House of Commons
Wednesday 10 February 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I hope the House will join me in welcoming to the Serjeant’s Chair the new Serjeant at Arms on the occasion of his first Prime Minister’s questions, which is an exceptional day—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—and an exceptional response. Secondly, the House might wish to join me in warmly congratulating Kim Sears and Andy Murray on the birth of their baby daughter.
Business Before Questions
Committee of Selection
That Heidi Alexander be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Jessica Morden be added.—(Anne Milton, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
Spoliation Advisory Panel
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report from Sir Donnell Deeny, Chairman of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, dated 10 February 2016, in respect of a gothic relief in ivory now in the possession of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.—(Stephen Barclay.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Mr Speaker, I am sure that everyone, particularly in Scotland, will share your warm wishes to Andy Murray and Kim Sears on the birth of their daughter.
Latest official statistics published last month show that in 2014 around 42% of all Scottish international exports were destined for countries within the European Union. The value of these exports is estimated at around £11.6 billion.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the package that the Prime Minister will discuss in greater detail with his colleagues on the European Council will bring about much needed reform and be a catalyst for further reform in the future, thus making it quite clear that the single market is good for the United Kingdom and, of course, good for Scotland?
The single European market and the ability to affect the legislation that governs it is hugely important to the Scottish economy, especially the exporting sectors such as whisky. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, regardless of the ongoing negotiations, he will personally campaign for Scotland and the UK to remain within the European Union?
The good news is that I get a second bite of the cherry, so perhaps at the end of this question the Secretary of State will answer my question about whether he will support Scotland and the UK remaining within the European Union. Making a positive case for remaining in the EU will be crucial in the weeks and months ahead, so will the Secretary of State give a commitment not to repeat the grinding negativity of project fear and condemn ridiculous scare stories such as those from the Prime Minister on immigration and the refugee camp in Calais?
I will make my position known when the negotiations have been concluded, but I make this offer to the right hon. Gentleman: if the reform package goes ahead and if I am campaigning to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom I would be delighted to join him, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and the First Minister on a platform to make that case.
Last night I had the pleasure of meeting the Scotch Whisky Association, which introduced me to some of the finer products from across the border. Simpsons Malt in my constituency produces an enormous amount of the malted barley sold across the border in Scotland to produce this whisky. Does my right hon. Friend agree that expansion into new markets that have nothing to do with the EU is the growth area for the whisky industry?
There are tremendous opportunities for development of the Scotch whisky industry. I think that the Scottish Government, the United Kingdom Government and all parties in the House are united on that. When the President of China was in the United Kingdom recently, we had the opportunity to present his wife with a bottle of her favourite malt whisky from Scotland, and both he and his good lady were able to make clear how important the product is to developing markets in China.
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Scottish businesses about the possibility of a UK exit from the European Union, and what concerns have those businesses expressed about the impact it would have on their ability to gain access to, and export to, the single market?
Revised Fiscal Framework
I have regular discussions with the Deputy First Minister to discuss the fiscal framework. The Joint Exchequer Committee met on Monday, and negotiations are ongoing.
Yesterday the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister listing the issues on which agreement still needed to be reached. They were the method for
“block grant adjustment…set-up and administration costs, capital and revenue borrowing, fiscal oversight and dispute resolution.”
Can the Secretary of State confirm that those are all the outstanding issues on which agreement still needs to be reached?
It was established at the start of the discussions that until everything was agreed, nothing was agreed, but considerable progress has been made on all those issues. I was very pleased to learn from the First Minister’s letter that the Finance Secretary would be presenting revised proposals from the Scottish Government. That is what a negotiation involves: it involves both parties presenting revised proposals as the negotiation progresses, and that is exactly what the UK Government are committed to doing.
The starting point of the fiscal framework discussions is the Barnett formula, which means that Scotland’s public spending per capita is 15% higher than the United Kingdom average. Does the Secretary of State believe that that differential will be maintained in perpetuity?
The negotiations on the fiscal framework are in a very sensitive and fragile state, and we must be very careful about the language that is used. However, the Secretary of State has used language like “ludicrous” and “chancing his arm” when it comes to one party to the negotiations, which is profoundly unhelpful. If the Secretary of State and the Scotland Office have nothing to offer the negotiations, will the Secretary of State vow to stay right out of it, and leave those who want to find a solution to try to get those negotiations fixed?
I find it a little odd to take a lecture from that particular hon. Gentleman on moderate language.
I do not think anyone can doubt my commitment to ensuring that we have a negotiated fiscal framework, and I am delighted that, in her letter to the Prime Minister, the First Minister set out her strong commitment to achieving such an agreement, because that is the Prime Minister’s position. As I said at the weekend, both sides have done the dance; now let us do the deal.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to have the successful devolution that we all want, we need a firm and sensible framework for fiscal discipline that will last, and will stand the tests of all the unknown economic vicissitudes that may hit the country? Will he assure us that we will not repeat the mistakes that have been made in Spain, where devolved provinces frequently run up unsustainable debts which they then blame on Madrid, causing great difficulties to Spanish Governments who are seeking recovery?
As my right hon. and learned Friend will recognise, the settlement in Spain is entirely different. I agree with him about the need for a sustainable fiscal framework, but, as the Government have made clear in the negotiations, we are willing to accept a review of the arrangements in a few years to ensure that they stand up to scrutiny, and are seen to be fair to both Scotland and to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Mr Speaker, I join you in congratulating Andy Murray and Kim Sears on the birth of their baby daughter. However, their baby daughter might be winning Wimbledon by the time we get a deal on the fiscal framework. The UK and Scottish Governments have now been negotiating it for more than six months, which is longer than it took to negotiate the Scotland Bill itself, longer than it took to strike the historic international climate change agreement and longer than it took the G20 leaders to negotiate $1.1 trillion of support for the global economy. It is clearly the indexation model that is contentious, so will the Secretary of State tell the House why he thinks the per capita index model is not appropriate for the indexation of the block grant?
I have made it clear in previous discussions that we are not going to have detailed negotiations on this matter on the Floor of the House. I have also said that I very much welcome the fact that the First Minister has indicated that the Scottish Government are going to bring forward a revised proposal, just as we have done through the negotiations. I believe that we are within touching distance of striking a deal and I remain optimistic that we will do so.
The Secretary of State says that he will not provide a running commentary on the fiscal framework, yet both Governments are providing exactly that. The respected economist Anton Muscatelli has said of the fiscal framework:
“I do not understand why it should be such a huge stumbling block.”
The constitutional expert Jim Gallagher has said:
“This fiscal framework is an eminently solvable problem.”
The Prime Minister has spent recent months shuttling around Europe trying to strike a deal on EU reform. Is it not time that he got involved and showed the same enthusiasm for striking a fair deal for Scotland in our own Union as he has shown for the European Union?
The Prime Minister is committed to securing a deal. He has spoken to Nicola Sturgeon about this issue and they have had productive discussions. They are now involved in an exchange of letters, but they are both quite clear that they now want a deal. I am confident, given the position set out in the letter from the First Minister that the Scottish Government are actively engaging in that negotiation process, as are we, that we will be able to get that deal.
North Sea Oil and Gas
On 28 January, the Prime Minister and I held discussions with industry representatives in Aberdeen on further support for the North sea. As a member of the joint ministerial group on oil and gas, I also engage with key stakeholders, such as the Oil and Gas Authority, on a regular basis.
Calor Gas has its largest operational UK site in my constituency in South Leicestershire. A number of residents in the Scottish highlands and other rural areas rely on Calor Gas, which receives a large part of its Scottish gas supply from the North sea. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as a result of the support that the UK Government are able to provide, we are much better placed to absorb the fall in oil prices than would have been the case had Scotland been an independent country?
I acknowledge the importance of Calor Gas and all those who supply off-the-network energy to people living in rural Scotland. On my hon. Friend’s wider question, he makes an important point about the ability of the United Kingdom as a whole to absorb the change in the oil price.
The severity of the collapse in global oil prices carries with it the danger that a number of fields in the North sea will suspend production and perhaps never resume it. Given that this would represent a serious loss of national assets and national infrastructure, may I invite the Secretary of State to have further discussions with the Chancellor in advance of the Budget to try to ensure that these fields are not lost forever and that they remain an important part of our national economy?
It will not surprise my right hon. Friend to know that that issue was part of the discussion with the Prime Minister, Fergus Ewing from the Scottish Government and representatives of the oil and gas industry at the recent meeting in Aberdeen. The Prime Minister made it very clear that he would look at any specific request or proposal in relation to supporting the industry in the forthcoming Budget.
On behalf of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I meet the Secretary of State for Scotland on a regular basis to discuss the devolution of welfare programmes to the Scottish Government; at a meeting just yesterday we discussed the ever-improving labour market in Scotland. I also have regular meetings with my counterparts from the Scottish Government and we have a joint ministerial working group. I will be speaking tomorrow to the Scottish Ministers with responsibility for fair work, and for children and young people.
The Smith agreement devolved employability funding and services to Scotland, but then the autumn statement cut funding for it by an eye-watering 87%, so that the Scottish Government now have only £7 million with which to deliver those services. Notwithstanding the general acceptance that this was a politically motivated decision, what does the Minister have to say to my constituents, who live in one of the areas of highest deprivation in the whole of the United Kingdom and are, after all, the people this will have the largest impact on?
I start by hoping that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that in her constituency the claimant count has decreased by 49% since 2010. We have record levels of employment in Scotland. There will be greater devolution for the Scottish Government in welfare, and we would be particularly happy to have discussions with them on employment programmes. Many of those will look at how we take these programmes further to support those who are out of work in Scotland but desperately want to work.
As a result of the changes from disability living allowance to the personal independence payment, thousands of Scots are losing their rights to Motability vehicles. That is particularly devastating in rural areas, where accessible public transport may be limited. Will the Minister end this iniquitous policy?
As I have said, there will be new powers under the devolution deal, which will also include top-up payments; this is still very much based on welfare payments as well. It will be down to the Scottish Government in particular to get on and start making some of these decisions. They have got the powers coming to them so they will have to start deciding how they want to use them.
It was thanks to Labour peers that the Government’s initial cack-handed and unfair cuts to tax credits were brought to an abrupt end, but we now know that the Government want to introduce new changes to income disregard which will leave 800,000 people on tax credits across the United Kingdom worse off come April. Can the Minister tell the House how many people in Scotland will be affected?
I will say, as I have previously said when the House has discussed the issues of welfare reform and welfare changes, that we have the Bill going through the other place right now and the changes we are making are to bring fairness and stability to the welfare bill in this country. We know, and we have made it clear, that despite the figures that the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party leverage constantly, people will not be affected and the right kind of transitional support will be put in place.
The employment rate in Scotland has never been higher, and it now stands at 74.9%. Our employment support offer will build on that, recognising the changing labour market environment, while delivering value for money to the taxpayer.
Erewash has many great examples of businesses whose commercial operations north of the border help to sustain jobs locally, including Rayden Engineering and West Transport. Does the Minister agree that Scotland not only supports jobs for its own population, but creates a great deal of employment across the rest of the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that record levels of employment in Scotland have clearly benefited her constituency, as there is a crossover in employment opportunities between her constituency and Scotland. With our growing economy, and the strength of our economy, those levels will continue to grow and grow.
Under the SNP Scottish Government, Scotland’s youth employment is at its highest level since 2005, and is 7% higher than that in the rest of the UK. Can the Secretary of State reassure me that he will make representations to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that Scotland receives a fair share of funding from the apprenticeship levy?
It is a very serious situation if Ministers cannot hear the questions. It is also a considerable discourtesy to the people of Scotland if, when we are discussing these important matters, questions and answers cannot be heard. Let us please try to have a bit of order.
West Coast Main Line
I have had a number of discussions with the Department for Transport and others to ensure that the closure of the Lamington viaduct, which is in my own constituency, is addressed as quickly as possible. We remain absolutely committed to working together with all parties to reopen the west coast line in the first week of March.
I apologise for my lack of voice. The closure of the west coast main line has a huge impact not only on the economy of southern Scotland, but on Cumbria, too, as it is a strategic cross-border crossing on which many businesses in my constituency rely. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that it will be open in the first week of March, as it is so important. Will he confirm that the entirety will be open by 1 March?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments because, as she will be aware, my own constituents who use Lockerbie station are among those most affected by these changes. We are determined to get the west coast main line fully reopened in that first week in March.
The Prime Minister claims that he will get a good deal for Britain in the European Union. Would the Secretary of State like to see the United Kingdom play the same role and have the same powers in the EU that he claims Scotland currently has in the UK?
Mr Speaker, the west coast main line is one of the most important routes within the United Kingdom to Europe via London. I have set out my position in relation to the EU referendum. If the SNP genuinely wants Scotland to remain in the EU, it is important that, rather than concentrate on process issues, it gets out and campaigns for it.
Devolution and Local Government
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to read my speech of 21 December, in which I set out that I fully support the devolution of power from Holyrood to local communities, as Lord Smith recommended in his commission agreement. This is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament to implement, and I encourage them to do so.
Will the Secretary of State condemn those who use devolution to centralise power in Holyrood—whether it is the centralisation of the police, the fire service, health spending, local government spending, courts, colleges and enterprise companies? Will he ensure that he stands together with those who feel that devolution does not stop at Holyrood, but goes down to the Scottish local authorities and to the Scottish people?
In the interests of the record, can the Secretary of State confirm that, under the powers that are being devolved as part of the current Scotland Bill, the Scottish Government will be able to vary rates and bands of the Scottish rate of income tax—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State and the Minister could not hear the question because of a rude eruption of noise. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can ask his question again, and perhaps Members will have the common courtesy to allow him to be heard by their own Ministers.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. We are getting used to interruptions. In the interests of the record, can the Secretary of State confirm that, under the powers that are being devolved as part of the Scotland Bill, the Scottish Government will be able to vary rates and bands of the Scottish rate of income tax, allowing the Scottish Government to make progressive choices on these additional powers, and that the half-baked Labour plan to raise Scottish income tax for everyone before these additional powers are transferred—
The Scottish Parliament will indeed take on those very significant tax powers, which it will be able to use as it sees fit. I hope it will use them to make Scotland a more attractive place for business and commerce and to grow the Scottish economy and the Scottish population.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has had a number of discussions with business organisations, including the Institute of Directors, the Scotch Whisky Association and Oil and Gas UK. It is because of this Government’s commitment to our long-term economic plan and economic prosperity that we have seen such growth in the Scottish economy. Thank goodness that the good people of Scotland voted to stay within a United Kingdom and reject independence.
Research by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers shows that Scottish shop workers could lose up to £1,300 annually as stores increasingly abandon their additional Sunday pay rates in the light of the proposed Sunday trading regulations. Will the Minister take up these concerns with the Business Secretary?
I did not hear all that my hon. Friend said, but I can tell her that we intend to devolve power down to local authorities, so that they make the decisions on what is in the best interests of people locally. That includes local people who may want to shop on a Sunday and the interests of businesses that may want to open more liberally on a Sunday to take full advantage. I think that is a good idea. I hope that my hon. Friend might consider supporting it.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know the whole House has been deeply saddened by the death of Harry Harpham last week from cancer. After a distinguished career as a miner, an adviser to David Blunkett and a Sheffield councillor, he was returned to this place last May, succeeding David Blunkett himself. Although he was in this place only a short time, he quickly became a popular MP, recognised for his commitment to his constituents and his beliefs. It is a measure of the man that he continued to carry out his work as an MP throughout his treatment. We offer his wife Gill and his five children our profound condolences. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
First, may I associate myself, alongside colleagues, with the sentiments expressed at the sad loss of the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough? He came to this House with an excellent record in local government and will be greatly missed. I am sure the whole House sends our condolences to his family at this sad time.
Housing is the No. 1 issue in my constituency—a workable local plan that looks after our green spaces while offering that pure Conservative value, the right to buy. Does the Prime Minister agree that our Help to Buy ISAs, one of which is currently being taken out every 30 seconds, is the right way to promote savings and encourage home ownership?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the most difficult things for young people is to get that deposit together for their first flat or their first house. That is where Help to Buy ISAs, where we match some of the money they put in, can make such a difference. Some 250,000 first-time buyers have opened a Help to Buy ISA, so under this Government we have seen 40,000 people exercise the right to buy their council house. Now we are extending that to all housing association tenants, and we have seen 130,000 people with Help to Buy getting their first flat or house. There is more to do—mostly, building houses—but helping people with their deposits is vital for our country.
I join the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) in paying tribute to Harry Harpham, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, a former miner, who passed away last week. Just a short time ago, Harry used his last question here to ask the Prime Minister about Sheffield Forgemasters and the steel industry. I hope the Prime Minister will reflect on his diligence in representing that industry and his constituency.
Yesterday, I had a chance to have a very nice conversation with Harry’s widow, Gill, and his family. I asked them to say how they would like to remember Harry. She gave me this message, which I will read out:
“We have admired the bravery and courage he showed in his life which was formed during the miners’ strike, and carried him forward for the rest of his life”.
I am sure the whole House and many in the much wider community will remember Harry as a decent, honourable man absolutely dedicated to his community and his constituents. We are very sad at his passing.
Also following the hon. Member for Eastleigh, I have a question on housing. I have an email from Rosie. She is in her 20s—[Interruption.] Unfortunately, the Rosie who has written to me does not have the same good housing that the Chief Whip of our party does, but aspiration springs eternal. The Rosie who has written to me is in her 20s, and she says:
“I work incredibly hard at my job, yet I am still living at home with my parents”.
The lack of housing options is forcing her to consider moving—even leaving the country. She asks the Prime Minister what action he is going to take to help young people and families suffering from unrealistic house prices and uncapped rents to get somewhere safe and secure to live.
First, let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that when you get a letter from the Chief Whip, that normally spells trouble. What I would say to Rosie—the Rosie who wrote to him—is we want to do everything we can to help young people get on the housing ladder. That is why we have got these help-to-save ISAs, and I hope she is looking at that. We are cutting Rosie’s taxes, so this year she will be able to earn £11,000 before she starts paying any taxes. If Rosie is a tenant in a housing association home, she will be able to buy that home, because we are introducing and extending the right to buy. And, of course, she will have the opportunity to register for Help to Buy, which gives people the chance to have a smaller deposit on owning their own home. If Rosie is not earning that much money, but wants to be a homeowner, shared ownership can make a real difference. In some parts of the country, you will only need a deposit of some £1,000 or £2,000 to begin the process of becoming a homeowner. But I recognise, in this Parliament, building more houses, following those schemes, we have got to deliver for Rosie.
I am very pleased that the Prime Minister wants to help deliver decent housing for Rosie. She lives and works in London, and as the Prime Minister knows, London is very, very expensive. He talks about people getting on the housing ladder, but the reality is that home ownership has fallen under his Government by 200,000—it actually rose by 1 million under the last Labour Government. His record is one, actually, of some years of failure on housing. He said that council homes sold under the right to buy would be replaced like for like. Can the Prime Minister tell us how that policy is panning out?
First, let me start with what happened under Labour with right-to-buy sales. What happened was one council home was built for every 170 council homes they sold. That is the record. We have said that we will make sure that two homes are built for every council home in London that is sold. That is because my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) insisted on that in an amendment to the housing Bill. Now, these take some years to build, but they will be built, or the money comes back to the Treasury.
The Prime Minister ought to be aware that just one home has been built for every eight that have been sold under his Government. People are increasingly finding it very difficult to find anywhere to live. The Chancellor’s crude cuts in housing benefits for those in supported housing are putting at risk hundreds of thousands of elderly people, people with mental health conditions, war veterans, and women fleeing domestic violence who need support. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what estimate housing providers have made of the impact of this policy on supported housing?
First, we are going to increase housing supply in the social sector through an £8 billion housing budget during this Parliament that is going to build 400,000 affordable homes. When it comes to our reforms of housing benefit, yes, we have cut housing benefit because it was completely out of control when we came into government. There were families in London who were getting £100,000 of housing benefit per family. Think how many people—think how many Rosies—were going to work, working hard every day, just to provide that housing benefit for one family. We support supported housing schemes, and we will look very carefully to make sure they can work well in the future, but I make no apology for the fact that in this Parliament we are cutting social rents, so that the Rosies who are living in social houses and going out to work will have lower rents under this Government.
I am pleased the Prime Minister finally got on to the question of supported housing. Housing providers estimate that nearly half of all supported housing schemes will close. One in four providers is set to close all their provision. This is a very serious crisis. I assume the Prime Minister is not content to see the elderly, people with mental health conditions and others with nowhere to live, so can he assure the House now that the warm words he has just given on supported housing will be matched by action, and that he will stop this cut, which will destroy the supported housing sector?
We will continue to support the supported housing sector. The report that the right hon. Gentleman quotes from was an opinion poll with an extremely leading question, if he actually looks at what he was looking at. The changes that we are making are reducing social rents by 1% every year for four years. That is good news for people who go out to work, who work hard and who would like to pay less rent. That goes with the lower taxes that they will be paying and the more childcare they will be getting. The other change that we are making, which does not actually come into force until 2018, is to make sure that we are not paying housing benefit to social tenants way above what we would pay to private sector tenants. The simple point is this, and this is where I think Labour has got to focus: every penny you spend on housing subsidy is money you cannot spend on building houses. So let us take this right back to Rosie, in the beginning. She wants a country where we build homes. She wants a country where you can buy a home. She wants a country with a strong economy, so you can afford to buy a home. All those things we are delivering, and you will not deliver them if you go on spending more and more money on subsidised housing and housing benefit. One day Labour has got to realise that welfare bills have to be brought under control.
Shelter estimates that the measures in the housing Bill will lose 180,000 affordable homes over the next four years. The Prime Minister is actually overseeing a very damaging housing crisis. It is pricing out people from buying and it is not providing enough social housing. Therefore, many people are forced to rely on the private rented sector. Those on the Benches behind him recently voted against an amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for homes to be fit for human habitation. Labour invested £22 billion in government in bringing social homes up to the decent homes standard. There are now 11 million people in this country who are private renters. Does the Prime Minister know how many of those homes do not meet the decent homes standard?
In the last five years, we built more council houses than the previous Labour Government built in 13 years. Where was the right hon. Gentleman when that was going on? Thirteen years, and an absolutely hopeless record on housing. What we are doing is this: an £8 billion housing budget that will provide 400,000 new affordable homes, a target to build a million homes during this Parliament, getting housing benefit down so we can spend money on housing, and having a strong economy that can support the housing we need.
I was asking the Prime Minister how many of the 11 million renters are living in homes that do not meet the decent homes standard and are, therefore, substandard. I will help him. One third of homes in the private rented sector do not meet the decent homes standard. Shelter has found that six out of 10 renters have to deal with issues such as damp, mould and leaking rooves and windows. It is simply not good enough.
Millions are struggling to get the home that they deserve. More families are slipping into temporary accommodation. The elderly are threatened with eviction. Homelessness is rising. Too few homes are being built. Social housing is under pressure. Families are being forced into low-standard, overpriced private rented accommodation. Young people are unable to move out of the family home and start their own lives. When is the Prime Minister going to realise there is a housing crisis in Britain? His Government need to address it now so that this dreadful situation does not continue.
Let me just take one of the figures that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. Homelessness today is less than half what it was at its peak under the last Labour Government. There is a simple point here. You can only invest in new houses, you can only restore existing houses, you can only build new houses and you can only support people into those houses if you have got a strong economy. We inherited mass unemployment, an economy that had completely collapsed and a banking crisis. Now we have got zero inflation, wages growing, unemployment at 5%, an economy growing and people able, for the first time, to look to their future and see that they can buy and own a house in our country.
Q2. Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman, was 19 years old when Daesh came to her village. They killed most of her family, they tortured her, they raped her and they made her their slave. Nadia’s story is the same as those of thousands of Yazidi women, except that thousands of Yazidi women are still held in captivity and Nadia managed to escape. In fact, she is in the Public Gallery today. Will the Prime Minister join me in acknowledging Nadia’s resilience and her bravery—the essential qualities that have allowed her to triumph over Daesh—and will he do everything in his power to redouble his efforts to support Yazidi women and to eradicate Daesh? (903570)
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue in such a way. Let me welcome Nadia Murad, who is here with us today. She and the Yazidi community have suffered appallingly at the hands of this murderous, brutal, fascist organisation in Syria and in Iraq. We must do everything we can to defeat Daesh and its violent ideology. We are playing a leading role in this global coalition. In Iraq, where so many Yazidis have suffered, Daesh has lost over 40% of the territory that it once controlled. We are making progress, but, as I said at the time of the debate about Syria, this is going to take a long time. Building up Iraqi security forces, working with Syrian opposition forces, building the capacity of Governments in both countries to drive this evil organisation out of the middle east—however long it takes, we must stick at it.
We on the SNP Benches join in the condolences expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in relation to Harry Harpham, and we pass on our best wishes to his family at this sad and difficult time.
The Prime Minister made a vow, and his party signed an agreement, that there would be no detriment to Scotland with new devolution arrangements. Why is the UK Treasury proposing plans that may be detrimental to Scotland to the tune of £3 billion?
We accept the Smith principles of “no detriment”. There are two principles: first, no detriment to Scotland, quite rightly, at the time when the transfer is made in terms of Scotland having these new tax-raising powers; and then, no detriment to Scottish taxpayers, but also to the rest of the United Kingdom taxpayers, whom we have to bear in mind as we take into account this very important negotiation.
I have had good conversations with the First Minister, and negotiations are under way. I want us successfully to complete this very important piece of devolution in a fair and reasonable way, and these negotiations should continue. But let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that if we had had full fiscal devolution—with oil revenues having collapsed by 94%—the right hon. Gentleman and his party would be just weeks away from a financial calamity for Scotland.
In the context of the referendums, whether in Scotland or across the UK on EU membership, do not voters have a right to know that what is promised by the UK Government can be trusted and will be delivered in full? Will the Prime Minister tell the Treasury that time is running out on delivering a fair fiscal framework, and that it must agree a deal that is both fair to the people of Scotland and fair to the rest of the United Kingdom?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman everything that has been committed to by this Government will be delivered. We committed to this huge act of devolution to Scotland, and we have delivered it—we committed to the Scotland Bill, and we are well on the way to delivering it—with all the things we said we would, including those vital Smith principles.
There is an ongoing negotiation to reach a fair settlement, and I would say to the Scottish First Minister and the Scottish Finance Minister that they have to recognise there must be fairness across the rest of the United Kingdom too. But with good will, I can tell you that no one is keener on agreement than me. I want the Scottish National party, here and in Holyrood, to have to start making decisions—which taxes are you going to raise, what are you going to do with benefits? I want to get rid of, frankly, this grievance agenda and let you get on with a governing agenda, and then we can see what you are made of.
Q3. The skills shortage in engineering in Wiltshire is a particular problem. It is threatening and undermining all the work we have done in job creation and also in supporting businesses. It is, quite simply, a ticking time bomb. May I ask the Prime Minister what more he can do to remove the stigma, misunderstanding and problems associated with STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects and STEM careers? (903571)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. There are special circumstances in Wiltshire, because it has the enormous success of Dyson, which is hiring engineers and skilled mathematicians and scientists from every university in the country, and long may that continue. What we will do is help by training 3 million apprentices in this Parliament, and we are giving special help to teachers of STEM subjects and encouraging them into teaching. I think there is a lot that business and industry can do to help us in this by going into schools and talking about what these modern engineering careers are all about—how much fulfilment people can get from these careers—to encourage people to change the culture when it comes to pursuing these careers.
Q4. Young people afraid of losing their homes, women denied the pensions that they were expecting and, increasingly, the needy left exposed without the social care they need to live a decent life: when will the Prime Minister address these scandals? (903572)
What we are doing for pensioners is putting in place the triple lock so that every pensioner knows there can never be another shameful 75p increase in the pension that we saw under Labour. They know that, every year, it will increase either by wages, prices or 2.5%, and that is why the pension is so much higher than when I became Prime Minister. Of course we need to make sure there is a fair settlement for local government, too—we will be hearing more about that later today—but the ability of local councils to raise special council tax for social care will help an area where there is great pressure.
Q5. The Spitfire was a crucial element in our winning the battle of Britain 75 years ago and keeping our country free from tyranny. However, there are some who fear that our independent nuclear deterrent could be as obsolete as the Spitfire. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assure the House and the country that that is not the case? (903573)
It takes quite a talent for a shadow Defence Secretary to insult Spitfire pilots and our brave submariners all in one go. Another week, another completely ludicrous Labour position on defence. The last word should go to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon)—thank you Twitter for this one—who, as she came out of the parliamentary Labour party meeting, tweeted:
“Oh dear oh dear omg oh dear oh dear need to go rest in a darkened room”.
I expect that she will find the rest of her party there with her.
Q7. At the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee today, the Business Secretary confirmed that the Government will not support the European Commission in raising tariffs on dumped steel from countries such as China. Why will the UK Government not stand up for UK steel? (903575)
We have repeatedly stood up for UK steel, including by supporting anti-dumping measures in the EU, but that is not enough. We need to get behind public procurement for steel, and that is what we are doing. We need to get behind reducing energy bills for steel, and that is what we are doing. We need to support communities, like the hon. Gentleman’s, that have seen job losses, and that is exactly what we are doing. We recognise what a vital part of Britain’s industrial base the steel industry is, and that is why we are backing it.
Q6. Julian Assange is accused of rape and is on the run. Despite that, a United Nations panel that nobody has ever heard of declared last week that he has been “arbitrarily detained” and is somehow deserving of compensation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that was a nonsensical decision, that Mr Assange should hand himself over to the Swedish prosecutors and that if anyone is deserving of compensation, it is the British taxpayer, who has had to pay £12 million to police his Ecuadorian hideout? (903574)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It was a ridiculous decision. This is a man with an outstanding allegation of rape against him. He barricaded himself in the Ecuadorian embassy, yet claims that he was arbitrarily detained. The only person who detained him was himself. What he should do is come out of the embassy and face the arrest warrant against him. He is being asked to stand trial in Sweden—a country with a fair reputation for justice. He should bring to an end this whole sorry saga.
Q8. Women’s aid groups, including my own in Angus, have raised the serious concern that changes in housing benefit may force the closure of many refuges. Will the Prime Minister undertake to specifically exclude refuges from the changes and to protect this vital service for vulnerable women and children? (903576)
As I said in my answers to the Leader of the Opposition, we want to support the supported housing projects that work in many of our constituencies. We have all seen how important they are. The changes to housing benefit that we are talking about will not come into place until 2018, so there is plenty of time to make sure that we support supported housing projects.
Q10. Next month, Milton Keynes will host the first ever national apprenticeship fair. We have a strong record in expanding apprenticeships, but is there not still a need for a cultural shift in careers advice to show that high-level apprenticeships and university places are equally valid? (903578)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The careers advice that we need to give young people is that every school leaver has the choice of either a university place, because we have uncapped university places, or an apprenticeship, because we are funding 3 million of them in this Parliament. We need to go on to explain that if someone becomes an apprentice, that does not rule out doing a degree or degree-level qualification later on during their apprenticeship. The option of earning and learning is stronger in Britain today than it has ever been.
Q9. Does the Prime Minister agree that how we protect human rights in the legal systems of the United Kingdom deserves full and careful consideration? Will he give an assurance that his consultation on the repeal of the Human Rights Act will not conflict with the pre-election purdah periods in Scotland and the other devolved Administrations? (903577)
We will look very carefully at all those issues, but I say to the hon. and learned Lady and Opposition Members that the idea that there were no human rights in Britain before the Human Rights Act is ludicrous. This House has been a great bastion and defender of human rights, but we will look carefully at the timing of any announcement that we make.
Q15. I have spent most of my working life in children’s hospices, which rely heavily on donations from organisations such as Children in Need, which has a long and proud association with the town of Pudsey. Last week, Children in Need’s most famous celebrity sadly passed away. Will my right hon. Friend join me and the people of Pudsey in paying tribute to Sir Terry Wogan, who did so much to inspire millions of pounds to be donated to these causes? (903583)
I am very happy to do that. My hon. Friend, who represents a constituency—Pudsey—which has such a connection with Children in Need, is absolutely right to raise this. Terry Wogan was one of this country’s great icons. Like many people in the House, I felt almost as if I had grown up with him, listening to him on the radio in the car, watching him present “Blankety Blank” or all the many other things he did. Perhaps many people’s favourite was the “Eurovision Song Contest”, to which he brought such great humour every year. You did not have to be a “TOG” to be an enormous fan. I think that we were all fans, and he will be hugely missed. His work with Children in Need was particularly special.
Q11. On Monday, I attended the Work and Pensions tribunal appeal hearing for my constituent, Mrs Jackie Millan, a brave, inspiring woman who has dwarfism. Despite being unable to climb staircases except on all fours, she was awarded zero disability points by her assessor. Has the Prime Minister, as a constituency MP, attended any tribunal hearings? If so, did he find the process fair, dignified and compassionate? (903579)
I am very happy to look into the specific case that the hon. Gentleman raises. As a constituency MP, of course I have people coming to my surgery with inquiries about either employment and support allowance or indeed, disability living allowance. I also have the experience, having had a disabled son, of filling out all the forms myself. I am looking forward to the new system, which I think, with a proper medical check, will work out better. I have listened to the arguments, but we have to have an adjudication system that is independent of politicians.
When I was growing up, I always knew I was nearly home when I saw the iconic cooling towers of the Rugeley power stations on the horizon. On Monday, the owners of the remaining power station announced its likely closure this summer. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to meet me to discuss further the Government support that can be given to the 150 workers, and the provision that can be made to ensure that the site is redeveloped as quickly as possible?
I will certainly arrange for that meeting to take place. We should thank everyone who has worked at power stations that come to the end of their lives for the work that they have done to give us electricity to keep the lights on and our economy moving. My hon. Friend is right: as coal-fired power stations come to the end of their lives, we must ensure that proper redevelopment takes place so that we provide jobs for constituents like hers.
Q12. The Football Supporters Federation is considering calling on fans to hold mass walk-outs to get their voices heard about ticket prices. Will the Prime Minister act to give fans a place at the table in club boardrooms so that their voices can be heard when issues such as ticket prices are discussed? (903580)
I will look very carefully at the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion because there is a problem whereby some clubs put up prices very rapidly every year, even though so much of the money for football comes through sponsorship, equipment and other sources. I will look carefully at what he says.
The vital debate and vote on the Trident successor submarine should have been held in the last Parliament, but was blocked by the Liberal Democrats. Given the fun that the Prime Minister had a few moments ago at the Labour party’s expense over Trident’s successor, it must be tempting for him to put off the vote until Labour’s conference in October. However, may I urge him to do the statesmanlike thing and hold that vote as soon as possible because everyone is ready for it and everyone is expecting it?
We should have the vote when we need to have the vote, and that is exactly what we will do. No one should be in any doubt that the Government are going to press ahead with all the decisions that are necessary to replace in full our Trident submarines. I think the Labour party should listen to Lord Hutton, who was Defence Secretary for many years. He says:
“If Labour wants to retain any credibility on defence whatsoever, it had better recognise the abject futility of what it’s leadership is currently proposing”.
I hope that when that vote comes, we will have support from right across the House of Commons.
Q13. In the light of today’s damning National Audit Office report on teacher shortages, will the Prime Minister take urgent steps to help excellent schools such as those in my constituency to recruit and—crucially—to retain the best teachers, including by extending the so-called inner-London weighting to all Harrow schools and other suburban schools in London? (903581)
Obviously we will look carefully at the report. There are 13,100 more teachers in our schools than when I became Prime Minister, and our teachers are better qualified than ever before—[Interruption.] People are shouting about increased pupil numbers, but they might be interested to know that we have 47,500 fewer pupils in overcrowded schools than in 2010, because we put the investment in where it was needed. Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that we need schemes such as Teach First and our national leadership programme, which are getting some of the best teachers into the schools where they are most needed.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister deserves great credit for the results of the Syria replenishment conference that was held under his co-sponsorship in London. He will be aware, however, that that can only address the symptoms, and not the causes, of the catastrophe that is Syria today. Will he tell the House what more he thinks the British Government can do to try to promote the political track and ensure that it reaches the most speedy possible success?
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he says about the Syria conference, and that gives me the opportunity to thank my co-hosts, the Norwegians, the Germans, the Kuwaitis, and the United Nations Secretary-General. In one day we raised more money than has ever been raised at one of these conferences—more than $10 billion—and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development who did a lot of the very hard work. That money helps because it will keep people in the region, feed and clothe them, and make sure that they get the medicine they need. But we do need a political solution and we will go on working with all our partners to deliver that. That requires all countries, including Russia, to recognise the need for a moderate Sunni opposition to be at the table to create a transitional authority in Syria. Without that, I fear that we will end up with a situation with Assad in one corner, and Daesh in the other corner—the worst possible outcome in terms of terrorism, and for refugees and the future of Syria.
Q14. I am sure that the Prime Minister is looking forward to visiting Hull next year, and as the UK city of culture, we are already backed by many prestigious organisations such as the BBC and the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, we could do much more to make this a real national celebration of culture. Will the Prime Minister join me in urging the many London-based national arts organisations to do their bit and contribute to the success of Hull 2017? (903582)
The hon. Lady makes an important point, which is that our national cultural institutions have an immense amount of work and prestige that they can bring out to regional galleries and centres when there is a city of culture event, or indeed more broadly, and I talk to them about that. I am looking forward to visiting Hull, and as it is the city of Wilberforce, I am sure my hon. Friends will want to join me. Hull is a city of poets, including Andrew Marvell, and it was home to Philip Larkin for many years, and, of course, Stevie Smith—sometimes one might want to contemplate what it looks like “not waving but drowning.”
Order. Before large numbers of hon. Members file out of the Chamber, I remind them that the election for the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee is now taking place in Committee Room 16. Voting will continue until 1.30 pm. Voting on a deferred Division is taking place in the No Lobby, and that will continue until 2 pm.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter that is of marginal interest at best to the outside world, but which would risk a number of jobs and further undermine the traditions and standards of this House. That is, of course, the matter of the change from vellum to paper for the recording of Acts of Parliament.
You will recall, Mr Speaker, that on 9 October last year you indicated to me, in answer to a point of order, that there would be a substantive vote in this House before any such matter occurred. In answer to a point of order from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) on 9 February 2016, you indicated that you had changed your view on the matter: it would no longer be necessary for a substantive vote in this House, and that, if she wished to register her opposition, an early-day motion would be a way of doing so. That, of course, would have no effect whatever on the other place. However, if I were to call a debate under the aegis of the Backbench Business Committee, with a substantive motion which required that this retrograde decision should be reversed, can you advise me what effect that would have, both on our decision in this place and whether the other place would have any reason to listen to that decision?
Let me say the following to the hon. Gentleman, to whom I am grateful for his point of order. First, I have not actually changed my view on the desirability of a vote in this Chamber on the matter. The hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying, as I readily acknowledged yesterday when a point of order was raised, that I had expected a vote would take place on that matter in this House. However, the matter does fall within the aegis—and, it appears, in terms of decision-making competence, the exclusive aegis—of the other place. For that reason, and on account of their desire to proceed, there is no entitlement for this House to supersede the will of the other place.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman quite correctly judges that it would be open to him and to other Members to seek a Backbench Business Committee debate on this matter. I wish the hon. Gentleman all success, presumably in a cross-party effort, to secure such a debate. It is not for me to seek to comment on how the other place judges matters. I would not have sought to do so anyway and I have been reminded by sound professional advice that it is not for me to do so. I therefore do not think I should get into the business of speculating as to what might happen. I have known the hon. Gentleman for well over 20 years and he is, at his best, a formidable and energetic campaigner. If he feels strongly, my advice to him, together with the hon. Lady from the Labour Benches who raised the matter yesterday, is to go ahead and seek a debate, marshal his forces and to plan for victory, rather than to spend time sitting around predicting it. Perhaps we can leave it there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise a query about how we select ministerial questions in the post-English votes for English laws situation. Earlier today, we had Scottish questions. Some 45 Scottish Members submitted a question; three were chosen, which makes a success rate of 6%. Some 48 non-Scottish Members submitted a question; 12 were chosen, which makes a success rate of 25%. I appreciate that the randomness of the selection process can create these situations, but it is a matter of concern that Scottish Members had only a one-in-four chance of questioning the Scottish Secretary, as compared with other Members of the House. I ask you ever so gently, as part of the review into EVEL, to consider whether it might be appropriate, for those Departments with a specific territorial responsibility, to put in place some mechanism to allow the Members representing those areas a better chance of holding Ministers to account.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer to the thrust of his question is that the selection is done by electronic ballot. It is done that way for questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland and for every other Question Time. I am happy to consider his request for consideration of an alternative method, but I hope he will bear in mind the likelihood that there will exist opinions other than and different from his own.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your help. Yesterday, in response to a written question, the Immigration Minister had to correct an inaccurate answer previously given to the question of how many young adults who had previously been refugees but unaccompanied minors had been forcibly removed from this country. The original answer was 1,600; the corrected answer was 3,750. Will you open an investigation into how that might have happened and press for information about the cost to the UK Exchequer, in forgone revenue, of deporting 3,750 young people in whom we had invested over many years and who were just at the prime of their lives and about to be able to contribute to our country?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer is that he can seek a debate on the matter, he can table written parliamentary questions pursuant to the information he has already extracted, and he can raise the matter, with all the authority of his leadership office, on the Floor of the House at business questions tomorrow. I keenly expect to see him in his place and leaping to his feet with alacrity tomorrow morning.
Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Theresa Villiers, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Philip Hammond, the Attorney General, Greg Hands and Mr Ben Wallace, presented a Bill to make provision about the Independent Reporting Commission, extend the period for the appointment of Northern Ireland Ministers, modify the pledge made by Northern Ireland Ministers on taking office, provide for persons becoming Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to give an undertaking, and make provision about the draft budget of the Northern Ireland Executive, in pursuance of the agreement made on 17 November 2015 called A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 133) with explanatory notes (Bill 133-EN).
Policing and Crime Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Theresa May, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Secretary Greg Clark, the Attorney General and Mike Penning, presented a Bill to make provision for collaboration between the emergency services; to make provision about the handling of police complaints and other matters relating to police conduct and to make further provision about the Independent Police Complaints Commission; to make provision for super-complaints about policing; to make provision for the investigation of concerns about policing raised by whistle-blowers; to make provision about police discipline; to make provision about police inspection; to make provision about the powers of police civilian staff and police volunteers; to remove the powers of the police to appoint traffic wardens; to enable provision to be made to alter police ranks; to make provision about the Police Federation; to make provision in connection with the replacement of the Association of Chief Police Officers with the National Police Chiefs’ Council; to make provision about the system for bail after arrest but before charge; to make provision to enable greater use of modern technology at police stations; to make other amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; to amend the powers of the police under the Mental Health Act 1983; to extend the powers of the police in relation to maritime enforcement; to make provision about deputy police and crime commissioners; to make provision to enable changes to the names of police areas; to make provision about the regulation of firearms; to make provision about the licensing of alcohol; to make provision about the implementation and enforcement of financial sanctions; to amend the Police Act 1996 to make further provision about police collaboration; to make provision about the powers of the National Crime Agency; to make provision for requiring arrested persons to provide details of nationality; to make provision for requiring defendants in criminal proceedings to provide details of nationality and other information; to make provision to combat the sexual exploitation of children; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 134) with explanatory notes (Bill 134-EN).
Wild Animals in Circuses (Prohibition)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses.
We have heard mention of Andy Murray’s new baby. In the last few days, we have had a new delivery ourselves, and it would be remiss of me not to apologise to my wife for taking a pause in our paternity arrangements to present the Bill.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I am grateful for the opportunity to bring in the Bill, and I would like to pay tribute to those Members, particularly the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who worked hard on this matter in the last Parliament and pressed for a prohibition on the use of wild animals in circuses.
The Conservative manifesto, on which I was proud to stand at the 2015 general election, clearly stated:
“We will ban wild animals in circuses”.
It is a commitment mirrored on all sides of the House. The Labour party manifesto committed to
“ban wild animals in circuses”.
The Democratic Unionist party’s policy is now to support a ban on wild animals in circuses. The SNP’s Westminster manifesto promised to consult on the issue of wild animals in travelling circuses, with many SNP MPs and MSPs now calling for a complete ban. This is one of those rare moments where there appears be a degree of consensus among all parties.
In 2011, the House agreed a Backbench Business motion calling on the then Government to ban all wild animals in circuses. I believe that many Members consider this to be a piece of unfinished business from the last Parliament, and I appreciate the chance to promote this Bill to press for that vital reform.
Ahead of a ban being introduced, the coalition Government introduced, as an interim welfare measure, legislation to license those circuses that use wild animals. I believe it is time to introduce a ban to supersede those regulations.
According to the latest responses to written parliamentary questions, last year there were still 18 wild animals being used by travelling circuses in England. That is a small number of animals, but it is a practice that I, the majority of MPs and the vast majority of the public think should be brought to an end.
Why are wild animals in circuses no longer appropriate? First, there is the practical element. In the past two centuries, wild animals were an essential part of the circus experience. The definition of a wild animal is a member of a species that is not normally domesticated in Great Britain. For many people, particularly those who could not afford foreign holidays, circuses were the only opportunity they had to see wild and exotic animals. That is no longer the case. We are very fortunate in this country to have many world-class zoos, such as Colchester zoo, which has elephants, tigers, penguins, lions, bears and chimpanzees, among other animals. I should probably declare an interest, because I am a gold card member of the zoo and go there with my daughter on many occasions throughout the year. The zoo does fantastic work caring for the animals and providing them with different types of enrichment in order to occupy their time and promote natural behaviours. Crucially, it aims to ensure that the conditions in which wild animals are kept are as close as possible to their natural habitats, thus educating people about a species’ natural environment as well as better enabling them to promote important issues such as conservation.
Moreover, thanks to the huge growth in the opportunity for foreign travel, many more people can travel across the world to see these animals in their natural habitats. The extraordinary wildlife documentaries on television now mean that we can see these wild animals in high definition from the comfort of our homes, should we so wish.
The second objection is to do with our basic respect for wild animals. Wild animals that have been used and kept in travelling circuses have the same genetic make-up as their counterparts in zoos or in the wild. Their instinctive behaviours remain. Using such animals to perform tricks and stunts hardly encourages people to respect the animals’ innate wild nature and value. Neither is there any educational, conservational nor research benefit from using the animals solely or primarily for such entertainment and spectacle.
I understand that, in many cases, circus keepers do the best they can to care for the wild animals in question, and those circuses licensed under the interim licensing scheme of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs must adhere to welfare standards. However, the very nature of the circus business model means that attempting to recreate the natural habitat of a wild species or to aid in its conservation can never be achieved.
Respected animal health and welfare groups, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Veterinary Association, have long supported and campaigned for a complete ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. Their views are based on the strongly held belief that travelling circuses cannot meet the welfare needs of wild animals. I have some sympathy with those views.
The 2007 Radford report concluded that there appeared to be
“little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments”.
It is, therefore, clear that there are very strong views on both sides, but when seeking to introduce a ban it is vital to take an evidence-based approach and to recognise the grounds on which it would be sensible to introduce that prohibition.
First and foremost, I want to get this ban through and carry the support of Members on both sides of the House. I am aware that there are some, including in this House, who argue that these animals were born and bred in circuses and that it would be cruel to drag them away from the keepers and environments they know well. I understand that argument, but I am afraid that I respectfully disagree with it. We cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good. Opposing a ban on the basis that wild animals already in circuses might be disrupted from their regular patterns of life would prevent a ban from being implemented in perpetuity, which is not acceptable.
Of course, it is vital that there is provision to ensure that those wild animals in circuses in England are well cared for in retirement. DEFRA’s circus licensing scheme already requires that all licensed animals must have retirement plans in place. It is also important that we give those circuses affected appropriate time to prepare and adapt to any ban. However, like so many throughout the House, I really believe that this is a reform whose time has come and that we should follow countries such as Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands in prohibiting the use of wild animals in circuses.
Wild animals were once an integral part of the circus experience. That is no longer the case. The use of wild animals in travelling circuses can no longer be justified. The majority of MPs want a ban. The public supports a ban. I urge colleagues to support the Bill.
I had not intended to speak, but, having heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) has said, I think it is important to put on the record that, if his proposal is indeed supported by the Government, it is they, rather than a private Member through a Bill, who should legislate on it. The reason I say that is that this is a controversial issue—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend conceded that it is a controversial issue. It is not surprising that, as a Conservative, I should regard it as controversial that this House should be considering a total prohibition on what is currently a perfectly lawful activity. If we are going to legislate, let the Government introduce a Bill of their own and let us have a proper debate about the detail.
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester will listen to this response. He spoke of tricks being done by wild animals in circuses. If we look at a similar Bill promoted in the previous Parliament, we will see that it sought to impose a ban even on displaying wild animals.
The definition of a wild animal is also an issue. For example, does my hon. Friend think that a camel, which in most countries of the world is regarded as a domestic animal, should be banned from being able to participate in a circus?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester did not refer to the outcome of the licensing regime, which has, perfectly rightly, been brought into effect. The regime requires up to seven inspections a year of animals in travelling circuses. My hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that zoos, including Colchester zoo, are inspected only once a year. We are now about to embark on the fourth year of that licensing regime and nobody has criticised the welfare of the animals subject to it. On the basis that good Conservatives should argue for as little regulation and prohibition as is possible and reasonable, I think we have reached a compromise whereby we have a proper and tight welfare licensing regime without the need for a total ban or prohibition. That is why I say to my hon. Friend that it would be wrong of him to raise people’s expectations—I accept that many support the views he has expressed today—by suggesting that this legislation could be passed under the Private Member’s Bill procedure. I hope that his response will be that the Government should bring forward legislation, if indeed the Government have the will to implement this particular aspect of our manifesto.
It would be out of order, Mr Speaker, for me to talk about other aspects of the Conservative manifesto that have not yet been implemented and might not even be implemented at all. The onus for putting this matter right, if it needs to be put right, must be on the Government. This will be controversial and technical legislation, which is why I do not think it appropriate to be dealt with under the Private Member’s Bill procedure.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.
That Will Quince, Jim Dowd, Sir Roger Gale, Bob Blackman, Mark Pritchard, Mr Philip Hollobone, Nusrat Ghani, Mr Virendra Sharma, Simon Hoare and Louise Haigh present the Bill.
Will Quince accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 March, and to be printed (Bill 135).
Police Grant Report (England and Wales)
I remind the House that this motion is subject to double majority voting. If a Division is called on this motion, all Members of the House are able to vote. Under Standing Order No. 83R, the motion will be agreed only if, of those voting, both a majority of all Members and a majority of Members representing constituencies in England and Wales vote in support of the motion. At the end, the Tellers will report the results—first for all Members and secondly for those representing constituencies in England and Wales.
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2016–17 (HC 753), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.
I crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker, because I noticed that the new Serjeant at Arms was in his place earlier and I was hoping that he would still be there now, although I mean no disrespect to his deputy. I know the new Serjeant at Arms well. He comes from a great regiment, and we will miss him at the Ministry of Justice where he looked after our security. I am sure he will do a fantastic job here.
I was enormously proud when I was appointed the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice. Early on, I encountered a great deal of lobbying about the grant from colleagues here, as well from police constables and police and crime commissioners around the country. The lobbying was about whether the grant was fair, whether it should be changed and whether police forces would be able to survive further cuts. We inherited a really difficult economic situation and the Treasury quite rightly asked the Home Office to investigate whether further cuts could be made. A very good job was done in the last Parliament of taking really difficult financial decisions to address the funding issues we inherited. What was really good was that in most cases—I say in most cases—discussions were sensible and pragmatic, and we can see from the fact that crime has fallen since 2010 and has continued to fall under this Government, that it is possible to do more with less.
If the Minister and his ministerial colleagues decide to extend the term of the Metropolitan Police Chief Constable, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, will they make it a condition that Sir Bernard is not allowed to merge Harrow police with any other borough command? If that were to happen, Harrow police would inevitably be diverted to police other parts of London.
Unlike the previous Labour Administration, we believe in police officers making the decisions they need to make for their communities, and we do not believe in a top-down approach. We have devolved operational policing to make sure that chief constables and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner can make operational decisions and other decisions such as how local community funding is run, whether that is though the Mayor’s office or through PCCs. I know that the Labour party opposed PCCs extensively, but it has sensibly changed its mind, not least on account of much lobbying from Labour PCCs. I shall not in any way instruct the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on how he should police in London and the Mayor will not instruct him on operational issues; those are matters for him.
What I will say is that there will be more money for policing in London than there would have been if a Labour Minister were standing at this Dispatch Box. Labour wanted to cut 10% of its funding budget—and perhaps I will come back to that later.
As the Minister knows, I have opposed cuts to the policing budget every year but he has always had a good argument to put back to me by saying that crime is going down, thereby justifying the Government’s position. My local paper, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus pointed out last week that crime had gone up by 15% across the Bradford district over the course of the last year. If falling crime was a justification for a falling police grant, now that we face significant rising crime in the Bradford district, including in my constituency, does that mean by the same logic that we will get a substantial increase in the police grant?
My hon. Friend is nothing less than determined to press his case every time, but crime has fallen, although some types of crime have increased. Reported crime, particularly sexual assaults and domestic violence, can be seen to have gone up. I am very pleased that people have the confidence to come forward now when they might not have done so in the past.
We need to look carefully at where certain types of crime are increasing. Only the other day, I met car manufacturers and asked them why we have seen such an increase in car thefts, particularly of high-value vehicles, when we had previously seen a decrease for some considerable time. We are seeing some increases in crime that were not previously included in the statistics—on fraud, for example. Under the previous Labour Administration, fraud was not reported, but it is now part of the statistics we use because it is, sadly, a crime that we face today.
It is interesting to reflect on what happened after the Chancellor announced from this Dispatch Box that we would not cut the police budget by 25%, or by 10% as the shadow Home Secretary suggested, or even in a way that some forces had said could be managed. We said that we would not cut it at all between now and 2020 in order to give the police the confidence they needed about the funding that would be available. What is particularly interesting is that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and other chief constables did not suddenly say, “Okay then, we are not going to carry out any more reforms; we are not going ahead with them now that we have the money we need”. Rather, they said that very night that they needed to go ahead with many of the reforms that were designed to make our police forces better at detecting and convicting criminals.
The Minister must accept that there are 18,000 fewer police officers than when I stood at that Dispatch Box on the last day of the Labour Government six years ago. He must accept that there have been cuts in real-terms grants and he should explain honestly to us why local authorities and police and crime commissioners such as mine in north Wales are raising the precept to compensate for the cut in the central Government grant.
Let me make a couple of points about that. The right hon. Gentleman, with his experience in the Home Office, was absolutely right when he said that there used to be more warranted police officers than there are today. However, actually in percentage terms there are more warranted police officers on the streets of this country today doing the work we need them to do than when he was the Minister.
It worries me that more than 10% of some forces’ warranted officers are still not out on the streets doing the job that we would expect them to do. That is one of the reforms with which we must persevere. We must ensure that officers with the skills and the equipment that they need are out on the streets.
Not for the moment. I will give way to the shadow Home Secretary when I have given way to colleagues who have already tried to intervene.
As for the point raised by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), he should have asked those on his own Front Bench why they had said publicly, “Let us cut the police grant by another 10%”—something that we have not done.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I feel almost as though I have been promoted, given that he has allowed me to intervene ahead of the shadow Home Secretary.
My right hon. Friend has referred to the response of police and crime commissioners to increases in police budgets. In Lancashire, our directly funded police grant is going up. The police and crime commissioner and chief constable had previously presented doomsday scenarios, saying that the Lancashire constabulary was no longer fit for purpose. Given that the Government have listened to not only Members of Parliament but to the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, is my right hon. Friend as surprised as I am that they have not come out and welcomed the increased budget?
I met a delegation of Lancashire Members from all parts of the House, and indeed I met everyone who had asked to see me, including the police and crime commissioners and the chief constables. What really shocks me now is that not only has the Lancashire police and crime commissioner failed to welcome the budget, but he has been out there whingeing that he will be short of money again. What I would say to him is that he needs to take a very close look at his reserves. He has been moaning about a sum of £1 million, but if he looks at his reserves, he will find that it is minuscule compared with them.
Before I give way to the shadow Home Secretary, let me make a point about precepts. All Governments look at precepts. Some PCCs have said that they will not increase theirs, some are increasing theirs by the 2% limit, and others will take the £5 option. That is the arrangement to which we agreed. However, I was lobbied extensively by PCCs throughout the country who wanted the precept to go up by much, much more than 2%. Now I will give way to the shadow Home Secretary.
I am grateful to the Minister, but let us get something straight. When I became shadow Home Secretary, he and his Government colleagues were proposing to cut police funding by between 25% and 40%. It was pressure from Labour Members, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) in a full Opposition day debate, that forced them into a humiliating U-turn. Let us just get our facts right.
Anyway, is this promise what it seems to be? The Minister seems to be suggesting that there will be no cuts, but can he guarantee that there will be no real-terms cut for any police force in the next few years?
I am so pleased that I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman. I should have given way earlier—I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry).
I find this absolutely fascinating. Any other Opposition would have considered modelling to establish what a force could or could not do, which is exactly what the Government did. We asked the forces whether or not they could absorb—in modelling terms—cuts of 25% or 40%. What we did not do, after that modelling process, was say, completely arbitrarily, “Well, we will make it 10%, then. You will be able to swallow 10% between now and 2020.” Some forces would have really struggled to do that under the present funding formula.
I am always straight. The right hon. Gentleman can sit there and waffle away from a sedentary position, but actually the 10% was waffle as well. There was no fact behind it, and most of the forces came out against it. Given the precept limits, none of the 43 forces was subjected to a real-terms cash cut.
The Minister should be commended for being the first Policing Minister in a generation to tackle the issue of police funding by initiating a review of the funding formula, but, as the House knows, that review ended with a long pause. On 1 February, I wrote to the Minister asking when the consultation would begin. The Home Affairs Committee is keen for it to begin as soon as possible. Is he now in a position to answer my question ?
I thank the Chairman of the Committee for his letter, and also for the kind comments that he often makes about me when I am at the Dispatch Box and when I appear before his Committee. I wrote to him yesterday; I am sorry if he has not received my letter. I have not given a definitive date, and I do not think that he would expect me to do so at this stage, given that we are still considering how the settlement should be laid out. We need to ensure that I do not have to stand at the Dispatch Box and eat as much humble pie as I did last time, when we got it wrong. I admitted that we had got it wrong, and we will not make the same mistake again.
May I question the Minister on a point of fact? I know that he will have the facts in front of him. My police force, South Wales police, has had about 240 fewer officers on the beat since 2010. We can talk about whether that is a good or a bad thing, but it is a fact. According to my rough calculations, based on the data release, South Wales police will be subject to a real-terms cut of nearly £3.5 million in the next two years. Am I wrong?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Not only have I met South Wales MPs in the last couple of days, but the very vocal PCC—whom I know very well, as, I am sure the hon. Gentleman does—has not raised those figures with me. I suggest that, before South Wales police asks for any more money—which I do not think that it will need to do—they should look very closely at the size of its reserves, which are astronomical.
We need to take account of what the police have already been able to achieve, and the collaboration that has taken place with the help of extra funding from the Department, in order to find ways of providing better day-to-day policing out there. We should not sit in our silos, as we have for many years, allowing money to be spent in a building that is being only half used while another building up the road is just sitting there and could be put to full use.
Hampshire MPs are rightly proud of their emergency services. I am sure that we are all proud of ours as well, but the innovation that has taken place in Hampshire is quite astounding. Money has been saved that can be used in other front-line work, and that has been absolutely brilliant. Winchester has a brand-new fire station. On the first floor are the fire officers and on the next floor are the police, because it is a police station as well as a fire station. More than half the fire stations in England and Wales are within 1 kilometre of an ambulance station or a police station. We are starting to see the same sort of innovation elsewhere in the country, and we should ensure that it continues.
The Minister is right to commend the hard work of the police in very difficult circumstances, but he has asked for comparisons. In Greater Manchester, violent crime is up by 36%, sexual offences are up by 46%, and overall crime is up by 14%. We have had 20% fewer police officers and 4% fewer police community support officers, and we are looking at an £8.5 million cut in real-terms funding in the next financial year. Those figures do not add up, do they?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that crime has fallen in Manchester since 2010, as it has in the rest of the country. There is real concern about certain elements of crime, which the hon. Gentleman’s chief constable and PCC will be addressing, as we are at the Home Office. However, I ask him to look closely at the figures that he has given. We must be careful not to scare people away. We want people to report sexual assaults, but historically they have not done so. We want them to report domestic violence, but historically they have not done so.
The Minister says that it is important for people to have the confidence to report crime. In London we have seen a 21% increase in sexual offences and a 22% increase in violent crime, including knife crime, but in Southwark last year, worryingly, only 16% of reported crimes resulted in convictions. When will the Minister stop insulting the hard-working officers and constituents in Southwark, and ensure that we have the resources to tackle crime properly, keep people safe, and secure prosecutions?
I have never insulted an officer, or anyone’s constituent, in my entire life, and I never will. I am proud to be Policing Minister, and glad to be in the House representing my constituents and the country as a whole, so I resent the comments that the hon. Gentleman has just made. What would have happened in London if there had been a 10% cut? [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, from a sedentary position, that that would not have happened, but it is exactly what was proposed by Labour Front Benchers.
I agree with the point that the Minister was trying to make about the emergency services working together more closely. In the town of Barnoldswick, we have seen the removal of an ambulance station but now our paramedics work out of the local police station. Such collaboration between the emergency services could deliver real savings across the country and ensure that this very generous financial settlement delivers even greater reductions in crime and even more police officers on the frontline.
We are seeing that sort of collaborative work across the country and some of it is being paid for by the innovation fund, for which the different forces, emergency services and local authorities are putting in bids. But this goes much further than just working in the same station; it is also about training together. As you might know, Mr Speaker, I used to be a fireman years ago. I may have mentioned that before and I may have to mention it a few more times. There are only two of us in the House, but we are very proud of what we did.
In those days, it was very rare to train or work with the other emergency services unless you were physically on the same job. If hon. Members go round their constituencies and ask people in the emergency services when they last did a forward exercise with the fire service, the ambulance service or, in some parts of the country, the coastguard service, they will find that it happens very rarely. That is often due to logistical pressures, but those pressures do not exist if two or more services are in the same building and can share the same yard and do the same training.
Going back to Winchester, not only is the fire station in the same building as the police station but the yard is jointly used and at the back of the yard is the armed response unit, along with the armoury and the ranges. All this has been built on what was going to be just a fire station. When we talk to those brilliant professionals who look after us every day and ask them about the training they are doing, we find that firefighters are being trained as paramedics, as is the case in Hampshire. Sadly, in the case of a road traffic collision, the ambulances might not always get their first, even though the incident has been reported and people are trapped. I know how difficult it was when we were at incidents such as those. It is not just a question of how many ambulances there are. When you have a really bad smash on the motorway, it is really difficult to get the emergency services through. You would think that everybody would get out of the way, but I can tell you, Mr Speaker, they do not.
What is happening now is that fire personnel are being trained to keep people alive. I am not just talking about first aid certificates or the use of defibrillators, although that is a really good innovation. By the way, the cashiers at my local Tesco’s know how to use defibrillators, and that is a great asset, which also saves people’s lives. However, when dealing with a major trauma, it is vital to have the skills that I saw the firemen and women in Hampshire using. I was crying out for those skills when I was in the fire service.
I want to take the Minister back to the answer he gave me some moments ago. Of course it is not my intention to scare people, but the statistics show that crime numbers are going up in Greater Manchester. Of course this might be due in part to people now reporting crimes that they would previously not have reported, but does the Minister accept that people also need to have confidence that there are adequate numbers of police officers to investigate those crimes? Surely the 20% reduction in the number of police officers in Greater Manchester will not help to create public confidence.
That really depends on where those officers were in the first place. Were they working in the communities and on the beat, or were they doing desk jobs? The truth of the matter is that, while we have had a decrease in the number of officers around the country, there are more in front-line duties now than there were in 2010. The other thing the hon. Gentleman might want to ask his local police and crime commissioner, if he is really worried about the funding—even though there would have been a 10% cut under a Labour Government—is why his police force is holding £71 million in reserves.
May I plead with the Minister to look urgently at the rise in gun crime in the west midlands? Will he consider providing resources to try to fill the gap? We have had more than 20 shootings over the past six months, including six over the bank holiday period. There have been 41 arrests and 24 recoveries of weapons and ammunition. Great work has been done by the West Midlands police force, but this work can be continued only if we have additional resources, on a project-by-project basis if need be. This has become a really serious issue over the past 12 years and we have worked hard to bring the crime figures down, but please could the Minister look into the possibility of providing additional support?
I saw reports of those shootings on the news and I got reports across my desk as well. Our thoughts must be with the families of those affected. We must praise the fantastic work of the local police in making those arrests, and let us hope that they get prosecutions as well. That is crucial, because public confidence is created when the police get prosecutions and the criminal justice system becomes involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) mentioned the shootings in his constituency. There was a terrible drive-by shooting in Wood Green last summer, involving mistaken identity. A baker who was coming out of his bakery to take a break was shot, and the perpetrator drove off. The case is still unsolved. Can the Minister rule out the possibility of that being connected to the cut in police numbers?
Why anybody would get in a car, drive off, open the window and shoot someone is beyond me, and probably beyond the comprehension of anybody in this House. What we do know, however, is that the police forces around the country are doing a fantastic job. We have just heard of the arrests that have taken place. So, simply to say, “That is happening just because you cut the money” is a really, frankly, silly, silly comment.
Order. I think we need to be clear whose intervention is being taken. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) will have to express herself on another occasion or elsewhere in the debate. I think the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) is intervening.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have another tale of woe. There have been approximately 12 burglaries in the past 10 days in the Saddleworth villages of Greenfield and Uppermill, and I have some very worried constituents. I totally agree with my hon. Friends: we cannot possibly say that there is no link between such events and the front-line cuts to staff in the Greater Manchester police, which were also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne). What can the Minister say to my many constituents who have contacted me to say that they are very concerned about their safety? Surely this must be a priority for him.
The fact that it is a priority is exactly why the Chancellor stood at this Dispatch Box and said that he would make a very generous settlement. No one dreamed we would get that settlement, but that money will come through. There are no cuts going forward, even though that is exactly what you would have had if a Labour Minister had been standing here.
The Minister is making a strong case. Is it not important to trust the professionals in the police service? We do not rely on the Labour party’s mooted 10% cut; we trust the professionals. He will know that the terrible Joanna Dennehy murders around Peterborough could not have been solved by the Cambridgeshire constabulary alone, and that it had to work with other constabularies such as Norfolk in order to attain the critical mass in forensics and other back-up services necessary to solve the crimes. We trust our local professional police officers.
My hon. Friend has just touched on a point that I was going to make about collaboration. None of the 43 police forces around the country—not even London’s, with all its size and capabilities—can police alone. They need help across the board. The East Midlands regional organised crime unit is doing fantastic work, for example. And in my own region—the Eastern region—capabilities that were always exercised, with difficulty, in separate local forces are now being spread across the region. [Interruption.]
I am glad to hear it, because I never did think that the Minister was in that category. He is saying a few things that are worrying me. He stood there a few moments ago and said that there were to be no real-terms cuts to the police. That is simply untrue and I hope that he will correct the record before this debate ends. The other thing he just said was that there were more officers in front-line positions. A workforce survey that came out last week showed that his Government cut police officers by 18,000 in the last Parliament. Is he seriously standing there today and saying that, despite that cut of 18,000, there are more police officers on our streets?
I know the Labour party are desperately trying to find a reason to vote against our very generous funding settlement, even though they would have liked to make it a really difficult settlement by cutting it by 10%. What I actually said was that there are more operational police officers on duty now on the frontline than there were in the past. That is what I have said at this Dispatch Box time and time again. Perhaps, when we hear the shadow Minister’s arguments as to why there should have been greater cuts—I should say cuts, because we are not going to cut at all—he will tell us what front-line services we would have lost. We need to ask that, because the money would have had to come from somewhere.
There has been a lot of talk about cuts, and indeed about the horrific issue of gun crime, but the issue of counter-terrorism and national security is also linked here. Will the Minister clarify that this Government, in 2015-16, will be increasing spending on counter-terrorism by more than £650 million, which shows our commitment on national security?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. We fund counter-terrorism from a separate budget, and that is enormously important. We have a Minister of State who specifically deals with that task. It is really interesting that even though I have heard Opposition Members say today, “This is terrible! This is going to happen; this has happened,” actually the 43 authorities welcomed the Chancellor’s Budget, and I have had really interesting discussions with them, in some of the areas represented by Members who have complained today about the settlement. That is what this debate is supposed to be about: it is about a very generous settlement, which we would not have had if we had not won the arguments with the Chancellor.
I am slightly baffled by the Minister’s comments. Northumbria police force expects to have lost about £150 million between 2010 and 2020, and its workforce has already been cut by a quarter, split equally between police officers and police staff. Will he clarify in what way that is a generous settlement?
Let me go over the arguments. We inherited a fiscal mess left by the previous Administration. We had to make really difficult financial decisions, including on policing. The police forces did brilliantly well. They were genuinely very worried that we would extend that approach into 2015-16, but we did not do that, which is why they are saying thank you to us for not making 10% cuts to policing, which is what Labour’s Front-Bench team would have done.
I have been listening carefully to the Minister. I met my local borough commander last Friday, and although there are of course challenges, he told me that some of the reforms will actually make policing more effective. More importantly, he stressed to me that there are now as many police on the frontline in the Met as there have ever been.
My hon. Friend has brought me on to an interesting point. The Friday before last, I was at Hendon with the commissioner, taking the salute—he took the salute and I nodded my head, because I was not in uniform—of the 135 new recruits coming through. These are brand-new police officers wanting to join the Met, coming through their training and passing out on parade, and 60% of them live in London. That is because of the reforms that the commissioner has introduced, whereby he has said, “You need to live in London for five years unless you have served in the armed forces.” That figure will be boosted again; I was speaking to the officer in charge of the training there and I was told that in excess of 2,000 officers are expected to be training at Hendon in the new buildings at the Peel centre, which the investment is being put into. We should be really proud of the numbers in London.
We all know that one perennial problem of policing has been the amount of time that police officers have not been able to spend on the beat. Does the Minister agree that when good police and crime commissioners use innovative technology to help those police officers spend more time on the beat in places such as Staffordshire, it can mean as many as 100 extra police officers on the beat, at a tenth of the cost?
There are a myriad different ways we can give the required confidence to our constituents, with our uniformed officers out there and others from the community who are doing this as well. I pay tribute to our specials, who do not get mentioned as much as they should. They do a fantastic job. We have to look carefully at the situation in certain parts of the country where their numbers have rocketed into their thousands, whereas in other parts of the country we do not have as many as we would like.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Conservative candidate in the Lincolnshire PCC elections on introducing special constables—parish constables—who will look after the very remote rural areas of Lincolnshire, giving those communities a policing figure they know they can go to for help and advice?
I have spent quite a bit of time in Lincolnshire over the years, and was lobbied extensively by the chief constable and the commissioner for a change to the funding formula. The sort of innovation we have seen in places such as Lincolnshire, with the parish specials, rural mounted specials and so on, is exactly the sort of thing we would like to see replicated.
In Lincolnshire, we are very grateful to this Minister, because he has done more than any other Minister to come up and spend days with the police force. We very much appreciate what he has done with this grant and so on. We have, however, had a letter from the chief constable saying that because of historical problems, increases in police salaries and increases in national insurance contributions, he still has a significant funding deficit. Will this wonderful Minister, with all his knowledge of Lincolnshire, just say a word about what more he can do to help us, please?
I know exactly what my hon. Friend is saying and I know exactly what is in the letter, because I have received a very similar one. Lincolnshire’s force was asking me to change the funding formula to make it fairer for Lincolnshire; a lot of constabularies and a lot of people in this House have asked for similar over the years. We are continuing to look at that and I will make sure I get it right, but this settlement is a lot better than Lincolnshire thought it was going to get and a lot better than it would have been, had there been a Labour Minister at this Dispatch Box.
On collaboration, will the Minister pay tribute to the work being done by Essex and Kent police on their joint serious crime directorate, which looks at using intelligence sharing to ensure that serious and organised crime in the port county is dealt with swiftly and effectively?
That type of collaboration is so important. For too many years forces have sat in silos, as have individual emergency services. They are coming together and one reason for that is that the austerity measures we had to bring in have made them think outside the box.
I am anxious to ensure that the Minister does not peak too soon. First, I pay tribute to Cambridgeshire constabulary for the excellent work it has done on issues relating to domestic violence and sexual offences. Does he agree that one reason for the slight spike in the reporting of those crimes is that many more victims feel comfortable about approaching the police now and feel that they will be treated fairly in the pursuit of their complaints?
My hon. Friend has touched on a really important point. I had the honour the other week of continuing the funding for the victims’ groups around the country for the next three years. One really important thing is that our constituents, no matter what has happened to them, have the confidence to come forward, and that they will be listened to with compassion. For too many years that was not the case.
I know that a lot of colleagues want to get in and I have been generous in taking interventions, but may I say that we need to make sure that our constituents are made aware of how generous this settlement is for the next four years to 2020? We are still in very difficult financial times, when we are continuing to pay for the maladministration of this country’s finances by the previous Labour Administration and previous Ministers who are now sitting on the Labour Front Bench. I am looking forward to listening to positive comments about our police force. I am enormously proud to be the Minister for Policing, Fire and Criminal Justice and Victims. It is a long title, it is a big job and I am very proud to have it.
I bow to no one in my admiration for our police service. Robert Peel uttered these immortal words:
“The police are the people and the people are the police.”
There has been a constant in our country for two centuries: the British model of policing by consent, which we built on when we were in government. When Labour left office, there were record numbers of police on the streets—16,500 more than in 1997 and, in addition, nearly 17,000 police community support officers. Neighbourhood policing, which we built, was popular with the public. It worked, and we saw a generation of progress on crime. We had local policing, local roots, local say and local partnership working. We built up neighbourhood policing and the public valued it. It was one of Labour’s greatest achievements.