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House of Commons

Wednesday 22 October 2014

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speakerin the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Devolution of Fiscal Policy

1. Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure that the Welsh Government remain fiscally accountable following the next stage of the devolution process. [905488]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): May I first pay tribute to my predecessor as Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), who worked tirelessly for Wales, particularly over the past year, working behind the scenes to ensure that last month’s NATO summit was such a success for Wales?

The Wales Bill devolves tax and borrowing powers to the Assembly and the Welsh Government, ensuring that they raise some of the money they spend. The new income tax powers are a tool to help the Welsh economy become more dynamic and make the Welsh Government more accountable. I call on the Labour party today to support holding a referendum as soon as possible.

Glyn Davies: I congratulate the Secretary of State on his much deserved elevation. Does he agree that the Welsh Government cannot be regarded as a genuinely fiscally accountable governing body until they are responsible for raising public money as well as spending it, and does he accept that this step forward in the devolution process is much more important than devolving power in any other policy areas?

Stephen Crabb: I very much agree with my hon. Friend’s comments on fiscal devolution. I believe that this represents the next step for devolution in Wales. Devolving a portion of tax responsibility to the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly will create dynamic opportunities for the people of Wales and the Welsh economy, and I believe that the Welsh Government should seize those opportunities as soon as possible.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): When the Welsh Government raise money and spend it, they will potentially be spending some of it on hospital services in Chester, Clatterbridge hospital or the Christie hospital, which

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are local to me. What does the Secretary of State think about the fact that under his proposals I, as a Welsh Member of Parliament, will have no say about services that affect my constituents?

Stephen Crabb: The right hon. Gentleman is referring to proposals for English votes on English laws. There are important cross-party issues, but they also work in reverse. For example, constituents on this side of the border do not have a say in the Welsh Assembly about policies that affect services they use. He has to recognise that we currently have a hopelessly lop-sided devolution arrangement, as he and I, as Welsh MPs, and also Scottish MPs, have a say on laws affecting schools and hospitals in England, but English MPs have no equivalent say on services in Scotland and Wales. That must be addressed.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his post and look forward to working with him. I also welcome the Government’s concession on the lockstep in the other place. With that in mind, does he agree that every step forward increases the accountability and maturity of the Welsh Assembly?

Stephen Crabb: I agree with my hon. Friend. Giving the Welsh Government fiscal powers for the first time means that they have to raise money as well as spend it, which I think will lead to a much healthier political debate down in Cardiff on real responsibility. It is about not only deciding how to spend the money, but taking responsible decisions on how it is raised, and I think that is a big step forward in the political development of Wales.

Minimum Wage

2. Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): If he will estimate the potential effect of increasing the minimum wage rate by £1.50 on the economy in Wales. [905489]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Alun Cairns): The Government’s increase of 3% in the national minimum wage this year means that low-paid workers are enjoying the biggest cash increase in their take-home pay since 2008. The independent Low Pay Commission is responsible for recommending the level of the national minimum wage.

Jessica Morden: About 73,000 people in Wales are in minimum wage jobs, and a quarter of a million earn less than the living wage. Will the Minister commit his party to Labour’s plan to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour, which would at least start to tackle the scandal of low pay in Wales?

Alun Cairns: I am surprised that the hon. Lady raises that question, given that the commitment to £8 an hour by 2020 has been somewhat derided by independent commentators—Alan Milburn himself said that it lacked ambition—because the current projection shows that the minimum wage will rise to £8.23 an hour by 2020.

Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) (Con): May I take this opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Front Bench, along with the Secretary of State,

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and associate myself with the tribute to his predecessor? Is my hon. Friend aware of the work that has been done by the Mayor of London on the living wage, promoting the idea that public authorities themselves have powers when they structure their pay settlements to lift the position of those who are on the minimum wage and on their payroll? In that regard, perhaps he shares my disappointment that the trade unions in Wales have rejected the Welsh Assembly’s plan to do just that.

Alun Cairns: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. Of course, it is a matter for employers to pay the living wage. The national minimum wage is set by the Low Pay Commission, but obviously when an employer can afford to pay the living wage, we would encourage them to do so.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): As the Minister mentioned, Alan Milburn and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission have pointed out that under Labour’s minimum wage proposals, the rate of increase between now and 2020 would be slower than that between 1999 and 2014. Does he agree that what we have heard from the Labour party about an £8 minimum wage shows that the Labour machine is still firmly stuck on the spin cycle?

Alun Cairns: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, which gives me the opportunity to underline yet again Alan Milburn’s point about the lack of ambition among those on the Labour Benches. Only my party cares about low pay and only my party has given, in the past year, the largest increase in the national minimum wage, 3%—more than twice the rate of inflation.

Hywel Williams: Does the Minister therefore agree with my contention that the way to achieve a basic but decent standard of life is the living wage, which would benefit 266,000 workers in Wales alone, and in the UK would slash the tax credits bill by £1.5 billion per annum? Clearly, Plaid Cymru’s policy on the living wage is the best for Wales and for the UK.

Alun Cairns: Where possible, we would encourage employers to pay the living wage, but the Government’s responsibility is to ensure that the national minimum wage is adhered to. It is set independently, and it is a balanced discussion between employers, Government and employees.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): If Conservative Members are so keen on improving poor wages, why did they do everything in their power to prevent the national minimum wage from coming into law? Why do Conservative Ministers regularly accuse the poor of being workshy when actually, in my constituency, many of the most hard-working are those who are hit by a double whammy—low wages and few hours? That means that when they travel to work in Wales they are working a damn sight harder than the Minister ever did.

Alun Cairns: We have not only increased the national minimum wage by the largest cash increase since 2008 but taken the lowest earners out of income tax, which means that a full-time employee on the national minimum wage is paying two thirds less income tax. I hope that that is something that the hon. Gentleman would welcome.

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3. Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): What plans the Government has for further devolution of powers to Wales. [905490]

8. Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the effects of the Scottish referendum result on government policy on further devolution for Wales. [905497]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): This Government are putting Wales at the heart of the debate on devolution across the UK. I am a member of the new devolution committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and I have already met the party leaders from Wales here in Westminster to discuss how we might take forward devolution in Wales as we work towards a fair and lasting settlement.

Albert Owen: I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. I also welcome his moving from being an anti-devolutionist to a pragmatic devolutionist. May I encourage him to go further and become a real devolutionist? When he has discussions with colleagues and others, will he look at moving Government Departments and Government business away from central London to parts of Wales such as north-west Wales so that we can have real devolution and real jobs in those areas of the United Kingdom, and have a more balanced UK?

Stephen Crabb: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments about the need for real devolutions not only to rebalance the economy of the UK but to rebalance our politics. It is also worth pointing out that the current Welsh Administration in Cardiff is probably one of the least devolutionary Administrations that we have across the UK—they are centralising more in Cardiff. We need devolution within Wales as well as from the UK to Wales.

Bob Blackman: I am a big supporter of the Government’s devolution programme and of giving responsibility to the lowest possible level. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a concern that certain Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs want home rule for Wales, which would run contrary to the Government’s agenda?

Stephen Crabb: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I heard the comments by the First Minister and others, at the end of the Scottish referendum campaign, about wanting home rule for Wales. When I travel round Wales and talk to people and businesses, I find there is an appetite for more devolution, but I do not detect much appetite for home rule. Indeed, support for independence in Wales is at a historic low of just 3%.

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): May I add my welcome to the Secretary of State in his new role, and to the Minister? I also welcome the zeal that the Secretary of State has shown for devolution—unexpected zeal, because of course he used not to be so fond of it. For the benefit of the House, will he confirm today that he no longer thinks that devolution is what he once described as “constitutional vandalism”?

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Stephen Crabb: I pay tribute to the internet research skills of the shadow Secretary of State. He is referring to an article I wrote in 2007, at a time when the position of Secretary of State for Wales was reduced to a part-time job; when there was no fiscal devolution; and when there was an unbalanced, unstable devolution settlement for Wales. I am delighted to be part of a Government who are rectifying some of those wrongs.

Owen Smith: I thank the Secretary of State for that clarification. We agree with him that devolution is not constitutional vandalism, but I will tell him what is: a Prime Minister of Britain describing Offa’s Dyke as

“the line between life and death”,

and a Tory Health Secretary hiring the Daily Mail to scuttle around traducing Welsh public services. That is constitutional vandalism and the Secretary of State’s record will be judged not by soft soap and warm words about devolution, but by what he does to condemn the war on Wales.

Stephen Crabb: Not a single Member of Parliament with a Welsh constituency could stand up and honestly say, hand on heart, that, when they get out and speak to people on the doorsteps on a Saturday morning, those people do not tell them that the quality of their health services is the No. 1 issue facing the people of Wales. It is wrong of the Welsh Labour party to seek to shut down debate about and scrutiny of the performance of its Administration in Cardiff when it comes to the most important issue for the people of Wales.

12.[905502] David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that in Wales we have longer waiting times, missed accident and emergency targets since 2009, the worst ambulance response times in the United Kingdom, no cancer drugs fund and a 7% real-terms cut in funding? That is what Labour delivers for the NHS. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only the Conservatives can be trusted to run the national health service?

Stephen Crabb: I do not want anybody holding up any part of Welsh economic and social life as a bad comparator. I want Wales to be leading and people to be holding up Wales as a good example to follow. The truth is—I think the shadow Secretary of State would admit this in private—that the Labour Health Minister in Cardiff needs to get a grip, get on top of this issue and really deliver for the people of Wales.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): To return to the theme of devolution, one of the great successes of the Scottish referendum was the participation of 16 and 17-year-olds in the process. Yesterday the National Assembly spoke with one voice when it voted on returning electoral arrangements to itself. Does the Secretary of State believe that this is an issue that deserves attention? Increasingly, many young people believe it does.

Stephen Crabb: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I visited Scotland several times during the referendum campaign and saw for myself the enthusiasm with which teenagers were engaging in the discussion. I have yet to be convinced on the argument for reducing the voting age for all elections in the UK, but it is clear that such issues will need to be considered in the future.

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Zero-hours Contracts

4. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the number of people in Wales working on zero-hours contracts. [905491]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Alun Cairns): Zero-hours contracts benefit many employers and employees in Wales, but we are committed to taking strong action against abuse by banning the use of exclusivity clauses.

Chris Ruane: I thank the Minister for that response, but does he not recognise the negative impact that zero-hours contracts have on family life, the well-being and mental and physical health of individual workers, and morale at work? Under this Government the number of zero-hours contracts has shot through the roof; what can the Minister do to reduce it?

Alun Cairns: Again, I am surprised by the tactic used by the hon. Gentleman. If zero-hours contracts are so wrong, why do Labour-run local authorities make active use of them? Furthermore, why do more than 60 MPs make active use of zero-hours contracts?

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): In welcoming the new Minister to his post, may I suggest that, instead of trying to do an impression of a jumped-up rottweiler, he should try to understand and recognise the reality of the miserable state of employment for far too many workers in Wales, whether they are on zero-hours contracts, are among the 150,000 who are underemployed and want to work more hours but cannot, or are among the 50,000 people who are being shoved off disability benefits and into a world of work that is mean, difficult and hard?

Alun Cairns: The abuse of zero-hours contracts is an important issue and that is why this Government are taking action to ban them. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned people in part-time employment. Only 19% of part-time employees are looking for full-time work. We will take strong action against those employers that are abusing zero-hours contracts, but zero-hours contracts are important to many people, such as carers, to encourage and facilitate their path back to the workplace.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Over 50,000 workers in Wales are on zero-hours contracts, with all the stress, insecurity and exploitation that that entails. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the trade union USDAW—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—on negotiating annualised contracts for workers with some big retail firms in Wales, giving both sides flexibility but also guaranteed income levels for workers? Will he support Labour’s calls for employees who in reality work regularly to have an automatic right to fixed-hour contracts and the security that such contracts bring?

Alun Cairns: I do support the action taken by the union. After all, the last thing we want is the abuse of employees on zero-hours contracts. However, such contracts offer some people flexibility in the workplace. They

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offer a great opportunity to encourage more people back into work who would not otherwise be able to work.


5. Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): What assessment he has made of trends in manufacturing in Wales since 2010. [905492]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): Under the previous Labour Government, 83,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in Wales. Our long-term economic plan has made a good start in reversing this decline, with 12,000 manufacturing jobs created since the election. I was delighted recently to visit ConvaTec and Toyota in north Wales to see for myself how two global manufacturers really value Wales as a great place to come and do business in.

Stephen Mosley: I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post, and I congratulate him and the Government on the success of the NATO summit this summer. In recent weeks, Airbus has announced a $26 billion deal for 250 new aircraft with India’s largest airline, IndiGo, and a deal for 70 aircraft with a Chinese leasing company. The fact that all those aircraft will have wings built in Deeside in north Wales will generate thousands of jobs, including many hundreds in my constituency of Chester. Will he join me in congratulating the company and its employees?

Stephen Crabb: One of my early visits as Secretary of State was to Airbus in Broughton, where I saw for myself just what a fantastic plant that factory is. I spoke to senior management there, but not just that: I got a chance to meet the apprentices and see for myself just what a contribution they are making to Airbus’s success at this time.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State will know that General Dynamics in my constituency recently signed a contract for the Scout specialist vehicle platforms. Will he now pay tribute to the previous Labour Government, who were instrumental in bringing General Dynamics to Oakdale, creating hundreds of high-tech, high-spec jobs?

Stephen Crabb: General Dynamics is another superb Wales-based company that I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting in recent weeks. I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to whoever was responsible for securing the inward investment.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): When Robin Southwell, the chief executive of EADS, which owns Airbus, addressed the Labour party conference this year, he stressed the importance, from Airbus’s point of view, of Britain remaining a member of the European Union. Does the Secretary of State agree on the importance of that, or does he know better?

Stephen Crabb: Being part of Europe is important for Wales-based manufacturers—there is no question about that—but when I talk to businesses all across Wales, they also tell me that our current membership of the European Union imposes burdens and costs. That is

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why they support the Prime Minister’s strategy to renegotiate our membership with the European Union and get a better deal for Welsh and UK business.

Rail Network (South Wales)

6. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with Ministers in the Welsh Government on improvements to the rail network in south Wales. [905493]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): Electrification of the great western main line to Swansea and the valley lines is a transformational project that would deliver a much needed boost to the Wales economy. I am determined to find a way forward for this important scheme, and I am leading discussions with Cabinet colleagues and Welsh Government Ministers to secure this vital investment for Wales.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Minister for that answer. He might not be aware that the two lines with the greatest passenger growth into Cardiff in the past couple of years have been the Chepstow to Cardiff and the Maesteg to Cardiff lines, which have far outstripped other valley lines. Is he surprised to know that there is no Sunday service on the Maesteg line for people who want to get to work or to get into our capital city? Will he discuss this with Arriva Trains Wales?

Stephen Crabb: I was aware of that point, and I want to raise that issue with Arriva Trains Wales. The growth in usage of the valley lines is one of the reasons why we need to press ahead and create new capacity and make improvements to all the valley lines.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Will the delay in the delivery of the electrification of the valley lines mean that the final cost will go up?

Stephen Crabb: I hope that there will be no delay in delivering the electrification project for the Great Western line and the valley lines. We are involved in productive and constructive discussions with Ministers in London and in the Welsh Government to find a way to crack on and deliver that important project for south Wales.

Energy Prices

7. Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): What discussions he has had with businesses in Wales on the effects of energy prices on their international competitiveness. [905494]

10. Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): What discussions he has had with businesses in Wales on the effects of energy prices on their international competitiveness. [905500]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Alun Cairns): We are a Government who listen to business and take action to support business. We have introduced a package of support to tackle the rising costs of energy. Wales Office Ministers have hosted two round-table discussions with energy-intensive industries in Wales to listen to their views on energy prices.

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Paul Flynn: Yesterday, more electricity was generated by wind turbines than by nuclear power. Instead of putting money into expensive French nukes, why do we not help business by investing in unused Welsh tidal power, which is infinitely available, absolutely predictable, clean, green, British and belongs to us?

Alun Cairns: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The UK needs a diverse range of energy sources. He mentioned tidal power, and there are some exciting projects around Wales at the moment. That is something I want to be closely involved with.

Mark Tami: Tata Steel is a much-valued local employer in Shotton, where it produces high-quality coated products. However, it is competing against foreign companies that have much lower energy costs. What talks has the Minister had with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to address that issue and create a more level playing field?

Alun Cairns: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. In recent Budgets, the Chancellor has set out important measures that will make a difference, such as capping the carbon floor price and dealing with the indirect costs of the EU emissions trading system and the renewables obligation.

Creative Industries

9. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): What recent estimate he has made of the contribution of the creative industries to the economy in Wales. [905498]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Alun Cairns): I recently visited Cwmni Da in Caernarfon, which is a great example of how the creative industries make a vital contribution to the Welsh economy and the cultural life of Wales.

Kevin Brennan: I welcome the Minister to his post. He is right that the creative industries are a growing and important part of the Welsh economy. Following the WOMEX conference last year, will he join me in campaigning for the BBC to bring the Radio 2 folk awards to Cardiff next year?

Alun Cairns: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I will look positively at his suggestion and will happily meet him to discuss the matter further. He is right about the importance of the creative industries in Wales. He might be interested in the launch of the Cardiff internet exchange, which took place last week, and the launch of Cardiff local television.


11. Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): What assessment he has made of difficulties facing the agricultural sector in Wales. [905501]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): Agriculture is a key industry in Wales, and I recognise the challenges that many Welsh farmers have faced this year. That is why the Government fought hard to achieve the best deal for Wales in the negotiations on the common agricultural policy, and why I welcome the forecast of an increase in Welsh farm income for 2013-14.

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Jonathan Edwards: What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Welsh Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about an action plan to help Welsh farmers, who are being hit by a supermarket price war and Russian sanctions?

Stephen Crabb: The Government recognise that Welsh agriculture produces some of the best quality products in the UK. That is why we have talked to farming representatives throughout the summer, and why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister became the first ever serving Prime Minister to visit the Royal Welsh show this summer. We stay in close contact with farming organisations. We are clear that supermarkets need to work with the farming industry to deliver better returns for farmers.

Mr Speaker: There is an opportunity for a free hit on the agricultural sector in Wales. If nobody wishes to seize it, and as we are all present and correct, we will move on to questions to the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [905573] Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 22 October.

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.

Andrew Griffiths: We must never accept the kind of mistreatment that was suffered by some of my constituents at Stafford hospital. This week we have seen laid bare the extent of the culture of mistreatment in the NHS in Wales. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is time not only for a full independent inquiry into the NHS in Wales, but also for an apology from the Leader of the Opposition for his party’s record?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the NHS in Wales, doctors, nurses and hospital staff are working round the clock to deliver good care, but they have been let down by the Welsh politicians in Cardiff who have cut the NHS. That is why the British Medical Association and Labour Members of Parliament have been calling for a public inquiry in Wales. Even before that, the OECD wants to carry out a comparative study looking at the English NHS and the Welsh NHS. I support that—does the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)?

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): Last week 16 leading health organisations representing doctors, nurses and patients warned the Prime Minister that health and social care services in England are now

“at breaking point and things cannot go on like this”.

Why is that happening?

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The Prime Minister: Absolutely no answer to the question whether there should be a proper inquiry into the Welsh NHS. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what is happening in the English NHS, for which this Government are responsible: 1.3 million more outpatients being treated; 6 million more outpatient appointments; 2,500 more nurses; and 8,000 more doctors. That is a record we can be proud of. Why? It is because we invested in the NHS in England; Labour cut the NHS in Wales.

Edward Miliband: Everyone can see what the Prime Minister is doing. After nearly five years in office he cannot defend his record on the NHS in England. Every time he mentions Wales, we know that he is running scared on the NHS in England. In England we have the highest waiting lists for six years, the longest waits in A and E for 10 years, the cancer treatment target missed for the first time ever, and millions of people cannot get to see their GP. Will he just admit this: the NHS is going backwards, isn’t it?

The Prime Minister: Let us have an OECD inquiry. I support it—does the right hon. Gentleman?

Edward Miliband: In case the Prime Minister has not realised—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. At a very early stage there is far too much noise. The public are not impressed. Let us try to operate to a certain standard. If the session has to be run on, it will be run on—it does not bother me.

Edward Miliband: The Prime Minister obviously does not realise that he is supposed to answer the questions. I ask the questions at Prime Minister’s questions. The whole country will have noticed that he could not defend what is happening in the English national health service for which he is responsible. Why? It is because four years ago he told us that his top-down reorganisation would improve the NHS; we now know that that is £3 billion down the drain. Will he now admit in public what he is saying in private: his top-down reorganisation has been a total disaster for the NHS?

The Prime Minister: I am not only happy to defend our record in the NHS with the extra spending, extra doctors, extra nurses and all the extra treatments, but I want a comparison with the Labour NHS in Wales, which is being cut and has met no targets for cancer or for A and E since 2008. I will allow the OECD to come in and look at the English health service. Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman again: will he let the OECD look at the failures in Wales?

Edward Miliband: It is extraordinary—there is no attempt even to answer the question. Instead of smearing the NHS in Wales, the Prime Minister should be saving the NHS in England. The question people are asking is: what will the NHS look like in the future? His own Conservative Chair of the Health Committee says that unless he changes course with his funding plan for the NHS, there will be charges. While he has promised nothing more than inflation for the NHS, we have shown how we can raise £2.5 billion a year over and above that. Why does he not admit that all he offers on the NHS is five more years of crisis?

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The Prime Minister: What we have seen is that the right hon. Gentleman is totally terrified of Labour’s failures in Wales on the NHS. He will not answer the simplest of questions. Let me tell him what has been happening over the past five years in the English NHS. The former Labour adviser, who worked with him in No. 10 Downing street and now runs NHS England, says this about the NHS in England:

“Over the past five years…the NHS has been remarkably successful…We’re treating millions more patients than five years ago...the NHS has become some £20 billion more efficient…A world-leading genomes programme is harnessing the best of this country’s medical…expertise”

and the global rankings have

“just ranked us the highest performing health system of 11 industrialised nations.”

This guy was obviously a much more effective Labour adviser than either the right hon. Gentleman or the shadow Chancellor.

The right hon. Gentleman is trading unattributable quotes. He quoted one. Let me quote one from a shadow Minister, who I think sums it up:

“We don’t have a policy problem, we have a massive Ed Miliband problem”.

I think we see that in evidence today.

Edward Miliband: I have to say that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is in any position to give a master class in leadership. Two MPs have defected, nine of his 2010 MPs are standing down and every day he changes his policy on Europe.

The Prime Minister did not answer the question. One of the ways he could support the NHS is by funding one-week cancer testing with a levy on the tobacco companies. Why won’t Lynton Crosby let him do it?

The Prime Minister: What we are doing is treating half a million more cancer patients every year than were treated under Labour. Let us see what the Royal College of General Practitioners said about the right hon. Gentleman’s policy. It said this:

“a promise will only serve to create a false expectation that cannot be met”.

Like all his promises, it is unravelling in one go.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about leadership. He only had one difficult leadership decision to make this week and that was to sack his shadow Chancellor. He completely flunked it. It tells you the two things you need to know about Labour: they do not have an economic plan and they do not have the leadership that can ever deal with an economic plan.

Edward Miliband: On the right hon. Gentleman’s watch, the deficit is going up by 10%. We have the worst cost of living crisis in a century and he is in total denial on the national health service. The NHS is on the ballot paper in May because it is already at breaking point and all he offers is five more years of crisis. He cannot tax the tobacco companies because his lobbyists will not let him. He will not tax expensive property because his donors will not let him. The British public know they cannot trust this Prime Minister on the NHS, and every day he proves them right.

The Prime Minister: I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the figures that have come out in the past fortnight: a record fall in unemployment; inflation down to a six-year low; the IMF saying that ours is the fastest-growing

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economy of any G7 country. That is what is happening. What we can see from Labour is failure and weakness: no economic plan, nothing to offer this country. They are, as I put it last week, simply not up to the job.

Q2. [905574] Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): I have founded two small companies and know what it is like to employ people. Will the Prime Minister commend the small businesses in my constituency that have done so much to reduce unemployment by 31% this year and created 720 apprenticeships?

The Prime Minister: It is certainly true, as my hon. Friend says, that the reduction in unemployment that we are seeing in every region of the country—some very impressive figures, as she says—is coming about because small businesses feel more able to take people on. Part of that is the help we have given to small businesses by cutting the small business rate of tax and, through the national insurance rebate, by making sure that every small business benefits by £2,000. That is helping to give them the confidence to give people work.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): A few months ago, I raised with the Prime Minister the case of my former constituent Mr Mohammed Asghar, who was in prison in Pakistan. Since then, he has been shot in prison by a security guard. His family would like him returned to this country under a prisoner transfer agreement. What steps will the Prime Minister take to achieve that?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this case. The way this man has been treated is appalling. It is particularly appalling that, as she said, he was shot while in prison, supposedly being protected by the Pakistani authorities. We have raised this case—and I have raised it personally—with the leaders of Pakistan, and we are obviously considering the case for a prisoner transfer, but such transfers had to be suspended in recent years because Pakistan released prisoners whom we had returned to them. So there is a problem there. However, we take this case very seriously and are raising it at every level in Pakistan.

Q3. [905575] Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Young people in my constituency want the security of job opportunities when they leave college. Under Labour, the number of young people who could not get into work rose by a staggering 45%. Will the Prime Minister join me in applauding the companies up and down the country that have taken the opportunity under this Government to create apprenticeships, leading to the steepest fall in youth unemployment since records began?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In her constituency, the youth claimant count is down by more than 50%, and we are on target to achieve 2 million apprentices during this Parliament, which is far better than anything achieved by the previous Government. For the next Parliament, the Conservative party has said it wants to achieve 3 million apprenticeships, and we have set out how we will pay for it—by continuing to reform welfare and reduce the benefit cap.

Q4. [905576] Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Research by the Medical Research Council has found that more than 6,000 babies are born each year with

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birth defects and irreversible genetic damage caused by alcohol consumed in pregnancy. In Canada, the USA and other countries, all drinks containers must carry warnings about the dangers of birth defects, but our Government have so far refused to apply the same rule in Britain. Will the Prime Minister now change the Government’s policy and show that Britain cares as much about the well-being of children as Canadians and Americans do?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Like many MPs, I have met the organisation most concerned with foetal alcohol syndrome and the parents of those who have adopted children suffering from defects arising from the excessive intake of alcohol by their birth parents. I am happy to consider all his suggestions, and other suggestions, because this is a growing crisis in our country and we should do everything we can to stop it.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): It is 10 and a half months since the tidal surge hit north Lincolnshire and east Yorkshire, and many of my constituents are still out of their homes. Given the importance of the Humber to the UK economy—inward investment from companies such as Siemens, energy generation, petrochemicals and so on—and given that we know another surge will happen in the next 50 years, may I urge the Prime Minister to look favourably on the plan put together by the local authorities and the Environment Agency for massive investment in our defences to ensure we have the one-in-200 years standard we require?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his leadership on this issue. He brought a group of MPs to brief me on possible proposals. I also know that he has seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer and is working hard for his constituents in Humberside to ensure we do everything we can. The Government have increased spending on flood defences, and many schemes have been tested in the very high winds of the past few days and have stood up extremely well. We will look carefully at what he says.

Q5. [905577] Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Before the Scottish referendum, the Prime Minister said:

“If Scotland says it does want to stay inside the United Kingdom then all the options of devolution are there and are possible”.

Will he unequivocally stand by his promise and confirm that this approach means full fiscal autonomy being on the table and devolving full control of Scottish taxes and spending to the Scottish Parliament, to help create jobs and a more just society?

The Prime Minister: I certainly stand by all the promises I made in the run-up to the referendum. Lord Smith is doing an excellent job looking at all the options for devolution, and I am sure we can find a way forward. On keeping promises, however, I hope that the Scottish National party will keep its promise when it said that the referendum would end this question for a generation, possibly a lifetime. I am not sure that its former leader is sticking to that, but I think he should.

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Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am personally grateful to the Prime Minister for the many visits he made to Somerset during the flooding crisis earlier this year. However, despite a lot of good work, two decisions remain outstanding, so may I invite him to come to Somerset again, before it gets too wet, so that he can announce the sluice on the River Parrett and a sustainable funding mechanism for the Somerset rivers authority?

The Prime Minister: I would be delighted to return to Somerset, and I am sure that many of my colleagues will be beating a path to Somerset in the coming months, too. I am excited by what has happened with the dredging of the Tone and the Parrett rivers. Multiple teams are out there, and they have made a real difference. They are proving that dredging, particularly on man-made waterways, which is what we are dealing with, can make a real difference. My only disappointment was that I was not allowed to drive the machinery myself—for some antiquated health and safety reasons—but I am sure I will be back.

Q6. [905578] Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Scam e-mail and scam mail cost £3.5 billion a year and bring misery to many elderly and vulnerable people right across the country. It is reported, however, by only one in five people. It is the hidden crime of this country. What is the Prime Minister going to do to stamp out scams on the internet, on the telephone and through the post?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is a matter of concern to many people. This is the sort of issue in respect of which the National Crime Agency is now able to bring together expertise and combat it properly. Technological advances have also been made in the form of spam and other filters that people can put on their computers so that they get fewer of these e-mails in the first place.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Varian Medical Systems in my constituency on celebrating 30 years of high-quality manufacturing? Will he congratulate Elekta Oncology Systems, too, on its plans to expand significantly in my constituency? Does this not prove that high-quality UK manufacturing is on the rise?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point—that we are seeing a recovery in some of the most important high-skill industries in our country, not least pharmaceuticals, medical services and high-end manufacturing. When we look at the jobs created under this Government, we see that some two thirds are higher-skill jobs rather than lower-skill ones. That is all to the good because we want to rebuild the manufacturing base of our country.

Q7. [905579] Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): My 10-year-old constituent Maddie Snell was disappointed with the response she recently received from the Prime Minister regarding West Cumberland hospital in England, telling the BBC that he did not answer her question. I am sure that Members of all parties can relate to Maddie’s frustration in that respect. Before the last general election, the Prime Minister promised a

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bare-knuckle fight to protect maternity services, but it has never materialised. Will he confirm today that every maternity service unit in every hospital in England is subject to a national review?

The Prime Minister: I want to see district general hospitals with maternity services within them. We have contributed £70 million to the redevelopment of West Cumberland hospital, together with £11 million to the community hospital in Cockermouth, which has been opened to provide further services. Unlike in Wales, the amount of money going into the West Cumberland is going up. It should be enough to provide good maternity services.

Q8. [905580] Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Today Jim O’Neill completes his final City Growth Commission report. Will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor continue their support for Jim to ensure that a future Conservative Government deliver on a northern powerhouse?

The Prime Minister: I think Jim O’Neill has done an absolutely first-class job with this report. I shall be seeing him later today, and I want to congratulate him on what he has done. There is a real opportunity here—the Chancellor has spoken about it—to create a northern powerhouse by looking at how we can use high-speed rail and other infrastructure to link up our great northern cities so that we really have a proper rebalancing of our economy. That is what this is all about, and I think that Jim O’Neill’s work is all to the good.

Q9. [905581] Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware that Tata Steel intends to sell its long products division to the Klesch group, which could have an effect on 15,000 jobs. Given the significance of the British steel industry to the UK economy and in view of Klesch’s history of asset stripping and dumping companies across Europe, does the Prime Minister agree with me that Klesch is not a fit and proper company to own such an important part of our economy, and that the prospect of such a sale merits a direct intervention by this Government in the interests of those steelworkers and the British public?

The Prime Minister: I want to see a successful British steel industry as much as the hon. Gentleman does. We have seen some good steps in recent years, with what has happened at Port Talbot and, indeed, at Redcar. I think we should talk to Klesch, judge it by what it says and what it does and give every assistance we can to try to maintain these important businesses and jobs. That is exactly what we are doing. We are looking at all the flexibilities under things such as the emissions directives to see what more we can do. I am sure that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and I will be looking into this personally, and will do everything we can to support this important industry.

Q10. [905582] Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): When Bluewater shopping centre in my constituency held a job fair recently, there were more jobs on offer than there are jobseekers in Dartford. Will the Prime

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Minister congratulate Bluewater on its contribution to a 50% fall in unemployment and to what can only be described as a jobs revolution in Dartford?

The Prime Minister: I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Bluewater. The fact is that the claimant count in his constituency has fallen by 47% since the election. It is noticeable how many jobs are being created in Dartford and in retail. Regrettably, I last went to Bluewater in Dartford to make a speech rather than to go shopping, but perhaps I shall be able to do both next time.

Q11. [905583] Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister rule out any further increases in VAT while he remains in post?

The Prime Minister: Our plans do not involve raising taxes on ordinary people. What we want to do is ensure that we hold back the growth of public spending so that we can go on cutting people’s taxes. We have taken 3 million people out of income tax. We have given a tax cut to 26 million people. We have cut the tax on every small business in our country. We have set a low rate of corporation tax so that businesses can come and locate in our country. The people who put up taxes are the people who want to put up spending and put up borrowing. That means the Labour party.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Our nuclear test veterans greatly welcomed the Prime Minister’s words of recognition during Question Time on 2 July. Given that one in three of their descendants has been born with a serious medical condition, can he update the House—as he promised to do on that occasion—on progress towards an ex gratia payment of £25 million to a charitable fund to help those veterans and, most important, their descendants who are in need?

The Prime Minister: I am afraid that there is not a lot more that I can say to my hon. Friend today, but we are looking carefully at what we can do. As he said, we have gone further than previous Governments in terms of recognition of this issue. What I will say is that if we look across the board at the grievances that are held by those who have served in our armed forces, I think that this Government have done a lot to deal with them, and to deal with them correctly. We are the first Government to say that there should be an Arctic convoy medal and to deliver it, and the first Government to say that there should be a clasp for those who served in Bomber Command.

Yesterday, it was an enormous privilege to welcome to Downing street all those who had served in the south Atlantic in connection with the Falklands war but had not been able to get campaign medals because of the rapid cut-off date for that campaign. Under this Government, another 10,000 people who served in the south Atlantic in difficult conditions are getting the medals that they deserve.

Q12. [905584] Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): A year ago, the Prime Minister looked a grieving mother in the eye as she begged him to get the British police involved in investigating the murder of her son in Greece. He said no. This week, at the trial, we discovered that the forensic evidence was compromised.

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Can the Prime Minister tell us why he sent police to Thailand to pursue a murder case on Friday, and what he will do in order to finally live up to his promise to help secure justice for Tyrell Matthews-Burton?

The Prime Minister: What I remember is meeting the hon. Lady last year, with her constituent, and going through all the things that we could try to do to help. My understanding is that Ms Matthews did secure funding from the homicide service for the cost of a legal representative in Greece, and that that also covered her travel costs to attend the trial, as well as costs for key witnesses to give evidence at the trial. I believe that the Foreign Office is also working hard to provide consular service support for Ms Matthews. Of course, we will go on helping in any way we can, and I give the hon. Lady that guarantee today.

As for the case in Thailand, I think that because of the uncertainties over that case and the fact that two British citizens were murdered, it is right to offer the Thai Government the assistance of British police, and for the police to go out there to look at some of the technical evidence in particular. I was very pleased that the Thai Prime Minister agreed to that while we were at the Europe-Asia summit in Milan last Friday.

On all these cases, I am very happy to help, and I should be very happy to hear from the hon. Lady what more she thinks we can do in regard to the important case that she has raised.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): In 2009, under the last Government, the number of young unemployed people in Worcester was more than twice the number of apprenticeship starts, but that situation has now been turned on its head, and the latest figures show that there are almost three times as many apprenticeship starts in the city as there are young unemployed. Does the Prime Minister agree that his plan to create a million further apprenticeships can help us to eliminate youth unemployment?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our ambition is to eliminate youth unemployment by making it clear that it is no longer an option to leave home, claim housing benefit and sign on to jobseeker’s allowance when there could be the chance of a job or apprenticeship or some training, and we are certainly committed to helping in every way we can in Worcester. I note that those on the Labour Front Bench, including the shadow Business Secretary, do not even know where Worcester is—he referred to it in a radio interview as Wichita. I think he has been overdoing the country music and needs to get in touch with his inner Worcester woman.

Q13. [905585] Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The Prime Minister will, I am sure, agree that the regulatory structure around hydraulic fracturing needs to be scientifically robust. With that in mind, can he explain why in the other place his party rejected amendments that would ensure just that?

The Prime Minister: What I want to see is, obviously, a robust regulatory and environmental permissions regime, which I believe we have. I also want us to get on with recovering unconventional gas because I think the greatest

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proof of how safe this technology is and how good it could be for jobs and energy costs in our country is to demonstrate where it is actually working in some wells. My fear is that many in the other place, and indeed in this place, want to cover this new industry with regulation so that it simply does not go ahead.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): The Prime Minister will recall that film tax relief existed as a legitimate Government tax policy for 10 years from 1997. Is he aware that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is now effectively treating all investors from that period as tax dodgers, even those who produced genuine films and created jobs, as intended? Will he instruct Treasury Ministers to review that approach and meet a cross-party delegation of concerned MPs?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that we have all had constituency and other e-mails and casework about this, but I have to say that every time I ask the Treasury about it, it is very clear that the things that are being investigated are abuses and were known to be abuses at the time when people entered into them. I want low tax rates, but tax rates that people actually pay; and where schemes are being used for avoidance, we should be very swift in closing them down.

Q14. [905586] Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): The National Audit Office blames a lack of co- ordination across three Departments for the Government’s failure to deport hundreds of foreign criminals, many of them highly dangerous, so where does the buck stop: with the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Justice Secretary, or the Prime Minister himself?

The Prime Minister: The buck absolutely stops with me; I am very clear about that. I think the NAO has produced a very good report on a difficult issue that we need to get right. We have deported 22,000 foreign national offenders since I became Prime Minister. The report is very clear that since 2013 for the first time we have got a proper cross-Government strategy to deal with this, but it also goes into quite a lot of detail about how there are still too many obstacles in terms of human rights legislation that we need to change. What we have seen from the Government this week is that we are now able to deport people first and they can appeal once they have gone back to their country of origin; and we are reducing the number of appeal routes from 17 routes, which were there under Labour, to just four. We are making progress. The buck stops with me, but I wouldn’t mind a bit of cross-party support for the actions we need to take.

Q15. [905587] Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the fact that the £800 million contract for older people’s services in Cambridgeshire was awarded to the NHS bidder, in stark contrast to the billion-pound privatisation of Hinchingbrooke hospital tendered by the last Government, who did not even have an NHS bidder in the final five?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that we want to see an expansion of NHS services. The Labour party claims there is some

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sort of secret agenda to privatise, but that was the case under the last Labour Government—they fattened up contracts and insisted on only private providers. Under this Government, the NHS is being properly run by those who are clinicians, and they make decisions about the future of our health service.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): When the Prime Minister was in opposition he always lectured Labour on transparency. May I ask him when he is going to shine a light on the men who were fitted up and jailed in 1973 for the national builders strike? Will he release the papers relating to that case? If he will not, what has the Tory party got to hide?

The Prime Minister: I have not looked at this case previously, but I am very happy to take away what the hon. Gentleman has said and look at it. Actually, over recent years we have shortened the period during which papers remain secret, and have released more and more papers. I am very happy to look at the case he raises.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I have recently been campaigning a lot in East Northamptonshire with the excellent Conservative candidate for Corby, Tom Pursglove. The No. 1 issue on the doorstep is EU migration. Last year, 214,000 people came to this country from the EU. That is not sustainable. What can be done about that?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend, and the candidate to whom he rightly refers, is absolutely right that we need to get a grip on immigration—wherever it is coming from. This Government have made very big steps forward, closing down 700 bogus colleges. For the first time, we have had an economic cap on migration from outside the EU, and a whole series of rules coming in about benefit claimants, abuse and all those issues. [Interruption.] But I am convinced that there is more we need to do. I do not think the British public are being unreasonable about this. They want control over—[Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor keeps shouting . Let us remember who it was who said we needed to send out search parties to find more immigrants. Let us remember who it was who delivered completely uncontrolled immigration. It was the Labour party and the shadow Chancellor.

On a happier note, I am sure that the whole House will want to unite and congratulate the former Clerk Sir Robert Rogers on his well-deserved peerage.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): My constituents, British citizens Mr and Mrs Mahmood, have been living in Sierra Leone for the last five years. Unsurprisingly, when Ebola spread, they spent their savings coming back to Slough. I have been trying since the beginning of this month to get them some financial support here, and I have failed, despite a promise by the Health Secretary to get a response to me, because they have been rejected on the grounds that they are not habitually resident here. I threatened to raise this issue in this Question Time, and as a result, at 11.59 today I got a reply saying that they would get no support from the

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Department for Work and Pensions. What is the Prime Minister going to do about people who are fleeing Ebola to come back to the country of their nationality, and who have no resources?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to look at the case the hon. Lady mentions—it must be absolutely terrifying for people who are British citizens, who have a right to come here, and who have fled that country

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because of all the things that are happening. I am very clear that our first responsibility is to help tackle Ebola at source, in west Africa, and I think it fair to say that Britain is doing more than any other country—barring perhaps the United States—in marshalling resources, troops, health care professionals, training facilities and beds. But I will look very carefully at the decision made at 11.59 today in respect of the hon. Lady’s constituents and see what can be done.

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Foreign National Offenders (Removal)

12.34 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary about the removal of foreign national offenders.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I am grateful to the National Audit Office for its report on managing and removing foreign national offenders. As the report makes clear, this problem has beset successive Governments. Let me begin by being clear that foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by committing crime in this country should be in no doubt of our determination to remove them from it. We removed more than 5,000 foreign criminals from the UK last year, and have removed 22,000 since 2010. I also want to make it plain that, as in many other areas, it falls to this Government to tackle the problems of the past. Quite simply, the Home Office did not prioritise the removal of foreign national offenders before 2005.

It will take time to fix the problems that we inherited. Chief among them, as the NAO report makes clear, are the legal barriers that we face. The countless appeals and re-appeals that have been lodged by criminals attempting to cheat the system cost us all money and are an affront to British justice. That is why we passed the Immigration Act 2014 to clamp down on that abuse. New powers from the Act came into force this week to cut the number of grounds on which criminals can appeal their deportation, from 17 to four, and to end the appeals conveyor belt in the courts. From this week, criminals can no longer appeal against a decision that their deportation is conducive to the public good.

These reforms build on other measures that we introduced in the summer, which are already speeding up the deportation process. In July we introduced new powers to stop criminals using family life arguments to delay their deportation. We have also changed the law so that, where there is no risk of serious irreversible harm, foreign criminals will be deported first and have their appeal heard later. For those who do have an appeal right, they will be able to appeal only once. These new powers are radically reforming the deportation process, rebalancing human rights laws in favour of the British public rather than the criminal.

We are also pursuing joint working between the police and immigration enforcement. Operation Nexus has helped us to remove more than 2,500 foreign nationals during its first two years, including 150 dangerous immigration offenders considered by the police to represent a particularly serious threat. Alongside tougher crime-fighting measures, improved protection at the border and greater collaboration between police and immigration enforcement officers, the Immigration Act is helping us to deliver an immigration system that is fair to the people of this country and legitimate immigrants, and tough on those who flout the rules. The Home Office will look at the NAO’s recommendations carefully and work with the other agencies involved as we continue to build that system.

Yvette Cooper: When people come to Britain, they should abide by the law, and the whole House wants to see foreign criminals being deported. The Prime Minister

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told us that more of them would be, and promised that that was a major priority for his Government. Instead, fewer foreign criminals are being deported each year than was the case in 2010. There were 375 fewer deportations, a drop of 7%, and fewer deportation orders are being served; there has been a drop of 6% since 2010.

It is no good blaming appeals and human rights. The National Audit Office has found that more than a third of failed removals were the result of factors within the Home Office’s control. They include failures to fill in the forms, failures to get the necessary papers and even failures to book the plane tickets that were needed. It is no good blaming the last Government either, because the NAO audit of this Government’s action plan has found poor use of IT, a lack of communication, failure to use the powers available, cumbersome and slow referral processes, inefficiency in processing, over-complicated arrangements and an action plan that it says

“lacks a sufficiently joined-up and structured approach.”

Nearly 40% of cases had avoidable processing delays.

More foreign criminals have disappeared, too. About 190 absconded last year, and there has been a 6% increase since 2010, yet according to the NAO report, there are only 11 staff working on 700 cases, 10 of whom are very junior. Why does the Home Secretary have so few staff working on such important cases? Will she publish the details of the crimes that those 190 people committed?

The NAO also says that we have worse systems than other European countries for preventing foreign criminals from coming in in the first place. The warnings index has not been modernised, and we are one of only four countries in the European economic area that is still not part of the Schengen information system. Our joining it was delayed because of the Home Secretary’s decision to exercise the opt-out on co-operation with Europe and because she is faffing around with her Back Benchers over opting in and opting out. This is putting border security at risk.

The Government are simply not doing enough. Let us take the case of the convicted killer Rohan Murdock who was able to stay in this country in 2012 because, in the judge’s words, the Home Secretary did not “put up a fight”. So it is no good blaming the past or the others; she has been Home Secretary for four and a half years. The system is still failing on her watch and fewer foreign criminals are being deported than when she started. The tough talk is simply not enough. When will she start putting up the real fight we need to get more, not fewer, foreign criminals deported back home?

Mrs May: I have to say to the right hon. Lady that that is a staggering response from the representative of a political party that is still debating whether it even needs to respond to the public’s concerns about immigration. I am sorry that she adopted the tone she did. This is a serious subject and we need to recognise and accept the challenges and respond to them. But the NAO report makes it clear, as I said in my opening statement, that this is a long-standing problem—her party did not face up to it when it was in power.

The report also makes it clear that, unlike the Labour party, we have a plan to deal with the problem, and that plan is working. We have removed 22,000 foreign national

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offenders since 2010. The NAO report makes it clear that the time taken to deport FNOs is reducing. It notes that the number of removals increased by 12% over the past two years,

“largely because of a change in the Department’s approach to deportation”.

It praises Operation Nexus—the work between the police and the immigration enforcement command—which has helped us to remove more than 2,500 foreign nationals in its first two years. We are the first Government to adopt a cross-government strategy on dealing with foreign national offenders. We want to increase the number of removals, reduce the number of foreign offenders in the UK and tackle the barriers standing in our way. Again, the NAO recognises that removing foreign national offenders

“continues to be inherently difficult”.

The report makes it clear that our efforts have been “hampered” by a “range of barriers”, including the law.

The main problem we face is the rise of litigation; we have seen a 28% increase in the number of appeals. That is why we have made the changes that I have set out in the Immigration Act to cut the number of appeals and why we have made it possible for someone to be deported before they can appeal. Those are the most significant changes to deportation appeals since 1971 and far more than we ever saw from the Labour party when it was in power for 13 years. But those things can take us only so far and we are also faced with the impact of the human rights legislation passed by the right hon. Lady’s Government. Only the Conservatives want to scrap the Human Rights Act and fix our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights, which is why we need a majority Conservative Government.

I do recognise that we face challenges and that we have some issues relating to processes to address. That is why I scrapped the UK Border Agency—Labour’s creation—and since then we have seen a change in the attitude being taken by immigration enforcement. But we will not turn these things around overnight. We have expressed our desire to rejoin the Schengen information system, because it can be a tool we can use in dealing with these FNOs. But we have moved on from the days before 2009 when, under the previous Labour Government, there was no mechanism to trace absconders—there is now a team to do that.

I have to say to the right hon. Lady that if she is going to take on an immigration issue, she really needs to look at her party’s record before she does so. Her party opened the floodgates; her party sent out the search parties and said there was no obvious limit to immigration; and her party passed the human rights legislation that made it difficult to deport foreign criminals. The Opposition still will not say that the level of immigration is too high, they still will not say it has to come down and they still defend the Human Rights Act. Perhaps when she says sorry for those things, the public might start to listen to her.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Is it not common sense that a foreign national should not be released from prison until they can be taken straight to an airport and deported? If any law, such as the Human Rights Act, is preventing that from happening, may I suggest that the Home Secretary comes forward with the necessary legislation and dares the other parties to vote down

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something that is such common sense to the British people? Is it not also time we started fingerprinting and taking the DNA of foreign nationals who want to enter this great country? Surely that is a small price for them to pay in order to keep people in this country safe from criminals.

Mrs May: My hon. Friend is always willing to come forward with practical proposals on this matter. Steps have been taken to deal with those who would otherwise be released from prison, and to ensure that foreign national offenders who are subject to deportation orders are not being released into open conditions. On occasion, immigration judges do release foreign national offenders into the community, and release them on bail, so it is not simply a question of what is happening in relation to people who are in our prisons already. I recognise my hon. Friend’s concern and say that we will continue to look at the measures that we can take to improve our ability to deport these foreign criminals.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): The Home Secretary is right that successive Governments have failed to get a grip of this complex issue, but will she look at some of the Select Committee’s recommendations? For example, when a foreign national is arrested, their records should be checked by the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Criminal Records Office. Fewer than half are currently being checked. On sentence, an e-mail should be sent to the Home Office from the courts; it should not be a fax that is put on the records manually. Finally, the warnings index is just not fit for purpose. We need to sign up to one or two of the databases that will allow us to know who is entering our country, so that we can, if necessary, prevent them from coming here in the first place. Will she please consider those sensible recommendations, which we have made in the past?

Mrs May: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his points. The Home Affairs Committee has considered this issue on a number of occasions and has taken it very seriously, and we look at the proposals that it makes. Next month the Met will be introducing the full checks against the ACPO Criminal Records Office, so action is being taken in that area. Of course it is under this Government that the links between immigration enforcement and, initially, the Metropolitan police through Operation Nexus were put in place, and that has meant that we have seen more than 2,000 foreign criminals being removed from this country. Operation Nexus has expanded into other parts of the country, and I hope that we see it expanding throughout the United Kingdom. In relation to stopping people coming here in the first place, we have been working on agreements with other countries. Membership of the European Criminal Records Information System, which has been part of the 2014 debate and is one of those areas that we wish to opt back into, is an important part of the process.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Home Secretary is completely right in saying that there are inherent problems in the law, and also that the whole matter is very challenging. I am glad to note that the repeal of the Human Rights Act is now being reintroduced, having pushed it through when I was shadow Attorney-General in the years 2001-03. Will the Home Secretary please acknowledge that an even bigger problem is the

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Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is enforceable by the European Court of Justice? The other day, the European Scrutiny Committee said that the only way to deal with these problems in the European Communities Act 1972 is to amend it. If we do not do that, we will end up having continuing legal problems of the kind she has identified and no solution.

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes a point that he has made on a number of occasions on the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights. I am afraid that he will not get a different response now from that which he has had either from me or other Ministers in the past. The Government believe that amending it will not change the position. He refers to the Human Rights Act and as shadow Attorney-General he did work on this matter. Repealing the charter was a Conservative party manifesto commitment before the last election, and that will be repeated as we move forward to the next election.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): May I remind the Home Secretary that, although it is true for certain that we did introduce the Human Rights Act, the Conservative Opposition—she was in the House at the time I think—supported that Act on Third Reading and wished it well. The Conservatives may have had second thoughts since then. Secondly, notwithstanding the Human Rights Act, the numbers of people now being deported, as the National Audit Office report makes clear, have gone down, not up on her watch. How does she explain that, notwithstanding the fact that there has been a ninefold increase, from 100 to 900, in staff working on this issue?

Mrs May: I have acknowledged that we need to do more in this area, but one cannot look at what has happened over the past few years without considering the increasing number of appeals. A 28% increase in appeals means a significant delay in the ability of the authorities to deal with many of these cases and deport the individuals. Under this Government, we are changing that and, as I said earlier, this week the measure in the Immigration Act that reduces the grounds for appeals from 17 to four has kicked in. I am sure that will have a real impact on our ability to deport people and to deport them more quickly.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not be surprised to discover that many of my constituents were deeply shocked when they learned that they had been living close to a convicted murderer, a Latvian builder who had come to live in this country. That all came to light during the tragic search for the murdered schoolgirl, Alice Gross, and Mr Arnis Zalkalns has now been found hanged. Nobody knew about his background, not even the police, which must surely be unacceptable. What will be done to improve information sharing so that people are aware of such backgrounds? Is it right that people with a murder conviction are free to come and live in our country in such a way?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend raises an important issue and I know that it affects not only her constituents but others who are concerned about such cases. Our thoughts

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continue to be with Alice Gross’s family after the appalling tragedy that occurred. We are making efforts to ensure that we can get better information about people who come to this country and that we can exchange information to enable us to take action before people come here. We have some arrangements already to identify people of interest entering the UK and, obviously, passengers are checked against certain watch lists. When the UK is made aware of foreign offending, Border Force officers can take action to use that information to exercise their powers to refuse entry. We have been one of the biggest users of the European criminal records information system and we are scheduled under the opt-in proposals to connect to the second-generation Schengen information system, SIS II, which will further strengthen our ability to detect foreign criminals at the border, especially those who are the subjects of European arrest warrants. We are also driving other efforts across Europe to ensure that other countries participate, that we can get those criminal records and that we can take appropriate action that protects the British public.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): According to the report, the Government have spent £167,000 on each and every foreign criminal they have managed to deport. Why has it taken the National Audit Office to quantify that spending and what will the Home Secretary do to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent more effectively?

Mrs May: Of course we need to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being spent effectively, but the taxpayers’ money that is being spent on these individuals is spent through police arresting them, through the criminal justice system taking them through the courts and through putting them in prison. I think that taxpayers would think that charging, prosecuting and imprisoning people was a good use of their money.

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the National Audit Office report highlights a number of different causes for the failure to deport and that there is no doubt that the Immigration Act, which she passed through this House, ought to make a significant impact on many aspects of that, particularly in relation to challenges and appeals? Will she undertake to give the House some updates as we come into the spring on how well that is operating in changing things? May I recommend that in doing that she should reflect carefully on whether the manifesto pledge contained in the Conservative party document published at the last party conference is worth pursuing? I must say to her that I think that it will prove singularly ineffective in reaching the further objectives that some people have suggested it might achieve.

Mrs May: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right: I believe the Immigration Act will make a difference. The reduction in the number of appeals only kicked in this week, but since July there have been 100 cases of people being removed under the non-suspensive appeals ruling in the Immigration Act, which means that we have been able to deport them before they have a right of appeal in the UK. They have a right of appeal, but it will be from outside the United Kingdom.

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On the other matter that my right hon. and learned Friend raises, we have obviously set out proposals to change our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights. I have been very clear all along that no option should have been off the table, including coming out of the European convention, if that is what it took to restore the situation. We have made proposals that we expect will deal with the relationship with the European Court, which is a crucial issue for not just the Home Office but the British public.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Home Secretary, when I go into a restaurant for a steak, it is known where the animal was born, what field it grazed in, what other cattle it grazed with, every time it was moved and who killed it. If such traceability is possible for cattle, how is it that this country cannot trace hundreds of dangerous criminals who should have been deported years ago? Does the Home Secretary really feel and understand the frustration felt out there in the community?

Mrs May: Of course I understand people’s frustration on the issue. It is this Government who have put in place a specific team, for the first time, to trail and find those absconders and it has been successful in two thirds of the cases it has dealt with. Obviously, we want that to improve but at least we have taken that step.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Paragraph 3.19 of the NAO report talks about the benefits of the EU prisoner transfer agreement. The Ministry of Justice estimates that there will be a further 4,500 removals and £110 million saved. Does the Home Secretary agree that such close working with the European Union is an essential part of what we have to do to deal with the problem and that people who would like to walk away from the European Union will make it much harder?

Mrs May: The prisoner transfer agreements are an important element of dealing with the issue. As my hon. Friend will know, there are still some countries in which we need to finalise the agreements and their approach. The prisoner transfer agreement is an important step and a useful tool and that is why it was one of the measures on the list of those to which we wanted to opt back in.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): My constituent Elsie Giudici’s son was murdered in the most brutal way by a foreign national in his property in Scotland last summer. His mother has contacted me, concerned that it later transpired that the foreign national had a lengthy history of serious violent crime in his own country. The Home Secretary said that this is a serious issue and I believe that it is. The NAO report states:

“Current information held in the UK on foreign nationals who have committed…crimes in their own countries is less complete than most European countries.”

Will she therefore please explain why that is the case and why, four and a half years after she took office, the situation has not improved?

Mrs May: Absolutely. That was a serious and terrible case and our thoughts are with the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. We want to ensure that we have the maximum information available on which to act in relation to those with a violent history who try to come into this

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country and to ensure that we act properly to remove foreign national offenders. Our ability to do that will be improved by tools such as the Schengen information system, which is already being used by other European nations. We have said that we want to be able to opt back in to the system and to start to use it, which we have not been able to do up until this point.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): The report highlights the case of a sex offender convicted in 2000 as an overstayer who, far from being deported, was given indefinite leave to remain in the country in 2005. The offender is still in the country because of the appeals process that my right hon. Friend has documented. Can she give me an assurance that under this Government people who have been convicted will not then be given indefinite leave to remain?

Mrs May: We obviously want a process in which it is possible to deport such people quickly, and that is part of reducing the number of appeals and introducing what are called non-suspensive appeals, which mean that, except in certain circumstances, we can deport them first and they have to appeal from the country to which they have returned. If we can get the system as we intend it to be, people will be removed more quickly. One problem in the past was that people not only made many appeals but stayed in the country for so long that they built up other rights under the then immigration system. That is what we are trying to change.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary amplify her response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)? Given that the NAO report states that 36% of failed removals in 2013-14 were the result of factors considered by the Department to be within its control, I do not think that her previous answer will suffice.

Mrs May: The number of people whom it has not been possible to remove in any particular year is the result of a whole range of issues, and I have to say to the hon. Lady that I have recognised over the years that a change has been needed in the way we deal with those issues. That is precisely why I abolished the UK Border Agency and created the immigration enforcement command within the Home Office. I fully accept that there is more work to do, for example on the links between the Home Office, the courts and the prison system, to ensure that information flows are absolutely up to date so that action can be taken at the appropriate time.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Is it not right that on this, as on so many other matters, we are clearing up Labour’s mess? After all, we got rid of Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada where Labour failed to do so. Is it not also right—I know this as a lawyer—that we got rid of the 17 routes of appeal that Labour established, thereby feeding the legal process? We would also like to get rid of the Human Rights Act, another Labour creation that is causing much of the problem.

Mrs May: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have had to deal with the system we inherited. We have made significant changes to it, which are already starting to show progress, and I am sure we will see considerable

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progress in future as a result of further changes we have made, particularly on the legal side, as he indicates, such as reducing the number of routes of appeal from 17 to four.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Does the Home Secretary not realise that the report states that more than one in three of the failures to deport are the result of failures within her Department? The Government have been in control for four and a half years now. Can she tell us the precise date when they will stop blaming the previous Labour Government, or the next Labour Government, and take responsibility for this ineptocracy of their own creation?

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman might like to note that the report states that over the past two years removals have increased

“largely because of a change in the Department’s approach to deportation…following concerted caseworking efforts and a change in the Department’s approach…to ensure that all FNOs are considered by a central team for removal, not just those who met the deportation criteria.”

We are taking action. As I have just said, we will continue to look at what more we can do to carry on making progress and ensure that we deal with the challenges we face.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): It is interesting to note the lack of interest from Labour Members in their own urgent question. I welcome the increase in the number of foreign national offenders deported since 2011-12. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under the new powers in the Immigration Act there will be a reduction in the number of appeals and that many more people will be removed in the months ahead?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend puts his finger on one of the key points: the number of appeals that have led to delays in deportation until now. We are reducing the number of routes of appeal significantly, from 17 to four. We have also introduced the ability to deport people before they appeal so that they are out of the country when they do. As I said in answer to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), there have been 100 removals prior to appeal as a result of that change in the system.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): When a foreign national approaches the immigration desk at a point of entry into our country, if a message flashes up on the immigration officer’s screen stating, “This person is of interest to us or is a foreign criminal”, does that officer have any more power to stop that person, or even to deport them, under the current law?

Mrs May: When certain information about an individual is available, the systems in place at the border enable UK Border Force officers to stop them entering the country. What is crucial, of course, is that we have a proper exchange of information with other countries on the criminal records of individuals so that we can act on it.

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Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Can the Home Secretary confirm that approximately 400 of the missing foreign criminals arrived in the country under the previous Labour Government?

Mrs May: It is certainly true that a number of cases still in the system predate this Government’s coming to power in 2010, but we continue to work on those cases, as we do on the most recent ones.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My constituents cannot understand why someone who comes to this country and commits an offence that requires imprisonment is not automatically deported. It is true that things were a mess under Labour, but it is not good enough to say that we are tweaking the system; we have to get to grips with the problem. Why not just deport these people and worry about what the European Court says afterwards?

Mrs May: One of the changes we have made in the Immigration Act is to give us the power to deport people before they appeal, except in certain circumstances where to do so would lead to serious and irreversible harm, and I think that goes straight to the heart of what my hon. Friend is saying. However, there are cases where it is genuinely difficult to deport somebody because of lack of documentation, difficulties in being absolutely clear about their nationality, or problems with the country to which we wish to deport them actually accepting them.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Some of the higher profile cases in my constituency, particularly in Goole, relate to people who came here under the previous Labour Government’s policy of unlimited immigration from EU accession states. What I and my constituents cannot understand is how any EU national who has a criminal record can get here in the first place, or how they can remain here once they commit an offence. Is it not time that these ridiculous rules on the free movement of labour were torn up so that the system works for British people and my constituents?

Mrs May: I will make two points in response to my hon. Friend. First, in relation to dealing with those from the EU who have committed criminal offences, being able to exchange information and know who they are is one of the first steps. That is why the Government have said that we want to rejoin the European criminal records information system and connect to SIS II so that we have that information at the border and can act on it. Secondly, he is absolutely right that the whole issue of free movement, as the Prime Minister said earlier, is one that we feel we need to address. It is something we have been dealing with over the past four and a half years in Europe. We have made some progress in relation to criminal activity, such as sham marriages and so forth, but abuse of free movement is something we need to deal with.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): The Home Secretary is being incredibly generous to the Opposition. May I ask her to take herself back to her first days in office and clarify for the House just what a mess she inherited and had to work to sort out?

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Mrs May: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly the point I was making earlier. Labour has so far refused to apologise for the mess they left on immigration: the fact that they sent out “search parties”; that they have never said that the number of people who came into this country over their period in government was too high; and that we inherited a system in the UK Border Agency that needed radical change. It is no good them just carping about one or two things now. Until they say sorry for what they did, nobody will listen to them.

Bill Presented

Electronic Cigarettes (Advertising and Legal Age of Purchase) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Geraint Davies, supported by Nia Griffith, Mrs Siân C. James, Sir Alan Meale, Jonathan Edwards, Chris Evans and Liz McInnes, presented a Bill to prohibit the advertising of electronic cigarettes; to prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to persons under the age of 18; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 January 2015, and to be printed (Bill 107).

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Blood Donation (Equality)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

1.9 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow donation of blood by all male donors on the same basis; and for connected purposes.

Sometimes, Mr Speaker, you just know when something is wrong; when something does not make sense; when something is not fair. How can it be logical that a straight, promiscuous man who might have different partners every night of the year can donate blood, while a gay man in a monogamous, loving relationship cannot, unless he has certified that he has been totally celibate for the past year? How can a nation that has just passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 block those same people from donating blood? It used to be even worse. Gay people were banned altogether until the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), who is in her place, and who, when a Health Minister, rolled back the rules. I pay tribute to her for that. She deserves to be, and indeed is, a gay icon.

Each day in England, about 8,000 people donate blood in hospitals, in blood donation trucks, and even here in the Palace of Westminster. Those in this House who have donated will know that it is a relatively quick process—and if they have been a brave little boy like me, they might even get a sticker from the nurse! It is a truly special act, and our NHS relies on it in order to help people in emergencies, those being treated for some cancers, and those who have liver disease, as well as those suffering from many other illnesses that can be treated only through the generosity of others.

However, there are shortages. Of the eight blood groups, some are much rarer than others, and stocks are extremely low. Indeed, a friend of mine regularly and safely donates relatively rare type O rhesus negative blood, which is badly needed. But he has to tell a lie in order to do so. Safety must be the main issue above all others: safety for patients receiving blood and safety too for those donating blood. Nothing in this Bill should jeopardise that, and that is why it has cross-party support from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru colleagues, as well as those from my own Conservative party.

Perhaps at this stage it is important to reflect on the historical reasons for our current regulations on gay blood donation. In the early 1980s, when doctors first recognised the connection between blood contamination and the newly discovered so-called gay plague, AIDS, an instant ban was placed on blood donors who were in high-risk categories, such as those who shared needles, those who visited prostitutes and, of course, the gay community—and that was right. Others too, such as people who have visited sub-Saharan Africa, were considered to be at high risk. Most of those categories remain in place to this day.

Many in this House will remember those days when AIDS was a killer without treatment. It had an even higher fatality rate than Ebola has today. It was a killer without mercy. I know what it was like. A young friend of mine in his early 30s, once fit and active, died in 1992

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from this awful disease. Thankfully, times have moved on. Today, HIV/AIDS is labelled as a chronic illness and is no longer the killer it once was. Huge advances in medicine and treatments mean that a diagnosis is not a death sentence, but something that can be managed.

More relevant to this Bill, screening is highly efficient and quick. Detection of HIV/AIDS can be made within weeks, and accuracy is near perfect. AIDS and HIV are not the only problems faced when looking at gay blood donation. Hepatitis B also tends to affect the gay community more than other groups and is transmitted in a similar way to HIV. Detection also takes longer—months rather than weeks. With this evidence, I am not arguing that potential gay blood donors pose no risk to the blood pool in 2014. My argument is one of simple logic. If a monogamous, healthy, sexually active gay man has been tested and has neither HIV/AIDS nor hepatitis B, and is not having sex with anyone with HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B, why should he be prevented from donating blood?

During the summer, when I first made my argument for what I call equal blood, I listened to a number of medical professionals explain the dangers of generally lifting the gay blood ban, but there was not a single argument against the simple logic that I have just set out. Logic applies to medicine just as it does to any science. In Europe, four countries have no restrictions whatsoever on gays donating blood, as in several states of the United States, but that is not exactly what I am advocating. AIDS, HIV, and hepatitis B are all still major concerns in relation to blood donation, but I want equal rules to apply to both the straight and the gay communities. If we are to require gay men to be

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healthy, and to have sex only with other men who have been tested and shown to be healthy before they can give blood, surely that should apply to straight men and women too. We have a shortage of blood donors. Rules that ban those who are healthy, and who clearly pose no more risk than the average straight person, do not make any sense. It is time that this issue is finally addressed by the Government.

I am extremely proud that it was this Government who introduced and legislated on equal marriage. That legislation has made a huge difference to the lives and happiness of many couples. I now hope that, on the same logic, the Government will follow suit on equal blood. An expert medical and scientific committee, independent of the national blood transfusion service, should look at this again, taking scientific evidence from other countries which, on this matter, are now ahead of our own. I hope that its findings will enable even more people to donate blood safely for all, building up our blood reserves in order to save lives and to sustain a very precious lifeline to those most in need. This should also be done because, yes, it is the right thing to do.

Question put and agreed to.


That Michael Fabricant, Sir Tony Baldry, Keith Vaz, Sir John Randall, Tim Farron, Ann Clwyd, Jonathan Edwards, Jim Fitzpatrick, Mr Nigel Evans, Duncan Hames, Steve Baker and Mr Aidan Burley present the Bill.

Michael Fabricant accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 March 2015 and to be printed (Bill 104).

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Opposition Day

[7th Allotted Day]

National Crime Agency

[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 14 October 2014, on the work of the National Crime Agency, HC 688. Written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, on the work of the National Crime Agency, reported to the House on 14 October 2014, HC 688.]

1.18 pm

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I beg to move,

That this House condemns the increasing number of illegal activities being carried out by organised criminal gangs in Northern Ireland; notes police assessments that more than 140 such gangs operate in Northern Ireland; and calls for the implementation, in full, of proposals for the National Crime Agency to help deal with this problem, which is particularly prevalent in border areas.

This is an extremely important debate given the context of criminal activity right across the United Kingdom, but particularly in Northern Ireland. In recent months, the police in Northern Ireland have given their assessment that there are between 140 and 160 criminal gangs operating in the Province. The police have also indicated that they would like the utmost co-operation right across the community in dealing with these criminal gangs and attempting not just to stop and stifle their activities but to seize any proceeds from their illegal activities.

Last year the Police Service of Northern Ireland stated:

“It is the PSNI view that if the NCA is unable to operate fully in Northern Ireland, this will have a detrimental impact on our ability to keep people safe…It remains our view that the NCA should only work in Northern Ireland alongside the PSNI, so that operational control ultimately remains with the Chief Constable and nothing proceeds without agreement. There must be complete transparency for PSNI of the NCA’s intelligence, investigations and operational activity. Through such arrangements, the Chief Constable can be held accountable for NCA operations via the Policing Board.”

My reason for quoting that statement at some length is that there have been some “concerns” in Northern Ireland about accountability measures and how they will apply to the operation of the NCA. In fact, the Social Democratic and Labour party and Sinn Fein have indicated, thus far, their lack of preparedness to endorse the NCA.

In addition to that PSNI statement, the Chief Constable has had a number of meetings with various political representatives in order to reassure them that the accountability measures needed are currently in place—he is absolutely clear about that. Therefore, given the scale of the number of criminal gangs that are operating—there are up to 160 of them—and what they could do, not just in Northern Ireland, but in the rest of the United Kingdom, one would have hoped for, and expected to see, total support for the full implementation of the NCA in order to deal with them.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): I appreciate the fact that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter. Does he agree that there is also a financial cost—not

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just for Northern Ireland, but for the UK more widely—because civil recovery has been affected by the NCA’s inability to operate fully in Northern Ireland?

Mr Campbell: Yes, that is indeed the case. Although that is not the primary concern, it is an additional one to that which I am about to discuss. I thank the hon. Lady for raising it.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): Following on from the important point raised by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), given the absence of the wonderful and excellent Assets Recovery Agency, which used to operate in Northern Ireland but was, unfortunately, eaten up and extinguished by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and given that the NCA does not apply to Northern Ireland, what powers of assets recovery do organisations, particularly the PSNI, have in Northern Ireland?

Mr Campbell: I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The short answer is that those powers are extremely limited; they are virtually non-existent. I will come on to some of the issues that date back to SOCA operations, which have now been superseded by the NCA.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): The hon. Gentleman has referred to my party. The SDLP has vigorously opposed any form of criminality at every stage. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify and outline the depth and intensity of accountability he sees in respect of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Chief Constable?

Mr Campbell: I understand that the Chief Constable has had at least one—possibly even several—meetings with the SDLP and has assured it on the issue of his role and co-operation with the Policing Board by repeating what was said in the May 2013 statement that “nothing proceeds without agreement” in connection with the work of the NCA, and that the Chief Constable is

“held accountable for NCA operations via the Policing Board.”

The hon. Lady will know that members of her party and of Sinn Fein serve on the Policing Board.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend not find it odd that the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) has raised the issue of accountability for the NCA when her party signed up to policing at a time when SOCA had no degree of accountability through the Policing Board? The SDLP had no objections then, but now that we are discussing SOCA’s replacement apparently the whole issue of accountability is important.

Mr Campbell: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The point of today’s debate is to say that, while discussions between the Chief Constable and the SDLP continue, there are 140-plus criminal gangs operating through the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland and the UK and smuggling not millions, but tens of millions of pounds-worth of illegal drugs. Some of that activity could be prevented by the full operation of the NCA.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The situation goes even further. According to the police today, there has not been one single civil recovery of a crime asset

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since the NCA took over, because the PSNI does not have the surge capability to do that. We are actually losing our ability to make civil recoveries.

Mr Campbell: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, which is a damning indictment of those who still hold back from offering support for the full implementation of the NCA. I note from recent reports that, while meetings between the police and the SDLP continue—they do not appear to have come to a satisfactory conclusion—Sinn Fein has not responded to requests from the Department of Justice for a meeting about the issue. That is the scale of the problem we face.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): The Bill that established the NCA received its Second Reading almost two years ago and this issue was raised by every member of the Bill Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the Government have a duty of care to bring the parties and the Minister of Justice together to discuss and finalise the issue?

Mr Campbell: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. I agree that the Government have a responsibility because, while the delay and failure to fully implement the NCA continues, our young people—not just in Northern Ireland; I will come in a moment to how far this penetrates—are suffering as a result of criminal operations.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Further to the point raised by the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), does my hon. Friend share my frustration that when the Government here are asked to comment on these issues, their view often seems to be, “Oh, the parties in Northern Ireland can’t get this matter sorted out”? The Library briefing paper notes that the Secretary of State has referred on a number of occasions to problems within the Northern Ireland Executive if they cannot agree. We should put the truth out there: the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of parties want to make progress, except for the two nationalist parties.

Mr Campbell: I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Virtually every party in Northern Ireland, with the exception of the SDLP and Sinn Fein, is in favour of the full implementation of the NCA.

Mr Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire) (Con): I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Delyn and with the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell). I happen to think that there are some very good people—indeed, they are my friends—in the SDLP. I may disagree with them, but generally I think they are decent people. I thought, however, that they took the Labour party Whip, so does not the Labour party have a responsibility to put a little bit of pressure on its friends?

Mr Campbell: I look forward to the discussions between the SDLP and the Labour party resulting in that pressure being applied. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for specifically indicating, when he was in office, where the

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problems were in relation to this matter. I hope that that will be repeated by those on the Government Front Bench today.

Ms Ritchie: In my previous intervention, I asked the hon. Gentleman to specify the level of accountability between the NCA, and the Policing Board and Chief Constable. So far, he has not specifically dealt with that request, but perhaps he will do so in his further comments.

Mr Campbell: I repeat what I said on the previous occasion. The Chief Constable and the Policing Board appear to be totally content with the level of accountability and co-operation that will exist. I am afraid that the onus is on those who say that there is a lack of accountability. After having been reassured that there is no such lack and after it was indicated at several meetings that there is no reason or rationale for continuing to object to or oppose the implementation of the National Crime Agency, there is an onus on those who say that to explain why it is the case.

I now want to turn to a very relevant, important and topical issue that demonstrates the nature of the problem we face. Last month, a combination of security services boarded a yacht off the Irish Republic and detained the people on it, who had up to €80 million-worth of illegal cocaine. The cocaine was bound in part for the Irish Republic, but informed sources from the Irish Republic have indicated that the vast majority of it was for the United Kingdom. Of course, as we all know, the Republic of Ireland has a land border with the United Kingdom. Part of the reason why the authorities in the Irish Republic were able to apprehend the haul successfully in international waters off their coast was the co-operation of the National Crime Agency.

As a result, I tabled a question to the Justice Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly last month. I asked him what the response would be if a similar consignment were to arrive on our shores from Northern Ireland waters, and we endeavoured to get the same level of co-operation to ensure that it did not reach land on the North Antrim or the County Londonderry coast—[Interruption.] Or anywhere—even the South Down coast. His written answer states:

“In a situation such as that outlined in the question I would expect the PSNI to be involved. There may also be a role for the NCA, the UKBA and HMRC to play. The role of the NCA would be limited, if the operation was in Northern Ireland territorial waters, as drug operations fall into the devolved sphere.”

The Northern Ireland Justice Minister is absolutely clear that if we have another consignment that comes close to our coast like the one I mentioned—it has not been the largest such consignment—the National Crime Agency will have severe limitations in helping to deal with that haul.

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Is it not the case that if drugs of that nature land in Northern Ireland, it is not a matter just of having an effective response to organised crime, but of the young lives that are being destroyed by the paramilitary organisations that continue to act as organised gangs, including in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie)?

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Mr Campbell: I thank my right hon. Friend for that point, which I want to come on to. The consequences of the failure to implement the National Crime Agency are catastrophic.

Naomi Long: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. In a number of significant PSNI investigations at the moment, the key and pertinent criminal associates, their infrastructure and organisation are based outside Northern Ireland. The NCA is much better placed to take the lead on those issues because it obviously has an international reach, but it currently cannot do so. Does he agree that that not only compromises investigations in that it limits the role of the NCA, but that it stretches the PSNI’s resources at a time when they are already extensively stretched?

Mr Campbell: I thank the hon. Lady for that comment, which is very true. Only in the past two weeks has the Chief Constable indicated the scale of reductions in normal policing in Northern Ireland that result from the budgetary changes that he has to implement. That will further compound the issue.

Some six years ago, a consignment arrived, also via the Irish Republic, that totalled €700 million-worth of cocaine. That of course predated the National Crime Agency; it was when SOCA was in operation. I mention those drug operations for the reason given by the hon. Lady. These drugs are doing untold harm to people not just in Northern Ireland, but in the entire United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland market would not have provided even a toehold for €700 million-worth of cocaine. The report on 7 November, when the haul was located, said that the vast bulk of the cocaine was bound for the United Kingdom market.

The problem does not just apply to a small part of the United Kingdom; it will be felt in every constituency across this United Kingdom. On the streets of our cities, young people will be sold dope or illegal substances that have come from the shores of the Irish Republic and through Northern Ireland to the GB market. There is therefore an onus on everyone, particularly the SDLP and Sinn Fein, to sign up to the implementation of the National Crime Agency. I must say that Sinn Fein may well have associates who benefit from the failure to implement the National Crime Agency. I fully accept it when the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) says that the SDLP has no such hang-ups and no such associates, and that is all the more reason to sign up to the agency that will help to stop the problem.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): What my hon. Friend has just alluded to stirs me to ask: how many of the 160 gangs operating across the border into Northern Ireland does he estimate are linked to paramilitary organisations?

Mr Campbell: That is a very pertinent question. When that question has been put to the police, the response has generally been, “Very many of them”, although I have not seen any figures indicating exactly how many the police believe are so linked. Many paramilitary groups have stopped their so-called politically inspired campaign and have now moved on to money laundering, illegal fuel and, of course, drug smuggling.

Mr Donaldson: Will my hon. Friend add the misery of human trafficking to that list? As he is aware, the Assembly passed a Bill that has put Northern Ireland

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ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom in tackling human trafficking, but we have a back door through which this human misery and this crime is being perpetrated. We really need all the parties to sign up to closing that back door.

Mr Campbell: I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right. Just this week, the Assembly has made further progress in the implementation of that legislation. That again is an issue with which the National Crime Agency could help us.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Further to the point that was made by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), is it not fair to say that no criminal gang in Northern Ireland could operate without the say so of the paramilitaries on either side of the community?

Mr Campbell: It would be extremely difficult for an efficient organised criminal gang to operate in any part of Northern Ireland without at least the tacit support, acknowledgement and say so of the paramilitary groups on either side. Whether there is a specific connection, an endorsement or just an allowance for the gang to continue, that is certainly the case.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Bearing in mind the seriousness of the implications of what we are discussing for all constituencies in Northern Ireland, is it not significant that the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) has been left on her own? The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who is always here, and the leader of the SDLP are absent. Does that not send a message in itself?

Mr Campbell: I look forward to the full participation of all SDLP Members. I hope that they will appear before the conclusion of our deliberations.

To conclude, many members of the paramilitary groups, who were engaged for almost 30 years in brutality, murder, mayhem and destruction, have moved on to issues of a more financial nature, such as how they can glean their illegal and ill-gotten gains from various darker sides of society. The police are reasonably sure where and how those people operate, and are fairly confident that they can inhibit their activities. However, they can do so only when they have not just the full support of the entire community, which I am confident they have, but all the resources and manpower and womanpower they need to tackle such activity. The knowledge, expertise and information of the National Crime Agency will be a central part of that. It has knowledge of the international community and international policing. The two examples to which I have alluded are the tip of the iceberg. The €80 million last month and the €700 million six years ago were from just two operations that were apprehended. The police believe that many more operations are ongoing or have got through the net. The net needs to be tightened. The organisation that can help tighten it is the National Crime Agency.

I hope we will send a message today to peace-loving and law-abiding people in Northern Ireland and across the UK that the net is tightening. More importantly, we will send a message to the criminal gangs, the drug dealers, the human traffickers, those who break the law,

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those who depend on loopholes and those who depend on political parties that should know better allowing them to drive a coach and horses through those loopholes that their days are numbered.

1.43 pm

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): It is a privilege to speak in this debate on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. I had hoped, given my previous role as Minister of State for Northern Ireland, that this debate would not be necessary. I am sure that all Members across the House held that hope. I have the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland beside me and the former Minister of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), behind me. We have all worked hard to avoid getting to this position.

It is important that the tone of this debate is correct, because what we are trying to do is to protect people. I will talk about protecting people not just from terrorists, but from paedophiles. I want to protect people’s children from the abhorrent things that are going on. We have not been able to help Northern Ireland with those matters as we have other parts of the country.

I do not want to speak for too long, because the debate started slightly late owing to the urgent question and it is important that everybody who needs to speak has time to do so, particularly those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. However, it is important that I set out, particularly for the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), the guarantees that have been given on how the NCA would operate in Northern Ireland to ensure that it protects all the people of Northern Ireland, just as it protects everybody else in this great nation of ours.

I say strenuously that there have been huge negotiations over a protracted period. I left the Northern Ireland Office more than 18 months ago. There have been many discussions, many of them bilateral, not only within the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, but with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office.

I pay tribute to the excellent job that David Ford has done. I worked closely with him when I was Minister of State for Northern Ireland. He was open and honest, and his intention is purely and simply to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have the best police force and are safe in their homes, no matter where they come from. I also pay tribute to Matt Baggott, who was an exemplary Chief Constable. Since becoming the Minister for Policing, I have heard from other police forces around the country that people literally stand up and applaud when he walks in the room. That very often happens when any officer from the Police Force of Northern Ireland walks in. That is a tribute to the work that they do. I pay tribute to their bravery and the work that they do, just as I pay tribute to all police officers across the United Kingdom.