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The Gracious Speech we heard yesterday put forward a comprehensive legislative programme. Underlying it is a basic principle: this Government want to ensure that people who work hard and want to get on in life are able to do so. We believe that it is part of the Government’s role to help people who want to work hard to succeed. We want to ensure that those who do the right thing do not find themselves penalised for their honesty and their commitment to playing fair. The corollary of that is that those who cheat the system and who do not play by the rules should be prevented from being able to take advantage, at the expense of the decent and hard-working majority.
Nowhere is this more true than in the immigration system. We are going to make the UK a harder place to live for an immigrant who has not played by the rules—who has dishonestly overstayed their visa, for example, or who does not have one at all—or who has committed a serious crime. The immigration Bill referred to in the Gracious Speech will do three things. First, it will diminish the pull factors that make migrants want to come to Britain to take but not to contribute. Secondly, it will make Britain a harder place to live for those who have no right to be here. Thirdly, it will make it easier to remove foreign nationals who have committed serious crimes and who should be deported. It will streamline the appeals system, making it much less slow and cumbersome, and give fewer opportunities for using the Human Rights Act 1998 to avoid deportation.
If the hon. Lady cares to look at the figures, she will see that there has been a significant increase in the number of appeals by foreign national prisoners, which is delaying their deportation. That is exactly why this Government are bringing forward measures in the immigration Bill to deal with the appeals system, and I hope that those on the Opposition Front Bench will support them.
One of the most fundamental injustices of the present system is one that many Members will be aware of from the complaints of their constituents. It is the extent to which immigrants can call on publicly funded services without having made any contribution to the system that provides them. Our system is one of universal provision, and it will remain so under this Government, but it is also one that requires some contribution to be made in order for that provision to be accessed. That is the basic principle of justice that underpins the system, but it is a principle that has been flouted. When the Bill becomes law, it will be respected.
The Bill will ensure that temporary migrants and others will not be able to have free access to the NHS until they have made at least some contribution to the Exchequer. Furthermore, the Bill will strengthen legislation that penalises businesses that employ illegal immigrants. It is obviously unfair that those who are not entitled to be in Britain should be able to take jobs that ought to be filled by people who are so entitled. The Bill will strengthen our ability to enforce penalties on employers that have used illegal workers. It will also confirm that a migrant must have lawful immigration status of more than six months to qualify for a UK driving licence.
The rate of certain aspects of prosecutions taking place in relation to certain individuals has actually been higher under this Government than it was under the last Labour Government. That is one of the areas—[Interruption.] I have to say that I am not sure—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I did not hear the expression concerned, but I think that it falls into the category of behaviour that is discourteous but not disorderly. We will leave it there for the time being, but I appeal to Members on both sides of the House to remember what I said yesterday. Speaking on behalf of the House and of the public, I believe that we should try to express ourselves with restraint, moderation and good humour, in the best traditions required by “Erskine May”.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Bill will also introduce a duty on private landlords to carry out immigration checks when letting property. It will penalise landlords who rent property to migrants who are not entitled to stay in Britain.
We shall also introduce an amendment to the immigration regulations covering EU nationals who come to the UK in search of work. They will cease to have a right to reside here and will have no access to benefits if, after six months, they do not have a job and do not have a realistic chance of getting one. There is a glaring unfairness in the way that immigrants’ claims to have the right to settle here are assessed. The system has become so complex that, as one senior judge said recently,
“immigration law has now become an impenetrable jungle of intertwined statutory provision and judicial decisions...There is an acute need for simplification”.
The immigration Bill will provide that simplification. It will also set out how the courts should interpret article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which sets out the right to respect for private and family life. Last July, we set out clearly before the House what the right to family life should mean. That interpretation was adopted by the House without a Division, because it was unopposed. Unfortunately, some judges have chosen to ignore that interpretation. The immigration Bill will provide them with rules on how article 8 should be interpreted that will have statutory force. It will place strict limits on the circumstances in which the right to family life can be invoked to block deportation. In particular, it will put an end to the unjust situation in which immigrants convicted of serious offences can escape deportation merely by claiming that it would interfere with their right to family life.
My right hon. Friend is making a very important point. The House has made it abundantly clear that the will of the British people is that we should be able to deport people who it is considered undesirable to have in this country. What assurance can she give the House that judges are going to listen to what the House is saying this time, given that they have not done so in the past?
My hon. Friend makes a good point: many people are incredibly frustrated by cases in which judges decide that the right to family life means that someone should not be deported, despite evidence of a significant level of criminality. Last July, when we made changes to the immigration rules, I hoped and expected that judges would respond to those changes, given that there was cross-party support for them. As I said, there was no opposition to them in the House. The fundamental difference this time around is that the changes will be made through primary legislation rather than through the immigration rules.
I now move on to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. The Bill aims to diminish the extent to which honest and hard-working people are preyed on by criminals and by bullies who show no regard for the basic rules of civilised living. It will do so in three ways. First, it will make it easier for citizens to get the police or local authorities to take action against people whose antisocial behaviour disrupts their lives. Secondly, it includes measures to ensure that we can tackle organised crime more effectively. In particular, we are substantially increasing the maximum penalty for the illegal importation of guns, and creating a new offence of
“possession for sale or transfer” of illegal firearms. Thirdly, it continues the process of reform of the police, so that police officers have clear professional standards and are able to spend more of their time fighting crime than filling in forms.
The Bill also contains a provision to make forcing a person to marry a criminal offence. Forced marriage is a serious problem in some communities in Britain today. It is an abomination: it is totally incompatible with the values of a free society that anyone should be forced into a marriage. Astonishingly, however, forcing a person into marriage is not a crime under our law. This Bill will remedy that situation, and in doing so, it will signal very clearly that this country does not tolerate the forcing of one person by another into marriage. The Bill will also make easier the prosecution of people who attempt it. Prosecutors will no longer have to identify other offences such as assault or kidnapping before they can start proceedings against someone for forcing another into marriage.
Antisocial behaviour is destructive, demoralising and damaging. When it is repeated over and over again on the same victims, its results can be tragic, as numerous cases involving some of the most vulnerable and easily hurt people in our society have shown. The existing means for dealing with antisocial behaviour are neither quick nor effective. The Bill will give new powers to the police, councils and landlords that will ensure that quick and effective remedies are available. It will also give people the power to require agencies to deal with antisocial behaviour. It will no longer be possible for a police force or a council to ignore repeated complaints, as it is now.
I invite my right hon. Friend to join me in congratulating the police on making savings and on working far more effectively in reducing crime. On the issue of antisocial behaviour, will she review whether unauthorised campers and Travellers returning to the same place, doing damage and causing costs can be dealt with more effectively? This sort of antisocial behaviour is not acceptable and it is resented by local residents.
I recognise the problem that my hon. Friend identifies as one that affects many communities up and down the country. I am pleased to say that in numerous places we have already seen the police taking a more robust approach in dealing with these particular issues. I encourage the police to do that when they are faced with these problems which, as my hon. Friend says, cause considerable concern to local residents.
This Bill aims to give people much greater control over the services that are meant to help them, but which have often in the past been operated for the convenience of those delivering them. The Bill will change that situation.
The Bill tackles another aspect of antisocial behaviour: irresponsible dog ownership. It will extend the offence of being in charge of a dog that is dangerously out of control to apply to any location.
In looking at the problem of dangerous dogs, can we be more careful this time round, because the last time we attempted this performance, it was a bit of a fiasco and we ended up with bad legislation? The right hon. Lady is right to highlight this issue as a pressing need, but we need to be very careful about how we frame this legislation.
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says—that it is important in introducing legislation to look carefully at what its impact might be. The clauses relating to dangerous dogs are limited in number. They extend the ability to deal with dangerous dogs into private places. Sadly, we have seen a number of cases where individuals, and particularly children, have been attacked by dogs in the family home. The current legislation does not cover that, but the Bill will enable us to do so.
We will, of course, look carefully at the drafting to make sure that the provision is as effective as everybody would want it to be.
The proposals to amend legislation to cover attacks on private property are, of course, very welcome. However, it is extremely disappointing that there is no dog control notice measure or something similar, to prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
I am conscious that a number of people have been asking specifically for a dog control notice. We have not introduced it because we believe that the other powers and orders we are introducing under this antisocial behaviour Bill will give sufficient power to the police to be able to deal with dangerous dogs without needing to introduce a separate—and yet another—notice.
I was bitten by what was obviously a weapon dog during the last election campaign, so although I was not seriously hurt and did not suffer too much, I am very concerned about this issue. I am also concerned about it on behalf of my constituents, who have made many complaints about dangerous dogs. Are the Government going to be serious about dealing with this problem and reintroduce licensing, with every dog having to be chipped, and with a proactive role for dog wardens and the police to ensure that dogs are not dangerous?
Excellent work is done by dog wardens in many local authorities throughout the country. We feel that the legislation we are introducing, which will extend the ability to deal with dangerous dogs, is sufficient to be able to cover the issues that cannot be covered at present. I know some people say, “Why don’t we go back to having the dog licence that was held in the past?” Not only is that quite difficult to administer, but, unfortunately, all too often the owners of dogs we will need to be concerned about do not bother to get a dog licence, whereas the law-abiding citizens do. Giving the police extra powers to deal with dangerous dogs so that they can deal with them in all situations, even within the private home where the dog normally resides, gives the important extension of powers to the police that will enable them to deal with dangerous dogs wherever they may be in the community.
I am sorry to hear of the experience the hon. Gentleman had during the last election campaign. Dogs and letterboxes are the major problems for campaigners. [Interruption.] Yes, I think there would be widespread support for measures on that.
The reform of the police and the modernisation of their regulatory framework has been one of the most important aims of this Government, and it still is. We have ended the tyranny of national targets, eliminated useless bureaucracy and freed up police officers’ time so they can fight crime rather than fill in forms. We have set up the National Crime Agency to fight the cancer of organised crime, we set up the Winsor review of police pay and conditions, and we are determined that the priorities of the police should reflect those of the public they serve.
With the election of police and crime commissioners, we have made local police forces more accountable to the people they serve. This Bill will provide the new College of Policing with the powers it needs to set standards for the police in England and Wales. It will also ensure that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has the powers it needs to investigate complaints of misconduct effectively.
Although this was not specifically mentioned in the Gracious Speech yesterday, we intend to introduce measures to clarify the compensation arrangements for those whose property is damaged by riots. The law on this has not been changed since 1886, and, unsurprisingly, it is in great need of modernisation: for example, the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 does not cover damage to cars, because, of course, in 1886 there were no cars. This month, an independent review of the 1886 Act that I have commissioned will commence. It should conclude by the end of September. We shall then consult publicly, before looking to publish a draft Bill in spring 2014, with the aim of introducing it in the fourth Session of this Parliament.
It is one of the fundamental duties of Government to protect the law-abiding public from the effects of criminal behaviour, and I would like to update the House on the position regarding our proposals on communications data. The Government are committed to ensuring that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to protect the public. Existing legislation already allows those agencies to monitor who has communicated by telephone, as well as with whom, when and where. These data are used in 95% of all investigations into serious and organised crime, and they have played a role in every major counter-terrorism operation by the security services in the last decade, but terrorists, paedophiles and criminal gangs today increasingly communicate with each other over the internet using the latest electronic technology. Our proposals are simply about ensuring that we can keep up with criminals as they shift to e-mails, instant messages and the internet, rather than making phone calls. We cannot leave the British public exposed to dangers which could be eliminated were communications data obtained. As the Gracious Speech yesterday indicated, we will be bringing forward proposals to address this most important issue.
The Home Secretary is well aware of my position, and I thank her for giving way. Will she confirm that, as was said in the Gracious Speech, these proposals will relate only to the aspects involving internet protocol address matching, on which she and I agree, and will be coupled with the safeguards requested by the Joint Committee?
I was about to say that the hon. Gentleman was a little slow in jumping up; I thought he might have done so when I first mentioned communications data. He was a member of that scrutiny Committee, so he will be aware that it said there was a case for legislation in this area. We accepted a number of the Joint Committee’s recommendations on the proposed Communications Data Bill. As I have just explained, because this is an important area for catching criminals and for dealing with terrorists and paedophiles, it is right that the Government are looking to address the issue. The wording of the Queen’s Speech yesterday made it clear that the Government intend to address the issue and, as I say, proposals will be brought forward.
The Home Secretary is indeed being most generous this morning. When she is considering what to do about IP addresses, will she also look into having better, tighter systems for age verification? We hear a lot about how a better age-verification system would deal with many of the problems that we are facing on the net.
The hon. Lady’s point does not technically come under the remit of the communications data issue and deals with access to the internet more widely. If I have understood the point she is making, there is an issue to address. Some hon. Members have been taking this point up; my hon. Friend Claire Perry, for example, has been doing a lot of work in this area and examining any possible changes.
I am a little confused about what is being proposed for data now. Will it deal solely and exclusively with IP addresses or is the plan to bring in, either in this Session or the next one, what we all described as a snooper’s charter?
The hon. Gentleman refers to the proposed measure as a snooper’s charter, as others have done, but it was not about snooping and it was not a charter. It is about ensuring—this will continue in the proposal we bring forward—that we are able to deal with the situation that is emerging, where it is becoming harder to identify these communications because people are using new methods of communication that are not covered by existing legislation.
Hon. Members will note that I have not referred to the justice Bill, which will increase public protection by ending early release schemes for dangerous offenders, or to the offender rehabilitation Bill, which, as we have just heard in my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary’s statement, will require that all offenders released from prison, including those given short sentences, serve at least 12 months under statutory supervision in the community. Neither of those important Bills is the subject of debate today. The Opposition are in charge of the debate following the Gracious Speech, so will the shadow Home Secretary explain why the Labour party does not consider the rehabilitation of offenders and cutting reoffending to be worthy of inclusion in the debate? Perhaps she does not feel that the shadow Justice Secretary is up to the debate, which might well be true, given that he was not even here to respond to that statement, but we would like to know.
The Bills I have outlined send an unambiguous message: we are on the side of hard-working families; we will help people who play by the rules and who want to get on in life; and people should be able to receive benefits only if they contribute something first. On crime, antisocial behaviour and immigration, the Government and this legislative programme are on the side of the people, and I commend it to the House.
Once again in the Queen’s Speech we have heard grand claims, from the Home Secretary and indeed from the Prime Minister yesterday, about what their plans will do on immigration, antisocial behaviour, law and order, and justice. Sadly, however, the grand claims are simply not backed up by the reality of what they are doing.
The trouble is that we have been here before. We all remember how in this Government’s first Queen’s Speech the Home Secretary brought us the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. She said that it would give the police
“a strong democratic mandate from the ballot box”.—[Hansard, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 708.]
Instead, she spent £100 million on shambolic elections and only one in eight people turned out to vote, which was hardly a ringing endorsement.
Let us remember, too, what the Home Secretary said about her counter-terror legislation. She said:
“Public safety is enhanced, not diminished, by appropriate and proportionate powers.”—[Hansard, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 69.]
Instead, she bought terror suspects back to London and on Boxing day one of them ran off in a black cab and no one has seen him since. Let us remember how she promised that Abu Qatada would soon be on a plane, yet we are all still waiting. She promised there would be no cuts to front-line police, yet more than 5,000 officers have already gone from 999 response and neighbourhood teams. Time and again, the rhetoric does not match the reality.
The Home Secretary talked about the data communications Bill—that is, the missing data communications Bill. Here is what she said about that Bill less than six months ago:
“This law is needed and it is needed now. And I am determined to see it through.”
She also said:
“But Sun readers should know that I will not allow these vitally important laws to be delayed any longer in this Parliament.”
Instead, all that that the Queen’s Speech briefing says is that the Government are working with companies and
“It may involve legislation”—
“may”—it “may”; that is clearly the problem.
The shadow Home Secretary has carefully avoided saying what the Labour party policy is on the data communications Bill. Two days ago, Alan Johnson, the former Labour Home Secretary, said that if Labour had won the last election it would have introduced such a measure. Is that her position? Can she enlighten us?
The hon. Gentleman should contain himself to squabbling within his coalition and struggling to get some answers. We have always said that action will be needed to ensure that the police can keep up with changing technology. However, the draft data communications Bill drawn up by the Home Secretary was far too wide; it gave the Home Secretary far too many powers and there were far too few safeguards for privacy. It was absolutely right that something had to be done, but that Bill was not the right approach. We must wait to see what approach the Home Secretary will now take, because Government Members are squabbling so much among themselves that the result is a shambolic approach to a serious issue. Time and again, that is what we see: there is strong rhetoric from the Home Secretary, and then the reality simply does not stack up.
It is the same when we come to the so-called “flagship” immigration Bill. We now discover that the Bill will not be published until the autumn, because the Government have obviously still not worked out what on earth to do about it. This is an area where we agree that action is needed. Yesterday, the Government told us that the Bill would have five central elements, but now it turns out that three already exist and will not require primary legislation, and two are merely proposals for consultation.
On jobseeker’s allowance, the Government are replicating the exact words in existing regulations. When the Health Secretary was asked about the NHS, all he could say was that he promised to examine the extent of the problem and do an audit. On private landlords, the Government cannot tell us how their policy will be enforced, because they do not know who the landlords are and they will not have a statutory register. Time and time again this Queen’s Speech has not set out the detailed proposals that we need. Instead of “flagship” Bills, all we have are proposals that seem to have been sketched out on the back of a fag packet—no wonder the Government wanted to get rid of the cigarette packaging legislation.
The right hon. Lady has made an attempt at two jokes during her speech, which is probably two more than we normally have. I have a simple question for her: does she agree that net migration was too high under the previous Labour Government?
We have already said that the pace of migration was too fast and that the level should come down; we have supported measures in that regard. However, although the Home Secretary has made grand claims about net migration and the Immigration Minister is attempting to do the same, they will recognise that two thirds of their drop in net migration is a result of an increase in British citizens leaving the country and fewer British citizens returning home.
Let me quote the numbers to the Home Secretary; she is on the edge of her seat, itching to intervene. In fact, the drop in net migration has been 72,000. Of those, 27,000 more Brits are leaving the country and 20,000 fewer Brits are coming home. Is she proud of a set of policies that have driven British people out of the country? I will give way to her if she wants to respond to that point.
On that statistical point, I suggest the right hon. Lady looks at what the Office for National Statistics said, which was that it was not the emigration of British people that led to the drop in net migration. We have reduced net migration by a third. I think she said that she accepted that net migration was too high under the Labour Government. Will she now apologise for that?
The Home Secretary is targeting net migration, which she knows is affected by British people leaving the country—by people leaving as well as people arriving. I state the figures again: a 72,000 drop, 27,000 more Brits leaving the country and 20,000 fewer coming home. People obviously do not want to come back to Britain under her Government. That is the problem that she has to face.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that it is utterly astonishing that she is not apologising to the British people for creating such an enormous amount of heartache and grief for them? Rather than encouraging my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in her attempts to put right the failings of the right hon. Lady’s Government, she is standing there and criticising. Should she not be apologising?
Nice try from the hon. Lady, but the facts show that there is a series of problems in this Government’s measures on immigration. I agree that we should have had transitional controls on migration from eastern Europe. There are things that the Labour Government should have done but which did not happen. They should have happened.
We should have people working together. There are many areas on which we agree with the Government and will support the measures that they are taking, but look at what has happened, particularly on illegal immigration. The number of people refused entry dropped by 50%. The number of people absconding through Heathrow passport control trebled. The number caught afterwards halved. The backlog in finding failed asylum seekers has gone up. The number of illegal immigrants deported has gone down. This is not a catalogue of success on immigration from the right hon. Lady’s Government.
The shadow Minister was bandying around figures about net migration and people leaving this country. She might do well to remember that in the 10 years of her Government, 2 million people aged 25 to 44—the most economically active—left this country, and she has the cheek to lecture us about people not wanting to come back.
As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, people are travelling and trading more than ever. That is why immigration is an important issue for our future and why we must get the policies right. A policy that targets net migration means that the Government can claim to have made huge progress on the things that the British people care about when they are failing to tackle exploitation in the labour market and failing to tackle illegal immigration, which is not even measured in the net migration statistics. Illegal immigration can go on getting worse and worse, yet the Immigration Minister can make more and more claims about his target, and the result is that he is not listening to the real issues that people are concerned about, particularly on illegal immigration.
There are serious issues on immigration, crime and justice that should be addressed in this Queen’s Speech and we support action in all these areas. I shall cover each of them. We want to support many of the Government’s measures, although we will scrutinise the detail. We support action to stop the terrible crime of forced marriage and the right hon. Lady will agree that it is important to get the legislation right. We support action on dangerous dogs, though we will wait to see whether it goes far enough and to look at the detail of her proposals.
We welcome action on fire arms, but what is the Home Secretary doing to stop people with a history of domestic violence owning a gun? We need an answer for Bobby Turnbull, whose mother, aunt and sister were tragically killed by Michael Atherton, who was granted a gun licence despite his history of abuse. We agree, too, with more support and rehabilitation for offenders, but where is the evidence that these untested massive private contracts will work? When the Justice Secretary tried it for the Work programme, it proved worse than doing nothing at all, and when the Home Secretary tried it for the Olympics, she ended up calling in the troops.
Time and again the promises do not match the practice. The right hon. Lady promises action on antisocial behaviour, yet she is weakening powers, not strengthening them. There will be no criminal sanction if antisocial behaviour measures are repeatedly breached. She promises that the community trigger will make a difference in persistent cases, yet in the pilots it was hardly ever used. Out of 23,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour in Manchester, the trigger was implemented three times. In Richmond it was not used at all.
Yet still there is nothing to deal with the serious consequences for justice of the police cuts and the policies that the Government have pursued. For nearly 10 years, the proportion of crimes brought to justice went up. In 2002, 18% of crimes were solved, and that rose to more than 30% by the 2010 election. Crime fell, but a higher proportion of crimes were solved. Not any more. We all want crime to keep falling, but we need support and justice for victims too. The proportion of crimes brought to justice has fallen since the election. There are 15,000 fewer police officers, 200,000 fewer arrests and 30,000 fewer crimes solved, and some of the most serious crimes of all have not been followed up or offenders have been let off.
The Queen’s Speech proposes to expand community resolutions for things such as antisocial behaviour, and we support more action in the community to resolve low-level crimes or antisocial behaviour—people apologising to victims and making reparations. But it must not become a short cut for dealing with serious and violent crime because there are not enough police to do the job, and that is what is happening on the Home Secretary’s watch. The number of serious and violent offenders let off after they said sorry has gone up massively since the cuts started—up from 13,000 to 33,000 in just three years. Yet it goes against all the guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers. ACPO says that it should not be used at all for domestic violence because it
“represents serious risk to the victims of such offences and is often subject to a complex and protracted investigation”.
That is too right. We know the pattern in many domestic violence cases: the offender apologises and says he will never do it again and that he really, really loves her, until the next time, when he hits her all over again. The criminal justice system must not sanction that. Yet that is exactly what happened 2,700 times last year—a fivefold increase since before the election and before the cuts started; a fivefold increase in the number of cases where a domestic violence offender was let off after they said sorry.
What was the response from Ministers? The Home Office has refused to issue new guidance, to set safeguards, to raise the matter with ACPO, and to rethink police cuts. Instead it says that it is a
“matter for Chief Constables. Through crime maps and police and crime commissioners, the public now have the means to hold them to account.”
That is reassuring. The police are overstretched, violent offenders are getting off, but at least we can Google it, and at least people get a vote in three years’ time. That is not an acceptable response to a serious problem.
On immigration, the grand claims do not match the reality either. We support action in many of the areas that the Government have talked about and we will scrutinise the legislation when it finally comes forward. Concerns about immigration are genuine and Parliament should respond. The pace of immigration has been too fast and we support measures to bring immigration down, particularly from low-skilled migration. But I hope that the Home Secretary will agree that Britain has benefited from people coming to our shores through the generations and contributing to this country. From our great scientists to the founders of our most successful businesses, from our great artists to our Olympic gold medallists, people who have worked hard for this country have boosted our society, our culture and our economy too.
As people travel and trade more than ever in future, in global markets, immigration will be important to Britain’s future as well. It is because immigration is important that it needs to be controlled and managed so that it is fair for all. We supported the proposals on article 8 when they were passed through Parliament last year. Article 8 is a qualified right and it is reasonable for Parliament to say how that should be balanced, especially when crimes have been committed, and we will work further with the Home Secretary in this area. But she should not pretend that the Government’s failure to deport foreign criminals is all because of the Human Rights Act. In fact, the number of foreign prisoners deported has fallen by 800 a year since the election, and she has herself admitted that only a minority of cases involve successful appeals under article 8. Far more often the problem is lost paperwork and administrative incompetence, problems that have been getting worse not better on her watch.
Nor has the Home Secretary set out proper plans to deal with exploitation in the labour market and illegal immigration. I hope that she will now introduce the powers that we put forward for borders enforcement staff in the Bill last year. I also hope that there will be action to close the loopholes on student visitor visas, and further action to deal with the fewer illegal migrants deported, more absconding at the border and fewer cases of illegal migrants reported to the Home Office simply not being followed up.
I strongly agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying, but does she not accept that we must argue the case for a substantial increase in staffing to deal with all those matters?
It is significant that the Home Office has cut around 5,000 staff from the UK Border Agency, and we have seen the consequences, for example in the growing delays for business people, who need visas rapidly, and longer delays and problems with appeals.
Crucially, we also need action to deal with the exploitation of migrant workers to undercut local staff. Where is the action to enforce the minimum wage? Where are the measures to extend gangmasters licensing? Where are the measures to stop agencies recruiting only from abroad? Where are the measures to stop employers using overcrowded housing to get around the minimum wage? Higher fines for businesses employing illegal labour are right, but they are no use if enforcement has dropped by more than 800 companies since the general election.
Let us also be clear that UK Independence party policies would make the situation worse. It wants to end statutory paid holidays, redundancy pay and maternity leave. Getting rid of those entitlements would be deeply unfair. Also, to do so would make it easier, not harder, for employers to exploit migrant workers and undercut local terms and conditions. The truth is that neither the Tories nor UKIP are willing to address the real problem of exploitation and the practical issues that trouble people because they are simply in a race to the bottom in the labour market and in the economy. If they really are concerned about deporting foreign criminals, why are they all determined to opt out of the European arrest warrant, just because it has the word Europe in the title, and even though it was responsible for the swift deportation of 900 suspected foreign criminals last year for trial back home? The reality is that those policies are not driven by facts, justice or a serious concern to get immigration policy right.
On the question of deporting foreign-born criminals to serve the balance of their sentence in their home countries, does my right hon. Friend agree that, given that most of the prisoner swap agreements we have with non-EU countries need the prisoner’s permission, it is difficult to see how the Government will achieve anything with that stated policy?
We are still waiting to see the detail of the Government’s policy, because in so many of these areas we get strong rhetoric but the reality does not add up to it, and often it does not even emerge.
The Home Secretary might think that she is fending off the threat from UKIP, but actually she is doing the opposite. The more she ramps up the rhetoric and widens the gap between it and reality, the more she increases public concern and the more sceptical people become. This is no time for an arms race on immigration rhetoric. Instead, we need fair and sensible policies that will make things better, not worse.
Let me raise one final immigration issue with the Home Secretary. We agree with the sentiment in the Queen’s Speech that those who come here should contribute, but what about those who have already contributed to this country by risking their lives and those of their families for our troops and our nation, and many of those are still doing so? What about the Afghan interpreters who have supported our troops and face threats from the Taliban as our troops pull out? When we left Iraq, we recognised the debt we owed those interpreters. The Americans, the Australians and the New Zealanders are all recognising their obligations to the interpreters. Surely she should show a similar sense of honour and add to the Queen’s Speech a settlement scheme for the Afghan interpreters, to whom we and our troops owe so much? We will support her if she does.
This is a Queen’s Speech that fails to provide the answers on law and order. It fails to provide the answers we need on immigration. It fails to provide help for family living standards. It fails to provide the boost our flatlining economy so badly needs. Once all the pomp and ceremony has passed, the reality of the Queen’s Speech is looking pretty thin. The Home Secretary, like the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, talks tough but does not deliver. As Mark Reckless said, she
“talks the talk but does not walk the walk.”
On the Opposition side, we could not agree more.
Unsurprisingly, I rather disagree with Yvette Cooper. I think that the Queen’s Speech contained some very positive and interesting aspects, not least the proposals that the Secretary of State for Justice spoke about earlier. The Queen’s Speech set out that
“Legislation will be introduced to reform the way in which offenders are rehabilitated in England and Wales.”
For me, that is perhaps the most important part of the Queen’s Speech. I hope that the programme that the Government bring forward, and the Bill or Bills relating to rehabilitation, will produce real benefits for the public.
I will just add—this follows a couple of newspaper reports over the past few days—that the money available for spending on rehabilitation is, I suspect, being unfairly reduced by the ordering of costs out of central funds for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When it fails successfully to prosecute offenders, sometimes it has to pay its own costs and sometimes it does not, but invariably the successful defendant’s costs come out of central funds. I hope that the Front-Bench team will look carefully at their resources to ensure that central funds are not used—I presume that “central funds” means Ministry of Justice or Home Office money—to bail out private prosecutors when they fail to bring their prosecutions home.
Let me revert to the wider subject of rehabilitation and place it within the context of the criminal justice system as a whole. It strikes me that the criminal justice system is a process, not an event. Our prisons are part of that process and, for all but the very few prisoners who will live out their lives in custody, they are places of temporary accommodation into which and from which the “community”, “society”, the “outside”—call it what we will—sends and takes them back. For most of those who are sentenced to prison, custody is not the end of the journey but a part of it.
Conversely, for many of us—those of us on the outside—who have no experience of the criminal justice system and who have never been into a prison or met anyone who has been sentenced to a term of custody, prison is society’s final answer. That is wrong: prison is itself a process within the wider process of the criminal justice system. It cannot be isolated in a silo from the other parts of the criminal justice system, such as the police, the courts, the probation service, the drug and alcohol abuse programmes and the education, training and diversionary activities that run alongside them.
The value of prison for society, law-abiding and criminal alike, should be that it takes in offenders and releases them reformed and rehabilitated so that they can return whence they came as different and better people, ready to participate as responsible citizens, looking after their dependants, free from drug use, better qualified, earning a living, paying their way and going straight. That is no doubt the unattainable ideal to be placed beside the hope of the crime-free society, but just because we cannot have total success does not mean that we should not strive to do better than we are doing now. I therefore look forward to seeing the detail of the Government’s proposals in relation to rehabilitation.
Prison, for most of those who end up inside, is evidence of failure: the offender has failed to look after himself, his family and those he cares for; he has failed to get an education, a job and to maintain his physical and mental well-being; and he has failed to understand, or has simply ignored, the needs and rights of others. In failing in so many ways he has caused incalculable damage to those most close to him and to his immediate and more distant victims. But in sending him to prison and doing nothing with him save incarcerating him—statistically most offenders and prison inmates are male—are we not also failing ourselves, our neighbours, our communities and our country? Prisons, properly understood and properly directed, should be prisons with a purpose that serve the public interest.
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a very reasonable point when he says that we should look at the criminal justice system as a whole, and the interactions between the institutions have a big impact on the effectiveness of the system, but does he not understand that it is precisely for that reason that the proposal to privatise the probation service and extend payment by results without having completed the pilots is so risky, because the institutions will be competing against each other, rather than trying to promote a good criminal justice system for society as a whole?
I am glad that the Government are taking a risk, but it is not an irresponsible risk. The outcome that we are looking for is rehabilitation. The probation service should not simply be an employment system; it should be a system more widely looked at that takes prisoners and rehabilitates them so that they can re-engage in society. If the Government’s proposals work—this is not a new idea; the Conservative party has been thinking about it for many years—they should be welcomed. Of course there will be doubt from the trade unions and from the Labour party, which are more state-centric organisations than we are, but for goodness’ sake let us give it a try. The current system is not working. If the Government are to be believed, as they should be in this regard, the Opposition should be a little less wary of this exciting new venture, because the benefits of it working are worth striving for.
At the moment, we have overcrowded prisons that can do no more than lock up for the period of their sentence the violent, the dishonest, the mentally ill, the addicted substance abusers, the illiterate, the innumerate and the socially inept. It can do no more than warehouse human beings for no other purpose than keeping them off the streets and preventing them from reoffending while inside. That is not a wrong or improper purpose—it is a very good reason to send an offender to prison—but on its own it is an insufficient and unimaginative purpose, and without more it is a huge waste of public money. If we do no more than house and release offenders and fail to carry out the essential work of helping them to find somewhere to live, to find a job, to stay off drugs and to return to their families and look after their dependants, we will fail again and again, and reinforce that failure.
We have a choice. We can continue to reinforce that failure or we can think hard about why we are failing the victims of crime and those we send to prison, as well as the wider taxpaying public, and do something about it. We can continue to put large cohorts of people into an overcrowded prison estate and send the same cohorts of people back out again to commit more, and often worse, crimes, or we can try to change things for the better—better for the taxpayer, better for the victims of crime, better for the public at large, and better even for the criminal.
Prisons need walls to deny criminals their liberty, to keep them off our streets and to stop them committing further crimes while serving their sentences, as well as to prevent them from escaping and to keep them safe from those on the outside who would do them harm. But those walls also need windows through which society can see in and know what is being done inside in its name and through which the offenders can see out and realise that a life of hope and purpose awaits them and is worth striving for. This is the era that cannot keep a secret and where no confidence is respected, and yet there remains a secret world of which the public know little or nothing: the world inside our prisons. It is time to put those windows in those walls.
No doubt the Government’s plans for rehabilitation will not entirely cure the problem of reoffending, but this is a Conservative answer that is positive, forward-thinking and practical, and at least worth thinking about. The status quo is not an option. Some years ago, the then chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, wrote:
“There is a link between humanity and effectiveness.”
Public safety, in her view, hinges on having an effective process, “And this isn’t one”. She was right then and she is right now. The prison system in England and Wales is creaking. The Prison Service, in its various guises, is confused, and the public are increasingly concerned. Traditionally, correctional policies have focused less on correcting and more on punishment and temporary prevention. Keeping offenders incarcerated and thus protecting society from their crimes and deterring them from committing them again and others from starting on a life of crime, is the job, or one of the jobs, of the prisons, and it is not an easy one. However, the Government are now attempting to deal with the issue.
Another central purpose of custody, and a more challenging one, must be to reduce, even if we cannot totally prevent, levels of reoffending. All but a tiny minority of prisoners are released at some point, and it is in our interest to prevent them from returning to a life of crime. As the Prison Reform Trust has written,
“Prisons should be places that hold securely, and make every effort to rehabilitate, serious and dangerous offenders. The skills and focus of those who run them should be wholly directed towards that aim, in the interests of public safety.”
If one thing stands out from any sensible examination of the prison system, it is that this second pillar is unstable, leaving not just room for improvement but potential for danger. It is, furthermore, wasting vast sums of public money. The cost of keeping a criminal in jail must now be well over £50,000 a year, and for younger, teenage offenders I would not be surprised if the cost were well over £150,000 a year. That does not take into account the cost of fostering the children of prisoners while their parents are away.
Stereotypically, any focus on rehabilitation is labelled as soft, but an intelligent analysis of the prison system must surely conclude that regardless of the well-being of offenders, their successful rehabilitation benefits the public purse, enhances public safety, and is in the public interest. I recognise that the need to reduce reoffending must be accompanied by the need to foster a public understanding that reform and rehabilitation of offenders is in their interest and a public good—a necessity not entirely obvious at first glance. As a former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, explained,
“Some newspapers appear to have an agenda which is to persuade the public that judges are soft on crime, that no prison sentence is long enough and that a sentence which does not involve imprisonment is no sentence at all. The only purposes of sentencing which they recognise are punishment and deterrence—rehabilitation does not enter the picture…We need to get across the message that rehabilitation of offenders makes life better not just for them but for the rest of us.”
The Government are now pushing that agenda, and I welcome that. It is clear that there are arguments worth making and that now is not too early to do so.
I would like to concentrate on immigration issues and to start with what immigrants bring to the United Kingdom. If we went by what is said by UKIP and in tabloid headlines, we would assume that it is all chaos and problems, but we should stop and think. There is a reason why Slough, one of the most diverse towns in the country, is the third most productive town in the country. Migrants are entrepreneurial, brave and risk-taking. They are prepared to move their families thousands of miles to learn a new language and to build a better future for themselves and their children. That has real benefits for Britain, and we should not forget that. I start from an unashamed view that Britain’s openness to migration is one of our great strengths. The many cultures in our country have played a key role in making us a world leader in cultural and creative industries. The panicked reaction of trying to out-UKIP UKIP was wrong.
I sometimes do not understand why my party constantly keeps saying that we got it wrong on immigration, because I think that we got it mostly right. We stopped a test on arranged marriages that was introduced by the primary purpose rule. We stopped the huge delays for husbands and wives overseas. When we were elected in 1997, asylum cases were taking years to determine. We ended that situation, and we moved it to months.
I agreed with the hon. Lady on almost everything until she said that the previous Government stopped asylum cases taking years to process. She will be well aware that there has been a backlog of hundreds of thousands of asylum cases that have taken very many years, including throughout the time of the previous Government, and the situation has still not been fully rectified. Does she accept that her party’s Government did not in fact stop asylum cases taking years?
The hon. Gentleman does not have the history of going into the way that the Home Office works that I have. What happened was that initial determinations of asylum cases had been taking years and years. In ’97, there were thousands of cases that nobody had made any kind of decision on, and the initial determinations were made quickly. He is right that there was a backlog of a number of cases that had been lurking in an underground bunker. In fact, when we were first elected, the underground bunker contained thousands of cases that had not been subject to any decisions at all, and the bunker was full of poison gas. The way in which the Home Office administers cases is ludicrous and I will address the issue later.
I believe that the previous Government did get some things wrong on immigration. We allowed the development of bogus colleges which conned students and allowed people to study here who should not have qualified to do so. We failed most in not sufficiently transforming the administration of immigration that we inherited from the Conservative Government. We did not do enough to make the system work well. We started that work—we introduced e-borders and we proposed identity cards—but we inherited a mess and the Home Office did not sufficiently get it sorted.
Today’s editorial headline in The Times says that the Government are right to prioritise delivery. Although The Times appears to be giving the Government an alibi for not proposing enough legislation in the Queen’s Speech, immigration is a field in which they have failed to prioritise delivery, which is key to ensuring that our immigration system that works. From where does immigration need to operate?
On the past Labour Government’s record, I gently tell my hon. Friend that I had a few asylum cases that took longer than two months to resolve. Does she agree, however, that one of the most pernicious myths propagated is that the previous Labour Government had an open-door policy on immigration? There was no open-door policy and it is misleading for people to continue to repeat that.
My hon. Friend is right. In order to get effective administration of immigration in the UK, we need to work out where it can best operate, and in my opinion that is at our borders. We are an island, which provides an opportunity for a primary mechanism of border-based immigration control.
It is not possible to operate effective and fair internal immigration control without identity cards, which is why in 2003 I changed my position from hostility towards them to being in favour of biometric ID cards. The Government’s proposed new mechanism seems to be dependent on not just internal immigration control, but wholly privatised immigration controls, with GPs and landlords—any old person—responsible for checking people’s immigration status. Frankly, that will open the door to more discrimination: people who do not look or sound British, or who cannot provide documents that the non-immigration authorities understand in order to prove their status, are likely to face particular difficulties. Anyone who looks or sounds like they are from abroad is likely to be targeted. That is not fair or right, and it is not an appropriate way for us to operate in the UK.
We know that landlords and GPs will not be able to understand the bits of paper, because employers who, rightly, already have a responsibility are unable to find out whether their employees are properly qualified. In a significant number of cases in my constituency, that is because the papers that prove status are stuck in the Home Office, which is not making a decision on them. I am not sure how a landlord is supposed to be able to prove to their own satisfaction whether someone is qualified or not.
In order to operate the proposal sensibly, it will probably require a register of landlords, which I would enthusiastically accept, because I am concerned about a number of issues with regard to private landlords. At present, private landlords in Slough habitually say that they do not want tenants on housing benefit, but in my view that is discriminatory: it discriminates against disabled people, who are substantially more likely than anybody else to depend on housing benefit. Lawyers have told me that it would be impossible to bring a case of disability discrimination, partly because landlords are not big institutions and because of the costs involved. If we increase the number of people whom landlords have a duty to discriminate against, we will create a society in which the excluded will number not just those with a suspect immigration status, but those with a perfectly secure immigration status.
Rather than legislating in that way, I advise the Government to get with the programme of making the system work—but that is not what they are doing. On illegal employment, as my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper has said, 800 fewer businesses have been fined in the past year for employing illegal workers. That figure is down from 2,097 in 2010 and 1,215 in 2012. The rhetoric is outperforming activity.
The same is true of the rhetoric on human trafficking. The Prime Minister has said that he wants us to be the leading country in dealing with human trafficking, yet we heard compelling testimony from Kalayaan just a couple of days ago about how the abolition of the overseas domestic workers visa is increasing the oppression of overseas domestic workers in private households. The reach of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority should be spread far more effectively, so that instead of being criticised by the International Labour Organisation, as is currently the case, we can show ourselves to be leaders in preventing human trafficking and the exploitation of workers.
The person who put this case most tellingly was Paul Houston, whose daughter was killed in a hit-and-run incident that became a cause célèbre for those who want to scrap the human rights of foreign nationals, when he said:
“I’m tired of the Borders Agency blaming its failings on human rights instead of just doing its job. Getting landlords to check the status of tenants will lead to suspicion that anyone who isn’t white or who has a foreign-sounding name must be here illegally.”
Let us consider the proportionality of the proposed deportation and human rights legislation. At present, a person sentenced to a year’s imprisonment is also expected—there is a presumption—to be deported. It is more usual for the Home Office to win rather than lose an appeal against such a case. Of the 819 deportation appeals to the first tier tribunal in the year April 2011 to March 2012, 67%—two thirds—were dismissed and 33% allowed. Very few appeals go to the upper courts and the judges have to decide them according to law, which includes the European convention on human rights as the European Court of Human Rights and the British courts have decided it, and not the Home Secretary’s personal views on it.
The Prime Minister has said that
“from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keep people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.”
However, that is precisely what the deportation proposals and those for the diminution of human rights risk doing. I want to give examples of two cases in my constituency in order to try to persuade the Minister who will respond to the debate to give a commitment that those people whose sentence is only in relation to immigration offences should not be caught by the Government’s proposals.
My first constituent is an African man who has lived in the UK for nearly 14 years. He came as a student, formed a relationship and had a son who was born here in 2003. That relationship broke down, but he is in frequent and close contact with his son and on good terms with his ex-partner about that contact. He was refused re-entry after a visit to his home country because he was not continuing to study and was removed immediately. He returned with another passport and worked on false documents, incidentally for a well-known children’s charity. He was arrested for using false documents to come back to the UK and to try to get permission to remain, and was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment. In the meantime, he had formed a new relationship with a British citizen who was born in Devon and worked at a special school. She was close to her parents and her two very elderly grandmothers. She stuck by him while he was in prison and they got married in August 2010 after his release. They now have an 18-month-old child.
My constituent applied to revoke the deportation order that was made after his sentence and won his appeal in summer 2012 on article 8 grounds. Eventually, he was given the six months’ leave that the UKBA has decided to give in such circumstances. He will have to apply again and pay Home Office fees for a further extension and has no idea when he might be able to get some security. I received an e-mail from his wife yesterday, which said that he
“has returned to work, he now works there full time in the role of security and youth worker. He continues to see his son fortnightly and our son has become familiar with the routine of” his father
“taking him to a childminder every morning.”
She wrote that he
“is a very important part of my family and we stay with my parents regularly, as well as regular visits with my extended family and he will be an usher at my sisters wedding in two weeks time.”
That is exactly the kind of person whom the Home Secretary’s proposals are designed to target, unless we are given a commitment that people whose only offence relates to their immigration status will not be included.
My second constituent who has an immigration offence is unsure whether he will be able to stay with his wife and children. The eldest child is 10 years old and has applied for British citizenship, as is that child’s right.
The risk is that we are following the agenda of the tabloids, rather than the agenda of humanity. An alternative approach would be to say that we, as the country that helped to write the European convention on human rights, are proud of our human rights record and will uphold it. We should trust judges to make the decisions on individual cases, rather than write big rules to discriminate against people. We should say that we do not believe in privatising our immigration administration, but that it is time to make the Home Office’s administration of immigration operate better and do what it says on the tin. If we did all those things, this would be a more fair, just and equal country, which is what we should all aim for.
It is a great pleasure to be called in this debate on the Queen’s Speech. It is also a pleasure to follow Fiona Mactaggart. I usually agree with much of what she says and on this occasion I agreed with large chunks of it. I will not go through every constituent in my area who has had to wait years for decisions to be made; Ms Abbott made the point for me.
I was generally very pleased with yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. It contained a lot of good measures that the Liberal Democrats are proud to have championed for a long time. There was excellent news that will help us to create a stronger economy and a fairer society.
Aspiring businesses will be boosted by the legislation on the national insurance employment allowance of £2,000. That is a progressive way of helping businesses out, giving them a springboard for growth and, critically, encouraging them to hire staff. There are proposals to improve the intellectual property system. The Hargreaves proposals suggested that European Union unitary patents could lead to £2.1 billion in growth. That will be welcomed by a lot of the high-tech businesses in my constituency, although we must not go down the dangerous route of software patents. The Energy Bill, which will continue its passage, will provide green jobs. The High Speed 2 Bill will generate about 100,000 jobs. As we have heard, the £10,000 income tax threshold will lift millions of poorly paid people out of income tax and give money back to others that can be spent to grow the economy.
On fairness, the care Bill will put an end to vulnerable members of society having to sell their homes to pay for care costs in their lifetime. There will also be a new flat-rate state pension, help for carers and the continuation of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. I hope that through cross-party agreement, that Bill will include the proposal to allow humanist weddings to take place in England and Wales, as they do in Scotland.
In government, we have fought for and will continue to fight for a stronger economy and a fairer society, but I will focus on the home affairs and justice measures in the Queen’s Speech. I will start with the contentious issue of immigration, on which I largely agree with the hon. Member for Slough. This country benefits massively from immigration. I am pleased to say that very clearly. If we were to take away the immigrants from my constituency, it would be disastrous. The hospital could not function without people who have come from overseas, universities and high-tech businesses would suffer massively, and the quality of society would be massively diminished. We should be delighted that we have successful immigration. Immigrants come to this country and make a huge contribution. I am very proud to support that.
However, our system does not work well. Under this Government, the previous Government and, I dare say, the Government before that, our border controls have simply not been good enough and we have not been able to keep track of people. We definitely want to ensure that the people who should be able to come into this country can get in easily and quickly. They should not have a struggle with bureaucracy or wait months for decisions, whether they are a wealthy businessman or somebody seeking asylum. Everybody deserves a prompt, correct decision. That is not what has happened. Improvements are being made and we will see whether they go far enough. It should be easy for talented business people, academics, researchers and genuine asylum claimants to come here legitimately. There have been far too many problems with that.
I have a constituent who had been sentenced to death in Iran for converting to Christianity. He applied for asylum under the previous Government and was rejected because, although he had a copy of the death sentence, it was deemed that there was not enough evidence that he would be at risk if he went back. Most people who are asking for asylum do not have a copy of a death sentence. That decision has been corrected and he is living in Cambridge and is very active there. The Home Office has been very helpful to members of his family.
We have to fix the system. I want exit checks to be reinstated. That is a long-standing Liberal Democrat position. If we do not know who is leaving, we do not know who is still in the country. That causes frustration because there are lots of figures that suggest that people are still in this country who should not be, when in fact they left many years ago. A lot of the figures on student migration include people who have left the country or who did not come here in the first place.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The previous Government’s abandonment of exit checks has led to the appalling situation whereby we cannot tell who is in the country. I would certainly welcome it if they were put back in.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I think that it was the Government before last who got rid of exit checks, but they certainly were not restored by the last Government. I believe that they are in the process of being restored by this Government. I look forward to clarification from the former Immigration Minister.
There were two sets of exit checks: one for those from outside the European Union and another for those from inside the European Union. The final exit checks were removed by the previous Government in 1998.
I thank the Minister for his detailed clarification and for being so well briefed. The past two Governments removed one set of exit checks each. We need to have them back so that we know who is leaving.
We must ensure that in the drive to correct our systems, we do not bring in measures that stifle our success or international standing. It is fantastic that we attract students from around the world. They come here and pay money, making this a fantastic export business. Some of them stay and contribute to our economy. Others leave and set up businesses or get elected in their own country, and have a good relationship with our country. We should be proud of that. That is a huge factor in my constituency and many others. We must not drive those people out when we correctly try to stop those who are abusing the system and who come here falsely. We need steps that get it right in both ways.
The demise of the Border Agency was somewhat rushed. We must ensure that there is not just a change of name, but a change of practice. The era of decade after decade of backlogs and of people not getting answers promptly must finally end. We all want to see that; no one in any part of the House would like those backlogs to continue to grow or even to exist at all, and we must have a system that will end them. I hope the Government will manage that, but it will be a tough task.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the inordinate delays and backlogs in the immigration system have two malign effects? First, they make it difficult for those with the type of talent, expertise and entrepreneurship that he describes to have their cases dealt with swiftly. Secondly, they encourage abuse, because many third-rate, dodgy immigration advisers end up giving their clients advice just to play for time.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right and I agree with everything she said. Delays cause huge harm, and she is right to pick on a number of the advisers and immigration lawyers who help out. A huge number of reputable lawyers do a fantastic job, but all of us who deal with a significant amount of immigration casework see shocking cases of people who should not be allowed to practise as they do, and who are extorting the vulnerable in a deeply unfair way. It is a huge problem that is cruel to those involved, and we must take action.
Much of what we need to do can be achieved without legislation. Some areas, however, need legislation and I look forward to proposals in the immigration Bill, which I hope will contain good provisions and send the signal that we can do the right thing. I know the Minister for Policing and Justice agreed with this when he was Immigration Minister, but there are, for example, specific issues about the status of children born outside the UK to unmarried British fathers before 2006, and to married British mothers before 1983. These are slightly odd cases because those people are not entitled to citizenship, although they are if they were born to unmarried British fathers after 2006, or earlier in the case of the mother. I hope that anomaly—I think that was the word the Minister used—will now be corrected. I also hope that a number of other proposals will be included in the legislation. My hon. Friend Sarah Teather pointed out that asylum support rates should be looked at each year, and I hope that will find its way into the Bill if legislation is required.
The idea of landlords and employers having a role is interesting. For employers the issue is clear, but we need stronger controls on those who knowingly hire people who are not allowed to work. We also need a system that makes it easier for employers. I have seen cases where the UK Border Agency has given employers unhelpful or inaccurate information about people’s right to work. Employers cannot be expected to understand all the details of the system—I do not think any hon. Member in the Chamber would claim to understand every nuance of it, although I am prepared to be corrected—and we must have a simple, clear system. If landlords are also to have such a responsibility, they too need such a system. I do not mind if a landlord has to enter a passport number and name on a computer and gets an answer—I can live with that—but if they all are expected to become experts in immigration law, we should be aware that that simply will not happen. I look forward to seeing how the system will work.
I am delighted that the draft Anti-social Behaviour Bill is ready for consideration, and I am pleased that large parts of it have received pre-legislative scrutiny. That is an excellent pattern, and I hope more Bills will go through such scrutiny, and that future Governments will follow the advice, which is useful to ensure good, rather than rushed, decisions. We must deal with antisocial behaviour, which is a blight on many communities. I do not think that antisocial behaviour orders worked; they felt slow, bureaucratic, ineffective, and we know that many young people treated them almost as a badge of honour. A huge proportion—more than half, I think—were breached. The system simply did not work and was part of an effort to sound tough on antisocial behaviour. I hope that the proposals in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill will work, and I will be disappointed if it turns out that they are just another example of people trying to sound tough. However, I am hopeful that the orders and injunctions it contains will be more effective and produce more effective community remedies.
I will not go through the Bill in detail, but I have one concern about the naming and shaming of offenders under 18, which I think should be done only as a very last resort, particularly now that so much information is available on line. The record of a 14-year-old who is publicly named online will be available when they are 18, 24, 34 or 44, and we run the risk of stigmatising for ever young people—who made errors and should not have done what they did—in a way that would not have happened 20 or 30 years ago. That was discussed by the Home Affairs Committee during pre-legislative scrutiny, and I am pleased at the Government’s indication that such a measure should be used only as a last resort. I hope the Minister will clarify that although one section of the law on naming is being disapplied, clear guidance will be given that that should be done only rarely.
I was happy about the criminalisation of forced marriage, which strikes me as absolutely right and was recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, as well as the work on dangerous dogs. In 2011, there were 6,500 hospital admissions in England for dog bites and attacks, not counting those who were treated in A and E and sent home, or the many leaflet deliverers and canvassers who received just a small bite. The new measures will encourage responsible dog ownership, and I am particularly pleased to see the category covering attacks on guide dogs. I spent time with Guide Dogs for the Blind, and I was led blindfolded around my constituency by a guide dog, which was an amazing experience that I recommend to all Members—I see some have had the same experience. There have been a huge number of attacks on guide dogs, which are particularly damaging because of the effect on the person involved and because guide dogs are trained to look after their owner, not turn and fight off the other dog. There are awful cases of a guide dog leading its owner away while being savaged and either killed or seriously harmed, and I am therefore pleased to see protection for assistance dogs included under clause 98, meaning that an attack on a guide dog will count similarly to that on a person.
Rehabilitation has been a long-term Liberal Democrat policy and an issue that we keep discussing. The current jail system simply does not work and there are people who have been in jail but who come out and go back in again, which none of us wants to see. At times, we have seen a bidding war between political parties and areas of the press on who can sound tougher about locking people up for longer. The goal should be to ensure we do not have offences, not to punish people as toughly as we can.
Jail is expensive. It costs £40,000 to put a person in prison for less than 12 months, and many of those will reoffend. The situation is even worse for women offenders, huge numbers of whom are jailed for reoffending. Frankly, there are questions about how many women offenders should be in jail—I think it should be a far smaller number than it currently is. Between 2000 and 2010, the female prison population rose by 27%.
There is firm evidence that measures such as restorative justice and community sentencing are far more effective than costly, short-term prison sentences, and that is the right way to go. It is not about being tough on crime but about stopping crimes from happening, and that is what we should see. The continued progress of the rehabilitation revolution will encourage probation services to keep reoffending rates down and shift the focus from being tough on crimes that have already happened to ensuring they do not happen in the first place.
Those are the home affairs and justice Bills in the Queen’s Speech, but I wish to touch on one that I am pleased was not included—the draft Communications Data Bill. This proposed legislation has an interesting history. Last year, the Home Office thought it was ready to be part of a full Bill, but I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said, “No, I am not sure that it’s ready. Pre-legislative scrutiny needs to consider it and pull apart the details to see whether it is fit for purpose.” I served for a long time on the Joint Committee that considered that Bill carefully—it was, I think, the most detailed piece of pre-legislative scrutiny ever done in this House—and concluded that it was not ready at all. Although there was a case, as there always is, for stronger measures, it was nowhere near made. The Committee’s report was quite damning and stated that
“the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes much further than it need or should”.
That was a unanimous, cross-party, cross-House Committee. The report described some of the information coming from the Home Office as being, in one case, “fanciful and misleading”, and said that evidence for the problem it was trying to solve was misleading and unhelpful. The head of MI5 said that evidence presented on the problem relied on “pretty heroic assumptions”. It also highlighted that some of the proposals could reduce the amount of communications data available in the United Kingdom. It is a strongly written report and well worth reading.
I was therefore delighted that, after the report, and after the Home Office did not address the fundamentals—it did not manage to show how the 500,000 pieces of data that have been collected already were used, or to provide evidence of the benefits and other things—my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced that the proposals would not go ahead. I am delighted with that decision.
I am pleased Her Majesty was clear that most of communications data proposals would not happen. The Home Secretary had a different interpretation, but Her Majesty said that the proposal would address only the problem of matching internet protocol addresses—I am delighted Her Majesty the Queen managed to say that, which I suspect is a first. The Government will not pass legislation allowing a Home Secretary to ensure that records are kept of every website that people visit. They will not take an internal lead forcing internet service providers to monitor and collect information on what everyone does on Facebook, Google, Skype, Twitter or any other platform. We should not set a standard for the world by saying that such information can be collected as it passes through our networks. We will not spend more than £1 billion—£1.8 billion was the original figure, but we suspected that it would increase—snooping on our own citizens. That will not happen under this Government.
I am aware that the Home Secretary would like to implement that proposal, but she will not get her way. We have heard that the Labour party would have liked that, too. A former Labour Home Secretary said on “Daily Politics” that Labour would have gone ahead with the proposal, and the shadow Home Secretary has said that Labour would go ahead with a communications data Bill. She said that Labour would go ahead with collecting web log information and intercepting information on what people do on Facebook and Google. She is not in the Chamber, but if any of the shadow team would like to correct my interpretation of what she said, they are welcome to do so. The Liberal Democrats will stand firm; our position is supported by many Back Benchers and Front Benchers of the other parties in the House.
Safeguards are needed. For example, far too many bodies have access to the information. I was told off for saying in an interview that the egg marketing board was allowed access to communications data information. I had a letter saying that that was inaccurate. I apologise. In fact, the Egg Marketing Inspectorate would be allowed such access.
Evidence will be needed on IP resolution, but I believe legislation will not be needed. We need training on using the huge amount of data available, which is what the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said was most useful. When I asked him how he would spend £1.8 billion, he spoke of training, more officers and better equipment.
The Queen’s Speech contains much to be glad of, and I am pleased that many measures are not in it. However, I am sorry that Australian influences seem to have killed off proposals on plain packaging, minimal pricing and the regulation of lobbying. I am sure they are separate issues, but there is very much to be proud of, and I look forward to debating the measures over the coming year.
Order. We have a lot of hon. Members to get in. I would be grateful if we could have speeches of between 12 and 14 minutes. I do not want to put a time limit on speeches, but if we can try and use some common sense, hopefully we will get there.
The Queen’s speech should not have been written on vellum; it is so thin that it should have been written on onion skin. Being slim and having little content might not be bad things in themselves. When Governments are confused and conflicted, it is sometimes better to do nothing rather than frame incoherent legislation. Unfortunately, the legislation framed in the Queen’s Speech does not meet that test—much of it is incoherent. One cannot help asking how easily the Government’s commitment to supporting people who have saved for their retirement sits with a record of quantitative easing that has eroded savings income through reduced interest rates and reduced annuity rates.
I cannot help but wonder how a Bill to reduce the burden of excessive regulation on business will sit with the immigration Bill, which appears to be the flagship Bill of the Queen’s Speech. The immigration Bill will mean that businesses and landlords will be fined and turned into enforcement agencies of the UK Border Agency and the Home Office. The Government have proudly preached the one in, one out principle, but, notably, the Home Secretary has so far failed to identify any corresponding regulations for that regulatory burden.
The Home Secretary spoke of how she would dispose of immigrants with criminal records. Criminal checks are a vexed issue in the Home Office. In March, I wrote a letter on behalf of a constituent—I will call him Mr S. I was advised in December 2011 that Mr S would be granted leave to remain, subject to security checks. I wrote:
“A further fifteen months has now passed however and”
“has still not received a final decision on his case. In your response of September 2012 you acknowledged that due to the delay in concluding”
“case, the original security checks were no longer valid and a new set had been requested. You also advised that they are only valid for a period of three months.”
“Please confirm that this second set of security checks has not now also expired and that you now need to apply for a third set. This would be completely unacceptable; however six months has now passed since your letter in September advising that the second set of security checks had been requested”,
so that might be the case.
In that case, the Home Office had already accepted that somebody would be granted leave to remain, subject to security checks being acceptable, but getting those checks has been impossible for Mr S. During that time—more than a year—he could have been functioning properly, employed in his community and earning, and getting on with his life, but he was absolutely unable to do so because of the incompetence of the Home Office. If we are to have a system in which enforcement is properly carried out and we get rid of people subject to security checks, let us at least ensure that those checks are conducted efficiently.
I have great respect for much of what Dr Huppert says in the Chamber. However, I had to laugh when he said, “It would be fine if an employer or landlord simply put details into a computer and got an answer.” Let me tell him what the MPs’ inquiry line and the regional account managers are like. Regional account managers do not always meet their response target of 10 working days. Responses are often holding responses even when they come through. Sometimes, no response at all is received. Rarest of all is a conclusion to a case.
I raised that problem with the MPs’ inquiry office. I was advised that Helen McIntosh, who was formerly in charge of that service, had been moved to other work. At that point, a rota of staff managed the service. It is a constant problem that staff are rotated and moved to other duties, leaving half-finished cases to be picked up again only when the MP chases up the inquiry. In one legacy case last year, we were given repeated assurances over a period of several years that the case would be concluded within deadline after deadline, all of which were not met. Finally, I had a personal commitment from Mark McEvoy to resolve the case by a certain date. When he did not do so I requested a meeting with him. Before that could be arranged, however, I was advised that he had been moved on to other responsibilities.
The idea that one could put a prospective tenant’s name and their Home Office reference number into a computer and get a response by return from the Home Office so that one could say, “That’s fine, you can take the flat next week,” is ridiculous. If hon. Members do not understand that this will lead to discrimination in the provision of services, they are making the cardinal political mistake of believing their own political propaganda.
Let me turn to support for family life, something on which the Government say they pride themselves. A constituent of mine, with a young baby who is a British citizen, is estranged from her violent partner and has been granted limited leave to remain for 30 months on a 120-month pathway to settlement. This single parent who has been subject to domestic violence will have to renew her application every 36 months and pay a fresh, exorbitant fee that, if she is looking after her child, she cannot work to afford to pay. During this period of 10 years, she can work but not claim any of the following public funds: income-based jobseeker’s allowance, attendance allowance, severe disablement allowance, carer’s allowance, disability living allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit, social fund payment, child benefit, housing benefit, council tax benefit or state pension credit. I thank the Government for supporting the family in the way that they do—a woman subject to domestic violence whose child is a British citizen, and they propose to toughen the immigration rules! One could hardly do so.
I want to honour your commitment to letting us move on, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I will stop talking about immigration and move on to the final aspect of the Queen’s Speech that it would be remiss of me not to address: the parts of the speech that were not there. There was talk of the Energy Bill, a carry-over Bill that needs to be finished off. The reference to infrastructure in the Queen’s Speech is clearly part of that. The draft Bill was published and we complained that it contained no energy efficiency measures. We were told they would be in the Bill. The Bill was published. It contained no energy efficiency measures and we were told that they would be introduced in Committee. In Committee, there were still no energy efficiency measures. We were told that they would be introduced later in Committee. By the end of the Committee stage we were told that they would come later still. I hope that they will appear later, on Report. I fear that they will appear later in the House of Lords, and that Members will have no opportunity to scrutinise the key, essential bedrock of any energy policy for the next 40 years—energy efficiency. It is an absolute travesty that the Government are seeking to use a carry-over Bill to deny Members the opportunity to conduct proper legislative scrutiny in this Chamber.
The Government have made a classic mistake when it comes to energy policy. They have looked at energy policy in the way that a phlebotomist looks at an organism, concerned only with the blood supply. Energy is the blood supply that keeps an economy working, but they should look at it like a general practitioner would, by looking that the health of the whole organism. The Government have singularly failed to do that. It is essential that we see our energy policy as part of our economic policy and industrial strategy. That is why the Government have failed to introduce proposals for the second phase of carbon capture and storage. That is why their legislation to ensure that no decarbonisation target for 2030 can be brought into law before at least 2016, and maybe not after that, is a catastrophic failure. It fails to ensure that the relevant investment in low-carbon generation is incentivised. That is locking us, as the Chancellor would have it, into high carbon, fossil fuel growth well into the future. It is ensuring that our industry, and the jobs and growth dependent on it, is not being invested in at the moment.
There are many others who wish to participate in the debate and for that reason I will conclude my remarks. It would have been of great benefit to see a food strategy Bill. It would also be nice to think that the throwaway line at the end of the Queen’s Speech, which said that climate change would be on the agenda of the G8 summit after all, had some substance, but we will have to wait and see.
It was a great Queen’s Speech. It was succinct and focused, and I hope that my speech follows suit. It is fantastic that we get the opportunity, during the debates on the Queen’s Speech, to have a free-ranging discussion. I want to cover four specific proposals in Her Majesty’s speech, the first of which is High Speed 2.
My views on HS2 are clearly on the record, so I will not go into them now. However, I hope that the thoughts, feelings and concerns of my constituents will be taken into account in the new consultation on compensation. I urge those on the Front Bench to consider seriously the merits of a property bond. The high-speed link will be a very long time in coming. Unfortunately, too many of my constituents are trapped in their homes and unable to move. It is not that their house prices have dropped in value—they cannot sell at any price. The advantage of a property bond, whereby the Government underwrite any loss once the line is built, is that it would enable them to get on with their normal lives in the interim. I therefore urge the Government to consider this option seriously.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill is vital. It is all about the quality of life of our voters in this great country. It is true to say that antisocial behaviour utterly destroys quality of life, whether it is violence, bullying, littering or dangerous dogs. All too often, antisocial behaviour is carried out by kids who have had the worst start in life. I have spoken many times on this subject in this Chamber. If we really want to solve antisocial behaviour we have to focus on the earliest years. In all of our rehabilitation and youth policies, we need to focus on getting the very youngest a good start in life, as this will mean that they do not join the conveyor belt to antisocial behaviour and crime. We need a revolution in support of the perinatal period. We need to work far earlier with those who are pregnant to help them deal with poor maternal mental health and, later, problems relating to poor attachment with their babies.
As I have said before in the Chamber, all of a baby’s brain development takes place in the first two years of life. In the first year, it builds 1 million neural connections per second, while its entire lifelong emotional resilience—its ability to deal with the things that life throws at us—is largely determined by the age of two. Anything we do later to rehabilitate offenders—for instance, to sort out speech and learning difficulties, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or any of the problems that lead young people into a life of antisocial behaviour and crime—would be much better done through prevention policies in the earliest years. I urge again the Front-Bench team to work closely with the Department of Health and the Department for Education to consider a revolution in the perinatal period.
I want to talk briefly about the immigration reform Bill. The Opposition caused these problems. It was undoubtedly their failure to put in place proper transitional controls that caused the heartache, the sense of injustice and the resentment against immigration that we see today. I agree with hon. Members who have said that immigration has been good for this country. I absolutely accept that point. EU immigration has been good for this country, but it has gone too far, too fast, without any controls and, specifically, without a close focus on fairness for the existing population as against fairness for those who would join this country. Yvette Cooper ranted that it was not the time to ramp up the rhetoric on immigration. I could not agree with her less. It is essential not just to talk about it, but to act on it, and that is why the Bill is vital.
Does the hon. Lady accept that there has never been a time when immigration was not discussed, whether in Parliament or the media? Every day for years, there has been a story in the tabloid press. We have had major immigration and nationality Bills in every Parliament. Furthermore, we know where over-heated rhetoric on immigration goes in a time of recession, and it is not a nice place.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that comment, because it highlights precisely my point. She is subliminally implying that this generates racism, and that has been the problem with the debate for the past decade. Particularly under her Government, anybody who wanted to talk about the problems of uncontrolled immigration was somehow racist. I have just said that immigration has been of huge benefit to this country—I hope she was listening to that—but at the same time fairness is vital to the interests of this country.
I will now address that fairness aspect, which is where I think the Bill is incredibly important. It should ensure that those who have paid into the system benefit more than those who have not. This is not just a problem that concerns Britain; it also concerns Germany. The Fresh Start project, of which I am a founding member, recently went to Berlin to talk to German politicians and businesses. They feel that immigration has benefited the German economy, but that the fact that people can migrate there for the sole purpose of claiming benefits is simply unfair and generates resentment.
Constituents have said to me at surgeries that it is totally unfair that they, having potentially paid into the Exchequer coffers for years, get so little back if they lose their job. The Fresh Start project has assessed what happens on the continent. Many countries, including Germany and the Nordic countries, have a far more Bismarckian system of benefits payments, which means that if someone who has paid into the system for years loses their job, they can, for a period, generate half of their previous income while they get themselves back on their feet. The system in the UK is very different.
If we are to address the resentment over access to benefits for migrants, and access to benefits for those who have paid in versus those who have not, we need to look seriously at reducing benefits for those who have never contributed either because they have never worked here or because they have recently migrated here. Those who have paid in, as well as school leavers who have not yet got a job but whose parents have paid in, should get a higher level of benefit. That would be fair. In dealing with the impact of immigration on voters’ quality of life, fairness is key.
The hon. Lady exaggerates her point about what she calls benefit tourism, but to say that she has got it out of perspective is not to say that there are not significant economic incentives for people to come to this country. Surely, immigration has more likely been fed by the fact that if someone comes here and works hard for, say, three years and saves up £3,000, they have enough to put down a deposit on a house in an eastern European country, but not here. The disparity in exchange rates means that the incentives are totally different.
I completely agree that the vast bulk of people who come to this country come here to work, but equally the hon. Lady must agree that more than 40,000 EU immigrants are claiming child benefit here for children who do not live in this country. If she wants to write that cheque herself, she can then claim that it is a trivial sum, but to my constituents, who are writing those cheques—they are the taxpayers—it is utterly unacceptable and unfair.
Finally, I would like to deal with an excellent Bill introduced in the last Queen’s Speech. The purpose of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill is to address the institutional failure of the banking system. Recent scandals such as LIBOR rigging and swaps mis-selling have left voters utterly disgusted and contemptuous, not just of the culture of banking, but of the seeming immorality of those at the top. I know that the Government have made great efforts, as has my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie through the Banking Commission, to weed out the culprits and to put in place reforms that will minimise the chance of a repeat of this nightmare.
In my opinion, however, another reform is long overdue. We need to spark a revolution in bank competition to facilitate the widest range and type of new financial services entrants and to force the big oligopoly banks to reprioritise excellence in customer service. That revolution is bank account number portability, which would make it possible for us all to switch banks instantly, taking our bank account numbers with us, and would remove the need to fill out endless new forms and re-establish new standing orders and regular payment instructions.
Bank account portability would have four key advantages. First, it would lead to a revolution in competition and bring in new entrants. At the moment, 80% of small and medium-sized enterprises and personal current accounts are banked with the big four oligopoly banks, so new competition—new entrants—is essential. Secondly, it would spark a revolution in customer service and product innovation in the payments sector. Thirdly, it would impose a significant reduction in fraud resulting from systems failures due to the out-of-date legacy systems in the oligopoly banks. I ran an investment banks team during the ’90s when there was a massive merger of banks, broker dealers and funds managers. Each of the oligopoly banks has up to 20 legacy systems. It is unbelievable. The recent failures of RBS-NatWest systems to make even simple payments highlighted that these systems are held together with string and sellotape.
Fourthly, a means of resolution is terribly important in banking. If we have another financial crisis and bank failure, rather than people lining the streets to take out their money, we need a means of instantly transferring bank accounts from a failed bank to a survivor bank. Cyprus is a case in point. The British Government decided to underwrite customer deposits in London branches of Cyprus banks, but we had no means to move customer bank accounts elsewhere. Bank account number portability would solve the very significant issue of resolution.
I am delighted that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is consulting on introducing a new payments regulator in a Government amendment to the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill. An independent regulator would deal with the big problems that the Payments Council and VocaLink—the two bodies governing and providing the infrastructure for payments—are governed by the oligopoly banks themselves. It is the most astonishing closed shop. However, I urge the Government to go further and require the new regulator to evaluate bank account number portability properly. Seven-day switching is just more string and sellotape on an already broken system.
This is a positive and optimistic Queen’s Speech, focusing on a small number of high priority Bills for this Government. I believe they will make strong improvements to the quality of life for our voters, which is what it is all about. However, I hope that Back Benchers such as myself will be able to contribute our ideas to making the legislative programme even stronger.
It is a pleasure to follow Andrea Leadsom. I did not agree with everything she said, but her remarks about banking structures were made with great authority and knowledge, I am sure—and the word “oligopoly” will serve us all well when we do crosswords.
Some comment has been made about how the Queen’s Speech was not widely leaked, but having read it, we can see that there was not a great deal to leak. It was a very thin Queen’s Speech—the thinnest I have seen in my 21 years in this place. I wonder why that is, because for the past months we have been treading water as Members of Parliament, dealing with insubstantial debates, Opposition days and lots of less than vital legislation. However, there are some good things in the speech; I would like to refer to one of them.
The legislation being introduced to allow sufferers of mesothelioma whose employers cannot be traced to gain compensation is a positive step forward. This group of people has been let down for far too long. It is right that we should do everything possible for them to receive reparation, in many cases fairly urgently. However, it is rumoured that under the proposed scheme claimants will receive about 30% less than the standard for asbestos-related cancer, were it the subject of other litigation. Two thirds of what someone is entitled to is probably better than nothing, but justice dictates that they should get 100%, especially as I understand that the scheme is to be funded by the insurance sector, which of late has hardly been on its knees financially.
We might compare the proposed scheme with that which Plaid Cymru Members established in the mid-1970s during the tenure of the Labour Government. As a price for our support to keep that Government going, we insisted on compensation for miners and quarrymen. I am proud that we did that, but it involved a Government-backed scheme. In essence, the Government are taking a positive step forward, but let us look at the detail, to ensure that we do right by the people who are suffering.
There is much to be regretted in this Queen’s Speech, such as compulsory price tendering for legal aid. I declare an interest as a former solicitor who practised in legal aid cases and who also did legal aid-funded work at the Bar. I am not given to hyperbole often, and I do not know whether hon. Members realise this, but the current proposals will mean the disappearance of thousands of solicitors’ firms from the high street. These are firms whose expertise we have always relied on, and they are often family firms that do things gratis for people who call in. They will be taken over by larger firms that are not full of legally qualified people. There will be a devastating effect in some areas, especially in rural, smaller towns, where firms will disappear overnight.
The reason is quite obvious: the Government’s proposals are a race to the bottom. The Government confidently expect that any tender for work would have to be 17.5% lower than current legal aid rates. However, legal aid rates have been pegged for the last eight or nine years anyway, so lawyers who practise legal aid are not, in truth, fat cats. There are one or two silks who do extremely well, but I can assure hon. Members that most people—both those at the Bar and solicitors who largely rely on legal aid work—will never retire with a massive pension or be fat cats. To be honest, they may well end up as rather scroggy moggies.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that having only four firms for the entire Dyfed Powys area would mean not only devastation for the many family firms he has mentioned, but inaccessibility and a lack of choice for clients?
That is absolutely right. The Government’s proposal will quite obviously mean that the client will have no choice. It will lead to a paralegal system, with people coming out of the conurbations to try to deal with tens of cases in one day, taking notes roughly and then reporting back, and then eventually somebody will turn up for the trial or whatever. That concerns me greatly. The whole idea of a fixed fee for a trial or plea worries me as well, because there will inevitably be problems. It is a race to the bottom.
There is a further important point to be made about the Welsh language provision we routinely have in Wales. Members might not know this—I have practised in Welsh courts myself—but any trial can be conducted through the medium of the Welsh language, whether a jury trial, a civil matter or a case in the magistrates court. That is as it should be. Welsh has equal status with English in Wales—again, as it should be. That provision and the work that the Courts Service has done over the last couple of decades will disappear overnight. There will be a great deal of anxiety and turmoil in Wales over that. I regret to say that if the Government go ahead with this proposal, they will be directly responsible for damaging the Welsh language and culture and the services available to people in rural and semi-rural areas. That will happen not just in Wales but in England—although I am thinking in particular about the problems of north and mid-Wales.
There are some Bills in the Queen’s Speech that will not enhance the UK’s international standing. Although previously trailed, the fact that the 0.7% of GDP meant for international development will not now be enshrined in legislation is an unfortunate step backwards.
Today we have largely been discussing the impact of the immigration Bill. In parts, the proposed Bill is very unfortunate. Let me explain why. We need to move away from scaremongering and put in place measures to protect domestic workers and prevent employers from undercutting the work force by paying less than the minimum wage. We all know that the agencies are doing that. However, all too often the Government use immigration as a scapegoat, in an attempt to distract us from their failure to create enough meaningful jobs and secure economic recovery.
I would argue that I live in a nirvana in north Wales. [Interruption.] I see the shadow Minister, Mr Hanson, laughing. He does not live too far away. Where he lives is also quite a nice place, although not quite to the same degree as Dwyfor Meirionnydd. However, let us not go down that route just now. I obviously know my area intimately. I will be perfectly honest: over the past few years I have had one or two complaints from individuals who have said, “Why are these people from eastern Europe working in hotels?” They asked why such people are doing this or that. I told them why: because very often local people are not prepared to do that work. They are not prepared to work the long or unfriendly hours.
I can speak with some authority on this matter. A local college in Dolgellau has an excellent reputation for catering courses, among other things, yet none of its students is going into the local hotel industry. They are just not interested. Instead, several well-meaning, hard-working young people have come in from various eastern European countries to do that work. They are putting in the hours and some of them, to their credit, are even learning Welsh. They are working hard and doing the stuff that local people do not want to do. I have yet to see any evidence of a so-called benefits scrounger and have not come across the problem. In my view, benefits tourism is a ridiculous concept. I see the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire grinning at that. We have heard about the 40,000 people claiming when their children are not even resident in the UK, and I understand that point—
Much of the debate on immigration is dictated by the drumbeat of the United Kingdom Independence party. Why should we spend hours discussing this issue, just because Farage and his bunch think that they are on a roll? There was one council election in Wales last week. It was on Ynys Môn—Anglesey—and UKIP stood in every ward. It did not take a single seat, however. Plaid Cymru took four times as many seats as Labour, and the Conservatives failed to win even one. The Lib Dems, God bless them, took one.
I want to make it clear that this legislation has nothing to do with UKIP; it has everything to do with fairness for the people of this country who pay their taxes day in and day out and who do not see why someone who has never contributed should come here and use our services. What does the right hon. Gentleman have to say to that?
I heard the hon. Lady make that point in her speech, and I did not agree with everything that she said. That was one of the points that I was unsure about, and I am equally unsure about it now. We must look at the issue carefully, but we need to detoxify the debate. We need to forget about UKIP, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, and get stuck in and have a sensible, cool-headed, factually informed debate. We would do our constituents a great service if we were to adopt that approach. That is probably what the hon. Lady is saying and, to that extent, I agree with her.
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that we should simply forget about the cost of all that welfare? A lot of taxpayers—hard-pressed, as we all are at the moment—want us to think carefully about those costs, particularly when the money is going out of this country to children who have never been here.
If the hon. Lady had listened, she would have heard me say that I agree with the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire on this issue. I am not saying we should forget about it—[Interruption.] No, I am not. I understand that money is short, and I did not say that at all. Angie Bray has completely misunderstood what I have said, but I do not think that anyone else has done so. I did not say that, but I am saying to her and to everyone outside the House that we need to detoxify the debate and sit down and discuss this issue in a clear-headed, proper manner. We must not dance to the UKIP tune at any time, now or in future.
A number of pieces of proposed legislation in the Queen’s Speech seem, at first glance, to be driven more by ideology than by common sense. I am particularly interested in the rehabilitation revolution, as it is known. We heard earlier that the probation service had recently acquired a gold medal for the excellence of its service. Now, however, we see evidence that those who have been in prison for 12 months or less are the cohort most likely to reoffend. That is something that we have all known for a long time, yet that cohort has never fallen within the ambit of the probation service’s work. It is little wonder, therefore, that those people reoffend, and something needs to be done. Not a great deal is being done to rehabilitate those people in prison, and once they are out, they are left without any assistance at all. On that, I agree with the Government.
My solution would be simpler, however. It would be to extend responsibility for those people to the probation service. They are the experts. They have been described today by the Secretary of State today as having “expertise and professionalism” and making “a vital contribution”. If that is so, why on earth do we have to bring in the privateers? Was G4S’s performance at the Olympics so brilliant that we now have to bring the company into the probation system?
I am grateful to a fellow member of the Justice Select Committee for giving way. He has just suggested that we try to have a sensible debate about this matter. Focusing on privateers is completely erroneous. For example, he knows well the St Giles Trust, a registered charity that does superb work on reforming and rehabilitating people. He must surely agree that this must not become a debate about privatisation.
I often respect the views of the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that we debate issues in a constructive manner when we meet on the Justice Committee. Yes, of course there are people in the voluntary sector who can do this work, but I am concerned that many of those smaller entities will be unable to carry the capital risk, and that most of the work will go to G4S, to Serco and to all the rest of the robber barons who will be jumping in. They will be listening to this debate and eagerly awaiting their chance to enter the sector. I hope that they make a better job of it than they did of the Olympics; otherwise, we will have to get the Army in to do it.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says; the third sector—the voluntary sector—does an excellent job. He and I recently visited a third sector institution up in Liverpool, Adelaide House, which is doing an excellent job. To the credit of the previous Government and this one, it is being funded directly, and that is absolutely right. Yes, there is a role for the voluntary sector, and if it is to expand into this area to do such work, I would have fewer objections. However, I question its capability and capacity to handle the capital risk involved.
I welcome the draft Wales Bill, as far as it goes. It will transfer powers over elections to the Welsh Government, introduce fixed five-year terms for the Assembly and overturn the ban on dual candidacy for Welsh elections. I must, however, express my profound disappointment that there was no slot in the Queen’s Speech for a full, proper government of Wales Bill. The pressing need for such legislation is quite obvious. As I am sure hon. Members will know, the Commission on Devolution in Wales, chaired by Paul Silk, recently published its first report, on the financial powers of the Welsh Assembly. It received broad cross-party support. It recommended that the Welsh Government should have control over minor taxes as well as job-creating levers and borrowing powers, so allowing the Welsh Government to raise and invest money in Wales’s public services and infrastructure, thereby improving the economy. The Silk report recommended that those levers be devolved as soon as was practical. Lest we forget, this Government have been effectively treading water for the past nine months or so, and have failed to bring forward any really important pieces of legislation. All things considered, there is surely a case for a legislative slot for such an important vehicle. We are already falling behind, and time is of the essence.
In the absence of a new government of Wales Bill, we as a party have drawn up our own list of Bills that we would like to see debated. That includes Bills devolving to the Welsh Government control over justice and policing, transport and energy powers and job-search functions. We also believe that we should introduce what we describe as an economic fairness Bill. Central to these proposals is our justice and policing (Wales) Bill, which would establish a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales, to correct the anomaly that Wales is at present probably the only country in the world that has a legislature, but no legal jurisdiction of its own to serve it. There is already a very substantial corpus juris establishing itself in Wales that does not have a jurisdiction to serve it, and the need for one is now urgent. It is becoming more pressing month by month.
Speaking as a fellow MP representing Wales, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has costed those proposals and, if so, whether he could share those costings with the House today?
Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman deals with that intervention, I remind the House that the Chairman of
Ways and Means has indicated that if each speaker contributed 12 or 13 minutes to the debate, that would allow all Members to get in without imposing a time limit. We are getting close to needing a time limit, so perhaps those who have already spoken could exercise some self-restraint in not intervening, which would enable the right hon. Gentleman to conclude his remarks.
I accept what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, and you have probably saved me from having to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question.
As I do not have time to deal with that particular query, let me say that the dangerous dogs Bill is welcome, but that we must scrutinise it very carefully. Other measures in the Queen’s Speech are clearly welcome, too, but as always, the devil is in the detail.
I looked at The Independent earlier today, and saw that its front-page banner headline was “Coalition adrift as key policies go missing from Queen’s Speech”. That might be the reason for its being a bit thin, but there are measures that we can all build on, improve and take forward. I hope, however, that the toxic debate about immigration will not dominate wider debate of the Queen’s Speech. I conclude on that note, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you for admonishing me in time.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate on the Gracious Speech. It was three years ago this month when Mr Speaker called me to make my maiden speech, and after your recent ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, I can assure you that I will be much more concise in this submission than I was in the previous one.
I would like to take the opportunity briefly to support the measures in the immigration Bill that was announced yesterday in the other place. Last September, during the previous parliamentary Session, I had the privilege to introduce a private Member’s Bill, called the NHS Audit Requirements (Foreign Nationals) Bill, which was intended to tackle the large-scale abuse of our national health service that occurs when people not entitled to receive free NHS care do receive it. That Bill came about as a result of my submission of Freedom of Information Act requests to every health trust in the country. I asked how many foreign nationals they had treated and what level of costs they had managed to recover from the treatments of those foreign nationals—either directly or, more typically, through reciprocal agreements such as the European health card insurance scheme.
The responses I received were really quite shocking, as about half of all health trusts said that they did not record information on the treatment of foreign nationals at all. Many of those who responded with some data provided confused information. Some had treated British citizens who had moved abroad and some had treated those who had served in the armed forces abroad as foreign nationals, while others recorded data only on EU nationals or on European economic area nationals. Frankly, the general picture of how the NHS records data about the treatment of foreign nationals was in a very parlous state indeed.
Technically, people are entitled to free treatment on the NHS if they have been habitually resident in this country for a year or more. The reality, however, is that free treatment is available to people—in many cases literally as soon as they step off the plane and arrive in this country. That is certainly the case in my constituency, which has Gatwick airport within its boundaries. I have heard reports of about 150 heavily pregnant women arriving at Gatwick airport every year, and of my local area’s East Surrey hospital having to support and treat those women from the pregnancy process through to birth. Indeed, it was reported to me just this morning that women who are 35 weeks pregnant have often presented themselves at Gatwick airport. That is, of course, a burden on the national health service; it is essentially an abuse of the generosity of our system.
The problem, however, is much more wide scale than that. Where people present themselves to a local GP surgery, the GPs are encouraged to register the individuals and not to ask about their eligibility to receive primary health care or free health on the NHS at all. Once someone is registered with a doctor’s practice, they will receive an NHS number and will then be free to be referred on anywhere in the health care system without any further checks. In the majority of cases, such people will be entitled to free prescriptions as well.
What we essentially have in this country, then, is not so much a national health service as an international health service. I do not think anyone in this place would want to deny the very best treatment that our health system can offer to people in this country and around the world, but people should be able properly to contribute to the system, and the system should be able to recover the costs of treating foreign nationals through reciprocal arrangements or, where such arrangements do not exist, the costs should be directly recovered.
I received an e-mail this morning from the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, my local acute health care trust. It detailed the latest available figures on the cost of treating foreign nationals—to its credit, it does audit them—as more than £500,000. Yet the amount it was able to recover through reciprocal arrangements or directly was in the order only of about £130,000. That is a pretty typical picture across our health service and trusts up and down the country.
Last year, together with the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend Mr Harper, I had the privilege of visiting the immigration facilities at Gatwick airport. As part of our discussions with immigration officials at the airport, we spoke to a desk officer who liaises with the Department of Health and NHS trusts in order to try to recover costs from foreign nationals who have used NHS services. The picture presented was again that we were successful in recovering those costs only from a minority of those foreign nationals.
It is incredible that we have allowed this sort of situation to become commonplace in this country. If we look to other European countries, we find that they are much more rigorous in ensuring that the treatment of their foreign nationals, including Britons, under their health system is properly recorded so that those costs can be recovered—in the case of our European neighbours, through the European health insurance card scheme. They achieve that by checking eligibility at the point where health services are received. If someone needs to see a doctor for primary care, a gateway mechanism is introduced. In the case of emergency treatment, it is of course important that care is delivered as soon as possible, but in other countries it is again commonplace for the costs of such emergency treatments to be recovered after the individual has been treated, stabilised and capable of being discharged. It is incredible that we do not do that, which is why I am very supportive of the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech to ensure finally that we have some rigour, because this is ultimately about fairness to the taxpayers who fund our NHS.
It is right that we have an NHS that is universally available regardless of ability to pay, and it is right that that system is largely paid for out of taxation, but it cannot be right that that system is then freely available to anybody arriving in this country without any meaningful checks. By introducing these checks to ensure that our health service is not abused in that way, we can restore confidence in our system and create greater fairness, and also ensure that the health budget is not unnecessarily overburdened, as it is at present, to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.
I shall direct my remarks to the Queen’s Speech as a whole. I have listened carefully both yesterday and today to the speeches from Members on the Government Benches and heard about the progress towards the sunlit uplands that they have described for us all, and nothing could better demonstrate the fact that they fail to grasp, let alone have any ability to deal with, the problems facing this country. In the face of a flatlining economy, rising unemployment and the loss of the triple A credit rating, all we have from them is more of the same.
Most of all, the Queen’s Speech was marked by a poverty of ambition for this country—by a failure to articulate any vision for the future and a lack of faith in the ability of the people in this country to work their way out of the problems. We hear in here that the economy is improving, but we know that outside it is flatlining and lending to business is falling. We hear that the Government are on the side of people who work, yet those people have lost £1,700 in income since the last election.
That gap between rhetoric and reality comes about because the Government have at their heart a club of old school and university chums who have no idea of the struggles many families in this country face. They know nothing about counting the pennies to get to the end of the week, and nothing about the desolation that unemployment brings. If they talked to people in constituencies such as mine, they would know what is happening. There are people in work who fear they are going to lose their job. There are parents who fear their children will never have a home of their own and never do as well as them. There are grandparents who worry about their grandchildren being out of work. Yet there is nothing in this Queen’s Speech for them.
Some 1 million young people in this country are unemployed, and in parts of my constituency youth unemployment is up by 43%. There is nothing for them in the Gracious Speech. There is nothing to match our job guarantee for young people. I know it is said that the Prime Minister got his first job when someone rang up from Buckingham palace on his behalf. I do not think he has ever grasped the fact that most people cannot do it like that.
Our public services are facing unprecedented problems. My local hospital is losing hundreds of posts, many in the front line. It has breached its accident and emergency waiting times on 14 occasions in the last 26 weeks. Yet the same Ministers who have wasted £3 billion on an unnecessary reorganisation and whose Department paid back £2.2 billion to the Treasury have no plans to tackle this. They would rather see skilled nurses and dedicated health assistants on the dole than admit they should change course.
This country—the seventh richest country in the world—is shamed by the fact that thousands of its people rely on food banks, yet we heard nothing in this speech about plans to tackle poverty, much of which, we should remember, is in-work poverty. We heard nothing about encouraging employers to pay a living wage, and nothing about developing the training and skills people need in order to improve their lives and get a better deal for their families.
Although this Government say they support strivers, they instead constantly target them. [Interruption.] For example, they say they have frozen council tax, yet 700,000 of the poorest families—working families—are paying more in council tax as a result of their changes. [Interruption.] Their welfare reform legislation will mean real-terms cuts in tax credits, sick pay and maternity pay for people who are working. [Interruption.] If Angie Bray would stop chuntering from a sedentary position, perhaps she would realise that these sums of money, which are small to members of her Government, for many families in this country make the difference between getting to the end of the week and not getting to the end of the week.
Yet one thing the Government are very good at is transferring blame. We can see that in all their rhetoric about welfare reform, but they neglect to point out that many benefits go to families in work. They neglect to point out that the welfare bill mostly goes on pensions. They neglect to point out that, as a proportion of tax-take, the welfare bill has not, in fact, increased for the last 20 years.
I will give way in a moment, after I have made a little more progress.
Why do they use that rhetoric? The answer is simple. They are saying to people in this country, “The flatlining economy and rising unemployment is not the Chancellor’s fault or the Prime Minister’s fault. It’s your sister’s fault for going on maternity leave. It’s your neighbour’s fault for being sick. It’s your cousin’s fault for having a spare bedroom.”
Before the hon. Gentleman gets worked up, let me tell him that I would clamp down ruthlessly on fraud, because it is stealing from poorer people, but he knows as well as I do that fraud is less than 1% of the bill and is less than the amount the errors in the Department for Work and Pensions costs the system. To pretend all these things about the people who have lost their jobs in my constituency after years of work, and the people who are sick or disabled who would like nothing better than to get a job, is an insult to those decent people.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, and that is the first time I have had an answer to an intervention that I never made. It is also an answer that addresses a subject I was not going to touch on. What I was hoping for was a little bit of guidance. The hon. Lady rattled off a list of welfare measures that she found utterly unacceptable, but we have been led by her party’s Front-Bench team to believe it supports many of our welfare reform measures. Can she therefore answer this question: would she repeal every single one of the measures she listed?
The hon. Gentleman is trying to put words into my mouth that I did not say. What I did say to him is that we would crack down on fraud ruthlessly, but I will not subscribe to the rhetoric that tries to label decent men and women who simply want to get a job as somehow being scroungers, and nor will I subscribe to the rhetoric that says all people who are receiving benefits are out of work. He knows very well that that is not true. Many of them are low-paid working families. We should look to improving their living conditions to reduce the welfare bill.
I have not mentioned any of the terms the hon. Lady listed. She has tried to put those words in my mouth. I would be extremely grateful if she clarified the point.
I have just clarified it for the hon. Gentleman, but let me say this to him. The results of that policy are very clear. Just when the country needs to be united, what this Government are about is promoting division. They are about making people suspicious of one another: those in work fearing those out of work; the rich behaving as if the poor are a problem; those who lose their jobs, even in areas of low immigration, being made to think immigration is the problem.
We have seen the results: a country fearful and disunited. That does not build a confident, prosperous Britain, because when people are fearful, they do not take risks and innovate—they cling to what they have. It does not build a Britain at ease with itself either, divided between rich and poor, north and south. We are a better country than that, and we can be a better country, but it requires leadership from a Government willing to change the priorities. The first priority is to build a prosperous economy throughout the regions and nations of this country.
This Government have systematically taken money out of many of our regions, which have already been hit by unemployment. They have transferred £1 billion out of the north of England in their local government settlement alone. They have hit those big cities suffering most from unemployment through their welfare reforms; for example, Birmingham will lose £10 million on council tax changes alone, and Liverpool is losing more than £7 million in bedroom tax. That is money that would otherwise be spent in local shops and businesses, promoting those local economies. That is why it is important to have a British investment bank, at arm’s length from government, that not only lends to small and medium-sized enterprises, but ensures that we invest in the different regions of our country, promoting their economic strengths and building up their capacity. It is also right that we should be on the side of people who work and who want to work, but that means actually getting people back into jobs.
The hon. Lady is right to say that there is some unpleasant rhetoric about benefits, with some unpleasant suggestions made. Will she join me in condemning a suggestion made three or so days ago that there should be no benefits for anyone until they have paid national insurance for two years? That would clearly hit incredibly hard young unemployed people and people who are disabled. The proposal was made by her colleague, John Mann.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw makes many proposals, some of which I agree with and some I do not—that is probably one we would have to park somewhere.
I was talking about jobs. There needs to be a matching of not only our jobs guarantee for young people, but our guarantee of jobs for older people who have been out of work for more than two years. We also want to switch money from a tax cut for millionaires to support tax credits for the very people are who are out working in low-paid jobs, doing the right thing. We have to protect people’s rights at work—the Prime Minister wants to negotiate them away—not only because doing so is morally right, but because the strongest and most prosperous economies work through partnership between employers and employees; they work through training and investment in employees, not through a quick hire-and-fire culture. We will never compete with developing nations on low wages; we have to compete with them on skills.
One key to doing that is housing. Constituencies such as mine are desperate for homes for those who want to get a foot on the ladder and for homes to rent, yet the builders who come to us want to build homes for commuters. When they do agree to build some affordable housing, they often buy themselves out of that commitment—the Government’s permission to renegotiate section 106 agreements has not helped—and such an approach simply builds ghettoes. If we are to build viable communities, we need to look at other ways of building the affordable housing we need. We need to look at co-ownership and at councils being allowed to build by accessing money through the use of their pension funds. I have long believed that local authorities should be able to build not only for sale, but for rent.
Getting that economy right is key to many of the things we want to do, to improving the living standards of our people and to ensuring that they have the services they need—I do not have time to go into that this afternoon. To achieve that, however, requires one thing: a Government willing to lead, not one blown about by every last opinion poll or every election setback that they see. This Government are no longer that Government. They are in office but they have no plan for the future, they have no vision of how this country should develop and they have no faith in the British people to make that development. That is why they are no longer a Government who are good enough for this country.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak and to join other hon. Members in debating the contents of yesterday’s Gracious Speech by Her Majesty. It sets out a refreshed programme for government that will build on the strong and effective progress we have already made. It outlines measures to do more to keep our communities safe and secure, while promising to help deliver more for people who want to get on and achieve things.
I want to focus my remarks, in my few minutes, on the upcoming Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. Just how much good progress we have already made in keeping our neighbourhoods safer and secure was made clear to me when I was lucky enough to help launch the UK peace index a few weeks ago. As the completely independent figures show, violent crime is coming right down, in no small part because of the work that the Home Secretary and her team have been doing over the past couple of years. I am sure that the measures promised in the new Bill will build on that progress.
The Bill will also cover one of the issues I have been most active in working on and one closest to my heart: dangerous dogs. I do not expect other Members to remember this, but a plea to do something about the problem was one of the main points I made in my maiden speech, almost exactly three years ago. I said then that tackling the scourge of dogs being used as weapons—a massive antisocial behaviour issue—must be a priority, and I have been campaigning along those lines ever since.
I have always said that the issue is as much about dangerous owners as dangerous dogs—in fact, it is more so. It is imperative that measures against antisocial behaviour focus on the owners who train their dogs as weapons to use for intimidation and as a badge of status. They blight the lives of communities with their threat of aggression, just as much as do the actual attacks that sometimes, sadly, occur. We need measures that will tackle this head on by giving communities and their local police necessary enforcement powers. I am pleased with the progress made by this Government on making microchipping compulsory. Although that will not itself solve the problem of vicious dogs, it will introduce greater accountability and responsibility through detailing ownership, which will go some way to deterring irresponsible ownership.
It is absolutely right to extend section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to cover private land. It has long struck me as extraordinary that a postal worker posting a letter could get his finger chewed off by a dog at the other side of the letterbox with no comeback, yet if the owner of the dog, in a crazy world, had substituted themselves for the dog, they would automatically be chargeable with an offence—presumably, grievous bodily harm, so although this measure is very late in coming, it is none the less very welcome.
We need clarity on what happens when a dog attempts to protect its owner’s home from an intruder. It is right that when this happens with the owner present, there should be no penalty attached. However, there are concerns that, as things stand, if the owner is not present while the dog defends the property, there may well be a penalty to pay and the owner will be held liable for an attack on the intruder. That would be ridiculous and would fly in the face of all common sense, so I hope very much that this matter can be sorted out sensibly.
Another major area of concern has already been mentioned today, and those of us who have been campaigning on this issue are well aware of it—I refer to the growing problem of attacks by out-of-control dogs on guide dogs. This is a particularly nasty trend, because guide dogs have been trained to be passive and docile, and such an attack is, of course, incredibly upsetting for the owner, who depends so much on the support of their dog. I am delighted that this appalling problem has now been recognised by the Government, and I hope that the penalties will be as tough as possible.
Although the question of dangerous dogs is not strictly the responsibility of the Home Office, the Government should consider what encouragement can be given to local authorities to deal with it. Some, such as Wandsworth and Ealing, are already working on finding ways to use tenancy agreements on their estates to control dog ownership. This seems an obvious route to take as so many of the problems with dangerous dogs arise on unruly estates where the local council has significant control, if it wants to exert it. That is an underused tool and it needs joined-up government thinking, along with work by the Local Government Association and London Councils. The truth is that even where councils are considering such an approach, enforcement is not always carried through. The Government need to send a strong message that local authorities will be expected to play their part in helping to tackle this blight. Local authorities have the powers and they should be used.
I will finish by touching briefly on one or two other measures in the Queen’s Speech that I welcome. There are three bills in particular: the national insurance contributions Bill, the deregulation Bill, and the intellectual property Bill. They will all contain measures that should genuinely help small businesses. Giving people confidence by saying to them, “If you’ve got a good idea, go for it,” must be at the heart of our agenda. It is the key to success and to that magic word, growth.
Finally, and not before time, we have the long-awaited care Bill, which is an important step forward in providing the care that our elderly need without forcing them to sell the roof from over their heads. It is not as generous as it might be, but it is a good start. We also need to do all we can to support carers themselves. In particular, when families look after their elderly relatives at home, thereby providing the best kind of family support and saving NHS resources, we should consider how we can reward that incredibly important support as generously as we can.
The Queen’s Speech lays out an important legislative programme for this year, and there is much to be done.
It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate on the Queen’s Speech this afternoon.
I am interested in some small proposals in the Queen’s Speech: the proposal to protect intellectual property; the proposal to produce a draft consumer rights Bill, which, as we have been briefed, will cover digital purchases as well as ordinary purchases; the proposal to invest in infrastructure, particularly broadband, following the Government’s significant failure to deliver broadband in rural areas; and the Home Secretary’s proposals to match internet protocol addresses.
My main concern, however, is with what is not in the Queen’s Speech, namely a proper and complete Bill from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on communications and the media. The Communications Act 2003 has now been overtaken by significant changes—both technological and in the market—and it is time that the Government stopped taking a piecemeal and bite-sized approach to the internet, which has led to a rather chaotic situation, and took a much more strategic overview.
The new technology obviously has the potential to disperse power and to support economic growth. However, those things will happen only if we have a policy to maximise access and challenge some of those in this arena who have significant concentrations of power—not only in the market but in the democratic processes and the information that is available to people. We need a strategy that can reproduce online the rights and responsibilities that we have in the real world. We also need a much stronger cross-departmental approach than the Government seem capable of delivering at the moment.
The new means of communication are proving to be very significant to jobs and business development. Last year, the communications sector was worth £50 billion, which was 4% of GDP, and it employed more than half a million people. I am told that every year between 60,000 and 130,000 new jobs are created in this sector. We know that businesses that are online are growing much faster than other businesses, so we must ensure that the legal underpinning is there. I hope that the proposals on consumer rights mentioned in the Queen’s Speech will support that process, but it is rather disappointing that the Bill will only be in draft form.
We must make changes in three broad areas: first, we must deliver broadband to all parts of the country and give people access to it; secondly, we must improve digital inclusion, training and skills; and, thirdly, we must strengthen people’s rights with a digital consumers charter. Everyone should have access to broadband. Everyone is entitled to a telephone and the Post Office has a universal service obligation, and broadband is now so significant that it should be put on the same footing.
The Queen’s Speech said that the Government would
“continue to invest in infrastructure”,
but the fact is that the previous Labour Government had a target of ensuring that everybody had 2 megabits per second by 2012. The Government abandoned that target and probably will not achieve it until 2016. At the moment, 2.6 million households, mainly in rural areas, have no possibility of accessing broadband.
A further problem with the Government’s approach is that they have prioritised speed over access. It is significant that the Government’s super-connected cities programme, into which they have poured £150 million, has been challenged by some of the operators on state aid grounds as it is not clear whether the subsidy is needed to develop faster speeds in inner-city areas. At the same time, the Government are allowing a situation to continue in which 10.6 million people have never sent an e-mail and 16 million people have inadequate digital skills. My secretary says that it is quite clear that I am one of those people, but I do not think the problems I face because of my lack of digital skills are nearly as serious as those faced by many of our constituents. When the Government try to make it compulsory to access universal credit online, they will come up against a serious problem as many of the people involved will be precisely those who do not have the access or the skills.
The Government should be developing a strategy to get as many people online as possible. That means doing something much more energetic in the rural areas as well as helping people to improve their digital skills through training and education. We need to pause for a moment and consider that point. The Government are trying to do something in schools—although I do not think it is adequate—but if an adult does not have a job or if their job does not involve work in an office, it is difficult for them to learn those skills.
Furthermore, it is extremely expensive to be online. Ministers must face up to this point. It costs about £5 a week to have a connection and the kit costs a further £100. Meanwhile, the welfare reforms mean that I have constituents who are now expected to live on £20 a week; it is not sensible to say to the same group of people that they should prioritise spending £5 a week on an internet connection.
Another group of people who suffer from digital exclusion and this growing divide in our country are those who are disabled or who have learning disabilities, as we do not oblige the manufacturers of kit to make the kit accessible for them.
A Labour Government would switch half the money— £75 million—from the super-connected cities programme to a digital inclusion programme. On the basis of the experience in the previous Parliament, when we found that it cost about £30 million to get 1 million people online, that could help some 2 million people get online. It would be much better to use the money productively. It would have a much bigger impact than some of the infrastructure that the Government have been prioritising. There is no point in putting money to one side because of a legal challenge and not using it at all. It would be far better to help some of those people to get online.
The communications sector, as I said earlier, is highly concentrated and monopolistic. In each technology there are a small number of players, some of which are very large and some of which are vertically integrated. Many of the operators are international and foreign-owned. For example, last year Facebook floated for £100 billion. That is larger than nine European economies. Vodafone has a market capitalisation greater than that of BP. There are only four mobile phone companies, of which three are foreign-owned, and BT and Virgin own all the infrastructure for broadband, down to the last mile.
In addition to being extremely wealthy, some of these firms are very aggressive and through litigation have been challenging rulings by Ofcom. For example, the internet service providers challenged the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the legality of the Digital Economy Act 2010. I am glad to say that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills succeeded and the internet service providers failed in that challenge.
Against this background, it is a worry that the Government have failed to give Ofcom the resources that it needs and that they are not introducing new legislation to strengthen its powers. If it does not have the necessary powers, it is much more likely to succumb to such expensive litigation. It is a bit contradictory.
The Government have cut the Ofcom budget, but they have not strengthened its powers, which means that Ofcom’s legal bill is running up and up, so that is not a sensible way of carrying on. We need to strengthen Ofcom’s powers in order that the work of the regulator can no longer be deliberately frustrated. That could be addressed through cost capping or reforming the standard of appeal under the existing communications legislation.
A fully connected country has the opportunity to share information and disperse power, but currently the small number of players means that consumers’ interests are not always at the forefront of their minds. We need regulation, not to tell companies what to do in every last detail but to promote competition. I should like to highlight the elements which a consumers charter approach should cover. First, we need to deal with privacy and online theft. According to a survey by O2 and Populus, people’s No. 1 worry about the web is how their personal data are used and how large companies share the data that people hand over. We must take effective action to protect people’s privacy and engage much more energetically with the proposals coming from the European Union on personal data.
The Home Secretary’s proposals on internet protocol addresses are welcome but I am not sure they go far enough. As I said to her earlier today, she should take the opportunity to strengthen age verification because it is important to help parents protect their children online. The Government have been saying for three years that they want to do something about that and the Prime Minister says that he wants to run the most family-friendly Government, but not one real step forward has been taken. We need a statutory backstop now. It is what the Labour Government promised in the previous Parliament—a statutory backstop so that if the ISPs have not introduced measures to enable parents to protect their children, they will be required to do so.
Furthermore, we need better price transparency. Many of the firms are bundling up people’s television contract with their mobile phone, internet connection and so on, making it difficult for the ordinary consumer to see what each is costing. We must do something about that and to help people switch from one provider to another. We must also see some action on security for people making payments over the internet. It is not clear from what the Government have said whether they propose to do that or not. That would increase security for consumers and would also be welcomed by businesses because they cannot expand e-commerce without more security on the internet.
Finally, people in this country are most exercised by nuisance calls. We know that in order to address the proliferation of nuisance calls, legal action is needed. It is extremely disappointing that after three years, two Secretaries of State, the promise of a Green Paper and the promise of a White Paper, none of that has happened. We need to see a Bill now.
It is a pleasure to follow Helen Goodman and although I do not necessarily draw the same conclusions, her argument about the effect of broadband on the economy is not in doubt.
I shall do two things which, I think, will please the House: I shall be extremely brief and therefore observe the courtesy of listening to the following speaker. I am pressed because of another meeting so I hope the House will forgive me for being brief, which it will no doubt welcome, and for not staying for subsequent speeches.
I shall speak specifically about antisocial behaviour. The term underplays the awful way in which the lives of those on the receiving end of antisocial behaviour are transformed and how they enter into periods of intense frustration, worry, concern and even fear if they are the victims of repetitive antisocial behaviour. I am sure that other Members regularly see constituents in that situation. Sadly, I see them all too regularly—I would go so far as to say that in almost every single surgery I encounter a case of antisocial behaviour. The term worries me for two reasons. If it is used to describe extremely serious instances, it can lead to action not being taken swiftly enough. Some police forces struggle to deal with what they regard as an antisocial behaviour complaint. As a consequence, many incidents are repeated and go on for a long time.
Working with one of my local papers, the Enfield Independent, we came across a case in my constituency where for three years utterly unacceptable bullying behaviour was taking place against two shopkeepers and residents in neighbouring houses. One resident was having her bin set on fire regularly and was having stones thrown down on to her roof, and people’s doors were being trashed—all serious criminal behaviour which went without a response for nearly three years.
Has the hon. Gentleman, like me, experienced a lack of reporting by residents? They tell me that there is no point in reporting such incidents because they are simply not being dealt with by the police in a way that we would wish to see.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point, which will make my speech even shorter. There is a sense of frustration. The Government’s measure is vital and important, but it may not mitigate some of the reasons why people will still continue to be reluctant to report. That is due not just to a belief that something will not happen, but to fear. After coming across this incident, I found myself talking to six residents and two shopkeepers, and not one of them wanted to report the crime. They knew who was responsible and that it was consistently the same people, but they were fearful of repercussions if they took the matter further.
I will deal with that point now. I will not make the usual response that I will cover it later because I do not have clue how to answer it—I am sorry; I am probably being very unfair to other hon. Members. The point fits in with my theme.
The concept behind the community trigger is an excellent idea. It basically means that if five complaints are made, the police are obliged to investigate. That is a good and important concept. If there is a reluctance to complain because people doubt whether anything will happen—although I think the community trigger will encourage them because of the compulsion on the force to act—we need to be comfortable that the police can react and in a sufficiently timely manner. I live in a borough where the police have had to deal with extremely serious issues and I accept that there will be times when they may have to delay their investigation, but I hope they will investigate. I am afraid that there have been too many instances when as an MP I have had to prompt action when it should have been the citizen’s complaint that prompted the action. But the potential problem with the community trigger is that sometimes it is difficult to get one person to complain, so to get five may be quite a challenge.
I genuinely support the moves on antisocial behaviour and I am keen to see them go ahead, so I recommend to Ministers that in addition to the community trigger proposals where residents can complain, perhaps they should consider allowing locally elected councillors to be representatives of people, and where sufficient residents have expressed concern they could also trigger the process. I see those on the Front Bench nodding in agreement—they are not really, but I would welcome comments on that. My constituents ask me to do something about such matters, and if they feel more comfortable with their elected representative doing something, perhaps because of fear, that could be a positive role for a councillor who could use the community trigger to act on their residents behalf. If councillors are not elected to do that, what are they elected to do?
With antisocial behaviour being firmly placed on the Home Office’s agenda and in their sights for introduction into a Bill, I urge Ministers to ensure that enforcement can be met and that local police forces can be held accountable for that. We in this House can legislate, but we cannot implement measures on the ground. I hope that with the introduction of police and crime commissioners, local people will be able to hold their police force to account to meet the challenges that they have set them, but in London boroughs, which come under the Met police and the commissioner, it will be trickier.
I wholeheartedly support the measures in the Bill, but if there is frustration on the ground, I hope that Ministers will not regard their job as done once they have legislated. The job will be done when we have made a significant dent in this dreadfully unacceptable behaviour of those who want to terrorise their neighbours and vandalise their property.
I want to speak on a number of important issues. The Queen’s Speech seems to lack vision. There is no idea of a coherent society or how we make it a better and fairer society. There seems to be a lot of tinkering at the edges without really tackling the main causes of the main issues of the day. As my hon. Friend Helen Jones pointed out, we lack an economic vision—a vision to rebuild our society and use the talents of our people to improve the lot of all of us.
We often talk about community cohesion, but when we try to define what makes that it leads to all sorts of discussion. Key to community cohesion is a sense of respect for each other and self-respect, and key to that is thriving communities that offer job opportunities for our young people and for all our citizens. That would bring the welfare bill down. Many people are desperately looking for a job and would like to work more hours, but nothing in the Government’s proposed programme will help to create jobs.
The Welsh Government are playing their part in creating jobs and providing support to businesses. They have already created 4,000 jobs in the Jobs Growth Wales programme, and are on target to create another 4,000 this year and the year after. The focus is on helping the private sector to grow, so young people are helped into work and businesses are helped to grow. Jane Hutt, the Finance Minister in the Welsh Government, has recently announced a package of £75 million of additional capital investment to support the Welsh infrastructure investment plan. In addition, £400 million is to be spent on housing to help to realise a target of 7,500 affordable homes by 2016.
But we all know that the main economic levers are held by the UK Government, where the savage cuts in tax credits and the increase in the regressive tax VAT mean that millions of less well-off families are struggling to make ends meet, particularly as prices are rising very quickly, while those earning more than £150,000 are given a tax break. This is not only unfair, it is economic nonsense, because the least well-off spend their money quickly and it goes back into the local economy, whereas the better-off may wish to stash it away or spend it abroad. We have only to look at our town centres to see the dire effects of squeezing middle and low-income families. Research also shows that greater equality between the better-off and the less well-off members of society makes for greater community cohesion. We need a tax on bankers’ bonuses to provide money to invest in jobs, such as house building.
On immigration, what we really want is a crackdown on all forms of exploitation, whether of migrant workers or our own workers. There are still far too many examples of gangmasters bringing in groups of people, housing them in substandard conditions, making all sorts of deductions from their salaries and, with regard to their hours and working conditions, exploiting them ruthlessly. Far from tackling the problem, the Government seem to be doing the opposite. They have done away with the Agricultural Wages Board, which was one body that set down minimum standards for accommodation, and have put the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 under threat, whereas we would like to see it extended to cover those in the construction and care industries, for example.
Many Members will have visited the excellent exhibition on human trafficking opened by the Prime Minister. One of the calls was for some form of slavery Act. Perhaps that is a slightly dramatic term, but it would have been nice to see something in the Queen’s Speech that tackled that type of exploitation and began digging down into the real problems that exist not only in one or two parts of Great Britain, but right across the country, as the exhibition’s wall map showed. Simply not enough is being done to tackle human trafficking.
Another issue, mentioned by my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart, is the overseas domestic workers visa. That is another thing the Government have done that has made it more difficult to trace people and rescue them from domestic slavery. That is what we really need to tackle when we talk about immigration. Trafficking and exploitation have continued, all of which is bad for not only those workers, but local people, who are obviously being undercut. I think that everybody would accept that what we really want is decent jobs with decent remuneration for local workers and migrant workers alike.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting case. I represent a constituency in the north-east, where we have high unemployment and low wages. Will she tell us what the situation is like with regard to unemployment and wages in her constituency?
We have two great scourges: first, unemployment, and secondly, underemployment and a low-wage economy. That means that people are dependent on tax credits. We would like the minimum wage to be increased at least in line with inflation and to move towards a living wage that gives people enough to live on without having to have their salaries topped up by tax credits. That is obviously an aspiration that many of us share. Certainly, some of our local councils are trying to work towards that.
I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend said about trafficking. I had a dreadful case in my surgery only last week in which a woman had clearly been trafficked from Bangladesh and used to undercut the minimum wage for the past 10 years. She was kept in servitude—practically slavery—the whole time while working for less than £50 a week, most of which was taken away for her bed and board. Does my hon. Friend agree that that needs to be tackled? We need to get to the traffickers, but the victims also need to be protected, because at the moment the Home Office thinks that it might deport that woman soon, and I will be writing to the Minister about the case shortly.
That is a good example, but sadly it is not an isolated one; there seem to be many such cases. A report from the Government’s own Department shows that we have not tackled the problem sufficiently. It has been suggested that a commission is needed to look into that. Whether or not that is the right way forward, we certainly need some action. It would have been nice to see a concerted effort in the Queen’s Speech to legislate to tackle human trafficking. Furthermore, the Government’s threat to pull out of the European arrest warrant system is yet another measure that could undermine our co-operation with other countries in dealing with the criminal gangs that cross borders.
When it comes to the rest of our immigration policy, I think we all understand that we need to be absolutely fair and to deal with people in a proper and timely manner, but we must also be careful not to become a country to which nobody wants to come. One of the problems we have in west Wales is getting the skilled doctors we need in our hospitals. We all want to see our young people trained, and thank goodness the Welsh Government are trying to limit student fees to £3,500 a year, unlike this Government, who have let them rocket to £9,000, which I am afraid will deter many from studying medicine. Obviously we want to see our own students coming through, but at the same time we are dependent on attracting the right quality of specialists from abroad. We want to be absolutely certain that we continue to attract those specialists and that I do not have hospital registrars coming to my surgery because they are having difficulty renewing their visas and sorting things out.
On antisocial behaviour orders and the proposal to replace them with much weaker measures, it seems to me that we need something stronger, not weaker. We know that ASBOs are not perfect, but we want stronger measures, not weaker ones. They must follow things through, not with a civil action that takes for ever but a proper criminal case that acts as a deterrent against people getting an ASBO.
Yesterday Dr Wollaston spoke eloquently about the relationship between alcohol and disorder and the failure to go for minimum pricing. As she said, that is not about beating the poor with a high price but about protecting many members of society from a lot of the results of alcohol abuse, whether it be domestic violence, difficulties in our inner-city areas, or wanton acts of violence. She clearly made the connection between health inequality and the availability of very cheap alcohol.
The hon. Lady also talked about plain packaging for cigarettes and, as a doctor, made a clear case for the reasons why we should do everything we possibly can to deter our young people from taking up smoking. It is a great sadness to me that this Queen’s Speech does not give us any measures on plain packaging. Even more worrying was the insinuation that possibly some of the information we were given about plain packaging, such as it leading to more smuggling of cigarettes, was inaccurate in having been portrayed as coming from the police.
That brings me to the other missing feature of this Queen’s Speech—the transparency that we need on lobbying. We know that there will always be vested interests and that people can declare those interests and explain on whose behalf they are speaking, but we remain concerned that there is a lot of veiled and dishonest lobbying where people are not up front and it is not exactly clear who is behind it. It would have been nice if the Prime Minister had been able to announce yesterday that he was going to do something about what he has called
“the next big scandal waiting to happen.”
Indeed, there was the scandal that led to dinners for donors in Downing street. Those are some of the issues that need to be addressed further, and it is a great shame that that will not happen in the next legislative Session.
I return to the police, particularly those in my own area. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the new chief constable of Dyfed-Powys police, Simon Prince, and had very meaningful discussions with him about how to make our communities better and safer places. I was pleased to notice his emphasis on the need for partnership with other organisations to make a cohesive community and for a coherent approach to tackling and preventing problems, as well as a better understanding of the role of the police in society.
One worry that we have locally is the threat to take away the police helicopter. It is clear to anyone who knows the Dyfed-Powys area, with its mountains and its long coastline, much of which is rocky, that a fixed-wing aircraft, which may have its uses for reconnaissance and search purposes, does not offer the necessary versatility that the helicopter affords. Indeed, a review carried out last summer by five air support unit executive officers concluded with the recommendation
“to place the fixed wing in St Athan and to retain the rotary option”— namely, the helicopter—
“at the current base at Pembrey.”
Furthermore, only a couple of years ago some £1.5 million of public money was spent at Pembrey to create an absolutely state-of-the-art helicopter base, so it would be a real waste of that money if the helicopter were to move elsewhere. I ask Ministers to address that issue very seriously.
On mesothelioma, I am very pleased about the programme to help people who cannot trace their original employer. A lot of the people I meet have worked for many different employers. Sometimes they have been self-employed. They may have been working in different facilities, perhaps doing a plumber-type job, and going round to all sorts of different providers. So far they have had no one to turn to for compensation. I hope that it will be a properly funded programme that will give them the money they so desperately need. I also hope that it will not involve delays, because one of the horrible features of this disease, which is a very nasty one, is that once it becomes visible it is not very long, perhaps only nine months to a year, before people pass away. There have been cases where money has come far too late to be of any help, so the Bill needs to make money available to stave off that problem in the interim period before the compensation comes through.
On legal aid, I have been seriously lobbied, perhaps for the first time ever, by solicitors, who admitted that they might not be the most appealing, cuddly group in society. Nevertheless, they made the very good point that it makes no sense for only four firms to provide legal aid for such a huge area—the Dyfed-Powys police area is the largest in England and Wales and the fourth largest in England, Wales and Scotland—when most of those who currently operate there are from small family firms. There are no large providers. Will the Government consider seriously the number of providers that can be employed in a particular area?
Another anomaly follows on from that. If someone who has committed a crime and has been helped at a police station by a firm of solicitors is involved in another incident before that case gets to court, they might be helped by a different firm the second time around. Indeed, three or four different firms could end up attending to that person and they would all have to turn up at court. Rather than cutting down on costs, that seems wasteful.
I can see that you are anxious for me to finish, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I shall conclude my remarks on that note.
Order. Speeches are now averaging about 10 or 11 minutes each. I do not want to impose a time limit, so I would be grateful if Members could respect others who wish to contribute.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend Nia Griffith, who made a good contribution about the importance of community cohesion. I want to address the need for legislative changes to safeguard elderly people in the place they call home, and comment on a scandal in south Wales.
Whether they are looked after by a public or private provider, the law should ensure that elderly people’s care is excellent, and respect their dignity, individuality and choice. Care should be delivered with professionalism and compassion. Where care standards fall short, the elderly and their families should have confidence that there will be effective sanctions and redress.
This House has rightly scrutinised the shocking scandals in Stafford hospital and the Winterbourne View care home for adults with learning disabilities. I want to highlight the disgraceful treatment in care homes for the elderly in south Wales, the full details of which have yet to reach the public domain.
Gwent has recently seen a failure to secure justice for care home residents following the collapse of serious criminal charges, which has left the families of an alleged 103 victims feeling aggrieved and abandoned. An £11.6 million investigation known as Operation Jasmine began in 2005. It produced 10,500 pieces of evidence and led police to brand the negligence discovered as “death by indifference”. However, just two convictions have been secured for wilful negligence since the start of the inquiry in 2005. It took so long to bring charges against the director of the residential care homes who was investigated that, by the time his court case was scheduled in March, Dr Das had suffered an assault, leaving him unfit for trial.
I have been speaking to the families affected by the stymied Operation Jasmine, who are still grieving over this shameful crime—a crime without punishment. The neglect and indifference in these care homes continues to appal. There are little things, such as losing a mother’s false teeth for days on end or dressing her in a neighbour’s damp or dirty clothes, and big things—the stories that chill the blood—such as the dad who challenged his family on his return to a care home, “Why have you put me here?” The same father was left curled up like a dog for hour upon hour, slowly developing pressure sores that exposed the bone underneath.
How can we use that sorry experience to inform the reform of the law of wilful neglect, to extend corporate responsibility or to reform our social care legislation? First, I want a public inquiry so that we can understand how Dr Das was able to continue running care homes despite damning reports by the inspectorate, and so that lessons can be learned.
According to a former employee, Dr Das
“would pull up in his Rolls Royce and complain they were spending too much on incontinence pads” at his care home in Ebbw Vale in my constituency. He failed to pay care home registration fees, and paid the outstanding tax and national insurance for his staff only on the eve of a hearing on HMRC’s petition to wind up his company. He settled his gas and electricity bills only when the energy companies threatened to cut off the gas to his care homes. He failed to ensure that all staff had proper Criminal Records Bureau checks and that sufficient numbers of trained staff were available for cover. Dr Das gave false evidence to the Care Standards Tribunal, both orally and in writing, with the intention to deceive. The tribunal found that:
“Dr Das has developed an extraordinary capacity for self-delusion”.
Given the weight of the evidence compiled by Operation Jasmine, I hope that the Welsh Government or the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales will agree to an inquiry.
Secondly, we must look at the law on wilful neglect. If a patient does not die from poor care and does not have a loss of capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the guidance of the Crown Prosecution Service says that a criminal offence is difficult to identify. The Prime Minister was therefore wrong when he told me on
The deputy chief constable of Gwent police, Jeff Farrar, told me today:
“The depth and quality of evidence obtained in this inquiry and the engagement throughout with expert witnesses and the CPS was substantial. And it is not only frustrating, but difficult to see how if such cases occurred in the future (where the death of an elderly person in a care home was attributed to omissions as opposed to deliberate acts) the police could ever produce sufficient evidence to reach the threshold test for charging these offences.”
Others agree with that view. The Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Care and Support Bill recommended that organisations—not just employees—that are found to have contributed to abuse or neglect in a care setting should be liable to criminal prosecution for breach of corporate responsibility. Age UK believes that neglect should be classified as abuse, whether wilful or not, because of the difficulty of proving intention. Therefore, if someone is abused or neglected as a result of incompetence or indifference, it should still be seen as abuse.
I hope that the Government will engage with voluntary organisations and MPs of all parties to improve the legislation. Prevention is the best option and inspection procedures must be robust and transparent, but when neglect occurs, those who are responsible must be brought to justice so that everyone knows that callous and degrading care will be punished. Finally, high standards of patient care must not be sacrificed to boost personal profit, as when Dr Das enjoyed his Rolls-Royce while penny pinching and cutting the supply of incontinence pads to the residents in his homes.
I am very glad to have an opportunity to say a few words on the Queen’s Speech. It was a Queen’s Speech that could best be described as the creation of one Lynton Crosby, the chief Tory strategist. It is extraordinary that an important, symbolic and historic event that takes place every year should this year have the fingerprints all over it of an Australian huckster. The Lynton Crosby effect can be seen in both what is in the Queen’s Speech, and what is not in it. What runs through the speech, the way it was briefed and its theme, show that this speech has anti-immigration measures as its centrepiece.
In the wake of recent local elections, politicians on all sides are clearly focused on the UKIP vote and what we need to do to appeal to that. There are, however, too many myths about immigration. It is a myth that we have not been allowed to talk about immigration during past decades. My Government had a major Bill on immigration or nationality in every Parliament, and I do not think a day has gone by over the past 20 years in which a tabloid paper has not run an anti-immigrant story, whether it is asylum seekers eating swans or Romanian ladies in headscarves who are the latest threat to the body politic. The myth that no one is allowed to talk about immigration is just that.
It is also a myth that Labour had an open-door policy on immigration. I do more immigration casework than most Members of the House because of the nature of my constituency, and we have filing cabinets full of cases, many of which went on for months, moving into years. The assertion that under the previous Government immigrants and asylum seekers could just walk into the UK is a myth that wants quashing.
I do not doubt that the polls are right when they reflect concern about immigration. I note, however, that the more diverse an area, and the longer immigrants have been there, the less frightened people are of immigration. Fear takes hold in parts of the country where there are hardly any immigrants. Some Labour Members like to point to the children or grandchildren of earlier waves of immigrants who have difficulty with immigration and say, “Look, this West Indian and this African are worried about eastern European migrants.” I have been an MP for more than 20 years, and in a part of London that has seen successive waves of immigration I have noted that it is always the last group of immigrants but one to arrive who feel that they can complain about the latest group. It is almost as if being able to complain about the latest group of immigrants cements someone’s status as a real British national. I do not say that that does not reflect real concerns about immigration, and where there are such concerns, whether about job insecurity, low wages, or an absence of housing, this House and my party should address them. However, it is important not to get swept up in myth making.
In an extraordinarily cynical manoeuvre, the Government —on the instructions, I imagine, of Mr Lynton Crosby—have made immigration one of the centrepieces of the Queen’s Speech, yet a number of the measures that they suggest will not, in practice, achieve the effects that the general public might think. For instance, the Prime Minister spoke about being able to throw out foreign national prisoners almost as soon as they are sentenced. Well, we will see whether that can happen. All prisoner exchange agreements with non-EU countries turn on the consent of the prisoner, and until now, prisoners from Jamaica, which has the largest number of foreign nationals in British jails, and prisoners from Nigeria have always refused to go back to their countries of origin to serve their sentence. I do not know what will change.
An issue was raised in the context of the Queen’s Speech about stopping immigrants who are not entitled to NHS treatment from receiving it. Of course we should not facilitate health tourism—no Opposition Member defends that—and of course hospitals should be able to get back money that they are owed. There is, however, a danger of blowing this up into a huge issue when the sums of money, given the total NHS budget, are not necessarily that great. If hospitals and doctors are to query the entitlement of people who walk through their door, given the nature of things the danger is that they will query those from visible minorities who may well be not just British nationals, but third-generation British nationals. What will that do for community cohesion?
One thing that worries me is that such rhetoric could prevent people who are sick with transmittable diseases from going to the doctors because they are worried about whether they are entitled to do so. That will cost us more, as people who are entitled to health care pick up diseases. Does my hon. Friend agree that such rhetoric will also cost more in terms of lives and serious illnesses in our communities?
I am glad my hon. Friend raises that public health aspect of the rhetoric and the media narrative of stopping immigrants from approaching doctors and the health service. Many who are perfectly entitled to approach their doctor will feel inhibited, and there is a danger of disease incubation—people might finally go to the health service only when they are far gone, which will cost a lot more. Another danger is communicable disease. The pronouncements on stopping immigrants from unwarrantedly accessing NHS health care are not just wrong, toxic and unworkable, but inimical to good public health.
The Queen’s Speech is a Lynton Crosby public speech partly because of the immigration theme that runs through it, which is all about rhetoric. The measures will either not deliver or deliver in a minimalist way. All it does is heighten fears. The Government believe that it is to their advantage to do so.
The Lynton Crosby effect is both what is in the speech and what is not in it. We know that his company, Crosby Textor, is on a retainer with British American Tobacco in Australia to fight plain packaging. I put it to the House that it is no coincidence that a man who made his considerable sums of money fighting plain packaging in Australia turns up as the Conservative party’s chief political strategist, and it suddenly drops its commitment to plain packaging.
Dropping that commitment cannot be because of the evidence. I do not ask the House to believe me on the significance of plain packaging; the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Anna Soubry, who has responsibility for public health, said just weeks ago that she was persuaded having seen the evidence—the Department of Health has seen the evidence. What happened between the Department of Health forming a view on plain packaging and the Under-Secretary coming out in public in favour of it, and a Queen’s Speech that does not mention it, even though it is the preferred solution of medical experts and smoking cessation campaigners? Lynton Crosby happened. The idea that thousands of people could have their health endangered because of the malign influence of Lynton Crosby on Tory party policy is very regrettable.
The House must remember that tobacco remains the biggest cause of health inequalities in terms of death rates—it is more significant than any other factor. As I have said, there is complete consensus, including among the British Medical Association and medical and smoking cessation campaigners, that plain packaging is a key aspect in reducing levels of smoking and improving the health of the population, but because Lynton Crosby raises an eyebrow, it seems to have been dropped from the Queen’s Speech.
Another measure missing from the Queen’s Speech that has tremendous public health implications is a minimum price for alcohol. I am proud to tell the House that the Labour party’s policy is to support a minimum price for alcohol because there is a consensus—again—among campaigners, doctors’ organisations and anybody concerned about alcohol abuse, and even among some Government Members, that something must be done about the deluge of cheap alcohol. We have gone from the situation in the 19th century when people were worried about pubs and clubs, to worrying about men, women and children buying cheap alcohol in the supermarket and corner shop and doing themselves real damage drinking at home. We are seeing rising levels of liver disease as a result of the consumption of cheap alcohol. At one point the Prime Minister said that he was persuaded by the arguments for a minimum price, and brave statements were made by the Home Secretary. What happened then? Lynton Crosby came in as chief political adviser and the commitment to a minimum price on alcohol disappeared, again to the detriment of the health of thousands of our people.
This is the Lynton Crosby Queen’s Speech. It is disgraceful that he is able to abuse his position as a political adviser to interfere with the legislative programme of this Government. The health of thousands of people will suffer as a result of that interference, and the malign narrative on immigration that is being propagated is no way to build social cohesion. It rests on myths, rather than facts, and is no way to build what we on the Opposition Benches would like to see: one nation politics.
I enjoyed the start of this debate and I recognise that I have not been here for all of the speeches in between, so I am grateful for the chance to say a few words.
Back in 1986, I was made Minister with responsibility for roads—painting white lines on national roads—and someone asked me what I was going to do to improve road safety. I asked how one measured the change in the level of road safety. Within 20 minutes, we were discussing casualty reduction. Casualties can be counted, however inaccurately. I asked what was the dominant factor, and was told that young men drinking more than the legal limit of alcohol and then going driving mattered a lot. I received consistent advice from virtually every respected group in the country that three things had to happen: the legal limit had to be lowered, which would criminalise more people; policing had to be stepped up; and penalties had to be increased.
In those days, there were approximately 2 million occasions a week when young men would drive a car having consumed more than the legal limit for alcohol. They were not necessarily over the limit when they drove. The number of drink-related deaths when the driver or motorcycle rider was above the legal limit when killed, or the passenger was killed, was 1,200 a year.
The figure now is between 200 and 250. Four-fifths of a socially acceptable, illegal, body-bending habit evaporated with no change of law, no change of sentencing and no change to enforcement.
Considering the difficulties that younger people face, whether they are our own children or somebody else’s, does matter. If we had an 18-year-old who said, “Do you know that interest rates have been at 0.5% for a long time, the rate of unemployment has fluctuated between this, that and the other, and the rate of inflation on different measures is between this and that?” we might say in response, “I hope you are doing A-level economics.”
If that 18-year-old said, “I am in court on Monday on a serious criminal charge,” or “My husband”—or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, or a stranger—“and I have become pregnant; what should we do now?” or “I have decided to become a lifelong smoker of 20 a day, seven packs a week, at more than £7 a pack in after-tax income, so you, the parent, are more likely to bury me than me bury you,” each of us might regard the second set of announcements as more significant and more important to us than interest rates, the rate of unemployment and the rate of inflation.
I estimate that the figures for those taking up crime for the first time to be about 1,800 a week. Those figures can be obtained by asking how many people get convicted each week for the first time, having committed an offence for which the sentence could be six months or more.
When I first raised the matter, the Home Office claimed it did not have the information, but it did—although it is probably now with the Ministry of Justice. As part of our national statistics, those figures should be coming out regularly, both nationally and regionally, so that the media might start paying attention to how it is that so many of our young people—a third of males by the age of 30—have been convicted of a serious criminal offence. That is why I told the Home Secretary earlier that we need to pay attention to the numbers who commit offences for the first time and for how long, on average, they go on doing so. There are relatively few lifelong serious criminals.
In her speech yesterday, my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston said that 200,000 teenagers took up smoking every year. If 40% of our young people are taking up smoking—almost the same level as 25 years ago—all the measures taken since then, such as removing promotions from the front of tobacconists and raising prices significantly, must have been inadequate.
Why and when do people take up smoking? Very few take it up after the age of 21. It is something that teenagers take up. Ask a young person who is smoking, “How old are you?”, and they might say, “I’m 15”, “I’m 13” or “I’m 18”. If we say, “You’re too young to smoke,” effectively we are saying, “You’re doing an adult thing.” We ought to say, “Oh dear, a child. Only children take it up. I’m sorry you’re one of them,” and walk away.
We might also say to that child, “If you are a smoker, try not to be the first person to light up in any group and try not to smoke in front of someone who is younger than you.” Whatever the merits or demerits of plain packaging—it is not an argument I want to get into—what is certain is that smoking is a social disease: people pick it up because those around them are doing it. We need to change that culture. In effect, we need to make smoking like picking your nose: it goes on, but it should be in private, not public, and people should just disapprove. Before we changed the law, people did not smoke in a church, chapel, temple, mosque or synagogue. It just was not done. It was not expected.
We must do for smoking what we did for drink-driving. What was effective for drink-driving was, first, telling hosts, whether in a pub, club, party or at home, “Always have alcohol-free drinks within reach. No one should ever have to ask for an alcohol-free drink.” That is not just for drivers, but for those who are temperate, who make up 10% of the population, for those who were alcoholics, who also make up 10% of the population, for those who are pregnant, those who want to be pregnant, those who have drunk too much and those who are on a diet—there are all kinds of reasons.
Secondly, we want to ensure that passengers pick an alcohol-free driver. If I were going on a holiday to the Costa Lot from Gatwick and saw the pilot coming out of a bar and tottering slightly as he walked up the front steps of the aeroplane, I might think, “This plane is not for me”—planes can fly themselves, but cars cannot. In my time, five young men would get into a car and drive to the pub. Each would buy a round of drinks and four passengers would get back into the car knowing that the driver had had five drinks and that they had paid for four of them.
Thirdly, if like me someone drinks and drives, they should decide in advance which it is going to be that night. If in years to come, I get held for drink-driving, people will point to this speech and say, “Ya-ha-ha, hypocrite!”, but the fact is that between host responsibility, passenger choice and the drinking-driving choice, things become much better. That has become the norm and young people, instead of being four times as bad as their parents, are probably four times as good.
I want to turn to sex. Between 40% and 45% of people in this country get involved in a conception that ends in a termination—a formal abortion. We have nearly 400,000 abortions a year in this country, which is 40,000 a year more than we had 25 years ago, despite all the sex and personal education, the availability of contraception, the advice and politicians saying, “Say no.”
The only thing we cannot inherit from our parents is celibacy, unless we are conceived in a glass dish. We say to people, “Think about family planning or birth control.” After a good party, we might think about having it off. If we do, do we wait for the embarrassment afterwards of saying, “Cripes, we’ve conceived, we’ve already got five children” or “What did you say your name was?”, or “I know we’ve lived together for two years, but we hadn’t planned this.” We need to give people the confidence to use more than the words “family planning” and “birth control”. It is a choice between what embarrassment people want: between talking beforehand about contraception or afterwards talking about the consequence of having conceived.
We can drop down to the Dutch figures, which are one quarter of ours, in about six months, if we start using language that is helpful to people, as we did with drink-driving. So often in Parliament, we use language that does not relate to people in their homes, in their lives or on the streets. It worked with drink-driving.
Too often in politics we believe that the law is the answer to questions. The law can make something into a crime, but it does not necessarily stop it happening—we would not have 80,000 people in jail tonight if it did. The law can give people rights, but they cannot always use them. The law can also provide a system of dispute resolution, which can often be useful, but not always.
There are some good things in the Queen’s Speech about fairness, but if we rely too much on the law to make the changes that affect our social health, we will be relying on the wrong weapons or crutches. Openness and language matter enormously.
The last thing I want to talk about is fairness. One of the issues that came up at the end of the last Session was leasehold reform. I believe we have to go much further. There are 3 million leaseholders in this country. There was a time, 40 or 50 years ago, when George Thomas—later Lord Tonypandy, but in between the occupant of the Speaker’s Chair—was campaigning for leasehold reform because so many people living in the terraces in the Welsh valleys were being exploited by the leasehold system.
Leasehold enfranchisement came. Now we have leasehold valuation tribunals, which are supposed to be a cheap, simple and effective way of resolving disputes between leaseholders and freeholders and their managing agents. There is an organisation called Lease that provides advice. It gets just over £1 million a year from the Government, but it needs much more help. I am seeing Lease tomorrow and I hope to work with it to tell Government what they need to do.
There are two or three Departments involved: the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Ministry of Justice and one other—I forget which one. They need to put together a taskforce to analyse why some cases do not get to a leasehold valuation tribunal fast, why they cost far more to resolve than the £500 advertised as the fee and why clever lawyers manage to put down the leaseholders and let some freeholders—not all, but some—abuse the system. I will give the House one example of abuse. The freeholder, through their managing agent, can arrange insurance and make the leaseholders pay the premium without saying openly what the commission is and without necessarily testing the market. That is just one example; I could give a number of others.
When we look at fairness, which is mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, let us hope that we can build it in and use this place to bring some of the issues into the open, so that they can be resolved properly by those who are doing things anyway, who can find ways of doing them better. Doing things better is what matters most. It certainly worked when I had responsibility for reducing casualties on the road; it can work in other fields as well.
When Members of this House trooped along the corridor to the other place yesterday to listen to the Gracious Speech, we hoped to hear some good news—perhaps an admission that the Government’s economic policy was misguided and that we would see a new focus on growth and jobs, rather than self-defeating austerity. Although that hope may have always been forlorn, I had at least hoped to see some progress on issues where I know the Government are not implacably opposed to progress. Sadly, my constituents, and everyone else’s too, were let down.
I know that Ministers want headlines about immigration, offender management and crime, but Home Office Ministers had a chance to keep in with their colleagues in the Department of Health, working with them to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol and helping to put a stop to some of the antisocial and criminal activities that our people and police officers have to deal with, while at the same time saving lives and hard cash for our under-pressure NHS. I will return to what Home Office Ministers should put before this House a little later.
Like my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, I just cannot understand why Ministers have a blockage when it comes to taking opportunities to improve our society by making it safer and healthier. Despite laudable statements about the need to tackle smoking and excessive drinking, there is no sign of legislation to combat them. However, I hear that the Prime Minister said again yesterday—after the Queen’s Speech, that is—that measures on both smoking and drinking would be introduced, so where are they? The British Medical Association chair of council, Dr Mark Porter, said he was “bitterly disappointed” that standardised packaging for tobacco and the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol had been ditched, adding:
“If the government U-turns on its pledge to deal with alcohol and tobacco related harm, we will have to question its commitment to protecting the nation’s health”.
The decision to drop a proposed Bill to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes and tobacco, seemingly taken over the heads of the officials and Ministers who wanted it, robs us of an effective new tool to combat smoking.
Let us not forget that smoking is a major but preventable cause of death and disease, and the attitude that we should wait and see how Australia’s action works out represents a public health failure at a time when innovative action is needed. An unattributed Government source was quoted in The Sun as saying:
“Plain packaging may or may not be a good idea, but it’s nothing to do with the Government’s key purpose. The Prime Minister is determined to strip down everything we do so we can concentrate all our efforts on voters’ essentials. That means growth, immigration and welfare reform.”
I would have thought the health of the nation was also a key purpose. Perhaps the source should have added that the Government were also determined to keep in with the powerful tobacco and alcohol lobbies, whose coffers seem bottomless and whose tactics are shameless as they work to condemn generation after generation to the respiratory diseases and cancers that their products cause.
We know, thanks to documents produced by the tobacco industry, that it invests heavily in packet design in order to appeal to specific target audiences, even young people. Can that be right? The tobacco lobbying industry keeps asserting that there is no evidence to suggest that that makes any difference. If that is the case, I wonder why great sums of money continue to be spent on lobbying against this change, and on the marketing itself. Surely the industry could save money in both respects. We have to assume that it is either knowingly throwing good money after bad or not being fully honest with us. Perhaps Home Office and other Minsters could also take an interest. Do the activities of the tobacco lobby—hiding behind the organisations that it funds, making false claims about its marketing strategy and contributing so spectacularly to the ill health of our nation—constitute crimes against our people?
We know from research by the British Lung Foundation that smoking is a habit that people tend to take up at a young age. More than 200,000 children start smoking each year in the UK and around two thirds of smokers start before the age of 18. It is well known how hard it is to quit smoking. It is estimated that an enormous 70% of smokers continue to smoke despite wanting to quit. Plain packaging would help to de-glamorise the buying of cigarettes and show that we as a nation are serious about preventing children from taking up smoking.
There are also no proposals for action on introducing a ban on smoking in cars when a child is present. I have put the case in this House for such a ban many times, including twice introducing private Members’ Bills. With colleagues, I ensured that such provisions were tabled as a new clause to the Children and Families Bill. I hope that, in the absence of other action, the Government will back that new clause in a few weeks’ time when the Bill comes back to the House on Report. That will be a wonderful opportunity for them to do a little thing to reduce the effects of smoking.
When I spoke to officials in the Department for Health, however, I was told that the Government were reluctant to go forward with a ban on smoking in cars when a child is present because they were keeping their powder dry for a big fight with the tobacco industry over plain packaging. So when are we going to have that fight? Not in this parliamentary year, it seems. Those campaign groups, individual campaigners and concerned parents who have contacted me and others to put the case for a ban will be disappointed that the Government have taken action on neither issue.
In retreat, the Government have essentially said to the tobacco industry that if it shouts loudly enough, puts enough adverts in national newspapers and has its lobbyists exert as much pressure as they can muster, it will get its way and the Government will capitulate. If the Government had had the courage, they would have introduced in the Gracious Speech a Bill to ensure that all cigarette packets had the same plain design, and to ban smoking in cars when children were present. Those would have been bold, progressive moves that would have been popular and right.
It is not just tobacco that the Government have capitulated on. The Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and others have promised a new approach to tackling alcohol abuse and binge drinking. I believe that that could be done through minimum unit pricing, but that is another policy that seems to have fallen down the back of the No. 10 settee. The British Medical Association’s director of professional services has urged the Prime Minister:
“Be courageous: this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save lives, to save the country money. Both of those are very good deals for him. And it will get him the thanks of an awful lot of people. Not just doctors and nurses but also the families of problem drinkers who desperately want the government to do something to help them help the people they love to kick the habit and to save their lives.”
I agree, and I had hoped that the Prime Minister would face down the alcohol industry lobbying and do the right thing. Once again, however, the families of heavy drinkers and the victims of drink-fuelled antisocial behaviour have been let down, despite the stated views of medical professionals, campaign groups and victims.
Professor Steve Field, a Government NHS adviser, said:
“On minimum unit pricing of alcohol we must not wimp out of that decision. It’s vital for people’s health, particularly the health of more vulnerable people. It will probably save around 1,000 lives a year and will also reduce admissions to hospital. It will also reduce the burden of long-term care and it will also help with social cohesion because a lot of alcohol triggers violence, it triggers domestic abuse, and if you look at society as a whole, we urgently have to do something about alcohol, of which” minimum pricing
“is the first step. The government must take control and it’s up to them.”
I, too, regret the fact that the Government have passed up this opportunity. When the Minister winds up today’s debate, perhaps he will confirm whether the Government are going to wimp out after all.
If the Government are so preoccupied with tackling the economic issues we face, I would have hoped to see a better set of proposals to do just that. Instead, we see yet more dithering, yet more fiddling around the edges and yet more misdirected supply-side measures when a lack of demand is what is holding us back. They should have started with a jobs Bill. Unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment, continue to hold us back. My Stockton North constituency has a youth unemployment rate of 1,280 and general unemployment stands on the cusp of 10%. Nationally, more than 1 million young people are out of work. The Government have to do better by young people, who too often do not recover from early setbacks in their careers.
I do not have the precise figures on under-employment, but anecdotal evidence suggests that we are suffering particularly acutely in the Stockton borough as more and more people are forced to take low-paid, part-time jobs. We could create thousands of jobs—quality jobs—by replacing, for example, the huge number of police officers that have been lost under this current Government. A jobs Bill, as proposed by my right hon. Friends the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Leader of the House, would be a welcome start. That would see the introduction of a compulsory jobs guarantee, which would ensure a paid job for every adult who is out of work for more than two years.
A Labour jobs Bill would also guarantee a six-month paid job for all young people out of work for over a year, paid for by a bank bonus tax, with those offered a job being required to take it. It would also require large firms getting Government contracts to have an active apprenticeship scheme to help ensure that opportunities to work for the next generation exist and that the Government are taking real and meaningful steps to promote them actively.
We have seen the cost of living sky-rocket during this Parliament, with even those in work feeling the pinch. Thanks to the Government’s refusal to get a grip on energy costs, the perverse decision to increase VAT and the cut in in-work benefits, people in my constituency are feeling the pinch like never before. Prices are rising faster than wages, and people are now £1,700 a year worse off than they were in May 2010. Even my local fish and chip shop in Norton village is getting battered by this Government! A drop in demand means that it has to close earlier and reduce staff hours so that staff wages are much lower.
The Government should have taken Labour’s advice to cut VAT back down to 17.5%. They should have taken real action on fuel bills, introduced tough new fare caps on train routes and brought greater regulation to bear on estate agents who routinely rip off those in the private rented sector. My party have shown that we are willing to take action across the board to tackle the injustices and iniquities of the private sector where it is not working in the best interests of all of those who rely on it. As the Labour party, we are willing to go where the Government are not—making the interventions that will boost public health, tackle unemployment and ensure that those who are in work get a fair deal from the businesses with which they interact.
This Government’s failures border on the criminal. The Gracious Speech was a chance to correct some of the Government’s wrongs; sadly, what we have ahead next year is a programme that is light on legislation and light on action—above all, it is a missed opportunity.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to today’s debate. Yesterday’s Gracious Speech was, I think, the third since I was elected to represent West Dunbartonshire in 2010. As with the previous two, however, I am afraid that yesterday’s was simply another wasted opportunity by a Government who should be getting to grips with the real challenges facing the UK. As other Members have mentioned, yesterday’s speech was more important for what it did not include than for what it contained.
Across the UK, people are really struggling. They may be unable to get a job because of the flatlining economy or struggling to make ends meet because of the cost-of-living crisis. I can assure Members and Ministers that the people of West Dunbartonshire are absolutely no different; in fact, they are at the sharp end of this Government’s crisis. The Prime Minister promised there would be a change for the better when he went into Downing street in 2010, but the truth is that things are getting much worse, not better. In West Dunbartonshire unemployment is up, youth unemployment is up and long-term youth unemployment is now 10 times the level it was in May 2010—more than 1,000 young people are looking for a job. It is an absolute scandal.
It does not look as though things will be changing any time soon. Currently in my constituency, more than 12 people are chasing every job—and, almost unbelievably, the number has been as high as 40 people out of work for every advertised job in the last three years. In fact, I frequently hear of jobs—part-time jobs that do not require any skills or qualifications—for which more than 100 people have applied. That, if nothing else, should be setting off alarm bells for this Government.
Yet the Government repeatedly say they want to reward those in work; indeed, the Home Secretary said so in her opening remarks today. However, those in work who are having their tax credits and housing benefit cut will struggle to see how what the Government are saying to us here in this Chamber matches up with what they are doing to people around the country. There are simply not enough jobs for people to go into. The vast majority of people who are sitting at home are not doing so because they do not want to work: they are being failed by a Government who are unwilling or unable to get growth in the economy and to create the jobs they desperately need.
This Government have cut public sector jobs in my constituency. By now they have, I think, given up repeating the mantra that the private sector will sweep in and make up for all the jobs they have cut. If any Minister wants to come to my constituency and talk about how the private sector can be helped to grow, they will be very welcome, but so far that growth is not happening, and we face an unemployment crisis.
The national insurance holiday, which we first heard about in the Budget, is welcome. Indeed, it is very similar to the scheme we were calling for, but it is three years too late. The Government should have introduced it much earlier. Instead, we have we have had three years of flatlining growth.
The Gracious Speech contains no real plans to get the economy back on track, and nor are there any plans to help people struggling with the rising cost of living. All we have had is more of the same from an out-of-touch Government: no answers and nothing to say to the people of this country.
Scotland is being hammered by two Governments that are one and the same, both putting misguided ideology ahead of necessary action and legislation, and both bereft of ideas when Scotland needs solutions. When Labour delivered devolution to Scotland, we did so in order to create aspiration and achievement in the good times, and to protect the people of Scotland from the worst excesses of a Tory Government in the bad times. We could now have a Scottish Government using their ingenuity to bring forward creative proposals, but we do not have that. They could, and should, be straining every sinew and using every mechanism at their disposal to help the Scottish people, but instead they are standing on the sidelines, and today the Scottish National party is not even interested in turning up to debate these issues—I think there was a brief intervention from one SNP Member at the very beginning of this debate .
The Scottish Government are standing on the sidelines and rubber-stamping Tory measures such as the bedroom tax. They have passed no legislation to protect people from this policy. They have done nothing to help councils and housing associations in Scotland deal with the fallout from the bedroom tax. In fact, just last week I was told in confidence of a Scottish Government official who had a civil servant who let it slip that they had been told that everything they do must be about winning the referendum. That is absolutely scandalous, because power is a privilege and it must be exercised with caution and in the best interests of the people. At the moment, in Scotland, it is being used in a desperate attempt to win a campaign that is not about the interests of the Scottish people; it is about the interests of the First Minister.
There is an alternative for people throughout the whole of the UK: Labour’s plans in our alternative Queen’s Speech offer the real change that this country needs. I urge Ministers to look at it, because it gets to grips with the issues they need to deal with. It includes a jobs Bill, to introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee; a consumers Bill, to tackle rip-off energy bills and train fares; and a finance Bill to kick-start the economy, to get it moving again. Those are the changes and the things that people out there want to see.
Our plans also include an alternative immigration Bill with real economic powers to put an end to workers having their wages illegally undercut by employers exploiting migrant labour; it would double the fines for breaching the minimum wage and give local councils the powers to take enforcement action. Those are the things we want to see happen. However, the plans that we heard from the Government yesterday and from the Home Secretary earlier today fail to deal with the big problems to do with the exploitation of foreign workers to undercut local workers. The Queen’s Speech was also very much a missed opportunity to tackle the problem of illegal immigration. We want to see a much fairer system of controls and limits on students, cutting the number of bogus students but ensuring that we have a much more effective system for the migration we need. Legitimate students should not be targeted by the Government to bring immigration down; they are an easy target but not the right one.
There are things that the Home Secretary could be doing, but she is not. The new Schengen information system, which will share information on migrants travelling within the EU, will guarantee the authenticity of documents and help to identify illegal immigrants. So far, for some reason, the Home Secretary has failed to sign up to that—she is refusing to do it. Unlike some Government Members, I am not scared of immigration, because our country has benefited greatly from it, just as other countries have benefited from emigration from this country. My hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart, in her contribution, set out well the beneficial impact that immigration has had on her town. Indeed, I suspect that few Members of the House are not partly the product of a story that involves immigration at some point in the tale.
There are issues that need to be addressed, and unless the Government get to grips with the problems, immigration will continue to be an easy scapegoat and the byword for all the problems faced by the Government. Immigration should not be the scapegoat, but that is what they are using it for at the moment. I therefore urge the Government to deal with firms that are not paying the national minimum wage, with recruitment agencies that are only advertising and using overseas labour, and with the slum landlords profiting from substandard and overcrowded housing. There is nothing in the Government plans to deal with those three pressing key issues. I hope that the Government are anticipating our amendments to their Bill, which the Leader of the Opposition has stated that we will table, and that they might work with us and support those amendments.
The Home Secretary did announce plans to break up the UK Border Agency. I agree that reform of the UKBA is absolutely needed; all of us who deal with casework involving the UKBA would recognise that. Serious issues need to be fixed and tackled; we have seen lower levels of enforcement and huge delays for people coming through the airports last summer. Those problems need to be tackled, and we do not want to see a repeat of that.
The Government are still failing to acknowledge that things have got worse and not better on their watch, including on deportations of foreign criminals, where the number has decreased. Surely the first step to solving problems is to accept responsibility. It is not good enough to keep blaming other people, whether they are officials in the UKBA or elsewhere, or indeed the system, as the Home Secretary did earlier—she blamed the appeals system. She presides over that system, so she needs to get to grips with it.
It is worth recapping some of the facts and the failures: the backlog in finding failed asylum seekers has gone up; the number of illegal immigrants who have been deported has gone down; the number of foreign prisoners who have been removed has gone down; the number of businesses fined for employing illegal workers has gone down; fingerprint checks on illegal migrants at Calais have been stopped; basic security checks on 100,000 missing asylum and immigration cases have been dropped; and the e-Borders technology has been delayed. I do not know how anyone could describe that as anything but a catalogue of failure.
The Government must get this issue right. The plans that they announced yesterday have been found wanting. I hope that they have listened to some of our proposals, and that when the immigration Bill comes forward we will be able to get it right. Unfortunately, at the moment we are simply getting more of the same from an out-of-touch Government: no ideas, no answers, and nothing to suggest. People across the UK deserve an awful lot better.
I am most grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important Queen’s Speech debate. It is also a great pleasure to follow the eloquent and thoughtful contribution of my hon. Friend Gemma Doyle.
I begin by welcoming some things in the Queen’s Speech. First, I welcome the inclusion of Bills for High Speed 2. I fully support the project which cannot come a day too soon, because faster and better infrastructural links to Birmingham, to the north-west and, ultimately, to Crewe, with proper connections to various regions, will bring great benefits for businesses, tourists and other travellers to and from my north-east Wales constituency. I welcome those Bills and I only hope that the project moves on as speedily as possible, because it is absolutely vital.
Secondly, I welcome the carry-over of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. It will be a very proud moment indeed for this House and for this country when it is on the statute book.
Thirdly, I welcome the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, but I would welcome it even more if budgets such as that for North Wales police were not facing cuts of 20% and antisocial behaviour orders were not being scrapped. I welcome the inclusion in the Bill of gun-related laws, but I hope that the Home Secretary and her team will consider carefully the points about gun ownership and those with a history of domestic violence that were made earlier by my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper. We only have to see what has happened in America and the power of the National Rifle Association there to know what the power of the gun lobby can be like, and we in this country also need to be vigilant about it.
I welcome the chance to discuss immigration in this House. Indeed, as some Members have said, it has happened at fairly regular intervals and I do not believe it is an issue we should be frightened of. We should discuss it in a sensible and constructive way. If there is a debate more widely in the country, it would be foolish for us not to follow and listen and respond thoughtfully to the points that are made and to deal with them in legislation.
There are some serious issues and omissions that the Government need to address. Why is more not being done to tackle the use of foreign labour to undercut local workers? As residents of Black Park and Chirk in my constituency told me at the last election, how can it be right that some jobs are advertised only in eastern European languages for agency workers and offer only the worst possible terms of employment? The constituents who ask those questions, and others like them, are absolutely right to do so.
Also, what are we to make of the fact that there have been no prosecutions for breaches of the national minimum wage in the past two years when a recent King’s college study found that between 150,000 and 250,000 workers in the care sector alone are being paid below the national minimum wage? Is it any wonder that many people in this country are angry when such abuses go unpunished? Why can we not extend the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to other sectors?
On immigration, it is beyond belief that the Government are considering the measures that they have announced. I remember that two or three years ago we were told that a national register for landlords would be impossible. It would be too bureaucratic and difficult for the landlords, and would add red tape to the work that they already did, yet now we are told that landlords are expected to be almost the main body policing the system of immigration by identifying illegal tenants. It is nonsense that on the one hand the Govt can say it is too bureaucratic to do that, and on the other they can pass the buck straight on to landlords.
There are some issues that never made it into the Queen’s Speech. Plain packaging for cigarettes is one; a lobbying Bill is another. Dare I say that I suspect the two are rather intimately connected? My party would have brought in a new jobs guarantee Bill. It is a pity that none of these will make it on to the statute book, as all would have been a credit to this House and would have brought long-term social and economic benefits.
Finally, I turn to another matter that I would like to have seen in this Queen’s Speech, one that I know has great support across the political spectrum and has been raised in various guises in this House by various Members, including me on numerous occasions. I refer to death or serious injury on the roads caused by uninsured, unlicensed or careless drivers. In last year’s debate on the Queen Speech, I welcomed the aspects of the Crime and Courts Bill that brought into effect new provisions on drugs and driving. It is in the spirit of welcoming this change that I call on the Government to be bolder on the issue.
I have raised in the House before the case of Robert James Gaunt. Robert was a nine-year-old boy who was tragically killed in March 2009 while crossing the road in the village of Overton in my constituency by a driver with no licence or insurance, who failed to stop. He was a driver who did not report the accident and, even worse, who attempted to cover up his crime by re-spraying his car. For ending the life of this innocent young boy, the driver incurred a pitiful sentence of 22 months. That was at the very limit of what was possible under the law for that offence. When 1,300 people signed the Justice for Robert petition to back longer sentences for this crime, I promised to stand up for Robert’s memory on their behalf and I will continue to raise the issue here in the House.
I hope the Government will therefore support my ten-minute rule Bill that comes to the House this summer. It will call for the Government to undertake a review of the maximum penalties for driving offences that lead to death or serious injury, for I believe that this measure and any like it that speak up for road safety cannot come a day too soon, and I trust that Ministers will listen sympathetically to my request on this vital issue.
I am not alone in being disappointed with the Queen’s Speech as it failed to deal with any of the real issues and challenges facing our country, such as 1 million young unemployed, the rise in the cost of living, especially for those on low wages, no investment in the growth of our economy, and no real reform of the banking system. The Chancellor said that his austerity measures would bring the budget deficit down by 2015. He has already accepted that that will not happen, and the triple A rating which he considered a holy grail has also gone. In real terms he is borrowing even more to balance the budget. The GDP to national debt ratio is heading towards 80%.
When Labour came to power in 1997, the GDP ratio to the national debt was 42%. By early 2008, it was down to 35%, just before the global recession started. The Government then had to act to save the banks and avoid a worsening financial crisis. As a result, they had to borrow additional money, and the national debt went up, but figures show that by 2010, the GDP ratio to the national debt began to fall again. However, with the austerity measures of the current Chancellor, without a growth plan for the economy, the GDP ratio to the national debt is now some 80%.
These figures are important because it is often said that the Labour Government left the country in an economic mess, but the Opposition know that that is not the case, because the facts and figures from the Treasury and other Departments show that we were financially prudent. It is not just me who says that; that famous Left-wing body, the International Monetary Fund, has said the same. It has stated clearly that the actions taken by the previous Prime Minister and the Chancellor were the right ones in light of the situation that we faced and—these words are important—the global recession. Much as the Labour Government would have liked to control the whole world, we certainly did not run the USA or Japan, or any of the other advanced nations, but they experienced a similar global crisis. That is important: it was a global crisis and had nothing to do with the suggestion that somehow the Labour Government were financially mismanaging the economy. If anyone is mismanaging the economy, it is the current Government, who are borrowing £164 billion extra to cover the budget deficit.
It makes sense that, if one is not going to invest in the economy, if there are to be no jobs in the economy, and if people are not paying their taxes, the revenue that a Government receive will obviously be less. In order to continue to meet the budget deficit, they will have to borrow more, which is exactly what the Chancellor has done. As a result we now have a higher national debt, the economy is not moving, and again the famous Left-wing socialist institution, the IMF, has said that the Government need to change their course. The Chancellor needs to change his course. He must bring in programmes and investment to stimulate growth in the economy. Austerity alone will not be enough. Those who have suffered the most from the austerity and cuts have been the disabled, the elderly, those on low wages, and often women with small children. Their economic situation has been made worse, and their cost of living has risen the most.
But the Government are not just satisfied with taking away people’s economic rights and financially hitting them; they are also taking away some basic civil rights. The cuts to civil legal aid for bodies such as the employment, health and disability tribunals, and in family cases, has meant that many people are now unrepresented. There have been cuts to funding for the citizens advice bureaux, which last year in Bolton South East saw 14,000 people who were suffering, including the vulnerable, disadvantaged and poor, and those on low incomes, and now they will suffer even more. If they have a problem, they will not be able to go to a tribunal. They will have no legal representation and there will be no one to explain their rights to them.
There are further proposals to cut criminal legal aid, which again affects ordinary people most. We hear about the famous few rich defendants, the big criminals, but the majority of those who face criminal charges are not the rich, but ordinary people. The myth that all criminal lawyers earn millions and millions of pounds is another complete lie. Yes, there is the odd Queen’s counsel or barrister who will earn that sort of money from legal aid, but more than 95% of the members of the Bar and people practising criminal law earn nowhere near that. In fact, their earnings are often very average, compared with those in other sectors. The idea that the majority of barristers somehow get £1 million a year from legal aid is a complete distortion of the truth. In fact, it is a complete lie.
The Ministry of Justice now wants to introduce something called price-competitive tendering, which will undermine access to justice and damage our judicial system. People should be able to choose a lawyer on the basis of quality, rather than being given the one with the lowest price. Price-competitive tendering will force bidders to tender at least 17.5% below the current magistrates’ rates, and if they get the contract they will also be able to continue working in the Crown courts.
With cuts of 35% on criminal advocates’ fees already coming in, all we will see is the really experienced and talented lawyers simply not practising criminal law and inexperienced newcomers taking up cases instead.
There might not be much sympathy for people charged with criminal offences, but I believe that in this country we still have the principle that someone is innocent until proven guilty. Being able to defend oneself from incarceration in the criminal justice system is a fundamental part of a democratic society. That is something we should be proud of, not something we should try to hide or do away with by making it harder for people to access criminal legal aid. Price-competitive tendering will have a great impact on our criminal justice system.
A sad thing in politics in this country is that for a number of years now there has been constant criticism of our judges when they take decisions that the Executive are not happy with. I practised law for more than 20 years, in different courts, and there were times when I did not agree with the judge’s decision, but I did not start bad-mouthing the judge. Instead, we had a system of appeal that allowed us to take the matter further so that someone more senior could consider it, because errors can occur and it can be useful to have another pair of eyes to look at decisions that have been taken. Surely that is the only proper way for politicians to behave in cases involving judges.
Our judges are of a very high calibre. They are not ignorant people who do not know about the real world. They know what the real world is like and they know the law. I think it is about time politicians across all political parties started giving the judiciary the respect it deserves. Ultimately, an independent judiciary is very much a hallmark of a civilized democratic society. That is something we should be proud of in this country. We should not constantly be denigrating judges.
Things that we now take as being accepted were not accepted 20 years ago, and that is because our judges have effectively been applying the law in a way that has benefited many people. For example, it is now perfectly acceptable to take on a public authority or a Department for any wrongdoing. That was not the case until a number of years ago. It is only because our judges have said that public authorities and bodies should be accountable and scrutinised that that is now accepted as normal business in this country. That was very much down to judges.
Many years ago, Lord Denning brought in the equitable principle in the famous High Trees House case. I know that ex-lawyers sometimes tend to go on about the law, but I mention that case because it was the first time people in common law partnerships, especially women, were given some rights over the properties in which they lived and were looking after the children but where they were not the income winners and had no rights at all. That case allowed them to have some rights. We have a lot to be grateful to our judges for, so denigrating them is just not right. If a Government are not happy with a judge’s decision, they have a mechanism of appeal, and the final appeal is to the Supreme Court, which is full of very eminent and high-calibre people who make the decisions.
I am disappointed that the Gracious Speech did not deal with some of the health issues that are big challenges for our society, such as drinking and smoking. Everyone accepts that cigarettes cause cancer and many other illnesses. This was an opportunity for the Government, who said themselves that they want to deal with this, but it seems that because of powerful lobbyists and other groups plain packaging is now off the agenda and alcohol is not being tackled. Members have already talked about the impact of alcohol and cigarettes on people’s lives and the illnesses they cause. It is therefore sad and regrettable that this action has not taken place.
Another disappointing aspect of the Queen’s Speech relates to immigration. It is right that there should be a debate about immigration, and nobody is running away from that. People who have come to this country should be able to claim benefit if they have paid taxes to the Treasury. If they have not made those contributions, it is right that they should not be able to benefit from welfare provision. No one is arguing that that is wrong. However, the Government, who are trying to deal with UKIP in a knee-jerk reaction to what happened recently, have brought in policies requiring landlords and doctors to act as policemen. Instead, they should be making sure that the border is being patrolled properly so that people are not coming into the country illegally. They should also be making sure that the UK Border Agency becomes more effective in dealing with people who should not be in this country and should be sent back. That is the way to deal with it; it is the state’s responsibility. Making individual citizens act as spies is wrong; it is like George Orwell’s society coming to fruition. Yes, some big landlords with thousands of homes in their property portfolios might be able to carry out the searches suggested by the Government, but in my constituency a lot of people who have a small home and may be renting one room will now be criminalised if they do not carry out certain checks. That is plain wrong, as is asking doctors to spy on people. The Government and the law enforcement agencies should be patrolling these things, not creating a snooping society. That is completely the wrong approach.
The Queen’s Speech did nothing at all to try to stimulate our economy. We would have liked a jobs Bill that meant a paid job for every adult who had been out of work for more than two years; guaranteed six months’ pay for young people; a requirement—this is very important bearing in mind the wholesale privatisation that is taking place under this Government—that large firms should agree to apprenticeship schemes whenever they are given a Government contract; a Finance Bill that reversed the VAT rise and the 10p tax rate; and a consumer Bill that dealt with rising energy costs, which now average £300, and rail fares, which are going up by 9%. The rail companies should be offering people the cheapest available fare, not expecting them to search around for hours on end trying to find a good deal. We should ensure that energy companies are regulated properly and are not exploiting the consumer. Despite everything that has been said, banks are still not lending enough to small businesses, which are the backbone of our country. A specialised British investment bank should have been set up, with regional banks to support businesses. We should force banks to lend to small companies so that they can grow and create employment.
The content of the Gracious Speech is a real damp squib. It was an opportunity for this Government to be visionary, but they have been nothing of the kind.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is interesting that we should hear the Government’s plans so soon after so many of us had the opportunity to listen to the voice of the people in the county council elections in the shire counties of England.
I spent almost all of the previous four weeks home in the beautiful shire county of Derbyshire, specifically in my home town of Chesterfield. For those few short weeks we Derbyshire people seemed to be very popular among the political class. The Prime Minister came to Derbyshire twice during the campaign, as did my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, to whom we were grateful for also visiting us after the campaign to join our celebrations. The Chancellor also came to see us, as did the Home Secretary, who took in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr Skinner. I believe she saw the beautiful Crooked Spire church, which, I am sure she was told—I do not know whether a plaque has been put up there yet—is where I got married. If that information has escaped her, I am glad to be able to remind her of it.
It is hardly surprising that Derbyshire was the focus of so much attention. No Government have lost in Derbyshire and won the country since the war. The verdict of the people of Derbyshire was pretty clear: a huge win for Labour, with 43 Labour councillors compared with 18 Conservatives, just three Lib Dems and not a UKIP councillor in sight. UKIP if you want to, but the people of Derbyshire certainly did not. It was a triumph for Labour leader Anne Western and the Labour team at county hall.
In electoral terms it was a decisive win, with Labour majorities in many seats that we hope to win in 2015. Despite the victory, however, those of us who spent considerable time on the doorsteps could not escape the sense of despair among voters—the sense that politics should be capable of offering so much more, that our Government are running out of ideas and that our great country, which fought off the massed forces of fascism from 1939 onwards, had the vision to create the national health service, has been present at the birth of so many of the world’s great inventions and is home to some of the greatest educational establishments in the world, should be capable of so much more.
The Queen’s Speech had Crosby’s fingerprints are all over it. They left quite a mark—besmirched it, we might say—but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North said yesterday, the speech failed completely to grasp the magnitude of the moment. It is ironic that the person in charge of the Government’s xenophobia strategy is himself an immigrant. I am from a family of immigrants: my family have only been in the UK since about 1066. In fact, Her Majesty, who gave the Gracious Speech, has Germanic roots herself. We should embrace our country’s history and the fact that it is made up of so many different people.
Is this really it? Is this all the Government have to offer? The response to the drubbing that the Conservatives took is a dog whistle here, a hint at red meat there, more divide and rule, and no overarching vision for the kind of country that this Government aim to create before leaving power.
What is this Government’s vision? They have lost the triple A status and there has been no reduction in the deficit in the past year. What do they want the last two years of their cruel, divisive, incompetent and directionless reign to be about? The Home Secretary seems to think it is funny, but the people of Derbyshire were not laughing when they reflected on her and her party’s record last week. Austerity has failed, so what is the alternative vision for which this Government will be remembered? Will they now simply indulge in the most pernicious kind of blame game? If the Government have no vision or cannot agree on what they want to do, let us have a general election and give the people of this country some real alternatives.
All we have seen on immigration is incompetence and confusion. Only one in 1,000 students suspected of abusing the immigration system have been deported. Some 106,000 cases reported by universities have led to just 153 deportations. More worryingly, only 658 cases were even investigated.
At the very same time that the Government are doing so little to investigate potential abuses of the system, we have seen a big drop-off in the entirely legitimate and indeed vital numbers of foreign students, who offer revenue for our universities. At recent meetings with representatives from Sheffield, Leeds and the university of London, they have all highlighted problems resulting from the reduction in foreign student numbers.
We get the benefit of highly qualified workers when some of these students stay on. Often they return to their countries as the greatest advocates of life in Britain and are vital to our ability to trade. We all want to see an increase in exports and foreign students are an important means by which that can be achieved.
The Government’s immigration fiasco does not end there. When I speak to businesses across the country in my capacity as a shadow business Minister, I am constantly upbraided by businesses—technological and manufacturing firms in particular—about how much of an obstacle to success the confusion on immigration is.
People are concerned that UK workers are undercut in the jobs market and that the Government turn a blind eye to abuses of the minimum wage. Indeed, with their workfare policy, they seem as keen as ever to send out the message that people should be grateful for what they get and to push more workers into poverty. People are concerned that foreign workers, legal and illegal, are working for less than the minimum wage. The fuzzy line between the cost of housing and work is enabling unscrupulous firms to exploit workers’ desire to put money on the table. I am talking not about those who do not contribute, but about the very people who are fighting day and night to earn enough money so that their family can eat. Where was the Government’s acknowledgement of their failure to enforce the national minimum wage? Where was the Bill to tighten up the rules to ensure that those loopholes are closed?
People are concerned about recruitment agencies that recruit only migrant and foreign labour. That is why Labour proposes that the system be toughened up to ensure that firms that act in that way are stopped and that British workers get a fair crack of the whip when they are trying to get into the jobs market. Where was the Government’s commitment to do something about that? Is it any wonder that the voters in Derbyshire rejected the governing parties so wholeheartedly last week?
Let me touch on other reasons why Derbyshire’s voters rejected the Government. On banking, we needed to see real reform. Government net lending has fallen in 18 of the last 24 months as more and more of the Government’s money has been given to the same big four banks. That was a problem when the Government came to power, and yet it has got worse in month after month. Failed Government strategy follows failed Government strategy. In the three months to February 2013, there was an additional £4.8 billion fall in lending to small businesses.
Labour proposes something bigger. We propose a local banking network to put banks back at the heart of their communities. There must be a fundamental change in decision making to ensure that decisions about businesses are taken by people who understand those businesses, not by somebody 70 miles away. Bank lending should no longer focus more and more on London; there must be proper regional and local banking that sees money lent to small businesses within local communities.
The people cannot be fooled. They know that they are worse off under this Government than before 2010. They will be £891 worse off by 2015. They know that there is a cost-of-living crisis, but they have seen no action on train fares, payday loans or fuel costs. They have seen no action on the construction industry at a time when it is struggling. Labour has proposed a reduction in the VAT on home improvements to 5%, which is supported by the Federation of Small Businesses. Young people face a jobs crisis. Let us end the debate on whether they want work or not. Let us expose those who do not by having a jobs guarantee that ensures that all young people know that they will have an opportunity to get into work.
There is no serious growth strategy. The only growth strategy seems to be, “Let’s see if we can get kids to buy fags or get people to drink themselves stupid on cheap supermarket booze.” The Government have dropped the plans for plain cigarette packaging and minimum alcohol pricing that the Prime Minister promised. Where was the promised legislation on pub companies that we expected to hear about in the Queen’s Speech? We must support our pubs. We must ensure that more people drink in them and that less people drink at home, where much more problem drinking occurs.
As colleagues have said, the Queen’s Speech was an opportunity for the Government to show that they had listened to the message that came from people across the country last week and to show that they have a strategy to do something about the problems that face us. We now know that the Government will not take the serious action that is required, but will limp on with the Liberals and Conservatives unsure about what they can agree on. The Queen’s Speech has demonstrated that this is a mongrel Government without a proper agenda. The country is ready for something better.
This has been, as usual, a good and positive debate that has covered a range of issues on home affairs and justice, in particular those relating to immigration, antisocial behaviour and preventing reoffending. A number of other contributions have covered a wider range of political issues, including comments on care standards in Wales by my hon. Friend Nick Smith, on the role of HS2 by Andrea Leadsom and on energy by Dr Huppert.
Many strong concerns were raised about the economy, including by my hon. Friend Gemma Doyle, who made a pertinent point about the role of the Scottish National party in Scotland. My hon. Friend Helen Goodman mentioned broadband, and my hon. Friends the Members for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), spoke strongly about the economy. My hon. Friend for Warrington North (Helen Jones) made a passionate and heartfelt speech, again on the economy. We also heard a strong plea from my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham about plain packaging for cigarettes.
I am sure Ministers in other Departments will read and cogitate on those issues in due course, but I want to focus on matters of home affairs and justice. Immigration, antisocial behaviour and the prevention of reoffending are extremely important. I know that not only from having heard this debate, but from experiences in my constituency. As Nick de Bois said of his constituency, not a surgery or week goes by in which I do not receive correspondence on the pressing issue of antisocial behaviour, which impacts on real people’s lives, day in, day out.
My constituency in north Wales has seen an influx of people from eastern Europe who came to work in large numbers because there were skill shortages and the economy demanded them. They now face big issues, which have been touched on by hon. Members, concerning the role of agency workers, the undercutting of the minimum wage, and the difficulties and challenges of housing. Those are key issues in my constituency, as elsewhere.
Let me set out what the Opposition welcome in the Queen’s Speech. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper hinted at some of the issues, and I wish to reaffirm those commitments today. We broadly welcome the details on the College of Policing, and will look in detail at how to ensure it set standards in an appropriate way. We welcome measures on dog control and gun manufacture, and we look at those in detail although we may wish to strengthen them in due course. I welcome the important regulation on forced marriage, and particularly proposals on police accountability and extending the role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to private sector contractors—an equally important issue mentioned previously by my right hon. Friend.
As a member of the shopworkers union, I welcome the action on shoplifting, and we will look at strengthening that important measure against retail crime. I will look in detail—the provisions have only been published today—at issues to do with the police negotiating board. We will reflect on that and undoubtedly be constructive, as I always try to be, when the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill is in Committee.
We must also consider the important issues of immigration, antisocial behaviour and crime. We will judge the relevant Bills, and hopefully be constructive on their effective measures. On immigration, the Government are proposing a number of measures that we will consider in detail. I particularly welcomed contributions by my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), who expressed their strong views about the benefits of immigration to this country. Immigrants have made this country what it is, and we must ensure that we reflect their importance in any legislation brought forward, as the hon. Member for Cambridge said.
My hon. Friend Barry Gardiner indicated that the measures could lead to policy and implementation problems on housing, and Government Members such as the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire spoke in support of the immigration Bill. From my perspective, that Bill features limited measures that fail to deal with the big problems highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, such as exploitation of foreign workers and undercutting the local work force, and it is a missed opportunity to tackle illegal immigration, which is getting worse.
The measures in the immigration Bill are limited. Legislation on article 8 matters is already under consideration. As my right hon. Friend has said, the Government allowed the deportation of 900 fewer foreign criminals in 2012 compared with Labour’s last year in office. For part of that year, I happened to be the Justice Minister responsible for deporting foreign criminals, and signed the agreement with Nigeria that the Government trumpet as one of their great achievements.
There are current regulations in the Department for Work and Pensions guidance to deal with limiting benefits for EU nationals, and the Government have looked at the issues of private landlords. Henry Smith, who spoke about migrant access to the NHS, should know that hospitals already have the legal duty to recover any charges owed from overseas patients. The most important issue highlighted by my right hon. Friend was tough action, including substantial fines, on businesses that use illegal labour. Eight hundred fewer businesses have been fined for employing illegal workers—2,092 were fined in 2010, but only 1,215 were fined in 2012.
The tools are there, and we will scrutinise the immigration measures, but as my right hon. Friend has indicated, the Government could do more. I would welcome clarification from the Minister on the NHS proposals. Will they be in the immigration Bill or the national health service Bill? He will know that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have devolved health services. I would welcome clarification from him on how the proposals will work in practice in terms of costs and access to the NHS, because Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland provide locally based health services that are accountable to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland Ministers.
We need to look carefully at the local residency test, because councils can already set residency tests on housing matters. I would rather the Minister looked at the issues my right hon. Friend has mentioned—labour market issues. She was supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Slough, for Llanelli and for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), and Mr Llwyd. How can we enforce the minimum wage and strengthen rules on gangmasters? How can we ensure we extend the Gangmasters Licensing Authority? How can we prevent rogue landlords from exploiting migrant workers by giving them overcrowded, overpriced accommodation? What about barns and mobile homes being used as accommodation for migrant workers? I give notice to the Minister that we will return to those questions when that Bill and others are before the House in due course.
The hon. Member for Enfield North made a thoughtful speech on the blight of antisocial behaviour; I hope my remark does not ruin any prospects he has for future preferment. I am pleased the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire has arrived in the Chamber. She indicated strongly that antisocial behaviour is a destroyer of quality of life. She focused on early years intervention. I hope that, in due course, she will vote for the funds that will help to support such intervention, which she is currently voting to cut.
Angie Bray gave strong support to dangerous dogs measures. She will have the Opposition’s support in getting them through. However, we will want to look at strengthening those measures during the passage of the Bill. We want to ensure that we tackle the scourge of dangerous dogs in a positive way.
Will my right hon. Friend undertake to consider during the passage of the Bill specific measures to protect postal workers? Simple measures such as fitting cages behind letter boxes can protect postal workers from dogs. The dogs might not be inherently dangerous, but they are left running free in the home.
That is a very good point and we will reflect on it with the Minister. I put leaflets through doors on occasions. In my first by-election campaign—in Grimsby in 1977, canvassing for my hon. Friend Austin Mitchell—I had my finger bitten. I have some sympathy with the point my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North makes.
Tackling antisocial behaviour is crucial, and although I have been able to have only a brief look at the Bill, I believe it weakens the tools to do that. It will weaken antisocial behaviour orders with a power that will not lead to a criminal record if breached. Although antisocial behaviour orders are not perfect, we want to see them improved, not weakened. We will scrutinise the proposals closely during the passage of the Bill. The proposals will weaken the protection of our communities and, in the words of the Metropolitan police, the Home Secretary has previous on this: she has watered down the use of DNA, provided stricter controls on the use of CCTV, cut police numbers over and above the safeguards set by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, put pressure on the use of restorative justice, and considered stopping the European arrest warrant. Instead of standing up for the victim, the Home Office is watering down measures.
Rehabilitation is important, because nearly everybody who goes to jail comes out at some point. We have to make them better people. Sir Edward Garnier made a typically thoughtful speech on rehabilitation and how the prison system can ensure that offenders do not reoffend. We had many a joust when I was a Minister and he was a shadow Minister, and in his time in government, he took this issue forward. Where I disagree with him is on what appears to be the wholesale privatisation of the probation service on all matters except serious crime. I am in favour of partnership with the private sector and voluntary sectors, but that is a real issue.
The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd placed on record his concern about cuts to legal aid. Sir Peter Bottomley focused strongly on rehabilitation and public health, and his points were well made.
In conclusion, a lot of measures that we wished to see are missing, and may well appear in amendments or new clauses in due course. The Government should tackle economic and online crime, create a new specific offence of identity theft, strengthen the Information Commissioner’s powers, and look at breaches of data protection and cyber security. On economic crime, there should be proper measures and stronger investigative powers for agencies. On shotguns, there should be improved and more detailed licensing to stop the kind of incidents that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford mentioned earlier. We need to look at questions relating to the seizure of assets from criminals and to build on the work of Labour in government. We should build on proposals for testing private sector contracts with a detailed framework on the use of the private sector in policing. We want to introduce proposals to strengthen police accountability in our communities.
Finally, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford and the shadow Home Office team want to see greater action taken on violence against women and girls. A national duty should be placed on all public services to respond to and record domestic and sexual violence. Measures should be in place to strengthen action to ensure that violence against women and girls is ended.
There are measures proposed in the Bill and in the Queen’s Speech that we will support and some that hit the wrong targets. Some are missing and should have been included, and we will seek to ensure that the Government include them. This is not a Government who are concerned about crime and justice; this is a Government who have watered down measures introduced by the previous Labour Government. The Government are cutting police numbers, ensuring that we cannot protect our society as we would wish. We will not just hold the legislation in the Queen’s Speech to account, but suggest alternatives. If the Government do not accept them, we will implement them in two years’ time.
I would like to thank all those who have contributed to this debate. In the time remaining, I shall restrict my response to matters relating to home affairs and justice. I know that other important issues were raised, but I think I should operate within that limit. My other self-denying ordinance is to respond only to matters that are in the Queen’s Speech, rather than to the many that others might have wanted to see in it.
The Government’s clear priority is backing people who work hard and want to get on in life. The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice help with this by keeping the country safe and secure, while protecting Britain’s hard-won civil liberties. Various contributions from Opposition Members suggest that the latter point is a genuine divide between the two parties of the coalition and the Labour party, which appears to want to restrict civil liberties at every available opportunity.
The programme for home affairs business for the new Session, as set out in the Gracious Speech, builds on the many reforms and successes that we have delivered over the past three years. We oversaw safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic games—I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the police and security services that helped to deliver them—and have revolutionised the accountability of the police through the election of police and crime commissioners. Perhaps most important—I hope that the shadow police Minister, Mr Hanson, notes this fact—recorded crime is down by more than 10%, and the independent crime survey for England and Wales shows crime at its lowest level since records began. Despite the turmoil in many countries around the world, our streets and our society are safer than they have been for many years. Furthermore, we have cut net migration by nearly one third, while welcoming those who want to contribute to our economy and support British businesses. Those are major successes, but further bold reforms are needed, and the ambitious measures debated today will continue the Government’s relentless focus on protecting the public.
I shall turn to the individual measures, starting with immigration. I congratulate Fiona Mactaggart, who is no longer in her place, on at least coming up with a concrete immigration policy—it puts her ahead of her party’s Front-Bench team. That policy, however, was to bring back identity cards. I am happy to assure her and the House that the Government will not be taking her advice on that matter. As I said, however, net migration is already down by nearly one third under this Government. That itself is a significant success, but we of course need to do more, both in terms of the performance of the immigration system, as my hon. Friends the Members for Crawley (Henry Smith) and for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and the hon. Members for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said, and in terms of legislation.
I shall deal with some of the detailed points made about immigration. I am happy to tell the shadow Home Secretary what the Office for National Statistics actually said about the cause of falling immigration. Its February 2013 press release stated that
“the recent decline in net migration since the year ending September 2011 has been driven by a fall in immigration”,
contrary to what she asserted earlier. The hon. Member for Slough asked for a commitment that those who were guilty only of immigration offences should not be deported. I say to her that people should comply with the law, and if the criminal offence is an immigration offence—it could be trafficking or fraud—it is still a criminal offence, and to suggest that people who commit immigration offences should gain benefits from it seems completely unacceptable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge raised the issue of the British nationality of children born before 2006 to unmarried British fathers. When I was Immigration Minister, he and I had many discussions about that, and I know that the current Immigration Minister is also looking at the matter very carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley and others raised the issue of health treatment for foreign nationals.
We need to get better at reciprocal charging, and the Department of Health has issued guidance on who must produce a European health insurance card so that we can collect more money from foreign Governments. The right hon. Member for Delyn asked whether that would be an immigration or a health measure. It will be an immigration measure, and so, as with previous immigration measures, we will discuss with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland how it can best be implemented.
As they will be sensible proposals, I am sure that the Administrations in those areas will want to implement them.
Let me turn to the canard raised by
The immigration Bill that will be introduced later this year will give the full force of legislation to the policy that this House has already unanimously endorsed, in the immigration rules, to ensure that article 8 of the European convention on human rights—the right to stay in the country because of family connections—is not abused. It will ensure that our courts balance a person’s right to remain in the country against the crime they have committed. The Bill will also ensure that the appeal system cannot be abused by those who have no right to be in this country and are simply looking to avoid removal for as long as possible. Those who do not meet our rules should leave the country. That is especially true of those foreigners who commit serious crimes. The Bill will ensure that such serious criminals will be deported from the UK in all but the most exceptional circumstances.
The Government have always been clear that we must continue to attract the brightest and best to this country—those who will study, work hard or invest: those who will contribute to our society—but we must deter those who come here simply to take. That is why the Bill will deter those who seek only to take from our public services rather than contributing to them, prevent those with no right to be here from accessing our public services and stop the British taxpayer funding the benefits tourism that has gone unchecked for too long, as my hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom eloquently pointed out. The legislation will build on our reforms of the past three years and ensure that the interests of the UK are protected.
Several hon. Members, including Mr Llwyd and Ms Abbott, said that this was in some way a toxic debate. Of course we do not want a toxic debate, but we need to have the debate and we need to take action.
If the mainstream political parties do not take effective action on immigration, as we have been doing for three years, we will leave the field clear to those who want to make mischief from the issue, which would betray many people, not least immigrants to this country.
Let me turn to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which was introduced today. It will radically reform the way in which antisocial behaviour is tackled, putting the needs of victims and communities first. The Bill will ensure that the front-line professionals responsible for tackling antisocial behaviour have more effective and streamlined powers. The community remedy, which my hon. Friend Nick de Bois mentioned, will, along with the community trigger, give victims and communities a real say in how antisocial behaviour is dealt with. The community trigger will empower the most vulnerable in society, giving them the power to make agencies take persistent problems seriously. He asked about the details. We have introduced a safeguard, which will mean that councils and the police cannot set the threshold higher than three complaints, but can set it lower if they wish. I am also happy to confirm to him that the legislation makes it clear that third parties, including Members of this House, can activate the trigger on behalf of victims, which I hope he will welcome.
The professionals on the front line have told us time and again that securing an antisocial behaviour order can be a slow, bureaucratic and expensive process, and that it often fails to change a perpetrator’s behaviour, resulting in high breach rates and continued misery for victims. That is why we are proposing new powers that are quick and easy to use and will act as a real deterrent to perpetrators. The criminal behaviour order will be available to deal with the most antisocial individuals and will carry a maximum sentence of five years on breach. For lower-level offenders, a new civil injunction will be available to try to stop certain behaviour before it escalates. While breach would not result in a criminal record, it would still carry serious penalties. There are those who say that agencies should act on the first report, rather than on the second or third reports. Of course they should, but local agencies already have a duty to deal with every report of antisocial behaviour, and many of them do so quickly and effectively. This legislation will give them more powers, and I hope that they will respond to that.
There have been a number of comments on other aspects of the antisocial behaviour part of the Bill, including the measures to tackle irresponsible dog ownership. I am grateful for the work done on this by my hon. Friend Angie Bray, who I know wants to scrutinise the legislation particularly carefully. We will be empowering landlords to take rapid and effective action to tackle problem behaviour by their tenants. We will also be attacking the source of gun crime, and I am grateful for the support of those on the Opposition Benches for these measures. We want to ensure that those who import or supply firearms face the full force of the law. The shadow Home Secretary and others mentioned the terrible incident of the Atherton shootings. We are considering the coroner’s recommendations and the results of the investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
I should also mention the Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill. My hon. and learned Friend Sir Edward Garnier spoke with characteristically huge authority on the subject of rehabilitation. I am sad that the shadow Justice Secretary has not been here today, either for this debate or for this morning’s statement on this important Bill. These measures show that we are determined to crack down on the criminal behaviour that blights our communities by adopting a fully thought-through approach to ensure that those who commit those crimes are rehabilitated when they are caught and punished.
Reoffending levels have been too high for too long. That not only ruins lives for the victims of crime but is a dreadful deal for the taxpayer. We spend more than £3 billion a year on prisons and almost £1 billion a year on delivering sentences in the community, but reoffending rates have barely changed. That is why the system needs to change. Many Labour Members oppose the proposals on the ground that they represent some kind of privatisation, but they need to get out of their ideological straitjackets and look at the wider picture. Everyone wants reoffending rates to come down, and we all know that the vast majority of crimes are committed by a very small proportion of the population. Every one of those habitual repeat offenders whose life is turned around will represent a huge benefit not only to them and their immediate circle of friends and acquaintances but to society as a whole.
The measures that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is introducing will change the way we organise the prison estate and put in place an unprecedented “through the prison gate” resettlement service, meaning that someone will meet prisoners when they leave prison so that they do not simply fall back into their old ways. Most important, the measures will ensure that those serving sentences of less than 12 months will receive rehabilitation services for the first time. All those measures will make a radical difference. Our using the expertise of the private sector and of the many really good charities that work in this area will result in a rehabilitation revolution, which will be important in continuing the gains that we have made in recent years in driving down crime levels. This will be seen as a significant piece of legislation in the years to come.
Along with the shadow policing Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn, I am looking forward to having many detailed debates on the substance of the legislative programme. I am confident that the issues that I have not had time to address today, and many others, will be discussed in much greater depth and possibly at much greater length.
The Government’s legislative programme for home affairs issues is bold, ambitious and, above all, necessary. We have already cut net migration by nearly a third and we are introducing measures to tackle abuse of the immigration system. We have cut crime by 10% and we are introducing further measures to tackle antisocial behaviour. We have established the National Crime Agency and we will now introduce further measures to tackle organised crime and cybercrime. I commend this programme to the House.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Nicky Morgan.)
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.