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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
12 September 2018
Volume 646

House of Commons

Wednesday 12 September 2018

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Cabinet Office

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Intimidation of People in Public Life

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2. What assessment he has made of trends in the level of intimidation experienced by people in public life. [906829]

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Intimidation can do real damage to our democracy and has no part to play in healthy debate. The Minister with responsibility for the constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), has launched a consultation on a new electoral offence of intimidating candidates and campaigners. I encourage anyone who has experienced this sort of unacceptable intimidation to respond and to take part in that consultation.

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I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that those who seek to interfere with the course of an election through criminal intimidation should face electoral sanction?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point. He is absolutely right. An electoral offence has a higher tariff. It is right that we are clear that our democracy is precious and important. We must do everything we can to protect robust debate with respect.

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Does the Minister agree that more work needs to be done in tackling social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter? Does he think that the Government should not just introduce voluntary charters to govern social media platforms but look at legislation, because too many Members of this House, the devolved institutions and councillors, and indeed candidates and activists, are facing unparalleled levels of abuse through social media platforms? That cannot be allowed to continue.

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The hon. Gentleman makes the very good point that this should not be allowed to continue. We must look at all options on how we can ensure that. We have said we want to work with those companies and platforms to ensure they see proper debate but with respect. I encourage the hon. Gentleman’s party to adopt, as the Conservative party has, a respect pledge to behave properly in the social media world.

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Earlier this year, all the Conservative councillors on Desborough Town Council resigned in protest at the abuse, harassment and intimidation suffered by the Conservative female chair of the council. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, when he reviews standards of conduct in public life, that applies not just to elections but to serving councillors during their term of office?

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My hon. Friend highlights a worrying problem that we are seeing across public life: people are seeing this kind of abuse. It was raised at last week’s Prime Minister’s questions. We all have a duty to stand up against this. The criminal bar on this is in place all year around. We are looking at elections as a separate issue in the consultation, but he is right: we all have a duty to call this out to ensure that people can have proper debate and fulfil their public duty with confidence that it will be respected.

Technological Innovation

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3. What steps he is taking to encourage technological innovation in tackling social challenges and delivering public services. [906830]

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4. What steps he is taking to encourage technological innovation in tackling social challenges and delivering public services. [906831]

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I am determined that the public sector embraces the huge opportunities for better public services at lower cost provided by technology. That is why last week I announced five new public sector challenges from the GovTech innovation fund and why I am also leading the development of a public services innovation strategy to be published next spring.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. Over the summer I wrote to all my 37 care homes and GP practices and visited most of them. They are facing unprecedented challenges with recruitment and retention. How will technology help in that regard?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that she is committed to this issue. We, too, are committed to using emerging technologies to improve the quality of care for patients and to empower staff. Under one of the GovTech challenges last week, we are working with a healthcare trust to ensure prescriptions are not interrupted when people move between care providers and, as Members will have seen, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is also very much committed to this agenda.

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I welcome what my hon. Friend is doing in this area, but what steps are the Government taking to harness the power of technology to help to tackle the problem of loneliness, which the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, the Prime Minister and Members across this House have done so much to highlight?

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My right hon. Friend raises an important point. Under the GovTech innovation fund, in collaboration with Monmouthshire County Council, we are working to investigate a solution to identify vehicles with spare capacity to tackle loneliness and rural isolation. That is another example of the great potential of technology to help to alleviate loneliness across society and to support people in having meaningful social relationships.

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At the weekend, I visited the Clipper, a converted pub on Union Street in Plymouth that is using crowdfunding technology in conjunction with the local authority, Plymouth City Council, to raise money for a refit. What support is the Minister giving to local authorities and communities to use new technologies to raise funds, especially in a time of austerity?

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I would be happy to discuss the example that he has raised. Local authorities have frequently bid for these GovTech funds. As I said, Monmouthshire County Council has been successful, as have local authorities in Northern Ireland, and I encourage others to make a bid when the next round opens shortly.

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What progress is being made to ensure that my constituents can claim universal credit online through the medium of Welsh?

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The Government Digital Service is committed to ensuring full accessibility to all public services, including in our home nation languages, and it will certainly look into that point.

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My hon. Friend will be aware that, across the public service, appointments are being missed with experts including general practitioners, consultants, nurses and employment advisers. Is there a role for technology in prompting members of the public to attend these expensive and important appointments?

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My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct, and this is a perfect example of how we can use technology. Indeed, in my experience many GP surgeries already use methods such as text messages to prompt people not to miss their appointments. He will have seen from recent announcements that the Health Secretary is genuinely committed, as are the Government, to investing large sums in the greater use of technology in healthcare.

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The Government’s record on technical and digital innovation is appalling. Their flagship Verify system is so flawed that the NHS and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have both rejected it. Having spent six years and £130 million of public money developing the system, the Government cannot even convince their own Departments to register. Judging by this dismal record, does the Minister agree that the only technological innovation this Government can stimulate will be overdue, over budget and under-performing?

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Specifically on Verify, I would urge the hon. Lady not to read everything that is being speculated on in the newspapers. The Government are committed to ensuring secure online digital identities, and Verify has already delivered for 2.7 million people. More broadly, let us take the example of gov.uk, which has had 5.1 billion sessions and 15.2 billion page views. That did not happen when the Labour party was in power. Let us also take the example of Notify, which is used by hundreds of organisations. The Government Digital Service is a genuine innovation of this Government, and it is delivering seamless services across Government Departments.

Leaving the EU: Contingency Plans for No Deal

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5. What contingency plans his Department is making for no deal being reached on the UK leaving the EU. [906832]

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8. What contingency plans his Department is making for no deal being reached on the UK leaving the EU. [906836]

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The Cabinet Office has developed contingency plans for exit-related policy areas that are within our remit, such as public procurement, and we also work with other Government Departments on their plans. These preparations are a sensible precaution in case of the unlikely event that the UK should leave the European Union with no deal.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. If our country is not ready for a no-deal scenario, we are simply not in a position to credibly negotiate with the EU, so will he ensure that colleagues across Government work as hard as they can to maximise the completeness and credibility of their plans?

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Yes. A no-deal scenario is not what we expect, and it would certainly be an unwelcome outcome. It is not what we want, but it is right that we should take these sensible precautions. All Ministers around the Cabinet table and their teams are working hard to ensure that those plans are developed and ready.

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As the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover has said, a deal is vital for west midlands, and indeed UK, manufacturing. What plans do the Government have to ensure that the funding currently provided by the European Investment Bank to UK manufacturing businesses and infrastructure projects will continue after we leave the EU?

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We are looking at various proposals, including the creation of a UK prosperity fund, to replace those funds that are currently disbursed via the European Union. My hon. Friend reminds us of the importance, in our negotiations, of seeking to achieve frictionless trade so that the just-in-time delivery systems that cross national frontiers can be sustained to the benefit of business here and in the EU.

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Does the contingency planning that the right hon. Gentleman’s Department is doing include warning Departments what they would need to do if Parliament were to vote for a final say on the deal?

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I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, in voting for the referendum Bill and supporting the article 50 process, the great majority of Members of this House accepted that the decision of the British people in 2016 should be final. However we campaigned, I think that that remains the case.

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Does the Minister agree that the difficulties of contingency planning should not be added to by this obsession with a mythical hard border, which no one wants, cannot be implemented and could be circumvented with ease by everybody in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic?

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As the Prime Minister has repeatedly said, ensuring that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland is a fundamental principle of this Government’s negotiating strategy, along with ensuring that there is no customs barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what work has been undertaken to ensure that UK-wide frameworks are ready in the event of no deal?

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We are continuing intense discussions at official level with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland civil service. It is in the interests of every part of the United Kingdom that those frameworks are ready, so that the benefits of the UK single market can continue to be felt by consumers and businesses in Scotland and everywhere else in our country.

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Following on from that question, what are the implications for the proposed common frameworks of not having a deal on exiting the European Union? No matter how complicated and chaotic the discussions become, will the Minister give an assurance that they will not be used as an excuse to force through arrangements without the consent of the devolved Administrations?

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On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, it remains our intention to do everything that we can to work with the agreement of the devolved Administrations and not to have to use the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 unless necessary. However, whether there is a deal or no deal, there will still be a need for UK-wide frameworks to ensure that the UK single market is preserved when powers have returned to this country from Brussels.

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With just weeks to go until the negotiating deadline, it is clear that the Government are putting more and more focus and effort into planning for a no-deal scenario. Will the Minister therefore tell the House when the Government plan to put the interests of the country ahead of the interests of the Brexit extremists in the European Research Group?

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Anyone who has worked with this Prime Minister knows that what motivates her every single working day is the interests of the people of every part of the United Kingdom. In publishing the technical notices and the guidance to business on a no-deal scenario, we are doing exactly what the European Commission and other EU Governments have done. It is the responsible course of action to take.

Voter ID Pilots

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6. Whether he has made an assessment of the operation of recent voter ID pilots; and if he will make a statement. [906834]

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10. Whether he has made an assessment of the operation of recent voter ID pilots; and if he will make a statement. [906838]

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The Cabinet Office and the independent Electoral Commission published their respective findings in July that the pilots worked well. The overwhelming majority of people were able to cast their vote without a problem, and there was no notable adverse effect on turnout. The success of the pilots proves that the measures are reasonable and proportionate.

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Can the Minister confirm that concerns about ethnic minority communities being adversely affected did not come to pass during the pilots? Is that not yet another reason why voter ID should be rolled out across the whole country as soon as possible?

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My hon. Friend is correct. Our surveying alongside the pilots found no indication that the ID requirements changed the reasons for not voting for any specific demographic group across the participating authorities. That is important evidence.

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My hon. Friend knows well that elections are expensive to conduct. Sevenoaks District Council and Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council do excellent jobs of conducting elections not just for themselves, but for this place and for the county council. Is she planning to consider ways of speeding up payments to those borough and district councils?

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Yes, I am working with the Association of Electoral Administrators to see how the process can be improved. I take this opportunity to thank all the electoral staff in my hon. Friend’s council and elsewhere, who work so hard. The fact is that they have six months in which to submit an account. These things can sometimes be left to the last minute, which creates a bulge in the process, but we want to improve that.

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In terms of this so-called success, the Electoral Reform Society’s report says:

“The government must have a strange definition of success.”

It confirms that this is a waste of money and that it disenfranchises voters. When will the Government tackle the real electoral fraud issue, which is the spending breaches by the Labour, Lib Dem and Tory parties?

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The Electoral Reform Society and people who quote from it have a strange definition of mathematics. The number that they put out on polling day was wildly inaccurate and scaremongering about this policy and they have some explaining to do.

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Out of 45 million votes cast last year, there has been only one conviction for voter fraud, yet the Government seem determined to pursue voter ID, which stopped hundreds of people voting last year. When faced with real threats to our democracy, in the form of violations of campaign rules and finance laws, the misuse of voters’ personal data, and foreign interference in our elections and referendums, the Government have done almost nothing. Will the Minister tell us when the Government will get their priorities right and stop penalising honest voters while turning a blind eye to electoral abuses by the powerful?

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There is an incredibly important principle at stake here, which seems to be missing from the Labour party. Either you want to stamp out electoral fraud or you do not. This policy is about that. Regardless of the number and the levels of the crime, we should tackle it and ensure it does not rob people of their votes. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman entirely forgets what his own party did in government by making this policy a fact in Northern Ireland.

Steel Procurement

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7. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s steel procurement policies. [906835]

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The Government are clear that we will do all we can to support our steel industry. The publication of indicative pipelines of Government steel requirements, alongside revised procurement guidance, ensures that United Kingdom steel producers have the best possible chance of competing for major public sector contracts. We will be reporting on our performance later this year.

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The UK steel industry continues to face challenges. The Government promised in their 2016 guidance on steel procurement that they would publish individual Departments’ performance on steel procurement. When will they publish that information and be transparent about this?

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I am happy to update the hon. Gentleman on that point. I have consulted the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington). He has written to Departments over the summer reminding them of that duty. We are reiterating our commitment to produce that information before the end of the year.

Hereditary Peer By-elections

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9. What assessment he has made of the merits of the by-election system used to elect hereditary peers in the House of Lords. [906837]

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The Government are clear that comprehensive reform of the House of Lords that requires legislation is not a priority for this Government. We would welcome working with peers on measures that could command consensus, so we welcome the work of the Lord Speaker’s Committee, chaired by Lord Burns.

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It should be a priority. Forty-three hereditary peers just elected another hereditary peer to a seat in Parliament with 43 votes. That is nonsense on sticks. It should be scrapped and the Government should bring forward proposals.

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I am not sure there was a question there that I can answer. I say with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman that he assiduously raises this issue at oral questions time after time. I understand his arguments, but the Government’s position is as I put it.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no place for hereditary legislatures and that they should not be supported by a party that claims it wants to build a meritocratic Britain?

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I respect my hon. Friend’s argument just as much as I respect that of the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), but the answer remains the same: there is an enormous amount of work in front of both Houses of Parliament at this time and this is not a priority.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [906843]

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Over the recess, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is Minister for the constitution, announced that the Government have been able to save the taxpayer more than £300 million since 2016 through the national fraud initiative—a record amount. This clampdown on fraud and error in the public sector has helped us to divert more money to frontline public services.

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Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Scottish Government’s proposed electoral franchise Bill, which will protect the voting rights of EU citizens and refugees for Holyrood and local government? Does he agree that we should protect people’s rights and extend the Westminster franchise for EU citizens and refugees?

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The Government have put forward a package of measures that give enhanced rights to EU citizens lawfully resident in the United Kingdom. We believe that that is a fair and generous offer, and it is currently the subject of negotiations.

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T2. When considering the relocation of civil service jobs outside London, will the Minister please remember that the south-west is a great place to live, work and do business, and that the best place is North Devon? [906845]

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My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a strong case for his region. The Places for Growth programme demonstrates our commitment to rebalancing the economy by moving Government jobs away from London and the south-east, and the One Public Estate programme is supporting this collaboration. I am pleased to say specifically that the Devon and Torbay partnership expects to deliver 288 jobs and land for 201 homes by 2020.

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T3. We know that the Cabinet Office is preparing for the very real threat of no deal, with secret Cobra meetings and civil contingency planning. Business leaders are warning of the disaster of a no deal or a bad deal. Is it not about time that we put this decision—the biggest facing our generation—back to the people for a people’s vote? [906846]

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There was a people’s vote in 2016 that, at the time, both the hon. Lady’s party and mine said would be the decisive moment. It is perfectly right that the civil contingencies secretariat in the Cabinet Office takes an active part in contingency planning for all eventualities.

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T4 . The Government have identified £1 billion that could be saved through procurement by hospitals. What work is the Cabinet Office doing to support that £1 billion saving so that we can release £200 million of it to scrap hospital car parking charges? [906847]

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I know my hon. Friend’s long-standing commitment to this cause. We are committed to delivering value for money for the taxpayer by extending best procurement practice into the wider public sector. The Crown Commercial Service, which manages procurement of common goods and services for both central Government and the wider public sector, including the NHS, has already delivered more than £600 million of savings this year.

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T5. The Minister chairs the cross-departmental homelessness reduction taskforce. Rough sleeping is a huge concern to my constituents in Sheffield, but the voluntary and statutory sector tells me that it is held back from tackling it by disproportionate cuts to local government. The recent Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government strategy provided no new money, so will his taskforce look at the issues so that we can actually do something? [906848]

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The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The homelessness and rough sleeping implementation taskforce, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and on which I serve, supports the Government’s cross-Government strategy, which was announced earlier this summer. The taskforce is also monitoring the implementation of the new Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the proposals he raises directly.

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Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), I am pleased to advise the House that we are joined today by the former Speaker of the Canadian Parliament, the longest serving Speaker in his country’s history, Peter Milliken. Welcome, Peter, to the House of Commons.

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Recent figures show that almost £200 million of taxpayers’ money was spent on trade union activists last year. Would not Transport for London, for example, be better advised to spend the £5 million that it spent on trade union activities on transport for London?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although trade unions of course play an important role in the modern workplace, facility time in the public sector must represent value for money, which is why we have taken a transparent approach to it. We estimate that more than £120 million is being spent on it. Departments and Government agencies must seek to reduce that spending, as I am pleased to say the Cabinet Office has done; we are spending less than 0.01% of our budget on it.

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T6. Will the Minister tell the House what steps he has taken to tackle the gender pay gap in the civil service? [906849]

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The Government have required all public bodies and large private sector employers to make public their gender pay gap, so that action can then be taken to ensure that that gap is reduced and closed. We are determined that the public sector will set an example.

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T7. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, thanks to his efforts and those of the Department of Health and Social Care and of Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust after the collapse of Carillion, work on the Midland Metropolitan Hospital will resume later this year, and the west midlands will get another world-class hospital? [906850]

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I am pleased to confirm that the Government and the local trust have reached agreement that the Midland Metropolitan Hospital will be completed by 2022. It will be equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, 15 operating theatres and at least 669 new beds. That is a further demonstration of the Government’s commitment to investment in our national health service.

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Since 2010, the central civil service has been cut by 20%, which has severely reduced overall effectiveness and specialist knowledge. In the light of the demands placed on Departments by Brexit, do the Government agree that they are paying the price for that short-sightedness?

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The Government remain strongly committed to having an effective civil service. Thanks to funds provided by the Government, we now employ 7,000 more civil servants to deal with Brexit. With the pay settlements that we are reaching on a Department-by-Department basis, we are ensuring that civil servants are properly rewarded.

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Ministers were right to listen and act on public sector steel procurement. How are the new procurement regulations bedding down, what is their effect and what benefit are they bringing to the UK steel industry?

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We are clear that we will do everything that we can to support our precious steel industry. All central Government Departments are now required to evaluate the social and economic benefits of procurement decisions, alongside price. That has meant that the UK’s steel producers are now in the best possible position to compete for Government work, and UK steel suppliers are able to compete effectively with international suppliers.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

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Q1. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 12 September. [906851]

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I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in congratulating Alastair Cook on his fantastic service to English cricket. As England’s highest-ever-scoring batsman, his incredible career had many highlights, including the magnificent 147 in his last innings, against India. We wish him the very best for his future.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

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I know that the Prime Minister appreciates the significance of fishing communities around the UK, not least my own constituency of Banff and Buchan. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to support our fishing communities during the implementation period? Will she look into ways to support the expansion of the catching fleet, infrastructure, processing capacity and other businesses that are reliant on the sector?

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I fully recognise the importance of the fishing industry to my hon. Friend’s constituency and to other constituencies represented in this House. I reassure him that we want to secure a sustainable and profitable fishing industry that will regenerate coastal communities and support future generations of UK fishermen. Leaving the EU means taking back control of our waters, setting our own fisheries rules and exclusively determining who fishes what in our seas. It is a priority of the Government to make sure that we have an innovative, productive and competitive food supply chain. Work is under way to consider the long-term future of all funding programmes that are currently managed by the EU.

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I, too, join the Prime Minister in congratulating Alastair Cook on a fantastic achievement and both teams on what has been an absolutely brilliant series, which I really enjoyed.

The National Farmers Union, the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Audit Office, the National Housing Federation, Gingerbread and the Royal Society of Arts—does the Prime Minister know what these organisations have in common?

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Yes, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that what those organisations all have in common is that, across a variety of areas of activity, they give excellent service, they promote the interests of those whom they represent, and they are bodies with which this Government interact and to which this Government listen.

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I am truly grateful to the Prime Minister for that answer, the first part of which I wholly agree with. What they also have—[Interruption.] It’s all right. What they also have in common is that they are telling this Government that their flagship benefits policy, universal credit, is flawed and failing hundreds of thousands of people both in work and out of work. In 2010, the Government declared that universal credit would lift 350,000 children out of poverty. Does the Prime Minister stand by that figure?

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We introduced universal credit because we needed a system of welfare in this country that encouraged rather than discouraged people into work, that made sure that work always pays and that was a simpler system than the legacy system that we were left by the Labour party—remember the legacy system of the Labour party. It meant that we had individuals being paid £100,000 a year on benefits—all paid for by hard-working taxpayers earning a fraction of that sum.

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The Child Poverty Action Group says that, far from taking children out of poverty, universal credit will now increase the number of children in poverty. Since 2010, half a million more children have gone into poverty relative to that time. The Government know that this policy is flawed and failing. Their own survey on universal credit found that many were in debt, a third were in arrears with their rent and half had fallen behind with their bills. Does the Prime Minister dispute her own Government’s survey, or dispute the experience of the claimants?

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Let us look at the experience of some of the claimants. Roberta said, “My work coach helped turn my life around. He tailored his support to my situation and thanks to him I have found my dream job.” Ryan said, “I am happy with the new universal credit. My work coach has been great—I didn’t expect to have a job so soon.” Nayim said, “Universal credit gave me the flexibility to take on additional hours without the stress of thinking that this might stop my benefits straight away.” We have gone from a situation under the Labour party where 1.4 million people spent most of a decade trapped on benefits. We are helping to get people into work, which is why, earlier this week, we saw unemployment yet again at a record low.

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We are all constituency MPs, and I think that most of us are well aware of the pain that universal credit is causing when people come into our advice bureaux. Some 60% of families facing cuts owing to the two-child policy are in work. Universal credit is not making work pay; it is taking money away from families and putting more children into poverty. The National Audit Office report found that universal credit is creating hardship, forcing people to use food banks and could end up costing the system even more. Does the Prime Minister dispute the National Audit Office findings?

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The right hon. Gentleman talked about constituency cases. I remember—[Interruption.]

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Order. We are at a very early stage of the proceedings. We have got a long way to go, but questions must be heard and the answers must be heard, and as usual I want to get through the Order Paper.

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The right hon. Gentleman started his question by talking about constituency cases. I remember the single mother who came to see me as her Member of Parliament when Labour was in government who told me that she wanted to get into the workplace and provide a good example to her child, but the jobcentre had told her that she would be better off on benefits. That is the legacy of the Labour party.

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My question was about the National Audit Office. The Trussell Trust backs the NAO. It says that food bank usage in areas where universal credit has been rolled out is four times higher than in areas where it has not been introduced. But, without resolving any of those failings in the next year, the Government propose to inflict this on another 2 million people. As part of that transfer, hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and on employment and support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and tax credits will receive a letter telling them that their support will be stopped. They will have to make an application for universal credit. Does the Prime Minister think it is the responsibility of the Government who are changing the system to ensure that people retain the support that they need, or is it down to the individual, many of whom are very vulnerable people who need help and support?

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What the Government are doing is delivering a system that does give support to vulnerable people, but encourages people to get into the workplace, because we know that work is the best route out of poverty. However, if the right hon. Gentleman believes that universal credit needed some change, why, when we made changes such as reducing the waiting days for payment and bringing in a housing benefit overlap to help people, did Labour vote against those changes?

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It is Labour that has been speaking up for the poorest in this country. It is Labour that has been challenging this Government. It is Labour that wants a decency within our society that this Government are incapable of delivering. [Interruption.]

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Order. Mr Spencer, I always thought you were a good natured, laid-back farmer. You seem to be a very over-excitable denizen of the House today. Calm yourself, man.

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The mental health charity Mind says that there is a real possibility

“that many people with mental health problems could see their benefits stopped entirely”.

It is outrageous that vulnerable people risk losing out because of these botched changes.

The Government’s Brexit negotiations are an abject failure. I can see that by the sullen faces behind the Prime Minister—and that is not just the European Research Group; it is the whole lot of them. But everywhere you look, Mr Speaker, this Government are failing— 1 million families using food banks; 1 million workers on zero-hours contracts; 4 million children in poverty; wages lower today than 10 years ago; and on top of that there is the flawed and failing universal credit. Disabled people at risk of losing their homes and vital support; children forced to use food banks—and the Prime Minister wants to put 2 million more people on to this. The Prime Minister is not challenging the burning injustices in our society. She is pouring petrol on the crisis. When will she stop inflicting misery on the people of this country?

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The right hon. Gentleman talks about challenging the burning injustices. That is about setting up the race disparity audit, which says what public services do and how people from different communities in our country are treated by them. It means saying that nobody in this country should be stopped and searched on our streets because of the colour of their skin—that was me as Home Secretary, never the Labour party. We are seeing 3.3 million more people in jobs as a result of our balanced approach to the economy.

And what have we seen from Labour over the past few days? Iranian state TV broadcasting no-confidence votes against Labour Members of Parliament; police investigating anonymous and threatening letters about the deselection of Labour MPs sent to Labour offices; and, most shamefully of all, the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) saying that the Labour party is now an institutionally racist party. That is what the Leader of the Opposition has done to Labour—just think what he would do to this country.

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rose—[Interruption.]

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Order. No gesticulation is required, Mr Brake—calm yourself. You are a former Deputy Leader of the House—behave in a statesmanlike manner. [Interruption.] Order. Let us hear the questions and the answers.

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Q3. We quite rightly spend quite a lot of time in this place talking about crime, criminals and prisons, but perhaps we do not spend enough time talking about the victims of crime. So I warmly welcome the Government’s announcement this week of a victims strategy. Can the Prime Minister assure me that this will not be some kind of dry document but a genuine effort to boost support for the victims? [906853]

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I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We know that nothing can take away the trauma and distress of being a victim of crime, but we need to ensure that people get the support they need as they rebuild their lives. This is absolutely vital. It is our duty to keep people safe but it is also our duty to ensure that victims are properly protected and listened to. That is why we are taking steps to enshrine their entitlements in law—to strengthen the victims code. This first ever cross-Government victims strategy will ensure that victims of crime receive the care and support they deserve at every stage of their interaction with the justice system. I commend my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, and also the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), for the work they have put into the victims strategy.

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A decade on from the financial crisis, the poorest in our society are still paying a price. The bankers were bailed out, but ordinary people paid the bill. Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis shows that real wages are, on average, £800 lower. A decade on and people are poorer: a damning indictment of the UK Government’s leadership. Tell us, Prime Minister: why have you abandoned millions of families—those just about managing?

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What we have done is created an economic environment where 3.3 million people are in work. We now see the number of children in workless households at the lowest level ever. We now also see, through what we have done, an increase in the national living wage. We have ensured that we have taken 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether. Over 30 million people have received a tax cut. That is what this Government have been able to do through a balanced approach to the economy, keeping taxes low, putting money into public services, and reducing our debt.

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That, I am afraid, simply ignores the reality that people are poorer. It has been the worst decade for wage growth in over 200 years. Households are struggling, and it is reported that a no-deal Brexit will increase the annual cost of living for low-income households by hundreds of pounds. Yet this Prime Minister still wants to walk off the Brexit cliff edge. The Prime Minister is unfit to govern. She is incapable of leadership. We know it, her Back Benchers know it, and the country knows it. Ten years after the economic crash, the poorest are still bearing the brunt. It is as simple as this: the Prime Minister should end her austerity programme or admit that her party is unfit for government.

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The right hon. Gentleman mentions Brexit. Of course, we are working to get a good Brexit deal for the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland. I suggest that he might listen to the views of the Scottish National Farmers Union, which said this week that the plan the Government have put forward is one that

“certainly the agriculture and food and drinks sectors can work with”,

and that politicians from

“all sorts of parliaments and assemblies”

should get behind it.

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Q5. My constituency is a mere 69 miles from London, as I am sure my right hon. Friend remembers from her visit a few years ago. You are lucky to cover that tiny journey in an hour and 40 minutes, and that is if you avoid the Network Rail works. Our sunshine coast has a lot to offer economically, a lot of which remains untapped. We could attract new homeowners, doctors and businesses to the area. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what this Government are doing to improve our rail services and speed up the journey to Clacton? [906855]

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I do indeed remember the visit that I made to Clacton in 2014, where I was very pleased to meet Caroline Shearer and hear about the anti-knife crime work she had done and the charity she had set up in memory of her murdered son, Jay Whiston.

On the issue of rail, Greater Anglia will indeed be introducing a whole new fleet of trains, which will be delivered from the middle of next year. They will be state of the art, with much improved acceleration, my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear. Greater Anglia needs to work with Network Rail to ensure that it can deliver those improved journey times. There are infrastructure constraints on the line, but we will engage with Network Rail to understand what plans it has to renew the infrastructure, so that we can see the improvement on the Clacton branch that my hon. Friend wants to see.

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Q2. The Prime Minister just said that work is the best route out of poverty. Without repeating the response that she gave to the leader of the SNP, can she explain why, after eight years of a Conservative Government, the Living Wage Foundation reports that 40% of people in Grimsby do not earn enough to live on? [906852]

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The figures show that the proportion of the workforce on low pay is actually at its lowest level. That is a result of the changes we have made in relation to the economy and the balanced approach we have taken. If the hon. Lady if worried about people living in Grimsby, the answer is not a Labour Government, with £500 billion of extra borrowing, fewer jobs, higher taxes and people suffering the cost.

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Q6. Given what we know about the Russian state’s involvement in the Salisbury poisoning, does the Prime Minister think it appropriate when parliamentarians, both current and former, appear on Russian state television? [906856]

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I am sure we all have doubts about the objectivity of the reporting on Russia Today, which remains a tool of propaganda for the Russian state. Decisions about appearing on Russia Today are a matter of judgment for each individual, but they should be clear that they risk being used as propaganda tools by the Russian state. I know that that view is shared by other Members of this House, including the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who has made clear that he does not think people should appear on that station. The same also applies to Press TV, which has had its licence to broadcast revoked in the UK by Ofcom.

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Q4. The Prime Minister refused to answer my written question about AggregateIQ visiting Downing Street, so I will ask her here. Why did Jeff Silvester and Zack Massingham of AggregateIQ visit No. 10 last autumn? Who did they meet? Who invited them? What was the purpose of the meeting and, most importantly, why was the meeting not recorded in the transparency data? [906854]

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The hon. Lady’s letter has not been drawn to my attention. I do not have—[Interruption.] Following her question, I will ensure that she receives a reply in writing.

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Q7. When it comes to Brexit, the joint statement of 8 December last year said that“nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.Does the Prime Minister agree that this means that the payment of the £39 billion exit payment and the Northern Irish backstop are dependent on agreeing satisfactory final-state trade arrangements? Does she also agree that payment of that money should be locked into the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which also requires those final-state trade agreements to be fully agreed and implemented by 31 December 2020 in a form acceptable to this House? [906857]

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We are very clear that we need to have a link between the future relationship and the withdrawal agreement, but we are a country that honours our obligations. We believe in the rule of law, and therefore we believe in abiding by our legal obligations. However, my hon. Friend is right that the specific offer was made in the spirit of our desire to reach a deal with the European Union and on the basis, as the EU itself has said, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Without a deal, the position changes.

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Q9. The Prime Minister was right yesterday to be promoting electric vehicles, but she also needs to focus on electricity production. Investment in renewable energy has halved as a result of the Government’s policies. Instead of encouraging carbon-emitting technologies such as fracking, which is deeply unpopular in Sheffield and across the country, will she recognise that our future depends on serious investment in wind, solar, tidal and other renewables? [906859]

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I believe that in the provision of energy across the United Kingdom we need to have a diverse range of supplies. That is why, yes, we do support, we have supported and we will continue to support renewable energy, but it is also why we are ensuring, for example, that we have a supply of energy in the future from nuclear and that we look across other forms of energy as well—for example, ensuring that we see an increase in the number of interconnectors with Europe. A diverse supply is what we need in our energy sector.

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Q8. Jean-Claude Juncker this morning accepted that Britain will always be a close trade and security partner for the EU. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this means that giving Britain a good deal is in the interests of both sides? [906858]

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I have always said to this House that I believe a deal that is right for the UK will be a deal that is right for the European Union. I note not only that President Juncker said what my hon. Friend has commented on, but that he went on to say that

“after 29 March 2019, the United Kingdom will never be an ordinary third country for us…I welcome Prime Minister May’s proposal to develop an ambitious new partnership for the future, after Brexit. We agree with the statement made in Chequers that the starting point for such a partnership should be a free trade area between the United Kingdom and the European Union.”

Let me be very clear: when we leave the European Union, we will be an independent sovereign state—we will have control of our money, our borders and our laws—but I want to say to our closest allies in Europe, “You will also never be an ordinary third party for us.”

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Q10. There is huge concern over proposals to take decisions on fracking away from local councils. This concern is seemingly shared by a prominent Conservative MP, who has a number of statements on her website, including that“local planning decisions should be returned to locally elected councillors”,and“local councils need the power to stop unsuitable developments”.The Prime Minister will I hope recognise these comments. She made them. Does she still agree with them? [906860]

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It has always been the case, across the planning structure that we have here in the United Kingdom, that there are decisions taken at local level, but there are also decisions—sometimes those local decisions are referred—at a national level.

Strength of the Economy: West Midlands

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Q12. What recent assessment she has made of the strength of the economy in the west midlands; and if she will make a statement. [906862]

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I was indeed very pleased to be in the west midlands yesterday at the world’s first zero-emission vehicle summit, where I made clear my determination to put our manufacturers in the west midlands and across the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacture of zero-emission vehicles. The midlands has a very strong automotive industry. The growth of high-tech manufacturing across the region continues to drive investment: it is creating high-skilled jobs; it is boosting economic growth. The latest employment statistics, released yesterday, show there are now over 320,000 more people in work in the west midlands than in 2010.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Also based in the west midlands is silicon canal. Silicon canal is like silicon valley, but without the sunshine. It employs some 40,000 people working in computer science and there are some 6,000 different companies—the second largest cluster of its kind in the whole of Europe. With the announcement last week of 5G being based in the west midlands as a test bed, what more will the Prime Minister do to promote high-tech in the west midlands?

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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the silicon canal. I am sure that, like me, he was delighted that the west midlands bid, which was pulled together by the Conservative metro Mayor Andy Street, was chosen as the winning location of the Urban Connected Communities project. As my hon. Friend mentioned, that will see the development of a large-scale 5G pilot across the region.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is also working closely with the West Midlands combined authority to develop and deliver a region-wide digital skills partnership, which will bring together key sectors in the region, working on improving the digital skills of individuals, small businesses and charities. Ensuring strong Government engagement and support for these sectors will be critical to the success of the Government’s industrial strategy.

Engagements

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Q11. The Secretary of State for Education announced a pay award for teachers recently, which, as the Prime Minister will know, is not yet a devolved responsibility. The Government have outlined how they will fund the award for teachers in England, but as yet they have not done so for Wales. Will the Prime Minister intervene to put right this oversight and ensure that Welsh teachers and Welsh pupils are not the ones left to foot the bill? [906861]

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To reassure the hon. Gentleman, I should say that the Treasury will be setting that out shortly.

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Back in July, in Prime Minister’s questions, I pressed the Prime Minister on the possible publication of Sir Alex Allan’s report on the Windrush affair and she confirmed that the Home Secretary of the time was considering publication very carefully. Two months later, nothing has come from the Home Secretary or the Home Office. Could she as Prime Minister, in the interests of transparency and accountability, which I know she believes in, now personally authorise the publication of this long-awaited report?

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I reassure my right hon. Friend that the Home Secretary has been looking at this issue, and the Cabinet Secretary is looking at this. We are committed to publication, but the form of that is currently being considered.

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Q13. Yesterday, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation issued a devastating report on its findings relating to the murder two years ago of my constituent Lisa Skidmore. The report sets out catastrophic failures on the part of the probation service to act on warnings about the behaviour of her killer, Leroy Campbell—a lifelong violent sex offender—and concludes that Lisa’s murder was entirely preventable. Lisa Skidmore was a young woman with her whole life in front of her. Her family have been left completely heartbroken by her loss. She was let down in the most appalling way by a service that is there to monitor offenders and protect the public. In this case, it failed to do so, with the most devastating consequences. Can I ask the Prime Minister what she and the Ministry of Justice can do in response to this report, to prevent something like this from happening again? [906863]

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The right hon. Gentleman has raised what was an absolutely devastating case—it was a horrific crime, and devastating for Lisa’s family. I understand that my hon. Friend the prisons Minister has met the family of Lisa Skidmore and apologised for the failings in this case. But as the right hon. Gentleman says, this should not have happened.

I understand that some action has already been taken and that two members of the probation service have been suspended. While nothing can be done to bring back Lisa or minimise the impact that this has had on her family, Dame Glenys Stacey has been asked to conduct an independent review to look at what can be done to prevent such tragedies from happening again—to do as the right hon. Gentleman has said: make sure that this never happens to anybody else.

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Cumbria and the Lake district are among the most beautiful parts of the UK, and our farmers play such a unique role in maintaining the landscape. On Back British Farming Day, will my right hon. Friend ensure that our Cumbrian farmers will be able to export their world-class meat after we leave the European Union?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise the beauty of the area she represents, Cumbria and the Lake District, and the important role farmers play in that part of the country, as indeed our farmers do elsewhere. When we leave the European Union, we are looking to ensure we have trade deals that enable our farmers to continue to be able to export their very important product, which is enjoyed by people elsewhere. By leaving the European Union, we are able to do something else: come out of the common agricultural policy and develop a policy for farming in this country that is right for our farmers, not for others’.

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Q14. Last year, 183 people were returned to this country to face justice because of the European arrest warrant. If we leave the EU without a deal, the European arrest warrant will not be available to us. Would the Prime Minister be happy with that? [906864]

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The hon. Gentleman will know full well that as Home Secretary I stood at this Dispatch Box and led a debate in which we ensured that when we exercised the powers available under protocol 36 we went back into the European arrest warrant. The European arrest warrant is one of those instruments that we have identified in our Chequers plan as one that we wish to discuss with the European Union, with a view to being able to continue to use it.

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Leah Aldridge was killed by her father in 2002. After the coroner and Greater Manchester police finished their investigation, the body was returned to the family for the funeral. Last year, the police discovered that they had retained some of Leah’s body parts, and these were returned to the family for a second funeral. Only a few weeks ago, yet more body parts were discovered by the police and the family had to go through the ordeal of a third funeral. They have no confidence that Greater Manchester police or the police and crime commissioner, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, now have finally allowed the family to lay their daughter Leah to rest. Will the Prime Minister hold an inquiry into this matter for the sake of Leah’s family and for other families across Greater Manchester?

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This is an absolutely terrible case. I am sure, as my hon. Friend will have felt from the reaction of Members across the House when they heard him set out the details, that we all want to express our deepest sympathy to Leah’s family for the prolonged trauma they have had to endure as a result of the way that this has been handled.

I understand that the deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester has been in touch with the Human Tissue Authority about the case. The authority is advising on ensuring that the establishment concerned does the necessary work to evaluate what went wrong in this case and puts in place measures to minimise the chance that this can ever happen again. Officials in the Home Office will meet both the Greater Manchester police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to further address the issue of historically held human tissue. I will ensure that the relevant Home Office Minister updates my hon. Friend on the outcome of those meetings.

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Q15. The Windrush scandal continues to affect my constituent who, despite receiving his British passport, has been told he is ineligible for employment and support allowance as he has not made enough national insurance contributions over the past two years—an impossible task, since he has been prevented from working by the Home Office. Will the Prime Minister take responsibility for ensuring that the Department for Work and Pensions has special measures in place to deal with Windrush applicants, and will she confirm that my constituent will now get the support he deserves? [906865]

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The Home Office, of course, set up a special taskforce to deal with the Windrush cases to provide help and support to the individuals—[Interruption.] Yes, I know the shadow Foreign Secretary is mentioning the DWP. I am coming on to the DWP. What is important for the individuals concerned is that they are able to interact with one Government body that is then able to give them support and take on the issues for them. I believe that the individual concerned should get in touch with the taskforce, and the Home Secretary will make sure that the necessary inquiries are made.

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Will the Prime Minister visit my constituency to open Airbus’s new wing integration centre in Filton, which is a £40 million investment that will secure hundreds of jobs and good- quality apprenticeships for the future? Will she join me in thanking and paying tribute to Airbus for its strong and enduring commitment to the UK?

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My hon. Friend has issued a very interesting invitation. I cannot give him an instant response from the Dispatch Box, because I will need to look at diary commitments. It is absolutely right that we thank and congratulate Airbus on the commitment it has made to the United Kingdom and the high-quality jobs it provides here. When I went to the Farnborough airshow, I was very pleased to meet Airbus executives to look at and talk about some their latest products.

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In a meeting on Monday, the aluminium and steel industry told leaders of Opposition parties—with the exception of the leader of the Labour party, who refused to attend—that thousands of jobs are to be put at risk by the British Government’s Brexit policies and threadbare industrial strategy. Is it not the case that the Prime Minister is prepared to dole out P45s to manufacturing workers simply in order to appease the Brexit extremists in her own party?

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The hon. Lady’s portrayal of the situation could not be further from the case. What we have put forward in the Chequers plan is a plan that delivers on the result of the referendum and ensures that we take control of our money, borders and laws, but that does so in a way that protects jobs and livelihoods across the United Kingdom. The Government have given support to the steel industry in a number of ways, and the industrial strategy is about ensuring that we have a healthy manufacturing industry in this country, but also a manufacturing industry for the future, providing the high-skilled jobs and skills for people for the future.

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The Prime Minister will be aware of not only my feelings but those of pretty much everyone in this House and the vast majority of this country when it comes to seeing our veterans dragged through the courts in Northern Ireland to appease political differences. What is she as Prime Minister personally doing—how is she personally investing of herself in this process—to bring to an end something that the vast majority of her country find completely abhorrent?

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I am well aware of the degree of concern about this issue, which is why I have held a number of discussions about it with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We owe a vast debt of gratitude to the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law and were themselves accountable to it. That is something that has always set them apart from the terrorists, who during the troubles were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. But as I have made clear, the current system in Northern Ireland is flawed. It is not working; it is not working for soldiers, for police officers or for victims—a group, in fact, that includes many soldiers and police officers as well. Although a number of terrorist murders from the troubles are actively under investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other police forces, under the current mechanism for investigating the past there is a disproportionate focus on former members of the armed forces and the police. We want to ensure that all outstanding deaths in Northern Ireland are investigated in ways that are fair, balanced and proportionate.

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Since the life-changing spinal muscular atrophy treatment Spinraza was rejected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in its first guidance last month, families affected, including that of young Sam Mckie in North Tyneside, have been left heartbroken. Will the Prime Minister meet me and Muscular Dystrophy UK to discuss the urgent need to make progress on the managed access agreement so that patients can access Spinraza as soon as possible?

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I am very happy to look at the specific issue in relation to the decision taken by NICE, and I will ensure that Health Ministers look into it and have a meeting with the hon. Lady to discuss the details.

Police: Financial Sustainability

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the National Audit Office’s report, “Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales 2018”.

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I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. The NAO does incredibly important work and the Government are very grateful to it for its work on police financial sustainability. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made extremely clear to police superintendents yesterday, we absolutely understand and agree that the police are under pressure, and we are absolutely determined to support them.

I do not recognise the suggestion, however, that Ministers do not understand the pressures on the police. Last year, I spoke personally to all 43 police forces in England and Wales, including frontline officers. I also commissioned analysis to improve our understanding of police demand and resilience, and I explained our findings to the House last year, at the time of the provisional police funding settlement. We recognise the pressures on the police, including from complex crime and the threat of terrorism, and we have provided a funding settlement that is increasing total investment in the police system by more than £460 million in the current financial year. This includes £50 million of additional funding for counter-terrorism, £130 million for national priorities and £280 million in force funding from increases in precept income.

We are not stopping there. I have already indicated that we will afford the police the same precept flexibility in 2019-20 subject to their meeting productivity and efficiency asks. We are also working very closely with the police to jointly build the evidence base on police demand, resilience and capability ahead of the spending review.

The report is, then, valuable in highlighting the pressure on the police, but we do not believe that it gives adequate weight to a number of important issues: first, the strength of the local accountability structure through police and crime commissioners, which were introduced by this Government; secondly, our support to the independent inspectorate in developing force management statements—a key tool in getting better data to identify and manage future demand; thirdly, our public and regular monitoring of service effectiveness through Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services, whose independent authority we have strengthened; and, fourthly, our request to the police that they reform themselves, meaning it is appropriate that the police have their own strategy, which they do, in “Police Vision 2025”.

Having said that, we of course take the report extremely seriously, and our permanent secretary has written to the NAO to accept these points. The House should be under no illusion, however: the Government remain extremely committed to ensuring that forces have the resources they need to do the extremely difficult work that they do on behalf of all of us, which the whole House appreciates.

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The House appreciates that the Minister has met the leaders of all the police forces, but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this National Audit Office report is an indictment of successive Conservative Home Secretaries and their handling of police financial sustainability.

Does the Minister now accept what the NAO sets out—that total funding to police forces, which is a combination of central Government funding and council tax, has fallen by 19% in real terms since 2010-11? Does the Minister accept what the NAO further sets out the:

“main way that police forces have managed financial pressure is by reducing the size of their workforces”?

It says that the total workforce across forces fell by 18% between 2010 and March 2018. Does the Minister accept the NAO conclusion that, although crime recorded by the crime survey for England and Wales decreased by 36% between 2011 and 2018, at the same time police forces faced an upsurge in the reporting of low volume and high harm crime—the crimes that alarm the public most?

Most damning of all, the National Audit Office says it has found early indicators that the police are “struggling”—that is the NAO’s word—to deliver an effective service. Is the Minister aware of the NAO’s conclusion that the Home Office simply does not have a clear picture of what individual forces need to meet local and national demands? Why is that, and what are Ministers going to do about it? Yesterday Commissioner Cressida Dick, the head of the Met police, said that she did not want the Government to wait until the police were struggling like the Prison Service. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that that will not happen?

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First, I should make it clear that I did not speak just to police leaders. Whenever I visit a force I make a point of speaking to frontline officers, and through those conversations I gained a very clear picture of the stretch and pressure that they are experiencing.

The right hon. Lady asked me to confirm that police budgets had been reduced since 2010, and asked whether we had fewer police officers. The numbers do not lie: the numbers are very clear. They are hardly news. What the right hon. Lady omitted to mention, of course, was the underlying driver of the decisions that were made in 2010. The state of the public finances that we inherited from the previous Government led to the radical action that was needed.

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That is desperate.

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It is not desperate. Those are the stark economic facts that the coalition Government faced in 2010. There was a need to take radical action to return the public finances to some sort of order. That is an uncomfortable truth about which the Labour party remains in denial.

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Rubbish.

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It is not rubbish. [Hon. Members: “Yes, it is.”] The state of the public finances is a matter of absolute record.

I welcome the right hon. Lady’s recognition that traditional crime continues to decrease. Of course we are all concerned about the clear increase in serious violent crime, and we have faced up to it in clear statements of our determination to get on top of it, not just with words but with actions through the Serious Violence Strategy, which has been welcomed by the police and which is supported by funding.

The right hon. Lady said that forces were struggling to manage demand. It is absolutely true that some of them are, but we do not need the National Audit Office to tell us that; the HMIC reports on effectiveness make the point very plainly. We are working with those forces. We should reject any groupthink that suggests that this is just an issue of financial resources, although they are clearly important. Police leaders recognise that there is considerable scope for improvement in the way in which police time and demand are managed. HMIC has made that point very clearly, and has taken an initiative that we support in requiring force management statements in which police forces must explain their view of future demand and how they intend to manage it.

The right hon. Lady asked what the Government were going to do. I will tell her exactly what we are doing, and exactly what the Home Secretary said yesterday to the police superintendents. We will continue to support the police, and we have put more money into the police system. The Home Secretary has made it very clear that police funding is a priority for him, and we are working closely with the police in preparing for the comprehensive spending review. There needs to be a strong evidence base in respect of demand and resilience, and it is exactly that work that we are putting together. The Government attach the highest priority to public safety, and to ensuring that our police system has the support that it needs.

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The Minister is right to mention the vital role that police and crime commissioners play in budgeting and spending. A good and effective police and crime commissioner such as ours in Kent, Matthew Scott—who can husband resources well enough to ensure that over the coming year Kent people will be blessed with up to 200 more police officers—can work well within a budget, and can provide the extra safety in our streets that people demand.

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My right hon. Friend has made an important point. We introduced police and crime commissioners, and Matthew Scott is an outstanding example of the difference that they make, both through local accountability and through stewardship of police budgets. I am delighted, not least for the people of Kent, that as a result of the measures that we have taken—and we could only do so because of the improvements in the economy—more money is going into Kent policing, which Matthew is using to recruit more officers. I am sure that that is very welcome throughout Kent.

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England’s most senior police officer, Cressida Dick, said yesterday that the police were now

“taking up the slack of other public services that are struggling to deliver.”

Will the Home Secretary, ahead of the Budget, argue for not just more cash for the police but extra cash for the NHS so that it can collaborate with them, especially when it comes to people with mental health issues?

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The right hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important point. One of the clear messages that I received during my tour of the police system was about the frustration caused by the amount of time that officers spend—in their words—doing other people’s jobs, away from core policing work, and a large part of that frustration relates to the amount of time spent supporting people with mental health issues. We are doing a piece of work on this, because evidence must support the initiatives that we take. We need to understand the problem, and think about how we can make local collaboration work more effectively so that time can be freed up to allow police officers to do what the public expect, and focus on core policing.

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Policing should always be a spending priority for a Conservative Government. I have voted against cuts in police grants every year since their introduction in 2010. Our police are overstretched, and that is of increasing concern to many of our constituents. Is it not time that the Government broke the habit of a lifetime and did something popular? [Laughter.] Is it not time that they scrapped some of the huge, ridiculous sums that are going into the overseas aid budget, and passed them to our hard-pressed police forces? That would be popular with our local communities.

Does the Minister agree that calls for increases in the police budget—which I consistently make—are not helped by morons such as the police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire, who seems to think that his force has so much money that it can now start asking people to report non-crimes as well as crimes?

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My hon. Friend is a great and long-standing champion of the police, and I have great respect for that. However, he should know—because he is good at numbers—that this year the Government are spending, on behalf of the public and the taxpayer, more than £1 billion more on our police system than we were three years ago. I hope he welcomes that, because, as he fully recognises, the police system is stretched, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it has the resources that it needs.

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The most expensive way to fund policing is through the mechanism of overtime, which is now at its highest-ever level. Would it not be sensible for the Government, rather than allowing hard-working police officers to work longer hours and cost the taxpayer more, to revisit the issue of police funding and revert to the figures that obtained in 2009-10, when Labour was in office?

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Like most Labour Members, the right hon. Gentleman remains in complete denial of economic reality and the adjustments that have been needed since 2010 to put our public finances back in order. As I have said very publicly for at least a year, I accept the argument that the police system needs more resources, and that is exactly what we have delivered. This year, as a country, we have put an additional £460 million into the system, over £1 billion more than three years ago. However, it is not just about resources—as a former Minister, the right hon. Gentleman knows that—but about more efficient and effective use of police time.

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I pay tribute to the hard-working police force of Avon and Somerset, which is making changes in its operating system. I was in touch with the force recently because it has altered its inquiry opening hours, but that is because it is having to adapt to changing demands. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right to adapt to such changes, and will he reassure me that he remains committed to working closely with the police on funding following the delivery of a £460 million increase in the overall police budget for 2018-19?

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I do agree, and that £460 million includes an additional £8 million for Avon and Somerset, which I know my hon. Friend will welcome. She is entirely right: Avon and Somerset is a superb example of a force that has adapted and innovated. I consider it to be best in class in respect of its smart use of data to manage demand, which means that it has some of the best response time statistics in the system. It provides an example to the rest of the system of how demand can be managed better through a more intelligent use of data, and I congratulate it on that.

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The former permanent secretary at the Home Office has acknowledged that the funding formula for policing is ineffective. However, as there has been a delay, it now looks like we will be waiting until the spending review before the new formula is agreed and comes into force. On my calculation that means it will not come into force or make a difference until 2020-21. Can the Minister give us any comfort on that and explain when the funding formula will be properly revisited?

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I say to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, as I have said publicly, that the appropriate point to address this issue—which is very sensitive and which a number of forces and MPs representing forces feel very strongly about—is in the context of the CSR, which is the most important framework for long-term financial planning in the police. I will be very frank: my priority, working with the Home Secretary, is to make an argument to set the size of the total cake. We have made it clear that we will then need to deliver a compelling analysis and plan for how that cake gets divided up in a way that more fairly reflects the demands on the current policing system, which are evolving. We are very serious about that, but we just happen to think that the CSR is the most appropriate framework in which to do this work.

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In God’s own town of Lymington a robber was captured but had to be released because there was no police officer available to be sent. We do need more police officers, don’t we?

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We do; I agree and totally accept the argument that we need more resources for the police, which is exactly what we have delivered. That includes an additional £9.7 million for Hampshire police, whom I meet regularly. Across the country forces are using that money to recruit additional officers: 500 more here in London, 200-odd in Kent, 150-odd in Essex, 150-odd in Nottingham, and 100 in West Mercia. Across the country police forces are using the additional resources we are able to deliver, as a result of our successful stewardship of the economy since 2010, to deliver what the public want, which is more policing. We would not be able to do that under the Labour party’s policies.

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With 2,000 police officers cut in West Midlands police, crime is soaring, violent crime by 59%. Communities increasingly live in fear, as Ministers are in denial as to the consequences of their actions. Does the Minister not accept that the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens, and that it is absolutely wrong that under the existing formula the West Midlands cut is in excess of twice that of Surrey?

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The hon. Gentleman and I have had many exchanges over the year about West Midlands police and I hope he welcomes—although he voted against it—the funding settlement that will see an additional £9.9 million go into West Midlands policing. David Thompson, the chief, has made many representations to me about fair funding and I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier remarks: substantive work needs to be done around fairer funding of the police system and the CSR is the right place to do that.

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My right hon. Friend has already mentioned the 100 new police officers for West Mercia that John-Paul Campion, our excellent police and crime commissioner, is about to recruit. I would like to see these new officers fighting rural crime, so will my right hon. Friend look again at road traffic offences, especially speeding? Speed awareness courses help the safety of all of us on the roads, but they can only happen once every three years. May we have them on an annual basis, please?

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I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the initiative of West Mercia’s police and crime commissioner to use the additional £4.6 million made available to him to recruit additional officers. I wholly understand the weight my hon. Friend attaches to rural crime, as I have heard that very clearly from other Members representing rural constituencies. It is obviously for the local PCC in his local plan to establish his local priorities, but I will take my hon. Friend’s point about road traffic away and come back to him.

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Opposition Members all know the impact of this Government’s cuts on police officers—they are having an impact locally—but we also all acknowledge the hard work police officers are doing. Does the Minister agree with Cressida Dick that the pay award offered was like a “punch on the nose”?

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I wholly agree about the hard work police officers do—[Interruption.] They are extremely stretched, and I will go further: I completely understand, as does the Home Secretary, as he said yesterday at the police superintendents’ conference, why police officers feel extremely disappointed by the Government’s decision. The reality is that, as the Home Secretary said yesterday, the Government have to balance fairness and affordability. We continue to operate in a very constrained environment in terms of the public finances as a direct consequence of the actions of the last Labour Government, and we are still navigating our way through those difficulties. The Government took a collective decision based on fairness and affordability and looking at public pay in the round. We completely recognise that police officers are disappointed by that, and our priority going forward is to make the argument to the Treasury about the resources the police need in the future.

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Tomorrow evening there will be a public meeting in Glastonbury at which residents from across the community will air their concerns about antisocial behaviour in the town. Avon and Somerset police hitherto has been limited in the way it has been able to respond to that because of the challenges of delivering policing across a large rural county such as Somerset. Will the Minister of State ensure that, in all future decisions on police funding, the cost of rurality is factored in and that rural areas are therefore well provided for?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that insight. I completely understand this point as I have had many representations from Members representing rural forces making exactly that point. In our work planning for the CSR, and the application of a fairer funding formula, that is one of the factors that we take fully into account.

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The appalling murder of Nicholas Churton last year in my constituency highlighted deficiencies in both policing and the probation service; at Prime Minister’s questions today we heard about deficiencies in Wolverhampton, too. There is a widespread increase in violent crime, which is having a direct impact on the lives of our constituents. Will the Minister ensure that that message is conveyed to the whole Government so that when he secures funding in the CSR, priority is given to policing, which is a massive issue in our constituencies up and down the land?

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I understand exactly the point the hon. Gentleman makes and I hope he can take some assurance—they are words at this stage; I fully accept that—from the statements by the Home Secretary about the personal priority he attaches to police funding; he states it is clearly his priority. The hon. Gentleman mentions serious violent crime. I think the whole House is united in a determination to bear down on that horrific problem. He talks about policing being at the core of this. He is right, but what is required is a cross-Government response because this is not just about robust law enforcement, although that is essential; it is also about much more effective work on prevention and early intervention, which requires other Departments and the whole system at national and local levels to work more effectively to steer young people away from crime and violence and the devastating consequences it has for them, their families, friends and communities.

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It is pointless having an independent pay panel if its findings are ignored. This summer, I had the pleasure of spending a day with Greater Manchester police in its give a day to policing scheme, as I know many other Members did. Will my right hon. Friend take back the firm message to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring forward additional resources for policing in the autumn Budget?

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I understand the point my hon. Friend makes about the police remuneration board. It is hard not to. I have made very clear—more importantly the Home Secretary has made very clear—the personal priority we attach to police funding. We recognise, in a way the NAO report underestimates, and understand the pressures on the police system. Demand on the police is rising. Crime is changing and becoming more complex. We must respond because public safety is the No. 1 priority of any Government.

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My local police force, Suffolk constabulary, is the third lowest funded police force in England per head of population. About 300 officers have been lost in the last eight years, which is a large proportion for a small force, and about a third of support staff have also been lost. Violent crime, and especially drug-related violent crime, in my constituency of Ipswich has mushroomed and we have seen multiple gang stabbings in the last year. Can the Minister see that there is a connection and will he speak to the Chancellor to secure the funds that the service he is responsible for needs?

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The hon. Gentleman and I have had a number of exchanges over the last year about Suffolk policing, and I have had many conversations with the Suffolk PCC, which reinforces the point that we feel the NAO report attaches insufficient weight to the local accountability mechanisms that we have in place. There are very few PCCs who have not made representations to me about the pressure on their system and the argument for more resources or fairer allocation of resources, and the Suffolk PCC would be pre-eminent in that. I have made it clear, and the Home Secretary has made it clear, that we are determined and—more than words—that the Home Office, in a way we have never done before, is working closely with the police to build the evidence base that is going to be needed in a very competitive CSR to ensure that our police system has the resources it needs, because public safety is the No. 1 priority of any Government.

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My right hon. Friend is aware of the excellent work being done by Lincolnshire police to keep us safe. I regularly meet our excellent police and crime commissioner, Marc Jones, to discuss the challenges involved in policing such a large rural area. Lincolnshire police has 5,500 miles of road and 2,500 square miles to police. What more can the Minister do to ensure that our dedicated police force has the funds it needs to police this rural area?

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to all those who have been absolutely assiduous in making representations on behalf of Lincolnshire police, which is a stretched force that is facing financial challenges. Marc Jones has also been assiduous as a PCC in making these points, and we have worked closely with him to understand the pressures on that police force. It has received an additional £3.3 million this year, which I hope my hon. Friend welcomes. It has also been the recipient of some special grants through the special grant programme. We will work closely with Marc and other PCCs to make the case in the next CSR for increased resources for our police system, which I hope Lincolnshire will benefit from. I would add that Lincolnshire is another example of a force that has worked superbly to adapt and harness technology to make more productive use of police time. It is a leader in the use of mobile working technology and I congratulate it on that.

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The Minister talks a lot about seeking evidence, and he has rightly praised Avon and Somerset police for its data and for being best in class, but I am afraid that those words will not serve my constituents properly by protecting them from crime. When will we be getting the money to meet the demand that we have evidenced?

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The hon. Lady ignores the fact that Avon and Somerset is receiving an additional £8 million this year through the settlement that I think she voted against. I have made it clear that, for 2019-20, we expect to do something similar, and I have also made it clear that, as a ministerial team led by the Home Secretary, we are doing a great deal of work to develop the evidence base and to make the argument about the resources that the police need for the next five years. That includes Avon and Somerset, which does outstanding work on behalf of its residents, not least, as we have agreed, in terms of best practice in demand management.

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I know that the Minister cares deeply about these issues. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee is right when she draws attention to the unfairness of the formula, which has been unfair since damping was brought in in 2004. Four hundred people turned up to a meeting with the police in my constituency just a couple of weeks ago. That should give my right hon. Friend an indication of the level of concern about this issue. We in Bedfordshire cannot wait until the next comprehensive spending review. Because of the unfairness in funding, we do not get what the national formula says we should get, and we have not done so since 2004. That needs action now.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on being absolutely assiduous in making representations to me about Bedfordshire policing, about which I know he cares deeply. His passion is shared by Kathryn Holloway, the police and crime commissioner, who is in regular contact with me about these matters. He knows that Bedfordshire has had another £3.2 million this year, and I am sure he knows that the force has put in applications to the special grant programme. He will also know that the long-term solution is through the CSR and the application of a fairer funding formula. He knows from the conversations that we have had that I am personally absolutely committed to this, but I undertake to work closely with him, the PCC and Bedfordshire police over the next two years as they work through the challenges that they face. I completely understand the concern that he has expressed so well on behalf of his constituents.

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Over the summer, I spent a day with officers at Stretford police station, and I have to tell the Minister that I was quite shocked when I saw the extent of the pressure they are under. This is arising in part because of new demands on the police, including those relating to radical extremism, to child criminal exploitation and to additional requirements relating to disclosure. Will the Minister ensure not only that the police are funded adequately to meet their current needs but that there is a real understanding of these new and growing pressures?

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As ever, the hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. She is absolutely right, and the shadow Home Secretary also understands that demand on the police is changing. Traditional crime rates continue to fall, but demand on the system is coming from new and increasingly complex resource-intensive areas. We understand that, and we have responded to it, but there is more that we need to do in terms of ensuring that the police have the support that they need. We completely get that.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to ensuring that the police have the powers they need. We debated the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill on the Floor of the House yesterday, and the Offensive Weapons Bill will soon come to the House for our consideration. Can he reassure me and my constituents that he understands the pressures being faced by the police, not least those being caused by the use of drugs such as Spice?

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My hon. Friend has been assiduous in registering his concerns to the House and the Government about the effect of Spice, which I have seen for myself. We have had exchanges on that point, and those concerns are shared by many colleagues. I also thank him for making the point about police powers. For reasons that we all understand, conversations about the police tend to focus on resources and money, but in terms of what the Government can do to support the police, it is not just about money. It is also about new powers such as those in the Offensive Weapons Bill that is going through the House. We are constantly reviewing how we can support the police with the powers they need to counter the changing demands on the system, and how we can work with them to anticipate demand. The one thing we do know about the policing environment at the moment is that it is one of constant change, and we need to work closely with the police to ensure that they are fit for purpose in terms of managing existing demand and getting on top of future demand.

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Further to the answer that the Minister gave to the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), and acknowledging the need for the funding formula to appreciate the specific needs that rurality creates for forces such as Dyfed-Powys, will the Minister also consider in any forthcoming review the fact that the population in many rural areas increases significantly during the summer months and as such places additional pressures on the local force?

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I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. It is a prime responsibility of the Government to look at how these limited, stretched public resources, which come from the taxpayer, are raised and spent, and it is obviously one of our responsibilities to ensure that decisions are taken that fully reflect and understand the shifts and changes in society and in how this country works. That is our responsibility, and it is a serious bit of work, which is why I think that it is best done in the context of the CSR.

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I am grateful to the Minister for the engagement that he has shown with Lincolnshire police and for the praise that he has given to the force for doing more with less, but does he agree that, however big the funding cake is for the police, Lincolnshire deserves a larger slice of it?

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I have received assiduous representations on that point from Lincolnshire MPs, the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner. Some work has been done on fair funding and more work needs to be done. I recognise that the Lincolnshire police force is stretched and challenged. We have done what we can to help in the short term. I give my commitment that I will continue to do what I can there, if that is what the evidence shows, but in the context of the CSR, which is the most important event in terms of framing the future of police funding for the next five years, I undertake that we will look again at the fair funding.

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The chief constable of Bedfordshire, Jon Boutcher, told me this morning that in his 35 years as a police officer he had never seen such a high demand on his force, yet he has to deal with this with fewer police officers than he had in 2010 and a £47 million budget cut. He simply cannot find enough officers to attend all the 999 calls. Our police force is at breaking point. When will the Minister’s Government admit that their funding formula is broken, understand what forces such as Bedfordshire are dealing with and give them the funding they need to protect the public?

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I am in regular contact with Bedfordshire’s chief constable and the police and crime commissioner. I am extremely aware of their concerns, and we are doing more than listening. We have put an additional £3.2 million into Bedfordshire policing this year, and I have already signalled that we intend again to give PCCs flexibility over precepts in 2019-20. We are engaging with Bedfordshire about applications to the special grant pot, which we increased in the funding settlement that the hon. Gentleman voted against. We are serious about the work that needs to be done for the CSR, both in terms of increasing the resources available to the police and the fair allocation of the cake once it has been established.

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The Minister will know that Derbyshire’s police are particularly unfairly treated by the formula, but the force has a practical suggestion relating to the amount of policing it does involving Black Mamba that it says will help it to manage its scarce resources. The force says that it would greatly help if the drug could be reclassified to class A to provide a far better sentencing deterrent to the use of that drug. Is that something that the Minister could do quickly to help forces to manage the issue?

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I thank Derbyshire for its pragmatic, constructive approach to some of the challenges we face. My hon. Friend will know, not least from sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), that the Government keep the classification of Spice and other synthetic drugs under regular review. We rely on advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and its position is unchanged, but we are extremely aware of the public concern, and I expect that that advice will be kept under regular scrutiny and refreshment.

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May I pay tribute to the bravery of the police officers in Humberside who ran towards a serious incident in Hull city centre yesterday? Despite the best efforts of our excellent police and crime commissioner, Keith Hunter, to refocus resources to the frontline, we still have fewer officers than in 2010. We have lost equipment, including the force’s helicopter, and powers for police officers on antisocial behaviour were weakened under the coalition Government. With rising levels of crime—antisocial behaviour is rising in particular in my constituency—what is the Minister going to do about that?

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The hon. Lady talks about financial resources. I have already taken steps that have led to an additional £4 million of public money going into Humberside policing. I hope that she will welcome that, although she voted against it, and we intend to do something similar this year. We will work closely with the police, including Humberside, to make the case for additional investment in policing.

The hon. Lady and other Labour MPs continue to talk about the cuts since 2010, but they are in complete denial of the economic reality. The budget reductions were taken for two good reasons. First, we had to take radical action to control the deficit that we inherited from a Government that she sometimes supported. Secondly, everyone agreed at the time that demand on the police was flat. Even the shadow Home Secretary at the time agreed that the police could deliver efficiencies, which is exactly what they have done. However, demand has changed since 2014 and we have to respond to that.

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I will continue to lobby for more funds for West Midlands police, but this is not just about cash. Will the Minister confirm that police forces led by Conservative police and crime commissioners perform better across all measures, according to a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary?

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I would be delighted to accept that analysis, and I totally recognise the work that my hon. Friend does to champion West Midlands police, which is an incredibly important police force that does extremely good work. We have put additional resources into the force, and I note that the Labour police and crime commissioner has managed to go about increasing reserves by £26.9 million since 2011—the period in which he has complained about being cash-starved.

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Like many of my colleagues, I recently spent a day shadowing Greater Manchester police in my constituency. From trainees to inspectors, they all expressed concerns about underfunding and short-staffing, not to mention having to pick up the pieces from cuts to mental health and ambulance services. What will the Minister do to ensure that the police in my constituency have the resources to do their jobs and that my constituents feel safe?

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I understand the truth of the messages that the hon. Lady has received, because I have heard exactly the same thing. We are responding to that with the additional money that is going into the system— £10.7 million for Greater Manchester. I have already laboured the point that we see that as a start. We are building the case for additional resources, reflecting the fact that demand on the system has changed and has become increasingly complex. However, this is not just about money; it is also about how demand on the police is managed. I have heard exactly the same frustrations that she heard from officers in her area about how their time is managed. That is based partly on demand from other bits of the system and partly on failings or room for improvement in how their bosses manage their time. We have to press and pursue both those things, which is exactly what I am doing.

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Our police forces have never had to work harder. They are working more efficiently than ever in tackling crime, not least in Northamptonshire, where individual police officers do a fantastic job, but they need to be paid properly. It is wrong not to accept the recommendations of the independent pay review body, which should be honoured in full. Conservative Governments always used to prioritise police pay. Please can we get back to doing that?

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I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. I also fully appreciate the frustration and, in places, anger that police officers feel at the decision. As a representative of the Government—this was a collective decision—I can say that we are still in a difficult position in relation to the public finances, and the Treasury and others have a difficult job to do in terms of balancing fairness and affordability, which is what underlies this decision.

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With a 59% increase in violent crime, a 70% increase in murders and an increase in occasions when police are unable to attend serious disorder events on time, my community in Birmingham and those in the west midlands are being put at risk. Trying to wring more out of the budget towel is not possible, because there is a lack of officers and finances.

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We have already touched on the west midlands, and the hon. Gentleman and I have had meetings about this matter, as is the case for all west midlands MPs. As a result of those representations, we have taken steps, which I hope he will welcome, to put an additional £9.9 million into west midlands policing. We have regular conversations with the leadership of West Midlands police about the force’s needs, which feeds into our demand work, into the 2019-20 settlement and into the CSR.

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When the Minister took the time to attend our special seminar on the long-distance county lines drug-running problem last week, he heard the drive and determination, and the new ideas, of senior officers from forces around the country. Does he accept that that determination will be hamstrung unless he can tackle the issues outlined in the damning National Audit Office report?

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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on convening that meeting about county lines. The fact that it was so well attended by so many different groups involved in the issue is a great credit to him. It is a classic example of a growing problem that is challenging for the police because it crosses force borders and requires them to co-ordinate their work in ways that they have historically found difficult. That is exactly why the Home Office is playing a role by providing £3 million to support a co-ordination centre to help police forces better co-operate in their work on county lines. I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.

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rose

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rose—

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Well—

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Two Whips, Mr Speaker.

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Indeed. I call Chris Elmore.

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South Wales police has seen a 30% cut in central Government funding since 2010 and faced a 12% cut overall. Remarkably, that represents only the second smallest set of cuts across the UK, and I am unsure whether the Minister thinks that south Wales MPs should be grateful for that. The reality is that we have a capital city in Cardiff and another large city in Swansea, and major events lead to real-time pressures, but the Government still have not increased budgets. Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael has called for additional funding, because undue pressure is being placed on rural policing and the policing of smaller communities, such as Ogmore.

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I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about Cardiff, because he has made it to me before, and I certainly do undertake to speak directly to the police and crime commissioner about it. I ask him to recognise that something has changed in the Government’s approach to police funding, which is reflected in the fact that we recognise the increasing demands on the system and the pressures on places such as Cardiff. I hope that he will welcome South Wales police receiving an additional £8.2 million of taxpayers’ money this year.

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Greater Manchester police has lost 2,000 officers—a quarter of its strength—in the past eight years. The Minister is right to refer to the increasing demands, and particularly to the huge and increasing amount of time that the police have to spend dealing with people in mental health crisis, which is a massive problem in south Manchester. If the Government are going to make massive cuts to council services, mental health services, substance abuse services, homelessness support, domestic violence services and youth services, are they not going to have to increase funding to the police disproportionately because it is the police who have to pick up the pieces from all those other cuts?

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I challenge the hon. Gentleman’s premise. I want to see police officers focused on core policing and demand better managed in Greater Manchester and other areas between local partners. He talks about cuts. Actually, the Government are, rightly, investing an additional £1 billion a year in mental health. I am determined, as police Minister, to ensure that that money is felt on the ground and that agencies on the ground are supported to take some pressure off our police system.

Bill Presented

Agriculture Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Michael Gove, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary David Mundell, Secretary Alun Cairns, Secretary Karen Bradley, Dr Secretary Fox, Secretary Dominic Raab, Elizabeth Truss and George Eustice, presented a Bill to authorise new expenditure for certain agricultural and other purposes; to make provision about direct payments during an agricultural transition period following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union; to make provision about the acquisition and use of information connected with food supply chains; to confer power to respond to exceptional market conditions affecting agricultural markets; to confer power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to agricultural and rural development payments and public market intervention and private storage aid; to make provision about marketing standards and the classification of carcasses; to make provision for the recognition of associations of agricultural producers which may benefit from certain exemptions from competition law; to confer power to make regulations about contracts for the purchase of agricultural products from agricultural producers and securing compliance with the WTO Agreement on Agriculture; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 266) with explanatory notes (Bill 266-EN).

Energy Consumption (Innovative Technologies)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to undertake a public consultation on innovative technologies and energy consumption in households and commercial properties and to report on responses to that consultation and steps to be taken to encourage the development of innovative technologies to reduce energy consumption; and for connected purposes.

I am introducing this Bill because much innovative technology has been developed that can aid the Government in achieving their commendable energy policy objectives, and I am keen to see it recognised and promoted. I know the Minister is interested in this area, so I will explain in more detail how the Bill can help her.

The Bill touches on a number of issues that are close to my heart and affect not just my constituents in Taunton Deane but those across the nation. They relate to harnessing new and innovative carbon-saving technologies to lower energy consumption in our homes and commercial properties, particularly by cutting energy wastage, lowering fuel bills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which is very important if we are to achieve our climate change goals.

At the outset, I thank all my hon. Friends and other Members for supporting the Bill—there is a great deal of support—and want to make it clear that I fully support the Government’s drive to do as much as possible to reduce the amount of money people pay for their energy, through the recent Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Act 2018, for example. I was pleased to speak in a number of debates on that Bill, as were some of my hon. Friends who are in the Chamber today. I was delighted that Ofgem announced last week that, on passing that Bill, 11 million households on default tariffs across the UK would save an average of £75.

However, a great deal more can be done by harnessing technology to use energy more efficiently. The industry suggests that consumers could halve their winter energy bills if more attention were paid to that. I attended a workshop here in Parliament that focused on the energy company obligation and fuel poverty which highlighted to me that we have some ingenious minds working on solutions. I know that the Minister has hosted workshops on innovative technology, and that she recently addressed the Sustainable Energy Association, so this issue is definitely on the Government’s radar.

The call in the Bill for a public consultation on technologies will enable companies to submit information to illustrate to the Minister how inventions can help us achieve our energy policy objectives. That will, in turn, stimulate investment and development, and lead to even greater innovation. It will be important to cover applications not just for domestic households but for business and commercial use.

Let us look at some examples. First, stored passive flue gas is a UK invention that significantly improves the efficiency and domestic hot water performance of A-rated condensing gas boilers, thereby helping households to save about £100 a year on their gas and water bills because the boiler is much more efficient. If fitted into every home with a gas boiler, we could see savings of 2.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, which would clearly be a very useful contribution to our climate change targets.

Another device relating to gas systems is called MARGO. It is nothing to do with ballet or Margot Fonteyn, although it is a very fleet-of-foot device. MARGO stands for metrology for the acoustic recognition of gas-optimised services—it is clear why they shortened it. It is a new smart billing UK invention for more accurately measuring the gas supply to, and therein carbon dioxide produced by, households already installed with mechanical gas meters. If widely installed, it could reduce reported household carbon dioxide emissions by 10% a year, equating to savings on bills of about 4%.

Let us move on to the exciting subject of radiators. They are commonly used to deliver heat in our homes and business spaces, and yet so often they do not work efficiently. I am guilty of that in my home. One unbalanced radiator can add 3.5% to our heating costs. If there are a number of unbalanced radiators, costs could be increased by 8%. Indeed, for a whole-company system, costs could be increased by as much as 27%. That astonishing waste of money could simply be rectified with innovative technologies that enable systems to be balanced quickly for relatively little cost—about £70 to £170. Not balancing systems means that customers are effectively short-changed.

Still on homes, heat pumps are increasing in popularity. NIBE Energy Systems is one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of heat pumps, and the market leader in Europe. It has a heat pump that combines an air source heat pump with a ventilation unit to provide renewable heat and hot water to homes. It is also smart grid-ready, and is able to respond to pricing signals, reducing the strain on the grid and saving consumers money.

How often do buildings feel too hot on warm days because the heating system is not flexible and cannot be adjusted? My office in the House of Commons is a good example of that. It often gets so hot that the windows are opened and all the heat disappears outside. That is not a good way of operating, so a whole-system approach to buildings would be very helpful. Demand Logic technology could help to cut costs for businesses and public authorities in that respect. It provides data intelligence on how a building operates, and can ensure that maintenance work is prioritised to where it is most effective. Better comfort levels should encourage us to be more productive in our work, so it is a win-win all round.

In a similar vein, the Zeroth energy system is an inventive community heating network. Its uniquely low operating temperatures mean that much less energy is lost into the communal areas of a building. That addresses the overheating issue, which can cause corridors to be boiling hot—that occurs even in Parliament—which is an utter waste of energy and heat. Sometimes they can be up to 30 °C, which is most uncomfortable. There are virtually no heat gains from the pipework into corridors in that system. It reduces temperatures, waste, running costs and carbon emissions from heating and hot water by up to 29% using air-source heat pumps and a low-energy loop.

Even insulation comes into some of these ground-breaking methods. A wood fibre insulated building envelope by Pavatex, for example, can control temperature, sound and moisture in a building. It is made from cellulose, so it absorbs large quantities of carbon dioxide—up to 10 tonnes—for every home built. There are many wins with that example.

Hydrogen fuel boilers can also cut carbon enormously. A gadget that Vitovalor has developed is pioneering alternative decentralised power. It generates 5,000 kWh of electricity all year round, and it can be fitted into almost any house. It can cut carbon emissions by an incredible 40% and domestic electricity consumption by an even more impressive 60%. It also provides power generation, but does not emit nitrogen oxide, so it contributes to improved air quality.

Bioenergy is another new technology that can be harnessed to a much greater extent. It is fuelled by waste and biomass residues. There is a great deal that can be done.

In conclusion, such new technologies are being developed all the time, as I believe my examples have demonstrated. They can achieve the aims being discussed today, reducing energy consumption through improved efficiency and cutting waste, with the subsequent lowering of fuel bills and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. However, more can be done and needs to be done not just for domestic properties but for all properties. That is one of the main points of this Bill.

Fortunately, we have a Minister who is very interested in all these issues, and if she will invite companies to contribute to the consultation that I have proposed, highlighting their inventions and all the other new technologies in the pipeline, I am sure that this will do a great deal to stimulate greater innovation, reduce energy consumption and meet this Government’s energy needs. Indeed, we could become world leaders. It will benefit us all, not just my constituents in Taunton Deane but everybody everywhere. I hope that the Minister will respond to my Bill by setting in motion the call for just such a consultation.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Rebecca Pow, Ian Austin, Caroline Lucas, John Grogan, John Penrose, Julian Knight, David Warburton, Derek Thomas, Sir David Amess, James Heappey, Alex Sobel and Geraint Davies present the Bill.

Rebecca Pow accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 267).

Salisbury Incident

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Before I call the Minister to open the debate, it might be helpful if I remind the House that although the Salisbury incident is not at this stage sub judice, Members should nevertheless exercise discretion and avoid saying anything that might prejudice a future trial. I am sure that Members are well aware of that and will show the customary and appropriate constraint.

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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Salisbury incident.

Let me underline your comment, Madam Deputy Speaker, about the ongoing case. This is a very important case, with two suspects who have been named, and you are absolutely right that we must maintain caution throughout our discourse inside and outside the House to ensure that we do not undermine it. I ask colleagues engaging in today’s debate to remember that. It is of course a challenge that the individuals we seek are in a difficult jurisdiction, but nevertheless our rule of law is what we set our values by and that is the difference, perhaps, between us and many others.

On 2 March, two individuals, using the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, flew into Gatwick airport on flight SU2588 from Moscow. They mingled with other passengers, travelling on business visas and genuine Russian passports. Police have confirmed that the suspects had travelled to the United Kingdom before. The suspects then travelled by train into London and stayed at the City Stay hotel in Bow Road, east London on 2 and 3 March.

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I apologise for intervening so early in my right hon. Friend’s speech. He mentions Gatwick airport and the rail route the suspects took into central London, which are in my constituency. I appreciate that almost 50 million throughput passengers a year travel through Gatwick airport, but what assurances can be given that passengers and, indeed, my constituents who work at Gatwick airport will be kept safe from this appalling rogue and reckless action of foreign agents?

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The assurance I can give my hon. Friend about this incident is that, throughout the whole process of the investigation as it has unfolded, we have sought expert scientific and public health advice to ensure that people who could have been at risk were not disregarded, whether or not they were in the threatened area. We felt that at Gatwick, for example, there was no threat to his constituents or the people who work there, but we made our decision by seeking the advice of our world experts in places such as the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and Public Health England.

This also underlines an important point: when a hostile state is determined to try to use its full resources to penetrate another state, the challenge is much greater. The logistical support of that state in assisting its agents is significant. For example, these two individuals travelled on genuine Russian passports, making them harder to spot. There was clearly some attempt to create a legend to ensure that they circumvented our checks. This is only speculative, but at the other end of the aeroplane journey the baggage checks were probably not, I should think, as good as they might have been.

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If I may just set the scene by pressing on a bit, I will happily give way later.

On 3 March, the two individuals travelled to Salisbury before returning to London after a few hours. We believe that the purpose of that was a recce. On 4 March, they returned to Salisbury by train, and they were in the immediate vicinity of the Skripals’ house between 11.58 and 13.00 on that day. We believe that it was at that time they sprayed the deadly Novichok nerve agent on to the handle of the front door. That same afternoon, Sergei and Yulia Skripal left the house and travelled by car to the centre of Salisbury. After a meal and a walk around, they were taken ill at the centre and slipped into unconsciousness at 4.15 pm on 4 March.

As hospital staff and paramedics worked to save the lives of the Skripals, the two suspects left London and travelled to Heathrow, flying back to Moscow at 10.30 pm on 4 March on flight SU2585, leaving behind them a deadly trail. We should not forget that only the brave actions of police and NHS staff on that day ensured that the damage to that community was minimal. Because of the actions of the GRU agents, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey fell gravely ill, and he ultimately bore the consequence of their reckless action. I am convinced that if it was not for the expertise in the hospital and the bravery of those in our blue-light services, who often acted with disregard for their own safety, we would have been reflecting today on a far worse situation.

Novichok is a deadly chemical nerve agent, and it was used in this attack. We believe that it was brought in in a counterfeit perfume bottle, in the packaging of a Nina Ricci bottle. That bottle was then recklessly discarded on the streets of Salisbury and had the potential to kill or injure dozens or hundreds of people. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has recently reported that, having tested it, it is confident that the liquid within the recovered perfume bottle had a very high level of purity.

Since the incident in March, some 250 detectives, led by SO15, have worked around the clock, trawling through 11,000 hours of CCTV and taking more than 1,400 statements. They have worked painstakingly and methodically to identify exactly which individuals are responsible and the methods they used to carry out the attack.

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The Minister, like the Prime Minister a few days ago, has today presented clear evidence linking this incident to the GRU and the Russian state. He has also pointed out how the attack was facilitated by the apparatus of the Russian state. Does he therefore agree that it would be appropriate to ask the Foreign Office to look again at expelling further Russian diplomats beyond those expelled already to degrade their ability to plan and execute such activities on our soil as well as the other espionage activities they conduct?

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My hon. Friend makes a point in response to the horrific facts of this case. We of course seek to keep pressure on the malign activity of the Russian state—to push it back, as the Prime Minister has said—and we will keep all options on the table for doing that. For now, we are working on a number of measures, to which I shall come later, to push back Russia’s activities, and we are doing our best to degrade Russia’s intelligence services.

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Given the crystal clear evidence of Russian state involvement in these attacks—indeed, in the masterminding of them—why have the Government reached the conclusion that the other deeply suspicious deaths of Russian dissidents and others on British soil should not be reinvestigated?

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I read the BuzzFeed allegations about the 14 deaths that that report viewed as suspicious. We have re-examined those cases, with other people looking at them—rather than only the officers who initially did the investigations, we have peer-group looked at them—and I have tested the assurances that I have had. In those cases, the investigations themselves did not throw up anything that would currently lead us to be suspicious. At the same time, the investigations and actions were done properly. That does not detract from the fact that Russia clearly uses lethal force where it chooses and that that must be challenged where we find it.

The important thing to tell the House is that, having visited the investigation a number of times, I believe that it is absolutely clear that the United Kingdom is in a unique position to solve this issue. We used a network of expert police officers from the local forces of many Members present today. It was incredibly refreshing to visit the investigation and find police officers from Devon and Cornwall and from all over the country. We have used the counter-terrorism network to share our knowledge and expertise. I met officers who had worked on the Litvinenko case. Britain has a real depth of experience of investigations of this type, and we have some of the best people in the world with some of the best equipment in the world. I can reassure colleagues that, although this attack was horrendous, we should be really proud of what our police and intelligence services have achieved, and that has been built on successive Governments’ investment in those organisations and the fact that, fundamentally, we do learn lessons from our past mistakes. Good organisations do that.

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Does the Minister agree that if we are to defend ourselves against threats such as the one we saw in Salisbury, we need to change the record, particularly with some Opposition Members and the scepticism that they have shown towards the work of our security services? It is about time that we realised that our security services are working for our national security. We should take their judgment seriously, not go on social media and rush to dismiss it.

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My hon. Friend is right. When we meet the people who do the job of keeping us safe every day, we find that they are honest, law-abiding, decent people of all backgrounds and all political persuasions who are determined to uphold this country’s values, which include the rule of law and the protection of rights. It is unfair to doubt them in the way in which they are sometimes doubted in parts of the political arena, when it is often politicians who have made regretful decisions, rather than it being about the intelligence services’ intelligence.

We have heard a number of supportive voices from both sides of the House, including from the Labour party and members of its Front-Bench team. I will say one thing about the leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). He has for many years challenged the Government of the day when our intelligence services have done something that he does not like, and he is allowed to do that. He has a record of that and he is proud of it, and there is nothing wrong with doing that. When the Russian intelligence services have done the same, he has somehow not yet been able to make the same challenge to the Government of Russia as he has historically made to the Government of Britain. That is where I would leave it; I think that is the best way to reflect on it. Apart from that, I do not doubt the Labour Front-Bench team’s support of our police and blue-light agencies; nor do I doubt the wishes of Labour Members to support this investigation and to discuss it and the next measures to take, many of which they have supported. Labour should, though, think about calling out the responsibility for this attack. I think that is a fair position to take.

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I hope that the Minister will follow my logic. A couple of weeks ago, it was widely reported that the head of MI5 had offered the Leader of the Opposition a detailed briefing on the threats that this country faces. Does the Minister know whether, after the Prime Minister’s statement and what she said about the GRU’s involvement, the Leader of the Opposition has decided to take up that very sensible offer from the head of MI5?

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My right hon. Friend will understand that it would be wrong for me to detail conversations between our intelligence services and the Leader of the Opposition, our Prime Minister or anyone else. I regularly give briefs, in an open manner and on Privy Council terms, to some Opposition Members, including the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), and we have a full and honest discussion about things. I have never found the shadow Home Secretary wanting; she has always wanted to know and has always been engaged. I am not going to speculate about the Leader of the Opposition’s relationships with the security services or anyone else; I am simply reflecting the fact that the people in our police and intelligence services are good people and they are doing the right thing. That does not mean that we do not hold them to account, because we do. The Intelligence and Security Committee does, along with everything else. The important thing about this event is that it was not an ad hoc, amateur event; it was the state-sanctioned use of a chemical weapon on our soil that lead to the death of a British citizen and could have led to the deaths of many more. It is therefore unbelievable that we should have any doubt about calling people out when they are found. It is now in multicolour, and we can see all the presentations.

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rose

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rose

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I give way first to the shadow Home Secretary.

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On a point of information, I have certainly had a meeting with the head of MI5 on Privy Council terms. The Minister will not find us lacking in this debate in laying blame where blame should be laid.

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I now give way to my right hon. Friend.

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To go back to the point that my right hon. Friend has made so eloquently, as ever, many would argue—I certainly would—that it is not just about the Leader of the Opposition; it is part of the hard left’s long history that they subscribe very quickly and far too easily to that conspiracy theory, which invariable means that they take the default position that all the brave men and women who work in our security forces so admirably, as my right hon. Friend has described, are wrong, and they act in a wrong way.

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What I take from my right hon. Friend’s point is that we should let the message come out from this debate that there is nothing wrong with working in our intelligence services and our police forces and stopping terrorism and espionage on our streets. It is a noble thing to do, and those who do it should not be hounded for it. I must say that her characterisation of the hard left or whatever may have been as it was in the 1980s and 1990s—there are certainly people like that from the Momentum movement in my Twitter feed—but I would add that the rules have changed in the 21st century. We see conspiracy theories among nationalists, peddling all sorts of things. We see the far right in Europe in league with some of Russia’s friends and allies. The rules have changed: multimedia and social media have given volume to conspiracy theories. Trust is so important for us on both sides of the House, and we have to maintain that. I trust our judiciary, and I trust our leaders. We have to maintain trust.

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I thank the Minister for giving way. May I simply express the hope, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we do not have a sectarian debate but recognise that we are facing a real threat to our country, and that that requires us to act collectively? The shadow Home Secretary has made Labour’s position clear, and we should go forward from that.

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The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I am trying to be as pragmatic and as accurate as possible about my view. I made it clear what my view was of the particular statement by the Leader of the Opposition. I have also said that I do not characterise that as the collective view of the Labour party. We will see what the statements are, and they may be different from the response that we heard last week. But I want to move on. I said that that was the only political point I was going to make, because it was important, but I want to move on now to where we have got with the investigation.

Following the work of the police and the intelligence services, which identified these individuals, the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that there was sufficient basis on which to bring charges against the two men for the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on that day. The two men identified by police are also the prime suspects in the poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley. Our world-class experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down and the OPCW have confirmed that the exact same chemical nerve agent was used in both cases. The two incidents now form a single investigation, and there is no other line of inquiry.

The security and intelligence agencies have carried out their own investigations into the organisation behind the attack. Based on that work, the Government have concluded that the two individuals named by the police and the CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU, which is a highly disciplined organisation with a clear and effective chain of command.

This was not a rogue operation. The attack was almost certainly approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state. Although I cannot go into operational detail about the work of our security and intelligence agencies, I can say that this conclusion is based on a clear body of intelligence.

This was a despicable act in which a deadly and illegal nerve agent known as Novichok was used on the streets of Britain. I know the whole House will join me in recognising the remarkable resilience shown by the people of Salisbury in the face of this act. The Government stand ready to assist Salisbury in getting back to normal. We have released £7.5 million to support business and tourism in the town and a further £5 million to support the cost of policing. I know that, throughout this process, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) has been keenly and eagerly active in making sure that Salisbury, along with the county council, gets the resource and support it needs to deal with this.

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I want to take the Minister back to how we counter the Russian threat to security in this country and elsewhere. As Secretary of State for Energy in March 2015, I used powers never used before to force the sale by LetterOne of its North sea oil assets. This was in the context of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia. Following the terrorist outrage in Salisbury, are the Government looking at using powers such as unexplained wealth orders to investigate the cronies of Putin whose presence here brings our country into disrepute and does not help the fight against Russian aggression?

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I will get to my response later on, but the right hon. Gentleman makes the point that we have to deal with Russian state aggression across a wide front. We have said that we will use all legal powers within the rule of law to push back the malign action of the Russian state. The Criminal Finances Act 2017, which had cross-party support, gives us tools to deal with illicit finance. It is a fact that some of the two biggest flows of illicit finance into this country come from Russia and China. Therefore, it is obvious that we will be looking in those areas and making sure that we deal with such illicit activity, but we also look elsewhere. I cannot comment on individual investigations, but where we see a break in the law, whether it be illicit finance or any other type of malign activity, we will act using those powers and push it back.

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The Minister is making a very eloquent statement. Will he confirm that some of the most important lessons learned are now being incorporated in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill that is currently going through the House of Commons?

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The Bill went through only yesterday with a large majority. I was disappointed that not all parties could support it. Labour supported it, and I enjoyed our going through the Lobby together. I urge the Liberal Democrats to think again and not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Clearly, there were issues that not everyone agrees with. I do not think that voting entirely against the Bill would have helped our security or indeed the businesses that could have been compensated by Pool Re for loss of trade as a result of terrorism. Nevertheless, it is why, in that Bill, we have the measures against a hostile state. We wanted to mirror what we have in schedule 3 as what we have in schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 and give our police and ports that power to examine individuals.

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Is the Minister aware that the Danish Government recently announced an 11-point plan to deal with malign Russian influence? Many of those points were among the 10 items that I have discussed with him and that I wrote to him about last week. I do not pretend to be a font of all knowledge on this—absolutely not—but I am merely trying to present good ideas to the Minister to use. Will he meet me to discuss them, and can he give me any indication of where any of those points may be of benefit, specifically the one in relation to the standing group or organisation that could look into state subversion in the UK of both official and unofficial, state and non-state, kinds?

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I have spoken to my hon. Friend. He has not only considerable experience in this area, but some interesting and refreshing ideas that I have discussed with him and that I am happy to discuss further with him. He makes another point, which is that if we are to respond to any hybrid threat, whether that is from Russia or any other hostile state, we need to be as co-ordinated and nimble as the people doing the planning. One of the unfortunate characteristics of some of the hostile states is that they do not really have collective Cabinet responsibility. They are quite able just to decide that they will all do something and everyone is told to do it. At the very least, we must be more nimble and co-ordinated. Our work in that area is ongoing. What I can say to him is that because, over the decades, investment has gone into the intelligence services, our specialist police and, increasingly, the National Economic Crime Centre, we are in a position where we have effectively funded all the actors on the stage. They have the capability, but we now need to make sure that the direction of their work is improved. That is what we work at every single day. I will perhaps be able to say more about it to my hon. Friend at another time as the work is currently in progress.

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rose

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I am sorry, but I really must press on.

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It is on that point about co-ordination.

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We will get to that in a second.

I wish to express my gratitude to all the emergency services, and also to the staff at Salisbury District Hospital. It must have been very frightening for them suddenly to find on their wards a weapons-grade lethal nerve agent and, at the same time, the world’s press—not the local press, not the national press, but the world’s press—on their doorstep. They also had to put up with some rather odd behaviour by a Russian television crew who went down there probably to just cause trouble. Those hospital staff had to go to work and to live with not knowing whether they had come into contact with something. It must have been incredibly worrying. They have behaved brilliantly as has the leader of their hospital. I also want to place it on the record that the joint working with the DSTL, which was, by chance, down the road, really made a massive difference. I am sure that it gave confidence to the nurses, the doctors and the other staff at that hospital that they were in good hands and that answers would be reached.

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I want to pursue exactly that point. First, may I support the Minister’s remarks on dealing with this Russian state aggression that has brought this terrible nerve agent into our country? Will he tell us a bit more about the public health costs and the extra public health measures that may now need to be introduced to deal with this alarming development?

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I was going to come to that, and we should also thank the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which basically took over the decontamination of the site when the crime scenes were released and worked continuously with Government scientists and international experts to ensure that we got it right. We will jointly fund the decontamination costs. Part of the support package for the local authority will include that, and obviously there will also be internal money going out, but the work is being funded.

Again, this goes back to the United Kingdom’s expertise and knowledge, but from about 2010 we already had in place something called the chemical, biological or radioactive response framework. It was an easy-use, off-the-shelf guide to what to do and where to get scientific advice—Members who have sat on the Science and Technology Committee will know that it held an inquiry about 18 months ago into whether that advice is shared correctly through local government—so the network and the structures were in place. Certainly I have never felt that DEFRA or the local authority wanted for support. There are lessons to be learned. I went down to visit DSTL and the laboratories last Monday. We have seen a nerve agent that we have not seen before—it is not something that I think any of us would have predicted 10 months ago would be on our streets—and that will feed into our ongoing work on decontamination and detection capability. We are confident that DSTL and our aerospace sector have some of the finest minds in detection, and we will continue to invest in ensuring that we keep that.

Following the incident in March, we took action against Russia with one of the toughest packages of measures that the UK has levied against another state in three decades. We have expelled 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared Russian intelligence officers. In doing so, we have helped to degrade their capability in the UK for some years to come. Twenty-seven other countries, as well as NATO, joined us in collective solidarity and, in recognition of the shared threat that we face, expelled 153 intelligence officers, the largest collective expulsion ever. Mr Putin should be under no illusion: the solidarity shown that day by the international community in response to the actions of the GRU has not waned.

In the United Kingdom, we have introduced schedule 3 to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which had its Third Reading last night and has moved to the other House, to allow examining officers to stop, question, search and detain a person at UK ports and the border area in Northern Ireland to determine whether the person appears to be, or has been, engaged in hostile state activity. I was also pleased that Parliament passed the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, which was taken through earlier this year by the Foreign Office and gives us powers to sanction individuals or entities for a wide range of purposes, including those who fail to comply with, or are in breach of, international human rights law.

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I absolutely join the Minister in welcoming the so-called Magnitsky amendment to the sanctions Act, but in the last few years, five other countries have passed and implemented Magnitsky legislation, which has led to 79 named Russian citizens being sanctioned. Those countries are the USA, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Canada. It has been four months since the Magnitsky amendment was passed in this House, yet the Government have done absolutely nothing to implement the legislation. Will the Minister please explain why the Government are so reluctant to take action and implement the Magnitsky amendment?

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We are not reluctant, and I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s examples that are European member states, because he will know, with his European background, that sanctions are implemented at a European level. As a member of the European Union, we have always sought to implement our sanctions as the European Union. We stand ready to use the new powers on sanctions after Brexit, where we can.

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rose

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be able to give me a legal clarification.

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I would respectfully point out to the Minister that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are member states of the European Union.

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Maybe the hon. Gentleman can explain how together they can lay a sanction, whereas the policy has always been at a European level—

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They are EU member states; they’ve done it.

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Well, let’s see.

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There are three routes to sanctions, it seems to me. The first is through a collective operation with the European Union—it issues an order in Council that this Government can apply as a regulation the next day. The second is through the United Nations, which recently named, for example, Burmese generals, who we should be able to sanction quite separately from the European route. The third route is under the new legislation. Will my right hon. Friend at least confirm that work is in train to ensure that everything has been done to allow the Government to unilaterally sanction named individuals under that system on 30 March 2019? That message would go a long way towards discouraging dirty money from coming into this country.

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We have made it very clear that we will use the powers set out in the Act. I am not going to say that we are about to fire a starting gun or say, “Here’s the list.” That will be for the Foreign Secretary and the Government collectively. We now have the power to act through our sanctions Act. We will not hesitate to use it, and there is more to come. I am trying to ensure that the legislation coming before the House over the next few months will include serious crime as a factor for laying a sanction, because it is important to see what the Americans have done around cyber-crime and serious organised criminals in that space.

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Will the Minister give way?

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Will the Minister give way?

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No, I am going to move on.

We introduced many provisions in the Criminal Finances Act 2017. They included asset-freezing orders, of which we have used many, and unexplained wealth orders, which we used within six weeks against what I shall describe as an overseas individual—obviously the court decides how much I can tell hon. Members about individuals—and there are more in the pipeline. I know that Members are impatient to know why we cannot just issue lots of unexplained wealth orders. The simple reason is that the provision became law at the beginning of this year. We used it very quickly and we have to work it through the judiciary. At the high end, the oligarchs and their type use lawyers, and lots of them, to test these things. The wheels grind and there are more orders in the pipeline, but we have to ensure that this is tested, that the judiciary gets used to it and that we learn from the first use—which, by the way, has gone well to date.

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The Minister is absolutely right; I found that the legal issues around the use of such orders requires a little bit of time, and I have sympathy with him on that point. However, can he at least reassure the House that the Government are absolutely determined to use unexplained wealth orders and other powers to chase down dirty money and stop Britain being used as a haven for it?

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There is a reason why my title has changed from Minister of State for Security to Minister for Security and Economic Crime. The Prime Minister said not so long ago in a speech that she is determined to step up the response to illicit finance in this country and target those individuals. We have put some resource behind that. We have put in place the National Economic Crime Centre, and we are absolutely targeting and driving investigations in that area in a much more aggressive way than in the past. I have been very clear with the National Crime Agency and the other agencies that this is about targeted cases and sending messages, but it is also about going after facilitators—those who allow those crooks to enjoy their money in London. We must ensure that we deal with them all—not just the far-distant crime baron, but the smart, perhaps sharp-suited individuals who think they are just helping and not really engaged, but who in fact are absolutely corrupting our system, littering our streets with dirty money and then allowing those crooks to enjoy it.

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It is just a minor point, but when it comes to all the lawyers facilitating the work of these oligarchs who are testing and playing the system—they are very aggressive in the United States, as well as in London and elsewhere—should we not be gently highlighting the fact that these companies that are taking on significant Russian players are being used to test the law? They have a very ethical basis for doing so, but at the same time they are taking an awful lot of money from our adversaries and enemies to learn how to game the system.

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Tempting as my hon. Friend’s suggestion is, vilifying people who carry out the role of defending plaintiffs is not how we do business in this country. We are not Russia. Reputation is clearly important to some of those companies, and no doubt they will bear that in mind. However, everyone has a right to a defence. It is up to us to make sure that the law is in the right place to deal with this.

I fully expect that in some of these cases we will be successful, while in others we will probably try but not be successful. That is partly because of the myriad facilitators, shell companies, foreign jurisdictions and corrupt jurisdictions that this money comes through. One challenge is that in some cases the money is already cleaned when it comes here. It is not being washed here; it is cleaned, has come into the system, and has bought nice houses and everything else. That is why we squeeze at one end with the unexplained wealth orders and the asset-cleaning orders, which have also been used quite successfully recently, and then, at the other end, we have better regulation through the use of the suspicious activity reports regime. That regime has, for far too long, been in need of reform to make sure that people are making those reports when they see suspicious activities. I see some horrendous stories where people have handed over hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash and people have not thought that it is remotely suspicious, so have not made any report. People have bought houses with cash, and somehow some estate agents have not thought that that is remotely suspicious. There is an obligation—a legal obligation—on them to report these issues. Funnily enough, when we follow up on those cash purchases, they are, more often than not, a dodgy purchase.

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The Minister is describing a situation where the people who wish to do our country harm are very creative and have very expensive advisers to quickly get round the rules. Can he assure this House that the economic crime unit that he described in a previous answer to me will, within the law, be as creative as possible to chase down these people?

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I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. The key point about the unit being part of the National Crime Agency, within a policing and intelligence-led environment, is that a target-led investigation is often about bringing to bear more than just criminal charges. It is often about disruption and discouragement—using the whole paraphernalia of the state to make life difficult, to recover assets, or to persuade people to go elsewhere. It has to be about everything, partly because of the scale of this. It does not matter how well we fund it—the scale of illicit finance throughout the world is so large that we have to pick our targets well and develop the case around them.

I have no doubt, though, that in dealing with illicit finance, especially illicit finance that has come here from Russia, for example, the National Crime Agency has the right people with the right skill set to deliver, and the right leadership under its director general, Lynne Owens. We have already had arrests and progressed a number of cases, and I think that over the next few months, or maybe years, we will see some results. The message has certainly already gone out in the City that, through the use of the unexplained wealth orders and having them on our statute book, we are stepping up and taking this seriously. In my conversations with the United States Government, I find that they are delighted to engage with us and to help us in finding international money launderers. We are helping each other to make sure that people do not hide in different jurisdictions.

As the Prime Minister said last week, we have repeatedly asked the Russians to account for what happened in Salisbury in March. I am afraid that I have to report that our requests were met with obfuscation and lies. They responded with disinformation on an industrial scale. They tried to blame terrorists, our international partners, and the United Kingdom itself. They have accused “English gentlemen” of killing those whom they consider to be beneath them, as one of the theories of what happened. They have tried to blame the future mother-in-law of Yulia Skripal. They have even tried to blame the Prime Minister herself. This deluge of disinformation merely reinforces their guilt and does them no favours whatsoever.

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It is clear from the way in which the Russian Government have responded that they show no remorse whatsoever. Will the Minister therefore suggest to colleagues in the Foreign Office that they encourage Germany and the EU to revisit their enthusiasm for the Nord Stream project, because that would bring with it the dual advantage of diminishing Russian leverage over our friends and allies in eastern Europe while also hitting Putin very hard indeed in his bank account?

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It is just good energy policy for any country not to be dependent on one single source, either because of political exposure or just because of differences on energy. It is really important that we always make sure that our energy policy is diverse. Obviously, our European partners have tried to do the same, and I would urge them to continue with that.

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As Secretary of State for Energy, working at the EU Energy Council, I helped the European Commission to draft Europe’s energy security strategy, which is very much aimed at reducing Europe’s dependence on imports of Russian fossil fuels. That is good for climate change and good for security. Can the Minister assure the House that after Brexit, that level of influence on Europe’s energy policy will be there in some other way, because by being at the table we were able to hit Putin in the pocket very effectively?

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I think that, in the middle of the negotiations, that is what we are trying to do. Our relationship with Europe post Brexit is not just about taking or giving—it is still going to be a partnership. Our security will be a partnership. Our relationships with NATO and many of the countries in NATO will be a partnership. On strategic issues like energy, it is in the interests of both the European continent, as it will be then, and us to have that strategic dialogue. We will need each other for energy policy whether we are in or out of the European Union. I would certainly share the right hon. Gentleman’s view that we must continue to work at delivering that.

This was a chemical weapons attack that left four people fighting for their lives and one innocent woman dead. I know that the thoughts of the House will be with the friends and family of Dawn Sturgess, in particular. We will never stop pursuing justice for Dawn Sturgess and other victims, nor will we ever stop pursuing the people responsible for this malign attack. As the Prime Minister told this House last week, were the two suspects within our jurisdiction, there would be a clear basis in law for their arrest for murder.

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I thank the Minister very much for the speech he is giving. I am sure that the House will be aware of the remarks made by President Putin today in saying that these are not criminals but citizens. Does he agree that if the President is so assured of that statement, he might want to encourage those individuals to come to the UK for trial?

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I believe in the British justice system, and if those individuals are innocent, they will be acquitted. I have every faith in that, so I would urge the President to hand them over for a trial. They are suspects and they are innocent until proven guilty.

We have obtained a European arrest warrant and submitted an Interpol red notice so that if these individuals leave Russia in future, they can be apprehended and brought back to the UK to face justice. We have not made a formal extradition request, because we have learned from experience, following the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, that such a request would be futile. The UK does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, and the Russian constitution prohibits extradition of its nationals. But should either of these individuals ever again travel outside Russia, we will take every possible step to have them detained, to extradite them, and to bring them to face justice here in the United Kingdom.

As the Prime Minister also said, we have taken action against the GRU itself. The Salisbury incident is but the latest example in recent history of Russian malign activity in which the GRU has played a key part. The GRU has been involved in the botched coup in Montenegro and the illegal annexation of Crimea. Last year, we determined that GRU hackers were responsible for the indiscriminate NotPetya cyber-attack, which caused some £15 million-worth of damage in the United Kingdom. We exposed its despicable use of chemical weapons in Salisbury, we have exposed its operatives and its methods, and we will share this information with our allies in recognition of the shared threat we face. It is important to remember that the message to our international partners is that if the GRU can do it here, it can do it anywhere—in those people’s countries as well. People who are perhaps tempted to think that Russia is going to be their friend should reflect on the actions it took this year in this country with a nerve agent. We will use every means possible to counter the threat by the GRU, both covert and overt, to ensure that the threat it poses to the United Kingdom is reduced.

The use of deadly, illegal chemical weapons on our soil is part of a pattern of behaviour: Russia’s actions in Crimea, the Donbass and Montenegro; repeated violations of the national airspace of several European countries; sustained cyber-espionage and election interference; and a Russian-made missile belonging to the Russian army launched from territory held by Russian-backed separatists, bringing down civilian airliner MH17.

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Is the Minister aware that the senior Russian general in eastern Ukraine at the time was a GRU general whose code name was Orion, and he was exposed in an investigation in Holland a few months ago as being the senior GRU officer responsible for that?

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My hon. Friend makes the point that the GRU’s fingerprints have been all over these types of events. MH17 was a civilian airliner travelling between Schiphol and Asia, and 200-plus people—women and children going on holiday—were blown out of the sky. It is an outrageous thing to have happened to anyone, and it seems that Russia does not want to bear responsibility for any of that. This is way outside any international norm—it is on another planet from any international norm—and it is time that we said, “Enough is enough.”

Russia has now started to undermine international institutions and degrade the structures and treaties that keep us safe. Russia is failing to act as a responsible member of the international community—one that has the privilege and responsibility of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The Russian state must account for the despicable use of chemical weapons by the GRU on British soil. It must recognise that there can be no place in any civilised international order for the kind of barbaric activity we saw in Salisbury in March.

Regrettably, there are some who repeatedly flout the established rules of international conduct, their flagrant disregard threatening the entire international rules-based system. We have acted to protect our citizens and allies against the malign activities of those who disregard international norms and to send a message to all those who would contravene the international rules-based system: you cannot and will not act with impunity.

Deterring unacceptable actions by Russia and other malign actors is critical to our collective security. Recent joint action using transparent, multilateral mechanisms such as the OPCW demonstrates the strength of our shared commitment to tackle the threat of malign state activity and to reinforce the global rules-based system. The June European Council endorsed a comprehensive package to tackle hybrid threats, including the creation of a new chemical weapons sanction regime. We will continue to work with our European partners for its speedy adoption. The US has announced additional sanctions against Russia for the Salisbury attack, and in June, the G7 agreed in Canada a rapid response mechanism to share intelligence on hostile state activity. NATO has subsequently strengthened its collective deterrence, including through a new cyber-operations centre.

As the Prime Minister has said, we will push for new sanctions regimes against those responsible for gross human rights violations and cyber-attacks, as well as robustly enforcing the existing regime against Russia. We will also work with our partners to build the OPCW’s capacity to attribute chemical weapons in Syria and more widely.

Malign actors have, for some time, been using a range of methods to undermine the international norms and laws, and our security and prosperity, and it depends on us to make sure we take a stand. They are trying to destabilise our advanced democracies, open societies and free economies. Those methods range from conventional military interventions to acts of non-military aggression in the form of disinformation and cyber-attacks. All these methods are designed to destabilise by sowing chaos, fear, uncertainty, division and mistrust.

In the face of such behaviour, the international community must continue to unite and to defend the laws, norms and institutions that safeguard our citizens. We must maintain and build on our strong alliances with those who share our values, stand shoulder to shoulder with our many partners and allies, send clear messages to malign actors that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated, and remain resolute, determined and united against those who seek to divide us.

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I thank the Security Minister for the way he has opened the debate.

The Prime Minister said on 5 September:

“based on a body of intelligence, the Government have concluded that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU. The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2018; Vol. 646, c. 168.]

The Opposition accept that analysis. I know that the shadow Home Secretary is grateful for the briefing given by the Security Minister on Privy Council terms earlier this week.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity on that point. He says that the Opposition now accept that, but—this goes back to a point made by the shadow Home Secretary—they did not at the time. The Opposition were specifically putting out lines that were very similar to those being put out by the Russian state at the time.

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I totally reject the suggestion that we were somehow putting out lines similar to those of the Russian state. With regard to implications that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make about the Leader of the Opposition, I have looked carefully at what the Leader of the Opposition and his spokesperson have said about this in recent weeks, and it is pretty clear. His spokesperson has said:

“very strong evidence points to Russian state culpability, and obviously Jeremy condemns the Russian state for that culpability.”

How much clearer could that be? The Leader of the Opposition said on 26 March:

“Based on the analysis conducted by Government scientists, there can be little doubt that the nerve agent used in this attack was military-grade Novichok of a type manufactured by Russia.”—[Official Report, 26 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 559.]

He said on 5 September:

“The use of military nerve agents on the streets of Britain is an outrage and beyond reckless.”

He also said:

“No Government anywhere can or should put itself above international law. The Prime Minister previously outlined that the type of nerve agent used was identified as having been manufactured in Russia. The use of this nerve agent is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and, therefore, a breach of international law.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2018; Vol. 646, c. 170-171.]

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I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman believes it was sensible to suggest that we send a sample of this material to Russia, as if Russia would receive it and say, “Oh yes, it’s a fair cop—this is one of ours. We did it.”

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What is an entirely sensible suggestion is to follow the procedure set out by the OPCW, and in doing it ourselves and by ourselves adhering to those rules, we are setting an example to the rest of the world about how to deal with the suspected use of chemical weapons.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I will give way once more, and then I need to make some progress.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for setting out so clearly the views of the Front Benchers of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Would he like to take this opportunity to point out that the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) is clearly saying something with which nobody on the Opposition Front Bench agrees and that his views are very much alien to Labour party policy?

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My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) is not a shadow Front Bencher, the last time I checked. It is up to Back Benchers on both sides of the House to put their views as they see fit—[Interruption.] Looking at the Back Benches today, I look forward to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock).

On 4 March, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were admitted to hospital after emergency services responded to reports of them both being in an extremely serious condition. Mr Skripal and his daughter were left hospitalised for weeks. Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey also fell ill after attending the incident, and all three were later discharged from hospital. I pay tribute to Detective Sergeant Bailey for his fortitude and endurance in undergoing medical treatment. I also pay tribute to all the staff at the Salisbury District Hospital. The hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) is in his place. I hope that he will pass that on and pass on the gratitude of both sides of the House for what the staff did in those very difficult weeks.

The Prime Minister confirmed that the poisoning agent used on the Skripals was part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok. A further 48 individuals were also assessed in hospital in relation to the incident. We of course also think of all of them and of what they went through at that time.

Four months later, on 30 June, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were also admitted to hospital, having been found unwell at a property in Amesbury. This only goes to show the abomination of using nerve agents in this way. They cannot be targeted. They leave a trail. Clearly, that is what seems to have happened in the case of Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess.

Having been admitted to hospital in a critical condition, Dawn Sturgess sadly died on 8 July, making her the only victim to have died as a result of exposure to this deadly nerve agent. The thoughts of everyone in this House are with her family and friends. I think we would all agree that a needless death has occurred on the streets of this country. After her death, a formal murder inquiry was launched. In July, the Home Secretary confirmed that tests at Porton Down confirmed that both Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess were poisoned by the same type of Novichok substance used to poison the Skripals. As I have already said clearly, and as the Prime Minister has set out, strong evidence points towards direct Russian culpability and we condemn the Russian state for that culpability.

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