Wednesday 23 May 2018
[Albert Owen in the Chair]
BAME Communities: Stop and Search
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of police stop and search powers on BAME communities.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. Stop-and-search is often referred to as the litmus test of police-community relations, and it is one of the first encounters that young people from ethnic minority backgrounds have with the police. Those early interactions can shape how young people view the police for the rest of their lives, especially when they, their family or their friends are searched repeatedly. Members from all parties will undoubtedly have heard accounts from their constituents of deeply negative experiences of stop-and-searches and other types of police-initiated stops, such as detentions at ports and airports under counter-terrorism legislation, and stops under road and traffic legislation.
Unfortunately, we have debated stop-and-search time and again due to the way that it has been misused since the 1960s. Recently, the Government initiated a series of reforms backed by cross-party consensus, which I will refer to. However, numerous inspections by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—in 2013, 2015 and 2016—found that many chief officers are frustrating that process because they are
“failing to understand the impact of stop and search”
on people’s lives. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government seek to carry on reforming these powers and prevent the backsliding that we have seen in the last couple of years.
I stress that stop-and-search can be a useful tool to detect crime, but only when it is used in a very targeted way. Claims are often made about how useful stop-and-search is, but they are not backed by scientific research and, in fact, often contradict the evidence base. Stop-and-search is neither the solution to crime problems nor a substitute for intelligence from good relationships with communities. Evidence shows that stop-and-search is a blunt tool for the prevention and detection of crime, and has a profoundly negative impact on police-community relations.
Home Office research in 2000 showed that stop-and-search had only a marginal role in combating crime, because its use was not linked to patterns of crime, and that searches for drugs were fuelling unproductive searches of ethnic minorities, particularly young black men. Ten years later, the Equality and Human Rights Commission reached the same conclusion. Threatening legal action against the five forces that it felt had the worst ethnic disproportionality at the time, it managed to reduce their volume of searches and that disproportionality—importantly, without reversing the long-term fall in crime. Last year, the College of Policing published analysis on the effect of stop-and-search on various crimes. It, too, found that stop-and-search had a weak role in reducing only certain types of crime, while having no measurable impact on most others.
Those studies show just how ineffective stop-and-search is as a general tactic. Even within a similar family of forces, stop-and-search use, outcomes and ethnic disproportionality differ so drastically that, as some of the research concludes, they are determined more by the culture set by chief officers than by local crime trends.
On the ground, the ease with which police officers can use their discretionary powers, together with their widely divergent views about what constitutes reasonable suspicion, mean that stop-and-search has become the go-to power for social control, and one that is influenced by unconscious biases or outright racial prejudices. For example, “smell of cannabis” and “fits a suspect description” are routinely used to justify searching people of colour. There are, of course, other powers that do not even require reasonable suspicion. Members will not be surprised to hear that those produce even worse ethnic disproportionality.
Given the national debate about the apparent increase in knife and violent crime, what are the Government doing to resist the urge to increase stop-and-searches in the false view that that will solve the problem? When the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, she rightly called that
“a knee-jerk reaction on the back of a false link.”
In fact, the police’s own data show that most searches are for drugs, rather than knives, guns or other weapons, and that the proportion of searches for drugs is actually increasing. For most forces, that figure is consistently more than 50%, and in a number of cases it is even above 70%. Will the Minister outline what the Government are doing to ensure that stop-and-search is actually targeted at violent crime?
Ironically, that increase has occurred at a time when police forces have signed up to the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, the main purpose of which is to increase trust and confidence in policing by addressing the disproportionate impact of stop-and-search on ethnic minorities and by giving communities a stronger role in scrutinising those powers. Although that has delivered a welcome 44% reduction in the use of stop-and-search and has improved detection rates, if we probe behind the headlines we find that little else has changed.
After initially declining, disproportionality has shot to new heights in the past two years. Estimates for last year show that black people were searched at more than eight times the rate of white people, and people from mixed, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds were searched at around double the rate. Under the “suspicionless” powers in section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, black people were searched at 14 times the rate of whites, mixed people were searched at twice the rate, and people from Asian or other backgrounds were searched at a slightly higher rate than whites.
Clearly, the benefits of scaling back excess searches of people who would not otherwise have been searched have not filtered through to ethnic minority groups. As with the Government reforms following the Brixton riots in the 1980s and the Macpherson report on the mishandling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, we are at risk of giving up too soon and allowing stop-and-search to regress to unacceptably high levels of disproportionality and grief.
In her final months as Home Secretary, the Prime Minister argued that
“there is still a long way to go.”
That is partly because numerous HMIC inspections have shown that most chief officers are failing to show leadership in addressing stop-and-search. At one point, the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, declared:
“The Conservatives have become the party of equality.”
So can the Minister explain why the current Prime Minister has allowed disproportionality to increase and reform to grind to a halt under her premiership?
Communities have been left wondering whether the Government remain committed to reform of stop-and-search, particularly because the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), did not give it the attention it deserves, despite it having been so central to her predecessor’s race equality agenda. The Prime Minister has also failed to live up to her promises to introduce monitoring of traffic stops and remove individual officers’ ability to use stop-and-search where they are found to be routinely misusing it. Will the Minister affirm that the Government are still committed to those proposals and say when we are likely to see them?
The powerlessness of ethnic minority communities to scrutinise and shape police policies and practice is a crucial issue that remains unaddressed. The true test of a democracy is the way it treats its vulnerable and minority groups.
The hon. Lady will know that a hugely disproportionate number of black young men are victims of knife crime. Will she agree to survey victims’ families—those who are most closely affected—to see whether they agree with her? I strongly suggest that they want tougher sentences for knife crime, they want tougher sentences for the criminals who are convicted and they want more stop-and-search.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that, and I will address some of those issues. I am not sure that conviction rates support what he suggests, but I will look into that further.
Police and crime commissioners were elected to democratise policing, but few have prioritised issues facing ethnic minorities. The best stop-and-search schemes give the public opportunities to accompany officers out on patrol, but they place most of their emphasis on scrutiny of stop-and-search records and data at police consultation groups.
The University of Warwick recently conducted the most comprehensive study of how members of the public in five police force areas try to provide input into police practice. It showed that police-public consultative groups have become the main forum through which the police make themselves accountable to the public, although those groups lack representatives from ethnic minorities and young people, who are most affected by policing. It concluded that these groups have become talking shops and are viewed as merely rubber-stamp committees by frustrated members of the community who want to make a difference. That is because there is no obligation on police officers to amend their policies or practice in the light of recommendations from the public. Even more concerningly, some senior officers responsible for organising these groups are either misleading the public about their use of stop-and-search or withholding even the most basic information, which would allow communities to hold them adequately to account. If we are serious about empowering communities, we need to ensure that members of the public can make recommendations and receive a written response from their chief officers on what those officers will do with that feedback. Will the Minister make that a statutory requirement?
The importance of getting stop-and-search right is made clear by academic literature on procedural justice, which suggests that the way people are treated by the police has an impact on their trust and confidence in the police and, by extension, on their perception of the state’s legitimacy, which determines their willingness to co-operate with the police and obey the law. It is therefore no surprise that anti-police riots have been fuelled by experiences of stop-and-search. All of that makes it even more important that we get stop-and-search right, no matter how long it takes.
One type of encounter that tends to be ignored and that is shrouded in secrecy is stops under schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which are the most draconian of all police stops. The schedule provides powers to detain the travelling public for up to six hours, which could mean they miss their flights, without the right to compensation. They are separated from their family and friends to be questioned, searched and potentially strip-searched. They have their biometric data taken, irrespective of the outcome of the stop, and have data from their mobile phones and laptops downloaded without their knowledge or consent. This has a deeply negative psychological impact on British Muslims and on those mistaken for Muslims, such as Sikhs and men with beards. This power does not require there to be suspicion that individuals are involved in terrorism, so British Muslims are left wondering why they have been detained, other than by virtue of their faith.
Young Muslims have had the bizarre experience of being asked if they personally know where international terrorists such as Osama bin Laden are hiding. These law-abiding citizens are made to feel humiliated, distressed and fearful, as well as alien to the country they know and love. That has created a sense that British Muslims have become the new suspect community. What will the Government do to eliminate religious and racial profiling at ports?
There is more data and research on police stops than ever before. It shows a consensus that these powers are ineffective in anything other than highly individual scenarios and that they continue to impact negatively on innocent people’s lives. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels and assume that the job is done, simply because the overall numbers are down. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what the Government are doing to empower communities to hold their police to account, to deliver on promises of reform and to tackle the false notion that knife crime is linked to stop-and-search.
I will finish on this:
“nobody wins when stop-and-search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2014; Vol. 579, c. 833.]
Those are the words of our current Prime Minister when she was the Home Secretary. This year marks 20 years since the Macpherson inquiry started, and last month was 25 years since the stabbing of Stephen Lawrence. The Macpherson report in 1999 noted on stop-and-search that there remained
“a clear core conclusion of racist stereotyping”.
In 2009, the Home Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, reported on progress since the Lawrence inquiry. It noted that minority ethnic people remain
“over-policed and under-protected within our criminal justice system.”
It may be easy, from a position of privilege, to view this as a fad, but for many in our black and minority ethnic communities, racial profiling and discriminatory policing are real. They are corrosive, and they are undermining trust in public institutions. If we have learned anything from the Macpherson report, it is this: institutional racism needs to be dismantled if we are to build a society based on values of procedural justice and public accountability.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), on securing the debate. It may not surprise her or you to hear that I disagree with virtually everything she said. I will explain why.
This debate is about the effect of police stop-and-search on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. I believe that the recent changes in the culture on stop-and-search are very much hurting parts of those communities, and it is not on. They are suffering not from the overuse of stop-and-search, as the hon. Lady would contend, but from the potential underuse of it.
I appreciate that some people will look just at the headline facts, take the consensus view and then want to be seen to be doing something to solve the problem they have identified. I wish, not just on this issue but on many others, that we in Parliament would look more closely at the evidence; we are not here to represent the loudest voice of the day. Apart from that being sensible in itself, if the problem identified is the wrong problem, doing something to fix it could actually be more harmful than helpful, despite people’s very best intentions.
It cannot have escaped anyone’s attention that young people are dying on our streets at a frightening rate, particularly in London. If we look beyond the statistics to the real lives being lost, they are predominantly not white. I am no fan of dividing people up by the colour of their skin—in fact, I often think that the people who see everything in terms of race are the real racists—so all such references in my speech are simply to reflect that that is the way in which the debate is framed.
Extreme violence is one of the real problems facing us, and by and large it is non-white people who are the victims in these murders. The 2016 statistics on race and the criminal justice system show that, in the three-year period from 2013 to 2016, the rate of homicide was four times higher for black victims, at 32 victims per million people, compared with white victims at eight per million and other victims at seven per million. Therefore, when it comes to the most serious offence of all—murder—it is clear that black people, and in particular black males, are far more likely to be victims. They are also more likely to be murderers.
Following a parliamentary question I asked in 2016, I was given the following information about the ethnicity of murderers. While white people made up 87% of the population, they were responsible for 67% of murders. Black people made up 3% of the population but 14.5% of murders. Asian people were 6% of the population but were responsible for 12% of murders, and mixed race people were 2% of the population but responsible for 5.5% of murders.
It is also a fact that black people are more likely to use a knife or a sharp instrument to kill. According to the 2016 statistics on race and the criminal justice system, for victims from the black ethnic group sharp instruments accounted for nearly two thirds of homicides, but they accounted for only one third of white homicides. Cressida Dick said last year that young black men and boys were statistically more likely to be the victims and perpetrators of knife crime, having made up 21 of 24 teenagers murdered at that point that year.
That is the background and those are the facts. I am not sure anybody disputes them, because they are the official facts. If no crimes were taking place, we would not need stop-and-search, but in the real world there is crime, and it is a serious problem. The use of stop-and-search is just one way to fight against crime and one tool to try to prevent it, but it is a very important tool.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, my neighbouring MP, for his input. How does he respond to the fact that for the majority of stop-and-searches that take place, when police officers make their recordings they are made for the purposes of addressing drugs, not knife crime or violent crime, despite what he reads?
I will come on to address those points in my remarks, but the implication of what the hon. Lady says is that drug offences are not serious offences and therefore the police should be turning a blind eye to them. That is not a premise I accept. Drugs are a blight on our society and cause misery for a lot of families, and it is absolutely right that the police try to crack down on drug offences. I do not take the view that drug offences are something that the police should not focus on.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point; it is difficult to disaggregate drugs from some of the violence we see. The two often go hand in hand, and he puts that point particularly well.
I do not have time today to go into as much detail as I would like on this subject. I know that one of the reasons for stop-and-search relates to drugs. The 2016 statistics on race in the criminal justice system show that 34% of black offenders, and only 15% of white offenders, were convicted of drug offences, making that the largest offence group for black offenders. It seems to me perfectly obvious that black people are therefore more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people, because more people are convicted of those crimes. That seems to me to be partly obvious. Drug offences were also the largest offence group for the Asian ethnic group, accounting for 28% of its offenders.
One of the other purposes of stop-and-search is to check for weapons. According to the Ministry of Justice’s figures, black suspects had the highest proportion of stop-and-searches for offensive weapons, at 20%. As far as I am concerned, it is irrelevant how many people from each background are being stopped and searched. What is relevant is how many of those who are stopped and searched are guilty of those crimes.
If those from certain communities were being stopped and searched and were consistently found to have done nothing wrong, I would be the first to say, “This is completely unacceptable.” In fact, that was one of the reasons why I started to do my own research on this subject, because I was constantly being told that people from ethnic minorities were much more likely to be stopped and searched but to have done nothing wrong, and therefore they were simply being stopped and searched because of the colour of their skin. If that were the case, it would be unacceptable, but that is absolutely not the case.
I asked a parliamentary question about this in 2016. I was told that the following were the percentages of searches that resulted in an arrest. For white people who were stopped and searched, 13% were arrested as a result. For black people it was 20%, for Asian people 14% and for mixed race people 17%. The evidence shows that the community that is much more likely to be stopped and searched and yet found to have done nothing wrong is white people. Those are the facts. They might be inconvenient facts for people who have a particular agenda, but they are nevertheless the facts.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I struggle with it. For me, the common-sense approach to this would be to say that if the police are searching more black people, they will get higher conviction rates. If they were searching the same number of white people, would that not correlate with convictions? The truth is that from the outset, black people have been stopped and searched much more than their white counterparts, so there will be a reduction in those figures, will there not?
It is a proportion, not a number. It is a proportion of the number of people who are stopped and searched who were found to have done something wrong and were arrested as a result. The numbers are irrelevant; I am talking about the proportion. As I say, I am not a big fan of dividing people into ethnic groups, but that is the purpose of this debate. The fact of the matter is that the ethnic group most likely to be stopped and searched and found to have done nothing wrong is white people. That is the fact.
For the avoidance of doubt, is the hon. Gentleman saying that the disproportionate levels of stop-and-search exercised on black people, Muslim people and people from south Asia is because we are more criminal?
I am giving out the facts, and the facts of the matter are, as I went into earlier—I am sure the right hon. Lady was listening—that for certain offences, black people are more likely to be found guilty than white people. That is a fact. I gave the figures for murder. They are official figures. They are not my figures; I have not made them up. It is not a contention I am making. I am merely quoting the facts. I know the right hon. Lady is not always known for wanting to deal in facts, but they are the facts.
I have just answered that question, but I will answer it again for the right hon. Lady’s benefit. The fact is that for certain categories of offence—murder, drug offences and so on—black people and people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be guilty than white people. That is a fact. I am not making a particular contention. That is the evidence. That is the rate of convictions. That is done by the courts. It might be that she has no confidence in our courts system in this country; that may be her contention. I, as it happens, do. Those are the facts.
I am really struggling with this. What I am saying, and what I have put before the House today, is the fact of the disproportionality of young black men being stopped and searched in the first instance. Had we not had that disproportionality— if we had it equal—does he not agree that those figures would then be more fairly representative—
Thank you, Mr Owen. I will try to resist more interventions on that basis.
I do not accept the premise the hon. Lady starts from, which is that police officers in this country are inherently racist and are going out of their way to deliberately stop people from ethnic minorities whom they know there is no basis for stopping. I do not accept the premise of that argument. I have a high regard for police officers, not only in my local community but right across the country. I believe they do the job to the best of their ability. The evidence shows that her premise is not right, because the people most likely to be found guilty of something after being stopped and searched are people from ethnic minorities, which would indicate that police officers are not doing as she and the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) allege.
The Ministry of Justice’s most recent publication says that
“the rate of prosecutions for the Black ethnic group was four times higher than for the White group. The Mixed group had the second highest rate, which was more than twice as high as the White group.”
That mirrors the higher stop-and-search rate in that same period, when black individuals had a stop-and-search rate around four times higher than white individuals in London, and about five and a half times higher in the rest of England and Wales. In many respects, the rates of stop-and-search based on different people’s ethnicity only mirrored the exact same difference in conviction rates for those ethnic groups. The two were entirely in line. The most recent figures show a bigger gap between the rates per 1,000 who are stopped and searched by ethnicity, and time will tell whether those rates continue to mirror the same pattern within the criminal justice system.
When it comes to youths, the difference is even starker. According to the Ministry of Justice report:
“The number of juveniles prosecuted for indictable offences in relation to population size varied by ethnicity. Prosecution rates per 1000 people aged 10-17…were highest for Black juveniles (12 juveniles per 1000 people), followed by Mixed (4 per 1000), Chinese or Other (2 per 1000), White (2 per 1000) and Asian (2 per 1000).”
In 2016, the black ethnic group represented 4% of the general population aged 10 to 17 but 19% of all juvenile prosecutions for indictable offences, whereas the white ethnic group represented 82% of the general population aged 10 to 17 but 67% of juvenile prosecutions. In answer to the shadow Minister, the figures suggest a clear pattern in youth offending, and particularly in serious youth offending. Those are the facts. They might be uncomfortable, but we cannot get away from them just to suit our political narratives.
I do not even accept the premise set by the hon. Member for Bradford West that people from ethnic minorities feel that the criminal justice system and stop-and-search are discriminatory against them. Again, I do not see the evidence to suggest that. A group of young BAME people were asked if they agree that, if used fairly, stop-and-search is a good tactic to help reduce crime. Some 71% either agreed or strongly agreed, and only 9% disagreed. Why did only 9% disagree that stop-and-search is a good thing? Could it be that they believe and realise that the police predominantly protect them through the use of stop-and-search? Without stop-and-search, they are much more likely to be the victims of these serious crimes.
Another survey, with the results published in “Statistics on race and the criminal justice system”, was done back in 2014. It found that the ethnic group with the highest confidence in the criminal justice system was Asian people, with 76% of them having confidence in the criminal justice system. For mixed race people it was 66% and for both white and black people it was 65%—exactly the same. Again, I do not see any evidence to suggest that people from ethnic minorities have less confidence in the criminal justice system. Those surveys certainly do not suggest that.
The hon. Member for Bradford West may well have seen the article in The Sunday Times last weekend with research from Cambridge University that found that Muslims are no more likely than white Britons to be stopped by police on suspicion of committing a crime. I hope that she will read that report, because it is a helpful piece of research.
Are police officers guilty of racism towards non-white individuals in the street? That, in effect, is the allegation that Opposition Members are making. Actually, that does not even take into account the fact that BAME officers themselves engage in stop-and-search. According to the Home Office’s latest police workforce figures, 6% of police officers are non-white. In London, where stop-and-searches occur far more than in any village in my constituency, 13% of officers are BAME. As of 31 March 2017, there were 7,572 BAME police officers in total, and many of them will themselves use stop-and-search on other people from ethnic minorities. Are they being racist towards people from ethnic minorities? They are part of the statistics I have quoted.
To follow the hon. Gentleman’s line of thinking, this is all about stopping crime. Bearing in mind that, in 2016-17, 62% of stop-and-searches were for drugs, compared with 11% for offensive weapons, 9% for going equipped and 1% for firearms, does the hon. Gentleman agree that higher priority must be given to searches? That would help to reduce the rise in killings in London, for example. Stop-and-search is a way of preventing crime, and it is very important.
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful to him for that support.
Why are more black people being stopped? If the uncomfortable truth is that they commit more of the crimes for which they are stopped, we need to accept that and deal with it. If that is not the case, we need the evidence to show what the issue is. The Prime Minister said that institutions should explain or change. I say that this evidence needs an explanation, and it may well be that it should result in a change to the recent policy on stop-and-search, and that stop-and-search should be used more.
As a result of this politically correct chatter about stop-and-search, the number of stop-and-searches has reduced dramatically. One reason is that the police fear stopping and searching people in case they are branded racist. In fact, one police officer told me that, in their training, they were told to avoid stopping and searching somebody from an ethnic minority because it could easily get them into trouble. What a message to send out to our police officers, who try their best to combat crime. Cressida Dick is reported to have said of police officers last August:
“I think there are some who have become concerned that they will be accused of racism, that they may get a complaint and that if they do get a complaint, that may inhibit their work in other ways, or they may not be supported by their bosses. When I look at it, there’s a very low number of complaints, and the vast majority of those are resolved very, very quickly and in favour of the officer.”
Of course there will be the odd bad egg in any institution or organisation, and of course that should never be tolerated. Modern technology in the form of body-worn cameras can help to allow greater transparency, and those who abuse their position can be weeded out. I understand that 94% of Metropolitan police officers now wear those cameras, so what is anybody worried about?
All the evidence as to whether people are treated fairly or unfairly is there. Let police officers get on and do their job. They do a fantastic and important job in keeping us safe. The last thing they need is meddlesome politicians, who know barely anything about what they are talking about, interfering in their operational work. Their job is hard enough as it is without people in this place making it even harder for them. Let us trust them to get on and do their job. They do their job with great skill and dedication, and we should support them.
It is totally unacceptable to have a situation in which officers leave criminals free to commit crimes simply because they want to avoid racism complaints. We need to ensure that everything is done to stop the needless killings and other crimes on our streets. Above all, we need to trust the police and let them get on with their job. There are plenty of political correctness wallahs in the police anyway nowadays, so there are plenty to look after that agenda. We need to give the police the best chance of fighting crime and protecting all our people, black, white or whatever—their skin colour is completely irrelevant. I am not sure that debates and agendas like these help with that unless they are based on evidence and facts.
At the beginning of May, the Evening Standard reported on parents who have lost children to knife crime leading a peace march and rally in London. The article said:
“Hundreds of marchers are expected to take to the streets in Hackney and Islington amid a growing outcry over the number of fatal stabbings. There were also calls for the Metropolitan Police to boost the number of stop-and-searches in London to detect knife carriers.
March organiser Janette Collins, who runs the youth intervention project The Crib, said: ‘We are saying we have had enough. There are no police on the streets, we do not see them walking on the streets in Hackney and Islington, they are in their cars. We need to bring back stop-and-search. If people object to it, I ask do they want to see kids running around with big knives?’”
That is the real view of people out in the streets, but it is a view that this House seems completely out of touch with. I think that most people in this country expect us to support the police in the work that they do. I certainly do. I hope other Members will do so too.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) on bringing this important subject before us. It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who made his case with his usual Yorkshire bluntness. I will be a bit less monochromatic; I am a sociologist, so I will introduce some light and shade and context to the debate. I will quote very few opinion surveys, because as a sociologist, I am always suspicious of the sampling techniques used to seemingly pluck figures out of the air, such as the use of self-selecting samples. I used to teach sampling methods.
It is important to remember the context. Disquiet at the excessive use of stop-and-search long predates expressions such as “institutional racism”, “hostile environment” and other terms with which we are now familiar. It has its origins in the sus laws, and in the Vagrancy Act 1824, which allowed any person to be arrested on suspicion of loitering and was scrapped in the 1980s. These are not new debates.
We have a sense of déjà vu. In 1981, there were headlines about rising violence on the streets. The Specials’ “Ghost Town” was No. 1, and the streets of Brixton and Toxteth burned. At the same time, a royal wedding was being celebrated. I queued up to see the fireworks for Prince Charles and Lady Diana, I remember. A royal commission in 1981 found that there was an excessive use of stop-and-search, and in the end it was scrapped. That year’s riots were the result of the heavy-handedness of the sus laws and of the use of stop-and-search against ethnic minority communities. It is often a knee-jerk reaction to step up stop-and-search. Nobody doubts that it is an important tool in the toolbox of police and law enforcement when there is rising crime, but it can be a blunt instrument, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West pointed out. We need to think about the implications that it has for community relations, for trust and confidence, and for transparency.
Of course, the events I mentioned were in 1981, before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and before interviews had to be recorded, and there are a lot of scary examples of how it was used indiscriminately on our streets. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West pointed out the alarming figures, and the fact that some people are eight times more likely to be searched, which is quite disturbing. My intervention was going to be figure-free and has grown into a speech as I have been sitting here. We still have Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which authorises officers to stop and search people without reasonable grounds but where there is a risk of violence, or where it is believed weapons are being carried. A Section 60 stop-and-search order is something that should not be slapped on lightly.
What we are talking about is racial profiling, as a sociologist would say. There has been some to-ing and fro-ing on drugs policy in the debate. I have figures from the most recent British crime survey—a robust exercise, not simply an opinion survey—that say that BAME people are much less likely to use drugs, including cannabis, than white people, yet black people are stopped and searched for drugs at a rate nine times higher than their white counterparts, compared with eight times higher for all other reasons for a search. Asian and mixed-race people were also stopped and searched for drugs at a rate three times higher than their white counterparts, compared with two times higher where there were other reasons for a search. There are disparities there; we cannot get away from that.
A key part of addressing racial bias in the police force is making sure the force reflects the community it serves. When I joined Greater Manchester police, there were only a handful of such officers. Things have improved since then, and there has been good work, through unconscious bias training, positive action co-ordinators and independent advisory groups, but there is still an issue with minority ethnic officers rising to the top ranks. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government and politicians should do what we can to encourage forces to reflect their communities at all ranks?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, who has served as a police officer and a lawyer, and is now a shadow Minister—so he speaks with great authority. There is a need for greater training, and for things to be seen in a less monochromatic, dogmatic way, rather than as political correctness gone mad, and to address the issues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West has pointed out, the Prime Minister said when she was Home Secretary that communities are alienated when stop-and-search is used willy-nilly.
There are some reasons to be cheerful. According to figures from the Mayor of London’s office, from 2011 to 2012, fewer than one in 12 instances of stop-and-search culminated in arrest; but now one in six leads to arrest, and of those, one in three produces a positive outcome. No one disagrees with stop-and-search if it is done properly—if it is targeted and intelligence-led. There are many instances of that, and I can give some anecdotal ones. As I have said, I am always suspicious of opinion polls of any sort; at the general election, they predicted my demise, and my majority went up 50 times. However, the polls cited by the Mayor of London show that 74% of Londoners and 58% of young people support stop-and-search. I do not know where the figures came from.
The hon. Member for Shipley pointed out the use of body-worn cameras, which could be a game changer; we shall have to see how that plays out. In the past, police interviews were not even tape-recorded. We live in an age when everyone carries a smartphone and many more things are recorded.
As I have said, my speech is really an overgrown intervention. I wanted to share a personal experience that all Opposition Members present may be able to identify with—the fact that because of our pigmentation we are treated differently. The in-built suspicion of people and the idea that they can be stopped while going about their lawful business pervades all levels of society. I have been stopped more times in this place since my election in 2015 than in 43 years outside. It still occurs daily, presumably because my face does not fit. I have the correct pass, and the last time I gave the rejoinder that I had every right to be here, a complaint was made against me through the office of the Serjeant at Arms. We all face that kind of thing. I am sure that it is not a completely alien scenario even for my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who has been here many years.
Last year I was on a cross-party delegation to the state of Israel, and I was told that often the person of colour on a delegation is the one who gets problems. I thought, as an MP, it would not happen. I shall not go into the details of being strip-searched at Ben Gurion International airport, but it happened to me as a Member of Parliament. Those things do happen, and perhaps a cultural shift is needed in society, in the light of such things as the hostile environment policy. The assumption that anyone of the wrong pigmentation may be up to no good, and the idea that all public servants, NHS staff and landlords must suddenly turn into Border Force and ask for passports at every turn, is what we get under a hostile environment policy. Noises are being made about restricting stop-and-search and carrying it out in a more targeted way. I should be interested to hear from the Minister about that.
Having said that I do not want to quote opinion polls, I have some actual data from 2014-15—the most recent figures I could find. They show that of a total of 82,183 citizens in London who were arrested and subsequently released without charge, 45% were white Londoners. It is not necessary to be a statistician to work out that that is hitting black and ethnic minority people disproportionately. If 45% were white, 55% were not, for the benefit of anyone who is not quick at maths.
As a sociologist, I also want to draw attention to poverty and a critical error that is made in this context. The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has said—I have a counter-quote to the one given by the hon. Member for Shipley—that we need higher rates of stop-and-search. However, the idea that higher rates of stop-and-search will lead automatically to a reduction in violence is a false promise; they cannot, on their own. It is poverty that we need to address, because the violence is taking place in the most acutely deprived communities.
There have been police cuts, and police numbers are down 20,000. Cuts, including cuts in the Home Office, have consequences; that is the reason for the massive errors about the Windrush generation. If there are fewer Home Office staff and everyone else is expected to act as border police, anomalies occur. I am glad that the new Home Secretary is addressing those matters. I hope that the change will be to not just wording, but the mentality and climate. This may be politically unpalatable, but rising crime also has to do with rising poverty in society. Anyway, this is an overgrown intervention; it was not intended to be a speech, so I will end there.
We will now hear from the Front Benchers. We have a bit of extra time, so I ask that they use it wisely to give the Minister a full opportunity to respond, and to enable Ms Shah to wind up the debate at the end. If hon. Members have come in late and wish to make interventions, that is fine, but they are not to make long interventions or speeches.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for securing time for this important and, as it turned out, lively debate. She highlighted the risk of inappropriate stop-and-search undermining confidence in the police. That is a real concern. The key is that use of stop-and-search has to be appropriate. We heard the counter-arguments made by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who argued that there was an underuse of stop-and-search, but as I have said, the key for me is appropriate use of it.
The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) placed the debate in its historical context and gave a very balanced view of the current situation. I am obviously a Scottish Member; in Scotland, criminal justice and policing are devolved, and the Scottish National party is taking action to ensure that there are no inappropriate stop-and-searches, but there is still work to be done.
For every debate that I take part in, I like to consider my own constituency cases, but having had a quick look, I have to say that we have had none on this issue, although in fairness, policing is devolved, and if people had a complaint, they would be more likely to go to my Scottish Parliament counterpart. I have also checked with local organisations, and they have had no recent cases. The only anecdote that I can give from my own knowledge is a personal one. It is from my partner, Nidhin. She was stopped and searched when she lived in London, and it had a traumatic effect on her, giving her anxiety and stress-related issues that continue to this day. I am pleased to say that she is largely over that now, but I have seen at first hand how stop-and-search can be counterproductive if used inappropriately.
Scotland has a much smaller BAME population. According to the 2011 census, the size of the minority ethnic population was just over 200,000, or 4% of the Scottish population. That represents a doubling since 2001.
The Scottish Government introduced a new code for use of stop-and-search powers. It came into effect a year ago and, among other things, it requires the police to monitor trends in who is being stopped by them. Since 11 May 2017, police are able to stop and search people only with reasonable grounds. That has ended the so-called consensual searches, whereby people were searched with consent but without legal basis. The new code is about finding the balance and maintaining the trust between the police and the public.
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, said:
“The ability of police to stop and search individuals can be an intrusion into liberty and privacy, but remains a valuable tool in combating crime.”
He went on to say that he had spent time with officers on the streets and was convinced that such searches would be carried out with “fairness, integrity and respect”. It is vital that that is how stop-and-search is handled.
Under the code, Police Scotland must carefully monitor the use of stop-and-search in relation to specific sections of the community, including different ethnic groups. That will enable Police Scotland to identify any concerning trends or seemingly disproportionate use of the powers, and to take action if necessary. There has been an improvement: an increase in the number of minority ethnic entrants to the police workforce. Police Scotland’s positive action team have implemented the Introduction to Policing programme, known as ITPP, which supports potential minority ethnic candidates through a training and mentoring programme. The first course had 54 participants and the second 58, with the direct result that more than 10% of the recruits who joined Police Scotland in September 2017 were from a minority ethnic background. That stands us in good stead, given that people from such a background make up 4% of the population.
When stop-and-search is used in a way that is perceived to be unfair or ineffective, it has a lasting detrimental impact on people’s trust in the police—particularly when it is used against the young—and their willingness to co-operate with them. Consequently, the police’s ability to carry out investigations and reduce crime is undermined, so it is in everyone’s interests to get this right. Stop-and-search can be a valuable tool in combating crime, but it is important that we get the balance right between protecting the public and the rights of individuals and, critically, maintaining the trust between the police and the public.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) on bringing forward this very important debate. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) for their important interventions, to which I will return.
Nothing has poisoned relationships between the police and the communities they serve more than non-evidence-based stop-and-search. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said there is a lot of support among ethnic minorities for stop-and-search that is used “fairly”, but he missed the important point about that word. Everybody supports stop-and-search where it is used fairly. The concern arises when there is no evidence to justify the stop and the search—when it is felt that there is disproportionality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton said, one thing that can allay these concerns is a police force that looks more like the community it is supposed to be serving. That is the point about fairness that the hon. Member for Shipley does not seem to have engaged with.
Although I defer to the hon. Gentleman in all matters, I know a little bit more than him about stop-and-search, because one of the earliest campaigns I was involved in as a young woman in the early 1980s was the campaign against the sus laws. I was part of that campaign together with Lord Boateng—he is now in the other place—but also a number of mothers. What gives the lie to the notion that stop-and-search has no harmful effects is that those mothers, who were working with us to take forward the campaign and ultimately to have the sus laws abolished, were concerned about the effect on their sons—the unfairness and the possibility that disproportionate stop-and-search was actually criminalising their sons, with effects they feared.
The first thing to say about stop-and-search is that it has to be seen to be used fairly and on the basis of evidence. But the next thing to say about stop-and-search is that it does not work in the way some Members seem to think. That is the verdict of research from the Home Office, from the College of Policing and from the Greater London Authority when the current Foreign Secretary was the Mayor of London. And the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, said:
“I strongly believe that stop and search should be used proportionately, without prejudice, and with the support of local communities”.
She also said that misuse of stop-and-search was an “affront to justice”. Government Members do not seem to consider the possibility that, certainly in the recent past, it was misused, but the current Prime Minister considered that possibility, and on that point, if on that point only, I agree with her.
The whole history of stop-and-search is that it is not used proportionately; it is used in a prejudicial way, and local communities frequently feel that it is unfairly imposed on them. The House needs to reflect for a few moments on the 1981 Brixton riots. This was one of the worst riots, up to that point, on the British mainland, and it was triggered specifically by Operation Swamp 81 in Brixton, where, in a matter of days, 943 people were stopped and searched and 82 were arrested.
Nobody—I have to repeat this—objects to targeted, intelligence-led stop-and-search, but too frequently, and certainly until the current Prime Minister introduced her reforms as Home Secretary, stop-and-search has been random, mass and indiscriminate. Local communities too often feel that the only reason they are targeted is the ethnic composition of the community.
Stop-and-search is used vastly more disproportionately on ethnic minorities. Formerly, if someone was Asian, they were three times more likely to be the subject of stop-and-search. If someone is black, that rises to six times more likely. And the situation is getting worse. This is no time for people to be complacent and assume that communities welcome stop-and-search. The disproportions had been narrowing up to 2015, but now the disproportionality has risen once again. As of 2016-17, black people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched. The scandal of discrimination is growing.
According to the Home Office, in 2016-17 there were four stop-and-searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 29 stop-and-searches for every 1,000 black people. Ministers have to understand what it does to a young man, often just going about his business—going to his education or his job—to know he has this wildly disproportionate vulnerability in terms of being stopped and searched.
The right hon. Lady gave a very interesting answer, but it suffered from not answering the question I actually asked. I will ask it again to see if we can get a straighter answer: is it her contention that police officers in this country are institutionally racist?
My contention—it was also the contention of the Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary—is that disproportionate levels of stop-and-search were damaging to police-community relationships. If the hon. Gentleman queries that, maybe he should ask the Prime Minister why she thought that.
Some hon. Members and many pundits believe that stop-and-search is the answer to a rise in serious violence on our streets, including knife crime, gun crime and acid attacks. However, there is no evidence, only tabloid headlines, to support that assertion. In academic circles, there is the phrase “policy-based evidence-making”—that is, searching desperately for any evidence, however flimsy, to support a preconceived policy. Policies formed in that way frequently fail, but their advocates draw no lessons from that failure. They often demand more of the same—more failure.
The truth is that when the levels of stop-and-search decreased, the arrest rate as a whole actually rose. In Hackney, my own borough in London, they brought down levels of stop-and-search, but their arrest rate rose. According to Home Office data, 71% of all stop-and-searches result in no further action. Only 17% of stop-and-searches result in any arrest. Many of those are not for the possession of weapons or any serious crime at all, but for the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. Stop-and-search on its own will not end knife crime and gun crime.
The random, untargeted and discriminatory use of stop-and-search is worse than useless. Imagine belonging to one of the groups of people who are routinely discriminated against. Imagine feeling that you have been picked on by the police because of how you look. Is that likely to make you, your friends and your family more favourable to the police or more distrustful of the police? The answer is self-evident. Any large-scale increase in stop-and-search that is not intelligence-led runs the risk of leading to even greater resentment against the police.
In the debate in the Chamber on the serious violence strategy yesterday, the Government’s introduction, although well meaning, was a lacklustre and ill-considered defence of their strategy. The strategy itself is ill-considered, and violent crime is rising. Young black and Asian men must not be the scapegoats for this Government’s failings on policing and crime. Increasing stop-and-search can and will win cheap headlines, but it will not lead to lower levels of serious violent crime. As all the evidence suggests, it will lead to little increase in arrests for possession of weapons, and it may well lead to far greater resentment in the communities where it is imposed.
I can remember the children of the women who were my friends in the ’80s and ’90s, and how upset those women were by the treatment meted out to their children in the name of stop-and-search. I had a friend whose son was wheeling his bicycle back home, and the police stopped him, believing he must have stolen the bicycle. If that happens once, that is one thing, but if that sort of targeting of people because they look different happens over and over again, how can it improve police-community relations?
In conclusion, stop-and-search is clearly a legitimate weapon against crime when it is targeted and there is some evidence base, but as the Prime Minister—a former Home Secretary—said, ill-targeted stop-and-search is an abuse, which cannot help relationships between the police and the community. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West that we have to ensure we leave behind some of the obvious abuses, which are reflected in the figures, of the disproportionate use of stop-and-search, so that it becomes what it has always had the possibility to be: a useful tool in the fight against crime. It is certainly not the be-all and end-all if we are talking about violent crime.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I thank the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for bringing this debate before us and for her contribution. Stop-and-search is a vital policing tool, and I welcome the fact that everyone who has spoken in this debate has recognised that it has a place in policing. I believe, however, that if that power is misused, it is counterproductive, has a negative impact on police-community relations, and is a waste of police time.
I patrolled some of the most hostile community areas in my early life. I patrolled the Turf Lodge in west Belfast, Northern Ireland and carried out stop-and-search there. At the time, that community was far more hostile than any on the mainland of the United Kingdom. I was also an intelligence officer two years later.
The nub of the issue is that stop-and-search is a tool that is often tactical rather than strategic. As the Minister responsible for security in the United Kingdom, I have the strategic responsibility of trying to keep people safe. That is what I am here to do. I will empower our police, intelligence services and communities to use whatever tools they can to do that. Sometimes we have to balance tactical and strategic needs.
I agree with Opposition Members that what really stops crime is gathering good intelligence, when communities speak to police and community representatives and tell them, as they would say in Lancashire, who’s a wrong’un. As a Lancashire MP stuck between two Yorkshire MPs from either side of the House, I felt in a somewhat difficult position in this debate. What stops crime in the long term is when the community is on the side of the police and gives them information. That can be casual information or well-sourced information, and it could come from police working hand in hand with community groups to deliver the knowledge needed to use targeted searches. Sometimes that will mean doing less stop-and-search, if it means that there is a longer-term investment in communities to ensure a better flow of intelligence.
We should be slightly cautious about that, because every community is different. I joke about west Yorkshire, but it is different from Lancashire. Our communities behave differently and our ethnic communities often behave differently among themselves, so we have to be acutely aware of individual sensitivities at a local policing level. In my view, one of the most important decisions a chief constable can make is the right appointment of the chief superintendents in the divisions that they police, because at that rank of the police force people hold in their hands the relations with the community. If they get it right there is a massive decline in crime, but there can sometimes be a rise just across divisional borders when they get it wrong.
After being spat at, abused or petrol-bombed, or after one of my soldiers had been murdered, it used to be tempting for me to walk down the street in west Belfast and abuse back. That would be tempting and understandable for any human being who had seen people killed who they owed a duty of care to, who they valued and, sometimes, who they loved. But it does not fix the problem in the long run. In the long run, the problem is solved when the community realises that the police are its help and saviour, not its enemy. That is why we have to get the balance right on stop-and-search, and why the Government started that process by introducing a reform package in 2014.
I make the point to the Opposition that if we are to be less tactical and more intelligence-led, it is important to give our police and intelligence services the power to gather that intelligence. It is no good saying on the one hand that we want less indiscriminate or blanket targeting, but on the other that we oppose Prevent or some of the investigatory powers measures that allow us to gather that intelligence, to be more targeted at people committing or planning wrongdoing and to ensure that we can leave the population alone to live their lives free of interference. That is an important point.
Good intelligence gathering and good intelligence measures and powers are how we can allow our police to leave people alone to carry on their daily business freely, and how we can ensure that we do not end up with such a disparity that we get into the circular debate that I have heard today about whether we go after more people from certain groups because those groups commit more crimes, or vice versa. I urge the Opposition to reflect on that in discussions about Prevent and other issues.
The Minister has raised the issue of Prevent. I certainly have called for a review of it, but the concern is not that we do not need that type of strategy, but that the current Prevent operation has done what I have argued that stop-and-search has done: it has not helped to heal relationships or promote better relationships between certain communities and the state. We want a Prevent-type strategy, but we want one that works. The problem with Prevent is that in many communities—not all, but many—it has become a tainted brand.
I have published the figures, and I would venture that Prevent is working. It allows people who have set off on a path of violent extremism to be diverted from that path and to re-engage in society, and in doing so, it protects many of us on the streets. The figures show that hundreds of people who had been a serious concern are not in prison—we did not cut corners and lock them up without trial, or that sort of thing—but back in their communities, and some of them, hopefully, are back in the mainstream.
We all have a job of recognising and communicating that Prevent is about safeguarding. When we do, and when I speak to communities up and down the United Kingdom, we find that although some in the communities are worried about it or do not like it, a growing number of people realise that it is a safeguarding tool that works.
We have had many debates about Prevent before, but it is about allowing communities, alongside local police, to engage, and about seeing what we can do to make people desist, disengage and turn around. In some communities it works, but I know that, as the right hon. Lady says, we have more work to do in other areas. Whenever I say, “Please give me an example of your version of Prevent,” every single person just describes Prevent. They do not usually come up with anything different, because at the end of the day it is effectively a safeguarding measure.
I need to press on to the heart of the debate about stop-and-search. In 2014, when we started work on a major public consultation on the use of the power, troubling evidence came to light that it was not being used fairly, effectively or, in some cases, lawfully. For example, figures showed that of 1.2 million stop-and-searches carried out in 2010-11, only 9% led to an arrest. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, as it was known at the time, found that potentially more than a quarter of stops carried out by the police were without sufficient legal grounds, and it also found poor knowledge of the law on stop-and-search among officers and their supervisors.
Statistics also showed that if someone was black, they were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than if they were white, and three times more likely if they were Asian. That was a cause for considerable concern, and still is. It is not that we have forgotten about it, and I would not like the Opposition to venture that that was the case.
As a result of extensive public consultation and community engagement, and of working closely with the police and other partners, the Government introduced several measures, such as clarifying “reasonable grounds for suspicion” in PACE code A, which governs the use of stop-and-search powers, and publishing stop-and-search data on police.uk, which offers local transparency to understand how the police serve their communities.
I take the point of the hon. Member for Bradford West, who asked how there could be oversight. She made a point about police and crime commissioners that I was disappointed with, and if what she said is the case, we should all do more to ensure that it is not. They should have a role in that regard, and they should have it further up their agenda. They have the power to hold chief constables to account. I do not know what the response from her local chief constable is, but if something is troubling the local community, that is the point of our PCCs. They should be communicating, taking those things on board and seeing what steps they can take to ensure that such things are not happening.
The Minister trotted out a rather meaningless statistic about the proportion of stop-and-searches on different communities. Is he saying that it is Government policy that there should be the same proportion of stop-and-searches for each ethnic group of the country as their make-up of the population? Otherwise, what on earth is the point of him saying that a certain ethnic group is stopped and searched more often than another? Does he accept that it is inevitable that some ethnic groups will be stopped more often than others, or is he saying that it should be the same figure for every ethnic group?
I am saying that it should always be clearly targeted. The geographic breakdowns give a better picture. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) talked about sociology and statistics, and it is important to look below the national figure at the local figures. Often, they show where we can put things right, where there is a disparity, or where the figures are just a reflection of the crime trends, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) talked about.
Before this debate, I asked for some regional statistics. In 2016, in Merseyside, if someone was Asian, they were less likely to be stopped than if they were white, and someone was 2.8 times more likely to be stopped if they were black. In West Yorkshire, they were 1.5 times more likely to be stopped than if they were white. In Lincolnshire, someone was less likely to be stopped if they were Asian than if they were white, but if they were black, they were 4.8 times more likely to be stopped.
Those regional or county statistics are really useful, because they help to answer other questions. I had assumed that the figure of black people being 8 times more likely to be stopped was predominantly driven by London, but in the Metropolitan police area, someone who was black was only 3.8 times more likely to be stopped. If they were Asian, it was about the same as if they were white.
When I look at those figures, I ask myself about community relationships, about whether we have a tactical rather than a strategic approach, and about the relationship between PCCs and the chief constables. By looking at the information at force level, we will get a more informed picture on the circular debate about whether it is because people commit more crimes, whether we as the state are doing something wrong, whether communities are not supporting the police, or whether there is a particular problem with organised crime groups in certain areas.
The 1981 riots are important to consider, and they came up in yesterday’s debate on serious violent crime. One of the biggest differences between crime in 1981 and today is the scale of organised crime and the ability for it to be organised through mobile telephones and encryption, as I said yesterday. We should recognise that organised crime is colour-blind. It does not care whether someone is black or white; it will shoot or stab them, and sell them drugs, no matter what. I suspect that some of the least racist people in this country are the drug dealers—they are delighted to sell anyone their poison.
We must remember that one of the differences between 1981 and now is the modus operandi of organised crime. It targets communities using county lines, meaning that some of our communities are more vulnerable to being exploited than they were before. I do not know the exact answer to that. Some of it will be an increase in stop-and-search where there is a particular problem with organised crime groups, because that may be the only tool that the local police have at that moment in time. Some organised crime groups have become much quicker at moving into a community before the community spots them, and then delivering their drugs, moving people around and moving couriers from outside an area into it so that the local community does not recognise them.
Also, communities are much less settled now than they were in 1981, which is a challenge. How do our frontline police deal with what is sometimes a very dangerous threat but short-term threat, whereby people move in, carry out their crime and then move on again? Addressing that will be a challenge. Stop-and-search will play a strong role in meeting that challenge, but more than anything, intelligence will play a role in stopping these criminals and hopefully preventing them from getting ahead of us.
We rolled out the voluntary Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, introducing greater transparency and public scrutiny, and the measures in that scheme have all been delivered. Every force in England and Wales signed up to the scheme, putting in place all of its components, which enable the public and the police to better understand how stop-and-search is used and how it can be improved upon. PACE code A, which governs how stop-and-search is carried out, was changed to make it clear that “reasonable grounds” cannot be based on race or stereotypical images, and the College of Policing developed and rolled out national standards and training, including mandatory unconscious bias awareness. We expect to see further improvements following on from those changes.
In answer to the hon. Member for Bradford West, the Home Office—in collaboration with the College of Policing through its national policing curriculum, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and community interest group representatives—is reviewing the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, to take into account the three years of operational experience and feedback from practitioners, organisations and the public. A refreshed version of the scheme is currently being developed, with a view to a nationwide launch by the end of the year. The refreshed version will place further emphasis on community involvement and the need for forces to monitor and explain their use of stop-and-search.
HMIC has observed improvements across the 43 forces in a number of areas. For example, in 2012 the inspectorate found that 27% of stop-and-search forms that it examined did not show that there had been sufficient grounds for a lawful search. By 2017, that figure had dropped to 6%.
As for race and ethnicity, in 2016-17 substantially fewer black individuals were stopped and searched than before; the figure was down by 74% from 2010-11, when there were more than 110 searches for every thousand black people. The number of Asian individuals being stopped and searched has also fallen by 79% since 2010-11. By anyone’s yardstick, those figures represent a significant change and show that things are going in the right direction.
Nevertheless, the figures still show that if someone is black, they are more than eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than someone who is white. As I said earlier, I think that to explore those statistics further and perhaps understand what is behind them, we should look more at our force levels.
I appreciate that the Minister is in a difficult position, because he has to defend the remarks on stop-and-search that the Prime Minister made when she was Home Secretary, which are virtually indefensible and which are unravelling, as we speak, on the streets of London. However, it is reported in the newspapers today that the Home Secretary is at the Police Federation conference and will say that he has only been in his job a few weeks and he is not going there to tell the police how to do their job. Yet I get the impression here that the Government are still trying to tell police officers how to do their job. What I want to hear the Minister say today is that we have a great police force, they do a great job, we trust them to get on and do their job, and the Government will support them. Can he bring himself to give that message to our police officers today?
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley attended the debate in the main Chamber on serious and violent crime yesterday. If he had, he would have heard me say, as I also said on the radio yesterday morning, that I believe we have the finest police force and intelligence services in the world. I have absolutely no doubt of that.
However I also know, from my own experience, the tension between a tactical response and a strategic response. Providing such responses is what I have experience of doing in very dangerous conditions, and yes, sometimes I stopped and searched. I stopped and searched and found a grenade; I stopped and searched and found a car full of Semtex, despite the mob that appeared when I did that. But I also know, from when I was an intelligence officer, that if the police either stopped and searched in a heavy-handed manner or did it in an untargeted way, all my sources dried up. And then guess what happened? The IRA made a bomb and killed lots of people.
One response is strategic and one is tactical, and we can all play to the gallery and just play to the tactical side for the daily headline. However, my hon. Friend might want to reflect that my job is to deliver strategic security for this United Kingdom, which means balancing risks. Getting the right stop-and-search, which is intelligence-targeted, without setting communities against each other, will be the best way to deliver a strong, strategic and secure community.
So I am not playing for the Daily Mail headline for my hon. Friend; I am playing making my community safe. That is the reality. The Prime Minister had the wisdom to spot that and we in the Home Office are going to deliver it. We will listen to the Opposition and urge them to support us on some of our intelligence-gathering measures, which may mean their having to balance risks. It is important to do things that way. I am determined to deliver, and we are on the right track. I want to make sure our communities are engaged with that approach.
We all accept that stop-and-search is a tool, and we can use it and use it well. Nevertheless, the best tool is when someone in the community picks up the telephone and speaks to their local police force, and as a result we manage to arrest the people carrying the knives and dealing the drugs before they are on our streets.
Thank you, Mr Owen, for again calling me to speak.
I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this debate: the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies); my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan); our shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott); and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day).
I will address a couple of the issues that have been raised. My neighbouring MP, the hon. Member for Shipley, talked about valuing our police. I do value the police. It is in that vein that I sit on the Home Affairs Committee and that I am part of a national roundtable led by Chief Constable Boucher, which looks at diversity on behalf of the National Police Chiefs’ Council. It is in that vein that I am committed to the police. The hon. Gentleman and I share the same chief superintendent, Scott Bisset, and I have extensive and very good relationships with my local police force. I have full confidence in Chief Superintendent Bisset’s attempts to create a diverse workforce in the police.
Talking about a diverse workforce, what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton said today was really important. We do not have a diverse workforce, despite the figures that the hon. Member for Shipley quoted earlier. The truth remains that we are far from having a reflective workforce. A reflective workforce would benefit the police.
This debate was never about telling the police how to do their job; it is about supporting the police. True leadership consists of two things—challenging and supporting. If we are to are to be real critical friends to the police, we must both challenge and support them in delivering the objective of keeping our communities safe. This debate is about making our communities safer.
Every study that has piloted unconscious bias training has shown a direct correlation between a change of attitude, a change in crime and a change in the nature of how we police, so that it is better for our communities. That is what this debate is about; it was never about hammering the police and having a pop at them. Unfortunately, it has gone that way, which disheartens me.
I thank the Minister for agreeing that policing is about intelligence and relationships. We build relationships with communities not just by attending the funerals but by attending the weddings, too. It is about building relationships between the police and their communities, and that is not done by creating an experience for a child, which will sit in their mind, of being searched just because they happen to be black or just because their pigment colour is a few shades darker than that of other people, which shows them that they do not belong, they do not matter and they are not protected. That is what this very important debate today has been about, and I thank you, Mr Owen, for your chairmanship and all the Members who have contributed to it.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the effect of police stop and search powers on BAME communities.
Planning: Local Communities
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the role of local communities in the planning system.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, on a very different topic from the serious one that has just been discussed, but one that is no less serious for the local communities involved. This issue generates almost more correspondence than Brexit, but the Minister will be pleased to hear that Brexit is not on the agenda for the next half hour. I am sure that he has heard these points before, but as the new national planning policy framework is being considered at the moment, I feel it is important to remind the Government of them.
In the short time available, I want to touch on three points, and I know that other hon. Members may want to intervene on me or the Minister. I particularly want to talk about how the five-year land supply is being stymied by developers. I also want to talk about how residents learn about appeals, and how poorly worded planning conditions can let communities down.
As I mentioned during ministerial questions on 12 March, Charnwood Borough Council—of which, for the sake of full disclosure, my husband is the leader—has approved planning permissions for 10 years’ worth of housing. However, the difficulty is getting the developers to start building, and the consequences of that building not happening. In response to my question, the Minister for Housing stated that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is reviewing build-out rates. I have now read my right hon. Friend’s preliminary update, and it cannot be right that developers are able to sit on lucrative land and restrict housing supply for their own financial gain, at a cost to councils that have fulfilled their obligation to provide five years’ worth of housing land and are granting permissions accordingly. That also affects local communities, which often accept more house building with no associated infrastructure improvements.
In February, I received an email from one of my constituents living in the village of Burton on the Wolds, who highlighted this problem:
“I wanted to write to you about the planning application for 58 houses which has been made recently for my village. A nearly identical application from the same developer was turned down unanimously by Charnwood’s planning committee in 2015 and the case against it has only become stronger since...My reason for writing to you about this is that I want to register my disappointment at the role governmental policy appears to have had in this renewed application. The applicant’s documentation makes it clear that they have put forward this scheme again because Charnwood’s housing supply has dipped below the 5 years’ worth they are required to demonstrate. The reason: slow development on land with planning permission has forced CBC to reduce their forecast for house completions.”
My constituent concluded:
“Any system that rewards developers for not doing the very thing we need them to do—build houses swiftly—clearly ought to be scrutinised.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree that sometimes large local authorities do not help themselves by allocating very large sites, and would she commend Cornwall Council, which is looking at reducing the size of developments to support smaller supply chains?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for that intervention; that sounds like an eminently sensible solution. Part of the reason for the tone of this debate is that it should be down to local communities—such as Cornwall Council, no doubt at the instigation and with the support of local Members of Parliament—to do the right thing for their area. My hon. Friend makes a good point: it may well be that smaller sites are more deliverable. The only caveat is that often, smaller builders find it harder to get the finance to get started, and Ministers are aware of that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way on this important point. I was a member of the local plans expert group on behalf of the Government. The group looked at this issue; we advised that the five-year land supply be an annual event, and that once it went into the monitoring report of the local council, it not be challenged; I think that is coming through. We have also introduced a three-year land supply for organisations that have a neighbourhood plan. For the first two years, they only have to follow a three-year land supply.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He raises two interesting points. I did not know about the three-year land supply, and I am not entirely sure how many others do. A number of villages, including Burton on the Wolds, are in the process of preparing neighbourhood plans, and others have done so.
I want to respond to my hon. Friend’s other point first. He made a point about an annual event for measuring the five-year land supply. I am not sure I agree with him, because I know of examples where, for reasons of scheduling, the plans committee has missed the deadline. We have one example in Charnwood, where several hundred housing units have just been approved—very sensibly with the support of the local community—but the committee missed that annual event, so it looks as though the council does not have a five-year land supply.
I want to make two quick points. First, I try to tell people as often as possible about the three-year land supply. As the Government’s neighbourhood planning champion, I am happy to speak to her parish councils about it. Secondly, we argued that once things were in the annual monitoring report, no legal challenge should be possible. It is the legal challenge that costs councils a fortune.
I certainly agree, even as a former solicitor, that lawyers can be extremely expensive—we all know that—particularly when it comes to involving barristers and others. I am sure that my parish councils would be interested in speaking to my hon. Friend further. It would be helpful if something could be done to take into account the fact that sometimes planning committees are delayed. The council might have done the right thing in getting the five-year land supply, but those delays might mean it feels unable to turn down certain applications because developers are taking advantage. It is about having a bit of flexibility in the system to take account of local demand, local need and local community views.
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on securing this debate. Does she agree that one of the most frustrating things is when a neighbourhood plan has been put forward and excludes a site, and that site is then brought forward anyway? Local communities feel totally disempowered. It is not the way to do planning.
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. In defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), I do not think that is how the system is meant to work. The hon. Gentleman talked about local communities being disempowered, and that word is absolutely at the heart of this debate.
Local people understand the desire for more housing—it is often their children and grandchildren who want to move into it—but they need to know that their views are being taken into account, and I will talk about local infrastructure in a moment. Obviously I am looking forward to reading the final conclusions of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset about the slow build-out rate. That will be an important document, as the Minister will appreciate.
My second point is on notification of appeals. Last year, I spoke at an inquiry concerning the proposed development of land east of Seagrave Road in Sileby, another village in my constituency. When the council again rejected the application, the developers and landowners took the case to the High Court. However, neither I nor the local councillors who spoke at the inquiry were notified of that. Another example concerns the Storer and Ashby area residents group, which had a similar experience. In November last year, it sent me an email about another local planning application, detailing its concerns that none of the objectors were notified by the Planning Inspectorate or Charnwood Borough Council that a decision had been made, or of what it was. The residents group was not provided with a copy of the decision, or information about where it could access the relevant information online.
So many planning objections could be prevented if all councils consulted properly, and if the Government respected these plans. Basically, if planning decisions were made with residents and not done to them, that would solve a lot of the problems, would it not?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Again, it is about trying to get the balance right. Many people, having moved into an area, do not want it to change, and it is always difficult to respect that and to account for local housing. She is absolutely right that planning should be done with local people and not done to them. That would save an awful lot of angst. I am sure we all have constituents who have become planning experts, not because they wanted to, but because they felt that they had to. That probably includes Members of Parliament.
I will return to the Storer and Ashby area residents group. It wrote to me:
“The only way for objectors or any member of the public to be aware that a decision had been made was to be vigilant in interrogating the Charnwood Borough Council website page for the planning application. Even then, the website page did not provide a link to the relevant decision document, and still does not. Such abrogation of duty in maintaining communication with parties who have taken time and resources to engage with the lawful process brings the Planning Inspectorate into disrepute and the Minister in charge of Planning”—
he is responding to this debate—
“must be held accountable for this.”
The Minister will be aware that I wrote to his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), about the Seagrave Road case, and to him about the case mentioned by the Storer and Ashby area residents group. So far the response has failed to clarify whose responsibility it is to inform all those who have contributed their views to a planning appeal inquiry about any subsequent events. Is it right that the responsibility has passed from Bristol to the local planning authority? If so, who can provide councils with clear guidance on their responsibilities in such instances?
My final point is about poorly worded planning conditions. Planning conditions are many and varied, but some conditions clearly serve an important purpose in protecting existing residents by ensuring that the local infrastructure is improved to support the increase in housing. In Barrow upon Soar, another village in my constituency, a poorly worded planning condition has led to a development being allowed to connect to the village’s foul sewers before the whole system could be upgraded to prevent more burst pipes. Residents warned repeatedly about that danger at all stages of the planning process. They felt very much not listened to, and their ability to rely on the sewers will remain at risk until Severn Trent is able to upgrade the local infrastructure.
I thank the chief planner for his assistance in reviewing that case. I am sure that the eventual conclusion—that the wording of conditions should be considered very carefully—is right, but it is cold comfort to the residents of Barrow upon Soar. I understand that the Planning Inspectorate has provided all inspectors with guidance on the use of conditions, and I would welcome an update from the Minister on whether the inspectorate feels that more needs to, or could, be done.
Some conditions require the payment of money by the developer to cover the costs of improving or extending local infrastructure. I am very grateful for the meeting I attended recently at the Banks surgery in Sileby, at which staff clearly set out just how little money has got to them in recent years, in spite of 1,600 units being built in the village over the past 25 years. New residents need general practitioners just like the rest of us. As a local MP, I am sure that the Minister knows that communities, as we have heard, are much more likely to accept the need for new development if the availability of GP appointments and school places are not strained by the new housing. What work is he undertaking to ensure that those common problems are resolved?
Like colleagues from across the House, I receive regular emails from frustrated constituents who are concerned that their views on planning applications and developments in their communities have been ignored. I have also heard from my local council that, even though it is fulfilling its obligation to provide permissions for sufficient housing, developers are not providing the houses that they have committed to building.
I would like to hear from the Minister what incentives local communities have to produce local neighbourhood plans, to share their views on proposed developments, and to participate in appeals if their area is not sufficiently protected from overdevelopment. Their infrastructure, and the services on which they depend, are being overburdened, despite planning conditions being imposed, and they are not being given the right information to challenge planning applications. I would also like to know whether the revised national planning policy framework will take those issues into account.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) on securing this important debate. I am delighted to respond to the points that she has raised, although I have to gently say that I thank her for the unintended promotion—I am but the Local Government Minister, not the Minister for Housing and Planning. However, I know the Minister for Housing, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), will be keenly listening, and will hear from me regarding the points that she has raised.
My right hon. Friend for Loughborough raised the key role of communities in the planning system, and the need for local people to believe that being involved is worth while. Community participation is vital to their accepting the development required to meet our housing needs. My right hon. Friend referred to a number of specific planning cases but, as she kindly acknowledged, I am not in a position to comment on the detail or merits of those ongoing planning applications and appeals. However, I will talk more generally about the importance that the Government place on communities when it comes to plan making and planning decisions, and I will address the three areas of concern that she highlighted.
Local plans are prepared in consultation with communities and play a key role in delivering development and the necessary infrastructure in the right places. They provide clarity to communities and developers about where homes should and should not be built, so that development is planned rather than the result of speculative applications. It is crucial that local authorities have up-to-date local plans, produced in consultation with local people. As my right hon. Friend mentioned, her constituents are concerned that some development is placing pressure on existing infrastructure and services in their communities.
Up-to-date plans are an important means of identifying where infrastructure needs to be strengthened, and I am pleased to tell my right hon. Friend that the Government are introducing reforms specifically in that area. Those reforms will mean that developers know exactly what contributions are expected of them and that local communities are clear about the infrastructure that they will get in their area alongside new homes. Two separate consultations—one on developer contribution specifically and a broader one on the NPPF—have just concluded, and both included questions on that topic. The Government will introduce proposals in those areas later in the year, but the point that my right hon. Friend made is spot on: local communities need to know that infrastructure will be there alongside the housing that they are accepting in their area.
More broadly, as my right hon. Friend will know, the Government agree that supporting infrastructure is important. That is why we recently announced a £5 billion housing infrastructure fund, specifically to fund the types of infrastructure she referred to in areas where it can make the difference between a housing development happening or not. I hope that provides some reassurance.
My right hon. Friend pointed out that some authorities, including her own, are deemed not to have a five-year land supply due to land banking and slow rates of delivery. That lack of supply means that plan policies are not considered to be up to date, and applications are assessed against the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Importantly, the presumption in favour of sustainable development does not mean development at all costs. Any adverse impacts of a development will still need to be taken into account. Our housing White Paper acknowledged that the current policy on five-year land supply, although it has been effective in delivering homes, has had some negative consequences, such as those experienced in my right hon. Friend’s constituency.
In response, the Government have proposed some reforms to how land supply is calculated. The draft national planning policy framework offers local authorities the opportunity to have their five-year housing land supply agreed on an annual basis and then fixed for a one-year period, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) mentioned. The Government believe that that will help to address the situation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough raised. That ability to fix for one year will reduce the number and complexity of appeals, and provide greater certainty to ordinary residents and to the local authority in their decisions. I hope that she will look at how that works when it is introduced, and then come back to us with her views on how it is working in her local area.
Obviously, in exchange for that new ability, local authorities need to be realistic about meeting their planning needs, and we are addressing that through the NPPF revisions. It seems that my right hon. Friend’s local authority is being forward-looking regarding its housing needs. It is sensible for all local authorities to have a broad range of sites, especially small ones, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) rightly mentioned. That is included in the NPPF, and provides a buffer on the five-year land supply so that areas are not vulnerable to individual sites being built out slowly. That way, they can ensure that individual developers and speculators do not hold an advantage.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough was right to highlight the very large gap between the number of permissions that have been granted by local authorities across the country and the number of new homes that have been built. The housing White Paper said that a third of all new homes granted planning permission between 2010 and 2015 had not been built out. That was quite a striking statistic, and there was clearly a concern, which my right hon. Friend highlighted, that it is in the interests of speculators and developers to snap up land for housing and then sit back and wait for prices to rise. Clearly, that would not be appropriate. That is why, as she acknowledged, the Government appointed my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) to examine that issue. We will see his initial conclusions shortly, and I know that she, like the Government, will be very interested to hear what he has to say.
The Minister is making a very helpful speech, which I shall study with great care. Our right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset states in his interim report that, once detailed planning permission is granted for large sites, the fundamental driver of build-out rates appears to be the absorption rate. That is the rate at which newly constructed homes can be sold—or, importantly, at which the housebuilder believes they can be sold—successfully into the local market without materially disturbing the market price. I hope that will be at the forefront of the final report and the Government’s response. Housing is needed, and although we are on the side of enterprise, as I am sure the Minister will agree, we must also be on the side of people trying to get homes. It is not just about developers’ profits.
My right hon. Friend understands the power of enterprise and makes her point well. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset is aware of her point. It would be wrong for me to prejudge the final conclusion of his report, but she highlights a point of interest and I am sure that it will be taken into consideration in his deliberations.
I am delighted that we were joined in the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, who is the Prime Minister’s champion for neighbourhood planning. I attest to his personal ability to galvanise and support local communities as they go through the local neighbourhood planning process, not only in my constituency but up and down the country.
On local democracy, I see the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns), in the Chamber. We were vice-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group for local democracy and firm believers that town and parish councils should be given the ability to allocate within their developments some registered social landlords’ properties, taking them away from the local authority and putting them into the hands of the real decision makers. Will the Minister look at that at a later date?
I applaud the work in support of local democracy not only of my fantastic PPS, but of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall. Indeed, it was a pleasure to attend the conference for star councils held by the National Association of Local Councils, which highlights the important work of parish councils. I am happy to look into the matter he raises, but he will forgive me for not giving a specific answer right now.
Through neighbourhood planning, communities may have an even greater say in how their areas are planned and real power to shape the future development of their areas. Neighbourhood planning provides communities with a powerful set of tools to say where developments such as homes, shops and offices should go, what they should look like and what facilities should be provided. I am delighted that more than 2,400 communities have begun to shape the future of their areas. Some 13 million people across England now live in a neighbourhood planning area, and four of those areas, including Barrow upon Soar, are in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough. I am grateful for her previous contributions in the House, which have demonstrated her support for community-led planning.
My right hon. Friend asked about support. The Government continue to support groups not just through the valiant efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, but financially, too—£23 million has been made available for various support programmes, from this year through to 2022. Support is also given through regulation: when a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted.
We recognised, however, that some neighbourhood plans were being undermined because the local planning authority could not demonstrate the five-year land supply. To remedy that, in December 2016 the Government issued a written ministerial statement to ensure that national planning policies provide additional protection to such communities. The specific change was to protect neighbourhood plans that are less than two years old and that allocate sites for housing, as long as the local planning authority has more than three years of deliverable housing sites. That was the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley made. I understand that the local authority of my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough has a supply for more than three years, so that protection should be particularly helpful in her case.
In councils such as mine, which have not particularly pushed neighbourhood plans, when a parish council does not want to take up the opportunity of such a plan, will the Government look at the potential for other interested resident groups in the area to do something similar to a neighbourhood plan even when the parish council is unwilling or unable to propose one?
I suggest that my hon. Friend should, in short order, invite my hon. Friend the Member for Henley to visit his area. I honestly believe that when we bring together people from the parish council and the local area to listen to my hon. Friend, they will be galvanised into action. The powers contained in neighbourhood planning are significant, and a local community would be hard-pressed not to want to seize those powers and to shape its own destiny once it has received my hon. Friend’s wisdom.
I speak from a Scottish angle, and I am interested in this debate as the former chairman of Moray Council’s planning committee. Does the Minister agree that there is a real risk that when communities get involved in decision-making processes and a planning committee such as Moray Council’s agrees with them, but then the decision is then overturned by the national Government in Scotland, as we see more and more often, those communities are left disenfranchised? The great work they can do locally is lost, because they do not feel that their say is being heard.
I agree with my hon. Friend. This Government very much support local communities shaping their own destinies. That is why we have supported neighbourhood planning so strongly and strengthened the provisions under which local communities shape their own futures. I know that he will welcome that, and I hope that it provides an example for the Government in Scotland to follow.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough also talked about people being consulted on planning applications. She expressed some concern about people who objected to applications not being notified. I appreciate how distressing that must be for communities, especially for people who have taken time to engage in the process, as she rightly highlighted. The planning appeals regulations, however, already require the local planning authority to notify everyone who made representations during the planning application process that an appeal has been lodged. That notification should include information on where to send any representations on the appeal and by when. Also, when appeals are decided by a hearing or inquiry, the Planning Inspectorate notifies the appeal parties of the decision and publishes all appeal decisions on its website. The inspectorate will also send copies to any interested party who has requested one. I hope that that is of some help to my right hon. Friend. I appreciate that the process is not fully inclusive, but she will understand the need to trade off the burden in large situations where multiple people have engaged in the process against the ability to request notification.
I thank the Minister for that response. Of course there is a trade-off, but modern technology—in spite of the general data protection regulation, which we are all struggling with at the moment—means that notification of large numbers of parties is possible. I encourage him to look at that in the spirit of doing things with local communities, rather than doing things to them.
My right hon. Friend makes her point well. I shall certainly ensure that the Minister for Housing is aware of that.
Finally, in the brief time available, I turn to the question of Government guidance on the drafting and discharge of conditions, and whether that guidance is sufficiently robust. Normally, the drafting and discharge of conditions is a matter between the individual local planning authority and the developer. Planning inspectors are required to follow national guidance, and their internal training manuals are continually updated. The Department is not aware that the quality of guidance has been raised as a problem elsewhere, but if my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough or her local planning authority think that the guidance in any specific area is lacking, we would be delighted to consider any suggestions that she has for how it might be improved. We look forward to receiving those in due course.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for securing this important debate and to all hon. Members who have contributed to it. All of us as constituency MPs receive the correspondence to which she alluded. We know how important the place in which we live is, and how it develops and evolves in housing and all other aspects is incredibly important. That is what people tend to talk to us about when we knock on their doors—not about Brexit—so it is absolutely right for this topic to receive our attention and focus. I am delighted to say that the Government strongly support the principle of local communities shaping their future, using the powers that they have been given through the neighbourhood planning process and local plans. I hope that the reforms that we are making will go some way to addressing some of the concerns that my right hon. Friend has expressed today, but I look forward to continuing the dialogue with her in the months to come.
Question put and agreed to.
UK Relations with Qatar
[Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered UK relations with Qatar.
I begin by declaring an interest as a participant in two delegations to Qatar. The first was in 2010. I was privileged to participate in the Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade. For whatever reason, I found myself pushing Princess Diana’s stepmother around in a wheelchair as we looked around a museum. It was a wonderful trip.
In February this year, I took part in a parliamentary delegation sponsored by the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During that visit, I had the honour of meeting His Highness the Emir and leading Government Ministers. No one who was on the delegation is in Westminster Hall at the moment, but they were a splendid collection of colleagues. If we were in a hot air balloon and someone suddenly had to be ejected, I would be very loth to choose any of them. They were splendid colleagues on a wonderful trip.
I assure Members that there was no agenda-setting by our hosts; we were given free rein over who we should see and where we should go. I should quickly tell Members that it was absolutely not my idea to see how camels produce babies, but watching the event gave me some insight into the expression “having the hump.” [Laughter.] I am glad someone got the joke.
Our hosts were open to Members seeing and visiting whatever they wished. I thank His Excellency the Qatari ambassador to the United Kingdom, a very impressive gentleman; Ibrahim Pasha, who was just wonderful in the way he organised the trip, and who may or may not be a possible future son-in-law; and all the staff at the Qatari embassy in London for organising such a transparent trip for UK parliamentarians.
I thought it would be helpful to give an overview of the current Qatari diplomatic crisis. Since my right hon. Friend the Minister and I—and indeed you, Sir Henry—have been in the House, I do not think we have ever known the middle east as an area entirely without issues. We have to be very careful in what we say and what we do; I am sure the Minister is going to tread a very careful line, and I certainly do not intend to be judgmental—I shall leave that for others.
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic and economic trade relations with Qatar over allegations of Qatari support for terrorism. Those Gulf states were soon joined by Egypt, the Maldives, Yemen and Libya. That effectively enacted a trade embargo or blockade on Qatar, which gained global media coverage, because airspace and land routes were closed to Qatar. That succeeded in limiting access to basic goods, such as food and medicine, for the 2.7 million residents of Qatar.
The states placed 13 demands on Qatar, which it had to meet if they were to lift the embargo. Those were rejected as detrimental to Qatar’s sovereignty, with Qatar denying its support for Islamist groups. Kuwait—a country I greatly admire—has offered to act as an intermediary between Qatar and the other states in an attempt to broker a solution to the crisis. I understand that the British Government support that suggestion, and I am sure that sentiment is shared by hon. Members present today—particularly the chair of the all-party parliamentary British-Qatar group, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael).
The subject of this debate is our relationship with Qatar and how we can further that relationship against the backdrop of this crisis. In exploring that, I will talk about four issues: labour reforms, human rights, defence and security, and economic ties and sport.
Despite being a small country geographically, Qatar consistently ranks as one of the richest countries in the world per capita, and it has experienced a period of rapid growth, due in part to the FIFA World cup. However, with that development come challenges. Thousands of workers have moved to Qatar to work on infrastructure projects, and the law governing those workers has gained international attention.
That is a very good point, and I will come to that a little later in my remarks on the economy. My good and hon. Friend has made an excellent point.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have raised concerns about conditions that workers face while working on building sites, such as football stadiums. I did not go to the football stadiums myself, but other members of the delegation did. One gentleman was killed under terrible circumstances while involved in the construction that was taking place. Human Rights Watch says that people have been exposed to extreme heat and humidity, have lived in poor accommodation and have earned low wages. As I said, workers are reported to have died on such projects, although I think the Qatari Government would dispute the figures. Even though the figures are disputed, the British Government would obviously have some concerns about that issue.
I think Qatar has made progress in recent months in introducing new laws that provide greater protection and freedom for migrant and domestic workers. I was pleased to hear that Impactt, a UK-based ethical trade consultancy, has been working closely with the state as its external compliance monitor for the World cup, and some of our delegation met a number of officials. Work has involved an extensive audit of working conditions at sites under construction, and Impactt’s second report, published in February, highlighted the progress on recruitment fees and enhanced worker representation. I believe that the United Kingdom will always support the upholding of workers’ rights, and I welcome Qatar’s labour reforms.
On the point about labour market reforms, did my hon. Friend become aware on his visit to Qatar and in his discussions with officials there—as I have become aware—that they genuinely sense that the eyes of the world are on them in the run-up to the World cup? They are making genuine attempts to demonstrate that their labour market reforms are real, and they are delivering real improvements to the lives of the guest and migrant workers in the country.
My right hon. Friend has made the point far better than I would be able to. It is a real lesson in not lecturing people: with a little bit of encouragement, and the knowledge that the world is looking very carefully, a lot of progress has been made. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Qatar has made similar progress in the field of human rights. The state has been at the forefront in the promotion of a free press in the region. Indeed, the chairman of the Qatar Media Corporation recently acknowledged that the right to knowledge and expression is universally recognised as a right that transcends cultures and nations.
As part of the recent parliamentary delegation to Qatar, I had the honour of meeting the Shura council. That 35-member assembly, which advises the Emir, is made up of both male and female members, with the number of women increasing. Although it is currently an appointed body, it is set to have a democratic element, with the first Qatari legislative election currently scheduled for 2019. That little bit of progress will introduce democracy to the country for the first time. Although we have heard such democratic soundbites since 2006, this is most certainly going to happen.
Rather perversely, the diplomatic crisis has, arguably, exacerbated human rights issues in the country. Non-governmental organisations have highlighted the detrimental effect of the embargo on the flow of medical supplies, the impact on education and how the embargo has separated families. However, as always, the United Kingdom is a champion of human rights, and everything possible should be done to prevent the abuse of human rights in the country—especially abuses said to have emanated from the crisis.
The third issue I want to touch on is defence and security, and also co-operation with the United Kingdom. We work with regional powers in the middle east in promoting stability and fighting terrorism. The Royal Navy recently re-established a permanent base at HMS Jufair in Bahrain. Although that is a key strategic base for our operations in the region, we should acknowledge our deep and enduring military co-operation with Qatar. Bilateral co-operation between London and Doha is an equally pivotal partnership and is in the interest of our mutual security. Qatari cadets train at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Joint training operations between the RAF and the Qatar Emiri air force regularly take place at al-Udeid airbase. The base is at the heart of Qatari-British collaboration, and it played a vital role in our operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, it has been at the forefront of Operation Shader and our engagement with the so-called Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, the emirate has been a valued member of the coalition against ISIS, and it shares our opposition to the Syrian President.
It was announced in January that our two nations should establish a joint operations air fleet. This group will not only enhance our bilateral fight against terrorism but be crucial in the protection of Qatari airspace during the World cup tournament.
I welcome that added information from my hon. Friend. No doubt, the Minister will pick up on that point in his response.
Notwithstanding the intelligence standpoint, Qatar is a valued ally of the United Kingdom. The country is a member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and in 2014 it signed a security pact with the United Kingdom. That ensured that our security agencies work together in countering the dangers of jihadism and cyber-warfare. This profound defence partnership not only ensures our safety but contributes considerably to the UK’s economy.
I am pleased to say that, in December last year, the UK signed the largest export deal for Typhoon aircraft in a decade. The delivery of 25 Typhoons by BAE Systems to Qatar is valued at some £6 billion. The deal is essential to sustaining jobs at BAE’s Warton site, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies). There have been further conversations to increase the number of Hawk trainer aircraft that will be delivered to Qatar, and for MBDA to supply missiles for the Typhoons.
I now want to speak about trade and investment with Qatar. As we are all aware, the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union by 29 March next year. Regardless of which side Members are on in the argument over Brexit, we should all agree that, in the post-Brexit world, new alliances must be forged and links with established trading partners must be invigorated. Qatar is one such trading avenue that should be enriched. I am grateful to the City of London for sending me an email this morning to let me know that, in 2016, the UK exported £3 billion of goods and services to Qatar and had a trade surplus of £0.9 billion in services with it. Two years ago, the then Lord Mayor had high-level meetings, and the current Lord Mayor, Charles Bowman, recently met representatives of the Qatar Financial Centre in London. I welcome all that.
There is no greater indication of the UK’s global appeal than the statistics I have given. Qatar is estimated to have £40 billion invested in the UK economy, including the £5 billion announced during the 2017 Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum. Foreign direct investment from Qatar shows no sign of being deterred by the UK’s exit from the EU. In fact, our delegation would humbly claim credit if it was boosted.
Although Qatari investment may be focused on London, it ranges across industries—my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde benefits from that. It ranges from banking to aerospace, and from property to hospitality. Qatar has a unique and broad multitude of investments in the UK. Those investments include Canary Wharf, including the HSBC tower and Barclays; 20 Fenchurch Street, known affectionately as the Walkie Talkie; the Shard; Heathrow airport; British Airways, by way of Qatar Airways’s stake in the International Airlines Group; the former US embassy in Grosvenor Square; Claridge’s; the Savoy; Harrods; Sainsbury’s; and the 2012 Olympic village. Such is the degree of Qatar’s UK interests, it was reported in March last year that Qataris own more of our capital than the Mayor of London’s office, and own a staggering three times more than Her Majesty the Queen. That is quite astonishing.
Furthermore, 29% of the United Kingdom’s gas imports are made up of liquefied natural gas, the majority of which comes from Qatar via the South Hook LNG terminal at Milford Haven, which is in turn over two-thirds owned by the emirate. Those imports contribute heavily to the diversity of the UK energy industry, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) will elaborate on that point.
None the less, an increasing number of UK companies are operating and investing in Qatar. It is well located between Europe and the far east, while the scale of its infrastructure projects makes it a viable location for UK investment. That is evidenced by the 120 UK-based companies that have engaged with Qatar in the past three years across an array of sectors. In fact, in terms of trade in goods and services between the UK and Qatar, we registered a trade surplus in six of the 10 years between 2007 and 2016.
We can all remember the scenes of jubilation in the Qatari royal family when they won the World cup bid. Privately, I was totally cynical about it: I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, not least because of the physical geography and the fact that it is so very hot there. Although I have not seen the facilities, a number of colleagues on the delegation have, and those facilities are absolutely wonderful. I was totally wrong about my initial view of Qatar winning the bid, and I hope it may help the general feeling towards the region.
Mr Kane, the captain of the England team, said that England could win the World cup, and yes we could—we could also win the Eurovision song contest, but unfortunately we did not. I am prepared to say that we could win the World cup when we go to the event in Qatar. It will be the first time that the tournament has been staged in the region, and it is extremely encouraging that so many British companies are involved in the project.
Professional services firms, which are the bedrock of the UK’s economy, have been prominent in building the World cup infrastructure. Architects Foster and Partners have designed the Lusail stadium, the largest venue, which is set to host the final of the tournament. Furthermore, Zaha Hadid Architects has designed the al-Wakrah stadium. Consultancy firms such as Arup, Turner & Townsend, Gleeds and RLB have also pioneered innovative projects such as climate control for a range of facilities. Some of the UK’s biggest construction firms have been equally prominent. Interserve has Qatari operations, and Balfour Beatty has been involved in World cup projects and the Qatar expressway programme in recent years.
There can be no doubt that links between Qatar and the United Kingdom are wide-ranging and historic. It is imperative that those ties endure through the contemporary embargo and strengthen as the United Kingdom transitions from being a member of the European Union to being an independent trading nation. Our relationship with Qatar should give us much to be confident about and serve as an example of how we are a truly global Britain.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) on securing the debate, which is timely for a number of reasons, and on the way he set out his case. He did so in a fair degree of detail, which I will not bother Members by repeating. He highlighted the importance of Qatar as both a trading partner and a security partner for the United Kingdom at this time. That relationship is important, but it will never be simple or straightforward.
Before I go any further, I too should remind Members of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Last year and the year before, I was part of a delegation to Qatar funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I serve as chair of the all-party parliamentary British-Qatar group.
Let me pick up the point the hon. Gentleman made about the conduct of such delegations. As chair of the all-party group, I led the delegation in February last year. There has never been any restriction on the movement of any member of the delegations of which I have been part. I can say with some feeling, having led the second delegation, that MPs and peers have a tendency to wander off, talk to people and do their own thing. That was certainly the case—I might even have been guilty of it once or twice—when we visited the workers’ villages that were built by Qatar to accommodate migrant workers engaged in construction contracts, particularly for Qatar 2022. Those were illuminating moments. Those people did not always give us exactly the same message as the one we were given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or anyone else with the group, but there was certainly no restriction. It was also clear to those of us who were part of the delegation that the migrant workers we engaged with felt uninhibited and free to tell us about their experiences.
There might be other contestants for the claim of being the first, but those workers are certainly a significant interest group that will be affected. Qatar has been measured in its response to the blockade—I will come on to that—but at an economic, political and strategic price.
Notwithstanding the fact that I regularly raise a number of issues with the Qatari Government, my engagements with them, both as a member of delegations and as chair of the all-party group, have always been positive, open and frank. As the hon. Member for Southend West indicated, we have seen significant progress in areas that are important to Members across the party divide. I think in particular of the progress on labour rights. The eventual abolition of the kafala system, which did not come easily, was a significant piece of progress in that regard. We should pay tribute to the people—particularly those in the trade union movement in this country—who have worked hard and sometimes had to deliver very difficult messages, but have stuck with it and never compromised in their dealings with the Qatari Government.
No, there are not. I acknowledge the progress that has been made, but as I said, as a Member of this House, I feel able to engage with the Qatari Government and point to the areas where I think we can do better, of which there are a number. The hon. Member for Southend West said that it is amazing what can be done without lecturing. Right hon. and hon. Members who know me will know that I am not averse to a bit of lecturing from time to time, and our friends in the Qatari embassy and the Qatari Government have had the benefit—if that is the word—of that experience. I am open about the way I deal with them, but when we in this country lecture others about union rights, labour rights and human rights in the most general terms, it is always worth us doing so with a bit of humility.
I am always mindful when I speak to the Qataris about the need to improve rights for people in the LGBT+ community that I am a 52-year-old man who lives in a country that, in my lifetime, has seen the legalisation of homosexuality and the abolition of capital punishment. There are shocking and shameful examples of the standards of labour rights we have enforced in our country—I think of incidents such as the one involving the cockle pickers at Morecambe bay a few years ago. I am quite prepared to lecture, but I always do so in a spirit of humility, remembering that we in this country do not always meet the high standards that we set ourselves. That is relevant because the discussion will move on now that the kafala system has been abolished, and we must ensure that high-level agreements and Government commitments are actually enforced by the companies and contractors that employ people on the projects concerned.
In the time that I have been engaged with Qatar and it has engaged my interest as a politician, I have seen significant progress, but I am always at pains to say that I want it to do a lot more. I am quite happy to engage and work with it, to make the case for change and to explain the benefits that will come from that. The law of unintended consequences may well come to operate—the blockade, about which we will no doubt continue to speak, may actually hasten the process of modernisation, the increase in democratisation and the improvement of human rights in Qatar. As we look towards 2022, that will only accelerate.
There has been a lot of international scrutiny—a lot of it quite negative—of labour conditions in Qatar. The Qataris have made big changes in that respect, but there will be other issues. The one I always raise with them is the position of the LGBT+ community, and we should look to them to make progress in that and other areas. There is, though—I speak as someone who is completely uninterested in football—a really exciting story to be told about Qatar 2022, which will be the first Arab World cup. Phenomenal resources have been committed to it. Before the debate, the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) asked about the construction of the stadiums. Constructing entirely air-conditioned stadiums is a remarkable feat of engineering. At the conclusion of the World cup, a number of those stadiums will be dismantled, removed from Qatar and given to countries that would not, if left to their own devices, have the resources to build a stadium of that sort.
That is where the air conditioning comes in—that is why I say it is quite a remarkable feat of engineering. Having been brought up on the west coast of Scotland, where my antipathy to the game was originally instilled in me, I find the idea of requiring air conditioning to play football difficult to get my mind around. The Qataris understood that even holding the tournament in their coolest time of the year, February, as I believe they will do, would still be beyond what most teams would expect, so they are going to quite remarkable lengths. It will also be probably the most compact World cup we will have seen. The infrastructure to be put in place to get teams and officials from one venue to another is an exercise from which we could take some lessons.
I am encouraged by progress in changes in the law and by the existence within Qatar of organisations such as the National Human Rights Committee. The hon. Member for Southend West spoke at some length about the blockade against Qatar currently in place by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. We must acknowledge that the allegations made by those countries in June are very serious. It is not my job, nor, I would suggest, that of any hon. Member, to be some sort of apologist for a Government. If there is evidence that the allegations made by the blockading countries have substance, we should take that seriously and Qatar must be accountable.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that Saudi Arabia has been named in documents from the United States Government —and, I believe, from the UK Government —as being potentially involved in fostering radicalisation in the UK. Does he agree that while any allegations against Qatar must be independently investigated, perhaps the Saudis are not in the best position to claim the moral high ground?
The moral high ground is not an easy place for anyone to occupy in the region, and I do not think it helps us to stand there. However, there have been significant allegations in the past against the countries I listed, right the way back to 9/11 and earlier. I hesitate in picking up the bone that the hon. Gentleman has generously thrown me, because I do not think that the United Kingdom’s best interests will be served by picking a winner in the conflict. If we are to have a role, it should be to use our good relations and influence with all the various actors to somehow find a way to allow everyone some meaningful engagement with Kuwait, which seems to be the mediator of choice, and as a consequence perhaps find a way to step back from the brink.
In relation to the allegations that have been made and the 13 demands that came from the Saudi-led coalition in June last year, little hard evidence has come forward. The allegations about support for Islamist groups seem to be conflated with support or funding for Islamic State. That would be serious if it were proven, but in fact we see no evidence of that. It would be somewhat strange, shall we say, for Qatar to be funding IS while hosting the al-Udeid airbase and given the other ways in which it co-operates with us. I do not feel qualified to judge, but I observe in passing that Rex Tillerson said that the list of demands would be
“difficult for Qatar to meet”
because of that lack of evidence.
I am conscious of the passage of time, so I will finish by drawing the House’s attention to an opinion piece from the Financial Times on 19 April headed “The continuing blockade of Qatar makes no sense”. It points out first the most recent ratcheting up of the conflict, with reports about Qatar being turned into an island instead of a peninsula by Saudi Arabia’s excavating a Suez-style canal on the land border, and various unpleasant things being put into that canal. It is a good, measured piece that I commend to all those who have an interest in the region. It concludes:
“Short of volunteering for vassal status it is difficult to see what more it”—
“could do, beyond some gestures. Rather, the onus should be on the states that created the crisis to bring it to an end.”
It goes on:
“Toning down the rhetoric would be a start. Lifting the blockade incrementally should be the next.”
When the Minister responds, I would like to hear what he thinks the United Kingdom can do, inevitably working with the United States, which has a well-documented significant interest in the region. I think President Trump has spoken about some sort of discussion at Camp David later this year, and I hope that would be helpful. Frankly, Qatar being at odds with its neighbours has an impact beyond its border and those of its neighbours. It leaves us in a situation where the Gulf Co-operation Council, the most important body in the region and the means by which we western nations should seek to engage with Gulf countries, is unable to operate in the way it is intended to. For a region as important to us as the Gulf, for all manner of reasons—economic, trade, security—that is surely where our interest as a country must lie. In looking at our relations with Qatar, we must identify what our interest is and how we might further it and go beyond it in the wider interests of the region.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) on securing this timely and important debate, and on the brilliant job he did in describing where we are at in UK relations with Qatar and our diverse range of mutual interests in continuing to foster a close and growing relationship. It is also a pleasure to follow my good friend, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who spoke with characteristic intelligence and wisdom about a difficult, challenging neighbourhood that we have relationships with; he offered thoughts about the way forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West alluded to my constituency interest in Qatar, which was the starting point for my interest in that country and in our relationship with the state more broadly. As a Welshman, I feel a natural affinity with small, ambitious countries that want to punch above their weight on the world stage. I could extend the comparison and talk about complicated relationships with larger next-door neighbours, but that might risk upsetting some of my English colleagues.
In May 2009—almost exactly nine years ago—we had the official opening of the South Hook liquefied natural gas terminal in my constituency. At the time, it was by far and away the largest single investment in Pembrokeshire for more than a generation, and it remains one of the largest single investments in Wales in the last 10 to 15 years. For the opening, we had not just one member of a royal family visiting, but six members of two royal families. Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Andrew from our royal family were there, along with the Sheikh and his wife, Sheikha Mozah, and another member of the Qatari royal family. It was rightly an enormous occasion, reflecting the scale and size of the investment, and the statement that we sought to make about the future, forward-looking relationship between Qatar and the United Kingdom.
South Hook represents a growing relationship based on energy security. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West mentioned, we are becoming increasingly dependent on imported natural gas as our domestic production from the North sea has declined over the past 10 years, and a large share of our imported liquefied natural gas comes from Qatar. In fact, the South Hook terminal in my constituency has capacity for about 25% of the UK’s natural gas supply at any one time. It is an enormous investment. If hon. and right hon. Members in this room are interested, I encourage them to come to my constituency and see the scale of the energy facility. Such imports will be more important in future. The Qatari investment has given the United Kingdom more diversity in our energy supplies, so that we can help build increasing resilience and energy security at a time when we have become more dependent on imports.
As well as providing excellent, high-quality jobs, the South Hook terminal has been an incredibly generous and intelligent supporter and funder of local charities in my constituency. If Members were to visit Preseli Pembrokeshire, I wager they would find that no constituency outside London has a greater proportion of constituents who can describe with some knowledge our relationship with Qatar than mine. For the past 10 years, we have been very aware of the importance of the relationship.
The relationship is not just about energy security, important though that is. At the start of this month, we had the first commercial flight between Doha and Cardiff airport—an exciting development for the latter, given that it is relatively small for a capital city airport. It is a big statement of ambition that the leadership of the airport was able to secure a deal with Qatar Airways and have a commercial service fly between Cardiff and Doha. It helps put Wales on the map, and helps open up Wales’s economic opportunities in the Gulf—and, through Doha’s network of transport links, around the world.
I pay tribute to the chairman of Cardiff airport, Roger Lewis, who has done a brilliant job in taking forward the vision of cementing a strategic relationship with Qatar Airways. The Welsh Government, who I do not always have a lot of positive things to say about, have played a positive and constructive role in driving forward the airport’s relationship with Qatar.
I am cautious about the number of Welsh tourists visiting Doha. In the first instance, we are trying to develop the business travel market, but all these things have potential. Students from Doha visit the United Kingdom, and increasing aviation links from the UK regions to Doha can only support that.
When I was Secretary of State for Wales in 2015, I was pleased to give early support, and tried to inject a little momentum into the vision for a Qatar-Wales link. I am absolutely delighted that that has been brought to fruition, and I wish it every success. I do not expect the Minister to comment on this, because it falls far outside his Department, but for a long time the Welsh Government have been asking the UK Government to devolve air passenger duty to them, so they can use that as an extra tool to help them develop the long-haul overseas aviation market. I put on record that I was not able to convince David Cameron or George Osborne to change the policy, but it is probably time to look at that again, given that the leadership of Cardiff airport has been so successful in striking up a relationship with the Qataris.
On the wider diplomatic front, I find Qatar’s ambitious foreign policy a thing of wonder. It is extraordinary how ambitious it has sought to be over the past 10 years. It has an interesting, wide and complicated set of relationships in the region and globally. It is able to have direct conversations with partners in the region that, perhaps for political reasons, we are not able to have. There is enormous opportunity for the United Kingdom and the international community to work with Qatar to develop deeper, more constructive diplomatic ties in what is, as I say, a very challenging and difficult neighbourhood. There is the immediate issue of the blockade and its conflict with its immediate neighbours. It has to be in our national interest to see that conflict brought to an end and resolved. Looking to the longer term beyond that, Qatar has demonstrated that it is a resourceful, agile, diplomatic player globally, and we need to work with Qatar to see positive things happen in the region.
The Minister knows that I have an interest in other countries in the region. In particular, I have an interest in the quest for security for Israelis, alongside the quest for statehood for Palestinians. I am absolutely sure that Qatar has a role to play in that, given its resources and its network of relationships across the region. It is often, as I say, able to have direct conversations with players in ways that we cannot. We want Qatar to play a constructive role in the region.
I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about having frank conversations with the Qatari Government and their ambassadors in London. I have had those frank discussions, and have always been impressed with how open and willing they have been to discuss quite difficult issues. That is what friendship is all about. Having a good friendship with a state such as Qatar means that we can have those difficult, challenging conversations. We can talk about the questions that get raised around terrorist financing and human rights, and what role Qatar can play in supporting peace between the Palestinians and Israel in the middle east. Friendship does not prevent us having those discussions; it provides a strong platform that enables us to do so.
In conclusion, this is a good moment to recognise, appreciate and celebrate the UK’s relationship with Qatar, and a good moment to think about some of the immediate challenges. I encourage the Minister to offer us his thoughts on where he sees the UK-Qatari bilateral relationship going and what benefit the UK can get from Qatar’s wider set of relationships internationally.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) on securing this debate. I spoke to him before to learn where he was coming from. Right hon. and hon. Members have made significant contributions. Mine will be similar, but a wee bit more careful. The issue with Qatar is not straightforward. Although we are supportive of our allies, it is not as simple as saying, “The enemy of my friend is my enemy.” That does not work in international circles. Although I respect some of the Saudi Arabian demands, and am fully supportive of its goal of halting involvement with terrorism and, in particular, support of ISIS, we cannot follow suit and cut all ties with Qatar. We are a trading nation. As other Members have indicated, we have strong defence ties that need to be maintained and strengthened; that, I think, is the intention of the Government. We need to have what influence we can.
Things are not always black and white. They never can be when it comes to considering a different country, with a different culture, characteristics, goals and focus. There is a role for our Government to play in advancing peace in the region. That can be done only by making the best of the ties that make our relationship mutually beneficial to some extent. We have a relationship of sorts, and with that, we have the ability at least to attempt to influence things and effect change; we would not have that with a hard-line stance. I do not want to adopt a hard-line stance. I want to see how we can bring about some change. I certainly agree with the British ambassador, Mr Sharma, who recently said:
“The UK wants the dispute to be resolved as quickly as possible. The UK is fully supportive of the Kuwaiti mediation efforts and of course it is doing its own work through its contacts, its relationships to support the resolution. We want it to be solved as quickly as possible”.
The briefing provided by the Library, which I thank for the great work it does, clearly outlines our trade standing with Qatar. In 2016, the UK exported £3 billion-worth of goods and services to Qatar and imported £2.2 billion, resulting in a slight surplus of £0.8 billion. A small deficit in goods was offset by a surplus in services of £0.9 billion. Exports to Qatar represented 0.6% of all British exports in 2016. We are hopeful, of course, that when we have the freedom that Brexit will give us in March 2019, we shall be able to do more. Imports from Qatar represented 0.4% of all UK imports. Overall, Qatar was the UK’s 32nd largest export market and 42nd largest source of imports in 2016. The figures underline the importance of Qatar and the region to our economy, as well as the importance of building the relationship and doing more.
British exports to Qatar peaked at £3 billion in 2016, and UK imports from Qatar peaked at £5.1 billion in 2011, so we have turned things around, as we are now into surplus. We want that to continue. The UK has recorded trade surpluses with Qatar in six of the past 10 years for which goods and services trade data are available, although it recorded a series of trade deficits between 2010 and 2013, the largest of which was £3.3 billion in 2011.
I turn to the exploitation of workers. I was thinking about the use of the word “exploitation” before the debate, and I do not think we can ignore what is happening in the construction sector in Qatar. We cannot ignore the fact that workers have died on building sites and that others have been injured. Living conditions are atrocious, workers are underpaid, and many of them are living in small buildings. Those are facts, and they come from various sources. The Minister may want to respond on that matter, and suggest how we can use our influence—as I think we should—to make sure that workers are not exploited and are accorded the same rights as everyone else. In a related Westminster Hall debate on 14 March, in which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) took part, I commented at column 400WH that people going to work in the construction sector in Qatar did not expect to get killed —they were not heading off to war. We need regulations —or at least discussions about regulations—regarding what happens to those workers.
The trading relationship, which benefits both our nations, certainly enables our ambassador to step in and speak to Qatar to try to foster a better relationship between neighbouring countries, which would benefit us all. When the World cup comes to Qatar in 2022, the eyes of the world will be on the country, and now is certainly the time for it to work to make changes to end terrorism links permanently. The issues have been stated clearly, and answers are needed.
Anyone who knows me will understand that I do not advocate for peace at any price; that has never been the way I do things. I believe we have a duty to stand against wrong at all costs. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. We have to stand for that idea, and the costs can sometimes be high. However, it is my firm and sincere belief that sometimes that means affirmative action, while at other times—this is one of them—it means using diplomatic measures. The Minister is very much a diplomat, and responds accordingly to issues that we put to him, so I believe that he would be keen on that approach. There has been movement by Qatar on addressing issues, and that progress must continue to foster peace.
We should not promise or intimate that we will stay out of things and keep Qatari money at any price. In my view, we are exercising wisdom and striving to influence. It seems that we have had success thus far. However, we always reserve the ability to react differently to whatever scenario arises. Only to that extent do I support the governmental approach thus far.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate, Sir Henry, and to begin the summing up. It has been an interesting debate, because I do not think anyone has said anything that anyone else has disagreed with. It is notable and perhaps disappointing that we have not exactly got the gender balance right this afternoon. I suspect that has prevented the debate from reaching the high quality it might have, but it has certainly been interesting.
We are discussing a country that is thousands of miles away, with a population slightly less than half that of Scotland. Yet the immense wealth that has come its way in the past few decades means that it has the potential to play a major part in decisions taken there and in the region. It has been hinted at—and I think it is true—that an issue that still needs to be worked through in the middle east is that the big, powerful neighbour needs to accept that it does not get to call all the shots, and that some of the smaller ones, including Qatar, want a say. They sometimes want to say something different from what the Saudis would like them to say.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) graphically outlined the huge financial impact that the Qatari sovereign wealth fund has in the United Kingdom—particularly, but not exclusively, in London. When he listed the buildings and property it owned, I felt almost that if something is tall enough to be seen above the rest of the London skyline—or, in the case of a hotel, if it is too expensive to go into—it probably belongs to Qatar. That in itself creates an issue. We must make sure in our dealings with Qatar that the massive financial investment it has made in a lot of infrastructure in London and other parts of the UK does not prevent us from criticising it when that is needed. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) eloquently pointed out, sometimes criticism needs to be made. We can welcome the progress made in Qatar in recent years, but we must also remind it that there is much more to be done.
A few months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) spoke in a debate in this Chamber and referred to the
“human rights abuses that we have seen—workers being tied to a single employer, low pay, poor accommodation, labouring in dangerous heat and, sadly, hundreds of unexplained deaths”.—[Official Report, 14 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 402WH.]
That is in one of the wealthiest countries in the world; it has not happened because the country is intrinsically poor. Despite that enormous wealth human lives are treated with contempt, and cheaply. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) rightly pointed out that some things for which we now criticise such places as Saudi Arabia and Qatar happened in the United Kingdom not that long ago, and that we must encourage people to move forward rather than trying to order them to stop doing what UK legislation allowed until 40 or 50 years ago.
It was only 10 years ago that the Christian population in Qatar was first allowed openly to practise its religion. That was when the first church in Qatar was opened. We still see what the BBC diplomatically refers to as the filtering of what Qataris are allowed to see on the internet and other media. Interestingly, one objection from Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring countries to what Qatar does is that al-Jazeera, which is owned in Qatar, will broadcast quite critical content about some of the country’s neighbours but will not criticise the Qatari Government. They do not like it to be allowed to do that. Some of al-Jazeera’s coverage of terrorist atrocities in the past has been crassly insensitive and deeply offensive to the families of victims. It may be that Qatar is trying to modernise, and hopefully one day soon the media in Qatar will be allowed to criticise their Government as freely as they are allowed to criticise Governments elsewhere, and perhaps the neighbours need to accept that Saudi Arabian citizens must one day be allowed to watch television programmes without restriction and read newspapers that do not agree with the Saudi royal family.
I have been interviewed on al-Jazeera, and it seemed a very reasonable English-speaking station that talked sense. I gather, however, that the Arabic version may not be quite the same, and I hope that the Minister will say something about the difference when he responds to the debate.
Not being an Arabic speaker I do not watch al-Jazeera in Arabic—I seldom watch it in English—but as reported by the BBC, some of its coverage of the terrorist murders of innocent hostages, for example, was highly insensitive. It appeared to be designed to give a propaganda victory to the terrorists, which we cannot condone.
Mention was made of the close military links between the United Kingdom and Qatar, and the current Emir and his father who preceded him are both graduates from Sandhurst. One reason—not the main one—why we must hope that the current diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar does not escalate into anything else is that both countries use British planes and pilots who were trained in Britain by the RAF. It would be terribly ironic if a conflict that cost lives in the Gulf involved two parties using British-made technology against each other. That is a salutary lesson, and we must be a bit more careful about who we are prepared to sell weapons and military hardware to. We cannot always be sure that those weapons will be used against the people we might wish them to be used against.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to his difficulty in imagining the need for air conditioning at a football match. He is one of four or five of us in this debate who, if we were fanatical football fans, would find it difficult to imagine a situation in which it mattered a jot where the World cup was being played—I can just about remember the last time that Scotland went, and I do not think Wales have been there since 1958. I hope they will get there at some point.
Qatar is obviously using the World cup to try to persuade the rest of the world that it is moving forward, but we must ensure that progress continues after 2022. I welcome a lot of the promises made last year about improved protection and rights for workers, but we must ensure that those promises start being delivered this year, and continue to be delivered not just until 2022, but into the late 2020s, the 2030s and beyond. The improvements and changes must be permanent.
Mention has been made of some of the demands that the Saudis and their neighbours have made on Qatar, but as I said when I intervened on the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, a lot of those countries need to examine their consciences about some of the groups that they have supported in other countries. It is, for example, a bit much for Saudi Arabia to object to the fact that Qatar appears to be supporting unpleasant acts in other countries, while it is bombing civilians to death in Yemen and elsewhere.
Although some of the demands and requests appear to be reasonable, Qatar is being asked to break all contact not only with terrorist groups in certain countries, but with political opposition groups. Imagine if the United States Government asked us to stop sending parliamentary groups over to meet Democrats at the time of a Republican President, or to stop going to European countries and speaking to Opposition politicians as well as those in the Government. That is effectively what the Saudis are asking for, and although some of the demands are perfectly reasonable—any allegations of state funding of terrorism anywhere must be independently investigated by an international court or tribunal—we must also say to our friends in Saudi Arabia, “Just wait a minute, you’re going a wee bit too far with this.”
Some of the rhetoric we are seeing from the Saudis and some of their allies reminds me of some of the inflammatory language that we have become far too used to in the claims and counter-claims between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours. They are not just talking about digging a ditch to physically cut off Qatar from the rest of the continent; they are talking about deliberately dumping nuclear and toxic waste on the Qatari border, where the potentially lethal impact will affect Qataris as much as—or more than—anybody else. That sounds to me like a threat of chemical and biological warfare. It might simply be rhetoric, and perhaps the claims are being made more for the consumption of the Saudi Arabian population, to convince people that their Government are standing up to Qatar, but any such threat should be dealt with by a firm response from the international community. Saudi Arabia should be asked to explain itself at the United Nations. All too often in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, once people start talking the language of atrocity the action of atrocity follows quickly afterwards.
We should call on all sides in the dispute in the Gulf to tone down their language, resort to diplomacy, and look to get some kind of agreement. We must also make it clear to Qatar that if there are credible allegations of serious crimes against international norms, whether or not the Government are directly involved, it must be open to having them investigated.
I have not personally had such discussions, although I would be perfectly happy to.
As I was saying, we should be prepared to seek independent investigations into alleged funding or support for terrorism by Qatar, but we should also seek independent international investigations into the 150-plus allegations of war crimes against Saudi Arabia. It is not good enough for the UK Government to say that we should just let the Saudis investigate themselves. Although I hear some of the optimistic noises about new trade with Qatar and other countries after we leave the European Union, I hope we can get an assurance from the Minister that if we seek to increase our trade with any country, that will be done in terms that recognise the need for improvements in human rights. Trade should not simply mean a trade in weapons that can be used for the wrong purposes, or a trade in infrastructure that benefits the wealthy royal family of Qatar at the expense of the working conditions and lives of native born Qataris and permanent or temporary migrants.
In some countries, people live in difficult situations because that country is intrinsically poor, and we have a responsibility to help lift those countries out of poverty. Qatar, however, does not have that excuse. Any poverty or poor conditions endured by anyone in Qatar are a deliberate choice by the Government of Qatar, and at times we must call them out for that and say that we expect things to improve.
I am pleased to have contributed to the debate, and I would be happy to take up any offer to meet representatives from the Governments of Qatar or Saudi Arabia, should they want to explain their countries’ policies to me and my colleagues. I hope the Minister will assure us that although a large part of Qatar’s relationship with London is about money, when it comes to the crunch it will not just be money that talks, and that the lives of people in Qatar and its neighbouring countries will be seen as being at least as important as the money that flows in from the coffers of the royal family.
I thank all those who have contributed this afternoon, and as ever it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Henry. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) on securing the debate—it is timely for us to discuss Britain’s relations with Qatar. He said that he visited Qatar for the second time in February and met the Emir. He also passed on thanks to the excellent ambassador in London, Yousef Ali Al-Khater. I have met him on several occasions in my role, and I agree that he is one of the finest ambassadors at the Court of St. James’s. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned one of the people who works there—a British national called Ibrahim Pasha, who I believe is of Turkish-Cypriot origin. He does a very good job working for the embassy and linking and liaising with British parliamentarians, and I echo those thanks.
The hon. Gentleman gave us a brief history of the blockade of Qatar. I will not go into that further this afternoon, because we have already heard quite a lot about it. He mentioned the 13 demands and the fact that Kuwait is acting as an intermediary. He talked about labour reforms, human rights reforms, the defence relationship, and of course the cultural and sporting relationship. He said that our links with Qatar are wide-ranging and historic, and I certainly agree.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), with his great experience and his position as chair of the all-party parliamentary British-Qatar group, made an important contribution to the debate. He mentioned that he had led delegate visits to Qatar and pointed out that there was never any restriction on members of that delegation talking to workers or to people outside Government supervision, and that nobody told them who they could and could not talk to. He was encouraged by changes in Qatari law, but he also quoted the Financial Times as saying that the continuing blockade of Qatar makes no sense at all. The Opposition certainly concur with that.
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for that contribution. That danger is always there, but from what I have seen myself and from speaking to people from Qatar—people within the Foreign Ministry and visiting dignitaries here in London—I have the impression that the Qataris want to become a beacon of openness and liberalism in the region, rather than falling into the hands of one of the larger regional superpowers. I hope that that will continue and that they will press ahead with that. I will say a little more about that in the time I have remaining, but I want to leave time for the Minister.
The right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) talked of his affinity for small nations punching above their weight as a Welsh Member of Parliament and a former Secretary of State for Wales, and I agree that that is important in international relations. He mentioned the huge investment in the South Hook LNG terminal in Milford Haven, where the first tanker came in on 20 March 2009, and how important that has been as an investment in his constituency and his part of Wales. He also mentioned the direct flights from Doha to Cardiff; I urge Qatar Airways to open direct flights to Leeds Bradford airport as well, which I believe is even smaller than Cardiff airport.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned charitable donations, a very important issue for Qataris. I have met officials from the Qatar Charity and I was impressed at the way they collect charitable donations and ensure that, as part of their faith, they distribute those donations wisely, sensibly and for the best possible use of those less fortunate than they are. That is a duty that all Muslims, Christians and those of other main faiths share, but the charity carries it out with great aplomb.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about strong defence ties and said that things are not always black and white—we know that, but we always need to be reminded of it. The relationship with Qatar should, of course, be mutually beneficial. He mentioned another important player in Britain’s relations with Qatar, our excellent ambassador Ajay Sharma, whom I have met and with whom I was extremely impressed. The hon. Gentleman also said that we should use UK influence to help to improve workers’ rights, and I believe that is something we have indeed been doing.
Qatar, as we know, has a population of 2.6 million, of whom only 313,000, or approximately 12%, are official Qatari citizens. Qatar is a former British protectorate; the UK has had an embassy in the emirate since 1949, and Qatar has had an embassy in London since 1970. We have heard a lot this afternoon about the emirate getting ready to host the 2022 World cup. Qatar is allegedly spending up to $500 million a week on World cup-related infrastructure projects.
The UK Government have consistently highlighted the fact that their close links with Qatar allow them to speak candidly with the emirate, in a friendly manner, on issues relating to human rights, migrant labour issues and so on. The Government see their close ties as a means to promote regional stability in a well-known unstable region. Since the blockade of Qatar by its neighbours, the UK has been a firm supporter of the Kuwaiti mediation process that is attempting to end the crisis. We in the Opposition totally support that policy and the work the Kuwaitis are trying to do.
The Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has continued his father’s desire to make Qatar an internationally open state. Qatar likes to profess that it is a state that does not take sides and is open to dialogue with anyone. It has maintained relations with Washington, but has also managed to build bridges with Iran, develop ties with Hamas and Hezbollah—not something we would necessarily approve of—and backed rebel groups in Syria and Libya. It also provided troops to help quell unrest in Bahrain before the blockade. Qatar opened trade relations with Israel in 1996 and maintains close ties with that country, as was alluded to earlier. That makes Qatar a possible candidate to be a negotiator for peace between the Palestinian people and the Israelis.
In 2016 the United Kingdom exported £3 billion of goods and services to Qatar, which represented 0.6% of all British exports in that year, and imported £2.2 billion from it. According to the House of Commons Library, Qatar was the UK’s 32nd largest export market and 42nd largest source of imports in 2016. We have heard a bit about the Qatar Investment Authority, which is one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds and has invested hugely in the United Kingdom. It owns 879 commercial and residential properties in London, including the Canary Wharf Group, Chelsea Barracks, the Shard, the HSBC tower and Harrods. The QIA also has a stake in the Savoy hotel, while another unit of the QIA, Qatar Holdings, owns Claridge’s, the Berkeley and the Connaught, with an additional stake in the InterContinental London Park Lane. Qatari authorities also own over 20% of Sainsbury’s—I wonder what they think about the proposed merger with Asda—and 20% of London Heathrow airport, and have a 20% stake in International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways.
I know the Minister has a lot to say, so I will conclude by mentioning labour issues. As we have heard, Qatar was home to 1.7 million migrant workers in 2015, accounting for more than 90% of the country’s workforce. Some 40% of those workers are employed in the construction sector alone. The majority of migrant workers, mainly from south Asia, live in labour camps where thousands of them are forced to live in abject squalor in overcrowded and insanitary accommodation. The Daily Mail—not a paper I am normally apt to quote from—highlighted in 2015 the lack of a minimum wage, with workers such as carpenters paid as little as 56p per hour. I am not sure it took the same view when we were looking at the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, but none the less I am glad it highlighted this matter.
Examples of abuses include contractors withholding workers’ passports and personal documents so they cannot leave the country. Workers need permission from their employer to leave. They are housed in unsanitary camps, sleeping in small dormitory rooms, sometimes with more than 20 people to a room. Many workers are paid less than £1 an hour. The reforms implemented by Qatar are significant in the region, because Qatar would be almost unique in aligning its laws and practices with international labour standards. The International Labour Organisation has recognised that the reforms being carried out amount to quite a lot and would put right the past abuse of migrant labour.
Finally, we know that the effect of the blockade has been to liberalise the constitution—the opposite of what was intended. There is an improvement in the role of women, a reform of the education system is taking place and there is now discussion of citizens’ rights for non-Qataris, so that many of those who have lived in the country for more than 30 years will be able to become citizens even if they are not Qatari-born. The increasingly popular young Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has been Emir for nearly five years, since 25 June 2013. He was born after I got married; his birth date was 3 June 1980, so he will be 38 next month. He has become increasingly popular, not unpopular, as a result of the blockade.
We in the Opposition also call on all the states that have implemented the blockade to lift it, and we hope, as other hon. Members have said this afternoon, that progress toward liberalisation and openness will continue beyond 2022, as it must.
In company with all colleagues, may I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry? I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) for securing the debate.
It is always a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), not only because we are such good friends but because his summarising of the debate means that I do not have to. He very effectively covers the speeches of colleagues and picks out the salient points, so I hope colleagues will not mind if I do not do exactly the same. However, I am grateful to all Members who have taken part by making speeches and for the several pertinent interventions from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart).
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West. His visit to Qatar in February with members of the all-party parliamentary group helped to underline the importance of UK-Qatar relations, as he mentioned, and it covered important issues, including the regional Gulf dispute and workers’ rights, which we will come on to. I had not quite picked up the idea of “taking the hump” in the way he did, but I will look out for an opportunity to do so on one of my many visits to the region.
I also commend my hon. Friend for what he said about His Excellency the ambassador of Qatar to London, who is a good friend. I have many friends among the ambassadors of the countries that I have ministerial responsibility for, and they do an excellent job. My hon. Friend was right to mention His Excellency, just as the hon. Member for Leeds North East was right to mention Ajay Sharma, who does a great job on our behalf over there, as do my colleagues the ambassadors in other middle eastern and north African states. I am grateful for the contributions and points raised by other right hon. and hon. Members, which I will not try to summarise, but which I will try to respond to.
The UK’s partnership with Qatar dates back almost 200 years to our early trading links in the 1820s. Since its independence in 1971, Qatar has remained a trusted and valued friend to the United Kingdom. Today, the bilateral ties between the UK and Qatar are more than just the legacy of our shared history, and I thought it was particularly pertinent that Members from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all spoke about the influence of Qatar right across the United Kingdom. Ours is a modern relationship based on shared values; a shared interest in our mutual prosperity and security; co-operation in the fight against terrorism; and, as we have heard many times, a shared passion for cultural and sporting excellence.
Most colleagues mentioned the ongoing Gulf dispute, and I will make very clear the United Kingdom’s position. Gulf Co-operation Council unity matters to the United Kingdom. It supports regional stability and security, which is why, since last June, the UK Government at all levels have continued to support Kuwait’s mediation efforts. We work closely with international partners, including the US, to support the GCC to find a resolution, and we remain a firm friend of all GCC states. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I have been actively engaging with our Gulf partners. Our role remains to support Kuwait.
We have always said that demands of Qatar should be measured and realistic, and we encourage those involved in the dispute to take that into account. There is a need for all sides to maintain dialogue and to find a resolution that everyone can support. Gulf states need to find a way of de-escalating the situation and lifting the current embargo and restrictions. We continue to call for de-escalation, for GCC unity, for Qatar to engage seriously on its neighbours’ concerns, for its neighbours to take steps to relax the restrictions imposed and for everyone to get behind Kuwait’s mediation efforts. We believe a solution is most likely to be found from within the GCC.
The UK’s determination on this was shown by a recent meeting at Wilton Park, at which we brought together a number of experts and senior officials from the various states to meet the UK to discuss our bilateral relationship with the GCC. We remain very much of the view that a strong GCC is good for the region and for the world.
Our bilateral relationship with Qatar is neatly summed up in the name chosen for our bilateral dialogue—sharaka, an Arabic term for partnership. In March, I visited Doha for the fourth sharaka with my counterpart, deputy Foreign Minister Soltan al-Muraikhi. Our discussions ranged over the full breadth of our relationship, which it is important to note stretches far beyond the obvious trade and security co-operation. My visit came almost exactly a year after my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister signed an historic agreement with her Qatari counterpart to increase co-operation across the board and to mark the UK as Qatar’s partner of choice in the implementation of its 2030 national vision.
That ambitious plan will improve opportunities for Qataris, focusing on development across four pillars: economic, environmental, human and social. Achieving that will require more than £140 billion of infrastructure development, reforms to improve health and education, and diversifying the economy. My discussion with my counterpart covered our co-operation across all four target areas and how the UK can work in partnership with Qatar in each area.
Following the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), it will not surprise Members that about half of our bilateral trade is in energy, with Qatar supplying around 20% of the UK’s natural gas imports over the last three years in the form of liquefied natural gas to the South Hook terminal in Milford Haven. It might surprise Members, and yourself, Sir Henry, to know that the UK actually has a trade surplus with Qatar, with more than 500 UK companies registered to work there and many already benefiting from the opportunity to support Qatar’s growing infrastructure needs and provide goods and services to its people.
Our countries also share a close defence and security relationship, an example of which was the joint exercise between the RAF and Qatar’s air force last year. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the formation of the RAF, the UK has announced a new air squadron to be based at RAF Coningsby, which will temporarily integrate Qatari personnel, including pilots and ground crew, as part of a multibillion pound deal to supply 24 Typhoon aircraft and training to Qatar.
I will address the World cup and migrant rights in the moments I have remaining before my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West speaks again. The hosting of the 2022 World cup has seen an increased focus on human rights in Qatar. On migrant worker issues, the steps taken to date by Qatar have been genuinely significant, in terms of not only the region but construction. Most recently, on 29 April, the International Labour Organisation opened an office in Qatar, following the technical co-operation agreement signed between the two in November 2017. The opening of that office for at least three years, along with the progress made on labour rights, contributed to the closure of the ILO complaint against Qatar.
We really welcome the positive steps taken to tackle the issue of migrant workers’ rights, including, but not limited to, amendments to labour law and the exit permit system, agreement with the ILO, and improvements in health and safety. I genuinely think that some of the complaints made about workers’ rights now are based more on history than on what is actually happening.
Finally, we welcome not only the holding of the World cup in Qatar but the involvement in it of UK companies. Having seen the plans for the tournament and the stadiums, I assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham that there are imaginative plans to ensure that refrigerated air covers the pitch. It looks as though it will be a quite spectacular operation.
Like the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), I hope strongly that Scotland will be represented at that World cup, which would be its first since 1998. There is a decent chance of that. We hope for a successful and peaceful World cup and for the continuing of strong relations between the UK and Qatar and the whole of the GCC.
This has been a splendid debate. I thank colleagues for their contributions, which have been entirely positive. The House has spoken with one voice in not only celebrating the excellent relationship between our country and Qatar at the moment, but wanting to see that further developed and enhanced. In conclusion, it is my earnest hope that the 2022 World cup final is between Qatar and England, and that, in a close match, England might prevail.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered UK relations with Qatar.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Leaving the EU: Higher Education in Wales
[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of leaving the EU on the higher education sector in Wales.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.
Higher education is now devolved; Brexit, though, is not. As we have seen in the last few days, there are some people—just some in Wales—who are delighted to reverse the progress of devolution achieved with so much effort over the last 19 years of our Assembly’s life, delighted to relinquish power and responsibility, and happy to enfeeble our Assembly on the pretext of easing Brexit into the world. After the fine words of resistance, after the pledged solidarity with Scotland, they are glad to compromise on behalf of the Welsh nation without a fight. I am reminded of Idris Davies’ poems in The Angry Summer, particularly number 48, referring to the breaking of the triple alliance in 1921, “The Telephones are Ringing”. Perhaps some hon. Members were there at the time, or perhaps not. A few lines will suffice:
“The telephones are ringing
And treachery’s in the air.
The sleek one,
The expert at compromise
Is bowing in Whitehall.
And lackey to fox to parrot cries:
‘The nation must be saved.’
What is the nation, gentleman,
Who are the nation, my lords?”
When the smoke and the noise of Brexit have cleared, the actions of some people in Wales in yielding our powers to London will be seen clearly for what they are. Yes, the telephones are ringing and treachery is in the air.
This debate is doubly timely, being about Brexit and devolution, two of the major problems that have plagued the mainstream parties here for many years. This Government, with such great finesse, have brought down on their own feeble shoulders both problems simultaneously. Plaid Cymru has been consistent on devolution, of course, and on the EU as well. We were in favour of remaining and then in favour of continued membership of the customs union and the single market. I am gratified to see other parties now moving crab-like in our direction. That would be a real compromise, which would avoid many of the predicaments that now face us, particularly in respect of higher education.
This is the first debate specifically on Brexit and higher education in Wales. There is a danger that issues that are important in themselves, even vital to the future of our country, become obscured and forgotten in the morass of mind-numbing detail around Brexit.
In a debate in this Chamber sometime last autumn I asked the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), when he was merely a Wales Office Minister and had not been translated to greater things, what had happened to all the legislating we used to do on the economy, justice, benefits and pensions before we became obsessed with the fate of European Union regulations about the size and shape of fish fingers. His reply was that that was a good question. He said little else. Higher education is one of the vital issues to our country that may be overshadowed.
I have argued in this place that a thriving university sector, teaching, researching and applying that research, is central to the intellectual, moral and economic health of Wales. That has long been recognised. When we were last independent, a mere 600 years ago, the Pennal letter, sent by Owain Glyndŵr to the King of France in 1406, outlined, among other matters, his three key policies, one of which was to establish two universities, one in the north and one in the south. That was the time when great universities were being established throughout our continent, from Padua to Oxford and beyond. I sometimes wistfully imagine what our future would have been had that great ambition been fulfilled. As it was we were detained by other, less noble matters until the 19th century. Nevertheless, the long struggle to establish our universities with the support of working people throughout Wales—quarry families, colliers and others—shows clearly the value that we, as a Welsh society, place on education.
Enough of the history; let us turn to something that this Government really do understand—hard cash. Higher education contributed about £1.4 billion to the Welsh economy in 2017. Indirectly, it powered about a further £1.4 billion through related industries. In part, that was facilitated by the European Union through funding grants or loans to Welsh institutions and through the student mobility and research collaboration that freedom of movement enabled. In the rest of the UK, the private sector provides 45% of total research funding. In Wales, that drops to about 10%, which highlights the fragility of our economy and the greater importance of European money to Welsh institutions.
I will make some specific points about structural funds, research and collaboration, EU students and EU staff. First, we get money from structural and investment funds in Wales partly because of our poor economic performance over decades and to ensure social cohesion. Those moneys address the shortfall in innovation funding and in private investment in research and development in Wales.
Swansea University hugely expanded its Bay campus with £95 million of EU funding. The Cardiff University brain research imaging centre was opened using £4.5 million of EU funding. In my constituency, Bangor University secured £5 million of EU funding to help to create the centre for environmental biotechnology. All those projects were funded through Europe, and all are essential to the prosperity of our university sector. It is essential that that funding scheme, or an equivalent, continues undisturbed.
My hon. Friend makes a telling point, which could be repeated for the seven universities throughout Wales. To a greater or lesser extent, they all depend on European money. It is essential that that funding stream continues undisturbed, because research, and particularly scientific research, does not follow the fads and fashions of what today’s politicians see as all-important or what tomorrow’s politicians ignore as old hat.
After we leave the EU, decisions on the allocation of those moneys should be taken by the Welsh Government. Any replacement funds should ensure that money is directed on the basis of need, as well as being place-based and Wales-specific. It is essential that money does not go disproportionately to the south, or rather to the south-east and London. We know full well what happens when funding allocations are not protected: the loudest voices, which are closest to the centre, drown out the rest. A simple example comes from a Labour Minister in the Welsh Assembly, who said, when talking about rail infrastructure in Wales, that Wales has 5% of the population, 11% of the rail network and 1.5% of the network infrastructure investment. The voices from Wales are weak; those from the south-east are strong. That is why the money must be protected.
I am not convinced that the UK Government had those basic principles of meeting need or protecting funding in mind when they designed their legendary UK shared prosperity fund. Perhaps the Minister can shed some light on that.
I have asked 12 questions about the shared prosperity fund, what the Government have decided and how they will operate it, and I have not had a single answer yet. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be good to hear today from the Minister exactly how it will work?
The hon. Lady makes the point that I was going to make next. In fact, when I asked a similar question in the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, the answer persuaded me that I might have been better off researching unicorns.
Last week, in that Committee, I questioned Dr Main of the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Professor Brook of the Association for Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations—people who should know their business—about the shared prosperity fund. They both confirmed that they had not heard much about it since it was announced, so it is a fund in name only. We do know that it is under the remit of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which I think is significant, because that Ministry is England-only, which speaks for itself.
On research and collaboration in Wales, there has been historical under-investment in research infrastructure compared with the rest of the UK, and a lower level of science, technology, engineering and maths activity. A recent Royal Society report said that Wales has the lowest percentage of research infrastructure in Great Britain. It has benefited greatly from EU funding, however. In 2016-17, Welsh higher education institutions received about 19% of their research income from EU sources, compared with about 15% for other UK higher education institutions. We depend more heavily on them. In particular, Welsh higher education institutions received money from such programmes as Erasmus and Horizon 2020. In 2014-15, the total EU research grants and contracts income for Wales was approximately £46 million, which represented about 21% of the total research grants and contracts income in Wales for that year. Again, universities and the higher education sector in general in Wales have a greater dependence on those sources.
Horizon 2020 has a budget of about €70 billion for the period between 2014 and 2020. The Welsh higher education sector has been successful in winning funds from that highly competitive programme. Universities have accounted for nearly two thirds of the Welsh participation in Horizon 2020 so far. When the money is there we compete successfully, and universities do disproportionately better.
Interestingly, on Monday, the Prime Minister said that she wants us to be part of any future such schemes—the successor schemes of Erasmus and Horizon 2020. More surprisingly, she said that she was willing for us to pay, but that we should have a “suitable level of influence”. That exemplifies the unreal nature of the Government’s thinking. Those are EU programmes. We are leaving the EU. We will become a third country. In respect of Horizon 2020 and Erasmus, Times Higher Education has said that associate countries are not in the European Council or the European Parliament, and they have no say in the research budgets. The fantasy is that we will somehow leave, but stay in—that we will benefit and be able to fix the rules—but we will be a third country. At some point, the Government will collide with reality, and the sooner the better as far as I am concerned.
Now and again I get angry emails from frustrated Brexiteers, usually late at night, which say, “We’re leaving. Get on with it.” I only wish that the Government here would get on with it. Uncertainty is the most obvious feature of Brexit, for higher education as for everyone else, and that goes for people who are in favour of leaving and those who are in favour of remaining.
An alternative might be that the Welsh Government take charge, if they can be shaken awake on the matter. After all, Quebec, which is a province of Canada on the other side of the Atlantic, takes part in Erasmus+, so why not Wales? Needless to say, the Scottish Government are way ahead of us already, and are using their offices in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and Dublin to lead the charge. I am not sure whether we have an office anywhere apart from Cardiff these days.
Another strong pillar of our HE sector are the thousands of EU students who study in Wales and bring academic, economic and cultural benefits to our universities and our communities. That is particularly obvious in Bangor, where the population almost doubles and a large proportion of the students are from EU countries and other foreign countries. They bring enormous benefits. The latest figures for 2016-17 show that more than 6,000 EU national students were at HE providers in Wales, but applications are down. Perhaps the Minister can confirm the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ figure that there has been a drop of 8% this year.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he agree that we are already seeing a financial impact of Brexit on our universities, in the reduction of the number of EU students? The excellent University of South Wales in my constituency had to propose laying off fully 5% of its staff last year, explicitly citing Brexit and the reduction in the number of EU students as the reason.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very telling point—the effects are with us already, even though we are still in.
There are also effects that are not so apparent in facts and figures, which are to do with the morale of lecturers and students from abroad and perhaps even their commitment to their work, in the face of offers that they might get from universities outside Wales and outside the UK. That effect is beginning to make itself apparent. In fact, it is one of the early signs of the impending Brexit vote hangover.
The Welsh Labour Government should give EU students who are starting courses in Wales now or in the near future some guarantees—for example on fees, loans and grants—to reassure them that Wales welcomes them to study and to contribute. The Welsh Labour Government should do that, but whether they will is yet another Welsh Labour mystery.
I come to the last pillar for today’s debate—staff from the EU who have chosen to research and teach in Wales. We have universities and individual departments of outstanding quality. That is no accident. We have built on our strengths, and EU staff and staff from other countries have been attracted here because of those strengths. The latest information I have shows that there are 1,355 staff from the EU at Welsh universities. They need to be reassured that they have a future with us, working at the forefront of their fields and building Wales’s future.
I have some brief questions for the Minister. What representations have the Welsh Government made regarding the design and implementation of the UK shared prosperity fund? I think we would all be glad to hear something about that. What representations have the Welsh Government made regarding Wales’s future participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+? What discussions have Welsh Office Ministers had with the Home Secretary about immigration arrangements for EU students who might want to study in Wales? What assurances can the Minister give me that universities in Wales will still be able to attract and retain talented academics from the EU? Lastly and perhaps most importantly, will he give a guarantee that Wales will receive “not a penny less” after we leave the EU? He will recognise those words, as they were a promise by the Leave campaign.
We have great strength in our universities. We would be foolish in the extreme to allow a political vote, or a petty, clueless, split and confused Government here in London and a somewhat indifferent, somnolent one in Wales, to drag them down.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.
I thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this debate, because I, too, welcome the opportunity to discuss the impact of leaving the EU on the higher education sector in Wales. I think we all realise what an important issue this is.
The UK has a world-class higher education sector, and Welsh universities are an integral part of it. Including students in the Open University, almost 130,000 people were enrolled in higher education in Wales in 2016-17, and the fact that more than 20,000 of them came from overseas is testament to the quality of the education on offer. That quality is also demonstrated by the fact that half of Wales’s universities are ranked in the top 50 in the UK and in the top 500 worldwide by Times Higher Education.
We want to make sure that the UK remains a leader in this field after we leave the EU, and because higher education is devolved in Wales, the UK Government, the Welsh Government and Welsh stakeholders will all need to work together to ensure that that happens.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has already convened a high-level working group of stakeholders in this sector to consider the implications of leaving the EU. It includes university leaders from across the whole of the UK, including the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University. Within my Department, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth recently chaired a roundtable with the leaders of the Welsh universities to hear their concerns. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has also convened an expert panel, which includes representation from the higher education sector in Wales. In addition, on a day-to-day level, policy teams from the Department for Education continue to engage with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations, including those in the Welsh Government.
At home, the Government’s industrial strategy offers many opportunities for researchers in universities in Wales and the rest of the UK. We envisage universities across the UK playing a key role in addressing the grand challenges identified as part of the strategy, in partnership with public and private sector stakeholders. As part of the industrial strategy, we have pledged to raise investment on research and development to 2.4% of GDP over the coming decade.
The industrial strategy challenge fund alone will invest £725 million in a range of programmes to boost innovation as part of its second wave, with the third wave due to launch next year. Institutions in Wales are already home to researchers working on projects in a number of areas that have the potential to transform our economy and society, and that tie into the industrial strategy in many ways. To give just one example, SPECIFIC—the Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovation in Functional Coatings, which is based at Swansea University—is working on creating “active buildings” that will generate the electricity they need. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales visited the centre in Swansea last year and announced £800,000 of funding from the UK Government for the project.
We have been clear all along that we will continue to co-operate with the EU on matters of mutual interest, including scientific research and innovation, and cultural exchanges. Consequently, we have already announced that we are committed to the principle that UK-based universities and researchers can continue to take part in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ for the lifetime of their projects, despite our departure from the EU. That was made clear in the 8 December joint report. Even in the event of a no-deal exit, which remains highly unlikely, that principle stands, and successful applications to Erasmus+ that were submitted while the UK was a member of the EU will continue, even if they have not been approved at the point at which we leave the EU.
It is much the same story for UK researchers taking part in Horizon 2020. We have guaranteed to underwrite the funding for all successful bids made by UK participants that were submitted before our departure from the EU. As the Prime Minister said in her Mansion House speech in March, we are committed to establishing a far-reaching co-operation agreement with the EU on scientific research and innovation, and to pursuing educational and cultural programmes. We look forward to full and comprehensive discussions with the EU about collaboration in these fields, about UK participation in EU programmes, and about new ways of fostering co-operation and dialogue between researchers and academics in the UK and EU member states.
May I throw in another project? I am sure that the Minister welcomes the collaborative work going on between the University of South Wales and Thales, which is obviously a big European company. They are jointly developing the cyber-graduates and the cyber-capability in Gwent, alongside the Welsh Government. Does he agree that it is absolutely vital that we keep up these relationships and this collaboration, which is in its early days?
I certainly agree, and that is exactly our ambition. As I said a moment ago, the Prime Minister has been very clear that she wants the UK to build that type of relationship. The project that the hon. Lady just mentioned sounds incredibly interesting; perhaps I could hear more about it from her in the future.
I am pleased to hear, once more, the guarantees about access to funding and programmes for institutions and individuals that had made bids prior to our leaving the EU. However, I take it that the corollary of the guarantee that the Minister has just offered is that there is absolutely no guarantee that once we have left the EU, any of those institutions, including Welsh universities, will necessarily have access to Erasmus+ or Horizon 2020 and their successors.
As I have already said, the Prime Minister made it very clear in her Mansion House speech that the UK is committed to establishing that relationship. We want to work with the EU on designing that agreement; we welcome full and open discussion about it. We are considering all sorts of ways in which the UK can participate in these EU programmes and in ways of facilitating new bilateral and multilateral collaborations with EU member states, as well as ways of opening channels of dialogue between the EU and UK experts in science and innovation. The future partnership paper published on 6 September explores how the UK and the EU can achieve that objective. We are determined to seek that agreement, and we will continue to pursue it.
On individual staff and students, we have listened and responded to the higher education sector’s concerns about their presence and role in the UK. In England, we have confirmed that current EU students, and those due to start their courses in 2017-18 and 2018-19, remain eligible for home fee status and tuition fee loans. I am pleased to say that the Welsh Government have done the same for those studying in Wales. As part of the withdrawal agreement with the EU, we have agreed that individuals resident in the UK before the end of the implementation period, including academics, will have the right to apply for leave to remain. If they subsequently apply to study at a UK university, they may also qualify for home fee status and student loans after the end of the implementation period, if they meet the eligibility criteria.
Going forward, we will continue to listen to the sector’s concerns, and the issues will be considered as part of the wider discussions on our relationship with the EU. Meanwhile, the British Council, working with our universities, will continue to promote colleges and universities in Wales and across the UK as world-class places to study and do research. The Department for International Trade is also helping higher and further education providers to establish and expand their presence in key markets abroad, and it will continue to do so.
The hon. Member for Arfon raised a few other points. First, on the structural front—I can see he is leaning forward in anticipation; I hope he is not disappointed—as we transition to longer-term arrangements, we will ensure that all parts of the UK are treated fairly and their circumstances are taken into account. We have promised to engage the devolved Administrations as we continue to develop the UK prosperity fund. I welcome the Welsh Government’s paper on regional funding. It is an important contribution to our work on EU exit.
I fully recognise the importance of EU funds to Wales. The guarantees set out by the UK Government show the importance we place on those funds, as does the position we have since reached with the EU on participating in the 2014-to-2020 EU programmes. Our manifesto was very clear in its commitment to creating the shared prosperity fund. We want it to be more effective than previous funds. Let us not forget that despite receiving £4 billion, Wales remained at the bottom of the gross value added table. We want this prosperity fund to be more effective, and to help Welsh universities.
I am conscious that time is running out, so I will move on. On student visas, the hon. Gentleman will know that we are considering the options for the future migration system very carefully. To help the Government make decisions on migration after the implementation period, they have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to report on the impact of exiting the EU on the UK labour market, and on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy. That should be done by September this year. We have commissioned the committee to provide an objective assessment of the impact on EU and non-EU international students by September this year. Those are important opportunities for the sector to provide evidence, and I am pleased to say that the sector has been actively engaged in that process.
I will get back to the hon. Gentleman on a couple of the other points he raised. Time is running out, and I want to give him a much fuller answer than just one line; if it is agreeable to him, I will write to him.
We are determined to keep our higher education sector on the cutting edge, and to ensure that it continues to be a major player on the global stage. Welsh universities are very much part of that. I pay tribute once more to the hon. Gentleman and other Members who have taken part in the debate. I assure them that in this role, I will be an advocate for the higher education sector in Wales.
Question put and agreed to.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Government policy on new psychoactive substances.
Thank you for chairing this afternoon’s sitting, Sir Christopher. I hope that we will have an interesting discussion on a topic that is live and interesting for many people. I declare an interest, as I chair the all-party parliamentary group for new psychoactive substances and volatile substance abuse, ably supported by the charities Mentor and Re-Solv, which give advice and support to the group free of charge to help address some of the challenges in this area.
Today’s debate is timely, because the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 came into force on 26 May 2016 to combat the sale and supply of new psychoactive substances, which were formerly known as legal highs. Members may be aware that some of those products were known under street names, such as spice or MCAT. There was also the use of nitrous oxide as laughing gas. It is a serious matter, because more than 100 people died in the year before the 2016 Act came into effect. It has had a good success rate, which I want to talk about, but I also want to put some questions to the Minister.
The Act includes a statutory provision to review the legislation 30 months following its commencement, and that time is approaching. I want to hear what the Minister’s initial thoughts are and what the pathway is to ensuring that that review takes place. There are a number of views about the operation of the Act to date, and I want to raise a number of questions with him. I will give him advance notice of those questions and then discuss them in more detail.
First, what is the Minister’s assessment of the operation of the 2016 Act to date? There was some concern at the time about its methodology and what it would achieve and how, so I would welcome his assessment. When does he intend to publish the review of the Act? That has been looked at for some time, and I will return to that issue later. As the Minister for Policing, what is his assessment of the impact of the Act on police forces to date? What has it meant for police forces, and what is their understanding of the Act? What use have they made of the Act to date?
The charities I am involved in are interested in harm reduction and supporting the community in prevention. What steps are local authorities taking to understand the new challenges of psychoactive substances, given their responsibilities? What knowledge and understanding has the health service gained? What partnerships are in place or being developed to understand this new emerging trend, and how has the Minister dealt with that? I will return to that in due course.
I want to get the Minister—if not today, then at some point—to publish some data about the 2016 Act. Section 4 of the Act relates to an offence of producing a psychoactive substance. How many convictions have there been? In section 5 there is the offence of supplying or offering to supply a psychoactive substance. How many convictions have there been? Section 6 is about aggravation of offences. How many convictions have there been? Section 7 relates to possession of a psychoactive substance. How many convictions have there been? Section 8 relates to importing and exporting. How many convictions have there been? Section 9 relates to possession of a new psychoactive substance in a custodial institution. I will return to that matter shortly, but how many convictions have there been?
Convictions are one part of a metric on reducing usage, and I will return to other areas that are critical in prevention, understanding and harm reduction, but what assessment have the Government made of the impact of NPS on communities? I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) here. He had a particular challenge this time last year with a flood of NPS coming into the community in Wrexham. There was a need for a challenge, involving local authorities, the police and the health service together. Are the Government monitoring the impact of such things? The same thing happened in Manchester. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell)—she cannot be here today—has played an active role in the group looking at such matters: why are communities being impacted? What is the mix that has led to NPS being used in Wrexham, Manchester or other areas? What steps are the Government taking on NPS in prisons?
What assessment has been made of the key issues discussed during the passage of the Act: education and understanding for young people; the resilience to refuse; and help and support for those who are potentially the most vulnerable—the homeless, who have been targeted with NPS in many areas? We need to know what figures the Minister is collating on the number of deaths, given what happened before, and on hospital admissions and the support that is given to people when incidents occur.
That is the framework of the questions that I want the Minister to address. I will now touch briefly on some specific issues. Spice and other new psychoactive substances have been manufactured in China and India and shipped to Europe by people who wish to make a profit out of them. Before the Act, online retailers, high street shops and non-retail sources, such as friends of drug dealers, were used for that.
The Act had support from all parties in the House, and there has been some success. There has been a marked reduction in the public availability of NPS through high street shops, because they have gone as a result of the Act. However, anecdotal evidence shows that there is still online access to NPS—I would like to know what the Minister thinks about that—and that the illicit drug market is now playing a more important role than it did in the past. Because it is illicit, it is even more dangerous. I would like the Minister to comment on those issues.
The European body monitoring this issue, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, has indicated that there are now some 620 types of NPS on the market. We need not only a criminal justice response but an education and health response on the various aspects of NPS, how parents, teachers, youth workers and individuals themselves understand them, and how we have support interventions from a range of bodies to warn people and to prevent use in the first place.
The Home Office’s latest figures showed that 332 retailers were no longer selling psychoactive substances, and that the police had made 186 arrests around the time of the Act coming into force, which is good. The Home Office outline in the framework document detailing the review of the Act said that there had been a reduction in the use of NPS. Figures from the crime survey for England and Wales show that, among 16 to 24-year-olds, NPS use has fallen from 2.6% to 1.2%. Among the older cohort, overall use has reduced by about 50%—a statistically significant change. However, the survey does not include student residence halls, NHS nurses’ accommodation, prisons or homeless people, so I would welcome the Minister’s assessment of the full picture in due course. I have said that I want the review, and I think I have said enough on that—we need to know when the 30-month review is happening, because it seems to be drifting. I would welcome the Minister’s confirmation that it is not.
Prisons are a No. 1 concern. There have been efforts on the streets to remove NPS, but there has been a 2,625% increase in use in prisons since 2010. Spice cases have shot through the roof in prisons, and methadone cases are still important. Attacks on prison officers have increased—largely, in many cases, as a result of the use of spice. We have a lot of anecdotal evidence of NPS being smuggled into prisons on plain A4 paper, impregnated as a narcotic. Prison officers are concerned about the lack of sniffer dogs in prisons, and about secondary consumption of NPS in prison cells. People in prison who use NPS go into health centres. We know anecdotally that nurses are concerned about spice use in prisons continuing to worsen and, because healthcare professionals go into cells, about being exposed to it themselves.
I have looked at this month’s papers through a quick google this morning. I saw a prison inspector reporting on HMP Nottingham, where NPS was leading to a “dangerous, disrespectful, drug-ridden jail”. At Holme House Prison, frequent and alarming medical emergencies are contributing to high levels of staff sickness, and the safety and stability of the prison is being affected by NPS use. A report from an independent monitoring board noted:
“Like most prisons, HMP Northumberland faces a rise in the use of illegal substances and the consequent potential for violence.”
Those are just examples from one Google search this morning of what has happened this month with NPS in prisons. I would like to know from the Minister, although I know he does not have direct responsibility for prisons as a whole, what the strategy is, what action there is against criminal gangs, what the health implications of NPS in prisons are, and what action he is taking.
My constituency is in Wales. In November 2017, Public Health Wales produced a report that highlighted some important facts. It showed that the use and number of such substances has decreased, and that is attributable to the Act, which is good. However, those that have been identified are more toxic and more potent, and represent a greater harm to users than other drugs. People are using NPS in that way now because of the Act. I would welcome the Minister’s assessment of that trend. Is there a more dangerous drug out there now because of the changes, which have driven NPS underground? If so, what is the Government’s strategy? That is not a criticism—I am just asking what the Government’s strategy is on harm reduction, advice and information. I am not just talking about advice for people who end up using NPS. Because NPS means new psychoactive substances—I emphasise the word “new”—youth workers, health professionals, police officers, local government staff and housing officials who deal with homeless people need to be kept up to date with the impact of that information.
The leader of the substance misuse programme in Wales has said:
“New psychoactive substances coming onto the market in Wales and across Europe pose a number of threats, with users at risk of acute harms which are well evidenced in this report. The long-term risks associated with these drugs are currently unknown.”
I would like to know from the Minister what research is being done into the long-term effects, and how the Government will work with agencies to reduce harm.
Policing is one thing—I have touched on the fact that we need to look at that in detail—but education and prevention are also important. What are we doing about educating young people, educating teachers and raising awareness of all these issues? That takes effort, money and time, but it is important.
I will make a further point, given that the Minister here today is the Policing Minister. The all-party group that I chair has been looking at volatile substance abuse and new psychoactive substances, and has held regular meetings with a number of interested bodies. Thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham, we met with Wrexham Council. We have also met with Greater Manchester police, who had an effective operation targeting cannabinoids with a street value of £6.6 million. Two important issues arose out of the police and community response. The first is the need for a multi-agency approach. Wrexham Council triaged all services in one room, but with NPS it remains difficult to get that engagement, because the health service, the local council and the police need to be around the same table to deal with an extreme spike such as my hon. Friend had in his constituency this time last year.
One of the things that I took from the police in Manchester was that they were having difficulty in knowing what the pathway is to treatment after identifying somebody who has been using NPS in the community. If someone was out of their head, very often in Manchester they were a homeless person. Once the police had identified that person and lifted them from the street, without necessarily taking the criminalisation route but just to try to find them a place of safety, the path to treatment was particularly difficult. I would welcome the Minister focusing on what the triaging path is.
I would also welcome some information about the Minister’s understanding of whether the law is clear. I say that not because I believe it is not, but because I still receive representations from Release, the drugs, law and human rights charity. I quote from its letter to me today, which is worth placing on the record:
“The confusion created by the Act is apparent in enforcement mistakes made by police on the street, and the fact that of those arrested since the Act came into force only one third were actually cautioned or charged.”
Release also provided some freedom of information figures —they may or may not be accurate, I do not know—from a survey of 41 police forces: 805 arrests were made under the Psychoactive Substances Act between May 2016 and September 2017, with 274 cases proceeding to caution; and in London 68 charges arose from 313 arrests. I do not comment on the figures, but will the Minister give some information on what the police know about the Act, how they are using it, and how the Act is taking people from arrest to potential conviction? Whether today or tomorrow, or in a parliamentary answer if need be, I ask him for the figures on the operation of the Act as part of the final review.
I wanted to hold the debate today so that we could air these issues. There are four main questions for the Minister to absorb. When will the review happen? What impact has the Act had on the reduction of NPS? What actions is he taking on hotspots and to raise awareness of the Act among important agencies such as housing, local councils and the police? What steps is he taking to intervene in education and health to ensure that when people are found to be using NPS, whether by the police or another agency, some mechanism triages them on to a pathway that stops them offending, facing difficult challenges and using, and that leads them to a positive future life?
The use of NPS is a small part of a much wider drug problem, but it is important. I wanted to air the matter in the House not to be critical of the Government but to raise an issue that I hope they will look at today or after the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing the debate, which is a welcome opportunity to review a piece of legislation that was not uncontroversial when it passed through the House a couple of years ago. I shall touch briefly on a couple of points that he made and pick up on the issue of research, in particular, which was something that I raised during the passage of the Bill.
The then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), recognised some of the challenges and barriers to effective research that might arise from the Bill—research not only into psychoactive substances and their effects, but into finding effective treatment for people who become physiologically addicted to such substances or dependent on them in other ways.
I shall press the Minister on research, because it is important for us to facilitate research and treatment in this area and to have a joined-up approach. It is no good just having punitive regulations and laws unless we also find a way to help people who are in need of help because they are using these substances. I am sure that everyone in the Chamber agrees on that.
I shall also touch a little more on the need for more joined-up working and on the focus on prevention, which was another issue raised during the passage of the Bill that led to the Psychoactive Substances Act. Too often after criminal justice legislation has been passed, we forget that we want to avoid the need to enforce these laws and that we want to help people to make informed and better choices in the first place. The right hon. Member for Delyn was right about the challenges to having a joined-up and effective approach across local authorities, the NHS and the police in many areas of drugs policy.
The changes introduced by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 fragmented healthcare provision in substance abuse services, making local authorities the primary commissioners. That has not helped the police or others much in the task of providing effective and joined-up preventive care or in improving education for people about the choices that they make when they take psychoactive substances or other drugs.
On research, a number of researchers and research institutions are clearly somewhat confused by some aspects of the law. The way in which the 2016 Act is drafted means that we are potentially criminalising what would otherwise be legitimate research. That was my reading of the legislation as it passed through the House, and there are still concerns in the research community. As drafted, the law makes it difficult to perform legitimate research on, for example, methods of treating people who develop a physiological dependence on spice, which is a topical new psychoactive substance and cannabinoid on which an estimated 15% of users develop a physiological dependence—a higher figure than for those smoking skunk, because of the nature of the substance and its ingredients.
To help people with a physiological dependence—for example, people with an opioid dependence—we have drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine. Over time, those drugs have been put through clinical trials, and they have been used to support people who are addicts—who need, for example, to be treated to come off heroin. The concern is that, while we recognise that some of the new psychoactive substances have the potential to cause higher levels of physiological dependence than some other drugs that we recognise from the past—I used the example of spice compared with cannabis that is smoked—it is difficult under the 2016 Act for researchers necessarily to research effective ways of dealing with that physiological dependence.
Drugs that can be used include the benzodiazepines, but it is difficult to research such use. The barriers to research put in place by the Act, and indeed the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, have not helped. Those barriers make it difficult for researchers to research effective medications to help people who are addicted. The Government need to look at that, not only because reducing addiction and dependency is important, but because the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, said during the passage of the Bill that he would take the issue away and look at it. I would be grateful for an update on what the Department has done during the intervening time to look at this.
I took Professor Sir Robin Murray to meet the Minister to discuss more broadly some of the barriers to research on cannabis, such as the need for a Home Office licence. We were not talking about therapeutic treatment for people with physiological dependence, but the principle is the same, and it is one I hope the Department is able to look at, because it is about improving the health and wellbeing of people who often have a multitude of health and complex social issues to deal with. That is something we need to address if we want to deal with addiction and help researchers develop effective treatments for people who have addiction to new psychoactive substances.
The second point I wanted to raise briefly, which picks up on a point raised by the right hon. Member for Delyn, is the need for a broader focus on prevention and, more generally, for more effective joined-up working between the police, health services and the Prison Service. We know about the problems that many prisoners face and about the high number of deaths there are among prisoners with heroin addiction on leaving prison, due to their reduced tolerance, and there is a spike in the first two weeks after they leave prison. More broadly, we know that new psychoactive substances such as spice are widely used in prison. It has been made an offence to use new psychoactive substances in prison, but that does not deal with the fundamental issue of how we help people to make better choices and how we help those with addiction to engage more effectively with the NHS and healthcare services.
Whatever treatment may be available in prison, the problem is that there is not joined-up working when people leave prison, partially because NHS care for addiction is now commissioned by local authorities. That care is incredibly fragmented, and there is not the national focus that the NHS could bring to the issue. I urge the Minister to have further discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care. We have to revisit the 2012 Act, which has done a great disservice to substance misuse services. It has resulted in fragmentation, which we see very vividly in the context of prisoners leaving prison and more broadly in the variability in commissioning. In tightened economic times, the variability of resources means that different local authorities commission in incredibly different ways—some more effectively than others.
The lack of joined-up working I have outlined between local authorities and prisons, and between the NHS and local authorities in engaging wider mental health services with substance abuse services, is a real issue. I hope the Minister will take that away from the debate and discuss it with the Department of Health and Social Care. It would be a disservice to some very vulnerable people if he did not do so, and I am sure he will look into this.
With those two points—on the potential barriers to research into therapeutic treatment and the need for a more collaborative and joined-up approach between prisons and the criminal justice system and, more generally, in the health service—I will bring my remarks to a close. I hope that the Minister will take those points in the constructive tone that has been set in the debate, look at them and recognise that improvements are needed if we are to make the Government’s policy on dealing with new psychoactive substances more effective.
Order. Before calling Ian Lucas, I would just say that Front-Bench winding-up speeches will start at 25 past 5. There are three people seeking to catch my eye, so I hope they will be able to divide the time between them reasonably fairly. I call Ian Lucas.
Thank you, Sir Christopher. I will be brief. I thought it might be helpful to recount the situation we had in Wrexham last year and the steps that we have taken. That may assist the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson). I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for arranging this debate.
About a year ago, we had an extremely disturbing situation develop very quickly in Wrexham. It was a manifestation of new psychoactive substance use on the streets. It presents with individuals in a very disturbed state, and it hugely upsets people who see them. It has an enormous and immediate impact as far as the town is concerned, not only for those who are taking the substances, but for the community as a whole. There was a great deal of reaction in my constituency office to what was an extremely serious, fast-moving and worrying situation.
I am pleased to say that, a year on, some progress has been made, and I want to assist by describing how that has been achieved. However, I want to make it clear that this is a continuing issue, and I am sure that such incidents are not just occurring in Wrexham. I want to recount what we had to do to address the issue.
We hear the phrase “joined-up working” regularly; it trips off the tongue, but it is much more difficult to achieve than to talk about. After my re-election in the general election, the first thing I did was to bang extremely hard on the desk of the local authority and refuse to move until action was taken on this issue. That involved working with the police and the local health board to bring everyone together to try to find a way ahead. It was a new situation for virtually everyone concerned.
The civic community of Wrexham has come together in an inspiring way to address what was a new situation for everyone, but we have had to rely on voluntary action. For example, we have a general practitioner who gives her morning as a volunteer to hold an event to support individuals with substance misuse issues. As I speak, we still do not have a real structure in place to support the work we are doing. We have a lot of voluntary organisations that seek to engage with affected individuals and that work with them to try to address their difficulties, but that is in the context of great financial pressures on local authorities, health boards and the police. It is very, very difficult.
We sought assistance, and I met a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State from the Home Office for funding, but I was referred to the police and crime commissioner, who I am afraid has not been involved and has not provided funding to support the work we are doing. We are determined to continue this work, but unfortunately we are not getting support from the statutory services, and the structures do not appear to be in place to support our work. We have created relationships and a structure that has begun to address the issue. However, there needs to be a much more co-ordinated structure. We need financial commitment and support from all the agencies involved.
For anywhere else that encounters this issue in the future, my advice is that it must be approached quickly, seriously and with a correct time allocation for the professionals concerned to address it. It is very important that action is taken in a co-ordinated manner.
We have begun to take steps forward. I am really grateful for the support and assistance from my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn and the all-party parliamentary group, and for the work that we have been doing together in Parliament on the issue, but we all need to be doing a lot better—the Government, local authorities, health boards and all individuals concerned.
I would value more engagement from the national Government on the issue. It is one that will keep arising, particularly in market towns such as Wrexham, which I represent; it is not going to go away, and it feeds the general perception that towns are not getting the attention they deserve from the Government. The Government need to take the issue extremely seriously.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on bringing this issue to this Chamber, and commend him for his hard work. He described the scourge of these so-called legal highs on our streets. He is not alone: we all have constituents who are massively affected.
Back in 2015, a constituent of mine tragically lost his life due to a legal high. I can well remember the meeting we had with the local police, whose hands were tied when it came to addressing the issue. The concern that my constituents raised rose to such a pitch that there was a successful and respectful silent protest, during which hundreds of local people stood outside the shop in the town that was selling the legal highs. The shop closed down very soon afterwards. The end in Newtownards of a young life with so much potential was heartbreaking and effected a sea change in the way that adolescents and parents alike viewed and discussed the highs. It was very important.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland were the first to bemoan the lack of legal ability to make arrests, and to stop the scourge on the streets. Steps were taken in the form of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which made it possible for officers to react in a small way to legal highs. However, the scourge has not ended. As recently as Christmas, there was one of the largest ever discoveries of legal high substances in Northern Ireland. Officers found some £800,000-worth of the drugs at a house in Portadown and a business premises in Lurgan over the course of two days. That as much as anything underlines the fact that although legislation may be in place, the threat is simply evolving. I support the right hon. Gentleman in his quest to see whether we can tweak and change the law to ensure that police and others have the tools to do their job.
I am aware of the calls by charities for greater support and guidance in dealing with this matter. I have spoken to the PSNI in my area; it says that although it can make arrests, the system could be better. We must listen to those on the ground who are using this legislation, and who believe that it could be better, and be used to better effect. Detective Inspector Pete Mullan, as reported on the BBC after the seizures at Christmas, really got to the crux of the matter:
“We want to ensure that we are doing everything possible to prevent the supply of drugs and arrest those involved while at the same time making people aware of the real dangers they pose to their health”.
It is not enough to seize drugs; we must be proactive to prevent their supply, allow the judicial system to intervene, and deal with those who are spreading or preparing to spread these drugs. We must also ensure publicity and awareness about the real dangers that they pose. Not many people knew the young man in my constituency, but there is a message to send.
I will conclude, because I want to give the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) the opportunity to speak. We must send the message that we should fund local community groups that focus on legal high awareness; schools and the police, so that they can co-operate on programmes; and a media campaign to remind parents to have that talk with their children. I agree with the right hon. Member for Delyn that more can be done. We look to the Minister to do just that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing this important debate.
In the short time that I have, I want to make a particular appeal to the Minister. The approach to these new psychoactive substances unfortunately is repeating the same failed drugs policy that we generally apply. I am quite saddened, having taken part in a number of these debates, and having served on the Psychoactive Substances Bill Committee, that the Government seem to ignore pleas to pilot evidence-based harm reduction treatment programmes, which I believe have been advocated by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. We need to look at this issue. If we continue to criminalise users, rather than treating addicts and referring them to a public health programme dealing with a public health issue, we risk repeating the same mistakes over and over.
I thank Chris Hicks and the eight leading UK drugs policy organisations for kindly including me in their correspondence to Amanda Healy, who is the director of public health for Durham. I share their concerns about the alarmingly high rate of drug-related deaths in my area, and the increased use of psychoactive substances, particularly spice.
The debate focuses on psychoactive substances, but it is important to recognise that in 2016, there were 3,744 drug-related deaths in the United Kingdom. That is the highest number since records began in 1993. The national drug death average is 44 deaths per million. In the north-east, that figure is 77 deaths per million. We have a large and growing problem that we need to address as a public health crisis. We need to ensure that we have the correct investment in education, health, and health interventions. We need to try to ensure a co-ordinated approach.
The figures stack up. The cost to the public purse through the involvement of the police and social services and other costs is £65,000; by comparison, a treatment programme is about £15,000. Those figures were given to me by my local police and crime commissioner. I appeal to the Minister to look at the evidence on public health interventions, and at running a pilot scheme somewhere in the country where there is support for such an initiative. I am sure he would have tremendous support for such an approach.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on bringing forward the debate, and on the very valuable work that he and his colleagues are doing in the all-party parliamentary group. I had not been aware of its existence until this week, but if he has an application form handy, I would be very happy to join.
My Scottish National party colleagues and I supported the Government’s Psychoactive Substances Act, which quite rightly introduced a broad prohibition on the manufacture and supply of these substances, essentially in order to stop dealers circumventing the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 by endlessly modifying products to create new substances.
In 2014 alone, there were more than 100 new substances identified in the EU. That highlights the need for a new approach. We raised concerns about some aspects of the Bill; a number of them were based on a report published by the Home Affairs Committee at the time. We welcome this opportunity to revisit how the 2016 Act is operating, and to express our view on exactly what the Government’s review should look at and on how we go about measuring whether the Act has been successful.
Importantly, the right hon. Member for Delyn made the subject of the debate policy overall, not just the Act. That reminds us that the Act was never going to be a silver bullet; it was to be just one of several policy levers designed to combat new psychoactive substance use. One of the principal aims of the legislation was to close so-called head shops—indeed, that seems to have happened —in order to remove these substances from the high street. That raises questions about displacement. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we need to know whether people are instead buying these substances from dealers in controlled drugs. That was expected to an extent, and it appears to have happened—but to what extent? Has there been displacement in the sense that former psychoactive substance users have switched to controlled drugs? Has there been displacement through sales moving to the internet, including the dark web? What steps are the Government taking to close down the sites involved?
Concerns were expressed during debates on the Bill about enforcement and prosecution. How would prosecutors prove potential psychoactive effect? Would that require expert evidence? What would the costs be? The evidence at the time showed that Irish legislation had led to very few prosecutions, so it will be important to know what has happened in this country. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s comments on the figures that the right hon. Member for Delyn gave.
Hon. Members have highlighted, as the Home Affairs Committee did at the time, that non-legislative measures need to accompany the Act. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted education; we need to know about the progress made in ensuring that information about psychoactive substances reaches all pupils, and whether we are measuring awareness among our young people. More generally, we need to know what can be done to ensure that all people have access to the information and advice that they require.
The right hon. Member for Delyn and the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) spoke in detail about the chronic problem in the prison system. There also seems to be a growing problem in the immigration detention estate. In the NHS, have we made sufficient progress in ensuring that frontline staff are fully informed about substances, and that appropriate treatment and harm reduction options are available? The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) made a powerful argument for a proper public health approach. The hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich made a thoughtful contribution on the importance of research and making sure that that is not caught up in the legislation.
Given that we have heard that new psychoactive substance use seems more significant among vulnerable populations, particularly homeless people, what steps can we take to focus efforts there? It was very interesting to hear about the joint working approach in Wrexham.
Ultimately, this is about people. The hon. Member for Strangford did us the service of highlighting the tragic case of his young constituent. We want fewer people to be harmed by new psychoactive substances. We need evidence that the passing of the legislation has resulted in fewer people being affected. The statistics seem encouraging, but as the right hon. Member for Delyn said, it is not quite as simple as that. Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do to tackle the scourge of new psychoactive substances, and we look forward to engaging with the Gopvernment again on this issue.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing the debate, and I wish Hansard the best of luck with deciphering what is left of my speech from the crossings-out.
Before the Psychoactive Substances Act came into force two years ago—I sat on the Bill Committee with my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) —our high streets up and down the country were awash with shops selling what were termed legal highs. Those substances were unpredictable and dangerous, and in far too many devastating cases they destroyed lives. A statutory provision was built in for the Home Secretary to review the Act and report the results of that review to the House within 30 months of the Act’s commencement. We are now 24 months in and the Government have not yet announced what we can expect from their report.
The Act had fast and encouraging results. High street retail sales almost entirely ceased in a very short time, and the fact that the market for the products did not merely shift underground is positive. Figures released in July last year from the crime survey for England and Wales indicate strongly that the reduced availability of psychoactive substances resulted in a reduction in exposure and related harm.
However, we need transparency from the Government about conviction data. The Act clearly details all the offences and penalties, including producing psychoactive substances; supplying, or offering to supply, psychoactive substances; aggravated offences; possession with intent to supply; importing and exporting substances; and, probably most importantly, possession in a custodial institution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn eloquently described that problem, and I have witnessed it all too often on my visits to prisons. We now need the stats about how many convictions there have been for each of those offences.
Will the Minister commit to providing us with an impact assessment of how the police and local authorities have handled new psychoactive substances in the two years since the Act was introduced? Although we know that it greatly diminished the supply of psychoactive substances, we would be naive to think that we were anywhere near solving the problem. The Government need to give us guarantees that they are reviewing legislation, monitoring current crime statistics and protecting our vulnerable communities from the dangers of these addictive substances.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Christopher. I join others in congratulating the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) not just on securing the debate but on the genuinely valuable work of the all-party group for new psychoactive substances and volatile substance abuse. I also join him in congratulating Mentor and Re-Solv on the support they give that group.
This is a very important issue. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we are talking about more than 100 deaths a year, which in itself should focus minds, but I have heard the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) speak before about the unsettling impact on communities, too. Although my constituency is not directly affected, I have been on patrol with the police in Newcastle, where I saw for myself the impact of spice on individuals. This does matter, and the right hon. Member for Delyn is quite right to hold the Government’s feet to the fire. He asked a long list of questions. As a courtesy, he did so up front so that civil servants had plenty of time to fill in some gaps in ministerial knowledge—in theory. I will do my best to answer them in the short time I have.
The right hon. Gentleman’s main question, and that of the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), was about the status of the review. It is due to be out in November. It is quite right to have the review, as my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) pointed out. Many Members served on the Psychoactive Substances Bill Committee. It was a controversial piece of legislation, so a review is the right thing to do, and it will be out in November.
I think there has been an omission in engagement with the review. I asked officials to what degree the all-party group had been engaged in it, and I was told that it had not been. I would like to correct that, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Delyn will accept my invitation to engage with officials on the review so that we get the view of the House. I imagine that the Members in that group self-define as those whose communities are most affected by this issue. Their voice, and their evidence, needs to be brought into the process.
Fundamentally, the right hon. Gentleman asked for my assessment. I share his overall view, which was reflected in the hon. Member for Swansea East’s comments, that some of the results are encouraging. The prevalence data suggest that less than one in 200 adults aged 16 to 59 used a new psychoactive substance in 2016-17. That is about 147,000 adults, which is significantly lower than the figure in the 2015-16 crime survey, which suggested that around 244,000 adults used new psychoactive substances. The percentages are higher among young adults, but there still seems to be a downward trend, and I am sure the House welcomes that. The number of young people in treatment for problems with new psychoactive substances fell by 45% between 2015-16 and 2016-17—the first year in which that number has decreased since data on NPS treatment have been reported.
The right hon. Member for Delyn asked about deaths. There were 2,593 drug misuse deaths in England and Wales in 2016, a 5% increase on 2015 and the highest number since comparable records began in 1993. There were 123 deaths related to new psychoactive substances, an increase of 8% on the 114 deaths in 2015. So there is some encouraging news on prevalence and some continuingly depressing news on deaths.
The right hon. Gentleman cited figures on the disruption of supply. Since the Act came into force, more than 300 retailers across the United Kingdom have closed down or are no longer selling psychoactive substances. Police have arrested suppliers, and action by the National Crime Agency has resulted in the removal of psychoactive substances from sale on UK-based websites.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about convictions. In 2016, there were 28 convictions in England and Wales, and seven people were jailed under the new powers. Understandably, he pressed for more detail and asked for a breakdown by offence. I am assured that those data will be available for scrutiny by the House before the publication of the review. I think it is fair to say that the Act has had some good impacts, but it is clear—and the mood of the debate was clear—that we all agree that there is some way to go and that we cannot rely on legislation alone, as my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich said.
Perhaps I can give Members some reassurance about our work with partners to address misuse and build recovery. Public Health England is piloting a new system, “Report Illicit Drug Reactions”—RIDR—to collect information about adverse reactions and harms caused by NPS. A clinical network of leading clinicians has been established to analyse the data that comes out of RIDR, identify patterns and harms, and agree appropriate clinical responses. In addition, we have the evidence-based clinical guidelines produced by the Novel Psychoactive Treatment: UK Network—NEPTUNE—project, which is funded by the Health Foundation. The intention is to support and promote NEPTUNE II, a national online learning programme for frontline workers designed to improve the detection, assessment and management of the acute and chronic harms associated with NPS.
I was asked about education, which is clearly hugely important. I am satisfied from the evidence that a lot of education, prevention, treatment and recovery action is going on. We have an online resilience-building resource called “Rise Above”. FRANK, the Government’s drugs information and advice service, continues to be updated to reflect new and emerging patterns of drug use—obviously, the context here is a cat-and-mouse game between the Government, enforcement agencies and legislators, and the manufacturers of these products. Public Health England has developed its role in supporting local areas. There are toolkits to help local areas prevent and respond to the use of psychoactive substances, and clinical guidelines to aid with that. There is a lot going on.
I was pressed on whether there is evidence that the police understand the issue and the degree to which there is effective partnership working. I think the hon. Member for Wrexham expressed frustration about what is happening in his area. I have not yet received firm evidence of systemic failure in the approach by the police or at local level, but I am more than happy to work with the all-party group and use any powers I have to ask questions of people in authority and responsibility in hotspots where Members feel that local partnership is underpowered. If that means writing to PCCs, I am more than able to do that.
In the short time I have left, I would like to talk a little about prisons, which the right hon. Member for Delyn quite rightly focused on and where there is a problem. The former prisons and probation ombudsman said:
“I am clear that NPS have been a game-changer in terms of reducing safety in prison, with troubling links to our rising numbers of suicides, as well as to other types of death”.
The Government have invested in improving security in prisons to respond to the criminal gangs who have capitalised on the money they can make from the sale of spice. For example, more than 300 sniffer dogs have been trained, and of course it is a criminal offence to possess these drugs in prison.
We became the first prison service in the world to introduce mandatory drug tests for psychoactive substances, which is a significant step. In addition, in April 2018 NHS England published a new service specification that instructs the commissioning of recovery-oriented and integrated substance misuse services in prisons in England. I will certainly ensure that the Prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), is well aware of the concern of the all-party group and the House about the management and handling of psychoactive substances in prisons. It is clearly a major issue, which is part of the reason why it is addressed in law.
Finally, I will pick up on a couple of individual points. I was asked about the degree to which the Government know why certain communities are affected more than others. That is really important in trying to understand the root of the problem. We need to understand the risk factors that make people such as those in the homeless community vulnerable to drugs misuse. The Home Secretary has commissioned the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to understand those factors and what can be done to address them, and we expect it to report on that within 12 months.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich rightly reminded us of the debate about barriers to legitimate research. There are substantive concerns on that. I reassure him that I am in correspondence with the ACMD on some of its suggestions and that a further meeting is planned for next month to work through some of those issues and legitimate concerns.
On balance, in the time I have had, I hope I have reassured the right hon. Member for Delyn on his central point. The review is not drifting; it is on track. I would like his all-party group’s engagement with that process, but it is on track to be published and scrutinised in November. On the basis of what I see and—he asked me for this—my assessment of the results that flow from the Act, I take some encouragement, but there is clearly no room for complacency. The House is quite right to remind us that this cannot be about legislation alone; a huge amount has to be fixed and worked on around that. Whether that is a more joined-up approach on commissioning, effective partnership working on the ground or clear understanding by the police, all of those things in the round underpin effective legislation, which is what we want to counter a serious problem that blights far too many communities and towns across the country.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman again on securing the debate, and I give him a minute to reply.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) and for Easington (Grahame Morris) and the hon. Members for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for contributing. I am grateful for the comments from colleagues on the Front Benches, particularly the Minister. I want to leave him with this point: the review of the 2016 Act, which he has indicated is serious and will take place, must look at all the issues I have tried to put on the table. It must also look at issues pertinent not to the Act but to solving the challenge, such as health, prevention, education and awareness, and help and support when people have been using new psychoactive substances. There is a real opportunity to make a positive impact.
The debate was not meant to be critical; it was meant to raise the issue, shine a light on it and show the Minister that, as well as him and his officials, other people in the House take an interest in this topic. I thank him for his contribution, and I thank you once again for your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Government policy on new psychoactive substances.