House of Commons
Monday 10 March 2014
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 are providing direct support to 20 areas in England and Wales, including Greater Manchester, to tackle the harmful effects of excessive drinking, particularly alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder. We have also overhauled the Licensing Act 2003, giving local areas the tools and powers they need to deal with problem premises, and to secure a financial contribution towards policing the night-time economy.
I thank the Home Secretary for that answer, and particularly for the work that will be done in Greater Manchester. May I draw her attention to the plea of the director of public health for Stockport, who is concerned that the action of the alcohol industry is, to some extent, holding licensing authorities to ransom? Will she include that in her consideration of this important matter?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and we want to ensure that licensing authorities can use the tools and powers that the Government have given them. We gave them those tools and powers for a very good reason and because of our concern on two counts relating to alcohol abuse and the problems that arise from it—the cost to the police and society generally of crime and disorder related to alcohol, and also the health costs that arise.
19. A report by The Lancet estimated that there were more than 200,000 alcohol-related crimes in the north-east in just a year, and that a minimum unit price would save 860 lives a year and cut hospital admissions by 30,000. Is it time that the Secretary of State totally disregarded the drinks industry lobby and introduced a minimum unit price to help make people healthier and safer at home? (902921)
We are going to introduce a ban on the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT. That was a coalition agreement commitment, which will be introduced this April. We are also working with the industry and challenging it to ensure that it raises its game in dealing with problems related to excessive binge drinking and alcohol use, and we will watch what happens. Obviously Scotland is moving on the minimum unit price. There are legal issues and it will be interesting to see what evidence arises from that.
Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), some of us believe that the primary problem with alcohol is a health problem rather than one of disorder and crime. Is the Home Secretary working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that we deal with alcohol seriously?
Since 2010 we have reformed all routes to the UK, tightening areas where abuse was rife. In particular, around 700 colleges can no longer bring students into the UK, but at the same time, sponsored visa applications for university students increased by 7% in the past year. In the areas where we can exert control, our reforms are working and have cut non-EU migration to its lowest level since 1998.
I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. Most statistics are quoted as net migration figures, although most people are concerned about the number of people coming to this country. Is it important to assess gross immigration figures when talking about these issues?
Obviously it is important to consider all migration figures, and uncontrolled gross immigration does put pressure on our public services and infrastructure. As the immigration Minister pointed out, the people who suffer most from the impact of uncontrolled immigration are those at the lower end of the income scale. Indeed, the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) said that the previous Labour Government used migration
“to introduce a covert 21st-century incomes policy.”
Last Thursday the immigration Minister scolded the metropolitan elite, which included members of the Cabinet, for employing people who were born outside this country. Some 4.4 million people who were born outside this country are contributing to our economy, and what the immigration Minister said came dangerously close to endorsing the discredited slogan of “British jobs for British workers.” When the Minister speaks in Harrow next Wednesday, will the Home Secretary ask him to return to his normal sensible demeanour, and let us have a constructive debate on immigration, rather than relying on stereotypes and clichés?
A constructive debate on immigration was exactly what my hon. Friend was contributing to, and I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s description of his speech. As I said in answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), the immigration Minister was pointing out that uncontrolled immigration has greatest impact on those at the lower end of the income scale. I would have thought that as a Labour Member of Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman should care about that.
23. Given that freedom of movement within the EU is the elephant in the room of the immigration issue, what plans do the Government have to reform that part of the EU strategy? It might have been suitable for the founding fathers, but given that there are now 28 member states with disparate economic cycles, it is past its sell-by date. Otherwise, we should stop talking about targets. (902925)
My hon. Friend makes an important point about free movement. I have been party to discussions and have raised the issue, particularly on the question of the abuse of free movement, within the EU. Many other member states are concerned. We are taking action with them to cut out the problems of the abuse of free movement.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the disparity of incomes among accession countries. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in an article he wrote some weeks ago, suggested that a future approach might be not allowing full free movement rights until accession countries have reached a certain income level compared with the rest of the EU.
When will we see an end to the persecution of Scottish fishing boats and their good foreign crews by the UK Border Agency? Boats from my constituency have been tied up and money is being lost because of the stupid obsession with immigrant numbers. The message should be that immigrants are good and we need them. Will the Home Secretary help Scottish fishing boats to work rather than cause them to waste their time and to be tied up?
My understanding is that there is a limit on the number of days that fishing boats can go out to fish, and that that is absolutely nothing to do with UK Visas and Immigration—if I might remind him, the UK Border Agency was abolished close to a year ago. I know that good work is being done—I saw this in Aberdeen recently—by UK Border Force, UK immigration enforcement, the National Crime Agency, Police Scotland and others to ensure that we get rid of the abuse that takes place in the fishing industry, particularly on issues such as trafficking.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s encouragement. As I have said, in the past nearly four years, I have seen growing concern on free movement among European Union member states. The UK has raised and pursued the matter. We are now working with other member states, particularly on the abuse of free movement, but we need to look ahead to future accession treaties, and the terms in which free movement is included in them.
The Prime Minister has said that the Government would get net migration down to the tens of thousands by 2015, “no ifs, no buts”, and yet this month, the figure has risen to more than 212,000. The question is simple. Will the Government meet their net migration target—yes or no?
We are continuing to deal with net migration. [Interruption.] I fully accept that the most recent figures, which show an increase in migration from the EU, have made the task more difficult, but it ill behoves Labour Members to talk in those terms when they had an immigration policy that meant there was uncontrolled immigration throughout their period in office.
A successful Wiltshire businesswoman who has created jobs for dozens of local people and paid her fair share of taxes faces her family being wrenched apart on account of her mother being denied leave to remain. How can we ensure that wealth creators—people who create jobs for our constituents —are not made to feel unwelcome here by changes to the family migration route?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to raise individual cases with my hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration. In overall terms, we have changed all routes of entry into the United Kingdom, which has had an impact on non-EU migration, which is at its lowest since 1998. The hon. Gentleman talks about wealth creators, and it is important that we differentiate in the system. We are cutting out abuse and ensuring that the brightest and the best can come to the UK.
3. What additional funding she has made available to the security agencies to cover costs associated with the ending of TPIMs. (902905)
Additional funding of tens of millions of pounds has been made available to the police and the Security Service each year for surveillance, technical capabilities and other measures to mitigate the overall risk as part of the TPIMs package. That has significantly enhanced the police and Security Service’s counter-terrorism capabilities.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because her question allows me to confirm that there is no intention of reducing the additional funds that have been made available. We have also increased spending on the security and intelligence agencies, and protected counter-terrorism policing budgets to ensure that capabilities are maintained. That includes resources for surveillance and the management of TPIMs subjects.
There are reports that around 400 Brits have travelled to Syria to fight in the terrible conflict there, and that around 250 of them have returned to the UK. There is therefore a pressing and urgent need to set out the measures which will be used to manage the threats that individuals may pose to the UK after TPIMs expire. Why is there a delay in providing the details of those measures?
There is no delay. The UK has some of the most robust and effective legislation in the world to deal with terrorist suspects and we will not hesitate to use every power at our disposal to protect the security of this country. The hon. Lady makes a fair point in relation to travel to Syria. We are very clear that people should not travel to Syria, and our counter-terrorism legislation is there to uphold the law. We are using the royal prerogative to remove passports from British nationals who it is believed wish to travel abroad to take part in activities such as terrorist training or other fighting.
My hon. Friend has consistently made this point about human rights, and he is obviously well aware of a number of the measures that we have been looking at. Clearly, we have taken steps to ensure, for example, that we are better able to deport individuals and that our focus remains on deportation with assurance to ensure that those who would cause us harm and can be removed are removed from this country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that TPIMs are but a part of the array of powers available to the police and surveillance services to protect us from harm, and that they are far more able to withstand the sort of legal challenges that caused huge problems under the previous control order regime?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. What the Opposition do not say when they raise this issue is that control orders were struck down on a number of occasions for a range of reasons. I am clear that prosecution is always the best route to deal with terrorists, and we should recognise the success of our agencies in securing the conviction of 40 individuals for terrorism-related offences in the past year.
Female Genital Mutilation
Government Ministers have signed a declaration which reaffirms our commitment to protecting current and future generations of girls from this abuse. We are working closely with the Director of Public Prosecutions to increase investigations for FGM and are considering suggestions for strengthening the criminal law. The Government are determined to do all we can to bring perpetrators to justice.
I congratulate the Government on the work that they have done recently to deal with this shocking criminal offence, but will the Home Secretary commit to a national campaign to raise awareness of FGM and the fact that it is a serious criminal offence, similar to campaigns such as that on domestic violence?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point in two ways for those who are potentially at risk of being victims of female genital mutilation. First, it is important that they understand their situation. Secondly, it is important that those who are aiming to undertake or arrange for others to undergo FGM know what the law is and where they stand in relation to it. The Government have indeed produced a campaign. We have launched a new communications campaign in relation to this issue. I also refer the hon. Gentleman to the “Statement opposing female genital mutilation”, which is a pocket-sized leaflet that sets out the law. About 41,000 statements have already been distributed across the UK in 11 languages.
FGM by its nature is a secretive crime, often perpetrated by close relatives of the victims, too many of whom are very young and too frightened to seek help. What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have the training and expertise necessary to take a proactive approach to identifying and protecting these very young victims, rather than simply hoping that they will come forward of their own volition?
My hon. Friend also makes important points about this issue. We are working with the victims that she mentions and, in particular, we are doing some work with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Everybody in the House is frustrated that there has not been a prosecution yet. We want to see prosecutions because that can make it clear to people what they are doing and what is at risk when they undertake this crime.
17. The Education Secretary has agreed to write to all schools in England about FGM, following intense pressure from this side of the House and the brave campaign by Fahma Mohamed. Given that, what further discussions has the Home Secretary had with her colleagues in government in order to ensure that health staff, social workers and those working for other Departments and agencies report to the police any instances of FGM they have identified? (902919)
Ensuring that incidents are reported is important, and on 6 February the Department of Health announced that for the first time ever, from April, all NHS acute hospitals must provide information on patients who have undergone female genital mutilation. That will provide key information about the incidence and prevalence of FGM and will support social services and the police in their work by ensuring that they can target those areas where it is taking place.
The House is united in wanting to see people prosecuted for this appalling crime. Even more, we want to see it stamped out altogether. What is being done to ensure that those young women who are threatened—and their family members—have a confidential way to report the possibility that it will happen to them?
We are taking a genuine cross-Government approach to the issue. It is being co-ordinated by the Minister for Crime Prevention, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), but we are bringing in the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Department for International Development, which is putting in significant funds to try to deal with the problem at source overseas, both in those communities where the culture is strong—feeding back into diaspora communities in the UK—and where there are individuals performing this act on young girls, to ensure that we can eradicate it.
One of the greatest challenges in tackling this issue—in terms of prosecutions and protecting the young women and, often, babies who are affected—is the level of awareness among social workers, police and other agencies. That challenge has been identified in Wales, and I suspect it is the same in England. What is the Home Secretary doing in Whitehall and on a cross-border basis with colleagues in Wales to ensure that we have a uniform approach to tackling the issue?
I am happy to say to the hon. Gentleman that on issues of this sort—and on the violence against women and girls agenda generally—we work with the Welsh Government and others. We are always willing to look at experience and practice, as well as at what others have found useful in dealing with this appalling crime.
UK Visas and Immigration received 315,598 notifications between 2010 and 2013 from all Tier 4 sponsors, of which 299,586 were actioned in the same period. All notifications receive an initial consideration within 28 days of receipt.
May I wish the Minister well in his new post? The issue of bogus students figured strongly in his recent Demos speech, even if it did not get quite the same prominence in the press. Of the backlog of 153,000 notifications that the chief inspector has identified, how many have now been attended to? When I next ask him this question, will that backlog figure have gone up or come down?
As I said, all notifications received from sponsors receive an initial consideration within 28 days of receipt. Notifications can be for a number of different reasons, whether that is failure to enrol or whether there is something serious that may mean students, or their dependants, have their leave curtailed. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am looking closely at sponsorship and whether the thresholds for sponsors on the failure rates for students that they put forward, are appropriate. I assure him that I am looking very closely at this issue.
My hon. Friend will be aware that net movements of students are the largest non-EU contributor to net inflow. Will he look beyond bogus students and ask whether, at a time when we have very high levels of graduate unemployment, it is right that there is an automatic right to remain for someone who graduates here and gets a job?
Our focus is on attracting the brightest and the best. It is important to note that applications for visas from outside the EU to universities have gone up by 7%. My hon. Friend will know that requirements and rules are in place to restrict how students can stay on—university graduates can stay if they get a graduate job earning £20,300, and there are certain other requirements—but we keep them under review.
Under the Government’s Prevent strategy, which aims to stop people becoming involved in and supporting terrorism, we work closely with local authorities, the police, and other agencies to confront and disrupt extremism. The Prime Minister’s extremism taskforce has identified further practical steps to strengthen our response to all forms of extremism, and these are being taken forward.
I thank my hon. Friend. I know the particular focus he attaches to this issue in relation to his constituency. Syria is the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the world. Our priority, through the Prevent strategy, is to dissuade people from travelling there. Messages are given at a local level, and I note that in my hon. Friend’s Crawley constituency there has been a community briefing event to discuss Syria-related issues and that faith leaders are taking an active role. I welcome that community action.
Does the Minister agree that if we are to tackle extremism at the roots we must do something about our schools, which even now have been neglecting the whole citizenship agenda? Is he as disturbed as I am by certain spokespeople on the radio and television denigrating democracy as a form of government? Is it not at school that we should be extolling the virtues of living in a free and open democratic system?
I thoroughly endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. Many Members from across the House go to schools to underline key points on democracy and the values that define our country, and that work continues in our schools. The Department for Education is a key partner in the work of Prevent and in examining steps to be taken forward by the Prime Minister’s extremism taskforce.
22. My hon. Friend will know that there are websites and social media that seek to radicalise young Muslims in our community. What steps is the Home Office taking to try to interfere with, or completely stop, those websites and social media? (902924)
My hon. Friend makes an important point on the impact of online radicalisation. The counter terrorism internet referral unit is removing more illegal terrorist content than ever before—since 2010, it has removed more than 26,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material online—but there is more work to do. We continue to work with the industry to ensure that, where we can prevent extremist material from getting into people’s homes, that is precisely what we will do.
Has the Minister seen the evidence which shows that counter-speech is one of the most effective ways of driving people away from information online? Will he put more effort into supporting it, so that we can divert people from extremism?
As the hon. Gentleman says, it is important to ensure that different perspectives and points of view are articulated online. I continue to have discussions with internet service companies about how we can best help them with the good work that many are doing in helping community organisations to provide that counter-narrative.
Rape is a devastating and under-reported crime. However, the coalition Government is committed to improving the response to rape at every point in the criminal justice system, which includes improving referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Whatever the rate of civilian success in prosecuting and investigating rape, it is higher than that in the Ministry of Defence system. Will the Minister agree to work with the MOD to improve joint police investigation and service prosecution of rape in the military justice system?
We are, of course, aware of one particular instance, of which the hon. Lady is doubtless also aware. I know that the Ministry of Defence has apologised to the family concerned for the failures that the coroner identified in that case. I shall be happy to work with my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to ensure that all the help that we can give them is available.
Successful prosecutions and help for victims have increased significantly in recent years. That is great, but does the Minister agree that rape is one of those crimes which are often not reported, particularly in certain communities in the United Kingdom, because of perceived shame or reticence? Could we not do more to encourage victims to discard that shame and be prepared to come forward and report the crime to the police?
I entirely agree. It is important for victims to come forward and to have confidence in the police. Indeed, I believe that that is the trend we are now seeing. Although, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, there has been a decrease in the number of sexual assaults, there has been a significant increase in the number of rapes reported to the police. That suggests that more people are confident about coming forward, which I welcome.
Will the Minister admit that, while on his watch the number of reported rapes is increasing, the number of files passed to the Crown Prosecution Service has fallen by a third, and in the Met the number of referrals is down by 43%? When will he accept responsibility for that, and admit that the Government’s decisions to remove suspected rapists from the DNA database and to cut the police force have let victims down and are allowing criminals to get away with it?
I did expect a very authoritarian question from a Labour Member. I wonder what the Labour party’s supporters in Islington and Hampstead make of its approach to Home Office questions.
The serious issue is that the CPS is currently involved in discussions with the police about rape referral levels in a number of forces. The Ministry of Justice and others are implementing the six-point plan to which the Attorney-General referred last year. The hon. Lady may also be aware that, along with the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, I have written to all chief constables and police and crime commissioners urging them to take rape even more seriously than they do already.
Funding for local authorities is a matter for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 introduced two related, reciprocal duties for police and crime commissioners to co-operate with partners. PCCs are already working with local leaders to achieve effective outcomes for their areas, and we encourage them to continue to do so. In Hampshire. for example, fire and police authorities and the county council are joining up corporate services, and expect to save up to £4 million a year.
Street wardens, neighbourhood wardens and police community support officers are key to neighbourhood policing, but huge cuts in local authority budgets are forcing councils such as Coventry city council, West Midlands county council and others throughout the country to cut their funding for what local communities want: wardens and PCSOs on their streets. Does the Home Secretary not recognise the damage being done to neighbourhood policing, and the increasing burden that she is placing on our police service?
I disagree with the premise of that question, and so do the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and others across the west midlands. Some 87% of the public say that they are satisfied with the West Midlands police—a greater percentage than in the country as a whole—and the west midlands has amongst the highest levels of victim satisfaction in the country. The reason for that is probably that the most recent statistics show that, in the year to September 2013, recorded crime in the west midlands was down 1%.
21. Does the Minister agree that central to cutting crime is how we deploy our police forces? This is not about targets or bureaucracy; it is about ensuring that the police are deployed in the right way to focus on cutting neighbourhood crime. (902923)
Police community support officers, local men and women on the beat, are much loved and much respected in communities throughout the country and the bedrock of neighbourhood policing. With councils now hit hard by the biggest cuts in local government history, 3,366 PCSOs have gone since the general election. Does the Minister recognise local communities’ mounting concern about the loss of their PCSOs? Will he join me in welcoming the commitment to put 500 PCSOs back on the beat, which is now being honoured by Labour Wales?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that I absolutely value the work of PCSOs, but he is deluding himself if he thinks that the streets are becoming less safe and that neighbourhood policing is in retreat. Neighbourhood policing is at the heart of the policing model operated by this country’s forces. Over the past few years, they have collaborated better with local government and the NHS so that every pound they spend is more visible on the streets and is being shown in the consistent reduction in crime.
The reality is that crime is falling. Does the Minister agree that it is precisely at a time of pressure on budgets that the police should look at innovative ways of working with local authorities, the voluntary sector and other partners to deliver services that keep people safe in their communities?
My hon. Friend is right. He represents part of the west midlands, as does the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) who asked the original question. My hon. Friend will know that the police innovation fund had a successful bid from the west midlands. That will mean that a new public sector intelligence hub will be created, bringing together local councils, the NHS, other services and the police. That will enable them to share information in a way that will make them much more effective at fighting child sexual exploitation. It is that kind of work that reduces crime.
9. What comparative assessment she has made of trends in the levels of EU and non-EU migration; and if she will make a statement. (902911)
Our reforms have cut non-EU migration to its lowest level since 1998 and there are now 82,000 fewer non-EU nationals arriving annually than when this Government came to power. Net migration of EU nationals and their family members, who are not subject to formal immigration controls, has doubled over the last year. Across Government, we are working hard to address the factors that draw people to Britain for the wrong reasons.
I agree with what my hon. Friend has said. Freedom of movement is not and cannot be a freedom to claim benefits. The Government have introduced a series of domestic measures to restrict access to benefits and we are committed to working with our partners to reform the rules on access to benefits, which were designed for a different era and are no longer fit for purpose.
Does the Home Secretary agree with the Institute of Directors that the Immigration Minister’s first major speech in his new job was
“feeble, pathetic and divisive and more about political positioning than what is good for the country”?
Did she see it in advance?
I did not know that I had been promoted but I will obviously answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. There is nothing feeble and weak about an immigration policy that continues to attract the brightest and the best to this country while resolutely focusing on reducing net migration to sustainable levels. That is why our policies are having an effect, reducing net migration from outside the EU by 82,000. What was feeble was the last Government’s failures that let immigration get out of control. It is their mess that this Government continue to sort out and with our reforms cutting non-EU migration to its lowest levels since 1998, we are having an effect.
Indian Students (Scottish Universities)
We do not have figures for the numbers of visas issued to Indian nationals for study at Scottish universities, but the latest higher education statistics show that India remains within the top five most common non-EU nationalities at universities in Scotland. We have cut abuse of student visas, but continue to attract the brightest and best students from around the world.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency says that Indian student numbers on higher education courses are down by 25% since 2011 alone and in Scotland they are down by 32%. What does the Minister think is the reason for that and why is Scotland so much worse off than the rest of the UK?
We have seen falls in student numbers from India, but we have also seen that in the USA and Australia, so a similar picture has been seen. However, visa applications from sponsored UK universities increased by 7% in 2013 and he may want to look at the figures for sponsored visa applications relating to the university of Glasgow, which are up 24%; for Heriot-Watt university, which are up 13% and for the university of Strathclyde, which are up 16%. We continue to attract the brightest and best and that is what our policy is doing.
As my hon. Friend has highlighted, sponsors do have responsibilities, and I responded to a previous question on the notifications they provide in relation to their students. We do need to keep a clear focus on those responsibilities and it is my view that where the Home Office is receiving applications from those universities, the failure rate is high and that does need to be examined further.
Of course the Minister knows the rises he pointed out in his answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) are all down to the reciprocal arrangement with China. That figure is down 25% from Pakistan, and down 14% from Nigeria. This Government’s United Kingdom Independence party-based immigration policies are hurting our universities and our ability to attract students to Scotland. Why should our universities suffer because of the appalling race to the bottom between the Minister’s Government and UKIP?
It is important to welcome the fact that we have seen an increase from China of 6%. The figure is also up 3% from Malaysia and 15% from Hong Kong. That shows there is nothing intrinsic in our policies that is putting off high quality students. That is why we are focused on ensuring that we continue to attract the brightest and the best to the whole of the UK and Scotland, and there is nothing to suggest that our policies are having any negative impact on that.
BME Police Officers
From March 2010 to March 2013 the proportion of black and minority ethnic officers has increased from 4.6% to 5%. While the police work force is more representative in terms of gender and ethnicity than it has ever been, there is still much more to be done by forces.
One in three of my constituents is from a black and minority ethnic background but that is true of only one in 10 of our police. Does the Minister recognise that in communities like mine in east London that can lead to an undermining of confidence that our police are drawing from the widest talent pool possible in serving our capital city? If he does agree that that is a problem, will he back our plans to fast-track action to do something about it?
I agree completely with the hon. Lady that this issue needs addressing. I am happy to tell the House that it is being addressed. The Metropolitan police plan to recruit 5,000 new constables between now and 2015, and their aim is that 40% of them should be from a minority background, to reflect the population of London as a whole. This indeed is a serious issue, which the Metropolitan police are addressing.
Immigration Bill (Red Tape)
13. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the Immigration Bill on red tape for businesses. (902915)
The Government have published a number of impact assessments in relation to the provisions in the Immigration Bill, setting out the costs and benefits of the proposals. These include an assessment of the impacts on businesses.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. It is good to see another woman on the Conservative Front Bench—one who is speaking this time.
During the Immigration Bill Committee, the former Immigration Minister, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), promised that there would be a mechanism to enable constituents who were extending their leave to remain to have the right documents in order to prove that to landlords and others, as required under the Bill. Can the Minister give me any update on how long that will take to come into place? If not, perhaps she could write to me.
Staffordshire for ever, indeed. The previous Labour Government were guilty of not imposing red tape on transition controls, which led to thousands of European migrants coming to this country. Does my hon. Friend agree with the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), when he said that that was a spectacular mistake?
I thank my hon. Friend, a fellow Staffordshire MP, for his question. He is quite right. The Immigration Bill is a sensible measure that will help this country to protect against illegal immigration. It is a well-needed measure and something we should be bringing in sooner rather than later.
14. What recent steps she has taken to reduce antisocial behaviour. (902916)
We are introducing measures through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill that put victims at the heart of the response to tackling and reducing antisocial behaviour. Front-line professionals will have faster, more effective powers better to protect the public, and people will have a voice in how agencies tackle their problems through the community trigger and the community remedy.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but he knows that antisocial behaviour remains a major concern. Constituents stress to me that agencies need to work together more quickly, and especially more effectively, to tackle it. What more can the Minister do to make that happen?
I recognise that the hon. Lady thinks this is a problem in her constituency and has done some work on it. I acknowledge that. The measures we are taking through the new range of powers will not only give more flexibility to agencies. The community remedy will encourage agencies to work together, as I mentioned a moment ago, and the fact that perpetrators will have to take responsibility for their actions—dealing with them that way, through the new powers—will help to drive down antisocial behaviour.
18. Will the Minister join me in welcoming proposals from students at York university to establish a Street Angels-style initiative? The aim is to combat antisocial behaviour and to prevent alcohol and drug-related tragedies for those who find themselves in particularly vulnerable situations. (902920)
I very much welcome that sort of local initiative and I congratulate those involved in the York university activity. That is why we have done away with the old top-down approach and given the agencies the freedom and flexibility that they need to make a difference locally.
Since my statement last Thursday, hon. Members will have had the opportunity to read for themselves Mark Ellison’s report into the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, as well as that of Operation Herne into allegations of misconduct by the special demonstration squad. Both reports’ findings are deeply shocking. They will have an impact for the police, particularly the Metropolitan police, for years to come.
I have asked the chief inspector of constabulary to look at the anti-corruption capability of forces so that we can ensure that forces have all the capability that they need to pursue corruption. We must continue the programme of integrity and anti-corruption measures that I set out on Thursday.
Our reforms are changing the culture of the police through direct entry, a new code of ethics, greater transparency and professionalisation, and reform of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I am also, as I said on Thursday, tabling amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to introduce a new offence of police corruption.
From this autumn, the police will for the first time have the opportunity to bring in talented and experienced leaders from other walks of life to senior ranks, opening up policing culture. I believe that that is one of the most important reforms in shaping the police of the future.
Finally, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to the family of Stephen Lawrence, who continue to live through experiences that the rest of us cannot imagine. They have done so with dignity and stoicism. They deserve truth and justice.
I very much associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s comments. My constituents have raised with me the issue of scam sites dealing with passports and European health insurance cards, of which I, too, have been a victim. What pressure is she bringing to bear on search engines to stop that shoddy ripping off of hard-working people?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Government are already taking action to tackle rogue websites which masquerade as legitimate Government services, exaggerating the nature of the services they provide or deliberately underplaying the services that people can get for free or at a lower cost from official sources. The Government Digital Service is leading a cross-government exercise with organisations such as the Advertising Standards Authority, the National Trading Standards Board, Which? and search engines to raise awareness of the issue and ensure that enforcement action is taken, where appropriate. Ministerial colleagues have also met Google to discuss the enforcement of its policies for advertising on its search results pages. Google will continue to support us by removing misleading adverts and by closing the accounts of repeat offenders.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) on his promotion and his ability to generate headlines in his new job, and welcome the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) to her post in the home affairs team.
I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the Lawrence family, who have had to endure further betrayal with the information from the shocking Ellison review last week. Twenty-one years after the death of Stephen Lawrence, reforms are needed so that those failures do not continue to cast a long shadow over the vital and valiant work that so many police officers do each day and, in particular, so that we can build confidence among the black and ethnic minority communities. Does the Home Secretary therefore agree that the Independent Police Complaints Commission should now be replaced with a new, stronger police watchdog? Will she tell me whether she agrees with the four proposals I made in my letter to her on reforming stop and search—on section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994; on section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; on race discrimination; and on banning targets?
Of course it is important that we ensure that the IPCC is able to deal with the cases of complaints against police officers. I have been concerned for some time about the fact that the police have, in effect, been investigating serious and sensitive complaints against police officers themselves. That is why I am changing the arrangements for the IPCC, increasing its resources and ensuring that in future it will be taking on the serious and sensitive cases. It is also why we have provided a number of other new powers to the IPCC to ensure that it has the capability it needs. However, as I said on Thursday, I am of course continuing to look at this issue.
I assure the right hon. Lady that we do need to look at stop and search. I have consulted on it and the Government are now finalising the package we wish to put in place in response to that consultation.
I thank the Home Secretary for her answer, but given the seriousness of this, I urge her to go further and faster, both on the IPCC, which is simply not strong enough, and on stop and search. She and I agree that its targeted use is really important, but too many searches are simply not targeted at all. We have not heard anything from her since her statement in July; the critical Equality and Human Rights Commission was four years ago; and we are told now that reform is being blocked by regressive attitudes in No. 10. It turns out that the Prime Minister said before the election that he wanted to
“free the police to do far more stopping and far more searching.”
Does the Home Secretary agree with the Prime Minister or is she losing the argument within the Government?
What we all want is to ensure that stop and search, a particularly valuable tool for the police, is properly used by the police. The recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which I requested, found that the stop and search powers were not being used properly in far too high a percentage of cases—about a quarter of the cases it looked into. Stop and search is important and a very valuable tool; when it is used properly and well targeted, it has the right impact. I am pleased to say that the Metropolitan police have already started to make some changes in their operation of stop and search, which is having some impact.
T3. Trading standards officers and local police have seized more than 189,000 illegal cigarettes and more than 16 kg of illicit tobacco from shops in my constituency in the past 12 months. All of that is untaxed and much of it is counterfeit, but the existing penalties do little to stem the flow of this harmful trade. Does the Home Secretary share my view that trading standards officers should be given the power to shut down these shops where all other enforcement methods have failed? (902898)
I agree that Trading Standards needs to take that issue seriously, as I believe it does. Of course, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which is responsible for criminal investigation of fiscal offences, is well aware of the loss of money to the Treasury as a consequence of that activity. The good news is that the UK Border Force is successfully active on this front. The Crown Prosecution Service will decide whether to charge and prosecute in particular cases.
T2. Two women a week die at the hands of their partners or former partners. In Oldham, between October 2012 and September 2013, more than 5,300 women were subject to abuse, a third of whom were abused in front of children. With 13% fewer domestic violence cases being prosecuted, what are the implications for justice for these women? (902896)
The hon. Lady raises an important point. Last year, the figures showed that 76 women lost their lives at the hands of a partner, ex-partner or lover. That is lower than in previous years, but even one such case is one too many, and we are all agreed on that across the House. My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention is doing work on such issues, looking at prosecutions and at ensuring that the right response is available so that women can indeed see justice when they have suffered at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.
T4. The all-party parliamentary group on mental health, which I chair, recently launched an inquiry into crisis care. Will the Home Secretary outline what the Government are doing to ensure that when vulnerable people with mental health problems come into contact with the police, they get an appropriate level of care? (902899)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work on the all-party group, to which I gave evidence last week. On vulnerable people, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake a specific inspection of the treatment of all vulnerable people in custody, because that is an extremely important area, which requires improvement in the performance of the health service and the police and across the criminal justice system, which we are determined to make happen.
When a retired police officer says that senior officers briefed him to report a fight involving alcohol as just drunk and disorderly rather than as a public order offence, I am concerned. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that targets do not lead to the massaging of crime figures?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take alcohol issues very seriously indeed, including the way in which they are recorded by the police. There is a great deal of alcohol harm in this country: £21 billion is the cost to the public purse from antisocial behaviour, damage to the health service and lost productivity. As Ministers, we all expect the police to record crime accurately.
T5. One consequence of an unfettered free movement directive is that illegal gangmasters from the European Union operating in the fens are linked to antisocial behaviour and human trafficking. What action is the Minister taking to end that phenomenon? (902901)
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I know how hard he works locally on that issue. The Government are taking firm action to combat illegal gangmasters in his constituency and elsewhere. We have set up a cross-Government multi-agency taskforce to apply the full range of enforcement powers. We are doubling the penalties on employers for breaching the national minimum wage and for employing illegal migrant workers, and we will bring forward a modern slavery Bill next Session to deal with that heinous crime.
Of course I am aware that a number of UK nationals are subject to such warrants. Indeed I applaud the work that is done by the National Crime Agency, particularly in some of the areas that the hon. Gentleman has identified, in relation to working with other police forces across the world to ensure that whoever and wherever the perpetrators are, they are brought to justice.
T6. Does the Secretary of State agree that alongside the police, the public and social services have a vital role to play in helping to identify the victims of domestic abuse and, importantly, ensuring that they are signposted to the right services that will help them? (902902)
Yes, I wholly agree. If we are to end violence against women and girls, all front-line services have to play a crucial role. A multi-agency approach is vital, as indeed is a cross-departmental approach, and that is reflected in the updated action plan that we published at the weekend.
Ministers will be aware of how upset and repelled the community is that the self-same police force that was supposed to be finding Doreen and Neville’s son’s killers was actually engaged in spying on them to undermine their campaign. Inquiries are all very well, and reforms are all very well, but can we be given an assurance that we will know who authorised the spying on Doreen and Neville Lawrence?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I think that everybody in this House and across the country was shocked at the findings of the Ellison review, particularly at somebody from the special demonstration squad effectively being, in the terms that Mark Ellison put it, a spy in the camp around the Lawrence family. Every effort will be made to ensure that the truth comes out about that. If the hon. Lady has read the Ellison report, she will know that the record-keeping of the special demonstration squad was, to put it mildly, sadly lacking. However, every effort will be made. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has made it clear that they will want to ensure that they are providing every piece of evidence possible to the inquiries that are taking place.
Does the Home Secretary accept that, with regard to the despicable crime of FGM, her announcement earlier about the involvement of hospitals in helping to bring people to justice will be widely welcomed? Does she also accept that, if it is not already being done, there is also surely a role for GPs in being able to report where they come across instances of this terrible crime?
I entirely agree that it is very important that the NHS plays a particularly good role. The public health Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), has been very active on this front and has made great steps forward. She is looking at how the whole NHS can help the cross-departmental effort to tackle this appalling crime.
In my constituency, many fairly young couples are struggling with the new rules on being able to marry someone from outside this country. They feel that they are being made to pay the price of the Government’s failure to keep to its migration targets. Has the Home Secretary now decided how to respond to the various reports on this or on whether any changes are going to be made?
We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution, but family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense, and family migrants must be able to integrate. That is precisely what our rules are about. We believe that this is fair to applicants and to the public. The hon. Lady may know that there is an ongoing court case. Therefore, while we absolutely maintain our position on this, applications are currently being put on hold pending the outcome of that case.
The Facewatch online crime reporting system makes it much quicker for businesses to report crime. Will my hon. Friend encourage more businesses and local authorities to follow the lead taken by the west midlands crime reduction team and introduce Facewatch elsewhere to reduce crime further?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is a doughty champion for businesses both large and small in her constituency. I am very interested by the Facewatch business, and I look forward to seeing it tomorrow in Farnborough at the security and policing exhibition, where I shall promote it and other UK businesses in selling these great services globally.
The Welsh Government have put their money where their mouth is and are funding 500 additional police community support officers. Will the Minister for Crime Prevention, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), explain why his colleagues up and down the country are openly accusing Conservative councils of being hypocritical for not putting their money where their mouth is and supporting PCSOs?
I—[Interruption.] I am terribly sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman and Opposition Front Benchers by answering a question about policing, since I am the Policing Minister. He will know that across the country crime is coming down and a higher proportion of police officers are on the front line. The streets of Britain are safer today in England and in Wales than they ever have been since we started recording crime statistics.
Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary accept that there are countless employers in the food and farming sector who do not use illegal gangmasters and who instead pay good pay and provide good accommodation for their workers, and that where there is job displacement it is because British workers are not prepared to do that work, rather than because employers are somehow taking on illegal migrants on the cheap?
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which was a very particular scheme that ensured that people were brought across to do work in the agricultural sector. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made clear in his speech to the Oxford Farming Conference recently, we need to look at ensuring that people here in the United Kingdom are able to take on the jobs that are available to them, and at the moment we have no intention of reintroducing the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s emergency European Council.
What has happened to Ukraine is completely indefensible. Its territorial integrity has been violated and the aspirations of its people to chart their own future are being frustrated.
This European Council sent a clear and united message to Russia that its actions are in flagrant breach of international law and will incur consequences. We agreed on a three-phase approach to stand up to this aggression and uphold international law: first, some immediate steps to respond to what Russia has done; secondly, urgent work on a set of measures that will follow if Russia refuses to enter dialogue with the Ukrainian Government; and thirdly, a set of further, far-reaching consequences should Russia take further steps to destabilise the situation in Ukraine.
Let me say a word on each of those steps. First, as a response to what Russia has already done, we agreed on some immediate steps. We have suspended preparations for the G8 in Sochi indefinitely. As I told the House last week, my view is that it would be completely wrong for a G8 summit to go ahead at all under current circumstances. We decided to stop work on a comprehensive new agreement on relations between Russia and the European Union, and we immediately suspended the talks that were under way on a more liberal visa regime in the Schengen area—the thing that Russian Ministers and business delegations have pushed for more than anything else.
Here in Britain, I have ordered an urgent review of all Government business with Russia. We have already announced that no Ministers or members of the royal family will visit the Sochi Paralympics. Many other planned ministerial-level contacts will be cancelled in current circumstances. All bilateral military co-operation is under review, with the presumption that we will suspend it, except for work carried out to fulfil international treaty obligations, such as European arms control inspections. I have ordered a review of licences for arms exports to Russia. It is hard to see how anything that could be used in Ukraine could be justified. As with other measures, it is best if possible to take these decisions in concert with our European allies.
There has been intense work to persuade Russia to come to the negotiating table with the Government of Ukraine and to discuss its stated concerns face to face. The idea of such a contact group, including other countries and organisations, was one I first proposed to the Polish Prime Minister back in January. The European Council agreed it was essential for such talks to start within the next few days and for them to deliver progress quickly. We also agreed that if Russia did not co-operate there would need to be further measures—the so-called second phase—which would need to start rapidly.
Therefore, at my instigation, the Council tasked the European Commission to begin work on additional measures which could be taken against Russia if these talks do not get going or do not start producing results. These will include asset freezes and travel bans. We are working closely with our American, European and other international partners to prepare a list of names, and these sanctions, plus the measures already agreed against Yanukovych and his circle, will be the focus of a meeting here in London tomorrow with key international partners.
There is an urgent need to de-escalate tension in Crimea. We are all clear that any referendum vote in Crimea this week will be illegal, illegitimate and will not be recognised by the international community. In addition, I have to say that any campaign would be completely impractical as well as illegal. There is no proper register or proper campaign, and the territory is covered with troops. It is completely impossible for a proper referendum campaign to be carried out. As I discussed with Chancellor Merkel last night in Hanover, Russia can choose the path of de-escalation by signalling it understands that the outcome cannot be acted on as legitimate. Chancellor Merkel and I were clear that any attempt by Russia to legitimise an illegal referendum would require us to respond by ratcheting up the pressure further.
Thirdly, and most significantly, we agreed that it was essential to stop Russia taking further unacceptable steps in Ukraine. The Council agreed that if further steps are taken by Russia to destabilise Ukraine, there will be additional and far-reaching consequences for the relationship between the Russian Federation on the one hand and the European Union and its member states on the other. The Council conclusions state that these consequences would
“include a broad range of economic areas.”
Britain played a leading role in helping to reach this agreement, including through a meeting I convened with fellow leaders from France, Germany, Italy and Poland on the morning of the Council. Such sanctions would have consequences for many EU member states, including Britain, but as I argued at the meeting, the costs of not standing up to aggression are far greater. Britain’s own security and prosperity would be at risk if we allow a situation where countries can just flout international rules without incurring consequences.
Finally, we decided to send a political message of support to the Ukrainian Government and people. The interim Ukrainian President spoke at the European Council with great power and force. The Ukrainian people want the freedom to be able to choose their own future and strengthen their ties with Europe, and they want a future free from the awful corruption that they have endured for far too long.
At the request of the Ukrainian Prime Minister, we therefore agreed to bring forward the signing of the political part of the EU’s association agreement with Ukraine, and we agreed to help Ukraine tackle corruption. The EU has now frozen the assets of 18 people linked to the former regime, and Britain has deployed a team to Kiev from our National Crime Agency to help the new Ukrainian Government go after ill-gotten funds and return them to the Ukrainian people.
It is now vital that Ukraine proceeds towards free and fair elections that enable all Ukrainians, including Russian speakers and minorities, to choose their leaders freely, so Britain is now providing substantial and immediate technical assistance to Ukraine to support elections and assist with reforms on public finance management, debt management and energy pricing. Ukraine also needs support to stabilise and repair its economy. The EU agreed unilaterally to lower trade tariffs, and to work with the International Monetary Fund on a package of financial assistance to the Ukrainian Government.
As I agreed with President Obama during our call this weekend, there is still an opportunity for Russia to resolve this situation diplomatically. It should engage in direct talks with the Ukrainians, return Russian troops to their bases in Crimea, withdraw its support for this illegal and unconstitutional referendum in Crimea, and work with the rest of the international community to support free and fair elections in Ukraine in May. No one should be interested in a tug of war. Ukraine should be able to choose its own future and act as a bridge between Russia and Europe.
Britain’s own future depends on a world where countries obey the rules. In Europe, we have spent the past 70 years working to keep the peace, and we know from history that turning a blind eye when nations are trampled over stores up greater problems for the longer term. We must stand up to aggression, uphold international law and support the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian people, who want the freedom to choose their own future. That is right for Ukraine, right for Europe, right for Britain. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and I join him in expressing deep concern about the situation in Ukraine.
Since we discussed this issue in the House last Wednesday, we have seen the illegal referendum announced in Crimea, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers prevented from crossing into the region by Russian forces for four days running and, yesterday, violence on the streets against anti-Russian demonstrators. We support the twin-track approach of encouraging dialogue and at the same time maximising pressure on the Russian Government, but nobody looking at the unfolding situation on the ground would conclude that this is yet having the desired effect. It is on that basis that we should examine the discussions taking place, the outcome of the EU summit and the steps that should be taken in the days ahead.
It is worth saying that getting agreement among the EU 28 is always difficult, particularly when a number of member states are vulnerable to Russian action on issues such as energy. However, as we agreed last week, this is a test of EU resolve and of its commitment to uphold the rule of law, democracy and human rights—values on which it prides itself as an institution.
Let me welcome the summit measures that were agreed. Those include the unity of the EU in condemning Russia’s actions and the decision to provide support and encouragement to the Ukrainian Government, including €11 billion of aid. The Prime Minister referred to the suspension of visa talks and a new agreement on EU-Russia relations. Those measures are welcome, although they had been announced on 3 March before the developments that I referred to at the start. Does he accept that the evidence from recent days suggests that those measures alone will be insufficient to get Russia to change course, and that further action will be required?
Turning to what more needs to be done, I welcome the European Council’s decision to look at further measures, although the agreed language is weaker than we would have wished. I welcome what the Prime Minister said about asset freezes and travel bans. Will he confirm that the time frame for their implementation will be days and not weeks, particularly given that the United States is committed to such action? On the EU-Russia summit, which is referred to in the Council conclusions, surely it makes sense at the very least, unless there is an immediate change of course by the Russian Government, to suspend preparations for it, as has been done for the G8 summit in Sochi.
Beyond that, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that we need to look actively at other measures. I urge him in the days ahead to build support for further measures among our European and other allies to prepare for the eventuality that they will be required.
Let me ask the Prime Minister about some specific matters. Will he confirm that, if Russia does not change course, he will consider working with the G7 to suspend Russia from the G8—something that he called for specifically at the start of the crisis in Georgia in 2008? That would go beyond simply withdrawing from the preparatory talks for Sochi or from the Sochi summit itself. Following the announcement that the UK Government are reviewing every outstanding arms export licence to Russia, to which he referred, will he confirm what the time scale is for the conclusions on that issue? What scope does he believe there is for an EU-wide agreement on arms exports?
Finally, will the Prime Minister not only confirm that he is open to wider economic and trade sanctions, as he said in his statement, but tell the House in what circumstances it would be appropriate to go down that road? He said in his statement, with a reference to Chancellor Merkel, that there would need to be a ratcheting up of pressure on Russia if it used the referendum in Crimea to strengthen its hold on Crimea. Will he say specifically whether economic and trade sanctions would be appropriate in those circumstances, given that the referendum is a pressing matter and will take place in a week or so?
In conclusion, we should continue to use all possible channels to facilitate dialogue and encourage the Ukrainian Government to be as broad based as possible. We recognise the constraints on the Prime Minister in seeking to reach EU-wide agreement. However, I urge him, particularly as we approach the referendum in Crimea, to apply maximum influence on our allies, so that maximum pressure can be applied on the Russian Government. Hesitancy or weakness in the EU’s response will send precisely the wrong message. The UK has a vital position of responsibility in ensuring that that does not happen and that, instead, the EU and the US stand together in clear and united resolve. We will provide him with all the necessary support as he seeks to achieve that.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. He has welcomed our approach, which is a combination of pressure and dialogue. That is absolutely right: we should be trying to de-escalate the crisis, but an element of deterrence is required to discourage further aggressive steps from Russia.
Let me try to answer each of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. He is right that this is a test of European resolve. It is clearly difficult, as he says, to get agreement among 28 countries. There are countries in the European Union that have a heavy dependence on Russian energy, for instance, so we have to try to bring everyone along in the argument. That is what happened at the European Council. A lot of people were expecting a strong US response and an EU response that was well behind it. That did not happen. Given everything, the EU response was a relatively good one.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether further measures will be needed. That will obviously depend on the Russian response. We are trying to be clear, predictable and consistent in setting out what has been done, what will need to be done if the talks do not get going, and what further steps would be taken if Russia took further aggressive steps, for instance in eastern Ukraine. Setting that out in advance helps people to understand the depth of concern in the EU and the preparedness for action.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether asset freezes would be put in place in days rather than weeks. Obviously, that depends on whether the Russians set up the contact group and start the dialogue with the Ukrainian Government. If they do not, asset freezes and travel bans will follow, and yes, that should follow in a matter of days not weeks, because the setting up of the contact group and the starting of talks is not a particularly difficult step for the Russians to take if they genuinely want to see this ended through a process of dialogue, rather than continuing with this conflict.
The right hon. Gentleman’s comment about linking the EU-Russia summit with the G8 is absolutely right. It would be unthinkable for a G8 not to go ahead while an EU-Russia summit did go ahead; these things have to be considered in tandem. He also asked whether it would be right to resuscitate the G7, rather than going ahead with the G8. If we do not make progress on a contact group and if Russia takes further steps, clearly one of the measures that we could bring forward relatively quickly would be to take a different approach by going back to a G7, rather than holding a G8, but let us hope that that is not necessary.
In relation to arms, the right hon. Gentleman made the point that we should try to take action across the EU, and I very much agree with that. I have set out today my own view about arms licences from Britain, and we will be working within the European Council to try to achieve the greatest possible common ground on this. The fact is that some countries have substantial exports to Russia, but as I said at the Council, everyone is going to have to consider things that might be painful and difficult for their own country, and I think that the countries concerned are prepared to take those steps.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the issue with Crimea, and about what consequences could follow there. It is very clear that the international community is not going to recognise that illegal and illegitimate referendum. As I said, it is a fairly farcical referendum, because people cannot get out and campaign across Crimea. There is not even a proper electoral register there, there are troops all over the territory and Ukrainian politicians are unable to travel from one part of their country to another. So the referendum is clearly not only illegal but rather farcical. Again, the answer lies in Russia’s hand, because this is about how it reacts to this illegal and illegitimate referendum. If it reacts by saying that it is somehow legitimate, consequences should follow from that.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we should put maximum influence on our allies in Europe to try to strengthen these statements and measures, and we will. He made the point that the EU and the US should work together, and that is exactly what I believe we achieved last week. Also, behind his questions was the idea that we should be trying strategically to make the European Union member states less dependent on Russia. Some are heavily dependent on it for oil and gas, and it is right that the European Union should spend more time thinking about that.
Why is it acceptable for the Scottish nationalists to be granted a referendum in Scotland on constitutional arrangements dating back to 1707, but unacceptable for Russian nationalists in the Crimea to have a referendum about constitutional arrangements that date back only to 1954? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the Crimean referendum could be postponed until such time as international observers could be put in place to ensure that the referendum was genuine, that would be by far the most sensible solution to the problem?
To answer the Father of the House directly, the difference between the Scottish referendum and the one in Crimea is that the Scottish referendum is legal. It was discussed and debated in this House and in the Scottish Parliament, and we went a long way to put in place arrangements that I have described as not only decisive and fair but legal. The difference between those arrangements and the Crimean referendum is that the Crimean referendum is illegitimate and illegal under the Ukrainian constitution. That is not to say that the people of Ukraine or of Crimea cannot, over time, find a way of expressing their own preferences. That is what we have done in Scotland, and of course they can do it there too, but the way in which this referendum has come about is clearly illegitimate and illegal; that is the difference.
Against the background of thugs in Crimea blocking the admission of OSCE monitors into Crimea, what does the Prime Minister think of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s claim last week that one of the ways of resolving the matter peacefully is by using the OSCE?
The right hon. Gentleman, who served as Foreign Secretary, speaks with great knowledge. The fact is that a number of things our Russian interlocutors have said have turned out simply not to be true. We have to be very clear in challenging them on that. Of course Russia has an interest in having a strong and positive relationship with Ukraine, which we understand and welcome, but in these circumstances some of the things that have been said about what is happening on the ground, the consequences that would follow certain actions, and indeed the point he has just made, show that they have not been entirely straightforward with us.
I welcome the steps that have already been taken and the option of much stronger economic sanctions, but the presence of small but visible numbers of neo-fascist thugs on the streets of Ukraine, and indeed on the TV screens of Russia, is clearly just playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands. Can we assist the Government of Ukraine in returning control of law and order on the streets to the regular police as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is clearly right that in Ukraine, as in all countries, we need to see legitimate forces of law and order—the police and the military—with responsible roles, rather than militias. But I think that we should be very careful not to do what the Russians are doing, which is to exaggerate the claims they are making in order to justify some of their actions. Of course, as I have said, what we need in Ukraine is respect for all minorities and all the different languages, including the Russian language speakers. I am confident that the Ukrainian Government understand that.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has come to the House to make a statement on the European Council, something he has not done quite as assiduously as I think he should have done in the past. Did he have an opportunity to speak in the margin to other NATO members, given that he is preparing for a NATO council in September in Wales? Presumably at that stage article 5 will suddenly have acquired a new pertinence to quite a number of EU member states.
First, I say to the hon. Lady, for whom I have considerable respect, that I think that I have made more statements following European Councils than my predecessors, not least because their number has gone up. Every now and again we make a written statement, but normally we make an oral one.
Secondly, on the issue the hon. Lady raised, I took the time to speak to as many colleagues as I could, including a number of NATO colleagues. Obviously there is great concern, particularly from our colleagues in the Baltic states and in Poland, and I listened very carefully to what they said. I think that it is very important that we emphasise the security guarantees that NATO provides and that they should have confidence and certainty in them. I think that those countries also speak with great knowledge about what works when standing up to, and being clear about, these threats from Russia.
Although we all want to see the emergence of a reliable new Russia that abides by the rules, does my right hon. Friend agree that, in order to ensure that the costs of standing up to aggression are fully met, we need a serious rethink as we approach the next strategic defence review and the agenda of the NATO summit?
I think that my right hon. Friend is right. All these events should always cause us to look again at our strategy and at the decisions we have made. I think that they emphasise the importance of standing by our NATO allies and strengthening NATO. They also emphasise the importance of dealing with new threats, such as cyber. Obviously we will take all those things into account in the next strategic defence review.
I think that I answered that question pretty comprehensively in response to my right hon. Friend the Father of the House. Of course, any country that wants to can hold a referendum under its constitution—that is what constitutions are able to deliver—but it has to be fair and legal. It is quite clear—everybody agrees, except the Russians—that this referendum is illegitimate, illegal and will not be recognised by the international community.
With the so-called referendum due to be held on Sunday, time is not on our side. Now that Russia is far more integrated into the world economy, the most effective short-term pressure that can be applied is financial and economic, but we should not be looking just at national assets. Does the Prime Minister agree that Russian banks and corporations that are contemplating taking over Ukrainian assets in Crimea should be warned that if they go down that road, they will be denied access to western financial institutions?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The three-phased approach sets out that if there are further Russian moves on eastern Ukraine or to further destabilise Ukraine, we as the European Union would be prepared to bring forward a range of economic and other sanctions which, as it states in the European Council conclusions, would cover a broad range of areas. Nothing is off the table. Of course, these things are never easy for democracies to carry out. It was pointed out at the meeting that some countries might suffer more with energy sanctions, some with financial sanctions, and some more with defence sanctions. As the European Union, and as member states, we must consider what steps would be necessary to send a clear message to Russia. My right hon. Friend’s point is a good one.
I am glad that the Prime Minister has scotched the idea that some seem to have that it is somehow acceptable for Russia to subsume Crimea on the basis that a majority of Crimeans speak Russian. That is the language of 1938, and it did not do very well for Czechoslovakia in the end. May I urge the Prime Minister to do one thing immediately? The United States of America has already done this, and the European Parliament has called on all countries in Europe to do so, as has the Council of Europe. Will he tell the Russian officials who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and in the corruption he unveiled that they are not welcome in this country?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman speaks powerfully about these issues, and those are the sorts of things we can take into account when looking at individuals who will be affected by travel bans and asset freezes. On historical analogies—a number of people are making such points—I think that perhaps the best ones to draw are by looking at what happened to Georgia and the frozen conflicts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and in Transnistria. There is a pattern, and we need to interrupt it by the European Union and member states, with our American allies and others, taking a strong stance.
Will the Prime Minister now seek fundamental changes in EU energy policy? Some member states are far too dependent on Russian gas, and the rest of us are far too dependent on intermittent, dear and scarce sources of energy, owing to EU directives. Do we not need to get control of our power to be able to reply?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. Here in the UK, we are not reliant to any significant degree on Russian supplies of gas, but some countries in Europe receive 60% or 70% more of their gas from them. As a European Union we need to think about how to make ourselves more resilient as a group of countries, and part of that will be by completing the European energy single market, which will make a difference to those countries. This is clearly a good moment to press that concern in Europe and get more done.
I happen to believe that there should be a legal and responsible referendum as far as Crimea is concerned—one that is under international control and not the sort of effort the Russians are organising. Whatever views we hold about Crimea, should we not totally condemn what Russia has done? Outright thuggery against part of a neighbouring and sovereign state should certainly be condemned.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and we should not only condemn the Russian action, but set out the consequences that will follow. On the referendum, a number of Members of this House have taken part in election campaigns and referendum campaigns, and it is worth thinking about how practical it is to hold a referendum between now and Sunday when there is no register, no campaign, and Ukrainian politicians cannot travel round their country. It is not only illegal but literally farcical to think of that going ahead and in any way being respected, responded to, or legitimised by the Russians or anybody else.
Have the arrangements we have put in place for the safe withdrawal of troops and especially heavy equipment from Afghanistan by the end of this year in any way been affected by the tension that has arisen between us and Russia?
We have not received any information that would lead us to think that. If we are going to take steps—diplomatically, politically and, potentially, economically—we should take them because it is the right thing to do. We should recognise that there may be consequences from some of those things. There could be consequences for the City of London and some European defence industries, or for energy or other interests around Europe. However, we should proceed knowing that what we are doing is sensible, legitimate, proportionate, consistent and right.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to sign the association agreement before the elections on 25 March. A poll of Ukrainians last year showed that the vast majority want to be members of the EU. Were there any discussions about Ukraine joining the EU as a candidate country, because that could provide focus for the Ukrainians at this time of instability?
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman. There were no discussions on Ukraine’s long-term aims to join the EU. The discussion was about what progress we could make on the association agreement. It was an important debate, because European colleagues felt strongly that we could not indicate that we would have been happy to sign an association agreement with the previous President but hold back from signing one with the current Administration. We therefore came forward with the idea of signing the political part of the association agreement, lowering European tariffs as a unilateral gesture to help the Ukrainian economy, and pressing ahead with the rest of the agreement in a proper time frame.
My right hon. Friend has spoken of the inability of Ukrainian politicians to campaign on the Crimea. Will he confirm that a referendum scratched together in 10 days at gunpoint at the behest of a foreign power can never be regarded as legitimate, fair or free?
A week ago, the Foreign Secretary assured the House that there was no question of Ukraine joining NATO. Since then, we have had a steady stream of statements from the NATO Secretary-General, who has spoken at great length and expansively of expanding NATO and once more getting very close to Russia. Does the Prime Minister believe that the NATO Secretary-General should calm down a bit, and that there should be less talk of expansion, to try to de-escalate the tensions rather than increase them?
Ukrainian membership of NATO is not on the agenda at present, but it is absolutely right that NATO countries are responding as strongly and as clearly to the threat of Russian aggression and destabilisation as they are. We should listen particularly to countries such as the Baltic states and Poland that wanted to join NATO. We made absolutely the right decision to allow them to do so.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We should define what our national interest is in this instance, and I think it is that Britain benefits from there being a world where countries obey the rules and where there is a rules-based global system. We are an international country—a country that relies on the world’s markets being open, and on countries obeying norms and standards of behaviour. We know what price is paid if we turn a blind eye when such things happen: we build up much bigger problems for the future.
At the critical moment a few weeks ago, and during the street protests in Kiev, the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France and Poland represented the European Union. Why was Britain absent from that group? Was it a deliberate choice of the UK Government, or was it a reflection of our threat to leave the European Union in three years’ time?
We strongly supported the work that the Foreign Secretaries of Poland, Germany and France did. They had the strong support of the UK Foreign Secretary, who was in Brazil at the time of that meeting. That meeting was important, but if anyone wants to say that Britain has somehow not played a leading role in bringing together international action on the crisis, they would have quite a hard argument to make. The Foreign Secretary was the first leading politician to get to Kiev and listen to the politicians themselves after the events. We helped to co-ordinate that important EU statement, and we are helping to bring the United States and the EU together on a concerted set of actions. I commend all the work my Foreign Secretary has done.
I refer to the answer to our right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood). Does the Prime Minister agree that recent events demonstrate the need for the UK to be as energy self-sufficient as possible, to maximise the returns from North sea oil and gas, and to utilise fully the potential of UK fracking to help ensure that the UK can be as energy self-sufficient as possible?
My right hon. Friend makes a strong argument. Britain has a diverse source of energy supplies—we have North sea oil and gas, we have long-term supply contracts with countries such as Qatar, we have our nuclear industry which we are now reinvigorating, and a large investment in renewables. One of the arguments that colleagues were making at the European Council was that we should encourage the US to start exporting some of its gas. That would be hugely beneficial and something that we should support, but in my view it raised the question why the European Union is not doing more to support and promote recovering unconventional gas. We should be doing that ourselves in order to enhance our energy security, and that goes for all the countries of the European Union.
Can the Prime Minister tell the House what the international community might do to protect the Crimean Tatars? By the same token, what message have the British Government given to the new Ukrainian Government about the protection of Russian minorities?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. In all our dealings with the Russians and with the new Ukrainian Government, we have set out the importance of making sure that the new Ukrainian Government are inclusive and that the Ukrainian elections give proper rights to minorities and to Russian speakers. As I say, we emphasised that point to the Russians as well, and obviously the Tatars in Crimea are a case in point.
I join my right hon. Friend in his condemnation of Russian action and duplicity in Ukraine. How does he think the west can help de-escalate, given that Ukrainian society is deeply divided and the present Government represent only one faction and are unelected? Should we not call for new elections in Ukraine—the election of a national Government—and should we not take the EU association agreement off the table as an unnecessary provocation in the current situation?
The best way that Britain can help to de-escalate this crisis is by encouraging a talks process. That is why we came up with the idea of a contact group to help Russia and Ukraine talk to each other in the company of important European powers and organisations, and that is what we should push very hard. However, I take issue with my hon. Friend’s description of the Ukrainian Government. The Ukrainian Parliament had to react to the fact that the President left the country, and it took constitutional steps to put a transitional Government in place. That transitional Government have said it is important to respect the rights of Russian speakers and minorities, and they have had that point put to them by others as well. I do not think it is fair in any way to blame the European Union for this crisis. The European Union rightly has partnership and neighbourhood approaches to its neighbours but these are voluntarily entered into, and it is right that the European Union has those arrangements.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and early sight of it. Notwithstanding his response to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), does he share my disappointment at the way the OSCE has been treated and prevented from carrying out an important task on the ground? What extra support can the UK Government give the OSCE to ensure that it does that vital task?
We will keep supporting the OSCE in the work that it does. The hon. Gentleman is right that the way potential observers and observer missions have been treated is appalling. They should be there; they play a vital role. We will do everything we can to support them. The fact that they are not being allowed in is a material consideration in thinking about the steps that we take next.
Order. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) has perambulated across the Bench from its middle to its end. Some people might think it is almost as difficult for me to keep an eye on him as it is for the Government Whips. I call Mr Mark Pritchard.
I have a Panel of Chairs meeting to attend—I am grateful for being appointed to the panel.
Instead of listening to the criticism of some Opposition Back Benchers, the Prime Minister should be commended not only for his statement but for his leadership on this issue in Europe along with the Foreign Secretary. On the issue of European unity, is it not the case that while Germany, Hungary and the energy axis aligned with Russia might agree on phase 1 on the European strategy, phases 2 and 3 may be more challenging?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says. All those countries—Hungary included—signed up to the European Council conclusions that were extensively debated around the table at that meeting, so they are committed. It states clearly that if further steps are taken to destabilise Ukraine, the European Union will take steps covering a range of economic areas. Nothing is ruled out from those areas. Yes, it will be difficult, but I am confident that were that eventuality to come to pass, we would be able to respond appropriately.
Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway), it is good to hear the Prime Minister talk about asset freezes. He said in his statement that the Council has asked the European Commission to begin work on these additional measures. What work will the UK Government do to support the Commission in that, and what conversations has he had with our European partners on this specific subject?
We will hold a meeting tomorrow that will include representatives from the European Commission and from Britain, to go through and look in detail at which individuals could potentially be named. There should be maximum co-operation between the various European countries and European organisations about this.
Europe is littered with potential conflicts like that now afflicting Crimea. Is my right hon. Friend clear that the security of the whole of Europe depends on countries obeying the rules in this area, and while Russia remains outside those rules, she must be made to pay a very serious economic price?
My hon. Friend is right. As I have said, we have these frozen conflicts that we still struggle with across Europe. We are making a concerted effort to ensure that this does not turn into another one. We have to accept that there will be real and quite painful consequences for European countries if we have to go ahead with sanctions, but we should do so because it would be a greater evil to allow this situation to continue.
I have not seen any evidence of that. Sometimes the City of London is unfairly painted as somewhere that does not have tough rules on money laundering. It does. It is painted as somewhere that does not have tough rules on transparency. It does. Part of the G8 agenda was aimed at making sure that we get greater transparency, particularly on issues such as tax. We will take the necessary steps, if that becomes appropriate, and the City of London will play its full part.
The Baltic republics border on Russia and they have substantial Russian populations. My right hon. Friend has already hinted that they must be somewhat nervous. They are NATO members, so does he think it appropriate that NATO should reaffirm the principle of collective security for all its members?
The collective security approach is at the heart of NATO, and we should reaffirm it every time NATO countries meet. Looking back, was it right to allow Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and other countries to join the European Union and NATO? Yes, it was. It gave them the security and stability to make economic progress, combat corruption and have the sort of free and open societies that the House supports. They draw a lot of strength and succour from that, and we should not forget it.
The Prime Minister is right to say there is a pattern to President Putin’s aggressive expansionism. Is the right hon. Gentleman not concerned that the measures he has committed to, or set out as possibilities, may prove insufficient to disrupt that pattern? Will we not look back with great regret if this emboldens Russia to continue on this path, potentially to the door of NATO members themselves?
If we pursue the steps we are contemplating and the steps the EU has agreed to take in a strong, predictable and consistent way, we can demonstrate to Russia that there is a pathway where it chooses dialogue and diplomacy to settle these issues, rather than further destabilisation. That would be the right outcome. I do not think that this approach is doomed not to work, for the simple reason that there are long-term costs to Russia in not recognising the importance of its economic and diplomatic relationship with Europe. For instance, we talk a lot about Russian gas. Yes, Europe is reliant on Russian gas to the tune of 25% of the EU market as a whole, but approximately 50% of Gazprom’s sales are to Europe. There are, therefore, strong arguments to say that Russia needs a sensible relationship with Europe more than Europe needs a sensible relationship with Russia. We should not talk ourselves down in any way. If we are tough, predictable and consistent we can help to emphasise to Russia that she should choose a path of diplomacy, not conflict.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the excuses for President Putin unleashing his troops in Crimea was that he wanted to protect the Russian minorities? When the Prime Minister next contacts the Ukrainian interim Prime Minister, will he urge him to broadcast and do whatever he can to promote an inclusive message to every citizen of Ukraine that they have nothing to fear from him, either as an interim Government or as an elected Government, and will he also urge the BBC to broadcast that inclusive message?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which is that we should keep saying to the interim Ukrainian Government, and indeed to any new elected Ukrainian Government, that they should respect the rights of minorities and the rights of Russian speakers. We should also uncover how much of the propaganda we have been told about these sorts of things is made up, exaggerated and fabricated. We must not let the Russians get away with a propaganda campaign that says that were it not for the action of Russian troops in Crimea there would somehow have been an appalling bloodbath. I do not think that that is the truth at all, and we should challenge that at every opportunity.
The Prime Minister made reference in his statement to the importance of stabilising the new Ukrainian economy, and to the role of the EU and the International Monetary Fund. Can he give us more information on when the EU will be bringing forward a clear timetable and the milestones for the release of the financial assistance package?
The hon. Lady asks a very important question. The EU, rightly, is being guided by the IMF team in Ukraine. The IMF has the real expertise on what is needed in terms of conditions, guarantees and undertakings on economic reforms to release an IMF programme. The majority of the EU money is conditional on that IMF programme going ahead.
Has the Prime Minister been able to assess reports that up to £100 billion was stolen by the previous Ukraine regime? What steps is the EU Council making to try to retrieve that money? Do we need more international action to ensure that offshore banks take very seriously their duty to check where money is coming from to avoid authoritarian regimes impoverishing their countries?
My hon. Friend’s point is absolutely key. As I said in the House last week, the reaction of the Ukrainian people against their former President was as much about being against corruption, and the massive larceny that has taken place on an industrial scale in that country, as it was about making a statement on whether to move closer to Europe or in another direction. I have seen reports of vast sums and figures. We should redouble our commitments to get to the bottom of whether we can recover any of the stolen money and return it to the Ukrainian people. In our international and diplomatic work, and in our aid work, we should redouble our efforts to tackle corruption right across the world.
The Prime Minister will be aware that the European Union consistently supported the breakaway of Kosovo from Yugoslavia. Does that not hand a fairly useful argument to Russia, which will deploy it consistently with regard to Crimea?
Obviously the Russians do use that argument, and we hear it frequently. The events to which the hon. Gentleman has referred happened under an earlier Government, but the point that I would make, very much in their defence, is that there was a clear and present danger to the Kosovans who lived in Serbia. There was a real danger there, and we had to act in order to avert it. The steps that have been taken from that point onwards have been taken in a very deliberate and consistent way.
I noted the Prime Minister’s earlier answers in connection with energy. Does he agree that Britain could make a really important contribution by encouraging other nation states to be as liberal and competitive as possible in relation to energy, in order to strengthen his case for saying that Russia needs Europe more than Europe needs Russia?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. If countries liberalise and open up their energy markets, they can secure greater diversity of supply, greater competition, and unbundling between producers and distributors, all of which can help to provide a more resilient set of energy conditions. We are encouraging such action throughout Europe, not least through the completion of the energy single market.