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
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.
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)
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.
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? (900764)
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.
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.
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? (900759)
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?
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.
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
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.
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. (900746)
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.
Asylum Seekers (Syria)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (900762)
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.
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
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?
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?
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. (900752)
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? (900763)
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)
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.
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? (900757)
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.
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.
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.
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? (900733)
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? (900740)
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.
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? (900736)
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? (900737)
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? (900738)
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? (900739)
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 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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.