House of Commons
Tuesday 23 April 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Mr Speaker, I will endeavour to croak my way through my response.
We published the first ever pan-Government victims strategy in September 2018 containing 88 commitments, of which we have already implemented 24, to better support victims of crime. Among those is a commitment to consult this year on the revised victims code and details of victim-focused legislation, reaffirming our manifesto commitment to such a law.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending condolences and expressing shock at the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Sadly, it highlights the issue of the effect on victims of terror incidents, whether in this country or abroad. When will the Government come forward with a law to ensure that victims are properly supported, because all too many reports from victims in previous incidents suggest that that has not been the case?
I join my hon. Friend in his expression of condolence and sympathy to all those who were affected by the horrific events in Sri Lanka over the weekend. It is vital that we get any new legislation right—hence our commitment to consult. We will first revise and strengthen the victims code and then identify any legislative gaps arising from that. We will consult on a victims law this year and bring forward legislation subsequently when parliamentary time allows.
I am grateful to the Minister and the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for what they said. Many Members will have noted what is on the Annunciator, but for those who have not I simply give notice of the intention for us to hold one minute’s silence in respectful memory of those who tragically and horrifically lost their lives in Sri Lanka, and that will take place after the urgent questions and immediately before the first of the ministerial statements.
Does the Minister agree that the tragic victims are those people who cannot speak because they have been killed by an accident or a violent crime? Will he meet me to discuss the case of a bereaved family whose little girl was killed 15 months ago as a driver crashed into a bus queue? The driver not only killed the little girl, an only child, but seriously injured another woman. They have not been prosecuted. Can we have a chat about that?
I would not want to comment on specific cases on the Floor of the House, and although decisions on prosecution are not a matter for Ministers, I would, as always, be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman.
If prolific repeat offenders spent longer in jail there would be fewer victims of crime in all of our communities. Does the Minister agree?
I believe that the key to seeing fewer victims of crime is effective rehabilitation of offenders and breaking the cycle of offending. That is exactly what I and the Secretary of State are focused on.
My constituent Kristian Thompson would have been 27 years old today had his life not been taken when he was 19 years old after he was the victim of a one-punch attack. His mam, Maxine, set up the charity One Punch UK. This week is One Punch Awareness Week when many people who have lost loved ones are pleading with the Government to follow Australia and Canada and create a one-punch law imposing a minimum sentence for perpetrators. Why are the Government continuing to resist doing so?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady and I send my sympathies to Kristian’s family and friends on the terrible events that she has just described. I am very happy to look at what she is proposing, and if she would like to write to me, I will respond as fully as I can.
A vital feature of justice for victims is financial redress, so why have this Government presided over a near 60% fall in the number of victims of violent crime receiving payments from the criminal injuries compensation scheme?
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her question. Our ongoing review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme has one simple aim: to make sure that it better supports victims and reflects their needs in the 21st century. Indeed, last year we awarded compensation of more than £154 million, and recently, we have announced that we are abolishing the “same-roof” rule so that many more victims can make claims. In respect of the specific issue to which she refers, which I believe was covered in The Guardian newspaper recently, I would sound a slight note of caution about the figures for 2010-11 being a benchmark as I understand there is a possibility that they were inflated that year due to a £30 million pay-out specifically for compensation for asbestos-related conditions. None the less, I welcome her engagement with the review that we will be undertaking this summer.
Imprisonment for Public Protection
The Government are committed to providing IPP prisoners with opportunities to progress to the point at which they are safe to release. Our primary responsibility is public protection. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation service and the Parole Board are delivering a joint action plan to improve IPP prisoners’ sentence progression. In 2017-18, three quarters of those considered by the Parole Board were either recommended for release or a move to open conditions. This shows that our approach is working.
My constituent Wayne Bell is currently in the 12th year of a sentence for which the original tariff was four years. Owing to his significant mental health issues, he is unable to engage with the parole process and the review process, and his mental health problems are exacerbated by the hopelessness of his situation. Does the Secretary of State realise that prisoners with mental health issues can get trapped in a vicious cycle where it becomes almost impossible to achieve parole, and will he look at interventions that could be considered to enable Wayne’s cases and others like it to be resolved?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point. I am happy to write to him on the individual case, which has a number of complexities, as I am sure he is aware. I have mentioned the joint action plan to improve IPP prisoners’ sentence progression. These measures include case reviews led by psychologists for those prisoners not making the expected progress, an increased number of places on specialist progression regimes, and greatly improved access to rehabilitative programmes. I continue to be ambitious to ensure that we do everything we can in this area, remembering that public protection must remain our priority.
I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said about his ambitions for IPP prisoners. Does the joint action plan have an end date—that is, is there a date beyond which we should not detain people under these sorts of sentences?
In the end, it comes down to the decisions made by the Parole Board, which has to make its decisions based on public protection. In some cases— regrettable though it may be—if someone is not safe to be released, the Parole Board must make that decision. We need to ensure that we do everything we can to progress these cases as best we can. As I have said, we have made progress in recent years.
The latest figures show that there are still nearly 2,500 prisoners serving IPP sentences. These sentences often have punitive recall conditions, which means that people might be returned to prison for fairly minor breaches of their licence conditions, resulting in many prisoners serving well beyond their original tariffs. It was previously a target of the Parole Board to reduce IPP prisoner numbers to 15,000 by 2020, so what steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that this happens?
Obviously I want to reduce the numbers, and one of the reasons that we have provided additional support to the Parole Board is to enable it to do so. In the end, it comes down to individual decisions in respect of particular individuals, and some cases present a number of challenging factors. Decisions have to strike the right balance between progressing people as we should and ensuring that we protect the public.
Access to Criminal Justice
It is vital that our criminal justice system remains fair and accessible, and we are taking a number of steps to ensure justice within it. Legal aid is a very important part of that process, and last year we spent almost £900 million on criminal legal aid alone. However, our court system also needs to be modern and up to date, so we are spending £1 billion on technology to bring our court system up to date for the 21st century.
I thank the Minister for her response. The Law Society has highlighted the fact that low criminal legal aid fees are having an adverse impact on the number of new, younger lawyers. Criminal legal aid fees for solicitors have not been increased since the 1990s. Will the Government commit to raising fees for solicitors, at least in line with inflation?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, because those who work within the criminal justice system play a vital part in upholding justice. That is why, over the course of last year, we have consulted the professions and put a further £23 million into the advocates’ graduated fee scheme. It is also why we have recently announced that we will be doing a holistic review of criminal legal aid with regard to the professions, looking overall at a whole range of issues across the Bar and across the duty solicitor schemes. That review has already started.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but there is a crisis in legal aid and in legal representation. The Law Society data says that within five to 10 years there will be insufficient criminal duty solicitors in many regions. She has mentioned the review and mentioned more money, but what specific steps will she take to make sure that people have their right to be represented while being interviewed by the police?
Doing a review and putting in £23 million are specific steps to ensure that we get better justice. I am very grateful to the Law Society, which the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) mentioned, because it is actively engaged in our review, as are the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association.
It is really good to hear that the Law Society is having such an impact on the Government. However, the Law Society has also published research that shows that the criminal legal aid means test is preventing families living in poverty from accessing justice. Although the Government will eventually review this, the review will not conclude until 2020, and it will be even further down the line when any changes come into place. Will the Minister therefore commit to taking action now to ensure that vulnerable people are still able to access justice?
I am very pleased that the hon. Lady has highlighted that we have already committed to doing a review of the threshold for legal aid across the board, not just in relation to criminal law but civil law as well. It is very important that we get that review right. Legal aid has not been uprated for a number of years. We have committed to doing that, but not only that—we have already started the review.
Violence in Prisons
I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our deep horror at the recent attack against a prison officer in Nottingham prison. It is completely horrifying to see this happen. It must not happen again. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our prison officers for the work they do in very difficult circumstances keeping us safe. There are three main things we can do to stop this kind of thing happening again. We need to improve perimeter security, which means really searching people for weapons and drugs at the gate; we need to make sure that the conditions in the prison are decent and work; and, above all, we need to provide the training and support for prison officers to have the right kind of relationships with prisoners whereby things like this do not occur again.
My hon. Friend the Minister vowed that if prison violence did not decrease, he would resign. I, for one, think that we have seen too many members of the Government resign. Could he give us an update on his own ambitions to stay in post?
As some people in the House will be aware, I promised to reduce violence in 10 key challenge prisons over a 12-month period. At the moment, the figures are looking reasonably positive. In other words, it looks as though, in the majority of these prisons, violence is coming down so hon. Members may be in the unfortunate position of still having me at this Dispatch Box in a few months’ time.
As the Minister mentioned, on Sunday 14 April a prison officer at my local prison in Nottingham had his throat slashed with a razor by a prisoner in what his union calls a cowardly, unprovoked act. According to doctors, this young public servant—a brave man in his early 20s—came within millimetres of losing his life. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to this prison officer and to his thousands of colleagues facing this sort of violence every day, and does he agree with the union—the Prison Officers Association—that this ought to be treated as an attempted murder?
I absolutely agree that these are extraordinary public servants. This is a horrifying and completely unacceptable act. We need to punish the person who did it, and we need to punish them properly. At the moment, the charge that is being brought forward carries the maximum life sentence, as it should, but there is more that we can do. That includes body-worn cameras, the rolling out of PAVA spray and ensuring we have enough officers on the landings, which is why I am pleased that we now have the highest number of prison officers at any date since 2012.
Would there not be less violence in our prisons if there was a relentless focus from the first day in prison on getting prisoners work on release? We could do that by combining training in prison with employer and college support on release.
This is not an either/or. We have to be confident and practical about doing two things at the same time. Controlling prisons—these include some quite dangerous individuals—involves serious measures on searching people for drugs and weapons, but it also involves treating people like humans and turning their lives around, because that is the way we protect the public from the misery of crime through reoffending when these individuals are released from prison.
In the light of the recent disturbances among 16 and 17-year-olds at Feltham young offenders institution, is the Minister aware of the previous episodes of violence at the prison, which were attributed to the lack of education and training facilities, 23-hour confinement in cells and the mixing of remand and convicted prisoners? Why do lessons appear not to have been learned?
A lot of lessons have been learned since that initial event, but the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; there was a very disturbing event two weeks ago. The basic challenge, as he will be aware, is getting the balance right between ensuring that people are motivated and focused on the regime and that there are high expectations around prisoners and prison officers. To some extent, it is like running a very difficult school, particularly when we are dealing with 16 to 18-year-olds. It is a mixture of being strict on the one hand and loving on the other that is the key to a good prison.
Does the Minister agree with his party’s former long-serving Secretary of State, Sir Malcolm Rifkind—a self-confessed true believer in privatisation—who wrote recently in the Financial Times:
“The physical deprivation of a citizen’s liberty should not be the responsibility of a private company or of its employees.”
Does the Minister accept that the renationalisation of HMP Birmingham heralds the end of his Government’s failed prison privatisation agenda?
I respectfully disagree with Sir Malcolm on this issue. It was absolutely right to take Birmingham back in hand, because that prison was not performing properly. On the other hand, the same company is running some very good prisons in Oakwood, Altcourse and Parc. It is doing good things on family work and on technology. Private sector prisons are often among the safer local prisons in terms of assaults per 1,000. We are not ideological on this. The private sector can certainly play a role.
Welfare Benefits: Legal Advice
In the most recent Legal Aid Agency civil tender, the number of offices providing legal aid services on welfare benefits increased by 188%. In February, we set out our legal support action plan, which focused on the importance of early legal support. We will be establishing a number of pilots in a range of areas of law to see how best we can support those in need. It is critical that welfare decisions are made right the first time, and we are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to help ensure that.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but she will know that the number of people receiving legal aid to challenge benefit decisions fell from more than 91,000 in 2012-13 to fewer than 500 five years later, which was clearly the Government’s plan. The Department’s own figures show that while 28% of unrepresented claimants are successful on appeal, that figure jumps to 90% for those who have legal representation, so literally tens of thousands of people have lost out on moneys to which they were entitled. Does she agree that the Government should consider restoring legal aid for social security appeals, so that claimants can get the support they need to win the money they deserve?
Legal aid is available in welfare cases on points of law to the upper tribunal and the higher courts. A wide variety of considerable support is also available from some fantastic third sector organisations. I visited a number of them recently, and they are doing an excellent job. As I mentioned, we are also looking in our legal aid action plan at how we can provide people with support early on in a variety of areas, which may include this area.
Recent BBC research found that 1 million people live in areas with no legal aid provision for housing, with a further 15 million in areas with just one provider. Does the Minister not agree that only rogue landlords benefit from this situation?
The hon. Gentleman mentions housing. It is right that, across the country, some areas are quite sparsely populated, but people can always get advice on the telephone gateway. There are 134 housing and debt procurement areas, and as of 31 March 2019, there is at least one provider offering housing and debt services in all but five procurement areas. The Legal Aid Agency recently concluded a procurement process, and services in three of those areas will commence on 1 May. The agency is considering how to procure provision in the remaining two.
Government cuts to legal aid have left tens of thousands of welfare benefit claimants without the ability to appeal flawed DWP decisions. We continue to see harrowing stories of those who have suffered after such poor decisions. Those cuts left tens of thousands of tenants unable to take on lousy landlords, and left migrants unable to fight back against the Conservative party’s hostile environment. Can the Minister explain why these vulnerable people are far too easily cast aside, while the private companies failing in our prison, probation and courts systems are too readily bailed out? Does this not sum up in whose interests the Conservative party governs?
This party and this Government would like to support all people who need support, but we need to provide it in a way that is efficient, provides a good service and uses taxpayers’ money well. That is why we set out in our legal aid support strategy a variety of pilots that we will hold to help people in a variety of areas of law—housing, immigration—and all these can be bid for. We are putting forward £5 million for people to develop and put in place technology provision, face-to-face support and other support for legal aid.
It is just not good enough because all too often the Government spin against legal aid, with talk of fat cat lawyers and unmeritorious claims, but the latest figures show that the number of not-for-profit providers, such as law centres, has fallen by nearly two thirds under this Government. Will the Minister follow Labour’s lead and commit to funding a new generation of social welfare lawyers that can empower communities to battle against injustice and a new generation of law centres that can empower people to fight back against cruel Government policies?
While the professions and those who provide support are incredibly important—that is why, as I mentioned earlier, we have put £23 million more into criminal legal aid professionals—we would like to focus on helping those who need that support. That is why we are focusing on our £5 million innovation fund to find out what sort of support people need and how best to provide that support. We recommend and hope to support bids from legal advice centres as well as from professionals.
Youth Justice System
Significant reform has been undertaken since 2010, and we remain committed to driving further improvements. While fewer young people are committing crimes for the first time, with an 86% reduction in the number of young people entering the youth justice system for the first time, we still have more to do to break the cycle of reoffending. Working with youth offending teams in partnership is central to prevention, but for those who end up in custody, we believe our reforms to move to a secure school model will play a key role in reducing further offending.
The recent increase in knife crime has highlighted the very young age at which some of our most vulnerable young people get involved in crime. What steps is the Department taking to divert young people away from offending and reoffending?
We work very closely with youth offending teams and youth offending services run by local authorities to help with that prevention. I pay tribute particularly to the team in Lewisham, whom I was lucky enough to visit the other day. We also work closely with the Department for Education on exclusions and the role they can play in causing offending behaviour.
Feltham young offenders institution has had a difficult recent history and problems with sustainability of management. Following the recent attack on prison officers, I am grateful to the Minister for how quickly the management, the Prison Officers Association and the Department responded.
It is increasingly clear that the growing violence to which young inmates are subject, and which they experience prior to prison, is presenting new challenges. Will the Minister join me in welcoming new projects that use sport—such as Tough Cricket in Feltham, which works with faith communities—to support young offenders in more positive activity and help to develop an alternative set of values?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her work following the incidents of violence that she has mentioned. Once again, I thank the Prison Officers Association for its constructive engagement, and our thoughts are with the welfare of the injured staff. She is absolutely right to highlight the importance of sport as one of the positive ways we can divert young people away from violence and offending behaviour.
Too many young people who get involved in crime have been failed by the education system or have special educational needs, which often go undiagnosed or are not coped with well by schools. What more can be done to ensure that young people do not fall foul of the system and end up with very few qualifications and very little hope for the future?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Central to tackling the problem is partnership working, not only with youth offending teams but with colleagues in the educational sphere. We are fully engaged with Edward Timpson’s review of exclusions, and we are working very closely with the Department for Education on matters such as speech and language therapy, learning disabilities and other factors that can play a part.
The age and maturity of children is so important. The age of criminal responsibility here is 10 years, which is low; it is 14 years in Germany and 15 years in Italy. There was a 60% increase in the number of young offenders between 1996 and 2004. What has been done to reduce the number of young offenders?
We have worked extremely hard across the Government, and with local authorities and other state and charity agencies, to drive down the level of offending. We have seen an 86% reduction in the number of young people coming into the criminal justice system for the first time, but there is more to do to break the cycle of reoffending for those who are already in the system, and that is what we are focused on.
Housing Cases: Legal Advice
Legal aid is available when someone is at risk of losing their home or seeking to address safety concerns that pose a serious risk of harm to the person or their family. In 2017-18, the Legal Aid Agency spent £28 million on housing matters, including £9 million on legal help for housing. We recognise that early support may well be helpful, and I have mentioned already a number of pilots and an innovation fund. We will also be piloting face-to-face advice in an area of social welfare law, which may possibly be in housing.
Labour has committed to restoring legal aid funding for early legal advice for housing, welfare benefits appeals and family law cases, helping hundreds of thousands of people. Why have the Government refused to do the same, despite evidence that to do so would actually save them money?
There is already funding available, as I have mentioned. In 2017-18, we also spent £3.6 million on the housing possession court duty scheme—in other words, on-the-day advice. The Government want to ensure that people are helped early on, but also that we provide advice in the best way possible. That is why instead of just ploughing taxpayers’ money back into traditional legal aid, we want to evaluate many different forms of provision of early legal support and see which is the best, and then we will take a decision on what support we want to give.
The Minister may well say that, but thousands of families up and down the country rely on citizens advice bureaux and law centres for help with a wide variety of problems. Even refugees rely on those centres. What is she going to do about properly funding those organisations? They cannot wait around for some Government review that might take place in the future. Will she deal with the matter urgently?
The hon. Gentleman mentioned immigration, and people can already get legal aid for asylum cases. We are committed to ensuring that people know when legal aid is available to them. We are going to advertise when it is possible and undertake a programme to ensure that people know when legal aid can be claimed. In other areas where it is currently out of scope, we want to ensure that we provide it in the best way possible. In relation to housing advice, I should also mention that people can always get advice on the telephone gateway.
Leaving the EU: Legal System
The UK and the EU have agreed the terms of an implementation period. If Parliament is able to support a deal, common rules will remain in place during that period. That will provide certainty to businesses and citizens. The UK and EU have also committed to explore a new agreement on family judicial co-operation and other related matters; ambitious arrangements for services and investment, including legal services; and a future security partnership. My Department continues to work to ensure we are in the best position to negotiate our priorities.
The former Brexit Minister, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) said at the Dispatch Box that a no-deal Brexit
“would not result in a reduction in mutual capability”—[Official Report, 20 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 1077]—
on security and law enforcement co-operation.
However, the Solicitor General, when giving evidence to the Justice Committee, said:
“A no deal is deeply suboptimal when it comes to criminal justice”
“we would lose the European arrest warrant”,
“raises all sorts of questions of delay and, frankly, potential denial of justice”.
Will the Justice Secretary tell me which Minister’s version of the post-Brexit future is accurate?
We are very clear that the best way forward is to reach a deal. That is what the Government are endeavouring to achieve and support from across the House would be quite helpful in delivering that.
The Solicitor General’s evidence to the Justice Committee was indeed crystal clear. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that it is critical for civil justice co-operation that there should be a deal? None of the ambitious objectives for future collaboration would work if there is no deal. For example, mutual recognition and enforceability of judgments in civil and family law cases would fall away immediately in the event of no deal.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight these issues. We have made progress in our negotiations, particularly in the context of family law. It is to the advantage of citizens in the UK and the EU that a deal is reached, which will enable us to enforce judgments in this area. Our ambitions are to go further and, in terms of the future framework, to make further progress on civil judicial co-operation.
In thousands of instances, we are not able to deliver justice in this country unless we have a proper extradition agreement with other countries in the European Union. As I understand it, even if the withdrawal agreement were to go forward at some point, we will still have to operate as a third party outside the European arrest warrant. Relying on the 1957 treaties will not be enough, so what plans does the Secretary of State have to ensure we are able to maintain a proper extradition arrangement with other countries in the European Union?
The hon. Member is correct to say that on leaving the European Union we will not have access to the European arrest warrant. We would wish to be able to do so, but there are difficulties. For example, Germany has a constitutional bar in this area. The Home Office continues to work with EU member states to try to find a way in which we can have as effective extradition and arrest warrant arrangements as possible.
Justice issues are, of course, largely devolved. EU initiatives such as Eurojust and the European arrest warrant are well utilised by Scottish prosecutors and are hugely valued by them. In the current Brexit talks between the UK Government and the Labour party, will the Secretary of State confirm what proposals regarding justice have been discussed and if the Scottish Government have been or will be consulted on these or any forthcoming proposals that may result from the talks between the Tories and the Labour party?
I am not going to comment specifically on those discussions. What I would say in the context of no-deal preparations is that, as I understand it, the Scottish Government have not allocated any of the money given to them for no-deal preparation on justice matters. Certainly, when it comes to the United Kingdom, we are doing everything we can to prepare for every eventuality.
I can assure the Secretary of State that the Scottish Government’s no-deal planning is well advanced. The Justice Secretary’s Government recently opted into the Eurojust regulation. Eurojust plays a vital role in the fight against serious organised crime, particularly terrorism but also cyber-crime and child pornography. His Department said that opting in was necessary to ensure that the UK continues to work in line with our European partners in the lead-up to exit day and during the transition period. Will he tell us how many more justice opt-ins has he planned before Brexit takes place and will they feature in the Tory manifesto for the EU Parliament elections?
What I say to the hon. and learned Lady is that we want to work in a pragmatic way with the European Union, so that as we leave the EU, we continue to co-operate wherever we can to our mutual benefit. That does require us to reach a deal.
Access to Justice: Criminal Case Delays
Unnecessary delays can always cause distress for all parties. Some cases are moving more quickly through the criminal courts, but due to the complexity of cases, impacts on the time that they take to reach courts are being realised. The Crown Prosecution Service and the police are driving change across the system through the national disclosure improvement plan, and we are working to reduce delays and improve the way cases are progressed through the system through better case management and transforming summary justice.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and I am aware of the work that is being done to improve disclosure processes, which both the Law Society and my local police tell me are still contributing to delayed and, in some cases, collapsed trials. What is her view of the Law Society’s suggestion that different disclosure rules should apply in the magistrates courts and Crown courts, where the nature of the cases and the amount of disclosed but unused material differ greatly?
Of course, the Attorney General has done a review in relation to disclosure more broadly. I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss any ideas that she would like to put forward on those matters.
Since 2016, payments to consultancies by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service have shot up from £3 million to £20 million. The Government appear to think that expensive private consultants are the solution to all their problems, even in the face of spiralling costs. Does the Minister really believe that the way to increase access to justice is to hand over yet more public money to private consultants at a time when our courts are facing unprecedented cuts?
We are in the process of a £1 billion court programme—one of the most ambitious across the world in relation to how we transform our justice system—and it is appropriate that we get the best and right advice to manage that process. Sometimes we find that it is cheaper to instruct experts than it is to develop that expertise internally, so we use consultants where appropriate.
Enforcement Agents: Regulation
There is no excuse for aggressive tactics by bailiffs. I know that the hon. Lady has worked very hard to highlight the issues that have occurred in her constituency, and I was very grateful for her contribution to a recent Westminster Hall debate. She will know that we have undertaken a call for evidence, which addresses the regulation of the industry. Recently, we were very pleased to see the report of the Justice Committee, and we will respond both to the call for evidence and the Justice Committee’s report in the summer.
I thank the Minister for that answer. It is unacceptable that many people, including the disabled constituent of mine she referred to, have suffered at the hands of aggressive bailiffs, who seem to think that they are above the law. Debt collectors and debt advice charities are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, but bailiffs are an anomaly in all this and do not have independent regulation. I hear what she says about the timetable, but when the Government do respond to the call for evidence and the Justice Committee report, will that include plans for an independent regulator of bailiffs?
As the hon. Lady will know, regulation is one of the questions that we are asking in the call for evidence. We will look at the evidence—we have had quite a lot of evidence submitted—and we will be responding to that point about regulation. The Justice Committee made a number of interesting recommendations and put forward some proposals, and we will of course look at those in due course as well.
I rise as co-chair of the justice unions cross-party group. The number of public sector civilian enforcement officers is less than half what it was four years ago, while private bailiff firms receive millions from the taxpayer every year, and the Government recently admitted wasting almost half a million pounds on their cancelled private bailiff procurement process. When will they admit that privatisation is not worth it and invest instead in public staff?
Sometimes it is appropriate for the public sector to provide services; sometimes the private sector does it just as well, and sometimes better. It is appropriate to ensure that in all services we get the best service, not dictate who provides those services.
We believe very strongly that we need to both provide decent wages for people and grow the economy and make sure we have employment, which is why we have undertaken to provide a living wage to all our direct employees, and also to our third-party employees, but we have done so—and this is where I suspect the disagreement between me and the hon. Lady lies—at a level that has led to us having the highest rates of employment on record.
Just to be clear, will the Minister state that the people who clean his offices and the security guards who keep him safe in his role as a Minister will receive the living wage, meaning that his Department’s name, the Ministry of Justice, is accurate?
Yes, I absolutely can confirm that. In April, their wages will go from £7.83 to £8.21 an hour, which is the national living wage.
Prison Officer Safety
Protecting our prison officers is vital to having safe prisons. In order to do this, we have doubled the maximum sentence for assaulting a prison officer; we are introducing body-worn cameras; we are rolling out PAVA spray; and we are ensuring, through the training and support we provide for prison officers and the work we do on drugs, that we keep our prisons safe.
A key factor in the safety of prison officers is the number of these professionals in each prison. In an earlier response, the Minister said that the number was at a higher level than in any year since 2012. What is the number of prison officers at the moment and what plans does he have to increase the number of these professionals over the next 12 months?
We now have 4,300 additional prison officers, which is the highest level since 2012.
What about 2010?
We have fewer officers than in 2010. There was a reduction from 2010 to 2012, but we have now turned that around, with the 4,300 extra officers, meaning we can now roll out the key worker programme, which is central, as it means we have the ratios we need to have one prison officer allied with four prisoners to make sure we deliver the work on rehabilitation.
The number of officers is only one part of the equation. Will the Minister increase the almost poverty pay of those in the lowest-paid jobs in the Prison Service and the courts?
We have been looking at this very carefully, and the public sector pay review body is currently gathering evidence on the situation. We owe a huge debt of obligation to our prison officers and we have to think about their salaries. We also have to balance that with making sure our resources go into improving the physical fabric of these buildings and having the right security infrastructure and the right programming in place. Looking at the resources as a whole, we think we have got the balance right, but we will listen to the public sector pay review body.
Child Sexual Abuse Victims
We are determined to ensure that support is in place for all victims of child sexual abuse. In particular, a range of special measures is available in court cases to assist and support victims of child sexual abuse to give their best evidence in criminal proceedings, including the provision of evidence via video links, recorded evidence-in-chief, screens around the witness box and access to an independent sexual violence adviser.
I recognise the good work done to support victims of child sexual abuse, but access to compensation is key to that. The Minister will know that in 2017, of the 6,861 cases in which someone was found guilty of child sexual abuse, in only 26 was a criminal compensation order awarded. That is 0.4%. Will he work with me and others in the House to ensure we get victims of child sexual abuse the compensation they deserve?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the very powerful and, indeed, very personal speech that he made recently when presenting a ten-minute rule Bill on this subject. I should be happy to meet him, with my officials, to discuss this further.
Given that so many victims of child sexual abuse have spoken out about their horrendous experiences through the family courts, what consideration is being given to a full inquiry into the treatment in those courts of women and girls who have suffered domestic abuse and violence?
I know that the hon. Lady speaks about this subject with passion and knowledge, and that she has championed a number of those who have suffered in the past. She has highlighted a very important point. As she will know, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), and I—along with members of the judiciary and others—are looking closely into what can be done to ensure that the family courts themselves continue to ensure that the voices of victims of child sexual abuse are heard, and that they are responded to appropriately.
On 12 April, the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 came into effect. It criminalises the reprehensible behaviour known as upskirting. The offences specified in the Act are framed in clear and focused terms to ensure that that disturbing practice is tackled robustly wherever it occurs, so that victims can be confident that their complaints will be taken seriously. I thank Gina Martin for leading the campaign, and I thank all Members on both sides of the House who supported this law. Together, we have sent a clear message to those who think that they can get away with such invasive and unacceptable behaviour: it will not be tolerated.
A staggering 72% of decisions on personal independence payments and 65% of decisions on employment and support allowance are overturned in the first-tier tribunal. That means that not only are ill and disabled people having to fight for the social security support to which they are entitled, but a great deal of money is being wasted on the administration of appeal tribunals. May I ask the Secretary of State how much is being spent on the administration of PIP and ESA tribunals? If those figures are not recorded, will he agree to start producing them?
If I remember correctly, only 8% of awards are challenged in tribunals. As for the total cost, I will happily write to the hon. Lady providing the details.
I know that my hon. Friend is a committed supporter of Care after Combat. Indeed, so committed is he that he will be running the London marathon next weekend in aid of the organisation, and I gather that all sponsorship is welcome.
As a member of the ministerial covenant and veterans board, I am happy to confirm that the Government’s new strategy refers explicitly to veterans in the justice system. We incorporate a wide range of military and non-military charities in our work on prisons and probation, including SSAFA, the Royal British Legion and, of course, Care after Combat, and we encourage the sharing of best practice on what works.
Climate change is now receiving the public attention that it merits. Greta Thunberg is in the House today, and my party pays tribute to her work. All too often, however, our justice system restricts the ability of citizens to take legal action against environmentally damaging decisions. Last month, the United Nations criticised the Government’s failure to meet their international obligations relating to access to justice in environmental matters.
Labour’s 2017 manifesto proposed the establishment of a new type of environmental tribunal with simplified procedures so that citizens would have alternatives to prohibitively expensive judicial reviews. Will the Government follow Labour’s lead, and commit themselves to the establishment of a tribunal that would empower people to use our legal system to protect our shared environment?
I am not sure that setting up a new tribunal is necessarily the right response to this particular issue, but of course we want to do everything we can to ensure that the law—including the Government’s ambitious climate change policies—is properly enforced.
Given that the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2018 became law last year to block mobile phone signals in prisons, could the Minister update us on the progress that has been made on introducing the technology across the prisons estate?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work she did in bringing the Bill through and turning it into an Act. It is an important piece of legislation, which extends our powers to work alongside network providers. We are taking significant steps in dealing with the security threat posed by mobile phones. We have to prevent them from getting into prisons. We have to use detection methods to find them and stop them working, and we are making advances on that. We also need to exploit the data that is held on them.
Having also recently visited Downview, I know what the right hon. Gentleman is talking about, and I fully agree that restorative justice and the work of charities such as the Sycamore Tree project can have a vital role to play in making our prisons safer and more rehabilitative. Restorative approaches are already used across the youth estate and, as the right hon. Gentleman highlighted, in a number of other prisons. They have real benefits, in terms of both defusing conflict and repairing harm after an incident in prison.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome the fact that a family impact test on the Government’s proposed divorce law changes has been published, but what is the justification for the Government cherry-picking not just public opinion, which, according to the responses to their own consultation, is 80% against the proposed changes, but the evidence they rely on, with Ministers seeming to ignore evidence that there will be an immediate spike in divorce rates, which will impact negatively on the families involved?
I have to disagree with my hon. Friend on this point. It is true that there was a surge of submissions to our consultation in the last couple of weeks, but the fact is that a YouGov poll on the day the proposals were set out suggested 73% support for them. Indeed, we have had support from the Law Society, Resolution, the Family Law Bar Association, Sir Paul Coleridge—the chair of the Marriage Foundation—Relate and National Family Mediation. This reform will help families and ensure that the divorce process is less acrimonious.
We will certainly look at any proposals on this front. We do not, at the moment, have any plans, but I will certainly look at any proposals the hon. Lady might have.
I warmly welcome the commitment by the UK Government to recruit 2,500 more prison officers, because prison officers in Scotland have spoken out about the fact that the system there is at breaking point. Rising numbers have led to overcrowding in my local prison, HMP Perth, which was recently reported to rely heavily on inexperienced agency and bank nurses due to staffing shortages. Does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government need to make a similar commitment to restore order in our prison service?
My hon. Friend is a doughty defender of the interests of her constituents. As she points out, this is a matter for the Scottish Government, but I am more than happy to share our experience with the Scottish Government if that would be helpful.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he will be aware, we have brought forward the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which we are currently considering in the Joint Committee. We would very much welcome any reflections he has as part of that process before we draft definitive legislation to bring forward to the House.
During an earlier answer, my hon. Friend the Prisons Minister mentioned the roll-out of PAVA spray. When will it be completed?
I am delighted to be able to remind the House that PAVA spray is an incapacitating spray and that it can be safer, when dealing with acts of extreme violence, to use a spray rather than pulling out a baton or rolling around with someone on the ground. We need to use these sprays in a moderate, controlled fashion, but they can reduce extreme violence in prisons and protect our prison officers, so we are proud to be rolling them out.
I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. I met the previous Minister for Disabled People twice to talk about how the DWP can get decisions right first time, and I have already spoken to the new Minister to follow up on those discussions. There were 3.8 million decisions made on the personal independence payment in the last year, of which only 10% were appealed and only 5% overturned. However, it is absolutely fundamental that the decisions should be got right first time and that only those that are more questionable should come through the system.
Ah, a Lincolnshire knight, and an illustrious member of the Privy Council to boot—we are doubly blessed. I call Sir Edward Leigh.
Having pissed off half our supporters by botching Brexit, why are we now irritating the other half with an extreme liberal social agenda? Every single study, including the Harvard Law reform and the Margaret Brinig studies, shows that it is poor, vulnerable and dispossessed children who suffer most from divorce. Will my right hon. Friend at least accept that if he makes something easier, it will happen more often?
The evidence on no-fault divorce is that in a steady state there is not a higher rate of divorce than otherwise. It is also the case that the current fault-based approach to divorce results in divorces that are going to happen anyway being more acrimonious than they would otherwise have been. That is why I believe that it is right that we make this reform.
The hon. Lady raises an important and sensitive point, and I would be happy to meet her to discuss the issue.
Education is at the very heart of rehabilitation. What are Ministers doing to ensure that people have access to education and the jobs they need when they leave prison?
The big change that has been introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to ensure that education in prison is linked to employment. This involves talking to the local job market, ensuring that we provide the skills that match that market and, above all, ensuring that we have safe, decent prisons so that we can remove the prisoners from their cells and into work and education so that we can get them into jobs. That reduces reoffending by an average of 7%.
I am delighted that Labour Members are working with us to try to get a good Brexit deal in place, and if we can get such a deal, we will be able to continue through the transition period. In a no-deal situation, however, it will become significantly more difficult because we will have to fall back on older and more cumbersome ways of moving prisoners. That would not be good for us or for Europe.
Despite the wilful destruction of thousands of small businesses by their own bank, no senior executive has ever been held to account. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s proposals to bring forward legislation to make failure to prevent fraud a corporate criminal offence?
Of course, when people suffer economic crime it is as devastating for them as it is with any other crime. As my hon. Friend will know, we put out a call for evidence and we are looking carefully at the responses across the Departments. We will be responding in due course.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I know that she has a sustained interest in this area. She will be aware that we increased funding for specialist rape and sexual abuse support services, including for child sexual abuse, from April this year. That means a 10% increase in funding, a move to three-year rather than annual settlements, and support for 96 centres across England and Wales—the highest number that the MOJ has ever funded—ensuring that support services are available in each of the police and crime commissioner areas.
The law regarding the sentencing of offenders has grown piecemeal and become ever more complex, even for experienced judges and practitioners. Bearing that in mind and noting that comparatively uncontroversial legislation is being sought for a future Queen’s Speech, would not paving legislation for the Law Commission’s sentencing code consolidation Bill absolutely fit the bill?
The Chair of the Justice Committee makes a good point. There is cross-party support on the matter, and I hope that we can make progress in the not-too-distant future.
In 2010, the then Secretary of State for Justice said that he wanted to examine what could be done to use technology more effectively so that fewer people have physically to attend court for routine purposes. Nine years on, however, this Government have admitted to not collecting information on how many times video links break down; nor have they published the business case for their modernisation programme. Will Ministers commit to undertaking that research before proceeding with any more closures or cuts to our courts?
There are a number of developments relating to the use of technology to ensure that people do not have to attend court or fill in lengthy, unwieldy documentation. People can now apply for divorce and for probate online, and users can be updated about social security claims through their mobile phone. We piloted online tax tribunal hearings, which were extremely effective, and we are now piloting further video hearings in the civil courts.
Of the 9,000 foreign national prisoners in our jails, 760 are from Albania. What are we doing to negotiate a compulsory prisoner transfer agreement with Albania?
My hon. Friend has raised this matter several times, and I recently met with the Albanian Minister of Justice. It is difficult to return prisoners to Albania. We are ahead of the Italians and the Greeks, but we still have a lot more to do. The problem is that the host country needs to receive these prisoners, so we cannot transfer prisoners in a compulsory fashion. I assure my hon. Friend, because he has asked this question in the past, that a no-deal Brexit will make such prisoner transfers not easier, but more difficult.
Three of the four men convicted of killing my constituent Jacqueline Wileman were on probation at the time of her death. Does the Minister recognise that that demonstrates the devastating failure of the privatised probation system? Will he meet with me to discuss both the case and how to prevent similar deaths, including by removing the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her campaigning on this issue. This was a tragic case involving death by dangerous driving, and the individuals have now received sentences of between 10 and 13 and a half years for the crime. We fully support the idea that the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving should be increased up to a life sentence, but we still need to maintain a basic distinction in law between people who intend to commit murder and people whose actions lead to the horrible situation of loss of life through gross negligence and carelessness. We support the idea, and I will meet the hon. Lady.
I have met many excellent prison officers who serve at HMP Long Lartin in my constituency and elsewhere, but way too many of them seem to leave to pursue careers elsewhere. What more can be done to retain more prison officers?
In order to retain people in the job, we need to make sure that we have the right salary rates and that our prisons are safer. However, we also need to make sure that people feel motivated and that their morale is good, which is one of the reasons why the training and support packages we have introduced should transform retention rates for prison staff.
Two Members have been standing for some time, and I am keen to accommodate them. I feel sure they will agree that a sentence each seems fair.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Street & Arrow is a social enterprise street food project and is part of Scotland’s violence reduction unit. It hires people with convictions for 12 months, mentors them and provides them with wraparound support. Does the Minister agree that such support is the best way to reduce reoffending?
Obviously I must pay tribute to the extraordinary achievements, particularly in Glasgow, on reducing violence. On my recent visit to the United States, I also picked up things we could do to work with ex-gang members to interrupt the cycle of violence and have a rapid impact, but we can certainly learn from Scotland on this issue.
Order. We must move on.
Climate Action and Extinction Rebellion
Before I call the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) to ask his urgent question, I want, I hope on behalf of all colleagues across the House, to welcome Greta Thunberg, an enthusiastic and dedicated environmental campaigner who is with us today.
I, as Speaker, am very conscious that there are different views on these matters and different views on the matter of tactics in campaigning, but I think, across the House, we all believe in encouraging young people to stand up and speak up, to say what they think and to make their concerns known, so it was a pleasure for me, among other colleagues, to welcome Greta this morning. Greta, it was a pleasure to meet you, and I hope you enjoy listening to these exchanges.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth if she will make a statement on climate action and Extinction Rebellion.
I hope not to try the patience of the House—I will be making a further statement on this topic later this afternoon—but I want to take this opportunity to join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming Ms Thunberg and her team to the United Kingdom Parliament. We tried very hard to meet her personally but, despite the best efforts of our diaries, we could not do it. I know she has met many Members of the House of Commons today, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Watching the protests over the past few days, both here and globally, has raised slightly mixed emotions in me. First, there is excitement that the conversations that many of us were having about climate change 30 years ago are finally moving from niche to mainstream. The question is not “Why act?” but “How fast can we act?”
Secondly, we completely understand the brilliant scientific evidence base, the motivation and the commitment that are driving people across the world to make their views known, but I worry that many of the messages we are hearing ignore the progress that is being made and, as such, make people fearful for the future, rather than hopeful.
Here in the UK, thanks to excellent cross-party working, we were the first country in the world to pass a climate change Act. We have led the world in reducing the carbon intensity of our economy over the past 40 years. We have made huge progress on plastics-free activity. Last month, renewables contributed to over 40% of our electricity supply. In fact, just this last weekend we had our longest ever period of no coal contributing to electricity generation in the UK; and we now have more than 400,000 people working in the low-carbon economy.
Of course we share the desire to raise this country’s ambition, which is why we asked our independent Committee on Climate Change to advise us on how best to reach our net-zero target—we were the first industrialised country to ask for that advice. I am also pleased to welcome the cross-party support for our bid to host the crucial United Nations climate change talks next year.
I have to say that, although the protests have been respectful and good natured, they have caused disruption for many hundreds of thousands of hard-working Londoners, and they have required a heavy policing presence. I thank the police—I think we should all agree on that—for their professionalism and for their proportionate response, especially over the holiday weekend.
We know we need to continue and accelerate the decarbonisation of our economy, across all aspects of activity, and crucially to help other countries around the world, especially those not at the same stage of economic development as us. That is going to require a broad-based, engaged, informed debate to deliver the low-carbon progress we need; this must be fair, just and progressive, and able to be shared. I am pleased to say that our progress to date has been supported by all political parties, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his great leadership and continued support in this area. Our work has been supported by all political parties in the UK, and I hope we can continue to work together to drive the changes we must make in order to secure our future. We have to secure the future of planet A, because there is no planet B.
I thank the Minister for her reply.
People can believe that the tactics of Extinction Rebellion are right or wrong—the Minister obviously believes they are wrong—but the demonstrators are certainly not wrong about the failure of politics to do anything like what is necessary to fight climate change: they are right. She said in her reply that we have made progress as a country, and I thank her for what she said about me, but the truth is that the planet is warming far faster than we are acting. Even the path-breaking Paris commitments will take us way beyond the disaster of 2°C of warming, as the Minister knows. The truth is that climate change is not some theoretical future prospect; it is with us here and now, with wildfires, droughts and floods. We have been warned by the scientists: it will get far worse if we do not act with much greater urgency. In these circumstances, it is no wonder people are disrupting the traffic and schoolchildren are striking. The response from Government cannot simply be to restore order and say it is doing a good job. The only credible answer of democratic politics in response to these protests is to admit that we need to raise our game and show we can act.
May I therefore ask the Minister today to commit to the following four actions as a down-payment on what is necessary? First, will she seek to persuade the Prime Minister to declare a climate emergency, as many local authorities have done, in order to focus minds across Government on the centrality of this issue to every Department, not just hers? Goodness knows that is necessary, because we know from the figures that came out just before Easter that the Government are woefully behind in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets covering the next decade.
Secondly, the Minister is to be commended for asking the Committee on Climate Change to recommend a date when the UK will need to hit zero emissions, which it will do next week, but these recommendations cannot be allowed to get buried in Whitehall. So will she now commit to responding formally to them before the summer recess? Only by Britain showing world leadership again, quickly, can we hope to persuade other countries to act.
Thirdly, will the Minister commit to working on the delivery of a British green new deal at scale, which could have the effect of giving work to hundreds of thousands of people across our country, for example, in retrofitting buildings, and showing beyond doubt that economic justice and climate justice go together?
Fourthly and finally, will she take up the idea of Extinction Rebellion and others to involve the public in these discussions about both the threat of climate change and the action necessary—and, yes, the trade-offs—with a process of citizen deliberation? For too long—this covers both parties—people have been shut out of the climate debate and made to feel powerless. That must change.
I wish to make one final point. Greta Thunberg, who is with us today in the Public Gallery, said this:
“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
She is right. If we do not act, people will say in the future, “You knew the facts, but you did not care enough.” We will be known as the generations with the knowledge of what was to come but without the will or imagination to prevent it. We will be condemned, and rightly so. The right response to rebellion on our streets is to produce a revolution in climate leadership, and the time for action is now.
In the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks we hear the passion that he has bought to this portfolio for many years, and I share that passion. Let me correct him: I do not disagree with the protests. I disagree with some of the methods, but certainly not with the message. As I have said to him before, I think that just a few years previously he and I would have been out there ourselves carrying placards.
Let me pick up on the challenges the right hon. Gentleman talked about. He is right to acknowledge that the Government were bold to ask for advice on a net zero economy—we are the first industrialised economy to do so. I will consider that advice carefully and proportionally and, crucially, I will work out how we are going to pay for it. He will know from his time in his climate change role that the Committee on Climate Change was unable to recommend a net zero target when previously we asked for that advice, because the committee did not believe it could be done cost-effectively or, indeed, that we had the technology. It is right that we give that work the focus that it requires.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we need to take a whole-of-Government approach. I was really pleased to see the Chancellor stand up and make the first ever green financial statement, in which he brought forward some extremely ambitious programmes to ensure that from 2025 no new homes will be built in this country that rely on fossil-fuel heating.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the declaration of a climate emergency. The thing is, I do not know what that would entail. I could stand here and say, “I believe there is a climate emergency,” and he could say that, too. Many of our local councils, including my own council in Wiltshire, have done that. The question is: what are we going to do about it? That is why we should be proud of the fact that we have the most detailed proposals for how we will hit our carbon budgets.
I will answer the right hon. Gentleman’s point about carbon budgets in a moment, but he needs to look, as I am sure he has, at what other Governments have done. It is the easiest thing in the world for a politician to stand up and say, “I’m going to do this and I’m going to set these targets,” knowing that they will be dead and buried before the targets have to be met. The responsible thing to do is to put in place legislation, as the right hon. Gentleman did, to bind every successive Minister who comes along to meet the budgets, or to explain why they are not met, and to hold every future Government’s feet to the fire—as he says, it often is a fire—in respect of how we deliver on our ambition.
The right hon. Gentleman made a point about carbon budgets. He will know that we are not woefully far off: we are at 95% and 93% of the way to being where we need to be to meet the budgets that end in seven and 12 years. And that is without evening costing or calculating the carbon savings that we will have from the homes changes we have made. This is an ongoing process and we are absolutely committed to delivering.
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point about citizens’ assemblies. The wonderful thing is that everybody can talk about this issue. A national conversation is now happening. We have to engage with citizens, businesses, politicians, local authorities, bill payers and taxpayers—with everybody—because there is not one single thing that will move the dial. We have to change everything, do it rapidly and do it in a way such that no future Government can wriggle out of their responsibilities.
In this policy area, it is most important that everything is based on the best possible science. I am sure we would all agree about that. What is the Government’s view on the likely changes in water-vapour levels and cloud cover, and on levels of solar radiation? Those are also important matters.
My right hon. Friend is right. As a newly appointed fellow of the Royal Geographical Society—I had to get that in there—he will know that we have some of the best climate modelling in the world. The problem we have is that the planet is an unbelievably complicated ecosystem. We are finding some feedback loops that we did not even realise about: for example, what happens to the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica could have a meaningful impact on our sea levels immediately. We have the best scientific evidence base we have ever had. The 1.5° report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was based on the best peer-reviewed science the world has ever seen. We have the message from our scientists; we must now continue to act.
Who is the newly appointed fellow of the Royal Geographical Society—the right hon. Lady or the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)?
That would be me, Mr Speaker.
Oh, many congratulations to the right hon. Lady.
She’s blowing her own trumpet!
Well, if she does not blow it, it may well be that nobody else will blow the trumpet. It is perfectly right that we offer her the warmest congratulations on that new acknowledgement.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) for his timely question.
The right to protest is one of the foundations of our freedom. From the Chartists to the suffragettes, and from the civil rights movement to the anti-apartheid campaign, all those victories were won by citizens uniting against injustice and making their voice heard. Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikers are doing just that. I, too, thank the police for the way they have policed the demonstrations: on the whole, they have done so with good humour. I was delighted to meet the demonstrators at Marble Arch yesterday and I thank them for speaking the truth.
Many of us listened to Greta Thunberg earlier today. She spoke about truth—the truth that we are in the midst of an ecological and climate emergency. She also spoke about our refusal—our fear—to acknowledge the truth that stopping this catastrophe requires a complete rethink in the way we run our economy, so that GDP growth is no longer the touchstone. We are on track for catastrophic levels of global warming, yet in the UK we pride ourselves on the 40% reduction in emissions that we say we have achieved on 1990 levels, while achieving a 72% increase in GDP. But the truth is out there. Schoolchildren are teaching it to us. Those figures do not include aviation or shipping emissions. They do not include our imports, our exports and they have largely come from the clean power directive in the European Union, which forced us to announce an end to coal-fired power stations. That is why thousands of our schoolchildren are on climate strike: they know that we are not acting with the speed and seriousness that the climate emergency demands.
Therefore, I ask the Minister: will she listen to the voice of Extinction Rebellion and of our own children? I echo the call from my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North: will she join my party in declaring a national environmental and climate emergency and commit to bringing forward the Government’s response to the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations, which will be published shortly, to achieve net zero urgently? Will she do more to engage with the public in tackling the climate crisis, because it is clear that our citizens need to be in the driving seat for a sustainable future? Will she work with Treasury colleagues and the Bank of England to address what Mark Carney has identified as climate-related financial risks and make the emissions curve and natural capital the key elements of our future economic viability? We know that, however disruptive the climate demonstrations may have been in this past few weeks to businesses, they pale into insignificance against the capacity of climate disasters to wipe out human prosperity and human life itself.
I just want to pick up on a couple of factual points. First, I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to the right to protest. It is a wonderful, wonderful freedom that we have and one that we should use judiciously. I know that he and I have both done so.
On the point about coal, it is not the case that other countries across the EU are phasing out coal. In fact, when I was at the climate change talks in Bonn, it was shocking to see the barges of dirty Ruhr coal floating down the Rhine because Germany took an ideological decision to phase out nuclear power. For us to get to zero now—it will be zero completely by 2025—is a huge achievement for an island that is built on coal and surrounded by fish and that had 40% of its energy generation coming from coal in 2010 when I was elected. That has been done not by the climate directive, but by unilateral policy decisions taken by the coalition Government and continued by my Government. That is how we will continue to lead the world—by taking tough decisions, hopefully with cross-party support, to make the differences that we need but that we can then accelerate around the world. Our leadership on coal has enabled me and my counterpart in Canada to set up the global Powering Past Coal Alliance—an alliance of 80-plus countries, cities and companies that have all committed to phase out coal thanks to the UK’s leadership.
I also want to reassure the hon. Gentleman. He made a brilliant point about natural capital accounting, which will be formal Government policy by 2020. I join him in paying tribute to the work of the Bank of England and the Governor, Mark Carney, who have identified the challenge for investors and companies, and indeed for regulators, if there is not proper accounting for climate risk disclosure—again, an area where we have continued to innovate and lead the world.
I am delighted to share many of the points that the hon. Gentleman made, but I do believe fundamentally that a market-based economy that delivers rapidly reducing costs of technology and innovation—the sort of innovation that has seen the price of offshore wind tumble over the last two years—is the way to go. I will look with great interest at the advice that we get from the Committee on Climate Change and act as soon as is proportionate and possible.
It is not just the protesters on the streets or the children coming to our offices who are raising this matter; this issue is being talked of around kitchen tables, among families whom we represent. The worst way to reflect those concerns—whoever they are from—would be for our Opposition parties to say, “The Government are not doing enough” and for us to say, “Look at all the things we’re doing.” I therefore absolutely concur with the Minister’s cross-party consensus on this matter. Does she agree that we should applaud the fact that this country is not like the United States, where this is a polarised political issue? This is an issue on which we, as a Parliament working together, can actually move the dial. The Minister has made some really good points, as have the Opposition. Does she agree that, on this issue, we really can reflect the needs and wishes of the people out there through the consensual nature of our debate?
I very much thank my right hon. Friend for his work as a Minister, particularly on waterways and rivers. This issue is not simply about the air or the biosphere. It is about the whole planet—all the ecosystems working together. He made an incredible amount of progress with that portfolio. Of course he is right. People look at us and see us filling this place with hot air over the three-year forward look regarding our relationship with the European Union, and then they see this place when we are debating these portfolios. In my time as a Minister, this is the fullest I have ever seen the Chamber when we have debated these matters. [Interruption.] Well, there have been very few Members on the Opposition Benches previously as well. People are right to look at us and say, “What are you going to do, working together across parties?” and to ask what role organisations such as the Youth Parliament can play—that is, whether there are organisations and assemblies which already include young people that can help us to make progress with the issue.
We welcome the fact that the Extinction Rebellion protests have largely been peaceful and non-violent in nature, and that so many of those protesting have been young, concerned activists, including Greta Thunberg from Sweden and Holly Gillibrand, whom I met today and who has led climate action protests in her home town of Fort William in Scotland; I welcome both of them here today. Along with other young activists, they have travelled here to meet the leaders of the Opposition parties to discuss how to respond to climate change. Given that the Prime Minister has yet to meet these young adults, will she take the time this week to discuss this vital issue with them? After all, it is our collective responsibility and the UK Government must show leadership.
Scotland continues to outperform the UK and is world-leading in its low-carbon transition, with figures showing that emissions in Scotland are down 49% since 1990, as opposed to 38% for the UK as a whole. Will the Minister join me in welcoming these figures from Scotland, and will she commit to increased, faster and deeper efforts by her Government to help the UK’s figures to come into line with Scotland’s?
The good news is that all the devolved Administrations and the Westminster Government have worked incredibly hard on the low-carbon transition. It is a joint project; we calculate on a joint account. Of course, the taxpayer subsidies that have gone into so much of the energy generation system, helping Scotland with its transition, have come from UK taxpayers and UK tax policy.
I cannot speak for the diary of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I am always delighted to meet groups of people, as is the Environment Minister. As I have said, we worked really hard today to try to get our diaries to mesh with the plans of the groups coming here and we offered various meetings, but apparently they were not available at those times. It is a total pleasure to meet people to discuss these issues. Like so many other Members, I am sure, I only have to go home to hear my own children telling me what more we need to do and asking whether they should take part in the protests. I say to them, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to tell mum what you want over a cup of tea?” but it is more fun for them to protest. We genuinely have to listen and move on this issue, and we will continue to do so.
It is a testament to my constituents—young, old, of no religion, of any religion, whatever shape and size—that they have come to me about the environment. This is an overridingly important issue for everybody. Sustainability should be at the heart of every Government Department, and cross-party should be the name of the game. If we can do one really positive thing to reverse climate change, it will be to reduce our emissions to net zero, and to do so fast. I take my hat off to the Minister for going to the Committee on Climate Change and for asking for its advice on how we could possibly address this more quickly than our targets. The committee’s advice was that we could not do so by 2050. I am hopeful that it will change its mind. Will she please update us on that and will she tell us when aviation and shipping might be included, as they need to be?
To answer in reverse order, there has been progress made on aviation and shipping. That continues to be an international challenge because flights and ships leave and take off from different places, but there is work accelerating on it, and indeed some investment going into low-carbon fuels, which could be hugely important. I will happily update the House when we have received the net zero report and talk about the various aspects in that. We are investing in the first net zero industrial cluster in the UK, with £170 million of funding from the industrial strategy challenge fund. As my hon. Friend has reminded me, it is not just the young who are protesting: one of the most effective and wide-scale campaigning organisations in the UK in this area is the Women’s Institute, which has over 9,000 climate ambassadors. This is a problem that affects all of us, and the solution will involve all of us.
I thank Greta Thunberg and the climate strikers, and Extinction Rebellion, for showing more climate leadership on the streets than we often see in this Chamber. The Minister says that she does not know what a climate emergency looks like. It looks like doing what is scientifically necessary, not just what is deemed to be politically possible at the time. In that spirit, in the meeting this morning that unfortunately the Prime Minister could not clear her diary to make but all the Opposition leaders did, we agreed a number of proposals, including things like ongoing dialogue with the UK climate strikers and stress testing all new manifesto commitments to make sure that they do not exceed the 1.5° warming target. Will the Minister’s Government sign up to those practical proposals?
I do not want to politicise diaries, because of course invitations were issued, as the hon. Lady is well aware, that could not be accepted. We are not going to go into that sort of political tit for tat that takes us down a rabbit hole of conflict that this situation does not need. I have debated with the hon. Lady many times, and I frequently pay tribute to her for her passion and commitment and leadership of her party, but just once—just once—she could stand up and acknowledge the fact that the country she is proud to represent has led the world—
She is shaking her head. She cannot even acknowledge that the UK has led the world in this particular area. If we cannot acknowledge our leadership, and celebrate that, how can we possibly hope to persuade other countries that emit far more carbon than us, and have a far greater land area, that they should be making the changes that they also need to make?
While I have no time for those who deny climate change, I also have little time for those who deny that great progress has been made. If we have 40% of our electricity from renewables, which is up from 6% in 2010, is it not important that we listen to and work with our scientists and innovators who can improve this picture rather than just listening to those who lie down on the streets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think that this debate is about consumption emissions. I will not take the House through the technicalities, but essentially there is an argument that we have exported much of our heavy energy-creating activities. It is also the case, as people will see if they peruse the base numbers, that our consumption emissions are down by 20% since, I believe, 1997. I will check those facts before the next statement. The whole world’s economic systems are changing. That is why the leadership that we display will help other countries to whom much of this activity has been transferred also to make these changes—in particular, to have a low-carbon electricity system as this is often the greatest cause of emissions in those countries.
The Minister put her finger on it when she said that this is going to be about some tough decisions. She expressed concern about describing this as a climate emergency because what she really wanted to do was to move the dial. Ireland has been able to move the dial not by leaving the public out on the streets but by bringing them into a citizens’ assembly—a proper citizens’ assembly that hears the views not just of the activists but of everyone. That has supported carbon taxes and an end to subsidies for peat extraction, meaning that Ireland is now the first country to divest from fossil fuel. Will the Minister meet me and others who are supportive of the idea of a citizens’ assembly to talk about whether that is the cross-party, cross-country way forward by which we can actually tackle this climate emergency?
With pleasure. I point out to the hon. Lady that we already have a carbon tax. We introduced a unilateral tax on carbon emissions, which is what has driven us off coal. She does not seem to realise what an achievement that is. When she and I were elected, 40% of our electricity system was coal-based. Of course I will meet her, but let us look at what has worked and see how we can do more of that.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the 2017 PwC report which shows that the United Kingdom is the fastest decarbonising nation of the G7? Can she tell us how the Government are supporting new technologies, such as the use of hydrogen to heat domestic homes in the Keele University experiment, and what further steps can be taken to promote geothermal energy in Clackmannanshire?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s mentioning an independent report which shows that we have decarbonised, as a proportion of our economic growth, faster than any other country in not just the G7 but the G20. We continue to work to accelerate our carbon reduction. He is right to focus on heating, which is a major problem for a centralised gas-based heating economy such as ours. Innovation is happening in Keele, Leeds and other areas to see how we might safely introduce hydrogen into the heating system. Of course, we then have to produce hydrogen in a low-carbon emissions form, which is an opportunity to use excess renewable energy, and particularly offshore wind. This is an incredibly innovative time. By the way, if we can help the world migrate to hydrogen boilers and make those boilers in the UK, we can export them and create a competitive advantage as part of this transition.
Looking at the climate science, I do not suppose that a single Member of the House does not ask themselves, “How can we make the changes that are needed?” The Minister will be aware that the Committee on Climate Change said in November that emissions from homes are off track and we will need to replace gas with hydrogen boilers and supplementary electric heating. Given that about 80% of homes depend on gas for heating or cooking, how will that change happen?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise homes, although they are responsible for only 15% of our CO2 emissions. In fact, the biggest nut we have to crack is industrial emissions, which is arguably much harder to do. There will be no one-size-fits-all policy on homes. There will be some decarbonisation of gas, some introduction of pure hydrogen, a move to electrification and a use of community heating or heat networks. Some amazingly innovative local authorities—Nottingham and Leeds spring to mind—are trying to design new forms of heating system into their local economies and home building programmes. That is how we will innovate and drive the cost down. I think that the announcement of no fossil fuel heating in new homes from 2025 will kick-start a revolution, particularly in reducing the cost of alternatives such as heat pumps.
The protests last week did not greatly inconvenience my constituents, but many of them, like me, share the concerns about the grave emissions situation we face. I do not think that panicking ever helped any situation, but does the excellent Minister agree that if we are going to do our bit on these small islands, we have to face up to the poor energy efficiency of our existing homes? We will need a new green deal, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said. The Minister can call it whatever she likes, but we will need a retrofit new green deal if we are going to move the dial—that seems to be the expression of the afternoon—and lower emissions.
I cannot disagree with my hon. Friend that the focus on retrofitting is hugely important. He and I put ourselves on the green deal Bill Committee because we believed there was a way to incentivise people—if someone retrofits their home, their energy bills go down, and they often get a higher sale price or a lower running cost.
We have to work in all sectors. There will continue to be an element of Government investment. We are working with mortgage lenders. There is evidence that offering a green mortgage pays for itself, because people can borrow more cheaply and get a better rate of return. There has to be many ways of doing this. In constituencies like mine, many homes are not suitable for traditional retrofit technologies such as cavity wall insulation. That is why part of the £2.6 billion we are spending on innovation over this Parliament has to go into finding solutions for such homes.
The Minister is right that there are some sectors, such as power generation, in which major progress has been made in carbon reduction, but does she agree that there are others, such as aviation, where virtually nothing is taking place? Does she agree that the Government should re-examine major expansion projects such as Heathrow specifically to look at the climate change implications?
The right hon. Gentleman tempts me into another Department’s area. I have to say that I believe that most of the emissions problems with this specific aviation project relate to transport to and from the airport, and clearly there is much more that can be done on that with the Department for Transport. Equally, however, we have to look at how we try to solve the aviation problem globally. Again, there is no point trying to do something unilaterally that disadvantages the UK economy, when we could be working to solve the problem. One of the things the Department has been doing is investing in alternative fuels, in many cases created from the waste products of other processes, and that is the sort of innovation we need to see because unless we can drop the emissions from aviation substantially, we will not be on track.
The science is clear that we need to stop pumping more emissions into the climate. I thank the Minister for spending time with the Science and Technology Committee today and answering very detailed questions on the Government’s policy. Does she agree with the other four experts before the Committee that the UK has led the world in investment in innovative technology, such as carbon capture and storage, and does she agree with me and many colleagues that the UK should continue to lead the world in investment in innovative technologies to help find solutions to this situation?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising carbon capture and storage. Members will know that a competition was run several years ago, and it was a rather crude, as it were, point-to-point competition—in one case, it was just decarbonising a coal plant that would in effect no longer be generating power. We are now trying to work out how carbon capture, usage and storage are embedded in an industrial cluster, so that we can actually decarbonise heavy industry and create a way of sequestering the carbon alongside clean power generation. This is how I think we will solve the problems: not looking at them in economic silos, but trying to solve these problems on a whole-economy basis.
The global food system accounts for 30% of emissions, and it is said that without any action—if we do not do anything about it—food and farming will take up the whole of the Paris carbon emissions budget, so why is no one talking about it? I have been sitting here listening to this, and I have sat here listening to many of these debates, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of parliamentarians who are ever prepared to ask what we are going to do about the global food system.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who has been walking the vegan walk now for many years and has been a doughty campaigner. She is absolutely right: CO2 emissions from land use and farming will continue to rise precipitously unless we have changes both in the way we treat soil—she will know about the UK’s plans for improving carbon sequestration in soil—and in how we farm. Unfortunately, the challenge is also about how we feed the world cost-effectively, and we need to continue to look at technological solutions for that, but she is right to focus on this. I find that this and the industrial emissions bit are the parts that people very rarely talk about, so I thank her for raising this issue.
The Minister is right to raise the effect that this Government have had on emissions, particularly from the power sector. I am sure she will remember that, during the Labour leadership campaign of 2015, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) said he wanted to reopen the coalmines. He went on to win the leadership—it was a very popular policy—and a couple of months later he clarified that he wanted to reopen only one coalmine in south Wales. Will the Minister update the House on how the Leader of the Opposition’s campaign to reopen the coalmines is going?
I was not at the Durham miners’ gala where those pledges were made, but, with the exception of some Opposition Members, I think there is general cross-party support for phasing out coal, which is the dirtiest form of fossil fuel, as a power-generation source. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is also, I believe, against nuclear power, so that would leave an awfully big hole in the thermal generation part of the energy system.
I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who will know from his own constituency of Selby and Ainsty that some of these transitions can be difficult, involving job losses. This is why it is such a challenge for other countries, and why the transition we have to make has to be just and fair, and has to ensure that people’s jobs are maintained and new jobs are created.
The Minister asks what would be the point of her declaring a climate change emergency. Well, it is because it is an emergency. It is an emergency right now and it is an emergency across the world—glaciers are melting, seas are rising—and the Minister knows this. I just do not understand, and I do not think people watching or my constituents in Bristol West will understand, what is stopping her declaring a climate change emergency and then treating the problem as an emergency.
Let me try to help the hon. Lady and her constituents. I do not see the point of saying anything unless we take action to solve the problem. We are now realising that we have a massive, growing problem with our global emissions, affecting the balance of our economy. We in this country lead the world in trying to solve this problem. I accept that we need to go further and faster, but I want to focus on actions rather than simply standing here and saying, “I have said a few things—job done.” Let us focus on actions, not words.
Exactly; so having instituted the fastest decarbonisation of any G20 country, will the Minister remind the House what proportion of total global emissions we produce—I think it is 1%—compared with, say, China? We all know what would happen to an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Tiananmen Square. If we want to make a real difference, what practical steps are we taking internationally to encourage China, the USA and India to take real action?
My right hon. Friend is right to point out that we make up only 3% of the world’s land area and we rank 17th for carbon emissions. If he will forgive me, however, his suggestion is a little bit of a false choice, because much of our growth and prosperity has been caused by putting the CO2 up there in the first place. I think that it is very unfair to say to countries that they cannot enjoy future growth unless they are prepared drastically to cut their standard of living.
The point is that we must work together. I pay tribute to many of the actions that have been taken in China and India, where some of the most rapid investments are being made in electric vehicles and renewable energy. That is the reason why solar panel prices have dropped more than 80% in the UK; we no longer need to subsidise them because of other countries’ investments. My right hon. Friend is right to point out that we must work together. A CO2 molecule does not care where it is emitted from, or where it is going. We are all contributing to the problem, and we must contribute to the solution.
Many of the businesses, citizens and workers who have had their lives disrupted over the past week by protesters—some of whom flew thousands of miles in CO2-emitting aeroplanes to cause roadblocks, which led to more CO2 emissions, and then arrogantly threatened to disrupt the Easter holidays of many hard-working families—will be amazed by some of the attitudes expressed in this House today. Will the Minister tell us why police actions that have been used against previous disruptive protests in London were not used on this occasion? Was it because of Government direction, the Mayor of London or a decision taken by the police?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a strong point. I pay tribute to the response of the Met police, under its commissioner; the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the response today. I think there was a little bit of nervousness at the beginning of the process, unfortunately, led by the Mayor of London, who did not recognise that millions of people’s lives would be disrupted. [Interruption.] Hang on a minute; Members are moaning and whinging, but what is the point of stopping people using electric public transport so that they have to take cars? That seems utterly counterintuitive. We ended up with a proportionate response, and I pay tribute once again to the police, who acted in a very good-humoured way to confine the protests.
It is imperative to reduce greenhouse gases, and the replacement of coal by natural gas has vastly reduced such gases. Does the Minister agree that we should back a responsible UK oil and gas sector, and not offshore our climate change responsibility?
I do, and my hon. Friend will know, as do many of his Conservative colleagues, that the incredible contribution of the oil and gas sector to the Scottish economy cannot be overstated. He will also know that we can decarbonise gas very effectively, and, frankly, we produce it with environmental standards far higher than those in the countries from which we import.
After all that the Minister has had to say today, why are the Government still in favour of fracking?
The two things are entirely linked. We are a highly gas-dependent economy, as we know. We want to cut the amount of gas that we use, but it is a good transitional fuel. The hon. Gentleman always shouts over me, which is very rude. We want to explore soberly and scientifically whether there are opportunities to extract gas onshore in a way that helps us with our energy security—something he used to care about, when he was mining the black stuff all those years ago—and helps us to generate jobs. Why is it that we trust the science on climate change, but when science says that shale gas extraction is safe, we refuse to listen?
The environment is important to all of us in the Kettering constituency, which is one of the greenest boroughs in the whole country, with 30 very large wind turbines generating almost as much electricity as is consumed by all the residential houses. I am concerned, however. While we must of course allow people to protest and this is a very important issue, I do object, on behalf of many thousands of my constituents, to encouraging schoolchildren to go on strike. It is important for schoolchildren to have strong views on topical issues, but why can they not protest at the weekend? Education is very important.
It is a very serious point. Ms Thunberg’s efforts, which have become a global phenomenon, demonstrate the power of a young person deciding to make these statements. What I would say to protesting schoolchildren is this: “We need the climate engineers, the geo-physicists and the scientists of the future. Those are skills that you will learn best by engaging in education. You are protesting; we are listening. We have to work together and we need your skills to solve this problem.”
The west midlands was the home of the industrial revolution. We sparked the carbon revolution; we would like to lead the zero-carbon revolution. However, it has been harder to decarbonise our power system since the Government phased out feed-in tariffs for solar. It is harder to decarbonise our transport system because of the confusion, identified by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee before Christmas, around electric vehicles. It is harder to decarbonise energy in our homes when the Minister cannot tell me, in parliamentary answers, our share of the energy company obligation funding that might fund that retrofitting. Cities in this country would like to lead the green industrial revolution, so why does she not help them?
I will certainly look at the last point. It may be that we just do not cut the data by metropolitan area. ECO is an important fund that we are using to focus on fuel poverty and create more innovation. I do not think there is confusion. The feed-in tariff scheme, which he will know given his time in the Treasury, was an extremely expensive scheme. We have spent almost £6 billion so far and it will cost us £30 billion over the future of the scheme. Essentially, as I mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), we have seen the price of the renewable technologies we are supporting tumble. We do not have to subsidise to drive take-up. The smart export guarantee, which I will introduce soon, will pay people for that generation and ensure there is a demand-side aggregation created in the homes investing in it.
On transport, we have been very clear. We have one of the most ambitious programmes of moving to zero-carbon new vehicle sales. [Interruption.] It is true. Opposition Members should look at what other countries are doing. The right hon. Gentleman will know from his constituency that one in five of the electric vehicles sold in Europe is made in the UK. We do not just want to be leaders in how many are driving on our roads; we want to be leaders in investing in the technology that the world is moving towards.
Does the Minister agree that caring about climate change and the environment is not a monopoly of the left—far from it, as evidenced by the many actions of this Government—but that there is a political debate to be had? Does she agree that it is possible to reduce emissions and grow the economy and that this is particularly important not only for the UK but for many of the world’s developing economies?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. There is too much fear and not enough hope. If we look at the UK, the low-carbon economic sector is growing four times faster than the mainstream economy and we have 400,000 people—bigger than the aerospace sector—employed in green jobs. We can continue to see the global opportunities from investment. This is a massive opportunity. Not only are we saving the world’s ecosystems; we are creating jobs for the future. We know that 65% of those under 24 want what they call a green-collar job. They just do not know how many are out there.
One way we can decarbonise homes is by using geothermal energy, particularly in former mining areas. The University of Durham has done a lot of research on this subject. Would the Minister like to come to learn about the research it is doing and consider how we can implement it?
It would be a pleasure to come and visit. We have had several debates on geothermal heat, in particular from old mine workings. It seems only fitting that the blood, sweat and tears of those thousands of men who dug up the energy source of our first industrial revolution could somehow be reused by using hot water as another source of energy.
I welcome the Minister’s comments about listening to and acting on the science. If that is the case, the Committee on Climate Change has questioned whether support for oil and gas may become incompatible with the Government’s long-term climate change objectives. In the spirit of not disappearing down a rabbit hole of conflict, perhaps we can agree, on both sides of the House, on whether there is a sustainable way to reduce fossil fuel extraction to move from maximum economic recovery to sustainable economic recovery.
That is a very important point. The oil and gas industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of people, has contributed billions to our Exchequer and is extremely important to communities north of the border. It is one of our most productive industries. It is part of the transition, and the exciting thing is that technologies such as offshore wind, the sector deal for which I announced just recently, will be a brilliant industry for many of those employees to transition into. In fact, our world leadership in working in very difficult offshore conditions in oil and gas exploration is perfect for offshore wind, so there is a natural transition. Of course, these are important industries, which I believe also recognise the role that they have to play in the transition.
A young woman from Boroughmuir High School in my constituency wrote to me ahead of the school climate strikes, calling for politicians to prioritise wind and tidal power over nuclear and fossil fuels. The Scottish Government are trying to do that, but until such time as we become independent, we require the UK Government’s assistance. Can the Minister tell me when the Government will reverse their policy of prioritising new nuclear plants and putting the kybosh on tidal power in Scotland?
I will not correct the hon. and learned Lady on too many things, but we have a mixed, diverse energy supply, which is decarbonising very rapidly. We have not put the kybosh on tidal. In fact, we invested the same amount in R&D funding for tidal as we did with any other technology; it is just that other renewables have out-competed it much more rapidly. However, I was pleased to meet the renewable energy council and cross-party support recently to see what more we can do to support that. I believe that nuclear has a part to play. It is part of our zero-carbon future. We have a nuclear sector deal and it is an incredibly productive industry for the United Kingdom.
I welcome what the Minister had to say on our cleanest and greenest year for electricity yet and her approach to the Committee on Climate Change, but does she share some of my concerns about the goals of Extinction Rebellion? This is an organisation that has pledged to take non-violent direct action but whose co-founder was arrested on charges of criminal damage against corporate headquarters. To what extent are the Government also looking at how we can mitigate the potentially violent actions of this movement?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that we should be able to have a civilised, important and strong debate about our aims. It is challenging, though, to see that there are acts of violence or acts of criminal damage. I am also aware that no political party or campaigning organisation is endorsing one of the key asks of Extinction Rebellion, which is a net-zero emissions target by 2025. It is simply not something that can be delivered. It is right to have that challenge, but we have to be able to take what we do best in this country, which is to have a civilised debate, and apply it to the most important issue of our time.
The Minister mentioned her international influence in relation to reducing carbon emissions. The USA is one of the biggest CO2 polluters in the world. Can she ask the Prime Minister to use all her influence when President Trump comes to the UK to get the US to recommit to its obligations from the Paris summit and to set up a climate emergency in the USA to tackle global warming?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but despite the rhetoric, the US’s decarbonisation record is very good. In fact, it cut its carbon intensity by 3.7% for the year ending in 2017, which is well ahead of the global average and, indeed, well ahead of the EU’s average. He will know that this is about not just federal actions, but the actions of states, cities and companies. The We Are Still In coalition, which is hugely accelerating work on decarbonisation action—for example, the net-zero targets of the state of California—is delivering real change in the United States, and we should celebrate that.
I, too, had the honour of meeting Greta Thunberg at the parliamentary leaders’ roundtable discussions this morning. I would like to put on record my thanks to all the youth climate change activists who have succeeded in putting climate change at the top of the agenda.
Climate change waits for no Government. I travelled to London on the train with Heather Bolton from Gwynedd. She was on her way to attend the Extinction Rebellion protests in Westminster. We talked about Fairbourne on the Gwynedd coast where the whole community has been warned to prepare to move out within 40 years. Climate change is more than a passing inconvenience to the people of Fairbourne. Will the Minister accept my invitation to visit the community and see the economic, social and human cost of inaction?
I am always delighted to visit installations in Wales—I visited Bridgend with the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and saw the amazing innovation work being led there—so it would be an absolute pleasure. The hon. Lady is right to point out that this is not just a challenge for a few. The Karman layer—the line where the earth’s atmosphere merges into outer space and where all the gases on which life depends are found—is 60 miles deep. I would not get even halfway to her constituency, if I was driving straight up, before I tipped out of the atmospheric layer. That is why this is such an important opportunity and we must work together.
If you can believe it, Mr Speaker, it was not in the too-distant past that I was a young activist. What I hated then and what I know young people hate now is when politicians say the future is theirs, because the present is theirs and this planet is theirs. One of the four demands of the climate strikers is extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds. They are so passionate about this topic. Will the Minister agree to giving them the vote so that they can vote on it?
I did not realise the demands had got that broad. The hon. Lady is right to focus on something really important: it is the job of Governments to steward what they have for a period of time and then pass it on in a better state to the next generation. Whether it is the earth’s climate or the economy, that is what we exist to do. I do not know where the argument about the voting age sits in that. We have heard loud and clear what the next generation, and indeed grannies, grandpas, parents—all of us—need to do. We need to work together to accelerate our actions.
I congratulate the young people in many countries across the world without whom we would not be here today having this debate. They have reminded us how urgent the climate crisis is and that we have to be very ambitious—a lot more ambitious than we have been so far. Are the Government committed to making our electricity grid 100% carbon zero before 2050? If so, when will we know about this new target?
When I launched the offshore wind sector deal, I said that power generation would be at least 70% net carbon zero by 2030—in only 11 years—so we can extrapolate from that. There is a view among energy system modellers, however, that there will always need to be some level of thermal energy generation on the grid, because you cannot do a cold start based on current renewable and storage technology, which raises the question of how we further decarbonise our gas supply in particular.
Complacency in government is the reason young people have left their classrooms to educate politicians and to challenge us in this place. Rather than just warm words, in the light that we are going to miss our fourth and fifth carbon budgets, will the Minister commit to setting every public authority and local authority stringent carbon budgets?
The hon. Lady is right to point out the role of local authorities. I believe that much policy is best pulled through at a local level, where it is possible to join up regeneration, transport systems, cycling and walking strategies and so on, rather than pushed out from Westminster. The young people of today—it is such a patronising phrase, isn’t it? Everybody in the UK today should be proud of the fact that we listened and 10 years ago with cross-party support passed the world’s first Climate Change Act. We listen in this place. We might not act as quickly as people want, or in the ways people want, but we must look at our early movement and the fact that we have led the world in decarbonisation. We are listening and we are acting.
Dealing with the climate emergency will require us to ensure that billions of pounds are invested in low-carbon technologies. Most of that money will come from the private sector, and must be invested in heat and transport technologies in particular. The money is there, but for it to be invested at scale will require certainty.
Since 2010, zero-carbon homes have been needlessly scrapped by the coalition Government; now that is coming back. The energy company obligation solid-wall programme lasted less than a year after it was announced. Tidal lagoons have been flirted with, and have gone nowhere. The carbon capture fund money was put up and then taken away. Onshore wind was banned entirely. The Green Investment Bank was set up, and has already been sold off. That is fundamentally why green investment in the UK is falling. Where there has been certainty—mainly in offshore wind—progress has indeed been rapid. However, it is not just the protesters but those in the financial markets who are saying that while there has been some good progress, it is just not enough. Perhaps it is time for the Government to listen to one or both of those groups.
Many of the projects that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned were being funded entirely by Government subsidies. The Government have no money of their own; the money that they have is other people’s money. Someone has to pay—either the taxpayers and consumers who have already borne many of the policy costs, or private sector shareholders. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the importance of certainty, and policies that will stand the test of political time, such as those that we have set out now in the clean growth strategy, will secure that investment certainty. The good news is that the world is moving rapidly away from high-carbon investments, and investors are looking for opportunities that we are able to offer.
We salute 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the school climate strikers and Extinction Rebellion. They have shone a light on the issue of the issue of climate change in a way that it seems only David Attenborough is able to equal. Surely the Minister recognises that her Government must do more. Perhaps they could follow the lead of the SNP Scottish Government, with their world-leading climate change targets, and perhaps—as was suggested by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley)—they could follow our example of allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote on these issues, because they are clearly well ahead of some of the dinosaurs in this place.
I do not see too many dinosaurs in the building today. However, I pay tribute to both the devolved Administrations and the Westminster Government, who have worked incredibly well on these issues. We share one goal, we share one set of climate budgets, and we share one set of, largely, taxpayer receipts which have paid for much of this investment. We must continue to work together, and we must look for points at which we can come together rather than looking for those at which we can diverge, which I am afraid the hon. Lady’s party often wants to do.
Climate change is not a party political issue, but an issue of global importance. In the light of that, the Government’s complacency today, and their refusal to take leadership at a national level, is extremely worrying.
I feel very emotional about this issue. I listened to Greta earlier, and I applaud her for pointing out the obvious, for inspiring us, and for reminding us how crucial it is that we take action now. This morning my granddaughter was born. Looking at her, I feel that we owe it to these children and young people—the Government owe it to them, and let me politely say to the Minister that she owes it to them—to demonstrate that we are doing more than talking about this. What actions will the Minister take to ensure that those young people have the future that they deserve?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on becoming a granny. That does not seem possible.
Whatever I say, or other Ministers say, from the Dispatch Box is reported in Hansard, and is the next day’s chip paper. What we must do is act. We must set out actions, set out our ambitions, and work together. I am disappointed to hear that the hon. Lady thinks I have been complacent at the Dispatch Box. I have tried incredibly hard to show that we are listening, we are acting, and we are delivering. We must accelerate that, but the hon. Lady should be proud of the fact that ours is the first developed country to say, “Help us to understand what net zero looks like: what will the changes have to be?” Does that sound hopeless? It sounds hopeful to me.
Despite living in an area of multiple deprivation, the vast majority of my constituents own their homes, but it is very difficult for them to make those homes viable and to conserve energy. The previous system, introduced by the coalition Government, was a complete and utter disaster: local businesses closed, and a great deal of shoddy work was done. Many families were desperate, because they thought that they had wasted money and were financially out of pocket themselves. Will the Government look closely at a new means of ensuring that people like my constituents can do their bit, although they have not much money in their own pockets?
I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Each Home Counts review that we did, whose recommendations we have accepted, and where we have a trust mark for the work he mentions, should stop this problem happening in the future. Too much shoddy work has been done. Reparations have been made. Essentially, people have to have confidence that the work they are having done to their homes is of a high standard and is effective.
Tragically, Ella Kissi-Debrah lost her life to asthma, and the courts are currently looking at whether the authorities had any responsibility in that tragic death. I believe there is a crisis in children’s respiratory health. There is a meeting tonight with the title “Pollution Has No Borders”. One thing the Government could do would be to take away the cuts to local councils, which were looking at having more clean buses. Just increasing the number of bus journeys rather than car journeys would help not only lots of people on low incomes but the planet. Please could that be one thing that the Minister takes away from these questions and pledges to look into? Will she give that money back to councils so that action can be taken on our terribly polluted air?
The hon. Lady is right to point out that one problem we do not talk about enough is that CO2 pollution is often associated with particulate pollution, and one of the co-benefits of cutting emissions is that we get cleaner air. However, I gently say that she is wrong to focus on a reduction in budgets for zero-carbon transport. My recollection—I will check this and write to her—is that those budgets have gone up, and I myself have seen some of the hydrogen and hybrid buses that are running. Of course, the challenge is also to get more cars off the roads, because they obviously have a far greater level of pollutant per mile travelled, and to ensure that children, particularly in the most deprived areas, have clean air to breathe.
Extinction Rebellion is a vital movement. During the protests on Sunday, my five-year-old son Andrew and I found an amazing sense of positivity, peace and passion for change. Young people are leading the way, and we must listen to them. Does the Minister recognise that, for all the action that is being taken, it will not be enough on the current trajectory, and that we need a transformation in the level of our ambition if we are to secure our future?
I do recognise that ambitions need to be raised not just here but around the world. That is why I hope we will have the chance to secure the crucial climate change talks next year, because we need to demonstrate that that is possible and not something to be frightened of. We need to work together with other countries to try to raise ambition collectively, and it will be wonderful to have cross-party support for the UK to be the host of those talks.
I think I could sum up the Minister’s response today as, “The rest of the world is rubbish. We are better. We are doing things ahead of everybody else. I can’t understand why people came here and demonstrated.” By definition, it was a peaceful definition, but over 1,000 people managed to defy the authorities to the point where they were arrested. These people are not going to go away. So, Minister, what has changed as a result of their protests over the last few days?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that I think that that is a really wrong reading of what I have said, and I am happy to send him Hansard—he will find that quite the opposite was said. What has changed is that everything has changed in a way, in that we now know how broad this protest is and the depth of people’s feelings. We are as frustrated as they are about some of the challenges, but we also have to recognise in this place that whatever we do is fair to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, to my constituents and to those who pay for the changes. I must also mean that the world can come with us, and I want to keep emphasising that point. We must not be complacent—nobody is complacent—but we have shown that we can deliver, that we will deliver and that we know we need to do more. However, we will have to do that together.
The Extinction Rebellion protest over the last few days has prevented business as usual, but that is nothing compared with what climate change will do, and is doing, in certain areas of the world. It is not good enough to talk the talk and not walk the walk. This issue needs a fundamental, transformative shift in our economy and in what we do. The Secretary of State is shutting her eyes and ears on this. Will she tell us today what action is actually being taken across Government to demonstrate that fundamental shift and to challenge business as usual?
I thank the hon. Lady for my inadvertent promotion. She just has to look at the numbers: we have had the cleanest year for electricity generation that we have ever had, and this weekend this country, which was built on coal, went for the longest period ever without using any coal. We are legislating to ensure that homes will have no more fossil fuel heating, and 42,000 homes in my constituency are now off the gas grid. From 2025, no home will be able to be built there unless it has some other form of heating. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady shakes her head, but she knows better than many in this place, given her long involvement in these matters, that it is all very well for politicians to stand up and mouth empty platitudes but what we have to do is deliver actions, not words. That is what we are delivering.
As the Minister knows, the Governor of the Bank of England warned last week that climate change poses a financial risk to investments such as people’s pension savings. In March, the $1 trillion Norwegian sovereign wealth fund declared that it would no longer invest in oil and gas exploration, in order to minimise exposure to those climate-related financial risks. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the green finance strategy includes incentives for people to invest and for organisations to provide investments that are sustainable?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of pension fund investing. When we had our Green Great Britain Week last year, we said that one of the most effective things that an individual could do was to their move pension fund if they were able to, or to lobby the trustees of their pension fund, like the House of Commons pension fund’s trustees, to move away from fossil fuel or unsustainable investment. The opportunities are there, and I am really proud of the work that the Bank of England has done on the climate risk disclosure, but clearly we need to do more. If the hon. Lady has ideas, we would be extremely keen to discuss them, because we would be much better off if we all put our heads together.
My city of Oxford is the first in the country to create a citizens assembly focused on the climate crisis. The Minister said that she wanted a broad-based debate, but we all know what happens far too often: we have a politically expedient knee-jerk reaction to anything that goes against the status quo. So please will she come to Oxford, see what we are doing, and look genuinely at these cases so that we can have a much more broad-based discussion about the climate crisis and do something about it?
Of course, and part of the reason that I am so passionate about this is that I studied climate change, geography and meteorology at Oxford University many years ago. Many of the people associated with the university have been world leaders in understanding the science, and Oxford City Council has done some amazing things in this space. Again, we are really keen to learn. I do not accept that there are knee-jerk political reactions. The clean growth strategy sets out what we will do over the next 25 years to meet our budgets, but if we have good ideas, let us stop hoarding them; let us share them.
One of the sectors that has not done well on reducing carbon emissions is road transport. One of the policy levers that used to be available was the fuel duty escalator, which the coalition Government ceased to proceed with and which the current Government do not want to return to. Does the Minister agree that that matter needs to be looked at again and that, in terms of carbon emissions, those decisions were a mistake?
I mentioned at the beginning that we have to do things that are proportionate and fair. I know that the hon. Gentleman supported the cap on fuel prices that we put in, because we had to ensure that it was not the least well-off who were paying for the transition. I pay tribute to his work and to his own personal cycling activities. As he knows, the city of Cambridge is an exemplar for cycling and for effectively ensuring that road transport becomes a thing of the past.
I thank the Minister for supporting the message and for her actions. I was among the MPs who attended the meeting to listen to Greta Thunberg today. She is 16 years old and an inspirational young girl; she inspired me and many other Members as well. At 16 years of age, she is just six years older than my oldest grandchild Katie, 10 years older than my grandchild Mia and almost 16 years older than my grandchild Austin. What message would the Minister give to my three grandchildren and all other children that the climate action being taken today will have made a difference?
By working together, we can solve the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. It will be difficult, but it is doable. In doing so, we will create jobs and prosperity for the next generation.
The Minister will know that over half of the UK’s planned carbon reduction is tied up in some way or another with EU regulations and that EU agencies are key to enforcement. Assuming that the Government’s new office for environmental protection is ever established, will it have a climate change enforcement remit? If not, why not?
The hon. Gentleman will be able to discuss that matter further during the passage of the environment Bill. He makes a powerful point, but I reassure him, as I have said many times, that no part of our exiting the EU will compromise our climate ambition. Indeed, our progress to date is well ahead of the rest of the EU.
I extend my thanks to and express my admiration of Greta Thunberg, whose speech I had the honour of hearing today—her microphone was working, which I know was of concern to her at some points. Much needs to change, and we need to move forward together as a country to deliver that change sustainably. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), what substantial and specific plans does the Minister have for how we should formally engage with the public on how we respond, in policy and legislative terms, to our climate crisis? Why will she not consider a citizen’s assembly?
I have not ruled such an assembly in or out, and I am interested in how one would work. I am also interested in how the Youth Parliament could provide a steer for younger people coming to this place. The hon. Lady said that we have not had this conversation, but I was struck when I launched the first Green Great Britain Week last October that it marked the first time that we had had a national moment at which we could come together to talk about what we had achieved and then challenge ourselves to go further. There have been many campaigns, such as the Climate Coalition’s brilliant #ShowTheLove campaign, but one of the exciting things—the hon. Lady asked me what we are doing that is different—is that this conversation has stopped being niche and started being mainstream. If the hon. Lady thinks that citizen’s assemblies are the way to go and that we should be listening to them to get a stronger steer, let us have a conversation to see how that could work.
Will the Minister overturn the ban on onshore wind?
There is no ban on onshore wind, as the hon. Lady well knows. I was elected on a manifesto which said that large-scale wind development, of which there is now 13 gigawatts in the UK, rising to 14 gigawatts over the next year, is not appropriate for many parts of England. She will know from her constituency the benefits that offshore wind can deliver. We can put up 198 turbines, each as tall as the Gherkin, which offers incredible opportunities for the offshore servicing fleet in her constituency. We can regenerate the coastal communities that service such developments. We will continue to invest in onshore wind, but large-scale onshore developments are inappropriate for many parts of England.
Alongside a growing list of my Opposition colleagues—71 as of now—I have written to the Minister, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House calling on the Government to table at least a day’s worth of debate in Government time to discuss their response to the Committee on Climate Change on how we will achieve net-zero carbon emissions sooner rather than later. Will the Minister support that request today and join us in that debate?
I will let the usual channels work out the timetable, but the hon. Gentleman knows that I will talk about such issues all day. In fact, I am due to make another statement in a short period of time, so we can do all this again.
And more. There is plenty of scope.
The Minister is keen to trumpet the fact that the UK went 90 hours and 45 minutes without coal power, but the reality is that her Government are not making nearly enough of our potential in onshore and offshore wind, solar, wave and hydroelectric, particularly in pump-storage hydro. Scotland’s efforts are being stymied by her Government’s policies. What specific measures will she bring in to incentivise renewables across the UK?
We are already incentivising renewables. We have always said—I believe that this is right—that we must be technologically neutral in such things. All technologies started out from pretty much the same place, but some have progressed faster than others. We must also have cost-effectiveness, so we cannot spend other people’s money on supporting technologies that will remain expensive over the long term—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady is waving her hands, but is it not incredible that the price of offshore wind has dropped over the past two years by a proportion befitting a technology company, let alone a mechanical engineering company, because of the policy and auction structure and the market investment that we have brought forward? We should be celebrating that and the fact that the North sea is the best place in the world for offshore wind.
Global Witness published a report this morning that found that $4.9 trillion is invested in oilfields and gasfields that are either in development or not yet in production and will therefore contribute to exceeding a global warming scenario of 1.5°, as per the terms of the Paris accord. Much of that investment comes from FTSE 100-registered companies. What legal advice will the Government be giving to London headquartered businesses that are investing in breach of our international obligations?
I am sure the hon. Lady has also read “The Burning Question”, which was published in 2013 and addresses the challenge of the valuation of oil and gas reserves. Indeed, I have already answered a question on this subject. There is a challenge on how quickly the oil and gas companies are transitioning but, as we were discussing earlier, many people in the UK, including the Exchequer, rely on this industry, which has allowed us to cross-subsidise much of the renewables success we have delivered. She also knows that these companies are global organisations, and we need to work globally to ensure we solve the problem.
The Minister talks about action not words, and she also talks about the clean growth strategy. What does she think of the plans to downgrade the electrification of rail lines and, as the Secretary of State for Transport has done, to invest in and promote bimodal trains, which obviously are diesel for part of the time?
I am having a flashback to my old job as rail Minister. The hon. Lady’s constituency is a beneficiary of some of the big investments we are making, such as in the wind turbine factories located up there. We always need to balance cost, carbon and competitive advantage, and it was the case that we could deliver those benefits to passengers with those bimodal trains, which obviously have much lower CO2 emissions than if they were full diesel, and I am sure her constituents welcome that investment.
The point of declaring a carbon emergency is to take action immediately, not in 2025 or 2030, so why are we not changing the planning rules so that all homes have to be carbon neutral now? Why are we not ensuring that all new buses on our streets are non-carbon emitting? These things are possible.
A thousand people have been arrested on the street in order to raise this issue in the House and in the country. Does the Minister agree that it is not in the public interest to prosecute those people? They should be getting awards, not prosecutions.
I thought there might be a bit of Mace-waving coming on with that passionate speech. I will leave the question to my hon. Friends in the Ministry of Justice.
South-Eastern Rail Franchise
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his decision to delay, yet again, the award of the south-eastern rail franchise.
In June 2017, the Department for Transport announced that the shortlisted bidders for the south-eastern franchise competition were: South Eastern Holdings Ltd; London and South East Passenger Rail Services Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Govia and the current incumbent; and Stagecoach South Eastern Trains Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Stagecoach Group plc.
Subsequently, in December 2018, the Department exercised an extension with the existing south-eastern operator, London and South Eastern Railway, until 23 June 2019 to allow further time for the competition to identify the next operator for the franchise. The Department is now in the process of negotiating a further direct award which, subject to a successful negotiation, will run until 10 November 2019, with an option to extend the agreement until April 2020. We are taking these steps to ensure continuity of services for passengers. This additional time is necessary to deliver the best possible outcome for passengers and taxpayers alike. We will update the House in the usual way as soon as this work is concluded.
I am grateful to the rail Minister, but he has not quite explained why such a mess has been made of this franchise. Can he confirm exactly when my constituents, who already pay the second-highest fares in the home counties, will get the long-promised new carriages? Can he explain why, if the franchising system is now under review, he has been able to award an eight-year franchise for the east midlands? Finally, can he explain why the compensation in respect of last year’s timetable chaos is not going to the two stations most affected in my constituency, Shoreham and Eynsford, when the two operators enjoy common ownership? Is it not time to restore confidence in the whole franchising system?
I thank my right hon. Friend for those questions. He has been a strong and tenacious champion for rail passengers in his constituency, raising issues with me and speaking in Westminster Hall debates. I share his impatience to get the benefits that are emerging from our franchises to his, and indeed to all, constituents. This is a huge and complex piece of public procurement, and it is right to take the time to make sure we get it right and to finalise this competition. The area is one of the most complex on our network; it has a mix of high-speed and commuter services, with a highly intensive use of infrastructure. I cannot tell him the date on which we will be able to make the announcement. This is a live competition involving market-sensitive information. There is an established method of communication to the House and the markets, so I cannot answer him and am able to say little on that point today.
I can confirm to my right hon. Friend why the east midlands franchise was awarded, with the rail review taking place. That was simply because it was considered that with the east midlands franchise award and this one we could get the benefits to passengers before the work of the rail review came into play. On compensation in respect of the two stations he mentioned, I will look at those carefully. On the point about the compensation following the May 2018 timetable changes, there were some significant problems, but they were not everywhere. The issue was to get the compensation to those who had been most affected. They received compensation that I think was appropriate, but I will check out those two stations and write to him as quickly as possible.
So here we are again: a Transport Minister forced to the Dispatch Box to defend the actions—or, in this case, the lack of action—of the ever-failing Secretary of State. Following four delays on the south-eastern franchise, we now know that the Government are planning a direct award. After 12 other direct awards, including on south-eastern, is this approach being taken to avoid the embarrassment of failure further down the road? Two monopolies, Govia and Abellio, are left in the competition to run Britain’s most beleaguered franchise. Following a litany of failures under Govia, highlighted in Chris Gibb’s report two years ago, and a lacklustre response by the Secretary of State, who, frankly, should have brought the franchise under direct operation, the travelling public are being failed.
What discussions has the Minister had with the trade unions, as the hard-working staff face further uncertainty, not least over their jobs and pensions? Will he also confirm that there is no intention to cut pensions to staff through this franchise process? Are the Government going to stall on all franchises until the conclusion of the Williams review, which is undertaking a comprehensive look at why our rail system is floundering? If so, when will this report be published? In the light of revelations this weekend that sensitive confidential information was leaked from Stagecoach into the hands of Abellio during the east midlands process, what changes has the Minister made in his Department to ensure that commercially confidential information is not shared with competitors in this broken process? How are the Government measuring past failure of these rail monopolies? In the light of evidence, will he then rule out their bidding, as he has for other companies involved in other franchises?
With 176 million journeys being made each year, how can these passengers have any confidence that they will not pay the price for failure—something they have had to endure under the current award? They are paying some of the highest fares in exchange for one of the worst services, so it is clear that this franchising fiasco must end. If the Secretary of State will not take back control of our rail, Labour will.
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. We are negotiating a short direct award to allow the competition to reach its end. This is not the end of franchising, which has been a significant ingredient in improving and turning around rail performance in this country. It has led to our having more services and passengers and at a greater level of safety than at any point in our country’s history. Franchising has been part of that success. This is an issue not of failure but of making sure that we get it correct.
Have I discussed the franchise bid with the trade unions? No, because the bids are assessed by officers of the Department for Transport, who anonymise them. It is important, market-sensitive information. Such information runs through a standard procedure, of which the hon. Lady should be aware; it operates in councils, in the Government and in devolved Assemblies, too. I have of course met the trade unions, and I was able to confirm with them that my aspirations for the rail industry include the careers of those who serve the industry. The Chair of the Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), asked about the same point in an urgent question just before the Easter recess. I do not want to see any cut to pensions; I want to see those who work on our rail services retire with secure and stable pensions. Nevertheless, we are talking about pensions from a private business, not something that comes from the Government.
The work on the Williams review is under way. I am sure the hon. Lady will have seen some of the evidence papers and heard about the emerging thinking that Mr Williams has discussed in some of the speeches he has made over the past few weeks. We look forward to seeing the output of that review. Franchising has been an ingredient in the turnaround of our rail industry that has been so fantastic for this country. The question now is how we take that to the next stage, which is what the Williams review is all about.
My constituents are as anxious as anyone about the reasons that lie behind this continuing delay, but they are even more anxious that the improvements we have all been promised under the new franchise do actually happen. Will my hon. Friend assure me and my constituents that the improvements, particularly the extra capacity on the high-speed line, will be available when the franchise is eventually awarded?
My right hon. Friend asks about how the bid may finally be judged. I cannot comment on the work in progress, but I can say that an invitation to tender was published in November 2017. It was the result of a significant consultation, to which there were 10,000 or so responses. I am as anxious as my right hon. Friend to get the benefits of that invitation to tender out to the constituents whom he serves so well, and as fast as possible, but I cannot give an answer today on who will win the franchise. That work is carried out separately by officials, away from Ministers, and the information is anonymised because it is so important and market sensitive, but his point will have been heard by all those in the industry.
The south-eastern franchise was originally due to end in 2014. The failure of the west coast franchise delayed that ending until August 2018, and now the direct award to Govia could be further extended. It is hard to understand why, if the Government still believe in competition for rail services, the Department for Transport seems absolutely unable to run a competition for this franchise. Will the Minister clarify how many compliant bids were received for the south-eastern franchise and how many were received for the east midlands franchise that was awarded two weeks ago?
The hon. Lady makes the point about whether franchising is dead; no, it is not, because of course we managed to award a franchise only in the week before Easter recess. As a process, then, franchising is working. Can we get the benefits out to passengers as fast as possible? That is of course what it is all about, but these are complex questions and it is appropriate that we take our time to get it right. On the number of compliant bids, the issue of pensions obviously attracted a lot of attention in respect of the east midlands bid. We have two pension-compliant bids for the south-eastern franchise and look forward to making the announcement as soon as we possibly can.
Will my hon. Friend assure me that this further delay to the award of the franchise will not hold up long-awaited works for Petts Wood and St Mary Cray stations to become fully accessible—something for which residents have been campaigning for many years?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I share his enthusiasm for the access-for-all process and the recent announcement of extra funds and where those funds will be targeted by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani). I can tell him that design work on the stations selected will be starting over the summer, with construction as soon as possible thereafter. I know that he is anxious for the benefits to serve his constituents. So am I and so is the Under-Secretary of State, who I know is listening. She has indicated that she would be very happy to meet him to take the matter forward.
Further to his letter of 10 April in which the Under-Secretary of State assured Members that robust scrutiny would be used in this decision-making process, can he please reassure my beleaguered constituents in east Kent that that scrutiny will also apply to the exorbitant fare rises, constant delays and disruptions, arbitrary timetable changes and removal of services?
I can most certainly provide the hon. Lady’s constituents with the assurance that she is seeking. We will obviously be focusing on fares. We want to make sure that the travelling public get a great deal, which is why we have frozen regulated fares in line with inflation for the sixth year in a row. It is also why, in January, we saw the launch of the 16 to 18-year-old railcard, which will come into play later this year. So will there be attention on costs and scrutiny of fares? Of course there will. We will be maintaining that. This policy, which has delivered its sixth year, against Labour’s intentions, will be continued.
Will the Minister please confirm that the City Thameslink service from Maidstone East will still be delivered before the end of the year? It is desperately needed and it has been promised on a multitude of occasions.
My hon. Friend has been a very diligent campaigner on this issue. I know that it matters a lot to her and to her constituency. She has been a real vocal champion on this issue specifically. However, this is also an industry-led process and we are working with it to deliver the benefits as soon as possible. I cannot comment immediately on that matter because it is not part of this franchise but, of course, I will check the information and keep her posted on progress.
If the rail review recommends that suburban services in the London area be transferred to London government, will the Government allow south-eastern suburban services to be transferred in that way to maximise integration of transport services in London?
That is a very interesting question. I would expect the rail review to make some interesting recommendations about devolution. I am personally a fan of devolution, but we had better see what it says before commenting on the outcome.
I note my hon. Friend’s statement today on the south-eastern rail franchise. I am, of course, bitterly disappointed that we have not made any progress on this matter. In the meantime, my constituents continue to suffer a poor service into London. It is also disappointing, but rather ironic, that, just like the rail service, all we seem to see from his Department is continual delay. As he is well aware, improvements are desperately needed to our service in the borough of Bexley—and not later this year, next year or sometimes never. Our constituents are paying more money for a poor service. What we are expecting is a decision so that we can look to a better future and the travelling public from Bexley have a better service. At the moment, they do not.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. He is a diligent campaigner on rail issues for his constituency. We saw that at an important level when there was the landslip earlier this year. He was a great champion in making sure that the voices of his travelling constituents were heard in this House. I cannot yet tell him when we will be making the announcement on the decision on who wins the south-eastern franchise competition, but I can tell him that I am extremely keen to get the benefits that the franchise will bring to his constituents. I will make sure that he is kept fully posted on progress.
There appears to be a serious issue around rail pensions. The Minister has said that there are two pension-compliant bids on the table. Could he tell me whether the Department has made any changes to the franchise specifications in respect of pension obligations, and what conversations have been held with the Pensions Regulator regarding the deficit?
The Pensions Regulator is an independent body and the pensions that we are talking about are those of private companies, so the role for the Government is not a direct one. Operators are currently liable for the full pensions risk during their franchise term. These competitions—including the east midlands competition, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood)—included a risk-sharing mechanism with the Government that actually reduced the risk to which operators are exposed. Under this mechanism, the operators retain risks that they are able to manage. There have been some changes, but they are about risk-sharing for the future; so there was a notable change in the franchises.
It is disappointing that, like so many Southeastern trains, the south-eastern franchise is itself delayed. My constituents expect the new franchise to give them improved services, to reduce overcrowding, and to introduce Delay Repay 15, smart ticketing and flexible season tickets, which are all really important. Will my hon. Friend ensure that, although the franchise is delayed, these improvements will not be? Could they be introduced in advance of the new franchise, rather than our having to wait for so long?
I will have a look at my hon. Friend’s point. The key benefits that have come into our rail services over the past few years have come in through the franchising process, as it has brought in private investment. That investment has purchased or leased new rolling stock, which has meant a transformation across the country for the travelling public. My hon. Friend is as impatient as I am that the benefits that we are seeing come to fruition for her constituents, and I will of course work to deliver them as fast as possible.
The franchise specification promised extra capacity, new rolling stock, greater frequency of trains and 15-minute Delay Repay, but my constituents will now not see those improvements for at least another seven—perhaps 12—months. What specifically is the Department going to do to improve services for passengers on Southeastern throughout the period of the franchise extension?