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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
23 February 2015
Volume 593

House of Commons

Monday 23 February 2015

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Defence

The Secretary of State was asked—

Armed Forces Covenant

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1. What progress he has made on strengthening the armed forces covenant. [907667]

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I am incredibly proud of the fact that it was this Government who enshrined the covenant in law. We should all be extremely proud of that, and of the work we have done.

I wrote to all the local authorities that signed the covenant. I have been overwhelmed by their response, and by the outstanding work that many are doing in delivering on their pledges. We must now ensure that that work continues throughout the United Kingdom.

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I believe that the Minister’s justified pride is accompanied by a desire for a grouping.

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I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. Incidentally, I received a letter from Gedling, whose contents I may share with the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker).

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10. What progress he has made on strengthening the armed forces covenant. [907676]

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12. What progress he has made on strengthening the armed forces covenant. [907678]

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14. What progress he has made on strengthening the armed forces covenant. [907680]

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The Veterans Contact Point armed forces centre, which is based in my constituency, does vital work to support veterans, many of whom have found the transition from the armed forces to civvy street extremely difficult. Will my hon. Friend visit the centre to see the excellent work that is being done by a vital charity that supports people throughout the Coventry and Warwickshire area?

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Yes, indeed. I look forward to visiting it on, I believe, 9 March. I have seen the website of that excellent charity, and I pay wholehearted tribute to the work that is being done by a wide variety of people. I note that the local council has reduced the charity’s rent in recognition of its commitment to the covenant. As I have said, we must now roll out that work throughout the United Kingdom.

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Some people leave the armed forces suffering from mental health conditions. What action has been taken by the Government as a whole to help people who are suffering from those debilitating conditions?

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We have invested an extra £7.4 million in precisely that sort of work. I pay tribute to Stockton-on-Tees borough council, which—along with other councils in the north-east—has been doing outstanding work, and whose chief executive has written to me. Councils are working across the piece, bringing together all the relevant bodies and people, and delivering good mental health services to veterans in particular.

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Is there a follow-up system to ensure that when people leave the armed forces they do not fall by the wayside when it comes to medical provision?

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It is critical that we get that right. At present, such services are delivered only at a local level. Many councils are involved, including those in the Greater Manchester combined authority, which signed the covenant at the end of December. All those councils are doing outstanding work which they are determined to continue, on a completely cross-party basis. They are working with a number of parties, bringing in health authorities, hospital trusts and clinical commissioning groups. What is beginning to happen in councils must now be replicated throughout the United Kingdom.

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What progress has been made in regard to the commitment to an armed forces charter based on the covenant that was made by the United States and others during the NATO summit?

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That is a good point. We need to proceed with that commitment. It was a great honour for me to go to the United States, meet other veterans Ministers, and share best practice. A number of countries are particularly interested in our work in delivering on the covenant, and, because other countries do things in different ways, we learn from each other. NATO has provided us with a very good device to enable us to share that best practice and, as I have said, to learn from each other.

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I am sure the Minister will welcome the fact that Flintshire county council, which is in my area, has signed the covenant, but what assessment has she made of the number of services charities that understand what it means in practice?

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That, too, is a good question. The short answer is that it varies. It is clear from the website of the charity mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) that a huge number of charities have signed up and are delivering across the country. Progress is sporadic, because not everyone “gets it”, but others absolutely do “get it”, and some great work is being done out there.

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I am pleased to say that Telford & Wrekin council has signed the covenant on a cross-party basis. What has the Minister done internally, within the Government, to ensure that individual Departments are delivering on the covenant? The Ministry of Defence is doing a very good job, but it is important for other Departments to commit themselves as well.

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I am really pleased that the hon. Gentleman says we are doing a good job, because I think we are, and he is absolutely right. We now must make sure others do not just sign up, but actually start to deliver. On the work the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, for example, has been doing with jobcentres, I recently went to my own jobcentre in Beeston—not for reasons connected with 7 May, I quickly add—and looked at the work it is doing with reserves and veterans. That is sporadic; not every jobcentre or Jobcentre Plus “gets it”, to put it in that way, but increasingly they do and that is invariably because of the good work of Members of Parliament and local councils.

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I am incredibly proud of the fact that Tameside was the first council in Greater Manchester to sign the armed forces covenant, followed very quickly by Stockport, and the Minister is absolutely right to commend the work of the Greater Manchester combined authority, the first whole city region in the country to bring together councils and public bodies across the area for the armed forces covenant, but what is she doing to make sure that in other parts of the country local authorities are committing time and resources and making sure the same services are available to our armed forces personnel so that we do not have a patchwork quilt?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have an excellent letter here from the leader of Wigan council, Lord Smith, extensively detailing all the great work being done. One of the tasks I want to do in the remaining weeks of this Government is to make sure the covenant team with the MOD brings all this work together and gives more advice to local authorities on sharing best practice, because it is stacked full of ideas. There is £30 million available to deliver on many of these projects, and I am pleased to say many are taking that up as well.

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The armed forces covenant had, of course, the full support of Her Majesty’s Opposition, but does the Minister accept that this is still very much a work in progress? Not all local authorities understand it. Only last week Essex county council refused to continue a support package for the needs of one military family moving with their child from another part of the country.

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The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and I have to say my own county council in Nottinghamshire did not understand the covenant when it came to a soldier constituent of mine coming down from Catterick who needed to have a place for his child. I reminded the county council of the covenant. That is the sort of work that local MPs can do when these cases come to us through our casework. It is about making sure we share best practice. There is masses more work to be done, and it would be nice to think I might be able to continue after 7 May, Mr Speaker, but that takes us into different territory.

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The Minister of State says that other people do not get it. I am not sure that she gets it, because why else would she be consulting on removing the principle of no disadvantage from the armed forces covenant? I refer of course to the consultation she has commissioned through her officials that Woodnewton Associates is carrying out. She looks confused; I am surprised if she does not know that her own officials are carrying out this consultation. Is that because the Government are still refusing to test their own policies against the principles of no disadvantage? A Labour Government will test our policies against the armed forces covenant, and we will not drop the principle of no disadvantage, which this Government are apparently thinking about doing.

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Of course the hon. Lady forgets that she has got to win an election, and there is every chance she will not do so. Let me make it absolutely clear: as far as I and the rest of the team here are concerned, this is news to us and we are absolutely committed to the principle of no disadvantage. [Interruption.] It is in the covenant, and chuntering from the sidelines achieves nothing.

Reserve Forces

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2. What steps he is taking to promote service in the reserves. [907668]

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8. What steps he is taking to promote service in the reserves. [907674]

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In the quarter to December, 1,490 personnel joined the Army reserve, an increase of 147% on the equivalent quarter last year. Colleagues will have seen the multimedia campaign showing the range of opportunities the reserves offer. We have unblocked the enlistment pipeline, more than 420 employers have signed corporate covenants and the civil service is setting an excellent example as a supportive employer, too.

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A constituent, Reservist Rifleman Ben Taylor, was awarded the Queen’s gallantry medal for saving the lives of eight comrades in Afghanistan. With hundreds following in Rifleman Taylor’s footsteps every month, does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the Chief of the General Staff’s blueprint for reaching our target is achievable?

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I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend and I join him in congratulating Rifleman Ben Taylor. With the upturn in recruitment, and with retention improving too, the trained strength of the Army Reserve has gone up 560 over the past 12 months to 20,480. That is above our target for the year end, and I am confident that the plans of the new Chief of the General Staff—who, incidentally, was also a rifleman—will be achieved.

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On Friday, I held my fourth Pendle jobs and apprenticeships fair, at the Colne municipal hall. I was delighted that the Army was one of more than 20 organisations that took a stall, at which it promoted regular and reserve opportunities. Will my hon. Friend tell us more about the steps that the Ministry of Defence is taking to recruit more reservists in the north of England?

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative. The north of England provides the greatest proportion of our soldiers, regular and reserve, and the relaunch of the Army recruiting campaign’s reserve component last month involved a major event in Liverpool, as he knows. There will be more in the north. Following the Secretary of State’s announcement in October of the intention to restore a post-nominal award to recognise long service in the reserves, I should like to take this opportunity to confirm that such an award will be restored for those of all ranks who achieve 10 years’ service.

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The new 77th Brigade, which will focus on psych-ops, is expected to recruit about 40 % of its members from the reserves. According to press reports, however, by Christmas only about 20 had been recruited. When does the Minister think he will achieve the full complement?

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For obvious reasons, some of the detail of the recruiting in that area will not be published in the House, and I am sure that the hon. Lady—my hon. Friend, if I may call her that—will understand those reasons. There is, however, a big upturn in recruitment right across the reserves, as the figures I gave the House earlier indicated.

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Over the past two years, the MOD has spent £16.4 million on television advertising for recruitment purposes. Was that money well spent? How many recruits resulted from that large spend?

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We cannot say what proportion of recruits resulted from it, but we can say that there has been a surge in recruiting, and that it was up 147% on the quarter last year, as the figures I have just given the House show. Additionally, although we are not going to publish the figures on cyber-recruiting, I can say that they are running ahead of the reserves average as a percentage.

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19. Government answers show that the average age of an existing reservist infantryman is in the mid-30s. Given that we have added only 500 reservists in the two years that this plan has been in place, and that that has led to capability gaps and false economies, has not the time come to rethink the plan and to stop trying to get our defence on the cheap? [907686]

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Over the past 12 months, we have added more than 800 to the reserves. That followed a long period—a whole generation—of decline. We make no apologies for revising the age requirements for ex-regular soldiers to join the reserves in order to share their knowledge and expertise. We are looking for people with key skills and it is a waste to lose people with specialist skills in areas such as intelligence and medicine. Dare I say that my hon. Friend, with his years of experience, might have something to offer to the reserves?

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We have had months of failing IT systems, targets being revised downwards and recruitment to the reserves stalling. In addition, we learned last week that recruitment to the regulars was not meeting its targets. Will the Minister confirm the speculation that is going on within the Ministry of Defence and the Army that an alternative plan to scrap the current target of 30,000 is being drawn up?

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There are no plans, and no such planning is going on, to scrap the target. The number I gave earlier, of 1,490 people joining the reserves in just one quarter, indicates that things are now moving sharply in the right direction. That figure relates to the Army Reserve, but the Royal Naval Reserve has been ahead of target all the way through and the Royal Air Force Reserve is also doing well, with 150 joining in a quarter.

Armed Forces: Home Ownership

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3. What steps he is taking to increase home ownership among members of the armed forces. [907669]

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6. What steps he is taking to increase home ownership among members of the armed forces. [907672]

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I am delighted that the forces Help to Buy scheme, launched just 10 months ago, has already helped 2,600 military personnel on to the property ladder, and a further 1,400 approved applications are awaiting the completion of the property purchase. Those 4,000 fully approved applications are broadly equivalent to the entire military presence at Colchester, and the vast majority of them—more than 80%—are for those from non-officer ranks.

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does this scheme not just prove the good work that this Government have been doing in ensuring the improvements to armed forces accommodation, in terms not only of service accommodation but enabling people in the armed forces to buy their own properties?

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Yes, this scheme enables military personnel to have the opportunity to buy their own home and benefit from the increased domestic stability that home ownership brings, bringing a more realistic life choice for those who have chosen to serve their country. We also recognise the importance of continuing to offer subsidised accommodation of a good standard to service personnel who are not yet ready to own their own home, which is why we have committed that from next April no service family will be allocated a house that does not meet the Government’s decent homes standard.

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I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the success of this scheme, which shows how potent the Government’s Help to Buy schemes are. Will he ensure that he gets all military groups to work with the new Mayor’s land commission to ensure that any unused land can be brought forward for housing purposes?

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Yes, I will certainly do that. Of course, under Labour the great recession meant that the prospect of buying a first home was no more than a pipe dream for many thousands of hard-working taxpayers. That is why we launched Help to Buy, which enables those who work hard and get on to enjoy the financial security that they deserve.

Defence Equipment Plan

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4. What progress his Department has made on delivering its defence equipment plan. [907670]

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For the third consecutive year, the defence equipment plan demonstrates a realistic and affordable plan to invest £163 billion on new equipment and support for our armed forces over the next 10 years. The delivery of this plan has been independently assessed by the National Audit Office, through the major projects report. The best way to illustrate progress is to compare the report for 2009, when in-year cost overran by £4.5 billion, with cost underspends in 2014 of almost £400 million. My hon. Friend may recall who was responsible for the chaos of defence acquisition in 2009 and who is responsible for the competence we have brought to that department since.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and for the announcement made on Friday about the Type 26s. What is the timetable for the building of the Type 26 frigates? When will there be an announcement about the base porting, which we hope will be in Plymouth?

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My hon. Friend is a vigorous champion of the merits of Devonport, in his constituency, as home to seven of the Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigates. The Prime Minister did indeed announce on Friday, as confirmed in a statement to the House this morning, that a demonstration phase contract worth £859 million to invest in detailed design work, shore-based test facilities and long-lead items for the first three Type 26 global combat ships will sustain 1,700 jobs. The current planning assumption is that 13 Type 26 vessels will replace the current frigates on a one-for-one basis, aligned to the current split in base port allocation, with the first coming into service in 2022.

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It would be churlish of me not to welcome the recent contract that has been awarded that will benefit David Brown’s, a great employer in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that this Government’s failure to invest in men and equipment means that we are a laughing stock around the world? Our defence capacity is derided by the President of the United States, and President Putin knows very well that we are too weak to be a powerful defence force in Europe?

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I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the defence equipment plan or, indeed, the capability of our defence industry to support it. This country remains the second largest defence exporter in the world. If our capability was so derided, as he says, how come we sold defence equipment worth nearly £10 billion last year?

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Last October, the Government announced the largest Army order in 30 years for the latest set of armoured vehicles. Will the Minister outline the potential for greater procurement from UK firms, which would benefit firms in the midlands, including Elite KL in Tamworth?

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I am proud to confirm that the Scout contract was the largest vehicle contract for the British Army since the Falklands war, and more contracts have now been let through the supply chain for that vehicle. The number of UK jobs secured through the programme is expected to be some 2,400 across more than 160 suppliers. Two-thirds of the suppliers are UK-based, including several in the midlands, and from all parts of the country.

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Three of my constituents from RAF Lossiemouth were killed and a fourth was seriously injured when two Tornadoes collided above the Moray firth. That occurred nearly 20 years after the Ministry of Defence recommended the installation of collision warning systems. Is it really true that only eight out of 100 Tornado aircraft have had such a system installed, that they are not fully operational and that there are no concrete plans for such a system to be installed in the Typhoon fleet?

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The hon. Gentleman has raised that subject many times in this House. He knows full well from the answers that I have given him to parliamentary questions that, when our Tornado fleet has a traffic collision avoidance system installed, it will be the first combat jet fleet anywhere in the world to have such a system. Civil airline fleets have been provided with such systems with success, but introducing such a system into a combat jet environment is exceptionally complicated. I can confirm that currently eight aircraft have been fitted with a system. We are working to iron out some of the residual issues with that system as we install it across the Tornado fleet.

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May I echo the warm welcome for the signing on Friday of the demonstration contract on Type 26? But are the original assumptions from the 2010 strategic defence and security review still valid, or has anything significant changed?

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As my hon. Friend is well aware, we are anticipating that a strategic defence and security review will take place following the general election later this summer, so all the planning assumptions that were introduced in the 2010 review will be reconsidered in 2015. As I mentioned earlier, as far as the frigate contract is concerned, the current planning assumption is for a like-for-like replacement of the Type 23 class.

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That was a very interesting comment from the Minister given that the Prime Minister recently announced that both carriers would be operational. Clearly, it also has implications for the equipment programme. Is the Minister saying that he intends to build 13 frigates for carrier support?

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I just explained in my answer to the previous question what the planning assumption is for replacing frigates. I can reconfirm to the hon. Lady that within the equipment plan is the capital cost of constructing both aircraft carriers, and they are coming in on time and on budget, in stark contrast to what happened under the previous Government.

Armed Forces: Diversity

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5. What steps he is taking to promote diversity in the armed forces. [907671]

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The Ministry of Defence is committed to creating a more diverse work force, better able to represent the nation it serves and defends. That is why we are developing a comprehensive defence diversity and inclusion programme to increase the diversity of the whole work force, both military and civilian.

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I thank the Minister for that answer, but will he reflect on the comments of the Chief of the General Staff who said this month that

“recruitment from the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has been improving…but it is nowhere near where it needs to be.”

What steps is the Army taking to ensure that it reflects the society that it protects?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the Chief of the General Staff’s initiative, but as the CGS has made clear more needs to be done. For instance, a significant amount is already being done to increase the diversity of the Army, such as targeted recruitment campaigns and high-profile engagement events aimed at the Sikh and Muslim communities, including the establishment of an armed forces Muslim forum.

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rose

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Order. In calling the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) on the subject of diversity, I note for the benefit of the House his past and possibly current presidency or patronship of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

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That is very helpful, Mr Speaker. Thank you so much. My right hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of the extraordinary gallant and distinguished service by Sikhs to this country down the generations. Does he not agree that it is high time to do away with the political correctness that infects some of this thinking and raise a Sikh regiment to serve in the country and make up a very serious gap in our armed forces?

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My right hon. Friend is nothing if not a survivor, as have been his illustrious predecessors who have served in this House. With regard to his specific suggestion, he is one of a number of Members of Parliament who have made the suggestion to me recently. We have passed the proposal on to the Chief of the General Staff, who is now considering the issue, and we are awaiting the CGS’s comments. The idea might well have merit.

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Following on from the comment made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), will the Minister specifically consider the notion of a Sikh company within the reserves as a starting point? There seems to be much more possibility within the reserves to begin what seems like an excellent idea.

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I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his additional suggestion. I said earlier that the idea might have merit, and we are considering as one specific option the possibility of a reserve company that would inherit many of the proud traditions of Sikh regiments in the British Army going back many years. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for the reserves is leading on that aspect and he, too, remains in contact with the CGS on the matter.

ISIL

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7. What steps his Department is taking to assist Iraqi forces in countering ISIL. [907673]

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9. What steps his Department is taking to assist Iraqi forces in countering ISIL. [907675]

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13. What recent steps armed forces have taken against ISIL in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [907679]

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15. What steps his Department is taking to assist Iraqi forces in countering ISIL. [907681]

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We are making a major contribution to the coalition. We are conducting infantry training and have trained more than 1,000 Iraqis so far. We are leading on counter-improvised explosive device training and, subject to parliamentary approval, will gift 1,000 hand-held metal detectors. As of Sunday, we have conducted 152 air strikes in Iraq and deployed a range of aircraft to the region, including surveillance aircraft.

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One of the legacies of our time in Afghanistan is our expertise in tackling IEDs. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when Britain will begin training Iraqi forces in this capability and what equipment—for example, electronic IED counter-measures such as those built by Selex ES in Basildon—will be made available so that they can better tackle ISIL?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and can tell him that the counter-IED training will begin early next month. UK personnel are already engaged in Baghdad in course design at the coalition headquarters. In conjunction with the metal detector equipment we intend to supply, the training will allow about six Iraqi battalions to have an improved counter-IED capability, as well as creating smaller specialist counter-IED teams.

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Will my right hon. Friend reassure me and many constituents who have written to me in the past few months that the Government are doing all they can to support and protect minority groups, such as Yazidi Christians, especially women, who face unimaginable dangers from ISIL brutality?

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Yazidi Christians, particularly women, have suffered more than most at the hands of ISIL. They are not alone. ISIL is a terrorist organisation that brutally beheads and crucifies people, slaughters children, sells women as slaves and has systematically used rape as a weapon. We flew supplies and surveillance missions last year to help Yazidi refugees on Sinjar mountain. Since beginning air strikes last September, we have, with other coalition partners, hit ISIL positions that have threatened Yazidi refugees and have assisted the Kurdish peshmerga in pushing back and reclaiming territory from ISIL, which, in turn, helps the Yazidi population.

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Does the Secretary of State think that it is acceptable that none of the service chiefs who gave evidence to the Defence Committee as part of its recent inquiry was willing or able to articulate the UK’s objective or strategic plan in Iraq? What exactly is our plan?

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Our plan in Iraq is very simple: first, to disrupt threats to the UK mainland and to our interests overseas; secondly, as part of an international coalition, to defeat ISIL, including discrediting its violent ideology; and, thirdly, to mitigate the impact of ISIL and other violent extremist groups on the stability of the whole region.

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In Iraq, the Brimstone missile provides the UK with a unique capability that minimises collateral damage. What measures are being taken to integrate it with the Typhoon system?

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Let me pay to tribute to the important work being done at AWE sites in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere in Berkshire and to the highly skilled personnel working there. I will of course look at his point about integration. We are accelerating the integration of those weapons with Typhoon, which will improve its attractiveness as an export and pick up on some of the lessons we have learnt from the campaign in Iraq.

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Does the Secretary of State recognise that the Kurds, who have lost 1,000 peshmerga, are key to isolating and defeating ISIS but are seriously short of the heavy weapons they urgently need. Will he talk with the Kurdistan Regional Government about how the UK can do much more to help them, as one of our closest and most reliable allies?

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I have met the Kurdish Regional Government and we continue to be in touch with them. We have already gifted heavy machine guns, nearly 500,000 rounds of ammunition and some 49 tonnes of non-lethal equipment. We have also helped transport to the Kurdish region around 300 tonnes of weapons, equipment and ammunition from other eastern European nations, because they tend to use former Soviet equipment. I hope that underlines the amount of help we are giving to the peshmerga, but it is important that we also help the reconstitution of the Iraqi army further south.

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What stance does the Secretary of State take in responding to requests from other Governments in the region seeking military assistance to take on ISIL and its affiliates in the way the Iraqi Government did?

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This is an international coalition, with between 40 and 50 countries involved, and we are one of the 16 that are involved in the air strikes. Indeed, we have so far recorded the second highest number of air strikes—second only to the United States. However, countries in the region and internationally are all helping in different ways—for example, with logistics or by providing bases. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to continue to reassure other countries in the region that we are committed to their security. That is why we signed the recent naval base agreement in Bahrain and why, for example, I talked this morning with His Excellency the Qatari Defence Minister.

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The Secretary of State is of course aware that ISIL is operating not only in Iraq, but in Syria and, unfortunately, now in Libya. Will he clarify what role the UK and its armed forces are playing in those theatres?

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The House has not given its authority for military operations to be conducted in Syria at the moment. However, we are preparing plans to help train moderate Syrian opposition forces outside Syria, and we are now drawing up plans to participate in that training at a number of sites outside Syria. The situation in Libya is equally disturbing. It now looks as though ISIL has several footholds along the Libyan seaboard, so we are also considering what further role we might play there.

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The Kurdish peshmerga have indeed done a magnificent job in halting Daesh and regaining some ground from it. I am proud that we have given them 40 heavy machine guns and that we have 46 members of 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment training them in Sulaymaniyah, but I have heard that we are reducing the amount of support we are actually giving them. Will the Secretary of State please outline in detail what extra help we can give the peshmerga forces in Kurdistan?

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We are not reducing our effort; on the contrary, we have the RAF flying Tornadoes virtually day and night—a huge effort—from Cyprus. We have nearly 600 service personnel involved in this battle against ISIL, including more than 140 personnel in Iraq. It is important to help the peshmerga, but it is also important to help the reconstituted Iraqi army.

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What are the Government doing to identify ISIL’s funding sources, and have they taken any action, such as sanctions, against those they have identified?

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The hon. Lady is right that ISIL needs to be defeated not just militarily, but diplomatically and politically with all the instruments at our command, and cutting off its financial sources of support is extremely important. We are working with our international partners to ensure that those financing streams can be cut off, and that proper sanctions can be applied where we can identify exactly where the funding is coming from.

Strategic Defence and Security Review

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11. What budgetary assumptions he is making to inform the strategic defence and security review. [907677]

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The Government’s priority remains the delivery of the 2010 strategic defence and security review. The next SDSR will not begin until after the election.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that all the major parties in the coming election should commit to a real-terms increase in the defence budget and to the 2% NATO target, because only in that way can we hope to keep our nation safe in an increasingly hostile and menacing world?

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Since the 2010 SDSR, our planning assumption has been that real growth in the defence budget, with 1% growth on equipment, is required to deliver the highly capable and adaptable armed forces that we set out in Future Force 2020. The scale of our current operations in Kabul, the middle east and Sierra Leone underline the value of the flexibility that we encouraged in that review. So far as the future is concerned, we are spending £34 billion this year; we will be spending £34 billion next year. It is time we heard from Labour whether it will match that spending or whether it plans to cut it.

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I congratulate the Defence Secretary on highlighting the real and present danger posed by Mr Putin’s Russia to the stability of Europe and the threat posed by ISIL. Does he agree that it would be folly for the United Kingdom to cut its defence expenditure below the minimum requirement of 2% that NATO has set?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have set out our planning assumptions for the current defence budget, but I still think we ought to hear exactly what the Opposition’s plan is. Are they going to match our £34 billion a year, or are they going to cut it? Is it match or cut? [Interruption.]

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Not very statesmanlike. Mr Jones, you aspire to be a statesman. I have sought to encourage and nurture your ambitions. [Interruption.] No, he says from a sedentary position. Don’t be so unambitious, man, for goodness’ sake.

Falkland Islands: Military Threat

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16. What recent assessment he has made of the potential implications of deployment of Russian-made military aircraft to Argentina for the UK’s defence footprint in the south Atlantic. [907682]

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The Ministry of Defence undertakes regular assessments of current and potential military threats to the Falkland Islands to ensure that we retain the appropriate defensive capability. There is currently no suggestion that there will be any need to vary significantly our capability in the south Atlantic, but contingency plans are in place to do so if required.

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To what extent is Russia re-establishing relations with Argentina, and to what extent might that pose a military threat to the Falkland Islands?

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Let us be clear. The Government are clear about British sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, and in March 2013 the Falkland Islands referendum reaffirmed the islanders’ overwhelming wish to remain British, with 99.8% voting in favour. We should always defend the right of the Falkland islanders to determine their own political future. I believe the question may refer to media reports that the Argentines were proposing to purchase Su-24 aircraft from the Russians, although this proposal came as a surprise even to the Argentine Defence Minister and was swiftly denied by the Argentine Government. Nevertheless, we are not complacent and the Ministry of Defence undertakes regular assessments of potential military challenges to the Falkland Islands to ensure that we retain appropriate defensive capabilities, but it seems that the Russians did not tell him.

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Does my right hon. Friend accept that the defence of the Falkland Islands would be made much more difficult if we failed to spend 2%, at least, of our gross domestic product on defence? If we encouraged all parties, including Labour, to do that—

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And yours.

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And ours, indeed. Then we would be standing by the encouragement and the commitments that we made at the NATO summit only six months ago.

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There are currently about 1,200 UK military and civilian personnel in the Falklands Islands. They support a range of air, sea and land capabilities, including Typhoon aircraft, support helicopters, offshore patrol vessels, air defences, and a resident infantry company. My right hon. Friend is an established former member of the Defence Committee—indeed, its former Chair—and the whole House will have heard what he said.

Service Personnel: Police Cautions

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17. How many service personnel were dismissed from the Army, demoted or otherwise penalised as a result of having received a police caution between 2008 and 2011. [907683]

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Initially, in reply to the hon. Lady’s campaign, I said that the figure was 1,500, but we have made further inquiries because our aim is to contact everybody. We now think that the figure is nearer to 1,200—1,000 in the Army. As we make those inquiries, it is important to appreciate that not everybody who was penalised in some way had that happen as a result of their receiving a police caution—other matters may have been involved as well—so we are exploring all that.

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The Minister will be aware that at least 58 of those personnel were discharged from the armed forces. On a rough calculation of losing, say, a £25,000 salary for just one year, compensation of over £1.25 million would be due. What assessment has she made of the cost to the defence budget of the military law-breaking and cover-up that was involved?

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As I have explained, we are identifying all the individuals so that we can contact them and advise them accordingly. I have made it very clear that I want to see action by the three armed forces to anticipate what may come forward so that we do not suffer any more delay and there are no injustices.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [907707]

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My immediate priorities remain our current operations against ISIL and Ebola, as well as the commitments reached at the NATO summit and the delivery of Future Force 2020. We are building our reserve forces and investing in the equipment that our armed forces need to keep Britain safe.

The House may also want to know that the solider reported as missing last week has now been located and is being returned to his unit.

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Will the Secretary of State assure the House that Britain is playing a key role in Ukraine and that we have not been relegated to a mere junior partner in negotiations?

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We have been playing the leading role politically in ensuring that Russia is subject to a proper degree of sanction for the actions it has been taking, and we will continue to press the case for further sanctions if Russia’s aggression is not halted. We are playing a key role politically and diplomatically in trying to bring the conflict to an end.

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T2. Further to that answer, will the Secretary of State update the House on his assessment of the recent militaristic threats of action in Ukraine by Russia? [907708]

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Ahead of the second Minsk meeting, Russia stepped up its military support to the separatists. It transferred hundreds of heavy weapons, including rocket launchers, heavy artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles. It maintains hundreds of regular soldiers, including special forces in Ukraine. Since the latest Minsk agreement, we have seen the ground offensive at Debaltseve, leading to the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces, and the denial of access for OSCE monitors—both flagrant breaches of the Minsk agreement. What matters now is that Russia returns to what it agreed at Minsk and implements it as soon as possible.

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Does the Defence Secretary agree that episodes in recent months in which RAF jets have been scrambled to escort Russian bombers close to our airspace, aircraft from our NATO partners have been asked to help locate a suspected Russian submarine off the west coast of Scotland, and the Royal Navy has been seen escorting a Russian warship in the English channel are very serious and risk a very serious incident? Will he tell the House how is he meeting these ongoing challenges and assure us that gaps in our military capability such as the lack of maritime patrol aircraft do not hinder us in any way in responding to such events?

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These are indeed serious issues and serious threats. So far as the incursion of Russian aircraft around British airspace is concerned, we have successfully intercepted all of those potential incursions and they have been shadowed by our quick-reaction aircraft based at either Lossiemouth or Coningsby. Our Royal Navy has picked up and shadowed the transit of Russian ships through the channel. We will, of course, respond, though not in the sense of being provoked; we will ensure that any potential incursion into our airspace or maritime area is properly dealt with.

So far as maritime patrol aircraft are concerned, of course we will look at that capability again in the new review, but we share capabilities with our NATO allies. We helped to lift French troops into Mali and, in return, we share other capabilities with NATO allies.

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I thank the Defence Secretary for that answer. He will, of course, be aware of ongoing events in eastern Ukraine and concerns about the stability of other areas in the region. He recently talked of Russia seeking to “test” NATO, so, while our response needs to be calm and considered, it also has to make strategic sense. What is the Defence Secretary’s latest assessment of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, especially in the light of the deadly incident in Kharkiv yesterday; and what role is Britain playing, as a leading member of NATO, to reassure our partners of the fortitude, resilience and involving nature of that alliance?

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It is pretty clear that the ceasefire agreement is not being properly respected. Russia needs to get back to the terms of that agreement and ensure that the fighting stops, that the heavy armour and other equipment I have referred to are withdrawn and that the territory of Ukraine is therefore respected. We have already been supplying non-lethal aid to Ukraine, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and we are continuing to consider what further help to provide in terms of training that might help to reduce the number of casualties and fatalities and build up the capability of the Ukrainian forces, which have been subject to an awful onslaught.

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T3. May I also congratulate the Defence Secretary on his forthright warning about an expansionist and aggressive Russia under President Putin representing a real and present danger to the Baltic states and, therefore, to NATO and European peace? May I be the third former Defence Minister from the previous SDSR to urge the Defence Secretary to use the current SDSR to improve defence capability rather than reduce it? May I also reassure him that there is a huge groundswell of opinion on the Benches behind him in support of an increase in defence spending and certainly not in support of a cut? [907709]

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I hope that my right hon. Friend, who served with distinction as a Minister in my Department, will recognise that, by investing in two aircraft carriers, committing to a replacement of the Type 23s, investing in armoured vehicles, purchasing fighters and commissioning new offshore patrol vessels, we are improving our defence capability. It is because we sorted out the defence budget that we are able to invest in new equipment in a way that the previous Government could not possibly have done.

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On the basis of a previous answer, can the Secretary of State give an absolute assurance that none of the British military activities in Iraq will be allowed to drift across the border into Syria?

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The hon. Gentleman knows that we have authority under the terms of the motion passed in this House to act in Iraq but not in Syria. That, of course, enables other members of the coalition to help the battle against ISIL in Syria; indeed, it frees up some of their capacity to do so. It is important that ISIL is defeated in both countries. ISIL does not respect the borders to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

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T5. The RAF has been using precision munitions effectively in Iraq, which, as far as is possible, are good at minimising collateral damage. Further to the earlier comments by the Secretary of State, will the Minister reassure the House that that important capability will not be lost when the Tornado combat jet is retired in 2019? [907711]

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Further to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s answer to an earlier question, I can confirm that—as it happens, yesterday—I witnessed a contract signature for the investment of a further £165 million to integrate Brimstone precision munitions on to Royal Air Force Typhoons, which will enable this unique air-to-ground strike capability to enter service on our Typhoon fleet in 2018, before the Tornadoes come out of service in 2019.

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T8. What assurance can the Minister give that the costs of the new Type 26 global combat ship will not rise ever upwards? How much clout does his Department have in avoiding some of the mistakes of the past? [907714]

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, because he invites me to draw another comparison with the way in which this Government have sorted out the manner of our defence procurement, in stark contrast to the previous Administration. We are undertaking detailed analysis and taking contract negotiations to a much greater degree of granularity before entering contracts so that we know what we are buying and we remove risk from layers of prime contractors, following the model that we introduced in the aircraft carrier renegotiation last year.

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T6. As civil nuclear developments expand the market for skilled nuclear engineers, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that we maintain the skills levels of the hundreds of nuclear engineers at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire? [907712]

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The facility in Berkshire is extremely important—part of it is in my hon. Friend’s constituency—and I have led cross-Government talks to consider how we ensure that demands for nuclear engineering skills across defence and civil sectors are successfully managed by recruiting, training and retaining appropriately skilled engineers. Next week, I will host an event in Downing street to raise awareness of degree courses in nuclear engineering.

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Ministry of Defence police officers and their colleagues in the defence fire and rescue service are currently subject to the state pension age; yet their counterparts in the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government can retire up to seven years earlier. Does the Minister think that is fair?

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We are in the process of working with other colleagues in the Government to conclude that matter, and I very much hope that we can make an announcement very soon. I pay tribute to the fire service and the MDP, both of which do an outstanding job.

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T7. In addition to the training that my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier, will he tell the House what equipment the British Government are providing to the Kurdish peshmerga, and whether they are providing any equipment on behalf of other countries to assist their fight against ISIL? [907713]

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May I wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday?

As I said, Her Majesty’s Government have gifted some 40 heavy machine guns with spares and some 480,000 rounds of 12.7 mm ammunition, in addition to 49 tonnes of non-lethal assistance, which was directly supported with training on machine guns. Most of the requests for equipment we have received are of types that British forces do not normally use, but through our strategic air transport capability, we have been able to work with other countries to deliver more than 300 tonnes of weapons, ammunition and equipment from mostly east European—

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Order. So many distinguished colleagues; so little time to hear them.

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Will the Secretary of State explain why the House is not allowed to know how many people were recruited from an online source?

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There has been no attempt to refuse to answer that question. All Army recruits, regular and reserve—100%—come through online applications. We have published the numbers of enlistments. [Interruption.] The number I cited earlier—1,490—was the number of Army reservists. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with other numbers. There is no secret about this at all: all Army recruits come through the online system.

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Put a copy in the Library.

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T9. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to our fast jet airmen, who help keep our skies safe and are dealing with the increasingly frequent Russian incursions? [907715]

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I do indeed pay tribute to them. This Department works in the recesses too, and last week I went to Royal Air Force Lossiemouth and met our fighter pilots, who help defend the skies against any incursion from wherever it may come. They are incredibly impressive and they now include female pilots too. “Top Gun” was on television last night. I have seen the real thing and it is more impressive than the movie.

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Six hundred British citizens have travelled abroad to support ISIL and we have heard the anguished pleas of the parents of three young London girls who have gone for similar reasons. What further steps are we going to take to stop British nationals travelling in that way?

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As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Home Secretary is producing further proposals to ensure that we continue to prevent the radicalisation of our young people in mosques and schools, and to introduce further passport controls where necessary to discourage the movement of young, radicalised Muslims to Syria.

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Given the very welcome commitments that the Prime Minister made in Scotland just last week about ongoing defence expenditure, bases and so on, will the Government confirm that those commitments extend to the all-important and long-standing BUTEC—British underwater test and evaluation centre—submarine range in and around Kyle of Lochalsh and that it has a viable future, given that defence will loom so large at the general election?

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I confirm that the UK Government have no plans to close the British underwater test and evaluation centre on the Applecross peninsula and at Kyle of Lochalsh. In fact, QinetiQ, supported by the Ministry of Defence, has plans to invest £22 million in its research and testing facilities up there, which, of course, would not have happened had Scotland been independent.

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Can the Secretary of State say more about the circumstances in which the deserted soldier in Syria was found? What steps can he take to prevent a recurrence of that situation? Does he understand the frustration that must be felt by many in our armed forces who want to do more to fight ISIL, but who see the Government not doing enough?

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We are, as I said, making a major contribution to the fight against ISIL, with nearly 600 service personnel involved, not just in Cyprus but in Irbil, Baghdad and elsewhere in the Gulf. We are fully involved in this struggle. I would prefer not to comment on the soldier who has been located and is being returned safely to his unit until he has been fully debriefed.

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T10. May I support the Defence Secretary’s warning about the danger that Russia poses to world peace? We should look at supporting brave Ukraine before Mariupol is put under pressure or falls. [907716]

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We have increased our assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces. Following the start of the crisis in spring last year, we have provided non-lethal support, including personal protective equipment and other supplies. We are helping with defence reform and modernisation. We are considering providing further non-lethal assistance to enhance the capacity of the Ukrainian armed forces to reduce casualties and fatalities and to build their resilience, for example through further training.

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If the Secretary of State is so pleased with our present defence capacity, will he say when was the last time an American President begged a British Prime Minister not to run down British forces any further?

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I have made it clear throughout this Question Time that far from running down our forces, we are investing in them for the future. We are investing in aircraft carriers, armoured vehicles, new frigates, offshore patrol vessels and fresh equipment of all kinds. What we have not yet heard is whether the Labour party would match our £34 billion of spending or cut it.

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There are four drivers and constraints on the defence budget: the international security environment, including what is happening in Ukraine; commitments already entered into, including upgrading our nuclear deterrent; the overall fiscal position; and our international obligations and moral authority. Does the direction of travel of any of those four things justify our defence spending falling below 2% of GDP? Is this a case, if ever there was one, for a proper cross-party consensus in Britain?

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Only because we sorted out the budget mess that we inherited have we been able to invest in and modernise our defence equipment. I fully agree with my right hon. Friend: we would be in a stronger place if there was more consensus. We have yet to hear whether Labour would match our £34 billion or cut it. Is it time we had an answer?

Tax Avoidance (HSBC)

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement about the HSBC tax evasion scandal.

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Order. I do not wish to be pedantic, simply accurate, but I think the wording of the urgent question was “avoidance”—the tax avoidance scandal. The point is on the record.

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The allegations about tax evasion at HSBC Swiss are extremely serious and have been the subject of extensive investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Money has been recovered for the Exchequer, and HMRC continues to be in active discussion with our prosecuting authorities. The chief executive of HMRC and the Director of Public Prosecutions have confirmed that they have the necessary resources to carry out their work on this matter, and if they need more resources they will get them.

The House should know, however, that in each and every case the alleged tax evasion—both by individuals and the bank—happened before 2006 when the shadow Chancellor was the principal adviser on tax policy and economic affairs to the then Labour Government. News that the French had got hold of the files with the names of the bank accounts became publicly known in 2009 when the shadow Chancellor was sitting on the Government Benches, and the files were requested and recovered by HMRC before May 2010, when he was a member of the Cabinet.

The right hon. Gentleman has written to ask me five questions about my responsibilities. I will answer each one directly, and in return he can account for his own responsibilities. He asked about what he calls the selective prosecution policy pursued by HMRC, and whether that decision was made by Ministers. Yes, that decision was made by Ministers, and the Inland Revenue’s overall approach to prosecuting cases of suspected serious tax fraud was set out in the Official Report on 7 November 2002, column 784W, in an answer by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). That was confirmed again when HMRC was created in 2005—again by the right hon. Gentleman. I have increased resources for tackling tax evasion, and as a result prosecutions are up fivefold. I have answered for my responsibility on that question; perhaps the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) will answer for his and tell us whether he drafted that policy.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked when I was first made aware of the HSBC files, what action I took, and whether I discussed them with the Prime Minister. I first became aware of the existence of the files in 2009 when a story appeared in the Financial Times. I was shadow Chancellor at the time so I could take no action, and I could not discuss it with the then Prime Minister because I was not on speaking terms with him. That is what I knew. The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood was a Cabinet Minister. When he heard about these revelations, did he speak to the Prime Minister about them?

Thirdly, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood asked why we appointed Stephen Green to the Government. We appointed him because we thought he would do a good job as trade Minister, as did the Labour party, which welcomed the appointment. The trade job was not Stephen Green’s first public appointment. That was when he was appointed by the previous Government to be not just a member of the Prime Minister’s business council but its chair—a post he continued to hold after the existence of the HSBC files became public and after HMRC negotiated to recover them under the previous Government. I have explained why we appointed Stephen Green. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood will explain why he appointed Stephen Green.

Fourthly, the right hon. Gentleman asked about discussions with Stephen Green on tax evasion. I can confirm that the Cabinet Secretary and the director general of ethics at the Cabinet Office carried out the background checks for ministerial appointments that were put in place by the previous Government. Stephen Green’s personal tax affairs were examined by HMRC on behalf of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, again using the procedures put in place by the previous Government. Those are the procedures we followed when we appointed Stephen Green. What procedures did the right hon. Gentleman follow?

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked me why I signed a deal with the Swiss authorities in 2012. He does not need my explanation. Listen to what the shadow Chief Secretary at the time, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), said:

“We support the agreement signed by the UK and Swiss Governments to secure billions in unpaid tax.”––[Official Report, Finance Public Bill Committee, 26 June 2012; c. 655.]

She is right: billions of unpaid tax never collected under a Labour Government. Under this Government, tax evasion is at the top of the G8 agenda. We have collected more money and prosecutions have increased five times over. Ahead of the Budget, I set the Treasury to work on providing further ways to pursue not just the tax evaders, but those providing them with advice. So anyone involved in tax evasion, whatever your role, this Government are coming after you. Unlike the previous Government, who simply turned a blind eye, this Government are taking action now and will do so again at the Budget. So I am happy, any time, to answer for our record on tackling tax evasion. Now, let him account for his.

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Finally, the Chancellor has been dragged to the House to answer questions about the HSBC scandal, which broke a full two weeks ago. At a time when the living standards of working people are squeezed, when our public services are under pressure, when HSBC is paying out high bonuses and when the amount of uncollected tax has gone up under this Government, we need proper answers, not another Chancellor sweeping these issues under the carpet as we have heard today. [Interruption.] I think the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) should listen to these questions and then the Chancellor can tell us whether he actually has any answers. Don’t you agree, Mr Speaker?

Detailed information was passed to this Government in May 2010 about 1,100 HSBC clients—[Interruption.]

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Order. These exchanges are not, frankly, to the advantage of this House. They will be conducted in a more decorous atmosphere. I say to Members on both sides who are calculatedly trying to whip it up and are shouting at the tops of their voices, some holding very senior positions in this House: cut it out or get out.

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We know when they shout that it is because they have something to hide, Mr Speaker. That is the truth.

First, let me ask the Chancellor about what he knew and when. Two weeks ago, Downing street announced that no Minister found out about the HSBC issues until two-and-a-half weeks ago. At the weekend, the Chancellor said that he should not be involved in the tax dealings of any individual bank. Today, he has told us he knew in 2009. If he knew about systemic abuse on this scale in 2009, why did he not act when he became Chancellor? That is the first question.

Secondly, given that the Chancellor says he knew about this in 2009, why, five years on, has there been only one prosecution after the provision of 1,100 names? We know that in November 2012 HMRC confirmed that the Government had adopted a selective prosecution policy. Let me ask the Chancellor: given he knew what was happening at HSBC, did he confirm he wanted a selective prosecution policy in these cases?

Thirdly, why in 2012 did the Chancellor sign a deal with the Swiss authorities that has prevented the UK from actively obtaining similar information in the future? The agreement states that the UK and Swiss Governments will

“not actively seek to acquire customer data stolen from Swiss banks”.

Why sign up to a declaration that clearly impedes HMRC’s and the Government’s ability to act in the future? Two weeks ago, they told us it was because they did not know, but we now know that the Chancellor has known for six years. Why did he sign that deal?

Fourthly, if the Chancellor and the Prime Minister knew what was happening at HSBC in 2009, why, one month after the Government received these files, did they appoint the chair of HSBC during the period in question as a Conservative peer and Minister? What due diligence did the Government carry out in advance, and did the Prime Minister and the Chancellor see the details? Fifthly, did Lord Green have any involvement in the Swiss tax deal when he was a trade Minister? Did he ever advise the Treasury on it? Did the Chancellor discuss what happened at HSBC with Lord Green in the almost three years he was a Conservative Minister? Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister was unable to answer that question. Did the Chancellor discuss the Swiss deal and those past events at HSBC with Lord Green, who was appointed as a Minister after this scandal came to light?

It is not good enough for the Chancellor to shout and bluster, and to try and sweep these questions under the carpet and claim he did not ask the questions. Since the Government were given the files, he has been the Chancellor for five years. Is it not clear either that he and the Prime Minister were negligent in failing to act on the evidence the Government received, including about HSBC and Lord Green, or, just as with the appointment of Mr Coulson, that they deliberately turned a blind eye?

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Well, I do not think that performance will save the shadow Chancellor’s political career. Every single question he asked I had already answered. The whole House can see that the person bringing this question to the House is the person with the most to answer for, and that he has no answers. He has nothing to say about the fact that every single one of these alleged offences occurred when he was the principal tax adviser to the last Labour Government, and nothing to say about the fact that the HSBC files came to light while he was in office. He said I admitted I knew about them in 2009. I read the Financial Times—it was in the newspapers; he was in the Cabinet and did absolutely nothing about it. He said that the information was provided to the Government in May 2010.

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indicated assent.

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He nods his head, but the information was provided in April 2010, when there was a Labour Government and he was in the Cabinet. He has nothing to say either about the agreement with the French authorities restricting the use that could be made of this information—an agreement that we are now busily trying to change.

None of these things has the shadow Chancellor admitted to or apologised for, and none of it is of any surprise to Government Members, because the Labour party was the friend of the tax avoiders and the tax evaders when it was in office. When we entered office, City bankers were paying lower tax rates than those who cleaned for them; foreigners were not paying capital gains tax; hedge funds were abusing partnership rules; and the richest in our society routinely did not pay stamp duty at all. We have put at end to all of that, and we will take more action in the Budget. All we have on the Opposition Benches is a bunch of arsonists throwing rocks at the firefighters who are putting out the fire that they started.

The shadow Chancellor comes to the House fighting for his political life. He asks about tax evasion, but he was the principal tax adviser when tax evasion occurred. His economic policy is in tatters, and he cannot name a single business supporter of his business policy. His tax avoidance campaign has turned into a war with his own window cleaner. Now he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and his leader, but he lost the confidence of the country a long time ago.

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Will the Chancellor confirm that British taxpayers will receive more money back from tax evaders as a result of civil actions than they would through criminal actions?

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When we can pursue criminal prosecutions, of course we do so, but that is a matter for the independent prosecuting authorities. Frankly, the suggestion from some on the Labour Benches that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should direct the prosecutions of our independent prosecuting authorities shows how far they have gone from the constitutional principles of government. We set the overall resourcing for HMRC and pass the tax laws, but we have independent prosecuting authorities. The shadow Chancellor goes on about the policy, but the policy was set out by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in 2002 and repeated in 2005.

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Does the Chancellor agree that obtaining financial advantage by deception is a criminal offence even when carried out by bankers? Does he recognise that HSBC has 556 subsidiary companies in tax havens? We know what has happened with one of them, but when will there be an inquiry into the other 555?

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Some very serious allegations have been made about HSBC Swiss and its role in knowingly advising people on tax evasion. Of course, our prosecuting authorities will want to look into the matter, but the House needs to know that the information that was received from the French authorities under the last Government—[Interruption.] This is important, and it is relevant to the right hon. Gentleman’s question. The information was received as the result of a negotiation with the French authorities about what use it could be put to, and the French agreement struck by the last Government said that we could use it only for prosecuting or pursuing individuals with regard to their tax affairs. We are currently in active discussion, which I think will come to a fruitful end, to get the French to allow us to pass some of that information to the Serious Fraud Office and other prosecuting authorities, to address the concern that he rightly raises about the potential or alleged role of banks in the affair.

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Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House how many tax avoidance schemes that he inherited in 2010 he has had to close down?

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More than 40 tax avoidance schemes or loopholes have been closed. Of course, we have also introduced an anti-avoidance and anti-abuse rule, which the Labour Government had 13 years to introduce. Now Labour Members are saying that we should be stiffening the penalties under that anti-abuse rule, but—[Interruption.] I will tell Members who was in charge. The shadow Chancellor was in charge for 13 years and did absolutely nothing. We came in, closed the loopholes, introduced the anti-abuse rule, got rid of the abuse of partnerships by hedge funds, got rid of the abuse of stamp duty by the richest in our society and started collecting the tax that should have been collected long ago.

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The revelations about HSBC are just the latest in a long line of misdeeds by our banks, which are undermining confidence in the system throughout. Too often, HMRC seems to be on the back foot. The Chancellor said that if it required more resources it would be given them. Will he commit those resources to a proactive investigation of the role of banks, and some of the larger accountancy firms, in both tax avoidance and tax evasion?

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The amount collected by HMRC as a result of abuse of this kind has risen from £17 billion to £26 billion. That is partly because we have put additional resources into tackling tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. We have done a great deal. However, I am the first to say that there is more to be done, and, as I said in my statement, more will be done in the Budget.

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Does the Chancellor think that corporate entities that advise on tax evasion or enable it to take place should themselves be subject to criminal prosecution?

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Yesterday the Chief Secretary referred to a policy that the Treasury has been considering for the purposes of the Budget, involving the penalties that should be paid by those who actively facilitate tax evasion. As I have said, we are considering that policy, but the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the Budget.

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If the position is now so clear and has now been dealt with, why did the former Tory treasurer say only the other week that “everyone” was engaged in tax avoidance? He meant the rich. Is not the situation summed up very well by an American woman, Leona Helmsley, who ran hotels? She said—and it apparently still applies in this country to a large extent—

“We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

That illustrates the divide between the vast majority of people in our country and the rich.

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We have taken steps to deal with precisely the abuses to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded, such as the use of vehicles to avoid paying stamp duty, the creation of partnerships so that hedge funds do not pay the proper amounts, and the fact that foreigners did not pay capital gains tax. Disguised income is another abuse that we have sought to clamp down on—and, by the way, the Labour party voted against our action in that regard. As more abuses come to light and more contrived schemes are discovered, we take action to deal with them, but I have to say that we have had very little support from the Labour party.

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When objective members of the public review these exchanges, they could be forgiven for thinking that there was little to choose between our parties. Will the Chancellor confirm that he has instituted not just the general anti-abuse rule, but follower notices and accelerated payments, and will he also confirm that our party has dealt with this issue far more robustly than the Labour party?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The accelerated payments scheme means that if tax is in dispute, we ask for it up front, and if people can prove that we have got it wrong, they get the money back. That is the rule with which the vast majority of our citizens must comply at present, but it was not complied with by those who were very well off. We introduced the accelerator, and as a result we are collecting hundreds of millions of pounds of tax that was previously not collected. As my hon. Friend says, that is further evidence of the gulf between what the Labour Government did during the 13 years for which the shadow Chancellor advised them, and what we have done in the last five years.

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The Chancellor described the steps taken by the civil service before the appointment of Lord Green, but will he now answer this question? Did he ever discuss this matter with Lord Green, and did the Prime Minister ever discuss it with Lord Green?

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I said in my statement that the proper procedures had been followed for the appointment of a Minister, and that the Cabinet Secretary and the director general of ethics in the Cabinet Office had been involved. I am not privy to the tax affairs of any individual citizen, and it would be a gross abuse of our constitution if I were. Our procedures allow HMRC to talk to the House of Lords Appointments Commission, and it did so on this occasion, so those procedures were followed. Any Labour Members who ask questions about our appointment of Stephen Green to the post of Trade Minister could be asked questions about their decision to appoint him as chair of the Prime Minister’s business council, and to retain him in that post after the revelations that appeared in the Financial Times in 2009.

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Many small businesses and taxpayers in north Yorkshire will be shocked by the time line that the Chancellor has just described. Will he clarify once again what the last Government knew and when?

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What a creep!

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They don’t want to hear about their record in government, Mr Speaker. Every single alleged offence happened when the Labour Government were in office. The information became publicly known when the Labour Government were in office. Lord Green’s first public appointment was as chair of the Prime Minister’s business council under the Gordon Brown Administration. The information was received from the French authorities under the last Labour Government. So I think the whole House—and, indeed, my hon. Friend’s constituents, who pay their taxes—would like the shadow Chancellor to get up and express a little bit of humility and contrition for the mistakes made when he was in office.

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Since 2010 the Chancellor or Treasury Ministers have met HSBC 56 times. Was tax avoidance or tax evasion ever discussed at those meetings, and what was the outcome of those discussions?

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First of all, it is not surprising that the British Government—Conservative, coalition or Labour—would meet one of the country’s largest institutions and banks. So that it is not a matter for surprise. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about any details we have about particular meetings.

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In 2005, at the height of all of this, the then Chancellor told the CBI dinner that he supported a “light” and “limited” approach to regulation including tax administration. What does the Chancellor think the previous Chancellor meant by a “light” approach to tax administration, and can he confirm that we have cleared it up?

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Well, we have taken a much more aggressive approach. As a result, prosecutions are up fivefold. I have the following parliamentary answer from the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), and this is what he told the House:

“Where serious tax fraud has been committed, the Board”—

the Inland Revenue board—

“may accept a money settlement instead of pursuing a criminal prosecution.

The Board will accept a money settlement and will not pursue a criminal prosecution, if the taxpayer, in response to being given a copy of this Statement by an authorised officer, makes a full and complete confession of all tax irregularities.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2002; Vol. 392, c. 784W.]

That was the approach of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath to tax policy. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor says it was before 2000, but the revelations were made in 2009, and the last time I checked there was a Labour Government in late 2009 and early 2010.

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Will the Chancellor finally seriously consider the issue of corporate liability for the criminal actions of employees? This would mean that banks could themselves be prosecuted. Would he like a copy of Labour’s policy review on tackling serious crime and white-collar crime that I launched two years ago? I have a copy here; he can have a read of it. I suggest a change in the law.

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Unfortunately for the hon. Lady, the Labour party had 13 years when they had a Labour Chancellor standing at this Dispatch Box able to introduce all these things she talks about. As I have said, we are looking very seriously in the Budget at what further action we can take to tackle not just those who evade their taxes, but those who facilitate that evasion.

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Does this question itself show the danger of eliding tax avoidance and tax evasion? There is no obligation on anybody to pay more tax than the law requires and even the most respectable families have schemes of arrangements to minimise things like death duties, whereas tax evasion is a very serious criminal offence which should be come down on with the full force of the law.

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rose—

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That’s the Tory party!

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The hon. Gentleman says that that’s the Tory party, but, as it happens, I think my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is referring to the newspaper accounts of the Labour leader. I am not going to get drawn into that. Of course there is a difference in law between tax avoidance and tax evasion, although the shadow Chancellor managed to mess it up in the question he put today, but I have said as well that aggressive tax avoidance is something we also need to clamp down on and stop, and we have taken many actions to do so.

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The Chancellor said he was answering all the questions, but, as I heard him, he left out the second part of the question about the deal with the Swiss authorities, which was why was a deal signed which prevents the UK from actively obtaining similar information in the future. Will he tell our constituents why the Government decided to do that deal?

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I can confirm that the agreement we have signed would not prevent us from receiving the so-called Lagarde list in exactly the way that we have been doing. Also, thanks to the Prime Minister’s leadership at the G8, we will now have an automatic exchange of information with Switzerland from 2017. That is one of the most important steps forward in tackling tax evasion. The answer is—[Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor is again not listening to the answers that he is getting across the Dispatch Box; the problem is that all his questions have been answered. The answer is that our agreement with Switzerland would not prevent us from receiving the Lagarde list.

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Should we not design greater resilience into our tax base instead of engaging in endless games of cat and mouse with firms of tax advisers?

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The hon. Gentleman asks a good question. There are two approaches. The first involves introducing into our domestic law things like the general anti-abuse rule, which is more of a catch-all and tries to anticipate changes by accountancy firms and others who devise aggressive avoidance schemes. The second approach, which is not to be underestimated, involves the major international agreement on the automatic exchange of people’s tax information between jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the United Kingdom. That agreement has happened only because the Prime Minister put it at the top of the G8 agenda; no previous leader of the G8 had done so. That is why we will have the automatic exchange of information, which will be a revolution in tax transparency.

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What explanation can the Chancellor give in response to comments by the former tax inspector Richard Brooks that the Treasury and HMRC

“knew that there was a mass of evidence of tax evasion at the heart of HSBC”

in 2011, but that the Government

“simply washed their hands of it”?

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As I have explained, HMRC received in April 2010 the disc that had all the information on individual bank accounts. It then set about investigating all those individuals and bringing those prosecutions. We have known—[Interruption.] The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury says that we have known this for five years. We have known for five years that there was egregious tax evasion 10 years ago under the Labour Government. We have put the resources into pursuing that, collecting the money and passing the international agreements to ensure that it never happens again in our country.

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Will my right hon. Friend clarify what he believes to be the difference between tax avoidance and tax efficiency?

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As I said earlier, tax evasion is illegal. Aggressive tax avoidance is something that we are taking enormous steps to prevent. We have passed laws and introduced the general anti-abuse rule to ensure that we are collecting a fair amount of taxation from our population.

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The Chancellor has to realise that this will not wash with the general public and the tax-paying businesses in my constituency and elsewhere, or with the companies that paid their taxes under the arrangement in Switzerland and elsewhere when they transferred their money. The reality is that people want a law under which people will not only have money taken off them but go to jail. If he is not going to introduce such a law, he should step aside and let another Government do it for him.

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These abuses happened when there was a Labour Government in office. That Government, and the former Chancellor, set in place the selective prosecution policy. We have increased the resources and, as a result, the number of prosecutions has gone up fivefold. There is still one particular barrier, however, to the potential prosecution of HSBC Swiss if it is found to have committed a crime. That barrier is the agreement signed by the last Government with the French Government, and we are currently in negotiations with the French Government to unravel that terrible agreement. Then, our independent prosecuting authorities will see whether there are any cases to bring.

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It has recently emerged that the Gloucestershire-based business Ecotricity lent its founder £4 million on seriously tax-advantageous terms. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be an investigation into whether the transactions between Ecotricity and Dale Vince represent aggressive tax avoidance? Does he also agree that it is possible that Labour has not carried out appropriate due diligence on what might otherwise look like a naked attempt at a thank-you for the £37 million of taxpayer subsidies given to Ecotricity’s onshore wind farm business?

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I am not going to discuss an individual’s tax affairs, but I would say this: the hypocrisy of the Labour party on this issue is simply breathtaking. Labour Members complain about Conservative party donors and then we hear all these revelations about Labour party donors; they complain about individual accountancy firms and then it turns out that Labour collects hundreds of thousands of pounds of donations from those accountancy firms; and they complain about the alleged tax evasion at HSBC Swiss and every single one of those offences happened when Labour was in government. It is time Labour Members got up and apologised.

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No one on the Labour Benches is complaining that the Chancellor met people from HSBC 56 times—we are not surprised by that. The question is: was evasion or tax avoidance discussed at those meetings and what was the outcome of those discussions? [Interruption.]

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I have already answered that question. [Interruption.] I have; I said it is not surprising that Ministers meet one of the largest companies in this country, which employs close to 50,000 people in Britain and, as I understand it, a quarter of a million people around the world. As I also said earlier, I am happy to write about any of the content of those meetings, which were not just with me, but across the government.

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rose

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Order. Twenty Back Benchers have contributed to this exchange. As the House knows, my normal practice is to try to facilitate everybody, on both sides of the House, who wants to take part, but I should advise the House that we are time constrained today. We now have a very important statement by the Prime Minister, on which there will doubtless be substantial questioning, and then important matters in the Serious Crime Bill, in which a lot of people are interested and for which, frankly, there is not adequate time. The inadequacy of the time is down to the business managers. It is not a matter for me, but I am doing my best to cope with the situation in the interests of Back-Bench Members.

European Council

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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the most recent European Council, which covered Ukraine, the eurozone, terrorism and extremism.

On extremism, let me first address the case of the three British schoolgirls from east London leaving their families and attempting to travel to Syria. All of us have been horrified by the way that British teenagers appear to have been radicalised and duped by this poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism while at home on the internet in their bedrooms. They appear to have been induced to join a terrorist group that carries out the most hideous violence, and believes that girls should be married at nine and that women should not leave the home. Their families are, understandably, heartbroken and we must do all we can to help.

We should be clear that this is not just an issue for our police and border controls. Everyone has a role to play in preventing our young people from being radicalised, whether that is schools, colleges, universities, families, religious leaders or local communities. That is why we have included a duty on all public bodies to prevent people being radicalised as part of our Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. But of course stopping people travelling to join ISIL is vital. When people are known risks, whatever their age, they go on our border warnings index, and we can intervene to prevent travel and seize their passports. But what this incident has highlighted is the concerning situation where unaccompanied teenagers such as these, who are not a known risk, can board a flight to Turkey without necessarily being asked any questions by the airline. We need new arrangements with airlines to ensure that these at-risk children are properly identified and questioned, and the Home Secretary and Transport Secretary will be working with the airlines to bring this about. Whenever there are concerns, police at the border should be alerted so that they can use the new temporary passport seizure powers to stop people travelling.

Secondly, given reports that one of the girls was following as many as 70 extremists online, this case underlines the importance—this was covered at the EU, too—of the work we are doing with social media companies. We have made progress with these companies, which are working with the police and Home Office to take down extremist content online, and at the EU Council we agreed to do this across the European Union. But we also need greater co-operation over contacts between extremists and those who could be radicalised. Internet companies have a social responsibility and we expect them to live up to it.

Thirdly, we need to continue to press for our police and security services to have access to passenger name records for as many routes as possible in and out of Britain and we need that to happen right across the European Union. That was the subject of the most substantial discussion at the European Council as those records provide not just passenger names, but details about how tickets were bought, what credit cards and bank accounts were used and with whom people were travelling. That is vital information that helps us identify in advance when people are travelling on high-risk routes, and often helps us identify terrorists. I raised this matter explicitly with my Turkish counterpart in December, and will continue to press to get this vital information wherever we need it.

Until recently, in spite of British efforts to get this issue prioritised, discussions on these passenger name records in the EU had been stuck. But following the terrible attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, it was agreed at the European Council that EU legislators should urgently adopt a “strong and effective” European passenger name records directive. That was probably the most important outcome of this Council. We have to fix this matter. It would be absurd to have the exchange of this information between individual EU member states and other countries outside the EU but not among ourselves. Most people travelling to Syria do not go there directly; they often take many different routes within the EU before getting even to Turkey, so we badly need this information.

The European Council also agreed that law enforcement and judicial authorities must step up their information sharing and operational co-operation and that there should be greater co-operation in the fight against illicit trafficking of firearms.

Turning to the situation in Ukraine, I met President Poroshenko before the start of the European Council meeting. He thanked Britain for the role we have played in ensuring a robust international response at every stage of Russia’s illegal aggression. We were the first to call for Russia to be expelled from the G8. We have been the strongest proponent of sanctions and a vital ally in keeping the EU and the US united. President Poroshenko welcomed the diplomatic efforts that had been made leading up to the Minsk agreements. He agreed that it was essential to judge success not by the words people say but by the actions they take on the ground.

Let us be clear about what has happened in the 10 days since the European Council met. Far from changing course, Russia’s totally unjustifiable and illegal actions in eastern Ukraine have reached a new level, with the separatists’ blatant breach of the ceasefire to take control of Debaltseve made possible only with the supply of Russian fighters and equipment on a very large scale. It is clear what now needs to happen: the ceasefire must be respected in full by both sides; heavy weapons need to be drawn back, as promised; and people must do the things to which they have signed up. All eyes should now be on Russia and the separatists. Russia must be in no doubt that any attempts by the separatists to expand their territory—whether towards Mariupol or elsewhere—will be met with further significant EU and US sanctions. Russia must change course now or the economic pain it endures will only increase.

In the coming days, I will be speaking to fellow G7 leaders to agree on how we can ensure that the Minsk agreements do indeed bring an end to this crisis. We are also looking urgently at what further support we can provide to bolster the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission. The International Development Secretary is today committing an additional £15 million to support the humanitarian effort. However, at this moment the most important thing we can do is show Russia that the EU and America remain united in being ready to impose ever-increasing costs on its Government if it does not take this opportunity to change course decisively.

Turning to the eurozone, immediately before the European Council started, I met the new Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. With him, and then again at the Council, I urged all those involved to end the stand off between Greece and the eurozone over its support programme. We welcome the provisional agreement subsequently reached last Friday evening. Britain is not in the eurozone, and we are not going to join the eurozone, but we do need it to work effectively. The problems facing Greece and the eurozone continue to pose a risk to the world economy and to our own recovery at home. That is why we have stepped up our eurozone contingency planning.

Before the Council, I held a meeting in Downing street with all the key senior officials to go through those plans and to ensure that vital work continues apace—this crisis is not over. Protecting our economy from these wider risks in the eurozone also means sticking to this Government’s long-term economic plan. It is more important than ever that we send a clear message to the world that Britain is not going to waver on dealing with its debts and that we retain the confidence of business—the creators of jobs and growth in our economy. We must continue to scrap red tape, cut taxes, build world-class skills and support exports to emerging markets. We must continue investing in infrastructure. Today’s figures show that in 2014 the UK received a record level of lending from the European Investment Bank to support the infrastructure projects in our national infrastructure plan. I hope that the shadow Chancellor will cheer when we win European money for British infrastructure—for the roads, the bridges and the railways we need.

Today we have the lowest inflation rate in our modern history and the highest number of people in work ever. We have the biggest January surplus in our public finances for seven years, putting us on track to meet our borrowing target for the year. To put it simply, we have a great opportunity to secure the prosperity of our nation for generations to come. We must not put that in jeopardy; we must seize that chance by sticking to this Government’s long-term economic plan. I commend the statement to the House.

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I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Let me start by expressing my deepest sympathy to the families of those killed in Copenhagen in the dreadful terrorist attack that has happened since the House last met. We stand with all of Europe against all those who seek to terrorise and attack our most cherished values and who perpetrate intolerance, anti-Semitism and all other forms of prejudice.

The European Council said that there would be action to step up information sharing and co-operation with our European partners to tackle terrorism. The Prime Minister repeated that in his statement today, but will he tell us exactly how it will happen? He will know that Labour’s Members of the European Parliament supported the speedy resolution of the question of the European passenger name record, which allows information to be shared with European countries on airline passengers. Will he update us on the timetable for agreeing and implementing the measure?

To counter the threat we face, we need co-operation abroad and vigilance at home. I echo the Prime Minister’s anxieties about the three schoolgirls travelling to the region. Does he agree that in addition to the measures that he has set out, we must also look again at the Prevent programme and strengthen it with a stronger role for local communities and more action directly to challenge the warped ideology and lies that are being spread, particularly through social media?

Turning to the fight against ISIL in the region and the Council conclusions on north Africa, we were all horrified by the barbaric murder in Libya of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIL-linked extremists. These latest brutal acts of violence simply reinforce the importance of our efforts alongside our allies to counter the threat posed by ISIL. It was right to take action to protect civilians and prevent a massacre in Benghazi in 2011. Tragically, though, Libya now looks more and more like a failed state. Is the Prime Minister satisfied by the post-conflict planning and work that has been done? Does he agree that for stability to be restored in Libya, the UN-led process towards establishing a transitional Government must be followed? If so, what further steps does he believe the UK and its allies can take to support that approach?

On Greece, we welcome the deal agreed between the Greek Government and eurozone members last week and clearly the next few hours and days are crucial in ensuring its successful implementation. However, given that the four-month extension will run out, what does the Prime Minister think are the prospects of a long-term financing deal so that we do not face this crisis once again?

Finally, on Ukraine, we welcome the joint initiative by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande for peace in Ukraine and support fully the conclusions of the Minsk agreement. As the United States has said, Russia continues to support ongoing separatist attacks in violation of the ceasefire. It is vital that the international community stands ready to increase the pressure by extending economic sanctions if President Putin refuses to change course. I welcome what the Prime Minister said on this, but will he reassure us that if Russia fails to meet its obligations under the terms of the Minsk agreement in the coming days there is an appetite in other EU countries for a united position on further sanctions against Russia? President Putin must understand that he risks further isolating Russia on the world stage if he continues to display belligerence and aggression in the face of international laws and norms. The world will act.

Anyone looking at the events of the past few months knows that we are living in incredibly challenging times for our security, freedom and values. In the face of those challenges, the right course for Britain is to be engaged in the world and to co-operate and lead in Europe. The attacks in Paris and Copenhagen aim to spread fear and divide our communities. They will fail. They will fail because people across Europe, including in Britain, are united in rejecting extremism. We have faced down these kind of threats before and will do so again.

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response to my statement and for his questions. Let me try to answer all of them. On the steps taken at the European Council that are material to fighting terrorism, I think that the movement on passenger name records is good news. The second thing agreed was about weapons. There is a particular issue with weapons that have been decommissioned and turned into model weapons, as some of those have been reconverted to dangerous weapons and used by criminals. We need more common standards across Europe to stop that happening.

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the three schoolgirls. We should do everything we can to prevent that from happening in future, as I set out in my statement, and we must do what we can for those girls and their families. On the Prevent programme—he makes this point regularly—I have to say that I think the criticism that it does not do enough to help individual communities is a little out of date. We commissioned a report by Lord Carlile, who is very respected in that area, and he recommended what we are now doing, which is splitting the programme into Prevent, which is about de-radicalisation, and the work done through the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is properly funded, to ensure that we encourage integration. All the evidence shows that the approach we are taking is better than what came before, and frankly I think that we should all get behind it.

The right hon. Gentleman asked some very good questions about the situation in Libya and about the appalling murder of the Coptic Christians on the beach in Libya. He asked whether I was satisfied with the post-conflict situation, and of course I am not. What NATO and our allies did, as he knows, was stop a murderous attempt by Gaddafi to kill his own people. We gave the Libyan people a chance to build a better future, and so far it is a chance that has not been taken. We need to do more to help them in that regard. The most important thing is to put together a Government of national unity, and Jonathan Powell—someone I am sure he is familiar with—is working extremely hard, with the full backing of the British Government, and with envoys from other countries, to try to put that national unity Government together.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the prospects for a long-term funding deal for Greece. I think that is still some way away. There will have to be give and take on both sides. At the European Council I was struck not only by the gap between the parties, but by the very strong feelings in those European countries that have taken difficult decisions and how little flexibility they appear to want to give Greece, so that is something we need to watch very carefully.

On Ukraine, I very much welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about sanctions. We need to demonstrate right across Europe and America that we are in this for the long haul and that if Russia continues to destabilise an independent, sovereign country, there will be further sanctions. He asked how much enthusiasm and appetite there is in other European countries. Frankly, that is where we will have to work very hard, and I think that all of us with contacts in different political parties and Governments in Europe can help with that process. It was interesting that even at the European Council there was some attempt to prevent the next round of sanctions from going ahead. Thankfully that was stopped and the sanctions have gone ahead, along with the naming of more individuals, but that is just a sign of how hard we will have to work to keep the consensus together.

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman’s closing remarks about rejecting extremism and standing up for the values of freedom and democracy that we believe in, and believing that ultimately those values will triumph, I absolutely agree.

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I remind the House that, in accordance with usual practice, Members who arrived after the Prime Minister started his statement should not expect to be called to ask a question. I want to accommodate as many Members as I can on the statement but am keen to move on to the next business at, or as close as possible to, 5 o’clock.

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Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the increasing assertiveness of Germany in the EU, as shown in the language used by Wolfgang Schaeuble regarding the Greeks, for example? Does he accept the assertion made by Mr Prodi on the “Today” programme last week that the Germans are the leaders in Europe? Does he accept that we must step up to the mark and show that we will stand up for the interests of not only the United Kingdom, but Europe as a whole, as we have in the past?

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When it comes to issues about trade deals, single market issues and many foreign policy issues, Britain plays a key and leading role, as we have done over sanctions on Ukraine. On the question of how the Germans behave towards Greece, that is a matter for them. I know that if I were the German Chancellor and I had lent another country a lot of money, I would want to get it back. I think my hon. Friend and I agree that this is one of the fundamental challenges at the heart of the eurozone and is a permanent reminder of why we are better off outside it.

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Of course, Greece’s problems are of its own making. However, Greece provides a vital service to the rest of the EU because it polices the external borders of the EU. Every month 7,000 illegal migrants cross the border between Turkey and Greece, and if we do not support Greece, that becomes our problem in the future. On the issue of our borders, will the Prime Minister confirm that we will have 100% exit checks by the end of March?

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On the second point first, I am confident that our border exit checks will be in place by the end of March. That will transform the situation that this Government inherited, where fewer than 40% of people were counted in and out. That will be totally transformed in the future. On what the Greeks, the Italians and others do to man the external frontiers of Europe, it is vital work and we should support them, as we do through Frontex and so on, but we need to make sure that every country lives up to its obligations when people arrive in that country. It is remarkable that when one looks at the percentage of asylum claims within Europe that are still being heard in Germany, France or Britain—not the first points of entry—compared to the numbers being heard in Italy, Greece and Spain, there is still a marked contrast.

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Russia is ignoring all the rules of the international community. The Russians are unreliable and cannot be trusted. Does my right hon. Friend feel that the diplomatic process has been exhausted? If the answer to that is yes, will he confirm that financial sanctions will be not only extended and deepened, but broadened to cover not just individuals, but the country as a whole?

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I do not think one should ever say that the diplomatic process is exhausted, because it always makes sense to talk about these matters, but that has to be backed by consequences when diplomatic efforts do not work out. So yes, I agree that we need to see more sanctions if the Russian attitude continues. There is a strong case for bringing forward the renewal of the sanctions, which otherwise would happen later in the year. My right hon. Friend makes a broader point, which is that if anyone thinks that this is an aberration on the part of Russia and if only we understood a little more and listened a little bit harder it would all be fine, we can now see that what happened in Georgia and Transnistria and what is happening in Ukraine is part of a pattern, and the only language that Russia will understand is very tough sanctions and continued pressure from Europe and the US, making our economic weight felt.

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Can the Prime Minister update the House on whether progress has been made to enable OSCE observers to have access to all parts of the eastern Ukraine? Without that, we will not get an accurate picture of what is happening on the ground.

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The hon. Lady is right. Some progress has been made. As I announced in my statement, further resources will be given, but the OSCE has not been able to get to every part of Ukraine and every part of the line of control, so the reports that it is able to give us are partial, rather than complete. As part of the Minsk agreements it is important that it has full access.

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Will my right hon. Friend commend the patient work done by ambassador Michael Aron and British diplomats in Libya, together with Bernadino Leon, the UN special representative, to try to make sure that Libya has the future that its people died for? Does he agree that the imminence and the extremism of the ISIL threat mean that the factions in Libya now have to unite as never before in order to form that national Government and be able to face off the threat that they face from the extremists?

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My right hon. Friend is correct. What is needed in Libya is a political coming together of the different parties. We obviously have to exclude those that are engaged in terrorism or violence, but we should try to bring together the other parties into a national unity Government because otherwise the danger of fracture, a broken state and ungoverned space that we are seeing with the presence of ISIL will only get worse. So I commend the efforts of our ambassadors. We need to work at this extremely hard.

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I agree with the Prime Minister’s robust position on Russia. That is why I am so mystified that he still refuses to introduce a Magnitsky Act to ban the people who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, and the people who were engaged in the corruption that he unveiled, from coming to this country. The Prime Minister has written me a letter—five letters, in fact. The latest one says that he does not

“comment on individual cases, as groups of individuals.”

Yet he has just stood at the Dispatch Box and announced new sanctions against individuals from Russia, through the EU. Why cannot we do it for ourselves in this House by introducing a Magnitsky Act?

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Because the hon. Gentleman has been so persistent, and because he has written me so many letters and I have written him so many letters, I have had another look at whether there is a better way of doing things. I think the truth is that what we do, if there is a group of people involved in an appalling crime like this, is put them our warnings index and stop them coming to our country. The advantage is that we can then be even more expansive. Of course we know who—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to ask a question, why does he not listen to the answer? I would have thought that a former man of the cloth had better manners than that; I am trying to answer his question. I am assured that we are actually able to be more expansive. There are people we ban from this country who are not on other countries’ Magnitsky lists. I will write the hon. Gentleman a sixth letter and in that way try to make him happy.

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As the euro area moves towards political transfer and banking union, is there a growing recognition by other EU member states that the United Kingdom will need a new relationship based on trade and friendship because we cannot possibly be part of that political union?

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There is a greater understanding that as the euro deepens with the banking union and other elements—I would argue that countries will one day need greater fiscal union and burden sharing—there is an understanding, which is discussed around the EU table, that the countries that are not in the EU are going to need some guarantees of their own, because otherwise, for instance, we will have a situation where a qualified majority of EU eurozone countries are able to dictate to the rest of Europe what it can and cannot do, and that would clearly be unacceptable. There is a growing recognition that change is required. That is why it is right, after the election, to go into a proper renegotiation and then hold an in-out referendum.

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The Prime Minister spoke of increased contingency planning to deal with the euro crisis. Is it still his view that the euro must be held together come what may, or does he have any sympathy with the argument that Greece might be better off out?

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My view has been consistent—it is that I do not think that Britain should join the euro, and I have been prepared to say “ever” on that basis. I put that in my election address back in 1997. It is not my responsibility what the euro does. My argument is very simple: it is in Britain’s interest that we have stability and growth on the continent. That is our argument; it is for the eurozone countries themselves to work out what are the right answers for them. I am very clear, and I have said this to a number of other European countries, that I would not be in the eurozone in the first place.

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My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken very eloquently about the arc of horror spreading from Libya through Ukraine, down to Yemen and South Sudan, and out to Iraq. May I encourage him to focus on the fact that in the end we do not have the solutions, because neither air strikes nor sanctions nor standard training packages are going to deal with these problems? We need to invest much more heavily in the people on the ground who have a deep cultural understanding of these places to begin to provide the options on which we can work, and so we must invest in defence engagement.

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I would take the argument even further back and say that we are facing not simply a set of countries with broken institutions and extremism, but an extremist Islamist movement that is occurring, obviously, in Syria and Iraq most strongly, but also in Libya, in Mali, and elsewhere. The fact that young girls can be radicalised on the internet in their bedrooms here in Britain and want to travel across the world to join it demonstrates the scale of the problem we have. My hon. Friend is right that this is not simply about investing in defence capacity and the ability to take part in military action; it is about everything from de-radicalisation at home all the way through to the diplomatic and defence engagement that he speaks about.

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Last week, the Defence Secretary said that he was worried about President Putin’s pressure on the Baltic states, which are in the EU and NATO, and the consequential testing of NATO that that is bringing about. Will the Prime Minister update the House on whether the NATO rapid reaction force is having the desired effect, and explain whether he thinks that Britain could do more to contribute?

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The Defence Secretary is absolutely right to refer to the unease and insecurity that the Baltic states feel when faced with such Russian behaviour. When I talk to Prime Ministers from the Baltic states, they make that point very vigorously and talk about some of the trade embargos that Russia puts in place, but they are also incredibly grateful for the support that Britain gives, whether through the readiness action plan we helped draw up in Wales, the 4,000 UK troops who are taking part in exercises in eastern Europe this year or the air policing missions that our Typhoons fly over the skies of the Baltic states. Those things really matter, but we should show real understanding of the insecurity that the Baltic states feel.

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A lot has happened since the European Council and people in Ukraine are concerned that there is a real possibility that the unrest may spread beyond the territory currently held by the pro-Russian separatists. I welcome the stand taken by the Prime Minister, together with other European leaders, on sanctions, but could he give a realistic estimate of how rapidly he thinks future sanctions could be introduced, and when does he think Russia will finally get the message?

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I think the best way to answer my right hon. Friend’s question is to say that that will, of course, depend on what happens next in terms of the Russian-backed separatists and Russia itself. What happened in Debaltseve—after the Minsk agreement was signed—should teach a lesson to anybody who thinks that this is going to be easily solved and that Russia will walk away. Frankly, if we see more behaviour like that, I think the argument at the European Council should be about how quickly can we renew the sanctions that we renewed later in the year anyway, and how quickly can we add to them. Certainly, that is the argument that Britain will make, and many others will make it with us. At the end of the day, as I have said from this Dispatch Box many times, Europe and America have to make the weight of our economic relationship pay against Russia. In the end, Russia needs us more than we need Russia. We need to make that relationship pay and then we can get it to change its approach.

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It is reported that the Government have been privately discussing the implications of a Greek exit from the euro. Greek exit will happen sooner or later, and it is inevitable, in my view, that other countries will follow. Has the Prime Minister discussed with his European counterparts the implications of such a wider collapse of the euro and, if so, what has emerged from those discussions?

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I will be very frank about the discussions I have been having. I thought it was important to chair some discussions here in the UK about what the consequences of Greek exit from the eurozone would be, because there is a chance that it could happen. If it does happen, we would need to make sure that our banks were secure—which they are—that our businesses understood what the consequences of Greek exit would be and that we could support tourists, dual nationals and British people who live in Greece. Those are all important questions that we should consider. Some criticised me for holding those meetings, but, to be frank, I would argue that any responsible Prime Minister in any responsible European country should do exactly that.

There are mixed opinions about the question whether a Greek exit from the eurozone would be followed by other countries exiting, because the spread of bond yields between Spanish, Portuguese and other bonds and Greek bonds has been very different in recent months compared with 2011. I am clear about what my responsibility is: to encourage the eurozone countries to come to agreements that can get their economies to grow and the continent to stabilise, and, back at home, to be very clear that we are ready for any eventuality, including a Greek exit from the eurozone.

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On tackling international terrorism, calling this evil organisation ISIL or Islamic State—no such state exists— only gives it legitimacy by linking it to Islam. Why not call it what Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia calls it, namely Faesh, meaning an obscene organisation committing obscenities?

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I think there is a case for that, but there has not been a tradition of calling it Daesh in Britain and I think people would find it difficult to know exactly what we were referring to. Some media organisations refer to it as either “ISIL” or “so-called Islamic State” and I think that is better than “Islamic State”, because, frankly, it is not a picture of what millions of people who follow the religion of Islam see as Islam. It is also very arguable whether it is a functioning state, so I think that “so-called” or “self-styled Islamic State” is better. I do not think that “Daesh” would be widely understood, although people in the middle east, France and elsewhere use it as a term.

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Does the Prime Minister agree that every day we should all give thanks for the fact that Britain did not join the euro? Does he agree that the eurozone and the EU seem to be much tougher on Greece than they are on Russia, and is that simply because Greece is small and Russia is large?

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This issue is not really for Britain, but between Greece and her creditors. I am happy to say that, because this Government got us out of the bail-out zones, we are not one of Greece’s creditors. All I can say is that I understand the passions on both sides. I can understand why German and Dutch Prime Ministers feel so strongly that they must get back the money they have lent and should not take a massive loss, but I can also understand the desire of the Greek people to see some economic growth after having seen their GDP decline 25%, so one can understand the arguments. Fundamentally, this is part of the problem of the design of the eurozone, which is why we are not in it.

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I overheard two constituents talking about the EU. They were discussing why the country should come out of this terrible superstate. One of them said, “In this country, we have created more jobs than the rest of the EU added together”, and the other one said, “Well, it’s happening in north Northamptonshire: in Kettering, unemployment has fallen by more than 50%; in Wellingborough, it has fallen by more than 55%; and in Corby, it has fallen by more than 60%.” The thing that Mrs Bone and Tom Pursglove, the excellent Conservative candidate for Corby, agreed on was that the long-term economic plan is working. Are they right?

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It is obviously good to bring those characters together in one good story. The point I would make is that it is true we have created more jobs in Britain than the rest of the EU put together over the past four and three-quarter years, which is 1,000 jobs a day. I would argue that the best way to go on creating jobs is to reform the European Union, have the renegotiation and then have a referendum, where the best outcome would be Britain remaining part of a reformed European Union. I think we can get the best of both worlds.

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One of the schoolgirls was lured over Twitter by another girl from the same school who had gone to Syria just before Christmas. Surely, that demonstrates to the Prime Minister the weakness of his relying on a voluntary approach with social media firms. Will he explain why the authorities did not keep track of the girl who had already gone to Syria?

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That is a very difficult question. We do not have an entirely voluntary approach with social media companies. We passed a law through this House, the so-called DRIPA legislation—the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014—so that we can enforce the extraterritoriality of our desire to see the data and content of communications between potential terrorists. We have that legal power because of the work we have done during this Parliament. The point I made in my statement, and which I will continue to make, is that getting organisations such as Twitter, Facebook and Google to help us, where possible, to combat terrorist extremism voluntarily—by taking down pages with extremist content, and revealing to us people whom they think might be at risk of radicalisation, extremism or worse—is all to the good, but when it comes to combating terrorism, we have legal remedies as well.

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The Government have made real progress in this Parliament in raising awareness and preventing the online sexual exploitation of young British people. Will my right hon. Friend commit to putting just as much effort into preventing the radicalisation and recruitment of young British people into these hateful terrorist organisations?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is interesting that when we started down the path of saying to internet companies that they must help us to get child pornography and disgusting child sex pictures off the internet, the response was, “We’re not responsible for what people look for; we’re not responsible for doing anything other than supporting free speech.” To be fair to those organisations, they have moved miles from that position. They have now banned something like 40,000 repulsive search terms: if people plug them into their computer, they will get a nil return on them. They have done that not just in Britain, but all over the world. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we now need to get them to apply the same thinking to the problems of extremist violence and terrorism. There are some differences, but I am quite clear that if we ask companies to employ some social responsibility, they can work with us to take down even more pages than they do today.

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The Prime Minister says that he understands the arguments on both sides of the Greece-euro divide, but does he understand the implications for the United Kingdom of the instability of a four-month negotiation? The difficulties that are being created for our economy and our ability to export make it critical that we do everything we can to resolve the situation. He mentioned the word “encourage”. Will he tell us how he can encourage a successful negotiation between the parties?

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Of course, not being in the euro and not being a creditor of Greece, we do not have as much say as countries that have lent vast amounts of money to Greece and that see that money at risk. There are areas where we can and do help. For instance, Treasury officials have helped the Greek authorities to modernise their tax system, so that they actually collect tax from people who live in Greece, and those officials should do so again.

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We appear to have emerged at a near consensus, albeit born of hindsight, that it is a very good thing that the United Kingdom is not in the eurozone. Has the Prime Minister taken the time to reflect that many of those who are issuing dire warnings about the consequences of renegotiation and trusting the British people in an in/out referendum are the very same people who advocated our immediate membership of the single currency? Will he undertake not to listen to them, as there is a chance that they are as mistaken today as they proved to be then?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. It was noticeable that the British Chambers of Commerce, which is one of the biggest business organisations in Britain, far from being against a renegotiation and a referendum, came out in favour of a renegotiation and a referendum. Since we announced the renegotiation and the referendum, investment from the rest of the world into Britain has not dried up and there has not been uncertainty; we have seen record amounts of investment from China, India and America into Britain—often more than into other European countries.

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Returning to the serious situation in Ukraine, the deadline of Thursday for the withdrawal of heavy artillery from the front line is fast approaching. I would be grateful if the Prime Minister gave his analysis of what progress is being made, told us whether he thinks the deadline will be met and said what plan of action he has if the deadline is not met.

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Frankly, since the signing of the Minsk accords—so-called Minsk II—the progress has been very disappointing. The first thing that happened was the encircling, shelling and destruction of Debaltseve by massive numbers of Russian rockets, tanks and guns. That tells us all we need to know about the bona fides of the people we are dealing with. Having said that, I commend Angela Merkel for the great diplomatic efforts, and we should still, even now, be trying to get the parties to the Minsk agreement to deliver what they said they would, including the withdrawal of the heavy weaponry. We should use this moment to say to those in Europe who have been less certain about Russian action and sanctions, “Look what we are dealing with.” They must recognise that it is in all our interests to stick together and take a very tough approach.

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Does the Prime Minister agree that local communities and all public bodies need to work together and make a concerted effort to identify vulnerable young people to prevent another situation like that of the three girls who recently went to Syria, which is surely every parent’s worst nightmare?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Anyone who watched the mother of one of the young girls on television last night, saying that all she wanted was for her to come home, could not help but be moved by her testimony. Of course we need our police and border security to do everything they can to prevent people from travelling in such circumstances, but we also need schools, universities and colleges to put aside concerns about cultural sensitivities and such like, and ensure that they are doing everything they can to tackle people who are at risk of radicalisation. This problem is quite similar in some ways to that of forced marriage, where people have disappeared from schools in parts of the country where there has not been proper advertising and protection in the schools, and to the problem of female genital mutilation. It is happening on an enormous scale and that is why we need to take such action.

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Many people are working in our communities to try to prevent young people from becoming radicalised. I recently met a youth worker from my local Islamic centre who is concerned that the Prevent work he is doing may come to an end at the end of March, and he has not heard about any future funding. I support what the Prime Minister has said today, but when he next meets the Home Secretary will he ensure that organisations in our communities that are doing excellent work are given some security about future funding, so that they can continue doing it?

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I will certainly look at what the hon. Gentleman has said, but from what I have seen, particularly after announcements made in the light of Woolwich, Prevent funding has increased and the money is there. As I said, we have tried to divide that money between the Prevent work, which includes a programme of channelling people who have been radicalised away from radicalisation, and a lot of community work that is about integration and supporting things such as the Big Iftar, and encouraging mosques and community centres to open themselves up and for others to come in. That has been a great success.

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Following the criticism over the weekend, does the Prime Minister agree that our intelligence and security services are doing the most amazing job in incredibly difficult times, and that we should pay tribute to every woman and man working in those services?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to say thank you to those people, because they are working round the clock to try to prevent plots against this country. They are having to prioritise whom they should be keeping the closest eye on—they have to make those judgments all the time and we cannot expect them to get it right every single time. What is so remarkable is how they do get it right, and even in the last three or four months they have prevented as many as three different plots, for instance to behead a police officer on British streets. We should pay tribute to those people and thank them for the amazing work they do.

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rose

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Patience has its own reward. Mr Jim Shannon.

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I have many friends and contacts in Libya who tell me that it is awash with firearms that are fuelling ISIL. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with the Libyan Government to prevent access to the weapon warehouse that is Libya at the moment?

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The hon. Gentleman is right, and the preponderance of weapons in Libya, where there are more weapons than there are people, is part of the problem. This goes to the problem of there being so many different armed militias, which in turn goes to the problem of how to create a national Government of unity where the militias are disarmed, and either disband or effectively become part of the armed forces or the police and security of that country. Britain has put in a lot of effort, including trying to train some of the armed forces of that country to give them a central force and central state to start to enforce some order. The state of Libya is in such chaos at the moment that it is very difficult to do that work, and the first step must be a national unity Government.

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We have all seen the terrible difficulties in Libya over many years, and there seems to be consensus that work on the national unity Government is a priority. What discussions did the Prime Minister have with fellow European leaders about Egyptian requests that there ought to be limited strikes against ISIS in Libya?

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One can understand the need to tackle ISIL directly in Libya, but with the Egyptian Government we must ensure that we do not try to solve the problems of Libya by backing simply one faction that could form part of a national unity Government against other factions. If we do that, we are likely to create even more of a civil war in Libya. One of the keys is to work with the Egyptians and others in the middle east, and with the Americans, to try to bring everyone together—apart from, of course, those organisations involved in terrorism—into a national unity Government.

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I commend this Government for initiating the feasibility study into the resettlement of the Chagos islands. While we are still net contributors to the EU, at the next European Council will my right hon. Friend seek European development funding to realise that resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question—I think I am right in saying that a substantial number of Chagos islanders live in Crawley. This is the first Government to really sit down and think about what we could do to help, which is why we commissioned the resettlement studies. Those studies have been drawn up and the National Security Council will consider whether further steps could be taken. My hon. Friend’s idea of looking at European funding is intriguing, and I will consider it and get back to him.

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There have been disturbing reports in the past 48 hours of threats to shopping centres in London, the United States and Canada. At the European Council, did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discuss working with local community leaders to help to prevent such attacks from happening in this country?

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We discussed at the European Council the appalling attacks in Copenhagen and Paris. They had some similarities with the sorts of attacks put forward in the video by al-Shabaab, which again have some similarities with things that happened in Mumbai and elsewhere, where there were a number of attackers marauding with firearms and other weapons. Obviously, we take every such threat very seriously. The police are analysing that video.

What I would say has already happened in Britain is that, after Mumbai and intelligence linked to Mumbai, we held a series of meetings and other exercises to try to make sure that we are prepared to deal with those sorts of events. It is very difficult to plan, but in Britain, the counter-terrorism policing, the strength of our police services, the number of armed police officers, the ability of our special forces and others to come to assistance, and the work that the ambulance, the fire service and others can do in so-called “hot zones” where there are still weapons being fired all show that we have prepared, as much as we can, for the threats we undoubtedly face.

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As a former airline manager, I totally support the Prime Minister’s determination to get full access to airline passenger name records, which would be to the advantage of Governments in both preventing terrorist movements and protecting young and vulnerable UK nationals. Will my right hon. Friend say how long it will take to have an EU directive that is endorsed by all member Governments? Would it not be faster to have something domestically that we could implement at our own airports fairly soon?

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There are quite a lot of steps we can take already with other countries, non-EU countries, where we can agree to the exchange of passenger name records. As I said, this is not just the names of people, but details of bank accounts and how they booked the ticket, in order to find potential signals of terrorist activity. It would be very frustrating if we could not agree it within the EU, but I am sure we will. What has happened in Copenhagen and Paris has, I think, made people realise just how important it is, but a lot of it will depend on the work being done by the European Parliament.

Serious Crime Bill [Lords]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Committee.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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Order. I am saving up the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone); it would be a pity to waste him at this early stage of our proceedings. We will come to him for his point of order, he can be assured of that. Before that, however, I have the following to say.

As the Government have not moved the programme motion, proceedings will be taken in the customary order on consideration: Government new clauses first, then other new clauses, and then amendments in the order they occur in the Bill. We will start as originally envisaged, with the group on child exploitation and so on. We will then take the group on other issues, and then there is, for consideration, the group on abortion. The selection list has been reissued, and the amendment paper has been reissued with the revised order. Proceedings on Report may continue until 9 pm, and Third Reading until 10 pm, under the earlier programme motion.

That is what I have got to say for now, but let us hear the point of order from Mr David Burrowes first.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As the programme motion is not being moved, of which there was good notice, new clauses 1 and clause 25, which deal with the important issue of gender-selective abortion, have effectively been shunted to the end of proceedings. I understand fully, and the House understands fully, the importance of addressing child exploitation and protection, and how they are integral to this very important Bill. That needs proper debate and scrutiny. However, gender-selective abortion is also a matter of public interest. Concerns have been raised across the country, not least by the more than 100 Members of Parliament who have put their name to new clause 1. There is a concern that, unless there is great restraint from parliamentarians in the debate, we may not even get to the point of being able to move those new clauses.

Mr Speaker, you have championed the role of the Back Bencher. New clause 1 was tabled in the scintilla of time available between Committee and Report, and now we run the risk of not getting to this business before the end of our consideration. With respect, I wish to suggest a way out and to ask for your guidance, Mr Speaker. According to the selection paper, after we have considered child exploitation and protection, we will move on to “other issues”, including investigative powers, the publication of names, firearms offences, new psychoactive substances and money laundering measures. Could you also include under “other issues” the important other issue of gender-selective abortion? Otherwise, we will be left to rely on your customary guidance and urging of restraint across the House to ensure we get to the matter.

In conclusion, we are all concerned about the esteem in which Parliament is held. I put Parliament on notice that if we do not get to the issue of gender-selective abortion, the public will hold us in disrepute, and it will be a grave day for Parliament.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

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rose—

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We shall come to the hon. Gentleman shortly—I have been saving him up, and I hope he is not going to disappoint me. I call Helen Goodman.

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Mr Speaker, do you agree that had the House agreed with the Procedure Committee report on this problem of Report, this problem would not have arisen this afternoon?

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That might well be so. I do not have the details of that report with me, but I think it only courteous and perhaps charitable to observe that the hon. Lady was for a period a distinguished ornament of that Committee, and it might well be that it was her own intellectual stimulation that led to the report in question. She is too modest and self-effacing to claim the credit directly, but she might appreciate my proffering it in her direction instead.

I will come back to Mr Burrowes’ point of order, but not before I have heard from Mr Peter Bone.

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I am interested to hear your response to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), because I am also concerned about the amount of time being allowed for debate, so I will leave it like that.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the self-denying ordinance that he has exercised. I say two things to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). First, I had understood that he was going to ask me whether it would be in order, in the absence of a Minister moving the programme motion, for him to move it, and I had intended to say that no it would not be in order for him to do so, because he is not a Minister and had not signed the motion. However, as he did not raise the point, I will not make the point that I would have made if he had.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman inquires into the possibility of eliding—if I can put it that way—consideration of the abortion new clauses into the “other issues” group. He has raised an extremely important point, but there is merit first in seeing what progress we make on the first group. I shall reflect on his point, which I take extremely seriously, over the next hour or so and then advise the House of my conclusion. I make him no promise, but I shall consider his suggestion very seriously. I hope that that is helpful.

New Clause 8

Child sexual exploitation

‘(1) The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is amended as set out in subsections (2) to (6).

(2) For the heading before section 47 substitute “Sexual exploitation of children”.

(3) In section 48 (headed “Causing or inciting child prostitution or pornography”)—

(a) in the heading, for “child prostitution or pornography” substitute “sexual exploitation of a child”;

(b) in subsection (1)(a), for “to become a prostitute, or to be involved in pornography,” substitute “to be sexually exploited”.

(4) In section 49 (headed “Controlling a child prostitute or a child involved in pornography”)—

(a) in the heading, for “prostitute or a child involved in pornography” substitute “in relation to sexual exploitation”;

(b) in subsection (1)(a), for “prostitution or involvement in pornography” substitute “sexual exploitation”.

(5) In section 50 (headed “Arranging or facilitating child prostitution or pornography”)—

(a) in the heading, for “child prostitution or pornography” substitute “sexual exploitation of a child”;

(b) in subsection (1)(a), for “prostitution or involvement in pornography” substitute “sexual exploitation”.

(6) In section 51 (interpretation of sections 48 to 50)—

(a) omit subsection (1);

(b) for subsection (2) substitute—

“(2) For the purposes of sections 48 to 50, a person (B) is sexually exploited if—

(a) on at least one occasion and whether or not compelled to do so, B offers or provides sexual services to another person in return for payment or a promise of payment to B or a third person, or

(b) an indecent image of B is recorded;

and “sexual exploitation” is to be interpreted accordingly.”

(7) In section 1 of the Street Offences Act 1959 (loitering or soliciting for purposes of prostitution), in subsection (1), after “person” insert “aged 18 or over”.” —(Mr Buckland.)

This New Clause replaces the references to child prostitution and pornography in sections 48 to 51 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 with references to the sexual exploitation of children (without altering the substance of the relevant offences), and also restricts to adults the offence of loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a) to new clause 8, leave out

“offers or provides sexual services to”

and insert

“prepares to engage in, or engages in, sexual activity with”.

Government new clause 9—Duty to notify police of female genital mutilation.

Government new clause 10—Guidance about female genital mutilation.

New clause 2—Official Secrets Act 1989 (additional defence)—

‘(1) The Official Secrets Act 1989 is amended as follows—

(2) After section 8, insert—

“(8A) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under any provision of this Act to prove that he knew, or had reasonable cause to believe, that the information, document or article disclosed was—

(a) germane to an official investigation of, or inquiry into, historic child abuse, and

(b) provided only to an officer of such an investigation or inquiry.”’

New clause 3—Child sexual exploitation—

‘(1) In section 1(1) of the Street Offences Act 1059 (Loitering or soliciting for purposes of prostitution), after “female)”, insert “, aged 18 or over,”.

(2) The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is amended as follows.

(3) In section 48 (Causing or inciting child prostitution or pornography)—

(a) in the title of the section, for “prostitution” substitute “sexual exploitation”; and

(b) in subsection (1)(a), for “become a prostitute” substitute “be sexually exploited”.

(4) In section 49 (Controlling a child prostitute or a child involved in pornography)—

(a) in the title of the section, for “child prostitute” substitute “sexually exploited child”; and

(b) in subsection (1)(a), for “prostitution” substitute “sexual exploitation”.

(5) In section 50 (Arranging or facilitating child prostitution or pornography)—

(a) in the title of the section, for “child prostitution or pornography” substitute “the sexual exploitation of a child or sexual images of children”; and

(b) in subsection (1)(a), for “prostitution” substitute “sexual exploitation”.

(6) In section 51 (Sections 48 to 50: interpretation), in subsection (2), for “prostitute” substitute “sexually exploited child”; for “prostitution” substitute “sexual exploitation”.

(7) References in any Act, Regulation, Order or other legislative instrument to the sections and titles mentioned in this section shall be interpreted as referring to the sections and titles as amended by this section.”

New clause 11—Child protection: 16 and 17 year olds living with their families—

‘(1) The Children’s Act 1933 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 1 insert—

“1A Cruelty to a person aged sixteen or seventeen

(1) If any person A, who has attained the age of eighteen years and is personally connected to a child B aged sixteen or seventeen, wilfully assaults, ill-treats (whether physically or psychologically), neglects, abandons, or exposes him, or causes or procures for him to be assaulted, ill-treated (whether physically or psychologically), neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body and whether the injury is of physical or psychological nature), that person shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable—

(a) on conviction or indictment, to a fine or alternatively, or in addition thereto, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding 10 years;

(b) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £400 pounds, or alternatively, or in addition thereto, to imprisonment not exceeding six months.

(2) For the purposes of this section—

(a) A and B are considered to be personally connected if at the time of the offence they live together, and

(i) A has parental responsibility for B

(ii) A is a relative of B

(iii) A is or has been married or civil partner to B’s parent.

(b) A shall be deemed to have neglected B in a manner likely to cause injury to his health if he has failed to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodging for him or if, having been unable otherwise to provide such food, clothing, medical aid or lodging, he has failed to take steps to procure it to be provided to B.

(3) A person may be convicted of an offence under this section—

(a) notwithstanding that actual suffering or injury to health, or the likelihood of actual suffering or injury to health, was obviated by the action of another person;

(b) notwithstanding the death of B.

(4) In subsection (2)—

“parental responsibility” has the same meaning as in the Children Act 1989;

“relative” has the meaning given by section 63(1) of the Family Law Act 1996”.

New clause 15—Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation Warning Notices and Orders (EWNs and EWOs)—

In the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, after section 2A (offence of Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation) insert—

“2B Power to issue an Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation warning notice

(1) A member of a police force not below the rank of superintendent (“the authorising officer”) may issue an Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation warning notice (an “EWN”) under this section.

(2) An EWN may be issued to a person (“A”) who is aged 18 or over if the authorising officer has reasonable grounds for believing that A has been encouraging the genital mutilation of women and girls as defined in section 1.

(3) Before issuing an EWN, the authorising officer must, in particular, consider any representations made by A as to the issuing of the EWN.

(4) The authorising officer must take reasonable steps to obtain the representations mentioned in subsection (3).

(5) An EWN must prohibit A from encouraging the genital mutilation of women and girls.

2C Contents and service of an Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation warning notice

‘(1) An EWN must state—

(a) the grounds on which it has been issued;

(b) that a constable may arrest A without warrant if the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that A is in breach of the EWN;

(c) that an application for an Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation warning order (an “EWO”) under section (application for an EWO) shall be heard within 48 hours of the time of service of the EWN and notice time and place of the hearing will be given to A, and shall state that the EWN continues in effect until that application has been determined.

(2) An EWN must be in writing and must be served on A personally by a constable.

(3) On serving A with an EWN, the constable must ask A for an address for the purposes of being given notice of the hearing of the application for the Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation warning order.

2D Breach of an Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation warning notice

‘(1) A person arrested by virtue of section (contents and service of an EWN) for a breach of an EWN shall be held in custody and brought before the magistrates’ court which will hear the application for the EWO under (application for an EWO)—

(a) before the end of the period of 24 hours beginning with the time of the arrest; or

(b) if earlier, at the hearing of that application.

(2) If the person is brought before the court by virtue of subsection (1)(a), the court may remand the person.

(3) If the court adjourns the hearing of the application by virtue of subsection 6(8), the court may remand the person.

(4) In calculating when the period of 24 hours mentioned in subsection (1)(a) ends, Christmas Day, Good Friday, any Sunday and any day which is a bank holiday in England and Wales under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 are to be disregarded.

2E Application for an Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation warning order

‘(1) If an EWN has been issued, a constable must apply for an Encouragement of Female Genital mutilation warning order (an “EWO”).

(2) The application must be made by complaint to a magistrates’ court.

(3) The application must be heard by the magistrates’ court no later than 48 hours after the EWN was served pursuant to section (contents and service of an EWN).

(4) In calculating when the period of 48 hours mentioned in subsection (3) ends, Christmas Day, Good Friday, any Sunday and any day which is a bank holiday in England and Wales under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 are to be disregarded.

(5) Notice of the time and place of the hearing of the application must be given to A.

(6) The notice is deemed given if it has been left at the address given by A under section 4(3).

(7) If the notice has not been given because no address was given by A under section 4(3), the court may hear the application for the EWO if the court is satisfied that the constable applying for the EWO has made reasonable efforts to give A the notice.

(8) The magistrates’ court may adjourn the hearing of the application.

(9) If the court adjourns the hearing, the EWN continues in effect until the application has been determined.

(10) On the hearing of an application for an EWO, section 97 of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 (summons to witness and warrant for his arrest) does not apply in relation to a person for whose protection the EWO would be made, except where the person has given oral or written evidence at the hearing.

2F Conditions for and contents of an Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation warning order (EWO)

‘(1) The court may make an EWO if two conditions are met.

(2) The first condition is that the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the conditions set out in section 3(2) are met.

(3) The second condition is that the court is satisfied that making the EWO is necessary to protect women and girls from harm as a result of the encouragement of FGM by A.

(4) An EWO must state that a constable may arrest A without warrant if the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that A is in breach of the EWO.

(5) An EWO may be in force for—

(a) no fewer than 14 days beginning with the day on which it is made; and

(b) up to a maximum of seven years from that date.

(6) An EWO must state the period for which it is to be in force.

2G Breach of an Encouragement of Female Genital Mutilation warning order

‘(1) A person arrested by virtue of section (conditions for and contents of an EWO) for a breach of an EWO must be held in custody and brought before a magistrates’ court within the period of 24 hours beginning with the time of the arrest.

(2) If the matter is not disposed of when the person is brought before the court, the court may remand the person.

(3) In calculating when the period of 24 hours mentioned in subsection (1) ends, Christmas Day, Good Friday, any Sunday and any day which is a bank holiday in England and Wales under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 are to be disregarded.

2H Further provision about remand

‘(1) This section applies for the purposes of the remand of a person by a magistrates’ court under section (Breach of an EWN) or (Breach of an EWO).

(2) In the application of section 128(6) of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 for those purposes, the reference to the “other party” is to be read—

(a) in the case of a remand prior to the hearing of an application for an EWO, as a reference to the authorising officer; and

(b) in any other case, as a reference to the constable who applied for the EWO.

(3) If the court has reason to suspect that a medical report will be required, the power to remand a person may be exercised for the purpose of enabling a medical examination to take place and a report to be made.

(4) If the person is remanded in custody for that purpose, the adjournment may not be for more than three weeks at a time.

(5) If the person is remanded on bail for that purpose, the adjournment may not be for more than four weeks at a time.

(6) If the court has reason to suspect that the person is suffering from a mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983, the court has the same power to make an order under section 35 of that Act (remand to hospital for medical report) as it has under that section in the case of an accused person (within the meaning of that section).

(7) The court may, when remanding the person on bail, require the person to comply before release on bail or later, with such requirements as appear to the court to be necessary to secure that the person does not interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice.

2I Guidance

‘(1) The Secretary of State may issue guidance relating to the exercise by a constable of functions under section (Power to issue an EWN).

(2) A constable must have regard to any guidance issued under subsection (1) when exercising a function to which the guidance relates.

(3) Before issuing guidance under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Association of Chief Police Officers;

(b) the National Crime Agency; and

(c) such other persons as the Secretary of State thinks fit.”

New clause 16—Offence of encouragement of female genital mutilation

‘(1) The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 is amended as follows:

(2) After section 2 (offence of assisting a girl to mutilate her own genitalia) insert—

“(2A) Offence of encouragement of female genital mutilation—

(a) a person is guilty of an offence of encouragement of female genital mutilation if he makes a statement that is likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom it is published as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to them to mutilate the genitalia of a girl;

(b) A person commits an offence if—

(i) he publishes a statement to which this section applies or causes another to publish such a statement; and

(ii) at the time he publishes it or causes it to be published, he—

(a) intends members of the public to be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by the statement to mutilate the genitalia of a girl; or

(b) is reckless as to whether members of the public will be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by the statement to mutilate the genitalia of a girl.””

New clause 17—Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse

‘(1) A person commits an offence if—

(a) he is involved in the provision of regulated activity as defined by section 5 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 for which he is paid;

(b) he is a provider of regulated activity as defined by section 6 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006;

(c) he becomes aware that a child has been harmed in connection to the regulated activity; and

(d) he does not inform a relevant authority of this harm.

(2) A person does not commit an offence under this section if—

(a) he can demonstrate he acted in the best interests of the child, or

(b) he complied with relevant professional guidelines or institutional guidelines for the reporting of abuse as he believed them to be, complying with institutional guidelines for the reporting of abuse can include informing another individual with relevant safeguarding responsibilities.

(3) In this section “harm” means conduct which amounts to one of the following offences—

(a) cruelty to and neglect of children;

(b) cruelty to children/young persons;

(c) child abduction;

(d) rape of a female child under 16;

(e) rape of a female child under 13;

(f) rape of a male child under 16;

(g) rape of a male child under 13;

(h) sexual assault on a male child under 13;

(i) sexual assault on a female child under 13;

(j) sexual activity involving a child under 13;

(k) sexual activity involving a child under 16;

(l) sexual exploitation of children;

(m) abuse of position of trust of a sexual nature; and

(n) sexual grooming.

(4) The Secretary of State may, by way of regulation, make guidance as to the interpretation of subsection (2) or amend subsection (3).

(5) Any regulations made under subsection (4) must be subject to an affirmative procedure of both Houses of Parliament.

(6) In this section “relevant authority” means—

(a) the local authority with safeguarding authorities;

(b) the local police force; and

(c) the Disclosure and Barring Service.

(7) A person guilty of an offence under this Part of this Act shall be liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both such imprisonment and fine;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years.”

New clause 19—Child abduction warning notice

In the Child Abduction Act 1984, after section 2 (offence of abduction of child by other person) insert—

“2A Power to issue a child abduction warning notice

(1) A member of a police force not below the rank of superintendent (“the authorising officer”) may issue a child abduction warning notice (“a CAWN”) under this section.

(2) A CAWN may be issued to a person (“A”) aged 18 years or over if the authorising officer has reasonable grounds for believing that—

(a) A has without lawful authority or reasonable excuse been found in the company of a child (“C”); and

(b) C is reported missing and is found on two or more occasions to be in the company of A; or

(c) there is reason to suspect that C‘s behaviour is, by reason of association with the defendant, giving significant cause for concern.

(3) Before issuing a CAWN, the authorising officer must, in particular, take reasonable steps to gather and consider—

(a) representations made by the person with lawful authority for C; and

(b) representations made by A as to the issuing of the CAWN.

(4) A CAWN must prohibit A from being in the company of C.

2B Contents and service of a child abduction warning notice

‘(1) A CAWN must state—

(a) the grounds on which it has been issued;

(b) that a constable may arrest A without warrant if the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that A is in breach of the CAWN;

(c) that an application for a child abduction warning order under section 2D will be heard within 48 hours of the time of service of the CAWN and a notice of the hearing will be given to A;

(d) that the CAWN continues in effect until that application has been determined; and

(e) the provisions that a magistrates’ court may include in a child abduction warning order (CAWO) under sections 2D and 2E.

(2) A CAWN must be in writing and must be served on A personally by a constable.

(3) On serving A with a CAWN, the constable must ask A for an address for the purposes of being given the notice of the hearing of the application for the child abduction warning order.

2C Breach of a child abduction warning notice

‘(1) A person arrested by virtue of section 2B(1)(b) for a breach of a CAWN must be held in custody and brought before the magistrates’ court which will hear the application for a child abduction warning order (CAWO) under sections 2D and 2E—

(a) before the end of the period of 24 hours beginning with the time of the arrest; or

(b) if earlier, at the hearing of that application.

(2) If the person is brought before the court by virtue of subsection (1)(a), the court may remand the person.

(3) If the court adjourns the hearing of the application by virtue of subsection 2D(8), the court may remand the person.

(4) In calculating when the period of 24 hours mentioned in subsection (1)(a) of this section ends, Christmas Day, Good Friday, any Sunday and any day which is a bank holiday in England and Wales under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 are to be disregarded.

2D Application for a child abduction warning order

‘(1) If a CAWN has been issued, a constable must apply for a child abduction warning order (“a CAWO”).

(2) The application must be made by complaint to a magistrates’ court.

(3) The application must be heard by the magistrates’ court no later than 48 hours after the CAWN was served pursuant to section 2B(2).

(4) In calculating when the period of 48 hours mentioned in subsection (3) of this section ends, Christmas Day, Good Friday, any Sunday and any day which is a bank holiday in England and Wales under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 are to be disregarded.

(5) A notice of the hearing of the application must be given to A.

(6) The notice is deemed given if it has been left at the address given by A under section 2B(3).

(7) But if the notice has not been given because no address was given by A under section 2B(3), the court may hear the application for the CAWO if the court is satisfied that the constable applying for the CAWO has made reasonable efforts to give A the notice.

(8) The magistrates’ court may adjourn the hearing of the application.

(9) If the court adjourns the hearing, the CAWN continues in effect until the application has been determined.

(10) On the hearing of an application for a CAWO, section 97 of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 (summons to witness and warrant for his arrest) does not apply in relation to a person for whose protection the CAWO would be made, except where the person has given oral or written evidence at the hearing.

2E Conditions for and contents of a child abduction warning order

‘(1) The court may make a CAWO if two conditions are met.

(2) The first condition is that the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that one or more of the criteria in section 2A(2)(a)-(c) are satisfied.

(3) The second condition is that the court thinks that making the CAWO is necessary to protect C from harm as a result of association with A.

(4) A CAWO must state that a constable may arrest A without warrant if the constable has reasonable grounds for believing A is in breach of the CAWO.

(5) A CAWO may be in force for—

(a) no fewer than 14 days beginning with the day on which it is made; and

(b) until the date of the 16th birthday of C.

(6) A CAWO must state the period for which it is to be in force.

2F Breach of a child abduction warning order

‘(1) A person arrested by virtue of section 2E(4) for a breach of a CAWO must be held in custody and brought before a magistrates’ court within the period of 24 hours beginning with the time of the arrest.

(2) If the matter is not disposed of when the person is brought before the court, the court may remand the person.

(3) In calculating when the period of 24 hours mentioned in subsection (1) ends, Christmas Day, Good Friday, any Sunday and any day which is a bank holiday in England and Wales under the Banking and Financial. Dealings Act 1971 are to be disregarded.

2G Further provision about remand

‘(1) This section applies for the purposes of the remand of a person by a magistrates’ court under section 2C(2) or (3) or 2F(2).

(2) In the application of section 128(6) of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 for those purposes, the reference to the “other party” is to be read—

(a) in the case of a remand prior to the hearing of an application for a CAWO, as a reference to the authorising officer; and

(b) in any other case, as a reference to the constable who applied for the CAWO.

(3) If the court has reason to suspect that a medical report will be required, the power to remand a person may be exercised for the purpose of enabling a medical examination to take place and a report to be made.

(4) If the person is remanded in custody for that purpose, the adjournment may not be for more than three weeks at a time.

(5) If the person is remanded on bail for that purpose, the adjournment may not be for more than four weeks at a time.

(6) If the court has reason to suspect that the person is suffering from a mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983, the court has the same power to make an order under section 35 of that Act (remand to hospital for medical report) as it has under that section in the case of an accused person (within the meaning of that section).

(7) The court may, when remanding the person on bail, require the person to comply before release on bail or later, with such requirements as appear to the court to be necessary to secure that the person does not interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice.

2H Guidance

‘(1) The Secretary of State may issue guidance relating to the exercise by a constable of functions under sections 2A to 2F.

(2) The guidance must set out the behaviours associated with “giving significant cause for concern”, including, in particular, behaviours associated with giving cause for concern of sexual exploitation or grooming.

(3) A constable must have regard to any guidance issued under subsection (1) when exercising a function to which the guidance relates.

(4) Before issuing guidance under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Association of Chief Police Officers;

(b) the National Crime Agency; and

(c) such other persons as the Secretary of State thinks fit.””

This amendment establishes child abduction warning notices (CAWNs) on a statutory basis, addressing concerns raised in the House of Lords on the issue, by introducing a two-stage process providing judicial oversight, without compromising the ability of the police to issue a CAWN without delay. The proposed process is similar to that in place for Domestic Violence Prevention Notices/Domestic Violence Prevention Orders (DVPN/DVPO).

New clause 22—Offence of child exploitation

‘(1) A person commits an offence if they exploit a child.

(2) A child may be in a situation of exploitation whether or not—

(a) escape from the situation is practically possible for the child; or

(b) the child has attempted to escape from the situation.

(3) The consent or apparent consent of the child to the exploitation is irrelevant.

(4) “Child Exploitation” includes but is not limited to, the exploitation of the prostitute of others or other forms of sexual exploitation; the exploitation of labour or services including begging or practices similar to slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour; the exploitation of or for criminal activities including benefit fraud; the removal of organs; forced or servile marriage or enforced surrogacy; exploitation for unlawful adoption; and exploitation by enforced drugs smuggling, manufacture, production or distribution.

(5) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.”

New clause 26—Automatic Special Measures: controlling or coercive behaviour cases

The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 is amended as follows—

In section 17, after “offence” insert “an offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family setting contrary to section 73 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.””

New clause 27—Offence of abduction of child by other person

‘(1) In section 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984, after subsection (1), insert—

“(1A) Subject to subsection (3)(a)-(c), a person, other than one mentioned in subsection (2), commits an offence if, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, he takes or detains a child between the ages of sixteen and eighteen—

(a) so as to remove him from the lawful control of any person having lawful control of the child; or

(b) so as to keep him out of the lawful control of any person entitled to lawful control of the child.”

(2) In section 2(3) of the Child Abduction Act 1984, for paragraph (b) substitute—

“(b) that, at the time of the alleged offence under subsection 2(1), he believed that the child had attained the age of sixteen,

(bA) that, at the time of the alleged offence under subsection 2(2), he believed the child had attained the age of eighteen,””

Amendment 20, in clause 72, page 63, line 27, leave out “the” and insert “a risk of”.

Amendment 21, in clause 73, page 78, line 22, leave out

“he or she was acting”

and insert

“their behaviour was necessary in order to act, and”.

Amendment 22, page 78, line 23, in clause 73, at end insert—

“(aa) a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think that A’s behaviour was necessary in order to act in B’s best interests.”

Government amendments 2 to 10.

Amendment 33, in schedule 4, page 117, line 15, at end insert—

“59A In Schedule 2 of that Act (sexual offences to which provisions about extra territoriality application apply) in paragraph 1(d), insert—

“(iii) section 68 (possession of paedophile manual) of the Serious Crime Act 2015.””

Provisions in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 enable certain child abuse offences committed outside the UK to be prosecuted in England and Wales in some circumstances. This amendment enables these extra-territorial provisions to apply to the new offence of possession of any item that contains advice or guidance about abusing children sexually contained in Clause 68 of this Bill.

Government amendments 11 to 19.

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I am conscious that a number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, so I will keep my opening remarks as brief as possible. I am doubly conscious of the need to ensure that, as has been mentioned, we have meaningful debates on other groups of amendments.

New clause 8 responds to the compelling case made in Committee by the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), to whom I am grateful, that we should remove from the statute book references to the phrase “child prostitution” and limit the scope of the offence of loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution, so that it applies only to adults. As I made clear in Committee, children who are sexually exploited, whether for financial gain or other reasons, should not be referred to as prostitutes. They should be regarded as victims.

New clause 8 will have substantially the same effect as the hon. Lady’s new clause 3, and in one important respect it goes even further. As well as replacing the anachronistic references to “child prostitute” and “child prostitution” in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the new clause will remove references to “child pornography”, to which similar considerations apply.

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I thank the Solicitor-General and the Government for tabling new clause 8. It will make a big difference to the language we use when talking about children who are sexually exploited. I know that victims of child exploitation are pleased that the new clause has been introduced, so I thank the Government on their behalf as well.

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I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, and I pay tribute to her for the work that she has done, most recently in the report that she prepared about child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester.

New clause 9 will require persons working in regulated professions to notify the police if they discover in the course of their work that an act of female genital mutilation appears to have been carried out on a girl under the age of 18. The new duty will help to ensure that professionals are clear about their responsibilities when they encounter cases of FGM in under-18s, and that those cases are reported to the police, thereby supporting investigations.

The consultation on what a mandatory reporting duty should look like closed on 12 January, and we received nearly 150 responses, including from health care professionals, education professionals, the police, charities and members of the public. We have considered those responses carefully, which is reflected in our approach to the new clause.

The new duty will require regulated health and social care professionals and teachers in England and Wales to report known cases of FGM to the police. Depending on the specifics of the case, a report to the police will not necessarily trigger a criminal investigation immediately. When a report is made, the police will work with the relevant agencies to determine the most appropriate course of action, which may include referral to medical experts for diagnosis of whether FGM has taken place. That is important, because we want to reassure those involved in the detection and exposure of this appalling child abuse that although prosecution and criminal investigation are important, they are not the only means that we have to deal with this scourge.

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My hon. and learned Friend will understand that new clause 9 deals only with circumstances in which FGM appears to have been carried out, not with those in which there is a risk of it being carried out, to which I shall refer later.

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I look forward to my hon. Friend’s contribution and will respond appropriately when I have heard his full argument.

We recognise that some individuals captured by the new duty may be less likely than others to encounter cases of FGM. The duty will apply only to cases identified in the course of an individual’s professional duties. There will be no new requirement for professionals to look for visual evidence, and we do not expect them to do so.

Where professionals fail to comply with the duty, it will be dealt with in accordance with existing disciplinary procedures. That is in line with the approach favoured by the vast majority of respondents to the consultation and will ensure that appropriate sanctions are imposed in accordance with the circumstances of an individual case. The Government expect employers and the professional regulators to pay due regard to the seriousness of breaches of the new duty.

New clause 10 will confer on the Secretary of State a power to issue guidance on FGM to relevant individuals in England and Wales, and will require them to have regard to it. That guidance will take the form of updated multi-agency guidelines, which will explicitly capture good safeguarding practice, including for non-regulated practitioners. In addition, the existing frameworks for the purpose of dealing with child abuse will, of course, continue to support appropriate safeguarding responses.

We know that, in the past, some professionals feared that addressing certain harmful cultural practices would result in their being labelled politically insensitive. We also want to increase the number of referrals to the police to support investigations of FGM, in order to deter perpetrators and thus prevent this appalling crime from being committed in the first place. We believe that, together with the Government’s wider work to tackle FGM and alongside the introduction of statutory multi-agency guidelines on FGM, the new mandatory reporting duty will allow those changes to happen.

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I wish only to repeat, in a sense, what I have already said, namely that this measure will not, in itself, deal with the problem of girls who are at risk.

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My hon. Friend has made his point again. We may well have to differ on the issue of the threshold with which his amendment deals, but I will outline my arguments when I have heard all that he has to say.

Amendment 10 relates to the new offence of sexual communication with a child, which was added to the Bill in Committee. While there was cross-party support for the new offence in Committee, there was some debate about whether it should be possible for a prosecution to be mounted in England and Wales in respect of conduct engaged in abroad—that is, whether such conduct should be subject to extraterritorial jurisdiction.

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Below amendment 10—which, obviously, I support—on the amendment paper is my amendment 33. My hon. and learned Friend will recall the discussion that we had in Committee. My amendment contains essentially the same wording as before, applying extraterritorial jurisdiction to the paedophile manual. Will he comment on that now?

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I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in ensuring that extraterritorial jurisdiction has been applied to a range of sexual offences. In a nutshell, our view is that the case for applying extraterritorial jurisdiction to the possession of paedophile manuals has not been made out. We do not expect it to be generally applicable to that type of offence. We think it far more relevant to an offence of communication, given that communications no longer respect national borders, but can take place throughout the world through the internet and social media.

I was explaining the context in which we considered the issue of extraterritorial jurisdiction. It was in the light of speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) that we reconsidered the issue, and concluded that it should be extended to the offence of sexual communication. Amendment 10 gives effect to that.

I hope that the House will welcome these important amendments. I look forward to hearing from other Members who have tabled amendments in this group, and I will respond to them as best I can when I wind up the debate.

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During our debates on the Bill, I have been drawing to Ministers’ attention the exploitation of adults—not elderly adults who cannot help themselves through old age, but young adults—by quacks and bogus counsellors. I rather hoped that the Solicitor-General and other members of the Government would address that issue. I see that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), is present. She has experienced the distinct displeasure of having to listen to me going on about this, but I will continue to go on about it until a decision is made. Will the Solicitor-General update me on the Government’s thinking about the exploitation of vulnerable adults who are brainwashed by those quacks and bogus counsellors, to their emotional, psychological and financial disadvantage?

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I understand that the Government are still considering that issue. The definition of “vulnerable” may, of course, be something of a vexed question. It has tended to apply to adults with learning difficulties, but I understand my hon. and learned Friend to be referring to it in the wider context in which people are brainwashed or duped by cults and other organisations. It is not a straightforward issue, as I know he understands, but the Government are giving consideration to it, so I am grateful to him for raising it.

With those remarks, I will draw my speech to a close.

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Well, I will not say the occurrence was unprecedented, but a lawyer finishing his speech earlier than expected is certainly a rarity.

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I am very well aware of the pressure in respect of today’s business, and I know that many right hon. and hon. Members have signed amendments that they want to debate later. I will of course attempt to keep my remarks as succinct as possible, but we are dealing with a very wide-ranging group of amendments on child protection issues, ranging from FGM to mandatory reporting to a new offence of child exploitation, so I do not think I will be able to match the Minister’s brevity in setting out the Government amendments. I will do my best, but it is important to recognise that this is an important grouping that needs to be fully debated.

I shall deal first with Government new clause 8 and Labour amendment (a), new clause 3 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), and new clause 22, dealing with a new offence of child exploitation and tabled by the Labour Front Bench. I certainly welcome what the Government are trying to do with new clause 8, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work on this issue which has led to it going high up the agenda. Her report on child sexual exploitation highlighted the particular issue that children and young adults were being ignored or seen as the problem or even the instigator, when the truth was that they were being abused. One of the recommendations of the report was that our legislation needed to reflect the vulnerabilities of children and the fact that children cannot consent to being abused. A proposed step towards achieving this was to remove the terms “child prostitute” or “child pornography” from legislation to demonstrate that any children taking part in these sexual acts were not instigators and consenting participants, but were being abused. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend is in her place, and she has already paid tribute to the Minister for tabling the new clause. It is very helpful, but I want to highlight some issues relating to it, which is why I have tabled amendment (a).

In particular, I have concerns about the definition of child sexual exploitation, which is defined by new clause 8 as a situation where a child

“offers or provides sexual services”

to an adult. Let us be clear: this is about abused children. It is about a child being abused. They are not providing sexual services to adults; they are being abused and exploited, and our legislation should reflect the real nature of that relationship. Indeed, the purpose of the new clause is to ensure that the legislation reflects the fact that those subject to exploitation are victims, not instigators. I do not think moving from the term “child prostitute” to children as providers of sexual services is correct, and amendment (a) would correct that by moving to a definition of child sexual exploitation where a child engages in sexual activity with an adult. We would move away from the concept of the child as the provider or instigator of sexual activity. The term “sexual activity” is used extensively in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, so adopting amendment (a) would mean we have consistent and well-established terminology which will make legislation easier to apply. I hope the Minister will reflect on that and consider this amendment.

I would also like to raise with the Minister the wider consequences of new clause 8 in improving our understanding of child sexual exploitation and our response to it.

We will now have an offence of child sexual exploitation that will cover situations of child exploitation involving payment or photography, but those are just some of the examples of exploitation. I also have real concerns about the ancillary offences under sections 48 to 50 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. We will now have offences of arranging or facilitating sexual exploitation of a child, of controlling a child in relation to sexual exploitation and of causing or inciting sexual exploitation of a child, but none of those offences covers all child sexual exploitation. They provide only for child sexual exploitation involving payment or photography.

I want to put to the Minister the example of a scenario in which control is exerted through threats, intimidation or coercion, or in which a child is plied with drugs or alcohol. We should recognise that those are all forms of child sexual exploitation. However, the Government’s approach is to have an offence of child sexual exploitation involving payment or photography. Other forms of exploitation not covered by that specific offence would therefore need to be prosecuted under section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act for the general offence of arranging or facilitating commission of a child sex offence. That is a complicated offence to establish, however, because it relies on proving the commission of another sexual offence under the terms of the Act. In 2012, the latest year for which I have managed to find figures, there were just 32 convictions for that particular offence, and there have been only 130 convictions in five years. There is therefore a problem with the legislation: it is not working as effectively as we would all like it to.

That is why the Opposition have tabled new clause 22, which would create a specific offence of child exploitation for the first time. There has been a lot of comment about such an offence being put on the statute book. I have heard people saying that it could criminalise a parent for getting their teenage son or daughter to do the washing up, for example, because that could count as child exploitation. However, the country’s leading expert in this area, Peter Carter QC, says that to use that kind of argument is to

“miss the significance of the word ‘exploitation’”.

The exploitation of children is, in and of itself, a serious matter that should be recognised in legislation. New clause 22 covers all forms of exploitation, from children being forced into begging or into working on cannabis farms to young girls being controlled by men and forced to submit to their sexual advances and abuse. It recognises that exploitation involves a wide spectrum, and the sentencing guidelines would reflect the fact that some forms of exploitation are more serious than others. Crucially, it would recognise that the exploitation of children is an offence in and of itself.

The new clause is about asserting the right of the child to a life free from exploitation. It is about saying that we will not accept the exploitation of children, just as we will not accept their abuse or their neglect. It would address some of the many problems that are preventing prosecutions under the Sexual Offences Act by moving from a situation in which we look at the commission of individual offences to one in which we look at people who control, manipulate and coerce children for their own ends. It would allow the police to step in where they could see an adult using controlling and coercive behaviour towards a vulnerable child, forcing them into situations involving sexual abuse, drugs, crime or forced labour.

Many prosecutions focus on particular criminal incidents, such as rape or sexual assault, but for victims of sexual exploitation, such incidents might be difficult to separate from the multiple assaults that they have endured. Such prosecutions might not give a true representation of the abuse that had been suffered. One young person has said:

“I was pressurised to go to court. There needs to be a sexual exploitation law. My charge was for rape, this was the wrong charge. So many times it happened.”

Cases often do not get prosecuted because the young person is considered an unreliable witness. That could be because she was returning to perpetrators and found it difficult to break the contact with them. So practitioners say that the effects of exploitation as a result of duration of relationships, coercion and controlling behaviour are like the Stockholm syndrome, with which we are all familiar, but that is not being recognised in the current drafting of offences, because they all focus on separate counts of rape or sexual assault.

Separate exploitation offences with a focus on children will also enable the prosecution of cases where current legislation does not offer equal protection to all children under the age of 18. For example, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 establishes the age of consent as 16, and children aged 16 and 17 are afforded the additional protection of the Act only if the person who commits the sexual offence is a person in a position of trust in relation to them. Yet those in that age group are likely to be victims of sexual exploitation. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England report on sexual exploitation by groups and gangs estimated that out of 16,500 children and young people who are experiencing or are at risk of child sexual exploitation 28% were aged 16 and 16% were aged 17.

Our approach would also enable prosecutions in respect of those children exploited in the course of human trafficking. Over the past two years, the police have identified more than 1,000 child victims of human trafficking, but when I asked the Government how many prosecutions there have been they could not identify a single case where the victim was a child. The total number of prosecutions for all the human trafficking offences collated together was just 41 last year, so it should not have been hard to see whether any involved children. Children often do not understand what is happening to them when they are trafficked. They might not be able to identify who their traffickers were or the links between the trafficker and the exploitation. That is why a huge coalition of charities and eminent lawyers support a specific child exploitation offence.

Let me now deal with the amendments relating to female genital mutilation. New clauses 16 and 15 propose a new offence of encouragement of FGM, and encouragement warning notices and orders. The Labour Front-Bench team proposed these new clauses in Committee, ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). I am proposing them again on Report because of the importance of this offence. Clearly, all Members want to end the practice of FGM, and we want to do so within a generation. The measures already in the Bill, although important, are largely reactive—the new offence of encouraging FGM is a preventive measure in the strongest sense.

On 6 February, we had the international day for zero tolerance of FGM and there were renewed calls for nations to do all they can to end FGM. Like colleagues on both sides of the House, we have been meeting and working with amazing young women in Britain who are leading the calls for change in the UK. We have not only a moral duty, but a legal duty to end FGM under international law. The practice can have devastating health impacts for girls, leading to a range of problems, including urinary infections, a lifetime of pain and even infertility. It is not enough simply to react to FGM—to take action after the fact; we need to focus our efforts on prevention, which is why we need to work to tackle some of the long-standing cultural context within which FGM takes place.

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Does the hon. Lady agree that it is essential to ensure that girls at risk are also protected?

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I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point. Research undertaken by Dexter Dias QC with survivors of FGM from around the country highlighted the need for measures to tackle the encouragement of FGM, whereby parents can be put under extreme pressure to cut their girls. Not only are parents told that their daughters will never get married, but whole families can be ostracised and isolated as unclean. We need to support those seeking to change the culture in affected communities that they are part of and send out the message that this practice is against the law. That is why Labour has proposed adding a new offence of the encouragement of FGM to this Bill. As I say, it was tabled in Committee and we feel it is important that we have brought it back today.

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I agree with what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree that, over the long term, one problem we have had is that we have spent too much time listening to the self-appointed “leaders” of minority groups and not listening to the women within those groups, who are often treated very unfairly by their so-called “leaders”?

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I entirely agree that we need to listen to young women, mothers and families, which is why it has been so important that, over the past few years, young women have felt strong enough to come forward and champion the cause for themselves.

The Bill includes a number of vital measures, such as the FGM protection orders, a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM and anonymity of survivors for life. We welcome those measures and give them our full support. However, although they address the matter of ways to respond when a girl is at immediate risk of being cut or has been cut, they do not go far enough in helping to prevent the crime of FGM in the first place.

The new offence would, for the first time, give parents and girls the opportunity in law to challenge the public encouragement of FGM. It has a stronger preventive effect than any other measure in the Bill, and it seeks to change the culture and break the cycle.

The measures currently on the statute book are not working. Thousands of girls in the UK are at risk, yet, since FGM was made a crime 30 years ago, there have only ever been two prosecutions and no convictions. Our proposals will criminalise every published statement or speech encouraging FGM, and will allow the police to issue encouragement warning notices and to follow up with encouragement warning orders, the breach of which would be a criminal offence. This would be a proportionate response and would send out a message of zero tolerance of such violence against girls. It is precisely the message that we need to send, as it makes a clear statement that there is no cultural excuse for violence against women and girls. I hope the Minister will feel able to respond positively to those amendments.

New clause 2 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) along with many other right hon. and hon. Members. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work, for pursuing child abuse cases and for ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice. Labour Front Benchers are entirely sympathetic to his approach, and we think that it is absolutely the right thing to do. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that new clause in his closing remarks, and I hope that the Government will feel able to support my hon. Friend. If they feel that the wording needs to be tidied up so that it flows a little better, there is an opportunity to do that when the Bill returns to the other place.

New clause 11, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), relates to the protection that should be offered to 16 and 17-year-olds. The Children’s Society has provided an informative brief about why 16 and 17-year-olds need that additional protection. Briefly, it recognises that 16 and 17-year-olds in other parts of the world have protections that we do not have in this country, which is why we support the measure.

New clause 17 relates to mandatory reporting. We will be moving to a vote on this matter. An amendment was moved in Committee, which dealt with a consultation on mandatory reporting. We listened very carefully to what was said and feel that our new clause deals with some of the issues that the Government were concerned about, and we hope that they will support it today.

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The hon. Lady may know that I have, in the past, spoken up on behalf of Mandate Now and my constituent Mr Tom Perry. I am very keen on mandatory reporting, but having looked carefully at the proposed new clause, I have found that under subsection (2)(a), she is permitting undefined circumstances as a reason not to refer an incident for independent assessment. In the view of Mandate Now, and in my opinion, that completely undermines the concept of mandatory reporting. She may be pressing the new clause to a vote, but those of us who believe in mandatory reporting will not be able support it because it is badly flawed, and looks, I am afraid, like a rehash of some old wording.

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I am sorry that the right hon. Lady feels that. Mandatory reporting is clearly complicated and this is quite a technical area. We have proposed the new clause on the basis of the best advice we have received about how to do this, alongside advice and guidance from some of the children’s charities, and we recognise that this is a difficult area. I am sorry that the right hon. Lady does not feel able to support us, but I hope that those on the Government Front Bench will reconsider their view on mandatory reporting. We feel that it is a positive step that should be taken forward.

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It is important that we take this seriously, and having dealt with my constituent and these issues for some time I agree with the hon. Lady that mandatory reporting is essential. As I understand it, the Government will have a consultation on the process so that we get it absolutely right. It is therefore a shame to force a vote tonight on something that is flawed and that does not do the job. I ask the hon. Lady and her colleagues on the Front Bench to think again. Obviously, we cannot start the consultation during the period of purdah, but it will start immediately after the general election, as I understand it.

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It is disappointing that we have not been able to have that period of consultation, because the question of mandatory reporting has been around for considerably longer than the Serious Crime Bill. It has been raised by the shadow Home Secretary a number of times over the past couple of years. It is a shame that we are in the position we are in today, because we could have moved on the issue earlier.

Let me move on to new clause 19, for which I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). Those on the Labour Front Bench are supporting her amendment, which will introduce child abduction warning orders, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will speak with great knowledge and passion about the subject. I know that her experiences as a constituency MP have shaped her view of the changes she wants to see in the Bill. I will not go into the details of the new clause, but I hope that we will have an opportunity to test the opinion of the House on this as it would give law enforcement an important tool for tackling some of the exploitative actions of certain members of our communities towards young people.

New clause 26 sets out special measures for victims of sexual offences in recognition of the fact that they will almost certainly be afraid and distressed at the prospect of giving evidence in court. In particular, someone who has been subjected to domestic coercive control intended to reduce their self-esteem and make them a virtual prisoner of the defendant will inevitably suffer fear and distress at the prospect of giving evidence about it and coming face to face with the defendant in a public court. There can be no doubt that had the offences of coercive control existed at the time of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, which the new clause would amend, the authors would have included this provision.

The new clause is practical. Unless a complainant can be given a guarantee from the start that they will not have to give evidence face to face with the perpetrator, they might not have the confidence to proceed. If the best that can be said by others is that at some future stage they will ask a judge to grant special measures, that might not reassure a vulnerable victim enough, which might be the difference between supporting a prosecution and getting a conviction and not doing so. There is a public interest in prosecutions for this type of offence as perpetrators of domestic abuse are often serial offenders and other potential victims need to be protected, but a victim should automatically be entitled to protection in their own right.

Finally, Government amendment 10 builds on the work done by the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) over a number of years. The extraterritorial nature of the offence was mentioned in Committee and I am pleased that the Government have moved on this. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work he has carried out over many years in the House to improve protection for children.

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rose

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Order. There is much interest in these important matters and some sensitivity about subsequent groupings. Therefore, if colleagues while of course expounding with characteristic eloquence can do so with exemplary brevity, that will be received heartily in the House.

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I am extremely glad that we have this opportunity to discuss FGM and wish to thank those who have made the discussion happen. I have corresponded with the Home Secretary, the Secretaries of State for Justice and for International Development and the Leader of the House and met them to discuss all the matters to which I am about to refer. We have also had advice from some very capable and senior barristers. Sir Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, completely supports what I am about to say, as does Aileen McColgan of chambers. These matters have been pushed forward by the not-for-profit organisation Justice for FGM Victims, and I would like to pay tribute to Sarita Bingeman for her work on this over many months.

Amendment 20, which stands in my name, is simple and incredibly short—all it would do is leave out “the” and insert “a risk of”. As I have said repeatedly in interventions, it is not good enough simply to rely on the fact that the act of female genital mutilation has been carried out, for example when notifying the police or dealing with guidance, which is quite vague and is not specific enough to deal with the problem of girls being at risk.

I will briefly give the House some figures. About a decade ago the number of girls and women in England and Wales who had undergone FGM was approximately 66,000. Shockingly, that figure is now estimated to be 137,000. Equally worrying is the number of girls in England and Wales under the age of 15 who are at risk of FGM, which over the same period has increased from about 20,000 to an estimated 60,000. I am talking about 60,000 girls under the age of 15 who are at risk. That rise is further demonstrated by official figures recorded since the new reporting system was introduced by hospitals in the UK last year. They show that 2,269 girls and women who had undergone FGM were treated in hospitals in November 2014 alone, and of those 466 were newly identified cases. That is very alarming and unacceptable, and there is an urgent need to prevent the number growing further. This is an unforgiveable crime. It is beyond imagination that it is going on, and indeed that it is increasing exponentially at the rate I have described.

I am glad that the Government have brought forward a power to make an FGM protection order. All I am asking for, on the best legal advice, is that the words “a risk of” be included in paragraph 1(1)(a) of schedule 2, which is set out in clause 72. Sub-paragraph (1) would therefore read:

“The court in England and Wales may make an order (an “FGM protection order”) for the purposes of —

(a) protecting a girl against a risk of commission of a genital mutilation offence”,

rather than simply

“(a) protecting a girl against the commission of a genital mutilation offence”.

The Bill currently does not state explicitly, despite the intention that it should do so, that the order may be applied for and/or granted in the event of a risk that a genital mutilation offence may be committed. Although some are arguing that there could be some difficulty interpreting the words in relation to forced marriage orders, the fact is that it is apples and pears.

When we are dealing with forced marriage, we are dealing with people who are much older and with different circumstances. We are not dealing with five and six-year-old children who do not know what is being done to them. The horror and brutality of FGM must be dealt with. We cannot simply deal with the circumstances by analogy, as has been suggested to me by some technical advisers and lawyers. I am a lawyer myself; I was shadow Attorney-General. I do not misunderstand the nature of questions of interpretation. We have to tailor the circumstances to the problem that we are faced with. We are faced with a massive problem so it is essential that we deal with it.

Some have said that guidance would be sufficient. The guidance, which everybody in the House can look at, does not deal with the specific problem of those at risk. As I said, on the issue of notifying the police, that would apply only where the mutilation had already taken place. These are small girls. The practice cannot be allowed to carry on. We must do something about it. If I may suggest it, everybody should vote with me on this issue, including the Government. I ask the Opposition to be good enough to vote with me as well.

Let me give an example. On 3 April 2014 the Department for Education published updated statutory guidance on safeguarding. It was called “Keeping children safe in education”. The guidance tells teachers how to identify girls who are at risk or who have suffered FGM. It was e-mailed to every school in the country and on the same day a letter from the Secretary of State was e-mailed to all head teachers, drawing their attention to the guidance. The letter was e-mailed to 31,660 addressees in 25,000 schools. As at 30 April only 43% of recipients had opened the e-mail, and only 30% of recipients had clicked through to the guidance on safeguarding. That is why the legislation is needed.

Further statistics for each London borough show that the response rate was significantly worse in some areas, including some where large numbers of girls were from communities that had traditionally practised FGM. In Hackney, for example, only 25% of t