House of Commons
Tuesday 9 April 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Fuel Duty: Hauliers
Fuel duty has been frozen for nine consecutive years, saving money for all those who regularly use our roads. I can confirm that the average road haulier has saved £23,300 per vehicle on fuel since 2010 compared with the pre-2010 escalator plan. However, the benefits to hauliers and motorists of freezing fuel duty must be balanced against the cost to the Exchequer in the context of our need to fund our public services, so we continue to keep it under review.
Hauliers have definitely been a major beneficiary of the duty freeze, but will my right hon. Friend consider helping the industry further by investing in a new motorway junction between junctions 25 and 26 of the M1 to help improve connectivity throughout the east midlands?
From 2020, all English road tax will be spent on our roads via a dedicated national roads fund—that will be £28.8 billion between 2020 and 2025, including £25.3 billion for strategic roads. We have spent £120 million on the recently opened smart motorway between junctions 23a and 25 of the M1, which will reduce congestion, but we will, of course, continue to take into account the need for connectivity in planning future roads investment in the east midlands.
The Chancellor says this needs to be balanced against the needs of the Exchequer, but what about the needs of the environment? What effects have we seen during the period of the freeze, with the failure to tackle emissions and with the road transport sector in particular failing compared with others?
We have an extremely good track record on decarbonising our economy. We have set extremely ambitious targets, and we are ahead of all our significant competitors in delivering them.
The freeze in fuel duty has helped hauliers across Essex, but of course there is another measure that could help our hauliers and businesses even more, which would be to dual the A120. Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Department for Transport to see how we can use the taxes raised to get this road dualled?
Never a Treasury questions goes by without my right hon. Friend raising the dualling of the A120. Of course we have a very large fund available, with £25.3 billion for strategic roads, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is well aware of the compelling arguments in favour of dualling the A120.
What tax breaks is the Chancellor putting in place so that hauliers are able to continue through the uncertainty on contracts during the transition period as we leave Europe?
As I have already mentioned, hauliers have benefited very significantly from the freeze in fuel duty, but the hon. Gentleman asks a wider question. If we were to find ourselves leaving the European Union without a deal—a situation that I sincerely hope will not arise—we have a full range of tools available to us, including all the usual tools of fiscal policy. I have headroom within the fiscal rules of just under £27 billion, as I set out at the spring statement, and the Government will work closely with the Bank of England in those circumstances to ensure that fiscal and monetary policy are used to support the UK economy.
As vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fair fuel for UK motorists and UK hauliers, the voice of Kirstene Hair must be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Of course, hauliers and motorists warmly welcome the fuel duty freeze, but they are concerned about the disparity in fuel costs across the country and the impact of the cost of oil—they are not seeing that at the pumps. Will the Chancellor, or a member of his ministerial team, meet me to discuss an independent fuel price regulator and to see whether we can sort out these issues?
We have a marketplace in fuel in this country, but I understand my hon. Friend’s point. I am sure the Exchequer Secretary would be very happy to meet her to discuss it.
When she is not busy vice-chairing the all-party group.
I chair Labour’s Back-Bench environment, food and rural affairs committee.
The Chancellor always impresses me. He is thoughtful, and I like him a lot. He is thoughtful on Europe and on the environment, but can I take him back to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) said? Is it not about time we had a modern taxation system that encourages sustainable transport? We are killing kids and poisoning pregnant women. We know that air pollution is of the utmost importance. I appeal to the Chancellor’s radical instinct: let us have a new form of sustainable taxation.
I am bemused by the disappearance of Mr Angry, who I am quite used to dealing with at the Dispatch Box. As I said earlier, we have a good track record on decarbonisation and addressing air quality challenges. We provide substantial support for ultra low emission vehicles, we have a highly differentiated vehicle excise duty and company car tax regime, which encourages the purchase of the cleanest and most efficient vehicles, and we will go on seeking to change behaviour through a carefully constructed tax system.
Manufacturing Output Levels
Manufacturing output has grown by 8.3% since the start of 2010, having fallen sharply as a result of the financial crisis. The manufacturing sector has seen productivity increase more than three times faster than the UK economy as a whole over the past 10 years. It accounts for almost half of UK exports, and directly employs 2.6 million people.
According to Make UK, we now have the highest level of manufacturing stockpiling of any country in the G7 ever. The chamber of commerce tells me that, in the north-east, stockpiling is putting huge pressure on warehousing and cash flow. That is a direct consequence of Brexit uncertainty. What additional support will the Minister offer to manufacturers? I asked a similar question of the Brexit Minister last week, and he did not seem to know what I was talking about. Will the Minister acknowledge the link between manufacturing output, stockpiling, cash flow and financial viability?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and other Treasury Ministers are working with the banks, which tell us that they are making funds available to businesses that need support as their cash flow is under pressure and need working capital in the months ahead. Of course, the best service that any of us in this House can do for manufacturers and businesses across the United Kingdom is to support a negotiated exit from the European Union as soon as possible.
Building on the previous question, I am told that manufacturing output in Plymouth is holding up well, but that is partly due to customers purchasing to stockpile because of Brexit uncertainty. That may result in a lack of demand once we get Brexit over the line, if we ever do so. Have the Government given any thought to supporting manufacturing businesses through any short-term downturn that paradoxically might occur once we get Brexit over the line?
The Treasury and other Departments have advanced plans to support the manufacturing sector should that be required in the event of a no-deal exit. The evidence we see shows that, if we can secure a negotiated exit, there is a great deal of business investment waiting to go back into the economy. This year could turn out to be a strong one for the British economy, if only we can secure the deal.
Does the Treasury acknowledge the wisdom in the letter that the Engineering Employers’ Federation, which represents 20,000 companies and 1 million workers, sent to the Prime Minister yesterday? It spoke of the renaissance of manufacturing in the earlier part of the decade, but is now expressing despair and is asking simply for the revocation of article 50.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to support this country’s manufacturing sector, he and his colleagues should support a deal so we can leave the European Union in an orderly fashion. We are taking a number of important steps to support manufacturing, including increasing the annual investment allowance from £200,000 a year to £1 million, making research and development tax credits more generous, and backing schemes such as “Make Smarter”, which help the manufacturing sector to embrace automation and digital technology and move forward with confidence.
Can the Minister confirm that, despite the Brexit uncertainty, Britain remains the second best country in the whole world for foreign direct investment?
I can confirm that. The UK remains the European leader for foreign direct investment, venture capital investment and tech investment. Even in manufacturing, which is under a certain degree of strain, the UK remains the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world.
“Strain” is not the word. In the real world, production and manufacturing output remained 6.8% and 2.7% lower respectively in the three months to January 2019, compared with pre-downturn GDP in the first quarter of 2008. After nine years of policy failure, should the Chancellor and his team not stop throwing spanners in the manufacturing works and instead oil the machine?
Not at all. Manufacturing exports are up 35% since 2010. We are investing in the manufacturing sector through our industrial strategy. We are creating a tax system that is pro-business. We are reducing corporate taxes to amongst the lowest in the developed world. The hon. Gentleman would do the opposite and reverse that. The very clear message that businesses give us, particularly international investors in this country, is that the threat of a hard left Labour Government dwarfs the risk of a Brexit outcome. We want to secure the future of the British economy in a resolutely pro-enterprise country.
What can I say? That old chestnut—and the Leader of the Opposition will be in No. 10 today as well. Anyway, I admire the Chancellor’s perseverance in trying to get the Prime Minister to grasp the concept of compromise—a challenging task, I have to say. Perhaps a less onerous task would be to sort out the problem with production. In the three months to January 2019, it fell by 1% compared with the same period last year, driven by a significant fall of 1.5% in manufacturing, which, of course, includes the beleaguered automotive sector. If the Government were a car, it would fail its MOT. The Chancellor has been putting manufacturing into reverse gear. Isn’t it time for a new car with a new driver?
The British economy is remarkably robust in its present state. We are seeing continued economic growth, record levels of employment and record low levels of unemployment. Businesspeople, investors and entrepreneurs the length and breadth of the country know that the greatest threat to our prosperity is a hard left Labour Government.
Renewable Energy: Public Funding
The Government have increased support for low-carbon electricity generation through consumer-funded levies, from £1.3 billion in 2010 to over £7.3 billion today, spending £30.7 billion since 2010. This support has enabled the UK to become a world leader in clean growth, and the private sector has invested more than £92 billion in clean energy since 2010.
I think that is quite a selective answer. A coalition of 20 community energy projects and affiliated groups has warned that the Government’s decision to axe the feed-in tariff incentive scheme could prove the final nail in the coffin for the sector. Since that warning was issued in February, at least 30 planned community energy projects have stalled. So what conversations has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to give proper support to community energy projects?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, but that is not our experience. The investment that I have just described that is going into the sector is very considerable. Renewable capacity has quadrupled since 2010. Renewables’ share of electricity generation increased to 33% last year—a record high. The UK is decarbonising and we are meeting our climate change targets.
Members across the House recognise the importance of funding renewable energy policies to tackle climate change and improve air quality, but that does not go far enough. In Manchester, 126,600 children are growing up in an area with an unsafe level of air pollution. As the Mayor of Greater Manchester highlighted, further investment is needed to tackle the scale of the problem and protect the health of the most vulnerable—our children. Will the Chancellor commit to providing the wider resources needed to protect our children from toxic air?
The Mayor of Greater Manchester has the resources that he requires. The Government are supporting Mayors and urban areas across the country to take action on air quality, and we are providing money from national Government, for example through the £2.6 billion transforming cities fund, of which Greater Manchester has a significant share, to invest in the transport solutions of the future.
Although there is clearly more to do on climate change, surely action taken by this Government since 2010—we have reduced greenhouse gases, we have got more low-carbon jobs, especially in my constituency, and we are investing billions in renewables—must show our commitment.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Last month, in the spring statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was able to add to those policies by announcing a scheme to help small and medium-sized enterprises to reduce their carbon footprint; a new marine zone around Ascension Island; support for the renewables sector; the new future homes standard, to ensure that from 2025 homes are built with low-carbon heating and high levels of energy efficiency; and many other policies.
Tidal energy projects are powering ahead in Scotland and show substantial export potential. The Scottish Government recently announced support funding of up to £10 million to assist in commercialising its use. What support will the UK Government give the industry?
The UK Government are supporting tidal energy. We have looked at any schemes that have become available to us. We have to balance the interests of the ratepayer, the taxpayer, to ensure that the schemes that we do support are the right strategic technology and the right value for money for the UK.
Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to one of this country’s most successful publicly funded renewable energy programmes ever? I am of course talking about the last Labour Government’s export tariff, the feed-in tariff scheme, the biggest single democratisation of energy that the UK has ever seen, cutting 700,000 tonnes of carbon. This month, however, in an act of supreme national and international self-harm, the Government killed it off—kaput, finito, game over. In the real world, how can anyone, anywhere believe that this Government take their climate change obligations seriously?
The facts speak for themselves. The UK is on track to over-deliver comfortably on the first three carbon budgets out to 2022. The clean growth strategy sets out how we will meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which take us to 2032, while keeping down costs for consumers, creating good jobs in the clean energy market and growing the economy.
Thanks to our stewardship of the economy and the fact that wages are now rising above inflation, we are able to move on from the benefits freeze. From April 2020, we expect that increases will resume in line with inflation.
That entirely misses the point. Research by the Resolution Foundation published last week confirms that the value of child benefit is at a record low, 40 years after it was introduced. Meanwhile, the shambolic Tory Government throw good money after bad in their botched Brexit plans. Is it not time for the Chief Secretary to speak to the Chancellor and ask him to get his priorities right and to give families a much-needed pay rise?
I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that unemployment in Scotland is at a record low level, thanks to our policies of getting more people into work and of making work pay.
Yesterday marked the beginning of the fourth year of the benefits freeze. Since it was brought in in 2016, the consumer prices index has increased by 6.6%, but working-age benefits have been frozen. That literally means that those in the most need can afford fewer necessities. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that by 2020, the benefits freeze will have pushed 400,000 into poverty. How can the Chancellor justify that?
I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that we are ending the benefits freeze. It is responsible to do so only when people in work’s wages are rising. Thanks to our economic reforms, our reforms to employment law and our welfare reforms, we are now able to do that.
The benefits freeze is a political choice made by this Conservative Government and this Conservative Treasury; it is not a necessity. It is one of the biggest cuts to social security we have seen in recent times. The entire cost of the work allowance concessions over three years amounts to less than the benefits freeze takes away in one year. When FTSE 100 chief executive pay has increased by 11% in the past year, is it not now time that the UK Government got their priorities in order and protected those who need it most rather than giving tax cuts to the richest?
The hon. Lady obviously has not heard my answer that we are now moving to a situation in which benefits will rise in line with inflation, but let us be honest about the choices that the Scottish Government are making. Their choice is to raise taxes on people earning £50,000 by £1,500 a year, driving business out of Scotland and making the Scottish economy less successful.
Low-paid Workers: Take-home Pay
The Government are committed to making work pay and ensuring that people keep more of the money they earn in their pockets. Last week, we saw another above-inflation increase in the national living wage, meaning that a full-time worker on the national living wage would be earning £690 more over the coming year. This week, the personal allowance has increased to £12,500. A single person on the national minimum wage, working 35 hours a week, would have taken home £9,200 in 2010; this year, they will take home £13,700.
One way of increasing take-home pay is to create more high-paying jobs in the first place. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Cheltenham’s Government-backed cyber innovation centre, which sees the country’s finest cyber-security minds from GCHQ nurturing small businesses, is an excellent example of how the state and the private sector can combine to boost the economy and generate great jobs to boot?
I agree that the public and private sectors can work together to support digital businesses, including in the vital area of cyber, and that is why we have established the Cheltenham innovation centre as part of our £1.9 billion commitment to cyber-security.
There are two parts to our approach. The first is a laser-like focus on raising productivity—investing in the infrastructure and skills that we need to raise productivity—because that is the only way to raise wages sustainably. We have also introduced the national living wage, and have increased it way ahead of inflation. We will have to set a new target for the national living wage from next year. I announced in the Budget that I have asked Professor Arindrajit Dube to conduct a survey of the literature on minimum wages and employment opportunities for people on low pay, so that we can address this issue and seek to raise the pay of the lowest paid as fast as we can without destroying their employment opportunities.
Further increases in the national living wage are vital to tackling the low pay culture, but does the Chancellor agree that as the rates increase, so does the risk of non-compliance? Does he therefore think that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is adequately resourced to be able to go after rogue employers who do not pay a fair wage?
Yes, my right hon. Friend is right. We have provided HMRC with additional resources, and wherever HMRC get reports, it pursues them. It also proactively looks for employers who are not meeting their legal obligation.
A recent survey by the Centre for Labour and Social Studies showed that a third of workers struggle with the cost of living and two thirds of workers expect to get poorer this year, yet FTSE 100 CEOs have been seeing their wages rise six times as fast as those of the average worker. To me, that sounds like a laser-like focus on increasing inequality.
The Government are responsible for the productivity agenda and the setting of targets for the national living wage. As I have already set out, working in those two tracks is the way to deal with the challenge of low pay. I can tell the hon. Lady what will not help workers on low pay: having their personal allowance taken away from them.
Tax Paid: Reductions
This Government have made very significant progress in reducing the burden of taxation on the low paid, including by recently increasing the personal allowance to £12,500—thus taking 1.7 million of the lowest paid out of tax all together since 2017.[Official Report, 11 April 2019, Vol. 658, c. 5MC.]
What the Treasury gives with one hand, local authorities are taking away with the other, with relentless rises in council tax, and parking charges and fees affecting households up and down the country. What are we actually doing to help families, instead of paying them lip service?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that there are many costs and taxes that bear down on the lowest paid. That is why, in addition to increasing the personal allowance, the Conservatives have introduced the national living wage, which has gone up well above the rate of inflation this April. We have frozen fuel duty for nine years in a row, which has saved the average car driver £1,000 cumulatively. We should also not forget that 28% of all income tax is paid by just the highest 1% of earners.
The Minister can say anything he likes, obviously. In fact, he knows that the tax system is skewed in favour of richer people. The poorest 10% pay 42% of their income in taxes, whereas the richest pay 34%. Does he have any plans to achieve greater parity, particularly in VAT?
I am surprised that the hon. Lady should mention the level of tax paid by the most wealthy, because under this Government, as I have just stated, the highest-earning 1% pay a full 28% of all income tax. Under the last Labour Government, that figure was substantially lower at around 24%.
Does the Minister agree that taxes could be lower if spending was better controlled, yet this House provides no scrutiny of spending whatsoever? The supply and appropriation Bill that he presented just over a month ago was not debated or voted on. Is it not time that, like other Parliaments, we had a Budget committee and a parliamentary Budget office to scrutinise spending and hold Government properly to account?
My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has just appeared before the Procedure Committee to address just the issue that my hon. Friend raises.
Given that our social care system is breaking, causing indignity, poverty and hardship to millions of people in their old age, might it be time to consider increasing fair taxes, so that we can live in a civilised society that looks after its most vulnerable people?
As the hon. Gentleman may know, £400 million went into social care just at the last Budget. It is the mission of this Government to get taxes as low as possible so that we have a strong economy. Our record is good: we have about the highest level of employment in this country’s history, more women are in work than at any time in our history, and we have halved unemployment since the mid-1970s. All of that is about creating the wealth and the money to make sure that we can afford the public services that the public expect.
Distributional analysis published by the Treasury at Budget 2018 shows that decisions taken by the Government on tax, welfare and spending on public services have benefited households across the income distribution, with the poorest households gaining the most as a percentage of net income.
The £1.7 billion announced yesterday for universal credit does not even touch the sides of the £12 billion of welfare cuts since 2015, nor does it contain provision to repay the debts that universal credit has caused for local authorities, such as the £2.5 million cost that has been borne by every highland household six years into the roll-out. Should Highland Council send the invoice for that debt for council tax payers directly to the Minister?
No, it should reflect on the range of measures the Government took at Budget 2018, including the new energy price cap, the doubling of free childcare and the steps we have taken to reduce the burden on households by reducing fuel duty.
Pay has increased by 20% since 2010, we have a record number of people in work and wages are growing at their fastest pace for 10 years.
I thank the Minister for that answer. However, the ongoing benefit freeze will result in those on very low incomes being more than £800 worse off by 2020. Meanwhile, tax cuts for the rich mean that those who earn more than £60,000 will be better off. The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said that UK poverty is a direct result of political choices, so when will the Government address the fact that their political choices have led to one in eight people who are in work living in poverty?
At the Budget in 2018, we put an extra £630 into the pockets of working families on universal credit. The way we will make sure that our country succeeds is by increasing economic growth, building more houses and cutting the cost of living, not by saying that business is the enemy and trying to crash our economy.
What assessment has the Minister made of the rather bizarre policy suggestion of removing personal allowances from the low paid?
I think it is an extremely strange idea. What we need to do is cut taxes for those on low incomes, and that is what we are doing: from this April we will cut taxes by £130 for those on basic rate taxes, meaning that they will be able to keep more of their own money.
At this stage of the economic cycle there are many more people in employment, but many of them are in low paid or part-time employment. What steps are the Treasury and the Government taking to increase the level at which people earn a living to pay for the necessities of life?
Let us be clear about the statistics. Over the past year, 90% of the increase in employment has come from full-time workers, and 97% has come from high-skilled jobs. We are building an economy fit for the future.
Stamp Duty Land Tax
The Government have made substantial progress in reforming the stamp duty regime. At autumn statement 2014, SDLT was cut for 98% of those people due to pay it.
Since we last spoke about this, the spring statement showed a further decline in receipts of an additional £2.7 billion over the scorecard. That was not due to changes in Wales and the welcome first-time buyer reforms, which were already in the October Budget numbers. What are the Government going to do to reform the system, protect revenue, grow social mobility, allow the elderly to downsize and get Britain moving again?
The year-on-year changes to the level of receipts from SDLT have reduced recently, but that is due largely to the fact that we have put a great deal of relief into first-time buyers’ relief, which is already helping 240,000 first-time buyers get on to the housing ladder.
However the Minister dresses it up on stamp duty land tax and other issues where the wealthy have seen their taxes cut, the impact on our economy is clear. Will he explain why stamp duty land tax reform is a priority rather than addressing the fact that in our country today one third of all families with a child under five are in poverty?
It is most certainly not our priority to reduce SDLT for the very wealthy. In fact, the current levels—12% plus 3% if it is an additional dwelling—are high. I can also inform the hon. Lady that the amount we raised through stamp duty land tax in 2017-18 was twice the amount raised back in 2010-11.
The loan charge was announced at Budget 2016 and was subject to public consultation. We have received representations, including from campaigners and the wider public. Disguised remuneration schemes pay loans in place of ordinary remuneration, with the sole purpose of avoiding income tax and national insurance.
I fully support measures to close loopholes for disguised remuneration, but not when they affect my constituents retrospectively. If the loans were illegal at the time my constituents took them out, why is it now necessary to introduce the loan charge?
It is important that the House fully understands how disguised remuneration works. If, instead of paying an employee their earnings in the normal way, an employer pays them by way of a loan via an offshore trust in a low or no-tax jurisdiction—with no intention of ever repaying the loan and simply to avoid national insurance or income tax—that is wrong. As for the matter of retrospection, that model has never, ever complied with our tax code. The loans to which I refer are persisting today, not retrospectively. That is why it is right—and only fair on those taxpayers who pay the correct amounts at the right time, and on our vital public services, which rely on that money—that we collect it.
Lending to Small Businesses
Loans of less than £25,000 to the smallest businesses are already regulated under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. The Government are committed to regulating only where there is a clear case for doing so, to avoid putting additional costs on lenders and businesses, and the Government welcome the recent expansion of the Financial Ombudsman Service and the establishment of a voluntary dispute resolution service.
A succession of small business lending scandals has come to light in recent months, including from Clydesdale, the Global Restructuring Group and HBOS. This has highlighted that small businesses are still struggling to get fair access to finance. Last week, Labour set out our proposals to fix this, including plans to set up a post bank that would offer relationship banking for small businesses to improve their access to finance. Will the Minister support Labour’s proposition for a publically owned postal bank that will provide trustworthy finance for small businesses?
I am sorry, but I cannot give the hon. Lady that undertaking. I really passionately believe that we need to resist additional Financial Conduct Authority fees, product reviews, increased compliance and monitoring costs for businesses, stifled product innovation and narrower product choice for small and medium-sized enterprises, which would be the consequences if we followed Labour’s advice on this policy area.
Order. Question 22 will probably not be reached. If the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) were standing, I would call him, but he is not, so I will not—
But he does, so I shall—Mr Robert Courts.
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. That is why the Chancellor announced at the spring statement that we will require company audit committees to review payment practices and report on them in their annual accounts. This is part of a range of measures that the Government will be setting out shortly when we make a full response after the call for evidence.
The Government know full well that some deep-rooted corruption is taking place within major banking institutions when it comes to commercial lending. At the moment, there is nowhere near the type of protection needed to help cover our small businesses in such an eventuality. Will the Government take action now—eventually—to give small businesses that support?
We have taken direct action so that small businesses can get a direct and quick response by expanding the authority of the Financial Ombudsman Service and having a retrospective review through the dispute resolution mechanism. What businesses up and down the country want is quick action to deal with disputes that are unresolved.
High street banks are regulated, but the loans they provide to SMEs are not. There is not even a requirement to treat such a customer fairly and reasonably. In the absence of regulation, should there be a clearer warning about the lack of protection if things go wrong?
As my hon. Friend knows through his excellent work with the dispute resolution service, there are some avenues for businesses to go down. Many—virtually all—lenders have now signed up to the standards of lending practice, and that, alongside the expansion of the Financial Ombudsman Service’s jurisdiction, gives businesses the assurance they need.
Financial Services Sector
UK financial services are globally competitive, and this Government are focused on maintaining that competitiveness. Leaving the EU with a deal will ensure that financial services businesses can continue to operate across borders into the EU. Through our global financial partnerships initiative, we will also build a new framework for rest-of-the-world cross-border financial services.
How will we ensure that those businesses do not end up being regulated from overseas?
We have always been clear that the UK must maintain control of the regulations governing one of its most important sectors and, crucially, a sector that the UK taxpayer stands behind. Those regulations have to be made in the UK. The agreement we have negotiated with the EU in the political declaration means that each side would make its own choices on regulation through its own legislative processes, and if any of these lead to our respective regulatory regimes no longer being equivalent, either side would have the right to withdraw market access.
The financial services sector is not above the law. If I can take the Chancellor back to the loan charge, what steps is he taking against accounting firms that told my constituents, who are working in the IT sector with a Government Department, that these schemes were perfectly legal? My constituents now find themselves laden with debt from HMRC and paying these things back. What is he doing about those corrupt accountants?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As well as pursuing tax avoiders themselves, we have to pursue those who promote tax avoidance. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has just told me that there are over 100 promoters of avoidance schemes who are currently under active investigation by HMRC.
Automatic enrolment has reversed the decade-long decline in workplace pension saving. Department for Work and Pensions statistics show that since 2012 over 10 million people have been automatically enrolled into a pension. Minimum contributions increased this month to 8%, and everyone who is contributing at the minimum rate should see an increase in their overall remuneration package.
I thank the Minister for that response. One of my constituents in Hitchin is a stay-at-home mother, and the maximum she can contribute to her pension is £3,000 per year, whereas if she were working, she could contribute up to £40,000 per year. I am sure the Minister will agree that we want to encourage people to save for their future. How can we increase the threshold so that stay-at-home parents can increase the amount they put into their pensions?
The Government do offer generous tax relief on contributions to, and investment growth within, pensions. We also enable tax-free access to a proportion of savings. It is right that the Government control the cost of tax reliefs, and the £3,600 limit is one method of doing that. I can assure my hon. Friend that all aspects of pension policy and the tax system are kept under review in the context of the wider public finances.
On Thursday last week, one of my oldest manufacturing companies, Dudson, went into administration. The average length of service is over 20 years, and we now have huge concerns about the pension scheme, as we do about everything else to do with the administration—there is no money left even for redundancy. Will the Minister arrange for me to meet the appropriate Ministers to ensure that we get Government support where we most desperately need it?
I am delighted to give the hon. Lady that assurance. A ministerial meeting will be convened as quickly as possible.
FinTech revolutionises financial services, promoting innovation, stimulating competition and incentivising firms to deliver better outcomes for customers. FinTech firms directly contribute £6.6 billion annually to the UK economy, employing over 60,000 people across 1,600 companies.
I thank the Minister for that answer, and I thank the Government for keeping us in the No. 1 slot for FinTech. I very much welcome the call for evidence on digital payments, but there is a danger that if the wrong type of payments are taken, particularly around the interchange fees, we could undermine the sector. I therefore urge the Minister to remain open-minded to charging a maximum fee per transaction, as opposed to a proportionate fee.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and for his work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on financial technology over the last four years. The regulator is the UK’s leading authority for interchange fee regulation, as he knows, and it is conducting a review into the fees that businesses face when accepting card payments. I acknowledge his concern, and we are open to hearing views on this issue, and on digital payments more broadly, as part of our call for evidence.
Can the Minister think of one independent trade expert who thinks FinTech in the UK will do better once Britain has left the European Union?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the Government’s policy to have an orderly exit from the EU. However, we know that FinTech has proved to be very resilient in all circumstances. We had record investment of £15 billion last year. That is testimony to the creative power of that industry, working in the financial services sector in the City.
Residential Tower Blocks: Fire Safety Work
I meet the Housing Secretary regularly to make sure there are sufficient funds in his budget to address the issues.
There is a particularly pressing need in the case of blocks such as Northpoint in Bromley, where the owner and the developer refuse to take responsibility, and intend to use legal powers to pass on the costs of aluminium composite material remediation to the leaseholders. That is a complete breach of the Government’s undertakings. We need a fund specifically to provide funds for this—directly to leaseholders, if necessary. What is the Minister doing to advance that issue?
I know that my hon. Friend has been in touch with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on this issue. We fully expect building owners in the private sector to take action to ensure appropriate safety measures are in place. We have written to all owners to remind them of their responsibilities. In addition, local authorities have the power to complete works and recover costs from private owners of high rise residential buildings.
Since 2010, UK labour productivity has grown by 3.9%, leaving it 1.9% above its pre-crisis peak. Slow productivity growth since the crisis is not a phenomenon exclusive to the UK, but is common across the G7. We have created the £37 billion national productivity investment fund to tackle it.
The UK’s productivity remains weaker than most other advanced economies. Does the Chancellor agree that the Government should lead the way in tackling the productivity crisis, starting with getting rid of the haphazard Transport Secretary?
No. We are taking a range of interventions, including investing £600 billion in our national economic infrastructure. Over the course of this Parliament, investment in transport and other forms of infrastructure will be £460 million a week in real terms higher than under the previous Labour Government.
Sanitary Products: Funding
The Department for Education is implementing this policy with the purpose of increasing attendance in schools. That is the factor it will take under consideration.
The Chancellor’s spring statement announcement of free period products in secondary schools and colleges was welcomed—very much so. However, he has failed to mentioned pupil referral units and other alternative education provision, as well as the fact that some children start their periods in primary schools. He has also failed to consider women and girls in vulnerable situations such as homelessness shelters, refugees and women refuges. Will he take a human rights approach to period poverty to ensure universal free access to sanitary products for all women, so we can put a real end to period poverty?
I know that the children’s Minister has already said he will look specifically at primary schools and my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is going to consult widely on the issue.
My principal responsibility is to ensure economic stability and the continued prosperity of this country. I will do that through: supporting our vital public services, such as the NHS; investing in Britain’s future; keeping taxes low; and continuing to reduce the nation’s debt. Securing an orderly departure from the EU will allow our mutual trade to flourish and encourage businesses to invest more in Britain’s productive capacity.
Shoplifting crime is increasing, antisocial behaviour crime is increasing, violent crime is increasing. The Prime Minister said that austerity is over, so when can we expect to see the Treasury give the Home Office the funding needed to replace the 20,000 police officers lost since 2010?
In the Budget settlement at the end of the last year we made sure that there was extra money going into the police, increasing funding and increasing spending power in real terms. We have also allocated extra funding to deal with the scourge of knife crime.
The Government claim that spending on education is higher than it has ever been. Does that take into account the extra costs the Government have put on schools?
We have provided schools with additional funding to cope with the rise in pension contributions. We will be looking at school funding as part of the spending review and I will take my right hon. Friend’s representations into account.
With the Brexit dialogue ongoing it is best to leave exchanges on that topic to the negotiations, although I hope we can all count on the Chancellor, if not everyone on his own side, to continue to insist that no deal is not an option.
Turning to Google, when will the Chancellor tackle the scandal of Google’s tax avoidance? Google has an estimated taxable profit of £8.3 billion in the UK, so it should have a tax bill, according to the Tax Justice Network, of £1.5 billion. That would pay for 60,000 nurses, 50,000 teachers, seven new hospitals, 75 new schools. It pays £67 million. Why is the Chancellor, year on year, letting Google the tax avoider off the hook?
As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows very well, the issue is a good deal more complex than he suggested in his question. We have announced the introduction of a digital services tax to begin to address the challenge of shaping our tax system to respond to the digital age, but the problem is that we have a set of international tax rules that we are obliged to follow, which were invented in the age when international trade was all about goods. Nowadays it is mostly about services, and much of it is about digital services. The international tax system is simply not fit for purpose and the UK is leading the charge in international forums—including the G20, which will be meeting later this week in Washington—in looking for a new way to allocate profits appropriately between jurisdictions where digital platform businesses are involved.
After nine years in government, that smacks of an excuse, and let me say to the Chancellor that the Government’s digital services tax has been roundly criticised as being too narrow and having artificial carve-outs. Let me move on from one scandal to another: the scandal of London Capital & Finance. LCF collapsed in January, leaving 11,000 investors in the lurch. They had £286 million invested in the company and most of them were not wealthy people. The Financial Conduct Authority was repeatedly warned of LCF’s dubious structure and operations and failed to respond to those warnings. A decade on from the financial crash and our regulatory system is still not fit for purpose. What action is the Chancellor taking to secure justice for the LCF investors and to reform our regulatory system?
We take very seriously the failure of London Capital & Finance. Last week, my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary directed the FCA to launch an investigation into the company. We will carry that investigation out and look carefully at the findings.
In Question 2 the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) told us how warehousing across the country was full to bursting point as businesses prepared for a no-deal Brexit. In a leaked letter last week, the Cabinet Secretary implied that business was not ready for a no-deal Brexit. Which is correct?
We know that manufacturing companies have been building precautionary buffer stocks of imported components to give them resilience against any disruption at our ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit—this tends to be larger companies. However, it is also the case, as my hon. Friend knows very well from his work as a Minister, that despite the Government’s attempts to engage with business, there are still far too many businesses who have adopted the famous approach of the ostrich in the sand in relation to this eventuality and are not taking precautionary actions to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal exit.
Rolling out full fibre is essential to Britain’s digital future. That will be done largely by the private sector. The public sector’s role will be to provide the appropriate support in areas where full fibre roll-out is not commercially viable, but supporting the urban centres in all our conurbations, including in Yorkshire, will be an early priority for the broadband roll-out programme. I should say to the hon. Gentleman—I hope this will cheer him up—that I recently met an Italian digital entrepreneur who has relocated his business from silicon valley to Sheffield and he said it was the best decision that he ever made.
Given that the people have already decided, presumably the Chancellor does not want a second referendum.
Contrary to some reports, I have never advocated a second referendum. I simply observed that it is a coherent proposition along with many others that have been discussed in this House.
I think the hon. Gentleman should speak to his friend the Mayor of London about what he is doing to increase house building in London.
What plans are the Government making for a UK investment bank to take over the role of the European Investment Bank in the UK economy?
In the spring statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor launched a review of our infrastructure financing, which includes that question on whether the UK would benefit from institutional arrangements. We have also made significant funds available to ensure that there is no shortfall for businesses that rely on the EIB.
As I have said, we are moving on from the benefits freeze. We are in a position now where real wages are growing and benefits will increase in line with inflation from 2020. However, the best route out of poverty and to helping people is ensuring that children get a good education and that more jobs are available in our economy.
Does the Chancellor agree that, in view of the failure of London Capital & Finance, of Premier FX, of individual police forces around the country to investigate economic crime, and of the Serious Fraud Office in yet another case, it is time we had a single economic crime police force in this country to deal with things properly?
We have a single economic crime board, which was set up in January and chaired by the Chancellor and the Home Secretary, to look at how better collaboration can tackle those challenges more effectively.
I was very pleased to visit the hon. Gentleman at Dudley College and see the fantastic work that it does. He put forward some interesting ideas about local transport. We are conducting a zero-based capital review as part of the spending review and of course we will look at proposals on all those fronts.
Does the Chancellor agree that the announcement that small shops will save up to £8,000 in business rates is a fantastic boost for our high streets? Will he please commit to supporting the bid from Redditch for the future high streets fund?
Of course, the rates relief that we have offered over a two-year period to smaller independent retailers will help the high street, but retailers have to use that breathing space to adapt to the changing environment that they face. We cannot freeze the high street in aspic and we must face the reality of the digitisation of our economy. So let us work together to transform our high streets so that they are sustainable for the future.
As I have said, we have committed ourselves to ensuring that schools will be funded for that purpose.
Will the Chancellor explain why the customs union is the wrong policy choice for the future strength of the UK economy?
The Prime Minister negotiated a deal with the European Union which gave us many of the benefits of being in a customs union, while preserving our ability to conduct an independent trade policy. We put that deal to the House effectively three times and it was defeated three times, so we have to pursue other options.
I observe that the minimum alcohol price in Scotland has resulted in an increase in the consumption of alcohol.
The Chief Secretary has said yet again that the Government think building owners should pick up the cost of aluminium composite material cladding remediation. Does she understand that there is no legal means of enforcing that obligation? In the absence of such a means, will she please revisit the issue of direct funding for the leaseholders as a matter of urgency?
I note that a growing list of companies, such as Barratt Developments, Mace Group Ltd and Legal & General, are doing the right thing and taking responsibility for paying for remediation. The Government urge all other owners and developers to follow the leads of those companies.
That is not an issue with which I am familiar, but I should be happy to hear more about it from the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he would like to write to me in the first instance, setting out the details of his argument.
In Chelmsford we love our high street. Does my right hon. Friend agree that giving nine out of 10 of our shops a business rates reduction of up to £8,000 a year will help to create a more level playing field between online and bricks-and-mortar shops?
Yes. As I said earlier, it is essential for the high street to evolve to respond to the digital age, but there is no doubt that smaller shops need a breathing space in which to do so, and reducing their business rates this year and next will help them in that regard.
It is indeed incumbent on HMRC to take its duty of care towards customers—particularly vulnerable customers —very seriously, and I am confident that it does just that. There is a dedicated helpline for those who have been affected by the loan charge, and a vulnerable customers team provides one-to-one support. We recently announced that we would extend the needs enhanced support service to those who are subject to open investigations of their tax returns.
The hon. Lady mentioned promoters. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has already mentioned that more than 100 investigations of companies that promote tax avoidance are currently taking place. Other litigations in respect of offences relating to the disclosure of tax avoidance schemes have resulted in wins for HMRC. In the Hyrax case, which was concluded recently, it was found that the promoter was not behaving appropriately, and about £40 million worth of tax is likely to be recouped as a consequence.
Will we continue to invest in the northern powerhouse, and, in particular, will we fully fund the Transport for the North plan for a TransPennine rail upgrade?
As I said in my recent spring statement, the Government remain committed to the northern powerhouse and to Northern Powerhouse Rail, and I am working on the TransPennine rail upgrade with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary.
It is largely companies that fall due to the loan charge, rather than individuals—of the 6,000 cases currently being settled, 85% by value relate to companies. HMRC has always been clear that appropriate payment arrangements will be in place to ensure that those outstanding amounts of tax, which after all have been avoided, aggressively and in a contrived way, can be settled sensibly.
What priority will the Chief Secretary to the Treasury give to reducing the tax burden in the coming spending review?
I hope to follow in the footsteps of former Chief Secretaries who have been keen to keep a tight rein on public spending and ensure that people can keep more of their own money, because ultimately every penny of public spending is money that people have earned and that they could be spending on other things.
Some 55% of Scots pay lower income tax than they would pay if they lived in England. Does the Chancellor not agree that he should take inspiration from the SNP’s progressive Finance Minister by protecting public services and the poorest, rather than the better-off?
The reality is that the SNP Government are putting people off relocating to Scotland and earning higher incomes in Scotland, because those earning £50,000 have to pay an additional £1,500 in tax every year.
What is the Chancellor going to do to help the WASPI women—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—who have been denied their pensions? It has been going on for far too long and it is about time he did something about it.
We have had to take difficult decisions because of the state of the public finances that we were left with. We have already made improvements in relation to those women being able to retire, but it is right that we do not burden future generations as a result of our existing commitments.
I am sorry, but we must move on.
Rwandan Genocide: Alleged Perpetrators
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on the handling of the cases of the five alleged perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide in the United Kingdom.
None of us can forget the horrendous scenes of the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago. My colleague the Minister for Africa visited Rwanda only this week to share in the international recognition and remembrance of those horrific events.
I can confirm that the Metropolitan police’s war crimes unit, within the counter-terrorism command, received a referral from the Rwandan authorities in January 2018 relating to five individuals in the UK and allegations of genocide offences in Rwanda dating back from around 1994. Relevant documentation was assessed by the war crimes unit and officers were deployed to Rwanda as part of our initial work to scope out the allegations. We subsequently commenced an investigation, which will initially involve a review of all the documentation transferred from Rwanda. Given the complexities involved, it is expected to be a protracted and lengthy process. Inquiries continue.
As the Minister said, Sunday was the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and I represented this House, along with the Minister for Africa, at ceremonies in Kigali, which were dignified and profoundly moving.
The House will recall that nearly a million Rwandans were murdered in frenzied killing over a 90-day period while the international community effectively did nothing to stop it. Once the killing was ended, those leaders who were responsible for the genocide fled. Over the intervening years, many have returned voluntarily to Rwanda to be processed through the Gacaca court system. Others have been extradited to Rwanda from the United States, Canada, France, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden. Britain, sadly, is a glaring exception.
Proceedings started here in the UK more than a decade ago in respect of five alleged genocide perpetrators, but in spite of ruling that there was a prima facie case of genocide made out against all five, the British courts declined to extradite. The British taxpayer has already forked out more than £3 million in legal costs, and four of the five are living on benefits, including housing benefit. The Rwandan authorities, having failed to secure extradition in Britain in the lower courts, have declined to proceed to the Supreme Court and have asked that the UK undertake the trial here. In spite of all the evidence already being available here in the United Kingdom, the Metropolitan police have indicated that it could take a further 10 years to process these cases.
The souls of those who were murdered in the genocide cry out for justice, but from Britain justice has at least been delayed and at worst denied. The Nuremberg trials commenced a mere seven months after the end of the war and were concluded within 10 months. In the interests of those facing these dreadful allegations, as well as of the reputation of British justice, we should surely expect these five alleged génocidaires to be on trial at the Old Bailey by the end of this year. I end with the words spoken last weekend by the distinguished Rwandan Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Mr Johnston Busingye, who, when he came here to Britain, our Director of Public Prosecutions could not even find the time to see. He said this:
“Anyone who cares about British values and justice should be ashamed. The UK will go down in history as the only country in Europe that knowingly shielded alleged Rwandan génocidaires from justice.”
My right hon. Friend is a strong supporter of Rwanda and knows the country incredibly well. I respect many of his views on the country and on the need for action, but I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with his last point. The United Kingdom has not shielded these people. He will know that on 28 July 2017 the High Court ruled that they could not be extradited, for fear of not facing a fair trial. He will know and respect the difference between the Government, the police and the judiciary. He will know that we have to follow the rule of law and that ruling.
This Government, and previous Governments, have been committed to bringing people to trial, which is why he has raised this issue. We have spent £3 million trying to get the right outcome, but when the Court ruled that these individuals could not be extradited, the United Kingdom, under its genocide convention obligations and after requests from the Rwandan Government, took on the investigation itself. We went out to meet officials in Rwanda and to gather evidence there, and there is a live police investigation into a number of individuals in relation to potential war crimes. My right hon. Friend will also understand that, as this is a live police investigation, there is no more I can say on this matter, for fear of prejudicing a fair trial here or anywhere else, and that is where we have to leave it. Those are the facts we find before us.
The Government are not shielding any war criminals, and nor should we. We would not do that. We are doing our best. I have raised the issue with the counter-terrorism police, and they say that the timescale for these investigations is not 10 years but more like between three and five years. I can assure my right hon. Friend that if the police require more resource or if they come up against an obstacle relating to international relations, the Government are standing by to help, to expedite and to ensure that those suspected of war crimes face full justice, but there is absolutely no case that this Government or any previous Government have shielded them from any war crimes trials that they might face.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for applying for this urgent question on such an important matter, and I am grateful to you for granting it, Mr Speaker. The Rwandan genocide took place in 1994, and its recent 25-year anniversary was a haunting reminder of what happened. It was an atrocious act of violence, with hundreds of thousands of people being killed in just 100 days. That such a heinous act took place while the world stood by is a stain on the international community.
Allegations have been made against five individuals whose extradition to Rwanda was not granted by the High Court in 2017. I will not comment specifically on the individuals themselves. It has, however, been reported in the past couple of days that Scotland Yard received a referral from the Rwandan authorities in January 2018, and that Scotland Yard officers were sent to help with the investigation regarding those individuals, as the Minister has confirmed today.
It is right that these allegations are investigated in this country. We believe in a rules-based international order. If that is to mean anything, a crime against humanity must be considered as a crime against us all; no matter where in the world it takes place, all efforts must be made to pursue justice for victims. Although the Minister must be circumspect about what he says with an investigation ongoing, can he reassure the House that all necessary resources will be put at the disposal of the investigation, that all possible efforts to gather evidence will be made and that, although it will of course be complex, the investigation will be carried out carefully and as speedily as possible?
I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. At the beginning of this year, I got an update from the counter-terrorism police about the conduct of any investigations relating to people from Rwanda. In fact, I briefed my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on that at about the same time to make sure he realised we are not forgetting this. We are not going to forget the genocide, and nor are we going to forget bringing those people to justice. I am very happy to keep the House posted, as we are allowed to. Nevertheless, with respect, we have to remember that this is a live police investigation and therefore all the safeguards apply.
Other countries with very strong records of protecting asylum and the rights of individuals under criminal investigation, such as Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, have seen fit to extradite suspects back to Rwanda. Why have we not?
If my right hon. Friend has a problem with the judiciary, I suggest he takes that up with the Lord Chief Justice. We have to respect the ruling of the High Court, which took the view in July 2017 that these people would not face a fair trial if extradited. We fought the case, we took it to the Court, the Court decided otherwise, and we have to respect that ruling.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on securing this urgent question, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it, as the 100 days of commemoration of the 25th anniversary begin. I was part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to Rwanda last year—I think it was the first ever CPA delegation to Rwanda—and saw at first hand the efforts that are being made to achieve justice and build peace. However, the question of alleged perpetrators remaining overseas leaves a cloud hanging over those efforts. It is not fair either to those who are accused or to the victims that these accusations are left untested.
Building on some of the questions that have already been asked, and accepting the role of the judiciary, what discussions have been had with other countries about why they felt able to allow extraditions? If the justice system here has concluded that a fair trial cannot be conducted in Rwanda, a way has to be found to achieve justice here. Is the Minister confident that the Met police has enough resources to complete its inquiries? What is the planned timescale for the next steps once those inquiries are concluded? Can he assure us that those steps will be taken as quickly as possible so that justice is both done and seen to be done?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I meet the head of counter-terrorism policing at least once a week, and we discuss a wide range of issues. If there is an issue with resource pressure in this particular case, or in other cases, we will no doubt discuss it and do what we can to solve it. Other courts and other countries have different statute books and different legislative arrangements. We go by our courts, and our courts made that ruling. That is regrettable. I am frustrated, and not just in this case; any Home Office Minister will often see their decisions and their attempts to extradite sometimes very dangerous people struck down. However, that is the rule of law—that is the rules-based system we are in—and, whether I like it or not, it is quite right that we follow it.
With chain gangs labouring in uniforms of magnificent pink, like that worn by my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), is there not much we can learn from the Gacaca court system?
Well, I am not going to comment on that, but it is very clear that successive Governments have tried to extradite these people to face justice in Rwanda. The courts took a different view. We then stepped up to the plate, and the police, in an operational decision, had to investigate. I am not a learned gentleman with the ability to compare different legal systems, and nor will I attempt to.
I will not ask the Minister to comment on these particular cases, but given the decision of the High Court in 2017, can he assure the House that there is no obstacle in principle to anyone who is accused of war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity facing justice in this country, provided the evidential test is met?
I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. When it comes to war crimes, under our obligations in the convention there is no barrier at all.
Twelve years ago, I sat in on one of those Gacaca courts and saw some of these genocide suspects being put on trial. It was a rough and ready process, but does the Minister agree that a huge amount of work has been done over the years by the international community, including by British lawyers and experts, to help Rwanda improve its justice system? It has abolished the death penalty. Does he agree that there is no problem in principle with extraditing suspects to Rwanda to face trial?
It is our view—it was the Government’s view—and that is why we contested the case. Unfortunately, it was not the view of the UK courts.
May I plead with the Minister for a greater sense of urgency in this case? The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), whom I congratulate on securing the urgent question, talked about a 10-year delay. The Minister said there was a three to five-year delay. Three to five years is still too long. It is 25 years since the genocide in Rwanda. May we please have a sense of urgency from the Government?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that it was not until 2017 that we started the investigation here at the request of the Rwandans, so it is not that we have not been doing it for 20-odd years. If there is a requirement for resources, that will be discussed every week with the counter-terrorism police, and I stand by ready to help with that. However, the hon. Gentleman will also want us to ensure that if these people come before a court, they are convicted and that we present the best case possible to ensure that the charges they face are upheld and stick.
I have spent time in Rwanda with Project Umubano and with the Select Committee on International Development. I have met people whose families were slaughtered. I have met people who have reconciled themselves to the fact that they no longer have families. They have gone a long way. I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) that it has been too long. These people have waited 25 years. Perhaps we have not been doing this for 25 years, but we should have been. We should have moved it on. People cannot come to peace until this is reconciled.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I understand that not only victims but supporters of the country want this matter to be closed and justice to be administered to the people responsible for the genocide. However, a police investigation is a matter for the police. How they conduct it is a matter for them, and how it is prosecuted is a matter for the CPS. We stand by ready to support them in doing that, but, at the end of the day, the police are operationally independent and the CPS is independent on many of these issues.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on asking it. As he mentioned, it was very important for us to attend the Kwibuka 25 remembrance ceremonies in Kigali on Sunday. I must tell the House that the bravery of survivors was humbling. Our duty to them is to pursue justice.
I know the Minister knows that, so may I ask him a broader question? What conclusions has he drawn about the UK’s current ability to act on crimes against humanity, and what discussions has he had with the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development about that? That matters not just to Rwandans but to other victims of grave injustices, such as those from Syria, and not just to direct victims of these heinous crimes but to every one of us in this world, all of whom rely on the rule of law.
While I recognise the understandable impatience of many colleagues on these particular cases, we should not lose sight of the fact that the United Kingdom, under successive Governments, has been a proud supporter of administering justice for war crimes around the world—in Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda and other places. We should be proud of that.
We have not only often put our money where our mouth is, but we have used all diplomatic tools—the former Yugoslavia is a good example—to bring to trial people who thought they were always out of reach of justice. We continue with that enthusiasm and support. If it is a case of resources, the Department and I are standing by to continue the support. We are determined to see justice, and there is no resistance on this side of the House to doing so. We will continue to pursue the case to make sure that these people face the justice they deserve.
Having been on several trips to Rwanda with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), I entirely share their comments. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that this case is prosecuted with the utmost vigour? If the 2017 High Court judgment leads people to think that the UK is a soft touch, people who commit these atrocious crimes will see the UK as a natural refuge. That should not be the case, and they should know they will face the full force of the law, whatever the views of the court system in the country from which they have come.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to send a strong message. I do not like, any more than he does, seeing in the newspapers that people are living freely in this country having had their extradition effectively turned down, which is why I would like to see, in general—I will not comment on this case—people in this country who have potentially perpetrated a war crime to be persecuted and prosecuted themselves.
The Minister is hearing from both sides of the House that we want action and that we want this investigation to happen promptly. We all know that he is not in charge of the courts and that the police are independent, but he does have the power to give extra money to the Met war crimes unit now, rather than waiting for a request. Will he not do that and send a signal from this House that we want the police to have the resources to get this investigation done soon?
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that if the police require more money, for this or any other issue, they can come to the Home Office—either they internally prioritise or they come to us to see what we can do. We stand ready to do that. I know from my discussions with the police on this issue that this is not about resource; it is about the complexity of the case itself. Some of these cases are incredibly complex, and the challenge of untangling them is one of the reasons it takes time.
Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), I have talked to some of the families who witnessed some of these dreadful crimes. In the Minister’s meetings with the Metropolitan police, he should urge it to proceed on this as urgently as possible. Three to five years is too long. If it were a terrorist outrage in this country, the public would be rightly outraged that it is taking so long. May I urge him to urge the Metropolitan police to get on with this? After all, most of the evidence has already been collected by the earlier court cases.
My hon. Friend may like to reflect that some of the terrorist trials we are awaiting here in the United Kingdom have taken years. They take a long time. In cases that stretch across countries, it is often highly complex to get evidence that reaches the evidential bar in order that a case can be submitted to a court.
Under our system, as under the Rwandan system, the accused has a right of disclosure and defence, and we have to make sure we get that right. I hear the urgency of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. I will continue to press this when I meet the head of counter-terrorism policing on Thursday. I will make sure the police are aware of the urgency, and we will have a further discussion about whether more resource is needed or whether it is the complexity that is taking time.
I, too, met survivors of the Rwandan genocide when I visited Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2006. I know this subject is very close to your heart, Mr Speaker. I thank you for granting the urgent question, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on asking it.
Mr Speaker, you will remember 10 years ago, when we were joint vice-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on genocide prevention, sitting in a meeting with Jack Straw on closing the impunity gap in the law and making sure that alleged war criminals could be prosecuted in this country. People will look at us today and say that our judicial system and our asylum system are supposed to give sanctuary to those fleeing human rights oppressors and atrocities, and that they should not be abused by the alleged perpetrators of war crimes. There is no time limit on justice, so why did the police not investigate these crimes in parallel with the extradition process? Will the Minister report to this House on a six-monthly basis so that we are not here still demanding justice for the survivors on the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide?
On the hon. Lady’s last question, of course I can update the House on the progress of war crimes investigations in general, and maybe specifically around Rwanda, but not on individual cases—I cannot come to the House on those cases, one by one. I spoke earlier about commenting on live police investigations.
It is obviously a matter for the police when they start an investigation, but it is clear from the chronology of this case that the Rwandan Government requested an extradition and we complied with that request. We were keen to see these people extradited to face justice in Rwanda. We had safeguards, and we were confident that Rwanda would be able to deliver a fair trial. Regrettably, that was not the view taken by the High Court in 2017. Almost as soon as that decision was made, we took up the baton and started the investigation here. We will continue with that investigation, and hopefully we will get to a resolution sooner rather than later.
When I visited Rwanda in 2002 I had the misfortune to see some horrific scenes as a result of the genocide, and it was made very clear to me then that justice has to be part of the reconciliation process. A lot of progress has been made in Rwanda—I visited again last year and saw some of that progress—but will the Government continue to work with Rwanda to ensure it can continue making progress while, at the same time, recognising that justice is an important part of that recovery process?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Africa Minister visited Rwanda not only to remember the horrors of the genocide and to say, “You are not forgotten,” but to continue to commit Britain’s support for that country and the amazing progress it has made since 1994.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on raising this issue. Were we talking about people who were allegedly involved in the Nazi holocaust, there would be a much stronger sense of urgency on the action that needs to be taken. In that context, I believe the Minister is defending the indefensible. During the extradition proceedings, there have been 10 years in which I assume information has been gathered by the authorities. To say that it will take a further three to five years, or probably closer to 10 years, to bring the matter to trial is just unbelievable. Complexity and thoroughness do not justify this level of delay, and I urge him to listen to the unanimous voices on both sides of the House and do all in his power—it is not about resources but about a will to act—to ensure that the police pursue this and that these people are brought to justice much more swiftly.
I hope the right hon. Lady does not think that because I have upheld the rule of law about the courts, there is no urgency. I would like to see those people off our streets. I do not want war criminals walking around this country. I do not want them here on a day-to-day basis. My strong view is that they should face justice, but police investigations are complex, and there is no magic wand that we can wave to force these things to happen at a quicker pace. We can allocate resource, offer to remove any barriers, whether international or not, and go to court—as we did—on behalf of the victims and the people of Rwanda to try to get this dealt with, but I can do no more than ensure the police know of the urgency. I can continue to monitor the situation and press them, weekly if necessary, to ensure we get a resolution. There is a determination on all sides of the House to bring war criminals to justice, and we will continue to press that.
I accept the Minister’s good faith, and I recognise this country’s good record on dealing with its international obligations. I welcome the fact that neither he nor anyone else in this House is seeking to go behind the decisions of this country’s independent judiciary, but does he recognise that it is important in such cases to ensure that too much time does not pass and that the testimony of witnesses does not fade? We are often dependent on eyewitness testimony in such cases, and those of us who appear in the courts know that the longer it is since the incident, the harder it is to ensure a fair trial and fair testing of the evidence.
My hon. Friend knows better than anybody else about the judiciary and its relationship with the Executive. I absolutely understand the importance of urgency when it comes to evidence. It is important that we produce trials that are successful. All I can say is what I have said to many hon. Members: I will impress the need for urgency on the counter-terrorism police when I next see them. I promise to update the House on the progress of war crimes prosecutions. My hon. Friend and I know that we must respect the rulings of the judiciary. There has been too much bashing of the judiciary in the past 20 years, and that does not help our society. They made that decision, and we abide by it. We must now prosecute in this country, and we will do so urgently.
Not long after my election, I met a constituent who had seen their family members brutally killed during the Rwandan genocide. Her story was heartbreaking. It is unbearable for her that one of the alleged perpetrators of those horrific acts of violence now lives in her town and is free to continue with his family life without fear of extradition. She is asking when she will see justice for her brothers.
The hon. Gentleman will have heard my earlier answers. As the police progress whatever cases they have, we stand ready to support them. Subject to the complexities and the courts, I hope we will see prosecutions sooner rather than later.
Anybody visiting Rwanda will recognise a spirit of reconciliation and a real desire to move on from the absolutely horrific events of 1994. That is backed up by a sense of justice, often through the specially arranged local courts. If Rwanda has done the right thing, why cannot we?
Rwanda’s doing the right thing has meant ensuring the rule of law, separation of powers, respect for the judiciary, successful prosecutions and fair trials. Those are the same principles that we believe in in this country. We must respect the judiciary and its rulings if we are to set an example around the world. The Rwandan courts seem to manage that. We will respect our judiciary’s ruling and will seek to prosecute in this country.
I, too, have visited Rwanda, although it was with the all-party group on agriculture and food for development, so I saw a far more positive vision of the country. It is shocking to go round the stunning countryside and reflect on the fact that it was once steeped in bloodshed. Has the Minister had conversations with his colleagues in the Department for International Development? The number of survivors of the genocide is dwindling as the years pass. Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were deliberately targeted with rape, and many were deliberately infected with HIV. Working with the survivors can perhaps help us to gather evidence and eventually bring people to justice.
The hon. Lady makes some valid suggestions. I am obviously not the Minister for Africa or the DFID Minister, but I will write to my colleagues and ask them to write to her to explain what they are doing. I will seek any suggestions she has about how to build a better policy.
The alleged perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide are Rwandan citizens, are they not? The public in this country will view with disbelief the fact that we are not returning them to justice in their own country. For those people to be at large and in receipt of social security benefits just makes the situation even worse. If in 1970, 25 years on from the horrific events of the second world war, there were alleged Nazi war criminals in this country and the Government were refusing to extradite them for trial in West Germany, Poland and Israel, that would have been unacceptable, as is this.
Perhaps I can correct my hon. Friend. The Government are not refusing to extradite them; we sought to extradite them to Rwanda to face justice. The court took a different view and said that it did not feel that they would face a fair trial if we did so. We have to abide by the court’s ruling, so we will instead seek to prosecute them in the United Kingdom. We think that is the best outcome. Whether they are citizens of the United Kingdom, Rwanda or anywhere else, we must abide by our article obligations under the European convention on human rights.
In a few weeks’ time, I will join Nottingham’s Rwandan community to commemorate 25 years since the genocide. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), does the Minister appreciate the impact on survivors who have made their home in the United Kingdom of our country not being seen to be doing everything possible to ensure that those who are guilty of crimes against humanity are brought to justice?
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. Can she communicate to her Rwandan community that the Government spent £3 million trying to extradite those people so they could face justice in Rwanda? That was not possible, so this country and the police are investing to ensure we seek justice in the United Kingdom. That is not being passive and doing nothing; it is doing something.
I was privileged to be on the first Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to Rwanda last November. It truly is a glorious country. The theme across all the meetings we took part in, whether with the Foreign Minister, in reconciliation villages or with district mayors, is that no one will or wants to forget the genocide. Those people deserve justice. One of the Foreign Minister’s concerns was our apparent unwillingness to investigate the allegations against the alleged perpetrators of the genocide. The Minister knows that in 18 months’ time, Rwanda will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. How can the UK Parliament, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the UK Government sit with the Rwandans in Kigali talking about common purpose around security and safety, when it appears that we do not take their concerns and their need for reconciliation and justice seriously in the UK system?
I dispute the picture the hon. Gentleman is painting about the Government’s and Parliament’s commitment to Rwanda. Plenty of friends of Rwanda who care about the consequences of the genocide in 1994 have rightly stood up to ask questions. This Government, the previous Government, the previous Labour Government and this House have been great supporters of the steps that Rwanda has taken since 1994. We are not doing nothing. We tried to extradite individuals so they could face trial. The court took a different view, and then we started an investigation. We have also been running other investigations into war crimes, and we will continue to do so.
Windrush Compensation Scheme
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on the Windrush compensation scheme.
Righting the wrongs done to the Windrush generation has been at the forefront of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s priorities. Last week, on 3 April, she made a statement to this House setting out the detail of the compensation scheme and announcing that it is now open to claims.
The Government deeply regret what has happened to some members of the Windrush generation and the launch of the compensation scheme marks a key milestone in righting the wrongs they have experienced. The scheme will provide payments to eligible individuals who did not have the right documentation to prove their status in the UK and suffered adverse effects on their life as a result. These could range from a loss of employment or access to housing, education or NHS healthcare, to emotional distress or a deterioration in mental and physical health.
Information on the scheme is now available. The claim forms and guidance notes can be found on the gov.uk website or requested from the freephone helpline. The scheme rules and caseworker guidance were also published online on 3 April. The helpline is already receiving calls and claim forms are being sent out. The Home Office has also started a series of engagement events. The first event was held in Brixton last Friday and the next event is scheduled for Southampton this Friday.
In due course, we will publish information on the scheme through our existing monthly reports to the Home Affairs Committee, including information on the number of claims submitted, the number of claims paid and the overall amount paid out by the scheme.
I should not need to remind anyone in this House that the Windrush scandal is a national disgrace. At least 11 people who were wrongly deported from the UK by their own Government have died. At least 164 British citizens were wrongly deported or detained. Home Office officials have told the media that 15,000 individuals may have been harmed by the contempt that their Department showed.
Last week, one year since the scandal broke, the Home Secretary finally announced the compensation scheme, to begin the process of reconciliation for the Government’s grievous errors. The Home Secretary apologised again, on behalf of the Government, for the failings and repeated his promise to do right by the Windrush generation. Crucially, he told members of this House:
“There is no cap on the scheme”
“it will be based on people’s needs”.—[Official Report, 3 April 2019; Vol. 657, c. 1048.]
His words seem to have provided false reassurance.
In the response to the Windrush compensation scheme document that the Home Secretary brought to this House, there was no detail of caps. Instead, that was quietly published online in a separate compensation scheme rules document, slipped out later on 3 April. MPs therefore had no chance to scrutinise or question the truth that his Department had set out incredibly strict caps to be awarded for different losses—a £500 payment for legal costs incurred; £500 for people who had been denied the chance to go to university; £1,000 for those wrongly obliged to leave the country under a so-called voluntary return scheme; and a mere £10,000 for people who were wrongly deported. Victims have correctly described these payments as “peanuts” and “insultingly low”.
I say to the Minister: £10,000 is less than one Secretary of State’s gross salary per month. Is that all that a person will have lost if they have been locked up, if they have been deported, if they have been made homeless, because £10,000 is all that they would get from her Department? Is this all it costs someone to be denied access to their family and friends for years or decades—to their own country? Is this the price that you put on my constituents being deported for no wrongdoing and nothing that they have themselves done? Is this how this Government value the lives of black Britons? I say to the Minister: you promised to do right by the Windrush generation, but quite rightly many of them think that they have been misled.
Let this be the final betrayal of the Windrush generation. Scrap the caps, and compensate them properly for the wrongs that have been done to them.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He is of course right to emphasise how important it is that we right these wrongs. I would like to give some further explanation. It is important to reflect that while we have worked very closely with Martin Forde to establish both the tariff-based scheme and actuals, so where people could evidence specific losses, they would be reimbursed for those losses, actually these different heads of claim, which can be claimed for, need not be in the singular but can be cumulative. There is also a discretionary category, which will enable people to claim for other losses, not necessarily identified within the scheme, which is uncapped. [Interruption.] The detail is provided in the scheme online, but it is important to reflect that while there is a tariff set at £10,000 for somebody who was wrongly deported, of course that could be in conjunction with other parts of the claim, which could add up to significant sums in addition to that.
In addition to the Windrush compensation, can my right hon. Friend say when we will see pay-outs for the Chagos compensation scheme, which was set several years ago at £40 million to that exiled community over 10 years?
My hon. Friend will be conscious that this urgent question is about the Windrush compensation scheme, but he will no doubt be reassured to hear that last week, when I met high commissioners from across the Commonwealth, that issue was raised with me, and I will be working closely with Home Office officials to update him on that.
Ooh, it is very striking to see the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) beetling off together. It is almost certainly a conspiracy—but probably a conspiracy in the public interest, I feel sure.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this important urgent question.
The whole House knows that the Windrush generation was let down by successive Governments, Labour and Conservative, but with this derisory compensation scheme, the Windrush generation has been let down once again. I draw it to the attention of the House that although I did get early sight of the Home Secretary’s statement on 3 April, I was not provided with early sight of the scheme rules, and I appreciate the opportunity to question the Minister on them today.
This scheme compares very unfavourably with the criminal injuries compensation scheme, whose awards are aligned with compensation for loss under common law. Claimants are also allowed a statutory right of appeal of awards. They are also allowed legal aid for those appeals. None of that is true in any meaningful sense in the case of the Windrush victims. How can the Minister possibly justify that?
The Opposition believe that the Home Office must pay for losses actually incurred. For instance, claimants will be paid just £1,264 for denial of access to child benefit. It is easy to quantify what people would have lost altogether. Why cannot they get that exact sum of money back, plus interest? There is only £500 for denial of access to free healthcare. It is easy to quantify how much people had to spend when they had to access private healthcare. Why cannot they get that money back?
On awards, the scheme provides compensation for detention. However, in the false imprisonment case of Sapkota v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, the courts upheld three common law principles. First, detention is more traumatic for a person of good character. Secondly, a higher rate of compensation is payable for the first hour. Thirdly, historic damages awarded in precedent cases must be adjusted and uplifted to present-day values. The deputy High Court judge in that case awarded Mr Sapkota £24,000. This proposed scheme provides nothing like those common law damages.
The amounts offered for wrongful denial of access to higher education are pitiful. The scheme offers just £500, but all the research shows that the lifetime benefit of access to higher education is counted in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds.
This scheme is shoddy, unfair and unjust. Ministers did not make all the information available to Her Majesty’s Opposition when we were able to respond to the scheme. Some might say—I will not say it—that Ministers were attempting to conceal the reality of the derisory nature of their scheme. Above all, the Home Secretary said there was no cap. These tariffs are a cap. We are asking Ministers, even at this late stage, to review these unfair tariffs, remove the cap, and give this generation the justice they deserve.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments, but given that the rules and guidance were published on the same day as the Home Secretary made the statement, it is somewhat unfair to suggest any attempt to conceal the scheme. Far from it: we have sought to publicise the scheme and to reach out to posts across the world with a selection of communication tools, and we invited high commissioners into the Home Office last Thursday to emphasise the scheme to them.
I will comment briefly on the published Home Office ex gratia scheme that was already in place and to which the Home Office and Martin Forde referred when considering this scheme. The ex gratia scheme provides a maximum £1,000 for someone who has been wrongfully deported. In arriving at the £10,000 figure for deportation, the Government considered that alongside the case law evidence of courts awarding a range of damages subject to individual case details. We regarded £10,000 as a more appropriate figure than the £1,000 in the existing scheme, which has been in place for many years.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the scheme of review. We have put in place a two-tier review: first, an internal review, whereby someone who is not content with the original decision can have it referred to a senior caseworker who was not involved in the original decision; and, secondly, independent of the Home Office, another tier of review will be considered by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs independent adjudicator.
With regard to caps on payments, this scheme is both tariff and actuals-based. The right hon. Lady raised the issue of those who might have been denied NHS care, where the tariff scheme involves an award of £500. However, if an individual incurred private healthcare costs, the actuals will of course be repaid. The Home Office is determined to work with its own information and with data held by other Departments and indeed by individuals more widely, so that we help claimants to establish their actual level of loss, where that is the most appropriate route.
I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on granting this urgent question, and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on tabling it. I commend the Minister for her work on the scheme; it is one that I very much welcome. How accurate are press reports that up to 600 people may have made false or fraudulent claims to the scheme?
It is absolutely right to reflect that the scheme has been open only for very few days so far, but we have received claims, registered them and sent out claim forms, which we are expecting back. I am not aware of any fraudulent claims to this scheme, and I am very conscious that we have put in place a rigorous process, which will enable all claims to be assessed fairly and indeed with full rigour. It is important to reflect that the Home Office is determined to work with individual claimants. There may be cases in which Home Office data enable us to assist people to determine the level of claim, and we are absolutely determined to do that.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this important urgent question. It is imperative that the victims of the Windrush scandal are compensated justly for the terrible treatment that they endured.
I was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights which took evidence from two of the victims of this disgraceful scandal. Anyone who heard their testimony about the effect of wrongful detention, and of years of persecution and threatened deportation, would regard some of the amounts in this scheme as derisory. After a year-long wait for the compensation scheme, it is disappointing that it has serious flaws, some of which have already been enumerated by others. It seems to be a great deal more mean than was suggested by the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box, when he said that there would be no cap on the scheme. A cap, however, has clearly been introduced through the back door by applying internal caps on pay-outs, which will equate in effect to caps on how much individuals receive.
As has been said, some of the pay-outs under the scheme are wholly unacceptable: £250 per month for people who were rendered homeless as a result of that unjust treatment; or a maximum award of £500 for legal affairs. The Home Secretary refuses to compensate people for the full cost of immigration law advice; he claims that they do not need legal advice to make an immigration application. Any of us who deal with immigration matters in our constituency surgeries knows that not to be the case. Those of us who study closely the Home Office files of the individuals who gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights will tell you that only with the assistance of lawyers did they manage to disentangle themselves from this mess.
Is it not time for the Home Secretary to admit that removing legal aid from immigration matters was a huge error? The Government must fully compensate those of the Windrush generation who had to pay out of their own pockets to defend themselves against that state injustice. Will the Minister accept that the minimal pay-outs under this scheme will achieve nowhere near justice for such people? Does she agree that, if the Government were truly serious about rectifying the wrongs of the scandal, they would look at this scheme anew and scrap the hostile environment, which already threatens to have the same impact on European Union citizens applying for settled status.
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her questions. She commented on the long wait for the scheme. She will of course recognise that not only did we appoint Martin Forde as an independent adviser to the scheme, but he came to the Home Office to ask for additional time, so that the consultation period could be open for longer. More than 1,400 responses were received to the consultation, and it was absolutely right to give adequate time for the responses to be considered carefully and thoroughly.
The hon. and learned Lady will be aware that the scheme includes both a tariff category and actuals. It is important to reflect that, where actuals have been accrued, the Home Office seeks to reimburse people through those fees. However, we recognise that it may be hard for people to provide evidence of actuals, which is why it was so necessary to put a tariff scheme in place as well, so that people would not be dependent simply on being able to provide the evidence.
The hon. and learned Lady made a wider point about the complexity of the Home Office’s immigration scheme. She will no doubt welcome the consultation on that being carried out by the Law Commission. If she has not already done so, I hope that she responds to that consultation before it closes, which I believe to be imminent.
Out of darkness can come light, and I therefore welcome today’s announcement, which builds on the earlier announcement and progresses the whole issue of compensation for those badly affected in the Windrush immigration scandal. In the Immigration Minister’s report, I particularly welcome paragraph 4.18, which clearly lays out compensation for employment, and 4.20, which does the same for benefits. I have one constituent—possibly two, but one definitely—who will deserve compensation in both those categories. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm news about the telephone hotline and tell us how our constituents may access help with application forms, which can be a challenge, for the older generation especially?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that claim forms can sometimes be difficult and onerous, for the elderly in particular. We deliberately designed the form after speaking to members of the Windrush generation, so that the language used was as simple and straightforward as possible. In addition, we made provision with Citizens Advice, so that it can assist people with their claims. Individuals from my hon. Friend’s constituency of Gloucester need only make contact with the helpline—I understand that the average wait time for an answer last week was just 18 seconds. His constituents should make contact with the helpline and they might then be referred to Citizens Advice, which will be able to provide assistance with making a claim.
I too congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this important urgent question. Compensation is just £1,000 for those individuals who were forced to leave this country under the so-called voluntary return scheme because they were unable to prove that they were justifiably able to reside here. Many people received letters from the Home Office warning them that they would need to leave the country because they were here illegally. How can the Minister justify paying compensation of only £1,000 to those who were forcibly removed from the country?
The hon. Lady is right to point out that serious wrongs were done to members of the Windrush generation. That is why we set up the Windrush taskforce and put in place a compensation scheme, which was designed with the assistance of our independent adviser, Martin Forde. I recognise her, but it is important that we reflect on the advice that we were given and seek to have a scheme that is fair.
I welcome the urgent question from the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), whom I congratulate. I understand why the scheme is in the form that it is, but does the Minister agree that what is most important is that the end result is seen to be fair, particularly to those mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), the people whom we saw in the Joint Committee on Human Rights and who were detained unjustly for considerable lengths of time? Does the Minister agree that the end sum—adding all these bits together—should be seen in the eyes of the public as fair for what people in those circumstances have been through?
I commend my hon. Friend for his work on the JCHR; I certainly recognise the moving and compelling testimony that the Committee listened to during the course of its inquiry. It is absolutely right that we reflect on the advice that we have received, that we seek to make the scheme as fair as possible, and that we put in place a scheme that can respond quickly and efficiently to claims. That is why we will have a taskforce that will be 120 strong at full complement. We have also made provision for individual claims for compensation to be split, so that the quick and easy parts of the claims to assess can be split off and paid immediately.
The report of the Public Accounts Committee highlighted that this scandal does not stop with the Windrush generation, but that thousands of other Commonwealth citizens are affected, and my own caseload bears that out. When the Home Secretary came before the House to make his statement, he was not specific about whether the Home Office would go through the lists of people, identify those who could be affected and proactively contact them. Will the Minister either make that commitment today or acknowledge that the Home Office systems are just not fit for this purpose?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary did make it clear last week that the scope of this scheme is not limited to Caribbean nationals and that almost all Commonwealth nationals who arrived before 1 January 1973 will be eligible to apply. It is important that we are working across the Commonwealth to highlight and emphasise to the high commissioners and our posts the wide cohort of people who will be eligible to apply, so that they can work with those people and claims can be settled.
I have previously raised the issue of the role for those affected in helping to design the scheme. Now it is in operation, will there continue to be a place for that input?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. Last week, the Home Secretary hosted an event for those affected, which was also attended by Wendy Williams, who is conducting the review, and Martin Forde. I was particularly struck by a number of individuals I spoke to who emphasised the need for continuing outreach, and that is why we are holding a programme of events across the country. Martin Forde has on many occasion reflected to me that this is about building and rebuilding trust, and I am particularly grateful to all those who have helped us to reach out to members of the Windrush generation so that we can try to do exactly that.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for requesting it. Does the Minister feel that £1,000 is an appropriate minimum award for injury to feelings in order to compensate black Caribbean people who felt that they were forced to leave this country and, indeed, left this country? These people have experienced many emotional traumas, including the loss of sleep, anger, fear, trepidation, loss of appetite, loss of earnings, vulnerability, fear and ongoing feelings of depression. Is that minimum fee of £1,000 just compensation?
As the hon. Lady pointed out repeatedly, that is the minimum amount. Of course, the table of actuals and tariffs very clearly emphasises that there are sections for impact on daily life, with a range of awards, and for discretionary circumstances, where there is no cap. It is really important that we work to ensure that we reflect the impact on people’s daily life and on their mental wellbeing, and I believe that this scheme enables us to do that.
Will the Minister acknowledge that one of the causes of the Windrush scandal in the first place was the disproportionate level of documentation from many years ago demanded by the Home Office to enable individuals to exercise their rights? It is rapidly becoming clear that the same mistake is being made in relation to this compensation scheme, so will the Minister urgently review not just the compensation cap that we have heard about, but also the scheme’s documentary requirements, so that no one is denied compensation due to missing documents from past decades?
We have sought to have a scheme that is based on both tariffs and actuals, so that those who cannot provide evidence will be able to go down the tariffs route and not be expected to provide the evidence that those going down the actuals route would be able to provide. As I have already said, the Home Office wants to work with claimants to ensure that where evidence can be found—either from within Home Office records or from other Government Departments—we do exactly that, so that people are supported to get the compensation to which they are entitled.
Detaining innocent people and threatening them with deportation is not only wholly unacceptable; it is dehumanising. The treatment suffered by my constituent, Paulette Wilson, was absolutely appalling. Why did the Government not come clean about these caps last week when we were in the Chamber questioning the Home Secretary? And how on earth did the Government come up with the figure of £500 per 24-hour period for the first 30 days of detention and £300 per 24-hour period for the subsequent 60 days? How were these amounts arrived at?
As I am sure the hon. Lady will have heard me say, the amounts were arrived at in consultation with our independent adviser, Martin Forde, and by looking at both the ex gratia scheme that was already in place at the Home Office and at case law. She is right to say that detention is absolutely wrong for those who have no reason to find themselves in that situation. I have apologised to her constituent, Paulette Wilson. One can only hang one’s head in shame at the way in which the Home Office treated not just Paulette Wilson, but too many individuals of the Windrush generation. We are still ashamed of what happened and are desperately trying to put things right via this scheme.
My constituent kept close records; his loss of earnings is over £50,000 and his solicitors’ fees run into the thousands. But this 59-year-old, who had previously worked all his life, has had his mental health so severely damaged by the failings of this Government that he now cannot hold down a job. First, will the Minister tell me exactly how people are supposed to provide actuals for jobs that they were not allowed to have? Secondly, given that my constituent is unlikely to work again, what provision is there within the compensation scheme for future loss of earnings?
The hon. Lady is right to point out the severe impact on individuals of the Windrush generation. As I said previously, the Home Office is determined to work alongside HMRC, which will have evidence of previous earnings and the earnings level at which her constituent would have been, and to work with him through his own evidence. She indicated that he had kept close records through HMRC to ensure that he is properly compensated. As I mentioned earlier, there is also a discretionary element to the scheme that in some instances may well provide redress that is not otherwise identified in the tables.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and I are meeting constituents from Windrush families this Saturday, and I think there will be very considerable interest in the engagement events that the Minister mentioned, so it would be helpful to know whether she can provide local MPs with details of when these events might be coming to our areas. Due to the deep mistrust and scepticism about the Home Office, there may be reluctance to supply full information to enable a cost-based claim to be submitted, so will the Minister guarantee that there will be a firewall in place to ensure that any data supplied for the purpose of seeking compensation under this scheme is not used by the Home Office or any other Government Department for other purposes?
Absolutely, I am happy to give that commitment. The hon. Lady makes an important point about the importance of outreach and of building trust. I am absolutely determined to do what she has asked and to provide information to hon. Members across the House of when there will be outreach events in their constituencies or close by. I recognise that, in the case of Manchester, a number of Members are close by. We will certainly provide that information.
As I mentioned, in many instances it is those from the community who can provide the greatest reassurance. I was struck last week when talking to two gentlemen from Birmingham by the emphasis they put on the work that their charity does in supporting individuals. I have taken a close interest in that and looked to see how the Home Office can provide additional assistance to such individuals, who provide such a useful bridge between Home Office officials and the community.
The first engagement event on the Windrush scheme took place on Friday in Brixton, just outside my constituency. It was called at just a day’s notice, it was not publicised systematically and I received an email late on Friday evening informing me of the event. That is simply not meaningful engagement and, frankly, it does not treat the community affected by the scandal with respect.
The application form requires a very high level of proof—for example, receipts from hostel accommodation used when someone was made homeless. That is comparable to the burden of proof that led many Windrush citizens to be wrongly denied their rights in the first place. Will the Minister agree to review the scheme to ensure that it works for Windrush citizens, is accessible to all and delivers the justice and recompense to which they are entitled? Will she undertake genuinely meaningful engagement, properly publicised, in the communities that are most affected?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the publicity surrounding events and the importance of doing it in a meaningful way. I am conscious that we have a schedule of events planned, but I am never happy when I think that information is provided at too short notice. I will undertake to ensure that that does not happen and that not only Members but affected members of the community are given adequate information about when events will take place.
We designed the application form and scheme in consultation with members of the Windrush generation, and we sought to make the form as straightforward as possible. Of course, there are sections that will be relevant to some claimants and not to others. I certainly hope it is clear that people are not expected to fill in every single section of the form. Where they are asked for evidence, that is if evidence is available. The Home Office is determined to work alongside individuals to ensure that where evidence is not available, people are assisted either to find it or directed towards the tariff route, where evidence will not be required to the same extent. It is important that we get the balance right, but the hon. Lady has made some important points that we will certainly take on board.
I have been in correspondence with the Home Office for almost a year about the case of my constituent, Bobbi Vetter, who came to the UK as a baby 54 years ago and has lived nowhere else but the UK. Last year, she was offered a job in Oban but could not prove residency for a six-year period while she was here—a time when she was having and raising her children. Bobbi was unable to take that job and has been forced to live on universal credit. What compensation will Bobbi be entitled to? Will the Minister resolve to look at Bobbi’s case urgently to right this terrible injustice?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to stand at the Dispatch Box and indicate a level of compensation for his constituent, but I will very happily take away the details of the case, if he will provide them, and look into it.
Tobacco Companies (Transparency)
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 tobacco companies to publish sales and marketing data; and for connected purposes.
The UK has made remarkable progress over the past two decades in reducing smoking levels. In 2000, more than one in four adults in England smoked. By last year, that had declined to fewer than one in six. Since the last tobacco control plan was published in 2011, smoking rates in England have fallen by a quarter, from just below 20% to just below 15% in 2017, bringing the estimated number of smokers down to 6.1 million. At the same time, smoking rates among children have fallen rapidly. After two decades of little change, between 2000 and 2016 the proportion of 15-year-olds who were regular smokers fell from 23% to 7%—a decline of more than two thirds.
Those reductions, which have meant large consequential improvements in public health, have happened because of strict tobacco legislation, progressive tax rises, public education and the provision of support services for those who wish to quit. We have had a succession of measures including the launch of “stop smoking” services; health warnings on tobacco products; a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; a ban on smoking in enclosed public places; raising the minimum age of purchase to 18; pictorial health warnings on packs; the prohibition of cigarette vending machines; prohibiting displays of tobacco in shops; and prohibiting smoking in private cars carrying under 18s. We introduced larger graphic health warnings on packs and then became one of the first international adopters of plain standardised packaging for cigarettes. We have since had the ban on cross-border advertising of e-cigarettes.
However, smoking still accounts for approximately 79,000 deaths a year in England alone, and therefore remains the top priority for public health policy. It is the leading cause of preventable premature death and is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in our communities. Smoking causes lung cancer, respiratory disease and heart disease, as well as numerous cancers in other organs, including the lip, mouth, throat, bladder, kidney, stomach, liver and cervix.
Although youth smoking rates have fallen to their lowest since surveys began in 1982, between 2014 and 2016 more than 127,000 children a year aged 11 to 15 started to smoke in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK. That amounts to about 350 young people a day, which is equivalent to 22 minibus loads of secondary school children. Once someone has started, it is difficult to stop, with two thirds of those who try smoking going on to become regular smokers.
The World Health Organisation framework convention on tobacco control, to which the UK is a party, obliges Governments to implement stringent control of the tobacco industry for the protection of public health to a greater extent than for any other legal consumer product. That includes the monitoring and surveillance of industry behaviour and ensuring that public policy is protected from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. Article 20 of the framework convention sets out requirements for parties to carry out monitoring and surveillance of the industry, and provides for the collection and dissemination of such data.
It should be remembered that two of the four major transnational tobacco manufacturers, British American Tobacco and Imperial, are domiciled in the UK and are two of the largest companies listed on the London stock market, even though all cigarette manufacturing in the UK has ceased. The UK therefore has an international duty to ensure that the industry is as tightly regulated as possible, and that this regulation and the provision of information about the industry support tobacco control in other countries.
Publicly available data on tobacco sales, profits, marketing and research inform the development of tobacco control and tax policy, and aid the identification and understanding of illicit market trends over time at local level. For example, academic analysis of industry pricing strategies, using commercially available data purchased from Nielsen, was used by the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to inform the decision to implement a minimum excise tax. However, commercially available data are not comprehensive and are often available only at extremely high cost.
World Health Organisation guidelines on the implementation of articles 9 and 10 of the framework convention state that
“information disclosed to governmental authorities in accordance with these guidelines, such as information on ingredients, product characteristics and the market, may also contribute to raising public awareness and advancing tobacco control policy.”
The Bill would therefore require the tobacco industry to provide the following information: at national and international level, and on an annual basis, the profits and taxes paid; at national level, and on a monthly basis, brand-specific price and sales data for all products, marketing spend by category, including spending on corporate social responsibility initiatives, and research spending; and at local authority level, and on an annual basis, sales data by product type for all products, including factory-made cigarettes, hand-rolled tobacco, heat not burn and e-cigarettes. It is already known that tobacco manufacturers collect that data, and some of it is supplied to HMRC. The Bill would require the data to be published, either by the industry or through HMRC.
It has been argued that the data cannot be published because of taxpayer confidentiality. However, that has not prevented similar legislation from being enacted in other jurisdictions. Regulations in Canada and New Zealand require publication of the data. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission issues regular reports on the tobacco industry, covering that exact data.
Making such data available to UK researchers and policy makers would greatly help the development, implementation and evaluation of policy measures designed to reduce smoking prevalence. Such data at local level would also provide a useful insight into the illicit market; for example, significant reductions in local sales over a short period are likely to be an indicator of illicit sales activity.
It should be noted that tobacco manufacturers remain enormously profitable, in the UK and internationally, but a recent study shows that they pay virtually no corporation tax. In 2016, Imperial Brands, British American Tobacco and Gallaher together made UK operating profits in excess of £1 billion yet paid just £83.6 million in corporation tax. Over the past seven years, during which time corporation tax rates have varied between 20% and 28%—and often much less—British American Tobacco has paid virtually no corporation tax, including for four years in a row when it paid nothing at all. From 2014, Imperial Brands was permitted to stop reporting UK-adjusted profits. BAT and Philip Morris International have never done so, and none of the four transnational companies report profit before tax in the UK.
The provision and publication of data on sales and related information would support the development of tax policies that ensured that the tobacco industry paid tax at a level that properly reflected the damages it causes. The industry could easily absorb any additional costs of providing the information required under the Bill.
In summary, the Bill’s benefits to the Government and to public health would include better understanding of market developments to inform the development of tobacco control and tobacco tax policy, for example on tax structure; enabling future academic research on the price sensitivity of tobacco consumption to support work already carried out by HMRC; better identification and understanding of trends in the illicit market over time at local level; the development of proxy indicators for smoking prevalence changes at local level to enable local authorities to determine the effectiveness of their tobacco control activities; better understanding of the marketing strategies of the tobacco industry; and more accurate assessment of whether tobacco companies are paying appropriate levels of corporation tax.
I refer at the outset to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I do not intend to speak for long, because I know that many Members wish to get on to this afternoon’s important debate, but the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—in fact, I consider him to be my hon. Friend—should not pass by without some scrutiny.
The hon. Gentleman has been tireless in his campaigning to reduce the number of people who smoke and the harm caused by smoking. I applaud him and others for their commitment to such a good cause, but I am worried that the Bill misses the point and doubles up on what already happens under a European directive that effectively ceased the manufacturing of tobacco products in the United Kingdom.
Ever since the introduction of the European Union’s tobacco products directive, tobacco companies have been required by law to provide the Government with all of their sales data and market research. E-cigarette manufacturers, which are now a significant employer in the United Kingdom, also have to submit the same information. Clearly, it is only right and proper that that information should be provided, and that is the kind of thing that we should keep in law after we finally win our independence from Brussels. The tax changes mentioned by the hon. Gentleman are not, as far as I know, covered by the Bill and are a matter for the Treasury.
The European directive also requires that from May onwards, all tobacco products will be tracked, pack by pack, across the European Union, from factory to the precise retailer. That, of course, is to prevent a lot of smuggling and crime, which is incredibly important. That data will be available from May onwards, and the database will give the Government exact data about what products are where in the supply chain, so there is no need for the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. The Government already have, or soon will have, all the data he suggests and, indeed, much more. The European directive goes even further and its provisions surpass the requirements suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
We know that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking. There are already 3 million people in the United Kingdom who vape. More than half of them have given up smoking completely—and all without a penny of taxpayers’ money. This is the free market solving a problem that previous Government campaigns have failed to solve. We should applaud that.
As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on vaping, I am pleased to welcome the House to the month of VApril—a month to celebrate the positive switch that smokers can make to vaping. The campaign is backed by businesses—both tobacco companies and independent e-cigarette businesses—and by consumers and retailers. I stress that the products are manufactured in the United Kingdom and keep people in employment in the United Kingdom, and that those people pay taxes in the United Kingdom. They are, therefore, incredibly important.
If the hon. Gentleman really wants to stop more people smoking, as I do, he needs to get behind vaping and work to tell more smokers about the difference and improvement it can make to their lives and health, with an approximately 95% reduction in harm compared with smoking. Far too many smokers have never even tried vaping, and far too many of them wrongly think that it is just as bad as smoking. As the Select Committee on Science and Technology was told just last year, we need to do more to set those people straight.
I do not want to divide the House. The hon. Gentleman deserves our respect for his years of campaigning to reduce smoking, but the Government already have all the information they need and the Bill is already out of date.
Question put and agreed to.
That Bob Blackman, Alex Cunningham, Sir Kevin Barron, Ian Mearns, Dr Philippa Whitford, Norman Lamb and Caroline Lucas present the Bill.
Bob Blackman accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 April, and to be printed (Bill 377).
Exiting the European Union (Sanctions)
We come now to the intended debate on four motions—specifically, motions 2 to 5—and I suggest that, with the leave of the House, we will debate motions 2 to 4 on Sanctions and motion 5 on Exiting the European Union (Sanctions) together. To move the first of the motions in a debate on all four, I call Sir Alan Duncan.
I beg to move,
That the Burma (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 136), which were laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
That the Venezuela (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 135), which were laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.
That the Iran (Sanctions) (Human Rights) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 134), which were laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.
Motion 5—Exiting the European Union (Sanctions)—
That the Republic of Guinea-Bissau (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations (S.I., 2019, No. 554), which were laid before this House on 15 March, be approved.
As you have said and with your permission, Mr Speaker, I think the House will appreciate it if I consider the four statutory instruments together. In speaking to the Burma (Sanctions) (EU Exit) regulations, I will also speak to the Venezuela (Sanctions) (EU Exit) regulations, the Iran (Sanctions) (Human Rights) (EU Exit) regulations and the Guinea-Bissau (Sanctions) (EU Exit) regulations. These regulations provide the required details of these four sanctions regimes, but they do not set out which individuals or entities will actually be sanctioned under them. In a no-deal scenario, we will publish on exit day the full list of those we are sanctioning under our UK legislation.
Hon. Members will be well aware of the importance of sanctions. They are a key element of our approach to our most important international priorities. They help to defend our national interests, support our foreign policy and protect our national security. They also demonstrate our support for the rules-based international order. The UK has been a leading contributor to the development of multilateral sanctions in recent years. We have been particularly influential in guiding the EU’s approach and, when we move the EU’s sanctions regimes to the UK in a no-deal scenario, we will carry over their policy effect. I will say more about that in just a moment.
We are committed to maintaining our sanctions capabilities and leadership role after we leave the EU. Hon. Members will recall that the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 provides the UK with the legal powers to impose, update or lift sanctions after we leave the EU. This was the first major legislative step in creating an independent UK sanctions framework.
I am pleased that the Minister has said that the EU sanctions list will, in effect, be rolled over. At this early point in his contribution, notwithstanding that we are talking about sanctions on three specific countries—plus the EU one at the end—will he give the House an assurance that there is no immediate intention to change the sanctions list from the one we will adopt from the EU?
I can confirm that there is no such intention. Indeed, the intention and the expectation is that the existing regimes in the EU sanctions regime will be lifted and shifted, and put into ours. However, having scrutinised the individual elements of these, we will have to make sure that they all meet the threshold of evidence and justification that our own autonomous Act of Parliament requires. It is possible that something may not be carried over, but the expectation is that everything will be.
The Minister mentioned the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. While we are talking about specific countries, that Bill, which is now an Act, did include the Magnitsky amendment. He referenced a list should the United Kingdom leave without a deal, and that general list would no doubt include other countries as well. In that regard, what is the current position of the Government on individuals named on a sanctions list in relation to the Magnitsky amendment, which is now part of an Act?
I say to my hon. Friend that I will come on to that in just a second. I will answer the question raised in his intervention, but let me complete the introductory logic of what these four statutory instruments are intended to do.
While the Act set out the framework needed to impose our own independent sanctions, we need statutory instruments to set out the detail of each sanctions regime within that independent framework. Such statutory instruments set out the purposes of our regimes, as well as the criteria under which the Secretary of State may designate individuals and entities within the framework, and the types of restrictive measures imposed. I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for its close and helpful scrutiny of these and other statutory instruments relating to sanctions regimes.
On the Magnitsky element of the Act of Parliament passed last year, that sanctions Act provides powers for the UK to impose sanctions to provide accountability for or to deter gross violations of human rights, and to promote compliance with international human rights law and respect for human rights. These powers are what is colloquially known as the Magnitsky amendment. The Government’s focus so far has been on ensuring that we have the necessary secondary legislation in place to continue to implement existing EU and UN sanctions should we leave the EU without a deal. The statutory instruments we are debating today are part of this preparation.
Will the Minister give way?
No. Let me just take my hon. Friend through this, and then he can come back again if he wishes. I need to explain quite where the Magnitsky element fits in.
As a member of the EU or during an implementation period, EU sanctions will apply in the UK. We will look to use the powers provided by the sanctions Act to the fullest extent possible during this period, but there will be some limitations on the measures that we can impose autonomously. In order to impose national sanctions for human rights—the Magnitsky element—we will need to design and draft a statutory instrument and ensure the associated processes and structures are in place to be able to implement and manage a sanctions regime.
It is important that we set up a regime correctly to ensure sanctions meet the legal tests set out in the sanctions Act. As soon as the secondary legislation and associated structures are in place to ensure the continuation of EU and UN sanctions in the UK, we will turn to the consideration of UK national sanctions, including for human rights.
The Minister is being very generous. May I ask him why not a single individual Russian is on any sanctions list at the moment? It is rather odd that the Government’s position seems to be that the justification for no Russian being on any list is that we cannot do this until we leave the European Union, despite the fact that all the Baltic states have individual Russians on a sanctions list. If we are going to remain de facto within the European Union, surely the justification for taking action is going to continue.
First, I say to my hon. Friend that this is not just against Russians. If people have violated human rights anywhere in the world, they could come within the scope of the Magnitsky clause I have been describing. I say again that the reason why we have not yet applied the Magnitsky elements of the sanctions Act is that the statutory instrument making it a bespoke part of that Act within UK autonomous law has not yet been made, and it that was done too rapidly—he will appreciate that we have had about 3,000 statutory instruments to get through this House because of EU exit—there would be a high risk of constant legal challenge, which we would like to avoid.
I am a bit confused about the Government’s attitude. The permanent under-secretary gave one reason why we could not have these sanctions in place already, the Foreign Secretary has given three different versions of why it could not happen and now the Minister has given yet another version of why it could not happen thus far. Part of it seems to be that the Government are not yet ready, which feels a bit like foot dragging to me, because I remember that the Government did not want this amendment in the first place, but the House insisted on it. The Government still seem to be arguing that we cannot do this because we are still a member of the European Union. In fact, Estonia and Lithuania have exactly those provisions, and nobody has thought to strike them down. There are 49 Russians listed in both those countries. Why can we not do it?
What the hon. Gentleman says is not consistent with our legal advice. We have to make sure that any application of the Magnitsky legislation fits legally and properly within any implementation period that might exist. It would be easier and quicker, as it happens in this case, if we were to leave with no deal—that is perhaps the only advantage of so doing that I can think of straight off the top of my head, but we will not go down that route.
Can the Minister therefore confirm—this is what I think he is saying—that all the individuals and entities currently sanctioned by the EU will remain sanctioned by the UK under these regulations? Given that the UK has less capacity than the EU collectively, what resources are being put in place to ensure that the UK continues to update the list of sanctioned individuals and groups, or will we simply mirror any updates made by the EU?
I perhaps feel a little prime ministerial when I say that I refer the right hon. Lady to the answer I gave some moments ago, but the answer is the same: our intention is to transfer the EU sanctions, but because we have our own autonomous regime, the evidential threshold must be met. Therefore, everything is being studied closely to confirm that it fits within the evidential requirements of the sanctions Act.
The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. He is welcome to intervene and say why, but I can assure him that that is exactly the position as I understand it at the moment.
I did not seek to intervene, but I am happy to. I am unclear. Is the Minister saying that, where there are currently sanctioned individuals, all of them without exception will continue to be sanctioned in the event of a no-deal Brexit, or that because the evidential requirements of the UK, acting autonomously, may be different from those that apply while we are in the European Union, some of those individuals will no longer, or could no longer, be sanctioned?
As I said earlier, it is possible that, in exceptional circumstances, a person or an entity might not be transferred, but we do not expect that to be the case often, if at all. The intention is, wherever possible, to transfer the operation of the existing regime into our own autonomous legislation.
I think the Minister is saying that one reason why it will not be possible is that there are so many SIs that it is difficult to get the SI in place to deal with Magnitsky. I just wonder when he hopes the provisions will be available to the House and be able to be implemented.
All I can say is that the timeline of many things at the moment is difficult to forecast, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not attempt to say exactly.
Just say when.
As soon as we are practically able to do so.
Our American allies have a disagreement with our European allies about the extent of sanctions against Iran and how best to handle the difficulties with Iran. What thinking has the Foreign Office given to an independent UK policy on this? Are there any merits in the American approach, or are all the merits with the European approach?
If we are looking at individual cases such as that, we are straying slightly outside the terms of this debate, which is about the framework for the operation of sanctions in these four areas. We work closely with our European allies on the operation of the joint comprehensive plan of action, and we will continue to do so. However, we will of course look at all sanctions under the terms of the Act that we passed last year.
The four statutory instruments under consideration transfer into UK law the EU sanctions regimes on Burma, Venezuela, Guinea-Bissau and Iran—the human rights element of Iran, rather than the anti-nuclear side. In each case, the instruments seek to substantially mirror the measures in the corresponding EU regime, which include financial, immigration and trade measures.
These SIs were laid on a contingent basis to provide for the continuation of sanctions should we leave the EU without a deal. This would ensure that we have the necessary powers to impose sanctions on the countries in question from the date of exit. If we reach a deal, sanctions would continue to apply under EU law during any implementation period, and these SIs would not immediately be needed.
As I said at the beginning, should we leave the EU without a deal, we will publish the list of those sanctioned under these SIs and all our new sanctions SIs on exit day. We will seek to transfer EU designations in each case, but as I said earlier these decisions will be subject to the legal tests contained in the sanctions Act. Any EU listings that do not meet the tests would not then be implemented.
Hon. Members may recall that review and reporting requirements were incorporated into the sanctions Act. Hence, alongside these statutory instruments, we have published reports on the purposes of each regime and the penalties contained in them—these are known respectively as section 2 and section 18 reports. These reports, plus an explanatory memorandum for each SI, are available in the Vote Office should Members wish to read them in detail. The Government will also review each sanctions regime on a regular basis.
I would now like briefly to describe the purposes of each regime. The Burma sanctions regulations seek to encourage the Burmese security forces to comply with international human rights law and to respect human rights. The corresponding EU sanctions were established in their present form in April 2018, in response to systematic human rights violations by Burmese security forces since the summer of 2017.
The EU sanctions regime designates members of the Burmese security forces who were involved in human rights violations or abuses, or in the obstruction of humanitarian assistance activity or an independent investigation into the atrocities in Burma.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way. Is there any evidence that, since the imposition of those sanctions in 2018, the behaviour of the Burmese military towards the Rohingya or other minorities in the country has in any way improved?
Again, I think that is straying into detailed analysis of the working of the sanctions, which is not the subject of these statutory instruments.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He will know that, since the implementation of those sanctions, the International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into the Burmese atrocities. What does he know about the status of that investigation? Does he anticipate an increase in the sanctions on Burma when this instrument comes into effect?
Again, the purpose of this debate is not to look at the way the sanctions are working; it is merely to set up the legal framework in which they can be allowed to work under our autonomous regime.