House of Commons
Monday 15 October 2012
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
business before questions
death of members
I regret to have to report to the House the death of two Members. Malcolm Wicks, the right hon. Member for Croydon North, died on 29 September. Malcolm was a popular and well-respected Member who served as Chairman of the Education Select Committee before being appointed to Government. Malcolm’s ministerial career spanned education, pensions, science and energy.
Sir Stuart Bell, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough sadly died on 13 October. He was a Member of the House for almost 30 years and served as Second Church Estates Commissioner for a record 13 years. Sir Stuart also chaired the Finance and Services Committee and was a member of the House of Commons Commission for 10 years.
I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will join me in mourning the loss of our two valued colleagues and in extending our sympathy to their wives, families and friends.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Before I answer the question, Mr Speaker, on behalf of Members on both sides of the House, I would like to add to your tribute to Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell. Your sentiments were very well aimed, and I am sure that all Members will support them. These were valued colleagues who will be sorely missed.
The Government implemented new family immigration rules on 9 July this year. These tackle the abuse of immigration based on sham marriages, ensure that family migrants do not become a burden on the taxpayer and promote the integration of family migrants in British society.
May I also support the sentiments expressed by the Minister? I know that Malcolm Wicks was a fellow Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, so he was a man who always spoke incredible common sense.
On this particular issue, many of my constituents in Wolverhampton South West express concerns about the robustness of the current entry and clearance system that operates in India. Will the Minister assure me, the House and my constituents that that system is still robust and fair and will meet the high expectations that people have of it?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Entry clearance decisions are unbiased, robust and meet the high expectations that we all have. The decisions are closely monitored by entry clearance managers and they are also inspected by the chief inspector who looks at UK Border Agency operations, both domestic and overseas.
Many of our constituents—and, indeed, many Members—have married people from overseas. As well as appropriately tackling the abuses of the system, will the Minister ensure that there are not unnecessary and bureaucratic delays to the processing of legitimate marriages?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and he will know that I have now taken over the lead in the Home Office on combating human trafficking and related matters. We have already tackled the issue he raised to some extent, and now that he has raised it with me, I will look to see if more can be done to tackle this important issue.
I, too, wholeheartedly support the comments you made, Mr Speaker, about Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell. On the Opposition Benches we all feel that we have lost two great gentlemen from amongst our ranks. They were both intelligent men who brought a keen intelligence to the way in which they debated issues. As it happens, they were both ardent pro-Europeans, who might have had a word or two to put to the Home Secretary later this afternoon. We pay tribute to them both.
I understand that the main reason why the Minister has introduced these recent changes to the family route provisions on immigration is to cut net migration, as the Prime Minister promised before the general election, to the tens of thousands. Will he confirm, however, that the Office for National Statistics has said that since 2010 there has been no statistically significant difference in the number of migrants to this country?
I have seen that comment, but with a fall in net migration from 252,000 to 216,000—a fall of 15%—I will leave it to other Members and the public to judge whether they view that as significant. I know that the hon. Gentleman either tweeted or said at the Labour conference that he thought having a net migration target was “ludicrous”, but was then forced to unsay it when he was told to do so by his boss. We think having a net migration target is sensible: we mean to implement it, and I think the House will support it.
2. What steps she is taking to promote better recording of hate crimes against disabled, homosexual and transgender people. (122201)
Tackling hate crime is an issue that the Government take very seriously, and we are committed to improving the recording of such crimes. Last month the Home Office published the first set of official statistics on hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales, which will help police forces and police and crime commissioners focus resources on where they are most needed.
Will the Minister join me in grimly welcoming the increase in reported disability hate crime, which is due not least to the efforts of the Government and individual Ministers to encourage an environment in which people feel able to report such crimes? That includes local initiatives such as the third-party reporting centre that we have opened in Blackpool.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. One of the difficulties is giving people the confidence and the practical means to report hate crimes in the first place, but we are keen to encourage and facilitate that process. Of course, the level of recorded crime is sometimes higher although the baseline is the same or even falling because people are being encouraged to come forward, but we want them to come forward, and we are making it easier for them to do so.
I understand that the Metropolitan police have a specific category of recorded hate crimes against Muslims. Does the Minister agree that, as part of our fight against Islamophobia, it should be rolled out in areas throughout the country, including Greater Manchester?
As I said earlier, the Home Office has compiled statistics on recorded hate crimes in England and Wales for the first time. Only 4% of hate crimes were based on religion—the vast majority were race-based—but we take all hate crimes very seriously, and where we can further improve not only the compilation of data but the practical consequences and the way in which that information is used to tackle such crimes, we shall do so. I shall give serious consideration to the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
The Minister will be aware that later this week the Government will propose an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 which would remove the good-relations duty from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Does the Minister share my fear that that will weaken attempts to attack hate crime and to promote harmony between different sections of the community?
No, I would not draw that conclusion, but I assure the hon. Lady and every other Member that we are very serious about tackling hate crime. It takes many different forms, and we want to ensure that robust procedures are in place to ensure that the police take effective action.
Olympic and Paralympic Games (Security)
I am delighted by the success of the London 2012 games security operation. We delivered what we promised: reassuringly visible and proportionate security which protected games visitors, competitors and the wider public. I am particularly grateful to the many thousands of police and armed forces personnel who did such a great job, and in such a great spirit.
Will my hon. Friend join me in praising the hard work and dedication of those in the UK Border Force and all the other agencies whose professionalism made the security and immigration operation at the Olympics not only a great success, but a great advertisement for the UK?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the work of the UK Border Force in ensuring that the border was run efficiently and effectively during the games. I think that it is also worth highlighting the work of the Security Service, and that of the volunteers who contributed so much to the games.
The Home Affairs Committee report makes it clear that had it not been for the actions of the Home Office, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and the Army, Olympic security would have been a fiasco because of the failure of G4S. Has the Minister seen the Committee’s final recommendation that a register should be established listing the private sector companies that failed to deliver, and will he look into the COMPASS contract which has just been awarded and about which concern has already been expressed?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for recognising the work that was put in, both many years in advance of the Olympics and during the games themselves. He will doubtless be aware of the work that the Cabinet Office is doing in assessing each major contractor to government. Performance will form part of that analysis.
Further to the earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson), one of the biggest concerns before the games was the prospect of long queues at ports of entry such as Heathrow. May I therefore congratulate the Minister and the UK Border Force on a job well done in extending a warm and trouble-free welcome, without compromising border security, as the rest of the world arrived on our shores? Will he confirm that he does not view security and welcome as alternative choices to be traded off against each other, and that we can and should expect to deliver both?
My hon. Friend has rightly, again, praised the sterling work of the UK Border Force in ensuring that Heathrow and all other ports operated efficiently and effectively, and that not only were people able to pass through the border speedily, but national security was maintained.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has paid tribute to the Metropolitan police’s contribution to the success of the Olympic games—a point that was surprisingly omitted from the Prime Minister’s speech in Birmingham, presumably reflecting the poor relationship between Government Members and the Metropolitan police following the altercation with the Chief Whip. Will the Minister spell out more fully his tribute to the very important contribution that the police made to the great success of the games?
The Prime Minister has said that we have the greatest police force in the world, and I wholeheartedly endorse that. We saw some tremendous efforts by the police—the mutual aid from police forces up and down the country—to ensure that security was maintained during the Olympics and that we had a games of which we were all proud.
The Government are delivering a coherent package of measures to tackle metal theft, which includes: banning cash payments for scrap metal; enhancing law enforcement through the national metal theft taskforce; and improving the traceability of stolen metal. We are also working with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) to support his private Member’s Bill to reform the scrap metal industry.
I will make two brief points on that. First, we are keen to encourage people to report wrongdoing in this sector, where there has been widespread abuse, as it is important that that is addressed. Secondly, I hope that one of the main benefits of the measures that have been introduced is that legitimate scrap metal dealers, whose businesses have been hampered by having to compete with people who are breaking the law, will now be able to operate in a culture where it will be easier for their businesses to be profitable
In the light of the Government’s laudable decision to commemorate the centenary of the first world war, does the Minister agree that my Scrap Metal Dealers Bill will do much to counter the vandalism of graveyards and war memorials? Does he also agree that to support the Bill is to recognise the significance of the first world war, a legacy that future generations should never forget?
The House will not be surprised to learn that I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Scrap metal theft is a serious crime that can have serious and expensive consequences, but Members in all parties will feel that when it involves the desecration of war memorials, particularly those relating to the two great wars of the past century, in which so many British and Commonwealth soldiers died, that is particularly offensive to our sensibilities. I very much hope that his private Member’s Bill, and other measures being taken by the Government, will help to address that appalling behaviour.
The theft of war memorials is a real problem, so what conversations is the Minister having with the taskforce chaired by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on how the Departments can work together to tackle this problem further? I say that notwithstanding the excellent work being done by the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway).
I am happy to have discussions with any parties that are interested in trying to ensure that we can make improvements, but I can tell the House that new measures will be introduced as early as 3 December to create a new criminal offence that prohibits cash payments in the purchase of scrap metal. We are putting a series of measures in place; we are not merely waiting for my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill to come into effect, which we hope will happen. We are acting more swiftly than that and I am keen to draw on support from all parties and none to try to ensure that we tackle this serious crime as effectively as possible.
I understand the intense concentration on what is a dreadful crime, but does my hon. Friend agree with me that, as I know from my experience as a police officer, effective and robust regulation of brokers and recyclers will have a far greater effect on the prevalence of this crime than concentration on a particular payment method?
I partially agree with my hon. Friend. It is important to consider payment methods, because cash payments make it easier to facilitate criminal activity than more easily recordable methods of payment. I do not for one moment believe that dealing with that will be effective in itself, however, so it is necessary to see it as part of a package of proposals, which is the approach that the Government are taking.
Rural Crime Levels
Rural areas suffer from certain types of crime, and I am looking forward to the election of police and crime commissioners in a month’s time so that those rural communities have more of a say in policing priorities. I hope that in my own county of Gloucestershire that will include the election of Victoria Atkins, the excellent Conservative candidate.
I am sure that Brian Blake in Devon and Cornwall will have a different view on those matters. I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but he will be aware that farm watch, neighbourhood watch and special constables provide important community and voluntary support for rural areas. In these straitened times, what reassurance can the Minister give that the beat managers who are essential in co-ordinating the police response in those areas will be available and will continue to exist?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know from experience in my county that the difficult financial decisions that police authorities and chief constables have had to take can easily be combined with ensuring that there are more resources on the front line and that some of those excellent neighbourhood policing priorities are maintained. The election of police and crime commissioners will ensure that those neighbourhood-focused activities are not only continued but strengthened.
Is the Minister aware of reports in the newspapers today that five mainly rural police authorities have found 26 million depraved examples of images of child abuse on the internet and elsewhere, at the same time as the budget for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which reported two and half times as many reports of child abuse this year as it did two years ago, is due to be cut by 10%. What is he going to do about that and will he reconsider the cuts to the funding for dealing with child abuse?
I have briefly seen that report in the newspapers this morning. Of course, our plans to take CEOP into the National Crime Agency will enhance the ability of our police officers and crime fighters to deal with such images and such appalling crimes, which I am sure that everyone in the House would deprecate.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s measures on illegal Traveller encampments are welcomed by the vast majority of rural people and are no threat at all to those who are committed to a travelling way of life and want to carry it out in a legitimate fashion?
I think the way that my hon. Friend puts that is exactly right. I have experience of that in my constituency and by dealing with those people who abuse the regime and the hospitality of the settled community we will make the settled community more welcoming of those who are genuine Travellers. In that way, both parts of the community can live in harmony.
Over the past couple of years there has been a huge increase in theft from rural premises, rural businesses, farms and domestic properties, particularly of metal, fuel and implements. The Minister cannot get away with simply saying that the police commissioners will sort it out. What initiatives has his Department been following for the past couple of years?
I repeat what I said about police and crime commissioner elections meaning that the police will be more responsive to the important issues raised, because they will be able to raise them with chief constables on behalf of rural communities. We have been considering some of those important issues at a national level, for example through the plant and agricultural national intelligence unit that has been set up, to ensure that we deal more effectively with some of the crimes that are common across the country in rural areas on both a local and national level.
Front-line Police Numbers
8. In which police forces the largest change in front-line police officers has taken place since May 2010. (122207)
Between March 2010 and March 2012 the total number of front-line officers fell by 6,778. West Midlands police saw the greatest reduction in the number of front-line officers. Over the past year crime there has fallen by 10%, much more than the national average, proving that what matters is not the number of officers, but how they are deployed and how effective they are at fighting crime.
At a recent coffee morning I held, constituents were overwhelming in their praise for and gratitude to the police for the work they do in our communities, yet with falling police numbers their job will get harder, not easier, and my constituents are worried about the knock-on effects. What does the Minister believe will be the impact, particularly on police morale, of a Cabinet member verbally abusing a police officer at a time of reckless front-line cuts up and down the country?
May I start by endorsing the gratitude the hon. Lady’s constituents showed to Northumbria police? I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that crime in the Northumbria police area is down by 8% from 2011 to 2012. With regard to her other remarks, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) has apologised to the officer concerned and the officer has accepted the apology, and I think that for most people that would be the end of it.
The police service for Birmingham and the west midlands is among the finest in England, but 814 of its front-line police officers are being cut. Does the Home Secretary understand the dismay being expressed by the people of Birmingham over the damage being done to their police service, and does she also understand that they cannot begin to understand why 814 officers are going in Birmingham and the west midlands but 257 are going in Surrey?
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well the financial state his Government left this country in, which is why there need to be cuts. I completely agree with his tribute to West Midlands police, because, as I have said, in these difficult times they have reduced crime by 10% in the west midlands, a significant improvement, making the streets of Birmingham and the rest of the west midlands safer than they were.
Surely these are decisions for chief constables. The chief constable of Thames Valley police is managing in that area without any perceptible cut in front-line police numbers and, although one can never be complacent, I must say that crime levels in my constituency are probably as low as they have ever been in the nearly 30 years I have been a Member of this House.
I am glad to hear that. My hon. Friend is correct that there has been no fall in the number of officers in Thames Valley police, and that is at a time when recorded crime is down by 13%, which is a huge tribute to all involved. What has happened is that chief constables all over the country have worked effectively to ensure that our streets are safer. That is the basic job of the police and they are doing it very well.
Effective press and media relations are an essential tool to support front-line policing, but it is not clear to me whether or not the authorised police officers who are responsible for these matters are described as front-line. It is extremely important that, for police accountability and to prevent the abuse of power in relation to those police officers who are not authorised to speak to the media, we have full transparency about the police’s links to the media and how the media are briefed.
Transparency is an important issue for the police, as it is for other institutions such as this House. One of the improvements following the election of police and crime commissioners will be the existence of individuals with the job of holding individual forces to account. That, in itself, will be a major step forward in transparency for the police service across England and Wales.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Cambridgeshire chief constable Simon Parr, both for reducing crime by about a fifth in two years and for announcing the recruitment of 100 new police officers? Will he suggest that other chief constables look at that model?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It shows that good chief constables can decide how to deploy their resources effectively. The vast majority of them around the country are seeing crime fall in their areas, and that is what the public want.
Police and Crime Commissioners
As the Government set out to the House during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, and on a number of occasions since then, the elections will cost up to £75 million. That money will not come from funds that would otherwise have gone to police forces.
We already knew that the figure was £75 million; what the Minister did not say was how much extra, over and above that, the Government were going to spend on adverts to try desperately to get people out to vote in these unwanted elections in the middle of November. Why are the Government not holding the elections at a sensible time and spending the money on front-line police officers?
The elections may be unwanted by the right hon. Gentleman, although I suspect that they will be less unwanted by some of his Labour colleagues; at the last count, seven former Labour Ministers were standing in the PCC elections.
I am genuinely surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is so afraid of democracy. On the whole, during its history the Labour party has welcomed advances in democracy. It is a sad comment on the state of the modern Labour party that it should be frightened of democracy.
The PCC elections are a great opportunity to involve the public in policing priorities for the first time. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Members on both sides should be getting behind the elections and raising awareness of them among their electors? If the Minister is near Birmingham on Saturday 27 October, I cordially invite him to join an action day that we are holding in the centre of Stourbridge, where he will be able to meet the candidate, Matt Bennett.
I am extremely grateful for that kind invitation. I will indeed be travelling around the country to take part in the campaign in various areas. My hon. Friend is absolutely right—this is a chance for people to have a say in the policing of their local areas. The elections are the biggest advance in the democratic control of our police in a generation.
I welcome the Minister to his new post; I am sure that he will enjoy it.
One month away from what are flagship elections for the Government, let us reflect on where we are. More than 7 million people who do not have access to the internet will find it difficult to get information from the Government because of cost savings. Election organisation has been shambolic; parliamentary orders have been laid late, including orders on the Welsh language, driving down turnout and increasing costs. The Electoral Reform Society predicts the lowest turnout ever and the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), having stirred up apathy, has now jumped ship. What turnout does the Minister expect on 15 November and will he finally publish the cost to the taxpayer of this shambles?
I have answered the question about the cost to the taxpayer once, and the shadow Minister’s right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) made the point that we had answered it several times before.
On the first point about how difficult it is for those who do not have the internet to have access, I should say that one phone call will get them access. Anyone who phones the helpline can have all the information that is available on the internet—for the first time, information from every candidate—sent to them in hard copy. It is extremely easy for everyone to get hold of information about the election, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) will campaign alongside his hon. Friends, many of whom seem to take the elections a lot more seriously than he does.
I am not going to predict the turnout, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the existing police authorities that the PCCs will replace have no democratic mandate at all, because not a single vote has ever been cast for a member of a police authority. The new arrangements are a significant step forward.
Communications Data Bill
The draft Communications Data Bill, which is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny, is designed specifically to ensure that communications data are obtained in compliance with article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The ECHR memorandum that accompanies the Bill was approved by Ministers prior to its publication. This legislation will help to ensure that the internet does not become a safe haven for criminals and that the police and others can continue to protect the public.
The Secretary of State will be aware that there is real public concern that this legislation will enable the authorities to view a person’s entire web history. Will she outline what safeguards are being considered to ensure that the right to privacy is respected?
That is not the case. I recognise that a number of concerns have been raised, often on the basis of a lack of information about what is actually going to happen under the Communications Data Bill. We want to take what is currently available to the police and other law enforcement agencies in terms of telephony—that is, who made a call, when and at what time—and put that into the new environment where criminals, paedophiles and terrorists are using the internet, in a variety of forms, to communicate. This is an important Bill because it means that we can continue to catch criminals and protect the public.
“difficult to estimate costs with precision over the long term”
as regards this proposal. Those are not my words but those of the Home Office in responding to a freedom of information request about the stated £1.8 billion price tag for the legislation. What assurances can the Home Secretary provide that the Government are not writing a blank cheque to service providers? Will she say today whether they have a cap in mind for the costs of this Bill—yes or no?
We have been absolutely clear about the 10-year cost in terms of the £1.8 billion figure. Yes, cost recovery will be available to the service providers, but that will be done on the basis set out during discussions about the usage made of this provision. The average annual investment that will take place over 10 years equates to about 1.3% of the annual cost of policing. Let me say to right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches that this Bill is important because without it we will see criminals and others potentially going free because of their use of internet communications. It is right that we have the Bill because it will help us to catch criminals, terrorists and others.
A range of powers are available to the police to deal with illegal encampments, including the power under section 61 of the 1994 Act to remove people who are trespassing with intent to take up residence. The Government keep these powers under review.
During the summer, a number of public places in my constituency were, yet again, the destination of choice for many illegal Traveller encampments, leaving my constituents to pick up a hefty bill for damage, dumping and abuse, with no prosecutions made as a result. Yet Sussex police were very reluctant to invoke any section 61 orders, which they have had the power to do since 1994. Will the Minister look into the police’s reluctance and investigate whether the use of the word “discretionary” in the guidance is acting as a bar to their using these orders, which can result in instant dispersal, to the great relief of my constituents and those of many other hon. Members?
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend and his constituents. Many Members on both sides of the House will have experienced similar problems. I understand that Sussex police responded in September to an encampment in Lancing by issuing a direction under section 61 that required the occupants to leave within 24 hours, which they subsequently did. I am also aware that my hon. Friend is engaged in continuous discussions with Sussex police about this matter. If there is an aspect that has anything to do with changes in the law, I will of course look into it, but I also urge him to talk to the PCC candidates in his part of the world, because within a month they will be responsible for writing the policing plan for his area.
Melksham Without parish councillors have told me about the trouble that they have had with illegal encampments on their land. They are frustrated that the encampments arrive at the very end of the week, often before a bank holiday weekend. Can anything be done to enable stop notices to be applied on Friday evenings or even at the weekend itself?
My hon. Friend’s question moves us into the planning arena and he will have heard last week’s announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As I have said, the police have a range of powers that could be used. It seems clear that in some parts of the country this will be a significant matter for police and crime commissioners. If the issue is causing that much public distress, it may well need to be higher up the agenda of police forces in certain areas. That is why we are having elections to make sure that there is more local control over police planning.
We are taking a number of measures to help the police cut and tackle crime, not least sweeping away central targets and cutting red tape. We have already announced that we have cut 4.5 million hours of police bureaucracy, which will enable the police to have more time to do the job that they and the public want them to do, which is getting out there and fighting crime.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the innovative use of modern technology, such as that proposed by the PCC candidate for Staffordshire, Matthew Ellis, which could cut up to 3,000 hours of police administration time each week, will help forces such as mine put more officers on the beat to fight crime and reassure the public?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I have been in Staffordshire with our excellent Conservative candidate, Matthew Ellis, who has some very good proposals for helping the police to do their job and tackle crime, one of which is getting rid of bureaucracy by using new technology. That can have incredibly beneficial effects in allowing police officers to spend more time out there dealing with crime, rather than sitting inside a police station filling in forms.
In Greater Manchester we believe that it empowers the police if we show that we support them, their work and their bravery. Does the Home Secretary agree that it does not empower the police when a Cabinet Minister rants at them and swears at them?
That particular point was answered earlier, but I reiterate that, with regard to the incident to which the hon. Lady referred, the Chief Whip apologised to the police officer concerned and the police officer accepted that apology. The police are not taking the matter any further and that, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said earlier, is an end to it.
We value the police, which is why we are getting rid of the bureaucracy that kept them in police stations filling in forms instead of doing the job that they wanted to do, and why we are giving more discretion to the police over charging. We are returning discretion and professionalism to the police, which was, sadly, taken away from them in many areas by the previous Labour Government.
Together, the Government’s alcohol strategy and White Paper on antisocial behaviour published earlier this year will provide communities with powerful new tools to tackle alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. The Government will also shortly give councils an opportunity to levy a charge for late-night licences and introduce an early morning alcohol restriction order programme.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Lancashire’s excellent Conservative PCC candidate, Tim Ashton, recently visited Colne and met the landlord of the Crown hotel to discuss the CAND—Colne against night-time disorder—scheme. Will my hon. Friend join me in praising excellent schemes such as CAND, whereby landlords work together to combat antisocial behaviour?
I am delighted that there are a number of excellent PCC candidates in the hon. Gentleman’s area, although I am not necessarily sure that I would endorse the one that he has just brought to the House’s attention. I commend the scheme in his area, because it is an extremely good idea for licensed premises to work together to combat antisocial behaviour.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Crawley and Gatwick Business Watch? It is pursuing a scheme of labelling so that it can identify where and from which stores alcohol is sold and whether there is alcohol abuse. It also has a system whereby high-strength alcohols are kept under the counter and have to be requested. Will the Minister meet the group?
There is value in alcohol labelling, so that shops and other licensed premises that sell alcohol inappropriately, for example to minors, can be more easily traced and the activity prevented. We are keen to see such innovative practice where it is appropriate.
Recently, I attended a meeting of the Hounslow community and police consultative group, which discussed drug and alcohol-related crime. What advice would my hon. Friend give that group on how to reduce antisocial behaviour that is linked to alcohol and drugs in west London?
I strongly commend my hon. Friend for attending meetings of that sort. The police have a key role to play, as do local authorities because of their responsibility for licensing. In my experience, it is most effective when communities also take responsibility for their area and for the quality of life of the people who live there, and work closely with the police and other institutions to ensure that there is a co-ordinated and effective response to antisocial behaviour.
May I push the Minister, as he is being complacent? Last night, the “File on 4” programme showed the high level of organised crime across our country seeking to evade duty and bring in cheap alcohol. That is costing the Exchequer billions and is bringing cheap and unreliable sources of alcohol to many people in our communities. What is he going to do about it?
I will make two brief points. First, alcohol consumption has fallen in England and Wales over recent years. The second point, which goes to the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s question, is that next year we are introducing the National Crime Agency, which will provide a more coherent, joined-up approach to tackling organised crime. We think that that will be effective in dealing with precisely the problems that he has brought to the attention of the House.
On Saturday morning, Rotherham was the scene of alcohol-related antisocial behaviour, when members of the English Defence League arrived in a pub, tanked themselves up and held a march to spew their anti-Muslim hate. The police handled that brilliantly and I thanked them on the spot, including all the policemen who came into the area from outside. The choice of route meant that Rotherham’s economy lost an amount of six figures or more. Will the new Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice meet me to discuss how the police can route these horrible EDL marches so that they do not cause so much economic damage to our communities?
The right hon. Gentleman may wish to talk to his local police and crime commissioner when that person is elected in a month’s time. I will leave it up to the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to decide whether he wishes to meet the right hon. Gentleman. Where criminal activity is taking place it should be prevented, but I would not wish people’s ability to express their views to be restricted, however unpleasant those views may be for many Members of this House.
CCTV is a crucial tool in tacking alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. Given that the coalition agreement states that the Government want to “further regulate CCTV”, does the Minister expect the number of local authority and police CCTV cameras to rise or fall by 2015?
If I may, I should like to take this opportunity to pay my respects formally to PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone. The brutal murder of those two young officers shocked me and, I am sure, the whole House and the whole country. Our police officers face dangers every day, and they do so with bravery and professionalism. Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone were dedicated public servants. For their dedication they paid the ultimate price, and we owe them the greatest of debts. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families of those two dedicated officers.
I am sure the whole House will wish to associate itself with my right hon. Friend’s comments about those two police officers.
In the county of Essex, we are fortunate to be blessed with some distinguished candidates for the new role of police and crime commissioner. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging all electors across Essex to cast their vote in that important election so that whoever is successful has a genuine democratic mandate to do the job?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have met the Conservative PCC candidate for Essex, Nick Alston. He is an excellent candidate, and I know that he will be out there taking that message through the streets of the towns and villages of Essex. My hon. Friend is right that these are important elections that will enable people to elect directly somebody who will be their voice in local policing. I urge everybody to exercise their vote on 15 November.
I support the Home Secretary’s statement on Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, and the statements that she made at the time of their death. It was a brutal act. She and I are united, and I think the whole House and the whole country are united, in our tributes to those brave police officers.
I turn to a separate issue. The Home Secretary told the Police Federation last year:
“It’s easy to sit around with friends or, dare I say it, in the House of Commons, and criticise the police. But those people aren’t the ones confronting violent thugs”.
She has also told it:
“You put up with abuse and worse, but you do so to keep us free…You do an amazing job—and it’s time we gave you all the respect you deserve.”
I agree with her, so will she join me in condemning the Chief Whip in the House for swearing at police officers?
I have already answered on that particular issue. I am happy to stand here and reiterate what I and others have said on a number of occasions. I believe that we have the best police officers in the world, and the Government are giving them our support. We are ensuring that we give them the tools that they need to do the job that they and the public want them to do.
But the Home Secretary still has not condemned the Chief Whip for what he did and for the swearing—something for which people across the country are arrested. The reason why it matters that there has been no investigation and that he has not come clean is that people think it goes to the heart of the Government’s attitude towards the police and public servants. Once again, they are not listening to the police on the European arrest warrant, CCTV, DNA or the cutting of police numbers by 15,000. If the Home Secretary really wants to put an end to that and show respect for the police, why does she not change the Chief Whip and change her policies on policing too?
T2. The Home Secretary will be aware of the excellent scheme run by Dyfed-Powys police, which has cracked down on antisocial behaviour connected to the night-time economy in west Wales. In congratulating that force, will she consider rolling out that scheme across the whole UK, as it saves public money and police time? (122226)
I am aware of the scheme in the hon. Gentleman’s area, which I understand is called “Behave or Be Banned”. It strikes me as an extremely good scheme that encourages licensed premises to work together to the advantage of their community.
T4. May I declare an interest, in that I am standing to be police and crime commissioner in south Wales? Like the excellent Labour candidates across England and Wales outside London, I want to rescue police governance from the shambles that the Government are creating.Given that the Government pay for the free distribution of literature to electors in parliamentary elections, Welsh Assembly elections and even European elections, it is not odd that they are not doing so in PCC elections, and that the only communication will be a leaflet from the Electoral Commission about the process? Should not the Government, even at this late stage, include with that leaflet a page from each candidate standing in each police force area, so that the public know what choice they have to make? (122228)
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the Opposition really need to get their story straight on the cost of PCC elections. On the one hand they complain about the cost, but on the other hand they ask for the cost to go up by putting in extra provisions. I note that a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have risen to comment on the excellence of the Conservative candidates. On the Opposition Benches, however, it has taken the right hon. Gentleman to stand up and speak for himself, because nobody else has been willing to stand up for their candidates.
T3. To continue with the theme of police and crime commissioners and the elections, does the Home Secretary agree that the introduction of democracy and transparency will help to achieve the right balance between rural and urban policing, as exemplified by our excellent candidate in Gloucestershire, Victoria Atkins? (122227)
My hon. Friend is precisely right. In areas such as Gloucestershire, striking the right balance between urban and rural pressures on the police will be an important task for the police and crime commissioner. One significant difference is that only 7% of the public are aware that they can go to a police authority if they are unhappy with their policing. By the end of this campaign, I am sure that a far higher proportion of people will be aware of their police and crime commissioner candidates.
T6. Today, after the police cuts, there are only 22 custody cells to serve the entire borough of Ealing. Although we are, by and large, a law-abiding bunch, we feel we are approaching the stage where there is no room at the nick. Will the Minister provide reassurance for my constituents, and those of fellow Ealing MPs, about what we can do to increase and perhaps bring back the number of custody cells in Ealing? (122230)
I can happily reassure the hon. Gentleman that although total funding for the Metropolitan police is down by 2%, recorded crime is also down by 1% in the Metropolitan police area, suggesting that there is less pressure on police cells than there would previously have been.
T5. Please will the Minister provide an update on progress on establishing the college of policing, with particular reference to the future of the National Police Improvement Agency site in the Pannal Ash area of my Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency? (122229)
I am happy to report that the college of policing will be up and running by December this year. The site at Pannal Ash remains open, although the majority of residential training has stopped, with staff now focusing on the development of national standards for recruitment, promotion and training. The freehold of the site transfers to the Home Office on 1 December when the college is established, and the site will then be leased to the college for its activities.
T7. While working for P&O ferries, my constituent, Mark Hanson, met his partner, a foreign national with whom he is having a child. She has been refused entry clearance because Mark has been deemed unable to meet the sponsor requirements, although his parents have offered him employment and accommodation for the couple and their child. Does the Home Secretary recognise that that case highlights how the inflexibility of her new rules unfairly prevents many British citizens from bringing their partners to the UK? Will she meet me and Mark’s parents to consider their case for their family to be united? (122231)
The point of our new proposals on the family migration route in respect of income is to ensure that if British citizens wish to bring their families to the United Kingdom, they are able to support them and do not expect the taxpayer to do it for them. That is why those rules are right, and they are based on evidence put forward by the Migration Advisory Committee. If the hon. Gentleman and his constituent wish to meet me, I would be happy to have such a meeting.
T8. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to increase public awareness and participation in the forthcoming police and crime commissioner elections, and to ensure that the public know about the many excellent candidates who are standing across the country, such as Sir Clive Loader in my county of Leicestershire? (122232)
Crime in Hampshire has fallen for six years in a row under the leadership of Jacqui Rayment, the Labour candidate for police and crime commissioner. Would the Minister care to say why the Conservative candidate for Hampshire still refuses to apologise for his long support for Asil Nadir, the convicted fraudster, and why the Conservative party has refused to give back the large donation it received from Asil Nadir? Is that not a case of them all being in it together?
I am happy to report to the right hon. Gentleman that all Conservative candidates are being encouraged to sign a clean campaigning pledge to avoid the kind of cheap slurs in which he has just indulged. I hope the Labour candidate in Hampshire signs the pledge, and that the right hon. Gentleman is acting in a freelance way, and not being subcontracted to run a dirty campaign.
T9. More than 50% of the inmates of Swaleside prison in my constituency are foreign nationals. What assurances can my hon. Friend give that the Government will ensure that all those prisoners will be repatriated to their home countries on their release? (122233)
I can reassure my hon. Friend. The statistics show that in 2011, more than 4,500 foreign national criminals were removed from the UK. We have introduced tough new rules to protect the public from foreign criminals and immigration offenders who try to hide behind family life as a reason to stay in the UK. I hope that he welcomes that.
G4S was absolutely clear that it would pay for the extra costs involved in the military and police services. As the hon. Gentleman suggests, the police moved in to take over part of the venue security at a number of sites across the country. Exactly how much G4S will pay as a result of its contract is a matter of commercial negotiation with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, with which G4S held the contract.
T10. We are shortly to have a much-needed statement on European justice and home affairs, and we know that the public are extremely frustrated with extradition arrangements generally. When will my right hon. Friend make progress towards settling these matters by responding to the Baker report? (122234)
Has the Home Secretary had an opportunity to speak to the new Justice Secretary about the implications for national security of not extending to inquests the closed material procedure, which, it is proposed, will be made available in a limited number of civil cases?
I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I have had a number of discussions with the Justice Secretary on a number of issues across our briefs. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have decided not to include CMP in inquests. A great deal of concern was expressed when the idea of including CMP was proposed and the Government have come to our decision, which is included in the Justice and Security Bill.
We have recently seen too many cases, sadly, in which suspicion and allegations of the sexual abuse of children and young people have not been properly investigated. Clearly, there needs to be a culture change in the police and other organisations. What is my right hon. Friend doing to address that?
We are all shocked by the cases of child abuse and child grooming that we have seen. We need to ensure that the police pick up on such allegations when there is evidence and when there are concerns that something of that sort is happening, which is absolutely right. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will continue to look at that. There is evidence from cases that have been brought to court that one vital tool in catching child abusers is the use of communications data, which is why the draft Communications Data Bill is so important.
Cross-border Travel (Spain/Gibraltar)
On Tuesday 9 October and again between Friday 12 October and Sunday 14 October, significant delays occurred at the border between Gibraltar and Spain. Travellers have been delayed by between 45 minutes and six hours as a result of more rigorous checks introduced by the Spanish Guardia Civil on vehicles leaving Gibraltar. I should say to the House that as of this afternoon, the information that I have suggests that there is a less than 20-minute wait for cars and 10-minute wait for bikes at the border.
Spain has justified the more rigorous checks as being related to anti-tobacco smuggling operations. Tobacco smuggling does occur between Gibraltar and Spain: however, the Spanish authorities have not yet provided the Government of Gibraltar with evidence to explain why, in this case, increased checks were required.
There have been delays at the border many times in the past, most recently in May 2012, and this current disruption comes at a time when tensions between Gibraltar and Spain have increased because of a dispute over Spanish fishing rights in British Gibraltar territorial waters. The view of many in Gibraltar is that the delays are an attempt to increase pressure on Gibraltar to resolve that fishing dispute. Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, has been critical of the delays, and the criticism of Spanish action has been shared by the ASCTEG, the association of Spanish workers who commute daily into Gibraltar.
Disruption to border flows has a direct impact on the prosperity and well-being of communities on both sides of the border, in particular the 7,000 mostly Spanish people who travel every day from Spain to Gibraltar and back for work. The Government’s position is that these delays are unacceptable and have no place at a border between EU partners.
We raised this issue over this weekend at a very high level with the Spanish Government. We will also be protesting formally to the local Guardia Civil. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and take whatever action is appropriate to support the free movement of people between Gibraltar and Spain.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Can he justify why the Spanish ambassador has not yet been summoned to the Foreign Office to explain why the border closures and incursions into Gibraltar waters are taking place? The entire policy by the Spanish is unacceptable. This is an EU border, not a third-world war zone. It is akin to the French closing the Spanish border through Andorra. The Spanish need to accept that the Gibraltar people have decided through self-determination to remain with Britain.
Although the House will appreciate that the Minister is doing all that he can in negotiations with the Spanish Government, will he agree with most Members of the House that the situation in Gibraltar is simply unacceptable? While people in Madrid may give assurances that the Spanish Government are acting in a way that is acceptable to the UK Government, what actually happens day to day is that the Guardia Civil under local management in Algeciras and La Línea do whatever they wish, not only on the border but in making incursions by sea into British Gibraltar territorial waters whenever they wish to do so and in a way that is deliberately designed to make life difficult for the people and Government of Gibraltar. If the Minister can assure the House that he understands that and will make it clear to the Government of Spain, we will be happy.
Where there is a genuine case for increased checks at the border because of an acknowledged need to combat smuggling or other criminal activity, that might be fair. In such a case, however, we would expect the Spanish authorities to be open with the Government of Gibraltar about those circumstances, but that has not been the case hitherto in this instance.
So far as maritime incursions are concerned, we are absolutely confident of the United Kingdom’s sovereignty over British Gibraltar territorial waters, which is why the Royal Navy challenges Guardia Civil and other Spanish state vessels whenever they make unlawful maritime incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters. We back that up through formal diplomatic protests to the Spanish Government about all unlawful incursions. Those challenges and protests make it clear that such incursions are an unacceptable violation of British sovereignty.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) on securing this important urgent question. The Opposition continue to support the self-determination of the Gibraltan people and their right to remain under British sovereignty, as we did in government, so I welcome the Minister’s answer on that. We also welcome the fact that Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who is in London today, has been in touch with the Government and that discussions have taken place between the Minister for Europe and the Gibraltan Chief Minister.
I agree that the delays of up to five or six hours at the border between Spain and Gibraltar are simply unacceptable, and I welcome the Minister’s discussions with the Gibraltan Chief Minister. I echo his observation that this is also of deep concern to the thousands of Spanish workers who cross the border every day to work in Gibraltar. What more can the Government do to ensure that these delays do not happen again, and that the reasons given in this and other instances by the Spanish Government are properly investigated and that evidence is produced for what many think are just excuses? Finally, what discussions has the Minister had with the Spanish Government about their decision to abandon the trilateral forum, and what pressure is he and the Foreign Secretary exerting on the Spanish Government to return to it?
I agree with the hon. Lady that the border delays end up penalising Spanish workers as much as the people of Gibraltar. The delays get in the way of sensible economic relations between Gibraltar and the neighbouring regions of Spain, and therefore interrupt what ought to be a mutually beneficial economic relationship. They harm jobs and hopes of prosperity. We shall continue to raise with the Spanish authorities at every appropriate level cases where we think that the border delays that have been imposed have not been adequately justified. The Government of Gibraltar regularly co-operate with Spain in tackling tobacco smuggling and other forms of criminal activity. That is the sort of sensible, constructive co-operation we want.
The British Government very much regret that the current Spanish Government refuse to take part in further meetings of the trilateral, which we believe well serves both Gibraltar and Spain, as well as the United Kingdom. We would like some kind of equivalent collaborative system established, but so far Spain has refused to return to the trilateral. I am grateful for what the hon. Lady said about her support for British sovereignty over Gibraltar and respecting the rights of its people. I particularly welcome her remarks, if they mark a break with the proposals for shared sovereignty and the betrayal of the people of Gibraltar that the Labour party supported when in office.
We are grateful to Ministers for their robust view on this matter. There is a strong view in Gibraltar that since the Government changed in Madrid there has been a much less obvious willingness to collaborate with the Government of Gibraltar, as well as incursions into our waters and regular blockages of the border. Will Ministers put it on the agenda for the next meeting with Madrid that the way for a civilised Government in Spain to behave, if they want to make a joint effort on the border, is to warn Gibraltar, do it together and stop this uncivilised and tribal attitude from a country that wants to be regarded as a full and civilised member of the EU?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about the beneficial effect of practical co-operation between the Governments of Spain and Gibraltar, a subject that is frequently on the agenda in discussions between the British and Spanish sides. It is fair to say that although the new Spanish Government have introduced a policy towards the trilateral which we have found unwelcome—they know that that is our attitude towards their policy—the Prime Minister of Spain has also made it clear publicly that he does not want the argument about Gibraltar to get in the way of a fruitful bilateral relationship between Spain and the United Kingdom. I hope very much that we can get back to the sort of practical, local co-operation that my right hon. Friend referred to and wants to see in future.
On Friday—the day that the EU was awarded the Nobel peace prize—there was a five-hour queue on the Gibraltar-Spain border, which is an EU border. Will the Minister call in the Spanish ambassador each and every day that there is a delay of five hours on the border between Gibraltar and Spain, and will he keep the ambassador waiting for five hours?
What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that wherever we have evidence that border delays are being imposed without good reason, we will take that up with the Spanish authorities at the appropriate level. That may sometimes be at the local, operational level; it may sometimes, as in the most recent case, need to be at a senior level, with the Spanish Government in Madrid.
I welcome the strong statement by the Minister today and the equally strong statement from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on the Opposition Front Bench about Gibraltar’s sovereignty. The Minister will know that tobacco smuggling regularly occurs—and to a much greater extent than between Gibraltar and Spain—across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—
North and south. Yet despite that, there have never been such delays or such an overreaction by the services in Northern Ireland in relation to our trade and the impact on our trade. I hope that the Minister will send the strongest possible signal and, indeed, that he will ask our Prime Minister to represent fairly the people of Gibraltar to the Spanish Prime Minister and tell him to get his hands off this Rock. It’s not going their way.
The UK Government, from the Prime Minister down, could not have been clearer to our friends and partners in Spain that although we want a good bilateral relationship with them, we will not, and we shall never, agree to any transfer of sovereignty over Gibraltar unless that were the wish of the people of Gibraltar, nor would we enter into any process of sovereignty talks and negotiations unless the people of Gibraltar were content with that.
I wish the Minister well. I negotiated the trilateral agreement, and for a few years we had a bit of peace and quiet. I am sorry that it is all going wrong for him; Gibraltar is a nightmare for anybody in his job. However, the House does not help the Minister or the people of Gibraltar with patronising remarks about civilised behaviour and the rest of it. We need to cool things down. The queues are unacceptable, but jaw-jaw is better than queue-queue. I wish the Minister well as he tries to get this back under control.
I am always willing to welcome good wishes, particularly in my job, even if they are from the right hon. Gentleman. However, I would disagree with him profoundly in one respect: when he described Gibraltar as a “nightmare”. I do not think Gibraltar is a nightmare; I think Gibraltar is a thriving and now pretty prosperous community, with an entrepreneurial people who want good relations with their neighbours across the border in Spain, but who also want their democratic rights respected and their wish to remain British respected too.
Sir Jimmy Savile (BBC Inquiry)
The allegations emerging around Jimmy Savile are absolutely horrifying. My thoughts are with those affected and their families who have suffered in silence for decades. I believe that it is absolutely right that the BBC asked the police first and foremost to investigate these allegations, and that it has waited to act, on the advice of the police, before launching its own inquiries. It is essential that the police inquiry is not disrupted.
The BBC is a globally admired British institution and has a unique place in our cultural life. As such, it is imperative that it behaves in a manner that makes it worthy of the public’s ongoing trust and confidence. Both the Prime Minister and I said last week that we believed that the BBC should investigate these very serious allegations. The BBC Trust is there to represent the interests of licence fee payers: it must investigate these matters and rectify them, too.
Following the board meeting on Friday, I called both the director-general and the chair of the BBC Trust to underline how vital it is to have clear terms of reference in place and for there to be an announcement of who will chair the inquiries as soon as possible. From those conversations, I am now confident that both the BBC and the BBC Trust are taking these allegations very seriously indeed.
As the House will be aware, the BBC has launched three separate investigations. The first will look into the allegations with regard to the item on Savile which was inappropriately pulled from “Newsnight”. The second review, to be undertaken when the police advise it is appropriate to do so, will focus on Jimmy Savile himself. Thirdly, although the BBC’s child protection policy was overhauled in 2002, the review will also focus on whether its policy is fit for purpose and what lessons can be learned. This review will be assisted by an independent expert. An additional piece of work will look at the very troubling allegations of sexual harassment at the BBC that have come to light in recent weeks. The director-general will give further details later in the week. These are undoubtedly very serious matters, which have wide-ranging implications for a number of public institutions—not just the BBC. It is now crucial that we understand what went wrong and how it can be put right.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer.
Other institutions besides the BBC—including hospitals, children’s homes, the Crown Prosecution Service and even the police—appear to have serious questions to answer, and I am pushing for answers on those, too, but the BBC currently faces more questions than others because many of the alleged acts of sexual abuse and paedophilia happened on BBC premises and Savile was a BBC employee. While many of these questions relate to the past, there are very serious questions about the actions of the BBC in the present. Any hint of a cover-up by the BBC of its own role in this dreadful affair will cause huge damage to public and audience trust. We do not have an explanation of why the BBC scrapped the “Newsnight” investigation entirely rather than give it more time to develop its work, or of why the BBC did not pass on to police at the time new claims it had obtained about Savile and two other living celebrities who are still at large having allegedly abused under-age girls on BBC premises?
I have a number of major concerns that the inquiries announced by the BBC will not be sufficiently independent, transparent or robust to give the public confidence. I shall write to Dame Fiona Reynolds this afternoon to set out those concerns in detail. In the light of these concerns, I ask whether my right hon. Friend is concerned that the BBC has been slow to react to the growing scandal, and that by dragging its feet on the need for a proper independent inquiry on its own conduct, it has appeared as though it does not want to get to the bottom of this matter. Does she think the BBC’s arrangements for two inquiries are sufficiently independent, transparent and comprehensive? Does she think that a separate, rapid inquiry into the cancellation of the “Newsnight” story is justified? In view of the wider questions about the role of other institutions, does she think that a wider public inquiry into the whole affair would be justified? Finally, is my right hon. Friend concerned that the BBC Trust has acted more as a cheerleader and defender of the BBC than as a critical guardian of standards? Does she think the current relationship is fit for purpose?
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to cover some of the issues that he has raised. I spoke to both the director-general and the chairman of the BBC Trust after the board meeting on Friday, and I feel that they are taking these matters extremely seriously indeed. I would underline that point to my hon. Friend. Ultimately, it is for the BBC Trust to have the confidence of the licence fee payer and the comfort confidence of the British public. It is therefore vital for all the inquiries to be undertaken in a transparent and independent manner, and I think that the involvement of Dame Fiona Reynolds as the trust’s senior independent director designate will reassure us in that regard.
As for the role of a wider inquiry, my hon. Friend should bear in mind that a police investigation is currently taking place. I think everyone would agree that it is important for the individuals who have been victims to know that that investigation can proceed unfettered, and that that should be our priority at this stage.
I support what the Secretary of State has said. Everyone has been sickened by the vile abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile, and it is impossible to overstate the suffering caused to those whom he abused. What has deepened the revulsion is that this happened at the BBC, an institution so loved and trusted that it is known as “Auntie”. That has cast a stain on the BBC.
Does the Secretary of State agree that no one should be complacent and believe that sexual abuse by people in positions of power at the BBC happened then, but could not happen now? The BBC should proceed now to review all its policies and processes on the protection of children, sexual harassment and whistleblowing, in order to be sure that the right policies and processes are in place and are properly enforced. That need not wait for the police investigation. Does the Secretary of State agree that it must apply to all employees, including those at the very top—the senior executives and the top talent? Clearly it was Jimmy Savile’s exalted celebrity status that gave him a sense of impunity.
I strongly support the Secretary of State’s recognition that people will want to be confident that the inquiries that the BBC is setting up will be genuinely independent, and that they will want to know when those inquiries can be established and when reports on them will be issued. I also support the recognition by the hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson) that this goes wider than just the BBC, and that there are still countless young women and men who have been abused but have never complained because they bear a great burden of shame, guilt and disgust, and fear that they will not be believed. Should not our strong and clear message to them today be “Come forward now, seek the support that you need to address the wrong that has been done to you, and, in doing so, not only secure the justice that you deserve but protect others in the future”?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her comments and her support. She is right: there can be no room for complacency. I know that when we have discussed this matter in Committees of the House, we have stressed the importance of vigilance as well as checking. A vigilant culture in our corporations is vital.
The BBC undertook a root-and-branch review of its child protection policies in 2002, and made significant changes. Having looked at those changes over the last few days, I can see why they are held up as an exemplar in their field, but the right hon. and learned Lady is right to say that we need to reconsider. We must leave no stone unturned in ensuring that such appalling situations cannot arise again. Child abuse can have nowhere to live at any level in an organisation.
Let me reassure the right hon. and learned Lady again that we have a shared objective, namely to ensure that the reviews are entirely independent. I have been assured by the BBC that both the chairmanship and the remit of the organisations that will conduct them will be made available to everyone in the next few days.
I echo what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson) and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The revelations of recent weeks raise serious questions, not just about the culture that existed in the BBC some years ago—and in other organisations—but about the way in which the BBC has handled the matter, and in particular the very damaging suggestion that the “Newsnight” investigation was suppressed. The director-general of the BBC has offered to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee next week, and I am sure that my colleagues will wish to take up that offer.
Last year, the coalition scaled back criminal checks on people who have access to children, and the Home Secretary has said that organisations should instead use a “common-sense” approach when vetting individuals. After these dreadful allegations at the BBC and other organisations, does the Minister think that the “common-sense” approach will keep our children safe?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that she has looked at this matter in some detail, as I, too, have done. I can reassure her that the BBC’s own child protection policy goes beyond that which is required, and it is expected that where people work with children and young people the role will be subject to a satisfactory Criminal Records Bureau check or indeed a PVG—Protecting Vulnerable Groups scheme—check. She is right always to be questioning whether we do have the right checks in place, but I say to her that the individual we are talking about today had no criminal convictions. So this is not just about looking at convictions; it is also about the culture of vigilance that I talked about when responding to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman).
Does my right hon. Friend agree that these latest sickening revelations just reinforce the sobering message that child sexual exploitation is rife in every community, every organisation and every social class, whether it is hiding behind the culture of celebrity in the BBC and other institutions, behind the culture of fear within the Church or behind the culture of political correctness that prevents the police and social services from properly investigating when cultural sensitivities are involved? If one compensation is to come out of this all, it will be, as the right hon. and learned Lady has said, to embolden victims to come forward and, most importantly, for them to be taken seriously by the institutions that are there to protect them.
My hon. Friend speaks with enormous passion on this subject, and I had the privilege of working with him on the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill when we were in opposition. I agree with him that the seriousness of the situation is something that all the organisations that have been implicated need to look at. I reassure him that the police investigating the Savile inquiry are working with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to try to ensure that people who have been affected are forthcoming with evidence and that we can get to the root of this problem.
The whistleblowing legislation gives protection to those within an organisation who seek to expose a culture of wrongdoing. Will the Secretary of State look again at that legislation to see whether it can go further and impose a duty on individuals to blow the whistle in situations such as this?
I understand my hon. Friend’s question. I am not sure whether he is aware that knighthoods cease upon the death of an individual, so the path he suggests is not one that can be taken. However, I think that his point sought to ensure that the appalling nature of these acts is recognised, and that is a point worth making.
The Secretary of State has rightly said that this goes wider than the BBC. Clearly, other inquiries will need to take place, as it seems that Savile had unfettered access to children, vulnerable patients and others on wards—this access seems to have been given almost entirely because of his celebrity and fundraiser status. Will the Secretary of State tell us how there will be co-ordination across the undoubted inquiries that we need in the health service and the one for the BBC?
The hon. Lady is entirely right to say that, as I said in my opening words, a number of other organisations need to undertake investigations. Those involving hospitals will be done at a local primary care trust level, although of course the Department of Health will be carefully examining the outcomes.
One cannot indict the dead, one cannot prosecute the dead and, as a consequence, one can never properly give justice to the victims of the dead. So can my right hon. Friend assure me that one of the things the police will thoroughly investigate is why no credible complaints against Savile ever resulted in charges?
I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration, which echoes that of other Members in the House today. I can absolutely assure him that the very serious allegations that have been made are being examined in great detail and that the fact that they have gone on over a number of years without receiving the recognition that they require will, of course, be at the heart of those investigations.
I had the now dubious honour of being Jimmy Savile’s Member of Parliament and, in that role, I met him on several occasions. A year ago, of course, there was an outpouring of grief in the city of Leeds and in my constituency, as well as throughout the country, on his death. Does the Secretary of State understand how people now feel betrayed, angry and very concerned that it is said in the media—we do not know whether it is true or not—that many people, including senior figures not just at the BBC but in other walks of life, knew of Savile’s proclivities but were too frightened to say anything? Does she think that the BBC inquiry, and other inquiries that are to come, should find out and get to the truth of who knew what and when?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and that is at the heart of the inquiry. It is vital not only that we have the police investigation, which will consider the potential implications as regards any criminal wrongdoing, but that we ensure that we understand exactly what was known and when—to use his words—in any corporate organisation, particularly the BBC. I think he is absolutely right.
I am sorry to say that I do not share the Secretary of State’s confidence that the BBC has the wherewithal to clean out its own Augean stables. The culture, practice and ethics of the BBC have left much to be desired over this matter. Indeed, I wrote to Leveson on 4 October asking whether he would extend his inquiry, given that the Prime Minister had said:
“We have also made it clear that the inquiry should look not just at the press, but at other media organisations, including broadcasters and social media if there is any evidence that they have been involved in criminal activities”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 919.]
Leveson has yet to report, so would that not be the easiest way of getting an independent inquiry as quickly possible about this matter, the BBC’s role in which is under a large question mark?
I understand my hon. Friend’s question and concern, but I suggest that extending the scope of Leveson at the moment might result in a delay to the inquiry that I do not think anybody would want to see. I reassure my hon. Friend that the issues about which she is concerned will be dealt with within the two inquiries that have been announced. I hope I will be able to reassure her further when the terms of reference of those inquiries come out, and she can be assured that I will continue to work to monitor these issues closely with the BBC.
Is the Secretary of State utterly convinced that the culture of the BBC has changed since the revelations about the vile actions of Jimmy Savile? Just a few weeks ago, one of its senior talent was caught in photographs in the grips of a young woman with his hand down her trousers in a public place and he got away with it with nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders and a silly excuse. Is the culture really changing? Has it really changed? Is the Secretary of State utterly convinced? She knows that the police inquiry will take years and that the BBC will get away in the smoke. Surely now is the time for the independent inquiry into the BBC.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to question not just past but present practices. The BBC investigations will consider that exact issue, including not only the situation with the piece on “Newsnight” but the additional work on the troubling allegations we all read about in the papers over the weekend and today. He is right to say that the BBC must consider the present as well as the past.
May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the fact that the culture of child protection in the BBC will underlie any investigation? Many people have commented that things were different then, and I am afraid that that leads to the assumption that the same thing could not happen today. As well as dealing with those who are found guilty of turning a blind eye to such actions, the inquiries must also consider those who decided to drop the “Newsnight” investigation because they were worried that it was in bad taste. That was equally an assumption that such things could not go on and shows that the culture is wrong.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we must ensure that children’s concerns and allegations of impropriety or sexual abuse are taken seriously, whether within the police, the NHS or the BBC. He is right to make that challenge and to say that it should be an ongoing concern for the Government.
The BBC has not always investigated in-house matters with the same rigour it rightly shows when looking at other organisations and individuals. Along with its 2002 child protection policy, which should have introduced a culture change, what reassurance can my right hon. Friend give that the BBC now has the leadership in place to deliver that culture change and investigate its own affairs as it does elsewhere?
My hon. Friend is right that we have to ensure that there is that challenge, and ultimately that is the role of the trust, which represents the licence fee payer and must make sure it holds the executive to account. My predecessor introduced a number of changes to the trust’s role. We will continue to look at that role and, as we move towards charter renewal, it will of course be hotly in our sights.
My right hon. Friend said that Sir Jimmy Savile’s knighthood, awarded in 1996, ceased on his death, but many victims will see that as insufficient. Will she consider raising with the honours forfeiture committee the possibility of posthumously stripping Jimmy Savile of his knighthood and OBE?
Until the law was changed some 25 years ago it was deemed in such cases that a child complainant with unsupported or uncorroborated evidence could not be believed and prosecutions therefore could not be brought. Although the law has, thankfully, been changed, is not now the time to remind all children and young people who are victims of such despicable acts that they can come forward and be treated in confidence by professionals who are dedicated to ensuring that the truth comes out?
My hon. Friend, who I know has a great deal of experience in this area, will be pleased to know that the Metropolitan police, who are undertaking the investigation, are working with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children for precisely the reasons he gives. We must ensure that young people who have had these experiences, or adults who had them when they were young, can come forward so that their evidence can be heard, perhaps through a third party, to ensure that we know all the facts.
European Justice and Home Affairs Powers
I understand that there was something of a breakdown in the usual arrangement whereby statements are made available to Opposition Front Benchers some time in advance of their delivery. I should emphasise that that is a convention and not something that engages the responsibilities of the Chair, but we do attach some importance to these conventions and the principle of courtesy that underlies them.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the seriousness of this issue of European co-operation, and given that the Home Secretary’s statement has literally only just been handed to me, would it be possible for the statement to be deferred for an hour, or even three quarters of an hour, so that the official Opposition can do our duty of scrutinising it?
I am afraid that I just do not think that there is a facility for that to happen. There is a third statement to come, which will follow in due course. The timing of the statement has been announced and the Home Secretary is here to deliver it. I think that what I have said indicates my own feeling—[Interruption.] Order. It indicates my own feeling that this is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. I sincerely hope that there is no recurrence of it. I think that, in the circumstances, we should proceed. I invite the Home Secretary, who I trust will have heard what has been said, now to make the statement.
May I start by apologising to the shadow Secretary of State for the fact that she received a copy of my statement late? On one occasion, when I was shadowing Stephen Byers and he was due to make a statement in the House, I was in a similar position, so I know the difficulties that the situation causes.
Under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, the Government are required to decide by 2014 whether we opt out of, or remain bound by, all the EU police and criminal justice measures adopted prior to the treaty’s entry into force. Under the treaty, the Government are required to make a final decision by 31 May 2014, with that decision taking effect on 1 December that year. Although that might seem a long way off, the process of decision making, as with many EU matters, is complicated. We wish to ensure that, before that point, we give the House and the other place sufficient time to consider this important matter.
In total, more than 130 measures within the scope of the decision are to be considered at this stage. A full list of the measures was provided to the House on 21 December last year and a further update was given on 18 September this year. The Government are clear that we do not need to remain bound by all the pre-Lisbon measures. Operational experience shows that some of the pre-Lisbon measures are useful, that some are less so and that some are now, in fact, entirely defunct.
Under the terms of the treaty, however, the UK cannot pick and choose the measures from which we wish to opt out; we can opt out only en masse and then seek to rejoin individual measures. So I can announce today that the Government’s current thinking is that we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures and then negotiate with the Commission and other member states to opt back into those individual measures that it is in our national interest to rejoin. However, discussions are ongoing within the Government and therefore no formal notification will be given to the Council until we have reached agreement on the measures that we wish to opt back into.
This Government, more than any other before them, have done their utmost to ensure that Parliament has the time to scrutinise properly our decisions relating to the European Union and that Parliament’s views are taken into account. I assure the House that the 2014 decision will be no exception. As the Minister for Europe has already told the House, the Government are committed to a vote on the matter in both this House and the other place. We are also committed to consulting the European Affairs, Home Affairs and Justice Committees, as well as the European Scrutiny Committee and the House of Lords European Union Committee, on the arrangements for the vote.
I fully expect that those Committees will want to undertake their own work on this important decision. The Government will take account of the Committees’ overall views of the package that the UK should seek to apply to rejoin. So that the Government can do that, I invite the Committees to begin work, including gathering evidence, shortly, and to provide their recommendations to the Government as soon as possible. The Government will then aim to bring forward a vote in both Houses of Parliament. The time frame for the vote will depend on progress in our discussions with the Commission and Council. An update will be provided to Parliament early in the new year on when we can expect the vote to take place.
I hope that today I have conveyed to the House not only the Government’s full commitment to holding a vote on the 2014 decision in this House and the other place, but the importance that we will accord to Parliament in the process leading up to that vote. I am sure that all parties will want to work together to ensure that the final decision is in the UK’s national interest. It is in the national interest that the Government have taken this decision, and I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s statement and I fully support opting out of the whole lot. Will she make sure that, were we to want to co-operate with our partners in certain areas in future, that will not be done by a route that prevents us from changing our minds or prevents Parliament from being sovereign?
As my right hon. Friend knows, this Government have done more than any other to address the issue of the balance of our relationship with the European Union. It is right that we should have the opportunity to opt out from these measures and that we should look seriously at measures that we might wish to opt into. Obviously, that will take time and involve a considerable amount of discussion and negotiation with the European Commission and other member states.
The European arrest warrant started out as a very good idea but has ended up with chaotic and unfair consequences, and the Home Secretary is quite right not to opt into those arrangements. When she considers the areas where she can opt in, which she said she would do seriously, will she look at the powers and responsibilities of Europol? It is very important that we have cross-border co-operation with our EU partners so that violent criminals who may have committed offences abroad are not allowed to enter the United Kingdom. I will put her suggestion of a Select Committee inquiry to the Home Affairs Committee tomorrow.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I said that I was sure that he and his Committee would want to look at this issue. He tempts me to identify individual measures that we might wish to opt in or out of and the terms on which we might wish to do so. I am talking not about individual measures, but simply about the Government’s proposal that we opt out of, and then negotiate on, a number of measures. I am aware of the concerns that have been raised on both the issues that he spoke about, and I will certainly take his comments on board in considering them.
The Home Secretary must welcome Gloucestershire constabulary’s success last year in breaking a major human trafficking ring, working with other European police forces and returning a suspect for trial here in the UK. Does she agree that only by using practical tools such as the European arrest warrant used in that case can we really tackle the evil of this modern slavery?
It is absolutely right that there are criminal offences where we want to be able to extradite people—to bring people back from other countries to face trial and justice here in the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that the arrangements that enable us to do that are the best possible and are proportionate. Proportionality is one of the issues that have been raised as regards relations with Europe. As I say, we will look at every individual measure separately when choosing whether to request to opt in.
I have never been in this situation before whereby I have not had a copy of the statement from the Minister until I arrived in the Chamber. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for taking my point of order about this earlier. It shows the complete confusion in the Government and on the part of the Home Secretary about what the Government’s policy is. They have not told us anything at all today; they are completely confused.
We all know that with more international travel and growing cross-border crime, international co-operation is an extremely serious matter, yet the Government seem to have an utterly chaotic position. The Prime Minister told us that the Government would be opting out of all the justice and home affairs provisions; the Deputy Prime Minister said, “No, no—we are only minded to do so.” The Home Secretary said that she was simply setting out “the Government’s current thinking”. However, as she also said that “discussions are ongoing”, presumably the current thinking could change tomorrow and then it will be something else entirely. She said that she wants to opt out of some things but then might opt back into everything all over again. It is just like the Education Secretary saying that he wants out of Europe and the Prime Minister wanting in. With all this out and in, in and out, it is as though the Government are playing a giant game of hokey cokey—and yet the fight against crime is at stake.
The Home Secretary will know that former Metropolitan police commissioners and former heads of MI5 and MI6 have said that British law enforcement bodies are now constantly communicating, co-operating and collaborating with the EU in pursuing serious organised criminal and terrorist networks. The framework of co-operation that they have is crucial in order to stop criminals and prevent crime.
We have read much in the papers about the European arrest warrant, but the Home Secretary did not say whether she wants to opt out of it or plans to opt back in. This warrant made it possible to arrest Jeremy Forrest and bring him back to face British justice for the alleged kidnapping of Megan Stammers and to bring back Hussain Osman for trying to bomb the London underground, and it closed down the “Costa del Crime” when British criminals fled to Spain.
We have a right to be able to bring those criminals back to face British justice, and we owe it to their victims —and, yes, that does mean sending people back from Britain to other countries, because of the 4,000 people returned from Britain in the past eight years under the European arrest warrant, 95% were foreign citizens, who often had committed crimes in their home countries and fled here to escape the long arm of the law. I am sorry, but I think that people should be sent back to their home countries to face justice, rather than have too many people who are suspected of serious crimes in Europe wandering around Britain, unable to be sent back to face justice without years of legal wrangles. From what the Home Secretary has said today, she may well be opting out of the European arrest warrant, which prevents that from happening.
Another area is the sharing of criminal and DNA records. If a known sex offender travels to Britain from France or Spain, does the Home Secretary think that we need full access to their DNA and their criminal records or not?
What about minimum standards of counter-terror co-operation, participating in Europol and exchanging information to stop passport fraud and Europe-wide money laundering, and to trace and freeze criminal assets? The Home Secretary has not told us her position on any of those important measures. She has not said whether she thinks we should opt out, opt out and then opt back in again, whether she thinks that we should renegotiate the provisions, or what will be put in their place in the meantime.
The Home Secretary knows that there is no guarantee that the European Commission and other European countries will support our opting back in again. For example, Denmark, which has opted out from the justice and home affairs provisions, has had about 50% of its requests turned down. One of the Home Secretary’s junior Ministers has admitted that there will be a financial penalty for opting out and then opting back in. Does she have any idea what that financial penalty will be and whether it is worth the price?
I say to the Home Secretary that this is an utterly confused position. Her defence is that she wants to consult Parliament and the public but, considering she has utterly failed to consult Parliament and provide the Opposition with proper information, that is ridiculous. She is taking big risks without even working out what her views are or what the Government think. Next time they want to make a statement on important European policy, perhaps they should work out what they actually think it should be before they come to the House and make it.
Let us remember that it was the Labour party that wanted to sign up to the European constitution and that planned to scrap the pound and join the euro. It has no credibility on European issues in this House. Indeed, it has no credibility with the British people.
Let me address the right hon. Lady’s points. On the list of measures that we might want to opt back into, I have made it clear that we need to engage with the European Commission and other member states in order to opt back into measures where we believe it is in the national interest to do so. That negotiation can now start. We will do that in earnest and talk to them about the terms on which particular opt-ins might be possible.
The right hon. Lady seems to be concerned about where the opt-out decision might leave us with regard to public protection. I remind her that it was the previous Government who negotiated the opt-out. If they thought it was such a problem, why did they negotiate it in the first place? On costs, I remind the right hon. Lady that the financial penalty was part of that negotiation of the opt-out, so it was the Labour Government who signed up to it.
The right hon. Lady made a number of comments on the European arrest warrant. She will be aware that a number of Members have raised concerns about British nationals, some of whom are their constituents, spending a long time languishing in foreign jails before reaching trial. A number of issues have been raised in this House and elsewhere about the proportionality issue in relation to the European arrest warrant. I therefore ask the right hon. Lady: is she happy with all of that, or does she think that the situation can be changed? If she does not think that there is an issue with the European arrest warrant, why did she not force a Division and vote against last December’s motion on extradition, which included a proposal to reform and amend the European arrest warrant? She did not. She accepted the motion, which this House passed and which stated that amendments should be made to the European arrest warrant.
The right hon. Lady’s only position on the issue seems to be to disagree with what we say and what we do. The Labour party negotiated an opt-out, but now it is against enacting it. It said that we needed to reform the European arrest warrant, but now it wants to pass up on the chance of doing just that. I have set out the Government’s position this afternoon. We will give Parliament a voice on the issue. The right hon. Lady cannot spend her time saying one thing one day and another thing the next and expect to be taken credibly by this House or anybody else.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making clear the position on whether we will exercise the opt-out or the opt-in, which is a necessary first position to take. I also thank her for enabling Parliament to exercise its proper influence over the individual measures that we may wish to opt into. Why that is difficult for the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) to understand escapes me.
I know that the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary will agree that it is clearly in our national interest to get European Union prisoners who are serving their sentence here transferred to their own country as early as possible to serve their sentence there. Within the remit of the proper parliamentary scrutiny that she is seeking, will she give the earliest possible indication to our European partners that we will seek to continue with those arrangements?