic terms. It is a question of getting the balance right. We have evidence of abuse under the old system and under the new system, but we are confident because the number of students coming to this country from overseas has increased and we have better controls over those visas.
The Minister will recall my championing last summer of the cause of two Patagonian women who wanted to come to Wales to brush up on their Welsh language skills. Both were turned down, but one came in on appeal. It emerged that these matters involve a 40-hour round trip from Patagonia to Buenos Aires and five weeks’ wait—and the whole thing then being processed from New York. Is it not possible to introduce a simpler and more sensitive means of dealing with such cases?
Only if the hon. Gentleman can guarantee me that in the case of somebody who gets a student visa but turns out not to be a student and abuses the system and overstays, he will not raise complaints. The two cases in question, which I personally looked at, were not compliant with the immigration rules, and no Government can ignore that fact.
The Minister will have seen the press reports at the weekend indicating that the student suspects in the Manchester terror investigation earlier this year had been cleared to work in the security industry. Does the Security Industry Authority carry out the same detailed background checks on all overseas applicants for work in the security industry as it does on all British applicants?
The hon. Gentleman returns to his theme of the security industry and immigration. I hope he will support the Government in our new procedures both for security industry regulation, which we introduced, and for tougher visa controls. The answer to his question is yes.
So the answer is yes. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the application form guidance notes for foreigners expressly state that they do not need to submit an application that has been countersigned by a reputable British referee—in contrast with the requirements for a British applicant?
The hon. Gentleman is trying to present a case that is simply not borne out by the facts. The fact is that there are immigration rules, and I again ask him to support our new border controls, because on that he continues to try to have his cake and eat it. Those are the ways in which we check the validity of people’s working rights in this country.
US-UK Extradition Treaty
The UK keeps all its extradition treaties under scrutiny. The Government’s view is that the UK-US treaty is working well.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer, but Gary McKinnon’s legal team has been forced to launch a fresh legal challenge in the High Court. The Home Secretary claims that his hands are tied, but many lawyers—including Lord Carlile, the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation—tell him differently. Why is he putting this grossly unbalanced immigration agreement with the US over and above the interests of a very vulnerable British citizen?
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the US-UK treaty. The only argument that I have heard about the treaty being imbalanced is that of probable cause versus reasonable suspicion. I have not heard expressed anywhere another argument about why it may be imbalanced. That was, indeed, the gist of the debate that took place in the House in 2003-04, when the issue was put before Members.
In the case of Gary McKinnon, the issue is completely and absolutely academic. There is no reasonable suspicion involved; there is no probable cause involved; and Gary McKinnon has admitted to many of the offences. The hon. Gentleman may have a question about Gary McKinnon, but it does not relate to the issue in his original question about an imbalance in the UK-US treaty.
In the latest edition of Vogue, Hilary Clinton describes our Foreign Secretary as
“vibrant, vital, attractive and smart.”
She has obviously not met the Home Secretary! Given that very close relationship between Britain and the United States, however, and given that the Home Secretary says he has no more legal powers to intervene, surely the best course of action is a diplomatic resolution to the problem. Will he talk to the Foreign Secretary so that he can talk to Hilary Clinton to see whether this matter can be resolved?
This matter can be resolved by ensuring that the treaty we have with the US is enforced. This matter can be resolved by upholding the law. The courts have decided and the prosecuting authorities have decided that Gary McKinnon is accused of very serious charges and should answer for them in the US. That is not the role of any politician or any judge; it is the role of the prosecuting authority. On 5 November in a debate in the other place, the ex-Law Lord Lord Justice Lloyd made it plain that that was absolutely right. The US authorities have given us a whole list of assurances that Gary McKinnon will get full treatment for his illness from the American authorities; indeed, a long list of the treatment that will be offered was quoted by Lord Justice Burnton in the High Court as being extremely impressive.
With the increase in cybercrime and the consequential complexities in international jurisdiction, what consideration has the Home Secretary given to cybercrimes committed and originated in the United Kingdom being appropriate for extradition?
I do not believe there is a case for looking at this in the context of a completely separate review of the treaty. We have a situation where a number of crimes are committed in the UK and we have another crime—a terrorist offence—committed against the US by someone in the UK, a British citizen, who did not leave this country at all. It is a question of what the prosecuting authorities decide in this case. Let me quote to the hon. Gentleman, because it is relevant to this issue, what Lord Justice Burnton said in the High Court in July about this particular offence. I think that it would apply to other offences where a crime is committed in another country over the internet. He said of Gary McKinnon:
“It is true that the Claimant’s offending conduct took place in this country. However, it was directed at the USA, and at computers in the USA; the information he accessed or could have accessed was US information; its confidentiality and sensitivity were American; and any damage that was inflicted was in the USA. The witnesses who can address the damage done by his offences are in America. Moreover, because the information was sensitive, it would be far more difficult for it to be put before a judge in this country than before a US judge”.
I believe that the legal profession is quite capable of deciding—to use the terminology—the forum in which any of these allegations should be prosecuted.
Early Intervention (Nottingham)
The Government recognise the importance of early intervention, and I was therefore interested to hear about the good work being done in Nottingham when the Cabinet met there recently. I would be pleased to make a further visit and have also arranged to meet my hon. Friend on 16 December.
Does the Home Secretary agree that we are doing very well—I refer particularly to the crime and drugs partnership in Nottingham—on conventional crime, volume crime, and acquisitive crime which are amenable to better policing, CCTV, better locks and so on, but we still have to work very hard on violent crime, which is often produced by social inadequacy, poor parenting and traumatic experiences in childhood? Does he agree that that is exactly the sort of offending that is amenable to early intervention so that we can grow a generation of young people who are socially and emotionally capable and far less likely to commit violent crime?
I do agree with my hon. Friend; indeed, I pay tribute to the work that he has done with Members in all parts of the House on early intervention. In Nottingham, I saw for myself the family intervention programme working extremely well, and doing so because it takes an holistic approach to the underlying problems that are causing offending in the first place. It is not an easy option: there is a non-negotiable element that the parents of the children involved have to undergo. That is a very important element, and I have never seen it operating any better than in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
UK Border Agency
Processes for handling commercial contracts are ensured by contract approvals. The mechanisms are: up to £1 million, financial and procurement delegations; £1 million to £40 million, joint approval committee, which is a UKBA internal mechanism; and above £40 million, the group investment board of the Home Office. The level of governance is commensurate with the level of investment required.
I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. The reputation of the UKBA is very important to Croydon, where it is a major employer. How well do these procedures also apply to those who will investigate performance, and therefore might abrogate a contract, and to outside consultants who are assisting the UKBA?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I recognise the work that he does on behalf of the UKBA, which is an important part of his constituency. Contract compliance is ensured by the monitoring of the contract at a local level by the operational unit and the commercial team within the area, and of course all those contracts are subject to Treasury guidelines. On his point about the awarding of contracts, that is subject to the normal rules, and I am satisfied that we are compliant within the Croydon operation.
Police Counter-Terrorism Units
I receive regular assessments from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which has concluded that the network of regional police counter-terrorism units and counter-terrorism intelligence units means that a well-located, operational platform now exists for targeting the top national priorities in terrorist investigations.
I am most grateful to the Minister, but there are only four counter-terrorism units up and running, and another four counter-terrorism intelligence units, which are minor organisations. What plans do the Government have to expand those minor units into fully fledged ones?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have increased the number of police officers involved in counter-terrorism by 70 per cent. over the past four or five years. Only two weeks ago, I indicated that we would invest about £579 million in 2010-11 in developing the counter-terrorism network still further. We want to do that because of the serious threat, and we are committed to that £579 million for next year but must look beyond that in the comprehensive spending review. The key point is that this is a priority for Government.
North Yorkshire Police
The recent pre-Budget report confirmed that sufficient funding will be available in the years to 2012-13 to enable police authorities to maintain current numbers of warranted police officers and police community support officers.
There has been a general drift towards increasing the number of community support officers as opposed to regular police officers. Although they perform a welcome role, they do not have the same powers as regular police officers, including the power to arrest. In the streets and rural areas of the Vale of York, we have seen an increase in antisocial behaviour. Will the Government now confirm that rather than pump-priming, they will ensure a regular supply of funding for community support and regular police officers in the Vale of York?
The priority, as set out in the pre-Budget report, is to ensure that police authorities have the resources for front-line officers, whether they are warranted officers or PCSOs. It is up to chief constables and police authorities to make best use of that funding, because they decide on operational matters.
Domestic Violence Advisers
This year’s funding has already been allocated, and a further £4 million will be available in 2010-11 for IDVAs and multi-agency risk assessment conferences.
I thank the Minister for that rather woolly reply. May I draw his attention to the fact that in Greater Manchester, the number of recorded incidents of domestic violence has risen from 56,000 to 64,000 in three years, but only one in eight results in an arrest? Bearing in mind that the perpetrators are always known, does he believe that that record is satisfactory? Will he now give more support to the vulnerable victims of domestic violence in Greater Manchester and elsewhere?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the recently announced strategy for ending violence against women and girls is anything but woolly. So is the £13 million that will support services. At a time of financial constraint, it indicates the Government’s priority on these matters. He will know that local agencies also need to address the matter as their priority, because it is they that bring the most resources to the table.
In March 2009, 125,891 police officers, 87 per cent. of total strength, were deployed to operational roles in England and Wales. Improvements in how forces match work force resources to demand from the public across the range of force functions will further improve responsiveness, public confidence and value for money.
I thank the Minister for that reply, and credit where credit is due, the Government have kept their promise and put more police on the streets, which was very necessary. Will they consider special constables specifically? They do a wonderful job in Essex, as I am sure they do in other constabularies. Will the Government have a drive to get more special constables?
Indeed, the hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point. We will have a special constables promotion weekend to celebrate that very shortly, and one thing I have done is write to all hon. Members to ask them to participate. I am also—this comes from the White Paper—looking at how we can deploy special constables to help with deployment issues, so that we get full-time officers working on other areas, where their skills are more needed. The hon. Gentleman’s point is very important and one that I support.
Policing and Crime Act (Section 14)
The Home Office’s “Tackling the Demand for Prostitution: A Review” document recommends a campaign aimed specifically at sex buyers to raise awareness about trafficking for sexual exploitation. We are currently considering how a campaign can be used to highlight the change in the law and its effects.
We are also updating the Home Office circular on policing prostitution and work with other criminal justice agencies. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), who has responsibility for crime reduction, wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on 11 December to outline this matter in detail.
I thank the Department for that letter, but one thing that shocked me when I launched some research was how few men had ever been arrested for soliciting. One hundred and three men who had paid for sex were interviewed, but only 5 per cent. had been arrested, meaning only five or six men. The risk with the new offence is that men do not think they are going to be successfully prosecuted. Can the Minister promise me that the prosecution and publicity strategies will go hand in hand, so that men who pay for sex from exploited women know that they risk getting a criminal record?
Absolutely—my hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point and was instrumental in bringing that legislation forward. It is absolutely vital that we ensure both that prosecutions take place and that the legislation has a deterrent effect. We are now looking, with colleagues such as those in the POPPY project, representatives of which met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, to look at how we can promote the issue early in the new year, to ensure that we do what we are trying to do, which is reduce prostitution and soliciting on the streets of the United Kingdom.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on her relentless campaign to ensure that section 14 got on to the statute book. May I make a suggestion to the Home Secretary? One of the best ways of discovering trafficked women would be to have another Pentameter operation. Pentameter 1 and 2 were very successful—the latter involved 830 actual arrests. Is he considering a Pentameter 3, which would involve all police forces in a campaign to outlaw the trafficking of women?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his recognition of the participation of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough in bringing that law to fruition and the importance that we give to how it is implemented and examined. We are certainly considering the hon. Gentleman’s suggestions, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is looking into these matters.
Police Numbers (Northamptonshire)
Northamptonshire had 196 police officers to 100,000 of the population as of 31 March 2009, compared with 266 for England and Wales.
The Minister has already made it clear that Northamptonshire is under-served by police officers compared with the national average. What makes that worse is that only 10 per cent. of police officers’ time in Northamptonshire is served on the beat. Have not this Government completely failed in getting police officers on the beat in Northamptonshire?
Those officers who are on the beat seem to have reduced overall crime by 19 per cent. over the past five years, so whatever they are doing, they are doing something right. I do not recognise the figures the hon. Gentleman used. On the earlier bureaucracy question, we said that only 20 per cent. of time is spent on paperwork. Sometimes paperwork is important, because it leads to convictions and reduces crime still further.
Police Services (Administrative Burden)
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer given some time ago.
I am grateful to the Minister for referring to his earlier answer. He will recall—after he has checked his notes—that in his earlier reply, he referred to a report published by the Home Office on 2 December. That report mentions that the 27,000 portable hand-held computers given to officers are ineffective because they lack the proper programs. Does he agree that it is bad enough that officers have excessive bureaucracy, but worse still that the equipment they have to deal with it does not work?
As I said, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier. We are very concerned about bureaucracy, and he will know that £80 million of taxpayers’ money has been invested in hand-held devices, reducing bureaucracy by some 30 minutes per officer per shift, by taking them away from paperwork and putting them back on the front line. That is an investment to which this Government have been committed, and—if I can be political—it is one of those investments that the Opposition may find it necessary to cut.
Given that complaints against the police often lead to a considerable amount of administration and given that what complainants often want is simply a better service from their local police, will my right hon. Friend consider giving the Independent Police Complaints Commission a remit to improve services in addition to its current responsibilities for complaints?
In the White Paper published two weeks ago, we proposed additional responsibilities for the IPCC. We have also ensured that we strengthen the role of police authorities. One of the key issues is to remove direct elections, which the Opposition favour, and strengthen local democracy through police authorities, which the Government favour. Those are key issues in improving the redress that citizens have when police systems, sadly and occasionally, fail.
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave several moments ago.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for asking the same question as the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). When the right hon. Gentleman gets to his office tomorrow, he can read the reply in Hansard. The serious point, of course, is that there are different strategies for checking on the eligibility and suitability of those people. This question has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that is why we have re-examined the system to ensure that it is robust.
The Home Office puts public protection at the heart of its work. The pre-Budget report provided good news for the police, recognising their importance to the public and to the Government in delivering safe and secure communities.
Two new groups of street pastors have recently started operating in Caldicot near Newport in my constituency. They are doing a fantastic job helping young people who get into difficulties on nights out, especially in the run-up to Christmas. Does the Home Secretary agree that that is an excellent volunteering initiative and that street pastors offer reassurance and help the police to tackle antisocial behaviour in the night-time economy?
I do agree: street pastors are a crucial part of the community effort in many parts of the country, including Newport, to make our streets safer, especially on busy evenings such as Friday and Saturday. I have met street pastors myself in various locations and my hon. Friend does a service to her area by raising their profile and raising this issue in Parliament. They deserve widespread praise.
The House will be aware that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary did a very important report on this issue, which was widely welcomed. In fact, I cannot think of a single area in which it was not given a warm welcome. We have carried over those recommendations quickly into the White Paper, and we will implement that in relation to how we police protests, including how plain-clothes police officers react.
I recently wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) about the case of one of my constituents who was unfortunately burgled and was surprised that the burglars focused almost completely on taking jewellery and other gold. He believes, as do I, that this may have been prompted by the burgeoning of cash-for-gold adverts on our television screens and in our newspapers, often with no identification required to obtain money in exchange for gold. My hon. Friend helpfully replied that he was carrying out a review in this area. May I encourage him to involve trading standards officers in that work and to consider legislation as quickly as possible, perhaps even in the Crime and Security Bill?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this important matter. We are concerned about burglary, particularly in these difficult economic times. We are considering the issue and we would envisage involving trading standards, even though staff are already working hard. If legislation is necessary, we will legislate.
I am of course familiar with the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The asylum support system involves more than £100 million of public expenditure—a figure drastically reduced from previous years, as we get in control of the system. The housing element of that is subject to the difficulties, which he will recognise as a constituency Member of Parliament, in the private housing market. That is why we have taken the report so seriously and made improvements.
My right hon. Friend has made a huge contribution to tackling crime in this country, both in opposition and in his early days as a Home Office Minister of State. He could make no bigger contribution than through the work he has done with Professor Jonathan Shepherd in Cardiff—the results are truly remarkable, and it is now in the operating framework of the NHS to comply with this. I see no argument for a local hospital not submitting data to the police service, given that this is not only important in tackling crime, but crucial, as my right hon. Friend says, in reducing costs to the NHS. This is a win-win situation, which is why the Cardiff model, including the use of polycarbonate glasses, is now being used right around the country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the continuing dialogue we are having on that important issue, which comes about, as he knows, as a result of the improvements and changes we made in Liverpool to ensure that further representations need a face-to-face interview. The overall picture is good, because the numbers are coming down. I cannot answer him specifically—of course, time will tell—but we have been in constant contact with his local authority since the announcement was made.
That issue was raised during our very wide consultation on violence against women and girls. The publication of our strategy is not the end of the issue; in fact, it is the beginning. We have looked at taking out certain strands, including the issue my hon. Friend mentions, getting much more information on it and tackling it as part of the ongoing strategy.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was making it absolutely clear that the ID card will be voluntary. The ID card will be of benefit to people in Manchester and the north-west, and more and more people are seeking to have one. I have one myself—in case nobody in here knows who I am—which I can show the right hon. Gentleman afterwards. Tomorrow we will be making a further launch in Blackburn, to great public enthusiasm.
The issue regarding extradition begins with the courts. It is the courts that decide: the district court, the High Court, the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights, all of which have been open—and are still open—to Gary McKinnon. When the courts make a decision on the forum—the place in which that gentleman should be tried—the process kicks into action.
Will the Home Secretary look at the number and depth of inspections of county constabularies, not least because they impose a huge burden on resources and manpower, and divert time, energy and police officers away from front-line policing?
I will consider what the hon. Lady has said, but the role that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary plays in inspecting police forces around the country is important, as we found out recently with one particular police force where the public had huge concerns. HMIC’s role is to ensure that it can assist police forces in reaching the level of the best. There is always a case for keeping such burdens to an absolute minimum and ensuring the right balance, which we will look at as part of our constant war against bureaucracy in the police force.
Will the Home Secretary guarantee that the new chairperson of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will be someone of genuine scientific independence who will challenge the evidence-free policies pursued by all Governments since 1971, which have resulted in Britain having the worst drug problems in Europe?
It is good to hear someone speaking up for speed cameras; indeed, I am delighted. The issue is of course an operational matter for Norfolk police, which I am absolutely sure will be aware of the hon. Lady’s intervention. I, for one, am a big fan of speed cameras.
The number of procedures under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 continues to rise, with 4 million sentient beings the target that we see each year. Is the Home Secretary happy with the effectiveness of the legislation? The policy of reduction, refinement and replacement is clearly not working. What alternatives might there be?
We have a policy of reduction and ensuring that we do not license unnecessary animal procedures. We do not have an upper cap on such procedures, however, and it is important that each application is considered in the proper way on the science available.
When the Home Secretary dismissed David Nutt, the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, two other independent scientific advisers resigned. When the Home Secretary said that he had no regrets, three others resigned. Is he still of the view that he would do the same thing now, given the outcry from independent scientists, if the circumstances were the same?
I would absolutely do the same thing. The Select Committee on Science and Technology, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who is the hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friend, has done us all a service by not concentrating on the past, as he continually does, but by looking to the future, particularly in relation to the contribution made by Lord Rees from the other place.
I had a very useful meeting with the Immigration Minister earlier this summer to discuss my concerns about the administration of the visa system in Pakistan. I wonder whether he can now reassure the House that the administration of visas in that post is up to speed, satisfactory and being carried out with integrity.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising those issues as she did; they were important to the process. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary visited Islamabad and gave assurances, which we have now met. There is some work remaining to be done on appeals, where the appeals have been won and the visas have to be issued and we have to contact the individuals concerned, but we are now on top of that situation.
The Home Secretary referred earlier to the HMIC report “Adapting to Protest”, and its relationship to the White Paper. What are the Government intending to do about an HMIC recommendation that has not been carried forward into the White Paper—namely, that the position and status of
“the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) must have transparent governance and accountability structures, particularly when it is engaged in quasi-operational roles, such as the collation and retention of personal data”?
Of course, that is a matter not just for us but for ACPO itself. The new chairman of ACPO is keen to look at how the association can be changed. He has a number of ideas, and it is right that we take that recommendation from HMIC forward in discussions with ACPO. That it not to say that it has been shelved; it is being progressed, but in a different way from the other recommendations that were placed in the White Paper.
The Office for National Statistics projects that, unless immigration is brought into balance with emigration, it will be impossible to keep the UK’s population below 70 million. Is the Home Secretary concerned about that? If so, what is he going to do about it?
I have made it absolutely plain that I do not believe that we will get to 70 million. The projections from the ONS do not take into account the changes over the past few years, and it would be a big mistake to think that the next 10 years are going to be like the previous 10 years in relation to movements around the world, in relation to the conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Indeed, I think that those projections will change over time, as previous projections have done.
Afghanistan and the EU Council
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on my visit to Afghanistan and to report on the conclusions of the European Council and our role in the global talks on climate change. First, Afghanistan. On Saturday and Sunday this weekend, I visited our troops in Helmand and Kandahar, and met President Karzai and his Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Security Ministers. I also met our commanders on the ground, and Afghan army leaders. Today, I have had a meeting of our National Security Committee, with the Chief of Defence and the chief of our security services, and talked to NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen.
The first purpose of my visit to Afghanistan was to thank our brave armed forces in a year in which 100 of their colleagues have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I wanted to acknowledge and congratulate them on the dedicated work that they continue to do, day after day, and, as Christmas draws near, to wish them and their families well. I think that I speak for everyone when I say that the thoughts and prayers of the House and the whole country are with them. British people are safer at home because our troops are fighting for our safety this Christmas in Afghanistan.
I wanted also to assess progress to reinforce our campaign in Afghanistan, and, in my meetings with President Karzai and his team of Ministers, to begin preparations for the conference on the future of Afghanistan that will be held in London on 28 January—an event which I believe will galvanise the international effort on political and economic progress, as well as on security, and to which President Karzai has agreed to present his plans for the country’s future.
Our strategy is to ensure that al-Qaeda can never regain free rein in Afghanistan. To achieve that, we must weaken the Taliban and strengthen Afghanistan, stage by stage, district by district and province by province, putting the Afghans in control of their own security. But we must first address the Taliban insurgency with all the resources and power that we have at our disposal. Yesterday, I flew on one of the newly deployed Merlin helicopters. Over the past three years, we have doubled helicopter numbers, and more than doubled helicopter flying hours. There will be further increases in both over the coming months.
I also saw the mine-resistant Mastiff patrol vehicles and the smaller but equally well-protected Ridgback vehicles, and heard how since the summer we have increased the number of Mastiff by more than 80 per cent. and almost doubled the number of Ridgback—hundreds of new vehicles funded from the Treasury reserve, which are now every month saving lives in Afghanistan.
Aerial surveillance helps us track and target Taliban improvised explosive devices, and that surveillance has now been increased by over 20 per cent. Yesterday I asked for and received an assurance from President Karzai of the new assistance the Afghan people will give us in detecting and dismantling these improvised explosive devices. Afghan forces will now be trained, as I saw yesterday, to detect and disable IEDs. There will be more local police on the ground and we will be training 10,000 police recruits. There will be better intelligence from the Afghan people about the source of planned IED attacks and encouragement not to harbour those planning explosive attacks on British soldiers.
I can say now that we will go further in providing more equipment and support to our armed forces. Tomorrow, the Defence Secretary will announce plans for more equipment for the Afghan campaign, including more specialist counter-IED support. The latest tranche of urgent operational funding from the Treasury will include an extra £10 million for hand-held mine detectors to follow the £12 million set aside earlier for new explosive disposal robots, over 30 of which are now in operation tracking IEDs. I can also announce a package of longer-term investment in our counter-IED capability, including new and enhanced facilities for training and for intelligence. This will amount to an extra £50 million a year—£150 million in total this year and over the next two years.
Our strategy involves working with the Afghan army and police so that over time they can take security control. President Karzai confirmed to me that he is increasing the number of Afghan troops in Helmand to 10,000. Already in the last few days, 500 new troops have arrived. Once the police training college we are running in Helmand is at full strength from the spring, there alone we will be able to train 2,000 police officers every year.
Yesterday I saw for myself the reality of British forces mentoring and partnering Afghan troops and the new momentum that is resulting from that. The Taliban are a determined adversary; they will not give up easily. I am under no illusion—there will be hard fighting ahead—but I draw great confidence from the immense professionalism of our servicemen and women and from the telling effect they are already having on the enemy and the galvanising impact they are having on the Afghan forces they are partnering.
I can report that 36 countries have now offered additional manpower to the Afghan campaign. We know that the planned increase in American, British and Afghan forces over the coming weeks and months will allow us to review force ratios and develop a new balance in Helmand. As I have said to the House, the priority for the additional British forces is to thicken in central Helmand and to shift the emphasis towards partnering Afghan forces. I can report to the House that commanders on the ground told me yesterday that already in two thirds of British bases, our forces patrol jointly with their Afghan counterparts. It is by partnering in this way—first in the army and then with the police—that we will enable the Afghans to step up to the challenge of dealing with the Taliban and with extremism, and, ultimately, when the conditions are right, that we will allow our troops to return home.
I also saw from my visit and from my discussions with our commanders and civilian leaders that we are seeing the beginnings of the political process, which must complement our military strategy. Tribal and town elders already provide the kind of effective, accountable grass-roots government that will be the foundation for any successful political strategy.
So the decisions we have made in 2009 set a new framework for action in 2010. Partnership with Afghan forces will turn Afghanisation from an aspiration into a real force for progress in every district. Even closer working between our military and civilian missions will allow military action to provide the space for Afghan institutions owned by the Afghan people to develop at a faster pace.
Mr. Speaker, 68 international delegations will come to London for the 28 January conference on Afghanistan. All 43 powers engaged in the international coalition will attend, together with other regional and Muslim partners and international organisations, and they will be led by the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and NATO. I agreed with President Karzai that this conference will deliver a new compact between Afghanistan and the international community based on priorities that he has outlined.
The first of those priorities is security. We expect nations to announce troop deployments building on the total of 140,000 troops promised for 2010. I hope that the London conference will also be able to set out the next stage in a longer-term plan: the changing balance between alliance forces and Afghan army and defence forces as the number of Afghan forces increases from 90,000 to 135,000 next year and possibly to 175,000 later, as well as, of course, the future numbers, roles and tasks of the police, intelligence services and local security initiatives in Afghanistan.
Secondly, in London, NATO and international security assistance force partners must set out an outline programme for the transfer of lead responsibility from coalition to Afghan forces, along with an agreed set of conditions and criteria to establish the eligibility of provinces and districts for transfer. I hope we can agree in London that that process can begin during 2010, subject to conditions on the ground.
The third priority relates to reintegration. London must secure international support and financial backing for Afghan-led resettlement and reintegration programmes. Fourthly, there is the issue of economic development. As President Karzai proceeds with an anti-corruption programme, London must provide comprehensive long-term support for the Afghan economy, including support for farmers and working people in the towns and villages, in order to offer them a greater stake in the future of their country. That will include providing Afghans with credible alternatives to the poppy and the insurgency.
Finally, London must address the issue of co-ordinating international efforts on Afghanistan. That means reaffirming the role of the United Nations, announcing the new special representative of the Secretary-General, and announcing stronger civilian co-ordination in ISAF. London must also encourage a new set of relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbours, and, in particular, better joint working with Pakistan.
Although Afghanistan and Pakistan are different countries with their own cultural traditions and histories, they are both at the epicentre of global terrorism. Our national security interests require us to deny al-Qaeda space in which to operate across Pakistan, and also to deny it the option of returning to operate in Afghanistan. One of the biggest advances of the last year is increased co-operation with the Pakistan authorities in support of the efforts involved in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and we want to build on that in the coming months.
As part of our partnership with the Pakistani armed forces, construction is now under way of the new UK-funded Baluchistan training facility, in which British mentors will be working with Pakistani training staff to build counter-insurgency capability for the 30,000-strong Baluchistan frontier corps. As part of our partnership with the civilian Government of Pakistan, the new education taskforce, which is focused on implementing education reforms, is meeting for the first time today in Islamabad. Moreover, £250 million of Britain’s development assistance to Pakistan is directed towards education, as I agreed with President Zardari earlier this month, because nothing is more important to addressing the root causes of so many of Pakistan’s problems than the building of a strong universal state education system, free from extremist influence and offering a viable alternative to low-quality schools, which include the poorly regulated and extremist madrassahs.
One of the first decisions of the European Council was to reiterate its strong commitments to promoting stability and development in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A second decision was to express the united view of Europe that there was “grave concern” about Iran’s nuclear weapons intentions. We recognised—here I quote from the communiqué—that Iran has
“so far done nothing to rebuild confidence of the international community in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.”
While we agreed that our offer of renegotiation and negotiation remains on the table, because of our continuing concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme we agreed to begin working on options for sanctions in the new year.
The Council also discussed the economic recovery, jobs and sustainable growth, and how Europe could move forward a climate change deal at Copenhagen. We reiterated unanimously that policies in support of the economy should
“remain in place and only be withdrawn when recovery is fully secured.”
“welcomed the rapid and determined action”
taken across Europe to strengthen financial regulation and supervision. It also agreed that
“Remuneration policies within the financial sector must promote sound and effective risk management”.
Following the introduction in the UK of an additional bank payroll tax when bank and building society employees’ discretionary bonuses are above £25,000, the Council encouraged
“Member States to promptly consider available short-term options”
to implement “sound compensation practices”.
Fourthly, in response to a British initiative, the Council emphasised
“the importance of renewing the economic and social contract between financial institutions and the society they serve and of ensuring that the public benefits in good times and is protected from risk.”
The Council encouraged the International Monetary Fund in its review to
“consider the full range of options including insurance fees, resolution funds, contingent capital arrangements and a global financial transaction levy.”
There are very few moments in history when nations are together summoned to make common decisions that will reshape the lives of every family, potentially for generations to come. Our aim must be an ambitious climate change deal in Copenhagen that will enable the European Union to make good its commitment that we
“move to a 30 per cent. reduction”
in carbon emission levels
“by 2020 compared to 1990”.
The agreement in Copenhagen must also include a clear financial framework for the short, medium and longer terms. This financial agreement must address the great injustice that is climate change: that those hit first and hardest by climate change are those who have done least harm; and that, in fact, 98 per cent. of those most severely affected and dying live in the poorest countries, which account for only 8 per cent. of global emissions. So it is essential that we honour our responsibility for helping meet the costs they face in adapting to, and mitigating the consequences of, climate change.
I can report to the House that, to assist in adaptation and mitigation, the European Union has pledged €7.2 billion—or £6.6 billion—over three years; that is €2.4 billion for each of the years 2010, 2011 and 2012. This should enable the world to reach its aim of $10 billion in climate change help for each year until 2012. Let me say that this financial agreement could not have got off the ground without the strongest European co-operation.
Britain will contribute £1.5 billion, but there must also be additional and predictable finance in the medium term to 2020 and beyond. The figure of €100 billion has been set for the long-term climate change needs of developing countries by 2020, and the European Council reconfirmed its commitment to “provide its fair share” of this international public support. I can say to the House that from 2013 the UK will provide additional climate finance over and above our 0.7 per cent. overseas development commitment, and that the European Council reaffirmed its “official development assistance commitments” in view of the
“impact of the economic crisis on the poorest.”
There is an urgent need to support rainforest countries. Twenty per cent. of early finance should be allocated to forest protection. To achieve a reduction in deforestation of 25 per cent. by 2015, leading to a 50 per cent. reduction in 2020 and a complete halt in 2030, will require global financing of about $25 billion over the period 2010-15. A majority of that should come from developed countries, to support the rainforest countries’ own efforts.
Today, we send a message to all of Europe and to the world: there is work to do. We are only halfway to an agreement. Now is the time for developed and developing countries not to divide among each other, but to do what no conference of 192 countries has ever achieved before: to come together with a forward-looking programme to advance our shared goals.
This week, world leaders are gathering in Copenhagen and, as I have indicated to the House authorities and Opposition leaders, I will join global leaders in Copenhagen, starting from Tuesday with meetings with leaders from the African Union and the European Union, and the UN Secretary-General and the Danish presidency, as well as representatives from the hard-hit small island states.
The agreement at Copenhagen must be ambitious, global, legally binding within months, consistent with a maximum global warming of 2° C and ensure the fairest financial settlement for the poorest countries. Britain, our European partners and the Commonwealth will continue to work tirelessly for the best result at Copenhagen, and I commend this statement to the House.
The European Council covered three main areas: foreign affairs, the environment and economic issues. I want to ask about all three, as well as the vital issue of Afghanistan.
On Afghanistan, as the Prime Minister knows, we have supported the increase in US and UK troop numbers, and, as the Prime Minister has said, at Christmas time we should all be thinking of our forces and their families. I would like to pay tribute to all those charities and organisations sending gifts, cards and presents to our forces in Afghanistan. Our forces should be on our minds for all that they are doing.
On strategy, we believe that this is the last best opportunity to get this right. Does the Prime Minister not agree that everything now needs to be brought together, including having the right concentration of troops in every part of southern Afghanistan? He talked about thickening the troop presence in central Helmand, and we look forward to hearing more about that. Perhaps he can tell us when he will be able to update the House on what is being done specifically to make sure that British troops cover fewer areas, in greater density—we believe that that is vital.
On the issue of the Afghan national army—the Prime Minister, like me, saw it being trained at first hand, and it is incredibly impressive—does he agree that we are now probably going as fast as we can and that to go any faster would involve a danger that the quality of recruits would suffer? Can he tell the House a little about what is being done to make sure that those Afghan national army recruits who are trained and then sent to the south of Afghanistan actually go to the south of Afghanistan, and that the units function properly?
On the London conference, about which the Prime Minister said quite a lot, could he give clarification about the new individual working on behalf of the UN Secretary-General? Does he still agree with us that it would be good to have someone over and above that to co-ordinate all the civilian side, rather in the same way that Stanley McChrystal is co-ordinating all the military side? That is what we have been pushing for, and perhaps the Prime Minister could clarify whether that is still the Government’s position.
On Iran, does the Prime Minister agree that the time has come for the EU to take a much stronger line? It is clear that talks with Iran are not moving, but the summit just referred to “considering”, as the Prime Minister said, options for next steps. Should not those specifically include three things at the very least: a tough new inspections regime on Iranian cargo; a ban on any new European investment in Iranian oil and gas; and serious financial sanctions like those that exist in the United States? We have been here before. The Prime Minister said in June 2008 that
“action will start today for a new phase of sanctions on oil and gas.”
Can he assure the House that this time the essential measures will be finally agreed and put into place?
On Copenhagen, can the Prime Minister be clear about what he thinks can now be achieved? Does he agree with Yvo de Boer, the UN’s chief climate negotiator, that achieving a full legally binding agreement is no longer possible at Copenhagen itself? If he is right about that, is it not essential that we see a full political declaration agreed this week? Is that not the minimum that the world has a right to expect? Does the Prime Minister agree with us that it is vital that any agreement is consistent with keeping global warming below the 2° C threshold?
On the issue of funding, the Prime Minister gave us the figures, but could he tell us a bit more about where the money is coming from? The UK’s contribution was originally £800 million, then it was £1.2 billion and then it was £1.5 billion. Can he tell us where this is coming from? If, as the Prime Minister’s spokesman said on Friday, it is coming from the aid budget, can the Prime Minister tell us whether this will have any impact on other aid programmes?
Turning to economic issues, this Prime Minister once described the UK budget rebate as “non-negotiable”—that was before he gave £7 billion of that rebate away. When he did so—this is the reason for asking the question today—Tony Blair said that the Government had obtained in return a review of the EU budget. That was meant to start in 2008 and to finish by the end of 2009, but it is absolutely nowhere near finishing. Indeed, in the draft summit conclusions the deadline slipped to next July, and in the final conclusions it slipped another six months, to the end of 2010. At a time when budgets are being cut in the UK, does the Prime Minister agree that in reviewing the EU budget, the main purpose should be to push for a real-terms cut in that budget? Does he also think that while public servants in this country are getting low pay increases or even, in some cases, pay freezes, it is completely wrong for EU civil servants to receive a 3.7 per cent. pay rise?
Turning to the new Commission, is it not the case that the Prime Minister’s whole approach to this has been wrong from start to finish? He started by spending valuable political capital on a completely misconceived plan to make Tony Blair President of Europe and ended with Britain having none of the key economic portfolios. Indeed, the Government became so dysfunctional that at one stage Peter Mandelson tried to land himself the job of High Representative. The Prime Minister shakes his head, but perhaps he should just nod. Did Lord Mandelson try to get the job? Is there anybody in there? He was frantically hitting the phones, apparently—the rat was trying to leave the sinking ship, but he is still on board.
Friends of Lord Mandelson, which always used to mean Peter Mandelson himself, said that he thought the whole thing not pathetic, but “botched”. That was his word. Is that not the right description for the Prime Minister’s handling of this affair?
On financial services, cross-border co-operation is clearly vital. However, will the Prime Minister confirm that Britain has effectively given up its veto on blocking regulatory decisions in times of crisis when there is a disagreement over whether there are financial consequences for the taxpayer? He did not mention that in his statement—perhaps he can answer it when he has finished chuntering from a sedentary position.
The summit conclusions also called for the restoration of sound public finances. May I ask the Prime Minister whether he ever expected to come back from a European summit as Prime Minister after 12 years’ stewardship of Britain’s finances with the biggest deficit of any major economy, with Britain the only G20 country still mired in recession and with the worst outlook for public finances in a generation? Is that what he meant by leading the way in Europe?
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman spent most of his time raising issues that were not even discussed at the European Council. It would have been better if he had addressed in a bit more detail all the issues that I put to the House this afternoon.
The first issue was those matters that relate to Afghanistan. It is very important to recognise that there is all-party agreement on these matters and not to exaggerate any differences between us at this particularly sensitive time, when more troops are going into Afghanistan, when we are persuading the Afghan forces to increase their numbers in Helmand province, and when we are trying to extend civilian and military co-operation so that we can tackle the Taliban insurgency effectively by weakening them and strengthening the Afghan state.
I said to the right hon. Gentleman that we were increasing our presence in Helmand, but so, too, is the American presence in Helmand increasing. The number of troops in Helmand will go up from something in the order of 20,000 to 30,000 over the next few months. That will include, of course, the Afghan army’s making a bigger contribution in Helmand. Over time, the balance will change between the alliance forces—if I can put it that way—and the Afghan forces. By 2011, across the whole of Afghanistan, the Afghan forces will exceed the alliance forces. On top of that, we have the Afghan police numbers, too. That is our policy for the gradual Afghanisation of security control. In that way, district by district and province by province, we can transfer to Afghan control. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that when I met the Afghan forces in Helmand yesterday, who were training on anti-explosive devices, those whom I talked to came from all different parts of the country to Helmand, both to be trained and to form part of a more effective army for the whole of Afghanistan in the long run.
I said that we were proposing that humanitarian and civilian issues related to the co-ordination of the effort of Afghanistan were to be a main feature of the London conference. Now that Mr. Kai Eide has resigned as the UN representative—I believe that he will stay on until March, but he is retiring after that—we will, in my view, have to appoint both a representative from ISAF and one from NATO. I talked about this to the Secretary-General of NATO this afternoon. There will be a UN appointment and there will also be a NATO appointment. It is important to recognise that all these interests must be represented, but there must be greater co-ordination at the centre.
As far as Afghanistan in general is concerned, I hope that Members of the House will feel that the measures that we are taking to deal with IEDs are important in protecting our troops and in destroying the morale of the Taliban. I have to say that when I was in Afghanistan yesterday, it was reported to me that 1,500 IEDs had been detected and dismantled through the expertise of our forces and, in particular, that of the engineers, who do such important work. If we can continue to defuse and dismantle, and therefore disable, these IEDs, we can reduce the rate of casualties that we have suffered over the past year—80 per cent. of casualties throughout Afghanistan and among British forces are due to IEDs. It is therefore absolutely essential that we take all the measures that I announced today to increase our effort to deal with them.
I turn now to Iran. It is true that we have been at the forefront of proposing sanctions on Iran, but it is also true that taking unilateral action without getting European support and the support of the rest of the world would not yield the impact that we want. We are working with our European partners and with the rest of the international community so that the agreed and unanimous approach to what Iran has done can yield practical results in sanctions that actually work.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised issues regarding the European Council. At the Council, we discussed a timetable for resolving budget issues, we discussed economic co-operation across Europe and we discussed the fiscal stimulus that has been necessary to bring the economy forward and to move economies out of recession. I have to tell him that there are 12 European economies still in recession and that a number of economies, including Germany, have suffered a far worse recession than we have. We have the highest employment rate in the G7, and unemployment here is lower than in most other countries that are comparable to us, as a result of the action that we have taken. I have to say to the Conservatives that there is agreement at the European Council that we needed fiscal stimulus so that the economy could move forward, agreement that we should have taken action to restructure the banks, agreement that the fiscal stimulus should continue, and agreement that we must all take action against unemployment and to help small businesses in these difficulties by providing Government funds. The only group that seems to stand outside that agreement within Europe and the rest of the world is the Conservative party that is represented on the Opposition Benches.
On climate change, it is incredibly important that the voice of this House, from all parties in the House, says that we want developing and developed countries to work together to secure an agreement. That is why our offer of support is right if we are to get an agreement that shows developing countries that we mean business in tackling the issues that they face most of all as a result of climate change. That is why we were the leaders in a European agreement that has ensured that very substantial funds—about $3.5 billion a year—will go to helping developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change, including through action on forestry. But we have a great deal of work still to do, because we have to get an agreement about the longer term as well as the short term. We have to get an agreement about intermediate targets and about transparency in all the issues that we undertake. I think that we in Britain have led the way with a climate change Act, and we have led the way with an announcement that we will be active in providing long-term finance to help developing countries. We have suggested a figure of $10 billion as a fast-track initiative for both the European Union and the rest of the world to follow, and there is now virtual agreement on that.
We will continue to press for a just and fair settlement at Copenhagen. The reason why I want to go there tomorrow is to talk to all the parties about what we can do together. The reason why I think the Opposition should support Britain’s being present is that we have led the way on the millennium development goals, we have led the way on debt relief, we have led the way on international economic co-operation, we have led the way on the restructuring of the banks and we are leading the way on climate change—something the Opposition could never do.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and of course to add my expressions of gratitude to our armed forces who are serving so bravely and selflessly in Afghanistan. With families across the country preparing to come together for the Christmas holidays, may I also pay tribute to the families and friends of our servicemen and women? The enormous sacrifices they are also making for this war are uppermost in all our minds at this time of year.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his detailed statement on Afghanistan, but I should like to seek clarity on two points. First, will he clarify what he believes to be the role of China, Russia and Iran? Whether we like it or not, those nations are absolutely crucial in securing long-term stability in Afghanistan. I was not quite sure, from what he said, whether any or all three of those nations will be represented at the London conference. If they will not, will he provide us with some detail about how we might engage with all three of them to help to stabilise Afghanistan, notwithstanding the other major differences that we have, particularly with Iran at this particular time?
The second point is this. We all know that the war in Afghanistan will be won only if we win the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. In turn, that is heavily dependent on the legitimacy of President Karzai and his Government in Kabul. The Prime Minister referred to President Karzai’s efforts against corruption, but could he tell me how exactly he will judge progress on good governance and against corruption in Afghanistan by the time President Karzai comes to the London conference in January?
Given that the resources allocated and the strategy we have been pursuing in Afghanistan during the past eight years were so heavily influenced by the war in Iraq, I should like to know what the Prime Minister thought of his predecessor’s admission this weekend that he would have invaded Iraq whether there were weapons of mass destruction or not. The Prime Minister not only supported his then boss in taking us to war, but he also signed all the cheques, so people have a right to know: does the Prime Minister agree with Tony Blair that the invasion would have been justified even without the paper-thin excuse of weapons of mass destruction?
Finally, on climate change, a few hours ago we heard that the talks in Copenhagen were suspended—although I am told that they restarted a few minutes ago—because of differences in the international community between the developing and developed world. I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that the “I will if you will” brinkmanship needs to come to an end. Too many players are making their commitments conditional on the commitments of others, so will the Prime Minister make a unilateral commitment to help break that deadlock? The Committee on Climate Change said that to meet the European Union target of 30 per cent. cuts on 1990 levels by 2020, the UK would need to cut its emissions by 42 per cent. by 2020. The Prime Minister does not need to wait for anyone else to make that commitment. Will he make it today?
First, let me deal with Afghanistan. It is right that at a conference discussing Afghanistan, not only the coalition partners should be present but so too should regional neighbours, and that is our intention. It is very important to recognise that in the longer term Afghanistan’s future is dependent on both non-interference by its immediate neighbours and economic and cultural co-operation between Afghanistan and its neighbours. We will do what we can to advance that process—difficult though it has been to get some of the neighbours even to talk to each other. That is part of the discussion that will take place at the conference. There will be discussion too of the role of Pakistan, because if action can be taken on both sides of the border against al-Qaeda and against the Taliban, we have a better chance of succeeding in our objectives in Afghanistan.
When President Karzai comes to London, we will expect him to be able to show progress on the anti-corruption laws he is proposing and the anti-corruption taskforce he has set up. Last week, there were 12 arrests for corruption. Obviously, people will look at the appointment of his Cabinet and the appointment of district and provincial governors, and at what they say. He is holding a conference on those very issues in Kabul tomorrow, and I hope that will show the determination to make progress. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that President Karzai is determined to come to London with a plan to deal with some of the problems in Afghanistan that have been intractable over many years.
As for Iraq, there is an inquiry sitting. The inquiry will hear evidence and then make its report.
As far as climate change is concerned, there is a European offer of 20 per cent., to go to 30 per cent. if we can get an ambitious settlement—where other countries join in going to the ambitious ranges they have set. If Japan, Australia and Brazil, with their very ambitious ranges, and South Korea can go further, and if we can see the movement we want from other partners in the negotiation, our wish is to go 30 per cent. But we will have to get not only intermediate targets agreed with other countries and statements about national emission plans from the developing countries, but also, as I have said before, financial agreement and technology exchange agreements. Verification issues will be raised as well, so there is a lot of work still to be done at Copenhagen. I know that the right hon. Gentleman wants the most ambitious agreement possible and I am grateful for the support he will give us in these efforts.
The Prime Minister referred to Pakistan. He knows of the great sacrifices being made by the civilian population and the military in Pakistan in fighting extremism. Did he discuss with President Karzai the importance of effective co-operation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly in combating extremism in the Pashtun areas on both sides of the Durand line?
As my hon. Friend, who is an expert on these affairs, will know, we wish to work with the Pakistan Government, not simply for them to deal with the problem of the Pakistan Taliban, as they have done in the Swat territory and equally in Waziristan. We want to work with them to deal with those areas where there were problems also with the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan, so we want to see the maximum co-operation between President Karzai and the Pakistani authorities, including President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, and we want to see more effective co-operation between the armed forces of both countries so that in the end we can have joint measures that will protect the border areas. Co-operation between Afghanistan and Pakistan will be very much more important in future years. I am grateful that we have the present level of co-operation with Pakistan on the issues that I raised in my statement, but we want to see further co-operation on security issues strengthened in the months to come.
It is good to hear that our troops in Afghanistan are getting more mine-clearing equipment, but at the expense of what? A recent review set up by the former Secretary of State for Defence says that the defence equipment programme is unaffordable. Is that right?
We have increased defence spending every year. There is £1 billion more being spent on defence this year, and we have given real-terms rises to defence of nearly 10 per cent. over the past 10 years. In addition to that, we have provided for the equipment needs and the other additional needs associated with the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is because we announced additional money from the Treasury reserve to pay for new equipment that the Mastiffs and the Ridgbacks are going into Afghanistan as vehicles, additional helicopters were able to go to Afghanistan, and the anti-IED commitment is being provided. We have met all the requirements of our military forces on the ground to enable them to mount their campaigns in Afghanistan. I am sorry that Conservative Members are trying to dispute that, when the fact of the matter is that all urgent operational requirements of the Ministry of Defence have been met and will continue to be met.
I met a delegation of Afghan MPs in Geneva a few weeks ago. They are extremely grateful for the efforts being made by this country on their behalf. However, one woman in the delegation—I cannot say publicly what she told me in private—said that women are still extremely vulnerable in that country. I have raised the matter in the Chamber several times in the past. The UN has criticised the Afghan Government for not doing enough to protect women. This woman is in danger. Will the Prime Minister raise the matter—the situation of women—during the Afghan conference in London in January? That was one of the reasons why we went in to help Afghanistan.
My right hon. Friend is right. We made representations about the Shi’a family law that was discussed in the summer. The President ensured that some of the discriminatory parts of that were removed as a result of international pressure, as well as that of people in his own country, including women, urging that he change the position. I realise that the rights of women in Afghanistan are an issue that we must promote at all times when we are discussing the future of Afghanistan.
It is true that as a result of what has happened over the past few years, whereas no girls went to school, there are now 2.5 million girls at school. For the future of Afghanistan, that is a vital change that is happening. Increasing the numbers of children at school, including girls, is a vital part of the programme. At the same time, maternal mortality was among the worst in the world. I understand that one in eight births ended in the death of the mother as a result of the inadequate facilities. I am told that recent research suggests that 100,000 children are now surviving to the age of five who would otherwise not have done so, as a result of the improvements in tackling infant mortality and child health. These achievements are a result of bringing health and education to the people of Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend is right: we must never forget the importance of these issues—the social and economic improvement of the condition of the population—when we are talking about the future of Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister’s announcement of an additional £50 million for three years on counter-IED and intelligence work is very welcome. Will that money come as an urgent operational requirement from the Treasury, or will it come from within the existing defence budget?
The Chancellor reported in the pre-Budget report that expenditure on Afghanistan from the reserve was something in the order of £600 million three years ago. It will be almost £4.5 billion in the next two years. That is as a result of additional money made available by the Treasury.
Very recently, seven Taliban attacked a convoy that was being protected by 300 members of the Afghan army. Almost all those 300 fled the scene immediately, and one of their generals said that they have no motivation to risk their lives for an election-rigging President, for their own country or for the international community. The Afghan police are a lawless bunch of depraved thieves. Does the Prime Minister really believe that we can build a solid security service on those collapsing foundations?
There are two views we can take about Afghanistan, and my hon. Friend takes a different one from mine. The first view is that the Taliban have a huge amount of support in Afghanistan and the Afghan people will not resist them. The second view, however, is the one I take—that the Taliban have very limited public support from the people of Afghanistan. All opinion polls show, and all the evidence that we have is, that the public do not want the Taliban to return in Afghanistan. The public know the damage that the Taliban did in the past; they know the threat to women’s rights; they know the damage that was done to children’s education; and they know the justice that the Taliban meted out unfairly, particularly against women. Our best estimate is that the people of Afghanistan, by a very substantial majority, do not want the Taliban to return to government. The people want to be assured that there is security, guaranteed by Afghan forces and by the alliance forces working together. Over time, they will want to see security kept by the Afghan army, Afghan police and Afghan security services, and that is what our strategy, which we have proposed for some time, is working towards. I do not accept my hon. Friend’s initial premise that the Taliban have anything like the support that he suggests.
I think the hon. Gentleman has got to understand that the total amount of additional public expenditure—on top of the defence budget—in Iraq and Afghanistan is £14 billion. That is on top of the defence budget; that is additional to a rising defence budget. I think he has got to understand also the scale of the investment that we have made in equipment, which is in the order of £5 billion. He should look at the overall amount of money that has been invested in Afghanistan, including £1 billion alone in new equipment for vehicles, as well as the extra investment in helicopters and IED equipment. The total sum for equipment is £5 billion, much of it spent in the past two years to make for better vehicles. In the Chancellor’s pre-Budget report we have allocated, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in the reserve sufficient funds for Afghanistan in the coming year. I do not think his criticism of us should be that we have spent too little on or invested too little in the safety of our forces. We have done whatever is necessary.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the whole House will be much encouraged by his trip to Afghanistan, in particular his direct conversations with President Karzai? The number of troops being committed is very encouraging, but the quality, as my right hon. Friend knows, will be very important too. That will depend on provincial governments, so could we see a start by President Karzai on some reorganisation of the Kandahar provincial government, which is so central to the problems associated with corruption?
I talked to President Karzai about the governorships of Kandahar and Helmand, and about the appointments that he will make to his Cabinet in the next few days. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is the quality of local government on the ground, the quality of the Afghan army and, particularly over time, the quality of the police in Afghanistan that will be so vital to success in the future. But what I saw yesterday was Afghan recruits training, at a high level of demand from the British trainers, and acquitting themselves well. What I have also seen in Governor Mangal in Helmand is a governor who can show that you can get resources directly to the people and build up a system of law. Wherever that is not happening, action should be taken, and we will give our views directly to President Karzai.
The Prime Minister did not answer the leader of the Liberal Democrats on the case for going to war in Iraq on the grounds that it would be inappropriate because an inquiry on that is being held at the moment. Does he believe, then, that his Defence Secretary’s remarks on condemning going to war without giving correct proof were inappropriate?
The Prime Minister is well aware that all wars have to end with some kind of political settlement or negotiation. We are now in our ninth year of this war in Afghanistan; billions have been spent and thousands of lives have been lost. At what point does he envisage some kind of political engagement with those people in Afghanistan who are not supporters of Karzai and his corrupt Government, but who want some other solution?
I think my hon. Friend draws the wrong conclusions in his remarks. Britain cannot be safe from terrorism unless we deal with problems that exist not just in Britain but on the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we do not take on al-Qaeda and prevent it from having space in Afghanistan, with the freedom of movement to plan operations in Britain, then we will be failing in our duty to the security of the people he represents in London and people in the rest of the country, who have had to suffer from terrorist plots that have been organised from the Afghan-Pakistan border. Yes, it is right that Afghanistan is an infant democracy where problems existed in a very big way during the election campaign, but it is better for us to build Afghan forces that are under an Afghan democracy, to build up security services that are under an Afghan President who is elected by the people, and to build up local government in Afghanistan than to give up and allow the people who never wanted us to take the action that was necessary to win this argument. This is about the security of the people of Britain.
The Prime Minister has rightly praised our brave troops in Afghanistan, who include my former regiment, the Coldstream Guards. He said that he would provide more equipment and support for the armed forces. The armed forces do not operate only in Afghanistan, so can he reassure the House that the future defence budget will be fully funded and explain who was responsible for the chronic deficit and underfunding in defence that has occurred over a number of years and is highlighted in a devastating report by the National Audit Office? Sadly, it is embargoed until midnight tonight; otherwise, I would quote from it.
The time when the defence budget was cut massively was under the Conservative Government between 1992 and 1997. Defence expenditure has risen in real terms by 10 per cent. since 1997. I keep repeating to the hon. Gentleman that the urgent operational requirements of our defence forces when they are in action abroad, as they have been in Iraq and Afghanistan, are met by separate claims from the reserves. I think he should look at the arithmetic of what has actually happened, and he will see that extra urgent operational requirements have always been met by the Treasury. I really do think it is unfortunate, when he can see the additional resources that have been made available, the reserve claims that have been paid and the urgent operational requirements that have been met, for him to try to tell the British people that our armed forces have not got the equipment they need. They have the equipment for the job they are doing.
Pacific island states are already suffering significant effects from global warming. They have produced national adaptation plans, but do not have the money to implement them. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that money is available from the EU funds for this adaptation now, as without it the implications of global warming will only continue to get worse for those islands?
I know from my hon. Friend’s work that she knows very well the challenges that are faced by the island states. She also knows some of the countries that were present at the Commonwealth conference because she has very strong links with them. I know perfectly well that countries from the Maldives to Bangladesh look to the climate change conference in Copenhagen to give answers to the problems they face as a result of immediate and urgent requirements owing to climate change. The purpose of the European contribution—$3.5 billion a year in 2010, 2011 and 2012—is to contribute to a worldwide fund of something in the order of $10 billion a year, principally for the expenditure on adaptation that she wishes to see. There is a proposal that the island states that have suffered most of all will get a proportion of that fund to enable them to take action immediately. We know very well that some of the problems they face are urgent and have to be addressed not just in the next few years but in the next few months.
Does the Prime Minister recognise that he does not need an inquiry to know that his “thank you” to the British troops would be all the stronger if it contained an apology, to them and to the people of Afghanistan, for the failure to resource the war there properly in the early years because of the folly of going to war in Iraq on a false prospectus?
I am sorry that the Liberal party is trying to follow the Conservative party in subscribing to a myth that the Afghan campaign has been underfunded. That is totally wrong, and I hope that in the interests of the unity of our country in facing the terrorist threat, the Conservative party and the Liberal party will recognise that we are spending more on our armed forces and on meeting urgent operational requirements than we ever did.
We have taken the view, which I believe is held by the vast majority of the British people, that we cannot defend Britain against terrorism simply through the extra money that we are spending on security and police forces within our borders. We cannot operate a “fortress Britain” strategy when we have problems arising in Pakistan and Afghanistan that bring terrorist plots to London and our country from their bases there. It was right to take the action that we did, which has been and will continue to be properly funded. If the Opposition continue to perpetuate the myth that inadequate funding is being provided for our armed forces, the public will lose support for the effort that we are making, which would be a very unfortunate outcome.
Does the Prime Minister accept the wide welcome for the additional money going to climate change measures in developing countries, on top of the 0.7 per cent. commitment? Does he also accept that anyone who believed that there would be a full, legally binding agreement on climate change this week clearly comes very late to the subject and would be better off persuading his sister parties on the fringe in Europe to stop opposing climate change legislation?
I tend to think that the Conservatives are better at the photo opportunities than at policy on these issues. They have made no commitment at all to additionality when it comes to climate change, and they seem to treat the climate change debate as a joke. It is a serious matter, and we are going to bring it to a conclusion.
Will the Prime Minister accept that the Afghan police have not made the same progress as the Afghan army? Given that five members of our Army have just paid with their lives because of a police incident, does he accept that it would be irresponsible to accelerate their recruiting, vetting and training?
The tragic incident in which five of our soldiers lost their lives must be properly investigated, and we must get all the answers. That is right for the families, but it is also right for the future of co-operation between the Afghan police and military and the British police and military. On the ground in Afghanistan, our troops are working day by day with Afghan forces. They are working in joint exercises with the Afghan police and military, and we would be making a grave mistake if we simply stayed with the status quo and did not move forward the partnering with them. The scaling up of that partnering, which has been agreed as a result of the recommendations of General McChrystal—we advocated it months before that, and President Obama is now putting resources into it—is the right way forward for Afghanistan. The other strategies, including the one that the hon. Gentleman proposes, would leave us at a standstill and not getting the progress that we need so that Afghan forces can take direct control of their own security over time.
It is the intention of the European Union to maintain the fiscal stimulus and show that we have deficit reduction plans for the future, and it is the intention of each of the countries of the EU to show that they have deficit reduction plans as well as a commitment to protect themselves against the recession. That was the basis of discussion at the European Union.
My nephew has just returned from a six-month tour in Helmand with the Royal Engineers. He tells me that it was particularly frustrating that they would spend all day detecting and disarming improvised explosive devices and return to base at night, only for the Taliban to come out during the hours of darkness to re-seed the fields with such devices. If there is not going to be a curfew at night, the Afghan army or police or someone has to secure the ground, because all that is happening at night is that the Taliban are taking back the ground that engineers and others have spent all day retaking, at risk to their own lives.
I appreciate that difficulty. If the hon. Gentleman has specific information that he wants people to look at, I will be happy to look at it myself and pass it on. However, the truth of the matter is that there is enhanced surveillance of what is happening on the ground. Where there is change in the land during the course of a week or a day, we are in many cases able to detect it. Important security work is therefore being done to make sure that where IEDs are planted, we have more information about them and the people planting them. I agree that that has been a problem, but I think that we have better security measures than we had before.
Did my right hon. Friend get the opportunity to witness first hand the tremendous contribution to the mission in Afghanistan being made by the Royal Navy, in what is often seen as an Army campaign? Does he agree that any suggestion that the budget of the Royal Navy could be cut without hindering either the mission in Afghanistan or our other vital global interests is just plain wrong?
I met members of the Royal Navy in Helmand and Afghanistan yesterday. Their work with Sea King helicopters is of course incredibly important in Afghanistan, but many people from the Royal Navy are working with our troops in Afghanistan and doing an incredible job. Our commitment to the Navy is shown by our decision on the aircraft carrier.
I was in Camp Bastion in September last year, just after 2,000 British troops, including many from 16 Air Assault Brigade, delivered a turbine to the Kajaki dam, which was a daring and dangerous mission. Fifteen months later, that turbine has yet to be installed, because the other equipment needed cannot be taken there because of the dangers. Bearing in mind the Prime Minister’s promise that he was going to get more European nations involved, and with the additional aerial surveillance, will he get them to secure that road so that the battle of hearts and minds can be won?
I would not like the hon. Gentleman to give the wrong impression. Two generators are there, but the third has not been brought into use. The decision has been made that diesel-powered, local generation is a better way forward to meet the gap in electricity power that exists in that area. As far as my meetings yesterday with people in Afghanistan are concerned, the extra work that we will do on economic development, which is giving people a stake in the future, will include not only building roads, as we have done, but giving farmers the opportunity to benefit from the wheat harvest and to grow wheat. I think that that will help around 40,000 farmers in the Helmand area over the next year.
Every member of the European Union present wanted to maintain the fiscal stimulus and said that it should be maintained until the recovery was assured. Only the Conservative party is so arrogant to believe that it knows better than almost every country in the world and every political leadership, whether of the right or left, around the world. The answer, of course, is that if they had the Conservative policy, there would be more unemployment, more small businesses going to the wall, more people losing their homes, and a higher deficit and higher debt.
While we should salute the work being done by the Pakistani army, not least its special forces, it remains the case that a large proportion of it is deployed along Pakistan’s border with India. Those troops would be better employed going after the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with either the Government of Pakistan or the Pakistani military to encourage them to redeploy more of their forces?
The hon. Gentleman will know that a very substantial number of the Pakistani armed forces have been operating in the Swat valley and that about 30,000 of the Pakistani forces have been, and are, in Waziristan, taking on the Pakistan Taliban there. There has therefore been a considerable change in the amount of effort that the Pakistan authorities are making in tackling the terrorist threat within their own country. However, I agree with him that, if the relationship between Pakistan and India were less tense, with less need for troops on both sides of the border, Pakistan could do more to tackle the terrorist threat within its own borders. That requires India and Pakistan to work more closely together. We are determined to see what we can do to make that possible. I have talked to both Prime Minister Singh and President Zardari about that. If we can get a closer working relationship between India and Pakistan, even after the horror of the Mumbai bombings, it would greatly help the campaign against the Taliban and against al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s answer earlier about the plight of the south Pacific islands. We visited five of those islands—Fiji, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Tonga and Kiribati—during the summer recess as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The Speaker of Tuvalu said to me, as I left for the plane, “Thank you so much for coming and for thinking about us. Please do not forget us.” That is the message that I would like to give to my right hon. Friend as he goes to Copenhagen.
My hon. Friend has taken a long-term interest in the problems faced by those island states, where we could be dealing with climate change refugees and evacuees in the not too distant future. Copenhagen is important, because it can allow us to make a commitment to help immediately those island states that are facing these immense difficulties, and help them to obtain support to deal with the adaptation necessary. We will not forget the challenges faced by these islands. Many of them are part of the Commonwealth and it is important that we come to their aid when they are in need.
Why was the Prime Minister’s statement completely silent on the Council agreements on a tangible EU citizenship, a single EU judicial space, an internal security system and what it calls a common asylum system by 2012? As Labour Ministers argued against all those policies during the negotiations on the Lisbon treaty, as I saw for myself on the European Convention, does the Prime Minister regret having to support them now and pretend that he was always in favour of them?
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has moved on since he was at the European Convention. He does not realise that we secured all our red lines on these issues when we negotiated the treaty. He has forgotten that the constitutional concept—the original plan for the Convention—was abandoned and we have a treaty that now meets the interests of the British people, so much so that the Conservative party has abandoned its long-held policy and has decided that it does not want a referendum on the treaty any more. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman supports his party.
In relation to Copenhagen and climatic change, can the Prime Minister say whether China and India will play a major part in any negotiations or agreement reached in Copenhagen? There seem to be some doubts about China’s position.
China and India must be central to an agreement in Copenhagen. As we know, one of the great problems of the previous Kyoto agreement was the number of countries not involved in it. It is crucial that China plays its part in the negotiations. It is one of the biggest emitters, if not now the biggest. It is also crucial that India, which is also growing fast, plays its part in the negotiations. I will meet Premier Wen and, I hope, talk to Prime Minister Singh in the next few days. We will try to work together to secure the necessary agreement.
The Prime Minister has explained that there will shortly be 30,000 allied troops in Helmand province. When the Helmand operation began, there were 3,000 British troops funded to 60 per cent. per head, compared to 10,000 British troops there today. Who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2006 and what lessons have been learnt?
The number of troops in Afghanistan has risen substantially, but the equipment available to those troops has also risen substantially as the needs of fighting a guerrilla war against the Taliban have had to be met. I say to the Conservative party that it is making a huge mistake if it believes that it can persuade the British people, and that it is in the interests of the British people that they be persuaded, that our troops are underfunded and not properly equipped. That campaign was run by certain Conservatives over the summer. It does huge damage to public support for the operation.
Everybody here knows that our troops have had substantial additional funding from the Treasury, that the vehicles available to them are far more sophisticated than before, that the helicopter support is available and that we are bringing in the best counter-IED support to deal with a new threat that has been posed by the Taliban. I hope that the Conservative party will rethink that position, which I believe will damage public support for this exercise.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s visit, and indeed that made last week by the Leader of the Opposition. I am sure that those visits gave a lot of comfort and support to our troops. May we also show some comfort and support for the Afghanis who seek to claim asylum in this country? Is it really right that we should remove people to a country that is so patently unsafe?
Thousands of service families, including those at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss, are reading reports of planned base closures and defence cuts. Why is the Prime Minister not being up front about his preference for conventional defence cuts, rather than scrapping the Trident nuclear programme, which would save £100 billion?
The hon. Gentleman knows that scrapping the Trident programme would lose hundreds—indeed, a great many—of jobs in Scotland as well. If his issue is jobs he should know that we have funded the aircraft carriers, which are being built partly in Scotland. We have increased the defence budget every year. We have also, of course, increased the urgent operational requirements for our Air Force, as well as our Navy and Army. When he looks at the record of enhanced expenditure and investment in our armed forces, both in Scotland and in the rest of the UK, he will know that the Government are doing their job.
I thank the Prime Minister for the tremendous support he has given to my early-day motion 1396, from last year, on the so-called Tobin tax—an example of how the few can be made to help the many. Will he also support a new early-day motion on the same lines, about an Ashcroft tax?
It is very strange that the Conservative party automatically—almost without thinking about it—came out against a global financial transaction tax. Such a tax is now being discussed in all countries in Europe and investigated by the International Monetary Fund, and the EU is to produce a report on it. Certain people around the world who are esteemed in the academic profession as economists are supporting this, but, as a reflex action, the Conservative party is against it. The Conservatives are interested in one form of tax—that is, tax avoidance. It is about time we heard whether the deputy chairman of the Conservative party, after 10 years, has honoured his promise to pay tax in the UK.
Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to our armed forces, not just those in combat roles, but those doing humanitarian work in areas where the international development agencies cannot operate—building bridges, building schools and so forth? Does that good work count towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product?
If it is international aid that is helping underdeveloped and low-income countries, it is possible that it will count. That is the right thing to happen. The purpose of overseas development aid is to help the poorest of the world and allow them—through better provision for health and education, and through economic development—to raise their living standards and to take themselves out of poverty. The achievement of international development aid and all work done with developing countries will be that many millions more people are taken out of poverty.
Next year, the UK will pay £4 billion more to the EU than it did last year. In the pre-Budget report, the Chancellor announced a tax on jobs. That will raise £3.1 billion. Is it surprising that people in this country are fed up with giving money to the EU, rather than protecting front-line services here?
We are part of a European Union of 27 members. I know that many people on the Opposition Benches do not like that fact, but one of the responsibilities of membership is that we provide resources for all members of the European Union, depending on our ability to pay. That is in the agreements that have been negotiated, and these agreements are in the interest of a country that trades 60 per cent. of its goods with the European Union, has 3 million jobs dependent on the European Union and has 750,000 companies that are involved with the European Union. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to indulge the anti-Europeanism of the Tory party, then let him do it, but I believe that the whole of the British nation sees the importance of our relationship with Europe.
Can the Prime Minister say whether we are training Afghans in bomb disposal and the use of robotics and other equipment to deal with IEDs, and whether, as we start to draw down and withdraw, we will leave the Afghans with the necessary equipment to do that job?
Yesterday I saw our British forces training the Afghan forces in the hand-held equipment that is necessary to detect IEDs. Most of the work that we are doing on IEDs with robotic equipment is done by British forces, but over time it must be our aim to train the Afghan forces, so that they can take responsibility for the security of those districts and provinces. That, I believe, is the proper strategy for Afghanistan, andI hope that there will be all-party support for it.