Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 663: debated on Tuesday 9 July 2019

House of Commons

Tuesday 9 July 2019

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Courts Digitisation Programme

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on access to justice of the courts digitisation programme. (911797)

Enhancing access to justice is at the heart of our £1 billion court reform programme. Our new online district services provide an easily accessible, intuitive route for people to bring cases to court. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is testing, learning and inducting online services, based on feedback from the people who use them. More than 150,000 people used our services in 2018 and public feedback has been extremely positive.

Unfortunately, this Government are developing a track record of using digital technology not to improve services and empower people, but to cut costs and exclude people, so will the Minister commit to me now that he will ensure that the digitally excluded, especially the homeless, detainees and prisoners, have special access to support services; that access to legal aid will be clearly signposted online for the digital courts; and that the feedback and performance data—showing who is using these services, where and when—is publicly shared, so that we can measure whether the programme really is a success?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. I am intuitively sympathetic to all the points that she makes. I am very clear that there should always remain a telephone service, a paper-based service for those who need it, and the appropriate signposting. Inclusive justice is very important and we should never innovate merely because we can. We do not use new technologies merely because we can, but because they give a better outcome for the people who use our justice system.

When it comes to the digitisation of the probate service, the Minister should be aware that constituents are still coming to me, reporting delays of up to 10 or 12 weeks before they receive probate. They are having to negotiate automated email replies and phone lines that are too busy to handle calls. What can he say today to give relief to my constituents and others who are affected, following the death of a loved one?

My right hon. Friend has cleverly anticipated Question 15. I have heard from Members across the House the deep frustration they feel regarding the current issues in the probate system. Delays had reached as long as eight weeks last month. We have put in place a number of measures to try to reduce the overall waiting time. It is now back down to roughly six to seven weeks, but that is still not good enough. We are now clearing the number of outstanding cases by about 1,000 a day, and I hope that the backlog can be cleared in around two to three months.

Is not the truth that what is happening at the moment is a restriction on access to justice, because almost half the courts in the country have been closed? Will the Minister follow what the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges has said, and put a moratorium on court closures until the digitisation programme—£200 million over budget, spending £70 million on consultants—is seen to work?

I very much hear what the hon. Gentleman is telling me. He will recall a debate that we had in this Chamber a couple of weeks ago on that point. We have no plans to close any further courts at the moment, but he will recognise that there is a need to make sure that our court estate is used appropriately, and he will recognise that where court buildings are not used, or indeed are used for less than half the time for which they could be available, we have to look at making sure that what we do in our courts best meets the needs of our estate and of the people using our courts system.

Last year, the Government made a huge fanfare about their female offenders strategy but announced only £5 million for it. Recently, legal aid was increased by £8 million, but that pales into insignificance compared with £67 million spent on consultants to provide cuts to our courts. Instead of throwing money at the consultants, surely there should be a proper debate in this House on the Government’s disastrous court closure programme.

When I speak to most sensible people across the entire justice system, there is a recognition that our justice system has to modernise. If we do not transform or modernise the system, the service will become increasingly unsustainable and will deliver a progressively worse service for the people for whom I know the hon. Lady wants to get the best outcomes possible—I do too. If we do not modernise, our district system will not be able to maintain that level of service.

Benefit Application Appeal Tribunal Hearings

2. What recent estimate he has made of the average waiting time for benefit application appeal tribunal hearings in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England. (911798)

Between January and March 2019, the average waiting time for benefit appeals in Northamptonshire was 21 weeks. In England, it was 33 weeks.

Too many of my Kettering constituents are having to wait far too long for their appeals to be heard when their benefit applications are turned down. The Minister has read out average figures, but some of the waits are over 30 weeks. What can he do to speed up the appeals process in Kettering?

I was almost disappointed that my hon. Friend did not phrase his first question better, because I was going to go on to tell him that in Kettering, the waiting time was actually 33 weeks, which is comparable to the England average—12 weeks longer than that in Northamptonshire. If I may anticipate the further follow-up question that he might have liked to ask, in Kettering we are making new venues available, particularly in Wellingborough and Northamptonshire, and we have added three judges, eight disability qualified tribunal panel members and two medically qualified tribunal panel members to try to reduce waiting times in his constituency.

No, no, no, no, no, no. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is not only not in Northamptonshire; it is not in England! It really is stretching the point. Oh, very well. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a pertinent inquiry appertaining to Northamptonshire, in which no doubt he has the deepest interest, or relating to England, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

You are very gracious, Mr Speaker. Benefits actually cover the whole UK and I represent the furthest-away constituency in the UK mainland. Delays in decision making are troublesome to say the very least. The problem as I see it is that the key decision makers are not actually based in Wick, where there are excellent staff, but much further south. Would it not be a good idea if we moved key decision makers closer to people in need?

I am presuming that the hon. Gentleman is encouraging me to have more tribunals in Wick, as opposed to decision makers. Since I have 3,000 employed in my own constituency making key decisions on personal independence payments, I do not think we should move to Wick. None the less, there is a lack of tribunals in his constituency. We will have to hear further information from him as to how we can improve accessibility there.

In relation to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) just chuntered from a sedentary position, “Yes, but he’s a nice guy.” Well, I think we can all agree about that.

Prison Staff: Health and Safety

Keeping our prisons safe, both for the dedicated staff working in them and for the men and women in our custody, is our top priority. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service continually assesses the risks to staff in our prisons, putting in suitable measures and controls. The effectiveness of those controls is monitored locally and nationally, and through joint audit work with prison unions.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but it must be of concern to the whole House when the Ministry of Justice’s own figures show that violence against prison staff is at a record high. There were almost twice as many assaults in 2018 as there were in 2010. Does the Minister agree that everyone working in our prison system, whether as a prison officer, an educator, a nurse or anything else, should have an absolute right to a safe workplace, safe from violent assaults? Will he support the joint trade union “Safer Inside” campaign to secure that objective?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and he is right to alert us to the day-to-day bravery of prison staff in whatever part of the prison estate they work. A lot of work is going on to improve how prison staff interact with prisoners, and the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 allows the courts to impose greater sentences to deal with assault. I will look very carefully at the proposals that are being set out tomorrow and work with Members across the House to ensure that we rise to the challenge of prison violence.

Sexual assaults against prison staff have soared by 360% since 2010—a shocking statistic that the Government should be ashamed of. Does the Minister agree that the recent attack that saw a prisoner ejaculate over a female officer should be treated as a sexual assault —and a serious sexual assault at that—and be prosecuted as such?

The hon. Lady raises a very interesting point. While I think it would be invidious of me to comment on a particular case, I can see the force of her point. That is quite clearly a very serious assault and there are aggravating features in there, which make it particularly distressing for the worker involved. As I said, a lot of important work is going on with regard to body-worn cameras and we need the roll-out of PAVA spray to help protect prison officers who, let us face it, are doing such an important job that is all too often unheralded.

The use of psychoactive substances is regrettably on the rise in prisons and has an effect on behaviour. What are the Government doing to tackle that?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Indeed, the service has started research on the effects on prison staff of second-hand exposure to psychoactive substances, in particular across 10 prisons. That testing programme will be extended. We have also established a drugs taskforce, because the best way to deal with the risk is to minimise the use of drugs in prisons. That is a tough challenge, but one that the whole service is working towards.

Teachers, nurses, cleaners and many others are a vital part of our prison workforce. However, alongside prison officers, they are exposed to the dangers of the prison estate, which the prisons inspector just today has stated contains too much violence, drug use and inactivity, and frankly remains in a state of emergency. Staff have the right to work in a safe environment that is free from violence, abuse and danger, but violence against staff is reaching record highs. Will the Justice Secretary commit today to meeting the teachers I met earlier, and who are in the Gallery to hear his answers, to ensure the safety of all our staff in our prisons?

I am always interested in meeting staff from across the prison estate, and that includes the teachers who are here today. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight Peter Clarke’s important report. That report contains significant findings relating to the ongoing challenges, but it also celebrates the professionalism, the caring and the well-run safe, calm parts of our prison estate that exemplify a successful history and pattern of working. I was delighted to be able to attend the prison officer of the year awards last week to acknowledge some of the outstanding service given by prison officers and other employees in HMPPS.


When people make the difficult decision to divorce, the evidence suggests that counselling will often be too late at that stage. Seeking counselling would be a personal choice for those involved. For counselling to bring a change of direction, it would require the willing co-operation of both people in the marriage. We will look at the information available to people who are contemplating divorce to see whether we can strengthen signposting to marriage counselling, and our Bill will provide the opportunity for parties to reflect on the decision to divorce by introducing a minimum timeframe within the legal process. Couples who can reconcile will be able to do so.

Now that divorce is being made easier, with no-fault divorce going on the statute book, should we have parallel provision to help couples to save their marriages? I think the best way to do that would be further investment in services under section 22 of the Family Law Act 1996.

I think there is a wider debate to be had about how Government as a whole can address issues that lead to relationship breakdown. Simply funding marriage support services may not address the heart of the issue or reach the people who need help most at the right time, but I agree that there is a need to test what works to help couples to stay together, and I am happy to listen to the arguments about that.

Family mediation offers a way to resolve child or financial arrangements without litigation, and child contact centres provide safe, neutral venues where separated couples can build sustainable long-term child arrangements. In reforming the legal process for divorce, we will look to strengthen how couples are signposted to such services. My right hon. Friend refers to counselling, a service for people whose relationships are in trouble. As well as using services such as Relate, many people draw on family, friends and others they can trust. A marriage is more likely to be saveable before the legal process of divorce has begun.

Can the Minister outline what discussions have been held about offering support for counselling through charitable initiatives such as Relate to cut down waiting times from eight weeks? During that time many couples decide that their issues are irrevocable when in fact they might have been salvageable with help and support.

As I said earlier, there is a wider debate on this matter. I believe that the earlier such support can be provided, the better. When it comes to reform of divorce law, my argument is that by that stage it is often too late. In any event, the current requirement in our divorce law to attribute blame and fault makes it all the harder for marriages to be reconciled.

I think my right hon. Friend and the Government have got the approach right. Divorce is not the time to start putting difficulties in people’s way. When people get married, they know it is going to end in desertion, divorce or death; on the whole, death is the one we would choose, but preferably not as a result of too active participation by the other half.

May I reinforce what my right hon. Friend said, and ask him whether he will try to make it better known, not just in his Department but in others, that if people can get into stable households, all sorts of things go better? Poverty is reduced, anguish is reduced, life is extended and people have better lives, so times of family formation, reformation and even de-formation can lead to a better life for most people.

I do agree with my hon. Friend, and I am interested by the insights into the Bottomley household. The fact that our current divorce laws introduce conflict at the point of divorce can make the break-up of relationships more confrontational than it needs to be in what are already difficult circumstances.

And Lady Bottomley says so as well, as the hon. Gentleman pertinently observes from a sedentary position.

Short Sentences

5. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of sentences of less than three months in reducing reoffending. (911801)

There is persuasive evidence that short custodial sentences do not work for the purposes of rehabilitation and helping some offenders to turn their backs on crime. They are highly disruptive to people’s lives, and provide little time for the Prison Service to do any meaningful rehabilitative work. In certain circumstances, community sentences are more effective in reducing reoffending and addressing offenders’ needs. Unless we tackle the underlying causes of reoffending, we cannot protect the public from being victims of crime. There is a strong case for abolishing short custodial sentences, with some exceptions, and I shall set out proposals shortly.

The Secretary of State will be pleased to know that 85% of those who responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation supported the existing presumption against short sentences, and were in favour of extending that beyond the current three-month presumption. Given that that presumption has helped to achieve a 19-year low in reconviction rates, I hope he agrees with the outcome of the consultation. Perhaps he will also tell us exactly what “shortly” means, and exactly when the UK Government intend to follow the Scottish Government’s lead on these matters, as they should on so many others.

“Shortly” means “shortly”. [Laughter.] I am not going to elaborate on that, but I will say that in considering sentencing reform it is necessary also to look more broadly at the probation system. That is why I recently announced proposals to reform probation that will inform offender management and strengthen confidence in probation. However, I advise the hon. Gentleman to watch this space.

I welcome the link that my right hon. Friend has made between sentencing and probation. Does he agree that one of the compelling arguments in favour of reform is that the vast majority of people who are given short sentences tend to be repeat petty offenders whose behaviour is often driven by a number of factors such as drug addiction, debt, alcoholism and mental health issues—which are not and cannot best be treated in a custodial setting—and that we ought to invest far more in treating those people effectively outside, in the interests of public protection as much as anything else?

I entirely agree with the Chairman of the Justice Committee. If we put people inside for a short time—for instance, prolific shoplifters—we want to address that criminality, but all that we actually do is make them more likely to reoffend and continue to be prolific criminals. Evidence shows that when it comes to reoffending rates, community sentences work better, but we need to do everything we can to ensure that they can be improved.

In the past five years, more than 300,000 prison sentences of less than a year have been handed out, but the reoffending rate among that cohort is a staggering 64.4%. The Justice Committee has repeatedly called for the abolition of short custodial sentences. I appreciate that the Secretary of State is sympathetic to that call—I note his answer to an earlier question—but may we please have swift and urgent action?

I agree with the hon. Lady’s point about the statistics—we should be led by the evidence—and I hope to make further progress on this matter in the time that is left ahead.

I very much hope that a large amount of time is left to my right hon. Friend, who has been a truly reforming Secretary of State in this area, and I endorse everything said on this question by my fellow members of the Select Committee on Justice. However, does the Secretary of State agree that it is very important that if we do have community sentences they are robust and well enforced? Given that the original question was asked by a Scottish MP, I am conscious of the fact that one in three community payback orders in Scotland are ignored by criminals.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that point, and much though I believe that we should make rapid progress in this area, I think that we should do so in a way that ensures the system works properly, and I do think that the link with, for example, strengthening community sentences and the way the probation system works is very important. I hope that we are moving in a direction whereby we can make progress and we focus on ensuring that these prolific petty offenders do not reoffend and we are led by the evidence on what is the most effective way to achieve that, and my sense is that there is a large cross-party consensus on this point.

When the Secretary of State decided to bring back 80% of community rehabilitation company activity into the National Probation Service that was welcome news, and I thank him for that, but he has left the community payback and accredited programmes in a different place. If he does not intend to bring that back into the core service, too, will he at least commit to having it commissioned as locally as possible?

Again, we have been led by the evidence. Offender management is not working as we need it to work with regard to the CRCs, but some of the other activity CRCs do is done very well: there is good innovation and good measures are taken, and we should recognise that. So I believe the private and voluntary sectors have a significant role to play, but it is different from the role played until now. In terms of commissioning and so on, I believe we need to ensure that reflects local circumstances and that is part of our plans.

Prisoners: Access to Work

6. What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for prisoners to access work before they are released. (911802)

21. What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for prisoners to access work before they are released. (911818)

23. What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for prisoners to access work before they are released. (911820)

A year ago, our education and employment strategy set out plans to transform the way prisoners develop the skills they need to secure employment on release, and in addition our new release on temporary licence framework aims to increase the number of people these opportunities are available to by allowing more prisoners to access it sooner and for longer.

I pay tribute to companies such as Timpson that are leading the way in employing ex-offenders. Which other companies is my hon. and learned Friend working with on this issue?

I am delighted to say that large companies such as Greene King from the catering and hospitality sector and Wates from the construction sector are now working with the new futures network that was set up last year to bring more employers, large and small, into partnerships with prisons.

Futures Unlocked is a charity in my constituency with a community café supported by Warwickshire police and crime commissioner Philip Seccombe. It gives work experience to people who have just completed a prison term and has just been awarded the Queen’s award for voluntary service. That is a great example of opportunities that can be offered after release, but what can be done beforehand?

I join my hon. Friend in supporting Futures Unlocked and extend my congratulations to it on receiving the Queen’s award, and my hon. Friend is right to talk about what can be done beforehand. It is about building confidence, and that is why the new futures network that I mentioned, which brokers partnerships with employers to provide opportunities before release, will be crucial if we are to extend the benefit of this scheme and reduce reoffending.

There is still some reticence among certain companies to employ ex-offenders. The Minister has highlighted some of the real success stories in the private sector where companies have specifically hired ex-offenders in a very effective way. What is his Department doing to showcase those success stories, to ensure that more companies follow this important goal?

My hon. Friend is right to talk about changing the culture. A number of companies are quite openly employing ex-offenders. Also, the Ban the Box initiative, which is all about encouraging companies to employ people with previous offences and removing the tick-box exercise, is supported within the Government and increasingly in the wider business community. I attended an event with the creative industries only three weeks ago to highlight that important initiative.

But the Minister will know that what prisoners need is not only to have been prepared and had training while they are in prison but to have the full monty when they leave. They need housing, an opportunity to work and the full support of a good probation service, as was said by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chairman of the Justice Committee. Does the Minister realise, however, that when people who are found not guilty following a miscarriage of justice come out of prison, they get nothing?

The hon. Gentleman refers to miscarriages of justice. The prison system is there to deal with the prisoners in front of it, whatever might have happened with the case or proceedings they were involved with. However, he is absolutely right to talk about the need for housing. I am particularly interested in the £6.4 million initiative from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is working with Bristol, Leeds and Pentonville prisons to support released prisoners into accommodation. I am sad to say that there is a correlation between the lack of secure accommodation and the return to offending.

Does the Minister acknowledge that this sort of practice has been going on for some years in prisons such as Magilligan Prison in my constituency and that it is replicated in other prisons? Does he agree that the practice should be shared right across the United Kingdom and that it will, we hope, lead to a reduction in reoffending rates?

I am interested to hear the example that the right hon. Gentleman gives in the Northern Irish prison that he represents. The through-the-gate service, which deals with employment, housing and benefit support, is crucial if we are to reduce reoffending, and the Government are investing an extra £22 million a year in prisons in England and Wales. I am working actively with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to improve early access to universal credit.

Legal Advice Deserts

After the latest Legal Aid Agency civil tender, the number of offices providing legal aid services has increased by 7% in the areas of housing and debt. The Legal Aid Agency reviews the access to services on a regular basis and takes any necessary action to maintain access to those services.

As the east of England is the region with the highest percentage of population with no providers of housing legal aid, and as Ipswich is in the centre of the housing legal aid desert that covers the whole of Suffolk and most of north Essex, will the Minister agree to meet me and the director of the Suffolk Law Centre to discuss what can be done to address this housing legal aid desert?

I anticipated that the hon. Gentleman might ask about his local situation. Although a contract was awarded in Ipswich in the last tender, we are waiting for the provider to advise us that it has managed to recruit staff to provide advice. We are aware that this will be restricting access, and we will shortly consider re-tendering the service. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this further.

Public confidence in the legal aid system is often determined by high-profile cases such as the inquests into the Manchester bombing and the London Bridge attacks, in which the taxpayer funded the legal fees of the public authorities and, in the case of London Bridge, the widow of one of the terrorists, but not the victims of the attack. Many people feel instinctively that this is not right, so what work is the Minister doing to build confidence in the justice of the current system so that the victims of terror do not face their own legal advice desert?

I certainly hear what my hon. Friend says. Our thoughts will always be with those who have lost loved ones in any terror attack. Our review of legal aid shows that bereaved families do not need specific legal representation at the vast majority of inquests. It is important to ensure that these inquests remain inquisitorial, but what is known as equality of arms has to be a key consideration, as we know from Dame Elish Angiolini’s report. I am therefore working closely with my officials to look at what more can be done to help those families who are in an inquest situation.

This month marks 70 years since the post-war Labour Government introduced the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949. Tory cuts have decimated access in recent years, and those cuts alone mean 90,000 families denied legal aid for benefits challenges—a move that the United Nations criticised—and 50,000 families denied housing legal aid, letting rogue landlords off the hook, as well as tens of thousands left facing the hostile environment without legal support. Labour has committed to restoring legal aid for all family law, for housing, for benefits appeals, for judicial review preparation, for inquests and for real action on immigration cases. Will the Minister mark the 70th anniversary of legal aid by committing to return any of those?

As we survey the decaying embers of a dying regime reaching its inevitable conclusion, it is good to see the shadow Secretary of State showing that he is waving and not drowning, as he desperately tries to draw attention to the fact he is full of vim and vigour. As he will know, we are currently reviewing legal aid thresholds and exceptional case funding. We are bringing special guardianship orders back within the scope of legal aid, and we are looking at legal support action plans.

I am unclear, the more I listen to Labour Front Benchers, about why they assume that the only way to provide legal support is to fund it through legal aid. We will shortly have a question on law centres and, for me, there have to be a number of ways to provide legal support. [Interruption.] “And for us,” I hear the hon. Gentleman say from a sedentary position, and I am pleased to hear that.

Probation Reform

I am pleased to have announced plans to streamline probation delivery, through the National Probation Service, to build on the role of the private and voluntary sectors in driving innovation and to better support skilled probation officers. These changes will allow the public, private and voluntary sectors to play to their strengths and ensure stronger supervision and support for offenders. We are now developing the commercial and operational frameworks that will underlie the future system, and we are planning for the transition. We are undertaking a full programme of market engagement to inform our plans, in addition to engagement with probation staff and trade unions.

By any stretch of the imagination, the changes to the probation service have been a shambles, fragmenting the system and increasing risk to the community at large. A simple “sorry” may also help the Minister’s answer, but will he give an indication of the cost of cancelling the current contracts next year? What will be the replacement costs for the state or other providers in taking over those services?

First, “Transforming Rehabilitation” introduced bold reforms, and steps have been taken to ensure there is more innovation within our system, but I recognise that significant elements of it are not working as needed, which is why we have made the changes.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about costs, it is worth bearing in mind that we originally expected to spend £3.1 billion on community rehabilitation companies over a seven-year period, and we now expect to spend £2.7 billion over the same period. In other words, over the lifetime of the contracts, we now expect to spend £405 million less on CRCs than originally forecast.

Probation works best when working with local partners. A brilliant charity in my constituency is owed £1,800 as a result of Working Links going into administration. This is a significant sum for the Dracaena Centre in Falmouth. Will the Secretary of State intervene to ensure it is paid for its excellent work?

We will look at the specific case my hon. Friend raises, but we have already intervened to ensure those charities that have lost out as a consequence of what happened with Working Links receive support. I will make sure I look at her individual case.

Considering that many community rehabilitation companies are now discredited for prioritising profit over public safety, how will the Government hold them to account when mismanagement of their contractual responsibility for probation comes to light?

To be fair to the CRCs, I am not sure that any of them is taking steps to get profits—but perhaps to reduce their losses. In truth, the shareholders of CRCs have somewhat subsidised probation services in recent years. We will hold the CRCs to their contractual obligations and ensure they deliver what they are contractually obliged to deliver.

Leaving the EU: No Deal

9. What steps his Department has taken to prepare for the UK leaving the EU without a deal; and if he will make a statement. (911805)

Our justice system is respected across the world. That was the case before we joined the EU, and it will continue to be the case after we leave. The Department has taken all necessary steps to ensure we are prepared for a deal across MOJ interests and for the possibility of a no-deal exit, to the extent it is possible to do so.

This includes working closely with other Departments to ensure that essential services continue; working with suppliers of key products to ensure essential supplies are in place; providing the courts and judiciary with additional training and resources to enable them to prepare for possible changes; and ensuring that contingencies are in place for any potential traffic disruption in the south-east of England.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and welcome the strong statements he has made recently on a possible no-deal Brexit. Does he agree that, regardless of how much preparation is done, the implications of no deal for our justice systems would be dire?

What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that leaving the EU without a deal risks some significant impacts across the justice system, including potential disruption to goods and services to our prisons; an increase in case load and case complexity across court jurisdictions; increased pressure on our courts system; the loss of access to several law enforcement tools, including the loss of data exchange tools, making it more difficult to protect the public; and market access impacts on our legal sector, restricting or removing our ability to operate in EU markets. So do I think a no-deal Brexit is a good idea? No, I do not.

I commend the Secretary of State for his honesty, but I wonder whether he would pass on his knowledge on this subject to the two candidates to be the next Prime Minister, because, despite their recent and mercifully brief visits to Scotland, they seem unaware of the impact on the safety of people living in Scotland and across the UK if we leave the EU without a deal. Has he spoken to them to explain that if we do not have the use of the European arrest warrant, it will be extremely difficult to apprehend people who commit violent crime in this country and then go back to the continent, whereas at the moment this can be done within a matter of days?

Both candidates for the leadership of my party have made it clear that they do not want a no-deal Brexit, and I wish them well—[Interruption.] I understand that the chances are “a million to one”, so I wish them well in their endeavours.

It would seem that the Secretary of State and I must be reading different newspapers. In an earlier answer, he mentioned problems of data protection if we leave without a deal. Has he explained to the candidates to be Prime Minister that leaving without a deal means we would lose membership of Europol and, because of data protection rules, that would mean that not only would the police no longer have access to data held by Europol, but information that Police Scotland has currently been providing to Europol will be removed from Europol databases, thus prejudicing ongoing investigations? Does he agree that it is not acceptable for people in Scotland to have their safety so prejudiced?

First, I can confirm that I suspect we do read different newspapers, but I agree that the loss of access to various law enforcement tools would make it more difficult to protect the public. I am sure there are ways in which these issues can be addressed, but a much better way forward would be to leave the EU—this is where we disagree—with a deal.

A no-deal Brexit poses a serious threat to our justice system; ending access to the European arrest warrant and criminal database would leave us all less safe. The Justice Secretary agrees about those no-deal dangers, but I also fear that no deal is a stepping stone to a free trade deal with the United States of America. Labour’s justice spokesperson in the Lords recently asked whether our prisons would be up for grabs for American corporations in any post-Brexit free trade deal with the US, and the Government’s vague answer alarmed me. So will the Justice Secretary clearly state today that our prisons should not be part of any post-Brexit free trade deal with the USA?

First, I think I read different newspapers from the hon. Gentleman, although I do read the Morning Star when he has an article in it. [Interruption.] Which is not quite every day, although it sometimes feels like it. On trade deals with the US, it is the intention of this Government, and, I suspect, of the next Government, to enter into a trade deal with the US, but we would want to do so in a way that protects public services.

Tackling Reoffending: Voluntary Sector

11. What assessment the Government have made of the role of the voluntary sector in tackling reoffending. (911807)

The voluntary sector has a pivotal role in supporting rehabilitation and helping offenders to turn their lives around. I want to expand that role, including in the delivery of local and specialist services by smaller organisations. We have committed to tender up to £280 million of contracts for unpaid work, accredited programmes and rehabilitation interventions in the future model.

There are indeed many brilliant charities and voluntary organisations that help ex-offenders get back on their feet, including in my constituency the likes of Caring Hands in the Vale, which is led by the brilliant Diane Bennett, and other organisations that work throughout the country, such as The Right Course, which is led by Fred Sirieix. What practical help can the Government give to such organisations?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the excellent work done by those two organisations. In fact, more than 10,000 people work for voluntary organisations that are involved in criminal justice, and I want to involve them more closely. I have mentioned the dynamic framework, but we will also have a £20 million regional outcomes fund to pilot innovative programmes. The new regional probation model will allow local approaches at a local level.

Support for Veterans

12. What recent steps the Government have taken to support veterans in the criminal justice system. (911808)

We all owe a great debt to those who serve in our excellent armed forces—including, of course, the hon. and gallant Gentleman—both during and after their service, and that also applies to those former armed forces personnel who enter the criminal justice system. The Government have committed £5.7 million to the support of ex-armed forces personnel in the criminal justice system, and we work in close partnership with a range of service charities to provide the help that they need.

I thank the Minister for his response. I know he understands that veterans can have more complex needs than other offenders, but those needs are not always recognised, meaning that some do not get the support they require. Does he agree that we should have a dedicated veterans support officer in every probation and prison area?

The hon. and gallant Gentleman raises an important point. He is absolutely right that many veterans have specific needs, which are, for example, often met in the custodial estate by service charities that understand and can relate to those needs. He raises a sensible and interesting suggestion that I am happy to pick up with him after questions.

Law Centres

We recognise the valuable work that law centres do in local communities throughout the country and support them in that work through both grant funding and legal aid contracts.

Law centres such as South West London Law Centres, which has an office in my constituency, provide a significant cost saving to the public finances by helping to resolve legal issues in the fields of debt, employment, immigration and housing before they spiral out of control. Will the Minister commit to securing Treasury funding to provide a central grant to law centres to ensure their survival?

A few weeks ago I visited my local law centre in Blackpool, the Fylde Coast Advice and Legal Centre, and saw the excellent work that it does. The centre that the hon. Lady mentioned is on my “to visit” list, so staff there will be seeing me imminently. She makes the important point that we need to bring early legal advice as close as possible to the individual’s front door, and not wait for matters to reach the court door. We are committed in our legal support action plan to looking into how law centres can best be utilised to deliver on that agenda, so I am keen to hear what staff have to say to me when I get to meet them.

Family Courts: Rape and Domestic Abuse Survivors

14. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the service provided by family courts to survivors of rape and domestic abuse and their children. (911810)

We are determined to improve the family justice response to vulnerable parents and children, including victims of rape and domestic abuse. An expert panel has been established to help us better to understand victims’ experiences in the family courts, and we will hold a public call for evidence to build a more detailed picture of any harm caused during or following proceedings.

One of the most senior family court judges has described it as “shaming” to preside over so many cases where individuals are being forced to represent themselves because of the impact of legal aid cuts, especially as we should be minimising harm to children of victims of domestic violence. This really should be a central concern of our justice system. Is the Minister shamed by the effects of his Government’s policy?

What we are seeking to do with the panel that we have set up is make sure that we reappraise the incremental changes that have occurred over time and understand how that has impacted on practice in the courts. I am very keen to see what the panel has to say. It is independent, and I am not trying to pre-judge its outcomes at all, but I hope that it comes up with a series of short-term changes that we can make immediately. Areas of further work may be required.

I wrote to the Minister requesting the removal of automatic entitlement to joint assets from those guilty of attempting to murder their spouse. In his response, he expressed concern that to do so may punish the offender twice. But that is exactly what is happening to the victim: they are subject first to attempted murder and then to continued abuse through the courts and the potential loss of their home. The victims’ rights must always come first. Does he support the removal of the presumption of entitlement to joint assets in these cases?

I do understand the points that the hon. Lady makes. I am glad that she read my reply carefully, and I understand why it might concern her. Part of the objective of this panel is to make sure that we look across the wide spectrum of practice in the family justice system. I have heard the points that she has made and I am sure that the panel will have, too. I look forward to seeing what advice the panel has.

Topical Questions

The Government intend to bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows to create a Helen’s law. We propose to change the life sentence release test to ensure that, in a case where an offender has been sentenced for murder and the remains of the victim have not been found, the Parole Board must take account of any failure or refusal to disclose the location of those remains when assessing whether such an offender is safe to release. Although the Parole Board already considers such a failure or refusal as part of its risk assessment procedures, our proposal will set that out in statute. I pay tribute to Marie McCourt for her tireless work on the Helen’s law campaign and the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) for similar such work.

Last month, in a letter to me, the Secretary of State revealed that more than £26 million of public money has been wasted in a single year fighting and losing personal independence payment appeals. That is a vast sum, in addition to an appeals process that is forcing many disabled people to wait for their decisions. Does he believe that we are getting good value for public money, or does he accept Labour’s view that this is not only cruel but wasteful, and that it shows that we need to scrap these unfit-for-purpose assessments?

It is important that, where we have a benefit such as personal independence payments, we make an assessment as to whether those payments are going to the right people, and that, if there is an appeal against that, those appeals should be defended unless we believe that a mistake has been made. It is worth bearing in mind that, from memory, something like 4% of PIP assessments are overturned.

Well, it is done on an alternating basis. [Interruption.] I am just helping the hon. Lady. One alternates between the two sides of the House, and although she has Topical Question 6, she is the first of the Government Back Benchers, so her time is now. During the period in which I have been helpfully prattling away, she will, I feel certain, have conceived of an absolutely brilliant question.

T6. Following the debate in Westminster Hall yesterday, can my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State tell me when he will be able to bring forward a Bill to increase the penalty for those who are convicted of causing death by dangerous driving? (911827)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I am grateful to the Petitions Committee and to all hon. and right hon. Members who took part in that important debate yesterday, and to the families of the victims of that dreadful crime. It is my wish, and the wish of the Government, to bring forward the necessary legislation to change the maximum sentence from 14 years to life imprisonment as soon as humanly possible.

Last week I exposed the fact that the number of homeless women going to prison has almost doubled in the past four years. What is especially shocking is that almost half of all women now going to prison are homeless. This is an appalling indictment of our broken justice system. Prison is all too often the very worst place for people who desperately need help to tackle the underlying problems of homelessness, poverty, mental ill health and substance addiction that led to them being jailed in the first place. Is the Minister concerned that our prison system is targeting the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable?

The hon. Gentleman sets out many of the reasons why we brought in the female offender strategy last year. We are seeking to address the root causes of criminality, which are very often—even more so with women—to do with mental health issues, as well as the fact that a very large proportion of women offenders are victims of domestic abuse. It is right that we have a female offender strategy that focuses on non-custodial measures; part of that will be women’s residential centres.

Will the Minister update us on the sale or transfer to the Isle of Wight Council of Camp Hill prison? Is he aware of the importance of the site to the Island and to public housing on the Island, and does he understand the frustrations of Islanders, who see yet another bit of land being land-banked by either developers or Government Departments?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. I am as anxious as him to ensure that that land can be put to good use. I wrote to him last month. We have commissioned a demolition survey of the former Camp Hill prison, and I will meet him when the results are available later this month. I will also visit the Island to see the prison estate and to talk about the matter directly with the Island council.

T2. Since the Corston review into women in the criminal justice system in 2007, over 100 women have died in prison. INQUEST has recently published an update on its report, “Still Dying on the Inside”, which sets out the tragic and often avoidable circumstances around the deaths of women in custody. What concrete actions has the Minister taken to resolve this crisis? (911823)

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Although the female deaths in custody rate is lower than that of men, every single death is a tragedy that we must do everything we can to prevent; and likewise with self-harm. We have improved the support available to women in prisons. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we believe that in many cases a community sentence or community support is better and more effective than prison. The hon. Gentleman will have seen the announcement we made a few weeks ago about the health and justice plan that we are currently working on to improve health and support for everyone in prison—not just female offenders, but obviously including them.

Recent Ministry of Justice research shows the increasing concentration of crime in the hands of a few prolific criminals, but written answers that I have received in the past few weeks suggest that too few are being jailed. Will my right hon. Friend look to review the sentencing of prolific offenders?

This is one of the rare occasions when I have to say that I disagree with my hon. Friend. For prolific offenders of minor crimes, it is my view that a non-custodial approach is the right one, but we need to ensure that that works effectively. That is why I have announced reforms to probation. One problem we have at the moment is that such offenders get a short custodial sentence, which only disrupts lives but does not allow any opportunity to do any work on rehabilitation.

T3. I agree with the Secretary of State’s last point, but in order to achieve that he will need to reverse the trend that has seen a fall in drug and alcohol rehabilitation requirement orders from 170,000 five years ago to 120,000 this year. Will he look at that point? (911824)

I certainly will. We have recently announced an extension of the community sentence treatment requirement pilots. That is the direction that we need to be going in to address some of the substance abuse and mental health issues that often lie behind these prolific offenders who do cause great difficulties for society. If we want to reduce reoffending, we need to focus on that group and take effective, evidence-led measures.

On behalf of my constituent Linda Jones, may I thank and congratulate the Justice team, from the bottom of my heart, for bringing forward Helen’s law? Let us collectively hope that making parole harder to achieve unless a perpetrator reveals the whereabouts of the body will lead to the discovery of the remains of Danielle Jones—Linda Jones’s daughter—as well as those of Helen McCourt and all the other victims of such tragedies.

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been tireless on this cause on behalf of his constituent. Having met Marie McCourt, I know the pain that is suffered by those relatives who never get the opportunity to say farewell to their loved one. My hon. Friend has been making that case very, very forcefully, and I thank him for that.

T4. Contrary to the Government’s fairly timid review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, Jo Wilding’s new report on legal aid for immigration cases warns that urgent policy action is required to avoid catastrophic market failure in England and Wales. Will Ministers read that report and respond with the urgency required? (911825)

I am always happy to read any report relevant to my brief. We are already reviewing many parts of the legal aid framework, particularly around the thresholds. I will have a look at that report and take it on board.

As we head into the comprehensive spending review, what pitch will my right hon. Friend be making to the Treasury relating to prisons and schemes that have been successful in reducing reoffending?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point about reducing reoffending. I hope that there can be a focus in the comprehensive spending review on what the evidence leads us to do in reducing reoffending and prioritising areas that are effective in bringing down crime. He hits the nail on the head.

T5. I have been in communication with the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), about a constituent of mine who is facing an appalling situation with the Legal Aid Agency. The Legal Aid Agency applies a £100,000 disregard to eligibility for legal aid if someone is living in their main dwelling, but because my constituent is fleeing domestic violence and living in a women’s refuge, her property is considered to be her second home and she is being asked for the legal aid back. That cannot be the intention of the policy, but the Minister has not been able to do anything for my constituent. Will he urgently look into this and get us to a situation where people fleeing domestic violence are not penalised as a result of living in a refuge? (911826)

The hon. Gentleman wisely sent his communication to my parliamentary email, so I got to read it. That is a note to other Members around the House as to how to get my attention. I have already asked to speak to officials this afternoon and I hope to be in touch as soon as I can.

The Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018 went through Committee at the beginning of the year but has still not been subject to a vote here. Given that the proposed increase, for no additional work, from £215 to potentially £6,000 has been described as an abuse of the Lord Chancellor’s fee-levying powers, has he had second thoughts and decided to reject this iniquitous proposal?

“What does that mean?”, the hon. Gentleman chunters from a sedentary position. He is not in a minority of one in posing that question, but the Secretary of State’s reply was delphic.

T7. Youth offending teams are struggling to provide their services for young people and the public as the result of year-on-year cuts to those services. This has meant highly complex case loads for staff, meaning that they can only respond through crisis intervention work. What are the Government going to do to help councils provide the sustained preventive interventions that are desperately needed in this sector? (911828)

We, like the hon. Lady, value the work that youth offending teams do with children who have offended and the work they do to prevent offending. The Youth Justice Board’s total funding this year for frontline services, including youth offending teams, is £72.2 million, which is an increase on last year. We continue to invest in youth offending teams, but it is also important that we encourage innovations such as I saw when I visited Lewisham’s youth offending team earlier this year.

IPP prisoners are those imprisoned indefinitely for public protection who have been found guilty of serious violent and sexual offences. In 2011, 300 were released. In 2017, 616 were released. How can the public feel safe when more than 10 of these people a week are being released on to our streets?

My hon. Friend asks an important question about sentences of indeterminate length for public protection. I assure him that the Parole Board applies the most rigorous of tests before release. Indeed, the number of recalls to prison pursuant to that regime is about 1,000 prisoners. We still have 2,500 within the estate subject to that regime. There are counterweights that suggest to me that some prisoners have been there for too long, but I hear what he says.

T8. I have an urgent topical question for the Secretary of State. He has always been very good on victim support, and he will be relieved that my question is not about miscarriages of justice. Brake in my constituency works with victims of road crashes and road injuries. It is a very good and unique group, but I have heard that it is losing its grant from the Ministry of Justice. Why would that be? (911829)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Let me look at that particular issue and, if I may, I will write to him.

In his speech at the Mansion House last week, the Secretary of State rightly and powerfully paid tribute to the integrity and value of an independent judiciary to this country. Will he make it possible for that speech to be disseminated to all Members of this House, so that everyone here recognises the responsibility that sits upon us to treat the judiciary with respect and support its independence from political or other attacks at all times?

I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks. I believe it is very important to this country that we respect the independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law is at the heart of what we are about as a country. I can tell him that my speech is available on the website—I hope that this announcement will not result in that website crashing, but I assure the House that it can be found there.

T9. I look forward to meeting the Prisons Minister next week to discuss HMP Nottingham. One of the major challenges at the jail is drugs. What is the latest update on the roll-out of body scanners at this prison and others? (911830)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his continued interest in and concern for the welfare of prisoners and staff at HMP Nottingham. I look forward to updating him in detail next week. Among the issues we will discuss is that of drugs and how to eradicate them.

I was delighted last Friday to present long-service awards to more than a dozen prison officers and staff at Long Lartin Prison in my constituency. Will the Prisons Minister join me in thanking them for their service, often of more than 20 years? What is being done on the recruitment and retention of prison officers?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking such an interest in his local prison and taking part in that scheme. I mentioned the prison officer of the year awards. The importance of those awards is to recognise the outstanding service of prison officers and other staff within the estate. In terms of retention, we are improving the way in which we train and support prison officers, particularly the newest recruits, and the number of prison officers has increased by 1,500 in the year to date.

T10.   The work of our youth offending service in Sunderland is vital, yet since 2011 it has lost almost half its funding. If the Secretary of State is serious about diverting young people away from crime, will he look again at the current funding situation? We can and should be doing much more to support our young people, their families and the wider community. (911831)

As I said to the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), we recognise the vital work of youth offending teams across the country. We have increased the funding for frontline services this year. Local authorities also have a role to play. While she is right that the funding has reduced, it is worth remembering that so too has the statutory case load, by a significant amount. That is not the only factor—they do other work, which must be recognised—but it is a factor.

What assessment has the Minister made of the delays and errors at the Cardiff probate office, because what used to take a matter of 10 working days for my constituents is now taking months? Can he set out exactly what is causing the delays and, more importantly, what can be done to reduce them?

As I said at the start of Question Time, it is wrong that people in a state of bereavement are having to wait so long for these matters to be addressed. In May the average waiting time was eight weeks, and it has now decreased to six or seven weeks. I intend to keep working with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to keep that downward trend and bring waiting times back to the traditional two to three weeks.

The Prisons Minister has been good enough to keep me informed of developments at HMP Bristol in Horfield and of the urgent notification status. Will he agree to visit the prison with me, hopefully in the next couple of months, so that he can see for himself the challenges there are and how we can support the prison and the next governor to provide a safe regime?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her continuing interest in HMP Bristol. The response to the urgent notification will be issued this week, and I will indeed visit the prison with her in the coming months to ensure that the necessary progress is achieved.

In his answers to my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), the Minister seemed content with youth offending services, yet every day we see the results of the Government’s neglect of those services. Assuming that he has learned from that failure, what advice will he offer his successor to sort it out?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question—I am not yet sure whether that will be a matter for me or for a successor, but I assume he meant it kindly. He is right that the central Government grant has been reduced, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), and so too has that contributed by local authorities. It is important also to recognise the reducing statutory case load to set alongside that, although that is in no way to diminish the absolutely vital work that youth offending teams do. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that. I share his concern and will continue to work closely with the Youth Justice Board on it.

Campaigners and I are really pleased that the Government have commissioned a review of the treatment of victims of domestic abuse by the family courts, but we are concerned that survivors’ voices are not at the heart of the panel. I am looking forward to meeting the Minister next week, but will he take this opportunity to confirm on the record how victims and survivors of domestic abuse can participate in the review without fear of breaching gagging clauses imposed on them by the family courts?

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I have already had discussions with the panel’s chairs on how to ensure that as broad a spectrum of people as possible can participate in the panel and its evidence taking. I will take away that point and hopefully have a concrete answer for her by the time we meet.

Witnessing domestic abuse, especially as a child, is traumatising and has an impact on life for years to come. In the upcoming domestic violence legislation, will the Minister commit to including children who have witnessed domestic abuse in the statutory definition of a domestic abuse victim?

The hon. Lady rightly highlights the importance of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which we hope to bring forward as soon as we have fully considered the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the draft Bill. I know that is something that came up in evidence and in the Joint Committee, and it is something we will be looking at very carefully.

My constituent Claire Ball was sexually abused as a child. She bravely went through the trauma of giving evidence against the perpetrator in court. Throughout that process, Claire was given less support than the perpetrator, had no option for witnesses to support her and, disgustingly, was accused of “leading him on”. He was found not guilty—Claire has still not been given a clear reason why—and has remained living close by. Can the Minister explain to me and to Claire, since she must relive the trauma every time she sees the perpetrator, when the Government will redress the inequity faced by child sexual abuse victims in our justice system?

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. The issues to which she alludes are likely to fall under the responsibilities of both the Crown Prosecution Service and the court. I am happy to meet her to discuss the specifics of the case and, as appropriate, take them up with the Solicitor General and the Attorney General.

Speaker’s Statement

In a moment, we will come to the ten-minute rule motion. However, the House will be aware of the subsequent business appertaining to Northern Ireland. By way of explanation, I wanted to mention the following. Last night, my office received a telephone call from a sadly rather uninitiated tabloid scribbler who seemed much excited by the rumour that “Mr Speaker would not be chairing Committee proceedings”. He was most anxious to decipher the reason for this, because it seemed to him most mysterious. Kindness and generosity of spirit prevent me from naming the said individual. [Hon. Members: “Go on.”] However, perhaps I can be permitted to say on the Floor of the House what is well known to Members: it is a very long established convention that Mr Speaker does not chair the Committee of the whole House. When I say a long established convention I am referring to a convention dating back to the 17th century.

I know that some people are slow learners and others are late developers, but I hope that the chappie has now got the point, and it will be a professional utility to him thereafter not to need to trouble my staff to be educated on this front. There we go, there is hope for us all. The fella has now, I think, probably grasped the point.

Tin Mining Subsidence

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Coal Authority to undertake remedial works on properties with subsidence damage as a result of tin mining; to make provision for the Coal Authority to make compensation payments in lieu of such works; and for connected purposes.

The Cornish tin mining industry left many great legacies. In its heyday, it generated extraordinary wealth for our nation. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, there was even a stannary parliament in Cornwall that had the power to veto certain tax proposals coming from central Government. The industry was also a catalyst for great invention and innovation. Richard Trevithick from Camborne invented the first steam locomotive, and William Murdoch from Redruth invented gas lighting—both inventions that shaped our modern world.

There were companies, too, such as Holman’s, which developed extraordinary drilling technology that was exported to mining operations around the world. When the industry declined in the late 19th century, Cornish miners took their expertise around the globe to build mines as far afield as Australia, South Africa, California, Mexico and South America. Today, we still have the world-famous Camborne School of Mines, located with Exeter University at Falmouth, and a new generation of companies is taking that heritage of drilling expertise to the oil and gas industry, and to renewables. There is even some discussion about reopening the last tin mine at South Crofty, as tin prices have recovered.

For those living in Cornwall, however, there is a less welcome legacy from tin mining—the problem of subsidence damage caused by historical mine workings. The subterranean area in Camborne, Pool and Redruth in particular, but also in many parts of Cornwall, is said to resemble a Swiss cheese. It is a complex network of tunnels and mines under the towns in my constituency.

Those mine workings pose several difficult problems for residents. First, there can be significant costs when damage occurs. One of my constituents had to raise a second mortgage on their property to secure £20,000 to put right a mining feature that had opened up in their front garden. Secondly, there is sometimes ambiguity over the liability of insurers. In general cases, insurers help when there is damage directly to a property, although they seldom assist when there are problems arising within the curtilage of a property but not to the structure of the building. They do not generally remedy features to prevent future damage.

The final problem this issue poses for my constituents and others in Cornwall is that there are many cases where people undertake a mining search with a particular company when they buy a property and the company tells them there are no issues, so they purchase a property and secure a mortgage, but often when they want to move and sell their home, they find that a different buyer will use a different mining search company that has different data available to it, and that reveals an issue that can make it difficult for a purchaser to get a mortgage.

The problems arising from mining subsidence damage are obviously not unique to Cornwall—coalmining took place in huge areas of this country—but what is unique to Cornwall is that there is no Government-backed scheme to assist residents with the problems they face.

There has been a long-standing Government scheme for coal. In 1957, when the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act was introduced, there was an opportunity to include tin mining workings, but it was not taken. In 1975, there was a new Coal Industry Act, which formalised the role of British Coal in giving compensation, particularly to the nationalised industry. Again, the opportunity to include tin was missed. In 1991, new legislation was introduced to consolidate the compensation schemes in this area, through the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991. Again, tin was excluded. In 1994, the Coal Industry Act assigned responsibility for these compensation schemes to the Coal Authority and, again, this excluded tin. My Bill would correct that long-standing oversight and end the prejudice against communities that suffer from subsidence damage as a result of tin mining.

It is sometimes said that coal is different, and it is sometimes said that coal is different because it was a nationalised industry. However, this claim does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny, because the 1991 Act applies to all damage caused by coalmining, whether that was pre-nationalisation, during the war or post-nationalisation, and whether it was private or public. Even after the nationalisation of our coal industry, there continued to be some private mines. Indeed, the original 1957 Act on coalmining subsidence mainly addressed the issue of private mines, where the liability for damage could not be established.

Sometimes it is said that the geology of Cornwall means there are fewer problems. Cornwall is okay, people say, because it is built on granite and there are fewer subsidence issues. All I can say is that if a homeowner does have a subsidence event on their property, that is every bit as difficult for them as it is for any resident in a coalmining area. The fact that there could be proportionately fewer cases in tin mining areas, frankly, ought to make the Government more ready to act in this space. There is no need for the Treasury to fret about the cost of it all, because including tin mining would be a modest extension of the scheme.

The Coal Authority deals with between 500 and 600 claims in coalmining areas each and every year, and it has a budget of about £27 million, much of which is spent on remedying subsidence issues. In 2014, there was a triennial review of the functions of the Coal Authority, and in 2017 a separate, tailored review was run by the Cabinet Office. Both those reviews concluded that the current approach and the current system in the Coal Authority were fit for purpose. They considered other alternatives to compensate communities, but those were all ruled out. My contention is that what is good for coal is good for tin.

I am aware, from my discussions on this, that the Treasury—I think some officials in the Treasury—also took the view that there was an unfairness here, with coal being treated differently from other types of mining. Initially, I was encouraged by that, but the Treasury being the Treasury, it of course had a rather different solution to this, which was to pull the rug out from under the coal scheme, rather than to add tin to it. Thankfully, both the reviews and Ministers have ruled out such action.

My Bill would broaden the remit of the Coal Authority, placing an equivalent legal requirement on it to assist in subsidence cases in tin mining areas. The geographical footprint for tin mining—located, as it is, mainly in west Cornwall, although in other parts of Cornwall too and in some parts of west Devon—means there will be far fewer cases for tin mining than there are for coalmining. As I said earlier, the geology of Cornwall—built, as it is, on solid granite—means the Government could expect proportionately fewer claims coming from these tin mining areas than they currently receive from coalmining areas.

The addition of tin to the compensation scheme that has existed since 1957 would be a drop in the ocean for a Department such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. However, it would mean a great deal to those families and communities that are affected by the blight of subsidence caused by mine workings. Given Cornwall’s great contribution to the wealth of our nation and to the industrial revolution, I believe that the least we could do in this House is correct this historical oversight, prejudice and injustice against Cornwall and against communities suffering from tin mining subsidence.

Question put and agreed to.


That George Eustice, Derek Thomas, Sarah Newton, Scott Mann, Steve Double, Mrs Sheryll Murray and Sir Gary Streeter present the Bill.

George Eustice accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 418).

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

Considered in Committee (Order, 8 July)

[Dame Eleanor Laing in the Chair]

We will begin with new clause 1, but before I call the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), I will point out a few matters to hon. Members. There are several changes to the provisional selection and grouping. These are fairly minor changes, but Members will appreciate that the Bill was published very recently and that there has been quite a lot of interest in it.

New clause 10, in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), currently appears in the second group of amendments. It should have appeared in the first group of amendments with new clause 1, so I would be grateful if Members read the first group of amendments as including new clause 10, in the name of the hon. Lady. New clause 19 should not have appeared on the provisional selection of amendments at all, as new clause 19 has not been selected. Amendment 11 has a small error in it, and an amended text of amendment 11 will be issued shortly; it is not dramatic.

New Clause 1

Marriage of same-sex couples in Northern Ireland

“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to change the law relating to marriage in Northern Ireland to provide that marriage between same-sex couples is lawful.

(2) Regulations under this section must be in force no later than 21 October 2019, subject to subsections (3) and (4).

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1)—

(a) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament;

(b) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before the regulations under this section come into force, any regulations made under this section and any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”—(Conor McGinn.)

This new clause would require UK secondary legislation to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland unless a Northern Ireland Executive is formed by 21 October 2019.

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Pension for victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents: debate

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards preparing legislation to implement a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents mentioned in section 3 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 1 on a report on progress made towards preparing legislation to implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 4—Reproductive rights of women in Northern Ireland: debate

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards meeting international human rights obligations applicable to the United Kingdom in relation to the reproductive rights of women mentioned in section 3 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 2 on a report on progress made towards meeting international human rights obligations applicable to the United Kingdom in relation to the reproductive rights of women, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 6—Historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland: debate

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards implementing the recommendations made by the Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 3 on a report on progress towards implementing the recommendations made by the Hart Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 8—Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland: debate

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards implementing marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 3 on a report on progress towards implementing the recommendations made by the Hart Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 10—International obligations

“(1) In accordance with the requirements of section 26 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 regarding international obligations, the Secretary of State must make regulations by statutory instrument to give effect to the recommendations of the Report of the Inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

(2) Regulations under this section must come into force by 21 October 2019, subject to subsections (3) and (4).

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1)—

(a) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament;

(b) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before 21 October 2019, any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”

Amendment 9, in clause 3, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The report under subsection (1) must include a review of the current legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland with an analysis of how that framework could be amended by Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause to respect devolution, in order to comply with the human rights obligations of the United Kingdom.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary to State to report on the legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland with an analysis of how that framework could be amended by Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause to respect devolution, in order to comply with the human rights obligations of the United Kingdom.

Amendment 10, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards preparing legislation implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the implementation of a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents.

Amendment 11, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards meeting international human rights obligations applicable to the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland in relation to the reproductive rights of women.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the implications of any relevant judicial decision in relation to abortion.

Amendment 12, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards implementing the recommendations made by the Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, including the establishment of a publicly funded compensation scheme under an HIA Redress Board, distinct from the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009.”

The subsection calls for a report on implementing the Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, published in January 2017, which was chaired by Sir Anthony Hart.

Amendment 13, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made in preparing legislation to make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in Northern Ireland.”

The subsection calls for a report on preparations for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

I rise to speak to new clause 1 in my name and the names of many right hon. and hon. Friends and Members across the Chamber. I want to speak briefly about the purpose of the new clause, the rationale for my tabling it and for wording it in the way I have and my motivation for bringing this before the Committee today.

The purpose of the new clause is straightforward. It stipulates that, if devolution is not restored to Northern Ireland in the form of a functioning Assembly and Executive, the Secretary of State would bring forward regulations in this House to introduce the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

My rationale for phrasing the new clause as I have, with the stipulations that it contains, is simple. There is an ongoing talks process at Stormont. Two and a half years since the Assembly and Executive collapsed, we are still waiting on that to come to a successful fruition. As I said last night on Second Reading, these issues are difficult and complicated, and politicians in Northern Ireland have my respect and full support in trying to resolve those; but if, in three months’ time, they—along with the two Governments—have not been able to ensure that a fully functioning Executive and Assembly are back up and running, we should legislate here for equal marriage. In the event that they are up and running before then, this provision would not be enacted. In the event that the Stormont Executive and Assembly are up and running after we enact this measure here, of course the power to legislate on marriage remains with the Stormont Executive and Assembly, and they could seek to change or overrule the regulation that we have made here.

Is the hon. Member at all concerned that the implication of this could impact on the negotiation process and de-incentivise one of the parties from negotiating at this particular time—that it would just sit it out until 21 October?

I think the hon. Gentleman is posing a question for his own party and other participants in the talks, because to my mind the idea that this measure would lead to a failure of those parties to restore the Stormont institutions and get on with doing the business of Government on everything, including health and education, is quite far-fetched. It should act as an incentive for the parties to come to an agreement and have the institutions restored.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about one particular party, I think he refers to Sinn Féin. It has been very clear with me that it wants to see this decision made at Stormont, not Westminster. I have had discussions through the Love Equality campaign—the broad-based campaign for equal marriage—but also directly with all the political parties in Northern Ireland, including members of the hon. Gentleman’s own party, about the new clause. I understand the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues’ strongly, firmly and sincerely held views, both on the substantive issue that we are discussing and on the interpretation of its impact on the devolved settlement. I hope, however, he will accept that I, in crafting the new clause in this way, have tried as far as possible, in absolutely and unapologetically trying to make this happen and have same-sex marriage extended to Northern Ireland, to give the time and space for the political parties and the two Governments to restore the institutions. I have also respected the devolved settlement by emphatically saying that the power remains with Stormont.

We are very proud of the introduction of equal marriage in Scotland under an SNP Government, led by the former First Minister, Alex Salmond. I am happy to hear the hon. Gentleman making it clear that he respects the devolved settlement. It is much easier for many of us in the SNP to support this excellent measure in the knowledge that he is proposing it given the fact that there is no Assembly at the moment, but it still respects the devolved settlement.

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her intervention and pay tribute to her and her colleague the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) for the work that they have done to ensure that their party is in a position to support the new clause tonight. That is very important to me, because the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) raised a point last night about her validly and genuinely held concern about the impact this would have on devolution; and when the hon. Lady speaks, I listen, as I think do most Members across this House. I hope that, given the answer that I gave last night and my explanation today, she is comfortable with the knowledge that this power does remain a devolved one, but that in the absence of an Assembly and Executive we can make what might be described as an interim provision here, which can then be overturned by the Assembly if it is back up and running.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. May I just remind him of the fact that a large number of constituents, and those who are not constituents, have emailed me, and have contacted other Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies and who have taken their seats here, greatly concerned about the possibility that his new clause might undermine the devolved settlement in Northern Ireland? What can I say to those constituents, in an email reply to them, that confirms to them that the hon. Gentleman’s new clause in no way undermines the devolved settlement that was crafted so carefully by a Labour party led by Tony Blair?

I thank the hon. Lady again for the direct way in which she puts the question. I was not old enough to vote for the Good Friday agreement, but everything I have done in my personal life and political career has been about supporting that—supporting the principle of consent, supporting power sharing, supporting peace on the island of Ireland, and supporting reconciliation between people who live in Northern Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. I am a passionate defender of the devolved settlement and a devolutionist. I think that, despite the ups and downs we have had, it has been a force for good in Northern Ireland, and my priority, and what I want to see, is the Assembly back up and functioning in Stormont.

As I have said, it is my strong view that, given the way the new clause is crafted—it has been selected by the Chair—it does not impinge upon the devolved settlement; it explicitly recognises that this is a devolved power. At the minute, however, the Assembly and the Executive exist in the ether, or as a concept, not in reality, so if they cannot make this law, we will make it here, because, as I have said often, rights delayed are rights denied. We will make the law here, and then when the Assembly is back up and running, the power remains its to change it.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for giving way so frequently so early. This is an important issue because his proposal does drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution and, if the SNP is prepared to accept it, this House can legislate and then ask a devolved legislature to overturn it. That is an interesting and novel concept. But would the hon. Gentleman confirm that, in seeking to drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution, overriding the concerns—[Interruption]—overriding the concerns of people in Northern Ireland that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has referred to, his proposal actually would be not for a vote in this House, but that the procedure would be a process of annulment, so that regulations would come forward without any further vote in this House? Perhaps he would explain whether that is the case; I am just asking a question of information

Regulations would come forward in the usual form, on the basis of a vote tonight approving the mechanism to do that. The Bill in fact makes specific provision for the Secretary of State to introduce regulations, through statutory instruments, for governance in Northern Ireland. That is not specified—what I am actually doing is specifying one area where I would wish them to do that.

I understand that an issue like this is binary, and that the right hon. Gentleman and I are on opposite sides on this, but I hope he understands that it certainly is not my intention to drive a coach and horses through anything. I gently say to him, I have always supported the devolved institutions from 1998 and the power-sharing arrangements that were made then.

No one challenges the hon. Gentleman’s sincerity, both on the point of his desire to see relations fixed in Northern Ireland and his opinion on this matter. We are just at different ends of the scale in terms of opinion on this matter. Surely he must accept, under the work that he did when he was in the shadow office, that this completely and totally usurps the role of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It does drive a coach and horses through the issues. There is not sufficient time between now and 21 October to establish a new Executive that would be able to function on these matters by that date. Surely he recognises that.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and I will answer him very directly. Far from usurping the role of the Assembly, I am acting on a mandate given by the Assembly when it voted in favour of equal marriage. That was vetoed by his party, using a petition of concern to block it. The majority of the Assembly, the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland, members of his own party, and the overwhelming majority of the public support legislating to legalise equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

The constitutional debate we are hearing this afternoon is very important—no one would deny that. My hon. Friend has already made the point that the distinction between Northern Ireland and Scotland is that there is a functioning Scottish Government and a functioning Scottish Parliament. But this is not just about constitutions; it is about people and the fact that Northern Ireland is, at present, the only place in the whole of the United Kingdom, or indeed the island of Ireland, where LGBT people cannot exercise their right to marry. Given that there is already, as he says, a majority in favour in the Assembly and a majority in favour among the public, is this issue not now about democracy and human rights?

I think it is. That has always been my contention and I hope to speak on that in my closing remarks. Did the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) want to intervene? I will give way one last time and then I will have to make progress.

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous. He makes a point about rights. There is the protection of rights in the Assembly: the petition of concern allows for all rights to be protected. That is why, I assume, he supported Tony Blair when he introduced the petition of concern mechanism.

It is very important that we have a mechanism where sensitive, cultural or constitutional issues get support on a cross-party basis. I do not believe same-sex marriage was one of those issues and I do not think it was appropriate to use the petition of concern in that respect.

I pay tribute to the very pragmatic and careful way the hon. Gentleman has drafted his new clause and gone about this. What can I say, other than that I give my full support to him, the people of Northern Ireland and, in particular, the LGBTIQ people in Northern Ireland? The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) made the important point that it is a very different situation when the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat for 900 days. The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are fully functioning, and Scotland has had a coach and horses driven through its devolved settlement. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) should remember that. We absolutely support the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn). I hope that Democratic Unionist party and Government Members will listen to him very carefully. We have an opportunity to do something very positive here. I hope Members from across the Chamber will support him.

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s remarks and the work she has done in Scotland. I also appreciate her acknowledgment that this can and should be done, and that it does not impinge on the devolved settlement.

My hon. Friend knows his new clause has my full support. As I made clear on Second Reading last night, I am a proud devolutionist. I support the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government, as I do the other devolved Administrations. This matter is about a fundamental issue of rights. He has constructed this in a very careful way. Does he agree that there is a fundamental anomaly here? Individuals in the rest of the UK who want to marry Northern Irish citizens, or get in a marriage in Northern Ireland are unable to do that at present. That is a huge anomaly that affects relationships and people across the United Kingdom.

Absolutely. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) is in his place. He is married to a Tyrone man. As an Armagh man, I make no further comment on his choice of husband and his county affiliations. [Laughter.] He makes the point frequently that, when he is in Scotland they are married and recognised by the law, but when they get off the plane in Belfast they quite simply are not. That cannot continue and, from a Unionist point of view, is anathema to anyone who values equal rights within the Union as a whole.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and I wholeheartedly support his new clause. Does he agree that we in this House need to remember that it is not unique for us to propose to legislate from Westminster in respect of Northern Ireland? It is not particularly anomalous. There have been myriad occasions in recent history, during the difficult periods of the political process in Northern Ireland and over the past two years, when we have legislated effectively in this place to either put in place important provisions for the people Northern Ireland or to keep the peace process on track. This is an important instance when we should do likewise and step in in the absence of the Assembly.

I thank my hon. Friend for what he said and for the work he did as shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This and other issues we will discuss today, on which I am sure he intends to speak, were critical to getting us to the point where we are now.

I want to close my speech because there are myriad other important issues—

The hon. Gentleman is being generous in taking interventions. I am very pleased to have added my name to his new clause, and I speak as somebody who did not vote for the same-sex marriage Bill originally, but the world has not fallen in since. I would not vote to change the law and this is a matter of equal opportunities for people across the United Kingdom. I believe in the Union and therefore I believe that the opportunity should be open to every citizen of every part of the United Kingdom. Can I ask him—I am sure the answer will be yes because he supported my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill to have equal civil partnerships in England and, I hope, the rest of the United Kingdom—would he support extending that equality to Northern Ireland? If we brought those two together, what a double whammy that would be.

I very much appreciate the sentiment, but let us get through today first and then we can have a conversation about that.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I appreciate him taking this intervention. I hope he recognises that the comments I made last night about the unsatisfactory way in which individual issues have been adopted are not attributable to him. He is right, and has every entitlement, to advance the issues he so chooses. There are a huge number of issues that affect society in Northern Ireland and impinge on rights in Northern Ireland, yet there is no progress on legislation for them. I do not expect him to champion all those causes individually but, if he believes now is the time for Westminster to start acting and legislating on those matters, will he be responsive and proactive, and support a huge range of issues that we believe need to be addressed in Northern Ireland and cannot wait any longer?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have always been clear that I am an MP from Northern Ireland, not for Northern Ireland. It is his job and the job of his colleagues and other MPs to lead on issues that are affecting their constituents. I do not claim a mandate from Northern Ireland but, as I said in last night’s debate, I hope people will accept that it is the place that I will always call home. Family and friends still live there. I try to visit when I can and I care deeply about the place.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about Westminster engaging in other issues that have been raised over the course of the debate on the Bill, I acknowledge that there is a deep frustration among people in Northern Ireland on a whole range of issues that progress is not being made. I think we are fast approaching the time when they will want politicians somewhere to do something. If that has to be this place, then, reluctantly, I would agree with him that after this current extension we have to think seriously about making some progress on all the matters that have been discussed. It would have to be, in my view, strongly based on a three-stranded approach, north-south co-operation with the Irish Government, and co-operation between the two Governments through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

I have focused a lot on process in last night’s debate and in my speech today, because I want to provide reassurance about the devolved settlement. When I made my speech to move my private Member’s Bill in February 2018, I quoted some of the wit and wisdom of people in south Armagh and Northern Ireland, and some of the Ulsterisms that were used. I have to say that it is not funny anymore. This is really serious and it needs to be addressed. This House has failed LGBT people in Northern Ireland before. It failed a generation of people in Northern Ireland by not decriminalising homosexuality, and condemned them to discrimination, to abuse and to living in fear many years after that stopped being the case in the rest of the UK. It failed people in Northern Ireland by not extending same-sex marriage when it became the law here, making people in Northern Ireland less valued than the rest of us. Tonight, we have the chance to do the right thing. People in Northern Ireland, and indeed across Britain and Ireland, are watching. I, for one, am not going to let them down. I hope colleagues do not let them down either.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), who made a powerful argument for extending same-sex marriage across Northern Ireland. I was the Minister who did not extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland at the time, because of the devolution settlement, so I viscerally understand his arguments. I regret that that was not done when the legislation was put in place for England and Wales.

I spent many hours at the Dispatch Box making arguments similar to those that the hon. Gentleman made about the importance of equal marriage. The state has no right to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality, and we have laws that prohibit that. As marriage is a fundamental part of our society, we should encourage more people to be married, including those in same-sex relationships. He is right that we need to make this change, but today’s debate will be about whether this is the place to do so. Does this debating Chamber and body of people have the right to do that? If we had that right, we would have exercised it when the initial legislation came through. I will listen closely to the Minister’s response before I make a decision on whether to support new clause 1. My heart tells me that it is the right thing to do, but my head is yet to be convinced that this is the right place to do it.

At the heart of my comments are new clauses 10 to 12, in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), and amendment 9, in the name of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). The Women and Equalities Committee did a detailed and forensic analysis of the current situation on abortion in Northern Ireland. That was because of the report by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which was published last year, and our concerns about the evidence that was put before us by individuals and organisations representing a range of beliefs and positions in Northern Ireland.

I will not go through all the recommendations in that report; I will focus on the key recommendation, which the Committee almost unanimously believed to be the change that should be made. It was about mums and dads facing the appalling prospect of their unborn baby dying before it is born or shortly after, because it has been diagnosed with what is called a fatal foetal abnormality. Our Committee felt strongly that the law needed to change in this respect forthwith—quickly, immediately—because of the impact that that was having on people’s lives and wellbeing, as well as the threat to their mental and physical health.

Hon. Members will be aware that cases are before the courts and will be going before