House of Commons
Monday 28 June 2010
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The most recent estimate of problem drug users for England is 328,767 for 2006-07. Estimates for 2008-09 will be available in October. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction estimates show the UK with the highest rate, although there is no consistent methodology for calculating estimates across different countries, which prevents direct comparisons. Nevertheless, that level of problem drug use is unacceptable. The Government are committed to tackling it and rebalancing the treatment system so that abstinence is the clear goal.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer, but does she agree that one of the biggest problems at the moment is the availability of so-called legal highs? Does she agree that the previous Government were slow to address the issue, and can she assure the House—and especially the families in my constituency who have young people going off to university for the first time this autumn—that she will take action to protect people from such substances?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She has made an extremely valid point on an issue that will concern a large number of parents and others. She is right to say that the previous Government were slow to deal with the issue of legal highs, particularly mephedrone. It was only pushing from our party while in opposition that led them to do something about it, and we are committed to introducing a temporary ban on legal highs.
The hon. Gentleman has been a long-standing campaigner on the issue of drugs. As it happens, he and I take a different view on how we should approach the issue. What we need to be doing in this country is looking at making abstinence much more of a goal for individuals and looking seriously at ensuring that the treatment and rehabilitation provided to drug addicts mean that they do not simply go back on drugs in future.
Defendant Anonymity (Rape Trials)
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has had a number of discussions on this issue with her cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Justice. We have made it clear that we will progress our commitment on this subject with the care that it merits. Our consideration of the options will of course include a full examination of any impact on police investigations.
The Minister will know that this issue has been brought up time and again in the Chamber. We have had a confusing and mixed set of responses from the various Ministers who have answered. Could she now confirm whether it is the Government’s intention to bring forward legislation to give anonymity to rape defendants, and if so, what is the timetable for that, and on what basis have they made that decision?
I would be interested at some stage to learn the Home Secretary’s views on the issue, because it is a crucial one both for the Home Department and for equalities. The Lord Chancellor told the House the other day that he had voted for anonymity in 2003. I voted against it, and that is still my view, but at some stage I would like to know the Home Secretary’s view.
As for the Minister, she will know that the Prime Minister recently told the House when he replied to a question on the issue that Baroness Stern had
“found that 8 to 10% of reported rape cases could result in false allegations.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 329.]
The Minister should know that the Stern report made no such finding and that what Baroness Stern recommended was independent research to study the frequency of false allegations of rape compared with other offences. Does the Minister agree that the Government ought to be implementing that recommendation, instead of proposing to introduce anonymity?
I was slightly taken aback by the hon. Lady’s “Oh, we’re going to look at the research before we do this”, given that, up until now, it seems there has been a failure to talk to those tasked with implementing the policy. Has she or any of her colleagues spoken to the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on rape about the policy, and what has his response been?
Violence against women and girls ruins lives and destroys families, and its impact is felt down the generations. A cross-government strategy is the best way to address domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. In July, the Home Secretary will chair a meeting of Ministers across government that will be dedicated to this issue, and we look forward to discussing how we will take forward our approach in this area.
I am a supporter of the Cassandra learning centre, which is an organisation in my community that works on these issues. It was set up by the family of a victim whose killer was one of the first to be retried and sentenced following the revision of the rules on double jeopardy. What funding do the Government intend to make available to such third sector organisations working in this field and, importantly, will that funding be ring-fenced, given last week’s Budget?
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s interest in this area. The coalition Government have committed to look at how we can provide sustainable funding for, and support the development of, new rape crisis centres to provide for victims. At the moment, in the voluntary sector, this provision has been very ad hoc and serendipitous, and it is important to get it on a stable basis.
According to the British crime survey, the incidence of domestic violence has decreased by 64 % since 1997. Does the Minister agree that the British crime survey is the best measurement of long-term crime trends?
Detention (Terrorist Suspects)
The Government laid an order last Thursday to renew the existing 28-day maximum period for pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects for six months, while we conduct a review of counter-terrorism measures and programmes, including pre-charge detention. Both coalition parties are clear that the 28-day period should be a temporary measure, and one that we shall be looking to reduce over time.
I am sure that my hon. Friend has followed the old adage about not asking a question to which one does not know the answer. The answer is that, since 2007, no one has been detained for 28 days. Before that date, a number of people were detained for periods of between 14 and 28 days. As I made clear in my opening answer, we see the 28-day period as a temporary measure, and we are committed to reducing it over time.
I, too, thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Will she give the House an undertaking that the deferral of the decision on 28 days does not indicate any weakening of her determination to constrain not only the excessive length of detention without charge but the other excesses introduced by the Labour Government—namely, house arrest, internal exile, secret trials and all the other issues associated with control orders?
Of course, my right hon. Friend has a distinguished record of fighting for these civil liberties issues. I can assure him that one of the key reasons for introducing the 28-days order for six months was that it would enable us to look at the pre-charge detention period alongside a number of other issues relating to counter-terrorism legislation that we wish to consider. These include control orders, and stop-and-search procedures under section 44. We want to review the various measures and look at them in the round.
As one who proposed the period of 28 days, may I remind the Home Secretary that it was the alternative to 90 days or 42 days? If it were possible, despite the acute terrorist danger, for the 28 days to be reduced to 14 days, I would certainly be very happy.
I commend the hon. Gentleman on the campaign in which he, too, participated in the Chamber to ensure that his party’s Government did not introduce the 90 days or the 42 days, which we collectively opposed at the time when they were proposed. We consider 28 days to be a temporary measure. We will look at the issue in the round, in the context of other counter-terrorism measures introduced by the last Labour Government and the requirement to balance civil liberties with the need for national security.
We have had to take a number of measures which have not always involved easy decisions, such as the 28 days’ detention. The right hon. Lady said after she had had assumed her post that she would review control orders. Has she reached a view, and if so, when will she inform us of it? If we could charge people through the courts we would all want to do so, but it is not always possible.
Does my right hon. Friend recall the time when it was possible to exclude people from this country on the basis that their presence was not conducive to the public good? Is not our current dilemma about putting people under restraint for a period of days due to the fact that we are no longer able to deport people who have no legal right to be here because of legislation initiated either at home or abroad? What is the state of that legislation, and when will we be able to get rid of people who should not have been here in the first place?
My hon. Friend has raised a number of points, and I shall try to limit my answer for brevity’s sake. Let me simply say that I share his concern about the country’s inability to deport people who, in some cases, have been identified clearly as a terrorist threat to the country and a danger to national security. We are looking at the issue, but obviously we must ensure that, whatever we do, we take our national security and the protection of British citizens into account.
Given that terrorism is not a temporary aberration, what more permanent measures has the Home Secretary in mind for the purpose of countering terrorism across the United Kingdom? In particular, will the Government make good their pre-election commitment to ensure that automatic number plate recognition systems are available in Northern Ireland, especially in the border area, to prevent terrorists from moving across our border?
The hon. Gentleman has asked a very specific question about automatic number plate recognition. As he and other Members may know, the issue has come to the fore in a rather different context in England recently in relation to its use in Birmingham. We will be considering it as one of the various measures that we are considering in connection with CCTV.
Community Protection Officers (Nottingham)
I understand that there are 102 community protection officers in the city of Nottingham. Nottingham also has 30 auxiliary officers, funded through the working neighbourhood fund, who work with the community protection officers. Those officers work in close partnership with neighbourhood policing teams in the city.
Will the Minister congratulate the city of Nottingham division of the police—and, indeed, police community support officers and community protection officers—on the massive reduction in crime in the city? Will he emphasise that that is because people trust the uniformed presence that they have seen on the streets in the last five or six years, and will he ensure that that level of uniformed protection remains in future years under this coalition Government?
I recognise the role that community protection officers play in Nottingham as part of the wider policing family, alongside PCSOs and police officers. The Government have had to reduce national allocations in order to reduce the budget deficit, but we have also relaxed ring-fencing to give the city council and its partners freedom to determine their priorities in order to meet local needs and provide local opportunities.
No representations have been received from Scottish Water, but I am aware of the hon. Lady’s interest and of discussions that have taken place between Scottish Water, the Scottish Government and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure about the replacement of security fencing with less intrusive measures.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but these so-called security fences around Milngavie reservoir cover only a tiny part of the three-mile perimeter, and as the rest is completely open to the public they serve no practical purpose other than being an eyesore spoiling a beautiful and popular local attraction. Scottish Water has said that it is waiting on a new directive from the Home Office before it can remove these fences, so can the Minister look at this issue again and ensure that that directive is issued without delay?
I know that the hon. Lady has run the campaign, and I understand her interest in ensuring access to the area around the reservoir. We will discuss with the Scottish Government the application that I understand they have received from Scottish Water in relation to this issue. The continuing need for the security fences will be looked at in the light of CPNI advice and any other alternative measures that may be forthcoming.
Administration (Police Time)
When I have spoken to police officers, they have asked us to help to free them up to do the job they are paid to do. I am committed to returning common sense to policing, which means getting officers back out on the streets dealing with crime, not sitting behind desks filling out forms to meet Government targets.
I thank the Minister for his answer. When I was recently on patrol with the Kent police in Folkestone in my constituency, they shared with me their concerns about the large amount of paperwork that goes to support front-line policing. Does the Minister agree that the priorities for the policing budget should be to support front-line police work in the community, not excessive bureaucracy?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Every Labour Home Secretary promised to cut bureaucracy, but the police still spend more time on paperwork than on patrol. We are determined to make a real difference by dealing with the central targets that bedevil policing and doing all we can to protect the front line.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. What the public want to see is police officers out on the beat. They do not want them to be tied up with unnecessary paperwork. That is why we are so determined to deal with the performance management framework and the targets that have prevented them from doing the job they want to do.
I welcome the Minister for Police to his first Home Office questions. What he has said is absolutely in agreement with the recommendation of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is that we should get police officers out on the beat. Will he therefore accept the other recommendation, which is that there should be full investment in new technology, giving police officers hand-held computers so they can spend more time on the beat than in police stations? Will he defend that part of the Home Office budget against any Treasury cuts?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind introduction. I recognise the importance of technology in assisting the process of reducing bureaucracy, such as in our commitment to scrap the stop form, which is an unnecessary and bureaucratic impediment to common-sense policing. There is a role for technology such as hand-held computers in recording stops and searches in accordance with the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestions.
Does the Minister agree with me, however, that there are some administrative tasks that are worth performing, such as the judging of the Best Bar None competition in my constituency, which was awarded to The Woodman pub in Carshalton?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position, but I might just advise him that we did actually stop the stop form in the Crime and Security Act 2010—but I will let that pass. Will the right hon. Gentleman today tell the House how much money he expects to save by tackling police bureaucracy over the next three years? Does he understand that, however much he saves, it will be nowhere near enough to compensate for the 25% cut he is planning in the Home Office budget, which will remove 35,000 police officers and 4,000 PCSOs from the beat? How does he expect that to help to fight, and reduce, crime in Britain?
Once again, we see absolutely no understanding from the Opposition about the fiscal position we have inherited from them. The fact is that their Government left us with an unspecified cut of £44 billion to find across Government Departments. They would not say where that money was to be found, so we have to make the savings. I believe that police forces can do it, and we are also determined to protect the front line.
Police (Terms and Conditions)
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Although I welcome the Government’s decision to honour the third year of the police pay award, does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has now come to review police pay and conditions, and to ensure a more flexible work force who are not so dependent on extensive and expensive overtime?
My hon. Friend is right. The previous Government conceded that more than £70 million a year was being wasted on police overtime. We need to look at that and it is one of the things that the review will do. We have, however, stood by the third year of the police pay award, as my hon. Friend suggested, which indicates our good faith towards the process and the value we place on the police service.
Could the Minister for Police, whom I welcome to his departmental responsibilities, kill two Lib-Con birds with one stone—namely, reduce the £400 million in overtime and bring public sector pay under control by saying that every hour of overtime authorised by a chief constable or a senior police officer will be deducted from their own pay?
The right hon. Gentleman may be offering himself as a candidate to serve on the pay review that we are proposing. Perhaps I should have a discussion with him about that. We have to strike a balance. Many chief constables believe overtime is an important management tool, but we are concerned about the extent of its use. That is exactly the kind of thing the pay review will have to look at.
Asylum Cases (Backlog)
Under the previous Government, the chief executive of the UK Border Agency wrote to the Home Affairs Select Committee periodically to update it on this issue. However, in the interests of transparency, I am happy to update right hon. and hon. Members in the House today. Until the end of May 2010 the UK Border Agency had concluded 277,000 cases.
I thank the Minister for that answer. As he is aware, Yarl’s Wood family detention centre is located outside Bedford. Does he agree that the Government’s determination to end the detention of children for asylum purposes will be most welcome to people as a measure of fairness? It will be regarded as something that is long overdue and that shamefully eluded the previous Government.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, which I regard as important. In a spirit of non-partisanship, I think it is regarded as important on both sides of the House. When we held a Westminster Hall debate on the subject last week, I was struck by the fact that there was universal approval of the new Government’s desire to end the detention of children—although the point was made that it might have been the last time as Minister for Immigration that I ever got universal approval for anything. However, we should welcome such steps forward while we have them.
I sincerely welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box, and I wish him all the best in a very difficult job.
In the light of the Minister’s answer about the backlog, I was pleased to see recognition of the UK Border Agency’s success but will he confirm the reasons behind the answer to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), at column 143W, on 22 June, about the dropping of the language requirement for dependants of people who successfully apply for asylum? What was his rationale?
The rationale, as with all our proposals on language, is that those who wish to come to this country need to be able to play a full role in its life. If as many people as possible who live and settle in this country are able to speak English, they will lead more fulfilled lives and be able to integrate better in our communities. That would be extremely helpful.
I rather agree with my hon. Friend, who will know that, under the previous Government, one of the many shambles in the immigration and asylum system was the problem of being able to remove people to safe countries. We will try to do better. The Dublin regulation, which is the system under which we do this, is working—in 2009, the UK removed 625 more cases than we accepted—but it is not working well enough. [Interruption.] If former Ministers on the Opposition Front Bench can contain themselves, I shall give the reason: we must do better at returning cases to specific EU countries. We are doing better with Italy. The next case that we really need to get to grips with is Greece, but the Government are determined to do this.
Is the Minister aware of the great difficulties many of my constituents face when lodging an asylum claim? They have to travel to the UK Border Agency in Croydon to lodge claims for initial screening, and the full cost of that must be met by the individual concerned. Will the Minister look again at that system and consider any review that can make it fairer, so that constituents in the north-east do not need to travel to London?
It is perhaps a shame that the hon. Lady has launched an attack on a change made by her own Government in their last 12 months in office. I can see some logic in why Ministers in the previous Government made the change that she objects to: by and large, people who claim asylum should claim it as soon as they get to this country. That is one area where there is not much difference between those who sit on the Front Benches. So I am afraid that I will have to ignore her plea to change the system to make it easy for people who may have been here for many months or, in some cases, many years to claim asylum. Asylum is meant for people who come to this country as genuine refugees.
National DNA Database
The Government are committed to adopting the protections of the Scottish model for retaining the DNA profiles of those who have not been convicted of an offence. We will introduce our detailed proposals shortly.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Despite their desire to retain DNA profiles indefinitely, the then Government did not focus on getting those who were convicted, possibly of serious offences, on to the database to ensure that it was effective in fighting crime. That is certainly something that we are looking at very closely in terms of the proposals that we will introduce in the House in due course.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post. Why does he believe that the Scottish police support the current English model, rather than the Scottish model, for DNA retention? Is that because the English model is based on evidence, whereas the Scottish model is not?
The hon. Gentleman makes quite an interesting point. As I understand what he said, he now seems to be arguing for the indefinite retention of DNA, which has been found to be not acceptable and not proportionate. He says in some way that there is no evidence, but I remind him of the comment made in the other place by Lord Bach, who highlighted very clearly the report that Professor Fraser undertook in relation to the Scottish system in which he said that he did not uncover any evidence to suggest that the Scottish approach to retention had caused any detriment to the detection of serious crime in Scotland.
In our coalition programme for government, as part of our work on safeguarding civil liberties we have stated that we will further regulate CCTV. We will introduce detailed proposals in due course.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Although there has been criticism that some CCTV has been used randomly and not always effectively, is he aware of the Safer Leeds project, in which CCTV has played an important role in the apprehension and prosecution of offenders? Can he give an assurance that future regulation will not deter the proper use of CCTV that my constituents in Stourbridge feel is essential in the battle against crime?
As the Prime Minister made clear in the House on 9 June, we support CCTV cameras. When used properly, they can be a significant asset in the prevention and detection of crime, but any such use involves a need to ensure that civil liberties are properly protected. The use of CCTV has increased in the absence of a specific regulatory framework. For reasons of proportionality and retaining public confidence, it is important that there is appropriate regulation, and it is interesting to note that the previous Administration recognised that when they appointed the interim CCTV regulator.
In the past 13 years, some 21,000 individuals have been arrested in Wrexham as a result of the operation of CCTV cameras. Wrexham’s CCTV system is widely appreciated. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether he expects a reduction in the number of CCTV cameras as a result of the regulation that he is describing, and how will that regulation be consulted on?
On the latter point, we will announce further details on how we intend to take CCTV forward and on how engagement will take place. As I have said, we recognise the importance of CCTV in the fight against crime. As for moving forward, the installation and use of CCTV systems is very much a matter for local decisions, so the regulation will certainly provide a framework to assist local decision making about the CCTV systems that should be put in place to protect local communities.
Before my hon. Friend jumps on the liberty bandwagon far too much, may I urge some caution? CCTV cameras do not prevent anyone from going about their lawful daily business freely. Will he acknowledge that the people who were responsible for the tube bombings on 7/7 were identified only through the use of CCTV, as was the person recently arrested in Bradford for the murders of three prostitutes?
I thank my hon. Friend for underlining CCTV’s important role in policing and protecting our communities. Perhaps more focus could be given to its use in prosecutions and as a forensic tool. However, the use of CCTV has developed in the absence of a specific regulatory framework. We believe, for reasons of proportionality, that regulation should be taken forward, so we shall proceed with that in due course.
I am interested to hear the Minister talk about CCTV in such a way, as it seems that there is already a slight shift in the coalition Government’s position. We know that CCTV has given people throughout the country their neighbourhoods back and the freedom to go about their daily lives. His Government talk about reducing red tape and regulation for the police, yet they plan to regulate CCTV and perhaps create more hoops for the police, who see it as a valuable tool, so will he answer a simple question once and for all: will the plans to regulate CCTV lead to fewer CCTV cameras? He is fudging.
It is interesting that the hon. Lady suggests that regulation is not required, because her Government established the interim CCTV regulator, thereby accepting that regulation is required and that the matter needs to be examined carefully. It is all very well for her to talk as if this issue has suddenly arisen, but she and her Government recognised the situation when they were in government. We will ensure that proportionate and relevant regulation is brought forward that will enable CCTV systems to be established by local communities in an appropriate way—
Tackling serious organised crime requires effective co-operation and co-ordination across law enforcement. We will work with police forces to strengthen arrangements to deal with serious crime and other cross-boundary policing challenges.
I am pleased that Norfolk constabulary is collaborating with other police forces in the region to work against the scourge of serious and organised crime. However, I understand that, on a national level, that collaboration is not yet as strong as it is in counter-terrorism. What plans do we have to put serious and organised crime fighting on a similar footing?
I know of the close interest that my hon. Friend takes in these matters, having been the author of a publication that proposed better arrangements to deal with serious crime. We will not pursue the Labour party’s policy of compulsory mergers of police forces. We believe that it is necessary for police forces to collaborate better to deal with organised crime, just as better collaboration has been achieved in counter-terrorism activity, and that is the policy that we shall pursue.
Does the Minister accept that the internet is increasingly being used by those who get involved in serious and organised crime? Does he agree that a partnership approach, making use of the talents and expertise of people in business, is essential to reduce the extent of internet use for the purposes of crime?
I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), is already in correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman about this matter. E-crime is a serious and growing problem, and it must make sense to tackle it on a partnership basis, with law enforcement agencies and business working together, and that is what we will do.
Crime Statistics (North Yorkshire)
The police in North Yorkshire notified the Home Office of nearly 22,000 offences in 1980; just over 50,000 in 1997; and 48,500 in 2008-09. During this period there have been considerable changes to reporting levels and to how the police record crime, and I am advised that these figures are not comparable.
Comparable figures show nationally a 38% decline in crime. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the police on reducing crime in North Yorkshire and York? Does he agree with the statisticians in his own Department and the UK Statistics Authority that the British crime survey is the best way of measuring long-term trends in crime?
I agree that the British crime survey plays a valuable role, but the problem is that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not complete. For instance, it misses out the recording of crimes against young people. Last week, the experimental figures showed that there may be up to 2 million crimes that were previously being missed by the British crime survey. Police recorded figures also have their problems. We need measures of crime in which the public have confidence, and we will be making further announcements about that in due course.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that many crimes that were previously dealt with as breaches of the peace are now dealt with as antisocial behaviour? Will the Government now grasp the nettle and tackle such crimes using police forces, rather than councils, which are not open over the weekend and in the evening, when most of those crimes are committed?
It is important to convey the message that antisocial behaviour may be activity that is criminal and should be treated as such. The public still feel that there is too much antisocial behaviour in their neighbourhoods, and they want it to be prioritised by police forces. The best way to do that is not only by policing but through effective partnerships on the ground, using the full range of resources that can be provided by local authorities, other agencies and the police family working together.
Administration (Police Time)
I thank the Minister for his answer. Recent statistics demonstrate that police spend 14% of their time on patrol and 20% on paperwork. Will he give an example of what administrative function might be cut from their work, so that we can give them the opportunity to spend more time out on the beat?
The most important example is the policy we have had for a long time: scrapping the unnecessary stop form, whose introduction made it harder for police forces to interact sensibly with the public, and resulted in a great deal of unnecessary bureaucracy. However, we will not stop at that, but will look at the whole performance framework and the central targets that have bedevilled policing for too long. We will free up police officers, so that they can do the job.
Given that the Minister wishes to free up police officers to spend more time on the beat, and given the recent survey that predicts 35,000 fewer police officers on the beat, what assessment has he made of how many administrative tasks he will have to scrap to maintain an appropriate and effective police presence?
I should say to the hon. Gentleman that we do not recognise those figures. Our policy is that we want to do everything possible to enable chief constables to prioritise the front line and maintain police officers out in the neighbourhoods, where the public want to see them. To do that, we must ensure that we reduce bureaucracy.
Order. No blame is imputed to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). It is simply that the grouping of his question with Question 19 was not something of which I had notice, and it is not a grouping to which I would ordinarily agree, for reasons of progress down the Order Paper.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. (4244)
Later this afternoon, I will make a statement to the House on the Government’s plans to consult on the introduction of an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants coming to the UK, and the introduction of an interim limit.
Does the Home Secretary acknowledge the evidence given to the Select Committee on Justice by Victim Support suggesting that what victims want, other than not to have become a victim in the first place, is not to become a victim again in future. Does she accept that consequently a key purpose for the police and all other parts of the criminal justice system must be the reduction of offending and reoffending?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reference to the need to reduce reoffending. I entirely agree that we need to do more to reduce reoffending, but I would point out to him that, over 13 years, his Government did very little to address that issue, which is why we have in the coalition agreement a clear commitment to look across the whole criminal justice system to examine what can be done to improve rehabilitation of offenders and hence to reduce reoffending.
T2. In recent meetings with Worcester’s Kashmiri and Bangladeshi communities, I have found a strong welcome for the new Government’s focus on improving community cohesion and supporting integration. Does the Home Secretary agree that the English language requirement for people coming to the UK from outside the EU to marry will support those aims and benefit those communities? (4245)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I begin by offering my condolences to him on the recent death of his father, and pay tribute to the many years of distinguished service given to this country, both in the House and in another place, including as a Government Minister, by the late Lord Walker?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The English language is important in respect of people being able to live in the UK and integrate in communities here, which is why we have indeed already announced that we are tightening up the requirements for English language to be spoken. We require people who are coming into the UK to marry to speak English at a level that was not required before. It is perfectly reasonable to do so.
T3. Before the election, Warrington Liberal Democrats said in a leaflet headed “Stop The Police Cuts”: “Just to keep force levels where they are today the police need a grant increase of at least 5%”.Does the Minister agree? (4246)
The issue that affects most people in relation to the police is seeing police not sitting in offices filling in forms, but getting out on the street, preventing crime, dealing with criminals, and giving people the safety, security and confidence that they want in their neighbourhoods. That is why we will slash bureaucracy, and get police on the streets—something that the hon. Lady’s Government failed to do in 13 years.
T4. Given that there are 11,500 foreign nationals in British jails, will the Home Secretary work with the Secretary of State for Justice and the Foreign Office to ensure that those in-sentence prisoners are deported back to their country of origin to serve out their sentences in their own lands? (4247)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue of foreign national prisoners bedevilled the previous Administration for years and led to the resignation of a Home Secretary. In 2008—the last year for which we have full figures—the UK Border Agency removed or deported nearly 5,400 foreign national prisoners. There is always more to be done. There are cases in which the court rules in an individual’s favour on specific human rights grounds and the Home Office disagrees with the court’s decision, but we all have to respect the court’s decision, so we are continuing to look at the administrative improvements needed to avoid administrative obstacles to the removal of foreign national prisoners at the end of their sentence, and to look at the legal problems.
I believe that introducing that important element of democratic accountability for police forces and not getting involved in operational matters, which will remain with the operational independence of police chiefs, is important. The hon. Gentleman’s question implies something with which I disagree. It implies that he is not willing to trust the British people and the common sense of the British people to elect people who will do a good job in their area.
T5. The Home Secretary is aware of the current discussions about a potential merger of the police forces of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Does she agree that such discussions are worth while at this time to achieve a fairer allocation of police resourcing and a more efficient allocation of resources where it matters—on the front line with our police? (4248)
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that I am due to have a meeting with the chief constables of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire to discuss the matter. I will also talk to locally elected representatives. It is important that if voluntary mergers of police forces go ahead, they do so with the consent of local people.
The Home Secretary will be aware of the comments made by the Culture Secretary this morning linking the Hillsborough disaster to football hooliganism. That is a disgrace. I have recently spoken to some of the families who lost loved ones at Hillsborough. They are deeply distressed by that and angry about what has happened. How can they have trust in the Government to see through the proper release of the Hillsborough files, given that that is the view held in high parts of Government? As the Home Secretary leads on the matter, will she meet urgently with members of the families and the Culture Secretary to discuss the issue?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has apologised for any suggestion that crowd unrest was responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. The judicial inquiry was absolutely clear on this point. The Taylor report cleared Liverpool supporters of any allegations that they were to blame for the terrible events that took place at that time, and the families of those who, sadly, lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster have conducted a dignified campaign over the years to try to ensure that the information is released and that they can see all the details of what happened at that time. I have already met the Bishop of Liverpool to discuss the work that his panel is doing in examining these issues. I would be happy to meet representatives of the Hillsborough families.
T6. In my constituency, Kingswood, under the previous Government, the local police station on the high street was bulldozed to make way for flats. Many of my constituents are rightly extremely concerned about that. What steps will the Minister take to ensure a more effective local policing presence in the future? (4249)
I will happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss that. Local people want to see an available and visible police presence. That does not necessarily mean old buildings, but it means the police using innovative ways to ensure that they have a presence in the community—for instance, by sharing community facilities.
T8. A cut of 25% in police funding would be devastating for public confidence. What the Minister said before would require large reductions in the number of police officers, community support officers and civilian staff. Those reductions could come about only through large up-front payments in pension, redundancy and other costs. What assessment has the Minister made of the size of those costs, and how on earth will they be paid for? (4251)
The hon. Gentleman refers to front-line policing and to police doing the job that the public want them to do. We have answered a number of questions on that issue today, and the first thing is to ensure that our police officers are able to get out on the streets, doing the job that they want to do and people want them to do. I find it somewhat surprising that Labour Members continue to raise funding issues, when the people who are to blame for the funding situation in which we find ourselves are their Government.
T9. As I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware, there are a large number of failed asylum seekers in my constituency and elsewhere in the country. Can she assure me that the situation will be reversed, and that policies will be implemented to ensure that our porous borders cease to be so? (4253)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making two important points. One key problem with the asylum system, affecting both the taxpayer and genuine refugees, is the appalling delays that were allowed to build up under the previous Government. That was unfair on genuine asylum seekers and unfair on the taxpayer. At the same time, as he said, our borders have been allowed to become much too porous over the past 13 years. That is why we are working on plans for a border police force, which will give much better protection to our borders than was ever provided under the previous Government.
The Home Secretary referred earlier to the problem with some CCTV cameras in Birmingham. I understand that more than £3 million has been spent on cameras that are now covered with plastic bags. Does she intend to unmask the bureaucrat who is responsible for that fiasco?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, a discussion is now taking place between the local police force and local communities about automatic number plate recognition cameras in Birmingham, and that is one reason why we intend, in looking at regulation on CCTV, to include ANPR.
One of my constituents, who also happens to be my parliamentary researcher, was seriously hurt in an unprovoked attack after he had been out for dinner with a friend in Croydon last week. Does the Secretary of State agree that late licensing is partly responsible for the increase in violent assaults at night? Will she update the House on how plans are progressing to sort out late licensing?
My hon. Friend provides a powerful example of the impact of violent crime and alcohol, and certainly 47% of violent assaults are believed to be carried out by individuals under the influence of alcohol. That is why we will bring forward proposals to rebalance the Licensing Act 2003 in favour of local communities, and in particular introduce a proposal for a late-night levy to deal with the costs that are attributed to dealing with licensing problems in certain areas.
My constituency has been targeted by the English Defence League for a series of demonstrations. Recent events have seen violence and disorder on the streets, police diverted to deal with that and property and constituents attacked. On one occasion the entire town centre was boarded up, costing businesses thousands. Could I bring a delegation of people from Dudley to meet the Home Secretary in order to discuss how we might prevent those problems in future?
Recent visits organised by the Children of Chernobyl charity have been disrupted because of late decisions by the UK Border Agency. Will my right hon. Friend urge the agency to take a risk-based approach to its investigations and recognise the long and trouble-free record of that excellent charity?
I am obviously aware of the problems that have emerged with what are perfectly reasonable investigations. Children are being brought a long way across the world unaccompanied, so it is not unreasonable for there to be some checks, but I am aware that there have been problems this year, and I shall be happy to take up any individual case that my hon. Friend would like to raise with me.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that nearly 10 years into the life of the previous Government, it suddenly emerged by chance that foreign prisoners were not being considered for deportation when they should have been, and that there was a backlog of 400,000 asylum cases and other cases owing to incompetence? Will he ensure that there is a culture of openness, transparency and efficiency in the Home Office right from the start of this Government?
My hon. Friend makes a good point with characteristic trenchancy and passion. He is right. The situation with foreign national prisoners was a disaster, as was the asylum delay backlog. We are getting to grips with these problems. It is very important not only that we have the right number of people coming to this country but that the people of this country have confidence in the administration of the immigration system, because without that we will never have people assured that the borders of this country are as secure as they should be. That was one of the great failures of the previous Government.
We are considering the whole issue of the drugs strategy in the context of legal highs and other emerging psychoactive substances, as well as in the context of the prevalence of cocaine use, which remains very significant. That is why the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is examining the issue and will be providing further advice to Government in that regard.
G8 and G20 Summits
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the G8 and G20 summits which took place in Canada.
First, I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the seven British servicemen who have lost their lives in the last week: from 40 Commando Royal Marines, Sergeant Steven Darbyshire; from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, Colour Sergeant Martyn Horton, Private Douglas Halliday, and Private Alex Isaac; from the Yorkshire Regiment, Lance Corporal David Ramsden; and from the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, Bombardier Stephen Gilbert, who died from injuries he received in an explosion earlier this month; and we also remember the soldier from 101 Engineer Regiment who died yesterday. As the country marked Armed Forces day this weekend, people did so with tremendous pride but also with great sadness. We must never forget what these men, and so many of their colleagues, have given for us, and our thoughts should be with their friends and their families.
As I have said, I am determined that our forces will not stay in Afghanistan a day longer than necessary. I led a discussion at the G8 where we made it clear that we
“fully support the transition strategy adopted”
by international partners. We are not after a perfect Afghanistan—just a stable Afghanistan able to maintain its own security and prevent al-Qaeda from returning. So the G8 sent a collective signal that we want the Afghan security forces to
“assume increasing responsibility for security within five years.”
The presence of large-scale international forces cannot be an indefinite commitment. We need to get the job done and bring our troops back home.
Let me report to the House on the main conclusions of the G8 and G20. I have placed copies of the communiqués in the Library so that people can see the details of what was agreed. The G8 is a good forum for the leading democratic economies to give proper strategic consideration to the big foreign policy and security issues. It has also played a vital role in helping the richer nations to improve the future of the poorest people in our world.
In my view, those two vital functions of this forum should continue. I want to take each in turn. On the big security issues, we discussed the middle east peace process and agreed the importance of putting pressure on both sides to engage in the proximity talks, with the aim of creating the conditions for direct talks later this year. President Obama specifically said that he would make this his priority in the coming months. While the changes Israel have proposed are welcome, they do not go far enough, and the communiqué says that the current arrangements in Gaza
“are not sustainable and must be changed.”
On Iran, UN Security Council resolution 1929 was welcomed. The communiqué states that all countries should “implement it fully.” Since the G8 includes Russia, I believe that this was significant. The UK also made the case for all members of the G8 to have positive engagement with Turkey, which could have a key role to play both in resolving the Iran issue and in encouraging progress on middle east peace. We also discussed North Korea, deploring and condemning the sinking of the Cheonan, and the vital topics of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
On development, while the G8 has played an important role in increasing aid spending by the richest countries in the world, some of those countries have not met commitments that they set out. I stressed the importance of transparency and accountability, and the accountability report that has been published sets out what countries have done in meeting their commitments. While not perfect, it represents good progress in ensuring that countries cannot make promises without being held accountable for them and for failing to meet them.
Even at a time when our countries face difficult budget decisions, it is important that we maintain our commitment to helping the poorest in the world. The UK is maintaining its commitment to increase spending on aid to 0.7% of gross national income. That gives us the opportunity to exercise leadership on behalf of the poorest. At the same time, in order to take the public with us, we also need to ensure that every penny will reach those who need it most. That means transparency and accountability along the lines that we are introducing. It also means that the projects we support must be deliverable, practical and measurable, addressing the causes of poverty and not just alleviating the symptoms.
The Muskoka initiative on maternal and child health agreed at the G8 is a case in point. Today in the United Kingdom, the chances of dying in pregnancy and childbirth are 1 in 8,200. In parts of Africa they are as high as 1 in 7. That is something we can change and must change, and the resources agreed, including a big contribution from the UK, could lead to an additional 1.3 million lives being saved. As the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood points out, if we save the mother we save the family, and if we save the family, we build a stronger society and a stronger economy.
I turn to the G20, which is now clearly the right forum for all the leading economies of the world to discuss the vital economic issues. The key goal of the G20 is to continue the recovery of the world economy and secure sustainable growth. The argument proposed by some that deficit reduction and growth are mutually exclusive is, in my view, completely wrong. The whole approach underlined by the International Monetary Fund for this G20 and the subsequent meeting in Seoul is about how the world should maximise growth through the right combination of three things: deficit reduction; tackling imbalances, particularly through actions by emerging economies; and structural reform in the advanced economies. There was broad agreement on all three, which is reflected clearly in the communiqué.
On deficit reduction, the G20 agreed that
“those countries with serious fiscal challenges need to accelerate the pace of consolidation”
and that there was a risk that
“failure to implement consolidation would undermine confidence and hamper growth.”
The advanced G20 economies committed to at least halve current deficits by 2013 and stabilise Government debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016. While we agreed that the speed and timing of deficit reduction will vary with national circumstances, the verdict of the G20 was unequivocal: for countries with large deficits, the time to act is now. Britain has one of the largest deficits in the G20, and the summit specifically welcomed the plans set out in our Budget last week.
On addressing the fundamental imbalances, China’s recent decision to move towards greater exchange rate flexibility is clearly very welcome. On financial reform, the G20 agreed a set of principles on bank levies to ensure that the financial sector makes a
“fair and substantial contribution towards paying for any burdens associated with government interventions to repair the financial system”.
That is very much in line with the plans for a bank levy that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his Budget. On ensuring that the banks in all countries can withstand future crises, we also agreed that
“the amount of capital will be significantly higher and the quality of capital significantly improved”.
The new standards should be finalised by the Seoul summit in November. The Basel accord took 10 years; this looks like it could be completed in a little over one.
Although the drawing up of clear, robust new rules is essential, it is important that they are not implemented too quickly. We do not want a further monetary squeeze or a reduction in bank lending at this stage of the recovery. The biggest stimulus we could give the world economy today is the expansion of trade. While the G20’s agreement to extend its pledge that no additional trade barriers should be put in place is welcome, continued failure to make progress on Doha is deeply disappointing. It has now been eight years in negotiation, and frankly, there can be little confidence that as things stand the round will be completed rapidly. That is a tragedy, because a completed trade round could add $170 billion to the world economy.
The UK led the working session on this issue at the G20. One potential way of making progress is to try to add to the benefits of the round, including more things in it, so that all parties can see reasons for going that final mile. This was supported by President Obama, and the director-general of the World Trade Organisation, Pascal Lamy, suggested that all trade negotiators should return to the table and consider, vitally, both what it is they really need from the round and what it is they are prepared to offer to get it moving again. This should lead to a report at the Seoul meeting in November. In my view, too many people still see this as a zero-sum game, where one country’s success in exports is somehow another country’s failure. This is nonsense: everyone can benefit from an increase in trade flows. We will play our part in breaking the logjam, and I want this country to lead the charge in making the case for growing trade flows around the world.
On climate change, while the G8 communiqué was strongly positive on limiting the rise in global temperatures to less than 2°, the G20 communiqué was more limited. This is partly because some countries do not see the G20 as the forum for discussing this issue. In discussions, it was also clear that there was widespread disappointment at the way that Copenhagen failed to deliver a legally binding global deal. We must not give up on this, and we will be playing our full part in pushing for a successful outcome at Cancun.
This long weekend of summitry was a good opportunity to build Britain’s bilateral relationships. Among others, I had useful meetings with President Obama, President Hu of China, Prime Minister Singh of India and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. In building a very strong friendship with our leading European partners, I also suffered the exquisite agony of watching England lose 4-1 to Germany in the company of my good friend Chancellor Merkel and the German summit team. While I cannot recommend the experience of watching England lose football to Germany in the margins of a G20 summit, I do commend this statement to the House.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the service personnel who have died in Afghanistan since we last addressed the House: from 40 Commando Royal Marines, Sergeant Steven Darbyshire; from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, Colour Sergeant Martyn Horton, Private Douglas Halliday and Private Alex Isaac; from the Yorkshire Regiment, Lance Corporal David Ramsden; from the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, Bombardier Stephen Gilbert; and the soldier from 101 Engineer Regiment who died yesterday. Our thoughts are with their families as we remember them and acknowledge the deep debt of gratitude we owe them.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? The G8 and G20 summits covered many issues of importance to the United Kingdom, not least the need to work internationally to sustain the UK economic recovery that began last year. The G20 declaration rightly identifies the G20’s
“achievements in addressing the global economic crisis”,
saying that the G20’s
“efforts to date have borne good results. Unprecedented and globally coordinated fiscal and monetary stimulus is playing a major role in helping to restore private demand and lending.”
Now that the Prime Minister has joined other G20 leaders in endorsing those pro-growth policies that have put the global economy back on the road to recovery, will he acknowledge the role of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), in shaping that approach and winning support for it at the G20, thereby laying the foundations for that recovery internationally and here at home?
Is it not inconsistent for the Prime Minister to sign up to this approach abroad while continuing to denigrate that approach here at home? We welcome the G20’s commitment to
“‘growth friendly’ fiscal consolidation plans”
and the target of halving deficits by 2013. Will he confirm that this target is entirely consistent with deficit reductions that the Office for Budget Responsibility showed would have been achieved by 2013 under our plans? Will he confirm that nothing in the G20 statement provides any justification whatever for his choice to cut the deficit further and faster? Indeed, is it not the case that only last week President Obama called on world leaders to
“learn from the consequential mistakes of the past when stimulus was too quickly withdrawn and resulted in renewed economic hardships”?
The G20 calls for growth-friendly fiscal consolidation, but how is it growth friendly to cut investment allowances for manufacturing firms, to scrap the regional development agencies and to cut back on investment in high-tech, export-oriented British firms such as Sheffield Forgemasters? How is it growth friendly for his Government to take an approach that the OBR says will cost 100,000 jobs?
With President Obama and major emerging economies, including India and Brazil, warning against the risk of Budget cuts too early and too deep, is it not clear that on the question of timing and content, the summit’s conclusions on deficit reduction amount to no more than an agreement to disagree? Given the risk of deflationary policies in the eurozone and the fact that growth forecasts in the United States have been revised downwards, is not weak demand the major threat to growth? Is it not the case that Government policy should still play a part in sustaining demand? Is it not clear, given that demand in our export markets again looks fragile, that the assumption of a 40% increase in UK exports, on which last week’s Budget plans were based, looks very optimistic? To which markets does the Prime Minister expect that 40% increase in exports to go?
The Opposition welcome the G8’s commitment to support the international security assistance force’s efforts in Afghanistan. As the Prime Minister recognised in his statement, this will be a crucial year for Afghanistan, with the Kabul conference and elections in September. Because military effort must pave the way for, and go alongside, a political settlement in Afghanistan, will he update the House on preparations for the Kabul summit and Afghan elections?
Surely there is agreement on both sides of the House that we do not want our troops to stay in Afghanistan one day longer than necessary. We look forward to when the Afghan Government can guarantee their people’s stability and security, and thereby make us safer, as the Prime Minister has said previously. Will he therefore clarify his remarks on Afghanistan? He said:
“We can’t be there for another five years”.
Does the Prime Minister believe that that assists our troops in their task in Afghanistan? What effect does the Defence Secretary believe the Prime Minister’s comments will have on the morale of our troops fighting day by day on the ground in Afghanistan? Is it not the case that, as the Defence Secretary has said, setting artificial time scales is a very dangerous game to play?
May I now turn to the G8 approach to tackling global poverty? Is the Prime Minister aware of the deep frustration within the development community at what it sees as a major retreat by the G8 on its commitment to help the poorest? In particular, how can he, as one of the G8 leaders, justify the decision to drop the commitment of the 2005 Gleneagles summit to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010? That G8 commitment was hard won by the previous Labour Government. Is he aware that Save the Children called that “shameful”, and that Oxfam described the G8 statement as being
“lower than our lowest expectations”
on maternal mortality?
Writing on the eve of the summit, the Prime Minister said:
“Too often these international meetings fail to live up to the hype and promises made”,
but instead of strengthening the resolve of G8 leaders to deliver the promised action, he has allowed them to renege on their promises. Does that not reflect badly on his international leadership, for which the very poorest will pay a heavy price? Can the Prime Minister tell us how hard he tried to get the other world leaders to stick to, and deliver, the Gleneagles promises? He apparently told journalists that as
“the new kid on the block”,
he was focusing on a different aid target, namely the UN’s 2015 millennium development goals. Will the Prime Minister attend the key UN summit on the millennium development goals this September in New York? If he is not planning to do so, could he reconsider his decision in order to put the G8’s and the world’s efforts towards achieving the millennium development goals back on track?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her response.
We are preparing for the Kabul summit by having repeated conversations and meetings with President Karzai and others. I have met him twice since becoming Prime Minister, once here in the UK and once in Afghanistan, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will attend that important meeting.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked me to clarify the perfectly obvious statement that British troops should not be in Afghanistan in five years’ time. Let me put it to her the other way around. It was a Labour Government who took us into Helmand province in 2005. Is she really saying that 10 years later we should still be there? We want to get the job done, train up the Afghan army and police and bring our troops back home. She would be better advised to seek cross-party agreement on that than to take the position that she has chosen.
The right hon. and learned Lady then made some remarks about global poverty. Of course I deplore the fact that some G8 members have not stuck to the promises that they made at Gleneagles in 2005, but the slippage that she was trying to blame on the new Government took place between 2005 and 2010. The person to whom she wanted me to pay tribute—I would be delighted if he could be bothered to turn up to the House—was either Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister during that time.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked me to attend the UN summit on the millennium development goals in September in New York. I was intending to do so, but for reasons of paternal health—we have been talking about maternal health—I hope that I will be otherwise engaged in the UK, as we are having a baby. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will be at the summit and doing a very good job.
The right hon. and learned Lady’s whole premise on which she based her argument about the G20, the need to tackle deficits and get growth is completely wrong. The whole point about the G20 is that if you combine fiscal consolidation in the countries that need it with expansion and dealing with the imbalances from emerging economies, you can maximise world growth. That is what it is about. She says that there is no case for going faster in those countries with excessive deficits—on the IMF figures we have the biggest deficit of all—but the Labour party is now completely isolated on this issue. The G20’s view is that
“it is clear that consolidation will need to begin in advanced economies in 2011, and earlier for countries experiencing significant fiscal challenges at present”—
and that is the UK. So the Labour party is isolated from the G20.
Let us see how Labour is getting on with the US. Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, said about the UK Budget:
“I think they’ve got the right balance, the right objectives and I think they’re demonstrating that again you have to act so that people can see you’re committed to follow through”.
So Labour is now isolated from the Americans. What about the Europeans? José Manuel Barroso, the President of the Commission, said in Toronto that there is no more room for deficit spending. So Labour is now isolated from the Europeans.
Let me end with the IMF, because that is where we would have ended up if that lot had stayed in power. The IMF was clear:
“In this regard, credible and coherent fiscal plans should be clearly communicated as soon as possible. There is a pressing need…for fiscal consolidation in G-20 advanced economies”.
If that is not done, it could, says the IMF,
“weigh on the recovery and raise market pressure in an environment of elevated uncertainty about sovereign debt risks.”
There we have it. Whether it is the US, the EU or the IMF—and I could add in the OECD—the Labour party is now completely and utterly isolated.
As for quoting President Obama, here is one I prepared earlier. He said that
“we have been very impressed with the leadership that David Cameron has shown thus far. He has, I think, taken a series of steps on some very tough issues and…is prepared to make…decisions on behalf of…his country.”
The right hon. and learned Lady’s attempt to claim that somehow we are not completely in tune with the US, the EU, the G20 and the IMF is an attack that simply is not going to take off.
Is part of President Obama’s message to the leading industrial countries of continental Europe not to move too rapidly or too severely in cutting back on public expenditure or the money supply lest they precipitate a slump, as occurred in the case of Credit Anstaldt, as a result of applying similar policies, led by Germany?
The message is clear: countries that face big fiscal challenges have to address those challenges. Let me put it the other way around: for countries like us, with an 11% budget deficit, further fiscal action—or, indeed, no action—could lead to a serious problem with our economy. Where I agree with my hon. Friend is that when we tighten fiscal policy, as we should, that should be accompanied by a loose monetary policy. That is why I made the remarks that I did about the importance of not bringing in the banking rules too quickly, and why the Bank of England’s positive response to the Budget that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor introduced is so encouraging. However, for Britain, the right measure, as the G20, the EU and the OECD say, is to deal with our deficit. If we do not, we could be in real danger.
I was going to congratulate the Prime Minister on his first foray into the G8 and G20, but he has already congratulated himself.
In his discussions with the Canadian Prime Minister, did they talk about the consequences for ordinary men and women of too rapid a deficit reduction and, in particular, the reduction in Canada in the late 1990s, when the environmental services budget in Ontario was cut by $200 million and the town of Walkerton experienced the most enormous impact, with disease and, regrettably, death from E. coli? Does the Prime Minister agree that it is not grandiose announcements but the consequences for people in their lives with which we need to be concerned?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and his probably justified rebuke, which was well put. However, at the risk of quoting another Prime Minister, Stephen Harper did say that the UK Budget
“highlighted the very fiscal consolidation that we’re trying to steer the G20 towards,”
so there was strong support from the Canadians for what we are doing here. As we do the difficult job of dealing with the record deficit that we inherited, we of course have to do everything that we can to protect the poorest and ensure that we stimulate regional growth, a subject that we will be talking about tomorrow. However, I keep returning to this point: not acting would be more serious for the UK economy and would lead to greater hardship for people.
By what criteria will it be judged that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable to allow us to withdraw our troops, and how long will it be before we are talking to the Taliban, as suggested over the weekend by General Sir David Richards?
Let me try to answer both those questions briefly. The way to judge progress in Afghanistan is in terms of the basic level of security, stability and governance. So in Helmand, for instance, as we see districts that are under good provincial governors, with lead Afghan control over security, that is the time when we can judge that the job is getting done, and there is some prospect of some of that happening this year. As for talking to Taliban, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman puts it, a process of reconciliation and reintegration is taking place, where Taliban who are prepared to stop fighting and accept the basic tenets of the Afghan constitution can be reintegrated back into society. That should happen. That political track, which runs alongside the training of the Afghan army and the military surge, is vital, and we need to push further and faster on it.
May I push the Prime Minister slightly harder on the issue of Afghanistan and talking to the Taliban? It is true, as he says, that those who want to lay down their arms can be welcomed back, but there may be many who are not, but who will nevertheless be required to do so, in the event of a political situation being arrived at, which all of us in this House know is the only eventual outcome for Afghanistan. There is a limited amount that the Prime Minister can say, but it would be good if he could reassure the House that, come the right moment and in the right way, the British Government will indicate their willingness to talk?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he put his question. This is one of those things that it is better to get on and deal with, rather than endlessly theorising about it. There is a huge difference between that part of the insurgency that is linked to al-Qaeda and is extremist in its ideology, and what has become in some parts of Afghanistan an insurgency based on the way in which particular tribes have been dealt with or on particular local issues. There is a difference between the two, and we need to bear that in mind in this important political track that we have embarked on.
My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to say that none of us wants to stay in Afghanistan a moment longer than is necessary, but does he agree that we have to get our priorities right between leaving and succeeding? If our priority is to leave, that will make it harder to succeed, whereas if our priority is to succeed, that will make it easier to leave.
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend on that. Transitioning provinces and districts to Afghan control should be done on the basis of the facts on the ground and the capacity that they have to do that, rather than on the basis of a timetable. Having said that, I do not see anything wrong with saying, “This is a task that has to take place over the coming years, but we should not be there, for instance, for five years.” That is a perfectly fair point to make—[Interruption.] I can hear chuntering from the Opposition. The last Government set quite a lot of interim short-term targets, and I think that is where the problems have come from.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of his statement. I associate the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru with the condolences that he expressed at the beginning of his statement. President Obama has set a timetable for beginning the draw-down of US troops from Afghanistan, as have the Canadian hosts of the G20. If that is right for the United States and for Canada, why is it wrong for the UK?
There is a difference between what Canada has decided and what President Obama is undertaking. Canada has set a firm deadline for withdrawing all its troops from combat and other operations, and that date is firmly set in stone. President Obama has spoke about a review towards the end of this year and, from July 2011, he hopes to be drawing down the surge in troops that has taken place this year. That is very different from what the Canadians are discussing. We are part of that US surge. We surged our troop numbers, as the US did—albeit by less, but we still have around 10,000 in Helmand. We, too, should be looking at progress at the end of the year, and at that July 2011 date. However, I would rather give the House and the people of this country the certain knowledge that we are not going to be there in five years’ time in the role that we are now. Between now and then, however, let us try to deliver on the ground as best we can, and train up the Afghan national army and the police in order to deliver that security and bring our troops home. And let us do it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) suggested, on the basis of the facts on the ground.
I know that the Prime Minister wants the existing strategy to be given more time to succeed, but will he accept that, if it shows little sign of progress in the next few months, or even the next year or so, there should be an alternative to recommending total withdrawal? Total withdrawal would take us back to square one, and the existing strategy would mean our continuing to take excessive casualties. There has to be, and there could be, a middle way, and I hope that he will consider that if he sees that the present strategy is not moving in the direction that he would like to see.
I know that my hon. Friend is working hard on the middle way option, and that he is going to do further work on it. Of course I shall look carefully at what he produces. I would say to him that the surge in troop numbers has made a difference on the ground. In the parts of Afghanistan where previously it was impossible to step outside a military base, it is now possible to walk around the towns and visit the markets. I went to a training college, the last time I was in Helmand. The previous time, I went to a wheat seed distribution centre. Both times, I was able to have some freedom of movement. So there is some progress, and I think that this is the right strategy. We should use all that we have, this year, to give it every chance of success.
The Prime Minister prayed in aid the International Monetary Fund earlier, but he did not quote the IMF boss, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has warned that fiscal retrenchment wrongly done would cost 60 million jobs globally. How many of those 60 million jobs will be lost among the world’s poor, and how many will be lost among the poor of this country?
I discussed that with the IMF over the weekend. Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s own interventions in the debate at the G20 were very strongly in favour of fiscal consolidation, particularly for the countries—such as Britain—with the largest budget deficits. I looked around that table at the G20. According to the IMF’s figures, our budget deficit, at over 11 per cent., is the biggest. The answer to the question “Do they mean us when they are talking about excessive deficits?” is “Yes, they do.”
The key point made by Dominique Strauss-Kahn and others is that this is a package. If we are to maximise world growth, which will bring more jobs and livelihoods, we need a combination of fiscal consolidation in the countries that require it and measures to deal both with the imbalances in the developing world and with the structural problems in the developed economies such as Germany’s. That is what needs to be done. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is recommending exactly the sort of action that we are taking here in this country.
In the context of international development, the publication of the accountability report is very welcome, as is the specific commitment on maternal and child health. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that a commitment by the international community to a robust and specific process will be necessary in New York in September if we are to have any hope of achieving the millennium development goals by 2015?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need a process of continual checking up on the progress being made towards the MDGs. Now, in 2010, we are two thirds of the way towards the final point, and we should be doing better. We chose maternal and child health at the G8 because those are two of the goals that we are furthest from meeting.
I, too, welcome the document to which my hon. Friend has referred, and I encourage my colleagues to read it. While it is not perfect, it sets out pretty clearly on pages 15, 16 and 17 what countries promised to do and what they have done. That is progress. We have all sat here and heard reports of the great things achieved at G8 summits, but this document holds countries’ feet to the fire and asks, “Did you do what you promised to do? If you did not, you must think again.”
The Prime Minister is right to draw attention to the likelihood of deaths in pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa, but does he not think that the summit was a little bit complacent about the immediate and very serious problem of food shortages throughout that area, and the consequent large migration flows as people desperately seek somewhere to live and something to eat? Is there not a real sense of urgency when one in six of the world’s population are suffering from food shortages, the largest number in history?
I would not say that the summit was complacent. It was my first G8 summit, and I was struck by the fact that about half the sessions were opened up to visiting leaders from the African Union, Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere in Africa, so that they could keep reminding the richest countries in the world of what they had promised to do. The G8 cannot substitute for the work of the United Nations and other food programmes—it is not an emergency organisation—but I do not think that it is complacent about these challenges. At least, for the first time, it is checking up on itself a bit more, and that can only be a good thing.
Prime Minister Harper has reiterated his plans to start withdrawing Canadian troops from Afghanistan next year. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with Prime Minister Harper about retaining Canadian troops who are in non-combat roles, such as the medical teams and their air troop transport helicopter teams?
My hon. Friend is right to ask that question. A discussion has been held. However, I think we should put on record the fact that no one can accuse Canada of not playing an incredibly positive role in NATO. It has experienced a very large number of casualties in relation to the size of its population. It has made its decision about 2011, and we should not seek in any way to gainsay it over that. Of course we can all do what we can to encourage it to go on playing a role of some kind, perhaps medical or related to training, and obviously it will play a role in terms of development. However, I think that my hon. Friend’s point was well made.
I realise that watching the football with Angela Merkel cannot have been much fun for the Prime Minister, not least because—I think—he was not even born in 1966, and therefore could not console himself with the memory of that achievement.
In his statement, the Prime Minister mentioned Turkey and its important role in relation to the middle east process in Iran. Has he had any discussions with fellow European heads of state about the fact that if we go on making it difficult for Turkey to accede to the European Union, it may well turn its back on Europe, in which case we will be the losers?
I have had those conversations at both the G8 and the G20. It is good that there is all-party agreement in this House that we should do everything we can to encourage Turkey into the European Union, to anchor her into the west in all the ways we can. Clearly there is a disagreement—a disagreement that is not going to go away—between France and Germany on the one hand and Britain on the other about Turkey and the EU, but irrespective of those positions we should all be doing what we can to encourage Turkey to feel part of Europe and of the direction we are taking. The role she can play in terms of Iran and the middle east peace process is very important, but she will not be so inclined to play that role if Europe turns her back.
I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree that if we are to succeed in Afghanistan, we need unity of purpose. How concerned is he, therefore, by the resignation of General McChrystal and of key Ministers in President Karzai’s Government, and by the extended leave being taken by the UK special representative to Afghanistan?
On the issue of the Ministers resigning from President Karzai’s Government, he has put in place quite talented replacements. On the issue of Stanley McChrystal, he is a very talented general who we believe had delivered the right strategy. I was consulted on the issue twice by President Obama, but in the end it was about what General McChrystal had said about the US Administration in the interview in Rolling Stone magazine, so it was an issue between the US Administration and Stanley McChrystal, rather than necessarily a matter for me.
The Prime Minister has had three international outings and he has acquitted himself very well; it would be churlish not to acknowledge that. Ahead of them, he wrote in the Financial Times on 17 June:
“It is shocking that…women still do not have equal rights in the workplace. This is not just unfair; it makes no sense—because it deprives our economies of their full potential as workers and consumers.”
Will he therefore agree, in this spirit of bipartisanship, that having the gender pay audits that have been suggested in both the public and private sectors would be a way of getting rid of that huge problem?
We have supported—and, indeed, before the election we put forward a case for—gender pay audits, particularly based on those companies where any unfairness is found. The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point, quoting from my FT article, which is that that is one of the structural reforms that we in the west in the developed world should be carrying out in order to increase our growth rates, and as the right hon. Gentleman is being so friendly, I shall have to take away his thoughts and think about them again.
Whether it be Afghanistan, the global economy or, indeed, tackling climate change, the G8 and G20 summits are becoming useful vehicles for tackling global issues, but they make decisions that are then passed on to an organisation created just after the war, the United Nations, which is woefully out of date. Were there any discussions about updating the United Nations so that it can tackle these issues much better?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. The UN Secretary-General was, of course, at the G20 meeting and made a number of contributions, but my hon. Friend is right that the architecture of international relations is badly out of date. We have the rise of India, we have the enormous strength of Germany and Japan, and we have the great growth of Brazil, yet none of those countries is on the Security Council. We have to recognise that it is all very well all of us—we all do this—saying that we must share global leadership with India and China, but if we are going to share global leadership we need to change these institutions. This was discussed. It is fantastically difficult because people have so many vested interests—as, indeed, do we—but I do think that it is absolutely right for countries such as India and Brazil to have the sense that they should be on the UN Security Council.
I praise, of course, the troops who have died and those who, sadly and unfortunately, are likely to die in the future, but is it not the case that there can be hardly a single Member who believes that a military victory in Afghanistan in any meaningful sense is likely to come about even in another nine years? Therefore, is it not all the more important to start negotiations sooner rather than later, as suggested by General Richards? I think the Prime Minister should recognise that there is growing concern in the country at large about what is happening and the number of deaths in Afghanistan.
The hon. Gentleman is right. We are all concerned about the number of casualties in Afghanistan. He is also right in that when we look across history at fighting insurgencies, in very few of them has there ever been a complete military victory—it is a combination of what happens militarily and in the country at large and what happens in terms of some sort of reconciliation process. That is important. We are committed to the reconciliation process and would like to see it go further and faster, but as I said, it is important to maintain a distinction between Taliban linked to al-Qaeda, who would have the terrorist training camps come back and who want world terrorism, and people involved in insurgency for any number of other reasons. Yes, of course there must be a political track and of course we should develop it, but we need to differentiate the sorts of Taliban we face.
Does the Prime Minister agree that our global banking system remains incredibly risky, and that bearing in mind how long it has taken to get previous Basel agreements in place, it may be necessary to take steps to protect our particular vulnerability to the banking sector before then?
My hon. Friend is right. We are trying to put in place a system whereby banks have to ask themselves whether they have enough capital to withstand the sort of shock they suffered in 2008 and 2009. That is what needs to take place, and it is being put in place relatively quickly, but the rules need to be drawn up and agreed, and there may then be a pause before they are actually introduced, because at the moment the great risk is shrinkage of the monetary base—a shrinkage of bank lending—at this very sensitive time in our recovery.
How can the Prime Minister retain his optimism after 11 British deaths in 10 days? How can a stable Afghanistan be built on the crumbling foundations of an election-rigging president and his criminal family, on an Afghan army that is mercenary and drug-addicted and on a police force that is depraved and entirely corrupt? We are in the end game position, as Canada and the Netherlands have explained. At the end of the Vietnam war a question was asked that should haunt us all now: who will be the last soldier ordered into battle to die for a politician’s mistake?
The hon. Gentleman has long taken that view, but even though he makes that case he wildly overstates it. If we talk to British soldiers who serve with the Afghan national army they say that those soldiers are brave, they work hard and they are committed. Yes, of course we need to improve recruitment from all parts of the country, but I do not think it is fair to characterise the army as he does. There have been problems with the Afghan police force, but when we go to Afghanistan we see police trainers from European and American countries doing good work. I do not accept that all is as bleak as the hon. Gentleman puts it. We have had a number of casualties, which are heartbreaking in every individual case and it is heartbreaking that there are so many, but we have to remember what we are doing in Afghanistan. It is not creating the perfect society; it is training up the Afghans so that they can take care of their own security and we face fewer attacks from terrorist groups trained in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but the fact is that today the number of threats coming from that area is reduced, because of what we have done in Afghanistan and because of what the Pakistan Government are doing in Pakistan. Of course we should not be blind to people’s concerns, but we should try to take people with us on the success there has been in reducing those threats.
The Prime Minister will know that business growth is vital for the Chancellor’s plans and that credit is vital to business growth. The Governor of the Bank of England warned on Friday that lending to business remained weak and there was a risk of “disruption of credit”. The G20 proposals could cause banks more serious concern in that respect, so what will the Prime Minister and the Government do to make sure that small and medium-sized enterprises receive the credit they need to ensure growth in this country over the next three years?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and the concern that we should have about the economy is not the fiscal tightening that needs to happen, but to ensure that the banks are lending and that monetary policy is working effectively. Of course, monetary policy is not just interest rates—the price of money—but we also have to think about the quantity of money, which is bank lending. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget made a number of improvements to the credit lending schemes. I think that we can look to see whether there is even more that should be done, but let me repeat that the key thing that we were trying to do at the G20 was not to enforce credit rules now that would restrict lending, but to put in place the measures for the long term that will stop the catastrophe that we suffered in 2008 and 2009. That is the key. In Europe, we are stress testing the banks to ensure that they have adequate capital. Again, that is important: we need to ensure the soundness of the banking system, because that is part of the key to recovery.
The Prime Minister mentioned that he had four useful bipartite meetings. Did he meet Juan Manuel Santos—the President-elect of Colombia—or did he indicate that he would meet him when he goes on tour? He is a gentleman who, as Defence Minister, dressed his troops as members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, carried out the extra-judicial murders of 2,000 innocent civilians and bombed Ecuador, where there is, I believe, a murder warrant out for him. Did the Prime Minister, or will he, raise those issues on behalf of concerned people in the UK who follow them very closely?
I did not meet the President-elect; I did meet the current President, President Uribe, who was at the G8 session on tackling corruption and the drugs trade, where there was a presentation from him and I had a conversation with him. I will take away the points that the hon. Gentleman makes and reflect on them when I have the conversation—I am sure that I will—with the President when he is not just the President-elect but the President.
Did the Prime Minister find time during the G20 summit to speak to the leaders of Russia and China about the ongoing diplomatic issues with Iran? May I urge him to work closely with those traditional allies of Iran to ensure that we try not to go anywhere near the military action that some hawkish nations want?
I had very positive meetings with President Hu of China and President Medvedev of Russia. We discussed, particularly in the Russian meeting at quite some length, the Iranian situation. It is encouraging that the Russians have voted for the sanctions resolution in the UN—resolution 1929—and it is important to show a united face to the Iranians about the unacceptability of their acquiring a nuclear weapon. The point is that nobody wants military action, by Israel or anyone else, to take place, and that is all the more reason for taking the sanctions route and trying to maximise the pressure and change the balance for Iran, to raise the costs for it of having a nuclear weapon. That is what this is all about.
Almost 80 years ago, countries across the world adopted policies of fiscal tightening and gave us the inter-war depression—the slump, with millions of people thrown out of work. We are now adopting policies of collective deflation. Is the Prime Minister not at all fearful that history might repeat itself and that we might see millions back unemployed?
It is quite difficult to talk about deflation when monetary policy is as loose as it is and when interest rates are as low as they are. This is where, with respect, the Labour party has not understood enough of the argument. We have to tighten fiscal policy in the UK. We are borrowing 11% of our gross domestic product. If we started borrowing more, or indeed we stood still, we could face the situation that others in Europe face—it is that serious—so where the demand should come from is by the combination of a fiscal tightening but with loose monetary policy. That is not the same thing that happened in the 1930s. The additional mistake made in the 1930s was to have trade wars, and hon. Members could hear from my statement just how hard this country is fighting to ensure that that does not happen.
As one of the many millions of disappointed football fans around our country today, may I thank the Prime Minister for raising the issue of goal-line technology? Does he agree that, when it comes to tackling the deficit, it is the Opposition who have taken their eyes off the ball?
That was an ingenious way of bringing goal-line technology into a statement on the G20, and I am amazed by your latitude, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] There was no point blaming the referee; as I said, we were not robbed, we were beaten. However, to Chancellor Merkel’s credit, every time Germany slotted another one past us, she apologised.
In the Prime Minister’s absence last week, he might have missed two surprising events. First, the shadow Chancellor made a speech that contained lots of criticism, but not one recommendation for reducing the deficit. Secondly, we saw a five-minute silent cameo from the former Prime Minister, although amazingly, for such a fiscal champion, it was during Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions.
The Prime Minister said in his statement that the G8 sent a collective signal that “we want the Afghan security forces to ‘assume increasing responsibility for security within five years’”—he did not say “full responsibility”. He said later on that he wanted to give an indication that we will be out of Afghanistan in five years. Does that mean that we will be out of Afghanistan regardless of the situation in that country in five years’ time—full stop?
The point is that for many years after our troops have left, we will have a strong relationship with Afghanistan that will involve diplomacy and aid, and perhaps even helping to continue to train Afghan forces. However, in answer to the question of whether we should be in Afghanistan by then in the way that we are now, with large-scale military deployment and all the rest of it, no we should not. We should by then have trained up the Afghan army and police force, and seen an improvement in governance, so that we can bring our troops back home.
I read on page 3 of the G20 communiqué that fiscal consolidation plans should be credible and clearly communicated. Did the Prime Minister get the chance to read any of the weekend papers that suggested that the majority of the British people support the Budget and agree with some of the spending plans, which shows that our message is definitely getting across to all but Labour Members?
My hon. Friend makes the important point, which the International Monetary Fund also makes, that if we carry out fiscal consolidation and demonstrate that we have a plan and are getting on with it, that can enhance confidence. Confidence is the key to growth. If we are going to get people to spend and invest, they need to know that the Government have a plan for getting us out of the mess that we inherited, so that is key to getting our economy moving.
When the Prime Minister was discussing the banking levy at the G20, did he explain to his colleagues why he was so lenient on the banks? Instead of taking the axe to public services, he should be asking the banks to contribute more to address the mess that they created, instead of letting them off the hook.
I know that the hon. Gentleman missed the previous Parliament, but he could have read about some of the things that took place. During that Parliament, we argued for the introduction of a banking levy even if others did not follow suit. The position of the Labour party, although I am sure that it is changing by the minute, was that, under the great disappeared—the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)—we had to wait for full agreement from every single country in the world. That was not our policy. We have introduced a banking levy, and quite rightly too.
May I urge caution on my right hon. Friend when it comes to Turkey’s membership of the European Union? Unless we have already left the EU by that stage—I can but hope—Turkey’s membership could lead only to the British taxpayer being asked to put his hand further in his pocket and further strain on immigration into this country.
As the hon. Gentleman says, there is not quite complete agreement on this issue, but as I would say to the French President or German Chancellor, even if people do not agree with me that Turkey should be a member of the EU, we should be straining every sinew to think of ways of encouraging Turkey to play a full role in the affairs of our continent. It is a member of NATO, and we have a strong bilateral relationship and a trading relationship with the country. Turkey wants those relationships with us, and we should do everything that we can to enhance them.
Has not the Prime Minister been a little selective in his quotes from the IMF? Did it not say clearly that there is a lack of co-ordination at the G20, that there are premature consolidations, particularly in Europe, and that if there were greater co-ordination between the G20 and other economies it would add 2.5% to world growth and create 8 million jobs?
The hon. Gentleman is right in one regard: the upside scenario posed by the IMF adds to growth and to jobs, but that scenario includes fiscal consolidation by countries such as Britain. I do not want to bore him with quotes from the IMF, but it said:
“Fiscal deficits and debt in some advanced economies reach unacceptably high levels… Sound fiscal finances are essential to sustain recovery”.
A key point from the declaration says that those countries
“with serious fiscal challenges need to accelerate the pace of consolidation.”
That is what the IMF is saying about us. Yes, there needs to be action across the board, including by emerging markets and developing countries which have very high surpluses, not just fiscal surpluses but trade surpluses. In a way, that is what the G20 was about—trying to get people to put into the process what they need to put in. From us, that is fiscal consolidation; from the Chinese, it is dealing with their surpluses. Not everyone acted as much as we did—Germany included.