House of Commons
Wednesday 10 July 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Scottish Local Authorities: Communication with UK Government
We continue to work collaboratively with local authorities in Scotland. For example, the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city and region deal will deliver £45.1 million of UK Government investment to the region, demonstrating effective working between Governments, local authorities and stakeholders.
I thank the Minister for that reply and may I say how proud I was to stand up for the principle of devolution yesterday in this House? I know that the people of Stirling want their Governments to work together at all levels. Will the Minister tell us what meetings he and his officials may have planned with COSLA—the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities— so that the voice of Scotland’s local authorities can be heard in Whitehall?
My ministerial colleagues will continue to work with all levels of government in Scotland. I am certainly very happy, in my role as Minister for the constitution, to meet COSLA to discuss how much further we can take that level of co-operation.
The National Cyber Security Centre is providing advice and practical guidance on how to improve standards of cyber-security to organisations in both the public and private sectors.
The Minister will know that the cyber-defence of the Government and industry is stronger when the best skills from around the country are deployed. With that in mind, what is he doing to encourage women and those from a black and minority ethnic background in the UK to develop their mathematical and IT skills from an early age, and to enter the cyber-security field, to protect our country and businesses?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We do need to improve our cyber-skills capacity. I am very pleased that more than 55,000 young men and women have now taken part in the CyberFirst and Cyber Discovery schemes that the NCSC helps to organise, but he is right that we need to make a particular effort with under-represented groups, including bright young men and women from our ethnic minority communities.
Given the shocking leaks we have seen from the National Security Council and of diplomatic telegrams, can the Minister for the Cabinet Office give some reassurance to our civil servants on the cyber-security of crucial confidential documents and their ability not to be compromised by foreign states or insider jobs?
The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on individual cases, but he is right about the need both for the highest possible levels of technical cyber-security in protecting those systems, and for the highest standards of discipline and respect for the confidentiality of advice on the part of everybody who has access to such material.
Cyber-security is one of the biggest threats facing not only the Government, but our major and smaller companies. What will my right hon. Friend do to ensure that the private sector has access to the ability of state services?
The great strength of the NCSC is that it makes available the expertise developed by our agencies, in particular GCHQ, in a way that permits open access by private sector companies and third sector organisations. I held a roundtable in recent months with directors of FTSE 350 companies to highlight concerns and challenges, and to learn from their experience. There is a range of materials targeted particularly at small and medium-sized enterprises.
What assessment have the Government made on whether the leaking of Kim Darroch’s statements was the result of a cyber-attack by a foreign Government?
I hope my right hon. Friend will understand that I cannot make any comment about an inquiry that is in progress. I will say, however, that I hope the person or persons responsible will be found out and that they will be subjected to all appropriate disciplinary and, if necessary, legal sanction.
Strengthening the Union
Our commitment to continued work to strengthen the Union can be seen in practice through such initiatives as scrapping the Severn tolls, delivering city deals across Scotland and the entire United Kingdom, and investing in digital connectivity in Northern Ireland.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the long-standing and hugely successful Union, which has seen the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English standing shoulder to shoulder and taking on the world for generations, should not be trashed by those in other regions of this great country who seek to pursue their own populist and secessionist ends? We are stronger together, are we not?
Every part of the United Kingdom gains from the membership of each other member nation of the United Kingdom. It is important that those in Government now and those who will be in Government in the future work for an outcome that respects the devolution settlement and is confident about the United Kingdom and the great strength that that collective endeavour brings.
A number of my constituents have expressed concern that Scottish National party colleagues will use our departure from the European Union to justify their agenda of breaking the country apart. Can my right hon. Friend assure this House that everything is being done to anticipate potential devolution consequences of Brexit, in order that the SNP cannot exploit it to shore up its own narrow agenda of breaking up the United Kingdom?
There is no doubt that the success of the SNP agenda of separation would do enormous damage to businesses and living standards in Scotland. I can reassure my hon. Friend that there has been good co-operation on frameworks to ensure that the United Kingdom single market continues to function after we leave the European Union, but also that it is in the interest of every part of the United Kingdom that we leave the EU in an orderly fashion, in a way that protects jobs, living standards and investment in our country.
Regional Ministers right across England—not only in areas such as that covered by the northern powerhouse—were a successful initiative before 2010 and could be introduced virtually immediately. Will the Minister look at that idea, perhaps supplemented by regional Select Committees in the House of Commons?
I am always happy to look at evidence that is brought forward on how we can improve our arrangements further. As I have said before, both the devolved nations and individual areas within each of the four nations of the United Kingdom have a lot to contribute.
I have a lot of time for the right hon. Gentleman, but these answers are a disgrace. While he is giving us these platitudes, both Tory leadership contenders are willing to sell the rest of the country down by prioritising a no-deal Brexit over the rest of the Union. Will the Minister now give us the assurance that he has previously given, that no deal will cause potentially fatal damage to the Union and that he will fight against it?
I have been very clear in a number of public statements that I believe that a disorderly no-deal exit from the European Union would not only cause significant economic harm in all parts of this country, but place further strain on the Union. I believe it is in the interest of everybody in every party in this House and in every part of the UK that we deliver on the referendum result of 2016, but do so in an orderly fashion that protects jobs, investment and living standards.
My right hon. Friend told The Times last week that he feared that what he called “English indifference”, if I recall correctly, was something of a threat to the Union. The reports that my Committee has produced about devolution and Brexit have called, with the support of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, for much more concrete machinery to exist between the Government of the United Kingdom and the devolved Governments, and for there to be inter-parliamentary machinery. I must say that I have found the response of the Government to be slow and somewhat indifferent. I appreciate that he is battling on many fronts at the moment, but can he speed up his enthusiasm for dealing with these issues?
And in the process, we will try to ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s Committee’s reports become bestsellers. That is the ambition.
Much of the work of the UK and devolved Governments in the last year and a half has involved making practical arrangements for Brexit through the completion of work on the UK frameworks on the various matters that will come back from Brussels and intersect with devolved competence. I would have hoped that my hon. Friend, given his views on Brexit, would have welcomed that. It is important that we and the next Government press forward with work on the intergovernmental review. I would welcome efforts by this Parliament to work more closely with devolved Parliaments in the future.
I have recently participated in events to celebrate 20 years of devolution, which has transformed the constitutional landscape of the United Kingdom. Devolution has successfully brought decision making on key public services closer to the people who use them while keeping the benefits that arise from the strength of our United Kingdom.
It is nice to hear the Minister say it like he means it. The Scottish Government are launching an innovative, engaging and participatory programme of citizens’ assemblies to look at what direction the devolution settlement in Scotland might go in. By contrast, this Government have appointed Lord Dunlop, an unelected peer, to review devolution. Does that not tell us everything we need to know about this Government’s attitude to devolution? They never really wanted it in the first place.
Dearie me! The SNP need to stop misrepresenting the review. A key part of its terms of reference states that it will
“need to respect and support the current devolution settlement”.
It is about how the UK Government can work better with the devolved Assemblies and Governments. The SNP should be welcoming the review, instead of trying to foster yet another false grievance.
The Scottish and Welsh Governments recently wrote to the Minister expressing disappointment that 15 months on a review about intergovernmental relations has stalled owing to the Government’s unwillingness to make reforms. Will the Minister commit to addressing in detail each of the points in that letter, including the one on a strengthened dispute resolution process?
Constructive discussions continue on the intergovernmental review and its structure, although it has been slightly hamstrung by the lack of a Government in Northern Ireland. We hope that that can be resolved in the near future. We will of course consider all submissions with respect, because ultimately we all need to agree the way forward.
Health and justice are both devolved areas, but the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is not. Will the Minister help to remove the blockage in the Home Office, which is preventing the Scottish Government from opening a drug consumption room? The drug death figure to be released next week is set to be over 1,000 for last year.
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be visiting to look at this issue. As we have discussed in other areas of common frameworks, there will clearly need to be some consistency on these types of issues, as crime does not respect political boundaries or borders.
I wish the Front Bench all the best in the coming reshuffle. We will be watching their futures and careers with interest. In recalling Labour’s achievement in introducing devolution, we are reminded that our country is still very over-centralised, power being concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite governing at the expense of the rest. For example, in the north and south-west alone, more than 1 million children are now living in poverty. If power was truly devolved, that situation would not arise. Basic social justice requires us to recast the constitutional contours of the British state. When will the Government finally abandon their top-down, old-fashioned ways and help to build a modern decentralised state based on a partnership with the nations and regions that reflects our diversity, instead of suppressing it, as they do now?
I do not recognise the shadow Minister’s description, not least given that we have been driving forward devolution settlements and devolving power to combined authorities in England, as well as what we have seen happen in devolution in the nations. Only this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales met those in the potential great western powerhouse to see how that could be taken forward. I find it ironic, however, to be lectured on control from the centre by a party whose leader wants to take control of the entire economy from Whitehall.
We understand that the Dunlop review is to look at the organisation of Departments and whether they are optimised for devolution. Do the Government have any plans or intention to review policy with regard to the constitution that underpins the Union and to the devolution settlement in particular?
As I said a few moments ago, the review will need to take into account and support the current devolution settlement.
I wish that, in my assessment of devolution, I could have said that it had produced better education standards in Scotland. In fact, however, Scottish schools have fallen in international rankings, and a smaller percentage of Scotland’s most deprived children go to university than in any other part of the United Kingdom. It is not devolution that is at fault; it is the Scottish National party.
Innovative Technologies: Public Services
Last month I launched the Government’s technology innovation strategy, which sets out how we will approach the use of emergent technologies in future. I also launched an artificial intelligence guide which will help Departments to build on areas in which artificial intelligence is already being used effectively across Government—for example, to improve MOT inspections and prison safety.
Chichester Careline is the only telecare monitoring centre in West Sussex. It operates Mindme, a service that GPS-tracks vulnerable people, usually those with dementia, so that families, friends, carers and Careline staff can locate them 24/7. It has saved lives, and countless hours of worry. Will the Minister look into how innovative technology of that kind can be used across Government to support the most vulnerable in our society?
It is very important to highlight that sort of work. It is just another example of the impact that innovative technology can have in improving people’s lives. The purpose of the GovTech Catalyst challenge is to explore the use of technologies for adult social care, and the Geospatial Commission is helping the Government and the private sector to make better use of GPS data.
Any innovative technology is welcome if it is applied appropriately, but will the Minister ensure that when such systems are being considered, account will be taken of whether or not they make a service less personal than it is already?
Experience of innovative technology suggests that it can make services more personalised and more tailored to individual circumstances. However, it is important for us to continue to make services accessible to everyone, which is why they will always be available in a non-digital format as well.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that while our country has always been at the forefront of innovation, to allow businesses to thrive and flourish we need a sound and successful economy, which would then result in innovative public services?
As ever, my right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is only because we have a strong economy that we are able to invest in innovative technologies, which is why we have such a great track record.
Let us have a single-sentence inquiry from the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron).
Will the Secretary of State oversee the innovative technology in radiotherapy that will be needed to meet the NHS long-term plan to diagnose more patients earlier?
I regret to say that I am not a Secretary of State; I am but a junior Minister. However, I will be looking into the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health examining precisely those issues, and the Government have set up NHSX, which oversees the use of innovative technology for that very purpose.
Speaking at the Law Society of Scotland’s conference entitled “20 years of devolution and Scotland’s parliament”, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster set out the Government’s clear vision of a union of strong devolved Parliaments within a strong United Kingdom, and of Scotland’s two levels of government working together to deliver for its citizens.
Devolution means that Scotland’s two Governments can work together to deliver more, and city and growth deals are an example of that. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will visit Moray tomorrow, and we are eagerly awaiting news of the Moray growth deal. Will the Minister urge him to use his visit as an opportunity to confirm the UK’s commitment to a deal that will transform our area?
As we mark 20 years of devolution, the UK Government are committing more than £1.36 billion to support economic development in Scotland through city and growth deals. All Scotland’s seven major cities now have deals, and heads of terms are expected to be agreed for Moray very soon, thanks to my hon. Friend’s tireless campaigning.
Contaminated Blood Inquiry
I am pleased that the inquiry is now hearing evidence. Sir Brian Langstaff is right to put those who have been infected, and affected, at the heart of his inquiry, and I am glad that their voices are being heard. They have been waiting for too long.
The Minister is absolutely right, but with one victim dying every 96 hours and compensation still not being paid, I wrote to the Prime Minister, along with seven Opposition party leaders, to ask for compensation to be paid now. The Prime Minister has refused. I then wrote to the two Conservative party leadership candidates on 21 June, because they are making huge spending commitments, but I have not had the courtesy of a response. Perhaps the Minister could help me with that.
I am happy to try to prompt a response to the hon. Lady’s letter. She will know that the Department of Health and Social Care has announced a major uplift in the financial support available to beneficiaries of the infected blood scheme in England, and talks are now going on with the devolved Governments about trying to get a UK-wide agreement. Questions of legal liability fall therefore to compensation and are expressly a matter for the independent inquiry.[Official Report, 22 July 2019, Vol. 663, c. 12MC.]
The Minister’s power and charm will achieve the desired effect, I have no doubt.
Last week the Government responded to Lord Holmes’s independent review into access to public appointments for disabled people. We have accepted in principle all of Lord Holmes’s recommendations and will use them to update our diversity action plan, which is aimed at increasing the number of people from under-represented groups on the boards of public bodies right across the United Kingdom.
Cornish minority status was granted in 2014. The Minister will be aware that the Office for National Statistics is resisting giving Cornish people the ability to recognise as Cornish on the census. The six Cornish MPs will be submitting an amendment to the census Bill. Will the Minister apply pressure on the ONS to ensure that Cornish people can recognise as Cornish?
I recognise the passion with which Cornwall’s champions in this House put the county’s case, but the Government will be guided by the ONS’s recommendations to Government and Parliament regarding the demand for particular questions in the next census.
This morning’s Committee on Climate Change report should make stark reading for the Cabinet Office, which has a responsibility to co-ordinate the cross-governmental response to climate change. What steps is the Department taking to meet the climate change demands on the country?
As the hon. Lady knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads within Government on climate change matters, but the Government have a good record of delivery, having overseen a cut in emissions of more than 42% since 1990 and with the United Kingdom being the first member of the G7 to sign up to a legally binding net zero target.
My hon. Friend asks a fair question, and I will update the House: the Government encourage Departments and other institutions to fly the Union flag on designated days, but no others. The flying of flags is deregulated outside planning controls, and as we will be leaving the European Union on 31 October I share what I suspect is my hon. Friend’s view: that it is unlikely that we will be seeing it flying anywhere, particularly with enthusiasm, after then.
I just wish that the Labour party had been less grudging in its response to the net zero target, which was a historic step by the Government endorsing explicitly a recommendation from the independent Committee on Climate Change. I was in south Wales just over a week ago, and I talked there to businesses and scientists who are working at the sharp end to deliver emissions reduction technologies that will make a real difference. We should all, regardless of our politics, get behind that work, welcome the achievements we have made so far and commit ourselves to future change too.
As my hon. Friend knows, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we are determined to level the playing field so that they can win Government contracts. That is why, for example, we have introduced tough new prompt payment requirements and simplified the procurement process, and through our digital marketplace we have spent £2.5 billion, with £1.28 in every £3 going to SMEs.
I think the most important thing is that we encourage as many people as possible from the most diverse backgrounds as possible to enter the civil service and that we mentor them through, but at the end of the day it should be ability to do the job that wins out. Frankly, that matters more to the public interest than which school somebody’s parents sent them to.
One sentence. Michael Fabricant.
The 5G testbed in the west midlands is working with the car industry in Coventry and with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Will my right hon. Friend commend the work of the Mayor of the West Midlands, who brought the 5G testbed there, and visit the system?
I am delighted to congratulate Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, on that initiative. It is a telling example of the importance of business and academic professionals working closely together, and I would be delighted to accept my hon. Friend’s invitation.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that I was in the other place only last week, meeting Members there on a cross-party basis to discuss electoral funding issues. We have already announced a consultation paper on this, and we will look to achieve what broad cross-party consensus we can.
On the subject of strengthening the Union, does my hon. Friend share my determination to deliver Brexit and provide a new era of sovereignty and a sea of opportunity for fishermen across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland?
We look forward to the powers that will be coming back from Brussels and going to Scotland’s Parliament. Of course, there is one party that opposes that and wants those powers to stay away from the devolved level of government, and that is the Scottish National party.
Last but not least, and never forgotten: Laura Smith.
I am happy to write to the hon. Lady with the latest figures as we have them, but I can assure her that the work that has been put in place on achieving higher Government cyber-security standards and on outreach to the private and public sectors is having a demonstrable impact on improving our resilience.
The Prime Minister was asked—
This morning I have spoken to Sir Kim Darroch. I have told him that it is a matter of great regret that he has felt it necessary to leave his position as ambassador in Washington. The whole Cabinet rightly gave its full support to Sir Kim on Tuesday. Sir Kim has given a lifetime of service to the United Kingdom, and we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. Good government depends on public servants being able to give full and frank advice, and I want all our public servants to have the confidence to be able to do that. I hope that the House will reflect on the importance of defending our values and principles, particularly when they are under pressure.
The whole House will want to join me in sending our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Tammy Minshall, the student paramedic who was killed in a traffic accident last week while on duty. This is a reminder of the members of all our emergency services who risk their lives each day on our behalf.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
First, I associate myself with the comments regarding the tragic accident last week.
I am pleased to see the Prime Minister is wearing green. I hope it is not merely a greenwash, as I welcome the Government legislating for net zero by 2050. Before they did that, when the target was weaker, the Committee on Climate Change had already reported that they would miss their target, and today it says that the
“policy ambition and implementation now fall well short of what is required”.
Targets are helpful, but what we need is policies that actually deliver. Clearly the Prime Minister wants to leave a climate legacy, so will she bring forward the ban on diesel and petrol cars from 2040 to 2030 or sooner, and when will she end her Government’s opposition to cheap onshore wind power?
In fact, we have an excellent record on dealing with climate change as a Government. We outperformed on our first and second carbon budgets, from 2008 to 2017; we are on track to meet the third, and the latest projections suggest that we are on track to deliver more than 90% of our required performance for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets; and we are the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050. The UK is leading the world on climate change; I want other countries to follow our example.
I know my hon. Friend has been campaigning on this matter for some time and has met Ministers to discuss it. I understand that the area is about to benefit from refurbished modern trains on the Crewe to Derby line from December this year, as part of the new east midlands rail franchise. The Department for Transport will have heard my hon. Friend’s call to reopen the station at Meir, and I know that he will continue to campaign on behalf of all his constituents.
I too regret the resignation of Sir Kim Darroch. I think the comments made about him are beyond unfair and wrong. He has given honourable and good service, and he should be thanked for it. The whole House should join together in deeply regretting his feeling that he has to resign.
I join the Prime Minister in passing condolences to the family of Tammy Minshall, who died providing emergency services to our people.
Many people welcomed the powerful points the Prime Minister made when she was first appointed about burning injustices in Britain. Does she agree that access to justice is vital in order to tackle burning injustices?
There are many burning injustices and they can be tackled in a variety of ways. That is the action I have taken not just as Prime Minister but as Home Secretary. I will give the right hon. Gentleman one example: the race disparity audit, which shines a light on inequality in public services, is enabling us to put into place action that helps to ensure that people across this country, whatever their background, have access to the public services they need.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949. That Act, introduced by the post-war Labour Government, gave all people access to justice, not just the rich, and was an essential pillar of a welfare state and a decent society. The Tory-Lib Dem coalition slashed legal aid in 2013 and the results are clearly very unfair. The number of law centres and other not-for-profit legal aid providers has more than halved, and there are now legal aid deserts across the country. Does the Prime Minister think that has helped or hindered the fight against burning injustices?
The point I was making to the right hon. Gentleman, which he seems to fail to recognise, is that the whole question of burning injustice is not about just access to the legal system—[Interruption.] It is all very well Opposition Members shouting about this. If the Labour party really cared about burning injustices, they would have done a darned sight more when they were in power to deal with them.
Some people have very short memories; the Tory-Lib Dem coalition cut legal aid but also brought in fees for employment tribunals. The then Minister for employment relations, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), piloted that through the House. Since that time, my union, Unison, took the Government to court and won, and, as a result, employment tribunal fees were cancelled. The cuts to legal aid affect people such as Marcus, a 71-year-old on pension credit, a leaseholder who is threatened with being evicted. He says:
“I’ve paid taxes and national insurance all my life. How is it right that when I’m being bullied and threatened with homelessness, the state won’t protect me?”
He goes on to say:
“I’ve been working to 2 am every night for the past six months collecting evidence…I’ve got no idea if I’ve prepared my evidence correctly”.
Doesn’t Marcus, trying to save his own home, deserve legal aid, in order to get proper representation in a court and be fairly heard?
Obviously I recognise the concerns that Marcus has about taking his case, but the right hon. Gentleman might reflect on the fact that a quarter of the Ministry of Justice’s budget is spent on legal aid. We spent £1.6 billion on legal aid last year. We are committing to ensuring that people can access the help they need into the future, but that is only one part of the picture. We have published a plan for legal support, to maintain and improve access to support for those in need, and we are conducting a fundamental review of criminal legal aid fee schemes, which will consider criminal legal aid throughout the life cycle of a criminal case. So there are aspects of this issue that we are indeed looking at, but it is important that we ensure that we are careful with the provisions we make for legal aid, and as I say, a quarter of the MOJ budget is spent on legal aid.
Just so that everyone is aware of this, Labour is committed to restoring legal aid funding for family law, housing, benefit appeals, judicial review preparation and inquests, and real action on immigration cases. And, as we announced yesterday, we will end the leasehold scandal.
The Department for Work and Pensions is failing disabled people. The MOJ has spent tens of millions of pounds each year defending appeals, over two thirds of which were won by the claimants. Rather than spending millions defending incorrect and often immoral decisions, would that money not have been better used increasing poverty-level benefits and providing legal aid to disabled people wrongly denied their basic dignity?
I am not going to take any lectures from the right hon. Gentleman on what this Government have done for disabled people. We are committed to tackling the injustices facing disabled people, so that everyone can go as far their talents will take them. Our spending on support for disabled people and people with health conditions is at a record high. We are seeing many more people—over 900,000 more disabled people—in work as a result of what this Government have done. If he is really interested in tackling injustices, let me tell him that the biggest injustice he should tackle is in his own Labour party—he should deal with antisemitism.
My party is totally committed to eliminating racism in any form and antisemitism in any form. While the Prime Minister is about the lecturing, how about the investigation into Islamophobia in her party? [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Bowie, you are as noisy as your illustrious late namesake, David Bowie, but, sadly, nothing like as melodic, my dear chap.
This is one lecture the Prime Minister might not want to take from me, but she might care to listen to what the United Nations said when it condemned the UK Government for their “grave” and “systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people. The Windrush scandal has resulted in the Government having to allocate £200 million in compensation to people wrongly deported from this country and denied services, with their lives totally pulled apart. These are people who have given their life to this country and our services. Does she think that scandal would have happened if legal aid had not been slashed by the Government and so many of those people had not been denied any representation in court?
The right hon. Gentleman really needs to think rather more carefully about his arguments. Let us look at the issue of people of the Windrush generation. I have apologised for what happened to people of the Windrush generation. I have been very clear that they are British, they are here and they have a right to be here, and that these things should not have happened. We have apologised for the mistakes that have been made.
The right hon. Gentleman raises issues relating to people who were incorrectly deported. The initial historical review looked at around 11,800 detentions and removals and identified 18 people who were most likely to have been wrongly deported or removed. Of those, six were removed or detained under the last Labour Government.
The way the right hon. Gentleman talks, we would think he was a man of principle, but what do we actually see from him? Labour policy is to ban non-disclosure agreements, but his staff have to sign them. He was an anti-racist; now he ignores antisemitism. He has been a Eurosceptic all his life; now he backs remain. He is truly living up to the words of Marx: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, well, I have others”—
I know the right hon. Gentleman is keen to get to the Dispatch Box when the name Marx is mentioned. I was merely going to point out to him that those were the words not of Karl but of Groucho.
Coming from the Prime Minister who created the hostile environment that brought about the Windrush scandal, who ordered “Go home” vans to drive around London, who refuses to acknowledge Islamophobia in her own party, and whose party consorts with racists and antisemites in the European Parliament and sucks up to those Governments across Europe, we do not need those kinds of lectures.
One legal aid firm said:
“We see people more desperate and in more extreme need than they were five years ago, and there is nowhere to send them. Those people are invisible to the system.”
That is a denial of people’s basic rights. The United Nations says that legal aid cuts have
“overwhelmingly affected the poor and people with disabilities”.
Without equal access to justice, there is no justice. Today, in modern Britain, millions are denied justice because they do not have the money. Isn’t that a disgrace? Isn’t that a burning injustice?
The right hon. Gentleman may do his best to ignore the antisemitism in his party, but I think—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question!”] I think he should listen to the words of the former Labour party general secretary, the noble Lord Triesman, who said:
“We may one day be the party of anti-racism once again but it certainly isn’t today.”
The right hon. Gentleman has asked questions about injustice; let me tell him about an injustice. It is an injustice when you force people who are working hard day and night to earn an income for their family to pay more taxes because of a Labour party economic policy in government that led to the destruction of our economy. What do we see from the Labour party? You earn more; they want you to pay more tax. You buy a home; they want you to pay more tax. You want to leave something to your children; they want you to pay more tax—Labour’s £9 billion family tax. Labour used to have a slogan of “Education, education, education”; now, it is just “Tax, tax, tax. Injustice, injustice, injustice.”
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The SNP promised people in Scotland in 2014 that the independence referendum was a once-in-a-generation vote. Now it is laying the foundation for another vote in just 18 months’ time. SNP Members often claim—they stand up and claim it here in this House—that Scotland is being ignored. It is being ignored by an SNP Government, obsessed with another referendum against the wishes of a clear majority of Scots. I agree with my hon. Friend that people in Scotland want a Scottish Government who focus on improving their schools, improving their health service and improving their economy—not one obsessed by separation.
I must say, every time the Prime Minister speaks in Scotland, our vote goes up.
Today is Srebrenica Memorial Day. I trust that everyone in this House will want to recognise the unbelievable sacrifice that so many faced. Yesterday, I met some of the survivors of genocide. We must do all we can to make sure that we call out the genocide-deniers, and that we learn the lessons from man’s inhumanity to man that we witnessed in the continent of Europe. Never again should that happen in Europe, or anywhere else.
May I join the Prime Minister in her words to Kim Darroch? It is a pity that the former Foreign Secretary, the candidate for leadership of the Tory party, did not stand up for our leading diplomat in the United States yesterday.
I also pay tribute to Winnie Ewing, who has her 90th birthday today. She is the only parliamentarian to sit in this House, in the Scottish Parliament and in the European Parliament. We remember the words of Winnie:
“Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.”
Mark Carney has said that the UK economy does not appear to be growing. Danny Blanchflower, one of the few to predict the financial crisis in 2008, has said:
“The early evidence suggests the UK is already in a recession.”
The dark clouds of Brexit are with us. Will the Prime Minister continue to ignore all the warning signs of recession?
First, in relation to Srebrenica, I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Every time we see a massacre of this sort, we hope that humanity will learn from it. Sadly, all too often we see that that is not the case. I was at the Western Balkans summit last Friday in Poland, working with the countries of the western Balkans, encouraging them and working with them to find peaceful ways of working together so that we can ensure that those countries see political stability and prosperity for their people in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman then talked about the state of the UK economy. I am very pleased to see that we actually have the best record in the G7 in terms of growth. We have the longest period of growth of any of the countries in the G7. We also have record numbers of people in employment, a record low in unemployment, and investment in our economy. This is an economy that is doing well, but it could really take off, and it would have done if the right hon. Gentleman had actually voted for Brexit and voted for the deal that we put to this House.
Perhaps we should look at the facts: we have record food bank use; Ernst and Young tells us that the Brexit bill so far for financial services companies alone is as much as £4 billion; foreign investment projects into the UK have dropped 14%, the lowest level in six years; car production fell 15.5% in May, the 12th straight month of decline; UK retail sales have experienced their “worst June on record”; and the near stagnation of the services sector in June is one of the worst performances we have seen over the past decade. We have the evidence, Prime Minister, on how your legacy will be driving the UK economy over the cliff into another recession. Has not this Prime Minister sacrificed the jobs and livelihoods of people across the UK in order to please her Brexiteer Back Benchers? Take no deal off the table, and take positive action to restore confidence in the economy. The blame for any recession will lie at the door of this Brexit-obsessed Government, who are incapable of doing their day job.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the car industry; I am sorry that, in referencing that industry, he did not reference the fact that in the last week we have seen the announcement by Jaguar Land Rover that it is going to manufacture electric vehicles in Castle Bromwich, preserving 2,700 jobs at the plant. We have also seen BMW announce that it is going to manufacture the electric Mini in its Oxford plant, preserving 5,000 jobs in that plant.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that he could have taken no deal off the table by voting for the deal. But if he wants to talk about economic forecasts and the future of economies, perhaps he should give a little more reflection to the fact that the forecasts for Scotland show that its economy will grow more slowly than the rest of the United Kingdom over the next four years—under an SNP Government in Scotland.
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely excellent point. What we have seen in the example that he has cited is the benefit of cross-party working. This can be immensely good—immensely positive—for local communities. I am delighted to hear that Bolton Council’s bid for Farnworth town centre has been successful in progressing to the next phase of the future high streets fund. My hon. Friend is right: we believe in our high streets—that is why we have created the high streets fund. This cross-party working by Conservative-led Bolton Council has shown what can be achieved.
We are indeed continuing our work on tackling modern slavery. I was pleased that the Government responded yesterday to the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act; we have taken on board the majority of the recommendations from that independent review. That includes, of course, looking at the independent child guardians—a concept that we created—and how they can give support.
The issue that the hon. Gentleman references of the criminalisation of those forced to undertake criminal activities was addressed in the Modern Slavery Act when it was put through this House, but we continue to look at what more we can do to ensure that we are bringing an end to that crime—not just in the UK, but internationally as well.
Due to extreme pressure on services across Cornwall, leaders of our health and care services have declared a critical incident. The pressure has impacted on the Royal Cornwall Hospital in particular. That is extremely worrying for all families across Cornwall who rely on Treliske. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will do everything she can to enable Health Ministers to support leaders in Cornwall to resolve the situation as soon as possible?
Obviously, this is a very important issue for my hon. Friend and her constituents. We are aware of the issues at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, and we know that the hospital is taking steps to rectify them. Of course, last winter Cornwall Council was supported with over £2 million of additional funding to help alleviate the pressures on the local NHS trust, but I can assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is going to meet MPs to discuss this matter and recognises the importance of this issue for my hon. Friend’s constituents.
Obviously, we recognise the importance of ensuring that children have access to high-quality care. We have been putting extra money into social care, including for children. But it is also about the sorts of services that are delivered. It is important for us that we have taken a number of steps to improve the facilities that are available for looking after children in communities where those children require that—for example, the standards we have set for social workers. We do see the number of children’s services that are rated “outstanding” growing across the country. I think that is important; that is a Government who are actually looking at the issues that matter to parents and to children.
My right hon. Friend may be aware that live animal export season out of Ramsgate port is, shamefully, in full swing, with a further shipment due out tomorrow. Does she agree that long-distance live animal exports, particularly across the channel to an unknown future, should not form part of any future post-Brexit agricultural policy, when we can be free of single market strictures that treat animals as mere goods?
Obviously, my hon. Friend has raised an issue that I know is of concern to a lot of people. We are committed to maintaining our high standards on animal welfare, and food standards, once we have left the European Union. We will be replacing, of course, the EU’s common agricultural policy. What we will be doing is enabling ourselves, by being outside the European Union, to take decisions for ourselves, so we will be able to determine needs. That is an important first step towards a better future for farming—for our natural world. It is important for us to be able to do that and to maintain the high standards and quality standards for which we have a very good reputation across the world.
As the hon. Lady knows, we are already putting more money into our schools. We are already putting more funding into special educational needs. I recognise the importance of ensuring that special educational needs are properly catered for, and that the needs of those children can be properly supported. That is why I am proud of the fact that we have been putting more money into our schools. What is also important, of course, for schools is what standards of education are provided within those schools—[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Lady talks about teaching. Yes, teaching is an important element of that, and we thank all our teachers, both in mainstream schools and in special educational needs schools, for the work that they do, day in and day out. I am pleased that we are seeing improved standards in our schools. That means more young people, whether they are in mainstream schools or with special education needs, having an opportunity to go far in life.
The consequences of not leaving the European Union are profound, from the loss of trust in our democracy and institutions to the economic impact of civil unrest. Can my right hon. Friend help to dispel the myth peddled by some in this House that we could simply go back to the way things were, and could she share what assessment the Government have made of these risks?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that it is imperative for this House to deliver on the vote of the British people in 2016. I have said that on many occasions, standing at this Dispatch Box and elsewhere. I think it is important that we do that. We could already have done that—I am sorry, but I am going to return to this theme. We could already have done that, had this House supported the deal. It will be up to my successor to find a way through this to get a majority in this Parliament, but I agree that it is important that we do deliver trust in politics by saying to people, “We gave you the choice, you told us your decision, and we will now deliver on it.”
The hon. Gentleman could have voted to save jobs in his constituency—[Interruption.] It is no good Labour MPs trying to deny this. They had the opportunity three times to vote to leave with a deal, and three times they rejected it.
Many of my constituents deeply oppose the Mayor of London’s plans to build over station car parks at High Barnet, Cockfosters and Finchley Central. Will the Prime Minister urge the Mayor to drop those plans, which would only make life harder for long-suffering commuters who just want to get to work and provide for their families?
I am sure my right hon. Friend appreciates the emphasis that the Government have put on more homes being built. We want to meet the ambition for 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s—it is a top priority for us—and London is a crucial part of achieving that. While it is important to get the homes built, it is also vital that the impact on the local community is properly assessed when planning decisions are made. We want to see more homes. They need to be built in the right place, and local concerns need to be properly taken into account.
I have answered the question in relation to Cambridge Analytica on a number of occasions, and it has been answered in writing to her by the appropriate Minister. Elections in this country are not rigged, as she puts it. The referendum was not rigged. These are the views of the British people who go to the ballot box and put their votes forward. If she is so interested in ensuring that democracy is respected, she needs to ensure that she votes for a deal, so that we can deliver on the 2016 referendum.
The Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust is an academy schools trust that operates across the Witney and Maidenhead constituencies. Will the Prime Minister join me in celebrating its successes, such as at Holyport Primary School in her constituency and “outstanding” rated Brize Norton Primary School in my constituency? Does she agree that that is an example of how academisation can really work in rural constituencies like ours?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust on its success. I am also happy to congratulate Holyport Primary School on the recognition it has received as a good school and Brize Norton Primary in his constituency, which was rated outstanding. It shows that smaller schools in rural areas can provide an excellent quality of education and that the academy movement can provide for those schools and those children. It goes back to the point I made earlier: what matters is the quality of education our children receive, and in Holyport and Brize Norton, they are receiving a first-class education.
The hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues. As he will know, I believe that universal credit is a better system than the legacy system we inherited from the last Labour Government. It helps people into the workplace and ensures that, as they earn more, they are able to keep more of that money. On the back of the Augar review, which looked at post-18 education, I have indicated that I think it is important that we ensure that our further education colleges are funded and are able to provide an alternative route through education for those young people for whom that is right.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the hard work and dedication of staff at West Cumberland Hospital, the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, the working together group and my fantastic community for their innovation and commitment, which, in addition to the over £100 million of investment from this Conservative Government, mean that consultant-led maternity services will be staying open for future generations?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend: I know she has been campaigning long and hard on that issue on behalf of her constituents. We welcome the clinical commissioning group’s decision to retain those consultant-led services in west Cumbria. Better Births has established that personalised care means safer care, and greater choice should be made available to women accessing maternity services. They should be able to make decisions about the support they need during birth, and where they would prefer to give birth. I think that a good decision has been taken, and I once again congratulate my hon. Friend on the campaign she has run.
Of course, as the hon. Lady has made clear, there has been a case recently in the courts in relation to public sector pensions—on particular aspects of public sector pensions. We will of course have to look at the implications of that judgment across public sector pensions, and it is right that we take our time and that the Government make their decisions based on that careful consideration.
I am extremely proud to represent a constituency with world-leading defence manufacturers that underpin our country’s credibility as an ally and strategic partner. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, as we contemplate our fantastic future role in the world as an independent, self-governing and sovereign nation, the UK must continue to be a credible partner and ally in an increasingly dangerous world? Does she also agree with me that her successor should commit our country to a fully funded defence budget, so that we can remain a tier 1 military power?
I commend our world-leading defence manufacturers. They are an important industry, not only in creating and supporting jobs here in the United Kingdom, but given the significant exports. It is important that, as that independent, self-governing, sovereign nation, we are a good partner and ally in what is an uncertain world. We always have been that, and we will continue to be that. We continue to meet the NATO requirement of spending 2% of our GDP on defence. We are one of the few NATO countries that does that. We are the biggest European contributor to NATO, and we are the second biggest contributor to NATO. We are a leading military power, and we will remain a leading military power.
The Eden Project wants to come to the north of England—to Morecambe. I would like to have a meeting with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to talk about putting Eden into Morecambe to make sure it is the jewel in the north-west that it should be.
I was not previously aware that the Eden Project wanted to come to Morecambe. I am happy to arrange suitable conversations for my hon. Friend so that he can make that case.
My understanding was that the CCGs have a responsibility for ensuring the provision of dental care in their area, but I will ask the Department of Health and Social Care to look at that specific case.
I commend the Prime Minister for her leadership in ensuring that this Government have legislated on the net-zero carbon emissions target for 2050. I am sure she would agree that the next step is to make sure we improve our economy and our living standards, rather than destroying them. I am hosting a conference in my constituency to talk about this issue. Will she agree to be the guest speaker?
First of all, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that such initiatives at a local level are an important part of the wider work we are doing on climate change and on making sure we leave the environment in a better state for the next generation.
I thank my hon. Friend for his invitation, and I will look to see how busy my diary is in the autumn. [Interruption.] Well, you never know. I may have a bit more free time in the autumn. This is an important issue, and I commend him for taking this initiative at a local level, because raising awareness of climate change at a local level is important for all of us.
It is certainly an innovative approach to the issue of invitations, upon which the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) is doubtless to be complimented.
A number of steps have been taken over the years to legislate in relation to dangerous dogs, and we all recognise the problems that some postal workers face, including being subjected to attacks by dogs when they are just going about their business—going about a job that is of benefit to the people of our constituencies.
This week has been a game changer in the politics of Northern Ireland, with this place legislating on devolved issues and with the sad death of Sir Anthony Hart. Sir Anthony chaired the historical institutional abuse inquiry, which investigated the rape and sexual abuse of thousands of the most vulnerable children in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995. Some were raped over a period of months, and some over decades.
Will the Prime Minister commit to bringing forward legislation before the summer recess to compensate those victims and to give them the justice they deserve?
First, I would like to pass on my condolences to the family and friends of Sir Anthony, who did an excellent job in the Hart inquiry of shining light on some horrific incidents that took place in Northern Ireland. Obviously, this issue was addressed by an amendment made to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill last night. As the Bill passes through Parliament, the Government will look carefully at these issues.
The Prime Minister’s last major duty will be to recommend her successor. How does she plan to satisfy herself that the next leader of the Conservative party will command a majority in the House of Commons?
The next leader of the Conservative party will be an excellent Prime Minister, whichever candidate wins, and they will ensure that they take this country through Brexit, deliver on the 2016 referendum, ignore the attempts by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to try to go back on the democratic vote of the British people, and lead us forward to a brighter future.
Early diagnosis is key to further improvements in the survival rates for breast cancer. With that in mind, is the Prime Minister aware of the change and check campaign being run by Helen Addis, a member of the ITV show “Lorraine” team, and will she join me in congratulating Helen on that excellent initiative, which is already saving lives, especially at a time when she is going through her own breast cancer journey, as she describes it?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue and I recognise the work that he has done on it. I will look carefully at the specifics of the issue that he has raised and respond to him in writing.
A Nottinghamshire woman whose husband is in prison for her attempted murder was yesterday served with a letter from his lawyers demanding £100,000 as a settlement in their divorce. She would have to sell her family home to give him that money, and it is simply wrong. Would the Prime Minister support a change in the law to remove automatic entitlement to joint assets in such cases?
The hon. Lady invites me to comment on a matter that is currently before the courts and will be determined through our justice system. We have careful legislation on divorce and the associated arrangements, and it is right that this is a case that is obviously, as she says, going through the courts.
North Dorset is predominantly an agricultural constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that were we to leave on WTO terms, it is likely to be RIP for British agriculture?
It is incumbent on all of us as we look to the future to ensure that we take into account the needs of all parts of our country, of all industries and of all sectors of employment. I continue to believe that the deal that was negotiated, which would indeed have ensured the continuation of our agricultural sector, was the right way forward. Post-Brexit we will be able to establish our own rules in relation to support for the farming industry in the United Kingdom, which will be to our benefit.
My constituent, Lizanne Zietsman, who has made her home on the island of Arran with her husband, has been told by the Home Office that she must leave the UK by Friday 12 July. Arran residents are understandably angry and upset at the prospect of losing a valued member of their community and a petition has garnered more than 16,000 signatures in a few days. Will the Prime Minister urgently intervene and instruct the immigration Minister to meet me so that we can ensure that Lizanne can continue to contribute to, live and work on the island of Arran?
We have a set of immigration rules and it is right that the Home Office enforces those immigration rules, but I will ensure that the immigration Minister responds to the hon. Lady on the particular case.
Universal Credit Fraud
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make a statement on the universal credit fraud that has been uncovered by the BBC.
Universal credit is now in all jobcentres, with around 2 million people claiming this benefit. In accordance with our approach to test and learn while rolling out universal credit, we have made several changes to the advances claimants may receive while they wait for their first payment. If they need it, people can now claim an advance from day one of their claim. They can apply in person, by phone or online—a facility we introduced in July 2018. On Monday, the BBC published an article that described cases where fraudulent applications had been made to acquire advance payments. The figures quoted are unverified.
Those who defraud the benefits system take taxpayers’ money from the poorest people in society. We have a dedicated team of investigators working on this issue, and are working with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that, where appropriate, perpetrators will be prosecuted: we have in fact already secured our first successful prosecution. We frequently raise awareness among frontline staff to be vigilant to fraud risks, and raise concerns where appropriate.
I remind hon. Members, and their constituents, that DWP staff will never approach a claimant on social media, or in the street, to discuss their benefit claim. Claimants should never give out personal or financial information to a third party unless they are certain they work for DWP, and have followed a password or security protocol. Anyone with concerns about their benefit claim should contact their local jobcentre directly.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to Mr Speaker for granting the urgent question. I am also grateful to the BBC whose investigative journalism uncovered this scandalous situation. The cases we have seen in the news are truly alarming and heart-breaking. The Minister says that the figures are unverified, but according to the BBC the figures come from a member of his jobcentre team, who released them to the BBC. One jobcentre reported that a third of all claims are the result of such scams by criminals operating on behalf of claimants, while at another £100,000 a month is being lost to criminals and not going to claimants who actually need it.
Those people already desperately need help. They have been pushed into serious debt by the actions of those appalling scammers and it is clear from the leaked communications that staff, and perhaps Ministers, in the Department for Work and Pensions were aware that the scams were happening. It is also worth pointing out that, from the cases that we have heard about, claimants have been doubly hit by their money being stolen by the scammers and then having to pay back the advance payment, which— as we all know—is in fact a loan. The SNP has consistently condemned the system of advance payments and feels that it is counterintuitive. The advance payment needs to stop being a loan.
The BBC has uncovered what we have been talking about for years—people being left in desperate straits by cuts to universal credit, which have seen increased food bank use and, now, people being driven unwittingly to criminals to help them to get the money they need to survive. The cases highlight the failure of universal credit to protect those who most desperately need the support that it is supposed to offer. Can the Minister not see that until universal credit is properly fixed, such desperation will continue?
The DWP says that it has already secured its first conviction, so it already knew about this situation. The Minister was quoted in a BBC article on 20 May about another heart-breaking individual case. Why did the Department not identify the loophole and attempt to correct it sooner? Why was a statement not made to the House so that we could have helped to advise our constituents? What is the scale of the fraud? When were Ministers informed? Has this activity gone unnoticed or unchecked because of the 21% cut in staff numbers reported by The Independent? Of course, Social Security Scotland has a clear commitment that when an error or fraud occurs that is not the fault of a claimant, they will not be penalised or out of pocket. Will the Minister follow that lead for the people who have been affected?
The Government’s initial response, and the Minister’s response today, has put the onus on the claimants, and that is wrong. They cannot wash their hands of this responsibility. What will the Minister now do to ensure that those affected are not left out of pocket, those who have ripped them off are brought to justice and practices are put in place to ensure that it cannot happen again?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has taken a proactive approach to this important issue. I share his comment that it is alarming. These are criminal actions by what are, frankly speaking, parasites who target some of the most vulnerable people in society. I give the House an assurance that the Department will do everything in its power to protect those vulnerable people, and I am sure that all hon. Members would support that.
There have been 4.4 million universal credit claims and, as it stands, 42,000 staff referrals for fraud have been made, which is less than 1% of all universal credit claims. That said, each and every one of those has the potential to be a serious case. We take them seriously, they are all fully investigated and, where appropriate, we will take action. We are in talks with the CPS on several cases and, as I have said, we have already had a successful prosecution. We will look at each of the cases raised and, where it is clear that the claimant is an innocent victim who has been targeted, there would be an expectation that they would not pay the money back.
I refute, however, the broader point about universal credit. We will spend £2 billion more than the legacy system, and I very much welcome the introduction of the help to claim scheme to provide an independent additional tier of support across the jobcentre network, provided by Citizens Advice.
We are actively making improvements to the system. We are using more real time information. We are working with data suppliers. We are doing more data matching. We are using the DWP landlord portal to verify housing costs and we are developing risk models to help to assess confidence on information that is provided. There is a balance, however. In debates we have had in recent years, hon. Members have rightly pushed to make advanced payments available as quickly as possible. It is the balance between being able to support people who need funding—under current rules, a vulnerable claimant in need of financial assistance can access that funding on the first day of their claim—while ensuring that we have 100% confidence that the money goes to the right person.
We are not complacent. We take this matter very seriously. We have a team of 120 staff dedicated to working on advanced payments. As I said, every case referred to us is taken very seriously and we will use the full force of the law where appropriate.
There are people offering help to those applying for benefits in exchange for a cut of what they subsequently receive—sometimes a very big cut. Will my hon. Friend consider outlawing that activity, and consider a public awareness campaign to warn people against this harmful exploitation and to signpost people to free qualified benefits advisers such as Citizens Advice?
I thank my hon. Friend, who works tirelessly in this area. This is yet another example of a really helpful, constructive and proactive suggestion. I know the Secretary of State is very keen to see that brought forward, so that is a big yes from us. In terms of raising awareness, we are increasing training and guidance for frontline staff. Working in partnership with Action Fraud, we will be doing further national and regional press releases, social media and stakeholder engagement to raise awareness of the potential risk of fraud and of how to report it as quickly as possible.
The Government claimed that universal credit would reduce social security fraud and error by £1.3 billion. Now we know that they are clearly failing to do that, just as they are failing to protect people from poverty. The Government’s own figures show that the rate of fraud in universal credit is far higher than the rate of fraud in the benefits it is replacing. According to the BBC, fraudulent applications for advances are leaving claimants scammed and at risk of destitution, costing millions of pounds of public money.
Labour Members have repeatedly highlighted the hardship that the five-week wait for an initial payment causes, pushing many people into debt and rent arrears or forcing them to turn to food banks to survive. The Government’s stock answer is that people can apply for advances—indeed, on 28 March, the Secretary of State said that he felt the system of advances was working well. What does she think of it now?
When the National Audit Office highlighted delays in paying people last year, her predecessor claimed that they were largely due to the need to verify identity. In June 2018, she said:
“Verification is a necessary part of any benefits system…We need to make sure we are paying the right people the right amount of money.”
How is it, then, that advances have been made to claimants with names such as Lisa Simpson, Bart Simpson and Homer Simpson?
Will the Minister tell the House how much the Government estimate this fraudulent activity is costing the taxpayer? How does that cost compare with the cost of abolishing the five-week wait? What action are the Government now taking to make sure they verify correctly the identity of people who request an advance? What action are the Government taking to support claimants in financial hardship who have clearly been the victim of a scam?
It is clear from this report that advances are not the answer to the five-week wait; they are loans that have to be paid off by claimants—in this case, the victims of scams. The Government must finally listen to the evidence and stop the roll-out of universal credit.
I am afraid there was a bit of a muddle, mixing the difference between the verification process with advanced payments and the main claims for universal credit. As a Government, we take the issue of fraud, error and overpayments seriously. We anticipate that by the time we have full roll-out of universal credit, there will be a reduction of over £1 billion.
How did Bart Simpson get in there?
Be patient. I am answering the questions. I can only address one point at a time.
The legacy benefits system was complex. Claimants had to deal with local authorities, HMRC and the DWP. The majority of welfare issues that led to fraud, error or overpayment related to failing to provide information on changes of circumstances. Under the legacy benefits, there was an increased likelihood that people would fail to report changes of circumstances. Universal credit, however, with a single point of contact on a digital interface, makes it easier for claimants to report changes once, and it is easier for us to proactively identify when there are changes. The Government are still on target to see, with the full roll-out of universal credit, a reduction of £1 billion.
We talk about the principle of advanced payments, but remember that under legacy benefits at the end of the claim the payment came too soon. We saw that claimants would in many cases be going into work, having spent a long time out of work, being anxious. They were often paid in arrears at work, so would not have access to funding. People who were desperate to work and do the right thing were financially unable to do so. Under universal credit the wait for the money is at the beginning, but with advanced payments to bridge that wait. That is vital to ensuring that claimants can transition into work. As I said in my earlier response, it is the need to balance making advances available to claimants quickly and ensuring that payments are paid based on the correct circumstances.
The shadow Secretary of State raised a point about children. When verifying advanced payments, we will verify identity, bank accounts, national insurance and, where they are declared a non-UK national, nationality. However, to make sure we can provide support to those who are often the most vulnerable people in society, there is manual checking of housing and children. That is the bit that can take time beyond when we have issued the advanced payment, although it would be checked before the actual main claim. As I have said, by using greater access to real time information and data matching, we will be able to speed up that process to improve confidence that all claimants for advanced payments are valid.
It is vital that we crack down on fraud, but will the Minister reassure us that he will protect the vital advanced system, which provides a vital financial lifeline for many, many of my constituents?
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. It is absolutely vital that we strike the balance between having absolute confidence that money is being correctly paid out and ensuring that we do not leave vulnerable claimants without access to money. Rightly, the Government have listened to the constructive work with stakeholders to ensure that on the first day of a claim people who need financial support can get it. That is the right thing to do.
The Department has a risk register to safeguard taxpayers’ money. Is this fraud listed on the risk register?
I will have to write to the right hon. Gentleman to give him a specific answer. Any case that is referred is treated seriously. We have a dedicated team—[Interruption.]
Order. Do not shout at the Minister. Members are supposed to ask questions and get answers. Shouting at the Minister is not a part of that, and certainly not while I am sitting here.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We treat every case seriously and we encourage claimants who feel they may be a victim of fraud to report it immediately either directly to jobcentre staff or to Action Fraud, with which we work very closely. I will write to the right hon. Gentleman with a full response.
It is obviously really important that people who need benefits should not have to wait for long periods with no money in their pocket. Will my hon. Friend confirm that any new measures to prevent fraud will not prevent our constituents receiving the advanced payments they desperately need?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. We must not forget the need to balance making advances available quickly to claimants with ensuring that payments are paid based on current circumstances. We must not lose sight of that.
I think the general public will be incredulous at the level of incompetence around the universal credit system. How can it be possible that, as has been revealed this week, a brand new system is open to grotesque fraud at these levels? Does the Minister seriously expect us to accept that it is somehow acceptable for the universal credit system to recognise the “Bank of Springfield” and allow payments to be made into it?
I understand the hon. Lady’s passion on this subject. She is right that we should be doing everything we can to protect vulnerable claimants, but I remind her that there have been 4.4 million universal credit claims, that as it stands today there have been 42,000 referrals, each of them very important, and that to put it in context, since January, every month we have had more than 110,000 requests for advance payments.
We will continue to tighten up the procedures, using real-time information, data matching and the digital platforms, so that we are as robust as we can be, but we must not lose sight of ensuring that vulnerable claimants have access to funding as quickly as possible. Nobody in this House would want people not to be able to access vital financial support.
I have been raising this matter with the Minister for some time, and I welcome the fact that he says that claimants who have made a claim in error, or not made one to their knowledge, will not have to repay the advance. Will he also confirm that those claimants will be allowed to return to their legacy benefits, since they have not made a valid claim for universal credit that they are aware of, and that he will deal with these cases much more quickly than the eight weeks that my very vulnerable constituent has been waiting since I first raised this with him?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who raised this case with the Minister for Employment, who is responsible for this area. It helped to focus our minds on what more could be done. Every individual will be treated individually, and we will look at the unique circumstances. Where it is clear that they have been a victim of fraud through no fault of their own, no, we would not expect them to pay it back, and yes, we would consider putting them back on to the legacy benefits if they were better off under those.
There is huge potential for fraud in Northern Ireland, especially around the border areas; in fact, traditionally there has been a lot of social security fraud in those areas. Given that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not meeting at present and therefore the opportunities for scrutiny are limited, what contact has the Minister had with the Department for Communities and the Social Security Agency of Northern Ireland, first to identify whether fraud has been taking place, and secondly to share the methods being used and indicate the steps that the Department is taking, so that those can be used in Northern Ireland?
On the specifics of the meetings, I will have to write to provide a full answer. However, we are seeing that the cases that are being reported are clustered around particular areas, so there is a real focus in those areas on raising awareness and on targeting often very sophisticated criminal activity. As we bring forward prosecutions, we are finding that that is making a significant difference as a proactive deterrent, and rightly so.
Ministers have made one monumental misjudgment after another with universal credit. The five-week delay is forcing people into debt and dependency on food banks, and now we learn that it has opened up a bonanza for crooks and fraudsters. Will the Minister now urgently review the catastrophic five-week delay policy?
As is very clear, any claimant can access financial support from day one where it is needed. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure that everybody benefits from the personal, tailored approach that universal credit offers, which is an integral part of how we are helping to deliver record employment across all regions of this country.
I am grateful to the Minister for saying that, where there has been fraudulent activity and claimants have been transferred on to UC, he will consider revoking that. Can he explain and enlighten us all on the testimony of the DWP officials at the most recent Select Committee hearing, who said exactly the opposite?
This is in relation specifically to the cases of fraud relating to advanced payments. I understand the point that the hon. Lady raises, and as ever we will continue to consider all our operational activities to ensure that we continue to deliver much-needed improvements.
The bit about this that I find most difficult is that the whistleblowers were themselves Jobcentre staff. What does it say about the culture in the DWP that they felt that they could not come to the Department and had to go to the BBC? My question is simple: did the Department know about any of this or any of these cases before the BBC revealed them, and if so, what did it do about it?
Yes, of course we did. That is why we have created a team of 120 dedicated members of staff specifically looking at the area of advance payments, why we have been improving training and awareness for both claimants and our frontline staff, why we are working with Action Fraud on our communications strategy and why, rightly, we are using the full force of the law to undertake prosecutions against the parasites who are targeting some of the most vulnerable people in society.
The advance payment fraud was reported in the media as long ago as last November, so whatever has been happening over the past eight months, as the Minister has set out, has simply not been good enough. What would it take for him to conclude that, rather than having this advance payment system, we should take away the five-week wait altogether?
But the hon. Gentleman would then have the problem of the legacy benefits: at the end of the claim, as someone moved into work, they would not have the run-on of financial support, which would leave a gap, since the majority of people who go into work are paid in arrears. With legacy benefits, we saw that people who were desperate to do the right thing and to unlock their own talent were left with a financial gap at a point when they could not get financial support. It is not a good thing to advocate going back to a legacy system that trapped people in generations of unemployment.
In responding to the urgent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) on this shocking and disgraceful criminal activity, the Minister said that he would do everything he could to “protect vulnerable people in society”. If that is the case, he will be aware that the all-party parliamentary group for terminal illness published its report last week into his Government’s six-month rule, which is causing harm and heartbreak for the dying and their families. Has he read the report’s damning evidence? If so, how can he justify his Government’s continuing with this policy?
I pay tribute to the work of the APPG and in particular the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), who has campaigned tirelessly with organisations such as the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Marie Curie, Parkinson’s UK and a number of others. As the Minister for Disabled People, I have had a number of meetings on this matter, particularly on the process as somebody claims through the special rules. We are aware of it, and the Secretary of State is personally passionate that we should do everything we can. This is an area in which we will be making significant improvements in the very near future.
The Minister’s defence of this system increasingly sounds absurd. The reason so many advance payments are necessary is the five-week wait introduced by his Government, which has left people in Wigan completely destitute. It is humiliating to have to beg for money at a time when they most need help, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Why does he not just give up on this defence, do the right thing and get rid of this degrading five-week wait?
The hon. Lady simply does not understand what has happened. Under the legacy benefits, people at the end of their claim as they moved into employment they would lose the financial support while they waited to be paid, as it is more often than not the case that people in work are paid in arrears. That left people without financial support. Under universal credit, while there is a five-week wait for the full payments, people can access advance payments.
Those moving from legacy benefits can also benefit from two weeks’ run-on, no-strings-attached additional money from housing benefit. Since the announcement in the Budget, that will also be extended to an additional two weeks of jobseeker’s allowance, income support and employment and support allowance funding. Again, there will be no strings attached to that, so potentially, combined, that means four weeks of additional funding.
The people who have suffered in this, the claimants themselves, had no part in the design of the system, and feel increasingly disempowered by the whole system. The system fraud that is being applied was originally targeted against the banks. The banks have been criticised across this House for their slowness in protecting individual customers, but they are now moving to a stage where they reimburse immediately and then look into any fraud. Why cannot the DWP do the same for each and every claimant, to take the stress of debt away from them?
I know that the hon. Gentleman is being constructive with his two suggestions. I recognise the point about people engaging with the formal process, which is one reason why I was so passionately supportive of the roll-out of the Help to Claim scheme, putting in a level of independent support across the jobcentre network, particularly for vulnerable claimants, delivered by Citizens Advice. I think that will make a significant difference.
On the broader point about learning lessons within the banking sector—at times, I am afraid, the banking sector had to be dragged and cajoled to do the right thing —we continue to look at what more can be done. If there are vital lessons that can be taken from that, those are things that we should give serious consideration to.
This whole situation is immensely concerning. Can the Minister tell us the average and maximum amounts that victims of these scams have lost?
I cannot at this stage, but we are looking at this as we work through the cases referred. Regardless of the amounts, for each and every victim it is incredibly serious, which is why I reiterate our commitment to do everything in our power to use the full force of the law to target the criminal gangs targeting some of the most vulnerable people in society.
I recently spoke to somebody who works for Jobcentre Plus, who said they felt that universal credit was not designed to support people and that the five-week delay was an example of that. She said that people were turning instead to prostitution and crime to top up their money. In the light of this recent fraud, it is time the Government abolished the five-week wait.
When we talk to work coaches up and down the country, they tell us that for the first time in generations they feel empowered to deliver a personalised and tailored level of support that treats everybody as an individual. It is an integral part of how we are delivering record employment and doing everything possible to reduce the amount of unclaimed benefits. Under legacy benefits, £2.4 billion a year was being left unclaimed, which for 700,000 of the most vulnerable—[Interruption.] Some hon. Members are laughing, but this £2.4 billion amounts to £280 per month on average for some of the most vulnerable in society. By delivering through universal credit we can get support to the people who need it.
This latest problem exposes the need for greater safeguards for anyone moving on to universal credit, be it through natural or managed migration. The Secretary of State told the Work and Pensions Committee that we would have a vote on those safeguards this month. When will that vote take place?
We are still considering how we can do this correctly. We are still on track to do the planned managed migration from the summer. We are aware that it needs to come back to the House and will be reporting to the House on it shortly.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. I am sure you are aware that the Cabinet Office has a role in co-ordinating the cross-governmental response to climate change, including the greening government commitments and the UN sustainable development goals, and is responsible for procurement across Government, which obviously relates to sustainability. We have discovered that in Cabinet Office questions this morning the Cabinet Office decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Order Paper one question that had been drawn four times, each having been submitted by a Labour Member. The question was about what steps the Department was taking to facilitate cross-governmental co-operation on tackling climate change. The Opposition had approached the Table Office, and it confirmed that the question would be in order, but the Department decided to unilaterally withdraw it. I seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, as to how we can ensure that questions are in order. If the Table Office say they are, is it okay for Departments to unilaterally decide they are not?
I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for having given me notice of her intention to raise it. It is not for the Chair to interfere in such matters, of course, but it is for the Chair to make sure that Members are given proper answers to any question they ask and that Departments are accountable to Parliament and therefore to individual Members of Parliament. [Interruption.] We really do not need commentary from the Back Benches while I am giving a polite answer. I have never known a point of order to be heckled like that.
The short answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that it is perfectly in order for Departments to decide which Department is responsible for any matter a Member raises, be it in a written question, an oral question, a letter to a Minister, and so on. It is quite normal for a Department to say that a matter cannot be properly answered by one Minister but that it could be answered by another. Even where the Table Office might have said that a matter is properly for one Department, that Department has every right to transfer it to another one.
That said, if the hon. Lady or the four Members who tabled questions they thought would be answered publicly this morning do not get answers in a timely fashion, please come back and draw it to the attention of the Chair, because the Chair is concerned that Members have their questions properly answered. I hope that helps the hon. Lady.
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 establish a public advocate to provide advice to, and act as data controller for, representatives of the deceased after major incidents.
The Bill is about changing how we handle the aftermath of public disasters so that we can better enable families of the deceased and injured survivors to get what they need from the events that inevitably follow. It aims to provide collective representation for bereaved families and injured survivors during the investigations in the aftermath and to provide for the establishment of an independent panel to review documentation relating to the disaster. It should prevent families and survivors from feeling excluded by the official processes and feeling like their needs are being ignored. It will enable a more cost-effective response that helps families and facilitates a collective solidarity amongst them, as well as putting their voices at the very centre of the aftermath.
The Bill arises out of the experience of the Hillsborough families and its aim is to prevent others from having to go through the trauma and agonies that the Hillsborough families and survivors have endured simply to get the truth about what happened to their loved ones officially accepted and to get justice and accountability for what went wrong. Families and the injured survivors in disasters usually want two simple things—to find out what happened and why, and to stop it ever happening again to other people—yet it is striking how frequently they feel let down. We have seen it time after time: Hillsborough, the MV Derbyshire, the Marchioness, terrorist attacks such as Lockerbie and other bombings, and more recently the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. In all these cases, there have been reports of families and survivors feeling alienated and ignored and often feeling the need to campaign for truth and justice because they do not feel that their needs have been met by the proceedings that have happened.
I would like to thank Lord Wills for drafting the Bill, following work that he and I did consulting family support groups involved in a number of public disasters. It is he who devised the mechanics of how the Hillsborough independent panel should work in 2009, when we were both Ministers in the Ministry of Justice. Its establishment followed a call for transparency and the publication of documents on the 20th anniversary of the disaster by Andy Burnham and me—both then Ministers. Without Lord Wills, the Hillsborough independent panel would never have happened, and without the HIP the full truth about Hillsborough would never have been officially acknowledged. The original inquest verdicts of accidental death would never have been quashed and replaced after the second inquests with verdicts of unlawful killing. It was the HIP that finally and definitively reported the full truth of what happened at Hillsborough, 23 years after the events, and it did so using the principles of openness, transparency and the publication of documentation.
I have had an involvement with Hillsborough families for 29 years. When I was an articled clerk in a legal practice in Liverpool in 1990, my principal was one of the solicitors on the Hillsborough steering committee conducting the original civil litigation. I have known and tried to help the Hillsborough families ever since that time. When I was first elected to this House in 1997, members of the executive committee of the Hillsborough Families Support Group were amongst the first of my constituents to come to me for help, and I have been helping them ever since. Significant progress has been made over these years—very much against the odds, it must be said—so I have a deep understanding of what has happened to them in the past 30 years. The members of the executive committee of the Hillsborough Families Support Group have told me that they support the Bill because they think that it will make a difference to bereaved families in future disasters.
The Hillsborough families’ experience is extreme, but not unique. In the aftermath of disasters, things often seem to go wrong for the families of the deceased and for injured survivors. I have handled other cases myself. The families of the 44 people who were killed when MV Derbyshire sank with all hands in 1980 spent 20 years campaigning to clear their loved ones of blame for what happened. They felt that the British Wreck Commission had blamed alleged poor seamanship for the sinking, thus casting aspersions on the victims—who could not answer back—rather than on the owners, builders and insurers of the vessel. As the secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on MV Derbyshire, I saw what a heavy toll that took on them, and I helped them to succeed in their long and difficult campaign for official acknowledgment of the truth of what had happened. The truth was that their relatives had been wholly innocent victims of the disaster, and their campaign was fully vindicated, but it should not have taken 20 years.
There have been, and will continue to be, other disasters that kill and injure people, creating more bereaved families and injured survivors. We should use the experiences of past disasters to improve the way in which we handle the aftermath of those that happen in the future. The Bill would establish an independent, adequately resourced public advocate for those who are bereaved in public disasters, and for injured survivors. It would locate the public advocate’s office in a Government Department; the advocate would be able to call on its resources but, crucially, would be totally independent of the Government. It would require the public advocate to act if 50% plus one or more of the families of the deceased and injured survivors asked for that to happen. The advocate would then act as a representative of the collective interests of the bereaved and survivors in securing the openness and transparency that families need.
The process would not replace any representation in legal proceedings, but the advocate would have an additional role intended to give families and survivors confidence that their needs were central in the securing of truth and justice. That would be done by ensuring transparency and openness in a way that cannot be hijacked by organs of the state or other interested parties in the various legal proceedings that often follow in the aftermath of a disaster.
The public advocate, as a data controller, would establish a panel—like the Hillsborough independent panel—in consultation with relatives of the deceased and survivors, to review all documentation at a much earlier stage than was the case with Hillsborough, thus facilitating transparency and disclosure by way of reports to Parliament and the Lord Chancellor. That would counterbalance legal proceedings, inquiries, inquests and other trials leaving families feeling like unimportant, unrepresented parties—which is how they often feel. It would complement and add to the sum of knowledge about what happened and why, and it would do so in a timely fashion and at an early stage.
In the Queen’s Speech of 2017, the Government promised to establish such an office, but—unbelievably, given how straightforward such legislation would be—they have made no progress beyond conducting a consultation. It is also clear from their consultation document, published in September last year, that their public advocate would not be independent, would not be a data controller, would not be able to act at the behest of families, would be directed by the Secretary of State, and would not have the power to establish and appoint independent panels such as the Hillsborough independent panel.
Let me say to the Government that unless the families have more agency and the public advocate is truly independent, that simply will not do the job of maintaining families’ confidence and putting them at the centre of the search for the truth in the aftermath of disasters. To be effective, the public advocate needs independence, the confidence of the families and survivors, and the ability to establish an independent panel as a data controller and to report findings. Those are the essential elements that will prevent the aftermath of future disasters from being made more traumatic for families and survivors, as has happened in the past.
I believe that, if implemented, these measures will prevent bereaved families and injured survivors from ever again having to endure decades of fighting for the truth to be acknowledged by officialdom, and decades of striving for justice and accountability. If passed, the Bill will also stand as an enduring monument to the dignity and collective strength, fight and stamina of the Hillsborough families and survivors, so that they can know at last that something good and permanent has come out of their decades of agony and trauma, and that no one will ever again have to go through what they have endured simply because their family has had the great misfortune to be caught up in a public disaster.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Maria Eagle, Sir George Howarth, Derek Twigg, Alison McGovern, Ms Angela Eagle, Dame Louise Ellman, Ms Marie Rimmer, Conor McGinn, Frank Field, Stephen Twigg and Luciana Berger present the Bill.
Maria Eagle accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed (Bill 419).
Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill
[Relevant Documents: Second Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill 2017, HC 709, and the Government Response, HC 984.]
I can inform the House that Mr Speaker has certified the whole Bill, in accordance with Standing Order No. 83J, as being within devolved legislative competence and relating exclusively to England and Wales.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill delivers another important commitment from the Government on animal welfare, cementing our place as a world leader in the care and protection of animals. Under the current legislation, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences is six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The Bill extends the current maximum penalty to five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine for the worst animal cruelty offences relating to animal welfare in England and Wales. It is a simple yet vital measure to ensure that those who perpetrate cruelty on animals are subjected to the full force of the law.
We all agree that there is no place for animal cruelty in this country. Those who mistreat and abuse animals through unacceptable activities such as dog fighting, the abuse of pet animals, and cruelty to farm animals will be faced with tougher responses from the courts. An increase in the maximum custodial sentence from six months to five years will help to deter people from committing detestable acts against animals, and will demonstrate that such behaviour is not tolerated in this country.
Is the Minister aware of the growing concern about the welfare of tethered horses? Many horses are attached to a short rope all day long, next to a highway, with no water and surrounded by ragwort, which is harmful to them. However, the authorities seem reluctant to take action. Might the reason be that the law is not quite clear enough in this respect, and if so, could that be addressed by the Bill?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention, and for his concern about horse tethering. I share that concern, which is why we recently had a roundtable meeting with the relevant welfare groups and authorities to discuss how we could achieve best practice in this regard. I think that there have been some case studies—particularly in the Swansea area, if I remember correctly—and that real action has been taken. We need to spread that best practice far and wide.
It is a pleasure to introduce this important Bill. We committed ourselves in September 2017 to increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty offences, and in December 2017 we published our draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. That followed the introduction of the Animal Fighting (Sentencing) Bill in July 2016 by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and the introduction of the Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill, also in July 2016, by the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). I pay tribute to both of them and the supporters of their Bills; I thank them for their hard work.
I am delighted to have secured the parliamentary time to introduce this small but incredibly valuable Government Bill, which is of great importance to the House, the animal welfare community and the public more widely. I pay tribute to all who campaigned for the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019, popularly known as Finn’s law, which is closely linked to the Bill. Finn is a police dog fondly known as Fabulous Finn to his friends, and a distinguished example of the incredible bravery and hard work of service animals. This Bill will ensure that those who cause injury to a service animal will receive a proportionate penalty for their horrific actions; I will speak on this in more detail a little later.
Many animal welfare charities and other organisations have been calling for increased sentencing for a number of years. I thank them for their campaigning on the matter and for ensuring that this issue has remained at the top of the agenda: Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the League Against Cruel Sports, to name but a few, have been incredibly effective in their support for an increase in the maximum penalties, and I praise their tireless efforts. Claire Horton, chief executive of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, stated that the introduction of this Bill is a “landmark achievement”.
This Bill is indeed a landmark step forward for animal welfare in this country. It demonstrates our commitment to protecting this nation’s animals. I pay tribute to Northern Ireland and my hon. Friends in the Democratic Unionist party for setting such a great example in support of animal welfare; Northern Ireland has already introduced a higher maximum penalty of five years for animal cruelty offences, which we are pleased to be able to match in England and Wales.
I also pay tribute to those hon. Members who have consistently advocated introducing this Bill, notably my hon. Friend—most of the time my friend—the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. He can be grumpy on occasions—[Interruption.] Oh, he is there! I had not realised he was behind me! Indeed, I thank all members of the Committee, who tirelessly press the Government on this issue.
Our Bill and the proposals therein on animal welfare sentencing have received strong support from across the House, and I am grateful to the Opposition Front- Bench team, not least the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) for her full and wholesome support; it is much appreciated.
Thirteen years ago in 2006 when the Animal Welfare Act was going through its stages, I proposed an amendment that would do exactly what this Bill does, so may I thank the Minister for bringing it in but express regret that it has taken 13 years to do so?
I am pleased the Bill is before us today; sometimes these things take time—too often in animal welfare—but I am really pleased that through working together across this House we have seen a number of pieces of legislation come forward in recent weeks and months. That is because we are working so closely together. I am extraordinarily grateful for that and for the support we have had from the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who has long called for higher sentencing.
It is also important to recognise the hard work of our Whips. They are not able to speak on this matter, but I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) are very keen for this legislation to come through. It would be remiss of me not also to mention the irrepressible hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), who is a complete enthusiast for this Bill and I am sure would love to be associated with it.
The Bill amends the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which currently sets out a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine for the more serious prevention of harm offences. That is much lower than the current European average for animal welfare offences, which is two years; indeed many countries have much higher maximum penalties. I am pleased to say that the Bill introduces one of the toughest punishments in the world and will bring us in line with the maximum penalties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, India and Latvia, which are all five years’ imprisonment.
The Government published the draft Bill for consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny in December 2017 as part of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. The consultation closed in January 2018 and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs received over 9,000 direct responses to it; 70% of respondents agreed with the new maximum penalties. In the summary of responses document, the Government committed to bringing forward the sentencing clauses in a separate Bill as recommended by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee scrutiny report in January 2018.
There have been a number of recent cases related to serious animal welfare offences in which judges have expressed a desire to impose a higher penalty or custodial sentence than that currently provided for under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. For example, in 2016 an 18-year-old man kicked his girlfriend’s pet spaniel to death in an horrific attack. The dog was kicked repeatedly so hard that her brain stem detached. The man was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay costs and victim surcharges of more than £1,000. The judge at the magistrates court said that he would have imposed a stronger, longer sentence if the law had allowed it. It was a sickening act of deliberate cruelty and in such cases a higher sentence would have been favourable for the court.
If I may, I would like to give another horrific example of where the judge explicitly told the court that he would have imposed a longer sentence if the guidelines had allowed. In November 2016 a man gave a dog painkillers and then beat her to death with a shovel. The man was sentenced to four months in prison and was disqualified from keeping all animals for life. That sentence was clearly not appropriate for such a dreadful act, and we need to change that, and we will now.
This Bill relates closely to the warmly received Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019, commonly known as Finn’s law, which prevents those who attack or injure service animals from claiming self-defence. It received Royal Assent on 8 April 2019, and I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), who is also in his place, for steering the Bill so skilfully through this House.
When this Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill is enacted, those who cause harm to a service animal in the course of the animal’s duty could be subject to a maximum sentence of five years. The intention of Finn’s law was to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty as well as improving the protection of service animals. We are now completing the increased protection of service animals with this Bill, and as a result achieving what the Committee and campaigners have worked so hard for.
The Bill is due to commence two months after Royal Assent and has a limited impact on costs to the criminal justice system. The increase in maximum penalties will not result in an increase in the number of offenders being sent to prison; it will result only in the potential length of time that might be served by the most serious offenders. We have been in discussion with the Ministry of Justice on this matter, and the Government consider that this may lead to some marginal extra costs to the criminal justice system which are unlikely to be more than £500,000 per annum. DEFRA has agreed with the Ministry of Justice to take on the costs, as set out in the explanatory notes.
While some offences committed under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 may be more minor incidents, there are unfortunately cases of serious or systematic cruelty. For example, some forms of animal cruelty, such as dog fighting, can be linked to organised crime and are carried out for financial gain through betting and prize money.
The Minister talked about the extra cost involved. If a case has to go to the Crown court, very often animals will have to be kept in custody or in care in kennels, so that will cost more. We also need to make sure we have proper kennelling so that the whole court system can cope. We very much welcome the extra sentencing, but that knock-on effect needs to be dealt with as well.
Once again, my hon. Friend speaks with authority on the subject, and he can be assured that we are working through all those details. I just want to underline that costs will be covered through the arrangements put in place.
As I was saying, dog fighting inflicts a high level of suffering on the animals involved. We believe that in such cases, where the level of cruelty and culpability is so high, a higher sentence is clearly justified, and I am sure that the House agrees.
The Bill is a simple measure, amounting to just two clauses, but with a very positive outcome. Clause 1 is the Bill’s main clause; it outlines the mode of trial and maximum penalty for certain animal welfare offences. As I previously outlined, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 the maximum penalty in practice is currently six months and/or an unlimited fine. The clause changes the maximum custodial sentence available for five key offences: causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal; carrying out a non-exempted mutilation; docking the tail of a dog, except where permitted; administering a poison to an animal; and involvement in an animal fight.
The Bill is hugely welcome. However, I am concerned about the narrowness of its scope, and my investigations have not been able to satisfy me that there are no potential areas of obscurity in it. Given that the Bill applies to domestic animals and not to wild animals, what is the situation in regard to, say, feral cats? Would somebody who did harm to their neighbour’s cat be subject to a different maximum sentence from somebody who did harm to a cat that was effectively feral and unattached?
We can talk about that in more detail in Committee, but it is clear that this is about animals that are under the control of man. So in a situation where a feral cat was under the control of a man or woman and was experiencing unnecessary harm, the Bill would apply.
I apologise for coming in a bit late. The Minister might have covered this earlier, but will the courts have discretion in relation to the maximum sentence? Am I right in thinking that there will be a scale?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Just to clarify, we are discussing the maximum penalty; there will be other gradations that the courts will see fit to use. It is important to highlight, as I have done with a couple of case studies, that the courts felt they did not have the right sentencing available, given the horrific nature of some of the crimes they had been looking at. The Bill is about providing a maximum. The hon. Gentleman must be psychic, because I was about to come to that point. Under clause 1, the existing maximum penalty of six months will be retained if the offender is summarily convicted. However, offenders may now receive a higher penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine if they are convicted on trial by indictment.
Clause 2 outlines that the Bill will come into force two months after Royal Assent. The application of revised maximum penalties is not retrospective and does not apply to offences committed before the Bill comes into force. The clause also specifies the short title of the Bill, and provides for the Bill to extend to England and Wales. Animal welfare is a fully devolved matter, as many Members know. However, in this case the Welsh Government have confirmed that the maximum penalty should also apply in Wales, and the Bill is drafted on that basis. The Welsh Government are preparing a legislative consent motion so that the Bill can be extended and applied in Wales.
It is the Government’s view that the subject matter of this Bill is considered to be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. I have commended Northern Ireland for having already set the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences at five years’ imprisonment in August 2016, and I am pleased that the Scottish Government have announced their intention to do so as well. This country has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, but our maximum penalties are currently among the lowest. An increase to five years’ imprisonment should be introduced to enable the courts to have more appropriate sentences at their disposal for the most serious crimes of animal cruelty, and to reinforce our position as a world leader on animal welfare.
The Government are pleased to be taking forward this positive step on animal welfare. Just a month ago, we introduced a ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens, and we have introduced mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses. The Bill follows the previously mentioned passing of Finn’s law and we are also demonstrating the importance of the value of wild animals with the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill progressing well through the other place. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill is a fundamental step in ensuring that we have an appropriate response to those who inflict deliberate suffering on innocent animals and, for the reasons I have set out, I commend the Bill to the House.
Today has been a long time coming. We welcome the Government bringing forward this vital piece of legislation, although we regret that it has taken this long, considering that it has widespread support across the House and with the general public. I hope the Bill manages to make it through both Houses and on to the statute book in a timely fashion. It is imperative that it should receive Royal Assent and come into force as soon as possible so that our courts can start handing out appropriate sentences to those people convicted of inflicting terrible harm on innocent animals.
I want to thank the hon. Lady for the cross-party support that she has given to get this legislation on to the statute book. I agree that that must be done quickly. The Bill has had cross-party support not only in the Select Committee but across Parliament, so let us try to get Royal Assent as soon as possible. Too many lenient sentences are being handed down for horrific welfare crimes at the moment.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his well-made point, which I think we can all support.
It is absolutely right that we should seek to increase the maximum penalty for animal welfare offences from six months to five years. Britain can be proud of having some of the best animal welfare practices and legislation in the world, and the Bill does what it needs to do to enhance that reputation. The landmark Animal Welfare Act 2006 is something that, as a Labour Member, I am very proud of, because our Government brought it forward. Now, delivering maximum sentencing through the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will ensure that our high standard is maintained and builds on those original foundations.
I am aware that many Members right across the House have campaigned for this issue and for this Bill to come forward, but I would like to make a couple of particular mentions. First my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) has made a huge contribution in this House, working with Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, to put forward her private Member’s Bill. That campaign was supported when it first came to the House by many hon. Members from both sides, and I am pleased that we are making such good progress now. I would also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) for her hard work on this issue. I also thank the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and its Chair, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish).
The last time I spoke on this matter on the Floor of the House was in spring 2017, following the publication of the Select Committee’s excellent report covering third-party puppy sales and maximum sentencing. We then had the short-lived draft Bill that would have covered sentencing and the recognition of animal sentience. From that, however, Ministers went back to the drawing board, which is why, to some extent, it has taken so long to get to this stage. After two years’ delay, it is really good that the Government have finally brought forward this Bill, because it is important that sentences for animal cruelty should act as a deterrent. I welcome this.
We are supporting the Bill today, but we will seek to improve it in Committee. We have concerns, which are shared by a number of stakeholders, about the scope of the Bill. This has already been mentioned in an intervention. The proposals apply only to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and therefore do not apply to wild animals in the way that they apply to domestic animals. Our concern is that this creates a two-tier system, even if by oversight as opposed to intention. The same sentences should be available to judges for similar or identical crimes, regardless of whether the animal is domesticated or wild.
I took the Animal Welfare Bill through, and I disagree with the hon. Lady’s understanding. It is possible to commit acts of cruelty only when we as human beings have power over an animal. We must deliver the animal’s five freedoms, and it does not matter whether the animal is domesticated or wild. It is our power over the creature that determines an act of cruelty. I do not think that her accusation of a two-tier system is a fair one.
That is an interesting consideration, and one that will be explored within the legal system. I am sure that we can look into it further in Committee. To give an example, the RSPCA reports that a man was jailed for just 22 weeks after he was convicted of setting his dogs on a pet cat and a fox. It is important that harming the fox can carry the same sentence as harming the family pet in those circumstances, and the law must reflect that.
I thought I was clear. In the case the hon. Lady just referred to, it was the dog that did the harm to the fox or the neighbour’s cat, not the human being. That is where the differentiation arises. Had he been torturing any of the animals, he would immediately have fallen foul of this Bill.
But if any person directs an animal to do such appalling harm, should not that person bear some responsibility?
The Sentencing Council recommends that if a defendant pleads guilty at the first reasonable opportunity, the sentence may be cut by a third, so someone who commits the most serious crime against animals and pleads guilty could end up serving only four months in prison. I think we would all agree that that is an incredibly inadequate sentence for some of the crimes we have heard about.
The Minister mentioned that many people have campaigned for the increase, and I would like to mention groups such as the League Against Cruel Sports, the Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, all of which have campaigned strongly for the measure, having previously expressed concern about the leniency of sentencing.
We should pay tribute to those organisations for all they have done over many years. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has done an excellent job—in fact, my hon. Friend probably met its representatives when they came here last week.
I agree absolutely. There has been huge support for increasing the sentences for animal cruelty, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has been particularly keen to get the law changed.
I support the Minister absolutely in his view that we need to crack down on dog fighting and hand down the sentences that are appropriate for that crime. The Dogs Trust says that the woefully inadequate sentences currently available are cause for serious concern—as the Minister said, we have some of the shortest sentences worldwide. I am pleased to hear that Wales is also to take forward these measures.
There is no parity in the law—for example, if someone harms a service dog, the penalties are much higher than if they harm a pet or a farm animal. We believe that wild animals too should be covered. There is also no consistency in sentencing: a person can be sent to prison for three years if their dog injures a guide dog, but if they beat a dog to death the maximum sentence is six months. In Northern Ireland, five-year maximum sentences are already in place. It is important that we achieve consistency across the UK. Hopefully, the recent consultation in Scotland will enable us to harmonise the law right across the UK.
The Minister mentioned the connection between animal cruelty and criminal behaviour. We know that people convicted of animal cruelty are five times more likely to have a violent crime record, and that animal abuse is 11 times more likely in domestic violence situations. That is another reason why we need to act now. The legislation will protect not only our beloved animals but people, too. In addition, the Government need to place a statutory duty on local authorities to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, so that it has proper teeth, and to give local authorities adequate resources with which to enforce the regulations under the Act.
If the Government are serious about animal welfare, they must introduce the measures in the other half of the original Bill to enshrine animal sentience in law after we leave the EU. Even better, they could get behind the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East.
Animals have the same welfare needs and any attack on them has the same impact on their welfare, regardless of whether they are a domestic pet, a police dog or a wild animal. They all feel pain; they all suffer. The people who harm them all need to feel the full force of the law.
Do the hon. Lady’s comments about the welfare of animals also apply to animals that are bred for slaughter?
All animals need to be looked after to the best of human ability and should not be abused. We need the highest standards possible in slaughterhouses and abattoirs.
The Opposition welcome the Bill and will support it today.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman). I agree with many of her comments about the importance of the sentencing increase applying generally to cases of animal cruelty and various other offences under the Animal Welfare Act, and how there should be no distinction between particular offences. I welcome the Bill because as well as increasing sentences for animal welfare offences in respect of all animals, it has a special relevance for me and those of us who supported Finn’s law, the Bill that became the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019.
When I first met my constituent PC Dave Wardell and Finn, who live in Buntingford, and heard their story, I knew we had to try to change the law. Finn had been badly injured in October 2016, saving Dave’s life in an attack from a knife-wielding suspect, yet there was no separate penalty at court for the attack on this service animal, and the charge was criminal damage, treating Finn as though he was just a piece of kit. Because a seven-year-old police dog is not worth much money and criminal damage is judged by the value of the damage, no separate penalty was imposed at court for the harm done to Finn, despite the fact that the dog was almost killed in the attack, faced a four-hour operation, and had saved his handler’s life. Solicitor Sarah Dixon started a national campaign for Finn’s law that has united press, public and politicians. Both the Daily Mirror and The Sun have supported Finn’s law, and a petition raised over 125,000 signatures.
I first drafted a Bill based on Qanto’s law—a Canadian law named after another brave dog—and was given permission by the House to bring it in as a ten-minute rule Bill in December 2017. I discovered that Ministers had reservations. After many discussions and lots of pressure from supporters, I decided that a different approach was needed—one based on measures in Western Australia. Ministers were worried that, were we to have only an offence of attacking a police dog carry a sentence of five years’ imprisonment, it would not reflect properly the point made by the hon. Member for Workington that the same maximum sentence should be available for ill treatment of all animals. Ministers agreed to go with the Western Australian approach and I presented the replacement Bill, which became the 2019 Act.
The original Bill was drafted with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment for an attack on a service animal, but Ministers made it clear to me that my new Bill should make it straightforward to prosecute under the Animal Welfare Act for causing unnecessary suffering to a service animal and they would bring in this Bill to increase the sentence for Animal Welfare Act offences against any animal. I have therefore always regarded this measure as Finn’s law part two—putting in a proper maximum sentence.
I had great support for my Bill from Members of all political parties, including the author of the original Animal Welfare Act, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw). It took many months, but we made progress. Lord Trenchard took the Bill through the House of Lords, and Royal Assent was given on 8 April, as has been mentioned. The Act is now in force. Importantly, Finn attended Parliament on all occasions and helped to get the support we needed. When the Bill finally got through in the other place, Finn let out a loud bark in the Public Gallery, to the amusement of many noble Lords and Baronesses. Very few ten-minute-rule Bills become law, so it was a great moment.
The Finn’s law campaign has maintained the social media pressure, and holds a twice-weekly twitterstorm called “Finn hour” which has been directed very effectively to help change the law. Every mayor and all the police and crime commissioners in our country have supported Finn’s campaign. It has been a privilege to work with the team and to see the part two Bill introduced.
Let me just read out some of the comments I have received from Finn’s law campaigners about this Bill. I have received hundreds of messages of support during “Finn hour”. People have said things such as:
“There are far too many instances of animal cruelty reported every day. The increased sentences are needed urgently”;
“Here’s wishing the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill a speedy and successful passage”;
“Hopefully, a speedy passage. Finn ‘barks’ for…the country”.
It is also important that, in time, this should cover Scotland and Northern Ireland. My colleague Liam Kerr MSP has been pressing in Scotland, and we have met Nicola Sturgeon, with Dave and Finn, and there is now a consultation in Scotland. That shows that Finn is a very effective dog. We are also in touch with Northern Ireland MPs.
Finally, the House may be interested to hear that since the passing of the Bill, Finn, already the most decorated police dog, has continued to collect awards: he won at Crufts; he has been given the freedom of the town of Buntingford; and he was recently a finalist on “Britain’s Got Talent”, where his story and Dave’s pitch for this Bill to become law brought the great Simon Cowell to tears. So, I welcome the Bill; Finn’s law part two takes a big step forward today.
I strongly welcome the measures in this short, simple Bill. I emphasise “simple”, because that is how it needs to stay in order to get it implemented quickly. The changes are long promised, long needed and long overdue.
There is a perception among many people, including, importantly, members of the judiciary, that the sentences available to the courts at the moment to deal with serious offences of cruelty are inadequate, despite the UK having some of the most progressive animal welfare legislation in the world. As we have heard, the maximum penalty for the most serious cases of animal cruelty is still only a maximum of six months in prison, an unlimited fine and/or a ban on keeping animals. Given the level of serious animal neglect, cruelty and violence against animals every day, that does not seem to be acting as a deterrent.
The Minister gave the example of the man who received only a 26-week jail term after he was found guilty of kicking a four-month-old puppy to death. We heard from the shadow Secretary of State about another example, that of the Lancashire man who received only a 22-week sentence and was disqualified from keeping animals for life after the RSPCA obtained a video of him setting his dogs on a pet cat and a fox.
I thank the hon. Lady for making such an important speech. Does she agree that cruelty and a lack of empathy towards animals often translates into cruelty and a lack of empathy towards people? As a psychologist, I know that part of the psychopathy checklist we used to do with patients to measure sociopathy was animal cruelty.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. Indeed, that was a point I made in the Second Reading debate on the Bill that became the 2006 Act, and I will say more about that later.
When we compare ourselves with every other European country, we see that the maximum sentence for cruelty to animals in England and Wales is woeful. A substantial number of European countries have already legislated for a maximum sentence of between two and three years, and in some cases it is up to five years, as the Minister pointed out. Further afield, Canada, Australia and New Zealand already offer a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. Even within the United Kingdom, the maximum sentences in England and Wales pale in comparison with Scotland’s one-year sentencing power and, even more so, with Northern Ireland’s sentencing power of up to five years. I pay tribute to Northern Ireland for having made progress on this before any other devolved Administration or indeed the UK Parliament. I also recognise that Scotland has announced a consultation on proposals to increase sentences to five years, and I hope the Scottish Parliament sees that consultation through and implements stronger powers, so that we can all be in line and be in the same place as a United Kingdom.
There are several reasons why sentences for animal cruelty need to be increased, not the least of which is that public attitudes have no doubt changed in the 10 years since the passing of the 2006 Act. I served on its Bill Committee and I recall the contribution of the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), who led for the shadow team. I remember those sittings clearly. It is now becoming more obvious that the courts, too, want to be given the option to pass tougher sentences for extreme forms of cruelty, with many magistrates and judges asking for an increase in the punishments they have at their disposal. Without this increase in sentencing powers we could also be in the invidious position of facing the prospect of no prison terms for animal cruelty or for fighting with animals being available to the courts, if the Ministry of Justice’s proposal to abolish sentences of six months or less is taken forward and implemented. We need to bear that in mind, and it is another reason why this legislation is so important.
I also want to draw attention to the link with domestic abuse. Blue Cross has pointed out that research clearly suggests a link between animal abuse, domestic abuse and other serious crimes. It found that women in domestic violence shelters were 11 times more likely to report that a partner had hurt or killed pets in the home, as the shadow Secretary of State pointed out. The research also shows a direct correlation between cases of animal abuse and cases of child abuse, with children at risk in 83% of families with a history of animal abuse. It should not surprise any of us to hear of that. We need to do more as a society to join up the investigative powers of social services, the education system and the animal welfare charities, which work so hard to identify cases of animal abuse in homes up and down the country. We could do more to encourage joint working between these different agencies and charities to raise awareness of where the risk lies to animals, children and women, and to people generally.
Before I draw my comments to a conclusion, I want to pay tribute to the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I am a member, for his leadership of our inquiry—the pre-legislative scrutiny we carried out on the original Bill, which put animal sentience provisions and animal sentencing powers together in the one Bill. It was a very good inquiry, and the recommendation we clearly made was that the two sets of provisions needed to be separated and that we needed to implement the sentencing powers provisions quickly. I am only sorry that it has taken so long to get to this point. A number of Opposition Members have asked the Secretary of State repeatedly when we were finally going to see this Bill on the Floor of the House. We have got here now, so I will leave that there, and just say that I am thankful to be able, at last, to get this on to the statute book.
I hope that the Bill will quickly pass its legislative hurdles and gain Royal Assent later this year, because we need to see these measures enacted. I take the point that there are various other issues that could be addressed in these provisions, such as extending the powers to cover cases involving wild animals, but I think we just need to get on and get this Bill through Parliament and on to the statute book. I know that the animal welfare charities are keen that that should be the case. I have been contacted and asked, “Please keep it simple.” So I understand the debate about other areas of animal welfare policy, but let us just get on with this. It is long overdue and we need to get on with it.
I very much agree with what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree that as we are towards the end of the Session and have a limited window in which to do this, we really need to get it done?
I take that point entirely, although it is not the fault of Opposition Members that we are up against it in the way that we are, with, I hope, the Session due to end at some point soon and the Queen’s Speech on its way. We do need to get on with this, and we should keep it simple.
The measure is supported by all the major animal welfare charities. I pay tribute to the work on this issue by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA, all of which are worthy charities that I have worked with over a significant number of years. I also wish to mention World Horse Welfare, which of course feels strongly about this issue and needs to be included in any list of tributes to the animal welfare sector for the campaign to increase the sentencing powers.
It is right that the situation in England and Wales comes into line with that in the rest of the UK and in other western countries. I repeat that the current limit of six months, which is often reduced by a third if the defendant pleads guilty, is clearly not adequate and does not act as a deterrent, as shown by the fact that many of the associations that deal with animal cruelty have reported increases in cruelty, especially of the most serious types, despite the Animal Welfare Act being on the statute book.
I conclude by saying again: can we please just get on with this and get it implemented? Let us give the courts the powers that they need.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), who has been a consistent champion of animal welfare since the moment she was elected to this House.
Hooray—Parliament is doing something! At long last we are making it worth while to come here. Colleagues should recognise that this is a broken Parliament. Why is it broken? Because we had an ill-advised general election, which my party obviously decided to hold. It was a disastrous result from my party’s point of view. We lost our majority and cobbled together some sort of alliance with the Democratic Unionist party. It has taken the business managers, who have come and gone over the past two years, a long time to get a grip on what to do in this sort of Parliament. At long last, they seem to have realised that there are things we can do. The Chief Whip has just disappeared, but one of his colleagues is on the Treasury Bench. I say to the business managers: if my party is struggling with a legislative programme for the new Queen’s Speech, why not consult the hon. Member for Southend West? I have a whole range of measures on which I think we could get some sort of cross-party support. Our constituents are very frustrated about the situation. If we are not going to have a general election, we cannot just keep on discussing meaningless motions. We have to get on and do something, and we could do a whole raft of things that could improve the quality of life in this country.
There is no point in our legislating on anything unless we enforce the legislation, so I was puzzled by the exchange earlier when my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) challenged my hon. Friend the Minister about cruelty to tethered horses. I listened to an Adjournment debate led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on that very same issue. It is a puzzle to me, because in 1988, through a ten-minute rule Bill that became an Act of Parliament—the noble Lord Hogg was the Minister at the time—we got on to the statute book an Act to stop horses, ponies and donkeys being cruelly tethered and to make sure that they were properly watered and fed. For goodness’ sake, what has happened to that Act of Parliament? I realise that the longer we are here —I will come to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) in a moment—the more we are forgotten, but that is an Act of Parliament. If we have the law already, it is no good people jumping up with suggestions; we need to do something. We need to enforce the law that already exists, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will do something about that.
Does this measure not try to address that very point? We are all extremely frustrated that a good law is not being properly enforced; this measure might help.
My right hon. Friend, who has years of wisdom and experience, is yet again absolutely right. My hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire mentioned the fact that had he been listened to in 2006, the measure we are discussing would have already happened.
I am not going to fall out with the Opposition, but the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) has heard me say before that when the new Labour leader became Prime Minister in 1997, he and his team consulted a huge range of animal charities, and there was, over Labour’s 13 years in government, some disappointment about the failure to deliver. That is except for one issue, on which I might fall out with one or two colleagues, and that is foxhunting. I have always felt—in those days, there were just four or five of us—that the Labour party did a good thing on foxhunting. However, I absolutely empathise with my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire in respect of those 13 years.
I just want to add to the debate something that has not really been discussed. The most recent Labour Government introduced the Animal Welfare Act 2006, under which provision was made to increase sentencing to imprisonment of up to 51 weeks and a fine not exceeding £20,000. We did amend the law, but it never got enacted, which was bizarre. It is important to recognise that we did try to take steps. I do not know why that was not enacted.
I do not think we can have an intervention on an intervention, but the hon. Lady makes a good and valid point that it seems my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire is going to deny.
I am afraid I am. I urge the House also to consider the case of lost dogs, which are now returned to councils rather than to the police. The criminal justice legislation that would have changed sentencing in the way the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) just mentioned was never brought forward by that Labour Government, so I am afraid the buck stopped very much with the Labour Government of the time. Indeed, the Minister concerned subsequently served at Her Majesty’s pleasure himself.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I have already been speaking for six minutes and I have not even started my speech, so I need to move on quickly. We want to get this legislation on to the statute book quickly, and people will be frustrated.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) mentioned Finn’s law. Given that you are a fellow Essex Member of Parliament, Madam Deputy Speaker, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) was interested in the matter, I should say that I was privileged to be at the event at which Paul Nicholls, together with the chief of police, unveiled the monument to police dogs. I met Finn and the whole thing was just a tear-jerker. My right hon. and learned Friend spoke about the dog barking when the legislation went through the House of Lords, and I can testify to that.
Now to my brief speech. It is true that a dog is a man’s best friend but, as we have heard already, there are too many examples of cruelty. There is a danger that we will talk about more and more horrific things, such as dogs being forced to fight against each other and the latest thing, which is sport trophy hunting. How is it that companies can be trying to attract Brits to go abroad, where these magnificent animals are enclosed, so that they can cut off their tusks and heads and so on? It is absolutely barbaric. Shame on anyone who goes on one of those holidays.
I am told that 26% of households in the United Kingdom own a dog and 18% own a cat. The vast majority of British people look after their pets well. We have one or two farmers present; introducing children to animals at an early age is a good way to get them to treat animals well. I know that not all children can necessarily empathise with animals, but I think that that would help. I join others in saying I am so glad that, as a developed country renowned for its historical championing of animal welfare, we are to have this legislation.
In 2017, the RSPCA investigated 141,760 complaints. That is a huge number. In 2018, the RSPCA phone line received 1.1 million calls. I am sure that none of them was made from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), but an awful lot were certainly made in Essex. The way in which the animals are protected is the first vital part of the Bill. The second important part is that it will act as a deterrent. The Bill recognises that the root of the problem is really with animal abusers, and although it may take a few months to kick in, all the literature that I have read agrees that this legislation will act as a meaningful deterrent.
There are too many examples of animal cruelty. Recently, in a national newspaper, we heard about a French bulldog that had just had puppies. How could someone have chained that dog to a car—we all saw it—and dragged it along the road? That is just horrendous, and the person responsible has still not been caught. I am glad to say that the RSPCA is on the case.
Just last week, The Independent reported that a driver in Somerset was luring birds on to a road with chips before mowing them down. That is sick behaviour beyond belief. In another shocking example, which took place at the end of last year, a man in the UK hit a dog with a hammer and strangled it with a washing line just because it was getting on his nerves—perhaps he had mental health problems. None the less, these are absolutely despicable incidents, and they are happening in our country.
My hon. Friend mentioned dogs. He will recall that, seven years ago, he and I helped to co-open the Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre at Nevendon in my constituency. I visited it again last week. Will he join me in commending the superb work that it does, rehoming nearly 900 dogs a year? If he wants to talk about compassionate, loving and focused animal welfare, the Dogs Trust is about as good as it gets, and Lisa Cooper and all her staff there are a living embodiment of that.
And the Dogs Trust will be very pleased with that plug that my right hon. Friend has given it. I was there. It is a magnificent Dogs Trust, and my own family has had two rescue pugs from it over the years. It is absolutely fantastic.
My right hon. Friend has just reminded me that, when I entered this place for the first time, animal welfare did not have the high priority that it does today. That is not criticising the background of colleagues; it is just saying that we did not give the matter as high a profile as we do today. I do remember, though, that when my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire had a wonderful debate on monkeys, the House was absolutely packed—but that was quite a rarity.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done on this subject during his parliamentary career; he is really committed to the issue of animal welfare. I hope, therefore, that he will be prepared to volunteer to be a member of the Committee on this Bill, to see that the Minister does indeed look at the important issue of enforcement.
Embarrassingly, my right hon. Friend recognises that I am susceptible to flattery, but as I am on the Panel of Chairs, I do not think that I can also serve on the Committee, much as I would like to.
Let me go back to the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act 1988. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford was a councillor in Basildon, we opened the horse and pony sanctuary in Pitsea. It is tragic that this big event has been completely whitewashed and here we have legislation and it is not even being enforced. That is very disappointing.
Controversial lady though my good friend Ann Widdecombe is, she and I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill for endangered species some time ago. I am very glad that the Animal Welfare Act 2006—she was still here then—has been as effective as it has.
In 2017, the RSPCA investigated all these complaints. My final point is that there have been only 1,492 prosecutions, so we have a huge number of complaints—more than 1 million phone calls—but very few prosecutions. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address that. It is very good that we are increasing sentences from six months to over two years, but is there a problem with resources? Do we not have the enforcement officers with local authorities? I am told that the cost of everything that we are putting in place today is about £500,000, which I realise is an awful lot of money.
I think that my hon. Friend is suggesting that he would like to see the number of convictions going up. Actually, I would like to see the number of convictions going down, because people who are committing acts of hideous cruelty are going to prison for a lot longer and are therefore less likely to do the same thing again and are less likely to involve an animal. We should judge this not by the number of convictions, but by the success with which the Bill delivers proper justice for those creatures.
My hon. Friend articulates the point that, hopefully, this sentencing will be an effective deterrent, so we will not have the same number of complaints.
On 23 May, I asked a question in this House about the lack of animal welfare officers in local authorities. I hope that the Minister might have some news on that, because, possibly, 440 RSPCA inspectors and 50 welfare officers are not enough to tackle this problem.
I repeat: this is a broken Parliament; but in a perverse way, I am glad that animals have benefited from the legislative opportunity that has arisen because it is broken. May we, in the weeks and months ahead, pass much more legislation such as this.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess). There is a rare outbreak of consensual agreement across the Benches today, which I am proud to be part of.
All of us who are speaking in the Chamber today are speaking on behalf of those who do not have a voice. We are speaking on behalf of those whom it is our human duty to protect, to feed, to care for and to love. In particular, I speak today on behalf of Baby the bulldog and of Scamp the dog and, of course, of so many other animals who have met their sad end at the hands of humans. They should have been nurtured, stroked and loved, but instead they were ultimately abused and then killed.
I am very glad finally to have the opportunity to speak to this Bill, which has, as has been said, been a long time coming. I was proud to spend the night in Parliament in July 2016, as I queued for a private Member’s Bill that was pretty much, word for word, the Bill that we have here today, and I am so pleased to see it here in paper. That Bill sought to increase the maximum sentencing for animal cruelty from six months to five years, building on a lot of work that had been done in the past, but sadly, that Bill was objected to by the Government Whips and never made it to Second Reading, and then ultimately fell with the onset of the 2017 general election. Of course, I am delighted that it is here, and I will not hold what happened against the Government. A few months later, I am delighted to say, they saw sense and announced support for the policy, and here we are today.
The change in law has been a long time coming. For too long animal abusers have been getting away with a slap on the wrist, and this Bill will finally, I hope, bring justice for the thousands of animals who have suffered at the hands of human cruelty. Like the hon. Member for Southend West, I did not come to Parliament expecting to champion animal cruelty. It was an incident of the most horrific cruelty in my constituency that caused me to understand the scale of what is happening around the country, and made me determined to make a difference and to change things. I apologise for some of the graphic details that I am about to share, but it is really important that we understand the reality of what is happening, and has happened, in the country and what has driven us to bring about this change in law today.
Baby was a small bulldog who was cruelly abused by Andrew Daniel Frankish in Redcar. Baby was held aloft by Andrew Frankish at the top of some wooden stairs before he repeatedly threw her down them, laughing as his brother filmed it. Baby was completely submissive throughout the episode, not even making a noise as she landed on the stairs, bouncing to the foot them and crashing through a baby gate to the floor. Her neck was stamped on and she was thrown to the floor with force over and over again. Her small chest was jumped on with the full body weight of one of the Frankish brothers.
One of the men said, “See if we can make it scream any more. We should throw it down the stairs by its ears,” before picking her up, throwing her against the wall, headbutting her twice and throwing her down the stairs again. Baby was tortured and beaten by those who were supposed to care for her. The whole horrible ordeal was filmed by the brothers for their entertainment, and they are heard laughing on the mobile phone. Baby should not have had to suffer that horrific abuse, but she did, and sadly was put down shortly afterwards. The evidence was found two years later on a mobile phone that happened to have been dropped on a supermarket floor; but for that, those two young men would never have been brought to justice.
We would hope that Baby would have seen justice after what she had been through, but sadly not. Despite the hard work of the police, the RSPCA and all those who gave evidence, the brothers were convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to her by subjecting her to unnecessary physical violence—an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. But she was let down because the two brothers received a suspended sentence, just six months’ tagged curfew and £300 in costs. No one in this Chamber or the country can possibly feel that the justice system did its job that day.
That was when I decided to try to amend the law to ensure that sentences fit the crime in horrific cases such as this, and I was pleased to present my Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill two years ago. During the progress of that Bill, another horrific incident in my constituency made the case for a change in the sentencing law even more pressing. A small dog named Scamp was found buried alive in woods near Redcar with a nail hammered into its head. The perpetrators pleaded guilty to offences under the Animal Welfare Act and were sentenced to just four months—not enough time for reflection, punishment or rehabilitation.
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing these horrendous stories to the attention of the House; they are very powerful in making the case that we all want to make. I thank her for what she is doing.
I really appreciate that sentiment; that was very decent of the right hon. Gentleman. So often these cases bubble up in the media but then disappear. If this place is for anything, it is for responding to situations such as this and acting. I am proud that we are all here today to do that.
Scamp, as I said, was found buried alive. The people of my constituency were horrified by the two cases I have mentioned. I pay tribute to their response. Vigils were held in my community for those animals. Hundreds of people came to lay flowers and candles and to send out the message, loudly and defiantly, that the perpetrators do not represent our community. They do not represent the people of Redcar, who are decent and kind and love animals. But the people are angry: they feel that the criminal justice system has let them down, as do the majority of people across our nation of animal lovers.
On researching how these crimes could have resulted in such impossibly lenient sentences, I was astonished to find that the maximum sentence for any form of animal abuse is just six months’ custody. Incredibly, that has not changed since the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which was introduced, essentially, to make it an offence to override or overload animals pulling loads on the street or in pits. The law is lagging a century behind. If we are to continue declaring ourselves to be a nation of animal lovers, this Bill is necessary to send a loud and clear message that we take animal cruelty seriously.
I join others in paying tribute to the animal welfare organisations that have supported this campaign and for their efforts—day in, day out—in saving and protecting animals and investigating crimes. Specifically, I would like to thank the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs Home and the League Against Cruel Sports. I also thank the wider public for their contribution to the progress that the Bill represents. Colleagues across the House will have been lobbied by many of their constituents who have passionately held views on the need to protect animals and ensure that sentencing is a proportionate punishment.
I entirely endorse the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) about the powerful contribution that the hon. Lady has made. I pay tribute to her powerful track record on this issue. We are often called a nation of animal lovers. Does the hon. Lady agree that love is not enough? We also need protection. This Bill will now help to protect the animals that we all love.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. As I said in my introductory comments, as human beings we have a duty of care, love and protection towards animals who have been bred alongside us for thousands of years and that we have cared for, protected and nurtured. That is our responsibility to them. I hope that this legislation will send out the message and that anyone who cannot understand it will be dealt with severely.
I also thank my community in Redcar and Teesside who have shown their compassion and given the Bill so much support—signing petitions and responding to the terrible acts with a determination to help change the law.
I take on board everything that has been said about getting the Bill through as quickly as possible and I have no wish to slow its progress, but before I finish I want to bring an issue to the Minister’s attention, as I will throughout the Bill’s progress, to make the most of the opportunity. It concerns the trend of filming animal cruelty with the aim of sharing and uploading videos to social media. As I said, Baby’s aggressors deliberately filmed their despicable acts for entertainment. There are many examples on social media of video clips of cruelty going viral—people kicking cats or tormenting small animals. The perpetrators are not content simply with inflicting injury on animals; they are motivated by the prospect of the films going viral, getting hits and being shared. That is grotesque and demonstrates a greater level of malicious intent, which possibly requires a specific deterrent. I urge the Government to consider the possibility of an aggravated sentence for those who film themselves undertaking such acts. I will table an amendment in Committee and ask the Government to support it.
Finally, I want to say a word about Baby and Scamp, because it is in their names that I sought to change the law. We will probably never know the full level of cruelty and torture that those silent and defenceless animals endured. We can only begin to imagine the pain experienced and the fear that they felt. We cannot undo the suffering caused to them, but we can show each other that such cruelty has no place in our communities, and that such depraved behaviour will face the punishment that it deserves. I wholeheartedly welcome this Bill—Baby’s Bill—and I thank the Minister for bringing it forward. I look forward to voting it through, to put right the injustice and send a message that our society will not tolerate cruelty to our best friends.
It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), whose stories of Baby and Scamp were very moving. They do not have a voice—we are their voice, and we must shout as loud as we can. I am grateful to be appearing in my first sequel—“Finn’s law: the sequel”. I will not take up too much of the House’s time this afternoon.
To put my position simply, I am in favour of this Bill and the changes that it will introduce, as are my constituents in Clacton, many of whom keep animals and have contacted me to ask that I support the Bill. I am pleased to do exactly that today, because an increase to the paltry maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment for animal welfare offences, some of which we have heard about today, is so long overdue. As the Dogs Trust put it, the current sentences are woefully inadequate and far too low to deter offenders. I agree with that depressing conclusion and know that this Bill will go some way to correcting the shortcomings in the current legislation.
Moreover, as has been mentioned, the Bill will bring us into line with the legislation in other countries and parts of the United Kingdom and restore parity to the law, which, curiously, currently affords some animals stronger protections through higher sentences for abuse.
Perhaps most crucially, the Bill will shift punishment away from fines and on to serious prison sentences. That is an important change, as the courts may not currently impose large fines unless the offender can repay them in a reasonable time. That leaves us with too many abusers evading proper justice through short custodial sentences or paltry fines. To my mind, that is not an effective deterrent and I believe that that is why cases of abuse remain stubbornly high; the RSPCA investigated nearly 140,000 cruelty complaints last year, with 1,678 convictions.
As a keen advocate of animal welfare, I have heard too many harrowing stories of animal abuse. I have some first-hand experience of the aftermath: I went out on patrol with our dedicated local RSPCA officer Sam Garvey. We came across an animal close to death—not because of deliberate cruelty, but due to ignorance and neglect. That is another issue that we must pick up and run with, to make sure people know what is happening. The Bill will go some way towards bringing that into focus.
Many years ago, as I have mentioned here before, I took part in breaking up a puppy farming ring in Wales, where I saw dogs and puppies kept in the most appalling conditions. However, it was like a game of whack-a-mole: once we had broken one up, another came up straight away. I know too much about animal abuse in this country—for me, any case of abuse is one too many. I will do all I can to stop this cruelty from occurring. I am the owner of three wonderful, extremely noisy dogs, so this is a personal issue for me. I promise my dogs, when I get them, “I am going to give you the best life possible—I will look after you, and when that moment comes when I have to be firm, I will also do that too, and give you as good an end as possible.”
This Bill will introduce a strong deterrent. We are a nation of animal lovers, and we want to see the punishment fit the crime. The Bill will also, as the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) mentioned, give judges the option of a higher custodial penalty, which they have been asking for for some time. I am therefore grateful to the Government for bringing forward this Bill, which is another example of our positive record on animal welfare, having already secured key changes such as the ban on third-party puppy and kitten sales, the prohibition of wild animals in circuses, CCTV in slaughterhouses, and the new—rather complicated —regulations that came into force last October to protect animal welfare.
However, while I truly celebrate our past achievements, I still want us to go further and cement our status as a global leader in animal welfare by continuing to raise the bar. We can do that only by relentlessly moving forward on animal welfare. That needs to include a ban on live animal exports when we leave the EU, a proper recognition of animal sentience when we leave the EU, and better labelling of meat products to de-incentivise the overproduction of religiously slaughtered meat that is then brought inadvertently on to the mainstream market. We must also do all we can to stop the unbelievable cruelty to cats and dogs around the world by setting an example in introducing a ban on consumption of their meat here in the UK. Certainly, those are conversations for another day—perhaps when considering a comprehensive animal welfare Bill, which I look forward to seeing in this place soon.
However, there are also ways in which we can maintain the positive trend of animal welfare developments that we have seen under this Government. This Bill is another positive example, which is why I will vote for it today and hope that it makes speedy progress through Parliament. In doing so, though, I would like to raise a concern brought to my attention by the Dogs Trust, which set out—this has been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—that although the increased penalties are welcome, they will inevitably see some cases taken to the High Court, with potentially lengthy proceedings to follow. That means that dogs seized during proceedings will spend protracted time in kennels while the cases goes through the courts. This has a potential impact on the dogs’ and cats’ welfare, and that seems to be counterproductive to the intention of this Bill. There are also capacity and cost issues involved in keeping a large number of dogs for such a long period. I assume that there will be a similar impact on other seized animals. Given that I have not yet been able to see an impact assessment for this Bill—I do not know whether one is planned—I do not yet know whether this has been considered by the Government. I therefore ask the Minister to say something about it in his closing remarks, or to me later, if possible.
I very much look forward to having the pleasure of voting for a piece of legislation that will do more to protect animals in the UK from abuse. As I have said many times before, it is a great honour to represent the constituents of the Clacton. My mailbag is full of animal welfare concerns, and I know that today I am speaking for my constituents. For me personally, when I leave this place—in the hopefully very distant future— I will look back on debates and votes like this with pride at the positive action I was a part of taking, as Paul O’Grady so famously says, for the love of dogs.
I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). I am not very good at doing the more emotional stuff—perhaps it is the former lawyer in me—but I must admit that when she was talking about what had happened to Baby the bulldog, I found that very difficult to listen to; I think we all did. That is particularly because when I was growing up our family had a bulldog called Buster, who was a very fine dog, much loved and spoilt by all of us. The idea that somebody could treat a bulldog, or indeed any living creature, in that way, film themselves doing it and relish that experience, is terrible. As my hon. Friend said, it was purely by chance that the perpetrators were ever apprehended and prosecuted. I was going to say “brought to justice”, but I think we can all agree that they were not really brought to justice given the lenient sentence that the courts were forced to impose.
I very much welcome the fact that this Bill is being brought forward today. As we have heard, it has taken far too long. My hon. Friend brought forward her private Member’s Bill in 2017. We have not had an adequate explanation as to why the Government objected to that legislation. We then had pre-legislative scrutiny on the EFRA Committee. It was clearly not the sort of legislation that had to go through pre-legislative scrutiny—it was a very simple Bill. The argument now being used is that, because it has taken so long and we are about to adjourn for the summer recess, it is important that this Bill goes through with very little scrutiny and without any amendments—that it should just be raced through.
If there has been a delay, that is the Government’s fault. That cannot be used as a reason not to try to explore some broader issues, particularly my hon. Friend’s suggestion that we should look at introducing a more severe penalty for those who have filmed themselves indulging in such cruelty, which betrays the particular mindset of the individuals involved. I hope that we can have a fully fleshed out discussion in Committee of the issues involved, but I am very keen to see this Bill on the statute book as soon as possible.
Possibly one of the reasons why the Bill went to pre-legislative scrutiny in the EFRA Committee is that it was at the time paired with the sentience issue. Again, that was a very short Bill; there was one paragraph on sentience. As my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) said, I have introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on sentience. When the Minister appeared in front of the Select Committee, he said that the Government were looking for a suitable vehicle to bring the sentience proposal forward. As the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) said, there has been so much time in which we could have done so. Yesterday, when I went into the Division Lobby to vote, I found myself not quite remembering what to do, because it had been so long since I had done it. I stood there looking at the Division Clerk and thought, “Oh yes, I am meant to give them my name!”
We have not been dealing with legislation and voting. Most of this type of legislative stuff could be dealt with in one day, yet the Government have almost had to be dragged kicking and screaming to bring forward measures such those on as wild animals in circuses, which took eight years to get to this place and is pretty much uncontroversial, as is this Bill. I do not see why that took so long. Finn’s law is great, but that process went on for quite a long time, as did the legislation on third-party puppy sales and CCTV in slaughterhouses. If we did nothing else but simple animal welfare measures, as the hon. Member for Southend West said, we could come up with a whole list of them to keep us occupied while we were waiting for the Brexit impasse to be resolved. To buy off a rebellion on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, this House was promised in late November or early December 2017 that sentience would be legislated for before we left the EU. If the amendment in question had been pushed to the vote, I think the Government would have been in serious difficulties. They are therefore under a moral responsibility to bring forward this legislation as soon as possible.
The debate so far has been mostly about dogs and domestic animals; there has not been much discussion of farm animals. I get quite impatient when I hear it so often stated that we are a nation of animal lovers. That seems to show a degree of complacency and self-congratulation, because there have been absolutely horrific exposés by undercover investigations of what is going on, even in high-welfare farms. For example, Animal Equality brought a case to court fairly recently after it had gone undercover and filmed workers at Fir Tree farm in Lincolnshire kicking pigs in the face, jabbing them with pitchforks and slamming gates on their heads. At the beginning of this year, they received an eight-week suspended sentence and 100 hours’ community service. There does seem to be a bit of disconnect. Pigs are very intelligent animals. I can see why people perhaps feel more empathetic about cruelty to pets because there is a direct relationship, but if people are going to eat meat, we have a duty to respect the animals in the food chain. Those people should certainly have had much longer sentences, and it should not have been left to an organisation such as Animal Equality to do undercover investigations to reveal the case.
Animal Equality has also just revealed footage from a chicken farm that supplies Nando’s, Lidl and Asda—it is very much part of our mainstream food chain. The chickens were kicked and abused on the farm. They were stepped on, which broke their necks. Again, this was a red tractor farm. Whenever those responsible for the red tractor scheme are put on the spot, they say that it is a one-off, and the reason why animal welfare groups such as Viva! or Animal Equality went into those farms is that rumours had been heard about them, and these are the rogue guys; they are not indicative of what is happening across the piece. However, if we look at what Viva! discovered about the way that pigs were being treated on Hogwood farm, it seems that this is just the tip of the iceberg. If these are the higher welfare farms, what is going on at the farms that do not have a red tractor mark? We need to do far more to investigate standards on our farms and in slaughterhouses. I know that there is now CCTV in slaughterhouses, but there have been horrific stories.
I am keen for the Bill to go forward, and I do not want to delay it, but there is scope to look at some amendments. The Minister has said that there might be a larger piece of animal welfare legislation, or it might be tied into the environment Bill or the agriculture Bill—I have heard lots of different rumours about what might be coming forward. I urge him to look at issues such as live exports. I do not understand why a ban would only be on live exports for slaughter and not fattening. I do not see the difference, because the cruelty is in the journey that the animals have to take.
We need to look at vivisection. The number of animal experiments continues to rise. I am not opposed to genuine scientific advances or genetic research, but so many of these experiments are totally unnecessary. If we leave the EU and its chemicals testing regime, we could find that we are doing far more duplicate animal experiments, and we need to be more serious about reducing those numbers.
The final point that I want to make is about shooting. We heard recently, as a result of inquiries that I made with the League Against Cruel Sports, that 27 million game birds are being imported into the UK to be shot for so-called sport each year. They are raised on factory farms in France, Spain, Portugal and Poland with standards that we would not accept. Regardless of what we think about shooting birds for sport, we should be challenging the likes of Eurotunnel for bringing in so many of these birds to facilitate a very cruel pastime. We certainly ought to be looking at the conditions in which the animals are transported. If we are going to have a shooting industry, I do not see why we cannot insist that either the birds are raised in this country or eggs are imported, rather than live animals.
There is a lot more to do. I welcome the Bill, and I am hoping to serve on the Bill Committee. I hope that we can get it passed into law before too long. Once the Minister has got this out the way, there are many other things on his to-do list to turn to.
I would like to join the Minister in thanking all the Members who have brought us to this point over the years—13 years, according to the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin). I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) in particular, as well as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who have pushed this forward over the last two years. It is good to see something that was promised to us two years ago finally come to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) made a point about what the maximum sentence would apply to. It is worth saying that the Bill is not about inadvertent mistreatment; it is about serious and deliberate cruelty. Several Members have made the point that deliberate cruelty to animals is an indicator of likely cruelty to humans, and especially domestic violence.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Herefordshire that eventually, it will be possible to save money if the number of prosecutions reduces. To achieve that, we need to create the expectation among people who are thinking of being cruel to animals that they will be prosecuted and, in extreme cases, face heavy sentences, which means we must ensure that the Bill is put into place properly and properly policed. If we can deter this sort of cruelty, it will help to deter domestic violence. Any law-abiding society that applies the law properly saves money. Even if it does not save money in the short term, due to imprisonment or court costs, it will save money in the long term through encouraging and forcing people to abide by the law. We should not be counting the cost when it comes to abiding by the law; we should be ensuring that we are a law-abiding society.
Much of the cruelty that takes place is part of serious criminal activity. We are not just talking about lone criminal acts. In some cases, we are talking about international dog-fighting rings, with serious money involved. To clamp down on these rings, we need serious sentences. Dog fighting is a good example of where I part company with the hon. Member for North Herefordshire. It is not a human being hurting a dog—it is a dog hurting a dog—but what happens to animals in most cruelty cases is a direct result of the attitude of the human beings who are responsible for those animals. We cannot say that we will not prosecute a case simply because another animal has created that violent situation. If a human being is meant to be responsible for that animal, they need to be responsible for what that animal is doing. I look forward to dog fighting becoming as much a part of the past as cock fighting and bear baiting.
There are serious issues about which animals should be covered by this legislation. The Opposition are not necessarily convinced that every animal that needs to be covered will be covered. Wild animals and farmed animals have been mentioned. Several campaigning organisations have contacted us—I am sure they have contacted other Members—to suggest all sorts of areas where the Bill could be improved. At some stage, we will need a comprehensive and effective animal welfare Bill, as the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) said. I believe that a Labour animal welfare Bill will probably be more comprehensive and effective, but that is something for the future.
We do not want to allow our wish to improve the Bill to get in the way of passing it. We will put forward things that we think might improve it, but the most important thing is that we get a quick resolution of this specific issue and pass the Bill. I am proud and delighted to join my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) in commending the Bill to the House.
I would like to thank the Members who have made valuable contributions to this important debate. As has been explained, one of the key purposes of the Bill is to ensure that there is a deterrent to animal cruelty by extending the maximum sentence possible. The many examples that have been given, particularly by the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), will reverberate among those for whom the welfare of animals is close to their heart. I am on to my fourth rescue dog, and it is noticeable that when a dog’s history is not known, they often flinch when they see people of a certain character, which perhaps reflects the horrendous experience they have been through. They often require a lot of extra training and support to recover from that.
I genuinely hope that this legislation, which has good support, will make quick progress under the stewardship of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley). I should point out that the Bill is just one element of the action that the Government intend to take to improve animal welfare. There have been a number of pieces of legislation, and I hope they will soon be joined by this Bill and the Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Bill, which is progressing well through the other place.
I now turn to the points made by individual Members. The hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) mentioned feral cats. It is important to state that the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which this Bill is modifying, covers protected animals. In its legal definition, a protected animal is a vertebrate animal of a kind commonly domesticated in the British Isles. This Bill ensures that stray dogs and feral cats will be covered.
Several Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), have referred to the issues of horse tethering. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 and these new maximum penalties will absolutely apply to horse tethering where that leads to unnecessary suffering. Horse tethering is fully covered in the equine welfare code made under the 2006 Act, which gives clear guidance on appropriate tethering. Anyone not tethering in line with the statutory code risks prosecution under the Act. My hon. Friend the Minister recently hosted a roundtable with local authorities and welfare bodies, and he agreed to share best practice on enforcement on this very specific issue.
The hon. Members for Workington (Sue Hayman) and for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) both mentioned wildlife, as did the hon. Member for Bristol West. The House will be aware that this Bill is specifically about amending the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Other legislation does apply to wildlife, with different levels of penalties that can be imposed, including unlimited fines. However, I am conscious, as they are, that the commitment was specifically made to amend this Act. Who knows whether there will be opportunities for further legislation in a new Session of Parliament, if—dare I say it?—we are ever allowed to prorogue so that we can move on to the next Queen’s Speech. That is a matter for debate on another day.
It is important, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) said, that we consider Finn’s law part two, or the sequel, but this Bill does actually provide good strengthening. He referred to other parts of the United Kingdom, but it is important to say that this is a devolved matter and the Government take that seriously. I want to commend him and others for their national campaign and what they have been doing to take the case to other parts of the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said, Northern Ireland is already at that stage, and we will be joining it.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Lord Chancellor’s proposals about custodial sentences. My right hon. Friend is considering the issues relating to more minor, short-term custodial sentences. He is on record as saying that there is a very strong case to abolish sentences of six months or less altogether, with some closely defined exceptions, but any such proposals do not affect this Bill, which is about increasing the maximum available penalty for animal cruelty to five years. It may apply to the more minor offences under the Animal Welfare Act, but those offences, such as in section 9, do not generally attract a custodial sentence now, and an unlimited fine will continue to apply.
We also have the issue of the sentencing guidelines. The Government have already been in contact with the independent Sentencing Council about the change to the maximum penalty, which we hope Parliament will introduce shortly. There is already an existing sentencing guideline in relation to animal cruelty offences under the Act. It was reviewed and updated by the Sentencing Council as recently as 2017. However, I am pleased to say that the council has confirmed that, once the Bill is passed, it will consider the need to revise the guidelines and any revision would involve a public consultation.
I am grateful to the Minister for the clarification she has given, but let me be clear that, in my speech, I was absolutely defending the need for this Bill in the context of the potential change in the law in relation to six-month sentences, which I think strengthens the need for this legislation. That is all I will say.
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady’s point, which is why I am sure the House welcomes what she has said and also the progress on the Bill.
The hon. Member for Redcar referred to filming and to making this an aggravating factor. I think this is a very useful point, and we will certainly raise it with the independent Sentencing Council. As I have said, it has already indicated that it will consider and revise the guidelines once this Bill has become legislation.
One of the things my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West mentioned was the enforcement of this. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is for local authorities, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and indeed the police, which all have powers of entry, to inspect complaints of suspected animal cruelty and take out prosecutions, where necessary. It is for local authorities to make decisions about what they consider to be local priorities, rather than for the Government to decide. However, it is important that local authorities have the opportunity, as they do now, to continue to work in close partnership with others. We know that the RSPCA does investigate allegations of cruelty. It has successfully prosecuted between 800 and 1,000 people on average every year, and in doing that, it does a very valuable job.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) mentioned the impact of animals being held in kennels. I think it is fair to say that we do not necessarily expect a large number of cases to come before the Crown court, where the issue about the length of time may arise. At present, we estimate that about 25 cases that would previously have been held in the magistrates courts may well now be held in the Crown court. However, we consider that only a very small number of animals may need to be held in kennels for an extended period.
We cannot say from the Dispatch Box today precisely what decisions will be made about which animals would need to be taken away from the owner while somebody is awaiting sentencing, and such an action would not necessarily follow. However, it is also important to state that the Animal Welfare Act has provisions that allow a court to disqualify anyone from having animals, if necessary for life, if they have been convicted of an offence.
The court can also issue orders under section 3(6)(b) of the Bail Act 1976 to prevent the commission of further offences while on bail. The courts can make the sale of existing animals, and indeed a prohibition on owning animals, a condition of a defendant’s bail. It is important to stress that courts already have the power not only to prevent people on trial for animal welfare offences from acquiring new animals, but to remove the animals they already have. I do not believe we need further legislation to bring that about.
On what was said by the hon. Member for Bristol West, this legislation does apply to farmed animals. It is about animals that are under the care and protection of humans. I am pleased that she recognises the things we have done on animal welfare.
I appreciate that the hon. Lady wants to intervene, but if she will allow me to say a few more things—
Will the Minister give way on a point of clarification?
I am going to try to answer the points the hon. Lady made, and I have said that I would then give way.
We have made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England, as she has pointed out. As she is aware, we are considering carefully the export of live animals. The Farm Animal Welfare Committee has recently submitted its advice on the welfare of animals in transport, which includes advice on controlling live exports—not only to the Government, but to the devolved Administrations. We are considering that carefully, and we aim to publish it with a Government response in due course.
All I wanted to say was that the Minister has twice referred to me as the Member for Bristol West, and I am the Member for Bristol East. I would have thought she would know that by now, because we do tend to go head-to-head rather a lot.
I do apologise. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) was not here at the start of the debate, and I thought my hon. Friend the Minister had referred to her as the Member for Bristol West, but I do apologise.
On the other issues that have been raised, I was pleased to hear from the Members who made contributions today. A number of interventions were made by my hon. Friends the Members for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and my right hon. Friends the Members for Wokingham (John Redwood) and for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), as well as by the SNP spokesperson on these matters, the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). It is important that we continue to make good progress in Committee, so that we can bring this Bill swiftly back to the House and it can make its way to the other place. With that, I commend this Bill. The Bill represents the fact that we are a nation of animal lovers, and it certainly reinforces that.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 25 July 2019.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Mike Freer.)
Question agreed to.
Climate Change, the Environment and Global Development
I beg to move,
That this House has considered tackling climate change, protecting the environment and securing global development.
I welcome this timely debate and the work of the Select Committee on International Development, and of many hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House, to highlight the urgency of addressing the interlinked challenges of tackling climate change, protecting the environment and ensuring sustainable development.
The challenge has never been clearer and our will to act has never been stronger, as demonstrated by the resounding support from both sides of the House for committing the UK to a target of net zero emissions by 2050. The world faces the challenges of doubling global infrastructure to meet development and of feeding 1 billion more people, while simultaneously halving global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to keep pace with the Paris climate change targets.
Globally, we are not yet on track to meet the aspirations of the Paris climate agreement. On our current trajectory, we may hit 1.5° C above pre-industrial temperatures as early as 2030, and 3.5° C above by 2050. This risks 100 million people being pushed into poverty by climate change by 2030, making the sustainable development goals much harder to achieve.
What has been the impact of the Americans withdrawing from the Paris agreement? Has there been any dialogue, for want of a better term, with the Americans to get them back into the agreement?
We have regular discussions with the American Government. Obviously we think the Paris climate change agreement is important, but we are seeing reductions in America’s emissions because many states and many bodies across the country have decided to up their ambitions despite the actions of the federal Government. We are seeing some encouraging signs, even if we hope the US Administration would go further and faster.
The Minister talks of the need for the US to go further, but will he acknowledge that the UK needs to go an awful lot further, too? He will be aware that the Committee on Climate Change reported this morning that
“actions to date have fallen short of what is needed for the previous targets and well short of those required for the net-zero target”.
If that is what the Government’s own watchdog is saying, what will they do to make sure we have real action, not just warm words?
We are the best in the G20 in terms of our reductions. Between 1990 and 2017 we reduced our emissions by 42% while growing our economy by 72%. I will happily take some criticism from the Committee on Climate Change, but we should acknowledge that this country is a global leader in our efforts to tackle climate change.
I congratulate the Government on leading the way as the first major industrial country to call for net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We lead the world on our international development commitments and, as a member of the International Development Committee—the Committee is meeting in a few minutes’ time, which is why many members of the Committee are not here today—may I urge the Government to make sure we do so on the environment, too?
I thank my hon. Friend for what he says, and I pay tribute to him and to other members of the International Development Committee for their inquiry on this subject. I know the Committee heard many different pieces of evidence, and it made firm recommendations to the Government. I hope we will have the official response soon—hopefully next week—and then we can all reflect on how we can go further and faster, because we do need to go further and faster in all these areas.
Will the Minister give way?