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Commons Chamber

Volume 503: debated on Tuesday 5 January 2010

House of Commons

Tuesday 5 January 2010

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Business before questions

Death of a Member

I regret to have to report to the House the death of David Leslie Taylor, Member for North-West Leicestershire. David was a highly assiduous, principled and independent-minded Member who respected the House and was respected by it. Truly, he was a House of Commons man, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will join me in mourning the loss of our colleague and in extending our sympathy to his widow Pam, his daughters Rachel, Sarah, Jessica and Catherine, his wider family and his many friends.

Oral Answers to Questions

Justice

The Secretary of State was asked—

Drug Misuse (Prisons)

16. What recent steps have been taken by his Department to reduce the availability of illegal drugs in the prison system. (308935)

I begin by echoing your views, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the House, and to say how sorry we are not to see David Taylor in his place today. As well as a valued colleague, he was a magistrate and an assiduous attender of Justice questions. I am sure that he will be missed on both sides of the House.

Drug misuse in prisons, as measured by random mandatory drug testing, has fallen by 68 per cent. since 1996-97. A comprehensive framework is in place in prisons both to reduce the supply of drugs and to provide drug treatment. Good progress has been made in implementing the Blakey recommendations to improve measures to reduce the supply of drugs in prisons.

Our proceedings certainly will not be the same without David Taylor, and he will be missed on both sides of the House.

Given that so many drugs are brought into prison by visitors to prisoners, why do the Government not do more to encourage or make mandatory closed visits behind screens in order to stop drugs being brought into prisons?

Visitors are one means by which drugs and other contraband can be brought into prisons. We have a number of ways of making sure that we detect such things—for example, active and passive drugs dogs, random searches and intelligence-based action. We believe that that is the best way of identifying these difficulties. Where there is cause for concern, visits are closed, and they can be restricted in various ways, but it would be difficult, in keeping with our attempts to ensure that prisoners can keep in touch with their families, to impose such restrictions on all prisoners in every circumstance.

May I join colleagues who have expressed their sentiments about David Taylor—a true parliamentarian in every sense of the word?

With 20,000 prisoners on long-term methadone prescriptions and only 1,000 on an abstinence programme, have the Government got the balance right in their drugs programme in prisons?

It is perfectly legitimate to ask whether the balance is correct between methadone maintenance and other forms of treatment designed to cure drug addiction and get people drug-free. It is not the case, however, that all methadone prescription is about maintenance. The only people who get methadone maintenance treatment in prison are those with short sentences that would not allow a proper length of time for detoxification and removing them from drugs. It is important that we have a balance between different types and lengths of drug treatment, and appropriate treatment for each individual. Individuals can have low and high levels of dependency on drugs and we need treatments that will deal with all.

In an official report published last October, was it not a positive disgrace that the drugs trade in Wandsworth prison amounted to £1 million a year? Is it not time that, in a secure environment, this trade was stamped on and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) suggested, longer-term prisoners are enabled to give up their habit completely?

I agree that longer-term prisoners should be detoxified and encouraged to become drug-free for life. That is what our policy is aimed at achieving in prisons. We have increased fifteenfold the funding for treatment to get people off drugs in prison over the past 12 years, so there are substantial improvements. It is always difficult to be precise about the value of an illicit trade, but we are implementing policies to prevent illicit drugs from being taken into prison by whatever method. We use drugs dogs and various technologies, including body orifice scanners, which will detect illicit substances being taken into prison. It is a constant fight, but I believe that we are winning it and we have to continue to do so.

I cannot think of any section of any business anywhere in my area or elsewhere that is as badly managed as the prisons. What is the Minister doing about poor management in prisons, so that the excellent prison officers can be given more support both in improving their morale and in developing the skills required to recognise and deal more effectively with drugs in prison?

I pay tribute this afternoon both to prison officers, who do a difficult and dangerous job, and generally do it well, and to prison managers, who do the same. They are all part of the same team, and I cannot accept my hon. Friend’s analysis that one element of our staff is brilliant and the other is not. They are all our staff and they all do a brilliant job.

May I add a word of sorrow about the death of David Taylor? He has left us a legacy, through his independence, courage and hard work, that will act as a model for all future Back Benchers.

My question about prisons relates to the experience of two of my constituents, whom the Prison Service had down as models of behaviour and success. They went in as drug users and emerged clean. Tragically, one of them lived for a week afterwards and the other for just a day. Is not the greatest danger for prisoners the point when they leave prison and go back to their old haunts?

My hon. Friend is correct in the sense that there are obvious dangers. Drug abuse and drug dependency tend to have the capacity to produce chronic and repeated relapsing behaviour among those who become dependent on drugs. There is a danger that having been detoxified, there can then be a difficulty, which is why for short-term prisoners who are in prison for only a few weeks methadone maintenance is appropriate. Such treatment can reduce the risk of infection from blood-borne diseases and prevent accidental overdose on release, as well as reducing reoffending. We need to have a wide range of policies that deal with all those issues and proper through-care, from prisons into the community, to make sure that people who come out of prison continue to have appropriate treatment in the community.

Further to the question raised by my old sparring partner, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)—on whose birthday we congratulate him today—may I tell my hon. Friend that in my experience of prisoners nothing is more calculated and structured to encourage one to take drugs than lying around and doing nothing all day? Will she realise that education in prison is often the best cure for the problems that lead to the taking of drugs in the first place?

When my hon. Friend said he had a sparring partner on the Opposition Benches I wondered who on earth it might be.

My hon. Friend is probably right.

I agree with my hon. Friend that participation in education provision is a tremendously important part of reducing drug taking and reducing reoffending when prisoners come out. Almost 40 per cent. of prisoners now participate in offender learning and skills, and 38 per cent. enter employment on release. That indicates a great level of success—greater than ever before in our prison system.

Have the Government learned anything from their evaluation last year of the integrated drug treatment system? Senior prison staff criticised the Government’s obsession with maintaining opiate users. They were

“specifically concerned about the cocktail of illegal substances which prisoners may have access to during time in custody which may potentially be used combined with a daily dose of prescribed methadone.”

Is that not a picture of a Government who have lost control of drugs in prisons, and given up on prisons and prisoners becoming drug-free?

No, I do not accept that analysis from the hon. Gentleman. It is fair to say that the drug treatment provided in prisons is clinically led under best practice arranged by the National Treatment Agency. It is the same inside prison as it is outside. It is perfectly legitimate for Members and others to question the balance of available treatment. I do not think there is a perfectly correct answer, so it is a good debate to have, but I do not accept in any way that the Government have lost control of drug treatment in prisons.

Voting (Service Personnel)

3. What steps he is taking to ensure service personnel are able to vote at the next general election; and if he will make a statement. (308922)

May I, too, express my sadness at the tragic loss of David Taylor? His integrity and independence will be much missed.

If there are any barriers hindering the participation of service voters in elections, we must remove them. To that end, we are introducing new registration awareness campaigns and targeted registration arrangements. We are exploring using supply flights to support postal voting by personnel in Afghanistan. We have set up a working group consisting of officials from the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice and the Electoral Commission, as well as representatives of the armed forces, to explore further improvements.

Does the Minister agree that democracy needs to be exercised with responsibility? Will he therefore join me in condemning the crass and dreadful plans of Islam4UK to demonstrate against the Afghan war in Wootton Bassett, which would give so much grief and despair to the relatives of the fallen?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Anyone who has attended those repatriation ceremonies, as I have done, will have been humbled by the dignity and respect shown by the people of that town to those who have given their lives in the service of this country. Anything that displays anything other than the utmost sensitivity in such circumstances will, I think, be treated with repugnance by every decent person in this country—including, I should say, all those Muslims who serve so gallantly in our armed services.

Like you, Mr. Speaker, I shall miss David Taylor, a fellow Back Bencher of the year.

With reference to service personnel voting, will my right hon. Friend tell me whether any special steps are being taken in relation to the Territorial Army? There are particular issues there, with people being deployed overseas as well these days.

I thank my hon. Friend for that. We are looking at all service personnel whose deployment might mean that they are not able to exercise the vote to which they are entitled. It is very important that service personnel are registered and that they can exercise their vote. There are logistical problems in some areas of deployment overseas. We are exploring them vigorously and we have set up the working group. We will take every single measure that we can to make sure that service personnel can vote.

The Minister always says that he is concerned about this subject. He has set up a working group, but it is too late. The Government changed the rules nine years ago to make it more difficult for service personnel to vote, and at the last general election 40 per cent. of service personnel were unable to vote. Only 60 per cent. of the people fighting for our country were able to express their democratic opinion. It is too late now. The Minister has come forward with kind words, working parties, promises and letters, but the Government have done nothing to make it easier for service personnel to vote. I am sure that at the coming general election, which we all hope will be soon, the situation will not be any better than it was last time, because the Government have taken no action.

I would be very happy to answer any question that the hon. Lady might have, but I did not hear one. She is wrong in almost every statement that she made. It is not the case that the Government have done nothing. As she well knows, we have extended the service declaration period from one year to three years, and it is to be extended again to five years. We have taken action already to make sure that our service personnel in Afghanistan are able to have an expedited service of postal voting. The hon. Lady well knows that the proxy vote system is available to every member of the armed services anyway, and we have taken other measures as well. Unlike the Government whom she supported, who for 18 years did nothing whatever to address the issue, we have set up a working group, including representatives of the armed services, to make sure that our armed services are able to vote.

Court Cases

4. What percentage of cases brought to court were not pursued for administrative reasons in the latest period for which figures are available. (308923)

I, too, add my condolences to the family of David Taylor, who was indeed an excellent parliamentarian.

The court has no power to end cases for administrative reasons. From July to September last year, of the 45,500 magistrates court trials, 44 per cent. went ahead as scheduled, 38 per cent. were cracked—in other words, the defendant pleaded guilty on day one—and 18 per cent. did not go forward for a variety of reasons, the most common being that a witness or victim did not turn up.

In expressing my sadness at the death of Mr. David Taylor, I draw the attention of the House to the excellent work that he did on flood prevention, which is a subject very dear to my heart.

I thank the Minister for that response, but does she agree that the figures that she gives are alarming? The 18 per cent. of cases which are dropped for whatever reason must represent a huge cost to the court, clog up the courts system and prevent the most serious cases from being considered in a timely manner.

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point: 18 per cent. is still too high. However, that figure of 18 per cent. is significantly down on the percentage seven or eight years ago. The figures then were 23.7 per cent. in the Crown court, down to 13 per cent. in the latest figures, and 31 per cent. in the magistrates courts, down to 18 per cent., as I have just mentioned. We are absolutely committed to reducing those figures further, and good case management is of course part of that process.

Surely the scandal is not just those criminals who escape justice through bureaucratic incompetence, but the cost to the legal aid budget. How much did aborted cases cost the legal aid budget last year? Has not the time come for the incumbent Director of Public Prosecutions to spend less time going around the country attacking Opposition policies and more time doing his day job organising proper prosecutions?

I do not think that it is for me to comment on what the DPP says going around the country; that is a matter for him. If he has concerns about Opposition policies, perhaps it is right that he raises them so that people can then make a proper judgment. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman, again, that bureaucratic reasons do not stop cases going to trial. In the majority of cases, the reason is the unavailability of evidence, because either the victim or the witness does not turn up. That is regrettable, and if we can persuade people to turn up we will ensure that those who are brought to trial for serious criminal offences are dealt with and dealt with seriously.

Southview Probation Hostel

5. How many residents of Southview probation hostel in York have been returned to prison for (a) breaking the hostel’s rules and (b) committing further offences in the last 12 months. (308924)

In the 12 months up to November 2009, out of the 110 offenders supervised at Southview approved premises, 27 were recalled to prison because their behaviour gave cause for concern and four were convicted of further offences, including one who was convicted of a serious further offence.

It is good to know that hostel residents are returned to prison when they break the rules. My constituents are most concerned about the most dangerous offenders—people such as Richard Graves, who was convicted in November last year for a very serious offence committed while he lived at the hostel. He is now back in prison with an indeterminate sentence. What can the Government do to ensure that the courts make more use of indeterminate sentences so that serial offenders like Mr. Graves are kept in prison rather than in probation hostels?

The indeterminate sentence for public protection goes a long way to meeting some of the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised. That particular offender, Richard Graves, was in prison with a determinate sentence under the Criminal Justice Act 1991, and he was released on the last possible day that he could lawfully be held before being sent to approved premises where he was subject to serious licence conditions. He was being very closely supervised at MAPPA level 2, and even so he was able to offend further, as my hon. Friend has said. Mr. Graves will now not be able to leave prison until he can show that he has addressed his offending behaviour, and that is what will improve safety for the public. The fact is that, on his previous offence, he was able to leave prison before he had addressed his offending behaviour.

Does the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) not highlight a very real problem with the MAPPA situation—that no one agency takes overall responsibility, that prisoners are not necessarily going to hostels, and that they are being allowed to reoffend? They should not be eligible for early release in those circumstances.

That man was not released early; he was released on the last possible day that it would have been lawful to hold him. The question is not about early release. MAPPA stands for multi-agency public protection arrangements, and the whole idea is that all agencies co-operate properly to ensure that somebody always leads in every individual case. The most recent figures indicate that 0.48 per cent. of people supervised under MAPPA level 2 and level 3 reoffended—they committed a serious further offence. That is a low level of reoffending. Obviously, it is a distressing level for those who are subjected to the extra offences, but it is a low level of reoffending given the very high risk of serious harm which those individuals present.

Land Registry (Croydon)

6. What recent discussions he has had with the senior management of the Land Registry on the closure of its office in Croydon. (308925)

I have recently met those at the Land Registry several times about their transformation programme, which includes the proposed closure of five of their offices, including in Croydon. This programme is intended to put the Land Registry in the best possible position to deliver its services cost-effectively. The consultation is open until 29 January, and all representations will be considered.

Does the Minister appreciate that 57 per cent. of the employees at the very professional Land Registry office in Croydon are aged over 46, which offers the prospect of the loss of a tremendous amount of experience at a time when the Government are expecting the economy to boom and therefore the need for the Land Registry greatly to increase?

I recognise those arguments. However, the hon. Gentleman may be aware that the transformation programme began in 2006. Of course, its impetus has been accelerated by the decline in the property market, which we all expect to pick up at some point—there is no question about that. What is fundamentally driving the transformation programme is a strategic change in the way that the Land Registry delivers its services in future. That is what lies behind it, not the current state of the property market.

Electoral System

7. If he will make it his policy to retain the current electoral system for elections to the House of Commons. (308926)

David Taylor’s death, as has already been indicated, was a profound shock to every Member of this House, to the whole of his constituency and obviously to his family. It is particularly poignant for my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for myself, because we often joined David for dinner in the Members’ Dining Room, where I, not least, was a recipient of his robust advice on what we had got right, which was usually a brief part of the conversation, and what we needed to do better, which was quite a lengthy part of the conversation. There has been much reference to his being a Back Bencher. He was a Member of this House following in its most honourable tradition of representing fearlessly his constituents. He will be very sorely missed.

The Government have repeatedly made it clear that no change in the electoral system for the House of Commons would be made without a decision of the British people in a referendum. We published a comprehensive review of voting systems in January 2008. In his speech at our party’s conference in September last year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that he believed that there should be a referendum early in the next Parliament on whether to move to the alternative vote system for elections to the Commons, and we are giving consideration to how this can best be put into effect.

May I say that I, too, am terribly shocked by my friend David Taylor’s death? He was not just a colleague here but also a true socialist, and, I may say, a fellow native of Leicestershire too. I miss him greatly.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the existing electoral system not only maintains the strongest possible link between individual voters and their Member of Parliament, but makes for the maximum possibility of electors choosing their Government, and not leaving it to post-election dodgy deals between parties?

That is one of the many merits of the single-Member constituency majoritarian system, and it is one of the reasons that has always led me wholly to oppose proportional representation, which is essentially a deceit on an electorate because manifestos have no value and the real manifesto is the subject of brokering after any election. That said, my hon. Friend will know that the alternative vote is also a majoritarian system. What we are talking about is a referendum in which there would be a great debate about which of two majoritarian systems would be most appropriate for this century.

David Taylor was a personal friend, and although he and I differed dramatically in politics, I admired him for his independence and his courage. Is the Secretary of State aware that if we move away from the present system of election to this House, the likes of David Taylor will become fewer and fewer in this House, and that is a reason why we should stick with first past the post?

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the dangers of proportional systems. However, the Australian federal system uses a system of alternative voting, and there is no evidence that members of the Australian federal Parliament lack independence or readiness to speak their mind.

May I join everybody else in all parts of the House in expressing sorrow at the passing of David Taylor? He was a good friend and had many warm things to say over the years, and we will miss him.

Regardless of the electoral system, the votes will need to be counted. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to count them in this country, as traditionally we always have, is on election night rather than on a subsequent day?

Yes. I have made very clear our preference for vote counting to take place on election night, and there has been correspondence between myself and the chairman of the Conservative party on that issue. By law it is a matter for returning officers to decide on, but we believe that there is no good reason in the vast majority of cases why counting cannot take place on election night as it has in the past. The reason-cum-excuse that has been offered is the need to verify postal votes. We all accept that need, but good returning officers are showing that they can do the necessary verification before the close of the count in respect of the vast majority of postal votes, not afterwards.

May I add my own personal sadness at the death of David Taylor? He was always here, he always had something interesting to say, and he was unfailingly kind and courteous. He will be very greatly missed.

Will the Secretary of State not acknowledge that first past the post has led to a series of Governments with big majorities in this House, but with barely more than a third of the vote? It is entirely possible that we will get another one this year. How does it help to restore public confidence in politics at this time of all times to have, over and over again, a governing party with very little support in the country, with the vast majority of the electorate having rejected that party at the election?

It is a feature of majoritarian systems, and always has been, that it is rare for there to be an absolute majority of voters in support of the Government of the day. The difference is that majoritarian systems ensure that the largest minority forms a Government. What the Liberals want is a system in which the smallest minority determines the Government. We know that from other countries, not least Germany, where the third party simply changed the Government of the day without there being an election to secure that change.

The Secretary of State is wrong even about whether the party with the largest number of votes always gets the largest number of seats under the present system. It does not. To call the system majoritarian when the leading party does not have a majority of the votes is rather a strange description. Is not the truth that both in 1997 and again in different words in 2001, the Labour party was happy to give the impression of being a reforming party, but as soon as it won the election under the existing system it reneged on its promises?

I remember exactly what we said in 1997, because the responsibility was mine. I never gave the impression of being someone who had suddenly had a Pauline conversion in favour of proportional representation, because I had not and have not. What we said was that we would establish a committee, quite properly, to examine new systems of voting. That committee duly reported under the chairmanship of the late Lord Jenkins, and the truth was that there was not a consensus for change, and had the matter gone to a referendum I think it would have been seen as a waste of public money. We now propose a choice for the British people that preserves the best of our system, and there is an opportunity for a great debate about whether we follow what the Australians have done, which in some respects has added to the robustness of their constituency-based system.

May I invoke the spirit of David Taylor and offer my right hon. Friend some robust advice? Does he accept that the alternative vote system does not necessarily produce any more proportional an outcome than the first-past-the-post system? The only way in which that can be remedied is through top-up seats, but does he accept that they would inevitably create two classes of Member in this House? Is it not too much of a risk to go ahead with such a system?

I was going to add a gloss to it. On my right hon. Friend’s first point, no one has ever suggested that the alternative vote produces a proportionate result. However, by definition, it requires each individual Member to be elected by at least 50 per cent. of those voting, and many see that as one of its merits. It avoids the problems of so-called AV plus, which would lead to two tiers of Members of Parliament. I think that that would be anathema, and would never gain the support of the British people.

Compulsory Transfer Agreements

8. With how many countries the UK has compulsory transfer agreements for the return of foreign national prisoners. (308927)

Changes made in the Police and Justice Act 2006 have enabled the United Kingdom to ratify the Council of Europe’s additional protocol and to negotiate bilateral agreements to provide for compulsory transfer of prisoners. Arrangements are now in place with 35 countries for transfers without consent. Negotiations with other countries are continuing. Since the change in the law was brought into effect, the starting point for all negotiations of prisoner transfer agreements has been on that basis.

May I suggest to the Secretary of State that progress has been pathetically slow, given that foreign national prisoners now make up some 13 per cent. of the prison population in England and Wales? Does it not give a hollow sound to the Prime Minister’s pledge in July 2007, when he said:

“If you commit a crime you will be deported from our country. You play by the rules or you face the consequences”?

I do not accept either of the hon. Gentleman’s points. First, the proportion of foreign national prisoners in United Kingdom jails—he cites 13 per cent.—is much lower than that in the vast majority of European countries. For example, in France the figure is 19 per cent., in Germany 26 per cent., and in Greece and Austria 43 per cent. We are far better than most European countries at managing our foreign national prisoner population.

There are two aspects to the hon. Gentleman’s question. One is about prisoners who are serving their sentences: we wish them to be compulsorily transferred out to serve their sentence abroad. The second is about deportations of so-called time-expired foreign national prisoners, whom the conventions do not affect. We have significantly increased the number of time-expired prisoners who are deported.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply, but even though few bilateral transfer agreements have materialised so far, are they not, in many cases, an example of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? How many foreign national prisoners who could or should be deported should not have been in the UK in the first place, but were here illegally, as a result of the Government’s dysfunctional border policy?

I am happy to seek to provide the hon. Gentleman with an answer and lay it before the House. However, let me emphasise that we have greatly reduced the number of asylum seekers who come to this country—it is now around a third of the number with which I was faced when I became Home Secretary 12 and a half years ago. We have significantly tightened border controls—often with not much help from the Opposition on the practical policies that are required. We are also increasing year by year the numbers deported.

Voting Age

The Youth Citizenship Commission’s report noted that opinions were divided on lowering the voting age to 16. The Government are now considering the report and how to make progress on it.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he accept that, 41 years after the previous lowering of the voting age, there are powerful arguments for considering a further reduction to give the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds? Under the current system, some young people have to wait almost until their 23rd birthday to vote in a UK general election. Surely someone who is old enough to pay tax in this country, and old enough to join the armed forces, is old enough to exercise the democratic right to vote.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course he is right to say that there are arguments in favour of lowering the voting age, which is precisely why we asked the Youth Citizenship Commission to look at the issue. However, it found that opinion is divided, even among 16 to 18-year-olds. We have to proceed carefully. The only way that we can make radical changes in the voting age, as with anything else to do with the electoral system, is—as far as we possibly can—on the basis of consensus.

Departmental Staff Internet Usage

10. What his Department’s policy is on the private use of e-mail and the internet by its staff during working hours. (308929)

May I add to the comments made by my colleagues, and offer my condolences to the family of David Taylor?

Private use of the Ministry’s e-mail and internet systems during working hours happens only with the permission of line management. Such usage must be reasonable, and there is strict monitoring by Ministry of Justice IT services. Any use must not interfere with the performance of official duties. Staff are not permitted to access social networking sites for personal reasons; they may access such sites only for professional reasons, if they can provide a strong business case that shows they need to use those media to perform their roles—such as when somebody was impersonating my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary on Facebook. It was important for MOJ staff to be able to monitor what he was allegedly saying.

It has been estimated that surfing the web in work time costs private business in the region of £624 million per year, and I suspect that that problem permeates most Government Departments and their agencies, too. May I commend to the Minister one possible solution to the problem, which has been adopted by Pindar, in Scarborough? That firm provides a separate work station, away from the rest of the work stations in the open-plan office, for private use—and that is the only place where private use can be made of the internet in work time.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting suggestion. Actually, the MOJ controls very strongly, and monitors, the access that staff have to browse or surf the web. Within the central area of the MOJ headquarters there are some computers that have much freer access, and those are available for staff to use in their private time, such as lunchtime and before or after work. However, I will certainly make sure that the MOJ IT services find out about the company to which he refers.

Prison Population

My Ministry regularly receives many representations on prison matters. The Government have undertaken the fastest ever prison building programme, increasing capacity by over 25,000 places since 1997—around 3,500 are planned for delivery this year—during a period in which crime has fallen by a third.

Overwhelmingly, the increase in the prison population has been of adult male prisoners. Since the publication of the Corston review, the number of women in prison has decreased by more than 4 per cent. We are also endeavouring to increase the transfer of prisoners with serious mental health problems to the NHS secure estate.

May I too add my comments on the very sad loss of David Taylor? I was a new member in 2005, and he was unstinting in his support, and in giving advice, support and a friendly smile as we moved around this place throughout the years.

Ninety per cent. of our prison population have a mental health problem, 70 per cent. have two or more mental problems, and 16 per cent. have up to four or five different mental health problems. A young lady in my constituency has been in and out of prison following offences occasioned by her mental health problems. What steps can we take to work with those mental health charities that are urging us to look at how we improve services—

About two years ago I established the Bradley review, which produced a series of important recommendations that we are now actively seeking to implement. My hon. Friend is right to say that a high proportion of offenders have mental health problems in one form or another. With the best will in the world, only those with the most serious mental health problems will be capable of transfer to the NHS secure estate, but we are now seeing, and have seen, much better collaboration between the prison medical services, which are now part of the NHS—that was a major reform that I introduced a dozen years ago—and the NHS outside, so that with luck, we can ensure that those with mental health problems do not fall into offending, and that if they do, they are better treated.

On behalf of the Opposition Front Bench, may I join the Secretary of State in his expressions of condolence on the death of David Taylor?

The Justice Secretary was asked about reducing the prison population, but is not the principal tool that he has used one that has seen 70,000 criminals released early from prison under his watch? In the last three years, 40 convicted criminals avoided jail each week despite being assessed as at a high risk of causing serious harm to others. Is it negligence, incompetence or a concerted Government policy that is putting the public at risk?

None of those. I regret the fact that we had to introduce the early release scheme, but overall we have been far better at managing the prison estate and the prison population than ever happened in 18 years of Conservative Government: 3,500 prisoners were released in one go—I was in the House when it happened—in July 1997, conveniently just after a general election. There were also more escapes from close prisons per week in the early 1990s than there were last year in the whole 12-month period.

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us more about his plan to halve the number of prison places—

Order. May I say to the Secretary of State that the hon. and learned Gentleman is under no obligation to do that?

The Secretary of State engages in classic displacement activity. The figures that I gave him are his figures, and they happened on his watch—6,000 offenders who were assessed as being at high or very high risk of causing serious harm avoided jail. He says that there is no deliberate policy, but it cannot be sheer incompetence. Some 10,000 prisoners have absconded from prison under this Government, he has pressured the judges not to give prison sentences because he failed to provide the capacity, and now he is offering foreign prisoners up to £5,000 to leave Britain. Will he confirm that that is his policy and his creation, and that his Department will not tell us the total cost of that because it has called in the auditors?

I have never pressured the judges one way or the other on their sentencing. Indeed, we now have a transparent system of sentencing guidelines. The fact that the prison population has increased so much—by 40 per cent. since 1997—is a testament both to the fact that this House has toughened up prison sentences, at our instigation and with the Opposition voting against, and to the judiciary, magistrates and judges alike, speaking for the British public. That is a sensible policy, as opposed to a policy of seeking to halve the prison population, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has promised to do.

Topical Questions

As the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice) announced in a written ministerial statement today, we have just published a consultation paper to require mortgage lenders to obtain a court order or the consent of the borrower before repossessing and selling residential owner-occupied homes. That would remove the so-called Horsham loophole. The latest figures show that more than 30,000 people across England were helped between October 2008 and September 2009 under court duty schemes. On average last year, four out of five people had the immediate threat of repossession halted following help from Government-funded court desks.

Mr. Speaker, David Taylor was a personal friend. His hard work, his independence and his respect for this Parliament will be greatly missed.

Will the Secretary of State boost public confidence in the prison service by making prison regimes tougher, with more education and fewer drugs, and early release contingent on the prisoner’s behaviour and the likelihood of reoffending? That would boost public confidence.

What we want to see is prison made effective. It is tough, and those who recognise the reality of prison would not want to spend a day inside. We have dramatically increased the resources available for education and, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) has said, we have significantly increased the resources for drug treatment. Prisoners on longer-term sentences have to prove, by their good behaviour, that they are ready for parole. Those on indeterminate sentences cannot be—and are not—released unless the parole board judges that it is safe for that to happen.

T2. A Wales Audit Office report has concluded that specialist services such as in-patient and forensic mental health services have been poorly managed and controlled in Wales. What steps can we take to ensure that mental health services provided in Welsh prisons for young people and children are vastly improved? (308947)

We can do a good deal. As I have mentioned already to my hon. Friend, we are implementing the Bradley report. Dealing with prisoners who have mental health problems is very challenging for all concerned, but we are in no doubt about the priority that we attach, and which has to be attached by all prison establishments, to doing it.

T3. Wolstenholmes, a law firm first established in 1818 and based in my Cheadle constituency, was closed down last week by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. There is now an ongoing investigation into claims of dishonesty and account irregularities. Not surprisingly, many residents have contacted me, extremely concerned about documents and moneys held by the firm. Can the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that their documents and money will be safe, that they will be fully compensated as appropriate, and that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances? (308948)

I am happy to arrange to meet the hon. Gentleman. I understand the anxiety that will obviously be caused to former clients of Wolstenholmes in that situation. I am also happy to go through with him what we, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, can do.

May I refer the Minister of State back to his earlier reply about the reduction of the voting age to 16? I suggest that he look at earlier attempts to extend the franchise—for example, to non-property-owning men, and to women—and consider whether it might not be better to rely on democratic principles, rather than simply on a referendum among those who already have the vote.

Of course I am happy to take the historical reference, but I think that my hon. Friend will be aware that all the data show that, even among 16 to 18-year-olds, there is a profound division of opinion about whether the voting age should be lowered.

T4. With the ever-growing tempo of operations, more and more veterans might find themselves in custody. Her Majesty’s Prison Lancaster Castle has, under its own steam, started an initiative for supporting veterans in custody, through which it tries, across the north-west, to link veterans with agencies. The Minister with responsibility for veterans, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), has been very supportive, but at the end of the day the money required comes from the Ministry of Justice. Will the Secretary of State agree to consider its proposal and see whether the small amount of funding required for the pilot scheme could be within his gift? (308949)

I am very happy to look into what the hon. Gentleman says about Lancaster. Like many of us throughout the House, he is concerned about veterans of our armed forces ending up in custody. We have just completed a joint data-matching exercise with the MOD to identify the number of veterans in custody. The results show that 3 per cent. of the prison population have served in the armed forces. That will inform our policy development and enable us to provide greater support. We are providing new training for prison staff covering best practice, advice and support for veterans, and information on accessing specialist health treatments. However, I am more than happy to look into the particular instance that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

As the assistant to the Minister for the East Midlands, I add to those of others my condolences to the family of David Taylor.

The Secretary of State will recall visiting Buxton magistrates court in September 2008, when he saw the terrible conditions under which magistrates, staff and others had to work. He will be pleased to know that the refurbished court reopened last week and that magistrates have expressed their satisfaction with it. However, we still need, at some point, a purpose-built court to serve the whole of High Peak. I would be grateful if he could tell me that this aspiration is still at least on the table.

I do indeed remember visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency, not least the magistrates court, which was in a poor condition. I am glad that, as a result of the representations I received then from him and those in the Court Service, we were able to do something about it. The proposals for new court buildings, which include some in my own constituency, are on the table, but some have had to be deferred because of the tight financial situation, which affects my Department.

T5. There is a widespread and growing perception that community punishments are a soft touch, which is reinforced by the number of miscreants who simply absent themselves, apparently with impunity. What are Ministers going to do to ensure that community “punishments” are exactly that? (308950)

Community punishments used to be a soft touch. When I became Home Secretary some years ago, it was almost voluntary as to whether offenders—or perhaps I should say miscreants—turned up for their punishment. One of the other reasons why there has been such a large increase in the prison population is that we have toughened up the breach arrangements, so that if offenders fail to turn up for their appointments with the probation service, or for unpaid work, they can be, and are, sent to jail. I am glad that that is happening. We have also toughened up the perception of community punishments, not least by requiring that offenders on unpaid work wear high-visibility jackets, and by asking the public what kind of work they wish those offenders to undertake.

Order. May I gently say to the House that what should not be voluntary is the requirement for short questions and short answers, if we are to maximise the progress down the Order Paper?

May I ask the Justice Secretary what advice he has offered the Prime Minister on the issue of pleural plaques?

A good deal. This is a difficult issue and involves potential expenditure by a number of Departments, but consideration by Ministers continues.

T6. Does the Secretary of State agree with Sir Hugh Orde that his recent remarks about lazy police officers were not constructive and do not reflect the hard work and dangers that many police officers face? Has he not added insult to injury, having already cut police pay? (308951)

What I was seeking to do—I will send the hon. Gentleman a signed copy of the transcript of my interview—was to say what I hope every Member of the House understands, which is that for a given level of resources, some parts of the same public service do very much better than others. That is true for the health service, the courts and the prisons, and it is also true for the police service. I know that from my long experience—and interestingly, much of what I said was endorsed by a number of police officers, who understood what I was saying. I am a 100 per cent. supporter of the police and what they have done to reduce crime. That cannot, however, prevent us from saying, “This service is doing well; that one’s doing less well. Why is there a difference?”

May I just say how very much I appreciated David Taylor’s presence in this House, including in the Dining Room? We will all miss him a great deal.

Has the Justice Department examined the comparative costs and reoffending rates between keeping drug addicts in prison and providing residential accommodation with detoxification and rehabilitation facilities?

Over the past few years we have tried to ensure that drug treatment is available at the same level inside and outside prison, so that individuals can get the treatment suitable for their particular addiction problem, whether they are inside prison or out in the community. We have made great strides in ensuring that that is now possible.

T7. In the light of the protests and the revelations by the National Association of Probation Officers, will Ministers now instruct their civil servants not to interfere in the drawing up of reports before sentence by probation officers—and in particular, not to ask people to exclude perfectly proper mitigating factors, such as the reason for the protest or the activity? (308952)

There have always been guidelines about how best to produce reports for the courts to ensure that the correct information is there. I am willing to consider any instance that the hon. Gentleman wants to draw to my attention, but it is certainly not the practice of the National Offender Management Service or of Ministers to interfere with precisely what should go into a particular report for the courts.

The Minister will be aware that under the Electoral Administration Act 2006, £17 million was allocated by his Department to the Department for Communities and Local Government to improve registration. That money was unhypothecated. Can he guarantee that the money that was sent for registration was spent on registration?

My hon. Friend will be aware that there are considerable variations in practice between electoral registration officers. Sadly, it appears that not all the money that should be spent on electoral registration is being spent on it. We have put measures in place to deal with that. My hon. Friend will be aware that we are determined to end the scandal of the 3.5 million people in this country who are eligible to vote but cannot do so because they are not registered—and we will.

T8. In the past few days there has been yet another suicide at Lewes prison. There have been far too many such cases in the past 10 years, and this seems to suggest a failure of duty of care at the prison, and a failure to deliver justice for the inmates through the courts. Will the Justice Secretary examine the circumstances of this particular suicide, and try to find out whether there are sufficient prison officers to handle the size of the population at that prison—and will he let me know the outcome of the investigation? (308953)

Each death in custody is examined carefully and closely by the prisons and probation ombudsman, and there will be the usual investigation in respect of this case. If the hon. Gentleman has particular points to make that he believes are of concern regarding the prison in his constituency, I would be more than happy to hear the details from him, and to take a close look myself.

I represent a constituency in which, two years ago, there was ballot stuffing—roll stuffing—by a Conservative local government candidate. Will the Ministry consider making resources available, on the basis of risk, to local authorities in which there might be a risk of ballot stuffing, in order to ensure that that does not occur in the forthcoming general election?

Of course we are always happy to look at any measures to deal with fraud. It is absolutely disgraceful when events such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency happen. Of course we will look at any concrete proposals. I want to reassure her that we are doing everything we can to combat fraud in our elections.

Given that the Information Commissioner has today laid before Parliament a report criticising the Secretary of State’s blanket veto on the release of Cabinet Committee minutes from 1997 relating to devolution, will the Secretary of State explain why those particular minutes were, in his opinion, an exceptional case, and why there were particularly pressing reasons to block their disclosure?

I set out the detailed reasons in a written ministerial statement, with appendices, which I laid before the House as I undertook to do. I am happy to provide the right hon. Gentleman with a copy. The fact is that section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a fundamental part of the scheme of the Act; it was on that basis that the Bill was agreed. The legislation provides for an appointed person to exercise a veto either after a commissioner’s decision or after a tribunal. There is, however, no requirement in the law to wait for a tribunal decision.

T9. The Justice Secretary is aware of my concern about the growing incidence of shop theft. Will he therefore deplore the remarks made by the vicar in York in the build-up to Christmas condoning shop theft, as such remarks are contrary not only to Government policy but to the Bible? (308954)

They are also contrary to the ten commandments, as I recall—[Hon. Members: “Those are in the Bible, too.”] Indeed. I missed the hon. Lady’s last point, because one of my hon. Friends was trying to offer me some gratuitous advice. Anyway, I agree with her in every particular.

Yemen

(Urgent Question): To ask the Foreign Secretary if he will make a statement on the situation in Yemen, including the closure of the British embassy and the position of British citizens in Yemen.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will address all the security issues arising from the Christmas incident immediately after this. I will now address the broader picture. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) knows, the Government have been increasingly concerned about the situation in Yemen and about the number and scale of the challenges faced by the Yemeni Government and people. We believe that the increasing insecurity and instability in Yemen pose a threat to the Gulf region, to the wider middle east and to the UK.

Over the past 18 months, the situation has been a growing concern in the region and to Her Majesty’s Government. Our cross-Whitehall discussions and close working with international partners led, in September 2009, to the development of a renewed UK country strategy for Yemen. This strategy is currently being implemented by Government Departments across Whitehall, including the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence. It covers four areas. The first is support for democratic political structures; the second addresses the causes of the conflict—so-called counter-radicalisation; the third relates to building the Yemeni capacity to tackle security and terrorism issues; and the fourth is directed at helping the Yemeni Government to deliver the functions of the state, onshore and offshore.

To strengthen further the international community’s support for the Government of Yemen in meeting those challenges, the Prime Minister announced on 1 January that the UK would host a high-level meeting on Yemen later this month, and that will indeed take place. The meeting will focus on galvanising international support for Yemen’s fight against terrorism and co-ordinating assistance to address the longer-term economic and social factors underlying radicalisation and extremism.

As a symbol of the Government’s long-term commitment to Yemen, DFID signed a 10-year development partnership arrangement with the Government of Yemen in August 2007. The UK development spend is fully aligned to our Yemen strategy and to the priorities of the Yemeni Government’s national reform agenda. We will spend about £25 million in fiscal year 2009-10; £35 million to £40 million in fiscal year 2010-11; and, dependent on progress on reform of state structures in Yemen, up to £50 million in 2011-12.

The Government of Yemen are embattled on four different but related fronts: first, the tribal rebellion in the north; secondly, separatism and separatist movements in the south; economic decline across the country, which is particularly important in the context of a near doubling of the population of Yemen that is foreseen in the relatively near future; and also the growing threat from Islamist terrorism in the form of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which finds safe haven in Yemen. Urgent economic and political reforms are the only long-term solution to Yemen’s problems, but continued instability distracts from the Government’s short-term efforts to address these priorities.

As a result of ongoing security concerns, the British embassy closed earlier this week on a precautionary basis for two days. The embassy is now open and staff are back at work. Currently, however, the public services sections of the embassy—the visa and consular sections—are closed. This is under regular review and I discussed the issue with our ambassador in a video conference yesterday morning.

I should point out that it is not unusual for embassies to close during times of heightened tension. During 2009, the British embassy in Sana’a closed on more than a dozen occasions. We have different procedures from other nations for assessing the safety and security of our staff. It would not be right to comment on the specifics of this closure, but I assure the House that it is kept under regular review to ensure that services are maintained. The embassy in Sana’a maintains regular contact with the British community through our wardens network and by regular factual messages to the British nationals who have registered with the embassy.

Finally, the overall threat level in Yemen has not changed. As we make clear in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice, the threat from terrorism in Yemen is high and remains of concern. We continue to recommend against all non-essential travel to the country.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing the question. I refer the House to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and to my personal interest, as I was born in Yemen and lived there for nine years of my life.

In welcoming the London conference, will the Foreign Secretary state precisely what additional support has been given to Yemen as a result of this recent initiative? Will he also confirm that all the money pledged to Yemen in London in November 2006 has been paid over? Can we stop referring to Yemen as a failed state? It has the capacity to fail if Britain, America and the nearby Arab states do not support it. Can we also make sure that the Foreign Secretary visits the country as soon as possible?

There are three parts to my right hon. Friend’s question. First, the London meeting will not be a pledging conference, and I do not think that that is what is needed. However, as my right hon. Friend intimated in the second part of his question, some £5 billion was pledged at the London conference in 2006. A small proportion of it has been disbursed, in part because of concerns about how the money would be spent, but there are other issues. I understand that about 40 per cent. of it has been signed and 81 per cent. allocated to different programmes, although only a very small percentage has actually been spent.

In terms of my right hon. Friend’s attempt to send me to Yemen, I cannot quite promise him that just at the moment, but the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), will be on a recce to Yemen next month. That will allow us to take forward the conclusions of the London meeting in an appropriate way.

On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the calling of a conference on Yemen in London on 28 January. I agree that Yemen is a fragile state—I think we should call it that, rather than a failed state—and that that matters to British security.

I want to ask three brief sets of questions. First, in view of the closure of our embassy, is the Foreign Secretary confident that the right level of consular support can be given to British citizens and officials in Yemen in the event of further closures of the embassy, and that plans are in place to offer them protection?

Secondly, following the announcement of additional US-UK support for a special counter-terrorist police unit and for the Yemeni coastguard operation, may we express the hope that those arrangements will be conducted better than Downing street has conducted US-UK co-operation on related matters in the last 24 hours? Specifically, will the support be purely financial, or will it involve actual assistance on the ground in the form of training? What is the time scale for its delivery, and when is the new unit expected to be up and running? Is this an exclusively US-UK initiative, or does it involve other countries and partners, such as Gulf nations, that may be prepared to work with us?

Thirdly, it should be recognised that Yemen cannot be viewed solely through the prism of an al-Qaeda problem. The Foreign Secretary rightly referred to a mixture of issues. Yemen’s internal conflicts are fuelled by political grievances, poverty, corruption and competition over depleted natural resources, issues that require political leadership from the Yemeni Government as well as assistance from the international community. Can the Foreign Secretary assure us that all those issues will be addressed at the conference in January, and will continue to be treated as a priority by his colleagues in DFID? Will he do his utmost to ensure that there is a focus on the Yemeni Government’s responsibility to work towards a political settlement in the country, and that we look to the longer term as well as to the immediate problems?

I am confident that the right procedures are being followed in terms of consular support for British nationals. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there is a relatively small number of them, although the Yemeni diaspora in Britain is of long standing. There is a proud set of Yemeni communities, including, in South Shields, the oldest in Britain. There is obviously some need for consular support, but the ambassador has assured me that that is being dealt with in an appropriate way. The network of wardens that operates in many countries is there to alert us to any problems, but has not yet been notified of any.

The work that is taking place with the Yemeni authorities is more than paying out. The money includes finance for training, which has been an important part of the co-operation that is taking place. We will be discussing with a range of those attending the London meeting whether there is a way in which they could support the UK-US effort, and we will seek appropriate ways in which to use the skills and expertise that other countries can provide.

I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about the breadth of the British programme in Yemen and the need to maintain it. The short term, the medium term and the long term are related. Most of the grievances that exist in Yemen are local rather than being related to the global jihad, and although al-Qaeda can try to find roots there, the vast bulk of the issues motivating Yemenis are what we would call bread-and-butter issues that a Government should be seeking to address. Certainly it is the prime responsibility of the Government of Yemen to do so.

Of course the actions of the Foreign Office in Yemen in closing the embassy and working with our allies in Yemen and the United States enjoy support across the House, but will the Foreign Secretary reassure us that, in supporting action against al-Qaeda in Yemen and elsewhere in the region, we are ensuring that local people are not inadvertently alienated by our actions and those of our allies? In giving military support and aid to the Yemenis, and in developing the cross-departmental strategy to which the Foreign Secretary referred, are we impressing on the Yemeni Government the importance of avoiding civilian deaths and of building a sustainable coalition against al-Qaeda across the whole country?

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good and important point, which is highly relevant, and let me say two things on that. First, there has been a very wide welcome across the Gulf, as well as within Yemen, for the fact that the London meeting will not be focused simply on counter-terrorism, because that might play into the sort of dangers to which he rightly refers. The incubus that is Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula must not become a rallying point for the people of Yemen, because they become the unwitting or unwilling victims of attempts to tackle the AQAP presence there.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is also absolutely right to insist that the economic, social and political issues at the heart of Yemen’s development need to be addressed. I think that I am right to say that Yemen’s oil wealth is likely to run out in 2015, and the dangers of water scarcity are very real. Those issues evidently are not amenable to a counter-terrorist solution, and require a much more deep-seated and effective role for government, supported by the international community. That is why the fourth priority that we mentioned—the functioning of the state—is so important to addressing those issues.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned radicalisation; will he undertake also to have close talks with the Saudi Government? They have some programmes that may seem unorthodox to some western eyes, but that nevertheless seem to be working in the Saudi and Arab context. I think that we should learn from that.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As it happens, the Saudi programme that was featured on this morning’s edition of the “Today” programme is one that I visited last year in Saudi Arabia. It is a counter-radicalisation programme, rather than a radicalisation programme—that is an important point to make—and is extremely innovative. I met a failed suicide bomber—

Hence failed, but it is not a laughing matter, as he killed a lot of people in a market by blowing up a bomb in a truck that he was driving. He said that he did not know what its contents were and that he had been inveigled into driving the truck. He and a number of other people were going through that programme, which involved taking a comprehensive look at their lives, including in relation to religious instruction. A large number of innovative products are also available in terms of people’s return to normal life after the programme. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to this matter, and I congratulate the Saudi Government on how they are going about dealing with it. It is certainly something that we work closely with them on.

May I also declare an interest as an officer of the all-party group that visited Yemen a couple of years ago? I found some very impressive Anglophile Ministers there, who think that Britain has a key role to play in that country and who want us to play a key role. I also found that the electoral gains made there by radical Islamists were in the areas of greatest poverty. We clearly need to do more to eradicate the terrorists, but can we also do much more to eradicate and rehabilitate their breeding grounds?

I am sorry to sound like a stuck record, but the hon. Gentleman also makes an important point. I hope that the House can be united in making the point that those who allege in today’s newspapers that we are wasting our money by spending development funding on anti-poverty measures in Yemen are wrong. The figures that I have read out are substantial by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that they enjoy cross-party support is positive. He is right that if Yemen is to be prevented from becoming a more dangerous breeding ground for terrorism, it needs to develop the sort of life chances for people that he and I may take for granted.

At an enormous cost in loss of British human lives, we joined America in its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before we commit even more human lives to another nightmare, should not we consider the possibility of having an independent British foreign policy?

We should certainly have a foreign policy that is decided independently by the Government and people of this country, but we should not have an isolated foreign policy that attempts to work on its own. I am proud that we are very close partners of the United States, European Union countries and a large number of countries in the Gulf, which are very concerned about the situation. The attention that we have been paying to Yemen in the past 18 months is in significant part a product of the growing concern, from 2008, of countries in the Gulf that wanted British help regarding their concerns about the situation in Yemen. We are not unwelcome helpers in Yemen, and we certainly are not trying to recolonise it. That is an important point to emphasise.

Although I welcome this short discussion about Yemen, we are only having it because of al-Qaeda. Would it not be instructive if the Government were to produce a document about the international strategy against al-Qaeda, or hold a conference in London at which international partners could be invited to talk about that? That would be better than waiting for statements about other countries in which al-Qaeda is operating that may not be in the news at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, although I think that he would be one of the first to recognise that it is wrong to talk simply about al-Qaeda and not to distinguish between its senior leadership based in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or in the Maghreb. There are distinctive issues related to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership on the one hand and its so-called franchises on the other. They are certainly worthy of study and debate, and the more the better, as far as I am concerned. However, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) made the good point that there was a meeting with parliamentarians on the situation in Yemen before the Christmas incident. The fact that there is a thriving all-party parliamentary group, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, speaks for the close links that exist between Britain and Yemen, and long may they continue.

Given that a significant proportion of terror offenders turn out to have been radicalised towards extremism here in Britain rather than in Yemen or elsewhere, should not the Prime Minister also consider calling a summit on the radicalisation towards extremism and terror that takes place here?

That is exactly what the Prevent strategy has been founded on over a number of years. A large number of meetings—I do not know whether they qualify as “summits”—have been held within Government and around the country to address precisely this issue.

I agree with the Foreign Secretary about the importance of aid in removing what I call the “scourge” of the spots where terrorism can spring up, but my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary described the Government of Yemen as fragile. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House just how widely supported the Government of Yemen are among all the people, bearing in mind the tribal conflicts in the north and the separatist movement in the south?

Far be it from me to be a lawyer for the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), but in his defence—or at least in explanation of his position—I think that he said that Yemen was fragile, and not its Government. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) will know that President Saleh is in his second term of office, and that the constitution prohibits him from running for a third term. Parliamentary elections in Yemen are due in 2011, and they will clearly be a massive challenge. One issue that will need to be addressed is precisely those democratic elections and people’s ability to express their opinions in them. However, the number of Yemenis who are committed to violence—whether through the Houthi movement in the north or the secessionist movement in the south, and still less through links to al-Qaeda—are a very small minority.

All over the world—in Afghanistan and Pakistan and next door in Somalia, for example—our armed forces and aid budgets are stretched. Why has Britain, or perhaps the Prime Minister, chosen to take a lead in Yemen, when our resources are so stretched? Might it not be time to let the US or our other allies take a lead with regard to Yemen? Is it perhaps not a country too far?

So much for an independent foreign policy. First of all, this country has a long-standing history with Yemen, and I think that that gives us an important role there. Secondly, we are in a group of pre-eminent donors that includes the United States, the Germans, the Dutch and the Saudis, and indeed I spoke to the German Foreign Minister today. In terms of the stretch, we have been careful to make sure that, in our funding in Yemen, we spend only what we know that we are able to spend properly there. The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a range of other problems. In my view, the situation in Somalia is best addressed through the security work of AMISOM—the African Union mission in Somalia—but, on a political level, through the UN Security Council. The meeting that has been called and the other forms of co-ordination that are being established befit the situation in the Yemen rather better. History in Somalia is rather different.

The increase in international aid funding that Her Majesty’s Government have promised pales into insignificance against what the oil-rich Arab countries on the peninsula could and should provide. Should not Her Majesty’s Government make it clear to the countries on the Arabian peninsula that their priority should be dealing with potential problems from the Yemen, rather than spending millions of pounds on half-mile-high skyscrapers?

I am not sure whether it is the Government who are spending the money on the skyscrapers to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but he makes an important point. Some of the largest pledges at the 2006 conference were from Gulf countries, not western countries. It is important that those pledges are fulfilled. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East raised the question of which of those pledges had been paid, and that is a pertinent point.

The point of mentioning our aid programmes is not some vainglorious attempt to say that we have the biggest programme but to explain that there is a British commitment and it is proportionate to the sort of responsibility that we should bear. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is an issue that needs to be raised by countries of the region. I am pleased to say that in the past 18 months they have been doing so, and they have put us on alert about their needs.

Aviation and Border Security

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the failed attempt to destroy a passenger plane at Detroit airport on Christmas day and its implications for national security. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will make this statement in the other place.

On 24 December, Umah Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen, travelled from Lagos to Amsterdam, where he boarded Northwestern Airlines flight 253 to Detroit. As the flight was approaching Detroit on Christmas day, he detonated a device that was strapped to his upper thigh and groin area which resulted in a fire and a small explosion. He was restrained and subdued by passengers and flight crew and he remains in custody in the US.

Authorities in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Yemen are now doing everything they can to piece together Abdulmutallab’s movements shortly before this attack, and are considering what urgent steps need to be taken to prevent further attacks of this nature.

It is an issue of grave concern that the explosive device was not detected by airport security in either Lagos or Amsterdam. As has been widely reported, Abdulmutallab attended University college London between 2005 and 2008, where he completed a degree in engineering. During this time he was known to the Security Service but not as somebody engaged in violent extremism. His family and friends have stated their belief that he turned to this during his time in Yemen.

From the information we have currently, it is not possible to chart with absolute certainty Abdulmutallab’s exact movements after he left the UK in 2008. He is known to have spent several months studying international business at a university in Dubai and in August 2009 he travelled to Yemen, where he is thought to have stayed until December before returning to west Africa. He came to the attention of UK authorities again on 28 April 2009 when he applied for a multi-entry student visitor visa to attend an eight-day course provided by Discovery Life Coaching based in east London. The UK Border Agency refused his visa application because Discovery did not hold a valid accreditation with a UKBA-approved body and was not eligible to sponsor international students.

Since March 2009, only institutions which are either tier 4 sponsors or hold valid accreditation are permitted to bring in short-term foreign students from outside the European economic area. Universities and colleges must be able to demonstrate that they are offering genuine courses that will benefit students seeking to study in the UK. This new regime has reduced the number of institutions able to bring students to the UK from over 4,000 to approximately 2,000. Following the refusal of his application, Abdulmutallab’s name was added to the UKBA watch list.

In the light of the serious questions that this incident has raised, I want to set out today, first, the immediate steps that we are taking to tighten aviation security, secondly, what measures we are taking to prevent radicalisation in our universities, and thirdly the actions we are taking to disrupt al-Qaeda in countries where it is known to be active, in order to prevent future terrorist attacks, and to improve co-operation with our international partners.

It is of great concern that Abdulmutallab was able to penetrate airport security at Amsterdam. The device he used had clearly been constructed with the precise aim of making detection by existing screening methods extremely difficult.

Abdulmutallab underwent a security check at Schipol airport in Amsterdam, as do all passengers transferring from Nigeria to another flight. Although Schipol airport is trialling body scanners, they were not in use for that flight. He passed through a metal detection gate, which would have detected objects such as explosive devices with metallic components, and knives and firearms. However, certain types of explosive, without metallic parts and which can also concealed next to the body, cannot be detected by that technology, which is the reason why airports also search passengers at random.

To defeat the terrorist threat requires constant vigilance and adaptability. A great deal of progress has been made in enhancing aviation and border security since 9/11; but terrorists are inventive, the scale and nature of the threat changes, and new technology needs to be harnessed to meet new threats, while minimising inconvenience to passengers.

Last year, we issued new public guidance to the industry on our technical requirements for screening and the detection of improvised explosive devices. The Prime Minister instigated an urgent review of airport security following the incident in Detroit. My noble friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I have been intensively engaged in the review, and we are today setting out our initial steps.

It is clear that no one measure will be enough to defeat inventive and determined terrorists, and there is no single technology that we can guarantee will be 100 per cent. effective against such attacks. Airport security is multifaceted and needs to adapt constantly to evolving threats. We therefore intend to make changes to our aviation security regime.

Air passengers are already used to being searched by hand, and having their baggage tested for traces of explosives. The Government will direct airports to increase the proportion of passengers searched in that way. There may be some additional delays as airports adapt, but I am sure the travelling public will appreciate the reasons behind this.

The Transport Secretary has brought into force new restrictions that tighten up security screening for transit passengers, and is reviewing the support we provide for security standards in airports operating direct flights to the UK. Passengers will see an increased presence of detection or sniffer dogs at airports to add to our explosives detection capability.

We also intend to introduce more body scanners. The first scanners will be deployed in around three weeks at Heathrow. Over time, they will be introduced more widely, and we will be requiring all UK airports to introduce explosive trace detection equipment by the end of the year. We are discussing urgently with the airport industry the best way of doing all this, which will include a code of practice dealing with the operational and privacy issues involved.

BAA has started training airport security staff in behavioural analysis techniques, which will help them to spot passengers acting unusually and target them for additional search. Beyond that, we are examining carefully whether additional targeted passenger profiling might help to enhance airport security. We will be considering all the issues involved, mindful of civil liberties concerns, aware that identity-based profiling has its limitations, but conscious of our overriding obligations to protect people’s life and liberty.

These measures build on the substantial progress we have made in recent years to strengthen our borders. The roll-out of e-Borders, which will check passengers, including those in transit, against the watch list, will be 95 per cent. complete by the end of this year, and makes us one of only a handful of countries to have the technology that can carry out advanced passenger data checks against our watch list before people travel to the UK. Those who apply for a visa—whether they do so from Bangkok, Lahore or Pretoria—have to provide fingerprints and their records are checked against our watch list, which holds over a million records of known criminals, terrorists, people who have tried to enter the country illegally or been deported, and those who agencies consider a threat to our security.

Through the e-Borders programme and through screening passengers against the watch list, we have since 2005 made 4,900 arrests for crimes including murder, rape and assault. In addition, UK Border Agency staff based overseas, working with airlines, prevented more than 65,000 inadequately documented passengers from travelling to the UK during 2009.

Abdulmutallab’s failed attack highlights the importance of information sharing between the various agencies about people who pose a threat to our security. The UK watch list is managed by the UK Border Agency and incorporates intelligence from the law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies into a single index. Nevertheless, although the integrated approach works very well, we want to see if we can further strengthen it. The Home Office will therefore be conducting an urgent review of the robustness of our watch list. The review will report to me in two weeks and, subject to security restrictions, I will report the findings to Parliament.

The House will no doubt be concerned about the possibility that Abdulmutallab’s radicalisation may have begun or been fuelled during his time studying at University college London. It is important to remember that the values of openness, intellectual scrutiny and the freedom of debate and tolerance promoted in higher education are one of the most effective ways of challenging views which we may find abhorrent but that remain within the law.

However, we know that a small minority of people supporting violent extremism have actively sought to influence and recruit people through targeting learners in colleges and universities, and we must offer universities the best advice and guidance to help prevent extremism. As part of a measured and effective response to the threat, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published guidance on managing the risk of violent extremism in universities, and is working closely with universities in priority areas to provide targeted support.

Alongside this, each university has a designated police security contact with which university management can discuss concerns. The Prevent strand of Contest, our counter-terrorism strategy, works closely with the higher and further education sectors and funds a full-time Prevent officer at the National Union of Students. As I have said, Abdulmutallab’s family believe he turned to violent extremism after leaving the UK, but we need to ensure that this close co-operation continues in our efforts to stop radicalisation of young people in our colleges and universities.

Finally, I want to say something about our work internationally and the steps that the Government are taking abroad to disrupt al-Qaeda wherever they are active. Our success in tackling the international terror threat depends on strong relationships with our international partnerships. In our efforts to thwart al-Qaeda, we have a long-standing, productive partnership with the US.

I am not prepared to go into detail on this particular case about what was shared with the US and when. It is an established and accepted principle that we do not routinely comment on intelligence matters. Moreover, some of these issues are still current and are highly sensitive. However, I would like to clarify that although we did, in line with standard working procedures, provide information to the US linked to the wider aspects of this case, none of the information that we held or shared indicated that Abdulmutallab was about to attempt a terrorist attack against the US.

This morning, I met Jane Lute, the US Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security. We discussed how over the coming months, in the light of this failed attack, we will work together with other international partners to maintain public confidence in aviation security and deepen our partnership to disrupt al-Qaeda’s activities overseas. Pushed out of Afghanistan and under increasing pressure in the border areas of Pakistan, affiliates and allies of al-Qaeda—such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group claiming responsibility for the Detroit bombing—have raised their profile. With the failed Detroit attack they have again demonstrated their intent to attack innocent people across the world.

The aim of our counter-terrorism strategy is not just to reduce our own vulnerability, but to dismantle those terrorist organisations which pose a threat to the UK, whether at home or abroad.

Al-Qaeda will take any opportunity to exploit ungoverned space and instability. Whether the threat is in the Sahel, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan, we must support Governments and work with partners to address both the threat of attack and the underlying causes of extremism and instability. We have been working with the Yemeni Government, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary just said, for a number of years, helping to improve their law-enforcement, intelligence and security apparatus, and to disrupt al-Qaeda and deny them a safe haven in Yemen for the future. We are also one of the leading donors on development in the country—our current commitment standing at £100 million by 2011.

We recognise the need to strengthen further our partnership with countries in the region and beyond so that we can co-ordinate our efforts against al-Qaeda more effectively and provide greater support for the Yemeni people to reject violent extremism. International co-operation is critical to meeting what is a global threat, and the coming together of the international community in London later this month to discuss Yemen will be an important step towards security in Yemen and across the globe.

It is important to reiterate that the incident was a failed attack on the US by a Nigerian national—someone who was refused entry to the UK and who, it seems, was radicalised after he left this country. However, there are lessons to be learned by the international community, and the measures that I have outlined will provide the UK with greater protection from terrorist attack. Along with our work overseas and with our international partners, enhanced airport security and more thorough collation of intelligence, we will be able to strengthen our efforts to tackle the root cause of violent extremism and reduce the threat of future attack.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for providing me with an advance copy of his statement. I shall start with airport security.

We all accept that as we learn the lessons from the recent plot, happily an unsuccessful one, additional security measures will have to be taken. The use of more sophisticated scanning technologies is inevitable, although we will have to make sure that sensible measures are taken to protect privacy. However, the Home Secretary’s statement is ambiguous about scanners, so will he clarify whether he plans to make full-body scanners compulsory at all UK airports? He talked about e-Borders, so will he also clarify the situation with the European Union over the use of the e-Borders project? Will there be European legal restrictions on the use of the e-Borders database?

We believe that it is necessary to take a more intelligence-led approach to airport security, as well as to watch carefully for suspicious behaviour by passengers, so the Government will have our support in taking prudent measures to protect passengers. Those matters of judgment must be kept under constant review, even if there is public attention only when the security measures are challenged.

However, the person who should be before the House explaining himself this afternoon is not the Home Secretary but the Prime Minister. Twice in three days the Prime Minister has been caught out making false claims about the contacts that have taken place between Britain and the United States over the airline bomb plot and the security threat to our airports. On Sunday he admitted to the BBC that supposed discussions between himself and President Obama about the bomb plot and the situation in Yemen had not actually taken place. Then, yesterday, he claimed that Britain had supplied to the United States in 2008 intelligence about the bomb suspect and his links to extremists—a claim that Downing Street now admits was untrue. This Government, the House will remember, have systematically misused intelligence data over the years, most notably in relation to the so-called dodgy dossier. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is absolutely unacceptable for the Prime Minister—the man who leads our Government—to exaggerate, mislead on or spin intelligence information, particularly when it relates to a terrorist threat?

The Home Secretary told the House this afternoon: “It is an established and accepted principle that we do not routinely comment on intelligence matters.” Why did the Prime Minister and Downing street break that principle this week? Does the Home Secretary agree also that it is damaging to our most important intelligence relationship, with the United States, for Downing street to disseminate information in such an inaccurate and cavalier way?

The entire House will be relieved that on this occasion the bomb plot was unsuccessful. It will serve as a strong reminder to Governments across the world of the ever-present terrorist threat and the fact that we all need to remain vigilant about that threat as well as united in a determination to defeat it.

It is also worth saying that the threat from a small group of Islamic extremists in no way represents the views and beliefs of the vast majority of decent, law-abiding Muslim people in this country and around the world. People of all faiths have been victims of terrorists over the past decade, and we must all stand together against that threat. However, that task has not been helped by the actions of Downing street in recent days.

I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman uses this very tense time to score cheap party political points. I saw lots of faces among those on the Conservative Benches looking appalled that this situation should be used to make a personal attack on the Prime Minister.

The hon. Gentleman made only three points that I believe are relevant to this issue. First, on the number of full-body scanners, we now need to work with the airline industry to decide how many of these scanners we can have and where we can locate them. As I said, we will have the first ready at Heathrow within three weeks. Thereafter, they will become much more widely available in terms of the capacity to manufacture them and put them in place and the need to get from the various airline companies their authority, agreement and input.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the EU situation. That was clarified just before Christmas when, thankfully, the Commission agreed that there were no Community issues about the transfer of information. That obviously still requires the countries transferring the information to agree their data-processing techniques, but there is no EU issue; that is what the Commission was originally looking at.

The third point was about our use of intelligence and our co-operation with the United States. As I said, the Prime Minister was absolutely right that we did share information with the US. We do not routinely comment on the nature of such information or the information itself. None of that information suggested that Abdulmutallab was planning a terrorist plot. Incidentally, as I mentioned, I met Jane Lute, the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security, this morning, and she did not mention this matter at all. We spoke about the productive way we can work together to deal with these issues. There is absolutely no relationship in the world stronger than the relationship between the UK and the US, particularly on counter-terrorism, where we work closely together and will continue to do so in the light of this latest threat.

I, too, thank the Home Secretary for early sight of his statement.

The Home Secretary’s announcement that scanners are to be rolled out quickly at British airports is certainly welcome. However, his statement raises several questions. First, can he confirm that such scanners would have been effective in detecting the substances carried by Umah Farouk Abdulmutallab? Secondly, why has it taken him so long to act, given that these scanners have already been trialled and that four are reported to be in storage at Heathrow? Thirdly, will he respect those who may have a deep-felt objection to the scanners by allowing them to opt instead for a body-pat search, for example as part of his code of conduct? What assurance will he give that images of children and others will not be stored?

The Home Secretary opens the door to profiling, but what does this mean? If he means additional searches for those with suspicious travel patterns, then I am sure that I speak for everybody in this House when I ask who could object? But if he means stopping everyone who looks Asian, then I fear that he will alienate exactly those communities whose co-operation we need in the fight against terrorism. Which is it?

Then there is information sharing, which the Home Secretary really cannot dismiss by saying that the Government do not comment on intelligence matters, particularly in the light of recent events in Downing street. Can he confirm the account of a Downing street spokesman that Britain told US intelligence more than a year ago that the Detroit bomber had links to extremists? Can he confirm—this is not an intelligence matter—that the US was informed after that person was placed on a UK watch list? In the light of those contradictions and the open spat with our closest ally, what measures are the Government taking to improve liaison with the United States, or possibly with the Prime Minister’s press operation?

Given that the Detroit bomber transited through Schiphol, were the Dutch authorities notified bilaterally of our concerns at any point? Had we shared our information with our European partners through either Europol or other routes, and what mechanism is there for one EU country to become aware of such intelligence on a suspected radical held or collected by another EU country? Do we routinely share information about our watch lists with our European counterparts even for passengers who are only in transit? In the light of the attempted attack, do those systems need to be improved?

On whether scanners would have been effective in relation to Abdulmutallab, the indications are that given where the PETN was placed, there would have been a 50 to 60 per cent. chance of its being detected. That is the view of most people who operate the scanners, so the scanners themselves are not the magic bullet. A British company, Smiths Industries, is developing the technology all the time, and we need the next wave of technology with explosive detection as well as body imaging to move ahead very quickly.

I do not accept that we took a long time to act. This happened on Christmas day, and over the Christmas period my colleague the Secretary of State for Transport has been discussing with the airlines the availability of equipment. There was one body scanner at Manchester and a number have been mothballed in Heathrow on a trial basis, but whether they are serviceable or need to be updated has been the subject of the conversation. Today’s announcement is the earliest possible time to get moving.

The issue of privacy will be important, but all the images are destroyed immediately and the person responsible for the scanning is in a completely separate room, as anybody who has seen the system in Manchester or the version in Glasgow operating will know, so there is no immediate contact between the person doing the imaging and the person being imaged. Privacy considerations are important, but I believe that we can ensure that those who have concerns can be satisfied. I do not foresee a situation in which people can simply object to a body scan. We need to use the scanners perhaps not as the first line of our defence but as the second line, on a random basis.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the important issue of profiling. I said in my statement that I recognised the sensitivities of that matter. Anyone can examine the case of Anne Mary Murphy in 1986, who was a pregnant woman inveigled by her Syrian boyfriend to carry a bomb on to a flight to London. She would not have matched any profile, and in the case of someone like Richard Reid the name would not have alerted anyone. Nevertheless, whether we can deal with sensitivity issues must be part of our consideration of any defence that we can find to address the gap in our defences that Abdulmutallab found, although he was thankfully unsuccessful. We need to consider profiling while recognising the concerns and civil rights issues involved.

We share information all the time on a routine basis, and the US shares information with us. We did not inform the US that Abdulmutallab was on our watch list having been refused a student visa, because the case was not conducted with any concern that he was coming over to commit a terrorism incident. It was an immigration issue, and we would not share such information routinely with the US. We share other information with the US, and we share it routinely with our European partners, although if there were concerns about terrorism we would not wait for a watch list and for the plane to be taking off. It is outside Europe that we have the problem; as the hon. Gentleman well knows, we have a close relationship within the EU, which means that we deal with such security issues straight away. We do not wait for people to come to an airport and try to get on a plane to another country.

Order. No fewer than 16 hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I should like to accommodate everybody, and the numbers should be perfectly manageable. I simply remind the House that there are two further statements to follow, and I reiterate my usual appeal for each hon. Member to ask a single, short supplementary question and, of course, for the Home Secretary to provide us with an economical reply.

The Home Affairs Committee recently visited both Heathrow and Schiphol, and the Home Secretary is right to consult the airlines and be measured in his response. Of course, in principle, we should have the body scanners, but international co-operation is the most important aspect. I accept what he says about sharing information, but are there any more lessons to be learned about how we can improve the situation?

Doubtless there are. I recognise my right hon. Friend’s expertise in the matter. In some countries, there are separate watch lists for security, for policing and crime, for people who have lost their passports and for immigration issues, but an integrated watch list serves us well. With e-Borders continually coming on stream, we can deal with the matter before the person has taken off. That is important, given that Abdulmutallab was not trying to enter a country, but to blow himself up before he landed. Whether he was in transit or his destination was this country did not therefore matter. We need to ensure the tightest possible control. Although it all worked well, I would be the last person to appear complacent. As the Prime Minister said, the incident is a wake-up call—every failed terrorist attempt must be picked to pieces so that we find anything that we can use to strengthen our defences. We intend to do that.

Terrorists watch very carefully the technology that we deploy. Does the Home Secretary realise that the term “scanners” covers a wide range of things? Some use millimetre technology; others use terahertz; some require one to go through a box, and others can scan remotely in airport lounges or railway stations. Will the Government please institute a research programme? Several British companies are involved in such research, but the Government never pull through new technologies. We need to stay ahead of the terrorists, not deploy after an incident.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. I do not accept that we have been slow in dealing with this. We are due to meet Smiths Industries shortly, and the document that Lord West, our security Minister, produced in August 2009 was specifically aimed at the scientific community and innovators to get things moving and find new ways to deal with such matters. It is important to stress that there is a great deal of British technology that we can exploit. We need to ensure that we get the right body scanners—that is one reason for talking to the airlines. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a variety of scanners, and we need to use the most effective.

I refer the House to my interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome in particular the way in which the Home Secretary emphasised that there is no magic bullet for solving the problems. I say that in the light of recent media comments, particularly about full body scanners, which still require standardised procedures, are still in trials and so on. A range of search procedures and technologies is required. Above all, as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) said, constant innovation in our thinking must be embedded in everything that we do. Will the Home Secretary therefore build on Lord West’s good work and ensure that a partnership of the Government, academia and private industry is given more resources so that we can we stay ahead of the curve and the terrorists’ thinking in introducing new ways of terror?

My right hon. Friend largely makes the same point as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor). I agree with it. It is perhaps another reason for redoubling our efforts to stay ahead of the terrorists. We will not deal with the matter through body scanners alone. Every day, sniffer dogs come into the Chamber, looking for PETN. Behavioural detection is another method, but even with all the techniques we can use, we can never guarantee 100 per cent. safety—there is no magic bullet. However, a lot of people out there are willing to innovate, work and provide equipment and the technological capacity that can move us to the next level. That is the main lesson of Detroit on 25 December.

The Home Secretary is the lead on homeland security, but will he acknowledge the debt we owe to the Ministry of Defence personnel and the scientific civil servants working at defence science and technology laboratories at Porton Down in my constituency, and particularly at the Counter Terrorism Science and Technology Centre, who are responsible for the day-by-day innovation that goes on in science and technology? Will he talk to the Ministry of Defence, which has tremendous budget problems, to ensure not only that there is no cut in the defence budget as it affects Porton Down, but that quite the reverse happens? Porton Down should have all the resources it needs to counter terrorism.

The hon. Gentleman is a great advocate for Porton Down. I am talking to the Defence Secretary. This is a cross-Government initiative. All the relevant Departments are working together on this, using all the agencies at their disposal, Porton Down being one of them.

Aviation is international. What new steps are being taken to link intelligence information with the best attainable system of security at individual airports?

My hon. Friend is the Chairman of the Transport Committee, and I know that she has taken a great interest in this issue. I talked to Jane Lute this morning—she is the US Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security—about the best way to have an international gathering to discuss the lessons emerging from this and we are still talking things through. There was a view that we should perhaps get a gathering of Ministers together next week in Brussels. Actually, the opportunity under the Spanish presidency, which is very interested in this matter, comes up in a few weeks’ time. More and more we are centring on that as the opportunity to get Transport Ministers, homeland security Ministers and perhaps Defence Ministers together to talk about an integrated programme as to how we can act internationally.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this will not be solved by us nationally, by its very definition—a Nigerian coming from Nigeria through Holland to bomb Detroit has ramifications for a much wider set of countries. We need to deal with this matter internationally, which is what we intend to do.

Who authorised the Downing street spokesman to brief so emphatically that information about the Detroit bomber had been passed to the Americans before the bombing?

I am not getting into who authorised whom to say what. What the Prime Minister said about us exchanging information with the US was absolutely right. As I said in my statement, none of that information remotely suggested that Abdulmutallab was planning an attack on Detroit.

One resource we could use better is the eyes and ears of the travelling public. Will my right hon. Friend consider creating a central reporting point for members of the public who spot lapses in security in airports from which they are travelling to the UK?

I will consider my hon. Friend’s suggestion. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for people to report such things. There was a programme over Christmas about the 999 emergency service being used spuriously, but certainly for anyone who has the slightest fear that there is a security problem, that is one course of action, and there are others. He makes a good point, and we will look at whether we can make it easier for the travelling public to report any suspicions they have.

As the Home Secretary is no doubt aware, the only UK airport to be subject to terrorist attack is in Scotland—Glasgow airport. Can Scottish airports therefore expect to be among the first in line for full-body scanners? Will he assure me that he will be working hand in glove with the Scottish Government to ensure that Scottish airports are as safe as possible?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman on both those points. We need to talk to the airlines about which airports are first. I believe that Heathrow will feature, given the huge amount of transit—we are talking about transit passengers as well because, as we should remember, Abdulmutallab was a transit passenger in Holland and was not searched properly—but other airports, including Glasgow, will be very much part of the discussion. Indeed, I believe discussions with the Scottish Government have already started.

We are obviously concerned today with the immediate threats, but may I pass on a warning to the Home Secretary from constituents of mine who have worked their whole lives in Heathrow airport, and the Unite union, that there has been talk of introducing competition between terminals? Will he ensure that security always comes before competition?

I can give that assurance, although I am not sure what my hon. Friend means about competition. Security, whether at terminal 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, is the absolute priority, not competition between terminals.

In the wake of the failed bombing, many in the intelligence community have expressed concerns about the activities of schools—or karatus—in northern Nigeria and the role that they play in radicalising young men and preparing them for jihad. In the international strand of the Home Secretary’s work, which he mentioned in his statement, can he confirm that those schools will be swept up in that and that he has had discussions with his counterparts in the Foreign Office to ensure that those schools are properly addressed?

Again, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Of course, Abdulmutallab himself went to a British school, but it is an important issue that I need to discuss with the Foreign Secretary to ensure that we are doing everything that we can, not just on airport security, but—as I said in my statement—to prevent radicalisation taking place in the first instance, whether in this country or abroad.

There have been some interesting proposals about investing in research on the technology required to detect terror. Although the Home Secretary acknowledged in his statement the risks of identity-based profiling, I am concerned that we will not have sufficiently robust research into the effects of such profiling on young Asian or Muslim men who think that they are expected to behave in a certain way and therefore think, “Why don’t I?” Can he assure the House that robust research will be done on the potential consequences of identity-based profiling before any such proposal is introduced?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, but behavioural detection is different from profiling. Behavioural detection is used by British Transport police, who are trained in it, to observe individuals and how they act around uniformed officers as a preliminary to a possible search or questioning. On profiling, I recognise not only the sensitivities and civil liberties issues that were raised by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, but the possibility that the terrorists—who, as we have said, are one step ahead—will use our main weapon against them to their advantage by using people who do not fit the profile, such as pregnant women or old gentlemen like me. That is the other danger of profiling, and we need to be very careful. I am acutely aware of that, but it would be strange if, in response to Detroit, we did not thoroughly explore all the different elements and options—some of which may be discarded.

This is a bit rich from this Government who year on year have cut the research budget that allowed our law enforcement agencies to stay at least one step ahead of the terrorists. When I developed the millimetre wave with the team at QinetiQ, before I came into this House, we had to go to the Americans to get the funding because the Government cut it. What concrete extra resources will the Home Secretary put into the further development of technologies and manning at airports to ensure that our borders are more secure?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has some experience in this field, but I just do not understand the criticism of this Government for what we have invested in science. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) is no longer in his place, but he has continually praised the Government for the 10-year science and innovation project and the fact that, when I was Secretary of State at the old Department of Trade and Industry, more than half of my budget was for science. It was also ring-fenced, which was frustrating at times because I could not touch it for other things. Criticise this Government for many things, but do not criticise us for our investment in science.

How will my right hon. Friend consult on and communicate any changes that are made in profiling? It is very difficult, because changes need to be made in a way that does not trigger people’s knowledge that we are doing such things, but it is also important to avoid unnecessary community tensions.

I take my hon. Friend’s point. There would be no benefit in even studying the use of profiling if we were not talking to groups representing different ethnic minorities in this country. We have to take them along with us on this. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) actually supports the use of profiling, and there will be different views in different communities and ethnic minorities. All I am saying is that it would be irresponsible not to look at whether profiling can play a part in strengthening our defences.

If we are to search people more thoroughly and introduce body scanners, we will need far more space and personnel at our airports. Given that most of our airports seem to be crammed full of duty-free boutiques, will the Home Secretary make it clear to airport operators that security matters have to come first?

I see an advantage for our alcohol policy coming up here. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is inviting me to change the use of space at airports. This is one of the important discussions that we have to have with airport authorities and airlines: physically how we can do this properly with the minimum of inconvenience to the public and ensure that people can go about their daily business. That is an important part of these discussions.

May we have stronger action to deport immediately those people in this country suspected of promoting extremism and of becoming radicalised? May we include in that list those who would hold offensive marches?

We always keep such issues under review. As I said in my statement, it is important that we do not take action simply because people have views that we find abhorrent but which are not illegal. We are a democracy, and there needs to be proper debate on our university campuses. It would be totally counter-productive for us to be heavy-handed in that respect. Through the Prevent strategy we are strengthening institutions, helping individuals and providing information, facts and advice to those who want to counter some of these radical views. As part of that, of course, we deport, and seek to deport, lots of people; many are queuing up for deportation at the moment. However, in a democracy, they have their right to judicial review and to go to the European Court. All of that, of course, is important, but at the end of the day they will be deported, providing we have done our job properly.

Given the strong links that Umah Farouk Abdulmutallab had with Britain, can the Home Secretary tell us whether, in due course, the British police will have an opportunity to question him, particularly with a view to ascertaining any continuing links that he might have with Britons and what those links are all about?

All I can say at this stage is that two Metropolitan police officers are working with the FBI in America on the case. As the hon. Gentleman will have seen on his television screen over Christmas, the police took immediate action in this country. We do not comment on current police operations, and we will have to wait for them to come to a conclusion. That might well involve the British police wishing to ask questions, but we will have to see how the operation goes.

I have had e-mails from constituents expressing concern about health risks and dignity as a result of the use of the scanners. Can the Home Secretary say anything on the public record to reassure people about such matters?

My understanding is that there is less radiation from a body scanner than from the flight itself. On privacy, as I have mentioned, we can probably think and do more, but at the moment all the images are destroyed immediately and the person operating the machine is remote from the person being scanned, which means that there is no face-to-face contact—they are anonymous while being scanned. However, it is difficult to get around the privacy issues, given where Abdulmutallab was trying to hide his explosives. If that is how terrorists seek to get around such issues, obviously we might have to be a little less delicate about privacy if we are to counter the threat effectively.

Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about December’s Copenhagen climate change conference, at which I represented the United Kingdom alongside my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Today I want to report back to the House and set out where we go next in the global battle against climate change.

Let me say at the outset that the outcome of Copenhagen was disappointing in a number of respects. We are disappointed that Copenhagen did not establish a clear timetable for a legal treaty and that we do not yet have the commitments to cuts in emissions that we were looking for. However, I also want to report to the House the significant progress that the accord agreed at Copenhagen marks and explain how we can build on the progress that was made.

The Copenhagen accord, which is available in the Library, was agreed by a group representing 49 developed and developing countries that together account for more than 80 per cent. of global emissions. The key points of the accord are as follows. It endorses the limit of 2° C in warming as the benchmark for global progress on climate change. Unlike with every previous agreement, not just developed, but all leading developing countries have agreed to make specific commitments to tackling emissions, to be lodged in the agreement by 31 January.

Also for the first time, so that we can be assured that countries are acting as they say they will act, all countries have signed up to the comprehensive measurement, reporting and verification of progress. On finance, significant commitments have been made by the rich world to developing countries. They include fast-start finance worth $10 billion a year by 2012, with a total of up to $2.4 billion from the UK, and specific support to tackle deforestation. In the longer term, the accord supported the goal, first set by the Prime Minister, of $100 billion a year of public and private finance for developing countries by 2020.

By any measure, those are important steps forward, but we know that the world needs to go much further. We need more certainty and a greater scale of ambition. So the urgent task ahead is to broaden, deepen and strengthen the commitments that were made in Copenhagen, drawing on the large coalition of countries that wanted more from the agreement. Broadening the commitments is vital. Forty-nine countries signing up to the agreement is not enough. To tackle the global problem, we need a wider group. The United Nations is seeking to persuade all countries to sign up to the accord, and the UK is determined to play its part in making that happen.

In addition, we must act to deepen the commitments on emissions made by countries across the world. Lord Stern has shown that if nations make the biggest emissions cuts in the range that they have put forward, we can be within striking distance of the two-degree pathway that we need, including with the peaking of global emissions by 2020. We know that that is in our economic as well as our environmental interests. Greater certainty about emissions is necessary to provide the strongest incentive to business, including through the carbon price. So we will work to persuade other countries that we all need to show the highest levels of ambition on emissions as part of the commitments that we make. For Europe, provided that there is high ambition from others, that means carrying forward our commitment to moving from 20 to 30 per cent. reductions by 2020 compared with 1990. We must also act to strengthen the accord, including by continuing our efforts to secure a legally binding framework. In taking on clear commitments and actions, we should recognise how far major developing countries have come in the past year. However, we must also seek to allay their concern that they will be constrained from growth and development by the demands of a legal treaty.

We must draw on the coalition between some of the world’s richest developed countries and some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable developing countries, such as Ethiopia and the Maldives, all of which want a legally binding structure. Strengthening the accord also means that richer countries must make good on the promises made on fast-start finance and show that we can fully fund the longer-term goal of $100 billion, one of the tasks for the high-level panel on sources of revenue that was agreed in the accord.

Those efforts to make progress on substance must, in our view, be accompanied by reform of the process of decision making. The conference was held up by disagreements over procedure: which text negotiators should look at and whether, as in Kyoto, a representative group of countries could be formed to avoid having to discuss everything in a plenary of 192 nations. Those disputes about process meant that it was not until 3 am on Friday, the last day of a two-week conference, that substantive negotiations began on what became the Copenhagen accord. By then there was simply too little time to bridge some of the differences that existed. We need to find better ways of running the process of negotiation, so I welcome the UN Secretary-General’s decision to look again at those issues.

We also welcome the decision by Chancellor Merkel to host a conference as part of the mid-year negotiations in Bonn, and we will work with the incoming Mexican presidency, which will be hosting the next conference in November. But dialogue and negotiations need to restart before June—something I made clear to Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the convention on climate change when I met him in London just before Christmas.

In looking back at Copenhagen, we must bear in mind that reaching agreement would inevitably be tough because we were seeking consensus among 192 countries. Like most ambitious efforts, it was always going to be difficult to succeed the first time round. However, we should not let frustration with the two weeks at Copenhagen—albeit justified—obscure the historic shift that this past year has marked.

I want to pay tribute in particular to the enormous effort of those in the UK, from the scientific community, civil society, British business and the general public, who have mobilised on climate change. Their ideas and energy helped to drive us forward over the past 12 months and during the Copenhagen conference itself. Let me assure them and the House that we are determined to strengthen and sustain the momentum behind the low-carbon transition in the UK. Building on our low-carbon transition plan, our world-leading policy on coal and our plans for nuclear, we will be making further announcements in the coming weeks and months on energy generation, household energy efficiency and transport. Following Copenhagen, as part of the work already ongoing on the road map to 2050, we are looking at whether further action is necessary to meet our low-carbon obligations, and we will report back by the time of the Budget. This will include looking at the advice of the Committee on Climate Change published last autumn.

Internationally, thanks in large part to the deadline of Copenhagen and the mobilisation behind it, every major economy of the world now has domestic policy goals and commitments to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, including the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, South Africa and, of course, the EU. Throughout the world, policy is now set to improve energy efficiency, to increase investment in low-carbon power, to develop hybrid and electric vehicles and smart grids, and to reduce deforestation.

So although Copenhagen did not meet our expectations, 2009 did see the start of a new chapter in tackling climate change across the world. This global shift might not yet have found international legal form, but scientific evidence, public opinion and business opportunity have made it irreversible. In 2010 and in the years ahead, this Government—and, I am sure, the vast majority in this House—are determined to ensure that we redouble our efforts to complete the unfinished business of Copenhagen.

Climate change remains the biggest global challenge to humankind, and it requires a global solution. We owe it to our children, their children and the generations to come to find it. The work has started, it will continue this year, and I believe that it will succeed. The fight against climate change will be won. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement, and for the briefing that he kindly gave me in advance of the Copenhagen summit. It is disappointing that the Prime Minister is not making this statement, however. He missed questions in the House in order to go to Copenhagen early, and it is surprising that he has chosen not to report to the House on what he accomplished there. The Secretary of State and I share the view that we need to see global action on climate change. If Copenhagen showed one thing, it was that the discussions should not end there, and that they must continue.

Before Copenhagen, we said that a rigorous deal should achieve three things. The first was a commitment to limiting warming to 2° C. The second was a clear focus on adapting to climate change and on finding a dependable mechanism to finance that. The third was urgent action to preserve the rain forests. On the first, the 2° C proposal was noted, as the Secretary of State said, but the accord is completely unclear about when emissions should be cut, and by how much. On the second, it is welcome that adaptation was so prominent in the discussions, but there is no clarity on the sources of finance. On the rain forests, there was once again discussion of the issue, but nothing that could be meaningfully described as a political deal, let alone a legal framework. By any objective assessment, therefore, Copenhagen was a flop.

The question is: how do we move on from here? I wonder whether the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, in this statement today and their remarks before Christmas, have reflected deeply enough on the implications of the outcome of Copenhagen. The Prime Minister has volunteered to lead a global campaign to make the Copenhagen accord legally binding, but what precisely is it that he would make legally binding? The accord is essentially an agreement to disagree, defined chiefly by what is absent from it. It contains nothing to indicate the scale or the timing of the carbon reductions required of the world, or indeed of any particular country. Is it still the Prime Minister’s intention to lead such a global campaign for ratification?

In the days after the conference, the Prime Minister said that the negotiations had been held to ransom by only a handful of countries, and that that must never be allowed to happen again. The Secretary of State clarified that this included China, but has he not missed a big point here? Does he not see that Copenhagen requires us to face up to what I think is an uncomfortable reality, so to blame China, India and other countries for wrecking a deal is futile because no meaningful global deal can be done without them? Do we not need to understand why these nations considered a real deal to be against the interests of their own people? This view is reflected in their insistence on including in the final text the declaration that

“social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and over-riding priorities of developing countries”.

In other words, the implication is that attacking climate change ranks, for them, below these priorities.

This revealed preference on the part of India, China and other parts of the developing world cannot simply be overlooked or assumed away. The People’s Daily reported that the Chinese Government would treat talks in 2010 on a binding global deal as a struggle over “the right to develop”. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the central issue is now how cutting current and future emissions can be shown to be compatible with development? Does he agree that for developed and developing countries alike, becoming less dependent on fossil fuels, using energy more productively and damaging the environment less is a pathway that can enhance the prospects for economic development, for prosperity through trade and for the reduction of poverty? If he does, will he accept that we now urgently need a new politics of climate change—one that can convince both around the negotiating table, as it failed to do in Copenhagen, and in the court of public opinion that the action we must take to guarantee the stability of the climate in the long term is also in the interests of both rich and poor in the short term?

Does the Secretary of State agree that three shifts from how Copenhagen was conducted are required—first, the case for action should always be based on practical rather than ideological grounds; secondly, action must not be presented in sacrificial terms, but as a set of economic and wider opportunities; and, thirdly, leaders and Ministers must see it as their mission to persuade and to unify rather than to denounce and divide?

I slightly regret the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. I welcomed the cross-party support for the Government’s work at Copenhagen, from the hon. Gentleman himself and from those on the Liberal Democrat Benches—and, indeed, from the Leader of the Opposition and from the leader of the Liberal Democrat party. All of us who went to Copenhagen sought to get the best agreement we could and I believe that we can build on the accord that was reached. Petty and partisan remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others, however, really do not become the hon. Gentleman.

Let me deal now with the hon. Gentleman’s specific points. On the question of the accord and whether there should be a global campaign for it, I believe it is necessary to seek to encourage more countries to sign up to it. It is not just me that thinks that, as the President of the Maldives, Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia and a coalition of developing and developed countries signed up to the accord. It is not an agreement to disagree. I said clearly in my remarks that it is a matter of regret that the emissions reductions were not lodged at the time of the agreement, but they will be lodged by 31 January, and I hope that those will be targets. I mentioned all the countries that have targets and we can build on that, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not understand that these will be lodged as part of the agreement by the end of January. As I say, it is something on which we can build. That is my first point to the hon. Gentleman.

On the second point, of course developing countries emphasise the overriding importance of development. Indeed, the words that the hon. Gentleman cited were taken either from the Kyoto treaty or the Rio convention, which both emphasised the overriding priority of development for developing countries. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of how we talked about Copenhagen. When he or I talked about Copenhagen, we did not talk about it simply in sacrificial terms; we talked about it as being good for our economies. We did not talk about it simply in ideological terms either; we talked about what countries could gain from it and we talked about how it could unite rich and poor nations alike.

I am all for slogans about the need for a new politics of climate change and all that, although I will have to talk to the hon. Gentleman at some point about what that means. I think it best to build on the progress made at Copenhagen—although it was disappointing—and, more important, the progress made over the last year, and to use the opportunities that we shall have in the coming year to secure the agreement that we did not secure at Copenhagen.

I attended the Copenhagen conference in my capacity as the Council of Europe’s rapporteur on climate change. May I offer my congratulations to my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister—as did many people at Copenhagen—on the leading role that they played in bringing about the Copenhagen accord? The Opposition clearly do not understand that, as at Kyoto, an agreement was reached in principle and the details will come later during years of negotiations. That is called the process of the United Nations. We did not secure a legal UN agreement because—as the House knows, and as I have constantly said—it was never possible to secure a legally binding agreement at Copenhagen. The matter will be decided in the negotiations.

May I ask my right hon. Friend, who will be involved in those negotiations, to take into account, as one of the criteria relating to burden-sharing, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities? May I also ask him to recognise pollution as measured per tonne? In America it is 20 tonnes per person; in Europe it is 10; in China it is 5; and in India it is 2. If we take those issues into consideration, we shall be able to combine social justice, the eradication of poverty, and growth and prosperity, along with a greater chance of agreement.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the former Deputy Prime Minister on the role that he played at Copenhagen through the Council of Europe, and, of course, on the role that he played at Kyoto. He speaks with great wisdom on these questions. Just as it would be wrong for Government not to admit the disappointment that was part of Copenhagen, it would be ridiculous for anyone in the House to deny that any achievement has been made in the last year. That, I am afraid, was the problem with what was said by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark).

I agree with what my right hon. Friend said about burden-sharing and common but differentiated responsibilities. Many of us believed that we had already incorporated that principle, and indeed it is incorporated in the Copenhagen accord. I remind the House of the commitments that must be registered. In the case of developed countries, the commitment is to cuts in emissions; in the case of developing countries, including China and India—as is clear from the annexes to the agreement—it relates to actions that they are taking. However, my right hon. Friend is correct to say that common but differentiated responsibilities must be at the heart of both this accord and any future agreement.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and commend his efforts and those of the Prime Minister before and during the Copenhagen conference. However, is not the honest truth that many of the efforts made at Copenhagen were too little too late, and that the Copenhagen agreement will probably go down in history as one of the only occasions on which so many world leaders came together in one place to discuss one of the most important issues and came away with so little to show for it?

Do the Government not accept that there is no excuse for not having sorted out the procedural issues beforehand, and that there clearly was not enough political leadership during the months preceding the fortnight in Copenhagen? To ensure that there will be no more disappointing conferences and no more setbacks like that of last month, will the Secretary of State commit himself to ensuring that political leaders here and in the European Union will be engaged in all the steps of the process—all the interim meetings—rather than just leaving it to a glamorous, or in this case rather unglamorous, summit? If the United Nations Security Council can sit in permanent session, why cannot a United Nations climate council do so as well? If this is indeed the biggest crisis, there really ought to be a mechanism for dealing with it.

As a supporter of the EU, I am sad to have to ask why it appeared to be so ineffectual on this occasion. Why did it not play the card that it had promised, and say that it would raise its target to 30 per cent. at Copenhagen? That might have triggered a much better response elsewhere. Given that it did not do that, is there not now an opportunity for the United Kingdom to propose—and for Baroness Ashton, in her new role, to propose—that the EU set a 30 per cent. target for the new decade this month? That proposal could either be contained in the accord annexe submissions that must be in by the end of January, or be submitted at the first EU summit this year.

Why did the Commonwealth not play a more significant role? I am a huge supporter of the Commonwealth, whose fantastic diversity—ranging from the Maldives and Tuvalu to Canada, Australia and other countries—surely presents a great opportunity for countries to share their experience and be a real force for influence in the world. I hope that the Secretary of State will undertake to ensure that it plays a much bigger role in future.

What about the US and China? How are we going to get them to sign on a dotted line and be more ambitious?

Lastly, rather than what has been suggested in some of the post-Copenhagen comments in the British press—that measures on climate change response and emissions targets will make us uncompetitive in a competitive world—will the Government make it clear, as I know that the Secretary of State is committed to doing, that unless we get an agreement that binds everybody, we will miss the chance to have a sustainable future for all countries, not just ours? We will also miss the chance to have the sustainable jobs and sustainable, safe and secure energy on which the security of the world depends.

The hon. Gentleman asks serious questions that deserve serious answers. Let me go through them. On his question about process and why we got to the stage that we did, the mess of process partly represented big disagreements about substance, because there was concern among a number of developing countries about the notion of Denmark tabling its own text. Why did it take until 3 am on the Friday for the leaders’ representatives from a group of 27 countries—representing 49 countries if the EU is included—to get together in a room? It was because the Danes were systematically prevented from tabling a text, because people kept saying, “We are not ready yet to go into a smaller room.” The same thing happened at Bali and Kyoto. That was one reason why we did not bridge some of the divides—because by 3 am on the Friday there were less than 24 hours of the conference to go.

The hon. Gentleman’s other points about procedure are important and correct. The notion that negotiators should be left to negotiate, even though they take instructions from Ministers, is insufficient. His notion that there should be some kind of permanent session is also an option that should be considered. It is very important that we do not leave it until June and the mid-year negotiations in Bonn to restart the whole process. The EU needs to use its commitment to going to 30 per cent. with comparable action from others. We need to build more of a consensus than we have in the EU at the moment to move to 30 per cent., but I think that the process of 31 January commitments is an initial stage in which the EU should seek to push others to higher levels of ambition, and should itself seek to be as ambitious as possible.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman slightly about the Commonwealth, because it issued and pushed an important set of demands and requests regarding finance, some of which came through in the final agreement.

On the US and China, we want the deepest cuts from all countries, including the United States, but that is dependent on its legislation. It was willing to make an initial offer before making legislation, but the legislation that went through the House of Representatives was more ambitious than the offer that was made, so there is some hope there.

On the legal treaty and the attitude of certain developing countries, a process of persuasion is partly needed. They need to be persuaded that they have nothing to fear from the legal assurance that is, in my view, necessary. That argument has not yet been won, but there is a broad coalition of developing and developed countries that want the legal framework. That coalition is important and could help us in the months and year ahead.

I, too, was in Copenhagen, and it seemed to me that one issue behind the problems that emerged from the conference was the concern about where the relevant finance should come from and go to. The Government have rightly said that not more than 10 per cent. of our official development assistance budgets would be spent on climate change finance, but may I press my right hon. Friend to go further? Will he make a commitment that that 10 per cent. will not make up the whole of our climate change finance? Perhaps it should not, at any point, make up more than 10 per cent. of our total climate change finance. The people of Bangladesh want to know that we are not simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.

My hon. Friend speaks with great authority on these issues. He is completely right to say that we have made an important commitment to ensuring that the finance that we give will be no more than 10 per cent. of official development assistance, especially after 2013, and that there will also be additional sources of funds. He is also right to imply that we need to find revenue sources to meet our commitments. We know that promises have been made in the past: although the British Government have a good record of keeping promises, it is also necessary to find the revenue sources that can provide the flow of finance, and this is where the high-level panel that I said was being set up by Ban Ki-moon is important. In particular, we need to ensure that the $100 billion goal is not just set out but is actually met. We want the panel to report back by the time of the Mexico meeting, but we hope that it will do so earlier, for example by the middle of this year.

The Secretary of State was right to say that the meeting was disappointing, and that is fundamentally because we do not have the confident arrangements in the world that would enable business, countries and companies to make decisions to promote mechanisms to reduce emissions. Britain’s leadership in the industrial revolution means that we are responsible for a good deal of the climate change that is happening at the moment, so does the right hon. Gentleman accept that this is the moment for us to firm up on the commitments that we have made to green technology and a green future? Europe is also very responsible for today’s problems, so should not Britain take the lead in ensuring that Europe firms up on its 30 per cent. pledge? More than that, should we not seek to create, as far as possible, the most encouraging atmosphere for business to do what it has to do? The leadership of business is crucial in this matter.

Lastly, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that winning people’s hearts and minds means that we have to be very clear about the advantages of doing what is being proposed, and that we should not talk in puritanical terms about sackcloth and ashes? Only by showing people that this is a remarkable opportunity for this country, Europe and the world will they come and support us.

Let me take this opportunity to say that I know that the right hon. Gentleman has announced that he is leaving this House. We will miss his expertise and passion on these issues of climate change, and we wish him well in what he does next.

The right hon. Gentleman asked several specific questions, and I agree that the argument that we need to make is that there is much to gain from the transition to low carbon. We have made that argument already but we can do so more often, because the benefits include the jobs for people in this country and the new industries that will be created. That is true of what we in this country are doing with carbon capture and storage, and it is true in the renewables sector and across the board.

I also agree that Europe must demonstrate its leadership role by pushing others to do more. Part of the task that we face in the accord’s pledging process is to ratchet up the commitments that people make. That is something that we will be working on intensively, including in Europe this month.

I commend my right hon. Friend for the very critical role that he played in the wee small hours, when the world’s media had largely gone to bed, in ensuring that we came away from Copenhagen with something rather than nothing. Does he agree that one of the key areas in which progress can be made over the next 12 months is at national Government level? Should we not aim to align national Government policy and legislation with the GLOBE legislators forum principles set out in Copenhagen in November, before the main conference?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and thank him for his remarks about the role that I played in this difficult process. I think that GLOBE has played a very important role over the past 12 months, and that it will do so again in the future. Moreover, he draws attention to the fact that many of the targets that countries will enter into the accord will be domestically binding. Those targets will have gone through national Parliaments, and the new Indian Environment Minister has said that he wants to take legislation on India’s so-called six national missions through his House. That is a big step forward, and it is important to emphasise the crucial role of legislators in this process.

Why are we in the northern hemisphere having such a very cold winter this year? Which climate model predicted that?

I can hardly believe that question, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The weather fluctuates, as anyone knows, and the notion that a cold spell in Britain disproves the science of climate change is something that I believe not even the right hon. Gentleman believes.

Was the delegate from Sudan right when comparing the failure at Copenhagen to a holocaust? Will not many millions be killed in this century as a result of higher temperatures and increased natural disasters including flooding and, indeed, in wars? Although the United States, China and, in my opinion, the developing world were at fault in not getting an agreement, why did the EU not put its best position on the table? What is that best position? Why is the money commitment to get the developing world on board so soft and unreliable? What are the Government going to do to strengthen that arrangement?

The remarks of the Sudanese delegate were reprehensible, as I said at the time. As I said in an earlier answer, there was not yet consensus in Europe that the commitments made by others were sufficient for Europe to move to 30 per cent. We think that Europe does need to move to 30 per cent. in the context of proper commitments from others. The process of people putting their targets on the table by 31 January is part of the process of Europe moving up.

My hon. Friend is right to refer to the commitments on finance. I would not quite describe them as soft because they are clear commitments from leaders in the accord, but we need to have extra confidence in them by establishing the vital revenue sources. That is why the high-level panel set up by the Secretary-General is so important.

May I ask the Secretary of State a question as a vice-chairman of the all-party group on China? It was disappointing that China sought to strip out any language that would have led to Copenhagen being a treaty and to strip out any figures at all. How do the Secretary of State and colleagues in the Foreign Office see us now engaging China constructively in such a way that next time we come to this issue China engages in it rather more constructively and ambitiously?

The hon. Gentleman speaks with authority on these issues. China has moved some distance in the past two years on climate change. The very notion of a target—it set out a target of 40 to 45 per cent. reductions in carbon intensity—is important. We look forward to seeing what it lodges as part of the agreement on 31 January. We face a continuing effort, and we are determined to continue with it, to persuade China that a legal undertaking should give it confidence about others meeting their commitments, and that it will not face the constraints on growth and development that it fears. That is part of the persuasion that we need.

The new coalition that was evident at Copenhagen between the developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change—I mentioned Ethiopia and the Maldives, but there were others including other small island states and African countries—is important. That coalition wants a legal agreement. We need to find ways in which that voice can be heard and to persuade others who are more reluctant that it is the right way to go.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that we are trying to establish what will probably be the largest carbon capture and storage project in Hatfield colliery in Doncaster in his constituency by 2015. How important is the achievement of that goal to the future economy of Yorkshire and to meeting our obligations under the climate change agenda?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is very important that we make progress on carbon capture and storage, including in Yorkshire, where there are exciting plans to move forward on that process. It is also worth saying that internationally many countries are moving towards carbon capture and storage. Again, that is a change we have seen over the past couple of years; countries understand the importance CCS will play and the importance of making coal a clean fuel of the future.