Tuesday 17 July 2012
[Mr Dai Havard in the Chair]
Zimbabwe (Blood Diamonds)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Bill Wiggin.)
May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Havard? It is a delight to speak under your guidance, as a fellow south Wales valleys Member of Parliament. I immediately pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey); in her chairmanship of the all-party group on Zimbabwe, she has provided inspirational leadership for a long time.
In December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/55/56, supporting the creation of an international certification scheme for rough diamonds. That led to the Kimberley process, a mechanism for negotiations, and the international treaty banning blood diamonds, established under UN Security Council resolution 1459 in January 2003. I put a great deal of effort into achieving that when I was British Minister for Africa, because illegally traded blood diamonds were paying for arms, which fuelled conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in Sierra Leone, where those very arms were used against British troops by terrorists. Now we are seeing a different kind of blood diamond from Marange in Zimbabwe, and it is high time that the Kimberley process and the World Diamond Council stopped turning a blind eye to serious abuse with an anti-democratic, violent purpose.
The history of Zimbabwe has been punctuated with violence. Cecil Rhodes’s exercise of colonial power in southern Africa was built on a monopoly of violence. Until it was swept away by the liberation war, which I supported as a British anti-apartheid leader at the time, Ian Smith’s racist Rhodesian regime used violence against opponents demanding democracy. Robert Mugabe’s ZANU, first elected in a landslide victory in 1980, betrayed the freedom struggle that it once led with distinction, by systematically using violence as a political strategy to maintain power and the privileges of an increasingly corrupt mafia surrounding him. Killings, torture and beatings of ZANU-PF opponents and massive human rights abuses accompanied the elections of 2000, 2002 and 2008. Mugabe’s regime specialised in stealing those elections by violence.
My fear is that Zimbabwe’s forthcoming election, due by June next year, might be no different despite the Government of national unity, who have given some relief to their beleaguered, suffering nation. In that Government, the Movement for Democratic Change has been given the Ministries of Finance, Education and Health, among others. ZANU-PF retained the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Mines and the Office of the President, the home of Zimbabwe’s feared secret police—the Central Intelligence Organisation or CIO. Since the MDC took control of the Ministry of Finance and clipped the wings of the Reserve bank, the security mafia loyal to President Mugabe has been on a hunt for sources of off-budget finance. It has now found those sources, thanks to an accident of geology and the failures of the international community.
In 2006, diamonds were found in the Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe. The area holds one of the world’s richest deposits of alluvial diamonds. The gems lie close to the surface of the ground, making them easy to collect by hand. During 2008, the military deployed soldiers and helicopter gunships during the clearance of thousands of small-scale miners from the Marange diamond fields, killing and wounding many people in the process. Nearly every soldier in Marange is involved in one way or another in illegal mining. Soldiers have formed syndicates of diamond panners, whom they protect and escort.
Many of the diamonds are smuggled to the town of Vila de Manica, in Mozambique, only 12 miles from the Zimbabwe border. It is crawling with illegal dealers from countries such as Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Israel, most living in smart houses, bristling with barbed wire and CCTV cameras, and guarded by armed men, admitting they do so with the help of army syndicates and senior ZANU-PF politicians.
Global Witness deserves our thanks for its impressive report, “Financing a Parallel Government?”, which has unearthed devastating evidence on Zimbabwe’s blood diamond trade. In Zimbabwe, mineral rights are vested not in the state, but with the President. Robert Mugabe has granted a series of mining concessions. One was to Canadile, a company that has since collapsed amid allegations of corruption, including against Obert Mpofu, the ZANU-PF Minister of Mines. Mpofu is a man on a £1,200 monthly salary, who is now rich enough to spend over £13 million buying a bank. Another was to Mbada Diamonds. Its chief executive officer, Robert Mhlanga, a Mugabe crony, is developing a £20-million mansion in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal. Behind Mbada Diamonds and up to its neck in its shady start-up, is a South African scrap metal company, New Reclamation, and its former chief executive officer, South African business man David Kassell.
South African business interests were heavily involved in mining diamonds in Marange or profiting from their irregular sale, in what the South African Broadcasting Company last October reported as a:
“blatant disregard for the rule of law and continued plundering of the diamond fields in Eastern Zimbabwe. New evidence suggests that South African firms have muscled in, and are mining there illegally.”
In 2011, 25% of the shares of Mbada were transferred to a mysterious network of shell companies based in Mauritius, Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands. Those companies are connected to Robert Mhlanga, a retired air vice-marshal in the Zimbabwean air force. The use of secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens should raise a red flag for any legitimate businesses trading with Mbada. They should be asking the question, who are the real beneficial owners of Mbada? We have seen with Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi how banks, lawyers and businesses colluded in illicit financial outflows of national wealth. I fear that that is being repeated in Zimbabwe.
A third mining concession was to Sino Zimbabwe Development and a fourth to Anjin Investments. Sino Zimbabwe Development purports to be a joint venture between the state-owned Zimbabwe minerals development corporation and an investor, Sam Pa—a businessman from the Queensway syndicate, a network of companies based in Hong Kong, Singapore and Angola. Sam Pa and the Queensway syndicate were the subject of a recent feature in The Economist, which raised two issues in particular. The first was the Queensway syndicate’s amoral deal in Guinea. Just one month after security forces massacred 150 protestors in a stadium, the syndicate signed a multi-billion dollar deal with the Guinea junta—effectively providing a financial lifeline to that pariah regime. Secondly, The Economist alleged that the syndicate was buying Angolan oil ridiculously cheaply and selling it on at market prices to Chinese oil companies—suggesting the Angolan people may have been cheated out of billions of dollars.
In Zimbabwe, several sources suggest that Sam Pa gave the secret police—the CIO—a large sum of money, which one CIO document places at $100 million, and over 200 Nissan pick-up trucks. In return for that apparent assistance, Sino Zimbabwe Development was granted opportunities in Zimbabwe’s diamond and cotton sectors. Sino Zimbabwe Development was set up and registered in Zimbabwe and Singapore. The Singaporean company is in turn part-owned by Strong Achieve Holdings, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands and controlled by someone believed to be a member of the Zimbabwean secret police. That, again, illustrates the highly disreputable role of the British Virgin Islands in facilitating such murky dealings. Sino Zimbabwe Development is ostensibly a legitimate business. Yet its three Zimbabwean directors, Gift Kallisto Machengete, Masimba Ignatius Kamba and Pritchard Zhou, are all believed to be members of the CIO, and the firm is in reality a front company for the Zimbabwean secret police.
Anjin Investments purports to be a joint venture between a previously unknown Zimbabwean firm, Matt Bronze, and a Chinese construction company. In reality, Anjin’s company secretary is Brigadier Charles Tarumbwa, who is also the Judge Advocate General at Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Defence, and is on the EU sanctions list for orchestrating violence. Anjin’s executive board includes Martin Rushwaya, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence, and serving and retired military and police officers. Anjin claims to be the biggest diamond mining company in the world and has been described by informed observers as having the potential to be the next De Beers. In reality, Anjin is a front for the Zimbabwean military; nor does that shadowy activity involve only diamonds.
On 27 June, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant reported that Zimbabwean officials had approached Russian companies with a prospective platinum deal in exchange for attack helicopters. A Russian joint venture, named by Kommersant as involved in the deal, is called Russ Zim and Rushchrome. The deal is ostensibly with the parastatal Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation. However, Anjin’s Brigadier Charles Tarumbwa is company secretary of the Russian joint venture, and the chairman of its executive board is Martin Rushwaya, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, who is on the board of Anjin. Again, the planned deal seems to have been cooked up by the Zimbabwean military-industrial complex.
Why is that important? First, the Zimbabwean military and secret police are known for their uncompromising support for ZANU-PF. It has even been alleged that money from Sam Pa has been allocated to a CIO smear campaign against MDC Prime Minister Tsvangirai, called Operation Spiderweb. If the secret police have access to off-budget sources of funding, they can set and finance their own agenda, in flagrant breach of democratic and civilian control of the security forces budget.
Secondly, Zimbabwe desperately needs tax revenues. Life expectancy at birth in Zimbabwe is 47 for a man and 50 for a woman. The Government are slowly rebuilding the education and health infrastructure after the devastation wrought by years of misrule and the hyper-inflation of 2008. Out of a budget of US $4 billion, the MDC Finance Minister Tendai Biti was promised US $600 million in diamond revenues by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development. Yet he recently stated that Anjin had not paid one cent to the Zimbabwean Treasury, adding that Anjin’s failure to remit diamond proceeds to the consolidated revenue fund was in breach of the constitution. Anjin claims that it paid some money to the ZANU-PF-controlled Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation. Yet none of that has yet reached the Finance Ministry’s consolidated revenue fund. Diamond revenues are being siphoned off when Zimbabwe needs teachers and nurses, not attack helicopters and secret police thugs.
Thirdly, there is a risk that any money given by Sam Pa, Anjin and Sino Zimbabwe Development to the security forces will fund human rights abuses in the run-up to next year’s election. Let us remember that, to cling on to power in the 2008 election, soldiers, ZANU supporters, secret policemen and so-called war veterans—a pseudonym for Mugabe’s thugs—killed 200 people, tortured and assaulted 5,000 and forced 36,000 more to flee their homes.
What can the British Government do? I urge them to engage with the Southern African Development Community facilitators to push security sector reform and democratic and civilian control of budgets up the agenda in forthcoming negotiations. In the long term, much more must be done to regulate the diamond industry properly. I feel strongly that the Kimberley process certification scheme, which is designed to stop the trade in blood diamonds, has failed to deliver on the original objectives that we designed for it during my time as a Foreign Office Minister between 2000 and 2002. It has three weaknesses that have not been addressed. It does not cover polished gems—only rough diamonds. It applies only to crimes committed by rebel groups, not to human rights abuses committed by Governments such as Zimbabwe’s. It does not enforce its own rules properly: the scheme is found wanting when confronted with problems in Venezuela, Côte d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe.
The Kimberley process report on Anjin praises the modern security procedures of the company, makes small recommendations to reduce the risk of theft and smuggling and thanks the Minister of Mines for his co-operation, yet not once does it ask who owns Anjin. That is wilful blindness, and it has led member states, including the UK, acting through the EU, to authorise exports of Anjin diamonds.
Let us be clear: Zimbabwean military-controlled blood diamonds are now sold in the EU and almost certainly in the UK, appearing on wedding rings all over the place. It is time for jewellery companies to stop hiding behind the facade of the Kimberley process and to take responsibility for their own supply chains. Each company must ask, “Where do my diamonds come from, under what conditions are they mined and traded, and who benefits from their sale?” That system, known in the jargon as supply chain due diligence, was first developed for the trade in conflict minerals sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It should be adapted for the trade in diamonds and other gems, so that those resources can play a constructive role in the development of other countries at risk, such as Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Burma.
I urge the British Government to commission the OECD, which has played an important role in working out the details of such a scheme for the trade in gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum, to examine how it could be applied to precious stones such as diamonds. I hope that the Minister will tell us something about that.
The European Union has placed many individuals and entities on restrictive measures: travel bans and asset freezes. One such entity is the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation and its subsidiaries and joint ventures. Bizarrely, Anjin is not on the sanctions list, despite there being a more compelling case for its inclusion than for the inclusion of other mining firms that are sanctioned by virtue of their association with the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation. Recently, the Zimbabwean Deputy Minister of Mines stated in Parliament that
“Anjin is owned by the Chinese and the Government of Zimbabwe where ZMDC owns 10% and Zimbabwe Defence Industries owns a 40% shareholding”.
Given that both Zimbabwe Defence Industries, which is wholly owned by the Ministry of Defence, and the ZMDC are already on sanctions lists, it seems to me that Anjin should be listed as well, not least on the grounds that it is a subsidiary of listed entities.
Even stranger, in my view, is the news that at its Foreign Ministers Council on Monday the EU proposes to remove or suspend some or all targeted sanctions. To do that less than a year before Zimbabwe’s next election could be very damaging. Are EU and UK officials really suggesting removing an asset freeze on someone like Didymus Mutasa, the former State Security Minister, who is accused by the EU of being
“involved in murders in Manicaland”,
or lifting the EU travel ban on our old friend Brigadier Charles Tarumbwa, who is accused by the EU of being
“directly involved in the terror campaign waged before and during the elections”
and of being in charge of a
“torture base in Makoni West, Mutasa Central in 2007/2008”?
Instead of suspending sanctions at the behest of ZANU-PF, Monday’s EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting and the British Government should argue for Sam Pa, Anjin and Sino Zimbabwe Development to be placed on the EU’s targeted sanctions list and for the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation to remain on the list. That should remain the case at least until the election—probably less than 12 months away—has passed off peacefully.
If the intention is to wave a carrot and not just a stick, by all means suspend sanctions against some of those lower down the ZANU-PF command list, or examine the more calibrated strategy that is recommended by the International Crisis Group and that is being considered by southern African countries, but we must ensure that substantive sanctions, such as asset freezes on Anjin and Sam Pa, are imposed so that the security forces cannot build a war chest before the election.
If off-budget financing of the security forces is not addressed immediately, regardless of what happens to Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe could soon be ruled by a free-floating securocrat elite: unaccountable, unelectable and unstoppable. More than enough damage has been done already to the wonderful people of Zimbabwe, as a once-prosperous country has been reduced to penury. Let us ensure that we do not perpetuate the terrible damage that has been done by premature suspensions of highly targeted sanctions, especially on those who are responsible for the Marange blood diamonds, when the imperative is to impose more not less.
The World Diamond Council and Governments with a substantial diamond trade must act to block blood diamonds from Marange, or the whole diamond trade could well find itself tarnished and targeted by boycotts and protesters, just as was threatened until it acted in 2000. I hope that hon. Members will consider these matters and that the Government will take forward the policies that I have recommended for targeted sanctions.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) on securing this debate. Much of what he said was incredibly interesting and important, and I am grateful to him for the lesson that he gave.
My own involvement in southern Africa began in 1979 when I spent four months in Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa. I had two great uncles working for the Colonial Service in Nyasaland, which is now Malawi, and a cousin who ran a fruit farm in the east highlands. In 1994, I gave advice to one of the political parties involved in the general election campaign in Malawi. Such experience gave me a good understanding of the political and cultural differences between this country and the west and southern Africa.
I will not pretend for one moment that I have a better knowledge of southern Africa than the right hon. Gentleman. None the less, my understanding of the region’s culture, coupled with my experience as a Conservative party agent, means that I understand the need for organisation within places. Added to that, my first ever job was working for the Diamond Corporation, so I have a little understanding of how the diamond world operates and how important southern Africa is to the whole industry.
Let me explain where Zimbabwe is at the moment and how it has got there. In 1965, as the Federation was falling to pieces, Ian Smith declared independence. From that moment on, with perhaps a short period of respite, Zimbabwe has had a very chequered career. UDI lasted for about 15 years and only became unsustainable following a bloody and difficult civil war. Zimbabwe was always considered to be the bread basket of Africa, and was able to deliver food to a part of the world that desperately needed it.
Zimbabwe is a country of strategic importance, as it is the gateway to South Africa, which is the principal regional power in this part of the world. We need to be working very closely with the Southern African Development Community and other countries in the region to deliver the route map that has been agreed. We also need to ensure that the international community begins to prepare for life after Mugabe has gone. Indeed, my understanding is that Mugabe is not well. He is thought to have prostate cancer and is spending a lot of time in Singapore. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have a solution for the future that enables us to get close to the region. We need to encourage the moderates within ZANU-PF for the time when Mugabe has gone.
Although the west views Mugabe as a demon whose regime is most certainly responsible for a series of murderous and bloody attacks, he is still seen, in many parts of southern Africa, as one of the great heroes of the struggle for independence. When the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I were in Zimbabwe last year, we heard the story of how President Zuma took Mugabe into a crowded football stadium, with some 50,000 people, and welcomed him as a war hero. That is one of the difficulties facing President Zuma; how does he keep on side the balance of those people in his country on whom he depends for election but, at the same time, help to deliver this route map as well?
I will not pretend for one moment that Mugabe’s presidency has been a success; it most certainly was at the very beginning but unfortunately, as he has become more isolated, he has turned to more and more violent activities. I am concerned that the proceeds from the Marange diamonds have ended up being used in a corrupt way to fund the ZANU-PF coffers as it prepares for the general election when that happens—probably in the next year.
We must build relationships with the more moderate elements of ZANU-PF and ensure that we work with them to develop a governance process that will lead to an independent judicial system and a police force that is not corrupt. That is incredibly important. I have been talking with my hon. Friends in the Foreign Office about how we might develop a staff college to help those people from the emerging countries, especially places such as Zimbabwe, and show them how to set up a proper judicial system and a police force that is not corrupt. If we do not do that, people will not be willing to invest in Zimbabwe. They will say to themselves, “What is the point of us putting money and investment into Zimbabwe, if it is just going to end up being filtered and dealt with in a corrupt manner?”
When the hon. Member for Vauxhall and I were in Zimbabwe last year, we heard that some investments from South Africa were under a real threat of being confiscated. If that happens, frankly it will be very difficult to encourage anybody to invest in Zimbabwe.
One of the things that we need to do is to work very closely with South Africa to deliver a route map, and I hope that the Minister will take note of that point. We need to ensure that there is decent registration, and that we have observers in the country during the course of the registration process and before the election. If we do not do that, once again—unfortunately—ZANU-PF and Mugabe will go and steal the election, which would be very difficult to accept. We also need to have an approach that recognises that those people in what is probably the medium part of the military feel that if there is somebody else in power they are going to lose all of their assets. Adopting that approach is going to be another thing that is very difficult for us to go through.
I am also very keen to ensure that we recognise that southern Africa has a fundamental part in the whole of the world political strategy. Indeed, the Cape routes have always been incredibly important to us, because by using them we can ensure that we can export a lot of our goods. It would be most unfortunate if the submarines bases down in Simonstown were to fall into the wrong hands. That could be a threat as far as we are concerned.
As I say, having a judicial system that is free and independent is absolutely vital. I have recently heard stories of some Dutch farmers who have made quite a large investment in Zimbabwe. They have been in a court case and they are having real difficulty in trying to ensure that they can get the moneys that they are owed paid to them.
In conclusion, we need to ensure that there is support for the route map, and also that the more moderate people in ZANU-PF will have the opportunity to find a way out and do not feel that the west has totally and utterly turned its back on a lot of people. It would be helpful if the Minister could set out the Government’s attitude towards Zimbabwe.
It is very nice to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Havard. It is also very nice to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), one of the vice-chairs of the all-party group on Zimbabwe, of which I am the chair.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) for his persistence in securing this debate and for the fact that we are lifting the veil of darkness that sometimes hangs over the whole of the diamond industry generally and particularly in Zimbabwe. He was an outstanding Minister for Africa and I am absolutely delighted that now he is back on the Back Benches he is again able to get more positively engaged in helping Zimbabwe, because his knowledge of southern Africa is absolutely tremendous.
I share most of my right hon. Friend’s analysis—in fact, all of it. I will not go through some of the issues related to individuals involved in the Marange diamond area, but I want to raise some further issues related to that area. Having said that, I am absolutely delighted that over the years the all-party group on Zimbabwe has managed to keep some of these issues about Marange to the forefront. Just a couple of years ago, in June 2010, the then vice-chair of the group, Baroness D’Souza, who is now obviously in charge of the House of Lords, and I wrote to Stéphane Chardon, the EU representative who chaired the Kimberley process Working Group on Monitoring at that time. We expressed our grave concern about the way that human rights abuses and reports of killings in the Marange diamond field were being investigated by the group. We did so because in the many years since the situation in Zimbabwe became really serious the UK Government and other Governments around the world have felt powerless, but through the Kimberley process and through having an EU appointee as chair of the group we had some direct responsibility and control. With many of the points that my right hon. Friend made, we need to look at how the Kimberley process is working and consider whether we can make some effective changes.
I pay tribute to some of the members of the all-party group on Zimbabwe, particularly some of those in the House of Lords, who have continued to probe and ask questions about Zimbabwe. Lord Avebury, Baroness Kinnock and Baroness Boothroyd have been assiduous in keeping pressure on our Government and—indirectly—on the EU, and in ensuring that Government Ministers of whatever party have remained closely engaged with Zimbabwe. I also pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), who is the current Minister for Africa, for the close personal interest that he has taken in Zimbabwe and indeed in the whole of southern Africa. I am sorry that he is not here for this debate today. When he phoned me yesterday, he was in Malawi, so I know that he is very intent on trying to see what the British Government can do to help the process in southern Africa.
Of course, Zimbabwe is of close interest to British taxpayers. Through our international development programme, we are expected to pick up the bill eventually—it is quite right that we should do so, and I have no problem with it—for rebuilding much of the infrastructure and institutions of the terribly ruined country of Zimbabwe. However, it would be the most appalling irony if the revenue from the massive national windfall of diamonds should end up in the pockets and overseas bank accounts of the very same army officers and ZANU-PF politicians who have wrecked Zimbabwe, especially if they are allowed to use that windfall to buy weapons, tanks and other vehicles to extend their illegal grip on power.
There is no doubt that, as my right hon. Friend has already said, ZANU-PF functionaries and Ministers are effectively running a parallel economy in Zimbabwe. That is clearly chronicled in the excellent report on Zimbabwe by Global Witness and it is something that we just cannot ignore.
I will mention one particular British company that sometimes does not get mentioned in discussions of Zimbabwe, but that has an involvement in the country. That company is Old Mutual. Last year, we met the chairman of Old Mutual, Patrick O’Sullivan, and its chief executive of long-term savings, Paul Hanratty, here in London just before one of the company’s annual general meetings, where some people were turning up to protest against the fact that Old Mutual’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Old Mutual Investment Group (South Africa) or OMIGSA, had invested in a South African company, the New Reclamation Group, which of course my right hon. Friend has already referred to. New Reclamation Group has a very poor reputation in Johannesburg. It is in fact, as has been said, more or less a scrap metals merchant. It basically presented a business case to Old Mutual to invest in the Mbada Diamonds company, and that investment was made.
We just cannot ignore the fact that a British company is involved in this way. When we talked to the chairman and chief executive of Old Mutual, of course they made the point that they are representing their shareholders and they cannot actually make policy. However, there is a moral judgment to be made in some of this activity, and as a primary landowner and property manager in Zimbabwe Old Mutual is interwoven within the fabric of society and its investment policy, far from being apolitical or just about business, plays a really important role in the country, and if it wishes to avoid perceptions of collusion or acquiescence in the continuing repression and human rights violations in Zimbabwe, it should disengage completely from anything that is linked with blood diamonds, and I call on it to do so.
I want to talk very briefly about a worry that exists at the moment and that was referred to by my right hon. Friend in his speech. It is a worry about the rumours—in fact, they are not rumours, because we all know that there are discussions on this subject going on within the EU—about whether there could be suspension of some of the sanctions that have been imposed. We need to start from the understanding that we are not involved in a “blame game” about who is right or wrong on whether we should consider suspending sanctions; it is a situation in which everyone wants to do the right thing. Sometimes when we are over here discussing what is happening in Zimbabwe, what may seem to us the right thing may not necessarily be the right thing to the people who are involved in the struggle in Zimbabwe.
There is a strong push, particularly from the Southern African Development Community and South Africa, for a carrot in the form of a vote on the new constitution, probably in an October referendum, as part of the global political agreement—the GPA. That would allow the process to go forward to free and fair elections next year, and I understand that we would then suspend sanctions. The detail may not yet be finalised as to how many would be suspended and whether it would be just sanctions on individuals or also direct sanctions involving, for example, the EU’s funding of industry in Zimbabwe, but they would not be lifted, or rather not suspended—it is important that I use the correct terminology—until such time as there was a free and well-organised referendum on the constitution.
It would be easy for a free and relatively peaceful referendum to take place in the autumn, but those who continue to be able to turn on the tap of violence can do so almost at will, and I worry that once we have suspended the sanctions—should we get a free constitutional process—it will be easy for that tap to be turned on extremely quickly. The violence is still there, whenever ZANU-PF and its apparatchiks want to carry out some atrocity. Just last weekend, they stopped a Movement for Democratic Change rally, so it is clear that they can do huge damage at will, and the money from the illegal diamond sales makes it easier for the violence to be turned on, with the machinery that they have.
SADC and South Africa are absolutely crucial, but I have mixed feelings, and am concerned. Perhaps when discussing the suspension of sanctions we can tie South Africa and SADC into the process, so that if some of the sanctions were suspended, but the GPA were not then fulfilled and violence started again, we could be absolutely certain that South Africa and the other SADC countries would do what they have said they would do if the sanctions were suspended. Disappointingly, the SADC leaders have, time after time, seen their solidarity not with the people of Zimbabwe, not with all those who have bravely and patiently struggled to represent the democratic will of the people, but with the crooks, bullies and corrupt people who are committed to keeping Mugabe in power at any price. If the British Government and the European Union suspend sanctions they will be putting huge trust in SADC, and in South Africa in particular as the guarantor of the safety and rights of the Zimbabwean people, and we must be certain that that trust will be rewarded in full by an unequivocal refusal by South Africa, leading the rest of SADC, to excuse or turn a blind eye to any resurgence of violence.
I do not believe that Mugabe will give up power peacefully, or that he will want what we would call a genuinely free and fair election—even with the best will in the world, I do not think that we can have a really free and fair election as we would see it. We can make next year’s election much better than the last one, but only if South Africa and SADC unequivocally accept that they have an international responsibility, and the quid pro quo of removing the ridiculous idea that the sanctions have caused Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. We all know— even the most extreme member of ZANU-PF knows— that that is nonsense, but it has been a potent weapon, used particularly in rural areas where the broadcasting media are still totally in ZANU-PF’s hands, and that has not changed under the GPA. The newspaper media are slightly freer, but the broadcasting media, which are the ones that get into the rural areas, are 100% ZANU-PF dominated. The SADC leaders have too often allowed Mugabe that kind of propaganda victory, by remaining silent on the violence until relatively recently and speaking out only to condemn the targeted measures imposed under the Cotonou agreement.
Many many years ago, when we were young, my right hon. Friend and I joined together in protests about apartheid in South Africa, in what was called the Stop the Seventy Tour, but nothing we did is an excuse for the unleashing of violence and intimidation on Zimbabweans just because Mugabe has a problem with the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the United States. Such things are never excusable. I have no expectation that the ZANU-PF hard-liners or the Zimbabwe military will change their ways. They are worried about losing their wealth and their ill-gotten gains.
I hope that we can give enough encouragement to men and women of good will, especially the younger generation who hope for a new Zimbabwe and all the millions of Zimbabweans who have left the country and live around the world. I understand that under the new constitution such people will, importantly, retain their citizenship, and be able to play their part in the new Zimbabwe, and we can help with that. We have to be very careful with the handling of the suspension of sanctions, because some sanctions have worked. It is nonsense to say that they have not—that is why there is such a push to get them lifted—but I accept that there might be some that could be suspended. I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend, however, that there are some people we cannot possibly take off the lists—indeed, there are one or two we might add.
I want to end by saying that I wish that everyone could read the amazing speech made by one of my Zimbabwean heroes, Roy Bennett, at Rhodes house in Oxford in May. Entitled “Smoke and Mirrors: another look at politics and ethnicity in Zimbabwe”, it was a wonderful speech, which put into around a dozen pages just what the future for Zimbabwe could be, and how we, as the British Government, can help.
Thank you, Mr Havard, for allowing me to speak. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) on bringing this matter, which is of interest to a great many people, to Westminster Hall. The right hon. Gentleman clearly outlined the case for Zimbabwe, and passionately spoke of the need for the British Government, Europe and the free democratic countries to be involved.
It is simply outrageous that some countries are intent on ensuring that blood diamonds are mined and then sold all over the world. Some such countries, as Members have already said, are China—in particular—Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Those countries and others turn a blind eye to where diamonds come from.
I want to focus on the funding through blood diamonds of Robert Mugabe’s election terror campaign, and how it will affect the future of Zimbabwe. Who is Zimbabwe’s main partner in mining blood diamonds? China. The shadow of China hangs ominously over many sections of Africa, but nowhere more than in Zimbabwe. Anjin Investments, a Chinese-led venture in Zimbabwe, has announced that it is the biggest diamond producer, with allegedly 3 million carats to sell. In return, that company is funding a new military college in Zimbabwe for Robert Mugabe. The much-feared Central Intelligence Organisation or CIO, Mugabe’s secret police force, is well known for torture, brutality and suppression of freedom and rights in Zimbabwe. The CIO is flush with cash.
At the last election, Mugabe’s coalition partner controlled finance and, through that, where money went within Zimbabwe. Now, with money coming from blood diamonds, things are changing, and edging much more towards the next election and Mugabe’s hopes for the future. Blood diamond money has purchased hundreds of new vehicles in the past few months and has rearmed the army with thousands of new weapons from China. Salaries have been increased, and thousands of new officers have been trained. We must ask why. Is it happening in advance of the election and constitution change later this year, and of future elections? Many suspect that it will be used to intimidate voters in the next election.
The key to the outcome of the next election lies with the problem of blood diamonds. Over the past nine years, the Kimberley process has failed to evolve or to address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny. It has been said:
“The KP has failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire, breaches of the rules by Venezuela and diamonds fuelling corruption and state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe”
“has turned an international conflict prevention mechanism into a cynical corporate accreditation scheme.”
That sums up exactly where we are.
The EU represents 27 member states. What discussions have the British Government had to work with other EU countries to stop or control the trade in blood diamonds? It is not an issue for the British Government alone; it is also an EU issue. We need to ensure that we work with our partners.
It is alleged that dirty diamonds are being mixed with clean gems, which means that corruption is happening at the highest levels. It is further alleged that officers in the Zimbabwean army hold senior positions in the Anjin partnership mining venture. Anjin has an estimated stockpile of up to 3.6 million carats. Should anyone be in any doubt about the lengths to which Mugabe’s regime will go, the BBC has claimed in the past few days to have discovered a torture camp known as Diamond Base in one of the areas from which the EU wants to approve exports. Again, I suggest that the British Government and the EU need to work together strongly. Why approve something when evidence clearly indicates that torture, killings and brutality are taking place? We do not want those things to happen. I am sure that the Minister will respond positively.
I have had an interest in Zimbabwe—or Rhodesia, as I knew it then—from an early age. I have many friends who have lived and worked there, helping its economy and its people. That is why I am here to contribute to this debate. Ian Smith, former Prime Minister of Rhodesia, had a famous saying that many Members will remember:
“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
I hope that Zimbabwe will have a free, democratic election and that Mugabe will be ousted, but I have some concerns, like the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), that the elections will be changed by the barrel of a gun and money from blood diamonds. We must, I believe, burst the blister of blood diamonds. The British Government’s involvement is critical.
The Minister is well known for his compassion and his level-headed responses, and we hold him in great respect. I ask him to show us how the British Government, along with their EU partners, will ensure that the democratic process in Zimbabwe is free of violence and brutality, and that the people can decide on their future.
Thank you, Mr Havard, for allowing me to make a short speech although I was late getting here. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) on securing this extremely important debate.
I have quite good experience of Zimbabwe, as I was an election observer in 2000. I have been banned by Mugabe from returning to the country, as I was critical of the regime. This debate is one of many that we have had here that are essential to put pressure on the Mugabe regime.
I have some simple points to make. ZANU-PF and the Mugabe regime need to pay for their army and their tyranny, which is why they need money. That is the blunt message that we need to convey in this debate. Blood diamonds are part of the criminal element that feeds into Government. I would go so far as to call it state-sponsored terrorism and violence. Blood diamonds feed a terrible regime that goes on destroying its people despite the so-called coalition Government in Zimbabwe.
The other point that I want to raise with the Minister is that I have a lot of experience of the European Parliament. Undoubtedly, a lot of countries in Europe with colonial backgrounds have links to different countries. It is therefore important not to take it for granted that all European countries will pull together on Zimbabwe. I ask him to speak to his counterparts in France, Belgium, Germany and all the other states of Europe with past links to Africa to ensure that we pull together to put as much pressure as possible on the regime, close down the trade in blood diamonds and bring about real democratic change. All of this is part and parcel of that. The EU has an important role to play. The diamonds are getting through in various ways, and the EU can do more to pull together. Thank you again, Mr Havard, for letting me speak.
It is a pleasure as always to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. It has been a privilege to listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) in this extremely important debate, in which Members have shown their collective experience, knowledge and wisdom. The debate is useful in framing an important period for Zimbabwe. It gives us an opportunity to set some context for the important elections due to take place next year.
I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend, whose knowledge of the issue we all understand. He brings with him the specific experience of having been a Minister for Africa and having been involved in the Kimberley process. We need to use this debate to consider, analyse and assess where the Kimberley process is. If we are to make progress in dealing not just with Zimbabwe but with Africa as a whole, the steps taken by the international community and international institutions to assess the income from the extractive industries in Africa will be a key part of belief in governance and politics in Africa going forward. It is important that we take that into consideration.
I thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) for his important observations on the importance of independence in judicial processes, which is still sadly lacking in Zimbabwe. He also made an important point about preparations for next year’s elections. Will the Minister reflect on the contribution that parliamentarians can make in observing elections in countries that are undertaking extremely important consultations on constitutional matters? There is an increasing tendency for parliamentarians to be excluded, ironically, from election observation missions. It is a sorry trend. There are a lot of missions. For example, I went to the Congo last year at a very important time for a very important election—the visit was funded by Christian Aid—and I think that I was the only Member of the House of Commons present, although I was joined by a colleague of mine from the House of Lords. It is important that the House of Commons considers the role of parliamentarians at important elections in countries such as Zimbabwe.
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, however, we have to be careful and think about the context of our relations with Zimbabwe, the way in which the United Kingdom is perceived there, and our connections and imperial past. That is never an excuse for bad behaviour, but, as I will say later, we need to operate from the perspective of principle and ask what the right thing to do is in dealing with the elections. We must try to avoid the lazy accusation that is so often made against the United Kingdom whereby our actions are perceived through the prism of our imperialist past by some in Zimbabwe, particularly the Zimbabwean Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) made an excellent contribution, as I would expect. I promise to read Roy Bennett’s speech, and I am sure that she will give me full details of it following the debate. An overall assessment of the position in Zimbabwe is desperately needed. We have made some progress. Obviously, the involvement of Mr Tsvangirai in government has mitigated some of the dreadful things that were happening earlier in the decade, but it is clearly the case—much of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath has said explains why—that some individuals in Zimbabwe are extracting vast wealth and they are using it for their own personal interest. That explains their desperate efforts to retain power and I take on board the scepticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall about them ever giving it up. We have to do all we can to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe, who have suffered so much in recent years, and who still suffer, have the opportunity at the ballot box to elect a Government who truly represent their interests, and not the partial and corrupt interests of many of those people to whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath has referred.
We have also heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who made the important point that this is not just a matter for the British Government. Obviously, we operate at a European level through the European Union’s institutions, but this process can lead to a positive result only if the international community works together. Institutions need to be developed that can effectively monitor the way in which international trade is conducted and that can ensure that the proceeds of the huge wealth under discussion are used for the benefit of the Zimbabwean people.
On that wealth, transparency in the extractive industries will be key both to effective governance throughout many states in Africa and to dealing with the curse of corruption, which still afflicts so many countries in Africa. We have focused on Zimbabwe and the diamond industry, but the principles of openness and accountability are essential if we are to build credibility and belief in politics in Africa.
Today is an important opportunity for us to reiterate our support for and solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, following the country’s tragic recent history, and to recognise the bravery of so many of the Zimbabwean people who have stood up to state-sponsored violence and intimidation over so many years. We as the United Kingdom have a responsibility to promote peace and democracy in Zimbabwe, and successive British Governments have been guided by the principle of how best to make it possible for the people of Zimbabwe to decide on the future of their own country. Of course, our own relationship has been perceived through the prism of our historic role, but it is important that our present policy is based on principles of openness and accountability and that it should be seen as such by the Government of Zimbabwe.
To set that relationship in context, the previous Labour Government increased aid to Zimbabwe to £67 million in 2009-10, and I am pleased that the present Government have maintained their own commitment to bilateral support. We want to do all we can to support the people of Zimbabwe, and our own constituents also feel strongly about the issue. The Government of Zimbabwe should recognise that. Our commitment is an historical one and it should continue.
It is extremely important that we pay tribute to the valuable work of a number of organisations in and around Zimbabwe, including Global Witness, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath has referred, the Open Society Foundations, and the British Trades Union Congress Action for Southern Africa, which arose out of the anti-apartheid movement. They have all informed and contributed to the debate.
I note that Members from all parties have started questioning the credibility of the Kimberley process. The evidence produced by my right hon. Friend is extremely important and deeply worrying. What is the UK Government’s present assessment of the credibility of the Kimberley process? Do they think that enough is being done to regulate the diamond industry fully and properly, both generally and specifically in relation to Zimbabwe? We have agreed during this debate that the issues are of international importance and that they need to be dealt with on an international basis. In order to achieve an effective international process, we must have belief in the processes that we have set up. My right hon. Friend has raised some real concerns, and unless they are addressed, it will be difficult to retain the trust required in the process to enable us to participate effectively.
This debate is timely, because just a few weeks ago a group of western ambassadors visited two high-security mining fields in Zimbabwe—the Chinese-owned Anjin and Marange resources. The group was headed by the EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Aldo Dell’Ariccia; the first visit was by foreign diplomats. The Minister will know that, since the EU ambassador’s return, he has spoken about his doubts about the transparency of the operations. What discussions have the UK Government had with the EU ambassadors who visited the fields, and what were the outcomes of the recent visit?
We have also heard of Members’ concerns about enforcement. Critics believe that the Kimberley process appears to be applying enforcement only to crimes committed by rebel groups, but not to human rights abuses committed by Governments such as Zimbabwe’s. The Kimberley process took the decision in November 2011 to lift a ban on the sale of diamonds from the Marange fields in Zimbabwe. We have heard the evidence today; it is deeply disturbing and specific in content, and without a response to those allegations it is difficult to extend further support and confidence to the Kimberley process. What representations have the Government made to those supervising the Kimberley process on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe’s diamond fields?
As I have said, transparency is crucial in all extraction mining activities, including the diamond sector. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath set out, the Opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, runs the Ministries of Finance, of Education, Sport and Culture, and of Health and Child Welfare, while Mugabe’s ZANU-PF retains other Ministries, including the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development. The Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, reports that the Treasury is yet to receive money from the owned Anjin and Marange diamond reserves, and a crucial and simple question must be addressed: where is the money going?
It is essential that funds from diamond reserves go directly to the Treasury of Zimbabwe so that it can support the people of that country and their specific needs. As we have heard, life expectancy remains low, but the Zimbabwean Government are slowly rebuilding the education and health infrastructure. We—the British taxpayer—are trying to help with that process, but we must know and understand that the proceeds of Zimbabwe’s wealth will be spent on Zimbabwe’s real needs: doctors, nurses and teachers.
In a bilateral aid review by the Department for International Development for 2011-12, the Government rightly focused on the UK’s commitment to improving health and education for the people of Zimbabwe, including maternal and child health, water and sanitation. We cannot, however, countenance a situation in which the proceeds of Zimbabwe’s wealth are used for the personal aggrandisement of politicians, or the corrupting or influencing of elections. It has been widely speculated that money is being diverted from the progress that we all want to see, and used instead to supplement and support President Mugabe’s security forces. None of us wants a repeat of the horror and bloodshed that took place in the run-up to the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe, when ZANU-PF supporters and secret policemen killed and tortured hundreds of people. There are reports that Mugabe’s regime has already used diamond money to buy weapons and invest in training to intimidate voters in the elections. Less than a year before Zimbabwe’s next election, can we be confident that diamond assets will not go towards funding ZANU-PF electoral violence?
I look forward to hearing the Minister reiterate the UK’s support for the reform of security forces in Zimbabwe, particularly with regard to preventing ZANU-PF violence and intimidation in the run-up to elections. What discussions have the UK Government had with the Southern Africa Development Community and the African Union to push the issue of security sector reform?
I hope that the Government are working with the international community to ensure the strong presence of electoral observers—including parliamentary observers—both prior to and during the elections in Zimbabwe next year. Reports suggest that the EU is considering removing or suspending some of the targeted sanctions. What discussions have the Minister or his colleagues had with the EU on that issue, and what is the position of the UK in those discussions?
We all know that Zimbabwe has great potential, not only because of its courageous people but because of its past agricultural productivity, resources and the region’s natural advantages. Given our strong historical ties, the UK has a responsibility to do all it can to help to ensure that Zimbabwe becomes a prosperous, stable country. That includes ensuring that the diamond process is transparent, that funds reach the Treasury and that the population benefits. It is our responsibility to exert as much pressure as we can to achieve that end, and I hope that the Minister’s comments will reaffirm that collective goal.
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), I will begin by thanking you, Mr Havard, for chairing the debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I also apologise for the obvious absence of the Minister for Africa, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham). As the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said, he is currently travelling on the continent, although I know that he has taken a keen interest in this debate. He has followed this issue closely over recent months, and I suspect that he has been in contact with most of the Members present today. He will be interested to read the text of the debate, and he helped me considerably with compiling a response.
I also thank the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) for initiating the debate. His background in this issue, his courage over the years in dealing with the issues that lie behind this debate, not only in Zimbabwe but in South Africa, and his knowledge of the area and work as a Minister, have been exemplary. I appreciate his comments and I will reflect on them as the debate progresses. I share the comments made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) about other hon. Members who have made significant contributions to the debate and expressed their various points of view and knowledge.
I would like to highlight the work of Global Witness and the contribution that it has made with the publication of its report and the various other issues with which it is involved. I commend it for its unrelenting efforts to keep the spotlight firmly on Marange diamonds, and stress how much the Government share its concerns. The issues raised today are of considerable importance for the future of Zimbabwe and the prospects for free and fair elections in that country, and it is therefore important that we approach the debate in that context.
Since the formation of the inclusive Government, the situation in Zimbabwe has grown increasingly complex. We should no longer view Zimbabwe solely through the lens of Mugabe’s continued grip on power, although we must not be naive in assessing prospects for the future. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and other hon. Members have been keen to press that point, and I assure the Chamber that the Government are in no way being naive when assessing the current situation of the Zimbabwean Government. For each reform made, another appears to be ignored. Instances of human rights abuses continue to decline, but low-level intimidation and harassment continue. The visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was an important step forward, but the day after her departure an MDC activist was brutally killed as a result of political violence.
Therefore, before I address in detail the issue of Zimbabwe’s diamonds and the relevant EU measures, I would be grateful for a few minutes in which to set out the broader picture as viewed by the Government. First, as has been noted in previous debates, we must acknowledge the fundamental progress that has been made in Zimbabwe since the formation of the inclusive Government in 2009, and particularly the impressive and vital turnaround of the Zimbabwean economy. It is fair to say that the pace of political progress has been slower than economic progress, but there have been steps forward, particularly within the last six months. Two key pieces of legislation—the Human Rights Commission Bill and the Electoral Amendment Bill—are about to pass through Parliament. Those important steps demonstrate that the global political agreement is not yet dead.
Even more important is the progress that has been made in the constitutional process, and we understand that negotiators from all parties have agreed a final draft that will soon be submitted to principals for approval. Once agreed, a second all-stakeholders conference should follow before the constitutional referendum takes place, and that is expected before the end of the year. Understandably, there are critics of the process, and particularly of the violence associated with the early stages of outreach. None the less, it represents a significant achievement and an important step towards the elections that we expect to see next year.
It is also important to recognise the ongoing efforts of President Zuma and his partners in the Southern African Development Community—a point made strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile). At the Luanda summit on 1 June, SADC again confirmed that elections cannot take place until necessary reforms have been completed. We continue to support SADC in its role as guarantor of the global political agreement, and applaud its efforts to work with all parties to keep the reform process moving forward.
The hon. Member for Wrexham raised the issue of freedom and fairness, and of elections and the importance of electoral monitoring including parliamentarians. I strongly support him on that. I was an election observer in South Africa in 1999, for the second elections there. Parliamentarians have an immense contribution to make, and it is increasingly important that they have, and take, the opportunity. We look with some concern at attempts to make it more difficult for parliamentarians to take part, so it is important to keep that process moving forward. More than one hon. Member said that South Africa had to take its responsibilities seriously and ensure that what everyone is talking about—a freer and fairer election process—actually happens on the ground. That will be the acid test of whether those currently in power in Zimbabwe recognise the democratic right of a people to change their Government as and when they wish, and to ensure that the process is there for that to be a possibility.
Such a commitment is vital, despite progress, as there is a long road to travel and a closing window of opportunity. High Commissioner Pillay identified many unresolved issues following her recent visit—in particular, the risk posed by some partisan elements in Zimbabwe’s security sector. We share her concerns that
“unless the parties agree quickly on some key major reforms and there is a distinct shift in attitude, the next election…could turn into a repeat of…2008”.
That continues to be the unfortunate, underlying reality of the situation in Zimbabwe. I hope that that note of caution is recognised by the Chamber. We very much understand that reforms are not irreversible. Everything has to be watched very carefully, despite the progress that has been made.
That leads me back to the central issue that is being debated today: the question of Zimbabwe’s diamonds and the influence they will have on the coming elections. The concerns raised by the right hon. Gentleman are shared by the Government. As he is aware, there have been some positive developments. The most recent reports by civil society confirm that human rights abuses in Marange have decreased significantly since their peak in 2008, and we welcome that. However, I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns that revenue from Marange diamonds is being used to build an infrastructure of violence and intimidation in the run-up to elections. It is clear that revenue from diamonds is being siphoned off, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. Finance Minister Biti reported a shortfall of $92 million of revenue in the first quarter of 2012.
The question of governance and transparency in diamond revenue flows therefore remains genuinely difficult to answer. It is clear that although there is still an important role for the international community—of course, we have discussed this with partners—solutions will have to be found inside Zimbabwe in light of lack of international unity. We have raised concerns about the handling of diamond finance with the British Virgin Islands. We will continue to work with international partners to support Zimbabwe, but our focus is increasingly on helping to improve conditions for effective regulation of the industry. We are, therefore, supporting initiatives by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the mining sector. We will also bring the new Global Witness report allegations on Anjin to the attention of the Chinese.
The challenge in achieving international unity was illustrated by the difficulties faced by the Kimberley process in dealing with the situation in Marange. Despite being unable directly to address human rights violations owing to its narrow mandate, the Kimberley process managed to impose a near total ban on Marange diamond exports from 2009 to 2011. The agreement reached at Kinshasa last November, to allow restricted exports, is robust but fair. It allows Zimbabwe only to export diamonds from the Marange region that comply with Kimberley process standards. It established a credible independent monitoring mechanism to ensure those standards are respected, including a role for civil society—something hon. Members from all parts of House have supported the fight to achieve. However, as is well known to hon. Members, the remit of the Kimberley process only allows it to take action to tackle
“rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments”.
It is unable directly to address the issue of revenue flows from the sale of diamonds in Zimbabwe, although it has played a helpful role in increasing transparency over production and export data from Zimbabwe.
In answer to the questions from the right hon. Member for Neath and others, I confirm that the UK would like to see the Kimberley Process’s mandate expanded to enable it to take human rights more explicitly into consideration. We have negotiated a strong EU position— the hon. Member for Strangford was keen to know what we had been doing with EU members, and their responsibility—that reflects our sense that the mandate of the process must be widened, and we are encouraging other Kimberley process participants to support that position.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has indicated that the Government will seek to broaden the remit of the Kimberley process on rough diamonds. However, despite a welcome indication that he will raise the question of Anjin with the Chinese Government, he has not said yet whether Anjin, Sam Pa and the Sino-Zimbabwe development will be put on the EU sanctions list when the British Government go to the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday.
May I address that point a little later in my remarks? The right hon. Gentleman anticipates where I am going.
While in principle we welcome the development of a supplement on diamonds to the OECD due diligence guidance for responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas, we do not believe that this is the right time to launch such a process, given the risk of undermining ongoing efforts to reform the Kimberley process. An OECD-led process would also be effective only if the diamond industry and diamond producing states agreed to participate, and therefore significant further consultations would be needed before any such process could begin.
That leads me on to the important and live question of the EU’s targeted measures on Zimbabwe. As all are aware, those measures are under discussion in Brussels. In answer to the questions from hon. Members, let me set out our aim. We want to support the process towards a credible referendum ahead of free and fair elections in 2013. In doing so, we need to encourage progress and incentivise reform, which is why we need to use the measures in the right way to effect a change in behaviour. Therefore, we, and our EU partners, are looking at what options exist to best respond to the clear calls from reformers, including the Movement for Democratic Change, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and President Zuma and SADC, for the EU to show flexibility to support the reform process.
I was grateful to the hon. Member for Vauxhall, because she put it correctly when she spoke of mixed feelings about how to proceed, and of the uncertainty. I do not think it would be any surprise to indicate that that is exactly where we all are. It is difficult to get the balance right. However, we believe the best way to support progress is through a shift in the EU approach. We have, therefore, proposed to partners that, if there is a peaceful and credible constitutional referendum, the EU should respond accordingly with a suspension of the ban on direct EU development aid and a suspension of the asset freeze and travel ban on all but a small core of individuals around President Mugabe, particularly those who will have most influence on the potential for violence in the next election. For the avoidance of doubt, there is no prospect of any suspension being applied to President Mugabe himself. The process will demonstrate to reformers across the political spectrum that the EU is serious about responding to concrete progress on the ground, and reflects our confidence in the facilitation process being undertaken by President Zuma and the leaders of SADC. It also puts the onus on to the Zimbabwe Government to live up to their commitments. If the situation deteriorates, we can, of course, respond appropriately.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) said, all EU partners need to agree a shift in approach, and discussions are ongoing. Alternative approaches have also been suggested, including steps the EU could take in advance of a constitutional referendum.
Within that broad approach, the question of diamonds is particularly acute. We are grateful to Global Witness for its continued effort to shine a light on evidence, and to the right hon. Gentleman for the evidence he set out today. We have listened carefully, and I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will do so, too. The militarisation of diamond finance is an issue that has a direct impact on the prospects for free and fair elections, and we are acutely aware of that risk. We are looking very carefully at the evidence and we will share it with partners. Although the dynamic we seek is one of responding to progress, where there is strong evidence we will of course take it seriously and encourage the addition of further names, but hon. Members will understand if I do not go into detail. Ultimately, this decision will be taken by all 27 member states in unanimity, based on the legal arguments.
We have had a very important debate, the consequences of which are long lasting. I hope I have done something to indicate the general approach of the Government, to recognise the evidence raised, and to give an assurance that evidence is taken into account in our discussion with all our partners. We know this is a complex area. We want to see progress and we hope that the deliberations of the Chamber and our own considerations will help that progress to move forward without any suspicion of naivety in our approach to the Government of Zimbabwe.
Stop and Search (Metropolitan Police)
I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate about the use of stop-and-search by the Metropolitan police. I should like to declare an interest, although it is not the normal type of interest that Members of Parliament declare in the House. I am a white 37-year-old woman. I have never been stopped by the police. My contact with them has only ever been polite, professional and reassuring. On the whole, I think they do a difficult job very well. Although I suspect those sentiments are shared by the majority of my constituents, I know they are not shared by all of them. That is why I called for this debate.
When I became an MP two years ago, I had limited knowledge of stop-and-search as a policing tool. I knew that the police had the power to stop people whom they suspected of wrongdoing and to search them for weapons and drugs. I knew that on occasions the police could issue a blanket provision in an area for a specified period, which would enable officers to stop individuals, even without reasonable suspicion, if serious violence was anticipated or had just happened. I also knew that under terrorism legislation the police could stop and search individuals who were suspected of involvement in terrorist acts.
What I did not know when I became an MP, but do know now, is how often stop-and-search is used by the police in certain parts of London and how young black and Asian men in particular are disproportionately affected. I had not appreciated the damage that can be done to individuals, families and communities when that policing tool is used inappropriately and to excess. I also know now that only one in 10 stop-and-searches in London results in an arrest.
In my two years as an MP, I have had my eyes opened. Mums have attended my surgeries in tears about the way in which their sons have been treated by the police. I have met young men and boys who tell me that they have been stopped by the police and been treated roughly and rudely and that they have felt embarrassed, humiliated and targeted. To be fair, I have met others who have also been stopped and searched who tell me that, although it was not a nice experience, they thought that the police did a reasonable job and that they did not have any complaints.
The Government and the Metropolitan police need to go further and faster to improve the way that stop-and-search is used. As it is used at the moment, it can be counter-productive and can create tension and mistrust between the police and the communities that they serve and protect. I want to be assured that, at the highest level, the Government and the police understand the resentment that has built up over a number of years among some individuals in certain sections of the population who feel that they are being disproportionately targeted. Although the power to stop and search is important and must remain, the number of occasions on which stop-and-search is used in London should be reduced. Section 60 notices—the blanket provisions that I have mentioned—must be used less frequently and cover smaller areas.
Of all stop-and-searches carried out under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, 89% are in the Metropolitan police area. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of those searches nationally went from 44,659 to 118,112. Within that figure, the number of black people stopped increased by 303%, from about 9,000 to nearly 39,000, and the number of Asian people stopped increased by 399%. Although that type of stop-and-search is now thankfully on the decline, with a 49% drop in the past year, it lies behind the resentment and anger that have grown in some communities in London. It is the backdrop to a situation that was reflected in the report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission last month, which showed that if you are black you are 37 times more likely to be stopped under a section 60 notice than if you are white.
Getting a grip on section 60 notices and limiting the instances in which they are used is one action point identified by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in his plan to improve the effectiveness of stop-and-search. I welcome that move and urge him, and the Government, to monitor closely boroughs in London with the highest authorisations historically, especially where those authorisations cover whole boroughs, as opposed to specific localities.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. A hallmark of a free society is that all citizens are able to walk freely around without undue expectation of being stopped. She correctly observes that the statistics between boroughs are variable. Is she puzzled, as I am, about why, out of all the stop-and-searches under the Terrorism Act 2000, none resulted in arrests for terrorism offences and fewer than 1% for other offences? It is not just disproportionality between boroughs and in the total amount that ought to be a consideration for the Minister; he should also consider the effectiveness of stop-and-search in stopping crime.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s puzzlement about those facts. Although I do not plan to speak a lot about the effectiveness of stop-and-search as a policing tool in the short time available today, the Metropolitan police and the Government need to consider that in terms of the number of arrests. It could be argued—the hon. Gentleman has made this point in previous debates—that police time is being wasted in some respects and would be better spent focusing on other areas.
It is critical that people understand that there is a clear reason for the stop, and the manner in which the stop-and-search is carried out is also important. The problem with the section 60 stops is that they seem to be underpinned by a generic rationale and expectation that there will be or has been trouble. That serves to label certain individuals and groups, even if it is not the intention.
An excessive use of section 60 notices has exacerbated police-community tensions in London. Other issues must also be addressed. Young people in particular need to better understand their rights and, to put it bluntly, more complaints need to be made when stop-and-search is carried out badly. When complaints are justified and found to be fair, they must lead to changes in police practice.
I often ask young men who express their concern to me about stop-and-search whether they have ever made a complaint. The answer is a universal no, even when they feel that they have been treated disrespectfully. There is often a lack of trust in the system and a fear that, if they complain, it will just make matters worse. That is true for the families of the individuals being stopped as much as for the individuals themselves. In fact, during my advice surgery in Catford this Saturday, that point was made to me by a mum of a young man who had been repeatedly stopped. Some parents—particularly without English as their first language—lack the basic understanding of what is acceptable and not acceptable and how to make a complaint. A way around that has to be found. If complaints are not made and individual officers are not disciplined because bad practice is not identified and dealt with, how will progress ever be made?
I mentioned the mum I spoke to on Saturday, and I will tell the Chamber a bit more about her family’s experiences. As I said, her 16-year-old son has been stopped repeatedly by the police. I asked her how many times and she said that she had lost count. Her son has severe special needs and earlier this year he was charged with resisting arrest following a stop-and-search. On Friday last week, the courts found him not guilty of the charge, but the judge in summing up referred to the excessive police force used against him.
The effect of perpetual but arguably unwarranted police attention on that young man cannot be overstated. His mum believes that the reason he is now being treated by Lewisham’s child and adolescent mental health services is that his self-esteem has been damaged so badly by the police approach towards him. In a follow-up e-mail to me on Sunday, she said:
“I feel that the police should have a greater understanding of our young people with SEN needs. My son has had an educational statement since he was 8 years old. This means that since this age it has been acknowledged he has complex needs, yet when I told Lewisham police station that he was under CAMHS they had no idea what I was talking about. The police are taking statements from young men without any idea of their mental or educational disabilities.”
That is not the only case of that sort that has been brought to my attention in the past year. Other mums have talked to me about how their sons have felt targeted by the police, how their sons’ attitude towards the police has changed and, in some cases, how their sons’ behaviour has also changed. I appreciate that in some cases the practice of poor police stop-and-search may not be the only factor contributing to their sons’ behaviour change, but I have heard it from enough parents to believe that we must address the issue.
Better training of police officers in the practice of stop-and-search is vital if people’s experience of it is to improve. In Lewisham, we are lucky to have Second Wave, a local community group based in the borough, which has done excellent work to help the local police and the territorial support groups to understand the perspectives of the young people who are on the other end of that policing tool. Second Wave also goes into schools to enable young people to understand the perspective of the police. That sort of approach should be universal throughout the Metropolitan police area. We are also fortunate in Lewisham to have, as part of our police community consultative group, an active stop-and-search group, which is concerned by suggestions that such groups might be abolished and is adamant that the police must be more and not less transparent and accountable in how they use stop-and-search. I agree.
I am conscious that the Government and the Metropolitan police realise that stop-and-search is an issue. Indeed, the report earlier this year from the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel noted that police stop-and-search practices were one of the factors behind last year’s riots. The Government have their review of best practice, and the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner has set out a number of areas in which he would like to see improvement, but looking at best practice is one thing, and being honest about bad practice is another—both must happen if everyone is to have faith in the system.
We also need a means by which to measure progress against the laudable aims set out by the police commissioner in London. Perhaps the Minister can say what he sees success and failure looking like in London. What specific changes would he like to see in the practice of stop-and-search in our capital city, and over what time frame?
Stop-and-search is an important police power. If we are to tackle the serious problems of gun and knife crime, there will be occasions on which the police have to be able to perform a stop-and-search. At the moment, however, young people in my constituency feel “over-policed and under-protected”, as the Home Affairs Committee said a few years ago. That has to change, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments today on how he plans to achieve that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) on securing the debate. The subject is of great interest to many people and communities, in London and elsewhere, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss it.
Stop-and-search is an important area of operational policing policy and I recognise that, despite many improvements in how stop-and-search is carried out and recorded, its use continues to be a source of tension and concern in some communities and, in particular, among those of black and minority ethnic origin. The Government and the Metropolitan Police Service are clear that stop-and-search is a vital part of a police officer’s toolkit in deterring and combating crime and antisocial behaviour, especially knife crime, which is of particular public concern. It is, however, unacceptable that individuals might be targeted because of their race.
Stop-and-search is an important tool for the police but, in order to maintain the British model of policing by consent, which is so important, it is essential that the powers are used fairly and with the support of communities to protect the public. The uninformed use of stop-and-search, without the proper use of intelligence and the briefing of front-line officers, is likely to be unproductive in terms of identifying those carrying weapons and counter-productive in terms of community confidence. I agreed with what the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) said about the importance of ensuring that any disposals such as this that are used by the police are used in a way that ultimately succeeds in reducing crime—in reducing crime, it is important that public confidence in the actions of the police is maintained. The benefits of stop-and-search need to be carefully weighed against any negative impact on the confidence in the police service by the community and, in particular, by those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
In general, stop-and-search powers are used in a proportionate and appropriate way in most cases, but their use needs to be improved by some forces. That is why in December last year the Home Secretary asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to look at best practice on stop-and-search. ACPO has submitted its report to the Home Secretary, which I am keen to see published so that forces may take advantage of the learning in it. The report is an important reminder that there are excellent examples of effective practice in the use of stop-and-search. ACPO is considering arrangements for publication.
The Metropolitan Police Service is the largest user of stop-and-search, and the new Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner are aware of the impact on community trust and confidence of stop-and-search, which is why this January they announced a radical programme, “Stop It”, to improve the effectiveness of stop-and-search. The programme has led to a significant change in the way that the Metropolitan police use stop-and-search powers. I noted that the hon. Lady herself referred to the action that the leadership of the Metropolitan police is taking and it is welcome.
The “Stop It” programme focuses on three main areas in relation to the use of the powers: trust and confidence; effectiveness; and the protection of communities from violent crime. The aim is to renew the focus on reducing violence and for the power to be used in a more intelligence-led and targeted way, reducing the numbers of searches, leading to more arrests and more weapons seized and improving the standard of the encounter between the police and the public.
I want to come back to the “Stop It” initiative shortly, but I first want to address the issues that have been raised, including previously by the hon. Lady, about the blanket use of stop-and-search powers under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which is sometimes referred to as a “no suspicion” power. There are appropriate safeguards in the authorisation process for a section 60 order and the authorisation is rightly limited in its scope. I am pleased to learn that in the Roberts case the High Court has just found that the powers under section 60 are lawful. The Court stated that, while nothing in the legislation is racially discriminatory, the question of whether the legislation is being used in a racially discriminatory way is important.
Section 60 enables a police officer of at least inspector rank to authorise officers to stop individuals to search them for knives and other offensive weapons. The officers making the stops do not need to have individual suspicion that the person they are stopping is carrying a weapon. The authorisation, once granted for a period of up to 24 hours, can be extended only for a further 24 hours if authorised by an officer of at least superintendent rank.
The hon. Lady will be interested to note that the Met, under its “Stop It” programme, is aiming to reduce the overall number of authorisations under section 60 and to increase the intelligence threshold required to authorise pre-planned section 60 orders. The latest statistics on police powers and procedures demonstrate considerable progress, showing that the use of section 60 stop-and-search by the Met fell by 41% between 2009-10 and 2010-11. As “Stop It” rolls out, we expect the use of stop-and-search to drop further still.
That general approach of the more targeted use of stop-and-search by the Met will also continue during the Olympics, and I can confirm that there are no plans for blanket section 60 orders to be in place in particular areas. It remains an important policing tactic and a deterrent to crime, and will be used when appropriate, but based on the crime and intelligence picture at the time.
The hon. Lady’s borough of Lewisham has been at the forefront of stop-and-search work for some time, particularly in relation to the level of community engagement. She may know that in November 2010, a National Policing Improvement Agency-led initiative, “Next Steps”, was piloted in Lewisham. The purpose of that work was to improve community confidence in the use of stop-and-search. Evaluation of the work found that community satisfaction rates had improved, and that community groups were effective in their monitoring of stop-and-search.
One element of “Next Steps” was the briefing process, based on situation, background, assessment and recommendations, given to task officers to carry out stop-and-search based directly on intelligence. That element has now been adopted within the “Stop It” initiative. When the initiative commenced this year, some key performance indicators were set by the Met. They included improving the positive outcome rate to 20%, reducing the volume of negative drugs searches by 50%, increasing the proportion of weapon searches to 20%, and a 50% reduction in pre-planned section 60 authorities. The Met is aiming to achieve those targets by the end of March 2013.
The hon. Lady asked what specific steps I would like to be taken to ensure demonstrable progress. I have described the general reduction in the number of stop-and-search occurrences, and I hope that it is helpful for her to know that the Met has set itself indicators that it aims to achieve.
The progress made in relation to the “Stop It” initiative is reported to the Police Public Encounters Board, which is chaired by the ACPO lead for the stop-and-search initiative, and the Deputy Commissioner of the Met, Craig Mackey. Current performance shows that the positive outcome rate, which consists of arrests and cannabis warnings or penalty notices for disorder, is 17.3% for June 2012. That is a significant improvement on the rate in January 2011, which was 10.6%. The total number of pre-planned section 60 authorities for the Met for June 2012 was just six, a significant reduction on June last year where there were 103 authorities.
The Met is committed to ensuring “Stop It” will continue beyond this period as a routine part of policing to achieve the highest levels of trust and confidence in the use of Stop-and-search as a tactic for keeping our streets safe. Effective community monitoring remains at the heart of that work, and provides an opportunity to have an accountable process for delivering on confidence and satisfaction. Local monitoring will take place through the community monitoring groups, which are provided with the most up-to-date performance data for their respective areas and a process to hold senior officers to account.
I am grateful for the information about the reduction in stop-and-search that the Met has achieved. I do not want to drag the Minister too far away from the specifics of the metropolitan area, but will he comment on the impact that elected police and crime commissioners may have in enhancing accountability to local communities in their sensitivities to stop-and-search?
I know of my hon. Friend’s long-standing interest in this policy area. Elected police and crime commissioners will be responsible for holding the police to account in their force area, and in turn will be accountable to the public. Their responsibility is to secure efficient and effective policing, but they will need to be aware that to do that and to drive down crime—I have no doubt every candidate seeking election on 15 November will aim to do that—they must maintain the confidence of communities in their local police service. They will need to be alive to the importance of effective programmes to build community confidence in the way that the police service is policing the streets, and the use of stop-and-search powers and so on, but also in terms of the ambition that we should collectively have to ensure that the police service is reflective in its make-up of society today and that we continue to make progress. That has been important but not sufficient in relation to the proportion of officers from black, minority and ethnic communities, both in the nature of policing and how it is conducted, and in the make-up of the police service as a whole, and the wider interactions that the police service has with the community. Police and crime commissioners will want to be alive to all those issues, because they all relate directly to the force’s ability to reduce crime. They are not nice-to-do things or add-on things; they are important in themselves.
Before taking that intervention, the Minister was talking about the “Stop It” action plan, and the progress that he and the Commissioner want to see by March 2013. Six months have already passed since the action plan was launched in January this year, and I wonder what progress report he has received on the specific indicators, other than section 60 stops. Can he update us on the progress that has been made so far?
I provided the hon. Lady with some of the updated information to last month about the number of stop-and-searches. First and foremost, the Met is held to account locally by the Mayor, and that is important. It is the Mayor’s responsibility to ensure that there is sufficient and effective policing. Of course we take an overall interest in policing, but it is for the Mayor to exercise that scrutiny, and to account to Londoners for that.
Notifying people that they are in an area where searches may take place is also being taken forward in the Met. That provides a number of benefits, including providing reassurance, acting as a preventive measure, and sending a clear message to those intent on carrying weapons that the police will seek them out and arrest them. The Met is currently using and expanding its use of a number of methods of communication, including leaflets, signs, text messaging, e-mail, Twitter, and other social networks.
In conclusion, I reiterate the Government’s commitment to supporting the police to improve the use of stop-and-search. However, individual police forces know their own communities better than Whitehall does. Increasingly, they will be answerable to their local communities in the use of police tactics such as stop-and-search. In London, that will be through the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford noted, in the rest of England and Wales, through elected police and crime commissioners from November 2012. Furthermore, we announced in December our intention to introduce a new professional policing body that will develop skills and leadership, and improve policing standards. I expect that body to take the closest interest in this policy area. Yesterday, we updated the House on the very good progress on the formation of that body by the end of the year. It will be known as the College of Policing, and I am pleased that ACPO, the Police Superintendents’ Association and others are supporting it. It will be a service-led body to ensure that we are promoting high standards in policing.
I hope that that gives the hon. Lady some assurance that both the Government and the senior leadership of the Metropolitan police takes this issue very seriously, and are committed to reducing any undue disproportionality, improving the efficiency and effectiveness in the use of stop-and-search powers, and enhancing public confidence in their use.
High Speed 2 (Heathrow)
[Dr William McCrea in the Chair]
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea, and I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is present. I am sure that she has lots of better things to do on an afternoon such as this, and it is a great pleasure to have her and other colleagues, all of whom are friends, in the debate.
There have been a number of Government announcements about rail investment over the past few days, so today’s debate is most timely. Let me state from the outset that I stand fully behind the Government’s proposed investments in our rail and high-speed rail networks. In order to allow our economy to compete with its European and global counterparts, it is vital that we have a truly world-class infrastructure.
I shall begin my remarks by discussing briefly the issue of western access to Heathrow—a matter of interest to my constituents in the Cotswolds—and I will then discuss the connectivity, or lack of, between High Speed 2 and Heathrow. It is, of course, possible for my constituents, and others in the west and south-west, to reach Heathrow by rail, but the requirement to change trains acts as a huge disincentive so people travel by road instead. For example, of the 650,000 passenger journeys from Oxford to Heathrow each year, an overwhelming number—98.9%—take place by road, rather than by rail. It is therefore important that all necessary steps are taken to encourage more people from the west of the country to access Heathrow by rail.
The creation of a spur from Reading to Heathrow will benefit those in the immediate vicinities of Reading and Slough, but for those further afield, at least one change of trains will be required. In addition to the Reading link, the creation of a new Heathrow station and a new hub with fast transport links to the main airport would provide a direct rail link to Heathrow for people in the west, south-west and Wales. Such a hub would act as a gateway to the airport, with connections by road as well as rail. A significant amount of the check-in and logistical facilities could be hosted at the new hub, allowing a complete transformation of the terminal structure at Heathrow airport. That would allow a far more efficient airport structure, with significant benefits for passengers and freight services—that is vital given that Heathrow is responsible for handling over half of the UK’s total air freight.
Given that we are in the process of electrifying the Great Western main line, we have a huge opportunity to create a fantastic rail and aviation link between the east and west of the country, with potentially huge benefits for people and businesses in the west, south-west and Wales. In my view, that goes hand in hand with the construction of HS2, which is the most costly single project ever envisaged by the Government.
I apologise for intervening so early, but I may have to go to the other Chamber for a debate. Will the hon. Gentleman explain where he thinks such a hub would be located? What are his views on the best options for the hub’s location?
I will explain, but it was not my purpose to favour any one particular commercial option in this speech. A site is available within the vicinity of the interchange of the M25 and the M4, and there may well be others. It is a significant site of about 500 acres of largely disused land, so a possibility is available.
I believe it is.
As I was saying, HS2 is the most costly single project ever envisaged by the Government, and will probably require more than the £34 billion often quoted. That figure is based largely on the assumption that 70% of HS2 users will be leisure passengers, and that seems a somewhat optimistic projection of income given that those people are price sensitive rather than time sensitive. To provide the House with a comparison, £34 billion compares with the £25 billion cost of the Trident replacement, and with the £17 billion for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and aircraft. HS2 is, therefore, a massive capital infrastructure project.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He talked about HS2 being phenomenally expensive, and he has mentioned that a number of assumptions have been made. Does he believe that it would be important and useful to have an independent review of HS2 and its usefulness to the economy?
In light of what I am about to say about the alternative hub possibility, it may be that some form of review of the whole HS2 route would be a good idea. Perhaps my hon. Friend’s concerns and my suggestions could be incorporated into one study.
In this Parliament alone we will be spending £750 million on HS2 before a spade enters the ground, with £529 million to be spent between 2012 and 2015, according to answers to my written parliamentary questions Nos. 106148 and 106541. With the greatest humility, I say to the Minister that it is vital that we get the scheme right. It is no good commencing works only to realise at a later date that we could have done something better, because by that point it will be too late to change course. The UK has lagged behind our European counterparts in the construction of a high-speed rail project, but that presents us with an opportunity to take on board what has worked previously, and learn from mistakes made in other countries. There appears to be a lack of a strategic link between our aviation and rail policies. Indeed, as the Transport Committee in its recent report on high-speed rail stated:
“The development of what could emerge as separate strategies for rail and aviation again highlights the absence of an overall transport strategy: this is a lacuna which must be filled.”
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. On the relationship between aviation and rail, does he think that by the time the project is actually completed, there may well be a totally different set of circumstances as far as air transport is concerned?
I anticipated that sort of intervention, and perhaps I will cover the hon. Gentleman’s point in my speech. If I do not, I will be happy to give way to him later in the debate.
We need only look at the Netherlands, Germany and France, and at airports such as Schiphol, Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle, to see the routeing of new high-speed lines via hub airports to create a direct interchange between air, high-speed rail, and the existing classic rail network. The purpose of linking Heathrow and HS2 is to provide an integrated rail and aviation system that would release scarce airport capacity by shifting short-haul flights to rail.
The current proposal is to build a spur from HS2 to Heathrow. However, that will not happen until the 2030s at the earliest, so at best Heathrow will not receive a high-speed rail link for around 20 years. If HS2 were linked directly to Heathrow under the proposals that I am outlining, it would receive a high-speed link soon after construction on phase 1 begins in 2026.
Another important design factor is that because the spur points only north, rail services between Heathrow and Europe would not be possible, and the potential for replacing short-haul flights will not be fully realised. We would, therefore, have to wait even longer until the spur has been extended to form a southern loop around Heathrow to connect it with HS1, but no plans are in place for that, let alone a firm budget. Again, I say with great humility to the Minister that no other country deliberately seeks to bypass its main airport in that way.
The spur is also inherently inefficient as it relies solely on airport passengers filling trains. European precedents show the benefit of having airports on a main line, thereby allowing trains to serve both city-to-city and airport passengers, like a string of pearls linking each together.
In a previous Adjournment debate, one question was never raised although it might have solved a lot of problems. Is the hon. Gentleman aware—as a regular customer of the airport, I am—of the distances and time it takes to travel between terminals at Heathrow? As a consequence of those times and distances, a single hub railway station would not really make a lot of difference.
The hon. Gentleman picks up a very important point. I was not going to have time to make it in my speech, but I will now answer his intervention. I believe that it would be perfectly possible to have, from the hub that I am suggesting, a relatively high-speed bus that not only takes people into a terminal at Heathrow, but takes them directly to where the aircraft are. There are all sorts of exciting possibilities to make passenger journeys an awful lot easier than they are at present.
In the “Draft Aviation Policy Framework”, published last Friday by the Government, they recognise the following:
“Rail offers opportunities for efficient and environmentally-friendly connections to airports, particularly for larger airports where passenger numbers are sufficient to justify fast and frequent services.”
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter to the House. When the Civil Aviation Bill was discussed in Committee and on the Floor of the House, rail links were clearly important factors. The hon. Gentleman is outlining that case now. Does he believe that if a rail link is established along the lines that he is suggesting, that will provide an economic boost? I am thinking of, for instance, connections with the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—the world’s developing economies, where job opportunities come from and where contacts are made. Does he believe that there will be job creation in his constituency and other constituencies as a result?
That is why I think that world-class infrastructure is vital—for job creation and economic prosperity—but it is also vital, when spending these very large sums, to ensure that we have the best solution. I will go on to explain why I believe that my proposal not only is cheaper, but could be delivered quicker and will produce a better result.
As there is no airport in the UK larger and more important than Heathrow, which alone accounts for 1% of the UK’s GDP, should we not do whatever we can to improve rail links, including with the HS2 project, as I was saying to the hon. Gentleman? The Government have repeatedly stated their wish to see Heathrow become a “better, not bigger” airport, but Heathrow continues to grow in terms of the numbers of passengers using the airport. That is something that we should celebrate, frankly. However, air quality, congestion and delays are already significant issues at Heathrow and, in the case of the air quality, it is illegal. Without an integrated approach to surface access, Heathrow’s challenges can only get worse.
How would a direct link between Heathrow and HS2 help? The answer can be found in the Conservative party’s rail review, published in opposition by the Minister. Although she will not thank me for quoting it, I will nevertheless. It clearly sets out the benefits of integrating air and rail infrastructure. It states:
“Good connections to major airports…also significantly enhance the benefits of high speed rail. So a Conservative Government will support proposals…for a new Heathrow rail hub. This would link Heathrow terminals directly into the main rail network and the lines to Reading, Oxford, Bristol, Plymouth, Cardiff, Swansea, Cheltenham and Southampton, greatly improving public transport links to the airport.”
It also stated:
“The plan would also include construction of a new high speed link connecting Heathrow…to the Channel Tunnel Rail link and the new route north, providing a viable alternative to thousands of short haul flights now clogging up the airport. By freeing up landing slots, our proposal would help tackle overcrowding problems and allow more space for long haul flights, making Heathrow a much better airport, but without the environmental damage that would be caused by a third runway.”
I could not have put it better myself.
It is potentially billions of pounds cheaper to route the high-speed line via a Heathrow interchange on the Great Western main line, compared with the current proposal for the development of a series of branch lines, loops and spurs. The current costs of building HS2 from London to Birmingham, followed by a spur from HS2 to Heathrow and then a loop to rejoin the HS2 main line at Old Oak Common, is projected to be in the region of £20.5 billion to £20.7 billion. However, a connection along the lines that I am suggesting, between HS1 and HS2, connected directly to Heathrow and then on to Birmingham and further north, is projected to cost £17.5 billion, which represents a significant saving on the current proposal. That route, I believe, would be quicker to build, and the passage of the hybrid Bill through Parliament might well be easier, as there would be fewer objections.
Shifting passengers from road to rail and making Heathrow operate more efficiently by reducing passenger and aircraft overcrowding mean that the environmental impacts will be reduced. Let me give an example. Unite the Union calculates that a B747 taxiing and holding for 40 minutes on the ground—a not uncommon occurrence at Heathrow—uses as much fuel as it does at cruise altitude from the UK to New York. Of course, that not only contributes to Heathrow’s air quality failing to comply with legal limits, but increases airlines’ costs. Additionally, the relocation—the point that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) was making—of landside facilities outside the existing congested airport site will create more space for aircraft, allowing for more efficient operations. It is suggested that removing unnecessary ground facilities and streamlining the structures of the terminals at Heathrow could allow the creation of an additional 18% of air capacity in one fell swoop. Although that would not remove the demand for a third runway at Heathrow, it would certainly provide the breathing space necessary for the Government to undertake full consideration of the options available to them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) suggested.
A high-speed route via Heathrow also avoids the major environmental impacts of the current proposals on the Chilterns and west London. It would follow the example of HS1 by following motorway corridors and the shortest route through an area of outstanding natural beauty, with tunnelling below existing rail corridors where the new line passes through urban areas. The proposed route of HS2 will pass underground from Euston to Old Oak Common before moving overground through large parts of densely populated west London. The line then goes through 20.8 km of an AONB, of which 7.6 km will be above ground and the remaining 13.2 km in a tunnel.
My alternative route via Heathrow would see the entire route through west London tunnelled underneath the Great Western main line before surfacing near Heathrow. Of course, that would involve significantly more tunnelling in London than the current proposals. However, the greatest costs of tunnelling are in the initial set-up. The cost per mile of tunnelling drops as we tunnel further. That approach would greatly reduce noise and air pollution during the construction phase for very large numbers of people. It would follow the precedent set by HS1: much of the line is tunnelled under London, with only a 1-mile section approaching St Pancras overground. It would then have far less surface impact than the current HS2 route, which will pass overground through vast swathes of west London.
The line would then proceed overground to Beaconsfield in the M40 corridor before entering a 12-km tunnel through the entire width of the Chilterns AONB at its narrowest point. In other words, the impact on the Chilterns would be minimised. This tunnel not only would be shorter, but would remove almost entirely the impact of HS2 on the AONB. That might assuage the extremely vocal and well funded local opposition groups that have been set up and that are heavily involved in the judicial review proceedings against the Government in relation to the current HS2 proposals.
Directly connecting Heathrow with the UK’s regions and Europe in the first phase of high speed rail allows rail to replace both domestic and European short-haul flights, releasing vital additional capacity and resilience while linking the UK’s regions to the country’s hub airport. Improving access from the UK regions to Heathrow, our only hub, means that business links with global markets are improved, giving passengers the choice of flying via Heathrow or from regional airports.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington would agree with this. The UK is beginning to lose the aviation advantage that we have consistently had in the past by offering more flights to Asia. Heathrow is now losing out to airports such as Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and Frankfurt, which are offering more flights to Asian destinations. The knock-on effect is that businesses—
That is just not true. Heathrow is one of the most successful hub airports in the world. It offers more flights to BRIC destinations; it offers more flights to China than any of its continental rivals. London is arguably the best-connected city in the world, with far more connections than equivalent cities around Europe, including connections to 360 destinations worldwide.
With great respect to my right hon. Friend, that may be true for routes to north America, but I think that it is beginning to be—[Hon. Members: “No.”] Let us look at the figures. I think that for secondary Chinese airports, Frankfurt is beginning to overtake Heathrow. I am happy to stand corrected on that, if it is not true. The knock-on effect is that businesses are likely to locate to where the best air connections are, not only for passengers but for freight.
Are there any disadvantages to the approach I am outlining? The answer, in my view, is not really. Birmingham is as far west of London as it is north, so it is incorrect to say that a route west of HS2’s alignment is somehow taking the line out of its way. A diversion of HS2 via Heathrow will add perhaps only three minutes to journey time for trains to stop at Heathrow. I suggest that that is immaterial when set against the benefits I outline. Indeed, British Airways and HS2’s own external challenge groups confirm that, in reality, passengers do not ascribe any value to such small journey time savings, and claiming that each minute saved is worth £0.6 billion seems rather simplistic.
The direct linking of Heathrow and HS2 and improved access to Heathrow from the west would provide enormous benefits to the people and businesses in my constituency and many others to the west of Heathrow. It is, as I have said, vital, given the costs involved, that we maximise the benefits of high-speed rail.
I am fully supportive of the project in principle, and I am certainly not calling for the Government to abandon and give up on all the good work they have done so far. I would urge the Minister however to use the opportunity, before the hybrid Bill is introduced to Parliament, to pause and reflect on whether the direction we are taking, both physically and metaphorically, is the right one. If we take time to consider an integrated approach to air and rail, we can consider the entire HS2 route at the same time. We could then start construction from both north and south in order that the completion date is not extended.
Though it is obviously only one element of the HS2 project, the decreasing business case ratio for HS2, which now stands at 1.2:1, is another reason why we should examine the matter further. Indeed, as the Secretary of State’s predecessor, the now Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), said in evidence to the Select Committee on Transport:
—the business case ratio—
“were to fall much below 1.5, I would certainly be putting it under some very close scrutiny.”
Given the importance of putting in place world-class infrastructure, it is vital that the Government retain an open mind. I look forward to hearing what my right hon. Friend the Minister has to say on the matter. I would be grateful if she agreed to meet me and other interested colleagues once Parliament has returned in September, to discuss this matter in further detail.
Not only would the hub proposal enormously improve road, rail and air connectivity, it is also a win-win: it is potentially cheaper; the disturbance and environmental pollution in densely populated areas of London is reduced; the damage to the Chilterns AONB is far less; and the connectivity to Heathrow for my constituents, businesses in the Cotswolds and others in the west, south-west and Wales is greatly improved. In short, it is the sort of strategic infrastructure investment that the UK needs to project us back towards the top echelons of global competitiveness for the duration of the 21st century.
I apologise to the Minister; I cannot be here for her response because I will be in the debate in the main Chamber. I congratulate the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) on securing the debate. It is an invaluable debate to secure at this time.
In several debates on the issue, I have expressed concerns that the High Speed 2 consultation did not include the Heathrow link as part of a comprehensive consultation on the overall route. The consultation on the Heathrow link was done separately, which was incongruous to say the least. So far, we have witnessed 11 separate options for the link between high-speed rail and Heathrow, in addition to the hub proposal that has been brought forward. I would welcome more information from the Minister in due course on the exact route of the western link into Heathrow announced yesterday.
High-speed rail has consequences for my borough. Despite the Government’s welcome assurances on the tunnelling that will go ahead, areas of Hillingdon will still be directly impacted by high-speed rail. It will have a deleterious effect on people’s homes and local communities. I would welcome further information on the Government’s consideration of the representations that have been made by the London borough of Hillingdon and others.
That is an extremely valid point. To give BAA its due, it is looking at the efficiency of the transportation of passengers within the airport complex. I do not necessarily think my hon. Friend’s point negates the full argument about a hub, but it certainly undermines some of the arguments for it.
The hub option was raised previously, as well as in local consultations that I undertook, and it would have environmental consequences for that part of west London, particularly West Drayton, which is located fairly close to the proposed Iver site. Some green belt areas would also be lost. In addition, there are concerns about the links from the hub into Heathrow airport. Whether there is a high-speed bus link or a separate direct railway line to the airport from the hub, there will be consequences, depending on the route, for the Heathrow villages, which have only just recovered from the threat of the third runway. If there is not to be a hub, and one of the 11 direct-link options is taken up, the link will travel through my constituency and, I say to the Minister, we would expect the same commitment to tunnelling as has been given to other areas, to avoid the environmental impacts on people’s homes and communities.
The Government tell us that the consultation on the next stage will be in the autumn. When we raised that matter with the Secretary of State, there was an indication that interested Members may well receive some form of briefing on some of the narrowed options being considered in advance of the formal consultation. I would welcome the opportunity to bring together interested Members, as the hon. Member for The Cotswolds said, to discuss with Ministers the range of narrowed options and the consequences for our individual constituencies, to ensure that we can provide local input into the Government’s final consideration, but also highlight the impacts on our individual communities.
As I have said in previous debates, to be frank, having separate consultations on the main line and on the link into Heathrow is no way to plan a railway network. Let us now make up the ground and ensure that there is full involvement of MPs in the final stage of consideration and, after that, of whole communities in the consultations on the implications of the different options that the Government are exploring. None of the options is free from environmental consequences, certainly within my area. Many of my constituents would welcome a more efficient Heathrow, as other Members have said, because many of them work there, but they want to protect their local communities and homes from any further direct environmental impacts that might result.
I welcome the debate. I do not believe the hub is necessarily the solution. It has consequences. We need early consideration of the range of options as soon as possible, to give some certainty to local communities and to avoid the continuation of what is becoming a blight—certainly on my area.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I add my congratulations to those that others have given to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) on securing this important debate. I agree with the thrust of much of what he said.
Let me start by welcoming the Government’s announcement of the western spur link to Heathrow. It will greatly improve Heathrow’s rail connectivity to the west and to some areas to the north. I have slightly higher ambitions for the link than my hon. Friend. If we combined that spur with the electrification of the Great Western line and the extra pass it would create, it might be possible to schedule direct services from the west into Heathrow. I do not have the exact timetable modelling to hand, but I believe that it would be possible.
In conjunction with the welcome announcement of the east-west rail link, which goes through my constituency and will also be electrified, it is proposed that some trains will run from Reading to Oxford and then over to Milton Keynes and Bedford. I see no reason why those services should not start at Heathrow, which would be most welcome in my part of the world. Such a move would boost the connectivity of Milton Keynes and our local enterprise area and be attractive for inward investment. The announcement is certainly welcome and hugely significant.
Let me turn to High Speed 2 and its connections with Heathrow. As a member of the Transport Committee, I have looked at the matter in some detail. For some time, I have taken the view that we must look at our strategic rail and aviation policies as two parts of the same whole. They cannot be looked at in isolation from each other, and I have a number of suggestions on which I hope the Minister will reflect.
One of the ambitions for high-speed rail is to achieve a modal shift from domestic aviation to high-speed rail, which is welcome. If we look at the upgrade of the west coast main line, there is a significant shift of traffic from Manchester to London from air to rail. High-speed rail offers greater potential to achieve that shift in domestic travel, and, as my hon. Friend said, that will free up some slots at Heathrow for longer-haul destinations. However, that is only part of the answer. The number of slots that that will free up is comparatively small in relation to the total and increasing demand on Heathrow. At present, there are 1.25 million journeys a year from Heathrow to Edinburgh; 1 million to Glasgow; and 800,000 to Manchester, with a significant percentage of those transferring to other flights. Heathrow is not the destination for many people. Strategically siting a Heathrow hub to attract more of that domestic aviation market will offer huge potential and relieve some of the capacity at Heathrow.
I urge the Government to have a think at this critical juncture before we commit to the detailed legislation on High Speed 2 and proceed with the aviation strategy. We should not rush in and commit ourselves to one project that we might later regret. I do not expect a detailed answer from the Minister at this point. My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds has mentioned a Heathrow hub, but that is one of many solutions. Others may be available. I urge the Government to use this brief interlude to do a bit of strategic thinking and to ask themselves, “Have we got the detail of this right, or are there better options available?”
Let me give a couple of suggestions to illustrate what I mean. If we look at Birmingham airport in conjunction with Heathrow, there is real potential that together they can be regarded as a split hub or a virtual hub. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) has raised the issue of the travel time between different Heathrow terminals. If—it is a big if—High Speed 2 is constructed efficiently, it will not take much longer to travel between Heathrow and Birmingham airport than it does between Heathrow terminals. It will possibly require air site to air site connections that do not involve changing trains somewhere, but it does, none the less, offer huge potential.
With modest capital expenditure on its runway, Birmingham airport has considerable capacity. It would be perfectly possible for it to be regarded as part of Heathrow—as part of a split hub. I do not think that the detailed planning work has been carried out. Before we get into radical long-term options such as building a third or fourth runway at Heathrow, Boris island or any other option, we should consider much more carefully the potential that we have. I believe that options such as a split hub are possible, but I am not a railway civil engineer; there are people far brainier than me who can determine such things. The option should be considered, because it would find favour with the people at Birmingham airport who are aware of its huge potential.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is a fellow Scot, for giving way. The biggest problem in transport today is the connectivity between various forms of transport. Unless and until we wake up to the fact that technology is now available to overcome that, all of what he says is meaningless. As somebody who has to travel on a weekly basis, using three or four different forms of transport, I see how much time is wasted every time I have to travel back to my constituency. Until that problem is overcome and is understood by Government, any of the hon. Gentleman’s proposals are of no value whatever.
In part, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We must look at journeys as a whole and not as individual component parts. For decades, we, as a country, have not got this right. Improvements could be made in a number of areas, from ticketing arrangements through to big capital investment. Yes, we have to do that, but I am putting forward one idea through which we might be able to achieve better connectivity. A journey from London to New York might involve taking a train for the first part of it. In Germany, such through-ticketing options do exist. The first part of the journey, for example, is on Deutsche Bahn before the passenger transfers on to Lufthansa. Although I agree with the hon. Gentleman, I am more optimistic about the potential to achieve such connectivity.
If High Speed 2 is properly connected to High Speed 1 and the channel tunnel, we will open up the option of achieving a modal shift not only in the number of domestic passengers into Heathrow but in the number of passengers travelling from Heathrow and Birmingham to the near continent, to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. It would require careful planning. At the moment, it is estimated that the pivotal point for making a rail journey more attractive than flying is about three and a half hours. That will probably lengthen as business travellers value properly constructed carriages that allow them to do business during the course of their journey. If we look at the total travel time involved in a journey from Birmingham to Paris, there is real potential to achieve that modal shift, which will free up more capacity for longer-haul destinations without having to resort to the radical options of new runways or a completely new airport.
Let me give a few figures. There are 1.3 million flight passengers a year going from Heathrow to Amsterdam, the same number going to Paris and Frankfurt, and 500,000 to Brussels and Dusseldorf. Therefore, significant capacity at Heathrow could be released if we get the planning right.
There is another point in my hon. Friend’s equation. Railway stations seem to be located in the middle of city centres, whereas airports are on the outskirts of cities, and sometimes considerably so. There is always the necessity for a different type of journey to get to the airports. If we go directly from the centre of Glasgow to the centre of Paris, there may not be too much difference in time with high-speed rail.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. It is not an either/or situation. The line between Frankfurt and Cologne calls at Frankfurt airport, so people have the option of going either to the city centre or to the main airport.
My hon. Friend has put forward the Heathrow hub as a specific model. I do not have any particular detailed knowledge about whether that is the correct solution, but it is one of several possibilities that should be seriously considered.
In essence, that is my point. I do not want the Minister to come back and reject the Heathrow hub or favour another option. I just urge the Government in the recess, when tempers cool down a little and there is time for a little more blue-sky strategic thinking, to use that natural pause in our strategic transport planning to assess whether we have got this matter right or whether we could make some adjustments to improve the capacity of what we have and what is already planned before we start committing ourselves to more radical options, which have all sorts of other issues surrounding them.
On that point, I will conclude and allow other Members to speak in the debate.
I am very grateful, Dr McCrea, for the opportunity to speak, and I apologise in advance for not having notified you of my wish to do so. However, bearing in mind the time that we have, it is important that a wide spectrum of opinion on this issue is heard.
As you know, Dr McCrea, I represent South Swindon, which my constituents and I regard as the hub of the Great Western Railway. Swindon is very much a town that looks outwards in terms of its opportunities for growth, jobs and investment. One of the main concerns of businesses in Swindon, the town I have the honour to represent, is connectivity with Heathrow airport. In many cases, that is a more important issue for my constituents than connectivity with the centre of London, which is why the announcement last week by the Department for Transport about the creation of a western connection from Heathrow to the Great Western line was welcome news indeed. Of course, we understand that the control period is up to 2021, but a commitment of just under half a billion pounds is a significant shot in the arm for the economy that I represent. It potentially brings Swindon within 55 minutes of Heathrow airport, if the line from Reading through Maidenhead and Slough to Heathrow is constructed. Electrification would bring greater flexibility and, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) has said, we hope to see a direct service from Swindon and the west to Heathrow airport.
However, the debate today is somewhat more long-term. It is quite a common mistake that we all fall into as politicians in failing to appreciate the amount of time that a lot of these big projects take. We must remind ourselves that the High Speed 2 project is a project that will take 15 years or longer, rather than something that deals with the here and now. Although it is always important to look at the raw facts when it comes to the current operating success of Heathrow, that does not mean that in the medium to long term that position will remain the same. It is important to remember that when we consider this debate and where we are going. We are talking about a long-term future for Heathrow and long-term connectivity and capacity. That is why it is important that the case made so strongly by my hon. Friend is considered very carefully indeed.
I accept that many different permutations and options have been put on the table in the long debate about how we connect Heathrow airport with our rail network. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) was careful to make that point and he is absolutely right to say that neither he nor anybody else has a particular monopoly of wisdom when it comes to the precise nature of such a scheme.
My hon. Friend says, “None of us have”, and I reinforce that message. However, it is very important for people like me to make a strong plea for the Government to look to the long term and to understand that it is only by achieving direct connectivity to airports such as Heathrow that we will acknowledge the fact that, with the exponential and welcome increase in the use of our railways, the demands upon our network will only become more stringent.
My worry is that we will be standing or sitting here in Westminster Hall in 15 years’ time, and looking back and realising that we have missed a great opportunity to rectify an historical anomaly when it comes to an airport of the significance and size of Heathrow. There it was, having been constructed in the post-war era, and it expanded to meet the huge demand placed upon it, and yet there were no direct rail links to it until many years later, when there was the link to Paddington. Now we have more development, which is welcome indeed. However, those poor rail links to Heathrow are an anomaly of history that we are duty-bound to try to rectify.
That is why it is absolutely vital that, in understanding the potential of HS2 to unlock the north, we must not forget the west. That is the plea I make today, that in any future development of HS2 priority is placed upon the need to connect the major airport for our country with the rest of England and the wider UK. Central London is, of course, an important destination, but the businesses that I represent tell me time and time again that it is Heathrow airport that is crucial to their future success. The importance of businesses’ ability to link with Heathrow should not be underestimated.
I am sorry to keep intervening on my hon. Friends’ speeches; both my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) have made very good points.
The reason that I called this particular debate today was that once the planning gets too far down the line—excuse the pun—and particularly when the hybrid Bill has gone through this place, it will be much more difficult to consider alternatives than it is now. Now is the time that we must urge the Minister to stand back, pause and consider whether there are any better alternatives; there may not be, but she should look to see if there are.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. When I looked in detail at a map of Old Oak Common—and I am delighted that it will become an important part of this network—one thing struck me very forcibly that I had not realised before, and that is how close the Euston line runs to the Great Western Line. In fact, there is a connecting spur now that allows trains to move between the two networks.
That spur is a metaphor for the debate that we are having today. We are within an ace of getting things right in terms of judging future demand, not only for rail capacity but for the future of our principal airport. As I have said, it would be a missed opportunity, as well as a tragedy, if we were within an ace of getting things right and we then missed the opportunity that, as my hon. Friend says, the hybrid Bill presents. He is right to say that once we proceed down the line of legislation, it will become more difficult to add on various concepts or indeed to get the basic concepts right in the first place. So this debate today is timely, I welcome it and I congratulate him on securing it. I wish to add my voice on behalf of both the west of England and south Wales—let us not forget that region—and the whole growing economy and growing population that need support and proper connectivity with what will continue to be our principal airport for many years to come.
Thank you, Dr McCrea, for the opportunity to speak. It is a great pleasure to serve under you in the Chair.
I congratulate the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) on securing this important and timely debate today. I commend him for making a speech that had many excellent and vital points. He will be delighted to hear that I will reinforce those points in my own speech.
This debate is important because, despite the step change when Heathrow was linked to the national network in 1999 and which has already been referred to, its rail links remain inferior to those of most of its European competitors and indeed to those of many smaller UK airports. And this debate is timely because last week we had not only the very welcome news of investment in a western rail link to Heathrow but a continuation of the silence about the central issue of airport capacity in the south-east. Of course, this debate is closely tied to that issue. In addition, the issues surrounding the Boston Manor viaduct on the M4 have underlined the fragility of existing transport links to Heathrow, as well as the need for infrastructure resilience and a range of alternative routes.
The proposed construction of a rail spur to link destinations to the west of Heathrow directly to the airport could bring real improvements. Removing the need for a journey via Paddington or a coach from Reading will reduce journey times and it will make rail a more attractive option for hundreds of thousands of airport users each year, cutting congestion on the M4 and other roads. Both the draft aviation strategy framework and the high-level output statement are short on detail, so perhaps the Minister will fill in some of the gaps. What is the status of the £500 million of funding mentioned for the scheme? Does she expect the aviation industry to foot some of the bill? What is the timetable for putting together a business case for the programme, and can she confirm the planned opening date of 2021, which has been mentioned in the media? Is it intended that the link will provide through services from the west of England and south Wales to Heathrow, or will local trains simply shuttle between Reading, Slough and the airport?
That, I know, is a continuing and important longer-term issue for High Speed 2. Every time it is raised it is incumbent on us all to stress that even the first phase, as it is currently set out, would reduce journey times to Scotland. Obviously the further north the high-speed line goes, the faster those journey times will be, which we all want.
A western link would provide welcome improved connections, as will the commencement of Crossrail in 2018; but if Heathrow is to function better as a major national airport it needs national connectivity. The airport currently has 70 million passengers a year. Whatever decisions are eventually made on south-east expansion—if they are made—Heathrow will remain dominant for the foreseeable future. Yet for much of the country, it is cosmically hard to access, at present, except by car or a domestic flight. To take the example of my constituents in south Cumbria, there are many business or holiday destinations to which only Heathrow offers a direct flight, and if people want to avoid a five-hour drive and hefty parking charges they consider taking the train. However, they find that that will take just as long and will require four changes, which is not much fun for people with a lot of luggage, those with a young family, or people who have limited mobility. Instead, many take a domestic flight from Manchester, at financial and environmental cost, or they fly via a European hub airport.
High Speed 2 could help to solve that problem and significantly strengthen Heathrow as a truly national airport. Linking Heathrow into HS2 at the earliest possible opportunity would allow for faster, far better integrated journeys between the airport and various northern destinations. Connecting Heathrow would, as has been well explained in several speeches today, make it possible to boost the economies of the regions, reduce road congestion and cut short-haul flights, and, in doing so, begin to address Heathrow’s chronic capacity problem. We deeply regret, therefore, that Ministers have chosen to reject Labour’s call for the first phase of HS2 to run via Heathrow. Instead, they have opted thus far for an expensive branch line, which it appears will not even be legislated for as part of phase 1 and will not be built until an unspecified future date. Can the Minister provide any more clarity on that point?
An Old Oak Common interchange with Crossrail would indeed make for an easier journey to Heathrow for many people; but it is no substitute, as has been explained today, for a through train. As the hon. Member for the Cotswolds eloquently explained, the sad thing is that the Minister used to get that. If she does not mind, I shall quote her. In March 2010, just before the general election—how things change—she told the House of Commons that
“the idea that some kind of ‘Wormwood Scrubs international’ station is the best rail solution for Heathrow is just not credible.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 451.]
Hear, hear: but just two years on, that is exactly what the Minister proposes—at least until 2033. Why the volte face? Will she take this opportunity to condemn the potentially deeply damaging briefings from somewhere in Government, suggesting a wobble on the entire project? If she is not wobbling, it is important that she should say so now, and I am delighted to give way.
The Minister is not for wobbling and we are very pleased to hear it.
Any aviation strategy—and it would be nice to have one—must have as its starting point maximising the efficiency of the capacity that already exists. It is far better to use a slot to land 600 passengers from Beijing than 200 from Manchester. Ministers are right to cite, in their recent document, the potential for code sharing to promote through tickets from international flights to trains; but the key to that success is that the high-speed train should stop at the airport, not several miles away. Further, as has been mentioned, an HS2 link into Heathrow could provide a connection to the existing line to the channel tunnel, raising the possibility of high-speed trains replacing hub flights to nearby European destinations.
There is still time for Ministers to reconsider their stance on HS2. The right hon. Lady knows that high-speed rail commands support across the House. It has the full support of the Opposition, and we are keen to work together to get the necessary legislation on the statute book and to get spades in the ground. However, we will continue to argue that Heathrow should be part of phase 1 of the scheme. A failure to connect Britain’s hub airport to its first domestic high-speed line would epitomise the failure to join up UK infrastructure planning—a failure in transport that has bedevilled the country for too long.
It is a pleasure to respond to an interesting and well-informed debate. I congratulate, as other hon. Members have done, my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) on securing it and on his thoughtful and insightful speech on his ideas for the route options for HS2. I thank him and other hon. Members for the support that they have expressed for the announcements that we made yesterday on improving the rail network and for their support in principle for the dramatic further improvement that we will deliver with the HS2 project. It is always welcome to hear Opposition Front Benchers repeat their support for high-speed rail, because it is only with cross-party support that projects of such magnitude can be successful.
The Government have put transport at the heart of their strategy for economic growth and recovery, because improving our transport system is one of the best ways to support British jobs, boost business and create growth. That is one reason for our commitment to the biggest rail capacity expansion programme since the Victorian era. Yesterday, we added a further major package of projects to that already ambitious programme.
We fully accept the importance of high-quality surface access to airports, and we emphasised that point in the aviation framework document that we published last week. We are co-ordinating our rail and aviation policies, and I fully agree with the points made this afternoon about the importance of co-ordination and integration, between air and rail on the ground and in the decision and policy-making processes. That point was made by my hon. and great Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), and by my hon. Friends the Members for The Cotswolds and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart). [Interruption.] Well, I have known my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon for 20 years, so he gets an extra-warm mention whenever we are in a debate together.
Reliable rail and road access can obviously contribute greatly to the quality of the passenger experience at our airports, and it is an important component in ensuring that our airports provide high-quality international gateways. It is particularly important to airport workers and crucial to the air freight sector, which is another important UK industry. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds that greater use of rail access to airports has the potential to reduce carbon emissions, as well as relieving road congestion, and also improving air quality, which is a real issue at Heathrow.
Certainly. It takes passenger a while to get from terminal 4 to the other terminals. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue about Heathrow’s current layout, and I will come to it in a moment. Despite the adversities, however, Heathrow continues to be a successful airport. I appreciate and understand the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds, but one of the fundamental drawbacks of his proposed rail hub at Iver, to support Heathrow, is that it would be more than three miles from the airport terminals. What my hon. Friend advocates would compound the problem that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) has just alluded to, which is that Heathrow is already very spread out.
Returning for a moment to the environmental impact of surface access, I welcome the comments made by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock). It is important that we all focus on the environmental impact of surface access, as well on that of aviation. We are committed to working with airport operators, local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to improve surface access to our major airports across the country. Time constrains me from going into detail, but improvements are under way in Manchester and Birmingham, and Luton will get better road access and Gatwick a new station. A tremendous amount of work is under way to improve access at a number of airports.
My right hon. Friend is making a helpful speech, but I would not like the four interventions made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) to colour the debate. With innovative solutions, it is possible for travellers, having checked their bags in at the hub that I propose—or others propose—to get in to a more rationalised Heathrow airport and on to an aeroplane via high-speed rail at considerably increased speeds.
But it remains the case that among the downsides of my hon. Friend’s suggestion are the distance from the terminals, the lack of a serious proposal about how that distance will be travelled and a failure to cost the idea.
Returning to the work that is being done on rail access to Heathrow—the subject of the debate—Crossrail is now well under way, more than two decades since it was first proposed, and the tunnel boring machines have started their journey under central London. We expect the Crossrail project to provide new services that link Heathrow directly with the west end, the City and Canary Wharf for the first time. The 2010 spending review confirmed the Government’s shared commitment with the Mayor to the tube upgrade programme, which will increase the overall capacity of the London underground network by 30% and improve reliability, benefiting people travelling to Heathrow by tube.
Last week, as has been acknowledged, we announced as part of our aviation policy framework that the Government will provide funding for a new rail line to Heathrow from the Great Western main line near Slough. It would provide significantly improved connections from destinations west of the airport—a point already made—and would cut journey times from those destinations by as much as half an hour. Easier, faster and more convenient access to one of the world’s busiest and most successful airports should provide a significant boost to the economies of the Thames valley, south Wales and the west and south-west of England.
I very much welcome the enthusiasm shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South about how we might seek to take advantage of the electrification and east-west rail proposals, to see if we can further improve and enhance access to Heathrow airport.
The shadow Minister asked a number of questions about the project. More work is needed to refine it and assess delivery time scales over the coming months, including the consideration of route options. The scheme remains subject to the delivery of a robust business case, and we hope to secure funding contributions from the Heathrow aviation community.
When this issue was presented to the House, at the outset, an area of some dubiety was that tunnelling would be cheaper than putting rail above ground. I have talked to a number of civil engineers, and none of them believes in that prospect. Can the Minister shed any light on where the information came from?
Yes. It depends on the circumstances. It is important to appreciate that a significant cost associated with tunnelling is the disposal of spoil. In certain instances, combining two tunnels might reduce the cost of such disposal, so tunnelling does not end up cheaper than doing something on the surface in every case. However, where we can get synergies between two different projects that reduce the cost of spoil disposal, we can deliver an overall reduction in cost.
On the route options, whether for western access to Heathrow via conventional rail or, in due course, the high-speed rail spur to the airport, we will seriously consider what is viable regarding tunnelling, just as we have done in relation to the rest of the HS2 route. It is too early to make the decisions because they are subject to consultation and further processes, but we will, of course, seriously consider that, given the areas through which the new lines would go.
In response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness, if things progress smoothly, the new line giving western access to Heathrow could be operational by around 2020 or 2022. No final decisions have yet been made on timetables for direct trains, but we expect there to be through trains from destinations in the west, because that would be the better way to realise the benefits of the programme.
Our high-level output specification proposals, announced last week, to improve access to Heathrow from the west will complement our work on HS2, which we expect to provide greatly improved access to the airport from destinations in the midlands and the north of England. We are taking a phased approach to HS2.
In phase 1, when the London to Birmingham line is built, we want passengers from the west midlands, Manchester and other cities in the north to be able to connect as seamlessly as possible with the Heathrow Express at a new station at Old Oak common. Phase 1 is expected to open in 2026, and will include a direct connection to Birmingham airport. I welcome the interesting ideas proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South about how we might use that improved surface access to Birmingham to help the airport flourish and attract more aviation passengers, potentially from the south-east, given the improved rail access that HS2 will deliver.
Phase 2 will follow in 2032-33, when the HS2 line will be extended to Manchester and Leeds. A direct connection with Heathrow is planned as part of the second phase.
A huge amount of work has been done to analyse the options, including one of the biggest consultations ever undertaken in this country. I would be arrogant to ignore the results of that work and that consultation. I am absolutely convinced that the preferred route, which will be proposed in a hybrid Bill, is the right one, and I will explain why in due course.
It is inevitable, when one seeks to build a major piece of infrastructure, that it will cause anxiety in the areas in which it will have a local impact. I will come in a moment to the efforts that the Government have been making to mitigate or reduce the impact of HS2. We fully understand the anxiety felt by those in the local areas affected and by those with wider concerns about protecting the countryside, but as I have said in the House many times, I firmly believe that, with high-quality engineering and care, we can mitigate the worst effects of HS2 and emulate the success of HS1, which has been delivered without the catastrophic local impacts once predicted for it. I believe that it is possible to deliver infrastructure on that scale in a way that is fair to the local communities affected by it. The Government are determined to do all that is reasonable to ensure that we mitigate the local impact of HS2.
To pick up where I left off, the Government’s preferred option for delivering the direct connection to Heathrow is a spur running from the main HS2 line, which would allow passengers from the midlands and the north to travel directly to the airport without having to change trains. Some of my hon. Friends and colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Member for The Cotswolds and for Milton Keynes South, asked for a pause. I assure them that other options, including a direct alignment that would have taken the line to Birmingham nearer to Heathrow, were considered before deciding on the preferred route that was presented for consultation.
Further thought and analysis was carried out on direct alignment as part of the consultation and the Government’s consideration of the many thousands of responses. As I said, it was one of the most extensive consultations ever carried out, and I am confident that the outcome is the right one. I assure my hon. Friends that further scrutiny will take place when the hybrid Bill goes through Parliament.
After the consultation and analysis were completed, it was decided that a spur to Heathrow would provide the better option, and it was concluded that the proposal advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds would have involved too great a journey time penalty and too much extra cost and, as I said, would not have taken the line to the airport. The site at Iver, the proposal for which he supports, is more than three miles from the airport terminals.
I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s sincere belief in the Government’s preferred solution rather than the option that I proposed, but I am trying to get something out of this debate. Will she carefully consider building the Heathrow spur in the first phase of HS2, so that at least the residents of Birmingham and Birmingham airport can get the benefit of that spur as soon as possible? Will she also consider the northward-facing aspect of the spur, so that at least it can be used from central London, as well as by those approaching London from the north?
I will come to timing in a moment. We are enthusiastic about making progress on all aspects of HS2 as soon as we can. If we can speed up the process, we will be delighted to do so, but as I said, I will come in a moment to the timing of the next steps on phase 2 and the spur. I assure my hon. Friend that the spur is planned to have what is known as a delta junction, which could enable trains to run from Heathrow on to HS1, and possibly on to European destinations, when the spur is built.
On the timetable, the Government have asked HS2 Ltd to develop detailed route options for the spur. The plans will then be subject to detailed public consultation in 2014, alongside the rest of phase 2. If possible, we would like to make fast progress and start the consultation next year. Depending on the results of that consultation, the spur could be included in the hybrid Bill for the second phase, including the Y network.
HS2 represents a valuable opportunity to draw important strategic links between major components of our transport infrastructure. As my hon. Friend mentioned, other countries have successfully integrated high-speed rail services with their international airports. Using HS2 to improve access to the country’s major hub airport for businesses in the midlands and the north will create new opportunities for growth. Better links to Heathrow will make those regions even more attractive locations to invest and do business in, because they will benefit from Heathrow’s global reach as a successful hub airport.
As I said earlier, London has one of the most extensive aviation networks in the world, with connections to more than 360 destinations. Heathrow alone has more flights to the crucial BRIC economies than any of its rivals, including more flights to China. Airlines are expanding and covering new routes to key emerging markets. For example, British Airways recently started a new route to Seoul.
I agree with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members that we should look to HS2 to provide an attractive alternative to thousands of short-haul flights. Experience in Europe shows that where high-speed rail competes with aviation, it can capture a significant proportion of the market for journeys of up to three or even four hours. For example, Air France stopped flying between Paris and Brussels entirely when the high-speed rail link opened between the two cities, and high-speed rail in Spain led to a significant switch from domestic aviation to the train. Deutsche Bahn proposes to start direct services between London, Amsterdam and Paris, so the train could start to compete with the plane for some passengers on those routes, just as Eurostar already does on the Paris-Brussels-London route.
Absolutely. The upgrading of the west coast main line encouraged a switch from air to rail travel from Manchester as well.
I believe that the HS2 plans that I have outlined have the potential to deliver further air to rail switch. In particular, the completion of phase 2 will deliver journey times between Edinburgh or Glasgow and London of not much more than three and a half hours. In 2010, there were about 382 flights a week between those destinations and Heathrow, and about 962 flights a week to the five London airports from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Providing an attractive alternative to those flights could release vital capacity, which could provide opportunities for developing new routes to emerging markets and other key long-haul destinations in just the way that my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds and others have outlined today. Better integration of rail and air in terms of flight schedules, through-ticketing and baggage check-in could intensify the switch from the plan to the train. The shadow Minister has made a valid point on those maters.
No debate on HS2 would be complete without reference to the local environmental impact. I fully recognise people’s concerns about the local environmental impact of HS2 and the preferred route, including the potential impact of a proposed Heathrow spur. There is no easy way to build a new train line through our country. I am afraid that the alignment proposed by my hon. Friend and supported by Mark Bostock would not be a miracle solution. Local impacts would still have to be considered, and, frankly, there would still be controversy. It would just be transplanted to a different area.
We have gone to very great lengths to listen to those with concerns about our preferred route and to take steps to mitigate its local impact. In particular, we are working to respond to the concerns of communities around Euston, where the station redevelopment impacts most on homes and communities. The Secretary of State for Transport regularly meets elected representatives from the area; we are working with Camden council; and we have already agreed to fund the Euston opportunity area planning framework to address the issues raised by the planned Euston expansion, including the investigation of options for the provision of replacement social housing. Elsewhere on the route, there will be a more than 50% increase in tunnel or green tunnel compared with the plans that we inherited from our Labour predecessors.
As I have said many times, I believe that, with the right mitigation and high-quality engineering, HS2 need not have anything like the extreme impact that its opponents fear. The precedent provided by HS1 shows that it is possible to have a high-speed line that does not devastate the communities through which it passes.
There are difficult times ahead, whether in relation to the main part of HS2 or to the Heathrow spur under discussion, but I firmly believe that this project will generate tremendous economic benefits. It is vital if we are to deal with the capacity crunch that we will face on our inter-city rail connections in the coming years, and that is why I welcome the support that has been expressed for HS2 in today’s debate.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on Cyprus under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I welcome the Minister, who is not the Minister for Europe, but his portfolio includes responsibility for human rights. The issue of human rights transcends the boundaries of Cyprus and should be a matter of concern to us all. Indeed, some years ago, the Minister was on the campaign trail in Enfield, Southgate and may know about the issue of Cyprus. It is certainly of great concern to my constituents and others.
In the past 40 years there have been many debates about Cyprus in this House. Over the seven years that I have been in Parliament, and particularly given my constituency interest, I have inevitably been involved in speaking on Cyprus and securing many such debates. This time it is a particular pleasure to have secured a debate, because this month Cyprus has assumed the presidency of the European Union. It is a great historic achievement of a small but important island in Europe. It is a cause for celebration of the independence and sovereignty of Cyprus. Its leadership comes at a crucial time, given the travails in Europe. I am sure that the House will wish the Cyprus presidency well over the next six months.
But—sadly, with Cyprus politics there is usually a “but”—the reason why there have been so many debates over nearly four decades is that Cyprus remains divided, with the north occupied by Turkish troops. Ministers—and perhaps the Minister here today—will visit Nicosia during the next six months. That city is the only divided capital in Europe; part of the island in the north remains occupied by troops from a foreign country—Turkey—leading to the north being one of the most militarised places in the world.
During this six-month period, pressure needs to be put on Turkey to properly recognise the Republic of Cyprus. The threats made by Turkish leaders to freeze relations with the European Union while Cyprus has the presidency should not wash with the United Kingdom or the Government. If—as many want—Turkey wants in time to be a member of the European club, it needs to play by the rules, which include respecting the rotating presidency and also respecting European agreements, not least the customs union. It is extraordinary that, although a key aim of the presidency is developing European Union maritime policy, Turkey refuses to fulfil the Ankara protocol and to accept Cyprus ships at its ports. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that during the next six months the Government will do all they can to put pressure on Turkey to recognise Cyprus and not let it off the hook during a period that can be seen too easily as a vacuum period.
The subject of the debate is Cyprus, but I have already spent time talking about Turkey. When I spoke in a debate two weeks ago about UK relations with Turkey, I spoke about Cyprus. Sadly, Turkey’s influence and involvement in Cyprus are significant. We and no doubt the Minister will want to reaffirm that the future of Cyprus must be properly determined by Cypriots, but Turkey calls the shots in the north. It is therefore incumbent on Britain to help to ensure that Cypriots— Greek and Turkish Cypriots—have the freedom and capacity to determine their future as a reunited island based on the principles of the United Nations framework of the bizonal, bicommunal federal solution.
Having been to Cyprus on two separate occasions in the past six weeks as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I very much endorse what my hon. Friend is saying. We are conscious of the problem that he has identified, and it would be extremely helpful if the present Cypriot Government addressed the problem of fraudulent titles, which is a problem for some 2,000 people in the UK who have interests in the land. A Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cyprus told me that they would try to sort it out. Does my hon. Friend agree that, just as we have to sort out the Turkish question, the Cypriots have a responsibility to sort out the problem of fraudulent titles?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention on the issues of fraudulent titles and illegal occupation of land. The Foreign Office website advises UK citizens to be clear about property ownership in the north. It advises against exploiting the situation and highlights the illegality in the north. It is a huge problem that needs to be resolved.
I imagine the Minister who took up the brief today may have approached the debate with some weariness given the stalemate in the talks between the Cypriot leaders. The House is familiar with the debate. The main purpose of the debate today is to seek to break new ground and to urge the Government not to sit on the sidelines or just cheer or cajole from the terraces, but to take seriously our historical responsibilities and our responsibilities as a guarantor power. We have responsibilities to many of those represented here. I see my hon. Friends here. The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), has a significant number of Cypriot constituents, as do my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), for Hendon (Dr Offord) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). It is clear that many Members are concerned that we do not simply let the next six months pass.
One of the areas of new ground is curiously an old one: religious and cultural heritage. Last May, I led an all-party group delegation, including my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield North and for Hendon and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan), to clean up some cemeteries and churches in Cyprus. Some of the cemeteries had been neglected, but most had been desecrated. Having visited the north last November, I witnessed for myself the desecration and damage. I resolved that the next time I returned we would do something practical about it.
Our delegation did not visit national political leaders, which is what usually happens. We wanted to focus on the local communities and villages to try not only physically to restore respect to trashed cemeteries and pillaged churches, but to restore the link between the village associations—both Greek and Turkish Cypriot—which, through the conflict, has sadly been lost.
Our visit’s aim was not to try to change the world or to solve the Cyprus problem—or indeed to restore all religious and cultural heritage—in a few days. The aim was to take some small but practical steps through cleaning a cemetery or a church to rebuild confidence and to make the point that, as British Members of Parliament with responsibilities, along with the Cypriots who were with us, we would not tolerate the desecration of religious heritage.
We will not accept the status quo. We made the point loud and clear that the situation cannot just be accepted and allowed to carry on. The memories of loved ones and the places of worship that people want to go to matter. Such respect transcends faiths, backgrounds and countries. It is about respect for common shared values. In building those small steps of confidence, the aim was to lead to a better future.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has secured this debate. Does he agree that when we visited heritage sites on the north and the south of the island they were sadly not as they should be? By reaching beyond the politicians in the villages of Pigi and Peristerona, we saw people coming together from both sides of the island who have not seen each other for a long time. They shared that wish for respect and for restoration. We can reach above the politicians, and civic society has a role to play in helping to bring about the right solution.
That visit was one of the most positive that I have been on, because we were able to see that. The common refrain is that the problem is not the people but the politics and the involvement of an outside political force in the form of Turkey. For example, in Peristerona—because of our presence, no doubt—there was a feeling of wanting to do something about a church that, throughout the time of division, had not been touched. Over time, debris, rubbish and droppings had accumulated. While we were there, we were able to see that church cleared of the debris—we were able to make a video—for the first time. A Cypriot who lived in Liverpool just happened to turn up on a visit. He had been baptised in the church before it was destroyed and desecrated. To see someone take an interest and some care—local Turkish Cypriots were helping to restore it as well—made a big difference to him. He said that there is a brighter future and that we can do something about it—not just so much talk that we often hear about, but real, practical action.
There were, however, some who warned us against doing that. Particularly in the north, politicians tried to lobby against us and build division where there was none. The media also seemed to be against us. There was caution, too, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I see some of the team here, and I pay tribute to its helpful advice throughout the trip, for which I was grateful. There was a cautionary note saying that we should do things only when we had the approval of various people, not least Mr Kucuk in the north, the so-called Prime Minister. He would give us direction on whether we were able to go ahead with our cleaning activities.
What we actually found was that Cyprus does not wholly work like that—quite properly so. It works through villages. It works through different villages that take their orders from no one; they run themselves as they have done in years gone by. They will not simply take orders from those on high. They were concerned more with the relationship they had with us and the village association people, and they were willing to take steps. They said very clearly that they would give permission for future cleaning programmes, which was encouraging and we need to make progress.
One of the highlights was our visit to Assia. Again, there were cautionary notes about it being in a nationalist area and close to an army base. However, with Greek Cypriot association villagers who had the confidence to come over for the first time with us, we were able to build a good degree of confidence with local Turkish Cypriots, mukhtars and mayors and say, “Yes, together we can do something about this.” In that village, a mosque and a church need restoring, and together they want to work on them. We also went to a cemetery that had been trashed over the years, but they were able to go there for the first time and see that we cared about the fact that the cemetery needs to be in a better condition.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, for securing the debate and for organising the visit. He mentioned the visit to Assia, which I found very poignant. Some of the people who accompanied us from the UK and, as he said, felt safe coming out with us, took us on a tour around the graveyard. One gentleman’s aunt had died on the day I was born, so I certainly feel a link with what we want to achieve in Assia. I certainly hope that, following our visit, we will have a programme of works, and that the mukhtars and the people in the north will engage with the people from the south, and from the United Kingdom, to ensure that graveyards are cleaned up, churches are repaired and some kind of civility is brought back to the island of Cyprus.
Those were poignant moments. The villagers of Assia have agreed to go back, in agreement with Bishop Porfyrios, to restore the crosses that have been broken and put them back in their place. That will be an important symbolic moment that says that this is a village where we care for our loved ones. In fact, when I went back in November, which was a motivation for this visit, they were saying, “How can we respect the living if we cannot respect the dead?”
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for letting me make a very brief intervention. I hope that he will understand why, at this point, I am also keen to remind hon. Members of our visit to the south. For example, in Kivisili we also saw a willingness to put right some of the graveyards that were not in a satisfactory condition. The spirit he talks about relating to our visit to the north is also reflected in the south.
We agreed to go across the whole island, so we visited Limassol, Larnaca, Dromolaxia, Kivisili and Kalo Choiro, as well as Afania, Assia, Genagra, Pigi, Peristerona and Nicosia. That was important. For example, we went to the Limassol mosque which, not long before we visited, had been partially burned by vandals. We were able to visit the mosque with Bishop Porfyrios and Imam Shakir, who were affirming their united support for a greater respect for religious and cultural heritage. The problem is not one of division or religious division—that is not a problem at all. They were saying that we can look at the issue of religious cultural heritage as one where we can respect religion, which can be a uniting, not dividing, force, to build confidence and trust for all Cypriots. I ask the Minister to support such confidence-building measures in areas of religious cultural heritage. Citizens from this country will be going to Cyprus to carry out such visits in the future.
This is a current issue, and there is a concern that it is not all positive. There are reports this week that the cemetery in the village of Trachoni in the north has been completely destroyed to make way for the building of a new police station. That does not help at all when we want to build a common future for Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and I ask the Minister to condemn that approach.
Would my hon. Friend be kind enough to take another question which relates, as I understand it, to the refusal of the Turkish Government to recognise the law of the sea and the exclusive economic zone in relation to gas? That is a huge issue that raises massive questions about good faith.
I was going to come on to that. The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves is a wonderful opportunity—a natural resource for the whole of the island of Cyprus—to help resource a reunited island. There are struggles in the region both with energy and finance, and that provides hope for a brighter future. That is why it is depressing that, at this time, Turkey is being provocative in bringing ships around to show an aggressive approach, and not fully recognising that this is a resource for Cyprus. Outside powers should not be trying to get their hands on it. As a guarantor power, Britain has responsibility for the independence of the island. This is a threat to that independence. I understand that the Minister for Europe has been vigorous in making representations, and I ask the Minister present to reaffirm that respect for the integrity of that resource for the benefit of the island, which offers real hope for the future—a dynamic that can happen now and can be assured.
This period could lapse into a vacuum period of six months where the talks are stalled, but we can make practical progress. In Famagusta, the fenced-off Varosha area has been looted, uninhabited and decaying for nearly 40 years. Will the Minister reaffirm what the Prime Minister has said—I am sure that he will want to do so—in response to my reference to this on behalf of other hon. Members? The Prime Minister said:
“We fully support all the relevant Security Council resolutions, including UNSCR550 and UNSCR789. We have raised this with the Turkish authorities”.
I urge the Government to continue to do that. The Prime Minister recognises
“that measures to build confidence between the communities in Cyprus can have great value in facilitating efforts towards a comprehensive settlement. We continue to encourage all parties to the Cyprus problem to develop such measures.”
Famagusta is one such area that can come under UN supervision and properly allow, in compliance with those United Nations resolutions, for the return of lawful inhabitants. Hon. Members believe that that would help to facilitate efforts towards a settlement. That does not need to wait for a settlement; progress can be made, as it can in the area of missing persons. There was a protest yet again last week by the relatives of missing persons. The relatives are still literally crying out for basic information about their loved ones, despite the great efforts of the communal committee for missing persons—work supported by the European Union, and by the UK taxpayer, too. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of those relatives are in the domain of Turkish authorities, in military bases and in Turkey itself. There must be compliance with the European Court of Human Rights judgments to allow the whereabouts of those missing people to be established.
It is important that we do not rely simply on the fact that the talks have stalled in the past six months, on what will be said, which is that we want to ensure that the Cyprus problem is resolved by Cypriots, and on the UN framework. Obviously, we want that, but we want to ensure that Britain takes its responsibilities seriously and that we as a Government step up our pressure on Turkey to recognise Cyprus when Cyprus has the European presidency. We also encourage Cypriots to step up and civil society to take a place where there are political talks and restore religious heritage and other things beyond that. We will be right behind them, supporting them every step of the way. We are doing that on behalf of British Cypriots and because of our historical responsibilities, so that we can, at long last, end the need for such debates in Parliament.
While we were in Cyprus, the mukhtars in the north part assured us that they would continue with some of the reconstructive works that they had engaged in before we got there. That was a sign of great hope and a positive step during our visit, but will my hon. Friend confirm that he has received letters of reassurance from the mukhtars to say that the work will continue, which they assured us during our visit that they would provide?
The words were positive. I have said that we need actions, not just words. It is disappointing that we have not yet had that practical confirmation from those authorities. We will pursue that. If the Foreign Office can help us to do that as well, that would be much appreciated, because we have laid the groundwork and now need to ensure that we carry on with it. We should now allow a lot of Cypriots to walk over the bridges that have been built, so that we can build confidence.
We are happy to talk about Cyprus a lot, but it is important that we do not have more debates about it in the present context of a divided island. We want to support and stand full square, throughout the House, for a free, reunited Cyprus. As the holder of the presidency of the EU, it should be free and reunited. We need that sooner rather than later.
It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). He is right. I belong in the elite group of people who have stood in Enfield, Southgate in a general election. He belongs in the even more elite group of people who have won in that constituency. I pay tribute to all colleagues who have joined us for this important debate, specifically my hon. Friend, who has a deep, consistent interest in this subject, which is a cause of great importance to a large number of his constituents and in which he takes an interest more widely.
Let me make a couple of points in response to specific issues that my hon. Friend raised, then touch on three themes that came out of the debate: cultural sites, missing persons and natural gas and mineral reserves, which were mentioned in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash).
The United Kingdom fully supports Security Council resolutions 550 and 789, which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned, and we will continue to raise those issues with the Turkish authorities. We urge Turkey to implement the additional Ankara protocol when we have a suitable opportunity to bring that to its attention. It is important that the European Union and Turkey find a way to make progress on this issue.
My hon. Friend was right to draw the attention of the House to this significant moment in the long history of Cyprus, because from 1 July until the end of this year it holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union. There are close links between our countries: Cyprus is one of only three EU member states in the Commonwealth; more than 80,000 British citizens live on the island; more than 300,000 Cypriots live permanently in the UK, many of them in Enfield and other parts of north London and across the country; a million British people visit the island annually; and 11,000 Cypriot students attend British universities. I strongly take on board the point that was made about our historical obligations and our contemporary interest in events happening in Cyprus.
Will the Minister commit to looking into the question of the fraudulent title to land? Many thousands of English—British—people have land in Cyprus. I raised that matter when I visited. Will he commit to taking that forward, to ensure that there is a proper resolution in the courts so that these titles can be remedied?
I will happily undertake to task the Department with looking into that. The Minister for Europe or I will write to my hon. Friend.
I have mentioned the three areas that I want to talk about in the five minutes available to me. First, on missing people, there are significant efforts to help families discover the fate of their relatives and give them the opportunity to bury them with respect. We understand that this is an important and sensitive issue for all Cypriots and recognise the need for it to be resolved. The work of the committee for missing persons is of great significance. Since its establishment in 1981, it has been one of the only institutionalised bi-communal committees in Cyprus. To date, the remains of 853 individuals have been exhumed from different burial sites located across the island and 321 remains of individuals exhumed within the framework of the CMP project have been identified through this process—255 Greek Cypriots and 66 Turkish Cypriots.
Of course, to complete its vital work the CMP must be granted access to all areas where it needs to excavate. I therefore urge all those in control of such areas, including the Turkish military, to co-operate fully with the committee. The Committee of Ministers responsible for the supervision of the Turkey v. Cyprus case in the European Court of Human Rights case has also underlined the need for Turkish authorities to take concrete measures in relation to the missing persons, and particularly in relation to the CMP’s access to all relevant information and places.
Secondly, the cultural heritage of the island, which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate discussed at some length, is a sensitive area and the technical committee on cultural heritage, established in April 2008, has the mandate to work on improving the situation. The committee has developed an action plan to protect vulnerable buildings. It has already started work on some projects and hopes, with further funding, to be able to implement more of its plan. The UK Government strongly believe that respect for religious and cultural buildings is a key element in building trust between different communities, including through the preservation of churches, mosques and other buildings of religious and cultural heritage.
Thirdly, and finally—I am conscious that I am slightly skimming through these areas, but I know that hon. Members will want to hear the response to specific points—my hon. Friends the Members for Stone and for Enfield, Southgate mentioned the discovery of substantial gas reserves in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, which we regard as good news for the island. There has never been any doubt about the United Kingdom’s support for the right of the Republic of Cyprus to develop the reserves that lie within its exclusive economic zone. Along with the international community we have publicly stated our recognition of Cyprus’ sovereign rights to do so.
We welcome President Christofias’s saying that the gas reserves should benefit all the people living in Cyprus. We hope that the Government of the Republic of Cyprus will take further steps to demonstrate to Turkish Cypriots that they have a clear interest in the development of these reserves. We call on all parties to handle the issue in a way that does not undermine the settlement process and urge both sides not to escalate the issue.
I express once again, on behalf of the Government, my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate for raising this subject and reiterate that the Government remain committed to seeing a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.
Treading carefully, because this Government and no other Government apart from the Turkish Government recognise the northern Republic of Cyprus, will the Minister undertake, or give us assurances, that his Department will assist either the all-party parliamentary group on Cyprus or hon. Members present in seeking assurances from the mukhtars in the north that they would undertake the work that we have described?
Further Education Loans
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I think that we last met in the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill—what a spectacular use of all our time that was. I hope to finish a little early to allow some of my colleagues to say a few words—in particular, the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden).
It is a great pleasure to have secured this debate on the last day of term—an important debate that, frankly, following the Minister’s announcements last week should have been held on the Floor of the House. However, as with the Government’s higher education policy, on which we wait in vain for a White Paper and proper scrutiny, the Government have a terrible fear of discussing their skills and education strategy—such as it is.
It is also a great pleasure to have in the debate the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who graciously visited Stoke-on-Trent a fortnight ago to see the excellent work done by Sara Robinson and her team at Stoke-on-Trent college. For a city such as Stoke-on-Trent, the debate is vital. As a report from the Centre for Cities think-tank revealed only last week,
“Skills are the biggest determinant of success for cities, and are critical to the life chances of individuals.”
We are a city with some of the finest craftsman and most skilled workers in the land, who produce objects of inestimable beauty, but we also need to up our educational and skills attainment levels and we expect Government partnership to help us to do so.
Thus far, sadly, we have not had the kind of support that we would like: the scrapping of education maintenance allowances was not helpful, while the botched introduction of higher education tuition fees has seen steep falls in applications to the surrounding universities of Keele, Staffordshire and Manchester Metropolitan. My fear is that some of the strategic thinking that was at work on higher education policy has also been at work in further education—not only the same model of lending, but the same insouciance about detail and accountability.
There are some crucial differences between the higher education sector and the further education sector. A system of loans is an entirely new approach to FE provision and the so-called deterrent factor seems more complex. The argument that up-front course fees can act as a deterrent to learning has some merit. The impact of debt is less clear. I was concerned about the piling up of debt by students moving from level 3 qualifications to higher education and facing a double whammy.
I therefore wholeheartedly welcome the Minister’s concession in last Thursday’s statement that the Student Loans Company will now wipe the outstanding loan for access course students who go on to complete a higher education course. Perhaps the Minister could explain, however, why that offer does not apply to other level 3 qualifications, such as A-levels, BTECs or advanced apprenticeships. The Minister must surely be concerned by his Department’s impact assessment, which suggests that up to 150,000 students might drop out of adult learning altogether.
Clearly, we need a larger evidence base and greater scrutiny of the proposals. Some 375,000 adult learners stand to be affected by the changes, of which a disproportionate number are women—often carers. At Stoke-on-Trent college in my constituency, 1,080 of the 1,780 affected students are women. That is why the £50 million bursary for vulnerable students is a welcome addition, although I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed whether that money is being drawn from other learner support budgets. If so, could he tell us whether the negative impacts of removing the funds have been properly assessed?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. At Stoke-on-Trent, which is similar to Rotherham, he mentioned 1,800 students; in Rotherham and Barnsley, there are probably 3,000 students over 24 who could be hit by up to £4,000 a year extra, for the first time ever paying the full cost of their fees and having to take out student loans for further education. Does he agree that that will put people off and that it is perhaps the worst possible time to introduce student loans for further education, when people are worried about their jobs, their debt and how they are going to pay the bills?
In Stoke-on-Trent and, I imagine, in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, we have seen a fall in the number of those who are seeking to go on to higher education in local universities as a result of the increase in tuition fees to £9,000. Will we see the self-same fall among those who are seeking to go on to further education? That is exactly the wrong strategy to pursue in such cities, which, above all, need to upgrade their skills.
I also welcome Government recognition that there is a capital issue in FE with the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths, although it is not clear how that will prevent the cost differential between those more expensive courses and the cheaper humanity courses in a sustainable way. Again, we need more details.
Another difference between the higher and further education sectors does not stack up well for the proposals—the relative homogeneity of higher education courses in terms of length, the academic calendar, qualifications offered and the application process, compared with courses in further education, which can often vary in length, begin at different points and have much less obvious timings. To be generous, the Student Loans Company does not have an outstanding record of delivery even when administering the far simpler world of higher education loans. In the Minister’s response, will he outline what steps he is taking to ensure that the Student Loans Company can cope with that added pressure? We will certainly see the consequences in our constituency surgeries if the change goes wrong.
My greatest concern with the proposals, however, surrounds their financing. It is my understanding that the Government have estimated that only 40% of all level 3 qualification loans will get fully repaid. As my right hon. Friend implied, under the current policy, the Skills Funding Agency funds 50% of the cost of further education courses. There is a powerful case for not decreasing state support for further education on social mobility grounds—perhaps even more so than for higher education—but the Government have been clear that deficit reduction is part of their motivation. If only 40% of the loans are repaid, how would that represent a better deal for the taxpayer?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that there will be an in-built inefficiency if the numbers of students fall so substantially that the fixed costs of colleges are no longer adequately covered by student fees?
That is precisely the kind of area that we will need to look at when considering how the loans play out. What we saw in the higher education loans system was all sorts of additions to the initial policy, as the Government sought to unpick the consequences. In the way that things have been managed, we simply do not have the data to appreciate what will happen.
We can be positive about many elements of the Government plans, but we need to thrash out the questions of the consequences: value for money for the taxpayers; whether the Government have a philosophical objection to public investment in skills, although we know how important they are; and some of the detailed practicalities surrounding last week’s announcement, as my right hon. and hon. Friends have suggested. It would have been helpful to have had the discussion in the House, with more colleagues with FE colleges in their constituencies present to explore such major public policy changes.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) not only on securing this debate, but on the detailed, cogent and strong case he made that gave both an overview of the issue and the specific details from his constituency. This debate is necessary because, as has been pointed out, the Government have used negative resolution procedure to lay regulations on these loans without any debate or oral statements. This is the biggest change for a generation; it will affect 375,000 learners, and because of the way the Government have introduced the regulations, it will come into effect on 1 September which is before the House returns from its summer recess. That is why it is so important to have more details from the Minister today.
Further education colleges now have to make decisions about retaining courses and staff as part of a Treasury cuts-driven loans system—let us make no bones about it—that even the Department’s officials say will cover only 80% of the current learner cohort. I appreciate the concession that the Government have made in response to widespread concerns across the sector, and the personal diligence shown by the Minister and the Secretary of State on this matter. Those concessions, however, and the written ministerial statement, have only provoked further concerns of substance from all FE stakeholders, and I want to raise one or two of those points with the Minister today.
My hon. Friend noted that only about £20 million of the bursary money is new money, and the 157 Group has also drawn attention to that. Will the Minister say how the funds will operate, what flexibility he is going to give to colleges, and what extra administrative burdens that will place on them? Will he pledge to lobby the Treasury if the £50 million proves inadequate?
The chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education said that the loans system is new territory and creates uncertainty, and as we have heard, the Government have asked the Student Loans Company to administer FE loans as well. The SLC’s mixed record in such matters is well known. Will it have additional staff to administer the more complex FE structure, without the central processing mechanism used by UCAS in higher education? Will the Minister comment on the admission by his officials to stakeholders—I was present when it was made—that colleges may have to work with a paper-based system from the Student Loans Company for the first year because of the speed with which FE loans are being introduced?
The Government have promised to write off HE access course loans, but stakeholders such as Million+ are rightly concerned—as was my hon. Friend—that vulnerable individuals will shy away from taking up access courses in the first place. Will the Minister look at a potential broadening of the write-off, or at a grace period of perhaps three to five years for HE access students who, through no fault of their own but due to family circumstances or whatever, find themselves unable to get on an HE course immediately?
Loans are also to be enforced on adult advanced and higher apprentices to take out on an individual basis. However, the written ministerial statement made little reference to how that will work, or to the concerns voiced by the Government’s Commission for Employment and Skills about the potential reluctance of individuals and employers to participate. Why has the Minister so far not taken note of those concerns and those of Unionlearn? What consultation has he had with major employers involved in apprenticeship programmes, including the armed forces, about such reservations? Have his officials made an estimate of the number of adult apprentices who are at risk of dropping out if they are forced to take up loans on an individual basis? In a written reply, the Minister told me that he currently has no agreement with the Treasury to prevent it from clawing back unused loan funding if take-up is slower or poorer than anticipated. Will he undertake to obtain such an agreement before the loans are introduced next March?
As my hon. Friend and other colleagues have said, we need adult learners to continue to prosper and thrive, and not to be put off in places such as my hon. Friend’s constituency in Stoke, from improving their life chances and—this is important—from contributing to kick-starting growth in our local economies, something that we desperately need.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) on initiating this important debate. He and the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) have spoken about skills being critical to cities. Do they therefore concur that the FE freedoms outlined in the “New Challenges, New Chances” report will give more freedom to employers to meet the needs and demands of the future work force, and are a positive step in the right direction?
That is probably more a point for the Minister than for me, but I will observe that freedoms are great but, as we know, the freedom to dine at the Ritz is not a very useful freedom. This measure must be seen in the context of extra administrative burdens that the FE loan system may place on colleges. In a way, that brings me to my final point. The devil is in the detail, and the Government will be judged on how they deliver this huge change to the further education system over the next 12 months.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) on securing it. He is right to say that it is timely and, to pick up on his first point, that we should have an opportunity to debate the issue at greater length. I have already made, and I will continue to make, overtures to create some space for such a debate when we return, not least because I am always happy to debate skills and further education. I do not say that those things are the Government’s only shining example of success—far from it—but they are certainly shining brightly. That is because we are determined to give FE colleges the freedoms and flexibilities that they need to become increasingly responsive to employer need and learner choice—my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) referred to that.
Disraeli said that it is easier to be critical than to be correct. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central was not terribly critical and was correct to welcome the measures that have been put in place, which I shall mention in a moment. First, however, let me set the scene. With the new freedoms that I have given the sector, it is essential that further education is able to offer as many people as possible the opportunity to gain learning as a means of improving their prospects through progressive learning or access to employment.
When we debated the comprehensive spending review, I and my colleagues in Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—in particular the Secretary of State—were determined that our priority should be those who are most disadvantaged, either by an absence of prior learning or by their circumstances, and those to whom we could make the most difference in terms of further education. That is not to underestimate the significance of lifelong learning or second and third chance education. Indeed, in the same CSR negotiations we cemented and safeguarded the adult and community learning budget that had been threatened and—I am reluctant to say this—sometimes disparaged by the Labour party when in government. That safeguarding surprised some who had not anticipated that we would be so protective, but I believe in adult and community learning not only as a means of re-engaging people but because it adds to the individual and collective well-being of our nation. As you know, Dr McCrea, I believe in the promotion of the common good and would not do anything to inhibit the interests of the people.
To that end, we made it clear that priority would continue to be placed on basic skills, younger learners and people below level 3. When introducing loans, we limited them to people over the age of 24 and those studying for a qualification at level 3 or above. That was a deliberate attempt—more than an attempt; a deliberate policy decision—to prioritise the least advantaged, because in my judgment, it is the duty of the fortunate to promote the interests of the less fortunate, no less in government than in our personal affairs.
In net terms, around 10% of FE learners will be affected by the new loans, and as I have said, they will be older learners and people studying at level 3 and above. Notwithstanding, however, that that is a small minority of the FE cohort, I received representations over time, we conducted an impact assessment, we surveyed the sector, and we engaged in discussions with the 157 Group, NIACE, the AOC and others—the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) referred to them all. Those representations made it clear to us, and that analysis showed, that some kinds of learner might be, in the words of the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), disproportionately affected by the prospect of loans. One has to be a little cautious, because similar evidence before the introduction of HE loans suggested a lower take-up than subsequently occurred. One therefore needs to qualify one’s doubts in those terms, but I do share the view that we needed to do more. Indeed, that was set out in the very good letter sent to me at the end of June by the hon. Member for Blackpool South, who has contributed for the Opposition. He identified four areas in which he believed that there was a particular issue and he put his case, as ever, very reasonably and fairly. Those four areas were essentially access to—
When I came into the Chamber, the Minister said, “Are you here to pay tribute to my work?” I have been known to do that and I suspect that his hand has been forced somewhat on this question of student loans. Before he moves off the impact assessment and the research, is he not worried that that research showed that only one in 10 current students would definitely do their course if they were faced with having student loans as he is proposing?
Actually, if one looks at the impact assessment closely, it suggests that after clear communication of the offer, we will expect full take-up of the funding for loans. A very significant majority of people, when the circumstances of the loans were explained to them, said that they would participate. Initially, some were very likely to do so and some were less certain, but the number saying that they would participate grew as these things were explained to them. By the way, full take-up of the loans would be 90% of 24-plus learners studying at level 3 and above. We are therefore talking about a very significant majority of 10% of the cohort. That is where we are in terms of the overall FE numbers.
It should be borne in mind that the impact assessment was carried out before I announced the mitigation package, to which the hon. Member for Blackpool South has referred. I was coming on to why we put that in place. A case was made about access to HE. It seems to me perfectly fair to argue that it would be unacceptable for someone to borrow to study an access course and then borrow again to study an HE course. The hon. Member for Blackpool South asked whether we could look at the issue of timing. I think that we should and I will do so. I think that there is an argument for people who do not immediately progress to HE, but do so perhaps a year or two years later. We need to consider how we manage that, but the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point and I will certainly look at it.
I am almost as excited about that as my hon. Friend. I will certainly come to it, because it is wonderful news. I have been asked to give more detail and I will in the time available. Let me just finish my point about the access-to-HE measures. They mean that anyone who goes on to HE will see their access loan written off. That is very important, as that route disproportionately contains people with poor levels of prior attainment; after all, that is why they are doing access-to-HE courses. They are often doing so later in life. There is also a disproportionate number of women and women returners in that group. That is very important, too. What we are doing is therefore socially regenerative; it is about social justice. All I do is driven by my passion for social justice. That is what those courses are about and that is why we have taken this action.
However, that alone, in my judgment, would not have been sufficient. That is why I wanted a bursary fund. The hon. Member for Blackpool South has asked how much of that is drawn from existing provision. About £20 million is completely new money. As hon. Members will know, there is some existing learner support money in FE. It is targeted at, for example, people with learning difficulties and disabilities. That will be made part of this bursary, but I do not anticipate that any learner will be worse off as a result of these changes. In other words, we are not displacing the interests of any group of learners. It is just more straightforward for colleges and learners to have these things in a single national bursary package.
I have always favoured the idea of a national bursary fund, by the way, so this is the fulfilment of another long-held ambition, framed by the discussions that I have had over many years with the sector, which argued that it would be a very effective way of allowing colleges to respond to local circumstances. They know their cohort best; they know their circumstances better than I ever could. We therefore need to build in a level of discretion to allow colleges to work with their communities, their learner base and their local employers to ensure that what they are providing meets the needs.
However, the point made from the Opposition side of the Chamber about how much discretion there will be was well made. I think that we should set down some criteria according to which we expect the money to be allocated and I will do so, having had discussions with the sector and bearing in mind—let us get the time scale clear—that the application period for loans opens in April 2013 for courses starting in August or September 2013. Therefore, although it is true that we will not have a chance to debate the matter more fully until this September, it is not happening until the year after the next academic year. The hon. Member for Blackpool South makes the point that FE colleges must plan and he is right. That is why we have done what we have now, rather than waiting any longer. I hope that the fund will address the issue of older learners, who were, according to the impact assessment, disproportionately risk averse in terms of loans. That is hardly surprising. Someone of 55 might perceive a 30-year loan in a rather different way from someone of 20 or 25.
My hon. Friend the Minister makes a very important point. May I welcome the cautious approach that he has taken in this area? Does he agree with me that at a time of recession, when we are trying to get our economy going, supporting adult learning is incredibly important for reskilling the work force and those who may find themselves out of work?
As I am the champion of apprenticeships, my hon. Friend would hardly expect me to disagree with that analysis. He is right that skills are critical to recalibrating the competences of our work force in a way that makes our economy more sustainable by making our businesses more resilient.
The bursary fund is exciting and new and will allow us to address some of the perfectly properly argued concerns of Opposition Members, but more than that, I wanted to accept NIACE’s proposal of a mid-life learning health check, so that we could look at people at the age of 40 and 50 perhaps and use the national careers service to gauge when and where they could study to upskill or reskill. That there is a need for that has been argued by the sector for some time, and we have taken it on board as part of this package.
On the issue of STEM, which was raised specifically, I take the view that tying capital investment to STEM is not only about growing capacity, but about pinning down the costs of those courses. It is often argued that the costs are so high because of the need to resource in order to deliver them. I will look at how we can be specific about that in the next FE capital round. We have already had a number of such rounds, and we will have many more, because it is vital that we invest in our college infrastructure. We have excellent colleges, such as the one that I visited in Stoke, when, as a result of the kindness of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), I was able to take away with me an Arnold Bennett volume to read over my brief summer sojourn.
All of that represents responsiveness. It was developed after discussion with hon. Members on both sides of the House. It was certainly discussed with the sector. It is a considerable step forward. But I just say this. Our determination is to ensure that it is put in place efficiently and effectively, so there will be no paper-based system. This will be done properly. The Student Loans Company will get it right, as the hon. Member for Blackpool South urged it to do, quite properly. This is a fair package—a just package. It is a package of which we can all be proud. We should now move forward together with confidence to put in place loans and get rid of up-front fees—a point that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central very generously made and that I would have made otherwise. We should do so in the spirit that has imbued all we have done; one of elevating practical learning by elevating those who teach and learn in our FE colleges, who change so many lives by changing so many life chances.