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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
06 June 2016
Volume 611

House of Commons

Monday 6 June 2016

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Specialist Domestic Violence Refuges

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1. What assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of local commissioning criteria on the availability of specialist domestic violence refuges. [905263]

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Domestic abuse is a devastating crime, and we are determined to ensure that support is available to every victim. We have secured £40 million in the spending review for this purpose, and we will shortly publish a national statement of expectations, drawn up with local government and domestic violence charities, which will set out what every area should offer to ensure victim safety.

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The Secretary of State knows how devastating domestic violence is and how the services provide a literal lifeline. However, specialist services, particularly LGBT and black and minority ethnic services, face a huge funding crisis and many are going to the wall. In the national statement of expectations, will he commit to supporting and ring-fencing money for those specialist services?

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Yes, it is important that we have specialist services. That is part of the discussions we are having with the charities through the drawing up of the national statement. We have secured more funding than has been available—three times as much funding—and that will be important. I think there is a wider point here, too, because there are connections between the public space and the domestic space. It is incumbent on all of us to maintain a public sphere in which women are safe from abuse, bullying and harassment, and that example should start from public life.

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I welcome what the Secretary of State has just said about the statement and about the additional money, but a recent Women’s Aid report stated:

“One major challenge facing specialist refuge provision is the awarding of tenders to large generic providers”.

The report also includes the shocking fact that one in six specialist refuges has closed since 2010, and it states that on one particular day, 103 children and 155 women across the country were turned away because a place was not available. What part does the Secretary of State feel the Government’s cuts may have played in this loss of services, and will he agree immediately to review the present procurement practices to ensure that the best possible quality of specialist refuges is available in every single community?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there needs to be total confidence. Any person who suffers from domestic violence should be confident that they can have a place of safety. That is behind the statement of expectations that is being drawn up, and he will be pleased that that is continuing. He should know that the number of bed spaces in refuges has increased in the last two years, according to UK Refuges Online, but we need to make sure that that confidence is there. I am sure he will agree that true success is when women do not have to move from their homes because they have been the victims of violence by their partners. True success is when women can be confident in staying there, and when the perpetrators of such abuse have to leave.

Starter Homes

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2. What steps his Department is taking to ensure the building of starter homes. [905264]

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The Government are implementing our manifesto commitment to extend to young people the opportunity to own a home of their own. Working with councils, housing associations and builders, the starter homes programme will bring that opportunity to 200,000 young people across the country.

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The Secretary of State will know that there are some situations in which it is not viable to have shared equity on properties—perhaps on infill or brownfield sites. In such situations, the local housing association may still be keen to build, but to rent. Will my right hon. Friend commit to meet to discuss a specific situation and consider support funding?

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I am always delighted to meet my hon. Friend. It sounds as though there is the prospect of another trip to Gloucester, which is always very enjoyable. We want to see more housing of all tenures, and our funding provides housing for rent as well as to purchase, but starter homes provide a big opportunity to people who have been losing out on meeting their aspiration to own a home of their own. That is true on brownfield sites as well as on any other site. I hope that in his city of Gloucester, there will be starter homes on those brownfield sites.

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How can these homes be called starter homes when someone would have to be on £90,000-plus to have a shot at even a one-bedroom version in my constituency? They are not starter anything; they are ending the hopes of a generation for whom affordable housing to buy and social housing to rent have all but vanished.

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I do not agree with the hon. Lady. She will know that the average price that a first-time buyer pays outside London is £181,000, which, with the discount of 20%, is £149,000, and under the very successful Help to Buy scheme, that would require a deposit of £7,500. That is making home ownership possible for the rising generation of young people.

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My right hon. Friend will be aware that, in villages in places such as North East Hertfordshire, it is very expensive for young people to own a home. Will this scheme or any other scheme the Government are promoting at the moment help young people in villages in areas such as North East Hertfordshire to make a start with getting a home of their own?

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It will, indeed. We have embarked on the biggest programme of house building since the 1970s. Unfortunately, when they were in office, the previous Government accumulated a housing deficit and debt of similar proportions to the financial deficit and debt. This Government are correcting that: we are building homes for young people across the country so that they can do what previous generations did, which is to count on having a home of their own.

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That is slightly misleading, because only 7% of local authorities think the new starter homes initiative is any good and 60% think it will be useless in their area. Is that not a fact? Look at this all-male, middle-aged group on the Government Front Bench who are saying to young people in our country, “There’s no hope of a home—not in their lifetime.”

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman intended to insert the word “inadvertently” before the word “misleading”.

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indicated assent.

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There is nothing misleading, inadvertently or otherwise, about our commitment to giving many hundreds of thousands of young people the chance to have a home of their own. I would have thought that, for the next generation in his constituency, the hon. Gentleman would be promoting the availability of starter homes, giving people who have not been able to buy a home the possibility of doing so. He should get behind that scheme.

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Many brownfield sites in my constituency had planning applications granted before the introduction of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. What advice does the Secretary of State give developers who are now looking to change those planning applications to ensure that they can integrate starter homes into the plans?

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It is always possible for developers to have discussions with local authorities if they want to—they are not bound by such applications—but I hope they will press ahead with making available the homes that are needed in my hon. Friend’s constituency as well as in other parts of the country.

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The Secretary of State must be getting used to headlines in the housing and planning press that say, “Starter homes will crowd out genuinely affordable homes”, or “Traditional affordable rented homes are being swapped for discounted Starter Homes”. Will he therefore tell us how many genuinely affordable homes for rent or equity share will not be built as a result of the starter homes initiative, and what specific measures is he taking to prevent that from happening?

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We are building more homes than have been supported by Governments since the 1970s— 400,000 starter homes. The hon. Lady should be delighted to know that £8 billion of funding has gone in to providing them. With every decision we make, whether on starter homes or in giving the right the buy, we are putting ourselves on the side of the ordinary working people of this country who want a home of their own. In their opposition to such measures, Labour Members are showing how much further they are drifting from understanding—still less, representing—the ordinary working people of this country.

Affordable Housing

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3. Whether the Government plan to revise their definition of affordable housing. [905265]

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The Government have a strong track record on delivering affordable housing. We want to go further and to expand the definition of affordable housing so that we can deliver starter homes for young people who want to buy their own home.

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How will the Government policy to subsidise starter homes address the affordable housing crisis for low and middle-income earners—cleaners, social workers, teachers, middle managers, nurses—given that it is estimated that, in London, one needs a household income of £97,000 and a deposit of £20,000 to afford an average starter home?

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I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a few moments ago. In this country, first-time buyers pay £181,000 on average for a new home, so, with a 20% discount and a 5% deposit, her figures do not quite add up. Given that 86% of our population want the chance to own their own home and that first-time buyers are the generation worst hit by Labour’s recession in terms of housing, I am proud that we have doubled the number of first-time buyers. We want to deliver 1 million during this Parliament, and the starter homes initiative is just part of the solution.

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As the Minister says, 86% of the population want to own their own home. Surely the term “affordable home” should now be expanded to include low-cost home ownership, including schemes such as the excellent Wiltshire Rural Housing Association, which has a variety of shared equity schemes. Surely those homes should also be affordable, as well as homes for rent.

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My hon. Friend makes a very good point, highlighting exactly the point I was making. As 86% of the population want to own their own home, most people have always found it slightly bizarre and illogical that when we talk about affordable homes we talk only about homes to rent. People want to own their own home, so it is absolutely right that affordable homes should also include homes that are affordable to buy.

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The Government’s housing plans sit alongside their policy of neighbourhood planning. The Minister will recall that in the Adjournment debate he answered earlier in the year he recommended that the people of Haughton Green went away and produced a neighbourhood plan. They have started that process, so what assurances can he give them that the Two Trees site will not be brought forward for development by Tameside Council before they have had the opportunity to say how they want the site to be sustainably developed?

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot comment on any particular planning application owing to the quasi-judicial role. As I said in that debate, neighbourhood planning is at the heart of our planning model. It delivers more homes than are delivered in areas that do not have a neighbourhood plan and allows the local community to work out where homes should be and what type of homes best suit them. It is fantastic that more than 200 plans are now in process and approved, and more than 2,000 are coming through. I look forward to seeing the conclusion of the plan in his constituency.

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I think you know, Mr Speaker, that I believe that claims that there will be pestilence and war if we leave the European Union might be inadvertently misleading. The latest claim, that house prices will fall if we leave the EU, is, if true, possibly a good thing for creating affordable housing. Does my hon. Friend agree?

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I agree with my hon. Friend on many things, but on this I have to say that the problem is that people who own their own home would end up in negative equity, people who are looking to buy would struggle because supply would fall through lack of investor confidence, and, given that as mortgage rates go up the cost of buying also goes up, affordability could get worse.

Tayside Region City Deal

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4. What progress has been made on discussions on a Tayside region city deal. [905266]

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Discussions on a Tayside city deal are going well. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland met Dundee City Council on 16 May to further those discussions. More work is being done but we welcome what has been done so far.

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A Tayside region city deal will be great for people across Tayside and for my constituents in South Perthshire. Will he set out the timescale agreed for finalising the deal, and, more importantly, whether the UK Government expect that they will be the majority funder of the project or, as is the case in Aberdeen, they expect the Scottish Government to underwrite the majority of the investment?

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I do not wish to pre-empt the conclusion of the discussions that are underway. As I said, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland met Dundee City Council on 16 May. He is meeting the leaders of Scottish cities again on 8 June. I hope the deal can be concluded quickly, with agreement, as it will benefit not only all those who live there, but the UK economy as whole.

Supported Housing

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5. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of planned reductions in social rents and housing benefit support on supported housing. [905267]

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The Government have always been clear that the most vulnerable will be protected and supported through our welfare reforms. Following our review of supported housing, which is due to report shortly, we will continue to work with the sector to ensure that appropriate protections are in place.

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That is all very well, but why then do St Mungo’s, Centrepoint, the Salvation Army and the National Housing Federation, to name just a few organisations, all think that the Government’s proposals will hit supported housing hard and will reduce the number of places available? Should the Minister not listen to the people who are providing the service rather than to his own political dogma?

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I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman that Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of St Mungo’s Broadway, has said:

“This is a sensible and reasoned decision by the government”.

The chief executive of YMCA England has said that the Government

“has taken appropriate action to protect supported housing.”

We have decided to delay things for a year while we work with the sector to make sure we have a good and well-protected sector in future.

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I welcome the Government’s review of supported housing and their commitment to preventing homelessness, both financially in the autumn statement and Budget, and in a likely statutory duty to prevent homelessness. Does that progress not fly in the face of putting a local housing allowance cap on supported housing, which in effect would pull the rug from under very vulnerable tenants who the Government are supporting at the moment?

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My hon. Friend rightly points out that the spending review put in £400 million of funding to deliver 8,000 new specialist affordable homes. As I said, the delay of a year is to work with the sector, and the review that we have commissioned jointly with the Department for Work and Pensions will be published shortly. We have made it clear from the beginning that we will ensure that the most vulnerable people are protected and supported through all the reforms.

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If the Government continue with their rent and benefit changes it is likely that most supported housing will close, so it is welcome that they have instituted the review. In that review, will the Minister consider an issue that has been raised with the Communities and Local Government Committee as part of its inquiry into homelessness, which is whether, when people who are out of work and homeless go into supported housing, costs are covered through housing benefit? Under current arrangements, people who are in work can find themselves worse off than those who are out of work, so in the review will the Minister consider whether that problem can be rectified, along with the other issues?

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The review will consider all issues that affect the sector, and we are working with the sector on that—yes, absolutely, we will take that point on board.

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Recently published research by Scottish Women’s Aid in partnership with survivors of domestic abuse in Fife reveals that women and children are often forced to make themselves homeless to be eligible for domestic abuse support. The recently proposed cap on local housing allowance will also have a devastating impact on the future provision of specialist refuge accommodation in Scotland, which is largely in the ownership of local authorities and housing associations. What steps are being taken to protect the provision of support for survivors of domestic abuse under those circumstances?

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As the hon. Lady will know—it was outlined a few moments ago by the Secretary of State—we have put extra funding into women’s refuges, and we have introduced a delay of a year while we work with the sector and the review is completed. That review will be published shortly, and all those issues will be taken into account when ensuring that we continue to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

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Perhaps the Minister will give us a wee bit more assurance on that. The delay for a year is welcome, but many domestic abuse charities are worried about what will happen at the end of that. They need a bit of certainty and to be able to plan in the years ahead for those vital services on which women and children depend. Can he give us any more certainty about when the review will be published?

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First, we have outlined a further £400 million to go into providing 8,000 more homes, which shows our commitment to that sector. We have always been clear that we want to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected, and that the right provision is in place, and that is what the review is about. It will be published shortly, and we will respond to it. That is why the sector has widely welcomed the year’s delay, and as I said earlier, we are working with the sector to protect those most vulnerable people.

Violence against Women and Girls

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6. What steps his Department is taking to help tackle violence against women and girls. [905268]

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Our manifesto commitment is to create a secure future for women’s refuges, and in the new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, we set out our ambition for prevention, not crisis response, to be the norm. We are determined to ensure that victims get the help they need when they need it, and we will fund local areas to make the changes needed.

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Some interpretations of sharia law advocate and condone violence against women, and women’s rights groups such as One Law for All are concerned at the spread of sharia courts in the UK. What support are the Minister and his Department giving to women’s groups such as One Law for All, which want to protect women against religiously sanctioned violence?

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I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are strongly committed to women’s rights. The independent review of sharia courts announced by the Home Secretary will enable us to understand the extent to which sharia law is being applied in a way that is incompatible with UK law, and we will then be in a position to identify whether further actions are required to promote women’s safety.

Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Regional Deal

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7. What progress has been made on the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city regional deal. [905269]

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Discussions continue positively on a city deal for Edinburgh and south-east Scotland. Officials have had a number of meetings and progress is being made, and Members across the House hope that an agreement can be reached so that something can be delivered that will benefit the hon. Lady’s constituents and our economy as a whole.

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I have heard that one local authority involved in the Edinburgh city region deal, West Lothian Council, has distanced itself from the development of the deal and now appears to be intending to step away altogether. How will the Minister encourage it back into the ring on that deal?

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The processes are by agreement, but we hope that all local authorities look to see the positives in what can be delivered, and the difference that can be made to the local economy, when city deals are agreed. My noble Friend the Under-Secretary at the Scotland Office will meet the leaders of Scottish cities on 8 June. I will draw his attention to the hon. Lady’s comments in the hope that he can bear them in mind and perhaps overcome some of the obstacles.

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rose—

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Order. Edinburgh and south-east Scotland are a very long way from Hove. Notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s considerable ingenuity, I find it hard to see how he can relate this to Hove. He should be patient and have another go on another question. Keep waiting, man, and keep in good spirits. We will get you in somehow.

Social Care Costs

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8. What assessment he has made of the effect on local authority budgets of social care costs. [905270]

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The spending review provided up to £3.5 billion of funding to help to meet the demographic pressures on social care—more than the £2.9 billion that local government and the directors of adult social services estimated was needed in their submission to the spending review.

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Social care in Hull is facing a perfect storm, and GPs tell me that it is starting to impact on hospitals. We have had the deepest cuts in local government since 2010, and the national living wage is adding to costs. Will the Secretary of State accept the clear evidence of a growing funding gap that outstrips the social care levy, and that it is worst in areas of greatest and rising demand?

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The hon. Lady never misses a chance to be miserable about Hull, a great city that is on the rise. Hull has benefited to the tune of nearly £7 million a year from the local government settlement—it is one of the biggest gainers in the country. The last time she made that point, the leader of her council wanted not to take what she said at face value, and said:

“I do wish people would stop talking the city down. There is so much going on here…and a lot to look forward to.”

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20. I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s visit to Shrewsbury the other week. He will have heard from the council of the big pressures it is under as a result of increasing costs in adult social care services. We have more senior citizens in Shropshire than the national average and the number is growing at a faster rate than the national average. What lessons has he learned from his visit to Shrewsbury, and what further assistance will he give my council to deal with that very important issue? [905282]

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I enjoyed my visit to Shrewsbury, as I enjoyed my visit to Hull. One thing that was welcomed in both places was a review of the underlying needs assessment, which has not been changed for many years, to ensure that the underlying pressures are properly reflected in the new settlement that, as a result of the Government’s reforms, comes in when 100% of the business rate is retained by local government.

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Clinical commissioning groups in my county of Norfolk have told the county council that they are withdrawing the money from the better care fund that was available for the protection of social care last year, leaving at least a £7.5 million gap. What is the Secretary of State doing in his discussions with the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that social care is protected? The risk of elderly, frail people and disabled people losing out more is very real.

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The right hon. Gentleman knows from his experience in the Department of Health how important it is to ensure that the social care system and the healthcare system are joined up. Part of the integration of health and social care is ensuring that people, whether they are NHS patients or cared for by the local authority, have the best care available delivered in the most efficient way.

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Unitary councils have been established in that manner—with the health service embedded within them. What evidence is there that combining health and social care means that those services will be delivered more effectively and more efficiently?

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We know that where relationships are most embedded and advanced between local authorities in the NHS, people can be confident that they will have the best level of care without falling between the cracks of the two systems. Local government can do that working with the NHS, which is why that has been a prominent feature in some devolution deals.

Pay to Stay

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9. Whether his Department has made an estimate of how many families will move home as a result of the Pay to Stay provisions of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 over the course of this Parliament. [905271]

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19. Whether his Department has made an estimate of how many families will move home as a result of the Pay to Stay provisions of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 over the course of this Parliament. [905281]

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The Government believe that tenants on higher incomes should contribute towards a fairer level of rent. More than 90% of tenants will be unaffected by our plans. Many above the threshold will be protected from big rent rises through our tapering approach. This is not about forcing households from their homes.

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Given the gap between social and market rents, many of my constituents—teachers, nurses, junior doctors, electricians, bricklayers, call centre staff and shop workers—will pay thousands of pounds extra a year. Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that the Government have abandoned any claims to being the workers’ party?

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Despite the hon. Lady’s tone, I am sure she agrees that social housing should be prioritised for those most in need. I reassure her and her constituents that the assumption that in the first year thousands of pounds extra could be paid in rent is definitely not the case. We have a taper: for every £1 households earn over the income threshold, they will pay only an extra 15p in rent.

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In the past week my local newspaper, Cambridge News, has run a series of articles about the impact of the housing crisis in a high-cost city such as Cambridge. The council warns that the Pay to Stay proposals will affect a significant number of families on modest incomes and in some cases cost them an extra £3,000 a year. What advice can the Minister give to those people? Where should they move to? Should they quit their jobs or do fewer hours?

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As I outlined a few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman and the council seem to be basing their figures on a false premise. Once the policy comes into effect, the average cost of housing for people affected will be about 15% of their income, bearing in mind that they are higher earners. In the private rented sector, people are having to pay 50% of their income.

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My constituents are always keen to hear news about improving work incentives and making work pay. What will the Minister say to my constituents who have written to me about the Pay to Stay proposals, saying that their introduction will mean a choice between cutting hours, turning down a pay rise or refusing promotion, because it is not economically worth their while to earn extra income?

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The taper is designed to ensure that it always pays to work. I reassure the hon. Lady and her constituents that many things—child benefit, tax credits, personal independence payments—are not taken into account under this policy.

Departmental Civil Servants: Coventry

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10. If he will take steps to increase the number of civil servants of his Department based in Coventry. [905272]

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There are currently no plans for the Department to open new government offices in Coventry, but we welcome the significant economic growth the city has enjoyed and we welcome the £89.4 million investment that the Warwickshire and Coventry growth deal is delivering for the local economy. We want Coventry—in particular, its private sector—to continue to grow. The contribution of businesses in Coventry is quite incredible. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question in focusing attention on the good work that has been done.

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I thank the Minister for that answer, but surely he agrees that in having elected mayors for the regions it should follow that the civil servants are dispersed to areas like Coventry? Friargate would be a good site.

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm, but at present there is no intention to relocate existing offices of this Department to Coventry. In April 2010, 3,382 people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance in Coventry. We welcome the fact that, thanks to the Government’s long-term economic plan, that number has fallen to 1,284. We want that trend to continue. The hon. Gentleman is quite right: as we devolve power to local areas, giving more responsibility to local economies and the people in them, we would like rebalancing to take place.

Enterprise Zones

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11. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of enterprise zones on rates of employment. [905273]

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Enterprise zones have made a significant contribution to growing our economy. Those announced in 2012 have contributed to more than 620 businesses and to nearly 24,000 jobs. Nearly £2.5 billion has been invested in those enterprise zones to support our economy and create employment for our constituents.

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Daresbury enterprise zone in Weaver Vale employs thousands of people, including 500 scientists working on cutting edge technologies such as big data. With nine enterprise zones in north-west England, does my hon. Friend agree that this highlights the Government’s commitment to closing the north-south divide and rebalancing the economy by building a fantastic northern powerhouse?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We saw in the autumn statement a doubling of enterprise zones in the north of England and investment in the northern powerhouse. He has been a passionate advocate for this enterprise zone in particular and has impressed on me its importance and contribution to our economy. I hope that I might visit it soon with him to see at first hand what he is delivering for his constituents, working with this Government, as we stick to our long-term economic plan.

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24. Unemployment in my constituency has nudged upwards in the last year. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the enterprise zone at Warton provides valuable opportunities to people in Fylde? [905286]

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I welcome my hon. Friend’s question; he is a passionate advocate for his constituency and the enterprise zones that lie within it. I have visited Samlesbury but not yet Warton—perhaps my namesake enterprise zone is due a visit shortly, and I would be delighted if he were to welcome my joining him in attending it. We will offer what support is needed to ensure that enterprise zones are successful, create jobs and drive forward our economy. I am always happy to talk to him about the particular needs in his constituency.

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I am sure its residents will feel excitement and anticipation in equal measure.

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Will the Minister give a commitment that no enterprise zone or council will lose funding as a result of the localisation of business rates?

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I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s question. He knows as well as I do that local government has been asking for many years for the localisation of business rates, which will give real incentives to drive local growth. He also understands that enterprise zones already sit differently within the business rates regime from local authorities, which we will have to take into account as we develop the system.

Local Enterprise Partnerships: Growth Deals

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13. What assessment his Department has made of the level of support for local enterprise partnerships from growth deals . [905275]

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During the last Parliament, we devolved £7.7 billion of central Government funds in local growth deals, and in March, I invited applications for a further £1.8 billion of funds to further support local growth.

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Solent local enterprise partnership supports the regeneration of Dunsbury Hill Farm business park, which is creating more than 3,000 new jobs in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State continue to support LEPs, through the growth deals, to continue job creation in Havant and across Britain?

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I will indeed. My hon. Friend has been a big champion of the Dunsbury Hill Farm link road, which was funded by the LEP. I understand that the business park has its first tenants signed up and is creating 3,500 jobs, which is a further boost to the very successful time already being enjoyed on the Solent and in Havant in particular.

Right to Buy: Low-cost Housing

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14. What assessment he has made of the effect of the right-to-buy scheme on the availability of low-cost housing for people on low incomes. [905276]

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16. What assessment he has made of the effect of the right-to-buy scheme on the availability of low-cost housing for people on low incomes. [905278]

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Within England, a new affordable home has been provided for every additional right-to-buy sale since 2012 under a reinvigorated scheme. Under the groundbreaking voluntary agreement, housing associations will also deliver an additional home nationally for every home sold.

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The right to buy has had a disastrous effect on the availability of affordable housing. The SNP Scottish Government have had the courage to abolish it and have built more than 6,000 new council houses in Scotland. Has the Minister carried out an assessment of the effect that abolishing the policy would have on the supply of housing UK-wide?

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Abolishing the policy would actually reduce supply. We are extending it to 1.3 million more people, and, as I outlined, because a new home is being built for every home sold, it will, by definition, increase the supply of affordable homes.

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The Institute for Fiscal Studies has highlighted the fact that the Scottish Government spends 85% more per head on social housing than England and Wales. Unlike the UK Government, the SNP Government are hitting their targets for affordable homes. Does the Minister acknowledge the abject failure of the UK Government’s policies to increase the affordable housing supply?

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I am proud that the Conservative-led Government in the last Parliament were the first to finish a Parliament with more affordable homes than they started with. We lost 420,000 under the Labour Government, who sold 170 homes for every one they built. That is why the one-for-one provision increases housing supply. We went ahead of our target in the last Parliament and we now have the largest building programme since the 1970s. That is something for us to be very proud of.

Coastal Communities

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15. What steps his Department is taking to help increase growth, prosperity and the number of jobs in coastal communities. [905277]

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We have invested more than £120 million across the UK through the coastal communities fund, which is helping to create or safeguard more than 18,000 jobs, provide more than 12,000 training places and attract more than £200 million of match funding. We have also announced a £90 million four-year extension to the fund.

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The Minister will be aware that tourism plays an important role in our coastal communities, so how damaging does he think the potential fracking wells on the Fylde coast would be to our tourism industry in the Blackpool area?

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I should hope that fracking would not have an impact on tourism as such, although I understand the sensitivities involved in that issue. We are doing a lot to support tourism in the hon. Lady’s constituency through the coastal communities fund. Wyre Borough Council was given a £1.55 million grant in 2014 to create new attractions along Fleetwood seafront to attract more visitors throughout the year. Lancashire County Council got just under £250,000 in 2015 to unlock the heritage potential of Lancaster’s historic St George’s quay. I believe the fund is doing well around the country, particularly in the hon. Lady’s constituency.

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I welcome what the Minister has said about support for coastal communities, but he will be aware that they have been particularly badly affected by membership of the European Union and the impact of the common fisheries policy. This has resulted in much derelict and redundant dockland. What additional support can the Government offer to regenerate our now redundant dockland?

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Returning briefly to the coastal communities fund, I should point out that it has been highly successful and has helped to generate a tremendous return. For every £1 invested by the fund we get about £8 back. We regard that as highly successful, which is why we have extended the fund over another period of four years, with a budget of £90 million. In England, bidding for round four is now open. I believe the coastal communities fund would do very well for the coastal communities of our country, whether or not we are in the European Union.

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Coastal tourism is valued at more than £8 billion and is a key contributor to the UK economy. A recent report from the National Coastal Tourism Academy identified significant opportunities for further growth and highlighted the need for strong partnerships between the public and private sectors. What is the Minister doing to foster these strong partnerships?

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I thank the hon. Lady for pointing out the National Coastal Tourism Academy report. From memory, we helped to fund the creation of that body, so it looks as though we are getting good value for money there, too. She talked about the importance of partnerships; we entirely agree. We have set up 118 coastal communities teams around the country to bring together in partnership local authorities, voluntary groups, charities and residents to design an economic plan for the revival of their areas. We will be celebrating the success around what we now like to call the Great British coast with a Great British coastal conference in Brighton on 30 June. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to come down in a spirit of partnership and celebrate it with us.

Neighbourhood Plans

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17. What plans his Department has to enhance and extend neighbourhood plans. [905279]

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We have already seen a revolution in neighbourhood planning, with 193 neighbourhood plans approved at referendum and nearly 2,000 groups across the country involved, covering nearly 10 million people. We announced in the Queen’s Speech that we will introduce a new package of measures further to strengthen neighbourhood planning in the forthcoming neighbourhood planning and infrastructure Bill.

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My constituents are strong supporters of neighbourhood planning as a way of influencing the planning system in their local areas. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss the forthcoming Bill and how it can give more weight to neighbourhood plans, local views and, indeed, permitted development where neighbours agree?

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I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. Neighbourhood plans are one of the most important successes of the Localism Act 2011 and they are catching fire across the country as more and more communities want to be able to shape the character of their communities. It is notable that when they go to referendum, the average yes vote is 89%. I think either side of the referendum campaign would regard that as emphatic.

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Some councils, including Leeds City Council, are prioritising “easy” areas with neighbourhood plans and ignoring and not properly assisting those where it is difficult and there are huge pressures, such as Aireborough. Will the Secretary of State look at the guidance issued to councils, particularly as developers can carry on developing even though neighbourhood plans are being produced?

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I hope the hon. Gentleman will involve himself in the scrutiny of the new Bill, which is designed to help precisely those neighbourhoods where support from the local authority has not always been forthcoming and enthusiastic, so that they can insist on that and proceed apace.

Brownfield Land/Green Belt

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18. What steps his Department is taking to (a) ensure the use of brownfield land and (b) protect the green belt. [905280]

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We are committed to retaining strong protection of the green belt, and its boundaries can be changed only in exceptional circumstances. Brownfield land has an important role in delivering new housing, and we have taken steps to maximise the number of dwellings built on suitable brownfield land.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. The approach to ensuring that brownfield land is built on and that the green belt is protected is absolutely the right one. What plans have the Government made available to support the remediation of brownfield sites?

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My hon. Friend has pushed passionately in her own constituency to ensure that the maximum use for brownfield land is found. Through the Housing and Planning Act 2016, planning permission in principle for brownfield registers is coming through, and there is a £1.2 billion fund for starter homes, which is obviously applicable to the brownfield sites. We have also made more money available in the spending review, which will be put in the public domain later this year, to make sure that we get planning permission for 90% of all the brownfield land by the end of this Parliament.

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Stoke-on-Trent has swathes of brownfield land, yet vulturesque developers are trying pounce on green sites off Meadow Lane in Trentham and down in Lightwood. If the developers get turned down at the planning stage, they get right of appeal after right of appeal, but if my communities lose, that is it—they are dead in the water. They want to know why they cannot have the right of appeal to stop developers building on green sites when there are so many brownfield sites available.

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The best protection for these areas comes from having not just a local plan but neighbourhood planning in place. We have made it clear that a neighbourhood plan should be respected and has weight in law. The appeals system is part of natural justice when it comes to how the planning system deals with the landowners’ use of their own land, as we outlined in the last stages of the Housing and Planning Act. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman’s local residents to get a neighbourhood plan in place. That will give them the best protection to make sure that they have development they think is appropriate in their area, and put pressure on the local authority to make the best possible use of its brownfield land.

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22. It is vital to take steps to unlock the potential for brownfield housing developments while continuing to protect the precious green belt, which is integral in areas such as Aldridge and Streetly in my constituency. Will the Minister assure me that where brownfield sites are clustered together, as parts of a combined authority or in plans such as those for the black country garden city, each local authority will retain control and responsibility for planning decisions under its control? [905284]

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My hon. Friend makes a good point. The planning authority is the local authority, which has planning and decision-making power over its own land. I stress that for all such areas a neighbourhood plan has weight in law, and thanks to the Housing and Planning Act 2016, local authorities will make brownfield registers available to identify and make it clear for developers where the brownfield land that can be developed is located. They can then look to getting the funding together to develop it.

Planning and Development: Local Views

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25. What guidance his Department has issued to local authorities on giving due consideration to the views of local people on maintaining green, open spaces when developing their own land holdings. [905287]

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Local planning authorities are required to determine all planning applications, including those on their own land, in line with their local plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise, having regard to the views of local people. Planning policy provides strong protection for open space.

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I thank the Minister for his answer. Local people are supportive of North Lincolnshire Council’s desire to develop the former Brumby resource centre site, but are anxious for the green open space that has been there for generations to remain so. Does the Minister agree that North Lincolnshire Council needs to think very carefully before building houses on a green open space?

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I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot comment on what sounds likely to be a live planning application. However, I can tell him that the national planning policy framework recognises that access to high-quality spaces is an important contributor towards the health and wellbeing of communities, and that it is quite clear that existing open spaces should not be built on unless replaced by something similar.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [905223]

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Since our last questions, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 has received its Royal Assent. I would like to thank parliamentary and departmental colleagues for their incredibly hard work on a landmark piece of legislation. With two further Bills set for the new Session, there can be no doubting the centrality of housing and devolution to this Government’s agenda.

Since our last questions, a respected leader of local government, Darren Cooper, the leader of Sandwell Council and deputy chair of the proposed west midlands combined authority, died at a young age. He was a champion of devolution for the black country and the west midlands, and I would like to pay tribute to him and his work.

More happily, last month marked the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Department for Communities and Local Government. It was my privilege to pay tribute to officials for their dedicated service. I do regret not inviting former Ministers in the Department to the celebrations. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) would have been greatly encouraged by the progress made by the Department over the last six years, especially after the calamities of its first four.

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The number of civil service jobs has been cut in most parts of the country, but the proportion of such jobs in London has increased by 16% since 2010. Why condemn people to live in overcrowded London, with its grossly polluted air and sky-high house prices, when they could live in the broad green acres of Wales where the air is sweet and the house prices are genuinely affordable?

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That enticing invitation to come to live and work in Wales will have been heard across the country, and I think the same applies to our great cities, towns and counties right across the country. Part of our devolution agenda is to take away the powers and resources that have been locked up in this city and to make them available across the country so that they can be locally led and bring about the revival that the hon. Gentleman refers to.

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T2. Sabden, one of my beautiful villages, has a population of about 1,500. It has just had its bus service withdrawn by the operator. That service was part-subsidised by Lancashire County Council, but the council now refuses to subsidise even a skeleton service, which means that the elderly and the young have been set adrift: they cannot get into work or go to the doctor. Will the Secretary of State consider top-slicing the necessary money from the county council and giving it to the districts so that local people can get the service they deserve? [905224]

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Clearly, that is a great disappointment for my hon. Friend’s many constituents who rely on those services. In the local government financial settlement, we have been able to make available a flat cash settlement over four years to councils across the country, giving them the certainty of four-year funding. That is intended to allow them to plan ahead for precisely the sort of services that he describes.

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I welcome the Secretary of State’s tribute to Darren Cooper. For many of us, he was not just a good local Labour council leader but a good colleague and a friend.

May I take the Secretary of State back to the answer he gave the House in reply to Question 2, when he talked about the Government’s housebuilding programme? The latest official figures show that the number of new homes is down by 9% and that, six years on, it is still a third below the peak achieved under Labour. This is the housebuilding recovery that never was. Does he not agree that when housing policy fails so badly, it gives an opening to those who want to fuel resentment and division? Will he therefore today disown the comments of his Cabinet colleague the Leader of the House who blames the fall in home ownership on EU migration? Will he point out to the Leader of the House that it is possible to have a healthily growing population alongside higher home ownership, just as Britain did during the baby-boom years under Macmillan and Wilson?

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I lay the blame for the shortage of housing on what happened during the tenure of the Labour party and the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, who was the relevant Minister at that time. Ignominiously, he will go down in history as the Housing Minister who built the fewest homes in the peacetime history of this country, with only 85,000 being built in 2009. He is the man under whom we saw a fall in home ownership of a quarter of a million. The most significant thing is that when he was commenting on that, he said:

“I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.”

Under this Government, the proportion of building is rising again; we have 250,000 planning permissions and more than 170,000 additions to the housing stock. We have doubled the rate of growth of housing compared with the rate that he presided over, so he might talk about lessons from the past, but we will be looking closely at his record to see what actions to avoid.

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May I suggest that the Secretary of State go back to the Department and call in his Government statisticians to put him right on these figures? The Labour record speaks for itself: 1 million more homeowners, 2 million new homes built, and the largest investment in social housing in a generation. That is a record that the present Housing Minister would give his right arm for; it might even get him a Cabinet promotion. May I, however, bring the Secretary of State back to the question of the European Union? Does he accept that the European Union is helpful to housebuilding in Britain? Does he agree that the European Investment Bank’s commitment of £1 billion to build almost 20,000 new affordable homes is now needed more than ever, not least because this Government’s housing investment over this Parliament will be only half what it was under Labour?

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The right hon. Gentleman should go back and check his record—as a former Minister, I am sure he has access to the files. Under the previous Labour Government, including during his time as Housing Minister, 420,000 homes were lost from this country’s affordable housing stock.

An important source of investment in housing, including in social and affordable housing, comes from the European Investment Bank, which has invested £2 billion in our housing stock over the years. It is important that we continue to have access not only to that investment but to investment from private sector bodies, all of which benefit from the confidence and stability that we have had through our arrangement, including the wholehearted commitment of a Government determined to increase house building.

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T4. The Minister will be aware that the average council tax increase in England has been 3.1%, whereas it has been 3.6% in Wales. Does that not clearly demonstrate that Conservative policies are delivering better services at a better price than anything that Labour can achieve? [905226]

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I completely agree with my hon. Friend. One only needs to look at the parallel between the Labour Administration in Wales and when the Labour party was in Government: council tax doubled over 13 years. Since 2010, council tax has been reduced in real terms by 9%.

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T3. When I bought my first home in Luton in 1969, house prices were three times average earnings. The same house in Luton would now cost at least 12 times average earnings. Unsurprisingly, home ownership as a tenure has been falling. Is it not utterly cynical of the Government to pretend that everyone can become homeowners when what millions of families need, and what many say they want, is a decent council house? [905225]

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The hon. Gentleman will therefore be pleased to know not only that in just five years we have built roughly double the number of council-run social homes that Labour built in 13 years, but that we are focused on ensuring that people can have the chance to own their own home. Home ownership fell from 2003 and right the way through the Labour Government’s time. We have stalled that decline and are determined to see home ownership increase, which is why we are delivering starter homes for 200,000 people. We want to see a million more first-time buyers over the course of this Parliament.

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T5. South Hayling Island’s coastal community team was awarded a £10,000 grant last year to help the local economy by improving local signage. Will the Minister congratulate Rosemary Satchwell and the whole team on their hard work in promoting local businesses? [905228]

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I am very happy to congratulate Rosemary Satchwell and the South Hayling Island coastal community team. Its economic plan highlighted the importance of signage in boosting business and tourism on South Hayling Island. I hope that Rosemary Satchwell will attend our “Great British Coast” conference in Brighton on 30 June to tell us more about it.

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T8. Will the Secretary of State inform the House of the latest position on the devolution deal in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire? [905231]

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, the discussions in the north midlands are well advanced. While a top-down process, dictated from Whitehall, might be tidier than the current negotiated process, in which proposals are made from the bottom up, I think he would accept that that would be to miss the point.

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T6. During a glorious bank holiday weekend in Salisbury, the city council hosted an international market as part of the Love Your Local Market campaign. Does he Minister agree that thriving high streets and local markets are good not only for the local economy but for a city’s sense of community? [905229]

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on that, and I am delighted to hear about the continental market in Salisbury and his support for Love Your Local Market fortnight, when more than 3,000 events took place across the country. This concept is now in its fifth year; it is the biggest celebration of markets and it is estimated that 1,500 businesses have started up during LYLM fortnight, with many still trading six months later.

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City, regional and growth funds have the potential to transform areas across the country, from Edinburgh North and Leith all the way down to Hove. The Secretary of State had a meeting with Brighton’s council recently. Many areas in the south-east showed enthusiasm for these funds in the early days, but this has not translated into deals being struck. I know he had a constructive meeting in Brighton and Hove recently, so will he update the House on his thinking and on how he is going to get the balance right between urban areas and the hinterlands and the countryside, to make sure that cities do not lose the power they need?

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As I said to the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), it is very important that these proposals come from the bottom up, and that requires local agreement. Discussions are taking place locally in the south of England, as they are in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, as to what is the right geography of a proposed deal. It is very important that these things are determined locally, rather than by my getting a pen and drawing lines on a map. I hope the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) will use his good influence to bring people together, so that we can advance what should be a very important and attractive deal.

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T7. Empty homes are a blight on our local communities, with some becoming derelict and dangerous, meaning that not only are local people deprived of somewhere to live, but entire areas can appear run down or unkempt. What is the Minister’s assessment of the number of empty homes and what is his Department doing to improve the situation? [905230]

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My hon. Friend makes a good point, and he has made the case to me before outside the Chamber about ensuring that we make the best use of the housing stock we have. I am pleased that under our Government we have seen a drop to the lowest level on record—a third down on the peak—and that in Thurrock the number of empty homes has dropped from 319 homes to 214. But we need to keep going, which is why our changes on the powers over council tax and the new homes bonus give a real incentive to local authorities to make sure we get these empty homes back into use. We should keep pushing.

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Further to Question 6, will the Minister give a pledge now that if the Home Secretary reports that sharia courts and other institutions have been over-reaching themselves, he will fund the appropriate women’s organisations at a level that means that they can protect women who are vulnerable?

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I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done, that a £40 million fund is being put towards women’s refuges across this Parliament. That is an unprecedented amount of funding, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be carefully considering bids from across the country, from organisations and charities representing all types of groups, such as the one he mentions.

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T9. Thanks to the Conservatives in government, community groups now have the right to protect facilities and other much loved buildings or land by listing them as assets of community value. How many of these assets have been listed in such a way and, more importantly, what support is available to local communities to take up this exciting opportunity? [905232]

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More than 3,000 assets of community value have been listed to date, including 256 sports facilities. On the support we are offering, we fund the My Community website and network, which provides information, case studies and resources for people interested in taking up community rights and getting involved in their local neighbourhood. I congratulate my hon. Friend, as I understand he has organised another massive fundraising day, which this time is a golf day rather than a cricket day. I wish him every success, because over a number of years he has raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that children’s services and child protection are a crucial part of local government, for which he is responsible? Has he talked to his colleagues in the Department for Education about this? Has he seen the evidence showing that as the departmental influence on education and schools continues, the ability to get children with special educational needs into good schools becomes more and more difficult?

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Yes, I have regular conversations with the Secretary of State. As with other areas of local government responsibility, sometimes its responsibilities cross the lines of departmental boundaries. We make sure, very particularly, that we join that up and reflect in the responsibilities and the funding of local government the full range of its commitments and needs.

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Office for National Statistics figures state that 3.3 million extra people will come to our country in the next 15 years. How on earth are we to make sure that there is enough land and that output will be increased enough to support the number of buildings required for that number of immigrants?

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One of the biggest pressures on our housing stock is the fact that not enough has been built in the past three decades, primarily due to the failures under the last Labour Government. It is good news that we are all living longer and living in our own home longer, but ultimately it is local authorities’ key job to make sure that they assess the land needs in their local area to provide the housing their local residents need in their local plans.

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Order. We must move on.

Removal of Foreign National Offenders and EU Prisoners

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to explain how she will address her continued failure to remove 13,000 foreign national offenders remaining in UK prisons and communities, and specifically the removal of EU prisoners, who make up as much as 42% of all foreign national offenders in prison, back to their EU countries of origin.

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That was a bit cheeky of the hon. Gentleman. He will have an opportunity to dilate in due course, but in the first instance, he should stick to the terms of the question—and the puckish grin on his face shows that he knows he has gone a bit beyond the boundary.

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Lock him up. [Laughter.]

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He certainly should not be locked up!

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Since 2010, the Government have removed over 30,000 foreign national offenders, including 5,692 in 2015-16—the highest number since records began. The number of removals to other EU countries has more than tripled, from 1,019 in 2010-11 to 3,451 in 2015-16. We aim to deport all foreign national offenders at the earliest opportunity; however, legal or re-documentation barriers can frustrate immediate deportation. Increased rates of detection can also lead to the population of foreign national offenders increasing despite a record number of removals.

Over 6,500 of the FNOs in the UK are still serving a custodial sentence. The Ministry of Justice has been working to remove EU prisoners under the EU prisoner transfer framework decision, which is a compulsory means of prisoner transfer that allows us to send foreign criminals back to their home country to serve their sentence. The record number of FNO deportations we have achieved has been due to changes made by the Government. We have reset the balance between article 8 of the European convention on human rights and the public interest in deportation cases. We have also introduced a “deport first, appeal later” power, which means foreign national offenders may appeal against deportation only from their home country, unless they will face a real risk of serious irreversible harm there. More than 3,500 foreign national offenders have been removed since that came into force in July 2014, and many more are going through the system.

The police now routinely carry out checks for overseas criminal convictions on foreign nationals who are arrested, and refer them for deportation. In 2015, the UK made over 100,000 requests for EU criminal record checks—an increase of 1,100% compared with 2010—and in December, the European Council agreed that conviction data relating to terrorists and serious and organised criminals should be shared systematically. We must never give up trying to improve our ability to deal with FNOs and tackle the barriers to deportation: we have just legislated to GPS-tag FNOs who are subject to a deportation order, and we are legislating to establish an FNO’s nationality as early as possible to avoid delays during deportation proceedings.

Before 2010, there was no plan for deporting foreign national offenders. Their rights were given a greater priority than the rights of the public here, and they were routinely abusing the appeals system to avoid deportation. This Government have put in place a strategy for removing foreign national offenders, which is increasing removals, protecting the public and saving the taxpayer money.

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Does the Home Secretary agree, given that today, 6 June, is the anniversary of the Normandy landing, that those who fought and died there did not do so to enable convicted EU rapists, paedophiles and drug dealers who are now here in prison to be protected under new European human rights laws, including the European charter, and the European Court; that they should be deported; and that the Home Affairs Committee was clearly right to indicate that, in these circumstances, the public will

“question the point of the UK remaining in the EU”?

Furthermore, why have the Government failed to introduce our own Bill of Rights and remove us from the EU charter? Does it not make a mockery of the Queen’s Speech that the Government continue to uphold, as they say,

“the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons”?

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I accept that my hon. Friend has his own personal reasons for remembering very much the impact of the D-day landings. It is true that those who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy did so to protect our freedoms. The Government, as I indicated in my response to his question, have put in place a number of measures, and we continue to work to do more to ensure that we can protect the public from those serious criminals—rapists and others—who may choose to come here from whichever country they come from. My hon. Friend referred to the Bill of Rights: it is the Government’s intention to bring forward a Bill of Rights, and that was referred to in the Gracious Speech that we heard a few weeks ago. I can assure him that the action that the Government have taken, for example in rebalancing the interests of the public and the interests of foreign national offenders, in the reference to article 8, show that we take seriously the need to ensure that the human rights of the British public are recognised when we deal with these issues.

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While I congratulate the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) on securing this question, I hope that he will not be too offended that I do not agree with every word of his opportunistic election broadcast on behalf of the leave campaign. Is it not plainly the case that this is not an EU question but a question of the competence, or lack of it, of his Government and his Home Secretary? As last week’s Select Committee report makes clear, while there has been progress on the deportation of foreign national offenders, it has been too slow.

Does the Home Secretary agree with what the Prime Minster told the Liaison Committee in May? He said that she and the Home Office “should have done better” on this issue. This is not the first time that the Home Secretary has been warned about these failings. In the last Parliament, the National Audit Office found that more than a third of failed removals were the result of factors within the Home Office’s control. Despite that, we now learn that the problem is getting worse, not better, in some areas. The Select Committee said that it was deeply concerned that there were nearly 6,000 foreign national offenders living in the community—the highest figure since 2012. Can the Home Secretary explain why the figure is so high? How many of those people are still subject to active deportation proceedings, and what is she doing to bring the figure down? She urgently needs to get a grip on the issue.

Does the Home Secretary agree that it is much easier to do that while remaining part of the European Union, and that leaving would make it harder to deport people? Is it not the case that the prisoner transfer agreement at least provides a framework to speed up the process and that country-to-country deals are far harder to achieve? Is it not also true that our access to the Schengen information system and the European criminal records information system helps us to stop criminals arriving here, and the European arrest warrant means that they can be brought to justice?

Finally, would not the British people be better off listening to the two former Met commissioners and other senior police who, at the weekend, said that our membership of the EU helps us to fight crime, rather than to the unpleasant scaremongering of the leave campaign?

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The right hon. Gentleman’s early remarks do not sit well with the facts that I have presented to the Commons. Last year, we deported a record number of foreign national offenders. Of course, the Government should always do more and always seek to ensure that we can improve our ability to do so. He talked about the higher numbers of people in the community, but it is also the case that because of the number of criminal record checks that the police now undertake with other countries we have secured a higher level of identification of foreign national offenders, which has increased the number available for us to deal with, and for all of them we make every effort, and continue to make efforts, to deport.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s final point, I agree that it is easier for us to deal with these issues as a member of the European Union. He mentioned a number of tools and instruments available to us. On the figure I quoted in relation to foreign criminal checks, he mentioned ECRIS and SIS, which mean that information is available to us at the border which would otherwise not be available.

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When I was the Home Secretary’s colleague as Justice Secretary, it was my pleasure to bring to a conclusion in the Council of Ministers the negotiations begun by the previous Government to get the EU-wide agreement that prisoners could be compulsorily returned to the their own country. Progress of course depends on the efficiency and priority applied to that by the bureaucracies of every Government across Europe, but I congratulate her on the very good progress being made here. Will she point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) that if we were not members of the European Union, we would go back to a system where we had absolutely no ability to deport anybody to their country of origin unless we could persuade the Government of that country to accept them?

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I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the work he did on the prisoner transfer framework decision, which was an important step forward. Crucially—this relates to the latter part of his question—that decision enables us to deport people compulsorily from the United Kingdom to serve their sentences elsewhere, whereas arrangements that may have been in place previously were about voluntary transfer, where the prisoner had to actually agree to move. The current arrangement gives us far greater scope in being able to remove people from the United Kingdom, and it is another reason why it is important to remain part of the European Union.

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Removing foreign national offenders is important and rightly attracts public interest, but it does require sensible and measured debate. As the Home Affairs Committee report pointed out last week, and as the Home Secretary has said, the Government have been making some progress on this issue. Does she agree that being in the European Union gives us access to criminal records sharing and prison transfer agreements, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has just said, and helps us better to identify people with criminal records, allowing us to send them back to their home countries to serve their sentences? Does she agree that there is really no evidence that leaving the European Union would help rather than hinder the removal of EU offenders? Finally, does she agree that it is a shame that some other good work and powerful recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee have been overshadowed by Brexiteers determined to twist any issue to their cause, even in the absence of logic?

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I agree with the hon. and learned Lady that being a member of the EU does give us access to certain tools and certain instruments that help us to share information that otherwise would not be available to us, and that is very important in the sharing of criminal records information. There is more for us to do, and I am working with others to ensure that we can enhance our ability to share that information so that we have more information available to us. On her latter point, I have to say that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee rarely allows himself to be overshadowed.

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I congratulate the Home Secretary on her changes to UK law and her success with non-EU criminals, but is it not the case that freedom of movement and a series of court judgments and decisions by the European authorities have made it much more difficult to tackle the problem of EU criminals?

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The important issue for us in being able to prevent people from entering the UK, should we consider that they are individuals whom we do not wish to have in the country, or in being able to deport people is retaining our borders, which we do. It is important that we have at our border controls information available to us to help us make those decisions. That is why membership of SIS II is an important part of the tools and the framework that we have to enable us to deal with criminality. Of course, in the deal that was negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in relation to our membership of the European Union, we have enhanced our ability to deport people with criminal records and to prevent people from coming here with criminal records. We will also be ensuring that certain decisions taken by the European Court of Justice are overturned.

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rose—

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Ah, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—Mr Nigel Keith Anthony Standish Vaz.

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Time and again, the Home Affairs Committee has warned successive Governments—not just this Government, but way back to the last Labour Government—about the need to remove foreign national offenders. Credit should be given to the Home Secretary. She has relentlessly pursued people such as Abu Qatada out of the country; in fact, I was surprised that she did not pilot the plane that took him back to Jordan at the end of that saga. The fact remains, however, that eight of the top 10 countries are either Commonwealth or EU countries, and there is, frankly, no excuse for friendly countries and key allies not to take back citizens of theirs who have committed serious offences. Eighteen months ago we made a very sensible and simple suggestion, namely that the passports of foreign national offenders should be taken away from them at the time of sentencing. Has that now been implemented?

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The right hon. Gentleman and his Committee have been consistent in raising this issue, and I am sure that he welcomes the fact that we are now removing record numbers of foreign national offenders. We are taking a number of steps in relation to the identity and identification of foreign national offenders. In most cases, passports will be taken away, although some individuals will have destroyed their documentation. That is one of the difficulties involved in returning people to countries when they have no documentation; getting the correct identity is one of the challenges faced by the recipient country, regardless of where in the world it is.

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The Home Secretary will be as aware as anyone of how difficult it is to deport a foreign criminal to any country and that it is all but impossible to do so to some countries. Does she agree that the EU prisoner transfer framework directive gives us a much better chance with those countries than with any other country, including Commonwealth countries; that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has his way in the referendum, that would make it more, not less, difficult to deport foreign prisoners and that our prisons’ problems would therefore continue; and that that would be, by any standards, a perverse outcome?

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I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, who has experience of these issues from his time as the Immigration Minister. Membership of the European Union gives us access to information sharing and instruments that help increase our ability to deal with foreign national offenders and criminals. Crucially, as I indicated earlier to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the prisoner transfer framework decision gives us the ability to return people on a compulsory basis, rather than requiring the prisoner themselves to agree to that return.

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Does the Home Secretary recall that when her right hon. Friend the now Leader of the House served as the Secretary of State for Justice, he told the Home Affairs Committee that it was

“very obvious to me that it is…in our national interest to be part of”

the EU prison transfer agreement. Does she agree with that statement, as I do, and does she happen to know whether her right hon. Friend still holds that view?

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I agree with the view about the transfer decision, and as for the views of my right hon. Friend, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman asks him himself.

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My right hon. Friend has rather candidly admitted that it is more difficult to control immigration while we are a member of the EU. Does she agree that two of the reasons why we have 4,000 EU nationals in our jails are, first, that if we deport them and our EU partners do not choose to keep them in prison, they have the right to come straight back here and be free to roam our streets because they are EU citizens; and, secondly, that these people now have access to the EU charter of fundamental rights, which the Prime Minister said he wanted a complete opt-out from, but he did not get that in his renegotiation?

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I am afraid that my hon. Friend has been misinformed about the impact of the deportation of a foreign national offender. It is not the case that a foreign national offender who is deported to another EU country would be able immediately to come back. The point of the deportation is that they are not able to return to the UK, unless they apply to have that deportation revoked. Of course, it would be for the Government to decide whether it would be revoked.

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Some of my constituents who were born in this country, who are able to serve in the armed forces of this country, and who do not hold passports in many cases—they can even be MPs—find themselves facing deportation for historical reasons because they are citizens of the Republic of Ireland. There is statute for that special arrangement. Could the Home Secretary tell the House what her views are in respect of citizens of the Irish Republic currently in British prisons?

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As I understand it, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the last Labour Government and the Republic of Ireland Government, which means that we are not currently transferring prisoners between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. That is an issue that others have raised, but my understanding is that that is the current situation.

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Can the Home Secretary confirm—I fear she cannot, but if she can, I for one will be delighted—that everybody entering this country from an EU destination has their passport checked not only against possible terrorist links but against whether they have a criminal record? I fear that these passports are not checked, so even if we can deport these people, they can, in reality, come straight back.

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I am not sure when my hon. Friend last came into Heathrow or Gatwick, or into St Pancras through the juxtaposed controls in Brussels or France, but he will have noticed that his passport was indeed checked as he came through, as are the passports of those who are not British citizens. As I have indicated in response to a number of queries, we now have more information available at the border through being a member of SIS II. That is one of the EU arrangements on justice and home affairs matters that the Government chose to rejoin and that this Parliament unanimously agreed to rejoin.

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Is the Secretary of State aware of how thankful I am for the work that she and her Department have done to educate me over recent months, as I campaigned to bring back, through extradition, people accused of foul crimes against constituents of mine in Huddersfield and other people in the UK? She educated me about how complex that is, and about how, without the European Union and the help of our fellow EU members, we would never have got those people back to face justice in this country.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reference to how complex some of these cases can be. That is the point. Very often there are barriers, such as lack of documentation, which need to be overcome before we are able to make these deportations. As a number of people have indicated, in the EU, the prisoner transfer framework decision gives us the framework under which we can deport foreign criminals from European member states.

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Does the Home Secretary agree that the problem, which is of some standing and goes way back to the early part of this century, when the Labour Government faced it, is not one of law or the interpretation of legal instruments, but one of proper administration? Is there not a second problem, in that there are far too many barrack-room lawyers who keep following their own advice?

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I would hesitate to come between my right hon. and learned Friend and any other lawyer in this Chamber or elsewhere.

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If we left the EU, the prisoner transfer agreement would no longer stand. How long does the Home Secretary think it would take to negotiate with each EU country a fresh agreement on returning EU prisoners?

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The answer is that nobody knows how long it would take to negotiate those bilateral arrangements. Of course, under the arrangements of the treaty—under article 50—two years are set aside for negotiations for a member state leaving the European Union, but that does not necessarily cover the bilateral arrangements that would need to be in place if we were outside the co-operative arrangement of which we are members in the EU. It is very uncertain how long it would take to put any such arrangements in place.

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This is a shocking record to defend: 13,000 foreign national offenders—equivalent to the population of a small town—wandering around our country. We have heard all this before. The issue has been before the Public Accounts Committee, and in 2012 the Home Secretary gave me undertakings to improve the situation when I introduced my European Union Free Movement Directive 2004 (Disapplication) Bill under the ten-minute rule. If she wants to deal with the issue of foreign national offenders upstream, she must deal with protecting the border. On that basis, will she explain why her Department is today stonewalling on legitimate freedom of information requests about migrant incursions on the coast? Is that the case, and if so, why is she not giving that information to media and other outlets?

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On the last point, I simply say to my hon. Friend that he should not always believe everything he reads in the newspapers in relation to the action that is taking place. He refers to the record and says that all 13,000 foreign national offenders are wandering the streets; I should be very clear with the House that they are not doing so. A significant number of them are serving custodial sentences and are therefore within our prison estate, and some of them, having been detained, are within our immigration detention estate, waiting for their deportation.

I am clear, as is my hon. Friend, that we need to do more in this area. That is why the Government have made a number of legislative changes to make it easier for us to deport people, and to rebalance the system in reference to article 8. We will continue to put forward changes that we think will improve our ability to deport foreign national offenders.

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The Home Secretary mentioned the European arrest warrant. If we voted to leave the European Union, what would happen to the implementation of the European arrest warrant system, and would it make it more difficult or easier to get people back from other countries when we want to imprison them in this country for crimes committed here?

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I think the European arrest warrant is a very useful tool for us to access as a member of the European Union. That is why, when we considered the justice and home affairs opt-in/opt-out decision, I proposed to the House that we should go back into the European arrest warrant system, and the House voted to do so unanimously. If we were not a member of the European Union, we would have to negotiate alternative arrangements, but that might not be possible with every country. For example, some member states of the European Union will not allow the extradition of their nationals to countries other than members of the European Union.

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These figures were given to me by the Secretary of State in answer to a question in May. I also received an answer saying that we actually refuse entry to 20 times more non-EU applicants than EU applicants. Border controls are therefore important. That shows that the bar is much higher for non-EU countries. If border controls are so important, will she explain why we have only six boats patrolling our waters, when Italy has 600 and France has 600? Surely we should have stronger border controls in all areas.

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rose—

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On prisons, in particular, rather than boats.

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Perhaps a prison ship might deal with the question.

Of course our border controls are important because we want to ensure, where we can, that we are able to identify those whom we do not wish to have in the United Kingdom, to make sure that they do not cross our borders and that, when we identify them in the United Kingdom, we are able to take action to deport them. As I said earlier, as part of the deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister negotiated in Brussels, it will be easier for us in future, should we remain in the European Union, to both deport criminals from other EU countries, and ensure that they do not reach the UK in the first place.

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My constituent Elsie lives with the actions of a foreign national offender each day, following the tragic murder of her son Mark at the hands of a Polish national. Does the Home Secretary agree that the tawdry tabloid treatment of this serious subject does little to address the very real problems and daily agony of people such as Elsie, and will she join me in calling for all debates on this topic to remain measured and respectful?

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The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point, which is that behind the figures we exchange across the House lie the lives of people who have been seriously affected by the impact of criminality. Such an impact occurs whatever the identity of the criminals, but there are cases such as the one to which she referred. Our hearts must go out to Elsie given the fact that, as the hon. Lady said, she lives day to day with the impact of the actions of a foreign national offender.

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The number of foreign national offenders deported at the end of their sentence reflects the efficient way in which my right hon. Friend has run her Department, and she is to be congratulated on that. The difficult challenge is getting sentenced prisoners from the EU to return to their country to serve their sentence under the EU prisoner transfer framework decision, which was negotiated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) when we were at the Ministry of Justice, where I was his junior Minister, responsible for prisons. It is four years since we departed from the MOJ; how many people have actually been deported to serve their sentence in other EU countries since then?

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I do not believe that I have the exact figure to hand, but I will give it to my hon. Friend. We are seeing an increase in the number of people who have been deported under the prisoner transfer decision, because it is being put in place by other member states. As I am sure he will recall from his time in the Ministry of Justice, Poland had a derogation until December 2016, so at the end of this year Poland will become a part of the prisoner transfer decision. Two countries—I believe they are the Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria—are yet to implement it. There is movement, and there has been an increase in the numbers being transferred under that decision.

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My constituents’ pride in giving hospitality to and assimilating newcomers for the past 150 years was put under strain last year, when a foreign national offender who was deemed too dangerous to be located in London—his home—was placed in my constituency, where he committed crimes for which he is serving a four-year sentence. Would it not be far better for public acceptance of migrants if there was a fair and even distribution of asylum seekers and other migrants throughout the country? My constituency takes 500; will the Home Secretary tell me how many there are in her constituency, and whether there are still none in the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor?

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I have answered that question previously, and the hon. Gentleman knows the figure. He has carefully elided the issue of prisoners with the overall issue of the dispersal system for asylum seekers, which, as has been pointed out in the House before, is exactly the same as that operated by the last Labour Government.

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The Home Secretary referred to GPS tags in her first answer. What assessment has she made of the effectiveness of those tags for deporting foreign national offenders?

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The reason for legislating to have the tags is to be able to identify where people are, so that when the circumstances allow for deporting them, it is easier for us to do so.

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I thank the Home Secretary for her answers so far. Does she recognise that the Government’s failure to deport more EU murderers and rapists undermines the case for remaining in the EU, particularly when housing EU convicts in UK jails costs the taxpayer some £150 million each year? What has been done to reduce that drain on our financial resources?

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The number of European economic area foreign national offenders who have been deported has tripled since 2010-11, from just over 1,000 to well over 3,000. We are making progress in that field.

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At the beginning of this year, a Dutch resident entered through Gatwick airport, very swiftly assaulted a member of staff there, went before the local magistrate, and was released, without having any address, on to the streets of Crawley. Several days later, they hammer-attacked two female police officers. Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the difference between the rhetoric about sharing criminal records and the reality as experienced by all too many of our constituents?

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I am aware of this case, as my hon. Friend came to see me to raise it. Given the circumstances that he has set out, I can fully understand why he chose to do so, and why he has raised the case again today. He referred to criminal records exchange. The tools are there, but operational decisions will be made by those involved at any point in time. As I have indicated, the police have significantly increased the number of criminal record checks that they make, but whether and at what point they make those checks are decisions for them.

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Perhaps uniquely, I shall ask a question that does not involve Europe. Notwithstanding the progress that the Home Secretary has alluded to, does she acknowledge that the report shows that it still takes, on average, 149 days to deport a foreign national offender? Will she also acknowledge that the delay is exacerbated by the appalling record of the contracted transportation company Tascor, which regularly fails to show up to transport prisoners from immigration detention centres to the aeroplane, resulting in further detention and the cost of tickets for missed flights? What will she do about that?

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I assure my hon. Friend that we look constantly at our contracts with those who provide services to the Government. There can be a complex range of reasons why in some cases it is difficult to deport people, or some last-minute problem with deportation, but if someone who expects to be deported is not deported, we make every effort to do so at the earliest opportunity.

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Boston in my constituency has seen more than its fair share of serious crimes committed by foreign nationals, and people are rightly worried. Does the Home Secretary think that the process of negotiating 20-plus new bilateral agreements, or the outcome of that, could conceivably make those people safer?

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Again, my hon. Friend has specifically raised the concerns of his constituents on that issue, and my answer is that being within the European Union, and having the single prisoner transfer framework decision and various other tools, makes us safer. There is uncertainty and delay in having to negotiate bilateral arrangements—indeed, nobody knows whether it will be possible to negotiate bilateral arrangements that are of equal benefit to the British public as those that we have as members of the EU.

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Despite the Home Secretary’s tough talk, the figures are stark. Since 2002-03, the number of EU prisoners in our prisons has trebled. As an illustration, the number of Polish prisoners has gone up from 46 to 983, and the number of Romanian prisoners has increased from 50 to 635. Over the past three years, the Metropolitan police have arrested 100,000 EU nationals and charged more than 30,000 with an offence. The Home Secretary is clearly failing to stop EU criminals coming into the UK, and failing to deport them. Is the only conclusion to be drawn that the free movement of people means the free movement of criminals into the UK?

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My hon. Friend may not be surprised to hear that I draw different conclusions. It is obviously important that we are able to deal with those who try to cross our borders and have a record of criminality, and we must have access to information that enables us to make decisions about such people. That is why access to SIS II, and other systems that allow us to check criminal records, is so important.

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The cost of foreign criminals coming to the UK is just one of the many strains that the free movement of people puts on the British taxpayer. Does the Home Secretary agree with the National Audit Office that the best estimate for the costs of administering foreign national offenders is £850 million a year, and could be as much as £1 billion a year?

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Of course there are costs involved with people who come to the country. Indeed, there are British citizens who commit crimes, and the criminal justice system obviously bears costs to ensure that they are brought to justice and given custodial sentences in our prisons. I urge caution, however, because questions this afternoon have focused on foreign national offenders from other EU member states, but many foreign national offenders in prisons in the United Kingdom come from countries outside the European Union. We make every effort to return those foreign national offenders and deport those people, as we do for those from the EU.

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As a former special constable with the police parliamentary scheme, I was involved at first hand in arresting eastern Europeans on the streets of London for crimes that they were in the process of committing. I saw at first hand the wave of crime from eastern Europe following the accession of those countries in 2004. Does the Home Secretary believe that the situation will get better or worse with the admission of Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey? To ensure that she does not inadvertently mislead the House, given that she has attended today to answer a question on the removal of foreign national offenders and EU prisoners, does she seriously expect us to believe that she will not tell the House the number of prisoners transferred under this super-duper EU prisoner transfer agreement? She attends today with seven officials in the civil servants’ box and her entire ministerial team. Will she now disclose that number?

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My hon. Friend did great service as a special constable, and has referred to foreign national offenders from particular countries whom he was involved in arresting. Something like a third of the population of London are foreign nationals, and I think I am right in saying that the figures show that about a third of the criminals arrested in the Metropolitan police area are foreign nationals. I might draw a different lesson from that than the one drawn by my hon. Friend, but that is an important fact.

I am sorry if my hon. Friend is disappointed that I do not happen to have the figure he asks for in front of me. I indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) that I will write to him with it.

BHS

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I should like to make a brief statement on British Home Stores. The House will remember that, on 25 April, I made a statement after BHS entered administration. The administrators, Duff & Phelps, tried to sell BHS as a going concern with a view to retaining all the stores and as many jobs as possible. I understand that it had talks with a number of interested parties. As reported last week, the administrators have now concluded that process. Although offers were received, none was sufficient to enable a deal to be completed, and they have had to take the decision to wind the business down. That will be devastating news for workers at BHS and their families, and for those businesses that supply BHS. Our thoughts are with all of them. That follows the sad news received by Austin Reed workers on 29 May that only a partial sale of that business was possible, with the remainder being wound down over the course of June.

A number of questions have properly been raised about how BHS found itself in that situation. The proper authorities—the administrators, the Insolvency Service and the pensions regulator—are already looking into these matters. I am clear that any wrongdoing will be taken very seriously and I will return to that later in my statement.

Our focus now is to support all those affected and to get people back into work as quickly as possible. While we await the administrators’ plans for winding down the business, I can inform the House that Jobcentre Plus has been in contact with them and is preparing a range of support to assist staff. Jobcentre Plus is on standby to go into BHS stores and directly advise affected staff of their various options. Already, teams are centrally tracking vacancies in the retail sector and will ensure that BHS branches are aware of any vacancies in the area.

Jobcentre Plus stands ready to deploy its rapid response service in acknowledgment of the scale of the job losses. The service has a strong record of helping people at very distressing times. It can offer workers support, including help with job searches, CV writing and interview skills. It can also help to identify transferable skills and skills gaps linked to the local labour market. It can help with training to update skills and learn new ones, and gaining industry-recognised certification will improve employability. It can give help to overcome barriers to attending training, and securing a job or self-employment, such as childcare costs, work clothes and travel costs.

I can inform the House that the Department for Work and Pensions has written to major retailers asking them to consider what opportunities they can offer the workers and local areas affected as the situation becomes clearer this week. DWP will also monitor the impact of redundancies locally on a continuing basis, and will provide additional targeted support to any areas that are particularly badly affected. I assure the House that we will do everything in our power to support workers and their families through this difficult time—not just BHS workers, but those made redundant by Austin Reed.

On the wider issues, on 3 May, the Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary instructed the Insolvency Service to begin its investigation into the extent to which the conduct of the directors of BHS led to its insolvency and/or caused detriment to its creditors. The Insolvency Service cannot give a running commentary on its investigations, but I know its work is well under way. I am clear that if evidence is uncovered that indicates that any of the directors’ conduct fell below what is expected, action will be taken. This can include applying to the courts to disqualify the relevant parties from being a company director for a period of two to 15 years. If there are any indications of any criminal wrongdoing relating to BHS, we will ensure that the relevant investigatory body is informed.

Members will be aware of considerable concern about the BHS pension scheme. The BHS schemes are in a Pension Protection Fund assessment period. The test is whether the schemes’ funds are sufficient to allow each scheme to buy annuities that will pay members at least PPF-level benefits. If it cannot, the scheme will transfer to the PPF and compensation will be paid. The PPF aims to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.

PPF compensation is generally 100% of the pension in payment for anyone over the scheme’s normal pension age at the date of the insolvency, and, for everyone else, 90% of the accrued pension, subject to a maximum cap.

The Pensions Regulator is currently undertaking an investigation into the BHS pension scheme to determine whether it would be appropriate to use its anti-avoidance powers. This means that if the regulator believes an employer is deliberately attempting to avoid its pension obligations, leaving the PPF to pick up its pension liabilities, the regulator may intervene and seek redress from the employer—and, if I may say so, Mr Speaker, rightly so. There is a clear process that must be followed and this can sometimes take a considerable amount of time. When it becomes appropriate to do so, the regulator will consider issuing a report of its activities in this case. We will examine its findings closely.

As I said on 25 April, retail is a vital sector for the United Kingdom economy and the Government are committed to it, which is one reason why I will be meeting key retailers this Thursday with ministerial colleagues from other Government Departments. The news of the BHS closure is a huge blow, but as a whole the retail sector is resilient. There are now 3.1 million retail jobs in the United Kingdom, up by 83,000 since 2010 and almost back to record pre-recession levels.

High streets remain a crucial part of our local and regional economies, creating jobs, nurturing small businesses and injecting billions of pounds into our economy. A recent report by the Association of Town Centre Management found that town centres contribute nearly £600 billion to the economy each year. That is why we continue to support the British high street. We reduced corporation tax and I am so pleased that we announced the biggest ever cut in business rates in England, worth £6.7 billion over the next five years, which will of course benefit small businesses in particular.

I know little of this will be of comfort to BHS workers facing an uncertain future, but I assure them and the House that the Government will do everything within their powers to get every affected worker back into a job as soon as possible. I commend the statement to the House.

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I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement.

The whole House will be concerned for the 11,000 staff who are losing their jobs as a result of the liquidation of BHS and Austin Reed. The closures also affect supply chains, local economies and communities. Can the Minister tell me whether the taxpayer will have to pay for redundancies, as happened at Comet where the previous owners, not staff, were preferred creditors? Given what she said about the Pensions Regulator, does she envisage an investigation into the actions and activities of Sir Philip Green? Will he be asked to make up the pension shortfall, so that pensioners are not short-changed by receiving only 90% of their pensions guaranteed under the PPF?

The Minister mentioned work done to support the high street. I agree that the high street is a crucial part of the UK economy, but I am afraid the evidence of the failure of BHS, Austin Reed and others suggests that the work done by the Government simply has not been enough. As Mary Portas said, the Government have so far made only token gestures to help our high streets.

The allegations about what happened at BHS are beyond belief. A BHS pension surplus became a deficit of £571 million. The business was sold to Retail Acquisitions, a firm whose head was a three-times bankrupt with no apparent experience of turning around struggling retailers and who appears to have taken significant sums out of the business while it was still trading. What investigation will the Minister’s Department carry out into why Sir Philip Green sold the business when he did and what due diligence he carried out into the buyer?

Sir Philip Green’s family were paid hundreds of millions of pounds in dividends, and all the while the business was lacking the investment in modernisation that might have allowed it to survive and indeed thrive, as others have done. While his former workers contemplate redundancy with significantly reduced terms and a reduced pension, he awaits the delivery of a brand-new £100 million yacht. The Minister mentioned possible investigations. Will she say whether under existing insolvency law she thinks criminal investigations should be considered? Does she envisage a change in the law so that obscene profiteering by the likes of Sir Philip Green and Retail Acquisitions are made illegal? Just what scrutiny does she think is needed of the period prior to insolvency in cases such as those of BHS and Comet? Does she think, as many people do, that Sir Philip Green should be referred to the police for his actions while he owned BHS? It is not just Opposition Members who think his actions a disgrace; one of her own Back Benchers described this as the “unacceptable face of capitalism” the last time we debated the challenges and concerns around BHS.

BHS, as with Comet before, is an example of wealth extraction, not wealth creation, and a system that favours a very small number of people, rather than the wider economy. The Minister and her colleagues need to intervene and investigate in full what happened at BHS and make sure that action is taken against the likes of Sir Philip Green; otherwise they will be complicit in a system of exploitation by a few owners at the expense of the many staff and pensioners.

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As I have said, I will not refer to any individuals. The Pensions Regulator is—quite properly—conducting an investigation into the BHS pension scheme, and there are other investigations. I have made it clear that I and everyone in government take such misconduct, where there is such misconduct, extremely seriously, and if the investigations find the sort of misconduct that should lead to a police inquiry, so be it—let the full process take place—and if anybody needs to be brought to criminal justice, that must be right. As the House knows, I am a one nation Conservative. I support capitalism but not unfettered capitalism without compassion and care, and that extends to anybody working for any business in our country.

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I think the Minister said that any wrongdoing would be dealt with, but the problem is that much of this was, I suspect, legal. That places a moral responsibility on every Government over the last few decades who have allowed such action to be legal. The actions of Philip Green, his family and his companies, in taking out more than £500 million in dividends from a company that cost them £200 million, can be described as little else than asset stripping. What matters now, however, is that those employees dependent on the pension scheme are set to lose 10% of their pensions, if the scheme goes into the Pension Protection Fund. Many Government Members think that the minimum that needs to happen is for Philip Green to pay back enough to save them from that.

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As I said, I will not name any individual. Investigations are being conducted—quite properly—so before we rush to judgment in this place or anywhere else, let us wait for those full investigations to conclude. Then we can see if we need to take matters forward.

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I thank the Minister for early sight of the statement, and I particularly welcome her robust comments about pursuing any wrongdoers—that is entirely the right thing to do. If ever there was an unacceptable face of capitalism, it comes in the form of Sir Philip Green and his like.

The BHS store in Kirkcaldy, in my constituency, is one of 16 stores affected in Scotland, many of them in middle-sized towns such as Kirkcaldy, Livingston and Falkirk where the loss of employment will create considerable problems. These employees have contributed to their pensions at BHS over a lifetime and now find that, because of Green’s failure as a businessman and his naked greed, which may have been legal, they face redundancy and great anxiety about their pensions, even if they are guaranteed the 90% of accrued pensions, subject to a cap.

Furthermore, to have sold off BHS for personal convenience for £1 to Retail Acquisitions—led as we have heard by Dominic Chappell, who has been declared bankrupt three times as of the end of last week—is, to say the least, scandalous, even more so as we now know that Green rejected the opinion of Goldman Sachs, his own advisers. This raises profound questions about the due diligence process, which the Minister may wish to reflect on. Many will be thinking that Green is little better than a corporate crook. He cannot be allowed to sail off in his third yacht, a £100 million luxury “gin palace”, as one newspaper put it. The SNP stands with the communities, families and individuals affected by this dreadful situation. We believe there is a fundamental need to readdress the regulation of the pensions industry to ensure the protection of workers.

I end with three brief questions. First, in Scotland the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment initiative will respond to assist all those made redundant. What are the UK Government’s plans to mirror the breadth of action undertaken by PACE? Secondly, what action do the UK Government contemplate to address the ease with which unscrupulous chancers such as Green can denude businesses of their financial assets? Finally, does the Minister understand why many employees will feel that the Pensions Regulator should seek the entire £571 million actuarial deficit from Green himself?

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May I thank the hon. Gentleman and say that it is a long time since I had the great pleasure of going to Kirkcaldy? It is a few years now, but I know it is a great town. As on many high streets, wherever they might be in the United Kingdom, the role of BHS has been critical. Unfortunately its fortunes have not been good for some considerable time. Perhaps that is the fault of us all for not paying a visit and buying in its shops—I suspect I am guilty of that from the time I used to go up to Kirkcaldy as a regular visitor.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about greed. It does not matter who it is, it is certainly not acceptable, whatever one’s faith may be—I am helpfully reminded by the Deputy Leader of the House that it is apparently a deadly sin. The hon. Gentleman makes a number of points. As I say, there are a number of investigations. We have to await the outcome and if we need to take further action, we will not flinch from doing that.

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The questions at the heart of British Home Stores are not necessarily ones of legality; they are ones about the judgments made by people in positions of authority at British Home Stores and Arcadia and about the ethics of those entrusted with such responsibilities for those companies. My right hon. Friend will be aware that over the last few weeks Sir Philip Green’s reputation has come under substantial fire. Of course it is up to him to decide how he wishes to respond, but is she also aware of the concern of others in business at the collateral damage being done to people’s trust in business across the United Kingdom by the actions of the people involved at Arcadia and British Home Stores?

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I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, and I thank him as ever for his valuable contribution. The reason I am choosing my words today with some care is not that I do not have my own views, based on what I have read, but it is important that we allow these investigations to take place before we rush to judgment. However, it is fair and right to say that, on the basis of what we have read in the newspapers, nobody could be in any way content with some of the allegations that have been made. They are very serious and my hon. Friend rightly makes the point that in effect that damages the reputation of all businesses, and that cannot be right either.

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It is clear from the woeful evidence given to our inquiry by Lord Grabiner, chairman of Arcadia, that effective corporate governance in BHS was almost entirely absent—something that prompted the director general of the Institute of Directors to state in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and me on Friday that it

“represents a blight on the reputation of British business,”

adding that

“if the Chairman of Arcadia is not properly looked at, it could set an appalling precedent for future sales of failing businesses.”

Has the Minister raised BHS with the Financial Reporting Council, which, six weeks after the business went into administration, has still not committed to investigating the matter? Will the Government consider altering the FRC’s remit to ensure that directors and their failings are brought under its jurisdiction?

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I pay tribute to the great work that the hon. Gentleman and indeed his BIS Committee do. I know that he is already conducting—I think, successfully—an inquiry into the working practices of one business, and he has successfully acquired attendance at the Select Committee. He raises important points, and I will write to him on the specific questions he raises, because I will need to make further inquiries about them. I reiterate that we must await the outcome of full investigations, so that we know all the facts, but he can be absolutely sure that we take these matters extremely seriously and that we will not have the good name of British businesses besmirched by the wrongdoings of others.

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While managers and owners can and should be concerned about, and indeed be answerable for solvency, viability, governance and employee wellbeing in their own companies, does the Minister agree that there are serious legal complexities involved in dictating that owners must assess the viability and character of purchasers or be responsible for purchasers’ business conduct post-sale?

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I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s well-informed contribution, as his contributions always are. He makes some very good points. I am sorry to bang on about this, but it is very important to say that investigations have, quite properly, been started, will continue and will reach conclusions and that if there are any allegations of wrongdoing, we will be absolutely firm in our view that justice will be done.

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BHS was an anchor store in the Prince Bishops shopping centre in my constituency, and the staff who work there are really concerned about their future and that of their pensions. There are wider issues, too, about the impact of closure on our high street. Can the Minister tell us what she is going to do to address my constituents’ concerns and to call to account previous owners and current owners and directors for any part they have played in the downfall of BHS?

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Let me make it clear to the hon. Lady that I would be more than happy to meet her. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), who has responsibility for the high street and the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) are in their places, for which I am grateful. I think that shows the level of absolute determination we have to make sure that all those affected by this closure are found alternative work. I reiterate that a full investigation is going on and we expect it to be conducted properly. If there is a need to take further action, that will happen.

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While the investigators must be allowed to get on with their work, does my right hon. Friend agree that wider lessons might need to be drawn on the corporate governance of large private companies, both in respect of how decisions are made and the degree of transparency that applies? The Cadbury code looked into listed companies; perhaps large private companies should look to their own governance arrangements and the degree of transparency around them.

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I completely agree. If the reports are right, this is obviously very deeply concerning, and many lessons might well have to be learned. We await the conclusions of these various inquiries before deciding what further action needs to be taken. We will not hesitate to do that.

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I thank the Minister for her statement, and use my response to it to express the anger on both sides of the House at the threat to 11,000 jobs and 20,000 pensions. When the Minister goes back to her Department, will she consider blowing a whistle on the break-up of this great empire? Is she satisfied that a company that could be sold for a quid should now be broken up because somebody could not meet a timetable for £100 million-worth of working capital? Is she satisfied that the firm entrusted with dealing with the break-up will actually behave in the best interests of the whole network rather than perhaps sell off some assets rather cheaply to known figures in this terribly sorry saga?

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I have faith in the workings of the administrators. They are under strict duties and I expect them to comply with those duties. I know of no reason why they would not do so. I also pay tribute to the good work being done by the Insolvency Service. It takes these matters seriously, as do all Members on both sides of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions, and I have no difficulty with that. I am more than happy to write to him with any answers that I can provide to all the questions he raised.

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I welcome the Minister’s statement on BHS, but it is not only BHS that has a problem. Companies in the supply chain could also have problems, including Courtaulds in my constituency, which has just been put into administration. There are companies that want to buy that business but cannot do so because it is a shed and the things inside have gone elsewhere. They have not gone elsewhere physically, but they have been put into another company. I would like to commend the Minister’s Department and the Department for Work and Pensions for their rapid reaction on the day BHS told people that they were to be made redundant, but will the Minister investigate what is happening at Courtaulds, because I think that there could be some wrongdoing there?

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Courtaulds is very much part of that supply chain and, as I mentioned in my statement, this is not just about the workers at BHS. Of course, it is a dreadful moment for those individuals and their families when they lose their job, but there is also huge concern right the way through the supply chain. As an east midlands MP, I am of course familiar with Courtaulds. It is a great company, and, like my hon. Friend, I am concerned about its demise. I take this matter very seriously. I do not know whether someone in my Department has already offered to meet her to discuss these matters, but I am more than happy to meet her to ensure that the best is now done by Courtaulds.

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We must never forget that pensions are deferred wages for people who have worked hard all their lives. The Pension Protection Fund was set up under a Labour Government, and it plays a vital role in protecting workers and pensioners when an employer goes out of business. Will the Minister join me in sending a clear message from this House that the pensions regulator has our full support in being as robust as possible on this matter? We must also look to the proposed pensions Bill to close any loopholes and deal with any scapegoats that exist as a result of the current regulations. We need to make those regulations much firmer so that people can no longer get away with any wrongdoing when it comes to wages.

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The hon. Lady makes a good point. When people reach retirement, they look forward to receiving the pension they have paid into. They have put their money into their pension on trust, and they expect a certain benefit to come back to them when they retire because they have already paid into it. We all know that there are a lot of problems with a lot of our big pension schemes, but it is imperative that all employers do the right thing by those schemes. I absolutely pay tribute to the Labour Government for setting up the Pension Protection Fund. We are not content, in that it cannot always deliver what people would have had if their schemes had been successful, but it is nevertheless an extremely good lifeboat when pension schemes unfortunately fail. As I have said, an investigation is taking place and there are no doubt lessons to be learned.

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I welcome the ongoing investigations, and I trust that regular updates will be given to the House and to the employees as appropriate. I am also pleased to hear that further action is being taken for our high streets, and I would encourage the Minister to focus not only on retail but on commercial, leisure and residential activities to bring new life back to the high street in a more balanced way, given the current trends in online trading.

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I could not agree with my hon. Friend more, and the high street Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), is nodding furiously in agreement as well. The high street needs to diversify, and I urge all hon. Members to look at the great report written by Bill Grimsey. It was commissioned by the Labour party, and it provides an outstanding forward look into the future of the high street. It is packed full of ideas, some of which are controversial, and it is full of good, sound advice that many a high street and town centre should put into action.

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Kilmarnock in my constituency has one of the 16 BHS stores in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) referred to the concerns for the workers and for the potential void in our high streets that will need to be filled. In her statement, the Minister said that Jobcentre Plus would help to identify and fill skills gaps and vacancies. However, my local jobcentre and the Department for Work and Pensions have confirmed that jobcentres do not monitor long-term vacancies as a matter of course and would therefore not identify any skills gaps relating to those vacancies. Does she not agree that such monitoring should be a routine measure, in that it would help to create opportunities and fill the gaps?

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This is the sort of conversation that I should have with the hon. Gentleman, because this subject is not within my field expertise or ministerial brief—I will be quite frank about that—but if he is right, that is obviously of concern. I am more than happy to speak to him about the matter, but he is quite right to identify that the main thing for consideration today should be all those who find themselves without a job.

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It is becoming increasingly clear that Philip Green, aided by weak directors such as Lord Grabiner, washed his hands of the business because it was doomed and had a doomed pension scheme. There is a long-established principle in English law that a seller should not have to vouch for their successor—caveat emptor—but is it not time that the Minister, perhaps aided by the inquiries of this House and others, revisited that in instances where a seller recklessly or knowingly sells their stake in a business to somebody who is completely unsuited and unable to meet creditors’ demands?

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I really do thank my hon. Friend for that important and incredibly profound point. We are holding an investigation, and there will no doubt be many questions at its conclusion and there may well be some sort of action. He raises an incredibly important point that will undoubtedly be considered seriously by this House and by the Government at the end of the investigations.

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It would have been useful to have heard from the Minister how long the investigations will take to conclude, because people will be worried about their jobs and pensions in the meantime. Referring back to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), when did the Minister last meet the administrators? What discussions has she had with them about what stores could be saved as going businesses? For example, at the weekend I was talking to an employee of the BHS store in my constituency, who believed that the store was doing well, so there are clearly businesses within the business that were faring well. What discussions is the Minister having about keeping jobs rather than losing them and getting Jobcentre Plus to help?

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I can completely answer the hon. Gentleman’s question face on: I have not had any discussions with the administrators, but I do not believe that that would be the norm. I have confidence in them, and I have confidence in the Insolvency Service, which does have regular contact with my Department. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to make further inquiries, I have no difficulty with that and am more than happy to do so, especially in relation to jobs for BHS workers in his constituency and in anybody else’s.

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Just as it is right that the circumstances that brought BHS to this point, which have been raised extensively today, are properly looked into, it is also important that everything possible is being done to help those employees affected by this devastating news. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that Jobcentre Plus’s rapid response service will receive all the support it needs from her and Government to do everything it can for the affected employees?

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I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), for attending today, because he is the relevant Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions. He has heard all that has been said. I have been assured about all the support that is available through the rapid response service. If there are any difficulties, we will take them seriously. We are going to do everything that we can to rectify any of that. It is important that people are given good support so that we can get them back into work.

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Insolvency Service inquiries have always been restricted, but the Minister told the House on 25 April that the inquiry would be open and transparent. What did she mean by that? What are the Government doing differently with this inquiry to ensure that information is as open and transparent as possible, especially for affected staff and customers across the country, including at the Surrey Quays shopping centre in my constituency?

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As I said, the Government have looked at the widespread reports about the goings-on that led to this unfortunate situation. We take those allegations extremely seriously, which is why we have said to the relevant organisations that there must be a full inquiry. We expect the inquiries to be concluded as quickly as possible, but they must be thorough. After that, we will take any action necessary to ensure that if there has been wrongdoing, people are brought to justice.

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The staff at Jobcentre Plus provide a fantastic service in getting people who have lost their jobs back into employment. What can the Jobcentre Plus rapid response service do for BHS staff? Does the Minister agree that the retail sector, in which we hope these people can be found alternative jobs, will be far healthier over the next five years as a result of the business rates cut announced in the Budget?

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I do not really want to go back through my statement, but I did identify in some detail the assistance that people are given, be it help with CV writing, or making sure they have access to training and reskilling. The Department for Work and Pensions—this is a good and admirable idea—is contacting other retailers to see what jobs might be available locally for people, so that they can, in effect, transfer over and apply for those jobs. And, yes, I do believe that our cuts to business rates for small businesses was an outstanding achievement of the Chancellor in the last Budget, and I am confident that as a result real assistance will be given to small businesses, notably those on the high street.

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The first concern of everyone in this House are the people who have lost jobs and pensions, and there are many questions to which they and we still want to hear answers. Looking forward, however, will the Minister assure the House that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will look at the lessons from this and the failure of Austin Reed? Will she consider launching a retail strategy, working with business, so that we do not end up with high streets that are all just payday lenders and betting shops?

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We started a great deal of work, as the last Government, on looking at the future of the high street, going to Mary Portas and others for ideas on how we could assist. That has mainly been done through not only BIS, but, notably, the Department for Communities and Local Government. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, local government can play a hugely important part in ensuring that high streets develop in the right way, thrive and grow, which is one reason why we changed the planning laws. Often this relies on local people thinking outside the box and being radical in how they think about the future of their high street. I think there was another question, but I cannot remember it, because there were quite a few. In any event, the usual rules will apply: I will write to him if there is anything I have forgotten.

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Given that 11,000 direct jobs and many other indirect, supply chain jobs are at risk, I find it very difficult to understand why the Minister has not had a meeting with the administrator. Given that the Denton store, in my constituency, and the Stockport store, which also covers part of my constituency, tell me that they are profitable parts of the BHS business, the Minister has to have a discussion with the administrator about what parts of that business can be saved, in another guise or as part of BHS reinvented. The fact that she has not had any time to meet the administrator is shocking and a travesty, given those 11,000 jobs.

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Just when I think it is going so well, the hon. Gentleman always disappoints. I did not say that I did not have the time—

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Eleven thousand jobs—

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The hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the 11,000 people, so let us do that and not score party political points. Of course we came to the situation where the administrators could not find a buyer only in the past few days. So we do not have government interfering in that process, but now we are where we are—[Interruption.] He shouts from a sedentary position, “Ditch them.”

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Meet them!

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Meet them. Well, I have just said to one of the hon. Gentleman’s comrades that I do not have a problem in contacting the administrators if that has and will have any benefit at all. But we must get a sense of proportion here: this unfortunate news has only just been announced.

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This really is not good enough. It is not good enough that the Minister has not met the administrators to talk about the people who are affected. It is not good enough that 11,000 people face redundancy and an uncertain pension while the millionaires cream tens of millions of pounds off the top to pay for brand-new yachts. The people in my constituency, where the store is likely to close, will not see justice in their view until somebody is in the dock, facing trial. Does the Minister agree with me that Sir Philip is not fit to lick the boots of those people, let alone be a knight of this realm? Will she support me in having that revoked?

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There are a number of points there. Let me make it absolutely clear: the Government are not legally entitled to intervene and direct the administrator. The administrator has to act absolutely independently. We have already—quite unusually—announced a number of investigations into these matters. We will wait to see the outcome of the investigations rather than rush to judgment. As I have said repeatedly, if there is further action to be taken, we will not hesitate to take it.

Points of Order

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are now some 30 hon. Members being investigated by 18 different police forces across England in relation to the very serious allegation that the Representation of the People Act 1983 may have been contravened in the declaration of candidate expenditure. Can you make a ruling on what may or may not be raised in this House in reference to those allegations, given the deep concern among the public and the fact that any successful prosecution may result in serious consequences for the hon. Member involved, and even call into question last year’s general election result?

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What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, to whom I am grateful, is as follows. First, the matter is not sub judice—he was not suggesting that it is, but I understand that it is not. Secondly, however, I think it prudent and wise to leave the investigating authorities to conduct their investigations, and not to seek to do so ourselves in this Chamber with an imagined expertise and authority. Last, when the hon. Gentleman seeks my wider guidance, I think it best to avoid the hypothetical and to deal with these matters as and when—but only as and when—they arise. We will leave it there.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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On a different and unrelated matter, I am sure. The hon. Gentleman is nodding solemnly and sagely.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice for the second time in a matter of months. A ministerial visit has been organised to the excellent Makkah mosque in Headingley in my constituency. On this occasion, I had to drag it out of the office of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the visit was for. I was delighted he was doing it, but can you make it clear to Ministers that, while we welcome their visits, they should have the courtesy to tell us where they are going and what they are doing?

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First, I think it best that Ministers who are going to visit colleagues’ constituencies are explicit and candid about these matters, subject only to security considerations. It is much better to tell colleagues what the visit is about than to deprive them of that information. Secondly, I must say that I have always found the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who visited my own constituency recently, the very embodiment of courtesy.

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To you.

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That has been my experience of the Secretary of State—an extremely courteous individual. The right hon. and learned Lady says, “To you,” but generally I find the Secretary of State is courteous to most people. If there has been a lapse in this case, I regret that.

Thirdly, I just say that is not worth the hassle with the hon. Gentleman, who is a very persistent terrier. My advice to anybody who is going to wander into his constituency on anything that might be considered to be official business is: tell the bloke in advance.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It relates to the non-disclosure of Government-held information to the House. During the response to the urgent question on the deportation of foreign and EU prisoners, at 5 minutes past 4 this afternoon my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) asked the Home Secretary if she would tell the House how many EU prisoners had been transferred compulsorily from this country to their EU country of origin under the terms of the EU prisoner transfer agreement, which the Home Secretary prayed in aid in her response to the urgent question. The Home Secretary said in answer to him that she did not have that information readily available. I repeated the question 10 minutes later, at quarter past 4. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), was on the Front Bench, there were seven officials in the box, and there were other Home Office Ministers on the Front Bench. I find it inconceivable that the Home Secretary was not apprised of that information, and withheld it from the House. What can be done, Sir, to make sure that that information is released to the House before it rises later today?

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I did not quite hear the tail end of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I am sure that he would not suggest that a Minister would deliberately refuse to give information that she had at the time. As for exactly what was known by the Minister, or what was available to Minister, or what was proffered to the Minister, I do not know. If a Minister has not given a correct answer it is incumbent on them to correct it as quickly as possible. If the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied, as he clearly is, he has the resources of the Table Office open to him to table a question, including a question for a named day. If he is dissatisfied with the answer to that named day question, or does not receive a substantive answer, there is an arsenal of parliamentary weapons available to him, especially if he judges the matter to be urgent. I will leave the hon. Gentleman, who is a wily and experienced parliamentarian, to his own devices.

Investigatory Powers Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

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I beg to move,

That the Order of 15 March 2016 (Investigatory Powers Bill (Programme)) in the last session of Parliament be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (5) and (6) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken on the days and in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

(3) The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

Table

Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceedings

Day 1

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 1; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 8

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 2; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 5; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Chapter 1 of Part 9

Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order

Six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order

Day 2

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 6; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 7

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 3; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 4; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Chapter 2 of Part 9; remaining proceedings on Consideration

Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration on the second day

One hour before the moment of interruption

(4) Any proceedings in Legislative Grand Committee and proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.

I am immensely grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to move the programme motion. I do not want to delay the House unduly, because there are many significant matters to debate in this important legislation. It has been the Government’s habit, in respect of the Bill, to engage in the most careful—

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Formally!

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I have already excited my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and I hope that I will continue to do so.

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I am not sure whether “excited” is correct; I think “irritated” might be, but in my experience the right hon. Gentleman has never let that put him off in the past.

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And will certainly not do so in the next two days, Mr Speaker.

The programme motion is relatively straightforward, because, as I was about to say, it is the Government’s habit, in respect of the Bill, to both listen and learn. Over the next two days, I hope to be able to show that we have done both. Scrutiny has been considerable, and the draft Bill that preceded the Bill that we are considering on Report was scrutinised closely by three parliamentary Committees, including a special Joint Committee, chaired and supported by Members of the Lords and the Commons, who gave the measure considerable attention. The Joint Committee produced a report with numerous recommendations, and members of the Public Bill Committee engaged in debate on those recommendations. There has therefore been a thorough process, and that will continue over the next two days.

Question put and agreed to.

Investigatory Powers Bill

[1st Allocated Day]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 5

General duties in relation to privacy

“(1) Subsection (2) applies where a public authority is deciding whether—

(a) to issue, renew or cancel a warrant under Part 2, 5, 6 or 7,

(b) to modify such a warrant,

(c) to approve a decision to issue, renew or modify such a warrant,

(d) to grant, approve or cancel an authorisation under Part 3,

(e) to give a notice in pursuance of such an authorisation or under Part 4 or section 216, 217 or 220,

(f) to vary or revoke such a notice,

(g) to approve a decision to give a notice under section 216 or 217, or

(h) to apply for or otherwise seek any issue, grant, giving, modification, variation or renewal of a kind falling within paragraph (a), (b), (d), (e) or (f).

(2) The public authority must have regard to—

(a) whether what is sought to be achieved by the warrant, authorisation or notice could reasonably be achieved by other less intrusive means,

(b) the public interest in the integrity and security of telecommunication systems and postal services, and

(c) any other aspects of the public interest in the protection of privacy.

(3) The duties under subsection (2)—

(a) apply so far as they are relevant in the particular context, and

(b) are subject to the need to have regard to other considerations that are also relevant in that context.

(4) The other considerations may, in particular, include—

(a) the interests of national security or of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom,

(b) the public interest in preventing or detecting serious crime,

(c) other considerations which are relevant to—

(i) whether the conduct authorised or required by the warrant, authorisation or notice is proportionate, or

(ii) whether it is necessary to act for a purpose provided for by this Act,

(d) the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998, and

(e) other requirements of public law.

(5) In this section “public authority” includes the relevant judicial authority (within the meaning of section 66) where the relevant judicial authority is deciding whether to approve under that section an authorisation under Part 3.” —(Mr John Hayes.)

This new clause imposes certain duties in relation to privacy.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 6—Civil liability for certain unlawful interceptions.

New clause 4—Offence of unlawful use of investigatory powers

“(1) A relevant person is guilty of an offence if—

(a) by way of conduct described in this Act, he knowingly or recklessly obtains the communications, communications data, secondary data, equipment data or personal information of an individual, and

(b) the person does not have lawful authority to make use of the investigatory power concerned.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a relevant person who shows that the person acted in the reasonable belief that the person had lawful authority to obtain the information referred to in subsection (1)(a).

(3) In this section “relevant person” means a person who holds an office, rank or position with a relevant public authority (within the meaning of Part 3).

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales—

(i) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months (or 6 months, if the offence was committed before the commencement of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003), or

(ii) to a fine, or to both;

(b) on summary conviction in Scotland—

(i) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or

(ii) to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(c) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland—

(i) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or

(ii) to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(d) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to a fine, or to both.

(5) The offence in this section shall have precedence over any other relevant offences in the Data Protection Act 1998, Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, Computer Misuse Act 1990, and the common law offence of misfeasance in public office.”

On behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, to provide for a unified offence for the misuse of intrusive investigatory powers at the beginning of the Bill, in Part 1, rather than having each offence scattered throughout the Bill or in other legislation.

New clause 21—General duties in relation to privacy

“(1) Subsection (2) applies where a public authority is deciding whether—

(a) to issue, renew or cancel a warrant under Part 2, 5, 6 or 7,

(b) to modify such a warrant,

(c) to approve a decision to issue, renew or modify such a warrant,

(d) to grant, approve or cancel an authorisation under Part 3,

(e) to give a notice in pursuance of such an authorisation or under Part 4 or section 216, 217 or 220,

(f) to vary or revoke such a notice,

(g) to approve a decision to give a notice under section 216 or 217, or

(h) to apply for or otherwise seek any issue, grant, giving, modification, variation or renewal of a kind falling within paragraph (a), (b), (d), (e) or (f).

(2) The public authority must give effect to—

(a) the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998, and

(b) other requirements of public law.

(3) The public authority must also have regard to—

(a) whether what is sought to be achieved by the warrant, authorisation or notice could reasonably be achieved by other less intrusive means,

(b) the public interest in the integrity and security of telecommunication systems and postal services, and

(c) any other aspects of the public interest in the protection of privacy.

(4) The duties under subsection (3)—

(a) apply so far as they are relevant in the particular context, and

(b) are subject to the need to have regard to other considerations that are also relevant in that context.

(5) The other considerations may, in particular, include—

(a) the interests of national security or of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom,

(b) the public interest in preventing or detecting serious crime,

(c) other considerations which are relevant to—

(i) whether the conduct authorised or required by the warrant, authorisation or notice is proportionate, or

(ii) whether it is necessary to act for a purpose provided for by this Act.

(6) In this section “public authority” includes the relevant judicial authority (within the meaning of section 66) where the relevant judicial authority is deciding whether to approve under that section an authorisation under Part 3.”

This new clause sets out general duties in relation to privacy.

Amendment 14, in clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert—

“( ) This Act sets out the extent to which certain investigatory powers may be used to interfere with an individual’s privacy.”

On behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, to place privacy at the forefront of the legislation.

Government amendments 26 to 34.

New clause 1—Notification by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner—

“(1) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner is to notify the subject or subjects of investigatory powers relating to the statutory functions identified in section 196, subsections (1), (2) and (3), including—

(a) the interception or examination of communications,

(b) the retention, accessing or examination of communications data or secondary data,

(c) equipment interference,

(d) access or examination of data retrieved from a bulk personal dataset,

(e) covert human intelligence sources,

(f) entry or interference with property.

(2) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner must only notify subjects of investigatory powers under subsection (1) upon completion of the relevant conduct or the cancellation of the authorisation or warrant.

(3) The notification under subsection (1) must be sent by writing within thirty days of the completion of the relevant conduct or cancellation of the authorisation or warrant.

(4) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner must issue the notification under subsection (1) in writing, including details of—

(a) the conduct that has taken place, and

(b) the provisions under which the conduct has taken place, and

(c) any known errors that took place within the course of the conduct.

(5) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner may postpone the notification under subsection (1) beyond the time limit under subsection (3) if the Commissioner assesses that notification may defeat the purposes of an on-going serious crime or national security operation or investigation.

(6) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner must consult with the person to whom the warrant is addressed in order to fulfil an assessment under subsection (5).”

New clause 2—Referrals by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament—

“(1) Subsection (2) applies if the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament refers a matter to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

(2) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner must inform the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament of the outcome of any investigation, inspection or audit arising from such a referral.”

To allow the Intelligence and Security Committee to refer matters, on behalf of Parliament, to the Commissioner and to provide a mechanism for the Committee to be informed of the outcome.

New clause 16—Investigatory Powers Commissioner: obligation to notify—

“(1) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner is to notify the subject or subjects of investigatory powers relating to the statutory functions identified in section 196, subsections (1), (2) and (3), including—

(a) the interception or examination of communications,

(b) the retention, accessing or examination of communications data or secondary data,

(a) equipment interference,

(b) access or examination of data retrieved from a bulk personal dataset.

(2) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner must only notify subjects of investigatory powers under subsection (1) upon completion of the relevant conduct or the cancellation of the authorisation or warrant.

(3) The notification under subsection (1) must be sent by writing within ninety days of the completion of the relevant conduct or cancellation of the authorisation or warrant.

(4) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner must issue the notification under subsection (1) in writing, including details of the provisions under which the conduct has taken place.

(5) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner may postpone the notification under subsection (1) beyond the time limit under subsection (3) if the Commissioner assesses that notification may defeat the purposes of the on-going serious crime or national security operation or investigation.

(6) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner must consult with the person to whom the warrant is addressed in order to fulfil an assessment under subsection (5).”

This new Clause would ensure that individuals are informed after the event that they have been a subject of investigatory powers.

Amendment 465, in clause 194, page 149, line 7, at end insert—

“( ) There shall be a body corporate known as the Investigatory Powers Commission.

( ) The Investigatory Powers Commission shall have such powers and duties as shall be specified in this Act.”

See amendment 469.

Amendment 466, page 149, line 12, at end insert—

“(1A) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner must appoint—

(a) the Chief Inspector, and

(b) such number of Inspectors as the Investigatory Powers Commissioner considers necessary for the carrying out of the functions of the Investigatory Powers Commission.

(1B) In appointing Investigators the Investigatory Powers Commissioner shall—

(a) appoint an individual only if the Investigatory Powers Commissioner thinks that the individual—

(i) has experience or knowledge relating to a relevant matter, and

(ii) is suitable for appointment,

(b) have regard to the desirability of the Investigators together having experience and knowledge relating to the relevant matters.

(1C) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a) the relevant matters are those matters in respect of which the Investigatory Powers Commission has functions including, in particular—

(a) national security;

(b) the prevention and detection of serious crime;

(c) the protection of privacy and the integrity of personal data;

(d) the security and integrity of computer systems and networks;

(e) the law, in particular, as it relates to the matters in subsections (-)(a) – (b);

(f) human rights as defined in Section 9(2) of the Equality Act 2006.”

See amendment 469.

Amendment 295, page 149, line 19, leave out paragraph (a).

A paving amendment for the proposed requirement on the Prime Minister to act on the recommendation of the relevant chief justice when appointing Judicial Commissioners.

Amendment 296, page 149, line 20, leave out paragraph (b).

A paving amendment for the proposed requirement on the Prime Minister to act on the recommendation of the relevant chief justice when appointing Judicial Commissioners.

Amendment 297, page 149, line 21, leave out paragraph (c).

A paving amendment for the proposed requirement on the Prime Minister to act on the recommendation of the relevant chief justice when appointing Judicial Commissioners.

Amendment 7, page 149, line 23, at end insert—

“(3A) The term of office of a person appointed under subsection (1)(a) as Investigatory Powers Commissioner must not begin before the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has consented to the proposed appointee.”

This amendment would require the appointment of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to be agreed by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.

Amendment 298, page 149, line 28, at end insert—

“(5A) When appointing any person under subsection (1), the Prime Minister must act on the recommendation of—

(a) the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, in relation to Judicial Commissioners appointed from England and Wales,

(b) the Lord President of the Court of Session, in relation to Judicial Commissioners appointed from Scotland, and

(c) the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, in relation to Judicial Commissioners appointed from Northern Ireland.”

An amendment to require the Prime Minister to act on the recommendation of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Lord President of the court of Session, or the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, when appointing Judicial Commissioners.

Amendment 146, page 149, line 35, at end insert—

“(7A) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner shall ensure that all judicial authorisation functions under this Act are carried out by different Commissioners from those who carry out the audit and inspection functions set out in this Part.”

This amendment requires the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to ensure the separation of the judicial authorisation function from the ex post audit and inspection function..

Amendment 467, page 149, line 35, at end insert—

“(7A) The Prime Minister may make an appointment under subsection (1) only following a recommendation by—

(a) The Judicial Appointments Commission;

(b) The Judicial Appointments Board of Scotland; or

(c) The Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission.”

See amendment 469.

Amendment 468, page 149, line 35, at end insert—

“(7A) The Chief Inspector is an Inspector and the Chief Inspector and the other Inspector are to be known, collectively, as the Inspectors.”

See amendment 469.

Amendment 469, page 150, line 2, at end insert—

“(c) to the Investigatory Powers Commission are to be read as appropriate to refer to the body corporate, the Investigatory Powers Commission, and in so far as it will refer to the conduct of powers, duties and functions, those shall be conducted by either the Judicial Commissioners or the Inspectors as determined by this Act or by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, consistent with the provisions of this Act.”

The purpose of these amendments is to replace the proposal to create an Investigatory Powers Commissioner with provisions to create a new Investigatory Powers Commission. They would provide that no appointment can be made except pursuant to a recommendation by the independent bodies in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland tasked with making judicial appointments in those jurisdictions.

Government amendment 35.

Amendment 8, in clause 196, page 152, line 9, at end insert—

“(4A) In keeping matters under review in accordance with this section, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner must, in particular, keep under review the operation of safeguards to protect privacy.”

On behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, to make explicit that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner is required to scrutinise the underlying safeguards, procedures and processes relating to bulk powers, including the arrangements for the protection of, and control of access to, material obtained through their use.

Amendment 18, in clause 197, page 153, line 8, after “Commissioner”, insert

“or the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.”

On behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, to allow the Prime Minister to issue directions at the request of the ISC (in addition to the Commissioner).

Amendment 189, in clause 198, page 153, line 21, leave out

“if the Commissioner considers that—”.

See amendment 195.

Amendment 472, page 153, line 21, leave out from “aware” to end of line 24.

See amendment 477.

Amendment 190, page 153, leave out line 23.

See amendment 195.

Amendment 191, page 153, leave out line 24.

See amendment 195.

Amendment 473, page 153, line 25, leave out subsections (2) to (5) and insert—

“(2) The Investigatory Powers Commissioner may decide not to inform a person of an error in exceptional circumstances.

(1) Exceptional circumstances under subsection (1) will arise if the public interest in disclosure is outweighed by a significant prejudice to—

(a) national security, or

(b) the prevention and detection of serious crime.”

See amendment 477.

Amendment 192, page 153, line 25, leave out subsection (2).

See amendment 195.

Amendment 193, page 153, line 29, leave out subsection (3).

See amendment 195.

Amendment 194, page 153, line 32, leave out subsection (4).

See amendment 195.

Amendment 474, page 153, line 44, at end insert—

“(5A) Provide the person with such details of the submissions made by the public authority on the error and on the matters concerned pursuant to subsection (5) as are necessary to inform a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.”

See amendment 477.

Amendment 195, page 154, line 6, leave out from “having” to end of line 9.

These amendments will remove excessive restrictions on the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to instruct and inform individuals who have been subject to surveillance and will ensure that they are always notified of that fact when unlawful errors occur.

Amendment 2, page 154, line 10, leave out subsection (7).

Amendment 476, page 154, line 16, leave out paragraph (b).

See amendment 477.

Amendment 477, page 154, line 23, leave out paragraph (b).

These amendments would amend the Bill to provide for the Commissioner to notify any relevant person of any error made pursuant to the activities in the Bill, in order to allow those individuals to consider whether a claim may lie to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal for redress. It makes provision for non-disclosure in circumstances where the public interest in disclosure would be outweighed by a significant risk of prejudice to national security or the prevention and detection of crime.

Amendment 479, in clause 199, page 154, line 28, leave out “Judicial Commissioner” and insert “Investigatory Powers Commission”.

See amendment 481.

Amendment 478, page 154, line 34, at end insert—

“(1A) A Judicial Commissioner may refer to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal any matter the Commissioner considers may have involved the unlawful use of investigatory powers.”

See amendment 481.

Amendment 480, page 154, line 35, leave out “Judicial Commissioner” and insert “Investigatory Powers Commission”.

See amendment 481.

Amendment 481, page 154, line 38, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—

“(3) In any circumstances where the Commission has identified a relevant error pursuant to section 198, the Commission must give such documents, information or other material as may be relevant to the investigation of the error to the Tribunal.

(4) The duty in subsection (3) shall be exercised without request from the Tribunal.”

These amendments would remove the requirement to consult the Secretary of State and would make clear that in circumstances where a relevant error has been identified, material should be provided to the Tribunal by the Commission. It would make clear that any potentially unlawful use of the powers in this Act may be referred to the Tribunal by the Commissioners. These amendments would remove the requirement to consult the Secretary of State before giving assistance direct to other public authorities.

Amendment 482, in clause 203, page 159, line 2, at end insert—

“(1A) A disclosure pursuant to subsection (1) will not constitute a criminal offence for any purposes in this Act or in any other enactment.

(1B) In subsection (1), a disclosure for the purposes of any function of the Commissioner may be made at the initiative of the person making the disclosure and without need for request by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.”

This amendment would make it clear that voluntary, unsolicited disclosures are protected, and that any whistle-blower is also protected from criminal prosecution.

Amendment 483, in clause 208, page 160, line 29, after “determination” insert

“or ruling or decision, including relating to a procedural matter.”

See amendment 486.

Amendment 484, page 160, line 29, leave out from “Tribunal” to the end of line 30.

See amendment 486.

Amendment 485, page 161, line 8, leave out subsection (6).

See amendment 486.

Amendment 486, page 162, line 38, at end insert—

“(6) After section 68(1) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, insert—

(1A) Any hearing conducted by the Tribunal must be conducted in public, except where a special proceeding is justified in the public interest.

(1B) Any determination by the Tribunal must be made public, except where a special proceeding may be justified in the public interest.

(1C) A special proceeding will be in the public interest only where there is no alternative means to protect sensitive material from disclosure.

(1D) Material will be sensitive material for the purposes of this Section if its disclosure would seriously prejudice (a) national security or (b) the prevention and detection of crime.

(1E) Publication for the purposes of this Section will be seriously prejudicial if it would lead to a significant threat to life or of a serious physical injury to a person.

(1F) The Tribunal shall appoint a person to represent the interests of a party in any special proceedings from which the party (and any legal representative of the party) is excluded.

(1G) Such a person will be known as a Special Advocate.”

These amendments make clear that all decisions, determinations and rulings can be appealed on a point of law.

Amendment 487, page 162, line 38, at end insert—

“(6) After Section 4(5)(f) of the Human Rights Act 1998 insert—

‘(g) the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.’”

This amendment makes clear that all decisions, determinations and rulings can be appealed on a point of law.

Government amendments 36 to 43 and 48.

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The Minister now has a second opportunity to practise his oratory.

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As you know, Mr Speaker, practice makes perfect, and we have two days to perfect all we do and say.

We open the debate on the Bill with a group of provisions that address a matter which lies at its very heart. Throughout the lengthy consideration the Bill has enjoyed in its draft form and its final form, the issue of privacy, and the balance between security and private interest, has been frequently considered and debated. The balance that lies at the heart of our considerations and the proposed legislation is critical to the acceptance we need to engender for a Bill that is in the national interest.

The word “balance” was used by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) during the Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill. He talked about the balance between national interest and personal interest— in my terms, the defence of personal privacy and the underpinning of the common good. For me, communal wellbeing and individual fulfilment are inseparable, and the national interest can only be defined as the people’s interest. It is right that we should consider how that balance is reflected in the words before us. The issues of privacy and oversight are central to our considerations, and the Government are determined to ensure that the Bill reflects the concentration on those two matters.

We are clear that, in considering and passing the Bill, we must do more—more in respect of checks and balances, more in respect of safeguards and more in respect of oversight, and that is indeed what we have tried to do in the provisions we are considering. It is important to understand that privacy is at the very core of the Bill—it runs through its very fabric. The protection of private interests and the protection of the public are at the heart of all we seek to do.

In Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) tabled a new clause to strike a balance on this issue in sympathy with my view that privacy is woven throughout the Bill’s provisions. I have concluded that he was right to emphasise the need to make that palpably clear on the face of the legislation; to seek to reinforce the determination that I have described to protect private interest. It seemed to me that he was also right to suggest that that should be an overarching aspect of the Bill—in other words, that we should, explicitly, at the outset of this legislation, make it clear that privacy matters in the way that I have described. He therefore suggested—indeed, he has tabled an amendment today, too—that we add to the Bill just such an overarching emphasis on the defence of private interests.

By underpinning the powers and the sensitive capabilities available to our law enforcement and security services, the Bill provides—as successive Governments have, by the way—an appropriate degree of oversight of those powers. Furthermore, through the change to authorisation, we have, for the first time, and in highly significant—one might even say groundbreaking—terms, struck an important balance between the role of the Executive and the role of the judiciary. That answers the call of those who, on the one hand, made the case in our earlier considerations that it is politicians who should decide these things because they are accountable to the people and those who, on the other hand, felt that that alone was not sufficient and that it was also important for lawyers to play their part in ensuring that decisions made in respect of warranting were reasonable, necessary and proportionate. The core principle—the necessity of proportionality—therefore applies to all such powers. It is underpinned by the changes that we seek to make in the Bill.

In essence, the provisions reflect the collective consideration of the three independent reviews I mentioned briefly in our short consideration of the programme motion. The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on the draft Bill, which was published last year, called for the inclusion of an overarching clause dealing with privacy protections, and that call was echoed by the Opposition and the Scottish National party during the Committee stage.

The Government have been clear throughout the passage of the Bill that they would listen to recommendations that would improve this important proposed legislation, and that is just what we have done. We have tabled a number of amendments that demonstrate exactly that willingness to listen and that desire to strike the right balance.

Government amendment 34 relates to clause 10, an important safeguard in the Bill that prevents numerous powers in other legislation from being used to acquire communications data. There are a small number of exceptions to that restriction, and the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that they are clearly limited. The amendment therefore makes it absolutely clear that the use of regulatory powers to acquire communications data is limited to those that are exercisable in connection with telecommunications or postal regulation.

Government amendment 35 extends the oversight provided by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to all efforts made by prison governors to prevent the use of illegal mobile phones in custodial institutions. That is something that the Interception of Communications Commissioner has previously called for, so I am pleased to be able to amend the Bill to take account of his advice. The amendment will also ensure that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner has oversight of any interference with electronic communications.

That issue was raised in Committee by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and I said that we would give it further consideration. We have done so and come to the conclusion that her argument is right. Although this tort would apply only to very limited circumstances—indeed, we believe that it has never been used—I accept that in such cases a person should have the power to seek appropriate redress through the civil courts.

Probably the most important amendment tabled by the Government is new clause 5—the privacy clause to which I referred at the outset. It puts privacy at the heart of the Bill in precisely the overarching way that those who scrutinised it prior to and during Committee recommended. It responds, therefore, both to the recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee and to the extensive debates held since then. As we have indicated, the protection of privacy is woven throughout the Bill, but we recognise the merit in setting it out at the very start.

I do not want to indulge in hyperbole, but consideration of the Bill has been characterised by an unusual degree of co-operation to get it right across the House. All legislation benefits from that kind of considered scrutiny and co-operation. Legislation that is in the national interest, as this Bill certainly is, is far better for that kind of approach, and that is exactly the approach that the Government have adopted.

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My right hon. Friend is being ever so slightly modest in relation to new clause 5, which is aimed primarily at protecting personal privacy. Clearly he has been listening, since one of the concerns expressed by industry is that interference and hacking may cause a failure of business confidence in IT. Subsection (2)(b) will go some way to protect the interests of such companies and businesses, since it states explicitly that the public authority must have regard to the public interest in such matters, including the viability of those undertakings.

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It is true that such concerns have been expressed. Indeed, as we debate the Bill in further detail, particularly with regard to internet communication records, we will see that the capability of organisations to meet the Bill’s requirements must be met in a way that is not excessively expensive or impossible to implement, and that does not have the sort of unintended consequences described by my hon. Friend. It is partly the response to those overtures that has stimulated the changes under discussion. So it was, as he said, partly about what the Opposition said in Committee, partly about what the three reports said in respect of privacy and the consequences he described, and partly about the extensive discussions we have had with the sector on how these things could best be implemented.

My hon. Friend is right that the effective implementation of these provisions is critical to their success. Had we paid less attention to that, he would have been the first to criticise us. He has been a diligent Member of this House for a very long time and he was a member of the Joint Committee that I mentioned, which looked at this Bill in some detail. If I understated the virtues of the new clause, as he suggested, perhaps that is a reflection of my style. As I said earlier, I wish to avoid hyperbole. I am grateful to him for drawing attention to the additional virtues of the new clause.

The new clause was inspired by the ISC, and it is based on the amendment that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) tabled in Committee. I hope that on that basis, the whole House will be able to support it. It makes it clear that warrants or other authorisations should not be granted where information could reasonably be obtained by less intrusive means. It requires that persons, including Secretaries of State and judicial commissioners, who exercise functions under the Bill have regard to the public interest in respect of privacy, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) has described. It makes it clear that criminal offences that apply to misuse of powers under the Bill are sufficient to put beyond doubt the fact that should anyone misuse the powers, severe penalties would apply. There can be no truck with that kind of deliberate wrongdoing.

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I realise that the Bill is complex, but could I ask my right hon. Friend—not during today’s debate, but before our consideration of the matter is concluded—to write to me setting out each of the penalties for each of the misconducts identified in the Bill? The point that I will make to him in due course is that it remains extremely complex to follow, and, in some cases, the penalties appear to be little more than a rap over the knuckles under the Data Protection Act.

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