House of Commons
Monday 12 December 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—
Violence against Women
1. What steps she is taking to tackle violence against women. (85716)
A comprehensive cross-Government action plan on tackling violence against women and girls was published on 8 March this year. It includes 88 commitments from 12 Departments to improve the provision of services for victims of violence and to prevent violence from happening in the first place. We have already delivered 22 of those commitments.
I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Also part of this Government’s work is a pilot scheme running in Swindon and Wiltshire in which perpetrators of domestic violence are effectively banned from the family home, rather than the family and the women being forced to move out, as happened previously. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, since July, under the terms of the scheme, 82 abusive perpetrators have been removed from family homes. The head of Wiltshire victim support unit said that the programme is reaching women who have never been helped before. Will my right hon. Friend please tell us when the pilot might be rolled out nationally?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right that domestic violence protection orders do what hon. Members across the House have always felt is right: ensure that when a domestic violence incident takes place it is the perpetrator who is not able to stay in the home, rather than the victim being forced out, as has happened so often in the past. We commenced a pilot in Greater Manchester, West Mercia and Wiltshire, and a second wave of pilot areas started in October in Grater Manchester and West Mercia, which we are looking to run for at least a year before we assess them properly.
The Opposition welcome press reports this weekend that the Deputy Prime Minister wants to widen the definition of domestic violence. Let me also offer Home Office Ministers our support if they wish to challenge the actions of their colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, who are seeking to restrict access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence. Does the Home Secretary agree that that should happen, so that we send a strong message to victims that they should not have to wait until the first punch is thrown before they get help?
The hon. Lady is right that we need to ensure that we have the right definition of domestic violence. That is why the Government are consulting on the appropriate definition and ensuring that we have a cross-Government definition, which, sadly, the previous Labour Government did not have.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer to the excellent opening question and urge her to look at the Home Affairs Committee report on domestic violence from the previous Parliament. If she implements its recommendations, a lot of the issues will be resolved.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reference to the work previously done by the Home Affairs Committee on this important issue. The Government are looking across the board at sources of proposals for dealing with this problem. As I have said, our cross-Government action plan included 12 Departments and made a significant number of commitments to ensure that we do what all in the House would want: end violence against women and girls.
Target Sports Clubs
2. What her policy is on the designation of (a) target sports clubs where historical pistols are studied and shot and (b) other target sports clubs. (85717)
Clubs that wish to keep and use historical pistols and weapons must have Home Office authorisation. There are strict criteria governing the designation of sites under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which are set out in the guidance issued by the Home Office.
Northampton target sports club is based in my constituency. A number of members wish to study and shoot historic pistols of some worth but are struggling with the licensing regime because they are within 30 miles of another licensed club. Will the Minister help us with that query and help to sort this out?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I am aware that the Northampton target sports club was refused designated-site status last month because there were other suitable sites within a reachable distance. I also understand that circumstances may have changed because another site is full. Therefore, a new application will be looked at properly.
Will the Minister give as much support as possible to the wonderful Olympic sport of pistol shooting, which suffers terribly from some of the rather knee-jerk legislation that went through this place some time ago? Will he ensure that pistol shooters are given every support possible to train in this country so that they do not have to go abroad to Switzerland to train for the Olympics?
I know of the hon. Lady’s long-standing concern. The Government seek to draw the distinction between the unlawful use of weapons, which we aim to deal with as robustly as possible, and the lawful possession of such weapons. We have the tightest set of firearms controls in the world, but sporting shooting, particularly in relation to the Olympics, is of course important.
UK Border Agency
3. What recent assessment she has made of the operational effectiveness of the UK Border Agency. (85718)
I should like to pay tribute to the many dedicated and hard-working staff of UKBA, who do a good job, working day in, day out to keep our border secure and enforce immigration rules. There is certainly more to be done. The agency’s new chief executive, Rob Whiteman, has a vision to make further improvements. I share that vision.
Has the Home Secretary yet received the interim internal report on this summer’s security lapse, and if so can she tell me how many people were wrongly allowed into Luton airport in my constituency?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have made available some figures from the early assessment of the success rate of the pilot that was run in the summer. We are of course awaiting the independent investigation by the chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, which will not be available until the end of January.
There has been a warm welcome in the House and the country for the firmer approach being taken by this Government, but can the Home Secretary give us any further information on the ending of the bogus colleges scam, and to what extent the Government are able to influence events in the Mediterranean to ensure that better naval patrolling takes place to turn back boats carrying illegal immigrants?
I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that there are now more than 450 colleges that have not been accredited under the scheme or did not apply to be accredited, which gives us a clear message about whether they were actually providing education. On his second point, it is important for this country to work with other countries and help them to improve their border security, so that the problem of people entering Europe and then the United Kingdom is reduced.
I understand that some 98,000 cases have been put in what the Home Office calls the “controlled archive section”, and it claims that many of the people involved cannot be found or located. As a constituency MP, I have many such people coming to see me, and they are living here and going through an application or appeal, and simply waiting for a reply from the Home Office. Will the Home Secretary look again at the whole system and ensure that proper efforts are made to find people who are legitimately trying to continue their stay here?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue and I remind him and other hon. Members that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee asked Members of Parliament to write to the Home Office to say whether they had any cases of the sort that the hon. Gentleman mentions. The work that we have been doing is of course clearing up the chaotic mess in the asylum system that was left, sadly, by the last Government.
With tourism vital to places such as Bath, it is worrying that the more and more people who travel abroad from countries such as India and China tend not to come to this country because they think that the UKBA is unwelcoming. Should we not at least have a special visa for 2012 to commemorate the Olympics and the diamond jubilee, and have the application forms in the language of the tourist rather than in English?
I fully understand the benefits and importance of tourism to certain parts of the United Kingdom such as my right hon. Friend’s constituency. I assure him that special arrangements have been put in place by the UKBA for those who are travelling to be part of or to view the Olympics next summer.
Last month, the Home Office claimed that seizures of class A drugs by the UKBA were up. That was described by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority as
“highly selective in its choice of statistics, in order, it seems, to show the UK Border Agency in a good light”.
In reality, official statistics show that UKBA seizures of class A drugs fell last year. Overall, there were barely half the number of seizures than in 2008-09. Given that 452,000 people take ecstasy in the UK each year, does the Home Secretary think that seizing only 300 ecstasy tablets is good enough?
Seizures have gone up in the past six months. If the hon. Lady is as concerned about drugs as she appears to be from her question, I look forward to the Opposition welcoming the drugs strategy that the Government have introduced.
Domestic Violence against Men
4. What steps she is taking to tackle domestic violence against men. (85719)
The Government recognise that men can be victims of domestic violence, and take this issue very seriously. Later this week, we will launch a fund of £225,000 over two years to support services focusing explicitly on male victims of sexual and domestic violence. That is in addition to the Home Office funding provided each year to the men’s advice line, which provides support and signposting services for male victims, and to Broken Rainbow, which provides support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims.
I welcome the announcement of the new fund by the Minister, as it will bring much-needed support for the victims of this deplorable crime. Will my hon. Friend also confirm that all domestic violence awareness campaigns run by this Government will be clearly aimed at supporting both female and male victims of domestic violence?
I can assure my hon. Friend that that is indeed the case. The recent teenage abuse campaign was aimed at both young men and women, because both can be subject to abuse from their contemporaries.
Police and Crime Commissioners
5. What recent progress she has made on the introduction of police and crime commissioners. (85720)
The first PCC elections will take place on 15 November 2012. I recently tabled a protocol setting out how the new policing governance arrangements will work and issued the shadow strategic policing requirement, which sets out the national threats that the police must address. Subject to parliamentary approval, London will move to the new PCC model in January.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on her achievement in this flagship legislation and on the fact that in a year’s time PCCs will be rolled out across the country. What steps can the Government take to ensure that prospective candidates for this important position will come from a wide diversity of backgrounds?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I add to his congratulations the name of my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister, who played a significant role in ensuring that the legislation was steered through Parliament for it to be in place in September. I am keen to ensure that we have a diversity of candidates. We are now looking into a number of ways in which we can promote an understanding of the role of the police and crime commissioners. My right hon. Friend marked the one year to go to PCCs on 21 November with a speech on a new era in policing. We will be publishing a consultation, setting out proposals that PCCs act as commissioners for victim support services.
Given that the Home Secretary has made it clear that she wants police commissioners to have authority with respect not just to policing but to the criminal justice system, will she heed the important advice of the Association of Chief Police Officers that antisocial behaviour orders should still be part of the things at the disposal of police commissioners, the police and the criminal justice system?
I note the rather clever way in which the hon. Gentleman weaved the antisocial behaviour order into that question. As he knows, we consulted on replacing the current regime of ASBOs with a new regime that is clearer, less bureaucratic and easier to use. We will be introducing legislation in due course.
One of the key features of the checks and balances that will operate on the police and crime commissioners are the police and crime panels. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the effectiveness of the police and crime panels will not be hindered by arbitrary restrictions such as a lack of access to senior police officers or experts or a budget that is so tight that it will restrict the PCPs’ ability to meet on a regular basis to scrutinise the police and crime commissioners?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I recognise the interest that he has consistently shown in ensuring that the police and crime panels have the powers necessary to scrutinise the work of the police and crime commissioners. They will be different from police authorities, so their role will not be the same. We have set out clearly the interaction that they should have with the police and crime commissioner and with the chief constable of the police force area. As for budgets, our overall aim is that the new regime will cost no more than police authorities do today.
6. What steps she is taking to improve efficiency within police forces. (85721)
We are supporting police forces in their drive to improve efficiency, including through reducing bureaucracy, more effective procurement, collaboration and sharing services.
Is the Minister satisfied that local forces are doing enough to share the costs of facilities such as human resources and IT with other public bodies and other emergency services?
It is important that police forces do more to take up such opportunities. We have already seen an increase in the collaboration between police forces over operational matters, but there are valuable opportunities to collaborate and share services for the back-office functions such as IT and human resources, which would result in significant savings. That is what we are encouraging forces to look at.
I welcome the idea of police forces sharing services, especially in areas such as forensic science. Given the Government’s strategy, is that not likely to result in the reforming of the Forensic Science Service?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would reflect on the mismanagement under the previous Administration that left the Forensic Science Service on an unsustainable footing.
The innovative use of information technology can make a huge difference to police efficiency. Will the Minister have a look at companies, such as Sepura and RealVNC in my constituency, that are working already with police forces in the UK and the US to make it easier for the police to do their job?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of good police IT, which we seek to improve. It is for forces to commission these services, but we have announced that we intend to set up a new vehicle—a force-owned IT body—to commission IT and seek improvements, because it is so important that police officers have good IT in order to fight crime effectively and not waste time on bureaucratic processes.
7. What steps she is taking to prevent vulnerable young people from being drawn into gang-related crime. (85722)
In November, I presented the “Ending Gang and Youth Violence” report to the House. Today, I have notified 22 areas that they will be offered targeted funding and support by the new ending gang and youth violence team, details of which I will place in the Library. I will shortly extend gang injunction powers to prevent gang violence by 14 to 17-year-olds and will launch a consultation on the penalties for illegal firearm supply and importation.
I am obliged for that answer. Chief Inspector Ian Coxhead, Tamworth police and other agencies have launched Project Turnaround to identify potential problem youngsters early and to help them to keep on the rails, rather than going off them. Will my right hon. Friend commend that initiative, which has been rolled out across Staffordshire, and consider it as best practice for other chief constables?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing Project Turnaround to the notice of the House and I congratulate Chief Inspector Coxhead and all those who work with him on their work. It seems to be a good example of what we talked about in the “Ending Gang and Youth Violence” report—of police working with other agencies to find the best solutions for individuals and either prevent them from becoming gang members or turn them away from gangs.
Does the Home Secretary agree that this is a key area for a joined-up approach across Government? By that I mean a Government who believe in keeping youth services active and working in our communities, and a Government who believe that 1 million unemployed people is unacceptable and will lead to trouble later.
The Government do indeed have a joined-up approach on that. The report was the result of work by an inter-ministerial group that I chaired, working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and with representations from several Departments, including the Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government. I am pleased to say that the inter-ministerial group will continue to meet to monitor the work that the team are doing as a result of the report. Indeed, we held our first such meeting last week.
Last week, the ringleaders of a gang of youths were given antisocial behaviour orders after making the lives of shoppers and businesses in Rochdale a misery. If they breach the ASBO, these youths will get a criminal record, but according to page 18 of the Government’s consultation document, “More Effective Responses to Antisocial Behaviour”, a breach of the Government’s proposed crime prevention injunction
“would not result in a criminal record.”
Will the Secretary of State confirm that that is the case?
The hon. Lady is well aware that we will be implementing several proposals to deal with antisocial behaviour and gangs, and I remind her that I have referred already this afternoon to what we are doing with gang injunctions. In the case to which she referred and similar cases, gang injunctions will be available.
London Bombings (Inquests)
9. What progress she has made on implementing the recommendations of the report of the coroner’s inquests into the London bombings of 7 July 2005; and if she will make a statement. (85724)
The Government responded to the coroner’s report, accepting the three recommendations directed to Government and taking action on other issues raised in her report. We are progressing work on those recommendations and areas of concern and will provide a full report on progress in March 2012.
I thank the Minister for his response. He will be aware that the Foulkes family, who are constituents of mine, lost their David in the Edgware road bombing. He unfortunately died. In addition to wanting the coroner’s recommendations implemented in full, they and other families are keen to see greater accountability of the security services to Parliament. Will the Minister commit to that today?
I certainly recognise the contribution that the families have made, and I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Lady’s constituent. The Government attach the utmost importance to the recommendations outlined in the coroner’s report and are fully committed to seeing through the implementation of actions to address them. She will be aware of the Green Paper on justice and security, which examines the role and powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee, including its ability to obtain wide-ranging information from intelligence agencies. The Government will report back to the House shortly on progress made and the consultation.
National Crime Agency
10. What progress she has made on the establishment of the National Crime Agency. (85725)
We are on course to establish the National Crime Agency in 2013, subject to the passage of legislation. To drive early progress, work on the four operational commands is under way. The Organised Crime Co-ordination Centre, which is part of the intelligence hub, is now established, and the UK cyber-security strategy sets out the role of the cybercrime unit. Keith Bristow, the NCA director general, is in post and will drive progress further.
One of the concerns raised when the Home Secretary announced the launch of the NCA in the summer was about the future of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. Is my right hon. Friend confident that CEOP’s role in protecting children will be enhanced and improved by its inclusion in the NCA?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an issue that was raised when the NCA was announced. I am pleased to say that CEOP is indeed one of the commands in the National Crime Agency. Peter Davies, the chief executive office of CEOP, has made it clear that
“we know that we will go into that future”—
that is, as part of the NCA—
“with our brand, purpose and operating model intact.”
Indeed, Peter Davies sits on the programme board and will work closely with Keith Bristow on the agency’s operating model. As part of the NCA, CEOP will not only be able to continue doing what it does today, but will be able to enhance its work, improving the vital work of protecting children.
The Home Secretary will recall that on 21 October she wrote to me saying that she would write to the Select Committee on Home Affairs shortly with the full details of which functions would be transferred from the National Policing Improvement Agency to the National Crime Agency. It is now six weeks since that letter, and in 12 weeks’ time the NPIA will be abolished. When will she be in a position to write to me with a full list of the functions that will be transferred, or will she accept the Committee’s recommendation that she should delay the NPIA’s closure until all the functions are properly transferred?
The right hon. Gentleman may have misspoken in his question. He referred to the NPIA closing in 12 weeks. It will not be closing in 12 weeks: we have already made it clear that the NPIA will be closed by the end of December 2012, to allow time for the full and proper transfer of its functions, where necessary, to other organisations. We will inform Parliament of the transfer of those functions shortly.
11. What steps she is taking to tackle metal theft. (85726)
12. What steps she is taking to tackle metal theft. (85727)
17. What steps she is taking to tackle metal theft. (85734)
The Government recognise the growing problem of metal theft and are taking urgent steps to address it. The Home Office is discussing with other Departments what legislative changes are necessary to assist enforcement agencies and deter offenders, including introducing a new licence regime for scrap metal dealers and prohibiting cash payments. We are also working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to establish a dedicated metal theft taskforce.
Metal theft costs us a huge amount of money in this country, as the Minister knows, whether it is of dodgy copper wire or lead from churches such as those in Ifield in my constituency. Is there any argument for seizing the entire inventories of metal dealers found to be purchasing what are effectively stolen goods?
I certainly recognise the impact that metal theft has on our communities, with the estimated cost ranging anywhere between £220 million and £777 million per annum. We underline and recognise the seriousness attached to metal theft, which is why we are seeking to establish a new taskforce better to inform intelligence and ensure that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice.
Calder Valley private and social landlords have reported to me the rising number of instances of houses in between tenancies being totally ripped apart—including water pipes, gas pipes and, indeed, electric wiring—causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. Does the Minister agree with me that the time has come for legislation to clamp down on rogue metal dealers who trade in such items?
The Government do not legislate lightly and have undertaken a range of work to tackle metal theft through non-legislative means. However, we have now reached the stage where the only conclusion is that new legislation is needed to tackle metal theft. We are therefore in discussion with other Departments to agree on the most appropriate option for bringing these changes forward.
Does the Minister think it is time to change the law on the scrap metal industry? On Friday I met Alf Hitchcock, the chief constable of Bedfordshire, who informed me that his police force had targeted the dealers. The police found people coming along with stolen scrap metal, some of whom had driven vehicles there with stolen red diesel. The law at the moment pertains to an Act that was designed around the days of Steptoe and Son; is it not time to change the law?
As I thought I had already indicated, we believe that existing regulation of the scrap metal industry through the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 needs to be revised, as the law is no longer fit for purpose. We need to combine that with further enforcement and better intelligence, which is why the ACPO metal theft working group is seeking to equip police forces with the necessary tactical information to assist Bedfordshire and other police forces in cracking down on this crime.
Has the Minister had any discussions with Virgin Trains, for example, and the police about what happens to the metal stolen from the railway lines, which can pose a severe hazard to public safety?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the risk, threat, inconvenience and serious harm that can be caused by stealing cabling and signalling equipment from the railways. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the British Transport Police has the lead role in respect of the work conducted by ACPO; it is actively engaged in that and is working with the rail industry, recognising the particular problems that the hon. Gentleman has identified and the threats posed to rail infrastructure.
Is the Minister aware of the appalling crime two years ago in the area of the former Auchengeich pit in my constituency relating to a beautiful piece of sculpture built by the community in honour of the 47 brave men who had lost their lives in a tragedy of 1959? The community came together again and built another statue. I have no criticism of Strathclyde police, but does the Minister agree that on such issues the closest co-operation among forces throughout the UK is helpful?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Many sickening crimes have occurred where monuments and places that exist to celebrate our war dead or important historical incidents have been desecrated. I think the whole House will join me in utterly condemning those responsible for these appalling actions. That is why we are moving forward by tackling the problem with the new taskforce. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that providing better intelligence and co-ordination is helpful, which is precisely what we will do and are already doing.
I welcome the importance that the Minister attaches to this issue, but it should not be too difficult to sort out. All he needs to do is to ensure that sellers verify their identity when selling metal and that each transaction is recorded, and to make cash payments for scrap metal illegal. That seems pretty simple to me and to businesses in the black country that are calling for those measures. Why can we not get on with this more quickly?
We are moving forward with this quickly. That is why we are taking the action that I have outlined today. We are also dealing with the aspects that he mentioned—on the regulation of the scrap metal industry, on having stronger enforcement powers to ensure that those responsible for these actions are held accountable for them, and on ensuring that we move to a cashless model of payment. Those are precisely the areas on which we are focusing, and we will report back to the House shortly.
My hon. Friend will know that not just schools and churches but voluntary organisations, such as the one that runs the Severn Valley railway in my constituency, have been victims of this invidious crime. He will also know that an all-party group on combating metal theft was set up last week under the joint chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly) and the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones). Will the Minister agree to meet me, along with other officers of the all-party group, to discuss how we can combat metal theft?
I am aware of the strong interest that the House attaches to this issue, which is evidenced by the fact that there are nine questions about it on today’s Order Paper. I believe that that constitutes a record number of Home Office questions on a single issue. My noble Friend Lord Henley, the Minister responsible for crime prevention and antisocial behaviour reduction, is well aware of the concern felt by Members of both Houses, and has told me that he would be very willing to meet members of the all-party parliamentary group.
Riot (Damages) Act 1886
13. What plans she has to review the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. (85728)
A review of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 is under way, and will consider all options for reform. It will include all learning from the August disturbances, and will involve consultation with people affected by them who made claims under the Act as well as organisations involved in the recovery. We expect it to be completed before the end of the current financial year.
I commend the Minister for the positive way in which he is engaging with Greater Manchester police authority, which, as he knows, carries a liability of more than £9 million as a result of the disorder in August. As he conducts his review, will he ensure that there is more clarity about responsibilities and the financial support given to police authorities by the Home Office, and that more pressure is put on the insurance industry to deal with claims promptly?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have been concerned about the rate at which payments have been made, and last week I convened a meeting with representatives of the insurance industry to discuss the matter. They assured me that, according to their latest assessment, some two thirds of businesses have received a partial or full payment. However, there ought to be processes to ensure that people are paid more swiftly, and such processes need to be sorted out by police authorities and the industry.
Many of the people who have made claims under the 1886 Act have done so because of damage to their motor vehicles, but in 1886 the car had only been invented for a year. Can the Minister assure me that his review takes into account all the possible forms of damage so that no one will be excluded?
It is true that uninsured vehicles are not covered by the Act, as no one envisaged the need for them to be. They would be covered if they were on private property, but not if they were in a public place. Of course, if vehicles are insured, a claim can be made against the insurers. This is one of the issues that we shall have to consider in the review.
14. What discussions she has had with police authorities on the police funding settlement for 2012-13. (85731)
Last Thursday I laid the provisional police grant report for 2012-13 before the House. It set out provisional allocations of the Home Office core settlement for police authorities for 2012-13, and is now the subject of a consultation. I will consider all responses carefully.
The Deputy Prime Minister says that the funding settlement for Nottinghamshire police is “manageable”, but the police themselves say:
“The Government’s inequitable cuts will impact on frontline policing in Nottinghamshire”.
Who does the Minister think my constituents should believe?
Of course dealing with budget reductions is challenging for police forces, but we are convinced that they can do it. I recently met members of the Nottinghamshire force, including the chief constable, and we discussed the issues. The chief constable has acknowledged the difficulty of the decisions involved, but has also said that she is
“doing all we can to protect frontline services and target resources to areas where the public are most commonly affected”.
The police settlement, which, as the Minister acknowledged, was published last week, takes a further £700 million out of the police budget at a time when we are seeing worrying increases in crime, with violent crime, burglary and theft all going up in last month’s figures. Senior police officers have already expressed their concern that the settlement means they will have to do far more than can be achieved through efficiency savings. If the police, in responding to this consultation, feel that the settlement is inadequate to meet policing challenges next year, will the Minister think again? Will he ensure that the 3,000 extra police officers that the Liberal Democrats called for are put in place?
I note what the right hon. Gentleman says about these issues. He is trying to give the impression that a further reduction in funding has been announced, but he knows that that is not the case; these reductions were announced beforehand, as part of the review, and they have not changed in relation to the proposed allocation for forces. I also note that he is coming forward with his familiar solution—Labour’s only policy on the police—which is to call for more public spending. It is that attitude that got this country into the mess that we inherited from the previous Government. Perhaps he might have something more constructive to say about policing in future.
15. What steps she is taking to tackle the practice of forced marriage. (85732)
This Government are committed to ending the abusive practice of forced marriage and to ensuring that victims are protected, as this is indefensible and never acceptable. The Government provide practical support to victims through the forced marriage unit, and we have today published a consultation on whether forced marriage should be made a criminal offence.
I thank the Minister for that answer and warmly welcome today’s announcement of a public consultation on this shameful practice. Does she agree that it is vital that the Government work closely with the relevant communities to ensure that women are no longer discouraged from reporting forced marriages?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and working with the communities is the only way deal with this issue. We want people to come forward and we do not want families to be deterred, so it is only by working with communities that we are likely to achieve our aims.
Home Department (Croydon Office)
16. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the appointments booking system at her Department’s offices in Croydon. (85733)
The effectiveness of these systems is continuously monitored, including customer satisfaction with appointments booking. In Croydon, the UK Border Agency offers appointments for temporary and permanent migration at the public inquiry office, and for claiming asylum at the asylum screening unit.
One of my constituents has been trying since August, both online and by telephone, to get an appointment for any day and any time. I know that the Minister is assiduous so, rather than just listen to what his officials tell him, will he do a bit of mystery shopping and try to get an appointment, online on his home computer or by telephone, to see whether or not the system is working in practice?
I am always happy to take the hon. Gentleman’s advice. He does not say whether this relates to the asylum screening unit or a general immigration appointment.
It is general.
In that case, I will look at the efficiency of the system. I should tell the hon. Gentleman that over the past quarter, customer satisfaction with that booking system has improved markedly. Some 84% of customers surveyed stated that they were “very” or “fairly” satisfied with the effectiveness of the appointments booking system. If he wishes to give me the name of the person who is trying hard to get an appointment, I will ensure that they get one.
19. What estimate she has made of the likely level of net migration in 2015. (85736)
The latest published estimates show net migration in the year to March 2011 at 245,000. That figure remains too high, which is why the Government are pressing ahead with their reform of the immigration system. This will bring numbers down to sustainable levels in the tens of thousands by 2015.
The Prime Minister has said that, “No ifs, no buts”, net migration will fall to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament. Given that net migration into the UK was 32,000 higher in the 12 months to March 2011 than it was in the previous 12 months, does the Minister believe that he will ever meet this target?
Yes, I do. I find complaints about high immigration from those on the Labour Benches a bit rich, given what they did to the immigration system. I simply point the hon. Gentleman to the figures for the past six months, because over the past two quarters the figures have started coming down. We are beginning to make a dent in the disaster of Labour’s immigration policy.
I welcome the roll-out of the e-Borders system, but what role will the border police command play from 2013, as part of the National Crime Agency, in helping to reduce illegal immigration?
I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that it will play a significant role. Of course, as well as having the policies that bring the overall numbers down we need proper enforcement mechanisms to ensure that they can be properly implemented. The National Crime Agency and the border command within it will play a significant role in improving the security of our borders.
I call David Morris.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, but I believe that my question 21 has already been answered.
The hon. Gentleman is in danger of setting a trend. If others followed it, our proceedings would conclude more speedily. I am grateful to him for his self-denial.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. (85741)
As the House just heard, this Government are committed to controlling immigration and reducing net migration. We have already introduced an annual limit on the number of non-EU workers, overhauled the student visa route and increased enforcement activity. Our next steps are to break the link between temporary and permanent migration by restricting settlement rights and to reform family migration. Members of this House have played a crucial role in shaping these reforms and I welcome the opportunity for further such contributions in this afternoon’s Government debate, which will be ably led by my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration.
While I recognise that my right hon. Friend has a very tough job as Home Secretary, does she understand my disappointment? When I first became MP for Basildon, we had one police station; by the time I left we had three and Lord Mackay of Clashfern had opened a magnificent courthouse. I then became the Member of Parliament for Southend West, where there are a huge number of elderly people and where I started off with three police stations, and I will shortly have none.
I feel the need not to let it rest there, Mr Speaker, but to respond to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) asked. I am sure that he will agree that what matters is accessibility to police. That is why one thing the Government are doing is reducing the amount of bureaucracy that the police have to deal with so that they can get out on the streets more. It is also why a number of forces up and down the country are considering accessibility in a different way, rather than simply having fixed police stations. I understand that Essex, for example, has seven mobile police stations that go to areas where people congregate, such as supermarket car parks, to increase accessibility to the police for members of the public.
At the end of this month, the control orders legislation expires and the police and security services will have just six weeks’ transition to get the new weaker terrorism prevention and investigation measures and extra surveillance in place. The assistant commissioner of the Met, in a recent letter placed in the Library of the House, confirms the Met’s position last summer that
“it would take at least a year to recruit and train additional surveillance teams”.
She also says that
“not all the additional assets will be immediately in place”.
Why, then, is the Home Secretary so determined to push ahead with weaker counter-terror powers so quickly? Why does she not delay them and avoid piling extra pressure and risk on to the Met in the new year?
The right hon. Lady knows full well that the Metropolitan Police Service and the Security Service will not have just six weeks to put transitional arrangements in place. They have been aware for some time that TPIMs would come in and extra funding would be available for extra surveillance. Subsequent to the letter sent by the assistant commissioner, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has written to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee to make it absolutely clear that effective transitional arrangements from control orders to TPIMs will be in place to ensure that we continue to do what we want to do and what everybody wants us to do: that is, maintain the security of people in this country.
The Met has been put in a very difficult position. This is Olympic year and it will have considerable additional pressures from policing the games, from counter-terrorism and from an £80 million budget gap. There are no guarantees that it will not have to stump up for some of the riot compensation, too. The letter from the Met says that
“it is not possible to assess fully how the measures will work with the additional capability until both are fully in place and bedded in.”
The Home Secretary is forcing the police to conduct an experiment with security in Olympic year. The letter says:
“We will…seek to ensure that there is no substantial increase in overall risk to the UK.”
Why does this Home Secretary want to be personally responsible for any increase in the overall risk to the UK in Olympic year as a result of the timing of her legislation? Why does she not think again?
The right hon. Lady knows that when we introduced TPIMs we were able to give assurances about the mitigation of risks in relation to TPIMs and their replacement of control orders. I ask her to reflect on why the coalition Government reviewed counter-terrorism legislation when we came to power. It was because of a concern about the impact of some of the legislation that her Government had introduced. It was a rebalancing of the necessary role of ensuring national security and maintaining civil liberties that led us to review that legislation. We have in place measures that I believe will enable us to provide the security that we need to provide. The package of measures includes TPIMs and extra money for surveillance for both the Security Service and the police, and I am confident that that package will give them the degree of cover they need to ensure that we maintain security.
T2. My constituent Altaf Sadique had his car registration plate cloned earlier this year. He reported that to the police, who accepted the report and are aware that his car remains in west Yorkshire, but he continues to get fines from all around the country and the police say it is nothing to do with them. Will the Minister look seriously at having a national strategy to ensure that police forces co-operate to deal with this serious problem? (85742)
I will certainly look into the matter that my hon. Friend raises and I am happy to discuss it further with him. Police co-operation in all matters is, of course, desirable.
T6. Tomorrow, the Howard League for Penal Reform will publish a report showing that about 50,000 children, including about 10,000 girls, spent the night in police custody in both 2009 and 2010. Will the Home Secretary look urgently at the inappropriate and overuse of the detention of children overnight? What can she do to improve processes between local authorities and the police? (85746)
I note the hon. Lady’s point and we will study the report when it is produced by the Howard League tomorrow.
T5. What progress has the Minister made in identifying bogus colleges and what reassurances can he give to legitimate colleges in Brighton and Hove? (85745)
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said a few minutes ago, the number of colleges that did not register when the new proper accreditation system came in was more than 470. Some but not all of those will have been bogus colleges, so we have swept away a vast raft of bogus colleges. Reputable colleges can now be assured that we have a proper accreditation system. If they satisfy that system, their students and the wider community will know that they are genuine colleges.
I wrote to the Secretary of State two weeks ago asking her to review the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s handling of the Mark Duggan case. Given the catastrophe that was this morning’s pre-hearing inquest and the family’s declaring no public confidence in the IPCC, will she now look at its handling of the case and the thoroughness of this investigation?
I have just replied to the right hon. Gentleman. I have spoken to the acting chairman of the IPCC about the matter and the investigation, and he has assured me about the investigation’s integrity. We therefore see no reason at the moment to order any review. It is important that the investigation takes its course properly.
T7. Will the Minister explain what she is doing to ensure that the families of missing people get the help and support they need when a loved one goes missing? (85747)
We have published the new missing children and adults strategy, which has three important provisions. The first of these is prevention and reducing the number of people who go missing in the first place. The second is protection and reducing the harm to those who do go missing. The third is provision—providing support and advice to missing persons and their families by referring them promptly to agencies and ensuring that they understand how and where to access help.
Merseyside police have been very successful in cutting metal theft in my constituency, particularly by working with reputable traders. They deserve congratulations on their approach. Will the Home Secretary help the police across the country and back Labour’s four-point plan, including tougher police powers to close down rogue traders?
I welcome the work of Merseyside police and other police forces around the country in dealing with metal theft. It is why we are moving forward with the metal theft taskforce, and why that will also be responsible for greater co-ordination, but I hear the points that the hon. Gentleman makes about penalties. That is something that we are actively considering in the context of our review of the current legislation. [Interruption.]
Order. The House must come to order to hear Mr Gavin Barwell.
T8. Despite the tough settlement for the Metropolitan police, our borough commander in Croydon has found the resources for a dedicated team to tackle gangs. Given that gang members played a key role in the riots in Croydon on 8 August, can my right hon. Friend confirm that Croydon is one of the 22 areas to which she referred that will benefit from Government funding? (85748)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity of doing just that. I can confirm that Croydon is one of the 22 areas that will be receiving funding. That funding will be distributed according to the proportion of 10 to 24-year-olds in each of the 22 areas, and I can tell him that on that basis Croydon has the fourth highest proportion and will therefore receive the fourth highest sum of funding.
The weekend before last, 13 British citizens including, disgracefully, a Member of this House, were present at a party in a French restaurant where members of that group—[Interruption.] It is no laughing matter—where members of that group toasted the Third Reich and chanted “Hitler, Hitler, Hitler,” behaviour which, I understand, is illegal in France. Will the Home Secretary give me her assurance that she will be contacting her French counterparts and giving them every promise that the matter will be dealt with?
I found it difficult to find in the hon. Gentleman’s question something relating to the Home Office. I understand the question that he raised, and I understand that the individual in question has apologised.
T9. I welcome plans to set up a professional body for policing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a body would be an ideal opportunity to promote the importance of high-quality training, which is very much in the interests of our police officers? (85750)
I agree with my hon. Friend. We have an important opportunity now to set up a professional body for policing to focus on the need to provide high-quality training for police officers and to set standards. I am grateful to the senior police leadership for engaging in our work to discuss the issue. We will be bringing proposals before the House.
Can the Minister give me the precise total number of prisons in Britain that are free from the use of illegal drugs?
I will write to the hon. Gentleman with that information.
May I draw attention to the Merseyside police force and how it has handled staffing changes and efficiency savings over the past year? Not only has the force hit all its targets, but crime is down 3%, antisocial behaviour is down 6%, and public confidence is up 5%, so despite the scaremongering from the Opposition, it is possible to have efficiency savings and a decrease in crime.
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work that is being done by the Merseyside force in relation to the savings that it is making in its budgets. As Chief Constable Jon Murphy has said,
“It’s not salami slicing but re-engineering the whole organisation.”
As my hon. Friend has shown, that can be done effectively, saving money but providing a good service to the public. [Interruption.]
Order. The questions must be heard and Ministers must be heard.
The Home Secretary is aware that women prisoners will only ever move between women’s prisons, and similarly young people will only move through young offenders institutions. What discussions has she had with her counterparts at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Justice to ensure that we look at prison education for women as a cluster and for young people as a cluster, instead of relying on local arrangements?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and behind it lies the important issue of the number of women who go to prison. For many women, an alternative arrangement might be more appropriate, which is something Baroness Corston raised in her report on women in prison. I will certainly take on board my hon. Friend’s point and ensure that it is put to the Secretaries of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and for Justice.
I have been saving the hon. Gentleman up. I call Mr Peter Bone.
Does the Immigration Minister agree that on rare occasions something good comes out of the European Union and that we should appoint a national rapporteur on human trafficking?
I am afraid that on this issue I am more Eurosceptic than my hon. Friend, as I do not believe that a national rapporteur would improve our already very effective combating of human trafficking. Indeed, only two other EU member states have such a rapporteur.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council—
Order. The House must calm itself, taking whatever medicaments are required for the purpose, and the Prime Minister’s statement must and will be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I went to Brussels with one objective: to protect Britain’s national interest, and that is what I did. Let me refer to what I said to the House last Wednesday. I made it clear that if the eurozone countries wanted a treaty involving all 27 members of the European Union, we would insist on some safeguards for Britain to protect our own national interests. Some thought that the safeguards I was asking for were relatively modest. Nevertheless, satisfactory safeguards were not forthcoming, so I did not agree to the treaty. Let me be clear about exactly what happened, what it means for Britain and what I see happening next.
Order. I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister. I hope that Members have now got it out of their system. The statement will be heard. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will have ample opportunity to question the Prime Minister, but courtesy and parliamentary convention dictate that the statement will be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Let me take the House through the events of last week. At this Council, the eurozone economies agreed that there should be much tighter fiscal discipline in the eurozone as part of restoring market confidence. That is something that Britain recognises as necessary in a single currency. We want the eurozone to sort out its problems. That is in Britain’s national interest because the crisis in the eurozone is having a chilling effect on Britain’s economy too, so the question at the Council was not whether there should be greater fiscal discipline in the eurozone, but how it should be achieved.
There were two possible outcomes: either a treaty of all 27 countries, with proper safeguards for Britain; or a separate treaty in which eurozone countries and others would pool their sovereignty on an intergovernmental basis, with Britain maintaining its position in the single market and in the European Union of 27 members. We went seeking a deal at 27 and I responded to the German and French proposal for treaty change in good faith, genuinely looking to reach an agreement at the level of the whole of the European Union, with the necessary safeguards for Britain. Those safeguards—on the single market and on financial services—were modest, reasonable and relevant. We were not trying to create an unfair advantage for Britain. London is the leading centre for financial services in the world, and this sector employs 100,000 people in Birmingham and a further 150,000 people in Scotland. It supports the rest of the economy in Britain and more widely in Europe.
We were not asking for a UK opt-out, special exemption or a generalised emergency brake on financial services legislation. They were safeguards sought for the EU as a whole. We were simply asking for a level playing field for open competition for financial services companies in all EU countries, with arrangements that would enable every EU member state to regulate its financial sector properly. To those who say that we were trying to go soft on the banks, nothing could be further from the truth. We have said that we are going to respond positively to the tough measures set out in the Vickers report. There are issues about whether this can be done under current European regulations, so one of the things we wanted was to make sure we could go further than European rules on regulating the banks. The Financial Services Authority report on RBS today demonstrates just how necessary that is—[Interruption]—and perhaps instead of talking Opposition Members will remember their responsibility for the mess that they created.
Those who say that this proposed treaty change was all about safeguarding the eurozone, and so Britain should not have tried to interfere or to insist on safeguards, are fundamentally wrong as well. The EU treaty is the treaty of those outside the euro as much as it is for those inside the euro, so creating a new eurozone treaty within the existing EU treaty without proper safeguards would have changed the EU for us, too. It would not just have meant a whole new bureaucracy, with rules and competences for the eurozone countries being incorporated directly into the EU treaty; it would have changed the nature of the EU—strengthening the eurozone without balancing measures to strengthen the single market.
Of course, an intergovernmental arrangement is not without risks, but we did not want to see that imbalance hard-wired into the treaty without proper safeguards. To those who believe that that was not a real risk, I tell them that France and Germany said in their letter last week that the eurozone should work on single market issues such as financial regulation and competitiveness. That is why we required safeguards, and I make no apology for it.
Of course, I wish those safeguards had been accepted, but frankly I have to tell the House that the choice was a treaty without proper safeguards or no treaty—and the right answer was no treaty. It was not an easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do. As a result, eurozone countries and others are now making separate arrangements for the fiscal integration that they need to solve the problems in the eurozone. They recognise that this approach will be less attractive, more complex and more difficult to enforce, and they would prefer to incorporate the new treaty into the EU treaties in future. Our position remains the same.
Let me turn to what this means for Britain. Britain remains a full member of the European Union, and the events of the last week do nothing to change that. Our membership of the EU is vital to our national interest. We are a trading nation, and we need the single market for trade, investment and jobs. The EU makes Britain a gateway to the largest single market in the world for investors; it secures half of our exports and millions of British jobs; and membership of the EU strengthens our ability to progress our foreign policy objectives, too, giving us a strong voice on the global stage on issues such as trade and, as we have seen in Durban this week, climate change and the environment.
So we are in the European Union and we want to be. This week there will be meetings of the Councils on Transport, Telecommunications and Energy, and Agriculture and Fisheries. Britain will be there as a full member of each one, but I believe in an EU with the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc. We are not in the Schengen no-borders agreement, and neither should we be, because it is right that we use our natural advantage as an island to protect ourselves against illegal immigration, guns and drugs; we are not in the single currency, and while I am Prime Minister we will never join; we are not in the new euro area bail-out funds, even though we had to negotiate our way out of them; and we are not in this year’s euro-plus pact.
When the euro was created, the previous Government agreed that there would need to be separate meetings of eurozone Ministers, and it is hardly surprising that those countries required by treaty to join the euro chose to join the existing eurozone members in developing future arrangements for the eurozone. Those countries are going to be negotiating a treaty that passes unprecedented powers from their nation states to Brussels. Some will have budgets effectively checked and re-written by the European Commission. None of this will happen in Britain. But, just as we wanted safeguards for Britain’s interests if we changed the EU treaty, we will continue to be vigilant in protecting our national interests.
An intergovernmental treaty, while it does not carry with it the same dangers for Britain, is none the less not without risks. The decision of the new eurozone-led arrangement is a discussion that is just beginning. We want the new treaty to work in stabilising the euro and putting it on a firm foundation. I understand why they would want to use EU institutions—but this is new territory and does raise important issues that we will want to explore with the euro-plus countries. So in the months to come we will be vigorously engaged in the debate about how institutions built for 27 should continue to operate fairly for all member states, Britain included. The UK is supportive of the role of the institutions, not least because of the role they play in safeguarding the single market, so we will look constructively at any proposals with an open mind. But let us be clear about one thing: if Britain had agreed treaty change without safeguards, there would be no discussion. Britain would not have proper protection.
Finally, let me turn to the next steps. The most pressing step of all is to fix the problems of the euro. As I have said, that involves far more than simply medium-term fiscal integration, important though that is. Above all, the eurozone needs to focus, at the very least, on implementing its October agreement. The markets want to be assured that the eurozone firewall is big enough, that Europe’s banks are being adequately recapitalised, and that problems in countries like Greece have been properly dealt with. There was some progress at the Council, but far more needs to be done. The eurozone countries noted the possibility of additional IMF assistance. Our position on IMF resources remains the one I set out at the Cannes G20 summit. Alongside non-European G20 countries, we are ready to look positively at strengthening the IMF’s capacity to help countries in difficulty across the world. But IMF resources are for countries, not currencies, and cannot be used specifically to support the euro—and we would not support that.
There also needs to be greater competitiveness between the countries of the eurozone. To be frank, the whole of Europe needs to become more competitive. That is the way to more jobs and growth. Many eurozone countries have substantial trade deficits as well as budget deficits. If they are not to be reliant on massive transfers of capital, they need to become more competitive and trade out of those deficits. The British agenda has always been about improving Europe’s competitiveness, and at recent Councils we have achieved substantial progress on completing the single market in services, opening up our energy markets, and exempting micro-businesses from future regulations. This has been done by working in partnership with a combination of countries that are in the eurozone and outside it. Similarly, on this year’s EU budget, it was Britain, in partnership with France, Germany and Holland, that successfully insisted on no real increases in resources—for the first time in many, many years in the EU.
On defence, Britain is an absolutely key European player, whether leading the NATO rapid reaction force or tackling piracy in the Indian ocean. Our partnership with France—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the Prime Minister. Those on the Opposition Front Bench, at the moment, are making the most noise. [Interruption.] Order. This is not acceptable. The Leader of the Opposition will have an opportunity to reply on behalf of the Opposition, and his colleagues must conduct themselves with a degree of reserve.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Our partnership with France was crucial in taking successful action in Libya. Britain will continue to form alliances on the things we want to get done. We have always had a leading role in advocating the policy of enlargement and, at this Council, we all celebrated the signing of Croatia’s accession treaty. That was one European treaty I was happy to sign.
Let me conclude with this point. I do not believe there is a binary choice for Britain: that we can either sacrifice the national interest on issue after issue or lose our influence at the heart of Europe’s decision-making processes. I am absolutely clear that it is possible to be a full, committed and influential member of the European Union but to stay out of arrangements where they do not protect our interests. That is what I have done at this Council. That is what I will continue to do as long as I am Prime Minister. It is the right course for this country. I commend this statement to the House.
May I start by thanking the Prime Minister for his statement? We all note the absence of the Deputy Prime Minister from his normal place.
The reality is this: the Prime Minister has given up our seat at the table; he has exposed, not protected, British business; and he has come back with a bad deal for Britain. The Prime Minister told us that his first priority at the summit was to sort out the eurozone, but the euro crisis is not resolved. There is no promise by the European Central Bank to be the lender of last resort, there is no plan for growth and there is little progress on bank recapitalisation. Will he first tell us why his promise of action did not materialise and what that will mean for the British economy in the months ahead? At the summit that was meant to solve these problems, the Prime Minister walked away from the table.
Let me turn to where that leaves Britain. Many people feared an outcome of 17 countries going it alone. Few could have anticipated the diplomatic disaster of 26 going ahead and one country—Britain—being left behind. The Prime Minister rests his whole case on the fact that 26 countries will not be able to use the existing treaties or institutions. That is apparently the win that he got for this country. However, can he confirm that article 273 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union allows those countries to use the European Court of Justice? No doubt they will end up using the Commission’s services and, yes, even the buildings—the point that he made in the negotiations. In case anyone had any doubt, that was confirmed yesterday by the absent Deputy Prime Minister, who said:
“Well it clearly would be ludicrous for the 26, which is pretty well the whole of the European Union…to completely reinvent…a whole panoply of new institutions.”
The Prime Minister will not even be sent the agenda for the meetings that will start in January. He will read about decisions affecting British business in the pages of the Financial Times.
The Prime Minister’s next claim was that he did not want to sign up to the fiscal rules being imposed on euro area countries. Can he confirm that no one even proposed that those would have applied to Britain? The next claim in his statement was that he did what he did because the treaty posed a grave threat to our financial services industry. However, over the whole course of the weekend, he has been unable to point to a single proposal in the proposed treaty that would entail the alleged destruction of the City of London. Will he tell us what the threat was?
In any case, there is nothing worse for protecting our interests in financial services than the outcome that the Prime Minister ended up with. Will he confirm that he has not secured one extra protection for financial services? The veto on financial services regulation—he did not get it. The guarantees on the location of the European Banking Authority—he did not get them. Far from protecting our interests, he has left us without a voice.
The sensible members of his party understand that as well as anyone. What did Lord Heseltine say—[Interruption.] Oh, how significant! That is what the Tory party now thinks of Lord Heseltine. What did he say at the weekend?
“You can’t protect the interest of the City by floating off into the middle of the Atlantic.”
It is no longer the Conservative party of Lord Heseltine; it is the Conservative party of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who went out on Friday saying that this was exactly what he had always wanted.
What about the rest of British business, which the Prime Minister does not seem to have been thinking about? The danger is that the discussions about the single market, on which it relies, will now take place without us. Only this Prime Minister could call that leadership. The Deputy Prime Minister clearly does not agree with him. He said that the outcome leaves Britain “isolated and marginalised”. Does the Prime Minister agree with that assessment? How can he expect to persuade anybody else that it is a good outcome when he cannot persuade his own deputy?
The Prime Minister claims to have wielded a veto. Let me explain to him that a veto is supposed to stop something happening. It is not a veto when the thing that you wanted to stop goes ahead without you. That is called losing. That is called being defeated. That is called letting Britain down. I have not finished with the Prime Minister yet. Next, I want to ask him—[Interruption.]
Order. I am worried about the health of the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). He must calm himself and have a lie down, if necessary, while we listen to the Leader of the Opposition.
Next, I want to ask the Prime Minister about how he ended up with this outcome. The proposals he tabled, when he tabled them and his failure even to try to build alliances for them suggest someone who did not exactly want a deal. Can he confirm that what he actually proposed was to unpick the existing rules of Lady Thatcher’s Single European Act as regards the internal market? Given that those proposals would have changed 25 years of the single market, why did he make them in the final hours of the summit?
Where were the Prime Minister’s allies? If he wanted a deal, why did he fail to build alliances with the Swedes, the Dutch, the Poles and Britain’s traditional supporters? If he really did want to protect the single market and financial services, why did he not seek guarantees that those issues would be discussed only with all 27 members in the room?
In any case, the Prime Minister should not have walked away, because the truth is—[Interruption.] Just calm down. The truth is, the treaty will take months and months to negotiate. Other countries have carried on negotiating and carried on fighting for their national interest. The real answer is this: he did not want a deal, because he could not deliver it through his party. He responded to the biggest rebellion of his party in Europe in a generation by making the biggest mistake of Britain in Europe for a generation.
So this is a bad deal, which we ended up with for bad reasons, and it will have long-lasting consequences. It is a decision that means we are on the sidelines, not just for one summit but for the years ahead. The Prime Minister said in this House on 24 October that what mattered
“is not only access to that single market but the need to ensure that we are sitting around the table”.
He went on:
“That is key to our national interest, and we must not lose that.”—[Official Report, 24 October 2011; Vol. 534, c. 38.]
Well congratulations, Prime Minister, that is exactly what you have done. He has done what no Prime Minister ever thought was wise—to leave the room to others, to abandon our seat at the table.
The Prime Minister says he had no choice. He did. He could have stayed inside and fought his corner; he should have stayed inside and fought his corner. Faced with a choice between the national interest and his party interest, he has chosen the party interest. We will rue the day this Prime Minister left Britain alone, without allies, without influence. It is bad for business, it is bad for jobs, it is bad for Britain.
A lot of sound and fury, but one crucial weakness—the right hon. Gentleman has not told us whether he would sign up to the new treaty. He had about 15 minutes, and he could not tell us whether he is for it or against it. Has it got enough safeguards in it, or has it got too few safeguards? Would a Labour Government back it, or would they veto it? Let me tell him: if you cannot decide, you cannot lead.
Inasmuch as there were some specific questions, let me try to answer them. The right hon. Gentleman asks what the threat was to financial services. Why cannot he understand that if you allowed a new treaty of 17 members within the EU, without proper safeguards, huge damage could be done to the single market and to financial services? He asks what will happen when this new organisation goes ahead. Of course, a new organisation cannot do anything that cuts across the existing treaties or the existing legislation, so he does not even understand how the European Union works.
The right hon. Gentleman asks what we gained from the veto. I will tell him: we stopped Britain signing up to a treaty without any safeguards. That is what we gained.
On the issue of the City and financial services, the right hon. Gentleman completely fails to understand that this is a nationwide industry. It is not just the City of London; it is the whole of our country. I have to say, there was not a word about the report today showing that Labour was to blame for the appalling regulation of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Then, of course, we had a lecture—[Interruption.]
Order. Members must calm down. I have my eye on one hon. Gentleman from the north of England who entered the House 32 years ago and should know better.
Of course, then we had a lecture on how to negotiate. I have to say that I am not going to take any lessons from people who gave in time after time to the comfy consensus rather than ever stand up for Britain. Just look at the record: the previous Government joined a bail-out scheme even though it was not protecting a currency that they were a member of; they gave up the rebate even though they got nothing in terms of the reform of agriculture; and they signed up to the Lisbon treaty but never had the courage to put it to the British people. Every time, they just go along with what others want.
The Leader of the Opposition also talked about growth and jobs. Let me just say this: his plan, alone in Europe, is to spend more, borrow more and increase debt by more. All the while, if he wants to join the euro, he needs to understand that the treaty that is being established would actually make that illegal. The very thing he wants to do in Britain he wants to ban in Brussels.
But the key question the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer is this: does he back this treaty or not? If the answer is yes, he should have the courage to say so. If the answer is no, he should have the honesty to say that I was right to keep Britain out of it. And let me just say this: just because the right hon. Gentleman is in opposition does not mean that he should oppose Britain’s interests.
May I declare my admiration and full-hearted support for my right hon. Friend at this definitive moment in his first premiership, and query whether this Brussels summit achieved anything of strategic value to protect the threatened European banking system? Without the long-delayed and still unpromised massive support of the European Central Bank and the Bundesbank, the euro is doomed—[Hon. Members: “Doomed!”] Yes, doomed—and as Chancellor Merkel has said, the European Union is doomed with it.
I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend on the balance of effort that has been given, on the one hand, to new treaty powers and changes, and, on the other, to actually looking at what needs to be done, particularly in the short term, in terms of the firewall, bank recapitalisation and action by the ECB. More needs to be focused on those things rather than on the medium-term power changes in the EU, which I do not think are being hovered over by the markets, which are working out whether countries can pay their debts. In that regard, my right hon. Friend is right.
There was no draft treaty before the European Council last Thursday and Friday; there was a set of draft conclusions. Will the Prime Minister set out the paragraph numbers that he thinks would have damaged Britain’s interests had we agreed to them? Will he also confirm that we had a veto on a financial transactions tax before the Council and that we still have one; and that financial services regulation was subject to qualified majority voting before last Thursday and still is?
As I said in my statement, the eurozone members wanted to create a new treaty within the EU, which has all sorts of dangers. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the letter that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy sent, he will see that they specifically wanted the 17 to look at issues such as financial services and the market within that treaty. Without safeguards, a treaty within a treaty would have been far more dangerous than a treaty outside the EU.
Let me repeat this point: a treaty outside the EU cannot do anything that cuts across European treaties or European legislation. Of course, that is not without its dangers, but my judgment was that without safeguards, an EU treaty was more dangerous.
The leadership of the Prime Minister in Brussels compares favourably with the refusal of the Leader of the Opposition over three long days to indicate whether he would have supported the treaty. The public will come to their own conclusion.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the term “two-speed Europe” is inaccurate, because it implies a destination that all countries will reach except over a different period? Whereas, is it not the case that the UK and perhaps other countries will never find it possible to accept a destination that involves not only a single currency, but fiscal union, tax harmonisation and supranational control of budgets? Is it not necessary to have a fundamental debate about whether Europe can become a Europe à la carte in order to survive?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. This is not about the speed at which different organisations travel: it is about the fact that Europe already has different facets. Britain is not in the single currency or in the Schengen no-borders agreement, but we are a leading member of the single market and we play a huge role in foreign and defence policy throughout Europe and NATO. We should not be embarrassed about that, and we should do what is in our national interest—rather than thinking that the right thing to do is to sign up whether or not it suits us.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that in all the negotiations since 1973 the United Kingdom has never lost a significant vote on financial services regulation? Why does he think that his negotiating tactics in the future would fail where those of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair succeeded, and why does he think that it is helpful to have driven nine other members of the European Union who are not in the euro into Franco-German hands?
For all the right hon. Gentleman’s experience, I think that he is very naive about what is happening in Europe over financial services. Time and again—[Interruption.]
Order. Members must calm themselves. I am concerned for them, and I also feel that the Prime Minister must be heard.
There have been any number of examples of frankly discriminatory legislation against financial services in the European Union that have affected Britain very badly. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman one example. At the moment, the ECB is taking Britain to court on the basis that we should not be able to clear euros through London. So we would be put in the extraordinary position that banks in Britain could clear Swiss francs, dollars and yen, but—even though we are in the single market—we could not clear euros. That is one example of discriminatory legislation. When you are faced with a situation in which the 17 eurozone members want to go into a further treaty within the European Union, with all the powers and force that would have—[Interruption.] They are not going to have a treaty within the European Union: they are doing it outside—it is right to seek safeguards. That is why the right hon. Gentleman is naive not to understand that.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his unequivocal statement that our membership of the European Union is vital to our national interests, and express the hope that he may give it some wider currency in his own party? He mentioned both the single market and the eurozone. What practical steps can our Government take now to assist in reaching a solution to the problems of the eurozone and towards enhancing the opportunities provided by the single market, both of which are essential to the economic prosperity of this country?
Let me repeat again to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I do believe that it is in Britain’s interest to be in the European Union and to be active, especially on those dossiers where that is in our interest—chief among which is the single market. If we want to see what will make a difference to the single currency and the success of the eurozone, nothing matters more than competitiveness, where Britain should be very active, with others both in the eurozone and outside, to drive forward changes. We are fully committed to keeping up that work.
Any politician with experience of doing business in Europe knows that you never go to a key European meeting without having done extensive and thorough preparatory work, so that as you walk in you are pretty much sure of the outcome you will get. Either the Prime Minister did not bother to do the preparatory work, and betrayed Britain’s long-term interests through sheer incompetence, or he had made up his mind before to use the veto because he was afraid of his own Back Benchers. Which of those two was it?
Let me say to the right hon. Lady that I went to Brussels wanting a result at 27, but there were safeguards that I believed that Britain needed. Frankly, you can have all the experience of negotiating in the world, but if you are not prepared to say no from time to time, you do not have any influence or power.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent statesmanship. Does he agree that Britain has much more negotiating strength today, because Europe knows that it is dealing with a Prime Minister who will say no if he needs to, than when we had two Prime Ministers who gave in to bad deal after bad deal, including giving away our rebate for no good reason?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. It is the case that on too many occasions under the previous Government, Britain was outnumbered, but on the issue of the rebate, it was given away for nothing in return simply because they wanted to go along with a cosy and comfortable consensus. Sometimes it is necessary to say no. In my judgment, we did not have the safeguards that we needed, so, as a result, it was right not to agree to this treaty.
Out of every European Council meeting, there are perceptions and realities. The Prime Minister did list some of the realities, but may I put it to him that the perception around the world, in not just Europe but the United States, is that we have committed a diplomatic catastrophe? The words “isolated” and “Britain” are fused. To come back from that, will he assure the House that in all future negotiations, he will take with him the Deputy Prime Minister, who, I believe, spoke for Britain?
The right hon. Gentleman, like so many of those who oppose what has happened, is part of exactly the same group of people who wanted us to join the single currency in the first place. They are never prepared to recognise that there are occasions when we need to safeguard our nation’s interests and we have to be able to say no.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to increase one’s influence within Europe and, indeed, within a coalition Government is to set up one’s position and stick to it?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. I always find this slightly surprising. Before going to Brussels I set out exactly what I was going to do and what I would do if I could not get the safeguards. I did exactly what I said I was going to do, but apparently in politics these days that is very surprising.
Will the Basel III regulatory regime for financial services apply in the United Kingdom?
I am afraid that I missed the beginning of the right hon. Gentleman’s question.
Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to repeat his question?
Will the Basel III regulatory regime for financial services apply in the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister must be right to do whatever is required to protect the 1.3 million jobs in our financial services sector. Will he confirm that the current EU proposals for the so-called maximum harmonisation of bank regulations could prevent us from implementing the conclusions of the Vickers commission to make our banks safer with a ring-fence?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. One of the things that we are concerned about is that if we want to take the extra action in this country to make our banks safe, including what Vickers is recommending, there is a danger—and this is the current advice—that the current European regulatory framework could stop us doing that. That is exactly the sort of safeguard—it is entirely reasonable, modest and relevant—to ask for in these negotiations. We did not get it, so, as a result, I was not content to go ahead with the treaty.
May I, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, commend the Prime Minister for the stance that he took at the European Council? Indeed, his stance has been welcomed by the First Minister and many in the community in Northern Ireland. The question is where we go from here because there is still qualified majority voting. We can still be outvoted by perhaps a vindictive Europe. Will the Prime Minister now indicate what his next step will be to change the fundamental nature of the relationship that we currently have towards one based on co-operation and free trade and away from ever-closer political union?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I have long believed, and still believe, that the balance of powers between Britain and Europe is not right, and I would like some of those powers returned. As Prime Minister, I specifically got the bail-out power back through my first negotiations on the European stability mechanism treaty. In the latest negotiations, we prevented a treaty from going ahead at the level of 27 because there were not adequate safeguards. Frankly, I think that we will see now a period of great change in Europe. No one quite knows where this new organisation outside the European treaties will go, what powers it will seek and how it will act. Neither does anyone know exactly how the eurozone will develop. My job in government is to protect and defend the national interest at all times, and that is what I will continue to do.
As someone who is not known for his hostility to the European Union, I fully support the Prime Minister for what was an inevitable decision. However, the relationship between the fiscal compact of the 26 and the European Union remains uncertain. In particular, the fiscal compact reads:
“The objective remains to incorporate these provisions into the treaties of the Union as soon as possible.”
In the light of that, does he agree that the battle for Britain’s interest still has a long way to go?
The other EU countries recognise that going ahead at less than 27 has its disadvantages: they do not have the power and authority of the European institutions fully behind them and it will make some of the things that they want to do more difficult. None the less, we have set out our position. We believe that those safeguards are necessary, and I will not, and have not, changed my mind about that. I want to make this point one more time because I am not sure that everyone has taken it fully onboard: the disadvantage for those countries that will have a treaty outside the EU is that it means that nothing can be done in that treaty that cuts across the EU treaties or the legislation adopted under them. That is an important safeguard, given that we could not get the safeguard within the EU treaties.
Order. If I am to accommodate the large number of Back Benchers, as I always wish to do, we will require brevity, a textbook example of which will now be provided by Mr Chris Bryant. [Laughter.]
I think, Mr Speaker, that that was an example of irony.
The single most important thing that our voters have seen over the past weeks and months has been the crisis in the economies across the whole of Europe, which is depressing the economy in this country as well. They want to ensure that they have jobs to go to next year. Last week, the Prime Minister surrendered an opportunity to do that; he surrendered his seat; and he surrendered to his Back Benchers. Is he not ashamed of himself?
And it all started so well! The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a crisis of jobs and opportunity across Europe, and a lot of that is linked to the chilling effect of the eurozone crisis. Some of that crisis needs to be resolved by better fiscal integration, and we can argue about whether that requires the treaty change being pushed for by France and Germany, but the real agenda—to help the eurozone and to help growth and jobs—is about competitiveness and the single market, and about ensuring that, even in the short term, there is the big bazooka, the re-capitalisation of the banks and the proper programme for Greece, which are all things that Britain has been pushing for.
On the protection of the national interest, will my right hon. Friend gently remind the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition that even Edward Heath’s 1970 White Paper confirmed that we have to maintain and use the veto in the national interest and to protect the fabric of the European Union—then the European Community—as a whole? To adapt William Pitt’s phrase, my right hon. Friend has exerted all his influence to ensure that Britain is protected. Does he take it that Europe will learn from his example?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. I agree that it is important that, when considering changing the institutions of the EU, there must be unanimity, and the veto is there for a purpose—if you feel that the national interests are not being protected. It is important that we maintain that in the EU.
The Prime Minister talked of us being a trading nation, of investment in jobs and of the importance of the eurozone. Why, then, did he not help the Greeks in their bail-out? Why has he not supported the European financial stability facility? Why is he not helping the European stability mechanism? Building on the questions from the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), what specific measures can the Prime Minister announce today to help the euro, trade, investment and jobs?
I respect the hon. Gentleman, who has a long track record on these issues, but on the Greek bail-out I am afraid I just do not support him. Britain was not in the original Greek bail-out—rightly, I think—and we should not be in subsequent Greek bail-outs. Frankly, the last Government made a mistake in getting us into the euro bail-out mechanism. We have got out of that, but that does not mean that Britain is not a generous nation that wants to help its allies. We have lent £5 billion to Ireland, and our economies are very integrated. I think the Irish are doing some very difficult things to get their economy back on track, and we support them in the work they are doing.
Order. I appeal again for single, short supplementary questions.
Given that we are facing the worst financial crisis in living memory, does the Prime Minister agree with me that the UK coalition Government have a policy for dealing with it and that unfortunately the eurozone does not? What we now need, surely, is to work in parallel to ensure that we have outcomes that are not divergent, but deliver a strong pound and a strong euro.
I am very grateful for that question. Of course it is important to recognise in a coalition Government that both sides of that coalition cannot always achieve everything that they want to. However, it is important that we work together, and where we absolutely have agreed is on the importance of a programme of getting our economy back on track. It has been of huge benefit—and will continue to be of benefit to our country—that two parties have put their interests aside to work for the common good.
The thing that was obviously lacking last Friday was any reference to growth or any ambition to get growth in the European economy. Can the Prime Minister dispel the rumour that he offered no leadership on that by telling us what proposals he tabled on European growth?
I am afraid that that is completely wrong. Britain has been very consistent, tabling proposal after proposal for growth. It is a British proposal to complete the single market in energy, a British proposal to complete the single market in services and a British proposal, which has just been passed, to exempt all micro-businesses—those with fewer than 10 employees—from future European regulation. Britain has the most pro-growth, pro-enterprise, pro-single market Government, and that is the way it is going to stay.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on sticking to a very simple principle of fairness in the European Union: that the institutions for the 27 are there for the 27? May I also remind him and those on the Opposition Benches—and, indeed, the BBC—that he has the support not only of the Conservative party but of the British people for what he has just done?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says. The absolute key to this issue about the institutions is actually what the new organisation does, rather than necessarily what the institutions do. The key is to protect the single market and those things that are vital for Britain. As I keep repeating, the fact is that an organisation outside the EU treaties is not allowed to cut across those treaties or the legislation under those treaties. It would be a greater danger to allow a treaty of 17 to go ahead within the EU, with all the additional powers, bureaucracy and everything else that involves, unless, of course, you can get the safeguards I was seeking.
We have heard the Prime Minister give his account of the meeting. Can arrangements now be made urgently for the Deputy Prime Minister to explain to the House why he is very much opposed to what has occurred?
Let me be clear: the negotiating approach of the Government was agreed by the Government before I went to Brussels, because it was very important to set out and agree the safeguards that we believed were necessary—I also set them out to the House, by the way—and that was agreed. However, it is of course important to recognise that it is no surprise that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have not always agreed about European integration. But, as I say, we have both put aside our interest to work in the national interest in having a Government who are able to clear up the mess that the hon. Gentleman’s party left.
If there were ever any doubt before, may I tell the Prime Minister that there is none today in the minds of the British people that we are led by a Prime Minister with the courage to put our country’s interests first? I thank him for displaying the bulldog spirit in Brussels last week, but will he discuss the long-term future of Europe with members of the European economic area and Switzerland and Turkey, which have customs union with the European Union, to ensure that we are all working together?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support but would repeat the point I made last Wednesday. Of course Britain has a key interest in being in the European Union. I do not believe that the sort of options that other countries have outside the European Union give them anything like the influence that we have, because it is not just the markets we need open; it is a say over the rules of those markets. That is what membership of the single market gives us in this country.
Is it not utterly bizarre that the Prime Minister has marginalised this country and recklessly thrown away Britain’s international influence, from Washington to Beijing, solely to protect the City from regulation when it is urgently in need of some regulation? In any case, his veto cannot protect the banking sector from any future EU finance directives. Is he not therefore ashamed that never before has so much been thrown away for so little or, indeed, needlessly for almost nothing?
The right hon. Gentleman clearly wrote his questions before coming to the House and listening to my statement. As I set out in the statement, we were not seeking special protections for the City; we were seeking a level playing field. Indeed, in some ways, we were asking to be able to have more regulation here in the UK, not least because of the shambles of RBS. Let us be clear: the Financial Services Authority report today names only three politicians as culpable—Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister and the shadow Chancellor, who was the man partly responsible for this complete shambles that we now have to clear up.
This morning The New York Times questioned whether this country’s interests—or, indeed, the City’s interests—were not at greater risk, following this weekend’s events. Looking forward, what positive reassurance can the Prime Minister give to potential foreign investors that we will remain at the heart of European economic decision making?
International investors know that Britain has the advantage of being a member of the single market, but outside the eurozone and the euro. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that the greatest risk for Britain would be to go into a treaty, including a new treaty of the 17 at the EU level, that did not safeguard our interests. Of course I would rather that our protocol had been accepted and that those protections and safeguards had been put in place; they were not, so the greater danger would have been to go ahead with a treaty without those safeguards.