House of Commons
Wednesday 17 July 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The distinction traditionally made between development, environment and climate is a false distinction. Unless we tackle climate change, there will be 100 million more people living in poverty in the next 15 years. I returned this morning from New York, where I have been discussing with the Secretary-General of the United Nations our commitment to greening our development spending to ensure that everything that we spend is Paris-compliant, to double the amount the Department for International Development will spend on environment and climate, and to double the effort we are putting into this subject.
I thank the International Development Secretary for his answer and appreciate his focus on the importance of tackling climate change, but does he accept that it needs to be in addition to traditional development support? To that end, will he examine the Scottish Government’s climate justice fund, which seeks to support those who have done the least to cause climate change but who are to be hit first and hardest by its effects?
It is clearly true that many of the people who are suffering most are from some of the poorest countries in the world that emit very little carbon, which is why a great deal of our emphasis is on the question of resilience. I have just returned from Kenya, for example, where we are working with pastoralists whose grassland is being eliminated and with people in Lamu who are losing mangrove swamps. Such countries are not emitting carbon but are suffering from its effects.
On that precise issue, what is being done to improve resilience in water security, to ensure that that does not become a source of conflict, or indeed disease, in future?
The question of water security is absolutely central. It poses the danger of conflict, for example in the Indus valley and along the headwaters of the rivers that flow into Egypt on the Nile. It is also an area where technology can help, however. We have become much better at preventing water waste. In many developing countries, 50% of the water is wasted; technology is part of the answer to this problem.
My right hon. Friend has made it clear that some of the poorest countries in the world will be the most affected by climate change. I hope to visit Bangladesh in September as part of a delegation; what will his Department be doing to help countries such as Bangladesh mitigate the effects of severe weather, including the monsoon season?
The Department for International Development has partnered the Government of Bangladesh for many years, particularly because of the very severe impacts of flooding. We should pay tribute to the improvements in Bangladesh. In floods in the 1970s, more than 100,000 people could be killed in a single event; a similar event today would kill only a few hundreds. That is a huge tribute to Bangladesh’s improvement in resilience and also in emergency management.
I have worked with flood victims in refugee camps around the world; the despair is palpable and tragic, and it is simply inhumane that these same people will be hit the hardest by further extreme weather conditions. This House declared a climate change emergency; will the Government today outline how they will financially support the world’s most vulnerable and plan for dealing with future tragedies?
We will be doubling the overseas development fund, which will be spent particularly on climate resilience, and Britain will be co-hosting with Egypt the UN summit on climate resilience in September. That was the focus of my discussions with the UN Secretary-General yesterday, and indeed at the Abu Dhabi summit two weeks ago.
Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are truly to tackle climate change we need to ensure that the money that we give—the vital money that we give—goes to the right place where it matters? Will he look at innovations such as digital currencies, especially blockchain, which enables the money to be tracked to make sure that it does not go into a dictator’s slush fund or to train Spice Girls in Nigeria?
Blockchain technology has very interesting potential. I recently saw in World Food Programme distribution in camps in Jordan how blockchain is dropping the price by tens of millions of dollars a year. However, there are still some risks attached to such technology.
The right hon. Gentleman is perhaps the most diligent and committed Secretary of State for International Development that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), who is still in New York with the Select Committee, have had the opportunity to question at the Dispatch Box. What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to solidify and embed the new priority of climate change in his Department? Will he commission a Green Paper or a White Paper to keep the Department moving in that direction, irrespective of what happens under a new Prime Minister in the coming weeks?
There are three things that we hope will embed the priority. First, this is a whole of Government approach. The Prime Minister announced at Osaka that we would be the first major international development agency to be fully Paris-compliant. Secondly, we have now announced from this Dispatch Box and inserted into our planning that we will double our spend on climate and the environment. The third thing is to ensure that we have the experts on the ground. In Kenya, for example, the focus is on environmental experts, and in Ethiopia it is on forestry experts. It will be funding, Government strategy and staffing that will make the difference.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that agricultural practice and land use are key to mitigating the effects of climate change? Will he say something about the training programmes that DFID pays for and that are doing such good work in helping people to understand the way forward?
DFID is doing an increasing amount of work on that issue. For example, its agricultural extension work is helping farmers to work out how to produce crops without depleting the soil or using excessive water. Perhaps the biggest challenge in agriculture is the relationship between pastoralists, particularly people herding cattle and oxen, and sedentary communities right the way across Africa, where climate change and agricultural practices are leading to conflict from Nigeria to South Sudan.
The UK is the largest contributor to the World Bank’s climate investment funds, yet civil society groups say that, compared with UN funds, those funds are undemocratic, opaque and dominated by donor countries. The Secretary of State has committed to doubling DFID’s climate spending, but does he think that the World Bank’s climate investment funds are fit for purpose?
The shadow Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that there have been significant issues around some of the climate funds. We feel that a lot of progress is being made, and the most important thing is to find real investable projects on the ground. A lot of that relates to issues of governance.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but the truth is that the World Bank knows that it was supposed to phase out its climate investment funds once the United Nations green climate fund was up and running. Labour is clear: we believe in climate justice and we are committed to withdrawing the UK’s support for the World Bank’s climate investment funds and to redirecting climate finance to the UN green climate fund, in which developing countries get a real say. Will the Government now do the same?
No, we will not. The reason is that there are issues of capacity in both the World Bank and the UN. The key point here is not the ideological choice of the channel through which we pass the money but the capacity to manage these projects responsibly.
The UK Government are working closely with the Government of Japan to ensure that next year’s summit secures meaningful and transformational commitments from Governments. We have invested £2.6 billion in this area since the last summit, and we are considering what offer the UK Government will make to next year’s summit.
Last year, I travelled with Results UK to Zambia, where 40% of under-fives are stunted. That has an astonishing lifelong impact on their social and economic development. Will the Minister go into a little more detail about next year’s summit and about how we will show our commitment to really tackling deficiencies in nutrition on a worldwide scale?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight this important issue. I am pleased to be able to tell him that, since his visit, the work we have been doing in Zambia specifically, which has reached more than 1 million people, has reduced the level of stunting to 35%, but clearly that still leaves a lot more to be done.
We will meet the malnutrition targets only through a strong partnership with the aid community—the voluntary community. Will the Minister update us on what progress she has made on reforms within that community, in the light of the exposés of the past 18 months?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the safeguarding issues. He will be aware of the leadership that the UK has shown in this area and the rigorous way in which we have scrutinised all our suppliers. With regard to the most recent story in the media, we have confirmed that no DFID funding was involved.
The new UN food security report says that global hunger has risen for the third year running, but when the UK should be setting an example by reporting on our own SDG process, the Government’s voluntary national review report to the UN was found by the International Development Committee yesterday to be “gravely flawed”—food banks ignored, inadequate stakeholder engagement, cherry-picked data. The Government were allowed to mark their own homework, but they could not even do that properly. What are Ministers doing to ensure that their colleagues in other Departments start taking the SDGs seriously?
The UK was very proud to present its voluntary national review at the UN yesterday—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It is a strong document and was warmly received. It clearly outlines where we have made enormous amounts of progress and where there is more progress to be made, including further cross-governmental working.
Yemen remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of the population requiring humanitarian assistance, which is not helped by the fact that the operating environment for humanitarian organisations is exceptionally difficult. We call on both parties to the conflict to comply with UN Security Council resolution 2451 by facilitating safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access.
Last month’s ruling by the Court of Appeal that the Government’s continued licensing of the exporting of military equipment to Saudi Arabia is unlawful offers real hope to the people of Yemen—despite the Government’s hypocrisy in calling for peace while selling arms to the Saudis to bomb and to kill, hampering the work of aid agencies on the ground. What representations will the Secretary of State make in Cabinet finally to end that shameful conduct?
The hon. Gentleman will know that our checks and balances on the export of arms are among the world’s finest—he must know that. He also knows that we apply the EU consolidated criteria rigorously. He will also, I hope, have noted the Divisional Court’s view that our process was “rigorous, robust, multi-layered” and that those advising Ministers were “keenly alive” to the possible violation of international humanitarian law. He will also know that the UK Government intend to appeal against the judgment.
Women and children have been disproportionately affected by the conflict, so what is the Minister doing to involve women in the process? Further, what work is he doing with organisations such as the Mothers of Abductees Association, which points out that 1,496 people in Yemen have been forcibly disappeared, which causes people huge concern about the whereabouts of their relatives?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to be concerned about those who have disappeared. Along with multilateral organisations, the United Kingdom is at the forefront of mechanisms geared towards ensuring that we know where crimes are potentially being committed and, in the fullness of time, that we are able to follow up on that. I hope that she will approve of the level of support that this country is giving as the penholder and as a major financial contributor to the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
What action is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that humanitarian aid actually reaches the people who need it and is not being held back by the warring factions in Yemen?
My hon. Friend will probably be aware that we have had discussions on that with the World Food Programme, which is a major operator in the situation in Yemen. We support the intent of the World Food Programme, in particular its director David Beasley, to ensure that aid gets to where it is supposed to go, rather than into the pockets of Houthis and others. That process is in its early stages, but it looks like it is being successful and will restore the full effect of the World Food Programme to Sana’a and other areas as soon as possible.
The House wishes to hear the Minister’s mellifluous tones, so if he could face the House, that would be excellent.
Public Services: Developing Countries
The UK is committed to supporting countries to achieve the global goals, including through the development of strong public services. We are working with low-income countries to raise and manage public revenues and to invest in education and health systems to provide essential public services for all.
I am grateful for that answer. Building strong public services is crucial to achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals, but countries in the global south are losing out on billions of pounds of revenue each year due to tax avoidance—money that could be spent on building up those services, which are needed by their citizens. What practical steps is the Minister taking to ensure that countries in the global south are supported to ensure that multinational corporations and others who should be paying taxes actually do so?
I am very pleased to say that we have taken probably the most powerful practical step of all by setting up a specialist tax department—the hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the issue—within the Department for International Development. We are spending £47 million to help low-income countries increase their tax revenues, and every £1 we put in has raised revenues by £100.
Shockingly, 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth each year in developing regions. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death in this age group globally. Therefore, what urgent steps is the Minister taking to ensure that developing countries have better reproductive healthcare services for girls and young women to improve their rights, chances and opportunities internationally?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this important issue, and we continue to work in countries where we can help with some of the sexual and reproductive health interventions he describes. In addition, he will be aware that the Girls’ Education Challenge is helping 1.5 million adolescent girls, who have often had children at a very young age, to stay in education and get the education that will help to improve their lifetime earnings.
Children’s health is also a key issue, and I thank the Department for International Development for its work to fight polio across the world. Will the Minister rise to the challenge set by members of the Chelmsford rotary club, and by rotary clubs across the UK, and confirm that this Government remain committed to ending polio forever?
I always welcome the opportunity to thank rotary clubs not only here in the UK but around the world for their fundraising. We are nearly there. We have nearly eradicated polio from this planet, and we should thank every Rotarian for their contribution.
Good public services need an effective civil service to supervise them. What discussions has the Minister had with the Cabinet Office and my noble Friend Lord Maude about the provision of an effective civil service in developing countries?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the UK has long-standing partnerships with a range of developing countries. Indeed, it forms part of our work when we award Chevening scholarships, for example, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; scholars have to commit to going back and helping to deliver services in their country.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) is such a happy and uncomplaining fellow that the temptation to call him is irresistible.
Does the Minister accept that one of the best ways to support public services, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is to support the non-governmental organisations that provide clean drinking water in many of the townships across that part of Africa?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman got to ask his question because, of course, clean drinking water is crucial. We take it so much for granted, and I am pleased that, working with NGOs, DFID has supported over 51 million poor people in Africa and Asia to have access to drinking water supplies or toilets for the first time.
Public services in all countries benefit from the quality of governance and, above all, from democracy, which is why the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is keen for a democracy fund to be established. Following the very useful meeting with the Minister, does she agree it is important that it is taken forward in time for the autumn spending review?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s bid, and I can commit to him that these are exactly the sorts of issues that will be discussed in the future spending review.
The central challenge in international development going forward will be the quality, expertise and number of our permanent staff on the ground. As international development becomes more complex, with conflict and climate, as we have to work more closely with other Departments and, above all, in a world in which developing countries are looking not for money, but for expertise, over the next 15 years we will have to increase the expertise, the quality and, above all, the number of civil servants, moving away from short-term consultants to having British experts on the ground.
I am sure the Secretary of State will be aware that Birmingham this week joined Cardiff, Sheffield and Tower Hamlets in calling for the recognition of Somaliland. Does he agree that diaspora communities here in the UK play a crucial role, not only in Somaliland, but in many other contexts, in providing not only direct assistance, but the type of trading, business and expert links that can help development in so many countries?
We are immensely fortunate in the UK with our diaspora communities because they provide both powerful advocacy, for example, with Somaliland on female genital mutilation, and expertise—linguistic, deep country expertise—to ensure that our programmes on the ground are of the requisite quality.
I am lucky enough to have just returned from the Congo, where I was looking at Ebola in Beni and Butembo. The situation of Ebola in the Congo is serious; we now have—[Interruption.]
Order. The Secretary of State is a cerebral and intellectual fellow, of prodigious brain power, and he deserves a more respectful audience than he is being accorded. Let us hear the words , digest them and learn from them.
What needs to be heard is not my cerebral power, but the issue of Ebola in the Congo. The House needs to be serious about that. There is an Ebola outbreak now in the Congo, which has already crossed the border into Uganda. On Sunday, we had an outbreak in Goma, a city of 2 million people. If we do not get this under control, this Ebola outbreak, which is already the second biggest in history, will cause devastating problems for the region. We must invest much more in the World Health Organisation, in developing the public health services in the neighbouring countries. Above all, we must step up to the challenge and be serious as a nation about this deadly disease.
The provision of water and sanitation is central. It is vital for health. It is also vital in schools, for ensuring that girls remain in school, and it is vital for tackling any kind of water-borne disease. So good investment in water, which DFID prioritises, needs to be one of the three fundamental pillars of development, along with education and health.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight this, and I am pleased to say that the conflict, stability and security fund has been used to help the Turks and Caicos repair its radar, so that it is able to detect boats that may be carrying people trying to access the islands. He may be aware that early in 2018 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel Mounts Bay was also deployed in order to provide a deterrent to those who wish to make that perilous crossing. We will consider other ways of using the CSSF in this region in the future.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the issue of climate is now driving conflict. In the Lake Chad basin there simply is not enough ground for people to feed their oxen or plant crops. We need to invest in climate-resilience projects, which means looking not only at the crops but at the reasons why there are now conflicts, from the Chad Basin and Nigeria right the way across east Africa, between people with oxen and people who are planting. In particular, Sahel is central to DFID’s new initiative. We are opening embassies in Mauritania, Niger and Chad, and much more of our investment is now going to go into the Sahel region.
I am pleased to add my voice of welcome for the report commissioned by the Foreign Secretary. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight some of the important points made in the report. She will be aware that, in addition to freedom of religion and belief, the UK is, as we heard from the Secretary of State, helping communities with their adaptation to some of the other drivers of conflict highlighted in the excellent report.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure Members will want to congratulate all those who took part in what was a great weekend of sport. In particular, we congratulate Lewis Hamilton on his record sixth win in the British grand prix. On Monday, I was able to welcome England’s cricket team to Downing Street, following their brilliant performance in winning the cricket world cup. As I said to them, they are a team that reflects the very best of modern Britain and a team that plays like no other in the world.
I am sure the House will want to join me in wishing all the best to the home nations taking part in the netball world cup in Liverpool.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I join the Prime Minister in offering our congratulations, particularly to the England team that won the cricket world cup. We were proud to host some of the games at Trent Bridge in Nottingham. I also extend our best wishes to the netball team.
Notts County, the world’s oldest professional football club, is facing the very real threat of extinction. Under chairman Alan Hardy, the club has reached a financial crisis and could be liquidated before the start of the coming season. Players and staff have not been paid in weeks, and the club is set to make its fourth appearance in the High Court later this month to face a winding-up petition. Will the Prime Minister and the whole House join me in calling on the Football Association, the Football League and the National League to investigate the current situation and help to secure the future of this truly historic club?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. Football clubs up and down the country are obviously of great importance to their local communities. Overall, the financial state of football clubs is better now than at any time, but the Government are certainly not complacent. The hon. Lady referred to various football authorities; we will continue to hold the football authorities to account for ensuring that there is transparency around the ownership of clubs, that sufficient inquiries into the suitability of owners are made, and that financially clubs continue to live within their means. I am sure the whole House will join the hon. Lady in hoping that, as the world’s oldest professional football club, Notts County resolves its situation soon.
I recognise the way in which my hon. Friend has championed a number of cases—he has referenced one of them—over the years in this House. Indeed, I had a number of meetings with him when I was Home Secretary in relation to that case. It is important that our police are able to operate to the highest professional standards. They have operational independence as to who they investigate and how they conduct those investigations, but I am sure the whole House would want to say that we expect our police to conduct those investigations properly and fairly, and to ensure that, when a crime is committed, they are investigating that crime.
I agree with the Prime Minister’s congratulations to Lewis Hamilton on winning on Sunday and to the fantastic cricket team, which ended up winning the world cup. I also thank New Zealand—what a brilliant final it was, and what a great advertisement for the wonderful game of cricket.
“Time is running out” on climate change—that is what the Environment Secretary said yesterday. Why did the all-party Environmental Audit Committee accuse the Government of “coasting” on climate change?
The Government have a fine record on climate change, including our recent legislation on net zero emissions, but there is an issue that needs to be addressed in this House. Before the right hon. Gentleman stands up and parades himself as the champion of climate change, the champion of the people or the defender of equality and fairness, he needs to apologise for his failure to deal with racism in the Labour party.
Just today, 60 distinguished members of the Labour party have written in the newspapers:
“The Labour party welcomes everyone*…(*except, it seems, Jews)…This is your legacy Mr Corbyn…You still haven’t opened your eyes…You still haven’t told the whole truth…You still haven’t accepted your responsibility…You have failed…the test of leadership.”
Order. The right hon. Gentleman will be heard. Attempts to shout him down are downmarket, low grade, regarded with contempt by the public and, above all, will not work. Be quiet.
This party was the first to introduce anti-racist legislation into law in Britain. This party totally opposes racism in any form whatsoever. Antisemitism has no place in our society, no place in any of our parties and no place in any of our dialogues. Neither does any other form of racism.
Some 60% of Tory party members think Islam is a threat to western civilisation. The Prime Minister has said that she will act on Islamophobia within her own party. I hope she does. I look forward to seeing that being dealt with, as we will deal with any racism that occurs within our own party as well.
Last week, the Committee on Climate Change published its annual report, which described the Government’s efforts on climate change not a bit like what the Prime Minister just said; it described them as being run like “Dad’s Army”. The Government’s target is to reduce carbon emissions by 57% by 2030. Can the Prime Minister tell us how much progress has been made on that?
On the climate change issue, the chairman of that committee said:
“The UK is the first major economy to set a net-zero emissions target and intends to host the world’s leaders at next year’s landmark climate conference (COP26). These are historic steps forward and position the UK at the forefront of the global low-carbon transition.”
The right hon. Gentleman, I note, did not apologise in response to my first questions. We deal with Islamophobia in the Conservative party. Any allegations of Islamophobia are dealt with, unlike his way in the Labour party where he is failing to deal with antisemitism. He can stand up and say all he likes about the Labour party introducing anti-racism legislation. Just last week, Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the following:
“Labour today presents like a textbook case of institutional racism.”
This party opposes racism in any form whatsoever in our society. And coming from a Prime Minister who encouraged the hostile environment, sent “go home” vans around London, and deported British citizens, which she has now had to compensate them for, I think that she might look to her own party and her own Government’s record as well.
The issue of climate change is obviously crucial, and we support the zero emissions target. The latest figures, however, released in April show that the Government are going to miss that target by 10%—the gap is widening. At the current rate, they will not meet their 2050 target until 2099, and, at that point, it will be too late for our planet and our children. Clean energy investment has fallen three years in a row. Why does the Prime Minister think that that is the case?
Still no apology, I note, from the right hon. Gentleman.
We have outperformed in our first and second carbon budgets, and we are on track to meet the third. We have taken the historic step of legislating for net zero emissions by 2050. We have yet to see all the policies and proposals in our clean growth strategy coming into play and having an effect on our target. This is a party that is acting on climate change; this is a party that is delivering for the people of this country; this is a party that is dealing with the issues that matter to people day to day. The right hon. Gentleman needs to start dealing with the issues that matter to the members of his Labour party, as shown in the newspapers this morning.
It was a Labour Government who introduced the Climate Change Act 2008. It is the Labour party that is committed to dealing with the issues of climate change. Let me give the Prime Minister a few suggestions on why renewable investment is falling: her Government scrapped the feed-in tariff; they failed to invest in the Swansea tidal lagoon; and they slashed investment in onshore wind. If we are serious about tackling this climate emergency, we need to fully acknowledge the scale of the problem. Labour is committed to measuring total UK emissions—not just what we make here, but what we buy from abroad also—so that we have an accurate figure of what the emissions really are by consumption in this country. Will the Prime Minister match that commitment?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that we measure our targets according to the international definitions of those targets, and that is exactly the right thing for us to do. He talks about renewables. Let us just look at the record on renewables: last year, renewables generated a record amount of electricity in this country—33%; and over the past year, we have generated record levels of solar and offshore wind energy. He talks about what the Labour Government did, but 99% of solar power deployed in the UK has been deployed under Conservative Governments.
I think that we are actually hiding the scale of the problem by passing the buck to other countries as well. If all emissions are counted, the figures would actually be 69% higher in this country.
Every year, air pollution kills 40,000 in this country. In 2017, the Conservative manifesto promised to take action against poor air quality in urban areas. What actions have been taken?
Air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010 under the Conservatives in government. Our clean air strategy is the most ambitious air quality strategy in a generation, described by the World Health Organisation as
“an example for the rest of the world to follow.”
Those are wonderful words, they truly are. The only problem is, air pollution levels breach legal limits in 37 of 43 areas of this country. Two thirds of our children are growing up in an area where pollution breaches legal limits. This crisis is literally suffocating our children and damaging their health. Once again, this Government are dodging their responsibility while Labour leads the way. For example, the Mayor of London is leading the way on better air quality in the capital city.
The Tories promised the greenest Government ever. They have failed on carbon emissions. They have failed on air pollution. They have failed on solar. The Prime Minister says that she wants action, but she supports fracking and has effectively banned onshore wind. The climate emergency simply cannot be left to the market. We all need to take responsibility to secure our common future. Labour led the call to declare a climate emergency and has pledged a green industrial revolution with new jobs. When will this Conservative Government face up to the situation, get a grip on this crisis and deal with it?
We have already seen over 400,000 new jobs in the area of renewables and clean growth, and we expect to see up to 2 million more. I am not going to take any lectures from the Labour party on this issue, when the last Labour Government ignored advice that diesel fumes would damage our environment and incentivised diesel cars through the tax system.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about dodging responsibility. The person who has been dodging his responsibility during this PMQs is the right hon. Gentleman. The real disgrace is his handling of racism in the Labour part. Activists protesting, MPs leaving and staff resigning—what would his great heroes Attlee, Bevan and Benn think? Look what he has done to their party. We will never let him do it to our country.
I know my right hon. and learned Friend has also been working on this issue for some time, and I thank him for highlighting the work that has been done. There is no place for animal cruelty in this country. When the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, to which he alludes, is passed, those who mistreat or abuse animals, or are involved in animal fighting, will rightly face one of the toughest penalties available anywhere in the world. That will cement our place as a world leader on animal welfare. The new maximum penalty will soon also apply to those who attack our brave service animals such as Finn the police dog, through Finn’s law. I pay tribute to supporters, and to organisations such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and the RSPCA, for championing these changes. I wish the sentencing Bill a speedy passage through this House and the other place.
This week the Prime Minister finally did the right thing. When Donald Trump told women that they should “go home”, she called it out as unacceptable. Let me clear that Donald Trump’s actions are textbook racism; they are repugnant and diplomatic politeness should never stop us saying so. Will the Prime Minister now, on reflection, also take the opportunity to call out and condemn the racism of the “Go Home” vans that she created in the coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats?
I said at the time that that was too blunt an instrument. There is an important issue, which is that the public expect us to have a fair immigration system that deals with those who are here illegally. That is what we need to do. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the comments made by President Trump. As he alluded to, I have strongly condemned those comments.
When the Prime Minister implemented the hostile environment policy, her party stayed silent. When she delivered the racist “Go Home” vans, the Tories remained silent. When asylum seekers are deported to places where their lives are at risk, the Tories stay silent, and when faced with the racist columns written by the former Foreign Secretary, they stay silent. Is the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) not correct when he warns that the Tories are
“appealing to the type of nationalism that has seen UKIP grow”?
While the Tory party shares more with the extremes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, is it any wonder that Scotland looks on in horror?
The Conservative party is a party for the whole of the United Kingdom, and the only party in this House that is appealing to blatant nationalism is the party that wants to take Scotland out of the UK.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising what is obviously a very important issue for him and his constituents. I recognise that there are concerns about the Future Fit programme and services in Shropshire. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has referred the programme to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, and the Department of Health and Social Care will study that advice carefully before making a decision. We have the simple view that clinicians should take these decisions, because it is clinicians who know best the services that should be available for his constituents and others.
The issue of carer’s leave is one on which we have been consulting. That is in the system, and I have every expectation that whoever succeeds me will take that forward.
It has been remarked upon that my right hon. Friend is one of only three Prime Ministers upon whose watch a world cup has been brought home. She and her husband were fortunate enough to be present to watch that wonderful team effort. In the final week of her premiership, will she allow herself the luxury of considering that history is likely to treat her captaincy rather more kindly than it will treat those who have campaigned against her?
I thank my right hon. Friend for those comments and for the support he has shown me and the Government in our work. I was very pleased to be there for the whole world cup final on Sunday. It was nerve-racking and nail-biting, but our team brought it home, and many congratulations once again to them.
We had a successful £2 million programme in the summer of 2018, and this year we are more than quadrupling this funding. About 50,000 disadvantaged children in 11 local authority areas will be offered free meals and activities over the summer holidays. That is going to be funded by £9 million from the Department for Education. We had a good programme last year, and we are expanding that programme this year because we want to help children, wherever they are, receive the right support in school and out.
In the week when we celebrate the anniversary of man first walking on the moon, may I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the amazing space cluster that exists at Harwell in my constituency, with amazing companies such as Open Cosmos and Oxford Space Systems? In the last week of her premiership, could she have a conversation with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy? If we can accelerate the decommissioning of the land at Harwell, we can really accelerate the success of this cluster? I will personally invite her back to inaugurate Theresa May Way, when this is done.
I am sure the Prime Minister is just beyond excited.
I was going to say, Mr Speaker, such temptation has been dangled before me, and I thank my right hon. Friend for it.
First, we are very pleased with the cluster in my right hon. Friend’s constituency and the important role that that plays in our economy, in our research and our science development. The Business Secretary is in the Chamber and has heard the points my right hon. Friend has made about accelerating this process, and I am sure that the Business Department will look carefully at his request.
The hon. Lady talks about the northern powerhouse. The northern powerhouse is there: we are operating, we are putting in development and we are putting in funding to the northern powerhouse, including record levels of funding for transport across the north of England. That is the commitment this Government have made. We are not just using words; we are actually putting the money in. We are seeing a difference, and we are making a difference.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Ian Jukes and our local community in Redditch for raising nearly £500,000 for the Rory the Robot appeal to fund the prostate surgery robot in Worcestershire? However, despite all the hard work by the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, the specialist commissioners have not approved the business case yet. Will she use her legacy, in her last week, to help us sort this problem out?
I thank my hon. Friend. I am very happy to congratulate Ian Jukes and all those who have been responsible for raising the money for—as I understand it—Rory the Robot. I am sitting two steps away from the International Development Secretary, but I gather the reference my hon. Friend has made is to medical equipment. Obviously, I will look carefully at the point she has raised about the business case.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. I am indeed proud of the development aid the United Kingdom spends across the world and the role we play not just in helping some of the most vulnerable and poorest people around the world, but in dealing with issues as they arise, such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 0.7% of gross national income target is now in legislation and there was a commitment in the Conservative election manifesto to maintain it, so I am sure it will continue and that it will continue to be an important sign of what the Conservative party believes we should be doing: helping some of the most vulnerable and poorest people around the world.
On Saturday, I met a group of residents in Harlow, many of them on Government Help to Buy schemes, who moved into homes built by Persimmon Homes that are shoddily built with severe damp and crumbling walls. In the eyes of my residents, Persimmon are crooks, cowboys and con artists. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hold the company to account, ensure that residents receive proper compensation, and urge the chief executive to come to Harlow to meet the families who have suffered so much? Persimmon Homes should not behave in this way.
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. As we increase the housing supply, it is important that the quality of new build homes continues to improve. We set out in our housing White Paper an ambition and a target of a housing market that works for everyone. We expect developers to deliver good-quality housing. We have already announced our intention for a new homes ombudsman to protect the rights of homebuyers and to hold developers to account. We expect all developers to build their homes to a good quality standard. These are homes that people will be living in for many years. They deserve those standards.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this Government brought forward our shipbuilding strategy to ensure that we support and encourage shipbuilding around the United Kingdom. On the Royal Navy, I understand that the issue he raises relates to support ships. The MOD is looking at future provision and the building of those support ships. We maintain our position on building the ships of the Royal Navy.
This weekend our sporting heroes, winners and losers, inspired a new generation. Science can also inspire. Sixty years ago, JFK electrified the world and united a divided and fearful nation with the inspiring Apollo moonshot programme, which also helped to defeat the Soviet Union and laid the foundations for US technology leadership. Will my right hon. Friend join me in saluting our pioneering scientist astronauts, Helen Sharman and Tim Peake, and agree with me that Brexit can and must be a moonshot moment for British science innovation to tackle global challenges?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I am very happy to congratulate and salute our pioneering UK astronauts, Helen Sharman and Tim Peake. One of the first receptions I held in No. 10 Downing Street when I became Prime Minister was for Tim Peake, and it was inspiring to see how what he had done in space had encouraged young people in particular to develop an interest in space and science. We are global leader in science and innovation, and that will continue once we leave the European Union. Leaving the EU will open up opportunities for UK science and innovation to tackle global challenges.
We are committed to providing asylum accommodation that is safe and secure. We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers and the local communities in which they live very seriously. Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation while their applications are considered. We cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs, but once a person’s asylum claim is fully determined, their entitlement to that support will end. What I understand has been happening is that Serco has been providing accommodation at its own expense to over 300 people who are no longer eligible for such accommodation, either because they have been refused asylum or because they have been granted leave to remain and should move on to mainstream benefits and housing.
Last week, I had the honour of visiting the world’s best transformer factory in Stafford, run by General Electric. It was constructing the first of 72 transformers to go to Iraq, and it is only able to do that through the support of UK Export Finance. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate me—[Hon. Members: “ Hear, hear!”] The last thing she should do is that, but will she congratulate UK Export Finance on backing British business?
I am very happy to congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work that he has done for his constituency and more widely. He is absolutely right: UK Export Finance is an essential part of the Government support that can be provided to exporters. I am very pleased that the Department for International Trade has changed the rules to enable UK Export Finance to provide support for some smaller exporters, which has encouraged them. UKEF provides a vital role in our economy and our exporting around the world, and I am happy to congratulate it on the work that it does.
I am always happy to congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), as others will, for one very good reason that the public should know: he invariably plays the ball rather than the man or the woman. He sticks to the arguments, and that is why he is respected not only by his constituents, but across the House.
Entry clearance officers consider applications for visitor visas with the utmost rigour, because our visas are an important way of securing our border and an effective tool for us in reducing illegal immigration, tackling organised crime and protecting national security. The hon. Gentleman references visas for people coming from the countries of Africa. The percentage of African nationals who saw their application granted is up by 4% on what it was 10 years ago and is only slightly below the average rate of the past 10 years. Visa applications from African nationals are at their highest level since 2013.
Three weeks ago, I was in New York for WorldPride—a celebration of equality and love, with 150,000 people marching down Fifth Avenue, cheered on by millions of people. Then we had Pride in London, and we will have lots of other Prides in towns and cities throughout the UK and Europe, but it is such a different story in so many other countries, where millions of people live in fear of prosecution and persecution. Commonwealth countries blame British legacy legislation. What message does the Prime Minister have for them to say that they can change their laws progressively and that everybody in their countries can live in equality, harmony and love?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People will have seen a wonderful Pride parade here in London. I am only sorry that I was not able to be present at the Pride reception in No. 10 Downing Street, but I was pleased that people were hosted in No. 10 once again this year. He raises an important issue. It is one that I raised at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last year, when I made it clear to countries in the Commonwealth that we want to see them introducing those progressive laws and changes in their legislation and, more than that, that we are willing to help them, provide support to them and show them the legislation that we have used, so that they can adopt it and people can indeed live in true equality.
We constantly look at how we can improve our response to modern slavery. I am very pleased that I had a meeting only a few days ago where I met many people involved in organisations that support victims of modern slavery; I met people involved in the prosecution of perpetrators of modern slavery; and I met parliamentarians who have been involved in the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. We are going to take on board most of the recommendations from that review. I make no apology for introducing the Modern Slavery Act. It was a Conservative Government who dealt with this issue, and we continue to deal with it. We took it seriously when other parties were not willing to do so.
As a distinctly average cricketer who is fully aware of his limitations, I grew up dreaming of an England side lifting the cricket world cup in a Lord’s final in front of a home crowd. How does my right hon. Friend believe we can maximise the opportunity of Sunday’s incredible success to encourage the next generation to get involved and pick up a bat and ball?
So many people around the country have been engaged by and taken inspiration from the England cricket team’s success. Crucially, a very significant number of children have also been introduced to the basics of cricket through the work on cricket in the streets. I want to cite a figure that I heard yesterday, but I do so with care: I think something like 1 million children have now seen cricket and been introduced to cricket as a result of the world cup tournament here in the UK. We must build on that for the future.
The Secretary of State has heard the specific case that the hon. Gentleman raises. The support that we have given to disabled people and people with health conditions is at a record high, and spending on disability benefits will be higher in every year to 2023 than in 2010. We have also provided support for disabled people to get into the workplace, and we continue to do so. The number of disabled people in work has increased by almost 950,000 over the past five years.
This year, the school sports premium is worth about half a million pounds to primary schools across my constituency. It has been a key driver in helping more children to establish healthier lifestyles, which we hope they will continue into adulthood. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Government to look closely at extending this funding beyond 2020 to help even more children to become healthier for life and to inspire some of those young people to become our world cup winners of the future?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. We all recognise the importance of sport in schools, and the sport action plan has an aspiration for every child to get 60 minutes of sport and activity a day. That is why on Monday we published a cross-government school sport action plan, which will be taken forward. This is an issue that Conservatives in government have taken very seriously. We have put in the PE and sport premium, which will continue in the 2019-20 academic year. Future questions about spending will be for the spending review, but I think she can take it that Conservatives in government will continue their commitment to ensuring that young people in this country have a healthy lifestyle.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we take industry throughout the United Kingdom very seriously. He has referred to the issue of Brexit and leaving the European Union. A deal was negotiated that would have protected jobs and industry across the UK, but, sadly, he and others in the House chose not to support it. I continue to believe that the best way forward for industries in his constituency and throughout the UK is for us to leave the European Union, and to do so with a good deal.
Figures published yesterday show that wages are rising faster than inflation, which means that there is more money in the pockets of hard-working people in Stoke-on-Trent. May I thank my right hon. Friend for the actions that her Government have been taking to help families with the cost of living—reducing taxes on income, increasing the national living wage and extending the fuel duty freeze?
That is indeed good news. Yesterday’s employment figures were also good news, showing that more people are in work than ever before. I am pleased that we have been able to help working people with their finances. We have done that through the national living wage; we have done it by cutting taxes; and we have done it by freezing fuel duty. For the lowest paid, the national living wage and the cuts in taxes mean that they take home £4,500 more than they did under the last Labour Government.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on 26 June, I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister express sympathy for my 18-year-old constituent Jake Ogborne, who has spinal muscular atrophy. In May, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence posted a press release saying that the drug Spinraza would be made available to SMA patients—the clear implication was that it would be made available to them all—only for Jake to have his hopes cruelly dashed when he was told that he was just outside the hitherto unmentioned eligibility criteria. This is a young man whose future is at stake. The Prime Minister said on that occasion that she would follow up the case. May I ask her if she has yet managed to do so?
I do not have a response to the specific case that the hon. Lady has raised again today, but I will ensure that she receives a response before I leave office.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Points of order come after urgent questions, of which there are three.
Police Surveillance of Journalists
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on the Home Office’s policy on police surveillance of journalists.
It cannot be said often enough that the Government are committed to protecting the free press and freedom of expression in this country. The Government agree—indeed, they forcefully advocates—that confidential journalistic material and journalists’ interaction with their sources must be protected. However, that does not mean that journalists should receive blanket protection from legitimate investigation simply because of their chosen profession. Our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies will, in very limited circumstances, have a legitimate need to investigate a journalist or that journalist’s source, but there need to be protections in that regard.
We believe that the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 provides strong protections in relation to the use of investigatory powers for the purpose of identifying or confirming a journalistic source and for the obtaining of confidential journalistic information. This ensures that protections are applied where they are required and that those who commit a crime or pose a threat to national security can be investigated regardless of their chosen profession, and it does so in a way that is compatible with all our ECHR obligations.
For example, where a targeted communications data authorisation under part 3 of the Act is made with the purpose of identifying or confirming a source of journalistic information, section 77 of the Act requires that, other than in threat-to-life situations, the authorisation must be approved by a judicial commissioner before it can take effect. In deciding whether to approve such an authorisation the judicial commissioner must have regard to the public interest in protecting the sources of journalistic information and the need for there to be another overriding public interest before a relevant public authority seeks to identify a source.
The codes of practice under the Act provide detailed and extensive guidance to public authorities when applying the powers in the Act, including extensive guidance on when those safeguards should be applied.
One of the worst things a Government can do to damage democracy is to undermine the freedom of the press. In the past week, there have been numerous press reports of the police using
“the full force of the state”
to pin down the source of the recent leak of diplomatic telegrams. According to the reports this includes analysing mobile phone data in journalists’ phones, including location data showing everywhere they had been in the previous weeks. If true, this would be an astonishing intrusion on press freedom, because it puts at risk every confidential source they have, not just the one the police might be looking for.
Since the successful court case brought by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) and myself against the Government, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 has been tightened up. Journalists get particular protection under it, and there are only two ways such intrusive surveillance could be legally carried out. One is for the police to have obtained a warrant on national security grounds, in effect. Given the fact that the Government did not even use the DA, or defence advisory notice, procedure to stop publication of the telegram—they did not even use the procedure available to them—it is very unlikely that such a warrant would have been granted or such an agreement have been given by a commissioner. The other way is for one of the state agencies—the secret agencies—to have obtained the data. Given that the leak was embarrassing, but not a threat to national security, this also seems unlikely.
So can the Minister reassure the House that these intrusive surveillance techniques were not used against journalists in this case and that they would never be used unless there was either a serious crime or a real and serious threat to national security?
My right hon. Friend is a long-standing champion of civil liberties and press freedom; in fact, there is probably no greater one in this House, and I am grateful to him for the UQ and the opportunity to place on record again—because, as I said, this cannot be said often enough—the Government’s absolute commitment to protect the freedom of the press. That is a cornerstone of our democratic processes, and he has heard that from the Prime Minister, the two men who want to be the next Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and anyone else at a microphone; that is entirely sincere.
My right hon. Friend is also quite right to point out that the Investigatory Powers Act has been subject to a tightening-up process, in large part stimulated by the promptings of himself and colleagues. The point I was trying to stress in my remarks is that we do believe—although this is being challenged and will continue to be challenged by people who take a different view—that the safeguards and protections in place and what our security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are required to go through in terms of, for example, seeking a targeted communications data authorisation are extremely stringent.
As my right hon. Friend said, authorisations in this case need to be approved by a judicial commissioner. A Government of any colour need to be subject to scrutiny and challenge on the robustness of these approaches. I am not going to comment on the specific case; I am here simply to set out the process in relation to the protections that my right hon. Friend and others quite rightly seek to be reassured by, and I hope that I have done so.
Press freedom is an integral part of democracy. We do not have too much freedom of the press in this country; we have too little. Can it be right that the press is threatened for publishing material that is in the public interest? The illegality in leaking the British ambassador to Washington’s thoughts may be tested in the courts, so I shall be cautious about any remarks on that, but surely it cannot be illegal to publish those remarks simply because they are the cause of embarrassment to the Government. Surely, it cannot be right that scanning technology is being used against journalists to investigate the leak. Is it open to the Home Secretary to issue guidance to police forces on this matter, to ensure that there is not now or in the future this trawling of journalists’ phones, laptops and other devices?
In another case earlier this month, the Belfast High Court declared that the warrants authorising the search and arrest of two documentary filmmakers were unlawful and that everything seized from the filmmakers must be returned. The filmmakers had previously released a documentary about a mass killing in Northern Ireland for which no one has ever been charged, “No Stone Unturned.” The Belfast High Court was surely right, but this case highlights the need for greater judicial oversight of the police and the security services, especially in their dealings with the press.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to make it clear on behalf of the Opposition that they entirely support the police having the ability to get on with their work and identify the leaker. The police certainly have our full support on that, because those leaks should not have happened and they have been damaging. I am sure everyone wants to see the leaker identified.
The hon. Gentleman will also I am sure, having done his homework, be aware of what the Official Secrets Act 1989 says, in particular section 5, and that is how the law stands at the moment, but what is critical—I am delighted to come to the House again to make this clear—is that in going about their business on our behalf, the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to jump through some very significant hoops and go through very robust processes, including, as I have stated, when they seek a targeted communications data authorisation approval by a judicial commissioner before it can take effect. We are satisfied—but this must always be open to challenge—that those processes, safeguards and checks and balances are robust.
We operate in a vibrant democracy, and we in this place always in my experience have vigorous debates about these balances and the need for safeguards. We have debates about pushing back the powers of our law enforcement agencies—whereas in other countries those debates do not take place—and that is a symbol and sign of the health of our democracy. I am sure that at the end of this UQ, we and the watching public will be in no doubt about this House’s commitment to the freedom of the press.
I commend the Government on the organisation of last week’s excellent global media freedom conference, but does the Minister agree that the UK needs to do a lot more to improve on our present ranking of 33 in the world press freedom index? Does he also recognise that the concerns expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) make that harder to achieve and that these concerns risk being exploited by other countries who do not protect media freedom and are only too keen to lock up journalists?
I accept all that, coming from the authority of a highly distinguished former Secretary of State. I am entirely sincere, as are my colleagues, in taking this opportunity to reassert the importance of the freedom of the press and the protection of media freedoms, but we cannot in that process allow any sense that there is a blanket protection for legitimate investigation simply because of someone’s chosen profession. The processes need to be robust and open to criticism and debate, but the primacy of the free press and freedom of expression in this country is absolutely central to our democratic processes.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) on securing this question. It is indeed ironic that we are discussing these matters the week after the British Government hosted the first global conference on media freedom. The Foreign Secretary has spoken about convening a panel of experts to advise countries on how to strengthen the legal protection of journalists. On the evidence of some of the statements made over the past few days, the convener of that panel might be best advised to start close to home.
The Scottish National party has made it clear that we deplore diplomatic leaks as unacceptable and that they should be investigated. However, in times of crisis we need to remember that we must uphold human rights, and particularly press freedom. I wonder whether there were any official secrets in the ambassador’s leaked comments. After all, it is hardly a secret that Donald Trump is inept, and the police really ought to understand that the Official Secrets Act 1989 is not there to protect the Government from embarrassment. I am sure that they do understand that, but if they do not, I am sure that they will be reminded by those who give them legal advice. Will the Minister tell the House who escalated these investigations to the police, and why? Was it Downing Street, as some newspapers have reported? If an offence has been committed and the police are to be involved, would they not be better employed catching the leaker rather than shooting the messenger?
The hon. and learned Lady is right to echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden said earlier, and it is something to be proud of that a British Foreign Secretary has chosen the championing of media freedom as one of his core campaigns and chosen to take that message around the world. The Official Secrets Act is not there to protect the Government from embarrassment; it is there for all the reasons that we know. My desire is for the police to be able to get on with their job and identify the leaker. That is their primary objective.
May I add a little more to the point that has just been made? Why were the police brought in? As a former journalist of some 17 years, I know that journalists rely on sources to give the news to the public. Let us face it, there have been leaks before and there will be leaks in the future, and this leak was embarrassing but it was nothing to do with the defence of our country. If the police are to be called in every time there is a leak, every journalist in the country is going to fear that their newsroom will be full of officers in blue every time a story with the potential to hurt someone in power is published.
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making, and I understand that the comments from the Met have generated ripples, but this was a serious leak and it is entirely appropriate that the police should look at it seriously. I hope he will support me in wishing them every success in doing their job, which is to find the leaker. I do not interpret what has been said as anything other than a clarification of the law as it stands, and I hope that he will join me in my determination to identify the source of this damaging leak.
There is a big difference between the targeted collection of evidence in the pursuit of serious criminal offences and a fishing expedition in which Government embarrassment is a factor. This seems rather too near to the second of those. Never mind journalists—the general public are concerned about the way in which the state and other agencies are now able to collect data on them. Should we not be on the public’s side? Should not the Government be publishing information, in readable and accessible form, on people’s rights to privacy and on the right of the state to intrude on them?
I am all for more transparency, and I hope we are all on the side of upholding the law. What I have been trying to set out, in what I hope is a reassuring way, is that there are robust safeguards in place for when our law enforcement agencies seek specific powers. The guidance and the codes around that are explicit and extensive in regard to protecting journalists.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the answers he has given thus far. The balance between the duties of the police and the freedom of the press is clearly vital, but can he reassure the House that the police are not interpreting their role in a widespread manner and therefore snooping on journalists who have nothing whatsoever to do with the investigation of this particular leak?
I thank my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for his question. I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that what he fears is the case. I wholly endorse the very focused police effort in this specific investigation to identify the leaker.
I was on the Investigatory Powers Bill Committee, and one of the most contentious areas of debate in that period was public interest. When the Judicial Commissioner makes a judgment based on public interest, what do the Minister and his Department do to ensure that that interpretation is the correct one and that it is appropriate to the time and accountable to this House?
There is a great deal of guidance around this subject, but the hon. Gentleman is right and I thank him for his work on that scrutiny. I am happy to repeat the point that, in deciding whether to approve an authorisation—for example, a targeted communications data authorisation—the Judicial Commissioner must have regard to
“the public interest in protecting a source of journalistic information, and…the need for there to be another overriding public interest before a relevant public authority seeks to identify or confirm a source of journalistic information.”
That is explicit.
The Minister must surely agree that part of the problem is the application of technology, particularly automation, to police powers without appropriate protections or even public debate. We might understand the need for a particular warrant for specific documents in the case of criminal activity, but the automated blanket trawling of all emails, locations and conversations for all journalists is clearly inappropriate. It is not only journalists who could be targeted; the rest of us also deserve protection from digital surveillance, video and voice recognition. Does the Minister agree that we need a charter of digital rights for all of us, as Labour is advocating?
If the hon. Lady is talking specifically about the examination of data under a bulk acquisition warrant, I would again point to the whole set of codes, guidance, processes and safeguards that relate to that. If she is talking about the broader issue around the application of technology and artificial intelligence to the working of our law enforcement agencies, she is entirely right to suggest that, as we stand on the brink of a revolution in what technology can enable our law enforcement agencies to do, we as citizens need to feel comfortable and confident with that, and that we need to have the appropriate legal and regulatory environment for it, which is what we believe we have.
Mr Newlands, I thought you were seeking to take part in the debate.
I would be delighted to take part, Mr Speaker.
You are on my list as someone who was interested in doing so, but perhaps you were resting your knee muscles.
I certainly was, Mr Speaker, but I was going to bob up again in a second. I am grateful for your observation.
I was also on the Investigatory Powers Bill Committee. During the progress of that Bill, the then Solicitor General, the hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), said:
“We are absolutely committed to the preservation and protection of a free press and freedom of expression in our democratic society. That includes the ability of sources to provide anonymous information to journalists, which is absolutely vital if we are to have throughput of important information that needs to be in the public domain.”––[Official Report, Investigatory Powers Public Bill Committee, 12 April 2016; c. 193.]
Given the events of recent days, can the Minister tell me what has changed in Government policy?
I hope the hon. Gentleman’s knees are all right.
I honestly do not think that there has been a change in policy, and I have set out the processes around the Investigatory Powers Act, which he and other colleagues helped to shape and toughen. He will know better than me that those processes are now robust, and the police are complying with them.
I thank the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for bringing this vital matter to the House’s attention. The Minister has said on more than one occasion that, while he values press freedom, an individual should not have protection from legitimate inquiry simply because of the profession they chose. However, the very purpose of the journalistic profession is to scrutinise Government and to ensure that human rights are adhered to and that Government procedures are followed. Does the Minister therefore accept that we need something from the Government to ensure that, given advances in scanning and tracking technology, journalists are protected when providing that valuable public service?
Journalists provide an incredibly important service in our democracy, and I have been entirely sincere in everything that I have said. I am sure that the hon. Lady is not suggesting that someone should be above the law or receive blanket protection from legitimate investigation in limited circumstances simply because they are a journalist. The right processes, safeguards and checks and balances need to be in place. Frankly, we need the right challenge on law enforcement agencies when they seek authorisations to pursue investigations. I have set out what is in the Investigatory Powers Act, which I believe is a robust process.
The problem is that the police and security services were given these powers to allow them to prevent and detect serious crime, but there is absolutely no suggestion that those now being put under random widespread surveillance committed a crime. If a crime has been committed, it was committed either by a civil servant or a Member of Parliament. We obviously cannot know for certain whether the reports referred to by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) have any accuracy to them, but if they do, they point to the police using their powers not to prevent serious crime, but to intimidate and harass journalists, whose job it is to hold the police and us to account. Will the Minister undertake to carry out a review, reporting in Privy Council terms if necessary, into the Met Police’s actions, so that this Parliament can be the final arbiter of whether the powers that we agreed to give to the police are being abused?
It is wrong for the House, and certainly for Ministers, to speculate on the outcome of this particular investigation. We need to let the police get on with their work, but they and others will have heard clearly the House’s messages of concern. I return to the fact that this Parliament has set up a robust process of checks and balances on the police.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to provide an update on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have told us that she was admitted to a psychiatric ward in the Imam Khomeini public hospital on Monday. Her family have yet to be allowed to visit her or to make a phone call. We are lobbying the Iranian authorities to ensure that her family are able to visit as soon as possible, as well as continuing to lobby for consular access, so that we can check on her care as a matter of urgency. We remain in close contact with her family in Tehran and with Richard Ratcliffe in London.
The Foreign Secretary spoke to the Iranian Foreign Minister on Saturday 13 July and raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and those of other dual nationals detained in Iran. The Foreign Secretary made it clear, as he has in public, that innocent people in prison must not be used as diplomatic leverage and called for their release. I also raised the case on a recent visit to Iran. The Foreign Secretary exercised diplomatic protection in March 2019, and we will continue to do all we can to reunite Nazanin and her family. The Government lobby strongly on the behalf of all our dual national cases, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, at the highest levels. The welfare of British nationals in detention is a high priority for us. We have made it clear that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be treated humanely and in line with international standards and norms.
If I can say something on a personal note as a parent, this case has rightly gripped the hearts of the British people. I hope that this development is the first step towards a brighter future for Nazanin and her family. I hope that Iran will be generous and humane in their approach to this family, who have been separated for far too long, that we can rely on elements within Iran that we know are decent and civilised, that they will apply international norms and behaviours in respect of this sad case, and that Nazanin and her family can be brought together as soon as possible.
Mr Speaker, thank you for granting this urgent question and for taking the time to visit Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, while he was on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy two weeks ago. Indeed, I thank the more than 100 Members of this House who visited Richard, sending a strong message to Iran that while it may continue to abuse Nazanin’s human rights, we will be listening and protecting her. I am pleased to say that Richard is in the Gallery today.
I sought this urgent question because my constituent’s plight is urgent and desperate. On Monday, handcuffed and shackled at the ankles, Nazanin was taken from her cell in Evin prison to a psychiatric ward in the Imam Khomeini hospital in Tehran. The reason for the move has not been made clear to her family or her lawyers. She has not been allowed to update her family by phone or by visit, and we have no idea how she is being treated. Her family have been shut out, her ward sealed off, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are not allowing any human contact. The family fear that she is being drugged or tortured and may be forced to sign a confession to unnamed crimes.
Nazanin is a young mother from West Hampstead. She was on holiday in Iran when she was abducted and illegally imprisoned, spending many months in solitary confinement before her family was allowed to visit. She has lost three years of her life to this hell, and with her sentence having been increased due to extra charges brought against her, her future seems bleak.
With all that in mind, what urgent steps are the Government taking to establish what treatment Nazanin is receiving? What protests have the Government made regarding the fact that Nazanin was shackled like a caged animal on her way to receiving urgent medical care? The Government have offered Nazanin diplomatic protection—the first such case in 100 years—and have escalated her case to a country-to-country dispute, for which we and her family are grateful. What further steps have the Government taken to secure Nazanin’s freedom?
Finally, a week ago, the Royal Marines impounded the Iranian tanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar. What is the Minister’s assessment of the Iranian Supreme Leader comments that Iran’s
“committed forces will not leave this evil without a response”?
Does he share my concern that that retribution may be targeted at Nazanin? I ask those questions not because I doubt the current Foreign Secretary’s sincerity when he says that he cares about my constituent’s freedom—I know that he has made time to meet Nazanin’s husband and family and has spoken to me as well—but because the time for sentiment is over. This situation has gone on for too long, and we need decisive action right now.
The hon. Lady’s question and the way in which she has put her remarks today do her great credit, and the work she does for her constituent is admirable.
We are, of course, seeking consular access. We have sought consular access from the beginning of this case. We believe that, as circumstances have changed, consular access now needs to be granted urgently. More importantly, we want to ensure that Nazanin gets access to her family. The hon. Lady will be in contact with the family, as are we, and it is the best way we have of determining Nazanin’s status right now. Indeed, it would be cruel to deny this lady, in a psychiatric ward of a public hospital, access to her family, which must happen immediately.
I deplore the maltreatment of prisoners, wherever it occurs. The hon. Lady’s description is completely unacceptable, and it is completely contrary to any international norms. She will understand that the Iranian system is multifarious, and we are concerned about exactly who is controlling the situation as far as Nazanin is concerned. I appeal to the better nature of people in Tehran to do what is right for Nazanin—that is vital.
The hon. Lady touches on Grace 1, and she will anticipate my answer, which is that this is primarily a matter for the Gibraltarian authorities, who are exercising a matter of law under EU sanctions. I do not believe the two cases are directly linked. However, we certainly need to ensure there is de-escalation in relation to our interaction with Iran, in Gibraltar and in the Gulf. When I visited Tehran recently, de-escalation was absolutely my message. Were we to approach something that looks like normality in relation to our access to this particular piece, all sorts of things would be possible.
I sincerely urge our interlocutors in Tehran to approach this on the basis of decency and humanity so that Nazanin can be given the treatment that she undoubtedly requires, but in a proper setting and using proper norms and practices.
Two weeks ago I was humbled to host a conference on human rights in Iran, and Richard Ratcliffe was one of the speakers. He said that all he wanted was for his wife to be returned so they can be a family again. We also heard from the UN rapporteur on human rights in Iran, who talked about the widespread human rights abuses in Iran. This weekend I was at a conference where I heard at first hand the human rights abuses that many people have suffered in Iran.
Can my right hon. Friend therefore outline the action we can take, as a country, to restore Nazanin to her family? The reality is that the Iranians only understand one thing, which is firmness, and we are currently seen not to be taking a firm enough stance.
My hon. Friend will understand that the tools in our toolbox are somewhat limited. Iran is an independent and proud nation that has its own view of its place in the world, and it requires us to show some respect, but we need to deplore the things it is doing in respect of the victims of human rights abuses, which are particular acute in Iran.
The UK Government clearly use every opportunity to impress upon Iran how unsatisfactory we regard its approach to human rights to be. However, we also need to ensure that Nazanin comes home, which is our principal priority in this matter. I appeal to Iran, not least because its reputation in this country is being severely damaged, to do the decent thing.
Iran must look at this in a sympathetic light and do what is right, proper and humane in respect of Nazanin, particularly as she has now been moved to the Imam Khomeini Hospital, where she is being treated. We want to know how she is being treated, and whether she is being given the right treatment and in what context. Above all, she must have access to her family, but she must also have consular access, through which we will be able to make a better judgment on where we are.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I not only congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on securing it, but join the Minister in applauding and thanking her on behalf of the whole House for the outstanding passion and persistence she has brought to the fight for Nazanin’s freedom—she is an outstanding Back Bencher.
For all of us who have taken part in this fight, and for all of us who visited Richard Ratcliffe during his recent hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy, the developments we have seen over the past 24 hours are deeply troubling. The fact that Nazanin is back under the control of the Revolutionary Guard, being held in isolation and denied access to consular staff and to her father, has rightly raised concern that she may be being pressed to sign a false confession.
We all know that the hard-line theocrats around Khamenei who have been responsible for Nazanin’s arrest and detention, and her appalling treatment in custody, do not care about the truth of Nazanin’s case, the reality of her innocence or the mental and physical cruelty that has been inflicted on her. They care only about exploiting her and lying about her to support their doctrine of embattlement and isolationism, and to undermine the Rouhani Government’s strategy of engagement. They are the same individuals who have revelled in the collapse of the Iranian nuclear deal, and who are wilfully risking conflict with their actions in the Strait of Hormuz. On a practical level, can the Minister tell us today what is being done to engage with the figures around Khamenei, not just the Rouhani Government, on Nazanin’s case?
Finally, on a wider level, does the Minister agree with the veteran BBC correspondent John Simpson, a man with better insight than most of us put together on matters of diplomacy and foreign policy, that there are two villains in this terrible situation? As John tweeted this morning, Nazanin is both
“the victim of a campaign by political extremists in Iran, and of the carelessness of @BorisJohnson as foreign secretary.”
Does the Minister agree with that verdict, and will he condemn the former Foreign Secretary—our next Prime Minister—for handing Iran’s hard-liners their biggest excuse, their biggest piece of propaganda, to justify this horrific injustice to one of our own citizens?
The right hon. Lady has elegantly dissected the Iranian state in a very few minutes, and she probably puts her finger on it. Of course, anybody with any experience of Iran will know that there are many Irans, as I touched on in my opening remarks.
We are, of course, concerned by any access that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has to this particular case. I would say, though, that the IRGC does care about its reputation. It certainly cares about its country’s reputation, and so does the supreme leader. That reputation hangs in the balance.
The generosity and humanity with which Iran has historically been associated would be amply demonstrated if Iran were to do the right thing in respect of Nazanin. I urge it to do that, if not on Nazanin’s behalf, on behalf of Iran’s reputation, which is rightly important to it.
The right hon. Lady asks how close we are to the supreme leader and, again, she well knows, because she is a student of these things, that access to the supreme leader is exceptionally difficult. We have spoken to President Rouhani, and we routinely engage with our ministerial interlocutors, Minister Zarif and, in my case, Minister Araghchi, and we will continue to do so.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran, of course, is somewhat separate from the IRGC, and it is important to reiterate that we are ensuring the IRGC gets the message that the eyes of the world are on Iran in respect of this case and, if it continues to behave in this way, it will trample all over the good opinion that international observers might have, even now, of Iran—it will do Iran and its people no good at all.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn on securing the urgent question and you on granting it, Mr Speaker. She and the family will know that they have the full support and solidarity of Scottish National party Members. It was indeed a privilege when I met Richard when he was campaigning outside the Iranian embassy, as did many of my colleagues, including our leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford).
This move into hospital is a worrying turn of events, which raises serious questions about Nazanin’s wellbeing and a particular concern about the risk of her being forced into signing some kind of false confession. So, as other Members are asking, are the UK Government satisfied that they are exhausting every possible avenue to rectify this situation? What is the point of diplomatic protection if it cannot prevent this kind of development? Will the Minister state unequivocally that the UK Government’s commitment to freeing Nazanin goes beyond any particular set of personnel or Ministers, and that freeing Nazanin must be a top priority for the next Prime Minister, whoever that might be?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Nazanin has been transferred to a public hospital. Nazanin certainly does need medical treatment, and we have been calling for that for a very long time. If she does not get the treatment she requires, if she is abused in hospital or if the purpose of transferring her to hospital is to abuse her further than has been the case already, that would be a cause for utter condemnation, as would any forced confession. We have flagged that up pretty well today. In the event that a confession is obtained from Nazanin, the international community is perfectly entitled to question it, to put it mildly.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to establish the top priorities of the incoming Prime Minister. He can be sure that, one way or the other, Nazanin will be at the forefront of the mind of whoever is successful in this contest next week.
Order. Further exchanges will unfold, but at this point I would like to say that all Members who visited you, Richard, when you were outside the Iranian embassy on your hunger strike will have regarded it as a great personal privilege and honour to have done so. Although people tend courteously to say, “It is good of this Member or that Member to find the time in a busy schedule”, I do not think we view it in those terms. As I say, we saw it as an honour to visit you. I am going to say to you very publicly what I have said to others and what I said to you: I was struck by your extraordinary stoicism and forbearance, a standard to which, in such circumstances, any of us could aspire but, I suspect, none of us would attain. It really was a very humbling experience. In my case, of course, I had the pleasure of not only meeting and engaging with you for the first time, but meeting your sister and your mum to boot. I want you and all of your family, and your precious daughter, to know that you will never be forgotten. The Minister has treated of these matters already in the most sensitive terms, as have other colleagues. For as long as it is necessary for this matter to be raised, as it has been by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, with persistence and passion, it will be raised. This matter, the Iranians need to know, will not go away until mother and daughter, mother and wife and husband, are reconciled so that they can live as one.
I also want to mention what I have just been told by the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees), which is that 13 of her constituents, 13 wonderful women, who, it is said, wholly implausibly to me, are of an average age of 80—I cannot see any such people in the Gallery–have made a special visit to the House today to observe our proceedings. They, together with everybody else, should be warmly welcomed. I hope you are witnessing the House at its best, treating of an extremely serious matter, on a cross-party basis, because it is not about party politics; it is about humanity and the requirement for the display of humanity in the conduct of public affairs.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn on securing this urgent question and on the powerful way in which she has been an advocate for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her constituent. I thank the Minister for his efforts and those of the current Foreign Secretary in trying to secure Nazanin’s release. We can only imagine the anguish caused by the way in which this mother is separated from her daughter, and we hope this can be swiftly resolved so that the family can be reunited. What can the Minister do to bring that about? I also want to ask him about the wider issue of the disturbing trend of Iran arresting people on trumped up charges, with them effectively becoming hostages to geopolitical disputes they have nothing to do with. That behaviour is entirely unacceptable as a tactic. As the Minister says, it risks huge reputational damage to the state, so what more can this Government, perhaps through the auspices of the United Nations, do to raise that wider issue, and to crystallise to the Iranian state and any others that wish to undertake this tactic that it is counterproductive and not acceptable?
We have made it very clear that this is not acceptable, to put it mildly. I do not think the international community can be left in any doubt as to the importance we place on this and the views of like-minded countries in respect of it. I appeal to Iran just to consider what this is doing to its reputation. Nazanin has been wrongly imprisoned. She has been maltreated in an extremely serious way, as have her family. The right thing to do now is to reunite her with her family, as a minimum, to ensure that they have immediate access to Nazanin and that they are able to make phone calls to her, so that we can try to get to the bottom of exactly what is happening and whether she is getting the treatment we have long been calling for. Of course, other issues prey on the minds of those in the UN right now in respect of Iran, and its behaviour and destabilising actions in the wider Gulf region, and I rather suspect that in further questioning this morning we might return to those.
I thank the Minister in advance of tomorrow’s meeting with me on behalf of a constituent who is in a similar position to Nazanin. On the wider implications question, is there any movement on the issue of the deal and the notion that the European Union could help with the INSTEX—Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges—approach in providing some kind of outlet for some of this frustration, so that there is a way for Iran to fix some of its economic problems and therefore have more of a dialogue with countries such as the UK?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I look forward to meeting her tomorrow. I hope that the JCPOA—Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—is capable of being advanced; I hope that we are not seeing the end of it. It is a credible mechanism for encouraging Iran to trade properly with the west, and a lot falls from that. She will know that the special purpose vehicle, INSTEX, created by the E3, which was discussed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with our interlocutors at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, is about to go live. I discussed it when I was in Tehran recently with my interlocutors. They have a sense of frustration in respect of this needing to be up and running, so that we can start doing business through it and they can get some of what they want, based around the necessities of daily life, which people in Iran at the moment are being deprived of because of sanctions. I am hopeful that this will work and that in the next few days and very few weeks INSTEX will be up and running. Iran will therefore see that good behaviour can be rewarded and in the fullness of time this can be used to perhaps reintroduce, in a small way, Iran to a proper international discourse and dialogue, which at the moment I am afraid is severely bruised.
I think you, Mr Speaker, spoke for many of us, if not all, who visited Richard Ratcliffe during his hunger strike and met possibly even more of his family than you did—I think his brother was there on the day I was there. I thank the Minister for the tone he has adopted in tackling this issue, and I obviously congratulate Nazanin’s Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), on raising the issue again.
Surely the difficulty is that this case is wrapped up in a complicated scenario that involves so many different things that have nothing to do with the particular issues that Mrs Ratcliffe’s case involves. My right hon. Friend the Minister will of course know that she is not the only British prisoner currently in Iran, nor are there only British prisoners in Iranian jails. Will he confirm that, in respect of the widest possible issue, the way in which some elements in Iran appear to be damaging that country’s reputation—not just with us but with other countries—by using hostages as a sort of political weapon is very sadly letting down Iran’s reputation around the world?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He refers to other dual nationals whom we are concerned about; we have to be a little careful, because not all the families of those dual nationals seek to advance cases publicly, and we must be led by them and their desires in how we approach this issue. It is a sensitive and individual matter, and we need to ensure that our approach to each of those cases is bespoke. That is what we will continue to do.
On Iran’s overall reputation not only in this country but in other countries, because this will involve other countries, too, I would say that now is the time to take a different approach to this particular case. It is very high-profile—much more so than the other cases we are currently dealing with—and if Iran can make progress with this case in the way I have described, its reputation, which is sadly not great among the international community at the moment, will improve significantly. It can do itself a whole lot of good by adopting a far more positive and humane approach to this particular case, and I urge it to do so.
Occasionally, people say, “What do MPs actually do for the money we spend on them?” May I say that this is exactly what MPs should be doing? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on continually raising this case. I, too, had the privilege of spending time with Richard and his mum and sister. After speaking to them, I can only understand that every hour that goes by when your child is separated from you, undergoing who knows what, must feel like a week.
The Minister has given a reasoned and determined reply to the urgent question. Will he reassure us that the changes at the very top—in respect of the Prime Minister—will not affect his Department’s determination? Will he reassure us that, with the long recess approaching, work will continue at the pace at which he wishes it to?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I do not anticipate moving—touch wood—and she can be absolutely sure that this issue is right at the top of my list of priorities. Like the Vicar of Bray, come what may I hope very much that I will be here ensuring that this remains absolutely top priority, along with other dual national cases. For the reasons I have described, this case has particular poignancy, and the hon. Lady can be sure that I will continue to do what I can with my Iranian interlocutors to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.
I am not sure that the Vicar of Bray is the right person to cite, because he changed his religion whenever the regime changed, as I remember it, and the Minister has proved himself so far to be remarkably measured and sensible in everything he has said today.
Despite all the human rights abuses in Iran, the truth is that Islam at its best can be a religion of phenomenal humanity, generosity and magnanimity, and I think that is what we are hoping for at the moment, is it not? I just wonder whether there are not other envoys that we might send from this country—perhaps from the Church or on an interfaith basis—who might be able to speak of that humanity, compassion and magnanimity and be able to bring about the result that we all earnestly hope for.
The hon. Gentleman is far better qualified to talk about the Vicar of Bray than I am—
I’m sure that’s a compliment.
Believe me, it is a compliment; I am paying the hon. Gentleman a compliment, noting his previous occupation. He makes a serious suggestion that is worth considering by all involved in this case. We have lost no opportunity to raise these dual national cases with those to whom we have been given access, at ministerial level and other levels, over the course of this sorry saga, and we will continue to do so. Of course, people need to articulate their concerns, and that is not confined to Ministers. National leaders of various sorts have commented on this case, and if they used any influence they can with their contacts in Tehran, that would be a very positive thing. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion.
The Minister might not know that I am a man of faith—I have personal faith, and in days gone by I have been the parliamentary churchwarden, a lay canon at Wakefield cathedral and an active member of Christians in Parliament. I do not want to say anything that would give Nazanin any more problems than she has. I snuck into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) the other day, and I just stood, as a silent vigil, outside the Iranian embassy. I found that useful for me, but I would like other Members of Parliament to join me and go back to do that regularly, in a quiet, respectful way, just to keep it going after the hunger strike has finished.
We must appeal to the Iranians in terms of faith. Why do we not persuade the Archbishop of Canterbury to lead an all-faith group to Iran, to appeal to the better natures of very religious people to see that this is a travesty of faith and a travesty of justice?
I hope very much that the Archbishop of Canterbury is listening to the hon. Gentleman, and that perhaps he might consider whether he or other faith leaders have a role to play in this matter. I am not sure whether the established Church is the best vehicle, but it is universally recognised as being positive and capable of talking to people of all faiths and none. My view on this matter is that dialogue is necessary, notwithstanding the nature of the individuals who we know are intimately connected with this case in Tehran and who have not in the past shown themselves to be the masters of dialogue.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for securing this urgent question and for the way she champions her constituent’s case.
My hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) both made a really important point about looking at other ways of trying to put pressure on the Iranian authorities. The Minister is a very good Minister, but what more can the Foreign and Commonwealth Office do to co-ordinate not just the diplomatic pressure that needs to be applied, but the wider pressure that can come from society, the Churches and other faiths? Why is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office not doing that? From the answer that the Minister just gave, it sounded like that co-ordination was not under way.
I am always open to suggestion; however, having considered the matter in respect of the Church of England in the few minutes I have had to do so, I think we need to be a little bit careful, because Iran is inherently suspicious of this country. If the hon. Lady doubts that, perhaps she might like to refer to Jack Straw’s excellent book that has just been published; I commend it to all right hon. and hon. Members who take an interest in these matters. There is a long-standing suspicion of this country in Tehran, and there will be a suspicion of any initiative that is prompted or engineered by the UK Government. It would certainly be open to organisations that are held in some esteem in Tehran to speak to any interlocutors they are able to identify and have access to in Iran, in order to put pressure on where they can and to bring their good counsel to bear in respect of this case and other cases relating to dual nationals.
This case is clearly of deep concern to the whole country, particularly the developments we have heard about in the last 24 hours. It is particularly heartbreaking for Richard Ratcliffe and his family. I can describe Richard only as a very gracious individual after meeting him. I ask the Minister not just what his office is doing, but how the Prime Minister’s office is responding. She has just one week left in office. Will she mobilise all the forces of her office, including, if necessary and if possible, making a diplomatic visit to Iran in the time that she has left, and make it her priority to see the release of this mother and wife?
I am confident that the issue has been a high priority for the Prime Minister. She has spoken to President Rouhani about it. It is a high priority for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is frequently in touch with his interlocutors in the matter. It is also, and will continue to be, a high priority for me, as I have explained.
Often, the issue with Iran is getting access. It cannot be taken for granted that access will be automatically welcomed, or indeed provided. I very much hope, however, that we will continue to be able to press the case with those who are in a position to influence the outcome. I have described how it is sometimes difficult to identify those who are in a position to make a decision or determination on the matter. It is not as if one were approaching a western liberal democracy; I fear things operate very differently in Tehran.
I send my solidarity, and that of my constituents, who contact me regularly about the issue, to Nazanin and her family. I have a number of constituents who are Iranian nationals awaiting decisions from the Home Office on asylum and other issues. I ask whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given any updated advice to the Minister’s colleagues in the Home Office about how those cases should be treated, in the light of the serious situation emerging in Iran. I would not want any of my constituents to be returned to Iran by the Home Office to face a situation similar to the one that Nazanin and others have faced. If he has not, I ask him to speak to his colleagues in the Home Office to make sure that something is in place to protect everybody in those circumstances.
As the hon. Lady will know, each asylum case is treated on its own merits in the light of prevailing circumstances, so I obviously cannot comment, because I do not know the individual cases to which she refers. I do know, however, that each one is treated individually by the Home Office and that a determination is made according to the perceived risk that they face, which will clearly alter with time.
I, too, thank the Minister for his tone this afternoon, but may I press him to agree, no ifs or buts, that when the incoming Prime Minister joins us, he must make Nazanin’s release an absolute priority? I ask, gently and genuinely, should that Prime Minister be the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), how we can ensure that he is appropriately briefed on Nazanin’s situation. I hope the Minister agrees that it is imperative that we avoid any repeat of earlier blunders.
I know that my right hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) are greatly exercised by this case. I assure the hon. Lady that they are extremely well read into it now. I am absolutely confident that, whatever the outcome next week, the Prime Minister will treat the case with the priority that I think it deserves. I reassure her, however, that I shall be there, inshallah, prompting them to ensure that the matter has the highest priority.
I, too, stand in solidarity with Richard and his family, and all hon. Members in the House today, to say that we need Nazanin home now.
When Nazanin’s father rushed to see his daughter in her hospital bed, his access was blocked by the revolutionary guard, which is a shocking turn of events that has affected us all. All of Nazanin’s family, including her sister-in-law Rebecca, who lives in my constituency, are going through hell as her situation deteriorates. When will the Government explore new ways to get Nazanin home safely as quickly as possible?
I share the hon. Lady’s frustration—I really do. I want this brought to a conclusion as soon as possible. She has to appreciate, though, that the United Kingdom has a limited number of tools in its toolbox, which is part of our frustration. I would love to be able to resolve it tomorrow, but all we can do is what we do diplomatically, which is to put pressure on our interlocutors and try to explain to them what the benefits are, not only for the individuals concerned, but for the country concerned, of bringing it to a satisfactory resolution. It is truly a win-win situation—it is clearly a win for Nazanin and her family that she should be released as soon as possible, and it is a win for the reputation of Iran.
I congratulate the Minister on the manner in which he has conducted his response to the urgent question. There is widespread support across the House for the humanitarian challenge that is before us, and particularly before the Ratcliffe family.
Does the Minister agree that this is not the time or place for any attempts across the House, however gently put, to seek party political advantage or division as a result of the changes to the Conservative leadership? We should all focus on ensuring that Nazanin can be returned to this country and on doing whatever we can to make representations to the right people in Iran to secure her release, irrespective of other political events surrounding our relationship with Iran.
Of course I agree with my right hon. Friend. I recall the remarks that you made a few minutes ago, Mr Speaker, about how this sort of issue sees the House is acting at its best, that we are not being partisan and that we are clearly focused on the interests of Nazanin and other dual nationals. That is where we need to be focused. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to approach these matters in that light and in the manner to which you rightly alluded, Mr Speaker.
It is good to know that the Minister feels secure in his post. With all respect to him, however, Nazanin’s fate has been tied to the person of the Foreign Secretary, current and previous, for good or ill. I am not asking him to predict who will be the Foreign Secretary in a week’s time, but will he assure us that all eventualities are being planned for in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that the matter remains at the top of the agenda and we do not have any more confusion and delay?
I am not sure I would associate myself with the sense of security to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I assure him that the matter is right at the top of the priorities of the Department that I have the honour of being a Minister in. That will endure. I have sought to explain to the House that, whatever the outcome next week, I am confident that it will continue to be a high priority for No. 10.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have already indulged me today, so I hope you will indulge me a little further while I read out a message from Richard Ratcliffe, my constituent. He says:
“On behalf of Nazanin’s whole family, I want to thank the Speaker and the House from the bottom of my heart for the support, compassion and empathy that you have shown us in these troubled times. We won’t stop fighting for her release, and I hope the House won’t stop either.”
It was unsolicited, but it is greatly appreciated. We won’t let go. I think there is a pact between us on this matter.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:
Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No.3) Act 2019.
Immigration Detention: Victims of Modern Slavery
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on immigration detention and victims of modern slavery.
Modern slavery is an abhorrent crime, and the Government are determined to stamp it out. In my role as Immigration Minister, I am especially aware of the shocking exploitation of vulnerable individuals from overseas who are duped by the promise of a better life in the UK, only to be trafficked and sold into modern slavery. Identifying and protecting victims of such crimes is a priority. In October 2017, we announced an ambitious package of reforms to the national referral mechanism. As well as improving the support on offer, these reforms are intended to provide quicker and more certain decision making, in which victims can have confidence.
I must make it clear, however, that being recognised as a victim of modern slavery does not automatically result in being granted immigration status in the UK. There may be victims of modern slavery who have no lawful basis to remain and for whom support is available to leave the UK voluntarily. It is important that we recognise the important role of our immigration policies. Although we are committed to supporting individuals to leave voluntarily, including with reintegration support, there may be occasions when they have exhausted all options and are refusing to leave, and we are faced with the difficult decision of detaining people to secure their return.
I want to reassure the House that we do not take these decisions lightly, but it may be necessary to detain individuals, even if they are vulnerable, to effect their removal. When that is the case, we seek to keep the period of detention as short as possible and place their welfare and safeguarding at the heart of what we do. The Home Secretary made clear his commitment to going further and faster with reforms to immigration detention, including by reducing the number of people we detain, increasing the number of voluntary returns and working with partners on alternatives to detention. We have made real progress in delivering these commitments. A number of women who would otherwise have been detained are now being managed in the community. Other pilots will begin later this year.
As we approach the first anniversary of Stephen Shaw’s second independent review of immigration detention, it is important to take stock of how far we have come, while acknowledging that there is much more to do to ensure that our approach to immigration detention is fair and humane.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. On 19 June this year, the Immigration Minister provided a written answer on the possible immigration detention of persons who are in fact victims of slavery. The written answer read as follows:
“there is no central record”
of such persons, and
“The Home Office therefore does not collate or publish the data requested”.
However, we now learn from a freedom of information request by The Independent that that is not the case: 500 victims of enslavement or trafficking were held in immigration detention. I have myself visited Yarl’s Wood detention centre and met such persons.
In response to an earlier written question on 20 December last year, the Immigration Minister said:
“in cases in which it has been found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that an individual may be a victim of trafficking or modern slavery, the appropriateness of their being detained, or of their detention continuing, is governed by the Home Office’s modern slavery policy. This means that such individuals will not be detained”.
How many people who are victims of trafficking or modern slavery have been held in previous years? How many such people are currently held? Are the Government not in breach of their own stated policy on detention? How many of the 400 detainees were assessed as being a threat to public order and on what grounds? Does the Minister accept that when she responded to the written question saying that no data was available, she was in fact misleading the House?
I reassure the right hon. Lady that I certainly was not misleading the House: there is no central record of those who have received a positive, conclusive grounds decision and are detained under immigration powers. While that information may be obtainable from the live Home Office case information database, otherwise referred to as CID, the information would be for internal management only. For example, some data may be incomplete and freedom of information requests are heavily caveated as such.
Releases of data from CID are always caveated and sometimes it is possible the data is not always accurate; there may be instances where individuals are counted twice. It is standard practice in parliamentary questions that we do not provide information that does not form part of published statistics. CID will show only those individuals who have been referred into the NRM from immigration teams and would not cover those referred to the NRM from other first responders, such as the police, social services or, potentially, medical practitioners.
The right hon. Lady asks specifically about the 507 individuals referred to in the After Exploitation report. I want to be very clear on this point: those were not 507 individuals detained after getting a positive reasonable grounds. As stated very clearly in the freedom of information response, the figure relates to people who had a positive reasonable grounds when entering detention or while in detention.
Further analysis of the figures shows that, of the 507 people in question, 479 received the positive reasonable grounds decision during a detention period—and of those, 328, or 68%, were released within two days of the decision and in total 422 were released within a week. Of the 57 detained for eight days or more following a positive reasonable grounds decision, 81% were foreign national offenders.
What is particularly terrible about immigration detention is its indeterminate nature and the fact that detainees have so little information about their own cases and, indeed, about their rights. Habeas corpus is still one of our fundamental principles, isn’t it?
Individuals in immigration detention are entitled to a free legal advice surgery of 30 minutes within the first 24 hours of their detention and to have as many of those surgeries thereafter. As part of the Shaw re-review of last year, we piloted automatic bail referrals after two months instead of four months, as previously.
I must correct my right hon. Friend: it is not lawful to detain individuals indefinitely. They may be detained only when there are realistic grounds for removal within a reasonable timescale.
Immigration detention is a hellish thing to inflict on anybody; that is especially true of victims of modern slavery and trafficking. Will the Government accept that the supposed safeguards, particularly the gatekeeping process, are just not working? Signs of trafficking and enslavement are not being picked up, as those 507 cases show. Even when they are, immigration enforcement factors are given greater priority.
What will be done to improve the malfunctioning gatekeeping process and when will an overhaul of the rule 35 process be completed? More fundamentally, for as long as we continue to detain people indefinitely in these awful institutions, should not decisions on whether to detain any individual and on who should be released be made entirely independently of the Home Office? At the very least, we need much stronger and faster independent judicial oversight.
The Government are committed to ensuring that the rule 35 process operates effectively. In March this year, we launched our targeted consultation on the overhaul of the detention centre rules within which the operation of rule 35 is a key element; of course it is closely linked into the operation of the “adults at risk” policy. We continue to keep the detention gatekeeper function under close review, but I certainly think that it has shown an improvement on the situation before its introduction.
Many victims of modern-day slavery are young and many are women. What support is given to such victims if they are identified as victims of modern-day slavery in a detention centre?
As my hon. Friend will know, it is through the national referral mechanism that potential victims of modern slavery will be referred, and then support will be available to them. She is absolutely right to point out that many victims of modern slavery are young and many are women. I am sure that she will be pleased with our introduction of the pilot scheme currently operating in Newcastle; we have released women, who would otherwise be detained at Yarl’s Wood, to be supported in the community. I am very much looking forward to the possibility of introducing further pilots later this year. They will include not just women but men.
Is there not something shocking about the Minister’s reply today? You may remember, Mr Speaker, that you allowed me a point of order on the factual inaccuracies that the Minister gave in a parliamentary answer when she said that she had no idea of the number of people who had escaped slavery and were now in detention centres. If it were not for After Exploitation, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, we would have no idea what those numbers were. Since those parliamentary interventions, it is quite clear that the Minister has now been briefed on what is happening. Given that, in her answer to my right hon. Friend, she said that large numbers of people were now not in detention centres, may I ask her where they are, because when these people, largely women, are released like this, without any help, they are often scooped up by the slave owners.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that, at any one time, 95% of those liable to detention are actually in the community and not in immigration removal centres at all. It is important to emphasise that a freedom of information request will elicit different data to that which is available in parliamentary questions. I reiterate the point that no central record is held and that the information from the FOI has been collated from a variety of sources and may well give an inaccurate picture. If there is one thing that one learns as a Home Office Minister it is to be very wary of numbers at all times and not to seek to give numbers that may be inaccurate.
In my constituency, there are two immigration detention centres: Tinsley House and Brook House. May I seek assurances from the Minister that the staff who operate those centres receive correct and adequate training to ensure that they are identifying and detecting those who may have been victims of modern slavery?
It is still very much the case that it is the Home Office and Home Office staff in the widest sense who identify the greatest number of victims of modern slavery. Training is provided, and it is important that training is not only provided, but refreshed and is an ongoing process. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made her commitment clear on this issue, and it has been a driving force in the Home Office to support her in the mission to stamp out this terrible crime, to identify the victims and to ensure that they are given the help that they need as victims.
The Government’s refusal to put a firewall between the police and labour inspection agencies and the Home Office for immigration purposes means that victims of modern slavery will continue to be at risk of detention and deportation. That is wrong, and it will deter victims from coming forward, which means that slavers and traffickers will get away with what they are doing. Will the Minister finally accept that data sharing for immigration enforcement must stop?
The hon. Lady is simply wrong to suggest that data sharing is always bad. In fact, in many instances, data sharing between the Home Office and the police can identify people who need to be safeguarded, and it is crucial that we have systems that will enable people to be correctly identified and then referred through the appropriate mechanisms. As I said in response to an earlier question, it is still the Home Office that identifies the highest number of victims of modern slavery.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), is it not the case that keeping numbers centrally might be a good idea? I understand that the Minister said that that number is not kept centrally, but part of my right hon. Friend’s point was that, perhaps, it should be.
May I ask the Minister if she will reconsider the possibility of keeping such numbers centrally, including breaking them down, for instance, by how many victims of torture are kept in detention. I know that she will say that the number is low, but the rule on adults at risk surely suggests that that number should be kept as low as possible, and we cannot know if it is unless we know what those numbers are.
The Home Office is making good progress in replacing antiquated case-working systems and data platforms, much of which will be complete by March next year, but it is a complex change process and although it will provide us with modern tools to protect and utilise data effectively, it is not an instant fix and will require further investment in the coming years. The changes will also mean that we will be able to act more swiftly to update systems to provide better organisation and granularity of data once they are deployed, but it does not negate the risk that data can be easily misinterpreted and each individual’s journey through the system is different, and aggregated information does not always represent the work undertaken. None the less, we will continue to focus on individual needs.
My constituent Joel White, from Pollokshields, emailed me 20 minutes ago to say that he is a regular visitor to Dungavel immigration removal centre. He asked me to raise the case of a man that he spoke to recently who said:
“The Home Office don’t tell me nothing—they don’t tell me what’s going on. When I sit down here, I don’t know what is going on. Time is just rolling down the road. You just lose your mind. I just need any help.”
This man has been in Dungavel for six months. He does not know whether he is being removed or whether he is likely to be released at any time. Will the Minister take on such cases and end the scandal of indefinite detention?
I reiterate the point that detention can only be maintained where there is a realistic chance of removal within a reasonable timescale. The hon. Lady will have heard me comment earlier about auto-bail applications at two months. An individual in detention can apply for bail at any time. I urge her constituent to provide that advice to the individual concerned.
Every Child Protected Against Trafficking has worked with child victims of trafficking who have been detained in immigration detention having been incorrectly considered to be adults. Despite displaying indicators of having been trafficked, these children can struggle to prove their age. They may not have identity documents or they may have been given false identity documents by their traffickers. What efforts is the Home Office making to ensure that no child who is a victim of trafficking is being held in immigration detention?
The UK ended the routine detention of children in immigration removal centres in 2010 and enshrined that in law under the Immigration Act 2014. It is worth noting that, in the last year of the previous Labour Government, 1,100 children were held in detention. However, in some cases, individuals without documentary evidence of their age who are detained as adults subsequently claim to be children. When that occurs, our revised interim policy states that they will be afforded the benefit of the doubt and released into the care of social services until a further assessment of their age has been made, unless their physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are over 25 years of age. Home Office policy means that such cases may be counted as under-18s for the purposes of data collection, but the hon. Lady is right that we should not be detaining children, and we have put in place steps that will prevent that from happening. Where there is an age-dispute case, the benefit of the doubt will always be afforded to the individual.
I have repeatedly raised issues regarding victims of torture in immigration detention and asked questions on the number of Sri Lankan nationals granted refugee status after having previously been removed to Sri Lanka. Last November, the Minister said that there was no specific information available. It was only by pressing the Minister during a meeting in May that I was finally provided with the data requested—seven months after I asked the initial question. Why do we have to go to such lengths to pry information from the Home Office? Why do the Government withhold important data from public scrutiny? Where is the accountability and transparency in this situation?
The right hon. Lady will have heard my previous answers about the importance of relying on published statistics that can be properly verified. Relying on information that turns out to have come from aggregated sources, which then transpire to be inaccurate, is a very dangerous route to go down.
I think that the Minister has rather missed the point of what we are all saying. There is genuine shock across the House at the fact that it is Government policy to lock up victims of modern-day slavery as immigration offenders. What everybody is saying in different ways to the Minister is that that is unacceptable, and when is it going to stop?
The hon. Gentleman might have missed the comment that I made at the start of this urgent question. Just because somebody is a victim of modern slavery or trafficking does not mean that they have immigration status in this country. It is important that we reflect on the fact that our first port of call is to offer a voluntary return, so that somebody may go back to their country of origin and receive support there. There are reintegration packages. We must not assume that we are best placed to assist those people who have been trafficked.
A system which detains people to whom the state has a duty of protection, which regularly separates parents from their children, which results in people being denied access to food and medicine and living in appalling conditions, and which incarcerates people indefinitely who present no risk to public safety in the UK, is a system of which we should all be ashamed. Does the Minister accept that the current immigration detention system is a pillar of the hostile environment, and that the time has come for radical reform?
I remind the hon. Lady that the detention estate is significantly smaller than it was when the last Labour Government left office. She is wrong to suggest that people in immigration removal centres are denied access to food and medicine. They have 24/7 access to healthcare and it is absolutely right that they must do so. We take the vulnerability of detainees incredibly seriously, which is why we commissioned Stephen Shaw to do his re-review last year and are implementing his recommendations. It is absolutely right that we have chosen to shrink the detention estate and that we are seeking to pilot schemes where individuals can be better supported in the community. We will continue down that road.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You were not in the Chair at the time, but the word that the Minister heard was “indefinite”. My recollection is that the word that I used was “indeterminate”. Thank you for indulging me so that I could get that on the record.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his brief and precise point of order. He has corrected the record. There is a distinction between the two words, and I am sure that his point will have been taken into consideration.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister’s answer to my question just a few moments ago regarding the unreliability of statistics was actually misleading. I accept that she may inadvertently be misleading the House, but she will know that I only got the answer on the numbers because I pointed out to her that a previous Minister had been asked the very same written question and gave the answer. As I said, I waited seven months, but the Minister did not give me an answer because she was unsure of the statistics. I do not know whether it is incompetence, inadequacy or what.
Order. I appreciate the right hon. Lady’s point, but she will know that it is not a point of order for the Chair; it is a point of debate. The right hon. Lady has asked a question and the Minister has given an answer. It is not for the Chair to adjudicate as to whether any answer is acceptable or pleasing to the Member who asked the question. It is the Minister’s answer and I will give her the opportunity to expand on it if she wishes to do so.
The Minister does not wish to expand on it; she has given her answer. The right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) is not satisfied, but c’est la vie—that’s life.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice on a very important matter for my constituents. Two in five pensioners do not claim the pension credit that they are due. My elderly constituents are now contacting me to tell me that the telephone line provided by the UK Government through the Department for Work and Pensions to apply for pension credit over the phone is not properly staffed. Some people are kept on hold for over 30 minutes to speak to an adviser, before giving up. I tried to find online application forms to download in order to allow my constituents to apply for this benefit by post, but it turns out that no application forms are available, except for those living in Northern Ireland. That means that many of my elderly and financially challenged constituents are facing considerable obstacles to claiming the support for which they are eligible, which would go some way to explaining why two in five pensioners do not claim for pension credit. Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek your advice and guidance as to what action I can take to ensure that the Government make it as easy as possible for pensioners in my constituency and across the UK who are eligible for pension credit, and who need this important support, to claim it without encountering these obstacles.
I thank the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving me notice that she intended to raise that point of order. She raises a very important and serious matter about which the House has shown its concern on at least two occasions in the past few weeks—that I can recall—in the form of an urgent question and a debate. It is a matter of significant importance. I cannot give her any further advice from the Chair today, except to say that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard what she has said and I am quite sure that the appropriate Minister will be informed of her concerns. Of course, there are various ways in which the hon. Lady can bring this matter to the Floor of the House once again. If she cares to visit the Table Office, I am sure that she will be given the appropriate advice. I look forward to hearing her raise the matter with the Minister on the Floor of the House in due course.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You may be aware that yesterday the National Records of Scotland released the drug deaths figures for Scotland, which stand at a record high of 1,187 deaths—souls lost to drug addiction—in the past year. There is nothing to this effect on the Order Paper today, but have you been given any indication whether a Home Office Minister will come to the House and make a statement on this issue? Some of the responsibility lies with the Home Office, as these matters are considered to fall under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, so it may be helpful for a Minister to enlighten the House on what their part may be in dealing with this crisis.
I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. The answer to the first part of her question is that, yes, I am aware of these very worrying and serious statistics, which I am sure all Members will take very seriously. On her second point, I am not aware that a Minister is at this moment planning to come to the House to make a statement. I will say to the hon. Lady what I said to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) just a moment or two ago, which is that there are various ways in which she can bring this matter to the attention of the House in a formal way, and if she cares to visit the Table Office, I am sure that she will be given advice on how to do so. I look forward to hearing her raise these matters with the appropriate Minister in due course, because I am sure that it is a matter about which the House would like to hear.
Reservoirs (Flood Risk)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to grant the Environment Agency additional powers to require water companies to manage reservoirs to mitigate flood risk; and for connected purposes.
Calderdale—which comprises my Halifax constituency and that of my neighbour, the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker)—was devastated by flooding on Boxing day 2015. Storm Eva followed Storm Desmond, and wreaked havoc on parts of Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire. My constituency, particularly Sowerby Bridge and Copley, was badly impacted by the floods, with the storm bringing extreme weather events, compounding a prolonged period of heavy rainfall. However, it was the total devastation further down the valley in Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge, with further damage in Elland, Todmorden and Brighouse, that brought Secretaries of State and the national press to Calderdale to see the unprecedented damage for themselves.
The River Calder was described as having become “weaponised” over Boxing day, picking up everything in its path and using it to smash its way through the valley, taking out bridges, roads, homes and businesses. In total, 2,781 residential properties and 1,635 businesses were affected in Calderdale alone. I hope this gives some sense of why flood protection is still a massive priority in our area. Residents are genuinely fearful every time the forecasts suggest that heavy rainfall is on its way. Since the flooding in 2015, many different initiatives have begun to help ensure that that level of destruction cannot be inflicted again. My Bill proposes to add the role of reservoirs to that package of initiatives. We need all these measures to work if we are truly to get a grip of flood risk in Calderdale.
The hard infrastructure work is currently ongoing across the borough, including a major remodelling at the centre of Mytholmroyd, with a new bridge and widened channel. Similar works are scheduled to start shortly in Hebden Bridge, providing that the funding gap can be closed. Natural flood management has also been a significant part of our response, with local organisation Slow the Flow deploying its team of energetic volunteers to such great effect. Since 2016, they have been working with the National Trust, the Environment Agency and Calderdale Council, using the natural environment to build leaky dams across streams, and to stuff deep gullies and channels. This work seeks to spread the water as it makes its way down the valley, to prevent it from coursing rapidly through channels to the valley below—delaying its journey to hold as much water up in the crags as possible. Managing the upper catchment in this way is essential if we are to do all that we can to mitigate flood risk for those in the valleys below.
Also in the upper catchment above Calder valley are six Yorkshire Water reservoirs, and conversations about their role in mitigating flood risk have been under way for some time. The Bill seeks to formalise that process and demonstrate parliamentary support for its aims. In the winter of 2017-18, Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency started a trial to manage the Hebden Water reservoirs down to 90% of their usual top storage level, with the aim of assessing the potential of utilising the reservoirs as a more long-term flood risk management option. Maintaining the reservoirs at 90%, instead of the usual 100%, created the extra 10% capacity to hold more water in the upper catchment during periods of unusually heavy rainfall.
While the reservoirs were placed under nothing like the pressure of the 2015 Boxing day weather during the trial period, the report was able to conclude that:
“The lower reservoir levels did provide a significant impact on peak flows in Hebden Water for the largest events observed during this period”.
The report proposed that next steps might include trialling 85% capacity, as the levels in the reservoir had been restored faster than expected during periods of rainfall. The report was clear that the scheme had a positive impact on flood mitigation and that this managed and collaborative approach would be complementary to ongoing flood protection work in the area. This approach is not just happening in Calderdale. Similar conversations and trials are under way across the country, including at Thirlmere reservoir in Cumbria, reservoirs in the Upper Don valley and Watergrove reservoir in Rochdale—I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) in the Chamber.
So why do we need legislation to make this happen? There are still challenges that need to be ironed out before water companies have the confidence to commit to these types of scheme more routinely. Currently, the legislation that underpins water companies and the regulation of them has a focus on mitigating drought risk, rather than flood risk. We know that extreme weather will increase in frequency in the years to come, and reservoirs will be key in ensuring resilience within our water infrastructure if we are to manage both drought and flood risk. Right now, we need to give reservoir management of this kind a statutory thumbs-up, explicitly giving the Environment Agency the powers to instruct a water company to manage down the levels on pre-designated reservoirs, where the evidence suggests that doing so would reduce flood risk and protect communities.
To be clear, it would not be a case of drawing those reservoir levels down at speed at the point when we are faced with extreme weather, as that would place dangerous pressures on the watercourses and, if anything, contribute to flood risk. Instead, the Bill would set out a framework for having agreements in place long in advance of that for the EA and water companies to have identified which reservoirs, what capacity level is appropriate and when that reduction would be in place, with the evidence base to support those decisions.
Water companies are currently regulated by Ofwat, and inevitably there is a strong focus on preventing over-abstraction of water sources, particularly in the context of fears that climate change will bring about prolonged periods of hot, dry weather. However, the Environment Agency warned in May that entire communities might need to be moved away from rivers if we are to prepare for a predicted, terrifying average global temperature rise of 4°C. Again, regulation must find the appropriate balance between the two threats of drought and flooding.
The water industry in England and Wales is diverse, and pressures in one area are not the same as those in another, so regulation needs to allow for water companies and the EA to respond to the local risks and react accordingly. The Bill would set out the transfer of powers to the EA and the framework in which such arrangements between the EA and water companies, in consultation with local authorities and communities, would work.
For the Bill to be as effective as we would all hope, further considerations might be needed. For all the reasons set out, resilient water infrastructure will ensure that reservoirs can assist in alleviating both drought and flood risk, and increased capacity would only be a good thing. To allow us to respond in real time to changes in our climate that mean we can face both drought risk and flood risk within months of each other, we need a more automated means of doing that. Reservoirs involved in the recent trial required an operator to alter the water levels manually using largely Victorian infrastructure. While the Bill focuses on the powers and framework required, it goes without saying that investment in automation and resilience in water infrastructure would be hugely beneficial.
In an ideal world, the ability to transfer water between reservoirs, and even across the country, would enable the release of excess water to mitigate flood risk, which could be sent elsewhere without wasting a single drop. Yorkshire Water is currently exploring the possibility of directing the water released from its trial reservoirs into its nearby treatment works, which is exactly the approach we would like to see.
With that in mind, I hope it is clear to Members why my Bill is needed and why those of us from flood-affected areas feel so passionately about getting this right. I want to take this opportunity to thank both Adrian Gill at the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water’s Granville Davies, who strive to reduce flood risk every day in the Calder valley and who have been incredibly helpful in engaging in constructive dialogue.
I am not naive about the nature of ten-minute rule Bills, but I hope that the Environment Minister and her team have heard the details of my Bill and will reflect on its merits. I also want to stress that, just because the Bill will not become law tomorrow, it does not mean we are not looking to water companies to undertake this work on our behalf in the meantime. They have my full support and that of many MPs and our communities in doing just that. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Holly Lynch, Louise Haigh, Rachael Maskell, Diana Johnson, Hilary Benn, Paul Blomfield, Angela Smith, Rachel Reeves, Philip Davies, Trudy Harrison, Gill Furniss and John Mc Nally present the Bill.
Holly Lynch accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 424).
Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [Lords]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am delighted to present the Bill, the purpose of which is simple: it will remove the criminal penalty for not responding to new census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, which means that these questions will be voluntary. The Office for National Statistics recommended that these questions only be asked of those aged 16 and over and, importantly, that they be voluntary. The Bill enables that by following the same method used to make the question on religion voluntary in the Census (Amendment) Act 2000, which is by removing the criminal penalty for not responding to census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Following consultations with the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, we have extended the Bill to Northern Ireland. The Bill does not require either question to be asked in the 2021 census, but it does extend the voluntary nature of the questions should Northern Ireland decide to include either question in the 2021 census.
The 22nd national census is due to be carried out in March 2021, and that will be provided for by secondary legislation in the normal way. This Bill is distinct from that secondary legislation. It simply ensures that, in delivering on the White Paper’s proposals, the ONS can include these new questions on a voluntary basis. I want to make a couple of brief points on how that voluntary nature is guaranteed.
I support the thrust of what the Bill is designed to achieve. However, many of my constituents are concerned that the Bill does not seek to achieve more wide-ranging change by allowing both Jains and Zoroastrians—both internationally recognised religions—to be properly recognised in the forthcoming census, which would end the historical under-reporting of the number of people who subscribe to those religions in the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, but I would just say that everybody who wishes to identify, for example, as Jain in the census will be able to do so. They will be able to use the write-in option and a new search-as-you-type facility. The Jain populations are concentrated in a small number of local authorities, which we know, and the ONS has committed to work with local groups and organisations to ensure that anyone who wishes to identify as Jain knows how to do so.
First, the ONS has committed to ensure that the voluntary nature of the questions on sexual orientation and gender identity are made clear in its design for the census forms in England and Wales—both on the front pages of the forms, and alongside the questions themselves.
Secondly, respondents will be provided with a unique access code to the online census, and anyone aged 16 years and over will be able to request a code, or paper form if answering offline, who wishes to respond privately. This will enable people to answer the census, including these two questions, without having to tell the person completing the household form that they have done so. Any individual answers will override any submitted on the household form. That is vital to protect people’s privacy.
Thirdly, census confidentiality remains of the utmost importance. All personal data collected by the census will be stored confidentially and not released for 100 years. This Bill delivers on the White Paper’s proposals to include new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in the 2021 census, and on a voluntary basis. I urge all Members to join me in supporting this simple and worthwhile legislation, and I commend this Bill to the House.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his introduction, and I also thank the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), for his willingness, once again, to work with me and our side openly on this important legislation, which is greatly appreciated. I have to note, when I look across the Atlantic and see the difficulties the racist President Trump is having about his citizenship question in the United States census, that the Minister here has surely shown how to get a census Bill through the House by working, as they say in the United States, across the aisle.
The aim of this Bill is to provide for voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to be asked in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland censuses. Crucially, this Bill renders questions concerning gender identity and sexual orientation voluntary, as the right hon. Gentleman has outlined. I think we can all agree that it would be totally inappropriate to compel someone to answer a deeply personal question about their sexuality or gender identity in the census. However, at the same time, these are vital questions that reflect better the modern UK and how we address the needs of a long discriminated against section of society.
Labour supports this Bill on the basis that any census must be LGBT+ inclusive. Recognising gender identity and sexual orientation as core aspects of personal identity in official statistics is a step forward in the fight for LGBT+ equality. It gives individuals the opportunity to identify themselves however they choose in this important civic event. Indeed, the Opposition support this change as a point of principle. This tick box clearly demonstrates that, as a society, we value LGBT+ inclusivity. As a party, we have always fought for minority rights. Progressive equality legislation is part of Labour’s history. Labour brought in the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010, and we introduced the minimum wage and Sure Start. We support this Bill in the spirit of inclusivity and equality, strengthening a proud history within Labour of fighting for minority rights.
This change is not only symbolically important, but practically necessary. Gathering the required data to properly understand and support the LGBT+ community is vital. Information derived from the census helps us to inform policy, plan services and distribute resources effectively to local government and health authorities, and enable these resources to be directed where they are needed.
Of paramount importance is the acquisition of accurate data to address inequalities facing minority groups. Accurate data about the size and characteristics of the LGBT+ community are currently severely lacking. Small-scale surveys struggle to grasp the whole picture, producing significantly varied estimates of the size of the LGBT population. Without an accurate picture of the size or nature of any minority community in society, how can we provide the necessary targeted support and services they need?
We are talking about a community that is in particular need of support: LGBT+ people have worse mental and physical health outcomes on average than the rest of the population. In particular, suicide rates for gay and bisexual youth are significantly higher than for their heterosexual counterparts. It is not just the youth who are suffering; older LGBT people suffer disproportionately from social isolation and a lack of social support networks. It is only through accurate data about minority populations that agencies can begin to properly address the inequalities faced by LGBT people. The census has the advantage of being a whole-population count and can therefore build a representative and accurate picture of the whole country.
Privacy is always a matter of concern when discussing these topics. I commend the work that has been done by the Parliamentary Secretary, his officials and the ONS to consider people’s privacy when a family member is completing the census form. Any member of a household will be able to request their own individual census form if there is information they do not wish to disclose to the householder, such as gender identity, sexual orientation or a change of religion. These are clearly issues that we must be aware of and sensitive to when carrying out a census.
Labour has a proud record of championing the fight for LGBT equality. We abolished section 28, equalised the age of consent and created civil partnerships, and it was with Labour votes that equal marriage became law. The Opposition are committed to taking radical steps to improve inclusivity in our society. The inclusion of a gender identity box in the census is an important step in this direction, but there is still a long way to go, particularly in the area of LGBT inclusivity. We are still not free from bigotry as a society. Issues such as lack of education, unequal access to public services and levels of LGBT hate crime and mental health remain barriers to full equality.
By way of illustration, recently in my own county, Bob Fousert, the chair of the police and crime scrutiny panel, attacked our deputy chief constable, Julie Cooke, for wearing a rainbow lanyard in support of LGBT rights. He said it was a political statement. Well, if standing up against hate crime is a political statement, then yes, it was a political statement. His appalling comments were condemned, including by David Keane, the police and crime commissioner. I wrote to Deputy Chief Constable Cooke, who leads nationally for the police on LGBT issues, to offer my support. Mr Fousert had to resign as chair—and good riddance. I recount this story because, in the same week that those comments were made, there was a well publicised attack on a lesbian couple on a bus in London and a vicious homophobic attack in Liverpool. We may have made progress in the last couple of decades, but we are not there yet.
The Opposition have been calling for a particular focus in this census on homeless LGBT+ communities. The position of LGBT+ homeless people warrants particular attention in this discussion, not least given the shocking statistic that up to 24% of the youth homeless population are from the LGBT+ community. Clearly, we are far from solving the issue of LGBT+ discrimination. Young homeless people continue to be one of the most disenfranchised and marginalised groups in society, but young LGBT people are particularly isolated. The Albert Kennedy Trust reports that LGBT homeless youth are highly likely to have experienced familial rejection, abuse and violence, leading to their state of homelessness. In many cases, homophobia is the reason why they became homeless. LGBT+ homeless people are regularly at the receiving end of shocking levels discrimination and abuse.
Homelessness in any form makes people more vulnerable to other risks, such as mental health problems. The unprecedented rise in homelessness under the current Government is a national disgrace, yet more and more people continue to be forced on to the streets by the Government’s policies—from welfare cuts to a lack of investment in social housing. Homelessness charities have reported a rise in homelessness of up to 169% since 2010. The Government hold a direct responsibility for the perpetuation of this national crisis. It is time the Government looked to the root causes of rising homelessness, and invested in more affordable homes and stronger rights for renters.
What is more shocking is the direct ramifications that austerity cuts have had for the LGBT+ voluntary and charity sector, given that public funding provides such a large proportion of overall income. This in turn further isolates LGBT homeless people. Not only do the Government need to support specialist LGBT services to allow greater access to more safe, accessible and affordable accommodation, but, above all, to fight for wider recognition of the issues that LGBT homeless people face.
Labour has pledged to tackle the bullying of LGBT young people by ensuring that all teachers receive initial and continuous training on LGBT issues experienced by students and how to address them. Furthermore, we fully support changes to the new guidance for relationships and sex education to ensure they are LGBT inclusive. Therefore, we believe that this census must make a particular effort to give LGBT homeless people the opportunity to contribute to this important civic exercise. Their inclusion will enable us to build an accurate picture of the number of people from the LGBT community living without a permanent address. It is only through an awareness of the scale of the issue that support and aid can be effectively targeted towards the most vulnerable communities.
Furthermore, there is a particular danger that all homeless people, whether rough sleepers, sofa surfers or, especially, LGBT+ people, could be undercounted. There must be a particular effort by the ONS to ensure that those communities are reached on the day of the census. There are dangerous consequences of an undercount, which would play into the hands of those who would prefer to ignore the LGBT+ community and reverse progress towards equality.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely good speech, which I strongly support. Will he join me in encouraging the ONS to look again at the representation of Jainism and Zoroastrianism in the religion section of the 2021 census? Notwithstanding the slight movement in progress alluded to by the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), in relation to the provision of a drop-down box, there is a genuine concern among the leaders of both faith communities that there will continue to be a significant under-reporting of the number of Jains and Zoroastrians living and adhering to their faith in the UK.
My hon. Friend has been pushing this issue with perseverance and resilience. Representations have been made to the Minister by those and other religions and ethnic groups. It may well be that this issue is considered in Committee or on Report, or, if it is not included in the scope of the Bill, then later on when we come to the census. I look forward to reading any proposals my hon. Friend brings forward.
Returning to the homeless count, I am grateful to the Minister for assurances that the ONS will work with organisations representing LGBT people and charities, to locate hard-to-reach communities and ensure they are given the opportunity to complete the census. I understand that the ONS is organising both national and local campaigns to highlight that everyone in England and Wales should complete the census. Community engagement programmes will allow field teams to specifically target hard-to-reach communities and help minority groups with census completion.
Working with stakeholders throughout this process is vital, particularly when it comes to drafting specific questions for the census. The drafting of the questions and the accompanying guidance must be subject to extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders from across the LGBT community and women’s groups. I understand that my noble Friend Baroness Hayter made that important point via an amendment in the other place.
We are pleased to support the Bill, which is a step forward in the fight for LGBT+ recognition, and to ensure that the mirror we hold up to ourselves in the form of the census portrays an accurate reflection of all parts of our nation. It is vital that thorough consultation follows the passage of the Bill to ensure that these words are carried forward into action. Given the richness and range of data provided by a survey of this size, the 2021 census provides us with an exciting opportunity to gather accurate data about minority communities, and to plan services and distribute resources accordingly.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. I welcome the introduction of the Bill to ensure that the census is up to date and accurately reflects the country as we go to seek its views.
There was another census that took place about 2,000 years ago, possibly the most famous and most significant census ever undertaken. It was a census where people returned to their homeland, to the place they were from, to register. There was a recently married couple at this time who left the town of Nazareth and undertook an arduous journey of about 100 miles on foot—maybe with a donkey, but probably on foot—to their home town of Bethlehem to register that this was the place that they belonged to, that this was their homeland. The journey was particularly gruelling because the wife was heavily pregnant. As is well known to us all now, when they got to Bethlehem the woman gave birth to a son, the most famous human to have ever lived and the founder of the Christian faith. I am sure Sir Cliff Richard is eternally grateful that they made it to Bethlehem, because “O Little Town of Nazareth” does not have quite the same ring to it and he would probably have been one Christmas No. 1 short.
Why did they make that journey? Because they had a strong connection with a place and its people. They wanted to demonstrate that this was the place that was bound up in their identity. This was the place that they were from; this was their homeland. That desire to identify with a place and its people remains as strong in many people today as it did 2,000 years ago. In fact, I would argue that in recent times there is a growing sense, with a more mobile population and globalisation impacting on communities, that the desire to have a strong connection and identity with a place is stronger today than it has been. Today, thankfully, we do not need to travel to our homelands to be able to identify where we are from. Modern census methods allow us to do that by way of a simple tick—well, that is true of almost everyone, as I will come on to explain.
The right to demonstrate which of the national identities within the UK we choose to identify with is not currently protected by legislation. Currently, it is down to the ONS to recommend to the Minister which national identities should be included in any census. I find it quite astonishing that it was only in the most recent 2011 census that the Welsh were given the opportunity to identify their national identity by way of a tick-box, and only in 2001 that the Scottish were given a tick-box. I find it incredible that those developments took place so recently. There is nothing that currently protects that status, and it could be removed in subsequent censuses by a recommendation from the ONS. I am sure many Members of this House would find that completely unacceptable.
Let me say that I have a great deal of respect for the officers and staff of the ONS, who provide a very important service to our nation. I do not believe, however, that it should be down to the ONS, using statistics and data, to decide which national identities should and should not be included in any given census every 10 years. The right to demonstrate one’s UK national identity should not be a matter of data or statistics. I believe it should be a right established in legislation. That right should also be a matter of equality across the whole UK. No one national identity should be considered more important or be recognised more than any other. All the national identities in the UK should be given equal status and equality of opportunity to be recognised as such within any census. We could never countenance one UK nationality being given less status in a census.
I, along with a number of my colleagues, will be looking to add a clause to the Bill to establish in legislation the right for all UK national identities to be treated equally in all future censuses. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) is well aware of this issue. I want to put on record my thanks to him, and to the Minister he is currently filling in for, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), for their positive and constructive engagement on this issue.
The Minister is aware that there is a particular matter in this regard that I want to address. As matters currently stand, there is one UK national identity that is not being given equal status in the census. In 2014, the Cornish were recognised by the Council of Europe under the framework convention for national minorities. That status was not just accepted but enthusiastically embraced by the UK Government, who declared that this would now gave the Cornish equality of status with the other Celtic nations within the UK, the Scottish, the Irish and the Welsh. The ONS, however, does not recognise that status. It is treating the Cornish as a minor local difficulty restricted purely to Cornwall. We are being told that we can have a write-in option for our Cornishness and that there will be an advertising campaign in Cornwall to make people aware of it, but that misses the point that there are many thousands—probably hundreds of thousands—of proud Cornish men and women across the UK who would like to identify as Cornish, if they were given the same opportunity to do so as the other Celtic parts of the UK.
I am listening with increasing fascination to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. To take forward his point about the Cornish, which I totally accept, is there not a parallel case to be made for the Gaelic-speaking highlander in Scotland, who does not regard himself as a lowlander and, in fact, views them with considerable suspicion?
I will come on to why I believe that, at this time, the Cornish have a unique claim on the matter. In future, this may apply to other peoples, but I suspect that it does not at this time.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will, gladly.
I thought I had better get in before my hon. Friend moves on. I did not come to the Chamber today expecting to hear the Christmas story in the middle of July, but as we have inadvertently touched on religion, I want to say that I have 3,500 Sikhs living in my constituency. The idea that they would have some sort of write-in box to identify their ethnicity is not appropriate either. It is not too much to ask for Sikhs to have a box specifically to identify their ethnicity on the census.
I would say the same thing in reply to my hon. Friend: I believe that the Cornish have a unique claim in this regard, because it is the only UK national identity affected that is formally recognised by the Council of Europe under the framework convention for the protection of national minorities, which has been fully accepted and endorsed by the UK Government. I therefore think that there is a unique case for Cornish that perhaps does not apply to other ethnic identities. I say that in no way to belittle or denigrate other national identities, but—
Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman and various hon. Members who have intervened on him over the last few minutes have very genuine concerns, but we must stick to the purpose of the Bill, which is about sexual orientation and gender identity. I have allowed some illustrative points about religious belief, ethnicity, geographical attachment and so on, because I have a lot of sympathy, but we must stick to the purpose of the Bill.
I am grateful for that advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am raising this because I think that the Bill is an opportunity to address an issue that otherwise may be missed, but I take your point and will seek to wind up my comments quickly.
Back Benchers should stick together and, therefore, I strongly support the hon. Gentleman’s desire to amend the Bill to enable a longer debate about Cornish identity being included in the 2021 census. If I am sympathetic to him, will he be sympathetic to me and help me to find a way to amend the Bill to ensure that Jains and Zoroastrians, who are recognised as world religions by the United Nations—not merely by the Council of Europe, which he prays in aid—also have their concerns properly recognised?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I return to the fact that I think that the Cornish case is unique, in that within the UK, it is the only national minority identity that is not being included as a tick-box on the census.
I am conscious of your comments, Madam Deputy Speaker, but is this Bill not really about equality of treatment for people? My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the Council of Europe framework convention. The UK Government have been criticised by the Council of Europe for failing to live up to their legal obligations on Cornwall, as undertaken when we signed that convention.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and Cornish colleague for making the point very well that the Government made this commitment in 2014. They have been criticised by the Council of Europe for not living up to that commitment and obligation under the framework convention. This is a very simple and straightforward way for the Government to go some way to rectifying that and fulfilling their commitments.
By saying that the matter of Cornish identity is primarily a geographical issue that is restricted to Cornwall, and that there will be an awareness campaign in Cornwall, we are effectively treating the Cornish around the country in the same way as Mary and Joseph were treated 2,000 years ago. We are saying, “In order to identify yourself as Cornish, you really should live in Cornwall and return to your homeland.” That is completely unacceptable, and it is definitely not equality of recognition for the Cornish, as the Government promised and made a clear commitment to in 2014.
Any argument that to extend this opportunity to the Cornish would open the floodgates for other minority groups who are also seeking some sort of recognition is, I believe, misdirected. The Cornish people’s claim to national minority status in the UK is unique. We are the only group who have been given this status by the Council of Europe, which the UK Government have accepted and endorsed. I believe that the unique claim for the Cornish means that we should be given equality with the rest of the UK.
Do people today still desire to identify themselves with their homeland? If so, should they be given equal opportunities in the forthcoming census to do so? Should that right be enshrined in legislation? I believe that the answer to all three questions is very much yes, and I trust that we can use the Bill to establish the right of national identity within the UK in law.
I have been inspired to speak in the debate by the contribution of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). I agree with him about two things. The first is his strong support for the Bill; as I indicated in my two interventions on the Front-Bench spokesmen, I think they are right to bring in and strongly support the Bill. I also echo the praise from the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay for the tremendous job of work that the Office for National Statistics and all its staff do. However, I share his frustration that, with one or two questions that have faced the ONS in preparing for the 2021 census, its temptation has been to see them as a little local difficulty and perhaps not to take them as seriously as it might. I recognise that concern.
At the beginning of his remarks, the hon. Gentleman retold the Christmas story in his own unique way—
Order. I have made it very clear that this is a very narrow Bill. I have allowed considerable leeway, and I have allowed the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) to make three very long interventions—[Interruption.] Oh, was it only two? I have allowed him to make two very long interventions, because I thought that he was not going to make a speech. Now he is making a speech on a subject that I have said is not within the scope of the Bill. I hope that he will not seek to go further down that line. The Bill is about sexual orientation and gender identity.
For the record, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was not querying the number of interventions that you were gently chastising me for, but merely the accusation that they were long. I thought that they were entirely appropriate points to make.
Finally, I hope to follow the inspiration of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay in looking for an opportunity, perhaps on Report or in Committee, to explore the under-representation of Jains and Zoroastrians in the census.
It is probably worth noting that much of the debate on this Bill has not been about its content, which concerns inclusivity for LGBTQ people in the census. That is a good sign that the issue is not controversial and that common sense has been used and a consensus has been reached across the House. I hope that the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) have the opportunity in Committee to pursue the issues that they have raised during this debate.
I am proud of the steps that the House has taken to strengthen LGBTQ equality, including the amendment tabled to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill last week by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) to extend marriage equality to Northern Ireland. I am proud of the record of the last Labour Government, who were at the forefront of advancing progress for LGBTQ people with the equalisation of the age of consent, the repeal of section 28, the introduction of equalities legislation covering things such as access to goods and services, and the introduction of civil partnerships.
We cannot pretend, however, that LGBTQ people do not face disproportionate discrimination and prejudice in their day-to-day lives, including in schools, in employment and in access to goods and services. The number of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, including stalking, harassment and violent assault, has more than doubled in England and Wales over the past five years. LGBTQ people have worse health outcomes and are more likely to suffer from poor mental health than are the population as a whole. That is particularly true of the trans community, with roughly half of trans people in Britain having attempted suicide at least once. It is vital that the Government match their commitment to visibility for LGBTQ people in the census with a commitment properly to fund our public services, which provide essential support to marginalised groups across the country. The addition to the next census of the new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity is a welcome step, and it represents a significant victory for the LGBTQ community.
When it comes to statistics, the LGBTQ community are a hidden population. In the absence of comprehensive national population data for these groups, charities such as Stonewall are forced to rely on little more than estimates. Those estimates are frequently derived from smaller-scale surveys, and as a result, they vary widely. The data collected under the census will be vital to local authorities and other services in providing accurate estimates of the overall size of the LGBTQ community and providing geographical concentrations, which will be crucial for service planning. At a national level, it will have a significant impact on policy development, equipping regulators and Government bodies with accurate data to develop programmes of work that have a positive impact on LGBTQ people.
In a society where many LGBTQ people struggle with their sexual orientation or gender identity, there are challenges involved in ensuring that the data collected by the census is accurate. Given the personal and sensitive nature of the questions, a proportion of respondents will always prefer not to disclose their sexuality, even on a confidential form. We must be cognisant of the risks associated with an under-count of the LGBTQ population, because it could play into the hands of those who would attempt to reverse progress towards equality.
Furthermore, the fact that census responses are often completed by one member of the household represents a real barrier to disclosure for individuals who are not out to their families or those they live with. I understand that the Minister has thought about that and informed my Labour Front-Bench colleagues in recent meetings that he wants to establish a process whereby people in that position can fill in the census separately and privately, overriding the household response. We support that proposal, and I urge the Minister to ensure that such an arrangement is accessible to everyone, given that the privacy concerns will be felt by people of all ages and in a range of settings.
It is crucial that statistical agencies continue to engage with organisations that represent LGBTQ people to ensure that robust solutions are found and communicated. Privacy concerns must be fully addressed, and officials must work with LGBTQ communities to convey the importance of being counted and build trust in the census process—what is counted counts.
The drafting of the questions and the accompanying guidance must also be subjected to extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders from across the LGBTQ community and women’s groups. The Minister has informed the Opposition that the ONS is consulting, and we welcome sight of the draft guidance, but if he could provide more information to the House, it would be very much appreciated. As I have made clear, the Opposition welcome the Bill and believe it is an important step towards building a society in which LGBTQ people are truly accepted, included and counted.
It is a pleasure to wind up this debate. I thank the Opposition Front-Bench team for their support and their kind words; I was almost blushing at times during their speeches. I confirm that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) said when he opened the debate, anyone who wishes to disclose a particularly private matter will be able to apply for a number and make a separate census return that overrides the household census. That information, in a non-anonymised form, will be held for 100 years. I want to make it very clear that that opportunity will be available.
It is clear from the debate that there is strong support for the Bill, and there is widespread recognition of the importance of the census as an event. As you have confirmed, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Bill is designed solely to enable the next censuses in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland to ask questions about sexual orientation and gender identity on a voluntary basis. The Bill does not prescribe that those questions should be asked, or how they should be asked. That is a matter for secondary legislation, which Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise later this year.
On that subject, I recognise the passion with which some Members of the House—especially the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double)—support additions to the census. Those are matters for the census secondary legislation, rather than for this Bill, which is purely about making the questions voluntary rather than compulsory.
Leaving aside the question of Cornish identity, does the Minister not think that there is a case to be made for protecting national identity in law, rather than leaving it to the data and statistics of the ONS?
In deciding the questions for the census, the Government will be guided by the technical recommendations of the ONS. Of course, the House and Parliament will need to decide on the questions in the census via the orders that will be introduced later this year, but the Government will continue to be guided by the ONS.
Will the Minister ensure that the orders to which he has just referred, which would allow the inclusion of questions about national identity and about Jainism and Zoroastrianism, are debated on the Floor of the House? If they are debated upstairs in Committee, the vast majority of Members are likely to be excluded.
I will come back to the hon. Gentleman after a discussion via the usual channels. We are talking about a hybrid order of a unique nature, some of which will be amendable and some not, but we will certainly make sure that that is discussed. I thank him for the constructive meeting that we had about his concerns relating to his constituency.
When it comes to Cornwall, I can understand why we had a religious story—not least because Cornwall is located next to God’s own county, Devonshire. We will have an opportunity to debate that further in secondary legislation, but the Government are guided by the ONS.
I turn to homelessness, which was one of the main issues raised during the debate. The ONS is working with stakeholders such as Homeless Link, Shelter and St Mungo’s to develop plans to allow those who are experiencing homelessness to take part in the census. That will include work around census day, because not everyone will necessarily be in a particular shelter on the evening of the census. It will also include engagement with those connected with the LGBT sector to make sure that the census is thorough and counts everyone in.
This is a very simple piece of legislation, which does not direct that any questions should be in the 2021 census; it merely sets out that questions on those two subjects should be answered on a voluntary basis. That will ensure that vital information on both issues is captured, but that no one is forced to disclose it if they do not wish to. I therefore urge colleagues to support the Bill, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
CENSUS (RETURN PARTICULARS AND REMOVAL OF PENALTIES) BILL [LORDS] (PROGRAMME)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [Lords]:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(2) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.
(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.
(4) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to other proceedings up to and including Third Reading.
(5) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Amanda Milling.)
Question agreed to.
Bullying and Harassment of MPs’ Parliamentary Staff
[Relevant Documents: Bullying and harassment of MPs’ Parliamentary staff, Independent inquiry report, HC 2206]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Gemma White report on bullying and harassment of MPs’ Parliamentary staff.
Let me begin by thanking Gemma White QC for her report, and paying tribute to all who came forward to share their personal experiences with her.
Each of us is directly responsible for the staff whom we employ. Without them we would not be able to carry out our duties effectively, and I am sure all Members will want to join me in expressing our immense gratitude for the hard work, support and loyalty that those who work in our offices provide for us day in and day out. We would not be able to serve our constituents without them, and, as such, they matter not just to us as Members of this House, but to the millions of constituents up and down our country whom we are here to represent.
I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will share my concern about a number of the matters to which the report refers. It highlights statements alleging deeply inappropriate conduct on the part of some Members towards their staff, and between staff. It contains serious allegations, including those relating to Members who
“shout at, demean, belittle and humiliate their staff on a regular basis, often in public.”
Reference is made to
“staff being subject to unwanted sexual advances, often accompanied by touching, sometimes forceful.”
We should not hesitate to condemn any occurrence of that kind as completely unacceptable, and as a failure to uphold the standards that we expect in our Parliament. The report constitutes a call to all Members of all parties to continue to act together to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to prevent and deal effectively with bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, and I reiterate that call today.