Examination of Witnesses (Quesitons 40-59)|
13 DECEMBER 2007
Q40 Mr Dismore: So the suggestion
that seems to come out of The Governance of Britain and
other documents that social and economic rights are effectively
off-limits in this debate is wrong?
Mr Brown: I do not think they
can ever be off-limits in a debate and I think when people look
at what does hold Britain together, some of the social changes
that happened in the 20th century are seen by people to be of
such importance that they accord them the status of rights in
the way they talk about them, as you have rightly said about the
National Health Service. The question however is whether, if you
are setting down in legislation rights, are you setting them down
so that people can take legal action on the basis of enforcing
them or not?
Q41 Mr Dismore: Ultimately, you can
have checks and balances, as we see in other constitutions. Can
I come back to the point you were also making about Britishness?
Rights are universal. What particular rights are British and will
they only be applied to British citizens as opposed to everybody
who is resident within the UK? What is so special about certain
rights that other people should be excluded from them?
Mr Brown: If I put it this way,
I think the rights and responsibilities of citizenship will be
distinct in different countries. I used the example of being able
to carry a gun as being a right that people would think important
in America but not think so important in Britain. I think there
is another set of rights in all sorts of different areas where
some countries accord them importance and a country like ours
may not think that they are as important as other rights, like
the right to health care. I think there are rights and responsibilities
that go with citizenship and, because responsibilities go with
citizenship, then becoming a citizen is an important act because
people are getting rights but in return for that they have to
accept responsibilities. So if someone comes to our country, I
think it is right to say also that if they are applying for citizenship
of our country, or even the right to be a permanent resident,
they also have to accept responsibilities. That is why, for example,
I have said that you should be able to speak the English language,
you should be able to understand and be able to explain and talk
about British cultural traditions. I think there are other responsibilities
that perhaps we can consider for the future that people who apply
to become citizens of our country should be expected to assume
and discharge. I think that is a very important part of the debate
about a modern world where you have massive global mobility. It
is a completely changed world in the sense that a population the
equivalent of Brazil is moving round the world seeking new countries
every year, and we have to insist that people who come to this
country accept responsibilities as well as ask for rights either
of residence or citizenship.
Q42 Mr Dismore: For people who are
within our jurisdiction human rights are universal. Will there
be rights that they are not entitled to? Effectively, do you have
to speak English to access your human rights under this?
Mr Brown: If you wish to apply
for citizenship or permanent residence in this countryand
there is a debate about what the distinction between these two
is, of courseyou should be expected to and have the responsibility
to learn our language.
Q43 Mr Dismore: Will visitors to
the UK not have the same rights?
Mr Brown: No, visitors to the
United Kingdom are people who come as tourists, not planning to
stay here and not therefore demanding the same sort of rights
as other people who are permanent residents can. Students of course
are in the same position because they are coming for a short period
of time and then leaving.
Q44 Mr Doran: Prime Minister, the
Green Paper acknowledges the position of the devolved administrations
and in some areas it is quite clear, for example, a Bill of Rights
or new powers for local authorities, that in the case particularly
of Scotland there would need to be legislation, so there would
need to be agreement between the Westminster Parliament and the
Scottish Parliament on some laws. Can you say a little bit more
about the process that you envisage in that debate and, in particular,
if we look at the situation at the moment, there is no guarantee
that agreement could be reached. I may be wrong about that. Could
you say a little about how your goal of a shared national purpose
for all the people of the UK would look if we could not reach
agreement with the Scottish Executive and people in some parts
of the UK had different rights from people in other parts of the
Mr Brown: This is a United Kingdom
constitution and the powers that are devolved are powers that
are actually devolved by Parliament to the Scottish Parliament
and there are areas where it is the right of the Westminster Parliament
to legislate and it is not within the power of the Scottish Parliament
to legislate. I think sometimes people have forgotten that this
is devolution. It is not a form of federalism; it is a form of
devolution. If you look at the relationships between Scotland
and the rest of the United Kingdom, we should not forget the shared
identity. When the Act of Union was signed only 3% of Scots had
relatives in England. Today 50% of Scots have relatives in England
so the bonds of family relationships that hold the United Kingdom
together are a lot stronger than they were in the past. The bonds
of economic interest that hold the United Kingdom together are
far stronger as well. There is hardly a business in Scotland or
in Wales that does not have trade or relies upon a market that
is broader than Scotland and Wales, if it is in the big industry
category. The financial services industry: most of its services
in Scotland are to the rest of the United Kingdom. The bonds that
hold us together are actually growing stronger over the years
and I think that has to be increasingly recognised in this debate
about the future of the United Kingdom.
Q45 Mr Doran: Do I take it from that
that what you are saying is that, for the purposes of the Green
Paper, Westminster will legislate?
Mr Brown: Where the powers have
not been devolved to the Scottish Parliament or to the Welsh Assembly
or indeed to the Northern Ireland Assembly, these are powers that
Westminster continues to hold and acts in a way that is consistent
with that. So the future of the issues that I am dealing withthere
may be some but most of them are entirely within the province
of the UK Parliament and have not been devolved.
Q46 Mr Doran: Can I be even more
parochial? The constitutional debate in Scotland is not about
the Green Paper; it is about the SNP idea, for example, of independence,
which you have rejected, and, on the other hand, the debate about
increasing powers to the Scottish Parliament. Has the Government
got a position in this debate? At the moment nobody seems to be
arguing for the status quo.
Mr Brown: The debate about the
Welsh Assembly is happening, the debate about the Northern Ireland
Executive and police and judicial powers is happening. There will
inevitably be a debate, whether it is about the Scottish Parliament
or about the other devolved parliaments about what future powers
and responsibilities they have. I do say to people that on all
the evidence two-thirds of the population of Scotland wish to
remain part of the United Kingdom. There is no evidence of any
great increased support for independence. I have just mentioned
the fact that in an increasingly inter-dependent world the bonds
of belonging have actually strengthened over recent years, and
whatever the day-to-day politics and the day-to-day calculations
of politicians are, I think you will find that people see in the
United Kingdom and in the British identity that they have a great
deal of strength over the years to come. I think when the debate
happens about independence rather than just about people's verdict
on one particular administration, two-thirds of Scottish people,
in the same way as large numbers of Welsh people, do not want
independence, they do not want separation and they feel the Union
is of benefit to them.
Q47 Mr Doran: The poll seemed to
say that Scottish people want more powers for the Scottish Parliament.
Does the Government have a position on that?
Mr Brown: It depends what you
are actually talking about. This will be a debate that will continue
to happen. It always has been a debate about whether in devolution
of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland you should tidy up in different
ways, but the central question that has to be addressed is whether
people want to be part of the United Kingdom. Two-thirds of the
population want to be part of the United Kingdom and there are
very good reasons why people in Wales and Scotland want to be
part of Great Britain.
Dr Wright: You have not mentioned England.
The man from the Borders here wants a word about that.
Q48 Mr Beith: Do you recognise that
there is an English question? After all, support for independence
for Scotland, although limited in Scotland, appears to be rising
Mr Brown: That is not the result
of the latest poll, if I may say so.
Q49 Mr Beith: Is it worrying you
though? Does the English question worry you?
Mr Brown: If I may say so, the
Sunday Telegraphand I do not usually quote newspapers
individuallyhad a poll on Sunday saying that the support
in England for being part of a Union that included Scotland and
Wales was very high indeed. Contrary to what you have said, I
think within the whole of the United Kingdom there is a recognition
of the importance of being part of the United Kingdom. Why is
that the case? Because we have common interests, we have shared
values, we have shared institutions, we have shared economic interests,
and we have a form of shared citizenship.
Q50 Mr Beith: So there is no problem
for England in a devolution system in which England remains a
very highly centralised country and sees powers exercised in Scotland
and Wales which are exercised wholly centrally in England?
Mr Brown: The sentiments of every
part of the United Kingdom, and particularly in this case the
English people, always have to be recognised but I am suggesting
to you that the most recent evidence is that people want to be
part of the wider Britain, indeed, the wider United Kingdom, and
people see their future as best guaranteed being part of that.
Of course, in a single island, if you are talking about Scotland,
Wales and England, when you come to environmental issues or when
you come to issues related to terrorism, as we saw in the summer,
the advantages of us working together are even clearer in future
years than they were in the past. We have to tackle climate change
together. There is no Scotland-only or Wales-only or England-only
solution to climate change.
Q51 Mr Beith: But there is Scotland-only
free personal care for the elderly, there are Scotland-only provisions
on a wide range of issues which my constituents and those of other
English Members here say, "We don't have this in England.
Our taxes are paying for it in Scotland. Some of the reasons we
don't have it in England rest with having a Prime Minister who
actually comes from Scotland and does not give to us in England
what his constituents in Scotland have." What is your answer
to those people?
Mr Brown: You, as you know, are
a member of a party that is a supporter of very extensive devolution
and not against it. I would make two points to you. First of all,
all parties have supported not only devolution in recent years
but also the Barnett formula, which is the distribution of funding
between the different constituent parts of the United Kingdom.
The second thing is within these budgets, if more money is spent
on, for example, personal care, then less money is spent on something
else. If, as happened yesterday, there was a police award in Scotland,
it is at the cost of employing more police officers and that was
recognised by the fact that the plan to employ 1,000 police officers
was dropped and only 500 police officers were employed.
Q52 Mr Beith: There is a cost to
police morale in England as well.
Mr Brown: You can come back to
that later, because the whole issue of police pay, if I may say
so, goes back to the question that Barry Sheerman asked at the
beginning about the state of the economy. If you believe, as I
do, that inflation has always been a problem for the British economy
that can only be dealt with by taking decisive action whenever
inflation threatens to return, then the action that we took earlier
this year, when inflation started to rise as a result of oil prices,
and then as a result of utility price rises, and inflation moved
beyond its target of 2% to threatening to go above 3%, then it
was right to take decisive action to deal with the inflationary
pressures in the economy. That is why, while I would love to pay
the police more, as I said yesterday in the House of Commons,
and while I accept that all the different public sector groups
have a case to be made, and some have particular cases that they
are right to put forward, it was in the interests and still is
in the interests of the national economy that we tackle inflation
and do not allow a return to the stop-go problems of the past.
No policeman would thank me if their pay rise was wiped out by
rising inflation that we could not control and we ended up in
a situation of facing global financial turbulence where we could
not cut interest rates because, as was true in the early 1990s
and the early 1980s, inflation was out of control. The reason
for the public sector pay policy is not to save money in particular
areas, although that is an argument that you can have at any particular
point in time. It is to bear down on inflation in our national
economy so that we do not have the problems that we cannot react
to global financial conditions by cutting interest rates at a
time because inflation is rising.
Dr Wright: If I may say so, the Committee
may want to come back to that later on. We have a couple of final
questions in our section.
Q53 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister,
as you well know, there are a variety of opinions in all parties,
particularly in yours and mine, about the ultimate shape and composition
of a second chamber. You have made it plain that that really is
for the next Parliament and I do not want to press you on that
today but I think most people would agree that there are certain
tidying-up things that need doing in the other place at the moment.
There is the absurdity of the by-elections. There is the question
of statutory appointments. There is the question of the size of
the House of Lords. Lord Steel of Aikwood, with all-party support
in the other place, has introduced a modest Bill that would address
these three issues and, by signing up to that Bill, one is not
in any sense cutting across ultimate ambitions, whether you want
to see ultimately a wholly elected, a partly elected or an appointed
second chamber is a matter for the future but this is a matter
for the present. Is it a measure that will have your personal
Mr Brown: I think Jack Straw said
that we will look at this. Obviously, there is an issue about
legislative time and obviously there is an issue about amendments
to any legislation that would come forward that people may wish
at that stage to put forward and therefore the difficulties of
getting that legislation through. I do not think the three proposals
that you are putting forward are so contentious but I do say that
people are looking for a House of Lords that achieves two things.
One is that it is accountable and secondly, that the House of
Commons remains the body that is regarded by the people as the
more important part of the legislature. Nothing should affect
the position of the House of Commons by changes that take place
in the House of Lords. That is the way I see it.
Q54 Sir Patrick Cormack: But you
will look carefully at these three proposals?
Mr Brown: I think Jack Straw said
that we will. I do suggest to you that we look at the Bills before
Parliament this year but there is an issue about legislative time
and whether, given that you were producing a Bill that was a constitutional
reform Bill related to the House of Lords, people might not wish,
because of the controversy surrounding the House of Lords, to
bring a large number of amendments to it, which you, as an expert
in the constitution, will understand.
Q55 Dr Wright: Just one final question.
There are some excellent proposals in this Governance of Britain
paper which many of us have been arguing for for a long time,
not least, from our Committee's perspective, the proposal to legislate
on the civil service. There are good things but, inevitably, I
will ask you right at the end about omissions. There is one thing
in particular which I had hoped to see there because when I was
elected in 1992 our manifesto had a ringing commitment to fixed-term
parliaments. It said, "Although an early election will sometimes
be necessary, we will introduce as a general rule a fixed parliamentary
term." Is it just an omission that it is not in there or
have we changed our position on this?
Mr Brown: I do not think that
was in the 2005 manifesto. I think the one change we recommended
in The Governance of Britain was that to hold an election
generally Parliament should legislate to see whether we should
go to the House of Commons before we actually make that decision.
Fixed-term parliaments have not been in our manifesto since we
lost that election in 1992. The public did not endorse that particular
proposal. I am not sure that was the reason why we lost!
Dr Wright: It was worth a try!
Chairman: We go straight to John Whittingdale
and the third section, on migration and community cohesion.
Q56 Mr Whittingdale: Prime Minister,
you will be aware that in recent years there has been growing
public concern about the level of immigration into this country
and the impact that that is having on community cohesion and on
the demand for public services. Obviously, we need to handle this
issue carefully but, at the same time, we cannot ignore that public
concern. Can I put it to you first, in the last four or five years
the level of net migration into the UK has been approaching 200,000
people a year. Do you think that that figure is too high?
Mr Brown: I think that the rules
we apply to immigration are really what matters and I think you
will find that, as a result of what has happened and what seems
right for the future, we are introducing probably the biggest
changes in policy to immigration for 30 or 40 years, and that
is to introduce a points system for people coming into the country
in the future. That would mean that highly skilled workers, of
course, would continue to come into the country, subject to the
needs of the economy to have them but it would mean, as Jacqui
Smith said only a few days ago, that people without skills would
be unlikely, outside the European Union, to be able to come into
the country. It is a recognition that more and more people are
travelling round the world looking for the country of choice.
We as a country have a responsibility to set the rules by which
we wish to offer people the chance to come to our country, and
that is why the big change is the points system, which will be
backed up by far tougher measures to deal with people coming into
the country illegally, includingalthough it is contentiousID
cards for foreign nationals coming into our country. These are
the changes that we propose to make.
Q57 Mr Whittingdale: Do I take it
from that answer, the fact that you feel it is necessary to take
these actions, that you do think that the levels we have had in
the last few years are unsustainable?
Mr Brown: No, I am not going to
say that. What I am going to say is that we now know that there
are far more people in the rest of the world looking to come to
different countries, either to offer their skills or because they
find that a more convenient or acceptable place to stay. It is
incumbent upon us, with 200 million people a year looking for
different countries of residence, to set the rules that we, Britain,
wish to apply for the future and, therefore, the rules that we
wish to apply for the future include a points system that is going
to be far tougher than what has happened in the past and include
far bigger and stronger controls to deal with the problem of people
coming unlawfully into our country and I believe the ID card for
foreign nationals is one form of protection that I would have
hoped there could be all-party support for.
Q58 Mr Whittingdale: So the points
system that you are introducing is intended to reduce the net
level of immigration?
Mr Brown: The points system we
are introducing is to give us a choice as to who we wish to accept
into the country in the circumstances of people coming here to
work. If you take the City of London, 200,000 people are working
in the City of London who have come from other countries of the
world, many from America, Europe, and many also from Asia, some
from Africa and other parts of the world. That has been a benefit
to the City of London. There is nobody I meet who says that the
City of London has failed to benefit from large numbers of people
coming from different countries with particular skills. In general,
the growth rate of the economy has been higher as a result of
people that we have attracted to our country who have wanted to
work here but we are dealing with a new situation where larger
numbers of people are wanting to have, if you like, a citizenship
of choice. We as a government and as a country must therefore
set the rules that we think are appropriate for us in the future,
bearing in mind our responsibilities as a member of the European
Union, bearing in mind our responsibilities under a whole series
of arrangements we have made in the past about spouses and about
children but bearing in mind also that we have a right to be able
to say that there are skills that are suitable to our economy
that we want to attract and there may be skills that we no longer
think are as important as we thought they were previously.
Q59 Mr Whittingdale: All of us would
recognise that we will benefit from immigration of skilled workers
but a lot of the concern actually revolves around relatively unskilled
people coming to this country. The Government Actuary's Department
has recently produced projections which suggest that the overall
figure for the population is likely to increase to around 70 million
in the next 25 years and could reach 90 million in the next 50
years. Do you have a view of what is the maximum size of population
that this country can accommodate?
Mr Brown: These figures cannot
be on the basis of the policy changes that are being made and
I have said they are the biggest policy changes that have been
made for many years. These are projections without taking into
account the policy changes. Some people are saying that there
should be a total cap on migration into our country but then they
have to accept when they say that that they are not proposing
a cap on people coming from the European Union, they are not proposing
a cap on people coming as dependants, they are not proposing a
cap on students, for example, who come to the country. The cap
would, of course, as a result of being a blanket cap in relation
to those people they can exclude, exclude skilled workers. I do
not think that is the right decision. We need some of these skills
but, obviously, we do not need some of the unskilled workers who
may wish to come to our country but under the points system will
have the right to say that is not what we need at the moment,
that is not what the future of our country requires and that is
why the points system is going to be brought into operation. I
think it has worked quite well in Australia. It is similar to
some of the things that other countries do and it is a major change
for us to introduce it. So any projections do not take into account
the changes that we are actually making.