House of Commons
Wednesday 23 March 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Golf (Economic Contribution)
1. If he will estimate the contribution of golf to the economy in Scotland in the last 12 months. 
May I begin by expressing the solidarity of the people of Scotland with the people of Belgium at this difficult time? Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go to the families and friends of all those who were killed and, indeed, everyone caught up in yesterday’s horrific events.
Golf makes a huge contribution to Scotland’s economy. Independent analysis in 2013 showed that the game contributes more than £1 billion in revenues and supports some 20,000 jobs. There are almost 600 golf courses across the country, generating annual revenues of £582 million.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, and I very much share his sentiments of solidarity towards the people of Belgium at this very difficult time.
Given the success that my right hon. Friend talks about in relation to golf in Scotland, what steps is he taking to try to secure further investment in this very important industry for Scotland?
One new opportunity to support golf and young people in golf arose in last week’s Budget: the sugar tax element of the Budget will see investment in sport in schools in the wider UK. I hope the Scottish Government will follow through on that and use those funds to develop sport in schools, including golf—a very popular sport, as I have said. This year, we also have the opportunity to present Scotland’s golfing merits to the wider world during the British Open at Royal Troon. It will be a showcase for the world of Scotland’s golfing opportunities.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning my local golf course; I am the MP for Royal Troon, and we look forward to welcoming people in July.
Will the Secretary of State discuss with Front-Bench colleagues a regional strategy for smaller airports—at Prestwick, people fly in over Royal Troon—and, while the Chancellor is in a listening mood, will they consider a VAT reduction for rural tourism, which would help many constituencies across the UK?
Presumably with a view to people then playing golf.
But they need to come here first.
Indeed they do, as the hon. Lady pertinently observes from a sedentary position.
I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss those issues further. I am also very interested in pursuing the proposed Ayrshire regional growth deal, which, in promoting tourism in that part of Scotland, will have golf at its heart.
May I add my contribution on this topic by saying that it was with pleasure, last week, that I saw the Secretary of State sharing a platform with the First Minister, who I am sure raised the topic we are discussing? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that is an example of the two Governments working together in the interests of the people of Scotland?
Mr Speaker, you will be pleased to hear that the First Minister and I met and shared a platform in St Andrews, which is of course the world home of golf. On sport, as on any matter, Scotland of course does best when Scotland’s two Governments work together.
This is the first opportunity in Parliament to put on the record our total revulsion at and condemnation of the terrorist atrocities in Brussels, as well as our solidarity with everybody affected. We join the Secretary of State for Scotland in that.
The promotion of the Ryder cup in Scotland was a huge achievement for the Scottish Government and the then First Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). Today is the last sitting day of the Scottish Parliament. Given that he is standing down from Holyrood, may I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his remarkable tenure as an MSP and as First Minister, and pay tribute to all other MSPs from all parties who are retiring? Does the Secretary of State agree that there is much that can be built on following the success of the Ryder cup? How does he plan to contribute to that?
I am sure that that was a courteous tribute, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not object if I say that the first part of his question was way off the fairway.
Securing the Ryder cup to be held in Scotland was a significant event. I agree that the former First Minister of Scotland has made a remarkable contribution to Scottish politics, although the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) and I will probably differ on the detail of that. What the former First Minister and many MSPs who are standing down—I also pay tribute to them—have done, and what we all need to do, is promote Scotland together, because that is when we get the best results for Scotland.
I will try to remain on the fairway, Mr Speaker.
Tourism is one of Scotland’s most important industries, and golf and whisky are key drivers for people visiting the country. Does the Secretary of State welcome local initiatives better to promote iconic Scottish regions and locations, such as Speyside? What encouragement would he give to public and private sector partners in making the most of Scotland’s world-class potential as a tourism draw?
I am aware of the initiatives to promote Speyside, having recently visited the right hon. Gentleman’s picturesque constituency, and I wish them well. Such opportunities reach their full potential only with significant public and private sector partners playing a full part, and I look forward to hearing about progress from Speyside and other regions of Scotland that are making the most of that potential.
North Sea Oil and Gas
2. What discussions he has had with representatives of the North Sea oil and gas industry on UK Government support for that sector. 
Ministers and officials have meetings with a wide variety of organisations in the public and private sectors, including the oil and gas industry. Last week, the Chancellor announced a further package of reforms to support jobs and investment in the oil and gas sector. That will help the industry respond to the challenging commercial conditions caused by the steep fall in oil prices.
The excellent Budget package for the oil and gas industry has certainly been welcomed by that industry. Is that another example showing that when Scotland’s two Governments work together they can get the best outcome for Scotland in the United Kingdom—something that an independent Scotland could never have achieved?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The United Kingdom is able to absorb the shocks of the volatile oil price, and take steps to ensure that our oil and gas sector is as strong as it can be, given the low oil prices.
Will the Minister and his Front-Bench colleagues commit to taking action to ensure that companies in the oil and gas sector have appropriate access to finance at this time?
The Government do all they can to support businesses the length and breadth of the United Kingdom in all sectors. My point is that we are able to take action and support the oil and gas sector because we are the United Kingdom. Had Scotland become independent, it would be facing a very substantial loss of revenue and have great difficulties absorbing that.
Government’s Welfare Programme
3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effects of the Government’s welfare programme on social and economic inequalities in Scotland. 
I meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and counterpart Ministers in the Scottish Government on a regular basis to discuss devolution of welfare programmes to the Scottish Government.
Last week’s Budget saw one of the most iniquitous measures proposed by this Government, which was to cut the personal independence payment for 40,000 disabled people in Scotland. When did the Secretary of State for Scotland, and Ministers, first realise that that was the wrong thing to do? Was it around the Cabinet table, during the Budget statement or on Sunday when the Prime Minister was forced to backtrack?
The Government’s position on PIP and disability reforms is clear, and was announced by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Chancellor.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House and the people of Scotland when he realised that those cuts were wrong, or was he planning a resignation over the weekend?
As I have said, the Government’s position has been made abundantly clear. If the hon. Gentleman missed the statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on Monday, I will be more than happy to share it with him again.
I start by echoing the comments of the Secretary of State and the leader of the Scottish National party, and pass on my heartfelt condolences to all those involved in the events in Brussels. We will defeat terrorism, but, as the Secretary of State said, it will take solidarity and resolve.
Last night, the House passed a Budget that was unprecedented. It contained a £4.4 billion black hole after the Chancellor was forced to reverse his decision to cut personal independence payments. The Government’s long-term economic plan is turning into a long-term economic scam. These savage cuts, following the £1,500 a year reduction in the employment and support allowance work-related activity group, affect over 60,000 Scots. Those cuts would have gone through had it not been for the resignation of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). Will the Minister guarantee that, when the Chancellor returns with revised public spending, no cuts will fall on the disabled and the most vulnerable?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I welcome his comments with regard to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). The Government have been very clear that we are not proceeding with the changes and we will not be seeking an alternative offset in savings.
It is clear from that answer, and from the previous answer, that the Government now have absolutely no idea what to do. They are creating untold anxiety for the people in Scotland who are affected. Let me remind the House what the former Secretary of State said: that the cuts in the Budget risked dividing society, put pounds ahead of people and were distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest. Does the Minister agree with her former Cabinet colleague, and many on her own side, that the cuts to disabled people in Scotland are not defensible? Does she want to take this opportunity to apologise, on behalf of the Scottish Conservative party, to the tens of thousands of vulnerable and disabled Scots affected by this shambles?
I reiterate that the Government’s position is fundamentally clear: there will be no further changes to disability payments. The hon. Gentleman will have realised that last night the Budget was passed by the House. That was right and proper. He, of all people, should recognise that the Government are delivering on the Smith commission and devolving powers to the Scottish Government. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government on welfare reform and the delivery of employment and support programmes for the benefit and the betterment of the Scottish people.
4. What recent discussions he has had with business groups on economic trends in Scotland. 
I regularly meet a wide range of business organisations to discuss economic issues in Scotland. As I alluded to, last week I shared a platform with the First Minister of Scotland at the annual forum of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, where we discussed the important issue of productivity.
Given that businesses in Redditch have welcomed the devolution deal for Birmingham, what representations have business groups in Scotland made to my right hon. Friend about city deals there?
I have been particularly delighted at the welcome from business groups in Scotland for the announcement yesterday of the Inverness and Highland city deal. The Scottish Government, UK Government and Highland Council will deliver a £315 million package. I welcome in particular the early-day motion from the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) and his colleagues. I pay tribute to him for his part in bringing the deal about.
The Secretary of State will be aware that about 400,000 workers in Scotland earn less than the living wage. The Government claim to be on the side of working people, so why have his Scottish Tory colleagues voted repeatedly alongside the SNP Government to thwart Scottish Labour proposals to extend the living wage?
I will resist the temptation to give the hon. Lady a lecture on the Scottish Labour party’s woes and the fact that it has not been a credible opposition to the SNP in Scotland. This Government are very, very clear on our proposals to increase the wages of the poorest in society by the introduction of the national living wage.
13. Local government clearly has a role to play in economic development. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important that the Scottish Parliament also devolves power to local government? Might it look to England for a lead—on elected mayors, for example? 
I very much take my hon. Friend’s comments. When I spoke with the First Minister of Scotland at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry forum last week, I was particularly encouraged by what she said about her support for city deals. I hope that the city deals we see emerging in Scotland will not just include financial packages but go on to include greater devolution within Scotland.
People in my constituency are extremely concerned about the perceived impact on the local economy and local jobs of the proposed closure of HMRC sites. What impact assessment is being made of these closures on the local economy and jobs?
Initial proposals have been set out for the future shape of HMRC. We hear repeatedly in the House about the wish to make HMRC more efficient and effective, but no steps will be taken in the hon. Lady’s constituency or elsewhere without full consultation with all those involved.
5. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on UK membership of the EU. 
As the First Minister and I both confirmed last week when we shared a platform in St Andrews, in the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency, the official position of both the UK and Scottish Governments is that the UK is better off in a reformed EU.
First, may I associate myself with the remarks about Brussels, having spent many happy years in that wonderful city? Secondly, the Secretary of State will be aware of the benefits that EU membership has brought us, such as paternal rights and holiday entitlement. Does he agree that we should focus on those benefits, not a rerun of “Project Fear”?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman saw the details of my speech yesterday, in which I made a positive case setting out the benefits to Scotland of our remaining in the EU, but I look forward to sharing platforms over the coming weeks with him and his colleagues to make that case.
Given that we have a £62 billion a year trade deficit with the EU, does the Secretary of State think that, were we to leave the EU, the Prime Minister would have the ability to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU?
My position is clear: I believe that Scotland and the UK are better off in the EU under the reformed arrangement that the Prime Minister has already negotiated.
14. Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that a recent survey confirmed that the Scottish Government were one of the most trusted Governments in Europe? Does he look forward to the re-election of Nicola Sturgeon and her team so that we can continue being the most trusted Government in Europe, including beyond 23 June? 
I want to ensure that Nicola Sturgeon and her team are held properly to account in the Scottish Parliament, which is why I am encouraging people to vote for Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservatives.
CCS Funding (Peterhead)
6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and Ministers of the Scottish Government on withdrawal of funding for the carbon capture and storage scheme at Peterhead. 
I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and Ministers of the Scottish Government on a number of important energy issues affecting Scotland. The most recent was last night.
The Government’s own advisers on energy and climate change have warned that the cost of meeting our climate change targets could double without Peterhead and CCS. Given that the Government are having a good run on U-turns when it comes to saving the Chancellor, perhaps they would also like to make a U-turn when it comes to saving the planet—something that people feel is far more worth while.
We are looking carefully at all options in developing our approach to CCS, informed by Lord Oxburgh’s CCS advisory group. In parallel, the Government continue to engage with the CCS industry—including Shell, which is leading the proposed Peterhead project.
At the time of the announcement of £1 billion of funding for the CCS scheme at Peterhead, the Energy Secretary was forced to deny that it was a bribe prior to the independence referendum. Now that the withdrawal of this supposedly ring-fenced capital investment exposes it as just that, will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to apologise today to the people of Scotland?
If anybody should apologise to the people of Scotland, it is the hon. Lady and her friends for suggesting that oil tomorrow would have a price of $103 a barrel. What is clear in relation to CCS is that the costs are high and must come down. We have not ruled CCS out, and we are committed to working with the industry to bring forward innovative ideas for reducing the cost of this potentially important industry.
I am reluctant to refer to the Budget because we cannot be absolutely sure what is in and what is out. For example, the Chancellor’s support for the oil and gas industry is welcome, but it does not take us very far forward. Unfortunately, it appears that the Government here in London are taking their cue from the Government in Holyrood. There, the SNP Government recently axed £10 million of tax breaks for renewable firms, yet they like to see themselves as a green Administration. Are we not seeing two Governments who are confused, pursuing contradictory policies, and not knowing whether they are coming or going?
I can point out one distinct difference between this Government and any Labour Scottish Government, or indeed SNP Scottish Government—and that is that we are not putting up tax for ordinary people as both those parties propose. We have made it very clear that the door is not closed on CCS, but the costs must come down.
Scotland Bill (Fiscal Powers)
7. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on commencement of the fiscal powers in the Scotland Bill. 
The UK and Scottish Governments have met 10 times under the Joint Exchequer Committee since the election last year. These discussions resulted last month in the agreement of a new fiscal framework for the Scottish Government. Agreement on the fiscal framework enables us to deliver on the vow we made to the Scottish people and delivers one of the most powerful and accountable devolved Parliaments in the world, with the economic and national security that comes from being part of the UK.
Does the Minister agree that it would be bad news for Scotland if it became the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom? Does he agree with Ruth Davidson MSP that Scottish taxpayers should not have to pay any more in tax than fellow Britons in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?
The Scottish people have essentially three choices in their elections. Two of them—voting Labour or SNP—would involve paying more in income tax.
Does the Minister agree with me about the Chancellor’s reckless, last-minute intervention to tweak the fiscal framework after it had been agreed by the Treasury and the Scottish Government? Is the Minister aware that the Chancellor’s brinkmanship intentions endangered the framework at the very last moment?
The answer is no. An agreement has been reached. We are pleased that we have that agreement, and now it is for the Scottish Government to be held accountable by the Scottish people.
Budget Measures: Scotland
8. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect on Scotland of measures announced in the Budget. 
The Chancellor has delivered a budget that delivers for Scotland. This will be the last Budget where a UK Chancellor sets out income tax rates and thresholds for Scottish earners. The changes to the income tax personal allowance will benefit 2.6 million taxpayers in Scotland. The Budget delivers on our plans to build a stronger Scottish economy as part of the UK and put the next generation first.
I congratulate the Minister on finding the Chancellor to have those discussions—earlier this week, we thought he had gone walkabout! The Budget had £1 billion-worth of cuts to the Scottish budget and £650 million-worth of cuts to the English NHS. Given the volte-face on social security cuts, does he think he could persuade the Chancellor to reverse Scotland’s cuts and put in a good word for the English NHS as well?
Let me remind the House that there were three asks from the SNP: a freeze in whisky fuel duty, a freeze in fuel duty, and help for the oil and gas industry. That is exactly what the Chancellor delivered.
12. Did the Secretary of State discuss with the Chancellor the merits of an £8.5 billion corporation tax cut and a £6 billion giveaway in capital gains and inheritance tax versus those of a proposed £4 billion cut in payments to the disabled, and how that would affect people in Scotland, or did he sit there and do what he was telt yet again? 
I remind the hon. Gentleman that 73,000 businesses in Scotland will benefit from the cut in corporation tax. Is he saying that he opposes that?
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 23 March. 
Adrian Ismay, a Belfast prison officer, died last week as a result of injuries caused by a bomb placed under his vehicle. A murder investigation is under way, and one man has been charged in connection with the attack, but we should today offer our condolences to the family and friends of Mr Ismay.
Let me also update the House on yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels. Details are still emerging, but our understanding is that at least 34 people were killed and many others injured. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attacks, which follow the horrific suicide bombing that they carried out in Istanbul on 19 March. We are aware of four British nationals who were injured in the attack, and we are concerned about one missing British national.
We face a common terrorist threat, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our full solidarity with the people of Belgium following these terrible attacks. I spoke to the Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, yesterday to pass on our condolences. Our police and agencies are doing everything they can to support the investigation. In this country, we have increased police patrols and border screening. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make a statement later setting out all the steps that we are taking.
Britain and Belgium share the same values of liberty and democracy. The terrorists want to destroy everything that our two great countries stand for, but we will never let them.
Mr Speaker, this morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Bombers, everywhere and every time, aim for publicity, public reaction, and disunity. Can we disappoint them by uniting for hope, not hate?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that. These people packed their explosives with nails in order to kill as many innocent people, including women and children, as they possibly could. We should unite in condemnation of them, and we should stand with the people and the Government of Belgium and with all countries that are being afflicted by this appalling terrorist menace, and say that they shall never win.
I support the words that have just been said by the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and the Prime Minister, in solidarity with the people of Belgium and the victims of the horrific attacks that have taken place in Brussels, and also in Ankara, in the last few days. We pay respect and tribute to all their families and friends, and we pay enormous respect to the emergency services of all denominations for the huge amount of work that they have done to try to save life. We must defend our security and values in the face of such terrorist outrages, and refuse to be drawn into a cycle of violence and hatred. We take pride in our societies of diverse faiths, races and creeds, and will not allow those who seek to divide us to succeed.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) will respond, on behalf of the Labour party, to the statement that the Home Secretary will make at 12.30 pm.
I also join the Prime Minister in sending my deepest condolences to Mr Ismay’s wife, Sharon, and his three daughters. The people of Northern Ireland made a profound choice to follow the path of peace when they widely adopted the Good Friday agreement. The actions of an unrepresentative few should not be allowed to change a course that is supported by the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland.
Let me now raise a different subject altogether. Last week, I received a letter from Adrian. He wrote:
“I’m disabled and I live in constant fear of my benefits being reassessed and stopped…and being forced onto the streets”.
Will the Prime Minister do what the Chancellor failed to do yesterday, and apologise to those who went through such anguish and upset while there was a threat of cuts to their personal independence payments?
Let me first thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the terrorist attacks in Belgium, and about Northern Ireland and the fact that we have achieved so much peace and progress in that valuable part of our United Kingdom.
Turning to the issue of disability benefits, as I said in this House on Monday, when you are faced with having to take very many very difficult decisions—including many spending reductions—as we were after becoming the Government in 2010, you do not always get every decision right. I am the first to accept and admit that, and on every occasion that that happens it is very important that you learn the lessons, but as we do so, we will continue to increase spending on disability benefits, which will be more than £46 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, compared with £42 billion when I became Prime Minister.
Government figures published only this morning show that the number of people with disabilities and who are homeless is now up by 39% since 2010, and that 300,000 more disabled people are living in absolute poverty. That is why people like Adrian are very worried. There has been big disarray in the Cabinet over the last few days, so can the Prime Minister now absolutely and categorically rule out any further cuts to welfare spending in the lifetime of this Parliament? Simply: yes or no?
Let me respond to all the points that the right hon. Gentleman has just made. First, he talked about the number of people in poverty. We have actually seen poverty fall during this Parliament. The second thing he referred to was the regrettable rise in homelessness, with figures out today, but homelessness is still 58% below the peak that it reached under Labour. That is important. He talked about the number of disabled people. This is a Government committed to supporting the disabled, but it is worth making the point that in the last two years an extra 293,000 disabled people have got into work. We want to continue to close the disability gap, as we have set out in our manifesto.
As for the question about further welfare reductions, let me repeat the statement that the new Welfare Secretary made on Monday and that the Chancellor made on Tuesday. I am happy to make it again. I dealt with these issues on Monday. I turned up and gave the answers even though the Leader of the Opposition had not asked the questions. We are very clear that we are not planning additional welfare savings other than the ones that we set out in our manifesto and that are in train.
My question was actually about the poverty of people with disabilities, which the Prime Minister did not answer. In his failure to explain how he would fill the hole in his Budget left by the change of heart on personal independence payments, the Chancellor said:
“We can afford to absorb such changes”.—[Official Report, 22 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 1394.]
If it is so easy to absorb changes of this nature, why did the Chancellor and the Prime Minister ever announce them in the first place? Will the Prime Minister now listen and learn, and withdraw the £30 per week cut to disabled employment and support allowance claimants that his Government are pursuing?
The changes to employment and support allowance have been through both Houses of Parliament. It is important to note that employment and support allowance for the most disabled—that is, those in the support group—is up by almost £650 a year under this Government. We have increased the higher rate of attendance allowance, we have increased carers allowance, and we have increased the enhanced rate of PIP because we believe that a strong economy should support the most disabled people in our country, and that is exactly what we have legislated to do.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to get on to discussing black holes, I say bring on the argument. We inherited an 11% budget deficit from the Labour party, and under this team of Ministers and this Chancellor of the Exchequer we have cut that deficit by two thirds since we became the Government. From Labour, all we have had is more proposals for more spending, more welfare, more taxes and more debt—all the things that got us into the biggest mess with the biggest black hole in the first place.
If it is all so fine and dandy, the question has to be asked: why did the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) feel it necessary to resign as Work and Pensions Secretary, complaining that the cuts being announced were to fit arbitrary fiscal targets? He said that they were
“distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest”.
In the initial announcement, he proposed cuts to PIPs then changed his mind. Is not the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green right when he says that this was a political decision rather than one made in the interests of people in this country?
I believe that after seven or eight years of economic growth it is right to be targeting a surplus, because a responsible Government put aside money for a rainy day. I do not want to be part of a Government that do not have the courage to pay off our debts and leave them instead to our children and grandchildren. That is the truth. What is dressed up as compassion from the party opposite just means putting off difficult decisions and asking our children to pay the debts that we were not prepared to pay ourselves. [Interruption.] I do not know why the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), is shouting at me. We have a very interesting document today: the spreadsheet showing which Labour MPs are on which side. The hon. Lady is shouting, but it says here—[Interruption.] No, no, it says she is “neutral but not hostile”. On the other hand, the Opposition Chief Whip is being a bit quiet. There are five categories. We have “core” support—[Interruption.] I’ve got all day, Mr Speaker. We have “core” support—I think you can include me in that lot very strongly. We have “core plus”. The Opposition Chief Whip is being a bit quiet because she is in “hostile”. And I thought I had problems!
Let me invite the Prime Minister to leave the theatre and return to reality. The reality is that he has presided over a Budget that unravelled in two days and now contains a £4.4 billion black hole. He may wish to consult the Chancellor on yet another change of heart on this matter. Will he now consult the Chancellor and tell the country who is going to pay for the black hole? Will it be through cuts or tax rises? Where will the cuts fall? Where will the tax rises take place, as £4.4 billion has to be found from somewhere?
Suddenly the king of fiscal rectitude speaks. The right hon. Gentleman may have noticed that the Budget passed last night. It is a Budget that cuts the deficit in every year of this Parliament. It is a Budget that delivers a surplus by the end of this Parliament. None of that is going to change. He talks about this Budget—[Interruption.] The “hostile” shout, but the “neutral but not hostile” have to be quiet, I think. I want to know: hands up, who is “core plus”?
I will tell you what this Budget did. It took a million people out of income tax. It saw more money for our schools. It helped the poorest people in our country to save. It cut taxes for small businesses. It cut taxes for the self-employed. It made our economy stronger. It made our country fairer. It is a Budget that will help this country do better.
The truth is that it was a Budget that fell apart in two days. The truth is that many people with disabilities went through the most unbelievable levels of stress and trauma after the PIP announcement was made. There are many people who are still going through stress and trauma in our society. There are still—[Interruption.] I am not sure that the Government Members who are shouting so loudly have any idea what it is like to try to balance a budget at home when you do not have enough money coming in, the rent is going up and the children need clothes.
Order. There is too much shouting on both sides of the House. Stop it. The public are bored stiff by it. The right hon. Gentleman will finish his question and we will have an answer. There will be no shouting from Members of any grouping. That is the message.
The Budget has to mean something for everybody in our society, however poor and however precarious their lives are. This Budget downgraded growth, downgraded wage growth and downgraded investment. The Chancellor has failed on debt targets and failed on deficit targets, as the official figures have shown. The fiscal rule is quite simply failing. The Treasury Committee scrutinised the Government’s fiscal rule and could not find any credible economist who backed it. Can the Prime Minister find anybody who backs a policy and a Budget with a big hole in it which downgrades every single forecast the Government set themselves before the Budget was made?
The right hon. Gentleman is just a bit late, because the Budget passed through this House with large majorities on every single vote. Let me remind him: this Government are spending more on the disabled than in any year under the last Labour Government. We are spending more on the most disabled, including the most disabled children in our country. We have got more disabled people into work than ever happened under Labour. What we see with this Budget is the background of an economy that is growing, where employment is at a record high, investment is rising and businesses are creating jobs in Britain, which is the envy of other European economies. It is because we have a strong economy that we are able to provide this support. That is what we see: Britain getting stronger and the Labour party a threat to the economic security of every family in our country.
Q2. I am sure the Prime Minister is as appalled as I am that incidents involving anti-Semitism are on the rise. Does he agree that all organisations, public and private, should root out anti-Semitism, without hesitation? 
I completely agree with my hon. Friend; anti-Semitism is an absolute cancer in our societies and we should know that when it grows it is the signal of many even worse things happening to ethnic groups and different groups all over our country. There is, sadly, a growth of anti-Semitism in our country and we see it in attacks on Jewish people and Jewish students—it absolutely has to be stamped out. We should all, whatever organisation we are responsible for, make sure that happens. I have to say that we do see a growth in support for segregation and indeed for anti-Semitism in part of the Labour party, and I say to its leader that it is his party and he should sort it out. [Interruption.]
Order. This sort of gesticulation across the Chamber is way below the level and the dignity of senior Members on the Front Bench on either side. It is terribly tedious—cut it out.
When terrorists attack Brussels or Paris or London or Glasgow, we are as one in our condemnation of the atrocities, as we equally condemn the killings of Yazidis, of Kurds, of Syrians and of Iraqis by Daesh and others extremists. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who work here and abroad to protect us in the face of the ongoing terrorist threat, so will the Prime Minister confirm that absolutely everything is being done to help the Belgian authorities and the people of Belgium in the wake of the Brussels attacks?
I can certainly confirm that. In my conversations with the Belgian Prime Minister I made a number of offers of policing and intelligence assistance that we could give, particularly on high-end, expert and technical capabilities. There are already some intelligence officers embedded with the Belgian authorities and there is strong police-to-police co-operation. Clearly, the Belgians are coping with an unprecedented situation in their country. We stand ready to do anything more we can and we are also, clearly, examining all the capabilities and things that we have here to see what more we can do to safeguard our own country.
A defining characteristic of a democratic society is our trust in our institutions and democratic oversight by parliamentarians of those who work so hard to keep us safe. We have that oversight with our police and with our security services, but we do not yet have it with UK special forces under the Intelligence and Security Committee or the Defence Committee. Will the Prime Minister address that?
I am afraid that I just part company with the right hon. Gentleman on that one. We have put in place some of the most extensive oversight arrangements for our intelligence and security services. Our services do a remarkable job, and the police are regularly called to account both locally and nationally. The work that our special forces do is vital for our country. Like everyone else in this country, they are subject to international law, but I do not propose to change the arrangements under which these incredibly brave men work.
Q6. In England, this Government have delivered better GCSEs, better A-levels and a better chance of getting into university than Labour has in Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Labour Members have no right to criticise our education policies when their own Education Minister in Wales has had to issue a public apology for the failure of his own? 
My hon. Friend makes an important point. What we have seen in England—and we should praise the teachers who have worked so hard to deliver those results—is a result of rigour in standards, independence in our schools and accountability for results. When we look at Wales, we do not see those things in place, so I urge the Welsh Assembly Government to look at that, and I urge the Welsh people, when they have a choice at the coming elections, to ensure that they vote for parties that put education reform, education standards, education rigour and education accountability first.
Q3. In 1992, the oil tanker Braer ran aground off the south coast of Shetland. It was carrying 85,000 tonnes of Gullfaks crude, which then spilled into the sea and on to our shoreline. It caused economic and environmental devastation. Since the Donaldson report into that disaster, we have had an emergency tug stationed in the Northern Isles. It is our protection against ever being blighted in that way again. The Maritime Coastguard Agency now wants to take that tug away. There will be no finance for it after September. Will the Prime Minister look again at that decision, and repeat the undertaking that he made to the people of Shetland in 2014 that he will not leave them exposed in that way again? 
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. My understanding is that the one tug that has been sustained off the coast of Scotland has played an important role in the past. The cost is between £2 million to £3 million a year. It is currently used very sparingly, so it is right to look at the right way to deliver the service in the future. Alternative options would clearly take time to develop and implement, which is why we have announced that this will be funded until 30 September 2016, and we will have to make a decision on provision in due course. I will keep him in touch with those developments.
Q7. We believe in doing the right thing—[Interruption.]—which is why it is absolutely right that the proceeds of crime are returned to the local communities that have been the victims of crime. Staffordshire’s police and crime commissioner, Matthew Ellis, is calling on community groups in Cannock Chase to apply for grants from his commissioner’s proceeds of crime fund. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows that our excellent Conservative police and crime commissioner is delivering real value for the people of Staffordshire? 
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Police and crime commissioners have really bedded in properly as a means of bringing our police to account. The Home Affairs Committee, an all-party Committee, reported recently that those PCCs provide greater clarity of leadership for policing and are increasingly recognised by the public as accountable for the strategic direction of their police force. That is an important reform, and when PCCs bring forward ideas such as using the proceeds of crime in the way that she suggests they should be rewarded at the ballot box.
Q4. The list of Ministers and advisers who have resigned after the Prime Minister expressed his full confidence in them is extensive, so may I ask him this: does he still have full confidence in the Chancellor? 
Of course, and I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. The Chancellor is the one who, as part of a team, has delivered the fastest growing economy in the G7. We have 2.4 million more people in work; inflation that is virtually zero; wages that are growing; and an economy that is getting stronger.
Q8. The House of Commons Library confirms that this year our net contribution to the EU will increase by more than £2.6 billion—I think it is actually £2,627 million. Should that money be spent on supporting people in Bulgaria and Romania, or should it be spent in this country, supporting our vulnerable and disabled people? 
I say to my hon. Friend that our net contribution accounts for just over one penny in every pound paid in taxes, so as we enter this vital debate we have to work out whether we believe that that sort of investment—one penny out of every pound—is worth the jobs and the investment, the growth and the security, and the safety and the solidarity that we get through working with our partners. I will be on the side that thinks it is, and clearly he will be on the side that thinks it is not, but we should have a polite and reasonable debate as we go through this. What I will say, which I am sure he will welcome, is that we have limited our contributions to the EU budget because we set an overall EU budget that is falling over the next six years. The reason our contribution varies is that part of it is determined by the success of a country’s economy and—to return to the questions I have just been answering—because our economy has been growing faster than others in Europe, we will make a slightly larger contribution than we otherwise would.
Q5. Not only has my constituent Susan Sutovic suffered the death of her son, but the unexplained circumstances of his death have led to a 12-year battle with the authorities in Belgrade, where this happened in 2004. The UK coroner has now ruled that the death was murder. Will the Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary meet the family and do what can be done to get a proper investigation, to resolve the questions that remain and to achieve justice for Petar? 
I am not aware of the case the hon. Lady raises, but obviously it is important that her constituent gets proper resolution. I shall make sure she has a meeting with Foreign Office Ministers to discuss it.
Q9. JPMorgan Chase, Sunseeker, Cobham, Lush and many other local businesses are supporting the inaugural Mid Dorset and North Poole apprenticeships and jobs fair. If he happens to be free on 15 April, I know the Prime Minister would be warmly welcomed at Queen Elizabeth's school in Wimborne. I know that he will welcome the news that unemployment in my constituency is down by more than 60%, but will he ensure that we are not complacent and that we secure the vital infrastructure needed to get good-quality jobs in Dorset and across the south-west? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the reasons we have managed to get our unemployment rate down to about 5% and 2.4 million more of our fellow countrymen and women into work is that businesses have recovered using apprenticeships. Events such as the one in his constituency will play a part in reaching our 3 million target for apprenticeships in this Parliament.
Q10. Academics, civil society and the Scottish Government have all condemned the Government’s anti-lobbying clause in new grant agreements. How can the Prime Minister promote transparency, democracy and freedom of speech overseas when that clause is clamping down on those principles here in the UK? 
I would answer simply that I want taxpayers’ and charities’ money to go to good causes, rather than to lobbying Ministers and MPs and spent here. That is what they should be spending the money on. It is worth making the point that we are only one day away from what would have been separation day for Scotland. Had that happened, there would not be money for charities—there would not be money for anything.
Q13. Pubs are the beating heart of many communities across the UK. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the support given to our pubs in successive Budgets by joining me for a duty-frozen pint in the Crown Hotel in Colne, and tell the House what more he can do to support this vital part of our economy? 
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind invitation. In Budget after Budget, we have seen this Government supporting the pub industry, which is such an important part of our economy and particularly of rural communities. I can make an announcement today that, subject to the usual conditions, we will be extending pub opening hours on 10 and 11 June this year, to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday. I am sure that that will be welcomed across the House.
Q11. If I compare my constituency with the Prime Minister’s and the Chancellor’s, I find that I have four times the number of youths unemployed, more than double the disabled claimant count and an average weekly wage that is 20% less. Are those the reasons why the Prime Minister and the Chancellor never understood and never had the compassion to realise, as everybody else did, that the disabled cuts were so obviously wrong? I give the Prime Minister one more opportunity: will he apologise to my constituents, who have been scared witless over the past week? 
Obviously, there remain challenges in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but the claimant count is down by 16% in the past year alone, the claimant count has fallen by 50% since 2010, and the youth claimant count that he specifically mentioned has fallen by 12% in the past year. That has been delivered because we have a strong economy, businesses want to invest in our country, we are supporting apprenticeships, and we are making sure that that growth is delivering for people. In just two weeks’ time, the national living wage will come in, giving the poorest people in our country a £900 a year pay rise, and that will be tax-free because we are lifting the tax threshold in our country.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the remarks this morning by the Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov—that we should put aside our differences and that terrorists should not be allowed to run the show? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we would be stronger if we could work together, but to do that we will have to have a better understanding of Russia’s security needs?
Of course, we want to work with everyone we can to combat terrorism, but particularly when it comes to what is happening in Syria it is vitally important that the Russians stop any attacks and do not restart any attacks against moderate Sunnis and moderate Syrian opposition, which clearly have to form a part of that country. We cannot in the end defeat terrorism simply through the use of guns and missiles. We defeat terrorism through governance and good working democracies, because in that way people can see their own interests being represented by the countries in which they live.
Q12. The former Work and Pensions Secretary described the cuts to personal independence payments for the disabled as divisive, unfair and against the national interest. The Chancellor’s U-turn suggests that he now agrees. Can the Prime Minister explain how on earth he allowed this to happen in the first place? 
It is good to have an intervention from someone who, I think, is “neutral but not hostile”. If the hon. Lady keeps going, she could join “core group plus”, with the rest of us. She would be very welcome in “core group plus.” Let me tell her what this Government have done: they have increased spending on disability benefits, and seen 293,000 more disabled people into work in the past two years and 2.4 million more people in work. That is bringing the country together, because we have a growing economy that is delivering a fairer society.
My right hon. Friend will have seen the recent OECD report on literacy and numeracy in England. Based on data from 2012, it ranked our teenagers bottom out of 23 developed countries for basic maths and reading—a damning indictment of 13 years of Labour’s education policy—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Lady is entitled to ask her question, and the same goes for every other Member.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does that not show why a more rigorous curriculum and more autonomy for schools to succeed are vital to turn around the life chances of the next generation?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that it is worth while benchmarking our education system against those of other advanced countries. What we have seen in recent years is that the competition is very tough. When we look at the countries that are succeeding, whether it is the Republic of Korea or Finland, we see that they have well-paid teachers, proper accountability systems for results and rigour in terms of discipline, and that is exactly what we are introducing in our country with the new curriculum coming in right now.
Q14. The women of this country are tired of waiting—waiting for equal pay, waiting for an end to maternity and pregnancy discrimination, and waiting for a fair deal for WASPI pensioners. It is 2016. How much longer? 
The hon. Lady is right to raise these issues. It is good that the pay gap is now at an historic low. It has almost evaporated for under-40s but there is more to be done in the public sector and in the private sector to bring that about. On pensions, we have introduced a pensions system which will benefit many, many women in years to come, because we have a single-tier pension without a means test, uprated by prices, earnings or 2.5%. We were able to do that only because we raised the pension age, saving over the long term something like half a trillion pounds—a difficult decision but the right one, because it means that we can look our pensioners in the eye, knowing that they are getting dignity and security in old age.
Two hundred and sixty thousand new apprenticeships have been created since the election, but the whole public sector needs to play its part if we are to meet the 3 million target to which the Prime Minister has referred. Will he ensure that every part of the public sector invests in training our young people so that we have the skills the country needs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. Getting 3 million apprentices trained during this Parliament is a very stretching target. We will have to see those large companies that have really put their shoulder to the wheel on this agenda continue to do so, but there are two sectors where we need to do better. One is the public sector; we need more public sector organisations to get behind apprenticeships. We also need to make it simple and attractive for small businesses to start training apprentices again. That is absolutely what the Minister for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), is doing with the skills agenda. We all need to work very hard to deliver this by the end of the Parliament.
Q15. If the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union in June, does the Prime Minister believe that the EU institutions will respond vindictively? 
It is a very difficult question to answer. We should not be naive, were we to vote to leave, in believing that other countries would automatically cut us some sort of sweetheart deal. Just take one industry as an example: farming. Our farmers know now that they have duty-free, quota-free and tax-free access to a market of 500 million people. Were we to leave, could we really guarantee that French, Italian or Spanish farmers would not put pressure on their Governments to give us a less good deal? I do not think that we could. That is one of the many reasons why I think we are safer, more secure and better off in a reformed European Union.
In April 2015 the Prime Minister said that there should be a new Carlisle principle to ensure that other parts of the UK do not lose out as a result of Scottish devolution. Can he confirm that that principle will apply, who will review the position, when it will report, and who it will report to?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is particularly important for constituencies, such as his, that are close to the border, to make sure that decisions that are made, quite sensibly and rightly, by the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies do not disadvantage the rest of the United Kingdom. That was the principle set out, and the Chancellor will report regularly on that as he updates the House on his fiscal plans.
I trust that the Prime Minister will be aware that there is a critical meeting of the board of Tata in Mumbai on Tuesday. I will be flying out to Mumbai with the general secretary of the Community union to make the case for British steel. That meeting will decide the future of the Port Talbot steelworks in my constituency. Will the Prime Minister join me in exhorting Tata to stand with that plan and secure the future of the Port Talbot steelworks?
I absolutely give the hon. Gentleman my backing on that. A team of Ministers met yesterday to discuss all the things that we can do to get behind the steel industry at this vital time. It is an extremely difficult market situation, with massive global overcapacity and the huge fall in steel prices, but there are areas where we have taken action already and we will continue to look at what more we can do: state aid compensation so that we can secure the energy costs; greater flexibility over EU emissions regulations. We have done a huge amount in terms of public procurement, which I think can make a big difference to our steel industries. We are doing all those things and more, and we are making sure that Tata and others understand how valuable we believe this industry is to the UK and that the Government, within the limits we have, want to be very supportive and very helpful.
Brussels Terrorist Attacks
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the terrorist attacks in Brussels, our response and the threat we face from terrorism in the United Kingdom.
The cold-blooded attacks in Brussels yesterday morning have shocked and sickened people around the world. Fourteen people were murdered and 106 wounded when two bombs exploded at Brussels airport. A further attack at Maelbeek metro station an hour later killed 20 people and wounded more than 100 others. As the Prime Minister has just said, four British nationals are among the injured and we are concerned about one missing British national. Their families have been informed and they are receiving regular consular assistance. We are working urgently to confirm whether any other British nationals have been caught up in these attacks. The investigation into the attacks is still ongoing. These figures may change, and it will take some time for a fuller picture to emerge, but we know that Daesh has claimed responsibility.
These were ordinary people simply going about their daily lives—families going on holiday, tourists visiting the city, workers making their way to their offices. They have been attacked in the most brutal and cowardly way, and I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to the victims, their families and those who have been affected by these events. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
In Belgium, the authorities have increased that country’s terrorist threat level to four, the highest level available, meaning that the threat is serious and imminent. Yesterday, I spoke to my Belgian counterpart, Jan Jambon, to offer my condolences and to make it clear that the UK stands ready to provide any support that is needed. Belgium is a friend and an ally, and we work closely together on security matters. Following the attacks in Paris last November, we deployed police and intelligence service resources to Belgium to support the ensuing investigation, which last week resulted in the arrest of Salah Abdesalam.
This is the 14th attack in Europe since the start of 2015. In January last year, gunmen killed 17 people at the office of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris; in February, two people were shot dead at a synagogue and a cafe in Copenhagen; in August, an attack was prevented on a Thalys train en route to Paris; and in November, 130 people were killed, and many more were injured, in a series of concerted attacks in Paris. There have been further attacks in other parts of the world, including in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Egypt and Tunisia, where 30 British holidaymakers were murdered. More recently, a suicide bomber killed at least five people and injured more than 30 in an attack in the heart of Istanbul. And there continues to be a threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism. The murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay, who died on 15 March, is a stark reminder of the many forms of terrorism we face.
In the UK, the threat from international terrorism, which is determined by the independent joint terrorism analysis centre, remains at severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. In the last 18 months, the police and the security services have disrupted seven terrorist plots to attack the UK. All were either linked to, or inspired by, Daesh and its propaganda. We know, too, that Daesh has a dedicated external operations structure in Syria which is planning mass-casualty attacks around the world.
Following yesterday’s attacks in Belgium, the Government took precautionary steps to maintain the security of people in this country. This morning, the Prime Minister chaired a second meeting of COBRA, where we reviewed those measures and the support we are offering to our partners in Europe. Border Force has intensified checks at our border controls in Belgium and France, increased the number of officers present at ports and introduced enhanced searching of inbound tourist vehicles. Further measures include security checks on some flights and specialist search dogs at certain ports. The police also took the decision to increase their presence at specific locations, including transport hubs, to protect the public and to provide reassurance. In London, the Metropolitan police have deployed additional officers on the transport network. I can, however, tell the House that neither deployment is in response to specific intelligence.
As I have informed the House on previous occasions, since 2010 the Government have undertaken significant work to bolster our response to the threat we face from terrorism. Last year, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 provided new powers to deal specifically with the problem of foreign fighters and to prevent radicalisation. We extended our ability to refuse airlines the authority to carry people to the UK who pose a risk, and we introduced a new power to temporarily seize the passports of those suspected of travelling to engage in terrorism. That power has now been used on more than 20 occasions, and in some cases has led to longer-term disruptive action such as the use of the royal prerogative to permanently cancel a British passport.
A week ago, the House debated the Second Reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which will ensure that the police and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to keep people safe in a digital age. Through our Prevent and intervention programmes, we are working to safeguard people at risk and to challenge the twisted narratives that support terrorism. That includes working with community groups to provide support to deliver counter-narrative campaigns. Our Channel programme works with vulnerable people and provides them with support to lead them away from radicalisation, and, as we announced as part of strategic defence and security review in November last year, this year we will be updating our counter-terrorism strategy, Contest. In addition, we have protected the counter-terrorism policing budget. Over the next five years, we will invest an extra £2.5 billion in a bigger, more capable global security and intelligence network. That will include employing more than 1,900 additional staff at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, and strengthening our network of counter-terrorism experts in the middle east, north Africa, south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Together, those measures amount to a significant strengthening of our domestic response, but, as the threat continues to adapt and morph, we must build on our joint work with our international partners. As this House is aware, the UK enjoys the longest lasting security relationship in the world, through the “Five Eyes”, with our allies the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. That relationship allows us to share information, best practice and vital intelligence to disrupt terrorist activity, prevent the movement of foreign fighters and stop messages of hate spreading.
Following the attacks in Paris last November, our security and intelligence agencies have strengthened co-operation with their counterparts across Europe, including through the counter-terrorism group, which brings together the heads of all domestic intelligence agencies of EU member states, Norway and Switzerland. Through that forum, the UK has been working to improve co-operation and co-ordination in response to the terrorist threat and to exchange operational intelligence. We are also working bilaterally to increase aviation security in third countries. As I told the five country ministerial in February, defeating terrorism requires a global response, and we will not succeed by acting in isolation.
The United Kingdom has intelligence and security services that are the envy of the world, and some of the most enduring international security relationships. Together with our allies around the world, we must act with greater urgency and joint resolve than we have before. We must continue, as we already do, to share intelligence with our partners, be proactive in offering our expertise to help others, and encourage them to do likewise. We must organise our own efforts more effectively to support vulnerable states, and improve their ability to respond to the threat from terrorism. And we must do more to counter the poisonous and repugnant narrative peddled by Daesh and expose it for what it is—a perversion of Islam, built on fear and lies.
This is the third statement to the House that I have given following a terrorist attack in just over a year. Each horrendous attack brings pain and suffering to the victims and their loved ones. Each time the terrorists attack they mean to divide us. But each time they fail.
Today, all around the world, people of all faiths and nationalities are standing in solidarity with Belgium, just as they stood together after the other appalling attacks. In the UK, people of all backgrounds and communities—Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu and Christian, and people of no faith—are united in our resolve to defeat terrorism. The terrorists sought to strike at the heart of Europe. They seek to attack our values and they want to destroy our way of life, but they will not succeed. These attacks occurred away from the shores of the UK, but we should not forget that our own threat level remains at severe, which means that an attack is highly likely. We will remain vigilant. The police and security services will continue in their dedication to keeping people safe, and the public should remain alert. Together, we will defeat the terrorists. This is the challenge of our generation, and it is a challenge we will win. I commend the statement to the House.
The Opposition support everything that the Home Secretary has said, and we assure her of our continued full support in confronting this threat. Today, our thoughts are with the families of those killed or injured, with the family of the British person who is missing and with the people of Brussels. We think of all the people who have suffered in all the attacks that the Home Secretary mentioned, including those last week in Istanbul and Ankara. This was more than an attack on Belgium. It was an attack on the heart of Europe and on all of Europe—a statement of intent from the terrorists, which must be met with a raised and renewed determination to defeat them.
First, let me start with the immediate advice to UK citizens. We welcome the support that is being provided to those caught up in the chaos, but as we approach Easter many families may have travel plans that include travelling to, or through, Belgium. Will the Government consider issuing more detailed travel guidance to them so that they can make informed decisions based on the best available information?
Secondly, on international collaboration, can the Home Secretary say more about the nature of the immediate support that has been provided to Belgium? People will have seen reports suggesting that the suspects were linked to the attacks in Paris and known to Belgian police. That raises the question of whether the Belgian authorities have sufficient capability to deal with the extent of the problem. Is there more that can be done to support them on a longer-term basis? More broadly, given the global nature of the threat, the Home Secretary was entirely right to talk about our collaboration with all European partners.
Thirdly, on border security, we are learning more about the extent of terror networks in Belgium. As we do, it raises questions about travel between the UK and Belgium. Britain has extensive air, sea and rail borders with Belgium. We welcome the immediate steps taken yesterday to strengthen the presence at our borders, but is there now a case for a longer-term review?
Border Force operates juxtaposed controls at six locations in France. However, in respect of Belgium, juxtaposed controls apply only on Eurostar and not at ferry terminals. Will the Home Secretary immediately initiate a review of our borders with Belgium, with a view to strengthening them? She knows of the concerns that I have raised before about UK terror suspects on police bail who have fled the country through sea ports, and we propose to table an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill to close that loophole. Will she today give a commitment to work with us on that?
More broadly on borders, I have serious concerns about further cuts that are coming following the spending review. Border Force has faced years of cuts and is already stretched to the limit. The new financial year starts in a week’s time, but I notice that the Home Office is still to publish a 2016-17 budget for Border Force. Will the Home Secretary correct that today, so that there can be a debate about whether that budget is enough? Surely now is the time to strengthen our borders, not to cut them.
Fourthly, on UK preparedness, we know that seven terror plots have been foiled here in the last 12 months, and we thank all those in the police and security services who are working to keep us safe, but we must keep our own arrangements under review. The public will want reassurance about our ability to cope with a Paris or Brussels-style attack—multiple, simultaneous incidents designed to cause maximum fear and confusion. We know that plans are in hand to improve firearms capability in London, and we welcome those, but there is concern about the ability of cities outside London to cope. A Home Office report on firearms capability published in July 2015 found that the number of armed officers had fallen by 15% since 2008, including a fall of 27% in Greater Manchester and 25% in Merseyside.
There was a report in The Observer late last year that Scotland Yard had briefed the Home Secretary on its fears about the lack of capacity in regional forces to respond to terror attacks. Is that true, and can she say more about it? Has she reviewed the ability of all major cities to respond, and can she provide assurance today that if there were to be a Paris or Brussels-style attack outside London, our police and fire services would have the necessary capability to respond?
In conclusion, while we think of the Belgian people today, we remember, too, that many victims of attacks around the world are Muslims, which suggests that this terror is not about Islam. We also know that, at moments such as this, great anxiety will be felt in the British Muslim community, with fears of reprisal attacks, rising Islamophobia and hate crime. Does the Home Secretary recognise those concerns, and will she today send an unequivocal message to anyone who seeks to promote division or hate on the back of these attacks that they will be dealt with severely? Will she condemn the ill-informed comments made on UK television today by Donald Trump and take this opportunity to distance the UK Government from them? They play into the hands of the terrorists. They are intended to drive a wedge between the Muslim community and the rest of society, who are united in revulsion at what happened yesterday.
Daesh called the innocent people who died and were injured “crusaders”. They were nothing of the sort. They were ordinary, innocent people of all faiths and none, living side by side in one of Europe’s great cities. This is a moment not for division, but for maximum unity among peoples of all faiths and none—a moment to reject those who preach Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and all forms of extremism. Let the unanimous message go out from this House today that we stand together across it as a united country; that we stand with our neighbour Belgium in its hour of need; and that, whatever it takes, and however long it takes, we will face and defeat this threat to our way of life together.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and the tone that he adopted. He is absolutely right. Everybody in this House condemns the terrorist attacks, and we will stand against anybody who seeks to divide our communities.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues. On travel guidance, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its website, and it will continue to do so. It will monitor the situation and update the travel advice on the website as necessary. I say to those who are travelling this weekend that because we have extra checks in place, particularly at the channel ports, people may experience delays that they otherwise would not have done. People should try to make sure that they have ample time when they are travelling this weekend.
In relation to immediate support for Belgium, as I said, following the Paris attack last November, we had already given support to the Belgian Government in both policing and the intelligence services. We are building on that, and we have made some specific offers—both the Prime Minister to Prime Minister Michel, and myself to Interior Minister Jambon—of areas where we believe we have expertise that could be of benefit to the Belgians. We look forward to working with them on that.
On the issue of the borders with Belgium, the Immigration Minister has already had some discussions, prior to the attack, with Belgian Ministers about how Border Force operates at certain ports and how we can enhance and increase our ability to act in those areas. Border Force is a more flexible organisation now. It is able to draw on resource more easily from around the country when it needs to surge capacity in certain ports, and that is exactly what it has been doing.
On the question of firearms capability, the uplift that we announced in firearms capability is not just about London. It is about looking at the firearms capability of police forces across England and Wales. The programme that is being put in place by the police covers not just London but other areas and other cities. It looks, crucially, at where there is felt to be most need to uplift firearms capability. We are looking at uplifting the armed response vehicles and the trained counter-terrorism specialist firearms officers.
In relation to working with other emergency services, one of the measures that we have introduced—we started this work a couple of years ago; it has been brought to fruition but it continues—is the joint emergency services programme, which brings ambulance, fire and police together at incidents to enable them to work with better communication and in a more co-ordinated fashion.
The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to raise the issue of those in the Muslim community in the United Kingdom. The Transport and Home Office Minister, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad, has spoken to a number of imams and other faith leaders today about these issues. There are many people in the Muslim community in the United Kingdom who are, once again, standing up and condemning the atrocities that have taken place in Brussels.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the comments that Donald Trump has made today. I understand that he said Muslims were not coming forward in the United Kingdom to report matters of concern. This is absolutely not the case: he is just plain wrong. As I understand it, that has been confirmed this morning by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan police. People in Muslim communities around the United Kingdom are as concerned as everybody else in the UK about both the attacks that have taken place and about the perversion of Islam underlying the ideology that has led to violence. We are working with them and we will continue to work with them to ensure that everything we do is about uniting our communities, not dividing them.
I share entirely the Home Secretary’s sentiments in commenting on this appalling attack. In explaining the level of security co-operation that we can achieve with Belgium, and indeed with other European countries, my right hon. Friend rightly drew attention to the co-operation that can be achieved through European Union mechanisms. Does she agree with me it is somewhat strange that there have recently been suggestions that those mechanisms in some way endanger our security? Does she agree that, in fact, they greatly enhance it and provide a means by which such co-operation can be improved?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments, with which I agree. A number of mechanisms that we are part of within the European Union enhance our security. As I said in my statement, we need to co-operate on a global basis to defeat these terrorists. Co-operation with other countries, such as within the “Five Eyes” community, is important as well, but we can use mechanisms within the European Union that are of benefit to our security.
I welcome the tone of the Home Secretary’s statement, and I thank her for notice of it. I wish to associate myself and the Scottish National party with the comments of the Home Secretary and others in condemning outright these appalling and devastating attacks in Brussels. Our thoughts are with everyone affected in Brussels and across the globe. Like many other hon. Members of the House, I have spent time in the beautiful city of Brussels over the years, and I have friends and colleagues there. My heart goes out to its many diverse citizens. In addition, we must not forget those affected by the outrages in Turkey. I add the condolences of SNP Members to those of the rest of the House to all those across Europe who have lost loved ones in these terrible atrocities. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected, most particularly the family of the missing British national in Brussels. We sincerely hope that his partner and her sister will be successful in their efforts to locate him.
I wish to associate myself with the comments of the shadow Home Secretary and others about the gratitude we across the House feel to all those, whether the police or the intelligence services, who strive to keep us safe in the United Kingdom. I wish to reiterate the comments of Scotland’s First Minister that these terrorists must not succeed and that we must “unite as a community” to defeat such threats across the United Kingdom and across Europe.
The Scottish National party is committed to protecting the people of Scotland and to keeping our communities safe. While we are aware of the challenges we face from increasingly sophisticated criminals and terrorists, the Government in Scotland have committed to work with the UK Government to defeat these threats against the freedoms we value so dearly. I note that although the UK threat level has not been changed, and we are reassured that there is no specific threat in Scotland, the Scottish Government have taken swift action to place police patrols at airports and rail stations to increase reassurance.
The frightening statement from Daesh promising further attacks and saying that
“what is coming is worse and more bitter”
is the point at which I turn to the Home Secretary for reassurance. People right across the UK will be sitting at home worried for their families and their communities. What reassurances can the Home Secretary give the House about how safe we are in the United Kingdom? What action is her Department taking to ensure that we are protected from and capable of dealing with a future attempted attack? I note that the Home Secretary referred during her statement to the fact that all seven plots that have been disrupted in the UK were either linked to, or inspired by, Daesh propaganda. Does she accept the importance of undermining Daesh’s propaganda capabilities, particularly online, and what is she doing to address that?
Finally, as I have said many times in the House—I think others have acknowledged this—what is of the utmost importance when faced with such serious criminal and terrorist attacks is to ensure that our response is proportionate, targeted and effective. The terrorists aim to instil fear, to divide us and to destroy our freedoms and civil liberties, but we must not give into that narrative. We must ensure that, whatever additional measures are taken to keep our communities safe, they remain united. I am very reassured by what the Home Secretary said about remaining united with our Muslim brothers and sisters in Britain. I associate myself with what the shadow Home Secretary said, and I invite the Home Secretary to condemn Donald Trump’s comments on British media today. Will she assure me that she will keep the importance of our having a united community across the UK at the core of her efforts in fighting terrorism?
The hon. and learned Lady refers specifically to the issue of threat and to safety and security across the whole of the United Kingdom. As I have said and as she will know, the threat level from international terrorism is not set by Ministers; it is set independently by the joint terrorism analysis centre. It has maintained the threat level at severe, which means that an attack is highly likely. Against that background, as I also said in my statement, the police have increased their presence at certain key locations, notably at certain transport hubs, and we have increased the action taken by Border Force at various ports, and that is right. We will obviously keep those levels of activity under observation and monitor them according to the nature of the threat that we see.
It is for us all to be vigilant. I think the public should be alert, not alarmed. We do everything that we can to keep the public safe and secure. Underlying that, however, is of course the need for us to ensure that in particular our intelligence services—our security and intelligence agencies—are able to access the intelligence that enables plots to be disrupted. That means having the powers that we believe are right for them to have to be able to do that role.
The hon. and learned Lady talked about the counter-narrative. It is absolutely right that, as part of the work we do, we should deal with the poisonous ideology that is leading people to violence. That work is being done. We do such work through the counter-terrorism internet referral unit to ensure that pieces are taken down from the internet. The speed at which that happens—the number of items taken down—is now something like 1,000 pieces a week. That has increased significantly in the past year or so. We led on the establishment of an internet referral unit at Europol, which is now enabling that capability to be available not just in the United Kingdom, but across the European Union.
One of the most effective weapons that the police and security services have in fighting Daesh terrorism is a constant flow of information and intelligence from within the various Muslim communities in this country. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that she and the Government will continue to make every effort to ensure that, in all those communities, there remains the instinct and habit of co-operation with the police and the security services so that this vital flow of information is maintained?
My right hon. Friend is right to refer to this as a “vital flow of information”, which it is. From time to time, we look at how to make sure that opportunities are available for people to come forward in a variety of different ways with information that they feel is important. For example, the Metropolitan police have on occasion undertaken campaigns to encourage people to come forward with information. We did that, in particular, in relation to people who might be travelling to Syria. We of course continue look at how to make sure that every opportunity is available for people in Muslim communities and others who feel they have concerns that they need to express to government in various forms to do so. As my right hon. Friend says, that intelligence is absolutely vital.
I commend the Home Secretary’s statement and the unity of all parties in support of what she has said. She was right to protect the counter-terrorism budget last November. At least two of the Paris attackers had gone to Syria to fight and then returned to Europe, and 800 British citizens have now gone abroad, and 400 have returned. I accept her assurances about the borders between our countries and other EU countries, but my concern is the EU’s external border, because anecdotal evidence suggests that those people come from Turkey into Greece. Will she assure the House that the Greek Government are given all the support they need to track people when they return to Europe in the first place? Once people get inside Europe, the Schengen agreement means that they can travel anywhere they like, so that external border is critical.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the external border is important, which is why within the European Union we have been arguing with others for a strengthening of that border. He will also be aware that this issue pertains to the migration crisis in Europe and, at the European Council last week and at the previous meeting, decisions were taken about enhancing our ability to strengthen that border. We have already given significant support to Greece regarding the way it deals with people coming across the border, and we are looking to enhance that support. We stand ready with others to ensure that the work at that border is appropriate and does what is necessary to identify people and ensure that those who should be returned to Turkey are returned. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the Schengen border free zone, and the United Kingdom has its own border at which we are able further to check people who are coming into the UK.
Will the Home Secretary acknowledge that this issue is now the existential threat of our times and our people are in danger, and that now—as in the 1,000 years of our island history—the channel is our best bulwark. Given that thanks to the Schengen agreement, dozens of jihadists can access all parts of Europe with European passports, will she institute checks on all vehicles entering the United Kingdom from continental ports, and will all the passports of people entering our airports or ports be checked against intelligence sources, whether or not they are European passports?
As I indicated in my statement, Border Force has increased its checks at certain ports. However, I think there is a misunderstanding in my hon. Friend’s question, because we have checks at our borders and we are able to check people’s passports when they come through. That is an important part of our structure in the UK and our security, and we will retain it.
Does the Home Secretary agree that groups such as Daesh no longer distinguish between the near enemy and the far enemy, and that the twisted ideology that she referred to considers European values such as religious freedom, human rights and democracy as an offence against God?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that Daesh is indiscriminate in whom it chooses to attack. Its terrorist attacks have taken place not only in Europe and Turkey and the countries I referred to, but nearer to its base in Syria and Iraq, where many Muslims have died as a result. It is indiscriminate in the people it attacks, and it is attacking our fundamental values which, as he says, include those of democracy, freedom of religion, and law and order, and which underpin our society. That is why it is so important for our society to say once again that we will not let the terrorists defeat us, and I welcome all the comments made around the Chamber that go out from this House today.
On a recent visit to Europol, the Home Affairs Committee viewed one of the horrific videos on the internet created by Daesh, and the propaganda that it uses to recruit people to its hideous cause. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the security services and police need modern, digital powers, including bulk powers, to destroy those criminals and keep us safe?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and those powers are necessary for our police and security services. That is why we will be putting the Investigatory Powers Bill through the House, because it includes powers to ensure that those whose job it is to keep us safe have what they need to do that job.
The first duty of a Government or any political leader is to protect their citizens. The global list of atrocities that the Home Secretary cited shows that this is a worldwide jihadist ideology, the fight against which we cannot opt out of in the hope that if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone. I implore her to make this battle not just one of critical public safety, but also about the values that my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) spoke about, such as democracy, human rights, equality between men and women, and the freedoms that we enjoy in this country and in others.
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. This is not something that we can walk away from, and we cannot say that if we do nothing we will be safe and secure. We must fight this ideology and these terrorists, and ensure that the values that underpin our society, which the terrorists are attacking and trying to destroy, are maintained. That is one reason why the Government have looked not just at counter-terrorism, but also at our counter-extremism strategy. We want to work with communities across the United Kingdom to promote the values that underpin what makes this country such a great place to live in—values that are shared across the United Kingdom and across all communities.
The Home Secretary referred to the fact that Daesh has a dedicated external operational structure in Syria that is planning mass casualty attacks around the world. It is self-evident that it is much easier for Daesh to progress those attacks against us if it controls an area of territory from which to project that force. Now that there is a cessation of hostilities in Syria, does the Home Secretary agree that it is our priority to assist those Syrian forces that have ceased hostilities to recover the territory now controlled by ISIL-Daesh in Syria?
My hon. Friend is right to say that the fight against this brutal terrorist group is not just about what we are able to do for our security or with our partners, but also about what happens in Iraq and Syria, and the action being taken against Daesh there. It is important that a solution is brought to the conflict in Syria, which is why the Government are considering not just protection and security in the UK and intelligence sharing, but also the action that it is necessary to take in Iraq and Syria, and the diplomatic efforts to bring about that political solution and stability.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I wish to stand with the Home Secretary, and the people of Northern Ireland will wish to stand with the people of Belgium at this time, given that we endured three decades of this type of terror. The Home Secretary referred to Adrian Ismay who was murdered last week, and she will know about the necessity of cross-border co-operation on the only land border between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. What levels of increased co-operation will there be to prevent any further ingress by international terrorists who may use the Irish Republic as a base from which to launch attacks on the United Kingdom?
We are working closely with the Irish Government to look at areas where it is possible for us to work more closely to enhance our collective security across Ireland and the United Kingdom. We are able to use security measures relating to cross-border arrangements between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom to help with that security, but we talk to the Irish Government about how we can enhance our co-operation to ensure we keep both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom as safe and secure as we can.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that Holyhead is the second-busiest ferry port in the country and, as such, is a significant point of entry from within the common travel area. Is she entirely satisfied that security arrangements at Holyhead—in particular, checks on vehicles and foot passengers— are adequate to address the terrorist threat as she perceives it?
The extent to which Border Force operates checks at various ports is constantly kept under review in relation to threat and perceived risk. My right hon. Friend refers to the common travel area. That is precisely one of the issues we have been working on with the Irish Government to see how we can enhance our collective external border security to ensure that internal border security within the common travel area is improved.
Our unique intelligence capability helped to first identify that it was terrorists who brought down the Russian plane in Egypt, at a time when that was being denied by the Russians themselves. Will the right hon. Lady assure the House that there are no unnecessary obstacles to our sharing such vital information in a timely fashion with our European partners and allies to help them fight this scourge?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are not only sharing information and intelligence with our European partners but encouraging European member states and others to share intelligence so we can build that collective picture. The terrorists know no boundaries and no borders. We need to work together to ensure we can deal with them.
In issuing travel advice to the public, which they rely on to make an informed choice, will the Home Secretary ensure that we have safety first, but that we do not allow terrorists to close down our way of life and are mindful of the impact of that advice on partner nations? I am thinking in particular of north Africa in recent times and of the impact that advice has had on Tunisia, specifically.
My hon. Friend is right to point that out. The attack in Tunisia saw the murder of so many British holidaymakers. Action on travel advice was then taken, working with the Tunisian Government. If people do not travel, that will of course have an impact on a country’s economy. I assure him that, in looking at travel advice and in issuing guidance on travel, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office considers a range of issues, but of course what must come first is our desire to ensure the security and safety of British citizens.
I echo the Home Secretary’s condolences. Belgium and Brussels have suffered a severe blow and we stand in solidarity with them. I would also like to echo what she said about the Muslim communities here. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the British Muslim Council of Britain, for instance, have been very quick and forthright in condemning the attacks. After Paris, the Metropolitan police said they would be recruiting an extra 600 armed police officers. Is the Home Secretary able to give us a progress report on that, and does the programme now need to be accelerated?
I think there is absolute unanimity around this House in our condemnation of these terrible attacks. There are two elements to the upgrade of the Metropolitan police’s armed response. I think that the 600 figure to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is not the recruitment of new firearms officers but the training of existing officers in certain parts of the Metropolitan police. As I understand it, that training is under way. The uplift in armed response vehicles across the country, which I referred to earlier, is also under way.
The events yesterday underlined the fact that this is an international threat that requires an international response. We are making every effort to strengthen our domestic capability in the Investigatory Powers Bill. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that, in talking to international partners, she will ensure that the Bill can be practically and swiftly enforced elsewhere?
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. One key issue in the Bill is the ability to issue lawful warrants against communication and internet service providers who are located elsewhere, in particular the United States of America. We continue in the Bill to assert the territorial jurisdiction that we and previous Governments have always asserted in relation to those powers, and we are discussing with the US Government the possibility of an agreement that will ensure a very solid basis on which such exchange of information can take place.
Is the Home Secretary satisfied with security at international airports with flights to the UK?
We have a programme, working with the Department for Transport, to look at airports across the world and assess what security arrangements are necessary. There are occasions when we ask airports to increase their security arrangements. That is a regular programme. Obviously, when a particular incident takes place, such as the attack in Tunisia, we provide a very particular focus on the security available there, not just in tourist resorts but in airports as well.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the cross-party condemnation of the terrible acts that have taken place in Belgium. Sadly, these determined terrorists have very sophisticated digital communication capability. What support is my right hon. Friend receiving from internet service providers and other related businesses to help to support the battle against these extremists?
Our interaction with internet service providers is of various types. Obviously, there is the question of access to intercept on the issue of a lawful warrant. As I referred to in my answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), we are looking at an agreement with the United States of America in particular on that. Internet service providers have also been involved in our work to look at how we can ensure the vile propaganda put out by Daesh and other terrorist groups can be taken down from the internet, and how companies can use their own terms and conditions to ensure that that propaganda is not there to infiltrate the minds of those who could be radicalised.
I add my party’s deepest sympathy with Brussels and all the people who suffered there yesterday. Can the Home Secretary reassure soccer fans travelling from Wales and other UK nations to this summer’s UEFA European Championship that every step will be taken to ensure their safety at football stadiums?
There is a very well used method of co-operation with other countries when they are hosting major events, such as European football. The police have already been discussing with their counterparts what arrangements are in place. We will of course continue to monitor those arrangements. We want people to be able to go and enjoy the football, have a good time and have confidence in their security.
My right hon. Friend has rightly identified the importance of digital and signals intelligence. She will be aware of the recent conflict, if that is the word, between Apple and the FBI over the San Bernardino terrorist attack. What steps is she taking to talk with companies such as Apple, Samsung and Blackberry to try to make them co-operate for the safety of all our people in the United Kingdom and elsewhere?
We have regular meetings, both at official and ministerial level, with a variety of internet and communication service providers to discuss their interaction with the Investigatory Powers Bill and the powers our law enforcement and security agency services in accessing this information. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is important. As more and more people are communicating across the internet, we need to ensure that powers in this area are available to our agencies and the police. That is exactly what we are doing in the Investigatory Powers Bill.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. It became clear following the Paris attacks that there were deficiencies in intelligence and policing linked to what was happening in Belgium. Is she happy that we have learned the lessons of those failures and that they have been carried forward to the intelligence services in this country?
The intelligence services in this country obviously look at any attack that takes place elsewhere in the world and at the information available to see what lessons we need to learn. The key has been the increase in co-operation and intelligence sharing off the back of these attacks. It is important we learn lessons when things happen. Of course, because of the attacks we have sadly suffered in the past, the UK has developed, particularly post 7/7, ways of dealing with these issues, and we are working and sharing our experience with others.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and all that she has said. Does she agree with the comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury in Davos that Europe needs to regain the capacity to use theological language to counter terrorism? She is absolutely right that we have to take down the poisoned propaganda online. What steps are being taken to work with faith communities to put up a counter-narrative online?
I was not aware of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments, but I think he is right. It is important that theological arguments are used to counter this narrative, which is a perverted theology and ideology, and that is exactly what is happening. The Home Office works with people in communities, and, as I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, there are many imams who put on the internet and elsewhere a counter-theology to ensure that this perversion of Islam does not win through.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. She will know that the key to defeating this evil is to understand, disrupt and defeat its terror networks, and a key element of that is its funding. Can she assure the House that she is working closely with colleagues in the Treasury and across Government to target the funds that finance this murderous activity?
Yes, we are doing that. We are looking to see what more we can do to enhance our ability to deal with terrorists’ funding. The UN came together last year, when Finance Ministers from 70 countries met for the first time, to look at the financing of serious crime and terrorism and to see what more action could be taken globally.
Within moments of these atrocities, constituents of mine at GCHQ will have deployed resources to assist their Belgian counterparts. GCHQ is a vital and unique capability. Can the House be assured that it will continue to have the resources it needs to meet what is, regrettably, a growing workload?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The people at GCHQ will have responded in support of the authorities in Belgium. Day in, day out, they work to keep us safe and are a vital part of the security and intelligence agency and law enforcement response in the UK. GCHQ is world leading and respected around the world, and long may it continue.
Our thoughts are with the victims of the terrorist attacks and their families. The Home Secretary will be aware that the number of racist and Islamophobic incidents goes up following terrorist attacks, as far right and other extremist groups seek to exploit that space, and that takes up huge amounts of policing resources. Will she assure the House that the police will have the support they need to ensure proper security, support and reassurance in communities such as mine?
Yes, we have supported the police in that way, but we are doing more. We have committed to identifying and recording those hate crimes that have a religious element to give us a much better picture of what is happening. The hon. Lady is right that the number of anti-Muslim incidents often increases after a terrorist attack. The police at a local level will be doing everything to deal with them.
We are all shocked and saddened by the attacks in Brussels, but understandably members of the Jewish community in my constituency are particularly concerned about the risks facing them. Will the Home Secretary update the House on her assessment of those risks and the steps the Government are taking to deal with them?
I understand my hon. Friend’s comments. The Jewish community in the UK has seen an increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents over the last couple of years. That is a great cause of concern for us, and the Government are working in several ways to ensure a proper response to those incidents and to send out the message collectively—it is important that the House sends it, as the Prime Minister has done in the last few days—that we condemn anti-Semitic incidents. The Jewish members of our community are as much a part of our British community as are the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Christian members and those members who are of no faith. We are one community and must do everything we can to stop these terrible anti-Semitic incidents.
Further to an earlier question, does the Home Secretary accept that the best people to make the point that Daesh is perverting the true faith of Islam are not herself, the Prime Minister or any non-Muslims, but any and all Muslim groups here and abroad who reject violent jihadism? Is she prepared to make the sometimes difficult calls to empower and back groups here and potentially regimes abroad who do that, even if they might not accord with all the liberal, secular and democratic values we rightly hold dear in this place?
The Government work with those who wish to send that message to counter the narrative of the perverted Islam that comes from the ideology that underpins this terrorism. We do that through a variety of community groups in the UK. As I indicated in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), many imams in the UK and around the world—I have met some of them—are actively working to spread a different theological message. That is important work.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that sadly many British citizens have joined ISIL in Syria and that many have returned. They represent a terrorist risk and might poison other people’s minds. What assurance can she give the House that they will be apprehended to ensure they do not represent a threat to our security?
We gave extra powers to the police and the authorities in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. Over and above that, when somebody returns, we make sure they are looked at case by case. For some people, certain interventions will be necessary and will be put in place, but that will be determined case by case.
Regrettably, I stand again to condemn barbaric attacks, this time in Brussels and Turkey, and to say that these people are not of my faith and should not be considered by anybody to be linked to my faith.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on the budget for the intelligence and security services, but will she also look seriously at the issues with Border Force—in particular, people with e-passports who are validated but not checked properly to see where they have been? Will she reconsider the funding for local policing, particularly for community support officers and local police officers? They contribute hugely to tackling radicalisation and dealing with the intelligence they come across. Finally, will she look at the issues of hate crime affecting all communities and ensure that local authorities and police can deal with them?
On hate crime, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is an issue we have taken up with the police. By looking at how we record hate crime, we hope to build a better picture of exactly what is happening. I commend him for the resolute stand he has consistently taken. This is sadly not the first time he has stood up in the Chamber, following an attack, to say they do not take place in his name. That message is echoed throughout Muslim communities in the UK. On e-passports, obviously e-gates have security capabilities, and we look at the number of Border Force staff available to support those going through them, but, in themselves, the e-gates are part of our security resilience at the border.
I pass on my sympathy for, and solidarity with, all those in Belgium who have suffered from what happened. The Government have published their “Stay Safe” principles to help the public and guide them in the event of attacks in this country, particularly those in mass transit. Can more be done by the rail operators and airline companies to ensure that the message is prominently displayed? Although the message is bleak, we would all be the better for reading it.
My hon. Friend has made an interesting suggestion, which I will take up with the Secretary of State for Transport. We will look at the issue.
It is believed that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was responsible for the Paris attacks, comes from the Molenbeek district of Brussels. I understand that he was able to visit Birmingham last October. Can the Home Secretary confirm that he did visit the UK? Does she know who accompanied him? Can she rule out that it was anyone associated with the present atrocity?
The hon. Gentleman asks me to refer to people who were involved in the current atrocity that has taken place in Brussels. This is obviously an ongoing investigation, and we are working very closely with the Belgian authorities to ascertain as much information as possible about the individuals involved.
Local media in west Yorkshire this lunchtime are reporting that the family of one of my constituents believe that he is the Daesh terrorist pictured online and responsible for a recent suicide bombing in Iraq, which is claimed to have killed and injured over a dozen people. It is clear that local families have deep concerns about the radicalisation of family members. How can we support those families and tackle terrorism together?
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. It is precisely the need to ensure that people do not move down the path of radicalisation that underpins the Prevent strategy and the use of the Channel programme. Through them, at local level, we want to support those who have concerns about what might be happening within their family or community. We want to ensure that where somebody is at risk of radicalisation, action can be taken to ensure that the individual does not follow that path. I believe it is important that we have put the Prevent duty on a statutory basis, which strengthens our ability to act within communities. I ask anyone who has any concerns about a member of their family or any other individual to contact the authorities at local level so that appropriate support and help can be given.
I would like to associate my party with the Home Secretary’s comments about the terrorist attacks in Belgium and also those about the murder of Adrian Ismay, a prison officer, in Belfast. Does the Home Secretary believe that the European convention on human rights provides any protection, or any additional protection that is not required, to those living under our jurisdiction who may be intent on carrying out terrorist activity?
The hon. Gentleman may know that I have had my own interactions with the European convention on human rights, when the European Court of Human Rights has been used to try to prevent me from deporting people from the United Kingdom. In certain key cases, we were able to ensure the deportation or extradition of individuals who we believed were a danger here in the UK. The operation of the European Court of Human Rights and the European convention on human rights should indeed be looked at, which is why the Government are looking at introducing our own Human Rights Act and possibly a Bill of Rights, which will interact with the ECHR.
An important section of the UK border exists in my constituency at Gatwick airport. I seek my right hon. Friend’s assurances that Border Force has been strengthened at that location, particularly given that it accepts so many flights from the vast Schengen area. We need to ensure that terrorists who might have made it into Europe cannot then make it into the British Isles.
Yes. Border Force has looked across airports and sea ports to see where it needs to enhance the checks that it provides. It is very conscious of the fact that the coming weekend is a particularly busy one for Gatwick at the start of a holiday period. It will take action accordingly.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and commend her for her courage and fortitude at this very difficult time. At this stage of the investigation, it would seem that those who activated the bombs in that murderous attack in Brussels airport did so before they got through security. Is there any intention to upgrade or have spot checks, for instance, outside the present security system? It is quite clear that something more needs to be done.
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point, on which there has been some commentary in the media. The practical problem is that if security is instigated at an earlier stage, a crowd is simply created in a different place. That is why that suggestion will not necessarily solve the issue of removing the ability to mount an attack on a large number of people. As I have said, the police presence and the visible security presence at certain airports has been increased, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman’s proposal would necessarily remove the opportunity for terrorists to attack a large number of people.
The appalling events in Brussels highlight the vital work done by our security services to keep us all safe. In the recent debate on the Investigatory Powers Bill, all parties adopted a conciliatory tone. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming that tone and does she share my hope that in the course of the Committee stage we can arrive at a Bill that all parties can support?
Yes, I hope that we can achieve that. We responded to the reports of three parliamentary Committees and revised the Bill accordingly. The Bill before Committee has had those revisions made to it. Both the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), and the Solicitor General, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), will take the Bill through Committee.
Given the tone adopted in the debate and in the interventions today, I think we could see a constructive process taking place in Committee so that we will shortly have a Bill on the statute book that delivers the safety and security that the people of this country need.
We need urgently to increase our number of armed officers so that we can rapidly respond to the sort of incident that tragically happened in Brussels. It would be a shame if that were delayed in any way by the need of police forces to take decisions about competing demands on their resources. Can the Home Secretary give an assurance that she is confident that the police have the resources they need to rapidly increase the number of armed police officers, as they are requesting?
Yes, because we have made extra money available for the upgrade in armed response.
I welcome the tenor of the statement, and it is clear that reason and resolve, rather than prejudice and bigotry, should define our response. What discussions about firearms capability has my right hon. Friend had with the Ministry of Defence in respect of the availability of military support for civilian law enforcement, particularly outside the major metropolitan areas?
Arrangements are in place for military assistance to the civil power, which can be operated in certain circumstances. Following the attacks in Paris of January last year, we looked at enhancing the capability of the military to support the police, if a multiple attack were to take place. Those arrangements are in place so that there is greater ability for the police to call on the military at an earlier stage if necessary.
The Secretary of State has provided some welcome reassurance about the work under way to track and disrupt the movement of terrorists. Will she tell us specifically about any work under way, both here and across Europe, to disrupt the flow of weapons and explosives? That work is also crucial to our safety.
Yes. We have been very clear that we need to see more being done within the European environment and across Europe on firearms. I am pleased to say that, following representations, the European Commission has produced a new draft directive on firearms. I am very clear that we should ban dangerous semi-automatic weapons. That discussion is taking place, but we are clearly pushing for greater ability across the EU to deal with the movement of firearms.
I worked in Brussels for seven years, and my thoughts are naturally with friends and former colleagues in Belgium, as well as with the families of those who were murdered and maimed yesterday morning. Effective security co-operation with other European Union countries is obviously vital, but will my right hon. Friend also consider how we can effectively exchange appropriate security information with allies through membership of other international organisations, such as NATO and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe?
My hon. Friend is right. We need to ensure that we use every available opportunity, when appropriate, to exchange security information, support and intelligence, and to work together. That is why, as I said earlier, we have the “Five Eyes” co-operation, which is very important to the United Kingdom. We work within the European Union, but other organisations are involved as well. As I said to an Opposition Member earlier, in the United Nations there has also been a greater understanding of some of the measures that need to be taken.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I should like your advice on a Select Committee report that was published only this morning, but which, I am afraid, relates specifically to some of the business that is before the House today.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has reported on an investigation into a complaint against HS2 Ltd that was upheld by the ombudsman, who fined HS2. The Committee received and published a large body of evidence that is highly critical of HS2 Ltd. Following its investigation, the Committee has declared that the
“culture of defensive communication and misinformation within”
“is not acceptable. Unless those responsible for delivering HS2 understand that first and foremost they serve the public, and take action to reflect this, then they will continue to be vulnerable to the criticism that they have disregard for members of the public who are impacted by”
The report was published only this morning, so it has obviously been impossible to table amendments to the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, with which we shall be dealing later today, in respect of the report and that poor communication and disregard for people affected by HS2. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, whether it would still be possible, in the House, to call for a separate debate on the report, and to look into the continuing disrespectful behaviour of HS2 Ltd and its management?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order, to which my response is twofold. First, as I am sure she will be aware—this will not satisfy her, but I say it as a matter of fact—the report to which she has referred is tagged to the Third Reading debate on the Bill. That is to say, it is highly germane to that debate.
Secondly, the right hon. Lady asked me whether she could call for, or seek by one means or another, a separate debate on the report. The answer is that most certainly she can seek such a debate, and she may well be successful in obtaining such a debate—I do not, at this point, know—but that, of course, will not assist her in terms of the business scheduled for today. The matters that are up for debate in the House today will naturally proceed, and must, in terms of good order, do so. Nevertheless, the right hon. Lady, who is a wily operator, has made her point in her own way, and it is clearly on the record. That seems to bring—
—a warm smile to the visage of the hon. Member for The Cotswolds, from whom we shall now hear.
And whose birthday it is.
Whose birthday, allegedly, it is. It is always useful to have a bit of information. I wish the hon. Member for The Cotswolds a happy birthday, and I look forward to hearing his point of order.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker —and thank you for your good wishes. As you will know, I very rarely make points of order in the House, but on this occasion I must seek your advice on how I might lobby the business managers about the inadequacy of the time that has been provided for the Report and Third Reading debates on the Bill today.
Millions of people up and down the line are affected by this large and highly complex project, and by the Bill. I do not think that three hours for Report and Third Reading is sufficient to give Members of Parliament an opportunity to make representations on this complex project on behalf of their constituents, let alone members of the Select Committee, some of whom—although not I—spent 160 working days sitting in the Select Committee. Some might give the House the benefit of their wisdom by suggesting how the hybrid Select Committee procedure could be improved.
First, let me acknowledge and pay tribute to the extremely unselfish and conscientious work that the hon. Gentleman and others did on the Committee, under the distinguished and stoical chairmanship of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms). Secondly, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that if the Government Chief Whip was here, he would have heard the hon. Gentleman’s point of order, but he is not, so he has not. That said, I feel sure that the thrust of it will be conveyed to the Chief Whip ere long.
Of course I will come to the right hon. Lady, and will treat her with the very greatest respect.
As Members know, and as others attending to our proceedings need to be aware, these are not matters for the Chair. Members are ventilating their very real sense of grievance and unhappiness, but these are matters for the business managers to determine. They make their own judgments. People operate—if I can put it in this way—at their own level in regard to what they judge to be the proper treatment of business and of the thoughts on these matters of Members, including minorities of Members. Those are not judgments that I can second-guess. We all have our own views, but I think that I should properly leave it there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will know that I, too, rarely make a point of order in the House.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for understanding the frustration that we feel, as Members representing the affected constituencies. The fact is that, given that roughly 50 amendments have been tabled, if we were to put our amendments to the vote in the time available—one hour for the first group and two hours for the second—there would be no time for us even to discuss them.
A great deal of work, and a great deal of excellent assistance from the Clerks, has gone into creating amendments that I believe would ameliorate the consequences of the Bill. Will you use your good offices, Mr Speaker? When you speak to the Lord Speaker, will you draw her attention to the fact that, although amendments were tabled, we had very little opportunity to debate them and press them to a vote?
That was an extremely well chosen and thoughtful point of order. I acknowledge that, as the right hon. Lady said, she very rarely raises points of order; her seriousness of purpose is, I think, respected in all parts of the House.
I will indeed convey that sentiment to the Lord Speaker. I think that the unhappiness is well known. It is a matter of fact that, among those affected, there will be very real consternation about this. That the individuals affected are a minority of the electorate is not in doubt, but they will be very unhappy about it, and that is not something that should be blithely dismissed by the Executive branch of our political system.
There will be those who think, “All that you do is get the business through and that is all that matters”, and who are quite hard-headed and perhaps even a bit cynical, but people ought to have regard to the views and interests of minorities. They might, on a particular issue, one day be in that position themselves; they will then want the very protection that the right hon. Members for Meriden and for Chesham and Amersham, and the hon. Member for The Cotswolds, are seeking. I will certainly relay the concern to the Lord Speaker.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was always my understanding that if one wished to add one’s name to amendments, as long as one did it the day before the day on which the Order Paper was to be published, that was sufficient. So I was a little surprised, on reading today’s Order Paper, to see that, despite the personal visit that I made yesterday to the Private Bill Office—no one suggested to me that I was too late to add my signature to a number of the amendments—my name does not appear at all. I wondered whether that was a matter on which you could shed any light, Mr Speaker.
We have been extremely well served, as always, by our Clerks, who do their business with great commitment and prowess, and I have just been advised on this matter. That advice is that I will cause the matter to be investigated. The truth is that, off the top of my head, I have absolutely no idea why the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s name has not been added to those amendments. One would assume that in the ordinary course of events it would be, so I am rather taken aback. His understanding of the normal practice is, as usual, quite correct. Let us have the matter looked into, but I hope that it will be trumpeted to the good people of the Beaconsfield constituency that he sought to have his name added to the amendments, and the work in progress is that he may yet succeed in that mission.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope that I am not trying your patience, or that of the House, too much by raising a further point of order. I want your advice on this matter for the benefit not only of those in the House but of the people outside who watch these proceedings. It might be of interest to know that when the Channel Tunnel Bill went through the House in 1987, its Report stage was not guillotined and lasted from 7 pm until 1.50 am. Only after that did its Third Reading debate begin. Mr Speaker, could you confirm that, according to the timetable motion on the Order Paper, if any Member chose to press an amendment in the first or second group to a vote, that vote would eat into the time allowed for Members to debate these matters? Our constituents are not going to understand why Members do not press these amendments to the vote, but the Government have engineered this so that if we do so, we will have no time to debate the Bill. There might be Members present who wish to have their amendments voted on, but if they press their amendments to a vote, they will rob Members on both sides of the House who are affected by the Bill of the opportunity to speak. As you have pointed out, Mr Speaker, this affects only a very small minority because both the main parties in the House are being whipped to vote for the Bill.
The right hon. Lady’s interpretation is correct. I always think that it is important for our proceedings to be intelligible to people beyond this place, so let it be stated on the record that these exchanges have not eaten into the time available for debate at all. They have obliged the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who is about to present his ten-minute rule Bill, to wait patiently before being able to speak to it, but they have not in any way detracted from or taken time out of the debate on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill. I am afraid that the right hon. Lady is correct to say that if Members seek a Division on a particular amendment, that will eat away at the remaining time available for debate. A lot of people will feel that that is a regrettable state of affairs, to put it mildly. I note what she has said about the precedent of the Channel Tunnel Bill. The Secretary of State is not in his place, although he might very well be here for Third Reading. As far as I am aware, he is a person of robust constitution and perfectly capable of staying in the Chamber for an appreciable period to debate matters of important public policy. I have never had any reason to suppose that his conscientious Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State—[Interruption.] His Minister of State, indeed. No discourtesy was intended to the hon. Gentleman. I have never had reason to suppose that the Minister of State was incapable of strenuous parliamentary endeavour over an extended period.
Perhaps the Minister is going to add to that point now.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I should like to point out that last night’s Business of the House motion was not objected to. On the matter of Members having had their say on the Bill, the Select Committee sat for 160 days, which was more than 700 hours. It heard 1,600 petitions, and 21 Members of this House appeared before it a total of 36 times. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) herself attended three times, for a total of two hours and 10 minutes.
That is a matter of indisputable fact, and I thank the Minister of State for taking the opportunity to make that point. So far as last night is concerned, it is also a matter of fact that the motion was not objected to. The Business of the House motion appertaining to this matter was of course objected to on Monday evening by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham. Had it been objected to last night, there would have been a requirement for a debate today on Members’ concerns, which would have eaten into the available time. The absence of an objection last night and the fact that I have just mentioned are obviously causally linked.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, and to the courteous contribution from the Dispatch Box by the Minister of State, I would like to confirm that I did object to the sittings motion, but in discussions with the business managers I was informed that if I objected on the second night, the matter would have come back today and eaten into our debating time. That would of course have been completely self-defeating. I think the point was made on the first day when the objection was made, and the Minister should really understand the procedure in that sense.
The right hon. Lady has put the matter fairly and squarely on the record. I am always happy to hear points of order and to do my best to respond to them, but I think it is fair to say that for now we have exhausted that terrain. We should move on to the ever-patient right hon. Member for North Norfolk.
Cannabis (Legalisation and Regulation)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to provide for the lawful production, packaging, marketing, sale, purchase, possession and consumption of herbal cannabis in specific circumstances by certain persons; and for connected purposes.
It is long overdue that we call time on the so-called war on drugs launched 45 years ago by the then President of the United States of America, Richard Nixon. Since then, billions of dollars every year have gone straight into the hands of organised crime, Governments have been corrupted by the drugs trade, thousands upon thousands of people have lost their lives in countries such as Mexico and Colombia, profits from the drugs trade have funded terrorism—as recognised by the United Nations Security Council—and thousands of our fellow citizens every year are criminalised for using drugs. This has been a catastrophic failure.
There is an urgent and compelling case for a more rational approach. Thankfully, around the world, sense is breaking out. In the United States, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have all legalised cannabis, introducing a regulated market. Uruguay has done the same thing. In Europe, Portugal has decriminalised drug use—a move that now has cross-party support from right to left—and is instead taking a health-based approach. Drug-related deaths and sexually transmitted diseases due to drug use have decreased dramatically as a result of the change. And now in Canada, the new Liberal Government have been elected on a manifesto that commits them to legislating for the legalisation of cannabis. My plea is that in this country we should base our approach on evidence and on reducing harms rather than on fear and anxiety about public reaction. My sense is that the public are, in many respects, way ahead of the politicians on this subject.
My starting point is that I am instinctively hostile to drugs, legal and illegal. Tobacco kills about 100,000 people in our country every year. Alcohol causes untold damage to very many families, not least because of its association with domestic violence. It also leads to violence on our streets. The most potent strains of cannabis also carry health risks, including psychosis and memory loss, but do we really think that we best protect people by leaving the supply of cannabis in the hands of organised crime? No criminal is interested in people’s welfare. When someone chooses to buy cannabis, they have no idea what they are buying or how potent the product is. So-called skunk is widely available on the criminal market in every town and city across our country. Any idea that we can protect people by keeping it illegal is fanciful. No one now believes that we can actually win the war on drugs, so a public policy intended to protect people from harm is achieving precisely the opposite, and we are putting billions of pounds every year into the pockets of organised crime. What a spectacularly stupid self-defeating policy!
Some people raise a legitimate anxiety about people moving from cannabis to harder, more dangerous drugs, but the risk is self-evidently far higher when people buy from criminals, who have a direct interest in persuading them to do just that. On top of that, we criminalise tens of thousands of people every year for the use of cannabis, blighting their careers, damaging their life chances and restricting their ability to travel. Many people with mental ill health resort to cannabis as a relief from the pain they suffer, and then we criminalise them. What a cruel, unjust policy that is. We criminalise multiple sclerosis sufferers and many others who use cannabis to relieve pain, so I strongly support the “End Our Pain” campaign.
There is real hypocrisy here. While those people are knocked back by criminal convictions, others, usually the more privileged, go on to build successful careers. How many members of the Government have smoked cannabis while maintaining their support for the conviction of their fellow citizens? The Prime Minister was a reformer. It has also been reported that he and others were caught smoking cannabis at Eton. He has gone on to do quite well. Having signed up to a Select Committee on Home Affairs report in 2002 calling for the then Labour Government to initiate a discussion of alternative ways, including the possibility of legalisation and regulation, to tackle the global drugs dilemma, he retreated once elected Conservative leader and now seems implacably opposed to reform. Why has the Prime Minister changed his mind? Why continue to allow our fellow citizens to be put at risk, with the possibility of criminal conviction, for doing exactly what he did?
My party, the Liberal Democrats, commissioned an independent expert panel to advise on a more rational approach. The panel was made up of leading experts and included a retired chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Tom Lloyd, and the serving chief constable of Durham, Mike Barton. They know better than anyone the drain on police time caused by dealing with drug possession offences. The report, published on 8 March, is rational, wise and balanced. It points to a different approach, and the Bill seeks to implement that approach.
The proposed framework is based on the primary goal of protecting and enhancing public health and community safety, with a particular focus on the health and wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalised groups. It is guided by evidence and deliberately cautious and proposes regular reviews. It sets out plans to establish a cannabis regulatory authority. Producers and products and sales would be licensed. Cannabis would be sold through licensed outlets. There would be mandatory provision of health advice to consumers at the point of sale. Cannabis would be sold in plain packaging. There would be a minimum age of 18 for the purchase and consumption of cannabis. Critically, there would be controls on potency, with a minimum requirement of 4% cannabidiol, which is important for reducing the risk of dependence, psychosis and memory loss. Of course, no such safeguards are available on the existing criminal-controlled market.
The expectation is that sales could raise up to £1 billion in tax. There would be significant savings of police time, enabling them to focus on serious and violent crime. Limited amounts of home growing for personal use would be permitted, with an enforceable limit of plants per household. The scheme would also permit small-scale licensed production for membership-based cannabis social clubs similar to those that have existed for years in Spain. They would have to be operated on a not-for-profit basis and would be subject to conditions, including limiting the size of clubs to fewer than 100 adult members and limiting per-member production and supply. It would remain a serious criminal offence to drive while impaired by cannabis.
I understand why many people’s first instinct might be to fear the consequences of legalising cannabis, yet thinking through the disastrous consequences of maintaining prohibition of this drug—the profiting of criminals, the health risks resulting from people not knowing what they are buying, the criminalising of so many people, including those with mental ill health and multiple sclerosis—leads to the recognition that a new, more rational approach is desperately needed.
Question put and agreed to.
That Norman Lamb, Tim Farron, Mr Nick Clegg, Tom Brake, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Caroline Lucas, Paul Flynn, Michael Fabricant, Crispin Blunt and Mr Peter Lilley present the Bill.
Norman Lamb accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April, and to be printed (Bill 156).
High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill
[Relevant documents: Ninth Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2013-14, High speed rail: on track?, HC 851, and the Government Response, HC 1085; Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 25 March 2014, High speed rail: update, HC 1193; Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 17 November 2014, on HS2: update, HC 793; Sixth Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Follow up to PHSO Report of an investigation into a complaint about HS2 Ltd, HC 793; Second Special Report from the Select Committee on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, HC 129; First Special Report from the Select Committee on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, HC 698; First Special Report of Session 2014-15 from the Select Committee on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, HC 338.]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Select Committee, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 19
‘(1) The Secretary of State must prepare a report on vocational qualifications obtained in each financial year in connection with HS2 construction.
(2) Each such report must contain an account of vocational qualifications gained by individuals employed in constructing the network referred to in section 1(1), in preparing for such construction, and in connected and ancillary activities, broken down by type of qualification and activity.
(3) Each such report must contain an overall assessment of the costs of vocational training for relevant qualifications and by whom such costs were incurred.
(4) In this section, “financial year” means—
(a) the period beginning with the day on which this Act is passed and ending;
(b) each subsequent period of 12 months.
(5) The Secretary of State must lay each report under this section before Parliament as soon as is reasonably practicable after the end of the financial year to which it relates.”— (Mr Goodwill.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 1—Reimbursement of local authorities for expenses and lost business rate revenue resulting from HS2—
‘(1) The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Transport shall conduct an assessment of costs incurred by local authorities that arise directly and indirectly from the construction and future operation of HS2, including staff costs, and shall ensure that such additional funding as is required to reimburse local authorities for those costs is made available.
(2) To the extent that such additional funding is not made available through service level agreements, the Secretary of State for Transport shall make the additional funding available through other means of local authority funding within six months of the end of the relevant financial year.
(3) The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government shall appoint an independent auditor to assess the extent of any shortfall in local authority revenue attributable to closure of or movement of businesses and consequential diminution in business rates.
(4) The Secretary of State for Transport shall establish a mechanism whereby any such shortfall shall be made good within six months of the end of the relevant financial year.’
This new clause is intended to give statutory enforceability to the Department for Transport’s intention to reimburse local authorities for costs consequential on the construction of HS2, and to ensure that there is compensation for lost business rate revenue.
New clause 2—Reimbursement of local authorities for damage to highways resulting from HS2 construction—
‘The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Transport shall conduct six-monthly assessments of the amounts required to repair and make good highways in each county following construction of HS2 Phase One, and shall ensure that such additional funding as is required to meet those amounts is made available to local authorities.’
This new clause is intended to give statutory enforceability to the Department for Transport’s intention to reimburse local authorities for highways repair costs consequential on the construction of HS2.
New clause 3—Amount of funds allocated to the Business and Local Economy Fund and Community and Environments Fund—
‘The Secretary of State for Transport shall allocate a sum of £150,000,000 to the funds established to support business and local economy and community and environment initiatives to mitigate and address the effects of HS2 construction.’
This new clause is intended to increase the amounts allocated by the Department for Transport to the Business and Local Economy Fund and the Community and Environment Fund from £30m to £150m.
New clause 4—Compensation procedures—
‘(1) The Secretary of State for Transport shall ensure that included within contested valuation procedures for claimants under statutory or discretionary HS2 compensation schemes are processes for valuation by a valuer with knowledge of local markets.
(2) The Secretary of State shall ensure that all compensation applications are acknowledged within a period of two weeks and responded to substantively within a period of ten weeks, failing which the application will be deemed accepted.’
This new clause is intended to insert procedures for valuation by local valuers in disputed compensation cases, and to seek to ensure timely responses to compensation applications.
New clause 20—Public Sector Operators—
‘(1) Section 25 of the Railways Act 1993 (c. 43) (public-sector operators not to be franchisees) does not apply in relation to the franchisee in respect of a franchise agreement—
(a) which relates wholly or mainly to the provision of one or more Phase One of High Speed 2 passenger services, or
(b) which relates wholly or mainly to the provision of one or more other services for the carriage of passengers by railway where—
(i) the services run wholly or partly on the route of Phase One of High Speed 2, and
(ii) the services are likely to be subject to substantial disruption because of the construction of Phase One of High Speed 2.
(2) The following may in particular be taken into account in determining whether, for the purposes of subsection (1)(b), services are likely to be subject to substantial disruption—
(a) the frequency with which the services are likely to be disrupted,
(b) the duration of the period in which the services are likely to be disrupted (and, in particular, its duration relative to the length of the franchise term),
(c) the severity of any likely disruption.
(3) In this section—
“franchisee”, “franchise agreement” and “franchise term” have the meanings given by section 23 of the Railways Act 1993 (designated passenger services to be provided under franchise agreements).’
New clause 21—Financial Reports—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must prepare a report on expenditure under this Act in relation to each financial year.
(2) Each report must contain details of—
(a) expenditure incurred during the financial year to which the report relates (with capital and resource expenditure specified separately in relation to construction and other activity under this Act and in respect of each head of expenditure referred to in section 1(4)(a) to (c) of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013);
(b) the extent to which expenditure incurred during that year represents an overspend or underspend as against the budget for such expenditure for the year;
(c) the likely effect of any such overspend or underspend on a total budget of £55.7 billion in 2015 prices (which includes construction and the cost of rolling stock);
(d) total expenditure incurred under section 67 up to the end of that year;
(e) sums or assets received in that year in connection with expenditure incurred under this Act, including in relation to section 48.
(3) In this section, “financial year” means—
(a) the period beginning with the day on which this Act is passed and ending;
(b) each subsequent period of 12 months.
(4) The Secretary of State must lay each report under this section before Parliament as soon as is reasonably practicable after the end of the financial year to which it relates.’
New clause 26—Protection of business continuity by extended notice of entry in the case of vulnerable businesses—
‘(1) If an operator of a business or undertaking believes that the business or undertaking’s continued operation or profitability would be vulnerable if inadequate notice is received of the planned exercise of powers under sections 4, 5, 6, 12 or 15 of this Act and the associated schedules, the operator may notify the Secretary of State of this belief.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), “inadequate notice” means a period of notice that would not provide a reasonable amount of time for the business or undertaking to relocate to a new premises and refit that premises to a reasonable standard before the exercise of the powers.
(3) Upon receipt of such notification, the Secretary of State must facilitate a dialogue with the operator in relation to timing and funding of business relocation, and required notice periods, and shall consider the reasons for the operator’s belief.
(4) Unless the dialogue provides a satisfactory resolution within three months of initial notification—
(a) a 12-month minimum notice period shall apply for the exercise of powers mentioned in subsection (1) in relation to the relevant business or undertaking; and
(b) the early compensation payable to the operator shall be 100%, not 90%, of the estimated relocation costs, and such compensation shall be payable in full, nine months before the anticipated relocation date notified by the operator.”
New clause 27—Report on classification of HS2 as England-only project—
‘Within 3 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State must lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on—
(a) the classification of HS2 as an England-only project for the purposes of Treasury expenditure, and
(b) how much extra money Wales would receive in terms of Barnett consequential money as a result of such classification.’
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to produce a report on reclassifying HS2 as an England-only project for the purposes of calculating Treasury expenditure through the Barnett Formula and how much more money Wales would have received as a result.
New clause 30—Community detriment fund—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must establish a community detriment fund.
(2) The community detriment fund will provide an additional source of funding to communities, supplemental to that available through the community and environment fund.
(3) The community detriment fund will be available to address adverse impacts of HS2 construction on communities, including but not limited to impaired accessibility, diminution in availability of community amenities, and physical effects of construction.
(4) A principal objective of the fund will be to remove the need for formal compensation claims and to provide an expedited means of claiming funding for detriment.
(5) The fund will be available only to address adverse effects on communities, not impacts on individual households, businesses or undertakings.
(6) Among the measures that may be considered as available for funding to address detriment shall be transport facilities such as shuttle services.’
New clause 32—Review of fairness of rural support zone compensation—
‘The Secretary of State must conduct a review of the reasons for situating the boundary of the Rural Support Zone in west London which shall be laid before both House of Parliament within three months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent.’
New clause 33—Compensation—
‘(1) Within three months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report responding to a review of compensation applicable to those affected by HS2 Phases One and Two which shall by then have reported in accordance with directions already issued.
(2) The review shall consider the following—
(a) whether a compensation framework based on a property bond system could be an equally or more effective means of compensating those affected by blight from HS2 construction and operation while maintaining a functioning property market, having due regard to demands on public expenditure and investment;
(b) whether the current rateable value limit for compensation and blight claims by owner-occupiers of business premises should be abolished or amended;
(c) whether loss payment ceilings are fair and appropriate;
(d) whether a higher proportion of advance compensation for relocation than the current 90% should be payable in certain instances;
(e) whether the time limits for claiming compensation where no land is taken should be re-evaluated;
(f) the position of those affected by blight caused by HS2 whose property is subject to mortgage and who may find themselves unable to remortgage or in a position of negative equity as a result of such blight;
(g) whether those considering a claim for compensation should receive advance payment of fees for professional advice.’
Amendment 15, in clause 48, page 18, line 8, after “considers” insert
“having regard to the relevant development plan,”.
I must confess that I feel like a queue-jumper, because I added my name and the Government’s support to new clause 19 and amendment 15 only last night. I will be brief, because I know that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) will want to expand on them and to explain why his case was so convincing and compelling. It is another example of how our new railway will be delivered not only on a cross-party basis in this House, but with the support of the great cities of the midlands and the north.
I welcome new clause 19 on vocational qualifications. I strongly believe in the importance of ensuring that we utilise the opportunities that HS2 will create for skills and jobs, which is why we have invested in the National College for High Speed Rail. New clause 19 will further bolster the importance of delivering skills as part of the development of HS2. As such, the Government support it becoming part of the Bill.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, because I know that he needs to get on. Does he agree that it is important that the National Construction College and the Construction Industry Training Board are closely involved in this skills initiative?
Indeed, I look forward to being in Doncaster soon with the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton), the Opposition Chief Whip, to cut the first sod in that project. It is important that we look at skills across the board. The college’s hub and spoke arrangement will enable other educational establishments to engage fully and will allow for other qualifications.
Similarly, I welcome amendment 15 from the Opposition. It relates to clause 48, the purpose of which is to ensure that the regeneration opportunities presented by HS2 are maximised in a timely manner. It is a backstop power and we expect that local authorities will lead such opportunities using their existing powers, but in the event that development is impeded we will have the ability to step in to ensure that development progresses. It is important that such development takes into account relevant development plans. I am grateful that the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) tabled the amendment, and I urge all hon. and right hon. Members to support it.
Turning to the other proposed changes, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) has proposed several new clauses and amendments. She has been a tireless advocate for her constituents affected by HS2. However, all her points have been considered before, at length, through the Select Committee process, parliamentary debates, and the many parliamentary questions she has asked my Department. The process has delivered clear benefits to her constituency, including a 2.6 km tunnel extension, meaning that almost 86% of the route in her constituency is tunnelled, with the rest in a cutting. Her constituency has also benefited from the removal of an area of sustainable placement at Hunts Green and more noise barriers along that cutting. I acknowledge the points made but do not believe that new clauses 1 to 4 should be added to the Bill.
New clause 20 deals with the nationalisation of rail services, an area of ideological difference between the Government and the Opposition. I am therefore unlikely to convince them on it, and, I suspect, vice versa. It is clear to the Government that the franchising process delivers better services, better value for money and a better railway. Since privatisation, the rail industry has been transformed, with the number of passenger journeys more than doubling over the past 20 years. We believe this remains the right approach overall for Britain’s railway.
In any case, the new clause is unnecessary, as under the existing legislative framework it is possible for the state to operate rail services, as happened temporarily on the east coast main line. It is possible, and indeed quite likely, that the state might run HS2 initially, to prove certainty on operation and passenger numbers, but for the long-term successful future of HS2 a privately operated franchise is the best way forward.
The Minister is giving a pretty fair assessment of how he sees this proceeding. The new clause provides for a permissive power, meaning that it would simply be available going forward. The proposal has been mirrored in previous legislation, such as that dealing with Crossrail, so what is the Government’s objection to a permissive clause of this kind?
I thought I just said that this power is already available and therefore this is a superfluous new clause and we do not need it to give us these powers. I very much doubt Opposition Members will agree with my view that nationalisation of the railways is not the way forward, so stuck as they seem to be in the 1970s, but I hope I may have provided sufficient explanation as to why this power is not required.
We have given consideration to the other proposed new clauses and amendments. Although I understand the importance of some of the issues raised, I do not believe they belong in the Bill, as they have already been considered during the Select Committee process. To conclude, in order not to take up any more time than is necessary, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will be able to support the inclusion of new clause 19 and amendment 15, but I urge them to not to press the other proposals, which I do not believe are required.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this important debate and play a part in this Bill’s progress. We fully appreciate the importance of this vital piece of infrastructure and the benefits it will bring to our country for generations to come. It is not common to find such consensus in this House, but I am pleased that both the Government and the Opposition understand the need for this high-speed railway. HS2 was, of course, the brainchild of the previous Labour Government, but I readily acknowledge the work that the current Government have done in progressing the project. It is to be very much welcomed for the country that we have such consensus across the House on such important national infrastructure projects.
In that same vein, I shall discuss new clause 19, which stands in the name of the Minister, as well as in my name, those of some of his colleagues and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). It deals with vocational qualifications.
Just in case it might be thought that there is not still entrenched opposition to these proposals, may I say, speaking not only for myself but for many of my colleagues and for people in Staffordshire, where we get no benefit from this scheme at all, given the damage it is doing to our countryside, that I wish to register opposition to this in its entirety?
I think I used the word “consensus” not “unanimity”. I sincerely thank the Minister for his constructive approach to this issue and for adding his name to mine by way of support. There is agreement across the House that both jobs and skills are a core part of the case for HS2, and I note that the recent Shaw report calls for much deeper strategic engagement of trade unions across the rail industry. Accordingly, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister and HS2 Ltd for their positive engagement with the TUC in securing an agreement to make sure that trade unions, HS2 and its suppliers work together to maximise HS2’s economic and labour market potential?
Is the hon. Gentleman at all worried about the possible job impact on the existing railway, because most of the passengers for this line are going to come from journeys that would otherwise have been made on existing trains? Presumably, there will therefore be a decline in fares, revenue and job opportunity on the existing railway.
The right hon. Gentleman misses the point: this is about having a positive impact on capacity issues. That is the singular and most important purpose of this development.
In the words of the magnificent Frances O’Grady:
“It is clear that trade union engagement is vital to ensuring that HS2 is delivered to time and to budget—and that it is delivered in a manner that reflects the best of socially responsible development.”
The agreement contains the commitment to pay the voluntary living wage—and the voluntary London living wage—and to offer a minimum number of apprenticeships and workforce skills development, among other things. The agreement is an excellent example of how industrial relations should be approached from the outset in projects of this magnitude, and indeed throughout the construction industry, and I hope that it can be the template for good practice throughout industry. The construction of such infrastructure projects places demands on a nation to provide the necessary skilled workforce, creating opportunities for people, and younger people in particular, to equip themselves with not just the vocational qualifications to assist in the construction of this railway, but the tools necessary to forge careers that will be of benefit to both themselves and the nation long after the completion of HS2. Labour Members welcome the fact that, following on from the success of the Kings Cross construction skills centre, a National College for High Speed Rail will be located both in Birmingham and Doncaster, providing specialist vocational training to the next generation of engineers working on HS2 and beyond. We also welcome the fact that HS2 Ltd will provide £4.1 million towards a Euston construction skills centre.
I, too, am sorry to break the cosy consensus of the two Front-Bench teams, who seem to be conspiring to spend possibly £100 billion of taxpayers’ money on what I believe to be a white elephant. Does the shadow Minister have no concern at all about supporting the Government on a major infrastructure project where the cost-benefit ratio is as low as £1.40 for every pound spent?
Let me clarify that this is not about a cosy consensus; it is about rigorous examination. There has been a forensic examination of this matter through a lengthy Select Committee and a Bill Committee. The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong about the cost-benefit ratio. The correct figure is 2.3:1.
I have already given way and I must now make some progress.
The Government estimate that as many as 2,000 apprenticeship opportunities will be created by HS2, and there will be about 25,000 people employed during its construction. That is welcomed by Members from all parts of the House. Because of the importance of the creation of vocational qualifications in connection with HS2’s construction, we feel it is appropriate that Parliament is given proper oversight on progress in this regard. That is why we tabled new clause 19, which will impose a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare an annual report on vocational qualifications obtained in each financial year in connection with HS2 construction. It seems to us to be eminently sensible for the Secretary of State to report annually on the progress of the creation of vocational qualifications, and I am grateful that the Government have accepted that the new clause should be part of the Bill.
I support the new clause. Will this annual report capture people gaining qualifications not only through HS2 Ltd and the key construction companies, but further up the supply chain?
The new clause is focused principally on HS2 Ltd, but the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. I am sure the Minister and the Secretary of State are listening intently to him. The intention must be to embrace all those within the supply chain.
Amendment 15 would make a small change to clause 48. It simply seeks to insert a requirement that as and when the Secretary of State considers that there is an opportunity for regeneration or development, and land is to be acquired compulsorily for that purpose, regard be had to the relevant development plans that obtain in respect of that particular location. I am grateful that such a modest and reasonable amendment finds favour with the Government.
New clause 21 deals with financial reports. It would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare an annual report on expenditure in each financial year. Each report would contain details of any overspend or underspend against the budget for such expenditure for the year, as well as the likely effect on the total budget.
Labour has been consistent in seeking to hold the Government to account on the cost of HS2, and this new clause would put greater transparency into the process and ensure that Parliament has proper oversight of expenditure. I am aware that expenditure under the Bill would also be reported as part of the Department’s annual report and accounts, but it is our belief that a project with these costs and on the scale of HS2 warrants more detailed oversight of expenditure from Parliament.
Considering that much of the opposition to HS2 has been because of the cost of the project and concerns about ballooning prices, it would be prudent of the Government to allay some of those concerns by ensuring that parliamentarians and the public keep a keen eye on the cost of it. The Prime Minister has previously stated that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and if the Government would like such sentiments to be accepted as more than empty sloganeering then, hopefully, they will support this new clause, which introduces into the process a greater degree of transparency in expenditure.
New clause 20, on public sector operators, would disapply section 25 of the Railways Act 1993, allowing, but not requiring, phase 1 of HS2 passenger services to be run by the public sector. I hope that this does not affect the spirit of consensus and agreement. I am delighted that Labour is committed to the public ownership of the railways. Public opinion on that issue is clear: around two thirds of the public support the nation’s railways being run by the public sector, with fewer than one in five opposing the policy. Public ownership is backed by people across the political spectrum—by Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and UK Independence party voters, although, unfortunately, it is not backed by the latter three parties in this place.
When one looks back at the history of rail privatisation and its impact on the commuting public, it is not difficult to understand why there is overwhelming public support for bringing railway services back into public ownership. Quite simply, the Tory privatisation of British Rail was a rushed, botched job that had more to do with ideology than any clear plan for the railways. The legacy that we have been left with is a fragmented, inefficient and expensive network.
I will make some progress.
No, I will crack on.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way in a moment.
According to the McNulty report, the fragmentation of our rail network has left us with an efficiency gap of between 30% and 40% compared with other European networks, which means that the money that should be used to address the cost of travel and to fund much needed investment is needlessly wasted.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We had this litany from him, which was put just as eloquently, upstairs in Committee. I wish to ask him this: first, if the privatisation of the railways was such a disaster and disservice to the travelling public, why do we now have record levels of people using the railways; and, secondly, why did the last Labour Government not renationalise it during their 13 years in power?
I am happy to answer the right hon. Gentleman. It was because the last Labour Government put record investment into the railways and made it the safest railway in Europe. We were clearing up the mess of that botched privatisation of Railtrack, which cost people’s lives. We made the network safe.
We have been left with a ticketing system that is the most expensive and confusing in Europe. Indeed, commuter fares are up by a quarter since 2010, having risen three times faster than wage growth. What the public clearly do not accept is that private and many foreign state-owned companies receive subsidies from the UK taxpayer and make significant profits at the expense of rail passengers.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that?
I will carry on, because I know that people want to contribute to the debate.
In illustrating the benefits of publicly owned operators, one could hardly ask for a better example than the recent east coast main line. The last Labour Government took the important step of bringing that back into public operation after the private operator reneged on its obligations in 2009. East coast proved itself to be one of the most efficient operators, returning more than £1 billion to the taxpayer in premium payments as well as investing every penny of profit back into the service. In addition, fares were kept down in real terms in 2014 at a time when no privately run franchise took the same step. East coast had record passenger satisfaction and its engagement with the workforce was an unparalleled success.
I am sure that the shadow Minister will welcome the new service that will be starting from Middlesbrough as a result of the Virgin franchise, which will serve his constituents and provide new trains.
Of course I welcome it; it would be churlish not to. Why would I not welcome that? It does not mean that the system is right, or, for goodness’ sake, that the trains are getting to the right places.
It is difficult to see how east coast’s brilliant delivery for the taxpayer and for the commuter could be seen as a failure, or in any way undesirable. It simply does not make any sense for the UK taxpayer to subsidise foreign state-owned companies so that citizens of Germany, Holland, France and elsewhere can enjoy cheaper and superior services.
Quite simply, the rejection of even the possibility of public ownership is driven by an outdated ideology and is totally out of kilter with the views of a large majority of the public—including many Conservative voters—which is why I am so pleased that Labour is committed to a publicly owned service that puts the passenger first rather than the profits of private or foreign state-owned companies, as is currently the case.
No, I am going to move on.
We have heard the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Transport and others speak in glowing terms about how High Speed 2, when completed, will be a proud national achievement, and I completely agree with that. The scale of the project, the amount of talent that will be utilised in its design and construction, and the dedication over the years ahead will be a mark of pride, and represent a proud feat of British engineering and ingenuity.
It is my contention that if we, as a nation, are good enough to build a world-class high-speed railway, then we are good enough to run it, too. From the initial privatisation to the Government’s re-franchising of the east coast main line, Tory rail policy has always been far too focused on its “private good, public bad” ideology. However, new clause 20 would not require the sort of Damascene conversion that we witnessed from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) earlier this week. It asks only that the Government keep an open mind. New clause 20 would allow, but not require, High Speed 2 passenger services to be run in the public sector. A similar clause was part of the Crossrail Act 2008, leaving open the option to run passenger services in the public sector. Indeed, we have worded this new clause so that it is as similar as possible to section 26 of the 2008 Act.
May I remind the Minister and the House that the Conservative party did not reject the idea of at least keeping an open mind about who might be the best operator to run Crossrail—or the Elizabeth line—in future years, and it would be disappointing to see the Conservative party move from a position of pragmatism to one of sheer ideology. It would be talking Britain down to suggest that private companies and the state-owned rail companies of the Netherlands, France and Germany are able to run successfully passenger services on our railways, but we ourselves are not. I hope that the Government do not have such a pessimistic view of our capabilities as a nation and will vote in favour of new clause 20.
It was disheartening to hear the Minister dismiss my amendments in this group before hearing what I had to say, although I am grateful to him for acknowledging that over the past six years I have fought for my constituents and their rights and interests in the face of opposition from many people outside this House. My new clauses in this group are practical and sensible and will, I think, assist my constituents and others up and down the line.
New clause 1 is about local authority finance. Local authorities the length of the HS2 route have received no extra help to support their work on this major infrastructure project. The burden on my two local councils, Buckinghamshire County Council and Chiltern District Council, has been enormous, but the new clause would also apply to other councils.
Buckinghamshire County Council is naturally concerned that without central Government intervention and help its costs will continue to escalate. If the last six years are anything to go by, they certainly will. The county council’s outturn figure for 2015-16 is nearly £520,000 for costs relating to the legal petitioning process, engagement with HS2 Ltd and getting the best deal for Buckinghamshire residents. The council has just submitted the recharge to HS2 Ltd on the current memorandum of understanding and can recoup barely £10,000 for the last year. Why must taxpayers in Chesham and Amersham and elsewhere not only pay for this railway to be built, but pay again through their council tax for their local authorities to carry out inescapable pre and post-construction work for which they get very little help or none at all? Over the past six years, Chiltern District Council has spent nearly £1.18 million on complying with HS2 requirements —a huge amount for a district authority.
Councils have paid out literally millions in the past six years. The costs will only grow during the construction phase and there is no guarantee that local authorities will be fully recompensed. They would appreciate a clear, legally enforceable commitment from the Government that the extra burden will be recognised, particularly in the light of the local government finance settlement. My county, Buckinghamshire, was heavily affected by the settlement. It was only through myself and other Buckinghamshire MPs making very strong representations that we got some increased moneys for our local authorities. If accepted, new clause 1 would ensure security for our local authorities along the whole route where service agreements do not provide additional funding, received by the end of the year. The Minister should appreciate that I am asking for statutory and legally enforceable requirements because there is great distrust of the process so far. I think it is essential to enshrine the provision in statute, so that it is legally enforceable.
New clause 2 is designed to give statutory enforceability to the Department for Transport’s intention to reimburse local authorities for highways repair costs consequential on the construction of HS2.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee pressed HS2 hard on reimbursement to highways authorities regarding damage to verges, culverts, drains, inspection covers and so on, and the company gave a very positive response? New clause 2 is a belt-and-braces provision. Does she agree that HS2 has already given quite firm commitments?
I appreciate the work my hon. Friend did on the Select Committee. He is correct that there are undertakings, but they are not enforceable and I am afraid that HS2 does not have a good track record of either keeping good records and accurate information or of following through on its promises, hence my decision to table the new clauses. If HS2 is in good faith going to adhere to those undertakings, it should have no fear of their being put in the Bill. That is why I do not think it is unreasonable to expect the new clauses to be accepted.
My right hon. Friend might like to point out that there are 65 pages of road and footpath closures scheduled in the Bill and 67 pages of associated works to existing roads, railways and utilities. The work is massive in scale and, obviously, all those involved will need compensation.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Perhaps that shows the scale of the battle that has been going on for six years, in which people are trying to defend their environment and locality or, if they cannot have the whole project cancelled, at least to get the best possible deal for their locality.
In my constituency, we have had significant problems in engaging with HS2—and not just me as the Member of Parliament; the county council and the district council have simply not had their letters answered. That gives us no assurance that HS2 will engage in a timely fashion with those who have to use the roads every day.
My hon. Friend makes a point that is entirely familiar to me and many other people along the line of the route. That is why I want these not unreasonable assurances to be put in the Bill.
It seems to me rather strange that the Government will not accept the amendments. The history of statutory undertakers doing work on highways shows without any difficulty the shoddy restoration that takes place afterwards. In this case, we are talking of a massive project involving many miles of roads that will require repair. My right hon. Friend may agree that the assurances being given ought to be reinforced by statutory powers.
Any addition to my right hon. and learned Friend’s point would be otiose. He is absolutely correct.
May I take my right hon. Friend back to the point about HS2 liaising with the public? Is she aware of the damning ombudsman’s report that came out last night, which stated that HS2 regarded consultation as merely a box-ticking exercise?
I drew the House’s attention to that report in a point of order. The report is appended to today’s debate, but of course there was no possibility of tabling amendments that referred to that report in an attempt to alter HS2’s behaviour.
New clause 2 is designed to ensure that all local authorities are properly compensated for any damage to roads as a result of HS2 constructions. As others have confirmed, that vital safeguard should be added to the Bill. The Secretary of State, who is now in his place on the Front Bench, visited my constituency earlier this month and saw at first hand some of the problems that my constituents face. I am grateful for that visit. He also saw the problems we have in Buckinghamshire with potholes. I am particularly concerned about the roads in and around Great Missenden. Quite by chance, my right hon. Friend witnessed maintenance works being carried out on those roads during his visit.
Buckinghamshire County Council highways authority estimates that it will spend about £7.5 million on pothole-related maintenance over the next five years. That figure takes no account of patching, resurfacing, drainage, road sweeping and other related costs. I believe that considerable additional costs will arise from the large number of heavy goods vehicles pounding their way up and down some of Buckinghamshire’s fragile roads. Local authorities may well be reimbursed for reasonable costs, but what are reasonable costs? I want them to be reimbursed fully and I want that to be enshrined in statute, to make sure that the provision is both sufficient and justiciable.
New clause 3 is intended to increase the amounts allocated by the Department for Transport to the business and local economy fund and the community and environment fund from £30 million to £150 million. The £30 million originally announced for those funds to assist those affected by HS2 has been felt across the board to be meagre and insufficient, especially as the funding is intended to cover the entire route of phase 1. The Select Committee acknowledged the significant shortfall and the Government’s response to its final report stated that the sum would be increased to £40 million. I contend that that is not enough. The impacts of the project will be long standing and severe for the environment, local authorities and communities. Through new clause 3, I propose that the funding be increased to £150 million to give those affected the compensation they deserve and to ensure that adverse effects are minimised.
Both of us have signed new clause 33 on compensation by reference to a property bond. I wanted to put that on the record. My right hon. Friend is doing a great job, and I do not want to take up the time of the House to refer to new clause 33, knowing that she agrees with me.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and grateful for the support that I have received from colleagues across the piece.
On new clause 3, there is currently no information on how the funds will be divided, which areas will be prioritised or how the money could be spent. There is also no clarification of whether, for example, the funds to be allocated will include the moneys already allocated to the Colne valley. Will those come out of this funding envelope? There has been a suggestion that the money will be delivered locally through local enterprise partnerships, but that would be most unsuitable. In Buckinghamshire, for example, we have two overlapping LEPs. How would the money be administered? I think it should be kept separate from the LEPs and genuinely given to local groups so that they can decide how best to distribute the funds. I urge the Minister both to increase the funds and to provide further details on how they will be administered.
The last new clause to which I shall speak in this group is new clause 4, which deals with compensation. All the MPs who have constituencies along the route will know that compensation issues have caused great worry and stress to our constituents, and many of the recommendations of the HS2 hybrid Bill Select Committee, although welcome, have yet to translate into changes to the schemes. The Select Committee’s report in February 2016 stated that
“the Government said that it would work to implement a revised process for the valuation of properties for ‘Need to Sell’ that will allow more local valuers to be used”.
That review was promised for autumn last year, but we are still waiting.
The Department for Transport’s response to the Select Committee report is silent on the valuation point, and although a response was promised before Third Reading, when I last looked I had not yet received that. I may be wrong—HS2 tends to slip out its documents just in time for debates, which I think is poor practice. In this case such poor practice is affecting people’s lives. Implementing a fair valuation process for property owners who are receiving unacceptably low offers from HS2 is of paramount importance.
I still have a large number of constituents who have been negotiating with HS2 for months to get a fair price for their property, and I know from colleagues that it is a similar story up and down the route. I have been appalled at the treatment of individuals, who have had to employ expensive lawyers even to get timely and rational answers from those employed by HS2 or from HS2 itself. My colleagues and I have raised these points for years, yet there continues to be a litany of errors from HS2. There have been internal emails that are rude and disrespectful about constituents. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report published earlier today refers to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report, which accused HS2 of being guilty of maladministration. I believe that that has characterised the way in which HS2 has dealt with people who have lost their houses, their businesses and their land.
One of my greatest concerns about going forward without the Select Committee, which has been of enormous help to those of us whose constituents have been affected, is that there is nobody to help us mediate with HS2 Ltd and to encourage the company to respond to us in a timely fashion. There is no transparency about the way it does business. Does my right hon. Friend have any ideas to help us with this?
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) said today from the Opposition Dispatch Box that transparency would be the watchword for HS2. I agree with my hon. Friend—transparency has not been the watchword for HS2. Right from the beginning, when the Major Projects Authority’s reports were withheld from this House and from the Select Committee that considered the Bill, there has been the reverse of transparency. That is what is so distressing about this project; it could have been handled so much better. It has let many people down.
Finally—I know that others want to speak—new clause 4 is designed to ensure that valuers with local knowledge are included on the HS2 panel, and that all compensation applications are responded to substantively within 10 weeks to avoid long periods of uncertainty for property owners on the route.
I started by saying that I was disappointed that the Minister dismissed my amendments before even hearing what I had to say today, so I am not expecting any positive response. But I have learned always to walk in hope, even on the impossible project of HS2, and I invite the Minister to accept my amendments today and add them to the Bill, thereby showing that he has the respect that I believe this House should have for the people whose lives are affected so drastically by HS2.
High Speed 2 is extremely important and is necessary to expand capacity on a railway that is ever increasing in popularity. Where communities are adversely affected, they should be treated properly and there should be adequate compensation. The amount of that compensation is clearly a matter for judgment, and some of the amendments today address that.
It is exceedingly important, too, that the potential for jobs and economic development created by the building of High Speed 2 is maximised. That was one of the key points that the Transport Committee emphasised when we first looked at High Speed 2 back in 2011. We have published four reports on that since then. Back in 2011 the point considered in new clause 19 was emphasised. We supported High Speed 2 but highlighted the importance of maximising the job opportunities—jobs in the construction of the high-speed network or jobs opened up by economic development in the areas through which HS2 passes—and regional development. I am extremely pleased to see new clause 19 and pleased it has all-party support, because of the focus it puts on jobs.
Does the hon. Lady agree that a link between Euston and St Pancras might offer an opportunity for jobs? My constituents thought they would be able to get on a train in Birmingham and end up in Paris, but instead they have to schlep across London with their heavy bags. Another possible link is one between Curzon Street and New Street, so that there might actually be a connected railway, which at present there is not.
The hon. Gentleman makes some important points that are worthy of consideration. I believe the decision likely to be taken later this evening will be the beginning of a very important High Speed 2 network, which may well expand after more people see its benefits.
New clause 19 refers to the need to look at the qualifications achieved by people working on the construction of High Speed 2. I agree with that, but it should be extended a little to include the diversity of qualifications and employment opportunities that can be offered during construction—the wide range of skills that can be obtained and the potential to attract a wide range of people who could benefit. I hope the aims of the new clause can be extended, if not in words tonight, then in the way it is implemented. I am particularly pleased to see the plans for the skills college at both Birmingham and Doncaster, and I hope they can be extended.
It is important, and it is implicit in some of the amendments, that economic development in the areas and regions through which High Speed 2 passes is maximised, working with the local enterprise partnerships, local authorities and business. It should not be just the stations through which High Speed 2 passes that benefit, but the surrounding region.
I also support the proposals to monitor expenditure on High Speed 2, because it is important that the scheme is kept within budget: over £50 billion is a lot of money, even over 20 years.
People have become unduly focused on the current benefit-cost ratio, which is calculated very specifically. Indeed, looking at the overall network and the wider economic benefits, that ratio is likely to expand to at least 2.3:1, but it is calculated rather restrictively. Under current regulations, the benefit can be calculated for only 67 years, and an assumption is made that the number of passengers on the line will increase by 2.2% annually and then stop in 2036, which is most unlikely. I think it is very likely that the benefit-cost ratio will increase.
We all need to have some vision in looking at what is required for the future. We need more capacity on the very popular and important railway, an essential part of public transport, bringing job opportunities—for example, in construction—and economic development to the regions and not just around the stations. For those reasons, I support a number of the amendments proposed today.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I trust that hon. Members will now be very brief, because we have only 15 minutes left for this part of the debate.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I shall be brief.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). I am mindful of the fact that, in promoting this scheme, the Government can make a powerful and perfectly rational case. Indeed, the hon. Lady highlighted some of the points that have been raised. The difficulty that I have, as a constituency MP directly affected by the scheme, is that throughout the whole process of engagement between HS2 and my constituents, HS2’s behaviour towards my constituents has consistently been wanting, both in sensitivity and in its levels of engagement. I have to say that the way in which HS2’s management has dealt with perfectly reasonable objections from people who are very anxious about the future of their communities has led me to be deeply anxious about how this will actually work out in practice.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), in presenting this batch of amendments, has highlighted some key areas where the Government, by providing some greater reassurance, could go a considerable way towards not satisfying everybody—inevitably some people will remain dissatisfied with the proposals—but providing them with reassurance that some of their worst fears about how this will pan out in practice are misplaced. For example, there has been considerable concern about the way in which compensation is calculated. There have been arguments about failure to take account of local features.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way on that point; I intervene because I had wanted to speak on this new clause but now will not have time. We heard cases in the Select Committee where it was quite clear that the lack of local valuers is doing an injustice to the people whose homes are being acquired. Does he agree that the Government must put that injustice right? The Select Committee made very strong recommendations about that aspect. This injustice must be put right.
I am so grateful to my hon. Friend. Yes, these are precisely the areas where Government intervention would be valuable. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, even at this late hour, to give this careful consideration.
There is a similar story on the relationship with local authorities. Most of our local authorities, like all local authorities in this country, given the difficult conditions resulting from the continuing economic problems besetting our planet, are short of money to carry out important local projects. Therefore, the prospect of having their infrastructure ripped up during the construction process is inevitably a subject of legitimate concern to them. There is no proper reason why they and the local council tax payer should have to bear the end cost, of any description, on this project going ahead. Here again is an opportunity for my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to beef this up and provide the necessary tools to ensure that HS2 honours these commitments.
I am no position to speak to HS2, and I do not understand why it has been so deficient in its approach to dealing with local communities, but that is the reality. I note from the Public Administration Committee’s most recent report that HS2 says that it has learnt its lessons and will do things differently in future. I very much hope that is the case, but until I actually see it with my own eyes and witness it from the comments of my constituents, I have reason to continue to doubt that that will in fact happen. That is all the more reason why these amendments, which are straightforward and should not add to HS2’s costs, or indeed to the burden of carrying out the project, ought to be accepted.
I rise to support new clauses 26 and 32. Paradoxically, I agree with most of what has been said today, because I do think that it is possible to be pro-infrastructure investment, pro-progress and pro-brand new trains. I am pro the concept of high-speed rail, but I am not pro-HS2 Ltd and, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) said, the rather cavalier way it operates. In the Select Committee its QC called my residents tedious, which I thought showed complete contempt for them.
New clause 26 is about protecting vulnerable businesses and the time given for relocation. I have spoken to some of the businesses in the Park Royal area of my constituency. The businesses there are quite mixed. Many of them deal with food preparation—for example, supplying olives to restaurants in the west end—and need to be close to the A40, which is a vital artery. They are family businesses. They have been told that when it happens they will be given three months to relocate. They have a combined turnover in the millions. They are all extremely concerned that they will be forced to close because three months is not enough time for them to start again.
I spoke with a prop hire company. It occupies thousands of square feet of warehouse space, with antiques and big fat televisions behind wooden veneer cabinets. It supplies props for films such as “Star Wars”. It would find it very difficult to find alternative premises quickly. Those companies would also like an assurance of 100% compensation for their sites, not the 90% on offer.
The Conservative party is the party of business, surely. It is the party of small and medium-sized enterprises. [Interruption.] I think this new clause has genuine cross-party support, judging by the Members who have signed it. It is deeply worrying that those firms are being forced to move towards what is called extinguishment, because apparently their balance sheets do not show enough turnover, so HS2 considered their financial value to be too small to warrant relocation. That is a slap in the face and an insult to hard-working, small family businesses.
My hon. Friend is doing a brilliant job of representing her constituents, as she always does. Does she agree—I think this is the purpose of her new clauses—that it is often the businesses in urban areas that are the most fragile and therefore the worst affected, but the levels of compensation and concern shown to them is the worst on offer—[Interruption.]