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MS-01 | Crime, National Security & Defence
Mr Speaker, I beg leave of the House to make a statement regarding policy and operational priorities for the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence.
Rt Hon. Juliet Manning MP, MSc (UCL)
MP for Luton South
Secretary of State for the Home Department
Minister for Defence
Lord High Chancellor
Mr Speaker, sir,
It is a pleasure and a delight to rise in this House for the first time as Home Secretary and as Minister for Defence. Before I speak on the issues at hand, I would like first to pay a tribute to the right honourable lady opposite, my predecessor and now shadow in this role. As an individual and as a stateswoman she proved herself to be capable and formidable; and within the chaos of the modern Tory Party, she is a voice for moderation and reason that is not often enough heard. I wish her all the best for the future personally, even if I cannot do so politically, and hope that our sparrings across the Despatch Boxes can be as constructive and collaborative as I know her to be.
Mr Speaker, the Home Office will find in me a difficult mistress, as will the Ministry of Defence. Far from changing only the fixtures and fittings - and to the right honourable lady opposite, I give my assurance that such things will change - I intend, for the duration of my career in Cabinet, to shift the whole outlook of these departments to one that is more modern, more moderate and more meaningful. Where our predecessors in government presided over stagnation and regression, I will fight always for progress and progressivism - as my party manifesto, and as the coalition agreement, mandate me to do.
I first want to pay tribute, if I may, to the Prime Minister: she has conciliated, compromised and cooperated in ways that her predecessor could not, and that is testament to the best qualities of the Labour Party which she has led into office and the coalition for the formation of which she must take the bulk of the credit.
I would also like the pay tribute to Britain’s committed, diligent police officers, who have faced unconscionable cuts to their resources and who have nonetheless done their utmost to protect all of us. They deserve our thanks, but they need more than our platitudes. That is why the coalition has resolved to add 20,000 new officers to police rosters, and introduce a new role for voluntary PCSOs - on a similar basis to special constables - who can further support the role of community policing. But I know that the right honourable lady opposite is concerned that these new voluntary officers will be seen as a substitute for real investment, so let me reassure her: police budgets under this government will be going up, not down, and even as we save money on wasteful and ineffective Police & Crime Commissioners we will be boosting the number of officers on the streets. Her government stood idly by as bobbies disappeared from the beat: this government will not.
A further tribute must be paid to our armed forces, who so often make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the values of freedom, justice and democracy that I hope we can all espouse in this place. They are the boldest of the bold and the bravest of the brave, and they deserve nothing less than our complete admiration and adoration. For them, I am happy to say that the government will implement the proposed triple-lock on pay, which ensures that servicemen and women receive - at the very minimum - a 3% pay rise each year until 2019. I hope that measure will go some way, if not all the way, to repairing the broken trust between the military and the civil administration - and I hope that where the safety, security and sanctity of our armed forces personnel are concerned, the old maxim of Admiral Nelson and later the Chindits will suffice: the boldest measures are the safest.
Mr Speaker, the marriage of roles - Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Defence - is not one without reason. Increasingly, concern for our national security sees the role of the police, the intelligence community and the armed forces become increasingly intertwined. In pursuing a common - or rather, a shared - strategy for both areas of government policy, I hope to demonstrate quite clearly that Britain’s security, Britain’s interests and Britain’s allies are beyond the reach of hostile nations and groups. We will always act to defend our security, our interests and our allies, and we will not be browbeaten into submission by any foe. It is my role to set the framework for Britain’s security at the very edge of the age of reason: it will be the role of ordinary civil servants to implement the vision. To those public servants, I also extend my thanks and my goodwill. And I hope that, challenging mistress though government departments may find me, they will understand and respect that I, like the right honourable lady opposite, am in politics to make a difference: to not only manage change, but to lead it - to see Britain not as passively rising to the security challenges of the modern world, but as actively leading and beating the world in setting the agenda for a more prosperous, more peaceful future. I look forward to the full support of my right honourable friend, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, in that effort.
Of course, it goes without saying that the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence will remain separate and independent institutions. I hope it also goes without saying that there is and always will be a clear delineation between the role of the police and the role of the armed forces: I hope it is obvious to members across the political divide that our proposals ensure the protection of the principle of policing by consent. And the House will know that the 1689 Bill of Rights makes the maintenance of a standing army illegal except by the intervention of quinquennial primary legislation. Our constitution makes very clear the distinction between the police and the military, and that distinction is borne out most clearly by the principle that our police officers are predominantly unarmed. Under this government, that will continue to be the case.
Mr Speaker, the House will already be aware that in recent weeks the Directorate for Drugs & Alcohol was transferred from the Home Office to the Department for Health & Social Care. I must be the first Home Secretary in recorded history whose first move in office was to diminish her own stature - something that, with the support of kitten heels, I hope to reclaim. The House will also know that this move forms part of a wider approach to drugs policy which treats the taking of illegal and dangerous substances as primarily a public health challenge, and which pursues an evidence-based approach to the criminal law. In short, Mr Speaker, those who use drugs are often victims. They are often victims of exploitation, and are vulnerable people in and of themselves. Under this government, they will be treated as such. Substantial investment in drug rehabilitation centres and programmes will be announced by the Chancellor; and as we shift the consideration of drug abuse into the public health sphere, we will be relieving a heavy burden on the time and resources of our police services across England and Wales.
Of course, those who traffic and deal drugs must always be met with the strongest of penalties, and the government’s policy will reflect that. But in the final judgement, it is clear that the war on drugs has been a war on people: our new battle must be with the causes, not the symptoms, of destitution and desperation - and with those criminals who are behind the exploitation of addicts; not those individuals who dearly need support and rehabilitation in order to reclaim their lives and livelihoods.
Mr Speaker, I can confirm to the House that the government will pursue a programme for the legalisation and regulation of marijuana, and that proposals for the consideration of this chamber will be brought forwards within the next Parliamentary session. As in prohibition-era America the forbiddance of alcohol led to far more dangerous substitutes entering circulation, the prohibition of cannabis for personal use has led to the emergence of dangerous and even deadly strains of strong alternatives. Data show that vast numbers of young people try cannabis at least once, and whilst in procuring quantities of that drug they must come into contact with the purveyors of infinitely more dangerous substances, they are at a significant risk.
Mr Speaker, we know that for the average user, the use of cannabis is less - or certainly no more - dangerous than the use of alcohol or tobacco. Both of these vices are legal and tolerated, subject to sensible regulation, within our society. There is no reason why cannabis should not be tolerated - given the provision of appropriate safeguards - in the same vein, and I can confirm to the House that whilst it is of great comfort to me to have the strong support of Snoop Dogg in this matter, my primary concern remains the safety, and perhaps even more so the freedom, of individual adults making their own independent decisions. Frankly, Mr Speaker, people are smoking cannabis on a huge scale already: at the moment, their payments are flooding into the hands of criminal gangsters who are behind the sale of much more potent and much more destructive goods. By bringing cannabis out of the dark and into the daylight, we can better support those facing problems, better protect users from strong and dangerous strains, and enjoy - to raise a subject that I know is close to the hearts of Conservative members - a quite lucrative tax contribution.
The same approach informs our vision for prostitution, Mr Speaker, which the House will be well aware - and, if I may be frank, some members will be even more aware than is the norm for members of this place - that prostitution is already, in de facto terms, legal and widely tolerated. Yet ladies of the night, many of whom are in circumstances of significant desperation, face great risks to their personal safety and wellbeing. This government intends to legalise the maintenance of safe, clean brothels, where contraceptive measures are provided as standard and where staff are on hand to intervene in the event of threatening or aggressive behaviour. Once again, I say to the House that prostitution is a fact of life and has been throughout human history. It will, by no measure, be eliminated: and indeed, in the case of individual women making an informed choice to sell their services, and in the case of men deciding to purchase the same, there is a strong argument to suggest that the government should not act to prohibit and force a practice into darkened alleyways and dangerous dens of despair. As with our approach to cannabis, this government will bring prostitution out of the darkness and into the daylight: establishing Britain as a modern and enlightened leader in the protection of vulnerable groups, and as a bastion of individual freedom and responsibility within a framework for safety and security as provided by the state. Is that a vision to which the members opposite can truly countenance posing as diametrically opposed? I say for the sake of the record that if that is so, the Conservative Party is no longer the party of pragmatism, realism and modernity that it once claimed to be. And given that the beneficiaries of both marijuana and escort services line both sides of the House, possibly in equal measure, I urge members on all sides to think very carefully about the way in which they will choose to vote on these new measures.
Mr Speaker, I can confirm that measures will be brought before the House to authorise a fifth branch of the armed forces, dedicated solely to the pursuance of emergent cyber, information and technological warfare resources and strategies. It is my intention and the government’s resolve that the United Kingdom should be insulated to an unparalleled degree from the attacks which modern technology makes possible, and that our offensive capabilities in the use of computers and the technology of the world wide web - both of which, I might add, were invented by the British - should be second-to-none. The National Crime Agency will have a role to play in this effort, as will various interested civilian partners. But primacy for our new effort will rest with the military, and I think that is right and proper given the pivotal importance in terms of national security and defence that we attach to this work.
Measures to enable the coalescence of MI5, MI6, GCHQ and Defence Intelligence into a single Centre for National Security will also be brought before you. A single agency with a shared remit, shared resources and a single line of responsibility and accountability to Parliament and the Cabinet will enable us to better meet the challenges of today, and indeed the challenges of tomorrow. No other developed nation has pursued the coordination of central intelligence resources on this scale: we shall be the first, and we shall blaze a trail.
It is important to consider the role of policing as a component of our security apparatus, and in connection with the fight against crime and danger more broadly. I can confirm to the House that on the question of folding the Metropolitan, City of London, British Transport and Royal Parks police into a single police service coterminous with the boundaries of Greater London, I intend to open extensive and in-depth consultations with the Greater London Authority and the Mayor’s office. My view is the view of the Mayor’s predecessor, that such a move would enable the more efficient and effective use of resources, end jurisdictional disputes and provide for all Londoners a police service with which they could engage on an equal footing: whether that view is borne out by the evidence and whether it will be supported by the GLA will come out of these discussions which I look forward to having. If nothing else, I trust that Boris will provide me with rather more entertainment than his comparatively dull and dreary counterpart here at the Palace of Westminster.
It is also clear that we will need to consider pressures on policing nationwide. Nowhere is that clearer than in my own constituency of Luton South.
Mr Speaker, Bedfordshire Police is not financed in an equitable manner compared to other forces that face the high harm, serious and organised, terrorist and serious acquisitive crimes that Bedfordshire tackles. Our crime threats are those of a metropolitan force, yet the force is funded as a small rural force. The evidence case for this disparity of resources has been repeatedly made, and at long last is now accepted by ministers. Bedfordshire receives one of the lowest government grants per head of population, and is in the lowest quartile for budget and police officers per head of population, and for council tax levels. I hope that the House will not consider it overtly parochial for me to give assurances that this imbalance shall now be addressed, and I trust that the Leader of the Opposition, whose own constituency falls within the area of Bedfordshire Police, will be fully supportive of the government’s proposals - even if solely to save face.
Mr Speaker, on the issue of immigration it is clear that people in this country feel ignored. I have been clear that legitimate concerns about immigration cannot be brushed under the carpet. But there are certain facts that we must make clear.
The first is that immigration is of net benefit to the United Kingdom. Immigrants, on the whole, contribute more in tax payments than they receive in welfare payments. Many of our public services, particularly the NHS and the social care sector, rely heavily on an immigrant labour force. And in times of falling unemployment, where businesses are finding it harder to fill their rosters, it is inevitable that skilled immigration plays a part in providing the agile labour resource that we need.
The second is that, in a country and an economy of 2014, one cannot expect immigration to be at the same level as 20 years before. In the 1990s, the world was a different place: less globalised, less dependent on international trade, less open to migration and less tied together by the power of emergent information and communication technology. 20 years hence, our world is more wealthy because of the progress made in virtually every field. The world has not stood still for two decades, and it stands to reason that immigration has not done so either. The Conservative Party knows perfectly well that a “tens of thousands” immigration target is neither desirable nor achievable. So that target has been scrapped.
Mr Speaker, it has always puzzled me that the members opposite - believing as they do in free trade and free markets - can opine at length about the glory of the freest possible movement of other factors of production, and about the wonders of a flexible labour market, and in the next breath baulk at the sight of an immigrant with an accent. It is a knee-jerk reaction based not even on ideology, but on a personal predilection for the white and the English.
So this will be a government which is in favour of immigration and which welcomes immigrants from across the seas. If you want to work, start a business, make a new life and aspire and achieve, Britain can be a home for you.
But, Mr Speaker, people are rightly concerned that our historic embrace of immigration has led to a situation in which, in some specific areas, there is an intense pressure on housing, schools, social security and the NHS which did not exist before. That concern must be addressed, and it is clear that those pressures have been compounded in recent years by politically-motivated austerity aimed at driving a wedge between communities.
I am clear that this government will re-introduce full entry and exit checks at the UK border, providing a clear and transparent assessment of who is coming in and who is leaving. I hope that this will build confidence in immigration control, and allow the targeting of resources at those who overstay their visas. There will be, presented to this House and repeated in the Other Place, an annual assessment of skill and labour market shortfalls and surpluses and their impact on the economy, public services and local communities, together with an audit report on the migration control system.
We will allow for full Parliamentary oversight of Britain’s migration policies, rebuilding lost trust that we are managing this issue in a transparent and discursive manner.
The Home Office is currently reviewing records, in cooperation with the Department for Education & Employment, to determine the proportion of Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants whose English has been assessed as being poor. If that proportion proves to be statistically significant, there shall be implemented a new rule which will make receipt of JSA conditional upon attending English-language courses for those who are not able to speak this country’s mother tongue effectively.
Again, in consort with DEE, we are exploring the possibility of mandating those schools with a high proportion of students for whom English is a second language to provide English lessons for parents. Obviously, this will require additional investment in and resource for the applicable schools: that will be guaranteed.
We will, Mr Speaker, get tough on illegal immigration and bogus asylum claims. Measures will be brought before the House and enacted by executive order to ensure that those without the right to reside in this country are not taking advantage of the opportunities that Britain provides.
But let’s be clear and tell the truth about immigration. Without migrant workers, our NHS could not function; our classrooms would be understaffed; and seasonal industries, particularly in the agricultural sector, would be left close to collapse.
So this is a government which will be positive about immigration and positive about immigrants, who form part of our ever-changing national story. As the Norman French forged the basis of our Parliamentary and legal systems; as Jews from eastern Europe brought us fish and chips; as Irish immigrants became a part of our family; migration is a permanent fixture in the history of our island nation, and it is foolish beyond reason to believe that a protectionist and isolationist policy of shutting the doors can ever deliver the prosperity that we all want to see.
Mr Speaker, we are presently reviewing measures to implement the proposed “Right to Review” for victims of crime, and the right to meet with offenders will be brought into force once we have secured confirmation from the Crown Prosecution Service and police that they are content with proposed arrangements and safeguards.
New sentencing guidance will be issued to mandate a presumption against short-term sentences that will help reduce the prison population and cut crime. This government intends to be the first in recent memory which will cut the prison population, by ensuring that the most serious offenders are put behind bars for life whilst others are not simply warehoused, but dealt with in a way that corrects their behaviour. There will be increased usage of GPS tagging, alongside measures such as unpaid work in the community and curfews, to deal with low-level offences which are not well addressed by short custodial sentences.
Mr Speaker, to turn to the portfolio of defence; I have confirmed already that the pay triple-lock for servicemen and women will be implemented and will be a permanent fixture of budgetary considerations for the next five years. The triple-lock means that armed forces personnel are guaranteed an annual pay rise of the rate of inflation, the average pay increase across the public sector, or 2% - whichever is highest - plus 1%. This guarantees real terms pay increases of at least 1% every year for the next Parliamentary term, and guarantees the minimum nominal increase as 3%.
The House will know that the programme to replace the Trident nuclear deterrent is to be subject to an urgent review, which will consider the replacement scheme and, more broadly, the question of whether Britain in 2014 requires a nuclear deterrent. Let me be abundantly clear for the avoidance of doubt that the burden of proof rests very clearly with the abolitionists in this matter, and that the scrapping of our nuclear deterrent would be an outcome pursued only under the weight of overwhelming evidence and advice. In the event that such a measure were enacted, the funding earmarked for Trident would instead be pumped into conventional forces. So money will not be a consideration; the only consideration will be strategic needs.
Mr Speaker, the Conservative government presided over the largest defence cuts since the end of the cold war. In real terms, 21% of the defence budget was shaved away in just four years. I have made it my personal guarantee to the Chief of the Defence Staff that there will be no further real terms cuts, beyond those already identified for 2014/15.
Those pre-identified savings, of course, reflect our commitment to rebalance the regulars versus the reserves, by reducing the size of the former by 20,000 and increasing the size of the latter by the same. This ensures that Britain’s total deployable military force remains constant, and we are clear that it will not be allowed to decline over the next five years.
Mr Speaker, I look forward to discussing with Admiral Sir George Zambellas, and others as appropriate, how the vision for the reframing of naval strategy around carrier strike forces can be realised. Let me be clear that this government remains committed to the completion of both Queen Elizabeth-class super-carriers: and yes, both carriers will be brought into operation. And further consideration will be given as to whether the decision made by the government in 2012, to overrule the recommendation of the strategic defence and security review by reverting from a CATOBAR model to a STOVL model for the carriers, represents the best option for maximising our strategic strike capacity.
Mr Speaker, sir, I hope that I have provided for the benefit of the House a succinct summation of my priorities and the government’s priorities in those policy and operational areas which fall within my ministerial remit. I hope to be able to engage in a constructive dialogue with members across the House about progress on our core deliverables, and look forward to presenting regular reports of progress in the future. To conclude, let me say this: the most important duty of any government is to make provision for the safety of the people it serves, and the security of the sovereign state for which it is responsible. It is a duty that I take incredibly seriously and one which I know the Prime Minister does too. We will never play roulette with the safety and security of the British people, or with the sanctity of British interests across the seas: that is why this government is a government that will earn the right to be spoken of as having worked hard for working Britons, and that is why this government will commit itself most diligently to the realisation of the United Kingdom as a world-leading and a world-beating bastion of liberal democracy once again.
I thank you for your indulgence, Mr Speaker, and I commend this statement to the House.
Rt Hon. Juliet Manning MP, MSc (UCL)
MP for Luton South
Secretary of State for the Home Department
Minister for Defence
Lord High Chancellor