Wednesday 19 June 2019
[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of free schools.
It gives me great pleasure to open this debate. I want to start by quoting Kavit, a year 11 pupil at Michaela Community School in Wembley—a free school that I co-founded in 2011, opened in 2014 and chaired until 2017:
“I have been at Michaela, our unique and inspiring free school for five years. I was in the first cohort of pupils and remember when there were just 120 of us here. Now we have 600 pupils and in 2 years, we will have over 800.
I have been given so many opportunities to become a better person. Michaela is like nowhere else. Firstly, there is no bullying in the school. Our high standards of behaviour have led to a friendly environment where younger pupils can go to older pupils for help. We all feel safe and cared for by our teachers at school.
Our teachers are extremely hard working. They stay for hours after school helping pupils who may be unsure on a topic and create new booklets to use in lessons.
I transformed from primary to secondary school. My parents saw me reading bigger books, revising more, helping more at home and I was a much nicer person overall. Michaela inspired me to reach for the top. My aim is to graduate from Cambridge University with a Maths degree.
The advice my teachers have given me has shaped me into the person I am: someone who perseveres and who is stoical.
I am really excited about starting at Michaela’s sixth form next year and I am crossing my fingers that I get into Cambridge. It would be a dream come true.”
That illustrates the power of a great education and how dedicated teaching changes lives and empowers a new generation, regardless of their background.
What is special about Kavit and Michaela is that the inventive teaching methods pioneered at the school in terms of curriculum, behaviour and leadership, thanks to the autonomy inherent in these state-funded comprehensive schools, would simply not have been possible without the free schools policy introduced in 2010. Set up by teachers—in this case led by our formidable headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh—with parents and other community leaders, free schools are from the community and for the community. I was inspired to get involved because I grew up in Wembley in the 1980s, and my parents found it difficult to find a good local state school for me. Had Michaela been around then, there is no doubt that my parents would have been first in line to sign me up.
Let me tell hon. Members about my home town of Wembley, in the London Borough of Brent. The general demographic of our secondary school intakes consists of approximately 50% on pupil premium, 10% eligible for special educational needs support and over 50% with English as a second language. Some of our intakes have consisted of a third of pupils who read below their chronological age and two thirds with maths below the national expectation. Many of our children have been under child protection, in care or excluded from previous schools.
Thanks to the robust knowledge-based curriculum pioneered by the teachers at Michaela, our pupils have been known to make two years of progress in reading in the space of one year or double the normal progress in maths. Some have even made up to five years of reading progress in a single academic year, and others have even come off their special education needs support. That is one reason why Michaela was rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2017. Michaela is one example of how free schools are changing the landscape of education in England for the better. The children of Wembley are lucky to have Michaela in their community, and I am pleased that we now have permission, announced last week, to open a second school in Stevenage.
I could wax lyrical for hours about Michaela, and I know the Minister is a fan and a doughty supporter of our school, but I want to talk more about how free schools overall are faring and about how I would like our next Prime Minister to commit to expanding their reach so that it is not just the lucky few in disparate parts of the country who have access to them. I want a country where every town has a free school, every parent has real school choice and every child has the chance to thrive. While the free schools policy has been an undeniable success since its inception in 2010, nines year later it is necessary to breathe new momentum into the programme, which is in danger of stalling. We need to take free schools from success to scale.
In 2010, the English education system was hampered by poor results and languishing in the international league tables. Twenty per cent. of our 16-year-olds were unable to functionally read or do basic maths. Under the Conservatives, thankfully, those stories are no longer the norm. Led by David Cameron, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and the Minister, free schools were a fundamental part of our charge to drive up standards, unlock innovation and improve discipline and leadership.
In the years following their introduction, free schools have been an unqualified success. The latest figures reveal that a free school is 50% more likely to be rated outstanding when compared with other types of state school. They are the most popular type of school among parents, attracting more first preferences than any other. Although free schools represent no more than 2% of all schools in England, four of the top 10 schools in the country are free schools, when measured by Progress 8 scores. Disadvantaged children do better at free schools than at other types of state school. Free schools are more likely to be located in deprived areas and can be vehicles to address behavioural problems that cause youth violence, thanks to the freedoms allowed to teaching staff. There is also emerging evidence of the competitive benefit that free schools generate, raising the quality of neighbouring schools through healthy challenge.
Despite those successes, the pace at which new free schools are entering the education system has slowed to a crawl. In a paper that I have authored, which is due to be published soon, I found that two thirds of parents do not live within reasonable commuting distance of a free school, because of a lack of geographic distribution. I also found that, at the current rate, it would be another 12 years before free schools made up just 10% of all English schools—two decades after the programme began. The first four years of the programme saw significantly higher numbers opening than in the most recent four years.
The 2017 Conservative manifesto aimed to increase the expansion of free schools through the building of at least 100 new free schools a year, but that has not been achieved. There used to be multiple application waves per year; now, there are longer gaps between the waves, and the number of approvals is falling. I was delighted to see the announcement of 22 new free schools last week, but that number is a reduction compared with waves 11 and 12. We risk losing the opportunities presented by free schools if that trend continues.
Today, I am making the case for scaling up free schools. There are several practical ways in which the slowdown could and should be reversed. First, we need to revisit the original purpose of free schools and broaden the approval criteria by which they are chosen. Free schools should be able to open wherever there is parental demand. Basing the criteria exclusively around a shortfall in school places severely restricts the opportunities for underperforming areas to have access to a free school. If we really value school choice, we need to genuinely provide it.
Secondly, a future Government should place innovation squarely at the centre of their school roll-out strategy, ensuring the approval of free schools that demonstrate an innovative and potentially useful approach, thereby reducing the cost of education and bringing about a net benefit to the overall education system.
Thirdly, to overcome some of the teething problems faced by newly established free schools and to disperse their location, we could develop a more proactive outreach programme, identifying teams of teachers, community leaders, business people and parents in areas that do not have a free school, and build their capacity to successfully apply for and open one. It is a bewildering process and requires much support. The New Schools Network has been excellent in that regard, providing support to promoter groups, but it should be tasked more explicitly and supported more widely with the talent-spotting resources needed to get a free school application team ready.
Fourthly, I need to mention the disappointing performance of studio schools and university technical colleges, two strands of the free school programme that offer more technical or vocational qualifications, which have suffered a disproportionate number of closures. We need to overhaul the fortunes of those institutions. Far from abandoning them, we need to make changes to ensure that the public do not lose faith in this essential kind of education. By changing the recruitment age to 16 so it is in line with the rest of the system, and allowing selection to be used in those schools, we can ensure that they operate on a level playing field.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we need compelling ideas about how to deliver more free schools affordably. The Conservatives have done remarkable work to deliver new free schools at a cost a third lower than under the Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, but the issue of capital investment needs to be addressed, hopefully at the next spending review. If we are serious about ensuring that the free school programme remains dynamic, self-improving and growth-oriented, funding solutions have to be offered.
To that end, I am confident that we can drive down cost through neighbourhood plans, specifically by funding neighbourhood plans that propose free schools, allowing for cheaper land. Being more ambitious, we could oversee the creation of a new kind of social impact bond to allow ordinary citizens to support the capital cost of a new school while offering them a small return.
Finally, we could incentivise free schools to use their funding more smartly. For example, they might receive more funding if they provided teacher training or developed more efficient teaching methods. We could also explore how to allow free schools more choice over how they use their allocated funding. We could, for example, allow a school to choose to take lower ongoing per capita funding—90% or 95% of the funding it would otherwise receive during its first two decades—and plough the savings back into its ongoing capital costs.
Those ideas will be fleshed out in my paper, which I am sure you are eagerly awaiting, Ms Buck. The next Prime Minister and Education Secretary have a golden opportunity to—[Interruption.] I have no doubt that Ms Buck will be waiting with bated breath for my report. I will send her a personalised copy. The next Prime Minister and Education Secretary have a golden opportunity to galvanise free schools and, in so doing, to galvanise the education of our young people. We are at a turning point, and I hope they seize the initiative to create the legacy of a school system that provides all our children with life-changing opportunities. For children like Kavit in Wembley with dreams and aspirations, we need to take free schools from success to scale.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) on securing this important debate, and I look forward to reading her report.
It is fair to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with just about everything the hon. Lady said. Her comments about the concept of people getting a financial return from investing in local education establishments make me fearful. Education should not be considered as a business. The money-making, business and enterprise element of even the academies programme has served only to put additional pressure on schools and families. Parents have to finance so many of their children’s additional activities in the education environment. That simply did not happen to the same degree prior to the academisation programme.
I am delighted that Kavit, whom the hon. Lady mentioned, has had such an enriching educational experience, but I deeply believe that Kavit’s experience should be everyone’s experience, and that the responsibility for education lies not with a few well-meaning local residents or capable parents but with the state. It is our responsibility. We in this place should take responsibility for ensuring the very highest standards in our state education system. For that and many other reasons, which I will come to, I cannot understand the enthusiasm for the free schools programme. Some £15,000 more per primary school pupil and nearly £20,000 more per secondary school pupil goes into free schools compared with those in the state system. That is a ridiculous amount of money.
The hon. Lady talked about “undeniable success”. Sir Peter Lampl, who founded the Sutton Trust, said:
“Free schools were supposed to bring new and innovative providers into the education sector, to drive up standards and improve school choice. But as our research shows, very few are fulfilling that original purpose.”
Carole Willis, chief executive of the National Foundation for Educational Research, said that the Sutton Trust report
“shows that the government’s free schools programme has not been very successful at bringing innovation to the education system and encouraging more parents and teachers to set up new schools. What it does highlight is that those new free schools that are opening are increasingly set up and led by multi-academy trusts and are used as a way to meet rising pupil numbers. So, if the government is still committed to the programme’s original purpose then it should review and clarify the mission of free schools.”
Can it really be an undeniable success that a trust set up by a Conservative peer and former so-called policy supremo of David Cameron’s was given £340,000 for two free school projects that never even got off the ground? Is that really the definition of success for the education of our children? I do not think it is. The Floreat Education Academies Trust, which was founded by the now Health Minister, Lord O’Shaughnessy—I do not know whether that is still accurate—received cash to set up new primary schools in London, but the plans were abandoned in March 2018. Those primaries were among 44 free school projects that were cancelled without teaching a single pupil between 2013 and 2017. What an utter disgrace of a waste of taxpayers’ money. That money should be going to our kids in the education system now, not on the fanciful ideas of people sitting in the other House who cannot even deliver.
There simply is not enough scrutiny in the application process for free schools. I had the same concern about the level of accountability and transparency in academies, but free schools, particularly under the umbrella of multi-academy trusts, are increasingly becoming completely unaccountable and untransparent fiefdoms at the heart of our communities. There is nothing that local people can do to challenge them when they are failing. And what happens when they do fail, having had all that money put into them? The state picks up the pieces.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will not, because the hon. Lady had a good 20 minutes to set out her case. I am sure she will cover these things extensively in her report or in summing up at the end of the debate.
Cancelled schemes were given £8.7 million of funding by the Department for Education. That money has now been written off. It could have been used to help struggling state schools, or even to reward schools in the state system that are succeeding and excelling and that deserve to expand, rather than being funnelled into these local community projects run by well-meaning individuals. The idea that improved financial self-management will in any way resolve those problems is for the birds.
In Great Grimsby, we have been fully academised at secondary school level for about five years. Even in that academised system, there are concerns about the level of exclusions, temporary and permanent. Some schools—if they are in the wrong area—feel they are a dumping ground for other schools that cannot cope with the diverse needs of their student body. We have also seen an increase in provision through pupil referral units.
I went recently to Phoenix House pupil referral unit in my constituency. I saw young people who would have struggled in mainstream education—whether a free school, an academy trust or the comprehensive system—but who are now in an environment that works well for them. Where they might previously not have gone on to sit their GCSEs, they are now sitting them and engaging with their school community. They are forming friendships and respecting their local community. That school is going round begging for and borrowing facilities. It has a fantastic workshop where the kids can work on a car chassis, build it up from scratch and take it apart again. The school has to go to local scrapyards and car dealers to beg for things for that facility, yet we are wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds on free schools that often do not deliver for their pupils.
There are all kinds of statistics on the representation of young people in free schools who are eligible for free school meals, compared with those in academies, and that goes to the heart of the matter. If the Government really want to improve education, they should not turn the system even more into a marketplace. Education is not a marketplace; education is about the future of our young people and our country. We should give headteachers who are already in the system the flexibility offered to those in free schools to deliver well for their students, pupils and wider community, and we should properly fund them, rather than diverting cash to vanity projects that do not work for the local community. I therefore do not support the idea that we should introduce free schools all around the country.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I wish to speak about Europa School UK in Culham in my constituency, but this is not an attempt to get one over on the Minister—quite the opposite. The Minister has been incredibly helpful with that school, and his recent letter to it was a model of assistance that I am told helped to make a significant impact on the heads of other national delegations—it does have the word “Europe” in the title, so I thank him for that.
I disagree with what the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) has just said—I suspect this will go backwards and forwards across the Chamber. Europa School UK was founded as a free school because local people wanted it, not because the Government or any other institution wanted it. It could not be provided for by the local authority because of the way that it teaches the children who attend—I will say something about that in a moment. It also could not be provided for because it teaches the European baccalaureate, rather than any other baccalaureate or GCSEs and A-levels. It now has permission to continue teaching the European baccalaureate until 2021, subject to the European Commission, which effectively owns the copyright. That gives an enormous advantage to children who started when they were five with the expectation of taking the European baccalaureate, and who will now work through the school until 2021.
The school is also a good example of how petitions can work. I presented a petition that had been signed by parents and friends of the school to Parliament, and it had a big effect. Perhaps a message can go out from this debate that parliamentary petitions—as opposed to the e-petitions that we debate in Westminster Hall on Mondays—are not a waste of time, because that petition put the issues raised firmly on the table at the Department for Education, and helped to crystallise them.
Under the terms of the free school, parents have agreed to the provision of a certain type of education, which I am about to describe. The importance of this school began in 2011, when I started getting people together to get permission for the free school to go ahead. At its core was a proposal to do something that has never been offered before in the UK or, incidentally, in the European Union school system. The proposal was to offer a complete, thoroughgoing commitment to full bilingual education from reception until finishing school. Pupils would not simply learn another language; they would learn through that language, which is an important distinction. They would learn the linguistic rhythm of a language and have truly deep language learning, not just acquire a second language overlaid on the first.
Europa School UK was set up as a free school because that is what parents wanted. I remember holding discussions with them at the time, and parents wanted that type of education. It is not only those parents of European origin who work at the Culham Science Centre or at Harwell who enjoy this school; it has become so attractive that it appeals to British-born parents who live in the area and are looking to provide the education that their children need. During Education questions I asked the Minister whether he accepted that Europa School UK was proving popular with all kinds of parents, and he kindly replied that he shared my admiration for the school.
How does it work? A pupil will go in and have a history lesson in German, or geography in French, and they will be taught through those languages throughout the day. It is not a question of picking up the language as one goes along; this is about fully immersing oneself in that language, and it works—I have seen it work, and I will soon go to the school to participate in the presentation of certificates and prizes.
The freedom offered by the free schools programme to allow schools to set their own curriculum has been essential. The founders of Europa School UK adopted the curriculum of the previous European school, which the Commission did not want to fund any more, and modified that with the mandatory elements of the English national curriculum. I mention that because it shows that free schools are what parents want, and they provide something different from what the local authority wants. The success of Europa School UK can be seen in the recent Ofsted report, which produced a very good result.
My hon. Friend’s references to Europa School UK remind me of Northampton International Academy, which as a fairly new free school attempts to achieve that ethos. He referred to the ability to drive excellence through parental choice, and Northampton School for Boys has just been granted permission to go for free school status, which comes off the back of being a school that local parents recognise as a provider of excellence. Does my hon. Friend agree that this programme provides an opportunity for that parental view to be broadened and spread across local communities?
I agree with my hon. Friend, who has hit on the key word that describes the whole programme—choice. It is about parental choice. What I have described has worked well for my school and I hope it works well for his.
There is not much more I can add. The Europa School UK is a model school that everyone is welcome to visit to see how the teaching is done. Of course, they will have to speak Italian, German and Spanish to understand the courses being delivered, but I am sure that will not cause any problems for hon. Members in this multilingual Chamber.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) on securing the debate and on her excellent job application. When the future Prime Minister is appointed, I am sure she will be given serious consideration after such a loyal speech.
I will devote my contribution to the urgent need for a new secondary school in Radcliffe in my constituency. Radcliffe is an old industrial town that was on the frontline of the industrial revolution. When the paper mills shut down in the 1990s, not only did people lose their jobs, but the town lost its sense of identity. That was made worse by the loss of its secondary school and a sense that it was failing to get a fair deal from the council in Bury or the Government in Westminster. If we are to truly give Radcliffe families hope for a bright future, it is essential that they get the school they deserve and were promised.
First, I agree with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) said about the Government’s ideological preference for free schools, which is predicated on a myth that keeps being repeated—that schools are subject to interference from local councils. That has not been the case for decades; in the real world, headteachers and governors run schools.
For a long time, the support provided by an excellent local education authority in Bury added value to school leadership and made a key contribution to raising standards. In recent years, the withering on the vine of the active LEA, especially the loss of expert advisers due to cuts, has contributed to previously excellent schools ending up in special measures or requiring improvement. I do not claim that all local education authorities were adding value to schools, but those that were should have been invested in, not effectively dismantled.
The fragmentation of the school system has led to a dearth of accountability, as my hon. Friend said, and has made no discernible difference to raising standards. Those who claim that new Labour is somehow to blame because it introduced academies are guilty of rewriting history. We created academies in communities where, despite extra funding and changes in leadership, long-term underperformance had blighted young people’s life chances. Our passion was to break the shameful and enduring link between social class and educational attainment that continues to blight the country’s success. I believe that breaking that link is the Government’s objective too, but forcing academisation on all schools and insisting that all new schools are free schools will not necessarily achieve that.
Despite those misgivings, I make no apologies for working with the council and the Government to develop a proposal for a free school for Radcliffe. Government policy means that we have a stark choice: a free school or no school. In those circumstances, I will work night and day to secure a secondary school through the free school programme.
I often state that the worst thing that has happened in my political career is the betrayal of the promise that Radcliffe would have a new state-of-the-art secondary school. It is a shocking story, and many lies have been told about how it came to pass, so I want to put the record straight. In 2009, Bury Council had three sites at its disposal: the former Radcliffe High School site, the former Coney Green High School site and the former East Lancashire paper mill site. A developer had agreed to purchase all three sites and I had secured £5 million from what was then the Department for Education and Skills to enable the proposed school to go ahead on the East Lancs paper mill site. Work on the school was ready to go.
The Labour leadership of the council was concerned that the Conservatives would take control at that year’s local elections and abandon plans for the new school, but senior officers assured them that a legal heads of agreement had been signed with the developer, which meant that nothing could prevent the school project going ahead. That turned out to be untrue and on taking office, the Tories suspended the school project. Without any consultation with affected parents, they proposed that Derby High School be relocated to Radcliffe; that proposal was ultimately rejected by parents.
The Conservatives then reduced the size of the proposed school and refused to proceed with the original funding package. In addition, they relocated Millwood School to one of the sites. They claimed that the school could go ahead only if the then Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme provided the funding, but they were fully aware that Bury would not become eligible for that funding for many years. The developer lost patience and walked away, publicly expressing his anger at the council’s conduct.
Meanwhile, the continued uncertainty and broken promises seriously affected student numbers at the existing Radcliffe Riverside School. Understandably, parents were voting with their feet and sending their children to schools outside Radcliffe. Having blighted the school, the then controlling group had the audacity to claim that there was no demand for a school in Radcliffe. In 2010, the incoming Tory-Lib Dem Government scrapped the Building Schools for the Future programme. In 2014, Radcliffe Riverside School closed due to dwindling numbers. The promise of a new secondary school had turned to dust, and worse still, Radcliffe now had no secondary school at all.
That history matters because some people promote the narrative that the council has neglected Radcliffe and does not care about its future. Some of the most vocal promoters of that view were members of the controlling group that blighted and then scrapped the school. They ought to hang their heads in shame for their hypocrisy and failure to stand up for Radcliffe when they had the political power.
I and the council leader, Councillor Rishi Shori, have made it clear that a new secondary school must be a top priority for the town and the entire borough of Bury. To that end, we had a highly constructive meeting with Education Minister Lord Agnew in April. I place on record my thanks, which I ask the Minister to pass on, for his guidance and understanding about why Radcliffe should be a priority. He made no guarantees about what would happen in the future, but he understood the importance of a new school as a driver of change in a disadvantaged community.
We are in the process of selecting a suitable partner, as required by the free schools programme, and will submit a funding bid to the Government in the autumn. We are confident that we meet all the relevant requirements specified by the Government and, crucially—the predominant issue in terms of being successful—that we can demonstrate future demand for student places.
My vision remains the same: a new secondary school at the heart of a revitalised Radcliffe community that offers the highest educational standards and is a key hub for intergenerational community activities. Radcliffe is the destination of choice for many people seeking affordable housing with good transport links in the vicinity of Manchester and Bury. The new food-based events at Radcliffe market and the council’s investment plans for the town centre are positive steps forward. I would also like there to be a new focus on heritage and cultural regeneration in the town as a key driver for its future. As we host the cricket world cup, few are aware that the great West Indian cricketer Sir Garfield Sobers spent the early years of his career playing for Radcliffe cricket club, or that Radcliffe was the birthplace and family home of Danny Boyle.
The new school promised in 2009 is long overdue. I hope the Minister will assure me that the Government will continue to work with me and Bury Council to make the Radcliffe school happen and create a renewed sense of hope and optimism in the town. Radcliffe is an almost classic example of towns that are close to cities that have benefited from our country’s growth in the last 30 years that feel left behind, and that they have not benefited from the economic growth. Delivering the school is absolutely essential to turning around the perception of many that the community has been forgotten and left behind. The school is not only important in raising educational standards; it is the key to the community’s future sense of identity and regeneration.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) on the comprehensive way in which she introduced the debate. Although I do not necessarily agree with my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), she presented the arguments against free schools skilfully. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) made a good point about the Europa School. Free schools present an opportunity to vary the educational system and encourage different sorts of school. I sent all my children to the French Lycée, which is a state school, and I have never regretted that.
I want to talk about one community that wants to open free schools. The Minister will not be surprised by what I am about to go on about. In 2017, the Conservative party made a solemn manifesto commitment to lift the faith cap on free schools. Manifesto commitments are supposed to be very important. For instance, nobody has ever dared to break our commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid, and the same applies to pensioner benefits. However, there was one manifesto commitment that we broke: the commitment to end the 50% faith cap.
The Minister knows—I hope he will respond to this—that the cap uniquely disadvantages the Catholic community. There are 2,142 Catholic schools in England, covering every level of education. They make up 10% of the national total of state-funded schools. Everybody accepts that they are the most diverse schools, that they are the most willing to provide for all educational standards, and that they never impose academic selection. Despite all that, the 50% faith cap has, up to now, prevented the opening of a single new free school. Indeed, there cannot be any Catholic free schools because the 50% cap policy would come into effect only if the school was popular with pupils from other faiths and none. That means that the policy would only target popular Catholic schools that already had diverse school communities, while having no impact on schools that were either not over-subscribed or only attracted pupils from one, monocultural, community.
The 50% cap is espoused as encouraging diversity and inclusion. Catholic schools are already some of the most diverse schools in the country. That is in part due to the traditionally migrant nature of the Catholic community, which drives diversity and new demand for school places. Large catchment areas allow for increased social mixing. Catholic schools tend to be far more ethnically mixed than most other types of school. About one third have a proportion of ethnic minority pupils somewhere between 5% and 40%—higher than in any other type of school. Furthermore, all existing Catholic schools select pupils based on faith only when the school is over-subscribed, and currently, one third of all pupils in Catholic schools are not Catholics.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on making an excellent case and highlighting that this policy unnecessarily disadvantages Catholics. It is completely unnecessary for the Government not to have stuck to their manifesto pledge. I hope that the Minister will give some explanation for that in his speech.
I hope he will, because this is an important point. Catholic schools have traditionally opened as voluntary aided schools. VA schools are state schools where 10% of the capital costs are found by the faith group. In addition, Catholic schools’ buildings and land are owned by the Catholic Church. The Church provides those premises at no charge to the state, and that arrangement saves the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds a year. Until recently, the onus for local authorities to prioritise new academies and free schools—this is where I agree with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby—meant that it was much harder to open new voluntary aided schools.
Now, that manifesto commitment was broken. Why was it broken? Of course, it has nothing to do with Catholic schools. The Government know perfectly well that we have the most diverse schools in the country. The Government are not at all worried about Catholic schools. In last night’s televised leadership debate, there was a question about Islamophobia—something that we all oppose—but frankly, the Government are phobic towards the opening of new Muslim faith schools. That is what it is all about. It is never announced, never admitted. The Government are worried about 100% Muslim faith schools. Personally, I believe that if Muslims want to have faith schools, they should be allowed to have faith schools, and if that is the reason why the Government are preventing the creation of new Catholic schools—which are the most diverse schools—they should openly admit it. Of course, they cannot admit it because it would be embarrassing.
Here we have a Government, breaking a solemn manifesto commitment and preventing the opening of new Catholic schools—the most diverse schools in the country. The ban is not only wrong but completely ineffective, because very few non-Muslims apply to Muslim schools, so most of those schools are in fact 100% Muslim—I am not complaining about that—so the faith cap does not even come into effect. The faith cap only prevents the opening of Catholic free schools. It is unsustainable, wrong and should be dropped.
The Government claim that they are working hard to open new Catholic voluntary aided schools. No doubt the Minister will mention with great pride the forthcoming opening of Hampton Waters Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided School, which is to open in the diocese of East Anglia, which was announced on 14 June. That will be the first Catholic school to open in six years. Two years after the breaking of the manifesto commitment, not a single new Catholic school has opened. There are 50,000 Catholic children waiting for places, and no places for them. What are the Government doing about it? What they are doing is sending me letters, in the shape of one that I received from the Secretary of State, who tells me:
“On this occasion, I have been unable to approve any further bids. This is mainly due to the current lack of demographic need for additional school places in the areas chosen by the bidders.”
I presume that the letter was written by some civil servant. It appears to be profound gobbledegook.
This is a serious matter, and I hope the Minister will address it. No new Catholic schools have been opened for six years, and 50,000 Catholic children are unable to find a place. Only one school has been approved, and that was on 14 June—last week. I very much hope we might get some progress from this Minister, and if not from him, then from whoever becomes the new Secretary of State in a month’s time.
I call Mike Kane.
I am recovering from that speech.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) on securing the debate. I cannot say that I agreed with much of her speech, but she has a passionate commitment to education, even though we may view it differently. I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. It is the birthday of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn)—can we all wish her a happy birthday? She summed up how all our schools, not just free schools, are underfunded and are having to beg scrapyards for resources; that will live long in the memory.
In this Chamber yesterday we debated whether migration should be in the history curriculum. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) was sitting in exactly the same place when I left yesterday, so he must have been working there overnight. He speaks regularly in Westminster Hall about his passion for the Europa School. It is just nice to see a Conservative being nice to fellow Europeans, in particular, once in a while, and I say well done to him, flippantly.
The hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) speaks passionately about his constituency and the need for a school in Radcliffe. As my wife was born in Radcliffe, I am sure it will be the subject of pillow talk later.
The right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) has shown passionate commitment to the treatment of Catholic schools. I declare an interest as the convenor of the Catholic Legislators Network in Parliament. A manifesto commitment was broken, and the Church is finding it extraordinarily difficult in bidding rounds to build the schools that it needs under the voluntary-aided system—a system that we happen to support. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make progress with his campaign, because it is important.
We have learned today that the reality is that the current school system is broken. It has been fragmented. The current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs threw it in the air in 2010 and let it break, and we are still trying to pick up the pieces. It has become unaccountable and is not being led by the needs of our communities. We need to fix what is broken. However, when 124 failing schools have been left stranded outside the system, and are waiting to be transferred to another chain or sponsor, something is wrong with the way we are running our school system. For far too long, parents and communities have been shut out of decisions affecting schools in their areas. The coalition Government document said that the free schools programme would
“give parents, teachers, charities and local communities the chance to set up new schools, as part of our plans to allow new providers to enter the state school system in response to parental demand”.
The reality has been very different. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby pointed out, research by the Sutton Trust and the National Foundation for Educational Research found that by 2018 only one in five free schools had parents involved in their inception, so the programme is not parent-led. The proportion of parent-led schools has decreased over time. What is the Minister doing to ensure that parents and communities are not being shut out of decisions about schools in their area?
Labour’s plan for a national education service will give power back to communities so that all our schools are run by the people who know them best—parents, teachers and communities. We would give local authorities the power to take on schools where no other sponsor could be found. That would ensure that no school would be left without the support of a sponsor to deliver school improvement services and provide it with a network of schools.
Despite huge expenditure on free schools, there is no evidence that they improve standards. Problems in 10 free schools, including low standards, concerns about financial oversight and governance and a failure to recruit sufficient pupils, have led to closure, planned closure or partial closure. I have previously cited the case of a school in Southwark. The council begged the Government not to go ahead but the Government funded the school, which attracted 60 pupils and closed after two years. There was no spatial planning from the authority about where it should go. It cost £2 million. We could have sent each of the 63 pupils to Eton for half the price. I do not, by the way, advocate sending pupils to Eton.
The system is failing, as that case shows, but that should come as no surprise when, like academies, free schools can employ unqualified teachers, which they do at a much higher rate than other schools. While just 2.9% of teachers in all nursery and primary schools do not have qualified teacher status, the figure for primary free schools is more than three times higher at 10.2%. Similarly, while 5.4% of teachers in all state-funded secondary schools do not hold QTS, the figure in secondary free schools is 8.9%. That is a further undermining of the teaching profession by the Government.
Currently, 91% of schools face real-terms cuts. There is no need to ask me about that; just ask the Conservative party leadership candidates, who have all made promises to fund schools fairly. We cannot allow a system to go unchallenged when it permits the education of children to become a vehicle for private profits and allows the awarding of huge executive salaries, and when there have been mounting scandals, including evidence of financial mismanagement. The Minister should seek to ban related-party transactions—business arrangements between a free school, academy or multi-academy trust and other organisations with which there are personal connections.
The National Audit Office has highlighted wasteful spending on free schools. Its report in February 2017 found that free school places are more expensive than places provided by local authorities, with a place in a primary free school opening in 2013-14 or 2014-15 costing on average 33% more than places created in the same years by local authorities. A place in a secondary free school cost 51% more than a place in a local authority secondary. The National Audit Office has also exposed a reckless use of public funding on strategic land acquisitions for free schools, costing £850 million, with officials paying “premium” prices. On average, the Government paid 19% more than official land valuations for new sites.
It is not just the provision of free schools that has been riddled with mismanagement, however. The Government’s current chaotic system means that free schools can open in areas where there is no current need for new school places. That can result in reducing funding for existing schools that are already stretched to breaking point by the Government’s cuts to funding. Evidence was provided to the Education Committee by the Institute for Education in 2015, which found that
“35% of the first four waves of free schools were in districts with no forecast need and 52% were in districts with either no forecast need or only moderate need.”
In 2017 the National Audit Office also made the observation that many free schools had been built in areas with no need for school places, leaving them struggling to get enough pupils and balance the books. Admission systems need to be joined up. They should provide oversight across the whole local area and be accountable to the public, as they currently are not. What is the Minister doing to address the current fragmented system, which has led to over-supply of school places in one area while another is under-supplied?
Although Labour has committed to ending the inefficient free school programme, if parents and staff want to go further in launching and leading their own schools we will make it possible for parents and communities to come together and ask for a new school in their area. That is why we are working with the Co-operative party to develop the idea of co-op schools as a replacement for the free school model. Ultimately, we need a school system that responds to and reflects the needs of local communities and has a vested interest in the local community rather than in private profits. It is a shame that the Government do not feel the same.
It is a pleasure to have you chairing our sitting today, Ms Buck. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) on securing the debate and on an excellent opening speech on the future of free schools. I commend her commitment to the free school programme. She has been heavily involved in setting up and running Michaela Community School in Brent.
The shadow Schools Minister, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), has reiterated Labour’s policy to politicise the running of schools, to remove academies’ autonomy, which is key to the raising of standards, and to abolish the free schools programme. That will be hugely damaging to academies and free schools and to academic standards, and it should alarm the teachers and headteachers of the 8,000 academies and nearly 500 free schools in this country. Similarly, Labour’s policy of abolishing SATs, the key accountability measure for primary schools, would be a hugely retrograde step and would again undermine the drive for higher standards in schools.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said, Michaela Community School in Brent was rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2017. Inspectors commented on the “exceedingly strong” progress that pupils make and on their
“powerful determination to achieve as well as they can”.
We want every child in this country to have access to a world-class education, regardless of their background. Thanks to the free schools programme, extraordinary schools such as Michaela are changing what is thought to be possible and raising expectations across the country. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Michaela Community School trust’s success in the most recent free school application round, announced last week. As she said, the proposed new school will open in Stevenage, where there is a need for new, quality secondary school places. Michaela Community School in Stevenage will replicate the ethos of the existing Michaela school in Brent, with a focus on traditional academic subjects and on teaching the value of self-discipline, excellent behaviour and responsibility for one’s own development. I wish the trust and my hon. Friend every success during the next exciting phase of establishing the school.
I hope my hon. Friend will allow me to begin by outlining how free schools such as Michaela are making a real impact on the lives of pupils across the country. All around the country, the Government have built the foundations of an education system through which teachers and headteachers control the levers of school improvement and parents exercise choice, taking power away from local education authorities and handing it back to local communities.
A key part of the Government’s reforms has been the free schools programme. The programme was established in 2010, with the first free schools opening in 2011. The Government invited proposers to take up the challenge of setting up a new school, and groups who were passionate about ensuring that the next generation is best placed to face the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead came forward with their ideas and plans to make that a reality. Indeed, my hon. Friend was one of the very early pioneers of the programme, and Michaela Community School Brent was successful in only the second round of free school applications.
We now have 446 open free schools, which will provide around 250,000 places when at full capacity; 122 of 152 local authorities now have at least one free school in their area, and we are working with groups to establish a further 285 free schools. The free schools programme has provided a route for opening innovative schools that do things differently, and successfully opened schools that local authorities would not have commissioned, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) rightly pointed out.
Of those open free schools inspected by Ofsted, 84% have been rated good or outstanding, with 30% rated outstanding. That is a significant achievement, and I congratulate the proposers and teachers for their dedication to ensuring the success of their free schools and their pupils. Furthermore, in 2018, four of the top 10 Progress 8 scores for state-funded schools in England were achieved by free schools: William Perkin Church of England High School in Ealing, Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford, Eden Girls’ School in Coventry and Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School in Blackburn.
The latter two schools were opened by Star Academies, which has grown through the free schools programme from running a single school in the north-west to running 24 schools across the country, made up of nine academies and 15 free schools, with approval to open five additional free schools. Of the 10 free schools that have had Ofsted inspections since opening or joining the trust, all have been rated outstanding.
All these successful schools teach a stretching, knowledge-rich curriculum. Each takes a strong approach to behaviour management, so that teachers can teach uninterrupted. I have seen at first hand Michaela school’s commitment to high academic standards, showing what it is possible to achieve. I urge Opposition Members to visit some of those free schools, particularly Michaela or the Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School, to see for themselves before they cast judgment on a hugely successful programme.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Henley for his kind comments; Europa School UK is a classic example of how the free schools programme empowers innovation, such as by teaching through a European language other than English. As he says, standards at the Europa School UK in Culham are very high indeed.
The hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) said that the academies programme has led to more schools being put into special measures and requiring improvements, but the opposite is the case. In 2010, when there were just 200 academies, 68% of schools were good or outstanding; today, that figure is 86%.[Official Report, 25 June 2019, Vol. 662, c. 7MC.]
Although the Minister and I have differences on some of these issues, I have massive respect for the work he does in his capacity as an Education Minister, and I think that view is shared across the House. If I may just correct the record, that is not what I said; I said that the removal, in the Bury context, of the local education authority’s role in supporting improvement in school standards, especially through specialist, highly qualified advisers, has contributed in that Bury context to schools that were formerly outstanding becoming in need of improvement or inadequate. That is what I said. I never said that the academies programme had led to the deterioration of those schools; I said that the removal of the local education authority, which in this case was excellent, adding value to schools, headteachers and teachers, has contributed to a deterioration in the performance of those schools.
I thought the hon. Gentleman had said that was the case at a systemic level, right across the country, and not just in Bury. I thought he had said that the reduction in the school improvement department’s capacity in local authorities had led to an increase in the number of schools in special measures and requiring improvements. If he did not say that, I will withdraw the remarks, but the truth is that there are fewer schools either in “requires improvement” or in special measures than there were in 2010, despite—or, in my opinion, because of—the fact that we have such a large school improvement change.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his clarity and for his kind words about the Minister responsible for the schools system, Lord Agnew, and his understanding of the problems facing the town of Radcliffe in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I can assure him that we will continue to work with him on that particular issue.
We have approved schools with links to other institutions, such as the LIPA Sixth Form College, inspired by the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, which focuses on acting, dance, music and sound technology and was recently judged outstanding in all areas by Ofsted. In addition, in September 2012, we opened the London Academy of Excellence, a selective free school sixth form in east London, which was set up in collaboration with seven independent schools.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister join me in celebrating the investment of more than £20 million in education in Cheltenham, in the form of a new secondary school to be run by Balcarras, which will open in 2021? Although issues such as traffic will have to be got right, does he agree that the principle of investing in excellent new schools close to the community they serve must remain a Government priority?
I do agree; there was an element of that in the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham. The free schools programme is important, and it is still extensive, but of course it is important that it continues into the long run. That is why I fear the Labour party’s policy and the impact it will have on the future of the free schools programme.
I was talking about the London Academy of Excellence. In 2018, the school had an A-level progress score well above the national average, and the average grade achieved was A-minus. The school reported that 22 of its pupils received offers to study at Oxford or Cambridge last year.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) raised the matter of the 50% cap for faith-based free schools. The free schools cap on faith-based admissions has meant that some of the most experienced and largest providers, with a track record of delivering good outcomes for children and young people, have felt unable to open new schools through this route. The response to the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation, published in May last year, announced a capital scheme to enable the creation of new voluntary aided schools.
The capital scheme is open to both faith and non-faith groups; as with VA schools, those created through the scheme will be locally maintained, with the same freedoms as existing VA schools, including over their admissions. That means they will be able to give priority to admissions on the basis of faith for up to 100% of places. Last week, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, we announced the approval in principle of the bid for Hampton Waters Roman Catholic Primary School in Peterborough, which will address the need for places and meet demand from parents in the city. Consideration of two further bids has been placed on hold while we work with proposers to identify suitable sites for proposed VA schools.
The free schools programme has also helped to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. I have already mentioned Dixons Trinity Academy, a free school based in Bradford, and how its GCSE results place it among the top schools in England for the progress achieved by its pupils. However, the school is also one of the top-performing schools for disadvantaged pupil progress. Each of the other three free schools in the top 10 for progress also serves disadvantaged communities, demonstrating that high academic and behavioural standards are not, and must not be, the preserve of wealthy pupils alone.
Harris Westminster, a free school that opened in 2014 with close ties to Westminster School and that draws pupils from across London, with 40% of its pupils from a disadvantaged background, reports that 23 pupils were offered places to study at Oxbridge last year. That is another example showing that socioeconomic background need not be a barrier to academic excellence. I cannot, therefore, understand why the Labour party is so opposed to the prospect of more free schools.
Every child should be able to go to a good local school that suits their needs, whether that be a mainstream school with a specialism, alternative provision or a special school. To help achieve that ambition, we have opened 34 special and 45 alternative provision schools, and we have another 54 special and nine AP free schools due to open in the future. Furthermore, we are running competitions to find academy trusts to run an additional 37 special and two AP free schools across the country. That will bring the total number of special free schools to 125, boosting choice for parents and, crucially, providing specialist support and education for pupils with complex needs such as autism, severe learning difficulties or mental health conditions. We want these children, who are often already vulnerable and disadvantaged, to have a chance to reach their potential and live a fulfilled life.
We are not stopping there. Just last week we announced the approval of 22 mainstream free school applications in local authority areas identified as having the lowest educational attainment and in those that have not previously benefited from the free schools programme. That includes one from Northampton School for Boys, which will please my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer). Those schools will create over 19,000 new places, spread across 19 local authorities in every region. We are opening new schools in areas where there was a need to create more school places and largely in areas where there is low educational performance.
The announcement demonstrates that we continue to look for applications that have a new or innovative approach that would add value to the wider school system. That includes the Birmingham Ormiston Academy —an exciting new specialist college for 16 to 19-year-olds in central Birmingham that will offer a range of vocational and technical qualifications for students to enter television, film or theatre professions—and Shireland CBSO Music School in the Black Country, which will work with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to help young people from diverse backgrounds test their musical ability at an elite level.
In addition, we are working to open four new specialist maths schools with the Universities of Lancaster, Liverpool, Cambridge and Surrey. That builds on the success of the two existing maths schools, King’s College London Mathematics School and Exeter Maths School. In 2018, 99% of King’s College London Mathematics School mathematics students achieved an A or A* in A-level mathematics, and the school’s A-level maths progress score of 1.46 meant that pupils achieved on average a grade higher than similar students nationally. When I read out such results, it is difficult to maintain a calm voice and not to choke, given the intake of those schools. Again, I cannot understand why the Labour party, which is meant to be the champion of the least advantaged people in our community, cannot get behind the King’s College London Mathematics School, the Exeter Maths School and the other maths schools we are opening up and down the country.
We have also published application criteria for wave 14 of the free schools programme, which will again target areas that have both low educational standards and a need for additional school places. We will, of course, continue to look carefully at the free schools programme, along with all our priorities for the education system, in preparation for the next spending review.
I am enormously grateful for the support my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham has shown for free schools. They are playing an integral role in our education system and bringing high standards of education that pupils might not have otherwise received. We will continue to ensure that we have an education system that works for everybody, regardless of their background, giving them knowledge and skills that will set them up for life. Many important points have been raised, and I always welcome the opportunity to discuss the free schools programme and the range of benefits that free schools bring to the wider educational landscape.
Thank you for your chairmanship of today’s debate, Ms Buck. It has been rich, varied, useful and well-informed. The examples mentioned by the Minister in his closing remarks, from Cheltenham—my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) also mentioned that—to Liverpool, Northampton and Exeter, and the results from the King’s and Exeter maths schools, just show that the outcomes from free schools are simply brilliant. We need to celebrate those results, not try to undermine them for political gain. Those schools are contributing to our children’s lives, and we should be encouraging them, not hindering them.
I disagree with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and other Opposition Members. Their ideological objection to more freedoms for teachers, which have brought about improvements in life chances for many children, is unsurprising but, overall, saddening. I would have hoped that politics would be put aside when it came to doing what works for our children, so that they can do better in life.
The challenge the hon. Lady and the Opposition have is that, nine years on from the inception of this policy, the emerging evidence shows that free schools—I would obviously like to see more free schools established, and faster—produce good results, as set out extensively by the Minister, and that is especially true for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The evidence also shows that they are good value for money and are an asset to our communities.
Sadly, as the Minister said, if the Opposition were in charge, free schools would be scrapped. Schools such as Michaela and Europa School UK, which was spoken about passionately by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), where lives are being turned around, would not to possible. That is simply an indefensible and incomprehensible position for the Opposition, who are putting politics above our children’s lives.
Zoning in on the closures of free schools was misguided on the part of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. She failed to put that in context. Rates of free school closures are similar to wider rates of closure in the broader state sector. It is always disappointing when a school fails, whether it is local authority maintained, free, an academy or otherwise. Crucially, however, school improvement and turnaround can be swifter in free schools, thanks to early inspection and a greater ability to adapt to recommendations.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions today—I will not go into detail, because I want to wind up. Simply put, free schools change lives. They are from the community, and they are for the community—that is the beauty of these schools. They are demand-led, and they respond to local needs. If any Member were to visit many of them, they would see with their own eyes stories of transformation—children building their dreams and aspirations. We should be proud of that record, and it is why free schools should now move from success to scale.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the future of free schools.
[Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered A38 road improvements.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Lindsay. I am delighted to see so many hon. Friends here today to talk about the A38, which runs through their constituencies and mine. The A38, between Bodmin, Plymouth and Exeter, is one of the two arterial roads connecting Cornwall with the rest of the United Kingdom—indeed, it is the only trunk road. It provides that link to my constituency of South East Cornwall, from the Tamar bridge in the east to Bodmin Parkway railway station in the west. It also provides essential access to the rest of the mid, west and north Cornwall road network. The A38 is the spine of my constituency, too, as it links the communities that I represent, either directly or via minor link roads.
First designated in 1922, the A38 is the longest two-digit A road in England, at 292 miles long, running from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire to Bodmin in Cornwall, in the respective constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). It has a rich history, closely following the Roman and Saxon roads, and it acted as the main holiday route into Cornwall, Devon and Somerset before the opening of the M5 in the 1960s and 1970s.
[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]
In my constituency, the A38 first ran on the former route of the A389, now the A374, over the Torpoint ferry, which is still an essential transport link for my constituents. When the Tamar bridge was opened in 1961, the A38 was rerouted through the village of Tideford, which remains on the route today and experiences several challenges, as I will outline later. It provides a vital link between the towns of Saltash and Liskeard, and on to Bodmin, past the town of Dobwalls, which has been served by a much needed bypass for over a decade. The Minister might be aware that the latter is framed by two bat bridges and one bat house, which were built because the new road went through existing bat flight lines. Environmental impacts and supporting our ecology remain serious concerns. The A38 also passes Trago Mills, the hugely popular retailer and local employer in Glynn Valley.
The A38 is vital for South East Cornwall’s economy, our communities, businesses, emergency and other public services, and all those who want access to them, or who visit and stay in my constituency. However, it is simply not fit for purpose, given the huge increase in use in recent decades. The Cornwall chamber of commerce has said that the A38 is so unreliable in my constituency that it deters new business and investment locally, and hinders prosperity and growth. The chamber is at the sharp end and knows the importance of improving the route. That is why I am delighted to have secured this debate, to continue our campaign to obtain vital investment in the A38, throughout South East Cornwall and beyond, through current and future road investment strategy periods.
I thank my hon. Friend for calling this debate. As she mentioned, the longest A road in the country starts in my constituency of Mansfield. What she has said about her constituency rings true for mine, too. It is our main link to the M1, but it has real challenges: it is not fit for purpose, it is congested and it is full of accidents. Does she agree that, because of the length of the road and its importance to so many constituencies, investment and improvement along the whole length of the A38 would give a big boost to our economy?
I completely agree. My hon. Friend might like to take note of what we did in the south-west with regard to this road by working together on a cross-party basis with local authorities. That might be a model that he could take forward.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, my constituency neighbour, for calling this debate, because this is a cross-party campaign, which is really important. She has been a doughty champion for it. Does she agree that this shows what can be done when our region works together, with MPs from all political parties and councils of different political hues, all putting aside their differences in support of this vital and much needed road investment?
Later, I will thank all of the people who have helped, but I must say that I am really grateful for the interaction that we have had with and the input from Plymouth City Council, both before the last election and since; both administrations were very supportive of our getting something done on this road.
I wish to put on the record our thanks to all of our partners, who are providing a powerful collective voice on the need for investment and improvement, including councils and councillors from across Cornwall and Devon, local enterprise partnerships, chambers of commerce, community road safety campaigners and my fellow parliamentarians from across Cornwall and Devon. Their work has enabled a compelling proposal—the A38 case for action—to be produced, which I and colleagues presented to the Secretary of State for Transport last July.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; she has been a doughty champion of the A38 case for action. Does she agree that the changes that need to be made to Bodmin Parkway station will particularly benefit our constituents and will boost the local rural economy in the way we would like to see?
I completely agree. At the moment, the entrance to Bodmin Parkway railway station prevents many people from using that vital rail link, and I agree with Cornwall Council and my hon. Friend that it urgently needs significant improvement.
The A38 in South East Cornwall has several challenges, some of which are shared with the city of Plymouth and with the Plymouth to Exeter routes. I refer to the Devon section of the A38 case for action document, as many of my constituents commute to Plymouth and beyond, for work, travel, hospital visits, regular shopping trips and leisure. Investment is crucial right along the route from Bodmin to Exeter.
The very poor accident record on the stretch of the A38 in my constituency is tragic and it must be addressed; the accident rate is nearly three times higher than the national average. In the last few years, there have been serious and even fatal accidents at Stoketon Cross, Landrake, Tideford, Trerulefoot, Menheniot and in the Glynn valley. My heart goes out to those affected, but I appreciate that what is needed is not words, but action to prevent future tragedies.
Volumes of traffic are high across the whole of the Bodmin to Exeter section of the A38. Between Bodmin and Saltash alone, there is a cumulative average daily traffic flow of more than 60,000 vehicles. Recently, I conducted a survey about traffic congestion and problems with access at peak times from side roads in Carkeel, and it had a huge response, which demonstrates how concerned my constituents are about the future viability of the A38. There are over a dozen access roads between Carkeel and Trerulefoot, with huge traffic flows that make it incredibly difficult—even dangerous—to join the A38. That is repeated along the whole of the road between Plymouth and Bodmin, and it is a constant danger in the Glynn valley, where roads wind and there is poor visibility.
It is also important that I highlight the lack of alternative roads or other transport modes, particularly given the resilience issues with the main railway line at Dawlish. There are only three significant alternatives: the Torpoint ferry; a single-lane 16th century bridge at Gunnislake; or a very long detour to the A30 in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). However, all three are not practical alternatives, due to limited capacity and the travelling distance involved.
Across my constituency, the road is of variable standard, with changing speed limits. There is a mixture of single-carriage sections, multiple side-road junctions, direct access roads, dual carriageways with central reserve crossings, such as that for Looe, and the severance of local communities, including Landrake and Tideford. It makes for unreliable, congested and unsafe journeys, and a general feeling of frustration among my constituents.
In addition to the severance of local communities, there is also the significant impact of poor air quality. The A38 is subject to a high level of unplanned closures, which results in poor journey time reliability when compared with that of the A30 in north Cornwall. Over the last five years, the A38 has had 1,100 more unplanned closures than the A30. That figure is not acceptable, given how many people rely on the A38 to conduct their daily lives.
The A38 case for action document clearly states the desired outcomes for our communities between now and the end of road investment strategy 3, which is 2030. However, my ask on behalf of my constituents is for the earliest possible investment. We want the highest level of safety possible, by reducing accident rates and removing accident black spots; we want air quality to be improved; we want communities to be reconnected, by reducing the impact of severance; and we want to ensure that the A38 can support planned growth, including in tourist numbers and for major events, such as Mayflower 2020, by fully utilising technology to reduce journey times, increase reliability and strengthen resilience.
We also want to encourage increased use of rail for commuting, by improving access to park and ride schemes; Bodmin Parkway station has already been mentioned, but I will also mention Menheniot station. For South East Cornwall, that means we need specific speed and safety improvements as soon as possible, including overtaking lanes, side-road junctions, speed cameras and pedestrian crossing facilities. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will hear my plea and be able to respond positively.
In the medium term—so, within RIS2, which is 2020-25 —I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider making a substantial commitment to improve the Menheniot /Lean Quarry junction, and to link that with work to develop park and ride facilities at Menheniot station, in order to encourage more commuting by rail. This would be a significant investment, estimated to be over £14 million. However, it would also make use of the newly improved railway station in the constituency of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard).
In the long term—so, within RIS3, which goes beyond 2025—a full upgrade of the A38 from Trerulefoot to Saltash is a priority, including dualling of the road. Of course, we would like this work to happen sooner, if possible.
The A38 case for action document shows that nearly £900 million of productivity growth and investment would be gained by improving the A38 between Bodmin and Exeter. Such an improvement would be a major opportunity for sustainable economic growth, with 52,000 additional jobs and 52,000 homes being planned by 2034, and it would also be an opportunity to strengthen the resilience of the wider transport network. However, the benefits to our respective communities would be so much greater—an improved environment, better air quality, more efficient road travel, less congestion, more jobs and, most importantly, a reduction in the number of road deaths and serious injuries. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider my points and the A38 case for action document carefully and positively. The proposals and outcomes set out in that document are compelling, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
Before I call the Minister to respond, I will just apologise, both to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and the Minister, for my late arrival.
It is a pleasure to appear before you, Ms Buck.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on securing this debate about improvements to the A38, which is a very important road. If I may say so, she is a passionate advocate for her constituency, and my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), as well as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), are—by their very presence here today—speaking to their concerns and speaking in the interests of their constituents.
We all know that the A38 is a remarkable road, weaving, as it does, through the country from Bodmin in Cornwall, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year when I was the Minister with responsibility for tourism, to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. At nearly 300 miles—292 miles, to be precise—it is the longest A road that is entirely in England. Once upon a time, it was thought of as a country lane; it was called the longest country lane in England. However, it plays a really important role for communities up and down the country.
In the south-west of England, which is our focus today, the A38 and the A30 are the two principal routes, taking traffic through Devon and Cornwall, to and from the M5 and its connections to the midlands—my part of the world—and beyond. Through the two counties of Devon and Cornwall, both roads are part of the strategic road network that comprises England’s motorways and main A roads, managed by Highways England. Those roads will be familiar to many Members of this House as routes to popular holiday destinations; my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall is not short of popular holiday destinations in her constituency, and I recommend that anyone who is listening visits them.
Although tourism is a vital industry for the region, the A38 also has a strategic day-to-day role for local people and businesses, especially those in and around Britain’s ocean city, Plymouth. My hon. Friend has emphasised the importance of that road, and has rightly highlighted some of the problems that it faces, including safety and congestion. She has also drawn attention to the case for action on improving the A38, prepared by local authorities and local enterprise partnerships and backed by several local Members of Parliament. I know that my Secretary of State was pleased to receive that case for action when he visited the area last year to see it and its roads for himself, and I understand that he further discussed the contents of the case for action in October at a meeting with local stakeholders, organised by my hon. Friend. I congratulate her on having secured that meeting.
I will now explain how we are considering that case for action and other requests that we have received for improvements to the strategic road network. The Government take a long-term approach to investment in the SRN through the setting of periodic road investment strategies. Those strategies set out the Government’s strategic vision for the SRN and specify what Highways England must deliver in terms of road enhancements and day-to-day performance.
The first road investment strategy was launched in 2015 under this Government, providing over £15 billion of investment in the strategic roads network between 2015 and 2021—a lot of investment, and rightly so. Highways England is making good progress on delivering that plan: some 29 schemes have already opened for traffic, including the dualling of the A30 between Temple and Higher Carblake in Cornwall, which cost £56 million alone. That improvement is expected to bring more than £134 million into the Cornish economy each year, encouraging economic growth, business expansion and the development of housing and tourism. The next stage, which is dualling the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton, is currently before the planning inspector. If it is approved, construction would start within the next 12 months.
For the A38, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, £3.6 million has been spent to address safety and structural issues on the section through Glynn Valley between Dobwalls and Bodmin. That work has helped to deliver safer and more reliable journeys for road users. Safety is one of my Department’s highest priorities and is certainly my highest priority, given my responsibilities as Roads Minister. Looking ahead, I understand that my hon. Friend will be meeting Highways England again in July to discuss potential improvements to the Carkeel roundabout, and I wish her well in that meeting. Further along the A38 in Devon, a safety improvements scheme will soon be implemented at A38 Harcombe Bends between Chudleigh and Exeter, which will involve installing reflective road markings and improved warning signs. It follows work at Wrangaton, completed a couple of months ago in March this year, which addressed a flooding hotspot that risked the safety of road users.
I have talked about the first road investment strategy and the money that has gone into my hon. Friend’s area, but that is just the start of our roads reform. She will be pleased to hear that we are now working to develop the second strategy, which we call RIS2—our Department’s fondness for acronyms is legendary. Part 2 of the road investment strategy will govern investment in the strategic road network between 2020 and 2025, so there is more investment to come with RIS2. That investment will be funded through the national roads fund, which will match all the money spent by taxpayers on vehicle excise duty in England for investment in our most strategically important roads.
In the 2018 Budget, the Government announced their intention that, of the £28.8 billion expected for the national roads fund between 2020 and 2025, no less than £25.3 billion would be made available for RIS2. The remaining £3.5 billion will be used to help fund enhancement schemes on the most important roads managed by local highway authorities. That funding must first meet the costs of Highway England’s operation of the SRN—the essential task of maintenance and renewals work—and complete the RIS1 commitments. Once those are covered, it can then deliver the new enhancement schemes, for which £3.5 billion will be available.
To inform decision making about how to use that funding, my Department and Highways England have gathered a substantial amount of evidence through three years of research and public consultation. The A38 case for action has been a helpful contribution to that evidence base; local knowledge, local insight, and the views of local Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall are invaluable as we at the Department for Transport seek to develop an investment plan that is affordable and deliverable. We have received a large number of proposals for RIS2 through that process.
Competition for the available funding is, of course, very strong, and we are considering all the proposals carefully, with some key aims for RIS2 firmly in mind. Better meeting the needs of road users and the neighbours of the network is a key aim, including addressing safety and congestion issues. Supporting housing is another key aim, as is supporting balanced economic growth and productivity in an area and enabling seamless integrated journeys across transport modes—where they link with rail, ports and so on. We expect to publish RIS2 towards the end of this year—a few months hence. That will not be the end of the story; we will continue to work through the coming years to deliver a better road network that meets the needs of road users and the country at large.
The case that the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has made will save lives if we get the investment in her constituency that is needed. If we get the investment we need at the Manadon roundabout in Plymouth, it will open up huge amounts of our city for the job creation that I know the Minister is keen on. I would be grateful if, during that funding period, he looked favourably on both the schemes in Cornwall and those in Plymouth.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. As he knows—we have worked together in other areas—I will give the matter the very careful consideration that I know it deserves. I share the appreciation that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and all colleagues have for the strategic importance of the A38, both for the south-west generally and for those people in my hon. Friend’s constituency and neighbouring constituencies who depend on it day to day. Safety is the paramount priority, but the economy is also very important in all of these considerations,
I thank my hon. Friend for the sterling efforts that she has made on behalf of her constituents to promote the case for further improvements to the A38 during the development of RIS2. I wish her well in making progress.
Question put and agreed to.
Modern Slavery Act: Independent Review
[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank the secretariat of our inquiry, who were superb. I want to make a brief comment about the importance of this topic to me—it is terrific that so many Members want to intervene or make a speech, because that shows a growing interest in the issue in the House of Commons, which is good.
Two things over my parliamentary lifetime have knocked me sideways: one has been the extent of hunger and destitution in my constituency; the other was the beginning of the work on modern slavery. I find it impossible to describe the horrors that people try to convey to us about the experience of being enslaved in this country, in this year and at this time. That is partly because one does not want to break down speaking in this debate. I know everyone will bear in mind the background of those individuals.
My Pauline conversion came when I was sent off and told to do a press conference for the Centre for Social Justice report on modern slavery, “It Happens Here”. I was horrified and amazed by the information—the data and case studies—that the CSJ brought together. There was a huge gathering of organisations for the launch of the report. We agreed at that meeting that we should lobby hard for a modern slavery Act. It was after a summer’s work of lobbying that the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister, decided we would have a Bill. She thought we should have a scoping exercise about what that Bill should contain. She then used her influence to allow us to have a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the draft Bill. We then had a Bill.
For all that we now want to move on from the legislation, that initiative was a real success for the Prime Minister. This was the first modern slavery Act in the world. It included supply chains, although the measures to act on them were pretty feeble. However, once something is in legislation, the requirements can always be pushed up. There was also some help for victims, and I am sure many Members will talk about the adequacies.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Does he welcome the work of Northern College in Barnsley, which has set up the “Free Thinking” programme, the first of its kind to provide education opportunities specifically for survivors of modern slavery? Does he agree that the Government should look at ways in which we can roll that out across the country?
I do indeed. I had the real pleasure of meeting, with my hon. Friend, a delegation that came down from the college, and I saw the work it is doing. Clearly, if we are to get a breakthrough on the lack of knowledge about what is happening in this country, courses like that will and should play a crucial part. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 signified a breakthrough.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate. We can never have such debates too often, and we certainly welcome any initiatives that deal with modern-day slavery. I am sure he will remember the gangmaster issue in Morecambe, probably 10 or 15 years ago, when Chinese people were being used in a form of modern-day slavery. We are getting more and more instances where individuals are being locked in property—
Order. I know this is a hugely interesting debate in which lots of people will want to take part, but I ask for interventions to be brief, because Mr Field has a lot of colleagues to bring in.
I do agree with my hon. Friend. The scope and work of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority are clearly important, as he said, in countering modern slavery.
The 2015 Act was a breakthrough, and there have been successes from it. The number of police investigations moved from 188 in 2016 to 1,370 in April 2019. There has been a doubling in the number of people thought to be victims—up to now, it is 7,000. The composition of that total has also changed; the proportion of children and UK nationals has increased.
We can talk, quite properly, about those things being successes, but, despite that, the Prime Minister was not satisfied we had got the 2015 Act right. She therefore asked the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and me to undertake a review. As always, when the Government act, they want a review by Christmas, although we were not much in session before the summer break. We picked up four themes that we would look at: the anti-slavery commissioner; giving greater importance to supply chains; the role of advocates for children involved in trafficking; and the legal working of the Act.
We made an innovation in how we would undertake our work. It would have been impossible to do a detailed inquiry without the work of the separate commissions that we established, which reported to the right hon. Lady, Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and me. I put on record our thanks to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) co-ordinated the parliamentary front and looked at what Parliament thought about the Act. Bishop Redfern looked at what the faith groups saw their role as. Baroness Young and John Studzinski looked at business. Anthony Steen led the discussions on civil society with the very large number of voluntary organisations that are concerned with slavery. Christian Guy looked at the Commonwealth and the international scene. Professor Ravi Kohli looked at child trafficking. Peter Carter QC and Caroline Haughey QC looked at the criminal justice system. They all went away and did that work, and then came back to the three of us who were in charge of the inquiry. Without their work, we could not have achieved what we did in submitting the report to the Home Secretary on time.
There were 80 recommendations, and the Chamber will understand that I will not dwell on those, although I want to emphasise a couple. One is on the lack of data. It is appalling that we collect no data whatever on what happens to those who enter the national referral mechanism for safety—they are mainly women, but some are men—once that period of safety ends. Most of our forebears would have been scandalised if they had allowed an Act to continue with that lack of data collection.
We had views about the independent slavery commissioner, which the Government, for their own reasons, disregarded. However, we thought it was important to realise that, all the time, there is this great conflict in the Department between its wish to bear down as effectively as possible on those merchants of evil—the slave owners—and its responsibility for immigration. We therefore thought that the Home Office’s modern slavery unit—happily, a unit was established—should actually go to the Cabinet Office. We also have views about the supply chains, and we are anxious that some of the money that we should get off these undesirable individuals under the proposals in the Act actually goes to the victims. That is therefore part of the agenda for today’s debate.
We have parliamentary groups, and the right hon. Member for Basingstoke will talk about other ways in which our report will be followed up. I hope that the Home Office, Parliament, the slave owners and those we wish to rescue from slavery will be convinced that today is another example of our wish to be more effective in countering this wickedness that we see in this country and abroad.
Order. Given the number of Members who wish to speak, there will be a six-minute time limit from the very start. I call John Howell.
Thank you, Mrs Main; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I will raise the situation of modern slavery in Nigeria, which the team should look at as an example of how the Modern Slavery Act is working. The attack on modern slavery is an international phenomenon, and we lead the world in setting the standards.
I mention Nigeria because I am the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, so I happen to know the country and what is going on there very well. As a bit of background, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. By the middle of the decade, it will have in the region of 400 million people. It also has the largest number of people in modern slavery in Africa. Examples include women who are tricked into migrating for non-existent jobs and then left to work in brothels or forced to work for no wages and with no legal immigration status whatever.
It is not just women who are affected; the number of children affected is enormous. Some are forced to work as street vendors or beggars. Boys are forced to work in mines, stone quarries and domestic service. Nigeria has just under 1 million people who are trapped in modern slavery. It is an enormous number, which accounts for around 17% of the people trapped in modern slavery in Africa, where the total figure comes to around 7 million or 8 million people. That is an enormous number; we are not even the tip of the iceberg in this country.
The Nigerian Government like what they see in what we do. We are helping to tackle the problem of modern slavery by using the Department for International Development budget in a number of ways. For example, the work with non-governmental organisations uses victims who have been rescued from modern slavery as good examples. Those victims talk to people about how evil it is and about how they can avoid getting trapped in it. That is such a powerful way of getting the message across, because those victims have actually suffered as a result of modern slavery, and such outreach goes down extremely well.
The British Government have taken a stance, putting about £16 million into Nigeria to help with this issue. That provides a number of bits of background. It is particularly concentrated in a place called Edo State, which sits at the crossroads of the people traffickers. I could go on and on about the people traffickers, but I will not.
On my last visit to Nigeria, I took a brief to tackle modern slavery with the Nigerian Government, and one of the companies I went to see was Unilever. Unilever acts in a number of sectors where one would expect modern slavery to exist—broadly, in the agricultural sector. I had a long chat with its representatives and saw the NGOs they were working with. It was a fantastic experience, because Unilever in Nigeria has eliminated modern slavery from not just its own activities but its entire supply chain. That has taken a big effort, so is worth looking at that as an example of how to go about things.
One of the great joys for me was talking to the NGOs that work in this area and that have helped to eradicate modern slavery. They, too, used people who had suffered to get the message across, which is a brilliant thing to have done. When I go back, I hope I will be able to capitalise on that. I hope Unilever’s example has spread, because the company found not only that eradicating modern slavery was a great thing to do, but that being able to tell people that it no longer carried on in that way gave it an enormous competitive advantage in the marketplace.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I declare my interest in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) on securing the debate, and on his report with the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and Baroness Butler-Sloss in the Lords.
I know that the Minister is committed to doing all that she can on this issue, so my remarks are really a challenge to us as an institution, and as a Parliament, rather than a criticism. We all want to end slavery and trafficking; that goes without saying. However, we have an opportunity to ask how we can wake the system up a bit, and make it go a bit faster. I was in Government, and it is a great source of frustration for me that some of the sensible amendments that the Government have started to accept were tabled in 2015. They should have been adopted then, and the Government are now adopting them four years later.
We all understand why people outside sometimes get frustrated. In a sense, that fuels populism, because people ask, “Why doesn’t the system get a move on?” Everybody knows that it is a problem. I say to the Minister that this is a real opportunity to get hold of this issue, and say that not only will we be outraged, frustrated and angered by it, but we will drive the system much more quickly than at present to work in a way that makes a real difference.
A difference has been made, of course, but let us look at what the report says. In the limited time that I have, I will make a couple of points in each area. Businesses are still not really conforming to the transparency arrangements, which I know the Prime Minister has made a statement about. I say to the businesses of this country that surely every managing director or board of directors deplores slavery, and I challenge them to put their own houses in order—to use their massive purchasing power to invest in companies, businesses and supply chains that conform to the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act.
My hon. Friend is making a passionate and well-informed speech. Will he join me in paying tribute to the brilliant businesses around the country who understand the agenda and are trying to do their best about it, such as the Co-operative Group, which has brought in a project called Bright Future that guarantees a job placement for anyone who is a victim of modern slavery?
Yet again, the co-op movement shows the rest of us what can be done. I use this debate to challenge businesses to get their act together—to stop just talking and to show the rest of the country in their investment decisions that they mean what they say. One of the suggestions in the report is more transparency. I know the Minister will address that, and the Prime Minister has already started to address that, which is good.
We come to independent child trafficking advocates. That has to be rolled out much more quickly and has to include not only trafficked children, but unaccompanied children, which is a demand of many of the non-governmental bodies. People would be shocked—I know the Minister is—that we save children, and then we lose them. How can that be right? How can it be right that we take children from the traffickers and put them into the care of the state, and then we lose them, and not just for a short period of time? According to the 2017 report from Every Child Protected Against Trafficking and Missing People, 190 of them have gone and we have no idea where they are. That simply is not acceptable. We have to do better.
The report laid out that the role of the commissioner is a challenge for the Government. The commissioner has to be independent. Governments hate that—I know that from my time in Government. They say they love it, but they hate it, because as soon as the commissioner brings out a report that says the Government need to be doing better, the Government usually row back—although I know the Minister will not do this—and say, “If only the commissioner understood the parameters in which we operate.” That is why the suggestion in the report that the commissioner should be moved into the Cabinet Office rather than the host Department might be a way forward.
It is really important that some of the legal applications are clarified, particularly in terms of what we mean by trafficking and modern slavery, and the relevance to the Palermo protocols and so on. There is a job of work to be done there.
I want to labour one point with the Minister, which completely and utterly bedevils the system, and it bedevils me—I find it intolerable. The Government must reconcile the needs of victims with the immigration system. Somebody can be found to have conclusive grounds for being a victim of modern slavery or trafficking, and yet they end up with no immigration status at all. The Home Office even looks to send home some of the people in that situation. I know the Home Office will say that it will look at this, and that the processes will all be done very carefully, and so on and so forth. I say again to the Minister, all power to her elbow when she points out to the immigration department of the Home Office that these people are victims of the most heinous crimes and should be guaranteed some security of residence in this country, over and above what they are given at present. It simply is not good enough.
I finish where I started. This is a real opportunity. It is a positive report that reflects the good work that the Government and the whole of the House of Commons have done, and it says to the British people that we know more needs to be done, and we are going to do it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. It is also a great pleasure to speak in this debate, after having the privilege of working with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss from the other place. I am a newcomer to the issue of modern-day slavery and I have learned so much from the right hon. Gentleman. The report will add much to the work that needs to be done, which the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has talked about.
Modern-day slavery is a human tragedy that is still happening in our communities today—we have to acknowledge that if we are going to move forward. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done more than anybody in raising this issue in the last decade, in this place and outside, but there is still so much more to be done. She made a very powerful speech at the International Labour Organisation just a few days ago, reminding us of the progress that has been made. The UK has led on this issue over the last decade, and that work has led to 90 Governments endorsing the call to action on modern slavery, which the Prime Minister launched in 2017.
Although we have done more than almost any other country in the world, and have some of the best legislation, it is important that we recognise that more needs to be done. In her speech, the Prime Minister recognised that, and in my remarks, I want to pick up that theme of raising awareness. The Prime Minister said—this is very important—that “ordinary shoppers” can
“vote with their wallets, to shun those companies that do not make the ethical grade.”
I was delighted to see in her speech that the Prime Minister is committing to one of the things that our report called for—a new registry of modern-day slavery transparency statements, to make it easier for the people we represent to be aware of what companies are doing and how they are taking the need to stamp out this appalling abuse seriously.
We need to go further than that, and awareness is of paramount importance. The hon. Member for Gedling says that everyone knows this is a problem, and we do here, but I am not sure whether it is quite as salient out in the communities as he and I would want it to be. I urge the Minister to consider the work of individuals such as Dr Rosie Riley, who has set up VITA—Victim Identification and Trafficking Awareness—which works in the NHS to ensure that victims and survivors get the help they need at the frontline from people working in emergency departments. The Minister needs to go even further and make sure that we are doing everything we can to make our constituents aware of modern-day slavery. I pay tribute to the work of the Church, which has developed an amazing app on car washes.
We need to go further, and that has to be an important focus of the new commissioner. I will come to that in a moment. It is important that businesses will be under more pressure to publish statements of compliance, but we need to make sure that those statements are properly scrutinised. Our report recommends that that role is taken on by the commissioner, so that the statements do not just become lip service.
I believe that the commissioner’s role needs to have at its core raising awareness of the issue of modern-day slavery in our communities, up and down the country. We must also make sure that the role is independent from the Government. The Minister will be aware of the comments of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which I chaired, about the slightly haphazard way in which commissioners are being set up. I hope the Minister will listen to the comments in this report and from that Committee, and make sure that we have some proper consistency in the way commissioner roles are dealt with in the future.
I want to raise one thing that is not in the report—I hope that is allowable, Mrs Main. One of the things we wanted to look at, but were not able to because of the terms of reference, was the issue of prostitution. There is strong evidence—much of which was brought forward by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion)—of the very close relationship between modern-day slavery and prostitution. We in the UK need to look carefully at our laws, which are potentially acting as a magnet for those who want an easier place to operate as traffickers of people who they want to sexually exploit. I hope the Minister will be able to comment on that.
In the foreword to our report, we talked about setting up an implementation group to hold the Government to account. The Minister knows me and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead well enough to know that we will do exactly that, and that her feet will be firmly held to the fire—not only on implementing the things to which I know the Government are committed, but on ensuring they look very carefully at all the recommendations in the report. Modern-day slavery is a human tragedy, and we cannot allow it to continue or get worse on our watch.
It is a pleasure to be called in this debate. First of all, it would be remiss of me not to thank the right hon. Members for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and Baroness Butler-Sloss for the incredibly hard work that they individually and collectively put in to ensure that the report came together. Looking at the hours, days and weeks that were spent on the report, I am in awe of those three and others. The report is clear, concise and yet still shocking, and the facts cannot be ignored.
I was an advocate for the Modern Slavery Act 2015, having seen my noble Friend and colleague Lord Morrow. I am sure the Minister is aware of this, but I want to remind the House very gently. He broke ground in the other place with the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. It is my belief that it paved the way for the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I stand by my decision to speak up for people in situations that prevented them from helping themselves. I believe this is the very core of what we do in the life that we have chosen and been given the opportunity to serve in.
The right hon. Member for Basingstoke referred to sexual exploitation, an issue that was addressed emphatically in the Act that Lord Morrow brought forward for Northern Ireland. I was the sponsor of its presentation to the House. The event was well attended by Members of different parties and of the House of Lords—I think that encapsulated the interest. However, it is time to revisit the legislation, as all good legislators must—that is what the debate is about—and see its impact on the problem. The report reminds us gently, but firmly and concisely, that although the Act was certainly groundbreaking, new ways of trafficking and slavery circumvent the Act. We must therefore change the Act and the legislation to ensure that we can help people who need protection and assistance, and that those who are guilty of modern slavery are made accountable.
I loved the report’s use of the phrase, “give teeth to legislation.” We often use it in the House on different occasions. We should give teeth to the legislation to stop people exposing loopholes and continuing to exploit people. I support that wholeheartedly, and commend the right hon. Members again. I was horrified to read that:
“The number of potential victims identified in the UK each year has more than doubled”—
these figures are horrific—
“from 3266 in 2015 to 6993 in 2018.”
Right hon. Members have referred to the fact that:
“The proportion of children identified has increased during the same period from 30% to nearly 45%”—
that should shock us to our very core, and it underlines the need to act on the report as soon as possible—
“in large part due to the rise in cases of county lines and other forms of criminal exploitation.”
Perhaps the most shocking thing in the report is that:
“UK nationals now represent by far the highest proportion of potential victims identified at almost a quarter of all those recorded, while in 2015 they were only the fifth most represented nationality behind Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria and Romania”—
the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) mentioned Nigeria—
“This is again due to the rising number of children identified as being involved in county lines, most of whom are UK nationals.”
Sex slaves and migrant workers are promised jobs and come to the UK, but that all changes when they get here. I believe we need a victim support scheme. I know the Minister has referred to that in previous answers to questions, and perhaps she could mention the scheme in her response.
I wholeheartedly agree with the authors of the report that too few convictions have been handed down for the new offences prosecuted under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and that too few slavery and trafficking prevention and risk orders are in place to restrict offender activity. We need to tighten up and do better. So how do we add teeth to the legislation? The report is incredibly clear, so I will not simply rehash the recommendations. I seek merely to highlight a couple.
There is the issue of a more appropriately allocated budget for the commissioner, and the message that this is not a board set up on a whim, but an intrinsic part of what we do in this place—protect people and look after them. It is the first step to take. We need sentences to fit the crimes of forced labour and sexual and physical abuse. That must be followed by ensuring that businesses with an annual turnover of over £36 million do not simply have an obligation to state that they did not take any steps, and they must begin to demonstrate exactly what their approach is to ensuring that no member of the workforce is coerced or made a victim. It cannot be acceptable that we do not do that—the six-step guidance in the report should be mandatory for big business in the same way as basic health and safety steps. Another absolutely essential obligation is the complete fulfilment of section 48 and the need for independent child trafficking advocates. This must be done urgently—the funding must be found and the training put in place for the other two thirds of council authority areas.
Time is not on anyone’s side in such debates, because there is so much to say and comment on. I give my sincere thanks to everyone involved. I also pledge to do what I can to make the recommendations become reality, so that the shocking numbers highlighted in the report become a part of our history. As we move forward, we can give hope to people who need it. Our job is to support them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) on securing the debate, and on the work that he has done, alongside my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), in getting such a fantastic report published. I thank everybody else who was involved, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for her dedication to starting to rid our nation of the evil practice of modern slavery when she was Home Secretary. She led the way, not just nationally but globally, through the legislation that she introduced.
I first took an interest in modern slavery when I was first elected, because I heard the Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfearn, speak about it. As a Derbyshire MP, it had a huge impact on me, so I have been following it ever since. Baroness Young, who was also involved in the report, introduced a private Member’s Bill, the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill, in the other place in 2016 and asked me to take it through this place in 2017. It was designed to strengthen the transparency in supply chains and introduce the legislation to cover the public sector. Sadly, I did not get the Bill very far at that stage. At the time, the Minister reassured me that the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was just the start. We see today that those words were true, but it is still going far too slowly.
A lot of my constituents will think that modern slavery is about the sex trade and prostitution, but we all know it is more than just that. It is the nail bars and carwashes—my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke mentioned that we now have an app where that can be reported, which is really good. I do not like washing my car, so I take it to a carwash, but I look so carefully at the people who work there, to reassure myself that I am not adding to the modern-slavery supply chain.
Modern slavery also applies to manufacturing. Once again, this issue has been quite close to home, because an agency supplier to Sports Direct was employing slaves. Some fantastic work was carried out by the Nottinghamshire police, resulting in convictions. So we need to tighten up transparency in the supply chain because we never know where we will find modern slavery.
My interest has never gone away. In fact, to promote this debate and to get it on the radar, I asked the Prime Minister a question earlier today. I was reassured because she said that the Government would,
“shortly be publishing a consultation to look at ways to strengthen transparency in the supply chains, and...expanding transparency laws to cover the public sector and its purchasing power.”
As we know, the purchasing power of the public sector is huge. The word that concerned me was “consultation”, and we need action. We could see the report as a consultation and we need to speed things up. We cannot keep having consultation after consultation. We need action to make things happen.
Before I came into this debate today, I was at an event called “Send My Friend to School”, which is about making sure that the sustainable development goals include funding for education. If we get education right, we can give kids a future. Giving kids a future as they grow up is another way of eliminating modern slavery. We need to work across Government to make sure that whatever public money is available is spent on making sure that our supply chains are transparent and free from modern slavery, and we also need to spend public money in the right place overseas to make sure that modern slavery does not happen in the first place.
I look forward to the Minister’s response. I feel that step by step we are getting there, and that my private Member’s Bill, which I tried to introduce in 2017, played a small part in getting us to where we are today. I know there are people in this room who have played a much bigger part, and I thank them for that.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) on securing this debate, on his long commitment to this topic and on the difference that he has made. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), Baroness Butler-Sloss and the review team on the work that they have done on the report. They are tirelessly trying to make the changes that we so desperately need to see in this country.
I speak as chair of the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade. Currently, the Modern Slavery Act does not recognise the gendered nature of slavery and does not do enough to effectively tackle trafficking and modern slavery for sexual exploitation. The APPG was concerned that the terms of reference for the independent review were too narrow in scope as they did not allow the review team to explore the links between the laws regarding prostitution and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. That is why I welcome the commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead in the foreword of the report to undertake,
“a scoping review into laws surrounding prostitution in England and Wales and the extent to which they help or hinder police action against trafficking for sexual exploitation.”
I am grateful that the right hon. Member for Basingstoke has reiterated that commitment here today. I know the modern slavery review team are passionate about getting that aspect out into the public domain.
Trafficking and coercion of individuals into the prostitution trade is one of the two most prevalent forms of modern slavery in the UK, and it disproportionately impacts on women. In 2018, 1,192 adult women were referred to the national referral mechanism for sexual exploitation. Only 269 were referred for being potential victims of labour exploitation. Police figures submitted to the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade in 2018 indicate the scale of sexual exploitation in this country. Between January 2016 and January 2018, Leicestershire police visited 156 brothels, encountering 421 women, 86% of whom were from Romania. Northumbria police visited 81 brothels between March 2016 and April 2018. Of the 259 women they encountered, 75% were from Romania. More than half of those brothels were recorded by police as being connected to other brothels, agencies or non-UK organised crime groups. Modern slavery for sexual exploitation is happening right here in the UK on an industrial scale. The impact on victims is devastating.
Research by the European Commission shows that victims experience sexual brutality that causes serious damage to health and wellbeing; vaginal injuries that lead to sexually transmitted infections and HIV; and high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Victims live in fear of reprisals if they try to escape. The rates of re-trafficking of those who manage to exit are high. Evidence from the POPPY project revealed that victims were exploited for an average of eight to 20 months before they could get out. Most women were exploited every single day of the week, seeing on average 13 sex buyers a day. We can therefore extrapolate that the average victim can be raped anywhere from 2,798 to 6,828 times. It is slavery through prostitution in the UK, and it is happening on our watch.
The basic principles of supply and demand underpin the phenomenon of trafficking and modern slavery for sexual exploitation. Without demand from sex buyers, there would be no supply of women and girls through sexual exploitation. Demand for paid sex is context-dependent, and one factor that influences the higher level of demand is the legality of prostitution. Legality has been found to contribute to normalisation, which in turn contributes to demand. In short, trafficking and modern slavery is larger in countries where prostitution is legal.
Demand reduction legislation was first introduced in Sweden in 1999. Research there has revealed that demand for prostitution has significantly decreased since Sweden criminalised paying for sex. At present the Modern Slavery Act does not seek or function to suppress the demand from a minority of men who pay for sex—the very demand that drives and funds trafficking and modern slavery for sexual exploitation. Since our Modern Slavery Act came into force, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and France have all criminalised paying for sex in order to combat demand for sexual exploitation, while removing the criminal sanctions that penalise victims. Demand reduction legislation is also in place in Norway, Iceland and Ireland, which means that England, Wales and Scotland now have substantially more sex-buyer-friendly laws than many of our surrounding countries, making us an attractive destination for sex traffickers.
Prostitution laws should be urgently updated to reduce demand for sexual exploitation by criminalising the purchase of sex, while removing all criminal sanctions applied to victims of sexual exploitation and supporting them to exit. That is the key way to tackle modern slavery of women in the UK. Once again, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead for securing this debate, and I look forward to working with the independent review team as they explore the links between prostitution laws and preventing modern slavery.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Main. I commend the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) on securing this debate, on his tireless work in this area, on his efforts to expedite a review—I remember that it was not necessarily going to happen—and on the excellent review that flowed from that. Of course, I should not miss out of my compliments Baroness Butler-Sloss and the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), as reviewers, and two of my very good pals in this place, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and Baroness Young, who provided expert advice. Looking down the list of contributors, I feel we should give those guys more difficult problems, because it was a very strong team—I cannot imagine there is much that their collective wits and experience could not tackle. The report really is a terrific bit of work.
The slavery of another human being is a cruel and unthinkable crime. We talk in terms of modern slavery, but, in reality, this is a thread that has run through humanity for centuries, and we are custodians of an abolitionist movement that takes a stand and fights it. Today we stand in the shoes of Wilberforce, Hamilton and Elizabeth Heyrick. It is an awesome opportunity and challenge, and our ambition must match theirs.
Having world-leading legislation is a critical first step. I have no doubt that, as the Prime Minister finishes her final few days in office, the work here will be among her proudest. The 2015 Act stands as a testament to her personal commitment to this agenda. Slavery is a scourge that we have fought for centuries. Slavers innovate, and we too must develop our approaches to make sure that they are fit for a modern context. That is why the review is so important. Even in four years, things move on.
I want to touch on two issues in the report that I have spent my past two-plus years in this place raising. First, the role of the independent commissioner is important; it is one way in which a self-confident, reflective Government are held to account. As the report has shown, however, it has not delivered as planned. Frankly, if a role is hosted, managed and appraised by the very Department it is set up to ensure scrutiny of, it is not independent. It is not possible for someone to be independent of the place where their pay and rations come from. If the Government are serious about independent oversight, it needs to be done properly. The suggestions in the report would be a good approach and would ensure greater independence and effectiveness.
The Minister does not need me to draw her attention to what the right hon. Member for Basingstoke said in the report about the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, on which she and I have spent the past three months. There are some good suggestions there about how we can have a truly independent commissioner. If we carry on along current lines, I can say with certainty that a Member will be standing where I am, facing a Minister, and they will be having the exact same conversation about the independent domestic abuse commissioner that we have been having about the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. We shall make the same mistakes, because nothing will have changed. No one wants that to happen, but no one at the moment is stopping what seems to be a runaway train. I implore the Minister to stop it and to say there is a better way. I think that there is, and the report suggests one.
While I was a member, the Home Affairs Committee took evidence from the outgoing Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland. We heard about the practical difficulties that he had in running the office and the debilitating nature of the Home Office recruitment process. There are good reasons for that, and I fully understand, but I wonder what craft and creativity could be brought to bear so that the post could be made agile and flexible in relation to need.
As to transparency in supply chains, section 54 of the Act is a critical part of disrupting the supply chains on which the global organised crime network is built. However, the record on that is not good enough. It is unthinkable that, four years on, more than a quarter of companies do not comply with the provisions on reporting, as TISCreport states. That does not even account for token compliance. What other laws that we pass in this place are thought of as, “Do them if you fancy doing them”? I certainly do not talk to constituents about many laws of that kind. These laws are not optional extras, and a competitive disadvantage is created, so I offer no apologies for repeating what my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) said about the Co-op and the Bright Future programme: the company has put itself at a competitive disadvantage to do what it has done, which is wrong.
I have, through my written questions over the past couple of years, noticed an evolution within the Home Office. To begin with, it would reply that it did not know “who should” do things or “how many have”. Then it recognised that it had such knowledge. Now there is an idea that something must happen. The shoe needs to drop. I am interested in hearing more about the Government’s plans.
I echo the call in the review for the requirement to be extended to the public sector. Councils and central Government are massive purchasers and could have a real impact on disrupting supply chains. Of course they would have no interest in dealing with disreputable suppliers. However, the latest Sancroft-Tussell report says that more than 40% of the top 100 suppliers to central Government have failed to meet the basic legal requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. That is extraordinary. What is wrong with us, whether we are in the Government, or we are the people who hold them to account? How have we let it come about that 40% of the top 100 suppliers, who get billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, think, for a start, that they do not need to comply with the law, and do not think it worth their time to cross the road to comply with modern slavery legislation? It is ridiculous, and none of us should stand for it. I would be interested to know when there will be action on that.
The report is excellent. I alluded earlier to the fact that there was a bit of a battle to make the case for it, and I applaud the Members who did so. It is good to come back and ask whether something that was world-leading is now fit for our time. Were amendments rejected previously that now fit the modern context? There are 80 suggestions, and I am pretty much on board with all of them. If we add those things and develop them, we will get what we all want: a strong, forthright and complete attack on slavery in this country.
I am sure colleagues have not missed the fact that they have shown such discipline that the Minister and shadow Minister will have a generous amount of time—it may well be that interventions are required to tease out further questions. I was strict about the six-minute speeches, and colleagues dutifully did not intervene on each other.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Main, and I am grateful to you for not encouraging interventions in my speech at least.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I thank the right hon. Members for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), and Baroness Butler-Sloss, for their hard work on the review. I welcome, in particular, the fact that they do not see their work as complete and that, through their implementation group, they will continue to hold the Government to account and the Minister’s feet to the fire. I echo what the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) said about the need to work on a scoping exercise, at least, in relation to sexual exploitation.
It is good to see that the evidence gathered by the Home Affairs Committee was of assistance to the review panel. I hope that, in due course, we can make a useful contribution to policy development in this important area. I thank all the members of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, particularly the chair, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who, as we heard, served on the team of expert advisers. He spoke eloquently about the fact that we must seize the opportunity for reform, and about the urgency of action.
Some provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and, therefore, some of the recommendations of the review, are directly relevant to all parts of the United Kingdom. Even in devolved areas, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where there is of course distinct human trafficking legislation, I am sure all the recommendations will help to inform the debate and policy development, just as they will in England and Wales. We can all learn from what works and from good practice in each of the jurisdictions.
I commend everyone who spoke in the debate for their knowledgeable and insightful comments. I want briefly to add my support for recommendations on two of the key themes of the report that relate to the whole UK, and to make a couple of comments on some of the other provisions. As has been said, we could do with a full day in the Chamber to discuss the various aspects of the topic.
I particularly welcome many of the recommendations made about the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner’s role and powers. The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) was particularly eloquent on that. Recommendations that I fully back include those on appointment procedures, although I would always want to make it clear that the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive should still be consulted in the process. The proposals on how the role is funded, who sponsors it, and where it is situated seem to be sensible and practical ways to build the independence of the commissioner. As hon. Members have said, that is pivotal to the role’s credibility.
Secondly, I am similarly supportive of the ideas on transparency in the supply chain, which could mean that a measure with the potential to be transformational really has teeth, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, paraphrasing the report. Implementing the suggestions could help to bring an end to what is too often useless and pointless tick-box reporting by certain companies, and could ensure far more widespread compliance.
On a related subject, but going beyond that, there is a compelling case to reconsider whether we should restrict ourselves to a simple reporting model. Perhaps, as other countries are pushing towards doing, we should put companies under duties to identify, prevent and mitigate impacts on human rights more broadly. I echo the eloquent comments of the hon. Members for Erewash (Maggie Throup) and for Nottingham North about the need for action in relation to the public sector.
Thirdly, I welcome the discussion on the different models for supporting children in the different jurisdictions of the UK. We are certainly proud of the work that the independent guardians are doing in Scotland, but nothing is beyond improvement, and analysis such as that provided in the report allows us to see what we can learn from the other schemes. For what it is worth, I am full square behind what has been said about the need for roll-out of the independent child trafficking advocates—or independent guardians. Again, the hon. Member for Gedling is right about the urgency and significance of that.
I have two final topics I want briefly to cover. First, to paraphrase the review, and as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead said, there are severe deficiencies in the way data about modern slavery is collected. There is still a need for far greater awareness of modern slavery and for consistent, high-quality training among those most likely to encounter its victims. Addressing those issues will be paramount if we are to maximise the impact of the legislation and strategies. It is against that background that the Scottish Government this week commenced consultation on a broader duty to notify and provide information about victims. The proposal is to specify a wider range of public authorities required to notify Police Scotland about persons who are or appear to be victims of offences under the legislation. The explicit and main aim is to provide a more accurate picture of the scale and extent of trafficking than can be gleaned from national referral mechanism data, and to provide more effective targeting of enforcement activity and support services. I take on board the point made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead on the need for data on those who are on the other side of the NRM process, and I shall definitely feed that back in.
I believe there is still a real need to look again at how the immigration system fits into this, and I echo what other hon. Members said about that. Similarly, as we debated recently in Westminster Hall, the Government need to look again at support for victims. However, that is for another day. I thank the review authors again for their thoughtful and insightful work, and echo the calls that have been made to seize the opportunity to make a difference for the victims of modern slavery.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) on securing this important debate. I thank all those who have spoken so eloquently today. I welcome the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and its robust and detailed recommendations, and I congratulate all those involved in producing the report. Modern slavery is an abhorrent, vile, devastating practice, and we must do everything in our power to ensure it is stopped. Those who fall victim to it must be fully supported on their journey out of modern slavery, and given the dignified care they need.
During my time as an MP and a shadow Minister, I have spent many hours meeting victims of modern slavery, and hearing the tragic stories of how they were stripped of their rights, violated, and subjected to abuse and inhumane work and living conditions. The review highlighted the significant scale of modern slavery in the UK. In 2017, 5,143 potential victims were referred through the national referral mechanism, 41% of whom were children. The number of victims who sadly go unreported will obviously be much higher.
Along with CORE, the UK civil society coalition on corporate accountability, the review highlighted weaknesses in the introduction of section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act, “Transparency in supply chains etc”. An estimated 40% of eligible companies are not complying with the legislation at all, and there are currently no penalties for non-compliance. When statements are shared, they are often generalised and do not provide the detail required to be sure that modern slavery is not taking place. Consequently, if companies have victims of modern slavery in their supply chains, little has been done by organisations to eliminate it.
Much more needs to be done to strengthen the legislation, first by mandating companies to report on the six areas that the Act requests, and secondly by ensuring consequences if they do not report. That commitment from companies could also provide an opportunity for a co-ordinated approach to issues that arise in multiple supply chains. If the UK wishes to lead the way on this issue, it must ensure that such structures are in place, and enforced, so that companies report on their supply chain. A further problem that I have raised a number of times, which was also identified in the review, is the lack of information about victims once they leave the NRM. The fact that such information is not properly recorded leaves hugely vulnerable individuals at risk of being re-trafficked. No knowledge is kept of their whereabouts, which is simply not good enough.
I also wish to mention the gendered nature of modern slavery. I understand that the law on prostitution could not be addressed in the review as it fell outside its remit, but I am pleased that that work will now be carried out, together with colleagues in the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has done such brilliant work. Although the issue was not addressed in the review, many who gave evidence stated that because—unlike other countries in Europe—England, Wales and Scotland do not having a sex buyer law, they could be more of a target for traffickers. The sex buyer law on prostitution decriminalises all those who are prostituted. During my time as an MP I have met countless women involved in prostitution, and I have heard their harrowing stories of exploitative relationships and the dangerous situations they have been put in. We must ensure that England, Wales and Scotland are not easy targets for traffickers because they do not have a sex buyer law.
The UK Government can say warm words, and repeat the same lines about what they are doing to help victims and protect them from modern slavery or being re-trafficked. However, unless our police force and support services are properly resourced to undertake that mammoth task, those desperately needed changes will not come about.
The hon. Lady set out the issues around the law on prostitution in the UK, and she made a clear case for why a sex buyers law has helped to reduce sexual exploitation in other nearby countries, leaving the UK with quite different laws. Will those on the Labour Front Bench support a change to the law in that area?
I will answer by saying simply that it is a work in progress.
In 2015 there were 17,000 fewer police officers in England and Wales than there were in 2010, and regardless of the way that is spun, it will have an impact on helping victims of modern slavery. We can get closer to eradicating this heinous crime if there is a properly resourced, co-ordinated approach by companies, politicians and other supporting bodies, who commit to meeting the expectations of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. There is a huge opportunity to be world leaders in removing this horror from our society, but there must be more enforcement and it must be properly resourced. The consensus we have heard today should, and I hope will, motivate the Government to implement the recommendations as soon as possible. Again, I thank everyone who was involved with this remarkable and insightful piece of work.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and I am grateful for your invitation to colleagues to intervene on the Minister as much as possible.
I thank the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) for securing this important debate, and for all his work not just in the review—I will thank him and others lavishly for that in a moment—but over the years. We were struck by his recollection of how he was first alerted to the heinous crime of modern slavery, and by the recollections of other hon. Friends and Members around the Chamber. My hon. Friends the Members for Erewash (Maggie Throup) and for Henley (John Howell), and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) highlighted the various ways that we have all become aware of, alerted to, and are working on efforts to tackle the range of horrendous crimes against humanity that modern slavery involves. Yet again it is a great privilege to take part in a debate in which the tone, I hope, shows the best of this place, with both constructive criticism and the will to work together. I thank all hon. Members and friends for their participation this afternoon.
The Government are committed to the eradication of modern slavery in the United Kingdom and overseas. Our modern slavery legislation is among the best in the world, but we always seek to improve our response. The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) expressed impatience with this place but also with outside, and the hon. Members for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) noted the evolving methodology of slave owners, and the ways they change their criminal behaviour to avoid detection and exploit more vulnerable people, or find opportunities for selling people in a range of ways. That is what modern slavery is about.
On the evolving nature of the legislation, will the Minister do all she can to ensure that some of the negative reporting about the way traffickers are starting to use the statutory defence included in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 does not deter us from using it? That important provision protects vulnerable victims.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question because we have recently seen negative publicity about that issue. We are clear that that defence exists to protect the most vulnerable people in society, particularly children, and we believe that rolling out independent child trafficking advocates—particularly the new forms that we are trying for UK nationals—will help the police and others to understand where that defence applies properly and lawfully.
The Minister will be aware of the legislative change in Northern Ireland—there was a meeting in the House to make Members aware of it. Has she had a chance to look in detail at the legislation in Northern Ireland? May I say gently—and quickly, Mrs Main—that by looking at it she might find a way of introducing effective legislation here?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. Later in my speech, I will deal with hon. Members’ observations about prostitution. I am always happy to look at the example set in other parts of the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
The methodology is evolving, and we have an open-handed, open-hearted response to tackle this very serious crime. I was pleased that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and Baroness Butler-Sloss accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to review the Act because we do not want to rest on our laurels. We recognise that as the crimes develop, so too must the law. I want to put on the record my sincere thanks to those three colleagues for all the work they have done on this. It is quite something to see the work they have drawn together, with the help of the commissioner experts—I have written to them all to thank them. They have done extraordinary work, and we are truly grateful to them.
We are considering all the recommendations of the final report very carefully, and we hope to respond to them formally before the summer recess. Colleagues who are impatient will have to understand that the wheels of Government turn slowly, and that is a swift response. We are working very hard indeed to achieve that. We recognise that this is an opportunity, as the hon. Member for Gedling said.
I will touch on the review’s four themes, and I hope hon. Members will understand that I cannot commit to particular recommendations today. I am delighted that Dame Sara Thornton took up the role of Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner on 1 May. Anyone who has met Dame Sara or had the privilege of working with her knows how independently minded she is. I know from my meetings with her how much she is relishing the opportunity to work in this arena, bringing her policing experience with her. I have no doubt that she will bring some huge improvements to the way in which we deal with modern slavery in this country. It is a vital role that offers independent insight and challenges public authorities to ensure the UK’s response remains among the best in the world. We very much welcome the review’s recommendations on how to ensure the role’s independence, and we are working closely with Dame Sara to take them on board.
Last week, the Prime Minister announced the creation of a new Government modern slavery and migration envoy to help advance the Government’s international modern slavery objectives. That is something that colleagues were keen to recommend. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley gave examples from Nigeria, with which we must work closely because we are sadly a destination for a great number of the traffickers from that country. My hon. Friend will know that the Home Office is using the modern slavery fund to tackle modern slavery in key source countries, including Nigeria, where we have committed £5 million to deal with the issue. Through events such as the Santa Marta Group conference, I have met some of the amazing people who work with people—predominantly women—in Nigeria who are at risk of being trafficked or have been trafficked. I am absolutely convinced about the invaluable role that their work plays.
This is a difficult question, but I will ask it because the Minister is more sympathetic to this than others in the Home Office. She talks about women from Nigeria who may have been trafficked to this country. If they are confirmed to be victims of trafficking through the national referral mechanism and receive a conclusive grounds decision, what immigration status should they have at the end of that?
I will come on to that when I talk about victim support. The hon. Gentleman understands only too well how complicated this is, so I will try to keep to my themes, and I want to give the right hon. Member for Birkenhead a couple of minutes at the end to sum up.
The Minister was right to identify this country’s pull factor. She rightly talked about the point that the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) made about women coming over here and being sexually exploited. Does she acknowledge that the Government must do more to address sexual exploitation in this country, and that a buyers law is the way to do that?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady and my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke for setting out the reviewers’ intention to look at prostitution in addition to the report that they have delivered. I welcome that review. I very much understand the points that hon. Members have made today and in previous debates. We have commissioned detailed research into what prostitution looks like in the 20th century, because we all acknowledge that it is different from how it was 20 years ago, particularly given the rise of online sex trafficking and prostitution. We want to wait for that independent research conducted by academics in south Wales, and we hope that they will be able to report this summer. We very much look forward to that, and we will of course review the evidence once it comes in.
The review rightly focused on transparency in supply chains. We are the first country in the world to require large organisations to report on the steps taken to prevent modern slavery in their supply chains. More and more businesses are reporting on their actions to protect vulnerable workers. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley mentioned Unilever, and other colleagues rightly mentioned the Co-op. In my role, I have the privilege of helping the Home Secretary with the business forum, which draws together some of the biggest business leaders not just in this country but in the world, so we can examine what they are doing to ensure their compliance with the Act. As hon. Members said, compliance can give companies a competitive advantage, but only as long as other companies are doing what they should be doing too.
The Home Office wrote to the CEOs of 17,000 businesses in October 2018 and March 2019 to notify them of our intention to undertake an audit of compliance. We are pleased that nearly 4,000 businesses have signed up to our newsletter for further information. This is an area that requires real action. I am therefore very pleased that, last week, the Prime Minister announced that we will develop a central registry for modern slavery statements published under the Act to empower consumers, investors and non-governmental organisations to scrutinise statements and hold businesses to account. I think that is a very significant development, and I was delighted when we managed to get it over the line, not least given our experience of the huge public pressure that the gender pay gap has put on businesses to ensure they treat female staff members properly and correct unfairnesses where they exist.
I am conscious of the work being done by various businesses and organisations, including, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said, the NHS and churches. The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority is also doing a huge amount to educate and hold people to account.
The Minister mentioned the excellent progress that has been made on this front, but it remains the case that 5,000 businesses are not in compliance with section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act. In October 2018, she said that they can expect to face tougher consequences if they continue to flout their obligations. Will she elaborate on what those tougher consequences might be?
We will consult on further new measures, including proposals to improve reporting quality, ensure compliance and extend the requirements to the public sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash expressed some dismay at yet another consultation. I regret that when we make big changes, which I hope this consultation will lead to, we have to consult to see what organisations and so on think of them. I believe this consultation will be a real step forward, and I encourage hon. Members to respond to it.
Some 100 local authorities already report, but I am pleased to announce that individual Departments will publish their own modern slavery statements from 2020-21, building on the Prime Minister’s earlier commitment that central Government will report voluntarily this year. We very much accept the observation that we must lead by example, and we will do so.
I turn to independent child trafficking advocates. As was set out, some of the most heartbreaking examples of modern slavery in what is, it has to be said, a pretty competitive field are those of children who are exploited by slave masters. We are committed to providing specialist support for child victims. We have now rolled out ICTAs to one third of local authorities in England and Wales, in line with the commitment I made in July last year. We welcome the findings of the independent review, and we are considering the recommendations on the improvements we can make to the ICTA service. We remain committed to rolling out ICTAs nationally as soon as possible.
On legal application, the Act provided the necessary tools and powers for the police to tackle the offenders responsible for this crime and bring them to justice. I am grateful that the reviewers examined the definition of the offences, the uptake of slavery and trafficking reparation orders, and the use of the statutory defence. We are considering the review’s recommendations with our operational partners and will use the impetus the review has created to build on the recent improvements we have seen in the operational response. We have made good progress, but the review rightly highlights where we need to go further to ensure more offenders are convicted, more gangs are disrupted and more illicit profits are seized and returned to victims.
The hon. Member for Strangford touched on victim support. That technically was not part of the review, but I want to answer his question because it comes up in the context of immigration, which a number of colleagues understandably raised. We absolutely reiterate our commitment to identifying victims of modern slavery and supporting them to recover from their exploitation and begin rebuilding their lives. In 2017 we announced a package of reforms to the national referral mechanism centred on improved identification and support for victims at all stages, and quicker, more certain decision making that victims and wider society can have confidence in.
To improve decision making, we have launched a single expert unit to make all decisions on whether someone is a victim of modern slavery. That single competent authority is responsible for all NRM decisions regardless of an individual’s nationality or immigration status. That is significant because we are absolutely clear that consideration of whether an individual is a victim and any decision about their immigration status must remain separate. We are convinced that that expert unit, and all the safeguards we have put alongside it, will help to improve the quality of decisions.
Importantly, we are also developing a new digital system to make it easier for those on the frontline to identify and refer victims. That system will go live at the end of the summer. That is also significant, because it goes to the point the right hon. Member for Birkenhead rightly made about data collection. We have high hopes that, once that is digitised, the collection of such data will be very much improved.
Modern slavery is an appalling crime that robs people of their freedom and their dignity. It cannot be allowed to continue. We can be proud that the UK is a world leader in tackling modern slavery, and that the Prime Minister set out her expectations not just for the United Kingdom but for the rest of the world in her call to the United Nations for action. We of course acknowledge that we must lead by example, and we will continue to do so. Once again, I thank the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and Baroness Butler-Sloss, and all their expert commissioners, for their commitment to the review. I look forward to their implementation group and to their holding my feet to the fire.
Thank you, Mrs Main, for chairing the debate; you got us through on time and enabled us all to make our contributions. I thank my colleagues who made the review possible. We had serious intent, but with the kind of fellowship across party lines that Members of Parliament can have, to make a contribution. We have given notice that there will be an implementation group so that we do not just do a report and forget it, and we will also look at the areas we were forbidden from looking at by our terms of reference. With the help of the House—we saw the extraordinary strength of support in this debate—this will be just the beginning of another stage of our campaign.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act.
Railway Connectivity: East to West Midlands
I beg to move,
That this House has considered East to West Midlands railway connectivity.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am pleased to debate this important issue. Like many hon. Members, I have spoken frequently about the pressing need to invest properly in our rail network. I am glad that several hon. Members from the midlands are present, which underlines the strength of interest in the subject, even though it is a short debate. I am happy to take interventions.
This is not my first debate in the Chamber on rail investment in my community, but I make no apology for prioritising the topic, which is essential for our economic development and our standing as an excellent place to live and work. The Minister will be happy to hear that I will not discuss rail privatisation or future models of ownership; suffice it to say that our network is in need of significant improvement. Commuters and other rail users across my constituency do not always feel well served by the services that they pay a high price to use. They are crying out for a service that works as it should, and the network is crying out for the major investment that it desperately needs.
If the Government are serious about the midlands engine, they need to power it up with a significant commitment to our rail infrastructure. The midlands are a focal point of our country’s strategic transport network. Whether people are heading north, south, east or west, the chances are that they will travel through the midlands at some point, which loads additional pressure on our network that does not affect other regions to the same extent.
Over the last decade, rail journeys in the east midlands, or that touch the east midlands at some point, have increased by a staggering 37%, but in the west midlands, they have increased by an extraordinary 121%. It is good news, of course, that the networks are well used and that many people travel to, across and through our region, but we must recognise that those journeys put pressure on the network and cannot be at the expense of decent, reliable local and regional services for my constituents.
On the point of local services and east-west links, does my hon. Friend recognise that it is not only the big stations but the so-called little stations, such as Burton Joyce, Netherfield and Carlton, that are important commuter stations for people who live in those areas?
I absolutely agree. When I was preparing for the debate I was thinking about Netherfield, as I often do because I have canvassed there an awful lot in my life. Those stations are important to people and provide the ability to get to and from Nottingham or other places.
The figures do not lie, although I know that anything can be proved with figures. The latest statistics show that £70 per head is spent on rail infrastructure in the east midlands and more than 10 times that is spent in London. We can play with those numbers, but fundamentally, there is an extraordinary imbalance that is unsustainable economically—and, frankly, practically—and it will not do. I am a realist, however, and practical, so I am not out with a begging bowl asking for investment levels to be equalised overnight in a vacuum for no purpose. I am here to make a positive case for my constituents and our region to get a good shake of the dice.
I am fortunate that there was investment in a new railway station in Ilkeston not long ago, but even from there, or from Long Eaton station, which is also in my constituency, it is hard to go from east to west, so I welcome the debate. The hon. Gentleman is correct that we need more investment in our railways, so that more trains can stop more frequently at our smaller stations.
I appreciate that intervention. We talk about north and south and going to and from London a lot, but for our constituents and the communities in our part of the world, that east-west link and the link to Birmingham is just as important.
It is the perfect time, after an intervention from the hon. Lady, to mention that HS2 is coming down the line. We still have some significant work to do to make sure that the east midlands is not erased from that map. We have a real opportunity to gear up our region’s infrastructure and economy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. HS2 is often seen as a north-south rail project, but does he agree that reducing the journey time from Birmingham to the east midlands hub at Toton to just 19 minutes is a game changer for east-west connectivity in our region? It is unsurprising that the eastern leg of HS2, which will transform links from Birmingham to not just the east midlands but Yorkshire, the north-east and Scotland—an area of 15 million people—delivers more than 60% of the wider economic benefits of phase 2.
The Chair of the Transport Committee, my constituency neighbour, makes an excellent point. One of the most frustrating things about the arguments around HS2 is that they get drawn into journey times to and from London. They are not unimportant, but they are not the fundamental thing.
Many hon. Members will have heard me say that we have a real opportunity in the east midlands—the west midlands will benefit too—in the Toton station for HS2; in dualling the roads that get us to the brilliant East Midlands airport, which is the biggest pure freight airport in the country; and in developing the power station site. There is the potential for more than 100,000 new jobs. HS2 is fundamental to that, so pulling that project out risks pulling the whole thing down; that is how critical it is.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. On HS2 and the economic benefits to the region—the debate is about east-west rail links—for my constituents, the east-west connection to the Chesterfield hub is vital if we are to make the most of the local economic growth around those stations. Does he agree that to make HS2 work for areas across the east midlands, not just immediately around those hub stations, we need those east-west rail links so that people can travel to those new jobs and to the economic growth that HS2 will create?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Without those east-west links, people will not get the benefit of HS2 and we will not get all that growth. Individuals will lose out if they are not close to it, which none of us want. It is no secret that we are going to see a lot of political change in this place in the next six months, but I hope that we can come together as midlanders and make a positive case, with one voice, about why that model and that development will make such a difference.
In terms of coming together, does the hon. Gentleman agree that extending services on the Crewe-Derby line through Stoke-on-Trent to Nottingham is essential? I welcome the decision of the new operator of east midlands services to extend most of those services to Nottingham.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Greater frequency and a better service will be good for constituents at both ends of the line and in between. Hon. Members will have seen that last week, northern newspapers and public figures got together to talk about powering the north. We need to match that level of energy, enthusiasm and creativity; I will come on to something shortly that we can all get behind. The Minister will reiterate the Government’s commitment to investing in our midlands rail network, but it is our duty to make sure that that rhetoric stacks up with the reality on platforms across our region.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on an important topic. Does he agree that rail freight capacity is important to relieve communities and roads of heavy lorries and to meet our zero-carbon targets? Projects such as Peak Rail in my constituency would drive hundreds of lorries off our roads and would bring heritage steam to Buxton, which would attract tourists. With significant private sector investment, it could also free up capacity on our main lines at little cost to the Department and would have benefits for the proposed HS2 route.
I share my hon. Friend’s view; I was going to make that point. We all want freight off the road, because we declared a climate emergency three weeks ago and that is a good way to support that declaration. We can create, in the midlands, through Toton at the fulcrum of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and the airport and the power station site, a centre of the country where freight will come in by air, rail and road. We will be the fulcrum for that and the jobs and opportunities are extraordinary. My hon. Friend knows that I often drive through her constituency on the way to the football, and I hoped that she was going to mention better rail links through there, because I certainly would have shared her view on that too.
Midlands Connect has produced a practical, backable and concrete proposal on the midlands rail hub. I hope that the Minister will take some time to reflect on what he has heard about it so far and on where he thinks we might go with it in future. The project will create economic, social and environmental rewards across the whole of the midlands and far beyond. It is the most ambitious upgrade of our region’s rail network since the east coast main line was electrified in the 1980s.
The line to Birmingham was electrified more than 50 years ago, and we are still campaigning hard, Minister. I will never miss an opportunity to say that we want the same for the midlands mainline. It is extraordinary that we are still waiting for 20th-century levels of support in Nottingham.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, that is as important to the west midlands as it is to the east midlands. Does he agree that the midlands rail hub project has absolutely massive potential? It has been estimated that it could free up another 6 million passenger journeys and around 36 extra freight paths by linking up the east and west midlands in the way that is needed. If that is to happen, the project will need backing. Will he join me in saying to the Minister that if the Government agree with the ambition and the end, they must will the means? That involves investment in the midlands rail hub.
I absolutely agree. That was precisely why I applied for this debate—to have the opportunity to encourage the Minister to back the scheme, which is coming any day now. I made my application on the day of the draw and was granted the debate first time; that has never happened to me before. I confess that I was planning to have a little bit of lead-in time, but I am nevertheless delighted even to be slightly ahead of some of the review’s proposals. As my hon. Friend says, it requires decisive Government action and support.
The project, as planned, would include new direct services between Nottingham and Coventry via Leicester, and would connect Hereford, Worcester, the south-west and Wales to the HS2 network. That could be done in phases, starting in 2024, and finished in time for the arrival of HS2—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
I apologise to the Rail Minister, but I suppose it is appropriate in a debate about railways for there to be a significant delay in proceedings. For those who are waiting for the next debate, this debate is due to finish at 4.58, when the next one will begin. I call Alex Norris.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone; I am grateful for the chance to resume my remarks.
Before we were interrupted, I was talking about the facets of an east midlands rail hub, and I know the massed crowds in the debate will be excited to hear some more about it in the next 18 minutes. That could be completed in phases, starting in 2024 and finishing in time for the arrival of HS2 in the east midlands in 2033. That staggered approach would minimise disruption to passengers and would prevent a worsening of the issues that we are suffering.
As I said before, this debate came more quickly than I expected, so the full details of the proposal for the hub from Midlands Connect will not be published until next week. I will test the principle that the best place to tell a secret is on the Floor of the House of Commons by letting Members in on some of the highlights, ahead of time.
Broadly, the proposal would give capacity for 24 new east-west and west-east passenger services every hour on the midlands rail network, with 36 additional freight paths per day, shifting 4,320 lorries from road to railway each day. Some 1.6 million more people would be brought within an hour’s journey by public transport of the midlands’ biggest towns and cities, and the extra capacity would add £650 million to the economy of the midlands every year.
The hub would be a win-win for our region on so many fronts. It would bring huge economic dividends every year to our industries and local businesses. A more joined-up public transport system would be a good idea as it would reduce traffic on our overcrowded roads and help to tackle the climate emergency we are all too aware that we are facing. The additional tourism it would bring to the region would also be a benefit, as my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) mentioned.
It is clear as day that this a project whose time has come; it needs to happen. The case for the midlands rail hub is persuasive, the details Ministers see will be good and it is time that midlands communities were backed in this way. I hope Ministers will put the full weight of the Department for Transport behind this project; if they want the midlands engine, they will have to have the rail hub as a constituent part of it.
I know Transport Ministers have a tough job and there are competing priorities, but I believe there is a strong business case. This is not the politics of the begging bowl or saying, “London gets so much per head and we get so much less per head.” It is easy to say that stuff, but there have to be backable propositions; this is one of them. We think it will lead to good infrastructure in the region and economic benefits.
I ask the Minister to read the report from Midlands Connect when it is released next week and put it at the top of his in-tray for approval. We know there will be significant political change in the next few months and there may be ministerial changes too. If the Minister is not in his role in the future, I ask him to pass it on to his successors, so that they understand that this is a good project. We would make sure that they got a copy of the report, but I hope the Minister would pass a copy on too.
Far too many people in my constituency think that progress in our economy is stalling. There are significant gaps in our development that have not been exploited. I mentioned briefly when the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) intervened that the reality for my community since the mid-1980s has been significant deindustrialisation. We could have a day’s debate on the reasons for that, its inevitability and what came in its place, but to a certain extent that is now for the birds. What comes now is what matters, with the midlands rail hub being a critical component part of our economic development around that triangle.
My hon. Friend is making an important point about the economic regeneration that the midlands rail hub could enable. He has already acknowledged the importance of tackling the climate emergency. Is it not equally important to tackle congestion and poor air quality in our cities, and improve safety? We know it is far safer to travel by rail than by road. Does he agree?
I share my hon. Friend and neighbour’s view. The climate emergency is a real thing, not just for leaflets. We should see every action that we now take as a country through the prism of sustainability. This is one of those projects, because it is sustainable: it will take cars and lorries off the road, and the jobs we are talking about—around the airport, the HS2 facility at Toton and the power station site—will be new economy jobs. There are extraordinary opportunities around the power station site for clean energy jobs; we are talking about more than 100,000 potential jobs across those sites. This is the future for the midlands. The only way to get there is to have it properly wired up with the infrastructure.
I hope the Minister will give good consideration to the rail hub, so that we can get it moving, on the books and ready for delivery.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) on securing this debate on this highly important issue. He articulated the importance of rail in his own area, and across the east and west midlands, highlighting its impact on reducing congestion, improving air quality and other environmental improvements, plus its role in underpinning our economy. Those are critical reasons why we should be—and are—investing heavily in rail.
I agree with points made by a number of Members about the importance of rail freight in the economy as a whole, and in the midlands in particular. It is already part of a strong logistics sector in both economies; rail underpins that comprehensively.
I receive many representations from colleagues about the rail services in their areas, typically focused on capacity and overcrowding. I will talk about cross-country, the midlands hub, HS2 and rolling stock, what we are doing now and what we are working to deliver for passengers over the next few years.
This is an exciting time for the rail industry and for passengers. We have new fleets being introduced that will help to deliver a step change in customer service. The performance of trains is one factor affecting the overall network performance. Both the Department and operators consider that to be an important part of the franchise competition process.
We are seeing a change in the operator for the east midlands franchise, which has been won by Abellio. There will be a mobilisation phase and Abellio will take over in August. It will oversee the introduction of a brand new fleet of trains on the upgraded midland main line from 2022. The new trains will deliver faster journey times over longer distances in peak periods, and new, frequent express services will be introduced, including from Corby through Luton into London. The roll-out of the new fleet will be completed by December 2023. That intercity fleet will be significantly more reliable and comfortable. The key point about capacity is that passengers will benefit from an 80% increase in the number of morning peak seats into Nottingham, Lincoln and St Pancras.
Midlands Connect is critical in planning the transport for the future of the area. It is working with HS2, Transport for the East Midlands, the Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire local enterprise partnership—D2N2—and Network Rail to make the case for enhanced connectivity to the new hub station at Toton. HS2 will indeed transform things, which was a point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who is Chair of the Select Committee on Transport. It will not just improve connectivity to and from London, although that is obviously a part of it, but it will certainly transform connectivity between the east and west midlands in a positive way. That point does not always get exposed, but needs to be said. The Toton hub will be well connected to Nottingham, Derby and other mainline stations, and provide significant journey time improvements to the north and west. It is key to maximise the opportunities that will be presented when HS2 arrives in the area.
Midlands Connect is also investigating options to run services from Leicester to Leeds via HS2, transforming connectivity between the two cities and developing a business case for additional services on the Derby-Stoke-Crewe corridor, so the east midlands can link to HS2 services at Crewe in 2027.
The Minister mentioned the Crewe-Derby line, through Stoke-on-Trent. Does he agree that there is real untapped potential on that line to vastly improve services, particularly to stations such as Longton, in my constituency?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend; he has made a strong case for that in meetings that we have already had on the subject, and that case has been shared with other colleagues, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths). I will mention it later, but I agree entirely with the point.
Today, eight out of 10 journeys between Birmingham and Nottingham are made by road. That is not desirable. One of the key points made about the midlands rail hub was that it will help to improve east-west connectivity by doubling the number of direct services between those two great cities, cutting the journey time by more than 25% to just 50 minutes and bringing about 450,000 more people in the two cities within one hour of each other. It will enable faster and more frequent services through Derby and will include funding to examine the case for major investment to reduce conflicts between the east coast main line and Nottingham-Lincoln traffic at Newark.
I recognise how important this case is. We have received the strategic outline business case in the Department and it is going through its evaluation. The hon. Member for Nottingham North asked whether I would back the case; I cannot say that until we have concluded our evaluation, but I can say that I am extremely keen to see inter-city connectivity as a driver of economic growth, that the points he has made are spot on and that I am keen to work with Midlands Connect to take this forward. Indeed, I am meeting Midlands Connect next week. I hope that is of some interest to him.
I must mention the midlands main line, because we are seeing the biggest upgrade of the line since its completion in around 1870. The investments being made will improve long-distance passenger services between Sheffield, Nottingham and London, and services between Corby, Kettering and London. The journey time improvement and additional seats will make cities in the east midlands better places to do business in.
Market Harborough station has recently seen considerable improvements to make it more accessible and ease the curves in the track, which will increase line speed, deliver improved journey times and help to reduce fuel use. That project has been going well and saw a landmark completion earlier this month. The next east midlands franchise will deliver new bi-mode trains on routes between London, the east midlands and south Yorkshire, delivering benefits to both passengers and the environment.
However, the east midlands railway will provide additional capacity and more frequent services on routes across the east midlands, not just on the lines to and around London. Those include the route between Leicester and Nottingham, the Robin Hood line and routes in Lincolnshire. As an example, the Derby to Crewe line will see the introduction of additional capacity. The key thing here is that it has been a single-carriage service, which has not met the needs of the travelling public in the area. We will see additional capacity using modern trains, which will have air-conditioning, at-seat power points and free wi-fi.
Many trains from Crewe will be extended through to Nottingham and there will be additional morning and evening services introduced, as well as an hourly service on Sundays. That upgrade has attracted significant attention—I have had more comments on this part of the east midlands franchise than on any other—so I hope that that will be of interest to colleagues. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South has been a key champion for it.
One project that I have visited recently in the east midlands is the upgrade to signalling and modernisation of the railway around Derby to improve train service reliability. That has been an important project to unlock capacity, and I must say that when I visited it I thought it was a significant piece of work that had been achieved well by Network Rail.
A further project that is coming on stream later this year, which I have not had a chance to visit, is the brand-new station of Worcestershire Parkway, delivered by Worcestershire County Council. When it opens, the station will be served by CrossCountry services on the Nottingham-Cardiff route, providing improved journey opportunities between the east midlands and destinations in Worcestershire and the Cotswolds.
I mentioned earlier the services provided by CrossCountry; I have had significant representations from colleagues about the capacity problems on that line, because it has been so popular that it has seen huge growth in passenger numbers. CrossCountry provides local train services between the east and west midlands, with its long-distance services covering the most extensive franchise in Britain, from Scotland to Cornwall and Manchester to Bournemouth. CrossCountry offers regular direct trains from Derby to the north-east and Scotland, as well as to Bristol, Plymouth and the Thames valley. All routes serve Birmingham New Street.
Because of this extensive network, and to avoid the possibility of fettering the outcome of the Williams rail review, which is looking at the future structure of the rail industry, the CrossCountry franchise competition was cancelled last year. We are now working with the incumbent, Arriva, to develop a direct award franchise agreement. This work will consider the results of the extensive public consultation held in 2017 to deliver appropriate passenger benefits.
The key question that is consistently raised, and therefore our No. 1 priority for the next CrossCountry franchise, is providing additional capacity for passengers. We are working on a number of options to deliver additional trains for the CrossCountry fleet as they become available in the rolling stock market. The rolling stock market is going through one of its greatest changes in our country’s history. We are seeing a fleet update equivalent to when we went from steam to diesel in the UK. That is the scale of change we are experiencing, and it will free up rolling stock to add additional capacity into our network. We must remember that we are now enjoying more services on our rail network than at any point in British history.
I once again thank the hon. Member for Nottingham North for securing this debate on this important issue. We have covered a lot of ground, but I hope I have made clear that we are seeing new trains, new services, new lines and new stations. Rail in our country is being transformed, and he has made a great case for east-west connectivity in the midlands. I am happy to keep colleagues informed and I look forward to working with Midlands Connect and other bodies in the area, because I strongly believe that rail is a key driver of economic growth, environmental improvement and social mobility. Before closing, I will just highlight that the Government fully understand that, and it is why we have secured a record investment of £48 billion for our rail network over the next five years and are investing £1.5 billion in the midlands main line upgrade—the biggest since its completion 150 years ago.
There was one question about infrastructure spend by the different parts of our country and I have some updated information that the House might like to know: the infrastructure pipeline data from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority shows a per capita spend of £236 for the midlands for the period from 2018-19 to 2020-21, which is the same as the south and just a little bit behind the north. We are seeing a radical change in the infrastructure spend across the country, as we believe strongly that the economy of our country needs to be rebalanced. Underpinning that is a rebalancing of our transport investment, and at the heart of that is work in the midlands.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered East to West Midlands railway connectivity.
Jewish Refugees from the Middle East and North Africa
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, as we consider this important matter. In 1945, 856,000 Jewish people lived in the middle east, north Africa and the Gulf region. Only about 4,500 remain, almost all of them in Morocco and Tunisia. Jewish people have lived continuously in the middle east and north Africa for over 2,600 years, yet in just a few decades they almost totally disappeared. Thousands were expelled or fled their home countries in fear. Around 850,000 were forced out or felt they had to leave following the United Nations decision to partition Palestine in 1947. Age-old communities, with roots dating back millennia, were gone. It was the largest exodus of non-Muslims from the middle east until the movement of Christians from Iraq after 2003.
Between 1948 and 1972, pogroms and violent attacks were perpetrated in every Arab country against its Jewish residents. The ethnic cleansing of thousands of Jewish people from the Arab world in the mid-20th century was described by journalist Tom Gross as “systematic, absolute and unprovoked.” For example, there were 38,000 Jews living in western Libya before 1945. Now there are none. Few of the 74 synagogues in Libya are recognisable, and a highway runs through Tripoli’s Jewish cemetery. In Algeria, 50 years ago, there were 140,000 Jewish people. Now there are none. In Iraq, there were 135,000, and in Egypt, 75,000. Almost all are gone from those countries too. Some 259,000 left Morocco, 55,000 left Yemen, 20,000 left Lebanon, 180,000 left Syria and 25,000 left Iran. What happened amounted to the near total extinction of an ancient civilisation.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Is she concerned by the assumption that the near total absence of Jews from so many countries across north Africa and the middle east is because there were never Jewish communities in those countries? Helping to break that misperception and spreading the stories of the great histories of those Jewish communities, which go back thousands of years, as she says, is key to helping us to understand and find solutions for some of the problems of today in the region.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. That is one reason why this debate is so important. It is shocking that, so far as I am aware, there has never been a debate specifically on this subject in the House.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the debate. Somebody who asked a question in last night’s Tory leadership debate—Abdullah from Bristol—had retweeted a tweet suggesting that Israel should be relocated to the United States. This debate demonstrates why that is so offensive. It feeds into a false narrative that Israel is a creation of Europe or America, and totally whitewashes the history of the Jews in the middle east and the recent living history of Jews in Arab states in the middle east. That is why it is so offensive and so disgusting.
I agree. Both those points reinforce the importance of raising awareness of this issue, because if our colleagues in the House or the general public do not understand what happened to the Jewish communities of the middle east, they do not understand the middle east conflict. Understanding what we are discussing is crucial if one is to have a fair and balanced outlook on that long-standing dispute.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this historic debate. She will know that my family, on my father’s side, comes from Libya but had to leave because their home and business were appropriated by Gaddafi, and there were pogroms before that. Why does she think the United Nations has passed 172 resolutions specifically on Palestinian refugees over the past 60 years yet not one on Jewish refugees?
That United Nations record is a matter of grave concern. As I will go on to acknowledge, it is of course important to recognise the suffering experienced by the Palestinians displaced by the 1948 war, but that should not blind us to the suffering experienced by the Jewish communities about whom we are reflecting today.
Jewish people lived in what is now the Arab world for a millennium before Islam was founded, and centuries before the Arab conquest of many of those territories. Until the 17th century, there were more Jewish people in the Arab and wider Muslim world than in Europe. In 1939, 33% of the population of Baghdad was Jewish, making it proportionately more Jewish than Warsaw. Until their 20th-century expulsion, Jewish people had lived in the area covered by present-day Iraq since the Babylonians exiled them from Judea to Mesopotamia in 586BC. The Bible tells us that, taken into captivity in Babylon, they wept on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates. A sizeable minority chose to stay after the Persian king Cyrus defeated the Babylonians and declared that the Jews were free to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. Jewish people living under Muslim rule shaped Judaism as we know it today. The Talmud—or the Babylonian Talmud, as it is often called—was written in the pre-Islamic academies of present-day Iraq. For centuries, Babylon was the spiritual and religious hub of Judaism.
According to the powerful book “Uprooted” by Lyn Julius—I warmly recommend it to everyone here and welcome that Lyn is with us in the Gallery—Jewish people in the Arab world faced two types of oppression. Countries such as Yemen, Syria and post-Suez Egypt drove out their Jewish populations mainly in a single mass expulsion. In other places, such as Lebanon and Morocco, Jews were pushed out gradually over a more protracted period, steadily being made to feel less and less welcome in their home countries. Several countries criminalised Zionism, exposing their Jewish minorities to the allegation that they were somehow enemies of the state.
In Iraq, the situation deteriorated over time. Having served their country proudly over centuries, the vast majority of the Jewish community in Iraq had their nationality taken from them in 1951. A crisis point was reached in 1969 with the execution of nine Jewish Iraqis on trumped-up charges of spying. Their bodies were left hanging for days on public display. Following that brutal episode, many of Iraq’s remaining Jewish population escaped through Kurdish areas, including the vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, my constituent Edwin Shuker.
Last year, Edwin visited Parliament to talk to MPs about the injustice we are reflecting on today and to share with us the story of his escape from Baghdad over the Kurdistan mountains. He told me:
“For years, we were pleading to be allowed to leave…We were happy to leave behind everything, but were denied this request. Instead, we were practically kept as hostages from 1963 until we finally managed to escape with our lives in 1971…and were mercifully granted asylum upon arrival to the UK.”
I pay tribute to the tireless work Edwin and others have done on this issue, and I am pleased he is here with us today. I welcome all those here today who have been personally affected by the events that we are considering or whose families were driven out of those ancient communities in the middle east.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
In a moment. I thank those people for their courage in speaking out on this important issue. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.
I apologise for intervening on my right hon. Friend while she was mid flow. I congratulate her on securing this historic and hugely important debate. The US and Canadian Governments have both passed resolutions formally recognising the plight of Jewish refugees. Would she support a similar measure here in the UK, so that the British Government, the British people and Britain as a whole finally recognise, officially and formally, the plight of those Jewish refugees, which she is describing?
I agree that we need much clearer recognition. One good way to do that would be a resolution in Parliament. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will consider that as a next step from this debate.
I pay tribute to Harif, which provides a powerful voice for Jewish people originally from the middle east and north Africa, ventilating many of the concerns about which we will no doubt hear in this debate. I also thank the Board of Deputies, Conservative Friends of Israel and Dr Stan Urman for the information they provided me with in advance of the debate.
Many people were given just days to leave, and most lost everything they owned. A Jewish Egyptian refugee, Joseph Abdul Wahed, wrote:
“We left. And we lost everything. We lost the business, the manufacturing shop, a very beautiful villa with a garden full of orange blossoms and lemon blossoms that I can still remember. But I did take with me a Star of David. It was made by my grandfather. Luckily I was able to get it out.”
The ethnic cleansing of Jewish people from the Arab world has far too often been overlooked, as we have already heard in interventions. This is largely an untold story, and it is an unresolved injustice.
Huge amounts of airtime, debate and resources are focused on the Palestinians who were displaced by the 1948 conflict, and it is right to acknowledge their suffering and the importance of safeguarding their interests in a future peace settlement. But the plight of the 850,000 Jewish refugees and the scale of their suffering have never had the recognition they deserve. Indeed, I was shocked to learn that some countries’ embassies in Cairo are apparently located in homes stolen from Jewish Egyptian refugees. Concentrating only on the Palestinian refugees gives the international community a distorted view of the middle east dispute. A fair settlement needs to take into account the injustice suffered by Jewish refugees as well as the plight of displaced Palestinians.
The historic UN resolution 242 states that a comprehensive peace agreement should include
“a just settlement of the refugee problem”—
language that is inclusive of both Palestinian and Jewish refugees. The status of Jewish refugees has been recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and by world leaders such as President Bill Clinton.
I thank the right hon. Lady for raising this issue. Although I am a European Jew—my family are European Jews—my mother’s best friend at school was an Egyptian Jew who had to flee Egypt in the 1950s to move to Israel. I grew up with stories of Egyptian Jews, Iranian Jews and Iraqi Jews who had to flee and who lost many things when they were fleeing, so I am really grateful for the right hon. Lady’s intervention, and I call for reparations for Jewish refugees from those countries as well as for Palestinian refugees.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is so important for us to be able to tell some of these stories. It is astonishing that they are so little known. I therefore welcome his intervention.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised this matter in her speech to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration; she referred to the suffering of both Jewish and Palestinian refugees. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Government’s help on some key questions. I appeal to them to back the efforts by UNESCO and other bodies that are pressing for the conservation of historic sites in the middle east that have cultural significance for the Jewish community and, indeed, other minorities. I also appeal for Ministers, when they discuss middle east matters, explicitly to acknowledge that two refugee populations, Palestinians and Jews, emerged from the same conflict, during the same period, and that the rights of both need to be addressed in a fair settlement. I also ask right hon. and hon. Members to acknowledge that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) did, and as has been the case in resolutions passed in the US Congress and the Canadian Parliament.
After fleeing their home countries, a number of the 850,000 displaced Jewish people went to the UK and Europe or to Australia, the USA and Canada. About 650,000 found refuge in Israel. Many faced hardship and adversity, but I want to highlight the optimism, because theirs is a huge success story, as they have become a much-valued part of the social fabric of the countries that welcomed them and took them in. In their former homelands in the middle east and north Africa, Jewish people over centuries had attained leading roles in many walks of life, and that success has been replicated in their new home countries, including here in the United Kingdom and in my own constituency. I count it a great honour that those I represent in the House include people whose courage and determination got them through a traumatic expulsion from their former homes in the middle east and north Africa.
I want to close on a cautionary note. I am deeply worried that history is repeating itself in the middle east. Just as the indigenous Jewish population was forced out 70 years ago, so the Christians are now under ever-increasing pressure. A grave injustice was perpetrated on the Jewish communities in the middle east and north Africa. Let us hope that that is not repeated in relation to the Christians in the region, whose roots also go back many centuries and whose position now also looks increasingly precarious.
I am afraid that this is an occasion to recall the solemn statement by the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks:
“The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.”
That is a danger that none of us should ever forget.
Order. This hour-long debate will finish at 5.58 pm. Seven Members are seeking to contribute. I am obliged to start calling the Front Benchers no later than 5.36 pm, and the guideline time limits are five minutes for the SNP and for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, with Theresa Villiers having two or three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. That means we have 21 minutes of Back-Bench time, which means that there will have to be a three-minute limit to ensure that everyone can contribute.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on securing this important debate. The 850,000 Jewish people displaced from Arab countries from 1948 are the forgotten refugees. They rarely feature as part of the discourse about the plight of middle eastern refugees associated with the establishment of the state of Israel, yet they are an integral part of the history of that region.
It is truly shocking that since 1947, antisemitism—hostility towards Jewish people—has virtually extinguished Jewish life in the middle east. Jewish people have lived in the middle east and north Africa since antiquity. Cities such as Baghdad in Iraq and Aleppo in Syria were renowned hubs of Jewish life. In 1947, one quarter of the population of Baghdad was Jewish, putting Baghdad on a par, in terms of the Jewish population, with pre-war Warsaw and New York. In 1947, there were 90,000 Egyptian Jews, living mainly in Cairo and Alexandria. The fate of the Jews of that region was persecution and expulsion, and their assets were confiscated. There is no right of return. The persecution and expulsion continued into the 1950s and beyond. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) is one of the Jewish Egyptian refugees.
The Jewish refugees were forced to make new lives elsewhere. Many found refuge in the state of Israel. Today, half of Israel’s population traces its origins to other middle eastern or north African countries. It is time that the story of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries was told as a fundamental part of the history of that important region. The Jewish people have always been part of the middle east. It is a sad reflection on the history of the region that there are now virtually no Jews in the middle east outside of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. I hope that a peaceful solution to current conflicts in the region will once again welcome Jewish people right across the region, to the place of their origins.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Many in the House will know that I have a deep personal connection to this issue. I very much wish that my grandfather, Renato Halfon, had been alive now to see the demise of Muammar Gaddafi. In 1968, my grandfather was forced to leave Libya because of pogroms targeting Jews and, as an Italian Jew, he fled to Rome. He had owned a clothing business, and planned to return to Tripoli once the pogroms had subsided, but when Colonel Gaddafi took power in 1969, all Jewish businesses were seized under the new regime. In the beginning, Gaddafi was seen as a saviour, yet, as we know, he became a murderous dictator.
My grandfather, like thousands of other Jews from Libya, had nothing to return to—no home or business. On top of oil money, Gaddafi had bought the loyalty of his supporters by giving them all the property seized from the Jews and Italians. Gaddafi’s rule was driven by the conviction that foreigners were still exploiting Libya, and the eviction of Jews and Italians was made a hallmark of his regime.
Fortunately, my grandfather had seen Gaddafi coming. He sent my father, aged 15, to England in the late 1950s. After a short stint in Rome, my grandfather joined him in north London, where he spent the rest of his life. It is a great sadness that, by the end of 1970, nearly all Jews and Italians had left Libya. Jews had lived in Libya for more than 2,300 years and had a thriving culture. The population numbered more than 38,000 by 1948.
Today, Jewish communities all over the middle east and north Africa have been almost entirely erased. The flight of historic Jewish communities has altered the shape and face of the region forever, but that is rarely recognised or spoken about on the international stage. As I mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), the UN has passed 172 resolutions specifically on Palestinian refugees, but nothing on Jewish refugees. It must be noted that Israel, despite being in its infancy as a country and under attack from six Arab states in 1948, did its best to integrate Jewish refugees. In comparison, many Arab countries, with the exception of Jordan and a few others, turned their backs on the displaced Palestinians.
I am proudly British. I feel a deep attachment to my heritage. I do not want a right of return. I only wish to go to Tripoli to retrace my dear grandfather’s footsteps. I urge the Minister to give the immense suffering of Jewish refugees international recognition and equal prominence to the plight of the Palestinian refugees. All their stories deserve to be told.
It is always a pleasure to participate in debates under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on securing this important debate.
As the right hon. Lady has made clear, it is important to acknowledge the historical facts relating to Jews forced to flee their homes in the middle east and north Africa. Too often, the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dominated by a narrative that demonises Israel and delegitimises the rights of Jews to self-determination in their own state.
In the aftermath of the creation of the state of Israel, as the right hon. Lady said, a minimum of 850,000 Jews were forced from their homes. From Iraq to Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen, state-sanctioned pogroms descended on Jewish neighbourhoods, killing innocents and destroying ancient synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. New draconian laws prevented Jews from public worship, forced them to carry Jewish identity cards, and seized billions of dollars of their property and assets. Any future peace plan must tackle that issue. It should be part of any full and final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. Naturally, there must also be justice for Palestinian refugees, based on credible proposals. As Palestinian leaders have privately accepted for decades, it is not feasible to demand both a Palestinian state and the right of return to Israel for Palestinian refugees. Other solutions have to be found, which are just and recognise the losses that refugees have suffered.
It is also time to question the need for Palestinians to live in United Nations-run refugee camps. Surely, they should be encouraged and supported to live in better conditions in Arab countries in the region. That need not in any way compromise or prejudice their rights in any future peace agreement. Refugees, especially children, should not be used as political pawns in the frontline of a public relations campaign.
Regarding these issues, in the past I have accused the Leader of the Opposition of supporting a one-state solution. Today, I reiterate that charge. It is the logical conclusion of the positions he has adopted for decades and his support for the view that the creation of the state of Israel was a catastrophe. His personal attempt to persuade the Labour national executive committee to amend the definition of antisemitism, to allow people to say that the creation and existence of Israel is a racist endeavour, tells us all we need to know about his view of Jewish people’s right to self-determination.
The Leader of the Opposition and many of his supporters support the campaigns of every minority around the world who demand the right to self-determination. Why are Jews the only exception? It is to be hoped that the Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry will shine a light on the Leader of the Opposition’s and his inner circle’s failure to act against their allies who are found to promote antisemitic rhetoric and imagery.
In conclusion, it is a source of regret that there is no meaningful political dialogue taking place at the present time between Israelis and Palestinians. Let us hope that this changes, in the interests of peace and stability for both peoples.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on securing this important debate. It is an opportunity to give this issue the prominence that it deserves. As the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) said, it is remarkable that this issue is rarely remarked upon. Some 850,000 people were forced from their homes, yet no pressure group or organisation ever talks about it. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) said, the UN has passed 172 resolutions on Palestinian refugees and not a single one on Jewish refugees. I ask the Minister to advise us on what can be done to correct that imbalance, and what the Government can do with regard to the United Nations.
The right hon. Lady said that Jewish roots in north Africa go back 3,000 years. Indeed, many Jewish people travelled with the Phoenicians, who were wonderful traders and seaman, capable of navigating the oceans. Today there is not a single Jewish person left in Algeria; previously there were 140,000. The same is true in Libya. There are said to be just 20 Jewish people living in Egypt, despite there once being a thriving community of 75,000.
The Jews of Yemen, a community going back 2,000 years, also faced some of the worst persecution, with protests against the UN partition plan resulting in the murders of over 80 innocent Jewish people, and the burning of their homes, school and synagogue. However, Israel manged to save 47,000 of the Yemeni Jews in the extraordinary Operation Magic Carpet, from 1949 to 1950, with help, I must say, from the United Kingdom, so that they could start their new lives in the nascent Jewish state.
Some 60,000 square miles of land was taken from Jewish refugees, which would be four times the size of Israel. These people are not seeking any kind of restitution; they are seeking recognition of their plight. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) also suggested that the Government should follow the lead of the Canadian, American and Israeli Governments, and officially recognise the experience of so many Jewish refugees after the second world war. I hope that the Government take that opportunity.
Many of those Jewish exiles have gone on to make a huge advance in their personal lives, as well as contributing to the community of Israel itself. They have reached important positions in national Government, and thrived in the public and private sectors. They have made an invaluable contribution to the state of Israel. When we hear about Palestinian refugees, we must all bear in mind the fact that this was a tragedy for not just one group of people, but two groups.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) for bringing this debate here and setting the scene so well, and giving us all a chance to participate. I add my voice to her call for the Minister for the Middle East to make representations to his US counterparts, ensuring that the long-awaited middle east peace process includes reference to the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
I am pleased to see the Minister in his place. I believe this is his first debate in Westminster Hall.
Well, he is very welcome. I am sure it will not be his last. It probably will not be my last either, but that is by the way.
Since the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland, the Protestants in the border regions that made up the new Northern Ireland have faced attempts on their lives, to ethnically cleanse them out of the regions. The United Nations has defined ethnic cleansing as
“a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic, or religious, group from certain geographic areas.”
That is what has happened along the border of Northern Ireland, and that is what has happened to the Jews. We know that only 4,000 Jews remain in the Arab world, while some 200,000 Arabs were absorbed into Israeli society, making up the Arab minority of 1.7 million people, which forms 21% of Israel’s population.
What can we do? First, the media bias against Israel and her people is exactly that: bias. For example, when the BBC attempts to set a narrative that does not equate to what is actually taking place on the ground—such as reporting retaliatory missiles launched by Israel in such a way that it seems like an offensive attack—we must investigate and seek the truth, but not from those who seek to write the narrative that suits them.
Secondly, we must fulfil our obligations to do what the Balfour Declaration began—allowing Israel back to her home and having equality and safety for all in the middle east. Thirdly, there is significant linkage between those two refugee populations, which underscores the need to deal with both simultaneously. We must impress upon the American Administration the importance of not negating any refugee’s rights to justice, nor the responsibility of Arab states to provide a humanitarian solution to their plight. Ensuring rights for both Arab and Jewish refugees is an essential key, on a very practical level, to resolving the issue of the refugees.
If Israelis—over 50% of whom are descendants of Jews displaced from Arab countries—are asked to approve a peace plan that provides rights and redress for Palestinian refugees only, it will be less likely to be adopted than an agreement that would provide rights and redress to Jewish refugees as well. That makes sense to me, and I believe it makes sense to everyone taking part in this debate.
A question was put to me over the weekend, and I shall ask the Minister the same question. What steps will the British Government take to recognise the injustice that was suffered by some 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries and to ensure that, in the Government’s stance on the middle east peace process, they recognise their tragedy alongside that of the Palestinian refugees? Both sets of lives matter and both narratives matter. We must strongly advocate for those whose plight often goes unnoticed—in this case, the plight of Jewish refugees from the middle east and north Africa.
I wish to dedicate much of what I am going to say to the Jewish refugees of Iraq. I have taken a personal interest in them over the past year, having become friends with several Jews of Iraqi heritage who fled to the UK from Iraq.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of watching a powerful documentary entitled “Remember Baghdad”, which tells the story of Edwin Shuker and others, and of a once prosperous Jewish community in the Iraqi capital. Their stories are similar to those of so many other Iraqi Jews—135,000, to be precise.
Baghdad was seen as one of the centres of the Jewish world, with an abundance of synagogues, Jewish schools and kosher butchers. At one point, the Jewish community constituted as much as a third of the total population of Baghdad. It was a Jewish community much like those in many other parts of the world.
The situation began to change in the 1940s, with violent riots. Then, upon Israel’s foundation in 1948, the situation for Iraq’s Jews became absolutely untenable. Laws were passed making Zionism a criminal offence and allowing the police to raid and search thousands of Jewish homes for any evidence of Zionism. Jews were also prevented from going to schools, hospitals and other public places and organisations. Also, Jews were removed from thousands of Government positions and their homes were valued at 80% less than those of their Arab neighbours. Faced with such heartbreaking persecution, over 120,000 Iraqi Jews fled the country between 1948 and 1951; sadly, today the Jewish population of Iraq numbers no more than five. Many refugees went to Israel to forge a new life, but hundreds came to the UK, and in doing so they forfeited their Iraqi citizenship and their property.
The powerful documentary that I have mentioned tells a story of great loss, but I was also struck by the enormous optimism that it showed about re-establishing a Jewish presence in Iraq. In closing, I encourage the Minister to take the time to watch this short film; I ask him to recognise the injustice that was suffered by more than 850,000 Jewish refugees from across the middle east and north Africa; and I also ask him to ensure that the Government recognise this tragedy alongside that of the Palestinian refugees in their stance on the middle east peace process.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to speak; I nearly said, “Sir Philip”, as I am sure it is just a matter of time before you are called that. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
I of course congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on securing this debate and on everything she said. I associate myself entirely with her comments and with other comments, particularly those by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) about the declaration that we would like to see this Government make, which would bring us into line—as I believe a number of speakers have said—with both the United States and Canada.
I was not planning to speak in this debate, as the time for it is short, but now I have been given the opportunity I will, of course, take it. I will say something about the importance of education regarding this particular issue. That is because, as I said in my intervention earlier and as we saw in the awful tweet from Abdullah in Bristol last night—speaking as I am now, he will probably think, as he also tweeted, that I too am a political figure on the “Zionist payroll”—there is a false narrative that has been created that Israel is a European and western creation, and that it is anathema in the middle east. However, we absolutely know—not only because of the thousands of years of history and heritage of the Jewish people in the middle east and north Africa, but because of recent history, as has been outlined during this debate—that the Jewish presence in the middle east is a living history that goes back to before the creation of the state of Israel, and there are many in the Jewish community who doubtless would have liked to continue to live their lives in north Africa and other parts of the middle east but are prevented from doing so today.
The lack of understanding of the history of Jewish refugees from elsewhere in the middle east and north Africa is perhaps part of the reason why so many people who pronounce on the issue of Israel are so ignorant in making the offensive comments and statements they make, and it is also why this debate is so important.
Of course, Yemen has been referred to; I will just make a very brief comment on it for the Minister to respond to when he speaks. There is a very small Yemeni Jewish community left, of—possibly—only about 70 people. Previously I have written and said on the Floor of the House of Commons that those Jews who are left in Yemen have been subjected to the most awful abuses and threats. One family in particular, whose representatives came to see me, live in fear. Only the father goes out to shop; his daughters have been threatened with rape by their Arab neighbours. This is a really dire situation; as I say, there are fewer than a hundred Jews left in Yemen.
A former immigration Minister—the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis)—tried to be as helpful as possible on this issue, but I hope that the Minister who is here today, the Minister for the Middle East, will also look at it.
We now come to the speeches from the Front Benches.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate. I commend the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) for securing it. I also commend her not only for the content of her speech, but for the tone in which she delivered it.
In 2010, I had the great privilege of being present when Kate Adie was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews. In her doctoral address, she surprised a lot of the media studies students in the hall by telling them that if they wanted to follow her career path—possibly with fewer attempts on their life than she had experienced—they should not do a degree in media studies but a degree in history. Her logic was very simple. She said, “How can you possibly hope to explain to people back home what is happening in a faraway country today if you don’t understand what happened in that country, and to it, in the past?” This debate, and particularly the opening speech by the right hon. Lady, has brought that comment home again, because it seems to me that too many people who speak very forcefully about what should happen to solve the problems in the middle east are either unaware of its history or—perhaps even worse—only aware of part of that history.
When we look at the recent history of Israel and of the Jewish people, it is very easy to be overwhelmed by the scale and the horror of what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, and to lose sight of the fact that at any other time what was happening to Jews in other parts of the world would have been seen as a catastrophe on a global scale. That is because 850,000 people were forced out of the only homes they had ever known—homes that they could demonstrate their families had lived in for hundreds, and possibly even thousands, of years. An unknown number of people were killed—certainly hundreds, but probably thousands. By today’s standards, that was ethnic cleansing. Indeed, I would argue that by today’s standards that was a genocide and it deserves to be recognised as such. And those people who fled for their lives to try to escape from that genocide should be recognised as refugees, just as those people who are currently fleeing from Yemen, Syria and other conflict areas should be recognised, and looked after, as refugees.
One of the sad things in any conflict is that civilians always lose in any conflict; they are always the ones who become refugees. And it is unusual for there to be an armed conflict where there is only one group of refugees; we almost always find that there are refugees from both sides. As the right hon. Lady forcefully reminded us, and as others have commented on, two entire populations of refugees were created as a result of the conflict in the middle east in the 1940s and 1950s. Both those populations deserve equal recognition; the members of those populations all had equal rights and they all suffered appalling losses and appalling treatment. All of their stories deserve to be heard and remembered.
As well as looking at what we need to do now to try, as far as possible, to restore the rights of all those who were persecuted in the past, we also need to look at what we should be doing differently now to stop such persecution from happening again. I liked the comment earlier that hatred against the Jews does not stop with the Jews, and eventually becomes hatred of somebody else. I think that is a lesson that we take too long to learn. When we allow hatred and persecution of any minority in a society to become normalised, that hatred and persecution very quickly spreads to a different minority, whether that minority is based on religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other characteristic.
If we tolerate and allow people to demean, dehumanise and vilify anyone else because of their religion, colour or nationality, we are allowing the start of another process of persecution against a minority at some point. In welcoming today’s debate, and associating myself with a huge amount of what the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said in her opening comments, I desperately hope that in 50 years’ time, there will not be some Parliament somewhere talking about a massive persecution against a population of refugees that happened because we did not do enough to stop it from happening in our world today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on having secured a very timely debate. It is extremely important, at this stage of all stages, to be reminded of the true history of the middle east and the part that the Jewish community played in it. I will say a little bit more about that in a minute.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her tour d’horizon of the middle east and north Africa, as well as her remarks about the near-total extinction of an ancient civilisation and the fact that this is the first debate we have had in this House on this subject. She also pointed out that Jews lived in that region for more than 1,000 years before the religion of Islam was founded. It was a thoughtful, well-researched opening speech, and I am grateful to her for it. The right hon. Lady also quoted the former Chief Rabbi and my relative through marriage, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks—a wise and incredible man, who did such a lot to represent the Jewish community of this country.
We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman), who always makes an excellent contribution in every debate that I hear her speak in. She mentioned that Jewish people have always been a part of the middle east, which is absolutely right. We heard from the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon); we then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis), who made the point that any future peace plans must include the history of Jewish refugees and the loss faced by those refugees. We also heard contributions from the hon. Members for Hendon (Dr Offord), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Henley (John Howell), and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). I am very grateful for the points that they made.
I have a personal interest in this topic. My earliest memories of my own family’s history centre on photographs of my late father, taken outside a mosque in Tangier. When my grandfather was a refugee from the Nazis during the occupation of Paris in 1940, my grandmother remained in Paris; he was in Spain. He crossed the water to Morocco, where he found refuge in Tangier. His own brother was the mayor of that city at the time, which shows the part that Jews played in north Africa and, indeed, the middle east. My father’s origins were Ottoman, from Salonica and Istanbul, so the cuisine that we enjoyed as children was always middle eastern and Turkish cooking—something that I found strange when I went to the homes of my English friends at school. Having mentioned my great-uncle, I will add that on the street where I lived in north-west London, my best friend’s family had fled from Cairo. The Sharma family had found refuge in London, and the parents and grandparents still spoke very good Arabic; their main language was French, which meant my family could communicate with them. Their stories about having to flee from Nasser’s Egypt always remained in my mind.
A few years ago, I went to Kurdistan in northern Iraq; I went to Erbil. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet mentioned the part that the Kurdish people have played in helping Jews escape from the hostile environments they found themselves in after 1947. It was a pleasure to hear from so many Kurdish contacts and interlocutors about their respect for the Jewish people, and the fact that if Israel were able to establish an embassy in Baghdad today, there would be one in Erbil tomorrow. They are great supporters of the Jewish people, and they feel a great sympathy because of the plight and persecution that they have unfortunately had to experience.
Over successive waves of persecution in the 20th century since 1948, up to 850,000 Jews—some estimates are close to 1 million—were expelled from mainly Arab countries. Most of those Mizrahi, as they are called in Israel, took their refuge in that country; their descendants comprise approximately half of all Israeli Jews. To many Israelis, the issue of refugees remains one of the outstanding obstacles to peace that must be resolved in any final status negotiations. The plight of Palestinian refugees, as we have heard, is well known, but Israelis rightly believe that less attention is given to former Jewish refugees.
As it happens, just before I came to this debate, I had a meeting with Dr Saeb Erekat from the Palestine Liberation Organisation. I told him about this debate and that we would be discussing Jewish refugees in the middle east, and asked him what he would do about that. He asked me to say quite openly that the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority believe that just as Palestinians should have their rights to return with full compensation, so should all Jewish refugees. I thought that was very interesting.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, for my first time in this capacity. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on having convened this debate; it is indeed a timely debate to be having, and she has laid out the case extremely well.
In the very short period of time we have had to debate this matter this afternoon—I hope this will be the first of several such debates, as one hour is insufficient to give this issue the coverage that it so richly demands—we have had a tour de force of the historical background to the conundrum currently faced by Jewish refugees. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), the Opposition spokesman on these matters. He has referred to a meeting with Dr Saeb Erekat; I also met with Dr Erekat today, and we shared a number of reflections on the current situation. He is a very wise man with a great deal of experience in these matters, and the remarks that he made to the hon. Gentleman do not surprise me in the least.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet mentioned Jewish refugees in the round, and spoke about the historical background to this issue. She mentioned Morocco and Tunisia; I am pleased she did so, because although the general history in respect of the Jewish people across north Africa and the middle east has been appalling, there are examples of countries that have done relatively well in a dismal scene. I cite Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan, which I think has also been mentioned, as countries where there has been a more benign attitude towards Jewish refugees. My right hon. Friend knows that I have an interest in Morocco; I was told anecdotally that Jewish residents in Israel who are from Morocco—the Opposition spokesman is nodding; I think he knows what I am going to say—often have a picture of the King of Morocco on their wall, because Morocco has done good things in the past in respect of its Jewish population.
However, that does not obscure the general awfulness of the way these things have been. We have heard from a lot of right hon. and hon. Members about the failure of the international community to properly understand the extent of Jewish refugee status. We talk a great deal about Palestinians—they are always in the news, and they are extremely important—but we also need to consider refugees in the round. Of course, UN Security Council resolution 242 mentions “refugees”; it does not disaggregate refugees. There is a reason for that, which we are exploring today.
It is particularly timely for me to be talking about this today, because three weeks ago I paid my first visit to the middle east in my new capacity, and I visited Yad Vashem. My belief is that a person will not fully understand the state of Israel unless they visit Yad Vashem. It had a profound impact on me. Yad Vashem gives us the story; it tells us why it is that a people who have been bashed, bullied and messed around over generations and centuries have said, “Enough! This is our home. This is ours, and we are going to defend it.” I am very pleased that the Government are four-square behind their right to self-determination and safety in the state of Israel.
The hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) spoke about the two-state solution. As we approach the Manama conference next week, I make it clear that we have to have a two-state solution based on the ’67 borders, with agreed land swaps and Jerusalem as a shared capital. There has been lots of talk in recent times about that being finessed, and he referred to the Leader of the Opposition. We are clear that we will not have peace in the middle east unless we have a shared future between the Jewish and Palestinian people, and that means a two-state solution. At this time, we just need to make that abundantly clear.
I spent a lot of time in the west bank, Gaza and Israel. I saw the desperate conditions in which the people of Gaza are living, and I visited Khan al-Ahmar, whose inhabitants are apparently safe for now, but who still expect to be made homeless by Israeli demolitions. The UN has said that could constitute a forcible transfer. The experience of all these people—the victims and survivors of the holocaust, the Israelis who live in fear of Palestinian rockets, and the Palestinians who live a precarious existence in Gaza or the west bank—illustrates the complexity of the issues still to be resolved by the middle east peace process.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet is absolutely right to cite UN Security Council resolution 242. It speaks of refugees; it does not break them down. The Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), touched on similar ground in his remarks.
The history of Jewish migration and displacement in the region is highly complex. We have touched on a great deal of that today. Some have estimated that the figures could be as high as 1 million displaced people over that period. For those whose homes and property were seized or who were forcibly expelled, the experience was hugely traumatic and hugely distressing. Some continue to live with all that distress today and rightly seek some sort of recognition of the trauma they have suffered. We deeply sympathise with that suffering, just as we sympathise with the many Palestinians who have been forced from their homes over the same period and, indeed, the more than 15 million people of many faiths and nationalities who are currently displaced in the region.
We understand that there were a range of motivations for Jews who decided to leave Arab countries. Many of them were certainly forced out, one way or another—either directly or by the general bullying behaviour that they experienced over years. Many left because they were driven by the desire to forge a new homeland for the Jewish people in the new state of Israel. We continue to support that legitimate aspiration for a secure and safe homeland in the form of the modern state of Israel, just as we support the objectives of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. The hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) was absolutely right to underscore the importance of that. It is with those two states very much in mind that we approach the Manama conference next week, at which this country will of course be represented.
The Government continue to believe that the way forward is through substantive peace talks between the parties leading to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital. We would also like to use every opportunity to call out any instances of antisemitism, wherever it occurs. Scapegoating and demonising minorities fuels division, hatred and violence, and it cannot go unchallenged, wherever we find it. Freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right that dovetails with many other human rights. Where religious freedoms are under attack, other basic rights are also under threat.
In the time available to me, I will run briefly through the contributions that have been made this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet mentioned UNESCO world heritage sites. We work, as she will probably know, with regional Governments and UN agencies so that cultural sites, religious and secular, are protected in a troubled region. She is right to raise that.
I commend the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on their contributions, particularly in relation to the history of this piece. They have a deep and long-standing interest in the matter.
My good friend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) pointed out that peace in the middle east needs consideration of Palestinian and Jewish refugees. I hope in my remarks and my emphasis on UN Security Council resolution 242 that I have made clear that the Government very much see it in that light, too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) talked about the injustice perpetrated on Jewish refugees and hoped that they, as well as Palestinian refugees, would feature in the middle east peace process. The fact we are having this debate in this place should reinforce the message that there can be no lasting peace without consideration of both of the peoples principally in the frame in this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) quoted a very insensitive remark by Abdullah from Bristol. I am grateful to Abdullah from Bristol for making his crass remark, because it gave us an opportunity to explode it today in the House of Commons. My hon. Friend also mentioned Yemen. Between 1948 and 1949, 50,000 Jews were airlifted from Yemen, and he is right to point out that there are probably only around 100 left.
I once again congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet on rightly raising this important matter. It is timely that she has done so, since next week in Manama these grave matters concerning the middle east peace process and the way forward will be considered. I very much hope that someone involved with those talks has been listening today.
I thank the Minister and everyone who has taken part in the debate. The main point I take away from it is that one hour is just not long enough. This story has stayed untold for far too long. We need this debate to be the start of a process by which we ensure that more people know about this unresolved injustice.
I echo the request from all parts of the House that the Government explicitly refer to the matter of Jewish refugees in statements, discussions and debates about the middle east because, as we have heard, it is not possible properly to understand the middle east conflict or to formulate a fair solution without an understanding of the issue with which we have been grappling this afternoon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) made a powerful point when he said that ignorance about the long history of the Jewish communities across the Arab world and the middle east is used as an excuse to fuel the entirely false narrative that Israel is somehow an artificial European construct and a colonial outpost. That is a false narrative, and I hope that the Minister and all right hon. and hon. Members present today will help me in taking forward the process and in ensuring that more people know what really happened 70 years ago, so that we can see some genuine justice in the middle east for the dispossessed Jewish communities of the Arab world.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.