House of Commons
Monday 11 February 2013
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before questions
That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County constituency of Mid Ulster, in the room of Martin McGuiness, who since his election for the said County constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Manor of Northstead in the county of York.—(Sir George Young.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation is an abhorrent form of child abuse which this Government are committed to eradicating. Across Government we have taken a number of actions, including piloting the declaration against female genital mutilation, issuing guidelines to front-line practitioners and providing funding to support communities to tackle FGM themselves. These actions help raise awareness of the issue, change attitudes, strengthen the legal response and support victims.
I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. As she knows, most of the data we use in the UK are based on a 2007 study. The Dutch Government recently issued an up-to-date prevalence study, based on methodology developed at a workshop sponsored by the Home Office. When might we look to doing an up-to-date prevalence study here in the UK?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I would like to pay tribute to the work she has done on this issue, which is respected in all parts of the House. We are assessing a funding application for a prevalence study. The Home Office and the NSPCC co-hosted a recent round-table at which prevalence was discussed, and we are considering various ways in which we can collect the data to inform a more targeted approach to ending this practice. Indeed, the Department of Health is exploring the collection of FGM data in the NHS, including in the maternity and children’s dataset.
One of the best actions we can take to tackle the attitudes that lead to FGM and gender-based violence is to ensure that all our children and young people receive age-appropriate and good-quality sex and relationship education. Has the Home Secretary discussed that with her colleagues in the Department for Education, and will the Government now support compulsory sex and relationship education?
The issue of education is discussed in the inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, which I chair. It meets regularly and brings Government Departments across the board, including the Department for Education, around the table. It is correct that education and information are very important aspects of dealing with FGM, which is why I am pleased to say that we have delivered 40,000 leaflets and posters to schools, health services, charities and community groups around the country, raising awareness of this issue.
May I associate myself with the Home Secretary’s comments about the work that the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) has done on raising awareness of female genital mutilation in the UK? The Home Secretary will be aware of the calls for action to improve awareness of FGM, and to support young people who are facing this threat in coming forward. Given this and her response to my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), may I press her on the question of the level of violence against women and girls in Britain, and ask whether she will give her direct personal support to the One Billion Rising campaign and the vote in this place on Thursday to make sex and relationship education statutory for both boys and girls—yes or no?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea. As I said, the Government take this issue extremely seriously and we look across the board at what Government can do to deal with it. It is about helping communities themselves to eradicate this problem. Everyone in this Chamber will be concerned about the lack of prosecutions, and I am pleased that the Director of Public Prosecutions has issued a new action plan on FGM to the prosecutors, with the hope of getting prosecutions. We must recognise that education of a variety of sorts is important, which is why alerting people at various levels in the public services and in schools, and others, and helping girls to understand the threat themselves, is so important.
UK Immigration (Bulgaria and Romania)
Speculative projections about future inflows cannot be made with any degree of accuracy and are, therefore, not particularly helpful. That is why the Government are focused on dealing with the abuse of free movement rights and reducing the pull factors for migration, and so I am chairing a cross-Government group of Ministers to examine controls on immigrants’ access to public services and benefits.
It has been estimated that some 250,000 Romanians and Bulgarians are currently resident in Germany, and an internal paper produced by the German Association of Cities has noted that that level of immigration creates social dangers. Will any lessons be learned from the German experience?
My hon. Friend is right to say that it is helpful for us to look at the experience of other European countries. We want to make sure that when people look at the access to our benefits and our public services nobody thinks we are a soft touch in this country, and the Government are taking action to ensure that people will not think that.
My constituents think it is madness to open our borders to 29 million people when we have absolutely no idea how many are going to come to this country. Will the Minister at least introduce a new requirement that European Union nationals seeking to reside here for more than three months have to apply for a residency card? Will he insist that the Romanian and Bulgarian Governments share with the Home Office details of any criminal records of those who come to this country?
My hon. Friend’s first point about a residency card is something I will listen to and take away with me. On his second point, he may be interested to know that the Metropolitan police and the UK Border Agency been working closely together over the past few months on Operation Nexus, and have removed about 200 very serious and high-harm criminals. That has been very effective, and I hope it will be rolled out across the country in due course.
Given that the Government cannot produce or are not producing an estimate, and given that the national minimum wage is five to six times higher in this country than it is in Bulgaria or Romania, how confident are the Government that our public services can cope with any surge in immigration, particularly as we got our estimates so badly wrong in 2004?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. However, it is worth reminding people that even during the whole period of the previous Government, when, as even they have acknowledged, they had no transitional controls for eastern European migration and a significant number came here, four fifths of the net migration was from outside the EU. It is therefore worth seeing things in that context. I go back to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) in saying that the Government are looking at how our public services work and how our benefits system works to make sure that we are not a soft touch in this country. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend.
It is, of course, thanks to the Labour party that the UK was the only European economy that did not have transitional controls in 2004. Will the Minister confirm that as of 31 December every European economy will be open to the free movement of labour from Romania and Bulgaria, and not just ours this time?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is worth remembering that eight other European countries, including France and Germany, currently have transitional controls, as we do. They will have to remove those controls at the end of the year, which is partly why making a forecast is so difficult and why the Migration Advisory Committee advised against it.
There is a Bulgarian word for the position in which the Government find themselves—oburkvane: confused. The Prime Minister is a champion of enlargement, which means the free movement of people, yet the Home Office was considering putting advertisements in the Romanian and Bulgarian press advising people not to come here. There is a simple way of dealing with this matter. First, by working with the Romanian and Bulgarian Governments to find out the cause for people to move here. Secondly, by commissioning research so that we have proper predictions as to how many people will come here.
On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question, he has been in this House long enough to know not to believe everything he reads in newspapers when they talk about what the Government might or might not do. He may even occasionally have been the author of some such stories himself. [Interruption.] No, I am not. On his second question about working with our European partners, we will of course work with the Romanian and Bulgarian Governments, as we do on a number of important and serious issues. For example, we work closely with the Bulgarians on combating terrorism. We will continue to take that approach and we will look at ways of making sure that this country is not a soft touch when it comes to benefits and access to public services. The MAC advised against trying to forecast the numbers, because it said that that simply would not be helpful to policy makers.
Is the Minister satisfied that the fines levied on employers who do not pay the minimum wage are sufficient to deter such employers from employing on the cheap the very Bulgarian and Romanian workers his hon. Friends are asking about?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. If anyone takes on people who do not have the right to work in the country, we fine them up to £10,000. I will take away the point that he has made. One thing we are looking at is the regulation of the labour market in general. A number of bodies are involved—HMRC for the minimum wage, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the UK Border Agency. It is sensible to consider whether those organisations are all working as closely together as they should be. That is something that the group I am chairing will indeed be looking at. I hope that is helpful to him.
But poor housing from rogue landlords, where they sometimes cram 20 to 30 people into some pretty shabby conditions, is also a major problem and a driver of immigration, particularly from places such as Romania, Bulgaria and other eastern European EU states, so will the Government commit to introducing a statutory national register of private landlords so that we can drive up housing standards in the private sector and drive out some of those crummy conditions?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Last Thursday morning, at an unearthly hour, the Minister for Housing and I accompanied UK Border Agency officers and housing officials from the London borough of Ealing on a raid to deal with exactly such landlords with houses in multiple occupation. It was a successful operation and we detained a number of people who had no right to be in the country. Such partnership working between the London borough of Ealing and central Government is working well, and it is the kind of activity that we will continue.
I am delighted that the Minister is tackling that one element, which has already been referred to, but last week the Attorney-General admitted that in 2011 and 2012 there was not a single prosecution of those breaching the national minimum wage. Would it not be a good idea, first, to impose the national minimum wage—enforce it properly—so that unscrupulous landlords could not turn people into virtual slaves in this country and, secondly, to double the fine?
I am not quite sure what landlords have to do with the national minimum wage, but I think I answered the other part of the hon. Gentleman’s question in responding to one of his colleagues. The hon. Gentleman needs to explain why all those problems were singularly not dealt with when Labour was in power. Labour made mistakes on immigration and failed to apologise. Until it does, no one will take it seriously.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The committee that I am chairing will indeed consider how our benefit rules work. We want to ensure that we offer what we need to under the treaties, but no more. If we think that there is abuse of free movement rights, we will continue, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already started to do, to work with our European partners to drive out that abuse, which is what the people of this country want.
UK Border Agency
The performance of both organisations is improving. Border Force efforts mean waiting times at airports are now considerably better. I am pleased to say that, between July and September last year—an important time for the UK—99% of passengers were cleared within service standards. UKBA is working to ensure that more illegal immigrants leave the UK this year than last, but we recognise that there are some deep-seated problems that need sustained effort. We are driving that effort forward.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. I think the message is, “Still could do much better.” My constituent, Lynn Wyllie, has been waiting two and a half years for confirmation of her immigration status. Her children stay in Scotland and both have British passports. Despite her full co-operation, and that of my office team and her lawyer, she has had no response whatever with regard to her status. Her current application ran out on Friday. Will the Secretary of State arrange an urgent review—I am happy to give details—because Lynn is intensely stressed and worried about her situation and her family?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first comment, as I indicated in my answer, there are some issues that still need to be addressed in relation to the operation of the UK Border Agency. I am happy to look into the case that he has raised. If he provides the details, my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister will look into that with care.
The Home Secretary will be well aware of many of the long delays, and I, like many Members, have a number of constituents waiting for responses from the UK Border Agency. This is causing great concern for businesses and the universities in Cambridge, as are some of the over-bureaucratic controls that they feel they are being forced to apply on academics and students. Will she come to Cambridge to meet university and business representatives in order to discuss the details of how that is working?
I understand that the Immigration Minister has already agreed to come to Cambridge to meet representatives of the university on the issue. I met representatives of the Russell group and Universities UK when we were developing our policy on ensuring that we can drive out abuse of the student visa system. We have a student visa system that ensures that the brightest and the best students—those who are coming to an institution that is genuinely providing education, to study a genuine degree course or educational course, and are intending to be students and not to use the visa to work—can come to the UK, while we are driving out abuse. I am pleased to say that tens of thousands of people who were coming here or would have come here to work rather than to be students will not do so, as a result of the action that this Government have taken.
The Home Secretary was kind enough to write to me after the last Home Office questions to say that she is working on the group of lost cases, but I have a number of current cases of constituents who are losing their jobs because the Home Office has not replied to in-time applications, so they have no papers that they can show their employer and there is no way they can prove their right to work, as a result of which they are being sacked. Will she stand up in this Chamber and say that nobody who has an in-time application and who had permission to work should be sacked because of the Home Office’s inefficiency?
What I say to the hon. Lady is that we are working through and with UKBA to ensure that we can improve the processes that it operates in relation to applications. If she has particular cases that she wishes to raise with Ministers, she is free to do that. It is important that we ensure that, through the work that is developing to deal with the problems that still exist, UKBA is able to provide the efficient service that we all want to see.
Too many UKBA decisions are still wrong and the process is taking far too long, in which case does the Home Secretary not think it extraordinary that, notwithstanding the clear ruling of a judge on 29 November and previous tribunal decisions, UKBA is still seeking to prevent Roseline Akhalu from staying in this country, despite the fact that if she is deported she will die?
I will respond to my hon. Friend in relation to the individual case that he has raised, but he starts off by saying that too many decisions by the UK Border Agency are wrong. One of the problems for UKBA is that very often entry clearance officers take decision on the basis of the information in front of them, which may perfectly well be the right decision on the basis of that information, then further information is provided before an appeal is heard. That is an issue that we need to look at.
Further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), I have many constituents who have submitted an in-time application and have not even received an acknowledgement from the UK Border Agency. When my office chases up some months later, it turns out that they have not even been input into the UKBA computer system. Perhaps the Home Secretary can tell us whether this is an attempt by the Home Office to massage figures about the number of applicants and the speed with which it is dealing with them.
No such attempt is being made in relation to what the hon. Lady says. She will have heard the answer that I gave. I acknowledged that there are problems in some areas of the operation of the UK Border Agency. That is why we are looking at the UK Border Agency, and why work is being done to improve the processes within it to ensure that we have a system that provides an efficient and effective response to those who are applying.
College of Policing
The Government have established the College of Policing to protect the public and support the fight against crime by ensuring professionalism in policing. The college is a core element of the police reform agenda. It began providing services on 1 December 2012 and has already begun training the next generation of police leaders.
With the new college now in place, surely the Association of Chief Police Officers is now well past its sell-by date. It seems to spend more time protecting its members than helping the Government with their reform programme. Should taxpayers still be funding this organisation?
Most of the ACPO business area work has been integrated into the College of Policing. I pay tribute to ACPO’s work in ensuring a smooth transition towards the establishment of the college, which is very important. ACPO is a private limited company; it is not owned or controlled by the Home Office. It is therefore for ACPO itself to determine its future as a company. Home Office grant-in-aid funding to ACPO headquarters ceased at the end of 2012 when the College of Policing was established.
Undercover policing is extremely important. Does the Minister think that it would be improved, and public confidence in it maintained, by investigating the allegations that have been made about the identities of dead children in London being used as passports for police undercover names? Does he agree that improving standards in undercover training is one of the key elements of the College of Policing?
On the right hon. Gentleman’s last point, I absolutely agree. The College of Policing is there precisely so that we can improve professionalism in all areas of policing, and clearly that applies to undercover policing, which is, as he and the House will know, a particularly sensitive area at the moment. On his previous point, if he can be patient for just a few minutes my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is about to say something about that.
Independent Police Complaints Commission (Hillsborough Inquiry)
I have committed to ensuring that the IPCC has the resource and powers necessary to investigate the findings of the Hillsborough independent panel thoroughly, transparently and exhaustively. The IPCC is working with the Home Office to determine the level of resource it requires and any logistical help that the Department can offer.
Given that the investigation into the Hillsborough disaster will be the biggest and most complex in the IPCC’s history, what assessment has the Minister made of its capability to carry out the job competently? What assurances has he received that give him comfort that the IPCC’s processes will be scrupulous and, importantly, acceptable to the families?
The hon. Gentleman gives many of the more sensitive issues an airing. We have received assurances from Jon Stoddart and from the IPCC that, for example, no officer or investigator employed to work on the investigations will have had any prior connection with the Hillsborough disaster. I have personally checked that those assurances are being met, and I am able to reassure the hon. Gentleman that they are. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has promised that the resources will be made available to the IPCC so that it can conduct this investigation as thoroughly as it and, more particularly, the families of the victims of the disaster deserve.
There is a real concern that the IPCC is having to deal with a huge number of complaints, some of which are relatively trivial in the great scheme of things. What mechanism will be put in place to ensure that the IPCC can focus its resources on important and significant cases such as the one that has been raised in questions today?
As I said to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), in the particular instance of the Hillsborough investigation my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already made that commitment on resources. There is clearly a wider point about the IPCC’s resources and how it operates, and a statement on that will be made very shortly.
The Government support the effective use of CCTV to cut crime and protect the public. It is a matter for local agencies to determine how best to deploy and use CCTV systems to meet local needs.
In Liverpool, the City Watch team have used state-of-the-art CCTV to deter crime and antisocial behaviour and to identify and convict those guilty of offences. As a result, according to the UK Statistics Authority, Liverpool is now the second-safest city in the country. Given this success, why does the Minister want to make it harder for the police and other local authorities to get CCTV for communities who want and need it?
We certainly recognise the important part that CCTV can play in making communities safer, and the hon. Lady has mentioned the City Watch programme in Liverpool. The Government are not seeking to make it harder to use CCTV; rather, we are seeking to put in place steps to ensure that its use is effective and commands the support of the public and, in so doing, that it can continue to carry out its important work.
Local communities and local authorities are looking to install yet more CCTV cameras, which make them feel safer, more secure and more assured. Why are the Government, through the bureaucracy involved in accessing CCTV, preventing more cameras from being installed on the country’s streets?
I do not accept that more bureaucracy is preventing CCTV cameras from being adopted. Under the previous Government, a centralised control mechanism was put in place, but it did not actually assess whether the CCTV systems were effective or cutting crime. We think that these decisions are better made locally, but we also want to ensure, through a code of practice, that CCTV is proportionate and effective, and delivers what it needs to deliver.
CCTV provides courts with unbiased evidence; leads to people changing their plea from not guilty to guilty; saves the police and the courts time and money; brings criminals to justice; and proves people’s innocence. The Government should be doing all they can to roll out CCTV as far as possible, but they are not doing so. Why do they not want to roll it out to more local communities?
I say to my hon. Friend that the Government support the use of CCTV and that it can be a very important way of bringing criminals to justice. He may wish to speak to his police and crime commissioner, who will hold a new community safety budget, part of which they may wish to apply to support CCTV projects.
I recognise my hon. Friend’s point and, equally, how it is possible to pool together resources and systems to make CCTV systems that much more effective. Those are precisely the sorts of approaches that we are seeking to advance through the code of practice, and I am sure that the surveillance camera commissioner will also examine my hon. Friend’s point.
Gang and Youth Violence
On 27 November, the Government published our “Ending Gang and Youth Violence Report: One Year On”, setting out achievements and further commitments. Over the past year practical support has been provided to 29 local areas. Support for four more areas was announced in December.
My constituent, Lorraine Fraser, has long campaigned against gang violence after tragically losing her son in an unprovoked attack. She has spent considerable time with young people, warning them of the consequences of being involved in gangs. What action is the Department taking to improve such intervention in our schools to tackle gang violence?
I give my sincere commiserations to Lorraine Fraser. It must have been an extremely harrowing ordeal for her. It reminds me of a case in my constituency shortly after I was elected in 2005, when a young man called Lloyd Fouracre was murdered. His brother, Adam, was extremely energetic in promoting safety among young people in schools and elsewhere. I commend the work of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and of mine. Our work on ending gang and youth violence includes elements of programmes in schools, and I commend that type of work right across the country.
A few weeks ago in my constituency, there was an horrific incident when a totally innocent shopkeeper was attacked by an individual wielding a nine-inch kitchen knife. It subsequently transpired that that person had mental health problems. My chief constable tells me that violence is increasingly perpetrated by people with mental health problems. What is the Minister doing with his colleagues in the Department of Health to tackle this increasing danger to people in our communities?
I am very sorry to hear about that appalling case. I again pass my commiserations to everybody involved. We try across Government—with the Department of Health in this case—to ensure that policy is effective in combining all the elements needed to reduce criminality. Although it is no consolation to the family in this case, it might help the House to know that, according to the crime survey for England and Wales, in the year to June 2012 there was a 14% reduction in homicides, a 9% reduction in violent incidents involving knives or sharp instruments, and an 18% reduction in gun crime. It might not be much consolation to victims of crime, but, overall, violent crime in this country is falling.
We aim to process all applications from EEA residents promptly. When a case has to be referred for policy guidance, there are sometimes delays, particularly if policy has changed. We obviously try to keep those delays to a minimum.
Many people think that “referring for policy guidance” is a euphemism for disappearing into a big black hole. I am particularly concerned about spouses’ applications for residence cards, which are delayed for a long period before they are dealt with. What checks are there to ensure that cases are not neglected and are not allowed to run on for an inordinate time?
This is an area where there are often legal judgments by the European Court of Justice that we have to take into account. We have to change the immigration rules accordingly before we can process applications. That is the sort of thing that tends to cause the delays, rather than what my hon. Friend suggests. If he has any particular cases that have to be dealt with urgently for whatever reason, I suggest that he write to me and I will do what I can to expedite them.
The Government have published a draft Bill that sets out measures that will put victims and communities at the heart of the response to antisocial behaviour. It includes the community trigger, which will give people the power to make agencies take persistent problems seriously; the community remedy, which will give victims a say in the punishment of offenders out of court; and faster, more effective powers to enable front-line professionals better to protect the public.
Much of the antisocial behaviour experienced by my constituents in Norwich is associated with excess alcohol consumption. I welcome the new early morning restriction orders, but I urge the Government to end the abundant supply of pocket-money priced alcohol in response to their recent consultation on alcohol pricing.
My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that in October the Government introduced early morning restriction orders along with a provision on the charging of a late-night levy as part of a package of measures to deal with concerns that had been brought to our attention about alcohol licensing and consumption. He will know that the consultation on minimum unit pricing and other alcohol-related measures finished last week. We will consider properly the representations that we have received and make an announcement in due course.
This is frustrating for me, because we have explained this policy so painstakingly and carefully, and the concept is so simple, but let me have one more go. We want every council in the country and other relevant agencies to respond straight away whenever problems are brought to their attention. However, it has been brought to our attention, including in a lot of areas with Labour councils, that people keep bringing complaints, particularly lower-level complaints, about individual incidents that do not always warrant immediate attention. We want to ensure that there is some measure of cumulative impact. That is why we have put this measure in place, and it is popular. In the pilot schemes, people are running with it. I commend it to councils around the country, including Labour-run councils.
In 2011-12, the police detected more than 353,000 offences of violence against the person. That represents a detection rate of 46.4%, which is up from 44.7% in 2009-10.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but my statistics suggest that police officer numbers are at their lowest in a decade, and that 7,000 fewer crimes of violence against the person were solved in the past year. Does the Minister understand that simple connection, and is it time to stop and reverse the police cuts?
I took the trouble to look up the crime figures for Bedfordshire, which I know will be of interest to the hon. Gentleman; he can tell the House how he sees the correlation. Recorded crime is falling in Bedfordshire. Figures for the 12 months to September 2012 compared with the corresponding 12 months in 2011 show a total reduction in crime of 12% in just one year. Violence against the person was down by 15%, and the Government should be pleased with that record while not being complacent and trying to drive crime down further.
Official figures show that 30,000 fewer crimes were solved last year—the first time that figure has fallen in more than a decade. Does the Minister think that the 11,500 fewer police officers on the front line have anything to do with fewer criminals being caught and convicted?
Two things make Labour MPs look really glum: unemployment falling and crime falling. Any party whose interests conflict so directly with the interests of the people it purports to serve has got political problems. The most recent figures from the crime survey for England and Wales show an 8% fall in crime, and recorded crime statistics are down 7%. The Government have got crime down to the lowest point since records began in 1981, so there are fewer crimes to detect. I hope we will carry on and get crime down even further.
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures
In the last quarterly report on the exercise of powers in the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011, for the reporting period 1 September to 30 November 2012, 10 people were subject to a TPIM notice during that time.
It is nearly 50 days since Ibrahim Magag went missing and the now famous absconding black cab shows that the Home Secretary made a mistake with TPIMs. Will the Minister say whether Ibrahim Magag was under surveillance at that time—nothing technical, a yes or no will do?
The operation to locate Ibrahim Magag is ongoing and the police are doing everything in their power to locate and indentify that individual. The hon. Gentleman would perhaps agree that the best place for a terrorist is in prison, and that is why the Government have committed additional resources to supplement the TPIM regime and ensure a balance of preventive measures as well as ensuring that people are brought to justice.
21. Lord Carlile recently confirmed that no individual absconded while subject to a relocation order. Is the fact that Mr Magag did not abscond while he was relocated but did abscond when he was allowed back to London clear evidence that the decision to remove relocation powers was a serious mistake? Will the Minister look again at that decision? (142197)
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point. Indeed, in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner did not say that a parallel such as that the right hon. Gentleman seeks to make could be drawn. We are reviewing the incident closely, as we would any incident of this kind, and if practical issues need to be adopted we will certainly consider and adopt them.
That issue was raised during a recent debate in Westminster Hall, and the Government continue to keep it under review. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that this afternoon I will meet officers of the all-party group on human trafficking, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), the Baroness Butler-Sloss and Anthony Steen, and I hope we will have further discussions in due course.
I think the sentences that are available are harsh enough. It is sometimes difficult to get evidence to prosecute people for the right offences. For example, people are often not necessarily prosecuted for trafficking offences when other offences are more easily proven. The range of sentencing powers is available: it is our job to make sure that they are properly used by prosecutors.
National Crime Agency
Excellent progress is being made in establishing the new National Crime Agency which will be an effective operational crime fighting agency, under the leadership of Director General Keith Bristow.
Operational activity is already taking place under the NCA’s four commands, building on the previous work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I am pleased to say in particular that the shadow border policing command is doing work to improve collaboration at ports.
My constituents are daily hearing truly shocking evidence of child sexual exploitation emerging in the ongoing trial of nine Oxford men at the Old Bailey. I know that the Home Secretary is unable to comment on the case, but can she tell me how she intends to work with Keith Bristow, Peter Davies and others at the NCA to strengthen our national policing response to child sexual exploitation in our communities?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this difficult issue, which I know will be a concern to Members on both sides of the House. We all agree that child sexual exploitation is an abhorrent form of abuse, and I know that the police are committed to tackling that crime in all its forms. An increasing number of cases are being brought before the courts, which reflects the increasing attention that the police are paying to this issue.
Work is being carried out to co-ordinate a response under the organised crime strategy and the child sexual exploitation action plan, which of course includes the vital work of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. I referred to the shadow border policing command in my previous response: it has been working with CEOP so that, for the first time, the team has been able to target high-risk outbound flights to identify and interdict sex offenders.
Several news reports have recently alleged improper practices and conduct by the Metropolitan police’s former special demonstration squad. The activities of that squad are being investigated by the Metropolitan police’s professional standards department, under the supervision of the independent police complaints commissioner. The investigation is called Operation Herne.
Given the seriousness of the latest allegations, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and the chairman of the IPCC, Dame Anne Owers, have agreed that it would be appropriate for a senior figure from outside the Metropolitan police to take over the leadership of the investigation. Chief Constable Mick Creedon of Derbyshire police has agreed to take on the role, and he brings to the case many years’ experience as a detective. He has also led several major investigations, including police corruption cases and reviews of investigations by other forces, such as the Rhys Jones murder on Merseyside in 2007. The investigation will be under the direction and control of Chief Constable Creedon, but it will remain under the supervision of the IPCC, which will provide further external and independent scrutiny.
I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that it is obviously in the overwhelming public interest that we have sound extradition arrangements that function properly. The public need to have confidence in those arrangements, and it is vital that decisions are not only fair, but are seen to be fair. As I indicated to the House earlier, the Government have recently tabled amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill to introduce a forum bar to extradition, which will make decisions in concurrent jurisdiction cases clear and more transparent.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement on undercover policing, which we have also called for.
I know the whole House will send its sympathy to the family of Frances Andrade, who took her own life after giving evidence against her abusers in court. She was let down by the criminal justice system, whose job it was to help and protect her. It has emerged that Greater Manchester police supported Mrs Andrade getting counselling, but that Surrey police did not. The Surrey police and crime commissioner has said in the last couple of days that
“it’s the responsibility of the police to present evidence to the court with the victim in a way which is untainted. That means they will not and should not refer a victim for counselling until after they have given their evidence.”
Does the Home Secretary agree that this approach by Surrey police is completely unacceptable, and that victims of sexual abuse should never be denied the support and counselling they need? Will she tell all police forces that they need to make sure that counselling is available, and will she ensure that a proper review takes place of the handling of this entire case, so that lessons can be learned from this dreadful tragedy?
I am indeed sure that everybody across the House sends their sympathy and condolences to the family of the lady concerned. This was a terrible case and we all have sympathy with the family for what they have gone through. Improving the way in which the police deal with rape cases has been looked at by Governments over a number of years, because we all recognise the difficulty victims feel in coming forward. Sadly, when we see such incidents I fear that others may be put off, rather than encouraged, from coming forward. We need to look very carefully at what has happened in this case, and very carefully at how we can further improve the system to ensure that victims feel that they will be believed when they come forward and have the confidence to take their case through the courts.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s concern, but I press her to do two specific things in response to this case, the first of which is to tell forces that they need to make sure that counselling is available in these cases. Guidance drawn up in 2002 by the Home Office, Department of Health and Attorney-General states very clearly that
“vulnerable or intimidated witnesses should not be denied the emotional support and counselling they may need both before and after the trial.”
The 2010 guidance from Association of Chief Police Officers and Crown Prosecution Service is similarly clear, yet did not apply in this case and the Surrey police and crime commissioner is saying the opposite. Will she give very clear instruction to forces across the country that they must ensure counselling is available in line with national guidance? Will she also ensure that a proper review takes place of all aspects of this case, so that we learn lessons from this terrible tragedy and ensure that vulnerable victims get the help and support that was denied to Frances Andrade?
As I indicated to the right hon. Lady, we will of course look to see what lessons should be learned from this case. She will be aware that the Home Secretary does not instruct police forces to take particular routes. They have operational independence on decisions about how they deal with particular cases. It is important for the guidance to be there, for police forces to be aware of the guidance, and for police forces to operate within the guidance. I will reflect on the right hon. Lady’s remarks on the attention being given to that guidance. I am sure that all of us across the House want a system in which rape victims feel able to come forward and that we are able to see more prosecutions taking place.
My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. There is absolutely no contradiction between having an efficient visa system that enables us to protect our borders and operate appropriate immigration policy, and having a United Kingdom that is open for business and which encourages the brightest and best and those who will be of benefit to the economy to come here. There is no contradiction in doing that and it is possible to do that—indeed, it is what the Government are doing.
T3. Mephedrone offences have increased significantly in Wales since October 2011. More girls are using it than any drug in the past, and dealing is more open than ever before. What are the Government doing to promote cross-border action between England and Wales to tackle the supply of this dangerous drug? (142203)
I am extremely sorry to hear about the experiences in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Drug consumption overall in England and Wales is falling, and there is a lot of different statistical evidence that all points in that direction. However, I take his point that there are differing threats, and that some drugs do not fall in line with other types of drugs. I am happy to meet him if he would like to discuss what more we can do to improve the situation in his constituency.
I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the last set of immigration statistics saw a fall of a quarter in net migration, and we are on track to reduce it from the unsustainable hundreds of thousands that it was under Labour to a much more sustainable tens of thousands, which is what the vast majority of the British public want.
T5. The reality of the Government cuts is that local councils are switching off CCTV cameras and losing local antisocial behaviour officers; that local housing companies cannot get rid of problem tenants; that police stations are closing; and that neighbourhood policing is becoming more remote. Is the Home Secretary as concerned as I am about the retrenchment into a silo budget mentality, and if so, what will she do about it? (142205)
The hon. Gentleman makes a point about CCTV that, as I have already established, simply is not the case. I am surprised he does not seek to welcome the cuts in crime in his own constituency and the fact that the Government are taking the tough decisions, at a difficult time financially, to ensure that we get the right reform to establish police and crime commissioners and make those decisions locally, as well as cutting crime and making communities safer. I would have thought he welcomed that.
T8. The Minister will be aware of the excellent work done by the freedom programme for female victims of domestic violence. In my constituency, the refuge is keen to explore the possibility of a parallel scheme focused on male victims. Will he join me in endorsing this endeavour and indicate what resources are available to support this worthwhile scheme? (142208)
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Approximately one fifth of the victims of domestic violence are men, but most of the services—understandably, because the majority of victims are women—are designed to help female victims of domestic violence. Where services can be provided to help men, however, it would seem to be an entirely commendable and virtuous form of service provision. I congratulate those involved on what is happening in his constituency, and hope it can be applied more widely where it is seen to be valuable.
T6. The Minister has come to these questions armed with some excellent answers, but unfortunately they are not relevant to the questions he is being asked. The specific question is this: he stood for election on the basis of having 3,000 more police officers, but is now part of a Government presiding over 7,000 fewer, and at the same time 30,000 fewer crimes are being solved, so does he still recognise the link between more police officers and fewer crimes being solved? (142206)
The crime survey for England and Wales began in 1981, when I was at primary school, and we now have the lowest reported crime in England and Wales since the survey began 32 years ago. I am proud of that record, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not share my pride.
Have Ministers seen the estimate from Migration Watch of 50,000 people migrating from Bulgaria and Romania? It has a good track record in these matters. May we have the earliest possible announcement of concrete results from the ministerial group on ease of access to benefits?
I have indeed seen that forecast, but, as I said, I do not think that the Government engaging in speculative forecasts is helpful; what is helpful is our carrying on the work of the committee I am chairing on access to public services and benefits to ensure that we are not a soft touch. I am sure that my hon. Friend will support us in that valuable work.
T7. We have seen some great co-operation between the UK and the EU on crime and justice through the European arrest warrant, as has been seen in the investigation into the sale of illegal horsemeat. May I therefore encourage the Government not to oppose the arrest warrant, to drop the work they are doing and to take a “mare” responsible attitude to this issue? (142207)
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are looking at all the measures that fall under the so-called 2014 opt-out. It is the Government’s current intention to opt out of those measures and then negotiate to opt back into those we believe to be in the British national interest. He cites an example of where the European arrest warrant has been used successfully, but hon. Members will know of cases where people have been held for lengthy periods in pre-trial detention, while the proportionality issue worries not only the UK, but other member states. That is why we are discussing the future of the European arrest warrant with other member states.
Can my right hon. Friend tell us what success Hampshire constabulary has had in cutting crime in the Eastleigh area?
I am happy to report to my hon. Friend and the House that I can give her that answer. I am extremely happy to report that in the 12 months to September 2012, there was a fall of 17% in offences recorded by the police in Eastleigh, showing the great success of the Hampshire police.
T9. The damping mechanism that has been applied to Bedfordshire under successive Governments has left it with £22 million less than it should otherwise have. When the Home Secretary met new police and crime commissioner candidates and new police and crime commissioners earlier this month, she said the mechanism would be reviewed, but it has now become clear that it will not be until after the next general election. For how much longer will Bedfordshire have to fight urban levels of crime with rural levels of funding? (142209)
I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that recorded crime in Bedfordshire is down 12% in the year to September 2012. I hope he will welcome that. As he says, this Government have continued the damping mechanism, which was put in place by the previous Government in 2006. We are conducting a review of it. One reason why the review needs to be thorough is precisely so that we can involve the newly elected police and crime commissioners—including the one in Bedfordshire —so that they can make a full contribution to the debate to ensure we have better mechanisms in future.
My hon. Friend might be interested to know that we are actively pursuing deportation in 150 of those cases and have successfully removed 15 people already. The Government will continue to do so and I am confident that the vast majority of foreign national offenders involved in those riots will be removed from the country once their sentences are complete.
I welcome the inquiry that the Home Secretary has announced into undercover agents. Would it not be appropriate, at this stage at least, for the Home Secretary herself to give an apology to the parents of the dead children whose names were taken for undercover policing? What happened was absolutely disgraceful; such an apology is absolutely appropriate.
The hon. Gentleman makes the point that if it is indeed the case that this has happened, it is absolutely disgraceful. The investigation to establish the facts in relation to this is still ongoing. It is important that we say anything we wish to say about the facts of what has taken place following that investigation.
I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our best wishes to Pope Benedict following his announcement today. He has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain’s relations with the Holy See and his visit to Britain in 2010 is remembered with great respect and affection. Pope Benedict’s message on that visit—of working for the common good—is something that spoke to our whole country, and I am sure his successor will continue to provide a voice of inspiration for millions around the world.
Last week’s European Council agreed the overall limit on EU spending for the next seven years, starting in 2014. When these multi-year deals have been agreed in the past, spending has gone up, but last week we agreed that spending should come down. By working with like-minded allies, we delivered a real-terms cut in what Brussels can spend for the first time in history. As the House knows, the EU budget is negotiated annually, so what we were negotiating—initially at the Council last November and again last week—was not the individual annual budgets, but rather the overall framework for the next seven years. This includes the overall ceilings on what can be spent—effectively, the limit on the European Union’s credit card for the next seven years.
During the last negotiation, which covered the period 2007 to 2013, the last Government agreed to an 8% increase in the payments ceiling, to €943 billion. Put simply, this gave the EU a credit card with a higher limit, and today we are still living with the results of allowing the EU’s big spenders to push for more and more spending each year.
In fact, only last year, while member states were having to make tough decisions to tighten their belts at home, the big spenders succeeded in increasing the 2012 European budget by another 5% compared with the previous year. If no deal had been reached, the existing ceilings would have been rolled over and annual budgets could have continued to soar for the next seven years. Because annual budgets are negotiated by qualified majority voting, it can be difficult to constrain spending in these annual negotiations. By contrast, the seven-year limits are agreed by unanimity, so this was our chance to get the ceilings down in line with what could be afforded.
The European Commission produced an initial proposal for increasing the payments ceiling still further to €988 billion. This was strongly supported by a number of member states. The first negotiation took place at the Council in November, and although the President did then reduce this during the Council itself, it was still some way short of the real-terms cut we were looking for. So together with like-minded allies from a number of countries, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, we rejected the deal on the table and told them to think again.
At this Council, we made further progress. Together with allies, many of whom like Britain write the cheques, we achieved a proper look across all the areas where spending in the Commission proposal could be cut. While there are areas where we could and should go further, not least on reforming the common agricultural policy and reducing the bureaucratic costs of the European Commission, we agreed a real-terms cut in the payment limit to €908 billion. That is €80 billion lower than the original proposal; €35 billion lower than the deal agreed by the last Government, which is still in operation today; and €60 billion lower than the emergency arrangements that would have come into place if there were no seven-year deal. My aim was not simply to cut the credit-card limit; I wanted to set the limit at a level that would deliver at worst a freeze and at best a cut in actual spending over the next seven years. That is what this deal delivers—a real-terms cut.
If we take the latest complete budget—the one for 2012—and freeze spending at that level for the next seven years, we would have spending limits of €932 billion. Our new payments limit means spending cannot rise above €908 billion, so we have slashed €24 billion off a real freeze on the last completed budget. Of course, the budget set in 2012, which Britain voted against, was unacceptably large, but even against the average of the last two completed years—2011 and 2012—this deal still delivers a real-terms cut.
This deal must now, of course, be voted on by the European Parliament, and the European Council has said it is prepared to accept some flexibilities about how spending is divided between different budget years and different areas of spending, but we are absolutely clear that this must be within the framework that the member states have now agreed. The EU’s seven-year budget will now cost less than 1% of Europe’s gross national income for the first time in its history.
Let me say a word about how this deal is likely to affect the UK’s contribution; a word about how it is likely to affect what the UK receives from the EU for research, for our regions and for our farmers; and a word about what this means for growth and competitiveness across the European Union as a whole.
On the UK’s contribution, the House will remember how the last Government gave away almost half of our rebate. This has had a long-term and continuing effect on the UK’s net contributions. It is worth remembering why. It is because when the European Union spends money on structural funds and cohesion payments in eastern European countries, for example, the UK no longer gets a rebate on this money. As a result, almost whatever budget deal was done, our net contributions were always likely to go up. As a result of this deal, however, they will be going up by less. The only two sensible things we could do to protect the British taxpayer in these negotiations were to get the overall budget down and to protect what is left of our rebate.
The right hon. Gentleman keeps on saying “Hear, hear”, but he was the one who gave away our rebate in the first place. Even he is welcome on a happy day like today. That is exactly what we have done.
While the actual amount that the UK contributes will depend on technical factors, such as the size of the annual budgets, economic performance and exchange rates, as a result of this deal we now expect the UK’s contribution to the EU to fall as a share of our gross national income. As for the rebate that this Government inherited, it is now completely untouched. As ever, throughout the negotiations the rebate was attacked repeatedly, but I successfully rejected all the calls for change, and under this Government the British rebate is safe.
In terms of what the UK receives, I wanted to make sure that our universities were well placed to receive research work, that our less well-off regions were treated fairly compared with others, and that our farmers continued to receive support for the environment schemes that they put in place. Let me deal with each of those points.
The section of the budget that includes spending on research, innovation and university funding is up by over a third. The money is handed out on the basis of quality, so Britain’s universities are particularly well placed to benefit. We have ensured that structural funds will continue to flow to our less well-off regions, and Britain’s share will remain broadly the same, at around €11 billion. While we have cut spending on the common agricultural policy overall, we have protected the flexibility that will allow us to direct funds to support both the environment and the livelihoods of our farming communities.
Overall, this is a better-framed budget in terms of growth, jobs and competitiveness. It is disappointing that administrative costs are still around 6% of the total, but overall spending on the CAP will fall by 13% compared with the last seven-year budget. Research and development, and other pro-growth investment, will now account for 13% rather than 9% of the total budget.
Reform of EU spending is a long-term project, but this deal delivers important progress. Working with allies, we took real steps towards reform in the European Union. This is a good deal for Britain, a good deal for Europe, and above all a good deal for all our taxpayers. That is what we have delivered, and I commend my statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Let me first join him in paying tribute to Pope Benedict XVI. He is a spiritual leader for 2 billion people in the world, and a theologian of great distinction. His visit to the United Kingdom will be long remembered as a proud moment for millions of Catholics in this country, many people of other faiths, and, indeed, many Members of the House. His decision to stand down will not have been reached lightly, and it is right for Members in all parts of the House to acknowledge his service.
I also join the Prime Minister in welcoming the agreement that has been reached on a cut in the seven-year payment ceilings for the European Union budget. At a time when so many budgets were being cut at home, the House voted for a real-terms cut last October, and it was right to do so. No doubt it was just an oversight that in his statement he forgot to express his thanks to Members on his own Benches and on those of the Opposition for giving him such a strong negotiating mandate. Even he must see the irony of his having sought to vote down a proposal that turned out to be the outcome of the negotiations. He was against it before he was for it: that is the reality.
As well as restraint in the budget, however, we needed reform. We needed to prioritise growth within a smaller budget by cutting back even further on spending that was not a priority.
Let me deal first with agriculture. The common agricultural policy fell as a proportion of the budget from 46% in 1997 to 33% in 2010. We welcome the modest continued decline in agriculture spending as a share of the European budget from 31% in 2013 to 27% by 2020, but does the Prime Minister agree that with agriculture making up just 1.5% per cent of the total output of the European Union and still accounting for nearly 30% of the budget, there is still much more to do?
Secondly, we welcome the increase in funds targeted towards growth, infrastructure, research and development and innovation, but can the Prime Minister confirm that the achievement of a declining budget compared to November’s proposal came not at the expense of agricultural spending but, in part, at the expense of that funding for growth?
Thirdly, the Prime Minister and I agree on the need for the EU to play its part in effective development, diplomatic and governance support in north Africa. Can he say what discussions took place about how the EU could play that enhanced role in the context of the decision in this budget round to effectively freeze the European development fund, which provides assistance for the region? Given the new emerging challenges across the Sahel, what information can he give us about how funding for that region will be affected? In that context, can he take this opportunity to say something about the transition road map for Mali, which formed part of the Council’s conclusions, or at least part of its discussions?
Fourthly, given the very significant and unprecedented difference between the ceiling on payments—to which the Prime Minister referred in his statement—and the ceiling on commitments agreed on Friday, can he tell the House what discussions took place about how this would be dealt with in the years ahead?
While this budget brings restraint, Europe still needs a plan for recovery and growth. The Council’s conclusions talk about the importance of trade agreements. Will the Prime Minister update the House on developments on the possible EU-US trade agreement and on how he sees that being developed this year, including at the G8 summit? Does he recognise, however, that the long-term changes to the budget and the possible EU-US trade agreement are no substitute for a growth strategy for Europe? There are 26 million people looking for work in the European Union, and nearly 6 million unemployed young people looking for work—shamefully, 1 million of them here in the UK. The European economy is struggling and the British economy is flatlining. What Europe now needs, and what Britain now needs, is a plan for jobs and growth. That is the way Europe must change, that is the change that we need for Britain, and that must be the priority for the months and years ahead.
I suppose we should take the welcome. We should take it from someone who never got a freeze, let alone a cut, who never protected our rebate but who gave it away, and who told us that we were going to be marginalised, isolated and picking fights in an empty room. But I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s welcome. Thank you. I did not quite get a thank you, but I will give him a thank you for the non-thank you.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a lot of questions. Let me go through them. On agriculture, he asked whether there was more to do on reducing the budget, given that it represented only 1% of European industry. Yes, there is, although we have taken some steps forward. The common agricultural policy budget pillar one goes from €320 billion to €277 billion, which is a significant change. In terms of what grew in the budget that can help to deliver growth and jobs, we have the Connecting Europe Facility, which is about energy, transport and broadband networks. That goes from €8 billion in the last seven-year period to €19 billion in this period, so I do not think it is entirely fair to say that the right things were not increased or that the right things were not cut. I said in my statement that I was disappointed that we did not go further on the central bureaucracy.
We did have a discussion on north Africa and Mali. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the European development fund will go down; it will go up by €1 billion. On Mali, there was very little time left at the end of the marathon Council to discuss those issues, but I took the opportunity to praise the French President for the brave action that the French have taken, to offer our strong support, and to say that we would contribute by training troops from west African nations. I have spoken to the Nigerian President, who is in London today, about that issue. Most of all, however, a political strategy is needed alongside the military efforts.
On the gap between ceilings and payments, the gap is between €960 billion on commitments and €908.4 billion on payments. That is just over 5%, which is not untypical, given the experience of recent years. The European Commission thought that that gap was deliverable, so I think that answers that question. On EU-US trade, I spoke to President Obama about half an hour ago, and I think we are making progress. I will continue strongly to push and support that measure. On the issue of how we use the European Union to encourage growth, one of the greatest things we can do is to complete the single market in digital, in energy and in services, and it is this Government, working with allies, who are delivering precisely that.
On the overall deal, there is a real need to ensure that the European Parliament supports it. We are often challenged about the friends we have in Europe, but I would challenge the right hon. Gentleman about his friends there. What is he going to say to his friends in the Party of European Socialists who are condemning this deal, condemning the British action and saying that we should not be constraining European spending? Will he confirm today that Labour MEPs will be voting for this budget? Answer? The head moved a little bit. While he is at it, is it not time to confirm whether his party will back an in/out referendum? Labour’s claim is that the greatest problem is uncertainty, but what could be more uncertain than not knowing whether you are for it or against it? Any progress? It is not a day for answers, but it is a day for celebrating the fact that we have cut the budget for the first time in history.
The Prime Minister has been successful in winning the most important reform of the EU budget since Margaret Thatcher in Fontainebleau in 1984. Does my right hon. Friend agree that his achievement, and the success last week of a most acceptable reform of the common fisheries policy, demonstrates how many of the United Kingdom’s objectives can be achieved by serious and professional negotiation with our allies? Does he accept also that our objectives—for example, the working time directive—can be achieved, as he did with the EU budget and as the United Kingdom did with the CFP, by working with the close allies we have on so many of these subjects?
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, and it is worth paying tribute to Baroness Thatcher, because what makes the British rebate different from the other rebates is that it does not have to be renewed in each seven-year term: it is there as part of the architecture of the budget, and unless you are foolish enough to give some of it away, which the last Government did, it is there and can only be amended by unanimity.
I agree with what my right hon. and learned Friend says about working with allies, but I would also say this, which is relevant to what Margaret Thatcher achieved at Fontainebleau: everyone in the European Union has got to understand that you are prepared to say no if you do not get what you want.
In welcoming the progress that was made, may I ask the Prime Minister about further efforts to cut the administrative costs of the European Union? He will be aware that, even in Germany, the high cost of salaries and the benefits that officials enjoy is now a matter of great public controversy. What progress does he think could be made on this budget to ensure that those who work for the European Commission are paid a reasonable salary and not one that offends European taxpayers?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise this. The Commission proposal—heading 5, on EU bureaucracy—was €63 billion over the seven-year-period. That was cut back to €61.6 billion, but it is disappointing. Looking at levels of pay, levels of benefit and some of the special payments that people receive, there is a range of reforms that could be made. We must go on arguing for them in the annual budget process and go on working with allies. I think it is now understood across Europe that there are generosities that simply are not defendable.
I congratulate the Prime Minister heartily on a very professional outcome to the negotiations. Will he take this opportunity to ask all party political leaders in this country to urge their MEPs to uphold this deal and to vote for it in the European Parliament? I am sure Conservatives will, but the public would not take kindly to being let down by MEPs after he has done so well.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. All the UK MEPs account for a decent percentage of the European Parliament, so it makes a real difference if socialist MEPs and Liberal MEPs from Britain vote for this budget, and they should do so in an open, transparent manner. The idea of having a secret ballot in a Parliament seems to me completely wrong. The fact is that you send MEPs to Brussels—and, regrettably, to Strasbourg—so you can see what they do on your behalf.
But will the Prime Minister confirm that the entire EU budget accounts for just 1% of the gross national income of all 27 European member states? Should not his real priority be to end the disastrous policy of austerity that he and his fellow leaders are imposing right across Europe, and instead kick-start growth and investment to bring hope and prosperity instead of despair and stagnation?
I am afraid it is this attitude—a little bit of billions here and a little bit of billions there does not really matter very much—that has got us into so much trouble. Yes, it is 1%, for the first time, of Europe’s GNI, but the fact is that it is many billions of pounds that we pay into the European Union, and it is very important that we keep the budget under control.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the outcome of the deal and tell him that my colleagues here and our MEPs are supportive of the deal agreed in terms of the size of the budget? Given that the deal achieved with like-minded partners protected niche areas such as police co-operation, will he join me in saying to people such as the leader of the UK Independence party that they cannot, on the one hand, make arguments that we should not have Bulgarians, Romanians and others flooding our shores, and on the other hand not have the European arrest warrant and arrangements like it, which provide European police co-operation?
I very much welcome the commitment by the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament to support this budget. That is two down—the Conservatives are up for it and the Liberals are up for it—so what about Labour? What are you going to do when all those other socialists in Europe tell you that this is a terrible deal and that we should not be cutting spending? When are we going to see some leadership from the Labour party?
On the issue of Bulgaria, the right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the European arrest warrant. I would also make the point that it is important that we do have structural and cohesion funds that help countries recovering from decades of communism to raise their living standards. We should be proud of the fact that we do support a European Union in that way.
What discussions took place about the justice and home affairs agenda? As the Prime Minister knows, last year 100,000 people crossed illegally from Turkey into Greece. Does he not think that support for Frontex and its ability to deploy the RABITs—Rapid Border Intervention Teams—is essential to protecting the border? Is that going to be preserved?
There was not a specific discussion about Frontex, but under the so-called heading 3 the home affairs heading, spending is going up from €12.4 billion to €15.7 billion. That is an area where there are new responsibilities, not least because of the new member states, which is why the spending under that heading is going up.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on demonstrating that when a British leader takes a resolute, reasoned and constructive approach on what is good for Britain and good for Europe, we can succeed in carrying other people with us, and on disproving the craven prediction of the Leader of the Opposition that by articulating Britain’s distinctive vision for the future of Europe we would undermine our influence?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that. What is required is not only building these alliances and making those arguments, but, as I said, making it clear that if you cannot get a reasonable deal, you are prepared to go on negotiating right through the night, as we did, or, as we did in November, saying, “This deal isn’t acceptable. You have to go back and think again.”
May I, on behalf of my constituents, congratulate the Prime Minister on getting this overall reduction in the budget for the United Kingdom, which will be very welcome indeed? Does he agree that it would be very helpful if all MEPs voted for it? Will he outline to the House exactly what will happen should they not do so?
Obviously, if we cannot agree a budget, the situation would be very serious. That point was made at the Council repeatedly because, although of course there are emergency arrangements for just continuing with the existing ceilings and rolling them forward, it would be impossible for countries to plan their cohesion spending, their structural fund spending, what roads to build and what networks to put in place. That would be a very unsatisfactory outcome. I hope that the Parliament will look seriously at that, recognise that having no deal would be very bad for all countries that want to see proper planning and proper budgeting, and recognise that this is a good deal and it should accept it.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this significant success? He carried it through in line with the most important of his five Bloomberg principles, namely that the root of our democracy and accountability lies in this Parliament, which recently voted for such a reduction. Does that not prove that the UK national interest is best served when the Government and Parliament are at one?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. A number of leaders of different European countries kept referring to what they thought the European Parliament would do if we agreed this figure or that figure, so the point had to be made fairly frequently in the Council that we should also, and more importantly, be listening to the individual national Parliaments, because of course it is our Parliaments that have to vote the money. The European Parliament does not have any responsibility for voting the money, and it is to our Parliaments that we should account.
I am sure that the Prime Minister is right to say that no deal would be very damaging, both for Europe and for Britain. Could he say something about the part of his statement that referred to a new power for the European Parliament to negotiate flexibilities over years, and I think also over budget heads? On one reading, that is a sensible bit of flexibility; on another, it is a chance for the modicum of reform that has been achieved to be rolled back. That would obviously be very damaging indeed. Could he say a bit more about that?
I would be delighted to. First, we have to remember that the answer to the question, “Why is it that the European Parliament has any say over this budget at all?” is the Lisbon treaty, which the right hon. Gentleman’s party, in government, passed. Having said that, and given that we have to try to ensure that there is a deal, and it is better to have a deal than no deal, it is right to say to the Parliament, “It is important you can look at flexibilities between different years—between different budget headings—to try to ensure that spending is planned properly,” but I was very specific, and it was very specifically said at the Council, that this flexibility cannot result in the €908.4 billion ceiling being increased. That cannot go up. Money can be moved around to plan spending more effectively, although, of course, all that has to come back to the Council to be agreed, but the €908.4 billion, in my view, is inviolable.
At a time when the democratic link between the EU and the people of the EU is wafer thin, does the Prime Minister agree that any attempt by the European Parliament to ratify the agreement by secret ballot should and would be treated with contempt?
My hon. Friend is right. A secret ballot in a Parliament is an extraordinary concept. MPs and MEPs should vote transparently so that their constituents can hold them to account. They have to account not only to their electorates but to their countries, which will suffer if a deal is not passed through.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that his Government are still in favour of future enlargement of the EU beyond Croatia to countries in the western Balkans and, potentially, elsewhere? Given that this budget lasts until 2020, what provision is there in it for any further accessions of new states after Croatia?
We are in favour of further expansion of the EU to the countries of the western Balkans and others, as the hon. Gentleman says. Obviously, there is room in the budget for cohesion and other payments, but the fixed amount of payment ceiling— €908.4 billion—cannot change.
May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on returning from Europe with a very good deal for the United Kingdom? [Interruption.] I see him wincing. The ongoing, long-term reductions in staff of the European institutions has been close to his heart. Does he now expect to see a reduction in staff, as well as a return to perhaps less generous remuneration and retirement packages than EU officials currently enjoy?
That’s for me to know and you to find out.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend that we need to make more progress. It is disappointing how far we have come but I think there is a sense in Brussels that, somehow, its officials are higher beings, and they even referred to civil servants elsewhere as burger flippers, compared with their lofty role. That really needs to be beaten down and we need to recognise that its civil servants have to live within proper budgets, just as ours have to.
I hate to tell the Prime Minister that my predecessor apparently left that piece of paper behind in Munich, so whatever piece of paper he had I hope he brought with him.
Were there any discussions on the proposed bail-out for Cyprus, in particular the suggestion that uninsured deposits in Cypriot banks be written down as losses, which would have considerable effect for people here?
There was a brief discussion about Cyprus, not least because President Christofias was attending his last European Council. Herman Van Rompuy gave a moving eulogy and described him as everyone’s favourite communist, which received widespread assent. ECOFIN is meeting and will properly discuss those things. There was not an in-depth discussion about the Cypriot financial situation.
I welcome and support the Prime Minister’s statement. I am sure that no horsemeat was on the menu in Brussels, but can he reassure us that Europol’s budget will be protected in the multi-annual framework, given its recent success in identifying 103 people-smuggling suspects and 425 people implicated in football match-fixing, and its emerging role in tackling the cross-border crime involved in the horsemeat scandal?
If my hon. Friend looks at heading 3, which is the money spent on home affairs, justice and Europol issues, he will see that that budget is going from €12.4 billion to €15.7 billion. I join him in saying that the horsemeat issue is extremely serious. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said, this is predominantly an issue of food safety, food labelling and truth telling to consumers, but we need to do everything we can to get on top of it.
Overall, the amount of structural funds that will be coming to the United Kingdom at around €11 billion is a small reduction, but broadly the same—maybe 2% less. We then have to decide how that money is fairly divided up between the different regions. Of course, west Wales is one of the less developed regions so should benefit from that. We will be making final determinations about how the money is divided up when we know more about the overall figures and the proposal has been passed by the European Parliament.
May I warmly congratulate the Prime Minister on being more sceptical than the sceptics and delivering an even better deal than the cash freeze that some of us voted for in public last autumn? On the day that Pope Benedict has announced his resignation, surely some people in Europe will come to realise that the ideal of Europe lies in western civilisation, not in a bunch of MEPs voting in secret to preserve their perks and pay.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. A secret ballot would be wrong. We need an open ballot, but I would encourage every MEP from right across the United Kingdom, whatever their party, to support the budget, because it is better to have a deal than to have no deal, and this deal is right for Europe’s taxpayers.
During the summit the Prime Minister clearly had talks with President Hollande about the situation in Mali, but strangely he has made no statement to the House of Commons on this. Can he tell us how long the French troops intend to be there, how many more British troops are going, the cost of them, and above all, the military objective of the British participation in this enterprise?
There was a brief discussion about Mali, which President Hollande led, and I did have a discussion with him. I strongly support what the French have done. I do not believe it is their intention to keep their troops there a moment longer than they have to. The intention is to train up African forces from the west African states. Britain is prepared to contribute some 200 troops to that purpose. I spoke this morning to President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria to offer our support to train Nigerian troops. It is our intention and that of the French that those west African troops will replace the French troops. Then two things need to happen—a political agreement in Mali that helps to bring that country together, and the rapid training of Malian forces so that they can take responsibility for their own security. No one wants foreign troops to stay in Mali a second longer than is necessary, and that is certainly not our intention.
The Prime Minister has achieved two incredible firsts recently—not just the rolling back of the multi-annual financial framework, but the double majority lock for European banking union voting. Does he believe that this means that austerity has led to a new realism in the European Union? Does he think the support that he has gained for his reforms recently will lead to a greater acceptance of the need for reform and repatriation in achieving a new settlement for Britain as a member of the EU?
I thank my hon. Friend for what she says. Two things are happening. First, there is a growing sense right across Europe, not just in the UK, that we must have proper control of EU spending, and that if we are tightening our belt at home, we should not be spending more through the EU. That had strong support.
Secondly, countries are seeing that as the euro requires a further tightening of parts of the European Union, proper arrangements need to be put in place for non-euro countries. The banking union agreement was a really good example of that, and I hope that it is the precursor to more such arrangements, which would be helpful for non-euro countries like Britain.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on a hugely impressive achievement that saves every household £150? Will he confirm that as well as the new ceilings being well below the old ceilings, even more impressively they are below the 2011-12 actual payments, and that as well as gross contributions being lower under this deal, it is conceivable that, despite the Labour rebate giveaway, even net contributions will come down?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. It is difficult to foresee net contributions coming down because it would not be right to keep trying to spend more on agriculture, where we do get a rebate, than to spend more on cohesion for the poorest countries in Europe, where we do not get a rebate. As I said, the best way to protect our net position which makes sense is to keep the rebate and keep the overall level of spending down. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that the key is to set the ceilings at a level where they are not just coming down but constrain the budget, and that is what we have managed to do.
Will the Prime Minister welcome the budget agreement to introduce transition regions, which should give a useful boost to economic growth and investment and should be worth an extra £300 million to us in South Yorkshire? Will he pay tribute to the local authorities, led by all political parties, that argued so strongly for this support? Will he explain why the Government remained opposed to transition regions right until the very end?
I can confirm that Britain will benefit in terms of transition regions. We always go into these negotiations arguing that we need to look at all levels of spending and all economies, because it is rather hypocritical to argue, “You’ve got to cut the overall spending but you’ve got to protect every single bit of what Britain receives.” The good news is that 11 regions are likely to benefit: Tees Valley and Durham, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Shropshire and Staffordshire, Highlands and Islands, South Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria, East Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire, Northern Ireland and Devon. Those will all, we hope, be transition regions under the new plans.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on winning for Britain in Brussels and put on record my thanks and recognition for his clearly formidable negotiating skills? Does not this show that any British Prime Minister is strengthened when there is a Commons vote behind him, whether it be for an EU referendum or an EU budget cut?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. It is absolutely right to say that the British Parliament speaks clearly about these issues and is listened to carefully in the corridors of Brussels. That is true. We should always respect the fact that it is to this Parliament that Prime Ministers have to answer.
I would say that the reaction that I have had to the speech I made a few weeks ago has been, on the whole, fairly positive, because people can see that it is not some simplistic argument about an immediate referendum—it is a well-argued case, I would say, for how Europe should reform and how we should secure Britain’s place within it. These discussions show that Britain can get good deals done with partners in Europe having made a speech on that subject. I think that actually it strengthens Britain’s place in Europe.
I congratulate the Prime Minister. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Is it still his understanding that the €36.8 billion described as outside the multiannual financial framework will lead to additional British payments, as he has previously warned, and what estimate has he made of the cost to the UK of those additional payments?
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that the United Kingdom gets to have a veto on EU spending limits only once every seven years, and that 4,365 eurocrats are paid more than either my right hon. Friend or the German Chancellor, might just be a couple of the reasons why millions of British people have come to the conclusion that this country would be better off outside the EU?
My hon. Friend is entirely right that it is only once every seven years that we have the unanimity lock that enables us to achieve a deal such as this one. I do not share his view that Britain would be better off outside the European Union, but I accept what he says: we need to convince people that Europe and the bureaucracy live on a tight budget. We have taken some steps forward, but I am not satisfied with where we have got to with regard to the costs of the Commission or the other central costs. Six per cent. is still too high and, just as Government Departments here have made and are planning huge savings between 2010 and 2015, the same should apply in Brussels, too.
The answer is yes. As I have said—we have had this exchange before—I have never supported Britain’s membership of the euro and never will. We are better off outside it, but we have to understand the fact that, for some European leaders and politicians, the euro is an article of faith and they will do everything they can to save their currency. That is why I think we should be planning on the basis of change in Europe; the eurozone requires changes to make sense of its currency, and we should use that opportunity to win changes that are good for countries outside the euro, too.
This is a superb deal and the Prime Minister deserves many plaudits. However, one area that we surely need to look at again is the EU External Action Service. Does the Prime Minister agree that the European EAS should not be competing with large European countries such as Britain, France and Germany, but complementing us and, therefore, opening missions in those countries where the big countries in Europe are under-represented or not represented?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. There is a danger that the European External Action Service, which was, of course, part of the Lisbon treaty that he and I opposed, will start duplicating what is done by individual countries. We need to work very hard to make sure that it is adding value rather than just displacing it.
Given the significant difference between the payment ceilings and the commitment ceilings, what does the Prime Minister think is the likelihood of the EU having to increase the annual budgets beyond the level set out in the multiannual financial framework on a year-by-year basis?
The hon. Gentleman asks an extremely important question. Over the last MFF, there was something like a 7% gap, on average, between commitments and payments, so I would argue that a 5% gap is perfectly safe. I think that what we will see is lots of efforts by the institutions of the European Union, now that they are on a tighter budget, to try to spend their money more effectively and to try to use the headroom available. That is perfectly understandable and it might lead to better financial planning, but we can be confident that the ceilings are fixed and that, as a result, the spending will be less.
There is rejoicing in Somerset at the good news that the Prime Minister has brought back. Could he tell the House what example this sets for the renegotiation and whether it bodes extremely well for our getting rule back to Britain?
We have just heard, unbelievably, the Leader of the Opposition claiming credit for the Prime Minister’s achievement. I know that the Prime Minister is a charitable fellow so, given the vocal support of the shadow Chancellor, perhaps we could give them a little credit if they manage to get their socialist MEPs to support the deal.
I am afraid that that is the key test. It is one thing saying something in this Parliament. The real test of leadership is whether the Leader of the Opposition can get not only his own socialist MEPs, but all socialist MEPs to support the deal. If he thinks that it is such a good idea and if he is such a leading player in the socialist group, surely he will be able to convince his MEPs, but we have heard not a word about that.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on rejecting the calls for a further review of our rebate. Does he agree that it is high time for the Labour party to apologise for giving away nearly half the rebate when it was in power, which is costing the country billions of pounds?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am sorry to disappoint him, but I am afraid that the Labour party has not learned the lesson. Its group in the European Parliament, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, has called for an end to all rebates, including ours. Its EU budget reform submission stated that the socialist and democratic group
“calls on the Commission to propose to put an end to all form of rebates”.
Far from learning from its mistakes, the Labour party would like to do it all over again.
A number of newspapers in this country have been “banging on” about Europe for many years and have often been cynical about our influence. Does the Prime Minister share my disappointment that on Saturday morning, a number of newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph, relegated his victory to a small article on page 8, while the Financial Times heralded it as a “significant victory” and even Le Figaro described it as a “masterstroke”?
Does the Prime Minister agree that this excellent budget, which is good for both Britain and Europe, paves the way for Britain to continue to develop alliances and to set sensible targets to reform Europe in a way that creates a more competitive business environment?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we continue the work of shrinking the agriculture part of the budget and growing the part of the budget that goes towards research and development and investment, because we want a modern European economy that can win in the global race.
In 2011, the Prime Minister vetoed the EU treaty. Earlier this year, he made the Bloomberg declaration, promising an in/out referendum. Last Friday, he forced the EU to cut the budget. Is he not proving that he is a traditional Tory? Surely this statesman is not the heir to Blair, but the heir to Thatcher.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on a double first last week: the first real-terms cut to the budget and the first time that the overall budget has been less than 1% of GDP. That gives the lie, does it not, to the accusations of the Labour party that Britain has been isolated in Europe ever since he used the veto just over a year ago? Is it not a combination of the red lines that he has drawn, the negotiating strategy and the building of alliances that has led to this successful outcome?
I thank my hon. Friend for her remarks. As with the fiscal treaty, it is important that if we cannot accept something and do not want to accept something, we are prepared to say no. It is also vital to build alliances. Britain worked closely with the Swedes, the Danes, the Dutch and the Germans to build a strong alliance for a good deal for Europe’s taxpayers.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his exploits last Thursday and Friday and on the build-up work to the summit. He will recall that many people told him that what he achieved in Brussels could not be done. Indeed, one said that there was “absolutely no prospect” of Britain securing a cut in the EU budget. What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with the Deputy Prime Minister since his return from Brussels?