The Gracious Speech that we heard last week included a comprehensive programme of legislation on home affairs and justice. Since coming to power, this Government have implemented far-reaching reforms of which they can be proud. We have introduced a programme of radical police reform, and crime has continued to fall—it is down more than 10% since the last election. We have reformed the immigration system, and net migration from outside the EU is down by almost a third since its peak under the last Government. We are transforming the criminal justice system, improving support for victims, rehabilitating offenders and making prisons more effective, while reducing the burden on the taxpayer. On counter-terrorism, the police and security agencies continue to rise to tough new challenges, working tirelessly to keep us safe. Our reforms and our legislative changes are working.
One of the major problems facing my constituents is the time spent trying to get their passports. I have heard the right hon. Lady say that she is reforming the Passport Office, but she has reduced the number of staff to such an extent that those that are left are not able to perform as they should. What is the turnaround period for a passport application now?
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention gives me an opportunity to tell the House that it is not true that the number of staff at the Passport Office has gone down; the number has gone up. In the first few months of this year, we saw a significant increase in the number of applications for passports, both renewals and new passports, and I am pleased to say that even given the unprecedented levels of applications, we are still meeting the service standards of 97% of straightforward applications being returned within three weeks, and 99% being returned within four weeks. We are not complacent. We continue to consider whether further contingency measures need to be put in place, should the significant increase in applications that we saw in the first few months of this year continue. I recognise the importance of this issue for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and for mine.
Surely the Home Secretary will know from her own constituency experience that there has been a big increase in such problems in the last few weeks. Has she not seen that in her constituency?
All Members of the House will have had comments and inquiries from constituents on this matter. That is why during the last few months we have been increasing the resource that is available in the Passport Office to deal with applications, and increasing the resource available to deal with queries from Members of Parliament on this issue. As I just said in my response to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe), we continue to ensure that the resource available will be sufficient to deliver the service that we require, and that the public require when they are renewing or applying for a passport.
I am surprised that the rising number of renewals took the Passport Office by surprise. Surely renewals at least are something that could be reasonably reliably predicted. Will the right hon. Lady assure the House that as we approach the busy summer holiday season, there will be sufficient resources to ensure that applications can be turned round in time for families to go on their annual holidays?
I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that we are very aware of the major period of summer holidays coming up and the need for us to ensure that the facilities and resources are there in the Passport Office to deal with this matter. I do not know whether it is appropriate to give a plug for a debate that is due to take place in the House, but tonight’s Adjournment debate will be on this matter. My hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration will be responding, and he will be able to go into some of these matters in more detail.
On a very simple point, I have many cases similar to those of my colleagues, but people are being told that the target cannot be met, so if they want a passport they should pay £70 to have it express delivered. Will those people now be given their money back? If the Passport Office has failed to meet the standard set by the Department, those people should not be charged for that service.
I have indicated that even given the unprecedented levels of demand during the first few months of this year, we have been able to meet our service standards. People can pay for the premium service, but there has been good news in relation to passport fees: the Government were able to reduce the regular fee for passports, partly owing to changes in the Passport Office that resulted from our decision to scrap the identity card proposal of the last Government.
Overall, we see that our reforms and legislative changes are working. Now, in the fourth and final Session of this Parliament, we are bringing forward legislation to ensure that more organised criminals can be brought to justice, and to further the significant and far-reaching reforms of our criminal justice system.
The Gracious Speech included a Modern Slavery Bill to tackle the appalling crime of modern slavery. In few other crimes are the effects of organised criminals and gangs more pernicious than in the trade of human beings for profit. In towns and cities across the country, behind closed doors and hidden from plain sight, there are men, women and children who endure a horrendous existence of servitude and abuse. forced to work inhumane hours in terrible conditions, forced to live a life of crime and forced into degrading sexual exploitation. The misery and trauma experienced by victims are immense. Held against their will and with no means of escape, they often endure rape, violence and psychological torture.
In 2013, 1,746 potential victims of trafficking were referred to the national referral mechanism, but modern slavery is largely a hidden crime, so in reality this figure most likely does not represent or reflect the true number of people enduring slavery in Britain today. Slavery is a crime that includes not only those trafficked into the UK but vulnerable British nationals who are preyed upon and exploited by people living here.
My constituents, in particular the voluntary organisations and charities, will welcome the Modern Slavery Bill. Will my right hon. Friend outline in more detail how it will stop the exploitation of so many innocent people?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am sure he is right that his constituents will welcome this Bill; indeed, I hope that it will be welcomed, as it has been in the Joint Scrutiny Committee, by Members of all parties. If he will indulge me, I will say a little bit about what is in the Bill, which will explain to him how we are going to deal with this crime, particularly by toughening up sentencing and enabling the law enforcement agencies to be in an even better position to deal with it.
There have been many criticisms of how the national referral mechanism works, and the Government promised six months ago that there would be a review of it. Will there be detail of how this review has been carried out or how it will be carried out? What will we do with people when they leave the NRM? Once they have been in it for a certain time, they are pitched out into what would appear to be oblivion.
The hon. Gentleman makes a point that is often made about people coming to the end of their permitted period within the NRM. In fact, a lot of work is done with other providers to ensure that people are able to move on to other facilities at the end of that time, but crucially that will be one of the issues that of course the review of the NRM will look at. That review is ongoing. Yesterday, I saw the individual who is undertaking it. He said that he is getting on well with it; and of course we will bring the results of the review into the public domain, so that we can show what issues have been identified and what our response to them will be.
I said that I would come on to exactly what is in the Bill. If we are to stamp out this crime and expunge it from this country, we must arrest, prosecute and imprison the criminals and organised groups that systematically exploit people and that lie behind the majority of the modern-day slave trade.
Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) facilitated a meeting with the Lithuanian ambassador. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that it is extremely important that we have cross-country and pan-EU working on this issue, because criminals from overseas are prevalent in this particular area?
Yes, it is absolutely crucial that we both work across borders and countries to deal with the organised crime groups. There are issues with how those who are being trafficked from source countries are dealt with, and trying to ensure that they do not become victims of this particular crime. We can also look at how other countries deal with this issue and with people being returned to their countries.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), who is the Minister with responsibility for modern slavery and organised crime, has already visited Albania to talk to people there about how they deal with this crime. I was able to appoint Anthony Steen, a former Member of this House, as my special envoy in this regard; he was the chairman of the all-party group on this issue and has done a lot of work on human trafficking. He visited a number of countries, including Albania, and others such as Israel, to see how they were dealing with these issues. That work will inform the action plan that we will produce in due course alongside the legislation, because this process is not just about a legislative response; it is about some wider issues too.
We all support action on modern slavery, but unfortunately within the past two months the Home Secretary has withdrawn face-to-face advice for asylum seekers in my constituency, which is a dispersal area, so victims of modern slavery now have to call a phone helpline in order to seek advice. Actions speak louder than words. Why has she withdrawn that advice?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the service provided is now under a new contract. A greater range of facilities is now available to individuals— for example, the advice phone line.
Of course, one of the key issues in dealing with modern slavery is being able to identify those who have been subject to it or to human trafficking. That is why it is so important to train our Border Force officials to spot people who may have been trafficked when they enter the country, and it is why the national referral mechanism review will crucially look at identification. At the moment we know, in a formal sense, who is referred to the NRM, but we fear that there are many more victims of slavery and/or trafficking, as I said earlier.
Crucially, more arrests and more prosecutions will mean more victims released from slavery, and more prevented from ever entering it in the first place. At the same time, we must improve and enhance protection for victims and give them the support they need to recover from their ordeal. The Modern Slavery Bill—the first of its kind in Europe—will substantially strengthen our powers to tackle this crime. It will do so by doing three things. First, it will ensure that measures are in place so that law enforcement agencies and the judiciary can crack down on offenders and give them the punishments they deserve. Secondly, it will provide vital new policing tools to help prevent further cases of modern slavery. Thirdly, it will ensure that victims receive the protection and support they deserve during the judicial process and in accessing vital victim support services.
Currently, modern slavery and human trafficking offences are spread across a number of different Acts. The Bill fixes that by consolidating and simplifying existing offences in one single piece of legislation, providing much needed clarity and focus and making the law easier to apply. Punishments will now fit the crime, with the maximum sentence available increased to life imprisonment. Slave-drivers and traffickers will have their illicit gains seized and, wherever possible, used to make reparations to victims. A new anti-slavery commissioner will drive an improved and co-ordinated response. The Bill will also introduce a statutory defence for victims who are compelled to commit a crime as a direct consequence of their slavery, alongside other measures to enhance protection and support for victims.
The Bill has benefited considerably from pre-legislative scrutiny and the detailed evidence heard during that process. I am enormously grateful to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and other members of the Committee for their unstinting dedication and I share with them a determination to see an end to modern slavery. We have listened to the Committee’s findings and, where practicable, have put forward proposals to address its key concerns. A detailed response to its work has been published today. However, as I indicated earlier, stamping out modern slavery in Britain will require more than legislation alone. Law enforcement must play a robust and effective role in tracking down, arresting and prosecuting offenders. That is why I have made tackling modern slavery a priority for the National Crime Agency, and at our borders I have established specialist teams to help identify and protect victims being trafficked into the country.
Victims must be at the heart of everything we do, so I have ordered a review of the national referral mechanism, as I indicated in response to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). Recognising the particular needs and vulnerabilities of child victims, I am putting in place trials for child advocates. The Bill gives those advocates a statutory basis and the status they need to support and represent the child effectively. We are also encouraging businesses to look at their supply chains and ensure that they are free from trafficking and exploitation.
Will the Home Secretary clarify that point about child guardians? Will the Bill include statutory provision to bring in child guardians, or simply the permissive power to do so depending on the trials, the length of which we do not know?
The Bill will provide the enabling legislation that we undertook to provide when the Immigration Act 2014 was going through this House, following an amendment made in another place. We are doing it that way because we want to see what the best model is for child advocates; there are differences of opinion over which model will work best. We are therefore including an enabling power to ensure that we adopt the best model when that becomes clear from the trials.
The hon. Gentleman raises a point that the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee looked at. It was keen that we should change our approach to the whole question of offences in the Bill by having a wider offence of exploitation. We have decided not to go down that route because we believe that such a broad and wide-ranging offence could make it more difficult for law enforcement agencies and that it could, through the law of unintended consequences, encompass behaviour that is otherwise entirely innocent. We have changed some of the definitions in the offences in order to make it absolutely clear that where they involve a child, which might make it harder to identify when coercion is taking place, there is specific reference to that in the overall offences of slavery, servitude and labour exploitation.
Taken together, the Modern Slavery Bill and these measures provide a comprehensive programme of action that will help to make a real difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Has the Home Secretary had any discussions with the devolved Assemblies, particularly the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, which have both brought in anti-trafficking legislation that relates specifically to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, as I understand that that legislation takes care of the point about specific child exploitation and guardianship?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We have had considerable discussions with the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have also had discussions with the Welsh Assembly, because most of the Bill’s provisions cover England and Wales. We are still in discussions with the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. The Scottish Government made it clear a few months ago that they wanted to introduce their own legislation in this area. As he says, there are also legislative proposals in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are talking about how we can ensure that they all mesh together so that we have a comprehensive approach. As a result of further discussions, it is possible that I might wish to bring forward amendments relating to Scotland and Northern Ireland, but detailed discussions are still ongoing on what legislative arrangements will work best.
Moving on from the Modern Slavery Bill—
I think that the Home Secretary might have mentioned the fact that the biggest problem in Scotland—I am sure that the same is true in Northern Ireland—as has been said in public by the Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, is the criminalisation of victims by the UK Border Agency, which treats people as criminals because they have broken immigration laws. Rather than being treated as victims, they are taken to court for breaching immigration laws. Will that be resolved? Will the UK Border Agency stop victimising people by criminalising them for breaches of immigration laws?
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the UK Border Agency will not be doing anything, because I abolished it over a year ago. He has taken a great interest in the issue over the years and has developed a great understanding of it, so he will know that one of the issues raised about the national referral mechanism is precisely the operation of immigration officials in relation to it. However, I think that the largest numbers of referrals made to the NRM still come from people within the immigration system who have spotted people who might have been trafficked. This is not an either/or issue; it is one that we have to explore very carefully, to ensure that all those who come into contact with people who might have been enslaved or trafficked can spot the signs and know how to refer, so that a case can be dealt with appropriately. Indeed, the Bill will include a clause about a duty on first responders to report a case when they see someone who has been the victim of slavery or trafficking.
For justice to be done, we must have a criminal justice system that properly punishes offenders and protects the public. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, carried over from the third Session, is the next stage in the Government’s significant reforms to the justice system to make sure that offenders receive suitable sentences, to improve court processes and to reduce the financial burden on the taxpayer. It includes a package of sentencing and criminal law reforms aimed at ensuring that the public are kept safe from serious and repeat offenders.
Once this Bill gets Royal Assent, no one convicted of certain serious violent and sexual offences, such as the rape of a child or a serious terrorism offence, will be entitled to automatic release at the halfway point of their sentence, and they will get early release only if they no longer present a risk to the public. The Bill will ensure that when offenders are released on licence we can properly monitor their whereabouts using modern technology. It will also crack down on those who abscond after being recalled to custody by creating a new offence of being unlawfully at large. In addition, it will ensure that anyone who murders a police or prison officer in the course of their duty faces a whole life sentence, and it will introduce tougher sentences for those who cause death or serious injury by driving while disqualified.
While the proper punishment of offences is important, so too is rehabilitation. This is particularly true of young offenders. We are therefore putting education at the heart of youth custody and ensuring that young offenders are given an opportunity to turn their lives around. The Bill will provide for secure colleges to be created, so that we can trial a new approach to youth custody that gives young offenders the skills, support and qualifications that they need to turn their backs on crime and become productive, hard-working members of society.
Over the past few years, I have had a number of discussions with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about how women are dealt with in the whole prison estate and in the criminal justice system in terms of custodial sentences. The Ministry of Justice is still looking at the issue, aware that there may well be particular concerns that need to be taken into account.
Would the Home Secretary be prepared to revisit the report produced by Baroness Jean Corston, and perhaps talk to her, about the crucial issue of how we treat people in our communities, as well those coming into them, in relation to the conditions they live in?
The report by Baroness Corston was indeed significant in its findings on the treatment of women and girls, particularly in the criminal justice system in relation to custodial sentences. I have had a number of discussions with Baroness Corston on this matter in the past, especially when I held the women’s brief, when I was considering it particularly. I have also had discussions with the prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright). I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Ministry of Justice is aware that the matter needs to be considered. I am sure that it will be looking at Baroness Corston’s report—although it was done a few years ago, of course—to see what she proposed.
We must ensure that modern courts run efficiently and effectively without undue costs to the taxpayer. We are therefore introducing criminal court charges to ensure that criminals contribute to the cost of their cases being heard through the courts system. It is only right that criminals who give rise to those costs in the first place should carry some of the burden placed on the taxpayer. We will also introduce reforms to judicial review to ensure that it is used for the right reasons and not merely to cause unnecessary delays or to court publicity. Judicial review is vital in holding authorities and others to account, but this must be balanced to avoid costly and time-wasting applications and abuse of the system.
The Modern Slavery Bill will ensure that law enforcement and the judiciary have effective powers available to put slave drivers and traffickers behind bars, where they belong.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will introduce a non-criminalisation and detention clause, so that children who are prosecuted for crimes that they were compelled to carry out by their traffickers have some flexibility in the system to ensure that they are not penalised for that?
We will absolutely do that. The Bill includes a statutory defence that an individual who has been coerced into committing a crime will be able to rely on, except for certain very serious crimes that will be excluded, where, however, the Crown Prosecution Service guidance will still require that prosecutors consider the circumstances of the individual when the crime was committed.
We are determined to disrupt all those who engage, support and profit from all forms of organised crime. Organised crime costs the UK at least £24 billion a year. The financial sector spends about £10 billion a year on protecting itself from serious and organised crime, and the cost to the UK from organised fraud is thought to be around £9 billion. The impacts of organised crime reach deep into our communities, shattering lives, inflicting violence, corroding society, damaging businesses, stealing people’s money, robbing people of their security and causing untold harm in the sexual exploitation of children. To deal with this threat, the Government are taking comprehensive, wide-ranging action. The powerful new crime-fighting body, the National Crime Agency, has been launched to ensure the effective and relentless pursuit and disruption of serious and organised criminality. On the same day as it was launched, we published our serious and organised crime strategy to drive our collective and relentless response. We have legislated to break down barriers to information sharing between law enforcement agencies and toughen up penalties for those trading in illegal firearms.
I apologise for missing the earlier part of the Home Secretary’s speech. I warmly welcome what the Government propose in respect of organised crime. As she knows, half a billion pounds remains unpaid by the Mr Bigs and Mrs Bigs who manage to finish their sentence but then leave the country without paying their fines. Will she consider the strongest possible measures to ensure that they pay up before they leave the country?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I am about to come to the provisions on asset recovery.
Organised crime evolves, and we need to keep pace. Under this Government, approximately £746 million of criminal assets has been recovered. However, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is under sustained legal challenge from criminals who are constantly seeking new ways to avoid its reach and frustrate asset recovery, as the right hon. Gentleman said. The Serious Crime Bill referred to in the Gracious Speech will close loopholes used by criminals to get round confiscation orders—for example, through attempts to hide money with spouses, associates and other third parties. The Bill will ensure that assets can be frozen more quickly and earlier on in investigations and reduce the time that the courts can give offenders to pay. It will also significantly increase the time in prison faced by criminals who fail to pay confiscation orders, to deter offenders from choosing to serve time in custody rather than paying up.
Targeting and convicting those in the wider criminal group, such as corrupt and complicit professionals, can prove difficult under current legislation. The Bill will close this gap by creating a new offence of participation in an organised crime group. That will allow the National Crime Agency and the police to go after those who knowingly turn a blind eye to organised crime from which they profit, and it will send out a strong signal that no one should be beyond the reach of the law. Those convicted could face up to five years in prison and be subject to further civil measures.
The Bill will also close a gap in our current legislation in relation to terrorism, which is particularly pertinent in the light of the ongoing crisis in Syria. The UK faces the very serious threat that British nationals travelling to Syria are exposed to terrorist groups there, become radicalised, and on returning may be prepared to radicalise others or carry out an attack here. The Bill will therefore extend extra-territorial jurisdiction to offences under the Terrorism Act 2006, so enabling the UK to prosecute individuals who prepare for terrorist acts and train for terrorism abroad in the same way as though they had carried out those activities in the UK.
Those who act for the good of society and for the benefit of others play a valuable and often largely unrecognised role in this country. Good works and good deeds are to be encouraged. There is some evidence, however, that people are put off from volunteering or going to help in an emergency owing to fears of being held liable if something goes wrong.
The social action, responsibility and heroism Bill will reassure the public that if they act for the benefit of society and demonstrate a generally responsible approach towards the safety of others during an activity or when assisting someone in an emergency, the courts will always consider the context of their actions in the event they are sued for negligence.
When I used to do voluntary work, my understanding was that, essentially, that was already the case. Could the Secretary of State explain whether the Bill will change what the law means or how confident people can be in terms of how they act, or will it change both?
The hon. Gentleman is right that there has always been an understanding, but the problem is that, sadly, people do not see enough clarity in legislation to give them the confidence that that is the case. Indeed, they sometimes see reports of cases where the opposite has been the case. It is, therefore, important to give greater clarity in the law and that is what the Bill will do.
I spend a lot of my time as a community first responder with the ambulance service in Yorkshire, and when I turn up at emergencies, I often find that people are unwilling to involve themselves because, although the law may well protect them, they do not feel that it will do so. Therefore, I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill and offer the Home Secretary my experience as an example of why more clarity is needed.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who has hit the nail on the head. The social action, responsibility and heroism Bill will, I hope, send a very clear message to everyone that they should have the confidence of knowing that they can go to help others and not fear the consequences for themselves.
Although not specifically referenced in the Gracious Speech last week, the Government intend to introduce a draft Bill to modernise the way in which compensation is paid to individuals and businesses that experience loss or damage to property caused by riots. The Riot (Damages) Act 1886 has not been updated since it was introduced. Consequently, it does not properly reflect modern society—for example, it does not cover damage to cars.
The precise detail of the draft Bill will be determined following the public consultation that I launched last week. This will build on the findings of the independent review of the Act, which was published in November 2013 and is part of our substantial work since the riots of August 2011 to ensure that compensation arrangements keep pace with modern life. It is right that we continue to protect vulnerable people and businesses from the financial impact of riots.
This Government can be proud of the reforms and legislation that we have put in place. These Bills will build on that work. They will ensure that we can hunt, prosecute and lock up the criminals behind the appalling crime of modern slavery; that we have a criminal justice system that properly punishes offenders, while being fair to the taxpayer; that we can better disrupt those who support and benefit from all forms of organised crime; and that we continue to encourage good works and good deeds.
On crime and on justice, this Government’s legislative programme is working to ensure a safe and secure Britain in which honest, hard-working people can prosper. I commend it to the House.
The Home Secretary has set out the Bills and measures announced in the Queen’s Speech, including measures on modern slavery and on tackling organised crime and helping, we hope, pay back the profits of crime—which we have called for before—as well as action on female genital mutilation, child neglect and terrorism abroad. All of those measures will have strong cross-party support and I want to address some of them. I also want to talk about what is missing from the Queen’s Speech, because the Home Secretary’s proposals are not sufficient to address some of the challenges that Britain faces for the future.
I will start with the Bill that we welcome most—the Modern Slavery Bill. I pay tribute, as the Home Secretary has done, to the members of the cross-party Joint Committee, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who have argued for changes and improvements to the Bill.
The Home Secretary was right to talk about the torture, rape and persecution of those who see no way out. The gangmasters, traffickers and slave drivers are not just stealing vulnerable people’s money; they are stealing their freedom and stealing their lives. Tougher laws and penalties are needed, and I also hope the Bill will go further in providing more support for victims by making sure they are not punished in the immigration system or sent back to those who sold them in the first place. It also needs to make sure that there are child guardians, which we have been calling for since 2010, because it is chilling that two thirds of children rescued from trafficking in Britain just disappear. They are betrayed by their abusers only to be betrayed for a second time by the authorities, which fail to protect them when their abusers and traffickers steal their lives and freedom all over again.
The Home Secretary also needs to look again at the domestic workers visa and the risks to those forced into domestic slavery, unable to escape. The charity Kalayaan has found that since the Home Secretary changed the visas, 60% of those on the new visa were paid no salary at all, compared with 14% on the original visa. That is slavery, and the evidence suggests that the Home Secretary’s visa reforms have made it worse. We will also press her to support joint action on supply chains, as the Joint Committee has suggested.
I am glad that the Home Secretary is doing more to recover the proceeds of crime. She will know that less has been recovered in recent years. The amount collected by the police and the volume of confiscation orders have fallen, yet we know there is still £1.5 billion-worth of outstanding orders—ill-gotten gains that criminals are still stashing away. We have already called on the Home Secretary to end early release with regard to default sentences where organised criminals refuse to pay, and to stop loopholes whereby criminals transfer assets to families. I hope those measures will be in the Bill.
We welcome further action on organised crime and those aiding and abetting criminals, and we certainly need stronger action against those who are mutilating the bodies of girls and young women. It is a stain on our country that so many young women are at risk and no one has yet been successfully prosecuted.
More action is also needed against online child abuse. We are glad that the Home Secretary is looking at new offences, but what is she doing to reverse the fall in Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre arrests and the drop in the number of chid abusers being caught?
I am also glad that the Home Secretary is looking at terrorist offences overseas, but after all the noise yesterday about the Prevent programme she needs also to recognise that there is a significant gap in her policies on preventing terrorism and extremism. She claimed yesterday that it was okay for the Home Office to narrow the work it does and to stop funding work by communities themselves to prevent extremism, because, she said, the Department for Communities and Local Government is doing that instead—but it is not.
The reality is that neither the Home Secretary nor the Communities Secretary—nor even the Education Secretary—are taking seriously enough the need to work with communities on preventing young people from being seduced into going to Syria. Some of the strongest voices and most effective people in counteracting the ideology of the jihad are those within the communities, in faith groups and friends in social media, yet not enough work is being done with those communities or to give them support. I hope the Home Secretary will make sure that that happens.
May I endorse what my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has said? In my constituency, 52% of the people are from ethnic minority communities and there are more than 27 mosques, 35 Hindu temples and five gurdwaras in Leicester. It is important to bring communities with us. Of course, a tough strategy is very important. We did not get it absolutely right under the previous Government and Prevent had to be modernised, but without those communities we cannot make change.
The Home Affairs Committee has done some important work on this issue and my right hon. Friend is right that we will always have to keep reforming the programmes and learning from things that do not work, because preventing extremism is a difficult area. However, experts in countering extremism and preventing terrorism have raised concerns with me that some of the work done previously with the Somali community to ensure that it got the support it needed to prevent people from going to Somalia to fight is not being replicated to prevent people from going to Syria.
I also represent a constituency with a highly diverse population and many families from minority communities. They tell me of a deep sense of bubbling anger and that they are no longer being made to feel welcome or respected in the community as a whole. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that the broader strategy engages the whole community and respects and honours everyone’s contribution as members of our country?
My hon. Friend is right. She knows that many of the strongest advocates of fighting extremism or preventing extremism—for example, preventing Islamist extremism—are those in the Muslim communities themselves, such as Muslim community leaders who have done excellent work on preventing extremism. The Government should do more to support those communities in the work that such communities are often better at leading.
A lot is missing from this Queen’s Speech. There is no serious action to tackle domestic violence or rape, of which reported cases are going up, but prosecutions and convictions are going down on the Home Secretary’s watch. There are no national standards, and no commissioner on violence against women to make sure that such standards are enforced. I still fail to understand why the Government will not do more to prevent violent relationships among young people. Where is the proposal for the compulsory sex and relationship education that all our children should get to ensure that they are taught zero tolerance of violence in relationships from the start?
What about immigration? The Home Secretary’s approach is failing. She set a net migration target, and the Prime Minister promised—no ifs, no buts—that he would get immigration down to the tens of thousands. The Home Secretary said that she would meet the target by the end of the Parliament. Yet net migration is now at 212,000, which is hardly less than the 222,000 at the time of the last election. Despite all her rhetoric and four years’ worth of legislation, the public are more worried about immigration now than when she started as Home Secretary. However, universities and businesses are concerned that they cannot attract the best international talent, which they need. In the past year alone, the number of people saying that immigration is their biggest concern has doubled. It is the worst of all worlds, so why does she not stop pretending about meeting her failed target and act to address some of the practical concerns that people have about the impact of immigration on wages and jobs?
Will the right hon. Lady tell me what the Labour party is going to do? It seems to me that there are only two ways to deal with UKIP’s agenda: either to accommodate and pander to it, or to challenge the very assumptions on which it is based. Labour cannot look two ways on this matter—will it challenge or pander?
UKIP is exploiting people’s fears and concerns, and it needs to be challenged every step of the way. We need to set out the practical reforms that would address people’s concerns about the impact of immigration on their wages and jobs when employers exploit immigration to undercut local wages and jobs. I do not understand why the Home Secretary will not take such measures—we could support them—in a new immigration Bill.
The shadow Secretary of State came to my constituency recently. She did not give me notice of her visit, but she may have heard from residents in Goole of their concerns about immigration. The visit did no good: the Labour vote completely collapsed in the Euro elections. Will she now take this opportunity to apologise to residents in Goole for what happened in 2007, which led massive numbers of immigrants to come to our town and put huge pressure on schools, housing and our public services?
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that, unfortunately, public concern about immigration is much higher now than it was at the time of the general election. I hope that he will apologise to his constituents for backing a net migration target and promising that it would be met by the time of the next general election, but utterly failing to meet it.
The Government are not setting out the practical things that they could do. For example, they could stop agencies recruiting only from abroad, close loopholes in the minimum wage, go much further on unfair zero-hours contracts and make serious exploitation a crime. All those are things that the Government could do.
In response to my hon. Friends’ questions, the Home Secretary commented about the Passport Office, but I must say that her answers were incredibly complacent and simply do not reflect the experience of MPs right across the country. She claimed that all the targets are being met. From what she said, we would think that everything was absolutely fine. Tell that to James Bowness from Cumbria, who nearly missed his chance to qualify for the Commonwealth games because his passport did not arrive in time; pensioner Eileen Shepherd from Darlington, who missed her dream cruise because her passport did not arrive; or the Vernon family from Coventry, who missed their first family holiday abroad. They all applied in time, but the Passport Office let them down.
My hon. Friend is right. Many of us have had the experience of trying to ensure that our constituents get their passports in time to go on the holiday that they have put all their savings into, or to go on a business trip abroad. We are told that there is a backlog of 500,000 cases. We all know that people are now in a state of panic and, for fear of losing their money, are putting extra money in to pay for fast-track services or rushing across the country to Durham or elsewhere to pick up their passport.
For my right hon. Friend’s information, the Home Affairs Committee has called the head of the Passport Office to appear before us on Tuesday. We have heard that the real problem is that 80 members of staff have been moved off passport fraud duties to help with the backlog, meaning that they are not doing the very important work of checking fraud that they are required to do.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right. I know that he and the Committee will scrutinise this matter in great detail. It is deeply troubling if important security measures have been dropped simply because there is a crisis in the Passport Office and the Home Secretary has taken her eye off the ball.
We know that the delays are even longer for Brits living abroad, such as the family who cannot come home from Qatar with their baby because they cannot get him a passport to fly. With expats stuck abroad and unable to come home, keeping Brits out of the country seems to be the Government’s only chance of meeting the net migration target. This is a shambles.
There are some sensible measures in this Queen’s Speech, but too much that is not in it. Frankly, from our debates over the past week, people would not have known even about the measures that are in it. The Home Secretary was not talking about them on the day of the Queen’s Speech. In fact, no one was talking about them, and even the fainting page-boy struggled to get a look in. We had the headlines, “Cabinet at war over extremists in schools”, “Angry Cameron rebukes rivals as Tory rift widens”, and “Tory bloodbath over Muslim schools fiasco”. We had to pity the poor Prime Minister, who was standing on the sidelines and desperate to talk about pensions or fracking, and even the Deputy Prime Minister, who was trying to get noticed and madly waving his plastic bags. No one heard about the slavery Bill or the crime Bill on Queen’s Speech day, because the Home Secretary had started her own plot to cause a parliamentary explosion on the day the Queen came to Parliament.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary told the House that she did not authorise the publication of the letter on the website or in the media. Presumably, she woke up on Wednesday morning to be as shocked by the headlines as everyone else. Presumably, she was as horrified as the Prime Minister that the Gracious Speech we should have been talking about was overshadowed. Presumably, she rushed into the Department and said, “Oh, Fiona, what on earth have you done? Take it down. Quick—rush across and make nice to the Education Secretary. Get me the Prime Minister on the phone, and I’ll apologise for this dreadful departmental mistake on such an important day.” Except that she did not; there was no contrition, no rush to limit the violence and no punishment for the culprit in her Department.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary got terribly touchy about the ministerial code. She said that she had not breached it, but let us see what it says. Under section 2.1, ministerial correspondence should be confidential. Yet she kept the letter on her website for three days. Under section 3.3, she has responsibility for her special adviser. Is that why she will not tell us who leaked the letter? These are blatant breaches of the ministerial code and she knows it. If she wants those charges against her to be dropped, she should answer these questions. Who agreed to put the letter on the website? Who agreed to give it to the press? Why did she write it after she had heard about the briefing from The Times, and did she write it knowing that it would be leaked? When did she find out it was on the website, and why did she not take it down?
The Home Secretary launched a sabotage attack on the Queen’s Speech, even though her own Department had some perfectly reasonable measures that she should have wanted to include. The Queen’s Speech just does not do enough to tackle the serious problems in the country. There is not enough on crime, immigration or violence against women, and the Home Secretary has taken her eye off the ball. She has been too busy in briefing wars with the Education Secretary to keep her own house in order, and too busy worrying about her next job to get her day job right, and the country is being let down.
That was quite an extraordinary speech. It did not focus on the Queen’s Speech. It did not focus on the Bills that were listed. Incidentally, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) should recognise that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre does not arrest—it passes information to individual police forces to deal with.
I was impressed with the list, and the Home Secretary, for the sake of the rest of us who want to speak, went through it quickly. She did not touch on everything; there is more there than she mentioned. I am here to say a personal thank you to the Ministers—
I will meet him on the rugby field and we will see.
I am coming to the point. After 12 or 14 years of working to try to bring legislative changes, with considerable success on, among other things, dealing with paedophiles, there is a tiny element—that last element, which has taken me 14 years—included in the Serious Crime Bill. It is little. The Home Secretary did not mention it. My specific interest is in part 5, clause 63. It has not been noticed by many. It is a change to help prosecute child sex abusers. The clause is headed simply, “Possession of paedophile manual”, and as I read the measure, the definition is broader than the sort of straight manual that one would see on car repair. That said, in the past much of this kind of material has been similar to a repair manual.
Two of my ten-minute rule Bills have effectively been on the same subject—I was supported by Paul Goggins, whose name has been mentioned several times. Such material has also been the subject of my continual pressure on Ministers of the previous Labour Government—including one who is present—and of this Government. The problem was first highlighted by the Home Office taskforce of which I was a member in 2001-02, which preceded the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Along with a few senior Met officers—particularly retired DCI Dave Marshall, who is highly respected in this area—I have persistently raised the issue ever since. Recently, CEOP has swung heavily behind the need for legal changes.
The existence of real manuals and their effect came to the fore when BBC 2 broadcast a three-part programme called “The Hunt for Britain’s Paedophiles” in 2002. It involved Bob Long of the BBC following the Metropolitan police paedophile unit for two years. The first of the three parts involved hunting down a group of individuals who, if my memory is correct, were members of a paedophile ring that had been abusing children in London since 1957—not quite 50 years. One of the more active members was a Julian Levene, who produced a manual on the grooming and abuse of children for the use of the members of the ring, and any others who were interested.
Many paedophiles write, either in hard copy or on a computer, guidance or descriptions of their abuse activities, whether real or imaginary. They are, in effect, manuals, and can clearly be seen as guidance. The Bill looks broad enough to catch such material. For many, the written word is more effective than child pornographic photographs, pseudo-photographs and so on.
I would like to give a simple example from CEOP. A man from Kent recently wrote describing his wish to kidnap an early-teenage girl, strip her, sexually abuse her and then, in an appalling way that I will not detail, slowly kill her. It is horrific, especially as his writings inspired him to carry it out. He is now in prison, hopefully for ever, but the teenager is lost. With this legislation, perhaps the early discovery of the writings could have helped, especially given that the police will have the power to act.
Having pondered, with legal help, over quite how to phrase legislation to cover this problem, I congratulate the Secretary of State and her Ministers on the ingenious approach that they have taken. It is broad, it is clever, it will do the job, and lessons have been learned from the Terrorism Act 2006. I also congratulate Ministers on following the approach of much of the child protection legislation. The change will be able to be used actively, proactively and retrospectively. I thank the Ministers again.
I have a declared interest that relates to higher education, which might crop up in my speech.
I thank the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) for his reference to the work of my late friend, Paul Goggins, who was referred to by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the day of the Queen’s Speech. I appreciate that reference, because Paul would have been proud that his work, like that of so many in this House, has borne fruit in the form of legislation.
Before I turn to the substance of the Queen’s Speech and the related issues that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has deliberated on very effectively, may I reflect on the nature of last week’s events? Having been the Home Secretary at the time of the 11 September attack and the subsequent dangers, I am mindful of the need for security. However, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the way in which we operate the closures in central London around the Queen’s Speech. To close substantial portions of the area around Westminster from Monday to Friday is, in my view, unnecessary. We should protect the Queen—the royal personage—in any way we can, but there has been an extension in what happens over recent years. I mention that only because it is damaging to the London economy and extremely frustrating for the populace, and it does not necessarily do Parliament any good.
Secondly, as we have seen in the debate over the past few days and way beyond, a fixed-term, five-year Parliament can be seen to run out of steam. If we are to continue with fixed-term Parliaments, I think that it is time to re-examine whether they should last for four years, rather than five. Irrespective of whether a coalition is still required, which I sincerely hope it is not, it is clear from history that Governments need to refresh themselves. That is part of our democracy and considering such a change would be a positive move in responding to the changing needs of the population and the political debate. Four-year Parliaments might allow us to have two Queen’s Speeches: one at the beginning of a Parliament and one two years in, which would allow time for substantive debate and measures that have been carefully planned and thought through. I commend the idea of returning to those issues to Front Benchers on both sides of the House.
We face a moment of rapid change that is unprecedented in our history. There is economic, social and cultural change, some of which we touched on yesterday afternoon during the urgent question and the statement. We face an explosion in communications that brings globalisation and issues on a moment-by-moment basis not just into people’s front rooms, which we used to say in relation to television, but into their hands as they use mobile technology. The immediacy of such issues has changed how people see the rapid change in the world around them.
When we were in a position of economic success, with continuing growth, continuing substantial falls in unemployment and rises in wages, and it was possible to invest in improved public services, globalisation appeared to be benign, if not somewhat bewildering, to the populace. The same is not true at a time of deep austerity, with the results of the global banking meltdown—and it was a global banking meltdown; the previous Labour Government were not responsible for the collapse of the sub-prime market in the United States or the recession across Europe. It is risible that people still repeat that calumny over and again, particularly members of the junior partner in the coalition, who were enthusiastically in favour of the public spending that we were engaged in before 2010 and suddenly changed their mind. Indeed, so was the Conservative party, because until autumn 2008 and a change of mind at the Tory party conference, the main thrust of public expenditure was supported by the Conservative Opposition.
I mention that because the confusion, bewilderment and sense of powerlessness that affects so many of our constituents has a knock-on effect on the way they see the political environment around them, and on whether they trust or believe that traditional politics can meet their needs—hence the rise of the UK Independence party and its temporary, God willing, success in the European Union elections and some local government contests.
Old certainties have gone and people are unclear who they should blame for what is happening around them. Is it a change in the world situation and the insecurities that drive asylum seekers and movements of people across the world? Ten and a half million people have been moved outside their homeland either compulsorily or through fear of the danger of death and torture. People are desperately looking for a better life, and hearing about it in the way I have just described and in a fashion that was not present years ago. Bewilderment and a subliminal fear come from those uncertainties, and people are looking to someone to find answers.
We have the chance to debate these issues today, but that rarely happens any more on television or radio, and certainly not in the print media or through the inanity of many bloggers. We are not reaching, talking to or having a dialogue with—never mind listening to—the fears of people, but there is nothing new about that.
One great advantage of being a Back Bencher is that one has the chance to read. I have been reading the biography of Roy Jenkins that came out a few months ago. He was not a favourite politician of mine, not least because he was paraded as one of the most liberal and radical Home Secretaries in history, whereas most of the legislation he took credit for was promoted by Back Benchers. My irritation at that has been overwhelmed by going back and reading extracts of speeches and articles that he wrote. Fifty-five years ago, he was talking about the challenge of whether we should enter what was then the European Economic Community. He talked about a bigger issue of people living in an atmosphere of illusion or reality, and the unwillingness to address Britain’s position in the world. He spoke about a challenge of living in a sullen and incomprehensible environment in which people looked only to the past.
I fear that we are in that moment once again. People hanker for a past that did not really exist, and they look for certainties that are no longer there. They fear that politicians do not have answers to their questions, and they lash out at anyone near them. I think we must try in our own way across all three major political parties to provide answers that are credible. Nobody can underestimate the bewilderment, and no one should belittle the cry for help from our constituents, above all in a constituency such as mine.
People will be aware of the considerable tensions that have arisen after a large influx of people from Slovakia of a Roma background. They are fleeing unbelievable persecution and standards of living that are third world, to say the least. Incidentally, Slovakia managed a turnout of only 13% in the European Union election—I do not think that is a functioning democracy. People come to the UK from that background and those norms of living, and as part of the debate about British values and a society that can address those challenges, we need to invest in and help people through those difficulties. That applies to both the host community, which suddenly finds its way of life affected dramatically, and incomers who need to learn quickly how best to adapt to and adopt the standards of behaviour and norms that we take for granted.
Those big issues require us not to provide simplistic soundbites but to address the underlying complexities. This afternoon I appeal for us all to come together to address those things that are practical and can be addressed. In essence, we are dealing with the transitions of life—transitions that are brought about by economic, social and cultural change globally, and those that affect people in their daily lives as the language and the vista and nature of the community around them changes. We must consider how best the Government, and therefore politics, can assist in that endeavour.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) mentioned immigration, and the importance of getting a grip on things that are possible within the current powers of the Westminster Parliament. There are many pressures outside and many changes we all want, and people can collaborate and work together at local level. There are also global changes that need to be dealt with by a proper debate in a reformed European Union and on the transnational scene. As my right hon. Friend rightly said, many things that could be dealt with at a local as well as national level would assist. I want to touch on some of those today and suggest that in doing so, we might politically give people hope that not only will they be listened to, they will be talked to realistically, be respected, and be told the truth about what we can and cannot do.
For instance, it was never going to be feasible to get net migration below 100,000 unless, as has been pointed out, we rapidly changed the passport system and encouraged our own people to leave the country. We could achieve it that way but that is nonsense. We could never achieve net migration of under 100,000 unless we remove from the statistics those who come here to study as graduate and postgraduate students. The commonsense of doing that has been pressed on the Government over the past four years, and I think it would have got all-party support and told people the truth. If we do not tell people the truth, and if we pretend that we can achieve targets that are frankly unachievable, when we do not achieve those targets we undermine confidence in all the other measures that have been taken.
We have a tendency at the moment to rewrite history—I imagine there is nothing new about that. We all like to paint what we are doing as day zero, and that what came before as either inadequate or totally deniable.
I am one of the people who think that Labour got it just about right on immigration when they were in government. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in not being bullied by the Tories and UKIP who want Labour to apologise? Labour should stand up for what it did because it did the right thing. Will it say to the Tories and UKIP, “We got it right on immigration and we will not be bullied out of our former position”?
The truth is that we did not get it entirely right because no Government get everything entirely right. That is another part of rebuilding trust in the political system.
I mentioned day zero because the tendency to suggest that nothing that came before was satisfactory, adequate or even addressed the issues undermines fundamentally people’s belief that we know what we are doing, or that what happened in the past can be recorded as at least partially successful.
I will give way but I first want to tell the House about Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov. Earlier this year he pointed out that if the five major retailers in this country acted like political parties, nobody would shop at Tesco, Asda or Morrisons ever again. Although they compete—and rightly make offers to people, as part of the market—they do not trash the idea of supermarkets. If they did, people would turn, as they do with UKIP, to the corner shop. I will give way before I go too far on the analogy between corner shops and Nigel Farage.
Perhaps if I represented a Scottish constituency I would hold the same view on immigration as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), given that very few of the newcomers wish to go to Scotland—they wish to settle elsewhere. Would my right hon. Friend accept that the ball is in the court of the vice-chancellors? They all have tough policies that students must pay outstanding fees before they get their degrees. If the vice-chancellors ran a similar system—refusing to award degrees until students fulfil their promise to go home—perhaps the Government would have a different attitude to the number of students coming here. It would not be a problem if they actually went home.
There are all sorts of practical ways in which we could assist universities to ensure that people in those circumstances leave the country after graduating, such as the possibility of returning part of the fee. My right hon. Friend has strong and, I think, reasonable arguments to make on this issue, but I do not agree with him on some issues.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned targets and suggested that, in principle, they are not wrong, but that the Government’s target—of reducing net migration to tens of thousands—was wrong. I think he mentioned a figure of 100,000. If he agrees with targets in principle, but disagrees with the target set by the Government, what does he think is the right target for net migration?
I did not actually say that I agreed with targets, but in one perverse way I do. The points system that I started to introduce before I left the Home Office at the end of 2004, and how it is used now to bring in the skills that we need from outside the European Union, are themselves targets, by the very nature of the way in which they are set, the advice that is taken from the independent commission and the way that we respond. Part of the difficulty that we have been debating—and it gets tangled up with the issue of whether we should be in or out of the European Union—is the nature of free movement.
The Leader of the Opposition has apologised to the British people, who want to see net migration come down. It is not just the policy of the coalition Government: it is the British people who want to see net migration come down. Non-EU migration has come down. EU migration is still a challenge, and it is one that the Government will face as the Prime Minister renegotiates power back from Europe—
I mentioned a moment ago that there were things that we did not get right. For instance, we did not do anything like enough to work with host communities to prepare them for integration. We did not do enough to expand the gateway programme for entry into the UK under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which would have provided a sensible, planned process—as the small experiments we indulged in did achieve—for giving people the chance to escape from horrendous circumstances. I pay tribute to the Home Secretary for introducing the anti-slavery legislation, which builds on the modest progress we made 10 years ago, including the sexual offences legislation. It raises, of course, the issue that people face death and torture, organised criminality and slavery, and we need to deal with that. Expanding the gateway programme would have reduced the fear of a massive influx of asylum seekers. Incidentally, the number was reduced from 110,000 in 2002 to under 30,000 by the time I left the Home Office, and it is much lower today. The asylum issue was paramount in people’s minds 12 years ago, but now the issue is movement within the European Union.
Incidentally, before that, when we were not doing so well as an economy, British workers went to other parts of Europe. Those of us who are old enough—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and I are—remember the television series, “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet” about British workers working in Germany. There is nothing new about this—the question is the volume, the flow, the preparations made and the measures taken. Some—indeed, all—of the measures outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford are reasonable, and we could add others.
First, we could include conditionality in relation to entitlement to benefits, toughening that entitlement substantially, and ensuring that people cannot draw benefits for family who live abroad, including child benefit. In 2007, I talked at length to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer about this, and his officials were adamant that proper checks were made—but I doubt it. We need clear, enforceable rules that give people confidence that we know what we are doing. We also need points systems and clarity about the need for particular skills; tough benefit rules; tough conditionality requirements; action to avoid exploitation, by working with employers to enforce the minimum wage; and action to ensure that people return to their country of origin if they do not find a job, because they are not holidaymakers or visitors. Those are all practical steps that all three major parties could support.
What would not be practical—and I say this honestly to some of my good friends with whom I agree on many other issues—is to withdraw the right of free movement. We could go back to the time we joined the European Union, or to 1958 and the treaty of Rome, and pretend that everything should have been different, but we are where we are. If we have freedom of movement, we should not prohibit people from working legally. If we did that, they would work in the sub-economy. They would be here, and they would undercut British workers, their conditions and their wages. In 2004, at a time of substantial economic growth and when we needed people to work—and the offer was on the table for young people in our country to gain the skills and take up the jobs—the vacancies were filled by people from what are now the central and eastern parts of the European Union, the E8 countries. We found that when we allowed—and I take total responsibility for this—people to register, work legally and pay tax and national insurance, 40% of them were already in the country. It is the same now for the Romanian and Bulgarian entry, which was not a calamity as people in UKIP predicted. Some of the people now working openly were in the country before January and had been to and fro from Bulgaria and Romania under the existing limited scheme.
We need to tell people the truth: there are things we can do and things we cannot do. There are targets that can be met and targets that are foolish. If we tell people the truth we might get their respect. The Office for National Statistics needs to be very careful in the assumptions it makes—I have had correspondence with Andrew Dilnot on this—from very dubious source evidence.
I am sorry to keep going back into history, but we have to learn from history rather than live in it. In 1968, Anthony Crosland, who was a very radical, free-thinking moderniser at the time, made a speech at a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference which was then written up into an article. In it, he said there was a real fear that by the year 2000 there would be a population explosion of between 15 million and 20 million. Between the census of 1971 and 2001, the actual uplift was 3.2 million.
I do not underestimate the bigger challenge that we face now, but I simply say to the House—one does not get this opportunity very often, Madam Deputy Speaker; in all the recent debates I have spoken in I have had between six and 10 minutes to speak, so forgive me—that we need to have a serious, open, non-partisan, non-knockabout debate on immigration, otherwise the issue will corrode people’s confidence in the political system. It will erode any kind of sensible debate on our future in Europe. It will undermine people’s belief that we can do things sensibly on their behalf and that we are listening to their cry for help; not patronising them by simply mouthing whatever it is that they want to hear, but suggesting practical measures we can carry through. If we do that, we might be able to calm the debate and deal with the issues thrown up in recent weeks. What are British values? What do we expect from people in our communities? What can we demand of people who come in from the rest of the European Union or the rest of the world in terms of their response to the norms of our society? Getting those questions right might do all of us a favour.
Above all, it might restore confidence in the democratic political process, which is so crucial to getting people to vote and to take seriously the one other thing that is offered to them—hope. At the moment, so many people in the most deprived parts of Britain, who are facing the most severe aspects of the austerity programme, lack hope. Above all, in the general election next year we must give people that aspiration and hope for the future. If we do that, they might respond with a belief in becoming engaged as active citizens and backing their party of choice by voting, and above all with a belief that democratic politics is something they want to espouse and support; that might come to fruition.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). He said a number things that I agree with and made a number of points I disagree with. The idea that we should have a more sensible, rational debate is one I completely support. I cannot let go the comments made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). The idea that we would say to students that they have to leave the country before they can graduate strikes me as profoundly damaging.
I will not change what I am saying, but I will say it more slowly and clearly so that the hon. Gentleman actually understands it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) suggested that one way to modify the immigration figures is to take students out of them. One of the problems with doing that is that we have a large number of students coming here. They say they wish to study here, but continue to stay here and work. The change I would like to see is to challenge vice-chancellors to have as many students as they want, provided they undertake, on behalf of the Home Secretary, to ensure that those students fulfil their promise to come here, graduate and leave. The universities do—
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying and I continue to disagree with what he suggests. One issue he raises, on whether students would have to leave before they graduate, concerns the process of graduation. There is also the question of post-study work visas, which are incredibly valuable. If he talks to the vice-chancellors of Cambridge university and Anglia Ruskin university—two universities in my constituency—he will hear that there is demand. We want people to come here; it makes sense. Once we have trained some of the brightest and best people here, we want them to contribute to the economy. We want them to set up companies that will employ people here locally. I have to say that what he suggests would be incredibly damaging to the economy in my constituency and in many other areas. I hope that is not somewhere we will go.
There are issues around immigration, and huge issues around the rhetoric used. There is far too much negative rhetoric that is, frankly, xenophobic. That is something we have to try to avoid. It has no place in the discussions we are having.
We benefit massively from immigration. We benefit financially—there is a lot of evidence of that—and culturally and socially. It is a good thing for us to do. There are, however, associated downsides and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough was absolutely right to highlight them. The solution is to try to fix those problems. Where people coming in means that we run out of school places, the correct solution is not to throw people out of the country, but to create school places so they can be educated and to make sure there is housing. The correct solution is to deal with the problems. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say—many people have pointed it out—that there are problems with the violation of the national minimum wage. That is why we should ensure that people are paid the national minimum wage and why the Government have acted. We have just had the first naming and shaming of people who have been failing to pay it. Immigration is a good thing and we should tackle the problems associated with it.
It frustrates me that so many people are following the concerns raised by UKIP and trying to tack towards them. That is self-defeating. The more that Conservative and Labour politicians chase the UKIP line, the stronger UKIP becomes, because that tells people that it is even stronger.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree—he probably does not—or concede that he sounds terribly out of touch, given that 77% of the public say that immigration is a huge problem? His arguments would carry more conviction if he were prepared even to look at the free movement directive. I have some sympathy with him on non-EU migration, particularly in the higher education sector, but he cannot have it both ways. People want immigration to be reduced, so he must look at—
I think it unlikely that the hon. Gentleman and I will ever reach agreement on this issue—we certainly have not yet. There are concerns but we have to fix the problems it causes, not attack the fundamental basis. The hon. Gentleman can have a look at studies—I do not have the reference immediately to hand—by University College London, for example, that show the fiscal benefits from EU migration. The trend is badly wrong and is being followed by far too many people.
The hon. Gentleman is an academic; he deals in facts. He mentions tacking to the right because of UKIP. Is it not a fact that there was a manifesto commitment by the Conservative party to reduce net migration to tens of thousands? That was in 2010 when UKIP was at 3% in the national poll. It is now at 12%. I am afraid the facts do not bear out his comments.
The hon. Gentleman is correct on that point: it is true that the Conservative party had a commitment to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. I did not think that that was a good idea at the time. It is very hard to see how it can be implemented. Part of the problem is that the only way to implement it—the Select Committee on Home Affairs has criticised this specifically —is to adjust some of the measures until we see very disproportionate changes in some areas. He is right that the Conservatives have been consistent. We saw a larger number of Conservative Members signing amendments to try to stop Romanians and Bulgarians coming into the country than we saw Romanians and Bulgarians flooding into the country, which seems to be the wrong way around.
It is not just Conservatives. I was interested to see that even the National Union of Students specifically passed a motion that called on the Labour party to stop pandering to “anti-migrant politics.” That is something I hope the Labour party will live up to.
I was not planning to spend all my time talking about migration because I wanted to talk more broadly about the Queen’s Speech and where we are four years into this Government. The Government started in a difficult position. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough was keen to say that the finances were not the fault of the last Government. We can have that interesting discussion, but there is no doubt that in 2010, this country was in a difficult situation. One pound in every £4 the Government spent had to be borrowed. Whether we accept the right hon. Gentleman’s case that everything was fantastic and it was just unfortunate, or whether we take the view that it was in some sense the fault of the Labour Government over 13 years, it was a difficult time. I would not have chosen the first opportunity for my party to be in government to be at a time when, as the former Chief Secretary said, there was no money left.
Where are we now? We see a growing economy with unemployment substantially reduced. In my constituency, unemployment has gone down by some 40%. I welcome that; more people in employment, and in full-time employment. That is a great success and there are successes in other areas, such as renewable energy. Relevant to home affairs, the main subject for today, crime is down consistently. I welcome that. Every year that we debate police funding there has been a suggestion that crime is about to start shooting upwards. Every year it continues to go down.
We have made some progress on something very dear to my heart: civil liberties. That was what got me involved in politics. Before I came here, I was on the national council of Liberty. We have dealt with the Government’s storing of the DNA of innocent people on central databases. We have got rid of authoritarian identity cards. It is a great pleasure to see the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims in his place. The first Bill from the Government passed by the House got rid of identity cards, which were expensive, intrusive and unnecessary. [Interruption.] We see that the Labour party continues to want to bring in identity cards at great expense. It is a shame, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said, that the only thing Labour has apologised for is their immigration policy and not many other measures.
We have got rid of control orders and the idea of internal exile without trial. Even yesterday, however, we heard the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) complaining that the Government have stopped people being exiled inside this country without having a trial. We have improved libel laws, provided same-sex marriage and ended child detention as a standard thing for immigration purposes, putting that into law recently. We have ended discrimination against illegitimate children who used not to be able to inherit their citizenship if they were unfortunate enough to have been born too early. We have done many things. But there is more still to do. I look forward to doing much of it.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), in her address on the Gracious Speech, said that the Conservatives had been held back by their coalition partners. I am very proud that we have stopped many things where we have disagreed. There are a number of things that we have simply not allowed to happen: for-profit schools; firing at will; the removal of housing benefit from the under-25s. There are a number of things that we have stopped.
However, it is not just a question of the things the Conservatives have been prevented from doing. There are things we have done, and things we would like to do that we have been prevented from doing because of the Conservatives. These include the mansion tax, to make sure that the richer in society pay more towards our finances, electoral reform and House of Lords reform. They also include getting more housing built, and environmental measures have been blocked. On reviewing surveillance post-Snowden, we have seen very little movement from the Home Office; indeed, we have no idea what the status is of the data retention directive rules. We would like to go further: to strengthen the Information Commissioner’s office and extend freedom of information. We want to have more evidence-informed policy so that when the expert advisers to the Government say that something is inappropriate and disproportionate, we do not see the Conservative party interpreting that to mean that it should go ahead with it or, indeed, the Labour party backing it. There is much more that we would like to do.
But there is good stuff coming. There is very good stuff in the Queen’s Speech where we have been able to agree and show that coalitions can work, and that two very different parties can find areas on which we agree.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s flow as he sets out all the things that he thinks are so good. Perhaps he could say when the Government are going to do something about the fact that most people in poverty now are in work. Perhaps he will say something about people affected by the bedroom tax and by having to pay council tax for the very first time, or about the thousands and thousands of people who as a result of his Government’s policies are having to rely on food banks. How proud does he feel of those?
I do not in any sense think that the economy is in a perfect place. The hon. Lady did not mention the fact that the last Government tried to suppress people getting help from food banks. I am very pleased that there are food banks to help people. The problem is not people getting help from food banks; it is people who are unable to get help from food banks because they do not know about them or because there is not a food bank available for them. The hon. Lady should have a look at why it was that under the last Government, whom she presumably supported for 13 years, inequality increased. Why did the richest pay less of the share of taxation? This Government have changed that. Why did unemployment go up under the last Government? I have a lot of sympathy for many of the stated aims of the Labour party on equality, but the problem is that they simply did not deliver it.
Let me return to the Queen’s Speech, which contained very good things. There was a shared agreement that we needed to do much more to help small businesses to thrive, something which we can agree will make a big difference. Small businesses make a huge difference to our economy, and will build our prosperity. I have been working hard on issues to do with local independent shops in particular, and this will be very helpful.
I am particularly pleased by the announcement on pub reform, which will make a big difference to people who have tied pubs across England and Wales. It is a great tribute to the fantastic work by a number of people who have campaigned. The statutory code and the independent adjudicator will make a big difference to keeping pubs open. My constituents have been able to open pubs again. We have been praised by everybody from the Campaign for Real Ale to the Labour shadow Minister for our work to try to save pubs. This will help us to do it.
We are also helping people who have any sort of income to be able to spend money in those pubs, businesses or anywhere else by increasing the personal allowance to £10,500. That is 26.6 million people who have had their income tax cut, making them better off and allowing those on low incomes to pay no income tax at all. The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) prompts me to point out that the last Government increased the tax on the very low-paid when they got rid of the 10p tax rate; they doubled the tax rate paid by some of the lowest earners. I am proud that we have reduced it instead. That is a much fairer and more progressive system, and I am proud that somebody on £10,000 a year will not pay anything. I am proud that we managed to persuade the Prime Minister, who originally opposed it, to go ahead with the proposal.
We are also making a difference on apprenticeships, something my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is very proud of. We should aim—this is a shared aspiration—for 2 million apprentices by the end of the Parliament. In my constituency I am seeing the difference that that is making, with the fantastic Cambridge regional college now having something like 5,000 apprentices studying. I have gone to see many of them to see how much of a difference it makes to their lives. It is helping them to get on.
I would congratulate anyone who introduced proper apprenticeships, particularly the 5,000 in his constituency. How many of those people are doing three-year courses that will be recognised by City and Guilds to make them tradesmen, which we are very short of? How many are bogus apprenticeships with people doing short-term courses that are basically work experience?
I am very sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman attack these people. I look forward to his meeting some of the apprentices he thinks are bogus. He can come to see them and the programmes that they think are making a difference in enabling them to get training, to set up their own businesses and to make money, and tell them that he thinks what they are doing is bogus. I do not have the exact number of how many apprenticeships are for three years. I am sure that he can find out, but I find it depressing that he is so obsessed with attacking what the Government are doing about apprentices that he will attack the people who are making something of their lives by doing apprenticeships. Unfortunately we saw for many years—this predates the last Government—that apprenticeships and vocational education were simply not given the importance and standing they deserve. That is something we absolutely have to change.
Let me move on to some of the Home Office Bills. We have a Serious Crime Bill. Serious crime costs us something like £24 billion a year, so it is essential that we make more progress in dealing with it. We have huge problems with our confiscation legislation. Matrix Chambers has said:
“The confiscation legislation of the United Kingdom is complex and difficult to construe.”
That is absolutely right. We should be making sure that we can recover more money. That has been a weak link for a long time.
It is right to clarify the Children and Young Persons Act 1933—something for which Liberal Democrat Members including my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) and for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) have long campaigned—to make it clear that emotional cruelty that is likely to cause psychological harm to a child should be an offence. The current law on neglect is outdated and goes back to Victorian times. It is right to transform it.
Extending FGM-related offences to acts done outside the UK by UK nationals and residents is also very much welcome. My hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State for International Development and the Minister for Crime Prevention have been working very hard on this issue. We should finally take action on female genital mutilation.
We also see progress on a sensible drugs policy aimed at reducing harm, which should be our aim for all of what we are trying to do through our drugs policy. We see decisive action on trying to deal with the cutting agent. A huge amount of the harm caused by illegal substances is, in fact, caused by the cutting agent with which they are mixed. By taking action against them, we will make a difference to people’s lives and stop the harm. I hope we can go even further. I am looking forward to the international comparative study on drugs policy and on new psychoactive substances, on which my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention is also working hard. We should do what works, and what will reduce the harm caused to thousands of people around the country—not do just what sounds as though it is tough. We need to do things that actually make a difference.
That is also the case with modern-day slavery, on which I hope we will see cross-party agreement. We are definitely not dealing well enough with trafficking at the moment; we have to get it right. UNICEF estimates that something like 10 children a week are being trafficked into the UK, which is simply unacceptable. It is right that the Government face scrutiny by the Joint Committee. I wish all Bills could go through a proper scrutiny process because I think this House is at its best when it discusses things rationally, rather than there being two sides having a row.
I was pleased that there were various things we did not see in the Queen’s Speech. We did not see another immigration Bill. We have already had some discussion of this, but immigration, like many issues, is not always about passing more legislation; it is about getting things right. To my mind, the biggest problems surrounding immigration are not about our laws; they are about whether the right decisions are made—by what used to be the Border Agency, but is now back in the Home Office—correctly and promptly. Bringing back exit checks will, I think, make more difference to public certainty and the control of our borders than any piece of legislation we could propose in this area.
There is much more I could say about data retention directives and cybercrime, but I would like to raise one issue about which I have been concerned. I have spoken to a number of colleagues about it—my hon. Friends and also, for example, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton). I was approached by someone about the issue of revenge porn, which is happening more and more often. People take naked or indecent images of partners and then, once the relationship ends, they share them online, publishing them very widely—to the great mental torment of the people concerned. It is mostly but not always women who have agreed to have an explicit photo taken, but never agreed for it to be broadcast to all and sundry on the web as a means of revenge. It destroys people’s lives because of the psychological effect, the shame and the great humiliation caused when these images can be seen by anyone. The problem is getting worse, as Women’s Aid, the National Stalking Helpline, UK Safer Internet Centre and everybody increasingly accept.
Talking recently to a constituent of the hon. Member for Guildford, I was shocked to discover that there is currently no sanction to deal with this problem. At the moment it is not a criminal offence to share the image because the photo was taken legitimately. Consent was given for the photo or the film, but not for it to be shared. Typically, the problem is not covered under the harassment legislation, which requires something to have happened more than once, but once the image has been published online, it is broadcast for ever more. Reputable websites will take down these images when asked, but the person involved has to ask each website to do so, and for that to happen they normally have to prove that it is them in the photo, which means going through the rather humiliating process of taking a photo of oneself with a sign and sending it off. That makes the whole process much worse.
I do not often call for new criminal sanctions—it is not my natural style. In this case, however, I think we need to make a criminal sanction available when people share indecent images in the knowledge that consent would not have been given. I hope that the House will look further at this. It will need careful work to get the details right, ensuring that we do not accidentally criminalise activities that should be allowed, but we do need to take action in this area.
It will be an interesting year. I do not think this Parliament is over. If it focuses on scrutinising what is happening and ensuring that we look carefully at legislation rather than rushing it through in an effort to pass more and more Bills, that would be helpful. Over the last four years, we have contributed to a more liberal and fairer Britain, but there is much more to do. Some of it will happen this year; some of it will happen in later years.
Order. It would be advisable for Members to aim to deliver their speeches in between 10 and a maximum of 15 minutes, including interventions; otherwise, all the Members who wish to speak will not be able to. If everyone speaks for 20 minutes or more, there will simply not be enough time. I am not going to impose a time limit, but I hope Members will be respectful of each other and ensure that we move on comfortably to the winding-up speeches.
First, it is a pleasure to contribute so early on to today’s debate. One of my favourite events at Westminster is without doubt the opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech. Many of my constituents tell me the same thing. There are some things in this world that no one can do as well as we British can. When I say that, I very much have in mind the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It reinforces what a privilege it is to be a Member of this House.
I welcome the proposals put forward by Her Majesty’s Government, and I anticipate their execution in the coming year. While many positive steps have been taken to improve the situation of the hard-working people of this country, I cannot help but point out where some policies are conspicuously absent or lacking punch. I will pose some questions in my contribution.
Reports from some medical analysts have shown that the health service faces a bill of an extra £1 billion every year to treat immigrants and asylum seekers. Analysis by Migration Watch UK has found that the cost to the NHS of treating new arrivals with AIDS alone threatens to amount to some £900 million a year. What do the Government intend to do to cut this exorbitant drain on taxpayers’ money by those who are not entitled to free health care and should be paying into the system? What proposals do the Government have to put a halt to the increasing trend of health tourism? Perhaps the Minister could outline in his reply what discussions have been held with his counterparts in the Department of Health to ascertain how the outstanding bills can be paid.
The Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Clare Gerada, has expressed similar concerns about the Health Secretary’s initiative, saying doctors
“must not be the Border Agency”,
and she is right. The Border Agency must be the Border Agency, and the health service must be the health service. The question she poses is how the policy can be enforced. Perhaps the Government will give us some indication of that. What measures, for instance, do the Government have in mind not just to limit health tourism but to retrieve the money spent by the NHS on immigrants not entitled to our free medical care, while not placing an extra burden on our hard-working health workers? Have the Government considered stricter visa applications for those with pre-existing medical conditions, or the reintroduction of embarkation checks to pick up patients leaving with a debt to the NHS? Those are just two steps that could have been taken to address the problem. We must not, of course, create an atmosphere detrimental to our openness to foreign business or hard-working legal immigrants, but we cannot allow the abuse of the system to continue.
Let me provide an example from Northern Ireland, whose Health Minister Edwin Poots has done a fantastic job in alerting the Government to the problems of health tourism in our Province. His findings, which have been reported on “ConservativeHome”, show that up to 80,000 more people could be registered to use the NHS in Northern Ireland than actually live in the Province. Is that possible? If those statistics are true for Northern Ireland—and they are—we clearly have a much greater problem when it comes to the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. What steps will the Government take to address this issue? In Northern Ireland alone, this has the potential to cost the NHS some £250 million.
What do the Government intend to do to prevent citizens from the Republic of Ireland, for instance, travelling to the north of Ireland to use the NHS for free? Are rules and regulations in place? Can this be stopped? Has the Home Office reconsidered the border issue with the Republic, which has numerous facets—not simply health tourism, but education and smuggling?
The Chairman of the Committee for Education in Stormont, Mr Mervyn Storey, has drawn attention to the issue of those who take advantage of the education system without making any contribution to it through their tax or employment. He has expressed his concern about how much this education and health provision to immigrants is costing Northern Ireland.
Nor is it only in Northern Ireland that the education system is being exploited by poorly regulated immigration. Education is one of the most important public services provided by the Government, and it costs the UK over £88 billion a year. Not only are illegal immigrants taking advantage of our primary and secondary education, but Migration Watch UK has highlighted how thousands of foreign students are not leaving once their education visas for university expire. In her first major speech on immigration, the Home Secretary committed herself to restoring faith in the immigration system, but—as some Members have already said, and as others will probably say later—the level of net migration remains unacceptably high. According to MigrationWatch UK, £5 billion was spent on the education of immigrants in 2009. What plans have the Government to prevent immigrants from coming to our country to avail themselves of our world-leading education system and then leaving?
An even more worrying statistic comes from the National Audit Office, which has found that 50,000 bogus students came to the United Kingdom in 2012. By “bogus students”, I mean immigrants who apply for UK student visas but come here to work rather than to study. While praising the efforts of the Home Office, which has closed 600 bogus colleges, I must ask what further measures are being taken to ensure that immigrants who have no intention of studying cannot abuse our visa system, and to track down further bogus colleges. Students are currently departing at a third of the rate at which they are arriving: for every 100 who come here, 66 stay and 33 return.
I welcome the Government’s pledge to introduce a modern slavery and human trafficking Bill. A similar Bill was introduced in Northern Ireland by Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley, and provides a sterling example of how seriously the issue of human trafficking needs to be taken. I respect what the Home Secretary said earlier about how she intends to deal with it, and we will take an honest approach to any measure that the Government introduce. I believe that if it is anything like our Bill in Northern Ireland, which is very specific, it will go a long way towards addressing these matters.
I particularly welcome the clauses in the Bill that will give better protection to child victims, but I feel that more could be done. I think it imperative to ensure that children are fully protected, and that the Bill should have referred explicitly to all the most common possible forms of child trafficking and exploitation. The EU trafficking directive sets out the issues for us. I intervened on the Secretary of State earlier to ask about the prohibition of child exploitation, which is often not recognised by the judiciary. I think it crucial for the Bill to make it clear that children do not need to be coerced or deceived, or to have violence used against them, to be victims of trafficking as set out in internationally agreed definitions. There are definitions throughout Europe, and indeed throughout the world, which we can use as guidelines.
While the provision of personal advocates for trafficked children is welcome, I feel that the Government could do more to protect victims by legislating for all unaccompanied and separated migrant children to have access to independent legal guardians. Language and cultural barriers mean that separated migrant children are less likely to be aware of, and know how to access, their rights as children. Access to guardians could make the position much more acceptable, and could make it easier to help those who need help most at the time when they need it.
I was pleased to note that the Government would introduce a Serious Crime Bill. It is particularly pleasing that the Bill includes a clarification of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to make it explicit that emotional cruelty which is likely to cause psychological harm to a child is an offence. Our current law on neglect is shamefully outdated and inadequate. Embarrassingly, the United Kingdom is one of the only countries in the world that fails to recognise emotional neglect as the crime that it is. Do the Government intend to remedy our country’s shortcomings swiftly and satisfactorily? I hope that the answer will be yes, but how will that happen? The current legislation states ambiguously that cruelty to a child must be “wilful” to be considered a criminal offence. Will the Government ensure that neglect is not too narrowly defined, and replace “wilful” with “intentional”?
While the Serious Crime Bill recognises emotional neglect as a criminal offence, I urge the Government to take further steps to provide earlier and more effective interventions for neglected young people, and to secure the prevention of neglect in general. I should also like to know what steps the Government have in mind to ensure that adolescents who have experienced neglect are adequately supported, and enabled to overcome their earlier experiences and become successful adults.
The issue of borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has highlighted a surge in the number of people who fly to the Republic, cross the border into Northern Ireland, and then take the boat to Scotland carrying cigarettes and other untaxed goods that rob customs, and hence the taxpayer. Last week my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) commented on the loss to the Exchequer of as much as £100 million as a result of that border issue. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what steps are being taken to deal with that.
This is not strictly relevant to today’s debate, but I welcome the Government’s commitment to dealing with the issue of plastic bags. Northern Ireland has been very successful in that regard. The Executive has given £6 million to the Department of the Environment for various projects, and plastic bag use has declined by 80%. That is another example of what happens when good proposals are implemented.
However, I was disappointed by the lack of proposals to implement the Government’s promises of legislation for plain packaging for cigarettes, a subject that arose during Health questions today. There is clear evidence that such a move would greatly help the fight against cancer, and would reduce the number of children who take up smoking—an issue about which I feel very strongly. I do not pose this question directly to the Minister, but I should like it to be recorded in Hansard: why are the Government dragging their heels? I hope that a fear of the tobacco industry has not got the better of them.
I should also like to know what plans the Government have to regulate the new e-cigarette industry. That is an issue that arises every day, and we feel some concern about it. The new product has not yet been subjected to the rigorous tests undergone by other approved nicotine replacement therapies such as patches and gum, which could ensure its safety and effectiveness. An estimated 2.1 million adults in Great Britain use electronic cigarettes. We need regulation, and we need the product to be tested.
I must observe the time limit that you suggested, Madam Deputy Speaker, so that others will have an opportunity to speak. I am anxious for well-deserved praise to be given to the Government for measures such as the solidification of the married tax allowance, which my party has supported along with the Conservative party, but I must also emphasise that much more can and must be accomplished during the coming year.
The debate has been very interesting so far. In my speech, I shall take up the theme of immigration, which I think has been the central issue today. Let me say first, however, that I do not consider this to be a zombie Parliament. I think that some very important pieces of legislation are being introduced. There are some with which I do not agree and for which I will not vote—such as the recall Bill, which undermines parliamentary sovereignty—but others are fantastically important, such as the Serious Crime and Modern Slavery Bills.
I am inordinately proud of this Government’s achievements, in view of the very difficult financial inheritance and legacy that we were left by the last Government. That was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). We are building a sustainable economy, and moving 5 million people from out-of-work benefits into meaningful work. In my opinion, the fact that more than 1,000 people in my constituency were parked on incapacity benefit in 2010 constitutes a badge of shame. We are now developing university technical colleges for technical and vocational education, all over the country. We are opening new free schools and academies, and creating new apprenticeship programmes.
They are not bogus, as my hon. Friend said. I think it unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman should denigrate young people who are, in good faith, seeking to improve their life chances and skills by taking worthwhile courses. If he can suggest any alternative, let him do so, but in 13 years the Labour party did very little to tackle the issues. It was happy to leave thousands, if not millions, of young people innumerate and illiterate when they left secondary school, and primary school, too.
We are focusing on infrastructure; we are reforming welfare; and we are reducing the deficit, which is the major imperative for the nation. I pay tribute to the Liberal Democrats for being far-sighted enough to join us in our efforts to do what was right for our country and our constituents, rather than aiming for short-term, partisan party advantage.
Listening to the shadow Home Secretary’s speech was a pitiful experience. Rolling out examples of Passport Office failures does not speak of a party which, in 11 months’ time, will seek to govern this country. It is bandwagon jumping, and it is pitiful that it does not have a more coherent home affairs programme to put before the House, not least because it is the party that told us 15,000 Polish people would come to the UK after 2004, and it was only out by a factor of about 100. It completely underestimated the numbers that were coming to this country. It is the party that is not believed on immigration. Some 77% of people say that it is a very important concern to them, and the only reason the Labour party is interested in it now is because of the election results in places like Doncaster and elsewhere across the country, where its own core blue-collar, working-class vote does not believe it and does not believe that it has the solutions to deal, long term in a sustainable way, with the problem that it created when in government, which was open-door, unrestricted, unfettered immigration. Incidentally, we will not take any lectures from a party that lost both a Minister of State and a Home Secretary because of its cack-handed mismanagement of the immigration system when it was last in government.
I am not wholly critical of the Labour party, however, because we heard a very considered, erudite and typically thoughtful speech from the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). He touched on an important point. The issue of immigration can be almost directly linked to a feeling of a crisis of authority and to the estrangement of ordinary people—voters who are not that interested in the minutiae of politics—and the lack of faith and trust that they have in the political system. That is a function of the European Union and of how distant and unaccountable it is, but it is also a function of the fact that they do not believe in the institutions of our country to get things done in a timely way that affects their lives for the better. The right hon. Gentleman was right to make that point.
The Government have done a good job in very difficult circumstances. They were right to concentrate on reducing the net migration figure as a policy priority. I hope they achieve that, and at least they are trying. Interestingly, when the shadow Home Secretary was grilled by John Humphrys on the “Today” programme a few weeks ago, she was big on motherhood and apple pie, saying we should reduce immigration, but she was not specific on whether Labour would adhere to any target number. It is incumbent upon a responsible Opposition to offer proper alternatives, and she was somewhat remiss in that respect.
We have clamped down on bogus colleges; we are doing something about health tourism; and we are also looking at access to benefits, English language skills and the income earnings threshold—all policy issues that could have been looked at and acted upon in the previous Parliament.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). He has been largely a lonely voice over a number of years in voicing these issues. Some people came close in the past to as good as calling him and others xenophobic or racist for doing so, but he has been proved right. It is important that we have a proper, balanced and reasonable debate on the level—the unprecedented scale—of migration. Between 2004 and 2011, 34,000 people came to my constituency and were granted national insurance numbers. In two schools in my constituency no children speak English as their first language, and there are over 40 schools where the rate is well over 50%. That is an issue of resources and resource allocation, and it is very important. It is nothing to do with xenophobia or racism. It is about keeping the bargain of trust and faith with our constituents.
That brings me on to my European Union Free Movement Directive 2004 (Disapplication) Bill, a ten-minute rule Bill that I put to the House in October 2012. I think that in many respects I was ahead of my time. I will put my cards on the table: I am a member of Better off Out and I will campaign actively to leave the EU, but I will respect whatever decision the British people take when we have a referendum under a majority Conservative Government in 2017. However, I respectfully say to the Government that they need to look at what I was proposing in that Bill 18 months or so ago, which was not to rip up the free movement directive. It is not a tablet of stone; it is not a holy grail. It is a piece of living European law. The Spanish looked at registration controls—registration when people entered the country, when they changed jobs, when they married, when they had children—as a way of reducing the pull factor, and we should be looking at that, too, complementing and building on the announcements we have already made and the regulations we have laid on matters such as welfare tourism and access to social housing.
I ask the Prime Minister to look at that again and perhaps to introduce further regulations that finesse and nuance the free movement directive, not because we are xenophobic—not because we do not want decent, hard-working Polish citizens, Lithuanians and people from the Czech Republic coming to our country, contributing and adding to the variety and diversity of the country—but because many of the people we represent are concerned about large-scale immigration and the length of time that it has been going on.
That is a fair question, but many of them are older and are very unlikely to need to go to accident and emergency or their maternity unit. Many of them are unlikely to be putting their grandchildren in primary schools, too. There is a balance to be struck between the use of public services and the resources needed.
I accept that the hon. Gentleman might have touched on an important issue in that there are hot spots in respect of such demands, however. In my constituency we have food processing, agriculture, horticulture, packaging and logistics, and younger people will come over with their partners and have children and there will be a big strain on schools, but I accept that might not be the case in the west country or the south of England. It will only be the case in hot spots. One of the things that the Government need to do is reboot the migration impact forum, specifically to assist local authorities. One issue is the number of children who come into a school but are gone at the end of the academic year, for instance. The Government need to look at this.
The Government also need to ensure that everyone who comes to this country is properly exercising their treaty obligations. That is all we are asking. We need to do some work on contributory pensions with the Germans and other key partners.
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point, although it is a hypothetical situation, as I think the people of Scotland are sensible enough to vote the right way on 18 September and reject the narrow chauvinistic nationalism of the Scottish National party. They know which side their bread is buttered on, and they will remain part of our great United Kingdom.
I strongly welcome the Modern Slavery Bill. We in Peterborough and the fens have seen some very unpleasant, distressing and nasty cases of modern slavery around agriculture and horticulture. We have seen the ghastly conditions some people have been forced to live in, the way they have been physically maltreated and assaulted, the way they have been lied to and traduced and cajoled into a terrible lifestyle—a twilight world of abuse—by some pretty unscrupulous criminal gangs. One of the enduring legacies of our Government, which we will proudly defend our record on next May, is this Modern Slavery Bill, because we believe politics is in many respects a moral imperative, and, for us, if we rescue even one person from this ghastly twilight world, we will have succeeded.
I therefore think it is right that we are targeting individuals, but we need to look at the poor conditions that some of those individuals are housed in, too. We need to look at section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which some local authorities are using to tidy up neighbourhoods that are affected by these slum houses.
I pay tribute to Anthony Steen, the former Member for Totnes, for the fantastic work that he has done over the years. He was leading, encouraging and proselytising on this issue eight years ago, before it became fashionable. He has done a great job, and I hope that the Bill will be a testament to him. We have made good progress in this area, but there is more to do. The watchwords of the legislation should be “tough but fair”. We need better collaborative working with other European Union countries and better inter-agency working. The Bill represents an excellent start, and the Ministers involved should be very proud of their efforts.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), as we are both alumni of the London Nautical school, albeit a few years apart. I leave it to Members to judge what has happened to the educational standards there since I left, but it is a pleasure to follow him. This is the first time that I, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), have spoken in the Chamber in the past couple of years in a debate without a time limit on Back-Bench speeches. Nevertheless, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am aware of your exhortation and I shall attempt to be as brief as I can.
I am not sure whether this Queen’s Speech is the final act of this Government or the epilogue. It is patently clear that it is not designed for a full Session of Parliament; it is not a full programme at all. Given the provisions for five-year Parliaments, this Parliament will be dissolved at the end of March, so this is a programme for little more than nine months, including the times when the House is in recess.
The Queen’s Speech contains some welcome measures—I cannot think of any Queen’s Speech introduced by any Government that did not contain some welcome measures—although the devil will be in the detail, and more information needs to be obtained. The Modern Slavery Bill, which the Home Secretary and others have mentioned, commands universal support across the House, and we can only hope that it will have the desired effect.
The measures relating to child care costs will also be welcome, provided they do not merely translate into increased prices from the providers of child care, as has been the case in the past. I also welcome the further reforms to pensions, although we should tread warily, given the history of mis-selling of pension products once that market had been liberalised. I also note that the Government intend to introduce a more collective approach to pensions, along the lines of the system currently operating in the Netherlands. My understanding, however, is that the Netherlands Government are considering changing their scheme. We must also bear in mind the fact that the contributors to that scheme pay substantially more than people in this country are used to contributing to their pensions. None the less, I am sure that we can make progress in that regard.
Other measures are more contentious, even though this Queen’s Speech is very thin. The infrastructure Bill will contain measures on fracking, and the Government are engaged in a three-month consultation period on that at the moment. There are those who are opposed to fossil fuels, full stop, and who would never accept the case for fracking, even if it were totally safe for the environment and for residents. However, there is always a conflict in which the broader national interest is set against legitimate local concerns. Everyone will be keen to see the results of the Government’s consultation.
Further controversy might arise over the proposed levy on plastic carrier bags, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said. I would have thought that such a proposal would have registered as one of Lynton Crosby’s barnacles, yet it still seems to be in the Queen’s Speech. We must assess the environmental impact of 7 billion bags being used each year. If the Bill’s objective is achieved, I am not sure who will get the income from the levy. I suspect that it will simply save the supermarkets an awful lot of money and increase their sales of bin-liners, because that is what most people use their plastic carrier bags for, but we shall have to wait and see how events unfold.
It was a delight to hear Her Majesty say the words “plastic carrier bags”, but I am sure that that is not the reason why they were put into the Queen’s Speech. Money will be raised from the levy initially, although I believe that it will deter people from using such bags in the longer term. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this will provide the supermarkets with an opportunity to direct that money towards some kind of social networking or community action groups within their areas, in order to support local communities?
The charitable and philanthropic activities of the supermarkets are of course to be welcomed wherever they occur; most supermarkets have community schemes of some kind. There is a paradox involved, however. If the aim of this tax, levy or cost—whatever we care to call it—is to reduce demand, very little income will be generated by it. I was as amazed as everyone else to hear Her Majesty utter the words “plastic carrier bags”, as I am not sure how often she comes across such things, but it was not clear whether the objective of the measure is to depress demand or to raise revenue. We will discover from the details whether it will be beneficial. I openly confess that the first job I ever had was in my local supermarket. In those days, we had nothing so glamorous as plastic carrier bags. We had brown paper bags with handles that almost invariably came off when anyone put more than a couple of tins of beans in them.
The hon. Member for Peterborough mentioned the proposed recall provisions—the so-called recall provisions. I think they are inadequate; they do not command a wide degree of public trust. I have also seen early-day motion 25, tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), and that does not make much sense either, even though he is a stern critic of the Government’s proposals. Far more consideration needs to be given to this matter. We need to reach a conclusion that will be workable and viable, and that will command public support.
I am deeply disappointed by the absence of one measure from the Queen’s Speech, despite a previous indication from the Prime Minister that it would be included. The absence of a commitment to ban the use of wild animals in circuses is extremely disappointing, especially as the Prime Minister pledged that action would be taken when he met a delegation from various animal welfare charities in April this year. This measure might well be one of Lynton Crosby’s barnacles that the Government have rejected, but it is undeniably extremely popular with the public and I cannot understand why the Government do not just introduce this simple measure, given that it has such widespread public support.
In the light of that, I have today tabled the following early-day motion:
“That this House is deeply disappointed that the Gracious Speech did not contain measures to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, despite repeated pledges from Ministers that action would be taken; notes that since the House of Commons voted unanimously in favour of a ban in 2011 big cats have returned to Britain and is concerned that the continued delay may lead to other wild species being forced to perform in circuses; further notes that the draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill has already been scrutinised by the Environment and Rural Affairs Committee; supports Animal Defenders International and other animal welfare organisations in their ongoing campaign to end this outdated practice and calls on the Government to introduce legislation to ensure a ban can be introduced during the current session.”
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a great shame that the Government have not included such a measure in the Queen’s Speech. Will he join me in encouraging Government Members present today to take back the message that the Government should at the very least provide a hand-out Bill to a Member who has been successful in the ballot for private Members’ Bills? In that way, we might just get this into legislation.
My hon. Friend’s suggestion sounds as though it has the virtues of brevity and simplicity, but unfortunately, given the technicalities of such a Bill, I do not think that it would get through the private Members’ Bill procedure. I speak as one who was responsible for the Government’s private Members’ business for a number of years. If that were the only route that could be adopted, however, such a Bill would deserve as much support as possible and the Government should give an undertaking to give it whatever support they could, perhaps along the lines of the support that they gave to the European Union (Referendum) Bill last year. The signatories to my early-day motion come from all parts of the House, and I am sure that it will generate support.
Although it does not feature in specific legislation, the economy features prominently in the Queen’s Speech and it would be churlish not to admit that the recent narrative on the economy has moved in the Government’s favour. It is easy to forget, however, that the Chancellor’s original five-year plan said that by now the deficit would have disappeared and we would be paying off debt. Of course we are not doing either. Debt is growing at an unprecedented rate; the Government are now borrowing more money than the Labour Government did in the previous 13 years. The old five-year plans in the Soviet Union were rewritten every year, and that is rather what the Government have done.
Even what economic good news there is has been based on a couple of questionable propositions, not the least of which is quantitative easing, as it is now called. It used to be called printing money. It has robbed savers of millions of pounds, the full effect of which we will not see for some time. These are unorthodox fiscal measures. The housing bubble is not an unqualified good either for people in London and my constituents or people in other parts of the country. It is a huge problem for the children of my constituents who are trying to buy property in London for the first time, and it is skewing the economic recovery.
Beyond the measures that I have mentioned, the Queen’s Speech is thin, bordering on anorexic. That is because the most significant political developments in the next nine months or so will take place not just outside this Chamber but outside this building. I highlight just three. The first is the referendum in Scotland. However it turns out, I am certain that there will need to be a major reconsideration of how the United Kingdom is organised. If the result is against the nationalist case, we will need as a minimum to resolve the West Lothian question in a durable and sensible fashion. I do not wish to intrude, but my position is rather similar to that of David Bowie and Barack Obama, although as the President said the other day, it is a matter for the folks up there.
The second political development is EU reform. I am glad that all three major party leaders in the House have agreed that Mr Juncker is not an appropriate appointment as President of the EU. My fear is that he represents a strain of Eurocrats—I am never sure whether the phrase is derived from bureaucrat or aristocrat, which is certainly how they behave—who fail to understand the feeling of a large swathe of people right across the nations of the EU. They have the gravest disillusionment and doubt about the efficacy and efficiency of the organisation, and those who simply swing on as if nothing has happened and behave as if the project has an inevitability and momentum entirely of its own fail to understand what we need. I hope that we will have a candidate who will more readily reflect those priorities.
I will be candid, Madam Deputy Speaker; I am a member of the Labour for a referendum campaign. I do not accept the artificial timetable that the Conservatives have instituted of 2017. I think there should be a reform process and once it has reached a decision, whenever that might be, a package should be put to the British people for their approval. After all, the only referendum we have ever had on membership of what was then the European Economic Community was provided by a Labour Government.
Once the process is complete; once progress has been made and it has been established that there is no further progress to be made. Putting down the finishing line before you have described the course is a ridiculous proposition and it was designed wholly and solely—I sat on the European Union (Referendum) Bill Committee—to keep Conservative Back Benchers happy. That is all it was.
As everyone knows, the other facet of the coalition Government is that the Prime Minister has spent more time rowing with his Back Benchers than he has ever done with the Liberal Democrats. That is the point that I want to come to now—the separation of the coalition. It has already unravelled so we will just see how the parting of the ways occurs.
In the European and local elections of the week before last, the biggest losers by a mile were the Liberals. I am delighted to say that in my constituency we also resisted firmly, as they did across London, the blandishments of UKIP. There are no Liberal councillors now in the London borough of Lewisham or the London borough of Bromley, and no Tory councillors in the London borough of Lewisham for the first time in history, but that is another consideration. So we feel that we did quite well in our small corner.
The reason why the Liberal Democrats were almost wholly obliterated in large parts of the country is that people do not know what they stand for any more. They used to be the party of “a plague on all your houses”. UKIP has supplanted them in that, so what purpose do they have? The answer in most people’s estimation is precious little. I heard a defeated Liberal councillor say, “We need to get out and get our message across more clearly.” I think it is the other way round. I think they went out with their message and people understood it and rejected it. That is the truth of where they are. There is no automaticity about recovery between now and the election. I shall miss some of them, though. There was a fabulous anti-war song by Roy Orbison back in the ’60s called “There won’t be many coming home.” When I look at the Liberal Benches now, I think to myself that after the next election there won’t be many coming back.
No, I wouldn’t.
A lot of people said that the coalition would not last. I always thought that it would, and so it has proved, but the most intriguing question was always going to be how it disengaged. The Conservatives have worked themselves into a position in which they will get the credit for anything that, rightly or wrongly, is perceived to have gone right, and the Liberals will get all the blame, and that bodes ill for them.
We are exactly where we are, but the position is exacerbated by the Liberals promising to do one thing before an election and doing the total reverse afterwards. They cannot get away with behaving in that fashion and people do have memories and will exercise their judgment in the light of that. It will be hugely entertaining in the next few months to see how the coalition parties defend the coalition but attack each other. They will do so more and more ferociously as next May beckons.
Lord Ashcroft has embarked on an expensive round of weekly polls, principally on behalf of the Conservative party, although to give him his due, he makes them freely available to anyone who wants to read them. The polls have shown a number of changes just in the past week between the three parties. Perhaps we are in three or perhaps we are in four-party politics. I think that we may be in three-party politics in so far as UKIP has supplanted the Liberal Democrats in the national political scene. We will wait for it all to unravel. We are in for an intriguing and exciting time, but one thing is certain—this coalition will end with a whimper, not a bang.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this important debate. Often in this House we debate matters that self-evidently divide us, but I wish to focus my remarks on two aspects of Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech that are likely to unite us.
The Modern Slavery Bill represents the first of its kind across Europe and it sends a strong message internationally that the UK is leading the way in putting an end to modern slavery. Others in the House and outside have been far more involved than me in the journey to bring this important legislation before the House. I see sitting across the House the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and I would also mention the former Member of Parliament Anthony Steen. Both of them are notable individuals who have done so much in this area. The matter goes right through Government—from the Minister for modern slavery who has been appointed, to the Home Secretary. The Prime Minister himself feels strongly and passionately about the importance of progressing this Bill. It is a credit to all that we see it included in the Queen’s Speech.
It is, of course, impossible for any of us here to imagine how deeply traumatic the experiences must be for the many victims of modern slavery and what they have endured. I have read accounts, as I am sure many others have, of young women and children being drugged, beaten and forced into prostitution and taken to a land a long way from their home. Those stories are compelling and deeply moving.
Turning to the details of the Bill, which I warmly welcome, I think that progress has been made since it was published in December 2013. The first development is that slavery victims who are vulnerable witnesses will automatically have access to support in giving evidence. There is a wider debate about how victims more broadly are supported when giving evidence in criminal cases, and the passage of this Bill will be very timely and enable us further to explore that important aspect. The last thing anybody wants is for a victim of slavery, who has already been through so much, to find the trauma of giving evidence any more difficult than it needs to be.
The second point is about ensuring that victims get reparations from the trafficker or from their slavemaster for the abuse they have suffered. The justice that we all seek in the case of traffickers must, in a modern, compassionate society, be balanced by the need to help victims rebuild their lives. Obviously, that is not just a financial point—far from it—but we need to stand up as a country and a society and support those victims in the difficult passage they will have in rebuilding their lives and moving on.
Thirdly, there must be connections between agencies in the work that will be required. The Bill now includes a requirement for public authorities to notify any information they have about potential victims of modern slavery. That responsibility to share information is very appropriate and takes us further along the path towards improved contributions by and work across agencies. Finally, the creation of an anti-slavery commissioner has to be right. It is an important development and will ensure that investigations and prosecutions are as effective and progressive as possible. It creates the leadership necessary to implement these changes.
With world leaders having gathered on the beaches of Normandy last week to commemorate the D-day landings and mark the bravery and sacrifice of so many for future generations, it is worth reflecting that the whole purpose of the landings was to ensure the future freedom of this country, so it is quite poignant that, in the Queen’s Speech debate, we seek to support and bring freedom to those victims in our society who are held against their will and who suffer so much at the hands of others. The Modern Slavery Bill is legislation of which the Home Secretary and the whole House will in time, I am sure, be extremely proud.
I turn now to the proposed changes to the law on child neglect. I disclose my interest as a family law barrister who has spent over 12 years representing and working with vulnerable families, often at times of crisis. It has been a sad feature of the family and civil courts that, until now, when severe neglect and emotional harm suffered by children is an aspect of a case there has been no prospect of the perpetrators being pursued in the criminal courts. Once the changes come into effect, that will change. Society has moved on a great deal since the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and the law needs to reflect that. I have no doubt that by extending the criminal law to cover not only physical but emotional harm to children, we will not reduce the seriousness of the crime. It is the just and right thing to do.
To clarify, this is not about children who are a bit unhappy or who have fallen out with their mum and dad. Child neglect is far more serious and has to do with a long-term emotional impact on children living in an environment where they have been subjected to physical violence, perhaps sexual violence or suffered extreme neglect, such as malnutrition, inadequate living conditions or a lack of medical care. Many MPs and charities have campaigned for the change. I note, in particular, the work of Action for Children, a charity with which I have worked for many years on different topics and which has led the campaign extremely effectively.
The hon. Lady is making a very thoughtful and interesting speech. Will she put it on the record that she shares our disappointment, as I am sure she does, that the number of convictions for child cruelty has fallen in recent years? It was 720 in 2009 and only 553 in 2013. Although, of course, the changes are to be welcomed, the overall conviction rate has gone down.
I am grateful for that intervention. What we have before us is the means to change things and at last bring criminal law into line with civil law—a change that is due and that will be effective, and I have no doubt that prosecution rates will reflect that.
The proposed changes do two important things. First, as I said in response to the hon. Lady, it allows the criminal law to catch up, if I can put it that way, with civil law, where the definition of emotional harm is well accepted, and the test of significant harm includes emotional abuse. Secondly, there will be consistency between our civil law and criminal law as to the definition of child neglect, which is of great importance. Society’s understanding of child development and the impact on children of harm by those who care for them has come on leaps and bounds since the 1933 Act. By implementing this change in the months ahead we can be confident we are taking a positive step to assist vulnerable children across our country.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee), who may have one of the most unusual-sounding constituencies. She must be commended for her work on modern slavery and on children in particular.
I want to address what we now refer to as “the Scotland bit” in the Queen’s Speech. We are always grateful to Her Majesty for acknowledging Scotland in her Gracious Speech; it usually comes about two thirds of the way through, and again this year we were not disappointed. In the Queen’s Speech Her Majesty confirmed that her Government will
“make the case for Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 June 2014; Vol. 754, c. 4.]
No surprise there; that is what we would expect her to say. In fact, it would have been quite remarkable had she said something else. Imagine if, for example, she had said, “I look forward to my subjects in Scotland securing the normal powers of an independent nation. I look forward to them enjoying the resources that will make their country one of the most dynamic and prosperous in the world.” Of course, she did not say that. Her Majesty knows, as we all know in Scotland, that the whole range of facilities available to this Government and this House will be pitted against Scotland in the next few months to try to influence the vote.
All the donors and cronies down the corridor will be engaged in trying to make sure that Scotland remains in the United Kingdom. All the resources available to all the Opposition parties will be engaged in ensuring that Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom. All of Whitehall, all Government Committees and all Select Committees will be engaged in trying to ensure that Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom. I am one of six Scottish National party Members, so I am very much aware of the range of forces pitted against us. Out of 650 Members of the House there are maybe 10 of us calling for Scottish independence, and thank goodness for the hon. Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie), who has now joined the call. If we add the 800 Members from down the corridor, there are 1,400 Westminster parliamentarians who are against Scottish independence versus the six of us. That seems like reasonable odds to me. It is reasonably fair. What we have to do now is recognise, as the Queen did in the Speech, that the entire resources of Westminster—the whole of the House of Commons and the whole House of Lords—will be ranged against Scotland. Last week they even enlisted Lego figures in their fight to stop Scotland becoming independent, to much laughter and ridicule.
In the Scotland bit of her speech, Her Majesty confirmed that the Government
“will continue to implement new financial powers for the Scottish Parliament”.
These are not the new financial powers that the Prime Minister apparently signed up to only last week. These are the remaining consequential issues from the Scotland Act 2012 that need to be tidied up.
More devolution is all the rage in Scotland. We cannot walk around one of our big cities without tripping over some Unionist or UK commission looking into the issue. It is like the proverbial buses all turning up at once. It has got me and all the other people in Scotland wondering why they are doing it now. Is it anything to do with the prospect of a referendum on independence? Surely not. Yet that is almost certainly the case. It is curious because our Unionist friends did everything to keep a “more powers” option off the ballot paper for the referendum in September. They would give us anything else, such as the right to administer the referendum. They even allowed us to frame the question. It is we who were in charge of the franchise. The one thing they did not want was a “more powers” option on the ballot paper. Now we are expected to accept that they are sincere in delivering all these shiny new powers, when they did so much to keep them off the ballot paper. There are two things that we say about that: “Aye. Right. Fool us once and we’ll blame you. Fool us twice and it’s our fault.”
Might not the logic be to expose the fact that what has been offered by the Scottish National party was the lunacy of independence, as against staying within the Union where we could negotiate changes, and to expose the paucity of the hon. Gentleman’s argument that independence might be better for the people of Scotland, whereas we know that it would be a disaster for them?
The hon. Gentleman has his own view, but why not offer the option on the ballot paper? There was accommodation with the Scottish Government about that. We were quite happy and relaxed about a third question being put forward. The Scottish people should always get what they want. That is my view and I am sure it is the hon. Gentleman’s view, so the question could have appeared on the ballot paper, but it was rejected. It was the one thing that the Government did not want included.
We have been here before. The hon. Gentleman will remember this. It was in my own constituency—Alec Douglas-Home trooping up to Perth city hall in 1979. What did he say to the Scottish people? “Vote no and we’ll give you something better. We’ll give you a better Parliament” than was on offer in 1979. What did we get? Eighteen years of Thatcherism, the destruction of our industrial base, and Tory obscenities like the poll tax. We will not be fooled by that again.
One of the funny consequences of all this—it is quite ironic—is that the party that so defiantly opposed the Scottish Parliament in any form of Scottish devolution is now the party of more devolution. It has made a more substantial offer than the party of devolution, the Labour party. We might be in the ridiculous situation whereby in the next Parliament, Labour Members oppose a Conservative Government offering many more powers than they ever intended to offer. Incredible, but that may be the case.
There is only one way for the Scottish Parliament to get more powers. There is only one way to ensure we get the powers that Scotland needs, and that is to vote yes in the independence referendum. If we do not, we leave it up to this House. We leave it up to the largesse of predominantly English Members to give us more powers. I know lots of English Members. Some of them are very good friends of mine. I do not detect a mood around the House that if Scotland votes no, they will rush in to give us more powers to reward us. I get the sense that they are much more interested in issues such as the Barnett formula. They believe their own propaganda and are concerned that Scotland gets more than the rest of their English regions. They are more concerned about that than about giving us power over income tax or more powers over welfare.
The other thing that consumes English Members is the West Lothian question about what Scottish Members could do here. Maybe it is just me, but I do not see a groundswell of English Members of Parliament queuing up to reward Scotland for turning down the prospect of independence. They are more likely to be thinking, “Scotland’s had its chance. It’s time for my region for a change.”
Other than the Scotland stuff, there were no other constitutional issues in the Queen’s Speech. That means that we will leave this Parliament with the House of Lords commanding the same position in our democracy as when the great reforming Liberals took part in government. What a disgrace. That unelected, crony-stuffed, donor-inhabited affront to democracy will remain in the same condition as when we came into Parliament.
The Liberals had lots of red lines when it came to the constitutional debate. I am not blaming the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) personally, although he is looking at me as though I am. They could have made much more of reforming the House of Lords. They went for AV—the inconsequential mouse of a reform measure—when they could have done something about that place, so we are left with it. In his parting shot, the Liberals’ Lord Oakeshott hinted that cash for honours is still very much a feature of securing a place next door. It is an absurd place and I hope that the next Queen’s Speech will enable us to do something about that affront to democracy. This Government this time round have done nothing.
Some have described the Queen’s Speech this year as a speech for a zombie Parliament. If it is a zombie Parliament, it must be a phantom Queen’s Speech, because it does not address the political dynamic that exists throughout the United Kingdom, what is going on and what should be debated. A few Members have said that. I think I am the only Member to raise the subject of UKIP. The party won an election a couple of weeks ago and made significant gains. Nobody wants to talk about UKIP here. Nobody will address the issue of what it has done. UKIP is pulling the strings of this Government and they are responding in the only way they know how—pandering to UKIP’s agenda instead of challenging it.
I am much more interested in what Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition are going to do. I challenged the shadow Home Secretary on that today. They are at a defining point. They are at a critical and crucial moment. The Labour party has two choices in relation to the immigration/UKIP agenda. It can challenge the assumptions that it is based on, do something about it, take it on, risk not being the favourite of the right-wing press and maybe alienating a few voters who have bought into this pernicious agenda; or it can pander to it and accommodate it.
I have seen the letters from Labour Members encouraging the party leadership to accommodate the UKIP agenda and saying that it could be addressed. They must reject it, stand tall and do the right thing. I know it is difficult sometimes for the Labour party to do this but it must offer leadership. If the Opposition offer leadership on immigration and challenge UKIP on its agenda, they will get my support. I will help them out. But they must not give in to it. They are in a critical position on the immigration/UKIP question. Don’t blow it, Labour. The nation is watching. Labour cannot face two ways on this—it either takes UKIP on or accommodates it. I very much hope Labour does the right thing.
Labour has let itself be bullied by the Tories and UKIP. It is appalling. Labour has been bullied into apologising for its years of immigration. That is one of the best things the Labour Government did and I cannot believe that the Opposition have been bullied like this. Stand up to them, for goodness sake! They should not be afraid to say that they got it right on immigration. It has been fantastic for the whole of the United Kingdom. It has made the city we are in one of the greatest cities in the world. Only about 30% of the people who live and work in London came from this place; the rest are from overseas. What has immigration done for us, as Monty Python might have asked? Look at this place and see what it has achieved, then try and argue that immigration is not good. Come on, Labour. Get on with it. Stand up to them and do the right thing.
I shall deal quickly with Home Office issues, few of which affect Scotland. We are practically independent when it comes to policing and judiciary arrangements. Thank goodness for that. When the Home Secretary turns up to the Police Federation for their annual meeting, she is booed, jeered and shouted down. Then I see our Cabinet Secretary turning up to the Scottish Police Federation and being cheered to the rafters for what we are doing for police officers in Scotland, compared with what this lot are doing here.
I welcome the Modern Slavery Bill. Even though it is for England and Wales only, I hope it is successful and I pay tribute to the many Members who have spoken in support of the measure. In Scotland we have our own people-trafficking Bill and we will continue to work with the UK on the matter, particularly in areas such as extra-territorial intervention and maritime policing.
Legislative consent motions will be required for some of the measures in the serious crime Bill, and I know that again, my colleagues in the Scottish Government will work closely with the Home Office to ensure a co-ordinated response to serious crime. But Scottish National party Members want more than that. Grateful as we are to Her Majesty, we want more than the Scotland bit. It is great that in every Session of Parliament it is included, and we look forward to it, but we do not want the insignificant wee bits here and there, the bits of Bills that apply to Scotland. We want a legislative programme for Scotland in the interests of the people according to our agenda and our priorities. We do not want to be dictated to by a Government for whom we did not vote. That is what we will get on 18 September. That is what the Scottish people will vote for.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I have been desperately trying to think of something that I could agree with him on at the start of my remarks, but we will just have to let that pass.
I support the provisions in the Queen’s Speech. There is a great deal in it about modern slavery, about child protection, on which we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee), and about trafficking. In particular, there is a great deal about cybercrime and strengthening the legislation around disabling IT systems. We need a reorientation in the criminal justice system to address that issue, which is a massive and growing problem that threatens not only financial loss but organisations’ economic stability.
Of the 11 Bills in the Queen’s Speech, I want principally to address my remarks to those on pensions tax and private pensions, and the Bill on infrastructure and what it means for our energy security and for fracking. The pensions legislation was described by the Prime Minister as the centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech, which in many ways it is. It is hard to think of an issue that affects so many people so much as what they will have to spend in retirement. We have systematic under-provision of retirement income throughout the country. There is a rule of thumb that says that pensioners are divided into three slugs of a third each. One third broadly has some kind of public sector pension, possibly not enough, but nearly always more generous than the next third, who are broadly in some kind of private sector scheme. Increasingly, the gold-plated private sector schemes have been closed, but even those people are better off than the final third who have no provision at all. The pension reforms in the Queen’s Speech, and lately in Parliament, have addressed those last two-thirds.
In the comparison between public and private pensions—this is not a dig at public pension provision; we need good and generous provision—it is worth reflecting on the fact that a pension that is inflation-proofed at around £15,000 per annum would cost £400,000 to purchase in the private sector. Virtually no one can do that. The average pension pot in the private sector is about £35,000. A problem is about to hit us.
The structural issue in the UK comes of a policy point versus the EU. We have chosen to pay relatively low pensions to people on the assumption that they will be topped up by the private sector. Nearly every other country in Europe has chosen not to go down that route but has higher provision. The Pensions Minister has made some progress in addressing that. We have paid £40 billion per annum tax relief into the pension system to mitigate this problem, but it has not worked and it is not working. There is a massive distrust of the pension system among the punters out there. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that they would rather bite off their right arm than invest in a pension. Typically, that is because there is a view that so much goes in charges. There has been a market failure. For a pension pot, about 30% or 40% can go on charges, and the provisions need to address that.
The same is true of annuities. Until quite recently, pensioners have been buying annuities without going on the open market. There have been inconsistent and inappropriate products. In my constituency, about 1,200 people per annum are buying an annuity, of whom more than a half are buying the wrong product. That is just wrong. This is compounded by the auto-enrolment initiative and its success, making the need for action even stronger.
The Government have introduced legislation to allow small pots to be combined; they have provided a cap on pension charges at 0.75%, half the amount the Opposition had in terms of stakeholder provisions; they have dramatically and structurally changed the annuity rules so that annuities no longer need to be taken out, which has burst the whole market wide open; and they have removed many of the abusive features of pension funds, such as active market discounts whereby pensioners who remain in a pension fund having left the company pay more in charges. Most interestingly, in this Queen’s Speech they have brought forward a collective defined contribution idea, which is a paraphrase of the Dutch solution, to try to make progress on costs. Broadly, the assumption there is that there is a collectivisation of risk with pension schemes coming together with the idea that costs will be reduced, which I very much hope happens. There is evidence that in Holland the average pension is 20% to 25% higher than in the UK. The collective schemes may be one reason for that, and another is a much higher propensity to use passive investments. I very much welcome what is going on in that area.
It is worth pointing out that in Holland these collective schemes, which are brought forward in the Queen’s Speech, tend to be industry-specific. Pensioners share the risk, but there is also an element by which pensioners can be penalised, even after they have retired, something which is not currently allowed in UK law. There is therefore an intergenerational issue to be fixed there, but it is an important first step, which I support.
In summary, the Government have addressed some of the issues in the pensions industry, including under-provision in the private sector, but there will remain a massive problem, which I have not talked about at length. The £40 billion of tax relief that we have put into the pension system is to a large extent misdirected, and at some point some Government will have to address that and make progress on it.
The Infrastructure Bill, and the encouragement it gives to the exploitation of unconventional gas, either coal gas or shale gas, is important in relation to the three tenets of our energy policy—decarbonisation, lower cost and security of supply. We hear a lot about whether we should frack. Is it important that we do so? We talk as though it is an option, as though no one else is fracking.
The world has changed when it comes to fracking. It changed about five years ago when the United States went into the industry at great velocity. That changed our entire energy supply market. It is now a net exporter of energy and gas, as opposed to an importer. That has implications for its foreign policy—what it does in the gulf of Arabia and all that goes with that—but even more important in terms of how it relates to us is the fact that now its chemical feedstock and electricity costs are one-third of what ours are in the UK. That is a massive competitive change; it is a game-changer. The consequence of that is not necessarily whole businesses immediately moving from here or from Germany to America; it is rather that a new unit or distillation plant in Teesside or the north west will now be built by global companies in America to take advantage of costs that are one-third—not 10%—cheaper than ours. We have to address this situation.
I do not know about my hon. Friend’s constituents, but this week alone I have received more than 100 letters from mine who are concerned about fracking. Does he accept that the Government need to do more to convince British people of the need for fracking, and what is his constituents’ perception of fracking?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I accept that we need to do more to convince people that we need fracking; that is one of the reasons I am making a speech about it. It is a little bit about leadership—if we think something is the right answer, we go with it.
I do not want to say that there are no environmental issues associated with fracking, and of course it is important that we frack in the right areas; there will be some places where we should not frack and some places where we should. All that is true, but it is not a reason to turn our backs on this industry. The case that I am putting to my hon. Friend and to other Members is that the world is already fracking. This week, Germany gave the go-ahead for fracking; it had been reluctant to do that, but did so under pressure from its industry. We need to decide as a country how competitive we wish to be, but one of the vehicles of being competitive is cheap prices for energy and chemical feedstock, and fracking is one of the ways in which those cheap prices will be delivered.
There are three tenets of energy policy, the first of which is decarbonisation. Fracking—or gas, I should say—is an element of any decarbonisation strategy that we seriously wish to pursue. In this country, something like 50% of electricity comes from coal and oil. Replacing that coal and oil with gas is the single quickest and most effective way of reducing our carbon footprint. Indeed, of all the countries in the OECD, the one that reduced its carbon by the most in the last five years is the USA. It has done that because it has reduced its coal expenditure and usage, and instead used gas.
The UK—perhaps slightly counter-culturally—already has one of the lowest amounts of carbon per capita and per unit of GDP in the EU. A strategy based on replacing our coal with gas, and doing so more quickly, would lead to even more progress in that regard.
I have talked a little bit about cost, but it is self-evident that there is a correlation between GDP and energy usage. We cannot rebalance our economy on differentially high energy prices, particularly if we are rebalancing it towards manufacturing, and part of the solution is cheaper gas prices.
It has been said that our having unconventional shale gas in the UK does not necessarily reduce prices, and to an extent that is true. However, it is rather like saying we should not have exploited North sea gas or oil 30 years ago because there is a world market for North sea oil and we cannot guarantee that lower prices would—
The hon. Gentleman is doing a very good job in answering the question that his colleague, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), put about selling the whole idea of fracking. Does he agree not only that there are environmental benefits to fracking but that when one way to tackle fuel poverty, provide fuel security, make UK industry more competitive and even attract some industries that have gone overseas to come back again is to have our own supply of gas from the shale gas available to us?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on all those points, and he made them succinctly and well. Fracking is not something that we can turn our backs on, and I am very pleased that it is in the Queen’s Speech. The point I was making was on the relative cost of energy. I have heard it said in this place that just because we produce shale gas, that will not necessarily reduce our gas prices by 60% or 70%, to the level they are in America. Of course, there is some truth in that; there is a worldwide market in gas, in the same way that there is in oil.
That said, the gas market is a little bit less mobile than the oil market. The European gas hub, which would be affected by gas prices, is smaller than the global market for crude oil. One of the reasons that we in this country cannot benefit from US gas in the way the US benefits from its gas is that the cost of the US sending it to us would probably double its price; it would still be cheaper, but it would be double the price that we would pay vis-à-vis the US. The summary of all this is that we need to get on with it.
The final point, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), is that of security of supply. Whether we like it or not, North sea production is coming down. There may be many things that we can do, either with an independent Scotland or with Scotland within the United Kingdom, to keep that supply going for as long as possible, but gas production in particular is considerably down; it is now something like half what it was at its peak.
Although we in this country have not up till now had to use Russian gas—most of our imported gas has come from Norway—I think I saw a report last month saying that Gazprom and Centrica have signed their first deal, so there is an element in all this of security of supply vis-à-vis the geopolitics of Europe as well.
I hope that the provisions in the Queen’s Speech to make it easier to exploit shale are proceeded with. What the legislation is really saying is that someone’s property rights do not necessarily extend to stopping people drilling a mile under their house or land. That seems to me as logical as saying that someone’s property rights do not extend to preventing aeroplanes from flying over their land. I believe that that was an issue in the USA at one time, and it had to be legislated away in much the same way as we are legislating here for fracking.
I cannot say how pleased I am to follow the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat). On both the topics that he centred on, the Government pay much attention to him. On pensions, he sketched out the areas where the Government really have to face the issues that he raised, because they are important not only to the House but to our constituents.
I will talk on one topic, which is the Modern Slavery Bill. I apologise that I was not present to hear some of the opening comments and the kind comments that various Members made. I will begin by making the roll-call of those who should have credit for this measure. The hon. Members for Erewash (Jessica Lee) and for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) quite rightly said that slavery would not be a topic in the House or in the country if not for the work of Anthony Steen. It was Anthony Steen, through his Human Trafficking Foundation, who first made me interested in this topic, and it was Patrick White in my office who said how important it was, which led to my commitment to it. The hon. Lady was absolutely right that without the work of Anthony Steen—first, towards the end of his period as a Member, and then in the work that he has done to extraordinary effect with the HTF—we would not have had a Modern Slavery Bill included in the Queen’s Speech.
As I say, it is slavery on which I wish to comment, and I wish to continue to draw attention to those who should rightly claim credit for the Bill. The idea for a modern slavery Bill was set out in a report published a little over a year ago by the Centre for Social Justice, so the Government have responded extraordinarily quickly by presenting the Bill. I do not think that we would have had that report had it not been for Philippa Stroud, who now works at the Department for Work and Pensions, and Fiona Cunningham, who worked at the Home Office. Had they not been working carefully to ensure that this moved up the Government’s agenda, I do not think that it would have been on the list of topics that the Home Secretary thought should command her attention and, more importantly, her departmental time. The Bill therefore has three immediate heroes: Philippa Stroud, Fiona Cunningham and the Home Secretary.
My purpose in speaking in this debate is to draw attention not only to a glaring omission in the Bill, but to a provision in it that I do not think we would now see had it not been for the work of the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill and, in particular, the contribution that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) made to it. The glaring omission, as he knows—he piloted a private Member’s Bill on this very topic—concerns supply chains. Although the Bill will deal much more effectively with countering the horror of modern-day slavery in this country, the plain and brutal fact is that most of the slaves on whose labour our standard of living is supported work in other countries, producing the goods and services that we buy.
For all the reasons that were given to the evidence review for the Bill, to the Joint Committee and for my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill, I hope that Members will table amendments that persuade the Government that supply chains must be included in this measure. We know what the Home Secretary’s opinion is, because before she began talking about a Bill in detail, she said that she wished it to cover supply chains, so clearly there are other forces at work that overruled her in that respect. I think that we need to come to her aid and ensure that she wins the argument, not some officials in No. 10 who are against it. I hope that all those employers, large and small, that publicly support extending the measure to supply chains will now front up and lobby No. 10 to ensure that the Bill is complete in that important respect. If the Government still have some doubts about that, I hope that Members here and in the other place will ensure that the Bill is complete when it goes for Royal Assent.
I am immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I would take his argument a stage further. I think that the Prime Minister has a duty to protect British business men and women from undertaking activities that are deemed to be heinous crimes. I think that the Prime Minister needs to develop a level playing field, so that not just the good businesses ensure that their products are not tainted by slavery; those that are slower in coming up to the plate must also make their contribution.
All the Joint Committee’s recommendations were unanimous, and they certainly were on that. However, to be honest, in listing the things that I hoped the Government would do, I did not think that they would jump to attention on that one, given that they deliberately made a change in policy. We did not include it in the Bill because changing it does not actually require an Act of Parliament; it requires the will of the Home Secretary. If this Home Secretary does not see her way to changing it, I hope that a future Home Secretary will.
One of the impacts of the evidence review on the Joint Committee has been for the Government to include in the Bill a section on victims. It is morally right that the Bill will be victim-focused. However, even if we cannot do it for the right reasons, we ought to do it for another reason: that the Government are serious about escalating the number of successful prosecutions. We will not increase the number of successful prosecutions unless those victims of slavery feel that they are secure in this country. I am immensely grateful to the Government for listening to the arguments put on that front and for including a major section of the Bill that transforms the position of victims of slavery in this country. I commend them for doing so.
For all the good measures in the Bill, it is still incomplete. Victims of slavery came to give evidence to us at all our evidence sessions before and during the Joint Committee. It is impossible for any of us in the Chamber to describe the horrors that people go through when they realise they have been trapped and now have a slave existence. How anyone recovers from that train of events, God only knows, but many do so, and we wish many more to do so. This crime is probably one of the most heinous in the world today. We now have an opportunity to make this not just a good Bill, because it is already good, but the very best in the world—a world leader. I hope that that will ring in all our ears when we start the parliamentary process in this place and, perhaps more importantly, in the other place, where it is easier for reason to prevail on a Government than it is here.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who, as ever, made a thoughtful and important speech on an issue that generally unites the House rather than divides it.
I apologise to the House for being away for a short time while I was attending the Health Committee, but of course I was here for the opening speeches and the first few contributions. I want to focus on a number of areas related to home affairs, including policing in my constituency, immigration and criminals in our jails, including several issues that have arisen following a visit that I recently made to a prison near my constituency.
As I said in my earlier intervention on the Home Secretary, I welcome the social action, responsibility and heroism Bill. Some people might not think that it is necessary, but those who try to do good as volunteers or just as passers-by in society often feel that the law is against them and they are not protected, as may well be the case, and anything that gives a nod in that direction is important.
I have mentioned my own experience working as a first responder with the ambulance service every weekend. One of my staff members—they are all trained as first responders as well—recently came across somebody who was in cardiac arrest, and had sadly died, but was laid out on the side of the road. He was the first one on the scene who was prepared to do anything to try to assist that person. There is not only the fear of getting involved, which is very difficult to get rid of, but the fear in the backs of many people’s minds that if they do something they may make the situation even worse and then end up being sued for it.
This applies not only to such experiences. Whenever it snows in my village, I clear the section of the path between the old people’s home and the pub, and people say as they are going past, “Be careful or you’ll get sued.” Thankfully, I have not been; I think some of the residents of the old people’s home have enjoyed being able to get to the Percy Arms. Although I have not faced any legal action, a lot of people have the perception that, if they try to do right, they will fall foul of some legal issue and end up being arrested or sued in the courts. I very much welcome this Bill as a nod in the right direction in that regard.
I want to say a little about crime and policing locally. I have never been a particular fan of the reductions in the police budget, which is why I always try to speak every time that we agree the police estimates, but I will not rehash my previous speeches on that subject. An awful lot more needs to be done on partnership working with the police. Whenever I meet the police locally, they outline the financial savings that they have to make, and I am fully conscious of the difficulties involved in that. However, I still get the impression—I will give a practical example in a moment—that the police have not fully embraced proper partnership working and engaging with other agencies such as local authorities and other emergency services. When they talk about partnership working, they seem to mean that they are prepared to work with other police forces, but when it comes to working with others there is still something of a silo mentality. More needs to be done by the leadership nationally, to drive the issue forward and make sure that some of the savings can be realised. I am concerned that when it comes to back-office costs and senior management, not enough is being done at the top to share work between agencies other than police forces.
My constituency is represented by two local authorities: the East Riding of Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. North Lincolnshire council has been very forward thinking in playing its part not only in helping the police and crime commissioner to achieve his crime plan, but in reducing crime and the fear of crime locally. The council has funded a number of CCTV projects, including in Epworth and Winterton in my constituency, for which I and the ward councillors were pleased to secure the funding.
The council has also funded police community support officers for rural communities. Crime mapping and the allocation of police service resources focus on crime hot spots, which tend not to be in rural areas, so in my own area, North Lincolnshire council worked with me on a project to find funding for five police community support officers—two on the Isle of Axholme, one in the Burton and Winterton policing team, one in the Brigg team and another in the Barton team. They are now in post and are having a real impact.
Unfortunately, the area in which we are having trouble with the police force locally relates to the need to go further and expand the project with even more council-funded PCSOs. It is not often that one public body tries to throw money at another, only for the intended recipient not to want it, but that is a problem in my own area at present. The council is not able to shovel more money at the police force to employ more PCSOs, and none of the various reasons for that are acceptable either to myself as a local representative or to local people who tell us strongly that they do not believe that policing in our rural communities is being prioritised, because the crime rates mean that resources are not being allocated to them. When the local authority steps up and says, “We will buy in that extra provision to make people feel safe,” and the police say they do not want it, something is obviously going very badly wrong.
I am not criticising Humberside police, who have done a fine job of handling the significant financial challenge that they face. Their officers are dedicated and they have a good chief constable and senior officer team, but their intransigence on this issue is a cause of deep concern and regret. A lot more needs to be done regarding partnership working, and the police need to change some of their practices to properly embrace that.
It was interesting to hear the pro-immigration speech of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and I suppose we should respect him for that. I expect him to be pro-immigration, given that he wants to make very large numbers of Scottish people immigrants in England. Perhaps it is no wonder that he is so pro-immigration.
What concerns me about the immigration debate is that since the Euro election results, too many people seem to want to jump up and say that we should respond by informing people that they are wrong to think what they think about immigration. I find that deeply patronising and insulting to my constituents. I have seen that happen in my own area. When the migrant support grant went, I was summoned to a meeting to discuss it. There has been significant immigration from the European Union to the town of Goole since 2003. When I intervened on the shadow Home Secretary earlier, I asked her to apologise to the people of Goole, who have seen up to between 20% and 25% of their town come from eastern Europe. She chose not to apologise for that or for visiting my constituency recently without informing me. That is the context of why people in Goole are very concerned about immigration, and they should be listened to.
I was called to that meeting to talk about that fund by people, none of whom live in the Goole area, who wanted to tell me how awful it is that the people in Goole think the things they think. Yes, people sometimes do not use language that we might like them to use, but I find it wrong to brush aside their concerns in a patronising way and to talk down to them, saying, “Oh, Mrs Smith, you really mustn’t use language like that. How dare you.” Mrs Smith is not a racist. She is concerned about her community when her street in Goole—in many cases, a street of terraced houses—is suddenly peopled by large numbers of young males from eastern Europe. That has changed the dynamic of her street, and her concerns are legitimate.
This is not about rounding on Mrs Smith to make her better understand why immigration is good for this country and why she should put up with it, but about responding to her concern. She is concerned not about people who want to contribute coming to my constituency to work, but about the uncontrolled nature of the numbers and, in some cases, the types of people. Some of the large number of young people behave in a way that many in our area do not understand and do not consider acceptable, and they want that behaviour to be challenged. It very much concerns me that, since the vote in Europe, the debate seems to be all about how awful it is that people think such things, as opposed to trying to address their genuine concerns.
In my constituency almost half, if not more, of the intake of some schools are children—mainly Polish and Latvian—for whom English is their second language. Some of our GP lists have been closed, so there is a mad situation in which people whose children return to Goole after having temporarily moved away now cannot register with the GP who was their family GP when they were growing up. To use the example of Mrs Smith, she would of course look at that and think, “How is it that my son or daughter, who was born and bred in this town, cannot now go to the doctor who has cared for them all through their life, while someone can suddenly appear from another country and register with that doctor, with no controls on their ability to do so?” The anger comes from such a perception, and until we start to recognise that people have legitimate concerns—I have mentioned housing issues—we will get nowhere.
I am sorry to say that none of the current responses of any of the parties is acceptable or goes far enough. To try to get tough on non-EU immigration and all the rest of it in order to bring down the numbers is fine as far as it goes. However, the situation in my constituency is not about non-EU immigration, but EU immigration. We have to do something about the free movement of labour across Europe. We are losing people and losing the country on this issue, and until we address that fact, UKIP or other fringe parties of that nature—I would not necessarily call UKIP a fringe party now—will gain traction. I hope that in the next year or two, if we get a renegotiation on Europe, this issue will be addressed. Uncontrolled EU immigration is no longer acceptable and is not working.
Absolutely. In fact, I mentioned schools in relation to their intake. We have had the problem of people living just outside the catchment area of the school that they went to as a child, but finding, because of this massive pressure on places, that they cannot get their child into their old school. All that feeds into a perception of unfairness and of immigration being bad, which I do not think people at the top have necessarily understood.
Not only have we not put in the infrastructure to facilitate the huge increase in the number of people, but even when concerns are legitimate, people who wish to discuss them are immediately silenced by being dismissed as racist. They are not racist and do not intend to be racist at all, but they have genuine concerns that need to be addressed. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is half the problem?
Absolutely. Because I had criticised the uncontrolled nature of immigration into my own town, when I was dragged to the meeting with various agencies, I was told that the things I had said were unacceptable. Needless to say, that meeting did not last very long or end very well when I robustly thanked the people for coming from their lovely villages in the richest parts of the East Riding of Yorkshire, where they do not have to live with large amounts of uncontrolled immigration. I thanked them for sharing their views, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that when people raise legitimate concerns, they are patronised and spoken down to by people who, all too often, do not live in these communities.
Absolutely none of them were elected; the right hon. Gentleman makes a good point.
I would like to conclude on two small points. The second issue that I hope the Home Office will address, and about which it can do something practical, is foreign-registered vehicles, which feed into people’s perception of unfairness. I asked a couple of parliamentary questions in the previous Session about foreign-registered vehicles overstaying the six-month limit, and found that on one occasion there had been four prosecutions in the whole of the United Kingdom for vehicles staying beyond the period permitted. When I asked a similar question on another occasion in the previous Session, I believe that precisely zero vehicles had been prosecuted.
The issue is one of vehicles not being recorded when they arrive at the United Kingdom border, or when they leave. People in my town see the same vehicles and report them to my office, and we report them to the police. They see vehicles that have been here a year, possibly even two, that are still in our town and are not registered, paying tax or subject to UK insurance. The Government must take a lead on this issue. The only way to solve it is through better control at the border.
Finally, I want to discuss prisons, although I am perhaps stretching a debate on home affairs, given the Ministers present. I recently visited HMP Lindholme in Doncaster on the edge of my constituency. I was staggered when the governor told me about the problem there with mobile telephones and how much crime is being directed from inside the prison. Something must be done about that. We were told that for about 1,300 prisoners they had recorded 600 or 700 mobile phone signals coming from inside the prison. The blockers are not in place, although the technology is catching up.
The Government could take a strong lead on something that the governor and her team raised with me: when they identify the contracts of the phones being used inside the prison, the mobile phone operators are not very keen to terminate the numbers. That could be achieved relatively simply, so I hope that Ministers will look at that and seek to take a lead on it. It seems to me, as it would to my constituents, incomprehensible that people can direct criminal operations from behind bars. Something really must be done about that.
Having danced around some issues that are important to my constituents, I will leave it there and look forward to the Minister’s response.
May I just say to the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) that I am told the police are so good at monitoring calls from mobile phones in prisons that if a criminal does not have one, they will throw him one over the wall, because they will then know what crimes are going on. I was told by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, before it disappeared, that it used such monitoring to trace people’s criminality, their money and criminal attachments outside prison when they leave. The hon. Gentleman should therefore not worry about mobile phones, as long as the police have the numbers.
I turn to the Queen’s Speech and issues relating to the Home Office and, partly, to the Ministry of Justice. The debate has focused on two main Bills, but there is a context. I was disappointed when the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) mocked those who raised the question of the passports fiasco. The reality is that that fiasco demonstrates to people that there is something wrong with the Government’s policy on cuts if they are affecting people’s ability to get passports in the normal time frame.
It irritates my constituents greatly when they have given plenty of time and are told that if they pay more, they can still meet the deadlines. In the case of one of my constituents, the process started in March, and eventually they had to pay £70 to get their passport sent to them. There is something wrong with that. The Government must accept that in that context people see the Home Office as failing in the delivery of a day-to-day service—it is often the day-to-day things on which people will make judgments. It is a sign of a Department that is not coping.
Another issue that, sadly, is brought up regularly in my constituency is the abuse of the marital route for residence in the UK by people applying for spousal visas. Then, when they eventually get through the process and claim to have the documents—I have documents here that seem to have been bought rather than won by endeavour; people can buy documents to say that they have passed the test—unfortunately, young men appear just to abandon their spouse and child or children, and head for the big city. I know the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) would love them to stay in Scotland, but in reality they head for the conurbations of England. I have a case at the moment where that is happening and someone has recently abandoned their wife and child. It is a member of the Pakistani community, so I hope they take as dim a view of that as I do.
I also think there is something wrong with a Government who promise again and again that they will do something about the use of wild animals in circuses, and then abandon that in the last phase of their government. Many people have campaigned on that issue in my constituency for a number of years, but I think that those who claim to be Conservative voters will not be doing that in the next election, given that betrayal.
In reality, the context in which the Government are acting is one in which they are falsifying their credentials. Violent crime has risen and is up from 607,000 offences in England and Wales to 614,000, whereas the number of prosecuted criminals has gone down from 141,000 convictions to 134,000. That does not give the public any sense that the Government are serious about looking after people’s safety. Reports of rape, domestic violence and child abuse are up, but again, convictions are not matching those rising reports.
I wish to mention something that is not specifically this Government’s remit, but that of all Governments including the Scottish Government. At midnight last night in Glasgow there was a march of women to reclaim the streets. There have been three serious rapes in the public streets of Glasgow in the past week. I heard the police officer—just as we often hear from the Government—come on and give statistics, stating that numbers of crimes were higher last year and that clear-up rates are higher in percentage terms than in the year before. However, that does not convince people that they are safer on the streets, or convince women that we are changing society and policing it properly for them. If crime is not prevented entirely, the streets are not safe, and if all perpetrators are not convicted, the trauma and sense of betrayal remains.
The unacceptable fear of walking in the streets of a city cannot be endured in 2014. I know that because we are, unfortunately, a much blighted extended family. My young cousin, Agnes Cooney was murdered in 1981. They have never solved the crime; they have never found out who did it. One reason is that Strathclyde police lost the evidence box or the production box, and therefore could never use the modern technology of DNA. That trauma has never gone away from my family. My mother died with a photograph of Agnes on the mantelpiece, and her sisters berate me regularly for the failure of Governments, the police and the authorities to deal with that crime. That is what the women of Glasgow feel at the moment. It is not safe to walk in the streets of Glasgow, and all the statistics and all the little pledges will not be accepted. The Government have to accept that when they are not clearing up serious violent crime at that rate, something is wrong.
I have been involved with the Modern Slavery Bill for some time—[Interruption.] I see the Minister flapping on the Benches, but if the Government stand up and tell people that they are doing better on crime but statistics show they are not, they are clearly trying to mislead the public.
The hon. Gentleman accuses the Government of misleading the public, but I gently point out that, as I think he acknowledged, policing in Scotland and Glasgow is not the responsibility of the UK Government; it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. Drawing conclusions from that that the UK Government are misleading anyone is itself pretty disingenuous.
In fact I drew the conclusion from the statistics for England and Wales, which I quoted to the Minister and he will read in the record. Those are not statistics that the Government like to put out but they are the facts. Violent crime is going up in England and Wales, and convictions are going down. There is something wrong with policing under the Minister’s watch.
I would like to thank a number of people who put in so much effort on the Modern Slavery Bill. We have heard about Anthony Steen, and when he becomes Sir Anthony Steen I think he will be adequately rewarded for his amazing efforts in making this an issue that we all accepted. We all know about anti-slavery day in the UK, which everyone recognises.
There are many others I wish to thank. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) asked me to give her apologies because she arranged a study visit to another country before she knew the subject for debate today. She has done amazing work on this issue, including tabling the first ten-minute rule Bill on the supply chain issue, and she chairs the all-party group, which has now become much more inclusive.
I also wish to mention Andrew Wallis, who has not so far been mentioned, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) mentioned the Centre for Social Justice. Andrew and the centre have done a lot of work to pull together the issue to make people in all parties realise that we cannot deal with slavery in a UK context; it must be dealt with in an international context. If the Wilberforce legislation had freed all the slaves in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, it would have freed only a couple of hundred. It was freeing slaves across the nations with which we traded—using slaves as barter—that changed the face of slavery from Africa.
I also wish to thank two colleagues, Jenny Marra, the MSP from Dundee, who has tabled a Bill on this issue in the Scottish Parliament, and Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley, who has made similar proposals in Northern Ireland. I also commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, who took on the task of chairing the Joint Committee of both Houses and all parties—including the Cross Benchers—that considered the draft Bill. I hope that the Bill has been improved by our proposals.
I am pleased that we will have legislation on human trafficking and modern slavery, but it must be measured against what we aspire to see after 10 weeks of evidence-gathering, as set out in the Joint Committee’s report. Our proposals included a reoriented definition of the crime of slavery; a focus on children, with a specific offence of enslaving and exploiting children, and the introduction of guardianship for children; support for victims; and decriminalisation. The latter is important in the context of Northern Ireland and Scotland. The big criticism made when the draft Bill was launched in Scotland was that it could not deliver on its promise as long as the Border Force—it used to be called the UK Border Agency—criminalises people who are trafficked to this country and commit no offence other than breaking the laws on immigration.
The Committee went to meet a group of people who had been trafficked and were now being looked after by the POPPY Project. One young woman had been brought here in a ship without knowing where she was going. She landed in Liverpool and was forced into prostitution. She ended up in London, where she ran away. She went to a police station and told her story, but she was locked in a cell and accused of lying about how she came to Britain. Eventually she ended up in Yarl’s Wood to be deported. One of the people there knew someone from POPPY and introduced the young woman. POPPY investigated her story and found it to be true and undeniable, but the police treated her as a criminal. As she said, she thought she would get justice in the United Kingdom, of all places. People in her country, in Africa, thought of the British police as not corrupt, but they turned on her and she was traumatised by that experience. But people who work in the field say that experience has been repeated thousands of times.
We need to improve asset recovery, and we want an independent assessment of the performance of the Government under the legislation. We want an anti-slavery commissioner who is independent and not the Home Secretary’s poodle—I wrote that phrase myself. We also want something done about supply chain legislation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said, protection for migrant domestic workers does not need legislation, but it must be addressed. We want sentencing strengthened. Of those measures, five are in the Bill—I read a draft of the Bill while I was waiting to speak.
The evidence in the 2014 Human Rights Watch report “Hidden Away”, on what happens to people who are domestic servants in this country, often in very rich houses or with people involved in an overseas ambassadorial role, is unassailable. The report states:
“Most of the migrant domestic workers…described at least some of the elements that constitute forced labour under international law.”
The report makes a number of recommendations that it appears the Government want to ignore, for example, to
“Ratify the ILO Domestic Worker Convention and bring national laws and practices into compliance”
and to include a provision in the Modern Slavery Bill to amend immigration rules to defend these workers:
“Amend the visa rules to allow all migrant domestic workers, including those working in diplomatic households, to change employer.”
That is not allowed. Workers can be locked up and treated like a dog and go back to their own country, but they cannot seek a better employer in this country, which they used to be able to do under the visa arrangements we made.
What is missing from the Bill, and what it will be judged on—we will be able to debate in detail what is in the Bill on Second Reading—is, for example, the omission of independence for the proposed anti-slavery commissioner. Reading the clauses, it is clear that the commissioner is likely to be the Home Secretary’s poodle. The Home Secretary can decide what can be reported on and how it can be reported. There is no question of independence. Basically, the Bill will appoint a civil servant to work for the Home Secretary, who will decide what can be reported. The reports have to go through the Home Secretary before they can be published. There is no structure for independent assessment of Government performance—there is nothing at all on that in the Bill.
There is a failure to address slavery in the supply chains of UK companies. Luis CdeBaca, the US ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, said:
“We can’t prosecute our way out of this crime.”
Luis CdeBaca has prosecuted more traffickers than anyone else in the world. In his evidence to the Committee, he told us that he saw more benefit in the California law—statutory auditing and statutory reporting by companies in California of the whole of the supply chain—than in prosecution. Another supporter of that, and of my private Member’s Bill, was Andrew Forrest, who I understand is one of the richest men in Australia. He set up Walk Free when he found trafficked children in his own quarries in Nepal. Walk Free now has more than 2 million members and campaigns on this issue across the world. David Arkless of ArkLight, who was the former international president of the Manpower company, audited to the third level millions of suppliers to that company. He offers training to anyone who wants to do that for their own company.
The Joint Committee will recommend what I think is a very moderate clause—the Committee did not recommend everything that was in my private Member’s Bill. It is a simple recommendation that should have been accepted and included in the Bill. Section 414C(7)(iii) of the Companies Act 2006 should be amended:
“Before ‘social’ insert ‘modern slavery’.”
The five elements of the California Act should be taken on by companies. They should: verify and evaluate supply chains; audit suppliers to certify goods and services purchased from suppliers; maintain accountability with regard to distribution; and train staff. That is not too burdensome, but none of it appears in the Bill.
That moderate move was not supported by everyone. My very good friend—I hope he remains my very good friend—and respected campaigner Aidan McQuade, the director of Anti-slavery International, argued, and still champions the idea, that we should use the Bribery Act model, so that knowing about and allowing modern slavery at any point in the company’s supply chain should be a criminal offence for the chief executive of the company. He stands by that as the solution that he wants.
But what is interesting is the people who now supported the proposal when it came before the Joint Committee who did not support the Bill that I put forward. The number of supermarkets that were reluctant to come forward was amazing. In fact, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s wrote to me to say that it was really a matter for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, and it was not for his company to audit the supply chain. Now Amazon, Ikea, Marks and Spencer, Primark, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have all written to tell us that they would support legislation if it was not unduly burdensome. That is an amazing step forward from those companies. I hope that the House will commend them for doing that and encourage them to lobby the Government to get legislation that they can use.
I encourage our friends on the Government Benches and in the House of Lords; I assume the support of people on the Labour Benches. But if we really do want to modernise the anti-slavery principles of William Wilberforce’s legislation of 200 years ago, we should adopt the auditing and reporting of supply chains as a minimum. Slavery does not just happen in the UK; it happens for the UK in other countries.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who has campaigned assiduously on the issue of modern-day slavery. I pay tribute to him for the work he has done and for the attention to detail he has shown, which is so important when it comes to landmark legislation such as this.
My experience of modern-day slavery stemmed from my own professional contact with people who at that time were still being treated as defendants, but whom we now know increasingly must be treated as victims. It first manifested itself when I started to see a number of cases involving young Vietnamese people who had come into this country unlawfully, having spent tens of thousands of pounds to get here through many different member states of the EU and further beyond, and who were now in effect the prisoners of those who had brought them here, press-ganged into work as gardeners looking after cannabis or other crops, or press-ganged into prostitution and other crimes. These people were treated as defendants; it is clear that they are as much the victims of the crimes of their gangmasters as wider society.
That increasing realisation on my part—as somebody playing a small role in the criminal justice system—has been added to by people from all parties and none and by people from outside this place with great knowledge and understanding of the experiences of those who are trafficked, culminating in us dealing not just with the issue of trafficking, but with the more general issue of slavery. The definition of what that means in the modern age is an important one. Unfortunately, the criminal mind moves very quickly and as soon as existing types of abuse are found and stamped out, new and ingenious ways to continue that criminality emerge. That is why, when the Bill has its Second Reading and goes into Committee, it is important that we make sure that the definition of slavery does not in any way end up being a victim of a lack of foresight. In other words, it has to be future-proofed so that the examples given within the statute are non-exhaustive and allow prosecutors and the police to take action to deal with developing forms of that criminality. That is vital. We in this place are pressed for time and we do not have the resources to continue to return to the criminal law. The best criminal laws in my opinion are those that stand the test of time and prove up to the task of fast-moving developments in criminality.
That brings me to a more general point. It is clear from my examination of Professor Jonathan Shepherd of Cardiff university’s annual study of accident and emergency admissions that, while violent crime seems to be declining in society, crime is increasingly taking place online. That online criminality is now entering the experience of thousands of our constituents—day in, day out—and they come to us with problems that sometimes seem to be beyond the police’s ability to deal with. That, to me, is the greatest challenge we face in the modern era. We are patting ourselves on the back about a society that seems to be becoming less violent, but at the same time we ignore the online risks at our peril.
I know that the Government understand the problem and that the police understand it, as the need for more training and greater expertise of police officers in dealing with online criminality becomes ever greater as the years pass. I see a role not only for this House in framing legislation to combat online criminality, but very much one for our police and crime commissioners and all those charged with the responsibility of meeting the needs of the people we represent.
I commend the Queen’s Speech in respect of measures on home affairs and justice. As a humble Back Bencher, I am particularly encouraged to note that my pleas are being listened to. I perhaps sound a little surprised when I say that, but it is encouraging to know that the ideas of Members of Parliament can find their way through the process and result in some action. To my mind, that certainly restores some of the faith I have in the ability of individuals in this place of whatever party to try to influence the process for the better.
I am particularly encouraged, too, by the fact that the Government recognise the challenge they face regarding the recovery of confiscation assets. It is disturbing that only 18% of confiscation orders worth over £1 million are, in fact, recovered. That is a huge amount of money. It is not only a huge resource that we are missing; it is a standing affront to the justice system itself. Why pass court orders at all if they will have no meaning in reality? Why do we go through the rigmarole of applying the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and its strong measures without clear results—not only for the taxpayer, but for society as a whole?
The justice of the situation is important, but it is also about good old-fashioned efficiency. That is why the package in the Serious Crime Bill to increase from 10 to 14 years maximum sentences for those in default on orders over £1 million, together with an increase in sentencing powers for orders worth over £0.5 million, is a wise one. The issue of automatic early release—we have heard it mentioned in other contexts—is particularly relevant when it comes to those who are serving sentences in default of payment. It has already been rightly established by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 that the liability to pay the order is not extinguished by the service of a term in default, but to allow an automatic early release for those in default seems to me not only an affront to common sense, but hardly any incentive whatever for the wrongdoer or criminal to pay the compensation made out in the confiscation order. In other words, we need more of a stick approach when dealing with offenders who are consistently in default of important court orders and think that they can just while away their time and hope that all will be forgotten. That is not good enough.
The 18% figure has to rise. I will carefully watch out in the years ahead to see how it improves and how we can change the law, while improving the way in which we undertake confiscation. I urge all prosecutors and those charged with this important responsibility to use their judgment carefully and not constantly seek huge theoretical figures of benefit, but to look for what is realisable and discover what can be converted into cash or an asset that can be confiscated for the purpose of further law enforcement.
I also want to see an end to the rather depressing catfights that I have sometimes observed between different arms of law enforcement in relation to their particular roles. For example, a certain type of forfeiture has required money to go into one pot rather than another. Division of that kind is unhelpful, and does not lead to a properly co-ordinated approach to the confiscation of criminal assets.
I was interested and stimulated by some of what has been said about immigration. I think it incumbent on all of us to show leadership when it comes to such issues. We hear a great deal on the doorstep, and read a great deal in the newspapers, about the myths of migration, but we do not hear or read enough of the facts and the truths. Over the centuries, this land has benefited from migration. We are a land of migrants. We are a rich mosaic of people whose blood comes from all sorts of lands, and we should rejoice in that. We should remember that it has made this country truly great.
At the same time, leadership demands that we listen carefully to those who have justified concerns. When people are scared, we should not fan the flames of fear; we should offer the hand of reassurance, the strong arm of guidance, and the leadership that I believe will take us through these difficult years and demonstrate that, as a country, we are not only tolerant, but welcoming and accepting of people who want to come here, to play their part in our nation story, to make their contribution—whether through work or by other means—and to be a responsible part of our communities. That is what we want. That is what everyone with an understanding of what it is to be British wants. We have heard today about British values, and I believe that a sense of acceptance and a rejection of separation are very much part of what it is to be British.
We cannot go far wrong if we start on that basis. Then we can talk about the issues here: then we can make proper distinctions between non-EU and EU migration, and talk in a reasoned way about what the free movement directive actually means. It is not an unqualified right for people to come here, fold their arms and do nothing, and it never was. It applies to people who fall into certain categories—who are workers, or are self-sufficient—and who have a right to remain here. That is the reality, and it is a far cry from the nightmare scenarios being painted by those who wish to whip up the flames of separation and to profit in some way from fear. The vast majority of the people whom I see coming here want to work and to make a contribution, and many, after they have done their work, will return home to their countries of origin.
Let us not forget that while 1 million people or more are coming here from other EU countries, an equivalent number of UK citizens are going to other EU countries. Where is the mischief in that? What can possibly be wrong with a free-market system that allows such movements?
I will tell my hon. Friend what is wrong with it. It means an uncontrolled influx into towns such as Goole, in my constituency, which has not been planned or prepared for properly, and which places a massive strain on public services. My constituents are very welcoming: they will even accept folk from Lancashire. We simply want to know how many people are coming, and we want the resources that will enable us to control the numbers properly. Unfortunately, the free movement directive does not allow us to control them at all.
My hon. Friend has made a fair point, but I am afraid that he is in error. The directive provides a power that allows member states to have a registration system for people who wish to stay here for longer than three months. Let us not propagate the myth that the directive is an open door. It is not, and, with domestic enforcement, it can be better managed.
My hon. Friend makes a proper point about planning and public services, but we must also remember that without some migration some of the jobs that need to be done in our economy are not going to be done, and the question we have to ask is, who will do that work?
I am a great campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities, and I passionately believe they have their role to play in our growing work force. I know that is what they want, and that is also what they deserve, but getting to that ideal stage takes time. It takes time for employers to start to understand the benefits of employing people who perhaps have more challenges than others. While I want to get there, I understand the pressure on employers who, for example, cannot collect their crop or who cannot find a suitable person to fulfil a care role. Working with employers to encourage more employment locally—more indigenous employment, as it were—is a laudable aspiration and is the right thing to do, but to try artificially to close a door is bad news for our country and our economy and is not a realistic approach to a problem that has deeply complex origins and should not be viewed through the prism of cheap headlines and political slogans. That is what happens far too often in the debate on migration, and it is time we stopped that misleading and unhelpful approach. Let us show leadership on that issue.
Turning to issues relating to the UK passport agency, may I thank it for having helped a constituent of mine reach the beaches of Normandy last week? Mr Harry Prescott is now 92 years of age. The last time he was in Normandy he was a 21-year-old Royal Marine in Operation Overlord. By an odd quirk, he was not classified as a British citizen. He was born in Canada to UK parents, and for various reasons never ended up with a British passport. He wanted to play his part in the 70th anniversary commemorations, however, but when the time came for him to apply for a passport, he encountered a number of blocks to his application—the sort of bureaucracy that I know drives Members of this House quietly round the bend and which was certainly causing him a degree of frustration. I was contacted by 47 Royal Marine Commando Association about his predicament, and together we were able to prevail on the passport service to pull its finger out and get on with the job of issuing him with a passport. He was therefore able to join his comrades and colleagues and play his part in commemorating the momentous events that took place in Normandy 70 years ago. I therefore offer my genuine thanks, via my hon. Friend the Minister, to those in the passport service who made that possible.
With the help of Action for Children, one of our leading children’s charities, and other parliamentarians, I have been campaigning for a number of years now for a reform to the criminal law of child neglect. Paul Goggins has been referred to in many other contexts, but it would be wholly wrong of me not to pay tribute to him for the work he did on this important issue. The Crime and Courts Act 2013 was in Bill form when Paul presented an amendment in his and my name which will, in effect, be the basis of a provision that will appear in the Serious Crime Bill. The argument is a simple one. The criminal law of child neglect was drafted way back in 1868—some 150 years ago. It served an important purpose in its time, but times move on. Just because a law is old does not mean it is a bad law—far from it—but with the knowledge and understanding we now have about the full effects of all types of abuse of children and young people, I think it was remiss, to say the least, that we had not before now updated the criminal law to keep pace not only with developments in science and understanding, but with the developing civil and family law that already recognises varying types of abuse, including emotional abuse, when considering issues of family protection and whether or not a child is at risk or has experienced significant harm.
Very often, emotional abuse does not come alone. It will be accompanied, sadly, by physical and sexual abuse. Daniel Pelka is one of many well-known cases in which the signs of emotional abuse were emerging before the physical abuse took its toll on that poor young lad. It pains me to think that the police, the prosecuting authorities and all those with responsibility for child protection did not have that extra tool in the box when it came to dealing with emotional abuse. I am not saying that it might have changed the course of young Daniel’s life, but it could have made a difference to his life and it certainly will make a difference to the lives of hundreds of children and young people in this country if and when we amend the law to include emotional abuse. The criminal law is an interesting thing for those who have been imbued with it for the past 20 years, as I have. I believe that a lot of people would have been shocked to realise that section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 covered only physical harm, but it was made crystal clear in a House of Lords case back in 1981 that that section was limited to the
“physical needs of the child and does not cover other aspects such as moral and educational”.
That meant that the door was firmly shut on emotional abuse.
A lot of people have asked me in the past few months how one defines emotional abuse and whether the new measure will not be a problem when it comes to parenting. Are we in danger of criminalising the firm but fair parent who deprives their child of an Xbox if there has been a misdemeanour in the household? Not a bit of it. It is not about firm but fair parenting. It is not about people who administer reasonable chastisement on their children. It is not about the millions of decent men and women who, like many of us in this Chamber, learn every day what it is to bring up a child. It is about the systematic abuse of children by people who either should know better or in some sad cases do not know better.
My hon. Friend has touched on an important point about this measure to protect children from neglect. Does he agree that it will be exceptionally important that the guidelines for the Serious Crime Bill define emotional abuse carefully so that statutory agencies are able to understand what they will be enforcing and parents understand the new legislation? Safeguarding sections on school websites will be a valuable resource to help parents to understand exactly what it is intended to protect against.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Her point about guidance will be key to all this. While we may be good at passing a law, it is for the prosecuting authorities and child protection agencies to enforce it, so we would be failing in our duty if we did not explain through debates in the House what we mean.
Empirical research shows that emotional abuse may be the most damaging form of child maltreatment because those who are responsible for administering it almost invariably are those responsible for enabling children to fulfil their developmental milestones. What do I mean by emotional neglect? It can include forcing a child to witness domestic violence, scapegoating a child, inflicting systematic humiliation and enforcing degrading punishments.
The effects of emotional neglect have been shown to be potentially lifelong and as profound, if not more so, than some of the physical effects on children. They can include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorder, aggression, dissociation, mental illness and even suicide. Children who experience rejection or neglect are less able to learn and achieve good educational outcomes than their peers, so in addition to the psychiatric evidence that we have of the harm caused by emotional neglect, there is growing evidence from neuroscience that brain development is inhibited as a result, which itself leads to significant harm. We cannot ignore the developing science; we would be failing in our duty if we did.
The language of section 1 of the 1933 Act is antiquated. It uses words such as “wilful”, which has been defined by the courts as meaning “reckless”. Well, why does the Act not say that? It would be so much easier if we amended the law to make sure that people given the task of interpreting it did not misunderstand “wilful” as requiring specific intent or as being more intentional than the law requires. Why should we put people through their paces in that way by relying on archaic language?
Similarly, terms such as “unnecessary suffering” were good for the time of Dickens, but are not necessarily appropriate now. The term “significant harm” is the one that I strongly advocate. It replicates the term already used in civil law and it is the threshold test used when child protection issues are dealt with. Why not just streamline the system by bringing the language into line with that already used? The term “significant harm” can be understood but still sets a high threshold, and it goes a long way towards allaying some of the concerns of those who say that this will open the floodgates to prosecutions of the firm but fair parents about whom I was talking earlier.
The police and those involved in social work welcome the proposed reform. As I said, there was concern about the inability of the police to intervene in cases of non-physical harm, and the dislocation between criminal and civil law was leading to problems in enforcement and in interpreting the role of the police. We are making the law clear not only for members of the public but for those in the law enforcement agencies who have to do this difficult and sensitive work.
We should look at what is happening overseas. Action for Children commissioned research from 31 jurisdictions across Europe, Asia, north America, Africa and Australia, including common law jurisdictions with which we can draw direct parallels. In 25 of those 31 jurisdictions, the criminal law explicitly encompasses emotional abuse. We can see from that trawl of other countries’ legislation that emotional abuse is already recognised in other parts of the world.
How emotional abuse is defined will obviously be important when it comes to presenting evidence in court, and assistance will be gained, as it is now, from experts in the field who are trained in understanding the intellectual and psychological capacity of children. There is concern in the community of expert witnesses that, with pressure on resources, their job will become more difficult. I understand that, and it will be important to acknowledge that during our debates and to work out ways in which the criminal justice system can accommodate expert testimony. It must do so in a way that is fair to all parties while serving the interests of justice and allowing objective expert evidence to be relied on by juries when discharging their duties and applying the high test of the criminal standard of proof. The combination of significant harm and the criminal standard of proof is protection enough for those who say they are worried that the floodgates will be opened upon responsible heads.
We therefore move away from words and phrases such as “neglect”, “wilful” and “unnecessary suffering” to the term “maltreatment”, which covers the gamut of different types of harm that are caused, sadly, to our children. At a stroke it makes clear the options available to the courts. It allows sentencers the ability properly to reflect criminality by those responsible for the care of children in sentencing them appropriately. Finally, it deals with a long-standing anomaly that I am surprised we allowed to continue for so long.
This law will not apply retrospectively. We cannot, and it is right that we do not, make something criminal that was not criminal at the time it happened. I know that for those people who contacted me and other colleagues in recent months about the enduring effects of the emotional abuse that they suffered that may come as a bitter pill, but it would not be right to try to change a well known and well respected principle of law, a principle that is recognised internationally. We have to look to the future, but in doing so we should not forget the victims of the past who until now have had to suffer in silence and who have not had the justice that they deserve.
I am proud to support a Government who listened to a consultation that was conducted in recent months and who listened to the calls from my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), who had a private Member’s Bill in the last Session, to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee), to me and to Members of the Opposition and former Members, such as the late Paul Goggins. Let this stand as one of his epitaphs. Let it stand as an acknowledgement of the power of politics when people come together, recognise a wrong and seek to make it good.
I have said a lot about child neglect. It is something that I saw in my own working life, and I found those cases some of the most difficult to deal with. Hon. Members who have been in practice well understand what I say. However, I do not stand here on an emotional basis; I stand here on the basis of evidence, a sense of responsibility that we as legislators must always do what is right in terms of developments in science, and a genuine and steadfast belief that when it comes to the criminal law, not only must we try to keep pace with developments, but—to use the phrase that I used earlier in another context—we must do everything we can to future-proof it. I thank my hon. Friends on the Front Bench for listening and taking appropriate action.
I have mentioned human trafficking and slavery, but I want to finish on a positive note. Unless every town, city and village in this country wakes up to the reality of human trafficking and slavery in its midst, we are not going to solve the problem. We have an increasingly aware police force, which increasingly understands the challenge and is sourcing important training and support.
Is my hon. Friend interested to know that Churches Together in west Cheshire, part of Weaver Vale, held a conference attended by churches from the whole of Cheshire West, as well as the police force and the local authority, to make sure that all the villages and all the communities throughout Cheshire are aware of human trafficking?
Order. Before the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) resumes his speech, I gently point out that he has now been speaking for 33 minutes, it took the Home Secretary only 34 minutes to launch the debate, and other Members are waiting to speak. We are grateful for his tour de force across an area in which he has great expertise, but not necessarily over the entire Queen’s Speech.
I will bear your exhortation very much in mind, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am still a minute behind the Home Secretary so I will take that as a target and I will do my best.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans). I just wanted to make the point that in Swindon we are doing exactly the same. The 100-plus people who came to St Joseph’s Catholic college to see the films about child slavery and trafficking shown by ECPAT UK, one of the leading charities, showed that there is a real interest, understanding and concern. It is through the work of local organisations, together with our police and crime commissioners, who are increasingly becoming involved in encouraging the training of police, that we will start to see a rolling back of the almost systematic blindness that we have had to the reality of trafficking in our midst.
Before I sit down, I pay a warm tribute to the Wiltshire police and crime commissioner, Angus Macpherson, who is recovering in hospital in Bath after a serious heart attack last week. He has been doing an outstanding job for the last several years as our PCC, and on behalf of everyone who cares about crime and policing in my neck of the woods and generally, I wish him the speediest of recoveries.
It is a pleasure to follow what was a tour de force from the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland). Opposition Members appreciate his comments about the late Paul Goggins, and it goes without saying that most Members here will recognise his contribution to the new Bill. I will try to limit my speech to under 15 minutes, which was your original instruction—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may well gasp in horror, but his speech was a tour de force and it was interesting, so I think we can live with it.
This is a Government programme lite—what is not in it is as interesting as what is. Where are the measures designed seriously to address the concerns that were all too evident in the run-up to the last set of elections—concerns about the lack of affordable homes, especially in the south-west where the income to mortgage ratio is only just below that of the south-east, but where the incomes of people living full time, not in second homes, can be very low? The south-west is jam-packed full of second homes. Fewer new homes were started in the south west in 2013 than in 2012. Where are the measures to tackle the undercutting of wages and the need to ensure that people working regular hours, month after month, get a regular contract? People in Plymouth have on average £19 a day less disposable cash than a Londoner. Taking into account some variations in food and prices, but without including mortgages and rents, those people feel a little aggrieved about life in general. They feel out of the loop. London and the big metropolitan centres are where it is happening, and some of the dissatisfaction is feeding into the mood that we are sensing on the doorstep.
There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech to ensure that victims of domestic violence are not left in an unsafe property because of the bedroom tax rules, or to protect those in rental properties from landlords who do not provide adequate fire protection and fixed smoke alarms. On that point, I draw the attention of the House to my indirect interests in those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford). The draft wild animals in circuses Bill has been dropped; people feel very strongly about that, and I have received a vast number of e-mails. They are deeply disappointed and we will need an explanation for that decision.
Some proposed Bills are to be welcomed, including, finally, one to provide some action to end the misery of human trafficking. Some hon. Members who have already spoken have played a key role in that, as did the former Member Anthony Steen, who represented a south-west seat and was a constituency neighbour of mine. He will be very pleased at last to see some of his hard work over many years leading to a measure on modern slavery, which I think will be interesting and have cross-party support.
I also welcome the changes on pubcos and on plastic bag use, although the changes on pubcos do not go quite far enough for some of my publicans. I also welcome the introduction of a power of recall, unlike some of my colleagues.
I was pleased to see that the Government have accepted the need for an ombudsman for the armed forces. The case for that was previously well made by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, and the Government listening to Opposition proposals is naturally always welcome.
However, the nitty-gritty of people’s lives has largely been ignored. When times are hard, I think we all look for somebody to blame, or something that explains why we feel we are walking through treacle and getting nowhere: it might be immigrants, who are blamed for taking jobs; it might be people who are overweight, who are the butt of troll-like comments on social media such as, “They should go on a diet and save the NHS money”; or it might be people claiming benefits, who are vilified by the media and described as “scroungers”. Deep, underlying concerns are voiced in difficult circumstances, but of course rationally we know that people with weight issues cannot all simply go on a diet and everything will be fine. We know from the issues thrown up by the bedroom tax that not everybody claiming a benefit is feckless and that instead the majority of them are low-paid, hard-working family people or those with disabilities, who genuinely need the state’s safety net.
Equally, immigrants are not to blame for all our ills but actually contribute significantly to our country. We are a trading nation; we have been a trading nation for centuries. I was recently reminded of that by a member of our armed forces—somebody who is resident in Plymouth. He pointed out that we have travelled from these shores for centuries to colonise and conquer other nations, all in the economic interests of Great Britain, and that we have depended for our success as a nation on the movement of people to and from our shores.
Nowadays, we see students coming here from overseas but they are viewed as immigrants, despite the fact that they are paying for their courses, paying rent to a landlord, paying for goods and services in our local shops, and paying tax on most of those purchases. They are also supporting our higher education sector and essential research needs. Recent changes in their status have been damaging to the higher education sector, and notwithstanding the need to tackle the foreign students who overstay and the bogus colleges, we need to regard students generally as a positive and not as a negative in our cities. In Plymouth, we have two universities with a significant number of overseas students, and it is quite disheartening that those students are sometimes seen as more of a problem for our city than a benefit to it.
Of course, we should also remember that British people themselves have made up significant waves of immigration to other countries over generations and for a range of reasons. Some moved through choice; some to pursue an education in an international university; some because of persecution; and others for economic reasons. Indeed, I spoke today to a group of people from Plymouth, Massachusetts, as part of the plans for the Mayflower 2020 celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers heading out from Plymouth. Why did the Pilgrim Fathers leave this country? They chose to travel to somewhere else because they were being persecuted here in England. Movement of people to and from these shores has happened historically, and for a whole range of reasons.
None of the Bills being introduced addresses people’s concerns. It is particularly important to target those who bring workers into the UK and undercut local workers in terms of salaries and conditions. They are the agents and others who are actively recruiting people, and dishonestly telling them that they have a job and accommodation. Quite frankly, too little is known about where these people operate, where they are coming from and where they are housing and employing some of the people they ship into this country. Some of those who bring people into this country will fall under the human trafficking Bill, but a lot of them will not. I have been told that in Plymouth and the south-west there is a taxi firm that employs drivers in the EU. We would think, “Okay, that’s fine, they’re from the EU. That shouldn’t be a problem.” However, that firm is training those drivers in the EU and then bringing them to the UK. It is not clear how and where the vetting is done or what is the source of the information, which is vital for the safety of passengers, particularly women. Would it be considered adequate in the UK?
Frankly, I find it extraordinary that an employer would have to go overseas to find cab drivers, because there are people here who would very willingly do the work. Of course, the reason is startlingly simple: they can get the labour cheaper. That is the root of the problem that many people see with immigration. We need the measures proposed by the shadow Home Secretary to put a stop to this type of practice, which convinces people that all immigrants are here to take their jobs. If we can deal with the undercutting of wages, we will go a long way towards cutting out the benefits that some employers see in harvesting people from overseas and bringing them here to work.
My constituents are very clear that we also need an effective mechanism to tackle a problem that we have had for centuries but not yet resolved: monitoring who comes into the country and who goes out. We still have no reliable system for ensuring that people are properly chased when their visas expire. In my view, and that of my constituents, it is important that even those coming from the EU should be properly counted in and out. We need exit checks, even allowing for free movement. Clearly that should also apply to the movement of vehicles, as other hon. Members have said.
It is all the unknowns—the areas where information is not fully available and the facts are unknown—that naturally fuel people’s fears and insecurities. Why should the people of Plymouth have to rely on vague and inaccurate information about what is happening in their area? My hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) is right that we need practical measures of the type she described, not platitudes. We need truthfulness and reliable facts, as has been said on both sides of the House.
I will move on from immigration and talk about domestic violence. Women’s groups such as Women’s Aid, Paladin and the Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation have flagged up the need for legislation specifically to tackle coercive control and behaviour in difficult relationships. The issue cuts across two pieces of legislation in the Queen’s Speech. One is the Modern Slavery Bill, because many of the people unfortunate enough to find themselves in that situation are undoubtedly subjected to coercive behaviour. The other is the Serious Crime Bill. I ask the Government to look very closely at the work being done by Women’s Aid and other groups to see whether there is any scope for bringing forward a measure that would make emotional cruelty a criminal offence. Such behaviour is often a precursor to violence and other types of abuse, and there is a strong belief that if we can tackle it in some way, we will prevent worse behaviour further down the line and save money. I ask the Minister to look at that in due course.
I did not agree with everything the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) said, but I agreed with his comments on the social action, responsibility and heroism Bill. Having been a lifeguard for nine years, I used my skills mostly when people had heart attacks in the street or on trains. The hon. Gentleman’s assessment is that people find it difficult to intervene. I once stepped off a bus and found a lady lying on the pavement in front of me. There was a group of people around her, but none of them had done anything. Some of them said, “I don’t want to be sued.” I am afraid that our very British values of not crossing the road in such circumstances have been subsumed beneath an Atlantic, American, litigious attitude to everything. If, through this Bill, we can make people feel a little more confident, that could make a difference in their acting to save lives and take action where appropriate.
The biggest failure in the Queen’s Speech is in not bringing forward measures to reward hard work, to ensure new homes are built, to stop privatisation of the NHS, or to freeze energy bills. That says a lot about the ability of this lame-duck coalition Government to really deliver for the people of this country.
Before my main comments, I want to say a few words about the crisis in the Passport Office, about which some hon. Friends have already spoken. I was disappointed that at the start of the debate the Home Secretary did not seem to take this issue very seriously. It has attracted considerable media attention in the past few days, but I—and, I suspect, practically every other MP—have been grappling with it for weeks, as we have dealt with more and more people whose holidays and work have faced disruption and cancellation because their passport applications have been delayed and who are making inquiries but are unable to find out what has been going on, with the whole process causing great stress and worry. I could refer to many examples, but I will not go into them in detail given the pressures of time.
I have had more problems with the Passport Office over the past three weeks, as a Member of Parliament, than in the previous 13 years. Bluntly, the Government need to take action to sort this out, or lots of holidays will be ruined and business opportunities lost. This mess should have been sorted out months ago. If management and Ministers had been on top of their jobs, they should have realised there was a problem long ago and taken the necessary action. Let me be clear: this is not the fault of the front-line staff in the Passport Office, who have clearly been overwhelmed by a situation not of their making. They have been very courteous and helpful when my staff have made inquiries. The source of the problem is clearly at the very top, with, I suspect, cutbacks being a major contributory factor. I suspect that it is also the result of a Secretary of State whose focus, to put it kindly, has been directed elsewhere. I hope that the Minister will give some indication of taking this more seriously and ensuring that action is taken to deal with the problem and the backlog.
The main thrust of my comments is on the wider issue of immigration policy. I welcome the clear commitment given by my party leader and my Front Benchers to reject anti-immigrant rhetoric and promote policies that deal with the real issues of migration. Many people have concerns about immigration; I hear them frequently in my constituency. Some of those concerns can be well-founded, and they must be addressed. This debate should be based on facts, as many Members have said. The fact is that the many people who are immigrants, or descended from immigrants, make, with only few exceptions, a positive and beneficial contribution to our society and our community. They make a direct contribution through the taxes that they pay. They often provide key workers in sectors of the public service, such as the health service, and have proved vital to many private sector businesses as well. They have made, and still make, important contributions to our culture and our sporting life, to the academic world and research, and to much else besides—even, indeed, to our political life in this Chamber and beyond. That is not surprising, because, reflecting our history, our country has always been a country of migrants, whether from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean or many other parts of the world. That is the nature of our society and our country, and it is a source of strength, not weakness.
Inevitably, the arrival in any part of this country—in any country of the world—of large numbers of incomers over a relatively short period, whether migrants from other countries or people moving from elsewhere in the same country, will have an effect on society and is likely to put pressures on social infrastructure and the employment market. The way to respond to those pressures and concerns is not to ramp up anti-immigrant rhetoric—or to set unworkable targets, as this Government have tried to do time and again—but to provide a real solution to real concerns and a positive response where possible. That can be done by recognising the need to improve social infrastructure and taking the necessary steps to put it in place, while challenging those myths and rumours that are not well-founded. It is also important, as my Front-Bench colleagues have emphasised today and elsewhere, to stop the exploitation of workers—UK citizens and those from elsewhere—which lies at the heart of many of the concerns raised by constituents.
One aspect of immigration policy—not just in the UK, but worldwide—needs to be considered as part of the backdrop to any debate on the issue. Given that the world population has been doubling over a relatively small number of decades and that many countries are suffering from war and conflict, it is not surprising that people seek to come to countries that are relatively wealthy, stable and secure. The UK is clearly too small to have an open-door policy, which is why it is right to have a firm immigration policy, but it is worth bearing in mind the overall context, because if we do not also do as much as we can to solve some of the underlying reasons that people want to migrate, we will, bluntly, always have pressures on migration, no matter what policies we or any other Government of any other country adopt. That is why we should be working to reduce conflict in the world and why we should seek to do what we can to support international development, to try to reduce the pressures on migration to the wealthier countries, of which we are one.
Perhaps the starkest indication of those pressures is the fact that, perhaps at this moment, somewhere on the southern shore of the Mediterranean a boat is setting off and over the next few days its occupants may well drown and die horribly in those waters. Thousands die each year on that journey, as do others on journeys across the sea to more attractive parts of the world, such as north America and Australia. Over the past 10 to 15 years, 25,000 people are known to have died in the Mediterranean sea when seeking to travel to the shores of Europe. That small number is probably only a proportion of those who have died making that journey, because many more will have died without anyone knowing anything about it, except for their grieving relatives back home.
Of course, people should not seek to cross borders illegally in the Mediterranean or elsewhere, but the fact that so many are in such desperate circumstances that they are prepared to take the risk should demand recognition from us of the forces that lead them to make the journey and of the need to tackle some of the underlying causes of migration. The situation also requires a humanitarian response from us as fellow human beings.
I understand that a European Union institution—probably the Justice and Home Affairs Council—will meet in the next few weeks to discuss the future direction of EU policy on borders and asylum. Amnesty International has made a number of proposals on the approach that the UK Government should take at that meeting, including:
“Safe routes to Europe for refugees from countries like Syria so they are not forced to take dangerous journeys, for instance, through resettlement quotas”.
The Government have made some moves on that, but they should do a lot more. Amnesty International also suggests:
“Increased search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean to identify boats in distress and save lives”,
“Human rights at the heart of migration control agreements with neighbouring countries”.
Those seem to be a set of reasonable policies that not only reflect humanitarian concerns, but are practical.
I should like the Minister to tell the House in his closing comments how he and the Government will respond to the calls for a European-wide policy to tackle the crisis in the Mediterranean and off the shores of southern Europe. That tragedy is an issue not just for the countries involved, but one that must also be addressed in our national interest. The fact is that people who take that route to southern Europe may, in due course, also seek to travel to the UK. The situation requires a coherent response across the European Union, and I should like to hear what our Government are doing to make that coherent response possible.
It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) and the many other speakers. In many ways, the Queen’s Speech debate is the panorama of all debates, with so many different themes raised. Even within the framework of home affairs, a huge range of issues come into play, as they have today, such as human trafficking, immigration and much else. I totally understand why many hon. Members want to cover a range of themes in their speeches in such a debate, but I want to restrict my comments to one area that is very important for us as legislators—the crime of online paedophilia and how we handle it as a society. The crime is immensely serious, and we should reflect that in our laws and sentencing.
It is totally right, in the words of the summary of the Serious Crime Bill in the document issued with the Queen’s Speech, that
“we can continue to effectively and relentlessly pursue, disrupt and bring to justice serious and organised criminals, guard against the threat of terrorism and protect vulnerable women and children.”
If we cannot do that, there is precious little point in having a Government at all. I welcome the fact that the Bill will create a new offence of possessing paedophilic manuals and, critically, that it will clarify the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to make it explicit that cruelty likely to cause psychological harm to a child is an offence. Several hon. Members have already expanded on that.
It is important to introduce measures to tackle child abuse and emotional neglect and, moving on from that, to recognise the growing dangers of online paedophilia. Legislation is necessary if we are to tackle how we deal with those who use the internet to target children. I want to propose that Ministers listening to the debate today should consider toughening still further the law in this area. We may need to use primary legislation to bring in mandatory custodial sentencing in certain cases for which at present there is no such requirement.
I want to share with the Minister and the House a recent case in my constituency in which, in my view and that of many of my constituents, what took place was an absolute travesty of justice. Members may not be aware of the case of Dennis Igo from Bronington in my constituency. So appalled was I about the outcome that I have referred the case to the Attorney-General and asked him to review the sentence awarded.
For seven years, Mr Igo viewed and made well over 250,000 indecent images of children. Some of the images were of children as young as five. Many were of children being abused, and some were category 5 images. One national newspaper has stated in print that he had 99 of the most serious level 5 images. The collection included 834 films. The police were able to retrieve 255,667 images, and they have been quite clear that there were many more images, but the sheer quantity made it impossible to retrieve any more from the computer. There were also extreme images of bestiality.
For this catalogue of the most heinous crimes, Mr Igo was sentenced on 23 May—in our country—to a grand total of 300 hours of community work, with some specialised counselling and a two-year prison term suspended for two years. He was ordered to register with the police as a sex offender for 10 years, and he was given a 10-year sexual offences prevention order to restrict his future conduct. Before sentencing, he was not put on remand, but was out on bail. The view was taken that he could be managed in the community; the community he lives in does not share that view, and neither, most certainly, do I.
The mitigating circumstances were that the accused was depressed, his wife had been ill and he allegedly had financial problems, although I do not know whether the latter point was independently verified or whether there is evidence of his having sold any assets to deal with that if it was the case. Nevertheless, I do not believe that depression, a wife who has been ill, alleged money problems and, I suspect, a very clever lawyer, add up to mitigating circumstances for a non-custodial sentence in such a case. That is why I have asked the Attorney-General to review it.
It is no wonder that Claudia Knights, the chief executive of the child protection charity Kidscape, said of this case:
“The sentence does not reflect the severity of the case. It must not be forgotten that each indecent image involves real children. We have to ask what message such apparently lenient sentences send out to both abusers and victims of such crimes.”
By comparison, let us take another case, the sentencing for which took place in Peterborough Crown court two days before Mr Igo was sentenced in Mold Crown court for the offences that I have listed. In the Peterborough case, the court heard how the accused made indecent images of children available for distribution via a file-sharing software programme. Officers discovered 242 indecent images and 495 films. In the case that I have been describing, Mr Igo was sentenced on 16 separate charges; in the Peterborough Crown court case, the accused was sentenced on 10 counts. Igo and the accused in the Peterborough case were put on the sex offenders register for an identical length of time: 10 years. However, in the Peterborough Crown court case, the accused was also jailed for 16 months. After sentencing in the Peterborough Crown court case, a detective constable said:
“I hope this sends out a clear message that anyone who thinks they can access and share such images will not get away with it… We will find out and we will catch up with you.”
I recognise that there are differences in the two cases, but there is also clearly a massive discrepancy when 242 indecent images and 495 films mean jail for one person, yet, in the same jurisdiction, more than 255,667 indecent images and 834 films do not mean jail for another. That is why I hope that, following this debate, Home Office Ministers will look at the need for new primary legislation. Do they honestly believe that online paedophiles, especially those who have made and viewed such a huge number of indecent images, should seriously be out on bail before sentencing?
I believe that it is crucial that we look seriously at mandatory custodial sentences. Recently, we have heard many accounts of child abuse in the 1970s and 1980s and about how a previous generation of abused children went through hell. Sometimes, they spoke out and no one believed them; many times, they did not even feel that they could tell anyone. Whether it is true or not, we like to think that things like that belong to a past era and that they could not happen in quite the same way today. However, as we have that debate and as we debate the Queen’s Speech, let us not forget the world of online child abuse, where images are taken, used and abused; images of real children, wherever they may happen to live; images that are viewed and manufactured electronically.
The issues involved are serious for Governments and for us as legislators. As we speak, as we have done today, about paedophilic manuals and the emotional and psychological abuse of children, I hope that Ministers will seriously review and consider the need for new primary legislation in this area.
It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), who spoke so eloquently and passionately on a vital issue of deep concern.
Last week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said that one of the tests for a Queen’s Speech is whether it responds to the anxieties people feel in their communities. Many of us will recognise that one such anxiety expressed by some of our constituents is about immigration. We should be able to debate immigration, both in Parliament and with our constituents, because it has a vital place in the history of our country. Our success as a nation was built on being outward-facing and welcoming, and over centuries, immigration has made Britain the country we are proud of and it has an important role in our future. However, it must be controlled and managed to ensure that the system is fair and works in the interests of everyone, and of course that it has public confidence and support.
Despite its importance, immigration did not get a single mention in the Queen’s Speech. This Government’s policies over the past four years have not promoted an open and honest debate, or delivered the progressive and fair approach that this country needs. Instead we have seen the use of irresponsible “Go Home” vans and heard a lot of tough talk, while at the same time the ill-conceived targets for net migration that the Government set have been missed by a mile. The Prime Minister promised to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, but it has actually risen to 200,000.
Indeed, it is worse than that. Not only are the Government failing to tackle some of the very real issues affecting our communities—such as the way some employers exploit cheap migrant labour to undercut local pay and conditions, or the impact of cuts to our vital public services—but their policies on immigration are damaging the future prosperity of cities like Nottingham by discouraging bright overseas students from coming to study at our universities. Back in March I met the pro-vice-chancellors with responsibility for international students from Nottingham Trent university and the university of Nottingham. They were extremely concerned about the impact that Government changes to visa applications and post-study work entitlements are having on the recruitment of international students, and about the implications of that for the economic success of our city.
Higher education is one of the UK’s most important export industries. There are currently around 11,000 international students in Nottingham across our two universities, and there is monetary value to their being there. Nottingham Trent university estimates that the total spend of their international students—fees plus accommodation and living costs—is around £60 million. The corresponding figure for the university of Nottingham is £160 million. Those universities estimate that when we take into account the multipliers—the extra value of that expenditure for the local economy—the combined value of international students to the Nottingham economy is somewhere in the order of £374 million per year, supporting hundreds of jobs in our city and the wider east midlands region.
The concern for our universities, which are operating in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, is that the Government’s rhetoric and policies are putting students off coming to the UK to study. Higher Education Statistics Agency data show that the total number of international students studying at higher educational institutions in the UK has declined for the first time since records began in 1994. The biggest drop off in visas is for students from the Indian subcontinent, with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh seeing reductions in the year to March 2013 of 38%, 62% and 30% respectively. That is particularly alarming as those are among the countries forecast by the British Council to have the biggest increase in outbound student mobility up to the year 2020.
The ability to work in a country after study is one of the most significant factors that students consider when deciding where to study. A recent survey by Universities UK found that 56% of respondents cited the possibility of obtaining post-study work experience as a factor they considered when applying to the UK. According to a 2011 survey by the UK Council for International Student Affairs, the abolition of the post-study work route has had the greatest negative impact of all recent visa changes on students’ decisions to study in the UK, especially at postgraduate level. If the Government do not think again—I hope the Minister will respond to these issues in his closing remarks—Nottingham and other UK cities could face an immediate impact on their local economies, risk missing out on some of the brightest overseas students, and lose the wider cultural benefits of hosting students from across the world.
There is also a longer-term impact because we know that young people who study here are the Government, business and cultural leaders of the future, and therefore we are also losing out on the opportunities for international influence and inward investment that educational opportunities in the UK can foster and encourage.
Let me turn to the issues that the Government are simply failing to address and which concern many of my constituents. The Government have said that a key priority is to
“continue to build an economy that rewards those who work hard.”
Unfortunately, for many people in Nottingham that does not reflect their experience of the last few years. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) noted last week, 5 million people in Britain—one in five workers—are low paid, and for the first time ever most of the people in poverty are in work. Yesterday, the Nottingham Post reported that 16,000 people a year rely on food banks in our county, and charities tell us that low wages and insecure contracts are contributing to the huge increase in that number. That is why I raised the need for financial security in employment with the Prime Minister last week. Unfortunately, he failed to address the concern I was expressing on behalf of my constituents about the quality and security of the new jobs being created and about their ability to earn a decent living wage.
As we are a trading nation, a “close all the doors” approach to immigration cannot work, but neither can a laissez-faire right-wing approach to free movement that allows employers to exploit cheap labour. It is bad for the migrant workers being exploited, it is bad for local workers whose wages are undercut and it is bad for responsible employers who want to offer fair rewards. Labour is the only party offering practical solutions to stop this exploitation in the workplace. Instead of remaining silent, the Government should have included an immigration Bill to stop workers being undercut.
In a Labour Queen’s Speech there would be measures to strengthen minimum wage enforcement by giving councils a new role and increasing the maximum fine to £50,000.
In the light of the hon. Lady’s comments, does she welcome the fact that the Government have raised the minimum wage, and will legislate in the small business Bill to help enforcement of the minimum wage and remove exclusivity from zero-hours contracts?
Of course I welcome the measures that the hon. Lady mentions, but they are not enough. Banning exclusivity from zero-hours contracts does nothing to help people who are working regular hours week in, week out but never have the security of a proper contract. That is why we are asking the Government to go further.
A Labour Government would ban employment agencies that only recruit workers from abroad and would make serious exploitation a crime, to prevent dodgy gangmasters exploiting migrants to undercut jobs and wages. We would also strengthen border controls to tackle illegal immigration and stop abuse, but welcome overseas students coming to the UK and immediately remove them from the net migration target. We would act where the Government have not and strengthen checks on short-term student visitor visas which are open to abuse.
We would also introduce a “make work pay” Bill to reward hard work, raising the national minimum wage to a higher proportion of average earnings and guaranteeing a regular contract to those on zero-hours contracts who work regular hours month after month but have no security for themselves or their families.
Fifteen years ago I worked as a trade union officer in Derbyshire. Many of the low-paid home care workers had a small number of contracted hours but regularly worked many more hours. We reached a deal under which those hours were gradually incorporated into their contracts. I recognise that employers and employees sometimes need flexibility, but people also need financial security, and we are proposing a workable option that would provide that.
Labour would encourage businesses to pay the living wage with “make work pay” contracts. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Labour local authorities that are leading the way on this, ending poverty pay among their own staff and only contracting with those employers who pay a living wage. I also pay tribute to organisations such as Nottingham Citizens, which is working in our city to demonstrate the value of a living wage to employers and holding us politicians to account.
The message that we heard loud and clear in the recent elections is that people want politicians who listen to their concerns, talk to them and are not afraid of debate. People are worried but we should not stoke those fears. Hostility and division are not the way forward. Britain needs fair and practical solutions. That is what a Government should offer. The coalition is not offering what people need, but a Labour Government will.
One of the pledges I made when I was elected was to put local people first; to listen to my constituents all year round and to take what they say seriously. I was grateful in that election for the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and it is a pleasure to follow her. Many of the issues she will have heard when she campaigned in Corby and East Northamptonshire are the same as those raised by her constituents, as she illustrated in her speech in which she made incredibly important remarks on immigration.
Every Friday, I send out an e-newsletter that is read by thousands of people across Corby and East Northamptonshire. I asked recently what my constituents would like to see included in the Queen’s Speech. I received nearly 100 responses. I wish that I could put all the contributions on the record. I assure my constituents that I have read and taken on board their views. I offered three priorities that I wanted to see in this year’s Queen’s Speech: an end to the abuse of zero-hours contracts, a guarantee of GP appointments within 48 hours and a freeze on energy bills. I was pleased to see mention of zero-hours contracts in the Queen’s Speech, but I agree with my hon. Friend that the Government will not take the action that is really needed to stop the exploitation that is so prevalent in my constituency. I was disappointed that there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech on the NHS, and that there was nothing on tackling the rip-off gas and energy prices that my constituents face, when bills have gone up by £300 a year under the coalition Government.
My constituents told me that they want action to build more houses, and action on skills training and better quality apprenticeships. They told me they want help for families, particularly action to make child care more affordable.
What my constituents want is real quality apprenticeships. They want level 3 apprenticeships and beyond. They want real pathways into employment. They want people to have the opportunity to become skilled tradespeople.
My constituents want more rights for fathers. They want to look at the impact of the abolition of crisis loans. They want action to support the wider implementation of the living wage. I, too, welcome the leadership that has been shown by Labour local authorities around the country, but I want to see a much more widespread take-up of the living wage, including by the private sector. They want the bedroom tax to be scrapped, because they recognise it is unfair. They want action on care for the elderly and more support for people with dementia. They want a more progressive tax system and the reversal of the tax cut for millionaires. My constituents told me they want a Bill that will allow for votes at 16. They want to end the use of unqualified teachers in classrooms. They want investment in green energy. They want to close the loopholes used by large corporations to evade tax. They want more scrutiny of the defence cuts that are being pushed through. They want to end the dogma-driven privatisation of public services. They want to really get banks lending, particularly to small businesses. They want to improve the condition of roads and they want a Bill on street lights.
Some of my constituents told me that they want a balanced and practical debate on immigration. Migration plays a big part in the history of Corby and East Northamptonshire. Over the generations, people coming from across the UK and around the world have mixed with Northamptonshire people to create a distinctive, incredibly strong and proud community. People coming to the area have contributed enormously both economically and culturally, and they will continue to do so: Scottish people, people from Ireland and Wales, Serbians who came and helped to build the pipeline under the ocean that got the fuel across to the allied troops landing on D-day, the Bangladeshi community that has become established in the past 20 years or so—I was very proud of our first Bangladeshi Muslim mayor last year—and the recent development of the Zimbabwean community. There has also been significant migration of people from countries new to the European Union who, like migrants before them, have brought new ways of life, new languages and new shops on our high streets.
All of these changes can be unsettling. They can cause anxiety and they do raise questions about the impact on local services and the labour market. Part of the issue is that people feel that the Government are just not working for them. People in my constituency are being exploited at work, they are struggling to access housing, they are facing problems accessing health services and they are finding it difficult to get a school place for their child. The problem is partly about demand, with a growing population—people coming to Corby and us having the highest birth rate in the country—and people living longer.
When the Scots arrived in the inter-war years, there was a need to ensure that the effect on existing residents was managed, that tensions were overcome and that new services and facilities were provided to meet the needs of a growing town. That challenge has been met by each generation. It has been met by those determined to make our community work, not by those who want to channel people’s anxiety and concern into blaming people who seem different—who sound or look different, maybe worship a different god or speak a different language.
In my constituency, everybody comes from somewhere else—including me. I can trace my family on my father’s side back eight generations, but what of the ninth? On my mum’s side, my nan is of Irish descent and my granddad Scottish. People in Corby remember the discrimination. They remember the signs saying “No Blacks. No Irish. No dogs.” When the Government sent around vans saying “Go Home”, I found graffiti outside the mosque in my town that said “Go Home”. I felt ashamed of my Government. When I hear about the bullying of children in school because they look or sound different, I wonder where those attitudes come from and why our Government have given them succour.
We should debate the changes in our society, including the effects of immigration, in a way that actually helps us positively to address the issues. I have pushed for practical policies to deal with people’s concerns, such as the way the local labour market is being undermined by the exploitation of migrant workers. We need more action to enforce the minimum wage; we should double the maximum fine. I want councils to be given the power to enforce the minimum wage and I am pleased that that commitment has been made, in the event that there is a Labour Government next May.
I want to see the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority extended, not necessarily to regulate in ever more sectors or to license, because those things can be costly and may not be necessary or practical. But where the authority recognises problems in other sectors—for example the car wash industry—it should be able to take action and to follow the intelligence. We should strengthen the law so that recruitment agencies cannot discriminate against UK workers in applying for jobs. We need housing laws to stop migrant workers being exploited and crammed into beds in sheds, undercutting local workers. A Polish constituent came to see me recently to describe his experience of arriving in Corby, his passage having been facilitated by an agency. When he got here he found that the house he was promised was appalling and the job he was promised amounted to a few days’ agency work.
We need to make sure that we give people here the skills they need for the future by ensuring that large companies offer apprenticeships for local workers when they are at the same time bringing in workers from outside the UK. We need more stringent border checks, which is why I have opposed cuts to border control. On these critical issues of access to services and housing, when my constituents say from time to time—other hon. Members will have heard this—“Migrants are given the housing,” I say, “Well, it is very difficult for anybody to access housing. The waiting lists are incredibly long. The issue is that we simply have not been building enough housing for a long time.” The real issue is housing supply, not the recent wave of migration into my community.
Concerns about crime have come to the fore in my constituency recently. After a long period when crime has been falling, it is deeply worrying to hear of an increasing number of violent crimes. I am concerned that there is complacency in Corby and East Northamptonshire about the level of crime and the challenge we face. I know that the police based locally—operating in East Northants from their base in Thrapston, and in Corby—do their absolute best. I also know, because they tell me, that they have been diverted away to other areas.
Crime has been falling over recent years. I am concerned that the police commissioner is now taking resources from Corby to put them into Northampton, Kettering and other towns. I would ask him directly about this but I have not found him open to a proper and honest dialogue about the impact of his policies. It is proving difficult to hold him to account. This has been part of the weakness of the police commissioner model. I have concerns about the costs and the politicisation that we have seen. The first act of the Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner was to appoint his campaign manager and three other political allies to the posts of deputy commissioner on salaries of £65,000 a year, the equivalent of 11 constables on the streets of Corby and East Northamptonshire.
A special report published recently by the Northampton Chronicle and Echo found that the number of staff employed by Northamptonshire’s police and crime commissioner has almost trebled and the wage spend nearly doubled in the 18 months since he started his job. He now employs 34 staff at a cost of £1.4 million. The office of the police and crime commissioner in Northamptonshire has 10 more staff than the West Midlands commissioner, who covers an area five times as large. Will the Minister look into this spending and whether it represents value for money? It does not give me confidence that the police force in Northamptonshire has the leadership it needs.
The police commissioner intends to close Corby police station. I recognise that the Elizabeth street station is ageing, but the answer is to improve it or to look for a new operational base in Corby. The police commissioner has already begun downgrading the station. The cells are now no longer used. That has not been made public but I know this from police officers and, in fact, had it confirmed in a letter from the chief constable about a month ago. The police now have to go out of the area when they make an arrest or to take people into custody, wasting valuable time and resources by going to the opposite end of what is a large county to travel across. When the commissioner talks about a “police presence” in Corby when the police station goes, I hear alarm bells. A shop window is okay, but it is not a replacement for an operational police base. The House of Commons Library figures show that Corby will be the largest town in the whole country without a police station if the Elizabeth street station closes in a few years’ time and is not properly replaced with an operational base.
High-profile crimes in Corby, such as the recent sexual assault on Oakley road and the two violent attacks in successive weeks on the land behind Stephenson way, have caused widespread concern. I recently attended a big public meeting in town and found that people were appalled to hear that the police station was being downgraded and could close altogether. They want a fair share of policing resources and they want street lights turned back on, because they feel unsafe as a result of this short-sighted policy by the Tory county council.
There are concerns, too, in the rural areas about acquisitive crime and antisocial behaviour in some of the small towns. Some brilliant PCSOs are doing good work. I recently attended the JAG—joint action group—team about crime across East Northamptonshire, but resources are again a challenge.
We now have in Northamptonshire the highest reported number of rape cases, which leads to the concern in my community about recent sexual attacks. We have issues about referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service. We have a cloud hanging over the future of Corby magistrates court. Our probation service—one of the best in the country—is being closed down because of another of this Government’s dogmatic privatisations. We have cuts to resources for dealing with domestic violence and to women’s refuges as a result of cuts arising from the reorganisation of the PCT and probation. I want to pay tribute to the campaign led by Sally Keeble in Northampton and Corby councillor Mary Butcher to save the refuges. They won a temporary reprieve of six months, but the future still looks uncertain and I hope that the Home Secretary shares my concern and will look into it.
I hope that Ministers hear the warning alarm I am sounding about police and crime issues in Northamptonshire. I really hope that they will look further into them and will in due course make a proper response to the concerns I have raised.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, who can start again in a moment. Let me explain the practice relating to speakers. Where Members have notified the Chair in advance, they will obviously participate in the debate. If Members wish to contribute once a debate is a good way through, they may approach the Chair, but take a lower priority. The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) was unable to be present earlier and has indicated that she would like to speak. I intend to call her at the end. I hope that that is clear to Ministers. I am not being unfair to the hon. Lady; I am following normal practice.
Thank you for your patience this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have had to be in and out of the Chamber, trying to balance my attendance with my duties on the Finance Bill.
The Queen’s Speech contains three new Bills that relate to criminal justice. For a Government who argued while in opposition that the Labour party over-legislated in this area, these Bills join seven others on criminal justice since they came to power in 2010. The previous seven Bills have created in total 619 new criminal offences, many of which carry custodial sentences.
With our prison population stretched to maximum levels, now is the time to question the role that prison and criminal justice play in society. In the past year, the prison population in England and Wales has reached record levels and stands today at 85,228 prisoners—a 90% increase since 1993. In 2012-13, the overall resource expenditure on prisons in England and Wales was just under £3 billion. Each inmate costs the taxpayer an average of £36,808 per prison place a year—money that the general public would no doubt think better spent on health, education, improving the roads and many other projects that hon. Members have mentioned.
With the UK having the second highest incarceration rates in western Europe and the prison estate suffering from overcrowding since 1994, we are facing a crisis that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. There is no doubt that prison works for some people. For the victim of crime and those who live in fear of it, prison gets criminals off the streets, reducing the risk they pose to the rest of society because they cannot commit an offence when they are locked up. Sadly, we all know that some individuals pose such a threat to other people that there is no option other than keeping them under lock and key for a very long time. However, prison is not the answer in all cases, and I want to concentrate on that in my speech.
According to the executive summary of the latest figures on releases, about 590,000 adult and juvenile offenders were cautioned, convicted or released from custody between July 2011 and June 2012, and 25% of them reoffended within a year. According to the “proven reoffending” tables, the reoffending rate among persons released from a custodial sentence was 45.5% for adults and 67.4% for juveniles. Those statistics should be balanced against the fact that between 1997 and 2010, under a Labour Government, crime fell by 43%, and violent crime fell by 42%.
Although I represent the Labour party, I will say that it seems that when in government we were very good at locking people up, but did not address the inherent problem of reoffending. Now, as more criminal justice Bills appear before Parliament, I see that we are still not tackling that problem. If Governments have a duty to society to protect their citizens from criminals, that means they also have a duty to ensure that those who are released from prison do not drift back into a life of crime.
The National Offender Management Service manages 17 public prisons in England and Wales and the contracts of 14 private sector prisons, and is responsible for a prisoner population of about 86,000. However, it must make cuts of £650 million in its £3.4 billion budget by 2015. Now, with the prison population reaching almost unmanageable levels and the Government intent on making cuts in the resources available to prison staff, it is of the utmost importance that rehabilitation be looked at seriously. That approach needs to begin in the prisons themselves. Just 36% of people leaving prison go into some type of education, training or employment.
People often leave prison ill equipped to deal with day-to-day life. Statistics show that 43% of offenders have numeracy skills below GCSE standard, while 37% have reading skills below the same measure. Moreover, no one can agree on the number of offenders who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia. For many prisoners who are released, unemployment is a familiar scenario: 67% of the prison population were unemployed before being locked up, and many will face the same situation when they are released.
My hon. Friend is talking very sensibly about the problems faced by people in prison and the work done there, but will he acknowledge that some of the changes in the probation system will not help, given that there are already signs that they are not bedding down easily?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There have been many severe cases in which the probation service has been stretched to the maximum. I am thinking of one in particular, in which an extremely violent crime had been committed. I do not want to mention it, but it was reported in the national press. That violent individual was released, and the probation officer never reached him because of the extent of the work load.
Is it any wonder that people who leave prison only to be faced with the unemployment that they experienced before should return to the way of life that sent them to prison in the first place? I think that that problem is more acute in the case of short sentences, which many of the 600-odd new offences will attract. At present, 60% of prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months are reconvicted within a year, which is a sad reflection on society. Those who are in prison for less than a year have no access to offender management programmes, and are not subject to supervision by the probation service following their release. The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 seeks to address that by ensuring that all offenders are supervised in the community for 12 months after their release. Given that the probation service is already strained, we must await the outcome of the Act, but in the light of my experience of membership of the Justice Committee, I do not hold out much hope. [Interruption.]
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it would be unfair to allow him to continue when there is a noise going on. There is something wrong with the speakers. I have asked for it to be fixed, and I hope that neither the hon. Gentleman nor those who are listening to him will be too distracted.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was aware of it, but I was trying to block it out—but that sort of thing happens a lot in this job.
The lack of education available in prison to short-term offenders makes gaining employment after prison difficult. Having a criminal record is an obvious stumbling block for someone trying to get their life back on track. The Institute of Leadership and Management published an article in April 2014 on employing ex-offenders. It states that fewer than 50% of businesses would interview someone with a criminal record, despite 80% agreeing that ex-offenders should be given a second chance. Those going into prison often suffer from the disadvantage of a lack of any formal qualifications. Over half of men in prison have no qualifications. Upon release, the situation is often unchanged, despite the availability of prison education. Even those who serve longer sentences and gain well-recognised qualifications while inside are damaged by the perception of prison education. How can we expect somebody with no previous work experience and no formal educational qualifications outside the prison environment to turn up to work on time every day and conduct themselves appropriately? It is my belief that a prison education system designed in conjunction with businesses and employers may help to change the perception employers have of the worthiness of education inside prison, and in the process reduce the likelihood that people will reoffend.
Of course, even talking about this issue will leave any politician open to the charge of being soft on crime. On particularly slow news days there is always a journalist with a case up their sleeve, telling the world how criminals are again living the life of Riley. However, as I said at the beginning of my speech, we are at crisis point, with a prison population that is simply running out of control. With public finances stretched, it is obvious that the increasing prison population, together with high reoffending rates, means something has to be done urgently.
This is not an easy debate to have, especially when we have a media intent on peddling the myth that criminals get away with it. In this age of austerity we now find ourselves living in, we have an opportunity to talk candidly about the future of crime and punishment, and I hope we will begin to do so in the coming months and years.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), and I hope he will not spend the next few minutes trying to block me out. I want to welcome certain measures in the Modern Slavery Bill and the Serious Crime Bill, and I apologise for being late, but I was coming from the Select Committee on Home Affairs.
As many Members have mentioned, trafficking and exploitation is a despicable crime whereby organised criminals prey on the most vulnerable in our community for profit. It is important to recognise that the victims are not just those who are trafficked as migrants, but also include British citizens, who are perhaps vulnerable due to learning disabilities or poverty. It is exceptionally important that, as we raise awareness of trafficking and exploitation, we do not stereotype either the perpetrators or the victims and thereby risk making certain types of criminal or victim effectively invisible to our criminal justice system or the wider community. For that reason, I hope the anti-slavery commissioner will have a role in both commissioning accurate data-gathering and raising awareness of the true nature of trafficking and exploitation in the United Kingdom.
I also welcome the measures that increase the tariffs for trafficking and introduce trafficking prevention orders. They mirror the sexual risk orders that we have already legislated for as part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to tackle child sexual exploitation. I have spoken to police officers up and down the country and they have made it clear to me that these orders will be invaluable tools in disrupting the deeply destructive activities of child sexual exploitation and trafficking gangs.
I also ask that we look at reforming abduction warning notices. At present they are split into two different orders: victims in care are protected up to the age of 18, but victims who are not in care are only protected up to the age of 16. This is discriminatory and unacceptable and it would be a perfectly simple reform for us to equalise the warning notices so that all children were protected up to the age of 18 and any breach of such an order carried a penalty.
As the relevant Minister is in his seat, I also ask him to consider court reforms for victims in all these areas. We should not force victims who have been abused in such appalling ways, even if they have managed to have the bravery to come forward and go through the trauma of a police investigation, to suffer our current adversarial court system and the indignity and anxiety of its procedures. I particularly suggest that we consider the pre-recorded evidence pilot and extending the age limit up to 24, as many victims do not get to court until they are much older, even if they are abused as children. We should also consider mandatory training not only of prosecutors but of all judges and defence barristers in cases involving sexual abuse and exploitation.
Similar measures have been included in the Serious Crime Bill, with gang injunctions and serious crime prevention orders. The Home Affairs Committee inquiry that I have just come from is part of an inquiry into gang and youth crime. It is disappointing that robust data on gangs and gang-related crime are sparse. In 2012 the Metropolitan police identified 259 violent youth gangs in 19 gang-affected boroughs. The Children’s Commissioner has estimated that 12,000 children are at risk of gang-related violence. The conclusion is that urgent work is needed to improve data gathering so that we are able to assess properly where progress has been made as a result of the Government’s strategy. Despite a strong commitment from the Government, demonstrated by the ending gang and youth violence strategy, which has made progress in many ways, it is difficult to assess progress when the database is not robust enough.
A recent Centre for Social Justice report on girls and gangs found that
“the daily suffering of girls goes largely unnoticed. They live in a parallel world where rape is used as a weapon and carrying drugs and guns is seen as normal.”
Those giving evidence this afternoon to us were clear that more progress needed to be made in protecting the most vulnerable girls and on utilising better the expertise of the voluntary organisations working in this field. To that end, can I ask that, along with the reforms of stop and search, which will help to build confidence among gangs and in the community, the measures in the Bill should include steps to integrate the ending gang and youth violence strategy with the ending of violence against women and girls strategy and the new action plan on child sexual exploitation? If those are not properly integrated, we will fail to leverage the improvements that we should be able to achieve.
Finally, in our Committee session we heard that such was the fear and hostility to the establishment among many who were caught up in gang life that many who suffered domestic abuse, rape and violent assault never sought formal help. The natural consequence of this and the extreme trauma that they experienced was high levels of mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder among gang members. One study conducted by Professor Coid found that 85.8% of gang members had antisocial personality disorder, 25.1% had psychosis, 58.9% had anxiety disorder and 34.2% had attempted suicide. I hope that Ministers will consider what steps can be taken to address these truly horrifying statistics, each of which represents an individual living in truly desperate circumstances.
The Serious Crime Bill and the Modern Slavery Bill together do much to offer hope to some of the most vulnerable victims of crime in the United Kingdom today, but I hope that as they progress through the House they can get even better and improve the lives of those vulnerable victims even more.
We have had a very interesting debate this afternoon. I have been sitting here for most of it and have learnt a great deal and been very glad of the opportunity to hear the contributions.
The hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) put it on record that he is not a creep, something that Members in all parts of the House know in any event and which he really did not need to do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) gave a very interesting analysis of UKIP in which he talked about the financial meltdown, saying that many people felt there was no control of such major issues by traditional politics. He felt that the public are looking for answers and that that had a lot to do with the rise of UKIP. He put some interesting matters before us, including a discussion of the biography of Jenkins.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) made a bold speech on the benefits of immigration and started listing all the things that the Liberal Democrats would like to have done if the Tories had not stopped them. In doing so, he ran the gauntlet of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) and his friends, but he kept going. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the pressure on services created by immigration and the fact that Dr Clare Gerada had said that doctors should not be a type of border agency, a sentiment that he supported. He was concerned about how we can ensure access to services for the right people.
The hon. Member for Peterborough seemed to be unclear about whether he believed there should be a limit on the number of Brits going to Spain, and he accused the Scottish National party of narrow chauvinistic attitudes. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) gave us the benefit of his 22 years’ experience and told us that no matter how slim the Queen’s Speech is, even those who find it bordering on anorexic may find something worth welcoming. However, he regretted the fact, as did many Members, that the Government seem to have dropped the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, as it was not included in the Queen’s Speech, although legislation on plastic bags was.
The hon. Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) gave a very thoughtful speech about the Modern Slavery Bill. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) treated us to one of his best “Braveheart” speeches. It seems that the rest of us in Westminster are picking on him. The hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) spoke knowledgably about energy policy and in favour of fracking, telling us that the rest of the world was doing it and that we need to do it to be competitive. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) paid a worthy tribute to Anthony Steen and the work he has put into the Modern Slavery Bill. I know that Members of the House would want to thank Anthony Steen and all those who have put so much work into the thinking behind the Bill.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) spoke about police cuts and a great deal about immigration. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) talked about crime rates and how reported crime is going up but conviction rates are not matching that, which has a particular impact on women. He spoke very movingly about his relative, Agnes, who was murdered, and how the rest of his family remain to this day victims of that crime. He talked about the Modern Slavery Bill and his thinking on it, listing what he had been expecting, or hoping, to find in the Bill and explaining how it fell short of expectations by saying what was missing. I commend to the Home Secretary the Hansard report of many of the contributions about what else should be included in the Bill.
The hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) made a welcome appeal for political leadership on immigration, asking that we do not fan the flames of prejudice. He also gave the very powerful example of a 92-year-old constituent who had struggled to get a passport to go back to the Normandy beaches that he had fought on as a 21-year-old. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) talked about job insecurity, low wages and the house crisis in the south-west, and asked where the measures were to address those core problems for her constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) made an intelligent and thoughtful contribution to the immigration debate and expressed concern that the Home Secretary seems not to be taking seriously the concerns expressed by many Members about backlogs at the Passport Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) spoke with great passion about a case which she believes has been a travesty of justice, and showed her real campaigning zeal on that matter.
We then heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and for Corby (Andy Sawford) who made important speeches, particularly on immigration issues. They had clearly listened to the concerns that their constituents have expressed over the past few weeks and months when my hon. Friends have been knocking on doors and standing on doorsteps listening. They had given the issues thoughtful consideration, particularly in relation to what we should do about gangmasters, problems with housing and undercutting of wages. They proposed solutions and again drew the comparison between the ideas that are bubbling under among Labour Members and the lack of any solutions in the Queen’s Speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) made a passionate speech about prison overcrowding and penal policy. He showed himself to be a consummate professional, and despite being heckled by rattling speakers, kept going and silenced them. Finally, we heard from the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), who talked about data gathering and about gang and violent crime. She said that the daily suffering of girls who were on the edges of crime seemed to go unmentioned and ignored. It is important that she raised the issue in the House, and that girls who are the victims of crime and are on the edges of these gangs are not ignored. We need to address the relevant policy issues.
The Queen’s Speech contains a number of Bills relating to home affairs which are linked by themes. My concern is that although they sound marvellous and can be talked up beautifully in the press, the Bills often disappoint when we look at the nitty-gritty. For example, on the confiscation of criminal profits, the National Audit Office report was a call to arms as it showed that only 26p of every £100 of profits a criminal makes is confiscated. Some £1.5 billion has eluded the authorities because the assets have been hidden, siphoned away overseas or eroded by third-party claims.
The report focused our minds as never before on what we should do. Labour has pledged to introduce a raft of measures which would strengthen the confiscation regime. Although on the whole we welcome the Serious Crime Bill, we wonder whether it will deliver everything that is promised. Will it live up to its rhetoric or will it ultimately be disappointing? We will look carefully at whether there are serious measures in relation to the disclosure of third-party claims. We particularly believe that they should be at the restraint order stage and not too late. We are quite happy to share our ideas if Ministers will listen to, for example, our proposals that costs should be recoverable by defendants in freezing order applications, and that when defendants ask for their costs in freezing order applications, the amount they get back should be only at legal aid rates. We are happy to share our ideas on how to put pressure on defendants to bring their assets back to the United Kingdom.
The Home Secretary was so busy fighting with the Secretary of State for Education that she may not have noticed all the details that I put into my speech at the Proceeds of Crime Lawyers Association annual general meeting. If she has not seen the speech, I would be happy to send it to her. It went into some detail about what we believe should be done so that criminal assets can be confiscated properly. We wish to give the Home Secretary some advice. One of the most important ways of seizing the profits of crime is to foster better relations with overseas jurisdictions, because once those assets are overseas, they are very difficult to get back. We need to foster better relations to ensure that overseas jurisdictions will co-operate with us.
It is extraordinary that since 2008, £200 million-worth of assets have been frozen by the UK courts in response to overseas requests for legal assistance, but not a single penny of that money has been repatriated to the countries that asked us to seize and freeze those assets. If we do not co-operate with overseas jurisdictions, how can we expect them to co-operate with us? This is not something that requires legislation, but it needs clear policy drivers and it needs to be led on.
On professional organised crime, we will be watching carefully to see whether the measures announced with such trump will be a rehashing of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. We are concerned that David Thomas, the former head of the Home Office financial intelligence unit, recently told journalists that too often the Government dragged their feet in responding to foreign freezing requests, if they responded to them at all, because they consider them too much of a headache. We really need to be serious about reciprocity if we want to seize criminal assets.
As for the child abuse provisions, the extension of the definition of child cruelty is welcome, but it must be seen against the background of child cruelty conviction rates having fallen. In 2009, the rate was 720, and in 2013 it fell to 553. It is important to extend the offence, but it is also important to use the current law and ensure that there are proper prosecutions and convictions. With regard to the law on female genital mutilation, we ask the Government to consider the call from the Director of Public Prosecutions for anonymity of victims. We do not believe that that is in the current legislation, but it needs to be considered.
The Bill that has perhaps been praised the most is the Modern Slavery Bill. It is generally to be welcomed, but, again, we must look at the enforcement record. We know that the law on human trafficking has a bad enforcement record. In 2013, there were just 28 prosecutions for trafficking for sexual exploitation, and only 11 convictions. In relation to child protection, 300 children who had been trafficked were rescued from their traffickers and placed in care but then went missing. We have been calling since 2010 for legal guardians, and we are impatient that the legislation contains only enabling powers and that we must await the results of trials. We welcome statutory defence of victims of trafficking to ensure that they are not prosecuted for crimes that they are forced into, and we welcome the fact that there will be statutory guidance on victim ID and victim services, but we are concerned that the national referral mechanism is not working properly and needs review. Again, I discovered recently in a freedom of information request from the Crown Prosecution Service that it usually does not go to the national referral mechanism until after someone has been prosecuted and sentenced. In those circumstances, the data base is hardly doing the job it is supposed to be doing.
As I understand it, the NRM has been under review since April, and it is well known that that was a necessary process. Does the hon. Lady not welcome the prevention orders that are proposed in the Modern Slavery Bill, which will be a key tool for police in disrupting the very trafficking networks that she is talking about?
There are measures in the proposed legislation that will work, but it does not go far enough. We are quite happy to work with the Government to ensure that it does. For example, on supply chains, we do not want products in our country that are the result of slavery. We are concerned that the Bill will not address that specific issue. There may be some disruption, but it will not happen to the extent that is necessary, so we need to work together on this. We give a partial welcome to the legislation, but we cannot welcome it wholeheartedly because it does not go far enough. We are also concerned that the domestic workers visa means that 60% of those on the new visa have no salary at all.
The worst piece of legislation, however—the one that seems to promise so much but really we do not know what on earth it means—is the social action, responsibility and heroism Bill. According to the Lord Chancellor, it will protect
“the responsible employer who puts in place proper training for staff, who has sensible safety procedures, and tries to do the right thing.”
“someone injures themselves doing something stupid or something that no reasonable person would ever have expected to be a risk”,
that employer is sued. I have some news for the Lord Chancellor. Under the present law the employer would not be sued. A person would be sued only if there had been negligence. Our concern is that the Bill may be only a piece of fatuous and confused legislation, which will waste parliamentary time. If that is all it is, fine, but our concern is, to coin a phrase, that it may be a Trojan horse. And it may be a Trojan horse that will in fact be yet another attempt to limit access to justice. This Government have form on that. It may be a piece of legislation that claims to do one thing, but in fact it will mean that people injured at work through no fault of their own end up being unable to take their case to court, and yet again it will be another piece of assistance to the insurance industry. We are concerned that it will be sold on one basis while the nitty-gritty of the legislation will show something else.
In the end, the part of the Queen’s Speech on home affairs will be about what we all believe—that is, it will be about the difference between Labour and the Government in terms of what are British values and what are not British values. We believe that we should do more than simply try to legislate by way of headlines. In this country, there is still a great deal of unfairness and injustice. We have legislation that needs to be passed urgently, but it needs to have real substance and it should be more than simply spin.
I, too, thank all those whom the shadow Attorney-General, the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), thanked for participating in this debate. Even by the standards of debates on the Queen’s Speech, it has been wide-ranging and instructive in a number of fields. We have covered fracking, pensions, parliamentary recall and—at some length—plastic bags. However, I hope that the House will be happy if I seek to respond within the limits and scope of the debate on home affairs and justice matters.
There is a good deal of important legislation in this area, covering both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. The Modern Slavery Bill, which is the first of its kind in Europe, will substantially strengthen our powers to tackle this appalling crime, by ensuring that perpetrators can receive suitably severe punishments, creating an anti-slavery commissioner and enhancing protection and support for victims.
The Serious Crime Bill will disrupt all those who engage in, support and profit from all forms of organised crime, guard against the threat of terrorism and protect vulnerable women and children.
The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is carried over from the previous Session, is the next stage in this Government’s significant reforms of the justice system, to ensure that serious and repeat offenders receive suitable sentences, to improve court processes and to reduce the financial burden on the taxpayer.
The social action, responsibility and heroism Bill will reassure the public that if they act for the benefit of society, demonstrate a generally responsible approach towards the safety of others, or assist someone in an emergency, the courts will always consider the context of their actions in the event that they are sued for negligence.
In the first four years of this Parliament, the Government have made great strides to transform and strengthen the country’s justice system, improve support for victims, rehabilitate offenders and make prisons more effective while reducing the cost to the taxpayer.
I should pause on the point about prisons to address what I thought was an interesting and thoughtful speech by the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), and assure him that the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which was introduced in a previous Session, is precisely designed to transform the system and address the point that he rightly identified about reoffending and particularly those reoffending who had only short sentences in prison. For the first time, they will now have rehabilitative help both while they are in prison and when they come through the prison gate. He was absolutely right to have identified that weakness in the previous system, and the Bill will address precisely that weakness.
At the same time as making those reforms, we have strengthened the immigration system, making it fairer for British citizens and legitimate migrants but tougher on those who abuse it.
Crime has continued to fall. We continue to implement our programme of bold police reform, and we have set up the National Crime Agency to tackle the evils of organised crime and further protect our country.
Let me turn to the substance of the debate and the details of the legislation that we intend to introduce this Session. I am glad that the Modern Slavery Bill was broadly welcomed, not least by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd). We all agree on both sides of the House that modern slavery is an appalling crime. It is completely unacceptable that traffickers and slave masters are able to operate in this country, coercing and deceiving individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.
This Government are determined to take action against modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Bill will give law enforcement agencies the tools that they need to tackle modern slavery. It will ensure that perpetrators can be severely punished for these awful crimes, and it will improve support and protection for victims. Clearly, we will need to address a number of detailed points, some of which are very important, as the Bill passes through the House and the other place.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead and others, including the shadow Attorney-General, talked about the importance of transparency in supply chains. Of course we are committed to tackling exploitation in private sector supply chains, and we support businesses to tackle the issue. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is meeting business leaders tomorrow as part of the Government’s commitment to work with business to develop the most effective approach, because it is clear that businesses that take no action risk both their reputation and, in the long run, their profits. I do not think that that should divide us in this House. We would prefer to persuade businesses that it is in their interests to take action, rather than placing additional legal and regulatory burdens on them. Clearly, that will be a matter for continuing debate.
I just wonder whether anyone in the Home Office has read the evidence that was put before the Joint Committee. Everyone, including the people running the California rules, said quite clearly that it is not enough to have a voluntary code and that statutory obligations are needed, because otherwise it will not work.
The hon. Gentleman, who follows these matters closely, will be aware that changes to UK company reporting arrangements that require disclosure on human rights issues came into force last October. It is sensible to look at the effect of that change before coming to a firm conclusion. It is also sensible to let such reforms bed down before reaching a firm conclusion, which he seems to have reached already.
The shadow Home Secretary and several other hon. Members talked about domestic workers and visa abuse. The Government are taking action to help stop practices that exploit vulnerable workers and undercut local businesses that play by the rules. Various provisions in the Modern Slavery Bill will help to end that kind of exploitation, which frankly runs into slavery.
The Minister might suggest to the Home Secretary, who is sitting next to him, that when she meets business leaders tomorrow she brings the article that she wrote in The Sunday Times in which she stated that she wished supply chains to be included in the Bill. A large number of people in both Houses of Parliament will support her wish.