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Equality Bill

5. Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): What recent representations she has received on the provisions of the Equality Bill affecting provision of goods and services on the basis of age. [282093]

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): We recently received representations on the Equality Bill’s provisions on age discrimination from Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Association of British Insurers, Saga and Kingfisher. We have held extensive discussions with a wide range of stakeholders to inform our work on a consultation document to be issued shortly.

Mr. Swire: A number of my constituents who are pensioners are either regularly refused insurance, or obliged to pay larger premiums because of their age. Given that the Bill is intended to go against any form of discrimination, including age discrimination, will the Minister give an assessment of how existing legislation is working regarding insurance for elderly people?

The Solicitor-General: Of course, there is not a ban on age discrimination in the delivery of goods, facilities and services at present. The new Bill will be fed by the consultation. If discrimination is actuarially justified, it will not be age discrimination—it will operate on a different basis. At the moment, there is no need for any supplier to decide whether there is justification, but now
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they will have to make such decisions. The consultation document will come out very shortly, and it will help us to sculpt this so that we get all the bad things out and put all the good things in. I hope the hon. Gentleman will contribute to that document.

Gender Pay Gap

7. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions she has had on the extent of the gender pay gap for those in full-time and part-time work. [282095]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Michael Jabez Foster): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer previously given.

David Taylor: I am grateful for that answer. Does my hon. Friend agree with the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who has said that the Equal Pay Act 1970 is

and does my hon. Friend agree that we need to look afresh at what modern equal pay legislation should look like? We should head off problems in the first instance, and not wait until they reach tribunal stage.

Michael Jabez Foster: Indeed, and that is why the Equality Bill will ensure that provisions are made to monitor equal pay and make a difference for the future.

Equality Bill

8. Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): What representations she has received on the provisions in the Equality Bill on provision of goods and services on the basis of age. [282096]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Michael Jabez Foster): I refer the hon. Lady to the response given earlier today.

Angela Watkinson: I thank the Minister for that answer, but it is not only older people who are encompassed in the problem. Very young drivers are a high-risk group, and the insurance industry needs assurances that it will be able to undertake proper risk assessment and make sure that its insurance premiums reflect that additional risk.

Michael Jabez Foster: It is clear that there is discrimination against older people in particular, but of course, before any regulations are made, the industry will be properly consulted; that, indeed, is the purpose of the Government’s proposals.

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National Security Strategy

11.31 am

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on updates to the national security strategy, including policy on cybersecurity.

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. David Hanson): At 10 o’clock this morning, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a written ministerial statement, in which he laid before the House this year’s update to the national security strategy. Accompanying the strategy was the first national cybersecurity strategy for the United Kingdom. Last week, the Government presented to the House the Digital Britain strategy. This country is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities of the digital age, but we can seize those opportunities only if people are confident that they can operate safely in cyberspace.

Every day, millions of people across the UK—our constituents—rely on the services and information that make up cyberspace. Indeed, 65 per cent. of UK households have access to the internet, and the figure is growing by about 8 per cent. a year. The national security strategy, published for the first time by the Government last March and updated this year, sets out an honest and transparent appraisal of the risks that we face, including the threat that organised crime poses to our country. Organised crime costs us around £20 billion a year, and we have a duty to the British public and to British industry to take measures dramatically to reduce that cost.

The Government also need to assess the threats from terrorist organisations and prepare our response to them; the public would expect no less. All those threats can arise in cyberspace. As the director general of the Security Service has said, a number of nations and organisations are


We know the importance that terrorist groups, notably al-Qaeda and its affiliates, place on the internet and cyberspace, which are particularly important for propaganda reasons. We know that terrorists would like to be able to operate more effectively in cyberspace. I am not scaremongering, but we need to look at the issues. Our assessment at present is not that terrorists have the capability to mount attacks imminently, but that we must honourably prepare as terrorists become more sophisticated.

Such threats from states or terrorists could affect critical national systems, but there is also a real threat to millions of ordinary citizens—our constituents—as well as their transactions and the businesses for which they work. Online fraud generated some £52 billion worldwide in 2007. The average cost to companies of information security incidents is in the range of £10,000 to £20,000. For a large company, the cost can be as high as £1 million to £2 million. As the dependence on cyberspace grows, we need to ensure security, which is critical to the health of the nation.

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As I mentioned, today the Government published, in a written ministerial statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the first cybersecurity strategy. As a result, we will establish an office of cybersecurity in the Cabinet Office to lead on cybersecurity policy issues, and a cybersecurity operations centre, a multi-agency body, based alongside GCHQ in Cheltenham. That organisation will lead on operations and technical capabilities, which we will examine.

As a result of the new strategy, we will develop a cyber industrial strategy for the UK’s critical security needs, in the same way as we have a defence industrial strategy; we will develop cybersecurity skills for the UK, plugging existing gaps and creating more high-tech employment opportunities; we will make critical systems in the public and private sectors more resilient and enhance our ability to detect attack; we will develop international law and doctrines of national defence in cyberspace, working with other countries; we will consider better advice to business and citizens about the security-risk picture and the steps that they need to take to address it; and we will develop new strategies for tackling terrorist and criminal use of cyberspace with our colleagues in the Association of Chief Police Officers and its strategy on cybercrime, which is due out shortly.

We plan emergency responses, and the new centre will test the UK’s ability to respond to major attacks, which we obviously believe that we can prevent, but which we need to consider. As with our national security, it will be important that the Government’s powers are used proportionately and in a way that is consistent with civil liberty issues, as I know the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) would wish. So, from today, we will establish an ethics advisory group to advise on that issue, and I shall update the House on its membership when it is formed.

The centres will be operational in September, and new funding will be announced before then to meet their obligations, building on existing resources that were allocated largely to intelligence agencies. Again, I shall report back to the House on those matters.

The wider national security debate is important, and the Government have taken forward the good start that was made last year. We look ahead to the broad range of national security threats, and we look at how we can prevent them. Today, we have set out in the documents an updated analysis of the threats that we face, made commitments on what drives insecurity in the world—on conflict, energy, poverty and the impact of climate change—and published the cybersecurity strategy, which I hope will be the subject of some debate and interest.

Britain depends very strongly on the dedicated work of the armed forces, the intelligence services, the police and other services in the support of those strategies. I pay tribute to them all for the courage that they display every day of the week in often very difficult circumstances. I commend the document to the House and hope that the written ministerial statement from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be read with interest by right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House.

Mr. Blunt: The Minister owes you, Mr. Speaker, and the House an apology for the public handling of this strategy. As we speak, the Prime Minister is at Detica, a cybersecurity company. Why is he not here making an oral statement? There is no more important responsibility of Government than national security, and, for a key
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development in the critical area of cybersecurity to be trailed as it has, leading to the first occasion that you, Mr. Speaker, have granted an urgent question, is not only disgraceful but, more alarmingly, shambolic. The Ministers directing the strategy, who are supposed to keep us safe, cannot even manage the orderly public release of new policy.

The lack of detail on cybersecurity in the national security strategy, which the Prime Minister presented last year, was an obvious area of weakness. The security industry publicly warned that the Government had severely underestimated the dangers that cyber attack poses and had accorded cybersecurity insufficient priority and budget. What has galvanised the Government into action? Has the threat from cyber attack grown in the past year, or has the swift and comprehensive response of the new American Administration made them realise that their priorities were wrong? It was an immediate priority for President Obama and, only four months into his Administration, he was reporting on the results. How can we be confident that the strategy before us reflects the proper American sense of priority, rather than being only a pale imitation?

How will the new office of cybersecurity and the new cybersecurity operations centre fit with the work of existing agencies? We already have a number of different agencies working in the area: the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, the wider information assurance centre and the Communications Electronic Security Group, being the national technical authority for information assurance, which is based at GCHQ. All the above are already co-ordinated by a Cabinet Office-unit sponsor for information assurance. The Serious Organised Crime Agency and the police e-crime unit, based in the Metropolitan police, are responsible specifically for cybercrime.

The “Digital Britain” report, which the Government published last week, announced the formation of a tripartite initiative—the tripartite internet crime and security initiative—which will bring together parliamentarians, Government and business. The Government are in danger of presiding over a patchwork muddle of different agencies and mandates, to which they have now added an ethics advisory group. It is sad that Ministers now need advice on ethics. Will the new director instigate an immediate review of the mandates and achievements of all the different agencies involved in cybersecurity, to avoid overlap and ensure the best use of resources?

There is wholly insufficient time to examine the strategy through the means of an urgent question, but I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for commanding the Minister here today. Will the Government commit, at the earliest opportunity, to a full debate on the strategy, led by the Prime Minister and in Government time? We need a national security council with a dedicated staff and decision-making powers at the heart of the Government. We are not there yet.

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. First, I assure him on behalf of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary that we have acted entirely properly in bringing this matter before the House. You, Mr. Speaker, will know that this morning the Prime Minister issued a written ministerial statement that publishes the documents.

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There has been press speculation about the issue, but I guarantee that we did not brief the press beforehand. If I can explain—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] If I can explain to hon. Members the circumstances that have given rise to press speculation— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I interrupt the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) for a moment? I say to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), and others who are making quite a lot of noise that they are damaging their own chances of asking questions from the Back Benches.

Mr. Hanson: At 10 o’clock this morning, the detailed documents were published. My noble Friend Lord West of Spithead has written to you, Mr. Speaker. I hope that you have received it by now; it has been copied to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). His letter outlines the circumstances of a specific aspect of today’s announcement: the name of the individual who will be in charge of the said units, which was the subject of a D notice. As hon. Members will know, a D notice is a voluntary agreement under which the press agree not to publish certain details. The D notice was issued two days ago, rather than today. That was an error, and if I need to apologise to the House on behalf of the Department, I will do so. The notice was issued under embargo, but that embargo was not taken by several among the press yesterday. That is an important issue, but the details of the statement—the key thing for the hon. Member for Reigate—are before the House in the written ministerial statement today.

The hon. Gentleman said that he is concerned that we in the Government have not taken the threat seriously. A considerable amount of work was done by my predecessors and by my noble Friend Lord West of Spithead. Today, we have taken the opportunity to update the national security strategy and to bring forward the key issues. Like the President of the United States, we recognise that the cyber strategy covers a growing area of concern. Governance will be performed through my noble Friend’s reporting to the Prime Minister and through the National Security, International Relations and Development Committee, a Cabinet Committee on which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary sits and which will look at those issues.

I am genuinely happy to debate the issues at an appropriate time. As the hon. Member for Reigate will know, business questions follow shortly. Government time is not in my gift, but the hon. Gentleman can ask a question during business questions if he wishes, and we will consider it as part of our discussions.

This issue is important to citizens in our country, in respect of both business crime and international terrorism. We believe that we will get it right, but we want cross-party support on the obligations because that matters to the people of this country.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. I appeal to Back Benchers to ask brief questions and to the Minister to offer brief replies.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker; I shall try a question. As my right hon. Friend will know, I raised the issue of cybercrime and attack when we updated our Contest strategy earlier this year. I am deeply concerned that we not only
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co-ordinate correctly the organisations that can make a difference, but resource them effectively. My right hon. Friend will know that it is crucial to put resources into workstreams 3 and 5, on awareness and cultural change and on technical development, research and capability. We must also put resources into the e-crime unit, run by the Metropolitan police, which has already shown how effective it can be. As my right hon. Friend updates the House on resources in the summer, will he tell us that those specific areas will be resourced adequately so that the job can be done?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his work as Home Secretary in preparing the ground for some of these issues. Several hundred million pounds are already being spent, mostly by organisations that are part of the GCHQ complex and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, which is part of the Security Service. That money comes out of a single intelligence account. With my colleague Lord West of Spithead, I will examine the funding of new organisations before we establish this process in September, and I will report back to the House on the details of the work streams that my right hon. Friend mentioned.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I support the official Opposition’s tabling of an urgent question on this matter. Without it, we would not have been able to have a timely debate on the national security strategy or an opportunity to examine its implications. That would have been a major problem for the House.

The strategy clearly has the potential to defend us, but it could also have a significant impact on our civil liberties. We have to take the Minister’s word for it that what happened was a breach of an embargo, or possibly a leak, but I am sure that Members will be concerned that there has been a leak about the cybersecurity strategy, of all things.

One reason that the Government have given for bringing forward the strategy is the growing threat posed by hostile states, terrorists and criminals. We do not deny that that threat exists and is growing, but it is described in very broad terms. What criteria have the Government used to define hostile states, terrorists and criminals? To give us an idea of the scale of the threat that is posed, can the Minister tell us anything about how many attacks there have been on our networks, for instance over the past 12 months?

This Government have a rather illiberal and invasive overarching counter-terrorism strategy that includes such Orwellian measures as control orders. Can the Minister give us some assurance that the cybersecurity operations centre will not just be used for snooping on British citizens’ internet use? In the cyber strategy, there is mention that the Government will work closely with civil liberties groups. Which groups does the Minister have in mind, and at what point are they likely to be involved in the process?

Finally, as far as I can tell, there is no impact assessment in relation to the proposals. What are the cost implications? We do not deny the need to have a cybersecurity strategy, but we need to be certain that it will not have an impact on our civil liberties. That is the reassurance that we are seeking from the Minister today.

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