House of Commons
Monday 27 June 2011
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should also like to answer questions 8, 13 and 21.
Thank you for that clarification, Mr Speaker.
The Government recognise the importance of CCTV in preventing and detecting crime, and support its use by communities. The Government also acknowledge that continued use of CCTV requires the support of the public and public confidence that systems are being used appropriately. Accordingly, we intend to introduce a code of practice for surveillance cameras and appoint a surveillance camera commissioner.
May I respectfully suggest that the Minister should visit the Furness area, so that he can see for himself the impact such cameras make in reducing crime, and then inform the House why 11 pieces of red tape have to be gone through before anyone can even consider installing fresh ones?
As I have said, I welcome the use of CCTV. It can be important in preventing and detecting crime, and I am certainly willing to discuss the issue further outside the Chamber and to talk about the impact CCTV is clearly making in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I would also say to him, however, that when his party was in government it published a CCTV strategy that included 44 separate recommendations—including that a body with responsibility for the governance of the use of CCTV in this country should be established—so quite a lot of regulation was put in place by his own Government.
It is important that we do not lose confidence in CCTV as a beneficial influence, and thereby lose that valuable tool in the battle against crime and disorder. We must not undermine the real benefits of CCTV. That is why we want to have a measured and proportionate scheme to regulate CCTV better and ensure that appropriate standards are put in place, so that that confidence is maintained.
Does the Minister accept that CCTV evidence was crucial in eventually bringing Levi Bellfield to justice for the murder of Milly Dowler, and is that not a timely reminder that we should be making it easier, not harder, for the police to use CCTV, and that we need more CCTV, not less?
I certainly recognise the value of CCTV, but we must be careful to ensure that there is no loss of trust and confidence in its use among communities throughout the country. We have learned what can happen in such circumstances from the experience in Birmingham, and in light of that, Sara Thornton, chief constable of Thames Valley Police, produced a report that underlined that accountability, consultation and transparency must be core considerations. That is precisely what we are reflecting in our approach.
Our approach is focused on the points I have identified: ensuring trust, confidence and genuine belief in the use of CCTV moving forward. That is at the core of our proposals, because if that is eroded, it will undermine the very use of this powerful, important tool in protecting our communities from crime.
The Select Committee on Home Affairs said in February:
“We accept that there is no simple relationship between numbers of police officers and levels of crime.”
The Government agree.
I have answered the point about the relationship between police numbers and levels of crime and we have been absolutely clear that it is not simple. Our view is backed up by the Home Affairs Committee and by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who said last September:
“I don’t think it’s possible to make a direct correlation between police numbers and crime reduction”.
Once again, the Government agree.
According to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, even when we had a record number of police officers, only 11% were visible and available to the public at any one time. Does that not show that it must be possible, even if the number of officers falls, to protect and perhaps improve the visibility of police on our streets?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and that HMIC report’s importance lay in the fact that it pointed out the issues about the visibility and availability of police officers as well as that more police officers were visible and available on a Monday morning than on a Friday night. That came as news to many people living in town centres, where there are considerable problems on Friday nights. We must ensure that police officers are deployed in the most effective way so that they can fight crime.
In 15 days’ time, 2,000 police officers will gather in Central hall to voice their opposition to the Government’s plans on their pay and conditions and the reduction in numbers. The Home Secretary is right to quote the Select Committee’s conclusions, but only two weeks ago the Police Federation told us that morale in the police service was at its lowest in a generation. What steps will she take to ensure that the police understand that what she is doing to reshape the landscape of policing, which is her right, is for the benefit of the public and of the police?
We are doing what we are doing with the distinct intention of ensuring that we have a police force that can move forward in the 21st century and provide the policing that is necessary and that people want. That means considering pay, terms and conditions and the flexibility of the work force as well as the bureaucracy that has tied too many of our police officers to their desks and to form filling rather than allowing them to be out on the streets fighting crime. This Government are making a distinct difference to that bureaucracy by slashing it, so that the police can do what people want them to out on the streets.
As my right hon. Friend knows, the Opposition consistently refer to 20% cuts in police budgets. Will she confirm that as there will be no cut in the precept funding and as public sector pay is expected to be frozen, the cut in money received by the police will be in the order of 6%, not 20%?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Opposition talk about Government funding, but every police force in this country has funding available from the precept. At the end of the four-year period of the comprehensive spending review, police will have 6% less funding. That is the figure that people should concentrate on, rather than what the Opposition say.
As the Prime Minister has made clear, the Government remain very concerned by Mr Magnitsky’s death and are disappointed that the official investigation into the case announced by President Medvedev in November 2009 has still not been completed. I am due to meet the hon. Gentleman shortly to discuss this important issue, but the duty of confidentiality means that the Government are unable to discuss the details of individual immigration cases.
I am going to try to talk about individual cases anyway, I am afraid. There is no point in merely being disappointed. Sergei Magnitsky was working for a British organisation in Russia when he discovered a vast network of corruption. He was illegally arrested and murdered while in police custody. Many other countries are considering a ban: the United States of America, Poland, Canada, Holland, Germany, Estonia and the Czech Republic. Why cannot we ensure that those corrupt murderers do not come into this country?
The Government continue to raise our concerns and the hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned about the case. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary both discussed the case with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov when he last visited the UK in February 2011. I understand that the official Russian investigation is due to report in August. As I have said, we are disappointed that it has taken so long but no doubt the hon. Gentleman and I can discuss more of the details when we have our meeting in a few days’ time.
Does not the Minister understand that this man, who was a lawyer, was killed in jail by the Russian authorities? The case is similar to that of someone who was poisoned in this country, we believe, by someone who was subsequently elected as a Member of the Russian Parliament. Russia must understand that if it wants to be accepted as a modern state in the 21st century, this sort of gangsterism and state-murder will not be tolerated.
My hon. Friend expresses himself with great power and passion. It is important that all states around the world observe proper and civilised standards of behaviour and the British Government will certainly continue to impress that on Governments all around the world.
Police ( Administrative Duties)
The police should be focusing on police work, not paperwork. That is why, last month, the Government announced a package of new measures to cut red tape, saving up to 2.5 million police hours a year.
I thank the Minister for that response and I am sure that my constituents will welcome measures that will cut the time that our police officers have to spend on paperwork and administration. I wonder whether the Minister would kindly update the House on what steps are being taken to improve the accountability of the police.
We want to improve the accountability of the police and the whole criminal justice system to the public and we are proceeding with our plan to introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners to do that—those measures are currently under discussion in the Lords—and measures such as the introduction of street level crime mapping. The police.uk website has received more than 420 million hits since its launch.
I believe that elected police and crime commissioners will have a very strong focus on reducing the burden of bureaucracy and administration in their forces precisely because they will feel pressure from their electorate to ensure that resources are directed to the front line. We are also placing police and crime commissioners under a duty to collaborate and I am sure that they will work together to drive out unnecessary costs from their forces.
Warwickshire police in my constituency are pushing forward with innovative changes to its policing model to allow more police to be out on the streets doing what they are supposed to be doing. It is also implementing new technology to allow officers to file paperwork without having to return to their desks. Could the Home Secretary or the Minister tell us what progress has been made in implementing similar changes in other—
I welcome the steps being taken by Warwickshire police in this area and I would happily visit the force to look at what it is doing. We want to make sure that new technology is used in that way by police forces. We have inherited the problem that there is still multiple keying of data into different systems by police officers, as I heard this morning for myself, which is wasting their time. We still have 2,000 different IT systems across the 43 forces, which we have to converge and we have a programme to achieve that.
I would like to have a further discussion with my hon. Friend about what obstacles there are to that. We certainly want to ensure that the police are able to exercise their existing powers to move on Travellers who are in illegal occupation of sites, which is totally unacceptable and antisocial. We believe that the powers are there; if there are impediments or if the force is encountering some difficulty, I would welcome a conversation with my hon. Friend about that.
Why are the Government increasing the administrative burden on the police by making them apply to a magistrates court to retain the DNA of those suspected of serious criminal offences? Surely, the retention of that DNA should be automatic. Is the Minister going to rethink this in time for the Bill’s Report stage?
We have to strike the right balance between civil liberties and the effectiveness of these crime-fighting tools, but it would simply be wrong to characterise the Government’s approach as increasing the burden on police. We are returning charging decisions to the police and our aim is that 70% of all decisions will now be made by police without having to go to the Crown Prosecution Service, so we are giving more discretion and control to the police and we are reducing bureaucracy.
Will the Minister accept that some of the reporting requirements placed on police are about accounting for the very serious powers that we give them to act on our behalf? In the past, a lack of such requirements led to deaths in custody, stop-and-search practices and other things that brought the police into disrepute. How is the Minister going to make sure that he achieves the balance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and not allowing the police to go back to old ways?
I accept the force of what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is important that we have proper processes and accountability, but we must trust officers as trained professionals to exercise their discretion and we need a proportionate approach to risk-taking. The stop-and-search form is a good example, because we have reduced the amount of data required, not scrapped it entirely. That will save hundreds of thousands of hours of officer time, but it will still keep in place important safeguards to ensure community confidence in policing.
On the question of that balance, I understand that Greater Manchester police are talking of removing face-to-face access for the public at police stations. On top of the 620 support posts that have had to be removed, does the Minister not see that the 20% cuts are now leading to a degradation in service that will cause a loss of confidence in the police?
I do not accept that there will be degradation of service in Greater Manchester, and I do not believe that the chief constable would either. He has talked about the fact that the headquarters’ staff in his force got too big and about the savings that can be achieved. As we have said, there are many innovative ways for the police to make contact with their communities that do not necessarily involve an attachment to old buildings. Forces around the country are sharing community centres and shop premises, increasing the contact time that they have with the public as a result. The number of visits to police stations can be very low.
The Home Secretary says that she is saving 1,200 police officer posts by cutting red tape, but we know that 12,000 police officers are being axed across the country. Of the six measures to cut bureaucracy, one has not been taken up by the national statistician and four are pilots. Is not the real truth that the scale and pace of the cuts is slashing front-line policing, not red tape, as we know in Warwickshire? What will be the administrative saving in this financial year as we see the deepest front-loaded front-line cuts?
I have said that the package of measures that we announced recently would save another 2.5 million hours of officer time, equivalent to 1,200 police officer posts, and we will go further with, for instance, more efficiencies in the criminal justice system. We will take no lectures from the Opposition about bureaucracy. It was they who tied up the police in this red tape with their targets, directions, policing pledge and constant interference, and it has fallen on this Government to reduce that bureaucracy and ensure that police officers can be crime fighters, not form writers.
It is for the chief constable and the police authority in each force to determine the number of police officers who are deployed within the available resource.
Crime is once again rising in the west midlands as police numbers fall, with hundreds of Birmingham’s and Britain’s best police officers being forced to retire under regulation A19, some as young as 48 years of age. Does the Home Secretary accept any responsibility, including for the latest casualty of Government cuts, the head of the west midlands counter-terrorism unit?
The detective chief superintendent to whom the hon. Gentleman referred has said:
“I have always fully appreciated the reasons why West Midlands Police is implementing A19”.
That was a procedure that the last Labour Government chose to retain. Police officers are not being made redundant under this procedure, they are retiring with a full pension having completed 30 years of service. It is for chief constables to take the decisions about how best to deploy their resources, and unlike the hon. Gentleman I will not second-guess the chief constable on that.
Does the Minister of State agree that I am lucky to represent a London constituency where we can see the reality of Conservativism in power? In 2012, after four years of Mayor Johnson, there will be more police officers in London than there were after eight years of Mayor Livingstone.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, on which the Opposition should perhaps reflect. A directly elected individual who has responsibility for policing is working hard to ensure that resources get to the front line. He has sought to maintain police numbers, and is protecting neighbourhood policing for the benefit of Londoners. It is a very good example of direct democracy in action.
Does the Minister agree that the police are only as effective as the teams that support them? If he has been in the intelligence room of a police station, as I have in the Huddersfield station, he will know that it is not a back-office function that can be wiped away. Those intelligence teams are under threat, and the police cannot work without them.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that the idea of one police force, which Tom Winsor, who is leading the independent review of police pay and conditions, has talked about, is a good one. Police staff play an important role in modern police forces, which we should understand. Nevertheless, there has been a very big growth in the number of police staff in recent years, which has proved unsustainable. Around 25,000 police officers are working not on the front line, but in back and middle offices. That is something to which chief constables need to pay attention.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, despite a challenging settlement this year, Thames Valley police are not cutting the number of front-line police officers, despite misleading information being put out locally by the Labour party after it was briefed to the contrary by the chief constable. Does he agree that it is possible to cut back-office functions, rather than front-line policing?
I strongly agree. Thames Valley police are taking decisions about how to make savings and work more efficiently in many areas so that they can protect the front line, and that is what forces up and down the country are doing. A good example is the collaboration between Thames Valley police and Hampshire police on a range of functions. That is the sort of thing we want to see extended across the country.
Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) on police cuts in London, can he explain why the Mayor, Boris Johnson, is cutting 1,800 officers in the next two years from London’s police force, including 300 sergeants, which will result in cuts to local safer neighbourhood teams? The Mayor is also proposing to reduce the minimum number of officers in each safer neighbourhood team from the current level of six, and I have seen a letter from one commander stating that police community support officers will not be replaced as they become fully-fledged police officers. Does the Minister accept that safer neighbourhood teams in London face being cut by stealth? Should he not get to the Dispatch Box and apologise to the people of London, on behalf of the Government and the Mayor, for cutting the number of front-line police officers?
The Labour party simply cannot stand the fact that the Mayor of London has said that he will enter the next mayoral election with more police officers than he inherited. He has made that pledge and is protecting safer neighbourhood teams. Of course there are sensible arrangements whereby some sergeants are being shared, but the number of officers in safer neighbourhood teams is being protected. It is possible, as the Mayor has shown, alongside the leadership of the Met, to protect front-line policing while having to deliver significant savings. The hon. Gentleman—
The chaotic lives of drug addicts make it difficult for the Government to make an official estimate of the total number of people addicted to Class A drugs. However, for two drugs in this category—opiates and crack cocaine—the Government estimated in 2008-09 that there were more than 320,000 users in England. Figures for 2009-10 will be available later this year.
We know that it is difficult for the coalition partners to agree on drugs, but surely that is no excuse for their total inaction and silence on drugs policy and on tackling drugs since coming into power. When will we see some action on drugs and some drugs policy emerge from this Government?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he could not be more wrong in his assessment of what the coalition Government have being doing. A few months ago we published a new drugs strategy, which is looking not only at the action being taken by the police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to apprehend those dealing drugs and importing them into the UK, but at responsibility for rehabilitation. We have a clear message that we can use payment by results, working with organisations in the private sector and in the voluntary and charitable sector, to ensure that we do not just churn drug addicts through courses that take them off drugs and then return them to the same environment where they are pressured back on to drugs, but instead that we give them a longer-lasting solution that helps them get off drugs forever.
Last week the Justice Secretary told the House that almost one tenth of people who have used heroin first did so while in prison. What actions have the Home Department’s national crime agencies taken to catch and seek to prosecute people who illegally take class A drugs into our prisons?
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue, and action is taken in two ways. The Ministry of Justice is now looking at drug-free wings in prisons, so work is being done on that, but in the Home Office we continue, through not just regional police forces but the Serious Organised Crime Agency, to fight the fight against drug dealers and those who import drugs to this country, and that fight continues.
National DNA Database
The Government’s approach is based on putting on the national DNA database more people who are guilty of crimes, rather than those who are innocent. Simply increasing the size of the DNA database does not necessarily result in more detections. We have been informed in the consideration of our plans by past statistics highlighting falls in DNA detections despite the huge increase in the number of profiles retained.
That is interesting. What is the Minister’s response to the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on those matters, Chief Constable Sims, who says that there will be 1,000 fewer cases solved because of the decisions that the Minister is going to take?
The hon. Gentleman may also know that Chief Constable Sims acknowledged that such estimates were
“notoriously difficult to put figures on”.––[Official Report, Protection of Freedoms Public Bill Committee, 22 March 2011; c. 8, Q1.]
The Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee also heard evidence from GeneWatch which pointed in a very different direction. I again point the hon. Gentleman to past circumstances and to statistics highlighting that, despite the huge increase in the number of people that his—the previous—Government put on the DNA database, DNA detections have fallen.
Last Friday a man with no previous convictions, Mr Ronald Toms, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attempted rape of an 84-year-old woman. He was caught because he had been previously arrested but not charged with an offence, and his DNA had been taken. Will the Minister confirm that under his proposals Mr Toms would be free to rape again?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman, with all respect, that he will well know that the use of individual cases cannot be undertaken lightly, given that they rely on all sorts of other issues such as consent and on other identification evidence. We have taken a very measured approach by making sure that those who are guilty are retained on the DNA database, and that there are matches to ensure that the cold-case database is used effectively. That way more crimes are detected.
For the second time in five days, the Home Secretary has declined to answer questions on DNA, even though she knows that it is a growing concern, and that I and the Leader of the Opposition raised it last week. There are about 5,000 rape cases each year where the police think that they have enough information to pass a case on to the Crown Prosecution Service but the CPS decides that it cannot charge. In those cases, the Government’s plans mean that DNA will not be held even though rape has a notoriously low charge rate and we know that some people go on to offend again.
On Thursday the Minister with responsibility for women, the Minister for Equalities, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), suggested that the police would be able to apply to retain DNA in cases where they thought that the public were at risk. That is very different from what the Home Secretary told me on Second Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, when she did not include cases where the public were thought to be at risk.
So, will the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) now explain how the police and the DNA commissioner are supposed to assess who poses a risk; and in how many of those 5,000 cases does the hon. Gentleman expect the police to apply and for DNA to be held?
The right hon. Lady is wrong on a number of counts, because the Home Secretary was absolutely clear on Second Reading about the approach that would be taken. The Government have said that, when an individual is arrested for a sexual offence such as rape but not subsequently charged, the police will be able to apply to the new biometrics commissioner for the DNA profile’s retention. If the commissioner agrees, the profile will be retained for three years. The right hon. Lady seems to ignore the facts and the way in which the issue has been presented, but there is the clarity on what is to happen.
The Minister has not answered the question. He may want to look back at the words that the Home Secretary used on Second Reading, which were rather different. Does he really think it is practical for the police separately to assess, fill in forms and apply to hold DNA on 5,000 new rape cases each year, as well as countless other serious crimes? Ministers have just spent 20 minutes telling the House that they want to cut police bureaucracy; now they are increasing it. The West Midlands police chief said to the Bill Committee:
“We have always argued that it is impossible to create a regime of individual intervention for a database of 6 million. We have to make decisions based on automation.”––[Official Report, Protection of Freedoms Public Bill Committee, 22 March 2011; c. 9, Q4.]
The Home Secretary is making it impossible for the police—
The right hon. Lady needs to look at the statistics, as I have already highlighted. If she looks at the data from 2001-02, when there were 39,000 detections against a database of fewer than 1.4 million, all from convicted people, and compares that with the data from the last year, when over 5 million individuals, including hundreds of thousands of innocent people, were on the database, she will see that the number of detections had fallen to 32,500. Labour Members appear to be very casual with people’s liberties, although they claim they are not. They seem to assume that simply because someone is arrested for a crime, they are guilty. We take a different view. Labour Members are not prepared to look at the facts and the evidence.
Tier 4 Visa Requirements
The impact assessment estimated the net cost to the economy of the student and post-study work proposals to be £2.4 billion. There will be additional compensating benefits from reducing abuse, ensuring cohesion, and increasing public confidence in the immigration system, but it is not possible to quantify the impact of these changes.
I thank the Minister for his clear response. He refers to a cost of £2.4 billion. The best case scenario is a cost of £1 billion, and the worst case £3.5 billion, for a problem that the Home Affairs Committee struggled to find anybody, other than the Minister, to say was a really serious problem; even Migrationwatch UK was not that bothered. Given that we do not want to lose £2.5 billion from the economy, will he rethink these proposals?
It would be absurd to say that there are no problems with the student visa system. It represents two thirds of the amount of immigration into the system, and it has become the biggest single loophole in our immigration system. On the slightly arcane theology of impact assessments, my hon. Friend will know that some strange assumptions have to be made by Government economists. For instance, this has to be costed on the assumption that if migrant students are no longer able to work here as before, not a single one of the jobs that they vacate will be taken up by a UK citizen, particularly one who may be currently unemployed. If there is replacement, which is intuitively very obvious, then the cost to the economy will be significantly lower. That is why we have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to investigate this assumption, and we expect it to report in November.
Despite what the Minister has said about impact assessments, it is surprising and deeply worrying that the Government are pursuing a policy which, on their own view, will cost the country £2.4 billion and which, on their own view, will have only half the impact on net migration that they originally said. This policy was part of a package of changes that the Government said would reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015. In support of the policy, the Prime Minister said in April to Tory party members:
“No ifs. No buts. That’s a promise we made to the British people. And it is a promise we are keeping.”
Well, not according to his Government’s own impact assessment, and not according to the Migration Observatory—
Domestic and Sexual Violence
In March this year we published a detailed action plan on tackling violence against women and girls. We have already delivered in several areas, including a commitment to provide more than £28 million of Home Office funding over four years for local specialist services to support victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Recent incidents of rape and sexual assault in my constituency have been linked to Gloucester’s nightlife. Although Gloucestershire constabulary, which incidentally is increasing the number of front-line officers in our city, is doing a great job to protect my constituents on the streets, many parents would like awareness to be raised among youngsters about the risk of sexual assault. Are there things that the Home Office could do, perhaps together with the Department for Education, to help in that?
Preventing sexual and domestic violence from happening in the first place is a key priority of our action plan to end violence against women and girls. We are committed to developing education and awareness-raising campaigns on rape and sexual assault. As my hon. Friend said, we work with the Department for Education to encourage teaching about sexual consent in schools.
There have been no specific discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice on this issue. However, the Ministry of Justice is a member of the inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, which is chaired by the Home Secretary. Discussions on the support provided for all victims of violence against women and girls is discussed at its meetings.
What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Housing and Local Government about the need to rehouse victims of domestic and sexual violence in safe homes? There are a number of cases in my constituency where I do not feel that the council is stepping up to the mark in providing a safe haven for these women.
It is clearly very important that when women need a place of safety and refuge, they have such a place. Obviously women’s refuges and shelters are available, but there is always a blocking issue with housing. We keep a constant eye on that. Councils should hear the message loud and clear that they need to provide for women who need shelter from domestic violence.
The funding has been agreed and is on its way. Not only have the bids been accepted for the existing rape crisis centres; there is money coming through this year for four new centres in Hereford, Dorset, Trafford and Devon, which will fill the gaps left by the previous Government.
As I said last Thursday, we do not believe in keeping 1 million innocent people on the database. If someone is arrested for rape and not charged, but the local police believe that they are a danger to public safety, the police may apply to the commissioner to retain their DNA for three years, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said.
Protection of Freedoms Bill
18. What representations she has received from children’s charities on the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Bill. (61845)
Children’s charities have warmly welcomed the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Bill. A number of such charities have made representations on specific aspects of the Bill, which we continue to discuss with them.
I do not think that “warmly welcomed” describes many of the representations that I have received from children’s charities. Will the Minister explain why a school will not be told whether a prospective volunteer has been barred from working with children, and why her Government are creating a loophole that the NSPCC says will put children at risk?
The Home Office is committed to protecting the public, controlling immigration, securing our borders and helping the police to combat and prevent crime and terrorism. I recently announced to the House the outcomes of our review of the Prevent strategy to counter radicalisation and our plans for a new national crime agency, which will be a powerful body of operational crime fighters who will secure our borders, tackle organised crime, fight economic crime and protect vulnerable children and young people.
The new border police command within the national crime agency will play a very important role in ensuring that we can protect our borders. What is crucial about its role within the agency is that we will be able to bring together a number of bodies that deal with crimes and activity across our borders. That will enable us to get much greater effectiveness in dealing with such problems.
In January the Government let lapse provision for pre-charge detention for 28 days. The Home Secretary said that she needed a fast way to restore it if needed, but her counter-terror review stated that the current order-making power was too slow. We warned her then that her new proposal for emergency primary legislation was not workable, and the senior Joint Committee has now concluded that it is “totally unsatisfactory and ineffective”. It is now six months since she changed the limit, and there is still no satisfactory emergency back-up plan in place. When will she get this sorted out?
We remain of the view that it is important to have that legislation available for Parliament to enact, and that in the vast majority of circumstances it is appropriate that that is done after Parliament has had the opportunity to consider the matter. There is a question about what happens when Parliament is dissolved. We have considered that and will bring forward proposals for an order-making power to cover the dissolution of Parliament.
T2. I very much welcome the steps that the Government are taking to protect women and children from domestic and sexual violence. Will the Minister agree to meet me and my constituents from Esteem, based in Truro, who run the only service in England for men who suffer from those dreadful and often hidden crimes? (61854)
My hon. Friend raises the important issue of male domestic violence victims. The Government take the issue extremely seriously, and we are committed to ensuring that every victim of domestic or sexual violence has access to appropriate support, including specialist support. In addition to the funding that we are providing for independent sexual and domestic violence advisers, we are funding the men’s advice line for all men who experience violence from a current or ex-partner. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and her constituents. I have heard of Esteem and its work, and I would be very interested to meet its representatives.
T7. The national missing persons database is an important resource in understanding the scale of the problem, safeguarding vulnerable people and locating those who are missing. What more can the Minister do to ensure that all the police forces in the United Kingdom provide to the database full, accurate and up-to-date information on missing persons in their area, including children? (61859)
First, I thank the hon. Lady not just for her question but for the work in which she is engaged with the all-party group on runaway and missing children and adults. I very much look forward to the report that I know she is working on with other members of that group on this important issue.
The police code of practice on the collection and sharing of missing persons data requires police forces to submit information on missing persons to the missing persons bureau. We want to examine the application of that code more generally, to ensure that standards are raised and that it is applied more broadly. I am keen that whatever steps can be taken to improve matters are taken and, in that regard, I look forward to the publication of the report on how we can ensure that that takes place.
T3. At the beginning of this year, Lancashire constabulary spent £200,000 refurbishing Fulwood police station in my constituency, only to earmark it for closure the following month. Does not that waste of money show that with good leadership and good management, it is possible to save money without affecting front-line services? (61855)
I agree with my hon. Friend about protecting front-line services and I note that the chief constable of Lancashire constabulary said in March that
“the public can be reassured that we are leaving no stone unturned in our non-frontline services to take money out where we can.”
That is the right approach. It is possible, by making those savings in the back and middle offices, to protect the quality of front-line services for the public.
T8. Last week, members of the associate parliamentary group for animal welfare had a meeting with the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss dangerous dogs. Has the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice had a chance to listen to the briefing from lead police officers on that continuing problem? Will he be so kind as to meet me and members of the associate parliamentary group to discuss the matter in due course? (61860)
No, I have not had the briefing, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issue. It is a very serious matter, which can result in harm to people. The police have to deal with it and, of course, we will ensure that they have the right powers to do that.
T4. The Minister with responsibility for security will know that West Worcestershire contains companies such as QinetiQ, Deep-Secure and Edge Seven, which do important work in cyber-threat resilience. Can he find time in his busy diary to visit that important cyber-hub? (61856)
The Government recognise the importance of delivering cyber-security and protecting the country from online threats. We have therefore announced a £650 million transformative programme. As part of that, I pay tribute to the work of many companies. Private industry has a vital role to play and I shall certainly look at the details of my hon. Friend’s companies and their work, and, as appropriate, arrange a visit.
The chief constable of South Yorkshire, Meredydd Hughes, has said that reductions in back-office support will put an increased operational burden on officers, which will detract from their front-line duties. Does not that show that the Home Secretary’s reductions in red tape are just a sham?
No. I am very pleased to say that the chief constable of South Yorkshire has also made the clear point that despite challenging times he is,
“confident that the men and women of South Yorkshire Police will continue to effectively serve their communities”
and that they are determined to uphold the standards that they have been able to maintain in recent years.
Throughout the country, chief constables are rising to the challenge and ensuring that they protect services to the public while making necessary budget cuts.
I am very happy to tell my hon. Friend that the Home Office has, of course, protected £28 million over the next four years for specialist support services in relation to domestic violence and violence against women. At a meeting on 14 June, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and I heard from stakeholders, including the providers of women’s refuges, about the funding issues that they face. We have discussed with local authorities, mainly through the Department for Communities and Local Government, how local authorities should continue to support women’s refuges in their important work.
The whole point of the arrangement under the Protection of Freedoms Bill is that it will be for the police to make a decision about those individuals for whom they think it appropriate to apply to retain that DNA. However, I repeat a point that fellow Ministers made earlier: we are taking a different overall approach from the previous Labour Government because we believe that we cannot assume that everyone who is arrested is automatically guilty. The Labour Government made that assumption. We are putting safeguards in place to ensure that the police can make a judgment and apply for the retention of DNA for those arrested and not charged in circumstances that the police believe to be operationally important.
T6. Cheshire police have successfully made £13 million of efficiency savings while maintaining front-line services and dramatically cutting crime. Does the Home Secretary agree that that superb achievement highlights a fundamental difference between this Government and the last? While Labour judges things by how much is spent, we focus on the services delivered. (61858)
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I visited Cheshire police a few weeks ago and was impressed by what they are doing to drive savings and, in particular, by a pilot scheme that they are running in Runcorn, which returns discretion to police officers and improves the service to the public. In the pilot, when police officers are dealing with an offence, they are asked to look at the causes of that offence—
This Friday, the Metropolitan Police Authority will consider a report that, if agreed, would halve the number of safer neighbourhood team sergeants in my constituency. If the Minister is so adamant that police numbers in London will not be reduced, what will he do stop the planned reductions in Lewisham?
I repeat the point that the Mayor has said that he wishes to get to the next election with more police officers than he inherited in London—he has clearly stated that ambition. How those officers are deployed is an operational matter for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and his team, but he is protecting the number of police constables in the safer neighbourhood teams. It is quite right that he should seek to drive savings and efficiencies. I am sorry that Opposition Members simply do not understand the importance of that.
In the spirit of joined-up government, will the Home Secretary discuss with the Defence Secretary the future of the Ministry of Defence police? The previous Labour Government cut the number of MOD police officers in Colchester garrison from 30 to 3, and I regret that our Government now talk of cutting the number of MOD police by 1,000.
I note that my hon. Friend was quite careful in the phrasing of his question, because of course, this is an MOD responsibility. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I have regular discussions on matters that affect both our Departments, and I am sure that we can put that on to the agenda.
The Greater Manchester police announced this day, I believe, that more than 200 serving police officers and 600 back-room staff will be shed. Will any Home Office Minister come to the Dispatch Box and promise my constituents that, if the great gains in crime detection and prevention are not continued, they will reverse the cuts and allow numbers to go back to where they were?
My right hon. Friend and I are both eager to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question.
We know full well why it is necessary for police forces to make budget cuts—we need to make cuts overall because of the situation with the public sector finances. The chief constable of Greater Manchester police has been absolutely clear on a number of things. For example, he has been absolutely clear that this is a time for transforming how policing is undertaken, and that the changes he is making are focused on delivering the same good quality of service to the residents of the Greater Manchester police area. I would also point out that in evidence to a Select Committee of this House, he pointed out in terms that in the past, numbers were put up almost artificially, because police officers were put in back offices.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government have consulted on a new range of measures to ensure that police and other agencies at the local level are better able to tackle ingrained antisocial behaviour. One problem in the past was that the things available to them worked too slowly and were ineffective. That is what we intend to remedy.
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation and Surrey police have successfully trialled software that monitors internet use by registered sex offenders, and the Home Secretary has indicated that she wants to take steps to close the loopholes in the monitoring of registered sex offenders. Therefore, why was there not one single word about the internet in her consultation on the monitoring of sex offenders when it was launched two weeks ago?
We retain an interest in the whole question of the internet. The consultation that we launched was about a number of proposals that we will put in place in reaction to the Supreme Court judgment on the interpretation of the Human Rights Act 1998, and to the fact that sex offenders should now have the right of appeal as to whether they stay on the register. Alongside putting in the process for dealing with those appeals or a situation in which offenders ask for a review of their reference on the register, we will tighten the loophole by requiring them, for example, to notify the authorities when they are travelling abroad for more than 24 hours, and not the several days—
Given that the Home Secretary is reviewing extradition law, does she welcome last week’s report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights highlighting again the case of my constituent, Gary McKinnon, who has fewer rights than foreign criminals facing deportation? When can we have British justice for British citizens such as my constituent, Gary McKinnon?
As my hon. Friend will expect, I do not intend at this stage to comment on that case in the House. A review of extradition law is being conducted by three eminent lawyers who hope to report later this year. The review will include the extradition treaty with the United States, European arrest warrants and other extradition matters.
May I return to the Policing Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), which was just not good enough? Many of my constituents consider a public front-desk facility at a police station or police post as part of the front line, so what can the Minister do to reassure the people of Greater Manchester that they will have face-to-face contact with their police service when they need it?
We are strongly in favour of police forces providing face-to-face contact in all sorts of innovative ways. However, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends simply will not accept responsibility for bequeathing to the country the deficit that we now have to deal with, and which means that we have to make savings—police forces have to make those savings, too, and protect the front line at the same time.
The Home Office does not routinely comment on individual cases. I will seek to exclude an individual if I consider that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good, and the Government make no apologies for refusing people access to the UK if we believe that they might seek to undermine our society. Coming here is a privilege that we refuse to extend to those who seek to subvert our shared values.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council.
The main focus of the Council was, quite rightly, Europe’s economy. In advancing Britain’s national interest, I had two objectives: first to ensure that Britain did not have to contribute to any new Greek bail-out through the European financial stability mechanism; and, secondly to support efforts to bring stability to the eurozone and growth to Europe as a whole, while fully protecting Britain’s position. Let me take each in turn.
I turn first to the situation in Greece. As I have always said, Britain is not in the euro—and while I am Prime Minister it never will be—so we should not be involved in the euro area’s internal arrangements. Only eurozone countries were involved, alongside the IMF, in the first Greek bail-out, and only eurozone countries have been involved in discussions about potential further bail-outs. It is absolutely right therefore not to use the EU-wide EFSM for future support to Greece—that is what I asked for an assurance about at the Council, and that is what I got.
That was not a simple matter because, as the House knows, article 122 of the European treaty is being used to provide aid to eurozone countries that have mismanaged their economies. That was not our choice; it was agreed before the Government took office. We have dealt with it for the future, however, because when the new permanent arrangements replacing the EFSM come in—from 2013—we will not be part of them, and article 122 will no longer be used for eurozone bail-outs. That was the deal that I secured last December. However, we still had to deal with the prospect of a bail-out under the existing arrangements. Under qualified majority voting, that required real negotiating effort, but the Government have consistently stood up for the interests of British taxpayers, and as a result the British taxpayer will avoid a potential liability of billions of pounds.
My second objective was to support efforts to bring stability to the eurozone and to promote growth across Europe. Although we are not in the eurozone, we would be badly affected by a disorderly outcome to this crisis. Why? First, banks across the world, including in the UK, hold Government debt of all eurozone countries, including Greece; and, secondly, the effect on other countries far more exposed to these debts would have a knock-on effect on us. As Sir Mervyn King made clear when unveiling last week’s financial stability report, the present difficulties in the eurozone are:
“The most serious and immediate risk to the UK financial system”.
It has always been a long-standing principle that the British Government do not comment publicly on market-sensitive issues, and I am not going to depart from that very wise approach. What is important is that a solution be found quickly that is credible in the markets and that will address over time Greece’s fundamental problems and contribute to providing stability in global markets and the world economy.
One element of that solution must, in my view, be using the time that we now have to ensure that banks and banks’ balance sheets are strong enough to withstand any problems and difficulties, and that there is full transparency across the financial system. In the UK, we are stepping up efforts to ensure that our banking system is resilient to risks originating from the eurozone. That needs to be done right across Europe, it needs to be done now, and it needs to be done properly. I argued for that very strongly at the Council, and it is reflected in the language in the communiqué. As a first step, that means that the current stress tests being conducted in the banking sector must be conducted properly and transparently, unlike last time, and that Europe must implement in full—rather than water down, as some have suggested—the new detailed Basel capital and liquidity standards.
A key way in which we can help all economies in Europe, including the eurozone, is to promote sustainable economic growth. The best stimulus available for European economies is to ensure that we are promoting competition, deregulation, supply-side reform, the single market, innovation and structural changes, and also using the EU to advance the cause of free trade, both via Doha and, where appropriate, through bilateral deals. Following the proposals that Britain set out at the last Council, which many member states now support, I pressed in particular for concrete steps to reduce the burdens on small businesses and micro-enterprises, which are vital to promoting innovation, jobs and growth. The Council agreed that
“the regulatory burden on SMEs needs to be further reduced,”
and that the European Commission would now assess the impact of new regulations on micro-enterprises and identify existing regulations from which micro-enterprises should be excluded altogether. That mirrors what we are doing in Britain, and it is the right thing to do. For too long, European Council conclusions have focused only on what member states should do, rather than on what the European Commission needs to do; and when we think of the quantity of regulation that comes from Brussels, we realise that that must be the right approach.
Let me briefly turn to other issues raised at the Council, of which there were three of significance: migration, the Arab spring and the accession of Croatia. First, on migration, Britain does not participate in the Schengen border area, and we are not going to weaken our border controls. As an island, Britain has an important geographical advantage in preventing uncontrolled immigration. At the same time, practical measures to strengthen our external borders in Europe are in Britain’s interests too. However, there was a proposal ahead of the Council to suspend the measures in the Dublin regulation that allow us to return asylum seekers to the first safe country that they arrive in. Together with Chancellor Merkel, I ensured that those proposals were rejected, and they are not referred to in any way in the Council conclusions. We will not have our border controls compromised in that way.
Next, the Arab spring. On Libya, the Council agreed a declaration confirming its full support for UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, and the efforts that our brave servicemen and women are undertaking to implement them. There is now, I believe, real unity of purpose and political will across the European Union on this issue. The wider world is turning against Gaddafi too, recognising that the transitional national council is the only credible diplomatic body that can represent the people of Libya right now. The Russians and the Chinese have accepted the importance of the transitional national council, and Premier Wen made this point to me in our meeting this morning. Gaddafi is increasingly isolated; indeed, today the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for his arrest. Gaddafi is now a fugitive from international justice. The pressure and the time are telling on Gaddafi, and we will not let up until the job is done.
On Syria, the Council condemned in the strongest possible terms the ongoing repression, and the unacceptable and shocking violence of the Syrian regime against its own people. At my instigation, we expressed particularly grave concern about what Syrian troops are doing close to the Turkish border. On the middle east more generally, the Council called on all parties to engage urgently in negotiations, and, on the fifth anniversary of his capture, demanded the immediate release of Gilad Shalit.
Finally, on Croatia, earlier this month I met Prime Minister Kosor and welcomed her country’s progress towards completing European membership negotiations. At the European Council we agreed that the negotiations would be concluded at the end of this month. Croatia’s success points the way for the rest of the countries of the western Balkans, whose aspirations to join the European Union we have always strongly supported.
At this Council, Britain has achieved some important objectives: we have protected the interests of the British taxpayer; we have secured agreements to promote and safeguard economic growth; and we have protected Britain’s borders from uncontrolled migration. I commend this statement to the House.
I start by expressing sympathy with the Prime Minister for the sense of shock and loss he must feel over the death of Christopher Shale. From whatever side we come from, we all know that it is unsung heroes such as him who are the backbone of our constituency associations. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending condolences to all of Mr Shale’s family and friends.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement on the European Council. On immigration, we support the position he set out, including on the continuance of the Dublin regulation negotiated by the previous Government. We also support the Government’s position on Croatian accession to the European Union. Let me ask the Prime Minister questions about Libya, Syria, the eurozone and the wider economic situation in Europe.
On Libya, the Prime Minister will know that Opposition Members welcome the Council’s continuing commitment to implement UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973. We are clear that we must keep up the pressure on Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan regime. Those who are expressing doubts over the mission should remember that if we had not taken action this European Council would have been discussing not the conduct of our campaign, but, in all likelihood, our failure to prevent a slaughter in Benghazi. But beyond immediate military and diplomatic developments, experience of conflicts demonstrates that post-conflict planning is crucial to a successful long-term outcome. Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to say something about this, and will he explain why it appears to be Britain and not the United Nations that is fulfilling this role? Will he update us on what progress is being made?
In the context of the Arab spring, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to publish the review of the strategic defence and security review, which he told us at Prime Minister’s questions last week had been conducted? We are all interested in the outcome and look forward to seeing it.
Let me ask the Prime Minister about the situation in Syria, as he mentioned it in his statement. Will he tell us how we can continue to step up the pressure on Syria, including at the United Nations?
We have also consistently said—on both sides of the House, I believe—that Britain, as a supporter of Turkish membership of the EU should say to the Turks that the potential refugee crisis on their borders will only grow unless they help to put more pressure on the Syrian Government. Will the Prime Minister update us on conversations between this Government and the Turkish Government on that issue?
Turning to Greece, let me first say that we agree that the primary responsibility for addressing the situation lies with eurozone countries. As the Prime Minister will know, the UK made no direct contribution to the last Greek bail-out agreed on 2 May 2010 under the previous Government. I should like to congratulate the Prime Minister on sticking to our approach to these issues. Indeed, on the question of article 122, which the right hon. Gentleman raised, he did not mention the famous 15 July 2010 Greening memorandum on the European bail-out mechanism, which is of much interest to the Conservative Benches. That, of course, said that article 122 had been agreed “by cross-party consensus”. Every time the Prime Minister comes before the House and says that this is not something we supported, he needs to know that is not what the memorandum of his own Economic Secretary said in a submission to this House.
The truth is that we have an interest in the Greek situation that goes beyond the level of our direct contribution—because of the potential exposure of our banks; because we contribute indirectly through the International Monetary Fund; and because of our wider interest in growth and jobs in Europe. I understand issues of market sensitivity, but will the Prime Minister confirm that a full analysis is being done of the impact of any restructuring of Greek debt on UK taxpayer-owned banks?
Britain also clearly has an interest in the durability of the bail-out. The Governor of the Bank of England has said:
“Providing liquidity can only… buy time”
“will never be an answer to a problem”.
Will the Prime Minister tell us whether he has confidence that the right balance is being struck in demanding a further round of austerity against the need for growth in Greece?
After this European Council and after the Prime Minister’s statement, it remains unclear what the Council and the Prime Minister regard as a long-term and sustainable solution to the Greek crisis. Instead of boasting about being on the sidelines, should not the Prime Minister engage more with his colleagues to secure a solution to the crisis that will last, and will be in the interests of the eurozone and the United Kingdom?
Let me first thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about my constituency chairman, Christopher Shale. Some people say that in politics there are no real friendships, but I think that that is completely untrue. Many of us in the House become extremely close to people who work very hard in our constituencies to help us. Christopher was one of those people, and he will be missed by my family and me and by many, many people in west Oxfordshire. As the right hon. Gentleman said, this might be a moment for us to reflect on the fact that, while we all consider what we are doing in this place to be public service, the work done by people who toil very hard in political parties up and down the country is also a form of public service, which I think should be recognised and praised as well.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support in regard to Libya. He asked about post-conflict planning. We are doing a huge amount of work there, not least by the stabilisation team that we sent to Benghazi. The right hon. Gentleman asked how we would be working with the United Nations. We are working closely with the UN, but I believe that when our constituents think about post-conflict stabilisation, as well as the longer-term stabilisation work that they expect the UN to be doing, they also want to know what will happen the day after: what will happen immediately after the departure of Gaddafi. We need to work very hard on that as well. There are clearly timing issues when the UN becomes involved, if I can put it that way.
As for the strategic defence and security review, I tried to explain that the National Security Council regularly reviews the implementation of the SDSR, and asks profound questions about it. If the right hon. Gentleman has complaints to make, he should be a bit more specific. I have found, looking at the SDSR—[Hon. Members: “More detail?”] Yes, the right hon. Gentleman should be a bit more specific. What we are seeing in Libya is that we need to move faster to an area where we have the flexibility, the ISTAR—intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance—and the new assets that the SDSR is all about.
I entirely share the right hon. Gentleman’s frustration over Syria. Britain and France are leading the way at the UN, wanting a strong resolution, but we are meeting objections from many. We should push ahead as far as we can, because what is happening in Syria is completely unacceptable. I think that the UN has done well in establishing asset freezes, travel bans and the like, but we need to go further.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about working with the Turks. We were side by side with them on this issue, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in permanent contact with their Foreign Minister, Mr Davutoglu.
When it came to Greece, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman gave brass neck a whole new definition. If he wants a brief description of the history of article 122, he should remember that it was subject to unanimity until the Nice treaty. It was in this House that my former right hon. and learned Friend Michael Howard objected to article 122 going to qualified majority voting, and warned of the dangers of bail-outs. He was told at the time, “Don’t worry, it will all be fine.” This is a hopeless line of argument for Labour Members, given that it was their party that got us into this mechanism, and this party and this Prime Minister who got us out of it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked for a full analysis of the Council. Of course the Bank of England and our banks are working hard to calculate our potential liabilities. I thought that the dog that did not bark in the right hon. Gentleman’s response was his failure to mention his proposed £51 billion cut in VAT. That, of course, is what the Labour party suggests that everyone should be doing in Europe. As one of those who sat around a table in the European Council representing countries with budget deficits—including our own at 8%—I think that in suggesting that VAT cut the right hon. Gentleman has achieved what I thought was impossible, and ensured that he will be taken even less seriously in Europe than he is in Britain.
Will the Prime Minister be good enough to put on record his appreciation of the support and encouragement of the British people and Members of Parliament in securing the terms from the negotiations on the Greek bail-out, and will he now take that further and do whatever is necessary to take the lead in both the United Kingdom and Europe to get us out of the mess the existing treaties got us into?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support, and for his question. I have got us out of the mechanism from 2013, because Britain is excluded from the treaty change that is going through putting in place the new permanent bail-out mechanism. It took negotiation to get that deal, because we were in a mess beforehand.
I have two brief questions. The Prime Minister mentioned Sir Mervyn King’s remarks of last week. Does the Prime Minister agree with Sir Mervyn that the combination of austerity plus bail-out will never bring Greece to solvency? Secondly, the Prime Minister mentioned the stability of the banking system in advance of what I believe is an inevitable Greek default. In that context, is it not the case that future European Councils will be discussing whether to use the European financial stability facility or the European stability mechanism to shore up and recapitalise the banking system, rather than throwing good bail-out money after bad?
Of course the Greeks have a debt and solvency problem as well as a liquidity problem, but they have decided that they want to use liquidity to give themselves some time to deal with their debt problem. That is the choice they have made—and that is the choice the eurozone members are supporting—and I can quite see why they want to do it in that way. Let me also just make the following point, as I think a number of colleagues will ask similar questions: we must be very careful not to speculate about the financial situation faced by a fellow member state of the European Union.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the worst outcome for the British economy from the Greek crisis would be a disorderly and chaotic default by Greece and subsequent departure from the euro? What discussions did he therefore have with colleagues about preparing for that default, which is inevitable, and that departure, which is desirable, and in particular with President Václav Klaus, who has said that neither departure from the euro nor the dissolution of a monetary union need be disorderly? He dissolved the monetary union of the Czechs and Slovaks over a weekend without too much disruption.
As on many previous occasions, I had a very interesting meeting with President Klaus in Prague, at which he made that interesting point. However, dissolving a monetary union between the Czech Republic and Slovakia is very different from changing arrangements within Europe, where there are some very serious issues of equilibrium. The other point I would make is about those of us who do not want to join the euro, would never join the euro, and think that countries should maintain their own flexibilities. I have always held that view, but those of us who do hold that view should not misunderstand the fact that there would clearly be very big consequences for Britain were there to be a disorderly situation in Europe. To put it another way, it is much easier to stay out of the euro than to leave it.
Many of us worry about not only the direct consequences for Britain, but the possible indirect consequences, such as for the people of Cyprus, with which many British people have a direct connection. What analysis have the Government done of what the effects for the people of Cyprus would be, and is there any opportunity of reinvigorating the peace process so that there might no longer be a divided capital city of Nicosia?
The hon. Gentleman makes the good point that disorder in the eurozone will have knock-on consequences for other countries—he mentioned Cyprus—as well as for the country that is directly affected. Obviously, we are looking at all potential eventualities and all possible problems, and doing contingency planning for them. That is what we would expect the Treasury to do, and that is exactly what the Treasury—and the Bank of England and others—are doing. On getting the Cyprus peace process started, Alexander Downer, the special representative, worked extremely hard, but we have a lot more hard work to do to convince both sides that there needs to be a deal, and a deal soon.
I am delighted that the Government seem to be listening to this House and seeking to minimise eurozone debt liabilities. It is very encouraging that Ministers are no longer in thrall to the Europhile Whitehall mandarins who negotiated us into this mess. Will the Prime Minister assure us that he will not use the European financial stabilisation mechanism for any further eurozone bail-outs—and not just those for Greece—between now and 2013?
The first part of my hon. Friend’s question was a slight dig at the mandarins, but it is important to blame Ministers rather than officials for decisions that one does not like. I would place the blame squarely on those who sit on the Opposition Front Bench rather than on officials. I cannot really give him satisfaction on the second part of his question, because the EFSM is in place, it is subject to qualified majority voting and it will not go until 2013. Although I cannot give him that satisfaction, we have done the best we can by getting us out of that situation from 2013, when the treaty changes. In the meantime, we have kept ourselves out of the Greek situation.
Are not Italy and the Arab League now putting far more emphasis on trying to bring about a genuine ceasefire in Libya and would it not be better to do that instead of going for regime change? On the question of the nature of the Gaddafi regime, is it not a fact that we were selling arms to Gaddafi right up until the uprising?
On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, our approach to Gaddafi and Libya is clear. The Government have been utterly consistent and I do not agree with those who believe there should be a ceasefire now. There could be a ceasefire if Gaddafi agrees to do what he has to, which is to withdraw his troops from the towns and cities he occupied and to stop butchering his own people. For us unilaterally to declare a ceasefire, which was what the hon. Gentleman hinted at, would be a mistake. We have turned up the pressure on Gaddafi and we should keep it up, because it is beginning to tell.
May I join the expressions of condolence to the Prime Minister and the family and friends of Mr Shale?
Is it not right that although it is not the UK’s duty to intervene to bail out the Greeks, it is absolutely in the United Kingdom’s interest that the European Union and the wider community took decisions to support the economies of Ireland, Portugal and Greece this year to prevent them from collapse? Is not the lesson from the history of those countries over the past year that they should follow the example of this country and take tough measures early to deal with the economic legacy? We should support the three new Governments in those countries as they deal with the failures of the past five years, just as this Government have sought to do.
First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about my constituency chairman, Christopher Shale.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that if one is in a debt situation, one has to deal with one’s deficit and debts and show a path back to solvency. That is what the Government have done. We have had to take some tough measures to show how we will pay down our deficit and debt and that is what other countries must do, too. The right hon. Gentleman is right that it is in Britain’s interest that we should do that and it is also in Britain’s interest that there should not be a disorderly outcome to what we are seeing in Europe.
May I suggest that the next EU summit takes place on Filakio on the Greek-Turkish border, where members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs were told that 100,000 people crossed the border between Greece and Turkey last year? Their destination is not Athens but London, Paris or Stockholm. What further steps can we take to encourage our EU colleagues to help countries such as Greece, rather than letting Greece export its problem, and to get Frontex to do the job it is supposed to do?
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right that we should support Frontex in its work and that we should support the action that Schengen members are taking to secure Europe’s external borders. That is vital because, as he says, many of those people do not stay in Greece but come to Paris or London. I do not think it is any contradiction to say that we should support that action while at the same time maintaining our own border controls and arrangements, particularly with the French, that have done us proud in recent years.
The Prime Minister will have spoken for the overwhelming majority in this country when he expressed his anger at the proposed £280 million new European headquarters. Was any progress made at this Council meeting in implementing the coalition agreement’s aspiration to end the obscenity of the European Parliament moving between Brussels and Strasbourg, wasting a huge amount of money? Does he agree that anybody who does not agree with those points is, to use a phrase coined at that Dispatch Box, living in cloud-cuckoo land?
I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend much satisfaction because the fact that the European Parliament moves between those two cities was not discussed at the European Council. Indeed, the problem that I have referred to in relation to the new building rather shows that there are too many people in Brussels who do not understand the need to cut their cloth according to what is available—by passing around a very expensive brochure to a very expensive new building.
As I described in my statement, the consequences would be twofold. First, British banks, like banks around the world, hold a debt of other eurozone countries, including Greek debt. Clearly, there would be a consequence either if there were a default or if Greece were to leave the eurozone. That is self-evident.
Secondly, there is the knock-on effect from the countries that are more exposed than we are to Greek debt. As I have said, those of us who do not want Britain to join the euro should not use that as an excuse to say that this does not affect us—it does and that is why it is important that we help to encourage eurozone countries to take the right steps to sort out their issues. That is the very constructive approach that the Government have taken. I see no contradiction between that—making sure that we do not stand in the way of the eurozone’s sorting out its issues and helping with that—and at the same time keeping Britain out of the euro.
Further to the question of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is important that we retain the Dublin regulation so that we do not simply have asylum shopping all over the European Union?
I think that my hon. Friend is entirely right. The Dublin regulation has been effective at allowing us to return people who seek asylum in this country but who have come from another European country. One of the reasons it was suggested that the Dublin regulation had to change was because of repeated court cases against the Greeks regarding their asylum policy. It seems to me that the answer is for the Greeks to sort out their asylum arrangements rather than for the rest of Europe to have to give up the Dublin regulation.
Did the Prime Minister have a chance, in the many bilateral conversations he will have had at the European Council, to discuss the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Europe at the moment—currently in London? Why will not the Prime Minister mention the name of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel peace laureate who is in the Chinese gulag? Mrs Thatcher also raised the position of Sakharov in public and said, “Get him out of the gulag.” Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity now to say, “Liu Xiaobo should be out, not in prison”?
That is absolutely the Government’s view. I had very good meetings with Premier Wen this morning and a lunch with him and there has never been anything in the Britain-China dialogue that is off limits, including individual cases. Nothing is off limits, but it is right to have the dialogue at both the leader-to-leader level and the human rights level. As I said, nothing is off limits and we have a very frank relationship.
May I thank the Prime Minister for standing up for the important principle concerning the Dublin process? Does he share my concern about the people traffickers who are stuffing unseaworthy boats full of people and casting them adrift in the Mediterranean? Does he agree that more needs to be done to patrol that area? Were there any discussions about positive moves to attack that problem?
There were long discussions about this issue because the Mediterranean countries in particular feel extremely strongly that we have got to do more to strengthen borders and Frontex, which can help to secure Britain’s perimeter. Britain is fully supportive of that, and we are not in the Schengen area, which means that we are protected from some of the problems that Schengen countries are suffering from. I think we have the best of both worlds—backing the action taken at Europe’s perimeter while at the same time being able to maintain tough and strict border controls for our own country.
In the midst of all the other pressing issues on which the Prime Minister has reported from the European Council, was there any acknowledgement of the gathering ravages of conflict in parts of Sudan, the humanitarian crisis facing people there yet again and the plight of aid workers and journalists from Europe in that situation? Does the duty to protect extend to them?
The issues of Sudan were not discussed at the European Council itself, but they will be discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council that is coming up soon. I raised the issue of Sudan with Premier Wen today, because of the close relationship between China and northern Sudan. It is important that the terms of the comprehensive peace agreement are properly stuck to and that we deliver that and the two-state solution that is being put in place, in which Britain has played a constructive part.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I said in my statement, so often at European Councils the Commission comes along with a list of things that countries should do, but does not ask enough, “What can we, the Commission, do to encourage deregulation and growth?” From 1998 to 2010, I think that 69% of new regulations came from Brussels. Clearly, Brussels needs to play its part in trying to exempt small businesses from at least some of those regulations. I shall keep pushing this agenda and I find growing support for it around the table at the Council of Ministers.
May I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the conclusions of the European Council that there is recovery within the European zone, that that recovery is long and sustainable and that the Heads of State and the leaders of Governments will commit themselves, and have committed themselves, to do all that is necessary to ensure financial stability within the euro? Is that not in the interests of the United Kingdom?
Yes, it is in the interests of the United Kingdom. Fifty per cent. of our exports go to the EU and 40% go to eurozone countries. We want the eurozone to be sustainable and strong, and it has issues that it needs to sort out, so we do not stand in the way when eurozone countries want to do more together, as they are doing through the euro-plus pact. I still think that there is a big question mark about whether they are really gripping some of the issues that they need to resolve, but none the less it is in our interests, and that is why we are playing such a constructive role in it.
Following the Prime Minister’s interesting and welcome answer to the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) on the subject of Libya, will my right hon. Friend confirm that our mission is entirely humanitarian and there is the genesis of a deal here? If Gaddafi is prepared just to hold what he has in Tripoli, we could then achieve a compromise and the end to this war.
Britain’s role is clearly set out in UN resolution 1973, which is to work with others to stop the attacks on civilians. It is not about regime change; it is for the people of Libya to decide who governs them and how they are governed. We have also always been clear that if Gaddafi declared a ceasefire and removed his troops from the towns and cities that he has invaded, that would be playing his part in resolving resolution 1973. Where I have always gone on and said that I cannot see a future for Libya where Gaddafi is still in place for the simple reason that if one looks at what this man has done during the last 100 days—although he has had every opportunity to pull back and put in place a ceasefire—all he has done to his own citizens is more shelling, attacking, murdering and sniping. So it is inconceivable to think of a future for Libya where he is still in a position of authority.
Given the significance of the European Council, it is a great shame that the Leader of the House still thinks that this is Back-Bench business and therefore we did not have a debate ahead of the Council meeting. Has the Prime Minister instructed his officials to demand that the Commission starts to prepare a legal framework for a country to leave the euro rather than just wait for the bad day and then have chaos?
On the extent of parliamentary debate, we have one of these statements every time there is a European Council, and we seem to be clocking up those at a rate of knots. We have also put in place the recommendations of the Wright Committee to ensure that Back Benchers have proper time for debate.
In terms of what happens next in the eurozone, I have set out the Government’s position. We do not want a disorderly breakdown in Europe. We are playing our full part in making sure that the eurozone sorts out its problems, and we are protecting Britain’s interests by ensuring that we are not contributing as a European country to a Greek bail-out. The Greeks have chosen their path and they will be voting in Parliament shortly. They have chosen the path where they want to put in place further measures so that they can stay inside the eurozone and find their way back to solvency in dealing with their debt problems. That is the choice they have made; it is the choice that is being supported by eurozone members. We are not in favour of disorder in the eurozone for the very good reasons that we have given.
As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, I use a variety of transport means. On this occasion, I flew by a scheduled plane to Prague for my meetings with the Czech Prime Minister and President and shared the Prime Minister’s aeroplane from Prague to Brussels, although I have to admit that the RAF kindly flew me home. I seem to remember in previous years different Ministers flying in different planes to the same summit. I think that sharing an aeroplane with another Prime Minister is a good way forward.
Will the Prime Minister tell the House the amount of British taxpayers’ money being made available to Greece indirectly through loans from the International Monetary Fund and confirm that, should a default occur that ultimately causes further defaults in Europe, that money might also be at risk?
Let me make two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, our share of the IMF is a little over 4%, so that is our contingent liability share of what the IMF dispenses. Secondly, the point about the IMF—this might also be of some reassurance to my Back-Bench colleagues—is that it will lend money only if it is confident that it is part of a programme that a country can repay, and that is important to consider. I say to those who are sceptical about our role in the IMF that Britain, as a leading economic power in the world, has an important role to play as a shareholder and board member of the IMF, and the idea that we should somehow be seeking to reduce that is wrong.
Seventy-two top businesses, including Google, Centrica and Unilever, have made a joint declaration saying:
“Moving to a 30% emissions reduction target is a win-win-win for Europe”
“boost economic growth and create new jobs”.
Does the Prime Minister agree with those companies, and if so, is there anything he can do to ensure that his MEPs vote accordingly next week?
Recent press reports indicate that 15 member states are questioning the wisdom of Schengen. Indeed, Denmark has reintroduced passport controls with Germany and Sweden. Were there any further discussions on the issue over the weekend, and is there any possibility of moving away from Schengen over the next few years?
There was a very lengthy discussion on the Schengen issues, and clearly there is some unhappiness among Schengen members about some of the pressures they face. There was a particularly long discussion about the fact that Romania and Bulgaria feel that they have now qualified for membership of Schengen and want to see that membership advanced. There are pressures within the Schengen area that clearly do not apply to the UK, but it is clear that some of the northern members feel that Schengen has not been operating in their interests in the same way in recent years, but the Council’s conclusions were pretty clear that Schengen is working and will continue.
Does the Prime Minister agree that in the event of any breakdown in the eurozone, in assessing the potential banking liabilities in this country and abroad, by far and away the best thing we can do is ensure that there is, first, transparency in the banking system and, secondly, a proper set of stress tests in place so that we know what the potential liability for UK banks might be in future?
I think my hon. Friend is entirely right. The Governor of the Bank of England spoke powerfully about this and has set out what the liabilities of British banks are in terms of Greece. We need the stress tests to be transparent, and we then need them to be acted on by making sure that those banks that need to build up their reserves do so. One of the things I wanted to secure at the European Council was to ensure that the conclusions were very tough on this, because at the same time as they are operating these stress tests and arguing for more capital to go into the banks, some European powers are trying to water down the Basel requirements. It seems to me to be completely illogical to try, on the one hand, to strengthen a banking system to withstand pressure in the eurozone, and then to start weakening it on the other. I am thankful that the conclusions are pretty clear on that point.
In terms of future membership of the EU, I think I am right in saying that the conclusions referred only to Croatia, which is completing its negotiations. There was a reference to Serbia’s European perspective, because with the arrest of Ratko Mladic I think that it has taken another step towards European membership. There was no specific mention of Turkey, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, I strongly support Turkey’s membership of the European Union.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the most successful defence of British interests at a European summit since the halcyon days of the noble Baroness Thatcher? Will he turn his negotiating firepower on the Commission’s proposal to increase its own resources tax base?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, although I would not put my efforts in the same class as the famous Fontainebleau negotiation, because the British rebate still benefits Britain to a huge extent—even after the Labour party signed a large portion of it away. But I do hope people agree that they were a good step forward to keep us out of the situation.
On the budget, we have secured a very strong letter to the European Commission about future financial perspectives, saying that effectively there should be nothing worse than a real-terms freeze. That is what we got other countries to commit to, and I am sure that Government Members, like me, would wish to go further, but we are laying down the baseline of a freeze going into a negotiation, and that is a pretty good start.
What is causing disorder and instability in Europe is the fact that Greece is bankrupt. The whole world knows that, and nothing said in this Chamber will alter it or create greater instability in the world markets. If Greece can neither withdraw nor default, good money—our money—via the IMF, or European Union money via other mechanisms, will be wasted bailing it out. Why does not the Prime Minister discover his Eurosceptic self and lead an orderly withdrawal of Greece from the euro?
First, as I said earlier, the IMF cannot lend money unless it believes that a country can undertake a programme that will lead it to pay back that money. Secondly, Britain’s interests are protected, because we will not contribute via the financial mechanism to Greece. Thirdly—I have said this before but I do think it important—the Greeks want some time, via some extra liquidity, so that they can take steps to get themselves back on a path to fiscal sanity. Of course, people can doubt whether that can happen, but the Greeks want to be able to get people to pay their taxes, to reduce spending programmes and to privatise assets so that they can get back to a position of financial sanity. That is the decision they have taken; that is the decision taken by members of the eurozone; and that is what the eurozone members themselves will support.
With the Greece situation showing what happens if a country does not control its deficit, does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the actions of Labour’s paymasters this Thursday show that they and the Opposition are more interested in dogmatic cobblers than harsh reality?
The Bank for International Settlements, in its annual report published yesterday, identifies two solutions to the Greek sovereign debt crisis: either mutualising Greece’s debts through further eurozone bail-outs, or restructuring them. Does the Prime Minister agree with that analysis, and if so, which option does he favour?
Of course, everyone is free to speculate about the different paths that Greece might take or might like to take, but it is not for the Government of the UK to speculate about another country’s finances. The Greek Government have made their decision, backed by the eurozone and the European Council, to seek further austerity measures so that they can deal with their deficit. That is the decision they have taken, that is what is supported by eurozone money, and the IMF will lend money only if it believes that it can be paid back.
On deficits, let me just make the point before people get too over-confident that if we look at 2011, we find that the UK’s deficit is 8.6% compared with Greece at 7.4%. That to me underlines the importance of our domestic programme of dealing with our debts and our deficit—[Interruption]—and not of charging around, as the most annoying man in British politics is currently doing, and suggesting a £51 billion VAT cut.
My right hon. Friend rightly acknowledges the tension between, on the one hand, the need to rebuild capital ratios in order to achieve resilience in the banking sector and, on the other, the crying domestic need to get banks lending again. Does he agree that part of the solution lies in tackling the barriers to entry for potential new lenders, and that that could start with Brussels looking again at the uneven regulation on overdrafts, on how banks are allowed to market them and on how other lenders handle short-term lending?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course, if we are asking banks to rebuild their balance sheets and their reserves, there is a tension with that compared with asking them to lend. One of the solutions, as he says, is to make sure that there are new entrants into the banking sector, and that is something we are keen to secure.
The Prime Minister said that the IMF would not have made the loan to Greece if it did not think it could be repaid. The Governor of the Bank of England seems to disagree about the likelihood of that loan being repaid. I think that what the people of this country want to know is how much British taxpayers will be liable for if Greece defaults.
The point I made is that Britain’s share of the IMF is a little over 4%. It is a broad requirement of the IMF to consider whether the money can be paid back before it makes the loan. That is not something that it has decided to do on this occasion; it is something that it has to do.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. On Libya, did the European Council discuss the position of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in continuing to support the mission the longer it continues? As the Prime Minister will know, those two countries provide the largest Arab support to the mission at the moment.
We did not discuss that specific issue at the European Council, but I speak regularly to the leaders of both those countries. I praise them for the huge commitment they have made—not just in men and matériel, as it were, but in the political commitment to garnering support in the Arab world for keeping up pressure on Gaddafi. I think that what the Qataris and Emiratis have done has been absolutely superb.
My constituents will warmly welcome what the Prime Minister said about asylum, given that anyone who wants to claim asylum in the UK has to do so in person in my constituency. Is it not true that under this Government the trend of applications to the UK is going down while in other countries it is going up, and that if we allowed people to choose where in the EU to apply, that trend would reverse overnight?