House of Commons
Tuesday 5 June 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Prison Service Parliamentary Scheme
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and, indeed, to my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson). The idea is for a parliamentary scheme focused on the Prison Service, along the lines of the parliamentary schemes for the police and the armed services. This is an exceptional opportunity to show the public, through their elected representatives, the extraordinary work that prison officers do day in, day out. It is a very tough and a very challenging job, so, inspired by the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend, we have asked the Department to develop a scheme of exactly the kind that they have proposed.
I am delighted to hear the Minister’s response, as, I am sure, are the leaders of the Prison Officers Association who are with us in the Gallery today. I am sure he will agree that this must not be just a stage-managed public affairs exercise, and I ask him to commit himself to working with the POA on the design of the scheme.
That seems an excellent idea, and I am glad that the POA representatives are here today. As the hon. Lady—and any other Members who have visited a prison—will know, prisons are rarely stage-managed affairs, but we will work closely with the POA to ensure that the scheme reflects the experience of working prison officers.
I, too, am delighted by the Minister’s announcement. Can he give us any indication of how long it is likely to take to get the scheme up and running?
Let me again pay tribute to my hon. Friend for having inspired the scheme. The proposal is being put together by the Department at the moment, and I hope that before the end of the year we shall be able to enrol at least a couple of Members of Parliament on exactly such a scheme.
As one of those who has served on the armed forces parliamentary scheme and seen the benefits that it provides in increasing knowledge, I commend the Minister for what he is doing. I suggest that this scheme should be similar to the armed forces scheme, because it has worked extremely well, and I think that the Prison Service should take advantage of it.
We are looking closely at the armed forces parliamentary scheme, and also at the police parliamentary scheme, in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took part. Those are quite large and well-funded schemes, so we are looking at them carefully. This scheme may start as a smaller pilot, but we certainly want to model it on those other schemes.
A Prison Service parliamentary scheme would give prison officers an opportunity to flag directly with Members of Parliament wider law and order issues, one of which is the use of separation jail cells to hold Islamist terrorists who pose a national security threat through attempts to radicalise other inmates. Many of those cells are lying empty. What work are you doing to ensure that they are in full operation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Managing Islamist extremists in prison means that, as well as identifying them and gathering intelligence on them, it is sometimes necessary to remove them from the general population to prevent them from radicalising other people. We have therefore set up two separation units, one of which is in Frankland Prison, and a third will shortly be set up in a new high-security prison. Such units are a vital element of managing extremists.
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the importance of early legal help. If a problem can be solved at an early stage, it can be prevented from escalating later. That is why the Department spent nearly £100 million on early legal help last year.
I appreciate the Minister’s response, but the cuts in legal aid are having a devastating effect. One of my constituents is seeking legal aid after leaving a coercive, controlling relationship in which she suffered not just physical but financial abuse. Her former partner left significant debts in her name. She works, but she does not qualify for legal aid now due to her salary. Because the payments are taken out under court order before she receives her pay, she is left with no money for legal costs. He gets legal aid because he works. Surely this is not fair, and will the Minister review it?
The hon. Lady has made an important point. The Government have done a significant amount in relation to domestic violence, understanding that it often involves not just physical abuse but, as the hon. Lady says, coercive control. We have also changed many of the guidelines relating to domestic violence so that people who have experienced such abuse can obtain legal aid more easily. I hope that that resolves some of the problems that the hon. Lady has identified.
The Government’s cuts in legal aid have caused widespread damage to access to justice. The Information Commissioner has now taken serious action against the Ministry of Justice, owing to its refusal to publish in full the findings of its own research, which reveal judges’ deep concerns about the damage that is being caused. Would not the Government have spent their time better in trying to fix the broken justice system, rather than engaging in crass attempts to cover up embarrassing research findings showing the failures of their legal aid policies?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are currently engaged in an extensive review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. We have met with over 50 organisations or individuals so far this year. I am aware that a complaint has been made to the Information Commissioner’s Office, and my Department is working closely with the ICO on this matter.
The truth is that our legal aid and wider justice system is in crisis—a crisis created by this Government’s reckless cuts agenda—and the Government seem to be trying to bury the truth about the legal aid crisis. The research I referred to that was hidden away said that the judges
“believe unrepresented defendant numbers have increased and this is disproportionately reducing the efficiency of the courts.”
So will the Government today come clean and explain to this House why such evidence from judges about the scale of the damage the Government’s cuts are causing to access to justice was removed from the published report?
The hon. Gentleman will know that 99% of people who claim legal aid in the Crown courts are granted it. He will also know that in the report he identified, although there are some unrepresented defendants, most people surveyed said that did not make a difference to outcomes.
Offenders: Housing and Benefits
A home provides a released offender with a stable platform and increases their chances of finding a job, accessing health services and tuning their lives around. The Government aim to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027. As part of this commitment, my Department will work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to pilot initiatives, helping those with a history of offending to access and sustain suitable accommodation. We are also working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to explore ways of enhancing the current benefit claim system.
I thank the Minister for his response, but I recently supported a constituent who, after six months in prison, had successfully kicked his drugs habit. After being released from prison with no housing or benefits in place, he had to rely on former associates for support. He has now returned to drugs and his chaotic lifestyle—the one he wanted to escape. Does the Minister believe that lack of supervision and support for offenders leaving prison is likely to increase or decrease reoffending?
We must work across government to ensure that those circumstances do not happen. It is right that we engage with local authorities, the MHCLG and the DWP to ensure that the support is there, and we also need to make sure that the probation service is working as it should to provide support for those offenders.
Some local authorities claim that prisoners sent away from their home area have no local connection when they need to find housing. Will the Secretary of State have a word with the Secretary of State for Communities to make sure there is no discrimination among local authorities against ex-offenders; they just need to be treated fairly, the same as everyone else?
My hon. Friend makes a good point and we discuss this issue with the MHCLG. We are also working with the Local Government Association in advance of its October commencement of the duty to refer under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to improve partnership working between prisons, probation providers and local authorities.
Release from prison is particularly difficult for women, and I have raised this issue with the Prisons Minister, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), in Westminster Hall. Will the Secretary of State set out what he will do to support women up for release, not just in respect of when they are released from prison but also in keeping the family link, which is extremely important?
Prisoners who build their own houses and then rent them at an affordable rent are much less likely to reoffend. Will the Secretary of State meet me and members of the Right to Build Task Force to discuss how this excellent initiative can be spread more widely?
Does the Secretary of State accept that the number of ex-offenders ending up homeless has increased significantly in recent years, and will he accept that his Department’s policy objectives for reducing reoffending and helping rehabilitation will go nowhere unless this issue is tackled?
I accept that if we want to reduce reoffending and to rehabilitate, we have to ensure that we address the issue of housing. I absolutely accept that, which is why I am determined to work with local authorities and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to address it.
Youth Justice System
We are increasing the frontline staff numbers in youth offending institutions by 20%. We have introduced enhanced support units at one location—soon to be two—to improve the behavioural management of very difficult children. We are also introducing secure schools, to fundamentally change the environment in which young people in custody are held.
It is interesting to note that the average person in youth custody spends more time in the classroom per week than I did at grammar school. I am firmly of the opinion that sport should play a bigger part in the typical day of those in the youth system, which is why I have commissioned Professor Rosie Meek to provide a report on the benefits of sport, both in custody and in the community. We should be publishing the report shortly.
Worryingly, among young offenders, those aged 10 to 14 have the highest reoffending rate—a rate of 42.7%. Overall reoffending rates among the youth prison population are up between three and four percentage points since 2005. What steps is the Minister going to take to reduce reoffending among young offenders?
In the past 10 years, the number of young people we have been locking up has decreased from more than 3,000 to under 1,000. As a consequence, we have been left with young people who are quite difficult to manage, which is why we are introducing secure schools to improve the recidivism rates to which the hon. Lady refers.
I welcome the work that the Minister has done in this field, but does he agree with the Justice Committee’s report published a year or so back, which found that a number of the drivers involve many agencies outside the traditional criminal justice system, including education and health, and that they extend beyond the current statutory definitions of young people and youth justice? Does he agree that we therefore need a much more holistic strategy for young people, from the moment they enter the criminal justice system up to around the age of 25, at which point all the evidence suggests that maturity tends to have reached its full development?
My hon. Friend asks a telling question, as ever. Yes, I am persuaded on the question of maturity, and this is something that the system currently reflects. We have youth offender institutions for those aged up to 18, and for those aged 18 to 21. Beyond 21, offenders enter the adult estate. Yes, we need to adopt a more holistic approach to the management of young people. That is why, since I have been in post, I have had meetings with Education Ministers, with Health Ministers and with Ministers in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I continue to pursue this actively.
Youth offending teams have a crucial role to play in preventing our young people from becoming offenders or victims of crime, but the Ministry of Justice has halved the funding for those teams since 2010. We have now found out that they are facing another real-terms cut this year, despite the spate of knife and gun attacks. Does the Minister believe that the Government’s cuts to youth offending budgets leave us more safe or less safe?
The youth offending team budgets are the same in cash terms this year as they were last year. The issue of ghastly knife crime to which the hon. Gentleman refers is clearly serious and, sadly, it is occupying the news headlines almost on a daily basis. Our approach to this is not just about youth offending teams; there is also a broader issue with regard to serious violence. We need to address the motivation of young people to use those knives. Going back to the previous question, dealing with this will require a cross-Government approach.
I do not have the exact figure, but I am pretty sure that it is a large proportion and I wish that it was smaller. We recognise that the performance of the youth system in improving reoffending is not good enough, which is why we are introducing new ways of holding young people, through secure schools. I am under no illusion about how difficult this is, but it is better that we intervene early in a young offender’s “career” than letting them go on to have a lifetime of offending.
My antennae tell me that the Minister will be writing to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) with further and better particulars, and I am sure that hundreds of colleagues will eagerly await a copy of that letter finding its way into the Library of the House.
Personal Independence Payment Appeals
I am aware of the important issue that the hon. Gentleman highlights. I recently met the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work to discuss how our Departments can work together, and I was pleased to see that the Department for Work and Pensions is taking several measures to ensure that it gets decisions right the first time.
Does not the fact that two out of three appeals in the north-east are successful prove that the privateers that the Government employ to carry out PIP assessments in the first place are not fit for practice by callously letting down disabled people and ripping off the taxpayer?
The DWP is taking a number of measures to ensure that it gets decisions right the first time. It has recruited an extra 150 presenting officers and is taking feedback from the tribunals to ensure that the reconsideration process is as effective and as right as possible.
Yesterday, the DWP yet again decided not to appeal a PIP case for fear of losing, and it owes billions in back payments following successful tribunals. I am pleased to hear that the Minister has had discussions with the DWP, but will she tell us whether she specifically raised the distress that going through unnecessary appeals causes claimants and the waste of public money from the UK Government fighting cases?
The hon. and learned Lady makes an important point. Nobody wants people to go to court unnecessarily and nobody wants the most vulnerable to be put under unnecessary pressure. Many parts of the system are doing their best. We are looking at digitisation to improve the process and to make the system easier to use, and we are also trying to get clearance times down. The judiciary is also working closely with the DWP to try to ensure that people get decisions right the first time and quickly.
In Scotland, the new social security agency has at its heart a culture of dignity, fairness and respect. The Law Society of Scotland has said that the United Kingdom benefit system does not treat claimants with dignity and fails to develop best practice from learning from appeal decisions. What discussions did the Minister have with her DWP counterpart about the need to observe the principles of administrative justice in how the benefit system is administered and about how the DWP will learn from appeal decisions so that it stops making the same mistakes over and over?
I discussed getting decisions right the first time with Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, and we talked about the importance of getting feedback from the tribunal that can be fed into the DWP’s decision makers to ensure that they get decisions right the first time. I also liaise with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to ensure that all aspects of the process are managed effectively.
Prisons: Mobile Phones
To prevent mobile telephones from getting used in prisons, we need to do four things: we need to prevent them getting into prisons, which is about searching at the gate; we need to detect them in cells; we need to intercept transmissions; and we need to jam those telephones. We are doing all those things.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but criminals are often ingenious in getting items, such as mobile phones, or drugs, such as former legal highs, into prisons. Will he assure me that prison officers have access to the latest investigative technology to ensure that we can stamp out this trade?
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute both to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who is taking through a private Member’s Bill to make it easier to jam and intercept mobile phone transmissions. Technology is changing all the time, and there are some challenges, particularly in heavily built-up areas, but we are absolutely committed to having the appropriate technology in different prisons to jam and intercept those phones.
After last week’s shocking report on the state of Exeter Prison, including the availability of mobile phones and drugs, will the Minister reassure me that the prison is getting all the support, resources and supervision that it needs to implement the inspector’s recommendations as a matter of urgency?
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, whom I spoke to about this issue over the weekend. The director of operations, Phil Copple, is on his way to Exeter as we speak. I have also spoken to the prison’s governor on the phone, and we are bringing him up to have another conversation with the chief inspector of prisons. It is vital that we address all the issues within the urgent notification, and the central issue is preventing violent assaults on prisoners and prison officers.
We are looking at a number of ways to reform and improve our justice system through technology, through our court estate and through people. We are spending £1 billion to upgrade our justice system. In 2016-17, 41% of courts and tribunals were used at less than half of their available hearing capacity. In circumstances where money raised from the sale of any court building will be reinvested into our justice system, it is appropriate to ask whether spending on physical buildings is the best use of money.
It is hardly surprising that towns like Scunthorpe feel that they are being left behind by this Government when it is our courts and magistrates courts that close. It is always things in our towns that close, even before the new technologies that need to be in place have been properly evaluated and investigated. When will the Minister evaluate the impact of these court closures on communities, and when will she evaluate the effectiveness of new technologies?
I am aware that the hon. Gentleman’s court was closed in December 2016, and I have read his detailed response to the consultation from October 2015. I understand that, when courts are closed in a particular area, the people in that area feel particularly affected, but I assure him that, as we bring in video technology, we are assessing the use of that technology and trying to improve it at every stage.
My hon. Friend has raised her potential court closure with me on a number of occasions. I have also read her response to the recent consultation, in which she raises a number of points, including the one she has just identified. We will look at using other buildings in the community.
The recent National Audit Office report on the courts programme says:
“Expected costs have increased and planned benefits have decreased.”
Given that the National Audit Office says the courts programme will now cost £1.2 billion—£200 million more than the Government previously stated—will it lead to even deeper cuts elsewhere in the Ministry of Justice’s budget?
The hon. Lady highlights the ambition of the programme, which the NAO report identifies. It is a very ambitious programme, and it is right to be ambitious about our justice system. The NAO report acknowledges the early progress that has been made and makes recommendations about how we can strengthen the process. We will be taking all those recommendations on board.
No Body, No Parole Law
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) for the incredible energy that has gone into this campaign. There is something peculiarly disgusting about the sadism involved when an individual murders somebody and then refuses to reveal the location of the victim’s body. There have been delays in framing the right kind of legal response, but I am absolutely confident that we can overcome that. Officials are now bringing forward advice that I hope will achieve, through a different method, exactly what hon. and right hon. Members have been campaigning for.
The introduction of a no body, no parole law, known as Helen’s law, is very important to my constituent Linda Jones, as the location of her daughter Danielle’s body has never been disclosed by her killer. Can my hon. Friend therefore tell the House what impact assessment has been commissioned or carried out to support this introduction?
The Department has now proposed two options, which the Secretary of State and I will discuss over the coming days in order to get a solution. We are clear that refusing to reveal the location of a body is an absolutely disgusting practice, and we ought to be able to use legal methods to impose consequences on individuals who refuse to do so.
Is the Minister aware that many of us would support such legislation, particularly if it were also linked to miscarriages of justice? People who are found to have been wrongly convicted and are released after spending years in prison come out with no compensation and no reintegration into society—surely that cannot be right.
Prison Officer Safety
The safety of prison officers is of paramount importance. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who introduced a private Member’s Bill to double the sentence for assaults on prison officers and other emergency workers. There is much more we can do in this area—we are testing pepper spray and looking at body-worn cameras—but fundamentally this is about having the right staffing numbers and a proper, predictable regime in a prison to calm the prison down and prevent these completely unacceptable attacks.
Despite the number of assaults on prison officers, very few offenders are prosecuted. Will the Minister ensure that anyone who attacks an on-duty prison officer faces the full weight of the law and can expect the punishments that those crimes would attract elsewhere?
Absolutely, and this was debated in this House when we discussed that private Member’s Bill. At the moment, people are getting a sentence of 22 weeks for spitting at a police officer, but it is rare for such prosecutions to be brought for assaulting a prison officer. We therefore wish to work closely with our colleagues in the police to make sure that prosecutions are brought and that prison officers are properly protected. I have been talking to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service to ensure that we can get more police officers into prisons.
When I recently visited Pentonville prison, I was naturally concerned about reports of a number of attacks on its prison officers. The safety of our prison officers is of paramount importance, so what further steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that they have all the support they need to keep themselves safe?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for visiting Pentonville prison. I was lucky enough to be there two weeks ago, and I pay tribute to its excellent governor for the very good work he is doing. It is one of the most testing, busy London local prisons, and it faces a huge number of issues, but protecting prison officers is fundamentally about having a predictable, stable regime, enough prison officers on the landing, the right kind of training and relationships to calm things down, and, ultimately, protection.
Given that the number of assaults on prison officers has risen by 23% in the past 12 months, what assessment has the Minister made of new psychoactive substances causing that problem? When does he expect the roll-out of body-worn cameras to be complete?
The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced predecessor in my job. Clearly there is a strong correlation with these new psychoactive substances; it is difficult otherwise to account for the huge rise in violence. The substances seem to drive both self-harming behaviour and extreme violent behaviour. I will give a written answer on exactly when we will fulfil the body-worn camera programme.
The Minister can dress it up however he wants, but the bottom line is that cutting 7,000 frontline prison officers between 2010 and 2016 has caused prison safety to plummet. Will he tell the House how many more officers are needed to end this emergency in our prisons and when he will recruit them by?
This is a very good challenge. Numbers are clearly one of the issues, but there are others, such as psychoactive substances, which have been mentioned. That is why we have recruited an extra 2,500 prison officers. We believe that that gives us the right numbers, because it allows us to have one prison officer for six prisoners to run our keyworker scheme. We see already in key prisons that that is beginning to have a real impact on violence.
We are making significant progress on modernising our courts system and upgrading our justice system. We are spending £1 billion on our reform programme. For example, we have recently established the online court for civil claims. Claims of up to £10,000 can now be made via an online claim form, which is an effective and easy-to-use process.
The Minister is aware that capacity concerns were expressed about the removal of all remand cases in West Mercia from magistrates courts in Shropshire, Telford, Herefordshire and Worcestershire to Kidderminster. Although that might have created some efficiencies for the courts, it has also created considerable inefficiencies for the other vital elements of the criminal justice system. If somebody on remand misses the 7.30 am van from Telford, they might now have to wait an extra 24 hours in custody, whether they are innocent or guilty. Can that be right?
I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about this issue. I was pleased to meet him and neighbouring MPs before Easter. He has campaigned diligently on this issue on his constituents’ behalf and I look forward to meeting him later this week to discuss it. I should also let him know that officials from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service have arranged a review meeting on 13 June with the principal agencies affected by the change. I know that my hon. Friend has submitted evidence for that meeting.
Offenders: Education and Employment
On 24 May, we launched the education and employment strategy to create a system in which each prisoner is set on a path to employment from the outset. This is vital because reoffending costs society around £15 billion each year. Effective rehabilitation needs prisoners to be willing to commit to change, take advice, learn new skills and take opportunities to work, and if they participate in learning and get a job, they are less likely to reoffend.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, and for his earlier mention of my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and the duty to ensure that ex-offenders get a decent house when they leave prison, which comes in in October. More widely, will he review education training and reward ex-offenders for participating in such programmes so that they do not reoffend when they leave prison?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on the Homelessness Reduction Act, which was a significant achievement. In respect of making sure that the incentives in the system are right, my hon. Friend absolutely hits the nail on the head. I am determined to ensure that we have the right incentives in the system to reward good behaviour and to bring down reoffending.
Milton Keynes College is a leading provider of offender-learning programmes. I have discussed the New Futures Network with college staff, and while they welcome the Government’s new strategy, they and I would be grateful for further details of how employers will be incentivised, and perhaps even mandated, to employ a certain percentage of ex-offenders.
Our approach is to encourage employers to take on ex-offenders. Some employers do marvellous work and not only make a real contribution to society, but find that they get very good employees. There are also employers who, frankly, are not engaging at all. There has been a change in public mood on this issue and we want to encourage much more engagement. We all have a role to play.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Information and communications technology forms part of the prison common core curriculum. It will be increasingly important, which is why it is right that we provide training in digital and technology skills. It is worth pointing out that from April 2019, governors will be given increased flexibility to commission the right education mix for their prisons. We expect that digital and technology will feature highly in governors’ plans.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Domestic violence offenders are particularly prone to repeat offending, so what commitment will the Secretary of State give to ensuring that the mandatory provision of domestic violence perpetrator programmes is made available to domestic violence offenders in all prisons through the domestic abuse Bill?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. She is absolutely right about the repeat-offending nature of domestic abuse. She will be aware of the Government’s consultation on domestic abuse, which concluded at the end of last month. We are looking at ways in which we can bring down reoffending, and getting the right courses and training in prisons, including on domestic abuse, is very important.
Education is particularly important in trying to ensure that offenders not only do not reoffend, but get employment post-custody. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that governors in all prisons right across the regime are aware that prisoners’ educational attainment is paramount if they are to find employment once they leave prison?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. On the prisons for which we are responsible, I have set out the education and employment strategy, and the focus is on ensuring that governors have greater control over how they provide education within their prisons. His point about the link between education and employment is absolutely right. Of course, employment is linked very strongly to reoffending rates.
May I urge the Secretary of State to look at the correlation and causation between traumatic brain injury and reoffending? The most recent survey that has been done in the prison in Leeds showed that nearly 50% of prisoners had a traumatic brain injury, and that 30% of them had more than five. Does it not make sense to screen every single prisoner when they arrive in prison and ensure that they have rehabilitation for their brain injury?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, because there is evidence showing links between brain injuries and offending. If I may, I will take away his suggestion about testing across the board to see whether that is the right use of resources—that is something that we would have to look at—but he makes an important point about understanding the link between brain injuries and offending.
When there are employers who wish not only to help people when they come out of prison but to train them while they are in prison, will my right hon. Friend ensure that no prison puts barriers in place because of risk assessments so that we ensure that they can actually help prisoners?
We welcome the Government’s emphasis on education and employment skills, as they are the best route out of poverty and the cycle of reoffending, but when the Secretary of State made the announcement, he forgot that he had scrapped the National Careers Service in prisons, and presented an employment strategy that omitted to mention the provision of employment and careers advice. Why was that absent from the strategy?
I welcome the Opposition’s support for our focus on education and employment, but may I say to the House that Dame Sally Coates noted in her 2016 review of prison education that the National Careers Service was delivering a service in an increasingly crowded environment, with multiple employment advice and support services operating in custody and through the gate? That was why the decision was made to reform this area. It is right that we do so, but I am determined to ensure that we provide the right support to prisoners so that they can get a job when they are released.
Prisons: Rehabilitation Technology
As a pilot, we have introduced basic computers and telephones into prison cells in HMPs Berwyn and Wayland so that prisoners can manage some of their day-to-day tasks such as ordering meals, making healthcare appointments and booking social visits. This technology also gives prisoners access to learning opportunities and basic educational content, and enables them to telephone their families in a private environment. Prisoners are not given access to the internet.
I can provide my hon. Friend with that assurance. The digital technology currently available in prisons provides strictly controlled access to learning and training facilities. It is also used to provide opportunities for prisoners to access services within the prison environment to enable them to manage their time and activities while inside. There is no access to the internet, and strict security control prohibits access to the wider digital world.
Supporting victims is a key priority for the Government, which is why we are bringing forward a victims strategy this summer. In compiling the strategy, we have consulted victims groups and academics, and across Government. In doing so, we have concluded that we will need legislative and non-legislative measures to ensure that the strategy works for victims.
I hear what the Minister says, but Rotherham Council is today debating the support available to adults who survive child abuse in my constituency. I have now spoken to two Home Secretaries, two Prime Ministers and countless Ministers, and the Ministry of Justice was in Rotherham last week. Still we are not getting the cash we need to enable 1,520 victims—at the current count—to turn into survivors. Will the Minister please give us the cash we need?
The dreadful incidents in Rotherham, which sadly have been replicated across the country, have proved a challenge both to local government and to the national Government. The ongoing independent inquiry into child sexual abuse—IICSA—is throwing up a significant level of incidents. The Government are clearly engaged with the process of trying to assess what is needed to help these victims of child sex abuse, both as children and as adults. I am under no illusions that this concerns not only the Ministry of Justice but the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. All Government Departments are going to have to wrestle with this issue in the coming years because there has been significant child sex abuse over recent decades.
Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), a new victims law would ensure that victims of crime are supported and can seek closure on their ordeal. Most importantly, it may encourage more people to come forward and report crime safely. Why, therefore, three years on from the Government’s manifesto commitment to introduce this important law, are we without any legislation in this House?
I have just said that the strategy is going to include legislative measures to underpin the victims code. I am interested in legislation that is going to work, not legislation for legislation’s sake. Be in no doubt of my determination to improve the offering to victims both at the time of their abuse and in subsequent decades.
Two of my constituents have experienced tragic cases. They have been bereaved after the loss of a close relative, and their distress has been added to by the length of time that they have had to wait for the body to be released for a second post-mortem decision. The Minister has been very sympathetic, but will he commit to reviewing the law and raising this issue again with coroners on behalf of my constituents?
My hon. Friend and I met to discuss these cases recently. The challenge is that coroners hold an independent judicial position, which is important and invaluable. It is their responsibility to determine the cause of death. I clearly cannot talk about individual cases. The responsibility ultimately rests with the chief coroner. I do understand the deep distress that can be caused by any unnecessary delay, and I have passed this on to the chief coroner.
Leaving the EU: UK Legal System
It is right that we provide legal certainty for businesses, individuals and families as we leave the European Union. As the Prime Minister said in her Mansion House speech, we will need to have effective reciprocal arrangements with the EU to deal with cross-border issues. The Government will shortly publish their White Paper setting out their vision for the future UK-EU partnership.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Our system is highly regarded throughout the world because of our respect for the rule of law, and the quality and integrity of our judiciary. The Department will seek to ensure that we help law firms to get the best post-Brexit arrangements with the EU on recognition and enforcement of judgments, and mutual recognition of qualifications.
Victims and Witnesses
We want to improve the court experience for everyone, including victims and witnesses. We now have video links in many courts that allow victims and vulnerable people to take part in criminal proceedings without having to meet the defendant face-to-face in court.
My hon. Friend is right to identify the fact that we need to support vulnerable people who go through the justice system. That is why we will spend about £96 million this year to support and fund services such as the ones he identifies, including pre-trial visits and funding for police and crime commissioners to commission local services, including rape support services.
Has the Minister made an assessment of the report by the Justice Committee that raising the small claims limit would represent an unacceptable barrier to justice for victims of road traffic accidents, workplace accidents, and public liability incidents? Will the Department revisit those proposals in that light?
It is important that all people, whether they have small claims or big claims, have access to court. One measure that we have already brought in is the small civil claims court, which enables claims to be brought online very quickly, often without the need for legal representation.
I did not hear that. It would be most helpful if the Minister would look at the House as she answers, because I was looking forward to savouring the reply but unfortunately did not hear it. [Interruption.] You are going to have a chat with the fella about it. That is very useful to know. We are deeply grateful.
I just say to disappointed colleagues who did not get in on substantive questions that they might with advantage stay for topicals. I know they are very busy with many commitments and very full diaries, but if they feel able to hang around, they might find it to their advantage.
Since the last Justice questions, my Department has published an education and employment strategy for adult prisoners. My vision is that when an offender enters prison they should immediately be put on the path to employment on release. To deliver this, we are giving governors powers to tailor education provision to employers’ requirements. We are launching the New Futures Network to broker partnerships with employers, and we are consulting on measures to get more prisoners into workplaces on day release during their sentences. Success will mean more prisoners leaving custody ready for work and more employers ready to hire them.
Releasing prisoners immediately before the weekend, when housing offices, benefits offices and other sources of advice are closed, leaves vulnerable individuals without support and more likely to reoffend. Will the Justice Secretary take immediate steps to address this ridiculous practice?
I thank the hon. Lady, because I hear exactly the point that she is making. I have asked my Department for the evidence on this issue. If the evidence does point towards worse levels of reoffending and real difficulties for offenders if they are released on a Friday, we will look at that.
This is a hugely important issue. It is not about identifying people who are in prison for terrorism-related offences but people such as that individual who have been put in prison for other offences and have been radicalised in prison. The challenge is first to identify those individuals, then to work with the security services and the police to really investigate them, then to put the measures in place either to change their behaviour or to separate them from the general population.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, with any sale of a court, the money is reinvested in the justice system. We have a £1 billion court reform programme, and the sale of any court will go into that investment.
My hon. Friend is right to identify that victims of upskirting are caused a great deal of upset. My officials have met Gina Martin, who has campaigned very hard on this issue. We are also looking at the details of the private Member’s Bill on this very important issue introduced by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse).
My hon. Friend may have noticed that I made some remarks recently that were very sympathetic to that point of view. He has been effective before becoming a bore; I congratulate him on that. Reoffending rates for those given a short sentence are higher than for those given a non-custodial sentence, which is why we are delivering alternatives.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I met Hannah Jones at a Westminster Hall debate organised by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). That is a dreadful case. I gather that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is reviewing it and that that information will be transmitted to Hannah this afternoon.
I very much agree. Indeed, that is a point we make strongly in our education and employment strategy. Release on temporary licence can help get people into work when they leave prison. If they are in work, they are less likely to reoffend, and that can bring down crime.
Futures Unlocked is a Warwickshire charity with a community café called Moriarty’s in Rugby, providing work experience and job opportunities for those who have just completed a prison term. Does the Minister agree that locally managed schemes such as that are valuable in reducing reoffending rates?
Very much so, and I want to pay tribute to the employers, businesses and charities that do so much in this space. I am pleased that there is a consensus in the House that we need to focus on rehabilitation and reoffending, and one of the best ways of doing that is focusing on employment.
“This prison gives you the chance to reassess and rebuild your life.” Those are the words of one of the women at East Sutton Park Prison in my constituency. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is responsible for female offenders, for his recent visit to the prison. Will he do all that he can to secure the future of that prison, so that it can continue its good work in preparing female offenders for life after prison?
Yes, I was very impressed by East Sutton Park. I have now visited virtually every women’s prison in the country, and the response from the women themselves is what I took away from that visit. They had a hope for the future that I had not encountered very much elsewhere. I will be doing my best to go into bat for East Sutton Park.
Given that the Lord Chancellor has said that the timetable for the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is likely to slip, and the fact that, in giving evidence to the Justice Committee, the Law Society and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association praised as refreshing the whole independent review of Scottish legal aid, is this an opportunity to pause and commission an independent review in England and Wales?
The hon. Gentleman refers to the report on Scottish legal aid. I have looked at the review, which makes some recommendations that my officials will be looking at to improve our legal aid system. It is very interesting to see in the report a number of measures that we are taking—for example, in relation to video links and the online court, which I have already mentioned.
It is obviously very difficult to comment on a particular rate in a particular case for a particular individual, but I am very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about it. It is very important that criminal legal aid barristers and solicitors are paid appropriately for the amazing work that they do every day, up and down this country, in protecting the most vulnerable.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the single departmental plan means that greater priority will be given to developing robust non-custodial sentences to divert those whom it is not necessary to send to prison in the first place?
There is no intention, in the longer term, to increase the number of young people we lock up. Indeed, our intention is to reduce the number of young people we lock up, and that is why we are changing the environment with the introduction of secure schools.
While we regularly praise the likes of Greggs, Timpson and Halfords for the great work they do in employing ex-offenders, do Ministers agree that the time has now come no longer to allow employers that have made a blanket refusal to employ any ex-offenders to carry on such an approach in secret?
When I was a councillor, I visited Porterfield Prison many times and learned many things, including how to start a Mercedes without the ignition key. Will the Minister tell us how the splendid new parliamentary scheme will have an impact on the lives of our prisoners, and on their hopes, needs and aspirations?
The key target for the parliamentary scheme is of course Members of Parliament, but the idea is to make the public aware through them of what is happening in prisons. Nothing drives change more in an institution than opening it up to public scrutiny, and I hope that that—in addition to learning how to start a Mercedes without the key—will be one of the great benefits of the new scheme.
The urgent notification process was triggered at the beginning of this year, and the report has just been published. I do not have the exact figures for the number of assaults on staff over the past four months, but I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with those figures.
The Government have had years to address the safety problems at Bedford Prison following the riot in 2016, but the prison is already back in special measures. When will the Government get a grip on the prison and publish an action plan, so that staff do not have to go to work in fear of their lives?
This question and the questions about Nottingham and Exeter reveal a fundamental challenge across the system in terms of assaults on prison officers. The solution has to be to have the right numbers of officers to restore the predictability of the regime, so that prisoners calm down; to have body-worn cameras and CCTV in place; and to make sure that in Bedford and all the other challenged, violent local prisons we bring these measures into place.
What are the Government doing to reduce the ridiculous one-year wait for immigration tribunal appeal hearings?
I challenge the hon. Gentleman on his figures. I am happy to give him the correct figures, but the Government are doing a lot to reduce waiting times for every type of tribunal, by increasing the number of members of the judiciary and bringing in a number of measures to make tribunals work much more effectively together.
One of my constituents has a brother who has been missing for more than a year. She would like to step in to manage his affairs and protect his property and finances, but she cannot: although the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017, it has yet to come into force because the rules of court have not been published. When will the Minister publish the rules of court to allow the Act to take effect, so that my constituent can deal with her missing brother’s affairs?
I am fully aware, and I recognise that I have a significant responsibility for the majority of the women in those prisons, so that they are safe and secure. This is a difficult issue to manage, but I am persuaded that robust guidelines are in place, so that nothing untoward would happen.
Will the Secretary of State also look at the issue of acquired brain injury in the youth justice system? One of the most interesting pieces of work being done at the moment shows that we can divert some of the most difficult, troubled children if we bring together psychologists, psychiatrists and prison and probation officers—all the different teams—to transform individual lives.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, which we will look at very closely. I take this opportunity to say, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), that 41,000 foreign national offenders have indeed been deported since 2010.
Airports National Policy Statement
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport.
The Government have a clear vision: to build a Britain fit for the future and a Britain with a prosperous jobs market and an economy that works for everyone. That is why I come to the House to mark an historic moment. Today I am laying before Parliament our final proposal for an airports national policy statement, which signals our commitment to securing global connectivity, creating tens of thousands of local jobs and apprenticeships, and boosting our economy for future generations by expanding Heathrow airport. It is an example of how the Government are taking forward their industrial strategy.
As you know, Mr Speaker, taking such a decision is never easy. This issue has been debated for half a century. My Department has met local residents and fully understands their strength of feeling. But this is a decision taken in the national interest, based on detailed evidence. In 2015, the independent Airports Commission concluded that a new north-west runway at Heathrow was the best scheme to deliver additional capacity, and in October 2016 we agreed. We ran two national consultations during 2017 and received more than 80,000 responses. All the points raised have been carefully considered, and today we are publishing the Government’s response.
To ensure fairness and transparency we appointed an independent consultation adviser, the former Court of Appeal judge, Sir Jeremy Sullivan. Our draft NPS was scrutinised by the Transport Committee, and I thank the Chair of the Committee and her team for the thoroughness of their work. I was pleased that they, like me and my colleagues in the Government, accepted the case for expansion and concluded that we are right to pursue development through an additional runway at Heathrow. We welcome and have acted on 24 out of 25 of its recommendations. Our response to the Committee is also being published today.
This country has one of the largest aviation sectors in the world, contributing £22 billion to our GDP, supporting half a million jobs, servicing 285 million passengers and transporting 2.6 million tonnes of freight last year. The time for action is now. Heathrow is already full, and the evidence shows that the remaining London airports will not be far behind. Despite Heathrow being the busiest two-runway airport in the world, its capacity constraints mean that it is falling behind its global competitors, impacting the UK’s economy and global trading opportunities.
Expansion at Heathrow will bring real benefits across the country, including a boost of up to £74 billion to passengers and the wider economy, providing better connections to growing world markets, and increasing flights to more long-haul destinations. Heathrow is a nationally significant freight hub, carrying more freight by value than all other UK airports combined. A third runway would enable it to nearly double its current freight capacity.
In addition—this is crucial—this is a project with benefits that reach far beyond London. We expect up to 15% of slots on a new runway to facilitate domestic connections across the UK, spreading the benefits of expansion to our great nations and regions. As well as new routes, I would expect there to be increased competition on existing routes, giving greater choice to passengers. I say very clearly that regional connectivity is one of the key reasons for the decision we have taken.
I recognise the strong convictions that many Members of this House and their constituents have on this issue, and the impacts on those living in the local area. It is for that reason that we have included strong mitigations in the NPS to limit those impacts. Communities will be supported by up to £2.6 billion towards compensation, noise insulation and improvements to public amenities— 10 times bigger than under the 2009 third runway proposal. This package is comparable with some of the most generous in the world and includes £700 million for noise insulation for homes and £40 million to insulate schools and community buildings. The airport has offered 125% of the full market value for homes in the compulsory and voluntary purchase zones, plus stamp duty, moving costs and legal fees, as well as a legally binding noise envelope and more predictable periods of respite.
For the first time ever, we expect and intend to deliver a six-and-a-half-hour ban on scheduled night flights. But my ambitions do not stop there. If the House agrees and the NPS is designated and the scheme progresses, I will encourage Heathrow and airlines to work with local communities to propose longer periods of respite during a further consultation on night flight restrictions. We will grant development consent only if we are satisfied that a new runway would not impact the UK’s compliance with air quality obligations. Advances in technology also mean that new planes are cleaner, greener and quieter than the ones they are replacing.
Earlier this year a community engagement board was established, and we appointed Rachel Cerfontyne as its independent chair. It will focus on building relations between Heathrow and its communities, considering the design of the community compensation fund, which could be worth up to £50 million a year, and holding the airport to account when it comes to delivering on its commitments today and into the future.
There has been much debate about the costs of this scheme. Our position could not be clearer: expansion will be privately financed. Crucially, expansion must also remain affordable to consumers. We took a firm step when I asked the industry regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, to ensure the scheme remains affordable while meeting the needs of current and future passengers. This process has already borne fruit, with the identification of potential savings of up to £2.5 billion. I am confident that that process can and should continue, that further cost savings can be identified and that the design of the expansion can continue to evolve to better reflect the needs of consumers. That is why I have recommissioned the Civil Aviation Authority to continue to work with industry to deliver the ambition that I set out in 2016 to keep landing charges at or close to current levels. That work will include gateway reviews, independent scrutiny and benchmarking of proposals, which I know are of paramount importance to British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and the wider airline community.
I want to talk now about scheme delivery and ownership. The north-west runway scheme put forward by Heathrow was selected by the Government following a rigorous process. Since then, Heathrow has continued to make strong progress, having already consulted on its scheme design and airspace principles earlier this year. Some stakeholders have suggested that we should now look again at who delivers expansion. While I, and we, will always retain an open mind, my current assessment is that caution is needed at this stage. Heathrow is an operational airport under a single management, and I am clear that it is currently the only credible promoter that could deliver this transformational scheme in its entirety.
I welcome the Civil Aviation Authority’s April consultation, which expects Heathrow to engage in good faith with third parties to ensure that expansion is delivered in a way that benefits the consumer. However, that needs to be balanced against the need for timely delivery, and that is why my Department will be working closely with Heathrow to enable delivery of the new runway by its current target date of 2026.
Heathrow is already Britain’s best-connected airport by road and rail. That will be further strengthened by future improvements to the Piccadilly line, new links to Heathrow through Crossrail, connections to High Speed 2 via an interchange at Old Oak Common and plans for western and southern rail access to the airport. On 24 April, I met the industry and financial backers who can potentially come forward with plans to deliver the new southern rail access to the airport.
Even with today’s announcement, a new operational runway at Heathrow is still a number of years away. The Airports Commission recommended that there would also be a need for other airports to make more intensive use of their existing infrastructure, and we consulted on that in the aviation strategy call for evidence last year.
Apart from Heathrow, I would also like to confirm today that the Government support other airports making best use of their existing runways. However, we recognise that the development of airports can have negative as well as positive local impacts, including on noise levels. We therefore consider that any proposals should be judged on their individual merits by the appropriate planning authority, taking careful account of all relevant considerations, and particularly economic and environmental impacts.
Furthermore, in April we set out our next steps, which will see us work closely with industry, business, consumer and environmental groups to develop an aviation strategy that sets out the long-term policy direction for aviation to 2050 and beyond, while addressing the changing needs and expectations of passengers. It will set out a framework for future sustainable growth across the United Kingdom, how we plan to manage our congested airspace, and how we plan to use innovative technology to deliver cleaner, quieter and quicker journeys for the benefit of passengers and communities. Airspace modernisation has to be taken forward irrespective of the decision on the proposed new runway, and to do so we expect multiple airports across the south of England to bring forward consultations on their proposals on how to manage the airspace around their locations.
Returning to Heathrow, the planning system involves two separate processes: one to set the policy—effectively outline planning consent—which is our national policy statement, and then, if the House votes in favour of it and it is then designated, a second process for securing the detailed development consent that the airport will require. The next steps would therefore be for Heathrow to develop its plans, including details of the scheme design and airspace change, and hold a further consultation to allow the public a further say on the next phase of Heathrow’s plans and additional opportunities to have their voices heard. Any application for development consent will of course be considered carefully and with an open mind, based on the evidence provided. The process includes a public examination by the independent Planning Inspectorate before a final decision is made.
Alongside the NPS today, I have published a comprehensive package of materials that I hope and believe will enable Members of the House to make an informed decision ahead of the vote. It is very comprehensive, and I hope that it will provide answers to the questions that Members will have.
I hope that Members will feel that the scheme is crucial to our national interest and that we need to work together to deliver it in order to create what I believe is an absolutely vital legacy for the future of this country. I hope that Members across the House will get behind the plan and support this nationally strategically important project, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement.
Today’s statement has been a long time coming. We have had 11 years of consultation and nine years since the expansion was given the green light. The Secretary of State came to the House yesterday to explain the calamitous implementation of new rail timetables. He now stands at the Dispatch Box today and expects the House to accept what he says about the most significant of infrastructure projects. I am sorry, but this Secretary of State has form. The only reason he is at the Dispatch Box is that the Prime Minister is too weak to sack him. I regret that he simply does not enjoy the confidence of the House. [Interruption.] Government Members complain, but I did not hear them shouting their support for him yesterday. In fact, the loudest criticisms came from Members on their Benches.
Labour will consider proposed expansion through the framework of our well-established four tests: expansion should happen only if it can effectively deliver on the capacity demands; if noise and air quality issues are fully addressed; if the UK’s climate change obligations are met in their entirety; and if growth across the country is supported. We owe it to future generations to get all those factors absolutely right. If the correct balance is not found, the law courts will quite rightly intervene.
I commend the superb work of the Chair and members of the cross-party Transport Committee. Their report into the airports national policy statement published in March left no stone unturned. Their support for approving the NPS is explicitly conditional upon 25 recommendations being addressed. The Secretary of State says that he has “acted on” 24 of the 25 recommendations. What does that mean? Are they going to be conditions or simply aspirations and expectations? For example, the Committee concluded that there was a high risk of the NPS breaching air quality compliance. Furthermore, the Department for Transport has not published a comprehensive surface access assessment, so it is impossible to demonstrate that the target of no more airport-related traffic can be met. His statement today takes that issue no further forward.
The Committee highlighted that there was almost no mention of potential cost and investment risk. What guarantees can the Government provide that the high-cost risks will not end up being covered by the public purse? How can the business case for expansion ensure that passenger benefits are met? The Secretary of State says he will keep charges close to current levels. What sort of assurance is that? Further uncertainties remain about the NPS as originally drawn, on noise analysis and flightpath modelling. It remains to be seen whether the revised NPS adequately addresses those and other issues.
The Secretary of State says that he will encourage Heathrow to work with communities on longer respite periods. What teeth are there in any of these proposals or promises? His claims about the benefits of new technologies have to be based on real evidence and not some fanciful expectation of future advances. Some of us have not forgotten his empty promises on dual fuel trains, which we are now told do not exist. He says he intends and expects 15% of slots to be for domestic connections. How will that be secured? Intentions, expectations and encouragements are simply not enough.
It is imperative that the Government provide guarantees to the House that the recommendations and conditions established by the Transport Committee will be embedded in the revised NPS. Yesterday reminded Members across the House that the assurances of this Secretary of State are anything but cast-iron. It is absolutely essential that the Government embed the Select Committee’s recommendations in their revision of it. I remind the House that the Committee says very clearly that the planning process should move to the next stage only if its concerns, as detailed in its excellent report, are properly addressed by the Government in the final NPS. It is our task to scrutinise the revised NPS in full detail in the coming days. Labour will faithfully follow our framework tests and follow the evidence across the 25 recommendations. We will not rely on the Secretary of State’s assurances, which are sadly not worth the Hansard they are printed on.
I think you will agree, Mr Speaker, that that was a rather disappointing response. The one thing the shadow Secretary of State did not say was whether he actually supported the expansion of Heathrow airport. I happen to believe that it is strategically the right thing for our country, for business and for jobs. I very much welcome the positive encouragement I have received from Members across the House in the past few months. I regard this project as being vital to Members of Parliament in the north of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the south-west—I see the links to Newquay airport as being one of the real opportunities here.
The shadow Secretary of State raised several detailed points. There is a huge amount of material—thousands of pages—that he and others can read through, but let me pick up on just a few of the items he raised. He mentioned air quality. The runway cannot be opened if it does not meet air quality rules, but I have been clear all along that the air quality issues around Heathrow are much more than issues of the airport itself; they are typical of the air quality issues that face metropolitan areas in this country and elsewhere in the world, which is why my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary has brought forward an air quality plan. In addition, Heathrow Airport is consulting on a low emissions zone that would make it impossible, without a substantial charge, to bring a higher-emission vehicle into the airport when the runway is open—assuming that the parliamentary and development processes go according to plan. So that has to be addressed; it is not an optional extra for the airport—it has to happen.
The shadow Secretary of State made a point about night flights. That has to be and will be a planning condition. He also asked about the Select Committee’s recommendations. About half have been embedded in the NPS; the remaining half will either happen at the development consent order stage or are requirements for the CAA to follow up on and deliver. We have accepted the recommendations, however, and will follow faithfully the Select Committee’s wishes to make sure that its recommendations are properly addressed at each stage of the process. As I said earlier, this is a multi-stage process, and the Committee’s recommendations referred not just to the NPS but to the subsequent stages.
The shadow Secretary of State asked about landing charges, which, of course are regulated by the CAA. I have been clear that landing charges have to stay pretty much at current levels in real terms. This cannot be an excuse for the airport to hike its landing charges substantially. That would not work for consumers or our economy. Equally, the commitments on night flights have to be addressed. This project will not have credibility if such promises to the local community are not properly fulfilled.
The shadow Secretary of State asked about investability. We have had the investability and delivery date independently assured. I have also talked to Heathrow shareholders, who have emphasised to me their commitment to this project. I am absolutely of the view that the project can and will be delivered. We simply have to look at the price at which slots for Heathrow airport sell on the open market to realise that this is one of the world’s premier airports and enormously attractive to international airlines and that expanding its route network will deliver jobs all around the country.
That is the most important thing for everyone in the House to bear in mind, whether they are in Scotland, the north of England, the south-west, Wales or Northern Ireland, and we should not forget our Crown dependencies and Gibraltar either. They also depend on air links to the UK. This project is a way of making sure that our citizens—the people we represent—and the businesses they work in have access to the strategic routes of the future that they will need. If we are to be a successful nation in the post-Brexit world, we will need advances such as this one that can make a real difference to the future of this country.
I am disappointed, therefore, that the Labour party has not said that it supports expansion in principle. I do support it, as do Members in all parts of the House, and in the coming days we will have a vote—we have 21 sitting days before the deadline for that vote. In the time ahead, I and my officials will happily talk to parliamentary colleagues about the details and, I hope, reassure anyone with doubts that this is the right project for the country.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement—the report that the coalition Government asked Howard Davies to produce was very comprehensive, and he has acted on it—but will he say a little more about how he will ensure that the costs are properly controlled? He is absolutely right to say that at the end of the day Heathrow has the great development opportunity that it wanted, but that development must involve reasonable costs that do not impose ever growing pressures on both operators and passengers.
My right hon. Friend has made a crucial point. That is, obviously, a matter of great importance to the airlines. They do not want fares to rise, and nor do we. This should be a development that leads to more choice for passengers, as well as more competition and, as a result, lower fares. One of the benefits of expanding the network will be for the United Kingdom, because we need more operators within the UK, and we may be able to achieve better competition on routes into Heathrow.
I have statutory powers, which I have already used on two occasions, to enable the Civil Aviation Authority to monitor the costs of the project to ensure that they are driven down. I renewed those powers recently, and I will continue to do so whenever necessary.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of his statement.
This has been another polarising issue, and aspects of the UK Government’s approach in the past and the delaying tactics have not helped matters. However, I welcome the progress that is being made, and the fact that a vote appears to be imminent. The option of Heathrow expansion was recommended by the Airports Commission. It was also backed by the Transport Committee, as we have heard, and I pay tribute to its work in scrutinising the national policy statement.
To be fair, Heathrow has engaged fully with the Scottish Government, and has signed a memorandum of understanding in relation to commitments to Scotland. It refers to a construction logistics hub, and, for selfish constituency reasons, I should like that to be based at Prestwick airport. There is also a commitment to a £10 million route development fund, and a commitment to promoting Scotland in the future. I must be honest: for me, supporting expansion at Heathrow from a Scottish perspective was initially counter-intuitive. However, all but one of the Scottish airport operators support it. So do the various Scottish chambers of commerce, because they recognise the business benefits that it can bring to Scotland, including up to 16,000 new jobs. That helped to sway me, and the Scottish Government have reiterated their support.
Let me ask the Secretary of State some questions about his statement. He spoke of benefits for nations and regions, and an expected
“15% of slots on a new runway to facilitate domestic connections across the UK”.
However, he has still not explained how he will ensure that that happens. Will conditions be imposed, and will he consider Scotland’s needs? How will he ensure that what is proposed for Heathrow will increase passenger numbers at Scottish airports? He said that he had recommissioned the CAA to work with the industry to keep charges close to their current levels, but he did not make it clear how there could be certainty that future charges would be kept under control. What will happen if Heathrow cannot commit itself to the longer period that the Secretary of State has just thrown into the mix, and what will he do to ensure that there is more transparency on new flight paths? Finally, given the UK Government’s failures to date and their defeats in court in relation to air quality, what will be done to ensure that air quality impact assessments are robust and that the correct control measures are introduced?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, the Scottish Government and the Scottish National party for their support. I think it important for us to ensure that Scotland is well served by the expansion of Heathrow. I think the hon. Gentleman understands, given the support that has come from the Scottish regional airports and the Scottish business community, that by providing more strategic routes for the United Kingdom from Heathrow we will provide links to important new developing markets around the world.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the protection of slots. We are considering what is the best mechanism. It seems that the public service obligation mechanism may be the best, but I want the most robust legal mechanism to operate by the time we reach the development consent order process, in order to protect the allocation of slots to regional connections in the United Kingdom. I do not want, and will not accept, circumstances in which slots somehow disappear and are allocated to a long-haul route rather than a UK route. This must be a project that benefits the whole United Kingdom. As for passenger numbers, our forecasts show that virtually all regional airports will continue to grow, and I expect the hon. Gentleman to see growth at Scottish airports as well as on routes to and from Heathrow.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the setting of charges. The CAA sets the charges, and it has absolute regulatory power to set them at the level that is appropriate for the airport. It has the teeth to deliver that at the moment. He asked about the respite issue. Let me make it clear that the night flight ban is an absolute requirement. We would reconsider that only if both the airport and the local communities agreed that something different should be done. The local communities would have to come back to us, with representatives of the airport, and say, “We would like to do something slightly different.” From the Government’s point of view, the ban is a non-negotiable element.
As for the hon. Gentleman’s final question, given that there are opponents of the scheme, I think it highly likely that it will be challenged in the courts. We have done exhaustive work, and there is a huge amount of material for the House to consider. We are following a statutory process, and only if there is a supportive vote in the House of Commons can the project go ahead. I hope that that is enough to set the project on the right path.
This decision is not only wrong for the UK and its competitiveness; it is wrong for the London communities who will be blighted by the pollution from an expanded Heathrow. The Secretary of State says that the runway cannot be opened unless air quality conditions are met. The document “Heathrow Airport Ltd: statement of principles” contains a cost recovery clause for Heathrow in case the project does not proceed following this decision. Can the Secretary of State confirm that taxpayers might have to pick up a bill for billions of pounds?
The project cannot pass the development consent order stage unless the airport can demonstrate that it will follow air quality guidelines. We have been very clear about that, which is why Heathrow is consulting on a potential low-emission zone. The whole point about air quality, however, is that it is a broader problem, for London and other cities, which will need to be dealt with well before 2026. That is why the Government have issued air quality proposals, and that is why we are determined to see changes in society that tackle the air quality issue.
I welcome the statement, and the Secretary of State’s acceptance of the points made by the Transport Committee. We look forward to examining the detail in the final national policy statement. We said that an expanded Heathrow must deliver for the whole of the UK, not just the south-east of England. Can the Secretary of State explain how public service obligations can guarantee that a new runway will result in more domestic routes which will be distributed fairly across the regions and nations of the UK, and can he tell us how this proposal fits in with his Department’s plans for high-speed rail connectivity between cities in the midlands and the north?
Let me deal with the last point first. I think that we will need both. Creating a rapid link between our great cities is a necessary part of doing business domestically, and that will mean connectivity to airports as well. However, I think that the real benefit of expanding the runway is the linkage that results from the ability to fly, for example, from Edinburgh to Heathrow to Shanghai if a direct flight is not available. The local market will simply not be big enough for a regional airport to deliver the direct route.
As for the public service obligation process, we will introduce the strongest measures to ring-fence those slots. We will ensure that they cannot simply be taken away, and that should mean that they must be provided at a cost that is affordable for UK domestic aviation. If routes that are strategically necessary for the United Kingdom require PSO support financially, I have no doubt that this Government, and future Governments, will wish to ensure that those routes are provided for as well. We already apply that to some key routes.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on pushing through a decision that probably should have been made 10 years ago. Does he agree that to gain both the economic and full environmental benefits of this decision a significant increase will be required in the rail links into Heathrow—not just the ones already planned, but some that are still some way off? Will he also expand on what he said in his statement about the new rail lines planned from different parts of the country so that people have proper public transport access to what will be a hugely expanding airport?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend and thank him for his supportive comments. On the mix of rail services that will service this new runway, if Parliament gives it the go-ahead, in the short term there will be the arrival of Crossrail services and the upgrade of the Piccadilly line. The HS2 station at Old Oak Common will also open. In the investment plans for control period 6, we have planned funding to develop a western rail access into Heathrow for connections to Reading and the west country. We are in the process of discussing with private sector investors proposals for the southern rail access which will connect the south-western rail networks into Heathrow airport. In addition, we are beginning work on an option that is very relevant to you, Mr Speaker, which would take the Chiltern line into Old Oak Common—there is already a line that connects into Chiltern—and as we see more development on the Oxford-Cambridge corridor, that will provide an additional route into Heathrow from that important growth area. I think this is a pretty holistic package of planned rail improvements.
How does the Secretary of State reconcile his claims about regional connectivity with the fact that Heathrow expansion is opposed by all the largest regional airports—Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, East Midlands and Bristol—as well as those in the south-east, Stansted and Gatwick? Since these communities are represented by Members from different parties, does he agree that it would be appropriate to have a free vote on the NPS when it is put before Parliament?
It is clearly up to every individual party to decide how they will approach this vote, but my experience is not what the right hon. Gentleman has just communicated to me: my experience is that around the United Kingdom there is huge support from regional airports and, crucially, regional business groups for the expansion of Heathrow airport. We have looked at the projections, and they show growth at almost all of our regional airports, and I do not have the sense of opposition from the regional airports that the right hon. Gentleman is describing.