House of Commons
Monday 10 June 2013
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Foreign Criminals (Removal)
Last July, we changed the immigration rules to ensure that, under article 8, the rights of society are properly balanced against the individual rights of foreign national offenders. The rules received the unanimous support of this House. Unfortunately, some judges are not applying the rules as Parliament intended, and our Immigration Bill will give the full force of primary legislation to them.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer. What more can he do to try to ensure that judges strike the proper balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of society, which are sometimes under threat from them? Can he persuade judges to listen to the will of Parliament?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Of course this House thought that that is exactly what it had done, as it sent a very clear message to judges about the balance that this House, on behalf of society, had struck to put the rights of the innocent first. Judges have not got the message, which is why we will legislate to make sure that it is reflected in the law.
Given what the Minister has just said, why on earth was the number of foreign criminals deported in 2011 just 4,522, whereas in the last year of the Labour Government it was 5,528? The Government are failing on this, and it is little to do with what he has said. Given that one of the best ways of making sure that suspected criminals are deported from this country is the European arrest warrant, which extradites them elsewhere, why on earth are the Government thinking of withdrawing from it?
The hon. Gentleman should know that this is about exactly the reason I set out; he will know, if he has done his research, that between 2011 and 2012 there was a significant increase, of more than 1,000, in the number of appeals made by criminals to prevent their deportation. That is exactly why we need to take action, and it is another area we will deal with in the Immigration Bill.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Home Secretary on the determination with which they have pursued this matter? I invite my hon. Friend to recall the remarks made by the Prime Minister last week in answer to me, when he expressed great concern about the European Court of Human Rights, which has been subverted from its original intention. Are the Government still prepared that the United Kingdom should secede, because the British people are absolutely fed up with this Court?
My hon. Friend will know that the Government have laid out our position clearly. I suspect that the issue he mentions—what happens to the Human Rights Act and with this country’s relationship with the European Court—will be dealt with in debate at the general election.
The Home Office will tighten regulations to time-limit the right of unemployed European economic area nationals to reside and claim benefits to six months, unless they can prove they are looking for a job and have a genuine chance of getting one. The Department for Work and Pensions is also taking steps to tighten further its rules on access to benefits.
The Minister recently visited Wales to see at first hand the work that enforcement officers are doing to stop illegal workers. Will the Secretary of State use the forthcoming Immigration Bill to tackle illegal immigrants who are accessing services to which they are not entitled?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration was pleased to be able to visit Wales to see this at first hand. We will indeed use the Immigration Bill better to regulate migrant access to benefits and public services. We will: get tougher on employers of illegal workers; prevent illegal migrants from obtaining driving licences; and require private landlords to make checks on prospective tenants. We will also further restrict access to social housing and restrict migrant access to benefits by tightening the habitual residence test and closing the loophole that currently allows migrants without a right to work here to access contributory benefits. With our European partners, we will also tackle free movement abuse and its impact on social welfare and public services, and we welcome the commitment by EU Ministers at last Friday’s meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council to finding EU-wide solutions to this problem.
The Home Secretary mentioned access to housing, which is clearly an important point in relation to people coming into this country. What work has she done with the Department for Communities and Local Government on this issue, particularly in relation to private landlords? How can we do this if we do not have a statutory register?
Nice try, but the answers on the statutory register are the same as the Government have been giving the Opposition for some months now. I have had a number of discussions with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, as has my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister. I am pleased to say that we have proposals that will ensure that we can indeed tighten access to housing for illegal migrants.
23. The good people of Bracknell want their local health services to be used appropriately. Apparently, there is more than £500,000 outstanding on invoices to overseas patients, just from Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Does the Secretary of State agree that migrant access to the NHS needs to be better regulated? (158511)
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, particularly as, like him, I have constituents who use that trust. We have a national health service, not an international health service. The rules governing migrant access to the NHS are too generous and ineffectively applied, meaning that they are open to abuse. That is why the Government propose reforming the residence test that governs free NHS access, and are proposing options under which temporary migrants would make a contribution before they used our health service— either through an up-front NHS access fee, or through comprehensive health insurance. We also intend to end free unrestricted access to general practitioners by visitors and illegal migrants, and to introduce measures better to identify patients who must be charged.
The impact of the migration rules on the benefits bill can cut two ways. This afternoon, the all-party group on migration, of which I am a member, published a report showing that some British families have been forced to claim benefits because a spouse who could support them cannot be admitted to this country. Will the Home Secretary consider the report of the all-party group carefully, especially the impact of the family migration rules on benefits claims?
I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government look carefully at all-party group reports on areas that relate to, or affect, the Home Office. On the changes that we propose to access to public services, and on the whole issue of people coming to join families, there is a principle, which is about being able to ensure that where people are accessing public services, they are services that they have contributed to. This is a great concern for many members of the public, and it is right for the Government to tighten it up.
I welcome everything that my right hon. Friend is doing in this area. May I urge her, in the context of the all-party group, to carry out a realistic assessment of how much it costs to support a family, especially in southern England, and of whether the limit of around £18,500 is high enough?
When we set the limit we did not just pluck a figure from thin air; we asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to propose a figure. It proposed a range of numbers, from £18,600 to a higher figure. The Government chose to go with £18,600; we felt that was the appropriate figure to use, although, of course, the amount is higher for those who have children in the family. When there is one child, it goes up to £22,400, and it goes up for each further child thereafter. I assure my hon. Friend that the work was done independently by the Migration Advisory Committee.
I was left unclear about the Secretary of State’s earlier answer about private landlords. If we do not know where landlords and private lets are—we will not know that without a statutory register—how exactly will we make the system work?
The Metropolitan police are conducting an investigation under the supervision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. My hon. Friend will understand that there is nothing that I can add to that in Parliament without straying into the territory of a criminal IPCC investigation.
We have a situation where police from the Met appear to have fabricated evidence against a Cabinet Minister; the Met Commissioner is put in charge of the investigation and admits to discussing the case with journalists; in breach of his own rules, he fails to keep a note of the discussion; and, six months later, we do not even have a report. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Commissioner has a lot of questions to answer?
I am as eager as my hon. Friend is to see justice done at the end of this episode, but I am sure that he will understand that the service of justice would not be improved by my providing a running commentary, from the Dispatch Box, on an ongoing criminal investigation.
The Commissioner promised a ruthless search for the truth when he established Operation Alice, but, as the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) said, this has taken eight months, involved 30 investigating police officers and cost the taxpayer £144,000 for an incident in Downing street that lasted 45 seconds. We are not asking for a running commentary; we are just asking the Minister when we can have a timetable so that this and other investigations currently costing £23 million in terms of past errors by the police are investigated thoroughly but quickly?
This is an investigation done partly by the Metropolitan police, who are operationally independent, and by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, so it is not for Ministers to set timetables. Indeed, I urge the House to recognise that to ask Ministers to intervene closely and in detail in the work of operationally independent police forces or the IPCC would be the wrong way to go.
In view of the revelations of the past week, will the policing Minister put in place a strict disciplinary code that requires all police officers of all ranks to keep a comprehensive and accurate record of all contacts they have with the press?
I will, as ever, listen carefully to my right hon. Friend’s suggestions, but I emphasise the important distinction, which I know he as much as anyone would recognise, between actions that should be taken by Ministers and actions that need to be taken by operationally independent police forces.
After a terribly bruising encounter at the hands of the media, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) attempted to clear his name in the press. It now seems apparent that he was the victim of media spin at the highest level of the Metropolitan police. Does the Minister understand that this case is particularly important not because the wronged party was a Member of Parliament but because it could happen to any one of our constituents who do not have the vehicle to put things right?
The Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme took 10 days to establish that the video record was completely at odds with the police account of events. Since the police have now interviewed 800 officers, spent £144,000 and taken eight months apparently to go nowhere, might it not be an idea to invite Channel 4’s “Dispatches” to be put in charge of the investigation, as it appears to be more effective and would certainly be more independent?
Prosecution is always our preferred option to deal with terror suspects. TPIMs are used to protect the public from individuals whom we cannot currently prosecute or deport. The police will seek a prosecution if new admissible evidence comes to light. As of 28 February, the end of the last reporting period, four charges had been brought in relation to TPIM subjects, with one prosecution.
Given that the Minister sought to make more prosecutions a central feature of his argument for replacing control orders with the TPIM regime, and that there has been very little progress in prosecution— I think there were three failed prosecutions for those who had breached their TPIM order—does the hon. Gentleman regret making such proud boasts in the House that have proved so ridiculously optimistic, if not downright wrong?
As I indicated, prosecution remains the primary objective in relation to terrorism offences. I hope the hon. Gentleman would, for example, congratulate the work of the police, the Security Service and prosecutors in successfully securing lengthy prison sentences today in respect of six individuals for planning a terrorist incident in Dewsbury last year. The focus certainly remains on investigating TPIM subjects, and I would have hoped that he recognised the package of TPIMs plus the additional resources that have been made available to the police and the security services for that purpose.
The independent reviewer of terrorism, David Anderson QC, has recommended that the Government release the regional location of individuals who are subject to a TPIM. This information would let my constituents know whether potential terrorism suspects had returned to London. Why did the Minister refuse this perfectly reasonable request?
I congratulate the independent reviewer, David Anderson, on his work. He has underlined the fact that the TPIM regime continues to provide a high degree of protection against those subjects who cannot be prosecuted or deported. We considered carefully his specific recommendation on the location of TPIM subjects. We believe that such disclosure might make it harder to manage TPIM subjects and add to community tensions, but we will certainly keep his recommendations under review.
One individual currently on a TPIM is AM, who was originally detained for being involved in a plot to bomb an aircraft. He was described by Mr Justice Wilkie in the High Court as “highly intelligent” and
“prepared to be a martyr in an attack designed to take many lives”.
Under the coalition’s TPIM regime, he has been allowed back to London. As his TPIM has already been renewed once, it cannot be renewed again. Will the Minister confirm that once AM’s TPIM expires next year, Ministers will have no power to supervise him or restrict his movements?
For TPIM subjects, the time period is a maximum of two years, as the hon. Lady highlights. At the end of that period, a number of alternatives may be available. If there is sufficient evidence, it may be possible to bring a prosecution. At the end of that period, if there is evidence of new terrorist-related activity, it is possible to secure a further TPIM. The Security Service and police robustly enforce the TPIM regime and manage subjects in the community, and I have every confidence in their ability to do so.
Front-line Policing (London)
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I regularly meet the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to discuss policing in London. The Mayor and Commissioner are responsible for ensuring that their officers are accessible. Following extensive consultation with the public, led by the Mayor's office, the Met will add 2,600 officers to neighbourhood policing teams, and there will now be around 200 safer neighbourhood bases to enhance this access.
West London has lost 400 police officers in the last three years, 44 in Hammersmith and Fulham. Half of all police community support officers have gone and now my local police station, Shepherd’s Bush, is closed to the public. When my constituents cannot find an officer or a police station, does the Minister seriously expect them to report serious crimes such as rape and sexual abuse in their post office or in Tesco?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents welcome the fact that crime in Hammersmith and Fulham has gone down by more than 4.5% in the past year. I am glad that he brought up the Shepherd’s Bush front counter because the latest data show that the number of visitors each day to that counter was fewer than six. If he thinks that that is a good use of police resources, frankly, he is not fit to run the proverbial whelk stall.
Wandsworth came pretty much the lowest in a reform think tank league table of visits to London front desks, with only 1.2 visitors an hour. My local police inspector has confirmed that as a result of shutting a front desk, he can put more resources on the front line. Does the Minister agree that that is a good use of the police’s time?
In addition to losing more than 200 police officers, in Westminster, three out of the four police stations north of Oxford street are closing. This is not just a question of access for reporting crime, although that can be important, but of community bases from which safer neighbourhood teams can operate. Does the Minister agree that the Mayor’s consultation proposal of surgeries of one hour a week to replace those police stations represents a massive reduction in police accessibility?
No, I do not. The hon. Lady says that front counters are important for reporting crime, but only one in eight crimes are reported that way, so they are not as important as they used to be. She needs to accept that a more flexible approach to making the police accessible—for example, by making them available at regular times of the week in places where people are anyway—is much better than having them sitting in police stations that we know many people will never visit.
On policing resources in London, following the strong words of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, will the Minister join the Opposition in condemning the recent attacks on Islamic institutions, which put many lives at risk and sought to spread fear among our communities, and will he ensure that all our religious institutions are properly protected from those who wish to spread hatred, division and terror?
I am very happy to share the hon. Lady’s sentiment. I am sure that everyone in the House will abhor and reject in the strongest possible terms the attacks on religious institutions that we have seen since the terrible event in Woolwich. I commend the Metropolitan police for ensuring that the protection available is greater than normal, because that is very important.
8. When she next expects to discuss policing with the Police Federation. (158496)
Both the policing Minister and I regularly meet representatives of the Police Federation and other policing partners to discuss a wide range of issues, and we greatly value those meetings. We will continue to engage with police officers and staff to ensure that their opinions help to shape the future of policing.
We are looking in general at the whole question of out-of-court disposals to ensure that they are being treated proportionately but also consistently across the country, but the whole question of community resolutions and restorative justice plays an important part in resolving crime, and victims often welcome such resolutions, but of course we keep that under review.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am pleased that the recommendations of the Winsor report on important reforms to police pay and conditions are, in the main, being put into place. There are one or two aspects that the police arbitration tribunal decided to refer back or not to progress at this stage, and on both occasions I accepted its response, but I must say that I was not persuaded by the Police Federation’s argument that we should abandon the Winsor proposals.
24. When the Home Secretary next meets the Police Federation, will she discuss police numbers in Harrow, where we have seen a reduction in the number of PCs, PCSOs and other police staff from 516 in March 2010 to just over 400 three years later, a 22% drop and part of the loss of over 4,000 PCs and PCSOs in London since the general election? (158512)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that crime in London has fallen by 3% over the past year or so, which I think reflects the work that has been done by police offices and others. We all want to see crime continue to fall, because that means better protection for our constitutions, whether in Harrow or anywhere else.
When the Home Secretary next meets the Police Federation, will she highlight the success in Northamptonshire, where crime is falling and the new police and crime commissioner, Adam Simmonds, and the chief constable, Adrian Lee, are not moaning about their lot or about budgetary restraints but getting on with providing an effective three-point policing plan that involves a crackdown on criminals, prevention rather than cure and maintaining police numbers and visibility at 1,220 full-time equivalent officers?
I wholeheartedly endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I think that that is a good example of how chief constables and police and crime commissioners—Adam Simmonds is doing a first-class job as PCC in Northamptonshire—can work together to ensure that they deliver what the public want, which is policing that reduces crime, which has gone down by 4% in Northamptonshire, and confidence in the security of their neighbourhoods.
Further to discussions that the Home Secretary might have with the Police Federation, what recent discussions have been held between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the police service on the mainland on the secondment of police officers to police the G8 conference in Enniskillen?
There has been considerable contact on this matter. My right hon. Friend the policing Minister met representatives of the Police Federation of England and Wales to discuss any issues that they wished to raise about the secondment of officers to work alongside the PSNI to police the G8 conference. I am pleased to say that I have met a small number of police officers who will be giving mutual aid to Northern Ireland and who were very complimentary about the training course they have undergone to do that work.
The Home Office’s performance in granting visa applications overseas has been excellent and remains so, with average waiting times decreasing rather than increasing. As I have acknowledged myself at the Dispatch Box, there have been problems with our in-country performance in the past financial year, but since the abolition of the UK Border Agency and the creation of UK Visa and Immigration we have got that on the right path, with waiting times decreasing too.
We are probably all aware from our own casework of the real problems that visa delays cause for our constituents. Given that the average waiting time for a skilled worker—somebody whom the British economy needs—has gone up from 36 days in 2010 to 56 days in 2012, does the Minister really think that measures of the kind he mentions are going to crack the problem, and if so, when are we going to see the results?
I acknowledged openly and honestly that there had been a problem in the past financial year, and that is what the figures quoted by the hon. Gentleman reflect. However, as I said, in the past quarter the figures have improved, so when they are published in the instalment of that information that we give to the Home Affairs Committee, he will see that we are getting things back on track. There is an open session with Members of Parliament this Wednesday, and I hope he will attend to listen to the steps we are taking to improve performance.
Will the Minister pay particular attention to the business community in China, where there is evidence that people are being disincentivised from coming to the UK because it is easier to get elsewhere in the EU and because of the time taken? Surely there is an argument for having a fast-track procedure for bona fide business visitors from China so that they can come to Britain to help our economy.
I am grateful for that question because it gives me an opportunity to set out the excellent performance we deliver on visas applied for from China. We grant 96% of visa applications and deliver 95% of those within 15 days; for business visitors, we deliver the vast majority within five days. We are increasingly rolling out premium services, with an ongoing increasing performance level, for the very reasons that my hon. Friend sets out.
The recent report on family migration by the all-party migration group—I am vice-chair of the inquiry committee—shows that the processing time for non-European economic area partner applications has significantly increased over the past 18 years. What is the Minister doing to keep families united rather than dividing them?
My response to the hon. Gentleman, who takes a very close interest in these matters, is similar to the one that I gave to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). He is right: in the past financial year, those processing times increased. We have split family applications for spouses from, so to speak, straightforward applications, and we are making decisions on them much more quickly. They had been grouped with applications that were taking a great deal of time. The hon. Gentleman will see in the latest figures that we have made a great improvement, and I hope to see more of that in future.
The Minister clearly has a personal commitment to getting waiting times down—I thank him for his recent visit to Cambridge to see some of problems there—but will he be able to change the culture within the new borders agency? After all, the permanent secretary, Mark Sedwill, said:
“Most of us will still be doing the same job in the same place with the same colleagues for the same boss.”
We want the Minister to succeed, but will he be able to?
I very much hope so. I was encouraged by my visit to Cambridge with my hon. Friend, where I listened, yes, to some of the concerns that people had, but also to an acknowledgement by the university, for example, that it had seen recent improvement. The new interim director general of UK Visa and Immigration, Sarah Rapson, has a great commitment to creating such a culture. I think that the decision taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to end the UK Border Agency and set up the new approach will be successful.
Recorded crime is down by more than 10% under this Government. The latest figures show that this downward trend is replicated across every police force in England and Wales. Our reforms are working.
In my own area of West Mercia, crime fell by a huge 11% last year. This is due in large part to the dedication of people such as Inspector Ian Joseph and his team in Redditch. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating West Mercia police on the excellent work they do in Redditch and the wider region?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating West Mercia police on the 11% fall in crime shown by the most recent figures and, in particular, Inspector Ian Joseph and his team in Redditch. Dedicated police officers across the country are working to keep our streets safe and to protect members of the public.
According to the latest figures, crime in Warwickshire has decreased by 12.4%, meaning that 80 fewer crimes a day are being committed across the county. This reflects the excellent work of the officers of the Warwickshire police force and I am delighted that its chief constable, Andy Parker, has been reappointed for another two years. Will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating Warwickshire police force and commit to supporting forces such as Warwickshire in reducing crime through strong neighbourhood policing?
The Home Secretary will know that one of the most expensive crimes to investigate is child sexual exploitation. She will also know of this morning’s excellent report by the Home Affairs Committee. When I started a campaign about these gangs five years ago, the police told me on occasion after occasion that the reason they were so slow to respond to the total scandal of the exploitation of children was that it was expensive and the resource implications were immense. Do they have the resources now?
We will of course look very carefully at the Home Affairs Committee report. I am aware that a number of Members remain concerned about ensuring that the police response to cases of child sexual exploitation is appropriate. As well as the hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) has taken a particular interest in the issue. Across Government we have pulled together a cross-departmental piece of work to look at the lessons we need to learn from recent and, indeed, historic cases of sexual exploitation. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice will lead that work at ministerial level, asking questions about the police response and ensuring that it is appropriate.
It is vital to use police time properly, but Ministers are taking police officers off the beat for 152,000 hours in order to train them in things such as changing the name of a litter clearing notice to a community protection notice and of a crack house closure order to a closure order. That is not the best use of police time, is it?
I am pleased to say that the figures show that the percentage of police officers who will be involved on the front line is going up under this Government. Moreover, through the action we have taken to reduce bureaucracy and red tape—something the previous Government did not do—this Government have cut the number of hours taken on bureaucracy by 4.5 million man hours.
Dealing with illegal working is a priority for the Government. As has been mentioned, I attended an illegal working operation in Cardiff about a week ago and saw a number of successful arrests of people who were working illegally. We want to do more of this. Recent figures have not been as encouraging as one would have hoped. This year, with the creation of the immigration enforcement command, I am determined to see an increased focus on the issue in order to deliver the results we expect.
Despite all that, the Minister has not had much success, has he? In 2010, 2,092 companies were fined for employing illegal labour, but by 2012 that figure had almost halved to 1,215. Will he work with other Departments, not just to get a grip of illegal employment, but to tackle the abuse of zero-hours contracts and of the minimum wage, so that British workers are no longer undercut by cheap, illegal labour from abroad?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer. I acknowledged that the statistics had not been as good as we had hoped. I will take no lectures from somebody in the party that let immigration spiral out of control and that had no grip on the system. It is this Government who are getting a grip and who have seen net migration fall by more than a third.
The Government have banned a significant number of so-called legal highs following expert advice, including two groups of drugs from today. That sends a clear message about their harms and gives law enforcement bodies more powers to take action. We continue closely to monitor new drugs through our early warning systems to inform our response.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s response, especially given that my local council has spent two years prosecuting the sellers of an illegal high called Gogaine, which left a 17-year-old student in hospital suffering convulsions. The prosecution fell mainly because the product was labelled as harmful and not fit for human consumption. Will my hon. Friend commit regularly to review the list of legal highs to ensure that as new legal highs come on to the market, they can be banned immediately?
I am aware of the extremely serious case in my hon. Friend’s constituency and we have received representations about it. I pay tribute to him for raising that harrowing example in the House. We actively monitor new substances and already control hundreds. We act rapidly to respond to new threats and continue to keep our response under review.
Several constituents have approached me about the serious consequences of taking legal highs, including the famous Black Mamba. There seems to be no help or redress, and the Government do not seem to be helping the victims to prevent legal highs from getting into the hands of their friends or anybody else.
The hon. Gentleman touches on an important point. When people talk about legal highs, there is a tendency to believe that just because a substance is legal, it cannot be harmful. That is certainly not the case, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley). That was a severe warning. The Government try to protect the public through appropriate changes to the law, including the two that I have mentioned, which take effect from today.
Child Sexual Exploitation
All front-line police officers receive training in protecting and safeguarding children. Dedicated child protection police officers also receive specialist training in investigating child abuse cases, and the College of Policing is delivering additional training for front-line staff so that they can recognise, protect and refer children at risk of child sexual exploitation.
Children who are being sexually exploited are sometimes involved in antisocial behaviour, theft and other criminal offences. Often, the underlying problem is missed because the child is perceived to be an offender rather than a victim. Does the Minister agree that the training for all police officers should include an understanding of the behaviour associated with child sexual exploitation, including criminal behaviour, so that sexually exploited children are identified at an early age and police resources are used as effectively as possible?
The hon. Lady’s point about training is right and I mentioned training in my answer. I am sure she will welcome the fact that the College of Policing and the Crown Prosecution Service will shortly consult on a fundamental review of investigative guidance on child sex offences, precisely so that we can develop greater expertise and sensitivity throughout the system.
In the course of the inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee into grooming, one excuse that we heard for areas failing to tackle child sexual exploitation was that prosecution was difficult. Does the Minister agree that with forces in Lancashire and Oxford demonstrating that innovative investigative methods can be used successfully to back up witness testimony, there is no excuse for any police force failing to protect victims or to prosecute these depraved criminals?
I agree completely with my hon. Friend. I commend her and the rest of the Select Committee on the report that they produced today. She is right that one improvement, which needs to be extended, is in the capacity of the police to investigate and of prosecutors successfully to prosecute those who commit these disgusting crimes. A number of trials around the country have led to multiple convictions and I know that many more such cases are in the pipeline. I hope that sends a clear signal that this crime is absolutely unacceptable and that the police are getting better at rooting out those who commit it.
Asylum Seekers: Deportation
16. What plans she has to speed up the deportation of those refused asylum in the UK. (158504)
We want to continue to deport those who have no right to be in the United Kingdom, whether they are failed asylum seekers or foreign national offenders. Increased use of detained fast track and our national removals centre will reduce the risk of absconding, as well as being more successful in deporting people.
One of the frustrations felt by all our constituents about the asylum and wider immigration system is the seemingly endless ways in which failed asylum seekers and immigrants are able to keep on appealing. I hope that the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will use the forthcoming immigration Bill to clamp down on the many rights of appeal.
I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. and learned Friend that that is exactly what we are going to do. The immigration Bill plans to reduce the number of decisions it takes to remove someone who has no right to be in the country. Reducing the number of appeals will make the process easier and swifter.
17. Whether Scots would be able to retain UK citizenship if Scotland became an independent country. (158505)
Decisions on UK citizenship are for the UK Government. Any decisions on the retention of UK citizenship by Scottish citizens after independence would be affected by future Scottish Government policy decisions. To date, the current Scottish Government have not set out what their proposed policies would be in these areas.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s response, which will be noted by my constituent Colin White. Does she wish to take the opportunity to debunk the myth peddled only last week by high-profile Scottish National party supporter Jim McColl? He said that a vote for independence would mean that Scotland would remain a part of the United Kingdom.
I am happy to help the hon. Gentleman and debunk that myth. To be absolutely clear: a vote for independence is a vote for a Scotland that will be outside the United Kingdom. The referendum offers a fundamental choice between staying in the UK or leaving it and forming a new independent Scottish state. That is the legal reality of independence. As the Prime Minister said in Stirling on Friday:
“There is simply no challenge we face today where breaking up Britain is the right answer.”
The United Kingdom is stronger together and better together.
We just wish that the Prime Minister would come to Scotland much more often, because it increases support for independence. The right hon. Lady will know that after independence it will be possible to keep a UK passport. The real question is why, with a new dynamic Scotland in charge of its own resources and making its own peaceful contribution to the world, anybody would want anything other than a Scottish passport in Scotland.
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he thinks very carefully about what he has said, and perhaps looks at the Hansard record of it. As I made clear in answer to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), decisions about UK citizenship rest with the United Kingdom Government. However, if there is a vote in the referendum for separation, Scotland will become a separate state and not be part of the United Kingdom. That is a very simple fact and I suggest the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) recognises it.
This is my first opportunity to address the House on the dreadful events that took place on the streets of Woolwich on 22 May, and to offer in this House my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Drummer Lee Rigby. This shocking and barbaric crime has been rightly condemned by all communities in our country. I would like to pay tribute to those brave civilians, police officers and medical staff involved in dealing with the incident; they represent the best of this nation. As I said at the time, this was not just an attack on an individual soldier, but an attack on everyone in this country—people of all faiths and of none.
Sadly, in the aftermath of this horrific incident we have seen an increased number of attacks on mosques and Islamic centres. These are deplorable, disgusting acts. British Muslims make a valuable contribution to our society. The murder of Drummer Rigby was no more in their name than it was in mine or in the name of anybody in this Chamber. I welcome the extra steps taken by the Metropolitan police and others to counter this threat to them. Alongside the increased tensions, however, we have also seen some actions that give great cause for hope. We have seen leaders from all faiths condemn the attack. We have seen far-right supporters invited into a mosque to enjoy cups of tea and football. We have seen religious leaders from different faiths openly embracing each other in a show of unity. This House, like the whole country, stands united against violence, extremism and terror.
I have consistently raised the problem of the abuse of free movement at meetings of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, and we are working with other EU member states to curb that abuse. Free movement of persons is a long-standing principle of the EU, but those rights are not unlimited, and the Government take a robust approach against those who come to the UK not intending to work, but simply to rely on benefits. Abuse of free movement is not just a UK problem; it will take the joint efforts of all our EU partners to tackle it. We have been raising concerns for the past three years at meetings of EU Ministers, and I am pleased to say that last Friday it was decided that the European Commission and Ministers would take the issue forward.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s condemnation of the vile attack on Drummer Lee Rigby and of the recent attacks on Islamic religious institutions. I also welcome her comments about the importance of protecting all our citizens and communities from hatred and of supporting hope instead.
The Home Secretary will agree that the intelligence we get from abroad is vital to our national security and to protecting people against terrorism, but that it needs to be gathered under a clear legal framework with proper safeguards, checks and balances in place in order to maintain public confidence. In addition to the Foreign Secretary’s forthcoming statement, will she therefore respond on the issue of the legal framework operating for the Home Office? Will she tell us whether all Home Office, police and security service requests for intercept information from the internet, whether secured from UK agencies or from abroad, are governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and covered by ministerial warrants and the oversight of the intercept commissioner?
As the right hon. Lady said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement shortly on this issue. She will also understand that it is a long-standing principle that the Government do not comment on intelligence matters, but I want to make it absolutely clear, as my right hon. Friend has also made clear, that at all times GCHQ has operated fully within a legal framework. I recognise that Parliament has a legitimate interest in these matters, which is why the Intelligence and Security Committee has a remit to look at such issues, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) has indicated that his Committee will indeed be conducting an urgent inquiry.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s response, and clearly the House will listen to the Foreign Secretary’s statement shortly too. I understand that she cannot answer publicly about the content and detail of intelligence procurement, but will she set out very clearly what the legal framework is that governs Home Office and Home Office-related access to intercept and intelligence, and will she write to me setting out her understanding of the current legal framework? It would be very helpful. Will she also confirm that the ISC will have the full support of the Home Office and herself in accessing all the information it needs to pursue this issue? She will know that because intelligence is so important for our future and our national security, public confidence in it must be maintained.
As the right hon. Lady is aware, intercept warranty is covered by RIPA, and as I said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will shortly make a statement about the legal framework under which the agencies operate. I suggest that she waits for that statement. I am clear that the ISC will have available to it the evidence it needs to conduct the inquiry, and it is right and proper that it does that. Of course, it has a new status in terms of its relationship with Parliament. I think people will want the Committee to conduct that inquiry, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, who chairs it, has indicated it will.
T2. What plans do the Government have to regulate covert surveillance by private investigators? (158515)
We are looking into the compulsory regulation of private investigators, which would apply to private investigators involved in covert surveillance. I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that we expect to be in a position to make an announcement shortly.
That is really a matter for the Treasury, but I think I know where—[Interruption.] Let me just answer the question. I think I know where the hon. Gentleman is going with this. I have checked these matters carefully. If we compare the whole period of the last Labour Government, from when the national minimum wage was introduced, with the whole period of this Government, we can see that this Government have been prosecuting at a slightly faster rate. However, we are not doing it fast enough. We have set up a number of taskforces, including one in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), which is taking significant action on these matters and will continue to do so.
T4. Despite the 30% reduction in net migration since this Government came to power, people across North Wiltshire are extremely concerned about the whole issue of immigration, particularly with regard to Bulgaria and Romania later this year. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that people from Bulgaria and Romania in particular are not tempted here by the ability to avoid our tax system or, even worse, the ability to benefit from our benefits system? (158517)
On Bulgaria and Romania, my hon. Friend will know that in the Immigration Bill and elsewhere we have set out a number of changes that we are making to ensure that only people who are here exercising treaty rights—who are here working—can access the benefits system. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out some of those earlier. I hope my hon. Friend will see that tough and firm action continue.
T8. I would like to press the Secretary of State a little further on the question of a landlord register. Does she agree that it might assist her in some of her other duties, such as in relation to antisocial behaviour? If she wants to see how a landlord register can be introduced as a self-financing system—and one that has worked very well—she should look no further than north of the border, where one was introduced by the Labour-Lib Dem coalition. (158521)
I thought I would have a go this time. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State answered very well before, but I thought I would take a different tack, because it gives me an opportunity to say, as my right hon. Friend did, that we will bring forward proposals to ensure that landlords have to check the immigration status of tenants. I have had some good discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. We will be bringing those steps forward, and I am confident they will be sensible, proportionate and effective.
Yes, we are confident that they are. Last week I met the chair of the all-party group on migration, the noble Baroness Hamwee, to discuss the report. The Government will consider the recommendations in that report, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out clearly the objective of the family migration rules: to ensure that those who want to make their family life in the United Kingdom are able to support their families, rather than expecting the taxpayer to do so.
T9. Reductions in overdose deaths; reductions in in-patient A and E admissions for drug addicts; reductions in house burglary; increases in employment of drug addicts in treatment—on all these indicators, Bassetlaw is outperforming the rest of the country. Why? (158522)
It must be because Bassetlaw has an outstandingly talented local MP, I assume. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the House’s attention to the three strands of the Government’s strategy: reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery. Great progress is being made on all three in Bassetlaw and elsewhere.
T10. My constituents are fed up with extremists and hate-preachers such as Anjem Choudary receiving thousands of pounds of benefits. Will my right hon. Friend look at limiting those benefits? (158523)
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the benefit position of an individual, but I regularly meet the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to discuss policy proposals on a range of issues. As the Prime Minister said to the House last week, we should do all we can to challenge poisonous ideologies. It is right that we look at all options, including whether it is possible to limit the right of individuals of concern to access straight benefits. We robustly challenge behaviours and views that run counter to our shared values, such as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and the tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. When appropriate, we will use the full force of the law to challenge extremist activity.
The issue of legal highs is difficult, because if we just ban them, another substance quickly springs up. Have the Government given any consideration to following the example of New Zealand and legislating to put the onus on the sellers of legal highs to prove they are safe?
Those who study these matters closely, such as the hon. Gentleman and me, will be familiar with the New Zealand model. It raises some interesting questions, which we are considering as part of our international case study. It is not without practical problems, however, and I do not think that it would provide an instant solution to our woes, but it is worthy of further consideration.
Returning to Operation Alice, restoring public trust in the police and maintaining public trust in senior police officers is vital. Does the Minister therefore agree that there should be full disclosure of all the meetings between the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the press relating to the operation?
As my hon. Friend might know, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has just responded to a freedom of information request on this matter. I can only repeat that the course of justice is not served by my giving the House a running commentary on an ongoing criminal investigation.
The Home Secretary’s earlier response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) showed that she was completely oblivious to the steep increase in the use of community resolutions for ever more serious crimes, including domestic violence and knife crime. Does she not understand that the overuse of this simplistic measure gives rise to an issue of justice for the victims?
What I said to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), and what I say to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), is that we are looking at the use of community resolutions of various sorts to ensure that their use is proportionate and that there is consistency across the country. We are discussing the use of cautions with the police, and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, in his capacity as a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, has launched a review of their use.
On 6,000 occasions in the last year, the Met police used cautions for serious violent and sexual offences, including seven cases of rape. A caution obviously involves an admission of guilt, and there is huge concern about this. I have to say that the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) seemed slightly flippant. She did not seem to understand the seriousness of the concerns. No one seems to understand why this is happening. What is the Home Secretary going to do to ensure that cautions are used only in appropriate circumstances?
I have not given any flippant response. What I said was that the Government were reviewing the issue. The Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation on cautions, and it is absolutely right that we should look not only at the numbers but at the evidence behind the way in which the cautions are being used and at the circumstances in which they are being used. That is what the review is about.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, while net immigration quadrupled during the first 11 years of the previous Government, it has been brought down by 72,000 in just two years under this Government, despite the fact that the Opposition have fought us every step of the way?
I can absolutely confirm that. I am pleased to say that net migration has gone down by more than a third since this Government came to power. That is a result of our relentless work to deal with the lack of control in the immigration system under Labour, and it is a great pity that Labour Members have not been willing to support any of the measures that we have taken to ensure that immigration can come down.
Following today’s report from the Home Affairs Committee on child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming, will the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice set out what joint working will take place with colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that we can prevent other young women from suffering the same horrific ordeal?
Yes; I have already read the report. It makes a number of important recommendations, which we will respond to fully in due course; and yes, joint working is happening between the Home Office and the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government, as there are clearly a number of problems that need to be solved and they cross the governmental spectrum. We need to solve all of them before we can get a full grip on this issue.
The fee for a firearms or shotgun certificate for a new applicant is £50. That has not changed since 2001, but research shows that the cost to the taxpayer of granting such a licence is £189. Does the Minister agree that there is absolutely no case for subsidising those who wish to obtain those licences for recreation and leisure purposes, and that they should be charged more?
I welcome reports that the Government intend to introduce stronger and clearer guidance on how the police should issue firearms licences, but may I point out to the Minister that following the multiple fatal shootings in my constituency on new year’s day 2010, ACPO, the coroner and the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that the police had not looked at the guidance?
I am sure they do. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have met his constituent, Bobby Turnbull, and will do so again shortly. As the hon. Gentleman says, apart from the issue of the cost of licences, we are issuing completely new guidance, which we will do by the end of this year.
This is a first occasion for me, as I have never previously answered a question in the House of Commons on behalf of a private organisation for which the Government have no responsibility. I have been a member of the steering committee of Bilderberg for many years now—about 10 years, I think—and by chance this will be my last year, as we have a rule against being on the committee for too long, so I am on the point of stepping down. [Interruption.] Other roles are timeless, with no rules at all, but in this role I have now reached the end of my allotted span.
The Bilderberg organisation exists for the purpose of holding meetings once a year in various countries; it exists for no other purpose. This year, the meeting was held at a large hotel near Watford in Hertfordshire. I did not receive adequate notice of the right hon. Gentleman’s question—because I was not found in time—to put to hand the list of those who participated and the agenda we discussed. We always circulate those before the meeting, and they are readily available. I can certainly put any hon. Member in touch with a source of the list of those who took part.
Each year, we invite over 100 people—it was about 140 this year—drawn from both sides of the Atlantic; from Europe including Turkey; and from the United States and Canada. The people who attend are drawn from the worlds of government, politics, academia, defence and journalism. The people who attend change slightly each year. There is a core of those who attend regularly; different people come—[Interruption.] Well, I am trying to guess why on earth a parliamentary question has been asked about this and in what people are interested.
All the people who attend do so as individuals; we invite people as individuals. Nobody attends representing any particular organisation to which they might belong. A very interesting two or three days take place in which we have discussions on matters of public affairs. A very wide range of experience and a very wide range of political opinion is represented. I always find that it greatly adds to the depth of my understanding of what is being talked about and contemplated in many parts of the United States and in Europe as well. It is one of the many political gatherings I attend from time to time as part of the background to my activities.
If the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) finds something deeply disturbing in all this, I can advise only that he finds different people on the internet with whom to exchange tweets, and perhaps the House might be allowed to return to some matter of rather more real public interest in which this House of Commons has a role to play.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that filibuster. The Bilderberg conference involves about 130 of the western world’s top decision makers from the banks, the multinational companies, the European Commission—[Interruption.] I am coming to the politicians. It also involves representatives of the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and, of course, leading politicians from the United States, Canada, the eurozone and the United Kingdom. Given that those people were clearly discussing some of the biggest issues confronting the western economies at this time, why have we heard no statement from the Prime Minister, the Chancellor or, indeed, the Minister without Portfolio, all of whom attended in an official capacity? Why did none of them offer a statement, although decisions of this kind may well have a significant effect on UK Government policy or the livelihood of future UK citizens?
It is said by some, including the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that Bilderberg is a conspiracy. Of course it is not a conspiracy. Nevertheless, 130 of the world’s top decision makers do not travel thousands of miles simply for a cosy chat. Those people came here in order to concert their plans to deal with a particularly awkward stage in western capitalism, and in view of that we, the public, are entitled to ask some questions and to hold them to account. The Prime Minister said in 2010:
“For too long those in power made decisions behind closed doors…and denied people the power to hold them to account. This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture—and it’s called transparency.”
In the same year, the Chancellor himself announced his commitment to
“the most radical transparency agenda that the country has ever seen.”—[Official Report, 8 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 206.]
So why is there no transparency about a very crucial meeting that could affect us all?
Finally, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain how at the start of last week the Prime Minister could announce a crackdown on corruption and lack of transparency among lobbyists, and by the end of the week he and the Chancellor could be insisting that the largest and most powerful lobbyists’ group in the western hemisphere—an anti-democratic cabal if ever there was one—should operate in conditions of utter blackout and complete secrecy?
The Bilderberg meeting does not make any decisions. It does not have any resolutions. We could not possibly reach decisions, because of the range of opinions represented there. It is purely a Chatham House rules discussion between the people to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred. The shadow Chancellor was there, Peter Mandelson was there, the Prime Minister was there, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was there, and most of us said things during the discussion that would not have come as a surprise to any of us, because we knew what our opinions were. We go there for the chance of having an off-the-record, informal discussion with the range of people described by the right hon. Gentleman, who are indeed distinguished, but who are not remotely interested in getting together to decide or organise anything.
If the right hon. Gentleman would like an invitation—if that is what really lies behind his question—I will take his own distinguished claims to participation in the group carefully into account, although I will of course consult the shadow Chancellor before taking that a step further.
Let me say with the greatest respect that this is total, utter nonsense. I would normally regard the right hon. Gentleman as not the sort of person to be taken in by this sort of rubbish. We all take part in lots of political and other discussions as private individuals, under Chatham House rules, and we do not expect everyone to go out giving a version of what we have just said. No one alters their opinions when we are there. As for transparency, this Government are by a street the most transparent Government I have ever been in, but we can only be transparent in regard to things for which the Government have responsibility, and for what we are doing as a Government.
Is it not rather cruel to oblige the Prime Minister to spend a weekend with Lord Mandelson of Foy and the shadow Chancellor? Did anyone at the Bilderberg conference go away any the wiser as to how the Labour party, if it were to win the next general election, would square the circle and manage to tackle the deficit?
The idea of Lord Mandelson attending any meeting informally is not something I have ever experienced.
As one of the British parliamentarians who attended the weekend meeting in Watford, alongside the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, Lord Mandelson, Baroness Williams and the Minister without Portfolio himself, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he agrees that it is important that Ministers and shadow Ministers meet regularly to discuss important issues with fellow Ministers and Opposition politicians, academics, journalists and business leaders from around the world? Can he confirm that over the past 60 years the annual Bilderberg meeting has properly been attended by Prime Ministers, Chancellors and shadow Ministers from all parties, including Lord Healey, Lord Ashdown and the late John Smith?
Does the Minister without Portfolio agree that it is welcome that the Bilderberg group now publishes a list of all those who attend the meeting and the topics that are discussed? Does he agree that the list of topics on this weekend's agenda, including “Can the US and Europe grow faster and create jobs?”, “Africa's challenges”, “Trends in medical research” and “Developments in the middle east” are vital issues with which every Government and Opposition must grapple for the benefit of all citizens?
We fully understand that it is because the Minister without Portfolio is a member of the Bilderberg steering group that he is well qualified today to answer the urgent question that was addressed to the Chancellor; he is not doing so because of his economic expertise. If on the other hand the Minister without Portfolio were to stand in at the next Treasury questions, we and all conspiracy theorists would rightly be concerned.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for perhaps addressing the question more straightforwardly than I did. He is obviously feeling a little defensive. He is dealing with it a little more seriously and probably much more wisely than I did. Everything he said is entirely right. I have attended Bilderberg meetings for many years. The only reason I attend is that my own understanding of political and economic problems in various parts of the world is improved by the opportunity to have an informal weekend with the kind of people who go to the conference. Discussing things with, among others, the shadow Chancellor in a completely informal way, off the record, is also of considerable value. I am sure that he agrees that we derive a great deal from the meeting and we hope that it improves our contribution to debates here, too.
Our hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) was invited to a previous Bilderberg conference, and I wonder whether the Minister, as a member of the steering committee, could tell us why he has been dropped. Has he done something wrong?
Every year, about half those participating have never been before. Quite a lot of people come only for one meeting. The number of people who come every year is comparatively small—there is a kind of core and for some extraordinary reason I have been a part of that core over the past decade. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) made a most distinguished contribution but he should not be disappointed that he was not invited again. The British committee was trying to bring in a rising star of a younger generation, because we do not want the whole thing to become an ageing establishment of people who used to be something important in government. I have no doubt that one day my hon. Friend will be implored to attend again, but I cannot guarantee when that will be.
Have you been there, Dennis?
We have had trade unions there sometimes, and there are plenty of social democrats. I do not think anybody as left wing as the hon. Gentleman has ever attended, but if I scratch my memory I will probably remember somebody. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman forecast with absolute precision the collapse of capitalism in 2007. In that respect, I agree that his foresight was rather better than that of most pundits. We continue to meet, in the hope that next time we will see it coming with slightly more clarity.
Nowadays we get accused of plots to establish a Government of the world, to poison the local watercourses, and to plan an invasion of the United States of America. Ten years ago, I was told I was attending a plot to hand over Britain to Brussels and to subordinate us to a “United States of Europe”, and the next instalment of the plot will come later. I cite that example in order to point out that a fellow member of the steering committee was Mr Conrad Black, and in private, as in public, Mr Conrad Black was not in favour of handing anything over to Brussels and was not in any way furthering that cause. I regret to say that Mr Black is, as I recall, the only member who ever attended who has since had the misfortune to be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, whereupon he withdrew from the Bilderberg meetings.
Seriously, however, I assure my right hon. Friend that the full range of opinion from left to right from across western Europe is pretty well represented at Bilderberg. That in itself shows that the idea that we are furthering any kind of agenda is absolute nonsense. If I were plotting to do anything, I would not assemble that particular group of people, because we would never agree on an objective.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. I am looking that up, because I had forgotten. Actually, I am a member of the steering committee. When we were hosting at Watford, I discovered that I am, among other things, a trustee of the British steering group, so I am checking, with the aid of my constituency office, whether I ever put that in. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I had completely forgotten that it was set up on that basis, long before the rules were established. The trustees have never met as trustees. All I actually do is sit as a member of a committee and play my part in helping with the organisation of a meeting, and that is all I have ever done.
We have had a bit of fun today—indeed, who would want to spend a weekend of irredeemable tedium discussing world economics with a bunch of establishment toffs? Surely the serious point is this, however: why on earth does the House of Commons think it is necessary to discuss what was said in a private meeting?
Perhaps my hon. Friend was not here when I started answering this question and said that this is the first time I have ever risen in the House of Commons to answer questions on behalf of a private organisation for which the British Government have absolutely no responsibility.
I know I cannot be described as a rising star, so should I not presume that my invitation was lost in the post? Can the Minister say whether or not, either formally or informally, he took the opportunity while at the conference to discuss his campaign to keep the UK within the European Union, and which members of the EU were there?
My hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that I do not think I am being too indiscreet when I say that the subject of the future of the European Union and Britain’s participation in it did come up from time to time over the weekend. People from many countries have quite a strong interest in that subject, so it was discussed, but under Chatham House rules, and I can assure him that no conclusions of any kind were reached.
The other members at the moment are John Kerr and Marcus Agius, and I do not know who my successor will be. We are slightly overrepresented on the steering committee, which is probably a reflection of the quality of debate in this place and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the work of the Government Communications Headquarters—GCHQ—its legal framework and recent publicity about it. As Foreign Secretary, I am responsible for the work of GCHQ and the Secret Intelligence Service—MI6—under the overall authority of the Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is responsible for the work of the Security Service, MI5.
Over the past few days, there have been a series of media disclosures of classified US documents relating to the collection of intelligence by US agencies, and questions about the role of GCHQ. The US Administration have begun a review into the circumstances of these leaks in conjunction with the Justice Department and the US intelligence community. President Obama has been clear that US work in this area is fully overseen and authorised by Congress and relevant judicial bodies, and that his Administration are committed to respecting the civil liberties and privacy of their citizens.
The Government deplore the leaking of any classified information, wherever it occurs. Such leaks can make the work of maintaining the security of our own country and that of our allies more difficult, and by providing a partial and potentially misleading picture they give rise to public concerns. It has been the policy of successive British Governments not to comment on the detail of intelligence operations. The House will therefore understand that I will not be drawn into confirming or denying any aspect of leaked information. I will be as informative as possible, to give reassurance to the public and Parliament. We want the British people to have confidence in the work of our intelligence agencies, and in their adherence to the law and democratic values, but I also wish to be very clear that I will take great care in this statement and in answering questions to say nothing that gives any clue or comfort to terrorists, criminals and foreign intelligence services as they seek to do harm to this country and its people.
Three issues have arisen in recent days that I wish to address. First, I will describe the action that the Government are taking in response to recent events. Secondly, I will set out how our intelligence agencies work in accordance with UK law and subject to democratic oversight. Thirdly, I will describe how the law is upheld with respect to intelligence co-operation with the United States, and deal with specific questions that have been raised about the work of GCHQ.
First, in respect of the action we have taken, the Intelligence and Security Committee has already received some information from GCHQ and will receive a full report tomorrow. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, is travelling to the United States on a long-planned visit with the rest of the Committee. As he has said, the Committee will be free to decide what, if any, further action it should take in the light of that report. The Government and the agencies will co-operate fully with the Committee, and I pay tribute to its members and their predecessors from all parties.
Secondly, the ISC’s work is one part of the strong framework of democratic accountability and oversight that governs the use of secret intelligence in the United Kingdom, which successive Governments have worked to strengthen. At its heart are two Acts of Parliament: the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
The Acts require GCHQ and the other agencies to seek authorisation for their operations from a Secretary of State, normally the Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary. As Foreign Secretary, I receive hundreds of operational proposals from the SIS and GCHQ every year. The proposals are detailed: they set out the planned operation, the potential risks and the intended benefits of the intelligence. They include comprehensive legal advice describing the basis for the operation, and comments from senior Foreign Office officials and lawyers. To intercept the content of any individual’s communications in the UK requires a warrant signed personally by me, the Home Secretary, or by another Secretary of State. This is no casual process. Every decision is based on extensive legal and policy advice. Warrants are legally required to be necessary, proportionate and carefully targeted, and we judge them on that basis.
Considerations of privacy are also at the forefront of our minds, as I believe they will have been in the minds of our predecessors. We take great care to balance individual privacy with our duty to safeguard the public and the UK’s national security. These are often difficult and finely judged decisions, and we do not approve every proposal put before us by the agencies. All the authorisations that the Home Secretary and I give are subject to independent review by an Intelligence Services Commissioner and an Interception of Communications Commissioner, both of whom must have held high judicial office and report directly to the Prime Minister. They review the way these decisions are made to ensure that they are fully compliant with the law. They have full access to all the information that they need to carry out their responsibilities, and their reports are publicly available. It is vital that we have that framework of democratic accountability and scrutiny.
I have nothing but praise for the professionalism, dedication and integrity of the men and women of GCHQ. I know from my work with them how seriously they take their obligations under UK and international law. Indeed, in his most recent report, the Interception of Communications Commissioner said:
“it is my belief…that GCHQ staff conduct themselves with the highest levels of integrity and legal compliance.”
This combination of needing a warrant from one of the most senior members of the Government, decided on the basis of detailed legal advice, and such decisions being reviewed by independent commissioners and implemented by agencies with strong legal and ethical frameworks, with the addition of parliamentary scrutiny by the ISC, whose powers are being increased, provides one of the strongest systems of checks and balances and democratic accountability for secret intelligence anywhere in the world.
Thirdly, I want to set out how UK law is upheld in respect of information received from the United States, and to address the specific questions about the role of GCHQ. Since the 1940s, GCHQ and its American equivalents—now the National Security Agency—have had a relationship that is unique in the world. This relationship has been and remains essential to the security of both nations, has stopped many terrorist and espionage plots against this country, and has saved many lives. The basic principles by which that co-operation operates have not changed over time. Indeed, I wish to emphasise to the House that although we have experienced an extremely busy period in intelligence and diplomacy in the past three years, the arrangements for oversight, and the general framework for exchanging information with the United States, are the same as under previous Governments. The growing and diffuse nature of threats from terrorists, criminals or espionage has only increased the importance of our intelligence relationship with the United States. That was particularly the case in the run-up to the Olympics. The House will not be surprised to hear that our activity to counter terrorism intensified and rose to a peak in the summer of last year.
It has been suggested that GCHQ uses our partnership with the United States to get around UK law, obtaining information that it cannot legally obtain in the United Kingdom. I wish to be absolutely clear that that accusation is baseless. Any data obtained by us from the United States involving UK nationals are subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards, including the relevant sections of the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
Our intelligence-sharing work with the United States is subject to ministerial and independent oversight, and to scrutiny by the Intelligence and Security Committee. Our agencies practise and uphold UK law at all times, even when dealing with information from outside the United Kingdom. The combination of a robust legal framework, ministerial responsibility, scrutiny by the intelligence services commissioners, and parliamentary accountability through the Intelligence and Security Committee should give a high level of confidence that the system works as intended.
That does not mean that we do not have to work to strengthen public confidence whenever we can, while maintaining the secrecy necessary to intelligence work. We have strengthened the role of the ISC through the Justice and Security Act 2013, to include oversight of the agencies’ operations as well as their policy, administration and finances. We have introduced the National Security Council so that intelligence is weighed and assessed alongside all other sources of information available to the Government, including diplomatic reporting and the insights of other Government Departments, and all that information is judged carefully in deciding the Government’s overall strategy and objectives.
There is no doubt that secret intelligence, including the work of GCHQ, is vital to our country. It enables us to detect threats against our country ranging from nuclear proliferation to cyber attack. Our agencies work to prevent serious and organised crime, and to protect our economy against those trying to steal our intellectual property. They disrupt complex plots against our country, such as when individuals travel abroad to gain terrorist training and prepare attacks. They support the work of our armed forces overseas and help to protect the lives of our men and women in uniform, and they work to help other countries lawfully to build the capacity and willingness to investigate and disrupt terrorists in their countries, before threats reach us in the United Kingdom.
We should never forget that threats are launched at us secretly, new weapons systems and tactics are developed secretly, and countries or terrorist groups that plan attacks or operations against us do so in secrecy. So the methods we use to combat these threats must be secret, just as they must always be lawful. If the citizens of this country could see the time and care taken in making these decisions, the carefully targeted nature of all our interventions, and the strict controls in place to ensure that the law and our democratic values are upheld, and if they could witness, as I do, the integrity and professionalism of the men and women of our intelligence agencies, who are among our nation’s very finest public servants, I believe they would be reassured by how we go about this essential work.
The British people can be confident in the way our agencies work to keep them safe. Would-be terrorists, those seeking to spy against this country or those who are the centre of organised crime should be aware that this country has the capability and partnerships to protect its citizens against the full range of threats in the 21st century, and that we will always do so in accordance with our laws and values, but with constant resolve and determination.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it this afternoon. The House will be aware that on Saturday the Opposition, along with other Members of this House, called for the Foreign Secretary to address Parliament today, and we welcome his decision to do so in recognition of the depth of public concern that has arisen in recent days.
I begin my remarks by echoing the words of the Foreign Secretary and put on record the support and admiration of the whole House for the important—indeed, vital—work that is done by our country’s intelligence and security services. Theirs is some of the most important but inevitably least recognised work undertaken to protect the security of our nation, and it is right that we take the opportunity to offer our thanks and praise for their efforts. Our intelligence agencies’ work would be made more difficult if levels of concern about the framework under which they operate were to compromise the active support of the public for their efforts. In the light of that, I shall quote back to the Foreign Secretary his words in a BBC interview yesterday:
“if you are a law abiding citizen of this country going about your business and your personal life, you have nothing to fear—nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the contents of your phone calls or anything like that.”
This assertion, however, assumes that the state is either incapable of error or incapable of advertent or inadvertent wrongdoing.
Surely, on reflection, the Foreign Secretary will accept that law-abiding citizens of this country also want to know and be assured of the fact that the agencies of government are themselves law-abiding. Back in 2011, the Foreign Secretary seemed to recognise the importance of this point when in a speech on the role of the Security Services he said that
“the need for secrecy places additional importance on the Foreign Secretary’s accountability to Parliament for GCHQ and SIS. This is one of the indispensable foundations of public confidence, and one that I will personally strive to strengthen.”
Today presents him with a clear opportunity to deliver on that pledge, and I hope that in his answers to my specific questions he will be able to do so.
The Foreign Secretary is right to assume that lawyers, some law-makers and the members of the ISC may be very familiar with the framework of legality and accountability, but the general public, for understandable reasons, are not. In the light of that, will he take the opportunity of his response to remind the House of the steps we in Parliament have taken to preserve privacy, and set out whether all steps taken by our agencies are, to the best of his knowledge, compliant with those laws? It is in this spirit, not of condemnation but of concern, that I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary some questions about the recent allegations first revealed by The Guardian on Friday of last week about the existence and operation of the so-called Prism programme administered by the NSA.
Let me first make it clear that the Opposition support the principle of information sharing across international borders with allies. Indeed, the people who want to do harm to the UK work across international borders, and those people working to keep us safe have to be able to work with allies across international borders if they are to tackle these threats effectively. But that needs to be within that established framework of both law and accountability. The Foreign Secretary is right to say that full disclosure on this issue is not possible nor appropriate, so let me focus my questions not on the specific operational aspect of the allegations, but on the broader legal and policy frameworks that would apply in these circumstances.
Earlier this morning, the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), gave his account of the legal framework that would govern British intelligence agencies’ use of intercept data. He said:
“If the British intelligence agencies are seeking to know the content of emails about people living in the UK then they actually have to get lawful authority. Normally that means ministerial authority. That applies equally whether they are going to do the intercept themselves or whether they are going to ask somebody else to do it on their behalf.”
Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether that account of the current legal framework is both complete and accurate?
In his statement, the Foreign Secretary has just stated: “Any data obtained by us from the United States involving UK nationals are subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards, including the relevant sections of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.” Will he now set out the relevant sections of those Acts, and confirm whether this explanation means that any data obtained by us from the US, involving UK nationals, are authorised by ministerial warrants and overseen by the intercept commissioner, as set out by RIPA?
Specifically, what legal framework applies in the following two cases? First, when a request is made by the UK to an intelligence agency of an international ally for the interception of the content of private communications, will he confirm whether this process is governed by individual warrants signed by the relevant Secretary of State and approved by the intercept commissioner as set out in part I of RIPA? Secondly, will he address the specific issue of when a request is made by the UK to an intelligence agency of an international ally, not to seek intercept, but instead to search existing data held by that agency on the contents of private communications, and, in particular, the legal process that will be adopted in such an instance? In that circumstance, will he confirm whether this process is also governed by individual warrants signed by the relevant Secretary of State and approved by the intercept commissioner as set out in part I of RIPA?
Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, with respect to intelligence sharing with allies, the UK Government operate on the basis of the assumption that information held by, for example, the US Government, has been obtained in accordance with the law of that country? If that is the case, what steps has he taken, or will take, to confirm that any processes currently in use by the NSA continue to adhere to this legal safeguard?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
To conclude, all of us in this House have an interest in sustaining public confidence in the work of the intelligence agencies. Those agencies, each and every day, do outstanding work on behalf of and for the sake of us all. That is why Ministers and the ISC now have a heavy burden of responsibility to oversee and scrutinise their work, so as to reassure the public.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and pleased that he began his remarks by expressing the support and admiration across the House for the work of the intelligence agencies. Many former Ministers from the previous Government—indeed, there are some specific ones here today—know that well. He was right to say that the work of those agencies is among the most important and least recognised that goes into protecting this country, so there is strong common ground across the House on that.
The right hon. Gentleman said that we should be able, now and in future, to give people assurances about the law-abiding nature of the work of the agencies, which of course is a large part of the purpose of what I have just explained to the House. I am not saying that the agencies, anyone who works in them or, indeed, Ministers are incapable of error—that can happen in any organisation—but I am arguing that there is a strong system of checks and balances. A combination of ministerial oversight, independent scrutiny, parliamentary oversight, the legal framework and the strong ethical framework of the agencies themselves minimises the chance of errors happening in any sinister way.
Sometimes people can get the impression, when reading discussions in the media about this, that there is a danger of a “deep state” that is in some way out of control. There is not that danger in the United Kingdom. Of course everyone is capable of error, but the protection of this country’s citizens from such error is very strong indeed. I must stress that there will always be ways of improving procedures—many improvements have been made in recent years, under successive Administrations—and there are always new situations that arise in intelligence gathering that require additions to or the refinement of the legal basis of what we do and the practices and procedures by which we do that work. I do not argue at all that everything is definitely perfect, and certainly not for all time, with regard to whether in future there could be any improvements in procedures in some areas, because I am sure that there could be. The Intelligence and Security Committee will be able to look at that and make recommendations if it so wishes, and of course within the Government that is something that is constantly looked at and subject to change.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that there is no reason why the general public would be familiar with the framework I have set out for the House. I was the first Foreign Secretary to make a speech, in November 2011—it might have been widely unnoticed in the House—about the role of secret intelligence in foreign policy, in which I set out for the public what the guarantees are and what the legal framework is. This, in a way, is an opportunity to set that out clearly to the country.
The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that he supports information sharing with our allies. The position on the legal framework is exactly as I set out in my statement: any data obtained by us from the United States about UK nationals are subject to the full range of Acts, including section 3 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the RIPA provisions, set out in sections 15 and 16, which regulate that information gathering must be necessary and proportionate and regulate how the agencies must handle information when they obtain it.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s further questions about how authority is given, I cannot give him, for reasons that I cannot explain in public, as detailed an answer as he would like. I would love to give him what could actually be a very helpful answer, but because circumstances and procedures vary according to the situation, I do not want to give a categorical answer—in a small respect circumstances might differ occasionally. But I can say that ministerial oversight and independent scrutiny is there, and there is scrutiny of the ISC in all these situations, so, again, the idea that operations are carried out without ministerial oversight, somehow getting around UK law, is mistaken. I am afraid that I cannot be more specific than that.
Nobody in this House, and certainly not me, would dispute the value of well-targeted intelligence. Central to this issue are the US FISA—Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—laws, which distinguish between American citizens, who receive rigorous protection of their privacy, and all other foreigners, including British citizens, who receive, in essence, no protection. When the Americans are concerned about assaults on their citizens, they pursue this with an aggression that would make Lord Palmerston proud, most obviously through the extradition arrangements, for example. Has the Foreign Secretary made any representations to the American authorities about the protection of innocent British citizens’ privacy under their FISA laws?
We apply our own laws. The United States decides its own laws and applies its own laws in the United States. We do so in the United Kingdom as well. That is the central point that I am making about this. All the Acts that we have passed in this Parliament relating to the gathering of intelligence are applied to data supplied from other countries. While I cannot give my right hon. Friend a specific answer about specific discussions, of course we regularly discuss with the United States the framework for these things to make sure, as best we can, that our values and our legal frameworks are upheld and that the strong emphasis on the privacy of the citizen is always there. As he will have seen in the statements of President Obama, the United States is very, very tough about that as well. When the UK and US both work together, each with a strong legal framework, the combined effect is a very strong and protective one.
Does the Secretary of State accept that many of our allies, leaving aside the United States, are astonished by the degree of control and supervision of our system of ministerial oversight, oversight by judicially qualified commissioners and oversight by the ISC, which surpasses that of most other western democracies?
Does Secretary of State also accept that those in the agencies face an impossible dilemma? When things are relatively calm, suspicions, fantasies and sometimes paranoia can take off about the so-called secret state, but the moment there is a serious threat or actual terrorist outrage, often the very same people and newspapers turn on a sixpence and demand to know not whether the safeguards were operated but why there has been a failure by the agencies to track, through intelligence of all kinds, the miscreants involved.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; as a former Foreign Secretary he is very experienced in these matters. I argued in my statement that, as he knows very well, the system of checks and balances and scrutiny that we have is among the strongest in the world; it could be the strongest in the world. Yes, he is right that the agencies easily come in for criticism when anything goes wrong and yet have to ensure at all times that they are gathering all the information they ought to be obtaining. They undertake a task for which they are not thanked and recognised often enough. They have achieved a great deal in frustrating attacks on this country, including, in recent years, planned terrorist attacks on this country, some of which we cannot talk about as they are not known to the public. It is therefore difficult to give them the recognition that they deserve. That is the scale and the importance of this crucial work.
I declare a strong constituency interest.
Veterans of Bletchley Park, such as my own parents, were and are widely described as heroes for the secret victories that we can now talk about, they having kept their secrets for many decades. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that GCHQ, as Bletchley’s successor, does equally vital but equally secret work, and that hon. Members might have to exercise just a fraction of that kind of self-restraint in allowing some of the perfectly legitimate questions about Prism to be answered in private to elected members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which we have set up for precisely this purpose?
My hon. Friend has spoken well about GCHQ and the work of his constituents, which he and I both greatly admire. Of course, the Intelligence and Security Committee is able to look at any aspects, including secret and top secret ones, of this discussion. The ISC, for those outside the House who may not be aware of it, is a cross-party Committee of Members who are already very familiar with so many of the issues surrounding secret intelligence. That is the proper place for these issues to be gone into in detail. I am sure this House will show the necessary restraint in its questions and comments, and that they will be fitting for today’s discussion about secret intelligence.
May I reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has said and confirm from my own experience what the Foreign Secretary has said about the legal and ethical framework and the safeguards? I know that to be true, and it is from that background that I ask this simple question. Yes, we need to dampen down fear and reinforce the fact that we are engaging with international cyber-attack and the dangers of international global terrorism; but, in reassuring people about how we handle their data, could we take a closer look at how other agencies, including the NSA and our friends and colleagues in the United States, use material gathered from network and service providers and offer it, rather than having it sought from them, in a way that makes authorisation extremely difficult?
Like the right hon. Member for Blackburn, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) speaks from his own experience of the highly professional work of the agencies. The point he raises reinforces the importance of our agencies applying and upholding the laws of the United Kingdom regarding the data they obtain from other intelligence agencies around the world. As I said earlier to the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), there may well be occasions over the coming years when we will need to update and improve those procedures, to take account of changes in technology. I do not exclude that at all, but it re-emphasises the importance of applying our law in our country, which the agencies can be relied on to do.
People will have great confidence in hearing what my right hon. Friend has said about requests for intercept and operations in this country having to be so very rigorous. Does he also agree that the highly complex nature of modern communications inevitably means that, from time to time, privacy may have to be breached in the interests of the security of our country and its people?
Yes, of course: a would-be terrorist cannot rely on their privacy and nor can someone at the centre of organised crime. It is these decisions that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I and, sometimes, other colleagues have to make. We take extra steps and extra care on privacy. The law explicitly requires us to make sure that our actions are necessary, proportionate and targeted, but we go beyond those requirements in assessing the impact on the privacy of individuals in order to try to make sure that it is only when absolutely necessary that we invade that privacy.
One of the key motivations for the reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee was to help with transparency and to engage with the public and give confidence. Can the Foreign Secretary say whether any ISC report on Prism will be published, containing redactions that are as limited as possible?
I cannot give an assurance that reports on these issues will be public because, as I argued in my statement, there is an important role for secret intelligence. Our deliberations about that must therefore be secret. The ISC makes a variety of reports, some of which are published and redacted, as the hon. Lady says. The ISC will have to consider the format of its report, but I cannot guarantee that its findings will be public.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an excellent statement to the House in which the British people should have every confidence. Does he agree that, notwithstanding the reservations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), the protection of the British people relies hugely on co-operation between the United Kingdom and the United States? Both countries face threats from China. In that regard, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has any comments to make to the House about the illuminating report by the Intelligence and Security Committee last week?
I am largely grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and for his strong support for the Government’s position. He is right to underline the extreme importance to our national security of our close and unique co-operation with the United States. It has been my general approach, as he knows, not to publicly point fingers or fling accusations at other countries about intelligence activities. Despite his tempting invitation, I will not do so today.
As a former chair of the ISC, I have nothing but admiration for the work of GCHQ. The Foreign Secretary agrees that the ISC should investigate the allegations. Will he encourage the ISC to report swiftly to the Prime Minister, as is its custom, and then, if it is possible within the constraints of national security, to report to the House of Commons?
The ISC should of course report to the Prime Minister. I do not want to pre-empt any decision that the Committee or the Prime Minister may make about the nature of any reporting to the public or to Parliament. I reiterate the cautionary words that I issued a moment ago. I am sure that the Committee will want to undertake its work swiftly, but only as swiftly as proper consideration of all the issues allows. We all want it to consider such questions thoroughly. That is the most important requirement.
I very much welcome the statement by the Foreign Secretary. On the sharing of intelligence by GCHQ, will he clarify whether the United Kingdom provides location intelligence to the United States in relation to drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
As I explained in my statement, successive Governments have not commented on the details of how we use intelligence information. My statement was about the legal framework that governs such matters and the values that we uphold. I cannot and will not comment on what intelligence we share with other countries.
Given the rather different approaches to privacy and data protection in Europe and the United States, what assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the potential for this controversy to impact on the successful outcome of the EU-America free trade deal, and what are the Government doing to prevent it from having such an impact?
I have no evidence of any such impact. Over the coming days, the Government and our European partners will be putting great effort into ensuring that rapid progress is made on a transatlantic trade and investment partnership. I see no reason why the questions raised in the media over the past few days should have a significant impact on that.
The Foreign Secretary was right to say that in democracies it is important that some things are kept secret. However, it is equally important that Members of this House are free to have discussions without fear of interception by the Government. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that no Member is having his phone tapped or his e-mails intercepted?
They do have the tools. I said earlier that those tools need updating over time. I did not refer in my statement to the discussions on a communications data Bill, but there is a strong case for updating the tools we have at our disposal. Means of communication are changing more rapidly than at any time in the history of the world, which means that the range and nature of threats change. We must be careful to do that work, and the whole House should give fair consideration to such proposals.
My right hon. Friend has confirmed that the Government and the intelligence services have no interest in random snooping into the private affairs of British citizens, but can he confirm to the House that, when well-founded security risks are identified, sufficient powers and freedoms are in place to undertake the investigations that may be necessary, or is it his opinion that enhanced freedoms and powers are now required?
In my experience, we are well-equipped to conduct necessary investigations, but I return to the answer I gave to the previous question. There will be a constant need to update what we are able to do, without being diverted from the basic principle of ensuring that our intelligence gathering is on what is necessary, and that it is proportionate, targeted and always legal. Our laws do not provide for indiscriminate trawling for information through the contents of people’s communications. We do not need to change those basic principles, but we sometimes need to change aspects of the legal framework and where we are able to get information from. That work must go on in the coming years.
Considering all the dangers for the individual concerned, why should we believe that the American whistleblower is telling a pack of lies? If a lot of what he is saying is true, then surely law-abiding citizens who are a million miles from any threat involved with terrorism should indeed be fearful.
As you will have noticed, Mr Speaker, I have not commented on the individual concerned. I am not going to get into a running commentary on this or any other leak. It is not possible for any Government to do that while respecting the need to maintain the secrecy of our intelligence work. I do not want to get into that now, but I stress again the very strong legal framework in this country. I believe people can have confidence in that.
All our constituents should be grateful for the work of the Security Services, and some will owe their lives to their professionalism. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that one of the biggest threats to our national security is stolen identities? Surely GCHQ has to be ever more innovative to stay one step in front.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. Part of the work of GCHQ is to make it easier for us to combat serious and organised crime. In many ways, the privacy of the citizens of this country benefits substantially from the work of our agencies, because of what they are doing to protect the country. There is a strong argument to be made about that, rather than that their privacy is invaded. So that is a growing threat, and in many cases it is up to the private sector, working with GCHQ, to ensure that we are well equipped to defeat it.
As one who continues to campaign for the young US-British soldier Bradley Manning, and exchanges e-mails and telephone calls with his defence counsel, can I assume that I am free from any surveillance, either from the United States or Britain?