House of Commons
Wednesday 28 March 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County constituency of West Tyrone in the room of Columba Barry McElduff, who since his election for the said County constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham in the County of Buckingham.—(Julian Smith.)
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Act 2018
Northern Ireland Assembly Members (Pay) Act 2018
Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2018.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Leaving the EU: The Union
The Government are unapologetically committed to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. As the Minister responsible for constitutional issues across the Government and as chair of a number of Cabinet Committees, I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues about such issues.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and for his commitment to our precious Union. He knows that Northern Ireland will achieve a significant milestone on the day after the transition period: its centenary as part of this Union. Will he agree to meet with me and some of my colleagues to discuss how best to advance the celebration and recognition of that achievement?
I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, as I am always happy to talk to the elected representatives of Northern Ireland constituencies here. It is important that we find a way to mark that centenary appropriately and do so in a way that is genuinely inclusive and recognises the sensitivities associated with many centenary anniversaries affecting the island of Ireland that have fallen in recent years.
Given that we are leaving the EU, will my right hon. Friend assure this House that he will do everything he can to preserve the single market of the United Kingdom, which is infinitely more important to many Unionist Members than the single market of the EU?
My hon. Friend is right. The United Kingdom’s common market existed well before we joined the European Union, and it will continue to exist after we leave. The living standards of people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland alike benefit from the existence and strength of the internal market of the United Kingdom, and the Government will do their utmost to protect and defend it.
Given that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill places additional and somewhat unwarranted restrictions on Scottish Government Ministers that do not apply to Ministers down here, does the right hon. Gentleman think that that strategy strengthens the Union or puts it at risk?
The withdrawal Bill, in providing for the transfer of considerable additional powers from Brussels to the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales both strengthens devolution and upholds our constitutional settlement.
Does my right hon. Friend share my frustration at the actions and attitude of the SNP Government regarding clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill? While he has been working on an agreement with the devolved Administrations, they have been blocking, frustrating, agitating and doing everything in their power to manufacture a constitutional crisis in our family of nations.
One of the virtues that I have sought to cultivate in this job is patience, as well as endurance, so we continue talking to both the Scottish and Welsh Governments, but the allegations of a so-called power grab are completely unmerited.
Under a previous UK Government, up to 90% of the Welsh fishing quota was sold to foreign firms. This Union now has more than one Government, so what discussions is the Minister having with colleagues in the Welsh Government about the future allocation of the Welsh fishing quota?
One of the tasks that faces us, as the United Kingdom, as we leave the European Union is to devise the appropriate fisheries regime that provides a just result for fishing communities in all parts of the UK. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking forward to discussing that future with the devolved Administrations and with parliamentarians.
Electoral fraud is unacceptable at any level, and vulnerabilities cannot be allowed to continue to undermine the integrity of our democracy, so the Cabinet Office is working with five local authorities to pilot voter identification and with three others to pilot measures to improve the integrity of the postal and proxy vote processes.
What efforts are being made to cross-reference the electoral roll with the immigration and nationality database to ensure that only people with eligible nationalities appear on the electoral roll and can therefore vote?
We entrust electoral registration officers to do that task, and we think it is very important that they do so. Electoral registration officers have the ability to make nationality checks where they believe it is appropriate. Indeed, this House also recently agreed to changes to the registration forms to emphasise to would-be voters that such checks will be made, and we think that is important.
Over 40 leading charities and academics have written to the Minister expressing their concern that these voter ID pilot areas have failed to carry out equality impact assessments adequately. Most participating authorities have identified negative impacts on various groups, such as people with disabilities, Asian and black communities and Travellers, but astonishingly Bromley Borough Council claims the pilot will have no impact on any of those groups. Why is the Minister allowing these pilots to proceed on the basis of such clearly inadequate equality impact assessments?
These pilots are, in fact, very important. They allow us, as a country, to begin to be sure that the people voting in any given election are eligible to do so. I continue to be disappointed that the Labour party seems to think that that is not necessary. Each local authority involved in these pilots has clear plans, first, to be able to communicate with voters to instruct them on what to do on the day and, secondly, to help anybody who might find themselves unable to produce the required ID. Nobody will be left behind in these pilots.
Women and Political Office
The Government Equalities Office has commissioned a review to identify barriers that limit women’s participation in national Government, the aim being to provide political parties with a range of solutions to draw on. We will also launch a consultation this summer on the introduction of a new electoral offence to tackle the intimidation of parliamentary candidates and campaigners.
Can my right hon. Friend suggest what more can be done to counter the often toxic atmosphere on social media that is frequently directed at female candidates?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and he is right. Sadly, it is noticeable that abuse on social media is particularly directed at women. We recently enacted the Digital Economy Act 2017 to help ensure that online abuse is effectively tackled through a robust code; but ultimately, as political parties, we have our bit to do to make sure we give people protection online—robust debate but with respect—and it is very sad that the Labour party has failed to live up to that by bringing forward its own respect pledge.
Meetings held in the evening often create a barrier to women entering politics, particularly local politics. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that women get appropriate time off work and are provided with childcare?
A number of local authorities are looking at how they can vary their meeting times. The Local Government Association, the chairman of which I met just this morning, is looking at how it can advise local authorities on what they can do to encourage more participation. Some local authorities even pay for childcare; but ultimately, we have to make sure that people feel they can conduct themselves in public life with respect and have the space for proper, robust public debate.
Will the Government work with schools and universities to encourage more young women to get involved in standing for political office?
Absolutely. Again, my right hon. Friend makes a good observation. It is important that we encourage people from all backgrounds, including women and young people, to feel that they can get involved and that there are opportunities to get involved, participate and contribute to public life. To do that, they need to feel safe in that environment, and that is largely down to the political parties delivering it.
With local elections taking place in May, it is vital that we have a diverse set of councillors representing our communities. However, only 33% of councillors in England are women, which represents a rise of only 5% in the past 20 years. There is a clear contrast with progress in the House. Does the Minister agree that the progress in improving women’s representation in local government has stalled? What are this Government doing to address this failing?
One of the key things to having more women involved in local government is political parties encouraging more women to get involved. Conservative Members will certainly be doing that, and I hope the hon. Lady will join me in calling for these local elections to have a respect pledge—the Labour party should step up and do that—to make sure that people feel they can have robust debate, but with respect. The Labour party has simply failed to do that.
Clearly, it is important to use the centenary of women’s suffrage this year to encourage participation events across the country, including in my constituency and the north-west. What funding does the Minister have available to ensure that those types of events happen?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is right in this year that we take the opportunity to continue to highlight why it is important that we see more people, particularly women, getting involved in public life. There is £5 million available, and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), will be happy to liaise with her on that. Again, I have to say that we all need to play a part in encouraging more people from diverse backgrounds to get involved and to feel free to get involved in politics.
Political Parties: Donations and Loans
Donations and loans to political parties are subject to transparency rules, as set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Government remain committed to such transparency, recently passing legislation to extend the requirements to donations and loans in Northern Ireland for the first time.
In the light of recent revelations, how much of the hundreds of thousands of pounds donated to the Tory party by Russians will be returned?
The rules on donations are very clear in terms of permissibility and impermissibility: British citizens are entitled to donate to UK political parties and foreign donors are not.
We have a lot to get through. Quick sentences please.
Will my hon. Friend reissue the requirements that all political parties have to honour on donations, so that no one can fall foul of the rules?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s reminder that we all simply have to abide by the law of this country.
Earlier this month, the House approved regulations requiring the Electoral Commission to disclose donations for parties in Northern Ireland, but that was limited to events taking place after 1 July last year. Given the recent disclosures and in particular the allegations about dark money going from the Constitutional Research Council, which is linked to the Scottish Conservatives, to the Democratic Unionist party, will the Minister consider bringing forward a new order to require the Electoral Commission to disclose information relating to the period from 2015?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been clear that, although she does not have any plans to provide for publication of the pre-2017 data, we will look to review the broader framework once those arrangements have bedded in. What I would say is that she and her predecessor took those decisions because the majority of parties in Northern Ireland agreed at the time that it was the right thing to do, and, indeed, the Labour Front Bench team, before it was against it, was for it.
Last month, access to members of the British Cabinet was auctioned off for around £55,000 per Minister—although the Secretary of State for International Trade was worth only £2,000. The Minister’s job in the Cabinet Office is to ensure “propriety, ethics and transparency” in government; does she agree that auctioning off access to Ministers undermines confidence in democracy by giving the impression of a Government for sale? Will she take steps immediately to secure transparency and propriety in all such matters in future?
As I said in answer to a previous question, all donations are registered in accordance with the law. I appreciate that in recent days some points have been raised; indeed, some were raised in the Chamber yesterday, after your decision to grant an emergency debate, Mr Speaker. There are a lot of allegations in the air at the moment, but what the Government have to do is deal with the law as it stands and allow the correct bodies to carry out their investigations.
House of Lords Reform: Hereditary Peers
As our manifesto made clear, we will continue to ensure that the House of Lords remains relevant and effective by addressing issues such as its size and where there is consensus across both Houses for action. We acknowledge the ongoing work of the Burns Committee, which will consider the next steps on reducing the size of the House of Lords.
The Prime Minister wants to reduce the size of the House of Lords, so why not start with the 91 men and only one woman who owe their place there not to their intrinsic merit but to their ancestors? The House is due to debate my private Member’s Bill on 27 April; the Minister could vote for it, or she could vote for Lord Grocott’s Bill, which has been introduced in the other place. Why not do it?
I very much look forward to discussing the right hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill with him and know that conversations are ongoing on this issue in the other place.
Never mind the hereditaries, the House of Lords is stuffed full of people who are too London-centric. When are we going to have more Yorkshire folk and more of the good men and women of Lincolnshire in the House of Lords?
Very soon, I hope.
Government Procurement: Small Businesses
Small businesses are the engine of our economy and we are determined that they should get their fair share of Government contracts, which is why we have set an ambitious aspiration for a third of procurement spend to be with small and medium-sized enterprises by 2022. We will shortly announce further measures to help us to achieve that target.
We understand that High Speed 2 will bring vast benefits to our economy in the west midlands, including £4 billion-worth of economic growth and 50,000 extra jobs, but small businesses in Redditch say to me that they are not sure how to bid for the contracts. What advice can the Minister give them?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Small businesses throughout the country create millions of jobs and it is important that they are able to access large contracts such as HS2. Public sector contracts are advertised on the Contracts Finder website, which is free and easy to use, and bidders can request information as they need it. I encourage businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere to take advantage.
As my hon. Friend will know, small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. It is the Government’s responsibility to make sure that they can compete equally for public sector contracts. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what he is doing to level the playing field?
We are constantly looking into new ways to reduce the barriers to small businesses working with the public sector, which is why we have already scrapped complex pre-qualification questionnaires for low-value contracts. We require public sector buyers to split contracts into accessible chunks for small businesses, and I am pleased to confirm that we will reopen the G-Cloud to new suppliers, which will further help small businesses.
We are very short of time. I sometimes think we have time for the questions but not always for the answers. We need to be pretty dextrous about this.
Small businesses in Dudley South have shown that they can compete with the biggest names in the world. Will the Minister help them to compete for Government contracts by publishing all contracts worth more than £10,000 on the Contracts Finder website?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and all contracts worth more than £10,000 are published on the Contracts Finder website. Indeed, more than 25,000 organisations are currently registered with Contracts Finder, of which 64% are small and medium-sized enterprises.
Public procurement was meant to be one of the Brexit dividends, but it is not going very well with the Passport Office. Will the Minister tell us specifically what will change?
I have to say to the hon. Lady that, as we leave Europe, it is important that we remain an open economy, and I have every confidence in the way in which that procurement was conducted. We should be sending a signal that, just as we expect foreign businesses to be able to bid for contracts here, we have an open system in this country.
I hear that the problem for small businesses is that they are often denied the chance to bid for work, because they are told by various people that it is down to Government procurement rules, so local businesses, in particular, are kept out. What more is the Minister doing to ensure that local businesses get local contracts?
It is very important that local businesses can get local contracts. The first thing that the Cabinet Office is doing is ensuring that as we re-let contracts, we split them into small amounts so that they are easier for small businesses to bid for, and we have extensive engagement before we let the contract to ensure that as wide a range of businesses as possible can access it.
In Brazil, 30% of food for school meals has to be sourced from local or family farms. France has just introduced a similar law on local, organic provision in public procurement. Why can we not do it here?
I know the hon. Lady’s commitment to this cause. As a result of the changes made under this Government, we allow contracts to take into account factors such as the local sourcing of food, as long as it is provided to all businesses.
Today we are publishing the Government’s state of the estate report for 2016-17. That report demonstrates the progress that we have made in transforming the use of the estate and in freeing up property receipts of £620 million to be reinvested in supporting local and national services.
We live in a London-centric country. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what he is doing to ensure that Government Departments are relocated to other parts of the United Kingdom, including, of course, the great south-west?
This Government are committed to locating economic activity outside London and the south-east. Since 2016, 12 new public bodies have been located outside London, and indeed in the south-west to which my hon. Friend refers. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has set up a regional centre in Bristol, which employs 1,600 people.
There are already measures in place. For example, there are improvements to the way that the certificate of visual impairment can be shared with local authorities. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this further.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Cyber-security is a major priority for the whole of this Government, and our world-leading national cyber security strategy is supported by almost £2 billion of investment. It sets out measures to ensure that the public sector, and the wider economy, is cyber-secure.
These matters are always the subject of keen discussion between the business managers of all political parties. I am sure that the hon. Lady will encourage her party’s spokesman to make those representations.
Two weeks ago the Prime Minister launched a £90 million programme to help to tackle inequalities in youth unemployment. That is in addition to targeted employment support already under way in 20 areas across the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend and I are both so keen to answer that question that we are vying to do so.
The Conservative party manifesto was quite clear that we shall not be doing that, and it was that manifesto that won the general election.
Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. I was always taught that you should listen to a doctor. The hon. Lady is a doctor so the House should listen to her, particularly when she is talking about contaminated blood, which is a very serious matter.
The victims of the contaminated blood scandal have waited decades for answers. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress on the inquiry? Is there any room to revisit the decision to deny victims and their families legal aid in order to prepare adequately for the inquiry?
The inquiry launched a consultation on its terms of reference on 2 March. Details are on its website. The deadline for responses is 26 April. Sir Brian Langstaff wants to hear from as many of those who were affected as possible. As with any such inquiry, it is for the inquiry to decide the level of financial support, including for legal representation for the inquiry proceedings. I am very happy to talk to my hon. Friend and other interested colleagues, or for the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), to do so, about how the terms of reference are being handled. Sir Brian wants this process to be as user-friendly as possible.
As the hon. Lady will be aware, we have invested in the balanced scorecard approach. Of course, we will look at extending it to whatever procurements are possible.
Ministers talk a lot about voter fraud, even though there were only two convictions in 2016. Ministers do not talk about the 6 million people who are not on the electoral register. May I have a commitment from Ministers that, when it comes to strengthening our democracy, they will prioritise the many, not the few?
The hon. Gentleman is unaware that the number of people on his own constituency’s electoral register rose, according to Office for National Statistics figures released last week.
What conversations has the Minister had with charities and health workers about raising awareness of changes to anonymous voter registration for victims of domestic abuse?
I really welcome this question, as it gives us an opportunity to remind health workers and the professionals throughout our constituencies who can now help with this. For example, the Royal College of Midwives, with Government support, recently released such guidance.
The Prime Minister was asked—
May I start, Mr Speaker, by wishing you, all Members and everyone who works on the parliamentary estate a very happy Easter?
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Under Conservative leadership since last May, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has protected social care and other core services. Will the Prime Minister reject the calls from the Opposition to scrap the council tax referendum lock, which prevents excessive council tax rises?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend, who raises an important point. He also makes a point about the success of Dudley Council under Conservative leadership. People living in the Conservative-led Dudley Council area pay among the lowest council tax in the west midlands. Since taking control from Labour, the council has reversed Labour’s street cleaning cuts, scrapped its plans to charge for green waste collection and maintained the weekly bin collection. It is very clear that if people want to pay less and get good services, they should vote Conservative on 3 May.
I join the Prime Minister in wishing you, Mr Speaker, all Members of the House, and indeed our entire community, a very happy Easter.
This week is Autism Awareness Week, and I welcome the work of the National Autistic Society and others. I hope the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the families of Connor Sparrowhawk and Teresa Colvin for their dignity in campaigning for answers about the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of Southern Health. Last week, the health service ombudsman said that too many patients suffered
“failings in mental health care”
“violations of the most basic human rights of patients.”
How confident is the Prime Minister that deaths like Connor’s and Teresa’s could not happen today?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. First of all, significant steps have been taken in raising awareness of autism and ensuring that there is support available for those who are on the autistic spectrum, but the very sad deaths of Teresa Colvin and Connor Sparrowhawk raise very real questions. I join him in paying tribute to the families for the way in which they have campaigned on this particular issue. Obviously these incidents took place some time ago, and lessons have been learned by the health and social care system as a result of the failings of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. The Government are supporting NHS providers to be open and to learn from mistakes so that they reduce the risks to future patients and prevent tragedies from happening. A comprehensive Care Quality Commission inspection of Southern Health is expected later this year.
The ombudsman, Rob Behrens, also said that
“there aren’t enough skilled and qualified staff, there is a problem in recruiting them and there is an overuse of agency staff”,
so could the Prime Minister explain why there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses than there were in 2010?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have already committed to improving mental health services on the ground. We are putting extra money into mental health services. I am pleased to say that about 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day compared with when we came into power. And of course it is this Government who have ensured that we have given parity of esteem to the treatment of mental health in the national health service and are increasing the training and recruitment of people to provide those mental health services. This is about the NHS; it is also about services in our communities; and it is also about ensuring that we can intervene at an early stage for those young people who develop mental health problems. That is why I was pleased to launch the initiative for there to be training in schools so that there is a member of staff who is able to identify mental health problems and able to ensure that young people get the support they need.
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 did indeed embed parity of esteem in law, thanks to a Labour amendment introduced in the House of Lords—but sadly the money never followed. The charity Rethink Mental Illness said recently that
“our overstretched services are failing”.
ITV’s Project 84 campaign highlights the horrifying figure that male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, with 84 taking their lives every week. Earlier this month, the Health Secretary said:
“The prime minister and I have made mental health services a personal priority”.
I fully acknowledge and accept the Prime Minister’s very genuine concern about mental health, but mental health trusts have got fewer resources. Why does the analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists show that mental health trusts have £105 million less than they had six years ago?
As I have just said, of course dealing with mental health is not just a question of what is happening inside the health service; there are wider areas of responsibility for dealing with mental health. What have we done on mental health? Yes, parity of esteem is there. As I said, 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day compared with when we came into power. Spending on mental health has increased to a record £11.6 billion, with a further £1 billion by 2020-21. We are ensuring that we are putting more money in. We have responded to the report of the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health in the workplace. [Interruption.] It is all very well Labour Members chuntering about this, but dealing with mental health means addressing it in a variety of ways. We are taking more steps to address the issues of mental health than the Labour Government ever took when they were in power.
Mental health spending fell by £600 million between 2010 and 2015. Far too often, a mental health crisis has to be dealt with by police, friends, neighbours or people in the community, and too many of our fellow citizens suffer alone because there are insufficient staff to help them at a moment of crisis. It is quite clear that the mental health budget is insufficient. The Prime Minister mentioned young people. Can she explain why only 6% of the overall mental health budget is spent on children and young people when they make up 20% of our population?
As I have just said, we are in fact increasing the services that are available to children and young people, but this is not just about what happens in NHS trusts. It is important we look at this in the round. That is why we are ensuring that there is training in schools to help young people. We have committed to ensuring that 70,000 more children and young people each year have access to high-quality NHS mental health care by 2020-21. We have backed those proposals by additional funding for the work we are doing in schools and how they deal with children and young people’s mental health.
We are also taking action in other areas. When I was Home Secretary, one of the issues I saw was the fact that the police found it very difficult to deal with people in mental health crises because they did not have the training to do it. Putting those people, including young people, into a cell overnight was not helping them. We have changed that. We have seen a dramatic reduction in that number, and we have made it clear that young people will never be taken to a police cell as a place of safety.
I fully acknowledge the work the police do in helping people in a mental health crisis. My point is that there should be more mental health professionals to help people in a crisis. Half of all enduring mental health conditions materialise before the age of 14. Spending on child and adolescent mental health should be a priority. Instead, sadly, the number of child and adolescent psychiatrists has fallen by 6.3%. Fully staffing our children’s and young people’s mental health has to be a priority.
I am not aware that there was a question at the end of that, but I will repeat the point. Young people’s mental health is a very serious issue; the right hon. Gentleman is focusing on one aspect. That is why we are ensuring that we start to address this at an earlier stage. He is right about the high proportion of mental health problems that start before somebody is 14. That is exactly why we are doing more in our schools and working to ensure that we have training for teachers.
There is a wider issue here, which I am sure everybody in the House will recognise. When I talk to young people who have developed mental health problems and hear about the problems they are facing, sadly, one of the issues that puts increasing pressure on young people’s mental health today is the use of social media and the bullying and harassment that they get on it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will join me in saying that we need both to help our young people to have greater resilience in dealing with that social media bullying and to ensure that social media is not used in a way that leads to mental health problems that could well be with those young people for the rest of their lives.
I hope, in the light of what the Prime Minister just said, that she will support our digital bill of rights, which will ensure that there are proper protections for people.
A young woman wrote to me this week who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and is regarded as a high suicide risk. She was told to wait three months for an appointment. That was cancelled and she had to wait a further three months. It is very hard to explain to someone why they have to wait all those months for an appointment while they are in a desperate situation.
Mental health affects us all, and it is welcome that there is now much less stigma surrounding it. However, our NHS is in crisis, and the crisis is particularly acute in mental health services. Despite legislating for parity of esteem, the Government have failed to fund it. We have fewer resources for mental health trusts, fewer mental health nurses and fewer child and adolescent psychiatrists. Will the Prime Minister commit to ring-fencing the NHS mental health budget to support those going through a mental health crisis, at a time when they most need our help and our support?
The national health service is receiving extra funding from this Government—extra funding for mental health and extra funding for other services. Since November, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that an extra £10 billion is going into our NHS over the next few years. How are we able to do that? We able to do that because we take a balanced approach to our economy. That means keeping our debts down, ensuring that we are investing in our public services such as the NHS and mental health services, and actually keeping taxes down for ordinary working people. Labour’s approach would mean increased debt, less money for mental health services and higher taxes for working people—and ordinary working people would pay the price of Labour.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend: we need to get on and deliver Brexit, recognising the vote that was taken. It is a pity that we have seen from the Labour party a track record of trying to frustrate Brexit, rather than trying to make it work. Its MEPs voted against our moving on the negotiations via the European Parliament; the Opposition voted against the Bill that will give us a smooth withdrawal from the EU; and they oppose us spending money to prepare for our exit. It is the Conservatives in government who are getting on and delivering for the voters of North Devon.
The public must have trust in our political process. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that transparency in political campaign spending and the integrity of electoral laws across the UK must be upheld, and will she join me in saying that all allegations of improper spending during the EU referendum must be fully investigated?
We have laws about election spending, and parties are required to abide by those laws. I understand that any allegations that have come forward in respect of spending during the referendum have already been investigated by the Electoral Commission, but it is of course right that allegations are investigated by the Electoral Commission.
We know that before the EU referendum the Democratic Unionist party received £425,000 from the Conservative-run Constitutional Research Council, chaired by Richard Cook, the former vice-chair of the Scottish Tories. We know that some of that money was given to Aggregate IQ, a reported franchise of Cambridge Analytica. We know that Chris Wylie is “absolutely convinced” of a common purpose between Vote Leave, BeLeave, Veterans for Britain and the DUP. The shady business of data mining and undermining electoral laws goes right to the heart of the Prime Minister’s party. Will the Prime Minister issue the full details of the transactions between the DUP and the Scottish Tory-linked CRC?
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the issue of Vote Leave. As I have just said, I understand that this matter has already been investigated twice by the Electoral Commission. He raises questions about inquiries. If there is an allegation of criminal activity, that should be taken to the police. The regulator of election spending is the Electoral Commission, so if there is an allegation of breaches of campaign spending or campaign funding rules, that should be taken to the Electoral Commission. My understanding is that the Electoral Commission does indeed investigate these and will continue to do so when allegations are brought to its attention.
This is an issue on which my hon. Friend has campaigned strong and hard in the interests of her constituents. The NHS in north Cumbria is working on plans for considerable investment in local health services, including the completion of the new build at West Cumberland Hospital and the creation of an academic campus. It is committed to doing all it can to maintain consultant-led maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital. Patient safety is the priority, and the NHS is doing all it can to ensure that a safe and sustainable service can be provided to her constituents and to others.
I would like, first, to look at the report that the hon. Gentleman’s group is providing. What he is saying would potentially fit into the modern industrial strategy that the Government have already launched. We want to build on the strengths of our economy, but also to ensure that people in the UK are skilled for the jobs of the future. I am happy to look at the report and to ensure that he can meet me or the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to look at the results.
As I have said before in this House, it is important that people can have confidence in how their personal data is used and that the Information Commissioner is able to investigate cases that are drawn to her attention. The Data Protection Bill will strengthen the law in this area. We will give the Information Commissioner’s Office tougher provisions to ensure that organisations comply with its investigations. At the heart of the digital charter that we have set out is the principle that personal data should be respected and used appropriately.
The hon. Gentleman talks about funding for local councils. Of course, we have heard in the announcements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that more money is going into local councils over the next couple of years. If the hon. Gentleman worries about what is happening at local council level, he ought to look at the figures that have come out today, which show very clearly that if you live in an area where the council is run by the Labour party, you pay £100 more than under the Conservatives.
I am very happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that promoting home ownership remains a central part of this Government’s policy. We are also introducing a number of measures that will help people who rent their properties. I am pleased, as he said, that the number of first-time buyers has reached its highest level for—he said 10 years, but I think it is 11 years. Of course it is important that we provide funding for Help to Buy, but that cut in stamp duty was also important. The Labour party sometimes talks about homes, but which party was it that voted against that cut in stamp duty? The Labour party.
Order. I do not care how long it takes—I have all the time in the world—but the question will be heard and the answer will be heard. That applies to every single answer and question in this Chamber, no matter how long it takes.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. To conclude my question, I was asking about families earning just £145 a week not receiving school dinners for their children while Members of this House, earning 10 times that sum, are subject to subsidised catering from the taxpayer.
I hope the hon. Lady was not implying that anybody who is currently in receipt of a free school meal will have that taken away from them, because they will not. They will not. She talks about changes that are happening next week. Yes, we will see pensioners getting a boost to their pension next week, 31 million income tax payers will get an income tax cut and 2 million people living on the national living wage will get a pay rise. That is Conservatives delivering for everyone.
I am very happy to wish everyone in Telford, and indeed around the country, a very happy Easter. I am very pleased to welcome, as my hon. Friend has done, the considerable investment announced by the NHS in the hospital that serves her constituents. This is another example of how all we ever hear from the Labour party is the NHS being done down in funding terms, when what we see on the ground is more money coming into the NHS, improving services and serving constituents.
Easter is of course the most important time in the Christian calendar. It is a time of new life and hope. The message of the cross and the resurrection help to support Christians around the world. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the very real persecution faced by too many Christians around the world. I was pleased to meet recently Father Daniel from Nineveh and Idlib, who talked about the very real persecution suffered by his congregations. He presented me with a bible that had been burned after a church had been set on fire. It was rescued and is now in No. 10 Downing Street. We stand with those persecuted Christians. We will be looking to see what more the Government can do to support them.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. This is why, when we look at the issue of mental health problems and mental health difficulties for young people, we need to look widely at the ways in which those problems can be caused and at the origins of those problems. She is right that the sort of abuse that she referred to can have a very terrible effect on the mental health of young people.
On my hon. Friend’s specific point, our Green Paper on transforming children’s mental health services proposes the establishment of new mental health support teams, who will be there, managed by schools, colleges and the NHS. One of the issues that they will particularly look at is supporting young people who have experienced trauma. She has identified a number of cases where those young people may experience that trauma. This is important: it is about young people’s futures.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises this Government’s record in relation to LGBT rights. We have taken up and championed the issue. He will find that previous legislation—I think actually under the previous Labour Government—ensured that it would be dealt with as a devolved matter, and we hope that a Northern Ireland Executive will be in place soon and be able to address these issues.
I am sure that my hon. Friend’s working with those who are looking for a solution will be important and welcomed. I understand that when Church Hill dental practice closes, NHS England will be working with other dental practices in the area to ensure that services are available and that they can increase their capacity. A wider piece of work is being undertaken about dental services in east Kent—the needs and provision of those services—and I am sure, as I say, that my hon. Friend’s contribution to that will be welcomed.
The hon. Gentleman makes certain claims in that question that I did not recognise. I simply say this: if there are those who are trying to suggest that the Government should be rejecting the result of the referendum as a result of these sorts of claims, I say to them very clearly that the referendum was held—[Interruption.]
Order. Calm yourself, Mr Brown. I know you were obviously a very popular figure when you rose to ask your question, but you must listen to the answer—my dear chap, patience.
As I was saying, the referendum was held, the vote was taken, the people gave their view and we will be delivering on it.
I join my hon. Friend in recognising the work that is done by the Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College in his constituency and the skills that it gives young people who wish to enter the armed forces, but he raises an important point about funding in relation to our armed forces. I can announce today that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I have agreed that the Ministry of Defence will have access to £600 million this coming financial year for the MOD’s Dreadnought submarine programme. Today’s announcement will ensure that the work to rebuild the UK’s new world-class nuclear submarines remains on schedule, and it is another sign of the deep commitment this Government have to keeping our country safe. Along with the £200 million carry-forward agreed at the supplementary estimates, that means that the MOD will benefit from an extra £800 million in the next financial year. We continue to exceed the NATO 2% target and remain the second biggest defence spender in NATO.
The Cambridge Analytica revelations suggest that there is something rotten in the state—[Interruption.]
Order. This is very unseemly. [Interruption.] No, I am sorry, it is very unseemly. The hon. Lady—[Interruption.] Mr Pound, your expertise in gesticulation is well known to all Members of the House, but it is not required to be on display at this time. Caroline Lucas will be heard.
The Cambridge Analytica revelations suggest that there is something rotten in the state of our democracy. The current electoral law is woefully inadequate at dealing with the combination of big money and big data, so will the Prime Minister commit to urgent cross-party talks to kick-start a process to ensure that we have a regulatory and legal framework that is up to the challenge of dealing with the digital age?
As I have said previously, clearly the allegations relating to Cambridge Analytica are concerning, because people should be able to have confidence about how their personal data is being used. It is right that we are seeing the Information Commissioner investigating this matter. I expect Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and any others involved to co-operate fully with the Information Commissioner’s Office in the investigation that is taking place. As I said earlier, our Data Protection Bill will strengthen the powers of the Information Commissioner, but it will also strengthen legislation around data protection, as will the other steps that the Government are taking—for example, through our digital charter. This is a Government who are committing to making sure that this is a safe place to be online.
Would the Prime Minister confirm her reported opinion that we are highly unlikely to introduce a new hard border between Britain and Europe by December 2020? Presumably it could take years to train thousands of customs officers and build new lorry parks and other infrastructure at Dover, Holyhead and elsewhere if we tried to, so will she confirm her strongly preferred policy option of frictionless trade in future between the EU and the United Kingdom and an open border in Ireland, in conformity with the Good Friday agreement, and seek a customs arrangement that I personally hope will resemble the existing customs union very closely indeed?
I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that we are indeed committed. We have given that commitment—we gave it in the December joint report and we have given it in the negotiating stage that was completed last week—to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and also to ensure that businesses in Northern Ireland can continue to trade freely with the rest of the United Kingdom and vice versa. We are working to ensure that we have tariff-free trade and trade that is as frictionless as possible. As I am sure he will know, trade between the UK and the EU is not completely frictionless today, but we will ensure that trade is as frictionless as possible in the future. We have put forward proposals and we have started discussing them in detail with the European Commission, and I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that the Home Secretary and others are taking the steps necessary to ensure that we have the arrangements in place for when we come to the end of the implementation period.
It has been four weeks since the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse published a damning report about the treatment of British children sent overseas by their Government. They were physically, sexually and emotionally abused, separated from siblings and wrongly told that their families were dead. Successive Governments supressed information, ignored warnings and continued to send children to harm for decades. The report is unequivocal that compensation is owed and that this is now urgent. Many have died and others are dying, but in the last four weeks the Government have failed to issue a response, to set out any timetable for a response or even to agree which Department is responsible for formulating a response. The Prime Minister commissioned this report. Will she now get a grip on her Government, stand by its verdict and ensure that no more have to die waiting for justice?
I did indeed commission the work that is being done in looking at the treatment of children and the abuse of children in the past. I think that that was important. I said at the time that I thought that many people would be shocked by some of the results, including, obviously, the issue of former child migrants to which the hon. Lady has referred.
I can confirm that the Department of Health and Social Care is responsible for policy on former child migrants. As the hon. Lady will know, we have funded the Child Migrants Trust since 1990 so that it can expand its work in seeking resolution for former child migrants and their families. It has received more than £7 million, and in the 1990s we provided £1 million for travel to help former child migrants to be reunited with their families. At the time of the Government’s formal national apology to former child migrants in 2010, an £8 million family restoration fund was established.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the young British artist Hannah Rose Thomas and the charity Open Doors? Together they organised the current exhibition in our Upper Waiting Hall to draw attention to the plight of Yazidi women, 3,000 of whom are still in captivity and subject to some form of the slavery that my right hon. Friend has fought so hard to combat.
I am very happy to welcome this awareness-raising exhibition, and to commend Hannah Rose Thomas and others who have been involved in bringing the plight of the Yazidi women to the attention of the House and those visiting the House. I know that people felt horror and consternation when they first saw the treatment of the Yazidis, particularly Yazidi women, which is, of course, continuing. As my right hon. Friend says, we must not forget, and we must do everything we can to ensure that those women are freed from what is, as she says, a life of slavery in many cases.
Children at Canal View primary school in Wester Hailes, in my constituency, have just won the ultimate school trip competition, with the prize of a holiday to Mallorca next month. There is just one problem. One of their classmates is a Syrian refugee, and he has been told by the Home Office that he cannot travel with his friends because he does not have the proper documents. The Home Office says that it will take three months for those documents to come through. Will the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary help me to cut through the red tape so that this wee boy can go with his friends to enjoy the holiday of a lifetime?
I congratulate the primary school on winning the competition. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has heard what the hon. and learned Lady has said, and will look into the case.
As the Prime Minister will know, the High Court today overturned a decision by the Parole Board to release the black-cab rapist John Worboys. Does she share my admiration for the brave victims who challenged that the decision in court, does she agree that they should never have had to do so, and does she agree that this gigantic, landmark decision must now provoke a rethink of a criminal justice system in which many of us no longer have confidence?
Let me say first that I have the greatest sympathy with all those who were victims of Worboys, and I know that the sympathies of the whole House will be with them as well in the light of what they have suffered as a result of his horrific crimes.
I welcome today’s judgment which found in favour of the brave victims who brought this legal action. The court’s findings give rise to serious concerns, and it is right that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will be making a statement shortly. One of those findings is that it is unlawful to impose a blanket prohibition on the disclosure of Parole Board information. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary had already been looking into that, and has made it clear that he will ensure that it is dealt with as soon as possible. The decision will now revert to the Parole Board, but the evidence that the board has will be updated, and it will take account of the findings of the court. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is right to say that the case gives rise to serious concerns, and my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will set out the next steps to be taken in his statement later today.
I call Jack Dromey, who I trust will speak with his legendary succinctness.
Some 259 years of GKN history will be decided in the next 24 hours—a hostile takeover, not in the British national interest, that the Government have powers to block. May I ask the Prime Minister this? Disturbing evidence has come to light of a hedge fund scam to buy shares in GKN while avoiding paying tax on shares that will determine the future of GKN. Will she agree to condemn this outrageous practice and investigate as a matter of urgency?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is primarily a commercial decision for GKN. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is in discussion with the parties on an impartial basis and has sought reassurance from them on their plans. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that illegal activity has taken place, that should be reported to the proper authorities.
The first words of the Speaker’s Chaplain this afternoon repeated Jesus’s instruction to love others.
I hope that the Prime Minister and leaders of Opposition parties will help to protect Jews from anti-Semitism and Muslims from Islamophobia.
If the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office and others fail to have an independent inquiry into the recent prosecution of Gurpal Virdi, a Sikh, will the Prime Minister please meet me to discuss the matter?
I know that this is a case that my hon. Friend has taken up and championed for some time, and I believe that he and I have met and discussed it previously. Obviously, I am willing to meet him to discuss the case again. On my hon. Friend’s wider point, there should be a very clear message from all of us in the House that there is no place for racial hatred or hate crime in our society. That should not be part of our society—whether it is Islamophobia or anti-Semitism. That is something we should all stand up against and do our best to eradicate from our society.
I am sure that we all agree that the Speaker’s Chaplain is an example of love, compassion and empathy from which we can all benefit.
Shortly, I will be meeting workers from De La Rue in my constituency who are visiting the House today. Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that no decision or announcement will be made on the passport contract until after the recess, so that the House may discuss the issue?
This House did, of course, discuss the issue earlier this week during an urgent question to my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister. I understand that the final decision has not been taken but that a preferred bidder has been announced. There is then a proper process that gives a length of time, as I understand it, for challenges to be brought forward by others in the process. The Home Office is following exactly the right process to ensure that we have secure passports produced on a basis that gives good value to the taxpayer.
The Government inspector’s report into Northamptonshire County Council makes it crystal clear that there is no reason to further postpone the transfer of the fire service from the county council to the police and crime commissioner. Given that that enjoys popular support and the support of the county’s seven MPs, and is essential to protect investment in the fire service and firefighters’ jobs, will the Prime Minister instruct the Policing and Fire Minister to approve the transfer without delay?
As I think my hon. Friend knows, as Home Secretary I was long a champion of fire services being able to come under police and crime commissioners’ areas of responsibility. Indeed, a former Conservative police and crime commissioner in Northamptonshire was one of the early proponents of that particular move. I have heard what my hon. Friend has said and will make sure that his comments are brought to the attention of the Policing and Fire Minister.
Kerslake Arena Attack Review
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the Government’s response to the Kerslake arena attack review.
The horrific events that took place at the Manchester Arena on 22 May last year were an attack on the people of Manchester and further afield. All terrorist attacks are cowardly, but this was an appalling attack that deliberately targeted innocent people, many of them young, in which 22 people were killed and many more were injured. As a north-west MP, I feel the pain personally, as do many of us in this House who represent that region and who will have had friends and constituents there on that night.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester commissioned this independent review following the attack, focusing on the response to the attack and the nine days that followed it. The report rightly highlights the acts of bravery and compassion on the night of 22 May and in the following days. As Lord Kerslake noted yesterday, the response was overwhelmingly positive. He said that the investment that had been made locally and nationally on collaborative partnership and on planning and testing, including an exercise in the preceding months at the Trafford Centre, was demonstrated to the full, enabling a fast response to the attacks. We are indebted to the emergency services. As Lord Kerslake said later, there is a lot to be proud of in the response, both from the city region of Greater Manchester and from its emergency services. The benefits of investing in collaborative partnership and emergency planning were demonstrated to the full. He said that we should reflect that at critical points in the evening, key emergency personnel exercised sound judgment in an extremely stressful, chaotic and dangerous environment.
The report also shows the need for improvement in some areas, however. It is right that all those involved acknowledge where the report has identified the need for improvement. The review is extensive and makes many recommendations, which the Home Office and all other agencies concerned will consider carefully. Lord Kerslake puts the experience of the bereaved families, the injured and the others who were directly affected at the centre of the review, where they should be. We will ensure that, across Government, those recommendations concerning victims are fully considered. We continue to stand with the people of Manchester as they recover and rebuild following the horrendous attack last year, and our thoughts remain with those who were injured and with the families and friends of those who lost their lives.
I thank the Minister for his response. We all remember the horrific events at the Manchester Arena last May and, as ever, our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and with the heroic emergency services who responded with courage and bravery. The Kerslake review, set up by Mayor Andy Burnham to ensure that lessons could be learned, was published yesterday. The desire to put the families at the centre of the review sets a new precedent, and we thank each one of them for contributing to the report.
The review makes hard reading in parts, but it is heart-warming in others. There are clear lessons for Greater Manchester, and particularly for the fire service, which have all been accepted and are being acted on. There are also questions for the Government. The report makes it clear that national protocols in relation to terrorist incidents fail to recognise the fact that every incident is different, and that flexibility and judgment are needed. Indeed, had those in charge on the night not broken with protocol, we would be facing more challenging questions today. In part, this explains the serious failings of the fire service. Will the Government take those recommendations on board?
The emergency family hotline run by Vodafone on a Home Office contract completely failed the families. How will the Home Office ensure that this will not happen again? The review was scathing about the media intrusion faced by families in the immediate aftermath, despite the great work of our local media. Anyone watching last night’s “Newsnight” will have been appalled by the story of Martyn Hett’s family. Will the Government look again at the role of the media in such events and ensure that there is proper redress? Finally, it is clear that there is insufficient national support for the victims of such atrocities. Had it not been for unprecedented charitable giving by the public, many of the victims would have been left with little. Will the Government look into establishing a fund for the victims of such attacks? I hope that they will recognise the wider lessons of this review and that they will act on them.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for raising this important topic and giving Members on both sides of the House this opportunity to examine Lord Kerslake’s findings. Operation Plato is effectively the definition of the type of incident that we saw on that terrible night, and I understand her concern about whether it was followed too rigidly. Operation Plato is predominantly a response to a marauding terrorist firearms attack, but it has never been solely and uniquely about that; it has also covered broader areas. It has always been about using pragmatism in responding, but unfortunately, on that night, one or two individuals were too rigid about the definition. We will of course look at that again. However, in the exercising and in the following events, such as London Bridge, which did not involve marauding terrorist firearms, Plato was still called. Furthermore, many Members will remember that Westminster Bridge was also a Plato call, even though no firearms were involved. So part of this is about the ability of leaders on the ground to take a pragmatic view and, as Lord Kerslake spotted in his report, many of the leaders on the night did the right things and made sure that they addressed the issues as they came about.
On the issue of Vodafone, following the publication of the report I have asked for a full understanding of Vodafone’s responses and services. Before and after the event, the Vodafone contract has provided what has been required, but it failed on that night. The Home Secretary and others have sought direct assurances from the chief executive of Vodafone that it will take responsibility, and it has apologised. I have asked that, in future, Vodafone’s service is always exercised alongside the other services when we plan for these events.
On the subject of media intrusion, the hon. Lady is absolutely right. I find it odd that some of the media that are today discussing the weaknesses in the response are the very organisations that were hounding my constituents and those of other Members, sometimes at the very moment of their bereavement. They should strongly reflect on that, and I support the recommendation in Lord Kerslake’s report about what can be done to prevent that from happening again. It is simply unacceptable.
The hon. Lady raised the question of a victims’ fund. We had a request for £1.1 million for the We Love Manchester appeal, and the Government have put in £1 million. I have visited the victims’ liaison officer in Manchester about four times since the attack. Across all the attacks that we have unfortunately had in the past year, the response by Manchester to the victims—and the decision to have a much broader classification of who was a victim—has been second to none and should absolutely be commended. They are dealing with hundreds of people who have self-identified as being a victim either mentally or physically, and the work that they have put into liaising with them has been absolutely brilliant. That has been part of why the Government have helped to respond to Manchester’s central request.
I hear the hon. Lady’s call about the generality of a policy to recognise victims, and I shall take that away and reflect on it. I can assure her, however, that I know from talking to the Mayor of Manchester, to the police liaison and to her colleagues that we are very much involved in ensuring that the victims are central to all of this. I have a great deal of respect for the Mayor of Manchester, whose experience in representing victims across the board in this House is second to none. I am keen to learn from him, and I talk to him as much as I can. We are here to help with the victims.
A key issue is that the victims of this attack were, regrettably, spread far and wide across the north of England, and indeed the highlands of Scotland. One of the challenges has been that engaging mental health help has involved people not only in Manchester but throughout Lancashire and in the highlands and islands of Scotland. That has now been done successfully but perhaps not as quickly as it could have been. That is one of the lessons to be learned. We have also needed to raise awareness in the schools of the teenagers who were targeted, by getting further into the detail and getting headteachers to understand that some of their teenagers had been there that night. The incredible importance of Manchester and Liverpool in my region of the north-west is part of our culture, and what happens in Manchester and in Merseyside is felt in Lancashire. That is why we are determined to learn the lessons from Lord Kerslake’s report, and I am always happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues from Manchester if any more help is required.
Lord Kerslake’s report makes several compelling and important recommendations after this appalling atrocity. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the joint emergency services interoperability programme, which is designed to bring together the work of our emergency services to deal with precisely these sorts of incidents. As part of his ongoing work, will he look at what lessons can be applied here and at how the JESIP principles can be extended, so that we can ensure that our blue-light emergency services are best able to work together and respond in a positive and effective way when dealing with such appalling events?
I pay respect to my right hon. Friend, a former Security Minister, who knows too well what goes on and the complexities for which we plan. One of the failings identified in the Kerslake report is that the national inter-agency liaison officer in this event was too much involved in command and control of the fire service, rather than providing advice to the fire service. When I look back over many other incidents, that officer has been there as an adviser, not a gold or silver commander at the time, and that is one of the lessons to be learned. It is important that we in the Home Office and those in fire authorities around the country consider how we are deploying that key individual to ensure that they are doing what they are supposed to, rather having lots of other responsibilities lumped on to them, meaning that we do not necessarily get the best results when they are tested in such environments.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for requesting this urgent question and that it was granted. It was sobering for us all to read the names of the victims at the start of the Kerslake report. Today, we think of them and of all those affected by the terrible attack in Manchester on 22 May 2017.
The review makes it clear that there is a lot to be proud of in the responses of the city region of Greater Manchester and of its emergency services. At the same time, however, it is entirely right that we learn lessons for the future. I agree with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who said clearly that bereaved families must be at the heart of the process. Does the Minister agree that communication and procedures are central to those lessons? There was no shared communication across the agencies of the declaration of Operation Plato, and Greater Manchester fire and rescue service was left, in the words of the review, “outside the loop” and could not play a meaningful role in the response for nearly two hours. The first meeting of the strategic co-ordinating group could, the review said, have been held “earlier than 04:15hrs”. The set-up of the casualty bureau was severely hampered by what is described as a
“the complete failure of the National Mutual Aid Telephony system provided by Vodafone.”
Vodafone has a national contract with the Home Office, so will the Minister examine that contract and the guarantees that can be secured from Vodafone to ensure that such a situation does not happen again—
Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has exceeded his time, so I think he is finished.
I have one question.
One more question, the hon. Gentleman means.
Just one more question.
Blurt it out, man.
Finally, will the Minister be reviewing the joint operating principles for responding to a terror attack in the light of the matters I mentioned?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. As for this last point, we always review such things. We have a new Contest process, which involves examining where we can learn lessons all the way through, and there are many lessons to be learned from all the tragic attacks we had last year. He is absolutely right about Vodafone, and I am determined to ensure that we find out what went wrong. On the plus side, it has not happened before or after, but that is not an excuse and we must ensure that we receive guarantees, and exercising can help with that.
I want to highlight one important point. I have read some of the media over the past few days, and one would not be blamed for thinking that no one was there on the scene, but that was not the case. Within one minute of the explosion, which was targeted at women and children, British Transport police, police community support officers and paramedics were there. Within 12 minutes, ambulances were on the scene. It is regretful that the fire service was not there, but that was not key to whether people were getting treatment. The other blue-light emergency services did a fantastic job. They set up a casualty station, and they improvised. I know that the Labour party full understands that and supports that view, and it is something that we should reflect on when the media picks on the worst, not the best, of the event.
We will continue to keep things under review, and I have always said to the shadow Minister that if he would like to visit some of the response units to see how things are being worked through, I would be delighted to host him—or any other Member—to ensure that the complexity of the situation is understood.
The biggest point in relation to the report and all terrorist actions is that we often start by not knowing what the situation is. All Members will remember the day of the Westminster Bridge attack: we were locked in our offices and shut off from one another because we did not know whether it involved firearms or a bomb or whether another person was in the House or not. That is the biggest challenge that our blue-light services face—“Is it a single explosion?” If lots of protocols had been broken in Manchester and there had been a second device—there are lots of examples of where second devices or attacks have been employed—I would hate to have been standing here for another reason, saying that we exposed our emergency services to too much danger because we rushed in or did not do something. It is a difficult balance to make, but I think the right calls were made on the night. Yes, there were some failures, but my constituents and those of the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) can be confident that help was there and that the blue-light emergency services did a fantastic and brave job.
This was a barbaric act of terrorism, and I welcome my right hon. Friend’s measured tone in response to the report. In an ideal world, we would always work to prevent such incidents from happening in the first place, so what more are the Government willing to do to put additional resources into counter-terrorism to ensure that we do not see these awful events on our streets?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We are always open to more requests, and the Home Office will take the case to the Chancellor. After last year’s attacks, the police and the security services requested more funding, so we went to the Treasury and got £71 million more than was marked to be spent, including £51 million of new money, and we will continue to invest.
In Manchester, we have met nearly all requests for funds, but there are some still to work through. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has asked my Department to speak to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about business rate relief for the businesses that may face bills, but not the council, which will not receive so much in business rates. There is always more to do, but we are in listening mode, and we do our best to get the money to help.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing this urgent question and commend the Minister for his full responses so far. As others have said, the attack was a terrible atrocity, and our thoughts today must be with the dead, their families, the injured and all those who have suffered terribly. The authors of the report should be commended on a full report and a prompt response.
As has been said by others, the revelations about press intrusion into the grieving families of the dead are utterly shocking. Does the Minister agree that those findings underline that the attitude of some in the press that everyone should be investigated, held to account and regulated apart from them needs to be challenged? Does he agree that regulation of the press needs to be considered again and that Leveson 2 should be reopened, as was promised?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. I am not going to go down the path of Leveson 2, but I totally agree that no one is above the law. Whether a journalist, a police officer or an ordinary member of the public, no is one is above the law. That means that journalists should follow the correct procedures and the rules about respecting victims, and the media should, as they are sometimes requested to by the police and hospital staff, hold back. The need for sensationalism does not trump the rights of victims. The media should behave sensibly.
I thank the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for her urgent question, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his statement. What are the Government doing through the Prevent strategy in schools and colleges? Obviously, Prevent is the thing that stops the conveyor belt to extremism.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. If we are really to reduce the risk to our people, we need to invest in prevention. Although some people have issues with the Prevent scheme, we published the first lot of figures last week showing yet again that more than 200 people have been diverted away from following a path of violent extremism, and schools play one part of that role.[Official Report, 19 April 2018, Vol. 639, c. 3MC.]
This is about safeguarding, and it is key that people remember young people are being preyed upon right now—I am afraid that I see it in ongoing operations—by people who choose to groom them. Whether young people are being groomed sexually, being groomed for violent extremism or being groomed by the extreme right wing, the methods are exactly the same. We have to invest in Prevent, and we hope to see more investment in Prevent with the Contest review. If we do not deal with it effectively upstream, we will still be here having this debate in many years’ time.
I support the urgent question and powerful words of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), and I welcome both Front-Bench responses. I join the report in paying tribute to the hundreds, if not thousands, of acts of individual bravery and selflessness and to the work of the emergency services and their support for the victims.
Does the Minister agree that the seriousness of the failure of the Vodafone contract is compounded by the fact that the contract is drawn on only in such extreme circumstances? Also, in his reflections on the importance of such a report, will he look further at commissioning an independent report on the Parsons Green attack and on the implementation of the Prevent programme in that case, so that lessons can also be learned from that attack?
The right hon. Lady will know there is still some way to run in the coroner’s inquest and other inquiries, certainly on Manchester, when it comes to attribution and the avoidability of death, etc. We should not forget that a live police investigation of the event in Manchester is still ongoing, with an extradition request outstanding that we are working to help the Libyans to fulfil so we can see justice be done—that is another plank in this process.
On Prevent and the case of the Parsons Green bomber, there has been an internal review by the police with the local Prevent organisation. I am happy to brief the right hon. Lady on some of that on Privy Council terms, if she would like to come. There are definitely issues there that need to be sorted, but Prevent, as a policy, is not guaranteed. We have to try, as a society, to deradicalise and divert people. There are people who are determined to commit acts of murder and brutality, but we would be totally wrong if we did not try to deradicalise them because we cannot give a 100% guarantee. We will continue to try to make sure we are safe.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister has already mentioned, this tragedy went beyond Manchester and into Lancashire. Indeed, the first two victims to be named—indeed, the youngest victim—were from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) who, as a mum of two young children, asked me to mention it today. Georgina Callander and Saffie Rose Roussos were two young people whose lives were tragically taken. As has been touched on, it is important that the review also looks at the counselling services that are available in schools and that are available to younger people not just in Manchester but beyond, because young people’s lives were touched in a way that should never have happened at such a young age.
My daughter was at the arena not that night but a few weeks before. The arena is a hub for many teenagers in that part of the world. Being a north-west MP, I attended the first Cobra meeting in the morning not down in the Cabinet Office but from Manchester. The point my hon. Friend makes is the very point I made, which is that these teenagers will go back to their schools and their communities, which are not necessarily in the city centre or near the seat of the explosion. Have we put in place the messaging to our education authorities and so on to pick up on that? I was assured that the answer is yes. I asked them to go back and redouble the messaging, and we hope that was done. If it was not, I would be happy to hear from colleagues on both sides of the House to ensure that we follow up on those assurances. One lesson to remember is that people come to big cities from all over the country, and they will disperse back and take their injuries, whether mental or physical, with them.
In extreme adversity, this may well have been Manchester’s finest hour. Andy Burnham, Richard Leese and Eddy Newman were a model of civic leadership during that period. The people of Manchester behaved heroically, as did the first responders to this terrible event. The force duty officer, in ignoring protocol and using his judgment, gave support and possibly saved lives in the immediate aftermath of the bomb.
Having paid those tributes, I would like to ask the Minister whether, if such a tragic event happens again in Manchester or anywhere else in the country—we all hope it does not—the Vodafone system, as of today, is up and working. We cannot afford another catastrophic failure of the communications system.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Not only have I sought and been given assurances about the Vodafone system, I have also asked that we explore a back-up system or contingency plan if something like this does not work in future. There is always the potential for something to go wrong with technology, which is why we need to exercise it, but we also need to consider alternatives should the technology fail on the night.
The one thing on which I can give the hon. Gentleman some assurance is that, before and after, the technology worked successfully at, for example, London Bridge and Westminster and elsewhere, but it is not good enough that the technology did not work on the night when it was needed in Manchester.
I was in Manchester that day and the following morning. Although there are lessons to be learned, and the Kerslake review highlights those lessons, the strength of the Manchester people was striking—resilient, implacable and determined to continue their lives. We should pay tribute to them for their incredibly British response and to Ariana Grande and the other artists who took part in the later musical event, which I thought was just tremendous.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. I might say it was a northern response, but it was a solid British response. I have to pay tribute to the Members of Parliament for Greater Manchester. The hon. Member for Manchester Central has been constantly supportive of the city and of the Mayor in getting these things done, and I pay tribute to all those who have made sure that we are learning the lessons and that we have not forgotten. In this day and age, things move so quickly that the media sometimes have the memory of a goldfish and move on to the next story very quickly. Thanks to the likes of the hon. Lady, we have not forgotten.
I pay tribute to Lisa Lees and Alison Howe, two Royton mums who went to collect their 15-year-old daughters who went to the Manchester arena but did not return home. The response from the community and from our emergency services was inspiring. Although faults have been found with the fire service, I place on record that the fire service is not outside our community; the fire service is our community. How we learn from this, and how we build and go forward from it, will be the test.
Although some of the national media were very intrusive, there was also some outstanding journalism, particularly by the Manchester Evening News, which was compassionate, told the human story and brought the community together at a very difficult time.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. People should understand that the response by the emergency services was not just about the city of Manchester. One of the proudest things for me is that, when I walked into Manchester police headquarters at about 8.30 am, the counter-terrorism commander on duty came from the Lancashire force. It was a collective effort, whether from the local fire service or ambulances sent from all over the north-west to help. It shows the strength of the Contest strategy that the response is about pulling together.
Only last week, I went to visit the Salisbury investigation, where I found officers from the midlands and the north of England responding in both the chemical and decontamination space and in the investigation. The fire service is absolutely important; I understand the frustration of many of those brave men and women who feel that they did not have access to helping people, although I want the public to understand that it was not that people were therefore left alone. We will work together to put this right, so that it does not happen in the future, but I must say that the judgments that were made were as much about the safety of officers and crew as they were about the victims.
I welcome the opportunity to highlight the Kerslake report that this urgent question has given. In talking about the emergency services, will the Minister join me in ensuring that the high esteem in which our firefighters are held is not in any way tarnished by this report and in acknowledging the brave service they give, day in, day out, putting their lives on the line to protect ours?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Nothing in this report is about a failure of the services that were deployed that night. There were failures relating to some individual decisions, including on interpretations. There was a failure of technology in respect of the Vodafone response. To some extent, as we have discussed earlier, there was a failure of interpretation—whether or not it was too rigid—but this was not about the failure of the fire service and the police to do their job, about their ability to do their job or about the people who make up both services.
May I echo the congratulations given to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on ensuring that we can have this discussion? As the Minister is aware, we remain immensely proud of the response of the people of Manchester, the political leadership of Greater Manchester and frontline emergency service workers, the vast majority of whom did an excellent job. We are also proud of the fact that we came together as a community and said that there would be zero tolerance of Islamophobia in the aftermath of this incident. Will he agree to meet the people leading the review on radicalisation policy in Greater Manchester, the leaders of Oldham Council and of Bury Council, to learn lessons about whether the Prevent programme is in fact working? There are massive differences of opinion on that. Will the Government agree to learn from the review that Greater Manchester is undertaking on radicalisation policy?
I am very happy to meet the people undertaking that review, but I must point out that the figures published yesterday and those published earlier in the month show that Prevent is working in many areas.[Official Report, 19 April 2018, Vol. 639, c. 4MC.] Prevent is not perfect. I listened carefully to the discussion on the BBC’s “Question Time” not long after the event, when Andy Burnham and the representative from the Crown Prosecution Service in the north-west gave their views on Prevent at the time. Prevent could be better applied sometimes; but ultimately, if we are saying that it is about safeguarding and delivering a space so that people are not radicalised, the people who are against Prevent have to come up with an alternative. Every alternative I have heard articulated is Prevent with a different name. I do not think that when dealing with really important issues about young people being groomed and exploited we should be too hung up on the semantics of the name—we should be looking at the results and the processes. Again, I say to Members that I am happy to take them to meet Prevent providers, to understand communities. I met a family whose children were diverted from going off to fight in Syria, and if we were to look that lady in the eye and say, “Sorry, Prevent is not working,” she will give us a rather robust answer about whether it is or not.
The whole country was shocked by the severity of this atrocity, particularly as it was aimed at young people who were going out for a night of fun with their friends. All our thoughts must be with the victims and their families, and our thanks must go to the emergency services. As we are learning the lessons from this terrible atrocity, will the Minister update the House on how many attacks have been disrupted in this country since this terrible atrocity and which groups are responsible for trying to perpetrate such attacks?
The best and latest figures I can give my hon. Friend are that since the first attack last year at Westminster Bridge 10 plots were disrupted and there were four extreme right-wing plots. The plots we face are broad, coming from people ranging from neo-Nazis— that is why we proscribed National Action earlier in the year—to followers of Daesh, followers of al-Qaeda and other extremists who do not follow anything other than seeking to cause harm and to murder on our streets. No one has a copyright on terrorism in this country; a number of groups of people are trying to prosecute it. Again, that is why Prevent is important. Prevent is not just about Islamist terrorism; it is also about extreme right-wing terrorism, and in some parts of the country referrals to Prevent are greater in the extreme right-wing space than they are in the Islamist space.
Thank you again, Mr Speaker, for your solidarity with the people of Manchester in the aftermath of the attack. We owe a debt of gratitude to Lord Kerslake and Andy Burnham for an excellent piece of work; this is a very good report. Although it is right that we learn lessons, we should take pride in the actions of the first responders and the people of Manchester. I am also proud of the way our local paper, the Manchester Evening News, reported the incident and the aftermath, but sadly the same cannot be said of a lot of the media. What steps can the Government take to help the Independent Press Standards Organisation develop a new code of conduct to cover incidents such as the one at Manchester Arena, given that victims spoke of the “intrusive and overbearing” treatment from some of the media?
Both local papers, the Lancashire Evening Post and the Manchester Evening News, did the right thing: they got behind the community and understood what had happened in the middle of them. I go back to a point I made earlier: sometimes it is important that the media understand that sensationalism is not the trump card that means they can ignore all the other rules of accuracy and of being sensitive to people’s issues. The media have a strong role to play in communicating the facts in the immediate aftermath of events such as this, because when we do not have facts people get scared. This is why I have tried to work on this, as we all have. The reason people sometimes get frustrated with the police and the intelligence services not being as quick as they could to inform them of things is that if we get the facts wrong, people get scared. We have to make sure that the terrorists do not win by scaring us. We win by showing that we are controlled and by responding. The media have a really important and responsible role to play in that.
Building on the previous question and the Minister’s answer, does he agree that the real-time reporting of incidents and of their aftermath needs to be more carefully thought about by some elements of the media? Would he welcome a constructive industry-led approach to looking at that?
I would welcome any initiative that does that. This is a real challenge in the 21st century: in real time, people are eyewitnesses and people tweet, having immediately got on their phone. That is not going to go away. What is important is that the producers, the people churning out the programmes and the editors are employed, partly, to be able to sift gossip from reality, and sensationalism from impacting stories. The message is that there is a strong role for the editors and producers in this day and age of live reporting. They must be able to say, “It might be sensational, but we are not going to report it because it is not true or factual, and I would not be responsible if I did.”
I join colleagues in once again sending condolences to all the victims of this terrible attack in our city and in paying tribute to all in our emergency services and in the wider community who served to support and care for them. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, many people and faith groups right across the faith spectrum rushed to offer help and hospitality to those who were frightened and alone that night. Shamefully, in the aftermath of the attacks attempts were also made by the far right to drive a wedge between different faith communities. Will the Minister join me in utterly condemning such shameful conduct? Will he confirm the Government’s intent always to crack down on the promotion of division and hatred?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful and important point. Like her, I represent Muslim communities, doing so in Preston. Let me say in response to an earlier point that there is Islamophobia and we have to deal with that. We have to stand up to Islamophobia as strongly as we stand up to anti-Semitism and all the other issues that are about dividing our communities. The terrorists, be they neo-Nazis or from Daesh, want to divide our communities; they want us to hate each other and to weaken the society we belong to. I am absolutely determined, as I know all of us in this House are, to stand up against that and to give those people no quarter. We should double our efforts, both through other programmes such as Prevent and in our counter-extremism work on getting children, certainly in school, to understand what this is about. We must also be strong enough to have a debate about extremism without shutting down freedom of speech.
I welcome the report’s findings and congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on bringing this issue to the House. Notwithstanding the fact that the Minister has already said he does not want to go down the Leveson route, in his comments and his replies to several Members, most notably the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), he expressed exactly the concerns that those of us who believe that Leveson 2 must go ahead feel very strongly. Will he please take those comments to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and point out to him the failure of a system that did not protect the innocent victims of that explosion from press intrusion?
I understand the point, which was strongly made by the hon. Lady, and will of course reflect that to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. There is a real challenge and it is easier said than done. I remember the cack-handed banning of the voice of Sinn Féin all those years ago and how badly that went down. No one is suggesting that that is how far people go, but we have to be careful in how we restrict the media in a space that is about freedom of speech, getting across messages and so on. I will absolutely work to make sure that the media are more responsible and face the consequences of bad or untrue reporting, but I must also recognise and uphold the principle of freedom of speech.
It is difficult to read parts of the report, because it requires us to relive that evening and the days after it, but there is much to be proud of in terms of the response and the incredible sense of solidarity across Greater Manchester and throughout the whole country in the days afterwards. A report such as this should never be about scapegoating—it is about learning lessons—but I have been asked by constituents of mine who are firefighters to place on record their sense of frustration at not being able to help sooner. Having acknowledged that, let us learn the lesson from it. Let us all, from all parts of the House, reiterate our tremendous admiration for and pride in all our emergency services.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The reliving of that horrendous night is done by our police officers and ambulance crews every day of their lives. One of the most disturbing parts of my job was to see a lot of the footage that was captured before, during and after the attack. That will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I was not even on the scene. Our emergency services will relive it. I passionately feel the frustration of those firefighters who wanted to help on that day. They do not deserve to have to deal with that, which is why we have to put some of those things right through the recommendations in Lord Kerslake’s report. I will make sure that we do that, and the only thing I would say is, “Rest assured, others were there to treat the victims and help the bereaved.”
A school friend of mine, Roddy MacLeod, and his wife Marion lost their daughter Eilidh in the attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Also from the Isle of Barra was 15-year-old Laura MacIntyre, who, incidentally, was a good friend of my middle daughter. She was terribly injured but is making a good recovery. She is walking and back at school, and she is as witty as ever. Roddy and Marion welcome the recommendations in the report and wholeheartedly agree on the individual acts of heroism on that night that were praised in the report. They have said quite heroically themselves that they hope that such reports will help to inform individuals and heads of service for the future.
I echo the points that have been made about the printed newspapers in particular. I was personally asked by a relative to rush to the house of a distraught grandmother, who felt further panicked by a journalist at the doorstep. Fortunately, the journalist had gone, and was probably only doing the bidding of the editor quite reluctantly. On the whole, the media were good that week—we have to acknowledge that—but can we please encourage the ending of the practice of door-stepping, particularly of the terribly bereaved? It is not pleasant and it is very distressing.
It is a very important question and I think a single-sentence reply will suffice.
All I can do is entirely support the hon. Gentleman’s observation. The death knock, as I think some journalists often call it, is not something that should carry on. It is awful and just unacceptable.
The Fire Brigades Union has commented that Greater Manchester fire and rescue services is
“the only emergency service in Manchester without its own dedicated service control room.”
In the light of the communication problems identified in the report, will the Minister review this situation?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but think I need to check her assertion. I have been to the Merseyside joint control room, where they do incredible amounts of good work. The north-west fire control is a regional control room. The report does not point to that as the failure; the point was the failure in the inter-agency liaison officer not being able necessarily to take the right decisions, and their being involved in almost too many of the decisions; it was not about the location or organisation of the control room. Before we suddenly seek to change that in the north-west, we should look at the report’s findings, which were very much about the roles of a few individuals and the decisions that they took on the night.
May I put on record the fact that after the attack, many people volunteered their services, whether they were cab drivers, or restaurant owners who opened their restaurants to the victims and everyone around?
My constituent Rebecca Ridgeway is a disabled person who uses a wheelchair. When she went into the arena, she had to be taken out of her wheelchair and placed on a seat. When the incident occurred, there was nobody there to look after her. In fact, somebody came in, put her in her wheelchair and she was taken out—not by the arena staff or the security staff, but by a member of the public. As a result of the incident, she has not been able to leave her house, so I visited her in her home. She told me that there has been no counselling, psychiatric services or psychologists available in sufficient numbers to deal with her and many other people who suffered trauma from the incident. Will the Minister provide proper funding for that?
I am sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s constituent’s experience. First, I am absolutely happy to take the detail of that case to event organisers throughout the country, whom I meet regularly, to make sure that they think about disability. Secondly, with regard to her particular constituent, I have met the victims liaison team and many of the health trusts in the region, and they are delivering services, so if she is not getting that, will the hon. Lady please tell me the details? I will take that, either with her or on my own, to the relevant health trust to make sure that her constituent is given counselling and support. Many others are getting it and it is wrong that she is not.
The Minister has comported himself really well at the Dispatch Box today, and I think the House agrees on that.
May I follow on from the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) and praise you, Mr Speaker? You stood shoulder to shoulder with us on 23 May last year, when the Bishop of Manchester led us in prayers. We will never forget Tony Walsh doing the poem “This is the place”. In respect of what the right hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said about civic leadership, we put on record our thanks to the Bishop of Manchester and all the faith leaders who have shown such solidarity together. We have had no subsequent trouble in our city because of that strong leadership.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We should put it on record that the civic leadership of Manchester—including Andy Burnham, the chief executive of the council and the leader of the council—has been exemplary. Because of that, the terrorists have not been successful in dividing our communities, and nor will they be. Manchester is a perfect example, and I used it recently when talking to Salisbury’s local civic leadership. I said, “If you want an example of how to do it, albeit on a different scale—making sure that your communities return to normal and being prepared to ask central Government for funding—look at the way they did it in Manchester.” We should all be proud of it.
I thank the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for highlighting this extremely important matter, and I thank all colleagues for taking part and for taking part in the way in which they did in the exchanges that followed.
Worboys Case and the Parole Board
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the High Court judgment handed down this morning in the case relating to the Parole Board’s decision to release John Radford, formerly known as John Worboys.
This is an important and unprecedented case. The President of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Brian Leveson, the most senior judge who heard this case, said that it is wholly exceptional. It is the first time that a Parole Board decision to release a prisoner has been challenged, and the first time that the rules on the non-disclosure of Parole Board decisions have been called into question.
The judgment quashes the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys and finds that rule 25 of the Parole Board rules is unlawful. This means that Worboys’ case will now be resubmitted to the Parole Board. A new panel will be constituted, and updated evidence on his risk from prison and probation professionals will be provided. The panel will then assess anew whether Worboys is suitable for release.
Those victims covered by the victim contact scheme will be fully informed and involved in this process. My Department also has to reformulate the Parole Board’s rules to allow more transparency around decision making and reasoning.
It is clear that there was widespread concern about the decision by the Parole Board to release Worboys. As I have previously told the House, I share those concerns and, consequently, I welcome this judgment. I congratulate the victims who brought the judicial review and reiterate my heartfelt sympathy for all victims who have suffered as a result of Worboys’ hideous crimes.
I want to set out, in greater detail than I have previously been able to set out, the reasons why I did not bring a judicial review. As I told the House on 19 January, I looked carefully at whether I could challenge the decision. It would have been unprecedented for the Secretary of State to bring a judicial review against the Parole Board—a body which is independent but for which my Department is responsible. I took expert legal advice from the leading counsel on whether I should bring a challenge. The bar for judicial review is set high. I considered whether the decision was legally irrational—in other words, a decision that no reasonable Parole Board could have made. The advice that I received was that such an argument was highly unlikely to succeed, and, indeed, that argument did not succeed. However, the victims succeeded in a different argument. They challenged that, while Ministry of Justice officials opposed release, they should have done more to put forward all the relevant material on other offending. They also highlighted very significant failures on the part of the Parole Board to make all the necessary inquiries and so fully take into account wider evidence about Worboys’ offending.
I also received advice on the failure of process argument and was advised that this was not one that I, as Secretary of State, would have been able successfully to advance. The victims were better placed to make that argument, and that was the argument on which they won their case. It is right that the actions of Ministry officials, as well as the Parole Board, in this important and unusual case have been laid open to judicial scrutiny. I have always said that I fully support the right of victims to bring this action. I have been very concerned at every point not to do anything to hinder the victims’ right to challenge and to bring their arguments and their personal evidence before the court. Indeed, the judgment suggests that, had I brought a case, the standing of the victims may have been compromised.
The court’s findings on how the decision was reached give rise to serious concerns. The court has found that “the credibility and reliability” of Worboys’ account in relation to his previous offending behaviour
“was not probed to any extent, if at all”
by the Parole Board, and that although the Parole Board was entitled to make inquiries of the police in relation to his offending, it did not do so. Those are serious failings and they need serious action to address them. Given the circumstances, I have accepted Professor Nick Hardwick’s resignation as chair of the organisation.
I am also taking the following actions: instructing my officials to issue new guidance that all relevant evidence of past offending should be included in the dossiers submitted to the Parole Board, including possibly police evidence, so that it can be robustly tested in each Parole Board hearing; putting in place robust procedures to check that every dossier sent by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to the Parole Board contains every necessary piece of evidence, including sentencing remarks or other relevant material from previous trials or other civil legal action; boosting the role of the Secretary of State’s representative at Parole Board hearings, with a greater presumption that they should be present for those more complex cases where HM Prison and Probation Service is arguing strongly against release, as was the case in this instance; working with the Parole Board to review the composition of panels so that the Parole Board includes greater judicial expertise for complex high-profile cases, particularly where multiple victims are involved or where there is a significant dispute between expert witnesses as to the suitability for release; and developing more specialist training for Parole Board panel members.
The judgment also found that the blanket ban on the transparency of Parole Board proceedings is unlawful. I accept the finding of the court and will not be challenging this. It was my view from the beginning that very good reasons would be needed to persuade me that we should continue with a law that does not allow any transparency. I am now considering how the rule should be reformulated.
When I addressed the House on this matter in January, I said that I had commissioned a review into how victims were involved in Parole Board decisions, into the transparency of the Parole Board, and on whether there should be a way of challenging Parole Board decisions. That work has been continuing for these past two and a half months. Given the very serious issues identified in this case, I can announce today that I intend to conduct further work to examine the Parole Board rules in their entirety. As a result of the work that has been completed to date, I have already decided to abolish rule 25 in its current form and will do so as soon as possible after the Easter recess. This will enable us to provide for the Parole Board to make available to victims summaries of the decisions it makes.
In addition, I will bring forward proposals for Parole Board decisions to be challenged through an internal review mechanism where a separate judge-led panel will look again at cases that meet a designated criterion. I intend to consult on the detail of these proposals by the end of April, alongside other proposals to improve the way that victims are kept informed about the parole process. I am grateful to Baroness Newlove for her help with this part of the review and to Dame Glenys Stacey for her helpful suggestions and review of the way that victim liaison operated in this case. I will come back to the House with further proposals as they are developed.
In conclusion, let no one doubt the seriousness with which I take the issues raised by this morning’s judgment or the bravery of the victims who brought this case to court. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement on today’s High Court decision.
Today’s unprecedented ruling, made possible by the Human Rights Act, clearly highlights the deep flaws in the initial Parole Board decision. That initial decision clearly caused anguish for the victims—those whose cases have been dealt with—and also for those who have not yet had justice. In addition, there has been deep concern among women and the public more widely. The head of the Parole Board has decided to stand down, but what is needed is real change in the way that the Parole Board functions.
The current legal restrictions on the Parole Board mean that we do not know why the initial decision was taken. That led to a rumour about where Worboys would be released, and even a rumour about his being released without a tag. That is not good for victims, and it is not good for public confidence. It cannot be right that women victims had to go to judicial review before the reasons for the release of John Worboys became available. We also remember the Government making the victims go to the Supreme Court to secure compensation following police failings.
Judges in the judicial review said that too much secrecy about Parole Board decisions under rule 25 of Parole Board proceedings prevents any reasons from being given for decisions made by the board. Therefore, as has been mentioned, the Worboys’ case underlines once and for all that there is a need for the Government to take urgent action and urgent measures to guarantee greater transparency in Parole Board decisions. Given that the public are entitled to be informed about court judgments, they must also be entitled to be informed about the clear reasons behind Parole Board decisions.
Of course, this is not about undermining the independence of the Parole Board, and we on the Labour Benches will defend the independence of our judiciary. It is right that action is being taken to improve transparency. Is the Secretary of State’s review also looking at guaranteeing not only that the public are informed about the reasons behind decisions, but that they are clear about the mechanism to challenge those decisions? Will the Secretary of State commit today to concluding his review of the Parole Board by the summer? We have seen other reviews by the Secretary of State’s Department—on the victims’ law and other issues—slip after initial announcements. Will he reassure the House that that will certainly not happen in this case?
A lawyer for the victims of John Worboys has said that the Ministry of Justice was responsible for preparing the dossier of evidence on which the Parole Board made its decision to release. Will the Secretary of State explain to the House why information about the so-called rape kit used by John Worboys and the sentencing remarks of the judge in the criminal trial of John Worboys were not included in this dossier? Why did the dossier contain nothing about the new information that came to light during the proceedings brought by victims against the Metropolitan police?
The failures in the Worboys case go much wider than the rules governing the Parole Board. It is clear from today’s ruling that judicial review is a key tool enabling every citizen to challenge unjust or unlawful decisions by the state or other public bodies, and we have to be clear about the importance of the role of the Human Rights Act. Deep cuts to legal aid have undermined the ability of many to pursue judicial review. Personally, I do not think that it is right that victims of people such as John Worboys have to crowdfund to pursue justice. Justice cannot depend on the depths of people’s pockets. Will the Government today commit to using their review of legal aid to look again at how it can support judicial reviews?
Will the Secretary of State give us more information about why he chose not to proceed with his own judicial review? To be blunt, does he regret his decision to pursue a cheap headline and brief the weekend newspapers in advance before properly checking whether he should pursue the judicial review? It is not just me asking this question; it has been reported that the Secretary of State’s Conservative colleagues are asking it too, to the extent that the Prime Minister has been moved today to confirm that she still has full confidence in him. The Secretary of State has tried to defend his decision not to pursue a judicial review, although he has not yet made the case properly. Given that, will he accept responsibility for the failings in the dossier presented by the Ministry of Justice?
There have been widespread failings in this case from the very outset. In 2009, John Worboys was convicted of 19 offences against 12 women, but the police have also linked him to about 100 other cases. Many of the victims have raised concerns—and my office has been contacted by other victims—about police failings in the handling of the case. Others have raised concerns about the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute. Of course, we have also seen many complaints about the Parole Board and about the failures of the victim contact scheme properly to notify victims of the parole hearing.
It is clear that we need a thorough examination of the handling of this case, from the very first attack reported to the police by a victim right through to the Parole Board hearings. Given that this is the third occasion that I ask, will the Secretary of State agree to an end-to-end review into this matter—from start to finish? The victims and the public deserve no less.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman regarding transparency. I am pleased that there is cross-party consensus on the need for increased transparency of Parole Board decisions. That should not undermine Parole Board independence, which is important. I hope to move swiftly to change systems in order to ensure that the reasons that the Parole Board has reached a decision become available to the victims. I hope that that will be in place shortly.
The hon. Gentleman touched on the licence conditions. In a way, this is not necessarily as much of an issue as it was. It had been determined that Worboys would be electronically tagged and excluded from London. That may or may not be an issue in the future, depending on future Parole Board decisions.
On the dossier that was provided by the National Probation Service—and, therefore, my Department—for the hearing that occurred on 8 November last year, it is the case that there may well have been information that should have been included in the dossier and that was not provided, but it is worth pointing out that it is the responsibility of the Parole Board to satisfy itself that an offender is no longer a risk to the public. The judgment of Sir Brian Leveson was that the Parole Board failed to probe that evidence sufficiently, as it should have done. I reiterate that the National Probation Service opposed the release of John Worboys.
I made no secret of the fact that I was considering whether to take a judicial review, and I set out in my earlier remarks the reasons why I did not bring that forward. The reality was that the victims were in a better position than me to bring a successful case. It is important that we ensure that when the Parole Board reaches a conclusion that meets certain criteria, there is an ability for it to look again and examine whether the relevant panel has performed its duties as it should have done. Sadly, that is not what happened in this particular case, and that is the issue that we need to fix for the future.
I welcome Sir Brian Leveson’s judgment. The victims have obviously got the justice that they were seeking. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it would have been absolutely scandalous if he, as Justice Secretary, had ignored the legal advice that he got, which sounds to have been perfectly sensible on the basis of facts available to him? It would be a very bad day if Ministers started intervening in criminal sentencing cases in response to campaigning, and did not judge them objectively according to the rule of law and the public interest.
While implementing these extremely welcome proposals, which are obviously needed in the light of all this, would my right hon. Friend make sure that the Parole Board and its panels are not undermined when they carry out properly their extremely difficult task? The Parole Board is often asked almost impossible questions, and we cannot have people making any judgments except on the basis of the best judgment that they can make in the public interest. Criminal sentencing must never be simply a question of campaigning and responding to popular pressure.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, who is also a distinguished predecessor in my post. He is absolutely right on both counts. In terms of whether I took action or not, I thought that it was very important to test the legal arguments. As I made clear on 19 January, I was not going to stand in the way of others and, indeed, others may have been better placed to bring that case. I looked carefully at the advice I had received and based my actions on that advice.
My right hon. and learned Friend’s second point is also important. There were failures in what the Parole Board did, including not probing sufficiently and not being sufficiently inquisitive. We must, however, accept that the Parole Board makes thousands of decisions every year that often involve difficult judgments, and it is not always necessarily going to get it right, but it is not the role of politicians to interfere and second-guess those decisions. We do, though, have a role in ensuring that we have a system in place with clear guidance, clear training and the right people. We clearly need to do some work on that, and I have set out some proposals today.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his very full statement. I welcome this decision, both in respect of the remit back to the Parole Board and on the transparency of the reasons. It seems that there has been a shocking dereliction of duty on the part of the Parole Board. I welcome the actions that the Secretary of State is taking to tackle this. It is important that Professor Hardwick, who has resigned, is not made a scapegoat. I congratulate the Secretary of State on focusing on the rules and procedures, which need to be tightened up.
Something has gone very wrong in this case from the start. In order to get justice, the victims themselves have had to go to court to vindicate their rights—not once, but twice. First, they had to go to court in order to get a proper investigation by the police and a prosecution of the cases. Secondly, they had to protect themselves from the early release of their attacker.
As others have said, judicial review has proved to be a key tool in this respect. It is therefore very unfortunate that legal aid is no longer widely available in England and Wales for judicial review. I urge the Secretary of State to look at the independent review of legal aid in Scotland—I stress the words “independent review”—that was published earlier this month, because it showed that with less spend per capita than in England, legal aid has much wider eligibility and scope in Scotland. Seventy per cent. of Scots are eligible for legal aid. If that can be done on less money per capita in Scotland, then it can be done in England. Will he commit to an independent review of legal aid in England and Wales so that if victims in these cases have to use judicial review, they can have the wherewithal to do it regardless of their means?
On legal aid, the hon. and learned Lady will be aware that we are undertaking a post-implementation review of the changes to legal aid that were made earlier in this decade, and we will conclude that before the end of the year. Certainly, given what she has said, we would want to take into account the evidence in Scotland as part of that review.
As for failures within the Parole Board, I think, as I said, that it is right that Professor Nick Hardwick stand down as chair of the Parole Board. I acknowledge that he has been a dedicated public servant who has done a number of very good things at the Parole Board as well. However, I believe that there have been significant failures and that at this point new leadership is required within the Parole Board.
I very much support the calls by the Opposition for a thorough, end-to-end review. The reality is that these victims have managed to blow open the system using, as we have heard, a very big, popular campaign. They have given us a rare glimpse into something that many people across this House would find utterly terrifying, given the profound errors that have been uncovered by Leveson in the inquiry that he has just concluded. Will the component of my right hon. Friend’s review relating to transparency be completed in advance of the new Parole Board determining the second stage of the Worboys case?
First, let me put on record my tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless work on this case, as he has been a very strong advocate for the victims. On transparency, as I said, I hope that we can make progress in the course of the next few weeks. It is not for me to determine when the Parole Board will next look at John Worboys’ case, but I would be astonished if it were before we had new rules on transparency in place.
Let me place on record, if I may, that Nick Hardwick is a decent man whom I have known for a long time professionally and personally. He has taken his resignation seriously today. With regard to the Secretary of State’s abolition of rule 25, he used the words “in its current form”. What areas of transparency does he expect still to be exempt?
The challenge in this—having seen in this case the decision notice by the Parole Board—is that there might be, for example, information provided by the prisoner to a psychologist, as part of the risk assessment, that is deeply personal. In order to have openness between, say, a prisoner and a psychologist, it must be possible for some of that information to remain confidential, so we cannot put everything out there. Indeed, there may be information relevant to victims that they would not want to be put into the public domain. As I say, a summary of the conclusions that the Parole Board has reached should be made available. The points made by Members on both sides of the House in saying that greater transparency is needed are absolutely right.
I thank the Secretary of State for his very detailed and considered response to what is itself a very detailed and considered judgment by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division. It is perhaps worth observing that it is quite clear from paragraph 130 that the ground on which the Secretary of State was urged to enter the judicial review would not have succeeded.
The Justice Committee wrote to the Secretary of State yesterday raising some of the issues that he has now pre-emptively dealt with in his statement. As well as reform of rule 25 and a proper review or repeal process so that judicial review is no longer necessary in future, will he consider the observations given to us in evidence, and by the Court as well, about the importance of having forensically skilled legal representation for the Secretary of State at hearings in serious cases to test the evidence, and about the desirability of having a serving or retired judge to chair the panel in serious cases?
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. Where there is reconsideration, the second panel should be led by someone with legal, and indeed judicial, experience. One of the things that we are clearly going to have to look at is the degree to which proper legal experience is involved in this process. I agree that it is important that where the Secretary of State has a representative at one of these matters, they are well placed to make a strong case.
I welcome the Court’s decision. Many of us were shocked and appalled by the original Parole Board decision, given the number of vile sexual assaults and rapes in this case. The Secretary of State is right to put forward reforms and to say that there are serious questions for the Parole Board. I hope that he will make it clear that he recognises that there are also serious questions for the Ministry of Justice, which had to put forward the evidence in this case. It is not a good look simply to say that this is about the responsibility of the Parole Board, if we are to get to the reforms that we actually need. Does he recognise that one of the big failings in this case was about support for, and proper information for, victims throughout the process? Will he make that an urgent priority in the reforms that are put forward?
The point about victims is very important. The right hon. Lady will be aware that Dame Glenys Stacey undertook an immediate review of the facts in this case. There is clearly a lot to learn about how victims are treated. In this particular case, the fact that victims were receiving information from the media rather than being contacted directly is not something that we want to see repeated. She is absolutely right to raise that point.
On the MOJ’s position, as I set out in my statement, there is much more that we can do to ensure that information on things like sentencing remarks should be provided as part of the dossier consistently and as a matter of course. Clearly, there were failures in this regard. That is partly why my position in bringing a judicial review was weaker than that of the victims, because they were able to make these arguments in a way that was not open to me. We need to find ways in which we can make improvements across the system. I stress that the national probation service was clear that it did not think that Worboys should be released.
First, may I say to my right hon. Friend that the criticisms of him for not bringing the judicial review are entirely misplaced? He was in no position to do it. Indeed, it is likely that had he chosen to do it, it would have failed, and having failed, it would have prevented anybody else, within the time limit, from going ahead and bringing such a judicial review.
On the wider issue, my right hon. Friend may agree that the problem we have—those of us who have attended meetings of the Parole Board as observers can see this—is that the workload has grown exponentially with the rise in indeterminate sentences. I really do wonder whether we now have a proper process in place for dealing with this kind of case where there is public concern as to when the moment of release is finally determined. May I urge him, in carrying out his review, to consider that he may want to come back to Parliament to have this issue debated to determine what Parliament thinks should be the appropriate way of proceeding, because this is now a quasi-judicial process with immense consequences for victims, but also of course for those who are incarcerated and are seeking to be released?
Order. Can I just gently say, before the Secretary of State responds, that this is an extremely important matter about which we have just heard in the most learned terms from one of our most learned authorities? However, there are a further 16 hon. and right hon. Members seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. The Chair likes to accommodate interest. I gently point out that there is some danger of us reaching a position where everything will have been said but not yet by everybody.
Thank you for your guidance, Mr Speaker.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his remarks. He makes an important point: had I taken a judicial review, it may have brought into question the standing of the victims, as Sir Brian Leveson points out. In terms of the workload, to be fair, the Parole Board had been making progress with the backlog of imprisonment for public protection cases, but it remains significant—there are still something like 3,000 prisoners on an IPP sentence in prison, and they need to be properly assessed.
May I associate my party with the widespread welcome for the High Court decision and the congratulations to the two brave victims who brought this action? I also want to state for the record that I think the Secretary of State has acted properly throughout.
With respect to reform of the Parole Board, the Father of the House talked about the balance between accountability and independence. Because that is so tricky to get right, as we have seen, will the Secretary of State commit today to engage all parties in the House at an early stage, so that together we can strike an agreement on how to manage that balance?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. His point is about accountability and independence. There is a challenge here. I want to make it clear that I do not believe it is the role of Ministers to intervene as a matter of course in individual cases because they do not particularly like the judgment. I have made no secret of the fact that I did not like the Worboys decision, but I made an assessment and sought advice as to whether there was a legal route for me to take action and concluded that there was not. I believe that the Parole Board has to be independent, and I wish to maintain that, but I also think that a balance has to be struck, as the right hon. Gentleman says, and some weaknesses have been revealed in the Parole Board that we need to address.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the judgment today can be appealed, potentially by Worboys? If so, how long will that process take, and does it have to happen before any new panel can be constituted? Finally, can he confirm that any victims who were not able to feed into the original Parole Board hearing because they were not contacted will be part of any new process?
It is possible for this decision to be appealed. It will certainly not be appealed by my Department. In terms of the timing, my understanding is that the Parole Board is likely to proceed on the basis that this is the judgment in place. I do not think there is more that I can say at this stage.
I welcome the Court’s decision and hope that rule 25 will be abolished without delay. One way to make Parole Board decisions more transparent is greater involvement of victims—for example, by consulting them about licence conditions, using video links for them to give evidence, advising them about the impact of their victim statement on board decisions, and a simple right of appeal without victims having to go through lengthy and complex judicial reviews. Will the Secretary of State commit to those measures?
The hon. Lady makes a number of important points, and I would particularly highlight the issue of victims and licence conditions. We need to look closely at that, and it follows on from the previous question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening). Ensuring that licence conditions reflect the concerns of victims is important.
I commend the Secretary of State for his statement and his swift response to today’s judgment. It is absolutely the case that he should not have brought a judicial review, but equally, we cannot have a system whereby we rely on victims—victims of a serial predatory sex offender—to keep us safe. The primary role of Government is to keep the people safe. Will he look at ensuring we have a system that does that? What assurances can he give us that there are not other cases where the Parole Board has released people who have been deemed dangerous in circumstances where it should not have?
The reconsideration process is a way of ensuring that decisions by a Parole Board panel can be tested very thoroughly. On other cases, I have requested that the Department look closely at circumstances where there is a decision to release a category A prisoner directly. That happens very rarely—I think there have only been six in recent months—but I have sought the Department’s reassurance that there is nothing to be concerned about in those cases.
I am particularly pleased that the Secretary of State says that other civil legal action will be taken into account in future. I have written to the Department about a case where this is relevant. I had a reply from the Department which is full of errors. I wrote back on 19 January. I have not had a reply. Please could I have a meeting?
Yes, I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady.
Ah, the good doctor—Dr Julian Lewis.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does not the Worboys case illustrate the fact that there is a culture of consideration for rapists and murderers that puts the public gravely at risk? Will the Secretary of State be investigating the case of the two murderers who killed two people in two separate incidents in their own homes and who have just been convicted of the horrific rape, torture, throttling and murder by burning in a car while she was still alive of a young Vietnamese woman—not to mention the imminent release of another criminally insane individual who is being groomed for release in his guise as a woman, having previously been convicted of stabbing to death a young woman in her own home more than 66 times?
I suspect that a number of Members will have read about the case to which my right hon. Friend refers, which was covered this morning. Clearly it raises a number of issues. My focus has been on the particular circumstances of the Worboys case and the fact that there was a lack of probing of the information that should have been taken into account in making a risk assessment. These risk assessments are difficult, and sometimes they will be got wrong, but it is our responsibility to ensure that the processes are robust.
I sincerely thank the Secretary of State for meeting my constituents Mr and Mrs Mullins and their daughter Louise last month, following the release of the man who killed their son 30-odd years ago. They were failed by the Parole Board as well. Will the Secretary of State reassure me today that, as we discussed in the meeting, victims must be front and centre of any forthcoming review?
Yes, I will. In terms of the victims aspect, that review will, I hope, be completed by the end of April. I hope to make good progress on that. Meeting Mr and Mrs Mullins and their daughter, thanks to the good offices of the hon. Lady, highlighted how important this issue is for victims and their families.
How will the Secretary of State establish a balance between open justice for the system under which the Parole Board operates and at the same time preventing it from effectively operating as trial by media, because of the activities of the media around famous cases such as this one?
My hon. Friend draws out exactly the tension that we have to resolve. We need to be more transparent; the House rightly demands that. In doing so, we must recognise that it is the Parole Board that would review the documentation and should do so very thoroughly, probe carefully, then reach its conclusion. If those processes are thorough, we have to support the Parole Board in delivering that.
Like everyone else, I welcome today’s ruling. This has, however, been an unnecessary mess, with a somewhat unfortunate scapegoat in Nick Hardwick. The real problems that have been uncovered are processes and rules not fit for purpose, a lack of support for victims and underfunding. The measures the Secretary of State has outlined, including the judge-led internal reviews, are of coursesqueeze-col4 welcome, but given that he does not have enough judges to serve the current case load timeously, how will he ensure that their additional role will not delay trials any longer than they are currently delayed?
What I would say is that it is really important to get this system working well. In many cases, it does work well—in many cases, the Parole Board is making difficult decisions, and in the vast majority of cases, it gets them right—and there are times when we need to recognise and support that. Unfortunately, however, this case has revealed that some things went wrong, and they need to be addressed.
Rule 25 did not exist for most of the years that I conducted litigation on behalf of the Parole Board, and I must say that I welcome its demise. I thank the Secretary of State for taking such timely action, and for making such a thorough statement today. However, I ask him to remember that Parole Board hearings often happen many years after an offence and that victims will have moved on. While it is right that we have open justice—the press are rightly interested in probing how the system works—it is also very important to protect victims, who may well be starting to move on from what has happened to them. In that respect, I urge him to look at the excellent recommendations made by the Justice Committee, which should have reached his in-tray today.
I will, as always, look very closely at the excellent recommendations of the Justice Committee.
The Court said that the wider context of Worboys’ offending was not taken into account by the Parole Board. When the Secretary of State draws up his new rules, will he ensure that they take into account the perpetrator’s actions after he has been in prison? In Worboys’ case, he continued to appeal against his sentence, refused to admit liability in a civil case and finally admitted his guilt only nine months before his first Parole Board hearing, thus ensuring that he piled further agony on to his victims. Although Parole Board decisions should not be decided on the basis of campaigns, does he accept that it is the duty of the House to ensure that justice is seen to be done? It certainly was not done in this case.
I accept that hon. Members are perfectly entitled—indeed, it is our responsibility—to make many of these points. When it comes to the assessment of risk—is someone safe to be released?—that is the job of the Parole Board in these circumstances. Somebody’s behaviour after they are imprisoned is clearly relevant, and such a consideration should be taken into account.
For more than two years, I have raised with Ministers, and raised in this House and indeed in the Justice Committee, the issue of the lack of transparency in the case of Colin Pitchfork, who brutally raped and murdered two schoolchildren in my constituency in the 1980s. It was an unprecedented case because it was the first time in English criminal history that an individual—he pled not guilty—was convicted on the basis of DNA evidence.
I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and I fully understand the reasons he has given for not raising a judicial review procedure. It would have been ludicrous to ask for a judicial review against the Department for which he is responsible. May I, however, ask him for a simple assurance that he will ascertain the timing of the Parole Board for Colin Pitchfork, so that I and my constituents can understand whether the procedure will be the current one or the new one that he is proposing?
My hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner on behalf of the families of the victims of Colin Pitchfork, and I will see what information I can glean on the particular case. As I have said, when it comes to transparency, I hope that we will be in a new position in a handful of weeks’ time.
I am sure everyone accepts that the Secretary of State acted in good faith, but can he explain to the wider public who do not have a legal background why, when he acted on the advice that the victims had the best chance of success, the Government then spent a small fortune employing a top-notch QC to defend and justify the secrecy provisions that the victims’ case was based on challenging?
Just to explain, there were two cases brought by the victims: one was on the substance of the decision, and one was on rule 25. On the substance of the decision, my Department did not oppose the victims. We stood back, and indeed we did nothing to hinder the victims, as I assured the House on 19 January. On rule 25, I had made it clear that I felt it needed to be changed. I considered that to be a matter for this House and for my Department, rather than that the previous rule was unlawful. I thought it was wrong; I did not think it was unlawful.
I welcome the tenor of the statement that the Secretary of State has made. Given that many of us welcome the result achieved by the victims, will he reassure me that he will not oppose any requests from them for costs?
I assure my hon. Friend that the victims’ costs will be paid from the public purse.
My admiration for the courage of the victims knows no bounds, but they really should not have been put in the position of having to pursue this in this way. They have been let down by different sections of the Government, and what was missing from the statement was any sense of apology to those victims for the actions that they have been forced to take because various parts of the Department failed. The Secretary of State referred to the number of cases that the Parole Board have to consider, but this was not any old case; it was a very high-profile one, and there have been serious failings in decision making. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to the victims for the many failures that left them having to pursue justice because no one else would do it for them?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that this was no ordinary case. This case should have been dealt with much more effectively. At the Parole Board hearing, there should have been much greater probing and much greater testing of the case that Worboys made, and I deeply regret that that did not happen. I share the anger that he feels at the fact that victims therefore had to go through this process, and I am sorry that that happened.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Further to my point of order on Monday, it is important to place on the record that the Government have now tabled a new instrument, replacing the previous regulations, to give effect to their policy on nursing students.
As you will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, today is not only my birthday, but the final day for praying against the regulations. I was concerned that Ministers would simply let the clock run down and prevent a meaningful vote from being held, but I am very glad to report that that will not now be the case. I want to put on the record my thanks to Mr Speaker, and I note that his advice was clearly heard in the Government Whips Office.
When the Opposition pray in good time against a statutory instrument on a controversial policy issue, we are entitled to call for a debate and a vote on the Floor of the House so that every Member gets a say and our constituents can hold us to account. The role of a legislator is to legislate, and I hope you agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this should set a clear precedent for the future that allows us to do exactly that.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving notice that she would raise this matter. I understand that the Government have tabled a motion to revoke the regulations she had prayed against and that they plan to lay replacement regulations in due course. I do not think I should be drawn on whether this is a precedent, but she has put her view on the record. I am of course happy to pass her comments on to Mr Speaker. Finally, I wish her a happy birthday.
Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Sajid Javid, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Greg Clark, Mel Stride and Rishi Sunak, presented a Bill to make provision, where two or more hereditaments occupied or owned by the same person meet certain conditions as to contiguity, for those hereditaments to be treated for the purposes of non-domestic rating as one hereditament; and to increase the percentage by which a billing authority in England may increase the council tax payable in respect of a long-term empty dwelling.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 192) with explanatory notes (Bill 192-EN).
Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in Northern Ireland; to make provision in the law of Northern Ireland for the conversion of civil partnerships to marriages and for the review of civil partnership; to make provision for the legal recognition of the marriage of armed forces personnel overseas and of other marriages solemnised outside Northern Ireland; and for connected purposes.
I speak in the House today with great pride in the people and cause on whose behalf I bring in this Bill, but also with reluctance and—strange as it might sound—some disappointment. I say that for two reasons. First, this measure is long overdue. Northern Ireland is the anomaly in these islands when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. My constituents in St Helens and people in London, Dublin, Cardiff and Edinburgh can all get married to the person they love, but same-sex couples are denied that basic right in Northern Ireland. That is a wrong that must finally be corrected.
Secondly, this measure should be enacted in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Let me say clearly that that is my strong preference. I know that Members across the House desperately want to see the power-sharing institutions restored at Stormont. However, the Assembly being in cold storage should not mean that Northern Ireland remains a cold house for LGBT rights. The de facto suspension of the devolved legislature does not mean that equality for same-sex couples can be suspended indefinitely, because rights delayed are rights denied.
It is for those reasons that I, Members right across the House and the Love Equality campaign demand that this House, this Parliament and this Government act. My contention is that we can derive a legitimate mandate to do so on this issue, because the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives in Stormont have spoken in favour of same-sex marriage. In November 2015, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favour of a Bill proposing to introduce same-sex marriage, and every poll of the public in Northern Ireland has shown broad support, with 60% to 70% consistently in favour. Alongside that, the majority of the parties support same-sex marriage. The Alliance party, Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Green party and senior figures in the Ulster Unionist party all favour the introduction of equal marriage. They contend that change is needed and that, in the absence of an Assembly, Westminster must act.
This is not about people being nationalist or Unionist; it is not even about people being gay or married. It is about people being equal. The Love Equality campaign represents a broad cross-section of the community in Northern Ireland, including Amnesty International, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the National Union of Students and the Union of Students in Ireland, the Rainbow Project, Cara-Friend and Here NI.
In bringing in the Bill, I and other Members seek not to usurp the democratic institutions or civic society of Northern Ireland but to support them. There are, of course, those who oppose equal marriage and do not wish to see it extended to Northern Ireland. It is their right to hold those opinions, but it is not the right of anyone—any MP or any political party—in holding such opinions to deny, block or denigrate the rights of others.
I am a practising Catholic, although my parish priest would undoubtedly say that I probably need to practise a little bit more. I am not a theologian and this is not a church, but I have been asked whether or not, given the position of the Church hierarchy, the Bill conflicts with my personal faith. Let me say this as gently and appropriately as possible. The God I know is one of love, compassion and understanding. In showing that to others, in standing up for the marginalised and those who are denied their rights, I believe I am living the message of the Gospel in this holy week. I want to be clear that the position of the Churches in Northern Ireland will be unaffected by the Bill. They will not be compelled to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or to recognise same-sex marriages in the structures of their respective Churches.
Attitudes have changed in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland. In the rural Armagh village of Camlough, sage advice and solace is to be found in the local hostelries of Doyle’s, Quinn’s and Trainors. There people will find the finest wines, ales and minds. For me, they have always been a good barometer of what the elusive man on the street thinks about the issues of the day. On a recent and, these days, rare visit, I chanced to encounter one of these wise men—a gruff, agricultural, straightforward south Armagh man. He said to me, “Young McGinn, I see you are helping out the gays. Sure, I’m all for this gay marriage. They’re entitled to be as miserable as the rest of us.” Another asked, “You see this equal marriage—will they be able to get equal divorce, too?” The point is that when they are making jokes about it, it is clearly accepted and part of the fabric of everyday life. The people understand this; it is the law that remains stuck in the past. LGBT people are the sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of our friends and neighbours. This matter is fundamentally about people and their rights.
My friend and occasional aide-de-camp, James Winston, is a well-known and respected figure here at Westminster. Unlike Downing Street advisers, I am not in the business of outing people, but it will not come as a shock to anyone who knows him when I tell the House that he is gay. What might be more surprising is that when he was a young man in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, homosexuality was still illegal. Despite being decriminalised in Britain in the late 1960s, it was not until the 1980s that it became legal in Northern Ireland. James is a proud Ulsterman and has devoted much of his life to working for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, but I know, as his friend, that it cuts him to the quick that he had to leave home as a young man because he was gay and that the prohibition of same-sex marriage means that, to this day, he is not considered equal in the land of his birth.
My friend Peter Magee grew up on the same street as us in Bessbrook. He lives with his husband in New York, but when he gets off the plane in Belfast his marriage is not recognised. I contrast that with another friend, Alan Gemmell, for whom I acted as best man when he got married in Scotland. He was able to marry the man he loved in the place he calls home in front of his friends and family.
Later today, I will join Cara McCann, Amanda McGurk and other campaigners to present petitions in support of equal marriage in Northern Ireland to 10 Downing Street. The more than 42,000 people who have added their names to those petitions all have their own reasons for demanding marriage equality, but I want to highlight the case of Cara and Amanda. They have been in a loving relationship for almost five years and got engaged just over a year and a half ago. Like many couples, it is their dream to build a happy life together as a married couple, based on their shared love and values. But they cannot. Does anyone think that is fair? Does anyone think that is right? Does anyone think that can continue?
Madam Deputy Speaker, and dearly beloved Members gathered here today, if any person knows of any reason why Cara and Amanda cannot be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace. This is the opportunity for anyone in this House who objects to equal marriage to do so. Let them stand up here, make their case and bring it to a vote. That is my challenge, because today is not about symbolism. My efforts and those of my friend Lord Hayward in the other place are not gestures. In a short while, we will know the will of the House on this matter. If it supports equal marriage, which I believe it will, the Government will have a moral and political duty and imperative to act.
I was born and raised in Northern Ireland and I now proudly represent the English seat of St Helens North in this House. People where I live—my constituents—and people in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin have the right to marry the person they love, but the very same right is denied to people where I grew up. In 2018, that is not only unjust; it is unacceptable.
This Bill is not just an instrument to advance LGBT rights in Northern Ireland; it is a litmus test on the will of this House to uphold equality and fairness. It is high time we acted, and I hope that today will be the first step on what must be a short road to bringing about equal rights for our fellow citizens. It is a matter of fundamental inequality and unfairness and a denial of rights that same-sex couples in other parts of the UK and Ireland are allowed to marry, but that Cara McCann and Amanda McGurk are not. Cara and Amanda have a civil partnership ceremony booked for Valentine’s day next year. My Bill would pave the way for them to be married instead.
Question put and agreed to.
That Conor McGinn, Wes Streeting, Karin Smyth, Ged Killen, Yvette Cooper, Owen Smith, Layla Moran, Caroline Lucas, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening, Nick Herbert and Ms Angela Eagle present the Bill.
Conor McGinn accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 May, and to be printed (Bill 193).
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think the will of the House is now clear in respect of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn). I seek advice on whether you have had any notification from the Government of their intention to come to the House to make a statement on how they intend to proceed to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
I have not had any such notification, although I would point out that the Bill has only just this minute gone through. Those on the Treasury Bench, however, will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am very proud of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) for that powerful speech. Earlier today, my constituent Richard Angell arrived in Parliament wearing a rainbow flag to support the campaign, but was asked by House security to remove it. It was confiscated until he left. I am sure the individual officers of the House were just following the rules, but I wonder whether you can clarify whether that was the appropriate course of action. If they were following the rules, can you give us some advice on how the rules might be revised, so that this powerful symbol of equality can be worn throughout our Parliament?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order. I will certainly look into the matter he raises and get back to him.
Business without Debate
European Union Documents
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),
Drinking Water Directive (Reasoned Opinion)
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 5846/18 and Addenda 1 to 5, Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the quality of water intended for human consumption (recast); considers that the proposal does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity for the reasons set out in the annex to the Eighteenth Report of Session 2017-19 of the European Scrutiny Committee (HC 301- xviii); and, in accordance with Article 6 of Protocol No. 2 annexed to EU Treaties on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, instructs the Clerk of the House to forward this reasoned opinion to the Presidents of the European Institutions.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
That the draft Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) (Custodial Premises) Subordinate Provisions Order 2018, which was laid before this House on 22 January, be approved.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
That the draft Data Protection (Charges and Information) Regulations 2018, which were laid before this House on 20 February, be approved.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
Terms and Conditions of Employment
That the draft National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2018, which were laid before this House on 5 February, be approved.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
That the draft Insolvency of Registered Providers of Social Housing Regulations 2018, which were laid before this House on 7 February, be approved.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
That the draft Finance Act 2003, Part 3 (Amendment) Order 2018, which was laid before this House on 5 March, be approved.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
That the draft Scottish Rates of Income Tax (Consequential Amendments) Order 2018, which was laid before this House on 12 March, be approved.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Local Government Funding
I beg to move,
That this House believes that local government has severely suffered as a result of almost eight years of brutal and devastating cuts; notes with concern that the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that between 2010 and 2020 local government will have had direct funding cut by 79 per cent; is concerned that the top ten most deprived councils in England are set to see cuts higher than the national average, with nine on course for cuts more than three times higher than the national average; believes there is a risk that services and councils are reaching a financial breaking point; calls on the Government to act on the warnings of the National Audit Office and initiate a review into the funding of local government to ensure that the sector has sustainable funding for the long term and to immediately provide more resources to prevent more authorities following Conservative-run Northamptonshire into effective bankruptcy; and further calls on the Government to report to the House by Oral Statement and written report before 19 April 2018 on what steps it is taking to comply with this resolution.
The motion calls on the Government to respond to the challenges faced by local government. I want to start by paying tribute to councillors of all political persuasions and none, and to council officers and staff, who have risen to those difficult challenges over the past eight years, making really tough decisions but ones that have often sought to protect public services. As I will come on to explain, all levels of local government are now saying that the cuts have to end or local government will collapse.
I am proud of my own roots in local government, having served on Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council for 12 years before coming to this House. My wife is a Tameside councillor approaching her 19th year of service. I know the very difficult decisions that she and her colleagues continue to have to make because of the decisions taken by Members of this House and this Government.
For those without the first-hand experience, the work of local government, as the Secretary of State recently put it, may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but to consider those working at the coalface in local councils as merely cogs in a machine to make the jobs of politicians in Westminster easier is a failure to recognise the real value, the responsibility and the pride shown by our local leaders.
In May, I will cease to be a councillor after eight years as a member of Redbridge London Borough Council. In my borough and, I suspect, every other Labour authority up for election this year, Conservative candidates will be out there attacking them for council tax increases that have been forced on them to protect public services from the savage cuts of this Tory Government. Is that not an example of the utter hypocrisy of the Conservative party: anti-cuts campaigners locally, while in this place cheering those cuts and voting them through?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, part of the reason—two sides of the same coin—is that there have been eight years of cuts from this place to local councils, meaning that council budgets have shrunk. It is also this place that has allowed councils to increase council tax. This year it increased the limit by a further 1%, which means that it is merely shifting the blame on to local councillors of all political persuasions—and this is not a party political point.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way in a moment, but I am responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting).
That is why it is so unfair: the Government have devolved the cuts and devolved the blame. They have sought to distance themselves from decisions for which each and every Member on the Conservative Benches is directly responsible.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that council tax is less in real terms than it was in 2010. Does he not believe he should think about his party’s own record? Between 1997 and 2010 council tax doubled.
And I remind the hon. Gentleman that council spending has been less in real terms since 2010. In the decade to 2020, my own local authority of Tameside will have lost close to £200 million of Government funding. That is unsustainable and he has some responsibility for that because of his votes.