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Volume 602: debated on Wednesday 18 November 2015

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

May I associate myself, and I hope the whole House, with what the Prime Minister and others in government have said about the attacks in Paris? No man or woman is an island. People from Blackpool were among those murdered on the Tunisian beach, and, like other places worldwide, our tower was lit in red, white and blue in remembrance of those killed by the terrorists in France. I raised concerns with the Prime Minister here two weeks ago about neighbourhood policing and security being threatened by the scale of the proposed cuts and about the Lancashire funding formula, which has now been admitted to be flawed. Will he reflect on the words: “When facts change, I change my mind”? Given that police local intelligence can be crucial against terrorists, perhaps this is not the time to jeopardise it with arbitrary Treasury targets for cuts.

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about Paris and the importance of the whole House coming together. Perhaps the House would like a brief update: as I said yesterday, one British national, Nick Alexander, was killed at the Bataclan theatre; three other British nationals have now been released from hospital and returned to the UK; and the Foreign Office and Red Cross are providing support for trauma to at least another 15 British nationals. We will make sure we provide support to those injured and traumatised by the events that have happened. There has been progress this morning in France with the arrest of terrorists, but perhaps I can say more about that later.

On policing, we rightly protected counter-terrorism policing in the last Parliament, and we will protect it again in this Parliament. Otherwise on policing, we have seen an increase of 3,800 in the number of neighbourhood officers over the Parliament and a 31% cut in crime. I commend the police—not just counter-terrorism police, but all police—for the work they do, and we will announce our proposals on police spending next week.

Q2. As our hearts go out to the people of France, will the Prime Minister agree that the first duty of Her Majesty’s Government must be to protect British citizens from harm? So will he take immediate action to secure our UK borders against those who threaten our nation and, on security grounds alone, restore complete sovereignty over our British borders from the European Union? (902133)

My hon. Friend raises an important question. In answering, I want to explain an important point: because the UK is not in the Schengen area, we already retain full control over who enters our country and can check all entrants at the border, including EU and European economic area nationals. The House might be interested to know that, since 2010, we have refused entry to almost 6,000 EU nationals, more than 3,800 of whom were stopped at our juxtaposed border controls in Calais. Since 2010, we have denied entry to nearly 95,000 people. Of course, one of the principal reasons for not letting people in, be they EU or non-EU nationals, is national security concerns. We are in that situation already because we are not in Schengen.

Let me start by expressing the horror of all Opposition Members at the events in Paris on Friday evening, and our continued solidarity with the victims and all those affected by conflict and terrorism, whether in Paris, Beirut, Ankara, Damascus or anywhere else in the world. Nothing can justify the targeting of innocent civilians by anyone.

We know that at least one British national has been killed, and many more injured. Many British people live and work in Paris, and millions visit Paris and France every year. Will the Prime Minister continue what he was saying in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) about the support given to British nationals affected by the attacks, and will he say what the Government’s latest advice is for those travelling to France, and speak about our need to show the best possible normality in our relations with the French people?

I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his remarks, and it was a pleasure to be with him last night at the England-France football match where there was a tremendous display of solidarity. I am sure that they can sing the Marseillaise louder in the Stade de France, but I think we did a pretty good job yesterday, and I was proud to be there.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is never any justification for terrorism, and we should be clear about that right across the House and at all times. He asked specifically what more we can do to help British people who are caught up in these problems, and Peter Ricketts, our ambassador in France, has done a brilliant job with his staff. I have been keeping a close eye on the consular situation, and I think that everything that can be done is being done.

Our travel advice is all on the Foreign Office website, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the most important thing is for people to carry on with their lives. It is important that the Eurostar continues to function, that flights continue to go, and that people continue to travel and to enjoy London and Paris. We must continue going about our business. As we do so, yes, we need enhanced security, and that is happening in the way that the police are acting in the UK and elsewhere. One way to defeat terrorism, however, is to show the terrorists that we will not be cowed.

We know that, sadly, after atrocities such as those we have seen, intolerance such as Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism often increase. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is vital that everyone in public life—particularly we as politicians—must be careful how we discuss these issues? Will he join me in making it clear that the dreadful terrorism in Paris has nothing in common whatsoever with the 2 million British Muslims in this country who are as appalled as anyone else by the events in Paris last Friday?

I am happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in that, and some of the strongest and best statements following the Paris attacks have been made by a series of British Muslims who have come together to say that these attacks are in no way carried out in their name. I do think—we talked about this yesterday—that this raises an important issue, because it cannot be said often enough that these butchers of ISIL are no reflection of the true religion of Islam, which is a religion of peace. At the same time, we must recognise that whether these terrorists are in Tunisia, Egypt, Paris or London, they spout the same bile that they claim comes from the religion of Islam. That is why we must take apart what they say and prove that that is not the case. It is not good enough to say that there is no connection between these terrorists and Islam; they are making a connection, and we need to prove that it is not right. As we do so, the support of Muslim communities and scholars is vital, and I commend them for their work.

Surely a crucial way to help defeat ISIL is to cut off its funding, its supply of arms, and its trade. May I press the Prime Minister to ensure that our allies in the region—indeed, all countries in the region—are doing all they can to clamp down on individuals and institutions in their countries who are providing ISIL with vital infrastructure? Will he, through the European Union and other forums if necessary, consider sanctions against those banks and companies, and if necessary countries, that turn a blind eye to financial dealings with ISIL that assist it in its work?

As I said yesterday, we play a leading role in ensuring that the supply of money, weapons and support is cut off. However, we should be clear about where ISIL got its money from originally. Because we did not have a Government in Iraq that effectively represented all their people, and because in Syria there is a leader who is butchering his own people, ISIL was able to get hold of oil, weapons, territory and banks, and they have used that to fund their hatred and their violence. We cannot dodge forever the question of how to degrade and destroy ISIL in both Iraq and Syria, and that is why I will be setting out my response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Yes, we should go after the money and the banks, and cut off supplies to ISIL, but we should not make that a substitute for the action that is required to beat those people where they are.

Next week the Chancellor will present his autumn statement to the House. Can the Prime Minister clarify something about the source of the necessary extra funding for the security services, which we support? Will it come at the expense of other areas, either within the Home Office budget or other areas of public spending, from the reserves, or from new funding? Does he want me to go on longer so that the Chancellor can explain the answer to him?

We will set out in full our decisions next week, but we have already said that we will fund an increase in the security services of 1,900 personnel. We will safeguard the counter-terrorism budget and we will see an increase in aviation security. All that is part of an overall spending settlement. At the same time as funding our security and increasing our defence spending, we have to make decisions that eradicate our budget deficit and keep our economy strong. We do not do that just for the current generation: we do it for our children and grandchildren, because none of these things—not even strong defence—is possible without a strong economy.

I am not absolutely sure where the money is coming from following the Prime Minister’s answer, but no doubt it will come.

London has been targeted by terrorists before, and this weekend’s events in Paris have focused attention not just on London but on other cities throughout the whole of Britain. Policing plays a vital role in community cohesion, gathering intelligence on those who might be about to be a risk to all of us, but that is surely undermined if we cut the number of police officers by 5,000. Does the Prime Minister agree with the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who said:

“I genuinely worry about the safety of London”—

if the cuts go through on this scale?

The right hon. Gentleman asks where the money comes from. On this side of the House, we never forget that every penny we spend comes from taxpayers. Borrowed money is simply taxes that are deferred, and that is why it is so important to eradicate our deficit at the same time as making sure that we fund our security and intelligence services and police properly. As I have said, we are protecting the counter-terrorism budget. We saw a 3,800 increase in neighbourhood police officers in the last Parliament, at the same time as a 31% cut in crime. The shadow Home Secretary has said that a 10% efficiency target for the police is doable. Is the Leader of the Opposition saying that he does not agree with the shadow Home Secretary? There does seem to be a little bit of disagreement on the Opposition Front Bench today.

I have a question from a taxpayer, actually. His name is John and he says—[Interruption.] He says that at a time when we are experiencing the greatest threats from terrorism ever faced, our police office numbers and their resources are being cut and that

“Demands on the police have been increasing steadily as budgets are slashed, increasing stress on officers. Couple that with detrimental changes to their pay, terms, conditions and pensions, it’s no wonder that morale”

in the police force

“is so poor that 1 in 3 are considering leaving.”

Will the Prime Minister be able to tell us whether community policing and other police budgets will be protected or not in next week’s autumn statement?”

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman again: neighbourhood policing numbers have gone up by 3,800. In the capital city, we have seen a 500% increase in neighbourhood policing. Because we have cut bureaucracy, we have also put the equivalent of an extra 2,000 police on the streets. But I will tell him something: as well as wanting resources, the police want the appropriate powers. Has it not come to something when the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is not sure what the police’s reaction should be when they are confronted by a Kalashnikov-waving terrorist?

Q3. The attacks on Paris were quite clearly an attack on all of us. Does the Prime Minister agree that our resolve must be unbreakable and that we should hunt down ISIL wherever it is operating, wherever it is planning, wherever it is plotting, and if that means “shoot to kill”, so be it, and if it means action in Syria, so be it? (902134)

I think my hon. Friend is right. What I have said is that in order to respond to this very severe threat that we face, we need to focus on counter-terrorism here in the United Kingdom, giving our intelligence agencies the laws they need and our police the powers they need and ensuring that we are vigilant. We need counter-extremism, as we discussed earlier, emphasising the importance of stopping the poisoning of these young minds, not least by radical preachers on the internet. We also need to stop the problems at their source. We know where much of this problem is coming from: it is ISIL not just in Iraq, but in Syria. I told the House yesterday that I will prepare a detailed response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report to demonstrate that we have a clear strategy of bringing in the neighbourhood powers and the regional powers, building a future for these countries and stability in the middle east. I believe that part of that is taking action against ISIL wherever it is.

In the wake of terrorist outrages and the ongoing civil war in Syria, it is very welcome that there is significant diplomatic progress in trying to find a solution to the Syrian crisis. The UK joined the US, France, Russia and Iran at talks in Vienna at the weekend, and all signed a communiqué committing to progress through the United Nations. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will support a UN Security Council resolution on this before seeking to intervene militarily in Syria?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for asking this question. The point is that Russia has different aims from us and has repeatedly threatened to veto any such resolution. Of course, it is always preferable in these circumstances to have the full backing of the UN Security Council, but what matters most of all is that any action we would take would be both legal and help protect our country and our people right here. As I said yesterday, we cannot outsource to a Russian veto the decisions we need to keep our country safe.

The first survey of UK public opinion on Syrian intervention since the Paris attacks, conducted by Survation, has shown that 52% believe that

“the UK should engage with all countries to co-ordinate an appropriate response, military or otherwise, backed by United Nations resolution”,

and only 15% believe that UK should independently launch air strikes. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment to secure a UN Security Council resolution, which the UK agreed to and which Russia agreed to as well?

I could not be clearer with the right hon. Gentleman. Of course it is always preferable in whatever action we are taking—whether it be lifting people out of the Mediterranean, flying air patrolling missions over Baltic countries that feel a Russian threat or taking action in the middle east against ISIL—to have a UN Security Council resolution. However, if such resolutions are vetoed or threatened with a veto over and over again, my job as Prime Minister is, frankly, not to read a Survation opinion poll but to do the right thing to keep our country safe.

Q7. The French armed police who stormed the Bataclan and killed those vile, murderous scum are heroes, and so are the British armed police who protect our public spaces and the people. Will the Prime Minister send a note of unequivocal support today to those officers on patrol, and ensure that in next week’s review, they have the resources they need to keep us safe? (902138)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We ask the police every day to take risks on our behalf. Let me thank the police who policed so effectively the game at Wembley last night.

In terms of what the French police have done, I think the House would welcome an update. We have seen the news of a police operation in Paris this morning. Two terrorist suspects died, including a female suspect who blew herself up. Seven arrests are reported to have been made. This operation has now finished. As the French Interior Minister has said, we should all acknowledge the bravery of the French police in dealing with what is a very challenging situation.

I hope there can be consensus across the House—I mean right across the House—on this. If we are confronted with a situation like this, the British police should not be in any doubt. If you have a terrorist who is threatening to kill people, you can—indeed, you must—use lethal force.

Q4. In a recent Financial Times article, President Obama said:“I have emphasised the importance…of tax credits to help working families afford childcare and keep two-earner families in the workforce.”Does the Prime Minister agree with the importance the President of the United States has attached to tax credits? (902135)

I think it is important that we do the best we can to help low-paid people. That is why we are taking people out of income tax: 3 million of the lowest paid taken out of income tax since I became Prime Minister. We are going to be setting an £11,000 threshold before people have to start paying tax at all. We are helping working families with childcare. We are helping with a national living wage of £7.20 starting next year, something I suspect President Obama would love to introduce in the United States. We are doing it right here.

Q10. Integrating health and social care will be a great prize for devolved cities and regions, but without effective democratic and clinical oversight things can go badly wrong. Already, in Manchester a major hospital reorganisation is awaiting judicial review. May I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that proper safeguards are in place so that local authorities retain a last resort power to refer NHS changes for independent clinical review? (902141)

I will look carefully at what my hon. Friend says, but I think this does go to a larger point, which is that we are currently changing the way our country is run. These big devolution deals, first to Greater Manchester but now, with the announcements yesterday, to Liverpool and to the west midlands, mean that we are going to have powerful metro mayors who are accountable to local people for the decisions they make. That is a very direct form of accountability and that is why we can be confident of devolving health and social care to those authorities. For too long, our country has been too centralised. The great cities of Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool—and soon Leeds, I hope—will benefit from these massive devolution deals, but if we devolve the power and we devolve the money, we have to devolve the trust and the accountability too.

Q5. Against the backdrop of a tidal wave of local job losses, the Teesside Collective for industrial carbon capture has the very real potential to secure a major step change in our industrial renaissance. Ahead of the Paris conference, will the Prime Minister meet me and the industrial leaders driving this project so that we can secure these immense climate change gains with the UK leading this new industrial revolution, and make this initiative a reality for Teesside and the UK? (902136)

I know how important it is that we all work on behalf of Teesside, not least because of the difficulties there have been in Redcar. That is why we have the taskforce and why the additional resources are going in. I am very happy to look at the project the hon. Gentleman talks about. It may be best for him to meet the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, because we have to make important decisions about all these technologies in the run-up to the Paris conference and beyond.

Q12. In my constituency, manufacturing is thriving thanks to innovative small businesses such as Powerkut and Naysmith Group, which are creating high quality local jobs and apprenticeships in the engineering sector. Given the challenges that these types of companies face in finding traditional bank and funding support, what assurances can the Prime Minister give that this Conservative Government understand the importance of our innovators and will continue to provide initiatives, such as the annual investment fund, to ensure British businesses continue to lead the way? (902143)

We want to rebalance the British economy not just in terms of the devolution of power I have just talked about, but to see a thriving manufacturing sector. Manufacturers have told us that they want continued investment in the catapult centres, which do a good job of making sure that technology is taken up. They want strong support for the apprenticeship programme, and we have set a target of 3 million apprentices during this Parliament. They also want to make the annual investment allowance permanent, and it will be permanent at £200,000 throughout this Parliament so that manufacturing companies and others that want to make investments know they can do so in a way that will be profitable for them.

Q6. My niece Ruby is safe and well after being caught up in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. She has been a student in Paris for three years, and she wants to know whether this country will be safe on her return. She has a question for the Prime Minister. She is worried about the cuts to the ambulance, police and fire services here, and whether those cuts will allow us to have the preparedness that was shown by the emergency services in Paris. I also want to know why we are not joining the Russians in calling for a UN mandate to remove ISIS from Syria. (902137)

First, let me say how glad I am to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s niece is safe after those terrible attacks. Let me answer her question very directly. We are doing everything we can to make sure that this country is safe. After receiving intelligence some years ago about the potential for a marauding firearms attack at multiple locations—perhaps in our capital city or elsewhere in our country—we have run exercises and we have done research. We have looked at everything we can do to make sure, for instance, that ambulances and their crews will be able to go into a so-called hot zone and recover casualties, that we have the right number of armed police in the different parts of our country, and that we can respond in ways that will include using other forces in all the ways that we can. We have looked carefully at what the French have done in surging troops on their streets and have made sure that that can now happen here, and that all the permissions are given.

There is never a 100% guarantee of safety in any country, but I would say to the hon. Gentleman’s niece that we are doing everything that we possibly can.

Q13. In that spirit, I warmly congratulate the Prime Minister on the new funding that has been announced for special forces equipment, but may I draw his attention to the plight of David and Maria Summers, in my constituency, who have struggled to obtain permanent residency for Maria despite having been married for 45 years? May I ask the Prime Minister to encourage officials to look at the case again? (902144)

I shall be happy to look at the case again, but, given the constituency that my hon. Friend represents, his question gives me an opportunity to say something about a group of people we say very little about because we do not comment on the amazing work that they do. Hereford is a very important part of the nation’s security, both domestically and overseas. Very, very brave people work there, and we should all give credit to them.

Q8. A constituent of mine was a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is currently training to be a doctor in London. He tells me that with the proposed junior doctors’ contracts, morale in the NHS is lower now than it has been at any time during his time on the frontline. Does the Prime Minister agree that low morale among our junior doctors and nurses is a threat to patient safety? (902139)

I would say that the hon. Lady’s constituent and all junior doctors should please look very carefully at what the Government are offering before they decide to go on strike. What is on offer is not an increase in hours—indeed, for many doctors it will mean less long hours—and it is not a cut in the pay bill for junior doctors; it is actually an 11% basic pay increase. It will also mean better rostering of doctors, including at weekends, and more support for consultants.

I would say to the hon. Lady’s constituent, as I would say to others, “Look at the Department of Health’s website, look at the pay calculator, and see how you will be affected.” We have given a guarantee that anyone who is working legal hours will not be worse off under the new contract. It is good for the NHS, good for doctors, and good for patients. Even at this late hour, I hope that the British Medical Association will call off its damaging strike.

Q14. Fundamental to the success of the Good Friday agreement was a spirit of peace and reconciliation that saw dozens, or even hundreds, of convicted terrorists released from prison. Many had been found guilty of murder. Yet in the last week, we have heard the alarming news that a 66-year-old former paratrooper has been arrested in connection with events that took place in Londonderry 43 years ago. In a week when we are all having to once again contemplate sending our young men and women into harm’s way, with our security services and police are on high alert, what message does the Prime Minister feel that that sends to our armed forces, our police and our security services? (902145)

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and the feelings that many will have on seeing this news, but the truth is that one of the most important things about our country is that the Government do not decide who is prosecuted and who is not prosecuted. We have the rule of law; we have independent prosecuting authorities. This is something that people across the world cry out for and we have here, and we have to support them even when they take decisions that sometimes we would want to question.

In that context, let me make a broader point. Yesterday the principal parties in Northern Ireland came together and agreed a deal to make sure that the devolved institutions can continue to work. That deal involved people who have lost loved ones to terrorism, and who have been opposed to each other all of their lives, sitting down and working together to try to deliver good government for this part of our United Kingdom, It is that spirit we should look to for the future.

Q9. HMRC’s decision last week to close its offices in the Bradford district will mean the loss of over 2,000 high-skill, high-wage jobs, £1.2 million in business rates and almost £12 million of the district’s retail spending. This will have a devastating impact on Bradford’s families and economy, so will the Prime Minister give me assurances that HMRC will meet Bradford MPs to consider the clear economic and social case for keeping those offices in Bradford open? (902140)

First, I am happy to ask the Financial Secretary to meet the local MPs. Secondly, we will make sure that Jobcentre Plus and all the support is there for people who potentially are losing their jobs. The point I would make in Bradford more broadly is that the claimant count is down by 26% in the last year, so jobs are available. But let me also make this point, because it is a difficult and important point to make: everyone in this House wants to see HMRC raise more money and make sure that people and companies do not avoid their taxes. That does mean reform, and it means making sure that HMRC is even more effective in raising the taxes on which our public services depend.

In acknowledgement of the fact that sport can bring a nation together—and, for that matter, nations, as was demonstrated at Wembley last night—will my right hon. Friend ensure that, in addition to the welcome extra investment in the police and security services, investment in sports such as cricket will be maintained because they are a tool to help us face longer-term challenges in integrating communities?

I am sure that over the next week the spending requests will quicken as we get closer to the spending review. It is important that we have put in place the school sport premium for primary schools—it is making a real difference—but of course there is a role for the sporting bodies to play themselves. Many of them receive large amounts of money from the television contracts, and if more of them can use that money to invest in grassroots sports to make sure we are bringing on the young stars of tomorrow, that will be absolutely vital.

Q11. As the new leader of the anti-austerity movement in Oxfordshire, will the Prime Minister tell us how his campaign is going? (902142)

What I said to my local council is what I say to every council: “You’ve got to get more for less, not less for more.” As I said, on this side of the House we want to make sure that every penny raised in council tax is well spent, and if the hon. Gentleman’s council would like to come in and get the same advice, I will gladly oblige.

At a time when my right hon. Friend so rightly emphasises the need for our solidarity with France, will he see what he can do to ensure that the Franco-British Council, set up over 40 years ago by both nations’ Governments to promote civil society partnership, can continue to do its important work in fields as diverse as defence and community cohesion, because without a very small amount of funding from both Governments, it will not be able to do that?

I am very happy to look at that proposal. France and Britain have a lot to learn from each other, and we should enter into these discussions in that spirit. We have a lot to learn about how we try to integrate people in our country, how we have effective counter-terrorism policing, and how we share intelligence, and I am very committed to making sure that we pursue all those things with our French friends.

Q15. Wigan council has had a cut of over 40% in its funding over the past five years and lost a third of its staff. Does the Prime Minister advise that I should write to the leader of the council regarding the consequent reductions in services, or should I place the blame firmly where it belongs: in the hands of his Government? (902146)

If the hon. Lady is looking for someone to blame, she might want to blame the Labour party, which left this country with the biggest budget deficit anywhere in the western world. And as she does so, the advice I would give her about her local council is to look at its overall spending power—the combination of business rates, council tax and grant—and ask what money it has to provide good local services.