House of Commons
Monday 6 July 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Violence against Women
1. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the findings by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women relating to the UK; and if she will make a statement. 
16. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the findings by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women relating to the UK; and if she will make a statement. 
The United Kingdom has some of the strongest protections in the world for safeguarding women and girls. The Government are committed to further supporting women to rebuild their lives, breaking cycles of abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice. We will continue to update our violence against women and girls strategy, as we have done every year, and we will consider the special rapporteur’s findings.
During the general election Labour pledged to lower the threshold at which victims of domestic violence gain entitlement to legal aid by expanding the types of evidence deemed admissible. Will the Home Secretary revisit that, as the evidence shows that women are being denied access to justice?
We are absolutely clear that legal aid should be available to victims of domestic violence. The hon. Gentleman asks a question on the details of the legal aid provisions, which of course are a matter for the Ministry of Justice. As it happens, the Policing Minister is also a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, and he will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s representations.
I acknowledge the work that this and the previous Government have done on violence against women and girls, which I have supported. Does the Home Secretary share my concern that the rapporteur’s report identifies that many initiatives to reduce violence against women and girls remain pockets of good practice and that we still do not have a consistent and coherent approach? The other issue identified in the report is the funding crisis. Does she share those concerns, in broad terms? Obviously, I am not asking her to comment on the detail.
I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman, when he was the Director of Public Prosecutions, gave particular focus to this area of the law to ensure that support was available for victims giving evidence, which has given people the confidence to come forward, as we have seen. The Government have made extra funding available: just before Christmas we announced an extra £10 million for domestic violence refuges. Of course, since the 2010 budgetary decisions were taken, we gave four-year funding—later five years—for combating violence against women and girls to ensure that there was some stability. We talk regularly to all those providing support to victims of domestic violence to ensure that we share best practice.
Thousands of British women continue to be victims of female genital mutilation. What further work is being done to ensure that people are prosecuted for that heinous offence?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Of course, we have already seen the first case brought forward for female genital mutilation. There is a widespread view across the House that we must do everything we can to deal with this appalling act. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), for the considerable work she has done to highlight the issue and ensure that the Government continue to focus on it. We want to see more prosecutions so that we can eradicate this terrible crime.
Since my Female Genital Mutilation Bill became an Act 11 years ago there have been no successful prosecutions in this country for female genital mutilation. The rapporteur is severely critical of the fact that 11,000 young girls under the age of eight are deemed to be at risk. What is the Home Secretary doing about that?
The right hon. Lady talks about the time when her Bill became an Act, but it was not until after 2010 that cases were put before the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration. She is absolutely right that it has so far proved difficult to get a prosecution, but I can assure her that all parts of the criminal justice system are clear that we want to see people prosecuted for this crime, which is why we are all working together to ensure that we can bring those prosecutions forward and ensure that they are successful.
UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo was prevented from accessing Yarl’s Wood during her visit last year, amid concerns about violence against women detained in that facility. In that light, we welcome last Thursday’s suspension of the detained fast track policy. Why has it taken the Government so long to realise the error of their ways?
On the contrary, I continue to believe that there is a place in our asylum system for a detained fast track system. I have always felt that one of the important things about any asylum system is its ability to give people decisions as quickly as possible and as merited from the details of their particular case. We are pausing the detained fast track system while we have a review of certain aspects of it, but I continue to believe that it is an important part of the asylum system.
In 2013, 4,286 asylum seekers were locked up under the scheme in Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere—a 73% increase on the 2012 figure. Given the concerns about violence against women highlighted by the UN special rapporteur, will the Government, instead of rushing to put in place a replacement for this scheme, work with outside agencies and experts to ensure that procedures are in place that safeguard vulnerable asylum seekers and make detention an absolute last resort?
As I said to the hon. and learned Lady, we are reviewing the detained fast track scheme. She makes a wider point about detention, particularly about vulnerable people in detention. Because I felt it was appropriate that we looked at that issue, I asked Stephen Shaw to conduct his review of welfare in detention, as he has been doing for some months. He has visited the various detention centres and spoken to a number of people who have an interest in this issue, and he will be bringing his review forward.
The UN special rapporteur did indeed conclude that there was a lack of consistency in the Government’s approach to violence against women and girls. In addition, recent data show that 16 to 19-year-olds are more likely to be victims of intimate violence than any other age group. When does the Home Secretary plan to respond to the report’s conclusions and, in addition, the need for compulsory relationship and sex education in schools?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not feel able to welcome the fact that in 2014-15 police referrals, charged defendants, prosecutions and convictions for all crimes of violence against women and girls reached the highest volume ever. The criminal justice system is dealing with these issues. Of course, there is always more that can be done. We want people who commit these crimes of violence against women and girls to be brought to justice, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Crime Levels (England and Wales)
2. What assessment she has made of trends in the level of crime in England and Wales. 
Police reform is working. Crime is down by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. It is at the lowest level since that survey started in 1981.
Devon and Cornwall is a region where the population increases significantly during the holiday season. Does the level of crime increase in line with these seasonal increases in the population?
I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency and saw the excellent work that the police are doing in her part of the world. Over many years, they have become very well adapted to dealing with crime relating to regional population changes. The figures are not broken down in that way, but we know that since 2010 crime is down in her constituency, as it is across England and Wales.
Over the past five years the Welsh police force has seen swingeing cuts, with an average of over 10% being cut from front-line staff across the force. What plans does the right hon. Gentleman have to ensure that Wales continues to have a functioning police force?
I think it is a disgrace that anybody should run down the excellent work that the police force does in their constituency. Police forces in Wales are doing a simply fantastic job. Crime is down, and we can prove that because the figures are there for us to see. The hon. Gentleman should stop running down the police and support them.
24. Crime in my constituency is down, but the sale of so-called legal highs remains a cause of great concern to my constituents. Will the Minister assure them that sufficient powers will be given to the police and other authorities to clamp down on these substances? 
So-called legal highs or psychoactive substances are a menace to our society. I am really pleased that Her Majesty’s Opposition, along with the other parties in the other House, are supporting the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which is coming to this House for its Report stage on 15 July. It will be here soon and we can get this menace off our streets.
A growing area of crime is online abuse. The police suspect at least 20,000 people in the United Kingdom of accessing online abuse, but, as of March 2015, only 264 have been charged. It is unclear how many of the rest are living or working with children. When does the Minister expect the police to be able to follow up and carry out safeguarding assessments of all those suspected of viewing online child abuse?
The National Crime Agency has ongoing reviews, and investigations are taking place. We want more of these people to be prosecuted. [Interruption.] Labour Front Benchers shout, but this is something new: it has happened only in the past five years. The NCA is working on it and we will make sure that we get as many of these people behind bars, if prosecutions are possible.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has expressed concern that knife crime in the capital has gone up since the scaling back of stop and search. Will the Minister guarantee that he will leave it to officers to make judgments as to who are the right people to stop and search, and not allow crime to rise on the altar of political correctness?
I met the commissioner only a couple of days ago and we talked about the issues my hon. Friend has raised, including when we would enact the provisions promoted by our friend Nick de Bois. I signed the commencement orders on Friday, the police will have those powers within two weeks, and we hope that prosecutions will take place within three to four months. It will be for the police to decide, but they now have the powers.
Surely the Minister is aware—those of us on the anti-stalking commission suddenly came to realise this—of how much stalking is done on the internet. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) was not running down his police force; he was asking for it to be given more resources so that it could do its job better. So many of our police forces do not have the techniques, technology or back-up to tackle cybercrime seriously.
The NCA has a cyber-unit whose work is done nationally and regionally through the regional organised crime units. We have introduced two new pieces of legislation, but more needs to be done. I was the Minister for online child protection, so I know all too well what needs to be done. What I told the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) was that the police force is doing a fantastic job with fewer resources and we should be proud of what it is doing.
3. What assessment she has made of the level of regional variation in real-terms funding changes for police forces. 
The way the funding formula works means that there is no change based on the region someone is in.
The Government have made vague references to a review of the grossly unfair police funding formula, but there is no confirmation as yet of when it will conclude. Cleveland, which has one of the highest numbers of crimes per head of population, has experienced a reduction of 18% in overall funding since 2010, whereas Surrey, which has one of the lowest numbers, has experienced a reduction of 12%. That shows how Cleveland has been disadvantaged by cuts being made with no account taken of local need and circumstances. What assistance will the Minister give to forces that are struggling to keep officers on the front line, pending the review?
The funding formula for 2015-16 has been announced. Crime in Cleveland has dropped by 12%, which is what I think the hon. Gentleman was alluding to. We will consult this summer on the new funding formula for 2016-17 so we have a fairer formula than that which we inherited from the Labour party.
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterparts in France to avoid a repeat of the disruption last week in Calais, which placed such an onerous burden on the Kent police and the people of Kent?
My ministerial colleagues and the Secretary of State have many conversations with their French counterparts at all levels, particularly in Calais.
19. The Lancashire police federation is clear that further cuts to police budgets will soon result in policing becoming reactive, with only the capacity to deal with 999 calls. Given that 83% of Lancashire police’s work does not generate a crime number, who is going to pick up the work that the police cannot do because of the cuts? 
What we have proven since 2010 is that police forces can do better with less and they are being much more efficient around the country, including Lancashire where crime is down by 10%. The funding formula for 2015-16 is out, so forces know exactly what they can spend, and the 2016-17 consultation will start soon. You never know: Cleveland may do better. There will be winners and losers, but I hope it will be fairer.
Crime levels overall in Northamptonshire have fallen substantially in the past five years, despite a very difficult funding background. However, violent crime remains stubbornly high. Might the funding available for our police forces reflect levels of violent crime?
One of the things we definitely want is for hon. Members, the police and crime commissioners and local communities to be part of the consultation, and my hon. Friend’s comments could well be part of that commentary.
Recorded crime has risen in the west midlands and Northumbria and fallen in Surrey, yet West Midlands police and Northumbria police have been hit by Government cuts twice as hard as Surrey police. The Prime Minister now talks of fairness in one nation, but how can it be fair that the areas of highest need are the hardest hit by his Government?
The funding reductions were the same across the country. We are making sure—I hope Her Majesty’s Opposition take part in this—that we look very carefully at the changes we are proposing to funding and the funding formula. I look forward to sitting with the hon. Gentleman, which he has not taken the time to do in all the time I have been the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, and talking about the funding formula that he goes on and on about.
4. What further steps her Department plans to take to eliminate modern slavery. 
The Government are committed to stamping out the abhorrent crime of modern slavery. We are implementing the Modern Slavery Act 2015, providing the necessary tools to ensure that there are severe penalties for those who commit these heinous crimes, and enhancing the support and protection for victims. We are trialling advocates for trafficked children and have established Border Force safeguarding and trafficking teams at major UK ports of entry, who will work in partnership with local agencies and feed intelligence to the National Crime Agency.
I appreciate what is being done at ports of entry, but a major challenge is to identify victims once they are in households. How will the Secretary of State ensure that victims are identified in my Twickenham constituency and constituencies across the country?
My hon. Friend makes an important point because, obviously, modern slavery is often a hidden crime. The Government have been raising awareness of it so that anybody who identifies behaviour or anything else that they feel is suspect knows that they need to take it to the police. Individuals can then be referred to the national referral mechanism and we can ensure that the proper support is available to victims. The Government fund that support and it is currently provided through the Salvation Army. I pay tribute to the Salvation Army, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and has done good work in society across all those 150 years.
The legal judgment last week about the detained fast track process followed the finding of the Helen Bamber Foundation earlier this year that in two thirds of the 300 cases that had been referred to it, there were signs of torture or trafficking. It is clear that the detained fast track is being abused by the Home Secretary’s officials. I am glad that it has been suspended, but will she promise the House that the suspension will continue until it has had an opportunity to consider Stephen Shaw’s report?
As I have indicated, we are reviewing the detained fast track. The Minister for Immigration announced to the House that we had suspended it. We are checking how we deal with these people to ensure that we mitigate the risk that those who have been subjected to torture could, inadvertently, be taken into the detained fast track. I say to the right hon. Lady that there will be many opportunities in the coming months to raise this subject in the House.
The Home Secretary is right that the Salvation Army does an excellent job with adult victims of human trafficking, but that does not apply to child victims of human trafficking, who are given to local authorities to be looked after as missing children. Those children are often re-trafficked. Will she consider extending the Salvation Army programme to child victims?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because one concern for us is that victims of trafficking who are taken in by local authorities might be removed from those authorities, and in effect re-trafficked, as he says. We are trialling child advocates in a number of local authority areas to see what system works best for children who are the victims of human trafficking.
Considering the thousands of victims of trafficking who have gone through the NRM, will the Home Secretary tell the House how many human trafficking-related convictions there were in the last 12 months? How does that figure fit with the Prime Minister’s assertion that we are tackling those who commit these crimes?
The very reason why the last Government, in which I was Home Secretary, brought forward the Modern Slavery Act was to heighten the ability of our police and prosecutors to bring people to justice. There has been concern for many years, since before 2010, about the lack of prosecutions for modern slavery. The Act gives the police extra powers and has increased the sentences for people who commit this heinous crime. It will improve the ability of the law enforcement agencies to bring people to justice. That is why I look forward, under the Act, to seeing more of the perpetrators of these crimes brought to justice.
Gangmasters Licensing Authority
5. What plans she has for future resourcing of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority; and if she will make a statement. 
Future levels of Government funding for all public bodies will be considered as part of the next spending review. We are committed to resourcing the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to ensure it can deliver on its purpose of protecting vulnerable and exploited workers.
The Minister will recognise that the GLA is massively important in combating people trafficking and illegal working. Can she guarantee that its workforce will not be reduced?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in the GLA, which I agree does excellent work. He will know that we committed in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to a review of it, and that is now taking place as part of the wider cross-Government review of a single labour market enforcement agency.
Lincolnshire Police (Funding)
6. Whether she plans to increase funding for Lincolnshire police. 
As I said earlier, the Government are committed to a fundamental review of the police expenditure funding formula for 2016-17, and we look forward to consulting all partners.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work with Lincolnshire police to ensure that we get a fairer funding formula. We need to ensure equitable funding for all police forces. When is the review likely to report, and when will we know the effects for Lincolnshire police and every other force in the country?
We will work to a tight timescale for consulting and getting the funding formula in place. I hope that we can announce the consultation process in the next few weeks.
I take this opportunity to praise front-line police and the chief constable in Lincolnshire—something that the shadow police Minister always forgets to do. They do a fantastic job, and we should praise them every day.
Lincolnshire police are in crisis for want of a mere £3 million to £4 million. In my area of 600 square miles, there is barely one police car on duty through the night. This is a crisis: £3 million would be a drop in the ocean compared with what we spend on international development, so will my right hon. Friend persuade the Chancellor to transfer just a little money to us? Charity begins at home.
As my hon. Friend knows, I arranged for a Home Office team to do a deep dive in Lincolnshire to see exactly how the funding formula was working. Lincolnshire police have done a fantastic job—crime has dropped by 24% since 2010—and we will continue to support them.
We are focused on Lincolnshire rather than Hampshire or Northamptonshire on this occasion, but we will hear from the hon. Members ere long in a different context, I feel sure.
Asylum Seekers (Syria)
7. How many people from Syria have been (a) granted and (b) declined asylum in the last four years. 
Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, the UK has received more than 6,800 Syrian asylum claims and granted asylum or other forms of leave to more than 4,200 Syrians.
Given that Lebanon is currently accommodating a Syrian refugee population of somewhere near a quarter of its entire population, does the Minister agree that the international community, including the UK, needs to provide far more places for resettlement, and other opportunities such as flexible family reunion places, to relieve Syria’s neighbours of some of the responsibility they are struggling to cope with?
Given the numbers and the scale of the challenge, the focus should be on regional aid in the areas affected. That is why the International Development Secretary has committed another £100 million to assist in tackling the Syrian crisis, with the total reaching £900 million. We are focused on the most vulnerable individuals, which is why we have been operating the vulnerable persons relocation scheme.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the problem of people coming from Syria is reflected in the people leaving here to go to Syria? Will he have discussions with his fellow Ministers to ensure that the extremism Bill deals with youngsters and other vulnerable people being taken away from this country to Syria, so that they can be protected before that happens?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point about the way in which people can be radicalised, and about how they can be vulnerable and exploited in that way. The new Prevent duty has been introduced precisely to ensure that all governmental agencies are focused on those issues to prevent such travel.
The Minister was determined to prove that the width of the question could be met by the width of the answer.
To make an application in the United Kingdom many Syrian refugees face death by crossing the Mediterranean or, as I witnessed at the weekend, by running into the channel tunnel or jumping on speeding lorries in Calais. This is an EU problem. What is to be done about processing some of those applications on the north African shelf so that people are able to make their applications without risking death?
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his reappointment as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I look forward to appearing before the Committee, no doubt before too long.
There we are!
The right hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about the flow of people across the Mediterranean, which is why we have been clear about breaking that link of people thinking that they can get on to vessels and make that perilous journey northwards to the EU. I know that he has made interesting and important comments on this issue, but we must be clear not to establish new legal routes into the EU as that may make matters more difficult. I look forward to appearing before his Committee and giving further evidence.
8. What steps her Department is taking to tackle extremism. 
11. What steps her Department is taking to tackle extremism. 
14. What steps her Department is taking to tackle extremism. 
The terrible events in Tunisia show the importance of our work to defeat terrorism and extremism at home and overseas. We have already increased counter-terrorism funding, and last week a new duty came into effect on public servants to tackle radicalisation. We are determined to go further, and our counter-extremism strategy will set out a wide-ranging response, part of which will be implemented by the forthcoming counter-extremism Bill. Together, we must defeat these pernicious and poisonous ideologies.
What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that Islamic extremism does not filter into other existing criminal groups such as street gangs, particularly in prisons?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. The counter-extremism strategy will introduce comprehensive measures to stop extremism spreading. Extremism disruption orders were announced in the Queen’s Speech, and we will also tackle extremist ideology head on in a number of ways, promoting opportunities that life offers to people living in our pluralistic society in Britain, and confronting the extremists’ twisted narrative. We will work with others across the Government, including my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor in the Ministry of Justice, to consider what actions can be taken in prisons to tackle extremism.
Notwithstanding the dreadful events of the past two weeks, does my right hon. Friend agree that we must tackle extremism across the board, and not focus only on Islamist extremism?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue, and she is absolutely right. Our counter-extremism strategy will tackle extremism in all its forms, not just Islamist extremism but, for example, neo-Nazi extremism. I am sure we are all of one view that the anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred that neo-Nazis perpetrate is evil and wicked, and that we must do something about it.
Preachers of hate want to foster a victim mentality in our community that they can then exploit. What is the Secretary of State doing to remove their platform?
There is not a simple answer to that issue, which is why the counter-extremism strategy will be comprehensive and will work across various aspects of Government. This is not just about government; we want to work with communities and society to ensure that we develop more support for, and understanding of, the values that we share. We need to promote those values and ensure that those who seek to divide us are not able to do so.
22. The Home Secretary will be aware that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the horrific genocide in Srebrenica in Bosnia, when more than 8,000 mainly Muslim men and boys were brutally murdered. Will she join me in welcoming the work of the Remembering Srebrenica organisation that promotes faith and tolerance between people in this country, and more widely? That is exactly the sort of message that we should learn from such a terrible tragedy and when fighting extremism here at home. 
The hon. Gentleman does well to remind us of the appalling events in Srebrenica, and I remember the shock we all felt when we saw what had happened. I applaud all organisations that aim to work among faiths to encourage tolerance and understanding, so that we all respect each other’s faiths while being able to continue to worship as each individual wishes.
We have all been appalled by the terrible attack in Tunisia and our thoughts are with the families and friends of the 30 British nationals who have lost their lives. We know that tomorrow will also be a painful day for the families of the 52 people who died and the hundreds who were injured in the terrorist attacks in London 10 years ago. It is a day that none of us can forget, and tomorrow we will remember those who lost their lives. It is testament too to the hard work of our intelligence services and police that so many plots and attacks have been prevented since 7/7.
We all agree that action must be taken to prevent both violent and non-violent extremism here in Britain and that public sector organisations need to do more. I raised with the Home Secretary several times in the last Parliament my concern that the Government are still not doing enough to support community-led prevention programmes on extremism. May I urge her to look again at that and to make sure that it is a central part of her next strategy on extremism?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and I intend to refer later to the 10th anniversary of 7/7. As she says, no one will ever forget that terrible day, and our thoughts are with all of those who suffered as a result of those terrible attacks.
We have delivered a significant number of community-based projects through the Prevent agenda. It is right that we want to work with communities, and that will be part of our counter-extremism strategy, especially looking at those communities that are perhaps more isolated than others and working with them, as I was saying earlier, to help to ensure that we see across our society a valuing and a sharing of the values that we all hold, so that we do not allow those people who wish to radicalise youngsters and others to divide us.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments because I have seen some very good community-led projects, in Cardiff, Bradford and online, which so far have lived hand to mouth and have not had Government support or backing from the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Home Office. If she is able to offer that support in future, it would be hugely welcome.
May I also ask the Home Secretary about support for policing? She has rightly worked hard to prevent the counter-terror budget from being reduced and to ensure that it was supported, but she will know the concern from various senior police officers involved in counter-terrorism that neighbourhood police should also play a central role, working with communities in the prevention of extremism. Can she assure us that in the next spending round and in her Home Office budget decisions she will also ensure that neighbourhood policing and the wider policing work are properly protected so that they can play an important part in protecting the national security of our nation?
I can assure the right hon. Lady that in looking at the policing budget I will consider all aspects of policing, and I recognise the role that neighbourhood officers play. We do have Prevent officers working in local communities and doing an excellent job identifying issues there. They are working with local authorities, community groups, schools and others to ensure that we provide support and do what we all want to do—as she suggests—which is to eradicate extremism and the poisonous ideology that leads people to seek to do us harm.
21. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is imperative that the Government give the security agencies and law enforcement the powers they need to root out extremism and keep our country safe? 
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I am sure he will recognise the excellent work that is done by GCHQ in his constituency. We will publish a draft investigatory powers Bill in the autumn, which will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by both Houses, and we will bring forward the Bill in the new year. It will do exactly what he suggests is necessary—ensure that our law enforcement and security agencies have the powers they need to tackle this issue.
What steps are the Secretary of State’s Department taking to join up the work done here in the UK with international work in this area? Does the Home Secretary agree that we need a consistent and joined-up approach if we are to tackle this issue effectively at home and abroad?
I can assure the hon. Lady that we do a great deal of work with colleagues across the international environment on this issue. Indeed, the UK has been at the forefront of two particular issues in Europe: encouraging the development, by Europol, of an internet referral unit similar to the counter-terrorism internet referral unit run here in the United Kingdom; and supporting the SSCAT project, the Syria strategic communication advisory team, a group funded by the European Union and based in Belgium that provides support for a number of countries around the EU to ensure that a counter-narrative message is given across Europe to defeat extremism.
Domestic Abuse Victims
9. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the potential effect on victims of domestic abuse of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. 
15. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the potential effect on victims of domestic abuse of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. 
The new British Bill of Rights will continue to protect fundamental human rights, including those for victims of domestic abuse. The Government are committed to strengthening victims’ rights further with a new victims law, which will enshrine key rights for all victims.
The Ministers knows that the UN rapporteur, Rashida Manjoo, is worried about violence against women in the UK and the impact of the Government’s austerity programme on relevant services. She has appealed for safeguards and guarantees that local authorities will continue to operate within the human rights framework in compliance the UK’s international obligations. Does the Minister agree that repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 would further undermine efforts to tackle violence against women and girls in the UK?
I am tempted to give the very short answer of no, I do not agree. Human rights did not come into existence in 1998 with the Human Rights Act. The Government are absolutely committed to maintaining Britain’s high standards of human rights, which we have had for at least 800 years.
Prior to the Human Rights Act 1998 and its incorporation of the European convention on human rights into UK law, victims would have had to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to enforce their rights. What the incorporation of the convention into domestic law did was to allow them to enforce their rights here in the UK. Will the Minister acknowledge the benefits, to victims, of the Human Rights Act 1998?
I suspect victims would like to be able to go to the Supreme Court here in Britain to have their rights upheld. That is what the Government are looking at.
10. What recent guidelines her Department has issued on requirements in crime reporting. 
The Home Office issues strict guidelines on how police should record crimes reported to them. They must comply with those guidelines. In April, the rules were amended to ensure that all crimes are now recorded within 24 hours of being reported to them, especially if those crimes are reported by carers, professionals and social workers, as well as by the victims.
There is concern that local police are having to report minor fights between siblings as crimes—a waste of police time when some sort of caution or discretion would be much more helpful. Will my right hon. Friend review the guidelines to make sure we are not wasting police time?
The most important thing is that people have the confidence to come forward and report crimes such as domestic violence, which was dramatically under-reported over the years. If that has an effect on crime statistics, so be it. The police already have the discretion to give cautions. It is up to them what they do. We want people to come forward and report these crimes.
Both reporting and fighting crime have become much harder in Merseyside now there are 600 fewer police officers since the Minister’s Government came to power. Is not the real guilty party when it comes to running down the police the Minister and his colleagues, who have run down police numbers and taken away their ability to fight crime?
I do not know if the hon. Gentleman has noticed, but since 2010 crime in his constituency has fallen. That is because the police are doing fantastic work and a great job with less assets and less money.
Immigration Policies (International Students)
12. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the potential effect of the Government’s immigration policies on the number of international students enrolling in UK universities. 
The Home Secretary regularly meets her Cabinet counterparts to discuss a range of issues, including how we can continue to attract the brightest and the best to study at our world-class institutions, while also bearing down on abuse. The UK remains the second most popular destination for university students.
I am grateful for that answer. In the 2013-14 academic year, 1,685 non-EU students studied at Stirling University, but the UK Government’s decision in 2012 to abolish the post-study work visa means that at the end of their studies they cannot remain and contribute to the local economy or the national economy of Scotland. Given that reconsideration of these visas has been recommended under Smith commission proposals, will the Minister undertake to reintroduce them or at least devolve the powers to do so?
It is important to understand that the numbers coming to our universities from outside the EU continue to grow. In the year ending September 2014, there was a 3% increase in the number of university-sponsored study visa applications for higher education institutions in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman raises the issues relating to the Smith commission and, certainly at official level, discussions have continued. However, I would highlight the risk: post-study work was abused—there is a route already in existence to allow that at the appropriate salary level—but obviously we will continue to discuss the issue.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are no limits on the number of foreign students who can come here, provided they meet requirements for speaking the English language and educational achievement, and as long as they can support themselves while they are in our country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are no limits on the number of students whom we welcome to this country and who enrich our universities, but our focus is on ensuring that they leave at the end of their studies. It should not be about work; it should be about study.
23. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson), does the Minister agree that there is an economic case to be made for greatly expanding the number of international students at university on these islands, that the income derived from them helps universities to maintain their standards, and that allowing young graduates to remain after their studies and make a contribution to the economy, paying taxes, growing businesses and so on, is an economic benefit that we would be foolish to shun? 
As I have already indicated, there is no cap on the number of students coming to study at our world-leading universities, but the National Audit Office reported back in 2009-10, under the arrangements that existed under the last Labour Government, that 50,000 students may have come here to work and not to study. That is the abuse we have seen when we take our eye off the ball, and that is why we have made those reforms and why we need to continue to focus on the overall student situation.
Antisocial Behaviour (Cities)
13. What steps the Government are taking to address antisocial behaviour in cities. 
New and more effective antisocial behaviour powers were introduced in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to protect the public and to stop such behaviour before it can escalate.
With the Saturday night and, now, daytime alcohol-related antisocial behaviour culture at a serious level in York, resulting in families not going into the city and businesses suffering, will the Minister confirm that there will be no further reductions to policing in York and that adequate policing will be put in place at weekends to ensure we get these problems under control?
I know this is not the first time the hon. Lady has raised this matter; she raised it in business questions, I seem to recall. She has indeed championed the interests of York in this regard, but I simply say this. We have introduced the new powers precisely because we understand the relationship between alcohol consumption and crime. The new powers simplify what was there already, making it more effective. I hope that, as a new Member of this House, she will welcome those changes.
Order. I was going to give the hon. Lady an opportunity on this question if she wants, because child abuse images online are an extremely antisocial form of behaviour.
17. They are extremely antisocial, Mr Speaker; in fact, I can think of few more antisocial kinds of behaviour than videoing children and posting their images online. Does my right hon. Friend agree that social media and other communications companies have a responsibility to work with Government and the police to reduce access to indecent images such as these? 
I do agree with that. Everyone has a role to play in combating this problem, and I welcome the groundbreaking pledges by 20 leading companies at the #WeProtect summit on global action to remove child sexual abuse images from the internet and develop new tools and techniques to tackle this crime. The Government will continue to work with companies, organisations and civil society to make it much more difficult for perpetrators of this heinous, hideous crime.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. 
As was indicated earlier, tomorrow we will mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 7 July 2005. It was indeed a dark day in this country’s history, when ordinary people just going about their daily lives, many of them on their way to work, were cruelly and despicably attacked. Fifty-two people were killed and many hundreds more were injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who died and those who still live with the consequences of that terrible day.
Since 7/7, the terrorist threat has continued to evolve, and it is serious. Last year the joint terrorism analysis centre raised the threat to the UK to severe, meaning that an attack on the United Kingdom is highly likely. Recently we of course saw another despicable attack, in Tunisia, where 38 people, including 30 British nationals, lost their lives—the largest loss of British lives to terrorism since 7/7.
The Government are clear: we must fight the threat we face on every front with everything we have. We are working to counter the wider extremism, which may not be violent in its nature, but which we believe can play a part in feeding and sanctioning narratives that inspire acts of terrorism. We must form a partnership with communities and organisations to promote the fundamental values that unite us and confront the pernicious ideology that seeks to divide us. That is why, as I indicated earlier, we will introduce a new counter-extremism strategy to protect people and communities, and ensure that we work to defeat extremism in all its forms.
Last year, the number of illegal migrants intercepted by the Port of Dover police increased from 148 to 563. What extra steps are the Government taking to prevent illegal migration?
In relation to those who try to come across to the United Kingdom clandestinely, we have been improving the security of ports where they have juxtaposed controls such as Calais and, of course, Coquelles. We are also looking at questions of security around our ports here in the UK. I would like to pay tribute to the work of Border Force officers and the police in ensuring that the number of clandestines is and has been identified.
T2. Can the Security Minister reassure me that the police and the intelligence services will have new powers to stay ahead of extremist groups and individuals, not least in terms of technology? 
Yes, I can. The principles and practices of our enemies may often be barbarically archaic, but the methodology they use is up to the minute. It is vital that we match that with the resources, the techniques and the skills for our security services to counter those threats.
I join the Home Secretary in remembering the victims of the attack 10 years ago. It was a heinous crime, which will live with people right up to today and beyond.
It is now over nine months since the migrant crisis started at Calais, and things are not getting any better for travellers, hauliers, the people of Calais or, indeed, for those individuals who have been trafficked there. Given the situation and recent concerns in the town of Calais, will the Home Secretary or her Minister confirm now what steps she has taken with the French Government to assess, identify and agree with the French authorities either asylum refugee claims or removal at the border? What steps is she taking to ensure that we improve security in France for UK citizens travelling through the Pas-de-Calais to the port?
The Government have taken a number of measures to enhance security. The Home Secretary had discussions with her opposite number, Bernard Cazeneuve, last week on this specific element. We have invested £12 million into Calais and are looking at providing enhanced fencing at Coquelles in order to see the speeding up of freight and other traffic through both those points. We saw the appalling situation last week of industrial action being taken in France, which compounded the issues, which is why we are working continuously with our French counterparts. They are deploying more police resourcing and Border Force has deployed to Calais and Coquelles as well to enhance screening and assure our security.
T3. Can the Home Secretary give reassurances that in respect of our plans to increase online surveillance powers for the police and security services, the public will not, as many fear, lose their right to their own privacy? 
I can reassure my hon. Friend that, as I indicated in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), we will introduce a draft investigatory powers Bill later this year which will ensure that law enforcement and security agencies have up-to-date powers available to them within the right legal framework, which will respect the need both to provide security and for privacy. I do not see privacy and security as a zero-sum game, as we can enjoy our privacy only if we have our security.
T9. I have written to the Home Secretary about the risk of fraudulent use of internet wills. I have encountered one such case in my constituency. Fraud is a criminal matter, not a civil matter, but the police seem to be turning their back on that case. Will the Home Secretary look into the issue of internet wills and their use? 
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. We are already looking into it. The practice is taking place across the country, and we do not know the exact extent of it, but we will, I hope, work together to eliminate this horrible crime.
T4. As we heard earlier, the new Prevent duties were introduced last week. Will the Security Minister update the House on how the legislation will be used to identify and eliminate extremism? 
Governments have their part to play in delivering the national interest and the common good, but don’t we all? It is vital for communities themselves to play a part, and public services too. The organisations that we have asked to do their bit in respect of their new duties—including prisons, schools, colleges, health authorities and local authorities—already have a duty of care, including pastoral care. They are very well placed to identify radicalism, protect vulnerable people, and secure our national wellbeing and national interest.
Earlier, Ministers were selective about positive crime statistics. What has the Home Secretary got to say about the 32% increase in sexual exploitation and sexual offences, which is a really serious matter? Will she tell us what plans she has to involve the perpetrators in the criminal justice system?
We can only bring these abhorrent people to justice if their crimes are reported. There is clearly more confidence now than ever before about coming forward to report both historic crimes and crimes that are taking place today. As I said earlier, that will affect the figures, but I think it is a positive development, and I think we should be very pleased that people have that confidence.
T5. Many UK haulage firms are being caught up in the terrible events in Calais, including Kersey Freight, which is based in Hadleigh, in my constituency. Drivers have been intimidated, and they are now starting to suffer financially as a result of the crisis. May I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to do all that she can to support our haulage companies in these challenging times? 
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the pressures on hauliers who are seeking to facilitate trade between the United Kingdom and Europe, and the challenges that they have been facing. We have been working closely with the haulage industry, and last week I had three separate meetings with representatives of different parts of it. We are making sure that hauliers are being given the best information, and we are also working with the French authorities to ensure that the area is policed and the security that our hauliers expect is being delivered.
In June 2012, the United Kingdom Government signed up to the Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Will the Minister tell us why, three years later, organisations such as Women’s Aid are criticising the Government for not taking further action?
The hon. Lady will know that primary legislation is necessary if we are to comply with all the articles in the Istanbul convention, including article 44, which concerns extra-territoriality. We are negotiating with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we can introduce such legislation. I should add that the Government comply with everything else in the convention. We have criminalised forced marriage, for example, and we have taken steps to deal with female genital mutilation. We have done more than any previous Government, but we do not ratify conventions until we are absolutely certain that we comply fully with them.
T6. The policy of European Governments on migrants is weak, and because it is weak, it is cruel, encouraging traffickers to bring more and more of them in. What action is the Home Secretary taking to enforce the Dublin convention, whereby migrants are returned to the place where they first entered the European Union? That is happening in only 3% of cases. What is she doing to enforce the traditional law of the sea whereby people are picked up in a humane way, looked after, and returned to where they came from? 
My hon. Friend has made an important point about the established principle enshrined in the Dublin regulation that those in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country that they enter. Since 2003, when the regulation came into force, it has allowed us to transfer more than 12,000 asylum seekers from the UK to other European states. As for the point that he rightly made about organised criminality, we have established a new taskforce to ensure that we have the best intelligence so that we can pursue traffickers, who seem to see people as some sort of commodity that they can trade, with all the risks and loss of life that that can bring.
Does the Home Secretary share my concern about the wellbeing of women survivors of domestic violence, many of whom have been denied legal aid and are then repeatedly brought back to court by their former partners because they are not represented by skilled advocates?
I take the treatment of victims and survivors incredibly seriously, as do my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. We are determined that victims will have their voice heard, that they will be listened to, and that they will be treated with dignity. That is why we have introduced 144 independent domestic violence advocates, stationed at police stations and custody cells to make sure that victims get the respect and dignity they deserve.
T7. On the occasion of her visit to the Eastbourne and Willingdon constituency, I was very pleased to show the Home Secretary the new partnership-working between local officers at the borough council and local police officers; that is shared space, partnership-working which is really delivering for local people because of the ease with which communications can be shared. I am very pleased to say that that also extends to elected Members, having just received a call from the district commander about this. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such partnership-working, neighbourhood policing rooted in the community and working with agencies is a successful model? 
Eastbourne is setting the right trend around the country, and I know the Home Secretary was very impressed when she visited the local authority. That is exactly the sort of way in which we can save money by cutting backroom costs, while also working better together than apart.
Northern Ireland relies a great deal on nurses from throughout the world to be able to have an efficient health service. The rule that an individual must earn £35,000 before they can stay will damage our health service. Will the Minister allow flexibility or change the immigration ruling for Northern Ireland?
I am happy to look into those specific points and write to the hon. Gentleman, but we take advice on this from the Migration Advisory Committee which looks at this independently, setting the figures and assessing the information, so as to inform us in making our determinations.
T8. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the rising number of complaints about excessive waits in the EU entry channels at Stansted, causing the airport to slip to the bottom of the airport service quality scores in the last 12 months? Can he tell me what steps he might take to help the airport operator overcome this problem? 
I highlight to my right hon. Friend that the vast majority of legitimate passengers pass through the border control at Stansted quickly, and Border Force is increasing staff numbers at Stansted, maximising the use of e-passport gates and improving its approach to staff rostering. I can also say to him that I will be meeting Manchester Airports Group, the operators of Stansted, next week, when no doubt we will be able to go into this in more detail.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. Given that many commercial drivers coming in through Calais are now not checking the loads as they come through because they fear they might be attacked, what guidance has the Minister given to police and border agencies on the UK side to deal with commercial drivers who have allowed somebody to come through, or will he at least review the situation?
I know the hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in this matter for some time. There is clear guidance. It was one of the issues that came up in my meetings last week. Our accreditation scheme sets out in clear terms those hauliers that are part of it and the guidance that is in place, but we will certainly continue to look at what more can be done.
Tens of thousands of mobile phones are reported stolen every year when the reality is that many of them are lost by the owners, particularly in licensed premises. Will the Minister look at changing the crime status of the loss of mobile phones in licensed premises, because registering these phone losses as serious crimes can have a serious impact on the night-time economy and visitors, particularly when it comes to licensing?
I will take a close interest in what goes on in pubs and what gets lost in pubs and nightclubs and report back.
I am alarmed at the effect this Government’s immigration policy is having on young married couples like my constituents Kudzai and Merai Mupunga, who are being denied their basic human right to a family life. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the impact of the minimum income threshold on them and many others?
The minimum income threshold was set with specific advice from the Migration Advisory Committee and has been upheld by the courts, and that is the basis on which we will continue to operate it.
Concessionary Television Licences
(Urgent question): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on the Government’s proposals on concessionary television licences.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be making his Budget statement on Wednesday, but following news reports on Sunday, I would like to take the opportunity now to confirm details of the agreement that we have reached with the BBC. Under the agreement, the BBC will take on the cost of providing free television licences for those households with over-75s, and that will be phased in from 2018-19, with the BBC taking on the full costs from 2020-21. Having inherited a challenging fiscal position, the Government are pleased that the BBC has agreed to play its part in contributing to reductions in spending, like much of the rest of the public sector, while at the same time further reducing its overall reliance on taxpayers.
As part of these new arrangements, the Government will ensure that the BBC can adapt to a changing media landscape. The Government will therefore bring forward legislation in the next year to modernise the licence fee to cover public service broadcast catch-up TV. In addition, the Government will reduce the broadband ring fence to £80 million in 2017-18, to £20 million in 2018-19, to £10 million in 2019-20 and to zero in 2020-21. The Government will consider carefully the case for decriminalisation in the light of the Perry report and the need for the BBC to be funded appropriately. No decision will be taken in advance of charter renewal.
The Government anticipate that the licence fee will rise in line with the consumer prices index over the next charter review period, subject to the conclusions of the charter review on the purposes and scope of the BBC, and the BBC demonstrating that it is undertaking efficiency savings at least equivalent to those in other parts of the public sector. The commitment made in the Conservative manifesto that all households with an over-75-year-old will be eligible for a free TV licence will be honoured throughout the Parliament. As requested by the BBC, it will take responsibility for this policy from thereon.
Charter review will provide an opportunity to consider wider issues relating to the purposes and scope of the BBC. We look forward to using it to engage on the full range of issues with the public, industry and the House. I will be making an announcement about the process for the review in due course.
What an utter shambles! It is not even the Chancellor who comes to give the Budget any more; elements are briefed to the Sunday newspapers, and then the Chancellor goes on the BBC to tell the BBC and the nation what will be in his Budget three days later. There was a time when Chancellors were forced to resign because elements of their Budget were leaked. Now, we get every single element of the Budget briefed deliberately, and he has the chutzpah to pretend that it is a proper process.
I am absolutely certain, however, that the Secretary of State agrees with me. Does he not agree that the process for charter renewal and agreeing the financial settlement for the BBC
“must be open and transparent, licence fee payers must be consulted and Parliament should have an opportunity to debate…significant changes to funding responsibilities.”?
Does he not agree that:
“No future licence fee negotiations must be conducted in the way of the 2010 settlement”?
I ask that not because they are my words, but because those are the words he wrote only a year ago, when he was the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I am sure he will agree that this is no way to run a whelk stall, let alone the world’s most respected broadcaster.
Of course, at a time of straitened national finances, every public body must make savings, including the BBC, but the BBC is the cornerstone of the creative industries in this country and viewers and listeners want a strong BBC that makes programmes that inform, educate and entertain. There is a proper way of dealing with the BBC: a Green Paper, an oral statement to Parliament and an open consultation process. We should agree what the BBC is for and then how to fund it before introducing a new charter. Instead, we have exactly what the Chancellor did in 2010, which the Secretary of State condemned last year—another backroom deal. As I said before, former Chancellors have resigned in such circumstances and yet the Secretary of State still comes here with this shabby little deal.
Let me ask some specific questions. When will the full charter renewal process be brought to this House? When will the Secretary of State publish the Perry report, which he mentioned, on the decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee? Obviously, that is another £250 million that might be missing from the BBC’s budget. Under the new agreement announced by the Secretary of State, will the BBC have the power to end concessionary licences for those over 74? By how much do the Government intend to cut the BBC’s overall income? By £650 million, £850 million or £1 billion? How many jobs does he expect to go in an industry that is one of the few in the world in which we excel? Will the licence fee remain for the full 10 years? Will the BBC be allowed to charge for the use of the iPlayer and will those who already have a licence be required to pay extra to use it? Incidentally, when was the Secretary of States told about this new policy? Late last night, half an hour ago or just before he came to the Chamber, or has he been involved all the way?
If there is a means of protecting the public finances while securing the BBC's future, we will wholeheartedly support it, but if this is just a smash-and-grab raid on the BBC and if it ends up undermining it, we will oppose the Secretary of State every step of the way.
I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman seems to be so upset that I have taken the trouble to come and answer his question today in detail. The Government have in response to his question spelt out in some considerable detail precisely the terms of the agreement that we have reached with the BBC and I can tell him that I and the Chancellor have been involved in discussions throughout with the BBC to reach this agreement. We are all content that it delivers our objective of helping to reduce the deficit while giving the BBC some of the guarantees it needs about its future financing and the system by which the licence fee is raised. However, this does not pre-empt charter renewal and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the charter renewal process will be open and transparent and will involve as many of those who wish to participate as possible. Before the summer recess, I will come to the House to give further details and will publish the Green Paper on which the charter renewal process will be based. At the same time, I hope to be in a position to publish the Perry report.
The hon. Gentleman appeared to ask a number of questions that were already answered in the course of my statement. I can tell him once again that the case for decriminalisation, which is considered in the Perry report, will be considered as part of the charter renewal process, as will the future scale and scope of the BBC. We anticipate that, in the period after that process, the licence fee will rise in line with CPI, as long as the charter renewal process does not result in any changes to the purposes and scope of the BBC. All those points were spelt out in my statement today. It is right that the charter renewal process should be open. No decisions have yet been taken and we will publish the details very soon.
Thanks to the support of the House, it is an honour to follow my right hon. Friend as Chair of the Committee. Does he share my view that the scope and funding of the BBC must be considered together, given that that has not always happened in the past? If that is the case, can he assure the House that that will form part of his plans over the next year?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I should also like to take this opportunity to congratulate him on taking on the important position of Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. I can absolutely confirm that the scale and scope of the BBC will lie at the heart of the charter renewal process, and that the level of the licence fee will be considered as part of that. He is right to suggest that what we decide about the scale and scope will determine how much money is needed. If it is concluded that more money is needed, we will consider any bid from the BBC at that time. The guarantee we have given is that the licence fee will rise in line with CPI over the next charter period, subject to the conclusion of the charter review. I have to say to my hon. Friend that that is exactly what I have just said in my statement.
We have been down this route before. In 2010, the coalition announced plans to require the BBC to fund licences for the over-75s, and the Government are now apparently chancing their arm again. The Secretary of State is on record as saying that it would be difficult to justify his mother not having to pay her licence fee. I can tell him how he could justify it. If it were not means-tested for his mum, it would be means-tested for mine, and my mum, like thousands of pensioners across the country, would simply be far to embarrassed to fill in a form to get a free television licence. I will introduce you to her sometime, Mr Speaker. Can I get clarity from the Secretary of State on whether he will require, or allow, the BBC to means-test television licences for the over-75s?
I repeat what I have just said in my statement, which is that there was a clear commitment in the Conservative manifesto that all households with an over-75-year-old will be eligible for a free television licence, and that commitment will be honoured throughout this Parliament. Following that, the BBC has requested to take on responsibility for that policy, but that will happen during the course of the next Parliament.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement, but will he confirm that in the bigger review he will pay special attention to how the BBC is currently competing, using tax-based subsidy, to undercut other media providers and drive them out of the market?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. That point will certainly be considered during the course of the charter renewal, but it is the kind of issue that is best considered over a period, when we will have the opportunity to hear from all those affected by the activities of the BBC.
This Government have already forced the licence fee payer to fund broadband roll-out and the failed vanity project of local TV, and now they are making the BBC a branch office of the Department for Work and Pensions. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that this represents a significant assault on the BBC’s independence, and that it is to Parliament, not the Government, that the BBC is answerable? Just before the election, he published a report on the future of the BBC in which he said that it was of paramount importance that this House and the other place should be consulted fully on anything to do with charter renewal. He has broken that promise today, and I am extremely disappointed that he has done so.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, I have already announced that we will be phasing out the broadband ring-fence over a period. I seem to recall that it was his Government who financed the digital switchover from the licence fee. As I have said, the licence fee settlement is a matter that will be considered as part of the charter renewal process, as it will obviously be affected by any decision taken on the purposes and scope of the BBC as a result of the charter review. We have sought to give the BBC the assurances that it has requested, but that has not in any way pre-empted the decisions that may be reached as a result of the charter review.
My right hon. Friend will no doubt hear many protestations of poverty on behalf of the BBC today, but is he aware of the vast sums spent by the BBC on delivering Salford media city and the new Broadcasting House in London, and how this bipolar approach has effectively drained the rest of the country of investment, particularly the midlands?
I believe that the BBC’s investment in Salford was beneficial. It is important that the BBC demonstrates that it is serving all the regions and nations of the UK. Nevertheless, we will certainly consider the points my hon. Friend raises as part of the charter review.
I am very sympathetic to what the Secretary of State has said about removing the broadband ring fence and raising the licence fee by CPI, but would it not have been more sensible to end this foolish subsidy, rather than sticking with the Tory manifesto commitment and messing up the BBC’s finances? What exactly will the financial burden be on the BBC as a result of this decision?
I am interested to hear that the hon. Lady is calling for the removal of free television licences for the over-75s. However, the Conservative manifesto spelled out clearly that they would be preserved for the entirely of this Parliament, and I can tell her that this party does not break its manifesto pledges.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has been able to give the full details of the financing package, rather than the partial details we heard on Sunday. Does he agree that the BBC, with its many excellent world-class services, is one of the British institutions most admired around the world, and is he confident that that can remain the case under the financial settlement he has set out today?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and agree with him entirely on both points.
When fully implemented, this will effectively be a cut of around 18% in the BBC’s disposable budget, based on the value of today’s licence fee, with liabilities increasing as a result of an ageing population. What guarantees can he give to S4C that its budget will not face a similar cut in future?
The BBC has a good record of achieving efficiency savings, and I am confident that that will continue over the coming years. Taking on the cost of providing free TV licences is being phased in and will not start until 2018. With regard to S4C, I think that it is reasonable to expect it to make the same kinds of efficiency savings that the Government are looking for the BBC to make.
My right hon. Friend has calmed down the atmosphere surrounding this, and we look forward to a deal that the BBC as well as this House can live with. It is important that the BBC should be able to go on exploiting and introducing new technology as well as keeping old services going. Is the age of 75 fixed forever? If it can be changed, will it be changed by proposals from the BBC or by this House?
The age of 75 is fixed for the duration of this Parliament, because that was a pledge in the Conservative manifesto. As I have indicated, after that the BBC will take responsibility for the policy, so it may examine a number of options.
Of the £942 million raised in the west midlands on the back of the licence fee, only about 8.5% is spent in the region. When the Secretary of State modernises the licence fee arrangements, will he include an obligation to have regional commissioners so that spending in the regions is more in keeping with the amount of money raised in the regions?
I am aware that this matter has recently been debated, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy responded at that time. The point that the hon. Lady raises will certainly form part of the charter review, and we will consider those options, and any others, at that time.
A compulsory licence fee might have been an appropriate way of funding the BBC back in the 1920s, but it is no longer justified in the 21st century. Does the Secretary of State agree that if the BBC’s output is as popular as everyone claims, people would be queuing up to buy a licence if it changed to a subscription model?
My hon. Friend makes an argument that I am sure will be one that we can consider at the time of charter review. I encourage him and, indeed, anybody else to make such submissions at that time.
I want to congratulate the Secretary of State publicly on his appointment. We served together for 10 years on the Select Committee, during which time we looked at the BBC many times. In our last report, in a conclusion proposed by him as Chair, we said:
“It was wholly wrong that the 2010 licence fee settlement, which permitted the licence fee revenue to be used for new purposes, was not subject to any public or parliamentary consultation. We recommend that income from the licence fee…be used only for the purpose of broadcasting or the production of public service content on television, radio and online.”
Why, just five months on, does he no longer agree with himself? Why, so early on in his appointment, has he not stuck to his guns but rather allowed the Chancellor to call all the shots?
The hon. Gentleman and I agreed many times when we served together on the Committee, but I do not agree with him on this occasion. What I have announced does not conflict with what is in the Select Committee report. The licence fee settlement will be subject to debate and a widespread consultation. This is not a licence fee settlement. We have sought to give the BBC some confidence, when it comes to plan for the future, that if the charter review does not conclude that there should be changes in purposes and scope, it can look forward to a rise in line with inflation after that time. That does not rule out any option that we will consider during the process of charter review.
Given that the BBC gets in more income every time a new home is built, does the Secretary of State agree that it has been pretty well protected during the period of austerity that other parts of the public sector have faced? Does he also agree that if the BBC ever feels short-changed from sucking on the teat of the licence fee payer, it can always try its luck in the commercial sector and move to a subscription model?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. While the BBC’s licence fee has been frozen since 2010, its income has nevertheless been rising year on year due to the growth in the number of households. That is not widely recognised but it should certainly be taken into account in these decisions.
I welcome the continued commitment to the concessionary licence fee for over-75s, which is a lifeline for many of the elderly. Millions of people in this country love the BBC, but millions also believe that it has sometimes got involved in too much frippery and has gone wide of what its basic remit should be. Will the Secretary of State make sure that these kinds of things are looked at during the discussions on the licence fee renewal?
That is exactly the kind of matter that it is appropriate to consider during the course of the charter review. I hope that the hon. Lady and others will make submissions if they feel strongly on these points.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement, and I would like him to work with the BBC to improve the position. The Northampton Chronicle and Echo and the Northampton Herald & Post are very good local newspapers. Does he agree that they, and many other local newspapers around the country, should not be put in jeopardy by an overweening BBC website and other BBC branches and units that have had a tendency, using taxpayer-subsidised licence fees and other sources, to have an effect on those local press organisations?
I am aware of the concerns of the local newspaper industry and others about the impact of the BBC’s licence fee-funded activities on commercial providers. That is certainly one element that we will consider during the course of the charter review.
The Secretary of State has insisted that the Conservative party does not break its manifesto commitments, but it would appear that it is quite happy to get somebody else to pay for them. Given that the BBC is going to have a reduced income as a result of his announcement today, will he say how much that reduction will be and what discussions he has had with the Foreign Secretary about whether it will affect the World Service, which many of us care deeply about?
I have already given the House the figures for the reduction and the phasing in of the cost of maintaining the free licence fee for over-75s. The precise effect of that on the BBC’s income will also be affected by other factors, such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), namely the rising number of households that will be paying the licence fee. On the effect on the World Service, this does not come into effect until 2018 and the World Service is one of the BBC activities that we will consider during the course of the charter review.
It is clear that the BBC and its former employee, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), believe that the continued criminalisation of 150,000 of our citizens each year—70% of whom are women—is a price worth paying to protect the BBC’s income stream. What does the Secretary of State think about that?
I am, of course, aware of my hon. Friend’s views on this issue and it was partially as a result of his pressing that case that we commissioned the report by David Perry examining the consequences of decriminalisation. We will publish that report when we issue the Green Paper. It will form part of and inform the charter review process and we will take decisions in the light of that.
We should be proud of the BBC, which is respected and valued, not just in Britain, but across the world, for the quality of its output. What impact does the Secretary of State expect a £650 million bill—a fifth of the BBC’s budget—will have on the BBC’s ability to invest and to remain a world leader and a great advertisement for Britain across the world?
As the hon. Lady knows, my announcement today is the result of an agreement with the BBC. I am confident that the BBC will be able to continue to provide exactly the kind of world-class programming she has described within the new financial settlement.
What discussions are being held on the importance of the BBC identifying new streams of revenue generation?
The potential for changing the licence fee in the long term as the mechanism for funding the BBC is a matter that we will examine during the course of charter review. Personally, I am not particularly attracted to some options, such as advertising, but others will certainly be worth considering as a longer-term option for the future.
Companies such as Tinopolis in my constituency are part of a very important Welsh-language broadcasting industry. Worryingly, the Secretary of State has told us that he would anticipate the BBC cutting its contribution to S4C funding. What guarantee can he give about direct Government funding to S4C and does he anticipate cuts to an industry that has already suffered enormous cuts and has a long lead-in time for good-quality programmes?
As the hon. Lady knows, the Government already fund S4C with £6.7 million of direct funding and we have already set out our intention for the next two or three years. Beyond that, it is something that we will consider at the time.
The Secretary of State may remember when I sat on his Select Committee and had a go at the former chief of the BBC Trust, Michael Lyons, about some of the eye-watering salaries it paid to top executives and so-called top talent, including the £6 million it was paying Jonathan Ross. I have read recently that it will be paying Chris Evans millions just so that he can present “Top Gear”. Is it not absolutely right that the BBC should get a grip on some of these salaries and that it should play its role in ensuring some restraint in the coming years?
As I am sure my hon. Friend will agree, it is not for the Government to set individual salaries for employees of the BBC, but I have sympathy with his views. The BBC has already made quite a lot of progress in this area. Some of the salaries that my hon. Friend describes as eye-watering are no longer being paid, but obviously the BBC will need to cut its cloth to live within its financial means.
With BBC productions such as “Happy Valley”, “Remember Me” and “Peaky Blinders” having been filmed in my beautiful part of west Yorkshire, will the Secretary of State encourage the BBC to continue investing in regional production?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to the Select Committee. I am sure that he will take advantage of his position there to make those points. I absolutely agree that the BBC has a duty to serve all the nations and regions of this country, both in the content that it broadcasts and through where that content is made.
I do not know whether the amplification was wrong when the shadow Secretary of State asked the urgent question, but it seemed extremely loud and almost like a rant, which is not like him at all. However, he made a very important point about this information appearing in the media before the Budget. I am sure that the Chancellor is as concerned about that as the Secretary of State, so I wonder whether the Secretary of State has initiated a leak inquiry.
I cannot enlighten my hon. Friend as to how the information came before the newspaper. However, as a result of that happening, we thought it only right to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to respond in detail to the urgent question tabled by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
Like many people in the House, I fully respect the BBC’s broadcasting values, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for a full review of its online ambitions to ensure that the national media, particularly national newspapers, are not disadvantaged?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is time that we had a thorough review of every aspect of the BBC’s activities. That is the precise purpose of the charter review that we are shortly to embark upon.
Speaking as a former long-term inmate of the BBC, I wonder whether the Secretary of State agrees that the most important thing is to ensure that the licence fee is fit for purpose in the 21st century and, in particular, to close down the iPlayer loophole. We must encourage the BBC to continue to make efficiency savings because, as I saw for myself, great swathes of middle management could be cut tomorrow and “EastEnders” would still start at half past 7.
I agree with my hon. Friend on both points. On the iPlayer loophole, the original conception of the licence fee was that those who enjoyed watching television should pay a licence fee from which the BBC would be funded. Of course, at that time, the opportunity to view catch-up television did not exist, but I think those who created the licence fee would have thought that it should apply equally to those watching catch-up and those watching live TV. It is merely to reassert that principle that the Government have agreed to change the law so that catch-up TV is treated in exactly the same way as live TV in respect of the requirement to pay the licence fee.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what changes there will be to the processes of identifying those who are eligible and granting exemptions to the households that qualify?
The future of the licence fee and specifically the decriminalisation aspect, which relates to the enforcement point, have been examined in detail by David Perry. I do not want to anticipate the publication of his report, but that will feed into the charter review, as will the other aspects that my hon. Friend has raised.
Given that most people get most of their broadcast news from the BBC, in the next two years BBC News will face one of its greatest ever challenges in having to remain impartial over whether this country should decide to leave the European Union or not. How will the Secretary of State satisfy himself that the BBC is adhering to its trust principles to inform and educate without appearing to be on one side of the argument or the other?
The BBC is of course subject to a requirement to maintain impartiality and objectivity, as are all broadcasters. I agree that the importance of maintaining that principle is, if anything, even greater for the BBC. My hon. Friend will be aware that the BBC Trust currently considers complaints about impartiality and fairness, but the BBC’s governance arrangements will be one of the issues that we will look at during the charter review.
I last updated the House on the situation in Greece a week ago. Since then the Greek Government have failed to make the International Monetary Fund payment that was due, and the Greek people expressed a decisive view in yesterday’s referendum and rejected the creditors’ terms. Greece is a proud nation and a very long-standing ally of the United Kingdom, and we respect the decision of its people, but there is considerable uncertainty about what happens next. We need to be realistic: the prospects of a happy resolution of the crisis are, sadly, diminishing.
Over the past 24 hours the Prime Minister and I have spoken to some of our counterparts, I have spoken to the head of the IMF, and just a few minutes ago I spoke to the chair of the Eurogroup. We are urging all sides to have a final go at trying to reach an agreement that defuses the crisis. The next steps are the European Central Bank discussion taking place right now, tonight’s Franco-German summit and tomorrow’s gathering of eurozone leaders. If there is no signal from those meetings that Greece and the eurozone are ready to get around the table again, we can expect the financial situation in Greece to deteriorate rapidly. For now, the British Government’s position remains the same: we will do whatever is necessary to protect the UK’s economic security at this time.
This morning, the Prime Minister chaired a meeting attended by the Governor of the Bank of England, myself and other members of the Government to review our response to the ongoing crisis. So far the financial market reaction has been relatively contained, private sector exposures are far less than three years ago, and the eurozone authorities have said that they stand ready to do whatever is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the wider euro area. But the risks are growing, so it is right that we remain vigilant and monitor the situation carefully. I am in regular contact with the Governor to oversee developments as they unfold.
We are also acting to protect British residents and holidaymakers in Greece. Last week, I told the House that the Department for Work and Pensions and public service pension administrators had started contacting Greek residents who draw a British state pension or public sector pension from a Greek bank account. I can now confirm that the DWP has spoken to 2,000 people, advising them on how to switch payments to non-Greek bank accounts if they wish. It has now enabled people in Greece who receive a UK state pension to set up a UK bank account if they do not already have one. International payments into Greece are still exempt from the restrictions that the Greek authorities have placed on the banking system, so I can confirm today that UK Government payments, including state pension and public service pension payments, will continue to be made in the usual way.
We are doing more to keep holidaymakers and residents informed about the developing situation. We are in regular contact with the travel industry, to understand the impact on British nationals; we have increased the number of Foreign Office staff in our embassy in Athens, to be prepared for whatever happens; and on the islands of Crete, Corfu, Rhodes and Zakynthos, where many British tourists are and where we already have a vice-consular presence, we have deployed more consular staff to support the teams there. But it is unrealistic to think that we can provide a consular presence on all the Greek islands, which is why we urge everyone travelling to Greece to look at the travel advice before they go. It is clear that British holidaymakers should take sufficient euros in cash to cover the duration of their stay, emergencies, unforeseen circumstances and any unexpected delays. Travellers should be careful and take sensible precautions against theft.
As the economic crisis in Greece persists, there are greater risks of shortages. In recent days the media have reported a shortage of medical supplies in Greece, so I reiterate the Foreign Office’s advice on its website that UK travellers take sufficient supplies, including prescription medicines, for the duration of their trip. We will continue to ensure that the travel advice is regularly updated with the latest information, and our ambassador in Athens will provide regular updates on the UK response in Greece.
Finally, we have put in place measures to support British businesses. HMRC’s time to pay arrangements are now open to help businesses that are experiencing cash-flow problems as a result of banking controls in Greece. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend which Business Secretary, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published detailed guidance to help businesses; it can be found on the Government website. Businesses that are experiencing problems with Greek contracts can call the business support helpline which will direct them to commercial lawyers with experience in the Greek market, or they can contact their Member of Parliament and we will help provide direct advice. The Minister of State for Trade and Investment met major UK companies and business groups last week to discuss the situation, and he will have further meetings this week.
This is a critical moment in the economic crisis in Greece, and no one should be under any illusions. The situation risks going from bad to worse, and Britain will be affected the longer the Greek crisis lasts and the worse it gets. There is no easy way out, but even at the eleventh hour we urge the eurozone leaders and Greece to find a sustainable solution. Here in Britain we must redouble our efforts to put our house in order. In the Budget in two days’ time, I will set out exactly how we will do that.
Yesterday’s referendum in Greece presents the European Union with the most fundamental test that it has faced for a generation. Although the Greek people have given their backing to their Government, that does not overrule the position of other elected eurozone Governments who are now faced with an incredible dilemma. It is imperative for the Greek Government and their creditors to sit down and plan for an orderly and pragmatic way forward, and to avoid impulsive and precipitate steps that could spark turmoil or chaos.
What are the Chancellor and Prime Minister doing to press both sides to find a new timetable and some breathing space, at least to allow planning for all eventualities to take place? Greece’s position in the euro and the European Union affects us all. Will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor actively engage with both sides of this impasse and do what they can to help reach an agreement? Is there more scope for proactive diplomacy, and will the Chancellor say more about the substance of conversations that he has had with Greek and other eurozone Ministers since last week’s statement to the House? The Chancellor needs to play his part. What is he saying to the International Monetary Fund, with whom we have direct influence, about emerging options for restructuring Greek debt? Last week the IMF signalled that an alternative analysis was necessary, so can he clarify what course the British Government are advising the IMF to take?
Let me ask the Chancellor about some immediate issues affecting the UK. Can he reassure the House that Britain’s financial system is properly insulated against risks emanating from a possible Greek exit from the euro? At a time of such heightened anxieties about banking across Europe, can he explain why today he has announced a reduction in the level of protection for bank deposits in the UK? What can be done to help British firms selling goods or services to Greece that might be awaiting payment because of the suspension of Greek banks? He did not mention UK Trade & Investment in his statement, but what changes are being made to its advice and assistance at this time?
The Chancellor mentioned the need for British tourists who are setting off on their summer holidays to ensure that they check advice from the Foreign Office, but can he reassure those who are travelling that the Government are working closely with tour operators and airlines so that travel arrangements are not adversely affected by disruptions to the currency in Greece? Can he give the House more details about the capacity of the embassy and consular networks to stand ready to help with the volume of inquiries that are likely to ensue?
Last night the President of the European Parliament called on European Union member states to prepare for a possible humanitarian intervention in the coming weeks, given that children and the sick and vulnerable in Greece may feel the strain of any volatility in the basic operations of a normal economy. How are the British Government responding to that? More broadly, will the Chancellor acknowledge what the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee has noted in recent months—that our wider balance of payments problems and widening trade deficit over the past five years presents a potential vulnerability that should not be ignored? The minutes of the last Financial Policy Committee meeting state that that
“could, in adverse circumstances, trigger a deterioration in market sentiment towards the United Kingdom.”
Wednesday’s Budget must do more to help our exports and productivity so that our economy is strong enough to cushion any external turbulence that may arise.
Finally, does the Chancellor agree that both sides of this stand-off still have much work to do? The eurozone countries need to do their best to offer Greece the opportunity to return to negotiations, and the Greek Government need to face up to their responsibilities for stronger governance and economic reform. These are serious times for Greece, for Europe and for the United Kingdom, especially if a disorderly chain of events now follows. I urge the Chancellor to do what he can to prevent that scenario from occurring, but to prepare fully in case it does come to pass.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and his questions, which were sensibly put. I agree that what we want is an orderly way forward, and the risk is a disorderly financial situation in Greece. I have spoken to several of my counterparts, including, as I have just said, the head of the Eurogroup and the managing director of the IMF; the Prime Minister has spoken to the German Chancellor and others. The simple fact is that the eurozone is waiting for the Greek Government to make a new proposal. They have requested a new programme, and they are expecting to receive the details of that request at the eurozone meeting that will be held tomorrow, but we should not underestimate the importance of the Franco-German summit tonight to see what general approach the eurozone will take to this situation.
Greece is now in arrears, so the IMF cannot actually make any payments under the terms under which it has always operated. The IMF would in any case have to operate alongside the eurozone, as it has made very clear.
The UK is monitoring developments in the four branches of the Greek banks and the one subsidiary that we talked about. That subsidiary is regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority, but the Bank of England is also keeping a close eye on those four branches.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the bank deposit regulation and the insurance we offer. It is an EU directive that sets that rate in euros. The pound has strengthened and we actually achieved a bit of flexibility in the way the directive operates by delaying the change we need to make to the end of this year, to give plenty of time for people to become aware of the change and so that they know how much of their deposits will be protected.
We are in contact with the various tour operators, which are generally well organised to deal with various situations that might occur in holiday destinations. As I said, we have taken the precaution of increasing the consular staff—not just in Athens, but on the islands where we have a consular presence.
The blunt truth is that there are two timetables at the moment, and it is not clear how they will become aligned. The first timetable is political—the meetings that need to take place, the eurozone working together to find a common position and the proposal from the Greeks. All that looks like it will take some time. At the same time, the other timetable is the situation in the financial system in Greece—that, of course, is operating at a much faster pace. The challenge for the eurozone and for Greece is to bring those two timetables together and find an orderly solution.
I realise that the Chancellor will want to be somewhat guarded in his reply, but how far can he go towards agreeing that Greece probably cannot recover at current euro exchange rates and almost certainly will not be able to repay all its debts, so the best course now—for Greece and the eurozone—would be to encourage Greece to recreate its own currency and for the eurozone to take all the necessary steps to prevent contagion?
Just as when people try to tell us what currency we should adopt we do not take too kindly to it, we should respect the decision of the Greek Government and people about the currency that they want to use. Clearly the Greek Government are saying that they want to remain in the euro. The tension, which has been there all along, is between that desire to remain in the euro and the conditions of membership that the other members of the eurozone are placing on them. That is the dilemma that has not yet been resolved.
I thank the Chancellor for his statement and for early sight of it. The Scottish National party agrees with much of what he said.
Most people recognised last week that, irrespective of the outcome of the referendum, negotiations and difficult decisions would still have to be undertaken by both Greece and its creditors. The Chancellor observed last week that senior eurozone figures had said that had Greece voted yes, then negotiations would begin to try to find a satisfactory outcome. Given that Greece voted no to the troika conditions, but voted to remain part of the EU and the eurozone, will the Chancellor try to persuade his Finance Minister counterparts in the EU and colleagues in the ECB and IMF that they, too, should respect the outcome of the referendum, stay calm and return to the negotiating table to find a long-term sustainable solution to Greece’s problems? That is in all our best interests.
It is worth noting that, as the Chancellor said, the markets have barely moved since the referendum result. They, at least, clearly discounted the possibility of a no vote, even if others did not. Peripheral country 10-year bond yields, in particular in Spain and Italy, have barely moved and are at about 2.3%. The FTSE Eurofirst 300 index is off by about 1.2% as of earlier this afternoon, although bank stocks are down a little more. However, market sentiment may change and bond yields and European banking stocks in particular may yet come under further pressure. May I ask what are the contingency plans for that eventuality; not the detail—I understand the sensitivity—but perhaps the degree of liaison between the Greek central bank, the ECB and the Fed? What plans are there, in addition to what he has laid out, to support businesses that export to Greece, particularly in the light of capital controls, to ensure cash-flow problems do not damage perfectly viable businesses here?
The Greek people have voted against further austerity, which they argue—many would agree—has failed so far. The Greek Government have a clear mandate to negotiate on that basis. I very much welcome what the Chancellor said about respecting the decision of the Greek people. I hope he and his Government will continue to respect that decision. As he said, this situation risks going from bad to worse. Even if the immediate crisis passes, the risks that do exist may do so for some considerable time.
The hon. Gentleman is right in his assessment of the current state of the markets. There has been a muted reaction, although Greek bond spreads have increased. I think that is in part because eurozone leaders and Finance Ministers have acted with some restraint post the result. Some of the language we heard on all sides before the referendum has been toned down, which is very sensible. I think people are now looking at the crucial meetings that will take place tonight and tomorrow to see whether they will get around the table and try one final time to reach a way forward.
On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about export businesses, we are in contact with the various business representative bodies. We have the helpline available and HMRC is able to help with cash-flow problems. I repeat the point I made earlier: if Members of Parliament have specific cases, they should bring them to us and we will make sure that the businesses in their constituencies get specific advice. The hon. Gentleman can have my assurance that we remain in regular contact with the European authorities. The Governor of the Bank of England remains in very close contact with the head of the European Central Bank. We are prepared for what happens. I note again that there is a very fast timetable happening in the financial system in Greece. We have to make sure that the political timetable keeps pace with it.
Several hon. Members
Order. In belatedly congratulating the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) on his birthday last Thursday, I express the hope that he was able to celebrate with something more than mineral water and muesli.
I am glad to say I was, Mr Speaker. I was not going to ask my right hon. Friend about my birthday, but thank you very much for your kind remarks.
Will my right hon. Friend continue to give support to those of our sensible European allies who insist that the Greek Government cannot just expect a third bailout and a second restructuring of their debts, so that Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and other taxpayers can continue to pay for untenable levels of public expenditure, including generous early retirement schemes, bloated public sector payrolls and so on? Does he also accept that if in the next week or two the Greek Government just print a new currency, called the new drachma, it will be a quite worthless means of exchange that will probably not be used by the Greek population or by foreign suppliers of commodities? There is therefore no alternative to the Greek Government eventually agreeing structural reform, to give them a competitive economy for the future and to rejoin the European community of nations.
First, let me join in congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on his birthday. The points he makes are echoed by many eurozone Governments that we speak to. There are countries in the European Union with lower GDP per capita incomes and there are Governments in the eurozone who have undertaken incredibly difficult structural reforms—he names our close neighbours in Ireland—so these points are regularly made. It is clear that there needs to be major structural reform of the Greek economy and certain conditions set on eurozone membership, and that is why the eurozone is waiting for the latest proposal from the Greek Government. Equally, we urge all parties in this, including those other eurozone Governments, to be open to new offers and to be ready to sit round the table.
If reports are to be believed that some of the big banks are running out of euro notes and that the Greek Government are able to print only €10 notes—any larger ones have to be imported—has Her Majesty’s Treasury made any provision to fly out euro notes to our pensioners or tourists who may be stranded and simply cannot get hold of euros?
What I should say, without going into too much detail, is that we have a number of contingency plans. We just hope we do not have to put them into operation.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although Greece bears responsibility, there is also the intensely political German question? Statements by the Germans recently seem increasingly self-righteous about compliance with European rules, when they themselves have been in defiance of the stability and growth pact for many years and the surplus rules. There is also the question of their over-lending to Greece, against the background of their export policy and currency manoeuvres. Does my right hon. Friend recall that in 1953, under the London debt agreement, Germany received £86 billion of debt, and does he agree that they might well be rather more generous in their attitude towards debt relief in respect of the Greek people?
We should understand that of course the German Government, and therefore the German people, are one of the largest creditors and therefore take a close interest in developments in Greece. Under the terms of an application for a new programme from the European stability mechanism, that requires a vote in the Bundestag, so there are clearly some key German political issues here. Where I agree with my hon. Friend is on the observation he makes about the stability and growth pact. One can argue that many of the problems that the eurozone has encountered in recent years were because of the lax interpretation of the rules, not least by France and Germany, over a decade ago. To be fair to the German Government and others, they have tried to strengthen those rules in recent years.
Does not the Chancellor think that something quite remarkable happened yesterday in Greece? Half its young people are out of work, public services are collapsing and there is desperate poverty around the country, yet the Greek people rejected the European Union’s proposals for further austerity and further cuts, seeking instead to renegotiate with the EU? When even the International Monetary Fund says that the debt is unpayable and has to be restructured over a longer period, does he not think that that should concentrate the minds of the EU and the German Government to do something urgently so that the banks in Greece can reopen, people can get back to work and the Government—the elected Government—can continue a programme of developing and expanding the economy, which is the only real way forward? Further austerity will create only deeper misery and shorter lives for a very desperate people.
It may surprise the hon. Gentleman to find that I agree with him on a number of points. First, I agree that we should respect the result of the referendum and the democratic decision of the Greek people. I agree that we need to see the Greek economy grow, although I would say that that requires structural reforms, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the former Chancellor, said. I hope we agree, too, that there are many members of the eurozone and that this cannot be just a unilateral decision by the Greek Government and the Greek people, because other peoples and other Governments are involved, including creditor nations. The final thing we agree on is that I think the hon. Gentleman would be an excellent leader of the Labour party.
The Chancellor is quite right that there are two timetables here. In his discussions with the leading players in the eurozone, was there any sense of urgency? Do they understand that unless they find a way of getting money into the Greek banking system soon, huge extra damage will be caused to the Greek economy when people will be unable to settle transactions or trade with the Greeks, and that there could be further desperate consequences to the Greek banking system? Does he agree that if the banking system goes down and cannot reopen sensibly, everybody will be far worse off and it would be a major disaster for the eurozone as well as for Greece?
My right hon. Friend makes the correct observation about the speed of events. To be fair, in speaking to my counterparts, I have found that they do accept the sense of urgency, but trying to get the political systems and political meetings to deliver at the right pace is, of course, difficult. That is the big challenge in the coming days. Whatever the outcome for Greece’s future membership of the euro, we want it to take place in an orderly rather than a disorderly way. Bridging between where we are today and the eventual outcome is something that the authorities in the eurozone need to work on.
Has it not been made clear by the Greek Government that the vote yesterday was not about leaving Europe or even the eurozone, but about the constant humiliation the country has suffered over the years and the economic pressures piled on it? Should it not be borne in mind that we are dealing with a country that said a very firm no to Mussolini, that bravely opposed the Nazi barbarians and that opposed the military gangsters who took over the country in 1967? Is this not a people and a country that should be treated with respect, not humiliated day by day?
The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the heroic history of the Greek people and the many times at which they have fought for their freedom. I would make this observation, however. If they join the eurozone, they are joining an arrangement with other member states, other Governments and some central institutions, so they cannot take a unilateral course. That is why Britain did not want to join the euro, but Greece did join it, so that requires an agreement with the other Governments and the other peoples of the eurozone, as well. What the hon. Gentleman said about the people of Greece could be said equally about the people of Spain.
“ConservativeHome” and others are reporting an analysis of IMF figures according to which funds that were thought to be for the Greek bail-out are apparently being used to bail out banks in other eurozone countries. Is that true, and, if it is true, does it not put a completely different complexion on the plight of the Greek people?
I have not seen that analysis, but I will have a look at it and report back to my hon. Friend.
I appreciate that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not want to dictate to the Greek Government what kind of currency they should use, but will he have a word with the Prime Minister about the possibility of the two of them pointing out during their next conversation with the Greek Prime Minister that there is a bright future outside the eurozone, and suggesting that the Greeks look at the example of the United Kingdom and leave the eurozone—which, of course, we never joined?
My experience of the Greek Government is that they are very well versed in events here in the United Kingdom. They have certainly noticed our economic revival. I repeat, however, that it is not for us to say which currency they should use.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that when this country helped to persuade the rest of the world to forgive the debts of the heavily indebted poor countries, we argued first that lenders who lend too much share some of the responsibility with Governments who borrow too much, and should pay the cost, and secondly that the citizens of those countries are rarely to blame for the profligacy of their rulers, but have to suffer if they are forced to attempt to repay sums that cannot be repaid? Will he repeat those arguments to our colleagues in Europe?
My right hon. Friend has made a very good observation. The people who suffer when Governments get their economic policies wrong are often the poorest in the countries concerned. Sadly, we know that to our cost, given what happened in this country five or six years ago.
My right hon. Friend has also made a good point about the sustainability of debt repayments and the like. One of the big challenges that are looming is the repayment that is due to the European Central Bank. The discussion between Greece and its creditors has always been about ensuring that Greece pays what it owes but pays in a way that it can afford, and ensuring that it can grow its economy and undertake the structural reforms that are necessary to sustain its repayments. Indeed, that is an element of the discussion that is taking place now.
In 1934, following the great depression, most of Europe’s Governments had a significant amount of their liabilities written off for good. In the case of the United Kingdom, that was about 25% of its debt. We have already heard about the London debt agreement of 1953 in relation to Germany. Is it not the case that, as The Daily Telegraph reported in February, debt write-offs are not unusual at times of crisis, and does that not indicate that crippling austerity is not the only way forward for Greece?
Debt sustainability is clearly one of the big issues for the Greek Government, but—and this, I believe, was also true of the discussions that took place in the 1950s—there must also be some agreement on the creditors’ part that economic reforms are in place that will allow the country to grow and thrive in the future. At present, the two sides cannot agree. The Greeks want the restructuring, while the eurozone wants more conditionality, and more evidence of the structural reforms that it believes will help the Greek economy to grow. What we are doing is urging the two sides to try to reach some kind of agreement.
My right hon. Friend is urging a sustainable solution on our eurozone partners. Is he really saying that if he were a eurozone Finance Minister, he would fancy the task of going to his Parliament to seek authority to throw more good money after bad at the intransigent and unrealistic Government who so unhappily appear to represent the view of the Greek people?
I do not want to speculate on how this country would behave if it were a member of the eurozone. Thankfully, that is one of the pressures that our Government do not have to bear. However, this does remind everyone that a country that joins in a currency with other nation states and creates collective institutions will find itself bound by those rules, and will find that some of its unilateral, albeit democratically endorsed, decisions are not necessarily accepted by everyone else.
Obviously the Chancellor is focused on the short term, but under any scenario one of the issues the Greek Government must get to grips with is improving their revenue-raising. Has any thought been given to technical assistance programmes along the lines of those run for the east European countries, to increase their capacity to raise taxes more effectively?
The hon. Lady draws attention to the very poor record on revenue collection in Greece. It is one of the things that most frustrates its creditors and it comes up regularly in the discussions with the other eurozone Governments. There is actually some history to this: there is a tradition of non-payment—if we can put it like that—going back through Greek history, partly because of the Governments it has had in the past. To be fair to the current Government, and indeed their immediate predecessors in Greece, they have talked about trying to improve revenue collection. The British Government have offered assistance; members of the British civil service have been out on secondment and the like over recent years to try to improve revenue collection. Unfortunately, however, at the moment revenue collection has almost dried up.
My right hon. Friend has many aspects of this on his mind at the moment, but those of us who seek to protect the interests of ex-pat UK citizens know that they will be hugely appreciative of the fact that he is seeking to safeguard their pension rights and exportable benefit rights, but there are others, particularly those living in Cyprus, who are also dependent on the Greek banking system, so will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Minister for Europe, sitting to his right, and make sure consular assistance is made available to all ex-pat UK citizens who might be affected by the Greek banking crisis?
Of course, we do keep a close eye on the situation in Cyprus. A couple of years ago we provided a lot of support to British citizens or others receiving, for example, British pensions in Cyprus when its banking system collapsed.
One of the challenges with people in Greece who receive a British pension but have a Greek bank account is that if we simply stop the money going in, in order to try to protect the payment from whatever might happen, we do not know whether that might disrupt an agreement they have, for instance, with money coming out of their bank account to pay for rent, or for other things, and of course the Greek Government have not so far put restrictions on pensioners in Greece. We monitor this very carefully, and we have contacted a couple of thousand of the people affected to see if they want to switch bank account and offer them a British bank account facility if they want one. We keep this under daily review.
In the light of both the unprecedented and potentially disastrous public attacks by Christine Lagarde against the Greek Government and the referendum result, will the right hon. Gentleman now urge the International Monetary Fund to make available to Greece the some £1.6 billion in profits the fund has made from charging the Greek Government for their emergency loans?
I do not accept that characterisation of the managing director; I think she has played a very important and constructive role in this crisis. The IMF exists to lend to countries that are by definition in some distress, but it, too, has rules, which have been established for many decades. One of them is that countries in arrears to the IMF cannot receive payments, and unfortunately last week Greece went into arrears.
Given this uncertainty and the popularity of Greece and the Greek islands as we approach the main holiday season of the year, what reassurances can the Chancellor give me that I can pass on to my constituents that we will continue to give updated advice and information?
All the reports we have back from our consular staff and the various travel companies is that people are enjoying their holidays in Greece, are not seeing the disruptions, and are able to use their credit cards and the like, so we have not changed our travel advice to say people should not travel to Greece. What we have said, however, is that people should anticipate unforeseen—or, indeed, potentially foreseen—circumstances and make sure they take more cash with them than they might otherwise have done, so they are covered for different eventualities. If they do that, they can enjoy their holiday, and make a contribution to the Greek economy, which is very important, but they should take cash with them.
Does the Chancellor see the irony in the fact that the people of Greece are being hounded by financial institutions that would not exist had they not been bailed out at taxpayer expense to a sum far, far greater than the one the Greek Government now owe? Will he not accept that that is perhaps a sign that the Governments of Europe have to balance up their act and understand that Europe’s first priority should be to meet the needs of Europe’s citizens, not satisfy the greed of Europe’s bankers?
In the end, it is impossible for any country to defy the financial markets. That is something this country has learned to its cost in the past. What we want to see in Greece is investment flowing into the country, the banks reopening and the economy growing. That is why we look forward to the proposals that the Greek Prime Minister says he will bring to the eurozone summit tomorrow.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would not be anything for the Greek people to be ashamed of if they decided that they were best off getting out of the straitjacket of the eurozone and were able to wrest away from the controls of the European vulture funds?
I will not exactly use the language that my hon. Friend uses, but I think he would absolutely agree that we need to respect the rights of the Greek people to make their own decisions on their future. They have clearly expressed their view in the referendum, but of course they are part of a currency where other populations care about the arrangements with Greece. Governments in Ireland, Spain and the like ask, “We have undertaken a lot of these reforms and measures, so why are the same things not demanded of the Greeks?” That is the challenge that the eurozone faces. Where my hon. Friend and I agree is that we are well out of it and are happy with our pound sterling.
Since 1 January, 66,000 people have illegally crossed the border between Greece and Turkey. That is 360 a day, many of whom travel through the island of Kos to get to the Greek mainland. Greece requires urgent help to police not only its border, but the border of the EU. If we do not help Greece on this particular issue, the migrants will fall into the hands of people traffickers and end up in Calais, where the issue will become a problem for Britain and France. What can we do to help the Greeks with this issue?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw our attention to the serious migrant issues in Greece. I think we all remember seeing the television images a few weeks ago of the boat crashing into the rocks off the beaches in Greece. I know that the Home Secretary and other European Interior Ministers have spoken to the Greek Government about the direct assistance we can provide to help them police their borders and deal with what is, of course, a common challenge.
I am grateful for the steps the Chancellor is taking to help British businesses and to advise holidaymakers, but he will know that many more British holidaymakers will shortly be making the journey to Greece. Has he any indication of any tour operator that is unduly exposed to the Greek market and therefore at heightened risk of failure? Will he, along with his colleagues on the Front Bench, continue to monitor the situation?
We keep in touch with all the tour operators. Most of them have very big operations in Greece, but they are satisfied with the arrangements and the support we are providing. As I say, these holidays are going ahead. People are not seeing any great disruption and are making a contribution to the Greek economy. We want to continue to provide good travel advice. We will change the travel advice if we feel we need to, but the travel advice at the moment is not, “Do not travel to Greece”; it is just, “Make sure you are prepared.”
Does the Chancellor agree with the Greek Prime Minister, who stated after the referendum result was announced last night that the IMF’s recent report on its sustainability confirms the Greek position that debt restructuring is necessary to reach a final sustainable solution to end the crisis both for Greece and for Europe? Does he not agree that a European conference on debt cancellation is a necessary part of that solution?
The sustainability of Greece’s debt payments is clearly a big issue. That is why it failed to meet the IMF payment last week and faces such a big challenge with the ECB repayment later this month. That is one of the challenges, but alongside it—and the IMF draws this to our attention as well—there must be some indication that the Greek Government can undertake the kind of reforms that will modernise the Greek economy, make sure it is a success and ensure a stream of tax revenues in the future. No one is pretending that it is easy, but that is the substance of the negotiation.
I am thinking of what has been going on recently in China, in particular, and know that my right hon. Friend will be well aware that there are always dangers to the global economy. He has always been very alert to the deficiencies of governance within the eurozone. Does he believe that that governance has reformed sufficiently to prevent another similar crisis in the future in another eurozone state?
My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to some of the economic issues in China, but if we can stay in the western hemisphere for the purposes of this statement, the eurozone is a much better place than it was in 2012 to deal with any contagion from the Greek crisis. That is reflected in the fact that the bond spreads for the peripheral countries have not gone out today, because the ECB is prepared to do, in its words, “whatever it takes” in its outright monetary transactions policy. We have the European stability mechanism, which is, in other words, a sort of central bail-out fund. We have more of the machinery in place than we did in 2012, which is why we are not seeing quite as much contagion. I would make a general observation I have made before, however. I do not think people should underestimate the medium to long-term impact of a country leaving the euro and showing that it is possible to exit that currency.
The Chancellor said in his statement last week and has said since that we must hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I asked him last week what the worst was. May I ask again what the worst will be for the UK?
The worst for the UK and the whole of Europe will be a completely disorderly situation over the next few weeks that has an impact on Europe’s financial system. As Britain is one of the most open economies in the world, that will impact on us. We saw the impact of the problems in the eurozone in 2012 and how they spilled over into the UK. That is the challenge of any financial crisis and it is a challenge for the UK as an open economy. That is why we are urging those on all sides to try to resolve the situation.
The United Kingdom Exchequer will be exposed whether Greece stays in or leaves the euro. Will my right hon. Friend publish, if he can, the assumptions on which his assessment of those contingencies can be made?
Of course, we have a very small direct exposure as our banking system has greatly reduced its Greek liabilities. We have four pretty small Greek branches and one subsidiary. We are not directly exposed to loss and although we are a member of the IMF, no country has ever lost money supporting the IMF. Of course, people ask what might happen to Greece should it leave the euro, but I think we can leave that for another day.
Will the Chancellor remind the House of the amount of money that this country made available to the IMF as part of its assistance package to Greece? He has reasserted today that no country has ever lost money by lending it to the IMF, but of course the IMF has said that it believes that a serious restructuring is required for Greece to get through its current difficulties. That implies that the moneys owed to the IMF will not be repaid.
The IMF has existed since it was created out of the Bretton Woods conference and, by definition, it exists to support countries that are in very real financial distress. That is its business: lending to countries that are having real problems managing their debts. It is important to say again, however, that Britain and other members of the world community that support the IMF have never lost money in this way, because the IMF holds contingency reserves. It is also the preferred creditor. Frankly, I do not think that the prospect of us losing money through the IMF is that strong.
Thankfully, the global stock markets proved resilient despite yesterday’s result. However, bank shares were among some of the biggest fallers, with Barclays down by 1.7%. What is my right hon. Friend’s advice to banks that fear that the crisis could increase losses from bad loans and drive up borrowing costs for Governments?
All British banks have greatly reduced their exposure to Greece over the past few years. Continental banks have also reduced that exposure, so British banks are less indirectly exposed. Collectively, less than 1% of the core tier capital of the British banking system is exposed to Greece. We are therefore much better prepared than we might have been a few years ago. Also, our own economy is stronger and we are not in such a vulnerable position in regard to our public finances as a result of the difficult decisions we have taken. We are in a much stronger position to deal with whatever comes, but we are an open economy, and a financial crisis in Europe is not something that will just pass Britain by.
The Chancellor has rightly said that a number of difficult issues need to be resolved if agreement is to be reached between Greece and its creditors. Last week, the IMF said that even if all the other issues were resolved, any agreement would be unsustainable unless debt relief formed part of the package. Do the Government agree with the IMF on that key point?
We agree that a key issue is Greece’s ability to make its debt repayments. That is self-evidently the case because it failed to make a debt repayment to the IMF last week, and it also has to make a big debt repayment to the European Central Bank. I do not think it is right simply to pick out one piece of the IMF’s advice. It has also stated strongly that the Greek economy needs major structural reform, for example. We have to look at the IMF’s advice in the round, which is why it is such a valuable institution.
I cannot help wondering whether the resignation of the Greek Finance Minister, Mr Varoufakis, might result in an opening for the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne). Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge the importance of a strong economy and a plan to eliminate the deficit? Put in simple terms, does he agree that we need to live within our means?
My hon. Friend is right to say that countries need to live within their means. As a Government, we have addressed that matter over the past five years, and I shall address it again in a couple of days’ time in the Budget. Mr Varoufakis has now resigned, and I shall be moving on to yet another Greek Finance Minister, but I doubt that the next one will have quite the dress style of the one we have just lost.
Could the Chancellor be more specific about the risks to the UK’s economic security and, in particular, about the measures that he is going to introduce to mitigate those risks?
The risks stem from the fact that we are the world’s largest financial centre. We are also the global centre for the trading of the euro. We are a very open economy; on most measures, we are the most open and interconnected of all the world’s advanced economies. We are therefore affected by financial conditions in Europe. We saw that a few years ago, but we are in a much stronger place than we have been in the past because we have been paying down our very large deficit, because we have been strengthening our economy, because we have been recapitalising our banking system and making sure our banks are stronger, and because we have a much better system of regulation, in which the Bank of England is in charge of regulating the banks. Those are all steps that we have taken. I do not think anyone will be particularly surprised to hear that when we assemble in a couple of days to hear the Budget, we will hear the further measures needed to reduce that budget deficit and ensure that we fix the roof while the sun is shining.
Such external shocks do focus the mind. May I bring the Chancellor back closer to home? He has tough decisions to make on Wednesday. Has he had any representations from the Opposition Benches about where those cost savings should come, and support for the long-term economic plan?
That has very little to do with Greece. The hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record, but it is nothing to do with the statement today, to the details of which we ought to attend.
The Chancellor, in a moderate and balanced statement, said that he respects the Greek decision. That is in sharp contrast to some of the eurocrats and Ministers from other eurozone countries, who have made bullying and intemperate statements to the Greek Government. Will the Chancellor tell the House what steps he and the Prime Minister have taken to stop the same people trying to interfere in our referendum about our future in the European Union?
As I think we saw in the past week, some of those intemperate statements might have had the exact opposite effect to the one that they were intended to have, which reminds us not to interfere in other people’s democracies.
Although the bond yields in Spain, Italy and Portugal rose only 12 basis points this morning, and despite what the eurozone said about whatever measures are necessary, the spread over German bonds suggests that there is still a real risk of contagion. Can the Chancellor confirm that thanks to his action, any measures taken by the eurozone will have a very limited impact on the UK financial system and limited cost for the UK taxpayer?
My hon. Friend is right. We have reduced our exposure, as I said, to the Greek economy and, absolutely crucially, the Prime Minister made sure we were out of the bail-out funds for Greece that existed when we came to office. With hindsight, that looks like one of the most important decisions we took.
The form of any contagion is not yet known, but surely one of the dangers is capital flight from the poorer southern eurozone economies to the richer northern economies. That would not just be a disaster for Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, but it would have ramifications for the wider European Union, which are political, as the Chancellor has intimated. Given that, what discussions are he and his officials having with European Finance Ministers to make sure that the European single market is not undermined?
The hon. Gentleman is right that capital flies from countries in distress. That is why the Greek Government have had to impose capital controls. We see German bund spreads coming down today. That is a consequence of an open and free market and, as I said in reply to an earlier question, it is difficult to defy that market, as Greece is seeing. More broadly, we want to make sure that the eurozone finds some sustainable way forward so that we avoid these tensions, which spill out into the political system.
Several hon. Members
Order. Accommodating remaining colleagues will require brevity, to be exemplified by Mr Philip Davies.
Is not the genesis of the problem that the EU allowed Greece to fiddle the figures in order to join the euro in the first place? Is not this blinkered pursuit of a political project of ever-closer union, rather than thinking through the economic consequences, the reason why we need to leave the European Union?
I know my hon. Friend has consistently held that view since he put it in his maiden speech, as I remember from listening to him many years ago. He identifies two challenges. One, fiddling the figures, we have addressed in this country by creating the Office for Budget Responsibility. When it comes to ever-closer union, that is precisely one of the issues that we are seeking to address in the renegotiation that we are conducting with the European Union.
The Chancellor has been asked a number of times about the worst-case scenario for this country as a result of the crisis. Can he spell out what that would look like for the people of this country?
As I have said, Britain is not immune to the problems in the European economy. Some 50% of our exports go to the European Union, even if only a very small proportion of that goes to Greece, and we are a very large financial centre, so there would be an impact on our economy if the Greek crisis continued to deteriorate. That is why it is absolutely in our interests that there is a solution.
On a humanitarian point, considering that some international drug companies are currently holding off shipping to Greece as a result of the crisis, are there any early contingency plans in place, or discussions in the UK and the EU, for moving in medical aid should our friends suffer a social and economic collapse, the likes of which were seen when Argentina defaulted in 2000?
My hon. Friend is right to remind us that, although we are talking about a financial crisis, there is real human suffering in Greece, because the banking system has effectively shut down for many Greek citizens and businesses. There are reports of a shortage of medicines, which is why I drew attention in my statement to the Foreign Office’s advice—I was reiterating advice that has been in place—to take adequate supplies of prescription medicines, in particular. On his specific point, we have been talking with the British pharmaceutical companies, which have continued to supply the Greek market, and of course we stay in touch with them regularly.
Infant mortality has doubled and there has been a sharp rise in HIV, TB, suicide and other physical and mental health conditions in Greece. Therefore, I want to see that we ensure that we make provision for emergency medical and humanitarian support in these vital discussions this week.
The hon. Lady is perfectly right to draw to the House’s attention the very difficult situation that Greek families can find themselves in at the moment. That is all the more reason why we need to find a resolution. As I have said, the British pharmaceutical companies, which are important suppliers to the Greek medical system, are continuing to make those supplies, despite the imposition of capital controls. The whole question of what should happen if Greece falls out of the eurozone is something that I think we should return to if that eventually arises. Greece is one of this country’s oldest allies and of course we will always stand by it.
The Chancellor has said that we must not underestimate the impact of these events on the UK economy. Whatever happens, the weak and stagnating economies of southern Europe, in particular, will continue to deteriorate. Looking towards the Budget and the months ahead, will my right hon. Friend use all his offices to pivot the UK economy towards growing and emerging economies elsewhere in the world, particularly as he did decisively with the UK’s leading role in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. British exports are too dependent on European markets and have been badly hit by weaknesses in the European economy over the past five years. That is why we have put a huge effort into trying to expand our trade and investment in fast-growing parts of the world, such as Asia. We want to be part of the new institutions there, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. However, some southern European economies, such as Spain’s, have shown a remarkable turnaround, because they have taken difficult decisions, reformed their economies and are now reaping the benefits.
Britain is quite rightly a good friend of Greece, but does the Chancellor agree that the situation there reminds us that in the end economic logic must prevail? Countries must live within their means, and failure to tackle debt, for example, can lead only to economic and financial disaster.
My hon. Friend makes a very good observation. Countries that fail to live within their means are exposed to the forces of the international bond markets and the flight of investor confidence. Five years ago, Britain had a budget deficit of over 10% of its national income. We have reduced that budget deficit, and this week we are going to take further steps to finish the job.
The Chancellor will be aware of the detailed contingency plan that the eurozone has for a Greek exit from the euro. With the markets calm, would not this be the time to implement that plan?
As I say, it is not for us to dictate to the Greek people or to the eurozone whether Greece should leave. I repeat: the elected Government of Greece say that they want to remain in the eurozone, so we should at least respect that intention, and we will see whether they can work with their partners to deliver it.
I welcome the steps that my right hon. Friend is taking to secure UK economic interests in the current difficult circumstances. Given that one of the challenges of the situation is the lack of a clear and orderly exit mechanism from the eurozone, are there any plans within the eurozone to address this issue after the short-term challenges facing Greece have been solved?
My hon. Friend makes a good observation. There is no straightforward mechanism for a country to exit the eurozone; it is not provided for in the treaties. Of course, if the eurozone wanted to propose a change to the treaties, then we would be very willing to sit down and discuss it.
My right hon. Friend will know that 90% of the world’s physical trade travels by sea. He may also know that Greek individuals and companies are the largest owners by tonnage in all sectors of the market. Any reduction in tonnage across the world is not only damaging to international trade but potentially highly inflationary. Has he given any consideration to this, and what discussions has he had with partners to ensure that sufficient shipping tonnage remains available for all international trade?
We have stayed in touch with all interested parties. Of course, the shipping industry is an incredibly important part of the Greek economy and the global economy, but we do not currently see a particular disruption to the shipping industry that we should be alarmed about.
What support are the travel operators giving the Chancellor in his efforts to disseminate information to travellers going to Greece from this country?
It is fair to say that the travel companies have been behaving very well and co-operating with us very closely. At any one point in the month of July, there are 150,000 British citizens on holiday in Greece. The companies are therefore used to communicating on a large scale, and they are one of our main points of contact with holidaymakers. I say again that people travelling to Greece should check out the Foreign Office travel advice.
While the Greek people gave a clear answer in Sunday’s referendum, there is still a huge amount of concern across Europe that is worrying to working families in this country. Can my right hon. Friend assure me and my constituents that he is taking all necessary steps to protect their economic security?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we will go on delivering economic security for the working people of Britain. I will come back to the House on Wednesday to deliver a Budget that does just that.
I support the comments by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. The Greek-Turkish border is already the leakiest part of the EU’s external frontier, and one of the biggest threats to this country from a complete social and financial collapse in Greece is thousands more migrants making their way through to Calais and trying to get into this country. Will we use our good offices within the EU, and outside the eurozone, to ensure that the EU provides all the necessary support to plug the gaps in the Greece-Turkey part of the EU external border?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is working very actively on precisely this issue. My hon. Friend reminds us, at the end of this statement, that although this is of course a big issue for the eurozone, it is also an issue for the whole of Europe, including the United Kingdom. We want to see a resolution of this Greek crisis. Even at this eleventh hour, we want the eurozone and Greece to sit down and try to find a sustainable way forward.
English Votes on English Laws
Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I seek leave to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the means by which the Government seek to deliver the objectives outlined by the Leader of the House in his statement on English votes on English laws.
Last Thursday the Leader of the House outlined a scheme that goes well beyond anything the Government have previously proposed or on which they have consulted, including an exclusion of Scottish Members from voting on parts of the Budget. Their wish is effectively to set up an English Parliament within this United Kingdom House of Commons and to do so by inviting the House to amend its Standing Orders. The substantive issue will be debated in due course, but that is not what I seek to bring to the House now. Rather, it is the process that I submit is specific and important and that should be given urgent consideration.
I am not one of those who has ever sought to avoid answering the West Lothian question. On the contrary, I long for the day when the English members of my family may benefit from devolution in the way that we have done in Scotland since 1999. This, however, is not the way to do it.
In this Session alone, we have already spent four days debating a Bill giving extra powers to the Scottish Parliament. We still have more to come, after which consideration will move to the other place. Addressing the democratic position of the people of England, however, is apparently to be done from scratch, in one day, in this Chamber alone. Obviously, I am concerned about the message this proposal sends to the people of Scotland, but, quite apart from that, I happen to think that the people of England deserve better treatment than this.
Let there be no doubt: we are dealing with a major constitutional change. It is one that undermines a fundamental principle of the workings of this House, namely that no matter where we come from, once we get here we are all equal. To seek to do this in one day by amendment to our Standing Orders may be technically competent, but it is, I would suggest, an abuse of process. It is constitutionally outrageous and I fear that it puts a further unnecessary strain on the Union. That is what the House must consider and what the country must hear debated before we go any further.
The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the means by which the Government seek to deliver the objectives outlined by the Leader of the House in his statement on English votes on English laws. I have listened carefully to the application from the right hon. Gentleman and I am satisfied that the matter raised by him is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Has the right hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?
Application agreed to.
Leave has very clearly been given. The right hon. Gentleman has the leave of the House. What remains is for me to communicate to the House the necessary details. The debate will be held tomorrow, Tuesday 7 July, and in conformity with normal practice on these occasions—albeit these occasions are relatively infrequent—it will be held as the first item of public business. It will last for three hours and it will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the right hon. Gentleman’s application.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.]
Order. I appreciate that the House is in a state of some animation, but if there are Members who, quite unaccountably, are leaving the Chamber before the points of order from the hon. Members for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), I hope they will do so quickly and quietly, so that the rest of the House can listen with rapt attention to the said points of order. I know that the hon. Gentleman will defer to a newer Member.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Members will miss a great point of order if they leave now. I wish to correct the record in Hansard of last Thursday’s Adjournment debate on Hatfield colliery. In column 1742, the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise made reference to potentially “sexist comments” that I was meant to have made. That was not the case; I was merely pointing out that it was Mrs Thatcher’s Government who started the miners’ problems. My point related to ideology and was nothing to do with gender. I was not able to correct the matter at the time, as the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) refused to allow me into the debate. Can we ensure that the record is corrected or moved?
If you will indulge me a little more, Mr Speaker, I am also incredibly disappointed that I still have not heard from the Secretary of State for Health regarding last Monday’s point of order. Will you remind him that I sit in this place not for myself, but to represent many thousands of Ashton-under-Lyne constituents? What can I do to get them the respect they deserve?
There are two responses to the hon. Lady’s point of order, for which I am most grateful. In respect of the first matter, she has now put what she regards as the correct interpretation of past statements on the record, and it is there for all to see.
In relation to the second matter—how the hon. Lady can get the respect she seeks and, specifically, a response to the point of order that she articulated last week—she will already have learned of the very quick journey that can be made from here to the Table Office. The Table Office staff are unfailingly professional, courteous and helpful. She may have to use the device of the Order Paper and follow-up questions to extract what she wants from a Minister. Knowing as I do already the assiduity of the hon. Lady, I feel sure that she will have recourse to the Table Office sooner rather than later.
I will keep the knight of the shire until a bit later.
Order. The hon. Gentleman can resume his seat. I am saving him up; it would be a pity to squander him at too early a stage of our proceedings.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Friday, I met 55 black cab drivers—fantastic men and women—at Cheshunt boxing club. They are very concerned about Transport for London’s unwillingness to enforce its regulations in respect of the business practices of Uber. It is difficult for me to bring those concerns to the Floor of the House because licensing is a devolved matter and is the responsibility of the Mayor of London. As a procedural expert, Mr Speaker, will you advise me on how I can bring the concerns of 55 black cab drivers to the Floor of the House of Commons so that their voice can be heard by this place?
On a very important procedural matter, the Chair of the Procedure Committee has, unsurprisingly, found his own salvation and, what is more, he is well aware of the fact. We will leave it there for today.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Whatever one’s views on English votes for English business, I have considerable sympathy for the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and the decision that you have made. It strikes me that so often in this place, we fill out time with Whips desperately trying to bring people in, when really important debates, such as this one and the ones on the Iraq war and the Syria war, are limited to one day.
I know that you will say immediately, Mr Speaker, that you do not have control over business, but as the Chairman of the Procedure Committee is here and you are here, I just wonder whether we may look at this matter so that, in future, you might have the ability to mark business as of particular national importance so that it gets two days of debate. That used to happen in our proceedings many years ago, when we often had longer debates, such as the famous Norway debate, which lasted more than one day.
I say three things to the hon. Gentleman. First, I think that matter would usefully fall within the bailiwick of the Procedure Committee. My understanding is that the Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), is currently considering a work programme for the Parliament, and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) might just have added to that workload.
Secondly, I am deeply sympathetic to the proposition that there should be fuller debates on very important matters. The hon. Gentleman might be aware that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and others raised precisely that point at business questions last Thursday. As yet there has not been a definitive response, but the hon. Gentleman might want to add to the pressure.
Lastly, I say to the hon. Gentleman that some of these matters might be attended to in the event of the creation of a House business Committee, which was of course a commitment of the previous coalition Government. I am sure it just happened to slip their memory and they did not get round to introducing it. Knowing what a terrier the hon. Gentleman is, I have a feeling he will probably return to the standard.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On a point of clarification, I understand that the reason why the House business Committee was not introduced in the last Parliament was a conflict between the two Government parties, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. Now that is not the case, there does not seem to be any reason why that Committee could not be introduced.