House of Commons
Tuesday 13 July 2010
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Economic Growth (North-West)
I am delighted to have the opportunity to answer these questions on behalf of the Chancellor, who is at the ECOFIN meeting today.
In order to support private sector enterprise throughout the UK and ensure that all parts of the country, including the north-west, benefit from sustainable economic growth, the Government announced a number of measures in the Budget, such as using the national insurance system to encourage the creation of new businesses and establishing a £1 billion regional growth fund. Later in the summer we will publish a White Paper on a new approach to sub-national growth, including local enterprise partnerships, local incentives and more powers for major cities.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that detailed answer. My question relates to the abolition of the Northwest Regional Development Agency. Does he agree with the comments of Councillor Peter Gibson, leader of the excellent Wyre borough council in my constituency, who said last week that its abolition will give us the potential to relieve the bureaucracy on the backs of local authorities and businesses and the potential for a fairer distribution of resources throughout Lancashire?
I am very grateful for that question. It is precisely because of such concerns that we have chosen to establish local economic partnerships. The Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Business, Innovation and Skills jointly wrote to local authorities inviting submissions for the establishment of those new bodies, which will be partnerships between local authorities and local businesses. That is the right way to promote economic growth in localities.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Picking up on what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) said about the Northwest Regional Development Agency, is my right hon. Friend aware that the North of England Inward Investment Agency, which is sponsored by the Northwest RDA and One NorthEast, currently maintains five offices in north America? In light of the record budget deficit, can he assure the House that he will look carefully into overseas offices and whether they deliver value for money?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and there is an awful lot of waste in the regional development agency system more generally. Of course, it will be for the local economic partnerships to look at such issues and work out whether they wish to come together to promote their region in a wider way, but his point serves to reinforce the argument for the structural change that we are making.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Northwest Regional Development Agency has been a bureaucratic burden on the economy of the north-west since it was started. It has also followed capricious policies that have not directed investment where it would create most jobs. How will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that money is invested in those places where it will create most jobs?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments in support, I think, of the policy that we are pursuing. The local enterprise partnerships will be able to choose for themselves and direct where they think investment is needed in their localities. One major tool that they will have at their disposal is the ability, as a public-private partnership, to apply to the regional growth fund for investment in their areas. Obviously, that will be allocated in ways to be announced, but I hope that it will provide a tool for those new bodies to do precisely the sorts of things that the hon. Gentleman set out.
Businesses in the north-west will have seen the National Institute of Economic and Social Research arguing that growth will now be lower as a result of the Budget; they will have seen two reports of business confidence in their region and throughout the UK tumbling as a result of the Budget; and, just last week, they will have seen the International Monetary Fund’s devastating downgrading of its forecast for UK growth. Are not people in the north-west listening to the Chief Secretary trying to sell the Budget as a Budget for growth entitled to feel that, actually, they are being sold the emperor’s new clothes?
People in the north-west and elsewhere will have seen the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast, which predicts that during the course of our Budget over the next four years we will see rising economic growth, falling unemployment and rising employment. They will have seen also the OECD’s forecast and review of the UK, which was published today and includes the title, “A Strategy To Instill Confidence and Boost Growth”. That is precisely what our Budget is.
Value Added Tax (Wales)
A full impact assessment was published on Budget day. Although it focused on the compliance costs for all businesses, it had an emphasis on retailers, as it acknowledged that they were expected to incur higher compliance costs. However, having experienced two VAT changes in the previous two years, retailers should now be familiar with the necessary system and process changes.
I am sorry but that was a really complacent answer. Much of the retail sector in my constituency is very dependent on the business that comes in through the door from pensioners. There are 13,000 of them in the Rhondda, a growing number, and they are the people who will be very heavily hit by the VAT increase, because they will have less discretionary income to spend on gifts and the things that make life worth living. Will the hon. Gentleman look specifically at how the retail sector in more distant areas—outside the main city centres—can be supported?
The fact is that we had to raise VAT because there was no money left. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is proposing that we should have cut spending by even more, but I do not think that that would have a lot of support on his Benches or on ours. After all, our predecessors looked very closely at raising VAT and would have done so had the previous Prime Minister not vetoed it.
What would the people of Wales make of the fact that the previous Government were going to raise VAT to 19%? Would they not surely conclude that this was going to happen under any Government elected in May 2010 because of the mess made by the last one?
When the Chancellor rose to give us his Budget a few weeks ago, he promised that he would give it to us straight. He somehow forgot to tell us that Britain’s pensioners may face an £8 billion VAT bill over the course of this Parliament. Given that neither Government party has a mandate for introducing VAT increases, does the Minister agree that, at the very least, this House deserves a report on the impact of VAT on pensioners before the increase comes into effect?
We have provided more detail of the distributional impact of this VAT rise than the previous Government ever did or would have done had they increased VAT last December. The fact is that this Chancellor—like this Treasury team—has the courage of his convictions to do the right thing, unlike his predecessors, who neither pursued the policies they believed in nor had a leader they believed in.
UK National Debt
The UK faces one of the largest fiscal challenges of any advanced economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, between 2007 and 2015 the UK is forecast to experience the most rapid increase in net debt of any G7 economy, with the exception of Japan. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s pre-Budget forecast shows that without further action to tackle the deficit, debt would still be rising in 2014-15. As result of the actions set out by the Government in the June Budget, the OBR projects that debt will have declined to 69.4% of gross domestic product in 2014-15— 5% of GDP lower than under the plans the Government inherited.
That was a lot of words, but the Chief Secretary did not answer the question. Why does the United States have a much higher debt than we have, and why do Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Japan all have, as a percentage of GDP, higher debt than we have? Is it true that the extent of the cuts is driven not by economics but by ideology?
No, that is not true. The plain fact is that, as I said earlier, we have the fastest growing debt and the largest deficit in the European Union apart from Ireland. In the Budget we have taken action to ensure that we prevent the key risk facing growth in this country, which is a failure to take action and a failure to restore confidence in the economy, potentially causing us the sort of problems that we have seen in other European countries. That is the problem that we need to avoid.
Of course that matters, but what matters more than anything is the risks that this economy would have faced if we had stuck with the plans of the previous Government, which would have risked higher interest rates, lower growth and fewer jobs, and there would have been very big risks in the future.
I am glad that the Chief Secretary at least accepts the proposition put by the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell).
We all agree that to get debt down, growth is essential. However, has the Chief Secretary noticed this morning’s remarks by Geoffrey Dicks, a member of the Office for Budget Responsibility, who said that his office had cut its forecasts for growth by 0.5% as a result of the Budget announcements two weeks ago, and went on to say that logically, as he put it, that increased the chances of our economy slipping back into recession?
He also made it clear that he did not think that that risk was a likely one. In the Budget—this is the important central judgment that the House needs to understand—we have faced up to the fact that if we had carried on with the plans of the previous Government, the big risk facing the economy would have been higher interest rates, fewer jobs, and a reduction in growth, and we would have faced the big risk that we have seen in other countries, which we need to ensure does not happen in this country. Our Budget has ensured that that risk is avoided; the previous Government would not have done that.
Given that the IMF report said that we would have had the highest public borrowing in the G20 this year and the worst structural deficit in the OECD, has the Chief Secretary, the Chancellor or any Treasury Minister yet received a formal apology from the Labour party for the appalling state of the economy?
Sadly, there has been no formal apology. Labour Members are free to offer one during this questions session should they wish to. In fact, with the revised Office for National Statistics forecasts of the last couple of days, we have seen the predicted reduction in the size of the economy go from 6.2% to 6.4%. Even after they have left office, their recession is still getting worse.
Is the UK on the brink of a debt downgrade because the rating agencies have noted that the Government propose to cut capital allowances and therefore stifle investment, or because the agencies do not share the Government’s optimism about Europe’s capacity to buy UK goods in the future?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that given that we are currently spending more on interest on our accumulated debt than we are on schools, police officers and other important measures, we must take difficult decisions now to release more money to spend on vital public services later in this Parliament?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who sets out the case strongly. From what I read, I believe that that position was understood by the previous Government. I read the former Chancellor’s interview in The Guardian, in which he said:
“There were bits of medicine we could have administered last year that would have made things easier. Had we gone further in saying to people round the cabinet table we are not going to do this”—
Capital Gains Tax
The change in the rate of capital gains tax is not expected to have a material impact on the number of business start-ups. The lifetime limit on gains qualifying for the entrepreneurs relief—the 10% CGT rate—was increased from £2 million to £5 million in the Budget. That will benefit entrepreneurs and small business owners.
I thank the Financial Secretary for his response, but does he share my concern that the change in capital gains tax will mean a reduction in businesses in the private housing rental sector, and with it, as predicted by Rightmove, a growth in rents and a shrinkage in the number of houses for rent? If so, what is he going to do about it?
I have not been promoted, Mr Speaker.
The changes to capital gains tax that we have introduced will ensure that the right tax regime is in place and that it is fair and responsible. The hon. Gentleman ought to remember, of course, that the capital gains tax rate for second homes prior to the Budget was 24%. It has now gone up to 28% for those paying higher rate taxes, but those on basic rate taxes will be paying only 18%.
The Government have received representations on a range of proposals to increase economic growth. Indeed, the Budget is about growth. It is about underpinning private sector confidence and creating the space for business to grow, redressing the balance between the public and private sector. Crucial to promoting growth is cleaning up the public finances and the mess that the previous Government left. That is why the OECD document published today described the Budget as “courageous” and “appropriate”.
Given the difficulties with time lags, for example between decision making and outcomes, how will the Chief Secretary monitor the overall impact of the stimulus given to growth in the private sector and the necessary cuts in Government expenditure, to ensure that we have a sustainable recovery and not a double-dip recession?
The measures in the Budget are set out precisely to ensure a sustainable recovery through a number of measures, particularly in the tax sphere and, following the earlier questions on regional growth, to stimulate business. Of course, it is now for the independent Office for Budget Responsibility to produce independent forecasts of growth, and it will do so at the time of future fiscal events.
The Budget VAT rise in January will affect economic growth on the islands of Scotland. Surely we need a rural fuel derogation in place before the rise. After all, the rural fuel derogation was in the coalition document, but the VAT rise was not.
The hon. Gentleman is right, of course, that the rural fuel derogation is in the coalition agreement. The Chancellor restated our commitment to investigating the matter in the Budget statement, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be coming forward with an announcement in due course.
Businesses in rural areas will have the opportunity to benefit from the regional growth fund that we are establishing and which will help to support business growth in the regions of the country, particular those areas where dependence on public sector employment is greatest. Also, new businesses in rural areas will benefit from the cut we have announced in national insurance for new employees in new businesses.
Is the Chief Secretary aware that, as part of the growth drive, the Treasury has set up a spending challenge website asking for ideas and assistance for the future, and that it is currently featuring issues such as sterilising the poor; reopening the workhouses; asking single parents who cannot finance their children to terminate the pregnancy; benefit claimants to work in sweatshops; and immigrants to be moved out of cities? Is he happy that such racist and offensive drivel is being hosted by one of his websites, and will he give the House an undertaking that the site will be moderated and that this stuff will be removed immediately?
I am grateful for that, Mr Speaker.
Of course, I would not wish to promote such ideas, but I am surprised that the hon. Lady pours scorn on the consultation process we are undertaking. She will know that we have also set up such a process for public sector workers. We have had more than 66,000 ideas from people who work in the public sector and who are suggesting savings that they believe can be made in their own services. That is a valuable part of the spending review process. However, we have not had a single idea from the Labour party on how we can make the savings, let alone the apology warranted for the terrible mess it left the economy in.
National Insurance Contributions
The holiday on national insurance contributions will support enterprise and private sector job creation. Representations from employers have been supportive of reducing taxes on jobs, and 400,000 new businesses are expected to benefit from the holiday on employer national insurance contributions, including about 70,000 in the north-west.
It is clear that this important Budget proposal will help to generate much-needed jobs for small businesses. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a much better way of supporting job creation in places such as Macclesfield and the north-west, and in other regions, than relying on the public sector, as the Labour party did?
How many businesses—perhaps the Minister could name them given that there are so few—will do better because of the national insurance cut and will not suffer because of the VAT increase and the cutback in demand, which will be disastrous for businesses in the north-west?
The fact is that businesses would much rather we focus on dealing with the jobs tax, which our predecessors brought in. We recognise that we have to reduce the deficit and that tax has to play a role in that, but what we can do to create jobs in the private sector is reduce the burden from national insurance contributions. This particular policy, directed at areas where the public sector is largest and where we need a stronger private sector, has to be the way forward.
In the Budget, the Government announced a £1,000 increase in personal allowances for under-65s. We estimate that 23 million basic rate taxpayers will gain by up to £170 per year from this measure, and that 880,000 will be taken out of tax altogether. This is the first step towards our long-term objective to raise the personal allowance to £10,000.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that informative answer. Can he give a more precise timetable for when the £10,000 threshold will be released? Will it be before the end of this Parliament? In other words, can it be even earlier than the five years that would otherwise be required?
I cannot give a precise timetable, but as I said, that is our long-term objective. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a long and distinguished record in campaigning for that policy. I am sure that he will be pleased with the steps that we have taken so far, and I hope that others will follow.
When Ministers are thinking about the future planning for local income tax, do they not understand the concern on the Opposition Benches and in the country that this afternoon the chief lobbyist for the banking industry has been introduced as a Member of the other place, meaning that the interests of the banking industry will come before those of low-income families?
I am not quite sure that I necessarily follow what the hon. Gentleman has said, but what I would say is that we announced the introduction of a bank levy in the Budget and we have taken a lot of poorer households out of income tax. That shows the Government’s values.
The Government estimate that prior to the emergency Budget, upwards of £1 billion of income tax revenues was forgone through income being turned into capital gains.
I thank the Minister for that reply, which shows that when the previous Labour Government reduced capital gains tax, they created an enormous loophole for tax avoidance for the wealthiest in our society. Does he have any further plans to clamp down on tax avoidance, to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share?
There are measures contained in the Finance Bill, which we are currently debating, that will reduce tax avoidance. We take the issue seriously, but the hon. Lady puts her finger on one of the problems. There were a number of structural difficulties in the tax system as it was left to us, one of which was the wide disparity between income tax rates and capital gains tax rates, and we have been able to do something about that.
In introducing the Budget, the Chancellor justified the move to a 28% rate in the following terms:
“I asked the Treasury to examine what would have happened if we had increased the rate much further beyond 28%, and its dynamic analysis showed that that would have resulted in smaller total revenues.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 178.]
Can the hon. Gentleman justify that?
Yes, and had the hon. Gentleman been in the Chamber at about quarter past 10 last night, he would have heard me doing so at some length. The fact is that for every 1% by which the gap between income tax and capital gains tax is reduced, we get an extra £60 million from income tax. However, there is also a countervailing pressure, which is that fewer transactions are entered into. The analysis based on studies done in America and elsewhere shows that 28% is about the level at which we maximise revenue.
9. What assessment he has made of the effect on low-income families of the implementation of the proposals in the June 2010 Budget. (7700)
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Budget was really about achieving two things: reducing the fiscal deficit and protecting the most vulnerable in our society. I am sure that he will welcome the fact that, as we heard earlier, we have reduced the personal allowance on income tax, which means that nearly 900,000 people have been relieved from paying income tax altogether. That has also benefited 23 million people working in Britain who will benefit by up to £170 a year. Additionally, he will recognise that we have taken steps to increase the child tax credit by £150 next year and £60 the following year, which will benefit some 7,200 households in his constituency. As a result of that, levels of child poverty after the Budget will remain unaffected.
Let us get back to reality. In view of the increase in VAT, the slashing of benefits and the changes proposed for the disability living allowance, does the Chancellor have any proposals that will mean that the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are not treated disproportionately?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of poverty, but to pick him up on disability living allowance, just 5% of those on DLA have been receiving it for less than five years. We should be trying to tackle the root causes of poverty, rather than putting people in a poverty trap. I am sure that he would welcome, as I do, the fact that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) will be leading a review into poverty, to ensure that we can do just that: tackle the root causes of poverty, rather than persist with just the symptoms.
Will my hon. Friend comment on what she believes the effect on low-income families would be if we failed to deal with the £23,000 per person debt that we were left with by the former Government?
I think that most people on the minimum wage would be shocked to hear that the amount of income tax that they pay every year is less than what the average taxpayer pays in debt interest. The best thing that we can do to help not just people on lower incomes, but all people, whether in or out of work, is to get our economy back on track. That means tackling the fiscal deficit, starting to bear down on waste in public services and also reforming public services, so that the money that we spend—money that taxpayers have provided to Government to provide public services—is spent effectively on delivering high-quality public services that they can use.
The choices that this Government have made on VAT increases, on cuts in child tax credit, on reducing maternity grant and on other public service cuts will hit the poorest people in the community the hardest. Will the Minister now publish in full the distribution analysis for the Budget, so that we can see the impact that it will have on the poorest in society, and see the difference that a Labour Government have made in comparison with this Conservative Government?
The right hon. Gentleman clearly has not read the Red Book. I think that pages 66 and 67 show the distribution analysis in cash terms and as a percentage of income. We do not need to take any lectures from members of a Government who widened the gap between rich and poor.
Economic Growth (North-east)
To support private sector enterprise throughout the UK and to ensure that all parts of the country benefit from sustainable economic growth, the Government will use the national insurance system to reduce the cost to new businesses of employing staff in all parts of the UK outside London, the south-east and the east of England. We will establish a £1 billion regional growth fund to support strategic growth and focus investment in the English regions. We will also publish a White Paper later in the summer on a new approach to sub-national growth, including local enterprise partnerships.
I welcome the interest shown in Teesside as a location for the green investment bank. Throughout the north-east, on Teesside, Wearside and Tyneside, we are seeing significant investment in green technology, which is a key way of rebalancing the economy and creating more private sector jobs in the north-east.
Economic Growth (South-west)
As I stated in response to the previous question, there are a number of initiatives in the Budget to support economic growth in the regions. We estimate that up to 54,000 businesses in the south-west will benefit from the national insurance contributions exemption for new businesses, and our plans for NIC more broadly will save businesses in the south-west about £260 million.
My constituents will be very glad to hear that, because times have been tough in North Wiltshire in recent years, particularly as a result of a contraction in food production and defence. What does my hon. Friend intend to do in regard to the excellent report produced by my constituent, Sir James Dyson, on innovation and technology, which seems to point the way forward for this new Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Sir James Dyson made an important contribution to the debate on increasing the high-tech sector, and the Government are looking at the implementation of his findings. In the Budget, we announced a review of the taxation of intellectual property, including research and development, and we are committed to ensuring that the UK again becomes a centre for high-tech manufacturing.
Five thousand small and medium-sized companies in Gloucestershire will welcome the Minister’s comments on progress for economic growth in the south-west, but will he tell us what specific plans the Government have to deal with the red tape and bureaucracy, which many of those businesses feel is an impediment to growth?
My hon. Friend is right to point out the barriers to investment that red tape can create. That is why we have set out a series of specific measures in the Budget to reduce the burden of red tape. We believe that that will help up to 500,000 businesses in the south-west.
Budget Implications (Employment)
The OBR has published its assessment of economic prospects, taking into account the measures in the Budget. It forecasts that employment will rise, reaching 30.1 million in 2015. Reducing the deficit will mitigate the risks to the recovery, create the conditions needed for growth and enable mortgage rates to be kept lower for longer. The Government are committed to supporting private sector job creation, cutting corporation tax and raising the employers’ national insurance threshold to support the economy.
I thank the Minister for his response, but as the local futures group says, Chesterfield will lose 1,374 public sector jobs—almost 3% of our entire employment base—by 2016. Given that manufacturing allowances are to be cut, which will make it more difficult for us to grow our way out of the economic difficulties, and given the VAT rise, which will make it difficult for the retail sector, is not the reality that, far from this Tory Budget being courageous, the ideology behind it is going to hit people with their jobs?
The hon. Gentleman forgets the measures in the Budget that will increase employment opportunities —the cut in national insurance contributions, the tax break for new businesses, which will benefit businesses in his constituency, and the reduction in red tape. All those measures are geared towards improving the prospects of private sector growth in our economy. We need the economy to be led by the private sector.
Given that sustainable employment can be supported only by dealing with the deficit, was the Minister grateful for the support of the shadow Chancellor, who said at lunchtime on the subject of raising VAT:
“I don’t have a philosophical problem with that”?
It is interesting to hear about views expressed after the election, which were kept silent before the election. We took the difficult decision in this Budget to lay the foundations for growth in the future and make sure that we pay the bills of the past. Sadly, that included the increase in VAT.
By tackling budget deficits, we will be in a better position to keep interest rates lower. Serious concerns were expressed before the Budget about the ability of the previous Government to tackle the deficit. The tough action we have taken has been welcomed across the world and by rating agencies. It lays the right foundation for future growth. This Government are prepared to take the difficult decisions that the hon. Gentleman’s Government ducked before the election.
Mental Health Services
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I know that she takes a great interest in these issues. We want to offer long-term solutions to people with mental health problems and provide psychological therapies to do that. Our coalition programme set out our intention to ensure greater access to talking therapies. That is why, on 23 June, the Secretary of State for Health pledged £70 million to continue the roll-out of psychological therapies across the NHS this year.
Given the dire financial situation the last Government have left us in, and the very real impact it will have on each and every one of our lives, will the Minister go further to explain the £70 million that he plans to spend on psychological therapies in the current financial year? That is particularly important when one in four of us will in the course of our lifetimes suffer from problems in our mental well-being—including finance-related stress, reminding us of our inheritance from the previous Government.
The hon. Lady is quite right to spell out the importance of tackling mental health problems, which, as she says, many people experience during the course of their lives, so it should be taken very seriously. That is why we have continued to roll out funding for the expansion of talking therapies, which in many cases are the most effective. I also note that, unlike the Labour party, we have pledged to increase health spending in real terms during every year of this Parliament to enable these sorts of problems to continue to be tackled—even in very tight financial circumstances.
Investment in mental health through the NHS is very important. Equally, however, people with mental health problems are affected by many other issues, including the caps on housing benefit proposed in the Budget. Has the right hon. Gentleman had any discussions across Government about the impact of Treasury decisions—not just giving money away, but cutting funding—on people with mental health problems?
Supporting people with mental health problems through protecting the NHS budget is the best way to achieve the outcome that the hon. Lady suggests. There is also the Work programme, which is being developed by the Department for Work and Pensions to bring together and replace many of the employment initiatives of the previous Government, some of which were highly ineffective. Conditioned management of mental health problems will be part of that programme, which will help people with mental health problems back into work, which is, after all, the best route out of poverty.
Export Growth Forecast
The export growth forecast produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility did not break it down by sector. However, we know that in 2009 manufacturing accounted for just over half of our exports, so there is a big opportunity here. We currently export more to Ireland than to Brazil, India, China and Russia combined. That is why the Prime Minister met the Indian Commerce Minister earlier this month to talk about economic opportunities for us over there. Later this month, he will lead a taskforce of UK business men to India to investigate export opportunities.
I am afraid that the Minister has not seen this morning’s report from Cambridge Econometrics, which examines the effect of the Budget on manufacturing, and predicts a decline in manufacturing share and an expansion in the financial sector to its highest share ever. Is that what the Minister means by rebalancing the economy?
Many people would consider that a bit rich coming from a member of the last Government, given that manufacturing declined at a steeper rate under them than under the previous Conservative Government. We aim to support manufacturing and, indeed, companies throughout our country through a robust and ambitious corporation tax package, through progress on national insurance, and through largely getting rid of the jobs tax that the last Government would have introduced. What we would like to hear from the Opposition is more constructive discussion about how to improve our exports.
One of the reasons why we set up the Office for Budget Responsibility was to ensure far more independent and transparent forecasting in relation to not just exports but all economic indicators. I am sure that over time the OBR will continue to develop that forecasting to make it even more effective. Let us make no mistake: setting up the OBR was a huge step forward in terms not just of transparency, but of robust data on which the public can really rely.
Will not our exporters be hurt by the slashing of the capital allowances that went to our manufacturing industries? Is it not a hallmark of the Government’s priorities that they would rather give £400 million cashback to the banks by cutting their corporation tax than support our small and medium-sized enterprises in their export activities?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has talked to industry about its reaction to the Budget. I think that if he talked to the Institute of Directors, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses he would find that they welcome it, because they know it will help them to grow their businesses and grow employment. I only wish that the hon. Gentleman could recognise that and welcome it too.
Non-Departmental Public Bodies
When I looked into whether the Treasury had any non-departmental public bodies, I found that we had just one, the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, which comes up to London three times a year to advise the Chancellor on coin designs. I then tried to find out how much it cost the taxpayer. The answer is nothing, because its charges have been taken over by the Royal Mint, which is an arm’s length Government company. I hope that that answers my hon. Friend’s question.
Economic Growth (South-East)
We will continue to ensure that we can support economic growth through the United Kingdom, including the south-east. As was made clear earlier, we have an ambitious package that contains a road map for reducing corporation tax year on year. I should point out that had the last Government remained in power, they would have left corporation tax as it is. Indeed, corporation tax for small companies would have risen at the very time we should be allowing companies to retain more of their profits to invest in their businesses.
As my hon. Friend will know, there is a regional growth fund that will help regions throughout our country to grow. We are also complementing the national measures that we are taking by seeking to ensure that local authorities working across various local partnerships can stimulate their own economies.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Is she aware that certain areas of the south-east have very high levels of public sector employment? I am thinking in particular of the town of Hastings in my constituency, where we have 43% public sector employment. What steps can be taken to help such areas of the south-east to benefit from the national insurance advantage proposed in the Budget?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. If we are to get our economy back on track, particularly in areas such as that which she represents where there has been a growing imbalance and instability—and unsustainability as well—in the local economy, we must have a package of measures in place that can stimulate the private sector. I have set out some of those in terms of corporation tax, and my hon. Friend is right that the regional growth fund is another key investment fund that hopefully can help her area.
The core purpose of the Treasury is to ensure the stability of the economy, promote growth and employment, reform the banking system and manage the public finances so that Britain lives within her means.
The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of charities; in fact it is an issue in which we have taken a great interest coming into government. I hope she will welcome the fact that we are continuing with the gift aid forum, which brings together a range of people interested in charities and charity tax to look at how we can stimulate gift aid and make it more effective over the coming years. The hon. Lady is also right about the impact of VAT on charities, but we have to sort out the economic mess the last Government left us, and the best way to sustain the funding of charities is to make sure people have jobs and money in their pockets that they feel they can donate.
T2. Does the recent experience of changes in VAT rates support the assumption of both the Treasury and the Institute for Fiscal Studies that there will be full pass-through of the proposed increase in VAT, or might we reasonably hope that large retailers will shoulder some of the burden? (7718)
The assessment set out in the Red Book is that it is likely that two thirds will be passed on immediately and most of the rest will be passed on over the course of the next 12 months. In some cases retailers may bear some of the increase themselves, and we will obviously be studying the matter very closely.
Does the Chief Secretary, in the Chancellor’s absence, agree that the independence and credibility of the OBR are absolutely paramount? Sir Alan Budd said to the Treasury Committee this morning that the numbers he released two weeks ago
“were not an appropriate basis for attempting to estimate the effects of the June Budget on general government employment”,
and the Prime Minister was quite wrong to claim that they were. Would it not be better for the OBR to be more accountable to this House, with its appointments being subject to confirmation hearings by the Treasury Committee, and for its deliberations to be completely open and transparent? What we have at the moment is a good idea strangled at birth by the way in which this Government have been treating it.
The independence of the OBR is not in question. That was made clear by Alan Budd in his evidence to the Treasury Committee today. This is a good idea that was brought forward by this Government, and it will be established in legislation. I do not think it was even part of the former Chancellor’s secret plans before the election, alongside a rise in VAT, a cut in corporation tax and a cut in income tax. Those are measures he should be supporting in this Budget, because he came up with them in the first place.
T4. When the Exchequer Secretary answered the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) earlier on capital gains tax, he quite properly justified the increase in CGT on the basis of a dynamic model of both income tax and CGT. Will he publish that model and its supporting evidence? (7720)
T3. The Chief Secretary justifies massive cuts to the public sector through fears of a sovereign debt crisis as the credit rating agencies downgrade our debt, but those same agencies were giving triple A ratings to junk financial instruments right up to the crash. Can he explain whether credit rating agencies, discredited as they are, or Tory ideology is driving these cuts? (7719)
The measures we have taken in the Budget are necessary to tackle the mess that the previous Government left. The degree of denial that the Opposition are in about the mess they created, the huge debt they built up and the fact that this country has the largest deficit in the European Union outside Ireland never fail to surprise me, although they probably should not surprise me. The measures we are taking are necessary to clean up that mess and to establish jobs and growth in the future.
T5. I am sure that Ministers can understand the disappointment of my constituents when Cadbury’s new owners stated their intention to move mass production abroad from the Summerdale plant near my constituency. In the light of this and of the dramatic decline in manufacturing employment over the past 13 years—down from 4.7 million jobs in 1997 to 2.6 million jobs now—what steps are they taking to support manufacturers in this country? (7721)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the fact that we live in a globalised world and that businesses can choose where they locate their activity. That is why we are introducing substantial cuts in corporation tax, from 28% to 24%. I was delighted to read this morning that the previous Chancellor was an enthusiast for reducing corporation tax—although we did not see so much evidence of that when he was in power. The fact is that the Budget proposals will benefit all sectors of society, including manufacturing, and we will see £13 billion more investment over the next few years as a consequence of those measures.
Of course we have invited groups involving local authorities and local businesses to submit proposals for the establishment of local enterprise partnerships in the hon. Gentleman’s area and across the country to replace the regional development agencies. Local businesses will be very involved in those and will help to lead them. To judge from the earlier exchange involving other Members from the north-west, it seems there has been a positive welcome for those steps.
Mums in my constituency who work part time in the public sector and earn, say, £11,000 or £12,000 a year are telling me that their pay is to be frozen, so far from low-paid workers being protected, as was promised, it seems they are going to be hit the hardest, because that pay freeze is pro rata. Can the Chief Secretary confirm that and tell me how many low-paid part-time public servants will be affected?
That pay rise will be pro rata, but people will benefit from the changes to tax credits, for example, and the significant increase in the child tax credit for those with children. That will help to ensure that many of the people with children in the hon. Lady’s constituency whom she is describing will not be driven into poverty, as they were in many instances were under the previous Government.
T7. I and I am sure many other Members have received many representations from Equitable Life policyholders who felt very shabbily treated by the last Government. Can the Minister give me some assurance that under the new coalition Government, they will treated a little more equitably? (7723)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. A large number of Equitable Life policyholders are very angry about how they were treated by the previous Government. We have committed to setting up an independent, fair and transparent payments scheme, further information on which will be presented to the House later this month.
The Economic Secretary, the Chief Secretary’s Front-Bench colleague, referred to the establishment of the Office for Budget Responsibility as a welcome step forward for transparency. In the interests of transparency, could the Chief Secretary tell me precisely when he saw the revised unemployment figures produced by the OBR?
The revised unemployment figures were published by the OBR on the Wednesday morning. The figures were circulated in the normal way, as happens with the Office for National Statistics, the day before in the Treasury. That is when I saw the documentation that was published. The requirements for confidentiality that apply to ONS figures also apply to OBR figures.
T8. The Chancellor took the difficult decision to increase VAT to deal with the dire economic legacy of the previous Labour Government. Will the Minister commit to reviewing the increase in VAT once this coalition Government have dealt with the deficit and got the economy back on its feet? (7724)
I can tell my hon. Friend that he is right; this decision was necessary and unavoidable. The intention is to get the public finances under control over the course of this Parliament. We will debate what we do at the end of that process nearer the time, when we will work out what we will do with the proceeds of growth.
In a speech last night to the bankers, the Financial Secretary referred to the Government’s proposals on a financial activities tax. Is it the Government’s intention that that sort of proposed legislation is just in reserve in case the bankers are too generous with themselves with bonuses, or are the Government determined to introduce such a tax? Why not go further, with a full financial transactions tax?
The Government are committed to tackling unacceptable bonuses in the financial sector, and we have put forward a series of proposals on that. We have talked about increasing the disclosure of remuneration, we have asked the Financial Services Authority to examine ways in which the link between risk and remuneration can be investigated, and we are taking forward work on the financial activities tax. Also, we have today published a consultation on a bank levy, which will raise an extra £2.5 billion in revenue from the banks.
T10. Average wages in my constituency are below the national average, so the rise in the income tax threshold announced in the Budget was most welcome. Can the Minister please give an assurance that he will maintain a focus on increasing the personal tax threshold, as the prospect of being taken out of tax altogether is far more appealing than the prospect that the previous Government offered, which was the non-stop filling in of forms to claim back just a fraction of the money that people had already earned? (7726)
Can the Chief Secretary tell the House whether he thinks it is completely ethical for the definition of “unemployment” to be changed just before Prime Minister’s Question Time and for that be made public without telling the media that that was the case? Would he comment on the fact that the person who did this was seconded from a hedge fund and is therefore not independent? Will the Chief Secretary therefore confirm that that was the reason why this person had to resign and bring scorn—
The issue of business start-ups and supporting small companies has been mentioned this afternoon, but many of them are finding it very difficult to access bank financing. I was wondering how the Budget proposals will assist them, because growing the private sector is essential to improving our economy.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of banks being in a position to lend in order to encourage the recovery. That is why in the Budget we announced an extension of the enterprise finance guarantee scheme by a further £200 million to enable the banks to lend to small businesses. We will be publishing a paper later this month on business finance, which, again, will put forward ideas about how we can continue to sustain the recovery by ensuring that the banks are in a position to lend.
The consensus among international bodies is that growth will grow over the coming years based on the Government’s plans and that unemployment will fall. The hon. Lady might not yet have seen the OECD’s report on our economy today, which describes our Budget measures as “courageous and appropriate” and as “an essential starting point” for restoring growth and jobs in this economy. That is a position that the whole House should welcome and not criticise.
I am delighted that the shadow Chancellor believes in transparency in Government. Is my right hon. Friend minded to publish the position papers prepared by the Treasury in respect of the previous Government’s plans to increase VAT before the election?
It is striking that the one party that had a plan to increase VAT before the election—to 18% or even 19%, according to the account in one book serialised today—did not say so at the election. I am not sure that it would be appropriate for us to publish documents that were worked up for the previous Chancellor—I am not sure that that would be in line with the conventions—but the hon. Gentleman has made his point very effectively.
The thing I have got into my head is that the plans laid down by the previous Government for this programme, particularly in the Department for Education, were among the most irresponsible financial planning carried out by that Government in their entirety. When that Government were planning to cut capital spending in half and increase the spending on this programme, taking no account of the pressures in primary schools, for example, that was pure irresponsibility. My friend the Secretary of State for Education has made the right decision on this matter. I know that it is painful in many constituencies, but this is one of many things that the Opposition should be apologising for, not criticising.
Counter-terrorism and Security Powers
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the review of counter-terrorism and security powers.
As I have said to the House before, the first duty of Government is to protect the public, but that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties—and that is what the previous Government did on far too many occasions. This Government are different. We have already introduced legislation to get rid of identity cards once and for all; we have already declared our intention to bring forward a freedom Bill later this year; and just last week I announced interim restrictions on the use of stop-and-search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
Today, as promised in the coalition agreement, I am announcing an urgent review of counter-terrorism and security powers. The review will consider six key powers: control orders; section 44 stop-and-search powers and the use of terrorism legislation in relation to photography; the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 by local authorities and access to communications data more generally; extending the use of deportations with assurances in a manner that is consistent with our legal and human rights obligations; measures to deal with organisations that promote hatred or violence; and the detention of terrorist suspects before charge.
Those are the most controversial and sensitive powers. In particular, the issue of pre-charge detention has been the subject of considerable debate in the House, and tomorrow we will consider whether to renew the current detention limit for a further six months. That will provide us with sufficient time to look carefully at pre-charge detention in the review and to explore how we can reduce the period of detention below 28 days. The review will also help to inform us on what additional safeguards are needed in the proposed asset freezing Bill, which the Treasury will introduce shortly.
The Government’s work on the use of intercept as evidence in court and the modernisation of our interception capabilities will be done separately and will not form part of the review. The review will be conducted by the Home Office with the full involvement of the police, security and intelligence agencies and other Government Departments, including those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I want the review to be conducted as openly and transparently as possible. I have asked Liberty to contribute to the review, and it has said that it would be delighted to do so. I am keen to involve other civil liberty and community organisations and, as with other reviews, I would urge anyone with an interest to submit their views to the Home Office.
To ensure independent oversight of the review, I have asked the noble and learned Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, to make sure that the work is conducted properly, that all the relevant options have been considered and that the recommendations of the review are not only fair but seen to be fair. That role is distinct from the excellent work that is already being undertaken by the noble and learned Lord Carlile of Berriew in his statutory role as independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. The proposals made by Lord Carlile will be fully considered as part of the review and I know that he welcomes the additional independent perspective that Lord Macdonald will provide on these issues. Any legislative amendments that result from the review will of course be subject to review by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. I have ordered that the review should be completed as quickly as possible, because it is important that the police and the security and intelligence agencies are able to do their vital work with certainty and confidence. I will report back to Parliament on the outcome of the review after the summer recess.
Before I finish, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. In correcting the mistakes of the previous Government, we are doing just that. We are not criticising or castigating members of the police or of the security and intelligence services. They do their work with bravery, patriotism and a strong sense of duty, and I know the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to them. The review will enable this Government to put right the failures of the last Government and, in so doing, restore the ancient civil liberties that should be synonymous with the name of our country. I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving me early sight of her statement. It is important to recall that when the Terrorism Bill received its Third Reading in November 2005, it had all-party support, so both parties to the coalition Government supported the bulk of the legislation that will now be reviewed. Two things characterised that debate, which came a few months after the horror and carnage of 7/7. The first was the realisation that no change in Government policy would remove the UK from al-Qaeda’s firing line and that the only response to the threat was to contest and then defeat it. The second was the extraordinary lengths that were taken to proceed on the basis of consensus, not just with the then shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), and the Lib Dem spokesman Mark Oaten, but with the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
The threat that was faced then has not diminished. The Prime Minister put it succinctly in his statement of 6 July, when he said:
“As we meet in the relative safety of this House today, let us not forget this: as we speak, al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen are meeting in secret to plot attacks against us; terrorists are preparing to attack our forces in Afghanistan; the Real IRA is planning its next strike against security forces in Northern Ireland; and rogue regimes are still trying to acquire nuclear weapons.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 178.]
Can the Home Secretary confirm that the review is not being held to scale down the powers needed to address a diminishing threat, but is far from that? What is the latest estimate of the number of terror suspects actively engaged in complex plots and can she tell us how many such plots have been disrupted since 7/7?
The review must surely be held in the context of how those powers are working on the ground. In that context, will she provide information, if necessary on Privy Council terms, as Charles Clarke did in 2005, to allow Her Majesty’s Opposition to be fully conversant with the backdrop to this review? Will she ensure that the same spirit of consensus-seeking takes place in reviewing anti-terrorism legislation that characterised the approach to the Terrorism Act 2006?
The Home Secretary’s statement contained the immature and partisan attacks on the previous Government that are becoming rather tiresome and that are unworthy of a debate of this seriousness. Will she tell me in what way she considers the previous Government to have ridden roughshod over civil liberties on control orders, deportation with assurances, dealing with organisations that promote hatred or violence, or on the detention of terrorist suspects before charge?
On the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and in relation to some of the most widely spread myths about RIPA, is she aware that the interception of communications commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy, concluded his latest annual report by saying that
“no evidence has emerged from the inspections which have been conducted during the last three years to indicate communications data is being used to investigate offences of a trivial nature, such as dog fouling or littering”?
What are the terms of reference for the review? They are not in the statement. Is it to be held purely in the context of civil liberties, or will it have a wider remit? We believe that it should. Does the Home Secretary think the time scale long enough to do justice to the issues under review? Given the fact that the Olympics are fast approaching, will they be a factor in the deliberations?
Given our joint desire to overcome the practical difficulties that prevent the use of intercept as evidence in our courts, given that 28-day detention has to be reapproved by Parliament each year and given that control orders are subject to annual report by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, what further safeguards does the Home Secretary believe may be necessary? I would on this occasion appreciate some answers, given the importance of the subject.
I worry about the Government’s position on counter-terrorism. They admonish senior counter-terrorism police officers for daring to discuss in a closed meeting with colleagues the implication of a 25% cut in their funding. They refuse to give the police and the security services the same assurances on funding as they provide for the Department for International Development. They plan to diminish important weapons in the fight against crime and terrorism such as the DNA database and CCTV. The balance between collective security and individual freedom has to be carefully struck under the ever-changing and constantly evolving threat of international terrorism, but this review appears to be about one side of that balance.
Liberal Democrats should remember the words of John Stuart Mill, who said:
“All that makes existence valuable to anyone depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people.”
The Government should remember that the slow creep of complacency is a phrase often used to describe the erosion of civil liberties. It is equally applicable to our vulnerability to terrorist attack.
Of all the things that I have seen in the couple of months since I became Home Secretary, the thing that has most struck me and surprised me has been the complete unwillingness of the Labour party to recognise what much of the counter-terrorism legislation that it introduced, and on occasions the misuse of that legislation, have done to civil liberties in this country. It has surprised me because I hoped that, in opposition, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) and his colleagues would have taken the opportunity to sit back and look at their records in government and wonder why in the past few years so many people, including the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, have been raising questions about the counter-terrorism legislation that the previous Government introduced. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to use the time in opposition so far to undertake that exercise.
In the counter-terrorism review, we are looking at precisely the balance that the right hon. Gentleman talks about between collective security and individual freedom. We want to ensure that we strike the right balance between collective security and individual freedom and not the wrong balance that we believe the previous Government introduced in a number of areas.
The right hon. Gentleman asked for some statistics. I can tell him that 235 people were convicted of terrorism-related offences between 11 September 2001 and 31 December 2009, and a further 22 defendants were awaiting trial as at 31 December 2009. For the 28 terrorism-related trials completed in the 12 months to the end of last year, 93% were convicted, with just over half pleading guilty, and convictions included six life sentences. At the end of December 2009, 131 people were in prison for terrorism, extremist offences or charges relating to terrorism or extremism.
I am certainly not making light of the threat that exists in this country and, as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged, nor did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he came to the House to make his statement on detainees and the publication of guidance to our security services. We recognise the level of threat in the United Kingdom, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman and members of the Labour party that our fight against those threats is not aided by legislation that is misused or that people feel encroaches on civil liberties.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I could suggest legislation in which the Labour Government had ridden roughshod over civil liberties and then said they had not done so in relation to the detention of terror suspects before charging. I have to say to him that trying to introduce 90 days of pre-charge detention was indeed riding roughshod over our civil liberties. The review will look to ensure that our counter-terrorism legislation is appropriate to the level of threat and provides our police and our security and intelligence agencies with the powers that they need to combat that threat, while ensuring that we can enjoy our ancient civil liberties.
I welcome the review unreservedly and in particular the appointment of Lord Macdonald to assist with it. That is a very good sign indeed.
However, may I raise with my right hon. Friend two questions that arise from what she has just said? First, she listed the six items that will be reviewed and I hope that at some point someone will look in aggregate at the overall effect of an authoritarian approach to terrorism, which itself creates a response in terms of radicalisation. Secondly, on a more tactical basis, my right hon. Friend said that she wants the review to be open and transparent and that she wants to involve Liberty. At least one organisation has approached me to say that it has been unable to find out from the Home Office how it can make submissions to the review. Will she make sure that that is dealt with promptly?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments about the review. I will of course ensure that information is available from the Home Office as to how organisations and others can make comments as part of their submissions to the review.
I take the point that it is important to look at the collective impact of legislation. We will be looking at the six individual areas, but as part of that process we shall look at the overall impact of legislation. It is that balance that is so important for us to achieve—ensuring that the legislation is not brought into disrepute because of the overall impact or because it is felt that it encroaches on important liberties.
Every new Government are entitled to review legislation in the way that the Home Secretary has suggested, and the Select Committee looks forward to seeing her on Thursday morning when we shall have the opportunity to explore these issues with her. I am grateful to her for agreeing to see us at such short notice.
May I press the Home Secretary on resources? The threat is still severe. Mr Yates has made it very clear that as far as he is concerned there will be cuts of £150 million to the counter-terrorism budget, and I understand that Home Office officials saw his speech before he delivered it to the closed session of the Association of Chief Police Officers last Thursday. Can the right hon. Lady confirm that it is the Government’s intention to ensure that the counter-terrorism unit, and units all over the country, have the resources they need to fight terrorism and that there will be no cut to that budget?
I of course want to ensure that those involved in counter-terrorism, whether in the police or other agencies, are able to undertake the job we ask them to do and which they do diligently for us day in, day out. On spending cuts, however, no specific figure has been set. As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, a spending review is under way in which Departments are looking at their expenditure and it is right that the Home Office does as other Departments do. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman and others on the Opposition Benches that I did not want to be in the position of looking at spending cuts in the Home Office and other Departments. The reason why we have to do so is that, in the words of the last Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury, there is no money left. And whose fault is that? It is the Labour party’s.
I commend the Home Secretary for recognising that the very real threat to the safety of the people of this country is hindered, not helped, when people perceive that their civil liberties as well as their safety are threatened. Using terrorism powers to bundle people out of the Labour party conference, to stop people reading out names in Whitehall, or indeed to deal with the Icelandic banking crisis demonstrated how authoritarianism had taken over from rational assessment of what we need to defeat terrorism.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valid point. It is extremely useful, in the context of this statement and the questions and answers on it, to remind people of what happened at the Labour party conference, and what an abuse of terrorism legislation that was.
The Home Secretary’s statement refers to a review of powers to deal with organisations that promote hatred or violence. Does she recognise that legislation alone is never sufficient to tackle complex issues of this nature? Will she look very closely at the current Department for Communities and Local Government review of the Prevent programme, which is very much designed to make communities part of the solution, not part of the problem? This is a complex, sophisticated and difficult area to tackle, but unless she makes communities part of the solution, we will not make the progress that we need to make.
The right hon. Lady makes a valid point. There is a role for legislation, but of course there is a role for activity beyond legislation, and working with communities is an important part of that. The Home Office is indeed working with the Department for Communities and Local Government to assess the Prevent strategy, and to consider how that can best be focused on its proper aims. Part of it is the community-building that she has described, in addition to its counter-terrorism aspect.
At a meeting earlier today, the American anti-terrorist expert Dr Marc Sageman expressed his surprise that we do not use a method that is found to be very effective in the United States and other countries at deterring people from joining terrorist movements, which is to publish in full the transcripts of the trials that are held when plots are uncovered and disrupted. That would be a very effective mechanism, and it could also lead to television re-enactments which would show that far from these people being 10 feet tall and great warriors, they are often very banal, very stupid and very deserving of our contempt.
My hon. Friend has made an interesting point; it is not something that I had looked at. I am perfectly willing to look at it, if he would like to send me some information. He will have noticed that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary has been present and will have heard the point that he made.
Government’s first responsibility is the protection and safeguarding of the law-abiding community from acts and threats of terrorism. It is not enough to praise our security forces and services; they need to be allowed the tools and the freedom to do their job. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that no action will be taken that will compromise that responsibility, just to promote a political agenda or get something over the Opposition?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and recognise that, given the experience that he has, ensuring that the police and others have the proper powers to combat terrorism is extremely important. In responding to him, may I take the opportunity of paying tribute to the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, particularly last night and yesterday in Northern Ireland, given the difficulties and the troubles that arose in relation to a parade. I assure him that I fully recognise that the first duty of Government is to protect their citizens, and it is against that background that we will be conducting the review.
In recognition of the shadow Home Secretary’s last question, I do not believe that there is any complacency in countering terrorism from this Government. However, there might be a temptation to concentrate too much, or exclusively, on the threat from Islamist fundamentalism. Will the Home Secretary assure me that the grave dangers from Irish republicanism will also be dealt with and reviewed as part of the process?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He makes an important and valid point. I can assure him that we are well aware of the increased threat that arises from dissident republicanism. That is why resources have been looked at in dealing with it in Northern Ireland. We are very conscious that there are diverse terrorist threats to the UK—they are not all from one group or one type of person.
I welcome the review and was slightly surprised that we are still, apparently, going to renew the 28-day provision tomorrow. May I draw the Home Secretary’s attention to the fourth area she identified—looking into extending the use of deportations with assurances? Could she give me two assurances: first, that no one will be deported while the review is going on, and secondly, that there will be no consideration whatever of a continuing regime that allows people to be deported to countries that have not signed the relevant United Nations declarations, particularly the conventions on torture?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for focusing on that issue. He asked me to ensure that there were no deportations during the review—a rather wide commitment —but the purpose of his question was to focus on deportations with assurances. Of course, the issue arises because we have had a number of cases here in the UK where individuals have been identified as posing a terrorist threat to the UK, but because of the legal interpretations of our duties and requirements under the European convention on human rights, it has not been felt possible to deport those individuals to certain countries. We wish to continue to work with a number of other countries to ensure that it will be possible to deport people with assurances that they will not be subject to torture.
On the point that the Home Secretary has just made about legal interpretation, has she taken note of the fact that many senior members of the judiciary, including the Lord Chief Justice, have raised serious concerns relating to the manner in which the convention on human rights has been interpreted by the Court in Strasbourg and that, for practical purposes, the balance between protecting civil liberties on the one hand and the security of the people on the other must be maintained? Therefore, the review is welcome, but she must take into account the fact that many senior members of the judiciary do not regard this as xenophobic legal nonsense.
I am happy to take into account the fact that many members of the judiciary have different views on the issues that we will review. Of course, as I said earlier, we aim to get the right balance between ensuring that we can protect members of the public and ensuring our national security, while maintaining our civil liberties.
Does the review not send out completely the wrong signals to the public and, indeed, to those who would jeopardise the safety and security of the public? Would the Government’s time not be better spent backing the police and the security services with the resources and powers that they require?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we do indeed back the police and our security services. As I said in my statement, they do a very important job for us day in, day out, often at some risk to themselves, and we pay tribute to all the work that they do for us. But that work is not aided by a situation where many members of the public feel that certain pieces of legislation have been introduced and abused. I think that, in fact, a former Labour Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, referred to the snooping tendencies of local authorities under RIPA. Such things do not aid the police in the work that they have to do to protect us on a daily basis.
May I welcome the review announced by the Home Secretary today and elaborate on that? Opposition Members have spoken about how legislation was introduced under the previous Government. Often, that was easily done by arguing that it was what the security forces requested. Returning to the point made by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), it is easy to take that prosaic approach. I welcome the approach taken today; it shows a holistic and encompassing view, which promotes the fact that we in the Chamber and the Executive take these decisions for reasons of collective security against individual freedom, rather than taking such a prosaic approach.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. It is the job of politicians and the Government to ensure that we maintain the appropriate balance and that our counter-terrorism legislation is proportionate and focused. It is indeed the job of the Government not simply to accept every suggestions that is made to them, but to judge the value of those suggestions and decide accordingly.
As one of the group of MPs who originally seconded the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) that called for 28 days instead of 90 days, may I point out to the right hon. Lady that there was never any magic formula about 28 days—it was simply 62 days better than 90 days? I am pleased that there will be a review of this issue and that the former Director of Public Prosecutions will have an opportunity to consider that figure. If indeed he recommends 14 days, I hope that the right hon. Lady will stick by that recommendation.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, both for the action that she took previously to ensure that we did not go through with 90 days and for the point that she has made. My view is clear: we need to consider how we can reduce from 28 days. The debate tomorrow will be about the extension of the 28-day provision for six months, which gives us time to conduct the review properly, alongside all the other issues on counter-terrorism legislation that we are considering, so that we can look at that in a balanced and proportionate way.
In welcoming the statement, may I remind my right hon. Friend that when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was going through the House, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats made common cause in opposing the careless way in which the then Government wanted to give powers of data-mining for communications data and surveillance to a wide range of bodies, such as local authority waste departments and the Royal Parks constabulary? The issues that were looked at, such as dog fouling and littering, went far beyond what most people would consider reasonable. Will she carefully examine that Act and try to ensure that we do not have an unreasonable aggregation of powers that brings security into disrepute?
I thank my hon. Friend for the points that he has made. He played a very important part in the debate about that legislation when it was going through the House, and he raised exactly those points—as part of a coalition before the coalition, if I can describe it as such. We will, indeed, look carefully at the Act. Those powers have been added to over time, and as a result brought the matter into disrepute.
I, too, very much welcome the statement by the Home Secretary, who is absolutely right to roll back the anti-civil libertarian state that the previous Labour Government established. I accept that the review will start with the presumption of reducing the 28-day limit, but does she have in mind an appropriate number of days for pre-charge detention?
The review must be totally transparent, so can the Home Secretary confirm that she will publish its full terms of reference? Will she also state today that tomorrow’s renewal of the 28 day pre-charge detention period, if it proceeds, will be the last?
I am happy to ensure that the terms of reference are available to hon. Members. As I said in my statement, the six-month extension of the 28-day pre-charge detention period will enable us to consider that period as part of the review, and to explore how we can reduce the detention period to below 28 days.
Does the Home Secretary accept how much I—as somebody who voted against both 90 days and 42 days, and for 28 days only because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) said, it was 62 days less than 90 days —welcome the review? It is long overdue.
Under the previous Government, a photographer from Medway was arrested in Chatham high street under section 44 stop-and-search powers, and he and fellow photographers from Medway will welcome today’s announcement from the Home Secretary. Will she assure the House that any future revision of anti-terror legislation will strike the right balance between protecting the public and safeguarding the rights of individuals?
I am happy to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. She may have noticed that in my statement I specifically said that we would look at the issue of photographers and stop-and-search powers. It is one issue that has been brought home forcibly to me. I have had constituency cases of people who have been stopped under those powers and been concerned about it, and I have received a number of representations from Members of this House, and indeed of another place, about those problems.
In the interests of promoting civil liberties and the principles of human rights while recognising the need to reduce terrorism, will the Secretary of State indicate the nature of the involvement with intelligence agencies and Government Departments in Northern Ireland?
I am happy to confirm that, as I said in my statement, we will of course talk to agencies and Government Departments in Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady will have noticed the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the Chamber listening to the statement, and he is here so that we can ensure that the power that we obtain as a result of the review, and the exercise of that power, is appropriate throughout the United Kingdom.
Although the major threat to our security currently comes from militant Islamic groups, younger members of whom have been tragically brainwashed, I would like to ask a question based on the Muslim population I have in my constituency —some 1,500 people, the vast majority of whom lead decent, quiet and law-abiding lives. However, the misuse of anti-terror legislation and the Islamophobic comment in the press produce an atmosphere of insecurity. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the end, this leads to a greater threat to our security, because it is essential that our security forces have at their disposal contacts within the Islamic community for intelligence purposes; and will she, in the spirit of transparency, agree to involve moderate Muslim groups in her consultation?
As I am sure that my hon. Friend will have noticed, I said in my statement that we are hoping that a number of groups will be able to be involved in the review. I fully take her point that it is important that we get the balance between security and civil liberties right. Otherwise, such measures can not only bring the legislation into disrepute but cause some people to feel insecure and to feel that what the Government are doing is simply being done against them. That is not the case. We need to look across the board at our counter-terrorism legislation, always having in mind the need to ensure that we get that balance right.
As someone who, in the last Parliament, opposed from the Government Benches many of the previous Government’s measures in legislating disproportionately and, I believe, counter-productively on counter-terrorism, may I ask the Secretary of State to explain why, in the context of this review, the parallel powers in the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 should not also be reviewed at the same time?
Will the Home Secretary give us some idea of Lord Macdonald’s role in oversight of the review? We are told that it is a Home Office review that will be conducted in liaison with other Departments but that Lord Macdonald will have oversight. Will people submitting to the review have engagement with Lord Macdonald, engagement with the Home Office, or both?
Anybody wishing to submit comments or proposals to the review will do so to the Home Office. Lord Macdonald’s role will be in reviewing how the review has been undertaken, to ensure that it has been done properly and that all options have been properly considered.
As for the 2007 Act, when I spoke here last week about section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the interim changes that I am making to the guidance on that, I was conscious of a number of contributions from the Opposition Benches, including, I think, from the hon. Gentleman himself, encouraging me to ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland had appropriate powers, some of which are in the very Act that he cited.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement, the review and the attitude that is being taken to it; that is very welcome. However, I am still disappointed that she did not allow the provision for 28 days’ detention without charge to lapse during the period of the review. May I follow up the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), which did not get a clear response in her statement or her answer? Will she pledge not to introduce another 28-day detention period at the end of the six months, or is she trying to maintain that option—in order, perhaps, to ask us yet again to vote for 28 days’ detention?
The hon. Gentleman is encouraging me to pre-empt the result of the review. I am absolutely clear, as I said, that the review will look at the pre-charge detention period with a view to reducing it from 28 days. However, I do not want to pre-empt the result of the review, so, tempting though it might be, I would simply refer him to the comments that I made earlier.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s review of the counter-terrorism legislation. Although I was not in Parliament when this matter was debated, I was certainly campaigning against that piece of legislation. May I ask the Home Secretary to be tempted, and to bring in tomorrow a reduction from 28 to perhaps seven or 14 days?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support for the review, but I am afraid that I am going to give her the same answer as I gave to two of my Liberal Democrat hon. Friends—that I do not want to pre-empt the result of the review. We will have our debate tomorrow, and then, when the review reports, we will be able to look at its proposals.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on making her statement—and on allowing us to hear it in the House first, rather than in the media. Can she tell the House why intercept evidence is not being considered in the review, but is being considered separately?
I am happy to do so. The previous Government set up a process to consider intercept evidence, and a Privy Council group is in existence to do that. In fact, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) is a member of that group. I want to talk to it about how we can take that issue forward in the best and most appropriate way, and I think it is better to do that over time rather than shoehorn it into this review.
We had a previous Government who made legislation for the sake of legislation: in the past 13 years we had more legislation than in the previous 100 years. With regard to point two in the review mentioned by the Secretary of State—photography and terrorism—will she receive representations from the president of the Kent photographic organisation about how badly photographers have been affected by the legislation?
A warrant is needed to enter my home, but there is not similar judicial oversight in relation to RIPA, in particular on communications access at my electronic home, or whether I am followed on the school run or my garbage is looked through. Will the review particularly consider judicial oversight of RIPA powers?
The review will specifically consider the use of RIPA powers by local authorities, which has been a key matter; people have been extremely concerned about the powers that are available and how those powers have been used. As I said earlier, it was a former Labour Home Secretary, I believe, who referred to those powers as a “dustbin Stasi”.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I always thought I was the employer of my members of staff, and I would be glad if you could confirm that. On Friday, one of my valued members of staff came to me in a state of agitation and said that he had just received a P45 through the post. I thought that if a P45 was to be issued, it was I who would issue it. It was not clear who did issue it, but some light has been thrown on the matter by the latest communication from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority —issue 7 of its communications. Under the heading “P45s from the House of Commons”, it states:
“We are aware that the House of Commons has sent P45s to those staff members who were in receipt of ‘payments after leaving’ in the House of Commons June payroll. Please note that this has no effect on the contracts we hold for these employees, and neither yourselves nor the staff member concerned needs to take any further action, either with ourselves or with HMRC. If you do have any concerns, please contact the House of Commons directly.”
Who in the House of Commons should I contact, and am I the employer of my staff any more, or has that power somehow disappeared from me as well?