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Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): In 1997, the year I was first elected to Parliament, there were two high schools in my constituency where less than 10% of pupils got five GCSE passes. That is not five A to C grade passes; that is five simple passes. It was absolutely crystal clear that two decades of unremitting unemployment and poverty had created a mood of low expectation and a complete collapse in confidence and aspiration. If it is true that it takes quite a while to begin to change that mindset and culture, it is equally true, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) said earlier, that the efforts that have been made in the years since have made a real difference.
Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have evidenced that in their speeches this afternoon. The Sure Start centres have clearly been a major step forward, as have the four brand new high schools built under Building Schools for the Future in my constituency in the last few years. There is also the determination of many teachers to ensure that young people get the right message and build up that confidence and pride. All of that together has made a real difference. There is still a long way to go. Certainly in schools in my constituency and throughout the Manchester area in particular, there is still room for huge improvements to be made, and I support the schools in my constituency when they are making those efforts, but the direction of travel is the right one.
In trying to sustain this educational improvement, it is crucial that we encourage all our young people to stay on at 16. It has therefore been a welcome development
that The Manchester college has opened a new campus in the Benchill area of my constituency, one of the most disadvantaged parts of it, for sixth-formers. In the first phase of the college, 180 students have enrolled this year, and it is hoped that 800 will enrol in September next year. Of those students, 85% receive EMA at the moment. If we roll together the students at The Manchester college and those at Trafford college, where many of my constituents also go, we are talking about £4.6 million a year being taken away from those students and their families. This really is the grotesque nature of the decision, which makes it an even worse decision than the decision about tuition fees. That is an issue about the future and about debt, and that is serious enough, but this is about real cash now. It is £4.6 million taken out of the pockets and purses of the poorest families in my constituency and elsewhere in the Manchester area, and it is wholly and utterly unacceptable.
We know that EMA has made a real difference in terms of retention, attendance and achievement. For example, The Manchester college tells me that in 2003, one in five 16 and 17-year-olds left quoting financial problems as their reason for leaving. Last year, that was one in 20. That is substantial evidence of the real impact of EMA.
Loreto college, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) mentioned, last year sent three EMA students to Oxbridge. This year, three in the upper sixth form are destined for Oxbridge and 25 in the lower sixth form intend to apply, two of whom claim EMA and live in my constituency. Like many other Members, I have met and talked with students in my constituency and am impressed by their confidence and aspiration. They all talk about the practical difference that EMA makes, as with it they can buy an £11 Megarider bus ticket and the equipment that they need to get their qualifications and move into work. Some of them said that they would not continue their courses if they lost EMA, and those who would carry on said that they would have to do more part-time work and that they would not focus as well on their studies or do as well as they otherwise might. All of them felt guilty about the fact that if they had to take more money from their families, who are not well off, their brothers and sisters would suffer as a result.
"I'm 17 years old and...receive full EMA. Why do I receive it? Because there isn't enough income in my house. Why isn't there? Because my parents didn't go to college."
Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab):
City and Islington college in my constituency is a great college: Ofsted believes so and gave it a Beacon award for excellence in 2005. Perhaps more importantly, young people in north and east London know it to be a great college, which is why they go there if they get half a chance. On Monday, I went along to the college to speak with eight politics students. I asked them about their backgrounds. By coincidence, six of them had received free school dinners when at secondary school. I
asked them about EMA and the effect that the cut would have on them. They were a cross-section of the college. Henry, a sixth-former currently taking his A2s, wants to be a pilot. He works hard, has good grades and sits on the college board. Because of his efforts he was offered an assessment day at Oxford aviation academy, which is the best place in the world to become a pilot, but how did he pay the fare to get there? He paid with his EMA.
Asheen is from Leyton and comes to City and Islington college because, as I have said, it is one of the best colleges around. She does not travel by bus because they are unreliable at that time in the morning, so she needs to go by train and, lo and behold, needs her EMA to do so. Ismail is studying computer science and relies on his EMA to pay for his core textbooks. The "Learning Java" textbook, which is absolutely necessary for his course, costs £30. He cannot rely on his parents to be able to pay for it, so how would a boy from his background be able to pay without his EMA? Those are real students at the City and Islington college who will have their EMA taken away. Zaynab is doing four A-levels and is also one of the children who received free school dinners.
"The Government says that we should eat healthily, but how are we supposed to do that? It comes at a price."
If she spends £25 a week on food and £20 on travel, how does she pay for her textbooks? How much does she need EMA? She needs it strongly, yet the Government are about to take it away. Those are illustrations of real children at colleges in Islington, and they show that the Government are completely detached from reality. I am pleased to have heard from the Secretary of State that he will visit City and Islington college and I can assure him that we will hold him to that promise-we have a reputation for determination and single-mindedness in my area, which he will see when he visits.
"working with young people, schools and colleges and others...on arrangements for supporting students in further education and improving access to, enthusiasm for and participation in further and higher education."
That sounds good, but why are they cutting entitlement funding? We will also want to talk with the Secretary of State about that. Entitlement funding allows the kids at City and Islington college the sort of help that they really need, such as one-to-one tuition, or having someone sit down and help them sort out UCAS forms. It allows them to be taken to see colleges and the sort of work that they might be able to do. It allows trips to the theatre or places related to their courses. Those students are here today and have sat upstairs doggedly throughout the debate. That is the sort of entitlement and enrichment that my college gets, and I am proud of it. When the Secretary of State comes to visit City and Islington college, he will be proud of it too. If he comes with an open mind, he will change his mind.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): I take personally this proposal to abolish the education maintenance allowance, because I can remember being utterly skint between the ages of 16 and 19, as my dad died at about the time that I was doing my O-levels. My mother was determined that I should stay on at school, so she went out to work again, but my situation was also eased by a small grant that I received from the then East Riding county council, which, I have to say in fairness, was Tory-controlled.
That small grant made a huge difference to me. The few extra bob that I received meant that, as a sixth-former, I could play a normal part in sixth-form activities, and I did not feel left out or as much of a burden on my mother as I might have felt. I am sure that the same applies to many young people who receive the EMA now, because they are simply able to play a full part in growing up and going to college.
Some people seem to think that the EMA is a social payment, but it is not. If a student does English literature, they will probably want to go to the theatre, but they have to pay to do so. If they do music they might want to buy-or these days, rent-an instrument, or go to a concert. That is a vital part of education, and the EMA rightly makes its contribution. If a student studies civil engineering, they might want to go on a visit to see some great tunnelling equipment somewhere, but they have to pay. The EMA makes a contribution to such things, and students are able to function like everybody else; they are not regarded as poor relations.
Young people do not want to be a burden on their parent or parents, or on their sisters and brothers; and they do not want to diminish their family's status by reducing them to poverty after taking too much money in order to continue going to college. We have about 1,750 such young people in my constituency. Many go to Camden's excellent schools, but quite a lot do NVQs and other vocational courses at King's Cross construction skills centre, the Working Men's college, Camden Jobtrain-where literally 100% of young people receive EMA-and Camden Itec. All those young people work hard to better themselves-the sort of thing that Mrs Thatcher used to go on about endlessly. They are doing exactly what she would have wanted and are the epitome of aspiration, so to end the EMA for such people is to kick them in the teeth. It will leave them with a stark contrast. They are being kicked in the teeth, but they see billionaire bankers and tax avoiders and hear millionaire Cabinet Ministers prating on about them being a dead-weight-a dead-weight.
There is a real danger, not just for the Tories and the Liberal Democrats but for our whole society, that we will turn those young people from aspiration to alienation, which will be very damaging. So, we are not just concerned about the people who might drop out, although that would be bad. We should also be concerned because if we get rid of the EMA we will impoverish not just those young people who manage to stay on despite its disappearance, but many of their families at the same time. The Government and the people supporting them should be ashamed of themselves.
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab):
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate in the
context of a series of attacks by the Government on young people and their aspirations. The Government's policy on EMA represents a particularly dangerous attack on young people, because over the past few years the allowance has acted as an incentive-a really effective intervention-at a key stage in life, encouraging young people to stay on at college to gain the necessary skills to succeed in an increasingly competitive labour market.
As an incentive, EMA has been effective. Contrary to what Government Members have said, participation rates have increased by more than 7% for young women students and more than 5% for young males. Research is unequivocal in indicating that the allowance has reduced the drop-out rate by more than 5%. As somebody who worked in FE for more than 10 years as a lecturer, I know that that key statistic means everything in terms of the chances of young people succeeding not only at college but in life.
It is therefore astounding that the Government have even thought about axing £500 million from the EMA budget. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said, that is a massive 85% cut in funding support for young people. It is on a par with other cuts to Government funding and support for higher education, which is why Labour Members feel so strongly that this Government are determined to focus all their attacks on public spending on young people.
The impact on my constituency will be particularly stark. Just under 60% of young people who attend Barnsley college receive full EMA, and more than 30% of those students have indicated in an independent survey that they would not have started their courses had EMA not been available. Much was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) about the story relating to Sheffield. All I would add is that in the last academic year the success rate for students receiving EMA at Sheffield college was 79%-5% higher than for those who were not receiving it. If ever a statistic outlined the importance of this allowance, that is the it.
If Government Members do not want to listen to my arguments, perhaps they would like to listen to my constituent Steve Hanstock, who tells me that his son Tim would not have been able to access full-time higher education post-16 had he not received EMA. A female student from Sheffield college has just gained a place at the university of Sheffield. She is adamant that she would have pursued her studies without EMA-I admit that-but she is clear that it enabled her to complete her course, alongside a relatively small amount of part-time work. The allowance enabled her to concentrate her mind on her studies in order to achieve her remarkable success. That underlines the experience that I had as a lecturer when I had to deal with students coming to college in the morning unable to study or participate in class because they had done a night shift at Tesco. That is exactly why EMA is such an important allowance-it enables students to focus on achievement and not to have to worry about whether they can buy the books, get to college or feed themselves.
I want to refer to some of the statistics bandied about by the Government. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) and a Conservative MP have sent literature to their constituents stating that EMA costs £924 million and that only 400 more students on free school meals have accessed further education than would have been the case without the allowance. Those stats are wrong. The figure for free school meals students staying on in education is 10,000 and the reduction in the budget is £580 million. The Association of Colleges is very perturbed by the use of these stats by MPs in these letters. It says that they are wildly inaccurate and should not have been used without being properly sourced. The Government are pulling the wool over our constituents' eyes.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I support the motion tabled by the Labour party. All hon. Members are aware of the reasons for the introduction of education maintenance allowance. It was set up to encourage young adults to stay at school. If we change it, we will reduce its impact and discourage the people who need it from continuing in education. It was created to give people an incentive not to give up on school just because their part-time job-if they could get one-offered them only some of the money that they needed. It was created to help families that could not afford bus fares or lunches, and to ensure that children could stay on at school if that was their desire.
I wholeheartedly support EMA, and I put that on record. I have seen its importance in my constituency. Although I understand that it is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, it is clear from the parents and students I have met that EMA is critical to the students for continuing their schooling and education. That cannot be ignored. I am here to support the 16 to 18-year-olds who clearly would not be able to remain in education and continue their studies if they did not have this help. Members from across the Chamber have recorded the issues in their constituencies, and those are replicated across the United Kingdom-in Northern Ireland and further afield.
"Whilst we understand that the Department is taking action to protect institutions from the full effect of this budget cut in 2011-12 through the use of a safety net which limits the cuts to 3% there is concern in Colleges at the scale of the cut over the next four years which will remove £500 million from the education of young people."
That £500 million, which has also been quoted as £555 million, should certainly be there to encourage those who would love to stay in education, but are restricted in their ability to do so by the lack of money.
I will give an example from my area that illustrates the situation across the United Kingdom. I asked the chief executive of South Eastern regional college, in Newtownards in Strangford, for figures that would enable a greater understanding of the difference that
EMA makes to disadvantaged students. Many Members have indicated the number of students who will be impacted by the change. In my area in Northern Ireland, it will impact on 1,708 students who need EMA to continue their education. The people who will be affected the most are the most deprived people in the community, who represent almost 50% of those students. Only 30% of the students in that group are affluent, and it could perhaps be argued that they could pay, but that leaves 70% of the students who cannot continue without EMA. It is clear from those figures that EMA has encouraged those in disadvantaged areas to stay in education. The evidence is clearly there. I have read the Association of Colleges report and visited the Save EMA website, and it is clear that those are not local figures found just in Strangford and Northern Ireland; they are found across the United Kingdom. I have read some touching stories and have spoken to pupils with a real desire to learn who rely heavily on EMA to continue learning.
There is an indication that the learner support fund that is administered by colleges and school sixth forms will receive additional money. However, the amount of funding is not clear. Until that is clear, we have to try to understand how the system works. My fear, as the MP for Strangford, and that of a great many Members, particularly on the Opposition Benches-in fairness, it exists on the Government Benches too-is that if the coalition are not careful they will create a generation of young people who feel disadvantaged, and perhaps even abandoned. As was said earlier, there will be a lost generation if we are not careful, and a generation that feels angry. What can we do to stop that happening? It must be inherent in any strategy on child poverty that young people are educated and have an opportunity to stay in education to escape the poverty trap.
"Education costs money, but then so does ignorance."
I urge the coalition to go back to its doctrine of last year, under which it supported EMA. It should help to raise a generation of educated British young people-experts in academic and practical fields-and not foster people who have no proper outlet for their energy. I support the motion and urge all hon. Members to do the same.
Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): This has been an important and good-quality debate, characterised by knowledge, determination and passion. It has been crowded and busy, with many more Members wishing to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, than have been able to speak. That reflects the importance of the matter and is a sign of the intrinsic unfairness that hon. Members and people outside see in the Government's decision to scrap the EMA. It reflects the number of young people who benefit from it who feel angry, betrayed and let down by the Government's broken promises.
The Government's approach to the EMA, like their record throughout their education policy so far, is a curious mix of ideological zeal and simply making it up as they go along. On the one hand, their rhetoric is that they are keen to help young people to raise their ambitions and break down social, cultural and economic barriers to help them succeed. The whole House could agree with that, but on the other hand, as hon. Members have exposed time and again in the debate, the Government have disregarded clear evidence and gone back on their promises by scrapping one of the most successful policy interventions for decades in helping to achieve fairness.
Mr Bailey: Since the EMA was introduced in my local authority area of Sandwell, the number of students getting A-levels has doubled and the number of students from my constituency going to university has increased by 78%. Does my hon. Friend agree that those statistics underline the importance of the matter?
Mr Wright: Absolutely, and I shall come in a moment to how young people have benefited from impressive ways of raising attainment, encouraging increased participation and encouraging better behaviour.
I wish to take the House back to the points that the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), made in June. As has been mentioned a number of times, he confirmed categorically in the House that the Government were committed to retaining the EMA. A matter of weeks later, they scrapped it. I have to ask, is anybody in charge at the Department for Education? Does anybody have a clue what is going on there? What utter incompetence!
The justification for scrapping the EMA keeps moving, from "It hasn't been successful" to "Its impact has been limited" to "It hasn't been an effective use of public money." I suggest that the Government simply fail to recognise the improving life chances that it has provided. It has been a success, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) has just mentioned and as many other Members have said. It has started to break down the link between participation and success in further education and household income, as my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) said.
For far too long, there has been a direct correlation between post-16 participation rates in education and household income. Frankly, moving on from school to the sixth form or an FE college depended not on whether a person was bright enough but on what their parents earned and where they lived. We have started to break that link with the EMA. It has been subject to one of the most extensive and robust evaluations of any education policy ever undertaken in England, begun and presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). He made a fantastic contribution to the debate, and I thank him for the points that he made.
An evaluation by Ipsos MORI concluded that the majority of providers believed that EMA had been effective in reducing the number of NEETs, increasing
learners' attainment and having a positive impact on their attendance and punctuality. It has raised participation by about 5% and attainment by about 3%, and the Government seem to acknowledge that. In a ministerial answer in another place in July, the Under-Secretary Lord Hill acknowledged that
"the monetised benefits of EMA outweighed the costs".-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 13 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. WA118.]
We heard from the Secretary of State an elegant, articulate and incorrect argument about the economic picture. We heard about academies, free schools, the English baccalaureate-everything, in fact, except EMA. I seem to recall that it took 19 minutes for those letters to pass his lips. Frankly, we saw alarming mood swings in him. It got to a point where we were really quite concerned about his behaviour. He had a bit of a hissy fit-a bit of a moment. It got to the point where the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) said that it was slightly unfair of the Opposition to hold the Government to account.
The Secretary of State rather lost control, just as he has lost control of his Department. Given his comments before the general election and the comments of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, in June, to which I alluded-he committed to retaining EMA-what has the Chancellor done to wreck the economy that means they have to go back on their word? The Secretary of State said this afternoon that to govern is to choose, and that to choose is to prioritise, but it is very clear from his remarks that young people-or children, as he patronisingly referred to 16, 17 and 18-year-olds-are not the Government's priority.
The Secretary of State made encouraging noises. He acknowledged that greater flexibility is needed in the system, and spoke of individual circumstances, courses that might be selected, rural areas and travel costs. The Opposition are keen to work with him to look at the matter again. However, I was surprised and shocked when in one of his more surreal, bizarre and psychedelic moments, he urged the good people of Hull to vote Liberal Democrat. That is a worrying trend among senior members of the Government. We saw it in Oldham East and Saddleworth. We look forward to the formal merger of the Conservatives and Lib Dems-or is it a takeover of the Conservatives by the Lib Dems?
Moving away from the Secretary of State's more psychedelic moments, let me go back to his point about flexibility in the system. I agree with him that more flexibility is needed, but by introducing more flexibility, he runs the risk of making the system more complex, more bureaucratic and therefore more expensive.
I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman's speech-I am loving it-but in the four minutes remaining to him, will he answer the question that the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) conspicuously failed
to answer? If he acknowledges that fewer people should receive EMA and that less money should be spent, will he say how many fewer people and how much less money? Until he can answer those questions- [ Interruption. ] I see that the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) has his own suggestion. As they say on "University Challenge", "No conferring; answers please."
Mr Wright: When I was a Minister in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, difficult decisions were made with regard to the £100 bonus that students received. We are prepared to talk about this. We want to ensure that we have the best possible system, but frankly, we cannot reduce a scheme of £600 million to around £50 million without a devastating impact on many communities, which was mentioned many times, including by my hon. Friends the Members for Halton (Derek Twigg) and for Huddersfield.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) made a very passionate speech, as she is always prone to do in this Chamber, mentioning Newham sixth-form college, which I have visited. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who has always stood up for her constituents and particularly for young people, highlighted the poverty of ambition that the Government's decision produces. She also said that EMA is a something-for-something initiative, because students sign a contract and are bound by certain conditions in respect of attendance, punctuality and behaviour, which is an important point.
It was nice to see a number of my hon. Friends from the north-east. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) mentioned Queen Elizabeth sixth-form college and Darlington college. In a former life, I audited those colleges, for my sins. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead told how in his part of the world-I think I audited Gateshead college too-EMA changed the landscape of ambition with regard to staying on, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) also mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) mentioned the stance of the Liberal Democrats. Although they are taking over the Conservative party-as we heard from the Secretary of State-they have an important decision to make, as they did on tuition fees. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said that he is willing to work to ensure that we have the best possible system and that it is adequately funded, as the Opposition are. The Government need to think again. He is quoted in The Times Educational Supplement as saying:
"If what Labour is saying is a call for the government to rethink its plans, I will support that. There's some careful brokering to do."
Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman knows that I respect him and value his judgment. I have been working with his colleagues openly, and with Ministers, and I think that the Government's amendment shows, as the Minister will say in a minute, that they are rethinking what they are doing, and that they are committed to trying to come up with a decent replacement. We will see whether we can deliver that, but I will try to do so, and I hope the shadow Minister will work with us.
Mr Wright: I greatly respect the right hon. Gentleman, but I am disappointed by his response and I hope he does not suffer too much from the spelks in his backside that he will have from sitting on the fence. The good people of Bermondsey and Southwark, and every single young person in the country, deserve better than that, and I hope we can work together in a consensual way.
The sudden scrapping of EMA, together with the trebling of tuition fees and the abolition of the future jobs fund, constitutes a systematic assault on young people. On the day it was announced that the number of unemployed young people had risen again to reach its highest level since records began 20 years ago, it is clear that the Government have nothing to offer young people. Because of the Government's decisions and actions, there is a risk of a lost generation of unfulfilled potential, undeveloped talent and missed opportunities. We will be paying the social and economic price for this short-sighted decision for decades to come.
I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister not to make the same mistakes they made with Building Schools for the Future and the school sports partnerships. Botched decisions, and a care-free attitude to the facts and the proper procedures of government, have all led to humiliation for the Secretary of State. I say to him, on behalf of 600,000 young people: please listen to advice, think again and retain the education maintenance allowance.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): We have had a good debate on EMA, and by and large-there were one or two exceptions-a well-tempered one. There were excellent speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe (Steve Baker), for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris), for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), for Wells (Tessa Munt), for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) and for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart). There were also passionate but temperate speeches by the hon. Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett).
I listened carefully to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright). It is easy to oppose a cut in spending programmes. I was in opposition for 13 years and know that it is always tempting for an Opposition to back a campaign and jump on the proverbial bandwagon, but as every accountant knows, wherever there is a credit there has to be a debit. If hon. Members oppose the ending of a half-a-billion pound spending programme, they would have to find that money from elsewhere, but not a single one of the 20 Labour Members who spoke said which cuts they would make to fund that spending commitment.
Mr Blunkett: As a matter of fact, I did make an alternative proposition, which might not be universally welcomed by my party colleagues, which was that post-16 child benefit should be assessable for tax purposes.
We have been determined to protect the money that goes to schools and the front line, and we have managed to ensure that school funding is protected in cash terms and will rise to cover increases in pupil numbers.
Perhaps the Opposition are arguing that there should be no cuts elsewhere, however. Perhaps they are arguing that they would cut the deficit more slowly, and allow it to remain a little longer-another half a billion pounds here, another billion there-so ensuring that we continue to pay enormous interest charges, which now stand at £120 million every day. That could be the Labour party's approach: challenging the capital markets and calling the bluff of the people who invest the pension funds in sovereign debt to pull the plug or downgrade Britain's credit rating.
That is not a risk that the coalition Government are prepared to take. Greece provides an example from not too far away, and Ireland is nearer still. We are not prepared to risk this country's future. We are not prepared to plunge Britain into a currency and debt crisis, and we are not prepared to delay our economic recovery by failing to take the action that is necessary to get the public finances back under control. If we were to do so, young people-the people whom the Opposition purport to be representing today-would bear the brunt of the consequences of this failure. It is young people who suffer when companies freeze recruitment, and it is ensuring that our recovery happens sooner rather than later that lies at the heart of every difficult decision on spending taken by every Minister in this Government.
The overriding tenet of the coalition Government is to close the attainment gap between those from the poorest backgrounds and those from the wealthiest, so in making these changes to EMA we have been determined to ensure that no student is prevented from staying on in education because of genuine financial hardship. The hon. Member for Wigan made a passionate and thoughtful speech, but all her arguments can and will be addressed by the replacement support that we intend to put in place. It is wrong to undermine the research that was commissioned by the last Labour Government and carried out by the highly respectable National Foundation for Educational Research. It had a representative sample size of more than 2,000.
At the moment, EMA is paid to 45% of all 16 to 18-year-olds who stay on in education. That is not a properly targeted system and it is an inefficient use of taxpayers' money in the current economic climate. Our intention is to focus resources on those in real financial hardship to ensure that every young person can continue their education. We are consulting the Association of Colleges, the National Union of Students, the Sutton Trust, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), and college principals and others to work out the best way to use those funds.
We are putting in place measures to ensure that the least well-off receive the support they need to stay in education, and the determination of the coalition Government to close the attainment gap between those from the wealthiest backgrounds and those from the poorest lies at the heart of all our education policies. That is why we are focusing on raising standards of behaviour in our schools; it is why we are tackling reading and literacy in primary schools; it is why we have introduced the baccalaureate to ensure that more children receive a broad education; it is why we are expanding the academies programme and free schools, particularly in deprived areas; and it is why we have introduced the pupil premium.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) made a thoughtful and constructive speech, reflecting her expertise and passion. Her comments about the most vulnerable and disadvantaged students were right. She said that some groups have to be protected come what may, and they will be. It is precisely those groups that we intend to target with our support fund.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) was right when he called for support for poorer students and said that we need to work with local authorities on their transport duties. He asked a number of questions, and I can tell him that we are working with other Departments, particularly the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Transport. I take on board his point about the lack of timely scheduled transport in rural areas. He is also right to ask about young carers, looked-after children and young people, because they are some of the very vulnerable groups that we are particularly concerned about. Many other hon. Members also raised the issue of student transport costs, and we are going to build those into the discretionary part of the support fund.
That this House believes in full participation in education and training for young people up to the age of 18 and considers that support must be in place to allow those who face the greatest barriers to participation to access this opportunity; notes that the previous Government left this country with one of the largest budget deficits in the world and that savings have had to be made in order to avoid burdening future generations; further notes that the Government has increased funding for deprivation within the 16 to 19 budget and has already begun to replace the current education maintenance allowance system with more targeted support for those who face genuine barriers, including travel; and commits the Government to working with young people, schools and colleges and others outside and inside Parliament on arrangements for supporting students in further education and on improving access to, enthusiasm for and participation in further and higher education.
That, at this day's sitting, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to the Motion in the name of Secretary Theresa May relating to Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism.- ( Mr Francois .)
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 17 January, be approved.
There remains a severe and sustained terrorist threat to the UK and its interests abroad. The Government are determined to do all that they can to minimise this threat. Proscription of terrorist organisations is an important part of the Government's strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We would therefore like to add the organisation Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan-the TTP-to the list of 46 international terrorist organisations that are listed under schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the ninth proscription order amending schedule 2 to that Act.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism-that includes the unlawful glorification of terrorism-or is otherwise concerned in terrorism. The Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation only if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, she may, at her discretion, proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion, she takes into account a number of factors, which were announced to Parliament during the passage of the Terrorism Bill in 2000.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): It is not on the particular organisation that I want to intervene, but as I understand it, the debate is restricted to that organisation. Can the Minister tell us whether he has any plans to review any other organisations that are on the list, such as those representing the Kurdish and Tamil communities, as a way of promoting political dialogue and discourse to bring about peaceful resolutions to conflict, rather than people resorting to violence?
Damian Green: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He will understand that, for obvious reasons, it is not the Government's policy, and never has been the policy under any Government, to discuss whether an organisation is or is not under consideration for proscription. It would clearly be foolish for any Minister to give running commentaries on what is going on with individual organisations, so I do not propose to start now.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): My hon. Friend said that this was the ninth in a series of proscriptions. Bearing in mind some of the reservations that were expressed at the time that the original legislation was enacted, can he reassure the House that there has been no sign of any previously proscribed organisations seeking to get round the proscription by such devices as changing their names?
Indeed, that is one of the activities that concerns Ministers and it is one of the things that has happened in the past. Organisations have
sought to reappear under different names and have been re-proscribed. We are extremely aware of the very serious problem to which my hon. Friend refers.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): May I take the Minister back to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)? I do not think my hon. Friend was challenging the subject matter before the House. He was raising the issue of the process. The Act under which the proscriptions are laid before the House is 10 years old. Is the Minister satisfied that the way in which proscription is challenged is robust and will give organisations the opportunity to put their case to the tribunal? That is the point being made, not a challenge to the subject matter.
Damian Green: I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. As he knows, all proscribed organisations are reviewed on an annual basis by a cross-Government group that assists the Home Secretary to come to decisions on these matters. Each case is carefully considered, taking into account all the detail as time passes. The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point that organisations can change over time. There is an appeal mechanism not just to the Home Secretary, but beyond the Home Secretary to an independent committee, so I am confident that organisations can present a case that they have changed. The system and the Act allow for that.
Proscription is a tough power, as is clear from the various interventions, but it is necessary. Its effect is that the proscribed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. Proscription means that it is a criminal offence for a person to belong to or invite support for a proscribed organisation. It is also a criminal offence to arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation or to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of the proscribed organisation.
Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe an organisation only after thoroughly reviewing all the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation. This includes open source material, as well as intelligence material, legal advice, and advice that reflects consultation across Government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Decisions on proscription are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is also right that the case for proscribing new organisations must be approved by both Houses.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary firmly believes that the TTP is currently concerned in terrorism. Although hon. Members will, I hope, appreciate that I am unable to go into much detail, I am able to summarise. The TTP is a prolific terrorist organisation that has committed a large number of mass-casualty attacks in Pakistan. It has announced various objectives and demands, such as the enforcement of sharia, resistance against the Pakistani army and the removal of NATO forces from Afghanistan. Examples of recent attacks include a suicide car bomb attack outside a courthouse in Mingora in March 2009 that killed 14 people and injured 130. Another attack on a police station in Lakki Marwat in September 2010 killed 17 people. Although the majority of attacks have been against military and Government
targets, the TTP is also known to target religious events. In September 2010, a suicide attack on a Shi'a rally killed 50 people.
The group has also claimed responsibility for attacks on western targets. For example, in June 2010 an attack on a NATO convoy just outside Islamabad killed seven people and destroyed 50 vehicles. In April 2010, an attack on the US consulate in Peshawar killed at least six. The TTP has also threatened to attack the west and was implicated in the failed Times square car bomb attack last May.
Proscription will align the UK with the emerging international consensus against this murderous organisation. The TTP is already designated by the United States and proscribed in Pakistan. The proscription of the TTP will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters, and show our condemnation of the terrorist attacks the group continues to carry out in Pakistan. Proscribing the TTP will enable the police to carry out disruptive action more effectively against any supporters in the UK.
I should make it clear to hon. Members that proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping, but is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned in terrorism. The TTP is not representative of Pakistani or wider Muslim communities in the UK. The organisation has carried out a large number of attacks in Pakistan resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties. It is clear that these actions appal the vast majority of British Muslims.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I welcome my hon. Friend's statement. Will he confirm that the Government are looking, as they have said in the past, at proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir, and the political wing of Hezbollah, which still operates in the United Kingdom?
Damian Green: I can only repeat to my hon. Friend what I said to the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). For obvious reasons, it is not this Government's, nor was it the previous Government's, policy to discuss whether an organisation is or is not under consideration for proscription. He will be aware that Hizb ut-Tahrir is an organisation about which we have real concerns, and I can confirm that its activities are kept under review. But as I say, it would be unwise to promote a running commentary on any individual organisation.
Any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by the proscription of an organisation, has an appeal mechanism, as I was saying to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. They can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be de-proscribed, and if the application is refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal that is able to consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions. A special advocate can be appointed to represent the interests of the applicant in closed sessions of the commission. I hope that gives some reassurance to those who were concerned about that.
Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): With respect to any running commentary from the Home Office, my recollection is that we gave something approaching a commitment, at least in opposition, that Hizb ut-Tahrir was an organisation that we wished to proscribe. I understand that there may be difficulties, but it is reasonable to press the Minister for a clearer understanding of the process with regard to this organisation.
Damian Green: With respect to my hon. Friend, I really do not think that it is sensible in such sensitive matters for Ministers to give running commentaries at the Dispatch Box on whether organisations might be about to be proscribed. That applies to any organisation of any kind and background, for obvious reasons that I think he will recognise. That would not be a sensible course of action. There is ample evidence to suggest that the TTP is concerned in terrorism.
Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): Given what the Minister has just said, is it his view that the Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition, made a mistake when he said that he would ban Hizb ut-Tahrir?
Damian Green: No, it is not. The Prime Minister had, and has, concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir, as I hope did previous Prime Ministers, and as I hope does the shadow Home Secretary. As I have just said, its activities are kept under review.
Damian Green: No, because the hon. Lady has already intervened and is about to speak. [ Interruption. ] I regret that Opposition Front Benchers regard the matter as humorous. Many people have been killed by the TTP, which is what the House is debating this evening. There are clearly serious issues about how this country attacks terrorism and defends itself against terrorists, so it is not the time for Opposition Front Benchers to regard something as amusing. There is ample evidence to suggest that the TTP is concerned in terrorism, and I believe that it is right to add the organisation to the list of proscribed organisations under schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I hope that Members on both sides of the House, particularly those on the Opposition Front Bench, will support the Government in that action, which is designed to promote the safety of the British people.
Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the Government's reasons for the order. Let me clarify that no one on the Opposition Front Bench finds these matters amusing in any way whatsoever. I note, however, that the Minister was somewhat under pressure when the Prime Minister's conduct in matters of national security and the banning of organisations was cited. We were merely pointing out that the Prime Minister does not have a glorious record in that regard.
Let me reiterate at the outset for the benefit of the House the approach adopted to counter-terrorism matters by the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls):
"We, the Opposition, will take an evidence-based approach which gives the greatest importance to national security in coming to a view on counter-terrorism issues, and therefore wherever possible we will seek to work with the government and will seek consensus."
To that end, I can tell the House that, despite frequent earlier requests, my right hon. Friend received only in the past hour a Privy Council briefing on the organisation that is the subject of the order. As I have said, we are happy to seek a consensus-based approach on matters of national security, but I point out to Government Front Benchers that that would be helped along somewhat if they provided Privy Council briefings in a more timely manner.
Robert Halfon: To be fair, given what the hon. Lady has just said about Hizb ut-Tahrir, it was Tony Blair who first said that the organisation should be proscribed, and nothing ever happened subsequently.
"The Secretary of State has regard to additional criteria (announced by the Secretary of State in 2001) in deciding as a matter of discretion whether or not to proscribe an organisation. These are:...The nature and scale of the organisation's activities...The specific threat that it poses to the UK...The specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas...The extent of the organisation's presence in the UK...The need to support international partners in the fight against terrorism".
Those criteria seem to be perfectly sensible in providing the basic test against which a Secretary of State may decide to exercise his or her discretion, but will the Minister shed some light on how, in this particular case, they have been applied? The 2001 criteria are not contained in primary or secondary legislation, so in light of that are they under regular review by the Home Office? Will he give us some details about how the Government intend to keep them under review? How frequently will that be done?
Given that the criteria were stated first in 2001, does the Minister consider them to be fully comprehensive still? Could they usefully be added to, and are there any plans to do so? He will be aware that there is a large and settled British Pakistani community in this country, and many British citizens from that community travel regularly to Pakistan to visit family and friends. What is his assessment of the threat that Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan poses to them? That will be a matter of some interest to the British Pakistani community, so I hope that he will take this opportunity to address it. Related to that, is Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan operative in this country? How has the threat that the organisation poses in this country changed since it was set up in 2007, and what is the extent of its operations in this country?
The Minister will also be aware that, as a result of the devastating floods in Pakistan last year, the effects of which are still being felt by the Pakistani population, a large number of British aid workers operate in Pakistan and are involved in vital efforts to provide humanitarian relief and assistance to the flood affectees. Soon after the floods, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan made a number of statements, widely reported in the British media, threatening British aid workers. Will the Minister update the House on the threat posed to British aid workers engaged in flood relief work in
Pakistan, and will he give some detail about the efforts being made to provide the maximum possible security and support to them?
The organisation was set up in 2007, proscribed by the Pakistani authorities in 2008 and designated by the United States in September 2010. What prompted the Government to follow suit now? How was the timing of the decision arrived at? There is, of course, necessary and close co-operation between the Pakistani authorities and the Government in combating terrorism. Is the Minister confident that the Government are doing enough to support the Pakistani authorities and society as a whole to prevent the rise of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan.
Keith Vaz: I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. Is she satisfied about the current process for challenging decisions? We understand that once the House makes a decision, an organisation is proscribed, but there is a process for challenging such moves, and that is right in a democratic society. Is she satisfied with that process, or do the Opposition wish to make any changes to it?
Shabana Mahmood: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. In fact, I intended to put that question to the Minister in relation to any plans that the Government might have to look again at the legal process of appeal for an organisation that has been proscribed. I know that, in previous debates when the previous Labour Government proscribed organisations, my right hon. Friend raised the potential deficiencies in the processes for proscription and for challenging proscription, so can the Minister state the Government's plans in that regard?
Do we know whether other countries intend to proscribe the organisation in the near future? What co-operation has there been between the Government and our allies engaged in operations in Afghanistan and other parts of the world in terms of proscribing it? Will there be continued co-operation, and what is the extent of such work?
Will the Minister give the House some details about the procedure by which the Government intend to keep the list of proscribed organisations under review? Will such reviews take place monthly, quarterly or less regularly, and can we be confident that all organisations that pose a threat to our national security are proscribed?
The House will be aware that during today's Prime Minister's questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) asked the Prime Minister about his plans to proscribe another organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir. This was also mentioned by the Minister. Although Hizb ut-Tahrir is not subject to this order, the Prime Minister's comments about it raise questions about the Government's policy on proscription as a whole.
Further to what was said at Prime Minister's questions, my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has written to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. Let me refer to his letter, because it is important for the House to know this. His letter points out that last year the Prime Minister made a commitment to banning Hizb ut-Tahrir
"despite having not seen any of the evidence".
"The clear suggestion was that proscribing this organisation was a simple act that could be made without any legal obstacles on the basis of the...evidence"
that was available in the public domain. He asks the Prime Minister a number of questions, which I will repeat for the Minister to comment on. He asks the Prime Minister when he intends to fulfil his commitment on Hizb ut-Tahrir and on what dates the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have met to discuss the matter. He asks:
"Will you share with me, on Privy Council terms"-
"the latest available evidence about"
"On the basis of the available evidence, is it still your intention to proscribe this organisation?"
"any plans to amend the relevant legal tests"
Perhaps the Minister could shed some light on the Government's response to those questions, because it is important that the House has placed before it the Government's exact procedures and intentions in relation to proscription. Proscription should be a matter of last resort in order to safeguard our national security, and not the subject of off-the-cuff remarks or ill-thought-out pronouncements by the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I thank the Minister for setting out the reasons for proscribing Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. I have a couple of questions that I hope he might be able to answer, although I accept that if there are security considerations or the information is not in the public domain he may well be unable to do so. I will understand if that is the case.
First, on the catalyst for making this decision, was it prompted by the attempted car bombing in Times square in May 2010? As the Minister will know, the briefing from CTC Sentinel makes it clear that this organisation had been very active in Pakistan since 2007. Secondly, has there been any evidence of any activity in the UK, or any expectation that any assets may be seized?
I want to stress again that I will understand if the Minister is unable to respond to those questions, because clearly there may be security considerations attached. I think that the Government are taking the appropriate action. If he is able to answer them, that will benefit all those in the Chamber, but I am confident that the matter will be sorted out very shortly.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I hope not to detain the House for too long. I know this is a special day for you, Mr Speaker, and I would not like to keep you away from the birthday celebrations that are no doubt being planned for you in the Speaker's house once you vacate the Chair.
This is a very important debate, and it is right that there is a full House to hear what the Minister has to say. In previous debates of this kind, the House has been almost empty; there is an assumption that such orders will go through automatically. That is why I am grateful for the way in which the Minister put the Government's case, and for the way in which the Opposition said-I think-that they will support the Government.
Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend nods. It is right that the questions that she put forward should be answered at some stage-not necessarily this evening, but as soon as possible. I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who raised issues that have to be addressed.
I sat through a number of debates on such orders on the Government Benches, when the Labour party was in power, in which Ministers came to the Dispatch Box and made the case for proscription. It is difficult for the House, because it cannot really challenge Ministers when they make such a case, because they come in good faith and they are in possession of all the information, much of it confidential and much of it given to them by the security services. We therefore accept what the Minister says in good faith.
Just the name of the organisation, the Pakistan Taliban, makes one want to ban it immediately because of the word Taliban. It is obviously not a friendly organisation. Although I know nothing about the organisation-I have heard as much as I know about it from the Minister tonight-I am happy to support what the Government are doing.
However, I caution the Minister and the Opposition-a number of Members raised this point when the Labour party was in government-to look again at the process that should be adopted when organisations want to challenge the decision. I was in the House when Mujaheddin-e-Khalq managed to get its proscription lifted. As the Minister knows, it was proscribed in March 2001, it challenged the decision in June 2001, and it was deproscribed seven years later. It took the organisation seven years to make its legal case against proscription. Therefore, from the point of view of the public, as opposed to that of the organisations, it is important at this time in the life of the Terrorism Act 2000, which has been with us for 10 years, to review the processes. I would offer a review by the Home Affairs Committee-I see that the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) is here-but because the Government's agenda on home affairs is so exhausting and plentiful, it is difficult to find the time to look at this issue. I am sure that we will do so, and certainly in the life of this Parliament.
It is important to consider the process. I will use the example put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), which involves a constituency interest for myself and others, of the previous Government's decision to ban the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. As you know from visiting the island of Sri Lanka, Mr Speaker, the war is over. The LTTE has been defeated, its leaders have all been killed, including Prabhakaran, who was killed as part of the conflict, and the Sri Lankan Government have said that the LTTE no longer exists. However, members of the
community who wish to support charitable causes in Sri Lanka are still sometimes questioned about their involvement, including those who take part in the annual ceremony that takes place on 26 November each year to celebrate the lives of those who have been killed.
Although this is, of course, a narrow order and the proscription applies to those who support the Pakistan Taliban, it is possible that other members of the community who are completely unassociated with this terrible organisation will in some way be caught up in the problem. I think that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) was trying to allude to when she put her questions to the Minister.
I do not expect the answers tonight. After all, the Minister present is the Minister for Immigration, not counter-terrorism. I therefore do not expect the answers, although he is obviously very well briefed, a highly intelligent Member of this House, a hard-working Minister and all the other nice things I could say about him. I have mentioned your birthday, Mr Speaker, but it was also the Minister's birthday on Monday, so we have to be nice to him. The questions that I have asked must be considered, and I hope that if the Minister cannot give me the information that I want today, the Minister with responsibility for counter-terrorism, perhaps in a letter to my Committee, or the Home Secretary next time she addresses the issue, will be able to put my mind at rest.
I fully support the order and hope that the whole House will. We look forward to ensuring that these matters, which by their nature have the possibility of affecting the civil liberties of citizens of this country, are kept under review as closely as possible.
Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): I thank the Minister for his opening statement and acknowledge that we have to accept such recommendations with a degree of trust because we cannot have access to all the information that he and others have. I know that he will have sought and listened to legal advice, as his comments reflected.
I welcome the Minister's saying that the order is not about targeting the Pakistani community or the Muslim community; it is about a group of individuals whose activities need to be addressed and challenged. The Minister's clear statement of that reassurance is really important for a community that has gone through a long period of feeling that it is targeted at every level.
As the Minister said, there is disgust and revulsion at the violence that has been carried out by the individuals in question, against civilians in the vast majority of cases, because cowards like to target civilians. Families and individuals have suffered as a consequence of that violence, and the leadership shown by the House in supporting the order will send out a clear statement about our solidarity in the desire to fight terrorism wherever in the world it manifests itself.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):
I, too, broadly agree with the system that we have in place for proscribing organisations. It is important not only for protecting
ourselves and the security of those whom we represent but for playing our role in the international community in preventing terrorism and the spread of terrorism.
It is perhaps worth noting that the organisation whose terrorism I have personally experienced is Euskadi ta Askatasuna-ETA-in Basque Spain, where I grew up as a child, which is one of the proscribed organisations.
I agree fully with the addition of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan to the list, but I wish to ask the Minister some questions about the full implications of the system and how we arrive at the decision to proscribe some people and organisations and not others. The 2000 Act is pretty clear in its interpretation of what terrorism is. It states:
"In this Act 'terrorism' means the use or threat of action where...the use or threat is designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of the public".
"involves serious violence against a person",
"includes action outside the United Kingdom".
That is obviously vital in the case of many of the organisations that we proscribe, although I note that the elements that the Government consider include not only the specific threat that an organisation poses to the UK but the need to support international partners in the fight against terrorism.
I suggest, as others have this evening, that we have perhaps not quite got the full list yet. I say that not as a reference to Hizb ut-Tahrir in particular but because those involved in the arrest, torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, and all those involved in the corruption that he unveiled in Russia, are and have been engaged in a form of economic terrorism against this country. I hope that the Home Office will therefore look at whether such an order is precisely the right vehicle to use to seize any of those people's assets in this country, or to proscribe them from coming to this country. Sergei Magnitsky was working for a British company in Russia. He unveiled a vast nexus of corruption in the Russian system-$230 million-worth-and he was murdered in prison, having been put there without trial, and there has been absolutely no investigation since his death.
There have been moves similar to those allowed for by this order in other countries. In the United States, Senators McCain and Cardin have co-sponsored a law-the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act 2010-that will impose visa-entry bans and asset freezes on those Russians who took part. On 16 December 2010, the European Parliament recommended a very similar set of proposals-a vote on which was carried by 318 to 163.
I hold no brief for Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, and I do not wish to defend or support them in any way this evening. However, I want to follow the points made by
other hon. Members on the process, which is not satisfactory. We add to the list of banned organisations during a Parliament, but the additions cannot be amended and the subject of the proscribed list is not open to general debate. There is therefore an argument for reviewing that process, and I hope the House heard what the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said-he seemed to indicate that his Committee might well be prepared to conduct an inquiry into the process.
The legislation is now 10 years old. According to the list that I have just downloaded, 46 organisations are proscribed under the 2000 Act, and a further group of organisations are banned in Ireland-presumably that ban applies in this country too. The list contains organisations that clearly no longer exist, and organisations that have changed their names and exist under others. It therefore seems to me to be high time to review the whole question.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins). Proscribing an organisation from a particular country or community affects that country or community, and it affects the attitudes that officials take towards them. It is therefore necessary to consider such things very seriously. For example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked about the LTTE, but it no longer exists and the situation in Sri Lanka has changed dramatically. I would have thought that we ought to look at that as a way of promoting political discourse and dialogue to ensure that the Tamil community has a place for negotiation, representation and political action. That is surely what we are trying to achieve.
Keith Vaz: Another point is the pressure that proscriptions put on the police and their resources. We must be very careful how we proceed with proscription, because the police must go out there and interview members of the community, and possibly prosecute people.
Jeremy Corbyn: Indeed we must, because proscription puts a requirement-not just a pressure-on the police to do those things. Therefore, there is the potential for an enormous waste of resources, not to mention damage to community relations. After all, in this country, as I understand it, we try to include and incorporate, and to build good community relations rather than divisions.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): As somebody of Pakistani origin, may I say that the wider expatriate Pakistani community will fully support the decision to proscribe this terrorist organisation-there is no other way to describe it? Also, the people in Pakistan want a safe, prosperous Pakistan, whereas this organisation is committed to everything that works against that. This organisation was proscribed in 2008 in Pakistan, in 2010 in the United States of America and now in the United Kingdom. Should these periods not be shortened? As the host country of Pakistan proscribed it in 2008, should it not then have been proscribed in other countries soon after, so that it does not have the chance to launder money in other countries?
Obviously, there is a point in what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I also think it is important that this country does not just automatically proscribe an organisation because Government X, Y or Z has said so. If we did that, our history would be very different. Apartheid South Africa banned the African National Congress, yet the ANC had offices in this country, organised in this country, was completely open in this country, and eventually apartheid fell and the ANC became the Government of South Africa. I think we have to be a little careful about making instant responses all the time to banning requests made by particular regimes. I hold no brief whatever for the organisation under discussion tonight; I just think one should be slightly cautious.
Kongra Gele Kurdistan is listed, together with a number of Somali organisations. I have a very large Kurdish community in my constituency, as well as a very large Somali community. None of the people I speak to or represent holds any brief for violence or terrorist actions. They want a political development and a political solution to their problems in Somalia and Kurdistan. I suspect that the Minister will have difficulty in replying to this point tonight, but I urge him to look seriously at those organisations and to review the need for there to be a positive democratic dialogue and process with the Kurdish people in order to bring about a peaceful resolution in Turkey, and the same goes for Somalia.
Banning and proscription do not necessarily work. What works is political dialogue. Let us consider what happened in Northern Ireland. Gerry Adams and John Hume came to an agreement and we eventually brought about a whole peace process there. It is important to look for positive solutions, rather than instant banning and the use of the state apparatus to suppress legitimate political activity.
Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): The hon. Gentleman argues that the democratic process and dialogue cannot take place because some of these groups have been proscribed. He seems to suggest that that in some way hampers democratic dialogue. Clearly, these organisations do not speak for their communities as a whole, however. He mentioned that many of these groups no longer exist. Is it not the case that they no longer exist simply because they were proscribed?
Jeremy Corbyn: There are various reasons why they are not in existence, some of which are to do with proscription, but some of which are to do with military activities in the countries concerned. There is a whole host of reasons.
My point is that proscribing organisations that probably do not exist, and in some cases naming people or suggesting naming people who are alleged to be representatives of those organisations, in turn limits their opportunity for legitimate political activity and political dialogue. I have drawn the parallel with what happened in Northern Ireland, and the parallel of the attitude that was adopted not by this country but by others towards the ANC in South Africa when the apartheid regime wanted it banned worldwide. I just
think one has to look to bring about a solution to such problems, rather than having too simple a process.
I hold no brief whatever for the organisation under discussion, and the will of the House is clearly that the order should be passed. I just wanted to use this opportunity-I thank you for allowing me it, Mr Speaker-to encourage the Minister to consider the points that have been put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), myself and others who have concerns about the process involved in this order.
I am grateful to the House for the many important points raised and, in particular, for the tone of the debate on the key issue of the process. Clearly, the Government are exercising very serious powers, so it needs to be done carefully and kept under proper review. I assure hon. Members on both sides of the House that I very much share their feelings about that.
I should gently say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) that I am genuinely bemused by her point about the timeliness of the briefing given to the shadow Home Secretary. I understand that he asked for a briefing on Privy Council terms early this afternoon and received it later this afternoon. I genuinely do not know how much faster the Government could have been expected to react to that request, so I am puzzled by the point she made.
The hon. Lady asked a number of important questions, some of which were about the criteria and the process. Those legitimate questions were echoed by other hon. Members, not least by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). There seems to be a slight misunderstanding involving the absolute nature of proscription for ever, because this arrangement is not like that. I think it will help all those who asked the questions if I simply go through what has to happen under the Terrorism Act 2000 for a body to be proscribed.
"that it is concerned in terrorism."
"(a) commits or participates in acts of terrorism,
(b) prepares for terrorism,
(c) promotes or encourages terrorism"-
(d) is otherwise concerned in terrorism."
If that statutory test is met, the Secretary of State will take into account other factors when deciding whether or not to proscribe. Those criteria are: the nature and scale of the organisation's activities; the specific threat that it poses to the UK; the specific threat that it poses
to British nationals overseas; the extent of the organisation's presence in the UK; and the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism.
Most importantly, the Home Secretary comes to this decision after having received advice from a cross-departmental group. That group reviews the proscription of all proscribed organisations on a rolling 12-month basis, so there is a permanent rolling programme of checking which groups are proscribed and whether it is appropriate to continue with the proscription. That seems to me to be a proper process, because I take the points made by hon. Members on both sides about how groups can change and how, in all these areas of this world, it is of course in the interests of the British Government and the British people not only to combat terrorism-that is clearly important-but to try to foster a democratic dialogue so that troubled countries can move into the democratic ambit.
I wish to answer some of the other detailed questions, in so far as I can. I was asked by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood and by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington about TTP's activities and presence in the UK. I am sure that the House will understand that I cannot comment on intelligence matters and details, but I can say that the TTP aspires to mount attacks in the west, as was demonstrated by its involvement in the failed Times square car bomb attack, and TTP leaders have publicly threatened the UK in the past. The group also threatens this country by targeting our interests and allied interests overseas: for instance, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on the United Nations World Food Programme office in Islamabad in October 2009, which killed five people.
The hon. Lady rightly asked what the UK Government are doing to help to stabilise Pakistan. We actively engage the Government of Pakistan to implement political reform in the tribal areas. In addition, through the conflict prevention fund, the Foreign Office is spending £3.65 million a year on reducing the governance and security vacuum that evidently exists in that part of the world, improving Afghan-Pakistan relations and co-operation, and reducing insecurity in Balochistan. So we are playing a very active role.
Dr Julian Lewis: I am still not quite clear about one aspect. Surely the banning of an organisation in this country is carried out because there is reason to suspect that it is going to try to be active in this country. It is not simply a matter of trying to perform a terrorist act, which would be a crime in any case, but of trying to function in this country. Is there any evidence that either this group or its sympathisers are currently active in this country? There are of course all sorts of terrorist groups around the world that are not active in this country which we do not seek to add them to our own proscribed list.
Damian Green: If I were to answer my hon. Friend in detail, I would reveal intelligence information. I am sure that he, with his distinguished background in defence, would not want me to do that. I would refer him to the list of criteria I mentioned, which includes attacks on British citizens and British interests, along with those of our allies around the world. I think it would be beneficial if he studied those criteria carefully.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood asked about the review. I hope she is reassured not just by what I said about the rolling 12-month review programme, but by the fact that there is an appeal mechanism-first to the Home Secretary and then to an independent committee. The legislation allows for that. She asked whether the discretionary criteria are still appropriate, and we believe that they are. Counter-terrorism policy is, of course, kept permanently under review. She asked about the time scale; she will be aware that the Home Secretary is currently reviewing the most sensitive and controversial counter-terrorism and security powers and measures. It would be particularly inappropriate to speculate on the outcome of the review, as we are going to announce the findings shortly. I hope that the hon. Lady will be reassured by that.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) raised a particular case. I take his point, but say simply in response that the Government have a wide range of counter-terrorism tools at their disposal, including asset freezing, exclusion and so forth. It would obviously be improper for me to comment on an individual case.
Damian Green: I would be happy to do so, although the hon. Gentleman might prefer to meet the Minister of State with responsibility for security and counter-terrorism. If he wants to meet me, however, it is always a pleasure. I would be happy to do so, as I said.
One of the detailed points made by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) was that proscription does not work, but dialogue does. Of course we all want to move towards dialogue, but proscription does send out a strong message that we do not tolerate terrorism, and it deters terrorist groups from operating here. It should in no way prevent peaceful dialogue. The hon. Gentleman also made a point about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tamil community in this country and elsewhere can express ideas it feels strongly about without supporting the LTTE.
Having heard what I thought was a good debate, I strongly believe, as I think every hon. Member does, that the TTP should be added to the list of proscribed organisations under schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. I emphasise once more that the TTP has carried out a large number of mass casualty attacks within
Pakistan against the Pakistani military and Government and against civilian targets. The number of the group's victims runs into the hundreds. It is important that we make the UK a hostile place for such terrorists and that we show our condemnation of this organisation's activities. The TTP has also attacked western interests within Pakistan and has stated its intention to carry out attacks in the west-a threat given credence by the attempted attack in Times square. It is now right to align the UK with the emerging international consensus condemning this group and its activities. I commend the order to the House.
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 17 January, be approved.
The petitioners oppose any reduction in weekly education maintenance allowance payments in this Parliament. They further oppose the loss of financial support to 14 to 19-year-olds from low-income families who wish to stay on in further education. They therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to take all possible steps to continue the payment of education maintenance allowance.
Declares that the Petitioners oppose any reduction in weekly education maintenance allowance payments in this Parliament and notes that the Petitioners further oppose the loss of financial support to 14 to 19-year-olds from low-income families who wish to stay on in further education.
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): So long ago is it, Mr Speaker, that I last took part in a debate in the House-almost 15 years-that you may forgive me for feeling that this is something like a maiden speech, although I realise that it is not, in the technical sense. Let me say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that I hope my return to Back-Bench advocacy may yield a rewarding response this evening.
I want to highlight the needs of all the people who make the 34.5 million journeys a year on the West Anglia railway line, which is part of the Greater Anglia franchise. The West Anglia line is really a cluster of lines, the main spine of which serves Cambridge from Liverpool Street as well as 14 other stations. Along that spine are 10 inner-London stations and spurs to Chingford, Enfield, Hertford and Stansted airport. I am grateful for the visible support of my hon. Friends the Members for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who are present, and I also pay tribute to those who, over the years, have worked together as a group to act as promoters of the need to improve the service on that line. They include my hon. Friends the Members for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) and for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), all of whom have had similar problems in their constituencies in relation to this line. If it is not provocative of me to say so, we are all in this together.
Let me give a little history. In 1977, when I started commuting from Audley End, which is one of the big commuter stations on the West Anglia line, the best journey time to Liverpool Street was 47 minutes, but today it is rarely possible to do that journey in under an hour and it usually takes more than an hour. I am not criticising the current train operator; in fact, National Express East Anglia can point to increased punctuality levels in what has become a more relaxed timetable. It is the extra demand on the line due to the growth in passenger numbers, notably caused by the introduction of the Stansted Express, that has been behind the slowing down of the journeys that our constituents undertake.
I do, however, criticise successive Governments. The Government of my noble Friend, Baroness Thatcher, set the ball rolling so far as the expansion of Stansted is concerned, by agreeing to it being developed to a capacity of 15 million passengers per annum. The Government of Tony Blair decided that the M11 corridor should be a centre of expansion and also supported a second runway at Stansted with the capability of quadrupling the number of people using that airport.
One might have anticipated some joined-up thinking. If more houses were to be built, whether in the inner or outer-London areas, and there was to be a third London airport, with possibly 80 million passengers per annum, surely to goodness attention should have been given to rail access to that airport. But no; there has been absolutely nothing doing in terms of train and track capacity. The only thing that can be shown is construction of the spur to Stansted airport.
Inevitably, the result has been that overcrowding is worse, journey times are longer and even the Stansted Express has become less express, but of course fares have continued to rise. As my right hon. Friend the Minister knows, some relief on overcrowding is in prospect. I am grateful for the fact that the previous Government did, at last, agree that 120 new carriages should be provided. The only fly in the ointment, as far as that was concerned, is that they were destined to be used largely to satisfy passengers to and from Stansted airport. That would include some of my commuters, but substantially the extra seating capacity covered people travelling only occasionally on the train. Regular commuters from other stations on the line-typically, commuters from Audley End pay about £3,600 a year for a standard season ticket-would have to make do with the type 317s, the principal stock used on the line.
"Tired" would be the politest word that could be applied to that type of train; it has a quixotic heating system and there are times when the doors stay closed, or, alternatively, stay open, neither attribute being particularly helpful to the running of a railway. During the recent cold snap, no fewer than 30 of the 60 four-car units that National Express had at its disposal for the West Anglia line were taken out of service as a result of problems in the traction motor caused by the snow.
I recently discovered that another threat is looming. Apparently, EU regulations in the making will forbid trains having their lavatory waste emptied on to the line. That is a particularly odious situation, especially when seen at Liverpool street. To fit what are politely known as retention tanks to the 317 stock would cost about £3 million, which is hardly an incentive to keep the carriages in service much longer.
The only way to improve journey times is of course to create more track. I am all in favour of a fast service to the airport. It ought to be possible to get to Stansted in 30 minutes, just as it is possible to get to Gatwick in 30 minutes. I am not against that in the slightest degree, but it cannot be done at the expense of improvements to services to stations in my constituency and beyond. It is important that a regular service be maintained for inner-London stations. The mix of fast and slow trains is impossible to achieve on a two-track system, so there has to be-at some point soon, one hopes-more track laid.
Network Rail, in the rail utilisation strategy on which it is working, has options for four-tracking certain sections of the line. There are what I describe as minimal and maxi options. I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not think the thing is worth doing unless one has four-tracking from Coppermill junction, south of Tottenham Hale, as far as Broxbourne. That will enable proper separation of the different types of service. However, it is being contemplated only for the control period that covers 2014 to 2019, so the implementation of even the minimal option is some way ahead. For a long period of years, we shall still suffer the restrictions that currently exist. Even then, of course, any movement on four-tracking will require finance.
With that tale of woe told, I now see the prospect-an opportunity-for improvement. The Department for Transport is working on a new franchise for Greater Anglia, which I believe is due to come into effect in 2013. I hope that the Government will construct a franchise that will place a requirement on the successful
bidder to commit to new trains across the network, rather than just the few that we are going to get, which might all go to the Stansted Express. I also hope that there will be a commitment to helping with the implementation of some four-tracking along the stretch of line that I mentioned. If the Government do not want to go quite that far in the terms of the franchise, at the very least let the franchise encourage the provision of an incentive to the successful bidder to help to bring those things about.
The length of the franchise is absolutely crucial if the train operator is to be encouraged to become a partner with Network Rail on improving the railway line. That has been my opinion for some time, but I note that it is also the opinion of the Association of Train Operating Companies. I was delighted that, by happy coincidence, my right hon. Friend made a statement today indicating that the Government believe in longer franchises. I do not know whether the franchise could be as long as 20 or 22 years, but it is a crucial point, because the longer the franchise, the better our chance of ensuring that there will be more investment soon for the benefit of our passengers. My right hon. Friend has the chance tonight-the omens seem propitious-to provide words of comfort to many long-suffering passengers by saying that a faster and better train service will be delivered soon, and foreseeably soon, for people using all the stations on the West Anglia network.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on making a distinguished contribution on his return to debating from the Back Benches. I also congratulate him on securing a debate on such an important topic and for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the West Anglia rail line and the future for the franchise on the network.
My right hon. Friend assiduously defends the interests of his commuting constituents, and I am grateful for his frequent representations and suggestions for ways to improve how our railways are run. His long-standing interest and expertise on transport matters no doubt aids him in being such an able and effective advocate for his constituents.
Before I respond to the points made by my right hon. Friend, I shall update the House on the franchise arrangements on the West Anglia route. Last September, the Department for Transport issued a notice to National Express East Anglia exercising the Government's contractual right to extend the current franchise by a little over six months. A written statement to the House in December announced that a short management contract would be let for the Greater Anglia franchise, which would be in place from February 2012. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, it was expected that a long-term franchise would begin in July 2013. The competition to let the short-term interim contract started last week.
The timetable has been put in place so that when we let the long-term Greater Anglia franchise, we can take on board the outcome of the recent consultation on rail franchising and the findings of the rail value for money study, which is chaired by Sir Roy McNulty. The study
is aimed at reducing the costs of running the railways, thus making it easier to deliver the kind of improvements that my right hon. Friend has passionately called for in the debate.
Sir Roy McNulty's work to date indicates that better alignment of incentives between Network Rail and train operators is a vital way to get costs down on the railways. We believe that the Greater Anglia franchise is a promising candidate for such a reform because it is less complex and more self-contained than some other lines, and there is already some alignment between the area covered by the franchise and Network Rail's internal regional structures.
My right hon. Friend clearly highlighted the crowding problems on the lines serving his constituency and his general concern about the quality of the rolling stock that his constituents use every day. The Government are funding increased capacity on the National Express East Anglia franchise. One hundred and twenty new carriages will enter service over the next few months, with the first of the new rolling stock in operation from March. Although, as we have heard, those will be deployed primarily on the Stansted Express route, it is worth noting that during the peaks, that line serves commuters as well as airport passengers. I also note that my right hon. Friend mentioned his concerns about the growth of Stansted and the sufficiency of the supporting infrastructure.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and heartily endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst). I welcome the Government's plans to invest in improving the rolling stock. Obviously, hard-pressed Harlow commuters who are crushed every day, particularly in the rush hours, would welcome any signal that the Government can accelerate the plans to improve the rolling stock.
Mrs Villiers: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. As I said, the rolling stock is due to come into service pretty soon-in the next few months in the case of the Stansted Express. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made an announcement about the provision of rolling stock elsewhere on the national rail network. Negotiations are under way with various train operators about those additional carriages.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden will appreciate that, had the previous Government's misguided plans for a second runway at Stansted gone ahead, it would have placed even more pressure on the surrounding infrastructure. That is one of the many reasons why the coalition has firmly ruled out a second runway.
As my right hon. Friend knows, National Express has also decided to operate some of the new units, which were originally destined for the Stansted Express, on Cambridge services. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's successful lobbying on that, because I am sure that it played an important part in the decision to deploy some of the new rolling stock carriages on Cambridge services. The introduction of new units on the Stansted Express and Cambridge services will, in turn, free up carriages that will be used to strengthen services across the Anglia network.
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