House of Commons
Tuesday 2 April 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
The UK regularly discusses the violence in Cameroon with international partners, including France and the United States, and I welcome French support for the recent UK-Austria joint UN Human Rights Council statement about the deteriorating situation in Cameroon.
Southern Cameroons voted to join French Cameroon on the basis that they would be federated states equal in status, but this is clearly not what has happened. It is treated as a region made up of second-class citizens. The UK has a duty to Southern Cameroons to use all available instruments to find a solution to the growing crisis that takes into account the wishes of the people. Will the Secretary of State meet me and a delegation of Southern Cameroons to discuss possible solutions?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the first question on the Order Paper, because this is a worsening crisis. The UK has been strongly engaged with our international partners to find a way forward. Of course, the UK respects the territorial integrity of Cameroon, but we also believe that, where there are calls for more autonomy in the south-west and north-west, the Government of Cameroon need to engage in an inclusive political dialogue, because the violence from both sides is creating a serious situation for civilians on the ground.
In her discussions with her US counterparts about the worrying situation in Cameroon, has the Minister asked them about suggestions made that resources they have given to help the Cameroonian Government in the fight against terror and Boko Haram are being diverted, misused and used in attacks on some of the communities in Cameroon?
As I often find myself saying during questions, I am happy to be accountable for what the UK Government have been doing, and I can confirm that we have extensive discussions with the Government of Cameroon, who, as my right hon. Friend will know, are a partner with the international community in the fight against Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa in the north of the country. We also have discussions with international partners to find a way forward on the views expressed with increasing violence by those of a separatist tendency in the south-west and north-west provinces.
One of my constituents is a member of the South Cameroonian diaspora and is deeply concerned about what is going on. A recent Amnesty report noted the presence of arbitrary arrest, torture in detention and the existence of secret and illegal detention facilities in Cameroon. Does the Minister agree that such activities are in stark violation of the Commonwealth Charter, and if so what efforts has she made to engage with Cameroon through the Commonwealth?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the range of different human rights violations and abuses noted in the statement which we were pleased to see 39 countries sign at the most recent UN Human Rights Council. Specifically on the Commonwealth, I can tell the House that Lord Ahmad, the Minister for the Commonwealth, wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary-General recently to share UK concerns about Cameroon and press for further Commonwealth engagement on the matter.
The UK’s aim is to be the largest G7 investor in Africa by 2022. Will any of that investment be going to Cameroon?
My hon. Friend states the UK’s policy aim to be an ambitious investor in African economies, and I can confirm that there are UK companies that invest in Cameroon; businesses are absolutely free to choose to do. In terms of the political track, though, we are trying to engage with the Government of Cameroon—I spoke to the Prime Minister there recently—to encourage them to find a way forward in a political and inclusive dialogue that can address some of the concerns being raised.
I spent time in Cameroon in 2013 as a political volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas, and it breaks my heart to see what is happening to that beautiful country today. It seems to me that there is a potent mix of contemporary challenges and the long tail of our own and, indeed, French colonial history. Can we take a two-pronged approach? Will our colleagues in the Department for International Development tackle the urgent crises involving displaced peoples and conflict, and will the Minister’s own office make a proper effort to secure a diplomatic solution?
As the right hon. Gentleman says, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Earlier this year I authorised work by us, through UNICEF, to provide immediate humanitarian assistance. More than 400,000 people have been displaced in the crisis, and more than 30,000 have fled to Nigeria. DFID is doing programming work, and we are urging the Cameroon Government to allow humanitarian actors access to all parts of the country.
Last week, Human Rights Watch said:
“Government forces in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions have killed scores of civilians…and torched hundreds of homes over the past six months.”
How many more innocent victims need to be slaughtered for Cameroon to be suspended by the Commonwealth?
The hon. Lady is right: there have been human rights abuses and human rights violations on all sides in the conflict. Hospitals have been burnt and villages torched. We drew attention to a range of issues in a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the UK sponsored. Obviously the UK is a member of the Commonwealth, and our Commonwealth Minister has written to the Commonwealth Secretariat suggesting that it encourage discussions on this topic in future meetings.
Before we move to Question 2 and I call the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I hope that the whole House will want to join me in extending a warm welcome to Gareth Evans, QC, who served with great distinction as a Cabinet Minister in Australia from 1983 until 1996 under—if memory serves me—the Hawke and Keating Governments. As we have just been talking about human rights, let us not forget that he was a key architect of the United Nations’ responsibility to protect. We celebrate that achievement, and many people around the world, sir, will be thankful to you for your leadership on that front.
Persecution of Christians Overseas
It is a pleasure to interrupt a mammoth Cabinet meeting to enjoy the harmony and consensus for which the House is famous. [Laughter.]
The United Kingdom has long championed freedom of religion, but I think we should do more for the estimated 240 million Christians who face persecution for their faith around the world. I have therefore asked the Bishop of Truro to conduct a review, which I hope he will deliver in the summer.
The Secretary of State will no doubt be aware of an Open Doors report which predicts a 14% increase in the persecution of Christians this year. It also says that North Korea is the most dangerous place in which to practise Christianity, where it is seen as a threat to the Communist regime. What work are the Government doing with such non-democratic countries to try to ease the persecution of the Christian community?
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the Open Doors report, which contains some stark statistics. It states, for example, that 80% of the people who suffer persecution for their religious belief are Christians. The most striking statement is that the vast majority are in the very poorest countries: this is not, on the whole, a problem affecting people who live in affluent countries.
My hon. Friend is right to mention that countries such as North Korea have been singled out. The purpose of the review is to ensure that we use all the UK’s diplomatic leverage to highlight these issues and put pressure on those regimes to change.
The Open Doors report says that about 245 million Christians are suffering high levels of persecution in 73 countries. Where is the UK focusing our help?
I want to ensure that we exercise maximum influence where we have that influence. The striking thing about that report is that, notwithstanding the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) made about North Korea, some of the worst offenders are in the middle east, notably Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan and Somalia, where the population of Christians has fallen from 20% to around 5%. In many of those countries, we have big aid budgets and a lot of influence.
The UK has a proud history of standing up for the rights of minority faith groups, both in the United Kingdom and overseas. As the Secretary of State says, we have a budget of over £2 billion, which is being allocated to the middle east and Syria, where the situation is particularly appalling. How can we use that budget to protect Christians from the appalling persecution they are facing?
I pay tribute to the Department for International Development, which has allocated £12 million recently specifically to promote freedom of religious belief. The gist of my hon. Friend’s question is right—where we have a large aid budget, with countries such as Afghanistan, it is absolutely essential that we make it clear to the Government in those countries that we are expecting progress on freedom of religious belief. We need to remember that many of the worst conflicts in the world have happened because people of different religions have clashed; so promoting harmony between religions is one of the best long-term ways of promoting peace.
Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that often the persecution of Christians does not get the attention that it deserves—almost as though there was a bizarre hierarchy of victims, whereby they are not deserving of the same degree of attention as others? If we are serious about tackling freedom of religious belief and expression, we need to ensure that much more attention is given to some of the awful examples of persecution of Christians right around the world, and that the Government are not ashamed to step up and call it out.
My hon. Friend is right. I think it is fair to say that there has been some hesitation in the past in our embracing the issue of persecution of Christians—whether from a misguided concern about our history and the role of missionaries, I do not know—but now is the time when we have to put all that behind us and say that freedom of religious belief is an essential and indivisible part of freedom, full stop. The UK should always be on the right side of that issue.
Christians are some of the most persecuted in the world, and clearly we have to do more to help. I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said about the work that he has commissioned. Are Christian women not often doubly persecuted, for both their religion and their gender? That needs looking at very closely as well; there needs to be more work around the world with Governments to tackle that problem.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I would widen the point even further, and say that women from all religions, not just Christian religions, are double victims. Where there is persecution of any religion, often women come off worst. I think the most inspiring example of courage in the face of that persecution is Nadia Murad, the recent Nobel peace prize winner, a Yazidi campaigner who suffered absolutely horrifically but is an inspiration to persecuted women all over the world.
Could the Government go one step further in contesting the persecution of Christians around the world by making it clear that Asia Bibi, who has been persecuted for many years for her faith, will be offered asylum in this country for herself and her family, should she wish to accept it?
I thank the hon. Lady for her interest in the Asia Bibi case, which I know is shared in all parts of this House. I reassure the hon. Lady that making sure that she is safe, and has somewhere safe to go, is a top priority for this Government. We have had numerous private discussions with the Pakistani Government about how to progress this issue. I do not want to go into the details of those discussions, but we are making progress and I am very hopeful that this will have a positive outcome.
Risca in my constituency has a large Egyptian Coptic church, to which many people travel every weekend to worship. Many of their family members and friends are subject to terrible persecution in Egypt and have been, as the Secretary of State knows, subject to terrorist acts. What reassurance can he give my constituents and those who travel to the Coptic church that everything is being done to stamp that out?
The atrocities suffered by the Copts are some of the very worst suffered by Christians anywhere, and there have been several examples of those in Egypt. However, the Egyptians are trying very hard to address these issues. They recently opened a brand-new cathedral, and that is a big step forward for any country in the middle east. We obviously want to encourage them on the journey.
It is good that the Foreign Secretary has come to the peace zone—this Chamber—this morning.
China continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. Non-approved churches are being closed down and pastors are being jailed. How does he intend to strike the balance between valuing China as a post-Brexit trade partner and standing up for those people in China whose human rights are being abused because of their religion?
I thank the hon. Lady for asking that question. Of course China is an important country with which we have critical relations in the world, but having those relations means that we have to be able to raise issues of concern when we meet our Chinese counterparts. That is what I did when I visited China in August last year and raised concerns about freedom of religion in Xinjiang province. We had the universal periodic review in November last year, and concerns were also raised at the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. We will continue to raise those concerns with China at every opportunity.
Rules-based International Order
The rules-based international system has made the world collectively massively safer and more prosperous than it has ever been before. This country played a major role in setting it up and we will always defend it, as we did when we held Russia to account after the terrible attack in Salisbury.
It has now been five years since the annexation of Crimea by Russia and since then Putin has repeatedly proved to be one of the greatest threats to the rules-based international order. The UK has led international efforts to try to make Russia see sense, and this has very much taken place online and in the media. With this in mind, will the Foreign Secretary join me in urging Members of Parliament to think twice about appearing on Russia Today, which remains a propaganda tool of the Russian state?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments; he could not be more right. It is incredibly important that when Russia does things such as invading neighbouring countries, as it did in Crimea, no one in this House should say things such as the Leader of the Opposition said, which is that Russia has more right on its side than Ukraine. That is quite wrong, and it is giving people permission to do that kind of thing again.
Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the world today. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us what the Government are doing to maintain an international focus on this and, in particular, what representations he has made to the Trump Administration in the United States on this crucial question?
We have been investing a huge amount in our global leadership on climate change, and we are the G20 country that has the biggest drop in emissions per unit of GDP. We are also bidding to host COP 26, which will be the next big climate change conference on the fifth anniversary of the Paris conference. We have a different view from that of the Trump Administration, and we are very open about that with them. It is all the more important that the countries that do not share their view and that think we have a responsibility to future generations should stand proud in our support for this vital agenda.
My right hon. Friend has made powerful comments about the role of the United Kingdom as a network player in the international rules-based system. Will he tell the House a little bit about the work he has been doing with our European partners, especially after the Foreign Affairs Committee published its report about a year ago on how to look forward to working with our European partners, on supporting the international order and the international rules-based system that Britain played such an important part in building?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. In all the debates we have about Brexit—I have now met my counterparts in every EU country—the one thing that comes across loud and clear is that the part of the world that has suffered the most from not having adherence to a rules-based international order is Europe. That is why European countries say to us constantly that they want to continue to have their vital strategic and military relations with the United Kingdom, whatever the outcome of Brexit, and that they want Britain to play a strong and influential role in upholding the rules-based order across the world. That is what we will do.
The rules-based international order would be strengthened if countries were seen to be held accountable for adhering to the conclusions of the United Nations Human Rights Council. What steps are Ministers taking to hold Sri Lanka to account for its failure to bring to justice those who are guilty of perpetuating major human rights abuses?
This is something on which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific has done an enormous amount of work through his contacts with the Sri Lankan Government. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue, not least because many members of the Sri Lankan community in this country have a great deal of concern about it. Overall, the picture in Sri Lanka is remarkably better than it was a decade ago. However, there will never be lasting peace unless there is justice and accountability for the things that went wrong.
Is it not a matter of the greatest regret that our most important ally, the United States, is in clear contravention of United Nations Security Council resolution 497 by recognising Israeli sovereignty claims over Golan? As annexation of territory is prohibited under international law, will the Foreign Secretary send a very strong message to the United States that the British House of Commons condemns unreservedly this breach of the rules-based order?
I am happy to do that. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—we should never recognise the annexation of territory by force. That has been one of the great achievements since the founding of the United Nations. I do that with a very heavy heart, because Israel is an ally and a shining example of democracy in a part of the world where that is not common. We want Israel to be a success, and we consider it to be a great friend, but on this we do not agree.
If we are to maintain a rules-based international order and strengthen it, the Foreign Secretary will agree that reciprocal arrangements for our constituents when they go abroad or when citizens of other countries come here are absolutely vital. Julie, the niece of my constituent, Deborah Pearson, was killed—murdered—by her ex-partner in Eilat in Israel at the end of 2015. I have raised this with the Foreign Secretary’s predecessors, but we are no further forward. We now know that the police were called five times, but they palmed her off, saying that she was a nuisance. She had 78 bruises on her body, and lost over a litre of blood. Will he meet me so that we can get justice for Julie and Deborah, my constituent?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that case. Obviously, our hearts go out to her constituent’s family over a truly terrible incident. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific is very, very happy to meet her and make sure that we are doing everything that we can.
May I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming our distinguished and learned visitor, Gareth Evans, who continues to make a vital contribution, as he has throughout his career, to the concept of the rules-based world order? On that subject, we must note that it is six months to the day since Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered by Saudi agents in their embassy in Istanbul. The greatest tribute that we can pay to him today is not to look back at his death but to look at the murder of innocent children in Yemen whose lives he tried to save with his journalism and which matter just as much as his did.
I realise that I have not asked a question, so let me say this. In that light, what possible justification can the Foreign Secretary offer for the Saudi air strike last week on the Save the Children-supported hospital in Kitaf, which was clearly marked on the Saudi no-strike list? The strike killed three adults and four children, including an innocent child aged just eight years?
Let me tell my opposite number that that is exactly why we are doing everything that we possibly can to try to create peace in Yemen. It is why I am the first western Foreign Minister to meet the Houthi side, even though they were the ones that were the cause of the conflict when it began four years ago. I am the first western Foreign Minister to visit Yemen to see where we could progress the Stockholm accords. I am not prepared to let Labour pose as the great humanitarians, as their foreign policy is to support an evil regime in Venezuela that stops its own people accessing food and medicine—it just does not work.
We need to speed up, because progress is slow.
Does the Foreign Secretary understand the frustration we feel in this House when time and again over the last four years, including on Jamal Khashoggi, we get the same response from the Government? They regret what happened, they want a proper investigation by the Saudis, they promise real consequences and nothing ever happens. There is no investigation, there are no consequences and bin Salman carries on with complete impunity.
I ask the Foreign Secretary yet again what it will take for this Government finally to tell bin Salman that he cannot keep getting away with murder.
The right hon. Lady just is not reflecting what has happened. Thanks to action by this Government and other Governments, a judicial process started in Saudi Arabia on 3 January and we are sending observers. We have a UN special rapporteur, Agnes Callamard, who is responsible for looking at extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and she is leading an independent international inquiry.
When I became Foreign Secretary—the right hon. Lady was shadow Foreign Secretary then, too—we did not have a peace process in Yemen, and now we do, which is thanks to the UK and the huge diplomatic effort we have been making.
On 4 February, I attended a Lima group meeting in Ottawa at the invitation of the Canadian Foreign Minister. At the meeting I spoke to the Foreign Ministers of Colombia and Brazil about the crisis in Venezuela. I have also spoken recently to Chilean Foreign Minister Ampuero and Peruvian Vice-Foreign Minister de Zela. We continue to work closely with the Lima group, the Organisation of American States, the United States and like-minded European and international partners to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela.
The Labour party and its leadership have an unforgivable record of defending the Maduro regime, which is so toxic that people have started leaving the party. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that this Government condemn the human rights abuses and the regression of democracy, and will continue to promote freedom and democracy and offer support to surrounding countries that are dealing with the refugee crisis as a direct result of this abhorrent regime?
I can give assurance to my hon. Friend on all those things. We are working closely with all international partners to find a resolution to the fact that the Maduro regime has completely bankrupted his country and made it destitute to the point where 3.6 million people have fled to neighbouring countries.
Throughout my visits to the region, it has become abundantly clear that the humanitarian situation in Venezuela is having a huge impact across Latin America. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to address the consequences of the continued political humanitarian abuse?
May I first congratulate my hon. Friend on all his work in the region as an effective trade envoy? He has built up some very good relationships to our benefit.
We are, of course, working with the Department for International Development to deliver a humanitarian aid package of over £6.5 million, on top of the multilateral activity to which we always contribute in such a significant way.
In its declaration last month, the Lima group called on the UN high commissioner for human rights to publish a report on human rights abuses in Venezuela. Can the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with the United Nations about this? Although the UN has been vociferous about the impact of sanctions on the regime, it has been strangely silent on the curtailment of the freedom of the press and other human rights abuses in Venezuela.
I am delighted to hear an Opposition Member raise the topics of the abuse of human rights and freedom, on which we have been speaking very loudly and on which we are working very deeply with the Lima group. The fundamental issue is Venezuela’s poverty. People cannot get basic goods, and the fact that President Maduro is blocking aid from getting into his own country is so contemptible that, on both sides of the House, we should all speak with one voice in condemning it.
Given the continuing humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela, does the Minister agree that we need to ensure that both the Lima group and other Government agencies in both North America and South America additionally press President Maduro to ensure that food supplies are delivered to the people of Venezuela?
Yes, indeed. All countries across the world have to do their bit. Canada and the European Union international contact group are doing a lot. We all have to work together, and one of the most concerning developments at the moment is that President Maduro is trying to strip Juan Guaidó of the immunity he enjoys as a member of the National Assembly. We in this House should send out a very clear message today that that would be utterly unacceptable and that Juan Guaidó is the interim President we recognise.
Colombia Peace Process
Since 2016, Colombia has made significant progress in its peace process; the FARC is now a political party and the last elections were the safest in decades. I reaffirmed our full support for the peace process with the Colombian Foreign Minister on 4 February in Ottawa. The UK has expressed concern to the Colombian Government over delays in the transitional justice system, which is a critical part of the peace process. We continue to support the process through the conflict stability and security fund.
I understand that there were a couple more paramilitary killings last week. Did the Minister read the report by Michel Forst, the UN special rapporteur, who has said that the national landscape continues to be plagued by violence, particularly gender-based violence? Will the Minister put the problem of the continuing structural gender-based violence in Colombia on the agenda for the November conference on the preventing sexual violence initiative?
Yes, I certainly will, because preventing sexual violence against women is one of the UK’s human rights priorities in Colombia. Indeed, Foreign Office officials recently met the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) to discuss that. I hope that illustrates once again the extent to which we are really working together across the House to tackle these vexed problems at all levels, in every way we can.
Diplomatic Relations: Saudi Arabia
I visited Saudi Arabia most recently on 2 March. We have a long history of close co-operation in support of regional stability, alongside frank conversations on areas of concern, including human rights.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. A UN human rights expert has said that the court proceedings relating to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi have been secret and fall short of international standards, and it was reported only today that Saudi Arabia is paying his family so that they continue to show restraint in their public statements. Can the Foreign Secretary update us on any conclusions that he has reached from the promised credible investigation into the murder?
I can assure the hon. Lady that we have been clear from the outset that what happened to Khashoggi was fundamentally against our values, and that there has to be full accountability and a transparent judicial process that meets international standards. That process has started and we continue to monitor it; we are sending observers to see what happens in the trial process. We continue to exercise our strong views on the issue, in private and in public.
Absolutely not. I raised the issue of detained women campaigners when I was recently in Saudi Arabia, and the Prime Minister has raised the case of Raif Badawi, the blogger who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes. The interesting thing about the report, if it is true, is that it was commissioned by the King, who wants to understand what is going on in the prisons, to ensure that they meet international standards of humanitarian justice.
Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that in the past week three women human rights activists have been released conditionally on bail in Saudi Arabia? What are the Government doing to press for the release and discharge of other women in prison?
I had not heard that report, but it would be excellent news. I can reassure the hon. Lady that I raised the issue when I met the Saudi Foreign Minister on my recent visit. We have asked to have access to the trials, but that has been denied. We continue to follow the case very carefully and press it at every opportunity.
We are concerned by the recent violence in Israel and Gaza, and we welcome the Egyptian efforts to de-escalate the situation. At the UN Security Council on 26 March, the UK condemned the rocket attacks, which injured two British-Israeli citizens. We regret the loss of life, including the death of four children in protests over the weekend—mercifully, fears of major violence were not realised. Our diplomats in the region urge all parties to continue to demonstrate restraint in the tense days that lie ahead.
I thank the Minister for his response and associate myself with his comments. Last month, more than 60 rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel. Two were intercepted above Tel Aviv, while another destroyed a residence in central Israel that was occupied by a British-Israeli family, resulting in injuries, including an injury to a six-month-old baby. What steps are the Government taking to support our ally, Israel, as it fights this terrorist attack on the country?
I think we all recognise that Israel is an important strategic partner for the United Kingdom and that we need to collaborate actively on issues of defence, security and intelligence. In October 2018, the Government launched the UK-Israel counter-terrorism dialogue to share best practice and insights on a wide range of capabilities. We are now committed to holding such a dialogue annually, which will help to complement the already strong operational relationship between our countries.
There are two issues at stake, so I shall go into some detail, if I may. We abstained on that UNHRC resolution calling for an inquiry on the basis that the substance of such a resolution must be impartial and balanced. We could not support such an investigation when the resolution refused explicitly to call for an investigation into non-state actors such as Hamas. I should also say—this relates to the hon. Gentleman’s Question 21—that we have stressed and will continue to stress the importance of protecting and delivering medical services, particularly in Gaza. As recently as 28 March, the Department for International Development announced a new £2 million package for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which will contribute to the delivery of urgently needed supplies.
What action has my right hon. Friend taken, given that Hamas is organising for women and children to go to the border between Gaza and Israel and therefore provoking violent confrontations?
Clearly, we want to try to avoid violent confrontation at all costs. As I said in my earlier answer, mercifully, the major concerns about violence at the protests this weekend, which we felt could have been a lot more serious than they were, were not realised. My hon. Friend will recognise that we do all we can on the ground to try to defuse some of the tensions. That is an important part of our diplomatic work, which we do with other countries as well, of course.
I utterly condemn the latest rocket attacks that the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) raised. We know that Hamas is given tens of millions of dollars a year by Iran to fund these terrorist acts. What steps are the Government taking to stop the Iranian regime funding barbaric middle east terror groups such as Hamas?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. She will recognise that Hamas is one of a number of Iranian proxies in the region. Our position is that Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously agreed and signed agreements. We condemn Hamas and other terrorist groups for firing rockets into Israel from not only Gaza but elsewhere, in the way described by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). Those groups must permanently end such attacks against both civilians and defence forces.
Overseas Soft Power
We regard the UK as a soft power superpower, and this is widely recognised in independent international surveys and reports. [Interruption.] A few more tongue twisters and I will be anyone’s! This is the sort of thing you want to do at 11 in the morning, not 11 o’clock at night. The FCO vigorously continues to support the UK’s soft power through the funding of, among others, Chevening scholarships, the British Council and the BBC World Service.
The Commonwealth is one of the driving forces of UK soft power around the world. What plans does my right hon. Friend’s Department have in place to capitalise on these relationships to improve our power and security?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the UK has an unbreakable connection to the Commonwealth and the democratic, inclusive values that it upholds—we discussed earlier the importance of maintaining a rules-based international order, particularly in these uncertain times. The Commonwealth also proudly represents some of the fastest-growing economies and accounts for one fifth of global trade. We shall of course continue to work closely with all members of the Commonwealth to ensure that it realises its full potential in that regard, and to ensure a more sustainable, prosperous and secure future.
Royal Yacht Britannia played a key role in promoting UK trade around the globe during her years of active service. More than 50 Members of this House believe that such a role would be enhanced post Brexit and that a new national yacht would help to promote our international humanitarian role. Will the Government now support our campaign in this brave endeavour?
I fear that I may have to disappoint my hon. Friend, who represents a coastal constituency. As a regular visitor to Broadstairs in his constituency, I know what a wonderful part of the country it is, but I have to inform him that there are no plans to commission a new royal yacht for the royal family.
Can we include in soft power the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union? Will the Minister help us to breathe life into those organisations so that we can get meaningful dialogue on the issues that really worry us, such as the rights of Christians, including the persecution of Christians in Pakistan? Why are we not having that sort of debate here?
I say to the hon. Gentleman that, with regard to the CPA and the IPU, we do. I appreciate that, for many Members who wish to get more engaged, travelling is obviously difficult because of the nature of the electoral arithmetic at the moment. May I also point out the incredibly hard work that goes on at the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, particularly with regard to getting constitutional change in many parts of the world? Many of those programmes are done on a cross-party basis, which provides a very positive stance for UK democracy abroad and will, hopefully, enhance aspects of the soft power to which he refers.
Can the Minister tell us what impact Brexit has had on the UK’s reputation, and whether a no-deal Brexit will be better or worse for that reputation?
Ironically, a recent UN report showed the UK rising up the happiness league, but I appreciate that some of these surveys cannot be relied on too much. On a serious note, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and it is a concern for all of us as Foreign Office Ministers who work abroad. It is very easy for us in this country to be a little bit self-deprecating about Britain and its brand abroad, but I am always very struck—certainly in Asia and the Pacific, and, with my new responsibilities, in the middle east—by just how respected the UK and its brand are. Those countries recognise that there are some uncertainties at the moment, but that view will continue.
I am glad that the Minister recognises the challenges, but as he might have said in “Jaws”, “You’re going to need a bigger yacht.” We have heard Pascal Lamy talk about the UK’s reputation being much diminished and Jürgen Maier from Siemens talk about the country’s tremendous reputation as an economic powerhouse being wrecked. We need to address that, as it is not good for any of us. Will the Minister recognise that before this Government take us down the route of a disastrous no deal?
It is incumbent on all of us not to talk the country down in what we appreciate are difficult times. We want to see progress—significant progress—in this regard. I am struck by the fact that we are experiencing slightly hyperbolic, frenzied activity in this House and, dare I say it, among some commentators. As I have said, what I see on the ground is that we have been respected for many, many decades and that a huge amount of work goes on, not least in the soft power area. I am sure that that will go from strength to strength in the years to come.
Lord Ricketts, the former head of the Foreign Office and an expert of soft power, said last month:
“The Foreign Secretary is making a big mistake if he thinks this…blame game over Brexit is going to change any minds in Europe.”
Does the Government accept that Lord Ricketts is right, and that the only ones responsible for this Brexit mess are this Government alone?
I had a chance to speak directly with Lord Ricketts in a radio studio a week ago. He recognises, I think, the difficulties that we face in dealing with the Brexit negotiations. I have been out not just to Brussels, but to the OECD in Paris recently. Again, I was very struck, as I worked with counterparts, by the fact that there is an important agenda, and that many European countries recognise the importance of the UK. We need to have the strongest of relationships. Clearly there are uncertainties about the precise nature of our departure from the European Union, but that is a part of it.
Will my right hon. Friend commit to speaking with his other partners in the Government to try to obtain more funding for the GREAT campaign, which plays an extraordinarily important role in promoting the UK—and our products and companies—globally?
The GREAT campaign is a fantastic success. Part of my role is to deal with communications, representing the Foreign Office on a cross-departmental basis. We recognise the importance of this particular campaign and work strongly on it, particularly with the Department for International Trade.
We are late, but if colleagues were in a caring, sharing mood, and were prepared to consider each other, we could get through a little more.
Thank you so much, Mr Speaker; I am ever grateful.
As I have previously made clear to the House, the situation in Catalonia is a matter for Spain. We remain clear that questions related to the issue of Catalan independence should be resolved within the proper constitutional and legal channels of Spain.
It is everyone’s responsibility—including this Government’s—to uphold human rights. Far from becoming the major global player that Brexiteers imagine, the UK appears more and more irrelevant on the world stage. Is it the case that the UK Government are not seeking to uphold self-determination for Catalonia because they need Spain’s help in further Brexit negotiations?
No, it is because we uphold the rule of law, as we have discussed earlier in questions. We uphold the rule of law here with Scotland and we uphold it in Spain with regards to Catalonia. Certain accusations that Spain somehow has political prisoners are absurd. It does not have political prisoners; it has prisoners who happen to be political.
A sentence, Mr Graham.
Tolerance of people of different faiths and sexualities is incredibly important for the promotion of human rights. Does my right hon. Friend therefore share the disappointment of many that tomorrow the kingdom of Brunei—a key Commonwealth partner and long-term ally of the UK—is introducing the death penalty for homosexuality?
No, no, no—sit down. The question is about Catalonia. [Interruption.] Well, I have been advised, and I am afraid that the question did not strike me as in order. We must move on. The hon. Gentleman can try again later.
The UK remains fully committed to helping to promote Lebanon’s security and stability. The Prime Minister conveyed that message to Prime Minister Hariri as recently as 24 February. We provide direct support to Lebanon of over $200 million a year. These funds help to secure borders, to provide the opportunity of education and to strengthen service delivery.
What specific security assistance are Her Majesty’s Government providing on the borders of Lebanon?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, as I know he takes these matters extremely seriously. We have invested more than £60 million in Lebanese security since 2012. By 2020, we shall have trained over 11,000 soldiers in specialist and essential infantry skills and techniques for urban and rural security operations across the board. This assistance includes significant support for the land border regiments, and has helped to secure Lebanon’s border with Syria for the first time in its history.
Some 1.25 million Christians have fled Syria to go to Lebanon. Will the Minister confirm what help he has been able to give to those Christian refugees?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes these matters extremely seriously, and the House much respects him for that. Many of those refugees, and some Palestinian Christians, have been in Lebanon in waves going back 20 or 30 years. Obviously, a huge amount of Department for International Development work goes on in the area. We recognise that many people have been there for quite some time and will be there for quite some time to come, and we therefore try to enhance their economic opportunities. The UK has played a leading part in trying to ensure tariff-free access to EU markets for many of those individuals.
Lesotho continues to experience political fragility and democratic and development challenges. Together with the Southern African Development Community, we are working to support the implementation of governance reforms.
Prime Minister Tom Thabane and Minister John Maseribane both admitted to Channel 4 News that they had received payments into their personal bank accounts from Mr Arron Banks. Will the Minister meet me to discuss governance in Lesotho, its current position in the Commonwealth and the advice that she is giving to British companies operating in Lesotho about the Bribery Act 2010?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question, and the strong links that exist between people in Wales and people in Lesotho. Of course, I am always delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. Regarding the allegations made on Channel 4, we urge anyone with evidence to give it to the appropriate authorities.
I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who stepped down last week. He served twice as Minister for the Middle East and was immensely respected and liked both in the Foreign Office, which does not happen with all Ministers, and in this House for his integrity, wisdom and kindness.
Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran. I know that I speak for the whole House in hoping that the Iranian authorities will see beyond the differences between our two countries and allow this innocent woman to come home and join her family.
Today is the 107th day of İmam Sis’s hunger strike. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) and I visited him in Newport East this weekend. He is one of 1,000 Kurds on hunger strike around the world, demanding that Abdullah Öcalan is allowed access to his lawyer and removed from solitary confinement. Turkey is a NATO member and has the highest number of MPs and journalists in prison in the world, following—
Order. I am sorry, but this is an abuse of the House. What we want is a one-sentence question with a question mark at the end of it. Lots of other colleagues want to take part. One question, Mr Russell-Moyle.
Has the Foreign Secretary raised the matter with Turkey, and will he send representations to the Council of Europe following the Welsh Assembly’s resolution?
Excellent. Thank you.
I am very happy to look into the case in detail for the hon. Gentleman. Turkey may be a NATO ally and an important friend of the United Kingdom, but that does not prevent us from raising important human rights issues.
The UK was one of the funders of what is known as a parallel voter tabulation exercise, which is like an extensive BBC exit poll. It gave a result that was consistent with the officially declared results, and our Prime Minister called President Buhari to congratulate him on his re-election. However, we are aware of various reports from both our observers and others, and a strong stance against election-related violence was taken yesterday in my meetings with Nigerian opposition leaders, where I emphasised that concerns must be taken through the judicial process and that the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria is incredibly important.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) said in respect of Cameroon, if Brunei does not abandon its barbaric proposals to whip or stone LGBT+ individuals to death, will the Minister of State guarantee that the Government will ask their counterparts on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to consider Brunei’s immediate suspension?
I raised with the Bruneian Government my concerns over the introduction of the hudud punishment most recently in a letter to the deputy Foreign Minister on Friday 29 March, and I discussed the imminent introduction of the Sharia penal code when I was in Brunei last August. Our high commissioner Richard Lindsay in Bandar Seri Begawan has also received assurances that both common law and the sharia penal code will operate in parallel for all nationals and residents, including British citizens, and be the primary means of administering justice in Brunei. We will continue to lobby to ensure that any British citizens in Brunei will be subject to common law rather than the penal code.
I reiterate the earlier comments of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We welcome Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of a new resolution of the UNHRC in March, which continues its reconciliation and accountability commitments. However, I understand that my right hon. Friend speaks for many of her constituents who come from the Tamil part of Sri Lanka. As a penholder, the UK has played a leading role in trying to bring the parties together, but while we accept that positive steps have been taken, much faster progress is needed. We shall continue to urge Sri Lanka to implement fully its commitments under UNHRC resolutions 30/1 and 34/1.
The hon. Gentleman is right; Iran’s human rights record remains a matter of serious concern. On 17 December, the UK co-sponsored a UN resolution on human rights in Iran, highlighting its failure to meet a whole range of international obligations in that area.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s question and reassure him that we are doing everything we can. We summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to the UK to register our concerns about the human rights violations and abuses that were noted in the January fuel protests. I travelled to southern Africa and met a range of neighbours to encourage them to send the same message as Commonwealth countries to the Government of Zimbabwe. If the Government of Zimbabwe would only follow through with the things they have said they will do, we would not be in this situation.
Yes we can, and indeed we will. This November, we will host a major conference on the prevention of sexual violence as a tool of conflict. I have met Nadia Murad and Dr Denis Mukwege, the Nobel peace prize winners who have campaigned on this issue. Whether it is Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq or Burma, we are clear that this has to become an international taboo.
I would say to them that the shadow Chancellor was absolutely right when he said that Venezuela was “socialism in action”.
If I may, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers). We are doing a lot, as a penholder, and playing a leading role in trying to bring parties together. We are pleased to see that Sri Lanka is co-sponsoring a new resolution at the Human Rights Council in March in Geneva, but I appreciate that we need to see some genuine progress, and I very much hope that the international community can come together and bring that about.
I know that the Foreign Secretary and I will both welcome the House’s decision last night to reject an EU customs union. What assessment has he made of the foreign policy implications of such an arrangement, were it ever entered into?
I think people would see it as very curious that a country that voted to take back control was choosing to cede control in a number of areas of vital national interest. I think they would also be concerned that it would not resolve the national debate on Brexit, because many of the people who voted for Brexit would not see this as delivering a true Brexit.
Will the Secretary of State recognise the incredible action by thousands of young people across our country in striking for action on climate change? Will he not only recognise that we are facing a global emergency on climate change, but declare a national emergency on climate change, just as the Labour party has done?
I welcome very much young people being involved in climate change issues; I do not welcome quite so much their missing school to do so. I would say that we are making a lot of progress in this country—in fact, I think we have done more than anyone else in the G20 on climate change—but it is not enough. As a global community, we still need to do more, which is why we want to host COP 26 and galvanise the world to take more action.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, already, another seven journalists have been killed in the course of their work this year, coming on top of the 80 who died last year? Two of those were in Mexico, which is one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalism. Will he say what more can be done to press the Mexican Government to take action?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue, and indeed for raising it consistently. He is absolutely right: Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a journalist. The Mexican Government have taken action, and we are in touch with them closely about what they are doing. However, we need to draw the world’s attention to this issue. According to the latest figures I have seen, 348 journalists were arrested or detained last year for doing their job. That is why this summer, jointly with Canada, we will be hosting the first ever international conference on media freedom at ministerial level.
What steps is the Foreign Office taking to guarantee the human rights of people in Sudan, especially since the President declared a year-long crisis in Sudan?
I am very glad the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to raise this, because it is a very serious situation, and we are engaging strongly with the Government of Sudan on the issues he raises. Most recently, I had a phone call with the Foreign Minister of Sudan in which I particularly drew attention to the women who were due to be flogged. I am very pleased to hear that they have subsequently been released.
Tomorrow, Brunei introduces a penal code that includes death for apostasy, death for adultery and stoning to death for homosexuality. I suppose at this point I should declare my interest on all three counts. Very much more seriously, what are we going to do with our super soft power to make it clear just how much this is a total violation of the standards we should share?
We have made and will continue to make representations. Obviously there are grave concerns about the nature of the sharia penal code, if it were brought into play. As I mentioned earlier, we are raising concerns about the introduction of the hudud punishment. We have a strong bilateral relationship—underpinned of course by our military presence in Brunei, as my hon. Friend will be aware—and we hope that will mitigate the potential impact of the sharia penal code on UK forces, associated civilians and their dependants.
What pressure can the Foreign Secretary bring to bear on the Indian Government to ensure that UK nationals in prison there have their human right to a fair trial respected? The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) has been a powerful advocate for Jagtar Singh Johal. I have a similar case of an elderly constituent who has been in prison since 2015, and his family are seriously concerned about his health.
I accept that the time for which the legal process drags on in many Indian consular cases is hugely frustrating. I am obviously very happy to meet the hon. Lady in relation to this particular case.
If I may, in relation to the Jagtar Singh Johal case, let me say that I know it has been an incredibly distressing for Mr Johal and his family. I very much respect the hard work of the constituency Member of Parliament. As the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) knows, we have met the family on three occasions since he Mr Johal imprisoned at the beginning of 2018. The hon. Gentleman is going to meet the Foreign Secretary on 24 April.
This Sunday is the 25th anniversary of the terrible genocide that took place in Rwanda, a country my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary knows well. The hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the noble Lord Popat and I will be at the ceremonies on Sunday in Kigali, representing our Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend think that the UN doctrine of the responsibility to protect—R2P—which has been so well developed by Gareth Evans, is yet sufficient to ensure that such terrible events could never take place again?
I hope the greatness of Gareth can be properly celebrated in the Chamber today.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. I hope to join him in Kigali this Sunday as the UK Government representative. The world can never forget the events in Rwanda 25 years ago. The world has made progress in vowing to say never again to genocide, but we must remain alert and engaged in order to prevent such incidents from happening ever again.
How does ignoring or dismissing the International Court of Justice ruling on the Chagos islands enhance the United Kingdom’s reputation as a soft power superpower or uphold the international rules-based order?
First, it was not a ruling; it was an intermediate decision and non-binding. We are of course in discussions with Mauritius, but we fully uphold our right to take the position we have taken over many years.[Official Report, 3 April 2019, Vol. 657, c. 8MC.]
The UK has a duty to prevent under the genocide convention. Mass atrocities are invariably preceded by red flags. Early warning signs, such as the persecution of minorities, happened in Burma against the Rohingya and, indeed, in Rwanda. What is the FCO doing to help identify and act on such red flags?
We are doing lots, but the most important thing that we have to do is make sure that when there has been genocide or alleged genocide, there is accountability. Burma is a case in point, and we hosted a major meeting on that very issue at the UN General Assembly. If there is no accountability, people think they have a chance to get away with doing it again, and that must not happen.
Further to the earlier answers on Brunei, we are talking about people being stoned to death for being gay—having rocks thrown at their heads again and again to draw out the process of death by blunt trauma. Surely the Minister agrees that that is barbaric, inhumane and contrary to Commonwealth values. How can the Government reverse this appalling state of affairs?
As I have pointed out, the Sultan of Brunei has become more religious as he has grown older, and that is one of the reasons why he wanted to bring in the sharia penal code. I was out there last August and it was very clear to me, from speaking to him and his advisers, that they envisaged that the common law stream would continue as well. I appreciate that the headlines cause concern. I have written to their representative here in the UK and made it very clear to them that this was going to cause massive parliamentary and media concern, which obviously has come to pass over the past couple of days. Our excellent high commissioner to Brunei, Richard Lindsay, is, on a day-to-day basis, making clear those grave concerns, which have also been expressed during the course of this morning’s questions.
The 70th anniversary of NATO falls on Thursday. What message does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have for member states with regard to strengthening this alliance, which has done so much to keep peace over so many years?
NATO has, I think, been the most successful military alliance ever, and it is the foundation of our rules-based international order. My message is very simple: we must not be complacent for the future, and there is a fundamental imbalance when one half of the alliance is spending 4% of its GDP on defence and the other half—the European side—is spending between 1% and 2%.
Order. Thank you, colleagues. I am grateful to all who took part, but we must move on. Demand, as usual, massively exceeds supply.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I gave you advance notice that I wished to raise this matter. I had a smear perpetrated against me when a snapshot of frozen film footage was printed in a tabloid paper, The Scottish Sun, suggesting that I was asleep during proceedings in this House. I contacted the journalist concerned, who had not shown the courtesy of contacting me before publishing this piece, to inform him that the film of the proceedings demonstrated categorically that I was not asleep but had for a second or two thrown my head back, appealing to the heavens in despair at chuntering in the Chamber while one of my colleagues was speaking.
As a result of this misleading article, I faced an outpouring of personal abuse against me over the weekend—and it continues—with words like “whore”, “bitch” and “lazy cow” being liberally sprinkled through messages, particularly on The Scottish Sun Facebook page. Those remarks are still online; they have not been removed, as far as I am aware.
Comments on a site in my own constituency—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, this is a matter of great importance.
Order. I absolutely accept the importance of the matter, and it is for that reason that I am very happy to hear the hon. Lady’s point of order, but, with the very greatest of respect, I will be the judge of how long a point of order lasts. Everything said in this Chamber is important. It is not for her to presume that she has as long as she wants. There are a lot of other colleagues who wish to speak and a lot of other matters to be debated. I am extremely sympathetic to her, and I already have in mind a very sympathetic response, but please do not say to me, “It is important,” meaning that you can go on for as long as you like. The answer to that, I am afraid, is no.
The point I wish to make, Mr Speaker, is that this story—if it can be called that—was printed in an atmosphere of febrile political tension, when MPs’ security is a matter of great concern. It has been reposted, and the comments online continue to sit. This is a matter of importance to us all, as an attack on one MP going about her duties—a false one at that—is an attack on us all. Whipping up hatred against any one of us plays into the narrative that we are not real people and can be attacked.
Order. I am sorry, but I must ask the hon. Lady upon what she is seeking an adjudication from the Chair. I cannot just have a speech on the subject. I will not have it. If she wants to ask me something in a sentence, I will respond, and if she wants an Adjournment debate on the subject, I can happily afford her that, but I am not having a speech now. It is not happening.
Given that these posts continue, Mr Speaker, to be available on that publication’s social media platforms and continue to perpetrate that untruth and given that the evidence shows otherwise, what course of action do you suggest I take to seek an end to this apparent campaign to perpetrate a dishonesty, and stop the tidal wave of abuse that has been unleashed, which is an attack on us all?
First, I thank the hon. Lady for raising the matter and giving me advance notice of her intention to do so. I underline and reinforce her concern. It is indeed an extremely serious matter—not just for her personally, but for all colleagues and, institutionally, for the House of Commons. False allegations against Members should not be allowed to gain traction. It affects us all and the reputation of the House if such allegations are not robustly refuted. To be fair, she has just robustly refuted the allegation. Her concern would be serious at any time, but it is a particular concern in what I think she described as the current febrile political atmosphere. She has put her view on the matter very clearly on the record. If she considers that the allegations made against her might conceivably constitute a contempt of the House, she should write to me setting out the facts, and I will adjudicate upon that. That is the first answer.
The second answer to the hon. Lady is that, if she wishes to stage an Adjournment debate on such abuse, of which this is an example, but there are many others, she might find that a friendly Chair will facilitate an Adjournment debate for her, possibly of up to an hour and a half, in which other colleagues could take part and in which she would have a full opportunity to make such speech as she judged necessary. Thirdly, my advice to the hon. Lady in the short term is that she should get her hands on a copy of the Official Report of today’s proceedings without delay—I am sure she will do so—and ensure that it is circulated to all the outlets responsible for propagating this slur upon her good name.
Fourthly, I say to the hon. Lady in terms that leave no scope for misunderstanding that I have a good vantage point in the Chair—I say that to all Members and those observing our proceedings—and I have never in my time in the Chair observing her seen her fall asleep.
She is a veritable parliamentary Zebedee—she is constantly jumping up and down—and that, as she knows, is a compliment, not an insult. She is one of the most alert Members of Parliament. She is one of the most assiduous Chamber attendees and participants. She is without blemish, in so far as her parliamentary commitment is concerned.
I will let her into a secret. I was once—not in this Chamber—watching a tennis match at Wimbledon. It was one of the most exciting matches that I have ever watched. Momentarily, I closed my eyes, not because I had fallen asleep or had drunk alcohol, because neither of those things was true—I had momentarily closed my eyes in sheer suspense. The camera caught me and the next day it was suggested in a newspaper that perhaps I had fallen asleep. As the hon. Lady knows, the notion that I would fall asleep watching a tennis match is just inherently absurd.
I do not treat this with levity. It is extremely serious, but as far as I am concerned, it is monstrous and ridiculous, and she should circulate the Official Report, which testifies to the Chair’s view of the matter. I have a better idea than those other commentators for the very simple reason that I observe Members every day from the Chair, and she would not fall asleep—amen, end of subject, period.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week, the Minister for Asia and the Pacific said that he wanted to correct me with regard to my question, saying that the UK did not have RAF personnel in Saudi control centres. Last year, the MOD responded to other Members saying that it did and it responded to me saying that it had squadron leaders and lieutenants. It even listed the names of personnel. How do I get the Minister, who has not responded to my letter asking him to correct the record, to come here and correct the record, and state that we do have RAF personnel in Saudi control centres?
As to whether the Minister corrects the record, it is incumbent upon a Minister who thinks that he or she has erred to do so, but it is not incumbent upon me to act as arbiter of whether a correction is required. I am afraid that that must remain a matter for the Minister. Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman, by the sedulous use of a bogus point of order, has taken the opportunity to put his own interpretation of matters clearly on the record. If I may say so, he looks mightily relieved to have done so.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At yesterday’s hearing of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I asked the Secretary of State for Wales why he had voted differently to some of his Cabinet colleagues on the extension of article 50. He informed me at that hearing that he had abstained because he had been elsewhere and had not been around at the time of the votes. It subsequently transpires that the right hon. Gentleman cast his vote by voting in both Lobbies, thereby abstaining. I ask you, Mr Speaker, whether the Secretary of State has declared any intention to him that he will come to make a personal statement on this matter. If he has not done so, can you offer me any advice on how to proceed and deal with this rather unusual discrepancy?
I have not received any indication from the Secretary of State for Wales that he intends to come to the House to make a statement on that matter. I was not entirely clear whether the hon. Lady was suggesting that the explanation that she had had from the Minister was outside the Chamber or inside it.
In the Select Committee, Sir.
Oh, it was in the Select Committee. Well, it was in the course of a parliamentary proceeding. I suppose the Secretary of State may think he was elsewhere than being in one Division Lobby, because he was in two Division Lobbies.
He said he was outside the House.
Oh, very well. If the Minister feels a responsibility to correct the record, he will do so. If not, knowing the eager beaver that the hon. Lady is, I have a feeling that she will be penning a letter and ensuring that it wings its way to the Secretary of State before very long. Whether he will await that letter with enormous enthusiasm is open to doubt.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your guidance? The next business is the presentation of Bills, and it is to do with the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill, which the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will be presenting. Would it be appropriate for me to raise a point of order on it now or after she has presented the Bill?
After. Thank you.
European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Yvette Cooper, supported by Sir Oliver Letwin, Hilary Benn, Dame Caroline Spelman, Jack Dromey, Alison McGovern, Mr Dominic Grieve, Clive Efford, Stephen Doughty, Norman Lamb, Ben Lake and Stewart Hosie, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with the period for negotiations for withdrawing from the European Union.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow; and to be printed (Bill 371).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on something that I raised yesterday in relation to the business motion and my very grave concern, I think shared by many people throughout the country—let alone in the House—about the idea of a Bill that is of such importance as this effectively being rammed through in one day. It is a Bill
“to make provision in connection with the period for negotiations for withdrawing from the European Union.”
In short, this is a reprehensible procedure in the context of the vitally important issue of our leaving the European Union. It is unconstitutional, and it is inconceivable that we should be presented with a Bill that could be rammed through in one day. In making this point of order, I want to ask you whether you have observations on the point that I just made.
My observation is threefold. First, that the hon. Gentleman is of this view was made very clear to me by his oration yesterday. Indeed, I say in no spirit of discourtesy to him that I rather imagine that anybody within a 50-mile radius of this place would be aware of his views on this important matter, given the force and frequency with which he has expressed them. Secondly, the House voted yesterday to give precedence tomorrow to a business of the House motion, which has not yet been tabled, so we await that. Thirdly, although this is of course an unusual state of affairs, it is not unknown for a Bill to be pushed through the House in one day. For a Bill brought forward by a Back-Bench Member, it is very unusual, but it is consequent upon a decision of the House. Bills being brought forward and taken through their various stages in one day in Government time are not particularly unusual at all. For example, Northern Ireland legislation has often been taken through the House on that basis. I know that the hon. Gentleman would not object to that in the way that he objects to this, but I do not think it is as unprecedented as he supposes. It is unusual and it is a bit different from those other examples, and it grates immensely with the hon. Gentleman, but that does not of itself render it disorderly. Upsetting the hon. Gentleman is displeasing but not disorderly. I think we will have to leave it there.
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Bank of England to meet standards for the representation of ethnic minority persons on banknotes; and for connected purposes.
I present this Bill because I believe that the Governor of the Bank of England now has a unique opportunity to address an archaic stereotype—one that completely undermines the credible efforts towards diversity and inclusion that are indeed taking place the old lady of Threadneedle Street.
I must first pay tribute to the inspirational Zehra Zaidi and Dr Patrick Vernon OBE for their excellent “Banknotes of Colour” campaign, and I am glad to say that they are sitting in the Gallery today. Their campaign aims to secure the first ever ethnic minority person on a British banknote, and their efforts have already won very broad support both inside and outside the House. The Bill seeks to persuade the Governor of the Bank of England to designate a black, Asian or minority ethnic person to feature on the new £50 note, a decision that he is due to announce this summer. There have been 24 banknotes featuring a notable person on the reverse since the first was issued in July 1970. Of these, all but three have been historic white men, the notable exceptions being three women: Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry and Jane Austen.
As you will know, Mr Speaker, the 2011 UK census showed that 14% of the UK population were from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. Like everywhere else around the globe, the UK population will become ever more diverse in the coming decades. We talk so much of cohesion and integration and of active engaged citizens, but for this to be achieved people and communities need to see that their stake in Britain—in its past, present and future—is universally recognised. To include a person of diversity on our banknotes would show a fundamental shift from a national stereotype to a modern, socially inclusive attitude in one of our oldest and most traditional institutions.
Such positive action would underline the pride we have in this country’s great multi-culture and help to defeat the despicable influence of the hatred and division that seeks to destroy our libertarian way of life. The Bank of England has a duty to support and promote integration and diversity. Indeed, its own guidance states that its banknote characters should reflect the diversity of UK society. It is therefore surprising and disappointing that the Bank has so far failed to recognise the ethnic diversity of our population on our national currency. The Bill would change that.
Over the last century, our diverse communities in the UK have undoubtedly made a seismic contribution to the making of modern Britain—in business, in public services, in the NHS and even in politics. There are so many examples: Mary Seacole, the Jamaican-British nurse who supported British troops during the Crimean war and whose contribution has been recognised as equal to that of Florence Nightingale; Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim of Indian origin, who was the first female radio operator to infiltrate enemy occupied France in world war two; Sophia Duleep Singh, the prominent Indian suffragette and member of the Women’s Social and Political Union; and not forgetting Sir Charles Kao, the British-Chinese scientist who won the Nobel prize for physics and pioneered the use of fibre optics in telecommunications. There are, of course, many other examples, but all these individuals represent the very best of Britain.
The choice of the face of the new £50 note is a wonderful opportunity for the Bank of England. It would send a message from one of the greatest institutions in the land that the contribution of diverse communities to the building of Britain really does matter and is truly valued. In doing so, it would also ensure that the UK’s currency is reflective of the diverse, inclusive and tolerant modern Britain that I know and love.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mrs Helen Grant, Mrs Maria Miller, Janet Daby, Dame Caroline Spelman, Caroline Lucas, Eddie Hughes, Kate Green, Clive Lewis, Jeremy Lefroy, Preet Kaur Gill, Helen Whately and Rachel Maclean present the Bill.
Mrs Helen Grant accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April, and to be printed (Bill 372).
[Relevant Document: Third Special Report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Failure of a witness to answer an Order of the Committee: conduct of Mr Dominic Cummings, HC 115.]
The Leader of the House has tabled a motion on a matter of privilege that I have agreed should take precedence today. To move the motion, I call Mr Paul Maynard.
I beg to move,
That this House—
(i) approves the First Report from the Committee of Privileges (HC 1490); and
(ii) endorses the conclusions of the Committee in respect of the conduct of Mr Dominic Cummings that the evidence sought by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee from Mr Cummings was relevant to its inquiry and that his refusal to attend constituted a significant interference with the work of that Committee; concludes that Mr Cummings committed a contempt both by his refusal to obey the Committee’s order to attend it and by his subsequent refusal to obey the House’s Order of 7 June 2018; and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct.
In a week of constitutional innovation, we have one more, whereby I am standing in for the Leader of the House, who sends her apologies. I understand that she has been in touch with the Chairs of the Committee of Privileges and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to explain the reason for her absence.
The House deeply respects the work of Select Committees across the House. They do incredibly important work on behalf of all the peoples of the United Kingdom, and the Government remains a strong supporter of the Select Committee system. In accordance with traditional practice, the Leader of the House brought forward motions on Thursday 7 June and Thursday 28 June 2018 to raise the activities of Dominic Cummings as a matter of privilege following his refusal to obey the DCMS Committee’s order to attend and his subsequent refusal to obey the House’s order of 7 June 2018.
It is vital to the work of Select Committees that they can obtain full and accurate evidence from witnesses as part of their inquiries. I thank the members of the Committee of Privileges for undertaking the report and the members of the DCMS Committee for their work on behalf of Parliament. The report from the Privileges Committee concluded that it accepted the DCMS Committee’s view that the evidence it sought from Mr Cummings was relevant to its inquiry and that his refusal to appear constituted a significant interference with its work. The report states that Mr Cummings committed a contempt both by his initial refusal to obey the DCMS Committee’s order to attend and by his subsequent refusal to obey the House’s order. The Committee recommended that the House admonish Mr Cummings for his contempt, and it is for the House to determine whether to endorse these conclusions.
Mr Cummings has raised questions about the enforceability of the House’s powers and those of its Committee’s to secure evidence. I know that the Committee of Privileges intends to consider this matter further, and we await its conclusions, but today’s debate underlines the right of Select Committees to undertake their duties as assigned to them by the House. The Government have full respect for the privileges of the House of Commons and will continue to uphold them. They are crucial to the independence of Parliament and the strength of our democracy. I therefore commend the motion to the House.
Before the debate gets under way, I want to say one thing. From experience, I am clear in my own mind—and I am reinforced in my view by the specialist advice of the Clerks—that the focus of this motion is narrow. The Minister rightly stuck to its proper focus. This is not an occasion—I repeat not an occasion—for airing all the arguments about the conduct of the referendum campaign, Vote Leave, tactics used, fake news, and so on. That is not for today—I repeat not for today. This is about the rights of this House and the appearance and non-appearance of witnesses, the issue of compliance with the express wishes of the House and the issue of consequences for violation of our rights. If people have got speeches prepared in which they want to rehearse again all the arguments about the referendum campaign, I suggest the speedy and liberal application of the blue pencil. It is not required; indeed, it is required not to happen. We must not play games with the House’s procedures. I am extremely grateful to the Minister who moved the motion.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for presenting the motion, and note that the Leader of the House is occupied with important matters elsewhere. I also thank the Committee of Privileges, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), for all its work in producing the report.
This is not the first Committee report on the conduct of Mr Dominic Cummings. On 5 June 2018, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a special report stating that it had first invited, then ordered Mr Cummings to give oral evidence as part of its inquiry into fake news, and that he had failed to comply with that order. On 7 June 2018, the House resolved that Mr Cummings should
“give an undertaking to the Committee, no later than 6pm on 11 June 2018, to appear before that Committee at a time on or before 20 June 2018.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 492.]
However, on 20 June 2018 the Chair of the DCMS Committee, the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), reported to the House that Mr Cummings had failed to comply with the order of 7 June. The Leader of the House tabled a motion on 28 June that the matter be referred to the Committee of Privileges, and the House supported it.
In the annex to the report, on page 11, the Committee of Privileges helpfully set out the procedure that it would follow in inviting Mr Cummings to provide the DCMS Committee with oral and written evidence, so he has benefited from due process. It made a number of recommendations, and accepted the view of the DCMS Committee that the evidence that it sought from Mr Cummings was relevant to its inquiry and that his refusal to attend constituted a significant interference with its work. The Committee of Privileges
rejected Mr Cummings’s argument as to why he did not appear before the DCMS Committee. He had been offered a series of dates for a hearing, and had not supplied any evidence that suggested he was at significant risk of prosecution. The report states :
“The fact that a prospective witness takes a different view on policy or political issues from a select committee…does not constitute grounds to refuse to appear before that committee.”
Many of us who are members of Select Committees often hear evidence from all sides. It is the right of a Select Committee to do that, and to form a view based on the evidence.
The Committee of Privileges accepted the DCMS Committee’s view that in not giving it the evidence that it sought, Mr Cummings had committed a contempt both by his refusal to obey its order to attend and by his subsequent refusal to obey the House’s order of 7 June 2018. The report states:
“Attending the hearing and defending his position when called upon to do so would have been the right thing to do.”
The Committee recommends that the House should admonish Mr Cummings for his contempt, and that the admonishment should take the form of a resolution of the House. The resolution, if agreed to, should be communicated to Mr Cummings by the Clerk of the House.
I thank the Committee again for its work, and I support the motion.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his statement. I also thank the Leader of the House for giving me notice that she would be unable to attend the Chamber today, and for the words that the Deputy Leader of the House read out on behalf of the Government. I thank my fellow members of the DCMS Committee, and I thank the Chair of the Privileges Committee and her colleagues for their investigation.
We are not here today as a consequence of a rush of blood to the head and the “at whim” decision of a parliamentary Committee to order a private citizen to give evidence in front of us. Today we are at the end of a process that has run for the best part of 10 months, from the Committee’s first attempts to invite a witness to attend to the process of its ordering that witness to attend, to that being reported to the House and the House also ordering him to attend, and then to the matter being referred to the Committee of Privileges for it to investigate.
I am pleased that that Committee has agreed with the statement in our report that we were within our rights to call the witness, and that the witness should have attended. The witness himself, Mr Cummings, was critical of our Committee’s inquiry, of other witnesses who had attended, and of the evidence that they had given. Our main reason for wishing him to attend was so that he could respond to the allegations made by other witnesses. That is an important part of the inquiry, and also demonstrates the Committee’s desire to hear all sides of the story. We are frustrated in that process when witnesses refuse to confirm dates, put up spurious reasons for why they cannot attend, and then, in correspondence with the Committee, seek to behave in a way that is contemptuous of its work and, therefore, of the work of the House.
This is the heart of the matter. The report states that many of Mr Cummings’s communications were highly inappropriate, including some outside the House. He did not do himself any favours in that respect. I personally wanted to hear what he had to say, and I honestly believe that many members of the Committee had open minds and wanted their questions to be answered. Is it not also true that we asked very probing questions when it came to the other side of the debate? We questioned Christopher Wylie very closely about his desire to hawk information to Vote Leave.
Indeed. The questions that we wished to put to Mr Cummings were highly relevant to our inquiry. They were also highly relevant to evidence presented by other people, including representatives of organisations that had worked with him in his capacity as director of Vote Leave. I think that we should have had an opportunity to put those questions, as a relevant part of our inquiry and the work of the Committee. As the Committee of Privileges says in its report, it cannot be for individuals to seek to interfere with the work of a parliamentary Committee. We should regard that as a very serious matter.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, but is there not also an issue of consistency? I am told that Mark Zuckerberg also declined to give evidence to the Committee during the same inquiry. Moreover, it is quite common for Ministers to decline to give evidence to inquiries, including Ministers in some of the devolved Administrations and Assemblies. I think that the point my hon. Friend is making should be applied consistently and across the board to all potential witnesses, and that we should not fall into the trap of singling out one individual.
I do not believe that we are singling out one individual in this case. It is highly unusual for anyone to behave in the way in which Dominic Cummings behaved towards the Committee. My right hon. Friend is right in saying that we issued an invitation to Mark Zuckerberg, but that is all that we could do. We did not issue a summons or an order for him to appear, because we do not have the jurisdictional powers to do so. He is not a UK national, and is not resident in the UK. We can only issue summonses of that sort to foreign nationals if they happen to be in this country. We said that we would do that, but obviously we do not have an opportunity to do it. So the circumstances in that case are very different.
On the day that we issued the order for Dominic Cummings to appear before the Committee, we also issued an order to Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and he chose to accept. The personal circumstances of Mr Nix at the time, in terms of the investigations of him and his former company, gave far greater reason for him not to attend than Dominic Cummings, who was not under personal investigation at all at that stage. There were no reasons in law why he should not appear. The normal sub judice rules that protect witnesses from incriminating themselves did not apply in his case. The Committee sought legal advice in that regard. I think that, when we have gone through a thorough process and there are no particular grounds for a witness not to appear, if the Committee and the House believe that it is important for that witness to appear, he should do so.
I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the privileges of Ministers, but the rules of the House in that regard are very different from those applying to private citizens.
Will my hon. Friend confirm, then, that it is his view that it is illegitimate for Ministers ever to claim that they cannot give evidence to a Committee because legal proceedings on a particular issue are under way?
The House does have rules relating to matters that are before UK courts and may prevent witnesses from giving evidence, but I agree with the principle that my hon. Friend has cited. I do not believe that Ministers should claim special privileges in order not to give evidence to a Committee, but they do have a different status. I do not think that that different status should give any individual in the country an opportunity to ignore an order from a Committee or a summons to appear before Parliament simply because they happen to take exception to the idea that Ministers have special privileges that they do not have—as, indeed, do Members of the House of Lords.
I want to pick up the point about consistency. It is not just my hon. Friend’s Select Committee that may have problems with calling witnesses—important witnesses—to take part in inquiries. The Women and Equalities Committee is currently going through a similar process, but we are only one month into requesting an individual to appear before us. Does my hon. Friend agree that it might be helpful if there were more explicit guidelines on the process to be followed, so that it could take place more speedily? I certainly would not want my inquiry on non- disclosure agreements to drag on for a further 10 months.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There needs to be more clarity about the process—clarity within the rules as they stand, and more clarity on what the powers of the House are. We have ancient powers, which in modern law cannot be enforced, and they have not been replaced with anything more suitable.
As Chair of a Select Committee, I am sure that my hon. Friend will have shared my experience that the difficulty in getting witnesses to appear is not necessarily around private citizens, who are usually very willing to appear before a Select Committee; it is around encouraging ministerial colleagues, on occasion, and public officials to come before Select Committees. That is where the resistance is. Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be at least an equivalence of rules regarding the appearance of private citizens and elected individuals and publicly accountable individuals before Select Committees? We have not got that balance right yet.
As I said to other hon. Members, I am sympathetic to any Select Committee that seeks to interview a public official or Minister as part of their inquiry. In my three years’ experience as Chair of a Select Committee I have never had that problem, but others have. There is a big difference between a Minister of the Crown and a private citizen, in that a Minister is a Member of Parliament and can be questioned, in this House or in the House of Lords, as part of their ministerial duties. The only opportunity we have to question people outside Parliament, as part of an inquiry, is to invite them to appear before the Committee. There is no other avenue, be it a ministerial question time or debate, where we can pursue that person. That is why the rules concerning private citizens are particularly important. I would be very sympathetic to the idea of looking at the rules for Ministers, but at least other avenues are open for challenging a Minister as part of parliamentary process.
I recall, as a Minister, having agreed to give evidence to a Committee of the Welsh Assembly and being told that it was not Government policy for Ministers in Westminster to attend such Committees, since they had no rights to hold us to account. Does my hon. Friend think that, bearing in mind what he has just said, perhaps a different set of rules should apply to the devolved Administrations, and that Westminster Ministers should be required to attend such hearings in devolved assemblies?
As I said to my hon. Friend earlier, I think there is a basic principle and a presumption that witnesses, be they a Minister or not, should attend Committees conducting inquiries. Select Committees conduct such inquiries on behalf of the House, with powers delegated to them by the House. I also believe that if a Member of the House of Lords chose to use their special privileges as a parliamentarian not to be summoned in front of a Committee, that would not be appropriate if that Member of the House of Lords held an important public position, as many Members of the House of Lords do.
Other options are available to question Members of Parliament and Ministers that are not available to question a private citizen. The only forum we have to question a private citizen as part of a parliamentary inquiry is to invite them to appear before a Select Committee. That power is incredibly important, because the role of a Select Committee is not just to scrutinise the work of a Government Department or a public body, but to scrutinise other matters of public interest, where a Committee believes there is a case for Government intervention, new rules or new laws on something important. It is for the Committees to determine the scope of their inquiries, and witnesses should attend when required. It is very rare that witnesses choose not to attend.
Of course, Mr Cummings cannot be with us today—and did not want to be with us on another occasion. Did he give any indication that he thought there was some legal reason why it would be better if he did not attend?
The correspondence between myself as Chair of the Committee and Mr Cummings is published in full in the Committee’s report, so any Member can read that and make their own judgment as to the case that Mr Cummings made. Obviously, the matter was also reviewed by the Privileges Committee, which also invited Mr Cummings to speak to it as part of its inquiry, which he declined. Mr Cummings stated that other cases were involved, and that he had been guided by the people he had spoken to not to appear, but there was no reason in law for that. He was not under personal investigation; he was not likely to be charged with an offence. He may have all sorts of private grounds for not wanting to do it, but unless there is a particular legal reason why witnesses should not appear, I do not believe it is good enough for them to create reasons why they would rather not give evidence; that would undermine the whole process. If a witness declines to give evidence simply because it is unsatisfactory to him to do so, I do not think we should accept it.
Does my hon. Friend not have at least some sympathy for the argument that Vote Leave was under investigation by the Electoral Commission—a full-scale legal investigation? Given that that was an ongoing investigation, a request to give evidence after that had concluded was not at all unreasonable.
We had a similar issue with other witnesses during the inquiry. When Arron Banks gave evidence to the Committee, some aspects of Leave.EU’s work that were relevant to the Committee investigation were under investigation by the Electoral Commission at that time. My hon. Friend may check the official record of the evidence session. We told Mr Banks at that session that we would not question him about matters that were under investigation by the Electoral Commission, as it would not be proper to do so, but there were a large number of other topics on which we wanted to pursue relevant lines of inquiry.
It was exactly the same with Dominic Cummings. We could have reached an accommodation, but he was not prepared, in principle, to attend. During the course of our correspondence we set out why we thought he should attend, and it became quite clear that once he was aware that we were determined to issue an order requesting that he appear on a certain day, he would refuse point-blank to appear at all. He then requested all sorts of other conditions—that he would not appear before the DCMS Committee but he might appear before a specially constructed ad hoc Committee of the House, and that members of the Committee should swear an oath before questioning him, in addition to his swearing an oath. This is nonsense. We either respect our rules and the powers that we have, or we do not.
Not just my Committee found this. I am sure that the Chair of the Privileges Committee will speak for herself about her inquiry. During the Treasury Committee’s inquiry before the referendum, different parties were invited to give evidence, and it too is scathing about the experience of dealing with Mr Cummings and the general contempt that he showed. We have to accept that if we do not really take our own powers seriously, other people will behave in a similar way. Other people will look at this case and say, “Actually, you can just ignore the Committees’ requests. There is nothing they can do.”
There are often important reasons why Committees wish to call in private citizens to account for their work. Mr Cummings is not just a private citizen going about his business in a quiet part of the country. He has held a series of important offices, he is a former Government special adviser and he was director of an incredibly important national political campaign. The work of that campaign had been referenced already in a parliamentary inquiry, and we wished to ask him about the evidence that had been given, of which he himself was critical and to which he felt there should have been some right to reply.
Over the past few years, the likes of Rupert Murdoch have appeared before Committees, and we have seen Sir Philip Green appearing—not wholly successfully—before Committees. Surely, if people of that stature are prepared to face a Committee, others of lesser stature should do so too.
That is absolutely right. I was a member of the Committee when Rupert Murdoch came to give evidence, in response to a summons of the House. That was right in the middle of the phone-hacking scandal, with legal cases left, right and centre—massive challenges for that business—and yet he considered that it was his responsibility and the proper thing to respond, give evidence in person and answer all the Committee’s questions. If it is good enough for someone of the stature of Rupert Murdoch, surely Dominic Cummings could find time in his busy schedule as well. There was no reason why he should not have done so.
There have been other times when my Committee has struggled to get witnesses to attend and they have attended at the last minute. We are going through that process now with some companies. We may wish to call other organisations as well. We saw during our inquiry that other political campaigns, such as the shadowy Mainstream Network, which was advertising last year on Facebook, were seeking to get members of the public to lobby their MP on what they should or should not do on the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Other organisations, such as We are the 52% and Britain’s Future, are doing that right now. We might want to call in such organisations in future as part of investigations, but they could look at the behaviour of Dominic Cummings and say, “We are disinclined to come, and there is not much you can do about it.”
People often cite the ancient powers of the House to lock people up in a prison under Big Ben or in the House, and those powers technically still exist, but they would rightly be considered to be unenforceable. The House must therefore debate and decide what we want to do when witnesses decline to attend. There should be a proper process; it should not just be down to the arbitrary summons of 11 Members of Parliament. There should be a proper process to check—as the Privileges Committee has done—that the Committee was following due process, that it had good grounds, and that there was a public interest in the witness attending. Then, when they fail to attend, there should be some clear sanction. In other Parliaments in the world, there are rules in such cases—a referral to court or some other body that makes the final decision and imposes a sanction. I believe we now need clearly codified rules, on both summoning witnesses and ordering papers.
I am interested in this point. What kind of sanction does my hon. Friend think would be appropriate and might make a difference?
That is ultimately a matter for the House to determine. Let us look at other jurisdictions. I believe that the United States Congress, for example, can impose a fine or a custodial sentence of up to three months, and I believe that the Scottish Parliament has something similar, but Members will correct me if that is not the case. Other legislatures have processes that include clear sanctions in law that can be applied if a reasonable request for a witness to appear or for documents to be served has not been met. I do not believe that politicians should sit in judgment over private citizens and start ordering those penalties, however. It is probably right that some independent outside body should do that, as happens in other areas of public life. We should determine what our role should be, and if we believe that a reasonable request has been made for a witness to appear or for papers to be issued to a Committee, that should be done. It is reasonable to expect someone who has been asked to give evidence to a Committee to do so honestly and truthfully. If it is proved that they are lying to or misleading the Committee, there should be some sanction for that as well. There is then a separate debate about who should enforce that sanction and what the penalty should be, but if we use these powers responsibly and we expect people to comply with them, there has to be some sanction if they do not do so, as in the case of Mr Cummings.
I am following this argument with great interest. Given the nature of Dominic Cummings—incidentally, I do not think the way he has behaved towards the Select Committee is any different from the way he behaves generally—does my hon. Friend agree that there is a real danger that he would regard an admonishment from the House of Commons as a badge of honour? Does he also agree that we need some form of alternative measure so that future witnesses will not think that an admonishment is the only thing they might have to face?
My hon. Friend is right; that is an important point. There has to be some penalty. For some people, that would involve damage to their reputation. Someone who is running a public body or a regulated industry, for example, might find that their reputation was damaged because they had behaved in a way that was inconsistent with upholding the high standards of their office. Clearly, Dominic Cummings does not seem to care about those things. We need to ask whether someone who has been found in contempt of Parliament and admonished by Parliament would be an appropriate candidate to hold a public position such as a Government adviser or a member of a public body in the future. Should there be a bar on that?
Does my hon. Friend envisage a similar bar on someone for being a bankrupt, for example?
Absolutely; my hon. Friend and fellow member of the Committee makes an excellent point. That is a good example of people finding themselves in a situation of which they are the cause, and of clear penalties being in place that can restrict their future actions and activities, although not necessarily their liberty. Someone who has been found in contempt of the House should face some sort of real-world sanction that takes into account their appropriateness to be a fit and proper person to hold certain positions and roles, and certainly to be appointed to public office. For example, if Mr Cummings were ever again asked to be a Government adviser or special adviser, these sorts of things should be taken into account, and I am sure that they would be.
There needs to be a further sanction in law as well, including a range of penalties depending on the severity of the offence, with someone in authority to adjudicate and enforce those sanctions. As the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) has said, there should be a clear process so that we can understand how long it should take and, ideally, a witness could be compelled to come within the scope of an inquiry, rather than doing as I believe Dominic Cummings intended to do, which was to offer to come here at some point in the future, knowing full well that that could be one or two years later. Indeed, I do not believe that the conditions he set out in his initial email have yet been met, so he probably still would not come before the Committee, more than a year later. We have to consider whether that is in any way acceptable, because it massively impedes the work of parliamentary Committees if they cannot summon witnesses who are relevant to their inquiries. In his case, we were asking him to come here in direct response to evidence that the Committee had received that was relevant to him and to our inquiry. We had very strong grounds for asking him to come.
I am slightly concerned about one more thing, which was touched on earlier when my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) mentioned Rupert Murdoch. There was a serious criminal inquiry into Vote Leave going on at the time that my hon. Friend is talking about. Surely he would have some sympathy if there was a danger that someone appearing before the Committee might prejudice their own defence, should a criminal investigation then occur.
Those conditions certainly applied in the case of Rupert Murdoch, because he was asked expressly what he knew about the practice of phone hacking at his newspapers, as was Rebekah Brooks, who gave evidence on the same day. That was a major part of the hearing. Those people could have used that excuse. There are different questions involved here. The right to non-incrimination for someone who is likely to face court proceedings and be charged with a particular offence, or who has already been charged, is already covered by the House’s sub judice rules. There are already clear rules in place for that. In this case, however, Mr Cummings had not been directly charged with an offence, although there were other ongoing investigations. As I have said, we agreed with other witnesses that there were certain things that we would not discuss as being on topic, so as not to interfere with other ongoing inquiries. Nevertheless, we managed to conduct a proper hearing with those witnesses and gain valuable evidence from them. There is no reason why that could not have been done in Mr Cummings’s case.
The argument that my hon. Friend is making is a curious one, because Dominic Cummings was the director of Vote Leave, and the investigation into Vote Leave was ongoing. As the former director of that organisation, it was obviously legitimate for him to be concerned that the investigation might be prejudiced, in much the same way as a Minister, while not being directly charged with anything, might nevertheless have concern for proceedings being made against the Government.
Well, it sort of depends on what Mr Cummings thought he was going to say and whether he thought he was likely to be in that position. As I have said, the Committee wished to discuss a range of issues and topics with him that were not at the time being expressly investigated by the Electoral Commission. Its investigation was largely to do with funding issues and the co-ordination between Vote Leave and other campaigns involved in the referendum. We had lots of questions about Vote Leave’s work with AggregateIQ and about its involvement in data analytics and the way data was being gathered, stored and used during the campaign that were highly relevant to our inquiry. He could have come in to discuss those issues. If there were no grounds for him not to appear, and he just did not want to appear, I do not believe that the House should accept that as an excuse.
Does my hon. Friend concede that there would be a difference if the gentleman in question had not wished to appear on account of prejudicing an ongoing inquiry with which he was associated, as against his not recognising the legitimacy of Parliament to summon him to appear? I suspect that in this case the latter applied, not the former, and that there might be a difference.
There is a difference. I do not believe that Mr Cummings ever accepted the legitimacy of Parliament to ask him to appear, which is a matter that we should take seriously in its own right. From the very start, it seemed clear that he thought he should give evidence on his own terms, in his own way, on his own dates—
And to his own Committee.
And even to his own Committee, yes. He thought it was no business of ours to set parameters for the special ad hoc Committee of the House that should be assembled just to question Dominic Cummings. That is a ridiculous way for someone to behave when they have been asked to give evidence. If he had said at the beginning that he was willing to give evidence even though he did not want to discuss certain topics because of other investigations he was associated with, and that he would discuss other things, that would have been a very different matter. The Committee of Privileges might have taken a different view if that had been the case. It is interesting that he declined to give evidence to that investigation as well, even though it took place sometime after the event. This just shows his general contempt for the House and its practices. He feels that we have no business asking difficult questions or prying into his affairs, but I believe that that is our business and that we have a right to do that.
It is rare for the House to issue a summons—most witnesses come willingly—but when we legitimately seek to summon witnesses to give evidence to our inquiries, we should have that power, and when someone refuses and shows contempt for us, there should be a sanction and we should have a power to act further. Today’s debate is not the end of the discussion on whether Dominic Cummings should have appeared before the DCMS Committee; it is about how we can take this forward and formalise the powers of the House to ensure that we do not find ourselves in this position again.
I rise on behalf of the Scottish National party to support the resolution and to urge the House to vote for it, although sadly without any great hope or expectation that doing so will have a great deal of effect. Mr Speaker cautioned us at the beginning of this discussion to try to restrict our comments to the narrow business under consideration. I had wanted to put this question into the wider context of the debate on Brexit, and to consider the wider political questions, but I will not do that. I have taken Mr Speaker’s advice and, in my imagination, I have applied a blue pen to much of what I was going to say.
It is appropriate for us to note why the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee wanted to hear from Mr Cummings in the first place. It was because many of the concerns expressed about the Vote Leave campaign exemplified the concerns about fake news that it was holding an inquiry into. As I said, I shall not go into great detail about this, but we have to say as a matter of record that the Vote Leave campaign stands accused of engaging in lies, propaganda and wilful distortion of the facts. It is a fact that it has been found guilty by the Information Commissioner of breaking the regulations on the gathering of personal data. It is a fact that it broke the law and has been fined by the Electoral Commission on expenses. It would be legitimate for Mr Cummings to engage with the Committee to discuss those things, and his refusal to do so or to appear before the Committee—that is the reason why the motion has been tabled—suggests that he has something to hide or that he cannot mount a defence against the accusations that have been made, which should concern the House.
Hon. Members have said, and I think it is true, that we should be concerned about what admonishment actually means. What sort of sanction or leverage is it at the end of the day? I fear that it is not a very great one, and this instance and others should lead us to reflect on whether our procedures are adequate for House of Commons inquiries into matters of public concern, and whether we need additional powers, as many other countries have, to compel people to give evidence when that is in the public interest. I make no suggestion about how that might happen, but I want to put on the table a recommendation that it should happen.
Finally, we are entitled, without going into detailed political debate, to form opinions and draw conclusions about the intentions and attitude of Mr Cummings as described in the motion. Many colleagues and I watched the recent TV drama, “Brexit: The Uncivil War” which, to my mind, offered a generous and sympathetic portrayal of Dominic Cummings, suggesting that he was some sort of tortured genius—a radical, a free thinker and iconoclast; someone who wanted to engage in the noblest notions of sovereignty and democracy, and who would not debase himself for a moment in gutter politics. I am not sure that that is entirely the case.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the direction that Mr Speaker gave at the beginning of the debate was for an important reason? This is a serious discussion of an admonishment for someone’s failure to appear before a Committee. It should be about the facts of that decision not to appear or otherwise—
Order. I, too, know what was said, and I will be the judge of whether something stretches beyond or remains within the advice that Mr Speaker gave. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am listening carefully. At the moment, we have not stepped outside the limits, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) is coming towards the end of his speech. We all know that there are limits that we should not go beyond. To mention someone in passing is one thing, but I do not want to get into an argument about the weakness of examples. It is purely about privilege, and we certainly have not stepped outside those limits.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have been keeping an eye on you carefully to make sure that I do not stray beyond the bounds or limitations that were set. I shall conclude simply by saying that I have drawn my own opinions from what has happened in this case as to the character of Mr Cummings.
Perhaps the truth is rather more mundane. Perhaps he is, after all, just a posh boy from a privileged background who has a sense of entitlement that means he does not think he has to account to his peers for his actions. I fear that the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) is correct. If we agree the motion, as we should, at Mr Cummings’s next dinner party it will be worn as a badge of honour, and he will continue in contempt of the House, because there are people of his class who regard democratic institutions such as this in precisely that way.
Along with many colleagues, I think that the Select Committee system is a good one, and it can only operate if we invite witnesses to give evidence. If they do not want to appear, we can summon them, so I think the debate is timely. It should not just be about one particular case or person but encompass the important issues alluded to by some of the previous speakers that revolve around the question of what is a compelling invitation and what is a sanction for those who refuse the invitation or the requirement that they should attend and answer questions.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend so early in his speech, but I want to probe him on this. Earlier in the debate, Members discussed what happened in other countries—for example, the United States, where there are sanctions if someone does not appear before a House Committee. Then we get into a position whereby witnesses say to the Committee, “I am sorry, I won’t answer that because it might incriminate me.” Does my right hon. Friend think that we have to be careful lest we end up with that situation? It is about getting the balance right.
I agree that it is about balance. My hon. Friend has invited me to reach my conclusion before I have made my argument. However, cutting to part of the conclusion, yes, we do need to look at sanctions, and it would be good if as a result of this debate the relevant Committee considered practice in other good, democratic institutions around the world and looked at which were most effective. We need to be seen, as we are, as a serious body with every right to require any UK citizen to come here and explain themselves, and we need to be able to enforce that in a sensible and proportionate way. I do not think that our current enforcement is proportionate if someone has no good reason to refuse or deny.
I want to develop one or two exceptions to that rule. At the heart of this particular case is the issue of whether or not legal proceedings are under way that could in some way be prejudiced if the witness came here and spoke too widely about the things that the authorities were investigating. There is a sub judice rule. It is always a matter of judgment for any individual who faces that kind of proceeding, and it is also a matter of judgment for lawyers involved in prospective cases. I do not think that we should ignore that, as it could be an important part of this particular case, and can certainly be a crucial part of any future case. If someone has to answer because there is a general worry about their past conduct—I am not talking about Mr Cummings, I am talking about a future case—it is quite likely that there could be a legal inquiry, as well as the wish to have a parliamentary inquiry.
If we are going to have higher sanctions, as I suspect we should, we need to be even clearer about what are the legitimate legal grounds. That brings me to my next point. When people do something that is contentious for the wider public and for Members of Parliament, and which splits opinion in the country, there is a danger of too many inquiries. Suddenly, they are all across the media, and are on the front pages of the newspapers. Everyone is talking about them, and people chase the ambulance—they want to chase the excitement. There is a danger that there will be several Committees in this House wanting to conduct an inquiry into largely the same thing from different departmental perspectives. They may want to hone in on the same key witnesses, because they are so newsworthy at the moment. We may then be in a position where we overload potential witnesses, and get in the way of conducting a fair inquiry that can add to our understanding, rather than just adding to glamorous media reports of our involvement.
I know that my right hon. Friend is talking in general terms about a future case, but for the record, in this particular case involving Mr Cummings, Select Committees were not competing to ask him to come and give evidence. We were the only Committee that sought to invite him to appear, and we took advice from the House authorities on whether or not the concerns raised about other cases were relevant to our request.
I understand that, and I explicitly said that I was not talking about Mr Cummings in that part of my speech. This is about how we enforce in general, as well as being about the sanction that the House wishes to confirm in the motion against a particular individual. Certainly, Mr Cummings, Vote Leave and all the rest of it might have been subject to other inquiries, because there has been huge political interest in that both outside and inside the House, and it is a contentious matter. It is the kind of thing where there could be inquiry overload, with more heat, but not a lot of light. We need a period of calm reflection, as I know the Committee Chairman and others are undertaking, to think about a range of possibilities.
There are two issues to deal with before we think of intensifying our sanction regime. First, can a witness give a really good reason, because of some kind of legal advice or legal inquiry? We do not want to get in the way of proper inquiries into possibly serious crimes. Secondly, can we make sure that we do not contribute to chasing excitement, and often false allegations, because an individual is in the media spotlight? Where there is a serious interest, perhaps a lead Committee should take it up and handle that particular person.
It is also important to be fair between the different possible categories of witnesses. We have to bear in mind that an individual will not have the back-up, support and cover for legal and other costs that may be involved in being on the wrong end of an inquiry, whereas a representative of a great company will have enormous support and will have people writing parts of their evidence and drawing on the back data that is needed, and they will obviously have cover for legal expenses.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for mentioning the types of witnesses who appear before Select Committees. I simply want to put the record straight. Is he aware that Dominic Cummings’s father was an oil rig project manager, his mother was a special needs teacher and he went to Durham School? To categorise him, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) did, as some sort of “posh boy” is completely wrong.
It is always better to deal in facts than in general allegations or misdescriptions, so I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.
The point I am making is that Committees should understand that an individual who does not work for a great corporation, who does not have a well-paid job or who is no longer part of an organisation does not have the same back-up and support as someone who is still the chief executive of a mighty company.
My right hon. Friend is making an important point. The chief executive of a big company will have a team of people to help them prepare their evidence, but that is not required. Committees well understand that a submission from a company might be different from a submission from a private individual. There are many private individuals who submit written evidence and who freely come to give evidence to Committees without any of that support. All we ask them to do is to come and talk about themselves. In fact, when they seek to give evidence, they have the same legal immunity and protection as members of the Committee do, so they do not have to worry about potentially incriminating themselves or taking legal advice before speaking out.
I was not going to conclude that we should stop asking people who do not have a well backed up job, but we need to understand, as I am sure my hon. Friend does, that if we are asking an individual who was once in an important position, with all that back-up, to come and talk about events of a year or two years ago, and if they do not wish to mislead the Committee and they wish to be factually accurate, they will need somehow to get access to the records of their past institution and they will need to go through a lot of preparation, and they will have to do it all for themselves or spend their own money on getting advice and legal support.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to be mindful of the unintended consequences if we were to introduce a stronger sanction on witnesses for failing to appear? What if, for instance, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee were holding an inquiry into phone hacking and decided it would be newsworthy to force the parents of a murdered schoolchild to appear before the Committee? That would clearly be inappropriate, and it would clearly be inappropriate to use such a sanction in that situation.
That is another hard case I had not thought of, and it needs to be taken into account as we pursue this general issue of what would be a relevant sanction.
The third category of people is senior officials and Ministers who receive salaries from the public via the Government. I think they should be more answerable than anybody else, because they are, by definition, primarily remunerated by and spend much of their lives working for the Government and the public. I would have difficulties if we found that Committees could not get access to senior officials who work full time for the Government and the wider public or if, in certain cases, as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) mentioned earlier, Ministers did not think they should be answerable to elected Assemblies because they thought it might be inconvenient to give more background or detail on the policies they have been pursuing or the decisions they have taken.
I would want to weight things a bit more heavily in favour of this House having extremely strong powers to demand the presence of senior officials and Ministers, who should not be able to refuse to answer, unless it is a state secret or a matter of national defence, just because it is embarrassing or might reveal that the Government have made a mistake or wasted a lot of money—as if those things never happen. It is our job to tease out those things, and to do so we need direct accountability.
Our Ministers are normally very good, and they have to be, because Mr Speaker or the Deputy Speakers will grant urgent questions, or there will be a statement or a Question Time at which Ministers have to come and give answers. Ministers also normally come to Select Committees. The system is not perfect, but it is rather less satisfactory with senior officials, and there have been occasions when Select Committees have found it quite difficult to get access to very senior officials who know a great deal that is of public interest and should not be secret.
From my memory of my past life as a Minister, there was a bit too much secrecy in government, and there was a feeling in the official machine that everything that happened before a Minister made a statement was somehow private, whereas I felt it was often better to explain some of it. If I had made a 51:49 call but had a lot of sympathy with the 49%, because it was a collective decision, I found it helpful to explain to the House that I could see both sides of the argument, that we had to come down on one side or the other but that it was a marginal call. That is helpful to the House, but sometimes Ministers seem to think that the 51% call has to be put up as the only possible answer and all other answers are stupid, which does not make for good inquiries or for a good understanding of the difficult and sometimes messy business of government, in which Ministers often make imperfect decisions on insufficient information because a decision has to be made.
Something good can come out of this incident, which may be a more general recognition by this House that we need a stronger sanction for anyone in future who has no good reason for turning down a requirement to come as a witness. We need all UK citizens to feel they should come unless there is a compelling legal reason, but we need to be sensitive to the different categories of witnesses, and we need to have proportionate and sensible responses, according to how powerful a witness is and how much access they have to support and legal advice.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for this early opportunity to debate the report of the Committee of Privileges, which we published last week, and for tabling a motion in the terms requested by the Committee. She was good enough to inform me that she is not able to be present in the Chamber this afternoon to move the motion, and I thank the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) for doing so and for supporting the Committee’s report.
This case has proved rather protracted, for reasons I will come to, but it is essentially a very simple matter, so I will try to keep my remarks as brief as possible. As the hon. Gentleman outlined, Mr Cummings failed to obey, first, an order of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and, then, an order of the House itself to attend an oral evidence hearing. When the House referred this to the Privileges Committee as an alleged contempt, we agreed a resolution on process that is appended to our report. It is based on a resolution agreed by our predecessor Committee some years ago when considering the case of News International witnesses who were alleged to have committed a contempt by misleading a Select Committee. We have adhered strictly to the procedures set out in that resolution, even though it has had the effect of lengthening our inquiry.
We invited Mr Cummings to give oral evidence, but despite our giving him ample opportunity to agree a date, it proved impossible to do so. In an email to us, and again in his blog last week, Mr Cummings has made various mis-statements about this. I do not wish to detain the House unduly, but I want to put on public record a rebuttal of one or two of his assertions.
In his blog, Mr Cummings states, in relation to the date of a projected evidence session before the Committee of Privileges, as agreed in December:
“We tentatively agreed 31 Jan”
“they cancelled the hearing in January and declined to reschedule it”.
Our report sets out what actually happened. At the start of December we offered Mr Cummings a selection of dates for a hearing in January. In response, Mr Cummings told us that he would “probably” come on 31 January—the latest of the dates we offered—but that he would confirm before Christmas. He did not.
I wrote to Mr Cummings on 10 January, seeking confirmation. I received no reply. The Committee’s Clerk emailed him on 23 January, also seeking a response. He replied on 28 January:
“helo ive just seen this, I will reply this afternoon”.
There was no further reply. On 29 January, with two days to go until the proposed evidence session, and having had no confirmation that he would attend, the Committee met and decided that it had no alternative but to cancel the session and bring our inquiry to as rapid a conclusion as possible.
In his blog, Mr Cummings states:
“My last letter to the Committee of 26/2 is below. I got no answer...”
That is quite untrue. On 28 February, two days after his email, I wrote to him to respond in detail to his comments. I received no reply. All these letters, emails and responses are published on the Committee’s website.
At an earlier stage—this is similar to the experience of the DCMS Committee—Mr Cummings had insisted that all Members of Parliament taking part in the hearing should take an oath. I replied, pointing out that that would not possible; we were willing to administer the oath to him, at his own request, but the oath could be administered only to witnesses, just as in the law courts the judge and barristers do not take an oath. In his blog, he described that argument as “laughable”. He also says that the Committee
“replied that No, they didn’t want to promise to tell the truth and sadly they weren’t able to make such a promise(!) but would I come anyway”.
Those comments are completely fabricated. I will not continue outlining the exchanges; anyone who wishes to can read our full report, and the various letters and email exchanges published with it, and make up their own mind as to whether it was the Committee of Privileges or Mr Cummings who was behaving unreasonably.
Notwithstanding those responses from Mr Cummings, I want to assure the House that the Committee has done its very best to approach the case scrupulously. Our report assesses whether his conduct amounts to contempt of Parliament. It might seem obvious that a refusal to obey an order of the House, or of its Committees, is a contempt of Parliament. However, in certain exceptional circumstances it is conceivable that a prospective witness might be justified in declining to give evidence, if they have genuine grounds to fear that they would be treated unfairly, or that giving evidence might significantly prejudice future court proceedings against them.
The report considers the arguments advanced by Mr Cummings to see whether there were extenuating circumstances that might have justified his conduct, particular in relation to the risk of legal proceedings against him, which Government Members have mentioned today. The report concludes that the DCMS Committee had offered Mr Cummings a series of alternative dates for a hearing and that he had not supplied any evidence that he was at significant risk of criminal prosecution, or that suggested any significant flaw in that Committee’s inquiry or in its handling of witnesses. Legal inquiries into whether he or others might have been at risk of future criminal proceedings were assessed in the light of assurances that we received from regulators, which led us to understand that he himself was not facing criminal proceedings.
We agree with the DCMS Committee that Mr Cummings’s evidence would have been relevant to its inquiry—a few moments ago we heard more detail from the Committee’s Chair about why that would have been the case—and we agree that his refusal to attend was a significant interference with that Committee’s work. We conclude that he committed a contempt by his refusal to obey first the Committee’s order and then the House’s order. We recommend that he be admonished by resolution of the House, to be communicated to him by the Clerk of the House. We do not recommend the old practice of summoning him to the Bar, which we believe would merely give him an opportunity to grandstand. The motion before the House, in conjunction with the report that it approves, constitutes the admonishment. If agreed to, no further action by the House will be sought in this matter.
Finally—this point has been raised a number of times this afternoon—the report comments that
“the case of Mr Cummings has raised further questions as to the enforceability of the House’s powers and those of its committees to secure evidence”.
The Committee will therefore now return to its wider inquiry into these matters, referred to it in the previous Parliament, and we plan shortly to announce a series of oral evidence sessions. We hope to co-ordinate our inquiry with the Liaison Committee’s current inquiry into Select Committee effectiveness.
Will the hon. Lady’s Committee pursue comparisons to see what might be working more effectively in other democratic institutions?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that excellent suggestion. I urge right hon. and hon. Member to submit their own evidence to the Committee—we will shortly publish details on how that can be done.
It has been apparent to all of us for some time that the current situation is unsatisfactory. I acknowledge that admonishment is a fairly feeble sanction against an individual who does not appear to feel a sense of shame at his own behaviour. The historical punishments used by the House—fining and imprisonment—have not been used for many years and, although they have not been abolished, it is highly unlikely that any attempt to use them now would survive legal challenge. None of the alternative options—they may be summed up as doing nothing, attempting to assert the House’s rights through resolutions or changes to the Standing Orders, or legislating to confer powers on the House—is without objection, which is why the problem is still with us; if there was an easy answer, something would have been done a long time ago.
Notwithstanding that, the Committee wishes to canvass options vigorously, including, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) suggests, by looking at how other legislatures around the world have dealt with the issue. We will focus not only on ways of strengthening sanctions, but at ensuring, as we have striven to do in this inquiry, that the House is fair and scrupulous in the way it treats witnesses. We intend to report to the House with proposals as soon as possible.
I will conclude by placing on the record my thanks to my colleagues on the Privileges Committee for their assistance in bringing the report to the House, to the Leader of the House for tabling the motion, and to the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), for introducing the debate. I urge the House to support the motion.
When Mr Speaker gave the admonishment from the Chair, it clearly had an impact on the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who I think thought that it was perhaps targeted at him, given the reference to not making long speeches about matters that are not pertinent to the motion we are debating. I must say that I felt that, rather as with Mona Lisa’s eyes, Mr Speaker was indeed looking directly at me, given his reference to taking a “liberal pen” and crossing out great swathes of a speech. I have therefore written my speech on the back of the Order Paper.
Two minutes, then?
Absolutely—two minutes, or thereabouts.
This debate is clearly about the rights of the House and the consequences of failure to observe those rights. I am pleased that the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) opened the debate, because I would have had some reservations had the Leader of the House done so. She of course has a connection with the Vote Leave campaign, and in the circumstances it might have been inappropriate for her to open the debate. We have heard from—
Order. We are discussing somebody who is not here. I do not think it is quite fair to suggest what that person would or would not do. The right hon. Gentleman would be right to stick to his two minutes about the subject, rather than go into matters relating to the Leader of the House.
My speech may be a bit longer following that intervention, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I will stick to the subject in hand.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) did a good job of setting out exactly how arrogant Mr Cummings has been in relation to the inquiry and the false allegations he has made about the way he has interacted with the Committee. His lack of accountability rather fits a pattern of a lack of accountability in relation to the whole Vote Leave issue. I know I am not allowed to speak about that at any great length, but given the role that she played, perhaps the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should consider revisiting the appointment of Gisela Stuart as the chair of Wilton Park, which is in the business of promoting good governance around the world. Other key players in the campaign include the co-convenor of Vote Leave, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—
Order. We are not going to go through the people involved in the campaign. You were advised, Mr Brake, and you know much better than that. You are a much better politician and you do not want to test my patience or that of the House. Let us just move on with your two minutes.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Let me conclude. It is clear that the action the Committee has taken and that we are going to take today is entirely appropriate. As the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) said, it will send a message to others. It would certainly send a message to others if we did nothing. As others have expressed today, I have doubts about whether the panoply of powers or punishments we have at our disposal is sufficient, but it is right that we pass this motion today.
This motion is about basic respect for Parliament, for individual Members of Parliament and for Select Committees. Under the exemplary leadership of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), the DCMS Committee undertook an enormous task in carrying out the inquiry. Like all other Select Committees, the DCMS Committee is of course a cross-party group—we have Members from three separate political parties. We worked hard to produce two substantial reports that have been widely approved—by which I mean worldwide—and scrutinised very closely indeed. To obtain our evidence, we took oral evidence from a lot of individuals, many of whom were potentially under investigation, from businesses such as AggregateIQ, Cambridge Analytica and so forth. Under the Chair’s guidance, we exercised extremely seriously our responsibility to make sure that none of the individuals concerned, whom we thank for giving evidence, were prejudiced. We exercised judgment at different times about preventing evidence from being given that might in any way prejudice any other inquiries.
In response to that work, we have had the actions of this individual—I invite all Members present to look at the correspondence included in the two reports before the House—who shows utter contempt, first, for the Chairman of the Select Committee, which is completely uncalled for: and secondly, for the institution of Parliament. None of us here is anything without our office. We are elected to come here and to be impartial, honest and committed in the work that we undertake. All we ask for is basic human respect from those with whom we deal. If Members read the documentation and correspondence from this individual, they will see it is quite clear that he has utter contempt for Parliament, which is in many ways ironic.
We cannot allow to continue a situation in which individuals have such utter contempt. If, for example, during the period some years ago when I used to take part in magistrates courts proceedings and Crown court proceedings, this individual had corresponded with a judge in the terms in which he corresponded with the Chairman of the Select Committee and with Parliament, he would have ended up in the cells pretty sharpish. I am not suggesting that we do that, but I am interested in the work that is going to be undertaken from the position we are in, because frankly we need to put in place some form of procedure, which is not beyond the wit of man or, indeed, woman, to codify the process that needs to be followed in cases where Select Committees take important evidence. That is an urgent task, because we all undertake important work that we want to see done to the best of our abilities.
This is a case in which a contemptible person has behaved contemptuously towards this institution. He should be held properly accountable for that and a proper procedure should be put in place to make sure that the type of distain exhibited to this great Parliament should not be permitted again.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House—
(i) approves the First Report from the Committee of Privileges (HC 1490); and
(ii) endorses the conclusions of the Committee in respect of the conduct of Mr Dominic Cummings that the evidence sought by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee from Mr Cummings was relevant to its inquiry and that his refusal to attend constituted a significant interference with the work of that Committee; concludes that Mr Cummings committed a contempt both by his refusal to obey the Committee’s order to attend it and by his subsequent refusal to obey the House’s Order of 7 June 2018; and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct.
Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords] for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 18 December 2018 (Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords] (Programme)):
Consideration of Lords Message
(1) Proceedings on the Lords Message shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement.
(2) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(3) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Caroline Dinenage.)
Question agreed to.
Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords]
Consideration of Lords message
I should inform the House that neither Lords amendment in the message engages financial privilege. I remind the House that the motions relating to the Lords amendments in the message will be certified as relating exclusively to England and Wales. If the House divides on either of these motions, a double majority will be required for the motion to be passed.
Deprivation of liberty: code of practice
I beg to move,
That this House does not insist on its amendment 1 to which the Lords has disagreed, and disagrees with Lords amendment 1B proposed in lieu, but proposes amendment (a) to the Bill in lieu of the Lords amendment.
With this it will be convenient to consider the following:
That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 25A proposed to its amendment 25, but proposes amendments (a) and (b) to its amendment 25 in lieu of the Lords amendment.
We now have an opportunity to deliver reforms that will provide quicker and fuller access to protections for the 125,000 people who are not currently receiving them. That is 125,000 vulnerable people without the legal protection that they deserve, whose families do not have peace of mind, and whose care providers have no legal cover for supporting them. We now have an opportunity to rectify this situation.
In February, the other place considered the 56 amendments made to the Bill by the House of Commons, the vast majority of which were agreed with. However, the Lords tabled alternatives to two of the Commons amendments, and they are the focus of our discussions.
The Minister has rightly pointed out that the Bill will provide a great advantage to those who are directly affected. I do not want to be a total patsy for my local authority, but will she explain what the benefit will be for local authorities, which are responsible for trying to protect people’s welfare and safety?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. This issue has been a huge burden for local authorities: they have had to carry out multiple deprivation of liberty safeguards often for the same people and often when those people move from one setting to another. That involves a huge amount of bureaucracy and does not offer any better protection for the individuals concerned. The new service will enable local authorities to do this in a much more streamlined and efficient way. It will save them money and, at the same time, offer better protection for the individuals about whom we all care.
Lords amendment 1B was tabled by Baroness Tyler of Enfield to set out the meaning of a deprivation of liberty positively, rather than by using the exclusionary approach set out by the Government. Noble lords are, of course, absolutely right to want to ensure that any definition is understood by people and practitioners. However, a positive definition of a deprivation of liberty is likely to be subject to a legal challenge as article 5 case law evolves, and it would become unfit for purpose incredibly quickly. This is a view not only shared by the Government, but highlighted beautifully in the other place by the esteemed legal experts Lord Mackay and Lord Hope.
Lords amendment 1B does not link the definition of a deprivation of liberty to article 5 of the European convention on human rights, so creating a risk of the definition set out in statute diverging from the convention. This would mean that people who fall outside Parliament’s concept of deprivation of liberty but within the article 5 definition could not have their deprivation of liberty authorised under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. For those people, only the High Court would be available to authorise such a deprivation of liberty, which, in turn, would give rise to excessive delays in accessing vital safeguards.
That is precisely the situation that this piece of legislation looks to address—there are already too many people subject to delays when accessing safeguards, and we cannot introduce a provision that would further risk this.
Given that the Government have these concerns, we cannot agree with the noble lords in their amendment 1B. However, we know that concerns in the other place are reflected by many across the sector and we have taken that on board. We have listened carefully to the views of MPs, peers and other stakeholders and decided not to insist on amendment 1. Instead, I propose that the meaning of a deprivation of liberty will still be as defined under article 5 of the convention, as it is under section 64(5) of the Mental Capacity Act, but there will not be a clarification of the meaning of a deprivation of liberty in the Bill. The Bill will work alongside the rest of the Mental Capacity Act, so it does not impact on the existing definition.
I reassure the House that the Government are still absolutely committed to providing clarification regarding the meaning of a deprivation of liberty for both people and practitioners. We will use the code of practice to lay out in very clear terms and provide details of when a deprivation of liberty is and is not occurring, and this guidance will reflect existing case law. We will set out the meaning of a deprivation of liberty in a positive framing and in a way that is clearer for people and practitioners. We will also include case studies in the code to help bring this to life. Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 1B will prescribe that the code of practice must contain guidance on what kind of arrangements amount to a deprivation of liberty.
I thank the Minister for giving way and I am reassured by what she says. It would not be appropriate, for example, to put case studies on the front of a piece of primary legislation. Will she outline the timescale for bringing that code of practice forward?
The code of practice is being worked on as we speak. It is very important that we take it forward in partnership with all the key stakeholders and those who are involved at the front end implementing the liberty protection safeguards. Once we are all content that the code of practice is robust and fully covers everything that we want it to it will then be presented to both Houses of Parliament.
This will mean that the definition will be considered regularly. It will remain up to date with evolving case law. It means that we are laying a report of the review before Parliament and that there will be a review within three years of the measure coming into force to ensure that it is working as intended. The review will extend to all the guidance related to the liberty protection safeguards contained in the code of practice and not just the definition. By regularly reviewing the code in this way, we will ensure that there is up-to-date guidance for people and practitioners and this will support the successful operation of the liberty protection safeguard system.
The amendment will ensure that the code clarifies when a deprivation of liberty does or does not apply and provide useful guidance for families, carers and professionals while also ensuring that we do not put a definition in statute that conflicts with article 5 of the convention and I ask the House for its support in this.
I shall briefly turn to Lords amendment 25A, which was tabled in the other place with the admirable aim of ensuring that the authorisation record is provided to the individual and other relevant persons in a timely manner. This followed the Government amendment that clarified the responsible body’s duty to provide information to the person and other relevant persons. Noble lords amended the Bill to specify that a record must be kept if the authorisation record is not provided immediately. If the authorisation record is not provided to the person within 72 hours then a review must be conducted.
The Government agree that it is very important to make sure that the authorisation process record is provided quickly. However, there are some issues with Lords amendment 25A that need to be addressed before it can be put into statute. For example, it does not make a specific person or organisation responsible for recording that an authorisation record has not been provided for completing a review, so the duty cannot be enforced. Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords Amendment 25A states:
“After authorisation arrangements, the responsible body must, without delay, arrange for a copy of the authorisation record to be given or sent.”
Government amendment (b) in lieu will ensure that if the responsible body has not done this within 72 hours of the arrangements being authorised, it must review and record why this has not happened. Providing information, including in the authorisation record, is so important to ensure that people are able to exercise their rights. The Government have listened and reflected on the concerns of the other place and have brought forward this amendment. I ask that the House supports it.
Finally, I take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to the Members of both Houses. We set out to consult very widely on this piece of legislation and to listen very carefully to the concerns of both Houses. Both Houses have very carefully scrutinised this crucial piece of legislation. I also thank many of the stakeholders who have supported its development. I thank the Bill team, particularly the Bill manager Sharon Egan, and officials across the UK and Welsh Governments who have worked with the team to deliver this reform. I thank, too, the legal team and my private secretary Flora Henderson. It is through a great deal of dedication and hard work that we will be able to rectify a failing system and provide protections to the 125,000 vulnerable people for whom it currently falls well short.
When we last debated this Bill, I was clear that Labour did not think that the Bill was adequate to become law. The Minister has just expressed her thanks, but we did make it clear that it contained a number of serious flaws and this still remains the case. While improvements have been made in the House of Lords, they do not fix many of the concerns that we still have with this Bill.
The Bill still places more power than it should in the hands of care home managers. From organising assessments to carrying out consultations with the cared-for person, the Bill means that an untrained, or an ineffective, care home manager could end up carrying out the process in a flawed or improper way.
Recently, there was a focus on the scandal of abuse that happened at the Mendip House Care Home in Somerset, with six autistic residents with complex needs. The Safeguarding Adults Review carried out by the Somerset safeguarding board revealed a host of management failures by the National Autistic Society. The registered manager of that particular care home did not address the unprofessional behaviour of a thuggish gang of male staff. This resulted in the following abuse being meted out to the residents of Mendip House: they were “ridden like horses” by staff; forced to crawl on all fours; made to eat raw chillies; and, in one horrific instance, forced to eat food spiked with mustard, which caused the resident to vomit. The resident was then made by a member of staff to drink that vomit.
People living in Mendip House had complex needs and all would have lacked capacity to make certain decisions and all required deprivation of liberty safeguards. The Care Quality Commission had not receive any notifications that DoLS had been authorised. On care planning and recording, the review report on Mendip House states:
“Care plans were very poor with no mental health or Best Interests assessments recorded... DoLS not being followed.... recording poor, plans out of date...”
The Minister has previously said that, through this Bill, the Government
“are ensuring that people’s wishes are always considered and respected, and that people are safe, cared for and looked after.”—[Official Report, 18 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 757.]
But I have just cited a case where the care home manager neglected both care planning and safeguarding, so what steps will the Minister take to investigate what happened at Mendip House? Will she ensure that such behaviour does not continue under the provisions of this Bill, given that so much power is given to care home managers? Today is World Autism Awareness Day, and we must do more than pay lip service to showing solidarity with autistic people.
A further flaw is that the Bill could restrict access to independent advocates, which is an important safeguard. However, the granting of an independent advocate is not automatic. An overstretched local authority lacking the budget to pay for advocates following years of Government budget cuts could find itself unable to grant an advocate to everyone who needs one.
It is also still the case that the Bill does not give adequate protection to 16 and 17-year-olds who are subject to the liberty protection safeguards. Specifically, it does not grant their parents a right to veto arrangements that they feel are inappropriate. There remains a real danger that these young people will be detained, despite their parents’ objecting to the arrangements. I stress that this is not only an issue for 16 and 17-year-olds, as many young people who have learning disabilities and are going to be subject to this Bill will still be largely reliant on their parents for support and advice. Cases that we discussed in Committee, such as those of Steven Neary and Oliver McGowan, have shown us that parents can find themselves cut out of the process, with their views made secondary to those of clinicians or care staff. That risks real harm to the younger people who lack capacity.
On the crucial issues of care home managers, advocacy and young people—as on many other issues—the Government did not see the value of the amendments that we tabled. I am sure that we will be back here in the future, debating legislation to rectify these flaws in the Bill, but we still have a duty to try to improve the Bill where we can today. I am glad to say that the Government appear to have made some sensible concessions on areas of the Bill that are still to be finalised.
I would like to pay tribute, as the Minister has done, to the people who have worked on the Bill, especially my Labour colleagues who have worked so hard to try to improve this legislation. In particular, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), for Stockton South (Dr Williams), for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) for all their valuable contributions in Committee and on Report. I also thank our wonderful Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), who is sitting on the Front Bench now. In the House of Lords, I thank Baroness Thornton, Baroness Wheeler, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and all Labour peers across the House of Lords who have persistently made the case against the Government’s approach to reforming this very complex legislation. They have always had in mind the interests of cared-for people, their families and those who work in the social care sector.
I turn to Lords amendment 1B and the Government’s amendment to it, which contains two elements. The first removes the definition of deprivation of liberty from the Bill. The second is a commitment to regular reviews of this definition, as the Minister has just outlined. It is to be welcomed that the Government have relented and removed their previous definition from the Bill, as that definition pleased nobody and added nothing. The definition of deprivation of liberty is set out in European law. Nothing that we do in this place will change what article 5 determines is a deprivation of liberty; neither the Government’s initial definition nor Lords amendment 1B can determine that something is not a deprivation liberty for the purposes of article 5 of the European convention on human rights. In fact, all this amendment will do is decide who can be subject to a liberty protection safeguard, and thus who receives the safeguards that the scheme provides.
Submissions to the Public Bill Committee from DoLS leads and other practitioners made it clear that they did not feel that a definition was needed on the face of the Bill. Those professionals felt that they already had a sufficient understanding of the relevant case law, and that the definition would be superfluous—so the Government’s definition was not for practitioners. The reason that the Lords pushed for a definition initially was to clear up confusion among lay people as to what constituted a deprivation of liberty, but the Government’s definition was far too complicated to be understood by cared-for people and their families. The Government knew this but would not simplify it further, saying that simplification was for the code of practice.
Given that the initial definition served nobody—professionals felt it was superfluous and that others would not be able to understand it—the only remaining explanation for its usefulness was that it redefined the scope of deprivation of liberty, and thus reduced the burden of applications by removing people from the scope of the LPS. The Government would have had more success if they had paused the Bill and engaged in a detailed consultation on what the definition should have looked like. However, since day one the Government have been determined to drive this Bill through as fast as they can. Ministers have ignored many calls for a pause or to take a more measured approach. Those calls have come not just from Members in this place and the House of Lords, but from over 100 charities and user-led organisations. The Government did not listen. They seemed less concerned with implementing the right reforms, and more with implementing reforms right away. That is never the right way to make or amend law. I am glad that the Government have now changed their approach and removed their initial definition.
I will say a brief word about the definition tabled by Baroness Tyler in the House of Lords. She recognised that her definition was not perfect as she introduced it, but it was clearly a starting point around which a better definition could be constructed. Baroness Tyler’s definition had the major advantage that it was easily understandable to someone without extensive legal experience. In removing it, we have to acknowledge that we are making the Bill less easily understood. As we have heard, the Government’s solution is to ensure that the code of practice contains easily comprehensible guidance on what is and is not a deprivation of liberty. For this solution to be workable, we must ensure that the guidance is written in a way that can be easily understood by a layperson. It is not reasonable to expect cared-for people or their families to wade through strings of double negatives or endless pages of case studies. I hope that the Government will take this on board as they move forward with the promised code of practice for the LPS.
We still have some reservations about Government amendment (a) to Lords amendment 1B. It places far more weight on the code of practice, which means that we are voting not on a firm proposal, but on a promise that details will be forthcoming at a point in the future. I am sure that other Labour Members will agree that that is not the way we should be asked to make decisions. To judge the merits of the Government’s new amendment, we need to see the guidance that they are promising. If the guidance contains all the problems that the Government’s definition did, we will simply have moved the problem out of the Bill and into the code of practice.
When the Bill was in Committee, I was made aware that a set of case studies had been produced, containing guidance on what did and did not constitute deprivation of liberty. The case studies were apparently intended to be a draft section of the final code of practice, but they were not widely circulated and were clearly not a final product. Had the Government laid this document or something similar before the House ahead of today, we would not be considering this amendment blindly, as we are now being asked to do.
The second part of the Government’s amendment is a positive development. We are dealing with an area that is ultimately governed by an evolving body of case law. Indeed, the reason we are here today is that the original Mental Capacity Act was inflexible on this point. The judgment of the Supreme Court in P v. Cheshire West and Chester Council redrew the boundaries of the definition of deprivation of liberty. Significantly, it brought people in domestic settings into the scope of article 5 for the first time, but the Mental Capacity Act contained no provisions for these circumstances. The Act’s code of practice was suddenly out of date, and people were left unsure as to what constituted a deprivation of liberty. This resulted in large numbers of blanket applications, many of which may not have been needed. The combination of those two factors produced a surge in applications, adding to the backlog that we still see today. If the Government in 2014 had updated the code of practice, they may well have helped to avoid care home managers making blanket applications for all their residents, regardless of whether those applications were justified.
Government amendment (a) to Lords amendment 1B, says that regular reviews must be prepared and laid before Parliament, examining the operation of the guidance contained in the code of practice. Obviously, these reviews will only be useful if the codes are then updated. Will the Minister confirm what plans there will be to remedy any future problems with the code of practice? Regular reviews of the code of practice are welcome, and will help to align the code with case law. However, as was the case in Committee, we still have not seen the code of practice. It is all very well the Government saying that they will review it, but we have no idea what they will be reviewing. We are still having to ask to see documents that are fundamental to the operation of the new system, and that is simply not acceptable. Despite those reservations, we will not oppose amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 1B. We recognise that the Government have finally seen sense and have practical steps to allay our concerns.
Lords amendment 25A is much needed, and I am glad that the Government have accepted the principle behind it. When the Bill was in Committee, the Government introduced a requirement for the cared-for person and others to receive a copy of the LPS authorisation record “as soon as practicable” after authorisation has been granted, and I want to give just one example of why it is so important that people know as soon as possible what is happening in cases of deprivation of liberty: the tragic case of Oliver McGowan. The Minister is familiar with the case, and I understand she recently met Oliver’s mother Paula again, as I did last week.
Oliver McGowan, a young man, died because he was given antipsychotic medication to which he reacted badly, despite express warnings about its possible effect on him. What we only found out recently is that the Mental Capacity Act 2005 was not used appropriately in Oliver’s case. The DoLS authorisation for his treatment was applied for after he was given the antipsychotic drug Olanzapine against his express wishes and those of his parents. He suffered an adverse reaction to the drug which led to his death. His family were not aware of the DoLS authorisation at the time, and it was only at the second coroner’s pre-inquest review, a year after Oliver’s death, that his parents found out about it.
The learning disabilities mortality review of Oliver’s death—I am sure that the Minister would agree that it was a flawed process itself—raised concerns about the lack of a best-interest decision meeting taking place when there had been a dispute about Oliver’s treatment. Paula McGowan told me that the 2005 Act
“was not applied during Oliver’s time in Southmead Hospital and we were not listened to.”
That is what Lords amendment 25A is trying to guard against—a situation in which a person is held under a DoLS for weeks without the legal basis for detaining them being explained to their parents or family members. Taken in conjunction with other rights to information contained in the Bill, the amendment will help to ensure that the cared-for person and their family can understand the process to which they are subject.
Lords amendment 25A sets a tangible limit on how long the meaning of “as soon as practicable” can apply in relation to the cared-for person and others receiving a copy of the LPS authorisation. That is important, because overstretched medical and care staff may be undertaking the task, but they may have many priorities competing for their time. In such a situation, it is all too easy to see that what is essentially an administrative step, such as giving a copy of an LPS authorisation record, could be deprioritised and not happen, which is unacceptable.
The authorisation record could be important in enabling the cared-for person and their family members to understand the effect of the LPS. Moreover, it will inevitably form the basis of any appeals against the granting of the LPS. It is hard to imagine an appeal against an authorisation being embarked upon before the cared-for person knows what decision has been made and why. As such, excessive waits for the authorisation record will act as a de facto block to appeals being launched immediately.
Lords amendment 25A sets a firm time limit of 72 hours for the authorisation record to be provided to the cared-for person and others. If that time limit is exceeded, there must be an investigation. The Government’s amendment (b) to amendment 25 in lieu of Lords amendment 25A retains that important mechanism. In practice, it would incentivise professionals to meet their obligations to provide information to cared-for people and their families. We feel that a time limit is the best way to ensure that that is not forgotten.
As I said at the start, we support Lords amendment 25A, and I am glad that the Government have accepted the principle behind it. As such, we will not oppose Government amendments (a) and (b).
I call Kevin Foster.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a particular pleasure to called by you to speak in the Chamber. It is also a pleasure to speak in this debate to reflect briefly on a bit of the background as to why we need this Bill. Some 125,000 people are effectively subjected to this procedure but without the appropriate legal safeguards, so I welcome the fact that both Houses are now looking to support the Bill.
I welcome the Government amendments that have been tabled in lieu of the Lords amendments, and they take on their main thrust and spirit. As I touched on in my intervention on the Minister, it will be interesting to see the timescale for bringing in the code of practice. I accept that it needs to be done properly and be consulted on and that there must be appropriate case studies, but one of the reasons for supporting this Bill is to see that come forward relatively quickly so that there is certainty. Perhaps the Minister will put a letter in the Library that sets out the timescale.
I would not expect to hear a date picked out of the air and stated on the Floor of the House—that would be unreasonable and inappropriate—but it would be useful to get a sense of the timescale, because I assume that we are talking about months, not weeks or years. It would be inappropriate to include specific examples on the face of the Bill, but it right that the amendments look towards the creation of a clear code of practice and review, providing the opportunity for the House to consider any reviews and hold Ministers to account, because this legislation relates to our most basic right: the right to choose where we live and what we do with our time.
I listened carefully to the shadow Minister, who discussed how to regulate care homes and to ensure that standards are applied. I am not suggesting that every consultation should be carried out by someone from the local authority. Indeed, as I said at an earlier stage of the Bill, it may be more appropriate for a carer who knows the person well to carry out part of the consultation rather than having someone turn up from the council. Again, this is about how to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained. I will keep to the amendments, but we could have a longer debate about how to ensure that regulatory standards are where they need to be.
In the example I gave, residents who had lived in a care home for a long period had a manager who did not keep their care plans or any documentation, and they suffered terrible abuse. Such things do go on, and I am still concerned that we are giving responsibility to people who are already overstretched and may not be doing or may be unable to do a good job.
I accept the point. However, the hon. Lady’s example is not just about standards being ignored, because there was a raft of, bluntly, criminal behaviour and abuse. If we were having a longer debate about care homes and the regulatory system, we could look at whether having the Care Quality Commission cover such a wide range of areas is the best way of ensuring that such things do not happen, but Mr Deputy Speaker is always keen for us to stick to the topic of the debate.
The amendments relating to Lords amendment 1B are appropriate and slightly better than the original, and the amendments relating to Lords amendment 25A make eminent sense. It makes sense to record why something has not happened, because if there are concerns about the management of a care home, there should be a duty to record why something was not done, not just to review it. The management could in theory say, “I’ve reviewed it, but I didn’t record what I’ve concluded,” or try to come up with a conclusion later.
On recording things, one issue that arose when we were in Committee related to fluctuating conditions. For example, if somebody were subject to a DoLS, but then medical evidence demonstrated that they could be released from it, that makes it even more important to ensure that records are kept and that there is absolute clarity around the reasons for deprivation of liberty.
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. We should not just assume that once a DoLS is in place it will be there for life. For some people, it may apply during a particular period of treatment or time, and things will fluctuate for some people if they recover to a point at which a DoLS is no longer appropriate because they are able to make their own decisions. As he says, the appropriate records must be kept to ensure that that is properly reviewed and borne in mind, so that a decision cannot be made that someone should be subject to this forever. There should be a rolling review, to ensure that those in charge of caring for a person and those overseeing the care are satisfied that it is still the appropriate measure, given its impact on the person’s life.
I do not wish to prolong the debate, given that there is consensus across the House, which is welcome. The Bill will be better for having these substitute amendments, inspired by the Lords amendments, and on that basis, I hope the House will endorse them.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), as I do on many occasions. I agree with what he said. First, I thank the Minister for her commitment, for our comprehensive discussions and for making herself available for each and every person who wished to have input into this process, and hopefully the changes that the Government want to see will be passed.
The Government have gone to some lengths to ensure that this Bill replaces and improves existing legislation surrounding the deprivation of liberty as a matter of pressing urgency. The current system is not fit for purpose—many people in this Chamber and outside it feel that—and this legislative change by the Government is what we want to see.
The Bill implements the Law Commission’s recommendations, introducing a new system for people who lack capacity and need to be confined for care and treatment, ensuring that the system protects vulnerable people, is person-centred and includes a strong role for carers and families. I have had a chat with the Minister about this, and the Bill will also ensure that supported people and their families are supported and included throughout the process. That is very positive.
The supported person will be afforded their rights throughout the process by an appropriate person. The appropriate person will normally be a family member. Carers and families will be given a stronger role, with an explicit duty to consult with them and the supported person. As someone who cares, along with my mother and son and others, for my brother Keith, who was in a motorbike accident some 15 years ago, I know the importance of the carer’s role across the whole process.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. For far too long, families have been left out of the equation when they should have been involved. There is an argument for looking at carers’ training and their suitability, perhaps through certification, because there have been lots of cases of abuse in the past. It has gone on for years, and we have to pay particular attention to that. The Care Quality Commission should be improved; it does not have the numbers to do the job. I often follow its reports in Coventry, so I have a good idea of its needs. Does he agree that those areas could be looked at?
I certainly do. The Minister has responded to the concerns of the hon. Gentleman, myself and others in a spirit of generosity, and perhaps this legislative change does that.
I welcome moves taken to make the definition of deprivation of liberty as strong as possible. What the Government have done is clear. It is vital that the definition links back to the European convention on human rights and provides a sturdy basis to protect vulnerable people. That is good news.
Members have referred to the 125,000 people who are currently deprived of their liberty without the necessary protections in place. Through this legislative change—which will not be opposed; a very helpful attitude has been adopted in the House of Lords and on both sides of this House—can the Minister indicate what will be done to reduce the backlog?
The Government have been lobbied and have consulted the Local Government Association, charitable bodies and other interested people and groups. As a result, we have a vital opportunity for long-awaited reform, and the Bill needs to be passed.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I gave you my commitment that this would be a short contribution, and I intend to keep to that. I want to finish with two quick questions to the Minister. Can she explain how the role of an appropriate person will support and protect vulnerable people in the proposed new system? Secondly, will she confirm that the needs of the supported person and their families will be put first?
Just to help, the Minister would need leave to respond to those questions, so the hon. Gentleman is putting pressure on for something that is not available at the moment.
I would never put pressure on the Minister—not in a million years; I know my place. I suggest gently to her that those two things could be looked at.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who makes such thoughtful contributions. I will be brief, as we appear to have a large amount of consensus on this piece of legislation.
First, I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for the work she has done on the Bill, her extremely consensual approach to it and the way she has listened to concerns from Members on both sides of the House and consulted stakeholders widely. It has been a real pleasure to work with her on the Bill, and I thank her for that.
This Bill is critical because it concerns some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We have talked about the fact that there are 125,000 people waiting to be processed for deprivation of liberty orders, and the system is not working, but there are 2 million people who have impaired mental capacity in the country, and we need to get the system right for all of them, not just the 125,000 who are being let down by the current system.
It is also important to say that the Bill builds on more than three years of work and the recommendations of the Law Commission. It has been fully scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the other place has contributed to it, as have members of the Bill Committee. I have received many emails in support of the fact that it introduces a better system, gets rid of the bureaucratic box-ticking exercises in the old system and should be better for both the individuals who are deprived of their liberty and their families.
The work that was done for three years was on a 15-clause Bill that is not this Bill. We discussed that plenty of times in Committee. I think it only fair to be accurate. This five-clause Bill is not the Bill that was consulted on, and it is not the Bill that had three years of work. It is not correct to claim that it is. We spent a lot of time in Committee trying to put right the things that were missing and taken out of the earlier 15-clause Bill, and it is better to be accurate about that.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Broadly, I was attempting to say that a significant amount of work has gone into this. I have heard overwhelmingly from those working in the sector about the importance of doing something about the current situation, because it is not working and cannot be allowed to continue. This is urgent.
It is right that the NHS and social care providers will be given a bigger role in the decision-making process, so that people under their care receive better care and their rights are protected. The fact that we have people outside the system unprotected at the moment clearly cannot be right and cannot continue. During the passage of the Bill, I raised concerns about how it will work for people with fluctuating conditions, and I have been reassured by the Minister that responsible bodies will be required to keep individuals’ circumstances under review. I welcome the fact that there is further detailed guidance on fluctuating conditions in the code of practice.
I turn to the amendments and particularly the debate about the best way to define “deprivation of liberty”. It feels like a sensible conclusion has been reached in order for us to move forward, with a plan to develop the definition further through the code of practice. These things evolve and are extremely complex, and we need a flexible system that meets the needs of our society.
To sum up, the old system is not fit for purpose. The Bill makes important and timely amendments. It is better for individuals and all those around them to ensure that they have appropriate protections for the very serious matter of depriving individuals of liberty.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House does not insist on its amendment 1 to which the Lords has disagreed, and disagrees with Lords amendment 1B proposed in lieu, but proposes amendment (a) to the Bill in lieu of the Lords amendment.
That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 25A proposed to its amendment 25, but proposes amendments (a) and (b) to its amendment 25 in lieu of the Lords amendment.—(Jo Churchill.)
Exiting the European Union (Consumer Protection)
I beg to move,
That the draft Geo-Blocking Regulation (Revocation) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 14 March, be approved.
The statutory instrument will revoke both EU regulation 2018/302 and the Geo-Blocking (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 in the event of the UK exiting the EU without a withdrawal agreement. This recognises that in the event of a no-deal exit from the EU, there will be no way to enforce effectively the geo-blocking regulation on behalf of UK consumers.
Geo-blocking is the term used to describe traders discriminating against customers on the basis of nationality or of the location of the customer. The EU’s geo-blocking regulation prohibits certain forms of geo-blocking, including through mandating access to all versions of a website in the EU, preventing discrimination between EU customers when distance shopping online or otherwise, and preventing discrimination in the payment terms accepted. This regulation came into force on 3 December 2018. The geo-blocking regulation does not apply to copyrighted online content, such as movies, e-books and video games.
The Geo-Blocking (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 enabled the domestic enforcement of the geo-blocking regulation. The regulations gave powers to certain regulators and acknowledged the right of customers to bring claims directly against infringing traders. These regulations came into force on the same day as the geo-blocking regulation. In the event of a no-deal exit from the EU, the geo-blocking regulation will be transposed directly into UK law, under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as retained EU law. The Geo-Blocking (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 will also continue to have effect after a no-deal exit, unless revoked.
It is necessary to revoke both these pieces of legislation as it will not be possible to enforce effectively the geo-blocking regulation on behalf of UK customers after a no-deal exit from the EU. This is because EU regulators will no longer be obliged to bring action against businesses through EU mechanisms for cross-border co-operation; UK civil and commercial judgments would no longer be automatically enforced in EU member states and courts; and the UK Government cannot unilaterally enforce the geo-blocking regulation across the EU.
Given that geo-blocking cannot be enforced unilaterally by the UK across the EU in the event of a no deal, it is not possible to replicate the geo-blocking regulation’s benefits for UK consumers in domestic law. The provisions of the geo-blocking regulation do not apply to transactions occurring solely within one country. Therefore, there is no benefit to UK consumers in retaining a version of the geo-blocking regulation that applies only to the UK.
I have a genuine question: will the Minister tell us how we can protect the British consumer in that particular situation?
We are debating a no-deal SI, and leaving the European Union means that the law is disapplied, so by leaving the European Union we are moving out of those protections.
Furthermore, if we do not revoke the geo-blocking regulation, it would result in a competitive disadvantage for UK traders. They would have to continue giving EU consumers preferential treatment, while EU traders would not need to do the same for UK customers. To avoid this, which is in the EU’s favour, we propose revoking the geo-blocking regulation in the UK.
The effect of this statutory instrument is simple. The retained EU law version of the geo-blocking regulation and the Geo-Blocking (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 will be revoked in the event of a no-deal exit from the EU. The substantive rules contained in the geo-blocking regulation will no longer have effect in the UK after that regulation is revoked. It is important to note, however, that this legislation will continue to operate in the EU. As such, UK businesses operating in EU markets will still have to comply with the EU regulation when dealing with EU consumers.
The changes made to schedule 13 to the Enterprise Act 2002 by the Geo-Blocking (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 were undone by a separate statutory instrument, the Consumer Protection (Enforcement) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. Those regulations were debated and approved by the House on 30 January and were made on 6 February 2019.
The Geo-Blocking (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 enable the domestic enforcement of the geo-blocking regulation. They also provide for UK customers to bring claims directly against traders that breach the geo-blocking regulation. As the intention is to revoke the geo-blocking regulation in the UK and UK customers will not be able to rely on it thereafter, such provisions would serve no purpose.
A failure to revoke the geo-blocking regulation and the Geo-Blocking (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 would not preserve UK customers’ consumer rights. Those rights will in effect be lost if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The only effect would be to continue to impose obligations on UK traders while providing no benefit to UK customers.
The subject matter of this statutory instrument is partially devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The statutory instrument has been consented to by the Welsh and Scottish Administrations, and the Northern Ireland civil service was notified in line with the protocol agreement in place during the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive. I would like to take this opportunity warmly to thank the devolved Administrations and the Northern Ireland civil service for their ongoing co-operation.
I rise as a former Chairman of the Subordinate Legislation Committee in the Scottish Parliament. The Minister has mentioned the co-operation at civil service level. May I have the safety of an assurance that there is similar co-operation at political level between those who handle statutory instruments in Westminster and those who do a similar thing in Holyrood?
I would like to outline the fact that this was given political consent: the Minister in Scotland wrote to us to give his consent for the statutory instrument.
In conclusion, the statutory instrument simply recognises the practical effect of a no-deal exit from the EU. The Government are seeking to ensure that UK traders are not unfairly subject to rules that do not benefit UK customers.
I thank the Minister for her opening remarks. She set out exactly what the existing regulations do and, to be entirely honest, what she is proposing in the case of no deal makes perfect sense. The regulations before us revoke the existing regulations that prevent undue discrimination across the European Union by the blocking of consumers in one country from accessing websites in another member state or by redirection to the member state of the consumer.
A number of questions arise from the Minister’s remarks and from at least one of the interventions she took. She spoke about the fact that these regulations are relevant only in the event of no deal. When she responds to the debate, will the Minister confirm that, if a deal is agreed, the Government have no intention of revoking these or similar regulations? She is engaged in a conversation at the moment, so I hope she heard that question.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), who is no longer in his place, asked the Minister a very good question about how UK consumers will be protected in the event of no deal. His question highlighted just how important it is that we do everything in our power, particularly in these next 10 days, to avoid the disaster of crashing out with no deal. That is the best way in which to avoid having to revoke the regulation.