Home Affairs

11.31 am

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The Gracious Speech we heard yesterday put forward a comprehensive legislative programme. Underlying it is a basic principle: this Government want to ensure that people who work hard and want to get on in life are able to do so. We believe that it is part of the Government’s role to help people who want to work hard to succeed. We want to ensure that those who do the right thing do not find themselves penalised for their honesty and their commitment to playing fair. The corollary of that is that those who cheat the system and who do not play by the rules should be prevented from being able to take advantage, at the expense of the decent and hard-working majority.

Nowhere is this more true than in the immigration system. We are going to make the UK a harder place to live for an immigrant who has not played by the rules—who has dishonestly overstayed their visa, for example, or who does not have one at all—or who has committed a serious crime. The immigration Bill referred to in the Gracious Speech will do three things. First, it will diminish the pull factors that make migrants want to come to Britain to take but not to contribute. Secondly, it will make Britain a harder place to live for those who have no right to be here. Thirdly, it will make it easier to remove foreign nationals who have committed serious crimes and who should be deported. It will streamline the appeals system, making it much less slow and cumbersome, and give fewer opportunities for using the Human Rights Act 1998 to avoid deportation.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary explain to the House why she has sent back fewer foreign prisoners than were sent back in the last year of the Labour Government?

Mrs May: If the hon. Lady cares to look at the figures, she will see that there has been a significant increase in the number of appeals by foreign national prisoners, which is delaying their deportation. That is exactly why this Government are bringing forward measures in the immigration Bill to deal with the appeals system, and I hope that those on the Opposition Front Bench will support them.

One of the most fundamental injustices of the present system is one that many Members will be aware of from the complaints of their constituents. It is the extent to which immigrants can call on publicly funded services

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without having made any contribution to the system that provides them. Our system is one of universal provision, and it will remain so under this Government, but it is also one that requires some contribution to be made in order for that provision to be accessed. That is the basic principle of justice that underpins the system, but it is a principle that has been flouted. When the Bill becomes law, it will be respected.

The Bill will ensure that temporary migrants and others will not be able to have free access to the NHS until they have made at least some contribution to the Exchequer. Furthermore, the Bill will strengthen legislation that penalises businesses that employ illegal immigrants. It is obviously unfair that those who are not entitled to be in Britain should be able to take jobs that ought to be filled by people who are so entitled. The Bill will strengthen our ability to enforce penalties on employers that have used illegal workers. It will also confirm that a migrant must have lawful immigration status of more than six months to qualify for a UK driving licence.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): On the Home Secretary’s point about businesses that employ illegal migrants, will she explain why the number of businesses fined for so doing has dropped by 40% since the general election?

Mrs May: The rate of certain aspects of prosecutions taking place in relation to certain individuals has actually been higher under this Government than it was under the last Labour Government. That is one of the areas—[Interruption.] I have to say that I am not sure—

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. An hon. Member has just called across the House, saying, “Stop making that stupid face.” Is that parliamentary language?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I did not hear the expression concerned, but I think that it falls into the category of behaviour that is discourteous but not disorderly. We will leave it there for the time being, but I appeal to Members on both sides of the House to remember what I said yesterday. Speaking on behalf of the House and of the public, I believe that we should try to express ourselves with restraint, moderation and good humour, in the best traditions required by “Erskine May”.

Mrs May: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Bill will also introduce a duty on private landlords to carry out immigration checks when letting property. It will penalise landlords who rent property to migrants who are not entitled to stay in Britain.

We shall also introduce an amendment to the immigration regulations covering EU nationals who come to the UK in search of work. They will cease to have a right to reside here and will have no access to benefits if, after six months, they do not have a job and do not have a realistic chance of getting one. There is a glaring unfairness in the way that immigrants’ claims to have the right to settle here are assessed. The system has become so complex that, as one senior judge said recently,

“immigration law has now become an impenetrable jungle of intertwined statutory provision and judicial decisions...There is an acute need for simplification”.

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The immigration Bill will provide that simplification. It will also set out how the courts should interpret article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which sets out the right to respect for private and family life. Last July, we set out clearly before the House what the right to family life should mean. That interpretation was adopted by the House without a Division, because it was unopposed. Unfortunately, some judges have chosen to ignore that interpretation. The immigration Bill will provide them with rules on how article 8 should be interpreted that will have statutory force. It will place strict limits on the circumstances in which the right to family life can be invoked to block deportation. In particular, it will put an end to the unjust situation in which immigrants convicted of serious offences can escape deportation merely by claiming that it would interfere with their right to family life.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making a very important point. The House has made it abundantly clear that the will of the British people is that we should be able to deport people whom it is considered undesirable to have in this country. What assurance can she give the House that judges are going to listen to what the House is saying this time, given that they have not done so in the past?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes a good point: many people are incredibly frustrated by cases in which judges decide that the right to family life means that someone should not be deported, despite evidence of a significant level of criminality. Last July, when we made changes to the immigration rules, I hoped and expected that judges would respond to those changes, given that there was cross-party support for them. As I said, there was no opposition to them in the House. The fundamental difference this time around is that the changes will be made through primary legislation rather than through the immigration rules.

I now move on to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. The Bill aims to diminish the extent to which honest and hard-working people are preyed on by criminals and by bullies who show no regard for the basic rules of civilised living. It will do so in three ways. First, it will make it easier for citizens to get the police or local authorities to take action against people whose antisocial behaviour disrupts their lives. Secondly, it includes measures to ensure that we can tackle organised crime more effectively. In particular, we are substantially increasing the maximum penalty for the illegal importation of guns, and creating a new offence of

“possession for sale or transfer”

of illegal firearms. Thirdly, it continues the process of reform of the police, so that police officers have clear professional standards and are able to spend more of their time fighting crime than filling in forms.

The Bill also contains a provision to make forcing a person to marry a criminal offence. Forced marriage is a serious problem in some communities in Britain today. It is an abomination: it is totally incompatible with the values of a free society that anyone should be forced into a marriage. Astonishingly, however, forcing a person into marriage is not a crime under our law. This Bill will remedy that situation, and in doing so, it will signal very clearly that this country does not tolerate the forcing of one person by another into marriage. The Bill will also

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make easier the prosecution of people who attempt it. Prosecutors will no longer have to identify other offences such as assault or kidnapping before they can start proceedings against someone for forcing another into marriage.

Antisocial behaviour is destructive, demoralising and damaging. When it is repeated over and over again on the same victims, its results can be tragic, as numerous cases involving some of the most vulnerable and easily hurt people in our society have shown. The existing means for dealing with antisocial behaviour are neither quick nor effective. The Bill will give new powers to the police, councils and landlords that will ensure that quick and effective remedies are available. It will also give people the power to require agencies to deal with antisocial behaviour. It will no longer be possible for a police force or a council to ignore repeated complaints, as it is now.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I invite my right hon. Friend to join me in congratulating the police on making savings and on working far more effectively in reducing crime. On the issue of antisocial behaviour, will she review whether unauthorised campers and Travellers returning to the same place, doing damage and causing costs can be dealt with more effectively? This sort of antisocial behaviour is not acceptable and it is resented by local residents.

Mrs May: I recognise the problem that my hon. Friend identifies as one that affects many communities up and down the country. I am pleased to say that in numerous places we have already seen the police taking a more robust approach in dealing with these particular issues. I encourage the police to do that when they are faced with these problems which, as my hon. Friend says, cause considerable concern to local residents.

This Bill aims to give people much greater control over the services that are meant to help them, but which have often in the past been operated for the convenience of those delivering them. The Bill will change that situation.

The Bill tackles another aspect of antisocial behaviour: irresponsible dog ownership. It will extend the offence of being in charge of a dog that is dangerously out of control to apply to any location.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): In looking at the problem of dangerous dogs, can we be more careful this time round, because the last time we attempted this performance, it was a bit of a fiasco and we ended up with bad legislation? The right hon. Lady is right to highlight this issue as a pressing need, but we need to be very careful about how we frame this legislation.

Mrs May: I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says—that it is important in introducing legislation to look carefully at what its impact might be. The clauses relating to dangerous dogs are limited in number. They extend the ability to deal with dangerous dogs into private places. Sadly, we have seen a number of cases where individuals, and particularly children, have been attacked by dogs in the family home. The current legislation does not cover that, but the Bill will enable us to do so.

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We will, of course, look carefully at the drafting to make sure that the provision is as effective as everybody would want it to be.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): The proposals to amend legislation to cover attacks on private property are, of course, very welcome. However, it is extremely disappointing that there is no dog control notice measure or something similar, to prevent attacks from happening in the first place.

Mrs May: I am conscious that a number of people have been asking specifically for a dog control notice. We have not introduced it because we believe that the other powers and orders we are introducing under this antisocial behaviour Bill will give sufficient power to the police to be able to deal with dangerous dogs without needing to introduce a separate—and yet another—notice.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I was bitten by what was obviously a weapon dog during the last election campaign, so although I was not seriously hurt and did not suffer too much, I am very concerned about this issue. I am also concerned about it on behalf of my constituents, who have made many complaints about dangerous dogs. Are the Government going to be serious about dealing with this problem and reintroduce licensing, with every dog having to be chipped, and with a proactive role for dog wardens and the police to ensure that dogs are not dangerous?

Mrs May: Excellent work is done by dog wardens in many local authorities throughout the country. We feel that the legislation we are introducing, which will extend the ability to deal with dangerous dogs, is sufficient to be able to cover the issues that cannot be covered at present. I know some people say, “Why don’t we go back to having the dog licence that was held in the past?” Not only is that quite difficult to administer, but, unfortunately, all too often the owners of dogs we will need to be concerned about do not bother to get a dog licence, whereas the law-abiding citizens do. Giving the police extra powers to deal with dangerous dogs so that they can deal with them in all situations, even within the private home where the dog normally resides, gives the important extension of powers to the police that will enable them to deal with dangerous dogs wherever they may be in the community.

I am sorry to hear of the experience the hon. Gentleman had during the last election campaign. Dogs and letterboxes are the major problems for campaigners. [Interruption.] Yes, I think there would be widespread support for measures on that.

The reform of the police and the modernisation of their regulatory framework has been one of the most important aims of this Government, and it still is. We have ended the tyranny of national targets, eliminated useless bureaucracy and freed up police officers’ time so they can fight crime rather than fill in forms. We have set up the National Crime Agency to fight the cancer of organised crime, we set up the Winsor review of police pay and conditions, and we are determined that the priorities of the police should reflect those of the public they serve.

With the election of police and crime commissioners, we have made local police forces more accountable to the people they serve. This Bill will provide the new College of Policing with the powers it needs to set standards for

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the police in England and Wales. It will also ensure that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has the powers it needs to investigate complaints of misconduct effectively.

Although this was not specifically mentioned in the Gracious Speech yesterday, we intend to introduce measures to clarify the compensation arrangements for those whose property is damaged by riots. The law on this has not been changed since 1886, and, unsurprisingly, it is in great need of modernisation: for example, the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 does not cover damage to cars, because, of course, in 1886 there were no cars. This month, an independent review of the 1886 Act that I have commissioned will commence. It should conclude by the end of September. We shall then consult publicly, before looking to publish a draft Bill in spring 2014, with the aim of introducing it in the fourth Session of this Parliament.

It is one of the fundamental duties of Government to protect the law-abiding public from the effects of criminal behaviour, and I would like to update the House on the position regarding our proposals on communications data. The Government are committed to ensuring that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to protect the public. Existing legislation already allows those agencies to monitor who has communicated by telephone, as well as with whom, when and where. These data are used in 95% of all investigations into serious and organised crime, and they have played a role in every major counter-terrorism operation by the security services in the last decade, but terrorists, paedophiles and criminal gangs today increasingly communicate with each other over the internet using the latest electronic technology. Our proposals are simply about ensuring that we can keep up with criminals as they shift to e-mails, instant messages and the internet, rather than making phone calls. We cannot leave the British public exposed to dangers which could be eliminated were communications data obtained. As the Gracious Speech yesterday indicated, we will be bringing forward proposals to address this most important issue.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): The Home Secretary is well aware of my position, and I thank her for giving way. Will she confirm that, as was said in the Gracious Speech, these proposals will relate only to the aspects involving internet protocol address matching, on which she and I agree, and will be coupled with the safeguards requested by the Joint Committee?

Mrs May: I was about to say that the hon. Gentleman was a little slow in jumping up; I thought he might have done so when I first mentioned communications data. He was a member of that scrutiny Committee, so he will be aware that it said there was a case for legislation in this area. We accepted a number of the Joint Committee’s recommendations on the proposed Communications Data Bill. As I have just explained, because this is an important area for catching criminals and for dealing with terrorists and paedophiles, it is right that the Government are looking to address the issue. The wording of the Queen’s Speech yesterday made it clear that the Government intend to address the issue and, as I say, proposals will be brought forward.

Helen Goodman: Will the Secretary of State give way?

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Mrs May: I am being very generous to the hon. Lady.

Helen Goodman: The Home Secretary is indeed being most generous this morning. When she is considering what to do about IP addresses, will she also look into having better, tighter systems for age verification? We hear a lot about how a better age-verification system would deal with many of the problems that we are facing on the net.

Mrs May: The hon. Lady’s point does not technically come under the remit of the communications data issue and deals with access to the internet more widely. If I have understood the point she is making, there is an issue to address. Some hon. Members have been taking this point up; my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), for example, has been doing a lot of work in this area and examining any possible changes.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am a little confused about what is being proposed for data now. Will it deal solely and exclusively with IP addresses or is the plan to bring in, either in this Session or the next one, what we all described as a snooper’s charter?

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman refers to the proposed measure as a snooper’s charter, as others have done, but it was not about snooping and it was not a charter. It is about ensuring—this will continue in the proposal we bring forward—that we are able to deal with the situation that is emerging, where it is becoming harder to identify these communications because people are using new methods of communication that are not covered by existing legislation.

Hon. Members will note that I have not referred to the justice Bill, which will increase public protection by ending early release schemes for dangerous offenders, or to the offender rehabilitation Bill, which, as we have just heard in my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary’s statement, will require that all offenders released from prison, including those given short sentences, serve at least 12 months under statutory supervision in the community. Neither of those important Bills is the subject of debate today. The Opposition are in charge of the debate following the Gracious Speech, so will the shadow Home Secretary explain why the Labour party does not consider the rehabilitation of offenders and cutting reoffending to be worthy of inclusion in the debate? Perhaps she does not feel that the shadow Justice Secretary is up to the debate, which might well be true, given that he was not even here to respond to that statement, but we would like to know.

The Bills I have outlined send an unambiguous message: we are on the side of hard-working families; we will help people who play by the rules and who want to get on in life; and people should be able to receive benefits only if they contribute something first. On crime, antisocial behaviour and immigration, the Government and this legislative programme are on the side of the people, and I commend it to the House.

11.53 am

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): Once again in the Queen’s Speech we have heard grand claims, from the Home Secretary and indeed

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from the Prime Minister yesterday, about what their plans will do on immigration, antisocial behaviour, law and order, and justice. Sadly, however, the grand claims are simply not backed up by the reality of what they are doing.

The trouble is that we have been here before. We all remember how in this Government’s first Queen’s Speech the Home Secretary brought us the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. She said that it would give the police

“a strong democratic mandate from the ballot box”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 708.]

Instead, she spent £100 million on shambolic elections and only one in eight people turned out to vote, which was hardly a ringing endorsement.

Let us remember, too, what the Home Secretary said about her counter-terror legislation. She said:

“Public safety is enhanced, not diminished, by appropriate and proportionate powers.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 69.]

Instead, she brought terror suspects back to London and on Boxing day one of them ran off in a black cab and no one has seen him since. Let us remember how she promised that Abu Qatada would soon be on a plane, yet we are all still waiting. She promised there would be no cuts to front-line police, yet more than 5,000 officers have already gone from 999 response and neighbourhood teams. Time and again, the rhetoric does not match the reality.

The Home Secretary talked about the data communications Bill—that is, the missing data communications Bill. Here is what she said about that Bill less than six months ago:

“This law is needed and it is needed now. And I am determined to see it through.”

She also said:

“But Sun readers should know that I will not allow these vitally important laws to be delayed any longer in this Parliament.”

Instead, all that that the Queen’s Speech briefing says is that the Government are working with companies and

“It may involve legislation”—

“may”—it “may”; that is clearly the problem.

Dr Huppert: The shadow Home Secretary has carefully avoided saying what the Labour party policy is on the data communications Bill. Two days ago, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the former Labour Home Secretary, said that if Labour had won the last election it would have introduced such a measure. Is that her position? Can she enlighten us?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman should contain himself to squabbling within his coalition and struggling to get some answers. We have always said that action will be needed to ensure that the police can keep up with changing technology. However, the draft data communications Bill drawn up by the Home Secretary was far too wide; it gave the Home Secretary far too many powers and there were far too few safeguards for privacy. It was absolutely right that something had to be done, but that Bill was not the right approach. We must wait to see what approach the Home Secretary will now take, because Government Members are squabbling so

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much among themselves that the result is a shambolic approach to a serious issue. Time and again, that is what we see: there is strong rhetoric from the Home Secretary, and then the reality simply does not stack up.

It is the same when we come to the so-called “flagship” immigration Bill. We now discover that the Bill will not be published until the autumn, because the Government have obviously still not worked out what on earth to do about it. This is an area where we agree that action is needed. Yesterday, the Government told us that the Bill would have five central elements, but now it turns out that three already exist and will not require primary legislation, and two are merely proposals for consultation.

On jobseeker’s allowance, the Government are replicating the exact words in existing regulations. When the Health Secretary was asked about the NHS, all he could say was that he promised to examine the extent of the problem and do an audit. On private landlords, the Government cannot tell us how their policy will be enforced, because they do not know who the landlords are and they will not have a statutory register. Time and time again this Queen’s Speech has not set out the detailed proposals that we need. Instead of “flagship” Bills, all we have are proposals that seem to have been sketched out on the back of a fag packet—no wonder the Government wanted to get rid of the cigarette packaging legislation.

Mrs May: The right hon. Lady has made an attempt at two jokes during her speech, which is probably two more than we normally have. I have a simple question for her: does she agree that net migration was too high under the previous Labour Government?

Yvette Cooper: We have already said that the pace of migration was too fast and that the level should come down; we have supported measures in that regard. However, although the Home Secretary has made grand claims about net migration and the Immigration Minister is attempting to do the same, they will recognise that two thirds of their drop in net migration is a result of an increase in British citizens leaving the country and fewer British citizens returning home.

Let me quote the numbers to the Home Secretary; she is on the edge of her seat, itching to intervene. In fact, the drop in net migration has been 72,000. Of those, 27,000 more Brits are leaving the country and 20,000 fewer Brits are coming home. Is she proud of a set of policies that have driven British people out of the country? I will give way to her if she wants to respond to that point.

Mrs May: On that statistical point, I suggest the right hon. Lady looks at what the Office for National Statistics said, which was that it was not the emigration of British people that led to the drop in net migration. We have reduced net migration by a third. I think she said that she accepted that net migration was too high under the Labour Government. Will she now apologise for that?

Yvette Cooper: The Home Secretary is targeting net migration, which she knows is affected by British people leaving the country—by people leaving as well as people arriving. I state the figures again: a 72,000 drop, 27,000 more Brits leaving the country and 20,000 fewer coming

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home. People obviously do not want to come back to Britain under her Government. That is the problem that she has to face.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady accept that it is utterly astonishing that she is not apologising to the British people for creating such an enormous amount of heartache and grief for them? Rather than encouraging my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in her attempts to put right the failings of the right hon. Lady’s Government, she is standing there and criticising. Should she not be apologising?

Yvette Cooper: Nice try from the hon. Lady, but the facts show that there is a series of problems in this Government’s measures on immigration. I agree that we should have had transitional controls on migration from eastern Europe. There are things that the Labour Government should have done but which did not happen. They should have happened.

We should have people working together. There are many areas on which we agree with the Government and will support the measures that they are taking, but look at what has happened, particularly on illegal immigration. The number of people refused entry dropped by 50%. The number of people absconding through Heathrow passport control trebled. The number caught afterwards halved. The backlog in finding failed asylum seekers has gone up. The number of illegal immigrants deported has gone down. This is not a catalogue of success on immigration from the right hon. Lady’s Government.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con) rose

Yvette Cooper: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, then I want to make some progress.

Nick de Bois: The shadow Minister was bandying around figures about net migration and people leaving this country. She might do well to remember that in the 10 years of her Government, 2 million people aged 25 to 44—the most economically active—left this country, and she has the cheek to lecture us about people not wanting to come back.

Yvette Cooper: As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, people are travelling and trading more than ever. That is why immigration is an important issue for our future and why we must get the policies right. A policy that targets net migration means that the Government can claim to have made huge progress on the things that the British people care about when they are failing to tackle exploitation in the labour market and failing to tackle illegal immigration, which is not even measured in the net migration statistics. Illegal immigration can go on getting worse and worse, yet the Immigration Minister can make more and more claims about his target, and the result is that he is not listening to the real issues that people are concerned about, particularly on illegal immigration.

There are serious issues on immigration, crime and justice that should be addressed in this Queen’s Speech and we support action in all these areas. I shall cover each of them. We want to support many of the Government’s measures, although we will scrutinise the detail. We support action to stop the terrible crime of

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forced marriage and the right hon. Lady will agree that it is important to get the legislation right. We support action on dangerous dogs, though we will wait to see whether it goes far enough and to look at the detail of her proposals.

We welcome action on fire arms, but what is the Home Secretary doing to stop people with a history of domestic violence owning a gun? We need an answer for Bobby Turnbull, whose mother, aunt and sister were tragically killed by Michael Atherton, who was granted a gun licence despite his history of abuse. We agree, too, with more support and rehabilitation for offenders, but where is the evidence that these untested massive private contracts will work? When the Justice Secretary tried it for the Work programme, it proved worse than doing nothing at all, and when the Home Secretary tried it for the Olympics, she ended up calling in the troops.

Time and again the promises do not match the practice. The right hon. Lady promises action on antisocial behaviour, yet she is weakening powers, not strengthening them. There will be no criminal sanction if antisocial behaviour measures are repeatedly breached. She promises that the community trigger will make a difference in persistent cases, yet in the pilots it was hardly ever used. Out of 23,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour in Manchester, the trigger was implemented three times. In Richmond it was not used at all.

Yet still there is nothing to deal with the serious consequences for justice of the police cuts and the policies that the Government have pursued. For nearly 10 years, the proportion of crimes brought to justice went up. In 2002, 18% of crimes were solved, and that rose to more than 30% by the 2010 election. Crime fell, but a higher proportion of crimes were solved. Not any more. We all want crime to keep falling, but we need support and justice for victims too. The proportion of crimes brought to justice has fallen since the election. There are 15,000 fewer police officers, 200,000 fewer arrests and 30,000 fewer crimes solved, and some of the most serious crimes of all have not been followed up or offenders have been let off.

The Queen’s Speech proposes to expand community resolutions for things such as antisocial behaviour, and we support more action in the community to resolve low-level crimes or antisocial behaviour—people apologising to victims and making reparations. But it must not become a short cut for dealing with serious and violent crime because there are not enough police to do the job, and that is what is happening on the Home Secretary’s watch. The number of serious and violent offenders let off after they said sorry has gone up massively since the cuts started—up from 13,000 to 33,000 in just three years. Yet it goes against all the guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers. ACPO says that it should not be used at all for domestic violence because it

“represents serious risk to the victims of such offences and is often subject to a complex and protracted investigation”.

That is too right. We know the pattern in many domestic violence cases: the offender apologises and says he will never do it again and that he really, really loves her, until the next time, when he hits her all over again. The criminal justice system must not sanction that. Yet that is exactly what happened 2,700 times last year—a fivefold increase since before the election and before the cuts

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started; a fivefold increase in the number of cases where a domestic violence offender was let off after they said sorry.

What was the response from Ministers? The Home Office has refused to issue new guidance, to set safeguards, to raise the matter with ACPO, and to rethink police cuts. Instead it says that it is a

“matter for Chief Constables. Through crime maps and police and crime commissioners, the public now have the means to hold them to account.”

That is reassuring. The police are overstretched, violent offenders are getting off, but at least we can Google it, and at least people get a vote in three years’ time. That is not an acceptable response to a serious problem.

On immigration, the grand claims do not match the reality either. We support action in many of the areas that the Government have talked about and we will scrutinise the legislation when it finally comes forward. Concerns about immigration are genuine and Parliament should respond. The pace of immigration has been too fast and we support measures to bring immigration down, particularly from low-skilled migration. But I hope that the Home Secretary will agree that Britain has benefited from people coming to our shores through the generations and contributing to this country. From our great scientists to the founders of our most successful businesses, from our great artists to our Olympic gold medallists, people who have worked hard for this country have boosted our society, our culture and our economy too.

As people travel and trade more than ever in future, in global markets, immigration will be important to Britain’s future as well. It is because immigration is important that it needs to be controlled and managed so that it is fair for all. We supported the proposals on article 8 when they were passed through Parliament last year. Article 8 is a qualified right and it is reasonable for Parliament to say how that should be balanced, especially when crimes have been committed, and we will work further with the Home Secretary in this area. But she should not pretend that the Government’s failure to deport foreign criminals is all because of the Human Rights Act. In fact, the number of foreign prisoners deported has fallen by 800 a year since the election, and she has herself admitted that only a minority of cases involve successful appeals under article 8. Far more often the problem is lost paperwork and administrative incompetence, problems that have been getting worse not better on her watch.

Nor has the Home Secretary set out proper plans to deal with exploitation in the labour market and illegal immigration. I hope that she will now introduce the powers that we put forward for borders enforcement staff in the Bill last year. I also hope that there will be action to close the loopholes on student visitor visas, and further action to deal with the fewer illegal migrants deported, more absconding at the border and fewer cases of illegal migrants reported to the Home Office simply not being followed up.

Kelvin Hopkins: I strongly agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying, but does she not accept that we must argue the case for a substantial increase in staffing to deal with all those matters?

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Yvette Cooper: It is significant that the Home Office has cut around 5,000 staff from the UK Border Agency, and we have seen the consequences, for example in the growing delays for business people, who need visas rapidly, and longer delays and problems with appeals.

Crucially, we also need action to deal with the exploitation of migrant workers to undercut local staff. Where is the action to enforce the minimum wage? Where are the measures to extend gangmasters licensing? Where are the measures to stop agencies recruiting only from abroad? Where are the measures to stop employers using overcrowded housing to get around the minimum wage? Higher fines for businesses employing illegal labour are right, but they are no use if enforcement has dropped by more than 800 companies since the general election.

Let us also be clear that UK Independence party policies would make the situation worse. It wants to end statutory paid holidays, redundancy pay and maternity leave. Getting rid of those entitlements would be deeply unfair. Also, to do so would make it easier, not harder, for employers to exploit migrant workers and undercut local terms and conditions. The truth is that neither the Tories nor UKIP are willing to address the real problem of exploitation and the practical issues that trouble people because they are simply in a race to the bottom in the labour market and in the economy. If they really are concerned about deporting foreign criminals, why are they all determined to opt out of the European arrest warrant, just because it has the word Europe in the title, and even though it was responsible for the swift deportation of 900 suspected foreign criminals last year for trial back home? The reality is that those policies are not driven by facts, justice or a serious concern to get immigration policy right.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): On the question of deporting foreign-born criminals to serve the balance of their sentence in their home countries, does my right hon. Friend agree that, given that most of the prisoner swap agreements we have with non-EU countries need the prisoner’s permission, it is difficult to see how the Government will achieve anything with that stated policy?

Yvette Cooper: We are still waiting to see the detail of the Government’s policy, because in so many of these areas we get strong rhetoric but the reality does not add up to it, and often it does not even emerge.

The Home Secretary might think that she is fending off the threat from UKIP, but actually she is doing the opposite. The more she ramps up the rhetoric and widens the gap between it and reality, the more she increases public concern and the more sceptical people become. This is no time for an arms race on immigration rhetoric. Instead, we need fair and sensible policies that will make things better, not worse.

Let me raise one final immigration issue with the Home Secretary. We agree with the sentiment in the Queen’s Speech that those who come here should contribute, but what about those who have already contributed to this country by risking their lives and those of their families for our troops and our nation, and many of those are still doing so? What about the Afghan interpreters who have supported our troops and face threats from the Taliban as our troops pull out? When we left Iraq,

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we recognised the debt we owed those interpreters. The Americans, the Australians and the New Zealanders are all recognising their obligations to the interpreters. Surely she should show a similar sense of honour and add to the Queen’s Speech a settlement scheme for the Afghan interpreters, to whom we and our troops owe so much? We will support her if she does.

This is a Queen’s Speech that fails to provide the answers on law and order. It fails to provide the answers we need on immigration. It fails to provide help for family living standards. It fails to provide the boost our flatlining economy so badly needs. Once all the pomp and ceremony has passed, the reality of the Queen’s Speech is looking pretty thin. The Home Secretary, like the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, talks tough but does not deliver. As the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) said, she

“talks the talk but does not walk the walk.”

On the Opposition side, we could not agree more.

12.14 pm

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Unsurprisingly, I rather disagree with the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). I think that the Queen’s Speech contained some very positive and interesting aspects, not least the proposals that the Secretary of State for Justice spoke about earlier. The Queen’s Speech set out that

“Legislation will be introduced to reform the way in which offenders are rehabilitated in England and Wales.”

For me, that is perhaps the most important part of the Queen’s Speech. I hope that the programme that the Government bring forward, and the Bill or Bills relating to rehabilitation, will produce real benefits for the public.

I will just add—this follows a couple of newspaper reports over the past few days—that the money available for spending on rehabilitation is, I suspect, being unfairly reduced by the ordering of costs out of central funds for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When it fails successfully to prosecute offenders, sometimes it has to pay its own costs and sometimes it does not, but invariably the successful defendant’s costs come out of central funds. I hope that the Front-Bench team will look carefully at their resources to ensure that central funds are not used—I presume that “central funds” means Ministry of Justice or Home Office money—to bail out private prosecutors when they fail to bring their prosecutions home.

Let me revert to the wider subject of rehabilitation and place it within the context of the criminal justice system as a whole. It strikes me that the criminal justice system is a process, not an event. Our prisons are part of that process and, for all but the very few prisoners who will live out their lives in custody, they are places of temporary accommodation into which and from which the “community”, “society”, the “outside”—call it what we will—sends and takes them back. For most of those who are sentenced to prison, custody is not the end of the journey but a part of it.

Conversely, for many of us—those of us on the outside—who have no experience of the criminal justice system and who have never been into a prison or met anyone who has been sentenced to a term of custody, prison is society’s final answer. That is wrong: prison is itself a process within the wider process of the criminal

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justice system. It cannot be isolated in a silo from the other parts of the criminal justice system, such as the police, the courts, the probation service, the drug and alcohol abuse programmes and the education, training and diversionary activities that run alongside them.

The value of prison for society, law-abiding and criminal alike, should be that it takes in offenders and releases them reformed and rehabilitated so that they can return whence they came as different and better people, ready to participate as responsible citizens, looking after their dependants, free from drug use, better qualified, earning a living, paying their way and going straight. That is no doubt the unattainable ideal to be placed beside the hope of the crime-free society, but just because we cannot have total success does not mean that we should not strive to do better than we are doing now. I therefore look forward to seeing the detail of the Government’s proposals in relation to rehabilitation.

Prison, for most of those who end up inside, is evidence of failure: the offender has failed to look after himself, his family and those he cares for; he has failed to get an education, a job and to maintain his physical and mental well-being; and he has failed to understand, or has simply ignored, the needs and rights of others. In failing in so many ways he has caused incalculable damage to those most close to him and to his immediate and more distant victims. But in sending him to prison and doing nothing with him save incarcerating him—statistically most offenders and prison inmates are male—are we not also failing ourselves, our neighbours, our communities and our country? Prisons, properly understood and properly directed, should be prisons with a purpose that serve the public interest.

Helen Goodman: The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a very reasonable point when he says that we should look at the criminal justice system as a whole, and the interactions between the institutions have a big impact on the effectiveness of the system, but does he not understand that it is precisely for that reason that the proposal to privatise the probation service and extend payment by results without having completed the pilots is so risky, because the institutions will be competing against each other, rather than trying to promote a good criminal justice system for society as a whole?

Sir Edward Garnier: I am glad that the Government are taking a risk, but it is not an irresponsible risk. The outcome that we are looking for is rehabilitation. The probation service should not simply be an employment system; it should be a system more widely looked at that takes prisoners and rehabilitates them so that they can re-engage in society. If the Government’s proposals work—this is not a new idea; the Conservative party has been thinking about it for many years—they should be welcomed. Of course there will be doubt from the trade unions and from the Labour party, which are more state-centric organisations than we are, but for goodness’ sake let us give it a try. The current system is not working. If the Government are to be believed, as they should be in this regard, the Opposition should be a little less wary of this exciting new venture, because the benefits of it working are worth striving for.

At the moment, we have overcrowded prisons that can do no more than lock up for the period of their sentence the violent, the dishonest, the mentally ill, the

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addicted substance abusers, the illiterate, the innumerate and the socially inept. It can do no more than warehouse human beings for no other purpose than keeping them off the streets and preventing them from reoffending while inside. That is not a wrong or improper purpose—it is a very good reason to send an offender to prison—but on its own it is an insufficient and unimaginative purpose, and without more it is a huge waste of public money. If we do no more than house and release offenders and fail to carry out the essential work of helping them to find somewhere to live, to find a job, to stay off drugs and to return to their families and look after their dependants, we will fail again and again, and reinforce that failure.

We have a choice. We can continue to reinforce that failure or we can think hard about why we are failing the victims of crime and those we send to prison, as well as the wider taxpaying public, and do something about it. We can continue to put large cohorts of people into an overcrowded prison estate and send the same cohorts of people back out again to commit more, and often worse, crimes, or we can try to change things for the better—better for the taxpayer, better for the victims of crime, better for the public at large, and better even for the criminal.

Prisons need walls to deny criminals their liberty, to keep them off our streets and to stop them committing further crimes while serving their sentences, as well as to prevent them from escaping and to keep them safe from those on the outside who would do them harm. But those walls also need windows through which society can see in and know what is being done inside in its name and through which the offenders can see out and realise that a life of hope and purpose awaits them and is worth striving for. This is the era that cannot keep a secret and where no confidence is respected, and yet there remains a secret world of which the public know little or nothing: the world inside our prisons. It is time to put those windows in those walls.

No doubt the Government’s plans for rehabilitation will not entirely cure the problem of reoffending, but this is a Conservative answer that is positive, forward-thinking and practical, and at least worth thinking about. The status quo is not an option. Some years ago, the then chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, wrote:

“There is a link between humanity and effectiveness.”

Public safety, in her view, hinges on having an effective process, “And this isn’t one”. She was right then and she is right now. The prison system in England and Wales is creaking. The Prison Service, in its various guises, is confused, and the public are increasingly concerned. Traditionally, correctional policies have focused less on correcting and more on punishment and temporary prevention. Keeping offenders incarcerated and thus protecting society from their crimes and deterring them from committing them again and others from starting on a life of crime, is the job, or one of the jobs, of the prisons, and it is not an easy one. However, the Government are now attempting to deal with the issue.

Another central purpose of custody, and a more challenging one, must be to reduce, even if we cannot totally prevent, levels of reoffending. All but a tiny

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minority of prisoners are released at some point, and it is in our interest to prevent them from returning to a life of crime. As the Prison Reform Trust has written,

“Prisons should be places that hold securely, and make every effort to rehabilitate, serious and dangerous offenders. The skills and focus of those who run them should be wholly directed towards that aim, in the interests of public safety.”

If one thing stands out from any sensible examination of the prison system, it is that this second pillar is unstable, leaving not just room for improvement but potential for danger. It is, furthermore, wasting vast sums of public money. The cost of keeping a criminal in jail must now be well over £50,000 a year, and for younger, teenage offenders I would not be surprised if the cost were well over £150,000 a year. That does not take into account the cost of fostering the children of prisoners while their parents are away.

Stereotypically, any focus on rehabilitation is labelled as soft, but an intelligent analysis of the prison system must surely conclude that regardless of the well-being of offenders, their successful rehabilitation benefits the public purse, enhances public safety, and is in the public interest. I recognise that the need to reduce reoffending must be accompanied by the need to foster a public understanding that reform and rehabilitation of offenders is in their interest and a public good—a necessity not entirely obvious at first glance. As a former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, explained,

“Some newspapers appear to have an agenda which is to persuade the public that judges are soft on crime, that no prison sentence is long enough and that a sentence which does not involve imprisonment is no sentence at all. The only purposes of sentencing which they recognise are punishment and deterrence—rehabilitation does not enter the picture…We need to get across the message that rehabilitation of offenders makes life better not just for them but for the rest of us.”

The Government are now pushing that agenda, and I welcome that. It is clear that there are arguments worth making and that now is not too early to do so.

12.26 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I would like to concentrate on immigration issues and to start with what immigrants bring to the United Kingdom. If we went by what is said by UKIP and in tabloid headlines, we would assume that it is all chaos and problems, but we should stop and think. There is a reason why Slough, one of the most diverse towns in the country, is the third most productive town in the country. Migrants are entrepreneurial, brave and risk-taking. They are prepared to move their families thousands of miles to learn a new language and to build a better future for themselves and their children. That has real benefits for Britain, and we should not forget that. I start from an unashamed view that Britain’s openness to migration is one of our great strengths. The many cultures in our country have played a key role in making us a world leader in cultural and creative industries. The panicked reaction of trying to out-UKIP UKIP was wrong.

I sometimes do not understand why my party constantly keeps saying that we got it wrong on immigration, because I think that we got it mostly right. We stopped a test on arranged marriages that was introduced by the primary purpose rule. We stopped the huge delays for husbands and wives overseas. When we were elected in 1997, asylum cases were taking years to determine. We ended that situation, and we moved it to months.

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Dr Huppert: I agreed with the hon. Lady on almost everything until she said that the previous Government stopped asylum cases taking years to process. She will be well aware that there has been a backlog of hundreds of thousands of asylum cases that have taken very many years, including throughout the time of the previous Government, and the situation has still not been fully rectified. Does she accept that her party’s Government did not in fact stop asylum cases taking years?

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman does not have the history of going into the way that the Home Office works that I have. What happened was that initial determinations of asylum cases had been taking years and years. In ’97, there were thousands of cases that nobody had made any kind of decision on, and the initial determinations were made quickly. He is right that there was a backlog of a number of cases that had been lurking in an underground bunker. In fact, when we were first elected, the underground bunker contained thousands of cases that had not been subject to any decisions at all, and the bunker was full of poison gas. The way in which the Home Office administers cases is ludicrous and I will address the issue later.

I believe that the previous Government did get some things wrong on immigration. We allowed the development of bogus colleges which conned students and allowed people to study here who should not have qualified to do so. We failed most in not sufficiently transforming the administration of immigration that we inherited from the Conservative Government. We did not do enough to make the system work well. We started that work—we introduced e-borders and we proposed identity cards—but we inherited a mess and the Home Office did not sufficiently get it sorted.

Today’s editorial headline in The Times says that the Government are right to prioritise delivery. Although The Times appears to be giving the Government an alibi for not proposing enough legislation in the Queen’s Speech, immigration is a field in which they have failed to prioritise delivery, which is key to ensuring that our immigration system that works. From where does immigration need to operate?

Ms Abbott: On the past Labour Government’s record, I gently tell my hon. Friend that I had a few asylum cases that took longer than two months to resolve. Does she agree, however, that one of the most pernicious myths propagated is that the previous Labour Government had an open-door policy on immigration? There was no open-door policy and it is misleading for people to continue to repeat that.

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right. In order to get effective administration of immigration in the UK, we need to work out where it can best operate, and in my opinion that is at our borders. We are an island, which provides an opportunity for a primary mechanism of border-based immigration control.

It is not possible to operate effective and fair internal immigration control without identity cards, which is why in 2003 I changed my position from hostility towards them to being in favour of biometric ID cards. The Government’s proposed new mechanism seems to be dependent on not just internal immigration control, but wholly privatised immigration controls, with GPs and landlords—any old person—responsible for checking

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people’s immigration status. Frankly, that will open the door to more discrimination: people who do not look or sound British, or who cannot provide documents that the non-immigration authorities understand in order to prove their status, are likely to face particular difficulties. Anyone who looks or sounds like they are from abroad is likely to be targeted. That is not fair or right, and it is not an appropriate way for us to operate in the UK.

We know that landlords and GPs will not be able to understand the bits of paper, because employers who, rightly, already have a responsibility are unable to find out whether their employees are properly qualified. In a significant number of cases in my constituency, that is because the papers that prove status are stuck in the Home Office, which is not making a decision on them. I am not sure how a landlord is supposed to be able to prove to their own satisfaction whether someone is qualified or not.

In order to operate the proposal sensibly, it will probably require a register of landlords, which I would enthusiastically accept, because I am concerned about a number of issues with regard to private landlords. At present, private landlords in Slough habitually say that they do not want tenants on housing benefit, but in my view that is discriminatory: it discriminates against disabled people, who are substantially more likely than anybody else to depend on housing benefit. Lawyers have told me that it would be impossible to bring a case of disability discrimination, partly because landlords are not big institutions and because of the costs involved. If we increase the number of people whom landlords have a duty to discriminate against, we will create a society in which the excluded will number not just those with a suspect immigration status, but those with a perfectly secure immigration status.

Rather than legislating in that way, I advise the Government to get with the programme of making the system work—but that is not what they are doing. On illegal employment, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has said, 800 fewer businesses have been fined in the past year for employing illegal workers. That figure is down from 2,097 in 2010 and 1,215 in 2012. The rhetoric is outperforming activity.

The same is true of the rhetoric on human trafficking. The Prime Minister has said that he wants us to be the leading country in dealing with human trafficking, yet we heard compelling testimony from Kalayaan just a couple of days ago about how the abolition of the overseas domestic workers visa is increasing the oppression of overseas domestic workers in private households. The reach of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority should be spread far more effectively, so that instead of being criticised by the International Labour Organisation, as is currently the case, we can show ourselves to be leaders in preventing human trafficking and the exploitation of workers.

The person who put this case most tellingly was Paul Houston, whose daughter was killed in a hit-and-run incident that became a cause célèbre for those who want to scrap the human rights of foreign nationals, when he said:

“I’m tired of the Borders Agency blaming its failings on human rights instead of just doing its job. Getting landlords to check the status of tenants will lead to suspicion that anyone who isn’t white or who has a foreign-sounding name must be here illegally.”

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Let us consider the proportionality of the proposed deportation and human rights legislation. At present, a person sentenced to a year’s imprisonment is also expected—there is a presumption—to be deported. It is more usual for the Home Office to win rather than lose an appeal against such a case. Of the 819 deportation appeals to the first tier tribunal in the year April 2011 to March 2012, 67%—two thirds—were dismissed and 33% allowed. Very few appeals go to the upper courts and the judges have to decide them according to law, which includes the European convention on human rights as the European Court of Human Rights and the British courts have decided it, and not the Home Secretary’s personal views on it.

The Prime Minister has said that

“from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keep people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.”

However, that is precisely what the deportation proposals and those for the diminution of human rights risk doing. I want to give examples of two cases in my constituency in order to try to persuade the Minister who will respond to the debate to give a commitment that those people whose sentence is only in relation to immigration offences should not be caught by the Government’s proposals.

My first constituent is an African man who has lived in the UK for nearly 14 years. He came as a student, formed a relationship and had a son who was born here in 2003. That relationship broke down, but he is in frequent and close contact with his son and on good terms with his ex-partner about that contact. He was refused re-entry after a visit to his home country because he was not continuing to study and was removed immediately. He returned with another passport and worked on false documents, incidentally for a well-known children’s charity. He was arrested for using false documents to come back to the UK and to try to get permission to remain, and was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment. In the meantime, he had formed a new relationship with a British citizen who was born in Devon and worked at a special school. She was close to her parents and her two very elderly grandmothers. She stuck by him while he was in prison and they got married in August 2010 after his release. They now have an 18-month-old child.

My constituent applied to revoke the deportation order that was made after his sentence and won his appeal in summer 2012 on article 8 grounds. Eventually, he was given the six months’ leave that the UKBA has decided to give in such circumstances. He will have to apply again and pay Home Office fees for a further extension and has no idea when he might be able to get some security. I received an e-mail from his wife yesterday, which said that he

“has returned to work, he now works there full time in the role of security and youth worker. He continues to see his son fortnightly and our son has become familiar with the routine of”

his father

“taking him to a childminder every morning.”

She wrote that he

“is a very important part of my family and we stay with my parents regularly, as well as regular visits with my extended family and he will be an usher at my sisters wedding in two weeks time.”

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That is exactly the kind of person whom the Home Secretary’s proposals are designed to target, unless we are given a commitment that people whose only offence relates to their immigration status will not be included.

My second constituent who has an immigration offence is unsure whether he will be able to stay with his wife and children. The eldest child is 10 years old and has applied for British citizenship, as is that child’s right.

The risk is that we are following the agenda of the tabloids, rather than the agenda of humanity. An alternative approach would be to say that we, as the country that helped to write the European convention on human rights, are proud of our human rights record and will uphold it. We should trust judges to make the decisions on individual cases, rather than write big rules to discriminate against people. We should say that we do not believe in privatising our immigration administration, but that it is time to make the Home Office’s administration of immigration operate better and do what it says on the tin. If we did all those things, this would be a more fair, just and equal country, which is what we should all aim for.

12.42 pm

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): It is a great pleasure to be called in this debate on the Queen’s Speech. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I usually agree with much of what she says and on this occasion I agreed with large chunks of it. I will not go through every constituent in my area who has had to wait years for decisions to be made; the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made the point for me.

I was generally very pleased with yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. It contained a lot of good measures that the Liberal Democrats are proud to have championed for a long time. There was excellent news that will help us to create a stronger economy and a fairer society.

Aspiring businesses will be boosted by the legislation on the national insurance employment allowance of £2,000. That is a progressive way of helping businesses out, giving them a springboard for growth and, critically, encouraging them to hire staff. There are proposals to improve the intellectual property system. The Hargreaves proposals suggested that European Union unitary patents could lead to £2.1 billion in growth. That will be welcomed by a lot of the high-tech businesses in my constituency, although we must not go down the dangerous route of software patents. The Energy Bill, which will continue its passage, will provide green jobs. The High Speed 2 Bill will generate about 100,000 jobs. As we have heard, the £10,000 income tax threshold will lift millions of poorly paid people out of income tax and give money back to others that can be spent to grow the economy.

On fairness, the care Bill will put an end to vulnerable members of society having to sell their homes to pay for care costs in their lifetime. There will also be a new flat-rate state pension, help for carers and the continuation of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. I hope that through cross-party agreement, that Bill will include the proposal to allow humanist weddings to take place in England and Wales, as they do in Scotland.

In government, we have fought for and will continue to fight for a stronger economy and a fairer society, but I will focus on the home affairs and justice measures in

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the Queen’s Speech. I will start with the contentious issue of immigration, on which I largely agree with the hon. Member for Slough. This country benefits massively from immigration. I am pleased to say that very clearly. If we were to take away the immigrants from my constituency, it would be disastrous. The hospital could not function without people who have come from overseas, universities and high-tech businesses would suffer massively, and the quality of society would be massively diminished. We should be delighted that we have successful immigration. Immigrants come to this country and make a huge contribution. I am very proud to support that.

However, our system does not work well. Under this Government, the previous Government and, I dare say, the Government before that, our border controls have simply not been good enough and we have not been able to keep track of people. We definitely want to ensure that the people who should be able to come into this country can get in easily and quickly. They should not have a struggle with bureaucracy or wait months for decisions, whether they are a wealthy businessman or somebody seeking asylum. Everybody deserves a prompt, correct decision. That is not what has happened. Improvements are being made and we will see whether they go far enough. It should be easy for talented business people, academics, researchers and genuine asylum claimants to come here legitimately. There have been far too many problems with that.

I have a constituent who had been sentenced to death in Iran for converting to Christianity. He applied for asylum under the previous Government and was rejected because, although he had a copy of the death sentence, it was deemed that there was not enough evidence that he would be at risk if he went back. Most people who are asking for asylum do not have a copy of a death sentence. That decision has been corrected and he is living in Cambridge and is very active there. The Home Office has been very helpful to members of his family.

We have to fix the system. I want exit checks to be reinstated. That is a long-standing Liberal Democrat position. If we do not know who is leaving, we do not know who is still in the country. That causes frustration because there are lots of figures that suggest that people are still in this country who should not be, when in fact they left many years ago. A lot of the figures on student migration include people who have left the country or who did not come here in the first place.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The previous Government’s abandonment of exit checks has led to the appalling situation whereby we cannot tell who is in the country. I would certainly welcome it if they were put back in.

Fiona Mactaggart: It was in 1994.

Dr Huppert: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I think that it was the Government before last who got rid of exit checks, but they certainly were not restored by the last Government. I believe that they are in the process of being restored by this Government. I look forward to clarification from the former Immigration Minister.

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): There were two sets of exit checks: one for those from outside the European Union and another for

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those from inside the European Union. The final exit checks were removed by the previous Government in 1998.

Dr Huppert: I thank the Minister for his detailed clarification and for being so well briefed. The past two Governments removed one set of exit checks each. We need to have them back so that we know who is leaving.

We must ensure that in the drive to correct our systems, we do not bring in measures that stifle our success or international standing. It is fantastic that we attract students from around the world. They come here and pay money, making this a fantastic export business. Some of them stay and contribute to our economy. Others leave and set up businesses or get elected in their own country, and have a good relationship with our country. We should be proud of that. That is a huge factor in my constituency and many others. We must not drive those people out when we correctly try to stop those who are abusing the system and who come here falsely. We need steps that get it right in both ways.

The demise of the Border Agency was somewhat rushed. We must ensure that there is not just a change of name, but a change of practice. The era of decade after decade of backlogs and of people not getting answers promptly must finally end. We all want to see that; no one in any part of the House would like those backlogs to continue to grow or even to exist at all, and we must have a system that will end them. I hope the Government will manage that, but it will be a tough task.

Ms Abbott: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the inordinate delays and backlogs in the immigration system have two malign effects? First, they make it difficult for those with the type of talent, expertise and entrepreneurship that he describes to have their cases dealt with swiftly. Secondly, they encourage abuse, because many third-rate, dodgy immigration advisers end up giving their clients advice just to play for time.

Dr Huppert: The hon. Lady is absolutely right and I agree with everything she said. Delays cause huge harm, and she is right to pick on a number of the advisers and immigration lawyers who help out. A huge number of reputable lawyers do a fantastic job, but all of us who deal with a significant amount of immigration casework see shocking cases of people who should not be allowed to practise as they do, and who are extorting the vulnerable in a deeply unfair way. It is a huge problem that is cruel to those involved, and we must take action.

Much of what we need to do can be achieved without legislation. Some areas, however, need legislation and I look forward to proposals in the immigration Bill, which I hope will contain good provisions and send the signal that we can do the right thing. I know the Minister for Policing and Justice agreed with this when he was Immigration Minister, but there are, for example, specific issues about the status of children born outside the UK to unmarried British fathers before 2006, and to married British mothers before 1983. These are slightly odd cases because those people are not entitled to citizenship, although they are if they were born to unmarried British fathers after 2006, or earlier in the case of the mother. I hope that anomaly—I think that was the word the Minister used—will now be corrected. I also hope that a number of other proposals will be

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included in the legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) pointed out that asylum support rates should be looked at each year, and I hope that will find its way into the Bill if legislation is required.

The idea of landlords and employers having a role is interesting. For employers the issue is clear, but we need stronger controls on those who knowingly hire people who are not allowed to work. We also need a system that makes it easier for employers. I have seen cases where the UK Border Agency has given employers unhelpful or inaccurate information about people’s right to work. Employers cannot be expected to understand all the details of the system—I do not think any hon. Member in the Chamber would claim to understand every nuance of it, although I am prepared to be corrected—and we must have a simple, clear system. If landlords are also to have such a responsibility, they too need such a system. I do not mind if a landlord has to enter a passport number and name on a computer and gets an answer—I can live with that—but if they all are expected to become experts in immigration law, we should be aware that that simply will not happen. I look forward to seeing how the system will work.

I am delighted that the draft Anti-social Behaviour Bill is ready for consideration, and I am pleased that large parts of it have received pre-legislative scrutiny. That is an excellent pattern, and I hope more Bills will go through such scrutiny, and that future Governments will follow the advice, which is useful to ensure good, rather than rushed, decisions. We must deal with antisocial behaviour, which is a blight on many communities. I do not think that antisocial behaviour orders worked; they felt slow, bureaucratic, ineffective, and we know that many young people treated them almost as a badge of honour. A huge proportion—more than half, I think—were breached. The system simply did not work and was part of an effort to sound tough on antisocial behaviour. I hope that the proposals in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill will work, and I will be disappointed if it turns out that they are just another example of people trying to sound tough. However, I am hopeful that the orders and injunctions it contains will be more effective and produce more effective community remedies.

I will not go through the Bill in detail, but I have one concern about the naming and shaming of offenders under 18, which I think should be done only as a very last resort, particularly now that so much information is available on line. The record of a 14-year-old who is publicly named online will be available when they are 18, 24, 34 or 44, and we run the risk of stigmatising for ever young people—who made errors and should not have done what they did—in a way that would not have happened 20 or 30 years ago. That was discussed by the Home Affairs Committee during pre-legislative scrutiny, and I am pleased at the Government’s indication that such a measure should be used only as a last resort. I hope the Minister will clarify that although one section of the law on naming is being disapplied, clear guidance will be given that that should be done only rarely.

I was happy about the criminalisation of forced marriage, which strikes me as absolutely right and was recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, as well as the work on dangerous dogs. In 2011, there were 6,500 hospital

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admissions in England for dog bites and attacks, not counting those who were treated in A and E and sent home, or the many leaflet deliverers and canvassers who received just a small bite. The new measures will encourage responsible dog ownership, and I am particularly pleased to see the category covering attacks on guide dogs. I spent time with Guide Dogs for the Blind, and I was led blindfolded around my constituency by a guide dog, which was an amazing experience that I recommend to all Members—I see some have had the same experience. There have been a huge number of attacks on guide dogs, which are particularly damaging because of the effect on the person involved and because guide dogs are trained to look after their owner, not turn and fight off the other dog. There are awful cases of a guide dog leading its owner away while being savaged and either killed or seriously harmed, and I am therefore pleased to see protection for assistance dogs included under clause 98, meaning that an attack on a guide dog will count similarly to that on a person.

Rehabilitation has been a long-term Liberal Democrat policy and an issue that we keep discussing. The current jail system simply does not work and there are people who have been in jail but who come out and go back in again, which none of us wants to see. At times, we have seen a bidding war between political parties and areas of the press on who can sound tougher about locking people up for longer. The goal should be to ensure we do not have offences, not to punish people as toughly as we can.

Jail is expensive. It costs £40,000 to put a person in prison for less than 12 months, and many of those will reoffend. The situation is even worse for women offenders, huge numbers of whom are jailed for reoffending. Frankly, there are questions about how many women offenders should be in jail—I think it should be a far smaller number than it currently is. Between 2000 and 2010, the female prison population rose by 27%.

There is firm evidence that measures such as restorative justice and community sentencing are far more effective than costly short-term prison sentences, and that is the right way to go. It is not about being tough on crime but about stopping crimes from happening, and that is what we should see. The continued progress of the rehabilitation revolution will encourage probation services to keep reoffending rates down and shift the focus from being tough on crimes that have already happened to ensuring they do not happen in the first place.

Those are the home affairs and justice Bills in the Queen’s Speech, but I wish to touch on one that I am pleased was not included—the draft Communications Data Bill. This proposed legislation has an interesting history. Last year, the Home Office thought it was ready to be part of a full Bill, but I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said, “No, I am not sure that it’s ready. Pre-legislative scrutiny needs to consider it and pull apart the details to see whether it is fit for purpose.” I served for a long time on the Joint Committee that considered that Bill carefully—it was, I think, the most detailed piece of pre-legislative scrutiny ever done in this House—and concluded that it was not ready at all. Although there was a case, as there always is, for stronger measures, it was nowhere near made. The Committee’s report was quite damning and stated that

“the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes much further than it need or should”.

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That was a unanimous, cross-party, cross-House Committee. The report described some of the information coming from the Home Office as being, in one case, “fanciful and misleading”, and said that evidence for the problem it was trying to solve was misleading and unhelpful. The head of MI5 said that evidence presented on the problem relied on “pretty heroic assumptions”. It also highlighted that some of the proposals could reduce the amount of communications data available in the United Kingdom. It is a strongly written report and well worth reading.

I was therefore delighted that, after the report, and after the Home Office did not address the fundamentals—it did not manage to show how the 500,000 pieces of data that have been collected already were used, or to provide evidence of the benefits and other things—my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced that the proposals would not go ahead. I am delighted with that decision.

I am pleased Her Majesty was clear that most of communications data proposals would not happen. The Home Secretary had a different interpretation, but Her Majesty said that the proposal would address only the problem of matching internet protocol addresses—I am delighted Her Majesty the Queen managed to say that, which I suspect is a first. The Government will not pass legislation allowing a Home Secretary to ensure that records are kept of every website that people visit. They will not take an internal lead forcing internet service providers to monitor and collect information on what everyone does on Facebook, Google, Skype, Twitter or any other platform. We should not set a standard for the world by saying that such information can be collected as it passes through our networks. We will not spend more than £1 billion—£1.8 billion was the original figure, but we suspected that it would increase—snooping on our own citizens. That will not happen under this Government.

I am aware that the Home Secretary would like to implement that proposal, but she will not get her way. We have heard that the Labour party would have liked that, too. A former Labour Home Secretary said on “Daily Politics” that Labour would have gone ahead with the proposal, and the shadow Home Secretary has said that Labour would go ahead with a communications data Bill. She said that Labour would go ahead with collecting web log information and intercepting information on what people do on Facebook and Google. She is not in the Chamber, but if any of the shadow team would like to correct my interpretation of what she said, they are welcome to do so. The Liberal Democrats will stand firm; our position is supported by many Back Benchers and Front Benchers of the other parties in the House.

Safeguards are needed. For example, far too many bodies have access to the information. I was told off for saying in an interview that the egg marketing board was allowed access to communications data information. I had a letter saying that that was inaccurate. I apologise. In fact, the Egg Marketing Inspectorate would be allowed such access.

Evidence will be needed on IP resolution, but I believe legislation will not be needed. We need training on using the huge amount of data available, which is what the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said was most useful. When I asked him how he would spend £1.8 billion, he spoke of training, more officers and better equipment.

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The Queen’s Speech contains much to be glad of, and I am pleased that many measures are not in it. However, I am sorry that Australian influences seem to have killed off proposals on plain packaging, minimal pricing and the regulation of lobbying. I am sure they are separate issues, but there is very much to be proud of, and I look forward to debating the measures over the coming year.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We have a lot of hon. Members to get in. I would be grateful if we could have speeches of between 12 and 14 minutes. I do not want to put a time limit on speeches, but if we can try to use some common sense, hopefully we will get there.

1.3 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Queen’s speech should not have been written on vellum; it is so thin that it should have been written on onion skin. Being slim and having little content might not be bad things in themselves. When Governments are confused and conflicted, it is sometimes better to do nothing rather than frame incoherent legislation. Unfortunately, the legislation framed in the Queen’s Speech does not meet that test—much of it is incoherent. One cannot help asking how easily the Government’s commitment to supporting people who have saved for their retirement sits with a record of quantitative easing that has eroded savings income through reduced interest rates and reduced annuity rates.

I cannot help but wonder how a Bill to reduce the burden of excessive regulation on business will sit with the immigration Bill, which appears to be the flagship Bill of the Queen’s Speech. The immigration Bill will mean that businesses and landlords will be fined and turned into enforcement agencies of the UK Border Agency and the Home Office. The Government have proudly preached the one in, one out principle, but, notably, the Home Secretary has so far failed to identify any corresponding regulations for that regulatory burden.

The Home Secretary spoke of how she would dispose of immigrants with criminal records. Criminal checks are a vexed issue in the Home Office. In March, I wrote a letter on behalf of a constituent—I will call him Mr S. I was advised in December 2011 that Mr S would be granted leave to remain, subject to security checks. I wrote:

“A further fifteen months has now passed however and”

Mr S

“has still not received a final decision on his case. In your response of September 2012 you acknowledged that due to the delay in concluding”

Mr S’s

“case, the original security checks were no longer valid and a new set had been requested. You also advised that they are only valid for a period of three months.”

I asked:

“Please confirm that this second set of security checks has not now also expired and that you now need to apply for a third set. This would be completely unacceptable; however six months has now passed since your letter in September advising that the second set of security checks had been requested”,

so that might be the case.

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In that case, the Home Office had already accepted that somebody would be granted leave to remain, subject to security checks being acceptable, but getting those checks has been impossible for Mr S. During that time—more than a year—he could have been functioning properly, employed in his community and earning, and getting on with his life, but he was absolutely unable to do so because of the incompetence of the Home Office. If we are to have a system in which enforcement is properly carried out and we get rid of people subject to security checks, let us at least ensure that those checks are conducted efficiently.

I have great respect for much of what the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) says in the Chamber. However, I had to laugh when he said, “It would be fine if an employer or landlord simply put details into a computer and got an answer.” Let me tell him what the MPs’ inquiry line and the regional account managers are like. Regional account managers do not always meet their response target of 10 working days. Responses are often holding responses even when they come through. Sometimes, no response at all is received. Rarest of all is a conclusion to a case.

I raised that problem with the MPs’ inquiry office. I was advised that Helen McIntosh, who was formerly in charge of that service, had been moved to other work. At that point, a rota of staff managed the service. It is a constant problem that staff are rotated and moved to other duties, leaving half-finished cases to be picked up again only when the MP chases up the inquiry. In one legacy case last year, we were given repeated assurances over a period of several years that the case would be concluded within deadline after deadline, all of which were not met. Finally, I had a personal commitment from Mark McEvoy to resolve the case by a certain date. When he did not do so I requested a meeting with him. Before that could be arranged, however, I was advised that he had been moved on to other responsibilities.

The idea that one could put a prospective tenant’s name and their Home Office reference number into a computer and get a response by return from the Home Office so that one could say, “That’s fine, you can take the flat next week,” is ridiculous. If hon. Members do not understand that this will lead to discrimination in the provision of services, they are making the cardinal political mistake of believing their own political propaganda.

Let me turn to support for family life, something on which the Government say they pride themselves. A constituent of mine, with a young baby who is a British citizen, is estranged from her violent partner and has been granted limited leave to remain for 30 months on a 120-month pathway to settlement. This single parent who has been subject to domestic violence will have to renew her application every 36 months and pay a fresh, exorbitant fee that, if she is looking after her child, she cannot work to afford to pay. During this period of 10 years, she can work but not claim any of the following public funds: income-based jobseeker’s allowance, attendance allowance, severe disablement allowance, carer’s allowance, disability living allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit, social fund payment, child benefit, housing benefit, council tax benefit or state pension credit. I thank the Government for supporting the family in the way that they do—a woman subject to

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domestic violence whose child is a British citizen, and they propose to toughen the immigration rules! One could hardly do so.

I want to honour your commitment to letting us move on, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I will stop talking about immigration and move on to the final aspect of the Queen’s Speech that it would be remiss of me not to address: the parts of the speech that were not there. There was talk of the Energy Bill, a carry-over Bill that needs to be finished off. The reference to infrastructure in the Queen’s Speech is clearly part of that. The draft Bill was published and we complained that it contained no energy efficiency measures. We were told they would be in the Bill. The Bill was published. It contained no energy efficiency measures and we were told that they would be introduced in Committee. In Committee, there were still no energy efficiency measures. We were told that they would be introduced later in Committee. By the end of the Committee stage we were told that they would come later still. I hope that they will appear later, on Report. I fear that they will appear later in the House of Lords, and that Members will have no opportunity to scrutinise the key, essential bedrock of any energy policy for the next 40 years—energy efficiency. It is an absolute travesty that the Government are seeking to use a carry-over Bill to deny Members the opportunity to conduct proper legislative scrutiny in this Chamber.

The Government have made a classic mistake when it comes to energy policy. They have looked at energy policy in the way that a phlebotomist looks at an organism, concerned only with the blood supply. Energy is the blood supply that keeps an economy working, but they should look at it like a general practitioner would, by looking that the health of the whole organism. The Government have singularly failed to do that. It is essential that we see our energy policy as part of our economic policy and industrial strategy. That is why the Government have failed to introduce proposals for the second phase of carbon capture and storage. That is why their legislation to ensure that no decarbonisation target for 2030 can be brought into law before at least 2016, and maybe not after that, is a catastrophic failure. It fails to ensure that the relevant investment in low-carbon generation is incentivised. That is locking us, as the Chancellor would have it, into high carbon, fossil fuel growth well into the future. It is ensuring that our industry, and the jobs and growth dependent on it, is not being invested in at the moment.

There are many others who wish to participate in the debate and for that reason I will conclude my remarks. It would have been of great benefit to see a food strategy Bill. It would also be nice to think that the throwaway line at the end of the Queen’s Speech, which said that climate change would be on the agenda of the G8 summit after all, had some substance, but we will have to wait and see.

1.16 pm

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): It was a great Queen’s Speech. It was succinct and focused, and I hope that my speech follows suit. It is fantastic that we get the opportunity, during the debates on the Queen’s Speech, to have a free-ranging discussion. I want to cover four specific proposals in Her Majesty’s speech, the first of which is High Speed 2.

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My views on HS2 are clearly on the record, so I will not go into them now. However, I hope that the thoughts, feelings and concerns of my constituents will be taken into account in the new consultation on compensation. I urge those on the Front Bench to consider seriously the merits of a property bond. The high-speed link will be a very long time in coming. Unfortunately, too many of my constituents are trapped in their homes and unable to move. It is not that their house prices have dropped in value—they cannot sell at any price. The advantage of a property bond, whereby the Government underwrite any loss once the line is built, is that it would enable them to get on with their normal lives in the interim. I therefore urge the Government to consider this option seriously.

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill is vital. It is all about the quality of life of our voters in this great country. It is true to say that antisocial behaviour utterly destroys quality of life, whether it is violence, bullying, littering or dangerous dogs. All too often, antisocial behaviour is carried out by kids who have had the worst start in life. I have spoken many times on this subject in this Chamber. If we really want to solve antisocial behaviour we have to focus on the earliest years. In all of our rehabilitation and youth policies, we need to focus on getting the very youngest a good start in life, as this will mean that they do not join the conveyor belt to antisocial behaviour and crime. We need a revolution in support of the perinatal period. We need to work far earlier with those who are pregnant to help them deal with poor maternal mental health and, later, problems relating to poor attachment with their babies.

As I have said before in the Chamber, all of a baby’s brain development takes place in the first two years of life. In the first year, it builds 1 million neural connections per second, while its entire lifelong emotional resilience—its ability to deal with the things that life throws at us—is largely determined by the age of two. Anything we do later to rehabilitate offenders—for instance, to sort out speech and learning difficulties, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or any of the problems that lead young people into a life of antisocial behaviour and crime—would be much better done through prevention policies in the earliest years. I urge again the Front-Bench team to work closely with the Department of Health and the Department for Education to consider a revolution in the perinatal period.

I want to talk briefly about the immigration reform Bill. The Opposition caused these problems. It was undoubtedly their failure to put in place proper transitional controls that caused the heartache, the sense of injustice and the resentment of immigration that we see today. I agree with hon. Members who have said that immigration has been good for this country. I absolutely accept that point. EU immigration has been good for this country, but it has gone too far, too fast, without any controls and, specifically, without a close focus on fairness for the existing population as against fairness for those who would join this country. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) ranted that it was not the time to ramp up the rhetoric on immigration. I could not agree with her less. It is essential not just to talk about it, but to act on it, and that is why the Bill is vital.

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Ms Abbott: Does the hon. Lady accept that there has never been a time when immigration was not discussed, whether in Parliament or the media? Every day for years, there has been a story in the tabloid press. We have had major immigration and nationality Bills in every Parliament. Furthermore, we know where over-heated rhetoric on immigration goes in a time of recession, and it is not a nice place.

Andrea Leadsom: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that comment, because it highlights precisely my point. She is subliminally implying that this generates racism, and that has been the problem with the debate for the past decade. Particularly under her Government, anybody who wanted to talk about the problems of uncontrolled immigration was somehow racist. I have just said that immigration has been of huge benefit to this country—I hope she was listening to that—but at the same time fairness is vital to the interests of this country.

I will now address that fairness aspect, which is where I think the Bill is incredibly important. It should ensure that those who have paid into the system benefit more than those who have not. This is not just a problem that concerns Britain; it also concerns Germany. The Fresh Start project, of which I am a founding member, recently went to Berlin to talk to German politicians and businesses. They feel that immigration has benefited the German economy, but that the fact that people can migrate there for the sole purpose of claiming benefits is simply unfair and generates resentment.

Constituents have said to me at surgeries that it is totally unfair that they, having potentially paid into the Exchequer coffers for years, get so little back if they lose their job. The Fresh Start project has assessed what happens on the continent. Many countries, including Germany and the Nordic countries, have a far more Bismarckian system of benefits payments, which means that if someone who has paid into the system for years loses their job, they can, for a period, generate half of their previous income while they get themselves back on their feet. The system in the UK is very different.

If we are to address the resentment over access to benefits for migrants, and access to benefits for those who have paid in versus those who have not, we need to look seriously at reducing benefits for those who have never contributed either because they have never worked here or because they have recently migrated here. Those who have paid in, as well as school leavers who have not yet got a job but whose parents have paid in, should get a higher level of benefit. That would be fair. In dealing with the impact of immigration on voters’ quality of life, fairness is key.

Helen Goodman: The hon. Lady exaggerates her point about what she calls benefit tourism, but to say that she has got it out of perspective is not to say that there are not significant economic incentives for people to come to this country. Surely, immigration has more likely been fed by the fact that if someone comes here and works hard for, say, three years and saves up £3,000, they have enough to put down a deposit on a house in an eastern European country, but not here. The disparity in exchange rates means that the incentives are totally different.

Andrea Leadsom: I completely agree that the vast bulk of people who come to this country come here to work, but equally the hon. Lady must agree that more

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than 40,000 EU immigrants are claiming child benefit here for children who do not live in this country. If she wants to write that cheque herself, she can then claim that it is a trivial sum, but to my constituents, who are writing those cheques—they are the taxpayers—it is utterly unacceptable and unfair.

Finally, I would like to deal with an excellent Bill introduced in the last Queen’s Speech. The purpose of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill is to address the institutional failure of the banking system. Recent scandals such as LIBOR rigging and swaps mis-selling have left voters utterly disgusted and contemptuous, not just of the culture of banking, but of the seeming immorality of those at the top. I know that the Government have made great efforts, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) through the Banking Commission, to weed out the culprits and to put in place reforms that will minimise the chance of a repeat of this nightmare.

In my opinion, however, another reform is long overdue. We need to spark a revolution in bank competition to facilitate the widest range and type of new financial services entrants and to force the big oligopoly banks to reprioritise excellence in customer service. That revolution is bank account number portability, which would make it possible for us all to switch banks instantly, taking our bank account numbers with us, and would remove the need to fill out endless new forms and re-establish new standing orders and regular payment instructions.

Bank account portability would have four key advantages. First, it would lead to a revolution in competition and bring in new entrants. At the moment, 80% of small and medium-sized enterprises and personal current accounts are banked with the big four oligopoly banks, so new competition—new entrants—is essential. Secondly, it would spark a revolution in customer service and product innovation in the payments sector. Thirdly, it would impose a significant reduction in fraud resulting from systems failures due to the out-of-date legacy systems in the oligopoly banks. I ran an investment banks team during the ’90s when there was a massive merger of banks, broker dealers and funds managers. Each of the oligopoly banks has up to 20 legacy systems. It is unbelievable. The recent failures of RBS-NatWest systems to make even simple payments highlighted that these systems are held together with string and sellotape.

Fourthly, a means of resolution is terribly important in banking. If we have another financial crisis and bank failure, rather than people lining the streets to take out their money, we need a means of instantly transferring bank accounts from a failed bank to a survivor bank. Cyprus is a case in point. The British Government decided to underwrite customer deposits in London branches of Cyprus banks, but we had no means to move customer bank accounts elsewhere. Bank account number portability would solve the very significant issue of resolution.

I am delighted that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is consulting on introducing a new payments regulator in a Government amendment to the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill. An independent regulator would deal with the big problems that the Payments Council and VocaLink—the two bodies governing and providing the infrastructure for payments—are governed

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by the oligopoly banks themselves. It is the most astonishing closed shop. However, I urge the Government to go further and require the new regulator to evaluate bank account number portability properly. Seven-day switching is just more string and sellotape on an already broken system.

This is a positive and optimistic Queen’s Speech, focusing on a small number of high priority Bills for this Government. I believe they will make strong improvements to the quality of life for our voters, which is what it is all about. However, I hope that Back Benchers such as myself will be able to contribute our ideas to making the legislative programme even stronger.

1.30 pm

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). I did not agree with everything she said, but her remarks about banking structures were made with great authority and knowledge, I am sure—and the word “oligopoly” will serve us all well when we do crosswords.

Some comment has been made about how the Queen’s Speech was not widely leaked, but having read it, we can see that there was not a great deal to leak. It was a very thin Queen’s Speech—the thinnest I have seen in my 21 years in this place. I wonder why that is, because for the past months we have been treading water as Members of Parliament, dealing with insubstantial debates, Opposition days and lots of less than vital legislation. However, there are some good things in the speech; I would like to refer to one of them.

The legislation being introduced to allow sufferers of mesothelioma whose employers cannot be traced to gain compensation is a positive step forward. This group of people has been let down for far too long. It is right that we should do everything possible for them to receive reparation, in many cases fairly urgently. However, it is rumoured that under the proposed scheme claimants will receive about 30% less than the standard for asbestos-related cancer, were it the subject of other litigation. Two thirds of what someone is entitled to is probably better than nothing, but justice dictates that they should get 100%, especially as I understand that the scheme is to be funded by the insurance sector, which of late has hardly been on its knees financially.

We might compare the proposed scheme with that which Plaid Cymru Members established in the mid-1970s during the tenure of the Labour Government. As a price for our support to keep that Government going, we insisted on compensation for miners and quarrymen. I am proud that we did that, but it involved a Government-backed scheme. In essence, the Government are taking a positive step forward, but let us look at the detail, to ensure that we do right by the people who are suffering.

There is much to be regretted in this Queen’s Speech, such as compulsory price tendering for legal aid. I declare an interest as a former solicitor who practised in legal aid cases and who also did legal aid-funded work at the Bar. I am not given to hyperbole often, and I do not know whether hon. Members realise this, but the current proposals will mean the disappearance of thousands of solicitors’ firms from the high street. These are firms whose expertise we have always relied on, and they are often family firms that do things gratis for people who

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call in. They will be taken over by larger firms that are not full of legally qualified people. There will be a devastating effect in some areas, especially in rural, smaller towns, where firms will disappear overnight.

The reason is quite obvious: the Government’s proposals are a race to the bottom. The Government confidently expect that any tender for work would have to be 17.5% lower than current legal aid rates. However, legal aid rates have been pegged for the last eight or nine years anyway, so lawyers who practise legal aid are not, in truth, fat cats. There are one or two silks who do extremely well, but I can assure hon. Members that most people—both those at the Bar and solicitors who largely rely on legal aid work—will never retire with a massive pension or be fat cats. To be honest, they may well end up as rather scroggy moggies.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that having only four firms for the entire Dyfed Powys area would mean not only devastation for the many family firms he has mentioned, but inaccessibility and a lack of choice for clients?

Mr Llwyd: That is absolutely right. The Government’s proposal will quite obviously mean that the client will have no choice. It will lead to a paralegal system, with people coming out of the conurbations to try to deal with tens of cases in one day, taking notes roughly and then reporting back, and then eventually somebody will turn up for the trial or whatever. That concerns me greatly. The whole idea of a fixed fee for a trial or plea worries me as well, because there will inevitably be problems. It is a race to the bottom.

There is a further important point to be made about the Welsh language provision we routinely have in Wales. Members might not know this—I have practised in Welsh courts myself—but any trial can be conducted through the medium of the Welsh language, whether a jury trial, a civil matter or a case in the magistrates court. That is as it should be. Welsh has equal status with English in Wales—again, as it should be. That provision and the work that the Courts Service has done over the last couple of decades will disappear overnight. There will be a great deal of anxiety and turmoil in Wales over that. I regret to say that if the Government go ahead with this proposal, they will be directly responsible for damaging the Welsh language and culture and the services available to people in rural and semi-rural areas. That will happen not just in Wales but in England—although I am thinking in particular about the problems of north and mid-Wales.

There are some Bills in the Queen’s Speech that will not enhance the UK’s international standing. Although previously trailed, the fact that the 0.7% of GDP meant for international development will not now be enshrined in legislation is an unfortunate step backwards.

Today we have largely been discussing the impact of the immigration Bill. In parts, the proposed Bill is very unfortunate. Let me explain why. We need to move away from scaremongering and put in place measures to protect domestic workers and prevent employers from undercutting the work force by paying less than the minimum wage. We all know that the agencies are doing that. However, all too often the Government use immigration as a scapegoat, in an attempt to distract us from their failure to create enough meaningful jobs and secure economic recovery.

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I would argue that I live in a nirvana in north Wales. [Interruption.] I see the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), laughing. He does not live too far away. Where he lives is also quite a nice place, although not quite to the same degree as Dwyfor Meirionnydd. However, let us not go down that route just now. I obviously know my area intimately. I will be perfectly honest: over the past few years I have had one or two complaints from individuals who have said, “Why are these people from eastern Europe working in hotels?” They asked why such people are doing this or that. I told them why: because very often local people are not prepared to do that work. They are not prepared to work the long or unfriendly hours.

I can speak with some authority on this matter. A local college in Dolgellau has an excellent reputation for catering courses, among other things, yet none of its students is going into the local hotel industry. They are just not interested. Instead, several well-meaning, hard-working young people have come in from various eastern European countries to do that work. They are putting in the hours and some of them, to their credit, are even learning Welsh. They are working hard and doing the stuff that local people do not want to do. I have yet to see any evidence of a so-called benefits scrounger and have not come across the problem. In my view, benefits tourism is a ridiculous concept. I see the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire grinning at that. We have heard about the 40,000 people claiming when their children are not even resident in the UK, and I understand that point—

Fiona Mactaggart: That will not be dealt with by this legislation.

Mr Llwyd: Perhaps not.

Much of the debate on immigration is dictated by the drumbeat of the United Kingdom Independence party. Why should we spend hours discussing this issue, just because Farage and his bunch think that they are on a roll? There was one council election in Wales last week. It was on Ynys Môn—Anglesey—and UKIP stood in every ward. It did not take a single seat, however. Plaid Cymru took four times as many seats as Labour, and the Conservatives failed to win even one. The Lib Dems, God bless them, took one.

Andrea Leadsom: I want to make it clear that this legislation has nothing to do with UKIP; it has everything to do with fairness for the people of this country who pay their taxes day in and day out and who do not see why someone who has never contributed should come here and use our services. What does the right hon. Gentleman have to say to that?

Mr Llwyd: I heard the hon. Lady make that point in her speech, and I did not agree with everything that she said. That was one of the points that I was unsure about, and I am equally unsure about it now. We must look at the issue carefully, but we need to detoxify the debate. We need to forget about UKIP, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, and get stuck in and have a sensible, cool-headed, factually informed debate. We would do our constituents a great service if we were to adopt that approach. That is probably what the hon. Lady is saying and, to that extent, I agree with her.

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Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that we should simply forget about the cost of all that welfare? A lot of taxpayers—hard-pressed, as we all are at the moment—want us to think carefully about those costs, particularly when the money is going out of this country to children who have never been here.

Mr Llwyd: If the hon. Lady had listened, she would have heard me say that I agree with the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire on this issue. I am not saying we should forget about it—[Interruption.] No, I am not. I understand that money is short, and I did not say that at all. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) has completely misunderstood what I have said, but I do not think that anyone else has done so. I did not say that, but I am saying to her and to everyone outside the House that we need to detoxify the debate and sit down and discuss this issue in a clear-headed, proper manner. We must not dance to the UKIP tune at any time, now or in future.

A number of pieces of proposed legislation in the Queen’s Speech seem at first glance to be driven more by ideology than by common sense. I am particularly interested in the rehabilitation revolution, as it is known. We heard earlier that the probation service had recently acquired a gold medal for the excellence of its service. Now, however, we see evidence that those who have been in prison for 12 months or less are the cohort most likely to reoffend. That is something that we have all known for a long time, yet that cohort has never fallen within the ambit of the probation service’s work. It is little wonder, therefore, that those people reoffend, and something needs to be done. Not a great deal is being done to rehabilitate those people in prison, and once they are out, they are left without any assistance at all. On that, I agree with the Government.

My solution would be simpler, however. It would be to extend responsibility for those people to the probation service. They are the experts. They have been described today by the Secretary of State today as having “expertise and professionalism” and making “a vital contribution”. If that is so, why on earth do we have to bring in the privateers? Was G4S’s performance at the Olympics so brilliant that we now have to bring the company into the probation system?

Nick de Bois: I am grateful to a fellow member of the Justice Select Committee for giving way. He has just suggested that we try to have a sensible debate about this matter. Focusing on privateers is completely erroneous. For example, he knows well the St Giles Trust, a registered charity that does superb work on reforming and rehabilitating people. He must surely agree that this must not become a debate about privatisation.

Mr Llwyd: I often respect the views of the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that we debate issues in a constructive manner when we meet on the Justice Committee. Yes, of course there are people in the voluntary sector who can do this work, but I am concerned that many of those smaller entities will be unable to carry the capital risk, and that most of the work will go to G4S, to Serco and to all the rest of the robber barons who will be jumping in. They will be listening to this debate and eagerly awaiting their chance to enter the

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sector. I hope that they make a better job of it than they did of the Olympics; otherwise, we will have to get the Army in to do it.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says; the third sector—the voluntary sector—does an excellent job. He and I recently visited a third sector institution up in Liverpool, Adelaide House, which is doing an excellent job. To the credit of the previous Government and this one, it is being funded directly, and that is absolutely right. Yes, there is a role for the voluntary sector, and if it is to expand into this area to do such work, I would have fewer objections. However, I question its capability and capacity to handle the capital risk involved.

I welcome the draft Wales Bill, as far as it goes. It will transfer powers over elections to the Welsh Government, introduce fixed five-year terms for the Assembly and overturn the ban on dual candidacy for Welsh elections. I must, however, express my profound disappointment that there was no slot in the Queen’s Speech for a full, proper government of Wales Bill. The pressing need for such legislation is quite obvious. As I am sure hon. Members will know, the Commission on Devolution in Wales, chaired by Paul Silk, recently published its first report, on the financial powers of the Welsh Assembly. It received broad cross-party support. It recommended that the Welsh Government should have control over minor taxes as well as job-creating levers and borrowing powers, so allowing the Welsh Government to raise and invest money in Wales’s public services and infrastructure, thereby improving the economy. The Silk report recommended that those levers be devolved as soon as was practical. Lest we forget, this Government have been effectively treading water for the past nine months or so, and have failed to bring forward any really important pieces of legislation. All things considered, there is surely a case for a legislative slot for such an important vehicle. We are already falling behind, and time is of the essence.

In the absence of a new government of Wales Bill, we as a party have drawn up our own list of Bills that we would like to see debated. That includes Bills devolving to the Welsh Government control over justice and policing, transport and energy powers and job-search functions. We also believe that we should introduce what we describe as an economic fairness Bill. Central to these proposals is our justice and policing (Wales) Bill, which would establish a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales, to correct the anomaly that Wales is at present probably the only country in the world that has a legislature, but no legal jurisdiction of its own to serve it. There is already a very substantial corpus juris establishing itself in Wales that does not have a jurisdiction to serve it, and the need for one is now urgent. It is becoming more pressing month by month.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Speaking as a fellow MP representing Wales, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has costed those proposals and, if so, whether he could share those costings with the House today?

Mr Llwyd rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman deals with that intervention, I remind the House that the Chairman of

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Ways and Means has indicated that if each speaker contributed 12 or 13 minutes to the debate, that would allow all Members to get in without imposing a time limit. We are getting close to needing a time limit, so perhaps those who have already spoken could exercise some self-restraint in not intervening, which would enable the right hon. Gentleman to conclude his remarks.

Mr Llwyd: I accept what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, and you have probably saved me from having to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question.

As I do not have time to deal with that particular query, let me say that the dangerous dogs Bill is welcome, but that we must scrutinise it very carefully. Other measures in the Queen’s Speech are clearly welcome, too, but as always, the devil is in the detail.

I looked at The Independent earlier today, and saw that its front-page banner headline was “Coalition adrift as key policies go missing from Queen’s Speech”. That might be the reason for its being a bit thin, but there are measures that we can all build on, improve and take forward. I hope, however, that the toxic debate about immigration will not dominate wider debate of the Queen’s Speech. I conclude on that note, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you for admonishing me in time.

1.51 pm

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate on the Gracious Speech. It was three years ago this month when Mr Speaker called me to make my maiden speech, and after your recent ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, I can assure you that I will be much more concise in this submission than I was in the previous one.

I would like to take the opportunity briefly to support the measures in the immigration Bill that was announced yesterday in the other place. Last September, during the previous parliamentary Session, I had the privilege to introduce a private Member’s Bill, called the NHS Audit Requirements (Foreign Nationals) Bill, which was intended to tackle the large-scale abuse of our national health service that occurs when people not entitled to receive free NHS care do receive it. That Bill came about as a result of my submission of Freedom of Information Act requests to every health trust in the country. I asked how many foreign nationals they had treated and what level of costs they had managed to recover from the treatments of those foreign nationals—either directly or, more typically, through reciprocal agreements such as the European health card insurance scheme.

The responses I received were really quite shocking, as about half of all health trusts said that they did not record information on the treatment of foreign nationals at all. Many of those who responded with some data provided confused information. Some had treated British citizens who had moved abroad and some had treated those who had served in the armed forces abroad as foreign nationals, while others recorded data only on EU nationals or on European economic area nationals. Frankly, the general picture of how the NHS records data about the treatment of foreign nationals was in a very parlous state indeed.

Technically, people are entitled to free treatment on the NHS if they have been habitually resident in this country for a year or more. The reality, however, is that

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free treatment is available to people—in many cases literally as soon as they step off the plane and arrive in this country. That is certainly the case in my constituency, which has Gatwick airport within its boundaries. I have heard reports of about 150 heavily pregnant women arriving at Gatwick airport every year, and of my local area’s East Surrey hospital having to support and treat those women from the pregnancy process through to birth. Indeed, it was reported to me just this morning that women who are 35 weeks pregnant have often presented themselves at Gatwick airport. That is, of course, a burden on the national health service; it is essentially an abuse of the generosity of our system.

The problem, however, is much more wide scale than that. Where people present themselves to a local GP surgery, the GPs are encouraged to register the individuals and not to ask about their eligibility to receive primary health care or free health on the NHS at all. Once someone is registered with a doctor’s practice, they will receive an NHS number and will then be free to be referred on anywhere in the health care system without any further checks. In the majority of cases, such people will be entitled to free prescriptions as well.

What we essentially have in this country, then, is not so much a national health service as an international health service. I do not think anyone in this place would want to deny the very best treatment that our health system can offer to people in this country and around the world, but people should be able properly to contribute to the system, and the system should be able to recover the costs of treating foreign nationals through reciprocal arrangements or, where such arrangements do not exist, the costs should be directly recovered.

I received an e-mail this morning from the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, my local acute health care trust. It detailed the latest available figures on the cost of treating foreign nationals—to its credit, it does audit them—as more than £500,000. Yet the amount it was able to recover through reciprocal arrangements or directly was in the order only of about £130,000. That is a pretty typical picture across our health service and trusts up and down the country.

Last year, together with the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), I had the privilege of visiting the immigration facilities at Gatwick airport. As part of our discussions with immigration officials at the airport, we spoke to a desk officer who liaises with the Department of Health and NHS trusts in order to try to recover costs from foreign nationals who have used NHS services. The picture presented was again that we were successful in recovering those costs only from a minority of those foreign nationals.

It is incredible that we have allowed this sort of situation to become commonplace in this country. If we look to other European countries, we find that they are much more rigorous in ensuring that the treatment of their foreign nationals, including Britons, under their health system is properly recorded so that those costs can be recovered—in the case of our European neighbours, through the European health insurance card scheme. They achieve that by checking eligibility at the point where health services are received. If someone needs to see a doctor for primary care, a gateway mechanism is introduced. In the case of emergency treatment, it is of course important that care is delivered as soon as possible,

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but in other countries it is again commonplace for the costs of such emergency treatments to be recovered after the individual has been treated, stabilised and is capable of being discharged. It is incredible that we do not do that, which is why I am very supportive of the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech to ensure finally that we have some rigour, because this is ultimately about fairness to the taxpayers who fund our NHS.

It is right that we have an NHS that is universally available regardless of ability to pay, and it is right that that system is largely paid for out of taxation, but it cannot be right that that system is then freely available to anybody arriving in this country without any meaningful checks. By introducing these checks to ensure that our health service is not abused in that way, we can restore confidence in our system and create greater fairness, and also ensure that the health budget is not unnecessarily overburdened, as it is at present, to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.

2 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): I shall direct my remarks to the Queen’s Speech as a whole. I have listened carefully both yesterday and today to the speeches from Members on the Government Benches and heard about the progress towards the sunlit uplands that they have described for us all, and nothing could better demonstrate the fact that they fail to grasp, let alone have any ability to deal with, the problems facing this country. In the face of a flatlining economy, rising unemployment and the loss of the triple A credit rating, all we have from them is more of the same.

Most of all, the Queen’s Speech was marked by a poverty of ambition for this country—by a failure to articulate any vision for the future and a lack of faith in the ability of the people in this country to work their way out of the problems. We hear in here that the economy is improving, but we know that outside it is flatlining and lending to business is falling. We hear that the Government are on the side of people who work, yet those people have lost £1,700 in income since the last election.

That gap between rhetoric and reality comes about because the Government have at their heart a club of old school and university chums who have no idea of the struggles many families in this country face. They know nothing about counting the pennies to get to the end of the week, and nothing about the desolation that unemployment brings. If they talked to people in constituencies such as mine, they would know what is happening. There are people in work who fear they are going to lose their job. There are parents who fear their children will never have a home of their own and never do as well as them. There are grandparents who worry about their grandchildren being out of work. Yet there is nothing in this Queen’s Speech for them.

Some 1 million young people in this country are unemployed, and in parts of my constituency youth unemployment is up by 43%. There is nothing for them in the Gracious Speech. There is nothing to match our job guarantee for young people. I know it is said that the Prime Minister got his first job when someone rang

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up from Buckingham palace on his behalf. I do not think he has ever grasped the fact that most people cannot do it like that.

Our public services are facing unprecedented problems. My local hospital is losing hundreds of posts, many in the front line. It has breached its accident and emergency waiting times on 14 occasions in the last 26 weeks. Yet the same Ministers who have wasted £3 billion on an unnecessary reorganisation and whose Department paid back £2.2 billion to the Treasury have no plans to tackle this. They would rather see skilled nurses and dedicated health assistants on the dole than admit they should change course.

This country—the seventh richest country in the world—is shamed by the fact that thousands of its people rely on food banks, yet we heard nothing in this speech about plans to tackle poverty, much of which, we should remember, is in-work poverty. We heard nothing about encouraging employers to pay a living wage, and nothing about developing the training and skills people need in order to improve their lives and get a better deal for their families.

Although this Government say they support strivers, they instead constantly target them. [Interruption.] For example, they say they have frozen council tax, yet 700,000 of the poorest families—working families—are paying more in council tax as a result of their changes. [Interruption.] Their welfare reform legislation will mean real-terms cuts in tax credits, sick pay and maternity pay for people who are working. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) would stop chuntering from a sedentary position, perhaps she would realise that these sums of money, which are small to members of her Government, for many families in this country make the difference between getting to the end of the week and not getting to the end of the week.

Yet one thing the Government are very good at is transferring blame. We can see that in all their rhetoric about welfare reform, but they neglect to point out that many benefits go to families in work. They neglect to point out that the welfare bill mostly goes on pensions. They neglect to point out that, as a proportion of tax-take, the welfare bill has not, in fact, increased for the last 20 years.

Nick de Bois rose

Helen Jones: I will give way in a moment, after I have made a little more progress.

Why do they use that rhetoric? The answer is simple. They are saying to people in this country, “The flatlining economy and rising unemployment is not the Chancellor’s fault or the Prime Minister’s fault. It’s your sister’s fault for going on maternity leave. It’s your neighbour’s fault for being sick. It’s your cousin’s fault for having a spare bedroom.”

Nick de Bois rose