House of Commons
Monday 17 November 2014
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
This Government are determined to stamp out the abhorrent crime of modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Bill will give law enforcement agencies the tools to tackle modern slavery, and enhance support and protection for victims. We will shortly publish our modern slavery strategy setting out wider work to tackle these terrible crimes. I was pleased to announce on Thursday the appointment of Kevin Hyland as designate independent anti-slavery commissioner.
I absolutely agree that dealing with this crime is about more than action by Government. That is why I am pleased that we have introduced into the Modern Slavery Bill a clause that requires larger businesses to show what they are doing to ensure that slavery is not taking place in their supply chains. We must all work together on this issue. I am pleased that we have been able to introduce that amendment, and I am sure that it will be supported throughout this House.
The national referral mechanism, which is one of the ways of identifying victims, is flawed—as, indeed, the Home Secretary’s recent report implies. What is she going to do to make sure that victims, whatever their immigration status, are identified and effectively protected?
The hon. Lady is right. Concerns about the national referral mechanism have been raised for some time. That is why the Government had a review of the NRM undertaken. That review has now been published, and we will set out our response to it in the modern slavery strategy that will, as I said, soon be published by the Government. We recognise the issues that have been raised in the review of the NRM, and I am pleased that it has taken place. We will of course put support for victims at the heart of what we are doing.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Kevin Hyland on his appointment as anti-slavery commissioner designate and expand a little on how his role will help to stamp out this dreadful crime?
I am pleased to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Kevin Hyland on his appointment. Many people in this House who have been involved in looking at the issues around human trafficking and modern slavery will know of the very good work that he did as a detective chief inspector in the Metropolitan police, particularly on human trafficking matters. As the anti-slavery commissioner, he will be able to ensure that the agencies, particularly law enforcement agencies, are doing what they need to be able to do tackle this crime. As right hon. and hon. Members may have seen, he has already said publicly that one of his concerns about identifying this crime is ensuring that when victims of trafficking and slavery come forward, the police are able to recognise that they have been victims.
As the Government have been so open in getting outside views, as well as views from this place, in building up their Bill, might not the Home Secretary adopt the same strategy with the implementation of the Bill that she has promised us in December? Would it not be possible to make that a Green Paper and for her then to come forward with her final proposals when, I hope, she secures Royal Assent in February next year?
The right hon. Gentleman has given considerable time and effort to this issue. We are grateful for the work that he has done with the Government in challenging us on the Bill and on the measures we are undertaking. The strategy has been developed with outside input; the Government have not just developed it themselves. I am sure that when the strategy is published, and as it is implemented, he will be very willing to come forward and provide views to the Government on it.
Police reform is working. Crime is down by more than a fifth under this Government, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. England and Wales are safer than they have been for decades, with the survey showing crime at its lowest levels since the survey began in 1981.
I would like to acknowledge the important role and hard work of the Cheshire constabulary in reducing crime in Cheshire by 17% since 2010. I also acknowledge the important role of the reforms in policing that this Government have taken through, with a more targeted approach to measures, stronger accountability, and a greater emphasis on innovation. What further steps are this Government taking to improve the effectiveness of policing in the fight against crime?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the officers and staff of the Cheshire constabulary on the very good work they have done in helping to ensure that crime in that county has fallen by the percentage that he mentioned. We continue to work on driving out crime and on helping the police to be able to deal with crime. The College of Policing is further professionalising the police. The police innovation fund is genuinely looking for ways in which police forces can be provided with funding for innovative ideas to find new ways of dealing with crime and ensuring that we are able to drive crime down even further.
This Friday the Cheshire police commissioner John Dwyer and I will hold a meeting with members of the Chester Asian community who are concerned about a recent spate of burglaries aimed at Asian families by people looking for gold and jewellery. What advice would my right hon. Friend give to people who are concerned about this spate of crime?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on arranging that meeting to look at a particular problem that affects the Asian community. There are, of course, other communities that are also particularly affected by gold theft. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the crime prevention panel, which we have set up at the Home Office and which is looking at further ways to prevent crime from happening, is looking at that very issue. It is looking in particular at issues relating to the safe storage of gold and other similar valuable items in homes and external locations, and it hopes to be able to report on the matter in the new year.
I absolutely agree that all child abuse is a particularly abhorrent crime and, obviously, that which takes place online is no less abhorrent than that which takes place offline. That is why the Government have put a particular emphasis on dealing with online child abuse. A number of steps have been taken by the Government, led by the Prime Minister. I am pleased to say that next month the Prime Minister will also lead an international conference on online child sexual exploitation, endeavouring to further increase our ability to deal with these issues.
Given the importance of the European arrest warrant in bringing people to justice and reducing crime, will the Home Secretary explain to the House why today’s motion in the House of Lords gives peers a chance to vote on and specifically endorse the European arrest warrant, when last week, as you will recall, Mr Speaker, MPs were denied such an opportunity?
I was very clear about that. In fact, we spent a considerable amount of time last Monday discussing the Government’s motion. We were very clear that that motion would be binding on the Government in relation to the package of 35 measures. The regulations are now being discussed by the House of Lords. Sadly, of course, this House did not have a full opportunity to debate those matters last week, because the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), chose to move a closure motion to stop debate.
Will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating the Northamptonshire police, including not only Chief Constable Adrian Lee and Deputy Chief Constable Martin Jelley, but particularly officers of all ranks, on the fact that the crime rate in Northamptonshire is down by 21% since June 2010?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating not just the chief constable and his deputy, but officers of all ranks in the Northamptonshire constabulary on the work they have been doing to bring down crime to the extent of 21% over the past four and a half years. That is excellent news for members of the public. Once again, I congratulate the officers on the hard work they have done that has led to that fall in crime.
The Home Secretary will be aware that the National Crime Agency has the details of between 20,000 and 30,000 people who have accessed child abuse images online. There have been 600 arrests. What action is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that the many other thousands of perpetrators of this vile crime are brought to justice?
I am pleased to say that the National Crime Agency has enhanced the ability of police in this country to deal with these particularly abhorrent crimes. By bringing the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre under the NCA, it is now able to have access to the tasking powers of all police forces and to the national cyber crime unit and other functions within the NCA. The NCA is very clear that it is looking at all the evidence brought before it. I am pleased that it has already made the number of arrests that the hon. Gentleman has referred to and, as I have said, it will look at the evidence brought before it and take action appropriately.
3. When she next plans to meet the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to discuss student immigration. (906020)
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary meets colleagues regularly for discussions on a range of issues, including on how we can continue to attract the brightest and the best to the UK while bearing down on abuse.
The Government’s arbitrary immigration target has clearly been shown to be both unworkable and misguided. A particularly misguided aspect is the decision to include international students in the target. There is now consensus—from the Labour party, political parties across the House and even Government Members, as well as from universities, trade unions and business—that the target should not include international students. Will the Home Secretary and the Minister join that consensus?
The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no, we will not, because students continue to use public services. If we look at the Office for National Statistics data for the 12 months to September 2013, we see that 50,000 non-EU students left, whereas 124,000 entered the country, which suggests that students have an impact on net migration.
I say to the hon. Gentleman and the sector generally that there is no cap on the number of legitimate students who can come to study within the UK. Indeed, we have seen significant increases from a number of countries, including China, Brazil and Malaysia. The UK very much remains open to business for students.
The Minister spoke at the Home Affairs Committee seminar on international students, but at the sessions in which he did not speak, there was heavy criticism of his policies. Indeed, the director general of the Institute of Directors, Simon Walker, said:
“When some politician in the House of Commons thinks it would be wonderful to say something [detrimental] about international students, or some clever minister thinks of sending out a van to hound immigrants, they don’t think what it would look like in international papers.”
Will the Minister listen to the voices of the Institute of Directors, universities and the business sector, and look again at such policies?
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have heard from reports of that particular session in the conference hosted by the Home Affairs Committee that I made it very clear that we approach this issue in a measured fashion. The number of visa applications for our universities has gone up 5% this year, with an 8% increase for Russell Group universities. I very clearly say to the sector that trying to talk down the offer we have is not in the best interests of the sector or of our country. I certainly look forward to continuing to work with the sector to ensure that we attract students to our world-class institutions.
The Home Office does not hold figures centrally on the number of police who go on sick leave with stress. We have a world-class police force, and the best way to get up police force morale is to support our police, and to say that they do a fantastic job and that we have the best police force in the world.
In a recent survey on officers’ morale, the Police Federation found that nearly 5,000 officers are planning to leave the service within the next five years because of pay cuts and cuts in conditions. Another survey by Unison says that 75% of police staff feel increasingly stressed. Will the Minister heed the unions’ call to review the gap between rising demand for services and cutbacks to the workforce?
As a trade unionist, I always listen to trade unions, but they are not always right. We will make sure that we listen very carefully. I have seen the figures for the slight increase in stress-related illness. We have committed £8 million to blue light services to try to help with stress and well-being. The best way to ensure that morale goes up in our police forces is for everybody in this House to support them and say what a fantastic job they do.
Does the Minister agree that one of the key contributors to morale in any job is the satisfaction of doing a good job? On that basis, will he join me in praising Warwickshire police? Over the past year, there have been 1,185 fewer victims of crime than in the previous year.
The Home Affairs Committee found that morale had sunk to its lowest ebb in recent memory. Surveys have demonstrated that 5,000 police officers want to leave the police service because of low morale. Figures have shown a staggering 63% increase in duty days lost to sickness owing to anxiety, while the sickness figures more generally are soaring. Does the Home Secretary accept that, with her demanding ever more out of a police service that she has cut by 16,000, she is making police officers sick?
I get on very well with the shadow Minister, but what he has just said is appalling. He is running down the police force and the fantastic job they are doing. With less officers on the front line and less officers in the back-room staff, they are doing a fantastic job. He should be ashamed of himself, and he should praise the police.
Changes to the appeals and removals system introduced under the Immigration Act 2014 have reduced the number of immigration decisions that can be appealed from 17 to four. New appeal provisions now allow us to deport harmful individuals before their appeals are heard if there is no risk of serious, irreversible harm. We have also introduced new powers to stop foreign criminals using family life arguments to delay their deportation.
I am encouraged by what the Minister has said, and I appreciate all that he and the Home Office are doing to deport criminals—including EU nationals—who are guilty of serious crimes. He will know of the case of Mr Peter Pavlisin, a Slovakian national who brutally attacked his pregnant Gloucester girlfriend in January 2013 and was sentenced. Will he update me on when a decision on Mr Pavlisin’s deportation will be made?
I cannot comment on the specifics of my hon. Friend’s case, but I can underline the Government’s commitment to removing foreign national offenders from this country—just under 5,100 were removed last year. There is a cross-Government approach to ensure that we do all we can to redocument and remove foreign national offenders and, with the changes in the Immigration Act 2014 that I underlined, we have changed the law to ensure that we speed up those deportations.
My constituents are rightly concerned about the £800 million annual cost to the taxpayer of housing more than 12,000 foreign offenders in UK jails. Will my hon. Friend outline what steps can be taken to reduce that cost, while still ensuring that justice is served?
I can certainly underline the steps that we are taking to speed up the process. Moving offenders straight from prison to deportation is saving the taxpayer £27.5 million, and Operation Nexus ensures that police officers work alongside immigration enforcement officers to ensure that the information needed to aid deportation later in the process is provided. We are taking an end-to-end approach.
Recently, the Australian Government decided to deport an individual following serious concerns about the impact of his views on the safety of women. To prevent us from having to deport individuals as the Australians did, and given that his seminars promote choking and sexual assaults in order to seduce women, will the Home Secretary consider using her powers to exclude Julien Blanc from the UK if, like me, she assesses that his presence is not conducive to the public good?
The Government firmly underline their commitment to promoting the role of women within government, business and the whole country, and they condemn any action that might stand against that. The hon. Lady has alluded to a case highlighted in the press. I cannot comment on the specifics of that particular case, but I can assure her about the steps this Government are taking, and about the record of this Home Secretary in excluding more people on grounds of unacceptable behaviour than any of her predecessors.
Vehicle Scanning Machines
Border Force operates an array of search techniques as part of its multi-layered search regime, including detection dogs, carbon dioxide monitors, heartbeat detectors and scanners. In the past 12 months nearly £10 million has been invested to support and increase those methods of detection and bolster port security in the UK and at juxtaposed controls. The Government have also committed to invest £12 million at the port of Calais further to enhance security.
May I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that written parliamentary question 213850 on the number of lorries screened by body scanning machines and sniffer dogs when they enter the UK has not been answered? The Government have confirmed that currently just five vehicle scanning machines cover all our ports, including 51 points of entry. Will the Minister clarify why five is an adequate number?
Border Force uses an array of different techniques to secure our border which, as I have highlighted, include body detection dogs, carbon dioxide detectors, heartbeat monitors and scanners, as well as physical searches. I will look into the outstanding parliamentary question highlighted by my hon. Friend. Last year 18,000 people were detected at our juxtaposed controls—a 60% increase. That underlines the focus of our Border Force officers on preventing people who should not be here from coming to this country.
The Minister is right: those pieces of equipment are useful, but they are not 100% effective. As of today, 2,300 illegal migrants are in Calais, seeking to come to the United Kingdom. According to the mayor of Calais, in her evidence to Parliament on 28 October, some will risk their lives to do so. Does the Minister agree that we need to do much more work with the countries at the point of entry—Greece, Turkey and Italy—to prevent people from going there, rather than waiting until they get to Calais when it could be far too late?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in that we need to look beyond the borders of the EU. That is precisely the emphasis that has been given by several countries, including the UK and France. Indeed, Italy is hosting a conference in a few weeks to do precisely that in relation to the horn of Africa. He is right to make that point, but equally the Government are focused on security at Calais, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has agreed with the French Government an investment of £12 million in security at that port.
Online Child Abuse
In its first full year, National Crime Agency activity has safeguarded or protected more than 1,000 children. As part of its response, the NCA is leading an unprecedented UK-wide operation called Notarise, which is identifying and taking action against individuals who view indecent images of children. To date, Operation Notarise alone has led to more than 700 arrests.
The head of the National Crime Agency made the link between online and physical child abuse. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is vital that we protect the most vulnerable children as part of stopping child abuse. What are the Government doing about the Education Committee’s findings in its inquiry into residential care, which found children’s homes in the same places as many abusers and potential abusers?
What is illegal offline is illegal online. It does not matter how the abuse takes place, it is still illegal activity and victims need our support and protection. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary leads the cross-government response to this issue and we are working hard to make sure we give victims the support they need and deserve.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister will lead an international conference on reducing and eradicating online child abuse. Will the Minister update the House on the measures that the Government are taking so that perpetrators of this appalling crime are brought to justice no matter where they live in the world?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the global response being led by the Government and the Prime Minister to make sure that we are doing everything we can to work globally with international partners and the private sector. We are taking steps, particularly in the Serious Crime Bill, to ensure that we are doing all we can to give the support and protection that is needed through law enforcement.
What representations has the Home Secretary received from the Mayor of London or the Metropolitan police about the implications of ongoing investigations into organised child sexual abuse to ensure that he can adequately resource these exceptional police operations?
The Government’s drugs strategy sets out a balanced approach to tackling drug misuse, including controls under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. There are positive signs that our approach is working, such as a long-term downward trend in drug use, and people going into treatment are more likely to free themselves from dependency than ever before. An assessment of the drugs strategy is under way.
The coalition Government have no current intention to decriminalise drugs. Drugs are illegal where scientific and medical analysis has shown they are harmful to human health. We recognise that drugs are a complex and evolving issue, so we continue to develop our strategy and look at other evidence-based approaches to help us to respond to emerging threats and challenges.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend join the ministerial team. She is aware of the unanimous vote a few weeks ago for an impact assessment and cost-benefit analysis on this matter, but does she agree that to be tough on drugs we need to focus more police time on chasing drug dealers?
I was pleased with the Minister’s confirmation, in a response to a recent parliamentary question, that the Government have accepted a recommendation to develop proposals for a blanket ban on the sale of new psychoactive substances—so-called legal highs. What work will now take place to ensure that that is a reality?
As the hon. Gentleman says, we accepted the panel’s recommendation to develop proposals for a blanket ban. We have already initiated statutory consultation on the proposals with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and we will consider its advice carefully. Work has begun and is moving swiftly. We will develop proposals for a blanket ban and set out further detail in due course.
We remain on track to relocate several hundred people under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme in the next three years. Between the first group of arrivals on 25 March and the end of June, 50 people were relocated to the UK under the scheme. Numbers are released as part of the publication each quarter of the Home Office official statistics, and the increased number of arrivals under the scheme up to the end of September will be published on 27 November.
On 9 December, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is staging a Syrian resettlement conference in Geneva. Given the unprecedented magnitude of the Syrian refugee crisis, will the Minister ensure that the UK Government are represented at that conference? Will he also take the opportunity to commit to expanding the vulnerable persons relocation scheme?
We certainly recognise the contribution and role played by the UNHCR. Indeed, the vulnerable persons relocation scheme has been developed alongside UNHCR and the specific cases we accept depend on referral by it. I underline to the hon. Lady the contribution the UK has made to the region: £700 million in aid, the vulnerable persons relocation scheme and the asylum claims we are accepting here.
In the past few months there has been increasing evidence that the countries surrounding Syria have begun to close their borders to reduce the number of refugees they allow through, leaving many in a desperate situation. I join the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) in urging the Government to step up to the plate at the pledging conference because we have no ability to put diplomatic pressure on other countries if we are doing so pitifully ourselves.
The contribution of the UK stands up to scrutiny and our overall contribution bears comparison with any international country. We are providing £700 million in aid, which is assisting hundreds of thousands of people each month. The vulnerable persons relocation scheme deals with the most vulnerable individuals, and I underline the fact that we have granted asylum to 3,000 people from Syria since the start of the conflict.
23. I welcome what the Minister says on Syrian refugees coming in this direction, but will he comment on British citizens travelling in the opposite direction? He may be aware of a story in today’s Daily Mail regarding allegations that British citizens have been involved in barbaric and brutal beheadings in Syria and Iraq. Will he assure me that those claims will be investigated very urgently, including claims that an individual from Cardiff was involved? Will he join me in welcoming the absolute condemnation of those acts by the Muslim community across Cardiff? (906042)
I am sure that the whole House would join the hon. Gentleman and me in utterly condemning those responsible for the brutal murder of Peter Kassig and the appalling images we saw over the weekend. The Government remain resolute in confronting terrorism in all its forms and pursuing those responsible for heinous terrorist acts, and I endorse his comments about British Muslim communities across the country standing up against this brutality and heinous evil. We stand together in condemning these actions and taking whatever action is appropriate.
The UNHCR report published in July called for participating states to plan for the resettlement of more vulnerable refugees from Syria in 2015 and 2016. Given that this tragic conflict shows little sign of abating, will my hon. Friend indicate what responsibilities we have regarding such forward planning?
As my hon. Friend will know, we have stated clearly that we intend to accept several hundred people under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme over the next three years, and we are doing exactly that and will be following through on it, but clearly we remain focused on getting a solution in-region, given the significant numbers affected, which is why our aid programme—the £700 million and the assistance it is directly providing—matters so much.
Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation is an extremely harmful practice that we are committed to tackling. On 22 July, the Prime Minister hosted the UK’s first girls summit, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to tackling FGM here and overseas. At the summit, the UK announced an unprecedented package of measures to tackle FGM, including several commitments to strengthen the law, improve the law enforcement response, support front-line professionals and work with communities to prevent abuse.
I want to push the Minister and set this point in a broader context. There are worrying minorities in this country that do not believe in equal rights for women—it is not just FGM, but a number of other awful things that happen to women. Is it not time that women in this country, especially new immigrants, knew their rights and protections under the law?
I could not agree more, and that is why we are working closely across government and in communities to push this information down into those communities. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, some of these communities are particularly closed off, which makes it even more imperative to work with their members to take these messages in, including in schools and through front-line professionals.
Last year, we removed just under 5,100 foreign national offenders—a 12% increase over the last two years—and since 2010 the Government have removed more than 22,000 foreign national offenders, despite a 28% increase over that period in the number of legal challenges and appeals designed to frustrate or delay removal.
The Minister did not mention that the number of deportations of criminals has fallen by 7% since 2010. The recent National Audit Office report suggested that 40% of the delays were down to avoidable processing errors. Will he explain why the Home Office is so inefficient?
I do not think the hon. Gentleman was listening. Since 2010, we have seen a 28% increase in the number of legal challenges to deportation decisions designed to frustrate or delay the removal of foreign national offenders, and that is why we introduced the Immigration Act 2014 and other changes to speed up the deportation process. This Government are focused on this issue, unlike the previous one, who failed so miserably in office.
What responsibility does the Home Office accept for its failure in the pre-vetting and walking-out process for the Libyan personnel who unleashed a tidal wave of criminal offences across the UK and then had to be deported from this country?
I think the hon. Lady is referring to the Libyan soldiers who are receiving training in Cambridgeshire. Clearly, action was taken in those circumstances and they were removed. Clearly, unacceptable offences took place, which have been investigated and the appropriate steps have been taken.
Police reform is working and crime is down by more than a fifth under this Government, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. Since June 2010, the number of crimes recorded by the police has fallen by 12% in Kettering, by 21% in Northamptonshire and by 16% in England.
I declare my interest as a special constable. How is the fantastically good work being done by Northamptonshire police being fed into the crime and policing knowledge hub within the Home Office so that Northamptonshire’s best practice can be spread throughout the country?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a special constable for the British Transport police. The information is being fed in through the College of Policing, and I am grateful to him for praising the crime and policing knowledge hub in the Home Office, which is developing a deep understanding of the various drivers of crime.
Last week I met members of Nottingham’s Jewish community, which expressed deep concern about the dramatic increase in anti-Semitic abuse to which Members and others have been subjected on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. I am sure that these concerns are shared across the east midlands, including in Kettering and Northamptonshire. I understand that when the police put in RIPA requests to Twitter, they are sent via America and it sometimes takes so long that potential investigations are hampered. What is the Minister doing to ensure that companies such as Twitter and Facebook fulfil their responsibilities under British law?
It is quite extraordinary that crime has fallen by more than a fifth in Northamptonshire since this Government came to power. Could it be because under this Government, the proportion of police officers out on the streets catching criminals and deterring crime in Northamptonshire has gone up?
The Government risk sounding very complacent about areas of crime that are still getting worse. Can the Minister explain the Government’s lack of action on violent assaults, which are up by 20% in London over the last year, and online banking fraud, which has soared by 70% nationally?
Police and Crime Commissioner By-elections
In the west midlands, 200,000 people voted in the by-election for the PCC and in South Yorkshire it was 150,000. None of those would have had a vote if we had carried on with the old unaccountable police authorities—not one.
We are thinking carefully about the two by-elections and about what methodology would help to increase turnout, but if Labour Members keep running them down, it is no surprise that police and crime commissioners in their own areas—and the shadow Minister told me that they were doing a fantastic job—[Interruption.] Members can try and shout me down, but, at the end of the day, they will not succeed.
The Home Secretary and the Chancellor meet regularly to discuss budget matters. No decisions have been made about police budgets after March 2016.
Does the Minister agree that many forces, including Durham police, will be unable to cope with large budget cuts—especially at a time when they must manage an historic level of demand as well as dealing with increasing challenges such as child exploitation and cybercrime—without cutting police numbers, which our police and crime commissioner, Ron Hogg, says is absolutely inevitable?
No, I do not accept that. What I do accept is that where cuts have taken place, crime has fallen. Let us consider the area that the hon. Lady represents. I quote:
“Despite these difficult times, I am very proud to report that County Durham and Darlington remain among the safest places in the country to live…This performance puts us in an excellent starting position for the period of continued austerity.”
I believe that is from County Durham’s Labour police and crime commissioner, Ron Hogg.
Over the weekend we saw yet another brutal murder at the hands of ISIL, that of United States aid worker Peter Kassig. Both the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and the Minister for Security and Immigration, referred to it earlier. I am sure the House will agree that, along with the recent shocking attack on the Canadian Parliament, it demonstrates the deadly threat that we face from terrorism at home and abroad. That is why protecting the British public remains the Government’s No. 1 priority, and why we are taking urgent action to ensure that our police and intelligence agencies have all the tools that they need to keep people safe.
As I have told the House previously, and as the Prime Minister confirmed in Australia last week, we will shortly introduce a counter-terrorism Bill which will include new powers to disrupt people’s ability to travel abroad to fight as well as their ability to return here, and will combat the underlying ideology that feeds, supports and sanctions terrorism. The legislation will strengthen our armoury of powers, which will be among the toughest in the world in terms of cracking down on returning foreign fighters.
May I associate myself with the Home Secretary’s comments about recent international events?
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recently launched its “flaw in the law” campaign, which rightly demands legislative change to make it illegal for an adult to send a sexual message to a child. When will the Home Secretary give the police the power to intervene earlier, rather than leaving them unable to act until a child has been coerced into sharing an indecent image, lured to a meeting offline or, in the worst cases, sexually abused?
I agree that we need to be able to intervene earlier, so that we can ensure that predatory behaviour is tackled before children are put at risk. Officials had a further meeting with the NSPCC as recently as last Friday to discuss the matter further. I can assure the hon. Lady and the House that we will complete our consideration of the issue as a matter of urgency, so that we have the opportunity to table an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill should we wish to do so.
T3. As the Minister will know, over the last few months I have been chairing an inquiry in which a cross-party group of Members of Parliament has been investigating immigration detention and the treatment of detainees. We have heard some very disturbing evidence from detainees themselves about the impact on their mental health, and also from representatives of the Royal College of Psychiatry and the British Medical Association. The panel would like an opportunity to discuss the Minister’s written evidence with him in person. May I encourage him to come and give evidence to our inquiry? We should be very happy to work around all manner of difficulties in his diary. (906125)
I welcome the work of the all-party parliamentary group. Let me emphasise that our priority is to ensure that detention is as short and possible, as well as being safe and secure. Obviously we have made changes in relation to the process for mental health provision, in which Public Health England has been involved, but I will certainly continue to reflect on the recommendations that the inquiry makes.
T5. Magistrates in Dudley tell me that as a result of the reduction in the number of police officers people accused of quite serious crimes such as burglary, assault, domestic violence and even rape are no longer being taken to court in the black country. The number of cases taken to court by the police is down by a third. Why do the Government not understand that my constituents want to see police on the streets, offenders in court and criminals in jail? (906127)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that there are now more police on the streets, not in back rooms. In my Ministry of Justice role, we have looked very carefully at cautions, which we feel were being used inappropriately. There are now pilots, and there will be a deferred prosecution, and if people do not abide by that, they will be in court. It is for the Crown Prosecution Service, not politicians, to decide who goes to court and who does not.
T4. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Leicestershire police on signing up to the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme, to use stop-and-search less and more fairly, saving police time and further increasing the trust between the police and the community they serve so well? (906126)
I am pleased to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Leicestershire police on signing up to the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme. I am very clear that the police should be using stop-and-search powers lawfully in a targeted, intelligence-led way. We want to ensure that local communities can hold their force to account for its use of the powers, and the scheme is part of a package of reform that will contribute to a significant reduction in the overall use of stop-and-search, but also the better use of stop-and-search and improved stop-to-arrest ratios. I also congratulate Leicestershire police on the fact that over the last four years crime has fallen by 22% in their force area.
May I join the Home Secretary in passing on the thoughts and prayers of those on the Opposition Benches to the family and friends of US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, murdered in an act of vile barbarism by ISIL?
This morning, we learned that a British terror suspect has left Britain, reportedly to join ISIL. He was previously on a terrorism prevention and investigation measure which, under the Home Secretary’s reforms, ran out in January. We understand she had already taken his passport away. She has told us that
“there has been no substantial increase in overall risk since the introduction of TPIMs”.—[Official Report, 4 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 25.]
She told us, too, that when TPIMs ran out either people were no longer at risk or there would be sufficient surveillance and restrictions by the police and Security Service to manage the risk. How come that has completely failed in this case?
Of course, this country is now facing a more severe threat than it has in recent years. That was reflected in the fact that back in August the joint terrorism analysis centre raised the threat level from substantial to severe. That reflected concerns about western attack plans that were being put together in Syria and elsewhere. As the right hon. Lady knows—I referred to this in my answer to the first topical question—the Government are looking at further legislation that is needed and we will be publishing a counter-terrorism Bill so we can take this through this House. I look forward to her supporting the Government in taking further measures to ensure that we can deal with terrorists.
The Home Secretary did not answer the question about what has happened to this man who has left the country to fight with our enemies, and I think Parliament has a right to know whether her change to the legislation made that possible. She talked about there being a more serious threat, but it is significant that there are hardly any TPIMs in use, raising serious questions about whether they are fit for purpose at the moment. Two terror suspects have absconded—one in a black cab and one in a burqa—because the Home Secretary removed the relocation powers and now another has absconded because there were not sufficient checks in place once the TPIM ran out. So will she agree as part of that legislation to reverse the Government’s position on the two main changes she made—first, to restore relocation powers and, secondly, to provide additional controls where needed once TPIMs run out, before any more terror suspects are able to run away?
The right hon. Lady will know that both I and the Prime Minister have made it clear that in the new counter-terrorism Bill we propose to bring forward the Government will be looking at the issue of TPIMs and looking to see whether any further measures are necessary. A number of proposals in relation to TPIMs have been made by the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, David Anderson, and the Government are looking at the package of proposals he has put forward.
The Home Secretary will look carefully before she makes any decision on whether water cannon can be deployed. We received a formal application from the lead officer on this only in March 2014, but once we have looked at all the appraisals relating to the need for water cannon, the Home Secretary will make a decision.
T8. Can we do something practical about prosecuting cases of female genital mutilation? Many such cases have been taken to court in France, but we are in a disgraceful position here. Can we get it through to the communities that tolerate FGM that we in this country are serious about this issue? This barbarism has to stop. (906131)
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that the Opposition should even begin to criticise the Government on this, because we have done more in two years than was done in the 13 years of the Labour Government. Prosecutions are important, and the first one will come to court after the new year, but our focus has to be on prevention and protection, and it is.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and I have recently written to the Home Office about the problem of illegal encampments in Harlow and Thurrock, and about the police response to them. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this matter, and will he set out the powers that the police have to deal with illegal or unauthorised Travellers’ encampments?
T9. Given the 400% rise in anti-Semitic incidents this summer, I was pleased to hear that the Home Secretary had met representatives of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and of the Community Security Trust. Will she tell us what discussions she has had with Twitter and Facebook on this matter? (906132)
As the Minister for Crime Prevention has said, we have had discussions with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the CST on the various issues that they have raised concerning anti-Semitic incidents, and in particular on how the police are responding to them. The extremism taskforce has been looking at how social media companies respond to Government requests relating to extremist material and hate crimes. We have initiated discussions on that matter and more generally on how extremist material can be taken down from such sites, and we will be progressing that work.
The Home Secretary will know that at least four people have recently been killed by a substance known as DNP, including, tragically, my 23-year-old constituent Sarah Houston. The substance is readily available on the internet, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency cannot ban it because it is not a pharmaceutical product. Will she look again at reclassifying this substance as a class C drug so that no further young lives are so tragically lost?
I am sorry to hear about my right hon. Friend’s constituent. We keep under constant review the way in which these matters are evolving and the way in which these substances are classified, and I undertake to look into the issue that she has raised.
Further to the question asked earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), may I tell the Home Secretary that my Syrian Christian constituents, the Fallou family, have relatives who have fled from Nineveh across the border into Turkey? They have applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and been told that the first interview that could possibly be timetabled for them would be in 2017. Will the Home Secretary raise this crucial matter at the conference in Switzerland later this year?
Will the Home Secretary join me in praising the work of North Yorkshire police? They have launched a street triage scheme in which York-based mental health professionals join police officers on their patrols. That partnership will allow vulnerable people to receive immediate assistance and a proper mental health assessment at the scene.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating North Yorkshire police on the work they have done on this new street triage scheme in York, and indeed the other local parties who have made it possible. The changes the Government have introduced through the street triage pilots, which are now being taken up by a number of other forces, are having a significant impact on the way the police are dealing with people with mental health problems. That presence of a health care professional means that in many force areas we are seeing a significant reduction in the number of people who are being taken to a police cell as a place of safety. That is better for not only the police, but, crucially, the individuals themselves.
In condemning, like everybody else, the barbaric murder carried by out by the ISIS gangsters, would the Home Secretary consider that the various aspects of the counter-terrorism Bill the Prime Minister referred to in Australia should be examined by various Committees of this House, particularly the Home Affairs Committee? Does she accept that there must be concern about police officers, instead of her, having the right to take away passports and about the whole question of whether people should be rendered stateless? I do not minimise the danger of those returning from Syria, but I hope the Home Secretary will bear it in mind that there are implications that should be examined by the various Committees.
When we publish the Bill, the hon. Gentleman will be able to see the details of our proposals, including on the temporary seizure of passports, which I have spoken about, as has the Prime Minister. The Bill will, of course, receive proper scrutiny in this House and in another place as it goes through its various stages. I do not think it is the job of the Home Secretary to suggest to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee whether or not he should have an inquiry into this Bill. I have noticed that the Home Affairs Committee is not backward in coming forward on looking at matters the Government propose.
I am most grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for the opportunity to make this statement. Future Force 2020 represents one of the fundamental steps this Government have taken to ensure that our defence is delivered on a sustainable financial basis. The Government have ensured that the armed forces, both regular and reserve, are structured and resourced to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This is a far cry from the position we inherited, where our armed forces were run on a fundamentally unaffordable basis by the previous Government. After years of neglect, this Government are reforming and revitalising our reserve forces. We are investing £1.8 billion in better training and equipment, and reversing the decline and years of underinvestment in our reserves. We have always said that increasing the trained strength of the reserves to about 35,000 would not happen overnight; it is a five-year programme, but one year in we are making steady progress, and during the latest quarter we enlisted about twice as many people as we did in the equivalent period last year.
The expansion of the reserves is about doing defence differently. It is not about swapping regular personnel for reserves or doing defence on the cheap; it is about changing the way we deliver defence to make the best use of our resources and to harness the talents of the wider UK society. The contribution of our reserve forces will deliver, in a cost-effective way, the capable and usable armed forces that the nation needs. It will better harness the talents of the wider community and help restore the links and understanding between the armed forces and that community.
There have been a number of technical challenges affecting Army Reserve recruitment, which have been widely discussed in this House before, and we continue to introduce measures to improve recruitment. So far, those have included: improved financial incentives—much greater incentives with employers; removing delays, sometimes of many months, caused by medical documentation and security checks; increasing capacity at selection centres; and giving a key role for mentoring back to units.
The programme to grow the reserves is on track. We have reversed 18 years of decline. The Army’s latest projections indicate that the Army Reserve can reach its 30,000 trained strength target by April 2019. The Chief of the General Staff, the Secretary of State and I are all committed to achieving that target.
The future reserves programme is a bold change programme. It will make defence more flexible and able to deal with the changing demands placed upon it. I say this to the House: the plan is working.
I thank the Minister for responding. No matter how he dresses up the figures, the latest recruitment figures for the Army Reserve show that the trained strength has fallen between April 2013 and October of this year. If one was being charitable, one would say that Government plans to replace 20,000 regulars with 30,000 reservists are struggling to say the least. Those of us who have opposed those plans have questioned the resulting capability gap as 20,000 regulars have been shown the door and the false economies that will loom as the Government are forced to throw more money at failing plans.
Let us be absolutely honest about this: these plans have been in a state of flux from the beginning. The 2010 strategic defence and security review showed haste and little strategic overlay. In 2011, the then Defence Secretary stated that he would keep the regulars in order to check that the reservist plan was working and to recruit those reservists. In 2012, that plan was changed, and the regulars were allowed to leave before we had recruited any reservists. Meanwhile, the start line keeps getting changed. We talk about “one year in”, but we are actually 18 months into this plan and there has been no acknowledgement from the Government. We now have this sorry state of affairs where 20,000 experienced troops have left, including some from my own battalion the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and we are now recruiting—even if one puts the most optimistic spin on these figures—at a rate of seven reservists a month. If we are to meet our deadline and targets, we need to be recruiting nearer 250 a month. Let us not forget that we are 18 months into the plan.
The Public Accounts Committee has condemned the plan. It said that the plan has put anticipated savings at risk
“and is not delivering value for money.”
The National Audit office was critical, saying:
“There are significant risks to value for money which are currently not well understood by the Department or the Army.”
It has even been said that these plans have been put on the Treasury’s watch list.
I have a series of questions for the Minister. There have been extra costs: £10,000 given to ex-regulars to join the reserves,£300 to the civvies, £500 to the employee reservist per calendar month, pension liabilities, and the IT fiasco. How much extra are these plans now costing over and above the original estimate?
Secondly, how big are our capability gaps? Can the Minister guarantee that there will be no operational fall-out from these plans and tell us what assessment has been made? Finally, in this increasingly uncertain world, surely the time has come for a fundamental reappraisal of the need for stronger defence. Trying to get our defence on the cheap is not the right approach. We should now start recruiting regulars to the Army to bring up the trained strength of the Regular Army to at least 100,000. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for his thoughts. Let us be clear on the numbers. The Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the Army, said to the Defence Committee on 5 November:
“Already, at the six-month point, we have got to 2,100”—
he was talking about new recruits to the reserves—
“and it is my sense that we will increase the numbers beyond the target in this year…It is not something that will be solved overnight, because we have had the last 10 or 15 years when we have not invested in the Reserve in the way that we are now investing in the Reserve.”
The point—I have tried to explain this to my hon. and gallant Friend a number of times—is that we had a very long period of decline and neglect. In setting up a new system that for the first time for a decade re-established proper medical checks and proper fitness checks, started to collate the numbers properly and so on, we had some glitches, which have been widely discussed. Most of the improvements we made have happened only in the past few months. In the last quarter, we recruited almost twice as many people as in the equivalent quarter last year. I am grateful to him for his continuing interest in the subject, but may I recommend that he does what almost every single unit I have visited recommends and visits some reserve units to discover the exciting things that are going on?
The Army Reserve has expanded by just 20 troops in the past year—20, not the 30,000 personnel promised by the Prime Minister. Capita is being paid £50 million a year to assist in recruitment, meaning that each new net recruit costs taxpayers £2.5 million. That does not include the millions spent on online and other advertising campaigns. The Minister is failing so badly, two years after the policy was announced, that the upper age limit for recruitment is now to be raised, even though, from his reply to the question, one would not think that anything had changed.
This is a shambles—yet more along the lines of the failed IT systems that wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and the repeatedly missed and repeatedly readjusted recruitment targets. Now we have the fiasco of the increase in the upper age limit for recruitment, changing the goalposts to meet the targets. Urgent clarity is needed on the level of integration between regular and reserve units following the recent statement by the new Chief of the General Staff. Will the Minister confirm whether it is now Government policy that reservists will not be called on routinely and will instead be used only in times of emergency? When was he consulted on that change in policy?
May I ask the Minister to be honest with the Army and the British people about what size he envisages not only the reserve but the British Army will be at the end of the process? He said that his policy is bold. Yes, it is bold, but it is fundamentally flawed, it has failed to be tested, and the tragic consequence will be that Britain's defence will be vulnerable for years to come.
I think that the hon. Gentleman had drafted his points before he heard my answer to my hon. and gallant Friend, so I will not repeat the same points about the changes in the system that are just coming through now and are evident in the latest quarter.
Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman’s more substantive questions. The message coming from the Chief of the General Staff has been cleared with the Secretary of State and me. We are all at one on this and I am grateful for the opportunity to make that clear. When we talk about integration, there is an important distinction to be made between compulsory call-out, which will occur only in times of public emergency—in the long term, because we suddenly hit an unexpected conflict, or in the short term, because of flooding and so on—and opportunities for intelligent mobilisation for formed bodies or individuals that will be there all the time. Most people join the reserves because they want an opportunity to deploy on operations. It may help the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for a long time, if I give a few examples of that.
In February, under Operation Toral, the next phase in Afghanistan, a formed platoon from my local battalion, 3rd Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, will go to Afghanistan with its sister unit, the Royal Anglians. We have 24 people, 19 of whom are medics, going out on the Ebola operation. In 2012, the framework battalion for Cyprus was a reserve battalion. The opportunities are there, but call-out will be compulsory only when there is a real emergency. It is worth noting that 25,000 individuals went through Iraq and Afghanistan, most of them under a Labour Government. All of them went through the intelligent mobilisation process, except for a relatively small number involved in the original Iraq operation.
My understanding throughout this has been that Labour’s policy is to support our plan in principle, while doing what an Opposition always should do: hold the Government to account for delivery. I have heard nothing in what the hon. Gentleman has said to suggest that that has changed, and I am pleased about that.
Order. A large number of hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Ordinarily, I try to accommodate everybody; that probably will not be possible today, because there is considerable pressure on time, as there are two statements to follow. What is required is exemplary brevity, a tutorial in which can now be provided by Mr James Gray.
I will seek to do that, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Minister has a long-standing commitment to the reserve Army, which I salute. I am proud that my Territorial Army regiment is, I understand, 125% above its recruitment target, which is great. Other regiments around England could follow that example. However, does he agree that we cannot replace regular soldiers with reserves on a regular basis? Would it not be better to do away with the 82,000 and 30,000 figures, and replace that with an Army of 112,000, which could be made up partly of one and partly of the other?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I am not quite certain what he is proposing. We are planning for an Army of 82,000 regulars, and 30,000 reservists integrated with them—in other words, available as formed sub-units or individuals to supplement the regulars outside periods of great national emergency, and to be called up in much larger numbers during periods of great national emergency.
May I pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) that I failed to answer? We make no apology whatever for recruiting older people to specialist roles, such as intelligence roles, and as medics, where they have specialist skills. As for the new standards of fitness and so on that we are introducing for medics, there is no suggestion of having those people in the combat arms.
Those of us who, in principle, support what the Minister is trying to achieve have always warned about the potential for over-optimism, and about the resistance and about the need to drive this in. None of this appears to be working at the speed that was envisaged. The Government really have to accept that there is a bigger gap in capability than they have hitherto acknowledged, and that the gap will probably go on for longer than was planned. They must acknowledge that and say what they plan to do about it.
I have the greatest respect for the right hon. Gentleman. I am glad that he, too, buys into the principle of the plan. We are committed to the same targets. He will see that as the measures that we have taken to unblock the recruiting system feed through into the numbers—let us remember that we are looking at 12-month rolling data, and that will take time—we will achieve these targets. We are committed to getting 30,000 reservists trained by 2018. I look forward to further exchanges on this with Members from across the House.
The assumptions underlying this policy were not tested because of the experiences of the Minister for the Armed Forces in the TA 30 years ago. I wrote to the Secretary of State over a year ago to point out that this policy was highly unlikely to work, and that the Department would have to throw a fortune at it to try to make it work. It is not working. When will Ministers face up to that? At the current rate of progress, it will take between 100 and 200 years to achieve the target.
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend. He says that the policy should have been tested; the recommendations came out of an inquiry chaired by the Chief of the Defence Staff. They have been strongly and publicly supported by the Chief of the General Staff, both publicly in front of the Select Committee on Defence and privately in front of the all-party group, of which my hon. Friend is a member. We know that we can achieve this; the plain fact is that we said that it would take five years. We are unblocking the recruiting system. The units that I visit all suggest that they are well on their way. We will achieve the targets.
When those reforms were originally launched, one of the key principles was for the reservist force to “routinely share” jobs that were once the
“exclusive domain of Regular forces”.
There was therefore that integration. Back in October, when the Chief of the General Staff suggested that reservists would be used only in emergencies, he was kind of rebuked for not being in line with Government policy. Is not the reality now that the original policy of sharing is no longer possible, and we are reduced, because of the numbers, to using them only in national emergencies?
I have the greatest admiration for the hon. Lady. I sat next to her on the Defence Committee for four years, but she really has missed the point on this. Nobody has rebuked the CGS. The CGS designed the detail for this plan in his last job but one. The hon. Lady misunderstands the difference between opportunities for regular use of reserves, of which I have just given three examples, and compulsory call-out. That is the distinction she must understand.
Does the Minister agree that recruitment to the Army Reserve in the six months to 30 September will be well over 2,000 people, which represents a 60% increase on the same period last year? If that acceleration in Army Reserve recruitment is sustained, it will be in stark contrast to the planned reduction in the TA under the last Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a 60% increase over six months, and as the bulk of that occurred during the most recent quarter, it is almost a doubling in that period. He is absolutely right. It is a tremendous turnaround after years of decline under the previous Government.
I thank the Minister for reversing the daft proposal to close the TA centre in Widnes following my representations. Does he have any concerns about how Capita is working? For example, a constituent of mine has applied to join the regulars but has been given four separate dates verbally and has still not been able to join the Army. Is not the problem with Capita as well?
Will the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have the greatest respect, write to me so that I can look into that individual case? We have had a number of delays in the system. We are sorting those out, and the process is now working much faster for both regulars and reservists, but I would be grateful for a letter.
I have been waiting by my phone for the call to join the Army Reserve, but so far nothing has happened. What percentage of the 30,000 Army Reserve personnel will be available for not a great national emergency at any one time—assuming we get 30,000?
Over a decade or so, 25,000 reservists were called out of what was then a falling institution. I have given my hon. and gallant Friend some examples of the things we are calling reservists out for now—on intelligent mobilisation, not compulsorily, for Afghanistan, for Cyprus, and for interesting exercises all over the world, such as the British Army Training Unit Suffield in Canada and live firing in Kenya. I cannot give him a firm number, but we have seen that large numbers of reserves are available and willing to come. Compulsory call out, as the CGS has made clear, will happen in a national emergency.
I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman to give him a total figure. I do not recognise the figure he quotes, but I will write to him. Most of the Capita programme is directed towards the regular forces. It has had some difficulties, some around software, which has been a feature of Governments of all complexions. It is in the process of a considerable set of improvements, most of which are now in place.
I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on all the efforts he is making in this regard, but may I make one small point? According to the sources I speak to, the smaller the Army gets, the more professional it needs to be in order to be more flexible in dealing with a greatly changing world, so the proportion should stay at 80:20 and not move to 70:30. Can we therefore go back the other way and have a smaller Army, yes, but one that is more professional, not less so? I am not saying that the part timers are not professional—they are—but a smaller full-time Army has the necessary flexibility.
I hear my hon. and gallant Friend with respect. However, if he visits, as I am sure he does from time to time, the Royal Wessex Yeomanry in his own constituency, he will see just how good that unit is and how much it can achieve. The size of the Regular Army came out of the very difficult decisions that we had to make in the strategic defence and security review. We have to be clear that if we want to have a framework to expand a small professional Army, and if we want to keep connections between that small professional Army and the wider civilian community, we need a substantial reserve.
I do not think that anyone in the House would dispute the fact that this is a bold challenge. No one is unaware that there have been technical problems and glitches, but the Minister must know that there is a high degree of concern that only 32% of the regulars have confidence that reservists will be well integrated within their units, and that there has been a net increase to the reserves of only 20. What can we do to improve on those figures?
I have already answered the second question from the hon. Lady, who is another fellow member of the Select Committee, by listing the very many changes that we have made to the recruiting pipeline and noting that in the last quarter we almost doubled the numbers coming through. On her first point, there are indeed some in the Regular Army who do not agree with the changes, having seen former comrades leave, but the fact is that a Chief of the Defence Staff chaired the original commission that set out the overall plan and the Chief of the General Staff wrote the detailed blueprint.
Is not part of the problem that the increase in reserves has been seen as a cover for a cut in regular forces? What can the Minister, as a champion of the reserves even when we were spending more money on the armed forces, say to dispel that impression?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question, not least because he is a former member of the Royal Naval Reserve, who are well ahead of their recruiting targets. The short answer is that if we want defence to prosper in this country when there are very many calls on the public purse, we need the footprint around the country that the reserve forces have—they are represented in half of all the constituencies in this House—to remind people what armed forces are all about.
Does the Minister accept that part of the problem is that some applicants, although they have the potential, do not yet meet all the requirements? Does he believe that there is a place in the recruitment system for the military preparation course that was devised by Lieutenant Colonel Tony Hollingsworth, who runs Knowsley Skills Academy?
The right hon. Gentleman asks a really excellent question. This is why we are looking at the criteria again. We have reintroduced proper medicals, proper fitness tests, proper intelligence tests, and all the things that disappeared under the previous Government. He is right. There should be room for flexibility, and where people are, for example, a little bit below the right level in the fitness test, units have measures in place to give them coaching to bring them to up it. I would like to have a longer conversation with him about this another time.
I am proud of our reserve forces and grateful to employers who participate to allow workers to serve, but given the huge cuts in the regular forces what happens if recruitment for the reserve forces does not meet the targets the Minister is talking about?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We are confident that we will meet the targets. I say again that in the last three-month period we achieved almost double the equivalent level for last year. We are committed to those targets so his question does not arise.
After this expensive disaster, does the Minister have a shred of a regret about hacking away 20% of the Army’s strength, particularly given the fact that some regular soldiers served in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at the Olympics and were then told, “There’s your P45. Now sod off.”? What a disgraceful way to treat soldiers.
This Government have taken huge steps to build the armed forces covenant and to ensure that veterans who left the armed forces on redundancy terms were well looked after. Members of the hon. Gentleman’s own Front-Bench team made it clear that under Labour there would have to be cuts in defence. The previous shadow Secretary of State said:
“The truth is the Labour Party would have to make cuts if we were in power.”
We have had to make difficult decisions because of the economic circumstances we inherited.
As someone who has visited reserve units, I find increasing optimism among commanding officers and others that they are going to achieve the targets. May I suggest a very small tweak? The emergency service cap on recruits needs to be reviewed. For example, in the Met police a reserve recruitment cap of 0.25% has existed since the cold war. This could be an ideal recruiting ground. Will the Minister look at it?
I am most grateful for the question from my hon. and gallant Friend, who served in the same regiment as I did, although he was a regular and I was a reservist. He is exactly right. The cap is being addressed. Clearly, the Metropolitan police need to have a cap, but it is much too low at present. There is a discussion going on. A commanding officer I met had lost three military police soldiers from her unit because they had got jobs with the Met and been made to resign because the quota was filled.
I am not a defence buff, but I believe in the security of our country and I recognise the dangers that are emerging across Europe. If I were sitting in the Kremlin right now, I would be very happy about the run-down of our regular forces. What does the Minister say about that?
I have too much respect for the hon. Gentleman to get too party political about what happened to our defences under the previous Government. If he chooses to cruise the BBC website, he will find that in the past four weeks Vladimir Putin has announced a very large expansion in the Russians’ part-time reserve army.
One area of apprehension in Salisbury is the package of incentives and support available to small and medium-sized employers. Will the Minister say something about why employers should be content to allow their employees to volunteer to join the reserves, and why that package has improved?
The first thing we should recognise is that this is part of corporate social responsibility. Any employer who signs up faces the prospect that in extremis his employee might be compulsorily mobilised. What he gets for that is somebody who is motivated and who is trained in a variety of ways not available in civilian life. What he gets also is a loyal employee with good values. The financial side has been improved in various ways, including the £500 a month extra compensation for a small business that loses an employee on operations, over and above the full compensation package.
I do not believe that that has had a direct effect. Most reservists join initially through their local reserve unit or, in some cases, through the national website. There was one immediate indirect effect—while all the glitches were in the system, which we have ironed out over the past few months, the lack of somebody immediately available on the high street to mentor somebody who had not already got dug in with a unit made a significant difference. I do not believe it will make a long-term difference.
Being the fourth highest spender on defence in the world has led to the deaths of 632 of our brave British soldiers in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction and in Helmand in the belief that not a shot would be fired. Why cannot we pursue an independent foreign policy and recognise that spending above our budgets and trying to punch above our weight always results in dying beyond our responsibilities?
I am sure the whole House will join me in utterly condemning the sickening murder of American aid worker Peter Kassig. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.
We will not be cowed by these sick terrorists. They will be defeated and they must face the justice they deserve. The threat is faced by countries right across the world. We must face it together. It featured strongly in the discussions I had with Prime Minister Tony Abbott in my bilateral visit to Australia. I took the opportunity of setting out further detail on some of the steps we will take as part of the counter-terrorism Bill here in the United Kingdom. As the House knows, they include new powers for police at ports to seize passports, to stop suspects travelling and to stop British nationals returning to the UK unless they do so on our terms. Also included are new rules to prevent airlines that do not comply with our no-fly lists, or our security screening measures, from landing in the UK. Every country across the world is examining what powers are necessary to keep their people safe, and I am determined that we should do that right here. We will make a full announcement about the counter-terrorism Bill soon.
Let me turn to the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott set a clear agenda for the world economy and we gave it our strong backing. The Brisbane action plan includes a commitment on dealing with our debts and an infrastructure hub that will see British companies as part of a global pipeline for the biggest projects on the planet, but above all it is a plan for growth and jobs, with every country pledging actions that will boost global growth and therefore help create jobs. The aim is an additional $2 trillion to be added to the global economy.
When it comes to growth last year, this year and the forecast for next year, as the head of the International Monetary Fund said in Brisbane, it is Britain and America that are leading the pack. However, it is also clear that growth is stalling in the eurozone, world trade is not developing as fast as it should, previously fast-growing economies are slowing down and only today Japan entered recession. Those warning signs in the global economy show that it is more important than ever that we stick to our long-term economic plan. That is the only way we can secure a better future for our country.
There were also important discussions on climate change, on which China and America took important steps forward at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in terms of moving towards a deal in Paris next year. Britain will continue to play a key role, including by using our already earmarked resources for the United Nations green climate fund. In terms of the global negotiations, the European Union has taken the lead with significant planned cuts in carbon emissions, and I made clear the importance of every country, Australia included, making a contribution to securing a deal next year.
My focus at this summit was on helping to deliver our long-term economic plan by addressing some of the big global challenges that could potentially threaten our recovery at home. There was important progress on fighting protectionism; on dealing with the damaging effects of global tax avoidance and corruption; and on confronting the instability caused by conflict and disease. I want briefly to take each of those in turn.
On fighting protectionism and promoting free trade, we welcomed the breakthrough on the Bali trade facilitation agreement, which had been stuck for so long. After an agreement between America and India, it will now go ahead. There was also an important meeting between the countries of the European Union and the United States to agree that an EU-US trade deal must be done next year. That could add £10 billion to the UK economy alone.
Such trade deals can mean jobs and growth for Britain, so I challenged European leaders to think ambitiously about other deals that could be done, including with our host, Australia, and with emerging markets such as India and China. We pressed for reform of the World Trade Organisation so that poverty-busting trade deals can be put together more quickly, and agreed and implemented. Britain, Germany and the US, among others, all agreed that the way this organisation works needs to change in the future.
Secondly, there was some progress on ensuring that big companies pay the taxes they owe. This is not just a technical issue; it is a moral one. Ensuring that the correct taxes are paid is vital in sustaining low taxes and enabling hard-working families and small businesses to keep more of the money that they earn. That is why Britain first put this on the international agenda at the G8 in Northern Ireland last year. This issue is now firmly hard-wired into the G20 agenda.
This summit agreed a G20-wide action plan to ensure that there is nowhere for large companies to avoid paying taxes that are due. Some 93 different countries and tax authorities are now signed up to sharing tax information automatically; before the G8 in Northern Ireland, the number was just 29. As the OECD set out in Brisbane, the action we have taken so far already means that, in its view, $37 billion of extra tax has been paid by big corporations.
The Lough Erne summit made important commitments at G8 level to stop the true owners of companies from hiding behind a veil of secrecy. That is vital in tackling the cancer of corruption that does so much to destroy countries and to increase risks to our own security. In Brisbane, we agreed to extend the work on beneficial ownership to cover the whole G20, China included.
Thirdly, Britain continued to play a leading role in dealing with the threat of conflict and disease. That is vital not only in keeping our people safe, but in ensuring our long-term prosperity. On the conflict in Ukraine, we called on Russia to respect the Minsk agreements and made it clear that if it does not, we remain ready to intensify sanctions. Of course, there is an economic cost to us from sanctions, but I believe that the cost of allowing such a fundamental breach of our rules-based system to go unchecked would be infinitely greater in the long run.
I met President Putin and once again made it clear that continued destabilisation of Ukraine can only mean more sanctions and more pressure. He has said that he does not want a frozen conflict and, as he put it to me, he sees Ukraine as a single political space, but he must be judged by his deeds, not by his words.
On Ebola, I wrote to Australian Prime Minister Abbott ahead of the summit to secure a specific G20 leaders’ statement with a clear plan for dealing with the disease and for improving our readiness to respond to such epidemics in future. Other countries, including South Korea, Japan and Australia, are now doing more to help with more money, trained medical staff and equipment, while the IMF agreed to double its current programmes in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and to provide additional debt relief.
The UK will continue to lead the way on the development of a vaccine, with the Wellcome Trust establishing a joint research fund of more than £1 million. We welcomed the support of the English and Scottish Football Associations, which will raise money at their friendly international tomorrow night. The UK Government will match fund any public donations up to £5 million.
I pushed the G20 to consider additional measures that could improve the ability of the global community to respond to a similar outbreak of disease in the future. This includes the possibility of a standing pool of global medical experts who can be deployed quickly during the early stages of a potential epidemic; strengthening in-country surveillance and health infrastructure; asking the IMF and the World Bank to explore new mechanisms for ensuring that the world is better prepared to deal with such pandemics in future; and doing more to fight bacteria that are resistant to present-day antibiotics. The World Health Organisation itself requires some fundamental reform.
This was a good G20 for Britain. We delivered progress on the key global economic challenges that will help to protect us from a global economic downturn. In doing so, we supported our long-term economic plan to repair the broken economy we inherited, and to deliver jobs and growth in every part of our country. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I join him in expressing horror and revulsion at the barbaric murder of US aid worker Peter Kassig. Once again, this is a demonstration of ISIL’s evil ideology perpetrated against the innocent—our thoughts go out to his family at this terrible time—and it reinforces our determination to defeat ISIL.
Let me start with the situation in Ukraine. The ceasefire agreed in September is extremely fragile, and there are recent reports, confirmed by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, of further Russian military vehicles crossing the border. Does the Prime Minister think that enough is being done to send a clear message to Russia about its aggression, and to support President Poroshenko’s Government? Under what circumstances will the UK push for further sanctions against President Putin and Russia? We are all well aware of the way that a conflict such as the one in Ukraine can generate headlines and then be forgotten. This must not become a forgotten conflict.
Let me turn to the issues on the formal G20 agenda. As with any summit, the task is to turn good intentions into concrete measures. Tax avoidance is a problem that affects rich and poor countries alike. In June 2013 at the G8, the Prime Minister promised that all UK Crown dependencies and overseas territories would produce registers on who are the real owners of shell companies. Seventeen months on from the G8, may I ask for an update on progress towards those goals? This weekend the G20 repeated the commitment of the G8 that developing countries would have a place at the negotiating table as part of the process to reform global tax rules, but as I understand it, 18 months on from the G8 that has not happened. Can the Prime Minister explain why not?
On climate change, I agree with the Prime Minister on the welcome steps made by President Obama and President Xi last week on carbon emissions. I also welcome the agreement to support the climate fund that is designed to help with the effects of climate change. When will the UK announce our contribution to the climate fund, and will the Prime Minister explain why there has been a delay in doing so? What is being done to bring more sceptical countries with us for the ambitious agreement that we need at the vital talks in Paris next year?
On the Ebola crisis, I welcome the UK’s role as the second largest donor to help tackle this potential threat not just to people in west Africa, but across the world. However, the G20 conclusions were short on specific commitments from other countries. What does the Prime Minister think we can do to encourage further other countries—including those within the EU—to ensure that we tackle the crisis with aid, equipment and, especially, health workers?
Finally, let me turn to the G20 conclusions on global growth. Today the Prime Minister tells us that red lights are flashing in the global economy—I think that is what is known as getting your excuses in early. He used to tell us that the problems in the British economy were all to do with the British Government and nothing to do with international factors; now he wants to tell us that on his watch they are all to do with international factors and nothing to do with the British Government.
Is it not the truth that before the Prime Minister went to Brisbane we already knew that his export targets were off track and that the trade deficit was the highest it has been for 25 years? Before he went to Brisbane, we knew that Britain’s productivity had stagnated on his watch, and that average families are £1,600 a year worse off. He has gone from saying that everything is fixed thanks to him, to saying that everything is not fixed but it is nothing to do with him. All along he should have been listening to the British people, who see deep problems in an economy not working for them. Is it time that he stopped blaming everybody else for an economy that is great for a few people at the top, but that is not delivering for most working people?
Let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about Peter Kassig on which there is complete unity across this House and country. He asked whether the message is clear enough on Ukraine, and I believe that all the European leaders, including the European Commission and others who had meetings with President Putin, gave a very clear message—it has actually been quite refreshing how much unity there has been between the countries of the European Union on the one hand, and the US on the other, in terms of giving a very clear message.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what would trigger further sanctions, and the easiest way to answer that is to say that further destabilisation would trigger further sanctions, just as taking down destabilisation would result in the removal of sanctions. He says that Ukraine should not be a forgotten conflict, and that is absolutely right. We must not have a frozen conflict in Europe in the way that the world—in my view, wrongly—moved on after the destabilisation of Georgia.
On the G20 tax agenda, every one of the Crown dependencies and overseas territories has signed up to having an action plan on beneficial ownership, which is progress. Some of them have registers and some are considering—as we are—making those public. Crucially, every single one has agreed to the automatic exchange of tax information. That is the real breakthrough, I think, because if all those tax authorities are exchanging information, it means that companies cannot hide where they are making their money and more and fairer taxes will be paid as a result.
On climate change, the right hon. Gentleman asks what is being done to persuade the sceptical countries. There is pressure on every country to bring forward its plans for the meeting in Paris, and that should include every country in the world. In terms of the climate fund, Britain has money available for climate funds—we were one of the first to put money to one side and make it available—but it is important this time to make sure that other countries are bringing in their donations. That has not always happened in the past, and I am glad that it is happening. The biggest breakthrough in recent days is the fact that China and America came to an agreement at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit to put more on the table in terms of carbon emissions.
On Ebola, the right hon. Gentleman asked what specific pledges were made. At the G20, Korea and Japan made specific pledges and, of course, Australia has backed up its plan to provide 100 beds in Sierra Leone under the plans that we have. At the EU summit we managed to double other countries’ donations so that the EU is up to €1 billion.
The right hon. Gentleman ended with an extraordinary set of points on growth. I am very happy to defend and take some credit for what is happening in the British economy, which is growing at 3% and has the biggest fall in unemployment on record and 400,000 new businesses. Because of the difficult decisions that we took, the British economy is doing well. The difference is that while there are problems in the world economy, we can see that Britain is outperforming other countries. The figures speak for themselves.
It is always a pleasure to get back to Britain and find that some things have not changed: our language, the beauties of our climate—and, crucially, that the right hon. Gentleman is still in his place.
What I would say is that we have one of the top five defence budgets anywhere in the world. We spend more than £30 billion on defence and people know that we have hugely capable armed forces. Because of the difficult decisions we have made, we will see a drumbeat of new destroyers, new frigates, new aircraft carriers and new fighter jets coming off the production lines, so we are in a very strong position.
But I do not actually believe that the solution to Ukraine is a military solution. Of course it is right that NATO is helping to strengthen Ukraine’s defence infrastructure, as we agreed in Cardiff, but crucially what is required is a political settlement that respects the independence of Ukraine. What President Putin will respect is a unity of purpose on behalf of European countries and the United States to maintain the pressure and the sanctions until he changes his behaviour.
I am satisfied that every country in the European Union has signed up to the automatic exchange of tax information. For many years, it was not only Luxembourg but one or two other countries in the EU that did not sign up to that. We are making progress, but I will never be fully satisfied, because until every jurisdiction in the world signs up we will not be able to get rid of tax avoidance.
In the conversations with Mr Putin, did the Prime Minister remind him of his unwelcome interventions in Georgia and Transnistria, and make it clear that the Baltic states were clearly off limits to the EU and NATO?
May I welcome what the Prime Minister said about additional funding for Ebola and the global attack on taxes? On climate change—on which Britain has been in the lead globally—can he indicate what Tony Abbott said Australia’s contribution would be?
To answer my right hon. Friend’s last question first, the Australians have pledged a 5% cut in carbon emissions, which they say is equivalent to a 19% cut on business as usual, but I think that they will face further pressure, as an important economy, to throw in more cuts to carbon as the whole world comes together in Paris.
On my right hon. Friend’s other questions, the discussions I had with President Putin were frank. We did not mention every problem and issue between Britain and Russia, but crucially we looked at how we could try to find a pathway by which Ukraine’s integrity and independence are respected. That is the key to de-escalating the situation, and I was very frank about that.
On Ebola, Britain has played a key part and we should be proud of that. Others are now stepping up and the World Bank is also looking at ways it can help us to sustain that commitment.
I think we have done the right thing in terms of listening to the security and intelligence services and listening to the independent reviewer of terrorism, who said he thinks the steps we have taken have been the right ones. Of course, we will announce the full range of measures we will be taking in the anti-terrorism Bill. The Bill will come before the House, I believe, before the end of the month.
While I pay tribute to the many robust exchanges that the Prime Minister and other western leaders had with Mr Putin on Ukraine, has there not yet again been a failure to make it clear to Mr Putin that the heavy Russian artillery and forces flooding into Ukraine as we speak will lead not just to sanctions but to economic and financial sanctions? Will my right hon. Friend not acknowledge that further visa controls and asset freezes on Mr Putin’s cronies will be as meaningless, impotent and irrelevant as they have been in the past?
I hugely respect my right hon. and learned Friend’s position, views and experience, but on this particular issue I do not entirely agree. If we look at the decline in the rouble, the difficulties Russian banks have had in raising finance and the fact that Russian growth has been downgraded, all combined with an oil price where the Russian budget does not remotely balance, I think there is economic pressure. As long as we stay united, keep up that pressure and respond to further destabilisation with further pressure, it may take time but I think we can persuade Russia that there is a different and better path to take.
Is there not something faintly comical about a British Prime Minister talking about putting more sanctions on Russia, while the same British Prime Minister is helping Russian oligarchs in Britain to bankroll the Tory party in which he is helping to make the money? It sounds to me like hypocrisy.
I do not even know where to start with the hon. Gentleman. When he started his question I thought perhaps he had forgotten that the communists were not running Russia any more. I know he used to back them in those days, but I thought he would have moved on a bit since then.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when one looks for concrete practical steps that might be taken to achieve the wholly desirable goal of increased growth in the global economy, a very great deal depends on the successful achievement of a comprehensive trade deal between the European Union and the United States? As this is one of the few areas on which the Republicans in the United States agree with the Obama Administration, did he press other European leaders to go for rapid progress on agreement at this stage in the short window of opportunity between the mid-term elections being over and the next presidential campaign beginning?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The change in Congress, if anything, makes the chances of a successful trade deal more likely and so we should push as hard as we possibly can. The point I made to other European leaders is that we need to work hard to quash some of the wholly false arguments that are being put about by opponents of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. It does not in any way have to affect our national health service, for instance, and nor does it mean that we will be lowering food or health and safety standards. Indeed, there is an argument to make to non-governmental organisations and others that Europe and America setting some of these global standards is actually good for the world, as well as being a free trade deal that can lift growth and jobs.
Will the Prime Minister update the House on specific progress on delivering transparency in extractive industries, which we know cause so much corruption that is damaging to developing countries?
In this area, on this occasion, the G20 rather under-delivered. We have made progress on the exchange of tax information, which is vital, and on the idea that every country has to have a process of transparency for beneficial ownership so that tax authorities can find out who owns what, but the hon. Lady is right that the third leg is further progress on the extractive industries and the extractive industries transparency initiative. We made limited progress, but it was not a strong feature of what we agreed at the weekend.