House of Commons
Wednesday 16 February 2011
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Although the number of people in camps in Haiti has fallen by half to 800,000 since last July, Haiti continues to face serious humanitarian challenges.
The President of Haiti famously said that it would take a thousand trucks a thousand days to clear the devastation, but the people do not have a thousand days, because they are suffering disease and crime, and they do not have a thousand trucks. What more can the international community do to tackle the problem?
My hon. Friend is right to identify the scale of the damage and of what is required to put it right. We are working directly on tackling the threat of cholera, and working through the UN and the World Bank on some of the more serious aspects of what needs to happen to bring the relief that is required .
I advise you, Mr Speaker, and the House, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the shadow Secretary of State, cannot be here today because she is on jury service.
As well as direct assistance to Haiti, which we support, Britain has contributed more than $100 million through multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the European Union, as the Secretary of State said. Does he agree that it is important for the UK to continue to make substantial contributions to such organisations if the world community is to provide the scale of long-term support for reconstruction that Haiti requires?
The hon. Gentleman is right to put it that way. Britain was a key part of the immediate, emergency relief in the aftermath of those dreadful events in Haiti. There was generous support from across Britain through the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, and we made a number of specific surgical interventions towards the end of last year, including the one to which I referred. Britain is not in the lead on Haiti—this is very much an American, French and Canadian lead—but we are, as he explained, giving strong support through international and multilateral agencies, including the UN and the World Bank.
We certainly welcome the fact that British aid is helping the poor and most vulnerable in Haiti. We support that, but unfortunately, it is a different story just 100 miles north of Haiti in the Turks and Caicos Islands, to which the Department for International Development has just agreed to write an unprecedented loan of £160 million, which is much greater than any previous support for a British overseas territory. Surely the priority for DFID in the Caribbean should be meeting the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable in places such as Haiti, so may I ask the Secretary of State—
The hon. Gentleman refers to problems some miles away from Haiti. However, if I may say so, he has a bit of a brass neck. We inherited a terrible mess in the area not far from Haiti to which he refers, and it is thanks to the brilliant work conducted by the Minister of State that the British taxpayer has now given a guarantee, which hopefully will allow the place not far from Haiti to sort out its problems without further cost to the British taxpayer.
From now on in India, we will focus our support on three of the poorest states. Our programme will change to reflect the importance of the role of the private sector and private enterprise.
India spends $36 billion a year on defence and $750 million on a space programme. It has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and is developing its own overseas aid programme. Given that we must cut public expenditure in this country, will the Secretary of State accept that many of my constituents will think that such aid to India is now unjustifiable?
That is why our programme in India is in transition, why we will focus on three of the poorest states in the country and why, over the next four years, up to half the programme will transition into pro-poor private sector investment. That is the right way for us to position our development work in the partnership with India, which is of course much wider than development, and which the Prime Minister very significantly re-energised in his major visit last year.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on continuing with the £280 million each year to India. That is vital given that India has a quarter of the world’s poorest people living within its borders. How does he intend to focus the aid in those three states, particularly with regard to the health of young women?
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. He is right, too, that we should focus on the poorest areas, and particularly on the role of girls and women. Over future years, we expect to be able to assist in ensuring that up to 4 million women have access to income through micro-finance and through focusing particularly on livelihoods. We will also support, of course, the strong programme on education in India. About 60 million children have been got into school over the last four or five years, which is a tremendous tribute to the work of the Indian Government, but it would not have been possible without the intervention of aid and support from Britain and elsewhere.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is worth recording that to lift the poorest people in India out of poverty by $1 a day would cost $166 billion a year, so it is appropriate to continue our transitional arrangements with India? The International Development Committee will visit India next month and we will want to see how DFID’s relationship with the country, albeit with a relatively small amount in comparison with the challenge of the problem, can deliver an accelerated reduction of poverty there.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for that comment and also to the Select Committee itself for going to look with care at development in India and the operation of our programme there. He accurately identifies the scale of need. It is worth noting that the number of the Indian population living on less than 80p a day is 7.5 times the total population of Britain. That puts in context the basic nature of this need and shows why Britain’s partnership is so important.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the claims made by the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Jubilee Scotland that the work of the UK’s Export Credits Guarantee Department has been funding work in India that is undermining development and human rights? I declare an interest in that I was until recently a board member of Jubilee Scotland. I ask the Secretary of State to investigate and report back to the House on that matter.
The hon. Lady will have heard what has been said about the Export Credits Guarantee Department—that it is at the moment being looked at carefully to ensure that it supports our development aims. She might also like to look at the trade White Paper published last week, which specifically addresses the role of the ECGD in development and in supporting British exports overseas.
Friends of Yemen
We expect the next Friends of Yemen meeting to take place in Riyadh at the end of March. I visited Saudi Arabia last weekend and was afterwards with the Foreign Secretary in Yemen. We are continuing to work with both countries to agree a firm date for the next meeting.
Given the turmoil in the region, what is the Minister’s assessment of the situation in Yemen and of the Friends of Yemen process? How will it stop the state failing and assist in an orderly succession and economic progress following the commitment by the President not to stand at the next election?
Recent events demonstrate more than ever the importance of the Friends of Yemen process to prevent state failure in that country. I welcome President Saleh’s speech on 2 February, committing to follow the constitution of Yemen and not to seek re-election after 2013. Through the Friends of Yemen process, we will work to support political reform and the right of all Yemenis to participate legitimately and democratically in their political future.
We have seen substantial progress on many fronts since the New York Friends of Yemen meeting, and I particularly highlight the Yemeni Government’s adherence to an International Monetary Fund financial reform programme and progress made towards completing their five-year development plan for poverty reduction. We are close to establishing a multi-donor trust fund for Yemen. The Riyadh Friends of Yemen meeting will continue the support of Yemen’s friends for political and economic reform in the pursuit of democracy, stability and prosperity.
I warmly welcome the Minister’s visit to Yemen last week. I ask him to put one item on the agenda of the Friends of Yemen meeting—namely, the redevelopment and refurbishment of the Aden hospital, which has been ongoing for a number of years. Good health facilities would be of huge benefit to local people in what is one of the poorest countries on earth.
Although I acknowledge the link between poverty and security, not least in Yemen, may I invite the Minister of State to confirm that DFID sees addressing poverty among the poorest people in the poorest countries as its supreme challenge and as being at its heart?
Yes, poverty reduction is at the core of everything that the Department does, but I urge the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate that no fragile country has ever achieved a single millennium development goal. Preventing state failure is much less costly than dealing with a failed state afterwards.
We provide financial and technical assistance to the Palestinian Authority. In this financial year, our support will total £31.1 million. DFID also co-funds the UK conflict pool, which supports five Israeli human rights NGOs operating in the west bank.
I recently took part in a delegation to Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories of the west bank, and I refer the House to my related entry in the register. During the visit, we met many Israeli human rights organisations and NGOs involved in the peace process, some of which receive financial support from the UK Government. All of them were concerned at moves by elements of the nationalist right to crack down on and embarrass organisations in receipt of overseas funding, no matter how legitimate—
My hon. Friend refers to a proposed panel of inquiry on the Israeli side, to look into the funding of its NGOs. Our ambassador to Tel Aviv discussed the issue with the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, shortly after the Knesset vote on the issue. Officials raised the matter with one of the two members of the Knesset who had pressed for such funding investigation. We do not want such investigations to impede the legitimate work of NGOs in the west bank and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories.
In light of the Minister’s reply, does he share the concern expressed by Norwegian Foreign Minister Støre about the Israeli Foreign Minister’s comments, which appear to delegitimise the work of brave NGOs such as B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights? It is important that the voices of those organisations, which are Israeli Jewish but express a different view from the Israeli Government, should continue to be heard.
I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. We are watching closely the treatment of the five NGOs concerned and we will do our utmost to ensure that they remain free to do their good work, even though some of their conclusions might disagree with the those of the Israeli Government.
Is the Minister aware that an increasing amount of aid to the Palestinian territories ends up in the hands of extremists and is used for extremist purposes? Will he take steps to stop that and ensure that aid gets to the Palestinians who need it most?
I do not share my hon. Friend’s conclusion. We are very careful how we spend our money in the occupied Palestinian territories and have done our utmost to support the legitimate government of Salam Fayyad with, I think, great success. We would abhor any money falling into the hands of extremists, and we do everything possible to ensure that such an accusation can never be verified or proved valid.
The Minister will know that many in the House and beyond continue to be deeply concerned about the desperate situation in Gaza. What efforts are the Government making to ensure that Israel lifts the blockade of Gaza, which leaves many dependent on UN aid? Given the situation in Egypt, will the Minister update us on the position at the Rafah crossing, and on what action will be taken to ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered to those who need it most?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and all Ministers make our views clear on this matter. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Tony Blair announced a package covering the west bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem on 4 February. Gaza measures included new reconstruction project approvals and a timetable for exports. We have welcomed that, but implementation in practice will be the key.
The Department’s work on conflict prevention and resolution is much appreciated. Can the Minister assure the House that this work in the middle east—Palestine, Israel and elsewhere—will be continued in the forthcoming years, and that the budget for it will be protected, and perhaps grown, even given the wider budget obligations?
UN Women Agency
6. What plans he has to provide support for the new UN Women agency; and if he will make a statement. (40976)
The coalition Government strongly support the new UN Women agency, which has the chance to make a hugely positive impact on the lives of millions of girls and women in the developing world. I look forward to receiving its strategic results plan, which will allow us to decide on funding by the British taxpayer for future years.
We expect to see a strategic plan from UN Women probably in June this year, and as soon as we see it, we will be able to make decisions about British support for the agency. I am sure the hon. Lady and other Members will understand that I want to see the plan first, before committing hard-earned British taxpayers’ money to it.
From the experience of the many visits my right hon. Friend has made across the world, does he agree that very often it is women who are the agents for change in development? Just as UNICEF has helped to support the focus on children, so it is to be hoped that UN Women can help support women as agents for change and development.
The number of internally displaced people in camps in Sri Lanka has declined from 300,000 in 2009 to 18,000 today. DFID has provided £13.5 million in humanitarian assistance since 2008, but our bilateral aid to Sri Lanka will cease in March, except for a new demining programme valued at £3 million.
Among those affected by the floods are many people who were earlier displaced by the conflict and who had recently returned to their homes only to be displaced again. Even before the floods, these people had been struggling to access much-needed protection and assistance because of Government restrictions on humanitarian organisations’ access to the return areas. What pressure is the Minister putting on the Government to allow humanitarian organisations to have access to the former conflict areas, so that the suffering people there can be given the full help they desperately need?
We will continue to press the Sri Lankan Government to grant access to such areas for humanitarian purposes. More than 1 million people have been affected by the flooding. We looked very closely into the sort of support we should give, but the most immediate needs are covered by Sri Lankan authorities and other donors, so we are working principally through multilateral organisations to give the help that is needed.
The United Nations estimates that some 90% of Sri Lanka’s rice crop will be destroyed by the recent flooding. That makes the Government’s decision to stop all aid with effect from March quite worrying, because on top of all the troubles in that unfortunate country there is a very real risk of food security problems or starvation in the years to come. What is the Department prepared to do about that?
I urge my hon. Friend to appreciate the distinction between a continuing bilateral programme and humanitarian aid, which can be given as needs must. We will continue to review the humanitarian needs of Sri Lanka and work through multilateral organisations as required.
Sub-Saharan Africa (Midwives)
8. What support his Department is providing for the training of midwives and maternal health specialists in sub-Saharan Africa. (40978)
With more than half of maternal deaths globally occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, DFID funds the training of midwives and other health care workers through various channels—[Interruption.]
I am grateful, Mr Speaker.
DFID bilateral programmes directly support national health sector plans of partner countries and non-government organisation-implemented projects, and give support through multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
I am sure the Minister is aware of data collected for the World Health Organisation that show disparity between the provision of maternal health services in more rural areas and in the slightly better-funded urban areas in many countries in Africa? Will he outline what the Department will do to help to address that problem?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that important disparity. The UK Government recently announced the framework for results on reproductive, maternal and neonatal health, which directly seeks to address how that disparity can be narrowed. I have seen for myself in northern Nigeria how DFID supports midwifery services, with a scheme to train 200 midwives who are then posted to rural facilities, which is vital to ensure that the disparity is addressed.
I am proud to support Save the Children’s “No child born to die” campaign, which seeks to make more life-saving vaccines available to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation summit is to take place in the UK later this year, and Save the Children is lobbying for the Prime Minister to represent the UK at that summit. What steps will the Minister to take to make sure that the Government are represented at the highest level?
The hon. Gentleman is right; the Save the Children campaign is one that we follow closely. The GAVI conference will be hosted in London and we can confirm that it will have the full support of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to show our commitment.
Official Development Assistance
10. When he expects to bring forward legislative proposals in respect of the 0.7 per cent. target for official development assistance. (40980)
The coalition Government have set out how we will meet our commitment to spend 0.7% of national income as aid from 2013, and will enshrine that commitment in law as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.
Some may be reassured by the Secretary of State’s answer and some may even be convinced by it, but I can tell him about a group of people who are not: his own loyal staff at DFID in East Kilbride who in August 2010 were told that there would be no mass loss of jobs from the Department, but last Thursday were told that a third of their jobs would be cut. Is it not the case that when this Government meet commitments, the truth and their commitments are strangers?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that all Departments across Whitehall are having to make economies because of the coalition Government’s dreadful economic inheritance from his party. DFID is not immune from the cuts and will see reductions of some 33% in its administrative spend. I had the opportunity of speaking to all the staff at Abercrombie house just a few days ago to make sure that that was understood.
Will the Secretary of State congratulate the Government of Kenya, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and all its funding partners, which include the United Kingdom, on the roll-out of their programme of pneumococcal vaccine on Monday? It will save thousands of children in Kenya and across Africa. We hope that it will be a rolling programme across the developing world.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to underline the tremendous success of the vaccination programme. When we announce the results of the multilateral aid review, we shall show how Britain will give a real impetus to vaccination. As the Under-Secretary has just said, we shall host the GAVI conference in London in June and it will be opened by the Prime Minister.
We have a clear responsibility to ensure that we target our aid where it is most needed and where it will have the greatest impact. I will shortly announce to the House the outcome of our major root and branch review of bilateral aid, which looked in detail at each country.
My hon. Friend is right to say that the coalition made it clear on day one that we would end all aid to China and Russia, but we need to have a powerful and reinvigorated partnership with China on development issues, not only in the areas where we share deep concerns, such as on freeing up the trading system and on climate, but in working in third countries. For example, Britain is working with China now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a major infrastructure roads programme. We are doing that work together and it is extremely effective and successful.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the following servicemen who have lost their lives in Afghanistan: Private Lewis Hendry from 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment and Private Conrad Lewis from 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who died last Wednesday; and Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who died on Monday. They were all brave and dedicated soldiers who were serving in Afghanistan for the safety and security of the British people. Our thoughts and deepest condolences should be with their families, their loved ones and their colleagues. They will never be forgotten.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Like other Members, I associate myself and my constituents with the Prime Minister’s tribute to our fallen heroes.
One man who also served his country is my constituent Doug Hunt who, with his wife Gladys, lives in Westwood care home, which is currently being fattened for privatisation by increasing its fees by £400—not £400 a year, not £400 a month, but an increase of £400 a week. Would the Prime Minister like to answer Mr and Mrs Hunt, who are listening now, show some leadership and have these Tory cuts removed, or would he like to justify these increases to Mr and Mrs Hunt?
I will certainly look at the individual case that the hon. Gentleman raises, but far from cutting the money that is going into social care, we have increased by £2 billion the money going into adult social care because we know how important it is. It is not right to draw a false distinction between care homes run by local authorities and those run by the private sector. There is good practice and bad practice in both, but as we have seen in our hospitals in recent days, we need a change of culture in caring for our elderly to make sure they have the dignity that they deserve in old age.
My six-year-old constituent, Millie d’Cruz, is one of just 17 people in the United Kingdom to be diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder, MLD—metachromatic leukodystrophy. Unfortunately, the family must try to raise £200,000 to send her for treatment in Holland, even though the treatment may be available here in the UK. Can the Prime Minister look into the case and ensure that the family get the support that they deserve?
I am happy to do as my hon. Friend asks. A big change is taking place in medicine, where far more interest needs to be directed at genetic data and genetically inherited diseases, as this is how we will reduce disease and illness in the future. We are looking, for instance, at value-based pricing, whereby we try to share between companies developing new treatments and the taxpayer the cost of developing them, which could be a good way forward to make sure we get more treatments to more people more quickly.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Private Lewis Hendry from 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, Private Conrad Lewis from 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment, and Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment. All these men showed extraordinary bravery and dedication. Our thoughts are with them and their families and friends as they grieve for them.
We now know that inflation is rising, growth has stalled and an extra 66,000 young people are out of work. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he thinks his strategy is working?
Of course today’s unemployment figures are a matter of great regret, particularly in terms of higher youth unemployment, but I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that youth unemployment has been a problem in this country for well over a decade, in good years and in bad. The level of youth unemployment actually went up by 40% under the last Government—an extra 270,000 young people unemployed. What we have to do is sort out all the things that help young people get back into work. There is a welfare system that does not help you get work, an education system that does not prepare you for work and back-to-work programmes that, under the last Government, simply did not work.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me what is happening in our economy. We are no longer linked with Greece and Ireland and those countries in the danger zone. We have a situation where market interest rates have fallen. Our credit rating is secured. There are 218,000 more people in work than there were a year ago. Above all, what I would say to him is what the Governor of the Bank of England said this morning:
“There has to be a plan A… This country needs fiscal consolidation to deal with the biggest budget deficit in peacetime”.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we are doing so well compared with the rest of Europe, but we were the only major European economy in the last quarter of 2010 that had no economic growth and where growth went into reverse. Let me ask him specifically about youth unemployment. His own former chief economist said this morning that he thought that they were wrong to scrap the education maintenance allowance, wrong to scrap the future jobs fund and that they should have been building on it. I know that he likes to make an industry out of saying that the future jobs fund was the wrong thing to do, but what did he say before the election? He went to Liverpool and said that it was “a good scheme” and that he had been “inspired” by what he saw. Why does he not listen to young people and their families up and down the country and take real action to help them?
First, the economist from the Cabinet Office whom the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted also said this:
“I would not excuse the previous Government on this; they failed to wake up to the problem early enough.”
What matters is whether work programmes are effective. I now have the figures for the flexible new deal, which was the absolute centrepiece of the last Government’s approach to this matter. Let me give the House of Commons the figures, because I think that they show what has been going wrong. Of the 279,000 people who took part in the flexible new deal, how many got a long-term job? The answer is 3,800. It is not good enough. What we have been doing on welfare, education and back-to-work programmes is not good enough. All those things need to change.
What we actually discovered today is that the right hon. Gentleman’s great new Work programme, which he is trumpeting as the answer to all the nation’s problems, will have 250,000 fewer opportunities than were provided under the last Labour Government. We know that his view of social mobility is auctioning off a few City internships at the Conservative party ball, but frankly he is going to have to do better than that. The truth is that he is betraying a whole generation of young people. He is trebling tuition fees, abolishing the education maintenance allowance and abolishing the future jobs fund. Why does he not change course and help those young people who need help up and down this country?
First, let me answer the right hon. Gentleman on the Work programme, because this is important. For the last 20 years, in this House and elsewhere, people have been arguing that we should use the savings from future benefits and invest them now in helping people to get a job, and for 20 years the Treasury has said no, including the time when he and the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) were sitting in the Treasury advising. Now, for the first time, under this coalition Government, we will be spending the future benefits in order to get people training and into work. That will include, in some cases, spending up to £14,000 to get people, particularly those on incapacity benefit, a job.
The figures the Leader of the Opposition gives are wrong. The Work programme is the biggest back-to-work scheme this country has seen since the 1930s. Instead of being cash-limited and patchy, like his schemes, it has no limit and can help as many people as possible from all of those different categories. He mentions internships. I did a little research into his: he did one for Tony Benn and one for the deputy leader of the Labour party. No wonder he is so left-wing, so politically correct and so completely ineffective.
Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that deregulation is an extremely powerful weapon in economic reform? Is he aware that the programme is not proceeding fast enough, and will he take personal charge to see that the whole process is hurried up?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the problems is the huge amount of regulations—particularly coming out of Europe—that we need to put a stop to before they are introduced. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is doing an excellent job with his one in, one out scheme, so that another regulation cannot be introduced until one has been scrapped, but I think we probably have to go further and faster and be more ambitious in scrapping the regulation that is holding back job creation in our country.
Q2. Can I invite the Prime Minister to look ahead to the summer of 2012, when we will welcome millions of overseas visitors to this country? What does he think will be the abiding images that they take home with them? Will they be images of a brilliantly, successfully staged Olympic games? Will it be a fond memory of the warm welcome to London extended by the newly elected Mayor Livingstone? Or will it be a memory of the shocking images of homeless people all over the streets of London because of his Government’s economic failure and harsh housing benefit cuts? (40933)
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman could not keep a straight face when backing Labour’s candidate for Mayor, but I have to say that, if the Member who represents Greenwich cannot speak up for the Olympics, there really is a problem. This is going to be a great festival, and something that everyone who comes to our country is going to enjoy—and I look forward to welcoming them alongside Mayor Boris Johnson.
Q3. This weekend, hundreds of people will arrive in Ripon to celebrate winning the Government’s pilot for super-fast broadband in North Yorkshire, and to work out how we can connect the rest of the county in the years ahead. What message would my right hon. Friend give to delegates about the Government’s commitment to rural broadband? (40934)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have made a big commitment to that, with £530 million going into broadband investment, and that is absolutely vital, particularly for rural parts of the country, because we do not want them to be cut off from the information superhighway. I hope my hon. Friend will advise them about the opportunities of super-fast broadband—the business creation and job creation that it can mean right across this country.
The short answer to that is no. As I have said before in this House, it is a consultation that has been put forward, and we have had a range of interesting responses to it, but what is important is that we should be making sure that, whatever happens, we increase access to our forests, we increase biodiversity and we do not make the mistake that was made under the last Government, where they sold forests with no access rights at all.
Even the right hon. Gentleman must appreciate the irony: he, the guy who made the tree the symbol of the Conservative party, flogging them off up and down this country. He says that they are consulting on the policy; they are actually consulting on how to flog off the forests, not on whether to flog off the forests. Is the Prime Minister now saying that he might drop the policy completely?
Everybody knows that the right hon. Gentleman is going to have to drop this ludicrous policy. Let me give him the chance to do so. Nobody voted for the policy; 500,000 people have signed a petition against it. When he gets up at the Dispatch Box, why does he say not that he is postponing the sale, but that he is cancelling it?
May I take this opportunity to inform my right hon. Friend and, indeed, the House that the Public Administration Committee is today launching an inquiry into the big society? Does he share my hope that as we consider things such as volunteering, promoting charitable giving and decentralising public services, we will receive positive evidence from all parts of the House?
I do, and I am sure that, like everything that my hon. Friend does, it will be wholly supportive of the Government’s position. He makes a very good point, which is that the big society is about more than just volunteering or support for charitable groups; it is about opening up public services, devolving power to the lowest level, and giving people the opportunity to play a greater part in the lives of their communities. I would have thought that people from across the House would recognise that the big state approach has failed and that it is time for something different.
We want to see waiting times come down; that is the whole point of the reforms. I think that anyone who has watched what has been happening over the past few days, where we have seen the standards of care that some elderly people—[Interruption.] Well, I think that the country is also interested in the standards of care that old people are getting in our hospitals. This idea that everything is right and rosy in the health service after what happened under the former Government opposite has just been shown to be completely untrue. Do we need to change the system and make it more related to what GPs and patients want? Yes, we absolutely do.
Will the Prime Minister join me in praising the work of the Conservative administration in my constituency, which has saved £1 million a year by cutting senior management and bureaucracy and protecting front-line services—measures unfortunately opposed by the local Labour group on the council?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that we have made available all this information. Now, local councils have to set out their expenditure on every item over £500, so people can see how much money is being spent on salaries, how much is being spent on bureaucracy, and how much could be put into voluntary sector and other organisations. We have given local people the tools to hold their local politicians to account, and that is a thoroughly progressive step.
Q5. Can I first put on record my thanks to the Prime Minister for meeting a small delegation from my constituency on the whole question of unemployment in the Ayrshire area? Does he really think, however, that being part of the big society that he talks about means throwing youngsters on to the streets of the UK as a result of the cuts in housing benefit? (40936)
What we are doing in terms of housing benefit is what was set out in the manifesto that the hon. Gentleman stood on, which is to say that we should not be subsidising housing benefit for people to live in houses that taxpayers themselves cannot afford. That is the principle behind the welfare Bill, which will be coming before this House shortly, and I look forward to it getting wide-ranging support.
The Prime Minister has drawn comparisons between care homes and hospitals when discussing changes to disability allowance, which are out for consultation until Friday. Yet for those who, for reasons of disability, spend not just their latter years but their whole lives in care homes, this comparison simply is not valid. Will he ask his Ministers to look again at this?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is exactly what we have been looking at. The whole intention of the change that was announced in the Budget and the spending review was to make sure that there was not an overlap in the way that we were judging people in care homes and people in hospitals. I think that when he sees what is proposed in the welfare Bill, he will see that it meets his concerns.
Q6. Sadly, since I first asked the Prime Minister about human trafficking in September, he has collapsed every Government initiative on the issue, including the excellent POPPY project, which rescues women from prostitution. Tomorrow, when I meet my colleagues from the Portuguese Parliament who are signing up to the human trafficking directive, where will I tell them that our Prime Minister has lost his moral compass on the issue of human trafficking? (40937)
What the hon. Gentleman says is completely wrong. The Government are supporting organisations that are helping on the issue of human trafficking. We are committed to ensuring that we have the best and toughest laws on human trafficking. I know that he works on this issue, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), as have Members in previous Parliaments. It is not necessary to opt in to the human trafficking directive to give ourselves the strongest laws here in the UK. It is that that we should be doing, and that that I am committed to making sure we are doing.
Q7. Labour-led Kirklees council is still obsessed with top-down housing targets, leaving my constituents worried that the beautiful green fields of the Colne and Holme valleys will be bulldozed—quite a few trees could be chopped down too. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Localism Bill will give my constituents a real say in what developments go on in their area? (40938)
I can give that assurance, but I also make the point that under the top-down targets of the Labour party, house building in this country fell to its lowest level since 1923. The top-down, big-state solutions did not work. Through the new homes bonus and by rewarding local authorities that build houses, we are benefiting local communities that opt to have more homes and businesses, because that is part of the economic development that we badly need.
Q8. The overwhelming majority of my constituents believe that the cuts to local government spending are not only too fast and too deep, but cruel and politically motivated. Will the Prime Minister tell the House why my constituents are wrong? (40939)
I tell the hon. Gentleman directly that I think the cuts being made by Manchester city council are politically driven and too deep. Manchester city council is having its grant cut by 15%—less than my council, for instance, which is being cut by 23%—and yet it is cutting services by 25%. I notice that it still has £100 million in bank balances, and that its chief executive is paid more than £200,000 a year. I think that people in Manchester will look at their council and say, “Cut out the waste, cut out the bureaucracy, start to cut the chief executive’s salary, and only then should you look at services.”
Q9. After votes for prisoners, we now have the potential for human rights legislation to give sex offenders the opportunity to come off the sex offenders register. Is the Prime Minister aware that my constituents are sick to the back teeth of the human rights of criminals and prisoners being put before the rights of law-abiding citizens in this country? Is it not time that we scrapped the Human Rights Act and, if necessary, withdrew from the European convention on human rights? (40940)
My hon. Friend speaks for many people in saying how completely offensive it is, once again, to have a ruling by a court that flies in the face of common sense. Requiring serious sexual offenders to sign the register for life, as they now do, has broad support across this House and across the country. I am appalled by the Supreme Court ruling. We will take the minimum possible approach to this ruling and use the opportunity to close some loopholes in the sex offenders register. For instance, we will make it compulsory for sex offenders to report to the authorities before any travel and will not allow them to change their name by deed poll to avoid having their name on the register. I can also tell my hon. Friend that a commission will be established imminently to look at a British Bill of Rights, because it is about time we ensured that decisions are made in this Parliament rather than in the courts.
Q10. Given the difference in tone between “Drink Responsibly” and “Smoking Kills”, what action will the Prime Minister take in response to the heartfelt pleas of my constituent Rachel Jones, who wants to see much harder-hitting labels on alcoholic drinks following the tragic death of her boyfriend, Stuart Cable, the former Stereophonics drummer? (40941)
I think we should be looking at what action we can take through the tax system to deal with problem drinks, which we are looking at, and at tougher minimum pricing for alcohol. That is where we should be putting our attention, rather than necessarily looking at labelling. Many of the problems that we have, such as people—particularly young people—pre-loading before they go for a night out, are related to deeply discounted drinks in supermarkets and elsewhere. That is what we should deal with first.
Q11. Thousands of younger women drivers in the UK face the prospect of massive hikes in their motor insurance premiums as the result of a perverse reinterpretation of the EU gender equality directive, carried forward by those on the Opposition Benches. What will my right hon. Friend say to encourage better risk assessment to avoid such unintended consequences? (40942)
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that because of how this issue has been handled, many people who face lower insurance premiums because of their risk profiles will have to pay more. I am afraid that it falls to me to speak an eternal truth to the House of Commons: on the whole, women have better safety driving records than men, but as a result of that judgment, they will not benefit from lower insurance payments. What that says to me is that we have to work much better at risk-assessing and then stopping so much of the damaging regulation coming out of Brussels.
The importance of internships in helping young people to get on in life has been much in the news lately. Will the Prime Minister therefore take this opportunity to express his support for the Speaker’s new parliamentary placements scheme? It is a cross-party initiative backed by the hon. Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) and for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) that will give people from working-class backgrounds the chance to come to Parliament, get vital experience of political life and be paid a living wage; and—who knows?—they may well be the politicians of the future.
I fully support what the right hon. Lady says. This is a very important scheme. As shadow Cabinet members in opposition we worked with the Social Mobility Foundation to give internships, and we will be doing it again as Cabinet members. It is a very important initiative and I very much welcome what the Speaker is doing.
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, which is that the IMF was reporting on the state of the British economy, and was arguing that we did have a structural deficit and that it was a problem. However, Labour attempted to gag the IMF when it was in power, because the previous Government did not want to own up to the mess that they had got this country into. Even now, the Opposition are still denying the fact that they left us with a dangerous fiscal deficit that is the cause of many of the problems that we face today.
Q13. The Prime Minister will be aware of people’s concerns about the coastguard. This week a cross-party deputation from Northern Ireland consisting of four MPs from this House met coastguard officials. Is the Prime Minister aware that the figures from Bangor coastguard station show 654 responses over this past year? Does he think that one station could satisfactorily handle almost 10 times the current number of calls, should Bangor coastguard station be closed or the service be reduced from 19 coastguard stations UK-wide to an inadequate two stations? (40944)
I am very aware of this issue, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will be speaking to the Secretary of State for Transport about it. The point is this: the coastguard agency has to prove in the consultation that it wants to co-ordinate the number of offices that receive calls, in order to put more money and resources into the front-line service—the number of boats, rescue facilities and helpers. That is the aim of the policy, but I fully accept that that has to be proved to people in order to go ahead with the proposals being made.
Q14. At my surgery on Saturday, a constituent explained to me that, with an ill husband and a young family, she had been told that she would be better off giving up her part-time job and relying on benefits. Will the Prime Minister assure this House that we will give people the incentive and the support to go into work and end the culture of welfare dependency left by the Opposition? (40945)
My hon. Friend speaks about this issue in an absolutely correct way. The fact is that for too long we have had a welfare system that pays people—it gives them an incentive—not to go out and work. The universal credit, which will be introduced through the welfare Bill, will mean that in every case, no matter how few hours someone works, they will always be better off in work and working more. That is absolutely right and long overdue, and I hope that it will have support from right across the House of Commons.
In a week in which we have had revelations about the appalling level of health care for our pensioners, what is the Prime Minister saying to the elderly population of this country by proposing to change the inflation link for the uprating of benefits and pensions from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index, which will cost present and future pensioners millions of pounds in lost income? How is that fair? How does it protect the vulnerable?
The first point that I would make is that the state pension, under the triple lock, will be linked with whichever is highest, but we are also taking the step, which the last Government did not for 10 years, of re-linking the state pension with earnings. That is an absolutely vital step in giving people the dignity and security that they deserve in old age.
Q15. The Government are planning to ask the House to extend the control orders regime until it is replaced by terrorism prevention and investigation measures. I am sure that the Prime Minister would not want the House to act without having all the necessary information, so will he assure all hon. Members that we will have sight of the TPIMs legislation before being asked to vote on the extension? (40946)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, this is a very big change that we are making from control orders to the new system, and I am sure that the House will be consulted properly, and that proper prior sight of what is being proposed will be made. But he can get involved right now if he wants to, as the policy is being developed.
Mr Speaker, in 2008, your review into communication needs described speech therapy services as a “postcode lottery”, and, sadly, in 2010, a national survey of primary special educational needs co-ordinators showed that 57% had never heard of the Bercow review, and that services remain as inequitable now as they were then. In the national year of communication, and with “The King’s Speech” having done so much to raise awareness of this issue, will the Prime Minister clarify whether the Government are planning to implement the recommendations of your review, and how they are planning to do that when local authorities are facing such huge cuts?
The hon. Lady will shortly see the Green Paper on special educational needs, in which we are giving priority to this area because, as I know from my own experience, getting hold of a speech and language therapist is often extremely difficult. Of course, as in every other area, there will be constraints in terms of resources, but I think we can do better by having a less confrontational system and making sure that more resources actually get to the parents who need them and who want to do the right thing for their children.
Sex Offenders Register
The sex offenders register has existed since 1997. Since that time, it has helped the police to protect the public from those most horrific of crimes. Requiring serious sexual offenders to sign the register for life, as they do now, has broad support across the House, but the Supreme Court ruled last April that not granting sex offenders the opportunity to seek a review was a breach of their human rights—in particular, the right to a private or family life. Those are rights, of course, that those offenders have taken away from their victims in the cruellest and most degrading manner possible.
The Government are disappointed and appalled by that ruling. It places the rights of sex offenders above the right of the public to be protected from the risk of their reoffending, but there is no possibility of further appeal. The Government are determined to do everything we can to protect the public from predatory sexual offenders, so we will make the minimum possible changes to the law in order to comply with the ruling. I want to make it clear that the Court’s ruling does not mean that paedophiles and rapists will automatically come off the sex offenders register. The Court found only that they must be given the right to seek a review.
The Scottish Government have already implemented a scheme to give offenders an automatic right of appeal for removal from the register after 15 years. We will implement a much tougher scheme. Offenders will be able to apply for consideration of removal only after waiting 15 years following release from custody. In England and Wales, there will be no automatic appeals. We will deliberately set the bar for those reviews as high as possible. Public protection must come first. A robust review, led by the police and involving all the relevant agencies, will be carried out so that a full picture of the risks to the public can be considered.
The final decision on whether an offender should remain on the register will be down to the police, and not, as in Scotland, the courts. The police are best placed to assess the risk of an offender committing another crime, and they will rightly put the public first. There will be no right of appeal against the police’s decision to keep an offender on the register. That decision will be final. Sex offenders who continue to pose a risk will remain on the register, and will do so for life if necessary.
When we are free to take further action to protect the public, we will do so. We will shortly launch a targeted consultation aimed at closing four existing loopholes in the sex offenders register. We will make it compulsory for sex offenders to report to the authorities before travelling abroad for even one day. That will prevent them from being free to travel for up to three days, as they are under the existing scheme. We will force sex offenders to notify the authorities whenever they are living in a household containing a child under the age of 18. We will require sex offenders to notify the authorities weekly of where they can be found when they have no fixed abode. We will tighten the rules so that sex offenders can no longer avoid being on the register when they change their names by deed poll.
Finally, I can tell the House that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary will shortly announce the establishment of a commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of rights. It is time to assert that it is Parliament that makes our laws, not the courts; that the rights of the public come before the rights of criminals; and, above all, that we have a legal framework that brings sanity to cases such as these.
I commend my statement to the House.
This is an important matter involving some of the most serious crimes in society. I thank the Home Secretary for supplying me with the statement within the last half hour, but I must say that it is worrying that the Home Office has again allowed information to be given to the media before it has been given to the House.
The depravity and seriousness of sex offences, and the harm and damage that they do to victims, mean that the systems that we operate to protect the public must be paramount. We have an obligation to ensure that vulnerable children and other victims can be protected from such terrible crimes. As the Home Secretary knows, that is why the sex offenders register was established in the first place. The law rightly requires people who have been convicted of such serious crimes to meet further registration requirements once their sentences have been served, in the interests of public protection and to prevent further terrible crimes from taking place.
The priority now must still be public safety, and the protection of our young and vulnerable people. Those victims of crime have suffered and continue to suffer greatly because of the actions of sex offenders. We know, too, that many such offenders can still pose a serious threat to the public. The court judgment to which the Home Secretary has responded today itself quotes the research finding that just over a quarter of those imprisoned for such offences did reoffend. Those offences included some that were very serious, a large number of which were committed many years later.
Does the Home Secretary agree that, while of course proper and fair processes must always be followed for individuals through the courts, the protection of families and communities up and down the country is paramount? She has said that the new system will be tough. Let me say to her that it is vital to the safety and protection of children in particular, but also to that of other victims, that the new system is extremely tough if it is to have the support of the House.
The Home Secretary said that Parliament should decide the level of protection that is needed, and that Parliament should set the laws. However, she has given Parliament very little information today about the way in which the new system will operate. Will the new framework be enshrined in legislation? Will Parliament have an opportunity to debate the details? The Home Secretary will know that many Members of Parliament and members of the public will be very concerned about the possibility that any new framework might enable serious offenders to manipulate the system. It is essential that that is not allowed to happen, but it is also important for Parliament to have an opportunity to debate it to ensure that it does not happen.
Will the Home Secretary ensure that the focus is on public protection, rather than on the convenience or rights of those who have been convicted of serious crimes? Will she tell us how many offenders will be affected? Will she tell us what the level of the police assessment will be, and what standards the police will seek to meet as part of their review?
Will the police be given additional resources to do this? She will know that there is concern in the House about the police’s resources and about whether they are stretched already as a result of the cuts the Government are making. Will she say what additional resources the police will have, what additional resources they will require and the number of people on whom they will be expected to carry out reviews as a result of the changes she is proposing? She will know that some police forces have already expressed concern that as a result of the 20% cuts they are facing, their need to respond and their need to try to keep as many people in neighbourhood policing as possible, many specialist units within police forces are coming under the greatest pressure as a result of the decisions she has made. What reassurance can she give the House and the public that there will be no increased risk to the public as a result of these changes and of pressure on the police?
I welcome the Home Secretary’s proposal to consider other tighter measures on sex offenders, but does that have any implications for the changes that she appears to be making in the opposite direction to the vetting and barring provisions? She has also raised, as part of her statement, discussion of a Bill of rights. We would welcome a debate about that, although wider issues associated with written constitutions can also be debated. However, I am concerned at the form that this announcement has taken, because it is, in itself, a major announcement and the House should have an opportunity to have that debate and raise questions.
In conclusion, the Home Secretary will know that the public would be horrified if the rights, or even the convenience, of people who have been convicted of very serious crimes were to be put above the right to safety and family life of the public and of vulnerable people and vulnerable victims. She will know that Labour Members will not support any changes that will do that, and I hope that she intends not to do that. I look forward to her answers to the questions.
I can say categorically to the right hon. Lady that it is indeed the Government’s intention to put the protection of the public first. Had she listened to my statement or read it beforehand, she would have noted that it says that in a number of places. We are appalled by the Court’s decision. I would far rather not have to stand here saying that we have to make a change to the sex offenders register, but we do have to make a change. We will do so in the most minimal way possible to ensure that we do put public protection first, and that we give the police and others the ability to ensure that the public are protected from such serious and appalling crimes as have been committed by individuals on this register.
The right hon. Lady asked quite a number of questions. She asked whether we are making the protection of families paramount, and I have said that we are. She said that the system should be extremely tough and, yes, our intention is that it will be as tough as possible. That is why we have looked not only at what we can do in the minimal way to put this judgment into effect, but at ways to toughen up the sex offenders register regime—for example, by the requirement that we want to introduce for individuals on the register to have to notify when they are going abroad for at least a day. That is a toughening of the current system.
The right hon. Lady asked about Parliament’s opportunity to debate this measure. It will be introduced through an order—a statutory instrument—so there will be an opportunity to debate it. She asked about the numbers who will be affected. That will be set out in the regulatory impact assessment that will accompany the statutory instrument. She asked about the process of consideration that the police will go through. They will be talking to all other agencies that have an interest in this area, so they will talk to the probation service, local authorities, social services, youth offending teams and a variety of other agencies to ensure that they have the best possible picture of the individual concerned in order to make the best possible judgment. I am sure that she will agree that the police are very clear about the importance of public protection. That is why I want the police to make these decisions; I believe that they will put public protection first. They will examine a series of issues, such as the seriousness of the offences originally committed and the age of the victims. They will address a range of issues when they are considering whether a review should be upheld and whether the individual should stay on the register.
The right hon. Lady asked about the ability of the police to deal with this. ACPO and the National Offender Management Service have been actively involved in putting together and shaping the policy. One of their considerations has, of course, been its deliverability. We are confident that the policy can be delivered, as is ACPO. Like us, ACPO wants to ensure that we have the toughest possible policy to protect the public. It is different from the vetting and barring scheme, where the problem was that lots of innocent people found themselves on it and were subject to its requirements. This proposal is about the people who have been found guilty of heinous crimes and is about making sure that we reduce the risk of reoffending to members of the public. As I have announced in relation to the Bill of rights, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary will make further announcements about that imminently.
May I astonish my right hon. Friend by saying that I think there is some merit in the Court’s decision, particularly in the way she has interpreted it? Does not this case illustrate the fact that rights are not absolute and that the rights of the victim have to be balanced against the rights of children and the public in general? The process of reconciliation is ultimately as much political as legal and Parliament should therefore always have the last word. Is it not a relief that this decision was taken by the Supreme Court and not by the Court in Strasbourg? Does she agree that we should resile from that as soon as possible?
My right hon. Friend tempts me down a route that it would not be appropriate to go down. On his first point, rights are not absolute. The article 8 right against which the judgment was made clearly is not an absolute right. I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members—indeed, all of them, I hope—are as concerned as I am when a court makes a judgment that puts the rights of a perpetrator above the rights of the public and individual victims. In a similar area, I find it incredible that we are not able to deport people who are linked to al-Qaeda and who have terrorist intent in this country because the court says that their rights mean that we cannot deport them, but the court is not looking at the rights of members of the British public. That is what we should be doing.
I support the Home Secretary’s views on the merits of the existing sex offenders register and her concern about the Court’s decision, but will she confirm that under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 there is absolutely no obligation on her or the House to change the law one bit? All the Court did was to issue a declaration of incompatibility and section 4 makes it absolutely clear that any decision following that is a matter for the sovereign Parliament. It would be entirely lawful for the House and her to say that the existing regime will continue without any amendment.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a point about the application of the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights and about Parliament having the final decision about what should happen. In this case, Parliament will have the final decision on what happens.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the right to respect for private life must not trump the safety of our children? Given the impossibility of tackling some offending behaviour of a sexual nature, even if reviews of notification requirements are granted, presumably she expects that those reviews will insist that the notification requirements are maintained. Is it also her understanding that the police decision could be subject to judicial review?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about the balance of rights. It is the case, I believe, that the police decision could be subject to judicial review. It is absolutely right that the police will look at all aspects of cases and take every consideration into account when deciding whether a review should be upheld such that the individual no longer remains on the register. I cannot second-guess any decisions that the police will take, but they will be making every effort to ensure that they are, absolutely, looking properly at these cases to ensure that the decisions they take enable them to maintain public protection.
The Home Secretary has struck exactly the right tone today, and it is heartening to hear both Front Benchers being very clear about where they stand on this issue. Protection of the public is the most important consideration, but, in view of what the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) has just said, will the Government ensure that the appeal process is examined very carefully indeed so that it is as robust as possible and there is not a legal challenge? That will mean proper consultation with Parliament and a proper scheme, so that people are well aware that it is very tough indeed.
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point, and it is absolutely our intention that we should make the scheme as tough as possible and make it clear that it is about an ability to seek a review of a decision. We will frame it in the toughest possible terms and ensure that the process is absolutely right, so that we reduce the opportunity for it to be subject to any sort of judicial review once the decision is taken.
I support and welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but may I ask for a little more clarity? She said that the final decision on whether an offender should remain on the register would be one for the police. Will that be a matter for the chief constable, as at present, or will it be one for the police commissioner in future?
I welcome the Home Secretary’s approach to this as being purely a police matter. There has been a common misapprehension that requirements to sign on the sex register are somehow court orders. They are not. They are not part of the sentence or the judicial process, and I therefore welcome the commitment to keep the matter firmly within the realms of police discretion.
I, too, welcome the rigorous approach that the Home Secretary is taking, and I say that as the Minister who took the Sexual Offences Act 2003 through Committee. Does she agree that given the highly secretive and manipulative behaviour of many sex offenders, it is highly unlikely that the offence of which they were convicted is the only crime that they have committed? Will she ensure in any review process that there is a clear onus on the offender to demonstrate beyond doubt that they are no longer a risk to the public?
I have a number of points to make to the right hon. Gentleman. Throughout the House, we all agree that Parliament needs to get the answer right for the sake of public protection. The police will be able to take other offences into account when they consider whether an individual should remain on the sex offenders register, and they will look as widely as possible at the behaviour of the individual in question, consulting as wide a number of agencies as possible to ensure that they make the best possible decision for the public.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s desire to tighten the loopholes in the sex offenders register, and particularly her proposal to prevent sex offenders from avoiding registering by changing their name by deed poll. I am sure she will be aware that deed poll is only one way in which a person can change their name. It is the most formal way, but not the most usual. Changing name by statutory declaration is quicker and easier. Perhaps she will consider that as another loophole that should be closed.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. It is important that we examine the process of changing a name by deed poll and tighten the rules so that sex offenders cannot use them as a means of avoiding the need to register. He makes a valid point about statutory declaration, and we will certainly take it into consideration.
The Home Secretary has said that the police decision on these matters will be final. I hope she agrees that if one offender gets off the sex offenders register, it is one too many. Will the victim be able to appeal against that decision by the police and try to overturn it?
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, the key phrase in which was that public protection must come first. We may compare that with judges who have instead ruled that paedophiles’ and rapists’ rights to privacy must come first. What would she say to those out-of-touch judges in the Supreme Court who are now openly, proudly and provocatively saying that a paedophile’s right to privacy is more important than children’s protection from those who have committed evil sexual acts?
I congratulate the Home Secretary on adopting a much tougher approach than the Scottish authorities. Does she have any regrets that she did not overrule her officials and similarly reject the much weaker Scottish model for the retention of DNA profiles?
We have not in fact absolutely adopted the Scottish model in relation to DNA, and we have gone further than it has. We have adopted protections for those who are innocent, and that is different from the situation that we are considering today, which is about people who have been found guilty and are at risk of reoffending. We must deal with public protection in that regard. The rules that we propose for the retention of DNA are about enabling the police to have the tools that they need, but at the same time not putting the DNA of a lot of innocent people on the database.
I, like many others, am appalled by the Court’s decision, but I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, particularly the part about tightening the rules. One concern will be about potential inconsistency of approach between different police forces. Highly manipulative people moving around the country may find themselves on the sex offenders register in one part of the country, but a decision may be made to take them off it in another part. How will she ensure that consistency is applied to the whole country?
My hon. Friend obviously makes an important point, but of course ACPO has been actively involved in putting the proposals together, as I said earlier, and it will be for ACPO to ensure that its guidance to forces across the country is appropriately strong and followed by all forces.
My constituent, 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall, was murdered having been groomed by a registered sex offender on Facebook. When the Home Secretary is examining the loopholes, will she ensure that all sex offenders are required to register their online identities as well, and that any failure to do so is seen just as seriously as if they had failed to register the fact that they were living with young children?
My constituents will welcome the taking-on of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a Bill of Rights, particularly as it was a manifesto commitment. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents and the public that sex offenders who have a right of appeal will not be removed from the register if they continue to pose a threat to the public?
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. She highlighted in it the difference in the approaches in Scotland and here at Westminster. Will she reassure us that differences between different devolved Administrations will not lead to people being able to be removed from the sex offenders register because of different thresholds being applied in different locations?
I reassure the hon. Lady that we will talk to the devolved Administrations. What I have announced will cover England and Wales, but we will talk to Scotland and Northern Ireland about the approach that we are adopting to ensure as far as we can that sex offenders do not move from one jurisdiction to another to get around the rules.
I thank the Home Secretary not only for the content of her statement, but for the fact that she has come to the House so quickly and that the statement was not leaked in advance.
Yesterday, when the Justice Secretary was questioned on the establishment of a commission on the Bill of Rights, he said that it would be done very quickly. Unfortunately, he was unable to answer my question on when that commission will report. Until we have a British Bill of Rights, I am afraid that the Home Secretary will be coming to the Dispatch Box to make more such statements.
I am tempted to point out to my hon. Friend that the statement may not have been leaked, but the Prime Minister covered one or two aspects of it in Prime Minister’s questions.
On the Bill of Rights, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary will imminently set out the arrangements for that commission and say how it will be formed, which I expect will include an end date.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) asked about funding for specialist units, many of which were formed because of a failure in normal policing to find people on the register, and because police forces did not talk to each other. What guarantees can the Home Secretary give on funding for such specialist units?
Of course, how a police budget is distributed to the different departments of each police force is a matter for the chief constable. The hon. Gentleman will know what I am about to say because the Government have made this clear a number of times. Police forces can take a significant sum of money out of their budgets not by cutting specialist units and visible policing, but by dealing with procurement and IT, and through collaboration with other forces. It is not just me saying that; Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says it too.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to close the loophole that allows sex offenders to go abroad for up to three days without notifying the police. The previous Government had since 1997 to close that loophole, but did not take such action.
The Home Secretary has been absolutely right in setting her face against the judgment, but will she confirm that it remains lawful to insist that sex offenders stay on the register for life? Although the measures she has announced are strong and seek to protect the public, she does not have to take them—it would be lawful for her to keep to the higher standard of keeping them on the register for life.
We have already had one challenge on this ruled on by the Supreme Court, and there is the prospect of others. We have no further right of appeal through the Supreme Court mechanism, so we are introducing what we believe to be a tough set of measures that will address the issue. Of course, it will continue to be possible for sex offenders to stay on the register for life.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. I have appeared in Parole Board hearings. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the police officers who will make decisions will have all the information on an offender that is available in a Parole Board hearing, from judges’ sentencing remarks on dangerousness, to pre-sentence reports and the offender’s full record in custody, so that they can make a thorough decision, so that the public are fully protected?
That is absolutely our intention. The police should have the fullest information possible on which to base their decision on whether a sex offender should stay on the register. Indeed, I expect that when we lay the statutory instrument before the House, we will be able to go into more detail on the sort of information that will be available to the police.
I assure the Home Secretary that my hon. and right hon. Friends wholeheartedly agree with her statement. It is time to assert that Parliament makes the laws, not the courts. It is our duty as a House to protect the general public from those who perpetrate such horrific crimes. If it is the will of the House to strengthen our laws, instead of weakening them in the light of the Court’s decision, we should assert the authority of the House.
When will consultation be held with the Northern Ireland Executive?
We will have discussions with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Government shortly—we have held some discussions with the latter because they have taken some steps down this road already. These issues will come to Parliament for it to decide. The commission on the British Bill of Rights, which was announced today, is a step that the Government are taking to ensure that we bolster the ability of Parliament to set our laws. The previous Government introduced the Human Rights Act. I am afraid that they saw the problems that the Act created and did nothing—this Government are doing something about it.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but how confident is she that the increasingly robust Supreme Court, and the European Courts with their extraterritorial reach, will not overrule her very firm and welcome announcement today? Is it not time to introduce a Bill of Rights very early indeed, rather than having a commission which may report sometime in the future—
I see what my hon. Friend is getting at, but it is right to have a commission to look into the British Bill of Rights. The purpose of my statement was to set out a way forward that meets the requirement set by the Supreme Court, which should therefore not be subject to a further ruling by that Court.
Residents in my constituency are absolutely fed up to the back teeth with human rights legislation and the way in which it is being used to promote the rights of bad people over the rights of good people. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that when the commission on the Bill of Rights is established, an end date will be published. May I urge her to urge the Deputy Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary to choose an early end date, which we need so that legislation can be introduced in the House in this Parliament, so that the issue can be resolved once and for all?
Most Members of the House are fed up with the way in which decisions by the House are increasingly being overturned by the courts. I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary know well of his interest in this matter. As I said, we will ensure that we can take action to assert the rights of Parliament.
Welfare Reform Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs Secretary May, Mr Secretary Clarke, Mr Secretary Lansley, Mr Secretary Pickles, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller, presented a Bill to make provision for universal credit and personal independence payment; to make other provision about social security and tax credits; to make provision about the functions of the registration service, child support maintenance and the use of jobcentres; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First Time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 149) with explanatory notes (Bill 149-EN).
Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill
Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision requiring certain prisoners due to be considered for early release to complete a relevant offender management programme, where available; to require courts to take regard of mental health problems in sentencing; to make provision regarding minimum and maximum sentences; and for connected purposes.
There are currently too many anomalies in sentencing. People are given sentences that are not always appropriate to the crime they have committed, and sentences do not subsequently have regard to the progress that people make during their time in prison. The Bill would introduce new clauses to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to address some of those anomalies, to ensure that courts have greater freedom to impose the sentence that they deem necessary, and to ensure that there is greater incentive for prisoners to partake of rehabilitation programmes so as to be considered for early release.
I therefore propose to add three new measures to the aforementioned Act. First, I would add new clauses to warrant that early release from both indeterminate public protection sentences and determinate sentences is incentive-based, not automatic. Secondly, I would add new clauses on maximum and minimum sentences. Thirdly, I would ensure that courts are given the right to have regard to mental health problems when sentencing convicted persons.
I shall speak first on the new conditions to be imposed on granting early release. Indeterminate public protection sentences have been a controversial measure since their inception. Under section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, where a person aged 18 or over is imprisoned for public protection but the court does not consider life imprisonment necessary, the convicted person may be imprisoned for a period of at least two years but less than life. The court sets a minimum period or tariff to be served before a prisoner can apply for parole. The measure was intended to be used sparingly but, presumably due to the inflexible requirements laid down by the Government, IPP sentences are being used more frequently than expected.
I believe that not enough thought is put into determining a prisoner’s tariff and that because little focus is placed on putting these prisoners into rehabilitation programmes, there are thousands of prisoners on IPP sentences in our prisons who in many cases will be released without regard being given to the remorse shown or even to a prisoner’s rehabilitation. Because of amendments made to the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 by schedule 8 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, a person serving a sentence of imprisonment or detention for a term can be considered for early release after serving one half of that sentence. I believe that that needs to be put right.
My Bill will add a new clause to section 255 of the 2003 Act to the effect that a person serving an IPP sentence shall have that sentence reviewed by the Parole Board at least every two years. Furthermore, all persons serving IPP sentences must have access made available to relevant offender management programmes. When determining whether to recommend a person for release on licence, the Parole Board should have regard to the availability and completion of these programmes. It is cost-effective to do this.
On a daily basis, 5,659 people are serving an IPP sentence, of which 2,229 are beyond their tariff. On average, these prisoners are serving 244 days beyond their tariff. It costs roughly £30,000 to keep someone incarcerated for 244 days. If we multiply this sum by 2,229, we get a figure of £68 million. By comparison, the cost of putting a prisoner through a rehabilitation programme would be £5,000 at most, which, multiplied by 2,229, comes to £11 million as opposed to the currently spent £68 million. Introducing this measure would thus be cost-effective and, I believe, beneficial to the protection of the public.
Equally, for prisoners serving determinate sentences, the Parole Board must be satisfied that they are of low risk to the public before they are granted early release. Under section 244 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, when a fixed-term prisoner has served the requisite custodial period the Secretary of State shall release him on licence. Since 2005, those serving four years or more have come out after serving 50% of their sentence—regardless of the progress they have made while in prison.
My Bill would add a further subsection to this section, which would ensure that before releasing a person sentenced to four or more years in prison, the Parole Board must be satisfied that the individual is at low risk of harm to the public and low risk of reoffending. These amending provisions would ensure that incentives for rehabilitation are rewarded, but it is just as important that the courts be given greater freedom to impose the sentences they deem fit and have regard to the individual circumstances of each case.
To satisfy this requirement, I would add an additional new clause to the Act on maximum and minimum sentences. This would mean that when sentencing a person to a determinate prison sentence, the court shall state the maximum time that should be served and also the minimum term. The stated minimum term must be less than half the maximum sentence but no less than one third of that sentence. In passing sentence, the court should, of course, have regard to the seriousness of the offence and it may request a pre-sentence report from a suitably qualified employee of the relevant probation trust. The notion of introducing maximum and minimum sentences was included in the last Conservative manifesto.
I referred earlier to the importance of courts being able when passing a sentence to pay greater regard to the individual circumstances surrounding a case. The final new clause of my Bill, added to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, would mean that the courts could pay greater regard to psychological or psychiatric problems diagnosed in a person who has committed a violent or sexual offence. Under section 277, persons of 18 years or older who commit certain violent or sexual offences are given an extended sentence. However, in cases where a person has committed a serious crime and has subsequently been diagnosed—I stress subsequently diagnosed—with psychological or psychiatric problems, it is the feeling of many sentencers that an extended period of licence would be more appropriate both for the individual concerned and for the protection of the public. In many such cases, the disposal of a hospital order would be preferable, but that disposal is not currently available to sentencers.
In the Eriksson case decided on 26 November 2009, that was precisely the finding of Mr Justice Saunders, who presided over the prosecution of a person who stabbed and killed a man while she was suffering from a debilitating mental illness. In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Saunders said that this
“would clearly have been a case for a hospital order”,
but that “that disposal” was “not open” to him. He wished to pass a sentence that would provide an appropriate level of protection for the public, although not one designed to over-punish because the defendant’s culpability was low, owing to her mental illness. He expressed great frustration that Parliament does not allow sentencers to order an extended period of licence, which he called “an unfortunate omission” in sentencers’ powers.
In that regard, I would add a new clause to section 277 to the effect that in determining whether to impose extended supervision, a court shall have regard to any psychological or psychiatric assessment that is carried out following the commission of the offence as well as the likelihood of the person being involved in further similar serious offending. I believe that these new clauses would make vital revisions to sentencing, would grant greater autonomy to courts to review the circumstances of each case and would reward the progress made in prison. I accordingly commend them to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Mrs Linda Riordan, Claire Perry, Chris Evans, Hywel Williams, Jonathan Edwards and Mr Robert Buckland present the Bill.
Mr Elfyn Llwyd accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 May, and to be printed. (Bill 150).
[11th Allotted Day]
I beg to move,
That this House believes that the Government was wrong to cancel the Future Jobs Fund that would have created 200,000 jobs for young people; further believes that the Government’s economic policies have slowed economic growth, raised youth unemployment and created the highest graduate unemployment for over a decade; further believes that urgent action is now required to stop a generation of young people being lost to worklessness; and calls on the Government to commission an independent assessment of the Future Jobs Fund to report to Parliament before the Government’s Work Programme is implemented and to evaluate whether a guarantee and requirement of work incorporated into the Programme would bring down youth unemployment in the short and longer term and limit steep rises in welfare payments.
I am glad that we have been able to force the Government to come to the House to debate the employment figures—or, rather, the unemployment figures—published this morning, because those figures will worry families, young and old, up and down the country. The headlines from this morning’s numbers are bad enough—five quarters after the recession ended, unemployment is not going down but up; employment is not rising but falling—but the details are, I am afraid, even worse. Private sector employment is flat, while the number of public sector jobs is falling fast. It is becoming clear that the private sector is not creating jobs fast enough to absorb the redundancies that we know are coming down the line. There are now more women on the claimant count than at any time since 1996.
The consequences for young people are perhaps most serious of all. One in five of our young people is now out of work; the number of unemployed has risen again; we now confront youth unemployment of almost a million—the highest figure on record. That figure is a wake-up call to this Government to get their act together. The question we want the House to debate today is quite simply, what should the Government do next?
As if we needed it, this morning’s figures are, if anything, fresh evidence of the need for a plan B on economic growth. We have rehearsed the debate in the House plenty of times over the past year, and I do not plan to do so again this afternoon. Suffice it to say that the Government are cutting spending too far and too fast. The recession having been over for a year, we would expect to see unemployment now falling fast, and yet it is not. Longer dole queues make the deficit not easier to pay down, but harder. The result is that working families end up paying the price.
The right hon. Gentleman was part of a Government who presided over a record rise in youth unemployment. As his Government’s policies clearly did not work over 13 years, should he not, instead of carping from the sidelines, get behind the policies of the coalition Government, who are offering a fresh start to young people in this country?
For the record, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that last month’s unemployment figure in this country was 2.498 million, and that this month’s is 2.492 million?
The unemployment figures are getting worse, not better. This morning I heard the Minister quibble on the BBC that somehow unemployment in our country was stabilising, but the truth of today’s figures is that private sector employment is dead flat, and the number of announced redundancies is growing by the day. [Interruption.] The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb) carps from a sedentary position, but he would be better off reverting to the advice that he gave to the Conservative party before the election about the importance of taking further steps to help get young people back to work.
Before I give way to the Minister, let me finish this point, as I want to put a question to him.
As I said, the rise in the dole bill makes the deficit not easier, but harder, to pay down. Although the Chancellor likes to pretend that the welfare cuts are somehow hitting shirkers not workers, will the Minister confirm that once we factor out the lower uprating the truth is that more than half the cuts in welfare spending are hitting working families?
As the one who is intervening, I think it is my job to ask the right hon. Gentleman questions. Will he confirm that one of the bits of good news this morning is that, for the second month in a row, job vacancies in the economy have increased significantly? Does he agree that that is an encouraging development?
Any increase in vacancies is good news, but 40,000 is not an enormous increase, and when private sector employment is dead flat and public sector redundancies are mounting, I am afraid that it poses serious questions about whether unemployment will continue to rise over the next couple of years.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, worrying as the youth unemployment figures are, the complacency demonstrated by the Government in debate after debate is even more worrying. We heard today from the Prime Minister that youth unemployment has been a problem for a long time, but the Government’s policies are making the situation worse. In my constituency, 1,100 people will potentially lose their jobs as a result of Auto Windscreens going into administration this week. All we hear from the Government is complacency, rather than an admission that their policies are making this major problem worse.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight his constituency case, which has caused concern to families up and down the country. We saw figures today showing that earnings growth is now about half the rate of inflation. At a time when the jobs market is weaker, that will contribute to a tighter and tighter squeeze on working families over the coming months.
May I tell my right hon. Friend that in my constituency, in the first 10 years of the Labour Government, youth unemployment was halved? Then we had a recession, and of course it began to rise. Will not the Government’s cuts to the Connexions service, Opening Doors—one of our local facilities paid for by central Government—and education maintenance allowance for students who are in the middle of two-year courses result in more young people going on to the dole?
My right hon. Friend is right. Unless we hear something of substance from the Minister, I am afraid that her prediction is all too likely to pan out.
When the squeeze on living standards is about to get tougher and tougher, one would expect action from the Government to help. In fact, more than half the welfare cut will hit working families, and by the end of the Parliament £3.4 billion will be taken off benefits for children—far more than the amount being taken off bankers. Putting aside the question of what kind of Government take more money off children than off bankers, if the Chancellor had done what he should have done, and implemented a proper bonus tax on the banks, he would have about £3.5 billion to invest in jobs and growth, including in jobs for young people. That must be the substance of our debate this afternoon.
Let me respond to that point in substance in a moment, and I will invite the hon. Gentleman to intervene again. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to ensure that we draw the right lessons from the past 13 years, as they have a critical bearing on the programme that we want the Government to put in place for the future.
There are real differences between Government and Opposition about the macro-economic approach that we should take. We also share some values. Many of us share a passion to attack poverty in all its manifestations. We believe that the poverty of some impoverishes us all, not only because it affects the chances of many to lead the life that they would choose, but because it denies many the chances, opportunities, free range and scope to contribute to our country’s progress. I happen to think that the Secretary of State shares that belief, about which I feel passionately, as my constituency has the second highest unemployment in the country and, as this morning’s figures confirm, the highest youth unemployment. I do not have to go far to see wasted talent—I see it, and think about it, when I go to work every day. That inspires the passion with which many of us think carefully about the programme that the country needs to get youth unemployment back down.
If we are looking back on our period of stewardship and offering the Government lessons, does my right hon. Friend conclude, as I do, that one of our errors was not to introduce the future jobs fund earlier and put more resources into that than into the new deal?
We have learned many lessons from the future jobs fund, and there are many successes on which we can build. I will turn to that question in substance when I dwell on what we should learn from the past 10 years.
The key point, which my right hon. Friend underlines, is that the right strategy for the Government during the recession and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, was not to sit by and do nothing, or to watch as unemployment went through 3 million not once but twice, but to act, to save jobs, to keep people in their homes, and to keep businesses moving.
The right hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that, under a Scottish National party Government, only in Scotland is unemployment falling and employment rising. He will also welcome the fact that we introduced 25,000 modern apprenticeships in our budget. Can he offer any explanation of Labour in Scotland’s opposition to that?
The right approach in the Scottish economy—where GDP growth has unfortunately been weaker than growth in the UK generally over the last period—is to build on the success of the future jobs fund and put in place not 3,000 opportunities for the future, but 10,000. That is the approach Labour will propose in the run-up to the coming elections.
Let us address Labour’s record in office, a substantive point which has already been mentioned. When Labour came to office in 1997 some 656,000 young people were out of work. As our economy grew, we introduced a welfare to work programme that included creating Jobcentre Plus and the new deal, and which made sure that three quarters of our young people who went on to jobseeker’s allowance were off JSA within six months. Setting aside those in full-time education—and we substantially increased the number of people in full-time education—that meant that the number of unemployed young people fell by some 20%. Indeed, between 1997 and the start of the global financial crisis the claimant count among young people fell by some 40%, and that was at a time when the number of young people in our country was rising; between 2000 and 2009 it rose by over 1 million. I think that Members will therefore forgive me for agreeing with the man who described the progress we made as “remarkable”, and who said:
“There is no question that the UK has made significant progress in the labour market over the last ten years.”
That man was the Government’s welfare reform Minister, Lord Freud.
This may not have come up on the hon. Gentleman’s radar, but there was the worst financial crisis since the 1920s at the end of Labour’s term in office. During that crisis, Labour did the right thing by acting to get people back to work, to keep people in their homes and to help keep business on the move. That was a policy and approach which the hon. Gentleman’s party should have supported.