House of Commons
Monday 10 June 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—
Violent Crime: Young People
Diverting young people from crime is at the heart of my approach to tackling serious violence. Factors such as domestic abuse, truancy and substance abuse can make a young person more vulnerable to becoming a victim or perpetrator of serious violence. That is why we are investing over £220 million in early intervention schemes to steer young people away from serious violence.
The experience of the local police in Chelmsford is that once a young person is in a gang they become indoctrinated and indebted to the gang, and it is hard to turn that round. It is therefore better to invest in prevention, and the role of schools is vital. Will my right hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State for Education and the Treasury to ensure that schools get the resources they need to run proactive initiatives to prevent young people from being sucked into violent gangs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we cannot arrest our way out of crime, and early intervention is critical. That is why we have, for example, the £200 million youth intervention fund to do precisely that: steer young people away from violence. She is also right to think about how schools can work much more closely with police and others. That require some more resources, and I am very happy to continue that conversation with the Department for Education and the Treasury.
Drug dealing and violence across county lines involving young people is a growing issue in my region. What support is my right hon. Friend giving Hampshire police to tackle this issue and help our young people?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of county lines and his concern. More support is being provided for Hampshire in particular, with Hampshire police receiving £1.2 million from the £100 million extra that I announced a few months ago for the serious violence fund. Hampshire is also benefiting from the early intervention youth fund, through which we have sponsored a number of projects, including a £400,000 project in Hampshire aimed at supporting young people away from future offending.
The Home Secretary referred to youth prevention investment, but that money is spread over several years. As he will know, the Select Committee on Home Affairs asked for the annual breakdown of that money. We are still waiting for that. That matters, because it looks to us as though the additional investment he has proposed adds up to around only 5% annually of the £760 million being cut from youth services.
I know from a meeting in Knottingley in my constituency this morning that antisocial behaviour is rising, and knife crime among young people in west Yorkshire has trebled over the last few years. We need this investment very rapidly and cannot wait. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Select Committee will get those figures, and that he will give oral evidence to the Committee before the summer recess? His office suggested that he would not.
I do plan to give evidence to the Select Committee before the summer recess. I can confirm also that the right hon. Lady will get the numbers that she has asked for. Perhaps she was referring to the £200 million youth endowment fund, but she will know that there is also the £22 million early intervention fund, which has supported some 29 projects already.
I welcome the Government’s decision to adopt a public health approach to youth violence, but aside from a summit we are yet to see any affirmative action. The Home Secretary recognises that early intervention is important, yet we have seen cuts to our Sure Start centres, our education and our youth services. What urgent action will he take to implement a public health approach? What will he do to step up conversations with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that those vital early intervention services get their funding restored to them immediately?
The hon. Lady rightly raises the importance of the public health approach—having a legal requirement for all Government Departments and agencies to work together—but she is wrong to suggest that the only thing that has happened is the summit that the Prime Minister held. The hon. Lady will know that we have already published the consultation, which is ongoing. She will know that, to get good policy, it is right to hold a consultation. I hope that she will input into it and that, when it leads to legislation, we can have cross-party support.
The normally quiet and law-abiding town of Calne in my constituency has been rocked in the past two weeks by the brutal murder of 18-year-old Ellie Gould by, allegedly, an under-age knife-bearing murderer. I will not ask the Home Secretary to comment on that case, but does he not agree that one very good way of deterring people from carrying knives and taking part in this kind of appalling outrage is by applying the strongest possible sentence to these people to send a message to others who might be that way inclined?
May I take this opportunity to extend my sympathy to Ellie’s family for what has happened and their terrible loss? My hon. Friend is absolutely right that to tackle serious violence we need to take action on many fronts. As well as law enforcement and early intervention, it is right to ensure that sentencing is fit for the crimes that have taken place.
Part of the Government’s response to the horrifying rise in violent crime has been to commission an independent review on drugs. Given the revelations over the weekend in relation to various Tory leadership hopefuls, is it not time to consider extending that review to consider whether our drug laws and policy are discriminatory, and whether they, in fact, fuel violent crime?
The hon. Lady will know that the Government have been very clear, as have previous Governments, that drugs and the crime related to drug gangs are leading to serious violence and all sorts of other serious problems in society and other types of crime. That is why we have taken action on many fronts, but we do want to understand more about drugs and their impact. That is exactly why I commissioned the independent review, by Dame Carol Black, on drugs misuse.
Windrush Victims: Compensation
On 3 April, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the opening of the Windrush compensation scheme. The forms, rules and guidance were published on the same day. The freephone helpline is available to answer any queries. The scheme will ensure that those who have been affected are able to claim for the losses they faced and receive appropriate compensation.
How will the Government compensate Windrush victims such as my constituent who could not work for eight years because of his lack of status, losing his NI contributions and his pension? Are Ministers making sure that in such complicated cases people get the advice they need to fill out the forms, so they are not victimised yet again?
We worked very hard with the independent adviser, and indeed with victims of Windrush, to ensure the claim form was as accessible and as easily understood as possible. It is a complicated claim form, because there are 13 different heads of claims under which people are able to claim compensation, but we have set up a contract with Citizens Advice so they can get independent advice without having to resort to using lawyers.
Community organisations working with Windrush citizens, including the Black Cultural Archives in my constituency, report that the compensation scheme simply is not working. The form is too complex, advice is neither accessible nor specialist enough, and the burden of proof is far too high. Will the Minister review the scheme, acknowledge that it is not working, and, as an absolute minimum, provide immediate funding for specialist legal advice to be available not only by phone but in person to every Windrush citizen who needs it?
As I outlined, there is already a contract in place with Citizens Advice to provide that independent advice. There is an ongoing series of engagement events, with taskforce officials from the Home Office attending different community groups across the country, including in London. There have been two events in Newport. It is important that we get this right, which is why we worked with Martin Forde to have a scheme that gave us independent advice. It is important that we work through it. I know that at 18 pages the claim form is quite long, but of course individual claimants have to fill in only the components that are relevant to them, not every page.
This gross injustice with respect to the Windrush scandal is not an accident or a one-off; it is a direct result of the Government’s hostile environment policy. Have the Government considered how their hostile environment might affect migrants from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh now and in the future?
It is important to reflect that roughly half the individuals affected by Windrush had a negative impact pre-2010 under the previous Labour Government. We are determined to put right all those wrongs and ensure that wherever people have come from—people from a wide variety of countries, not simply the Caribbean, have made contact with the Windrush taskforce—they are given the support to go through the process of getting the documentation they need. Well over 4,000 people have secured British citizenship as a result, and over 6,000 people have the documentation they need to prove their right to stay in the UK.
The Minister has to begin to acknowledge communities’ grave concerns about the Windrush compensation scheme as it stands. They think that it is not working. She also needs to bear in mind that this is an ageing cohort, who will probably need more support on average than a cohort that is more mixed in age. The Home Secretary told the House in April last year that we
“will do whatever it takes to put it right”.
“We have made it clear that a Commonwealth citizen who has remained in the UK since 1973 will be eligible to get the legal status that they deserve: British citizenship.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 35.]
What progress has been made on those promises?
Will the Minister reconsider some of the worst aspects of the current scheme? It will currently not compensate those who may have been wrongly deported. I quote from the document:
“It is difficult to determine whether inability to return to the UK is a loss”.
Of course, someone being deprived of their home, job, family and community is a loss. How can Ministers say that it is “difficult to determine” whether there is a loss?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. It is absolutely because we acknowledge that people have been wronged that, in the last week, I personally have attended two separate outreach events for people who wish to understand the compensation scheme. It is why there are dedicated helplines. It is why we have put in place the scheme with Citizens Advice, so that it can provide advice. I reiterate that 6,470 individuals have been granted some form of documentation and 4,281 have been granted citizenship. As I said, there are 13 different heads of claim, including not only deportation, but loss of ability to work, loss of benefits and so on. We are absolutely determined to make sure that we compensate the individuals affected in a timely manner.
Facial Recognition Technology
Facial recognition technology can help the police to do their job. It must be right to support trials of this rapidly improving technology, but given its sensitivity it must also be right that the technology’s benefits should be independently reviewed. That is exactly what the Met is doing with the University of Essex and we will consider that review very carefully.
In May, San Francisco, one of the most tech-friendly cities in the world, banned the use of live facial recognition technology because of massive error rates and concerns about racial bias in its use. Five United Kingdom police forces use similar cameras and systems. Both the Met and South Wales Police have seen a 90%— or worse—misidentification rate of innocent members of the public. It is clear that the cameras carry serious risks, yet no legislation governs the use of the technology; it operates in a legal void. The Minister refers to the Metropolitan police. This is not a decision for a police force to make; it is a decision for Parliament. Will the Minister bring legislation to the House laying down strict guidelines on the use of this technology?
My right hon. Friend has a long track record in this area. He is entirely right to raise the sensitivity in finding the right balance between security and civil liberties. On the Met’s numbers, there is a one in 1,000 chance of a false alert, but we need to see the evaluation. I am very clear in my mind that we need to support the police in trialling new technology, but if we are to take the public with us we have to be absolutely sure that it sits inside a regulatory framework that they trust. We believe that there is a legal framework for it, although that is being challenged in the courts. I give him my undertaking that, given the importance of maintaining public confidence and trust, we are doing urgent work to review the regulatory environment in which this technology development sits, including new oversight and advisory boards, because I recognise the fundamental importance of taking the public with us on this journey.
The police national database contains 15 million images, which have been used in a much less controversial way for static facial recognition since 2014, but police tell me that the algorithm that is used to support the database is out of date and needs investment. Will the Minister confirm that the necessary investment will be made?
I can confirm to the hon. Lady that, across a substantial range of technology requirements for the police, the Home Secretary and I are considering the funding requirements of the police in the context of the comprehensive spending review, and he and I have made it clear that police funding is our priority.
In the last year or so, the Met have issued many of their officers with tablet computers, but the feedback I have had from officers and constituents is that very often these are unstable, freeze routinely and can actually mean that work takes longer, so will the Minister talk to the Met Commissioner to ensure that their technology is stable and reliable for officers to use?
I have had those conversations with the Met Commissioner because I have heard exactly the same thing from members of the serious violence taskforce and officers on the beat in my own constituency. It is clear to us that mobility—the ability to work on the move without having to go back to the station to fill in reports—is critical to improving police productivity, so we must make sure we get the technology right.
What was not known during the Huawei furore was that it was a leading pioneer of facial recognition technology distinguishing between Han and Uighur citizens within the Chinese republic. Are the Government seeking to use this technology as a solution on the British border on the isle of Ireland?
I will not get drawn into that. It is our responsibility as a Government and a Parliament to support the police in pushing the frontiers of what technology can do in law enforcement, but I come back to this fundamental point: we have to take the public with us, and that means the regulatory environment has to be fit for purpose.
The Minister will be aware of the comments of the new independent reviewer of our counter-terror laws at the weekend about our police and security services using artificial intelligence and algorithms in detecting suspicious behaviour. He was speaking of a future like that in the film “Minority Report” where predictive technology drives everything. Is not the only way to establish the appropriate balance between liberty and security to create a new durable legislative framework that can be properly considered by this House? Why can he not commit to bringing that forward today?
I repeat that I am extremely aware of the need, as technology develops in this area and others, for there to be public confidence and trust in it, underpinned by a legislative and regulatory framework in which people have confidence. We feel that that legal framework is in place, but we are reviewing the oversight and regulatory framework in which this all sits, and that is a work of some urgency for me.
Refugee Family Reunion
The Government provide a safe and legal route for bringing families together through our existing family reunion policy. These provisions are consistent with our obligation to respect family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. We are listening to calls to extend this policy and will continue discussions with stakeholders.
Ministers will recall that last July the other House passed the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill overwhelmingly but that it was not introduced here because of lack of parliamentary time. Since parliamentary time no longer appears so scarce, will the Minister introduce it here to help reunite families, many of whom are divided by some very rigid and inflexible rules?
As I said, we are listening to calls to extend family reunion and are watching the two private Members’ Bills very closely. The right hon. Gentleman’s question is of course one for business managers, who I am sure will heed his calls.
Is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am that in designing a refugee family reunion policy we do not create incentives that encourage even more people to leave their homes and undertake an extremely dangerous journey in the hope they will bring the rest of their relatives to our country at a later date?
My hon. Friend rightly raises the Government’s concern that allowing children to sponsor close family members might create incentives for more children to be encouraged or even forced to leave their families and risk a hazardous journey to the UK in order to sponsor relatives at a later date. I am sure he agrees that we absolutely want to avoid that because it could play into the hands of criminal gangs already exploiting vulnerable people.
In December 2018 the Government set out their proposals for a future immigration system in a White Paper, “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system”. The new system will be focused on those with the skills that the country needs, who will bring the most benefit to the United Kingdom.
My constituency needs migrant workers to support local industry—particularly, but not exclusively, in the health, hospitality, fishing and farming sectors. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that there will be sufficient flexibility in any post-Brexit immigration system to allow those sectors to flourish?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We recognise that the future system must work for the valuable industries that make this nation great. We are working with many businesses and employers, including some in the sectors that my hon. Friend has listed, to ensure there is proper engagement which will achieve precisely what he has described.
On Thursday night, a 17-year-old schoolboy visiting Canterbury from Germany was violently attacked in our city centre. He is now fighting for his life. I thank the Home Secretary for intervening personally to enable the boy’s family to travel to be at his bedside, and I am extremely grateful for his—and his team’s—rapid response, kindness and hard work over the weekend. In the light of this awful incident, will he please reassure me that he is listening carefully to the grave concerns that are being expressed about the dwindling number of police on our streets?
I was very concerned to hear about that case when the hon. Lady contacted me, and I am pleased that the young man’s parents are now at his bedside. I can give her the assurance for which she has asked. We have a big police funding settlement this year, which is leading to the biggest increase in police numbers since 2010.
I thank the Home Secretary for the support that he has expressed for the amendment drafted by our hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), which has the support of many colleagues on both sides of the House, and which seeks to ease post-study work restrictions on overseas students. Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only is this an economically sensible and useful thing to do, but it will enhance UK soft power as we build global Britain?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he will know, we have already announced steps in that direction in the White Paper, because we want to make it easier for those who come from abroad to study in our universities to stay and continue to lead their lives in the UK. I do believe that we can go further, both for our own economic benefit—indeed, I think, for our cultural benefit—and, certainly, for the benefit of our soft power.
International students are vital not just for our exports, but for university funding and regional economies. Britain is lagging behind our main competitors in attracting the brightest and the best. What plans has the Home Secretary to add countries such as India to the list of states with fast-track access to tier 4 study permits to help to address that issue?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of international students, including their importance as an export for our economy. He will be pleased to learn that there is no cap on the number of international students who can come to the UK, and that the number who came last year reached a record high. As for fast-track access for certain countries, we constantly keep that under review.
My constituent Ken Macharia is under threat of removal back to Kenya, where he will not be able to live openly as a gay man. In the month of Pride, it cannot be right for us to deny him the right to be who he is. More importantly, however, does the Home Secretary agree that Ken’s sexuality should not be the issue? He came here to qualify as a mechanical engineer, and he therefore has skills that we urgently need for our economy. Should we not be letting him stay for that reason, irrespective of his sexuality?
I understand why my hon. Friend has raised this case, and I can assure him that the Home Office is taking it very seriously. He will, perhaps, appreciate that I cannot comment on an individual case, especially if it involves an application for a judicial review, but I can reassure him that in cases of this type, at the heart of decision-making is the welfare of the individual concerned.
As has already been pointed out, the Home Secretary has pledged that if he becomes Prime Minister he will reintroduce the post-study work visa. The university sector in Scotland, business, and my colleagues in the Scottish Government have been calling for its reintroduction for some years. The right hon. Gentleman is already Home Secretary, and he has the power to reintroduce it with full effect for Scotland today if he wants to, so will he make a commitment to do so?
That is exactly why the proposal is in the White Paper I published earlier this year.
I am disappointed that the Home Secretary does not feel able to make that commitment, but I hope he will maybe follow through on it if he becomes Prime Minister.
May I ask him about something else that is very important to Members in all parts of this House? A recent freedom of information request from one of my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament revealed that 19 children and six pregnant women have been held at the privately run Dungavel detention centre since 2016, and this is despite the Government committing to end the detention of children at Dungavel. Can the Secretary of State explain how this has been allowed to happen and will he commit to ending indefinite detention as part of his future plans for the UK’s immigration system?
On the hon. and learned Lady’s first question, it sounds as though she has not read the White Paper yet because it talks about increasing post-study work permits. On the question about detention, we have a comprehensive and detailed policy on adults at risk; we constantly keep it under review, and when there are specific cases we will look at them very carefully.
Fire Services: Overnight Cover
Operational decisions are for each fire and rescue authority to make as part of their work to assess local risk and manage and allocate resources according to their integrated risk management planning process. What we have done is reintroduce independent inspection by asking HMICFRS—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services—to assess how effective each fire and rescue service is in responding to fires.
I thank the Minister for his response, but the reality is that Government cuts are having a dangerous impact on safety. If Tyne and Wear’s fire and rescue service funding does not increase, this year we could see overnight cover cut by 50% in South Tyneside, putting my constituents and our local firefighters’ lives at risk. When will the Government increase funding to protect our lives?
I know there are strong feelings about the funding of Tyne and Wear fire service because we had a debate in Westminster Hall, and I have subsequently met Chris Lowther, the chief, to discuss that. Our view is that the fire service has the resources it needs to continue providing what is acknowledged to be a good service underpinned by very high levels of reserves, but we are approaching a comprehensive spending review in which we will be looking to continue to make sure that the fire service has the resources it needs to do its very difficult job.
In the Minister’s response of 5 June to my letter about fire service funding he stated that all services had the capacity to respond to high-rise fires, yet the speed of the fire spread we saw yesterday in Barking was terrifying, and if that had happened at night people may well have lost their lives. Seconds count and seconds save lives; is the Minister truly convinced that he has done everything he can to keep people safe in their beds?
The whole House will understand the sensitivities of this subject, not least this week, and the fire was indeed extremely intense and unsettling. I congratulate the 100-odd firefighters who attended that scene on their success in getting the fire under control with no serious injury. In response to the hon. Lady’s point, yes of course I take this extremely seriously. I have received assurances from the fire chiefs that the current arrangements around integrated risk planning, the requirements around mutual assistance and the national resilience are fit for purpose, but if anyone has hard evidence to undermine that my door is open.
In Northamptonshire the fire service has been successfully integrated with the local police service, saving money on administrative overheads and providing more resources for frontline capabilities. Is the Minister going to encourage more such mergers?
The answer is yes, and I congratulate Steve Mold and the leadership in Northamptonshire on what they have done to show what can be achieved through really creative collaboration. This is not just about saving taxpayers’ money; it is also about exploring the opportunities to deliver a better service to the public.
We are approaching the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which, as Members will know, happened overnight. The Grenfell residents had complained about their treatment by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and had specifically highlighted the fire risks, but they were ignored. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that similar warnings from those who know most—the residents themselves—are heeded and acted on?
I think the right hon. Lady meant to say that it was the second anniversary, but of course the point she makes is a fundamental one that will be addressed in the statement that follows on the Government’s response to the fire, not only on future arrangements for social housing and the regulation of that, but to ensure that the voice of tenants is a louder one and a respected one.
Firefighters: Health Screening
The health and wellbeing of firefighters is of huge concern to the Home Office and to the sector leaders we are working with to support further progress in this area. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the responsibility of individual fire and rescue authorities, as employers, to ensure that health screening suitable for the risks faced is available to their firefighters.
The stress facing our firefighters has grown considerably under this Government. We have fewer of them, and many have been replaced by retained firefighters, including in Cleveland. As we have heard, they face some of the most difficult circumstances. Does the Minister recognise the impact of those circumstances and stressors on the mental and physical health of firefighters? Will he tell me what the Government are going to do to fund health services properly for firemen?
I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Firefighters are exposed to major risks and highly traumatic situations, as well as to contaminants and toxic agents, so it is even more important that local fire authorities have appropriate strategies in place and that they are properly resourced and, critically, inspected and assessed by independent inspectors, which is what we have introduced. In relation to resources, I come back to the main point that a spending review is imminent, and it will provide an opportunity to ensure that the fire service continues to have the resources it needs to do its job and support its people.
Some of the things that those in our brave emergency services—whether in the police, the fire service or the ambulance service—are tasked with dealing with are truly horrific and have long-lasting impacts, particularly on family life. What work is being done to ensure that those in our emergency services are always able to access the very best mental health care?
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. There is a growing awareness and culture in the leadership across the police and fire services about the importance of the welfare and wellbeing agenda. That is why we have supported the first-ever national wellbeing service, which is being developed and rolled out across that system, and why we continue to engage with the fire chiefs in order to be absolutely sure that, on top of the money we have provided for the blue-light services and for mental health support, we are doing everything we can to ensure that those on the frontline of our response to emergencies are properly supported and that the old culture of “stay strong” can be challenged when it needs to be, because of the trauma that our first responders are often exposed to.
Two years on from Grenfell, firefighters and members of the community still have not been screened for fire-related toxic contamination. Speaking as a former nurse and the mother of a young woman who died of cancer, I find that genuinely unacceptable. Given the dangerous carcinogens that have been found in the area surrounding the building, the Government’s inaction displays a reckless disregard for people’s health, and I hope that the Minister is not going to pass the buck here. I should like to ask him to commit to undertaking a wide review of cancer rates among firefighters, and to consider implementing a national fire service cancer screening strategy. This is just too important for him not to.
I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Lady is saying. In relation to the Grenfell firefighters, that is something that I will of course take up with the London fire brigade. On the broader point, she is absolutely right to say that firefighters are exposed to contaminants and toxic agents. Exposure will vary, but I am sure she will be aware that past research has not shown an increase in risk. However, this is a source of concern to us, and the fire chiefs have recently commissioned research from the University of Brighton. We will need to wait for that to conclude before agreeing the next steps in relation to the kind of comprehensive universal screening service that she has mentioned.
A review of powers was undertaken as part of our updated comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, and the lessons learned from the attacks of 2016 and 2017 were incorporated. Following the review, the Government launched the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which received Royal Assent on 12 February 2019.
Our security services are world class, but we know that co-ordination is key, so does my right hon. Friend agree that negotiating security co-operation with our European partners and neighbours and strengthening our alliances around the world should be top post-Brexit priorities?
Yes, I can reassure the House that intelligence sharing will go on unchanged. The relationship between intelligence services under national security, irrespective of our status within Europe, will not diminish, and the same goes for our status within the Five Eyes community—a strong partnership for intelligence. In addition, when it comes to law enforcement tools, our relationships are also underpinned by the 1957 Council of Europe convention on extradition and the 1959 European convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters, and those will continue no matter what the settlement is.
This weekend, the Home Secretary announced as part of his leadership bid a £500 million investment in border security in Northern Ireland, plus ongoing costs. Will the Minister agree to publish the proposals as soon as possible, so that they can be open to public and private scrutiny?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point about investment in our border. However, I had a quick discussion with the Home Secretary, who does not have the same recollection of what he announced at the weekend. I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman writes to the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary will set out the position.
I was horrified to read that a Hezbollah bomb factory storing three tonnes of explosive materials was discovered in north-west London in 2015—three and a half years before the Home Secretary fully proscribed the antisemitic terror group. Why did the Government wait so long to act? Why were the public and MPs not informed, given the debates that we have had on this issue?
The right hon. Lady will know, as a former Home Office Minister, that we do not comment on intelligence operations for obvious reasons. In addition, if Hezbollah was behaving in that manner at that time, that would have been under its military wing, as it was classified, and that would have been an act of terrorism and, indeed, would have been subject to the proscription provisions. I therefore do not think that anything different would have happened. However, as the right hon. Lady knows, the Home Secretary recently moved to proscribe the entirety of Hezbollah, partly because of such cases.
EU Settlement Scheme
EU citizens are our friends, neighbours and colleagues, and we want them to stay. The EU settlement scheme enables them to do so, and we launched a £3.75 million marketing campaign in March to encourage them to apply.
If these people genuinely are the Home Secretary’s friends, colleagues and neighbours, perhaps the Government should start to treat them as such, instead of preparing to make them the victims of another Windrush-type scandal. The Home Affairs Committee recently reported that thousands of EU nationals in the UK run the risk of being left with an uncertain legal future. Does the Home Secretary not accept that it is time to get rid of the application and potential refusal system that they have just now and replace it with as a system of right to remain by declaration? That would leave the onus of proof on the Government if they think that someone should not be allowed to stay, instead of making the person prove that they can.
The settlement scheme is working incredibly well. To update the House, 800,000 applications have already been made since its launch, with almost 700,000 concluded. The hon. Gentleman mentions Windrush, and if he wants another Windrush, he should continue with the proposal that he just suggested.
Just some of the actions we are taking to tackle knife crime include: strengthening the law through the Offensive Weapons Act 2019; establishing the national county lines co-ordination centre; consulting on a new duty to support a multi-agency public health approach; launching the £100 million serious violence fund in the spring statement; and providing new lesson plans to schools as part of our #knifefree campaign. We take careful note of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s recent comments about knife crime levelling off, and I am sure we all support the police’s efforts to tackle this.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but there were 18,000 assaults and 17,000 robberies involving a knife or a sharp object in the year ending 2018. The Government have cut police officer numbers by 21,000, and two weeks ago there was a murder in Tower Hamlets due to a knife attack. Does she agree that the Home Secretary is not fit to be the next Prime Minister, considering that he has lost control of law and order in his Department?
I have to say that I think this is such a serious subject—I understand the hon. Lady’s comments about her constituency—but I do not think this is the appropriate forum to make those sorts of comments. What I do know is that the Government, working with the police, local authorities, the medical profession and educationalists, are doing everything we can not just to tackle the causes of knife crime through law enforcement efforts but to intervene early to stop young people from carrying knives before they take that terrible step, which can affect not only their lives but other families and communities.
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) is welcome to shoehorn his inquiry, Question 16, conveniently into Question 14, if he so wishes, but it is not obligatory.
I am very happy to look into that. The hon. Gentleman will know that, through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, there are six powers available to the police and to local authorities and agencies to tackle, in a flexible way, the terrible crimes that can be occasioned by antisocial behaviour.
Piggybacking on the shoehorn, so to speak, farmers are often victims of rural crime, antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and the theft of farm machinery. What more is going to be done to help to tackle rural crime?
As the proud Member of Parliament for one of the most rural constituencies in England, I know only too well the trouble that farmers and landowners can have with antisocial behaviour, including, for example, hare coursing. A range of powers is available to the police, depending on the type of criminality involved. I am very happy to involve my hon. Friend in the discussions we are currently having to see what more we can do to tackle hare coursing in particular.
Inshore Fishing Boats: Non-EEA Workers
As part of the future borders and immigration system, we have launched a year-long engagement programme to seek the views of stakeholders, including the fishing industry, and I am listening very carefully to what they have to say. I have met representatives of the industry on several occasions, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and we are reflecting on the views expressed.
The Minister has previously said:
“there was no case for schemes for particular sectors in the immigration system, other than agriculture, which has some unique characteristics.”—[Official Report, 8 April 2019; Vol. 658, c. 153.]
I am sure the Minister and everyone accepts that the fishing industry has unique characteristics as well. Although we want local labour to do these jobs in future, they are not ready and able to do them now. Will she look again at this with an open mind, because our fishermen are crying out for a solution?
I reassure my hon. Friend that I was quoting the Migration Advisory Committee when I said that agriculture is a unique sector with characteristics that justify the sectoral scheme, and the Government have certainly listened to that advice. He will know that we are undertaking a year of engagement as part of the proposals set out in the immigration White Paper, and no final decision will be taken on the future system until that is complete.
In calling the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), I am calling no less a figure than the Chair of the International Trade Committee.
That is much appreciated, Mr Speaker. This cuts across the Department for International Trade, of course, and I have a constituency interest.
The Minister talks about a year-long engagement. She told me the very same last May. She said that the Home Office would reflect and ask industry for its views. We hear the same rhetoric today. It is quite simple: she should go to her boss, the Home Secretary—a man who needs to show leadership at the moment—and ask him to lift his pen and get fishing boats working on the west coast of Scotland. It will happen that easily. Get it shifted, make it happen, and make it happen this year. We do not want another year-long engagement.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I do not think I have quite recovered from him appearing in my office asking me to write visas on the back of an envelope for those whom he deemed to be appropriate. It is important that the Home Secretary and I listen to all sectors, take the time to reflect on the advice received from the Migration Advisory Committee and the proposals set out in the White Paper, and make sure that we make the right decision, not simply the decision that the hon. Gentleman is demanding.
Asylum Application Process
The Home Office is committed to ensuring that asylum claims are considered and protection is granted, where necessary, as soon as possible. We have ambitious plans to improve the system, including developing new service standards to ensure that cases with acute vulnerability are prioritised.
Last December, the Home Secretary said that he would look into lifting the ban on asylum seekers working. Will he please set out his view on whether or not asylum seekers should have the right to work after they have lodged their applications?
The hon. Lady will know that in certain circumstances asylum seekers can work: after a year and if the occupation is on the shortage occupation list. She is right: I have said that. We continue to look at how we can change this and how we can expand those rights potentially. That work is under review and we will report to the House in due course.
Emergency Services Network: NAO Report
Frankly, we welcome all scrutiny of the emergency services network. It remains an extremely ambitious and very challenging programme, but our intent remains the same: to make sure that our emergency workers have access to the best available communications network. We still believe that the benefits are there.
I have been raising this issue since 2013, when it became apparent that the Home Office was prioritising cost-cutting over the resilience of the communication network that enables our police officers, fire officers and ambulance crews to save lives. This is years late and billions overspent, so when are we going to have a proper plan to deliver this essential network? Will the Minister compensate police forces for the extra they are having to spend because of his incompetence?
Our plans have been set out and will continue to be available for scrutiny. The funding of forces will be dealt with through the spending review, but I push back on the hon. Lady’s premise. This has not been primarily just about reducing the costs of the Airwave contract, although that is real. It is also about making sure that 300,000 emergency workers have access to the most resilient, most modern emergency communications network. That is exactly what we intend to deliver.
We are committed to tackling antisocial behaviour, which is why we reformed the powers available to local areas through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Although we recognise there has been a small increase in the number of people who have experienced or witnessed antisocial behaviour in their local area, we would expect local areas to use the powers in the Act to tackle ASB.
The Minister is correct; more than a third of respondents to the latest crime survey have experienced or witnessed ASB. Whether we are talking about drug dealing, vandalism, or people riding motorbikes or quad bikes in public places, for example, in our parks, it has a real, damaging effect on people’s lives. Will she therefore support Lib Dem calls to invest more in community policing? Will she also publicise more effectively the community trigger, so that people know that it exists?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising the point about the community trigger. We, as constituency MPs, can really help to publicise the power of the community trigger and how members of the public can use it to review decisions with which they do not agree. On police funding, he will know that we have just voted through up to an extra £1 billion, with the help of police and crime commissioners, to put into policing. Of course the Home Secretary has set out his commitment to resources as well.
You can come in on this one, man; vehicle crime is manifestly antisocial behaviour.
I am concerned to hear of the experience of my hon. Friend’s constituents. He is right to ask about vehicle theft and the terrible impact it can have on victims. Vehicle theft is a priority of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing; indeed, he is bringing together industry, the police and others to help to ensure that the response to vehicle theft is as robust and technologically up-to-date as it can be.
As we approach the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, our thoughts are with the families of the victims and everyone affected by the tragedy.
We continue to increase support for the police and victims of crime. More money has been made available to tackle serious violence, with further allocations to the worst-hit police forces from the £100 million fund. We are making calls to the 101 non-emergency number free from April 2020. I have announced plans to change the law to give trained police drivers more confidence to pursue suspects, better protected from the risk of prosecution.
In his remarks about facial recognition technology earlier, the Minister for Policing rightly spoke about the need to take the public with us. Does the Secretary of State recognise that the imposition of Big Brother-style surveillance and fining people for covering their face with their coat is no way to secure the public’s trust? Will the Government halt the use of live facial recognition technology in policing until there has been a proper public debate, Parliament has considered a framework and there are civil liberties safeguards?
I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that it is absolutely right that the police, and those involved in law enforcement more generally, take advantage of changes in technology. Facial recognition is one of the technologies that is advancing and it is right that we test it properly. Police forces are piloting its use. The whole point of a pilot is to look at the results and then determine whether it makes sense to take the pilot forward. That may well include the need for proper guidance and perhaps even legislation.
I am very much aware of that. Forced marriage is of course a terrible form of abuse. The Government have introduced a range of measures to tackle the crime, including the creation of a specific forced marriage offence and the criminalisation of the breach of a forced marriage protection order. My hon. Friend raised the important issue of under-18 marriages. It is right that we consider our position, which is under review.
The Government’s call for evidence on violence and abuse towards shop staff is welcome. However, research by the Charity Retail Association shows that more than a quarter of charity shops are reporting an increase in incidents of violence or verbal abuse against their volunteers. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that retail volunteers are included in the review and that they, too, will benefit from any proposed protections?
The statistic the hon. Lady cited is sobering. I see no reason why charity shops should not be included in the review. I encourage all Members of Parliament to advertise the call for evidence, which we are holding precisely because we want to find out the nature and extent of the problem. I very much look forward to discussing it with the hon. Lady in due course.
My hon. Friend has been persistent in making the case for more funding for Lancashire police, so he will welcome the additional £18.4 million of cash in 2019-20, on top of the exceptional grant for the costs of fracking. Chief Constable Andy Rhodes is recruiting additional officers, and I know that my hon. Friend will play his full part in lobbying the police and crime commissioner and Andy to make sure that Fylde gets its fair share of that additional resource.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue. I am sure he has in mind the horrific attack that was reported at the weekend and that I condemn in the absolute strongest terms. There is no place in our society for such hate crime. My understanding in respect of that particular incident is that the Met has arrested five individuals. The Government are absolutely committed to tackling all forms of hate crime, including LGBT hate crime, and we will continue to do all we can.
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she has already done to bring this about. She was one of the Members of the House to make the case for the scheme so powerfully and that is exactly why we have it. The intention is to see how it works while we have freedom of movement, but she has raised an important point. I think that it is worth considering an earlier review and I will be happy to discuss it with her.
The Home Office has been preparing for a potential no-deal exit, not because it is what anyone expects or wants, but because it is the responsible thing to do. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman right here and now what the total costs are, but I am happy to write to him with more detail. But it is right that we make these preparations, whether they are for border issues, immigration issues or customs and security.
The strong message that came out of the referendum is that people want an immigration system that provides control, but they also want an immigration system that is underpinned by the principle of fairness, where everybody is treated equally, regardless of where they come from in the world. Is the Minister confident that the new system that we put in place will deliver on both those objectives?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. That is absolutely the principle underpinning the proposals put forward in the White Paper, which was published in December last year. We want to have a single immigration system that treats everybody from every country according to the skills and talents that they can bring to the United Kingdom, not one based on where they come from.
The independent review of drugs misuse to which the hon. Gentleman refers is, I think it is fair to say, the most comprehensive review that has ever been commissioned on such a subject by a Government. It has a broad remit and, when Dame Carol Black reports back—I think there will be an interim report this summer—we will take it very seriously.
If I understood the hon. Lady correctly, she is referring to my comments about Stapleton Road, but I was referring to the Stapleton Road that I knew 40 years ago and I do accept that things have moved on. In fact, I was at Stapleton Road just a few days ago. I very much enjoyed myself and met some of the local residents, which was fantastic.
One always has to be careful about what one says about Bristol. For my own part, I fought the Bristol South constituency in 1992, but the good news for Bristol and perhaps for the nation was that Bristol South fought back.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. She is right to identify the fact that there is emerging evidence that gangs are ensnaring girls, in particular to rape them, but also to conceal weapons and drugs for the larger gang. If I may, I will write to her with the precise details. I am pleased that she has raised this because we tend to think of male members of gangs, but she is absolutely right to remind us that this includes girls as well.
Can I give the Minister a brief message from my constituents? They say that perpetrators of organised crime are constantly improving their ability to use new technologies to defraud them, and they have no resistance to having the best and most modern technology possible in the fight against crime.
One of the biggest challenges is how to get ahead of organised crime. Organised crime uses technology to organise better, and we need to organise better to counter it. The hon. Gentleman will have heard the different views in this House about technology and surveillance, and it is important to get the balance right. Members should be under no illusion that technology is giving the very baddest people in our society a real advantage, and that takes long-term investment to address.
Last Thursday, I travelled to the Netherlands with Teagan Appleby’s mother, Emma, to pick up the medical cannabis that has reduced Teagan’s seizures from 300 to four a day. In the absence of NHS prescribing, parents like Emma are having to go abroad, or pay exorbitant import and pharmacy charges. Emma had a UK prescription, so met the criteria presented to her at border control to the letter. Why, then, did the Home Office make UK Border Force detain the medicinal cannabis that Teagan so desperately needs?
The hon. Lady will know that I took immediate action to change the law to make medical cannabis available when I first heard about young children who are drug resistant and have severe epilepsy. But rightly—even with that change—it is necessary for a clinician to be involved and for a prescription to be given. Although medical cannabis is now legal with a clinician’s approval, it is still a controlled drug and it is necessary to have some controls to minimise the risk of misuse, harm and diversion. I am very sympathetic to the case that the hon. Lady has raised. We are discussing it with the Department of Health and Social Care and will do all we can to help.
Very, very brief questions because we cannot keep people waiting indefinitely.
Scotland had a 10-year strategy to develop a public health approach to tackle violence, although people in Scotland would argue that it should have been a 15 or 20-year strategy. Will the Government show us how serious they are about taking a public health approach to this issue by committing to a 20-year strategy from the start?
Earlier I mentioned the consultation, which—to correct the record—closed at the end of May. I hope that the hon. Lady will input into that consultation. If she has made that suggestion to the consultation, we will be taking it very seriously.
I do not want to spawn intra-family discord. We have heard a voice from Lewisham, so we have to hear a voice from Leyton; I call John Cryer.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Further to Question 7, it is widely known that fire crewing per pump has been cut across the country from five to four, and even from four to three. Although we all know that this is an operational matter, is not the safety of firefighters a ministerial matter as well?
The safety of firefighters is of huge interest to Ministers, and it is something that we do keep an eye on, but the hon. Gentleman is right in his fundamental point: these operating decisions are best taken locally. [Interruption.] He makes a face, but we cannot have a Minister sitting here and making judgments on what is right when it comes to allocating resources to risk in Cleveland, Cumbria or anywhere else.
I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but we have time for only one more question. I call Alison Thewliss.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
My constituent, Eryaar Popalzai, came to the UK from Afghanistan at the age of 14 some five years ago, as an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker. Since his further submissions in 2017, he has yet to hear anything from the Home Office. He is an incredibly vulnerable young man and has been getting therapy from Freedom from Torture for three years. What do I tell him when he comes to my surgery this Friday?
I am happy to take up this specific case with the hon. Lady after questions, if she would like. One of the changes that the Home Office has made over the course of the past few weeks is to ensure that we are prioritising older cases and cases of more vulnerable asylum seekers, so that we can get through the backlog of cases and ensure that people such as her constituent get a response.
The following Member made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law:
Lisa Forbes, for Peterborough.
Murders in Northamptonshire: Serious Case Reviews
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on the findings of two serious case reviews into the murders of two toddlers in Northamptonshire.
The deaths of Dylan in 2017 and Evelyn-Rose in 2018 were both tragic and, indeed, horrific. Separate serious case reviews were published on 5 June this year by Northamptonshire’s local safeguarding children board. The serious case reviews highlight serious weaknesses in child safeguarding practice and partnership arrangements at those times, and together make 16 recommendations for Northamptonshire and its safeguarding partners to implement.
These events have highlighted the serious systemic issues in Northamptonshire. I want to assure the House that we have already begun taking action. Since those deaths, and following an Ofsted focused visit in 2018 that exposed a more general decline in the quality of services, my Department has appointed a highly experienced commissioner, Malcolm Newsam CBE, to ensure that improvements take place, and has increased improvement support from Lincolnshire County Council—one of the best in the country for children’s social care. The commissioner has already identified six priority areas for significant improvement to effectively improve outcomes for children. He has identified the importance of learning from the tragic deaths of these two young children and others. I have written to Malcolm today to ask that he continue to put learning from Dylan and Evelyn-Rose’s deaths and the recommendations from these reviews firmly into his future work.
I have already set out my intention, on the recommendation of the commissioner, to create an operationally independent children’s service trust serving Northamptonshire to drive improvement in services. I can announce to the House today that I have issued a statutory direction to the council to work with the commissioner on the creation of that trust by July 2020.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question on these horrific and tragic cases. I thank the Minister for his heartfelt response. I also thank the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), for highlighting this issue to the Government during business questions last Thursday.
Last week, two serious case reviews were published in Northamptonshire on the deaths of these two toddlers. Both these very young children were systematically let down by the local authority, Northamptonshire County Council—an institution that was supposedly there to protect them. The reports examined the deaths of Dylan Tiffin-Brown, aged two, when he died of a cardiac failure after his father assaulted him in December 2017, and Evelyn-Rose Muggleton, aged one, when she died in hospital days after being assaulted by her mother’s partner in April 2018.
I hope that we will now see—I believe that we will—Ministers use everything in their power to ensure that this public institution does not fail children again and to prevent other tragedies from happening elsewhere.
I note that a serious case review into the death of a third child remains confidential. The review looked into the case of a boy from Northampton who was locked in a room, beaten and abused. The parents were jailed for neglect last month, with professionals describing it as the worst case of child cruelty that they had seen in 25 years.
The two published reviews highlight key misjudgements from staff about the level of danger posed by the men to the two children and failures to act on warnings that the children were at risk. Northamptonshire safeguarding children board said that there were “lost opportunities” leading up to the murders and that the two children’s safety was “seriously undermined” after the significance of the killers’ criminal past and history of domestic abuse was overlooked by agencies.
Dylan died aged two after sustaining 39 injuries to his face, neck, torso and limbs, including 15 rib fractures and lacerations to his liver. After a sustained beating at home by his father—a drug dealer from Northampton who was convicted for murder in October 2018—a post-mortem found cocaine, heroin and cannabis in the two-year-old’s body at the time of death. No social worker saw Dylan in the two months between his being discovered at his father’s home during a police drugs raid and his death at his father’s hands.
Evelyn-Rose, aged one, died three days after sustaining a traumatic brain injury from her mother’s partner. She had received multiple bruising and bleeding injuries, including damage to her spine and both eyes. Social care and health agencies that had been involved with the family had failed to recognise the neglect that was taking place. The safeguarding children board stated that two social workers had been allocated to the case, but that the case had started to
“drift, with little if any attention being paid to the children’s welfare”.
Sadly, Northamptonshire’s children’s services have been on the radar since the severe financial troubles at the county council overwhelmed the local authority. The county’s children’s services were said to have “substantially declined” when inspectors were called in during last October’s visit and that a “fundamental shift” in culture was required—something that the Minister acknowledges. Given that, can he assure the House that the financial problems at Northamptonshire are not further jeopardising or worsening the provision of children’s services across the county? If he finds that they are, what representations will he make to Ministers in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to ensure that Northamptonshire has the resources it needs? Is he assured—
Order. I am loth to interrupt, because the hon. Gentleman is treating of a matter of the utmost gravity, and I respect that, but I am afraid he has taken two and a half times his allotted time. I feel sure that he is reaching his peroration, which will be of formidable eloquence and brief.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. These are very serious matters. Is the Minister assured that the authority is able to finance improvements to children’s services both now and during the reorganisation, including the transfer to the trust that he mentioned, and to implement the improvements needed to put right these severe service failings? Lastly, will he intervene and ensure full transparency on the third serious case review, which remains unpublished? This matter is so severe and so serious that every opportunity must now be taken to act.
Let me take the last point first, about the third serious case review. Our statutory guidance is clear that local safeguarding children boards must let the independent Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel—the panel, as I will refer to it—and the Department for Education and Ofsted know of any decisions about a serious case review initiation and publication, including the name of any reviewer commissioned, as soon as they have made a final decision. The local safeguarding children board should also set out for the panel and the Secretary of State the justification for any decisions not to initiate or publish a serious case review. They should send copies of all serious case reviews to the panel, the DFE and Ofsted at least seven working days before publication.
There has been and continues to be a great deal of debate about the transparency of the child protection system in England, but there is a presumption that all serious case review reports are published. That is why local safeguarding children boards and the new safeguarding partnerships are required to send copies of all serious case reviews to the panel, the DFE and Ofsted within at least seven days, as I have mentioned. At that point, they would need to provide justification for any decision not to publish the report. The panel has not yet received the draft serious case review in relation to child JL.[Official Report, 23 July 2019, Vol. 663, c. 13MC.] Once the draft serious case review is received, the panel will consider carefully if there is any justification for not publishing the report. I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
On our work with the MHCLG, the hon. Gentleman can see that my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), is on the Front Bench, and we take our work together very seriously. We are working towards the spending review and making sure that funding for children’s services is adequate. Overall, if we look at England, local authorities have made some tough decisions, but they have actually protected the funding for children’s services. I can give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that working with Malcolm Newsam, with the recommendations he has made for me and the trust that we will be delivering for all Northamptonshire’s children, will be the best way forward.
I thank the Minister and, indeed, the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), for the way they have treated this matter in the House today.
It is with great sadness and a sense of shock that I and others have read these serious case reviews. I have been here since 2010 and, unfortunately, throughout that time I have been raising concerns and cases with the local authority—Northampton’s children’s social services—that have caused me great concern. I am going to see Malcolm Newsam, whose appointment as the Government-appointed children’s commissioner I really do welcome, next week to discuss a number of current cases that I have. Throughout the various reviews and reports we have had on these issues, a serious lack of challenge and reporting has been highlighted in every single one. Can my hon. Friend explain to my constituents why these lessons have yet not been learned?
My hon. Friend raises a very powerful point. All I can say to him is that my Department triggered our intervention powers immediately when those concerns in relation to children’s services were raised with me. I hope that, after his meeting with Malcolm Newsam, he will be reassured that we have the right commissioner in there. We are taking those steps, and I have mentioned the direction I have made to the local authority.
It is impossible not to be moved by these stories. As the saying goes, it takes a community not just to raise, but to protect a child. Surely, early intervention must also be at the heart of all these stories. In Oxfordshire, over 30 children’s centres used to exist; now there are just eight hubs, many of which are far too far away from the most deprived communities. Given how important these centres are and the fact that groups such as Abingdon Carousel have needed to raise funds from county and town councils to keep centres open for a very limited period, will the Minister robustly make the case in the upcoming spending review for why children’s centres are so important to prevent children getting into this situation?
The hon. Lady raises the issue of children’s centres. I hope that she would commend the troubled families programme, which has reduced by a third the number of children needing to be taken into care. We have announced the strengthening families programme, in which we are scaling up the whole-system approach to children’s services and childcare from Leeds, North Yorkshire and Hertfordshire and investing £84 million to scale that up to another 20 local authorities. They have made it very clear to me that very much part of that whole-system approach was the troubled families programme work that they do.
The hon. Lady also mentioned children’s centres. I am looking at how local authorities make best use of their infrastructure, including children’s centres. Local government—local authorities, local leaders—is best placed to decide how it does that. Staffordshire, which chose to close more than 60 children’s centres, but keep 14 in the areas most promising for reaching the most difficult-to-reach families, has delivered much better outcomes because it has used that resource. It has not taken it away; it has used it for outreach, to go and knock on the doors of families who would never think of coming into a building run by a local authority. There are different models, but we are looking to learn from the best models, including some of the family hubs in places such as Westminster.
I thank the shadow Minister for requesting this urgent question and you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. These are among the most serious issues that anyone in this House could discuss. Evelyn-Rose Muggleton was just one when she was murdered by her mother’s partner. She died in hospital. Evelyn-Rose and her siblings were well known to the local hospital, the local GP and other services, and this clearly was a family in urgent need of assistance from the local authority. Sadly that was not forthcoming.
Responsibility for this must rest with Northamptonshire County Council, which has been dysfunctional for many years, but particularly in children’s social services. This must never happen again, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to put those services into a children’s trust. That is welcome, but the public in Kettering will want to know who is going to take responsibility for this appalling tragedy, and I am afraid that the answer must be the local councillor in charge of children’s social services at the time. That individual now happens to be the leader of Northamptonshire County Council. He is a good man, and he is working very hard to transform the county council into the two new unitaries, but I believe, and my constituents believe, that the buck must stop with the person at the top. Will the Minister therefore join me in calling for Councillor Matt Golby to resign his position as leader of Northamptonshire County Council?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He spoke powerfully about the injuries that these poor souls sustained and about how they were well known to other services. We legislated in the Children and Social Work Act 2017 to require local areas to establish new, much stronger multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, which I think will enhance the protective net around our most vulnerable children. That includes the police and health as statutory partners. Safeguarding partners in Northamptonshire must publish a plan setting out how they will deliver those arrangements by 29 June and must implement them by 29 September. My Department is monitoring compliance, and we will be asking those partners to work swiftly and collectively to ensure that lessons have been learnt and implemented.
My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not comment on the local political leadership. What I would like to see now is us moving forward with Malcolm Newsam’s recommendations and getting the trust up and running as quickly as possible.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and the Minister for their approach and their responses to this horrific example of child abuse. The connections between the abuse of women and the abuse of children are unfortunately long known, and I am afraid that I could give several similar examples from when I was national children’s officer at Women’s Aid in the 1990s. I have heard previous Ministers and previous Governments say that lessons would be learnt and action taken, yet here we still are. I therefore ask the Minister respectfully, will he work with domestic violence organisations, as well as other organisations of course, to try to really learn the lessons that should be learnt about the connections between abuse by violent men of their children and abuse of their female partners?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful and well-made point. There is, if not causation, then certainly a correlation between people who abuse and hurt children and those who abuse and hurt women. I try to make sure that we learn as much as possible and that we act as quickly as possible, as I think we have in this case.
These cases are truly harrowing and nothing will ever bring back the young children who so tragically lost their lives at the hands of those who were supposed to be caring for them. I think we are all clear, both locally in Northamptonshire and here in this House, that this can never, ever be allowed to happen again. What steps are being taken to ensure that best practice from other parts of the country is being learnt as a matter of urgency in Northamptonshire to overhaul its children’s services? What ongoing monitoring of those services will be taking place to give my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire confidence that in future we will have first class children’s services that protect the young people in their care?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I hope he heard me say earlier that we have Malcolm Newsam. In conjunction with Malcom we have Lincolnshire County Council, which is one of our exemplars in delivering the best services and safeguarding children. The important thing to remember in this case is that we must always ensure that the safety of children comes first. We know that poor practice can cost more money, not less, in the longer term. The director of children’s services has been clear in her statements that funding was not the cause of these tragic incidents, and that system, practice and partnership was where it needs to be. The important thing is that we get on.
In Doncaster, I saw at first-hand how children’s services can be transformed. They went from failing with very poor outcomes, to good outcomes for children when we put it into trust. I met the social workers on the frontline, and 70% of them are the same people who were there when the local authority was failing. I said, “I want all the directors out of the room. I want to talk to just the frontline.” I said to them, “What is the difference here? What have you done here that has transformed the service? You are the same people who were here when it was failing.” They said it was all about leadership: leadership that supported, trusted and nurtured them, and delivered that support for them. Those are the sorts of lessons we need to learn in order to be able to deliver the same level of success as Doncaster.
Funding may not have had a direct effect, but surely the Minister needs to recognise that, with the huge cuts to local authorities and a national shortage of well-qualified social workers putting enormous pressure on social services systems around the country, we are seeing a crisis in one area responded to by putting in extra money and bidding up social workers’ wages, allowing them to move to solve one problem but creating gaps in other areas? Surely the Minister needs to take a much more systemic view of what is going on in social services up and down the country, and recognise that funding is an issue?
I think—I hope—I have been clear in saying that I recognise there are funding pressures on children’s services. I am working with the director of children’s services and the sector as a whole in preparation for the spending review. However, to simply characterise this as a funding issue would be misleading. We have to do both things. We have to have a whole system approach. We are learning from the best—Leeds, North Yorkshire and Hertfordshire—and scaling those models from those three local authorities to 20. We also have to look at the workforce, and by introducing the national accreditation assessment process and Social Work England we begin to deliver a system that really does work to protect the most vulnerable children and families in our society.
I speak as a former Minister who changed the rules so that SCRs are published. The regulations are clear that if publication would compromise the welfare of a surviving child or sibling, they should be kept confidential. From reading these serious case reviews, I feel that there is a profound sense of déjà vu when they talk about the lack of joined-up working and the lack of information, showing lost opportunities. Last year, the Minister announced that he was going to change serious case reviews and the local safeguarding children’s boards who commission them. They will be replaced by team safeguarding partners, which consist of local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and the police. The only agency who seems to have rung the alarm bells in this case was the schools attended by the siblings of the victims. Why are schools and education not part of those essential team partners in the new format?
My hon. Friend is absolutely passionate about work in this area. Schools and other local partners are involved and engaged, but the purpose of the legislation was to make sure that health, police and social services work together. However, he raises an important point about how we can make sure that schools are much more involved.
I am not attacking the Minister, but for years, his predecessors have come to the Dispatch Box and said, “We are going to learn the lessons. It’s not going to happen again.” Some years ago, I took a delegation to meet one of his predecessors and we were assured that resources would be available, but we are back at square one today, and I feel very sorry about what has happened to these kids in Northampton, as much as I do about some of the things that have happened to kids in Coventry. The Minister really has to get a grip on this now. It is no good talking about good practice in one authority as opposed to another. He has to face up to it: there is a shortage of social workers and a lack of resources in local government.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for at least not blaming this Minister, but nevertheless, he raises a very important point. One of our innovations is the introduction of a national panel, chaired by Edward Timpson, which has a remit to make sure that nationally we learn the lessons from such terrible cases. For the first time, it will undertake national reviews. The first of those reviews is on the criminal exploitation of children, so we are learning the lessons and putting the infrastructure in place to be able to do that and act upon it.
I have met Malcolm Newsam several times and will do so again shortly. I have a lot of confidence in him. The proposed children’s trust model seems like the right way forward and particularly the “children first” focus and the focus on the child rather than necessarily on the mother or other carers involved. We have heard about the role of the community from the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran). While the children’s trust model is welcome in many places, will the Minister provide assurances that local democratic oversight will continue to be involved in it?
It is very important that there is local democratic oversight. When I look at the areas that deliver the best outcomes and best practice, I see that it is a combination of very strong leadership at local authority level—so, the officer class—and strong political leadership, including from councillors who really understand their remit to protect children.
This is a deeply harrowing case and I appreciate the Minister’s focus on leadership; he is absolutely right about that. I hope that he can also see the connection between leadership and properly funded services. Surely it is very difficult for even the best leaders to lead adequately if they have an insufficient supply of skilled staff.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point overall about funding and the challenge of funding for children’s services. In this case, it is also important for us to understand the detail. Sally Hodges, the director of children’s services, told the Local Government Chronicle:
“It was because of the failure of a number of people through the whole system in respect of risk to those children. I don’t think financial matters had a direct impact.”
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point overall, but in this tragic case, it is not about simply saying that the money was not there.
Northamptonshire had the most expensive children’s services in the country, so funding wasn’t the issue, was it?
I am grateful for that powerful intervention by my right hon. Friend. As he rightly says, it is not simply about funding; the issue is much more fundamental in Northamptonshire, which is why we have made the right decision in taking it into trust.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the impact of the Hong Kong extradition law on the Sino-British joint declaration?
The UK Government remain acutely aware of our enduring responsibility towards Hong Kong as one of the joint signatories to the 1984 joint declaration that established the principle of “one country, two systems”. This principle, underpinned by the common law system, provides Hong Kong with the foundations for its continued success as a truly global financial centre and prosperous world city.
Let me turn to the current issues around the ramifications of the Hong Kong Government’s contentious proposals to change their extradition laws. Yesterday’s huge protest march—peaceful right up until the end—was a clear demonstration of the strength of feeling in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has insisted that new legislation is needed to close a loophole that has prevented a Hong Kong national accused of murdering another Hong Kong national in Taiwan from facing justice, yet the Taiwanese Administration also oppose the changes, while civil society and business and legal groups in Hong Kong have expressed the strongest concerns about the content of the proposals and the very short consultation period.
Many fear above all that Hong Kong nationals and residents risk being pulled into China’s legal system, which can involve lengthy pre-trial detentions, televised confessions and an absence of many of the judicial safeguards that we see in Hong Kong and in the UK. While we welcome recent efforts by the Hong Kong Government to react to the unprecedented level of public concern—of the 7 million people living in Hong Kong, between 300,000 and 1 million were on the streets yesterday—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is clear that the changes proposed fail to address fully some core issues that we and others have raised.
The UK Government have been unequivocal in their views. From the outset, the consul general, Andy Heyn, and my officials have been raising concerns with the Hong Kong Government, members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council and the Executive Council at all levels. We have also had full and detailed discussions with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, both bilaterally and as part of an EU démarche. On 30 May, the Foreign Secretary issued a joint statement with his Canadian counterpart on the potential impact of the proposals on our citizens in Hong Kong, including on business confidence and on Hong Kong’s international reputation.
Some Hong Kong lawmakers have proposed an array of alternative solutions, including that additional legally binding human rights safeguards be included in the proposed legislation. In my meeting in London on 20 May with Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau, I made it clear that proper consideration must be given to all these suggestions as part of a wider and more comprehensive consultation. More time for consultation would allow for a more adequate consensus to be built.
As the House will be aware, the operation of the court system on mainland China is very different from that which applies in Hong Kong. There are widespread concerns that fear of extradition to China might have a chilling effect on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms and result in increased self-censorship. We shall continue to stress to the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities that for confidence in the “one country, two systems” policy to be maintained, Hong Kong must enjoy the full measure of its high degree of autonomy and rule of law as set out in the joint declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law.
It is very disappointing that the Secretary of State could not make it to the Chamber for the 1 million Hong Kong residents who took to the streets yesterday to protest against their Government’s proposed extradition Bill. If enacted, the law would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to mainland China, bypassing Hong Kong’s independent legal system. Over the past few weeks, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the business community, civil society organisations, the Hong Kong Bar Association and the International Chamber of Commerce have all expressed deep concern that the Bill will further erode the “one country, two systems” model.
The law courts on mainland China are seen as an arm of the state. Forced confession is frequently practised and activists often fear imprisonment for crimes they have not committed. Hong Kong’s common law system is not open to such abuse, as the Minister mentioned in his introductory remarks, and although it is under pressure, the separation of powers remains more or less intact. The amendments to the extradition law would significantly compromise the firewall that separates the sharply different systems.
In recent times, we have watched with great unease as political and civic freedoms have been put under increasing strain. Those freedoms are guaranteed under the Basic Law, a core component of the Sino-British joint declaration. As the co-signatory to that treaty, which is registered at the United Nations, the Government have a legal duty to ensure that it is upheld.
The last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten of Barnes, said that this Bill’s provisions were
“an assault on Hong Kong’s values, stability and security. They create fear and uncertainty…at a time when we should all be working to safeguard Hong Kong’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest business”
and cultural centres. Does the Minister agree with his colleague’s assessment, and will he outline how the Government intend to address this issue in the immediate future, alongside long-standing concerns about the erosion of democratic principles in Hong Kong?
We have a long and enduring history with Hong Kong, and we have lasting political, economic and cultural ties. As we mark the 21st anniversary of the handover next month, it is crucial for us to keep our promise that “Hong Kong will never walk alone”.
I thank the hon. Lady for the tone of her comments. She will be aware from discussions that we have had—and I have visited Hong Kong twice already during my time as a Minister—that we understand many of the concerns which have been raised by Lord Patten and, indeed, by her. In particular, we understand the concerns raised in the most recent six-monthly report—not without some controversy do we continue to have a six-monthly report—which states that, while we believe that one country, two systems is working well, in the sphere of civil and political freedoms Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is being reduced.
Let me say this in relation to the joint declaration as a whole. Three years ago, in 2016, we called on a breach of the declaration following the involuntary removal of the Causeway Bay booksellers from Hong Kong to the mainland. That was the first and, to date, the only time that we have called upon a breach. However, it is clear that these events are becoming close to breaching not just the spirit but the letter of the joint declaration. I fear that this is also a good example of tough cases making bad law. There is a potential loophole, but it is interesting to note that it is not one that the Taiwanese authorities have asked to be sorted out.
A Hong Kong national is being accused of a very serious crime—murder—and there is clearly no extradition prospect, but, as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, this opens up a potentially much broader extradition-related concern. As I mentioned in my initial comments, one of the biggest concerns is that, particularly at a time when President Xi has a strong anti-corruption campaign in place, there is a risk that individuals could be caught up in this in a very inadvertent way. While there are proposed safeguards—it is proposed to raise the extradition level from a three-year custodial sentence to one of at least seven years—the situation none the less still raises the deep concerns to which the hon. Lady referred.
Lord Patten has said that the decision to exclude any extradition agreement between Hong Kong and mainland China in 1997 was not a loophole, but a deliberate decision that was made in order to protect the autonomy of Hong Kong and the firewall between it and China. Does the Minister agree that if countries speak with one voice in expressing concerns about this issue, there is likely to be more of an impact? What is the UK doing to join like-minded countries in expressing such concerns?
I thank my hon. Friend, who takes a great interest in matters to do broadly with China but also specifically with Hong Kong, and I pay tribute to her for her detailed and steadfast work in that regard. Yes, she is right: we need to work together as an international community on this. It is perhaps fair to put it on record that there are already some extradition arrangements between some countries and Hong Kong, but obviously we are deeply concerned that this particular law provides a much more general overview, particularly as it engages the Chinese mainland. But I will, if I may, reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his Canadian counterpart, Christina Freeland, said as recently as 30 May:
“It is vital that extradition arrangements in Hong Kong are in line with ‘one country, two systems’ and fully respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I also want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing it. I share her profound concern about these extradition laws, as evidently do hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who took to the streets over the weekend. These laws constitute not just an erosion but a fundamental breach of the Sino-British declaration and the one country, two systems principle it enshrines. They threaten the judicial independence of Hong Kong.
The warning signs have been coming for several years now: we have seen an increasing crackdown on dissent and protest. Now we face the prospect of a direct line between Beijing and Hong Kong’s courts that could see Hong Kongers sent thousands of miles away to face trial in mainland China’s flawed criminal justice system.
The UK does not have an extradition treaty with China, so why have the Government done next to nothing? The joint declaration is a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations, and the British Government are the joint guarantor with China of the rights of Hong Kong citizens. Moreover, there are 170,000 British national overseas passport holders, many of whom reside in Hong Kong.
The concessions offered by the Hong Kong Government in the last few hours have no legal force, so I have one question for the Minister: will he make every effort to persuade the Executive in Hong Kong to halt the progress of these highly dangerous extradition amendments before Wednesday’s crunch votes?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, although I think some of them are a little unkind to officials, Ministers and also more particularly our excellent consul general, Andy Heyn, who has been out in Hong Kong, as we have recognised that this issue has been emerging for quite some time. As I mentioned in my earlier comments, it is also fair to say that we have consistently, certainly in my two years as a Minister, at every six-monthly report expressed ongoing concerns about the deterioration, as we have seen it, in political and civil rights.
It is probably fair to say that these proposals—the proposed extradition law—did not originate at China’s instigation, but there is no doubt that the Hong Kong Government are now under distinct pressure from Beijing. We believe that some opportunities to climb down have been missed, but even the huge public display of defiance yesterday—as I have said, up until the last few moments it was very peaceable—combined with concerted opposition from the international business and legal communities has not been able to turn the tide.
I say to the hon. Lady that of course we will do all we can. Andy Heyn is I believe in London this week, but his very able assistant Esther Blythe is back in Hong Kong, and we will do all we can to make further urgent representations to the Hong Kong Government.
This issue has highlighted that it is not the Chief Executive and not even the Legislative Council that can provide an effective check to external influence in Hong Kong; it is the presence and continuation of an independent judicial system. Obviously, again as the hon. Lady rightly alluded to, it now looks as though we are heading towards a potential pitting of the Hong Kong judicial system squarely against that of Beijing.
I agree with the Minister: the United Kingdom has a serious and special obligation to defend civil liberties in Hong Kong. One of the leaders of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement said in a note last week that these new extradition amendments and this Bill will, if passed,
“have destructive effects on our civil liberties as well as on our economy.”
Does the Minister agree with that assessment, and does he feel we are discharging our obligation to defend civil liberties in Hong Kong as fully as we can at the present time?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and I broadly agree with what has been said. I hope that the work of democracy and diplomacy will ensure that we are able to do our best not only to push back but to advise and express our deep concerns. We have only to look at the recent six-monthly reports to recognise the increasing buzz of concern on our side and indeed from many in Hong Kong in relation to this matter. In particular, the extradition treaty has engaged many in the business community, many of whom have felt broadly positive over the past 22 years. One of the messages we put to our counterparts in Beijing is that a strong Hong Kong is required for their own plans, whether on the belt and road or other economic initiatives, to be fully successful. Hong Kong’s unique legal system provides an opportunity for substantial capital markets. The great success of Hong Kong therefore relies on its high degree of autonomy being maintained.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this urgent question and I thank you for granting it, Mr Speaker.
Anyone who saw last week’s remarkable documentary by Kate Adie to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre will not need to be reminded what respect for human rights means to the Government of China. Although people will say that China has moved on since then, it has not moved on enough even to admit that Tiananmen Square happened, never mind to apologise to the relatives of all those who were killed. Most people in China do not know that the weekend’s protests in Hong Kong happened because the Chinese Government made absolutely sure that they were not allowed to know about them. That is the extent of the ongoing repression of human rights in China and we should all be concerned that a similar repression of human rights will start to be inflicted on the people of Hong Kong as well.
Normally, under an extradition treaty, a person cannot be extradited for an offence that is not a crime in the country they would be extradited from. That will not apply in these circumstances, however, because China will not respect the terms of any treaty with Hong Kong. Also, a person cannot normally be extradited to a country where they would not get a fair trial, but does anyone seriously believe that that protection would be respected for anyone in Hong Kong? I welcome some of the assurances that the Minister has given, but will he say a bit more about what action the United Kingdom is taking just now—through the United Nations, for example—to ensure that all possible international diplomatic pressure is brought to bear, not just in Hong Kong but, more importantly, in China to ensure that this law never becomes effective? Also, given that China is one of the countries that we are supposed to be looking keenly towards for a trade deal, may we have an assurance that in no circumstances will the prospect of a trade deal allow the voice of the United Kingdom and our allies in Europe to be silenced when it comes to speaking up in defence of the rights of people to whom the United Kingdom continues to owe a legal and moral responsibility?
I thank the hon. Gentleman from the Scottish National party for his comments and I will try to answer his questions. It is obviously not my place as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to comment on the specifics of trade deals other than to say that we will continue relentlessly to express any concerns about human rights with any country with which we are looking to strike a trade deal. That said, this is a particular circumstance because of the nature of the joint declaration. The hon. Gentleman rightly suggested that that document, which was signed by China and the United Kingdom in 1984, is now lodged with the United Nations and that is clearly one mechanism by which we could try to stand up for its terms. Back in 2016, there was a particular episode in which we thought the joint declaration was being abused and, if we feel that we are not getting the changes we are looking for on this extradition law, we will use whatever means we can.
The Hong Kong Government released a statement at 11 o’clock last night, Hong Kong time, noting the people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly, but insisting that the Bill would continue to its Second Reading on Wednesday. Chief executive Carrie Lam reiterated that message on television this morning, again Hong Kong time, and we are obviously looking to try to ensure that the safeguards put in place over the next two or three days are as watertight as possible. However, this is an ongoing discussion and I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we want to leave all our options open.
Beyond the Minister’s evident charm, what leverage do we actually have?
I thank my right hon. Friend, as ever, for his charming and succinct question. He has obviously been to the same school as Mr Speaker in that regard. The reality of the situation is that there is an international agreement that was signed with the UN, and we and many other international partners take it seriously. I hope that my right hon. Friend was reassured when he heard what I had to say about our discussions with our Canadian counterparts—a significant number of Canadian nationals live and work in Hong Kong—which happened as recently as 30 May. The message that is coming out loud and clear is that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) said earlier, we need the international community to work together. This is clearly a crucial point in Hong Kong’s history, and our legal leverage may be more limited than we would wish, but we can maximise it by working together.
The worries about this breaking of the firewall and the possible intrusion into one country, two systems would not exist if there were not serious concerns about egregious breaches of human rights in China. What further information can the Minister provide about the discussions between the UK Government and the Chinese Government about improving human rights in China more generally?
As I have pointed out to the hon. Lady in our previous exchanges, we never stint from making our concerns clear in relation to issues in Xinjiang in the north-west of the country or more general issues around human rights. We have a strong diplomatic relationship with China that involves working together in a productive way in a range of areas, including tackling money laundering, people trafficking and, increasingly, climate change. Building up that body of trust also involves being able to have robust conversations about human rights matters. At the highest possible level, when the Prime Minister spoke to President Xi and when I speak to my counterparts in Beijing and other cities, we do not stint from making clear particular concerns where there are concerns, either on consular matters or, indeed, more generally on human rights.
Coincidentally, earlier this afternoon, I met a group of students from Hong Kong who are studying here. They are British national (overseas) passport holders, and they are obviously concerned about the recent developments in relation to China. What consideration has the Department given to the effect that the proposed changes would have on BN(O) passport holders in Hong Kong? What steps is the Foreign Office taking to provide ongoing support and advice to BN(O) passport holders in Hong Kong?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right that we have significant obligations to British national (overseas) passport holders. He will be aware that the right of abode in the UK was defined by the Immigration Act 1971, so there are immigration controls to which BN(O) passport holders are subject. The rights they have are not the full rights of British citizens. None the less, they are British nationals from Hong Kong. It is something that we do take very seriously. I hope that he will forgive me if say that I will write to him in due course to try to answer his specific issues, with particular regard to any changes to the rights of such individuals since 1997.
The Second Reading of the Bill to implement these changes will take place on Wednesday. Legislators in Hong Kong have told me today that they anticipate that, thereafter, the remaining stages of the Bill could be completed as early as the middle of the week after next. If that happens, clearly the Minister’s aspiration for more consultation will be dead in the water. What will he do then?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he says. It would clearly be of grave concern. There is an almost universal view, and not just from those who were on the streets of Hong Kong yesterday. Increasingly, business organisations based in Hong Kong and, indeed, around the world are asking for greater consultation. I would rather not speculate as to where we might be if the path he describes is taken over the next 10 days, and I sincerely hope that will not come to pass.
Mr Speaker, you may be aware that the right hon. Gentleman has the Adjournment debate, in which we will be covering a little of this ground. I hope he will forgive me—I will want to talk more generally later about the relations between the UK, Hong Kong and China.
I am most grateful for that public information announcement. It is potentially of interest to people observing our proceedings that this debate will indeed be resumed in the form of tonight’s Adjournment debate, under the auspices of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), specifically on UK foreign policy in relation to China and Hong Kong.
Moreover, I will have the great honour and privilege tomorrow night of hosting a dinner in support of Hong Kong Watch, which, to put it bluntly, is a splendid organisation that has been set up to keep an eye on what the Chinese Government are up to in relation to Hong Kong. That organisation is magnificently led on a day-to-day basis by the estimable Ben Rogers, who as I speak might well be in our midst.
Grenfell: Government Response
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire. I am also writing to the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), to provide a formal report on progress, a copy of which will be placed in the Library.
First, I will take a brief moment to thank all those who responded to yesterday’s serious fire in Barking, east London. The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham provided emergency accommodation for those residents who needed it, and we will continue to work with the council to ensure that residents receive the support they need at this most difficult time.
Although the cause of the fire has yet to be confirmed, I have asked the Building Research Establishment to investigate the fire, working with the London fire brigade. I have also asked the independent expert panel on wider fire safety issues to provide urgent advice to the Government. We will take account of the findings of the investigation and of the panel’s advice in our further work on reviewing the fire safety guidance. The local authority and the building owners are reviewing fire safety for the rest of the development. I remain in close contact with the London fire brigade, and I will be visiting the community later today.
As we mark two years since the devastating events of 14 June, I know the whole House will join me in remembrance and solidarity with the people of north Kensington. I want them to know that this House is behind them in honouring the loved ones they lost, in helping those left behind to heal and rebuild their lives and in our determination to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.
The unprecedented disaster has been met with an unprecedented response across the Government, our public services, local government and the voluntary sector. I am hugely thankful to everyone involved, especially our emergency services and the public and voluntary sectors. In total, we have spent over £46 million of national Government funds and committed a further £55 million to help meet rehousing costs, to reimburse the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for the Grenfell site management costs, to deliver new health and wellbeing services and to deliver improvements to the Lancaster West estate.
Over £27.8 million of the nearly £29 million raised through the generosity of the British public has also now been distributed, thanks to the Charity Commission. Those affected are also getting vital support from the NHS, with a further £50 million committed over the next five years to address long-term physical and mental health needs. To date, nearly 8,000 health screenings have been completed, including for more than 900 children, with more than 2,700 individuals, including more than 600 children, receiving or having received treatment for trauma.
We are determined to make sure those affected remain at the heart of the response to this tragedy, which is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) continues to meet families regularly, in his role as the Grenfell victims Minister. It is why the Prime Minister recently appointed two new panel members for phase 2 of the Grenfell Tower public inquiry, to make sure it has the necessary diversity of skills and experience. And it is why the community will be pivotal to decisions about the long-term future of the site, as the Government take ownership of this, to ensure that sensitivities are respected and that they are fully engaged in additional environmental checks, after concerns were raised. Testing has started, to assess any health risk, and we will ensure that all appropriate action is taken.
Clearly, one of our biggest priorities has been rehousing the 201 households who lost their homes, with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea acquiring more than 300 homes to meet their needs and provide choice. I am pleased that all 201 households have accepted permanent or temporary homes, with 184 households in permanent accommodation and 14 in good-quality temporary homes. That represents significant progress since last year, but I am concerned that three households remain in emergency accommodation, including one in a hotel. I asked the independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce, which was set up to ensure that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea better supported residents and rebuilds trust, to look into this, and I have been assured that the council is taking an appropriate and sensitive approach, given the complex needs of those households, to find the right long-term solution for each of them.
A new home is undoubtedly an important step on the road to recovery, and it is vital that this is reinforced by long-term support, such as the recovery services co-designed by the council, in partnership with the community and local health partners. It is essential that we build on this collaboration, with the council listening and the community being heard. That is fundamental to laying the foundations for a new and stronger partnership between residents and those who serve them.
Central to this relationship, and indeed to so much of the work flowing from the fire, is the need to rebuild trust. Above all, that means ensuring that people are safe and feel safe in their homes. With that in mind, right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that we launched a consultation last week on proposals to implement meaningful reform to our building and fire safety regulatory systems, following the independent review led by Dame Judith Hackitt, to provide a clear focus on responsibility and accountability and to give residents a stronger voice to achieve the enduring change that is needed.
Alongside that, the Government also launched a call for evidence on the fire safety order to determine what changes may be required to strengthen it. This follows the recent launch of a new fund to expedite the remediation of buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material cladding in the private sector and protect leaseholders, adding up to a £600 million commitment from the Government to make the buildings of both the private and social sectors safe.
This builds on other significant measures we have undertaken, such as a ban on combustible cladding, a review of the building regulations fire safety guidance—or Approved Document B—and tests on non-ACM materials, to not only keep people safe now, but to fundamentally transform the way we build in the future, through legislation, yes, but, more crucially, through a change in culture. But I know that we must continue to challenge on what more needs to be done.
People living in buildings like Grenfell Tower need to trust that there can be no repeat of what happened that night—to trust that the state understands their lives and is working for them. That is why the social housing Green Paper, published last year, and the new deal it sets out for people living in social housing matter so much. My thanks go to the many residents who have engaged with us on this for their invaluable contribution. We are assessing the consultation responses and finalising our response. The deal it proposes aims to rebalance the relationship between residents and landlords, to address stigma and to ensure that homes are safe and decent. In addition to our drive, backed by billions, to boost the supply of social housing, the deal promises to renew our commitment to people in social housing, ensuring that everyone, no matter where they live, has the security, dignity and opportunities they need to build a better life.
Ultimately, that is our hope for the bereaved and survivors and for the strong, proud people of north Kensington, who have shown us the power of community. They and we will never, ever forget those who died in the most horrific circumstances. I know that the pain of loss continues as they wait for answers and to see justice done, as the police investigation and public inquiry continue their important work, but they should know that they are not alone: the Government, this House and, indeed, our whole country will always have a stake in the future of Grenfell, and I have every faith that this remarkable community, working in partnership, will move forward, rebuild and emerge even stronger. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement. At the start of this, the week of the second anniversary of that truly terrible Grenfell Tower fire, above all else we remember the 72 men, women and children who lost their lives, and we rededicate ourselves to doing everything needed to ensure that such a fire can never happen again.
The Grenfell survivors and families who are with us today will draw little comfort or confidence from the Secretary of State’s update statement. He made no new announcement and offered no new action. Earlier, he and I both spoke at the two-year Grenfell memorial event, with you, Mr Speaker, in Speaker’s House. Those survivors from Grenfell United who are still campaigning for change told us today:
“We shouldn’t be here; we should be at home, rebuilding our lives”.
They said that in two years:
“Little has changed and justice still seems so far off”.
There has been over these two long years some progress, which we welcome and for which individual Members and Ministers, including the Secretary of State, deserve some credit, but a national disaster on the scale of Grenfell Tower requires a national response on the same scale from the Government. That has not happened.
Ministers have been frozen like rabbits in the headlights. Their action has been too slow and too weak on every front. There has been the failure to rehouse survivors, despite the promise that every victim of the fire would have a new permanent home within one year. There has been a failure to give justice to the Grenfell community: despite the first phase of the public inquiry first having been due to report at Easter last year, it has still not been published. There has been a failure to re-clad other dangerous high-rise blocks: despite 176 private blocks having been confirmed to have the same Grenfell-style ACM cladding, nine out of 10 have still not had it removed and replaced, and more than 70 of the block owners do not even have a plan to do the work. There also has been a failure to identify unsafe non-ACM cladding, despite the Government’s testing contract having set a completion deadline of November 2018. There has been a failure to overhaul building safety legislation, despite the final report of the Hackitt review having been published in May 2018.
Yesterday, there was the fire at Barking, where early reports point to serious problems: as at Grenfell, the De Pass Gardens residents raised safety concerns and were ignored; wood cladding was untreated for fire safety because the developer was not required to treat it; and the local council did not have the necessary powers to act to deal with this private development.
Will the Secretary of State now take up the five-point plan that Labour has published today to force the pace? If he does, he will have our full backing for such action. Will he name and shame the owners of blocks with dangerous cladding? Will he set a December deadline for the block owners to get work done? Will he update the sanctions available to councils under the Housing Act 2004 to include fines, followed by the takeover of blocks that still have dangerous cladding? Will he widen the Government’s testing regime to run full tests on all suspect non-ACM cladding? Will he bring in the long overdue overhaul of building safety legislation?
Finally, will the Secretary of State accept that only such tough action—only such far-reaching changes—will provide the proper legacy for those who perished at Grenfell Tower and that only such action and such changes will allow us all finally to say, with confidence, this can never happen again in our country?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution and for the important points he has made to the House this afternoon. Indeed, Mr Speaker, may I also thank you for allowing your State Rooms to be used this lunchtime to enable survivors, the bereaved and others to come together to share their very powerful and important experiences and to underline to us very clearly why this matters so much and why we must be resolute in the actions that we take?
The right hon. Gentleman also highlighted the work of so many who have campaigned on this matter. We note today the role of Grenfell United, and I appreciate and recognise the huge contribution that it has made. He is right to say that, no, its representatives should not be here. I commend them for the challenge and the very effective way in which they have underlined the needs of their community. I will certainly continue to work with them and bring about the change that I think is needed.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of important points. On rehousing, we remain deeply concerned about the three individuals—the three households—who are still in emergency accommodation. I can underline the fact that each household has a property reserved for it. Sensitivity is needed in undertaking this work, but we will continue to support and to challenge until all residents have a long-term home in place, because that is what matters to all of us, which is why the taskforce continues to challenge and to support us to ensure that that happens.
The right hon. Gentleman highlighted the issue of the remediation of ACM cladding as well. He will know well the frustration that I have had with the private sector, which has not done the job that it should have done. Some responsibility can be placed very firmly there, which is why we have provided an additional £200 million for the very purpose of speeding up the process so that blocks are remediated and made safe. Progress is certainly being made. If we look at the remediation in the social sector, we can see that good progress has been made there. At the end of April, remediation had started or been completed on 87% of the 158 social-sector buildings, with plans in place for the remainder. We are obviously seeing some progress in relation to the private sector.
The right hon. Gentleman highlighted the issue of local authorities and their need to see that enforcement is in place. I agree with him. That is why we are backing local authorities to take enforcement action where building owners are refusing to remediate high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding. This will include financial support, where that is necessary, for the local authority to carry out emergency remedial works. Where emergency financial support is made available, the relevant local authority will recover the costs from the building owner. Of course, we want to see this work completed as rapidly as possible, and I understand his desire to see some form of hard stop—some sort of certainty in relation to this. I say to him that some of the required work is extensive and complicated, and, indeed, that other issues, or other areas of work, may be highlighted in respect of individual buildings, but it is right that we continue to press on and take action.
Let me underline the actions that we have taken. We launched a consultation last week on proposals to implement meaningful reform to our building safety and fire regulatory systems following the independent review led by Dame Judith Hackitt, with the intent to bring forward legislation later this year, in the next Session. We want to get this reform on to the statute book and make it happen. We have taken steps with the ban on combustible cladding. We have taken steps to see that action is advanced and that buildings are made safe, and, indeed, we have taken steps with the remediation programme that is in place. Yes, there is absolutely more work to be done, and I do not shrink from that. I do not shrink from the challenge presented by the right hon. Gentleman or others across the House. I assure him and the community of our resolute determination to make that change so that people can feel—and are—safe, and to provide that lasting legacy to all those who died in the fire.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for opening your State Rooms today so that hon. Members could meet many of the survivors of Grenfell. I share the frustration expressed to me by many survivors today that, two years on, not enough progress has been made. I appeal to the Secretary of State to put his foot on the accelerator and move forward more quickly. I speak as a representative of an area of the country that has no tower blocks, but immediately after the fire and the tragedy my constituents told me that the Government are expected to do everything and anything they can to protect and support the victims, and to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. I am not sure that we are moving quickly enough. I know that we are saying the right things, that we want to do the right things, and that we want be disciplined and respectful regarding the process, but may I appeal to the Secretary of State to move forward more quickly? By doing so, he will get my support and that of my constituents.
Absolutely. It is important—especially in the remediation of this highest-risk ACM cladding—that we make as speedy progress as possible. We intend to attach conditions to the funds being made available to the private sector, for example, to show that this is able to progress quickly. Indeed, we have already written to all relevant building owners to set some expectations and outline things that they need to have in place, so that we do not lose time. What needs to happen could not be more fundamental, which is why I took the step to ban combustible materials on the external walls of residential high-rise buildings and other high-risk buildings. There is a firm commitment to seeing that that action is taken.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for hosting Grenfell United in Speaker’s House this afternoon. It gave us all a very good opportunity to listen to the testimonies of those affected by this awful tragedy. My thoughts are also with those affected by the fire in Barking. This really highlights how much still needs to be done to ensure that people can trust that their homes are safe to live in. There are clearly echoes of Grenfell in the case of Barking; people had flagged time and again that there were issues with their property, but they were not listened to. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that those who raise similar concerns are actually listened to and that action is taken?
I have with me the parliamentary briefing produced by Grenfell United, whose demands are absolutely reasonable. The things that these people are asking for are not, by any manner of means, things the Government cannot deliver should they have the will to do so. Will the Minister look at the demand for:
“A new, separate, ‘consumer protection’ regulator to protect tenants, to change the culture of social housing across the country”,
particularly as Scotland has had the Scottish Housing Regulator since 2011? In Scotland, the regulator provides a very useful means for tenants and residents to flag issues about their housing, to ensure that investigations take place and to see that action is taken, and this can make a real difference to people. If such a regulator had existed in England, it would have provided the means for residents to have their concerns heard.
Grenfell United also asks for:
“Immediate removal of dangerous cladding…Improved fire safety regime…an extension of the Freedom of Information Act to cover TMOs and housing associations…Public Authority (Accountability) Bill…justice and change…For our community to be listened to.”
It is on that last request that I want to finish. Karim spoke movingly at the event in Speaker’s House earlier, saying, “We’re not going anywhere until people are safe in their homes and you treat them with respect.” Both those things must be fulfilled for the people of Grenfell to feel as though any kind of resolution is going to come from this.
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Lady said. Yes, this is about that sense of justice and change. Clearly, there is an ongoing police inquiry that we must let take its course, and, of course, the work of the independent inquiry itself. The point about residents being listened to and respect being shown is very powerful and very important, and it will require culture change in so many ways. That process has started, but I know there is more work that needs to be done.
The hon. Lady highlights the issue of the social housing regulator—something that is of keen importance and is a key aspect of the social housing Green Paper. I am very clear, from the responses I have seen to the representations on that, that we need a much stronger response in terms of not just listening to tenants but acting on their concerns. That is the point. It is not just about trying to put something in place for the sake of it; it is about seeing that where complaints are made over building safety—there are separate regulations and issues that will come through from the implementation and the Hackitt review—there is a speedy process to see that things are done and remedied. That, for me, is and will be the test on all of this.
Of course we will keep in contact with the Scottish Government. I am open-minded as to where we can take learning, and apply and use lessons, on a two-way basis. There is good communication between my officials and officials in the Scottish Government as well. Therefore, we will learn the lessons, but equally, very firmly, make that difference.
Two years on, what agencies are, hopefully, working together among the residents, particularly the children, in support of them?
A number of agencies are working with the community. One of the issues that I have been very concerned about is mental health support. My right hon. Friend will have heard about the additional support and funding that is being provided in that regard. There are some amazing community leaders; I have had the privilege to meet them and to see the work they are doing and the difference they are making. The council clearly has a key role to play in terms of its recovery programme and how it is putting in place these further steps. That stance of working with the community and building trust will take time, but it is an essential element if we are to move on and make the progress we need.
The time for platitudes is done. I am, frankly, shocked that Government Members have the face to wear a green heart—shame on them. How can they sleep at night when tens of thousands across the country cannot, living in homes that are potentially dangerous or with their investments worth nothing? I cannot sleep. Where is the leadership in this process? There is a whole generation of potentially unsafe buildings out there. It is hardly controversial to keep people safe in their homes. The Secretary of State talked about it being his mission. Please do not make it a mission—make it a legacy. It is within your power, and instead you consult, report, review; consult, report, review. Please, wake up from your torpor and legislate now; we know what needs to be done.
I recognise the passion of the hon. Lady and the way in which she has sought, very firmly and very effectively, to represent her constituents. I know that that passion and the real desire to see change quickly is keenly felt. There is a weight of responsibility that all of us in Government hold in respect of this. I do take that hugely seriously in seeing how we can speed up and make the progress that we need to in relation to building safety and to breaking some of the culture and stigma issues, too. That is why we have taken the series of actions that I outlined in my statement to see that we get on and get the regulations in place. It is also why I am determined that we fix what is a broken regulatory system, and why the final step of that is the consultation that we have just launched. I encourage her to engage formally and properly on that so that we get the legislation right. But equally, we are determined to see that we speed up the process, with the private sector, on getting the buildings remediated—she is right to challenge firmly on this—and that is what we are intent on doing.
The thoughts of the people of Stafford are very much with the Grenfell community and all those who have suffered in this appalling tragedy. I repeat the need for the review to result in action. Has my right hon. Friend taken into account other types of building—not only residential buildings, but schools, hospitals, hotels and office buildings—and looked across the European continent at what is best in class for fire safety, to ensure that we are at the top?
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, when we made the decision to ban combustible cladding, we looked at what other practice was out there and how to standardise in that way. We are consulting on key elements of the new building regulation regime, so that we are in a position to legislate. He is right to talk about learning from experience elsewhere. That is what we are determined to do, so that we see a difference. As Members have said, this is about people’s lives and seeing change happening. It is not about dry reports or doing consultations; it is about seeing change come into effect, and that is what I am resolutely determined to do.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s statement, but he made no real or meaningful reference to the means of justice for the Grenfell families and the bereaved. That justice is delivered by two things. The first is the public inquiry. Can he say more about the delays that seem to be dogging the inquiry and the frustrations of the families and their lawyers in participating fully in it? The second is the police investigation. Can the police update us on it, if he cannot? Many here believe that there is culpability, which must one day be found in court.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point in his customary way. I know how much he has rightly challenged and been engaged in this issue. He may be aware that Metropolitan Police Service detectives investigating the Grenfell Tower fire have conducted 13 interviews under caution. That provides part of the criminal investigation into the fire, and Scotland Yard says that more interviews are being scheduled. This is clearly an ongoing investigation, with the police examining closely and assembling all relevant evidence, and it is right that we allow it to take its course.
The right hon. Gentleman highlighted the timetable of the public inquiry. It has been announced that the phase one report will be delayed until October this year. It is obviously an independent inquiry and process. The extension is to allow the inquiry to look thoroughly at the significant volume of evidence, and to allow time for what is known as a rule 13 process, which requires warning letters to be sent to individuals or organisations who may be subject to criticism. That is the process of the inquiry, which is independent of Government. It is for the inquiry to set out its timeline and needs.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for hosting Grenfell United today. I hope you will continue that tradition.
I have hundreds, if not thousands, of constituents living in dangerous or potentially dangerous high-rise buildings. While I welcome the Government’s cladding fund for private blocks, many of those blocks are still waiting to hear from the Government whether they will be eligible for that fund. Meanwhile, their residents are trapped in dangerous properties, with their lives completely on hold as they wait for that information. The fund does not cover many buildings in my constituency that have other cladding—not ACM cladding—or that have no firebreaks or other safety concerns. Residents in Skyline Central 1 face demands of up to £25,000 each to re-clad their building, and those in Burton Place face demands of up to £80,000 each. Those costs will not, as it stands, be covered by the fund. As there are a very high number of private blocks in my constituency, will the Secretary of State come to Manchester to meet some of these residents and talk about how we can make their lives safe and free them from the trap they are in, with properties that they cannot sell and are frightened to live in?
I can say to the hon. Lady that I have been to Manchester and met some residents previously in relation to this very serious issue and the profound impact this has on people’s lives. It was why I did make the decision to commit to fully fund the remediation of private sector high-rise residential buildings with ACM, except where a warranty claim has been accepted.
The hon. Lady rightly says there is a need for certainty as quickly as possible. That is why we did write to all relevant building owners on 17 May to set out the initial steps, the documentation and all the aspects, so that we are able to move quickly on making decisions in relation to this. The point about non-ACM is also very relevant, and it is why we are undertaking the relevant steps that we are with the different testing and, indeed, the advice and guidance that were being provided. I am certainly happy to talk to her and other colleagues about the impact, which I know is significant in a number of different ways, and about support for local authorities or what other action can be taken to assist.
It is always humbling to meet the Grenfell survivors, because often they want to talk about others who are in a worse condition than themselves or to ask what the Government are doing to prevent further tragedies in relation to cladding and other matters. Often, however, as I am sure the Secretary of State found today, if we talk to them in some depth, we find that they themselves are still suffering. After two years, despite the fact that there is an appearance of a full support structure, it often breaks down and people are being forced—or, at least, given ultimatums—to go into accommodation that is not suitable, and they do not know whom to turn to. What advice does the Secretary of State have for me and other Members when they are confronted by survivors of that kind, and where can they go to get justice, because not in every case is that being done at the moment?
I would be very interested to hear any further details from the hon. Gentleman in relation to cases he is pointing to. I know the Minister for Housing has had regular surgeries with a number of the families involved about the decision process and the support they are receiving, and indeed from the taskforce itself with the challenge and the information it gives me. I would be very pleased to meet the hon. Gentleman and talk to him about those cases. He is right: it is hugely humbling to meet the survivors and the bereaved, and see the dignity and humility that they show. I think many of us who were at the Speaker’s reception earlier today will have felt that very keenly, with the profound impact it certainly had on me and I know on others in this House, too.
Mr Speaker, I am sorry I could not join your Speaker’s reception today, because I was with those of my constituents in Barking—on Barking riverside—who are the survivors and victims of the terrible fire that took place yesterday. I hope you will give me a little leeway in what I have to say.
The pictures on the estate are horrific. Thankfully, nobody died, but had that fire taken place at night, I think people would have died. Literally the whole building was engulfed in flames within six minutes. The residents I met have lost their homes, their possessions, children’s toys, family photos and personal mementoes, and what I came across in my meetings this morning were trauma, grief and anger.
These are early days and it is appropriate that a proper investigation takes place, but let me raise three issues with the Secretary of State that arose out of my visit this morning. First, it absolutely shocked me that the fire alarms that should have been in place and operating were not working and that there were no sprinklers in this block of flats, because they were not considered necessary. This is a block of flats that was built only seven years ago.
Secondly, timber was used, and it was used really in a decorative way. Allegedly—and this is so shocking—that timber had not been treated. What I have been told is that the regulations are such that, because the building was only a six-storey building and therefore not 18 metres or higher, there was no necessity to have that sort of regulation. That is shocking. How on earth can that be possible in this day and age?
Thirdly, I want to talk about who is responsible. When we walk on to an estate like that, there is a freeholder, a developer, a builder and subcontractors, while the developer sells on to other people and there are then leaseholders and people in buy-to-let. There are myriad people who have a role to play there, and nobody is accountable. Everybody I talked to today on that side of the fence wanted to pass the buck and pass on responsibility.
I have to say to the Secretary of State that, at the end of the day, when lives are at risk he has to be responsible, and he has to empower local authorities, through him, to take responsibility. We are talking about protecting our people—the most important duty we have as elected representatives. It is no good passing the buck to other authorities. I hear what the Secretary of State says, and he does talk a lot of words. I urge him to recognise that now is the time for action. Two years on from Grenfell, we should not have had another fire.
I thank the right hon. Lady for what she has said and the points that she has made on behalf of her constituents. I do not know whether she heard it, but I indicated at the start of my statement that I would be visiting Barking later this evening. Certainly, I would like to speak to her after the formalities here today, to co-ordinate and to hear some of the feedback that she has represented on the Floor of the House this afternoon.
There are two elements that the right hon. Lady highlighted to do with fire alarms and the nature of the timber used on the balconies. This is still subject to investigation and review of precisely what went on, but I can assure her that I have asked the Building Research Establishment to provide technical expertise on investigating the reasons for the speed of the fire’s spread. The expert panel will be asked to issue further guidance urgently, and the wider circumstances will be looked at in our review of wider building safety. She makes the point powerfully about responsibility—having one person clearly responsible for the management and safety of a building—which is at the heart of Judith Hackitt’s review. That is precisely what is at the heart of the reforms, and I look forward to continuing the discussion with the right hon. Lady.
The Secretary of State has been asked on a number of occasions whether he would be willing to name and shame private landlords who do not take the action necessary. Will he confirm whether he is willing to do that, and if so when, to put pressure on them to take action and make that unnecessary? Secondly, I do not want him to comment on the legal case being launched by the Grenfell survivors against Arconic, Celotex and Whirlpool in the US, but what role, if any, does he see the Government playing in relation to that case?
On the latter point, I have only seen some of the press reporting on that litigation, so it is difficult for me to comment, not knowing at this point the detail and nature of the litigation that is contemplated. The right hon. Gentleman highlights the issue of responsibility. We have clearly set out those who have acted in a responsible way and underlined quite starkly those who have met their obligations. Clearly, those who have not are still subject to further work from local authorities. I have stressed again the enforcement powers available and the way in which we are supporting local councils in doing that, but the key thing is that we get on with this work and make those buildings safe.
When in 2014 the all-party parliamentary fire safety rescue group asked the then local government Minister in the coalition Government to act on the coroner’s recommendations, published in 2013, after the six deaths in the Lakanal House fire in 2009, that Minister said that he had not heard anything to suggest that the changes were urgent. After the all-party group said that it would go public on his inaction if there was ever another major fire tragedy, he finally announced a review just before the 2015 general election, in which he lost his seat. He has since said that the incoming 2015 Government dropped his pledge. Maybe he is wrong, so is the Secretary of State completely certain now, 10 years after the Lakanal House fire—not just two years since Grenfell—that every recommendation that the coroner made has been implemented? If not, why not?
The hon. Lady has made various statements in respect of what did or did not happen at that time. It is precisely those elements that are part of phase 2 of the public inquiry, and it is right that there should be that proper scrutiny and investigation. Phase 1 is about what happened on the night, phase 2 is about the broader issues, and that inquiry will provide the scrutiny and detailed challenge that I think she is looking for.
I thank the Secretary of State for his update. Two years is a very long time. I can only imagine the suffering and stress that the residents of Grenfell and the local community have had to endure in that time. Many other residents around the country, such as those in Reading living in flats with dangerous cladding, have also endured suffering and stress. Will the Secretary of State now commit to take urgent action? Will he visit Reading to see the flats in my constituency that are covered in dangerous cladding, as well as other buildings that may be dangerous, such as overcrowded houses in multiple occupation and shoddy conversions of office accommodation into flats?
On the last point, the hon. Gentleman may be aware that we are conducting an examination of some of the evidence around office-to-residential conversions. The point he makes is one that I have heard, which is why we are pursuing the issue further. He makes various other points about his constituents and residents. If there are particular points he wishes to make to me, my ministerial colleagues and I stand ready to respond to him. His call for action is one that I hear and will respond to.
Two years on from the Grenfell fire, thousands of people are still living in homes wrapped in unsafe, dangerous cladding. My constituents are living with unnecessary stress, anxiety and worry due to the unsafe cladding on their blocks. The Secretary of State says that the funding has now been made available for those living in privately owned blocks, but there is no deadline or timeline set for the removal of the unsafe cladding. Will the Secretary of State today confirm what timeline is being set, not just for local authorities but for the owners of private blocks, to ensure that unsafe cladding is removed more quickly?
As I indicated in a previous answer, we intend to make it a condition of the funding that there is a clear timeline and that actions are shown to be taken in terms of the work that is needed. It is not that there is a lack of intent or urgency, but some of the works required are highly complex and it is therefore difficult to set a hard deadline in the way the hon. Lady wants. However, her call for action and urgency is one that I hear loud and clear. That is the way in which we intend to operate the fund.
Ann Jones, my colleague who represents the Vale of Clwyd in the Welsh Assembly, has sponsored legislation in Wales to introduce sprinklers to prevent such fires. In response to the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), the Secretary of State said that he will look all over Europe for best practice on fire prevention. Will he look at this best practice from Wales and see if he can introduce it?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who is on the Government Front Bench, indicates that that proposed legislation may not be taken forward by the Welsh Government. On the hon. Gentleman’s broader point on the assessment of the utility and use of sprinklers, we need to look very carefully at the evidence. As part of the review of the current building regulations, we are doing precisely that. There are already obligations in England for new build blocks above 30 metres in height to have sprinklers. We are looking at what is known as Approved Document B, which is a technical document that deals with building regulations, so we can better assess the evidence for sprinklers being used in new buildings.
Ford in Bridgend
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the future of Ford’s engine plant in Bridgend, south Wales.
On Thursday, Ford announced the start of a consultation with its unions concerning the potential closure of the Ford Bridgend engine plant in south Wales. I am not going to understate what a bitter blow this is to the 1,700 skilled and dedicated workers at Ford in Bridgend and their families, to the many more people and businesses who supply the plant, and to the town of Bridgend and the wider community. Our focus will be on working with Ford and the unions to understand the challenges and opportunities and to gain the best possible outcomes. I have spoken with the company, the unions and colleagues across the House. Colleagues at Jobcentre Plus are standing ready to provide advice and support to people, if required.
I live close by and absolutely understand the importance of this plant to the local community. The site has been worth over £3 billion to the local economy over the last 10 years. The town of Bridgend has proudly been home for 40 years to a world-class engine manufacturing facility. Ford has relied on Bridgend and Dagenham to supply one third of its total engines worldwide—a fact held with great pride by the employees.
We have known for some time that the production of the Sigma engine was coming to its natural end and that the Jaguar Land Rover contract would not be renewed, but the news that the Dragon engine may no longer be produced in the UK is disappointing, to say the least. It is very disappointing that it could be taken out of the UK and, in fact, out of Europe, to be manufactured in Mexico. That underlines that this was not a decision about Brexit. The decision was about the challenging conditions faced right across the global automotive sector.
Bridgend has been particularly impacted by the downturn in Ford’s share of the passenger vehicle market in Europe, with volumes of the new Dragon engine falling significantly below the installed capacity at the site. Ford is restructuring its business across Europe to significantly decrease structural costs and allow for investment in future electrification. To that end, it is optimising its European manufacturing footprint and reducing operations in France, Germany and Spain. Bridgend is significantly underutilised, with projections of the number of engines that it will produce falling far below what would be commercially viable in a single plant. Bridgend also faces a significant cost disadvantage compared with other Ford facilities around the world building the same engine.
I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, colleagues in the Welsh Government, the trade unions and other representatives since Ford’s announcement last week. The Business Secretary and I have spoken with local Members of Parliament, too. Together, we will continue to engage with all stakeholders and elected representatives. Although the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) cannot be in the Chamber today, I spoke with her on Friday.
We in the UK Government are committed to working closely with the Welsh Government and the local community to ensure that south Wales’ justified reputation as a place of industrial excellence in manufacturing and technology is maintained and expanded. On Thursday, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economy and Infrastructure announced the establishment of a taskforce to work with partners over the difficult weeks and months ahead to find a sustainable, long-term solution for the plant and its workforce. UK Government Departments and I will play a full and active part in that body. That builds on the existing group that has been working jointly since it was confirmed that the Jaguar Land Rover engine would end in 2020. It is important that it builds on the Honda taskforce, working together to support the automotive industry in general.
We are already looking at opportunities to attract new investment to the area. I remain optimistic that south Wales is an attractive proposition and place for industry to operate from. In fact, over the last two years, I have been in Japan, China and the USA to promote the opportunities that Wales presents for the advanced manufacturing sector and our modern industrial strategy. Last year, Aston Martin announced that it will bring the production of the DBX vehicle there, which will create 750 jobs for St Athan. Last September, it announced a further £50 million investment that will make south Wales the home of its electric vehicle range.
I and many other colleagues across the House have worked hard over the last three years to make the case for investment in Britain. Despite the devastating news for south Wales operations, Ford’s commitment to the UK will remain as a major employer of some 10,000 people, with other significant operations in the country, including Ford’s technical centre in Dunton, Essex, which is home to Ford’s European market-leading commercial vehicle business; Ford’s engine facility in Dagenham, where it will continue to produce diesel engines; Ford’s mobility innovation office in London, where it will develop future mobility solutions in Europe; and the Halewood transmission plant, producing transmissions for cars such as the Ford Fiesta.
It remains the case that Ford, as an American company with a century-long history of operating successfully in the UK, undoubtedly recognises our international reputation as a place to do business, with skilled and innovative staff, access to innovation and a strong determination to make those strengths even greater in the years ahead. This is the Government’s ambition, as is well evidenced by the steps we have most recently taken to build on the successes of our automotive sector deal.
Our Advanced Propulsion Centre has awarded grants worth more than £800 million to more than 150 organisations across the UK. Just last month, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), announced a further £28 million of support to further enhance our UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, giving investment of more than £100 million in a world-leading facility to enable industry and academia to put the UK at the forefront of bringing battery technologies from the lab into the next generation of vehicles to drive on our streets. Working with industry, £80 million of investment through our driving the electric revolution programme will see support for innovation in electric motor technologies.
We are determined to ensure that the UK remains one of the most competitive locations in the world for automotive and other advanced manufacturing. The announcement of this consultation by Ford is a disappointing blow, but the Government’s bold mission to put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles presents significant new opportunities for the UK. That includes new industries and ventures that will be well suited to the skills and expertise of those dedicated workers at Ford and their suppliers. I remain committed to ensuring that Bridgend and other parts of Wales benefit from that work. We will continue to work with the Welsh Government and our many partners across the industry as we seize the opportunity for Britain to provide great jobs and careers for hundreds of thousands of people across our country in the years ahead. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
Last Thursday’s news of the closure of the Ford plant in Bridgend was absolutely devastating for the exceptional workforce, their families, the town of Bridgend and the wider south Wales community. As a former Bridgend county borough councillor, I completely understand. It is absolutely devastating for the businesses in Ford’s supply chain and the tens of thousands employed in them, and it is absolutely devastating for the automotive sector, UK manufacturing and our entire economy. Ford must rethink its plans to strip away 1,700 highly skilled, quality jobs from the area, and the UK Government must do all they can to support those dedicated workers.
This news is disastrous for all concerned. The chaos caused by the Tory Government’s calamitous handling of Brexit, coupled with the Secretary of State’s continuing inability to stand up for Wales, has allowed Ford to deliver a hammer blow to the workers in Bridgend and the Welsh economy. This is a betrayal of the hard-working and loyal staff who have been committed to delivering savings in making the Bridgend plant one of the most efficient in the world.
It is clear that Ford needs urgently to reverse this treacherous decision and to stand by the highly skilled workforce in Bridgend, rather than chasing profits via cheaper markets in places such as Mexico and India. It is disgraceful that Ford no longer produces a single vehicle in the UK despite its growing market share of car sales. Companies such as Ford originally chose to locate production plants in the UK because it was renowned for its skilled workforce and seen as economically stable compared with other turbulent markets across the world, but the Government’s botched Brexit has changed this. It is causing chaos and uncertainty and undermining business confidence.
Ford is just the latest in a long list of companies, including Airbus, Nissan, Honda and Jaguar Land Rover, to halt investment, cut jobs or close plants as a direct result of this uncertainty. We know that the Tory Government offered Nissan a deal. Was Ford offered a deal? There can be no doubt that this Government’s reckless threats of no deal, accelerated by a self-indulgent leadership contest with hard-Brexit contenders, is having an impact on business decisions across the UK, not just in Wales. Yet again, this is catastrophic news for Wales—news that has come as a direct result of UK Government shortcomings where Wales is concerned and that follows their shortcomings on rail electrification, the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon and the steel industry. This is just one of a string of failures on the Secretary of State’s watch. I call on him to apply pressure on Ford to do the right thing and rethink its catastrophic plans.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) for all the work that she has done to support the plant and its workforce, now and in many previous years. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore)—who represents the neighbouring constituency—for all that he is doing to support the many hundreds of people in the area who are being affected. I thank other Welsh Labour Members whose constituents work at Bridgend Ford and in its supply chain, and I thank the trade unions.
The automotive industry is the backbone of our manufacturing sector, supporting highly skilled, quality employment and making an enormous contribution to our economy, but its future, in Bridgend and across the UK, is in jeopardy. I call on the Secretary of State to do now what he has failed to do previously and stand up for Wales. He must speak with Cabinet colleagues to seek the financial support and stimulus which will match what has already been committed by the Welsh Government.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, but I must express disappointment in the tone that she chose to take, which contrasted with the tone adopted by both the Welsh Government and the unions.
Earlier, the Business Secretary and I spoke to Ken Skates, the unions and many local Members of Parliament as part of a communications plan to share our ambitions and discuss the steps that we will take before the taskforce meets, hopefully later this week. Ken Skates and I will be joint vice-chairs of that taskforce and there will also be a chair from industry. That demonstrates the joint approach that we are taking, in a constructive way, recognising that this is a commercial decision made by Ford because of the change in the marketplace caused by the shift from petrol and diesel engines to electric vehicles. I commend the Welsh Government for the joint working that they have demonstrated so far, and I commend the unions for their engagement and the tone that they have adopted in the discussions.
Like many other Members, the hon. Lady pointed to Brexit. Those Members are being somewhat selective. It is right that the manufacturing sector, in particular, seeks a stable economic environment from which to export to the European market, but Ford was a strong supporter of the Prime Minister’s deal, which the Labour party chose to vote against. Whatever uncertainty exists over the Brexit negotiations, I think that the hon. Lady and other Labour Members need to accept their responsibility. They played a part in that. They have been highly selective in quoting comments and recommendations from Ford.
The hon. Lady was right to say that this is a highly efficient plant with a very skilled workforce. We will continue to work to attract investment in the site, be it from Ford—although we have not succeeded in doing that since the Jaguar Land Rover engine contract was announced—or others. We will also engage with other potential investors in the Brocastle site, which is adjacent to the Ford plant. We are in discussion with some potential investors at a mature stage, but it will be up to those organisations to make the final decision about whether to invest. We are in discussion with other organisations in the automotive sector that could provide exciting opportunities. We all recognise the skill and the quality of the workforce. The potential investors recognise it, which is why they are engaging so positively with us and with the Welsh Government. I also underline that Ford job losses are also taking place in Europe: there have been 5,000 job losses in Germany as well as job losses and shift changes in Spain.
In closing my response to the hon. Lady, I remind her that there are now 100,000 more manufacturing jobs in the UK economy and 13,000 more manufacturing jobs in Wales than there were in 2010.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the fact that so many politicians in Cardiff Bay and London who only last week were proclaiming climate change emergencies and competing for who could demand the fastest possible ban on petrol and diesel engines have suddenly become champions of the manufacturing of petrol and diesel engines in this country?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and highlights the shift taking place in the industry from petrol and diesel engines to electric vehicles. Some manufacturers are trying to catch up with the fast-changing consumer demand, but it is absolutely right that the UK is at the forefront of this technology, which is why we are investing so much in the sector to ensure we are active in the next generation of motor vehicles.
I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. May I say on behalf of the SNP that our thoughts are clearly with the workers at Bridgend and those in the supply chain?
My constituency has suffered severe losses in manufacturing over the years, so I fully understand the devastating impact this can have on local communities, including the knock-on effects on shops and service providers. What supply chain impact assessment has been done as a result of the decision by Ford? What funding guarantees can be given to match Government actions, rather than just warm words?
The Secretary of State said that Brexit is not responsible for this decision, but Ford was one of the companies that warned of the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, so when will this Government rule out a no-deal Brexit to stop any further job losses in the manufacturing sector?
I have a few more questions.
The Secretary of State said in his statement that Bridgend faces cost disadvantages compared with other Ford plants doing the same work. How long has this cost disadvantage issue been known about and what opportunities have the Government looked at to overcome that and to support the plant? What opportunities have been identified by the existing working group, formed in 2018, to plug the gap by the loss of the Jaguar Land Rover contract and how will the new taskforce build on that and identify the much bigger gap and challenge that needs to be overcome? What future investment will the UK Government make to ensure there are no further cost disadvantages to any companies located in this area? The Secretary of State also said they were already looking at opportunities for investment in the area, so can he give timescales for positive announcements on the opportunities that have been identified?
I understand why the Secretary of State gave assurances about the other Ford plant operations across the UK, but how robust are those assurances? Padding out his statement by mentioning a £28 million investment in Coventry, £800 million in UK-wide grants from the Advanced Propulsion Centre and £80 million for the electric revolution programme is of absolutely no comfort to the Bridgend workers. What we need to hear is that the right actions are being taken now, not platitudes.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about supply chains and that was considered as part of our conference call discussing the formation of the taskforce. Work is undergoing to map the suppliers who supply Ford in Bridgend. We plan to then cross that over with the same work that is being done in relation to Honda in Swindon. A supplier might well be able to manage better the hit from one automotive manufacturer. The hit from two could obviously cause greater challenges and we want to work to respond to that. On funding, whatever support has been provided to the suppliers to Honda in Swindon is equally available to those who supply Ford in Bridgend.
The hon. Gentleman again points to Brexit, but I say to him that the automotive sector was a strong supporter of the deal the Prime Minister and the Government have agreed with the European Commission. The hon. Gentleman would do well to heed all of the sector’s message, if it wants to repeat some of the statements that it has made.
In relation to opportunities, the Government are investing significantly in the next generation of automotive vehicles not only through UK Government public funds but through attracting private investment in this field. Some of these investors are looking at locations in Europe and in the UK, and those are the organisations that we are naturally engaging with to ensure that the UK continues to play an active part at the forefront of this sector.
Will the Government now review the very high vehicle excise duties they have imposed, as well as the squeeze on car loans and the regulatory uncertainty about buying new petrol and diesel, because these are all factors that have done a lot of damage to demand and output in the UK car industry?
My right hon. Friend makes the important point that Europe faces similar challenges. I have already pointed to the 5,000 jobs that have been lost in the automotive sector in Germany, and we are seeing similar challenges in Spain and elsewhere. Many of these issues are being driven by consumer demand, but some are being driven by regulation, and I think every regulator needs to reflect on the demands from the climate change challenge together with the risks that it poses in the short term until the technology catches up.
I should like to start by welcoming the Secretary of State’s statement, and I thank him and the Business Secretary for the constructive way in which they have engaged with me as the Member for the neighbouring constituency, in which a large majority of the workforce actually live, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon). We have been meeting the workforce and the unions over the weekend, and I welcome the way in which they are working with the Welsh Government.
It is reassuring to hear the Secretary of State say that he is willing to work in the taskforce and to do all he can to help to support the workforce, but can he set out here and now what he will do if there is a need for UK Government fiscal intervention to protect those jobs and possibly to make Ford change its mind? I believe that Ford still has questions to answer, given that just three weeks ago it was talking about the Dragon line being the most efficient of any of the plants across the world, including in Mexico.
My priority will be the families in my constituency who will be left devastated by this and the communities in my constituency that have not recovered from the de-industrialisation of the 1980s. This really will be a hammer blow to so many of them right across Ogmore, Bridgend, Aberavon and many other constituencies. We need a fiscal stimulus package and an automotive sector deal so that we can protect these jobs and these workers and ensure that these families have some security beyond September 2020.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising those points and for his comments and contributions in the call that we had earlier today. He rightly points out that this is a consultation from Ford, and we will therefore work closely with the unions in challenging the assumptions and statements that Ford has made where we believe them not to be the case.
The UK has a good record of investment in this sector. According to the latest available data, there is a 20% uplift in investment in the automotive sector, which demonstrates that we still remain attractive. We will of course work closely with the Welsh Government on attracting investment to the area, to serve the hon. Member’s constituents and the employees who come from a much wider field than just the community of Bridgend. We remember that there was a Ford plant in Swansea not so long ago and that people travelled to that. The effects therefore stretch much further west, east and north than just the Bridgend site.
The Welsh Government clearly have a responsibility under the devolution settlement for economic developments, but we will continue to work closely with them, as well as with the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the whole might of Whitehall to support the employees by attracting investment to that site.
The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees), has sought to blame Brexit for Ford’s decision, but Stuart Rowley, the European President of Ford, has said in terms that it has nothing to do with Brexit. He has also said that
“if Brexit had never happened, would there be a different decision, and the answer to that is no.”
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is particularly regrettable that Opposition Members should seek so cynically to exploit the personal tragedy of 1,700 people for such nakedly political purposes?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for underlining the points in relation to Brexit, because Ford has stated clearly that Brexit has nothing to do with this decision. Furthermore, there would be more credibility in the Opposition’s points about Brexit if the engine plant was being shifted from the UK to anywhere else in the European Union, but we know that production is being shifted to Mexico. Therefore, I do not think the Brexit argument stacks up, and my right hon. Friend makes an important point that it is disappointing that many people will still refer to Brexit, which will undermine the potential for further investment in the site.
This is a devastating blow for the workforce, many of whom are from my Aberavon constituency. The Secretary of State keeps saying that the situation in other EU countries is also difficult, but none of them has seen investment in the automotive sector drop by 80% in the past three years. The fact is that this Government are like a driverless vehicle and have been for the past three years. Their botched Brexit and general incompetence have seen confidence drain away from the automotive sector. When will we see a proper industrial strategy that helps the sector move from diesel and petrol to electric?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need to attract investment in this sector, but he is somewhat selective with the data that he presents. All automotive manufacturers have had challenges to meet in relation to changing consumer demand. For example, the UK is leading the way in attracting investment in the sector, and not only in terms of the scale of the money that I have already highlighted. Some 20% of all electric vehicles sold in Europe are manufactured here in the UK, which demonstrates that we are playing a prominent role.
It is true that this sad announcement has come during a once-in-a-hundred-year change within the global automotive sector, and so much of European automotive manufacturing finds itself on the wrong side of that change. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that underlines the need for a proper, joined-up industrial strategy for Wales, linked up between Cardiff and Westminster, with a focus on skills and education, which are not good enough in Wales, on improving transport, which is not good enough in Wales, and on improving and creating a more pro-business environment across the whole of Wales?
The UK’s modern industrial strategy clearly sets out the foundation for an approach across the UK that includes the automotive sector deal and other deals across a whole range of sectors, and the Welsh Government’s economic action plan dovetails well with that. However, my right hon. Friend makes an important point that we need to continue to work closely to ensure that the implementation of all that is as efficient as it should be, to be attractive to investors and to avoid extra complication due to the devolved Administrations. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, Ken Skates and I talk regularly about our ambitions to attract investment on a joint basis, and we work closely with the Department for International Trade, too.
The Secretary of State has been on an interesting journey from supporting remain during the referendum, when he said that the people of Wales could “suffer enormously” if they voted for Brexit, to supporting the most extreme Brexiteer in the Tory leadership—a reckless no-dealer. The reality is that we have a Secretary of State representing my country who is more interested in his own career than in the jobs of thousands of manufacturers back home in Wales.
The hon. Gentleman wants an independent Wales, but I am unsure what opportunities that would create for attracting investment in the Welsh economy. He will be well aware that I am a strong supporter of a deal with the European Union, but I have also stated clearly that maintaining no deal as an option, a challenge and a risk, both for the European Union and for the UK economy, focuses minds on gaining a deal. A deal will also create the best opportunities for the UK and European economies to continue to attract investment and to gain access to one another’s markets.
I will never forget the incredibly warm welcome I was given by my colleagues at Ford in Bridgend when I started there as a foreman in 1980, just a short time after it opened. I view this situation with huge sadness, which is why I urge the Secretary of State and the Business Secretary, who is sitting next to him, to do everything in their power to ensure that this factory continues, whether with Ford or with anybody else. In fact, Ford used to have a strong presence in Wales—not just in Swansea but also at Treforest, where it made sparkplugs. It is a great site, with railway and motorway links, and it must employ at least 1,700 people in the future, if not more, in high-quality manufacturing jobs. It deserves it.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point and speaks with passion and real understanding based on his experience of having worked at the site. He talks about the warm welcome, but the workforce has responded efficiently since the time he would have been working there to the opportunities to become one of the most efficient engine plants in Europe, which is commendable. There will be a great opportunity to attract further investment to the area not only because of the skills and assets among the workforce, but due to the site’s attractiveness. He mentions connectivity, with the site being close to the motorway, and I would also highlight the railway line that goes directly to the site, which is used to take the engines that are currently manufactured to the midlands and Europe.
The circumstances facing Bridgend are obviously different from those that surrounded the collapse of MG Rover at Longbridge over a decade ago, but I still know something about the impact that the closure of a major car plant can have not only on jobs, but on a community’s sense of identity. The first message from this Chamber must therefore be one of solidarity with the workers of Ford at Bridgend and their families.
May I ask the Secretary of State two things? First, he said that he met the company, so has he suggested any alternatives to closure? If so, what were those alternatives; I did not hear them in his statement? Secondly, while Brexit may not be the immediate cause of this announcement, he knows that it is relevant to virtually every decision that any automotive manufacturer is making at the moment. Is this news not just further evidence that we must avoid no deal at all costs?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point about the sense of identity, and we view those comments positively because of the ownership that is felt in the community around the plant. However, it stretches far wider than that, which is why I was so keen to engage positively with the unions before the announcement became public, and I have also spoken to them on several occasions subsequently. As for challenging the assumptions that Ford has made, we will of course work closely with the unions, which have a better understanding of the actual factors in play within the plant. We will then work in challenging Ford on those issues.
I say to those who seek to try to blame Brexit for the decision that we are working hard to attract investment both to this site and to Wales. Opposition Members seek to misrepresent the position, because Ford has clearly stated that it proposes to take the production of the new engine to Mexico. I hope that people will not want to bring too much politics into the reality of trying to attract investment.
The Secretary of State represents the constituency next door to the plant, yet he will not rule out a no-deal Brexit. That is utterly irresponsible and provides the context, even if not the immediate cause, for why the automotive sector in this country, including at Ford in Bridgend, is on the brink, with 10,000 jobs at risk, with 50,000 more in the supply chain. When is he going to show some leadership?
Maybe I should answer that question with another question. When will the hon. Gentleman vote for the deal to provide a stable environment in which to continue exporting to the European Union?
In February 2019, Ford said explicitly that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit was jeopardising its investment in the UK, including at Bridgend. Ford reportedly said directly to the Prime Minister that she must rule out a no-deal Brexit, lest we lose jobs. Just last week, the head of Make UK, representing manufacturing across this country, said that there is now a direct causal link between the threat of no deal by Conservative Members who are vying for the leadership, including the Secretary of State, and the loss of manufacturing jobs. How many more jobs do we need to lose in Wales and elsewhere before he tells the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) that we must never have a no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman quotes Ford from February, but I can quote Ford from before each and every meaningful vote in this House. It is strange that he is happy to heed Ford’s calls when it suits him but did not respond to its calls to vote in favour of the deal that the Prime Minister agreed with the European Commission. On job numbers, I point to the record job creation numbers we have seen in Wales in recent times, which compare favourably with when his party was in government.
Some 27% of our output in the Gwent valleys comes from manufacturing, and some of our leading employers in Blaenau Gwent are in the automotive sector. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that Ford workers and suppliers will get the same package of financial support that was offered to Honda just up the M4?
Yes, I can. I have already stated that the support made available to Honda and its supply chain will be available to Ford and its supply chain. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the manufacturing sector, which is extremely important to the Welsh economy. I am sure he shares in the recognition that there are now 13,000 more manufacturing jobs in Wales than there were in 2010.
Ford’s announcement is indeed a bitter blow for workers at Bridgend and will be felt across south Wales, and all our efforts should be put into supporting those who are affected. With the car industry in crisis, the steelworkers I met on Friday at Cogent, owned by Tata, want the Government to be proactive in helping to develop and support the supply chain for electric vehicles. Companies like Orb have the workforce and the expertise, but what will the Government do to support such companies through the industrial strategy for the future of this industry?
The hon. Lady highlights the £1.1 billion that has been made available through a range of schemes, including the Faraday challenge, the Stephenson challenge, the autonomous vehicle initiative and the advanced propulsion centre. These schemes are available to companies across the whole UK, and many Welsh organisations are making active use of them.
Whether in terms of its impact on just-in-time manufacturing, on tariffs or, indeed, on regulatory alignment, no deal would be a disastrous outcome for manufacturing. Does the Secretary of State agree that anyone who wishes to keep that outcome on the table as a credible option simply is not putting Wales first?
Steven Armstrong, the head of Ford Europe, explicitly said:
“It’s important that we get the agreement ratified that’s on the table at the moment.”
I was happy to vote for that agreement. Was the hon. Gentleman?
I join the Secretary of State in praising the Welsh Government and the trade unions for the tone they set over the weekend. My thoughts are with the families.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has looked into Brexit and the effect it will have on the manufacturing sector. The automotive sector was very clear that the current deal suits it and that no deal would be an absolute disaster. The Secretary of State has a responsibility today, in making this statement, to give assurances to the Welsh workforce that he will rule out no deal. Will he tell his favoured candidate that that is what the ultimate representatives are saying? Let him not ignore them.
Can we have an industrial strategy that is nimble enough to help those affected by these closures, liquidations and, yes, suspensions, which are becoming a trend?
The hon. Gentleman points to the statements from the motor manufacturing sector that the current deal suits the sector.
The current deal with Europe.
The hon. Gentleman talks about remaining in Europe, but the sector strongly supports the deal that the Prime Minister negotiated with the European Commission. The Government and I responded positively to the sector’s statements. Perhaps he should have also supported the sector and responded to it at that time, too.
A constituent of mine, like many other workers, has been back to the plant today and took the time to message me. He says that Ford is telling the workers that the plant is no longer viable. This is a bitter pill to swallow because the UK has been one of Ford’s best markets throughout the years. The employees feel that the plant has been manipulated by Ford into no longer being viable.
I have two questions for the Secretary of State. In a potential post-Brexit United Kingdom, where will the 1,700 jobs in south Wales—plus the impact on the supply chain—come from? Moreover, will he explain why he believes that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) will be the saviour of the future prosperity and wellbeing of the people of Wales? I and many of my colleagues believe that actions speak louder than words, and the only words I have heard from the Secretary of State today are potential, not action.
The hon. Lady asks where the jobs will come from, which is a reasonable and fair question. We work closely with the unions and the Welsh Government in seeking to exploit every opportunity to attract investment to the site, be it from Ford or from any other manufacturer or organisation. The UK’s industrial strategy clearly sets out ambitions for the UK to become a leader in the next generation of automotive. The advanced propulsion centre, the Stephenson challenge and the Faraday challenge, from which Welsh companies are already significantly benefiting, highlight why we have seen such a sharp uplift in investment in the sector for the latest full-year statistics that are available, and for the opportunities that come thereafter.
I have already highlighted what Ford has said, but I can also point to Aston Martin, McLaren and Toyota. So many organisations that either operate or are based in Wales, or elsewhere in the UK, strongly support the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated, but the hon. Lady chose to vote against it, which I find very disappointing.
Although the whole House is concentrating on the actions that the Government should take to save jobs at Bridgend, this news sends a chill down the spine of all car workers in this country and of those in the supply chain. I have workers at Vauxhall who must be very concerned. The Secretary of State said earlier that he is working closely with the Business Secretary. Will the two of them bring before the House, as soon as possible, the proactive moves they are now making to save car jobs in this country so that we do not have another appalling statement like this one?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making those points. The investment at Ellesmere Port is clearly important not only to his constituency but to the north Wales economy, where many of the employees will come from. Vauxhall, of course, has committed to investing in Luton, and we continue to discuss and attract further investment by Vauxhall, but this commitment demonstrates its interest and recognition of the UK workforce’s expertise, both at Ford in Bridgend and in and around the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I will happily meet him to discuss specific actions being taken that could also support his constituency.
This closure is devastating news for families across Wales, including those affected in my constituency and across the whole of south Wales, and for the supply chain businesses affected, as a huge number of people are involved in the supply chain. The Secretary of State is wholly wrong to rule out Brexit being a causal factor in this decision. The former First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, said today that closure was “never on the agenda” during his very recent private discussions with Bridgend Ford. So can the Secretary of State please rule out a no-deal Brexit and the irresponsible message he is giving to every manufacturer across the industry, across the UK and across Wales today? Will he give that assurance to the car industry and to everyone?
The hon. Lady suggests I am wholly wrong to rule out Brexit as a cause, but those are not my views; they are the clear statements that have been made by Ford, both in private and in public. There would be much greater credibility in the statements being made by people seeking to make party political advantage out of this position, which is disappointing, if Ford was moving its operations to the European Union. Clearly, Ford is not doing that; it is moving the engine manufacture to Mexico, which clearly highlights that this is nothing to do with our exit from the EU. She asks me to rule out no deal, but in order to rule that out, you presumably need to vote for a deal, and I have done so on each and every occasion.
The Secretary of State has quoted Ford’s Europe chairman, Steven Armstrong, so may I quote him back to the Secretary of State? He said:
“We’ve been very consistent since the referendum that a hard Brexit, a no-deal Brexit, would be a disaster”.
So does the Secretary of State believe that loose talk about delivering no deal by leading Tory leadership contenders damages the UK car industry or assists it? Does he think that if the Chancellor has a Brexit war chest, it should be spent on investing in the UK car industry, including in electric vehicles, rather than on tax cuts for the wealthy, as some are advocating in their leadership campaigns?
Again, the right hon. Gentleman quotes what Ford has said, but Ford also said, “Please vote for the deal.” Perhaps he should answer the question of why he did not vote in favour of the deal.
My father, David Davies, was head of economic development at the Welsh Office in the ’70s and was instrumental in getting Ford to Bridgend, with the help of inducements from a Labour Government, including the rail link the Secretary of State mentioned and other financial inducements. The Secretary of State knows that wages in Wales are the lowest in the UK, at 70% of gross value added, and that the impact of Brexit is in big companies such as Airbus, Ford and Tata realising that they will no longer be in that market and relocating and reducing their workforce. Will he therefore think again about providing a people’s vote so that people can vote on whether they actually do want to leave, because people from that Bridgend plant who voted to leave did not vote to leave their jobs? Will he rule out any no-deal Brexit? Finally, will he make sure that none of the convergence funding that we currently get will be stripped away and given to other parts of the UK? If he will give none of those undertakings, will he resign?