House of Commons
Monday 29 June 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Devolution (Local Communities)
1. What steps his Department is taking to encourage devolution of powers to cities, towns and county regions. (900595)
We shall have a moment of silence at the end of Question Time, but I think that, as we gather together in the House at this point, we will all want to share our condemnation of the atrocities in Tunisia, Kuwait and France last week. All our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.
The Government are committed to devolving greater powers away from Whitehall to drive economic growth. We have already taken steps to enable that to happen by introducing the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. I welcome devolution proposals from all areas, including proposals relating to how powers might be devolved to cities, towns, counties and neighbourhoods throughout the country.
I echo what the Secretary of State said about recent events.
I agree with the Secretary of State about the need for further devolution of powers, but there is considerable disagreement in the north-east about the need for an elected mayor. Will he commit himself to giving people in the north-east a say in a referendum?
I am having discussions with the leaders of the north-eastern authorities, and I expect to see them later in the week. There is a real groundswell of opinion in the north-east that now is the time to put aside some of the divisions that have held it back, and to have clear leadership. Nothing will be imposed on an area, but I look forward to meeting the leaders and hearing their proposals.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that neighbourhood planning represents the best way of ensuring that communities have a real say in the planning system when it comes to deciding where houses should go, what they should look like, and what green and open spaces should be preserved?
I do indeed. My hon. Friend is a pioneer of neighbourhood planning. He worked closely with me when I was last a Minister in the Department to ensure that it was introduced, and it has been a huge success. The first neighbourhood plan was in Thame, in his constituency. More than 1,500 communities are now engaged in the neighbourhood planning process, and 300 neighbourhood plans have been published for consultation. I am delighted that my hon. Friend has accepted my invitation to work with me to see what we can do to speed up the possibilities for other neighbourhoods throughout the country.
The Government’s decision last week to shelve plans for the electrification of the Leeds to Manchester railway line fundamentally undermined the concept of the northern powerhouse. When were DCLG Ministers first informed of the decision, and were they informed before or after the election? What opportunity was given to local authorities such as Kirklees to make recommendations to various Ministers?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made a substantial statement on the matter, and it was clear that he was dissatisfied with the performance of Network Rail in this respect. However, it is worth our reminding ourselves—and it is important for those in the north to recognise—that £38 billion is being invested in the transport system, which is the most significant investment since Victorian times. As for electrification, only 10 miles of line were electrified during the 13 years for which the last Government were in office, but we are committed to it.
The success of city deals so far has been due to the fact that Ministers have avoided over-prescriptive rules, and instead have focused on what each deal can do for each community. May I strongly encourage the Secretary of State to ensure that that flexibility is retained, particularly in smaller towns and counties?
I will certainly take that approach. My hon. Friend was a great force in working with the local enterprise partnerships in their early days, and respecting the fact that every place is different. It would be ludicrous to observe those differences and then impose a uniform requirement in all places.
May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments about Tunisia?
In all the debates about the northern powerhouse, I am very keen for us not to forget the southern powerhouse. What powers does the Secretary of State expect to devolve from Westminster to cities such as Brighton and Hove?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware of the success of the Brighton city deal, which has been warmly welcomed throughout his area, and which is one of the reasons for the fact that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 53% since May 2010. That is a powerhouse that is performing.
One of the great advantages of my right hon. Friend’s devolutionist approach is that city deals can capture the variation that occurs in key areas such as the housing market, which will vary from city to city. Will he talk to organisations such as the Royal Town Planning Institute, which is keen to establish what further work can be done to capture the link between devolution and housing delivery?
I will indeed, and again I pay tribute to the work my hon. Friend did in the Department in inaugurating this transfer of powers. Housing will be of great importance in all the deals we are negotiating and expect to conclude. There is an appetite for that right across the country and I will certainly take the advice of the RTPI.
Annual statistics on trends in home ownership are published in the Department’s English housing survey headline report, and I was pleased that recently it highlighted the fact that the number of first-time buyers is at a seven-year high.
Is the Minister aware that the cost of the average house in Enfield has rocketed to over 11 times the average wage in the borough? Home ownership is now at its lowest level in 30 years, and the dream of buying a home is increasingly out of reach. Why are the Government so complacent about declining home ownership and their failure to build?
The hon. Lady should be pleased that we have seen 600 housing starts in her own area over the last year and that, although we inherited from the last Labour Government the lowest level of house building since about 1923, we have seen that level starting to come back thanks to the work this Government have done to deliver the fastest rate of building not just of council homes, but also affordable homes, in about 20 years.
Can the Minister confirm that the proportion of people who own their own home actually fell over the lifetime of the coalition Government, and will he reaffirm, as a central promise of this Administration, to increase the proportion of people who own their own homes?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting observation. Of course, home ownership started to fall in 2005, under the last Labour Government. Over the last Parliament, we worked to get the house building sector working again. We have made it clear that we are a party who believe in helping people who work hard and aspire to own their own home, and that is why we will deliver some 200,000 starter homes for first-time buyers over the course of this Parliament.
24. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show yet another significant rise in house prices in Bristol, with the biggest rise—some 12%—being in my constituency. Affordability is becoming an increasing problem for local people. People from outside Bristol might be able to afford to live there, but local people cannot afford to buy homes. What is the Minister doing about that? (900619)
The hon. Lady may realise that there have been just over 1,000 housing starts in the last year in her area, which is well up on where it was before and, again, builds on the terrible situation we inherited some five years ago. I hope she will join me in thanking this Conservative Government for pledging to deliver affordable homes at the fastest rate in over 20 years and, of course, those 200,000 starter homes for first-time buyers at a 20% discount. Perhaps her party would like to get on board and support that work.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we seek to build on that by delivering affordable homes, including starter homes for first-time buyers, and making sure we increase supply. We have seen the increases over the last few years, and the recent figure of some 261,000 homes getting planning approval last year is pretty much a record level, and is a good sign that we have got the market moving in the right direction. We intend to build on that, and will do so.
By law, local authorities have a duty to provide advice and information to anyone asking for help. To help them discharge that important duty we have, among other sources of support, funded the National Homelessness Advice Service supporting frontline staff, together with the Help for Single Homeless funding, helping 22,000 people across England by April 2016.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I know that she took a keen interest in this issue before she entered the House. We provided more than £500,000 in homelessness prevention grant funding to Portsmouth Council back in 2013-14, and the council was able to use it to prevent 1,021 households from becoming homeless. We are providing a further £550,000 to Portsmouth for the same purpose this year. I am certainly not complacent, however, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I want to work with local authorities to build on best practice. I shall also be meeting representatives of Crisis next month to discuss what more can be done to improve services for homeless people.
Local Government Grant Formula
Councils facing the highest demand for services receive substantially more funding, including through the grant formula. In addition, with the introduction of business rates retention in 2013-14 there has been a deliberate shift away from keeping authorities dependent on grant and towards providing councils with the tools and incentives they need to grow their local economies and promote sustainable house building.
I thank the Minister for his response, but that is simply not the case, is it? Extreme cuts in areas of need have put councils in an impossible situation. Some have found it so hard to protect essential services that they have had to use funding that had originally been allocated for local welfare assistance schemes. That means that, at times, there is nothing left for people who are in desperate need, such as care leavers, those who are homeless and those who are fleeing abuse. Does he really think that it is acceptable for councils to have to make those choices?
The north-east and the north-west still have the highest spending power per household after London. The average spending power per household in the north-east is £2,313, and the figure for the north-west is £2,250. Those figures are both higher than the England—excluding Greater London Authority—average of £2,086. Spending power per household in the South Tyneside area will be £2,402 in 2015-16, which is more than the England—excluding Greater London Authority—average and also more than the metropolitan area average of £2,226, so I do believe that adequate resources are being provided.
The Secretary of State is a decent man with an open mind who has often spoken of the importance of fairness, so how does he explain the fact that while the great city of Birmingham, which has high need, has had a £700 million budget cut equating to £2,000 per household, the leafy shire area of Cheshire East, in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s constituency is located, has had an increase in spending power of 2.6%? If fairness is to mean anything, it must lie at the heart of the funding of local government. Fairness should be based on need.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about my boss. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman still agrees with what he told the Municipal Journal on 29 September 2010:
“Labour was wrong in 1997 to downgrade the role of local government”.
We are not doing that; we are trying to upgrade the role of local government, and I remind him that spending power per household for the Birmingham area will be £2,554 in 2015-16, which is more than the England average excluding the GLA, more than the metropolitan area average and more than the Cheshire East average of £1,851.
There are many areas of high deprivation in the Shipley constituency. Does the Minister agree that people who are in need in otherwise affluent areas should be treated in the same way as those who are in need in deprived areas? What can he do to ensure that Bradford Council treats all those in need equally, and that it does not simply direct its resources to those in need in its Labour heartlands?
I am sure that any constituents who are in need have a doughty champion in my hon. Friend. If he believes the local authority is being deficient in any way, he will not be slow in coming forward to tell it so. Councillors in local government have had to take difficult decisions—I served in local government, so I remember some of those, too—but it is right that councils spend their money equitably for the residents across their entire area.
In my constituency, over the next five years, the number of residents aged 65 and above will increase by 20% and the number aged 95 and above will increase by 50%. What funding support can the Minister offer to meet the unique challenges of age and rurality in my constituency and others like it?
The funding changes made by the previous Government have already delivered a steady reduction in the so-called “urban-rural gap” in spending power levels. Consecutive settlements have helped to address that gap, and between 2012-13 and 2015-16 it reduces by £205 million. I hope those resources will be of some assistance.
20. The National Audit Office is clear that local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation have seen the greatest reductions in spending power, and in Cumbria rurality compounds the problem. Does the Minister accept that the cost of providing services in sparsely populated areas means that less money is then available to address our needs? (900615)
Allerdale is classified as a rural authority and, as such, it received additional funding via the £15.5 million allocated to rural areas for 2015-16, which was £4 million up on last year’s figure. In addition, it is worth pointing out that the Cumbria local enterprise partnership receives some £48 million in growth deal funding, part of which I hope will be to the benefit of the hon. Lady’s constituents.
It is important that local government grant and council tax payers’ moneys are put to the best use. Labour-led North East Lincolnshire Council is considering whether or not to establish its own funeral service, an area already well-served by private businesses, which fear that the council will exploit its monopoly position of providing cremation services. Will the Minister assure me that he will take the matter up with that council?
My hon. Friend will be aware that we have given councils greater powers, and the matter he raises is a local one. Perhaps we can have a discussion on it, but all I will say is that the council will have to make sure that it enjoys support from local people if it is going to undertake this. Councillors should ask not for whom the bell tolls, lest it tolls for them.
May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s earlier comments on the atrocities in Tunisia and say what a pleasure it was to see him recently at the mayor-making in Croydon? Many people across local government hope the new Secretary of State will adopt a fairer approach than his predecessor. Over the past five years, Newham, which has very high levels of social deprivation, has lost more than £1,000 of funding per household while wealthier Elmbridge in Surrey has had an increase of more than £40 per household. How will his approach in future spending rounds put an end to this blatant unfairness?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my new responsibilities—at least that is what it said here. [Laughter.] I should explain, for his benefit, that I began my career in local government, serving on Basildon District Council, a robust place once described as the only local authority in the UK where at council meetings the councillors would actively heckle the public gallery. I also thank him for being nice to my boss. May I remind him that part of our approach is to give councils extra resources, and extra sources of resource, with which they can address issues? Local authorities now benefit from nearly £11 billion under business rates retention, with the scheme estimated to deliver a £10 billion boost to national GDP by 2020. By 2015-16, 94% of local authorities will see growth in business rates above their initial projections, which will be worth some £544 million. We are giving local authorities the methods to succeed.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my position as well. As he seems to want people to believe that the Government’s approach is fair, why have the 10 councils with the most children in care lost three times more funding than the 10 councils with the fewest children in care?
I am very glad to see the hon. Gentleman in his place. We all know that money is tight, but it is worth reminding the House that the Department for Communities and Local Government contributed a package of £230 million to the recent in-year savings exercise, which was found mainly from unallocated contingencies and better than anticipated land receipts. As a result, we did not need to reopen the local government finance settlement for councils for 2015-16. I understand that that was received well across the whole of local government, even in some Labour authorities.
Public Sector Land
Over the course of this Parliament, the Government are committed to releasing public sector land with capacity for up to 150,000 homes. Selling surplus land plays an important role in delivering the Government’s ambitious housing programme, as it releases land supply to the market for starter homes and other initiatives.
Given the importance of protecting the green belt in areas such as my constituency of Aldridge-Brownhills, what assistance is being given to local authorities to identify public sector land for development and thus further safeguard our precious green belt?
My hon. Friend makes a good point on protecting the green belt, which we have done through the national planning policy framework. My now boss outlined the process during the passage of the Localism Act 2011. We are committed to ensuring that the Government release public land as an important part of that process, and that 90% of our brownfield land has its planning permission in place by 2020.
My hon. Friend will be acutely aware of the concern of many of my constituents about the potential loss of our green belt thanks to excessive housing targets set by Leeds council, but the release of public sector land would help to save those important sites. What measures are available to meet the remediation costs so that developers cannot say that such sites are not viable?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It was a pleasure to visit him in his constituency and to talk to residents about these issues. It is important that we get public sector land released. With regard to brownfield sites, we have the housing zones programme in place. We have announced that, later this year, we will go into more detail about the brownfield fund, which will be aimed specifically at such details. I will happily meet him and his local councillors to see whether we can help take things forward.
There is a significant disparity in the rate of public sector development across the United Kingdom. Will the Minister undertake to hold discussions with the relevant Ministers in each of the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments to ensure that residents in each of the parts of the UK get maximum bang for their buck?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Ministers are talking all the time; the Secretary of State has been very clear about driving the matter forward. He wants all Departments to deliver to ensure that we get to 150,000 homes. I am happy to look at what he suggests. If we can work with the devolved authorities to ensure that residents right across the United Kingdom benefit, I will be happy to do so.
Figures from a recent National Audit Office report showed that the Government were so desperate to inflate their record on the disposal of public land for new homes that they included land released as long ago as 1997 by the Labour Government. Will the Minister tell the House how on earth the Government propose to reach the higher target of 150,000 homes with no one else’s record to plunder?
I gently say to the hon. Lady that the programme that I outlined in the previous Parliament consisted of land that was built on or disposed of between 2011 and 2015. We have set an ambitious target of 150,000 homes for this Parliament, which we must reach, and I hope that she will support us in doing that. Let me gently point out to her that I am somewhat prouder of this Government’s record of delivering some 23,000 homes a year through public sector land than I would be of the Labour record of 1,000 homes a year.
Free School Transport
Ministers regularly meet colleagues in Government Departments to discuss a variety of topics. Local authorities have discretionary powers to provide free home to school transport beyond their statutory duties and are best placed to balance local priorities against the funding they have available.
They do have that discretion, but increasingly they are not using it. People who want to send their children to a faith-based school, a grammar school or just the school they want them to go to, not far from the nearest school, are being charged about £500 a time. That is nothing more than a supplement to the council tax. Will the Minister please look into that abuse and stop it?
I understand that my hon. Friend secured a Westminster Hall debate on this very subject only last Thursday, where he discussed it in considerable detail. He also raised a number of constituency cases and gave examples as he went. I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools in responding to that debate: local authorities need to adopt a reasonable approach, especially in the application of their discretionary powers.
Parents of disabled children face particularly high costs in arranging their children’s travel to school, and of course it is not always possible for those children to make use of public transport. Will the Minister have a conversation with his counterpart in the Department for Education to ensure that local authorities properly address the needs of those children?
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. It is worth bearing it in mind that the statutory guidance recommends that local authorities adopt an appeals process, which must be published annually on the local authority website and involve a two-stage review by a senior council officer and, if the issue is unresolved, by an independent appeals panel. Any parent who feels that their disabled child’s needs are not being properly looked after has the right to that two-stage appeal process.
Homelessness and Rough Sleeping
We have invested more than £500 million since 2010 to support local authorities and the voluntary sector to prevent and tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. That investment has meant that we have not returned to the days of 10 years ago, when statutory homelessness in England was nearly double what it is today.
I thank the Minister for that response, but Government figures released just last week show that homelessness has risen by 36% since 2010 and that the number of homeless families living in bed and breakfasts has soared by 300%. Is the Minister not shocked at the dreadful legacy of the past five years, and will he commit to make tackling homelessness a top priority?
The Government are absolutely committed to tackling homelessness. The hon. Lady mentions bed-and-breakfast accommodation but, to put it into context, a small number of authorities—about 5%—account for 80% of the breaches. We are taking this very seriously and are absolutely clear that the long-term use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation for families with children is unacceptable and unlawful. However, the hon. Lady must also bear it in mind that the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation is a third of its peak under the Labour Administration.
Given the pernicious link between homelessness, mental illness, addiction, crime and unemployment, what progress has been made on the autumn statement commitment to extend the principles of the troubled families programme to other individuals with multiple needs?
I thank the hon. Lady for her advice.
I certainly hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) says, and we are making it a great priority to work with troubled families to try to improve their lives and, in particular, outcomes for their children.
Is it not a scandal that there are so many people sleeping on the streets of this country and that so many children are being brought up in temporary accommodation with no long-term security? Is it not a scandal that much of that is brought about by short-term renting in the private rented sector by people who then get moved out, particularly in London, because of the way in which the benefit cap operates? Should we not rethink housing strategy and housing needs in this country?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and wish him luck in his endeavours over the next few months. He seems to be harking back to the same failed policies that lost his party the general election. He does raise an extremely important issue about assured shorthold tenancies and what happens to people when those tenancies come to an end. Some excellent work is going on, with some authorities helping people in that position to avoid homelessness. I want to build on the good work that has been done, to ensure that nobody is made homeless as a result of an assured shorthold tenancy.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post. During the election, the Prime Minister stated that the number of people sleeping rough had gone down over the past five years. Crisis, the homelessness charity, said he had got his facts wrong. The Government’s own statistics show that the number of rough sleepers has gone up by 55%. Will the Minister correct the Prime Minister’s mistake?
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. Compared with the situation five years ago, this Government changed the methodology for counting rough sleeping so that we have a more honest and accurate assessment and do not sweep things under the carpet, as her party did when it was in government. We have a number of programmes on rough sleeping that are working well. The “No Second Night Out” programme has been rolled out across the country, and in London more than two thirds of those new to the streets are not spending a second night out because of that programme.
Affordable Homes Programme
More than 260,000 affordable homes have been delivered in England since April 2010. The Government’s 2011 to 2015 affordable homes programme exceeded our expectations, delivering nearly 186,000 affordable homes, some 16,000 more than originally pledged.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Northampton Borough Council on using the affordable housing programme to create new affordable housing and bring empty commercial and office buildings in Northampton back into use? What further plans does he have to help local authorities provide more affordable housing?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, and he is right. I congratulate Northampton Borough Council on its excellent work in making sure it delivers the homes that residents need. It is important that we do that. That is why we are committed to delivering affordable housing over the next few years at the fastest rate we will have seen in this country for more than two decades.
I welcome the Minister’s answer and applaud the Government’s policy of extending the right to buy to housing association tenants, but may I urge him to make sure that there is a robust mechanism to ensure like-for-like replacement of homes sold to housing association tenants? In particular, will he examine what happens in rural areas where community land trusts exist to ensure no depletion of affordable housing in rural communities?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I thank him for endorsing the fact that we are determined to do what we can to support people who aspire to own their own homes. We will move forward with delivering that right to all social tenants. The Government are committed to ensuring that people can achieve their aspiration of home ownership. We support people’s desire to own their own home, and we will work with them. Under the current programme, there are rural exemption sites.
Given that the Government have completely failed to replace the council homes sold under the right to buy, and given the Minister’s proposals to force the sale of housing association homes, are the Government committed to replacing housing association homes that are sold and council homes that will be sold to fund the compensation to housing associations? If not, does he accept that his policy will lead to a reduction in the number of houses available for social renting?
Some 261,000 properties have been given planning permission in the past year. That is a good sign, and it is pretty much a record figure. We need to make sure that those homes are developed in good time. Local authorities grant planning permission for a limited time, so they should rightly expect developers to build them out.
12. What the replacement rate of council homes sold through the right-to-buy scheme has been since 2012. (900607)
Local authorities have three years from the date of sale of each home to replace the property. In the first year following the reinvigoration of the right to buy, there were 3,053 additional sales. Within two years—by the end of 2014-15—3,337 replacements were started or acquired.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies, Moody’s, the National Housing Association and the CBI, to name but a few, have raised concerns about the Government’s right-to-buy proposals. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of those proposals on the financial viability of housing associations and, in turn, their ability to build new affordable housing?
The impact of the policy will be to extend the aspiration of people across this country to own their own home, because 86% of people want to do so, and there is no difference between the aspirations of housing association tenants, council tenants and people who own their own home. That is the impact we are achieving through the policy.
Localism (Infrastructure Projects)
The nationally significant infrastructure planning system strikes a fair and effective balance between two important needs: the national need for infrastructure to underpin growth and sustainability, and the need to address community concerns and maximise local benefits from investment.
I thank the Minister for that non-answer. I would like him to explain to the residents of West Lancashire why, despite the Government’s claim to support localism in the planning process, permission was granted to dump hazardous waste for 20 more years at Whitemoss landfill, for which there was no demonstrable need, either local or regional, and which was opposed by thousands of local residents, the borough council, the county council and me as the local MP. Surely this means—
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the hon. Lady for her gracious comments. As she probably realises, that planning application is still within the six-week period during which a decision can be challenged. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on a specific scheme, owing to the quasi-judicial nature of planning.
23. Many of my constituents feel that localism is failing them when they oppose large-scale wind farms and solar farms. Will the Minister consider a minimum buffer zone between such projects and settlements, which would give my constituents some comfort? (900618)
Right to Buy (Housing Associations)
The details will be set out in the impact assessment when the housing Bill is published, but it is all about ensuring that we support people who aspire to own their own home and extend home ownership to as wide a group of people who wish to have it as possible, and on equal terms to those who have had it for so many years.
What a load of waffle. It is quite clear that the Minister has made no assessment at all of the costs of the policy. When he produces the impact assessment before the Bill is published and brought before the House, will he ensure that it shows that taxpayers will pay three times over: first, for the investment to build the homes; secondly, for the discount to sell them; and, thirdly, for the higher housing benefit bills that will result?
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman feels strongly about this, no doubt against the background of his interests in the housing association he is involved with.
I gently point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he has made it very clear where the Labour party stands on the issue. Lord Prescott himself made it clear that he did not know what aspiration was. I suspect, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that he probably still harks back to his statement to the Fabian Society, in which he spoke about the drop in home ownership since 2012 being no bad thing. We think that it is, and we want to support people who want to own their own home. I am disappointed that he does not support aspiration.
Does my hon. Friend agree that constructing a local plan where one did not exist in areas such as my constituency of Eastleigh is of paramount importance in delivering home ownership while protecting green spaces and in committing to the strongest sanctions on councils that fail to do this properly by embracing localism and providing locally based community planning?
All housing association tenants will share my view, and my hon. Friend’s, that the best way for communities to have their say is to have a local plan and, even better, neighbourhood plans. I encourage her authority to listen to her and get on with putting its local plan in place.
Firefighters Pension Scheme (Scotland)
16. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the effect of firefighters pension scheme reforms in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. (900611)
The firefighters pension scheme is devolved, and it is for the Scottish Government to consider its operation in Scotland. As such, I have had no discussions with the Secretary of State for Scotland on this matter.
We have to look at the context. The cost of public sector pensions increased by about a third in the 10 years to 2009, and reform was necessary to ensure a fair deal for firefighters and taxpayers alike. Firefighters’ pensions remain generous. A firefighter who earns £29,000 and retires at 60 after a full career will get about £19,000 a year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. It is also worth remembering that the pension age of 60 is the same as it is for the police and, indeed, for the armed forces.
May I start this session of topical questions by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) for his five successful years in leading the Department?
Building on my right hon. Friend’s achievements, my commitments and those of my excellent team are, among other things, to continue to increase the supply of housing so that people can achieve their aspiration of a home of their own; to decentralise powers and budgets to local communities through the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill; and to maintain an ongoing commitment to turning lives around through the troubled families programme. This week, the Prime Minister announced that almost 117,000 families have so far been helped.
With the biggest housing crisis in a generation and an acute shortage of affordable and social housing, would that the Government’s right-to-buy Bill were buried and not brought forward, because it will make that bad situation worse. On the timetable for the Bill, the Prime Minister promised that it would be introduced in the Government’s first 100 days. Can the Secretary of State confirm that it will be brought before Parliament before the summer recess?
The hon. Gentleman is a former shadow housing Minister, and many of his colleagues are having occasion to reflect on Labour’s failure to offer any substantive policies; he should take his share of the blame. He should be clear from my previous answer that the right-to-buy policy, in relation to council houses, has increased the supply of housing. Whether on increasing housing supply or increasing aspiration, he should get behind our policy. The Bill was in the Queen’s Speech and it will be introduced very shortly.
T2. The Minister will be aware that the number of empty homes in the UK is now at the lowest level since records began. Will he assure the House that he will continue to work with councils such as Dartford council, which is successfully bringing more and more empty homes back into use? (900561)
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It has been a pleasure to visit and meet the excellent council in Dartford, which is doing some superb work on this. He is right. The number of long-term vacant homes in England fell by some 10,000 in the year to October 2014, so we are at the lowest levels we have seen. That is good work and we want to go further.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his promotion and join him in his condemnation of the terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the victims, families and friends.
The reason the Secretary of State does not know when he is going to bring forward his housing Bill is that the policies were written on the back of a fag packet during the election campaign and were based on forcing councils to sell 15,000 homes a year. Since then, I have asked his Department how many of these homes will become vacant every year, and it said it does not know. How many council homes will he force councils to sell off every year?
I do not smoke, so there is no question of writing on the back of fag packets, but what I do know is that the Opposition policies for which the hon. Lady was responsible were very much inadequate to the task. In fact, one of her own colleagues, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), has said that the Labour party’s housing policies made his “heart sink”, and each member of Labour’s leadership parade has called attention to the party’s failure to come up with credible policies. We are very clear that extending the right to buy is a way of achieving people’s aspirations. I have yet to hear from the hon. Lady whether she agrees with the right to buy.
We are in favour of people’s aspiration to buy their own home, but we are also in favour of policies that add up and stack up. The Tories are just plucking the figures out of thin air. They have no idea how many council homes will be sold. Indeed, the property specialist Savills estimates that the number is closer to 5,000 rather than 15,000.
This is not just about existing council homes, but about homes that councils are building or planning to build. Is the Secretary of State going to force councils to sell brand-new homes even before those who are on the waiting list—elderly people, families and others—are able to move into them?
The hon. Lady gives every impression of not being in favour of the right to buy, but she cannot bring herself to say it. I invite her to make her policy clear. Our policy is very clear: on expensive council houses in the top third of the area, it is an efficient use of those assets to sell them in order to be able to allow more homes to be built. That is a very straightforward policy.
T3. The Secretary of State may recall canvassing on the brand new Edgewater Park estate in Warrington three months ago, where the major issue was lack of adequate broadband. Will he consider requiring that broadband be provided for new estates in the same way as other utilities such as electric and water? (900562)
I do indeed recall canvassing with my hon. Friend in his constituency and it was a very successful session. He is absolutely right to say that it is important to have broadband connections when new homes are built. In fact, my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning will meet Joe Garner of BT this very afternoon to press that point. Of course, it is not just a planning matter; it is for BT to make sure that it is alert and adept enough to make those connections.
T4. Was the Secretary of State as surprised as my constituents at the decision to suspend the electrification of the Leeds to Manchester rail line? Does that help or hinder the Government’s stated objective of a so-called northern powerhouse generating economic growth in Leeds and the north? (900563)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity to respond. This Government are investing £13 billion in rail in the north. There will be more trains, newer trains and more regular journeys. It is right that the Secretary of State for Transport should look at the value for money for all projects and his decision is the correct one, but the northern powerhouse is about many things, not just transport. We are going to build it and deliver for the economy of the north of England.
T5. Are Ministers aware that the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk has a five-year supply of housing and a robust local plan, which will go to the inspector next month? In the meantime, do they agree that it is quite wrong and unethical for developers and housing associations to put in opportunistic applications and appeals? (900564)
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is good to hear that the King’s Lynn local plan will be going through the process as soon as possible. I know that the inspectors will look at it and work with the local authority to get it through the process. If a planning application is made, the local authority itself is the body that makes the decision. Should it end up with an inspector, they will look at the process. Obviously, as the local plan goes through the process it gains more weight, which should be taken into account in any decision.
T6. With the pause in the electrification of the TransPennine service turning the northern powerhouse into a northern power cut, when did the Secretary of State actually know that the policy was in such difficulty? (900565)
Labour Members would do well to listen to their council leaders, so many of whom are supportive and enthusiastic about the policies that this Government are bringing forward to grow our northern economy. As I have already made clear, transport plays a key role in that, but this is about so much more. It is not about a cut; it is about delivering on our promises, growing our regional economies and delivering for the north.
T8. Will my right hon. Friend be very careful about any changes he might be considering to the south Essex local enterprise partnership? What is of paramount importance to me is that nothing is done to damage the regeneration of Southend-on-Sea. (900567)
Local enterprise partnerships have always been free to propose changes to their geography. No such proposals have been received for the south-east, but I am aware that some are likely to be made soon. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other ministerial colleagues will consider any such proposals on their merits. While any changes are considered, it is important for the focus to remain on delivering the existing growth deal commitments made by partners within the South East LEP, which I am sure is what my hon. Friend wants.
And I have been here since prayers, Mr Speaker, so I have been very patient.
The Secretary of State knows from the migration figures that more and more people want to come and live in this wonderful country, and he knows that more and more people want affordable homes. Will he do something dramatic about building houses and will he stop his plan to sell off housing association stock, or does he want to turn our cities into ghettos, as the French have done with theirs?
No one could be more determined to increase our housing supply than Conservative Members. The hon. Gentleman will know that, when I was the Minister for Planning, we reformed the national planning policy framework, which has increased planning permissions by more than 60% to 260,000 homes a year. What we have done in office is in stark contrast to what Labour Members did in office, when housing completions fell to an all-time low.
T9. I cheered for joy when the Minister for Housing and Planning said that, under this Conservative regime, the wishes of the public would be paramount on the siting of wind turbines. Will the Secretary of State make sure that the message gets through to the Planning Inspectorate when it looks at such applications on appeal? (900568)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. [Interruption.] I am looking for the right page in my brief. The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) has given me all sorts of wonderful and very helpful advice today.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to make sure that we support older people properly. In relation to the better care fund, he knows that £5.3 billion is coming through to support people in this financial year.
Lichfield District Council is in early negotiations with the West Midlands combined authority and other local authorities, but it wishes to maintain control over planning and housing policy. Will that be possible for local authorities such as Lichfield?
As my hon. Friend knows, our intention is to transfer powers from Westminster to local communities, and it is for them to determine their arrangements. Places such as Manchester had that in mind when they set their own arrangements, so it is absolutely available in the west midlands.
What has the increase been in the number of families who have met the troubled families assessment criteria since the programme began? Has the Minister made any assessment of the impact of his Government’s £12 billion of welfare cuts and of his swingeing local authority cuts on already struggling families who need joined-up local support?
The hon. Lady visited my old school in South Bank to congratulate students there on being in the finals of the mock trial competition. Perhaps she will convey my congratulations to them as well.
On troubled families, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement last week in which he said that more than 117,000 families have had their lives transformed by this crucial programme. It has saved public money as well as transforming lives. We will build on that during the Parliament. I look forward to her support, because Redcar and Cleveland is one of the principal authorities delivering on this.
Tunisia, and European Council
It is with great sadness that I have to tell the House that we now know of at least 18 British nationals who have been killed, with more injured. The death toll is likely to rise still further. These were innocent British holidaymakers, people who had saved up for a special time away with their friends and family, but who suddenly became the victims of the most brutal terrorist attack against British people for many years. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those who have lost loved ones.
I know the whole country will want to share in a moment of remembrance. Following the act of remembrance we have just held in this House, we will have a national minute’s silence on Friday at 12 noon, one week on from the moment of the attack. In due course, in consultation with the families, we will also announce plans for a fitting memorial to the victims of this horrific attack.
This morning, I chaired the fourth daily meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra Committee. Let me take the House through three things: first, the latest on what we believe happened in Tunisia, and also in the separate attacks in Kuwait and France; secondly, the immediate steps we have been taking to help the British victims and their families; and thirdly, how we will work with our allies to defeat this evil in our world.
The events of last Friday are horribly familiar to anyone following them in the media. A radicalised university student, armed with a Kalashnikov, began massacring innocent tourists on the beach at Port El Kantaoui. He continued his attack into the Imperial Marhaba hotel and on to the streets, where he was shot dead by Tunisian police. While we believe he was the sole gunman, it is thought that he may have been part of an ISIL-inspired network. The Tunisian security forces are investigating possible accomplices who may have supported this sickening attack.
On the same day in Kuwait, a suicide bomber killed 27 and injured more than 200 in an attack on the Imam Sadiq Mosque near Kuwait City. An ISIL-affiliated group based in Saudi Arabia has claimed it was behind the attack. In Syria, ISIL executed 120 people in their homes in Kobane. In south-eastern France, a man was murdered and two were injured in an explosion. While all these attacks were clearly driven by the same underlying perverted ideology, there is no evidence to date that they were directly co-ordinated.
Our first priority has been to help the British victims and their families. This has meant helping on site, assisting the wounded, bringing home those who have lost their lives, ensuring holidaymakers still in Tunisia who want to come home are helped to do so and gathering further evidence of what happened. A team of consular staff were on site in Sousse within hours and, by Saturday, were complemented by additional teams of consular staff, police and Red Cross experts. We now have over 50 people on the ground, helping British victims and their families. To help the wounded, we have already sent a team of military medical liaison officers to assist with medical evacuations, and a C-17 has just landed in Sousse to bring home some of the seriously injured.
It is right that we do everything we can to bring home as quickly as possible those who have lost their lives. We have been helping the Tunisians with what, in some cases, is a very difficult identification process. The Royal Air Force will arrange directly the repatriation of all deceased British nationals whose families wish us to do so, as soon as the identification processes are complete, while 60 family liaison officers back here in Britain continue to support the relatives of those killed and injured. We are also working with tour operators to ensure that those who want to come home can do so—more than 20 special flights have already brought hundreds home.
Since Friday evening, over 380 counter-terrorism and local officers have been at British airports to meet and support travellers returning home from Tunisia, including helping to gather evidence of what happened. As Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said yesterday, the national policing response is likely to be one of the largest counter-terrorism deployments in a decade.
Yesterday afternoon, I visited the Foreign Office crisis centre to see at first hand the work our teams are doing to co-ordinate our efforts at home and abroad, and as I speak, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), are out in Sousse in person, doing everything they can to help the British victims and their families and talking to the Tunisian authorities about how we can help strengthen their security. Over the weekend, I spoke to President Essebsi, and I want to put on the record my thanks for the assistance of the Tunisian authorities throughout this horrific ordeal.
The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice, which continues to make clear the high threat from terrorism in the country, just as it did before Friday’s events, but it is not advising against all but essential travel to this part of Tunisia, so it is not advising against visiting the popular coastal resorts. This was agreed by the Cobra emergency committee and will be kept under close review.
These are difficult judgments. Nowhere is without risk from Islamist extremist terrorists, and of course we take into account the capability of the country in question and its ability to counter the threat. In the UK, the threat level remains “severe”, meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely, but until we have defeated this threat, we as a country must resolve to carry on living our lives alongside it. Making those judgments means taking sensible precautions, and where there is a specific threat, we will always take action immediately, but we will not give up our way of life or cower in the face of terrorism.
These terrorists tried to strike at places of hope—in a country with a flourishing tourist industry on the road to democracy and in a mosque in Kuwait that dared to bring Sunnis and Shi’as together. The Tunisians and Kuwaitis will not have that hope taken away from them. They will not be cowed by terror, and we will stand with them.
Defeating this terrorist threat requires us to do three things. First, we must give our police and security services the tools they need to root out this poison. We have already increased funding for our police and intelligence services this year and legislated to give them stronger powers to seize passports and prevent travel. Over the next two days, our security forces and emergency services will conduct a major training exercise in London to test and refine the UK’s preparedness for dealing with a serious terrorist attack.
We must also do more to make sure that the powers we give our security services keep pace with changes in technology. ISIL’s methods of murder might be barbaric, but its methods of recruitment, propaganda and communication use the latest technology. We must therefore step up our own efforts to support our agencies in tracking vital online communications, and we will bring forward a draft Bill to achieve this.
We must also work with our international partners to improve our counter-terrorism co-operation. I spoke to President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Michel of Belgium over the weekend, and we agreed to work together to help Tunisia strengthen its security. Our ambassador met the Tunisian authorities yesterday to put that into action, including by strengthening the protective security arrangements at coastal resorts.
Secondly, we must deal with the security threat at source, whether ISIL in Iraq and Syria or other extremist groups around the world. British aircraft are already delivering the second-largest number of airstrikes over Iraq, and our airborne intelligence and surveillance assets are assisting other countries with their operations over Syria. We are working with our UN, EU and American partners to support the formation of a Government of national accord in Libya, and we will continue to do all we can to support national Governments in strengthening weak political institutions and dealing with the ungoverned spaces where terrorists thrive. As I have said here many times before, if we need to act to neutralise an imminent threat to the UK, we will always do so.
Thirdly, we must take on the radical narrative that is poisoning young minds. The people who do these things do it in the name of a twisted and perverted ideology, which hijacks the Islamic faith and holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable, but necessary. We must confront this evil with everything we have. We must be stronger at standing up for our values, and we must be more intolerant of intolerance, taking on anyone whose views condone the extremist narrative or create the conditions for it to flourish.
On Wednesday, a new statutory duty will come into force, requiring all public bodies—from schools, to prisons and local councils—to take steps to identify and tackle radicalisation. In the weeks ahead, we will go further. We will stand in solidarity with all those outraged by this event, not least the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country and around the world. For this is not the war between Islam and the west in which ISIL wants people to believe; it is a generational struggle between a minority of extremists who want hatred to flourish and the rest of us who want freedom to prosper—and together, we will prevail.
Let me deal now with the European Council. It discussed three issues that strongly affect our national interest. On the situation in Greece, I chaired a contingency meeting in Downing Street earlier today, and the Chancellor will make a statement straight after this one. Let me deal briefly with the other two issues—the need for a comprehensive approach to the migration crisis and the beginning of the UK renegotiation process.
On migration, the right course of action is to combine saving lives with tackling the root causes of this problem. That means breaking the business model of the smugglers by breaking the link between getting in a boat and getting a chance to arrive and settle in Europe. It means gathering intelligence to disrupt the smuggling gangs and using our aid budget to help alleviate the poverty and failure of governance that so often drives these people from their homes in the first place.
Britain has already played a leading role in all this, by keeping its promises on aid and saving over 4,000 lives in the Mediterranean. By contrast, focusing primarily on setting up a relocation scheme for migrants who have already arrived in Europe could, we believe, be counter-productive. Instead of breaking the smugglers’ business model, it makes their offer more attractive. Others in the EU have decided to go ahead with this relocation scheme, but because of our opt-out from justice and home affairs matters, we will not be joining them. We will, however, enhance our plans to resettle the most vulnerable refugees from outside the EU, most notably from Syrian refugee camps, in line with the announcement I made in Bratislava earlier this month.
Finally, on the UK’s relationship with the European Union, we have a clear plan of reform, renegotiation and referendum. At this Council, I set out the case for substantive reform in four areas: sovereignty, fairness, immigration and competitiveness.
First, on sovereignty, Britain will not support being part of an ever-closer union or being dragged into a state called Europe—that may be for others, but it will never be for Britain, and it is time to recognise that specifically. We want national Parliaments to be able to work together to have more power, not less.
Secondly, on fairness, as the eurozone integrates further, the EU has to be flexible enough to make sure that the interests of those inside and outside the eurozone are fairly balanced. Put simply, the single currency is not for all, but the single market and the European Union as a whole must work for all.
Thirdly, on immigration, we need to tackle the welfare incentives that attract so many people from across the EU to seek work in Britain.
Finally, alongside all those, we need to make the EU a source of growth, jobs, innovation and success, rather than stagnation. That means signing trade deals and completing the single market, such as in digital, where the Council made progress towards a roaming agreement that could cut the cost of mobile phone bills for businesses and tourists alike.
At this meeting, my priority was to kick off the technical work on all these issues and the specific reforms we want in each area. The Council agreed that such a process will get under way, and we will return to the issue at our meeting in December. These talks will take tenacity and patience. Not all the issues will be easily resolved, but just as in the last Parliament, when we showed that change could happen by cutting the EU budget for the first time in history, so in this Parliament we will fix problems that have frustrated the British people for so long. We will put the Common Market back at the heart of our membership, get off the treadmill to ever-closer union, address the issue of migration to Britain from the rest of the EU and protect Britain’s place in the single market for the long term. It will not be the status quo; it will be a membership rooted in our national interest and a European Union that is better for Britain and better for Europe, too. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.
The House meets today in dark times. At least 18 innocent Britons have been murdered and many more have been seriously injured in the biggest terrorist attack on our citizens since the horror of 7/7. Every one of us in this House extends our heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of those killed and injured. Our thoughts are with them at this terrible time. We cannot begin to understand what they must have been going through as they saw on the news pictures from the beach where their families were on holiday showing sun loungers being used as stretchers and bloodstained beach towels turned into makeshift shrouds.
The families of those killed now face the painful process of helping in the identification of their loved ones and bringing them home. The relatives of the injured will be worried sick and desperate to bring them home as soon as possible. Others are still searching for any information about what has happened to their relatives.
The Prime Minister was right to convene Cobra immediately, and I thank him for updating the House on all the work being co-ordinated through the daily Cobra meetings. I add our thanks to Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, the British police teams, the Red Cross experts and other British officials who are working on this, as well as to all those—from hotel staff and local officials to the travel reps and other holidaymakers—who are supporting those who have been caught up in this.
As we know from 7/7, support will be needed for the bereaved and injured—not just in the immediate aftermath, but for months and years to come. Can I therefore ask the Prime Minister to establish a dedicated taskforce that reports to a Minister with responsibility for co-ordinating across Departments and agencies to provide that support? It is right that the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), the Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for the middle east, have travelled to Tunisia today. I make particular mention of the Minister, who has stepped into this immensely difficult situation highly effectively, clearly drawing on the experience of his own family loss and demonstrating great personal empathy with those who are suffering. We thank him for his work.
There are close ties, going back decades, between Tunisia and the UK. The Prime Minister will have our full support in helping Tunisia tackle the scale of the terrorist problem that now confronts it. We welcome the fact that the Prime Minister, the French President, the German Chancellor and the Belgian Prime Minister have agreed to work together to help Tunisia strengthen its security. Can the Prime Minister say more about what actions are being considered by our Government and internationally to help the Tunisians respond to the economic problems that this terrorist atrocity will inevitably cause, given the country’s reliance on tourism?
While we make preparations for commemorating the 10th anniversary of 7/7, the death toll in Syria and Iraq continues relentlessly to rise. This week alone, there have been deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait, Syria and France, as the Prime Minister said. People are concerned about how difficult it is to combat this widespread threat. Can he tell us more about the international efforts to tackle the spread of terrorism? The issue is about sharing intelligence, the use of the internet and social media, cutting off finance, control of borders and co-ordinated military support to those fighting ISIL on the ground. Given the contribution that Britain’s armed forces are making in helping the efforts to fight ISIL in Iraq, has the international community been asked to provide further assistance?
The Prime Minister has rightly recognised that the violence stems from an extremist ideology, which hijacks the religion of Islam. He is right that we must be resolute in standing up for the values of peace, democracy, freedom of speech and equality for women, rejecting and confronting those who go along with these extremist narratives. Is he satisfied that the Government are doing everything they can to back up and empower those at the forefront of the challenge within their communities—particularly families, teachers, religious leaders and community groups?
The Prime Minister said that, in addition to the new statutory duty on public bodies to identify and tackle radicalism, he intends to go further in the weeks ahead. Will he outline what actions are under consideration and whether he is working with the Muslim communities on that?
Turning to last week’s European Council, obviously the biggest issue is Greece. It is in everyone’s interest that an agreement is reached. This matter is of huge importance to us even though we are not in the eurozone, because, whatever the cause, if Europe’s economy is hit, Britain will be hit too. Obviously, the Chancellor will say more about that shortly.
On migration, instability in north Africa and the middle east is a growing factor that is driving desperate migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe. I ask the Prime Minister to confirm that the capacity and mandate of our action in the Mediterranean will not be diminished with the replacement of HMS Bulwark by HMS Enterprise.
We back the action against people trafficking to which the Prime Minister referred. Does he agree that EU action is needed to help southern European countries cope with those who are arriving, including support for a swift and robust asylum assessment, and help from other countries for those who are certified as refugees? Does he agree that Britain ought to offer to help some of those who are certified as refugees, just as we have done for vulnerable refugees from Syria, and just as we have done over the decades and, indeed, centuries, when we have provided sanctuary to refugees who have fled persecution and allowed them to make their future here with us?
On Britain’s negotiations with Europe, will the Prime Minister confirm that there is no prospect of any treaty changes being ratified before people vote in our referendum? Of course the negotiations are sensitive, but it is evident that even the people he is negotiating with are not entirely clear what he is negotiating for, and nor are the British people he is negotiating on behalf of. He referred to the announcement at the summit that there will be technical negotiations until December. What steps will he take to keep Parliament and the British people informed? There is an expectation in this country of high levels of transparency. It is not feasible for the British people to feel that they are in the dark.
Finally, we are an island, but whether it is the terrorism in Tunisia, Syria, Kuwait or France, whether it is the refugees in the Mediterranean, whether it is the economy in Greece, or whether it is the radicalisation of young people here at home, this week’s terrible events remind us emphatically once again that we are all interconnected.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her remarks and for the way in which she made them. She was generous and right to thank the FCO staff and all the others who have been working round the clock. These are difficult events to respond to, but I really do believe that the people who work so hard to co-ordinate the response in Britain do a very good job.
The right hon. and learned Lady was right to draw on the experience of 7/7. She spoke about the good work of people such as Tessa Jowell in thinking about how best to commemorate and mark such events, and that work needs to be repeated. She asked about a dedicated taskforce. At the moment, there is very much a Foreign Office taskforce, along with terrorism experts, the police and others. There will come a moment when we want to bring in Ministers from other Departments, perhaps including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to ensure that we get these things right.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for singling out the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), with his experience of the Bali bomb. He is talking to victims and families as we speak, and I think that he should play a prominent role in making sure that, as a country, we get the response right.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked what we should do to strengthen security in Tunisia. The answer is that it covers the whole spectrum from the detailed work of making sure that hotels have the necessary security screening and capacity in place, all the way through to working with the Tunisian intelligence and security services to ensure that they have an intelligence-led model of policing, as we have in this country, so that they can work out where the next threat is coming from and try to get ahead of it.
It is absolutely right for us to help the economies of Tunisia and other countries in north Africa, which links to what the right hon. and learned Lady said about international efforts. Following the Arab spring, there was a partnership with north African countries. Some good progress was made in spending aid money to help those countries, but there is more that we need to do. Given the security threat and the risks that we face, not least the problems of the migration crisis, I think that there is a case for using our aid budget in a more co-ordinated way with others in Europe to drive change and economic success in north African countries.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about international efforts. We also need to ensure at the European level that we pass measures such as the passenger name record directive, so that we can co-operate better in fighting terrorism.
I am grateful for what the right hon. and learned Lady said about the need to fight the ideology, as she put it, and to confront those who go along with the narrative. I think that that is absolutely right. The more cross-party unity we can have on that message, the stronger I think it will be. We will certainly consider what more we can do to back up teachers, community leaders and others, and, as I said on the radio this morning, I am happy to co-operate and work with leaders across Muslim communities, but they should be people who want to back the basic values of tolerance and democracy that we hold dear in this country.
The right hon. and learned Lady mentioned Greece. I shall leave most of that to the Chancellor, who will make a statement immediately after this.
On migration, let me reassure the right hon. and learned Lady and the House that we will continue to have the capacity in the Mediterranean, with HMS Enterprise, to save lives. We will offer, and have already offered, to help southern European countries to process asylum seekers. I think that the only difference between us is this. We are drawing a distinction between resettling the most vulnerable refugees who are outside the European Union, for instance in Syrian refugee camps, for whom we think Britain can do more and—this is where I think the European Union is potentially heading down the wrong track—a relocation programme for migrants who are already within the European Union. I worry that such a programme would be counter-productive, and that, as I said earlier, it would reinforce the smugglers’ model of getting people here in the first place. There is a disagreement with others in Europe about that. They will be going ahead with their plans, but I think that what we should be doing is helping with the resettlement, and also pointing out that our asylum system has already given asylum to many people from the most vulnerable areas of the world, and continues to do so.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about treaty changes and keeping Parliament informed. Yes, of course I will do that. What matters when it comes to changing the treaties is making sure that there is agreement on the substance of the changes that we seek, which, of course, will involve treaty change. That is what matters, and that is what we hope to achieve.
I very much agree with the right hon. and learned Lady’s final observation that we should work together with others in Europe and, indeed, around the world, because these challenges are shared challenges.
Following the awful events in Tunisia, which resulted in the dreadful and untimely death of one of my constituents, Scott Chalkley, may I ask what assurances my right hon. Friend can give me that he will do everything that he can to prevent such attacks from ever happening again?
First, let me send my sympathies and condolences to my hon. Friend’s constituents. There will be many tragic stories about what happened on that beach and in that hotel, and people will be coming to terms with it for years to come.
No country in the world is free of the risk of terrorism, but we must do everything that we can to combat this threat, along with our partners around the world. That may involve very technical measures that we should take at, for instance, hotels and police stations, or very high-profile, high-value work with Governments, but we should commit ourselves to doing all that we can. As I have said, this will be the struggle of our generation.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement on Tunisia, and for the measures he has taken so far and the measures he is proposing.
Three generations of one family from Tipton and Wednesbury have been killed in this atrocity. The impact on their relatives and the local community has been absolutely devastating, and, unfortunately, I am sure that that will be reflected in other families and other communities throughout the country. Will the Prime Minister assure me that he will take up the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition, and set up a dedicated taskforce to support not just the family liaison officers, who are doing great work, but local authorities and other public agencies, so that those families are given the specialist support that they will need now and for a long time in the future?
The case to which the hon. Gentleman has referred is absolutely heartbreaking. All of us have read about it in the newspapers, and we all know how the family and community will be affected, as he said, for many years to come.
As for helping the families, I think that the first thing to do is ensure that each of them has a family liaison officer from one of the police forces. Those liaison officers are now being put in place. They are experts—they are extremely good at the work that they do—and they should be the point of contact that ensures that families are given all the information, help, advice and support that they need.
The next step, as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said, is to think about how we are going to mark and commemorate what has happened. That should be done in consultation with the families, so we should not rush that decision, but I think it is right that this Friday we have a national minute’s silence.
The thoughts of my constituents are with all the victims, especially the three from our local area. I spent yesterday afternoon with the family of Bruce Wilkinson, including his wife Rita, who survived the attack. They thank everybody who has assisted them—consular staff, their travel company, and my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). They want Bruce to be remembered for his wit and compassion, and for his love of his family. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that every effort will be made to get the bodies of victims home as quickly as possible, so Bruce and the other victims can be given the dignity in burial they were denied in death?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. As well as tales of great tragedy and sadness, there have been stories of extraordinary heroism and bravery, as we would expect from British citizens confronted with such an event. On bringing people home, what we have said, and what I have said today, is that we are prepared to use RAF planes, chiefly C-17s and C-130s, to bring home the British dead if that is what families want. We are putting the arrangements in place now. It has taken time to identify all the victims and that identification has to be complete before a victim can be brought home, but we will work as hard as we can to make sure this happens as soon as possible.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement. We on the SNP Benches share all the expressions of sympathy and condolence to all the families and friends of those so tragically killed in Tunisia. What occurred there and in so many other countries in recent days was horrific and not justified in any religion, especially in this Ramadan month of peace and reflection for Muslims.
The Prime Minister was right to highlight the longer-term challenge of extremism and radicalisation. He pointed out the importance of getting terminology right and not using the name “Islamic State”. Will he join parliamentarians across this House, the US Secretary of State and the French Foreign Minister in using the appropriate term? Does he agree that the time has come in the English-speaking world to stop using “Islamic State”, ISIS or ISIL and that instead we and our media should use “Daesh”, the commonly used term across the middle east?
On migration, I have asked the Prime Minister about the shameful position of the UK Government 80 years after this country brought in thousands of children in the Kindertransport when their lives were in danger. Will he confirm that at the EU Summit other states agreed to take in tens of thousands of refugees, and that the UK has still taken in fewer than 200 from the war in Syria?
First, I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the use of the term “Islamic State”. This is particularly offensive to many Muslims who see, as I do, not a state but a barbaric regime of terrorism and oppression that takes delight in murder, in oppressing women and in killing people because they are gay, so I raised this with the BBC this morning. I personally think using the term ISIL or “so-called” would be better than what it currently uses. I do not think we will move it all the way to “Daesh”, however, so I think saying ISIL is probably better than saying Islamic State, because in my view it is neither Islamic nor a state.
In terms of the numbers that other European countries have committed to relocate within the EU, these are people who have already arrived in Italy and Greece. They are planning to relocate about 40,000 people, although there was no agreement about who would take what numbers during what was a lengthy debate at the European Council. I would not, frankly, contrast that with the numbers we are offering to resettle from outside the EU. I would point to the very generous arrangements we have in place in Britain for giving people asylum. That includes many Syrians, many people from Iraq and many Kurds. That is what we have done and will continue to do, as a generous and tolerant nation.
The Prime Minister will be aware that jihadists talk about three types of jihad: jihad of the tongue; jihad of the purse and jihad of the sword. Does he agree that although we should address the threat militarily where we can, too few of the Arab countries are pulling their weight in dealing with a problem that is part of their region? Secondly, does he agree that we must cut off the financial flows to the organisation, and name and shame those individuals and states that are facilitating the further spread of fundamental Islam? Thirdly, during the cold war we understood the value of counter-propaganda. Is it not time to rediscover, not only across Government but among our allies, the need to speak with one voice in order to send out one message when dealing with the dangers and one message about the values and freedoms that have made us who we are?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course there are, in part, some military answers to what is happening. We need to crush ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but military action alone will not be enough. As he says, we have to go after terrorist finance and the terrorist narrative. That narrative is shared not only by the terrorists but, sadly, by too many who stop short of terrorism but who buy into the idea of a caliphate or the idea that Christians and Muslims cannot live together. Just as we had to confront the ideology in the cold war, we have to do so again now. In the end, I think that we will win because our values of democracy, tolerance, the rule of law, freedom and free enterprise are better values. They offer young people far more hope than going off and being part of a death cult that subjugates women, murders homosexuals and creates murder and mayhem across the world.
I should like to add my deep condolences to those of the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) to all those who have been affected by what has happened in Tunisia, many of whom were Welsh. Will the Prime Minister join me in expressing our admiration for my constituent Matthew James? People will have read in the newspapers how he threw himself in the way of a bullet to shield his fiancée, Saera Wilson, in an extraordinary act of selfless bravery. May I urge the Prime Minister to do all he can to ensure that all the victims receive all the support that they need?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We all read the moving story of what that brave and courageous young man did to save the life of his fiancée; I am sure that it will have moved the whole country. I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the guarantee that we will do everything we can to help the victims and their families. There are people working round the clock in Tunisia and here in Britain to ensure that that happens, and we will keep that up.
Yesterday, I learned that two of my constituents had suffered in this callous attack. Cheryl Mellor and her husband, Stephen, from Bodmin in North Cornwall, went to Tunisia for a holiday, but only Mrs Mellor will be returning. I was moved to tears after reading her account of Friday’s tragic events in the local press. Stephen was gunned down next to his wife, trying to protect her as they fled from the chaos. Mrs Mellor is now in hospital in Sousse with life-changing injuries. My heart goes out to her and her family at this extremely difficult time. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that Mrs Mellor will receive the same level of devoted care and attention in Sousse that she would normally receive from the NHS in Cornwall?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that case, and for the way in which he did it. The assurance I can give him and all those who are wounded and being looked after in Tunisian hospitals is that our medical team is on the ground, and for those who can be repatriated as medical evacuations using a C-17, all the technology and medical brilliance that we brought to bear when bringing casualties back from Afghanistan is available to British citizens in Tunisia. If it is possible to move someone and bring them back to the QE2 in Birmingham, that is exactly what will be done.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. In the past two days, I have spoken to my constituent Holly Graham, whose parents Billy and Lisa Graham are still missing following the attack. There has been public concern about the time it is taking for the authorities to update families in the UK on their relatives in Tunisia, although I fully understand that the UK and Tunisian Governments are working hard to get good quality information to the families here as quickly as possible. Will the Prime Minister use this opportunity to set out the challenges that the authorities in Tunisia and here in the UK are facing when trying to trace UK citizens who have been caught up in these dreadful events?
I thank the hon. Lady for the way she put her question, because I share all the frustration of the families and the communities who want to get this information as fast as possible. Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, was in the Cobra conference by video-link to Scotland and raised some of those issues himself. Just to bring home the importance of not making an announcement before we have the information, I should say that two people who were down as missing and whom we were very concerned about turned up back in Britain today, having come home under means that we did not know about. The reason it is taking some time to identify the victims is twofold: people who were on the beach did not, quite understandably, have on them passports or means of identification; and, tragically, in some cases it is difficult to identify people after the horrific attacks that took place. In addition, the coroner in Tunisia, quite understandably, wants to make sure that no mistakes are made, so there is a full pathway from the moment of recognising the victim and all the coronial action that subsequently has to take place.
Tunisia’s transition to democracy is the one ray of political light coming out of the Arab spring, but it is as fragile as Tunisia’s economy and security. While welcoming measures to support the fledgling democracy’s economic and security aspirations, will my right hon. Friend ensure that its political aspirations also receive support? Does he also recognise that by some accounts more than 20,000 Tunisians have been intercepted trying to join Daesh, some of whom are bound to have reached Libya? Is there any evidence that this attack was co-ordinated from outside Tunisia?
First, I agree with my hon. Friend that helping Tunisia on its political journey is as important as helping Tunisia’s economy and civil society, and we will certainly do that—I met the Tunisian ambassador shortly before coming to the House today to discuss these issues. In terms of the linkages of this attack, I think it is too early to say. I am sure that more work is being done now, and if there is anything else to tell the House I will come back at a subsequent opportunity. Where there is no doubt is on the fact that Libya, with its failed state and lack of a Government, has become a place where Islamist terrorists have got a foothold. There can be no doubt about that and while that is the case, other countries in the region, and indeed in the world, are at greater risk.
One of the victims of this appalling act was my constituent Mrs Lisa Burbidge, a grandmother of four. She lived in the town of Whickham and, sadly, it is only six years since one of our own from the same town, Sapper David Watson, was killed in action in Afghanistan. I hope that today we can mourn both of them, Mr Speaker. I urge that Lisa’s family’s wishes are kept to and they are left to grieve in privacy.
Will the Prime Minister ensure that MPs and their staff are given as much help as is possible and practical, so that we can play our part in helping families get over this? I also urge him to go the extra mile and ensure that all Government agencies act with the utmost compassion, sensitivity and understanding in the coming weeks. I am thinking in particular about the Department for Work and Pensions, education and the health service, where these people might need that little bit extra help which is not always there when dealing with massive bureaucracies. That will help the families to come to terms with this situation as quickly as possible.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for paying tribute to Lisa Burbidge. We will certainly give as much help to Members of Parliament as we can. If people want to know what more information is made public, they can speak to the Foreign Office help desk and team. He is right about showing compassion and sensitivity, and indeed common sense, in how we deal with these things. Sadly, there are lots of difficulties in informing relatives, not least that the next of kin should be first—the person named in the passport—and sometimes family structures and relationships can be quite complicated. That can be another reason for delays sometimes. I know that the staff at the Foreign Office and the family liaison officers are doing everything they can to cut through bureaucracy and to make the right decisions.
I represent a couple of constituents who were on holiday in Tunisia but mercifully escaped unscathed and have now, I believe, returned to King’s Lynn. The Prime Minister mentioned the power to track social media. Does he agree that the time has come for companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to accept and understand that their current privacy policies are completely unsustainable?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are urging social media companies to work with us and help us deal with terrorism. Britain is not a state that is trying to search through everybody’s emails and invade their privacy. We just want to ensure that terrorists do not have a safe space in which to communicate. That is the challenge, and it is a challenge that will come in front of the House. We have always been able, on the authority of the Home Secretary, to sign a warrant and intercept a phone call, a mobile phone call or other media communications, but the question we must ask ourselves is whether, as technology develops, we are content to leave a safe space—a new means of communication—for terrorists to communicate with each other My answer is no, we should not be, which means that we must look at all the new media being produced and ensure that, in every case, we are able, in extremis and on the signature of a warrant, to get to the bottom of what is going on.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I echo the condolences and heartfelt sympathy that have been expressed by others in this debate about the outrage. Given the possible link between the Tunisian terrorists and Salafist ideology, will the Prime Minister commission and publish a report, similar to that on the Muslim Brotherhood, on the role of Salafist teachings in fuelling support for violent actions against non-Muslims and Muslims?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. If we are successfully to defeat this threat that faces us, we must work extremely hard to understand its true nature. That is why I commissioned the report into the Muslim Brotherhood. That organisation has an uncertain relationship—let me put it that way—with movements that condone violence. I think we see the same with some that have Salafist views. Anything that can be done to further our understanding of where the narrative of extremism is coming from is a good thing.
Does not the economic and social damage being done by the tragic conflict between Greek democracy and EU policies demonstrate that Britain is right to seek to bring back powers, so that we have the things that matter to UK prosperity and security under democratic control?
My right hon. Friend always puts his case very powerfully. In many ways, what this shows is that it is possible to have different sorts of membership of the European Union. We are not a member of the euro or of Schengen, but when it comes to co-operation over foreign and security policy, it is often Britain that is in the lead—whether it is arguing for sanctions against Iran, sanctions against Russia or a better co-ordination of counter-terrorism policies within the EU. We should not be frightened of different forms of membership. As I have put it, Europe should have the flexibility of a network rather than the rigidity of a bloc.
May I join others in expressing my shock and sadness at the horrific events in Sousse? Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones. I welcome the steps that the Government are taking to offer support and assistance to the families at this time.
The Prime Minister has been speaking about the challenge of confronting ISIL— Daesh—and its ideology, and I agree that that is the task ahead of us, but how we do it is a matter for debate. The thrust of the Prime Minister’s comments today and last week are that, as part of dealing with symptoms and causes, British Muslims must step up and call out those who are silently condoning extremist ideologies, but does he agree that most ordinary British Muslims, among whom I count myself, have no more knowledge and ability to step up to the plate and call out in that way than any other ordinary British person? Furthermore, does he agree that it will be from an acceptance of our combined lack of understanding of where we need to step up to the plate that we can better work together to find a solution?
I thank the hon. Lady for the thoughtful way in which she put her question. My answer is that British Muslims, Imams, mosques, community centres and Muslims in our communities are stepping up and saying that they condemn utterly what ISIL does and saying that it is not in their name. Indeed #NotInMyName was praised by President Obama in his speech at the UN. My argument is, I am afraid, that we all have to go on doing that—British Muslims included—for as long as this poisonous ideology exists. I say to British Muslims that, the fact is, these people are taking their religion of peace and perverting it. That is the reason for standing up and saying, “You must not do this. This is not what we believe in or what we are about.” The British Government, who include Muslims in their number, will back all Muslims who do that.
My second point is that we would be making a mistake if we said that we need just to confront those who support violence. Some people and some organisations—frankly, we know which organisations—go along with some of the narrative, think that a caliphate might not be such a bad idea, that Christians and Muslims cannot really live together and that democracy is inferior to another sort of system, and do not believe in equality. Those are people that we must call out, too. I want us to appeal to young British Muslims about what this country can be for them. This is a great multiracial democracy and a country of opportunity and we must also raise our game, as it were, and make this a society into which people want to integrate. It is time to speak out on both fronts. There is a need for integration, but also the need to confront a narrative of extremism, even if it stops short of violence.
I join the Prime Minister in expressing strong words in condemnation of the evil slaughter of British citizens and others in Tunisia and in condolence for the bereaved.
At the European Council meeting, today and recently my right hon. Friend rightly reaffirmed the Common Market, British courts for British laws, the sovereignty and accountability of our national Parliament and the fundamental change in our relationship with the EU and the eurozone to which many will say yes, yes, yes. He has been buffeted by criticism from other European leaders, who are clearly not listening and who are demanding more integration rather than less. Hope springs eternal, but given his firm objectives in our vital national interests and the EU leaders’ constant criticism of them, what would it take for my right hon. Friend to recommend a no vote?
I go to these negotiations as an optimist and a believer that we can get a good deal for Britain. I have now had meetings with all 27 Presidents and Prime Ministers in Europe, in what has been dubbed something of an eating tour around the European Union. I am not saying that they instantly all agreed to the points that Britain is raising, but they are open to the sorts of reforms that I believe are necessary.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. The sympathies of my right hon. and hon. Friends and, indeed, of all the people of Northern Ireland, are with those who have suffered so terribly as a result of this atrocity. The Prime Minister rightly talked about peace, tolerance and democracy. What is he doing to ensure that the peoples across the middle east who, like the people of the United Kingdom, want to see those values defended and stood up for are united with the Governments of their nations to ensure that we never, ever surrender to activity such as that we have seen?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are backing those Governments who want to see an active and positive civil society and encouraging democracies such as Tunisia. We are saying to other countries that are not yet democratic that they should be putting in place the building blocks to become democratic countries. As we look at how we best confront terrorism, I am convinced that giving young people in those Arab societies greater hope of participation, democracy and rights is part of defeating the narrative about which I have been speaking.
I know that all other members of the British-Tunisia all-party parliamentary group will wish to endorse the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and by Members on both sides of the House who have lost constituents. It would be of no service to the memory of those who have lost their lives if we were to allow an emerging democracy in Tunisia to fail and the terrorists to succeed. When my right hon. Friend receives requests from the Tunisian Government, as I understand from the ambassador that he will, will he seek to ensure that not only the United Kingdom but the European Union gives every possible support in terms of security and the training of security forces? Will he also seek to ensure that the European Union pays the money that it promised but so far has not delivered?
First of all, we will help, and the offer is there. Also, because today not only the Home Secretary but a German Interior Minister and a French Interior Minister travelled together to Tunisia, I hope we can co-ordinate the assistance that we are offering, because otherwise I fear that the Tunisians will be overwhelmed with offers of help and may struggle to put them into place.
I want to stress this: when we set the risk ratings and the travel advice for countries, we must take into account their capacity to militate against these threats, so the work that we are urging the Tunisians to do with us is very urgent.
Like everybody in our community, I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear that Jim and Ann McQuire, a much loved couple from Abronhill in Cumbernauld had lost their lives during the mindless violence in Tunisia. By all accounts they were an extremely kind and considerate couple and were due to attend the Holyrood Palace garden party this Wednesday in recognition of a lifetime service to the Church of Scotland and Jim’s many years as a local Boys’ Brigade captain. I know that the deepest sympathies of this House and the whole community of Cumbernauld will be with the friends and family of the McQuires. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement. Understandably perhaps, however, given the earlier attack on the Bardo national museum, there will be members of the public who have questions about the reliability of Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice. As the Prime Minister said, there are fine judgments involved, but what further reassurance can he provide that such information is based on the most robust and up-to-date evidence available?
Let me add my condolences concerning the couple from Cumbernauld who have been lost in this terrible attack. The hon. Gentleman asks the absolutely correct question about travel advice. As I have said, there is no perfect way. We base our travel advice on the threat picture and the intelligence that we have at the time. Before the Bardo attack, the travel advice did say that there was a high threat from terrorism in the country, and after the Bardo attack we added a factual update on the Foreign Office website, explaining that further attacks were possible. But the key decision, both post-Bardo and now, is whether to move the advice to a level recommending nothing but essential travel to the country as a whole. Currently we are saying only essential travel to some parts of the country. We are not proposing to change the advice about the coastal region, and I think that is the right decision, based on the evidence we have today.
Were that evidence to change, we could and would change the travel advice and, as I have said, the travel advice also depends on the capacity of the Tunisian system. That is the same for all countries. As I have said, these are difficult decisions. We must not be cowed by the terrorists. They want us to wipe out the Tunisian tourist industry, which accounts for 15% of its economy. The decision we take puts the safety of British people first and foremost. If the evidence and the information changes, we will change our advice.
Understandably, we have centred on one young Tunisian man who carried out this massacre, and possibly some other Tunisians who supported him, but should we not also put it on record that dozens of Tunisians who worked at that hotel risked their lives protecting and helping our tourists? That should be the beacon that supports the Tunisian tourist industry and encourages people to visit Tunisia.
All decent people have in their thoughts or prayers the victims in Tunisia and their families. Everybody should criticise the actions in Tunisia. There can be no justification for what happened in Tunisia, just as there cannot be any justification for what happened in London 10 years ago. The Prime Minister talks about promoting and defending British values. These values are intrinsic to being a British Muslim, and I welcome his comments unequivocally distancing Islam from the perverted ideology. What more will he and his Government do to work with communities to promote and defend these British values?
I am very grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman says. What more we can do is make sure that the new Prevent duty is carried out and that institutions work with us to put that in place to combat radicalisation. There is more we can do to discuss with British Muslims how we confront the poisonous ideology. That means making sure that we are talking to people directly and not always going through some self-appointed leaders, who do not always represent British mainstream Muslim opinion. Sometimes that will mean that we will be criticised for not engaging. I do not accept that criticism. I will engage with anyone who buys into the basic standards of British tolerance and decency, but it is important that we have some ground rules.
There can be no greater agony than that being experienced by the people whose friends and relations have been missing and unaccounted for since Friday, such as my constituents John Welch and Eileen Swannack. Despite what the Prime Minister said about the difficulty of identifying the victims, which I quite understand, is there no more consular activity that could be undertaken to try to finalise the list of those who have tragically been killed so that we can set their families and friends’ minds at rest?
My hon. Friend asks an entirely fair question. I can assure him that at the Cobra meetings that is one of the most important issues we focus on: what more can be done; are more resources needed; are more people needed? My understanding is that we have police officers, victim identification experts and consular officials on the ground, working hand in glove with the Tunisians. We are going as fast as we can to get that vital work done.
A family from Airdrie who were desperate to get home from Sousse were told by their airline, Thomas Cook, that it would cost them £800 per person to get home early as they had booked through Teletext. The chief executive of Thomas Cook confirmed to me last night that they would get home free of charge, and they arrived home this afternoon after much stress. What advice can the Prime Minister offer to those still trying to get home without sufficient access to holiday reps, or indeed to FCO staff, as in this case?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, because I think that it tells a real story, which is that sometimes there is confusion and a lack of clarity to begin with, but then there is a good and clear answer, as with that family who returned home. My advice to anyone in that situation is to talk to their travel company first, but they can also ring the Foreign Office line and get assistance. The Foreign Office immediately looks into any case it sees coming up in the media or on social media to see whether it can help directly, and it will continue to do so.
The Prime Minister will want to extend his condolences to the family of young Carly Lovett, my constituent, a 24-year-old girl who was brutally shot down in front of her fiancé. She travelled from the small, quiet Lincolnshire town of Gainsborough, and she did not deserve this—nobody deserved this. The question is what do we do now. What worries the British people is the fact that the threat is not just there; it is everywhere, and it is here. Will my right hon. Friend resist the principled siren voices trying to prevent him from giving the security services all the powers they need over the internet? Also, if he will allow me to make one further point, many British people view mass illegal migration as a kind of dangerous Trojan horse, so I will support him in his efforts to enforce the Dublin convention so that we return illegal migrants from where they enter the EU and we deal with this problem?
First, may I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Carly Lovett? We have all heard the heartbreaking story about that young woman gunned down in the prime of life. He is right to say that the threat is everywhere. The difference between this type of threat and the al-Qaeda threat that we faced for many years, and which we still face, is that in the latter case we were often dealing with centrally co-ordinated plots, so if we could get on to them we could try to work out how to mitigate them. Here we are dealing with a lot of self-radicalised so-called Jihadis who have been radicalised through the internet, often by people in Syria or Iraq. Hopefully in many cases we will get advance warning and be able to stop them, but in some cases we will not. That can happen in Britain, as it can around the world. That underlines the social responsibility of social media companies, as I said earlier, but also the need for us to have the most modern capabilities to deal with the treat. As for migration, we are signatories to the Dublin convention and we want to ensure that it continues to work.
Two and a half years ago, in his first speech of the UK’s presidency of the G8, the Prime Minister warned about the terrorist threat in the Maghreb because of the disintegration of Libya. I welcome the Home Secretary’s presence in Sousse to reassure not only the British citizens there, but the Tunisian Government and people, but the Prime Minister is having bilateral discussions with Heads of Government. What is the international way, and what platform can we use, to defeat those who wish to act in this horrific way?
The right hon. Gentleman asks a very direct question. There are several platforms that can work. The G7 wants to have a clearing house for assisting countries like Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt to make sure that, when not all the countries are offering the same sort of help and assistance, we have more of a working out of who should be working with which country. I hope that that can be put into place and work soon, because it makes sense for Britain, for instance, to partner a country like Nigeria and possibly Libya. Other countries, with their historical links, may be better placed to partner other countries. That is one network. The other is using the EU’s neighbourhood programme to make sure that we give better assistance and support, and building up the civil societies and economies of the countries in north Africa.
Co-operation, such as it has been, in combating Daesh has focused on the military situation. However, in recognising that we have failed significantly to disrupt its financial flows from Arab-friendly countries and powerful organisations and individuals from within them, failed to disrupt its prominence on social media, and failed to disrupt its business activities, what more can the Prime Minister tell the House about concrete steps that are going to be taken to combat ISIL—or Daesh, I should say—in these other areas?
I would not entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s description of this. Looking at what allied air action has done in Iraq, together with the Kurds, we have shrunk the territory that ISIL holds in that country. There have been some very great successes in taking down ISIL social media sites—taking pages off the web—and in the past few months a number of prominent plots in this country, perhaps as many as four or five, have been prevented. It is very important that we talk up our capabilities, strength and resolve in this way, but he is right to say that more needs to be done. The finance needs to be attacked. We need to bring to bear more pressure against ISIL both in Iraq and in Syria. As I said on the radio this morning, we are going to have to demonstrate some real long-term resolve. If we are not going to invade these countries directly, but we are going to build up their Governments and their militaries, we have to settle in for the long haul knowing that this is the right answer but it will take time.
First, I would like to take this opportunity to agree with the sentiments of this House in condemning the barbaric attacks in Tunisia—sentiments that are shared across the country in all communities. What we need at home are strong communities, not divided communities. To this end, will the Prime Minister agree to engage in solidarity with all communities? Will he recognise that Prevent is failing in its attempt to engage? Will he today commit in this House to a systematic review of the Prevent strategy?
First of all, of course I commit to engage with all communities, and we will continue to do that. I do not agree with what the hon. Lady says about Prevent. We took the advice of an independent review to separate the community engagement work that should be done by the Department for Communities and Local Government from the Prevent work, which obviously has more of a Home Office feel to it, and I think that is the right decision.
I echo the Prime Minister’s tribute to the victims of Sousse, including my constituent, Sue Davey, who, with her partner, Scott Chalkley, lost their lives last week. Will my right hon. Friend provide special and personal commendation to the individual brave Tunisians, from those who tried to warn against the attack on the beach, to the building workers who tried to stop the terrorist, to the doctors and nurses in the hospitals who treated the injured, because, as we know but must always be reminded, it was not done in their name?
I also pay tribute to Sue and Scott, as my hon. Friend has done. He is right to commend the local Tunisians, whether doctors and nurses, people who turned those sun loungers into stretchers, or people who confronted the terrorist. They are a credit to themselves and a credit to their nation.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. This appalling act of terror against defenceless holidaymakers highlights the need for us to fight extremism both at home and abroad. These terrorists seek to drive a wedge between the majority of the world’s Muslims, who have no truck with what they represent, and everyone else. We must all work harder to make sure that they do not succeed. What steps will the Prime Minister take to make sure that any international response includes action to help stabilise and rebuild post-conflict states such as Libya and others to prevent them from continuing to be a breeding ground for, and exporters, of violent extremism? Will he reconsider my call earlier this year for an inquiry?
I very much agree with the hon. Lady, particularly on rebuilding broken states affected by conflict. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations has said, a missile can kill a terrorist, but it is good government and governance that kill terrorism.
Does the Prime Minister agree that no security service in the world, including the Tunisian security services, will be able to identify someone who secretly radicalises himself, trains himself quietly and then operates largely independently?