House of Commons
Thursday 12 July 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Protected Geographical Indications: Export Value
I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for International Trade and others on promoting the UK’s food and drink abroad, including those foods with geographical indications. Food and drink with GIs represents about 25% of UK food and drink exports by value, with Scotch whisky being the largest by far. Those play an important role as exemplars of quality British produce.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Arbroath Smokies, Stornoway black pudding and Scotch whisky are all key products in maintaining a high profile for Scottish food and drink. When he comes to agree trade deals post Brexit, will he be consulting and involving the Scottish Government in these discussions to make sure that all brands are protected?
I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that we are clear that initially, through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, all of our protected food names will come across and be protected in UK law. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that we maintain all our protected food names, and we have some 70 right across the country. I know that some, particularly salmon and Scotch whisky, are incredibly important to Scotland, and of course we will be working with our devolved Administrations and with our MPs in this House to make sure we protect those foods.
As well as working with the Scottish Government, does the Minister agree that the Scotch Whisky Association has done an incredible amount of work on this issue, which is hugely important for that industry? Will he give further assurance that he is working across government—not just in his Department, but with every Department—to ensure that everyone knows how important the GIs are?
Yes, and I would like to pay tribute to the work that the Scottish Conservative MPs have done to highlight these important issues. On Scotch whisky, we, along with the Department for International Trade, have done a lot of work with other Departments to ensure that we highlight the importance of these vital brands.
The Secretary of State was explicit that
“market access for fisheries products is separate to the question of fishing opportunities and access to waters.”
But what use are fishing opportunities and access to waters if your product risks being held up in customs? For industries such as the live shellfish industry of Orkney this is literally a life-and-death situation, for should one of these shellfish perish, the whole tank is lost. Has the Minister had conversations about the difficulty we may have in the near future?
I am not aware there is a precedent anywhere else in the world of giving a country access to your waters—to your own resources—in return for trade agreements. That is just not the way it works. There will be a discussion and an agreement on the management of shared fisheries stocks, and we are clear in our White Paper that we will manage our own exclusive economic zone and control access to it. Then there is a separate discussion to be had on trade, and the EU wants access to the UK market, too.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a great pleasure to be back, and I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for the fantastic work he did.
Last year, we were listening to hon. Members and the industry, which is why we changed the criteria for the woodland carbon fund and the woodland creation planning grant to make them more attractive to applicants. I am pleased to say that countryside stewardship applications have increased; we have established a large-scale woodland creation unit; we are providing funding to kick-start the northern forest; and we have appointed the national tree champion, Sir William Worsley, to help drive the growth in forestry.
May I, too, say how wonderful it is to see the Minister back in her place? But while back in her place, can she reassure me that a pilot forestry investment zone will be launched this summer and that its sole focus will be on delivering the productive softwood planting that the forestry industry, including sawmills in my constituency, so desperately needs?
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield did announce that the first forestry investment zone will be in Cumbria. I cannot give my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies) an assurance that it will solely focus on softwood planting, but we are recruiting the person to lead that zone and I am confident they will be in place before the end of year.
I welcome the Minister back, but will she give that Secretary of State of hers a good thump in the direction of taking trees seriously? There is a close relationship between trees and the quality of air that we breathe in our country, and this Government only plan to sort out clean air by 2040. Can we not have more trees, as under the northern forest initiative and the white rose initiative? Will she get that man next to her to do something and do it now?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is exceptionally passionate about trees; I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the Secretary of State’s constituency has the highest concentration of trees in the country. This issue is not always straightforward. I was at the planting of the first Lowther park estate, where 230,000 trees are due to be planted, and there is more happening up on Doddington moor. Through things such as the woodland creation grant and the creation unit, we will continue to work to get more parts of the country planting quickly.
Mr Speaker, I am sure that in your constituency and mine there will be a lot of tree planting to replace the trees that have to be felled for the construction of High Speed 2. I welcome the Minister back to her role. Will she give serious consideration to the proposal for a new national park at the heart of the west midlands conurbation, so that the biodiversity lost can be offset at scale?
The Department for Transport has already issued a grant so that tree planting can start, so that is already under way. Julian Glover is undertaking a review of national parks and we want to understand the future perspective. I am sure that my right hon. Friend’s application will be considered carefully.
The right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) may not know this, because she does not have eyes in the back of her head, but I can advise her that she has now thoroughly wound up the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan).
Pursuant to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), I remind the Minister that HS2 will go through Buckinghamshire and the Chiltern hills. Is she aware that we are contemplating applying for national park status for the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty? That would help to protect what ancient woodland and trees are left after HS2 has gone through the middle of Buckinghamshire.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister back to her place. On the proper stewardship of trees, is she satisfied that the existing arrangements between the Forest Holidays group and the Forestry Commission fully accord with the commission’s statutory objectives?
We are not happy about the arrangement that the Forestry Commission has entered into with Forest Holidays, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked Colin Day—the Department’s non-executive director and chair of its audit and risk committee—to undertake a review. He will be investigating the matter carefully.[Official Report, 16 July 2018, Vol. 645, c. 2MC.]
Leaving the EU: UK Fish Exports
We want to secure an agreement with the European Union that ensures tariff-free and frictionless market access for fisheries products. That is of course a separate negotiation from those on fishing opportunities and access to waters, which will be founded on the UK’s legal status as an independent coastal state and will be consistent with fisheries agreements internationally.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s belated recognition that we cannot have frictionless exports to the European Union for our fish and agriculture products if we are not in a single market, as the Chequers agreement recognises. Will he explain why his fellow hard-Brexiteers do not seem to grasp that simple truth? Do they just not care about our fish and agricultural exports?
It would be wrong to say that the position put forward in the Chequers agreement is analogous to membership of the single market or the European economic area. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that membership of the European economic area and the single market does not guarantee entirely frictionless access to the European Union for fisheries or other products.
Many fisheries and seafood-processing companies in my constituency have come together with other businesses to express interest in the concept of a free port, post-Brexit. Will the Secretary of State assure them that the Government will agree to nothing that would prevent a future Government from designating free ports?
The White Paper makes it clear that the Government do not intend to change the method for allocating existing quotas. Two thirds of UK fish quotas are controlled by three huge companies, and small boats are being squeezed. Is it not time for the Government to admit that Scotland’s fishermen will see absolutely no benefit from Brexit, but will lose access to the world’s biggest marketplace?
Almost everything in that question was wrong, but that does not surprise me because almost everything in the Scottish National party’s position on fisheries is wrong. It wants to stay in the European Union and therefore in the common fisheries policy and yet it wants Scotland’s fishermen to enjoy all the advantages of being outside the common fisheries policy. Some Members of this House have been accused of wanting to have their cake and eat it. I am afraid that SNP Members want to have a whole chain of bakeries and eat everything in them. If hypocrisy were a term that was allowed to be used in this House, then it would fit the Scottish National party like a bunnet.
There is no prohibition on the use of the term. It can apply to a collective, but not to an individual. The judgment as to whether the Minister is on the right side of the line falls to me. Happily, from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman, he has not erred.
The acquis is, of course, a French term and the common rulebook is an Anglo-Saxon one, and therefore they are happily distinct. I know that my right hon. Friend is fond of Anglo-Saxon terms and pithy ones at that. One thing I would say about the common rulebook is that it governs goods and it governs agri-foods only in so far as is necessary to have free and frictionless access. In that respect, we remain, and will be, a sovereign nation.
Leaving the EU: Agriculture and Fisheries Management
Mr Speaker, thank you for your indulgence on the line call earlier in saying that the ball was in.
The Government’s consultation setting out the policy framework for agriculture in England after the UK leaves the EU closed on 8 May. All responses have been analysed and will be used to inform future policy. A report of the findings will be published in due course. Plans for the reform of fisheries management when the UK leaves the EU were set out in the “Sustainable fisheries for future generations” White Paper, which was published on 4 July.
The hon. Lady raises some very important points. The first thing to say is that the Factortame case was a case that relied on the supremacy of the European Court of Justice. The supremacy of the European Court of Justice will end under the Government’s proposals for leaving the European Union; that is quite clear. The second thing is that the common rulebook on agri-food applies only to those sanitary and phytosanitary requirements that allow us frictionless access to the EU. That means that we will be outside the common agricultural policy and outside the common fisheries policy. It is also the case that economic link conditions can be reformed in such a way to meet the needs that she points out.
My hon. Friend stands up very well for the fisher people of Newhaven. One thing we can do outside the common fisheries policy, as the fisheries White Paper spells out, is reallocate additional quota and we can also—and we propose to do this—pilot days-at-sea or effort-based methods of fisheries control. We hope to work with inshore fishermen such as those whom she represents so well.
There are many important things for the farmers whom the right hon. Gentleman represents, but the details of how payments will be paid have been laid out by the Scottish Government, by the relevant Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing, and I know that he is consulting on those proposals.
As my right hon. Friend will be profoundly aware, the EU Commission wishes to maintain guaranteed and continued access to UK waters even after we leave the EU and the common fisheries policy. I am pleased that, in the fisheries White Paper published last week and in discussions with fishermen during his visit to Peterhead in my constituency last week, he confirmed that that is not the position of this Government. Will he confirm again today that, as negotiations with the EU continue, this Government will not allow the Commission to conflate its access to British waters with our access to EU markets?
It is a delight to see the DEFRA team still in their place, but may I offer a special welcome to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who we have missed? We hope that she enjoys her time back as part of the team.
Will the Government tell us exactly who they can sign a free trade deal with, apart from the EU, whereby we do not degrade either environmental protection or animal welfare standards?
Monopoly Water Providers: Senior Executive Pay
On 1 March I set out the need for water companies to respond to public concerns over executive pay and a number of other practices. The Government fully support Ofwat’s reforms that require water companies to ensure that executive pay is linked to customer service.
The chief executive of Severn Trent earned £2.45 million last year. As a Wrexham customer I have to contribute to that salary, following the hostile takeover of our local water company. Does the Secretary of State, in his new progressive form, agree that Severn Trent should follow the example of the John Lewis Partnership and link the pay of its highest paid chief executives to those within the business who are lower paid?
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that I am a huge fan of the John Lewis Partnership and the leadership that its executives have shown. This Government and this DEFRA team have taken stronger action than previous Governments and previous teams have done in order to ensure that water companies smarten up their act, that they deal not just with executive pay, but with some of the byzantine financial structures that have not worked in consumer interests in the past, and that they invest more in improving the environment and keeping bills low.
Mr Speaker, may I first join you and others in welcoming back the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), to her rightful place at the Dispatch Box?
I am afraid that prior to the “beast from the east” Ofwat made it perfectly clear that it had no interest in taking direct action on executive pay, tax structures or dividends. May I say how delighted Labour Members are that, after months of raising this very issue, Ofwat has finally U-turned on its position? Will the Secretary of State explain why it has taken Ofwat so long to take this action and tighten up the weak regulation that has let customers down so badly?
Since 2014, the Government have given the Environment Agency an extra £60 million to tackle waste crime, as well as additional powers to take stronger enforcement action. This year we consulted on further measures to prevent crime at waste sites and I have commissioned a review of serious and organised crime in the sector. The review’s recommendations will inform our strategic approach to waste crime in the forthcoming resources and waste strategy.
One area about which I get considerable correspondence from my constituents is that of fly-tipping. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is not only morally reprehensible, but a threat to the environment and our wildlife? Will he also outline what the Government are doing to tackle fly-tipping, particularly in the countryside?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; fly-tipping is morally reprehensible and does have environmental costs. That is why a review, being led by Lizzie Noel, one of the non-executive directors at DEFRA, and supported by Chris Salmon, former police and crime commissioner for Dyfed-Powys, will look at exactly what powers and sanctions are required to deal effectively with this scourge.
Fly-tipping in all its forms is unacceptable, but it is particularly unacceptable when businesses try to avoid costs by dumping commercial waste on unauthorised sites. In such circumstances, does the Secretary of State feel that those businesses should have their vehicles confiscated, alongside any other assets that they use to facilitate this unacceptable practice?
Plastic Waste Recycling
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs estimates that in 2017 there were exports of 661,000 tonnes, compared with 790,000 the year before. Since China banned imports of certain plastic waste at the start of this year, exports to China have fallen significantly, but exports to other countries have risen. We want to ensure more and better-quality plastic recycling in the UK, and we will set out measures for this in our resources and waste strategy later this year.
As I said, exports to China have fallen drastically, but other countries such as Turkey and Vietnam have taken on more of the plastic waste. Our issue has been more with the paper waste that China used to take from us. It is proving a challenge to get the price that it used to attract.
Wales has the best recycling rate in the UK and the second best in Europe, and the Welsh Labour Government have the stated aim of being the first “refill nation”. Could not the Department learn a lot from Wales, including on plastics that we send abroad, and incorporate that in the upcoming resources and waste strategy for England?
It is vital that we recycle more of our plastic waste here at home and create jobs and growth in every nation and region of this great country. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to my Committee yesterday to recycle half of England’s 35 million asthma inhalers by 2020, not only because of the damaging plastic but because of the damaging fluorinated gases—greenhouse gases—that they release into the atmosphere. Will the Minister enshrine the principle of extended producer responsibility into law through the waste strategy so that more producers are responsible for the waste they produce?
Farming: Environmentally Sustainable Produce
The Government have pledged to work with farmers, food producers and environmental experts across Britain to devise a new agri-environment scheme to be introduced in the next Parliament.
The Department is undertaking significant steps to ensure that high environmental standards are maintained not just in farming but across the piece in the event of the country leaving the European Union in March 2019 without a deal, but of course it remains the commitment of this Government to secure the best possible deal for Britain.
Leaving the EU: Food Quality Standards
As a country, we are proud of our high food safety and animal welfare standards, and we have no intention of undermining our reputation for quality by lowering our food and animal welfare standards in pursuit of trade deals.
The Government are demonstrating today that they are happy to roll out the red carpet for unpalatable arrivals from the US, so can the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister’s Chequers agreement means that we will hold a stronger line when it comes to rejecting chlorinated chicken imports?
The existing food safety provisions on issues such as chlorinated chicken will come across through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. We have always been clear that we will not water down our standards in pursuit of trade deals. The general approach is that if one is a guest in another country seeking to do business there, then one should adopt and abide by the customs and rules in those markets. That is what we do when we seek access to foreign markets, and that is what countries will have to do when they seek access to our markets.
Air pollution and climate change are closely linked. Our strategy for cleaner air recognises that our “road to zero” strategy tackles several of the issues that were raised in the report. In addition, our future energy, heat and industrial policies, including phasing out coal-fired power stations and improving energy efficiency, show that we can do stuff by working together for air quality and climate change.
The Committee on Climate Change has been scathing about the Government’s abysmal response to the UK’s seriously poor air quality, citing the fact that we are now on course to miss the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Many of us struggle to breathe due to air pollution, and around 50,000 people die prematurely each year, while the Government have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds defending their record in the courts. When will they get a grip and put forward a workable and funded air quality strategy for the sake of my residents in York?
Overall air quality has actually been improving, and the hon. Lady will be aware that our legal challenge is on roadside nitrogen dioxide concentration. I am sure she will want to respond to the clean air strategy, which is ambitious and will achieve a lot of the outcomes we all want, wherever we live in this country, so that we have better air.
The Government’s “road to zero” strategy, published earlier this week, provides clarity on the role that cleaner diesel vehicles can play in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and meeting ever more stringent air quality standards. My hon. Friend will be aware that we continue to have the policy to end the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040.
I am not aware of that call about the national parks, but I am sure that the hon. Lady recognises the £3.5 billion being invested in improving air quality—a lot of it in changing transport mode to more buses, which I know she is a fan of, and through more cycling and walking. We continue to want to implement that.
The tragic death of a nine-year-old is the first death to be directly linked to illegal levels of air pollution. The lawyer representing the family has said:
“The Government has willingly presided over illegal EU air quality limits since 2010 and this ongoing failure is costing lives.”
Does the Secretary of State agree?
The death from asthma of Ella Kissi-Debrah is absolutely tragic. It is important to say that this is part of an ongoing legal assessment, and it has not yet been conclusively linked to air pollution, but I am fully aware of the impact that poor air quality can have, and that is why this Government are acting on it.
According to UNICEF, more than 4.5 million children in the UK are growing up in areas with toxic levels of air pollution. It is unacceptable that the most vulnerable members of society, who contribute the least to air pollution, are the ones suffering most from its effect. Will the Minister accept that this is a children’s health crisis? What urgent targeted action and funding to reduce child exposure have the Government committed to?
I recognise that this is a challenge, and that is why the Government are addressing it so clearly. The clean air strategy has come out, and the issue that UNICEF refers to is particulate matter. Under current EU rules, we are not in any way breaching the levels set out, but we have recognised that we have to take action. Some 40% of particulate matter comes from domestic burning, which is why we will be consulting on measures later this summer.
The future of food production has to be at the heart of DEFRA’s work. That is why I am very pleased that, in conversations I have been having over the past two weeks with our lead non-executive director, Henry Dimbleby, he says he is drawing up plans to envisage how a food strategy can operate across Government. I look forward to updating colleagues on the progress of that work.
I very much welcome the appointment of Julian Glover to do a review of national parks. Will my right hon. Friend say when he expects that review to report? Does he agree that it is very important that national parks are not held back to become museums, but become thriving places for people to invest and develop houses in the right places?
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comments. He is absolutely right; Julian Glover is an outstanding individual who I know will conduct a superb piece of work, which we expect to publish in the latter half of next year. My right hon. Friend is also right to say that the reason our national parks are so successful is that they are not museums; they are active, working places, and individuals make sure that they are places of beauty that draw so many visitors, but are also places of food production and economic activity.
The Environment Agency is the regulator in this regard, and operators are bound to ensure that what is exported gets recycled appropriately. I have not looked at that report yet, but I am happy to look into this and write to the hon. Gentleman.
I remember my visit to Wales with affection, and I am very much looking forward to revisiting my hon. Friend’s constituency, I hope, in under a fortnight’s time for the royal Welsh show. Those young farmers are outstanding young men and women, and it is my responsibility to make sure that their commitment both to food production and to high environmental standards is supported at every level. May I also congratulate the Welsh Government on their proposals for providing support for farming in the future? I look forward to working with them.
The Secretary of State scored a major coup in being the first to interview President-elect Trump. As the Secretary of State has since become a born-again green and the President will touch down on these shores today, will the Secretary of State use all his famous skills of tact and persuasion, as well as that pre-existing special relationship, to impress on the President that climate change is an existential threat to our planet and to persuade him to reverse his disastrous decision to pull out of the Paris climate change accords?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for being so generous about some of the activities I undertook when I had a sabbatical from the Front Bench earlier in this Parliament. Of course, she is very flattering. I do not know that I have the diplomatic skills to bring the President of the United States into the same space that she and I are in when it comes to fighting climate change, but believe me, I will do my best.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Earlier this year, we invited calls to a small grants scheme to promote farm productivity. It was over-subscribed, so we have put in an additional £7 million, making a total of £23 million. We intend to have additional calls later this year.
Yesterday, senior industry leaders were in Westminster as part of the Prince of Wales’s corporate leaders group, which is facilitated by the Cambridge-based Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Industry will be key in tackling the environmental challenges of the future, but when will the Government acknowledge that far from being a burden, intelligent regulation is the key to environmental innovation?
I think the Government have always acknowledged that. In the spirit of your comments about not underselling myself, Mr Speaker, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the speech I gave at the Policy Exchange four weeks ago on the need to reform capitalism. I am afraid that that is something only the Conservatives would undertake, because while we can reform capitalism in the interests of the country, the hon. Gentleman’s right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party would destroy capitalism and, with it, torpedo this country’s prosperity.
The joint air quality unit provides advice to councils that are seeking support. I suggest that councils have many powers already, but this will largely be a case of working closely with the county council to try to make sure that the traffic flows, and I am sure that that will improve air quality in my hon. Friend’s area.
Diolch, Mr Speaker.
What consideration has the Secretary of State made of ways in which the UK Government might intervene to alleviate the pressures faced by farmers across Wales as a consequence of the recent dry weather, particularly the pressures on the already dwindling fodder reserves?
We will hold discussions with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations on those issues. Only a few months ago we sought and achieved a derogation from the EU linked to wet weather. I am now aware that in many parts of the country, including England and Wales, there are issues linked to dry weather, and we are considering seeking derogations from certain schemes to take account of that problem.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his tenacity and success in ensuring that service animals will be better protected as a result of the Bill that he is bringing forward. We want to ensure better protection for all God’s creatures, which is why we will bring forward proposals to increase the sentences available to the courts for those who commit the most extreme acts of animal cruelty.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The farmland bird index shows that over the past 30 or 40 years there has been a precipitous decline in some species, although there has been an increase in others. Many factors are at work—sometimes the way the land has been farmed has had an impact, but there are also other factors, including climate change. At the Environmental Audit Committee yesterday the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) raised a number of issues that we need to address, including through education, to ensure that conservation, biodiversity and environmental enhancement are valued not just by the Government but by us all.
In a rural area such as west Oxfordshire, the livelihood of farmers is of enormous importance, as is leaving our environment in a better state than we found it. What are Ministers doing to ensure that farmers are protected while improving our environment?
My Department and Ministers personally carry out extensive consultation with farmers and those who work alongside them. In the agricultural shows that I have had the opportunity to visit over the course of this summer, and in meetings with the National Farmers Union and others, I have been struck by the commitment that farmers have not just to food production, but to the highest environmental standards for the future.
I do not know whether the Environment Secretary has had a chance to look at Oxfam’s excellent new report, “Behind the Barcode”, which looks at modern slavery and human rights abuses in the food supply chain. I know that it is not his primary responsibility to consider issues such as modern slavery, but given that it is so prevalent in our food system, what conversations has he had with his colleagues about trying to stamp it out?
I have had conversations with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Home Secretary about ensuring that high standards are maintained—not just environmental standards, but also social and labour protection standards—at every stage in the food chain. I will endeavour to look at that report and ensure that my colleagues across Government are acquainted with its contents.
As I said earlier, there have been challenges with the dry weather, particularly for cereal crops that in some cases are having to be harvested early. There may be a knock-on impact on the availability of winter forage and straw, so we continue to monitor the situation closely. Farmers are used to weather events, which are a common feature of agriculture. Just a few months ago we had too much wet weather, and we now face problems with dry weather.
The plastics industry in Corby is not only a significant employer but it is keen to engage with the Government and try to identify solutions and innovate around the issue of non-recyclable plastics. What steps will the Government take to foster that engagement?
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
I would first like to congratulate all those ordained deacon or priest last month. Within the hon. Lady’s diocese of York, four women and three men were ordained priest, alongside eight women and two men who were ordained deacon. Nationally, the Church of England is on target to increase the number of people who are recommended for training in 2020 by 50%.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that answer—it is good to hear that the stained glass ceiling is being well and truly smashed. However, is it not about time that, in the evolution of the established Church of England, the special arrangements that were put in place for those who do not accept the equality and ministry of women were abandoned?
The Church has come to an accommodation on that issue. I think that the gradual increase in the number of women who are coming into ministry, and people’s experience of being ministered to by a female priest, is in itself changing social attitudes in a holistic way. I expect to see more and more women coming into post, and therefore more and more people getting used to seeing them there.
There are no barriers to women becoming ordinands in the Church of England. As I have just explained, there has been a sharp increase in the number of women coming into ministry, and the overall number of ordinands entering training has increased by 14% over the past two years. The number of women under the age of 32 entering training has actually increased by 27%, which shows that it is an increasingly attractive vocation for younger women who look forward to a career in the Church as a female priest.
I hear what the right hon. Lady says, but will she also consider the impact of the number of churches that new ordinands have to look after? It is a real worry, given the pressure we are putting on these poor people, particularly if they are not full time, in order to carry out their ministry.
It is obviously a pressure for male and female priests, who might find themselves in charge of eight or 10 very small, rural ministries. The Church has looked at how sustainable that is, and the status of some churches has been changed to that of festival churches, which are open only on the high days and holy days of Christmas and Easter, to try to ensure that the workload is sustainable. It is something the Church Commissioners have very much in mind, alongside training more ordinands.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Electronic Voting Systems
The Commission has received various oral representations in previous Question Times. At its meeting on 14 May 2018, and in the absence of any House determination of a change in voting procedure, the Commission endorsed a plan for a House of Commons decant that envisages a Commons decant Chamber and two Division Lobbies, on the basis of a like-for-like layout, with adjustments to improve accessibility for Members and visitors to the Public Gallery. It will be a matter for the shadow sponsor board, once appointed, to consult on the requirements of the Palace. The procedures of the House remain the responsibility of the House itself.
Last week MPs were concerned that multiple votes interrupted their watching of the England match, but the more fundamental issue is that multiple votes eat into valuable debating time, as happened with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. We were left only 15 minutes for a so-called debate on the UK Government’s power grab. Surely it is time to consider electronic voting, and the decant could be the first step in that process, instead of having a like-for-like, outdated set-up.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I remind the House that it is a matter for the Procedure Committee. Members who ask me this question should perhaps make a submission to the Procedure Committee so that it can consider their proposal.
Is the opportunity of Government Back Benchers to have a cosy chat in the Division Lobby with Ministers a good enough reason to maintain the antiquated voting system, which costs not only a huge amount of money but a great deal of valuable parliamentary time?
Palace of Westminster: Repair and Refurbishment
With the eye-watering bill estimated so far for here, the similarly-eye watering bill for Buckingham Palace, and the biggest bill of all, the bill we will pay for Brexit, is it any wonder that the public are losing confidence in politicians? Is there not still time to decide to move out of London to a purpose-built modern Parliament with sensible things such as electronic voting? If not, is there at least a team looking at how to cut the cost of this nonsense?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will be aware that the possibility of moving out of London has been considered. The joint Commission that was set up through both Houses looked at that matter and dismissed it as a proposal. The sponsor body and the delivery authority will have responsibility for making sure that the costs of the project are kept to a minimum while delivering a prestigious project on a world heritage building.
Is that not exactly the point? This is a world heritage building and if it was in the ownership of any individual, the state would require them to keep it up to a certain standard. That is exactly what we have to do as the owners of this building.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
After the June 2016 referendum, the Electoral Commission recommended improvements to modernise electoral law. Recommendations covered the consolidation of referendum legislation, the regulated period, rules for campaigning and sanctions. The Commission also recently recommended changes to improve the transparency of digital campaigning at future referendums and elections. Further details can be found on its website.
I thank the hon. Lady for that answer. She is obviously aware that questions surrounding changes to the rules on elections and referendums are at the heart of some of the political reform debates that are currently occurring here and around the world. Is she aware that this week, the University College London Constitution Unit, under the leadership of Professor Meg Russell and Dr Alan Renwick, has published the results of the Independent Commission on Referendums, which has been sitting for the last nine months? Will the hon. Lady look at the recommendations in the report and see whether she can add those to the list of reforms that this House must consider before another referendum is held?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising this issue. The Electoral Commission welcomes the report that she refers to and shares the view that the Government must take steps to modernise electoral law, especially on transparency and digital campaigning. It chimes with the Electoral Commission’s report on digital campaigning concerning areas such as misinformation, the misuse of personal data and overseas influence. I am sure that she will continue to impress on Ministers the need for action.
If the ultimate findings of the Electoral Commission investigation into law-breaking by the leave campaign are as serious as the version that was leaked disgracefully by the leave campaign, will my hon. Friend make it absolutely clear to the Electoral Commission that this House and the public will expect full criminal investigations by the police and the National Crime Agency into this alleged wrongdoing, so that the public can have confidence in the integrity of our referendum and electoral system?
The Commission has repeatedly called for an increase to the maximum penalty that it can impose on political parties and other campaigners for a breach of the rules. On the investigation that my right hon. Friend refers to, the Vote Leave organisation took an unusual step in sharing its views on the Electoral Commission’s initial findings. The Commission will give due consideration to any further representations made and will, at the earliest opportunity, publish a thorough and detailed closing report to provide a full and balanced account both to the public and to Parliament.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Church of England Schools: Creative Learning
As the largest provider of education in England, with 4,700 schools, the Church’s “Vision for Education” sets out a commitment to educate the whole child. That includes nurturing
“academic habits and skills…and creativity across the whole range of school subjects”.
This involves a commitment to educating for character rather than a sole focus on academic subjects.
Those are words that give me great encouragement, but is the right hon. Lady aware that in many schools the art of creating and making things has almost disappeared with the abolition of design and technology from the curriculum? Will she look into the Victoria and Albert museum’s new education foundation? It is doing very interesting work on making things in schools—and, of course, it is led by a chap called Tristram Hunt.
That is a name with which we are all familiar. I found that the only way of maintaining any sort of control in a Sunday school class was to do arts and crafts, which seemed to absorb everyone. I am a strong advocate of that kind of practical creativity, but I will certainly look into what the V&A is advocating.
Modern Day Slavery
I am very grateful for that question, because it allows me to pay tribute to the work of the Bishop of Derby, who has just announced his retirement, but who has been the Church of England lead in the House of Lords in tackling modern-day slavery. It was Bishop Alastair who pioneered the idea of creating an information pack for children in schools so that they could understand the horror of the history of slavery and this country’s involvement in it. He did that in the diocese of Derby, but we have learnt a great deal from it, and the scale of the initiative will now be extended.
On a recent visit to Romania, the ministry in charge of Romanians abroad was very concerned about the number of women who were being trafficked for sexual purposes across the European Union and the number of children who were being forced into modern-day slavery. What more can the Church do to highlight the problem and combat it?
The Church of England has always had a great heart for the marginalised, the excluded and the vulnerable. Through the “We see you” campaign, we are starting to raise awareness in society of what we often do not see around us. The Church is working in all schools to raise children’s awareness of this modern form of slavery, together with the charity Just Enough UK—as much as anything, to help them to protect themselves from becoming victims.
My personal view is that the approach taken by countries such as Sweden, Norway and, more recently, Canada and Ireland to outlaw paying for sex is a policy worth looking at, and is infinitely preferable to the approach taken in countries such as Germany, which has liberalised prostitution. That is a personal view and not necessarily the view of the Church of England, but it can have escaped no one that sexual exploitation is a horrific aggravation of the crime of modern slavery.
My hon. Friend is an assiduous member of the Environmental Audit Committee, which has launched an inquiry into abuses in unregulated car washes, and I can only commend his work and that of the Committee. Hopefully, in return, he can commend the ingenuity of the Church of England in making a leap into the digital age and developing an app that helps all of us to identify circumstances which we suspect may involve slavery or exploitation. That is but one example, and I imagine that other apps could be created that would really help us to stamp out modern-day slavery in our society.
Churches: Metal Theft
Since I last answered a question on this subject in April the largest concentration of reported attacks on churches for metal theft has been in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. While we are starting to see small numbers of people being prosecuted for these crimes, the value of the thefts is considerable and the cost of replacement and repair is high.
The Church cannot do this on its own, and it works very closely with Historic England, the police and its insurers alongside the Home Office in order to provide advice and guidance to its parishes. All dioceses now advise their churches to install deterrents such as alarms and cameras. I am pleased to say that the Church in Wales similarly endorsed Historic England’s metal theft guidance.
The Church of England continues to take active steps at local and international level to promote inter-faith dialogue. The Church works through organisations like the Council of Christians and Jews and the Christian Muslim Forum alongside close working with the Office of the Chief Rabbi and senior Muslim clerics.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that many Church schools, both C of E and Catholic, with multi-faith intakes, such as Our Lady of Victories Catholic School Keighley, pupils from which came down to Parliament last week, including many Muslim pupils, bind our communities together from a young age and teach respect for others?
I could not agree more. Church of England schools are open to the whole community and reflect the demographic profile of the community they serve. Thus in some parts of the country 80% or 90% of pupils in a Church of England school may be Muslim. If you will forgive me, Mr Speaker, I would like to commend what the new Home Secretary had to say about his own education as a Muslim in a Church of England school, and how important a part of his own upbringing was an awareness of religious literacy in our world today.
I was very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend’s response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). Does she agree that trafficking women into prostitution is a most heinous form of violence against women and girls and that, if we are to review the law on prostitution, a priority must be to improve exit strategies for these exploited women?
We need to understand, in the world today more than ever, the different faiths of the world and their tenets, and be respectful of the fact that 84% of the world’s population adhere to one of the great religions of the world. By working through religious institutions in all these countries, which should all condemn outright slavery in all its forms, I hope that we can work together internationally to bring an end to the terrible exploitation to which my hon. Friend refers.
This is a bit of good news. The Church Commissioners have made £27 million available for the creation of up to 100 new churches. I am pleased to say that eight new churches are to be created across all the London diocese, and already 100 new worshipping communities meet outside formal church buildings in a fresh expression of “church.”
Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the Church of England is now building its first new church buildings in London since the 1950s to accommodate not decline, which is widely understood to be what is going on, but a very sharp increase in the number of people attending public worship?
I can do a bit of myth busting here. The Church is not in fact closing more churches than it is opening; interestingly, it is opening almost as many new ones as we are needing to close older ones. But that is often to serve gaps in provision and new communities. At the recent Synod I attended over the weekend in York there was an interesting fringe meeting about the planting of new churches on estates and evangelism on estates. We often build new housing developments, but we do not put a church community building in the heart of those communities. That is why the commissioners have seen fit to make extra resources available for the creation of new churches in areas where demand is high.
Immigration: Pausing the Hostile Environment
I welcome the opportunity to respond to this question, and I want to make our position very clear. We have put in place additional safeguards to ensure that legal migrants are not inadvertently caught up by measures designed to tackle illegal migration. It is right that we make a clear distinction between those who are here legally and those who are not. We have made it clear that it is not acceptable that those of the Windrush generation have been impacted negatively, and this Government have apologised.
We are keeping under constant review the safeguards that were immediately put in place. We have introduced a temporary pause in the proactive sharing of Home Office data with other organisations, including banks and building societies, for the purpose of controlling access to services. Data on persons over 30 has been excluded from sharing, to ensure that members of the Windrush generation are not inadvertently affected. This is a temporary measure. We are also providing additional support to landlords, employers and public service providers through the Home Office checking service to ensure that we are not impacting the Windrush generation. We have issued new guidance that encourages employers and landlords to get in touch with the Home Office checking service if a Commonwealth citizen does not have the documents they need to demonstrate their status. We have issued similar guidance to other Government Departments providing public services.
The Home Secretary has said that it is his top priority to right the wrongs that have occurred. A lessons learned review, which will have independent oversight, will help to ensure that we have a clear picture of what went wrong and of how we should take this forward. We are carrying out a historical review of removals and detentions. At the same time, our taskforce is helping to ensure that those who have struggled to demonstrate their right to be here are supported to do so, and we have committed to setting up a compensation scheme.
It is important to put on record the fact that immigration has brought considerable benefits to this country. We saw last night in England’s World Cup team 11 of the players from black or mixed-race heritage backgrounds. That is a tribute to the modern diversity of this country. When the Secretary of State took up his position a few weeks ago, he said that he wanted a decent system, a fair system and a system that treated people with respect. Is it respectful to slip out this information during yesterday’s World Cup spectacle? Is it respectful for the Minister’s Department still not to be able to tell us how many people have been detained? Is it respectful not to have any information about a transparent hardship scheme for those who are still in trouble? Is it respectful to have said nothing about whether the Minister is going to allow for a proper appeals system?
Will the Minister confirm that these changes are not just for the Windrush generation and that they are in fact for everyone who has been affected by the hostile environment? She talks about a “pause”, but why not scrap the hostile environment that is bringing this country into disrepute? Will she also confirm that we will no longer be asking teachers, nurses, doctors and landlords to act as the country’s border enforcement in the months and years ahead?
The right hon. Gentleman has raised a number of important points. First, I want to make it clear that it was the former Home Secretary who requested the pausing of proactive data sharing with other Government Departments, and that that started in April. That is a temporary measure. However, the data sharing cannot be recommenced without my ministerial consent, and it is certainly not something that we will begin again until we are confident that we will not be impacting members of the Windrush generation further.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned hardship, and of course our first priority has been to help people to secure their status through the taskforce. We have put in place a dedicated team for vulnerable people, whom we are linking up with other public sector bodies to ensure that they get the support they need. I chaired a cross-ministerial group early on in all this, and I was impressed by the steps that the Department for Work and Pensions in particular had taken to ensure that those affected would be able to have their benefits reinstated, indeed retrospectively, from the moment that they demonstrated that they had an appointment with the Windrush taskforce.
When conducting our review of those who may have been detained, it is important that we are meticulous. It would be wrong to come out with a number that we were not confident about and we will ensure that, as soon as we have figures that we are content are accurate, which will go through the same independent assurance process that we used for removals, they will be made available to the House.
The taskforce’s first priority is to ensure that those who are assisted achieve status, and that has happened in the vast majority of cases. Those over whom some question remains will have access to an administrative review and, in due course, could proceed to a judicial review if that were appropriate. Obviously, we do not want it to come to that.
As I have said previously and as the Home Secretary has made clear, we have sought to ensure that mitigations are in place for the measures that are within the compliant environment that have impacted the Windrush generation. As I said earlier, we have paused proactive data sharing for all nationalities for people over 30. However, it is important to reflect that compliant environment policies commenced a significant time ago under a previous Labour Administration, and it is also important that this Government have ways of identifying those who are actively accessing services in this country to which they are not entitled.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) deserves the praise and has the admiration of the whole House for how he has championed the Windrush generation, and he is of course right that this was an outrage. However, does the Minister appreciate that that generation, who came here believing this to be, in the words of the shadow Home Secretary, their “mother country” and who are proud patriots, take just as dim a view as any of the rest of us of those who behave illegally or improperly? The point is that the Windrush generation were not illegal or improper and that they do not condone illegality. In doing right by the Windrush generation and being unrelenting in their defence, will the Minister be equally unrelenting in dealing with people who abuse the system and try to cheat them and us?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) have been right to pay tribute to the immigrants who have come to this country and contributed so much to our society and way of life, giving us the multicultural Britain that we enjoy today. However, my right hon. Friend is right to point out that this Government continue to be determined to take action against people who are here illegally, and the suite of measures that enables us to do that remains in place.
The Opposition welcome the limited measures that have been announced, including the temporary end to data sharing and further advice for employers and landlords. However, I have met with a number of members of the Windrush generation who have been caught up in the Government’s net, both at meetings that I have organised and at meetings organised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), and Ministers do not understand that many of them have got into considerable debt because they did not get the benefits to which they are entitled and found themselves paying for medical treatment.
If the Government are serious about at least helping the Windrush generation, I urge them to look again at setting up a hardship fund. After all, we are talking about people in their 60s and over who have had to borrow or be lent money by relatives. If the Government want to be seen to be acting in good faith, they must review their decision not to have a proper hardship fund and set one up as a matter of urgency.
I welcome the limited measures announced, but the Opposition believe that there needs to be a total review of the hostile environment. I am not pretending that some elements of it—particularly in relation to the NHS—were not introduced by a Labour Government, but, unless we review it in total, the Windrush generation will not be the end of it in terms of unfairness and cruelty. We have to review it and see what is necessary to stop people abusing public services, but take out those elements that have caused so much misery to people who are actually British citizens. Ministers have to understand that this will not stop with the current cohort of largely West Indians. As time goes on, there will be cohorts from all over the Commonwealth, including south Asia and west Africa, caught up in the net of the hostile environment.
Finally, I repeat my request for more information: figures on deportations, on Windrush generation persons in immigration detention and on members of the Windrush generation who went back to the Caribbean—for a funeral or a holiday—and then were refused re-entry. Until we have the figures and the Minister sets up a proper hardship fund, members of the Windrush generation will be entitled to think that this is words, not action.
As the right hon. Lady will know, Martin Forde QC has been appointed as the independent adviser to the compensation scheme. His call for evidence has closed and has greatly informed the shape of the consultation, which will be forthcoming very soon. She raised the compliant environment controls, which have been introduced over many years: right to work checks in 1997; controls on benefits in 1999 and on social care in 2002; civil penalties for employers of illegal workers in 2008; and more recent measures, including on the private rented sector, bank accounts and driving licences in the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016.
The right hon. Lady raised the issue of people who have been in detention and those who may have been removed from the country. The Home Secretary provided information when he appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee and confirmed that current indications were that 63 people had been removed, but those figures are subject to the independent oversight that we will put in place in due course, and that will of course be properly independent. As I said in my answer to the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), we will not come forward with the numbers of people detained until we are confident, through the manual review of all cases, that we have the right numbers.
It is with great sadness on both sides of the House that we reflect on how some people from the Windrush generation have been treated and seriously let down by our immigration system, whether it has been a Labour, a Conservative or a coalition Government in office. I am pleased that the Minister is now trying to bring transparency and compassion to this area, but will she confirm that people who made their lives here but have now retired back to their country of origin are free to return to this country at any time?
Absolutely yes. This is one of the areas we have considered, and we have made it clear that those who have retired overseas can return and that those who simply wish to come back and visit would have easy access to visitor visas. The most humbling meeting I have had in my role as Immigration Minister was in Southampton, where members of the Windrush generation set up a meeting that Home Office officials attended to talk to them about their experiences and to help those who needed to go through the taskforce. I know that many Members across the country have set up similar meetings, and I pay tribute to them all for the work they are doing to help to provide reassurance and to make sure that this wrong is righted.
This pause is a small, welcome step, but it is nothing more than that. Finally, it is an admission of the hostile environment that the Government have created, about which they were in denial.
What is the Minister actually doing to scrap the right to rent scheme? The scheme requires landlords to carry out immigration checks, and it has led to half of landlords being reluctant to rent to people without a UK passport. Will she confirm this insidious measure will not be rolled out in Scotland? Will she commit to a broader review of the hostile environment policies, as called for by the Home Affairs Committee? If not, tens of thousands of EU citizens who are not registered as having settled status in time will be among the next victims of this Government.
What is being done to prevent the next Windrush scandal, with thousands of children in the UK being priced out of access to citizenship documentation? Finally, when will the Government ditch their bogus immigration targets? Those false targets and false promises led to the hostile environment policies in the first place.
The compliant environment is part of the Government’s drive to address illegal migration, to tackle those who seek to profit from it and to encourage migrants to comply with the rules and laws of the United Kingdom. The public expect us to enforce immigration laws, which have been approved by Parliament, as a matter of fairness to those who abide by the rules.
Members of the Windrush generation are in their 70s and 80s, and many of them feel extremely vulnerable. One concern that has been expressed to me by my constituents is that they may suddenly face deportation. What words of reassurance can my right hon. Friend give them that they should report their position, make sure their position is regularised and fulfil their destiny as British citizens, as they chose way back in the 1950s?
It is an important point that we must provide reassurance and ensure that as many people as possible make contact with the taskforce. That is why we have been working closely with communities to make sure it is very clear that the taskforce has an attitude of helping individuals. I have been to the centre in Sheffield, and I heard people talking through individual phone calls. I listened both to the questions asked and to the very supportive responses given.
It is imperative that we focus on the numbers that have made contact. The taskforce has successfully responded to well over 8,000 calls, and more than 2,000 people have now secured their documentary status. In many cases, and we have seen some incredible stories on the news, those who have been through the process have found it helpful and have been able to provide reassurance to their family and friends. In many cases, those who have been through the process are the best advocates.
I welcome this urgent question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), and I agree with the shadow Home Secretary on the need for a hardship fund, which the Home Affairs Committee has twice recommended because we have seen cases of people with huge debts who have been wronged by the British state and who cannot wait for the compensation scheme.
The Minister has referred to data sharing, but she did not refer to the police. Will she look again at the obligation on the police to report victims of crime? The Committee has raised serious concern that this is deterring victims of domestic violence and slavery from coming forward to report to the police, and it is allowing dangerous criminals to get away with it.
The right hon. Lady is right to indicate that we do not want any dangerous criminals to get away with anything. Where there are safeguarding issues, it is important that data can be shared, but we should be careful to do so on a proportionate basis.
On the hardship fund, I was particularly struck when I chaired the cross-departmental meeting by how proactive the DWP was being. I am very conscious that some people may well have been deprived of their benefits, and the DWP was immediately reinstating the benefits of those who have confirmed status or who have confirmed an appointment with the Windrush taskforce, but of course the DWP also has a duty to make sure that any back payments that are owed are also reinstated.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on how she is getting on top of this very important issue. She said that 2,000 people who have contacted the Windrush taskforce have received documents confirming the legality of their immigration status, but how many people in total have contacted the taskforce? For what proportion have we now established the correct documentation?
So 2,125 individuals have had confirmation of status, which is done via a biometric residence permit. Many of them will then move on to apply for citizenship, and 584 individuals have been granted that to date. The taskforce has taken many thousands of telephone calls. Well over 8,000 call-backs have been made to people who have made contact in the first instance. I can confirm that more than 94% of people who have provided their information have had their status confirmed within the 14-day target, with many having this on the same day.
I, too, want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for his question. We have all seen the disastrous impact that the Government’s hostile environment policies have had on British citizens, so why are the Government just pausing these policies? Why are they not abandoning them? I want to echo my hon. Friends in saying that these people need a hardship fund and the Government must act to introduce it.
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. A lessons learned review, to be headed by Wendy Williams, has already been announced, and its terms of reference will be published. It will give independent oversight, which will help us to ensure that we have a clear picture of what went wrong and how we should take this forward. In the meantime, as Members have heard this morning, we are reviewing existing safeguards to make sure that those who are here lawfully are not inadvertently disadvantaged by measures put in place to tackle illegal migration. I have already made it clear that the Department for Work and Pensions is the lead Department in making sure that those who are in hardship have benefits both reinstated and backdated, but of course the compensation scheme will be the main mechanism via which individuals will be able to make sure that any compensation they are due is paid.
I welcome the statement from the Minister and the Home Office today. She will be aware that the Windrush scandal is exactly that—a scandal. Those of us on the Select Committee on Home Affairs have questioned several Ministers on why it was allowed to occur without it being highlighted by the Home Office’s internal systems. There was a trend happening that seemed to go unnoticed by the Home Office and officials within it. Will she update the House on what is being done to ensure that future trends are noted far earlier, rather than having to be established through media requests and so on, as in the Windrush case?
I thank my hon. Friend for the question. The lessons learned review is an important part of that, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been very clear that there is, and will be, a cultural change at the Home Office. We have to make sure that we are better at identifying such situations and responding with the appropriate speed. The lessons learned review will help us to understand what went wrong, and we most certainly are learning those lessons.
The hostile environment has particular consequences for refugees, especially as the Liberal Democrat and Tory coalition Government scrapped the national refugee integration service, which had been set up by the previous Labour Government. Refugees have fled conflicts and war, and they deserve help, not hostility. So will the Minister agree to restore a national refugee strategy and service, and allow applicants the right to work if the Home Office fails to meet its own six-month service standard?
The hon. Lady will, of course, be aware of the integration Green Paper, which is being led by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. In the past few weeks, I have had a number of meetings and conversations with leading charities working in the refugee sector. I am very conscious of the need for us to make sure that refugee communities are given the support—the English language teaching—that they need to be able to integrate. I have a particular focus on the measures we must take to help those with status into work.
Wendy Williams has been appointed to the lessons learned review, and I am optimistic that the terms of reference will be forthcoming very shortly indeed. It is an important review and its findings will be published. I am absolutely confident that Wendy Williams will bring integrity to the review and give it the external scrutiny that it requires.
The hostile environment is just one indication of the negative mindset that has shaped Home Office policy and thinking on immigration for years now. We have seen the cost of visa applications going through the roof, the very poor standard of first-instance decision making and the removal of rights of appeal. During this pause, will the Government look at immigration policies in the round and ensure that we have a more constructive and positive debate in future on the contribution that immigration can make to our economy?