House of Commons
Monday 11 April 2016
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Migration (Africa to the EU)
We are working closely with European and African partners to address illegal migration to the European Union. November’s Valletta summit created a coherent framework and road map for action. As current chair of the Khartoum process, the Government take a leading role in driving forward projects to combat people smuggling and trafficking from Africa, focusing on capacity building, training and communications.
Just before Easter weekend, 52 suspected migrants, many of north African descent, were held after two lorries were stopped at the Dartford crossing and in Canterbury. Given that Kent is on the front line of these desperate attempts, can my right hon. Friend outline what additional support can be provided to our region’s police and border guards to prevent these clandestine actions?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I recognise the role that Kent plays in these matters, being on the front line, as she says. There is a dedicated unit in Kent and specialist debriefers to support the police to gather further intelligence to deal with this vile trade, but importantly, of course, we want to stop people from arriving in the UK clandestinely. That is where the work we are doing, particularly with the French Government, on improved security at the juxtaposed controls in Calais and elsewhere on the continent is important, as is the work of the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement and, in particular, the border crime command in dealing with partners across Europe and in Africa to break the criminal gangs and to stop trafficking and people smuggling taking place.
The deal with Turkey was brokered after intense negotiations, which seem to be lacking in respect of north Africa. I hear what the Home Secretary says about the Khartoum process, but the numbers coming from north Africa to Italy have increased by 80% over the last year, and only last night President Obama said that Libya was the worst mistake of his presidency. Italy faces a summer of crisis. Does the Home Secretary agree that one way to stem this is to enable international boats to enter Libyan coastal waters to intercept those criminal gangs and stop them duping innocent people into putting their lives at risk?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that we need to look carefully at what is happening and at what happened last summer for people coming through Libya into Italy, primarily through Lampedusa, but also, now that the spring and summer months are upon us and the weather is better, at what could happen again. It is not just about boats entering Libyan waters—the United Nations has discussed the action that can be taken in relation to these matters. It is also about working upstream. It is about working with the source countries to ensure that people have less incentive to be moving away—that is where our development aid work is particularly important—and also about working with transit countries to break the model of the smugglers and people traffickers, so that people see that making this dangerous journey does not enable them to settle in Europe.
The Home Secretary may remember that at our last Question Time when we discussed this, I asked a specific question about whether we were searching all lorries, and she told me I had misunderstood the situation. I am not sure I have, because we now read that only half the lorries are being searched. Many people are stowing away in lorries; they are arriving here, and they are never sent back. It is making a mockery of our immigration rules, so will she give a direct answer to a direct question: will all lorries now be searched at Calais?
I apologise to my hon. Friend if there was any misunderstanding in the answer that I gave last time round. We do search lorries at the juxtaposed controls. The point of having the juxtaposed controls is that it enables us to do more, but it is a question of using various techniques to try to ensure that we can identify clandestines who may be aboard lorries. One of the challenges we face is that, because of the extra security measures we have taken, particularly at Calais and Coquelles, it is obviously much harder for people to get on lorries at those places. We are now having to work with the French Government—it is not just about searching lorries; it is about working upstream as well—to try to identify places further afield where people may be trying to get on the lorries, so that we can catch them at that stage, rather than relying on searches or techniques that are used at the border.
The Home Secretary will be aware that organisations such as UNICEF and Save the Children are urging the British Government to do much more to help vulnerable refugees and especially unaccompanied children. She has mentioned the people traffickers and stopping the organised gangs, but there is a very real risk of child sexual exploitation with these vulnerable children travelling across to Europe, so what more are she and the Government doing to make sure this problem is tackled?
We are very conscious of the issues that could arise concerning children, particularly children who are being trafficked and exploited in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. That is why the expertise of the independent anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, is being used. He has already had discussions with people in Calais and he will visit hotspots elsewhere in Europe in the coming weeks to ensure that he can help to identify these issues and share his expertise so that others can identify those who might be exploited or trafficked.
The Government are opposed to EU relocation proposals, which do nothing to address the underlying issues the EU is facing and simply move the problem around Europe. Our focus should be on securing the external border, returning those with no right to be in the EU and addressing the underlying issues in source and transit countries, so that people no longer feel that they have no choice but to travel to Europe.
At the weekend, it was reported that the Children’s Commissioner had written to the French Government urging action to speed up asylum claims to help lone children in the Calais refugee camps to reach relatives in the UK. These children must be absolutely petrified and feeling completely isolated and vulnerable—a situation that we would not countenance for our own loved ones. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with her French counterparts in order to stress the critical need to get these poor children safely reunited with their families in the UK?
The Home Secretary and her colleagues have had regular discussions with their French counterparts precisely on this matter in order to speed up the process. Indeed, I can report that there has been a significant improvement over the last few weeks in the time it takes to process these applications.
Charity workers at Calais have deep concerns about the 129 missing children, following the dismantling of parts of the jungle. Does the Home Secretary agree that the authorities must do more, and will she make representations to the French authorities urgently to seek these children out and, in particular, to determine with haste which of these children are eligible to come to Scotland and the rest of the UK?
I am pleased to report again that there are regular discussions between the Home Secretary and her French colleagues on this matter. The Department for International Development recently announced the provision of a further £10 million-worth of special funding precisely to help unaccompanied children in Europe. Details about how the money will be allocated will be announced shortly.
Does the Minister agree that, far from lagging behind the European Union on this issue, the UK is actually doing far more than any other country in Europe through its massive support for the camps and the refugees in the region, while also resettling the most vulnerable refugees from the camps to the UK?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Government believe that relocating children around Europe is not the answer. Under our scheme to relocate the most vulnerable people from Syria and the countries around it, 51% of the people being brought over here are children. I hope that Members on both sides of the House would accept that this is a well measured and well carried-out scheme, which has led to significant improvement in many children’s lives.
Nevertheless, thousands of children are still waiting to be resettled. We have been having this debate for weeks and months. I am ashamed when I listen to debates in the European Parliament about this issue and hear concern and compassion—something that seems to be singularly lacking in this place.
The right hon. Lady will be aware, I am sure, that under our resettlement scheme many children have been resettled—more than 50% of those coming here are children, as I have said. I remind her and other Members that the policy of UNHCR is to keep children in the areas around Syria, and it has been very successful in identifying children with the greater families to make sure that they have a good chance of a better life in the future.
23. Will the Government expand the current definition of the family unit to include de facto family members and simplify the system so that vulnerable children can come here much more quickly than is currently the case? (904398)
22. Thank you, Mr Speaker; I was not expecting to be called. The Government have rightly made a big deal of the Syria donor conference in London, but the UNHCR has said that financial solidarity is not enough. Why will the United Kingdom Government not listen, and why did they not step up to their responsibilities at the Geneva conference and do more to help Syrian refugees? (904397)
I was at the Geneva conference on behalf of the Government, and I wish to place on the record that the British Government were congratulated by many other Governments on the work that they have done in relocating Syrian refugees. Our programme for resettling them has been significantly greater than those of all the other countries in the European Union put together.
At Easter, along with three other SNP Members, I spent several days visiting the camps at Calais and Dunkirk. During our visit, we met many refugees with strong ties to the United Kingdom. Why is the Government’s record on “take charge” requests under the Dublin convention for those with strong ties to the UK so poor, and what exactly will the Government do to ensure that there is greater awareness of, and a faster process for, such requests?
The hon. and learned Lady has rightly mentioned the Dublin convention and its effect. It is our Government’s policy to ensure that the convention works properly. With that in mind, we have seconded officials not just to France, including Calais, but to other parts of Europe—Athens, Rome and Germany—to ensure that what she has asked for happens and that the process is speeded up significantly.
Order. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) is chuntering, from a sedentary position, “It is up to the French.” The hon. Gentleman is welcome to his opinion, but his opinion is not enhanced by his suddenly winking at me as though in self-justification. The hon. and learned Lady is a distinguished advocate, and she must be heard. Even if she were not a distinguished advocate, she would still be heard.
This is not a laughing matter, and it is not “up to the French” when those children have connections with the United Kingdom. That is my point.
In the Grande-Synthe camp, I met a 16-year-old girl who was working hard for exams in a pop-up school in a tent. She had made the journey to northern France on her own. Her father is in the United Kingdom, but owing to the absence of guidance from the French authorities and the failure of our Government to act, she was stuck in limbo and uncertain about her future. Children like her are very vulnerable in the camps. It is time for the Home Secretary to show leadership. Will she give us a commitment that her Department will ensure that those with a legal right to join their families in the United Kingdom are granted that right as a matter of urgency?
I shall try to avoid repeating what the chunterers were saying earlier, because the hon. and learned Lady has made a serious point. However, I must reiterate that those children are in France and are predominantly the responsibility of the French Government, with whom we are working very closely by placing officials with them.
The children in question have a clear path. They should claim asylum under the Dublin convention, which they are perfectly allowed to do. It is then the responsibility of the Home Office—the British Government —to ensure that their asylum claims are processed speedily and effectively. If they do have the relationships with families in the United Kingdom that the hon. and learned Lady has been told that they have, I can assure her that the process is very much speedier and more efficient than it used to be.
While overall crime has fallen by more than a quarter since 2010, it is also changing, as the hon. Gentleman knows. An accurate national picture is critical to informing our response to cybercrime, which is why the Office for National Statistics has now published, for the first time, initial estimates of the number of cybercrimes committed, based on a preliminary field trial. The ONS estimates that there are 2.5 million incidents of computer-misuse crime per year.
The Office for National Statistics estimates that there were some 5.1 million incidents involving such crimes last year, which adds about 40% to the baseline figure for crime in the UK. Will the Minister accept that crime appears to be going up, rather than down?
I think crime is changing. The hon. Gentleman is right that this is about skills, which is why we established the National Cyber Crime Unit in the National Crime Agency, and about resources, which is why we have put £1.9 billion into this area of work. However, the issue is also about recognising that many such crimes can be prevented through straightforward good practice by citizens.
I think—I know you do too, Mr Speaker—that questions should always have a purpose beyond challenging the Government and should actually deliver positive results for Members. Following the hon. Gentleman’s question, I will write to him and to the whole House with details of how he can advise businesses in Scunthorpe and his constituents on how to stop these kinds of cybercrimes.
The west of England is leading the way in tackling cybercrime following the £1.9 billion investment announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last year. Given the atrocities in Brussels last month, will the Minister update the House on how he is working with our allies to tackle cybercrime?
What is critical in tackling cybercrime is the partnership between the private and public sectors, which is why the Home Secretary launched a joint taskforce to look at how allies, comrades, friends and others can work together to tackle this issue. It is also important to emphasise that GCHQ states that 80% of such crimes can be prevented by the straightforward good practice that I identified earlier, which is precisely why I take the matter so seriously and why public information is at the heart of what we do.
For five years, the Government’s alibi has been, “We cut police, but we cut crime.” The Police Minister has told Sky that citizens are more likely to have a crime perpetrated against them online on their computers while they are asleep than in the street. With cybercrime statistics set nearly to double the national crime rate, will the Minister finally admit that, far from the alibi of the past five years being the case, crime is not falling? Crime is changing and the truth is that crime is rising.
It is always unfortunate when a shadow Minister prepares a question in advance and does not listen to what has been said immediately beforehand. I said in my first answer that crime is changing. It is falling, but it is also changing and because it is changing we need the additional skills, resources and approaches that I described to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin).
Given that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) made a bit of a hash of his question, I want to help him as much as I can: I refer him to the two sets of guidance that we have just published, which I will happily furnish him with following questions.
Fire and Rescue Service (Funding)
4. What assessment she has made of the effect of changes in the level of funding on the work of the fire and rescue service. (904378)
Fire and rescue authorities have delivered significant savings since 2010, and fire deaths and injuries are at near historical lows. Authorities can still work smarter and reduce costs. Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, single-purpose fire authorities’ non-ring-fenced reserves rose by 136% to £561 million. Those resources should be targeted at achieving long-term efficiencies.
Last year, an on-duty firefighter tragically took his own life at Stalybridge fire station citing a number of workplace pressures, which is part of a pattern of abnormally high firefighter suicides in Greater Manchester over the past few years. As fire and rescue budgets have been severely reduced, the job of a firefighter is clearly now even more demanding. What can the Home Secretary say to reassure me that the Home Office takes seriously the pressures that firefighters face and is working to ensure that firefighters do their job in a safe and well-supported environment?
First, may I send my condolences to the family of that individual firefighter in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency? The suicide of any firefighter is a great tragedy, and of course we recognise the pressures and the difficult job that firefighters do. However, the number of fires they are having to be called to has been reducing—as I said, the number of fire deaths and injuries is now at near historical lows—and so the job of being a firefighter has been changing over the years. For example, firefighters are now doing more fire prevention work, which is very valuable work for communities. As we look forward to greater collaboration between firefighters and the police service, we can look to an even better service being provided for communities.
As I am currently on attachment with the Northamptonshire fire and rescue service, as part of the fire service parliamentary scheme, I have had the privilege over the past few months of seeing the increasingly close way Northamptonshire’s police and fire and rescue services are working together to deliver more effective emergency services, at a far lower cost. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to congratulate both Northamptonshire police and Northamptonshire fire and rescue service on the innovative and enthusiastic way in which they are facing these challenges?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in doing exactly that, as we see in Northamptonshire a very good example of the benefits collaboration can bring. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims was in Northampton last week to open a joint fire station and police station, which shows the benefits of collaboration, not only in saving money, but in providing a better service to the public.
18. Fire services for the six largest cities outside London will have had their budgets cut by half between 2010 and 2020, and thousands of firefighters will have lost their jobs and many fire stations will have closed. Firefighters do a superb job, as we know, but can the Home Secretary say honestly that community safety is not being compromised and that no lives will be lost as a direct result of the cuts? (904393)
As I indicated, we have seen a significant reduction in the number of incidents; from 2004-05 to 2014-15, the number of incidents fire and rescue services went to declined by 42%. As I said in response to the question from the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), although firefighters do still find themselves being called to fires, a lot of their work is also about other services to the community. They are doing an excellent job but we want to see how that can be done even better and how they can work better in collaboration with the police, as we have seen in places such as Northamptonshire.
Cuts to the fire and rescue service have already cost us 6,700 front-line firefighters and cuts to the police have already cost us 12,000 front-line police officers. As the Home Secretary knows, reserves can be spent only once and there are significant, real cuts to come. With the public less well protected with every day that passes, will she admit that her cynical plan to merge both services will not protect or restore a single police officer or firefighter to the front line, or make a single member of the public safer?
Yet again, the Labour party goes down the road of thinking that the only thing that matters is the number of police officers or firefighters available. The hon. Lady talks about full-time firefighters, but may I pay tribute to those people who volunteer as firefighters in their community, as they are often overlooked when we examine the issue of firefighters? What matters is not just the number of people we have, but how we are spending the money and how we are deploying our resources. That is where the efficiencies we have seen and the collaboration we see will result in not just savings, but a better service to the public.
Asylum (Unaccompanied Children)
The Home Office provides financial support to local authorities by meeting reasonable additional costs for those local authorities taking on responsibility for the care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Immigration Bill will underpin arrangements to secure more equitable dispersal between local authorities.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I also thank those in Northamptonshire for the work they are doing to deal with the pressures they have experienced and for the way in which they have approached this through the discussions and round-table meetings that have taken place. Clear age-assessment tests are undertaken to ensure that support is provided to those who require it and not to those who do not. Let me add that I will be writing to all local authorities this week with an update on progress on the national transfer scheme to aid the more equitable dispersal.
The hon. Gentleman is asking not about unaccompanied asylum-seeking children but a broader question about the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. We have set out the different funding mechanisms available to those who are resettled and some of that is fundable through overseas development aid. That is how we are ensuring that appropriate support and welcome are given to the people arriving.
I think the Minister would agree that we can perform our duty as a country only if all areas take up their responsibility, so it is good to hear his answer. May I ask him about education support? Vulnerable children should not lose their chance of a future, so how will local authorities with experience of helping asylum-seeker children support those with less experience of educating those children?
We have had discussions with the Department for Education and the Local Government Association about the voluntary dispersal arrangements we want to see, underpinned by the Immigration Bill currently in the other place. We are continuing the dialogue on precisely how elements of that are implemented and on how we can learn from the expertise of authorities that have had greater involvement in these matters.
24. During the recess, Scottish National party MPs visited the Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps and witnessed unaccompanied children being forced to share bed space with unrelated adults. That is clearly a troubling and serious matter. Does the Minister think the Government are doing enough to support those children? Surely it is time to step up to the plate and do more. (904399)
We are working closely with the French Government. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees said in answer to a previous question, we have had a secondee working in the Ministry of the Interior in France to speed up the process in relation to children identified as having links to family here in the UK. Equally, the French Government are putting greater support in through a charity to raise awareness and identify children better to give them the help they require.
Recruitment (Overseas Workers)
The Home Office works closely, at ministerial and official levels, with interested Departments on all significant changes to migration policy. The reforms we have announced have been collectively agreed. May I too welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place?
May I thank all colleagues who sent me messages during my involuntary absence? I’m back.
Will the Minister explain how it is that his Department is proposing a £35,000 salary threshold, which will have a detrimental impact in many areas where we have shortage occupations? Can he explain why the initial priority list of jobs did not include NHS nurses? I was treated by nurses from all over the world, including some from European Union countries, and I know that in London there will be a major recruitment problem. Already, we cannot provide enough nurses for our NHS and, if we take away recruitment opportunities from NHS trusts in London and elsewhere, we will have major shortages.
It is great to see the hon. Gentleman back in his place, and clearly fighting fit.
In essence, the £35,000 threshold applies to gaining settlement, allowing people to extend their time in the UK. We took considered advice from the Migration Advisory Committee at the time it was set, back in 2011, and employers have had five years to prepare for the change. Occupations on the shortage occupation list, including nursing and other shortage skills, are excluded from the requirement. We have carefully considered the independent advice from the MAC on that important matter.
Has the Home Office assessed the impact of the changes on the Scottish economy? Is it not the case that the new arbitrary target, combined with the abolition of the post-study work visa, prevents Scotland from attracting and retaining the brightest and best the world has to offer? Why have this Government prioritised narrow political interests over measures to grow our economy?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady has got it completely wrong. The Government have made it clear that the UK remains open for business. I would gently say to her that we take advice from the expert Migration Advisory Committee, which has advised against different salary thresholds in UK countries and regions. Our thresholds are based on UK-wide data, and salaries in Scotland are slightly higher than the UK average. Advancing the point that she makes might lead to higher salary thresholds in Scotland.
Police and Crime Commissioners
Elected police and crime commissioners are providing accountable, visible leadership, and are making a real difference to policing locally. Overall, PCCs have presided over a reduction in crime of more than a quarter since their introduction, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales.
In Fylde, concerns have been raised about the police and crime commissioner spreading resources away from rural areas. What assurances can the Home Secretary give me that police and crime commissioners will be accountable to the Government for failure to spend adequately in rural areas?
One of the changes that has been brought about as a result of the introduction of police and crime commissioners is a greater focus in some areas on rural crime. The national rural crime network, for example, has been set up, and I pay tribute to Julia Mulligan, the PCC in North Yorkshire, for being a leading light in developing that. It is an issue that I discussed with Chris Salmon, the PCC in Dyfed-Powys, and farming representatives when I was in mid-Wales a few weeks ago. We can now ensure, in some police areas, that PCCs put the right focus on rural crime, but to do so the right PCC needs to be elected.
Police and crime commissioners provide crucial accountability in the criminal justice system. They ensure that the public have a direct input in how their local streets are policed. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is now time to widen the scope of the work of PCCs to see where else in the criminal justice system they can make a contribution?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and he is absolutely right. We used the title, “police and crime commissioners”, when we set up the office, precisely because we thought that they could have a wider role. I am pleased to tell him that the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary and I have commissioned work to look at precisely the issue that he has raised. What else can PCCs do in the criminal justice system, and what further responsibilities can they take on in the interests of providing better services to the local community?
In Cheshire, crime is down, and John Dwyer, the police and crime commissioner, has managed to get 2,000 police officers on the beat. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a Conservative PCC in Cheshire to keep crime down and keep our communities safe?
I commend the work that has been done by John Dwyer as the first PCC for Cheshire. He has done an excellent job in getting, as my hon. Friend said, more police officers and in managing the budget well. As my hon. Friend said, crime is down, and a Conservative PCC in Cheshire after the 5 May election will continue to do an excellent job and provide an excellent service for local people.
Is the Home Secretary aware that, in areas such as mine in north Wales, the police and crime commissioner has had to put up the precept at more than the rate of inflation to compensate for Tory Government cuts? Is it a fair use of taxpayers’ resources to compensate for cuts imposed by central Government?
The Home Secretary might know that we are very pleased with our police and crime commissioner in West Yorkshire, but has she picked up from PCCs the problems with intelligence gathering in particular communities that are impenetrable owing to their language and culture? Police have real difficulty penetrating organised gangs.
There are obviously challenges in relation to dealing with certain communities with organised gangs where, as the hon. Gentleman says, there may well be language difficulties. Police and crime commissioners are finding many innovative ways around that. Looking at their recruitment policies and at how volunteers and special constables in particular can be used to ensure that the language skills are available is a very good idea, which has been adopted by some PCCs around the country.
On Friday, the South Yorkshire PCC announced the loss of 850 police staff because of Government cuts. Also last week, the National Crime Agency’s application to the Home Office for support for Rotherham’s 1,400 victims of child abuse was rejected. How are we meant to bring down child sexual exploitation when the Government are cutting police resources?
I indicated earlier that overall the Government are protecting police budgets when the precept is taken into account. We have also made money available to the national policing lead precisely in relation to the issue of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation, and ensured that the National Crime Agency has the resources it needs to be able to do that job. The hon. Lady has an excellent record in dealing with this issue. Her constituency has faced particularly challenging times as a result of child sexual exploitation, and I can assure her that I and other Ministers involved take the issue very seriously indeed. That is why we have taken steps such as setting up the Goddard inquiry, and why we have made money available to the national policing lead in order to better co-ordinate the work that is done in this area.
Unaccompanied Child Migrants
The French and UK Governments have put in place a programme, run by the non-governmental organisation France terre d’asile, to identify and help potential victims of trafficking in the camps around Calais. As has been said in previous answers, unaccompanied refugee children in France should claim asylum there. That is the best way to ensure that they receive the protection and support they need. It also provides a legal and safe route to the UK for those with close family in the UK.
But as we know from the earlier questions to which the Minister referred, there are 129 missing children, who are obviously those most at risk of such exploitation. I had a very welcome letter recently from her colleague, the Immigration Minister, about the situation of children in the camps. He said that these cases are being given priority so that the children can
“receive the protection and support they need and are reunited as soon as possible with any close family members in the UK.”
How many have been reunited?
The right hon. Lady knows that we are not giving a running commentary on numbers, but I can assure her that the work is taking place and that any unaccompanied asylum-seeking child in France should claim asylum there with the support of the NGOs, and if they have family in the UK, we will reunite them.
In view of the clear link between trafficking and forced prostitution, and following the French Government’s change last week to their prostitution laws, criminalising sex buyers but not the vulnerable women involved, and similar changes in Sweden and Norway years ago which reduced trafficking substantially, do Ministers agree that that should be considered in this country?
This Government have committed to spending £1.9 billion on cyber-security over the next five years, including for tackling cybercrime. Our response to online child sexual exploitation includes law enforcement agencies taking action against online offenders, finding and safeguarding victims, and working with the internet industry to remove illegal images.
We await the new child sexual exploitation response unit, which will be established any day now. Can the Minister assure the House that the new unit will result in a step change, not just bringing abusers to justice, but working with parents, communities and schools to provide children with the skills, understanding and confidence to keep themselves safe online?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the response unit, which will deliver significant benefits by assisting local areas experiencing particular issues and/or high volumes of child sexual exploitation cases, by offering a range of support, including advice from expert practitioners who have first-hand experience of tackling child sexual exploitation.
Going missing can be an indicator that a child or young person is being exploited by organised gangs to traffic drugs across county lines. What more can be done to ensure that police forces work together and share information on missing children in order to combat the criminal exploitation of young people?
The hon. Lady, who has incredible expertise in this area, is absolutely right; we need police forces to take this seriously and recognise that a missing child is a child who is being exploited while they are missing. There is therefore a fantastic opportunity for intelligence gathering and safeguarding those children to stop them going missing in future.
One of the proposed measures for tackling criminal gangs and paedophiles online is the Investigatory Powers Bill, which will start its line-by-line scrutiny tomorrow. One of the main concerns that we have outlined about the Bill as currently drafted is the proposed test that judges would undertake when considering applications for warrants to use the most intrusive powers, specifically the reference to judicial review. Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice and current Chief Surveillance Commissioner, told the Bill Committee in oral evidence just before Easter that judicial review was “not a sufficient test” to apply and that the Government should look at this again. Given that someone of his seniority who is held in such respect feels that the test is not good enough, will the Government reconsider the Bill’s wording in relation to judicial review?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has great expertise in this area, but I am not sure that I necessarily agree with his comments. There is a double lock, and it is about necessity and proportionality, but he is right to make the point that the Bill is incredibly important when it comes to protecting children, as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children pointed out in oral evidence to the Committee considering the Policing and Crime Bill.
Violence against Women and Girls
Our new violence against women and girls strategy, published last month, sets out an ambitious programme of reform, backed by increased funding of £80 million, to make tackling these crimes everybody’s business, to ensure victims get the support they need and to bring more perpetrators to justice. We have also introduced a new domestic abuse offence to capture coercive control, and we have consulted on new measures to protect victims of stalking.
Last month, True Honour, an honour-based violence charity led by my constituent Sarbjit Athwal, and of which I am proud to be a trustee, was recognised with charity status. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on her Department’s progress in tackling honour-based violence?
First, I commend True Honour, the charity in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and Sarbjit Athwal for the work they do in this area. It is an incredibly important issue. Of course, the Government have already significantly strengthened the law on forced marriage and female genital mutilation. We have issued a range of materials to support professionals, including new statutory multi-agency FGM guidance, and our forced marriage and FGM units are carrying out ongoing outreach programmes. It is very important that we help people to identify where young people may be subject either to forced marriage or to female genital mutilation and to take appropriate action.
Serious and Violent Crimes
Violent crime is 25% lower than it was in June 2010, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. Our new modern crime prevention strategy includes actions to tackle a range of crimes, including violent and knife crime.
Noureden Mallaky-Soodmand is a convicted violent Iranian criminal who was transferred to my constituency upon release from prison because the paperwork needed to deport him could not be sorted out. He is now back in prison after brandishing a cleaver and threatening to decapitate people in Stockton. Can the Minister tell me when I will get full answers to my parliamentary questions on which authorities in Stockton, if any, were told about this dangerous man in our area?
In 25 days’ time, the public will go to the polling booths to vote for elected representatives in local authorities, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and for the mayoralty of this great city. We have a great tradition of democratic accountability in this country, and I am proud that on 5 May that principle will be extended to policing. For the first time since we introduced them in 2012, the public will be able to hold their local police and crime commissioner to account for their record in office. It is easy to forget what went before PCCs: the unelected, unaccountable and invisible police authorities, which no one knew existed. Today, a majority of the public know about their PCCs, and PCCs have been associated with greater clarity of leadership and heightened accountability by the Home Affairs Committee. Even the Labour party, which until recently opposed PCCs, and the Liberal Democrats, who did everything they could to sabotage the first elections, support the role and have nominated candidates in May’s elections. PCCs have worked hard over the past three and a half years to keep their communities safe, so I hope that the House will join me in congratulating the first PCCs on their successes and encouraging the public to hold them to account in the most powerful way possible on 5 May: at the ballot box.
Levels of violent crime and domestic abuse remain unacceptably high in Croydon, and the borough was of course hit hard in the 2011 riots, so it is very worrying that it is about to lose a third of its remaining neighbourhood police bases, on top of 83% of its police community support officers—reductions that are much higher than the average in London. Will the Home Secretary therefore meet me to discuss real public concerns that these cuts will damage the fight against crime in Croydon?
To repeat what I said earlier, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government have protected police budgets over the comprehensive spending review period, when precept is taken into account, which is in sharp difference to what the Labour Front Bench suggested—cutting them by 10%.
T2. My right hon. Friend may be aware that I am participating in the police parliamentary scheme, seeing at first hand the excellent work of Greater Manchester police. What is being done to ensure that there are adequate and safe levels of community policing in my constituency? (904341)
I congratulate all hon. Members who take part in these parliamentary schemes. I would also recommend the fire scheme and the armed forces scheme. With the Chancellor’s help, we have managed to protect budgets, subject to the precept. For anyone interested in neighbourhood policing, I would say that those who have a Conservative police and crime commissioner and a Conservative mayor have more chance of having more officers on the beat.
In the aftermath of the attacks in Brussels and Paris, the security of the UK border is uppermost in people’s minds. However, we are a fortnight into the new financial year, and the Home Secretary is still refusing to answer questions on the budget for Border Force. A whistleblower says staff were told three weeks ago to expect front-line cuts of 6%, although, since media reports of that came out, we hear that the Home Office has been back-pedalling. I hope the Home Secretary is backing down, because our borders cannot face cuts on this scale. I therefore invite her to clear the issue up today: what is the 2016-17 budget for Border Force, and is it up or down on last year?
The right hon. Gentleman has written to me on this subject, and I have responded to him. The Home Office’s budget was published under the comprehensive spending review as normal last November. As with the rest of the Government, individual allocations within Departments are not routinely published. However, what matters—he is right—is that we have a secure border, and that is why we have a transformation plan with Border Force and why we have changed Border Force over the last few years from the dysfunctional United Kingdom Border Agency we inherited from the last Labour Government.
It will not have escaped the notice of the House or anybody watching that the Home Secretary has not answered the question. We know that financial transparency and this Government do not go well together, as we are about to hear, but what are the Government trying to hide? I hope the delay in publishing the budget is due to the fact that she is listening to us and backing down on those 6% cuts.
Let me turn to another area where the Home Secretary is moving under Labour pressure: police bail for terror suspects. I have called on the Government for months to close a loophole that has allowed individuals on bail, such as Siddhartha Dhar, to leave the country for Syria. I welcome the fact that the Government last week indicated that they are prepared to move on the issue, but I am worried that they are not going far enough. Does the Home Secretary agree that passports and travel documents should be surrendered as a condition of release from police custody? Will she work with Labour to amend the Policing and Crime Bill to that end?
We have been looking at this issue for some time, and we have decided that we will bring forward an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill. However, it is important that the police continue to have a degree of operational judgment about the conditions they wish to put in place in relation to bail. The type of bail the right hon. Gentleman is talking about is pre-charge bail—a situation where somebody has not yet been charged with an offence. Decisions will be taken, as they were in the case of Siddhartha Dhar, by individual police officers as to the conditions that should be applied, and that should continue to be the case.
Around half of those who have travelled to Syria have returned to the United Kingdom. Obviously, the sort of action it might be necessary to take against individuals is considered on a case-by-case basis. That includes considering the sorts of activities in which they may have been involved in Syria and whether any intervention is necessary.
T3. Last week, 18-year-old Mohammed Hussain, a Kurdish refugee, died underneath a lorry as he attempted to flee violence and be reunited with his family in Manchester. The tragic story of Mohammed highlights the dangerous routes that many refugees are forced to take. When will the Government open up family visa opportunities to British citizens and settled residents so that we can prevent deaths like that of Mohammed from happening again? (904342)
The hon. Gentleman highlights the appalling risks that some people have taken to get through the security and other steps that have been put in place. Our very clear message to those people is that they should claim asylum in France. On the issue of resettlement, we are certainly making the process clearer and working with the Red Cross and others on the guidance provided.
T5. Has the Home Office team had time to reflect on the extraordinary National Union of Teachers motion that condemned the Prevent duty? Do Ministers agree that we all have a responsibility to do all we can to prevent young people from engaging in terrorism and extremism? (904344)
It was Ruskin who said:
“Let us reform our schools, and we shall find little reform needed in our prisons.”
It is in that spirit that the Prevent duty missions teachers to identify those vulnerable young people and safeguard them from being drawn into terrorism. Schools are stepping up to that mark, as they know their students best. They are well equipped and well prepared, and they are safeguarding our children and so securing our future.
T6. The Home Secretary recently said at the launch of the Conservatives’ PCC election campaign that “the Conservative Government has protected overall police spending for the next four years”.However, Sir Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, has confirmed House of Commons Library research that shows that forces will see a £160 million cut next year alone. In the light of that, and given the importance of the upcoming elections, will the Home Secretary admit that funding for our police forces has not been protected and is being cut again for each of the next four years? (904345)
T7. What success have the Government had in recent months in deporting overstayers who have been working here illegally? (904346)
I underline the important work in confronting crimes linked to those working illegally. In 2015, more than 38,000 people were removed or deported from the UK, including a 28% increase in voluntary returns. That highlights the fact that people realise that it is so much tougher to get work here.
What recent discussions have Ministers had with chief constables about the growing menace of scrambler bikes being ridden recklessly on our roads, with the potential to cause great accidents, usually by young men wearing masks and without number plates?
T8. The Investigatory Powers Bill, which is going through the House, provides important capabilities, along with new safeguards, to tackle cybercrime. Will Ministers update the House on how the changing nature of crime is being fought by the Bill?
The motives of terrorists, paedophiles and people traffickers may differ, but their means are the same, and they take advantage of the internet. The Bill will provide the police and security services with powers that are necessary to keep us safe. Powerful new measures, steely determination and an iron will mark all that we do.
Anyone from Malawi who wants to visit the UK has to apply online with a credit card. Given how few people in Malawi have access to electricity, let alone the internet or banking facilities, what steps is the Home Office taking to make sure that people who have a legitimate request can apply?
The hon. Gentleman has raised that issue with me previously, and I am happy to continue to discuss it with him and with the all-party group. Clearly, agency and other mechanisms are available, but we will continue to ensure that we have a high-quality visa service.
T9. It is right for the police to be given more powers in relation to the use of Tasers, stop-and-search and the Investigatory Powers Bill, but with greater powers should surely come greater responsibility. Therefore, will the Home Secretary confirm to the House that proper safeguards will remain in place to ensure that the police continue to have the support of the general public? (904349)
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance, in relation to the Investigatory Powers Bill and, crucially, the double lock authorisation that will be available for the use of the most intrusive powers; in relation to the work that we have done in introducing the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme, to ensure that stop-and-search is properly used and properly targeted; and in relation to the work that we have done with Chief Constable David Shaw to identify rather better how Tasers and other restraint are being used. The police need those sensitive powers. What people want to know is that they are being used properly, and the Government are ensuring that that is the case.
Over the past 12 months, a further 39 uniformed police officers and PCSOs have been lost from Enfield’s streets, while violent crime, including assault and possession of a dangerous weapon, has increased by 13%. Ten days ago, there was an attempted drive-by shooting in my constituency. That situation in a London suburb is totally unacceptable and very frightening for residents. There can be no doubt that the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing is putting public safety at risk. What does the Minister intend to do about this situation?
What we intend to do, with the help of the Chancellor, is to make sure that the Metropolitan police has got the funding that it asked for, not to cut funding by 10%, as the Labour party requested. Neighbourhood policing is an operational matter for the commissioner and the Mayor, but I repeat what I said earlier: looking at the statistics, we can see that if we want more police on the beat, we should vote Conservative.
As part of special branch, Hampshire marine unit provides vital crime prevention along our coastal borders and within the marine environment of the Solent and the Isle of Wight, through operations such as Project Kraken. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that vital crime prevention service is protected under current reforms?
My hon. Friend raises an important point and describes the variety of tasks that our police forces carry out, and the variety of skills and operational capabilities that they need. I am very conscious of the marine capability requirements in Hampshire. It is, of course, an operational matter for the police to determine how they spend their budget and what they use it for. Crucially, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has ensured that we can protect police budgets, when precept is taken into account, over the next four years.
Two weeks ago, when four of my colleagues and I were in Calais, the French authorities tear-gassed the Calais camp simply because a protest was going on outside it. Does the Home Secretary approve of such measures, and if not—if she agrees with me that measures should be proportionate to the situation and that refugees must be treated humanely—will she contact her French counterpart and express the concerns of this Parliament?
I was in Calais last week having discussions with the French authorities about those issues, and the very clear message was that those who are there should claim asylum. That is the best and most effective way for them to get the help that they need, and that is the clear message that needs to come from this House.
With permission, I would like to make a statement on the Panama papers.
Dealing with my own circumstances first, yesterday I published all the information in my tax returns not just for the last year, but for the last six years. I have also given additional information about money inherited and given to me by my family, so people can see the sources of income I have: my salary, the benefit in kind of living in No. 10 Downing Street, the support my wife and I have received as Leader of the Conservative party, the renting out of our home and the interest on the savings that I have. Since 2010, I have not owned any shares or any investments.
The publication of a Prime Minister’s tax information in this way is unprecedented, but I think it is the right thing to do. But let me be clear: I am not suggesting that this should apply to all MPs. The Chancellor has today published information on his tax return, in a similar way to the shadow Chancellor and the First Minister for Scotland. This begs the question of how far the publication of tax information should go. I think there is a strong case for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and for the Chancellor and the shadow Chancellor, because they are people who are or who wish to be responsible for the nation’s finances. As for MPs, we already have robust rules on Members’ interests and their declaration, and I believe that is the model we should follow.
We should think carefully before abandoning completely all taxpayer confidentiality in this House, as some have suggested. If this were to come in for MPs, people would also ask for a similar approach for those who ask us questions, those who run large public services or lead local government, or indeed those who edit news programmes or newspapers. I think this would be a very big step for our country. It certainly should not take place without a long and thoughtful debate, and it is not the approach that I would recommend.
Let me deal specifically with the shares my wife and I held in an investment fund or unit trust called Blairmore Holdings, set up by my late father. The fund was registered with the UK’s Inland Revenue from the beginning. It was properly audited, and an annual return was submitted to the Inland Revenue every year. Its share price was listed in the Financial Times. It was not a family trust; it was a commercial investment fund for any investor to buy units in. UK investors paid all the same taxes as with any other share, including income tax on the dividends every year.
There have been some deeply hurtful and profoundly untrue allegations made against my father, and if the House will let me, I want to put the record straight. This investment fund was set up overseas in the first place because it was going to be trading predominantly in dollar securities, so like very many other commercial investment funds, it made sense to be set up inside one of the main centres of dollar trading.
There are thousands of these investment funds and many millions of people in Britain own shares, many of whom hold them through investment funds or unit trusts. Such funds, including those listed outside the UK, are included in the pension funds of local government, most of Britain’s largest companies and, indeed, even some trade unions. Even a quick look shows that the BBC, the Mirror Group, Guardian Newspapers and—to pick one council entirely at random—Islington all have these sorts of overseas investments. To give one further example, Trade Union Fund Managers Ltd, based in Congress House, has a portfolio of over £50 million of investment in the trade union unit trust, with 3% of its net assets based in Jersey. This is not to criticise what it does; it is to make the point that this an entirely standard practice, and it is not to avoid tax.
One of the country’s leading tax lawyers, Graham Aaronson, QC, has stated unequivocally that this was
“a perfectly normal type of collective investment fund”.
This is the man who led the expert study group that developed the general anti-abuse rule—so much debated and demanded in this House—which Parliament finally enacted in 2013. He also chaired the 1997 examination of tax avoidance by the Tax Law Review Committee. He has said that it would be
“quite wrong to describe the establishment of such funds as ‘tax avoidance’”
and, further, that
“it would be utterly ridiculous to suggest that establishing or investing in such funds would involve abusive tax avoidance”.
That is why getting rid of unit trusts and other such investment funds that are listed overseas has not been part of any Labour policy review, any Conservative party policy review or any sensible proposals for addressing tax evasion or aggressive tax avoidance.
Surely, it is said, investors in these funds benefit from their being set up in jurisdictions with low or no taxes. Again, this is a misunderstanding. Unit trusts do not exist to make profit for themselves; they exist to make a profit for the holders of the units. Those holders pay tax, and if they are UK citizens, they pay full UK taxes.
It is right to tighten the law and change the culture around investment to further outlaw tax evasion and discourage aggressive tax avoidance, but as we do so, we should differentiate between schemes designed to artificially reduce tax and those that are encouraging investment. This is a Government—and this should be a country—who believe in aspiration and wealth creation. We should defend the right of every British citizen to make money lawfully. Aspiration and wealth creation are not somehow dirty words. They are the key engines of growth and prosperity in our country and we must always support those who want to own shares and make investments to support their families.
Some people have asked, “If this trust was legitimate, why did you sell your shares in January 2010?” I sold all the shares in my portfolio that year because I did not want any issues about conflicts of interest—I did not want anyone to be able to suggest that, as Prime Minister, I had any other agendas or vested interests. Selling all my shares was the simplest and clearest way that I could achieve that.
There are strict rules in this House for the registration of shareholdings. I have followed them in full. The Labour party has said it will refer me to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I have already given her the relevant information, and if there is more she believes I should say, I am very happy to say it.
I accept all of the criticisms for not responding more quickly to these issues last week, but, as I have said, I was angry about the way my father’s memory was being traduced. I know he was a hard-working man and a wonderful dad, and I am proud of everything he did to build a business and provide for his family.
On the issue of inheritance tax, there is an established system in this country. I believe that, far from people being embarrassed about passing things to their children—for example, wanting to keep a family home within the family—it is a natural human instinct to do so, and is something that should be encouraged. As for parents passing money to their children while they are still alive, that is something that the tax rules fully recognise. Many parents want to help their children when they buy their first car, get a deposit for their first home or face the costs of starting a family. It is entirely natural that parents should want to do those things, and, again, something that we should not just defend but proudly support.
Let me turn to the Panama papers and the actions that this Government are taking to deal with tax evasion, aggressive tax avoidance and international corruption more broadly. When we came into office, there were foreigners not paying capital gains tax when selling their UK homes, private equity managers paying a lower rate of tax than the people who cleaned their offices, and rich homebuyers getting away without paying stamp duty because houses were enveloped within companies. We have put an end to all those things. In the last Parliament alone we made an unprecedented 40 tax changes to close loopholes, raising £12 billion. In this Parliament we will legislate for more than 25 further measures, forecast to raise £16 billion by 2021. No British Government, Labour or Conservative, have ever taken so much robust action in this area.
Through my chairmanship of the G8 at the summit at Lough Erne in 2013, I put tax, trade and transparency on the global agenda, and sought agreement on a global standard for the automatic exchange of information over who pays taxes and where. Many said it would never happen, but today 129 jurisdictions have committed to implementing the international standard for exchange of tax information on request, and over 95 jurisdictions have committed to implementing the new global common reporting standard on tax transparency. Under that new standard, we will receive information on accounts of UK taxpayers in all those jurisdictions. In June this year, Britain will become the first country in the G20 to have a public register of beneficial ownership, so everyone can see who really owns and controls each company. This Government are also consulting on requiring foreign companies that own property or bid on public contracts to provide their beneficial ownership information, and we are happy to offer technical support and assistance to any of the devolved Administrations also considering such measures.
As the revelations in the Panama papers have made clear, we need to go even further. So we are taking three additional measures, to make it harder for people to hide the proceeds of corruption offshore, to make sure that those who smooth the way can no longer get away with it and to investigate wrongdoing.
First, let me deal with our Crown dependencies and overseas territories that function as financial centres. They have already agreed to exchange taxpayer financial account information automatically, and will begin doing so from this September. That never happened before I became Prime Minister and got them round the Cabinet table and said, “This must happen.” We need to go further, however, and today I can tell the House that we have now agreed that they will provide UK law enforcement and tax agencies with full access to information on the beneficial ownership of companies. We have finalised arrangements with all of them except for Anguilla and Guernsey, both of which we believe will follow in the coming days and months. For the first time, UK police and law enforcement agencies will be able to see exactly who really owns and controls every company incorporated in those territories: the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Isle of Man, Jersey—the lot. That is the result of a sustained campaign, building on the progress that we made at the G8, and I welcome the commitment of the Governments of those territories to work with us and implement those arrangements.
The House should note that that will place our overseas territories and Crown dependencies well ahead of many other similar jurisdictions, and also—crucially—ahead of many of our major international partners, including some states in the United States of America. Next month we will seek to go further still, using our anti-corruption summit to encourage consensus not just on exchanging information, but on publishing such information and putting it into the public domain, as we are doing in the UK. We want everyone with a stake in fighting corruption—from law enforcement, to civil society and the media—to be able to use those data and help us to root out and deter wrongdoing.
Next, we will take another major step forward in dealing with those who facilitate corruption. Under current legislation it is difficult to prosecute a company that assists with tax evasion, but we are going to change that. We will legislate this year for a new criminal offence to apply to corporations that fail to prevent their representatives from criminally facilitating tax evasion. Finally, we are providing initial new funding of up to £10 million for a new cross-agency taskforce to swiftly analyse all the information that has been made available from Panama, and to take rapid action. That taskforce will include analysts, compliance specialists, and investigators from across HMRC, the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office, and the Financial Conduct Authority.
This Government will continue to lead the international agenda to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. That battle is important and must be combined with the approach that we take in this country—low tax rates, but taxes that people and businesses pay. That is how we will tackle these issues and build a strong economy that can fund the public services we need. That strong economy, creating jobs and rewarding aspiration is the true focus of this Government—something that would never be safe under the Labour party—and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement—it is absolutely a master class in the art of distraction. I am sure that he will join me in welcoming the outstanding journalism that went into exposing the scandal of destructive global tax avoidance that was revealed by the Panama papers. Those papers have driven home what many people have increasingly felt: that there is now one rule for the super-rich, and another for the rest. I am honestly not sure that the Prime Minister fully appreciates the anger that is out there over this injustice. How can it be right that street cleaners, teaching assistants and nurses work and pay their taxes, yet some at the top think that the rules simply do not apply to them?
What has been revealed in the past week goes far beyond what the Prime Minister has called his “private matters”, and today he needs to answer six questions to the House, and—perhaps equally importantly—to the public as a whole. First, why did he choose not to declare his offshore tax haven investment in the House of Commons Register of Members’ Financial Interests, given that there is a requirement to
“provide information of any pecuniary interest”
that might reasonably be thought to influence a Member’s actions? The Prime Minister said that he thinks he mishandled the events of the past week. Does he now realise how he mishandled his own non-declaration six years ago, when he decided not to register an offshore tax haven investment from which he has personally benefited?
Secondly, can he clarify to the House and to the public that when he sold his stake in Blairmore Holdings in 2010, he also disposed of another offshore investment at that time? In particular, were any of the £72,000 of shares that he sold held in offshore tax havens?
The “Ministerial Code” states that
“Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise,”
and that all Ministers
“must provide…a full list…of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict,”
including close family interests. So did the Prime Minister provide the permanent secretary with an account of his offshore interests and if not, did he not realise that he had a clear obligation to do so, when part of his personal wealth was tied up in offshore tax havens and he was now making policy decisions that had a direct bearing on their operation? For example, in 2013 the Prime Minister wrote to the President of the European Council opposing central public registers of beneficial ownership of offshore trusts. So, thirdly, does the Prime Minister now accept that transparency of beneficial ownership must be extended to offshore trusts?
The Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca registered more than 100,000 secret firms in the British Virgin Islands. It is a scandal that UK overseas territories registered over half the shell companies set up by Mossack Fonseca. The truth is that the UK is at the heart of the global tax avoidance industry. It is a national scandal and it has got to end. Last year, this Government opposed the EU Tax Commissioner Pierre Moscovici’s blacklist of 30 un-co-operative tax havens. That blacklist included the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands. So my fourth question is: will the Prime Minister now stop blocking European Commission plans for a blacklist of tax havens? It turns out that Lord Blencathra, the former Conservative Home Office Minister, was absolutely right when he wrote to the Cayman Islands Government in 2014 to reassure them that our Prime Minister was making a “purely political gesture” about cracking down on tax havens at the G8. It was designed, he said, to be
“a false initiative which will divert other member states from pursuing their agenda.”
Last June, Treasury officials lobbied Brussels not to take action against Bermuda’s tax secrecy. According to the European Union’s transparency register, the tech giant Google has no fewer than 10 employees lobbying Brussels. Bermuda is the tax haven favoured by Google to channel billions in profits. Conservative MEPs have been instructed on six occasions since the beginning of last year to vote against action to clamp down on aggressive tax avoidance. This is a party incapable of taking serious, internationally co-ordinated action to tackle tax dodging. Across the country and on the Opposition side of the House, there is a thirst for decisive action against global tax avoidance scams that suck revenues out of our public services, while ordinary taxpayers have to foot the bill. It undermines public trust in business, politics and public life. It can and must be brought to an end.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today about new measures to make companies liable for employees who facilitate tax cheating, but it is also too little, too late. In fact, it was announced by the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury a year ago. People want a Government who act on behalf of those who pay their taxes, not those who dodge their taxes in offshore tax havens. Yesterday, my hon Friend the shadow Chancellor set out a clear plan for transparency. He is a Member of this House who has spent all his time in Parliament exposing tax havens and tax avoidance. His paper included a call for an immediate public inquiry into the Panama papers revelations to establish the harm done to our tax revenues and to bring forward serious proposals for reform.
I say gently to the Prime Minister that a tax taskforce reporting to the Chancellor and the Home Secretary, both members of a party funded by donors implicated in the Panama leaks, will be neither independent nor credible. So will the Prime Minister back a credible and independent public inquiry into the abuses revealed by the leaks?
Our task transparency plan called for a specialised tax enforcement unit to be properly resourced, which is key. Since 2010, there have been only 11 prosecutions over offshore tax evasion—a situation that the Public Accounts Committee described as “woefully inadequate”. Having slashed resources and cut 14,000 staff since 2010, will the Prime Minister today guarantee that resourcing to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will increase in this Parliament?
We support real action to end the abuses that allow the wealthy to dodge the rules that the rest of us have to follow. We need to ensure that trust and fairness are restored to our tax system and our politics and to end the sense and the reality that there is one rule for the richest and another for everybody else. The Prime Minister has attacked tax dodging as immoral, but he clearly failed to give a full account of his own involvement in offshore tax havens until this week and to take essential action to clean up the system, while at the same time blocking wider efforts to do so. There are clear steps that can be taken to bring tax havens and tax dodging under control—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I suggest that the Prime Minister’s record, particularly over the past week, shows that the public no longer have the trust in him to deal with these matters. Do he and Conservative Members realise why people are so angry? We have gone through six years—yes, six years—of crushing austerity, with families lining up at food banks to feed their children, disabled people losing their benefits, elderly care cut and slashed and living standards going down. Much of that could have been avoided if our country had not been ripped off by the super-rich refusing to pay their taxes.
Let me say this to the Prime Minister: ordinary people in the country will simply not stand for this any more: they want real justice; they want the wealthy to pay their share of tax just as they have to pay when they work hard all the time.
Let me first join the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating the journalists who have broken this story about this huge cache of information from the Panama papers. What matters now is that that information is shared with the tax authorities, including here in the United Kingdom, so that action can be taken.
The right hon. Gentleman accused me of a distraction, but I have to say that the biggest distraction today has been waiting for the right hon. Gentleman’s tax returns, which we finally got published at about 3.35 pm, after this statement had begun. How incredibly convenient that no one can scrutinise them.
Let me answer each and every one of the questions that the right hon. Gentleman asked. First, he asked whether we would resource HMRC with the right amount of money. We have put £1.8 billion into various initiatives since 2010 to make sure that it has the resources to find this money. That is the first point. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked me about my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have complied with every aspect of that Register, and even before the Labour party’s complaint arrived at the commissioner’s door, I provided her with all the necessary information.
Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman asked when I made the sale of these shares. I sold the Blairmore shares in January, and I sold everything else in June. Next, he asked me whether I shared a list of these shares with the Cabinet Secretary. It was quite difficult because I had sold them, but I sat down with the Cabinet Secretary and went through all my interests, all my connections, all my friendships and all my family, as all Ministers are advised to do. This was a proper conversation with the Cabinet Secretary that I conducted in that way.
Fourthly, the right hon. Gentleman asked why we were not extending the arrangements relating to the beneficial ownership of companies to the beneficial ownership of trusts. The reason is that we want international action to take place, and the very clear advice that I received was that if we included trusts in our initiative, we would not get any international action. This Government have done more than any other to lead the world and make co-operation happen.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the tax taskforce. HMRC, the National Crime Agency and others will investigate all the information coming out of Panama, and they have operational independence. If they find people to prosecute, they prosecute them; if they find information of illegality, they act on it. They are independent operationally, and that is exactly what they will do. They will report to the Home Secretary and the Chancellor because we want to make sure that radical action is taken, but they have total operational independence. If the right hon. Gentleman is questioning the professionalism of the Inland Revenue, the National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud Office, he should not be doing so.
Let me now answer the right hon. Gentleman’s last question, which concerned the action that we have taken in respect of the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies. No Government have done more to encourage them to take part in exchanging information, reporting tax information, and making sure that they give us the information on beneficial ownership. The leader of the Labour party has suggested that we should force them. How is he going to force them? What is he going to do? Have we finally found a potential Prime Minister who wants to give the Falkland Islands back to Argentina and invade Gibraltar? Is that what it has come to?
What we have seen are the Labour party’s true colours when it comes to inheritance tax. If you want to pass your home to your children, Labour will tax it. If you want to help your children, Labour will tax that. We have seen Labour’s true colours. It is the enemy of aspiration and the enemy of families who want to support each other, and that is the real lesson of today.
It is very good of you to give me the floor, Mr Speaker.
I do not think that the Prime Minister has done anything wrong, except, possibly, to comment on the Jimmy Carr case. Tax evasion is illegal and should be very vigorously pursued, if necessary with criminal prosecution and imprisonment. Tax avoidance is not illegal. If the Government or Parliament do not like it, there is no point in moralising. Does the Prime Minister agree that to deal with tax avoidance we need reform to close the loopholes, and vigorous tax simplification to ensure that there are fewer of them?
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend was detained before leaving the Chamber. I think that he is absolutely right. Tax evasion is illegal, and tax avoidance, if the Government disapprove of it, should be legislated against. That is the approach that we have taken. However, as I have said before and am happy to say again, there are some practices of very aggressive tax avoidance that I think do merit proper questions and then legislative action. To be fair to Jimmy Carr, as soon as it was pointed out that he was in a scheme to reduce his income artificially, he immediately changed his arrangements. He made that very clear, and I pay tribute to him for doing it.
Let me begin by welcoming the Prime Minister’s statement and the new measures that he has announced to deal with tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. I also welcome the publication of his tax information, and, indeed, his apology for the way in which he has handled it.
It is estimated that between $21 trillion and $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in tax havens around the world. Illicit cross-border financial flows are estimated at more than $1 trillion per year, which is 10 times more than the global foreign aid budgets combined. The Panama papers leak is so large that if one printed the files, the final document would be 650 million pages long. It is right that a special taskforce has been set up to go through the leaked information, and the Prime Minister was right to say that charges will hopefully follow if criminality can be proven.
The public are indignant here and around the world. People are rightly angered by the rules for normal taxpayers being different from those for a small ultra-rich elite, but we must ask ourselves whether the scale of the problem has been taken seriously, because it has quite patently not been thus far, domestically or internationally. The UK bears a particular responsibility given that the UK and its overseas territories and dependencies collectively sit at the top of the Tax Justice Network’s financial secrecy index.
In Scotland, we are confronted by the reality of a small number of landowners owning huge swathes of the country, many through tax havens. From Perthshire to Jura and across Scotland, land is owned through non-transparent firms based in tax havens such as Panama and the British Virgin Islands.
I want to ask the Prime Minister the following specific questions. Will he please revisit his decision not to co-operate fully with European Union partners on overseas trusts? To whom will the welcome register of beneficial owners across all British Crown dependencies and overseas territories be available and when? Will it be publicly available? If not, why not? Will the Prime Minister prioritise bilateral tax treaties with Panama and other tax havens as part of global efforts towards better co-ordination against tax avoidance, and will he regularly update this House on progress? Lastly, given that the UK Cabinet agrees Government policy on tax rules, potential loopholes and arrangements with tax havens, will he ensure that all his Cabinet colleagues confirm whether they have ever benefited through offshore financial dealings?
First of all, let me agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is no doubt that some bad things are happening in some of these jurisdictions and countries in terms of the hiding of assets and wealth and the avoidance of tax. That is why we want our authorities to go through everything that they can to recover that money. However, just because those bad things are happening, we should not condemn the unit trusts that many investors, such as, as I have said, local government pension funds, trade union pension funds and—who knows—even the pension fund of this House, might well use as a totally legitimate way of investing and then paying tax. I want to make that point.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that we need as many criminal charges as possible. I of course agree with that, but we should not do down the civil action and civil penalties that Revenue and Customs can use. It has 1,100 cases going through and can charge up to 300% of the money.
On whether we have taken this agenda far enough, I would say that this is the first country in the G8 or the G20 to make tax and transparency the No. 1 issue at a G8 or a G20 summit. No one had done it before. We have now done it and it is permanently on the agenda and we see permanent improvements.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is being fair on the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories. For years, there was a reputational and potentially real problem. They have done a huge amount to address that. They are now better placed than other similar jurisdictions. As I said, there are states in the United States of America that have less disclosure and transparency. Let us not be unfair on the Crown dependencies and overseas territories, which we—certainly on this side of the House—are proud to have as part of our family of nations.
As for Scottish trusts and transparency, we are happy to work with and help the devolved Administrations in every way we can. We are also happy to work with and are working with European partners on trusts. My point is that we would not have made any progress on beneficial ownership if we had included trusts in that debate in the G8, but we did make progress for the reason that we gave.
The right hon. Gentleman asked to whom the information about beneficial ownership in the Crown dependencies and overseas territories will be available. It will initially be available to law enforcement agencies, including, crucially, our own. These places are not producing public registers yet. I want them to, but let us be frank: only about three countries in the world, including Britain now, have these public ownership registers. If we had tried to push that on to the Crown dependencies straightaway, we would not have got nearly as far as we have got today. On tax treaties, I am keen that we sign as many as possible. On Cabinet Ministers, I think that the current rules for registering Members’ interests are right, but, as I have said, in the case of Prime Ministers and Chancellors we are going further.
According to the official Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, we are likely to lose £7.3 billion of tax revenue to multinational companies over the ensuing five years because they will sue us in court and get the European Court of Justice to overturn the taxes we wish to impose, and there is another £35 billion at risk. What can we do here to make sure those companies pay their fair amounts, which this Parliament wants but the ECJ does not?
We took a whole series of actions in the Budget, and of course we have the diverted profits tax, which is a tremendous weapon for making sure these companies pay their tax in the jurisdictions where they are rightly earning the money. This tool of being able to exchange tax information and having a common reporting standard, which is what we set in train in 2013, will make the biggest difference.
One of the main benefits of the journalism that uncovered the Panama papers was that it shone sunlight on areas where some people did not want it to go. The Prime Minister makes great play of saying that his Government have done a great deal to improve corporate tax transparency, but this is nowhere near enough. When is he going to step up and make sure that corporates publish their tax information so that everybody—the public—can see where tax is being paid?
I am not saying that we have a perfect record, but this Government have done more than any previous Government to make this happen. I will answer the hon. Lady very directly: of course our system is based on full disclosure by companies to the Revenue but with a basic deal of taxpayer confidentiality between companies and the Revenue. That is the way our system and most other systems work. That is why the common reporting standards and the exchange of information between tax jurisdictions is so important, to make sure that these companies are telling the truth to us and to other jurisdictions. Only when that happens will we be able to recover the money.
The beneficial ownership register that comes into place in just over six weeks’ time, plus the announcement the Prime Minister has made on Crown dependencies and the new criminal act, will do much to deal with tax evasion. If the House will forgive me, let me say that it will do far more to ensure that the proceeds of crime and of terrorism cannot be laundered through this jurisdiction, which is to be welcomed. I think I should do a little ticking off here, because I know, personally, that we would not have got the agreement with the Crown dependencies without his personal intervention and without his being very tough, and he should be congratulated on that. Just fancy, it was actually delivered without a single shot being fired or the Leader of the Opposition putting boots on the ground!
What my right hon. Friend will remember from his time in government—he is doing a brilliant job as my anti-corruption lead—was that we got the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories around the table in the Cabinet room, on the same day as the trooping of the Colour, I believe, and said, “We have to make these changes. You don’t have to go all the way to publishing registers, although that is what we would like, but you have got to make this information available.” As he says, that will mean not only more tax paid, but greater ability to uncover corruption.
May I ask the Prime Minister some questions about his welcome announcement on Crown dependencies? First, have the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands agreed to compile a register of beneficial ownership? Secondly, will HMRC have access to that register? Thirdly, if he does not succeed in getting those territories to publicly publish those registers, will he use his powers, through the Privy Council, to order the tax havens to publish them?
Basically, we have been asking the Crown dependencies to do three things: one is to exchange tax information, the second is to have a common reporting standard, and the third is to establish registers of beneficial ownership. They have now done all three, so the answer to the right hon. Lady’s first question—have they agreed?—is yes. We still need agreement from Guernsey and from Anguilla, but we hope that that will come in the coming days. The answer to her second question—will our Revenue have access to their register?—is yes, it will. The answer to her third question—will we force them to have public registers?—is we think they should; we think that that is the right way to go. But let us be clear: very few countries in the world—I think Spain, Britain and possibly one or two others—have public registers of beneficial ownership. Our Crown dependencies and overseas territories will now be far in advance of most other countries, so instead of attacking them, we ought to praise them and thank them for what they have done.
Should not the Prime Minister’s critics just snap out of their synthetic indignation and admit that their real point is that they hate anyone who has even a hint of wealth in their life? May I support the Prime Minister in fending off those who are attacking him, thinking particularly of this place, because if he does not, we risk seeing a House of Commons that is stuffed full of low achievers who hate enterprise and hate people who look after their own family and who know absolutely nothing about the outside world?
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s support. We have a system for Members’ interests which was put in place at the end of 13 years of Labour Government. I think we should maintain that system. I do not want us to discourage people who have had a successful career in business or anything else from coming into this House and making a contribution. That is why I have said that for Prime Ministers and Chancellors, shadow Prime Ministers and shadow Chancellors, it is a different set of arrangements.
Does the Prime Minister recall that in the time after he became Prime Minister in the coalition, when he was dividing the nation between strivers and scroungers, I asked him a very important question about the windfall he received when he wrote off the mortgage of the premises in Notting Hill and did not write of the mortgage of the premises the taxpayers were helping to pay for in Oxford? I did not receive a proper answer then. Maybe “Dodgy Dave” will answer it now—[Interruption]—and by the way—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”]
Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I do not require any assistance from some junior Minister—an absurd proposition! I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the adjective he used a moment ago. He is perfectly capable of asking his question without using that word. It is up to him, but if he does not wish to withdraw it, I cannot reasonably ask the Prime Minister to answer the question. All he has to do is withdraw that word and think of another.
Shocking. However, there is a wider question that I would like to put to the Prime Minister, and it follows the question from the Chair of the Treasury Committee. As long as we have the longest tax code in the world after India, will not hard-working families always use legitimate ways to try to minimise their tax bill? Some of us have been arguing for years for a flatter tax system to merge rates. Let me give the Prime Minister a suggestion. The best way to stop people avoiding the payment of inheritance tax—that iniquitous tax—it is to abide by our manifesto commitment and abolish it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. We met our manifesto commitment on inheritance tax, which was to exempt the family home. My hon. Friend is right that we need to simplify, but there are things moving in different directions. We want to simplify taxes, but when we see abuses occurring, we sometimes need to write new tax code to make sure that those abuses cannot be used, which can lead to complications. However, I am well aware of his general point, and I think he is right.
Will the Prime Minister now answer a question that both he and the Chancellor refused to answer a few years ago, and confirm that they both benefited personally from their cut to the top rate of tax? On the day that universal credit cuts mean that part-timers could be over £1,000 a year worse off, does he think that the several thousand pounds a year from which they both benefited is fair?
The information is contained in my tax return, which is in the House of Commons Library, and everyone can go and look at it. The key point is not only that since we reduced the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p we have not only raised more revenue, which we can spend on the public services that the right hon. Lady supports, but that the richest 1% in the country pay a higher overall percentage of income tax at 27%.
Will my right hon. Friend clarify again the fact that tens of millions of our fellow citizens benefit from tax-exempt investments, as most pension schemes do not pay tax on their investment income, which directly benefits hard-working people saving for, and receiving, pensions?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. I would reinforce the point that many millions of our fellow citizens own shares, and many people choose to make their investments through unit trusts, which are a relatively safe form of investment because they share the risk. Many unit trusts are listed in other countries—many of them now in Dublin—and they are set up in that way not to avoid tax but to make sure that the revenues are returned to the unit trust holder who then pays tax, which is the key point.
Does the Prime Minister accept that the revelations last week that he intervened personally in 2013 to water down the effects of EU transparency rules on trusts damages his efforts to portray himself as some kind of champion of fair tax? Will he now commit to fully supporting EU transparency rules, including country-by-country reporting by corporations showing exactly how much profit they make and where?
Let me be absolutely clear with the hon. Lady. There were no EU proposals—the whole thing was based on a British proposal or initiative to encourage all countries to have registers of beneficial ownership. The EU then joined in and suggested extending it to trusts, and we pointed out that if that happened no one would take it up because trusts, as she knows, are set up for all sorts of reasons: the care of a disabled child, support for a local school—any number of things that are perfectly reasonable under English common law. The advice I had was that if we went for beneficial ownership of companies and trusts, the move that we have made, which is genuinely helping to change the world in that regard, would have completely failed.
Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Leader of the Opposition to write to him to set out in detail the allegations he makes against him, either of breaking the law of propriety or the rules of this House? Having listened carefully to the Leader of the Opposition, I fail entirely to comprehend what he is going on about.
On a separate issue, I am glad to see my right hon. Friend stand up for the overseas territories. He will know that when I was Attorney General, I had quite a lot of dealings with the Attorneys General of the overseas territories in encouraging them to change their transparency rules. In fact, they showed themselves to be properly responsive to those representations. He may also agree with me that the overseas territories are entitled to provide financial services and not to be damned for trying to ensure the wellbeing of their own citizens.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. What we have tried to do with the overseas territories is to say that there is a perfectly legitimate business of providing financial service, but they, like us, should be doing it on the basis of high standards, not low standards. I think that is an argument that they now accept and are carrying out, and we should thank them for it. As for the first half of my right hon. and learned Friend’s question, I listened to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am not sure I want to read all about it again in a letter because I do not think there is much to answer.
One could be forgiven for believing that the only virtue was transparency, but privacy and equality are both important virtues that we value in this country. Does the Prime Minister agree that given the many thousands of opinion formers, policy formers and decision makers in this country paid publicly through private service companies, if we are to set any principle, it should be that with public finance comes public transparency—who is paid what by us, the taxpayers? If we can establish that principle first, we can have a wider discussion about transparency.
I agree with the first half of the hon. Gentleman’s question: there is a value in privacy. That is why I think we need a balance between what is disclosed and what is not disclosed. I have tried to set out the way forward today. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about private service companies, the Chancellor had something to say about that in the Budget. There is a case, particularly where public money is involved, for making sure that people declare these arrangements in the proper way. The changes that the Chancellor has spoken about will make sure that whether someone chooses to have a private service company or chooses to be self-employed, the amount of tax that they pay will be much more similar.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that there will be a new criminal offence applying to corporations that fail to prevent their representatives from criminally facilitating tax evasion. That reflects the failure to prevent bribery offence which already exists under the Bribery Act 2010. There are nearly 40 other economic crimes listed in the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which are susceptible to deferred prosecution agreements. Will my right hon. Friend have discussions with the Ministry of Justice and the Law Officers to make sure that we can add not only the tax offence that he refers to but those other economic crimes, so that they can be dealt with under the “failure to prevent” system?
My right hon. and learned Friend has much expertise in this area. I think the point he is making is that as we set out these economic crimes—the Home Secretary has led the charge to ensure that we address this issue properly—we make sure that they are properly publicised, properly understood and then properly prosecuted. We need to make sure that the National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud Office work together in the way that I know he was keen to see when he was doing that job.
The Prime Minister says that he is leading on international efforts to crack down on tax evasion, so can he explain why he wrote to the then European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in 2013 and asked him to water down the impact of EU transparency rules by treating trusts differently from companies in anti-money laundering rules, despite warnings that such a move could create loopholes for tax dodgers?
With great respect to the hon. Lady, I have answered that question several times, most recently to the leader of the Green party. We were keen to get progress on the beneficial ownership of companies, and if we had accepted proposals to include trusts, that would have got completely bogged down and would not have made nearly the progress that we have made. We have got every G7 country and most G20 countries signing up to having action plans on beneficial ownership of companies. If we did that with trusts, my advice was that the whole thing would have slowed down to a trickle and we would not have got all the international co-operation and all the extra money that we are going to raise.
As far as I am concerned, it is perfectly clear that neither the Prime Minister nor his father has done anything wrong at all. In his statement my right hon. Friend said that we must defend the right of every British citizen to make money lawfully. That is something that I agree with wholeheartedly, but it is slightly at variance with the description of people who have done just that as morally repugnant. Will the Prime Minister give us a promise that from now on he will uphold the rule of law and the view that the rule of law is what is important in this country, and not question the morality of people who act lawfully with regard to their tax arrangements?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, and I agree with what he says about the importance of enabling people to make money within the law; he is completely right that the rule of law is what matters overall. The simple point that I have often made, and which I will continue to make, is that of course it is tax evasion that is illegal, not tax avoidance. There are many ways that people avoid taxation, not least by putting money into a pension or an ISA, or by other perfectly legitimate ways of planning for their future, that of their family and all the rest of it. However, we have sometimes seen very aggressive measures—I mentioned some of them in my statement—such as putting properties in company envelopes in order to avoid paying stamp duty, where it is sometimes difficult for the Government to catch up quickly enough with the huge changes taking place. I think that a bit of leeway on that is necessary, but my hon. Friend is right: it is the rule of law that matters.
Does the Prime Minister not realise that there is a world of difference between the vast majority of our constituents who pay their tax in the usual way, it being deducted at source or by other means, and the very rich tax spivs who use tax havens for obvious reasons? That is why the accusation is made about them and the people I have referred to.
Of course there is bad practice, not least in some of these jurisdictions, and that needs to be dealt with. That is what tax transparency, the sharing of information, the registers of beneficial ownership and all the rest of it are about. The other thing to recognise that happened last week is that the £11,000 personal allowance came in, so people can now earn £11,000 before having to pay any income tax at all. That completed our work of taking 4 million of the lowest paid people in our country out of income tax altogether.
The Prime Minister has paid his taxes and behaved perfectly properly, and I commend him for standing up to those who have sought to besmirch his father’s reputation and memory. Will he remind us how much extra money has come into the Exchequer as a result of his Government’s closing the loopholes that were set up under 13 years of Labour government?
The point is that we raised an extra £12 billion in the last Parliament, and we want to raise another £16 billion in this Parliament, stretching out to 2021 the figures that I gave. Also, by having a lower rate of corporation tax, we have actually seen more corporation tax come in. Low tax rates, but tax rates that people pay—those are our watch words.
Evading tax is already illegal, whether it is done in the UK or elsewhere. The point that I have been making is that we need to have this information sharing and the ability to look at information in these jurisdictions, in order to see whether people have been evading tax, and that is what we are now getting. But we should not use that to say that it is wrong for people, trade unions, companies or pension schemes to invest in unit trusts listed in other countries, because that is a perfectly normal way of investing.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on bringing transparency to the office of Prime Minister by publishing his own tax return? Does he have any thoughts on whether that should be extended to former Prime Ministers, many of whom still receive public money? Personally, I would be very interested to see a tax return of one Mr T. Blair.
I have no proposals to make in that regard. I am not claiming to have some perfect record, but on becoming Prime Minister I cut the Prime Minister’s pay by 5% and froze it for the Parliament, I rejected the Prime Minister’s tax allowance of £20,000 a year, and I reformed the Prime Minister’s pension so that it is now contributory for the first time. As Mr Speaker knows, the Speaker, the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister have all given up the great offices of state pension that used to give half their salary in perpetuity—[Interruption.] Opposition Front Benchers say that that was done by the Labour party, but it was not actually brought in until I became Prime Minister. I did it. All those steps have been taken, which I think was the right thing to do.
Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer be clarifying the tax situation of his family company, Osborne and Little, which he holds shares in, but which has paid no UK corporation tax in seven years?
The Chancellor’s family firm is exactly the sort of manufacturing small firm we want to encourage in our country. For many years, I gather, it has not been making a profit, but I am glad that the company is doing well and now paying a dividend—that is something we should welcome. Its tax matters are entirely a matter between the company and the Inland Revenue, and that is the way it should be.
I join other Conservative Members in welcoming the Prime Minister’s statement this afternoon. When he meets world leaders in London this May for the first global anti-corruption summit, will he press them to agree actions to expose corruption, wherever it exists?
It is good that we are having this summit. As I am writing in a document that will be released before the summit, no country, no politician—no one—can claim that they have a perfect and unblemished record in this regard; all countries are battling against these problems, as we did in the House of Commons with the problems of expenses and all the rest of it. However, I want to encourage people, and the Prime Minister of Afghanistan and the President of Nigeria are contributing, and they are admitting that their countries are rife with corruption and it needs to be dealt with. The problem is that, if nobody actually stands up and talks about these issues and sets out the action plans for delivering on these issues, nothing will get done.
At the last count, 36,364 properties in London were owned by offshore companies—that is one in 10 in one London borough and 7% in another London borough. We should know who owns those properties. Many believe that this is about dirty money from countries such as Russia and from the middle east. This is driving up costs, with a 50% increase since 2007. What is the Prime Minister going to do about dirty money propping up the London property market?
The first thing, which we have already done and which has had a huge impact, is to say that, if a company owns a property in a so-called envelope structure, so that we cannot get to the name of the person who owns that property, they have to pay an annual stamp duty charge of something like 15%. That has been a massive money raiser, providing money to spend on public services, and a huge disincentive for that sort of behaviour. However, I want to go further; as I said in my speech in Singapore, we need to have more information about who owns what in our country.