House of Commons
Monday 2 July 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Universal Credit: Vulnerable Claimants
Universal credit is a person-centred benefit focused on the needs of the individual. We are working continuously with a variety of stakeholders to ensure that we provide the right support for vulnerable claimants, and our work coaches undertake awareness training to identify claimants with complex needs.
During a recent visit with the Secretary of State to the Barrhead jobcentre in my constituency, one of the things we discussed with staff was the payment of advances as a single payment potentially to claimants who have difficulty managing budgets or who are struggling with addiction. Will she take into account those concerns when reviewing how the advance system is operating?
I was delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and local jobcentre and to visit the Greenhouse Café, which he champions and which helps vulnerable people to get closer to the workplace. On the question that he and the work coaches raised about the advance, those advances could be given up to 100%, and with the personal relationship that the work coaches have, through this training they can assess what the right needs are. That is the right thing to do.
One of the concerns raised by the National Audit Office is that the Department does not really know who the vulnerable claimants are, and particular problems are being caused by the very long delay before people are entitled to their benefit. The right hon. Lady’s predecessor took an important step by reducing the minimum wait from six weeks to five. Will she commit to taking that further and reducing the period further still?
Universal credit is all about the relationship with the work coach. They get to know their claimants and their claimants’ needs, so it is very much a tailor-made benefit. We as Ministers have always said that, should we need to adapt and change universal credit so that it best supports the individual, we will do just that. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed the changes that we have already made.
Vulnerable claimants often consult their local citizens advice bureau. On a visit to the Chesham citizens advice bureau, staff told me that the fixed-term, timed appointments for their clients are often taken up by them hanging on to the DWP telephone line for up to 25 or 30 minutes, and then the time for the appointment has expired. Will the Secretary of State look at the telephone line and try to improve its efficiency and effectiveness, so that CAB advisers can instantly access the advice that they need to help these clients to make universal credit go smoothly?
My right hon. Friend, who does so much for people in her constituency, and particularly those with autism, raises a very good point. We will look into exactly what we can do to do that for the citizens advice bureaux, as we have a very good working relationship with them.
The National Audit Office’s report on universal credit shows that people such as carers, families needing support with childcare and disabled people are more likely to have to wait for an initial payment. The report shows that, in December 2017, only a third of disabled people were receiving their initial payments in full and on time. As the Secretary of State claims that the NAO report is out of date, can she tell us what the figure is now?
As we said quite clearly, the NAO did not take into consideration all the changes that we had made and their impact. What we can say is that we know that 80% of people will get their payment on time and in full, but what the NAO report has not taken into consideration is that 90% will get some payment within the first month and it is invariably down to non-verification and not fulfilling their claimant commitment.
On Thursday, our concerns became a reality, as we discovered from the Government’s figures that 190 women were put in the impossible position of declaring that their child was born as a result of rape in order to receive universal credit or child tax credits. We can also estimate from those figures that around 200,000 children have been affected by the two-child cap. How does she feel about cutting that money and stopping it being spent on up to 250,000 children?
This whole House voted for the changes to tax credits so that we can make sure that people in work are treated the same way as people on benefits. However, what we did do was bring in a set of exemptions for people who would not be able to have those two children. It is only right that we have brought in specific exemptions to help those people who need them.
The Government continue to mislead. We know from the figures that 59% of all those households impacted are already in work. The Secretary of State continues to suggest today that this was about making the choices the same for those who are in and out of work, but actually it is about the Government making people’s choices for them. What advice does she have for a woman who is in work and in receipt of tax credits or universal credit and who has fallen unexpectedly pregnant with what would be a third child?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we still pay child benefit for all children. We are also paying childcare costs. In fact, those have increased. As I said, what we have done with tax credits is make sure that people who are paying their way and are not dependent on the state get the same support as those people who are also getting support from the state.
PIP Assessments: Appeals
Data published by the Ministry of Justice last month shows that 57,000 decisions on personal independence payment claims were overturned on appeal in the last year. Of the 3.3 million decisions made since PIP was introduced, 9% have been appealed and 4% have been overturned. The average clearance time for PIP appeals in the last available quarter is 25 weeks.
In my constituency, over two thirds of decisions are being overturned on appeal. That shameful record is the responsibility of the Secretary of State and the Minister. It is causing real personal distress to individuals in Wrexham having to wait over a year to have wrong decisions reversed. What will the ministerial team do to respond to the real hardship they are causing to vulnerable people?
It is not necessarily the case that the decision made was the wrong decision; mostly what happens is that more information comes forward at the appeal. Hon. Members should look at the data I have already given. One wrong decision is one too many, however, which is why we have done a great deal of work to improve our decision-making process.
Far too many of my constituents face exactly the same situation, and far too many have found they get no points in their assessment despite being severely disabled and having previously been awarded for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and severe anxiety. Does the Minister agree with a constituent of mine who wrote to me last week and described the Department for Work and Pensions and Capita as
“so robotic, intransigent and hard-nosed, it’s hard to comprehend why they were constructed that way given the purpose for which they were intended”?
I respectfully point out to the hon. Gentleman that more people are receiving higher awards on PIP than did on the legacy benefit, disability living allowance, and people moving from DLA to PIP remain in payment while going through the process. I utterly refute what he said.
The hon. Gentleman wants to talk about constituents. I was on “You and Yours” last week and, during the phone-in, a whole series of people called in about their PIP experiences. As he has made his point, let us hear what Jennifer from Lancashire said:
“As it happens, it has worked very well for me.”
She contacted the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which helped her fill in the form, and the
“result was I now get the top rate for both things…. I get £140 whereas I used to get £112.”
I especially welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the Select Committee on Work and Pensions recommendation to record PIP interviews. Will the Minister set out for the House the sort of timescale in which we can expect these changes to come through?
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution today and the hard work he puts in on the Select Committee. I was delighted to welcome its recommendations, and I really believe that the video-recording of PIP assessments will reduce a lot of stress and anxiety, which largely occurs because of the scaremongering we see too often from the Opposition. We have begun work on the piloting and will be undertaking the testing this summer.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I am utterly determined to ensure that everyone has a very good experience of PIP. The independent customer satisfaction ratings show that the vast majority of people feel that they are treated with respect and dignity and receive the benefit to which they are entitled, but we will of course seek continuously to improve the process.
My constituent in Normanton lost her Motability car because the DWP said that she was not entitled to it. Five weeks later it reversed the decision but, in the meantime, because my constituent was isolated, she was forced to spend thousands of pounds of her own savings on replacing the car so that she was not stuck. She has been denied any help since. Will the Minister look again at that case? It is outrageous that my constituent should lose all her savings because the DWP screwed up.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. Of course I am always happy to meet all Members to review individual cases, but I suggest, for everyone’s benefit, that any Member with a constituent who faces losing a Motability car should call Motability. Motability is sitting on very considerable reserves. It is a charity and is able to make discretionary payments to enable people to keep their cars during the appeal process.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker, and thank you for your kindness to a group of visitors who came to see me in the House earlier today.
I thank the Minister for the answers that she has given so far. I recently met representatives of Carers Aid Torbay to talk about the PIP process and the support that they provide for those who are going through it. Can she reassure me that there will be engagement with groups such as that in respect of the potential introduction of video recording of interviews?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is very important for us to listen to people who are going through the process. I have regular meetings with disabled people and charities to ensure that we get it right and continuously improve the experience of our claimants.
Universal Credit: Roll-out
We are continuously testing, learning and improving to deliver an effective roll-out. The pace of the roll-out reflects the need to listen, respond and get it right. We have rolled out universal credit to 353 jobcentres and are increasing the roll-out to 60 jobcentres per month. Universal credit is on track to be in all jobcentres nationally by the end of 2018.
I will indeed join my hon. Friend in thanking his team. I also thank him for what he has personally done in his local area, working with Alex Coull, the work coach team leader, and his team. They have done an excellent job, engaging with stakeholders from North Devon Homes, North Devon Council, Citizens Advice Devon and North Devon+. That is the sort of work that all Members of Parliament can do to ensure that universal credit is rolled out safely.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that case. It would be good to meet her. I have surgeries every Monday in the Tea Room, and if she would like to raise a personal case with me, I ask her please to do so. We can go through the case and see exactly what happened.
May I commend the Secretary of State and convey to her the comments of staff at a jobcentre in Redditch? People who have worked there for decades said that universal credit was the best system that they had seen for 30 years. That is because it is an individualised system based on the “test and learn” approach. What more can the Secretary of State do to ensure that that approach helps our constituents?
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. When we speak to the people who are working with the system day in, day out, they say that it is the best system that they have ever seen, and it is about a “test and learn” process. Listening to what is said in the House, one would not believe that over 3.2 million more people were in work. That is not something that happens by mistake. It is as a result of the hard work of our work coaches and the direction that is being set by the Government.
I am extraordinarily grateful to the Secretary of State, whose answers I always enjoy. The only point that I would make, gently, to colleagues on both sides of the House is that we have a lot of questions to get through, so we do need to be briefer—and that is now to be exemplified by no less a figure in the House than Mr Frank Field.
The Department for Work and Pensions’ own survey of claimants under universal credit full service found that over 40% were unable to register a claim online unassisted. These people are the most likely to be vulnerable in our society. Universal support is meant to address this, but the NAO report reveals that providers told the NAO that universal support does not meet the needs of claimants and leaves providers insufficient time to assist them. What are the Government going to do to ensure that these people receive the support they need?
As the hon. Lady will know, we have provided £200 million-worth of support for local authorities to help people who will need the help not just for budgeting but for going online through IT; we have a free phone line and we meet with people face to face to do just that.
Universal Credit: Supporting People into Work
The Department published an analysis on 8 June which showed a near doubling of the proportion of UC claimants in a paid job after eight months into the claim. The Department published analysis last year which shows that UC claimants are 4 percentage points more likely to be in work than an equivalent claimant on JSA six months after their claim.
The National Audit Office reported that the Department will never be able to measure whether universal credit actually leads to more people in work because it cannot isolate the effect of UC against other economic factors. So if the Department serious in what it told the NAO about intending to evaluate specifically the impact of UC, is that evaluation under way, how many people are being evaluated and when will it report?
As the Secretary of State has said, we are at record levels of employment in this country and that is because of the policies of this Government. The hon. Gentleman talks about the 200,000 extra people who will be in work as a result of UC. He will also know that, in 2012, the Institute for Fiscal Studies looked at the methodology, which related to the key element of this, which was the financial incentives that will make more people go into work, and it concluded that this was within the plausible range.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are at record levels of employment in this country. It is interesting that the Opposition talk about estimates. If I remember correctly, back in 2010, the Opposition said we would lose 1 million jobs as a result of our policies, but we have created 3.2 million. At the end of the day, when it comes to estimates, I am not taking lectures from the Opposition.
Universal Credit: NAO Report
It is unfortunate that the NAO was unable to take into account the significant changes recently implemented in universal credit. Those changes address many of the concerns raised in its report. We continue to listen and learn from feedback, and make the necessary changes to the benefit as we roll it out.
Many of my constituents are among the one in five individuals who are not paid universal credit on time. As the Minister should know, the NAO specifically recommended that UC should not be rolled out further until the system can extend and work with the current level of applications. Will she accept that recommendation?
The NAO made clear quite the opposite: it said that we need to continue with universal credit. It was also concerned that it was rolling out too slowly and said that actually we should increase what we are doing. So what the right hon. Gentleman says is absolutely not what the NAO said.
My hon. Friend is right—that is exactly the number. Actually, Patrick from Newport has said that it helped him with fares to get to a job and with the cost of clothing. He said:
“Thanks for all your help. It was really easy dealing with everyone who helped me back into work quickly and helping me buy what I need and travel back and forth.”
That was an example from Wales.
The National Audit Office report recommended that the Government should
“ensure the programme does not expand before business-as-usual operations can cope with higher claimant volumes”,
yet in her oral statement on 21 June, the Secretary of State said that the NAO report stated that the Government should
“continue with the roll-out and do it faster.”—[Official Report, 21 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 495.]
Will the Secretary of State tell us where in the report it says that the roll-out should be speeded up?
The NAO report acknowledged the close links between local authorities and universal credit. As one of the first full-service sites, Rugby and its borough council received an £85,000 payment to assist with the cost of digitisation. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming that valuable support for local authorities in full-service areas?
Universal Credit: Financial Hardship
The best way to help people financially is to help them into work, and universal credit will get 200,000 more people into work. Our recent survey evidence shows that people on UC and in work had an average increase in reported earnings of £600 a year. There was also an 8% fall in the number of people on incomes of £10,000 a year or less.
The DWP’s own survey also found that after nine months on universal credit, 40% of claimants were falling behind with their bills or experiencing real financial hardship. This is a problem not of the initial waiting period but of ongoing insufficient income. The Secretary of State has tested and learned about hardship levels. How will she fix them?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, the close and constructive relationship between work coaches and their clients should enable them as a team to get through any hardship that arises. The hon. Lady is attempting to build a career on bashing universal credit, but she never does so in context. We have chosen to fight poverty in a different way. We have chosen to fight it with work rather than with welfare. She never points out that, under the last Labour Government, the number of households where no one worked almost doubled.
Earlier on, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), mentioned scaremongering by the Opposition. I can confirm that that scaremongering causes grave anxiety among my constituents. Will the Minister confirm that, for example, an advance payment does not involve rates of interest and that it is reimbursed by deductions made over a period of months?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I was pleased to be able to sit with him in a meeting with some of his third sector organisations, including his local food bank, his citizens advice bureau and his local refuge, to try to scotch some of the mythology that has been created around universal credit. Wherever universal credit has been in place for some time, it receives universal praise from work coaches on the frontline and very high satisfaction levels from the people who are using it.
Universal Credit: Roll-out
Nearly 1 million people are now claiming universal credit, with around 37% of them in employment. We take 5,000 new claims a day and universal credit is operational in half of all jobcentres, with the full roll-out expected to be concluded by the end of the year.
From the Government’s own business case for universal credit, it transpires that just 3% of those who have been brought into conditionality under universal credit are expected to find work, as a result of sanctions. Given that my constituents are going to suffer this roll-out in September, does he think that this is a robust business case for his Department’s punitive and callous sanctions regime?
The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) talks about sanctions, but he will know that the regime is different. For example, under JSA if somebody who was due to come in for an interview does not contact us after five days, they fall out of the system and are not sanctioned. Under universal credit, however, we continue to pay all the elements—the child element and the housing element—but the sanction that they would face applies only to the standard allowance. The hon. Gentleman talks about wanting to help people, but the Scottish National party voted against £1.5 billion of support. If he wants to support people, he should try to support the Government from time to time.
Order. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), from a sedentary position and rather gratuitously, offered advice and exhortation to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). I simply say to the hon. Member for Lichfield that we can always hear him with crystal clarity. He is in no danger of not being noticed.
Constituents who do not have a passport or driving licence, because they do not drive or have no need of one or cannot afford one, cannot use the online verification system and need to be seen in person at a job centre, but there are huge waits for appointments, including for those who urgently need advance payments. What is the Minister doing to tackle that?
The hon. Lady knows that advance payments are available if they are required on the day. As for verification, there is a set of criteria that can be applied so that we do not have to go through the verification system. If the hon. Lady has specific cases, she should please bring them to me as I would be happy to look into them.
Universal Credit: Death of Applicants
I know of cases where no universal credit payment has been received when constituents have passed away towards the end of their assessment period. Essentially, the DWP classes someone who dies at the end of an assessment period as having died at the beginning. Will the Minister address this so that bereaved families are not financially punished?
I have corresponded with the hon. Gentleman about one specific case. There are circumstances in which payment is still made after the death of a claimant and where payments have continued for two subsequent assessment periods, such as when the individual was in a couple. However, I note the hon. Gentleman’s point and will look into the policy.
A connected problem might be that the Department does not tell people whether they are entitled to prescriptions when their UC claim is awarded. Will the Department please start doing that, because several of my constituents have been in touch in deep distress because of the fivefold fines that they have been forced to pay?
We do not want anybody to be in distress. If colleagues on either side of the House have specific cases, they should bring them to Ministers. We hear a lot of general commentary, but we would like to help individuals, so please bring us those specific cases.
Universal Credit: Claimant Satisfaction
Some 83% universal credit claimants are satisfied with the service. The claimant survey shows that the majority of people find interactions with their work coach, both online and in person, to be helpful and that the online journal is easy to use.
I want to recognise all the hard work that my hon. Friend does in his constituency. Yes, his constituents will get a better service now that we have added those changes. However, he does not have to take my words for it. Chloe, a lone parent, said: “Universal credit is easier than the old system, and it has helped me to get a job. It is simpler, as I do not have to keep putting my wage slips in. I can actually vary my wages and get paid automatically.”
Has the Secretary of State looked into the level of satisfaction of people on the autism spectrum and of those facing similar challenges? Her Department’s offices around the country are very autism-unfriendly and difficult places for people on the autism spectrum to approach. When will her Department have a policy for autistic people?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern for young people, or anybody, with autism. This is something that we, as a country, have to get right, as we are seeing a rising number of people with autism. Both sides of the House work very closely on this, whether it is my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work or Opposition Members.
Supporting People with Disabilities and Health Conditions
In 2017-18, the Department for Work and Pensions spent £51.9 billion on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. This year it is forecast to rise to £54 billion, £9.3 billion more in real terms than in 2010-11. Spending on the main disability benefits—PIP, DLA and attendance allowance—has risen by over £5 billion since 2010 and is at a record high this year.
I thank the Minister for her answer. Will she join me in congratulating the East Cleveland employment and training hub in Skinningrove, which opened in February and has done brilliant work for a number of my constituents, including those with the health and disability issues to which my question refers?
My hon. Friend is a real champion for all his constituents, and I am pleased to join him in praising the work of the East Cleveland employment and training hub, which I understand plays a pivotal role in the community in enabling people to be supported into employment and is particularly valuable for those people who recently lost their jobs at the local potash mine.
My constituent Alexandra Mitchell is unable to walk without heavy metal callipers. She cannot use her feet to drive and has hand controls in the Motability car she now stands to lose because her PIP assessment says that if she can drive, she must be able to walk. Does the Minister accept that this example, and those we have heard from other hon. Members, calls into question the quality of PIP assessments? Does she accept that the system is flawed and needs to be sorted?
One experience of poor customer service is one too many, and of course I will meet her.
I also want to point out what Kate from the west midlands said, again on “You and Yours”: “My 35-year-old daughter has a learning disability. She doesn’t read or write, so I filled in the form for her. From her point of view, it turned out to be a very good experience because when she was on DLA she was on the lower rate but, because of the new criteria, she is now on the higher rate and has a mobility car. So from our point of view, it’s been really positive.”
The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities carried out a robust inquiry into the effects of the Government’s policies, including social security, on disabled people. It found “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. The Minister recently said that she is
“utterly committed to the convention.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 124WH.]
When the Government respond to the report later this summer, will she finally commit to carrying out a cumulative impact assessment of the Government’s policies, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
We were very disappointed that, when it came to the UK, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities did not take into consideration the great deal of evidence that was provided. When I make my very full response, I am sure I will set the record straight so that the committee understands that we are very proud to be a world-leading country in supporting people with disabilities to fulfil their potential in society.
Of course we are always determined to do more, and we do an equality impact assessment every single time there is any sort of policy change.
We know an impact assessment of the social security policies can be carried out, because the Equality and Human Rights Commission has done so. Is it not the truth that the Government will not do this because they are afraid that an impact assessment will confirm what the UN, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and disabled people say, which is that this Government’s policies have created a hostile environment that is causing grave violations against disabled people?
I can assure the hon. Lady that that is simply not the case. We have very strong protections for people with disabilities in our country, not the least of which is the Equality Act 2010. I make sure that impact assessments are done on all policies that are undertaken. I honestly ask all Opposition Members not to use this language of “a hostile environment”, as it is simply not the case and as the very people who need all of our support are put off seeking it and coming forward. I ask Opposition Members to stop saying things they know are not true.
Employment: People with Family Responsibilities
Universal credit supports parents into work through better incentives, and through simplifying and smoothing their transition into the workplace—with UC work will always pay. Furthermore, the Government now provide more support than ever before to help parents with the costs of childcare; under UC people can now claim 85% of their costs, which compares with 70% under tax credits.
Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the figures from the House of Commons Library showing that since 2010 the number of children living in workless households in Greater Manchester has fallen by 7.2%? Does he agree that that is in no small part thanks to the record number of jobs created by this Government?
It will not surprise Members to know that I am more than happy to celebrate the results of that research and to thank my hon. Friend for the work she does in her constituency in promoting this, not least in being a champion for Manchester airport, where thousands of her constituents work, and where there is a strong capacity for growth and yet more jobs.
My hon. Friend has absolutely put his finger on the button. As I said in an earlier answer, in this country we have tried fighting poverty with welfare in the past and failed. The Labour Government spent some £150 billion on tax credits and hardly moved the poverty indicators at all. We have chosen the route of work as the way to human dignity, prosperity and control for people and their families. I celebrate with him the success of the entire country, and not least his constituency.
We are indeed delivering for families. I know it is a joy to many in this House to hear a voice of optimism from Southport at last, from a new Member who works closely with his local business community, recommending that its prosperity lies at the heart of that of many of his constituents. We know that outcomes for children, in particular, are significantly improved if the adults in the household are working and that children in workless families are more than twice as likely to fail to achieve at school.
Ministers will know from the experience of women born in the 1950s that giving people advance notice of changes means they have time to plan. Given that in 2019 families in work with more than two children are set to lose their universal credit support for their third child, what steps is the Department taking to let people know in advance so that they have time to plan?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are no cash losers from this policy: anybody who has an existing third child will continue to retain their support, and that will be preserved as they transition on to UC; we will continue to pay child benefit, no matter the number of children; and of course there will be significant childcare assistance for those who move on to UC.
Is it not the case that universal credit claimants with family responsibilities could face a sanction for refusing a job offer with a zero-hours contract? Is it not also the case that the Government are forcing people into insecure, low-paid work?
The whole point of the new constructive relationship between work coaches and their clients is that they are able to take people’s personal circumstances into account, particularly in respect of children and childcare responsibilities. If sanctions are required, they are at all times reasonable and commensurate with the person’s circumstances. The enormous assistance that we are giving for childcare should hopefully overcome any barriers, but if the hon. Gentleman has constituency cases that he would like to bring to my attention, I would be more than happy to look at them.
In 2010, there were 17,400 recipients of the state pension in Kettering, and the most recent data shows that that number had risen to 18,600 in 2017. In cash terms, the full basic state pension is now worth £1,450 a year more in 2018-19 than in 2010. That is a £660 a year more than would have been the case if the pension had been uprated solely by earnings.
As you know, Mr Speaker, where Kettering leads the nation follows. In Kettering, a record-breaking 10,000 men and women have now been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension. They are part of the millions of working men and women of this nation who are similarly benefiting from automatic enrolment.
PIP: Early Assessments
The hon. Gentleman has written to me about a particular constituency case and I very much look forward to sitting down with him to discuss that. Generally, we start the review period around a year ahead to make sure that everybody has the time that they need to provide all the necessary information and so that we can go back to doctors or medical professionals. Sometimes, people’s situation sadly deteriorates and we need to make sure that they get the level of help that they need.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but I have constituents whose conditions are not going to improve, and one of my constituents has been called back for early assessment three times in three years, causing her a great deal of stress. If people have conditions that are not going to improve, does it not make sense to give them the benefit for longer and not reassess them so regularly?
I very much look forward to our meeting, and hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the recent changes. We have worked closely with disabled people and charities. We introduced the severe conditions criteria so that if people are on the highest levels of employment and support allowance or PIP and their condition is, sadly, not going to improve, their claim will be extended almost indefinitely.
We are committed to making sure that all disabled people who want to work have the opportunity to do so. I am really pleased that, over the past four years, more than 600,000 more disabled people are in work. Assistive technology is of course playing a key role in that. We support such initiatives through the Access to Work tech fund and Disability Confident.
The Minister will know that autonomous vehicle technology is moving along quickly. Does she agree that autonomous vehicles could give people increased social mobility, and enable people with physical disabilities or those who are partially sighted to access work?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Government are investing hundreds of millions into research and development to make sure that we fully understand the potential of autonomous vehicles and make sure that they really do benefit disabled people.
In the light of all the controversy around the quality of PIP assessments, would it not save time to get people’s medical records automatically, thereby reducing face-to-face assessments, appeals and the hardship for beneficiaries?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. As part of our continuous improvement of PIP, we work closely with healthcare professionals so that we can speed up the process and make sure that we get all the right information to make the best possible decision the first time around.
Pension Transition Arrangements
The Department has received a number of representations from people regarding changes to state pension age since 1995, and the matter has been comprehensively debated on many occasions. Women will receive their state pension either at the same age as men or earlier as we remove the current inequality.
The Government have seen fit to award the richest personal earners and the top five wealthiest corporations in the country tens of billions of pounds in tax cuts. Do the Government think that the Tories are being fair when they steal the pensions of women to stuff their friends’ pockets?
It is always good to hear the dinosaur that is my friend from the north-east, the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn). He was in government between 1997 and 2010 when he could have changed the law and did not. The reality of the situation is that the richest 1% have never paid more tax than at present and that corporation tax reductions create jobs, as has been comprehensively proved. He, I am afraid, has no grasp of the facts as they now are.
Women born in the 1950s are the victims of a monumental pensions injustice. Christine is 62 and cannot retire until she is 66. Her husband has died, and she now has to do three cleaning jobs to make ends meet. At the very least, will the Government follow the lead of the Labour Mayor for Greater Manchester and introduce free bus travel for the women affected? They deserve better.
I merely repeat the point that I made previously: between 1997 and 2010, there was a Labour Government. Not only did they support this policy, but they expanded it through the Pensions Act 2008, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows full well, raised the state pension age.
Those who take an interest in disability issues will know about our Disability Confident scheme, which supports businesses to employ disabled people. We have launched the Disability Confident 100-day community challenge to get people across this House involved in supporting people in their local area. To date, in 24 hours, 23 MPs have become involved. I hope that the whole House will help disabled people in their area to get into work.
This is complicated, Mr Speaker, so stay with me. What can the Secretary of State do to ensure continuity of universal credit benefit entitlement for those people paid on the same day every month for whom, every now and again, two pay packets will fall into the assessment period?
My right hon. Friend is in the Chamber much of the time, so he might have heard me talk about this complicated issue quite a bit. It is about not just the last day of every month, but people who might have differing pay packets—they might be paid weekly, fortnightly or four-weekly rather than monthly. A recipient might not get their UC in a month because they have two pay packets falling within that month. What we can do straightaway is this: the person has their entitlement to benefits, and they will then sign on again the month after and remain in UC. We are providing guidance and support for both claimants and employees so that people stay on a cushion of benefit, but the system reflects their fluctuating wage.
Again, the hon. Gentleman raises a good point. As he will be aware, I am working with Opposition Members and with the Work and Pensions Committee to make sure that money from Motability—the charity or its operations—is being spent correctly and, most importantly, on disabled people. A report is being produced at this very minute.
That is exactly what we are doing with the slow roll-out. We are listening to what is needed. Members on both sides of the House supported the policy of universal credit because the old legacy benefits were not working, but we have to get this right and support claimants during the roll-out.
I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituent to discuss that particular issue. He will be aware that earlier this year the Government consulted on changes to the rules about child maintenance, including a power to impute an income from assets of 8.5%, and we hope to publish the conclusions from that consultation shortly.
The last jobs fair that I held in my constituency focused on Disability Confident employers, and it is great to see that more than 5,000 are now signed up nationally. What more can MPs do to encourage more employers to join this fantastic scheme?
I am very grateful for the hard work that my hon. Friend is putting into his constituency. I have great news: the latest figures show that just under 7,000 employers have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme. I would really welcome every Member of this House signing up to the 100-day challenge in order to help their many constituents who would really like to work. There is something that everybody can do—[Interruption]—constructively, rather than chuntering from a sedentary position.
I will be honest: I do not believe that that is our policy; we would not do that. However, I have seen fraud investigations when people have said that they are not working or are unable to work, but unfortunately what they have posted on their Facebook page has very much proven that not to be the case.
The Secretary of State knows that I was not happy with the level of outreach support in Shipley when the jobcentre closed at the beginning of January—we speak of very little else, Mr Speaker. I am delighted that some extra support has now been given, but will my right hon. Friend ensure that a Jobcentre Plus outreach worker is available at a public venue on a regular basis to help claimants in the Shipley constituency?
When my hon. Friend said that “we” speak of little else, I was not sure whether he was talking about me and he, or he and the rest of the people in Shipley. But he is quite right. I am ensuring that one of the key things this Department does is more outreach work. As UC rolls out, it needs to reflect the needs of local people, and outreach is a sure-fire way to do that.
The report said that we should carry on with universal credit and that the roll-out should not be slower. The very reference to it not being slower was to ensure that it is sped up. This has been a slow roll-out but, of course, we have to ensure that the roll-out is right, as we have been doing, hence the extra support that we are providing. I repeat the extra number of jobs that we are helping people get: 3.2 million more people are in work.
Family relationship support providers such as Relate, Tavistock Relationships, OnePlusOne and Marriage Care are concerned that there could be a gap in funding—and therefore in critical services such as parental conflict resolution—after current contracts end next month and before new contracts start. How will Ministers address this?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in this area. She was instrumental in securing a £39 million commitment from the previous Prime Minister towards this area of work. She knows that we are in the process of going through a procurement process for a new parental conflict programme, of which face-to-face therapy forms about 25%. We have recently published a timetable for the procurement process. I would be more than happy to meet her and the organisations to talk about what we can do to help.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, a “new burdens” policy is in operation and has been for many years. Where local councils come forward with specific costs, we review them and make payments. In 2017-18, £13 million was paid out to local councils.
Will my hon. Friend outline what official support is available to families when one parent is unexpectedly unable to work because of a serious illness such as cancer? Does this support apply to claimants who are employed and self-employed?
The PIP assessment has disproportionately and unfairly impacted on people with epilepsy, with 60% having their budgets reduced when they move from DLA to PIP. This is nearly 20% higher than for any other condition. Will the Government admit that the current assessment process is not fit for purpose for people with epilepsy and set out what is being done to improve it?
I am sure that you will be delighted, Mr Speaker, that Wimbledon is now under way. Of course, that means that tonnes of British strawberries will be consumed. I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s recent comments about encouraging more British workers to pick that fruit. Will she update the House on her plans in this area?
Then everyone is a winner today in this Chamber.
My hon. Friend is right. I have met representatives of the agricultural industry. What was key was people understanding what opportunities are out there, what the work entails and the wage that it pays, and the fact that universal credit supports people in and out of work, which means that they can take up these job opportunities.
A gentleman in his 80s attended my recent surgery regarding his son, who in his 50s and has complex and multiple disabilities. It beggars belief that he is being found fit for work. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this specific case? When will her Government stop vilifying the disabled and the most vulnerable in society?
As the Minister will know, universal credit rolls out in Torbay on 5 September. I have already welcomed the work that has been done by the DWP to engage with me. Will he confirm what resources will be made available to ensure that the roll-out on 5 September is successful for my constituents?
Joanne in my constituency needs 24-hour care. She was selected for early mandatory reassessment last November, a full year before her PIP was supposed to run out. She lost that reassessment and is appealing. When she lost, her money was stopped, and the family are living on food bank generosity. Does the Minister agree that that is deeply unfair? Will she take a fresh look at maintaining benefit payments for those who have early reassessments—in that case, a whole 12 months before the PIP was supposedly going to run out?
Children in workless households are five times more likely to live in poverty than those in working households. Can the Minister tell me by how much the number of workless households has risen or fallen since the Conservatives entered government in 2010?
The proportion of people in absolute poverty is now at a record low, with 1 million fewer people and 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty since 2010. I cannot at this moment recall the number of households, but I will write to my hon. Friend with that number.
The reality of the situation is that these matters are going through a particular process. That process is ongoing, and the outcomes will be revealed when the decisions are made. There is no difference in any way from how the Government treat other claimants.
I do not want to see any young person in Redditch unemployed, which was why I set up Redditch Mentors, a scheme to help young people to reach their full potential. The last Labour Government presided over a record rise of 45% in young people being unemployed. What more are the Government doing to improve that?
May I commend my hon. Friend on all the work she does in her constituency? Youth unemployment is at a record low—it is 40% lower than it was under the last Labour Government—and programmes such as the youth support programme are available to help individuals. We value young people. It is about time that Labour did the same.
A Minister suggested earlier that the policies of the Labour Government had not reduced poverty. Are Ministers not aware that child poverty was reduced by 800,000 over 13 years thanks to the policy of the Labour Government? Are they also aware that it is now rocketing?
As the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), made clear, since 2010 there are 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty. As we have heard, the route out of poverty is work. We have record levels of employment, and that is something we should all welcome across the House.
Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on whether the Government will now reinstate the judge-led inquiry that the former Government promised in 2012, in the light of the two Intelligence and Security Committee reports on detainee mistreatment and rendition published on 28 June 2018.
Order. Before the Minister of States replies—we look forward to that with eager anticipation—perhaps I can be the first in the House to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Father of the House, on his birthday. The only prediction I feel that I can make with any confidence is that, as he celebrated two weeks ago today the 48th anniversary of his first election to the House, it is a fair bet that he has now reached the mid-point of his parliamentary career.
May I also congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)? At the outset, I want to thank him for his question and his leadership of the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition.
The Government welcome the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s reports and are grateful for its vital work and examination of allegations of UK involvement in mistreatment and rendition. May I also declare that between 2014 and 2016, I was for a period on the Intelligence and Security Committee when it was conducting this very long investigation? It is right that these reports and as much information as possible from this period are put in the public domain. We need to ensure that we learn from past mistakes so that they are never repeated. The Prime Minister laid a written ministerial statement in Parliament last Thursday, setting out the Government’s initial response to the reports.
It is important to note the context in which the Government, including the security and intelligence agencies and the armed forces, were working in the immediate aftermath of 11 September 2001. The UK responded to the tragic events of 9/11 with the aim of doing everything possible to prevent further loss of innocent life. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that UK personnel were working within a new and challenging operating environment for which, in some cases, they were not prepared. It took too long to recognise that guidance and training for staff was inadequate, and too long to understand fully, and take appropriate action on, the risks arising from our engagement with international partners.
The “Current Issues” report recognises that improvements have been made to operational processes since those post-9/11 years. In particular, the consolidated guidance, published in 2010—I would point out that we are the only country to have active consolidated guidance of this sort in operation—provides clear direction for UK personnel and governs their interaction with detainees held by others and the handling of any intelligence received from them. This is coupled with world-leading independent oversight, including by the Committee and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Sir Adrian Fulford.
Formal oversight responsibility for the consolidated guidance rests with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. Last week, Sir Adrian Fulford welcomed the Prime Minister’s invitation to him to make proposals on how the consolidated guidance could be improved further and he would be able to take account of the Committee’s views and those of civil society. The Prime Minister has stated that the Government will give further consideration to the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations. The Government will also give careful consideration to the calls for another judge-led inquiry and will update the House within 60 days of publication of the reports.
I would like once again to reassure the House that the Government do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture for any purpose. We can and should be proud of the work done by our intelligence and service personnel, often in the most difficult circumstances. It is right that they should be held to the highest possible standards, and I am confident that the changes we have made in recent years will allow us both to protect our national security and to maintain our global reputation as a champion for human rights across the world.
We need robust and effective intelligence services to protect our national security, and I am sure we are all grateful to those who carry out this work and do it for us. I welcome the Minister’s reiteration of our opposition to torture and our acceptance that good but robust standards must be maintained. In the light of that, however, I would like to know why the Intelligence and Security Committee was stopped from completing the report, on which he himself had been working, when it had already uncovered the unacceptable situation of a large number of cases of British complicity in torture, mistreatment and hijacking of people to Guantanamo Bay and to Libya?
The Committee reached the stage at which it wished to call witnesses directly involved. As it makes clear in its own report, it reached the stage at which it wanted
“to examine certain matters in detail, which could only be done by taking evidence from those who had been on the ground”.
The Government denied that, and the Committee felt it had no alternative but to stop its work. Why was that done, and what are we trying to cover up of what was done during the time of the Blair Government?
The judge-led inquiry was set up in 2010, to wide welcome, and Sir Peter Gibson produced a report that established more than 20 important questions that we all agreed should be answered. The inquiry had to be suspended—brought to an end—in 2012 while we waited for the police investigations on Libya to finish. As Justice Secretary at the time, I announced the delay to the House. I said:
“It will then be possible for the Government to take a final view as to whether a further judicial inquiry still remains necessary to add any further information of value to future policy making and the national interest.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 916.]
We had actually guaranteed earlier that the inquiry would be resumed, which was welcomed across the House. It was suspended so that the ISC could start, and then the suspension was put in place, under the terms I have just read out.
It is quite obvious that, as the ISC had not finished its work under the previous coalition Government—I spoke with the full authority of the then Prime Minister and the whole Government, including the current Prime Minister, who was then Home Secretary—we would have considered it necessary to appoint a fresh judge-led inquiry, as the ISC has been frustrated from going any further. Therefore, what reputable reasons do the Government have for not holding an inquiry? I am glad that the Minister has said that a judge-led inquiry is still being considered, and I hope that a prompt announcement will be made that such an inquiry will now follow.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. As he rightly says, he was the Minister who made statements to the House on whether there should be a judge-led inquiry. Indeed, as Justice Secretary, he made a statement in January 2012, and as Minister without Portfolio, he made a further statement in December 2013. In the further statement, there was a slight measure of doubt about whether there would indeed be a judge-led inquiry. He said:
“It will then be possible for the Government to take a final view as to whether a further judicial inquiry still remains necessary”—[Official Report, 19 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 916.]
That remains the case. As I said earlier, the Government will give careful consideration to whether a judge-led inquiry is necessary.
I say again to my right hon. and learned Friend that this inquiry has gone on for very many years—his statements about the judge-led inquiry were made in 2012 and 2013, and here we are in 2018. I take issue with his use of the word “complicity”, which I think was a notch too strong. I think that it is honest to say that the ISC found no evidence that agencies had deliberately turned a blind eye.
Perhaps the main issue here is whether in our intelligence agencies it would be right, 15 years after the event, to take someone who was then a junior operative in the field and put them in front of a judge-led inquiry. It is senior people who should take responsibility. Whether someone who was then of a lower rank should be subjected to such an inquiry 15 years later is, I think, one of the serious question that must be asked before a decision is made.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this hugely important urgent question. I congratulate the Father of the House on securing it. Today, as on so many other matters, he has spoken a truth, logic and wisdom that transcends all party divides and will, I hope, be listened to by his own Government.
The ISC report lays bare the sheer scale of our country’s involvement in torture and rendition. In doing so, it vindicates those who for years sought to expose these facts—investigative journalists, civil liberties campaigners and Members of this House—and who were right to claim that the full truth was being hidden. As detailed as the report is, it still does not give us the full truth, and we will not have the full truth until we have a full and independent judicial inquiry—an inquiry with access to all available evidence and the ability to question directly the military and intelligence officers involved. I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says about junior officers, but we expect that of police officers, for example, when there are investigations. We expect police officers of all ranks to answer questions and the same should apply here.
We also need to have access to all the Ministers and security chiefs who oversaw those activities. Like all such inquiries, we do not need it just to examine what went wrong in the past; we need it to learn lessons for the future and to provide recommendations that cannot simply be ignored by the Government. Most importantly, we need it to ensure that never again is the UK involved in these illegal and barbaric acts.
I ask the Minister today to listen to the ISC, to listen to the Father of the House and to listen to the united voice of the Opposition parties in this House, because we all recognise the need for a comprehensive investigation of the UK’s involvement in torture and rendition and the use of secret courts, with unfettered access to all potential evidence and witnesses. Many in this House have great confidence in Judge Adrian Fulford, but in my view anything that is inquired into should be done in a way that is structured and formal.
We all recognise the need for a public consultation of civil liberties groups on the current consolidated guidance to identify the gaps and grey areas that have allowed these abuses to happen and to recommend the changes that must be made, so that we can all be confident that they are not happening now and can never happen again. But we also all recognise that, to achieve these things, there is only one course of action: we urgently need, and the country is owed, a full judicial inquiry.
I listened very carefully to what the right hon. Lady said and I would be grateful if she thought again about the words she used when she accused officials in our agencies—I think that I quote accurately—of being “involved in torture”. They were not involved in torture, so I really think the right hon. Lady may want to come back to the House and say that, actually, that is an inaccurate accusation.
These were very unique times. The twin towers had been blown up in the biggest terrorist attack we have seen. It went right to the heart of the United States psyche, and there was inevitably going to be a very strong and strict response. We are, of course, very close allies of the United States and work very closely with them on intelligence matters. What the response led to was a lot of officers being asked to do things that they had not been trained for and had never encountered before. It took time to understand that there were certain practices going on which required new rules. Perhaps, if there is a fault, it is the time it took for that appreciation to dawn. But once it did, I think it is of credit to this country and our intelligence agencies that they reviewed their practices, revised them and adjusted as best they could to the new world in which they were working.
The right hon. Lady says that I should listen to the ISC. I can say that I have done so, as I was on the Committee. Not only did I listen to it, but many of those interviewed also had to listen to me. The inquisition and witness sessions of the Committee, chaired by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), were very robust indeed. I also say to her that Adrian Fulford is part of a structured and formal apparatus. The fact that the Prime Minister has said that he should look at the consolidated guidance in the way that she has is, I think, addressing some of the outstanding issues, which, quite rightly, the House would like to see studied.
It is not the role of the ISC to take a view on whether there should be a judge-led inquiry. That is a matter for the Government and for this House. What I think can and should be said about this matter, and which may be helpful for the Minister, are three points.
First, as the Minister will appreciate, when the report was published, the Committee was extremely disappointed that it was not able to access the witnesses from whom it wanted to hear. It is important to understand that this was not because it wished to pass judgment on those witnesses—far from it—but because it felt strongly that the witnesses would be able to help to fill out the information that was present on the documents in a way that would be helpful to the purposes of the Committee in explaining to the House and the public what had been going on.
The second point, which has been raised from time to time, is what is to happen to the Libyan cases. My right hon. Friend has not commented on that, but what I will say about the Libyan cases is that in view of the difficulties that the Committee has experienced, there can be absolutely no question of the Committee being willing to consider those cases in the light of the difficulties it has had.
Thirdly, if I may gently pick up with my right hon. Friend the length of time this report has taken, the reason why it has taken so long is that, for nearly 12 months of that period, there was no Committee sitting at all, which should be a matter of concern to the House, and there was a period of six months, which in my view was also much too long, in which we failed to get a response from the Government about our request to have those witnesses.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments. I quite understand what he is saying about the difficulty of a Committee working when it is not actually constituted, and I hear what he says about the Libyan cases. In the case of witnesses, I think it has been made clear in the House that he regrets that he was unable to see more of them, but the fundamental question here is: if things went wrong as it is thought they did, could such things ever happen again? The reassurance that we can offer the House, and indeed the wider world, is that agencies now have clear guidance, including the consolidated guidance, which covers all aspects of dealing with detainees and has training on operational management. Compliance with this guidance is mandatory and this is very much a part of agency culture. The consolidated guidance is coupled with a world-leading independent oversight regime, underpinned by the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which has just commenced, so these are extant—they are working. It has given enhanced powers to the Intelligence and Security Committee to oversee the activities of the security and intelligence agencies alongside the statutory role of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Sir Adrian Fulford, to whom I referred earlier.
I congratulate the ISC on a very thorough report, despite the obstacles that have been placed in its way. This damning report confirms what many of us had suspected—that the UK has been involved and effectively complicit in rendition. That is not just shameful but could, in fact, be criminal if, as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer has suggested, any of these events took place in the context of international conflict or war.
Does the Minister understand that justice must be done and must be seen to be done? That does mean a judge-led inquiry as soon as possible, with all the reports reported as appropriate to the police. Will he clarify who in the Government on day-to-day basis is responsible for making sure that the UK is not in future complicit in unlawful rendition? And will he assure us of the UK Government’s full co-operation with ongoing inquiries by Police Scotland into the implications of the possible use of Scottish airports in unlawful rendition?
When it comes to unlawful rendition, there is now a very different system. The UK’s immigration authorities are responsible for the collection of manifests, for instance, for private flights arriving in or transiting through the UK. If we had strong, verifiable information that an individual on board was being rendered contrary to international law principles, we anticipate that the police would attend the plane on arrival to investigate. The diplomatic flight clearance process ensures that all flight requests are assessed and, where necessary, sent to the Foreign Office for political clearance. All incoming flight requests through the diplomatic flights clearance process and subsequent decisions are registered electronically on the Foreign Office records management system and are fully searchable by the Foreign Office.
The House will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for the tone of his statement this afternoon. Like him, I yield to no one in my respect and admiration for the vital work that our security agencies accomplish, but it would really have been much better if my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and his right hon. Friends and colleagues had fully investigated this matter, which has done considerable damage to Britain’s international reputation as a firm upholder of international humanitarian law and human rights. It is clear that the ISC was prevented from conducting the full investigation it wished to undertake by the Government. There are problems with judge-led inquiries that could have been avoided if these matters had been addressed by the ISC. Given where we are and that we promised a judge-led inquiry—I was a member of the Cabinet that made that promise—it seems incumbent on Her Majesty’s Government now to implement that promise in full.
I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s comments. As I said earlier, the question of whether there should be a judge-led inquiry is still to be considered, but on the question of torture generally I hope the House will appreciate that the Government do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment for any purpose whatsoever. We continue to work closely with international partners to eradicate this abhorrent practice.
Given that President Trump is coming to this country next Friday and has openly endorsed torture, will the Government use that visit to reinforce to him the point that we will not in future be involved in any form of torture, and will the Minister commit to a judge-led inquiry to underline that view?
We will continue our close co-operation will the United States on a range of foreign and security policy issues, but we will maintain our integrity on human rights and interrogation procedures. Intelligence sharing between our two countries has undoubtedly saved British lives, and in both countries intelligence work takes place within a very strong legal framework. We operate under the rule of law, we are accountable to it and we will uphold it.
Does the Minister accept that it is not just bleeding heart liberals and humanitarians who reject the use of torture even under the most provocative circumstances, but senior counter-insurgency professionals such as the late Sir Robert Thompson? He wrote in his seminal work, “Defeating Communist Insurgency” in 1966 as follows:
“There is a very strong temptation...for government forces to act outside the law... Not only is this morally wrong, but, over a period, it will create more practical difficulties for a government than it solves.”
We really should not have to learn that basic lesson over and over again.
If there is one person in the House whom I would most definitely not describe as a bleeding heart liberal it is my right hon. Friend. I understand exactly what he says, and again I can but reiterate that the Government, in everything they do, under much enhanced rules, procedures and practices and on the back of what we have learned from the Committee and the preceding events, will uphold the rule of law and the decencies that all of us in the House expect.
Just over 10 years ago, the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, came to the House and apologised for the fact that his predecessor, Jack Straw, had misled Select Committees, including the Foreign Affairs Select Committee when I chaired, it, and that in fact the United States had rendered people to Guantanamo via Diego Garcia, a British territory, having lied to or misled the British Government and forced them therefore to mislead this House. In the interests of getting to the bottom of all these matters, is it not time for a judge-led inquiry, which would not be perceived by the public as having any political taint? Accusations have been made that might be completely unjustified, but the public will not be satisfied unless there is a full inquiry.
The hon. Gentleman’s question itself illustrates the period over which much of this has unfolded. It has been well over a decade, and over that period we have learned an enormous amount and changed our practices. We are fundamentally opposed to unlawful rendition, to which he referred, and as such we do not use rendition. It is not part of our security apparatus. If a foreign Government were to approach Her Majesty’s Government, a request involving the transfer of a person between jurisdictions would be granted only where the purpose of the transit complied fully with international law.
My right hon. Friend plays a significant role through the Council of Europe in seeking to maintain the highest possible standards of human rights throughout the 47 member states. We have a good reputation, and that reputation must be maintained. I fully accept that the first priority of Government must be the protection of the realm, and that that sometimes involves difficult decisions, but if Ministers have failed in the past, is it not right that we should acknowledge that?
There will of course be a formal Government response to the Committee’s reports within 60 days, and if it is thought that any such comment is needed in that regard, of course it will be made.
I thank my hon. Friend for everything that he does in the Council of Europe, a body in which there are many controversies and in which his voice, and that of the United Kingdom, do an enormous amount to uphold the standards that we would like to see in countries across the world.
When the Attorney General apologised earlier this year for UK involvement in the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, he told Parliament that the Government had
“enacted reforms to ensure that the problems of the past will not be repeated.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 927.]
However, the ISC has concluded that the Government’s policy on torture
“falls short in a number of areas”,
and has warned that
“a full review is long overdue.”
Do the Government still believe that their reforms would prevent any repeat of these abuses?
The Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, apologised unreservedly to Mr Belhaj and his wife in May this year, saying that we were profoundly sorry for the ordeal that they had suffered and for the role that we had played in it. As we said at the time, the UK Government have learnt many lessons from this period, and I believe that those lessons have now been converted into much-enhanced practices which are built into the DNA of our intelligence agencies and all who work for them. The consolidated guidance that forms the bedrock of this will be studied further by Sir Adrian Fulford. I hope that, taken together, all that will satisfy and reassure the House that we both set the highest standards and meet them.
The reports clearly state that there is no evidence that any of our intelligence officers were directly involved in the mistreatment of detainees. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that we are the only country in the developed world to produce consolidated guidance in the way that we have, but we must accept that mistakes were made. Does my right hon. Friend agree that “consolidated guidance” is a bit of a misnomer? If it is to have the widespread confidence that we feel that it should, its title should be looked at again, because it is not guidance. It is a standard for action relating to detention and rendition, to be interpreted by the agencies individually, and to be accountable to the House.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all the work that he has been doing on the Committee. As he rightly points out, we are already the only country that publishes guidance. The Committee found no evidence that agencies had deliberately turned a blind eye, but the Investigatory Powers Commissioner now has a very important role to play in the oversight of the consolidated guidance. Last week the Prime Minister invited him to make proposals for how it could be improved further, and I have no doubt that the Committee of which he is a member will exercise its rights to make recommendations whenever it thinks them appropriate.