House of Commons
Monday 28 October 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—
The Government have put stable funding in place, ring-fencing nearly £40 million for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services, rape crisis centres, and national helplines. Decisions on whether to fund the provision of sanctuary schemes for victims of violence are for local authorities, based on their assessment of local need.
I thank the Home Secretary for that response, but I understand that funding for sanctuary schemes has fallen by over a third under this Government. Freedom of information requests have shown that about 21% of victims of domestic violence who make use of such schemes are now falling foul of the bedroom tax. Does the Home Secretary think that such people, who are in a place where they are safe from their abuser, should be evicted because of the bedroom tax?
The sanctuary schemes obviously have value for a number of people. They are not right for everybody, but for those for whom they work, such schemes are important when put in place. Latest statistics show that last year, 2012-13, 7,100 households had homelessness prevented or relieved thanks to the installation of a sanctuary scheme—a 17% rise on the previous year. On the spare room subsidy, the Government are providing baseline funding of £20 million annually to the discretionary housing payment scheme, which is available to local authorities to help people in such circumstances. The Government have also provided an additional £25 million per annum on top of the baseline funding until the end of the spending review period.
In addition to sanctuaries, which are terribly important, does the Home Secretary agree that it is time to re-examine sentencing guidelines on domestic abuse? In one case in my constituency, the ex-husband, who has been convicted twice of domestic abuse, is now living in the same estate as his terrified ex-wife, and no custodial sentence was handed down. Surely such a person should be in prison.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims is sitting on the Front Bench and will have heard that question in relation to responsibilities of the Ministry of Justice. Importantly, I have asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to look at the policing of domestic violence, and we must examine how the police respond to such incidents. I am pleased that the Government have introduced a number of pilot schemes and are considering various ways that victims of domestic violence can be further protected. Domestic violence protection orders, for example, enable the victim to remain in their home, rather than the perpetrator remaining and the victim being forced out.
Last week I wore pink, in common with 100 others in Lichfield—pink trousers, pink shirt, pink feather boa—to walk for the Pathway project in my constituency. It looks after those—not only women, but men too—who suffer from domestic violence. Will the Home Secretary or one of her team please come to Lichfield to see the good work the Pathway project is doing?
I know that my hon. Friend has a fondness for taking photographs, and I wonder whether he has taken a photograph of himself that could perhaps be circulated to Members of the House for their edification. He makes an important point, however, and I commend the Pathway project in Lichfield. I have noted the hon. Gentleman’s invitation, as has the Minister for Crime Prevention, for one of us to come and visit. May I say what excellent work people in the Pathway project and similar schemes are doing on this important issue?
Our police reforms are working and crime is falling. Recorded crime has fallen by more than 10% under this Government, and the independent crime survey shows that crime has more than halved since its peak in 1995.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Both our constituencies are served by Thames Valley police, and I am pleased that since 2010, crime has fallen by 25% in the Thames Valley police area, including a fall of 30% in my constituency. My hon. Friend is right. Those who said that when police budgets were cut the only thing that would happen would be for crime to go up have been proved wrong. I commend the work of all the police officers and staff who have contributed to those good crime figures.
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to that—we need to look at the matter very seriously. I am happy to say that the Minister for Crime Prevention is doing so. In addition, the Home Office has sat round the table with national policing leads and the Crown Prosecution Service to consider why we are seeing that most recent trend, and to develop a plan for ensuring that cases are referred to the CPS when it is right to do so.
The 12% fall in crime excluding fraud will be welcomed in Wiltshire by my constituents, but businesses repeatedly find themselves victims of seemingly invisible but none the less criminal behaviour online. What support is being given to businesses to tackle those online thefts?
First, the Office for National Statistics now includes figures on fraud reported to Action Fraud in the police recorded crime count. That is an important step forward—we now get a more accurate picture. Crucially, following the launch of the new National Crime Agency, we have established within it an economic crime command, which will enhance our ability in this country to deal with a variety of economic and financial crimes, including the fraud my hon. Friend describes.
The Home Secretary will be aware not only that rape statistics have gone up, but that the figures for child abuse have gone up hugely as well. Five years ago, 50% of rape offences were referred to the CPS, but now only 30% of rape and abuse of children offences are referred. What will the Home Secretary do about that? Does she believe that 20% cuts to the police might have something to do with it?
No, I do not accept the premise on which the hon. Lady’s question is based. We are looking very seriously at the question of child abuse. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims was involved in setting up a group across Departments on the question of child abuse and child sexual exploitation to ensure we can deal as effectively as possible with that most horrific crime.
Crime will fall even further if we can make bigger reductions in police bureaucracy. Front-line officers using body-worn cameras have the potential to reduce the amount of paperwork they have to do back at the station. Will my right hon. Friend indicate how many police hours she believes could be saved by that new technology, which has been endorsed recently by the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I had informal discussions about the use of body-worn cameras at the college of policing last week. I am pleased to say that a number of forces have piloted the use of such cameras. The college will look at best practice so it can ensure they are used as effectively as possible. They will not only reduce the bureaucracy that the police are involved with, but provide greater and enhanced ability to deal with crimes and provide the evidence in criminal circumstances. They will also benefit officers when accusations are made about their behaviour—often, the body-worn camera will show when such accusations are not correct.
Crime has fallen overall thanks to the development of neighbourhood policing under a Labour Government. With the thin blue line stretched ever thinner, there are disturbing signs of a generation of progress in some areas being reversed. Since the general election, shoplifting is up in 23 police areas and mugging is up in 15 police areas. There has been a staggering 44% increase in mugging in London. Does the Home Secretary therefore share the concerns of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary that that which has proved to be so successful and is so valued by communities throughout our country—neighbourhood policing—“risks being eroded”?
May I first welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role on the Opposition Front Bench? I am not sure that his question was the best approach for him to take. I am very sorry that he has failed to recognise the work being done by police officers and staff around the country to ensure that overall levels of crime have fallen since 2010. I would hope he welcomes the work they are doing. HMIC has made it clear that forces, in taking the budget cuts, have focused on ensuring front-line resilience. That is a very good example of how it is possible to do more for less.
Since 2010, the Government have taken steps to reform all routes into the UK to deal with abuse, but we have been careful to protect our world-class universities. In the past year, we have still seen a rise in visa applications to universities.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, as it gives me the opportunity to say that they should be in the figures. Those who come here for more than a year are migrants in the same way others are, and use public services. It also gives me the opportunity to say that we have not restricted the ability of students to work where they have a graduate-level job that earns £20,300. We welcome the best and the brightest to do exactly that.
On the Chancellor’s recent visit to China, he made a big and open offer to the most populous country on earth: all Chinese students are welcome to study in the United Kingdom. If they take up that offer, that will have a serious effect on the Government’s aim to restrict immigration to under 100,000. What does the Minister for Immigration think of that big and open offer?
First, I do not think the Chancellor was suggesting that the entire population of China will come to the United Kingdom all in one go. The right hon. Gentleman makes a sensible point, but it is worth remembering that students who come to the UK will stay for their course and then leave. They do not, over time, make a contribution to net migration. We have, however, already seen strong growth in the number of students coming from China. They are welcome at our universities and we want to see them come.
We welcome international students as long as they study at a genuine university or other genuine institution. We have dealt with abuse, which we inherited from the Opposition, but we welcome students and the best of them are welcome to stay here to create businesses, wealth and jobs.
The Minister knows that almost the entire Scottish higher education establishment despise the immigration reforms, which do nothing but make Scotland a less attractive place to come. This is not working for us and we do not have the issues of the rest of the United Kingdom. Can we now make our own course, so that we can make Scotland an attractive and welcoming place for international students?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts, he will see that there is an increase in the number of international students going to the excellent universities in Scotland. Scotland is attractive to international students, as is the rest of the United Kingdom. I see no evidence that our immigration reforms are turning students away.
International students play a vital role in Sunderland university, which is in my constituency. The changes to immigration rules since the Government came to power have made a lot of areas of the world feel that we are closed for business. What is the Minister doing to address that view and change it back, so that they know we are open for business and welcome international students?
Ministers take every opportunity to make the case that we welcome genuine students and to set out the attractive offer we have. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, said, both the Chancellor and the Mayor of London were in China recently to make that case. The Prime Minister has been to India, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We make the case at every opportunity and I am glad the hon. Lady is doing so, too.
The Government have a programme for ending gang and youth violence, which provides support to local areas. It focuses on preventing vulnerable young people from joining gangs, helping those who want to leave gangs and tough enforcement against those who commit violence. We will publish our second annual report later this year.
I commend Wolverhampton police, through Operation No Deal and a general clampdown on crime and drug gangs, on recent significant arrests. Will the Minister assure me that significant steps are being made to continue that work? From anecdotal evidence in recent canvassing sessions, I have noticed a pick up in drug dealing, particularly in the south of the city.
My hon. Friend raises a serious issue. As he knows, Wolverhampton is one of the 33 priority areas to which the Home Office is giving particular help on this issue. We are working with Wolverhampton and other areas to tackle gang-related drug dealing as part of the ending gang and youth violence programme, and we will continue to do so and also use the new National Crime Agency and the serious organised crime strategy to ensure that we continue to attack the organised crime routes of drug dealing in too many of our cities.
The good news from Northamptonshire is that overall crime is down 14% in the last three years, but the bad news is that for every 1,000 people in the county, there are 11 crimes of violence, compared with eight per 1,000 in Merseyside and 10 per 1,000 in Greater Manchester. Surprising though these figures may be, will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the Home Office allocates funds to regional police forces, it takes such statistics into account?
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for the local interests of his constituents, as he should be, and we hear all the recommendations he makes to us. His county is lucky to have a particularly good police and crime commissioner, who will, I know, bear down hard on crimes of violence.
We have already seen significant reductions in metal theft following targeted police action and the banning of cash payments for scrap metal. The implementation of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 earlier this month will further clamp down on rogue dealers while supporting legitimate businesses.
Following visits I have made to bona fide metal recyclers in my constituency that do carry out checks on their clients in Cornwall, will my hon. Friend tell me what action his Department is taking to ensure that rogue dealers are prosecuted and punished, and does he agree that all metal recyclers must have a level playing field on which to operate?
Yes, I absolutely agree. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act, which I mentioned, is designed precisely to ensure that rogue traders are dealt with properly, and a properly funded licensing scheme will see more effective compliance activity by local authorities and stronger enforcement by the police, ensuring a level playing field for law-abiding scrap metal dealers. For example, we see from the British Transport police that offences are down 44% in the last year.
My local paper still carries adverts providing only a mobile phone number and offering free collection of any scrap metal, cars, vans, caravans and electrical items for cash payments. What can my constituents in Somerset expect by way of checks and investigation into those who place these adverts, especially since fly-tipping of these very items is such a bane to Somerset residents and adds to the cost of their council tax bills?
We have created a new criminal offence to prohibit cash payments to purchase scrap metal and therefore my hon. Friend ought to report that matter to her local police. If it is a registered scrap metal dealer who holds a licence, the local authority will want to look into the matter.
Housing (Illegal Immigrants)
The Immigration Bill will require private landlords to make some simple, straightforward checks so that illegal migrants do not have access to private housing. Existing legislation already makes it clear that illegal migrants do not have access to social housing.
If employers make available tied accommodation —meaning it is tied to their employment—they will not have to make further checks, because, as employers, they already have to check someone’s right to work in the United Kingdom, and we do not want to overburden them with bureaucracy.
I congratulate and thank the Home Secretary for the excellent measures in last week’s Immigration Bill, which is strongly welcomed by my constituents. Have Ministers seen the recent report stating that the NHS is currently losing £2 billion a year on health care to non-UK residents who should not be here? May I encourage the Home Office, with other Departments, to do everything possible to continue the good work to clamp down on illegal citizens taking public services from our citizens?
We will be doing the first stage of that in the Immigration Bill by ensuring that people who come here as temporary migrants make a fair contribution to the NHS before they can have access to it. The Secretary of State for Health will also introduce separate measures to ensure that hospitals become more effective at charging people who have no right to free access to health care paid for by our taxpayers.
We already control hundreds of so-called legal highs and are working with law enforcement partners to disrupt the supply of these often dangerous substances. The Home Office has led communications activity targeting young people and students to advise of the risks of legal highs. We also regularly update public health messaging on those risks. We are not complacent, and we continue to look at ways in which we can enhance our response.
The UK is fast becoming a hub for the European legal highs market, and a recent report from the all-party group on drug policy reform claimed that more than one new substance was coming to Britain each week. Does the Minister share my concern that many legal highs are now purchased online and delivered direct to people’s homes? Will he also look again at the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to see whether it is still fit for purpose, given the new web-based market for legal highs?
I am not sure that I accept my hon. Friend’s premise that we are a hub for that activity. First, however, let me say how sorry I was to learn of the recent incident in which one of his young constituents died, possibly as a result of taking a substance known as AMT. The cause of death has yet to be confirmed. That particular substance is legal, but as a result of that case I asked officials on Friday to look at the matter urgently, and action was taken under our drugs early-warning system at 6 pm on that day. My hon. Friend mentioned internet sales, but only about 1% of drugs are sourced in that way. Nevertheless, we take that avenue seriously and the National Crime Agency is undertaking operational activity accordingly.
The Minister will be aware that there are shops on our high streets, such as UK Skunkworks in Chatham, that sell legal highs alongside other drug paraphernalia. Those shops abandon any responsibility for the sometimes tragic consequences of their activities by labelling the products as being unfit for human consumption. Will he commit to including the over-the-counter sales, and the labelling, of legal highs in his review, so that we can prevent further deaths similar to that of Jimmy Guichard?
I entirely agree with the premise of my hon. Friend’s question. Those so-called head shops often behave irresponsibly. She will know that a study of international comparisons is currently under way, and the consideration of legal highs is very much part of that process.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the three deaths in Kent, two of which were in my constituency. I welcome his early-warning system and temporary banning orders, but may I suggest that the best way to cope with this is simply to say that if someone dies or becomes severely ill as a result of taking a drug that is a close chemical cousin of a banned drug, that should throw up a criminal offence?
The Home Office already takes steps to ensure that when a new substance appears that could be injurious to health, we seek to ban analogous drugs—the family of drugs—as a consequence. Some of the banned drugs have often not yet been created, but if and when they are created, they are already covered. We are trying to deal with this through anticipatory methods as well as by other means. We also try to have an early response system, so that when a substance appears, it can be picked up and banned very quickly.
Domestic violence is a dreadful form of abuse and is totally unacceptable. Our approach to tackling it is set out in the Government’s updated violence against women and girls action plan. Key initiatives include piloting domestic violence protection orders, which I referred to in a previous answer, and a domestic violence disclosure scheme. We have also extended the definition of domestic violence to include 16 and 17-year-olds and to include the use of coercive control.
I have visited the women’s refuge in Swindon and was extremely impressed by the help and facilities that it provides. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to support the work of those vital safe havens for victims of domestic violence across the country?
Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to all those who work in refuges and provide refuge for the victims of domestic violence. They are predominantly for women, as the majority of such victims are women, but we must never forget that men can also be the victims of domestic violence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) said earlier. The Government are providing stable funding of £40 million to support specialist domestic and sexual violence services, such as the independent domestic violence advisers who offer further valuable support to victims.
The last Girl Guides survey showed that 5% of girls thought it was okay to be threatened with violence for spending too much time with friends, and that 25% thought it was okay for a person’s partner to check up on them and read their texts. What are the Government doing to combat domestic violence by educating young people, particularly young women, about what is acceptable in relationships, and—
Although cut off in her prime, the hon. Lady makes an important point. It is shocking to see the number of girls and young women—and, indeed, the number of boys and young men—who think that violence in a relationship is okay and part of a relationship. She is absolutely right that we must do what we can to educate young people about what a proper relationship should be and what should not be part of it. That is why the Home Office has supported a very successful national teenage rape prevention campaign, which we were able to extend into a teenage relationship abuse campaign. The figures and responses show that those campaigns have had a real impact on young people’s understanding of the nature of relationships.
19. Victims of domestic violence in my constituency sometimes find the first step of talking to someone about it to be the hardest one to take. Residents are well served by the Pendle domestic violence initiative helpline, as well as the national domestic violence helpline. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what she is doing to ensure that the victims of domestic violence are aware of these helplines, which provide them with valuable support at the time they need it most? (900715)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to commend the work of those who provide helplines, and I would like to congratulate him on the success of the Pendle domestic violence initiative. Helplines indeed play an important role in supporting the victims of domestic and sexual violence. That is why the Home Office provides £900,000 to five national helplines each year. We take every opportunity to publicise these helplines, and we have done so through the two campaigns to which I referred in my previous answer—the teenage rape prevention campaign and the relationship abuse campaign. It is important to keep telling people about the availability of these helplines.
The Home Secretary is astonishingly complacent given that reported domestic violence has risen by 31% on her watch, while at the same time as funding for refuges and specialist advice has fallen by 31%, the number of independent domestic violence advisers is falling and specialist domestic violence courts are being axed. Is this a deliberate attempt to target the victims of this violence or does it simply show that she has no influence over her colleagues in other Departments?
First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role on the shadow Home Office Front Bench, but I have to say that I thought that the nature of that question was beneath her. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says “facts” from a sedentary position, and she quoted a figure of 31%. I understand, however, that that came from a survey based on the average from 63 local authorities, and that survey did not take into account responses from 201 authorities that said cuts had not been made in their provision. If the hon. Lady wants to cite facts, I suggest she looks at them more carefully in future. This Government take domestic violence very seriously. That is why it is this Government who have put in place stable funding of £40 million and why under this Government rape crisis centres are opening, when under the last Labour Government they closed.
13. What recent assessment she has made of the level of referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service for domestic violence offences. (900709)
The Home Office chaired a meeting with the Director of Public Prosecutions last month. This has led to a six-point plan to increase the number of referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, it should also be noted that last year saw the highest ever conviction rate for domestic violence prosecutions.
I am grateful for that answer and for all other answers given on this subject this afternoon. Since the general election, however, there has been a 13% fall in the number of cases of domestic violence being referred to the CPS from the police. Will the Minister ban the use of community resolutions in all cases of domestic violence?
We have heard from the Home Secretary that the ministerial team in the Home Office take this matter very seriously. We will discuss it later this week with chief constables and others. We are determined to ensure that domestic violence is given the prominence it should have within the legal system. I have also had a discussion about this matter with my colleague, Lord McNally, at the Ministry of Justice.
We have taken a number of steps to deal with abuse in the immigration system, and the Immigration Bill will go further. It will ensure that people do not have access to public services when they should not, it will reform the appeal system, and it will establish the House’s and Parliament’s views on how judges should make decisions relating to article 8 of the European convention.
Housing pressure in my constituency is huge as a result of the last Government’s unfettered immigration policies. Can my hon. Friend confirm that he intends to continue his endeavours to cut immigration further, thus relieving the pressure that is undermining the level of new housing being demanded by Labour-led Leeds city council?
My hon. Friend has made a good point. Our reduction in net migration will reduce the pressure on housing, and the provisions in the Immigration Bill ensuring that people who have no right to be here have no access to housing will increase the amount of housing stock available to British citizens and to lawful migrants who are following the rules.
I accept the need to tackle abuse in the system, but may I draw the Minister’s attention to a disturbing anomaly? Families in which neither parent has been given the right to work become dependent on local churches and friends, and experience great distress. Is there no way in which the immigration system can take account of their circumstances, and allow one parent to work? That ought to be the norm, but it seems to be happening less and less often.
If neither parent has the right to work because neither has the right to be in the United Kingdom, the solution to the problem is for them to leave. If the reason is that their case is being examined because they are, for example, claiming asylum, the state will support them while the case is under way. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a specific case in his constituency, I should be delighted if he got in touch with me, and we can have a look at it.
17. What advice would the Minister give councils when residents with dependants have exhausted the immigration appeal process and therefore have no recourse to public funds, but, because they have not left the country either voluntarily or as a result of enforcement, the councils are still continuing to have to meet their high costs? (900713)
In most cases, councils will have no liability to support such people, but they should carry out a human rights assessment. In a limited number of cases they may have to support them, but in most cases they will not. Indeed, by continuing to support those people when they need not do so, all that councils are doing is encouraging them to remain in the United Kingdom when they have no right to be here.
Baroness Warsi has said of “Go Home” ad vans:
“I don’t think it was a particularly positive experience and I am glad that we won't be going back to it.”
She also said:
“I think it’s always important for government to be clear when they are speaking to their communities that all people who are part of this nation legally are absolutely welcome.”
Does the Minister agree with that Cabinet Minister, and what steps will he take to reduce the use of dog-whistle politics?
I entirely agree that everyone who is in the United Kingdom legally, obeying our laws and rules, is very welcome indeed. We have always made that clear. As the hon. Lady knows, the campaign was focused squarely on those who were here illegally. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear last week that we had looked at some of the evidence, that we did not think the pilot had been successful enough, and that we would not be rolling it out further.
During last week’s debate on the Immigration Bill, my right hon. Friend made it clear that we would indeed publish the assessment when we had finished carrying out the evaluation. We are going to do the work properly, and we will publish the information in due course.
One of the parts of the immigration system that has been least open to abuse historically is the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. I know how carefully the Minister looked at the evidence before deciding to end the scheme. Will he now commit himself to monitoring the position, along with his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Work and Pensions, so that we can ensure that the ending of the scheme does not damage either the economy or food availability?
I have a constituency interest, as constituents of mine took advantage of the scheme. The hon. Gentleman is right—it was not abused, but it was nearing the end of its natural life this year, because it was open only to those from Bulgaria and Romania, and they will be able to come to the United Kingdom in any event after transitional controls have been withdrawn. We had to choose whether to create a new scheme, and we decided that we did not need to do so because sufficient labour was available in the European Union. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to keep the matter under review, along with other Departments, to ensure that our agricultural industry is not damaged in any way.
Foreign Criminals (Deportation)
The Immigration Bill will put the law on the side of the public, deporting criminals first and hearing appeals later wherever possible, and cutting the number of appeal routes available. Importantly, the Bill also addresses the abuse of the right to a family life under article 8 and upholds the view of Parliament that convicted criminals should be deported.
I know that my hon. Friend spoke in the Second Reading debate on the Bill and underlined those points. I was closely involved in the deportation of Abu Qatada, an important success for this Government, which was not achieved by the previous Government. That case showed the number of appeals that are possible and the slowness of the process. That is why it is right that we tackle the number of appeals. Seventeen potential appeal routes are available. We want to reduce that to four and to cut down on the abuses of the system.
The changes in the Immigration Bill will mean that those who are caught trying to enter a sham marriage will be deported from this country. I wholly welcome that, but when the Minister eventually answered some questions from me three months late, he revealed that the number of occasions when a registrar has written to the Home Office under section 24 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to notify it of significant concern about a possible sham marriage has risen dramatically since 2010. There are measures to deal with that in future, but why has that happened?
The consultation on the powers of stop-and-search ran for 12 weeks over the summer and generated a high volume of responses from national and local community groups to the police and members of the public. There were over 5,000 responses to the consultation, all of which are being analysed. We aim to publish the findings of the consultation and a response by the end of the year.
I am entirely in favour of appropriate stop-and-search, not least because an hour ago in Bermondsey, someone was clearly doing a runner having nicked stuff from a shop not far from my constituency office—they were a bit too far away for me to rugby tackle them, unfortunately. However, will the Minister ensure that the Government’s policy ends the excessive arrest of people who clearly should not be subject to stop-and-search, and the excessive stopping and searching of black, Asian and other minority groups?
That is precisely what the consultation is about. I regret that my right hon. Friend was prevented from being the “have a go” hero that I know he wants to be. I am happy to tell him that, even before the results of the consultation are published, the Metropolitan police have taken their own steps to improve the situation and that, from June 2011 to June 2012, in London, the arrest rate following stop-and-search went up from 10.6% to 17.3%. That suggests that the police are becoming much more sensitive about using that power in a way that leads to arrest.
We intend to publish a modern slavery Bill to strengthen further our response to this abhorrent crime. The Bill will consolidate existing offences, increase the maximum sentence available, limit future activities of perpetrators and introduce an anti-slavery commissioner. The National Crime Agency is also prioritising action against those involved in these appalling crimes.
I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome the introduction of the legislation. I fear that too many trafficked children currently do not receive the support they need. Will the Government consider including a proposal in the forthcoming legislation to appoint independent guardians to ensure that these vulnerable young people have advocates to access support?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight this approach to the support provided to those who are trafficked into this country. I note that the report recently published by the Children’s Society and the Refugee Council made a number of the points my hon. Friend has made. Local authorities already have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of trafficked children in their care. That is not applied as well across local authorities as it should be. We have a major programme of work in place to transform the care system and we will be focusing on this specific vulnerable group.
Last week I attended a very worrying human rights briefing about human trafficking in Libya—the trafficking of people to Europe generally and the United Kingdom—and the impact of the difficult political situation there. Will the hon. Gentleman urgently discuss the situation with the Foreign Office and see what steps are being taken to limit the criminal activities emanating from Libya?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point about the need for work overseas to prevent people from being trafficked into this country. The recently formed National Crime Agency very much focuses on each element of this, really tackling the organised crime groups, and we are already in close contact with our ministerial colleagues at the Foreign Office, but I will certainly note the specific point he makes.
The coalition Government acknowledges that some victims of domestic violence have specific needs and require a specialist response. The updated violence against women and girls action plan sets out a series of steps to address these needs, and outlines additional measures to protect hard-to-reach victims.
The Government acknowledges that victims face a variety of pressures when leaving violent relationships. In order to provide a specialist response for hard-to-reach victims, we have, for example, funded projects aimed specifically at those at risk of forced marriage and female genital mutilation, to raise awareness of the law, legal rights and support services. They can also be helped through the five freephone helplines the Home Secretary referred to earlier.
Sex Entertainment Venues (Licensing)
The Policing and Crime Act 2009 determined that decisions on licensing applications for sexual entertainment venues are best made at a local level. It also sets out the limited circumstances where such a licence would not be required. Hosting regular sexual entertainment without the relevant licence would represent a significant breach of broader licensing conditions, and local authorities are responsible for monitoring and enforcing those requirements.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Some pubs and clubs in my constituency have been regularly exploiting the loophole in the 2009 Act to which he refers. That puts patrons and performers at risk. Will he meet me to discuss how we can tighten up regulations in this important area?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. There is a balance to be struck between having rigorous and appropriate licensing conditions and imposing unnecessary bureaucratic burdens, but I will, of course, be very pleased to meet with my hon. Friend to discuss this further.
May I first thank and congratulate the police, and, indeed, all the other emergency services, on the excellent work they have been doing overnight and continue to do today for the victims of the terrible storm?
Earlier this month the new National Crime Agency was launched to lead the UK’s fight against serious and organised crime. For the first time we have a single national agency harnessing intelligence in order relentlessly to disrupt organised criminals at home and abroad. I have also announced that we will introduce in this Parliament a modern slavery Bill, which will include measures to send the strongest possible message to criminals: “If you’re involved in the disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, prosecuted and locked up.” Modern slavery is an appalling evil in our midst and no man, woman or child should be left to suffer through this terrible crime. Finally, I have recently introduced an Immigration Bill which will stop immigrants using certain services where they are not entitled to do so, reduce the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK, and make it easier to remove people who should not be here.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that in the Immigration Bill, we will ensure not only that a better process will be put in place to deal with situations where people come here for a very short time, use the NHS and should be charged but the charges are not being retrieved, but that those who come for a temporary period and may use the NHS will actually contribute to the NHS. That is only fair to hard-working people up and down the country. We will be looking, in particular, at the issue of students, and we have been very clear that we will set the surcharge for the use of the NHS at a rate that is competitive, because a number of other countries across the world do exactly this and at a higher charge.
I join the Home Secretary in thanking the police and all the emergency services for their excellent work in response to today’s storm. I know that the House will also want to send sympathies to the families of those who are reported to have tragically lost their lives as a result of the storm.
It is because the police do such a valued and vital job that it is also important to have effective investigations when things go wrong, so that they do not cast a shadow over the excellent work that so many police officers do each day. So does the Home Secretary agree that in order to do that, it is time to replace the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, with a new organisation with stronger powers?
I join the shadow Home Secretary in sending condolences to the families and friends of those who, it is reported, have lost their lives as a result of the storm, and she is right in saying that the whole House will wish to pass our sympathies on to those who have lost loved ones. On her question, I think it is right that we beef up the IPCC—that we give it a greater ability to deal with serious and sensitive cases and complaints that have been made against the police, rather than seeing so many of those complaints referred back to the police for their investigation. I think the public are concerned at the number of cases where they see the police investigating themselves, and the Government are committed to increasing resources at the IPCC. We have given it new powers and, if necessary, we will continue to do that.
The Home Secretary’s response is welcome, but it does not go far enough. Let us consider some of the problems we have seen for the IPCC. So far, the IPCC has proved that it is powerless to direct action in the case of West Mercia police; it is powerless to get seven former police officers to come to interview over Hillsborough; and it is unable to keep the confidence of families over the Mark Duggan case, over undercover policing and Stephen Lawrence, or over the death of Ian Tomlinson. Surely the Home Secretary agrees that the public need to have confidence not only in the police, but in the watchdog, in order for an effective job to be done? The resources are not sufficient, and the watchdog needs the powers to be able to launch its own investigations and ensure that lessons are learnt. That is the best way to ensure that a shadow is not cast over the excellent work the police do. We have been urging her to do this for more than a year now, so why will she not introduce these reforms to give the watchdog the much stronger powers that it needs?
The right hon. Lady knows full well that not only the issue of the investigation of complaints against the police, but the whole question of the integrity of the police goes further than simply the IPCC. We have taken a number of steps: for example, the register of struck-off police officers, which will be introduced as a result of action taken by this Government. It is exactly the sort of thing that would have helped in respect of the police officer involved in the issue relating to the Ian Tomlinson death, to which she referred. This Government are taking action on the IPCC. We are going to increase the resources, we are increasing the powers for the IPCC and we will ensure that it will be investigating the serious and sensitive cases which currently are passed back to the police. I think it is right that these investigations are done by a body that is not the police themselves.
T3. Several constituents of mine who have made complaints against the police to the IPCC feel that it did not have the necessary teeth to act on their grievance. Notwithstanding my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s previous answer, will the Minister say what more can be done to deal with this situation? (900720)
As my hon. Friend will just have heard, it is precisely to address this genuine public concern that we are increasing not only the resources available to the IPCC but its powers, so that it can take on the serious and sensitive cases. The powers we have given it are ones the IPCC has requested because it has identified the gaps in its own powers.
T2. Will the Home Secretary confirm that for the past year, police have had to destroy the DNA of people arrested for but not charged with rape without the right to appeal to the DNA commissioner, which the Prime Minister promised they would have? (900719)
We have amended the rights to retention of DNA to ensure that those convicted of offences are properly on the database, which the previous Government failed to do. We have introduced a new process whereby the police will be able to appeal to the commissioner, and they have not sought to address that in respect of historic DNA cases.
T5. As the Minister will be aware, Essex unfortunately has one of the highest levels of domestic violence in the country, with nearly 27,000 cases reported to the police in 2011-12. Many more victims are afraid to come forward. What specific training is being given to police officers to spot domestic violence cases, given the vulnerable state victims are in following such abuse? (900722)
We have taken a number of actions under the ending violence against women and girls action plan, including domestic violence protection orders and the domestic violence disclosure scheme. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has conducted a review of all forces and their response to domestic violence to ensure that the good practice available in some force areas is spread as widely as possible—including, I am sure, my hon. Friend’s local force.
T4. Will the Home Secretary confirm whether she has held any discussions with her fellow European Union Ministers on developing a common approach to how we will handle the increasing flood of Syrian refugees, particularly so that we can try to avoid disasters such as those we have witnessed in recent days? (900721)
A number of discussions have been held at EU level in relation to Syrian refugees both at the Justice and Home Affairs Council and at the European Council that took place at the end of last week, on which the Prime Minister will be making a statement after questions have finished. We have been considering, and the UK is supporting, a regional programme close to Syria to enable us to work with those countries that have borne the brunt of accepting refugees from Syria, to ensure that the right and appropriate support is given. The United Kingdom has given more humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees than all the other members of the European Union put together.
I recently took part in a knife crime summit in Birmingham following a series of incidents that have taken away more young lives. Does the Minister agree that stop-and-search powers for the police can be an effective way of clamping down on the carrying of knives in certain of our inner-city communities?
I absolutely agree that stop-and-search is an extremely important tool in the hands of the police. My hon. Friend will be aware that the consultation is not about reducing police effectiveness in the use of stop-and-search, but increasing it by making it more targeted, so that it is more effective for the police and gives rise to more confidence in communities.
I recently met a young Tamil man who had previously been deported back to Sri Lanka by the Home Secretary. He showed me his torture scars resulting from the Sri Lankan terrorist investigation department having tortured him. Will the Minister give me a categorical assurance that we are no longer returning men to Sri Lanka to be forcibly abused by the Sri Lankan authorities there?
The hon. Lady will know that we make decisions on asylum on a case-by-case basis and very carefully. We look at the country information we have and use the best available data. Everyone whom we determine does not have the right to our protection has the opportunity to have their case heard by an independent judge. We only return people to countries where we do not think that they need our protection, and we always keep the situation in the country under close review, working with our international partners.
Obviously, all chief constables will take full notice of what the IPCC says and will respond to reasonable requests. I think I know the matter to which my hon. Friend refers, and he will have seen that in that case chief constables have responded to what the IPCC recommended.
T9. According to Refuge, three women a week commit suicide because of domestic violence and their abusers usually escape scot-free. Some campaigners are calling for a specific offence of liability for suicide to be introduced. What does the Home Secretary think is the answer? (900726)
Of course, it is horrific to see the number of women who die at the hands of their abusers or who commit suicide as a result of the abuse they are suffering. This is an issue we have looked at in the past, and for a variety of reasons we decided that we would not go ahead with the proposal the hon. Lady puts forward, but I am happy to look at the issue again.
One of the stubborn points that I hear from my constituents is that although crime is dropping, which is obviously welcome, rural crime is still not coming under control. Will the Minister please take a very close look at the police community support officers? Most of the stolen property turns up in Exeter or Bristol. If we had the resources for PCSOs, we would be able to detail a lot more of the thefts that are going on across places such as Exmoor, get some of the stuff back and deter these criminals if they thought they were going to get caught when they get back with the stuff that they had stolen.
I am happy to tell my hon. Friend and the House that in Avon and Somerset crime is down 21% since June 2010. We should pay tribute to the police in Avon and Somerset for doing that. I will look carefully at the recommendations that my hon. Friend makes about rural crime.
A moment ago the Home Secretary welcomed the setting up of the National Crime Agency, as do I, but unfortunately, as she will know, in Northern Ireland it has been blocked by two parties. What steps is she taking in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland to address this very big failing in relation to tackling crime and criminal gangs in Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have had a number of discussions with both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland on this matter. The National Crime Agency will be working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland on matters relating to serious and organised crime and all matters under the National Crime Agency’s responsibilities, and we continue to talk both to my right hon. Friend and to the Minister of Justice and look for a further way forward on this issue.
Following the disturbing reports in The Sun this morning about the impact of the Snowden files on our intelligence services, may I urge the Home Secretary to continue to balance national security with press freedom as she deals with this issue?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point, which he has rightly raised on a number of occasions in the House. It is important, of course, that we protect press freedom, but we also need to ensure that we are able to protect our national security and that we do not see information being published which could give any succour to those who wish to do us harm through terrorism.
The Minister for Immigration will be well aware that I have had to draw his attention to unreasonably long delays in implementing tribunal decisions which have reversed Home Office refusals in individual cases. When will he put an end to the scandal of people waiting six months or, in some cases, more than a year for legally binding decisions to be implemented by his Department?
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right: he has drawn some of those cases to my attention. Sometimes, when tribunals make rulings that require a change in policy, it is important to get that policy right to make sure that we can implement the tribunals’ decisions in the way they intended. If the right hon. Gentleman has any further cases, which he seemed to have, will he please get in touch with me and I will be happy to take those up for him.
In the past 24 hours the country has been hit by one of the worst storms for many years. I know the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families and friends of the four people we know have lost their lives. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to our emergency services and to all those who have been working to clear up the debris and get our transport system moving again. All the agencies involved are working as fast as possible to get things back to normal.
Let me turn to last week’s European Council. The key subjects under discussion were business regulation, competitiveness and monetary union. We also discussed migration policy following the Lampedusa tragedy and the importance of the EU’s eastern partnership, specifically with respect to Ukraine, so the background to this Council was the state of the European economy. There is no doubt that the outlook is better than it has been, particularly here in Britain, where Friday’s figures showed the fastest growth for three years. My aim at this Council was to do everything possible to enhance the prospects of a sustained and balanced recovery here in the UK. We made good progress in three areas in particular: cutting red tape; promoting trade and the completion of the single market in digital and services; and protecting British interests as the eurozone integrates further. Let me briefly say a word about each.
First, on cutting red tape, Britain’s business taskforce produced an excellent report, which was endorsed by 100 European businesses. I chaired a meeting bringing members of the business taskforce together with President Barroso and the leaders of Germany, Sweden, Italy, Poland, Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands. Those countries, which represent all parts of Europe and all political traditions, agreed on the need to make more progress in cutting regulation and helping businesses across Europe to create jobs. The strong language adopted in the communiqué by all EU member states reflects that ambition. It calls for rapid implementation of REFIT, the Commission’s own bureaucracy-cutting initiative, and a proper scoreboard to measure exactly how much regulation is being cut. Deregulation is now part of the EU agenda in a way that it simply has not been before.
Secondly, on trade, we welcomed the conclusion of the new EU-Canada trade deal, which could be worth £1.3 billion to the British economy, with estimates suggesting that British exports to Canada could go up by as much as a fifth. Last week’s agreement also means that we can now move on to focus on the EU-US talks that we began at the G8 at Lough Erne. There were some attempts to link that potential US trade deal with the concerns about US intelligence, but the Council rejected the idea.
On the digital single market, once again a commitment was made to complete that by 2015, potentially boosting growth by as much as 4% of the EU’s total GDP. As Britain is a world leader in e-commerce, that is very much in our interests. We made good progress at the Council on issues such as portability of data, e-identification, e-invoicing and payment services, and an EU-wide copyright regime for the digital age. But we also agreed not to rush ahead with the data protection directive on an artificial timetable, because the current draft has disproportionate burdens on small business that need to be removed. With regard to the services directive, we also agreed that it was time to look at a new sector-by-sector approach, rather than just trying to remove all the outstanding barriers to free trade in services in one go, a process that has stalled in recent years.
Thirdly, on defending Britain’s interests, as I have argued repeatedly in this House, the European Union is changing and the eurozone needs more integration and co-ordination, but Britain is not in the single currency and is not going to be, so we should not have to take part in those additional pieces of co-ordination, whether they cover economic or social policy. Therefore, while eurozone members agreed to even more intrusive policy co-ordination, including on social policy, I was clear that Britain will not take part. That is reflected in the communiqué, which states that all changes are voluntary for those countries not in the single currency.
On the tragedy at Lampedusa, we agreed the next stages of the work of Frontex, which is responsible for trying to stop people coming into the EU in the first place, but we rejected the idea that there should be additional burden sharing for so-called “front-line states”, not least because the figures show that Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Sweden received almost 70% of asylum applications recorded in the EU in the last 12 months. What is most important of all is to help stop the problems at their source. The UK will continue to play a leading role in that, for example through support for border security in Libya and the focus of our development assistance on helping countries at risk of instability.
On the eastern partnership, we agreed that countries that look to Europe for support, such as Ukraine, should be free to enter into agreement with us, while of course continuing to insist on proper standards of governance and justice that such a relationship should entail.
Finally, because of the recent controversies there was much discussion of the role of intelligence agencies. We agreed a statement, which we signed as Heads of Government—because there is no EU competence in this area, and nor should there be—saying that European countries and America should have a relationship based on trust and referring to the damage that had been done by recent revelations. The UK has a very strong, long-standing, trust-based relationship with the US, not least as part of the “Five Eyes” partnership, together with Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
With regard to our own intelligence services, it has been a long-standing stance that we do not comment on their activities, but it is worth saying this: we have parliamentary scrutiny of our intelligence agencies through the Intelligence and Security Committee, and we have strengthened that oversight. Our agencies operate under the law and their work is overseen by intelligence commissioners. Of course, as technology develops and the threats we face evolve, we need to ensure that the scrutiny and frameworks in place remain strong and effective, but we have every reason to be proud of our intelligence services and the way they are properly constituted in our country.
Since 2000, we have seen serious attempts at major acts of terrorism in Britain, typically once or even twice a year. Since 9/11—this is a significant figure— 330 people have been convicted in our courts, here in the UK, of terrorism-related offences. This year alone, there were major trials related to plots including plans for a 7/7-style attack with rucksack bombs, two plots to kill soldiers, and a failed attempt to attack an English Defence League march using an array of lethal weapons. There were guilty pleas in each case. Twenty-four terrorists were convicted and sentenced to more than 260 years in jail. I quote these figures just to demonstrate the scale of the ongoing threat that we face in our country. Our intelligence has also allowed us to warn our EU allies about terrorist plots aimed at their people, about cyber attacks on their businesses and infrastructure, and about attempts in their own states to traffic drugs, people, arms and money illegally.
Our intelligence officers serve our country without any public recognition. Some have given their lives in this service, and yet their names are not known and their loved ones must mourn in secret. We owe them, and every intelligence officer in our country, an enormous debt of gratitude. They are silent heroes and heroines keeping our country safe, and they deserve our support. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. May I start by joining him in sending my deepest condolences to the families of the four people who have died during the storm conditions of the last 24 hours? Let me also join him in thanking the emergency services for the work they have done overnight to protect people and the work they are now doing to clear the debris. Will he take this opportunity to update the House on the hundreds of thousands of homes without power in south-west England, East Anglia and the midlands, and on how long it is expected to take for it to be restored?
On the European statement, I join the Prime Minister in his support for the work of our intelligence services. It is vital, it keeps us safe, and, as he said, by its very nature it goes unrecognised. I join him in applauding the men and women who work for our intelligence services. I also support the summit’s statement on this issue. We can all understand the deep concerns that recent reports have caused in some European countries, especially Germany, so as well as providing that support for intelligence services, it is right that every country ensures proper oversight of those activities.
Turning to the formal agenda of the summit, first, on trade, we welcome and support the conclusion of the Canada-EU trade deal and agree with the focus on the US-EU trade agreement. At the start of this year, a timetable for December 2014 was set to complete negotiations. Will the Prime Minister set out any further developments on that challenging timetable and its feasibility? Does he agree that the possibility of this agreement is an important reminder, including perhaps to his Cabinet, that a prosperous future for Britain lies inside, not outside, the European Union?
Secondly, completion of the digital single market could have a significant impact on our prosperity. On numerous occasions, the Prime Minister has come to this House stating his commitment to expand the single market in digital services. What has been achieved at this summit that was not achieved at previous summits? Can he reassure us that the delay to the data protection directive is a delay and not simply a pushing of this into the long grass for it never to be completed?
On regulation, we will look at the proposals of the Prime Minister’s taskforce. We agree with the need to restrain unnecessary regulation and welcome any progress on this, but we do need to distinguish between good and bad regulation. That takes me to a couple of questions about his taskforce’s report. In the light of the horsemeat scandal earlier this year, does it really make sense, as the taskforce seems to be suggesting, to scrap new rules providing transparency about where slaughtered meat has come from? What about rules on agency work? Those rules play an important role in deterring employers from using low-wage migrant labour to undercut local workers, but his taskforce says they should be watered down. What reassurance can he provide that this will not simply mean cuts in wages and conditions, and a race to the bottom?
On broader economic policy, I note that the Prime Minister said at the end of his European summit press conference that his priority was now to
“make sure...it is a recovery for all”.
Does this represent an acknowledgement that despite the welcome news on growth, millions of people still feel worse off because of the cost of living crisis? Talking of that crisis, did he share with other European countries the fact that the UK has the highest inflation in Europe and in the last quarter we saw the lowest wage growth in Britain on record?
The Prime Minister also said after the summit that he wanted to help people “excluded from our economy”. This includes youth unemployment, which is mentioned in the communiqué. [Interruption.] I know that Government Members do not want to hear about youth unemployment, but it is a very important issue. The shameful truth is that nearly one in five unemployed young people in Europe lives in Britain, and the Prime Minister’s youth contract has recently been branded a failure by his own advisers, so what did he say at the summit about the changes needed here in Britain when it comes to youth unemployment?
For people who are struggling with their energy bills and whose wages are falling, and for young people looking for work, is it not the truth that nothing is different after this summit from what it was before? To be fair, in his heart of hearts, I think even the Prime Minister realises that, because he began his press conference after the summit with the stirring words: “Another European Council concluded.” Is not that the best that can be said for this summit?
I make no apology for coming to this House and repeating the policy prescriptions we need to achieve in Europe. We have a very consistent record of going after completing energy, completing digital and completing services. That is what will make a difference. It is hard work in Europe—it is hard going —but we are making progress.
The Leader of the Opposition asked a number of questions; let me answer all of them. On electricity disconnections, more than 200,000 people are currently disconnected and work is under way to reconnect them. Obviously, circumstances will differ in each case, so it may take longer for some than others.
I very much welcome the fact that there is cross-party agreement on the intelligence services. Over recent years, we have put in place—under Governments of both parties—very good arrangements for governing our intelligence services and we should be proud of the work they do.
On the EU-Canada trade deal, the right hon. Gentleman is right that there is still more to do. I think that the most difficult decisions in principle have been made, particularly on key areas such as beef and dairy, so I do not expect this to take a long time. The pressure is on, because everybody knows that the EU now wants to turn to the bigger deal with America, so the Canada deal needs to be wrapped up.
On digital and the single market, there is quite a lot of detail in paragraphs 5 to 9 of the communiqué about the specific progress on individual items. Whether they are telecoms, data or rules for e-commerce, a huge number of detailed changes have to be made.
I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we have looked very closely at the data protection directive. The effect of the current draft would be to add more than £300 million to the costs of UK business. It would mean that quite small businesses that do market research, for example, would have to employ one extra person simply to comply with the directive. We need a directive in order to make the digital single market work properly, but the current draft is wrong and we should hold it up so that we get it right.
On deregulation more generally, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will read the report, which is excellent because it comes up with good principles that should be adopted in Europe, such as the one-in, one-out principle that we have adopted in the UK. It also makes 30 recommendations for directives to be scrapped, amended or in some cases completed. It is a good report.
On unemployment, let me answer the right hon. Gentleman specifically. The UK youth unemployment rate is below that of France, Italy and the EU average. It is down over the quarter. The youth claimant count is down 79,000 since the last election. There is much more to do, but the fact is that just this morning we announced 100,000 extra training opportunities for young people and there are record numbers of apprenticeships—they are now running at twice the rate they were under the previous Labour Government.
The right hon. Gentleman made a number of economic predictions that rather reminded me of other predictions he has made over the years. He told us in 2010 that our policies would lead to a loss of 1 million jobs. That was completely wrong: we have added 1.4 million private sector jobs. In 2012 he was still saying, amazingly, that the loss of public sector jobs would not be made up for by the growth of private sector jobs. Again, he was wrong: we got 1 million more people in work.
As late as June this year, the shadow Chancellor, who is not in his place—presumably he is sorting out Labour’s HS2 policy—said that we would choke off growth, and yet the truth is that this year we are forecast to grow more than twice as fast as Germany. Those are the results we are getting both here and in Europe.
During the summit, did the Prime Minister manage to raise the issue of energy prices? EU regulations mean that we have much dearer energy than America or Asia, and I seem to remember the previous Government willingly signing up to those proposals. They are clearly a competitive impediment to us.
There was no specific discussion about energy prices, but one of the proposals of the business taskforce report is to ensure that we do not add to the cost of, for instance, shale gas extraction. That was very much welcomed by other member states. We need to consider how regulations add to the costs for energy consumers.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s efforts in respect of deregulation. May I ask him to pay particular attention to the REACH—registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—regulation? As I have explained to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that regulation is likely to have a deleterious effect on one company in my constituency, which does not wish to be named for obvious reasons. We all support health and safety measures in respect of chemicals, but will he look at the over-elaborate enforcement of the regulation, which is unnecessary and could do gratuitous damage to companies in this country?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. That issue is covered in the excellent document by the business taskforce.
May I take this opportunity to say how much the right hon. Gentleman will be missed in Parliament by Members on both sides of the House? I worry that if he retires to his house in my constituency, he might be a rather frequent correspondent when he has so much time on his hands. However, his contributions are always welcome.
May I join the Prime Minister in offering my condolences to those who are suffering from bereavements as a result of today’s weather, and my thanks to the emergency services? I also echo his warm words about working with our eastern European neighbours, including Ukraine, at the European Council.
Following last week’s very good economic news for Britain, does the Prime Minister agree that we can best show that the EU provides more jobs and trade in this country not only by making good trade deals, but by developing a digital common market in which Britain can lead, because English is our language, and which can open the telecoms market and end the nonsense of roaming charges, which are onerous and expensive?
Ending roaming charges would be a good step that would demonstrate that EU directives can sometimes make people’s lives easier, rather than more difficult. The challenge is that, all too often, we find that a directive will add to business costs, rather than reduce them. That is why it is vital to hardwire into the EU’s systems a greater belief in deregulation and cost-cutting.
If we are giving impetus to association agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, where does that leave Turkey? What assessment has the Prime Minister made of the reports that Germany and France may be revising their attitude to Turkish membership of or association with the European Union? Surely Turkey should be a greater priority, given its crucial role as a gateway between Europe and Asia and between the Christian and Muslim worlds.
We should take the two cases separately. We are in accession negotiations with Turkey and another chapter has just opened in relation to its membership of the EU, which I support. Ukraine and the other Eastern Partnership countries are a different matter. They are obviously under an enormous amount of pressure to join a trade area dominated by Russia. We want to say to those countries that if they want to have a relationship with Europe and to trade with it, they can. This is an opportunity to say to countries such as Ukraine that they must continue to make progress with governance and justice if they want to have that relationship. That is an important part of the EU’s relationship with those eastern countries. I therefore think that the two cases are slightly different.
The Prime Minister is determined to achieve proper reform of the EU. Does he agree that it is ridiculous that the EU spends only 2% of its annual budget on trade and more than two thirds of its annual budget on structural funds and agricultural policy? Does he think that that needs to change?
That does need to change. We made some progress at the recent budget negotiations, because the deal for the seven-year period involves a cut. The EU will, to coin a phrase, have to do more with less. Hopefully it will do less with less—that would be even better. It should focus on things that will improve living standards in European Union countries. Obviously, trade deals are chief among those things.
There was a good moment at the dinner when one EU Prime Minister said how disappointed he was that clearly no one was interested in his conversations. I will not reveal who that was. We do not comment on these issues. The White House has made the situation perfectly clear and I do not need to add to what it has said.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank colleagues very much.
I welcome what the Prime Minister had to say on migration and avoiding the tragedies in the Mediterranean, but will he reaffirm the long-term nature of support to Arab countries in transition? There is a sense that just two years after the events of 2011, countries should be settling down and sorted out, but the impact on politics, economics and security has been significant. If we are to avoid the tragedy of deaths in the Mediterranean, and greater migration, an assurance from the United Kingdom and the EU that there will be long-term support for transition would be helpful.
My hon. Friend did a huge amount in the Foreign Office to ensure proper relationships between the EU and those north African countries, and that we put in resources to try to help stabilise them. Clearly there is much more work to be done, and we must keep on with that initiative because the best way to stop those migratory flows is to help heal those countries at source.
May I push the Prime Minister a little further on that point? He said in his statement that the next stages of work for Frontex were agreed at the Council? Will he say what that amounted to and what part the UK will play, both by itself and as part of necessary EU co-operation? Nobody in this country wants any more of the terrible incidents that we have seen in the Mediterranean.
As the hon. Lady said, the tragedies that have happened were appalling, and we must therefore improve all the ways we deal with this issue. Frontex is, as its name suggests, absolutely on the front line, and it needs the resources necessary to carry out its work. There will be a bigger and broader debate in the EU about the whole issue of migration, and we should try to avoid the sense that there are somehow front-line states such as Italy or Malta that are under particular pressure. When we look at the figures and see how many asylum seekers per 1,000 people there are coming to Britain or countries such as Hungary, we see that there is a fair burden share. All those issues will be discussed at European Council, probably after the next European elections.
That issue was not discussed, because we were focused on trade and the single market, and additional issues of migration and the eastern partnership. Observers can play a role, however, and I am sure my friends in the Foreign Office who are sitting next to me will respond to my hon. Friend on how Britain and the EU can help with those elections.
Given the orchestrated campaign and witch hunt against The Guardian, is this an appropriate time to congratulate it on publishing details of how the mobile phone of the German Chancellor has been monitored? Does the Prime Minister consider that that sort of information should be in the public domain?
I certainly would not congratulate The Guardian newspaper, because I can see what has been done. Information has been published about the work of our security and intelligence services that will, quite frankly, make this country less safe. We live in a free country, so newspapers are free to publish what they want. We have not been heavy-handed and come in with injunctions and all the rest, but we appeal to newspapers to use judgment, common sense and responsibility when they make such decisions.
We must ensure that the way Europe works is not always by reaching for regulatory changes and costs when it examines a problem. Sometimes that will just be about Europe behaving in a different way—as I hope it will on shale gas, for example—but on other occasions it will require institutional changes, such as the red card system that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has suggested, or further treaty changes to try to reduce the burden of regulation, or indeed take this country out of areas of regulation. All those things should be on the table.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of the statement. It is unclear whether the UK will be allowed to rejoin some measures following the block opt-out of EU criminal law because, of course, rejoining will be subject to veto by other members. What discussions on that did the Prime Minister have with his counterparts? Would it not be better to address any concerns he has by trying to reform the system rather than by leaving it, as was so clearly said in the recent Cambridge university law faculty paper on the subject?
I did not have discussions about that at this European Council—it was not on the agenda—but it is absolutely right to exercise the UK opt-out. That means coming out of all the areas and having the opportunity, if we so wish, to negotiate our way back in to those that matter most. That is the right approach. Europe should be focused on prosperity, growth and trade, and not on other issues.
Did the Prime Minister have any conversations with our EU friends about his welcome commitment to an in/out referendum on British membership? Will he make it a condition of any future coalition that any future coalition partner must agree not to stand in the way of such a referendum?
My hon. Friend is always keen to get such conditions in black and white, but I can satisfy him on this occasion. I have said clearly that I would not be Prime Minister of a Government unless they put in place that EU referendum by the end of 2017. I could not be more clear. I did not have any specific conversations about the referendum pledge. It is well known by EU members. Interestingly, while holding the referendum, Britain is perfectly capable of leading the way and bringing countries together on issues such as deregulation to pressurise the rest of the EU to take up an agenda that would be good for all of us.
Will the Prime Minister tell the House what discussions took place on relations with Iran, on the future of a sanctions policy against Iran and, importantly, on Iran’s participation and that of every other partner in the region in a Geneva II peace process to try to end the ghastly war in Syria?
There was not a Council-wide discussion, but I took the opportunity to speak with Cathy Ashton, who is doing an excellent job on behalf of this country and the EU. It has rightly taken a tough line in negotiations with Iran, because steps by Iran on the nuclear front need to be seen. On Syria, the first thing that has to happen is that Iran needs to sign up to Geneva I and those principles before being able to move forward to Geneva II.
Turning back to the issue of the refugees coming across the Mediterranean and the tragedy at Lampedusa, did the Italian Government or Italian leaders ask my right hon. Friend whether there was any assistance by Royal Navy patrols? On Libyan border security, was my right hon. Friend referring to Libya’s African land border or to the maritime border?
The Italians have been doing very good work to up their naval patrols in a particular operation to try to assist with the problem. They have not asked us for any assistance, but relations between Britain and Italy are extremely good. On Libya, Britain’s focus is more on helping on the land borders that have been particularly porous and dangerous in recent years. Obviously, we are also working with Libya to try to increase its level of domestic security, because one key to preventing such migratory flows is ensuring that countries have Governments who work.
Further to the question from the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), the Italians have been doing a good job but, even last weekend, 800 migrants were prevented from going to Lampedusa by the Italian authorities. Although support for Frontex and agreements on an EU basis with origin countries are useful, it might be necessary for Britain to have bilateral arrangements with some origin countries. Does the Prime Minister support that?
I always listen carefully to the right hon. Gentleman on such issues—his Home Affairs Committee does such good work on them. My point is that Britain already does over and above our share of taking people who are fleeing torture and persecution, or people who are fleeing for a better life but who claim asylum. We share a very big part of the burden and I do not want to do things that add to it.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s robust defence of our security services. Following this morning’s revelations in The Sun on the impact of the Snowden leaks, is it not time for any newspaper that may have crossed the line on national security to come forward and voluntarily work with the Government to mitigate further risks to our citizens?
I thank my hon. Friend for his consistent championing of the intelligence services, who do such important work to keep our country safe. As I said, we have a free press and it is very important that the press feels it is not pre-censored in what it writes. The approach we have taken is to try to talk to the press and explain how damaging some of these things can be. That is why The Guardian destroyed some of the information on disks it had, although it has now printed further damaging material. I do not want to have to use injunctions, D notices or other, tougher measures; it is much better to appeal to newspapers’ sense of social responsibility. However, if they do not demonstrate some social responsibility, it will be very difficult for the Government to stand back and not to act.
The first thing to do is to keep inflation down. The Bank of England has that responsibility and we have seen better figures in recent weeks. Even more important is to help people with their living standards by making sure that we continue to grow the number of people in work—up by 1 million since the election—and, crucially, that we cut taxes. We are now seeing people earn £10,000 before they pay any income tax. That means someone on a minimum wage working a full-time week is seeing their tax bill cut by two thirds —that is good news for them.
Will my right hon. Friend say whether at the EU Council there was any attempt by our EU partners to raid our rebate further? They were quite successful at it when the Labour party was in power. What would his response be to such a raid?
It was one of the few EU Councils that I have been to where there was not a specific attempt to raid our rebate. However, because the corset, as it were, that we put around the EU budget between 2014 and 2020—the seven-year deal—is so tight, the European Parliament is trying to spend as much money as possible before 2014. I think that what we will see, depressingly, is amending budgets to the 2013 budget, on which, of course, we can be outvoted, but from 2014 onwards we are going to see the EU budget cut. That is good news, because it means less contribution from us, and our rebate is safe.
Talking of the Prime Minister’s constituents, Mr Phil Ball is one of the Greenpeace activists in prison in Murmansk, along with five other Britons, including Kieran Bryan, who is a journalist. There are no German nationals in Murmansk, but Angela Merkel rang President Putin to say that this is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Has the Prime Minister already rang President Putin? If not, will he do so as a matter of urgency?
This is a serious issue, which I have spoken about in the House previously, not least because one of my constituents is involved. The Minister for Europe has been on this case day after day. I will look at every single intervention I could possibly make to help. If contact directly with President Putin would be helpful, I am certainly prepared to consider it.
I note that the EU Council agenda now includes the social dimensions of economic and monetary union. Will the Prime Minister confirm that welfare systems continue to be a national competence and that he will fight any attempt by the Commission to interfere with the UK’s important welfare reforms?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. There are two points here. What the eurozone countries want is a sort of social score card to go with deeper integration. I said that we did not want to be involved in that and insisted on a voluntary system. We not only need to see that welfare issues remain for national Governments; we need to look at the habitual residence test and some of the problems with the welfare system. This is not now a uniquely British complaint about European systems. We hear it from German and Dutch Ministers and others, so we need to build an alliance to try to ensure that we have a better system in Europe.
What progress—or lack of it—was made on banking union and did the Prime Minister find any support among fellow EU leaders for the idea that it would benefit Britain’s very important financial services industries to pull out of the EU and erect barriers between us and our most important market?
There was some progress on banking union, but this is an issue predominantly for members of the eurozone. A single currency necessitates some form of single bank regulation and resolution system, and that is what its members are putting in place. They are doing so quite tentatively, however, because they are beginning to realise what an enormous transfer of sovereignty it could amount to—theoretically, of course, it would see German citizens standing behind Greek banks and vice versa. Some progress was made. Britain is not taking part in this banking union, of course, but we have achieved some excellent safeguards to ensure that we have a real say over those parts of financial services regulation to which we are still subject. I suspect that progress towards full banking union will be fairly slow, but in any case Britain will not be involved.
I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to our security services, whose members not only risk their lives to keep us safe, but have to sit in silence while ludicrous conspiracy theories are often thrown at them. If the first rule of intelligence is the “need to know” principle, the second is do not throw stones in glass houses. At the European Council, did he have a chance to speak to his French counterpart, the French President, about his intelligence services’ record on industrial espionage, and will he seek assurances that the French will not use the Snowden affair as a political football for another agenda and therefore undermine the EU’s and Britain’s intelligence capabilities?
First, I insisted that we were clear that intelligence services were a national competence, not an EU competence, which was why the statement, of which my hon. Friend can see a copy, was issued by EU Heads of State and Governments, not the European Council or the European Commission. That is very important. Certainly, there was a lot of discussion at the dinner of the point my hon. Friend raises. Different Prime Ministers and Presidents made different points and I listened carefully to their contributions.
The Prime Minister has rightly paid tribute to the work of the intelligence services, and I am sure he will agree that hundreds of lives have been saved in Northern Ireland over many decades as a result of the excellent work of many intelligence officers. Does he agree that it is important to put on the record the excellent life-saving work of people in the security forces and intelligence services, at a time when it has become ever so fashionable to degrade and denigrate that work and to revise the roles of various groups during the troubles in Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is not always possible—in fact, it is hardly ever possible—to identify even the specific pieces of work done by the security services in foiling various crimes or bomb plots, but the fact is that they have done extremely good work on that basis. That is why I quoted the figure of 330 people going through our courts and being convicted since 2001. If we asked people what number they would expect that to be, I think they would come up with something much, much lower. The figure points to the scale of the threat and therefore to the need to maintain a very strong security presence.
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), will the Prime Minister tell us how much the EU’s renewable energy target has added to UK consumers’ energy bills already and how much it is likely to continue to add in the future? Will the EU get rid of this ridiculous target and does my right hon. Friend agree that the Energy Secretary who signed up to that directive, the current Leader of the Opposition, has a brass neck to claim to be the champion of low energy prices?
I will not be able entirely to satisfy my hon. Friend, which is always a difficult job. There is no doubt that green levies and charges add to consumer bills—the figure is over £100 and rising. I would argue that it is necessary to help some renewable technologies to get going, but the moment we can remove those levies is the moment that we should remove them. One of this Government’s first acts was to remove the £179 levy placed on every single bill by the renewable heat initiative, which was put in place by none other than the Leader of the Opposition.
The Scottish people are of course pleased and delighted that the Prime Minister has found time to engage in debate with European leaders, but we are still wondering why he has been such a big fearty in refusing to debate with Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland.
This is such an old chestnut that I could almost put the answer to music. The fact is that the debate about Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom is not a debate between the leader of the Scottish National party and the leader of the Conservative party. It is not even a debate between the Scottish First Minister and the British Prime Minister. It is a debate between two groups of people in Scotland: people such as the hon. Gentleman, who want to break up the successful partnership of the United Kingdom and put all that at risk, and people in Scotland who very sensibly want to stay part of the United Kingdom. Because the SNP is not winning the argument, it is looking for some distraction therapy; well, I am not going to fall for it.
We are a nation of garden-loving, nature-loving people. Will my right hon. Friend consider carefully the real concerns expressed by the Royal Horticultural Society about the unnecessary and costly proposed EU regulations on seeds and plants that would do so much harm to businesses and gardeners the length and breadth of our country?
I try to keep up with all EU legislation, but I am afraid that that one has passed me by, which I am particularly sad about because I am very proud of my vegetable patch and of the investment that I make in seeds every year, even though it does not always pay off in the form of good results. I will look carefully at the issue that my hon. Friend has raised.
Having gone some way towards reforming parliamentary scrutiny of the intelligence services through the Intelligence and Security Committee, does the Prime Minister think that it is now time for some parliamentary scrutiny of the intelligence commissioners?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and, particularly, the recommendations of his business taskforce. It is good to hear that those recommendations were endorsed by more than 100 businesses in the EU. Will he tell the House what further steps will be taken to engage yet more businesses across the EU to ensure that we make even faster progress on this vital agenda?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. There is a good dialogue in this country between business and the Government on the cost of regulation and the things that need to change. I am not sure that that debate takes place in the other European countries, so I have asked the authors of the excellent report—who include a number of very senior business leaders in Britain—and Ministers to do a tour of European capitals to try to get European business leaders and European alternatives to the CBI together and to encourage them to lobby their Governments, so that we can really get the issues of deregulation and cost reduction hard-wired throughout the European system.
Does the Prime Minister agree with the assessment that a successful transatlantic trade and investment partnership would increase our exports to the United States by as much as three fifths, and be worth as much as £10 billion a year to our economy? Does he also acknowledge that the only way to achieve those benefits is to make the case for being part of the European Union, instead of appeasing those who want us out of it?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that I think an EU-US trade deal can add to the economies of the EU and the US. Britain is particularly well placed to benefit because these complex trade deals now help quite a lot with trade in services, where we have real expertise and a real comparative advantage. I do not agree with him, however, in that I do not think that we will secure Britain’s place in a reformed European Union if we just stick our head in the sand and pretend that there is not a real question mark hanging over our membership. The fact is that consent for our membership is wafer thin, and we need to change Europe and then have a referendum so that we can rebuild it.
The Prime Minister is leading Europe in the efforts to end modern-day slavery. However, there are two countries in Europe that are in denial that it even exists. Did he have a chance to talk to the German Chancellor and the French President about this? If not, could he call them on their mobile phones, so that the Americans can find out about it too?
As I mentioned in the statement, the issues of trafficking and slavery were mentioned briefly at the Council. Britain is doing a good job in leading the way not only in applying the relevant European rules but in going above and beyond them to wipe out modern-day slavery here in the UK. That will put us in a stronger position to be able to turn round to other countries and say, “Look, this can be done in a way that does not add massively to costs but that is absolutely right for our countries.” I am very happy to have those conversations.
US protectionism has long been detrimental to some poorer countries that are trying to sell certain products. What pressure can the Prime Minister bring to bear on the US-EU trade treaty negotiations to ensure a better deal for some of the poorest countries in the world?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. As part of these negotiations, we should push for what we have here in the EU—basically, duty-free and quota-free access for the poorest countries in the world. That has worked well, has not cost European jobs, and has created wealth in other parts of the world. We should encourage other countries to do the same thing.
Between the end of 2011 and the middle of 2013, exports from the west midlands grew by 30%—almost twice the rate of the next strongest regional performer. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the EU-Canada trade deal and the progress he has made in cutting EU red tape from the digital economy will provide a further boost to exporters in the west midlands and across the entire country?