House of Commons
Monday 15 July 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Disclosure and Barring Service
The Disclosure and Barring Service is a vital part of the safeguarding regime. The DBS issued more than 5 million certificates last year, which was more than the previous year. The Home Office, as the sponsoring Department, continues to oversee the DBS’s performance.
Does the Home Secretary not understand —I think he does, along with the Justice Secretary—that it is widely accepted across the House that the service is not fit for purpose, because it makes it far too difficult for those with a record to get back into work, which is bad not only for them but for their families and society? Can we have some urgent action to get back to trying to rehabilitate offenders by putting tight limits on disclosure, especially for cautions and minor offences in early years, and so let many of our citizens turn their lives around? Why does he not cut through the bureaucratic inertia in the Home Office and get a move on?
The House will be aware that there have problems with the service in recent years. As a result, a number of changes are being made and performance is up. In fact, a new chief executive is starting this week, I believe, so there is new management. On the actual policies it implements, the right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Changes can be made and active discussions are taking place right now between me and the Justice Secretary.
Already this phenomenal summer of sport will have inspired many children to play football, tennis and cricket, with netball, golf and rugby still to come, but there are still failings in our safeguarding processes, including the DBS checks. I worked extremely hard with the excellent Minister on this policy. The main issue remains broadening the remit of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to include sports coaches, but will the Home Secretary update the House on progress towards strengthening DBS checks for those involved in coaching, including assistant coaches, to ensure the next generation of possible sporting heroes and heroines are safe from abuse?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work she has been doing for several years to encourage more people, particularly young people, to take part in sport. She is right about the current position: that sports coach is not included as position of trust. Enhanced criminal checks are available, but I agree that we need to do more work, which is why we are reviewing the effectiveness of the law on those who take advantage of young children with sexual relationships and are looking at what more we can do to include them as positions of trust.
The scope of the DBS is far too narrow. Private tutors are exempt, as are host families of international students. As we head into the summer, it is a reminder that we need to safeguard all young people. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure it is far more comprehensive in who it covers?
I understand that the hon. Lady has had a meeting recently with the Victims Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), on this very issue, and I am glad that she has raised it. She may be aware that there are changes we have to, and want to, make because of a recent Supreme Court judgment, and because of that I want to bring forward other changes that we are looking at and planning and that, when they happen, she will welcome.
Some of these DBS checks take far too long and prevent people from getting into employment. Is it the fault of the DBS, local police forces, or both?
Sometimes, when there are delays, they will probably be very case-specific, so it is hard to attribute fault, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the need for speedy checks. There have been significant improvements. He may be interested to know that there is a 14-day maximum on the basic checks we apply, and in 98% of cases that has been met.
Last week, the Government published a new economic crime plan in partnership with the private sector to create a whole-system approach to economic crime. Her Majesty’s Government are investing at least £48 million this year to bolster capabilities to tackle economic crime, including with the establishment of the National Economic Crime Centre, to increase the number of financial investigators and to recover more assets.
I welcome the new economic crime plan, and I agree we need more resources to finance people to tackle these various crimes. What more will be done under that new plan to strengthen our protections against fraud?
The new economic crime plan brings together all the different actors on the stage the Government have invested in and identifies all those areas that need to be solved. It is a better analysis of economic crime. We have set up the NECC to bring together all the assets of government—everything from UK Visas and Immigration and the Home Office to the intelligence services—to focus on some of the biggest money launderers and to implement the new powers in the Criminal Finances Act 2017, to deal with criminals and money launderers and to take the money back from them.
Including of an economic character.
Given the economic character of that question, the best thing is for me to write to the hon. Lady with the detail of the number of financial investigators—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady has not been particularly specific. Does she mean the number of detectives within the National Crime Agency, within the Met’s serious organised crime command, within the regional organised crime units or within the local forces? I will send her the details so that she can analyse and discuss them.
I welcome the economic crime plan, but I do not see any mention of extending the “failure to prevent” offence to include economic crime. Is the Minister still keen to do that?
Absolutely. Building “failure to prevent” offences such as bribery and tax evasion into statute makes a real difference. It is important for us to give our law enforcement agencies powers to deal with, for instance, corporations that engage in conspiracies, because in the past that has been very hard to prove.
Poor pension transfer advice can amount to fraud, but in my experience local police officers often refer such cases to the Financial Conduct Authority, which often focuses on administrative penalties rather than criminal prosecutions. Will the Minister agree to meet me, and to review economic crimes against pensioners, so that justice can be done?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. While large sectors are regulated under the FCA, we have seen fraudsters exploiting marketing as a guise to escape that regulation. When we identify them, there are criminal investigations, but I should be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and hear more about his views.
How will the forthcoming legislation requiring the registration of overseas entities prevent money generated through crime and corruption overseas from being invested in the London property market?
Transparency is the best disinfectant in such cases, and the Government are working hard to improve the operation of Companies House to ensure that we get to the bottom of some of these spurious companies. We are also fully committed to the establishment of a public register of property ownership in the UK, and are working with overseas territories to ensure that similar registers are established to cover ownership there.
As capital moves ever more easily, it is imperative that we look again at the very limited circumstances in which large financial actors can at present be held accountable before the law. The Minister mentioned corporations a moment ago, but the Government’s economic crime plan totally fails to take on the issue of corporate criminal liability, which we must consider. Here is a very simple question: what are the Government afraid of?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have been talking about that issue for a long time, and we have been working hard on it. “Failure to prevent” in relation to tax evasion is now being rolled out, and the National Security Council discussed the issue more than a year ago. The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, wait to see what happens, but we are determined to try to deal with it.
EU Settlement Scheme
EU citizens are our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues, and we want them to stay. The settlement scheme is performing well. The latest published statistics show that more than 800,000 applications have been received and the majority of people are finding it easy to apply. Additional support is available to those who are vulnerable, or who do not have the appropriate access, skills or confidence to apply online.
Instead of implementing a scheme that makes EU citizens—many of whom have lived here for a great many years—unlawfully resident if they fail to apply by December 2020, will the Minister introduce a declaratory system whereby people apply for proof of settled status rather than the right to stay?
A declaratory system that did not require EU citizens to obtain status and provide evidence of it would risk causing confusion, especially among the most vulnerable, and people might struggle to prove their status in years to come. There would also be a risk of confusion among employers and service providers, and the system might impede EU citizens’ access to benefits and services to which they are entitled.
The vast majority of people I hear from say that the settled status scheme is working very well and is easy to use. Many receive responses within a few hours of submitting their applications. However, it is a bit frustrating that the service is still not available on Apple devices such as phones; can the Minister update us on when it might be?
It is not just anecdotal information that tells us that people are finding it easy and quick to apply; we know that most applications are settled within one to four working days. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been tireless in pursuing the issue raised by my hon. Friend, and we are very hopeful that the app will be available on Apple devices in the autumn.
There is a significant eastern European community in Enfield and other parts of London. Sections of the Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish and Roma communities can be hard to reach, and some have limited English language skills. Community representatives are concerned about individuals who have worked in the grey economy as cleaners or handymen, or for unscrupulous employers, being able to supply the right paperwork. What further steps is the Department putting in place to support these communities and to ensure that everyone can access, and apply to, the scheme?
The right hon. Lady will be aware that the Home Office has provided up to £9 million of grant funding to 57 voluntary and community-based organisations specifically to help the vulnerable people to whom she refers. I was pleased to visit the East European Resource Centre and to have the opportunity to speak to a group of long-standing UK residents about the support available. She references the grey economy; we do not wish to see anybody working in the grey economy, but we recognise that there will be those who do. The Home Office is absolutely prepared to accept a wide range of evidence of people’s stay in the UK, including tenancy agreements or letters from health providers with whom they have been in contact. This is absolutely about working with individuals. The EU Settlement Resolution Centre is up and running, and is incredibly well staffed. I was pleased to visit it, to see the help that it can give to individuals.
There is a seeming desire among some Opposition Members for the EU settlement scheme to be a complete failure, but will my right hon. Friend again confirm that this is a successful scheme and that take-up has been positive? If Opposition Members continue to tell their EU citizen constituents that they will not be able to apply, they are not being helpful.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The scheme has been a success, and it is shocking when hon. Members talk the scheme down. It is working well. We are determined to put in place support for those who are vulnerable, as I said. Later this week, we will see the latest statistics surrounding the scheme, which will show a considerable uplift from the figure of 800,000 reported from the end of May.
Refugee Settlement Programme
We continue to engage with international and domestic delivery partners and stakeholders, as we work through the detailed policy and operational considerations for the new global resettlement scheme. In the meantime, we continue towards our commitment of resettling 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees affected by the conflict in Syria.
The Minister knows that I would like the ambition to be as high as possible. What plans has she got to consult refugees and refugee organisations about the lessons that can be learned from current resettlement schemes?
The hon. Lady will know—this is an ambition that I have often voiced to her—that we have sought to bring together the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme and the gateway protection scheme, to consolidate our refugee programmes. We continue to work closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and indeed with those delivering the schemes, local authorities included. As part of the ambition—this is why we have given a figure in the region of 5,000—it is important that we learn from VPRS, work through local authorities to establish the number of people they can best assist through the schemes and make sure that we do not downgrade the good commitments we have previously given on resettlement.
Young adult asylum seekers often face unique and complex challenges to their mental health and wellbeing, with many having survived unimaginable experiences in their country of origin and during their long and treacherous journey to reach this country. In setting out details of the integrated programme to resettle an additional 5,000 refugees from 2020 to 2021, will the Minister commit to there being a youth welfare officer in every asylum accommodation and dispersed accommodation location, so that vulnerable, traumatised 18 to 25-year-olds receive the support that they need to recover from their experiences and can live as well as possible in the UK?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out the distinction between the formal resettlement schemes referred to in the question and those young people who have made, in many instances, terrible and perilous journeys of many thousands of miles and who have travelled across the whole of Europe to get to these shores. It really is important that we work to support young asylum seekers; I am conscious that the largest numbers will be found in a small number of local authorities, particularly Croydon, Kent and Hillingdon, which work incredibly hard to support not only unaccompanied minors but those leaving the care system and those for whom we have a responsibility up to the age of 24 under the Children and Families Act 2014. It is crucial that we get this right; that is why I was so pleased to see the uplift in funding to local authorities for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
Scotland has played a leading role in the current vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, resettling nearly 3,000 people across all Scotland’s local authorities. Recent opinion polls show strong support in Scotland for maintaining that commitment and, indeed, for improving on it. Will the Minister join me in welcoming Scotland’s success story, and will she commit, through the comprehensive spending review, to funding integration support for refugees under the new scheme at the same levels that are currently provided under the VPRS?
The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to point out the significant role that Scotland has played. In Jordan last summer, I was pleased to meet a family who were being resettled to East Ayrshire within a few days of my visit. It is important that we provide not only support for resettling people but the necessary integration, not least through the provision of English language teaching, which is a crucial component. She will know from previous comments I have made in this House that one of my big passions is ensuring that we assist those with refugee status into work and ensure that good schemes exist across the entire country to help them to do that.
I can tell that there is a second question coming from the hon. and learned Lady.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As well as Scottish local authorities, Scottish community groups are also planning to sponsor refugee families. I met representatives of Refugee Sponsorship Edinburgh in my constituency recently. This is the first group of people to do this in Scotland. They will be delighted that the UK Government have finally agreed that any refugees supported under the community sponsorship scheme will be additional to those resettled under the UK Government scheme. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that the new scheme will make it easier for named individuals to be resettled and for family members dispersed across the world to join refugees who have already been settled here? I am sure I am not alone in being approached regularly in my constituency surgery by refugees with those concerns.
The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to highlight the brilliant role played by community sponsorship schemes. They are absolutely the gold standard of resettlement. However, it is important that we continue to work with the UNHCR to ensure that it is the most vulnerable people who are resettled here, whether through community schemes or through the sponsorship of local authorities. It would be very wrong for us to use resettlement schemes to resettle people from safe third countries when many people across the middle east and north Africa region and across the world are in parlous situations and in real danger. They must always be our first priority.
In noting that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) was chuntering from a sedentary position in evident disapproval of the length of an inquiry, I simply say to him in the gentlest possible spirit that I feel sure that, in his own mind, his own questions are never too long but merely fully developed.
Modern Slavery Act: Business Compliance
Around 16,400 UK businesses are within scope of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The Home Office has commenced the first stage of a compliance audit, following which non-compliant businesses will risk being publicly named. We are developing a Government-run registry to track compliance and make it easier for consumers and others to scrutinise business action. We are also consulting on strengthening modern slavery reporting requirements, including improving compliance and the quality of business statements.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but the number of potential victims of modern slavery identified in the UK each year has more than doubled since 2015 and now stands at just under 7,000. The Modern Slavery Act was a step in the right direction, but it has been left to go stale due to lack of enforcement, with a staggering 40% of companies not complying with it at all. Will the Minister take urgent action to commit to an enforcement body to enforce sanctions against non-compliant companies?
I think that, when we have the opportunity to do so, we should talk up our country and what we are doing to lead the world in tackling modern slavery. We really are leading the world; the Prime Minister hosted a dinner last week with the McCain Institute, at which people from across the world acknowledged the world-leading work we are doing in this country. Of course there is more to do, which is precisely why we asked the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and Baroness Butler-Sloss to conduct an independent review of the Act to ensure that it is up to date and working. We know that modern slavery criminals change their mode of working. From that, last week we announced £10 million over five years to establish cutting-edge policy and evidence centres on modern slavery and human rights. We also responded to the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act and accepted the majority of its recommendations. I really believe that this work on transparency in supply chains will be groundbreaking.
I entirely endorse what the Minister said about how this country leads the fight against modern-day slavery, which is a great credit to the Prime Minister, but should she not encourage all businesses to report possible victims as they come across them in their daily business? Police would prefer to have an investigation that leads to nothing than leave victims in modern-day slavery.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who has done much work in this field. We have only to look at the terrible case that was finalised last week to see the breadth and range of ways in which people who indulge in modern slavery torture and enslave their captives; some of the details of that case were truly shocking. It absolutely underlines the fact that every single business that meets the criteria in the Act is obliged by law to report and ensure that its supply chains are free from slavery. That has a trickle-down effect for smaller businesses that are contracted to those larger businesses, because they have to make sure that they are doing the right thing too.
Will that requirement be carried out in the public sector? Given the size of the procurement budget, will the Minister tell the House what plans the Government have to ensure that Government spending is within the scope of the Act?
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman, as I said, for the work that he and his colleagues did on the review? It was an extraordinary piece of work and very thorough, and I know that he was pleased that we were able to accept the majority of its recommendations. We absolutely accept the point about the public sector, and he will know that the Prime Minister recently made an important announcement to confirm that Departments will make modern slavery statements to ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery. As for the further details, I will write to the right hon. Gentleman in due course.
We on the Labour Benches appreciate the progress that has been made on modern slavery thus far, but the House will be aware that there was recently a shocking case of agricultural slavery. A fresh produce supplier to major US supermarkets was using slave labour in its supply chain. Does the Minister accept that consumers who are conscious of issues such as organic production and sustainable food production will not appreciate unwittingly purchasing fresh food with slave labour in its production? Will the Government act more swiftly? We need faster action than she is suggesting to get proper business compliance with their modern slavery legislation.
I am delighted that this is one of those issues that enjoys the support of Members from all parts of the House. The right hon. Lady will know from the announcements last week on our response to the independent review that we are very much seeking to toughen the regulations and requirements for the largest businesses. For what it is worth, some 75% of businesses that are in scope have set down a modern slavery statement, but we want to make it easier for civil society and others to judge how effectively businesses are doing, which is why we are looking into setting up a central Government registry to help that happen. We are conscious, too, of the role that non-governmental organisations can play in this space. Only last week, Oxfam released its new behind barcode supermarket scorecard, which shows how the sector as a whole needs to step up activity to identify and rectify labour exploitation risks. I am delighted that many UK supermarkets have signed up to that.
The Home Office is bound by the public sector equality duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote good race relations. The Equality Act 2010 provides that discrimination is not unlawful if it is required by legislation or authorised by Ministers. For example, a visa regime that applies to a particular nationality constitutes discrimination, but is lawful under the Equality Act.
An Iranian refugee in my constituency applied for a Home Office travel document and has been refused. He was told that he must get a passport from his own country, which, as he fled that country, is almost impossible. Even to apply for a passport, he would have to agree to sign up for national service. Surely that is discrimination.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that specific issue. Although I cannot comment on individual cases, we do not wish to see anybody disadvantaged because of the individual requirements of travel documents from their country of origin. I would be very happy to work with her to see whether we can find a solution.
The Department’s own statistics make it clear that last year’s average refusal rate for entry visas from Nigeria was 37%, and almost 44% for entry visas from Ghana, compared with an average refusal rate of only 12% across all countries. Can the Minister explain to my west African-born constituents, whose family members, friends and ministers of religion are being refused visitor visas in ever rising numbers, why the system is discriminating in that way?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the system is not discriminating in that way and that the Home Office is obliged to consider all visa applications in light of the evidence presented by the applicant. He might be reassured to learn that, in the year ending June 2018, we saw a 2% increase in the number of visas issued to sub-Saharan African nationals compared with the same period of the previous year.
The Home Office has offered warm words and reassurances to migrant communities about a movement away from the hostile environment, yet the Government are appealing against the High Court ruling that the right-to-rent scheme, which requires private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants, is discriminatory and breaches human rights law. Does the Minister believe that discrimination is a necessary price to pay for enforcing the hostile environment?
The Government disagree with the judgment and are appealing. The evaluation conducted during phase 1 implementation found no evidence of systemic discrimination as a result of the scheme. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has commissioned further evaluation, which will examine the potential for discrimination in right-to-rent checks.
Churches in Stirling and in other parts of Scotland are struggling with the recent change in immigration rules for visiting ministers of religion. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the degree of difficulty this is causing faith groups in Scotland? What can be done to alleviate it?
I was very pleased last week to meet ministers of religion across a wide range of faiths to discuss this specific issue. I am sure Members will agree that when it comes to ministers of religion, as opposed to religious workers, it is imperative that those who are going to preach and conduct pastoral work within any religion need to have a good standard of English, which is why the Home Office is requiring them to apply for a tier 2 visa, as opposed to a tier 5 visa, which of course does not require the language check.
The Windrush crisis did not fall from the sky but was a direct result of the hostile environment, which the High Court has found directly causes discrimination. The Windrush compensation scheme took over a year to set up and has a two-year deadline. Has anybody actually received the money in their bank account yet? How will the Minister ensure that claimants receive speedy compensation? Does she believe that two years is long enough to ensure that nobody who is entitled to compensation loses out?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will, of course, recall that elements of the compliant environment were introduced under the last Labour Government, including the controls introduced in 1999 on temporary and illegal migrant access to benefits and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which introduced controls on local authority social care.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important question about the Windrush compensation scheme, and it is important that we have the scheme up and running and are receiving applications. We have, of course, undertaken to provide regular updates to the Home Affairs Committee, which will provide exactly the information that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
Of course, it is a requirement under legislation that the compensation scheme be for a period of two years, but we are looking closely at that. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that should there be a requirement to extend it, which would undoubtedly need primary legislation, we would be happy to consider that.
Violent Crime: Young People
Diverting young people away from crime is at the heart of our approach to tackling serious violence. Factors such as domestic abuse, truancy and substance abuse can make a young person more vulnerable to becoming a victim or perpetrator of serious violence. That is why, for example, we are investing £220 million in early intervention schemes—a record amount.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. We all know that instances of violent crime in urban centres such as London get the most media attention, but sadly we are also seeing our share of violent crime in my coastal constituency. We had one robbery at knifepoint and one serious assault in the same area of the town in the past week. Following a campaign that I led in Essex, we have seen 12 more officers on the streets of Clacton. They work so hard, but what more can be done to prevent young people in areas such as my constituency from turning towards violent crime?
My hon. Friend has led an excellent local campaign and I commend him for it. As he will know, Essex police has received £1.7 million from the £100 million extra funding to tackle serious violence that was recently announced. In addition, his local police and crime commissioner has been provisionally allocated a further £1.16 million for a violence reduction unit. He may also welcome the £660,000 allocated to Essex from the early intervention youth fund.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating N-Act, in my constituency, which has toured the schools producing plays that have a profound effect on young people, meaning that they do not get involved in gangs, and Gorgui Thiam, a Senegalese sports coach whose work has been very effective in breaking up violent gangs through the power of sport?
I happily join my hon. Friend in commending that work. The work being done there locally and similar work across the country shows the power of early intervention. That is why we have set up funding to support more and more schemes like that, both through the early intervention youth fund and the youth endowment fund.
Of course we all join in the celebration of the power of sport as a positive force, be it, for example, tennis, cricket or indeed football. [Interruption.] And lots of other sports to boot—netball, hockey, rounders and athletics. We also celebrate those who teach sport, and those who broadcast it and write about it, one of whom I spy not very far from me at this every moment—the great Richard Evans. [Interruption.] That will do for now.
The hon. Lady raises an important point and it shows precisely why we are planning to introduce the public health duty—to get more Departments and public agencies to work together in providing early intervention through many different types of programme. She is right to highlight alternative provision and some of the issues associated with it, especially how some of those children, sadly, become the target of gangs, and we are doing more work across government.
When it comes to early intervention, youth activities, youth clubs and the kind of thing we have just heard about in Southend are the sort of important work that we want to support more. I have talked about the £220 million of early intervention funding, which is a record amount, and it will go towards doing that, supporting some 200 different projects.
Ah yes, you’re a very fine sportsman—I call Mr Tom Pursglove.
You are far too kind, Mr Speaker.
What difference does the Home Secretary believe putting 20,000 more police officers out on the beat, catching criminals and deterring crime, will make in practical terms?
I have long said that we need to tackle crime, especially serious violence, on many fronts, and that means making sure that the police are properly resourced so that we have enough police on the streets. That is why this year we had a record settlement of almost £1 billion, which was voted for and supported by Government Members but rejected by Opposition Members.
Often, the focus is on violent crime in cities, but towns such as ours in West Yorkshire have seen an increase in robberies and antisocial behaviour, and the results of county lines and drug violence, too. Our area has lost nearly half its neighbourhood policing, which the Home Secretary will know has been cut throughout the country. The Home Affairs Committee has called for more police on the beat—we need more police back on the beat—and the Home Secretary has recognised that we need 20,000 more police back on the beat. When does he estimate we will get them?
I very much agree with the right hon. Lady about the need for more police. That is why we had a record settlement this year, which included, for example, more than £28 million extra for her local police force, which is leading to more police officers and more police staff. I have said that we need to go further, and we are discussing that internally in Government to see what more can be done. I hope the right hon. Lady recognises, though, that it is about more than just police; it is about early intervention and understanding some of the underlying causes of crime. I have always recognised the need for more resources and more police.
The Home Secretary referred to the new public health duty. The Opposition agree that it is a good idea in principle, but does the Home Secretary agree with the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, who has said that the change is not enough on its own and who is calling for the next Prime Minister, and perhaps his Chancellor, to ensure that preventive services such as youth services have the right resources? Will the Home Secretary tell us how often the Prime Minister’s knife crime taskforce has actually met?
The right hon. Lady has mentioned an important partner in tackling serious violence, and the Children’s Commissioner is part of the serious violence taskforce and we listen to her important views regularly. Of course, the Children’s Commissioner is right that this issue requires action on many fronts. There is no one single answer—we have talked about resources, new powers, early intervention and, of course, the public health approach—which is why we are working across Government. We have institutionalised that in Government in many ways, including with the taskforce that the Prime Minister set up, which has already met once and is meeting again today.
Our £63 million Building a Stronger Britain Together programme provides funding to local community groups that seek to challenge extremist views. Since 2016, we have supported more than 230 civil society groups, which have access to training opportunities and a network of 40 expert counter-extremism community co-ordinators who are embedded in local authorities.
What more can the Government do to publicise those important examples of where communities and community organisations have succeeded in the supply of information that has prevented terrorist plots, saved innocent lives and helped to take people who were at risk of radicalisation away from extremist doctrines?
My right hon. friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have often talked at the Dispatch Box about, for example, the importance of the Prevent programme, which is fundamentally about safeguarding and supporting vulnerable individuals to stop them becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that in just one year, 2017-18, our Channel safeguarding programme supported some 394 individuals, and 181 different community projects that have reached 88,000 different people.
The Home Secretary really should be ashamed of himself. If he comes to a place such as Huddersfield and other towns in West Yorkshire, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has just mentioned, he will find that it is about not only diverting young people from violence, gangs and crime, but tackling extremist views early on. If the Government dismantle local government youth services, they cannot just pass the responsibility across to community associations and think that is okay.
The hon. Gentleman should know that we have done a great deal since 2000 to support community projects, including youth community projects. I mentioned earlier the £63 million that we put into the “Building a Stronger Britain Together” programme. That is through the Home Office alone, but much more is going on through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education and local government. He mentions Huddersfield. Just last week, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man called Jamal, who was the victim of racism, a form of extremism, in the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency. I had the opportunity to welcome him to our great country and to tell him that what happened to him in Huddersfield in no way represents the people of our great nation.
I call Sir Roger Gale.
Topical Question 1, Mr Speaker.
No, no, no; the right hon. Gentleman is ahead of himself. He is working on the basis that we always stick to time, which is not an unreasonable assumption except that it suffers from the disadvantage in factual terms of being wrong.
Hostile State Activity
Across Government, we are taking a broad range of legislative, diplomatic and operational action to prevent, disrupt and deter hostile state activity.
The right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) will have Topical Question 1 as well, so he will get two bites at the cherry and he will have nothing about which to complain.
A wonderful opportunity! Scarcely cricket, but a wonderful opportunity.
Following the attempted poisonings in Salisbury, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took robust action to secure the dismissal from the United Kingdom and other European countries of Russian spies posing as diplomats. There is some reason to suppose that that network is now being rebuilt. Without asking my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to give details of the work of MI5, may I ask him to give us a reassurance that it is very firmly on the case?
As my right hon. Friend says, I will not comment on any sensitive intelligence matter, but he is right to be concerned about the rise in hostile state activity. There is ongoing activity across Government to ensure that our democracy is protected. We have taken many steps and co-ordinated them across Government and the relevant authorities. He will also be pleased to know that, now that the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 is on the statute book, it gives us many more powers to counter hostile state activity.
The Home Secretary will know that police numbers remain key to hostile state activity prevention. I have still not heard an answer to the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) posed—how many extra police officers are going to be recruited, and when, to tackle this important issue?
When it comes to hostile state activity, it is not that police numbers are unimportant, but actually, the key is intelligence and support for our intelligence services, especially for MI5 and the excellent work that it does.
I am enormously tickled to see the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the Father of the House, beetle into the Chamber by walking across the Government Front Bench. I suppose that he was so long an habitué of the Treasury Bench that it may seem a perfectly normal means by which to enter the Chamber, but, in any case, we are delighted to see him.
I do apologise to the House. It was once the only way that I entered this Chamber.
As I say, we are very pleased to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and we look forward to hearing from him ere long.
Community and Neighbourhood Policing
As funding for the police increases, we have made it clear that we want to see more consistent, proactive neighbourhood policing, which is the cornerstone of the British policing model.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but my police and crime commissioner has cut the number of warranted officers by more than 500 since 2010, and, despite the efforts of my brilliant local police, only two are now allocated to Kidsgrove. We have seen a spike in threatening antisocial behaviour in the past month, with some people now refusing to go to the local park. I will not have no-go areas in my constituency, so what will the Minister do?
I am a bit puzzled by what the hon. Lady says, because I have spoken to her police and crime commissioner, the excellent Matthew Ellis, and he is extremely animated about how he is going to use the additional money from the funding settlement to move 100 more people into neighbourhood policing by the year end and to get behind proactive policing to disrupt crime, including drug dealing, in hotspots. I hope that she welcomes such plans, and she certainly needs to sit down and discuss them with him.
We all agree about the importance of neighbourhood and community policing, but does the Minister agree that effective community policing does not rely on police officers having degrees? Yes, it is critical that we have enough officers; yes, it is crucial that they have common sense; but does he agree with me and other blue collar Conservatives that it is ridiculous to say that all police officers must have a degree, as proposed?
They do not need a degree to go into policing; that is what the apprentice route is for. I know plenty of people with degrees who would make very poor police officers. What we are keen to do is upskill the force and, critically, ensure that the very considerable skills that people coming out of policing have developed are accredited.
Northumbria police has had its funding increased by £18 million in a process that the hon. Lady opposed. The excellent Conservative candidate in those elections—Robbie Moore, whom I have met—is absolutely committed to neighbourhood policing, as are this Government. We are making police funding a priority.
Investment in neighbourhood policing looks set to become even more difficult following last month’s Supreme Court ruling that the Government’s post-2015 pension changes were unlawful. This ruling affects tens of thousands of public servants, including police officers, who have no negotiating rights and have had these discriminatory changes imposed on them. Will there be an industrial resolution to this mess for officers who have been left in limbo, and will funding for policing be protected when the Treasury finally brings forward measures to remedy this illegal discrimination?
The Government have made very clear the priority that we attach to police funding. We are increasing funding, through council tax and other measures, by up to £1 billion this year. The Home Secretary and I have made it quite clear that police funding is our priority, as have the candidates for the roles of leader of our party and the next Prime Minister. In relation to the very important judgment—it is extremely significant—against which the Government cannot appeal, it is for my colleagues in the Treasury to make a considered response.
We are running late, but I want to take the questions from the hon. Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on domestic abuse.
Ending domestic abuse remains an absolute priority, which is why I am delighted to announce that tomorrow we will be launching the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which will contain a groundbreaking series of measures to promote awareness, support victims and children, tackle perpetrators and improve services.
I thank the Minister for answering my supplementary question before I had asked it—I am delighted that the Bill will be introduced tomorrow. Can she confirm that it will support my constituents in Daventry who have experienced or been victims of domestic abuse, and protect others from experiencing it in the future?
Very much so. I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done to raise with me the issues in his constituency. We are delighted that the Bill will be introduced tomorrow. There is also a package of non-legislative measures that will be critical in ensuring that we are supporting victims, preventing further opportunities for abuse and, also importantly, helping children who live in abusive households.
Will my hon. Friend join me in commending the new and excellent Women Out West centre in Whitehaven, which is having a huge impact on women and their families in my constituency in partnership with the Copeland hub, which she recently visited?
I would be delighted to commend the centre. It was a pleasure to visit the Copeland hub—a great example of multi-agency working, which, as everyone in the House knows, is essential if we are to tackle this pernicious crime of domestic abuse effectively across our country.
It is great news that the Bill is going to be published tomorrow—real credit to the Minister personally for sticking with this. Can she confirm that she has listened to the survivors of abuse, particularly of emotional and economic abuse, through the draft process and strengthened the final Bill as a result?
Very much so, and may I thank the hon. Gentleman, too, for all his work and his lobbying of me to support and protect victims of domestic abuse? I must also record my thanks to the Joint Committee —a brilliant Committee of parliamentarians from both Houses who scrutinised the draft Bill in great detail, heard lots of evidence from incredibly important stakeholders and produced a report, to which we will publish a response tomorrow alongside the Bill.
We continue to fight serious violence and support our world-class police. Yesterday I announced a new legal duty on public bodies to prevent and tackle serious violence, which will compel all relevant public agencies to work together to understand and address this epidemic. Over the last year, we have engaged with police officers and staff on our frontline review, which was published last week and will lead to even more support.
Given the ongoing police inquiry into the leaking of confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents, together with the need to protect the freedom of the press, my right hon. Friend has a difficult circle to square. Can he tell the House how he intends to both protect the freedom of the press and ensure that the person responsible for this crime is brought to book?
I am not going to comment on an ongoing police investigation—I hope my right hon. Friend understands that—but the person who leaked the document should, of course, face the consequences. When I was Culture Secretary, I was very passionate about the freedom of the press. That view has not changed in any way whatsoever. I will always defend the hard-won liberties and the operation of the free press.
The latest Government fire and rescue service inspections found that nine years of austerity have created a postcode lottery of response times and crewing levels. We now have rising response times, with fewer firefighters attending incidents. The Government’s reckless lack of oversight and investment is risking the safety of many communities across the country. Will the Minister consider implementing national minimum standards, to confront the geographical inequalities that his Government have deepened?
We have introduced independent inspections of fire and rescue services, which in fact show that most people across the country get an excellent service in the response to emergencies, but there are variations. That is why we have introduced a national standards board, which is looking at the opportunity to develop greater consistency in standards across the system in the light of the inspection findings.
I commend my hon. Friend for the huge amount of work he has done on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping; I saw that as Communities Secretary as well. The Government believe that no one should be criminalised for simply having nowhere to live and sleeping rough. The Government’s 2018 rough sleeping strategy committed us to reviewing the homelessness and rough sleeping legislation, including the Vagrancy Act 1824. That is what we are doing, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that further.
The Government continue to give the fire service the resources it needs against a background of falling fire numbers. We continue to monitor that in the run-in to the comprehensive spending review, working closely with the fire service. On the remediation of buildings and the urgent review of a fire safety system that had clearly failed, we continue to work closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in our consultation on that.
As my right hon. Friend knows, asylum seekers can work in jobs on the shortage occupation list if their claim has been outstanding for 12 months. I know that she will agree that we need to distinguish between those with the need for protection and those who are here only to work. She is right to raise the issue, and it is time for reform. The work in the Home Office is ongoing, and we hope to bring something to the House as soon as possible.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question on an issue that has been raised several times in the House. The Home Office is working hard to make sure that we have a solution so that not just students at Scottish universities but those in English universities who might be studying a longer course such as medicine, veterinary science or architecture are not disadvantaged. We are determined to find a solution that works for all students.
Those of us who have active neighbourhood watch networks in our constituencies know the value of that network of active citizens working closely with the police: it is the heart of our police model. We are big fans of neighbourhood watch and we have supported it for many years. I would be delighted to sit down with my hon. Friend to discuss how that funding could help in her constituency.
We are of course grateful to the archbishop for his thoughts, and to the independent inquiry, which is doing an incredibly important job in looking at tackling institutional child sexual abuse. We have looked at mandatory reporting really carefully, and the balance of evidence came down against, but it is something that we very much keep under review, and I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss it with her.
My right hon. Friend has led a long campaign against such people. He will be glad to know that in the last few years, with our new impetus on economic crime, we have found that a number have already had their collars felt, some have had to explain their wealth—the latest case being £100 million of London property—£112 million of assets have been frozen, and some have found it very hard to visit the country altogether.
My constituent, Bibi Rahima, said that
“my life is just a prison”
after she was accused of cheating in the test of English for international communication. She was overjoyed when she won her appeal in May, but I have written to the Home Secretary on her behalf again today to plead against a further appeal now being taken against her. I am certain she did not cheat, and the judge in her appeal in May said that
“there is no specific evidence in relation to this Appellant at all.”
Will Ministers now withdraw that cruel and pointless action?
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s interest in this issue and the work that he is doing through the all-party parliamentary group that he chairs and helped to set up. We have discussed the broader issue several times. He will know that in 2012 the National Audit Office highlighted widespread abuse of the student migration system. That said, I have agreed with him and many other hon. Members that we need to look again at the action that was taken and see what more can be done. I am planning to come to the House with a statement to say much more before the summer recess.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the work he has done in this space, especially on tackling unauthorised encampments. He will know that the Home Office has identified a set of measures that will extend the powers available to the police. We are also conducting a review of the act of trespassing to see whether it can be automatically criminalised.
Disability hate crime has increased by more than four times since 2011, and that is not even the real level of hate crime and abuse that disabled people have faced. Disabled people have been particularly hit by this Government’s cuts, so what will the Home Secretary do to tackle not just the consequences of this hate crime but the causes?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The latest official data indicates an increase in police recorded disability hate crime. We believe that is due in part to general police recording improvements, but more clearly needs to be done. That is why we are instigating a review by the Law Commission to ensure that the framework, generally, tackles such hatred. We have had a nationwide public awareness campaign, including specific examples of disability hate crime. We are also funding community projects across the country, including a number that directly tackle disability hate crime, such as Changing Faces and Barnardo’s.
In his excellent op-ed in the Financial Times on 7 June, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said it made no sense at all to send back home straight after their studies some of the brightest and most enterprising people in the world, and he also backed a cross-party move to liberalise the student visa regime. Could he update the House on his progress in restoring the two-year post-study work visa that was removed in 2012?
I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend has said. I think that is exactly the kind of change we should be looking at. It is not the policy of the current Cabinet, but, as he knows, there will be a change in the Cabinet very soon. We do not know who will lead that change, but it might well be someone he is quite close to, so he might want to lobby them too. However, I am very sympathetic, and I will happily work with my hon. Friend.
TransPennine Express recently locked a gate that is a major access point to the Hull Paragon station, and prominent disability campaigners have been protesting about that. It has locked the gate because it believes that that is the best way to deal with the rising problem of antisocial behaviour. Does the Minister agree that the company should be letting the police tackle the problem of antisocial behaviour and not discriminating against disabled people? Will Ministers join me in sending a clear message to TransPennine Express to open the gate?
I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me if I am not familiar with the precise railway gate in question. However, she will know that the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides at least six powers for not just the police but local authorities to tackle antisocial behaviour. It might be that the train company would benefit from a bit of discussion with not just the police but local authorities to see whether they can come up with a better solution.
Over the last couple of weeks, my constituency has been rocked by two serious incidents of crime. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will want to join me in thanking the emergency services and in wishing a speedy recovery to those who were physically injured in those attacks. However, what cross-departmental discussions has he had about providing a more holistic approach to supporting the victims of such crimes?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Having visited her constituency recently, I am incredibly sorry to hear of the experiences her constituents have had. She will know that the Government have recently published the victims strategy, which, although led by the Ministry of Justice, very much had the input of the Home Office as well. We want to ensure that we support victims through targeted, focused help, while ensuring that all the relevant agencies, including the health sector, also play their part in helping victims of such terrible crimes.
I will call the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) if he commits to a single-sentence question and then honours his commitment, and I feel sure he will.
Absolutely, Mr Speaker.
Whose interests were served by tearing Lizanne Zietsman away from her family, business and community, and deporting her against the wishes of the entire community of the island of Arran?
The hon. Gentleman will understand the distinction between deportation, which happens to foreign national offenders, and removal, which happens to those who are immigration offenders. There is a very clear difference. He will know that I cannot comment on individual cases, but it is worth stating that the Supreme Court has upheld the Government’s minimum income requirement to have dependents and spouses in this country. That is an important principle, which the Government support, because we want people to have an adequate level of income that will enable them to integrate into society.
Given that we ran a highly successful seasonal agricultural workers scheme from 1945 to 2013, what do the Government think they can learn from a two-year pilot? Since we have an urgent labour shortage in agriculture, will the Secretary of State commit to convert the current pilot into a fully operational scheme next year?
My hon. Friend will be conscious that at the moment free movement still prevails, which is one of the reasons why this is still a pilot. The Government will of course carefully evaluate the outcome of what is scheduled to be a two-year pilot to understand the impact and to look at what we can do going forward.
I am sorry, but this will have to be the last inquiry, as demand exceeds supply. I am sure the Home Office ministerial team are delighted to know that they are parliamentary box office.
The cornerstone of community policing in London, to use the Minister’s words, is the safer neighbourhood teams, which have been cut by 50% to 60% and more. When will they be returned to full strength?
That is ultimately a decision for the Mayor in his capacity as police and crime commissioner, working with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Our role is to ensure that the Met has the resources it needs. That is why we have taken through funding settlements resulting in the Met receiving £100 million of additional investment last year and £172 million this year, with more to come. How that money is spent and allocated is down to the Mayor and the commissioner.
Detainee Mistreatment: Judge-led Inquiry
(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if she will make good on her Government’s commitment, made over a year ago, to bring to the House within 60 days their view on reinstating the judge-led inquiry into detainee mistreatment and rendition that the former Government promised in 2012.
As my right hon. and learned Friend indicates, this issue has a lengthy history. It was in July 2010 that Prime Minister Cameron announced Sir Peter Gibson’s inquiry into allegations that the United Kingdom had been implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries in the aftermath of 9/11.
In December 2013, the Government published Sir Peter’s preparatory work and asked the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to follow up on the themes and issues which that work had identified, to take further evidence and to make a report. At the same time, the Government said that they would:
“take a final view as to whether a further judicial inquiry still remains necessary to add any further information of value to future policy making and the national interest.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 916.]
In June last year, the Intelligence and Security Committee, its work having been interrupted by two general elections and the task of reconstituting the Committee after those elections, published two reports: “Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001-2010” and “Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues”.
In response to an urgent question from my right hon. and learned Friend on 2 July last year, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), said that, in responding to the ISC reports, the Government would:
“give careful consideration to the calls for another judge-led inquiry and will update the House”.—[Official Report, 2 July 2018; Vol. 644, c. 26.]
The Government responded formally to the ISC on 22 November last year, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in a written statement, said:
“The Government continues to give serious consideration to the examination of detainee issues and whether any more lessons can be learned and, if so, how.”
That serious consideration has included the question of a further judge-led inquiry.
As the House will understand, this has been complex work, which has involved some of the most sensitive security issues. I confirm to the House today that the Government will make a definitive statement setting out their decision about a judge-led inquiry later this week and, at the same time, we will announce to the House our response to Sir Adrian Fulford’s recommendations on the consolidated guidance.
I trust that that will be an oral statement to the House.
I will make sure that your comment to that effect is faithfully reported to my colleagues in Cabinet, Mr Speaker.
You have asked the most penetrating question, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister for finally producing some indication of when we might get a decision and for saying that the Government have reached conclusions. I will not repeat his precis of events, which goes back to the most firm undertakings in 2010 and 2012 that there would be a judge-led inquiry. The preliminary inquiry by Sir Peter Gibson set out the questions that the inquiry had to answer. It was postponed only because of the police inquiry into the further revelations of rendition to Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. After that, the resumption of the inquiry was postponed while the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee examined matters. When the ISC finally discovered the extent of British intelligence services’ complicity in cases of torture and their involvement in hijacking and the unlawful rendition of people for interrogation, mainly in America, the Committee was stopped from doing its investigations and made a report saying what it would have liked to examine if it had been allowed to interview witnesses.
For years and years, this has been put into the long grass in the hope that it would eventually go away, so I hope that that comes to an end this week. We need to know how there was such a terrible breakdown in responsibility and communications that produced the misdeeds that took place in the time after 9/11, so that we can avoid the culture of the intelligence services and their relationships with Ministers ever slipping back into the same thing again. I hope that we will not just be told, “It is too late. Everything is all right now; there is no need to do anything,” because if it is all right now—as I trust it is—we have to reduce the risks that in future, we as a country will ever get involved in torture and rendition again.
If this decision comes out in the last days of this Session, on the eve of the summer recess and in the middle of the appointment of a new Prime Minister in an attempt to bury it away in the pages of Hansard and to escape any further challenge until the autumn comes around, it will be the most blatant further attempt to get out of the most solemn undertakings that were given by me when I was Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor on behalf of the then Prime Minister. That Prime Minister gave these undertakings himself, in a Government in which the present Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and many of their colleagues were serving. We had cleared that line and should honour it, and the whole House should demand a proper, full statement later this week. If there is one success that the delay may have achieved, it is, I regret to say, that for serious personal reasons—not because I am going on holiday—I may miss the final denouement and the statement later this week, because I may be absent from the House. However, I hope that the House will hold the Government fully to account if they try to slip out of their commitments and obligations in the end.
I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that, far from there being any attempt on behalf of the Government to slip things out under the radar as the summer recess approaches, the Prime Minister has been very clear that she regards it as her responsibility to ensure that the decision is taken and announced to Parliament before she leaves office. It would be understandable if a new Prime Minister on taking office wanted to look again at or acquaint himself with the material that was coming to the present Prime Minister. This decision and its timing are actually designed to ensure that we do not slip anything out under the radar.
I would just say to my right hon and learned Friend that the Government are very clear that officials in our agencies have not been involved in torture and that this Government and previous Governments have been resolute in opposing torture. We are talking about the extent to which it is alleged that there was knowledge of or to some extent complicity in the treatment of detainees held by the authorities in other countries.
In my right hon and learned Friend’s time, a number of significant changes were made, both in internal Government practice and in the law, that I believe have put us in a much better position since his time in office. I agree strongly with him about the need for us when we debate these matters to look forward as well as backwards. That is exactly why I believe it is right that we acquaint the House with Sir Adrian Fulford’s recommendations on the consolidated guidance at the same time as we respond to the obligation to take the decision on a judge-led inquiry and announce it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank the Father of the House for securing it and for being so diligent on this issue. He has spoken with typical lucidity on this matter, and I agree with everything he has said, particularly about the unfortunate long grassing.
There is no need for me to repeat what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has already said concerning the constraints that were placed on a nevertheless damning report from the Intelligence and Security Committee. He rightly says that the only way to lift those constraints is to authorise a judge-led inquiry where all the witnesses can be called and all the evidence examined so that finally we can get to the full truth about the historical allegations of torture and rendition that took place under a Labour Government and about the operation of secret courts established by the current Government under the Justice and Security Act 2013.
The inquiry would be for the benefit of all future Governments, whichever party is in charge, as it would enable us all to truly learn the lessons from what has happened and to put in place new procedures and any necessary changes to the consolidated guidance so that we can absolutely guarantee that these abuses will never happen again. The reason it is so urgent is that in fewer than 10 days we will have a new Government in charge led by a Prime Minister who has proven by his actions not just as Foreign Secretary but also on the debate stage last week that he cannot be trusted to stand up to Donald Trump—a President who, let us not forget, has publicly said that he believes that water boarding and other forms of torture are effective and that we have to “fight fire with fire”. If we have a new Prime Minister who is willing to throw our ambassadors under the bus, we must have new procedures in place to stop that Prime Minister allowing our Government once again to be in danger of becoming complicit in torture and rendition by the United States or any other country to whom he kowtows.
I am glad to hear that there will be a further statement, and hopefully that statement will include a decision by the Prime Minister, but will the Minister tell the Prime Minister to establish the inquiry that we were promised seven years ago in the next week and to provide at least one fitting legacy from her time in office and one necessary protection for the country from the recklessness of her successor?
Obviously I will not pre-empt the content of the Government’s statement later this week, but I think it is clear from the way in which the right hon. Lady has posed her questions that it is acknowledged on both sides of the House that this is an extremely important as well as an extremely sensitive decision. What I will say to her is that the protections against involvement in the use of torture apply to this and any future Government in the United Kingdom, not least by virtue of Ministers’ obligations to obey the law. That includes our international legal obligations, including those set out both in the United Nations convention against torture and the European convention on human rights.
In recent years we have seen not only a much stronger and, for the first time, a statutory role for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner—who now reports annually on his work, including the application of detainee policy—but enhanced powers for the Intelligence and Security Committee, notably the power that enables it, in law, to require rather than just request information from the security and intelligence agencies.
I hear what my right hon. Friend says about obeying international law, but it is clear from the Prime Minister’s apology to the Libyan victims alone that the British Government, at very best, came perilously close to breaching article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which forbids torture but also its facilitation or complicity in it. Moreover, without an independent judge-led inquiry, the Government may now be in breach of article 13, which, as well as encapsulating centuries of established common law, provides for the right to “an effective remedy”.
I do not know what is making the Government take so long to decide whether to pursue a judge-led inquiry. It may be pressure from the agencies, although I doubt that now, or it may be pressure from allies who were complicit or involved in this. Whatever it is, I hope that what I shall say next will help my right hon. Friend in his argument with them. If he does not announce an independent judge-led inquiry in his statement later this week, or next week, I will certainly seek advice on whether we have broken either of those articles, and, if need be, use the proper judicial mechanisms to ensure that the Government are put back within the bounds of the law.
As I said earlier, it is the duty of every Minister, in line with the Ministerial Code, to comply with our international as well as our domestic legal obligations. In the case of officials, those obligations are statutory, because the civil service code is itself incorporated in statute. I hope that when my right hon. Friend sees the detail of what will be announced later this week, he will be able to feel reassured by it.
I commend the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), for bringing this matter to the Floor of the House, and for securing what seems to be something of a concession in relation to an announcement later this week. However, it is still very unclear why there has been such a lengthy delay since the undertaking given more than a year ago that the decision would be brought to the House “within 60 days”. Can the Minister elucidate?
Before the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on these matters last year, the United States Government were given the chance to review the report and to request redactions. Will the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place with the Trump Administration about a potential inquiry, and will he reassure us that the Government’s delayed response is not a consequence of pressure from the United States?
This has taken time because the Government have felt, I think rightly, that an issue of such importance and sensitivity requires very careful and meticulous consideration. The Government’s decisions are made on the basis of the United Kingdom’s national interest, and nothing else.
Not withstanding my right hon. Friend’s mellifluous and reassuring tones, it is pretty reprehensible that the Father of the House has had to raise this matter yet again. Not only were he and I members of the Cabinet that promised the House this inquiry nearly 10 years ago, but it is day 378 since the 60-day promise made by the Government and reinforced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office in answer to a written question from me. The damage that this has done to the UK’s precious international reputation is not well understood. This is not about hauling individuals before the courts; it is about transparency, openness, leadership and lessons learned.
The right investigation would have been by the Intelligence and Security Committee; a senior group of Privy Counsellors would have been best placed to handle this, and it would have been cheaper, but we are asking for this inquiry, the Government having hobbled the ISC’s inquiry. We are thrown back on a judge-led inquiry, but it must be a judge who is not part of the securitocracy.
Looking at international practice, I think we in this country can point to a system that requires high standards, and that is remarkably transparent, given the extremely secret nature of some of the personnel and operations that are relevant here. We now have a statutory role for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, and we have his annual reports, including on detainee policy. We have enhanced powers for Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, and the Prime Minister no longer has the power to appoint its Chair. The framework established by the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 measures up against the best standards in the world.
The Intelligence and Security Committee, on which I sit, finished its investigation on rendition, but the Government refused it access to certain individuals, so it could not interview them on the matter. If there were to be a judge-led inquiry, would the Government allow all individuals to give evidence to the judge?
I will not speculate on the content of the decision later this week, but I take on board the challenge that the right hon. Gentleman has posed.
I note my right hon. Friend’s answer to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) about high standards for the United Kingdom, but if the United Kingdom’s reputation for having the highest standards in this area is to be sustained, surely it is important, in this case and in others in which our security services come into contact with potential violations of fundamental aspects of international law, that there is proper accountability, driven by the Ministers who are meant to oversee it.
I agree with the final point that my hon. Friend makes, but I ask him to take account of the fact that we are dealing with the work of security and intelligence agencies—work on which the safety, and indeed the lives, of our citizens often depends—and that information about how operations are carried out can be of great value to our adversaries.
It must surely be the objective of all civilised countries to ensure that such events as rendition and the mistreatment of detainees never occur across the world. If we are to achieve that, should we not stand on the highest possible moral ground?
We should certainly act on the highest possible moral grounds. I believe that we have a statutory framework in which we can take considerable pride, and that marks a significant improvement on the practices that the Intelligence and Security Committee previously criticised.
As a member of the Committee, I think it is worth putting on record our extraordinary respect for the young men and women who serve in our intelligence services and who make impossible decisions, often at a moment’s notice. I think that an inquiry would show the extraordinary times in which they lived and how life has changed since many of the cases in question came before us. For example, there was no consolidated guidance in the earliest stages of the period we were looking at. I believe that the Government made a fundamental mistake in not allowing us to see the witnesses we wanted to see, because we would actually have been able to show something that assisted the Government—namely, that we live in a completely different regulatory regime. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister made the point about the changing powers and the extension of the consolidated guidance. Will he tell us whether the examination of the consolidated guidance will be announced soon, or whether we will have to wait a long time for it?
First, I thank my right hon. Friend for the just tribute that he paid to the men and women working in our security and intelligence agencies. I can give him what I hope is a reassuring answer to his question. Yes, we will be publishing Sir Adrian Fulford’s conclusions and recommendations in full later this week.
Does the Minister accept that any UK involvement in extraordinary rendition is a stain on our reputation as a country that claims to uphold the rule of law and defend human rights? Does he agree that the best way to deal with this is for him to announce this week that there will be an independent judge-led inquiry, and also to announce the appointment of the new Investigatory Powers Commissioner?
I cannot promise the right hon. Gentleman an answer on that final point this week, but I believe that Sir Adrian’s recommendations will give him considerable reassurance.
May I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend that the scope of any inquiry will include reports of extraordinary rendition through UK territories such as the British Indian Ocean Territory?
As I have said in response to earlier questions, I cannot pre-empt what will be in the Government’s statement later this week. However, I take note of my hon. Friend’s question.
When a Minister of the Crown stands at the Dispatch Box and says that something will be brought to the Chamber within 60 days, how should we understand such a commitment? Given the utter failure to deliver on this occasion, surely the House is entitled to a fuller explanation than the one the Minister has given so far, which is that this is terribly difficult?
It is not just a matter of something being difficult; it is a matter of Ministers having to consider the best course of action when we are talking about the work of security and intelligence agencies, which, by definition, has to be done in secret and whose disclosure could do considerable harm to our national interests.
Governments all over the world are challenging international law and the rules-based international order, and we have a President in the United States who clearly does not support those laws, so is it not time for our Government to accept that the promises they made at the Dispatch Box should be carried out? The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the Father of the House, is one of the most experienced figures in these matters, and he has been persistent in trying to get the clarity we need on these issues. When the Government make what I hope will be an oral statement on this, should they not bring the matter to a conclusion rather than forcing us to come back to it again under a new Prime Minister?
It will not be in my power to decide whether the House wishes to return to these issues, but I can promise the hon. Gentleman that this will be a definitive statement.
I commend the Government on their work on human rights, but does the Minister share my concern that failure to protect human rights by complicity by mistreating detainees diminishes the UK’s capacity to be a champion for human rights abroad?
It is important that we demonstrate through our actions, not just our words, our commitment to human rights. Moreover, when one has the privilege of speaking to officers in the intelligence agencies about these matters, they make it clear that they want to uphold human rights. The intelligence agencies have to operate within the statutory remit that Parliament has given them. Anything that they do that breaches their lawful purpose and objective is something that they should not do.
Although the Gibson and ISC inquiries were curtailed or restricted, nevertheless they revealed hundreds of cases in which the UK was complicit or benefited from torture or mistreatment. Does that not mean that there is more of a case to set up such an inquiry than there was nine years ago, when the then Prime Minister said that there should be a judge-led inquiry
“fully independent of Parliament, party and Government”—[Official Report, 6 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 181]?
The only thing that has changed in those nine years is that it would be difficult now to reach the truth because of the effluxion of time. Will the Minister at least say that there will be an inquiry, even if we hear the details later this week?
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman in his assertion that little has changed. There have been important statutory changes in the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. There have been important changes in the powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and in the statutory basis of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, and in the practice that Ministers must be consulted whenever an intelligence officer involved in a planned operation believes that a detainee is at risk of mistreatment by a foreign state. That obligation applies even when consulting a Minister might be thought to lead to a risk of a terrorist act succeeding. The rules are much stricter than they once were.
Given that Britain’s reputation is at stake in relation to human rights when we talk to the world about our values, an oral statement should be made in the House so that we can make a judgment on what sort of inquiry should take place and so that we can question the relevant Minister, even if that is the Prime Minister herself.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. What we are discussing as, in fairness, the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) acknowledged, are historic allegations, particularly concerning the period from 2001 to 2010, and the immediate aftermath of the appalling 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The statutory and administrative basis on which our affairs are now organised give us much greater assurance in the House that decisions are made appropriately and that our agencies adhere to the highest possible standards of conduct.
The Minister made it clear that he thought that the change in the legislative, statutory and administrative frameworks were sufficient to assuage concerns that the House might have, but how can the House assess that unless it is thoroughly tested in this inquiry? That is the only way truly to understand whether it is effective or not.
The tests would be threefold. First, there will be an annual report from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner about how Government and the agencies use the powers with which they have been entrusted. Secondly, there are the reports from the Intelligence and Security Committee, and the confidence that the House should have that that Committee now has much greater autonomy and power than was once the case. Thirdly, Sir Adrian Fulford, the commissioner, was asked by the Government to review, reflect on and recommend changes to the consolidated guidance, and that is what we will put before the House later this week.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for taking time on another point of order on the question of the Home Office’s failure to answer questions satisfactorily, but you will recall that it is just over a year since, in June 2018, I raised a point of order on the Home Office’s refusal to provide information about tier 2 general certificate of sponsorship visas in response to written questions that I had tabled. This information was subsequently released in response to a freedom of information request.
When, subsequent to the information being provided via that FOI, I tabled a further question asking for updated figures, I assumed the Home Office would provide them to me, given that the information was now in the public arena, but it refused again, hence my point of order last June. In response, Mr Speaker, you shared my concern about the danger of FOI requests becoming a more effective way for colleagues to obtain information than a parliamentary question, and you said:
“There is a basic issue here of parliamentary self-respect”.—[Official Report, 18 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 78.]
That is clearly relevant to all Members.
Mr Speaker, you also advised me on how to pursue the matter, and I followed up with a letter to the Home Secretary, on 19 June 2018, highlighting your comments. Despite repeated phone calls and emails to the Home Office’s correspondence unit, I have not yet received a response to that letter—over 12 months later.
I finally tabled a written question asking when I could anticipate a response, and I was told that it was “being prepared”. No reason has been shared with me that would explain why an answer about the procedure for parliamentary questions has taken over a year, Mr Speaker, so I would be grateful if you could advise me on how to pursue this matter and how I might receive a response before the House breaks for the summer recess.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it.
In summary, the matter is very unsatisfactory. The way in which the hon. Gentleman has been treated does not fall foul of any particular rule or Standing Order of the House. That said, it does not in any way become any less unsatisfactory. The essential issue at hand is, as I indicated in response to his previous point of order, a matter of parliamentary self-respect and, I say to occupants of the Treasury Bench, of courtesy on behalf of Ministers towards Members of the House seeking to discharge their duty of scrutiny.
It is therefore very disappointing that the hon. Gentleman has not achieved satisfaction in this matter, and what I want to say to him is as follows. First, he has been dogged and persistent in pursuit of this matter and, as he indicated, he has waited over a year for a Minister to answer his letter, which referred to my answer to his previous point of order.
I would hope that the delay in replying—I say this as much in hope as in expectation—is because Ministers are keen properly to address the underlying issue of providing a less helpful answer to elected Members of the House than to those who pursue freedom of information requests.
I hope that Home Office Ministers, having heard this point of order, will ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives the full ministerial reply for which he has waited so long, and that he does so in a matter of days—specifically, before the summer recess.
The final point I would make, on which I expect concurrence, not least from senior and experienced Members of the House who have been here for decades, is this: it was at one time a very established expectation that, if Members were experiencing difficulty in securing replies from Ministers to letters or, indeed, written questions, the Leader of the House would see it as her or his responsibility to chase them in order to secure expeditious replies. I am sorry if that is not currently the case, but it used to be the case—[Interruption.] I note that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) is nodding from a sedentary position, and I assume this view would be shared by Members in other parts of the House.
What I would say to the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) is that he should approach the current Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), and try to extract a commitment from him that he will engage in the matter and pursue Ministers. That is not only right for the hon. Member for Sheffield Central and his constituents but is in the interest of the effective functioning of all Members of the House. This is a matter not of rules but of parliamentary courtesy, and we need to return to it.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I would have spoken to you earlier about this if there had not been a muddle in our diaries. I had a similar example, where I had tabled questions on how many victims of modern slavery were held in detention centres. The Home Office replied that it did not know, but an outside organisation, after two Freedom of Information Act requests, gained that information, which the Home Office had denied having. Might I therefore also register through you that there is something much more rotten in the state of Denmark than just one simple question taking a whole year to answer?
On the back of what the right hon. Gentleman has said and of the initial intervention of the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, I will raise these matters in correspondence with the Leader of the House. But on the principle both of repetition and of reinforcement by numbers, I would strongly advise Members to do so themselves.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Late last week, the Parole Board announced that Vanessa George, the prolific serial child abuser from Plymouth, is being released from jail. She abused toddlers and babies at the now closed Little Ted’s nursery in Plymouth and then shared these images with a national network of paedophiles for their sexual pleasure, and was rightly jailed. I cannot express to you the pain and horror felt by the families involved at the release from prison of Britain’s most prolific female paedophile. As she has not revealed the full list of the children that she has abused, the horrors are probably much greater than those for which she was convicted. What advice can you give me as to how I can place on record the concerns of the people I represent, and have you had any indication from the Ministry of Justice that a Minister will be coming to the House to make a statement on this matter, so that we can question why she was released and why they feel she is no longer a threat to children?
I have received no indication from any Minister of an intention to make a statement on the matter. However, the matter is very important and of intense concern to the hon. Gentleman, to his constituents and, I rather imagine, to a lot of people around the country. What is my advice? My advice is that he should persist, persist, persist, as I invariably advise. What persistence means in this case is looking for opportunities to air concerns in the Chamber. My suggestion to him is that he seek an Adjournment debate, either on the specifics of the case or on what he considers to be its wider implications. If he does seek such an Adjournment debate, such applications tending to come my way, he might find that he is successful.
Employment (Minimum Hours) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Heidi Allen, supported by Frank Field, Ruth George, Ruth Smeeth, Justin Madders, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck, Rosie Duffield, Anna Turley, Martyn Day, Kerry McCarthy, Mrs Madeleine Moon and Jeremy Lefroy, presented a Bill to require employers to offer workers on zero hours contracts the option of guaranteed minimum hours; and for connected purposes
Bill read the First time; to be read the Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 421).
High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill: Business of the House
That the following provisions shall apply to proceedings on the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill:
(1) Proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption at this day’s sitting.
(2) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption at this day’s sitting.
Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put
(3) If, following proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, a Legislative Grand Committee withholds consent to the Bill or any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill, the House shall proceed to Reconsideration of the Bill without any Question being put.
(4) If, following Reconsideration of the Bill—
(a) a Legislative Grand Committee withholds consent to any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill (but does not withhold consent to the whole Bill),
(b) the Bill is amended to remove any provisions which are not agreed to by the House and the Legislative Grand Committee, and
(c) a Minister of the Crown indicates their intention to move a minor or technical amendment to the Bill as so amended, the House shall proceed to consequential Consideration of the Bill without any Question being put.
(5) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (1) or (2), the Speaker or Chairman shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others) in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment, new Clause or new Schedule selected by the Speaker or Chairman for separate decision;
(d) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown; (e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.
(6) On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Speaker or Chairman shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
(7) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (5)(d) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Speaker or Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions. (8) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (5)(e) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Speaker or Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.
(9) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.—(Mr Jack.)
High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill
[Relevant document: Government overview of the case for HS2 Phase 2a and its environmental impacts, CP 118.]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Select Committee, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Quarterly reports on environmental impact, costs and progress
“(1) The Secretary of State must publish quarterly reports on the scheduled works throughout the period in which those works take place.
(2) Each such report must contain an assessment of—
(a) environmental impact;
(b) costs; and
(c) progress compared to the scheduled timetable.
(3) The first such report must be laid before Parliament within the period ending three months after the day the scheduled works commence.
(4) Each subsequent report must be laid before Parliament within three months of the publication of the last report under this section.”—(Rachael Maskell.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Compensation scheme for tenants—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for a scheme to compensate tenants adversely affected by the scheduled works.
(2) Regulations under this section may contain such supplementary, incidental, consequential or transitional provision as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient.
(3) Regulations under this section must be made by statutory instrument.
(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
New clause 4—Independent peer review—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must commission an independent peer review of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands to Crewe) project.
(2) The review must include consideration of the project’s—
(a) environmental impact,
(b) economic impact,
(c) engineering, and
(3) In this section, “independent” means it is carried out by persons who are independent of—
(b) HS2 Ltd, and
(c) persons contracted or subcontracted to carry out the scheduled works.
(4) In this section, a “peer review” is a review conducted by experts of equivalent professional qualifications, expertise and standing to the persons responsible for each aspect of the project set out in subsection (2).
(5) A report of the review in subsection (1) must be laid before the House of Commons within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.”
New clause 5—Non-disclosure agreements—
‘(1) The nominated undertaker, or any subcontractors thereof, must not enter into any non-disclosure agreement with any party in connection with the scheduled works unless the assessor of non-disclosure agreements related to the scheduled works (“the assessor”) has certified that it is in the public interest.
(2) The Comptroller and Auditor General must appoint a person to be the assessor.
(3) The assessor must be—
(a) independent, and
(b) a current or former high court judge, higher judge or Queen’s Counsel.
(4) In this section, “independent” means independent of—
(b) HS2 Ltd, and
(c) persons contracted or subcontracted to carry out the scheduled works.
(5) The assessor must undertake his or her work with a presumption in favour of transparency and public accountability in matters connected to the scheduled works.
(6) The assessor must review any non-disclosure agreement between the nominated undertaker, or any subcontractors thereof, and any party in connection with the scheduled works and in place before this section comes into force to certify whether it is—
(a) in the public interest, or
(b) not in the public interest.
(7) The assessor may not determine that a non-disclosure agreement is in the public interest for the purposes of subsection (1) or (6) except for the reason that it is justified because of exceptional commercial confidentiality.
(8) If the assessor certifies under subsection (6) that a non-disclosure agreement is not in the public interest that non-disclosure agreement immediately ceases to have effect.
(9) In this section, a “non-disclosure agreement” means any duty of confidentiality or other restriction on disclosure (however imposed).”
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for selecting the new clauses that stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends? When Labour envisaged HS2, it was a very different infrastructure project from what we see today. We recognised that the generations, particularly across the north and the midlands, needed far better connectivity. We wanted to regenerate the northern towns and cities of our country, and we saw the potential in the midlands to spark a new industrial age and how that was not being met.
After decades of disproportionate investment in London and the south-east, it was a Labour Government who saw how improved connectivity was needed to attract vital inward investment and to revitalise economies in the north. That is what Labour is about: creating high-quality jobs and opportunities to inspire a generation. It is in our name, Labour. Of course, we all knew that rebuilding connectivity had to start in the north, particularly with the east-west connections, to truly join up what is now aspiring to be the northern powerhouse. However, without the power of investment in the transport system, that will be nothing more than a soundbite. That is why Labour supports phase 2a, which will be the shortest leg of the route, at just 37 miles in total, and provide that vital north-south link, north of Birmingham to Crewe. Our support is not unreserved, though, and we believe colleagues should join us in the Lobby today to vote for Labour’s new clauses.
As the hon. Lady knows extremely well, I have opposed this Bill and its predecessor Act of Parliament, which inaugurated the first phase, absolutely 100% all the way down the line. Although I have a great deal of sympathy for the new clauses that the hon. Lady has tabled, I cannot quite understand how she can reconcile what she has just said with the origins of the proposals. New clause 4 says that an independent peer review ought to consider questions relating to the project’s environmental and economic impact and its engineering and governance and that that review must be carried out by persons who are independent of the Government, HS2 Ltd and all the rest. It sounds to me like the hon. Lady is not terribly keen on the proposals.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention seems slightly premature, so I ask him to hold his breath as I come to talk about the other new clauses. This is clearly a massive opportunity, not least for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, to benefit from more high-quality jobs, which our country desperately needs. I am sure that his constituents would want him to go through the Lobby to achieve that aim.
Surely, the answer is that, right from the scheme’s inception, there have been serious concerns about the impact on the environment—I do not have time to go through all that—so it is perfectly logical for that to be included among any amendments. However, one of my difficulties with the scheme is that the costs are escalating. Some of my constituents are affected by it but do not get any compensation. From another angle, cities such as Coventry do not get anything out of it because it bypasses Coventry.
I remind my hon. Friend that the whole country will benefit, because this is a national infrastructure project. Indeed, many jobs will be created in the supply chain in his very constituency, which I am sure he will welcome. Of course, the environment is a central plank of why Labour supports the Bill. We want to see modal shift—people moving out of their cars and out of the skies and on to trains—and this project will provide such opportunity.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her generosity in giving way. She quite rightly points out that this was a Labour initiative. Given the point she just made about trying to move people away from the skies and on to rail, does she recall that the original Arup proposal would have linked HS2 with HS1, so someone could have got on a train in Manchester and got off that same train in Paris? It was Lord Adonis who actually made changes to prevent that from happening and created an environmental catastrophe in counties such as Staffordshire.
The hon. Gentleman will know that one concern about the HS2 project is the escalating cost, and that is why we have tabled some new clauses. To join HS1 to HS2 sounds like a logical proposal, but it would mean that costs would go up considerably. Perhaps that is a project for the future, but to get that long overdue connectivity in the north, it is vital that we press on and build a network for the future. We will then see serious modal shift, not only of passengers but of goods.
Is the hon. Lady not also worried by the very long delay before there is any additional capacity north of Birmingham? Is it not a paradox that something that was designed to help the northern powerhouse will actually produce only a Birmingham-London additional railway for the foreseeable future?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As I have already said, we would focus on the north and on making sure that we get those trans-Pennine links in place. We see that as a priority over all rail infrastructure projects, because we understand the power of joining up Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield and the cities and towns beyond. We want to see that investment coming forward. Electrification will also ensure that we benefit from better journey times, reliability and connectivity, which are vital for building our railways into the future. However far into the future it will be until we see the realisation of new rail, it does not mean that we will neglect that ambition to build more capacity north to south, which is vital if we are to take lorries off our roads and give freight an opportunity to move on the west coast main line.
I will, if I may, finish my point.
Although we all get frustrated because we want projects delivered sooner rather than later, what is crucial to us is that, if we do not start now, we will push the completion date even further away. That is why we are keen to get on with it today.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I share her enthusiasm for this ambitious project. She talks about journey times. To achieve that modal shift, particularly between Scotland and London, we need to get rail journey times below three hours. Does she agree that that requires much more ambition in the future to ensure that we have a UK-wide network, which includes integrating Glasgow and Edinburgh into the high-speed network?
I certainly do agree with those excellent points, because HS2 cannot stop at Crewe. We must build further north and right into the heart of Scotland, particularly into the major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, to ensure that we get the connectivity right in the future. We know the power of infrastructure to transform people’s lives. We want to see inward investment into those conurbations, which is why we believe that, at this point—this is where the Government have been far too silent—we need to ensure that we build that vision for Glasgow and Edinburgh and beyond as we move forward. As my hon. Friend is such an excellent champion for his city of Glasgow, I am sure that he will be making those points to the Government time and again until we see more action.
I wish to make a little more progress, and then I will be happy to take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.
Let me continue talking through a bit of the history of this project. We know that, by 2011, HS2 was being mapped out at a cost of £37.5 billion. We have seen that cost rise to £55.7 billion today. The narrative around the project has also changed. Frustrations have been expressed by the public, and often echoed in this place, because they want to fully understand the benefits that this project will bring. I trust that the Minister will go back and review the communications on this, because clearly people up and down the country have been hearing about the costs involved but not about the benefits. We need far more clarity, particularly when we know that this will be such a powerful instrument in creating jobs. We also want to give hope and new opportunities to businesses in the supply chain up and down the country, and there is work to do on that.
We need to ensure that those people who are making a sacrifice for this project—whether it is their home or their business that they are having to relocate—get the answers that they need. Labour wants far better governance of the project so that the public get their answers in a timely way from HS2, so that they can make their plans in confidence as they move forward.
Scepticism is shared by many of my constituents, especially given the track record of non-delivery for the north. If we genuinely want to power up the north, major infrastructure projects are essential, but we need that Crossrail for the north. I am sick and tired of hearing about Crossrail for the south, and it is great to see some of the southern colleagues on the Government Benches now seemingly speaking up for some constituents in the north as well as those in the south—if only they had done that in the past. So I want assurances that this will be transparent and that investment will go into the north.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and of course constituents right across the north really do want to see that investment, which is so long overdue. Therefore, again, the Government need to bring forward greater commitments in statute that they will deliver Crossrail for the north. We on the Opposition Benches are concerned that Crossrail 2, yet another infrastructure project in London, could well take priority and we will not see the full power being put into the electrification of the trans-Pennine route, which was promised, and let us all remember that that was cancelled by the Secretary of State conveniently on the day that Parliament rose. We want to see that investment for the future for our northern towns and cities, and that is certainly what we would see under a Labour Government.
I totally agree with the hon. Lady: she is absolutely right about there being a need for a Crossrail in the north because the east-west communications are so bad, but I just want to ask her one thing. She is quite right to say that investment in the capital programme of HS2 will generate jobs and skills, which we so much need, but she also says it will create employment opportunities afterwards; does she not fear that Britain might go down the French route whereby jobs are in fact sucked south into London rather than being generated in the north?
France is a very different country from the UK, and we must bear in mind the potential opportunities from improved connectivity across the north given, for instance, the power of the ports in Hull and of course in Liverpool. There is an opportunity for the economy to be built up through those ports, particularly when the Government are looking at our whole trade policy. So there is real opportunity in this project if we get the infrastructure built right, and that is why it is so important that HS2 does not stand alone but is fully integrated across the whole of our transport and rail network to ensure we get the power of the whole project.
I am not sure whether this will come as music to the hon. Lady’s ears, but I am proposing to vote for her new clauses. However, I am really puzzled by new clause 4(4) and (5) and what they say about the independent review, which I am completely behind, as it is to be completely independent of HS2 and the Government and the persons contracted and so forth. Is this not really just window-dressing, however, because the new clause goes on to say the report
“must be laid before the House of Commons within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent”?
In other words, it will be enacted, although I want to see it repealed—[Interruption.] Yes, I do indeed. What is the use of a report being produced by all these incredible independent experts if it will simply not be carried through?
There are two separate points. We want to ensure that we get value out of the project, and it is astonishing that the Government have not put in place the peer review mechanisms over it—both economic and engineering peer reviews—as has been the case for other major infrastructure projects. This is a way to build public confidence and to ensure that we have a real comprehension of the power of these projects. Unfortunately, HS2 is working very much in isolation, and that responsibility sits with the Secretary of State, who is not calling it to account enough; it is a shame not to see him in his place today because he is answerable to the House for this project, and he has not done his duty in ensuring that HS2 fulfils its responsibilities. But perhaps we will get a showing from the Secretary of State later—let us hope so.
I want to talk about the environmental concerns that have been raised and the costs. Many have also questioned the engineering itself. In my experience, senior engineers from across the rail industry—not necessarily involved in the HS2 project—have been making these points and have called for greater scrutiny. It is therefore really important that we identify any fault lines in the project to ensure that amendments are made. Of course, it takes time to ensure that there is a proper review and that the project is built for the long-term future.
Just before the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), the hon. Lady mentioned that she was in favour of—I think these were the words she used—a joined-up transport project with better co-ordination. At staggering expense, this project will take passengers from my constituency who want to go to Heathrow to a place called Old Oak Common. Now, I have never been there—it might be a most charming place—but I suggest that my constituents will want to go directly to Heathrow. If they wanted to go to HS1 and link up to Brussels, Paris or wherever, as is they would have to go to Euston, and either walk down the pavement, get in a taxi or get on a bus. That does not seem to be very clever co-ordination of the most expensive railway that man has ever yet conceived.
My new clauses are so important to ensuring that we get that desperately needed connectivity built into the infrastructure. The fragmentation across our rail network is incredibly costly; there are delays and there is no joined-up thinking. That is why Labour wants to bring rail together. It is so important to reunite the whole network in one public body, of which we envisage HS2 being a part. We will then get the connectivity that the public would expect from a rail network. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support my new clause later today to take that idea forward.
Does the hon. Lady therefore question the current arrangements as proposed, and is the Labour party prepared to vote against them unless this railway is realigned—with a direct link to Heathrow or a direct link to HS1?
Labour is very clear that we will be supporting phase 2a that is before the House today, but we have called into question the way in which the Government are approaching the whole governance of the project. That is why we want to drive the project forward in a different way. I call on all hon. Members across the House to join us in the Lobby today to ensure that we get the right scrutiny over this project to drive it forward in the interests of their constituents, the public and the whole economy.
Members who attended the Westminster Hall debate last week will have heard the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), who so eloquently set out the idea that we measure what we treasure. I heard the powerful case for the east midlands, where over 60,000 jobs—high-quality ones, at that—have already been created, and we know that this project will bring opportunities across the country.
I hear the same expectations from Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester; from Steve Rotheram, the Mayor of the Liverpool city region; from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), the Mayor of the Sheffield city region; and from Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council. Not only will 30,000 jobs be developed across the project; hundreds of thousands will also result from investment across the north and the midlands, including in my home city of York. That in itself is a game-changer in tackling social mobility issues and rebalancing national inequality, and will draw investment into places that are in urgent need of regeneration. The issue is not whether HS2 is the right project, but the governance that surrounds its planning and construction.
As I have already said, Labour would integrate HS2 with the rest of our rail enhancement programme and integrate the northern sections of the route fully with the trans-Pennine connections, ensuring the connectivity, journey times and reliability that are so desperately needed. This is what we can achieve with one transformative, public-run rail service, and it is also what we believe the Government can achieve if they are serious about delivering the rail system needed for the future of the country. We also believe that the environmental value of this project needs greater scrutiny.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about why we need to improve the governance and oversight of this project, to ensure that the maximum benefit is realised for the country. I am thinking of the supply chain benefits, particularly in my constituency, which was once a world leader in locomotive and railway manufacturing. We are just about to lose the last railway engineering works in my constituency because of a lack of coherent planning. There is a lack of capacity in the rolling stock overhaul business in this country, because of the failure to anticipate it. That is exactly the opportunity that this new clause presents, to ensure that we can respond better to changes in the market.
I thank my hon. Friend for his point. The jobs in his constituency are vital. Having met some of those workers, I know that many of them have tremendous skill and could participate in this project. I urge the Minister to look at that situation and ensure that the gates do not close and that those jobs can be saved and integrated into the HS2 project. I trust that she will want to meet my hon. Friend, to advance the case that he has been fighting so hard for.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will continue for a little bit, if I may.
HS2 provides a crucial opportunity to create a significant number of freight paths on the west coast main line, thus moving freight from road to rail, with additional capacity, which will attract more passengers to move from air to train and car to train, due to the attractive journey times. That is a crucial shift if we are to reduce our emissions, which are currently at 29% in the transport sector, and our carbon footprint. Of course, that means saving lives, due to the poor air quality that so many people experience because of the use of poor fuels on the transport that many people use to get about our country.
Labour’s new clauses seek to address something that is vital to rebuilding public confidence in the project: a transformation in the way that the governance works. We truly believe that the Secretary of State has failed in his obligation to hold HS2 fully to account and certainly has not brought the level of transparency we would expect from a Secretary of State to such a major infrastructure project. He cannot and must not hide, such as he is today.
Indeed. In the light of concerns expressed by Members from across the House, Labour’s new clauses 1 and 4 seek to drive greater transparency and accountability for the project.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will give way briefly, then I must move on.
Does the hon. Lady agree that early and rather more moderate expenditure on digital signalling could greatly increase capacity and, along with short sections of bypass track, could improve reliability of fast train services, which is needed?
I am honoured to have a centre for digital signalling in my constituency and have seen the power of it, but sadly, to achieve the capacity that we will need for the future, we have to build more routes. That is what this project will do. It is not either/or—both are required for the future of our rail network, but the right hon. Gentleman makes an important point.
First, we are calling on the Secretary of State to bring quarterly reports on the environmental impact, costs and progress of the HS2 project to the House. This is far too important a project for the Bill to be passed and then for us to read in the press that the costs have gone up and there are delays. The project must be far more accountable to the House, as should the Secretary of State.
Secondly, Labour believes that the scheduling, the integration, the engineering in places and the scope of the project need review. We cannot simply have HS2 Ltd saying, “This is what it is.” There are major issues to be resolved, not least the vital Yorkshire hub and getting the right connectivity into Sheffield. Members and community groups have undertaken detailed work on how improvements can be made to parts of the route, and that is one such example. Labour is calling for the whole of HS2, including phase 2a, to undergo a complete peer review appraisal by independent engineering and economic specialists. We believe that that is the only way that Parliament and the public can have full confidence in the HS2 project. Such a process will ensure that the scope is right, that the integration with the wider network is right, that governance is put right and that the maximum environmental gain is harvested while the cost of the project is minimised. It will not delay the project but enable it to proceed in a way that delivers maximum benefit.
Ensuring that the best modelling of the wider economic benefit is properly appraised is also urgently needed on this project, while at the same time proper security can clearly deliver a focus and confirm that north-south connectivity—and, I trust, east-west too—is really integrated to deliver and to ensure that we get maximum benefit from it. I trust that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support the new clauses, which would answer many of the questions that they have been asking and enhance the Bill and the project.
I just want to emphasise the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I understand the logic of what the hon. Lady says about peer review and so on, but supposing that says that the project must be done in a completely different way, for example using the original Arup route to which I referred earlier. That will not be possible if the Bill has become an Act. Surely she should oppose the Bill, have a peer review and then decide whether to support the legislation.
The hon. Gentleman appears not to want to see the line built in his lifetime, my lifetime or the lifetime of any hon. Member. The reality is that we believe that the route needs tweaking, changing and integrating, but that does not mean ripping everything up. We will never be able to satisfy everyone, because in the history of the railway there has always been a farmhouse, a field or a golf course in the way. Indeed, 27 vintage trees will be in the way on this section, and we are very concerned about them.
It is important that we press ahead, but that we review the project—especially the governance. That is about the management that we proceed with.
Would it not be right to think about my hon. Friend’s proposal in new clause 4 as an attempt to learn the lessons as we go along? It is not as though this is a project without review or evaluation. Already it has oversight from the Department for Transport, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and it is subject to National Audit Office review. It is hardly as though people are completely deprived of information. What we need to do is pull together that information and learn clear lessons as we proceed.
My hon. Friend speaks eloquently and is right. We need to pool the information, including the scrutiny the House has put over the project and the external scrutiny, to ensure that we get the project right. That is what will build public confidence as we move forward.
My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job in making the case. Does she accept that the information that is available to the House through the various bodies and institutions that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) mentioned is massively undermined by the number of non-disclosure agreements that have been applied to former members of staff of HS2? More than 270 NDAs prevent people from saying what they really believe about the capacity and costs of the scheme. What does she think about that in terms of transparency and openness?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point and I will return to it shortly.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Not at this time—I am going to move on.
As raised in Committee, there is a major issue with compensation for those who rent. For example, a tenant farmer who works on the land may be moved and have to work away from their farm. People who rent privately consistently miss out when infrastructure projects force them out of their homes or away from their businesses. We believe that they must receive compensation. The issue was raised at the petition stage of the Bill and it would be right to respond today. The new clause would enable that to happen when the statutory instrument is laid.
Let me briefly move on to new clause 5. I am looking forward to the contribution from the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), and I confirm that Labour supports her new clause. There has been a lot of learning around non-disclosure agreements, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) alluded to. I know from my time as a trade union official, and from my time on the working party on bullying and sexual misconduct procedures here, that these agreements are used to see that commercially sensitive information is not shared with external parties, but they are also used around failures of management, and bullying would be one such example.
If the culture is wrong, it is not right to put money into it, and the management should be held to account. My hon. Friend said that 270-plus non-disclosure agreements have been signed, so we need to ensure that there is proper scrutiny and transparency. New clause 5 addresses that issue very comprehensively, ensuring that commercial sensitivities are not undermined, and also that all of us can have a real grasp of what is happening in the culture of HS2. It is a sensible way of addressing the serious amount of money that is being spent on these agreements. We certainly believe that the culture in HS2 must move forward.
We will listen to the debate to decide how we handle the new clauses I have laid before the House. I hope the Minister will give us assurances on them, and I will be listening carefully to determine whether to proceed to a vote. With these enhancements to the Bill, the whole HS2 project could proceed with far greater confidence and far greater support.
I made it clear in my remarks to the shadow Minister that I am minded to vote for these new clauses. However, towards the end of what she said, serious doubt began to descend on the House as to whether she would actually push them to a vote. She is therefore welcome to come back to the Dispatch Box to tell me whether she in fact intends to do so.
On new clause 1, it would be eminently sensible to have quarterly reports on environmental impact, costs and progress. One thing that has been completely lacking is any proper analysis by the Government or HS2 of all three of those issues.
On the question of environmental impact, does my hon. Friend think that we were too obsessed by speed in the early years of this project? The Government now justify it on the basis of capacity, but there would still be much less environmentally damaging ways of increasing capacity—for instance, by laying more of the line along existing motorways such as the M40. Will my hon. Friend and other hon. Members also bear in mind counties not directly affected by the line, such as Lincolnshire, which are being starved of resources for our rural and commuter lines?
I entirely concur with my right hon. Friend. The very fact that he is in the House, as are other Members who are not directly affected by the line, is a reminder of the fact that, on the last occasion the Bill was voted on—on Second Reading—the number of people who actually voted was very small compared with the number of people who could have voted, from which one might infer that the enthusiasm for this proposal is minimal. I think as many as 200 MPs did not vote, which was quite extraordinary.
On the question of environmental impact, I would simply say that my constituents will be deeply and profoundly affected not only by the havoc that will be created by forcing this juggernaut through my constituency from top to bottom, but by the dislocation, the highways and the impact on businesses. A quarterly report is, quite frankly, a very good idea, but I am more interested in getting an answer from the shadow Minister—it is not forthcoming at the moment—because there is no point in putting forward the proposals if they will not see the light of day in a vote.
Cost is another issue of monumental importance. I do not need to go into it all now—I made my case in a nutshell in the Westminster Hall debate I secured on this issue—but I would be grateful if the Minister could give us a clearer indication on cost, to unravel the mysteries of the continuous failure to be able to give an accurate idea as to what the project will actually involve.
We started off with a figure of about £35 billion or £36 billion. The latest figure is somewhere around £55 billion. My hon. Friend and I have seen credible estimates upwards of £80 billion. Should the House not know what it is actually voting for tonight? How much will it be?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend—a real friend, quite apart from being an hon. Friend—and I would add that we only have to look at clause 61 to realise the financial implications and how costs will be dealt with. There is talk about the overall cost being about £51 billion—there has been an upgrade in the amount of money intended to be applied to this part of the proposal. We cannot separate out the cost of distance between London and Birmingham, and then leave out Birmingham to the ultimate destination. The reality is that we are faced with a proposal under the Bill that is excessive in its totality and unjustified in the unbelievable havoc it will cause my constituents.
The other point I would make on new clause 2 relates to the compensation scheme for tenants, an idea I put forward on a number of occasions. There is no doubt that a huge number of people will be adversely affected by the scheduled works. It is not just tenants who will be affected but property owners. They will be severely damaged. Many of my constituents have been put under the most incredible stress and anxiety. There have been suggestions that some people, elderly people in particular, have been under such intense stress that they have died prematurely.
There are some unusual cases in my constituency. There are a number of people with canal boats who pay for moorings. They are very hard to locate, and they will get no compensation. There are those with farm tenancies that give them security in their home, which is very difficult to replicate under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. Those are the kinds of tenants who need to be compensated, are they not?
They certainly are, and there are also freehold properties. People who own property, as I have just described, are being put under the most intense anxiety, so I understand the reasons that lie behind the principle of new clause 2.
On new clause 4, I made my point in my intervention on the shadow Minister. I simply cannot understand it. Notwithstanding the intention that appears to be behind the first part the new clause—I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for backing me up on this—it is inconceivable that the report should only come into effect within 12 months of the Act receiving Royal Assent. It is nonsense. I ask the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) to note that although I shall vote for the principle of an independent peer review, it will be on the strict understanding that that is without prejudice to my concern that the Act will need to be repealed.
I make this point now and may do so again on Third Reading: we are about to experience a new Government, effectively, with a new Prime Minister, depending on the outcome of the leadership election. The two contenders for the leadership have differing views on HS2: one is in favour and the other says that he wants to put it under review. Although rumours are like bats that fly in the night, the fact is that there are very strong feelings in favour of abandoning this entire project. We understand that it has already cost about £5 billion or £6 billion. That is enough money in itself, but to subject this country to unbelievable havoc as the project goes through constituencies such as mine, with all the attendant problems and anxieties that I have described, and to say, at the same time, that the proposal will go through and that the Labour party, by all accounts, will vote for it seems to be completely at variance with all the evidence and reports—I referred to them in the Westminster Hall debate and on many other occasions—which indicate that this is not a viable project. It was dreamt up by a Labour peer. I am never quite sure what the noble Lord Adonis’s allegiance is these days, but he was certainly a Labour member of the Government when this was proposed, and he deserves to be thoroughly condemned for it.
Did my hon. Friend notice that while Labour says that it wants a 12-month review of fairly fundamental things, it made it very clear that it does not want any material changes to the project that might delay it? I do not really see what the point of the review is.
The hon. Member for York Central is smiling as she looks across the Chamber—[Interruption.] She says that it is unbelievable, but it is anything but unbelievable—it is entirely true and entirely credible. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield backed me up on this. What is the point in having a first-class, independent review of the kind that is being advocated and saying that it will come into effect only after this has been made into the law of the land? [Interruption.] I see the Opposition Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), chuntering, but perhaps he would like to come to the Dispatch Box and explain the nonsense that lies behind that reasoning.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that this is just good governance? If we are spending this amount of taxpayers’ money, we have to have decent oversight to make sure that the money is being used to the best effect. That should perhaps have been built into the process earlier, but the fact is that it is being brought forward at this stage. Presumably that is why he supports it, but let us be honest: whatever is introduced, he will never support this project, which I do strongly, because this is about not just rebalancing the UK economy but connecting the north to great opportunities across the whole of mainland Europe.
The hon. Gentleman is completely right to say that I will never accept this project. I have made that abundantly clear not only by my votes, but by the arguments that I have presented. I come back to this point: we cannot say that there is transparency if this is turned into the law of the land. It is one of the most nonsensical new clauses that I have seen, notwithstanding the fact that I strongly believe that an independent peer review would be a good idea. However, it should come before Royal Assent, not after.
My hon. Friend is making complete sense. He mentioned Lord Adonis earlier. Is my hon. Friend aware that the original plan for HS2, designed by Arup, would have gone up the M40 and connected with Heathrow, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) said, and it would have connected with HS1 not by linking in the south at great expense, as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) suggested, but by going directly through St Pancras?
That all sounds frightfully interesting, but I am afraid that it is not what we are dealing with. We have this Bill and a project that is the biggest white elephant that has ever been seen in modern history, as far as the United Kingdom rail system is concerned. It is a complete outrage that my constituents should have this perpetrated on them.
I am serious when I say that I shall be campaigning not only for a review of these proposals but in pretty short order to have the Act repealed, because that is the only way this can be sorted out. It is a complete disgrace that the Government have introduced the Bill in the dying days of this Government. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) is laughing because she knows I am right. These proposals almost certainly would not survive the review that will be taking place under a new Prime Minister. I am making a fair assumption about who that person will be.
I will give way again to this extremely energetic Member of Parliament.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not feel energetic. Is it not the case, though, that the zero-based review, which the Chief Secretary to the Treasury proposed, is not a genuine review of the project but is about creating a war chest to buy the support of Conservative shire candidates? It has nothing to do with HS2; it is about clawing back the money for a fighting fund.
The hon. Gentleman has very sensibly tempted me into saying something else that I believe. I am completely against these proposals in relation to my constituents and the national interest—it is the biggest white elephant of all time, as all the reports I referred to in my Westminster Hall debate demonstrated. There have been even more since, including one from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which rated the whole thing as amber—although in fact it probably thinks it is in the red. If only, it said, we could get rid of this ridiculous proposal and put the money where it deserves to go, which is across the country, east to west, which I happen to agree with very strongly. On that point, I had some sympathy with what the shadow Minister said.
There is another factor. This incredible waste of money could make an enormous difference to this country’s coffers in the not very distant future. It seems absurd to be wasting money like this. We hear all these ridiculous arguments about Brexit, but this is the kind of thing that is bringing the country to its knees by virtue of wasted expenditure on projects that are no more than a white elephant.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). We disagree on almost everything, but I do sympathise massively with people’s concerns about their property and will always support them as their constituency MP.
This is a significant Bill of vital importance to our future prosperity and a key feature of any strategy to build a more balanced economy. My contribution to this debate will outline the reasons why I believe we must support the Bill and also the vision that underpins HS2. Without that strategic outlook, we risk losing the bigger picture to narrow debates about direct benefits such as commute times or becoming distracted by false choices, such as whether to spend on HS2 or northern powerhouse rail.
Of course, it is important that any publicly funded project be wholly transparent and subject to proper scrutiny. Let me begin with my own constituency of Crewe and Nantwich. It goes without saying that Crewe is famous for being a railway town. In fact, it has been suggested that Crewe was actually named after the railway station, rather than the other way round. Before the Grand Junction Railway company chose Crewe as the site for its railway station and works, Crewe was reportedly a tiny village with as few as 70 residents. That was until our current station was completed in 1837. About a decade later Crewe works was producing one locomotive a week. Our communities flourished around the works and ours is now widely recognised as one of the most historically significant railway stations in the world.
The hon. Lady might anticipate what I am about to say. The proposals put the railhead down at Yarnfield, which itself is an absolute and total disgrace. It was originally going to be in her constituency. She has just been rightly praising the people of her constituency for their wonderful work over the last century and a half. Would it not have been so much better had the proposal been to put the railhead in Crewe, as was originally intended, and not down in Yarnfield, where it will destroy so much of my constituency?
I personally believe that the hon. Gentleman needs to look at the benefits of HS2 for people in his constituency, such as the jobs that it will bring. I do not think that it is all doom and gloom for his constituents, and I will continue to speak positively about my own constituency.
The railway went on to open a cheese market and a clothing factory, and donated the land that would become Queens Park, which to this day attracts visitors from outside the town. At its height, Crewe Works provided employment for more than 20,000 skilled workers in a vast span of workshops stretching for nearly two and a half miles: forges, carpenters, boilermakers, machinists and apprentices. It was common for several generations of the same family to enjoy fruitful careers there, and the sense of pride in our works is still felt today.
By 2019, the workforce had fallen to fewer than 400, a fraction of its former size, and much of the former site has now been sold off. In its place stand icons of the modern economy, a supermarket and a cinema. Now the wall on its western boundary has been selected for demolition. For many local people, that will be a visual metaphor for the sense of loss and decline that has afflicted too many families.
However, it is not all bad. The railway still plays an important role in our local economy. Now owned by Bombardier, Crewe Works still offers quality employment opportunities to local people. Crewe is also home to Bentley Motors, a global success story providing thousands of skilled jobs. In addition to the large employers, we have many small and medium-sized businesses that are punching well above their weight, and a number of them are already benefiting from HS2.
I am not one for looking back on a fictional past through rose-tinted glasses. Change—for the better—is not only welcome, but must be pursued. It is in all our interests for the UK economy to produce the goods that people need and want. Nevertheless, the narrative really does matter, and the way in which our economy has changed has not benefited everyone. Decades of inaction by successive Governments have left the north to the mercy of market forces, and those forces have themselves been turbo-charged by aggressive globalisation. Many northern towns and cities are still struggling to recover from the industrial decline of the 1970s and 1980s, and the north-south divide threatens to hold back our national productivity.
The median wage in Crewe and Nantwich is literally thousands of pounds less per year than the UK average, despite the existence of well-paid jobs such as those that I mentioned earlier, which will be pushing up the average. Many workers in my constituency have seen little or no improvement in their living standards over the last decade, and some have even seen their living standards fall dramatically. Relatively high employment levels mask the reality of an increasing number of people finding themselves in precarious jobs, or working for poverty pay in low-productivity employment. As a result, more people in poverty now live in working households than in non-working households, after housing costs are taken into account. Consequently, our economy has become reliant on household debt, which has grown to worrying levels.
We have been told that inequality was the inevitable price of economic growth, but such arguments are now outdated, and a body of research now finds that economies in which income and wealth are shared more equally tend to have more stable paths of economic growth. If we are to build an economy that prioritises both sustainable growth and economic justice, addressing regional inequality must be part of that strategy.
Order. What the hon. Lady is saying is important, and I presume that she will be linking her remarks to the new clauses.
My speech is all about the way in which HS2 will help to deal with these matters, but I will speed it up, Mr Deputy Speaker. My apologies.
I am not for one moment suggesting that HS2 will solve all these problems alone, but it can and must play an important role as part of a wider strategy. As I said on Second Reading:
“My vision for HS2 is not as an end in itself, benefiting only businesses and commuters, but as a catalyst for the radical rebalancing of our economy”.—[Official Report, 30 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 741-2.]
I firmly believe that we need to shift our economy towards investment-led growth. The choice that has been presented between HS2 and better east-west links in the north is an entirely false one. In any case, Northern Powerhouse Rail services will, at two of their most important regional links, run on HS2 infrastructure.
Some businesses choose to pay almost four times as much per square foot for premises in London and the south because of the poor connectivity in the north. Last year, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research North indicated that planned transport investment in London was two and a half times higher per person than in the north of England, and productivity in London is reported to be some 40% greater than in the north, demonstrating a strong correlation between connectivity and productivity. In its recent report, High Speed Rail Industry Leaders set out why it believes that improved connectivity will lead to greater regional productivity, and enhanced specialisation that will help us to bring about a more balanced economy.
My hon. Friend makes the case eloquently for her constituency. This independent review is so important because it is not about the pounds being spent globally; it is about the impact on jobs and local communities, economies and supply chains.
Absolutely. The review is incredibly important. What does the review mean for places like Crewe? Crewe has the potential to build on the 360° connectivity it already has to become the key regional hub bridging the north and the midlands. The local enterprise partnership is working alongside Cheshire East Council on a proposal for a Crewe HS2 growth corridor that will bring together strategic development sites in Crewe, Middlewich and Winsford, so that they can build on their traditional strengths in high-value manufacturing. As for the model through which the LEP proposes delivering that corridor, it will invest up front to unlock development, and will be repaid through the generation of new business rates. Any surplus income will be used to help finance station improvements.
I am coming to the end of my speech, Mr Deputy Speaker; I get the impression that I might have pushed my luck a little, but I am still fairly new to this process, so please excuse me. I reiterate that the passing of this Bill is not nearly enough to unlock my constituency’s full potential. I would like the Government to commit to seven HS2 trains per hour stopping at Crewe, and more frequent regional train services to and from Crewe on each of the lines radiating out of the town. A northern junction at Crewe is essential to allow Birmingham-Manchester HS2 services to stop at Crewe, and to allow Crewe to be part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail network, which would open up the possibility of direct service to Leeds and other destinations east of the Pennines.
I am concerned that some appear to be flirting with the idea of scaling back HS2, either through short-sightedness or, worse, for political gain. HS2 has shaped our local planning framework, and so much work has gone into bringing all stakeholders together to realise the potential of HS2 in Crewe that it would be nothing short of tragic if the Government failed to deliver.
It is always interesting to follow the hon. Lady, who is my neighbour. She extols the virtues of HS2, but it is not her constituents but mine who will feel an impact. The rolling stock depot and the northern Crewe junction that she speaks of are not in Crewe; they are in Eddisbury. Largely owing to the extremely hard work of her Conservative predecessor, Edward Timpson, who argued for a tunnel under Crewe, a massive amount of the local impact will not be felt in Crewe. Perhaps the hon. Lady ought to spare a thought for constituents whose homes and lives are being destroyed.
I absolutely agree. Constituents and businesses have come to me, as they have done to the hon. Lady, and we have dealt with them. I also agree with her new clause. I am not saying that what is happening is simple, and I have every sympathy for everybody affected, but I am looking at what benefit can come to Crewe and Nantwich, and the whole area, because of HS2. Without doubt, this is a huge project, and there will be winners and losers, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives.
Sadly for Eddisbury, the number of losers there is very large. It will cost an extra £100 million just to do the extra 20 km of track from Crewe past Winsford. The geotechnical engineer’s report that was served on HS2 many years ago has not yet been answered. I would much rather see that money going into improving public services and housing stock in my area.
New clause 5 seeks to restrict use of non-disclosure agreements by HS2. The reason that I tabled it is that a business in my constituency has been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and it potentially affects the jobs of 166 of my constituents. I do not think it right that Members of Parliament are being denied information that is being stitched up by HS2. This relates not only to private businesses but to councils, in relation to denying elected members information. That is why the new clause is necessary.
Scarcely a day passes without a discussion on non-disclosure agreements. Last week, there was a discussion on NDAs in relation to the Labour party, but we have also seen questions about their use by businessmen and others to keep former employees and others quiet about information or personal conduct within a company. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), who sits with me on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, for his work on the all-party parliamentary group on whistleblowing. The group has today launched a report calling for reforms to the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. What concerns me most is that HS2 appears to be stepping up its use of NDAs. Last Wednesday, the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) described HS2 as having signed more than 270 NDAs, and the New Civil Engineer reports that the figure could be as high as 280, with 40% of them having been signed in the last year.
Last week, the hon. Lady’s party rightly called for Labour to do something about non-disclosure agreements in relation to staff employed in the Labour party. Does she agree that, to be consistent, Ministers should instruct HS2 to release people from their obligations under non-disclosure agreements so that they can share with the House the truth about their experience of the capacity and cost issues when they were working for the organisation? Her new clause deals with the future, but does she agree that it should be able to deal with the past, too?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. He will see from the drafting of my new clause that it would allow an assessor to assess NDAs that have already been signed, and to allow them to be retained only in circumstances of exceptional commercial confidentiality. I would argue that that is the only ground for retaining them, and that an independent assessor—either a QC or a former High Court judge—should be appointed to assess those NDAs.
Could my hon. Friend give us some idea of what kind of information she thinks might be suppressed that we ought to know about? What is the inducement being offered to make people sign these things?
So far, HS2 has refused to answer freedom of information requests. It claims, in answers given to me as a result of FOI requests, that it is unable to provide answers because it does not know how many NDAs its lawyers have got people to sign and because it would cost too much to provide a Member of Parliament with details of the number of NDAs.
Is it not true that a number of former senior HS2 employees who have expressed concerns about financial information provided to the House and other appropriate oversight bodies were soon asked to leave the organisation on the basis of non-disclosure? Does the hon. Lady agree that that is incredibly serious, which is why Ministers should instruct that those people be released from those non-disclosure obligations as soon as possible?
I completely agree. I am worried that NDAs are used to cover up wrongdoing in HS2, particularly in relation to redundancy payments, which have been discovered by the National Audit Office, and it has been agreed that the scheme was inappropriate. The difficulty is that without such provision being included in the legislation, that statutory protection is not available to those who wish to blow the whistle or otherwise highlight failures.
NDAs are also used for local authorities. I know that, because it applies to my own local authority. In answer to a written question, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), the HS2 Minister, reported that 31 local councils have an NDA in place with HS2, including Cheshire West and Chester, and Cheshire East Councils, which cover my constituency. Apparently, they are required to discuss advanced planning issues and matters of a commercially sensitive nature. However, the councils also sit on the implementation advisory group which feeds back to my community what HS2 plans to do in my area. Matters that go beyond planning and commercially sensitive information are being withheld on the basis of those NDAs signed with HS2, denying me as the Member of Parliament the ability to quiz HS2 on what it plans to do in the area. How, for example, will road movements be affected, and how will that affect my industrial estate? How is the public interest served by those NDAs, which limit the information that councils can give to my constituents?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. I am shocked by what she has revealed. Does she have any idea what is driving those NDAs, and how long are they valid for? What is the intention behind this?
I have asked for details, and for a copy of an NDA but, again, there was a refusal to disclose that to me. The claim is that that is exempt from disclosure, because it is commercially sensitive information, but I am afraid that I simply do not agree that all those NDAs are required just for commercially sensitive information. As I said, 40% have been signed in the past 12 months, and I am concerned that they are used to withhold from the public and from elected representatives information that the organisation may not wish to go into the public domain.
How long are they valid for?
I do not know, but presumably for the length of the project.
That has an impact on Members representing constituencies on phase 2b of the route, because we cannot get information from HS2 about how it will impact our constituents. Any Member of the House who has had dealings with HS2 knows that they have an approach to secrecy unparalleled since the cold war. If our councils are prohibited from telling us details of their discussions, we struggle to assess local impacts. Clearly, there is a problem. My new clause tries to steer a path between an outright ban and the current approach of issuing NDAs as a matter of course. It tries to operate within boundaries already established for HS2 best practice and it gives discretion where necessary while erring on the side of transparency and the public interest.
HS2 already has a residents commissioner and a construction commissioner who, together, act as impartial monitors of HS2 and offer advice to those affected by the scheme, be they residents, businesses or other groups. My amendment would add an assessor, who would be a QC or a High Court judge. This individual—appointed by the National Audit Office, Parliament’s spending watchdog—would be required to approve as in the public interest any future NDAs that HS2 seeks to enter. The assessor would also have the power to review all previous NDAs and assess whether they, too, are in the public interest. If the assessor judges an existing NDA to be not in the public interest, it would cease to have effect.
My amendment would unshackle whistleblowers and elected officials to discuss HS2 freely and honestly. If, after any revelations emerge, Members wished to continue with the scheme, they would at least make that decision on the basis of the facts, and not the partial picture we see today.
I make no secret of my approach to HS2, but my amendment should appeal to everyone, whether or not they support the project. Those who see HS2 as a grand success should want to see it shouted from the rooftops, not swaddled in secrecy; and those of us who believe the costs will continue to spiral until the game is not worth the candle would be able to see for ourselves the full costs involved.