House of Commons
Monday 28 April 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—
Border Systems Programme
Keeping the UK’s border secure is our priority. By the end of this Parliament, we will develop replacement primary border security systems, deliver exit checks, improve resilience of all current business-critical systems, increase advance passenger information coverage, and complete implementation of second-generation e-gates.
I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s answer. However, what progress has been made in the procurement process for the e-borders contract given that the UK industry was first approached in early 2013 and nations such as Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico have been able to complete similar procurements and implementations in as little as six months?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the procurement process. We have done two things in the Home Office: first, we have looked to make absolutely sure that we have identified the right technology that is necessary; and secondly, we have changed the approach we take to procurement to move away from the mega-monolithic contracts that tended to be entered into by the previous Government so as to be able to parcel the contracts up into smaller packages that mean we are more flexible and that a greater range of companies is able to bid for those contracts.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is right: the process has been slow. The e-borders programme has been a disaster costing the taxpayer millions of pounds, with four years of unresolved negotiations with the original providers. In his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Sir Charles Montgomery said that 5 million people leave this country without providing advance passenger information. How many of the 14 core services that were due to be provided by e-borders will be provided by the end of this Parliament?
I outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) what we will have completed by the end of this Parliament. I am happy to repeat the list that I read earlier. We will have delivered exit checks, increased advance passenger information coverage, introduced second-generation e-gates, developed primary border security systems, and improved the resilience of all our current business-critical systems.
It is clearly very important to have exit checks back, because without them it is hard to have a sensible immigration policy. Sir Charles Montgomery from Border Force told the Select Committee that full e-borders capability would not be provided by the time of the general election. What is not going to be in place, and do we need it?
I have already established twice in my answers what is going to be completed during this Parliament by the time of the next general election. My hon. Friend is a member of the Home Affairs Committee and has obviously heard Sir Charles Montgomery, the director general of Border Force, give evidence on a number of occasions. One of the points Sir Charles has made in his evidence is that we have been increasing the amount of advance passenger information available to us so that we now have 80% coverage in all transport and more than 90% coverage in aviation.
The official Opposition and I support exit checks. I wonder whether the Home Secretary has read what the Deputy Prime Minister has said:
“I have for some time been concerned with the urgency with which the Home Office is seeking to implement the coalition agreement commitment that I personally insisted on, that exit checks should be restored…Do I think, given what I know now, that new exit checks will be in all exit places by 2015? I think that is unlikely”.
For once, I agree with Nick—does the Home Secretary?
I share the Deputy Prime Minister’s concern to ensure that we are able to provide for the commitment that we made in the coalition agreement that we would introduce exit checks. By April 2015 we will have enabled exit checks to take place for those who are leaving the UK by scheduled international travel by air, sea and rail services.
Whatever entry or exit checks we deploy, my constituents are concerned that we should not grant asylum to people who come to our shores through other safe countries. What use is being made of the Dublin convention whereby we send back such people to the last safe country they left?
I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend that we do use the Dublin regulations; indeed, I defend those regulations regularly in the Justice and Home Affairs Council within the European environment. It is very important that people are returned to the first country by which they entered the European Union. Unfortunately, because of court judgments we are not currently able to return people to Greece, but we are working with the Greek authorities to improve their capability for dealing with asylum seekers so that we will be able to do so in due course.
I am determined to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery. Later this year we will introduce a Modern Slavery Bill, to ensure that our laws properly protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice, together with an action plan, to galvanise those involved in stamping out this horrific crime. In addition, we are reviewing the identification and provision of care for victims. Earlier this month at the Vatican, I launched the Santa Marta group, which will bring together senior law enforcement chiefs from around the world and play a critical role in taking practical steps to end modern slavery.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, because working internationally and co-operating across borders is a key part of our being able to deal with this issue and tackle modern slavery and the human trafficking that often lies behind it. The action plan, to which I have referred and which I intend to publish later this year, will set out very clearly how we will undertake a range of activities with source countries. It will include the work of British embassies to prioritise the issue of trafficking, encouraging greater use of joint investigation teams and providing support to victims who want to return home. Of course, there is always more to do and I am always keen to explore any further efforts we can make.
I welcome what the Home Secretary has said, but does she agree with my constituent, Jane Launchbury, that this is also a key opportunity to introduce a system of legal guardianship to ensure that the most vulnerable children can be supported through the numerous interactions they will have with officialdom? Will the Home Secretary outline which steps the Bill will take to ensure that victims of child trafficking will be protected?
I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to make sure that we provide properly for all victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, and, obviously, we all have particular concerns about child victims. The Modern Slavery Bill will enable us to strengthen our response to human trafficking and modern slavery, for both adult and child victims. We are taking some important steps. I announced in January our intention to trial specialist independent advocates for victims of child trafficking. They would support and guide the child through the immigration, criminal justice and care systems, ensuring that the child’s voice is heard and that they receive the best form of support and protection they need. Of course, we have to consider that matter following the passing in the Lords of an amendment to the Immigration Bill that has put on hold our proposals for those pilots.
I am not able to give the right hon. Gentleman a date as to when I will be able to respond, but we are grateful to the Joint Committee for the detailed work it did and the commitment it showed in looking at this issue. That is why I want to look at it and to make absolutely sure that we respond to all the points the Committee raised.
I, too, had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee, which concluded unanimously, across all the parties, that key to prevention of human trafficking is improved protection of its victims. In view of the 47% increase in the number of victims identified, can the Home Secretary assure us that she knows what happens to them when they leave shelters, often after 45 days, and whether there is continuing support and protection available to victims beyond that which is automatically provided?
The hon. Lady refers to the Committee’s report and she is right to say that we want to ensure the protection of victims. Part of that is ensuring that the perpetrators can be caught, because if the victims have support and protection, they are more likely and willing to come forward to give evidence. In dealing with modern slavery and human trafficking, we must never take our focus away from dealing with the perpetrators. The Modern Slavery Bill will give us an enhanced ability to deal with those who are perpetrating this abhorrent crime.
The hon. Lady raises an important point. Many people will leave the refuge or protection they have been in after 45 days, but in many cases they will be able to go into a further form of protection that will have been discussed, and the charitable and voluntary sectors are working very well on that.
I commend the Home Secretary for her lead on this issue. I am sure that she realises that the Modern Slavery Bill could be a world leader. A lot of countries are looking at us with regard to the Bill. I just want to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) that although it is absolutely right to go after the perpetrators and give them the strongest possible sentences, it is incredibly important that we support the victims in order to get those convictions.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am grateful to him for the work that he has done on the particular issue of modern slavery and human trafficking. We will follow a twin-track approach: the legislation will obviously enable us to strengthen our law enforcement ability, particularly to deal with those perpetrating this crime, and it will also of course set up the anti-slavery commissioner. The action plan that I intend to publish will focus very clearly on the support that we can give victims. We want to ensure that victims are supported and we want people to give evidence against the perpetrators, because if we can reduce the number of perpetrators, we will reduce the number of victims.
The Home Secretary refers to having limited voluntary pilots, which is all very well, but numerous charities, the cross-party Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill and the other place all support having independent guardians or advocates to protect trafficked children and support putting this on a full statutory basis. Will she say whether she will attempt to overturn the new clause—clause 65 of the Immigration Bill—and if so, why?
We, of course, want to ensure that we provide that support for child victims and, as I said in response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), that is why we have brought forward the trials of independent advocates. They align almost entirely with the role of child trafficking guardians, but with some exceptions: our advocates support all child victims of trafficking, whether trafficked into the UK or within the UK, and obviously focus on the needs of children, not on those of adults. We are trialling them because the support currently given is inconsistent—some local authority areas give better support than others—and we want to ensure that the system introduced is the one that will work and provide the best level of support.
Violence against Women
4. What recent progress she has made on tackling violence against women. (903686)
14. What recent progress she has made on tackling violence against women. (903697)
The coalition Government published our updated action plan on 8 March, setting out recent progress to tackle violence against women and girls. We have begun the national roll-out of the domestic violence disclosure scheme and domestic violence protection orders; commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s review into domestic abuse, and announced steps to ensure the recommendations are acted on; and criminalised forced marriage. We are continuing a robust programme to tackle female genital mutilation.
As the Minister is aware, the all-party group on domestic and sexual violence recently published a report on women’s access to justice, with a number of recommendations. I am grateful to the Minister for giving evidence to that inquiry. Will he set out what steps he will take to review our findings and to implement the recommendations?
As the hon. Lady knows, I very much welcome that particular inquiry. She has considerable experience in this field, as I readily recognise. We are giving proper consideration to the recommendations, as she would expect, and we will make an announcement in due course. I very much welcome the work that has been done.
In Greater Manchester last year, over 10,000 more domestic violence incidents were reported to the police, which is a 21% increase on the year before; yet 29% fewer domestic violence cases were referred for prosecution. Will the Minister explain the reason for that, and what will he do about it?
Let me first say that the Home Secretary and I share a concern about some figures that come out from individual police forces. That is why my right hon. Friend has written to chief constables and police force leads on domestic abuse, making clear our expectation as a Government that every police force will have an action plan in place by September to improve their response to domestic violence and abuse. It is important, however, to stress that three out of four cases of violence against women and girls do result in convictions.
Will the Minister update the House on what progress has been made towards involving general practitioners and other medical practitioners in exposing and bringing to justice those who engage in the horrific and despicable crime of FGM?
I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that there is good co-operation across Departments. The Department of Health is closely involved in the matter and the public health Minister in particular, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), has been very supportive of the efforts of the Home Office. My right hon. Friend will know that under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, anyone who has information showing that a child is at risk is required to inform social care or the police. He will also know that the Department of Health has taken steps to ensure that FGM cases are monitored in the health service so that we have a full picture by later this year.
22. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Metropolitan police and the Mayor of London on securing the first UK prosecution for female genital mutilation? Will he update us on what progress has been made towards making it mandatory to share key information with all the relevant agencies? (903707)
Obviously, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, I cannot comment on cases that are before the courts. I strongly support the efforts of the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that prosecutions take place, and the police forces who are taking the matter forward in a productive way. I mentioned a moment ago the action that the Department of Health is taking and she will be aware that guidance has been issued to schools by the Secretary of State for Education, so there is a joined-up approach across Government. The question of mandatory reporting will be considered by the Department of Health and others as the initiative unrolls.
In the past month, two women in Hackney have been killed by violent partners, one with her 23-month-old child. Those women had talked to their friends about the risks that they faced. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that funding for organisations such as the Family Rights Group, which is based in Hackney, is not stopped by the Department for Education so that friends and family members, as well as potential victims, have somewhere to go?
I am not familiar with the DFE funding, but I can tell the hon. Lady that the Home Office has allocated £40 million to deal with these important matters. I am deeply sorry to hear of the events in her constituency. We seek to learn lessons from each case. I remind her that we have introduced domestic violence disclosure orders and protection orders to help women in such situations.
Last year, 1.2 million women suffered from domestic abuse and 330,000 suffered from sexual assault. Does the Minister agree not only that those are terrible figures in themselves, but that the initiative to drive women’s rights across the world, which was announced recently by the Foreign Secretary, will stand a chance of gaining credence or traction only if we sort the problem out at home?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that those are appalling crimes. There is a call to the police about domestic abuse every 30 seconds, which is a shaming statistic for our society. There is also a cost, which is obviously a secondary consideration, of £15.7 billion a year. We have to do everything we can, as the Home Office is doing, to get a grip on this matter. Colleagues in the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office are similarly concerned and are taking action within their portfolios.
The shocking report on domestic violence by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary revealed that high levels of vacancies in domestic violence units and unsustainable case loads were leading to quotas being imposed on victims that were deemed to be high risk. Given that evidence, does the Minister accept that the Government’s hollowing out of the police force has resulted in the loss of specialist officers, inhibited the ability to pursue cases and, most importantly, left victims at risk? When will he accept responsibility for the Government’s actions, instead of blaming others?
I am sorry to hear that contribution from the hon. Lady, because this is an issue that all Members of the House, irrespective of gender or party, feel strongly about. To politicise it in that way is not helpful. She talked about the police force, but she ought to remember that crime is down by more than 10% under this Government and that there are therefore fewer crimes to investigate. To imply that the police are unable to deal with this matter is simply not right. We attach a high priority to the matter. That has been made clear by the Home Secretary, by myself and by the action that the Government is taking.
Human Trafficking (Labour Exploitation)
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out in detail much of the work that the Government are doing to tackle human trafficking and slavery. To better tackle labour exploitation, we have moved the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to the Home Office to strengthen its links with law enforcement agencies.
This is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I know from personal experience how effective the Gangmasters Licensing Authority is. It is particularly effective because it focuses its attention on the areas with the highest risk of criminality and exploitation, rather than on lower-risk areas. Has she considered, and will she discuss with her colleagues in government, whether there is scope for using the model of the GLA in other high-risk labour areas, where similar work could be done?
When the Minister looks at that suggestion—I had responsibility for the GLA for two years as a Minister; it is an excellent organisation—will she also consider the status of the GLA’s board members, now that it is in her remit? Will she, first, upgrade the status of the sole representative for human trafficking on the board from delegate status to full status; and secondly, not do what the Government are proposing, which is to reduce the numbers of union representatives representing the work force on the GLA?
When I visited the migrant camps at Calais with the deputy mayor of Calais, every person there said that they had paid traffickers to get there, putting them in danger of labour exploitation in the UK. Will Home Office Ministers consider supporting a joint initiative by Dover and Calais for the French police to clear those camps and repatriate people or process their asylum claims, as the case may be?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know how hard he works in his constituency on these matters. We work closely with our counterparts in the French police to deal with this issue, and my hon. Friend makes an important point. Many victims of modern slavery that I have met came into the country willingly but illegally, because they felt they were coming for a better life. They have been exploited; that is not right and we need to stamp that out.
The coalition Government has overhauled the Licensing Act 2003, giving local areas stronger powers to deal with problem premises. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 will provide front-line professionals with powerful new tools to tackle alcohol related antisocial behaviour. We are also banning the worst instances of cheap and harmful alcohol sales, and we are working with 20 local alcohol action areas to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder.
I am very pleased by the roll-out of the late night levy, including in Newcastle, Cheltenham and elsewhere. I believe that Islington is next, and Chelmsford is showing an interest as well. We are looking at the responses from local councils on early morning restriction orders to see what feedback we have received, and we will amend the measures as necessary.
16. Prince of Wales road in my constituency is the centre of Norwich’s night-time economy, and residents and councillors have launched a stakeholders forum to consider how to deal with the impact of excessive alcohol consumption in the area. The Minister has received a copy of the first report ordered by Councillor Ben Price. Will he join me in welcoming that community-led activity, and will he meet me and Councillor Price to consider how we can take forward the report’s recommendations? (903700)
Illegal Drug Use
Drug use in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level since records began, in 1996. The number of heroin and crack cocaine users in England has fallen below 300,000 for the first time since 2004-05. Drug-related deaths in England and Wales have continued to fall over the last three years. Numbers successfully completing drug treatment free of dependency in England have risen since 2009-10.
I congratulate the Government on their success in reducing the use of certain drugs, but we are still not recording the use of many drugs, particularly legal highs. Given that we are seeing a fall in cannabis use but there is a great deal of evidence of an increase in legal high cannabinoid use, does the Minister not agree that if we want to protect our young people, we need to record all the drugs they are taking, including legal highs?
I agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s question and I agree that many of the chemical highs or new psychoactive substances—the so-called legal highs, although I prefer not to use the word “legal” because that implies that they are both legal and safe and some are neither—can be more dangerous than other drugs that people recognise as dangerous. There has been a decline in drug use among young people, but he is right to draw attention to that aspect. I established an expert panel on it late last year and I look forward to receiving its recommendations shortly.
I am happy to say that in the cross-governmental serious and organised crime strategy, we work in partnership with countries where drugs are produced and transported, as well as with the wider international community, to disrupt the organised criminal networks that distribute drugs. Our approach is to build political will and practical capacity to tackle high priority criminal groups. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), takes this matter very seriously.
Female Genital Mutilation
The coalition welcomed the joint royal colleges’ report published last November. The Government is committed to eradicating female genital mutilation and is taking action in each of the areas recommended in the report. As part of our strategy, eight Departments have signed a cross-government declaration reaffirming our commitment to protecting current and future generations of girls from this abuse, and each Department is doing what it can to eradicate the practice in the UK.
I have certainly been in correspondence with the Education Secretary, and I have met on more than one occasion the relevant Education Minister. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Education Secretary has now written to schools, which is a very helpful development.
I am a little concerned to hear that answer, given that the Minister talked about good co-operation across all Departments. Given that the survey quoted by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children reports that one in six teachers is unaware that FGM is a crime and that 68% are unaware of any guidance from the Government on what to do if they suspect a pupil is at risk, can the Minister assure the House that he will meet the Secretary of State for Education, discuss this very important issue and report back to the House on what agreements they make on how to tackle this despicable crime?
I agree with the hon. Lady that it is a despicable crime. That is why we take it so seriously not just in the Home Office but across Government. I refer her to the cross-government agreement I mentioned in my original answer, which has been signed by eight Departments, including by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), on behalf of the Department for Education. We are in regular contact on these matters across Departments and will continue to be so.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to interdepartmental working and a multi-agency approach, but does he not agree that until more perpetrators are brought before our courts and convicted, the elders and parents in the communities in which these atrocities take place will not take the law seriously?
It is a matter of some regret, in my view, that there have been no successful prosecutions since the practice was outlawed in 1985. I am delighted that there are now two cases pending, although obviously I cannot comment on matters before the courts. What I can say is that in my view there is certainly a willingness on the part of police forces, the Director of Public Prosecutions and others to ensure that where the crime is perpetrated, those responsible are brought to justice. The DPP wrote to me and the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims earlier this year with a suggestion for a particular change that might be enacted to try to make prosecutions more likely and more successful. We are looking at that suggestion now.
The Government have overhauled the student visa route with a range of measures to combat abuse, while continuing to attract the brightest and best students to the UK’s world-class universities. Our reforms have resulted in 700 education providers being removed as sponsors to bring students into the UK. The total number of tier 4 student visas has fallen by a third since 2010, while visa applications from university students continue to increase.
I welcome the clampdown on abuses of the student visa system, but will the Minister assure the House that our world-class universities, including my local award-winning university, Huddersfield university, where overseas students come from more than 120 countries, will still be allowed to grow their courses with these students from around the globe? May I invite the Minister to come and visit Huddersfield university?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing his local university, and I note from the latest statistics that the total number of non-EU students at the university of Huddersfield has risen by 16%. I am happy to meet him to discuss the position further, but there has been abuse of the student visa system and we are tackling this while placing no limit on the number of genuine international students, whom we welcome to our world-class universities.
Although it is quite right that action should be taken against bogus colleges, does the Minister accept that both the tone and the nature of some of the Government’s actions have created an impression, widely understood by very reputable higher education institutions, that it is now less easy for able students from many parts of the world, including the Indian sub-continent, to gain access to courses here for legitimate study?
I do not accept that. I note that the Higher Education Funding Council for England published a report on 10 April indicating that student entrants were up. We continue to work with colleagues across Government. It is notable that we have seen new entrants from key markets including China, Malaysia and Hong Kong. We very much welcome international students to study at our fantastic universities.
18. Does my hon. Friend accept that although of course we warmly welcome students from all over the world to our excellent universities, they must leave when they are meant to do so? May I suggest that he encourages the universities themselves to play a greater part in seeing to it that that happens? (903703)
I agree with my right hon. Friend. There has been abuse of the system, with people coming to this country not to study, but to work. We have worked closely with the universities sector, and there has been a successful pilot with one university to encourage universities to see that students do leave at the end of their studies. We will continue to roll that out, as well as working with immigration enforcement to see that those who are not entitled to be here do leave.
Has the Minister seen the comments from Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow university, who says that this Government are in effect saying to international students, “Don’t come here, we’re closed for business, closed for education”? I know that the Home Office—I hear the Home Secretary saying this—always thinks it knows better than the Scottish academic and university community, but will the Minister at least acknowledge that we have a bit of an issue with this?
There is no limit on the number of students who can legitimately come to this country to study. When the hon. Gentleman looks at the statistics and the information, he will see that the number of visa applications coming to universities has gone up by 7%. We continue to underline that this country welcomes students to our world-class universities in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The number of charges brought for violent crime has fallen. This is broadly in line with falls in police-recorded violent crime under this Government, but in fact the percentage of violent offences that result in a charge has increased under this Government. In addition, the independent crime survey for England and Wales for 2012-13 shows the number of violent crimes at its lowest level since 1981.
Does the Minister share my concern about some of the offences for which community resolutions are now used? I think of crimes such as domestic violence and knife crime. Does he not think that community resolutions should be banned for such offences, although they might be the best remedy for others?
I share the hon. Lady’s concerns about any inappropriate sentencing, so I am sure she will welcome the steps the Government have taken, such as stopping the use of cautions for serious offences, including those involving the possession of a knife, offensive weapon or firearm in a public place. Community resolutions and cautions have a part to play, but we have taken steps to ensure they are not used for the most serious crimes.
The hon. Lady will know that we are looking at the whole issue of out-of-court disposals. We want to reach a position where the use, as she says, of community resolutions is restricted to crimes where this is appropriate, but not for those where such a resolution would damage the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system. I hope she acknowledges that the amount of violent crime in this country is at such a low level now.
Before a prosecution is made, the police first have to record a crime. In Lincolnshire, more than a quarter of all reported rapes are dismissed as “no crime”, compared with a national average of 9%, and there are similarly high rates in other police areas. A police whistleblower claims that officers in some forces pressurise vulnerable victims to drop their allegations to make the crime statistics look better. What action has the Minister taken to explain and reduce the extreme variation in the number of rapes categorised as “no crime” by different police forces?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s underlying concern, but I hope he will be reassured that the “no crime” rate for rape has fallen year on year, from 12.6% in 2010 to 9.6% in 2013. At the same time, the Crown Prosecution Service is now achieving its highest ever rape conviction rate, with 63% of prosecutions resulting in successful outcomes and the average custodial length going up 21 months over the past 10 years. Everyone shares the concerns, but the hon. Gentleman should be reassured that the position is actually improving.
Metropolitan Police Recruitment
It is for forces to determine their own recruitment arrangements: this is a matter for the commissioner and Mayor’s office for policing and crime in London. However, the Home Office is working with the College of Policing to improve both the standards of new recruits and the training available to them. We also support the Met’s ambitions to promote positive action to create a more diverse work force, including through direct entry.
I am very interested by the Minister’s response, because in Lewisham just 7% of our police officers come from black and ethnic minority communities, yet nearly half our population identifies as such. Can he tell me when he proposes to introduce legislation to change the law to allow the Met proactively to recruit one black officer for every white officer taken on?
The hon. Lady is referring, I assume, to the Northern Ireland example, where I know that that kind of recruitment was done. I would point out that although she and I share the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s desire to make the Metropolitan police force reflect better the community it serves across London, the situation is more complicated and variegated in London: London is a city of very many communities, not two. However, we are encouraging the Metropolitan police, working with it and the College of Policing, to use the parts of the Equality Act 2010 that allow a degree of flexibility to use mentoring and the language provisions that might be necessary for certain skills and to allow them to use the tipping point provisions if they have two candidates of equal merit to choose one from an under-represented community, so that they can achieve the commissioner’s ambition of making the force more representative.
Police recorded crime figures and the independent crime survey for England and Wales both show that crime has fallen by more than 10% under this Government. Over the same period, the number of people in prison has increased for a number of reasons, including the police detecting more crimes and longer sentences for more serious offences. Between 2010 and 2013, we made almost £400 million in savings across prisons through efficiencies, benchmarking and the capacity management programme.
As I have just said, we have been imprisoning more serious criminals and locking them up for longer and we have been making savings in the prison system through efficiency programmes, so we are meeting my hon. Friend’s challenge already. Many people would argue that at least one of the reasons for the reduction in crime is precisely that we are locking more criminals up and keeping them in prison for longer.
UK Border Security
20. What steps she is taking to secure the UK’s borders. (903705)
Our borders are significantly more secure than they were in 2010. This Government have created Border Force as a separate command, extended coverage of exit checks and put in place a rigorous operating mandate requiring 100% passenger checks at primary controls. We have also established the border policing command as part of the National Crime Agency to tackle organised crime at the border.
The Minister will be aware that the common border area facilitates passport-free travel with the Republic of Ireland, but what steps has he taken to improve the quality of passenger lists being handed over by Irish airports and Irish airlines to assist the police in monitoring the border?
I can tell my hon. Friend that there is excellent co-operation between the UK and the Republic of Ireland to prevent abuse of the common travel area by strengthening the external border. The joint UK-Ireland programme of work focuses on aligned visa policy and processes, investment in border procedures, increased data sharing and unified passenger data systems to achieve the end results my hon. Friend is calling for.
Child Sexual Exploitation
The coalition Government remains committed to ensuring that all necessary legislation is in place to tackle child sexual abuse. I welcome the hon. Member’s recent inquiry into this issue. I am reassured by the inquiry’s conclusion that there was no evidence to show that justice could not be served owing to the lack of a specific child sexual exploitation offence. The inquiry report made a number of wider recommendations which are now being actively considered.
There are currently 16 pieces of legislation that use the term “child prostitute”. I have spoken to young people who have been victims of child sexual exploitation, and they say the expression makes them feel dirty and complicit. Will the Minister commit to introducing a process to remove this term from the law?
I am very sympathetic to that suggestion. Children who are sexually exploited, whether for commercial or other reasons, should not be referred to as prostitutes. They are victims. We will consider references in all legislation and guidance as opportunities arise, as well as considering carefully the wording used in any new legislation or guidance.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. (903673)
The Home Office continues its work to reform the police and cut crime. Under this Government, crime has fallen by more than 10% according to both the independent crime survey for England and Wales and police recorded crime, and the latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics last week show that England and Wales are safer than they have been for decades, with crime at its lowest level since the crime survey began in 1981. The Government are taking decisive action to cut crime and protect the public. We are tackling underlying drivers of crime through our drugs and alcohol strategies and antisocial behaviour reforms, we have intensified our focus on issues such as modern slavery, violence against women and girls, gangs and sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, and we have improved our national crime-fighting capability with the launch of the National Crime Agency. The evidence is clear: our police reforms are working and crime is falling.
The highly critical report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary raised troubling concerns about the police response to domestic violence when it comes to victims. When victims find the courage to contact the police, they need both to be believed and treated with respect. What further steps will the Home Secretary be taking to make sure that all front-line officers receive greater training in this area to make this a reality?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. The HMIC report was truly shocking and will have been of concern to all in this House who worry about the way in which domestic violence and the victims of domestic violence are treated by the police. I have written to chief constables making it absolutely clear that I expect them to bring their action plans for dealing with this issue forward by the autumn—by September or October of this year. I will be chairing a group that will be ensuring that action is taken, and we are of course working with the College of Policing, which this Government set up, to look at the training that is available to police officers.
T3. In the light of the Care Quality Commission’s recent mental health review, will the Secretary of State outline what action she is taking to eliminate the use of police stations as section 136 places of safety? What representations is she making to ensure that properly resourced and fully staffed places are provided in mental health units? (903675)
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am clear that people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 should be taken to police stations only in truly exceptional circumstances. I am pleased to say that the work we have been doing with the Department of Health and the triage pilots involving health workers going out with police officers in certain parts of the country are already bearing fruit, with fewer people being taken to police cells as a place of safety. The Health Secretary and I have already commissioned a review of the operation of sections 135 and 136 because we want to ensure that appropriate support and provision are available for people who are experiencing mental health problems, and to ensure that they are dealt with in an appropriate way.
New figures show that in the past 15 months there has been a 7% drop in the number of sex offences being taken to court, at a time when the number of such offences being reported to the police has gone up by 16%. Over the past 12 months, there has been a 9% drop in convictions for violent crime, even though the number of recorded violent crimes fell by only 1.5%. The Home Secretary has said that her police reforms and policies are working. Why, then, are more criminals getting away with it on her watch?
I challenge the right hon. Lady’s comments. The basic issue here is that the overall number of crimes has been falling, which is why some of the figures relating to the number of people being taken to court are falling. When concerns are raised in relation to how the police are dealing with domestic and sexual violence, of course we take action to look into the matter. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims said earlier, we have seen good movement in the figures relating to the way in which rape is being dealt with, particularly in relation to the number of successful prosecutions.
But the Home Secretary’s action is not working. Fewer rape cases are going to court, as are fewer domestic violence cases, fewer child abuse cases and fewer sexual offence cases, even though the numbers of sexual offences and domestic violence and child abuse cases being reported to the police are all going up. According to analysis by the House of Commons Library, the resulting drop in convictions is the equivalent of 13,000 more violent offenders, 3,500 more sex offenders, 13,000 more domestic abusers and 700 more child abusers getting away with their crimes. This is happening on the right hon. Lady’s watch. Those are the facts. The number of cases going to court is going down in areas where the recorded crimes are going up. What is she doing about it? She is the Home Secretary. Why will she not act to ensure that victims get the justice they deserve—
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for pointing out that I am the Home Secretary. We have seen a higher number of cases of sexual violence being reported, and it is good that people are willing to come forward to report such cases. Some of these are historical cases, and there has been an upturn in the number of people coming forward, particularly as a result of the revelations relating to Jimmy Savile and other such cases. As I said earlier, the number of successful prosecutions by the CPS for rape and sexual violence has hit an all-time high, so I suggest that the right hon. Lady goes away and looks again at her figures.
T4. With crime down by more than 10% since 2010, and by 11% in Warwickshire, will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the hard-working officers of the Warwickshire police force for their contribution to that? Does he agree that the Opposition were wrong to suggest that crime would rise as we started to deal with the legacy of deficit and debt that Labour left behind? (903676)
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I would add to his point about the Warwickshire force the fact that it and its neighbour, the West Mercia force, have been among the most successfully radical in collaborating across force boundaries. One reason that they are providing such good services to the people of Warwickshire is that they have managed to merge back-office functions and specialist functions, meaning that they can spend more time cutting and preventing crime, which is what my hon. Friend’s constituents want.
T2. There were at least 68 deaths from legal highs in 2012, with more likely in 2013 and 2014. It is simply madness that children can walk into a shop and buy these harmful products. I know that the Minister has launched a review of legal highs—he referred to it earlier—but given that people are dying as a result of consuming these products, when can we expect meaningful action on this issue? (903674)
There has already been a great deal of meaningful action, including a month of action from police forces, which resulted in the successful seizure of products, and a number of arrests and prosecutions. I have also issued guidance to local councils on how they can deal with these so-called “head shops”, which has led to successful interventions to seize more material, so we are in fact taking strong action. I hope that the review panel, which will report very shortly, will recommend even stronger ways to tackle these chemical highs. However, we must not get this out of perspective, because the number of deaths from what we might call “traditional drugs” is still very high, and we need to concentrate on that.T5. Early one Sunday in September 2011, Bedfordshire police deployed 200 officers to free 24 people who were being kept in slavery, some of whom had been there for more than 20 years. Such operations are very expensive. In order to encourage the police to undertake more of them, what are we doing to make sure that they are refunded from the often considerable assets of the slave traders? (903677)
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Anybody would agree that it is absolutely wrong that somebody who has been involved in a crime such as slavery should be allowed to keep their money. I am determined that this Government will give law enforcement agencies and others all the powers they need to get that money back. I also give this message to the slave masters: if you are involved in the disgusting and hideous trade in human beings, be under no illusion that this Government will find you, prosecute you and lock you up.
Is the Minister aware of figures from the Mayor’s office for policing and crime—MOPAC—showing that the number of Metropolitan police officers working on the ground in the London boroughs has fallen by 16%, or 3,000 officers? What action will he take to put more bobbies on the beat?
The hon. Gentleman can be assured that although the Metropolitan police force has had to make savings, as have police across the country, the overall level of crime in the Metropolitan police area has fallen by 13% since June 2010, showing that the Mayor, the deputy mayor responsible for MOPAC and the commissioner are doing a very good job in keeping London’s streets safer than ever before.
T7. In tackling the scourge of legal highs, may I urge the Minister to look at the work that Thames Valley police and Milton Keynes council have been doing to rid our communities of these substances? I have seen many distressing cases in my surgery of bright young people having been dragged into a downward spiral because they have had easy access to these drugs. (903679)
I welcome the steps being taken in Milton Keynes by Thames Valley police. I know that they raided the central Milton Keynes market and seized various chemical high products when young people were spotted using pills and powders that they thought had been bought from market stalls. That is a good example of what can be done with existing legislation. We have also banned hundreds of these substances as we have found them, but there is more to do, which is why I have set up this expert review panel.
It has been found that 86% of people on tied visas have had their employers keep their passport, and that 62% of them have received no salary at all. This Government changed the visas arrangement to ensure that domestic workers were tied to a single employer and could not change. Will this Government now reverse that?
We are aware of no evidence to suggest that someone’s having a tie to an employer with whom they have an existing relationship is a problem. This Government are determined to deal with the lack of enforcement on the part of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and others, in order to ensure that people on a domestic worker visa are treated appropriately within the law.
T8. The Government are rightly proud of having ended the shameful practice of child detention for immigration purposes. If those children are ultimately to be detained, is it not incumbent on the Home Office to ensure that their cases have been fully resolved before they turn 18, or, failing that, to be consistent in its approach until those cases have been completed? (903680)
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the important steps that the Government have taken in banning the detention of children. Indeed he will also recognise the work of the family returns panel, which analyses those cases to assess whether it is appropriate for a child to be returned and in what circumstances.
The criminalisation of the drug mephedrone, once a legal high, resulted in a 300% increase in its use in my area. Will the Government look at the practical new approach that is being tried in New Zealand, whereby the responsibility for the safety of legal highs is being placed on those who profit from the sale of them?
The answer is that an international comparator study has been undertaken, and that includes talking to countries that have a whole range of different approaches, including New Zealand, Ireland and Portugal. We are assessing what works best with the object of minimising the harm from drug use.
T9. An increasing number of people are buying illegal drugs on the internet. Indeed, the recent global drugs survey found that 22% of respondents had used websites such as Silk Road. Given that increasing problem, what extra resources are being made available to the National Crime Agency, and how will the Minister prioritise this matter among the NCA’s work? (903681)
I know that my hon. Friend, as a member of the Centre for Social Justice’s addiction panel, has significant experience in this area. He is absolutely right that the National Crime Agency is looking at organised gangs that use the internet to further their trade in illegal substances, and I will be working with it to ensure that suitable disruption happens.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to update the House on the crisis in Ukraine, developments over the past three weeks and the action that we propose to take now. I apologise for my croaky voice.
From 6 April, illegal armed groups began to occupy Government buildings in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk. From 12 April, in an apparently co-ordinated fashion, police and security service buildings were seized in smaller towns across the east of Ukraine. Like the armed men without insignia who took control of Crimea in February, many are well equipped, operate like professional soldiers who have trained together, and wear matching uniforms. Russia’s claim that these groups are purely local militias has no credibility.
NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, has stated that
“what is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organised and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”
We share that assessment.
On 14 April, I attended the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg where we decided upon additional sanctions. Those sanctions were then suspended in the light of talks in Geneva between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU on 17 April, which succeeded in agreeing steps to reduce tensions. The agreement committed all sides to refrain from violence or provocative actions in the south and east of Ukraine. It required all illegal armed groups to be disarmed and to vacate all illegally seized buildings and occupied public places in return for an amnesty for protesters, in a process assisted by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s special monitoring mission. The Ukrainian Government promised to take forward an inclusive, transparent and accountable constitutional process. I spoke to the Ukrainian acting Foreign Minister Deschytsia immediately after the Geneva agreement, and strongly welcomed the agreement.
The Ukrainian Government have made determined efforts to implement the agreement in good faith. They have put a draft amnesty law to the Ukrainian Parliament, begun a constitutional reform process, including decentralisation and the expansion of local authority power, and continued to collect illegal weapons. They are removing roadblocks around the Maidan, and protesters are vacating government buildings in Kiev. In addition, they have announced steps to guarantee the protection of the Russian language and its special status, and they have condemned anti-Semitism or intolerance.
The Prime Minister announced on Good Friday that the United Kingdom is providing £1 million to support the deployment of up to 400 additional observers to strengthen the OSCE mission in Ukraine. I pay tribute to the Ukrainian Government for the steps they have taken and for behaving with immense restraint in extremely difficult circumstances.
In contrast, Russia has so far failed to implement any part of the Geneva agreement. I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov last Wednesday and although I welcomed his participation in the Geneva meeting, I said to him that I could not identify a single positive step that Russia had taken to implement the agreement. It has not condemned the act of separatists or called on armed militants to vacate buildings and put down their arms. It has done nothing to rein in pro-Russian separatist groups, which continue to attack Ukrainian arms depots and military personnel, take over Government buildings and detain journalists and OSCE military observers, which we utterly condemn. The detention and parading of those observers, who should be released immediately, is utterly reprehensible and does further damage to the standing of Russia and the reputation of such groups operating in eastern Ukraine. The deplorable shooting today of the mayor of Kharkiv is another sign of the violence being instigated against those who opted to support a united Ukraine.
Furthermore, last week Russia announced further military exercises on Ukraine’s borders, Russia’s UN ambassador claimed that it had the right to deploy so-called “peacekeepers” on Ukrainian territory and Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia reserves the right to attack Ukraine to defend ethnic Russians. There is of course no evidence of threats to, or attacks on, Russians in eastern Ukraine.
I proposed to Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia could demonstrate its good faith by making an immediate public call for the full implementation of the Geneva agreement. I also proposed that Russia’s acting head of mission in Kiev could join in assisting the OSCE special monitoring mission on the ground, including by negotiating with the groups illegally occupying buildings. I warned the Foreign Minister that in the absence of such steps, the European Union and others would impose increasing sanctions.
As I have often said in this House, we do not view developments in Ukraine as presenting a zero-sum strategic choice. Ukraine can be a bridge between east and west and be able to maintain good relations with Russia. Our national interest lies in a democratic Ukraine that is able to make its own decisions and in a rules-based international system. Both considerations now require the adoption of further measures to increase the cost to Russia of its actions.
G7 Heads of Government issued a statement on Friday pledging to move swiftly to impose additional sanctions on Russia. We also all undertook to prepare to move to broader co-ordinated sanctions, including sectoral measures, if necessary. Russia’s accession to the International Energy Agency and the OECD has been suspended, the EU has suspended visa liberalisation talks and there will be no G8 meeting in Sochi this year but a G7 meeting without Russia in Brussels instead.
The US has previously sanctioned 38 individuals and two entities. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have adopted similar measures and 33 individuals are subject to EU asset freezes and travel bans. At the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a resolution was adopted suspending the voting rights of Russian members. I pay tribute to Members of this House for the role they played in that vote. Permanent representatives in Brussels have been meeting today to finalise adding substantially to the list of individuals sanctioned by the European Union. Subject to final procedures, that will be officially agreed within the next half hour and the names of those concerned will be published tomorrow. We are in further discussions in the EU about future steps, including preparations for a third tier of sanctions involving far-reaching economic and trade measures. Those preparations are now well advanced and the European Commission has sent proposals to each member state.
Increasing the scope of the sanctions placed on Russia is the right response to the failure to implement the Geneva agreement and the continued destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. In the past two hours, the United States has announced that it is imposing sanctions on seven further Russian Government officials, including two members of President Putin’s inner circle, and on 17 companies also linked to Putin’s inner circle, as well as additional restrictions on 13 of those companies. The United States has also announced that it has tightened policy to deny export licence applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities.
As these developments show, Russia is already paying a serious price for its actions, and the longer it breaches the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, the heavier the price it will pay, undermining its own influence in its neighbourhood, steadily disconnecting Russia from the international community and damaging Russia's own prosperity and security over the long-term. We have already seen the flight of more than $63 billion in capital out of Russia and the fall of the Russian stock market, and Russia’s economy is now forecast to shrink this year. The European Commission is preparing a comprehensive plan to reduce European countries’ reliance on Russian energy, and the G7 Energy Ministers will meet next week to discuss ways to strengthen our collective energy security.
The Ukrainian people deserve their own opportunity to make free democratic choices, free from corruption and from external interference. We are sending experts to help to improve public financial management, working with the World Bank to strengthen governance in Ukraine, co-hosting a forum on asset recovery starting tomorrow here in London to locate the proceeds of corruption, and helping to support free, fair and inclusive presidential elections on 25 May. We have helped to secure an increase in European Union assistance to help to ensure economic stability in Ukraine, bringing the total support available from existing EU budgets to more than £1.4 billion and we are calling for expert EU assistance to strengthen law enforcement and the rule of law. We support IMF plans to put in place a two-year programme worth potentially more than $17 billion that will help Ukraine to make the reforms it urgently needs and to build a stronger and more prosperous economy for the future.
Russia’s actions have caused deep alarm not only in Ukraine, but among its neighbours with Russian-speaking minorities, in particular the Baltic states. On 16 April, NATO agreed a set of measures to provide reassurance and confidence to NATO allies. These include more air policing and naval missions, and deployment of additional military staff from allied nations to strengthen NATO’s preparedness, training and exercises. The UK has contributed four Typhoon aircraft to boost NATO’s regular Baltic air policing mission, which have left today, we are contributing to AWACS reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania, and we stand ready to provide more support as NATO’s response develops. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is discussing these measures with colleagues in Estonia today, and I intend to travel to the region next week, including to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
It cannot be acceptable in the 21st century not only to invade and annex by force on the back of a sham referendum part of a neighbouring country, but to use military exercises and proxies to foment instability and disorder in that country, in an effort to disrupt its democratic elections. These are policies we have to be clear we oppose, and we must be ready to take measures that make very clear that approach. Russia’s actions betray its fear of democracy and the rule of law taking root in their neighbourhood. These actions are not consistent with being a strong and confident country, and are also in breach of international agreements and the UN charter to which Russia is a party.
It is in Russia's power to help to find ways for tensions to be reduced in Ukraine, and the doors of diplomacy remain fully open. We will continue to talk to Russia and to urge it to seek de-escalation. But repeated intensification of the crisis and violation of international law and refusal to implement agreements require a strong response from the international community, and the United Kingdom will be part of that, in keeping with our international responsibilities and in defence of our national interest.
I begin by thanking the Foreign Secretary for this statement and for advance sight of it.
Russia’s willingness to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine is the gravest challenge to the European security order in decades. As this crisis continues, there are those who now argue that these actions are already undermining the belief of so many Europeans in recent years that further conflict on the European continent had become all but impossible.
The difficult but vital task of the international community, which is a matter of bipartisan agreement across the House, must be to ensure that, by demonstrating to the Russians the costs and consequences of their actions, we manage to secure a de-escalation of this continuing crisis. So I start by joining the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to Members across the House who took steps to pass the recent motion that suspended the voting rights of Russian MPs on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
At the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet a number of US Senators who were clear in their view that further action by Europe was now necessary. So I welcome the announcement made on 26 April by the G7 to extend existing sanctions against Russia, as well as today’s meeting of the Permanent Representatives in Brussels to finalise the extended list of individuals sanctioned by the EU. Similar measures have been in place since the conclusion of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 17 March and yet, as we have heard, Russia has regrettably still refused to change course. By what criteria are individuals being identified for action? Is it those with the most concrete interests within Europe, those with the biggest capacity to affect the course of events in the region or those most implicated in previous illegal actions?
The Foreign Secretary has indicated that the G7 is also exploring the possibility of wider sectoral sanctions against Russia, and I welcome those steps. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary stated in an interview on Sunday that such measures would be implemented
“if Russia continues to escalate this crisis.”
The Foreign Secretary confirmed today that the Government’s view is that the recent events in eastern Ukraine are
“being carried out at the direction of Russia.”
In the light of growing evidence that Russia is indeed escalating the crisis, will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether a continuation of the Russian Government’s current approach would itself in time constitute grounds for the G7 to decide that trade and sectoral sanctions were now necessary and appropriate?
The crisis is naturally causing real concerns among our NATO partners, in particular the Baltic states and Poland. I therefore welcome the steps announced by the Foreign Secretary today, but will he say a little more about his discussions with those NATO allies about the vital and necessary co-operation in the light of their pressing concerns given the security situation in the region?
An additional priority in the coming weeks must be securing conditions for free and fair presidential elections taking place in Ukraine on 25 May, which will involve operational and diplomatic support for the interim Government in Kiev. The Foreign Secretary is right to highlight today the £1 million pledged by the UK to support the deployment of up to 400 additional observers to strengthen the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission. In the light of the appalling treatment of seven OSCE monitors, which the Foreign Secretary rightfully condemned, will he confirm whether the OSCE intends to continue its mission in the east of Ukraine for the foreseeable future? What steps can and should be taken to try to protect those involved in the monitoring exercise?
I welcome the high-level international meeting due to take place in London tomorrow to support the Ukrainian Government’s efforts to recover stolen assets. The Foreign Secretary is right to support International Monetary Fund plans for a two-year programme to help Ukraine to reform and to become more prosperous in the long term. However, so far, no commitments have yet been made about the time frame for the delivery of that IMF support, so will the Foreign Secretary update the House about the progress made on that matter? Will he confirm whether those discussions are taking into account the significance of the period leading up to the elections on 25 May?
The current crisis has seen a series of tactical steps taken by the Kremlin, but it has also revealed longer-term strategic issues for Europe. Russia supplies around a third of the EU’s gas, but the Kremlin is also dependent on revenue from oil, gas and coal exports to the EU. I therefore welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments on the European Commission’s plan to reduce European countries’ reliance on Russian energy and the announcement by G7 Energy Ministers that they will hold discussions next week. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether a date will be set at that meeting for the publication of a report? Further, will he offer the House the British Government’s estimate of what actually is a realistic timetable by which the necessary infrastructure could be put in place to ensure a more meaningfully diverse supply of energy to Europe in the years ahead?
In conclusion, the days ahead mark a crucial juncture not just for Ukraine, but both for the European Union and our NATO allies. This is a moment of real geopolitical significance. Russian action, together with the international community’s response, is being watched not simply in the region, but right around the world. As in past weeks, in the days and weeks ahead, the Government will have our support in their efforts to help to ensure a de-escalation of the crisis by evidencing the costs and consequences to the Russians and by allowing Ukraine the opportunity to choose its own future.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for setting out a bipartisan approach, which is very welcome at important moments in foreign policy; it helps this country to send, and other countries to hear, a clear and united message. He joined me in paying tribute to Members on all sides—and I mean all sides—of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for their work over the past few weeks.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the criteria for placing people on the EU sanctions list. We have focused so far, including in the list that is about to be published, either on people in Crimea who have been part of what has happened there or on Russians involved in supporting the actions that have been taken in Crimea or eastern Ukraine—in other words, people with a direct political or other responsibility for what has happened. Of course, that could be broadened in future—the basis of the US sanctions is broader—but that is what we have focused on in the European Union. A question for the coming days will be whether to change the criteria for future rounds of sanctions if they prove necessary.
The right hon. Gentleman asked at what point in Russia’s escalations we will apply the third tier of sanctions, which is one of the major issues facing those countries applying sanctions. I do not think that it would be helpful to set out in detail a trip wire or red line, not least because that would invite Russia to go up to that point, knowing that it would not be subject to such sanctions. In the minds of many European countries, such sanctions are to be applied in the event of a Russian invasion of parts of eastern Ukraine. However, I think that it is important to hold out the option of applying such sanctions in circumstances that amount not to a military invasion, but to a political and forcible takeover by other means of large parts of eastern Ukraine.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about NATO Foreign Ministers. We are in close consultation across NATO. NATO Foreign Ministers met at the beginning of the month to discuss the situation in detail, and many of the measures that NATO has announced are the result of our discussions. The OSCE mission, which he asked about, is certainly continuing. The observers who have been taken hostage and paraded are not actually part of the special monitoring mission that is supporting implementation of the Geneva agreement; they are part of the military monitoring that the OSCE does anyway in an attempt to reduce tensions across eastern Europe. So far, the situation has not affected the OSCE’s determination to continue its mission. As of Friday, 122 observers have been deployed. As I mentioned in my statement, one of the reasons we have provided additional funding is so that up to 400 additional observers can be deployed, and we are in favour of the OSCE deploying a great many additional people.
The IMF support is a two-year programme, and its delivery depends upon the financial needs and performance of the Ukrainian Government over the coming weeks. It takes into account the proximity of the presidential elections. On the long-term strategic issues, I am in favour of being as transparent as possible at an early date about what the plans might involve, but clearly they still require further discussion.
The right hon. Gentleman asked how long it would take to change the infrastructure of Europe. Of course it would take many years to change the infrastructure in all the ways that could be considered, for example by completing construction of the southern gas corridor from the Caspian sea, or by changing infrastructure in the United States so that liquefied natural gas could be exported from its east coast. However, I think that a determination to embark on those and other measures would have an economic effect long before they were fully implemented. Russia has to take that into account in its actions now.
Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye on this statement, which I must nevertheless balance against the intense interest that colleagues have expressed in the Second Reading debate on the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, which is to follow. Accordingly, and exceptionally, as I am sure the House will concur, it might not be possible for me to accommodate everybody who is interested in this statement. If I am to have any chance of doing so, there will be a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benches alike.
I put it to my right hon. Friend that the rescue of the failed state of Ukraine from civil war needs to be kept entirely separate from any attempt to overthrow the historic treaty of Küçük Kaynarca of 1774—[Interruption.] Well, we base our defence of Gibraltar and the Falklands on ancient treaties, so they should not be disregarded. The treaty of Küçük Kaynarca transferred the sovereignty of the Crimea from the Ottoman empire to the Russian empire. Hundreds of thousands of Russians sacrificed their lives in the 1940s in defence of that, and even Mr Gorbachev has publicly announced that he regards the Crimea as an integral part of Mother Russia—and the whole of the Russian people take the same view.
Treaties of the 18th century are important, and we do indeed rest our case in some international disputes on those treaties, including the treaty of Utrecht. My right hon. Friend should nevertheless bear in mind the fact that Mr Khrushchev transferred the sovereignty of the Crimea to Ukraine—[Interruption.] I think I am receiving some support from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). Russia took that decision—also a validly taken international decision—so my right hon. Friend should reflect on the fact that we now try not to settle international disputes in the same manner as in the 18th century. The fact that Russia annexed the Crimea by force in the 1770s does not allow the Russians to do so in the 21st century.
Will the Foreign Secretary say a word about Germany’s view on economic sanctions? One of the kidnapped military monitors is Colonel Axel Schneider—a high-ranking German officer—so does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that might concentrate the mind of the German people on the need to be firm against Russia?
Four German observers are involved, which is a matter of great concern to Germany and to us. Chancellor Merkel spoke very clearly about these matters on Friday, saying that we needed to adopt additional sanctions and that G7 and EU measures come with the full support of Germany. She has called for the extension of the EU list of names, for further additions to it and for intensified preparation for the wider economic measures that may prove necessary. The support of Germany is certainly there.
Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that his very strong condemnation of the continuing aggression of Russia towards Ukraine is an acknowledgement that the rather symbolic sanctions measures taken thus far—despite the annexation of Crimea—have had absolutely no impact on Mr Putin’s thinking or his continuing behaviour? Does my right hon. Friend accept, and will the western community now accept, that the time for wide-ranging trade, economic and financial sanctions has come? Will he confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will undoubtedly support at the very least economic, financial and trade sanctions if a single Russian soldier again crosses the border into its neighbouring state?
My right hon. and learned Friend will have heard me talk about the intensified preparation of those sanctions. That is going on now; I gave a little detail about it in my statement. I mentioned earlier the debate about the criteria for imposing those sanctions, but a Russian military invasion of eastern Ukraine certainly triggers such sanctions—certainly in the view of the United Kingdom and, I think, of the great majority of European Union nations. We stand ready to take such measures and we will not shy away from them.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary’s statement and with the thoughtful response from my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander). The puzzle surely is this. On one reading, Russia is acting with a kind of irrational belligerence and aggression, given that it is inviting the retaliation that the Foreign Secretary has explained, which will be intensified, so what is Russia really after? Will the right hon. Gentleman share his assessment? Could we pursue an alternative strategy, because it does not seem to me that we are getting anywhere with this approach? Russia is not getting anywhere—it is suffering economically—and we are not getting anywhere.
I believe that Russia’s actions in Crimea, and now in eastern Ukraine, are a response to the unexpected and rapid fall of President Yanukovych and his Government, which was understood in the world—and indeed in Russia—to be a major reversal for Russian foreign policy. The long-term consequences of that response have not necessarily been thought through. Russia has acted to restore some of what it might think of as its prestige internationally or domestically, and therefore taken these actions. There is an alternative approach—the one agreed in Geneva only 11 days ago, with Russia’s Foreign Minister present—which is for all concerned to de-escalate tensions while the Ukrainian Government pursue constitutional reform, including decentralisation to the regions of Ukraine. That is the alternative model.
Is not one of the most chilling features of this affair the continued assertion of the right of Russia to intervene in other countries on the pretext of protecting Russian citizens or Russian passport holders? Has my right hon. Friend taken the opportunity to advise the Government of Ukraine, and other Governments perhaps in a similar position, about the importance of avoiding a response to any provocation—whether accidental or deliberate—that might be seized upon as a justification, however spurious, for further such intervention?
That is a very important point. It is a chilling aspect of Russia’s statements on this crisis, and I have indeed discussed it with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Ukraine. I commend them again for their restraint and their refusal to rise to provocation. They have been doing their best to create and maintain law and order in their country without giving a pretext for Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine, and so far they have done a very good job under intense domestic political pressure.
Several ISAF countries are heavily reliant on Russian heavy lifting capacity and access to airspace as part of their withdrawal from Afghanistan. Is there any evidence that Russia is using that airspace and capacity as a bargaining counter in the negotiations?
Not so far. I am not aware of any interruption of co-operation on Afghanistan. Our co-operation with Russia on that and other international issues, such as the E3 plus 3 negotiations with Iran, is being maintained by us and by Russia, uninterrupted by the Ukraine crisis.
My right hon. Friend makes the point that I made in my previous answer. We continue to work with Russia on the Iranian nuclear negotiations and many African issues. We also try to work with Russia on Syria, although we have not succeeded in agreeing a common approach on that particular subject. He may be assured that we will maintain those efforts in the coming weeks.
The Foreign Secretary will continue to receive widespread support in all parts of the House if he maintains the calibrated but determined approach that he has laid out in his statement. The trick is to make certain that the Russians realise the level of determination to resist their incursions into Ukraine, balanced by allowing them the time to think through the consequences of their actions—I am not at all sure that they have done so. Does he agree?
Yes, I absolutely agree. Thinking through the long-term consequences has not necessarily happened, as I said to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain). Part of our approach is to take certain measures that have an impact while making it clear that there are further and more serious measures that we are prepared to take. We are giving the time for that to sink in and for negotiations to take place such as those in Geneva 11 days ago. I hope and believe that we have the calibration right, and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for it.
May I commend my right hon. Friend’s robust but typically graduated approach, which together with Ukraine’s restraint gives every opportunity for Russia to come back into the situation and be part of the future? If there are to be costs and consequences for Russia’s illegal action, and if they are to mean anything, there will be costs and consequences for the United Kingdom. Is my right hon. Friend confident that, in particular, the City of London is well prepared for that and will give him every co-operation in making sure that the sanctions he imposes are effective and that London will not become a bolthole for the investment of those who are seeking to evade the sanctions placed on them?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. If we do have to move to a third tier of more far-reaching sanctions, it is important that they cover various economic trade and financial areas, and the United Kingdom would have to play a very important part in that. It is important that sacrifices that are necessary are shared across the whole of the European Union, but we would certainly play our part, and of course we would seek to construct these measures in a way that had the maximum effect on the Russian economy and the minimum effect on European Union economies.
There has been some talk of the possibility of providing arms to Ukraine’s military. However, when I was there two weeks ago with a number of colleagues it became apparent that more basic support equipment such as tents and protective clothing would be welcome. Has there been any consideration of providing that?
I very much welcome the visit to Ukraine by Members of Parliament from both sides of the House; that is, in itself, an important sign of our willingness to work with Ukraine and to understand the issues in that country. We have long supported projects of defence reform and improvements to the armed forces in Ukraine. We are not supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons, but we are open to supplying the sort of equipment that the hon. Lady asks about. We are looking sympathetically at its requests for these things at the moment.
Is it not clear that Russia, having repudiated the 1992 Budapest agreement to which the United Kingdom is a signatory, and now the Geneva agreement as well, is intent on invading eastern Ukraine? While I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend has announced, not least the deployment of four Typhoons, may I renew my plea that NATO be charged with the responsibility for sending a maritime taskforce at least to deter the Russians from attacking Odessa, because that if that were to happen the remainder of Ukraine would have no access to a sea port?
I am not announcing any additional military deployment today beyond what I have said about the air policing mission, but I take note of my hon. Friend’s suggestion. I do not think that what has happened necessarily means that Russia has decided to invade eastern Ukraine. Clearly, it means that Russia has put itself in a position to do so, and the threat to do so has to be taken seriously. It also means that it has embarked on the destabilisation of Ukraine and a deliberate attempt to make it as difficult as possible for that country to function and for its presidential elections to be held—and that, of course, is bad enough.
When we were in Ukraine a fortnight ago, the extent to which Yanukovych has run down the country’s armed forces, presumably in anticipation of events such as these, was absolutely clear to me. May I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) and urge the Foreign Secretary and his NATO colleagues to consider urgently what can be done to strengthen Ukraine’s defences and to provide basic equipment such as secure radio and bullet-proof vests, and military advice and technical equipment, so that the country is more able to defend itself?
Broadly, yes—although I am not saying yes to all the items the hon. Gentleman mentions. I reiterate the answer I gave to the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire. I do not think that former President Yanukovych anticipated his own demise and flight to Russia, but nevertheless it is true that the Ukrainian armed forces have been run down for a long time. We will be able to supply them with some basic items that help them to function and I will keep the House informed about that.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, with all business with Russia grinding to a halt, Russian stock markets in free fall, the rouble weakening, serious outflows of capital, interest rates rising and a possible forced debt sell-off, the markets are in fact providing de facto sanctions already?
Yes. Indeed, that should be of more concern to Russia than any sanctions we impose on individuals. The Russian economy is already slow-growing, certainly compared with our own. It has slowed further in recent months and it is possible, as I mentioned in my statement, that it will shrink this year. Every time Russia destabilises Ukraine, it is destabilising its own economy and reducing its own economic prospects, which will bring serious long-term consequences for Russia.
Most of the sanctions thus far have been targeted at individuals and the Foreign Secretary earlier announced more targeted sanctions by the United States of America against individuals. Is there not a real danger that all that will do is unite and cement the Putin regime and bind its members more to one another and to the Russian people? It would be far more productive to have serious economic and financial sanctions that affect the whole of the Russian economy.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good case for that. We have those more far-reaching sanctions in preparation. It is very important to keep like-minded countries together on this—that is a major consideration for us. That means the whole of the European Union and G7 acting together. It is certainly the majority consensus opinion that targeted sanctions—followed later, if necessary, by the more far-reaching measures—is the way to do this. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have advocated taking more far-reaching measures now, but I think on balance it is right to stick to the calibrated approach that I advocate and that the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) has commented on. It makes it clear to Russia that such measures will follow a further serious escalation of this crisis.
Does the end game of the Foreign Secretary and the European Union include the requirement on Russia to disgorge Crimea, given the arrangements under the association agreement that were agreed in the conclusions of the EU summit a few weeks ago?
The association agreement and any other actions or documents of the United Kingdom and the European Union are not going to recognise the annexation of Crimea. It cannot be accepted internationally. That is why we are also looking in Europe at the economic measures we are going to apply to Crimea in its current condition, annexed by Russia. The only agreement we have with Russia on these matters is the Geneva agreement, which relates to de-escalating tensions in Ukraine. That is what the international community has come together to require.
Is there not a connection between the bully-boy tactics the Russians are now employing in Ukraine and the way in which democratic reforms and changes in Russia itself—the sorts of changes brought in by Mr Gorbachev in the late 1980s—have been reversed?
There is a connection. I said in my statement that I think Russia is fearful about the establishment of more fully fledged democracy and rule of law in its neighbourhood. There are domestic implications for Russia. That is part of the explanation for its actions and I think that is the wrong course for Russia to be embarked on. In the long term, a more open economy, better relations with its neighbours and a better functioning democracy in its own country would be in its own best interests.
As I mentioned earlier, some things would require long-term changes in infrastructure, but changes are taking place already. Today, Ukraine and Slovakia have signed an agreement for what is called a reverse flow of gas into Ukraine from European countries. Taken with other agreements, that means that Ukraine could now receive about 17 billion cubic metres of gas in total from the EU and other European countries. Changes are therefore already being made, but major changes in infrastructure will take years.
As has already been said, Putin’s popularity is increasing—really solidifying his approach—and sanctions may take some time to have an impact on ordinary Russians. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore tell us a little more about the discussions he is having with Russia’s neighbours and allies, and about the pressure that they might put on him? Why are we doing so little, or so it seems, in terms of the relationship with the UN?
The relationship of the UN to this matter is of course very important. A debate took place several weeks ago in the UN General Assembly, when a resolution making clear the support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine was carried by 100 votes to 11. That illustrated the extent of Russia’s diplomatic isolation, but such a vote has not of course affected Russia’s behaviour.
We, of course, talk closely to neighbouring countries. I mentioned that the Minister for Europe is in Estonia today. The Baltic states are particularly concerned about what Russia has done, and we are increasing our military support for them. We will continue to work with neighbouring countries very closely, and I will visit Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine next week to reinforce that.
Given the danger that these tactics, if successful, will embolden Russia to do something similar against a NATO member state, as the Foreign Secretary suggested, is any thought being given to increasing the prominence of defence expenditure among Britain’s national priorities?
Defence remains a very important priority for the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend knows very well. These events mean that at the NATO summit in September, which we will be very proud to host in Wales, there will be increased consciousness of the need for NATO in Europe and of the need for confidence in the collective defence of NATO nations. I have already made the case at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting that that will mean, over the coming years, some NATO nations that spend much less than 2% of GDP on defence having to think again and to increase their defence expenditure.
When we were in Kiev over the Easter recess, an official made the point to me that Ukraine did not think, when it gave up its nuclear weapons, that it was doing so in return for a few targeted sanctions on individuals. If we are to make any meaningful progress on nuclear non-proliferation in future, do we not need to show the world that we will do whatever it takes to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including discussing now the prospect of a long-term energy boycott on Russia?
We do have to show that there are very serious consequences, which I have set out. Let us remember that a complete energy boycott of Russia would be very difficult to implement—at this moment, at any rate—for many EU nations, such as Bulgaria, that are heavily dependent on Russian supplies of gas. It would therefore be rash for the whole European Union to advocate an energy boycott of Russia, but it is right to talk about reducing—long-term—the reliance on Russian energy and to change the balance of leverage, as I have put it previously in this House, between Russia and the European Union. We are engaged in that, and Russia should really pay heed to it.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for the assistance the British embassy gave the cross-party delegation that visited Ukraine 10 days ago. Is he aware that many Ukrainians believe that their country will soon be at war and that this country has a special obligation to help them, as a signatory to the Budapest memorandum? Will he consider their request that targeted sanctions be introduced now against Russian financial institutions that can be shown to be supporting the separatists, and that we provide assistance in the form of intelligence sharing and the supply of non-lethal military equipment?
As my hon. Friend knows very well, I do not comment on intelligence matters on the Floor of the House, but I note the point he makes. I join him in paying tribute to our embassy, which is doing a very good job in extremely demanding circumstances. In our application of sanctions, we are taking into account those Russians who have been engaged in creating instability in eastern Ukraine. One of the next decisions that we will face, as I mentioned earlier, is whether to widen the criteria so that a greater range of Russians can be included in future.
At a time when the security of Europe is genuinely seen to be in question, will the Foreign Secretary agree that our membership of the European Union is integral to our ability to respond properly to crises such as that in Ukraine?
I welcome the escalation of sanctions and note what my right hon. Friend said about Russia’s self-inflicted wounds to her economy and her standing in the world. What is his message today to any individual or company that is considering investing in or doing business with Russia?
We have not declared a trade war or a boycott of Russia. There are British companies with huge investments in Russia that made those investments in good faith. If it comes to the adoption of more far-reaching economic, trade and financial measures, that will have an impact on some of those companies. However, any such message is for that point. We are not declaring an economic boycott of Russia today.
In just over three weeks, there will be presidential elections in Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary said in his statement: “NATO agreed a set of measures to provide reassurance and confidence to NATO allies.” Are any NATO measures under consideration to give material military help and support to Ukrainian forces if Ukraine’s eastern border is invaded by Russia in order to disrupt those elections?
No, not as things stand. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Our response to the situation has not been military outside NATO’s borders. Our additional assurance is to NATO members and relates to our collective defence. That does not extend to a military guarantee to Ukraine.
That is another reason why I will visit Moldova and why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe visited it recently. It is true that the security threats to Ukraine come from several directions: from the Black sea and Crimea, from Transnistria and from Russia forces on the eastern border. That underlines the importance of the strong messages about the costs of such intervention to Russia that I am sending today and that others, including the United States, are sending.
Quite rightly we are discussing south-eastern Ukraine, but there is an issue on the Polish border to the west. What assurance can the Foreign Secretary give my Polish constituents that he is not neglecting that aspect of the problem in his discussions?
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the credibility of international agreements such as the Geneva convention, the UN charter and the Budapest memorandum is now at stake if the post-second world war international system is not to fail in the way the post-first world war system did?
With a mind to the presidential elections on 25 May, has the Secretary of State assessed the number of British nationals who will play a role in monitoring those elections, and if so, what security arrangements will be put in place to protect them from any molestation?
I do not know how many British nationals will be involved, although some certainly will participate in the monitoring and in the work of the OSCE mission that I mentioned earlier. In the vast majority of the country I do not think security arrangements will be an issue, but we will, of course, look carefully in eastern Ukraine at what we need to do about that.
May I echo the importance of the cross-party visit that took place during the Easter recess? It was clear for us to see the role that Russian ringleaders were playing in stirring up tensions there. Given that two thirds of Ukraine’s GDP is owned by just 11 oligarchs, does my right hon. Friend agree that that powerful group could, if it chose, play a more influential role in stabilising Ukraine?
Yes, I do agree. My hon. Friend made some important reflections on the visit that he and other hon. Members made and which, as I said earlier, was very welcome. Those oligarchs can play an important role and I have spoken to some of them myself to urge them to play a strongly positive role in the future of their country.
When we were in Ukraine it was clear that what the Ukrainians call “little green men” are agitating in the east. Will the Foreign Secretary work with our international allies to step up our intelligence so that we can affirm what is known to everyone but not yet clearly evidenced in the international community and the public eye—that those are indeed Russian agitators in the east?
Again, I do not comment on our intelligence, but I can say that we are very confident that those personnel are Russian operatives—not exclusively so. When one considers how they are armed and equipped, how well trained and co-ordinated they are, and how well what they have done in eastern Ukraine mirrors some of what happened in Crimea, it would defy common sense to think them anything other than Russian personnel.
Given that most of the Ukrainian media has been shut down and that east Ukrainians are receiving a diet of Russian propaganda each day, what more can Britain do to use its soft power, including the BBC World Service, to ensure that we get some balanced propaganda and that the presidential and other elections take place?
The concept of balanced propaganda is a good one, and one we are all very fond of in this House, no doubt. My hon. Friend makes the good point that a multi-billion dollar true propaganda machine is operating on behalf of Russia, putting out stories to the people of east Ukraine in particular that often bear very little resemblance to reality. There is no shortage of outlets from the western media, and other outlets that are free to report things as they are, but it is one of the issues I will consider when I visit the region next week.
My constituents have been horrified at the incursion into Ukraine’s sovereignty in recent weeks, but they will be equally horrified at the recent comments by Scotland’s First Minister. Does the Secretary of State agree that Alex Salmond did not speak for Scotland on Kosovo, and he does not speak for the people of Scotland now when he claims that rising Russian nationalism is a force for good in the world?
Yes, absolutely. I think people throughout Scotland—indeed, throughout the whole of the United Kingdom—will be horrified by those comments. To pay tribute, even as Russia was annexing Crimea by force, to the restoration of pride in Russia is a gross error of judgment in international relations. The attitude of the Scottish National party is very concerning.
Will the Foreign Secretary give us an update on what is happening in Crimea?
The Tatars, an important minority in Crimea, have grave concerns about what has happened and what it will mean for them. In the European Union, we are looking at the economic restrictions that will apply to goods that are made in Crimea but not exported through Ukraine. It will be a difficult future for Crimea following the forcible annexation of the region.
It seems clear that further and tougher sanctions might be necessary. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is absolutely imperative for members of the EU and other states to work together carefully to ensure that each supports the other in any sanctions relating to energy?
Yes. The EU nations, and some countries beyond the EU, need to work very closely on this matter. As long as any one country of the EU is heavily dependent on Russian supplies of gas, the whole of the EU is affected by that vulnerability. Addressing the vulnerability of each individual nation, as well as the EU as a whole, is very important.