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Westminster Hall

Volume 587: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 29 October 2014

[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Chilcot Inquiry (Costs)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Harriett Baldwin.)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment. He understands the problems of research, writing and getting things cleared, as the author of a much respected book, “5 Days to Power”, on the formation of the coalition in 2010. He had perhaps a slightly less happy experience on publishing “The Eye of the Storm: The View from the Centre of a Political Scandal” in 2014, as it might have delayed his promotion to the Front Bench. I am also grateful that the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), the main Opposition spokeswoman on this subject, made it—just in time—for the debate.

The full house we have here today enables me to range fairly widely over the important subject of the Chilcot inquiry. I should explain that when I applied for the debate, the Clerks quite rightly made it clear to me that I would not get a debate if I called it merely “The Chilcot inquiry”, as the Government do not have responsibility for the inquiry, which is independent. However, it is legitimate to ask about the costs of the inquiry, and I will be interpreting “costs” in a fairly broad way, so that we can have a proper debate.

My purpose is not to second-guess the content or conclusion of the inquiry’s report, nor, I emphasise, to raise the inquiry for party political reasons. As a Conservative Front-Bench spokesman at the time, I supported and voted with the then Government in nearly all the relevant major debates, including the one about going to war, even though, along with other colleagues, I expressed some concern or reservations about some aspects of the policy and the operational decisions.

I am raising the topic because the costs of the Chilcot inquiry do include not just the financial costs. There are the costs to relevance and timeliness because of the length of time the inquiry has taken so far, which is just over four years; costs to reputations, past and present, of Ministers, the military, the intelligence services and civil servants; the costs to public confidence in government, transparency and the decision to go to war; and, last but not least, the costs in terms of the anguish of relatives of those of our servicemen and women who were killed and wounded in the conflict, and who want to know why and how it happened.

A lot of expectations have built up about the inquiry’s final report. I fear that many members of the public have already made their minds up about the inquiry, and are not only allocating blame but have the fear that, somehow or other, it is an establishment stitch-up. That view was expressed at the time, even before the inquiry was announced by the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). He announced the establishment of the inquiry in June 2009. Hearings began in November that year and the final public hearing was on 2 February 2011. To date, we have had no real indication from Sir John Chilcot of when he intends to publish the results of his inquiry, and we have received mixed messages about the delay.

Frustrations at that delay have been expressed by Members of both Houses of Parliament in questions and debates, as well as by the media and relatives of those killed and wounded. There may be good reasons for it, but neither Sir John Chilcot nor the Government have really adequately explained them. That has exaggerated the suspicion that the inquiry is an establishment stitch-up or is not a proper inquiry. At the end of the day, some people are asking: to whose benefit is it that there is a delay? I suspect that I am probably more of the view that there are understandable reasons and, perhaps, cock-ups behind the delay than I am in the camp of conspiracy.

Are the administrative costs of the inquiry related to its terms of reference? Do those costs reflect the fact that the riding instruction for the initial inquiry was too broad and comprehensive? I remind hon. Members of the instructions laid down by the then Prime Minister in June 2009. He announced that it would be

“an independent Privy Counsellor committee of inquiry which will consider the period from summer 2001, before military operations began in March 2003, and our subsequent involvement in Iraq right up to the end of July this year”—

meaning 2009. He went on:

“The inquiry is essential because it will ensure that, by learning lessons, we strengthen the health of our democracy, our diplomacy and our military…Its scope is unprecedented. It covers an eight-year period, including the run-up to the conflict and the full period of conflict and reconstruction. The committee of inquiry will have access to the fullest range of information, including secret information. In other words, its investigation can range across all papers, all documents and all material. It can ask for any British document to be brought before it, and for any British citizen to appear. No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry. I have asked the members of the committee to ensure that the final report will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information—that is, all information except that which is essential to our national security.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 23.]

It is important to note that, in that original riding instruction, the then Prime Minister kept emphasising “British”. One problem the Chilcot inquiry has faced is that a considerable amount of evidence and a considerable number of individuals were from or in the United States of America. Understandably, that caused major problems.

Sir John Chilcot, in replying to then Prime Minister, wrote:

“Our terms of reference are very broad, but the essential points, as set out by the Prime Minister and agreed by the House of Commons, are that this is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors”.

He went on to explain that the inquiry would consider the long period stated. He also emphasised the importance of the lessons of the inquiry:

“Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.”

There is a problem with that. The Chilcot inquiry has not reported and we do not yet know what lessons have been learned. Yet, ironically, in the past year, roughly, we have faced two situations in which the Prime Minister has tried to get the House of Commons to support military action. The first, last year, was over Syria, which—

Order. The title of the debate focuses on the costs of the Chilcot inquiry. In his opening remarks, the hon. Gentleman chose to interpret “costs” in quite a wide way, and I am mindful of that. However, the direction of his speech needs constantly to refer back to the title of the debate. He is not out of order, but I am trying to be helpful by steering him in a direction that will keep him in order for the remainder of his speech.

I am grateful, Mr Howarth, and take note of that. I am not going off into a byway—one of my interpretations of “costs” is to do with the lessons of the inquiry, which I think have direct relevance not only to this debate but to the interests of nearly all colleagues in the House of Commons. Naturally, I will take note of what you have said.

The problem always was that the inquiry’s sheer breadth would incur extra costs in every possible sense of the word. Interestingly, the Government considered the historical precedents for the inquiry. They included the two inquiries from the first world war—the special commissions on the Dardanelles and on Mesopotamia—both of which were relatively cheap. The Mesopotamia inquiry reported within a year, and its lessons were immediately applied in 1917, while the financial costs of the Dardanelles inquiry, which lasted until 1919, were also pretty reasonable, although the inquiry did not, of course, have an impact on the conduct of the war. As far as the Government were concerned, however, the immediate precedent was what was called the Falklands inquiry, or the Franks inquiry, which was also a Privy Council inquiry. It reported within six months of being established and, once again, cost a relatively small amount. Once again, however, there was controversy because of the different interpretations regarding how the inquiry was set up and what lessons could possibly be learned from it.

In historical cases, as well as in the Chilcot inquiry, terms of reference are crucial. The important point about the Chilcot inquiry is that it is independent of the Government but relies on them for resources, so there is a cost factor. It is also reliant on them in terms of the cost of clearing secret and confidential documents, including those between the United States President and the British Prime Minister and those involving Departments and intelligence agencies. Will the Minister tell us, based on Government sources, the extent to which such procedures have held up the drafting of the final report, and whether Sir John Chilcot is satisfied that all those matters are now resolved? I will return to that point in greater detail.

In a letter Sir John Chilcot wrote to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, dated 28 May 2014, he said that, in principle, agreement had been reached with the Government on the intelligence and other materials that might be released. Can the Minister tell us what documentation and information has been withheld? If any has been, will that be reflected in the final report? In other words—this may cost more—will sections of the report be flagged up as having been redacted?

A great deal of the delay has been attributed to what is called the Maxwellisation process. For those colleagues who are not too sure what that means, it is the process of warning those who have been criticised in a report and allowing them to respond before publication. It takes its name from the experience of Robert Maxwell, who was criticised in a Department of Trade and Industry report in 1969 and took the Department to court, where the judge ruled he had been unfairly treated. In future, therefore, individuals who were to be criticised would be given advance notice and a chance to comment. Obviously, the Government wanted to allow that not only because there had been a legal judgment, but because they did not—once again, Mr Howarth, I am following your direction—want to incur the costs of legal action.

From Sir John Chilcot’s letter to Sir Jeremy Heywood in May, we can see that the process of Maxwellisation has, in one sense, only just begun. Sir John Chilcot makes it quite clear that, now that everything else has been cleared in principle, it is possible to start the process of Maxwellisation. From reading the documents, I conclude that the delay has been in two parts. One was the negotiation between Chilcot and the Cabinet Office over the US-UK political and intelligence documentation. In addition, until that was resolved, the process of Maxwellisation could not seriously begin—in fact, it has only just begun. We will therefore see more financial costs one way or another.

Given the Cabinet Office discussions with Chilcot, what is the time scale for publication? Can we realistically expect Sir John Chilcot to publish his report before May 2015? That is important because there will be a cut-off date around Christmas—probably just into the new year—when the civil service will say that Chilcot forms part of the pre-election purdah, so the report will be postponed. That has financial costs, but I would suggest that it also has costs relating to the reputation of the British Government and the individuals concerned.

Of course, Chilcot is an independent inquiry into the Iraq war, but can the Minister tell us what departmental inquiries have been held into general or specific aspects of the war, from policy through to implementation and lessons learned, by the Cabinet Office, the National Security Council, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development, and perhaps the intelligence agencies? We have no idea what individual departmental reports have been done, and whether Sir John Chilcot has had access to them. If he has, that might cut down the time he needs to investigate and the cost of the overall report. Does the Minister have details of any US Government or congressional inquiries into the Iraq war, which may have published documentation that would have been relevant to Chilcot or saved time?

I now return to—literally—the costs of the Chilcot inquiry. According to a House of Commons document, the total financial cost incurred by the inquiry, from its establishment on 15 June 2009 to 31 March this year, was £9,016,500. There is an additional cost of about £1 million for the rest of this year, so we are talking so far about £10 million. Compared with the cost of the major public inquiries, that is not a large amount. Nevertheless, it is a cost on the public purse.

There is also the cost to the reputations, past and present, of Ministers, the military, the intelligence services and the civil service. We in this House would want Sir John Chilcot to be as fair as possible in any criticism he makes of any individuals, so that they have the right not only in law, but in terms of natural justice, to respond. The trouble is that that could go on for a long time, and Sir John Chilcot must have a cut-off point in mind. Has he perhaps indicated what it is to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary?

On the costs in terms of public confidence in Government transparency and the decision to go to war, I understand the practical problems behind the delay, which I have outlined, but the longer the Chilcot inquiry continues without publication, the greater will be the public’s suspicion that the process is not transparent. In addition, the central part of the report, which is about learning lessons, will become mainly historical, although we know that such lessons could have been relevant to more recent events.

Then there is the cost in terms of the relatives’ anguish. The Chilcot inquiry will perhaps not satisfy many of them, but there is a wound there that many of them feel. They want, as far as possible, to get at the truth, and Sir John Chilcot is only too well aware of that.

On the procedures connected with the eventual publication of the Chilcot inquiry, there will presumably be a press conference, and the full report and evidence will go online—we are talking about a report of, possibly, 500 or 600 pages, with several thousand pages of evidence. From Parliament’s point of view, the danger will be that a lot of this will be in the public domain. There will be headlines naming and shaming individuals or organisations before Members of this House and the other place have the benefit of being able to debate the issue. Does the Minister think that the Prime Minister of the day will make a formal statement to the House, which will be duplicated in the other place? Will there be an opportunity for a full parliamentary debate? Colleagues will expect that, and there may even be pressure to have a vote. Will the Government accept the recommendations of the Chilcot inquiry, or will they pick and mix? Does the Minister think that the process will be rather like what happens with a Select Committee, when the publication of a report is followed by a Government response that accepts, or does not accept, some or all of the report?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He makes a point about a pick-and-mix approach to the report. Although the Saville inquiry was quite different in nature and content, it was also exceptionally expensive and long. However, when it was concluded, the Prime Minister thought and hoped that that would be an end to the matter which, it transpired, was not the case. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the expense should be limited and there should be caps on legal fees, but that there should be no pick-and-mix approach on the outcome?

I have every sympathy for Sir John Chilcot and his inquiry. With such a broad inquiry, he has been tasked almost with an impossibility. On the one hand he wants to get to the truth, within the riding instructions, and wants to be fair to individuals, Departments and agencies. However, at the same time he has been aware—I suspect he would argue this—that the delay has not been his fault, as the Government of the day had major problems in getting agreement about putting information from the Americans in the public domain. It is understandable, for intelligence and security reasons, that there must be negotiation on what can be put in the public domain.

So far, the financial cost has, I think, been reasonable. My concern is that we are almost there, and Sir John Chilcot needs to be minded that while Parliament accepts the pressures on him, we would like the process to be concluded as reasonably as possible. He will present his report with recommendations, and will take questions on that. It will then be up to the Government of the day to say, “We accept all these recommendations,” or “In fact, we only accept some of them.” I suspect that Sir John Chilcot will be criticised by individuals, groups and some of the media for a range of issues that I have raised. As to what some of the families may conclude, if no one is put in the dock as responsible overall for mistakes that were made—taking the country to war illegally and such issues as are all out in the public domain—I suspect that the final Chilcot inquiry report will not end the matter. The Government of the day will have to take a view. It is right for Parliament to debate the matter. Colleagues in both Houses were active in government at the relevant time and will have a view. I fear that if things continue as they are for much longer, Sir John Chilcot will, through no fault of his own, lose public sympathy and perhaps come in for unfair criticism.

The Government do not have direct responsibility for the Chilcot inquiry, which is independent, but they have acted, as it were, as a control mechanism, because they control the flow of Government and non-Government foreign information. I do not think that they have tried to slow the process down, but nevertheless I suspect that the situation has at times proved very frustrating to the inquiry. We live in an age in which more and more people are suspicious of government. When a Government say that there are good intelligence and security reasons for doing something, a significant part of the public no longer accept that, even in terms of our physical security. When we debate issues such as the European arrest warrant, arguments will focus narrowly on that.

I hope that the Minister will be able to answer my questions. In particular, I should like to know from him whether he has had any indication through Sir John Chilcot of a likely notional date for the report to be published, and whether he thinks that there is a cut-off point, when the civil service will say that the period of purdah before the general election is approaching, meaning that that publication may be postponed until after the election.

I want to express our gratitude to the hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) for securing this important debate, which we welcome. His tone and approach were exactly right. One of the difficulties of trying to take a forensic approach to such complex and controversial events as the Iraq war is that often the facts are clouded or distorted by people’s emotions. The hon. Gentleman chose the right approach, trying to ensure that we record, and keep in the public mind, something so important to the British people. He was right, also, to say that we need to learn the lessons of the event, and consider the costs—both the financial costs, and costs in the fullest sense.

Many hon. Members, including me, represent families that have been deeply affected by the conflict. The report is important to them, and it will be difficult for them to bear it, when it is published. I agree that their lack of certainty is difficult, and that as far as possible we should try to ensure that they know what to expect, and when to expect it. I shall listen with interest to what the Minister says about those points.

The Iraq war was a crucial moment in our history. It was complex and controversial, dividing the nation, friends and families. Feelings about the events leading up to the war, the war itself, and the aftermath in this country and throughout the world, are still strong. The eyes of the world will be on us as we publish the report. The war was a key moment in our history and it matters that we should learn the lessons. The then Prime Minister said when he announced the inquiry in 2009 that it would

“strengthen the health of our democracy, our diplomacy and our military”—[Official Report, 15 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 23.]

It was right to announce the inquiry: it was the right thing to do then, and it remains the right thing now.

Given the context, it was also right to establish the inquiry as fully independent of Government. The hon. Member for Broadland referred to that fact. We recognise and accept that there will be certain things that the Government can and cannot do in relation to the inquiry. That is right and proper. Given the circumstances of the conflict, there is no other basis on which the inquiry could have had the necessary legitimacy. It was also essential to give it a broad remit, including the time span of 2001 to 2009, which I understand was unprecedented. It covered the run-up to the conflict, the action itself and the aftermath. The Prime Minister said at the time that the report would

“disclose all but the most sensitive information”—[Official Report, 15 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 23.]

That was extremely important, and we have learned from past inquiries how important it is to get that right at the very beginning. However it was always going to be complex in practice. It was to be expected that it would take time to work through that.

Of course a balance is needed between the time it takes to conduct an inquiry, the costs incurred, and the need to put as much information in the public domain as possible without compromising our security or stability, or people’s lives. I shall listen with interest to the Minister when he tells us what he can about the progress that has been made in that important respect.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) was right to draw attention to the Saville inquiry. For me, the events around Hillsborough are also very close to home. I represent many of the Hillsborough families, and we have learned many things from that awful event and from the process which has been drawn out for nearly a quarter of a century, with families fighting for justice.

If we do not take the time to get this right, to put as much information as possible in the public domain and to support a thorough investigation that commands families’ confidence, we shall compound their misery and anxiety for a very long time. Families here and in Iraq will be watching closely. I know from working with Hillsborough families that when the report is published, the families involved will relive their experience all over again. It is important to take the time to get the inquiry right and to recognise that the balancing act is difficult because of the costs and the period between the Iraq war and when the report is published.

In initiating this debate, the hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) has helped to keep the matter in the public’s mind, and for that we are extremely grateful.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) on securing this important debate and thank him for his kind words of congratulation. I also thank him for his impressive and detailed speech which was measured and touched on all the key issues that should be discussed. I expect nothing less from someone with his great experience in foreign affairs and defence matters and who is a historian.

I am sure that not many of us here this morning would have expected to be still debating this matter in 2014, but I am sure that everyone here accepts this inquiry and agrees that it is unprecedented in its scope and scale. Never before has a UK public inquiry examined in such depth and detail a decision to go to war and its consequences, although I am sure that some individuals will be assured of that when the report is published.

I shall deal with some of the cost issues of the inquiry so that they are on the record. Until 31 March 2014, the total cost was £9 million. The breakdown for each financial year is as follows: £2.27million in 2009-10, £2.43 million in 2010-11, £1.43 million in 2011-12, £1.35 million in 2012-13, and £1.54 million in 2013-14. The inquiry has been open and transparent about its costs and lists a detailed breakdown for each financial year on its website.

The costs in both 2009-10 and 2010-11 were significantly higher than in subsequent years. That was due mainly to the cost of running the public hearings and increased staffing levels. The costs over the last three financial years have been relatively stable. The major costs cover the employment of the inquiry’s secretariat, committee and advisers and office accommodation.

The final cost of the inquiry will, of course, be higher as it will include running costs for the current financial year and is also likely to include the costs of Maxwellisation and publication. However, I do not expect current total expenditure to rise significantly. The sum of £9 million is not insignificant, but comparing it with the cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, which came in at over £100 million, demonstrates that the cost to taxpayers has been significantly lower than might have been expected.

The Chilcot inquiry was announced in June 2009 by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), to identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict. The terms of reference set out by Sir John Chilcot on 30 July 2009 were very broad, but the essential points set out by the then Prime Minister and the House were to examine the UK’s involvement in Iraq from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict, the military action and its aftermath, and the way decisions were taken, to establish as accurately as possible what happened and to identify lessons to be learned. Those lessons will help to ensure that if we face similar situations in future, the Government of the day will be best equipped to respond in the most effective way and in the best interests of the country.

The inquiry consists of five Privy Counsellors: Sir John Chilcot, who is its chairman, Sir Lawrence Freedman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar. Unfortunately, Sir Martin Gilbert has been unable to fulfil his duties since 2012 owing to serious illness.

The last such inquiry was the Franks report on the Falklands war; it too consisted of Privy Counsellors. It met and took evidence in private, and when its report was published there were accusations of an establishment stitch-up. This inquiry is completely different. It has been open and transparent, taking oral evidence in public and publishing it with written evidence and declassified documents on its website. When the report is published, thousands of other official documents, including once highly classified material, will be published. They will include whole Cabinet records and other previously secret material.

Since 2009, the inquiry has taken evidence from more than 150 witnesses. It has travelled to Baghdad and Irbil for discussions with Iraqi politicians, to Washington to meet officials of the United States Government, and to France to talk to French officials. It has met the families of UK personnel killed in Iraq and has read tens of thousands of UK Government documents.

When the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath announced the inquiry in the House, he said that Sir John and his colleagues would have access to the fullest range of papers, including secret and other highly sensitive material. He also made it clear that

“No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry.”— [Official Report, 15 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 23.]

Throughout that time, the Government have co-operated fully with the inquiry so why has it taken so long to report? Its scope is unprecedented and it is examining difficult and complex issues. It has estimated that its final report will be more than 1 million words. As part of the process of drafting the report, the inquiry has sought the declassification of material from many thousands of Government documents. The process, as Sir John Chilcot has acknowledged, is labour-intensive for both the Government and the inquiry. It has included extremely sensitive documents. To gain some idea of the scale of this exercise, it has requested the declassification of just over 7,000 documents, of which 1,400 will be disclosed as whole documents. During the past two years alone, it has made more than 200 separate requests, including 100 since July 2013, to declassify official documents.

Sir John wrote to Jeremy Heywood on 28 May to say that agreement had been reached on the principles underpinning disclosure of material from Cabinet-level discussions and communications between the UK Prime Minister and the President of the United States which the inquiry has asked to use in its report. Disclosure of this material raises difficult issues of long-standing principle, which took some time to resolve. In doing so, the Government recognised the wholly exceptional nature of the inquiry and the importance of material to enable it to articulate its conclusions. The agreement on disclosure of Cabinet records includes the publication of full extracts from key Cabinet meetings. The principles governing communications between the UK Prime Minister and the US President will allow disclosure of gists and quotes, which the inquiry has concluded are sufficient to explain its conclusions.

My hon. Friend asked about redactions, which have been made to some documents that we published alongside the report. The redacted passages will be flagged up. The report itself will not include any redactions.

When declassification has been completed, Maxwellisation can begin. That will offer individuals facing criticism the opportunity to make representations to the inquiry. It has said that it is determined to adopt an approach to Maxwellisation that is balanced, considered and fair. It is a confidential process and the inquiry will not comment on the number or the identity of those subject to criticism. It expects a similar duty of confidentiality from those concerned. The inquiry is not a court of law and nobody is on trial. As Sir John said in his evidence to the Select Committee on the Inquiries Act 2005, the absence of judicial leadership has not hindered the inquiry, which has been able to focus on learning lessons rather than on apportioning blame, although Sir John also said that the inquiry would not shrink from criticism where it was justified.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland asked about the report’s publication. I cannot say when the report will be published—that is a matter for the inquiry. As he has noted, it is fully independent of the Government. However, technically it can be published right up to the end of February if publication is to be before the May general election. All I can do is echo the recent words of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House that the report will be published shortly, and I hope that it will be published as soon as possible. Sir John Chilcot has said that the report will be presented to the Prime Minister once the Maxwellisation process has been completed.

As I have said, the inquiry is completely independent of the Government, who have absolutely no input into what the report will say. On the Government’s responsibilities, we have given the inquiry full, unfettered access to all the Government papers that it has wanted to see. At the outset of the inquiry, the Government assured the inquiry of their full co-operation. They continue to support the inquiry fully. Sir John Chilcot has confirmed that the material the inquiry has requested is sufficient to explain its conclusions. He has also been grateful for the Government’s assurances that they will do everything possible to assist the inquiry in submitting its report to the Prime Minister as soon as possible.

Once the final report has been presented to the Prime Minister, he will make a statement to Parliament and there will be an opportunity to debate its findings in both Houses. In relation to accepting any recommendations that the report may make, it would be wrong to pre-empt the inquiry’s findings. It will be for the Prime Minister and Parliament to decide how to proceed once the report is published.

The Iraq conflict was, as we were reminded by the Opposition spokeswoman, a seismic political event, which still evokes strong feelings on all sides of the political debate. The Government recognise that it is of paramount importance that the inquiry is able to complete its work, and to provide a publicly persuasive, balanced, evidence-based report, which shows why decisions were made and the lessons that can be learned.

It is important to re-emphasise a point made in June 2009 by the then Prime Minister which was that, although the inquiry receives the full co-operation of the Government, it is fully independent of the Government. The costs of the inquiry and the completion of its report are a matter for the inquiry. Sir John said on 28 May that it is the inquiry’s intention to submit its report to the Prime Minister as soon as possible—a sentiment we all share and support.

Sitting suspended.

Morecambe Bay (Tunnel)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I secured the debate to discuss the idea of a transport tunnel across Morecambe bay—or, more to the point, under it—starting at Heysham, in my constituency, and hopefully going all the way to Barrow.

Since I was elected as Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale in 2010, I have secured £123 million of investment from the Government for the Heysham-M6 link connecting Heysham and Morecambe to the M6 at Lancaster. That vital route has been in the planning stage for more than 60 years, and my constituents, who can now see it being built, are grateful to the Department for Transport for giving the road the green light. It brought with it an upgrade to the port, a footprint for the third nuclear power station in Heysham and countless contracts for businesses in the White Lund business district, not to mention a projected rise of house prices in the area.

Now that the route is well under way, it is time to look to the future and new infrastructure links that could be built. The most obvious next step is a tunnel under Morecambe bay towards the Furness peninsula, which would not only link the M6 to the port and nuclear power stations in Heysham, but create a streamlined route to nuclear installations and BAE Systems on the Cumbrian coast. I would like a tunnel that would allow two-way traffic to travel between Heysham and the Barrow area. Currently, that journey takes approximately one hour and 30 minutes, but with the tunnel, it would be cut down to 20 to 30 minutes, or even less, meaning a saving of more than two thirds in the journey time. Traffic would also be freed up from roads in a vast rural area.

The inspiration for the tunnel is twofold. For many years, various groups have discussed how to link together these two strategic areas. There have been ideas for a cableway across the bay and a barrage bridge over the sand. Before the general election, it was reported that £700 million was on the table from the Bank of Scotland to construct a barrage. However, as Morecambe bay is a site of special scientific interest and a habitat for rare birds and wildlife, that idea did not become a reality. Nevertheless, it showed that there is a commercial interest in linking together these two areas of vital strategic importance.

Earlier this year, I was approached by National Grid. As part of work on connecting new energy installations in Cumbria, it came up with the idea of constructing a power cable under Morecambe bay. That idea is subject to consultation, but National Grid believes that as the tunnel will go under the sands completely without disrupting the wildlife, it will not come up against environmental constraints, as the barrage project did. National Grid invited me to Willesden Junction in London to see how its London power tunnel project is being built. I saw that the machines being used for that tunnel could work in the same manner on a larger scale. I was fascinated by that visit, because it showed me that in this country we have not only the technology for a tunnel, but some of the best tunnelling experts in the world. If a power tunnel can go ahead in the sands, there is no reason why a transport tunnel is not a viable option.

My constituency is becoming a bottleneck of funding. Since becoming its MP, I have secured nearly £700 million of investment from the Government and the area as a whole is booming with success. Opening the area up to other parts of the Furness peninsula would greatly benefit the many manufacturing and energy companies in my constituency and on the other side of the bay. On the Cumbria coast, we have BAE Systems, and also Sellafield and the National Nuclear Laboratory. If the workers in my constituency at Heysham power station could access those sites more easily, there would be more scope for the sites to work together. A tunnel would also create more employment opportunities in the science and technology sectors for young people in my constituency. These two areas have expertise in energy and engineering, and linking them would create an “Aberdeen effect” for skilled workers in both of them. It could only be a good thing for my area and Barrow as a whole.

Due to the M6 link project, the port of Heysham is receiving an upgrade so that it will be able to process more ships. A faster link to Furness would mean that more companies in the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and Cumbria would be able to use the port which, again, would create more jobs and economic benefits for the area.

A link under the bay would also help my local NHS trust. University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust has always said that it needs faster links between its hospitals. Under the previous Government, the trust faced a lot of problems, but that situation has already been talked about too often in the main Chamber. A link between the hospital sites would benefit both sides of Morecambe bay, as well as people in Cumbria, including in the Barrow area, and in my constituency of Morecambe and Lunesdale. At the moment, it is difficult to transport staff and patients between the two trust sites, and even more difficult to practise a joined-up approach across the sites. The tunnel that I propose would at least halve the journey time between the sites, which would allow them to work together more easily.

The proposed tunnel would not go into Barrow itself, but would go from coast to coast, from Heysham, and join up with the existing road network. In recent weeks, residents from both sides of the bay have been contacting me about the scheme. In fact, on Radio Cumbria this morning, a lot of people from Barrow said what a good idea it would be. This scheme could only benefit the public and the businesses in the area.

However, if such a project is to go ahead, we will need to attract private investment and get some sort of Government funding. As I said, £700 million was on the table for a barrage five years ago, so there is no reason why such a project should not attract the same kind of investment. To attract such investment, the project would need some form of Government help so that a business case for the proposal could be compiled. Support would be needed from the Treasury, the Department for Transport or the local enterprise partnership—or a combination of the three—so that a feasibility study could be carried out.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. May I be clear about what he is saying about this project? When he originally mooted it, I thought it was directly tied to the tunnel being built for power lines under the bay. Is he now saying that this is an entirely separate venture? I ask that because, of course, National Grid says that if this tunnel scheme was to be part of the work to put power lines under the bay, that would be delayed by at least a decade, and probably more.

I can clarify that this project would have nothing to do with the power cabling. Originally, when the tunnelling experts and I talked, it was suggested that the transport tunnel would have been an escape route for the power lines tunnel, but now the transport tunnel would not be the same tunnel at all. The transport tunnel is a completely separate project from that proposed by National Grid, which already has investment for the power lines tunnel. However, if National Grid would like to come on board with this project, I am absolutely certain that bodies can talk together and reach agreement.

I understand that this transport tunnel is a big idea and will require considerable investment, but I have a can do attitude. I firmly believe that, having secured funding for the M6 link project after it had been planned for 60 years, there is no scheme too big to be delivered. I look for guidance from my hon. Friend the Minister about how best to go about the scheme, and how to make it a reality that would economically boost both my constituency of Morecambe and Lunesdale, and the Barrow peninsula, as phase two of my infrastructure plan.

It is always a joy to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris)on securing this debate about a tunnel under Morecambe bay, and on his vision and ambition for transport as a driver of growth. This Government recognise the crucial role that effective transport plays in facilitating growth across the country, in creating a more balanced economy and in connecting communities and enabling people to access jobs, services and leisure. That is why we have been determined to secure significant levels of investment in infrastructure, and in road, rail and other public transport services. We are committed to ensuring that this investment benefits all parts of the country, from north to south.

Before setting out how much we are doing to deliver real change for transport in the north, I must make it clear that the tunnel my hon. Friend referred to forms one of the options that National Grid is currently consulting on, regarding the proposal to connect the proposed Moorside nuclear power station to the electricity transmission network, although—as he made clear in his speech—the two tunnels may not be co-located. His suggestion is for a tunnel separate from the one that National Grid is proposing. Nevertheless, I must say that any subsequent planning application by National Grid will be decided on by the appropriate planning authorities and Ministers. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to give a view on the particular details of this transport tunnel project, as I am sure my hon. Friend will understand.

I must also point out that this tunnel scheme is not a new idea. Indeed, I have a record of the debate that took place in the House on 10 May 1965, when Hector Munro—who I recall would go on to become Sir Hector Munro—asked a question of the Minister for Land and Natural resources:

“If he will make a sum of money available to Strathclyde University and to universities in England to enable them to investigate the Solway and Morecambe barrage schemes.”

The Minister in question—the hon. Member for Sunderland North, Mr Frederick Willey—replied:

“Not at this stage. The Water Resources Board is now conducting feasibility studies into the Morecambe Bay barrage project and jointly with the Scottish Office, into that for Solway Firth. We must first see how these studies progress.”

Hector Munro came back:

“Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that three Ministries have been making enthusiastic statements about these barrages for six months but that not a penny has been made available to the universities to set up study groups?”

In turn, Mr Willey came back, saying:

“I am anxious to encourage co-operation with the universities, but in this particular case we have feasibility studies in hand and we must see how they go. These are properly with the Water Resources Board and the engineering consultants.”

I have to say that that is just the sort of stuff my officials give me to read out from time to time. More importantly, the hon. Member for Farnham—a Conservative, Sir Godfrey Nicholson—asked:

“Is the Minister aware that in Morecambe Bay there are millions of shrimps? Who will watch their interests?”—[Official Report, 10 May 1965; Vol. 712, c. 15-16.]

However, it was not clear whether he had an environmental or gastronomic interest in the shrimps.

This country certainly leads the world in tunnelling. Indeed, in my own constituency there is an application for a potash mine that would incorporate two 23-mile tunnels carrying conveyor belts from the mine to Teesside. Tunnelling has come on a long way.

I now turn to transport in the north in general. I have a very clear view about the benefits that this Government’s strong commitment to transport is delivering. For example, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, after years of prevarication and delay by previous Governments we are finally delivering the £120 million-plus Heysham link road, which will link the port at Heysham with the M6 and thereby significantly enhance growth opportunities locally.

That is just one example of the way in which this Government have taken decisive action to tackle long-standing problems in the north-west. We have listened to what local businesses, organisations and communities have told us, and we have responded by investing in all modes of transport, to improve connectivity across the north-west and between the north-west and other parts of the country.

Regarding this Government’s commitment to infrastructure investment, we have already announced increased levels of Government funding to deliver improvements all around the strategic road network, which are targeted at supporting economic growth. Our commitment to deliver a step change in future investment in transport infrastructure was made clear by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his statement in June 2013, which announced the conclusions of the Government’s 2013 spending review.

I thank the Minister for giving way; he read my mind. I would love to be able to magic up a tunnel under Morecambe bay. I would love to be able to promise my constituents a personal helipad or a teleporter in Barrow town hall to take them anywhere in the country. If I did that six months before an election, my constituents would rightly think that I was just making something up to appear more electable and would not give me much credibility. Does the Minister agree that perhaps the best thing for the Government to do is to find funds to give the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) a spade and then ask him to get digging? That may be the most realistic way of making the tunnel happen in the near future.

The hon. Gentleman produces a wish list of projects, but I must make it clear that there is no point in a wish list if there is no budget to go with it. The Government are committed to putting in £3 billion a year—some £24 billion—into roads over the next five to six years, which is more than three times the previous Government’s investment. Indeed, I seem to recall that when the Blair Government came to power in 1997 they announced a moratorium on road building, which was not good news for people struggling with congestion in the north. Coupled with the investment already mentioned, we are investing £38 billion in the classic rail network. In addition, we have ambitious plans for high-speed rail in the north, which will from day one connect the north—cities such as Carlisle and Glasgow—and will not stop at Birmingham, but will keep going.

I thank the Minister for that point. Before becoming MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, I secured funding for a bypass that had been discussed for 60 years. I have wish lists that actually become reality.

My hon. Friend need not convince us of his campaigning zeal in getting the best deal for his constituents and ensuring that they and the north get their fair share of the pot. I also represent the north, so I am conscious of the criticism that all the money is being invested in London’s infrastructure and big projects such as Crossrail. It is important that the north gets its fair share in the Chancellor’s vision for High Speed 3.

The Treasury’s Command Paper “Investing in Britain’s Future” set out the fact that the Government will invest over £28 billion in enhancements and maintenance of both national and local roads in the period up to 2021, including £10.7 billion for major national road projects and £4.9 billion for local major projects. More than £12 billion has been allocated for maintenance, with nearly £6 billion for repairs to local roads and £6 billion for maintenance of strategic roads, including resurfacing 80% of the network.

On future investment planning processes, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Highways Agency is currently conducting its route strategy process. Route strategies will provide a smarter approach to investment planning across the network and see greater collaboration with stakeholders to determine the nature, need and timing of future investment that may be needed on the network. A set of strategies is being developed for the entire strategic road network, covering Lancashire, Cumbria and the north-west, London to Scotland west, and the south and north Pennines.

The route strategies are to be delivered in two stages. The first stage identified performance issues on routes, future challenges and growth opportunities, taking full account of local priorities and aspirations. Using that evidence base, the Highways Agency will establish and outline operational and investment priorities for all routes on the strategic road network. The first stage is now complete, and finalised evidence reports were published on 23 April. The second stage will use the evidence to prioritise and take forward a programme of work to identify indicative solutions to cover operational, maintenance and, if appropriate, road improvement schemes to inform future investment plans.

We are also taking action on the strategic road network in Lancashire and Cumbria now by delivering junction improvements at, for example, junction 32 of the M6 and junction 1 of the M55, on the A585 at Windy Harbour, and at junction 65 on the M65, and making safety improvements on the A590 to Barrow at Greenodd roundabout and at the A595 Mirehouse road junction near Sellafield in west Cumbria. The Highways Agency is also currently developing a scheme for a new junction on the M55 to support the Preston city deal, as well as proposals to feed into the roads investment strategy that we will announce later this year.

The schemes are tackling problems that were flagged up to us by local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and the business community—

And me! On the Greenodd roundabout, it was me and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron).

Order. If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, I suggest that he does so, rather than making comments from a sedentary position.

I am sorry. Just on the Greenodd tunnel, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and I pushed rather hard over a considerable number of years to get that, so the Minister might want to mention it.

This Government are always keen to take representations from all sections of the political community. Indeed, looking at some of the investment projects, we can certainly not be accused of pork barrel politics given that much of our investment priority is for the north of England. Indeed, we have been collaborating with the leaders of the great cities in the north to ensure that projects that will support prosperity are delivered.

The Government are also investing significantly in local roads. Through our current “local majors” programme, we are making significant resources available to local authorities to take forward the transport schemes that their areas need. For example, as already highlighted, we are providing £111 million to Lancashire county council towards the £123 million Heysham link road, which will provide a much needed and long-overdue improved link to the port at Heysham, as well as providing congestion relief to the centre of Lancashire.

We are not just working on major programmes. Our pinch point programme is helping local authorities to tackle the hotspots and constraints on local roads that are holding up economic growth. Over the four rounds of the local pinch point programme, we are funding four schemes in Lancashire and Cumbria that are vital to the connectivity needs of local businesses and communities. All are due to be completed next year.

The Government recognise that the local road network is one of this country’s most valuable public assets and that we therefore need to ensure that our local roads are fit for purpose. That is why the Government are providing over £4.7 billion between 2010 to 2015 to local highway authorities in England for the roads that they are responsible for, including the £200 million we provided to councils in March 2011 to help repair damage to local roads caused by the 2010 winter, and the further £183.5 million in March 2014 following the wettest winter on record. More recently, we announced a further £168 million to councils through the pothole fund in the 2014 Budget. The 2013 spending round confirmed that just under £6 billion will be given to local highway authorities over the six-year period from April 2015 to March 2021, equating to £976 million per year and highlighting our commitment to maintaining the road network.

The Government believe that local people and organisations are best placed to understand the needs of their areas to support and boost growth. That is why we are devolving significant resources through the local growth fund to local enterprise partnerships. In the first wave of growth deals announced on 7 July, funding of up to £6 billion for local projects was awarded to the 39 LEPs, including some £3 billion of Government funding for new local transport schemes, reflecting local priorities for what is needed to support local economy growth.

The two LEPs in Lancashire and Cumbria secured significant growth deals with Government. The Lancashire LEP was awarded over £233 million, including over £70 million for vital road infrastructure around Preston to support its city deal growth aspirations, for vital rail schemes in Blackburn, a range of transport improvements in Blackpool, including an extension to the town’s iconic tram service, and a new link road in St Annes. The Cumbria LEP received over £26 million to improve station facilities at Maryport and Workington in west Cumbria as well as to address congestion in Ulverston and Kendal to support growth. Both LEPs will now be able to take forward a range of transport schemes that will support their growth aspirations.

In conclusion, I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale for securing this debate. I hope that what I have said today demonstrates the Government’s real commitment to transport in Lancashire, Cumbria and the north in general.

The Minister has not said anything about the prospect of a tunnel under Morecambe bay, unless I fell asleep during that bit. Does he think it is remotely realistic?

It is certainly a scheme that would need a lot more work before the viability could be seen. One would need to see the cost-benefit ratios for any such scheme. Any scheme would have to be subject to planning and other considerations, which as a Minister it would be inappropriate for me to talk about at this time. It is absolutely clear that there is a real need for transport infrastructure in all parts of the country, particularly in the north with the development of nuclear power stations and the vital national asset that is the Sellafield plant. We all understand that it is important that it can get goods and people in and out to enable it to flourish.

It is clear that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale has a bold vision of how transport investment, through the provision of a tunnel under Morecambe bay, can support local growth. The Government believe that local people and organisations are best placed to understand the needs of their areas and support and boost growth. Therefore, while I support his ambition, I suggest that he engages actively with the Lancashire and Cumbria LEPs to promote this matter further.

Sitting suspended.

Domestic Violence

[Dr William McCrea in the Chair]

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea, as we discuss such an important issue. I pay tribute to the House of Commons Library and to Women’s Aid, both of which have been extremely forthcoming with information and statistics for today’s debate.

Domestic violence is a serious crime that costs the lives of innocent women and men across the UK on a weekly basis. The impact of domestic violence on women and children, and indeed men, is devastating and long-lasting.

What is domestic violence or abuse? Scottish Women’s Aid defines it well, saying:

“Domestic abuse is persistent and controlling behaviour by a partner or ex-partner which causes physical, sexual and/or emotional harm. It often gets worse over time…Domestic abuse is not an isolated incident; it isn’t a fight or an argument. There may be no bruises. It is a pattern of dominating and isolating someone through fear and threats or undermining their self-confidence and self-esteem. It can happen if you live with your partner, or if you don’t…It can happen if you have children, and if you don’t…It often involves serious and sustained physical and sexual abuse which can cause injuries and lead to long-term health problems. It can take the form of withholding money and finances, monitoring women and children’s movements, restricting what they wear, who they see, where they go and what they say, on and offline. It can be threatening to or distributing intimate images. It can be manipulating or forcing someone to do something sexual that they don’t want to. It can involve stalking, and isolating women from their friends and family. It can involve physical violence. Women (and their children) are sometimes killed by a partner or ex-partner. It is about control, manipulation and humiliation.”

I warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on an important subject. Does he agree that the coercive behaviour that is implicit in domestic violence is not currently covered by the law?

The hon. Lady is exactly right, and I will deal with that excellent point as the debate goes on.

The definition continues—here is the important point in all this—to say that domestic violence

“cuts across class, ethnic and social boundaries…The effects of domestic abuse are wide-ranging; much more than the stereotypical image of the bruised woman. Domestic abuse impacts on health, safety, prevents women and children being able to stay in their own home, limits their education and work opportunities—in short, there is no area of life into which domestic abuse doesn’t intrude.”

All that said, domestic violence is unfortunately not viewed by some as one of the highest profile problems in society, because it quite often happens behind closed doors. Today, I want to challenge the existing mindset, and I stand here to raise awareness and to pledge to my constituents that I will fight against this scourge. I will not wash my hands of this issue and say that it is for other agencies to deal with. I will seek to bring about a change in legislation and an awareness-raising campaign. I want our security forces to dedicate resources to fighting and tackling this hidden scourge.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing today’s debate. He talks about challenging the mindset. Does he also meet people in his constituency clinics who have been so abused, and in such an all-pervasive manner, that they think it is a normal part of domestic life? We need to challenge that mindset, because it is only when people realise how exceptionally bad and appalling the behaviour is that they seek help.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Abuse can go on for so long that it becomes the norm and a way of life, but I will deal with that when I move on to reporting.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman—my hon. Friend—on securing this important debate. He is quite right to say that domestic violence cuts across sex, race and socio-economic boundaries, but it often involves men committing violence against women. He mentioned his pledge a moment ago, and I commend to him the White Ribbon campaign, which urges men to sign a pledge

“never to commit, condone, or remain silent about men’s violence against women in all its forms.”

We could all show some leadership by signing that pledge and by hosting public signings in our constituencies, as I plan to do at the end of the month.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Folk need to sign that pledge. Violence against women, men and children is totally wrong.

Today, people in my constituency are suffering at the hands of brutal, self-centred, manipulative individuals who are intent on destroying the lives of their partners and children. It is time that their actions were halted. I have spoken with women, men and children from Lurgan, Banbridge, Portadown and more rural areas who have been subjected to domestic violence, and I recognise the need for the abuse to stop. While this is a debate for the whole UK, I beg your indulgence, Dr McCrea, as I shall speak primarily about my constituency and Northern Ireland.

Research on domestic violence in Northern Ireland shows that one in four women have experienced or currently experience domestic violence, and that it accounts for approximately one fifth of all recorded violent crime in the Province. Over the past few years, an average of five people have been killed each year as a direct result of domestic violence. The Police Service of Northern Ireland attends an average of 60 domestic violence-related incidents a day, but it recognises that a large amount of such crime goes unreported. Every week, on average, police attend over 400 domestic incidents and deal with more than 100 domestic assaults. If there are 400 incidents in each of the 52 weeks of the year, that equates to over 20,000 call outs relating to domestic violence. It is well known that over 30% of all domestic violence starts during pregnancy. Since 1999, Women’s Aid across Northern Ireland gave refuge to 14,714 women, and 14,356 children and young people.

I join others in welcoming the hon. Gentleman’s securing of the debate. On Friday, I was at a fundraising event in Shotton for the Domestic Abuse Safety Unit, which has been operating for 25 years. Does he agree that such organisations give people hope and enable them to take the courageous first step towards escaping from abusive people?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the courage involved in taking that action. We should encourage such organisations, but Women’s Aid and others face massive funding problems.

During the past 16 years in the Province, Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland managed 282,869 calls to the 24-hour domestic and sexual violence helpline. According to an estimate in the Government strategy “Tackling Violence at Home”, the cost of domestic violence in Northern Ireland, including the potential loss of economic output, could amount to somewhere in the region of £180 million each year. Women’s Aid is at the forefront of providing care and support to the victims of domestic violence. I commend it on its most recent initiative, “SOS: Save Refuges, Save Lives”. It is the victims who need to be protected and supported, so I call on the House to ensure that victims and those at risk are kept at the centre of all that we do.

UNICEF research from 2006 shows that figures on incidences per capita indicate that up to 32,000 children and young people live with domestic violence in Northern Ireland. Domestic violence has an extremely worrying effect on children. In fact, I would go as far as saying that children are the hidden victims of domestic violence. In 90% of violent incidents, children are in the same or the next room. They witness the attack and often feel compelled to intervene. Within Northern Ireland, more than 100,000 children were affected last year. Some 1,077 women and 854 children were accommodated in refuges, while 2,938 women and 3,617 children were supported to remain in their home in the community. An astounding 32,349 calls were made to the domestic violence helpline, which represented a 17% increase on the previous year. The issue therefore affects many people, male and female, as well as many thousands of children and the entire family.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He was right to say that children are sometimes the forgotten victims, because they will bear the scars down the years. We must stop children who see such violent confrontation from thinking that that is how they should go about a relationship.

The hon. Gentleman is right that children suffer, and not only in childhood, but as they grow into adulthood. The experience remains with them and the visions of what they saw as children stick with them, and they might affect their own relationships, because they could feel that such behaviour is the right and natural thing to do.

I fully support what has been said. May I give a real example? Recently, I joined the police on patrol as part of the police parliamentary scheme and we attended a young lady who told us that she had been violently assaulted by her partner on no fewer than 50 occasions. Apart from her physical injuries, the saddest thing that evening was the story she told about her four-year-old son now hitting her. Making children witness domestic violence is child abuse and should be dealt with as such.

Absolutely. It almost becomes a natural thing for children to do, because they witness it and think it is the right thing to do.

I am aware that the PSNI is actively seeking to tackle the crime in Northern Ireland. It is startling to see that within the Province 9,546 crimes with a domestic abuse motivation were recorded in 2011-12, which was more than the total for robbery, armed robbery, hijacking, theft, arson, dangerous driving, recorded sexual offences, handling stolen goods and offences under anti-terrorism legislation put together. We can thus see the significance of domestic violence in Northern Ireland alone.

The statistics make that a bit more real: the PSNI responded to a domestic incident every 23 minutes; there was a domestic crime every 60 minutes, approximately; there were 20 recorded offences of murder, seven of which, or 35%, were classed as having a domestic motivation; and 550 people were raped or suffered attempted rape. The statistics are harrowing and that is why priority must be given by the Government and by the devolved regions to tackling the problem head on. Under-reporting is key, given that only around 25% of women ever report their worst assault to the police, and on average a victim is assaulted 35 times before reporting the incident or seeking support. That should not be the case, and it is time for us and for the Government to put our heads above the parapet and to be counted when it comes to tackling such behaviour.

I briefly mentioned the economic cost, but it is well documented that on average domestic violence costs the economy £180 million a year, owing to victims’ absence from work because of injury or disability, and the time taken by criminal justice and support agencies to seek alternative housing, financial and schooling solutions for victims and their children. Those are simply a few of the critical realities and choices that victims face when they seek to escape or address violence and abuse in their own home. Domestic violence also has a significant impact on the cost to our health service as a whole and to our policing and justice system. Nor can it be ignored, especially at a time of budgetary cuts and economic recession. Clearly, it is a significant sum of money and another reason, if one is needed, why it is important for the issue to be a priority.

We have looked at Northern Ireland and domestic violence-related statistics there, but the issue is a UK-wide one, which we should all take seriously. Let us look at the UK as a whole. Data from the crime survey suggest that 30% of women and 16.3% of men in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. In 2012-13 there were 1.2 million female and 700,000 male victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales, while 60,080 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by the police in Scotland, compared with 59,847 incidents in 2011-12, according to Government websites.

I welcome the efforts of the Home Office, in particular the proposals to strengthen the law on domestic abuse, a consultation on which was published in August 2014 by the Home Secretary. Furthermore, I welcome the four key principles of the approach in the strategy paper—to prevent, to provide support, to work in partnership and to take action to reduce the risk—and the extension of the definition which aims to increase awareness that young people in the age group between 16 and 17 can experience domestic violence, to encourage more of them to come forward to get the support that they need. There is also the work on domestic violence protection orders which, following the successful pilot scheme, have been rolled out across England and Wales from March this year. DVPOs give the police more powers in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence attack, in particular the power to ban a perpetrator from returning home and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days.

The domestic violence disclosure scheme, commonly known as Clare’s law, is also commendable, as is the fact that it was rolled out across England and Wales from March 2014. Under the scheme an individual can ask the police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past—the “right to ask”. If the checks show that a person may be at risk of domestic violence from their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information.

I have mentioned a few initiatives across England and Wales that I believe have gone some way in helping to address domestic violence. I am interested in hearing the opinions of other Members on those initiatives, and, in particular, their assessment of how successful the measures have been in their constituencies. However, the initiatives need to be rolled out across the whole of the UK. This House should also work with the devolved Governments to develop best practice that can be applied across the entire kingdom. The problem is too vast for us to bury our heads in the sand and say that we have tried our best; we need to redouble our efforts and work towards a zero tolerance of such dastardly deeds.

We also need to look, as a whole, at the increased dependency on refuges. Statements have been made about refuges such as:

“Going into a refuge saved my life, and gave hope and a future to my children”.

Another lady said that going into a refuge had given her

“the support and strength that has helped me rebuild my life”.

On hearing statements such as those, one would have to be a very hard individual not to stop and think about the need for such centres and the impact for good they have had.

We all know, however, that to better protect women and children who are survivors of domestic violence and empower them to access the Women’s Aid national network of specialist domestic violence refuges, that network needs to be protected and a new model of funding for refuges has to be developed. The law also needs to be strengthened to recognise coercive control, which is the essence of domestic violence. Women’s Aid has a leading national network of refuges, but we know that it is facing an urgent crisis. Across England, more and more specialist refuges are experiencing massive funding cuts and are being closed down. That crisis will cost lives.

Ultimately more funding is required to tackle these problems, and reform of domestic violence law is needed. We must ask ourselves as legislators whether there is a criminalisation gap that ensures that the pattern of domestic violence and coercive control remains outside the reach of the existing criminal law, which prohibits only single incidents of physical injury. That is food for thought for us all.

A recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary on police responses to domestic violence found

“alarming and unacceptable weaknesses in some core policing activity”.

It highlighted that the police often did not recognise or respond appropriately to domestic violence and coercive control. HMIC made particular recommendations about training for police and also recommended that there be a renewed effort to tackle domestic violence.

The HMIC report, work by Victim’s Voice and surveys by front-line domestic violence professionals all clearly underline the need for change, to create a culture in which victims report much earlier and are believed when they do, and where the dynamics and patterns of abuse are recognised and understood. I believe, as does Women’s Aid, that criminalising coercive control, psychological abuse and patterns of abusive behaviour would go some way to assisting in stamping out such activity.

I am well aware that these problems cannot be solved overnight. Addressing the issue of domestic violence will not be easy. It will require a great deal of hard work and co-operation. However, I hope that this debate will send a clear message to people in Northern Ireland—and, indeed, the rest of the United Kingdom—that domestic violence is never acceptable. It is my sincere desire that those who are suffering abuse will realise that this Government take the matter seriously, and that we will use the powers available to us to ensure that those who are at risk are protected, so that those who are guilty of the crime will have no hiding place in this society.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I was not intending to speak, but I was very impressed by the thoughtful, sensible and incredibly important contribution of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson).

I have had the pleasure of working with Women’s Aid on domestic violence. The point that domestic violence is out of sight and therefore out of mind was what struck me so strongly. In Swindon, between April 2012 and March 2013, there were 2,459 confirmed cases of domestic violence, but that is believed to be only 20% of the total, so the figures are just scratching the surface.

I visited Swindon’s women’s refuge with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. Olwen Kelly and her team do a fantastic job. It is only on meeting and talking to victims that we can even start truly to understand the challenges and difficulties they face—the living nightmare that they, their families and their loved ones will go through.

It is always a challenge to secure sufficient funding for refuges, a point that the hon. Member for Upper Bann rightly highlighted. One of the biggest challenges is that, by their nature, refuges cannot showcase their fantastic work because they have to be hidden away in local communities. If all people could see that work, there would be a groundswell of support. I also pay tribute to Layla Allen and her team at the victim support unit at our local courts. They provide support and assistance for those who are brave enough to go through the legal challenges to bring those responsible to task.

Having met representatives of Women’s Aid, I said I wanted to play a small part and see how I could help to highlight domestic violence and deal with the fact that it is out of sight and out of mind. I was proud to help launch the “Football United Against Domestic Violence” campaign in Parliament. The Minister kindly came along and showed complete support for that initiative. At the launch were Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, and its ambassadors, Charlie Webster—she carried out her own fundraising, and reached her £100,000 target, by running 250 miles between the grounds of 40 football clubs—and Jahmene Douglas. Women’s Aid is using the medium of football to highlight domestic violence to a predominantly male audience. It managed—those who understand sport will know how incredibly difficult this is—to unite the Premier League, BT Sport and the Football Association. We had a truly united front to highlight this important issue, and there was fantastic cross-party support.

Collectively, we must do all we can to champion the work done—it is predominantly done by volunteers in our community—to highlight domestic violence. I simply wanted to make a short contribution to support this important debate.

Once again, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I congratulate the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing this important debate.

Domestic abuse is the silent shame that exists in all our communities. It is never the shame of those who suffer abuse at the hands of the person who is supposed to love them, yet deep shame and self-blame are often felt by victims and their families, to the point of denial that abuse is happening. Even when it is obvious to others, there is always an excuse that victims can come up with to cover their perceived shame. What assistance can victims count on when our communities have for so long lived in denial, operating a practice of non-involvement? How often have we heard, “Don’t get involved—it’s a domestic. Don’t come between a husband and a wife”?

I will focus on Scotland in my remarks, although I acknowledge that domestic violence is a country-wide problem. In Scotland, a domestic violence incident is recorded every 10 minutes. One in five Scottish women experience domestic abuse, although I concede that men also suffer it. The Scottish police recorded 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse in 2012-13, which compares with more than 59,000 incidents recorded the previous year—the figure is increasing.

No one deserves to be abused and no-one should have to put up with abuse. Domestic abuse may affect any person, regardless of class, race or age. There is no typical abuser, and about 80% of incidents of domestic violence involve men attacking women. Women have been killed because of domestic violence by former or current partners. Some 61% of incidents reported to the police in 2012-13 involved victims who had already experienced abuse in their home. That figure has not declined since last year, and is significantly higher than a few years ago.

Half of all incidents recorded by the police in Scotland last year led to the recording of a crime or offence, the most common being common assault, which accounted for 42% of all incidents. The second most common crime or offence was threatening or abusive behaviour. Incidents with a female victim and a male perpetrator represented 80% of all domestic abuse reported in Scotland last year. The reported percentage of domestic abuse suffered by males was around 20%.

Domestic abuse causes serious and long-lasting harm. Apart from physical injury, it frequently causes psychological damage, and abused people may lose their jobs or homes. Domestic abuse also affects the children who witness it. It undermines their relationship with their mother, disrupts their education and can even turn them into abusers later in life. We must stop that vicious circle.

I frequently speak to Women’s Aid in Inverclyde, which secured much needed funding from a lottery grant to hire two full-time people to work with children from households experiencing domestic violence. Those kids are often identified by their disruptive behaviour in school or falling behind in lessons through disengagement or withdrawal. I was pleased to assist Women’s Aid in Inverclyde to raise funds and to put together equipment so that they could go into schools and the community and educate the next generation that such behaviour is unacceptable. The project helps by offering more than just temporary sanctuary away from the abuser, and is helping to break the cycle.

Domestic violence corrodes and damages our communities and our society. The extent of the problem in Scotland is shocking. It is our true hidden shame. It is often, but not always, fuelled by alcohol, and over-consumption of alcohol often brings out a change in character, and a change for the worse. It is no coincidence that a Scot wrote about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and a potion releasing an evil personality. We need not look far to see where he took his inspiration from.

A recent study revealed at the Scottish Women’s Aid conference in Edinburgh showed that domestic violence in Scotland has risen by 66% in the past 10 years. That is an alarming increase. Dealing with the huge number of incidents in Scotland costs the economy £2.3 billion a year.

There is always a motivation behind the violence, whether it is physical or emotional. It is a way of maintaining control through fear. Unbelievably, many victims of domestic abuse blame themselves for the abuse. Over time, domestic abuse creates an emotional and psychological state that is unique among crimes and similar to the fear endured by survivors of violent atrocities.

It is essential to go into our schools to talk openly about this ongoing problem, and to educate the next generation that domestic abuse, whether physical, mental or sexual, is unacceptable, and in doing so hopefully to protect a future generation of women from violence. Society simply cannot go on closing our eyes and ears to domestic violence. It is disgraceful in this day and age that women are not safe in their own homes. There must be zero tolerance of domestic abuse. We must better protect women and children who survive domestic violence and give them access to specialist domestic violence services. The national network of specialist domestic violence refuges needs to be protected, a new model of funding for refuges needs to be developed, and the law needs to be strengthened to recognise coercive control, the very essence of domestic violence.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing the debate. There is no doubt that those of us in the Chamber are well aware of the issue in our constituencies and the importance of highlighting it.

Domestic violence affects men and women, but people are sometimes under the impression that only women are subjected to it. That is not always so, and my hon. Friend made it clear that men may suffer, as do children. Hon. Members probably have varying statistics on domestic violence, but the fact is that a colossal number of people are directly involved. People are not aware of the frequency of domestic violence and who is affected. Many perceptions of domestic violence are simply not true, such as that men are never the ones abused, that the behaviour is due to the abuser’s problematic childhood, that someone can always leave their abuser, and—this is the one that really winds me up—that the abuse happens because it is deserved. No one ever deserves abuse and no one should be subject to it.

Domestic violence may be described as any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse, whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional, between adults who have been intimate partners or family members. A relationship that was based on love may change completely, with violence becoming a key part of it. Figures show that one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse. On average, a woman will experience violence 35 times before her first call to the police, which indicates that many women are long suffering, with a long time passing before they decide that they must take action. It might be helpful if they did so earlier, but they first must acknowledge that they need help.

Two women in England and Wales die each week because of domestic abuse, which is too many. Domestic abuse is never justifiable but it is on the rise. In Northern Ireland, between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014, there were 27,628 domestic abuse incidents, which represented a 1.6% increase on the previous year. The situation is not regional, as the problem covers the whole United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

The British crime survey showed that, in 2003, there were around 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence against women and 2.5 million incidents against men. Since then, the figures have increased. Most people are aware to some degree of what domestic violence is, and most agree that it is completely wrong, yet the number of incidents continues to rise. Is there a problem of acceptability within society? If so, we must address that.

Domestic abuse is often not reported, yet a call is made to the police specifically about domestic abuse every minute. It is estimated that they receive more than 1,300 calls every day, and more than 570,000 every year, yet according to the British crime survey, which is specific to England, less than 40% of domestic violence crime is reported to the police. It is difficult to know why that is the case, but several factors play a part. Many sufferers love their partner or spouse and, despite the abuse, simply do not want to leave. Others have children and do not want to split the family up. Unfortunately, some have convinced themselves that they are simply getting what they deserve, but we should be quite clear that they are not. Some feel threatened and are afraid to contact the police, or to leave, because they have been told, “I will find you,” or “I will come after you.” There are many cases throughout the United Kingdom in which such threats have, unfortunately, become a reality, with the result of violence against a partner—more often the woman. There is no safety for any person; in cases of domestic abuse, threats are very real and can be vital in ensuring that the man or woman remains at home and stays quiet.

Some—often women—feel a sense of shame. Many know their abusers, and some may even be married to them, so they do not see what is happening as abuse, as my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann said. We need to change that aspect of the British mindset. I am British, as are you, Dr McCrea, and the other Members in the room—and we are proud to be so—but people sometimes have a British mindset when responding to things, so we need to address that.

There is also an idea that abuse is real only if it comes from a stranger. Men and women who are being abused by their partners often feel a sense of shame and are embarrassed to tell people that their husband or wife is abusing them. That is something that grieves me greatly, and it is particularly true of women who are raped by their husbands.

The crime survey research found that women are most commonly sexually assaulted by men they know. When the researchers asked women about the last incident of rape they had experienced since the age of 16, they found that 45% of respondents were raped by current husbands or partners, and 9% by former partners, while 29% of perpetrators were otherwise known to the victim. Only 17% of women were raped by strangers. Let us be clear: sexual abuse in some relationships is distinct, violent, real and brutal, and we need to address that.

The figures also show that 30% of domestic abuse starts or intensifies during pregnancy. It is hard to imagine that someone would violently abuse or beat up a lady who is pregnant, sometimes to try to abort the baby, but that is the extent of the violence to which some ladies are subjected.

The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) referred specifically to children. For 90% of domestic violence incidents in family households, children were in the same room or the next room, and in more than 50% of known domestic violence cases, they were also directly abused, either because they heard what took place, or because they were physically assaulted. In Northern Ireland, the PSNI domestic abuse crime statistics show that from 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014, 11,000 children were living in homes in which domestic abuse was a daily reality. If a child experiences direct violence against their mother in their home, that will have a detrimental effect on them as they grow up. We cannot ignore that, and we must be aware of how it will shape the children of today and the adults of tomorrow.

In Northern Ireland, the Rowan sexual assault referral centre was established last year to meet the needs of those who have suffered sexual assaults by providing physical, emotional and psychological care. During its first 11 months of operation, from May 2013 to March 2014, the Rowan received 442 referrals. Of those, 182, or 41%, were children; 86% were female and 14% were male. The centre has been able to help in some way, but there is a greater need across the whole of Northern Ireland, as there is across the United Kingdom. Undoubtedly, as the figures show, domestic violence is very much a reality for men, women and children throughout the UK, and we must ensure that it stops.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on his sterling work in bringing the matter to the attention of the House and his work on human trafficking back home in Northern Ireland. He is to be commended on his tremendous work in those areas.

On the effects on children, is not one problem that, while a couple may be affected by domestic abuse—the victim is often the female—the damaging psychological effects on children, even if they are not directly assaulted or abused, but indirectly affected by what they hear or witness, will last for years or even a lifetime? However, children brought up in such an environment are not given a great deal of support, often because people are not aware of their background as they move on through education. More really needs to be done to help those children.

My right hon. Friend is right that we need to focus on the children of these broken relationships to help and mould them so that they are not seriously psychologically affected by what they see and experience in their homes over the years. We need better provision to do that, and I look forward to the Minister’s response, because I am keen to hear what the Government are doing collectively and what interaction there has been with other regions.

I want to mention some of the things that we have done in Northern Ireland. We have already had two strategies to defeat domestic violence—one in 2005 and one in 2008—and we are working on a new strategy for 2015. That is fantastic news, because we have made great progress as a result of those strategies, even though we have witnessed a 1.6% increase in domestic violence. It will take time for the strategies to filter through and for people to take on board the issues my right hon. Friend mentioned.

We cannot congratulate ourselves yet, because the figures for domestic abuse are still rising. We need to ensure that we change people’s mindsets towards domestic violence, and ensure that men, women and children have someone to speak to and are not afraid to contact the police. We also need to work on setting up a refuge facility—this is an issue we cannot ignore—for men who have been abused. Unfortunately, there is nothing for them at the moment. Just because they are fewer in number, that does not mean they should be ignored. Furthermore, evidence shows that the number of men subject to domestic abuse is much higher than we think. However, as a result of their pride and embarrassment, it often remains unknown.

We must do all that we can to guarantee the safety of men, women and children. When their safety, well-being and security are in jeopardy, we must make sure they have a safe place to turn to, where they need not feel shame, embarrassment or fear.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing a debate on this important issue. I should say at the start that I have been a member of Scottish Women’s Aid for more than 30 years, in a paid and unpaid capacity. I am also a former chairwoman of Women’s Aid, and I currently chair my local group, East Ayrshire Women’s Aid.

Some years ago, we had a strategy of zero tolerance of violence against women to address such violence in general. It had three planks: prevention, protection and provision. We must acknowledge that domestic violence, like all violence against women, has its roots in the patriarchal structure of society throughout the world. It is about an abuse of power. There can be no equality in the public sphere until there is equality in the private sphere. Without that analysis of domestic violence, we will simply get nowhere.

On the issue of protecting those—mainly women, but also men—who have been subjected to domestic violence, we have come a long way. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about a strategy in Northern Ireland; it is great that it is in place, and I think the situation is the same in Scotland and England. This is a UK issue, so we must acknowledge that there are no borders for domestic violence and work together as much as possible. However, strategies are no use without funding; they must be backed up by the funding to carry them through.

We have come a long way in recognising domestic violence as a criminal offence. Thirty years ago, when I got involved in the issue, it was not recognised as one, and certainly not by the police, but that situation has improved greatly. There is now far more inter-agency partnership working, there are things such as interdicts, and there is support for women at court. However, there have also been cuts to legal aid. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—in England, unless abuse has been reported to the police, legal aid is not available. In most cases, as we all know, it takes a long time for women to report abuse to the police and to get into the court system. There are, however, several measures that some women might want to take, and they might need legal aid to do so.

On the subject of protection, and in line with the Women’s Aid campaign, we must recognise coercive control, and there must be a specific law to deal with it. That would represent a progression from all the laws of the past 30 to 40 years. It would recognise the nature and extent of domestic violence—that it is matter of control and an abuse of power, not just an individual instant when someone loses their temper. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) rightly talked about Scottish men being like Jekyll and Hyde. I have witnessed that many times and concur with his view, but we must ask why that happens. Why do men and some women, not just in Scotland but throughout the world, behave in that manner? There must be something collective about it, not just an individual response. Clare’s law, which was mentioned, is being piloted in my constituency and it will be interesting to find out how that goes, and whether it can be applied throughout the country. I think it already is in England—[Interruption.] The Minister concurs.

It is disappointing that Women’s Aid in England has had to start an SOS campaign. It states that there is a risk of losing the network, and that some refuges have closed. How can that be called progress in 2014, after everything that we have achieved? I believed that there was a cross-party commitment throughout the UK to dealing with the issue, but that is a retrograde step and cannot be allowed to continue. Current provision needs to be maintained and we must have a new model for funding. I remember that in the 16 years when I worked full-time with Women’s Aid, all our time was spent thinking about how to get funding—from the lottery, and from this and that. That is all very well, but there is a need for secure provision, which means putting our money where our mouth is. We need secure funding for Women’s Aid throughout the UK, and I am very supportive of that aspect of the campaign.

The nature and extent of domestic violence is now recognised far more than previously, but still not to the extent it should be. The resources available are not adequate. Studies have shown that men as young as 15 believe that it is okay to hit their partner or girlfriend in certain circumstances. If that is the case, we are failing to educate young people. Last year or the year before, I took part in a cross-party inquiry with the hon. Members for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and for Solihull (Lorely Burt) about sex and relationship education for young people. One of our recommendations was to make that compulsory so that all young people should have not just sex education—about the mechanics of the situation—but the opportunity to learn about relationships, so how to conduct relationships in which people treat each other with respect. I know that that happens, but it is not compulsory, and I strongly believe that it should be.

I welcome this debate. I hope that the Government will take on board the concerns of Women’s Aid, although I know I would say that, because I am very much involved with it.

I extend my congratulations to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing the debate. He powerfully set the scene in relation to domestic abuse and domestic violence, recognising the work of Women’s Aid, the wider issues of domestic and sexual abuse, controlling behaviour and the impact on children. He also raised the question of how domestic violence cuts across class, ethnicity and background, and the fact that it is an issue for all of us. He showed how important it is to recognise the impact of domestic abuse and violence on people’s life chances, education and so on.

It is clear that domestic and sexual violence is little short of a national scandal and we need to do much more. Statistics have been shared in the debate, and however we look at things, the scale of reported incidents is staggering. Women reported more than 12 million incidents of domestic abuse last year. At least 750,000 children a year in the UK witness violence in their home, and two women a week are killed by their partner, or an ex. In some areas almost one in five 999 calls is about domestic violence. We also know that one in three 16 to 18-year-old girls has experienced groping or otherwise unwanted sexual touching at school and elsewhere. There are wider issues as well, if we treat violence against women and girls as the broader theme: thousands of girls are at risk of female genital mutilation and others disappear to become victims of forced marriage or honour violence—and it has been more comfortable for us to turn a blind eye to those issues.

I was proud to be at the launch of Plan International’s campaign to face up to violence against girls, and the launch of the END FGM campaign at the south bank just a few weeks ago. I pay tribute to the work done by many campaigners to raise our awareness of these issues which take the lives and health of millions of women and girls around the world, and to enable them to tackle them in their own families and communities. Domestic violence is a huge drain on the economy, as well as a blight on society. Domestic abuse alone costs the UK almost £16 billion a year.

The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) talked about the importance of women’s refuges, and about under-reporting and funding issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) described domestic abuse as a silent shame and spoke eloquently about those who suffer in silence, and about the need for support that victims can rely on. He also talked about our reluctance to get involved in what we see as something that happens behind closed doors, and about the idea that it is not for society to question what happens in the family sphere. We have come a long way from the time when rape in marriage was legal, but we have much further to go. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about strategies that are in play in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members are united in arguing that we need to do far more to prevent domestic abuse and domestic violence. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) talked about prevention, protection and provision—the core strands of the strategy that we need.

I have had some discussions since I took on my new role as the shadow Minister for preventing violence against women and girls, and I have heard of shocking experiences, but I want to speak about those things in the context of three important areas. The first is prevention, and stepping up the challenge. The history of the issue includes reforms made under the Labour Government, such as specialist domestic violence courts, multi-agency risk assessment conferences and independent domestic violence advisors. That work has continued under the present Government. If we consider things collectively, we see that we have not managed to stem the tide of the prevalence of domestic abuse and violence. The second area I want to mention is support services—something frequently raised by hon. Members in the debate. Those who are victims of domestic violence, men or women, should be able to have confidence that services are available for them, and that they will get such services without delay.

The third area is improved access to justice, which has also been raised today, in terms of the performance of police, and by the HMIC in its report earlier this year. Hon. Members who have talked to women in refuges will know the struggle that they have to be heard in the court system and the lack of speed with which our court systems work to tackle some issues of domestic violence and issues between couples—I am referring to both the civil and criminal courts.

Let me start with prevention. I want to talk a little bit about sex and relationship education, which has been raised. Let us consider the challenges that young people face today and what they experience: they are under a lot of pressure to conform, whether that is through accessing pornography online, or through gang culture in some areas and in our schools. Having compulsory sex and relationship education is important, and it is not just about theory. Talking to those who have been delivering courses in schools, I have heard about how young people have developed the confidence to start talking about what is happening to them at school and, sometimes, at home. It is not just about theory, but about giving young people the resilience to stand up and be able to voice what is going on in their lives, and to be able to make very positive choices for the future. It is also very important in interrupting behaviours that may be learned at home if young people are experiencing domestic violence themselves, and watching it happening between their parents. It is also true to say that 88% of parents want sex and relationship education to be compulsory to tackle the dangers of pornography.

Labour has called for SRE in all state-funded schools from key stage 1, because there are aspects of age-appropriate sex and relationship education that are important for every age. Many young children at school today are not part of a huge family. Many are single children or have siblings who are younger, and they are learning how to share and about relationships for the first time. Having a way in which children learn about the values of respect, with others their own age, is incredibly important. A mum called me about an experience that her six-year old daughter had in her school: she was effectively assaulted by young boys her age. The school did not take it seriously. The trauma that the girl went through could be regarded as parallel to that experienced by someone of 16 or 26. In the end, she left school, and her mum is campaigning for change.

On support services, I pay tribute to the work of Women’s Aid, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Rape Crisis and others. They do incredible work, not only in delivering services but in raising the profile of issues at a national level, and in making sure that we are getting the message of prevention and support out there.

We have talked today about the importance of funding. Labour and the shadow Home Secretary have committed to a new £3 million annual fund for refuges supporting victims of domestic violence. As we have said, we want to see the continuation of a national network of refuges. A 31% cut in funding for refuges and specialist advice is undermining action against domestic violence. In some areas, there is absolutely no specialist refuge. Refuges have also been disproportionately affected by cuts to local government, and according to Women’s Aid, eight refuges are under imminent threat of closure and are currently running on reserves.

Labour’s commitment is fully funded, through a small percentage of savings from abolishing the expensive police and crime commissioner elections. We are also calling for new FGM protection orders to stop children suspected of being at risk of FGM being taken abroad. On that, there is some commonality but also some differences between us and the Government, and we are looking at other measures that we will be able to bring in from the women’s safety commission, led by Vera Baird, QC, and Diana Holland. We hope to be launching those next month.

Before closing, I want to say a few words about improved access to justice. We need to ensure that there is a joined-up justice system that works fast, gets it right and is cost-effective and easy to access. We believe that we need a new commissioner for domestic and sexual violence who sits at the heart of Government to ensure that victims’ voices are heard, that there is a way they are heard fast, and that there is a fast response to the challenges that are being raised. I am working closely on that with Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, because we need to see a new agency—a new body—that can sit alongside the Victims’ Commissioner and the Children’s Commissioner to say we need to join this up, but we need some challenge to the centre in order to make sure that victims’ voices and victims’ challenges come through to the system as a whole.

We also need new national standards for policing to drive up performance across the board. We have all heard harrowing stories of victims who do not feel that they have been believed. I met a woman at a refuge who told me that the policeman who attended when she was a victim of serious violence at the hands of her partner thought that she was drunk when, in fact, she was concussed, having been hit around the head by her partner. Police training needs to be updated and refreshed. We need to make sure that there are minimum standards so that victims will be believed; so that we know such incidents will be dealt with within an allotted time; so that evidence will be collected and the follow-up will be done; and so that the Crown Prosecution Service’s advice will be sought early to build a case. Those are all vital to maintaining public confidence in policing.

I close by saying that this has been an incredibly important debate. We know that we are a long way from the end of this, and that we need to bring in measures, as Labour hopes to do in its first Queen’s Speech, in a Bill addressing violence against women and girls. The fact that we have come together in this debate this afternoon and that this debate has also been led by men is an incredibly important step that we are taking, collectively as the British Parliament, to say that we want to make sure that there is zero tolerance of violence in relationships, that that message goes early to schools and our young people, and that we address these matters with the utmost seriousness in every way that we can, from every part of Government.

I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) for providing us with the opportunity to debate this important topic, and for the way in which he presented his case. It has been a useful debate and I am encouraged by the degree of agreement across all parties on tackling this appalling crime, and indeed, by the progress that has been made, not just in this House but in the public’s perception in recent years.

I want to put it on record right away that the coalition Government is absolutely determined to tackle domestic abuse, and indeed, I would argue, has a good record so far in doing so. It is a core priority for me and for the Home Secretary. Our approach is set out in the violence against women and girls action plan.

In the same way that the hon. Gentleman began the debate, let me say that I welcome the measures being taken by the devolved Administrations in tackling domestic abuse. I understand that the Northern Ireland Executive is currently developing a new joint domestic and sexual violence strategy, which builds on its five-year victim and witness strategy published in June 2013. I welcome that and I am sure that it will enhance services within Northern Ireland to protect victims of domestic abuse.

As has been said, domestic abuse is a sinister way of undermining the trust that those in close relationships place in one another. Most of the time it takes place behind closed doors, but of course that need not always be the case. It can, in the worst cases, lead to fatalities.

Domestic abuse happens every day in homes across the UK. In most cases, it goes unreported, which makes it difficult to know just how many people are affected. The crime survey for England and Wales estimates that 1.15 million were women victims of domestic abuse, of which 845,000 suffered partner abuse. In addition, 77 women were killed by their partner or ex-partner last year. That is the lowest number of intimate partner homicides since 1998, but of course everyone in the House would agree that any partner homicide is one too many.

We want to build a society in which violence against women and girls is not tolerated, in which people speak out and no victim has to suffer domestic abuse. The coalition Government’s strategy is backed by ring-fenced funding of nearly £40 million for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services. Facilities funded with that money include 144 independent domestic violence advisers, who help victims of domestic violence to get their voices heard, and 54 multi-agency risk assessment co-ordinators, who protect the interests of those who are most at risk. Up to 60% of abuse victims report no further violence following intervention by independent advisers. However, all parts of the United Kingdom have a responsibility to ensure that we are doing all we can to reach out to those caught in cycles of abuse.

Although we have looked at the figures and the Minister has said that the Government will do all they can to help victims, there seems to be an issue to do with male reporting. Perhaps it is a masculine thing: men do not want people to know that they are being battered or whatever. We know that the vast majority of domestic violence is committed against women and children, but what more can the Government do to encourage men to come forward? There seems to be a lack of men coming forward.

Some of the £40 million—not a great proportion, it has to be said—goes towards helping organisations that are there directly to provide an outlet for men who wish to report such matters. We think that the number of men who were victims of domestic abuse was 721,000, and of that number, 517,000 experienced partner abuse. That may be same-sex partner abuse or by women on men. Nevertheless, it is also a very high figure, and the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to it, although it would be wrong of me not to point out that the majority of domestic abuse is by men on women.

I was about to mention two powerful initiatives that we have been rolling out across England and Wales to support victims. The domestic violence disclosure scheme is a system whereby anyone can seek disclosure of a partner’s violent past. Those with the legal right to know are provided with information that could well save lives, empowering them to make an informed choice about their future. As the Minister for Crime Prevention, I say that if we can prevent crime in the first place, that is the best outcome.

Domestic violence protection orders offer respite to victims in the immediate aftermath of domestic abuse. They have the power to ban a perpetrator from the home and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days. That offers both the victim and the perpetrator the chance to reflect on the incident. In the case of the victim, it provides an opportunity to determine the best course of action to end the cycle of abuse. In my view, it is a welcome change that it may be the perpetrator who is required to leave the house, rather than the victim leaving, as has all too often been the case in the past. Together, the two initiatives significantly improve the reality for victims of these appalling crimes.

Will the Minister give his assessment of the take-up so far of domestic violence protection orders?

The early indications are encouraging. The orders are certainly working, but as the hon. Lady will appreciate, we have rolled them out just recently so we do not have the full-year figures yet. Of course, we will, as a matter of course, publish those figures as and when they are available, but the early indications, as I said, are positive.

Also important is the Government’s decision in April 2011 to place domestic homicide reviews on a statutory footing. Now, every local report on a domestic homicide is reviewed and quality-assured by a panel of independent and Home Office experts. Each review results in a tailored action plan that must be delivered by the area in question to ensure that we learn from those individual tragedies. The Home Office has published a document collating the national lessons learned from those reviews and making recommendations to local areas to drive improvements in practice.

Of course, we have more to do. I think that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that every 30 seconds a victim of domestic abuse summons up the courage to call the police. That is a huge percentage of the number of calls that the police receive. When a victim reaches out for help, it is vital that the police are equipped to respond effectively and to end a cycle of abuse that in many cases will have been going on for years. Sometimes a person will have been subjected to abuse 50, 60 or 70 times before they make that call to the police. It is also vital that victims have confidence that the criminal justice system will prosecute the perpetrators of these appalling crimes and will work for the victims.

Following a dip in referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service, I am encouraged to see that the volumes of referrals, prosecutions and successful convictions are rising. For example, the volume of referrals to the CPS rose to 103,569 in 2013-14. That represents a rise of 17.5% from the previous year and the highest level ever. It compares with 91,184 referrals in 2009-10. Following action that we have taken with the Attorney-General, the number of defendants being charged has risen from about 60,000 to almost 73,000 in the last year. That represents a 21% increase and, again, the highest level ever achieved. It is subsequently translating into a rise in conviction rates, from 72% of those facing a charge in 2009-10 to 74.6% in 2012-13. However, I am the first to say that, despite the encouraging rise in referrals and prosecutions, we need to do more to ensure that front-line agencies treat domestic abuse as the serious crime that it is.

Hon. Members will be aware that HMIC published its report in March this year on the police response to domestic abuse across all 43 forces in England and Wales. That report made for depressing reading. It showed that a combination of poor leadership, bad culture and basic policing skills being lacking was failing victims. For example, on leadership, the report found that many chief constables and their top teams still focused more on volume and acquisitive crime reduction than on domestic abuse. Leadership on domestic abuse was not present, translating into poor management and supervision in the police to reinforce the right behaviours, attitudes and actions of officers.

On culture, HMIC identified that there were many examples of officers who work tirelessly to keep victims safe and sometimes with little support from their wider force, but there were also officers who showed a poor attitude towards victims and failed to treat them with the empathy they deserve. Victims reported feeling judged and not taken seriously.

On core policing skills, basic evidence collection that could help to support a prosecution to bring a perpetrator to justice simply was not happening. When HMIC reviewed 615 actual bodily harm cases connected with domestic abuse, photographs of injuries were taken in only half the cases and, in 30% of cases, officers’ statements lacked important details about the crime scene or the victim.

The failings I have described meant that, crucially, the priority that police and crime commissioners give domestic abuse in their crime plans, which is quite general, I am happy to say, was not translating into operational reality. That is completely unacceptable. People in desperate circumstances should know that they can rely on the police to respond quickly, effectively and professionally. Chief constables must take urgent action to make significant changes to front-line policing so that victims are protected and perpetrators brought to justice.

To ensure that real change happens, the Home Secretary and I sit on a new national oversight group that she has established and that meets quarterly to drive through the recommendations in HMIC’s report. I am pleased to inform hon. Members that we will shortly publish our first progress report, a copy of which will be placed in the Library of the House.

All police forces in England and Wales have now submitted action plans to HMIC to address the report’s findings. HMIC will quality-assure those plans over the next two months with voluntary sector partners, and will report its findings at the next national oversight group meeting in December. I expect police and crime commissioners and the College Of Policing to use the plans, plus the outcomes arising from the national oversight group, to support their forces and hold them to account.

Some forces have already taken action to address the issues that HMIC has highlighted. Merseyside police identified a problem with the initial evidence collected by officers in domestic abuse cases and trained 1,500 front-line officers to improve their investigation skills. Following a re-inspection, Gloucestershire police have been deemed by HMIC to be much improved. We are seeing good progress, and it shows that the police can respond in a positive and effective way.

I am clear that the work that the police are undertaking to improve their response must be supported by the Government and the wider response of the criminal justice system. Last month, the Secretary of State for Justice announced a victims package, which launched a new package of reforms including the establishment of a new victims information service and strengthening the protection for vulnerable victims by improving the court experience. We are also piloting pre-trial cross-examination in three Crown courts, and the Director of Public Prosecutions is updating guidance for prosecutors to complement that work.

The Government will ensure that front-line criminal justice agencies have the tools they need to tackle domestic abuse effectively. Hon. Members will be aware that the Home Office has recently concluded a consultation on whether the law on domestic abuse needs to be strengthened, a point that many hon. Members have made this afternoon. There is widespread understanding that domestic abuse is not simply about physical violence, and the expanded definition that we introduced last year makes it clear that domestic abuse extends to coercive and controlling behaviour. We want to ensure that the legal framework is unambiguous in recognising and prosecuting domestic abuse in all its forms. We received more than 750 responses to our consultation, which we are currently analysing, and we will publish our response shortly.

Let me pick up some of the points that hon. Members have raised. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Upper Bann for referring to the White Ribbon pledge. I can inform him that I have signed it, because it was initiated by my local authority, which has a good record on the matter. I encourage other hon. Members to do likewise.

The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the effect of domestic violence on children. That is a serious issue, and he is quite right that the effects can remain with children throughout their lives. Although I cannot provide a statistical analysis, I have a suspicion that those who witness or are subject to domestic violence at an early age may be more vulnerable to sexual violence later in life than those who do not. Witnessing violence in the home at an early age cannot be good for children.

Several hon. Members spoke about refuges. I have made it plain that local authorities that provide money for refuges should not see cutting refuges as an easy saving. I appreciate that local authorities are under considerable financial strain, but they should not be cutting services for vulnerable people. I understand that the case has been made for looking afresh at national funding for refuges, and I have met Women’s Aid and other groups to discuss the matter. We are currently considering where we go with that, but I want to make it plain that we should see no further closures of refuges in this country.

Although hon. Members have not raised this point, we must do everything we can to help local authorities to commission services properly, because there is clearly a problem with that. Some local authorities have commissioned services in a way that does not help refuges, and that must be addressed. For example, some refuges have said that they will accept references only from the local community, but if a woman has been subject to physical abuse, the last thing that she will want to do is to stay in her community. She will want to escape from it, so that condition, which some local authorities have imposed, is nonsensical. The Home Office is working with local authorities to help them with commissioning practices, to ensure that they get the best value for money and the best service for those—predominantly women—who use refuges. More can be done on that. Current commissioning practices waste money by imposing requirements that are not necessary for the operation of the refuge service, and that money could be better spent on protecting women.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) mentioned the engagement of football authorities. As he recognises, they responded quite well to the initiative that he mentioned. I have had a meeting with the various elements of football—the FA, the Premier League and others—to discuss what they might do further to deal with domestic violence, and how they might use their voices to help tackle that societal problem. They have gone away to consider what they can do to help, and I am waiting for them to come back with their offer. We are very much on the case with that, and I am grateful to the football authorities, in their various guises, for the positive way in which they have engaged with me and the women’s organisations to which my hon. Friend referred.

The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) mentioned a figure for the increase in domestic violence. I urge caution, because it can be difficult to determine to what extent there has been an increase in domestic violence, and to what extent there has been an increase in reporting. Those are not quite the same thing, as he will appreciate. The Government is encouraging victims of violence to come forward—that is a common approach across the House—and they are doing so, partly because they now have more confidence in the police than they used to. When we see figures for the number of reported incidents of domestic violence, we must be careful not to assume that that represents an increase, because it may simply represent a welcome increase in reporting. That is not to be in any way complacent about the figures, because they are far too high. I simply want to put a cautionary marker on the use of such figures. The hon. Member for Strangford raised that point as well, and I hope I picked his point up, too.

The question of legal aid was raised by the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne), and I want to provide her with some reassurance. We have retained legal aid in key areas that impact on women, particularly injunctions to protect victims from domestic abuse, and in family cases such as child contact or division of assets after separation where domestic violence is a feature. We continue to provide civil legal aid for the victims of domestic violence to apply for protected injunctions, such as non-molestation orders. We will also continue to waive the financial eligibility limits in such cases. Our changes to the scope of legal aid do not affect those cases.

The hon. Lady expressed her view that personal, social, health and economic education should be mandatory in state schools. The Home Office has done a great deal to help to educate boys, in particular, about the nature of appropriate relationships. We have run a successful campaign, as I hope the hon. Lady knows, called, “This is abuse”, involving stars from “Hollyoaks” and various pop bands. We have used MTV and other channels to ensure that the campaign reaches young people, and the response to it has been quite good. I understand entirely the point about compulsory PSHE, which several others have echoed, and I have raised that with the new Education Secretary. I do not want to commit her to anything, but I think she is prepared to look at the matter, so we might make some progress on that front.

I welcome the shadow Minister to her post, in what I believe is her first outing in such a debate, and I agree with much of what she said. I agree that we must have the confidence of victims if they are to come forward, and I have tried to address that point in my response. I also agree that the performance of the police and the Courts Service must improve. I hope she acknowledges that we are taking steps to bring about such improvements, as I have outlined.

The shadow Minister mentioned the figure of 31% in relation to cuts to refuges. That is not a figure I accept. It comes from a survey based on an average from 63 local authorities that made cuts to their refuge service, which did not take into account the responses from 201 authorities that did not make cuts. That figure, therefore, is inaccurate and misleading, and I would be grateful if she did not use it. As I have made clear, I am in no way complacent about refuges, but we must make sure that the figures we use are accurate.

The situation that faces us is no small challenge. The Government has introduced significant initiatives to enhance victim safety, but we have also made it clear that changes to the law or new powers alone are not sufficient. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that the statute book is the answer to everything, because it is not. The police have significant changes to make following HMIC’s report. I am determined to create an environment in which all victims of domestic abuse who find the courage to seek help have their needs met. That will, ultimately, encourage more victims to come forward, which will mean that more perpetrators are brought to justice, more cycles of abuse are disrupted and we take a giant step closer to becoming a society in which domestic abuse is a thing of the past.

Cavity Wall Insulation

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I applied for the debate because I have come across a number of cases in my constituency where it is alleged that cavity wall insulation has been installed when it should not have been, first because of the climate, which in my constituency is primarily heavy rainfall and prevailing wind-driven rain. I understand that my constituency is a category 4 area—an area in which cavity wall insulation is unsuitable.

In preparation for this debate, I spoke to an industry specialist with decades of experience, and he told me that in his area of the west of England, they just do not install cavity wall insulation at all. I gather from him that the prevailing weather in his area is less extreme than that in mine. My constituency is coastal and mountainous. It faces prevailing westerly winds and we have very heavy rain. I have a number of questions for the Minister, one of which is whether cavity wall insulation should be installed in category 4 areas such as mine that have wind-driven rain.

The 2012 Office of Fair Trading report on the matter contains a great deal of interesting information. If I may be forgiven for quoting at length, page 52 of the report states:

“Consumer magazine Which? reported in April 2011 that it had invited eight companies to assess for cavity wall insulation (CWI) a house that its expert surveyor deemed unsuitable for this due to cracks in the external walls and its location in an extremely wet and exposed area”.

That is typical of many of the houses in my area of north-west Wales. The OFT report continues by stating that those are factors that

“industry guidelines warn could lead to damp in houses with CWI. All eight said the house was suitable for CWI and none warned that CWI might put the house at risk from damp.”

That was in 2011, so I accept that industry practice may have moved on, but that is an important point to make at the start of my speech, because I am mainly concerned with a number of historical cases of cavity wall insulation being installed 25 years ago, say, and people now wondering what redress they have as the system fails, or at least as they suspect that the system is failing.

Secondly, I have been repeatedly told of cases where cavity wall insulation has been installed inappropriately—this is perhaps the main point—given the condition of the building, especially if the rendering was cracked or missing. Buildings vary from area to area, of course. Some places have pointed brickwork, but in my area pebbledash and smooth rendering rule supreme, and they are of course subject to cracks. Once a crack appears, water can get behind the rendering and make its way into the building if the gap between the interior and exterior skins has been bridged by cavity wall insulation. That is the nature of buildings in my area—people pebbledash their houses because of the rain.

Thirdly, I have been told of cases where cavity wall insulation was installed badly and with a low standard of workmanship, leading to cold spots in houses. Essentially that means that when the material was pumped in, some areas were missed, so that, perhaps in the middle of a wall, there was an area with no cavity wall insulation. That area is literally a cold spot, and condensation and subsequent fungal growth are suffered haphazardly in the middle of the wall. People are surprised by that condensation because they have insulation, and they cannot understand why it happens. It is rather difficult to remedy that situation. I understand that the system involves drilling from the outside and literally patching the inside by pumping in more material. That is clearly far from satisfactory for the householder, although it might be an effective remedy.

In one case, a householder’s internal plastic cladding made it difficult to assess the location of the cold spots. He had obtained ribbed plastic cladding from a DIY store, as he thought that that would prevent further damp, but in fact it prevented him from seeing where the damp was. That is just one case, of course, so I am not making a general point.

Other constituents have told me that they are considerably worried about water penetration and damage in areas of their house that they cannot access either because that is difficult, or because they are now older or infirm. They might have had the cavity wall insulation installed 10 or 15 years ago, perhaps when they were in their 50s and renovating their house with a view to retirement, and they are now not in a condition to clamber into loft spaces. One lady said that she suspected that she had damp that was caused by cavity wall insulation, but that it was in the cupboard under the stairs. She had not been in there for a while, so I had a look. It was quite black, and the damp was in a very inaccessible place.

I have also been told that although some installers had accepted liability and tried to do something about the damp, their remedial action had been ineffective. In one case, such ineffective remedial action allegedly led to dry rot because water was coming into the house across the bridge of the cavity wall insulation and encouraging that rot. The installers, to their credit, removed the cavity wall insulation—thoroughly they thought—and then employed a specialist company to remove the dry rot, but my constituent tells me that the dry rot has returned, as it is wont to do. She has now decided to take the matter through the courts, but her case is an exception.

I have also been told that some of the remedial action has been carried out to a low standard of workmanship. I recently visited a house on a council estate in my constituency, and as I approached, I saw that the pebbledash rendering was clearly patched—I thought by someone with their eyes closed in the dark. It was clearly a terrible job. There were patches of about 1½ square feet on which there were no pebbles and the appearance of pebbledash had been achieved by making indentations with fingers so that it looked vaguely like the pebbledash next door. The elderly lady who lived there was at her wits’ end and did not know what to do.

In other cases, liability has been denied. Although householders are convinced that their damp problems are caused by cavity wall insulation, the installers have either gone bust or closed down, or the people who have taken over the companies deny any liability. When people appeal through the industry guarantee scheme, they believe that it operates with a very high bar that prevents proper redress in what they see as a legitimate case. The scheme makes an effort to be accessible, and I am sure it acts to proper standards, but my constituents have faced a difficult experience, which might be because some of them are elderly or infirm, or just not familiar with negotiating their way through official-ese. The 2012 OFT report criticised the industry guarantee scheme, and I am not sure whether measures have since been taken to improve the situation.

One company, to its credit, has worked well with me. We have reached a conclusion on some cases, while it denies liability in others. A number of cases are pending or have been referred to the industry guarantee scheme—the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency. However, the experience is very unsatisfactory for my constituents, who thought they were doing something good by installing cavity wall insulation, but found that that was not to be the case. The company, which I will not name, was not originally directly involved in the insulation scheme. It took over another company that had closed down, so the practice was not its primary responsibility. Another company that was working in my area has closed down, so any claims for compensation or redress must presumably go to CIGA, the industry-wide body, although there might be problems with doing that.

The situation causes less tangible effects, which some people say are more damaging to the individual than the building. People suffer long-term worry about what will happen to their homes and the possible costs of repair, as they might not be able to afford repairs or clamber into attics. We know that long-term worry has an effect on people’s physical health.

It is alleged that direct health effects arise due to the growth of mould. When I was considering what to call this matter—for the file, as it were—I thought of the Welsh phrase “waliau du”, which means “black walls”, because that is literally what is happening: people’s walls are turning black, and they do not understand why. I have been told that mould growth can worsen children’s asthma.

I must note that my constituents are really bemused, because they were urged to insulate their houses and install double glazing only then to be advised that to avoid condensation, they should leave their windows open. It is peculiar to give people such advice in mid-winter, because by letting out the steam, they also let out the heat that they have taken such steps to conserve.

My constituents believe that they have no means of redress—whether they do or not is another matter—and cannot afford to take civil action. The local citizens advice bureau works hard, but its resources are extremely limited. I have contacted the trading standards office of my local authority, Gwynedd county council. It has taken up some cases, but not all, and not all that have gone forward have been successful. Many of the people affected are of modest means. They were just trying to better their living conditions, to save energy and to do their bit on climate change. The insulation programme began in the 1980s, so people are coming to the end of their 25-year guarantee period without knowing whether their system is still viable. Those people are 25 years older than they were when the cavity wall insulation was installed, and so are less able to pursue their cases.

I came across the case of a young family who bought their house a few years ago only to find later that the cavity wall insulation was failing. However, the installer is unknown, as the installation took place a long time ago and no paperwork came with the house. The family think that they have cavity wall insulation—the walls are black—but they know nothing else. Their case is pressing, because they think the insulation was installed 25 years ago, so if there is a guarantee, it will be coming to an end.

My general point is that my constituents subscribed to what many thought, rightly or wrongly, was straightforwardly a Government scheme. Some were told that by the installers, while others assumed that, as the Government were funding the installation, the system was safe and effective, and that the installers were operating to an appropriate standard of practice. The OFT’s 2012 report noted that some people assumed that the installers’ practice was regulated and inspected, and that appropriate quality assurance measures were in place. Those people feel let down and believe that somebody—albeit an ill-defined somebody—should take responsibility.

The Government’s frankly disappointing response to the OFT’s report concentrates almost exclusively on the green deal—I understand why, as it was being put in place—but pays scant attention to the historical problems that concern me today. The OFT emphasised the importance of cavity wall insulation, saying:

“The home insulation sector had a value of around £700-800 million in 2010…Insulation can create important benefits for consumers”.

I do not decry insulation by any means; it is a very good thing. The OFT also said that

“if poor installation causes problems with damp, these may not become evident until a year or more after installation. Monitoring, which is typically done in the weeks following installation, cannot identify these longer-term problems…In relation to regulatory monitoring, Ofgem requires the energy suppliers to inspect five per cent of installations and provide a summary of these inspections to Ofgem.”

Is 5% sufficient? It is only one in 20. I have come across so many cases in a small town that I, a complete layman in these matters, suspect that a more intensive quality assurance system is needed.

Respondents to the OFT raised four issues, including, first, the quality of installation—whether it was installed to a high quality and in suitable premises—and, secondly, whether there is an adequate mechanism for redress if things go wrong. The OFT noted its

“concerns that, although offering an important source of redress, the current arrangements for consumer redress for faulty installation of cavity wall insulation could be improved.”

As I said, the Government’s response concentrated on the green deal.

After this debate was announced, I was contacted by Councillor Brian Heading of Belfast city council—you might know him, Dr McCrea—who told me that cavity wall insulation was widely installed during the housing boom in Ulster. He said that those private and public sector houses are now 30 to 40 years old and in need of renovation, including through the removal or updating of insulation. He told me that he knows of no body that systematically checks the condition of cavity wall insulation properly to assess the scale of the problem. He was keen to say that he suspects that European money is available to the devolved Assembly under the energy programme, so I must ask the Minister whether that is true. He is keen to access any source of money to take the matter further.

Finally, I have also been contacted by representatives of a company in Lancashire that has a patent process for insulating houses from the outside with a coating. It also removes cavity wall insulation, albeit with difficulty. Full VAT is payable on its services but, in the company’s view, it would be reasonable to charge the lower rate. I concede that this matter may be for the Treasury, rather than the Minister, but I think it is a fair point. At the 2008 ECOFIN meeting in Helsinki, it was decided that countries can reduce the VAT rate from 20% to 5% for labour-intensive industries. The removal and renovation of botched cavity wall insulation would seem to be a prime candidate for a VAT reduction.

I will be grateful for the Minister’s response to my points, although I concede that I have made many of them. If she cannot respond today, I will be glad to receive a written reply when she has had time to consider the matter further.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on securing this debate on a subject that is very important to his constituents and to people suffering from cold homes generally.

The Government recognise that improving domestic energy efficiency helps consumers control energy bills and reduces fuel poverty. Of course, it also contributes to our challenging carbon reduction targets. We aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. To drive up domestic energy efficiency, we have put in place a long-term and progressive programme focused on enabling consumers to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. We have set ourselves a target of ensuring 1 million homes make energy efficiency improvements by March 2015. The programme is innovative: the energy companies obligation, the green deal, the green deal home improvement fund and the renewable heat incentive are all world firsts. It takes time to establish and embed new markets, and to understand how incentives can work best with the grain of the market and in tune with our great diversity of households.

We have made significant progress. In total, around 797,000 homes had been improved by the end of August this year. There is still much to do and our programme reflects key underlying challenges: much of the easy energy efficiency work has been done; nearly all homes have had at least some loft insulation, although many could benefit from having it topped it up; and most of the easiest cavity walls have been filled. However, we need to move away from a culture of unsustainable grant-dependency to a different model—a more market-based approach. Our long-term aim is for consumers to be motivated to improve their homes and to be ready to meet some of the costs, with real and effective help for the most vulnerable. This is good for all bill-payers as subsidy goes where it can have most effect, and good for our economy as innovative businesses enter the market and develop better and cheaper products.

That is especially important as we start to tackle more expensive improvements, such as solid wall insulation. Only around 3% of about 8 million homes with potential solid wall insulation have been done, and yet the carbon saving from such improvements can be 10 times that of loft insulation. These challenges are not confined to the UK; other countries are closely watching what we are doing.

Cavity wall insulation has been a hugely popular measure, with around 2.6 million installations taking place under the predecessor to the ECO—the carbon emissions reduction target—between April 2008 and April 2012. Also, cavity wall insulations have accounted for 36% of all measures installed under the ECO.

Cavity wall insulation can be a highly effective means of improving the energy efficiency of homes, offering the potential for an average of 10% in energy savings. The vast majority of installations in homes have been successful and one leading industry body estimates that less than 1% of cavity wall insulations have caused consumer dissatisfaction. I know that British Gas is one firm that is now offering to install cavity wall insulation for free in nine out of 10 suitable properties, regardless of whether the occupant is a British Gas customer. This is a huge opportunity for consumers who could benefit from this measure.

However, it is important to recognise that cavity wall insulation is not suitable in certain areas of the UK, for example areas where wind-driven rain is prevalent, owing to increased exposure. The official British standard wind-driven rain index highlights the constituency of Arfon and surrounding areas as being high on the index, so the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the suitability of properties in his constituency for cavity wall insulation may be well-founded.

Dampness in properties with cavity walls is almost always caused by rain rather than condensation, unless there is a problem with internal wall insulation. Rain gets into the cavity via a poorly maintained external wall—for example, rain can leak down pipes, gutters or poor pointing.

To establish whether cavity wall insulation should be installed, pre-installation surveys are essential, and the quality of the external brickwork is very important in areas of wind-driven rain. Surveys of the proper quality and robustness will identify those properties for which cavity wall insulation is suitable. Where cavity wall insulation is recommended, correct installation is of the utmost importance, as is the ongoing maintenance of the property. If these conditions are met, cavity wall insulation will be effective.

I am not in a position to comment on individual cases, although I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman specifically did not give any. However, I recognise the distress that this problem has caused a number of householders; we have corresponded on the matter. It may be helpful if I outline the consumer protections that are in place and the redress route for consumers.

The installation of cavity wall insulation must meet the requirements of the statutory Building Regulations 2000. The materials used to insulate cavity walls are also subject to specific standards. There is a range of qualifications and training for installers, but installers should follow British Board of Agrément or British Standards Institution regulations. Under the green deal and ECO schemes, installers must undergo a rigorous authorisation process to become authorised participants. They must then comply with a publicly available specification, which sets out requirements for the installation of energy efficiency measures in existing buildings, including cavity wall insulation. Furthermore, as the hon. Gentleman said, Ofgem requires ECO installers to contract independent inspections of 5% of all measures installed, including cavity wall insulation, to ensure that they meet required standards.

All insulation material installed under ECO’s predecessor scheme—CERT—was required to meet the regulations of the BBA or another UK Accreditation Service-accredited technical approval body for their thermal performance. In addition, all installers should have undertaken an inspection of the property to determine its suitability for cavity wall treatment. Moreover, all cavities insulated under CERT should have received a Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency 25-year guarantee. This guarantee offers the assurance that defects will be fully investigated and rectified free of charge where that proves necessary, and I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the guarantee outlasts any company that may be liquidated.

I now turn to the general area referred to by the hon. Gentleman—his constituency and the surrounding areas. If the measure was installed under one of the predecessor schemes to the ECO—CERT or the community energy saving programme—consumers must first rely on the 25-year CIGA guarantee. If more than 25 years have passed, I recommend that the constituents consider seeking a new scheme, or going to their energy supplier to see what assistance it might be able to offer. If there is no effective guarantee in place, the energy company that originally funded the measure can be approached; it may be able to assist. Ofgem may help to trace that company. If Ofgem cannot help, a consumer may obtain further guidance from a local trading standards office or seek professional legal advice.

For vulnerable or low-income consumers, Citizens Advice may prove a useful contact. I note that the hon. Gentleman referred to his local citizens advice bureau. Nevertheless, if a group of citizens in his constituency are particularly affected by this issue, Citizens Advice might be a helpful sign-pointer or might give additional advice about other sources of support if it feels that the guarantee has not been properly looked at.

On learning of the hon. Gentleman’s concern about his constituency and the surrounding areas, staff in my office made inquiries and they have assured me that they have engaged with complainants on a case-by-case basis, and with the energy companies involved, and considered liability where that is appropriate. If he would like to pass me details about certain cases, I will take this issue up with CIGA, to ensure that the energy company responsible sticks to its obligations. I also understand that he has been in contact with CIGA; if he needs any assistance with that process, we will be delighted to follow up.

Cavity wall insulation is one measure that consumers can utilise to improve the efficiency of their homes. The successful implementation of our programme is dependent on encouraging consumers to take decisions to retrofit their homes with a range of measures that they can trust to deliver savings in energy consumption and in bills. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman encourage his constituents to consider other measures that may assist them in keeping their homes warmer for less.

We have put in place a robust framework that defines what measures are legally eligible for use within the green deal, alongside a robust methodology for estimating the savings that can be realised. To ensure that we are promoting the maximum number of energy efficiency measures possible and taking account of developments in energy efficiency product technology, we are committed to keeping our framework under review.

Earlier this year, we amended the Green Deal (Qualifying Energy Improvements) Order 2012 to allow two additional energy efficiency improvements to be installed under a green deal plan: more efficient circulator pumps; and storage waste water heat recovery devices, which are attached to baths or showers. Additional measures will also be included soon. There are energy efficient luminaires, including the first use of modern LED lighting in domestic properties; the use of replacement glazing panels for double-glazed windows; party wall insulation; and more efficient storage heaters.

My Department recently took over responsibility for household appliances. The cost of running household appliances has tumbled and in some cases halved, as tougher minimum performance standards have led to industry innovation and more and more energy-efficient products dominating the market.

Looking ahead, the smart meter roll-out will be an investment programme to modernise our outdated metering system and bring it into the digital age. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman’s constituents have their smart meters installed, it will make them more inclined to be aware of the opportunities for energy-saving devices and installations that are still around, which we hope can help them to make their homes warmer for less. The programme requires energy suppliers to complete the roll-out of smart meters to domestic and smaller non-domestic premises in Great Britain by 2020—

South West Trains

It is an enormous pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea, for what I think is the very first time. I would certainly remember if I had served under you before. May I take this opportunity to welcome the relatively new Minister to her job? I am sure she will bring her characteristic gusto and gumption to the role.

I raised the issue of value for money on South West Trains with the Minister’s predecessor in a similar Westminster Hall debate in March 2013. I have to say with an element of regret that the service is not getting significantly better 18 months on. I say that not only from the clear data available, but as a commuting MP. I stand on the platform with my constituents, directly accountable to them, paying an ever-increasing fare both for the service on the train and for the parking at the station. Together we have experienced the steadily increasing overcrowding of a prime commuter route.

Based on the 2013 data published last month by the Department for Transport, I was not surprised to learn that one particular service that I regularly use—the 7.32 am from Woking to Waterloo—has the largest number of passengers in excess of capacity of any service in the entire country. By the time it arrives at Esher at 7.52 am, it is packed to the gunnels. According to the official data from the Department, it has 540 passengers over the specified maximum capacity limit, amounting to a 73% breach of the ceiling. It is little wonder the Daily Mail has dubbed the service the “sardine express”.

It is not just one train or some extraordinary occurrence. The 7.32 am has consistently appeared in the top 10 overcrowded peak services in recent years. Nor is it a particularly freak time. For example, the 7.02 am service is almost as packed. My experience as a commuter tells me that acute overcrowding is a serious problem for at least half an hour at peak commuter times in the morning. I get on the service at Esher station. I know first hand how rammed the carriages are. Occasionally—I saw it recently—it is sometimes even impossible to get on the train, which has all sorts of implications. It is not only inconvenient, but there are economic costs to businesses and to people in their personal lives. Clearly, the Surrey network feels the pressure of a very high volume of commuters.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that overcrowding is not the only problem? The Minister might be surprised to know that I never get complaints about the quality of the railway in the Gosport peninsula, because we are the largest town in the UK not to have any railway or indeed any station. However, we do get complaints about the Portsmouth service, which is not only overcrowded, but inadequate. It has slow journey times on a 1930s infrastructure, and eye-watering prices.

My hon. Friend has raised her point with typical cogency and precision. I do not know all the facts of the case of that line, but I am not surprised, given my experience of South West Trains. She is certainly right that overcrowding is not the only problem, and I will come to some of the others. The overarching point, as my commuters tell me, is value for money.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important and, it appears, annual debate. He is moving on to an important point. One of my constituents said to me this morning that they would accept consistently increasing prices if the quality of service improved, and concluded by saying, “That is not the case currently.” Does my hon. Friend agree that the nub of the problem is that commuters are paying more for what they see as a worse service?

My hon. Friend is absolutely bang on. That is the crux of the matter. We have heard interventions already about other parts of the country. I can speak for Elmbridge and for Surrey, but it is interesting to hear that the problems are systematic and not parochial.

Clearly, the Surrey network feels the pressure of a high volume of commuters. In Elmbridge borough alone, some 12 million people use our stations. The number of recorded journeys almost doubled between 2002 and 2010, so demand is high and increasing. Fares will rise by 2.5% again in the new year. The Minister will say that that is not a real-terms increase, so we thank heavens for small mercies, but none the less it is an increase. The fares are already some of the most expensive in Europe. A season ticket for the 25-minute journey from Esher to Waterloo currently costs just under £2,000, and many pay a good deal more.

What is hard to explain, let alone justify, to many passengers—I think my hon. Friends were making this point—is the enormous subsidy that they pay as passengers for other lines across the country. That is largely hidden from view. Of course, redistribution of wealth is a natural function of general taxation—it is the stuff of politics and Parliament to debate how much or how little there should be—but I doubt that many are aware of quite how stark the impact is. Certainly, in my area, Surrey residents contribute £6 billion to the Treasury, and we get back less than £1 billion in services. The point is that, on top of that redistribution of wealth via general taxation, Surrey rail passengers, through their fares, are not just paying high fares for the services that they use. They and many others using South West Trains are paying a whopping subsidy for investment in the rail network across the rest of the country.

In 2013-14, South West Trains passengers paid the Department for Transport the highest premium for their rail service at 5.2p per passenger per kilometre. That compares to the 13.1p subsidy doled out by the Government to Arriva Trains Wales, or the 2.8p subsidy received by London Midland, and the 2.2p subsidy received by Southeastern. Some train companies are therefore paying an inordinate amount for the right to run the service while others are effectively receiving a subsidy.

Over the past four years up to 2013-14, South West Trains passengers have effectively coughed up the largest subsidy to Government coffers of any train operating company, totalling just over £1 billion. That is the scale of the subsidisation of other lines by my commuters and other passengers using South West Trains. That is more than £1 billion over and above what is redistributed via general taxation. It is a staggering amount.

Aside from the scale and the volume or the amount, no one can explain to me how this allocation of premiums and subsidies across the train operators is calculated. I have looked at the franchise contracts for the train operating companies. They do not disclose the information. We are told it is too sensitive, and the Minister’s predecessor could not explain what the allocation or criteria are. It looks arbitrary in terms of the relative wealth of the areas concerned. For example, Southeastern received £97 million in 2013-14 to run the service, compared with South West Trains, which paid £312 million for the right. Will she, if she can, explain in plain language that my constituents can understand how the allocations—the premiums and the subsidies—are worked out? How are they calculated and how are they justified? In particular, how can they be justified given what we have heard about overcrowding, particularly on South West Trains?

I referred to the sardine express earlier, but that is just one service. In 2013, average overcrowding on South West Trains was the joint third highest in London and the south-east. Overcrowding increased in each of the preceding four years. South West Trains services featured three times in the top 10 most overcrowded services across England and Wales for 2012, and twice again in the Department’s spring 2013 data. To put those raw numbers into perspective, EU rules stipulate that calves, adult goats and unshorn sheep must be transported by train in an area of space of at least 0.3 square metres per unit of livestock, but the new Government standard for commissioning commuter services for humans is now 0.25 square metres, which is significantly less. I understand that the only train company operating to that standard is—you guessed it, Dr McCrea—South West Trains. Can the Minister explain why my constituents, who are paying ever-rising fares and doling out more than £1 billion to improve rail services for the rest of the UK that they will rarely use, do so for the privilege of travelling at one grade below cattle class on South West Trains?

The Minister will understand immediately why in Passenger Focus’s 2014 national survey, South West Trains passengers ranked their service the third worst in the country on value for money, with a bare 37% saying that they were getting bang for their buck. That dropped to 28%—barely a quarter—for peak-time passengers. Just in case anyone thinks that all passengers and commuters grumble, that compares with approval on value for money of 78% with Grand Central passengers and 61% with Virgin Trains passengers. It is not beyond the wit of man or woman.

I recognise that South West Trains will argue that it is playing the hand it was dealt by Government in the franchise agreement. That is the line, and there is obviously some truth to it. The Government ultimately decide on the premium or grant, and that very much conditions and influences the nature of the service that can be run and the resources available. That might, however, be a little easier to swallow if director remuneration at Stagecoach Group, which is the operating company, had not doubled between 2010 and 2014, just as these developments were taking place.

Nevertheless, with the fragmented nature of responsibility for rail services, it has got difficult to get straight answers to straight questions. As an MP, I find it difficult to explain to commuters and constituents why the high fares they pay deliver so little in return. My hon. Friends have made that point. What action has been taken to deliver a fairer deal for my constituents and the many others using South West Trains who feel as though they are treated like a cash cow, despite travelling in sub-cattle class conditions?

In particular, what progress has been made on expanding the platforms available at Waterloo into the international terminal that used to service the Eurostar routes? I understand from the managing director of South West Trains that that, at least in the short term, offers the greatest scope for lengthening platforms and trains, thereby easing overcrowding along the lines I have mentioned. Does the Minister agree with that analysis? If so, what is holding up progress in that direction? Will she update me on the options for Crossrail 2? I understand that her officials are looking carefully at the so-called regional option, which would link to the metro option, servicing south-west London, Surrey and Hertfordshire. That would substantially alleviate pressure on existing services, as well as carrying a multitude of other regional benefits. What is her view on the regional option?

Finally, we have been sweating under the franchise agreements signed off by the Labour Government. I have always argued that they bear the responsibility for the framework in which we are operating, but an extension to the South West Trains agreement was agreed in 2013, taking it to March 2019. I am sure the Minister’s Department looked carefully at the terms of the extension. Will she help me explain to my constituents what the premium or subsidy will be between now and 2019? What criteria are being used for that? What are the objective grounds justifying the different rates at which operating companies are being charged or paid?

My constituents have rather stoically endured the immediate frustration of high fares and acute overcrowding. We all know the financial situation the country faces, and that rising demand for rail services will continue for a range of demographic, economic and environmental reasons, but the raw truth is that, when I stand on that platform with my fellow constituents and take the sardine express up to Waterloo, I need to be able to explain in clear language how we will address over the long term the conditions of travel, which are often cramped and uncomfortable. I need to explain how we are going to deliver better value for money. I need to give them some light at the end of the tunnel. I hope the Minister can provide me with a degree of reassurance today.

Another great train analogy, Dr McCrea. It is a pleasure to work with you in your capacity as Chairman.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on his refreshment of his ongoing assiduous focus on his train services. He certainly brings gusto and gumption to his campaigning on this issue for his constituents. I, like him, feel incredibly strongly about the points he raises, and I am doing my best in this new and enjoyable role, with the help of my superb team, to look at these things on a factual, common-sense basis. I, like him, travel on the train and have to explain to people why we say things are getting better when for some of them they are definitely not.

In one way, my hon. Friend would share with me the view that the huge demand we are seeing, with a doubling of passenger numbers since privatisation—numbers are rising by 5%, 6%, 7%, 8%, 9% or 10% in some parts of the country—is perversely a measure of success. We are seeing the most rapid rise in travel of anywhere in Europe. We have the safest and most punctual railways in Europe. We have the most improved railways in Europe, according to passengers. We are seeing an enormous rise in demand for these services. Clapham Junction, which he goes through and which I know well, sees 23 million people changing trains there every year. The South West franchise area is the busiest railway in Europe, and Waterloo is the busiest station in the UK. I was down there this morning, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the young person’s railcard, and it was teeming.

Does the Minister agree that it is not just about capacity? The problem is that if we are to see economic investment in the parts of the country and the parts of the south that really need it for regeneration, we need faster and better train routes. The journey between Portsmouth and London takes the same time as the journey from London to Doncaster, which is two and a half times as far. That is just not good enough for commuters on the south coast.

As always, my hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. I have travelled that route, visiting one of her neighbouring constituencies, and I was struck by the pace at which some of those trains travel.

To return to the particular service mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton, the 7.32 train from Woking to Waterloo is, I think, the second most crowded passenger journey in the UK. I have been on that journey. I am in the process of mystery shopping the top 10 most crowded routes to see for myself what they are like. On that particular day, the operating company took four carriages out of the service for operational reasons, because of problems the day before. That meant that we were leaving passengers at the station pretty much all the way along the line.

It is incredibly important that the Government tackle these issues and deliver value for money in the eyes of passengers. My hon. Friends have alluded to that. The good news is that the Government recognise that. For the first time in a generation, we are reinvesting real money in the railways, with £38 billion being spent over this capital period to the end of 2019. That is the biggest investment in rail and rolling stock since Victorian times.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton pointed out, the franchise that we are debating was, like so many others, let under a previous Administration who thought that electrifying nine miles of track in 13 years was good enough. The franchises were let with no provision for growth and investment, which resulted in a huge squeeze for passengers. One of the things I am very proud of is that the Chancellor has for the second year delivered a real-terms freeze on fares, as well as scrapping the flex that enabled companies to put up their prices outside the regulated boundary willy-nilly. This Government understand value for money, unlike the previous Government.

The challenge that my hon. Friend outlined is how to pay for the investment, which gets to his point about subsidy versus premiums across the network. He does the analysis, as I do, so he knows that there are two ways to pay for investment in the railway: general taxation and a contribution from those using the railway. Only about 8% of commuters use the railway to get to work; twice as many take the bus and many more still walk, cycle or take their cars. Taxpayers of course contribute substantially to investment in railways through general taxation. In some cases, passengers contribute as well. Taxpayers and fare payers are often the same people, so they are right to feel aggrieved, particularly when their services are not running.

In general, the challenge as to which franchises are in receipt of subsidy and which are generating premiums is an operational negotiation at the time of letting the franchise and as patterns change as services unfold. Overall, however, the McNulty review found substantial operating costs right across the railways—far more than our European comparators—that need to be driven out, which we are working hard with Network Rail and the operating companies to achieve.

My hon. Friends each hit the nail on the head. Passengers often do not feel that they are getting value for money. They travel on slow, crowded trains and cannot understand why timetables get messed up and why the network’s resilience can fail if there is a fatality or some operational problem. All my hon. Friends will be delighted to hear that part of the £38 billion investment commitment is being spent on the South West Trains network. Just a few weeks ago, I was on the platform at Waterloo with South West Trains and its Network Rail alliance colleagues, Siemens and Angel Trains, to announce that 150 new vehicles are currently being made to be put into use on the franchise by the start of 2018. The introduction of the new trains will lead to the cascading of existing fleets, generating enough seats for 24,000 additional peak-time passengers. That is in addition to the carriages that are starting to arrive now which will also deliver additional seats.

My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton made an interesting comparison with the rules for movement of livestock versus the space available for people. He and I have seen how crowded trains can be. It is not like being on a tube train, with another coming along behind. People are being made late for work if they cannot board their train. Part of calculating overcrowding is based on duration of journey. There is a strong expectation that nobody travelling for more than 20 minutes should be standing beyond that point. It is not always achieved, but that is the sort of standard that we seek.

My hon. Friend mentioned the work at Waterloo station, which is not only about new trains but about new platform capacity. Much of the network’s signalling needs to be renewed, which is happening. It is also important that the four unused platforms at the former Waterloo International Eurostar terminal are brought back into service. A few winters ago, I took my children to see the “The Railway Children”, which was a marvellous production featuring a steam train coming into the station. How strange it was that platforms at the busiest station in Britain were being used for theatre rather than letting people get on and off trains. That vital piece of infrastructure is now being restored for railway use and will be able to accommodate longer trains on platforms 1 to 4, removing a constraint that has bedevilled commuter journeys from my hon. Friends’ constituencies for many years.

The Minister will want to get through the rest of what she has to impart, but I have two questions. First, given the investment and work going into expansion at Waterloo, has she received assurances or projections from South West Trains that it will be able to alleviate overcrowding by a certain amount as a result of the extra capacity? Secondly, she said that the decision on subsidies and premiums was an operational matter. There must be a public policy on the criteria, rather than there just being a negotiation haggle based on the bids coming in at the time. It must be more than a purely commercial decision. I should be grateful if she could give me some more detail on how the subsidies and premiums are decided, as it is the Government who sign them off.

The problem is that people can turn up and pay to travel on our railways. It is not like an airline, which shuts the doors once a plane is full. While we hope that additional capacity will immediately reduce overcrowding, if more people choose to travel by train, that capacity will continue to be filled. Part of the problem is that the railways have for too long been treated as something that is in steady state. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) said, we had not realised the importance of the railways in generating economic growth or just how valuable the services are to people who travel in and around the south-west and other parts of the country. While I cannot absolutely assure my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton that overcrowding will drop by X per cent, this is the biggest investment in platform capacity and rolling stock for a generation. I hope that when he and I again take the 7.32 train, the situation for all busy services on the network will have changed.

The issue of premiums and subsidies is complicated and relates to predicted cost bases and revenues. In some cases, franchises deliver far more in premium, because passenger numbers go up so the amount from fares goes up. In other cases, there are cost relationships with Network Rail, depending on delays and performance. It is a franchise-specific issue, but I agree that it can be difficult to understand the situation in relation to a specific area. The fundamental problem is that we need to keep investing in the railways right across the country and to ensure that we are driving down operating costs. I am sure my hon. Friend has found that if he explains to passengers on the 7.32 or other trains that a bit of their ticket price is going into reinvestment in the railways to give them a better journey experience, they will feel better about it. That is value for money. The problem is paying for something and getting nothing back.

The Minister is being generous with her time; I know that she has other points to make. It seems to me that it is a raw commercial decision. The fact is that South West Trains passengers will keep paying more and more and South West Trains will keep paying more and more, because there is inelasticity in demand, which ties in with her earlier points. I like to be honest with my constituents and talk to them in plain language. Are the Government saying that the high subsidy—it is called a premium, but it is effectively a subsidy—is what it is because that is what the Government can get away with?

No, I am not saying that at all. My hon. Friend and I both know that passengers also pay, as we all do, for the underlying improvements in track, stations and signalling through general taxation as, indeed, do all the people who do not commute via train. There is general investment in the railways from all of us, as well as specific investments. The idea that captive passengers are treated as a commodity is absolutely 180° opposite to how I feel. Passenger experiences and value for money should be at the heart of every franchise and direct award that we let. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that that view is shared strongly by my team.

To touch on one of the things mentioned by my hon. Friend, the alliance between South West Trains and Network Rail is crucial to delivering some of the capacity unlocking that we have talked about. It has been a great success and has delivered things quickly, and its maintenance until the end of 2019 has led us to extend the direct award until then. The alliance is working hard to continue to improve punctuality and performance on the Wessex routes.

Value for money is at the heart of the debate. It is great that the Chancellor has frozen fares again for all regulated passengers, many of whom are season ticket holders. Many more things can be done around promotional fares. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has noticed that South West Trains has brought in a whole series of good-value promotional fares for those who have some flexibility about when they travel during 2014, in particular to coincide with the school holidays. It cannot be a coincidence that when I was in Waterloo this morning, I met two of my former neighbours from Salisbury who had travelled up on those great fares and were visiting London as a result.

My Department’s priority has to be to continue to manage investment in the railways in a way that delivers maximum benefits to passengers and the economy.

The Minister has touched on all the points that I made; I am grateful to her for assiduously doing that. If she can, will she give me her snapshot of Crossrail 2 and the regional option? Does she have a view on that, or would she like to take it away and write to me later? It is a long-term investment, but it would be good to know her view.

Crossrail 1 is delivering a huge amount of connectivity and releasing some capacity on our hard-pressed inner-city and inner-suburban services. May I write to my hon. Friend or, indeed, meet him over a cup of tea to discuss Crossrail 2, which is very much in the planning stage?

We have to keep investing and delivering efficiencies and, above all, we have to put passengers and their journey experience at the heart of everything we do. We are not moving air, or lumps of steel, aluminium, titanium or ceramics; we are moving people. I know from experience how miserable it can be to try to get on an overcrowded train and not to be able to do so. That is unacceptable and we must all work towards a new future for the railways.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.