House of Commons
Monday 9 November 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Abortion Clinics: Buffer Zones
The right to protest is a vital part of our democratic society, and no one should be harassed or intimidated at all. In 2018, the Government conducted a review of protests outside abortion clinics. This policy has been kept under review, and following recent engagement with the police and abortion service providers this year, we are considering whether more work should be done to protect those accessing or providing abortion services.
I thank the Home Secretary for her answer. A clinic on a quiet street in my constituency has been plagued by 40-day protesters for over 12 months. Staff, local residents, teenage girls on their way to school and patients are all having opinions, leaflets and scripture forced on them. This is a place that offers family planning, counselling for those who have suffered miscarriages and a host of other services as well as terminations. I call what is happening wholly unacceptable harassment. What does the Home Secretary think?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter. This is a sensitive and complex issue—no question about that whatsoever—and I am really grateful to him for raising his concerns. He is not alone on this; I have spoken to many other Members of Parliament about this, too. He is right to say that harassment and intimidation are utterly unacceptable. Important services and advice are being provided. I can reassure him and say to the whole House that we are reviewing our work and policies on this important issue, and I think that that is absolutely right and proper.
Coronavirus Restrictions: Police Enforcement
Our police forces have played a critical role during the pandemic and have been quick to respond to the changes and challenges that we all face. The Government have been clear that they will provide police forces with the support, both moral and physical, that they need to continue protecting the public and keeping communities safe through the coronavirus pandemic. This has included £30 million of additional covid surge funding.
I welcome the approach that my hon. Friend and the Home Secretary are taking to support brave police officers up and down the country. Lawful protest is the cornerstone of a democracy, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is wholly unacceptable for groups of protesters to come together and put police officers at risk by breaking social distancing rules, given that the police have a responsibility to keep the public safe?
It is no surprise that my right hon. Friend should put the welfare of police officers to the front of his mind, as should everybody in this country. Our police officers are out there on the frontline keeping us all safe, and it is true that a large gathering has the potential to expose them to a greater possibility of infection by the virus than would otherwise be the case. We have seen extraordinary resilience from our police forces throughout the whole pandemic. Indeed, absence has often been below business as usual. That is important because, besides covid compliance enforcement, we still have crime to fight, and if people want officers to be there at the other end of a 999 call and available to come to their aid in an emergency, they need to ensure that they do not expose them to a greater risk of infection than they would otherwise face.
In the first lockdown, we saw a number of large demonstrations and protests, including in Henley, that threatened frontline officers. In this lockdown, are we going to abolish them or try to prevent them from happening to protect officers and, indeed, the public?
I know that Henley has seen its fair share of problems over the past few months, and it is no surprise that my hon. Friend should raise them, as he often does, in this House. All large gatherings are now illegal under the coronavirus regulations, and I am afraid that that includes legitimate protests that would otherwise be tolerated. We are facing an extraordinary challenge as a country, with many vulnerable individuals, older citizens and others exposed to risks that they have never seen before, and we all have an individual duty towards our collective health. We hope and believe that the police will be able to encourage the vast majority of our fellow citizens to observe the regulations, but where they do not, enforcement is an option, as we have seen over the past weekend.
Lancashire has 750 fewer police officers than it did in 2010. Let us compare that with Surrey, which has only eight fewer officers. The discrepancy is because Lancashire is more reliant on Government grant than Surrey, which, as a relatively affluent area, is more reliant on council tax precepts. Given that the Government have promised to recruit 20,000 police officers in the next two years, when is the Department going to recruit them and base them in areas that have seen the biggest cuts, such as Lancashire?
I am pleased that our pledge to recruit 20,000 extra police officers is so popular, particularly in Lancashire. The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that 100 of the 153 that were allocated to Lancashire out of the first 6,000 had already been recruited by 30 September. They join the 5,834 that we have recruited towards our 6,000 target, which was due by next March; as Members can work out from the maths, we are well ahead of target. As for where those officers are based, that is a matter for the chief constable, who makes that operationally independent decision, in collaboration with the police and crime commissioner in the county.
We look forward to them in Chorley.
Let me start by thanking the Minister for meeting me and the Daniel Fox Foundation, which is based in St Helens, does great work on knife crime in my constituency and was very encouraged by his support. We know the impact of coronavirus on our health and the economy, but it also has serious implications for public safety and the country’s security. There were anti-lockdown protests on the streets this weekend, but we see deliberate, harmful disinformation online all day, every day. So when ensuring that the police have what they need to meet all covid-related challenges that they face, what resources is he providing to them and the security and intelligence services to robustly counter the false online conspiracy theories, which are designed by nefarious elements, at home and abroad, to undermine our collective efforts to beat this virus?
First, let me say that I enjoyed our meeting with the Daniel Fox Foundation. I am pleased that in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world, St Helens, as in the rest of the country, we are standing shoulder to shoulder in the fight against knife crime. Sadly, we are having to do so once again, but it is a fight that we will and must win—I am sure there will be more about it later today. On misinformation and disinformation, he is right to say that unpleasant and untrue stories are circulating, whether anti-vaccine stories or the crazy stuff about 5G. Both the National Crime Agency and the security and intelligence services are engaged with our partners in the private sector in removing as much of that disinformation as we can. We have a role to play in this House as well, in standing together as democratically elected politicians and recognising that we charge others with assisting us in providing advice and data and that we must respect and acknowledge their views as being the basis on which decisions are made legitimately. That is the right way forward. I welcome the Opposition Front-Bench team’s support on that thus far, and indeed into the future.
Illegal Migration: English Channel
These small boat crossings are dangerous, as the tragic fatalities last month showed. They are illegally facilitated by reckless criminals, and they are totally unnecessary because France is a safe country with a well-functioning asylum system, where people can seek protection if they need it. We are determined to completely stop these crossings. We are working with the French authorities to prevent embarkations. We are considering action we might take at sea, and we are taking robust law enforcement action, leading so far this year to nearly 100 arrests. Just last week, two people were convicted and sentenced for facilitating these illegal crossings.
My hon. Friend actually answered the question I was going to ask, so I am going to ask him something else instead. We have all been shocked by the number of deaths in the channel, but why does he think people want to leave France?
I must try to be diplomatic in the way I answer that question. There are a variety of motives, which probably include things such as language. The simple truth is that if people are seeking protection, France has a fully functioning asylum system. It is a safe and civilised country, and there is no reason to attempt and no excuse for attempting this crossing. That is why anyone in need of protection should avail themselves of it by claiming asylum in France and not attempting this dangerous crossing.
As the Minister knows, this problem has been getting worse throughout the year. We are seeing tragic loss of life and concern for communities on the channel coast because of this problem, which is profiting people-trafficking gangs. What progress is being made, either in preventing more crossings from leaving France in the first place or in stopping boats at sea and returning them to the French coast? If the migrants can see that they cannot get into the country in this way, fewer of them will try.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that this trade is facilitated by dangerous and ruthless criminals. On activity with the French, we are working with them to prevent embarkations and we are funding gendarmes who patrol the beaches. In fact, the French authorities have successfully stopped nearly 5,000 crossings this year so far. We are in the process of actively investigating action at sea because, as my hon. Friend says, if it is obvious that nobody can make it across, they will stop attempting such dangerous crossings in the first place.
We are also working to return under the Dublin regulations people who do get across—in fact, this week there are three flights, some of which will contain cross-channel migrants being returned under the Dublin regulations. By a combination of law enforcement on French beaches, potential action at sea and returns, we can remove the reason for even trying such crossings in the first place.
Does the Minister agree that the best way to clamp down on these illegal crossings is to prevent the small boats carrying the illegal immigrants from ever leaving European shores in the first place? Will he confirm to the House what steps he is taking with his French counterparts to ensure that they are stepping up their actions in that respect?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need to do more with our French colleagues to prevent the embarkations. As I say, we are now funding additional gendarmes to prevent embarkations from the beaches, and we are supporting the French to provide proper, safe accommodation for migrants who would otherwise be living in the various camps. We are also investigating action at sea. My hon. Friend is quite right that if we can render these crossings essentially impossible, nobody will attempt them in the first place. Not only is that the right thing to do from a health and safety point of view, but it is the right thing to do to undermine and prevent the ruthless criminal gangs who are behind these crossings.
May I start by extending my sympathies to the relatives and friends of all who have died attempting these crossings?
As a matter of international law, entering a state to seek asylum without a visa is not illegal—I am happy to share with the Minister the advice from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the matter—but the crossings are certainly most irregular and very unsafe. Rather than fanning the flames of people’s desperation for political reasons, would it not be better for the Minister to focus on creating safe legal routes for asylum seekers? While he is attending to that, will he encourage the Home Secretary to stop her anti-lawyer rhetoric and acknowledge that there is a responsibility on politicians and other public figures to avoid saying anything that could make tensions worse or put people’s lives at risk?
Article 31 of the refugee convention, to which I think the hon. and learned Lady was referring, makes it clear that the prohibition on criminalisation of entry applies only to people who are directly—I use the word “directly”—entering a state from somewhere that is unsafe. I respectfully point out that France is not unsafe; France is a safe country.
On the hon. and learned Lady’s question about safe and legal routes, there are a large number of such routes and around about half the people who come here to claim asylum already do so via legal routes. In addition to that, for the past five years we have been running the resettlement programme, taking people directly from conflict zones—for example, Syria—and bringing them to the United Kingdom. Over that five-year period some 25,000 people, half of whom are children, have come via the resettlement route. The resettlement route—a safe and legal route of the kind for which the hon. and learned Lady calls—is the largest resettlement programme of any European country. We have a proud record of supporting people in genuine need and we will continue to do so.
On the hon. and learned Lady’s last question, I of course completely support the Home Secretary and we will continue to fight vexatious, last-minute legal claims when it is appropriate to do so.
Police Community Support Officers: Effectiveness
Police community support officers are a valued part of the police workforce as a key liaison point between local communities and policing, and we are all, I know, grateful for their service. Decisions about the best use of resources at the frontline, including the deployment of PCSOs, are for chief constables and democratically accountable police and crime commissioners based on their local knowledge and experience.
The Minister will know that Cambridgeshire has recently announced that the number of PCSOs is to be halved. The reason, in the words of the chief constable, was
“to ensure budget gaps can be met next year”.
Will the Minister do the right thing: bridge the gap and allow Cambridgeshire to keep our PCSOs?
I am very pleased to say that we have already started augmenting the resources available to Cambridgeshire police, with an award of £10.9 million last year, in the largest police settlement for a decade. Happily, it has already recruited 62 of the 99 allocated police officers, which I know will be making a huge difference in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, as they will across the whole of the county.
101 Service: Call Answering Times
We recognise the importance of a timely response to 101 calls and the role that technology can play in the relationship between the police and the public, which is why we are supporting national programmes developing new ways for the public to contact the police. Gloucestershire constabulary is a key beneficiary of the Single Online Home for policing, a digital 101 service.
I thank the Minister for that response, but the actual response on the 101 service is quite often far too long, and people then revert to the 999 service, putting undue pressure on it. I have a meeting with the chief constable of Gloucestershire on Wednesday, and I will certainly make those points to him. Is there any more the Government can do to improve the 101 service?
It is no surprise that a Member of Parliament who is himself very accessible to his constituents on an almost 24/7 basis should want the same for the police. While I would love to sit behind my desk in Whitehall and manage these things from the centre, the truth is that the response times and the disposition of 101 is a matter for the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable in his county. I know that, if he meets them, they will listen to him carefully, because it is extremely important, as he says, that when people pick up the phone to the police—whether it is the 101 service or the 999 service—they do get a good and efficient response. There is nothing that can undermine the confidence of a person in their police force than getting just a recorded message or, indeed, a call that is never answered. Some of that solution is technological and we think that much can be achieved through the Single Online Home, and I urge him to explore it as a reporting mechanism. I wish him good luck with his meeting, and look forward to hearing the conclusions of it.
Points-based Immigration System
The Government are making excellent progress on delivering one of the key promises that we made to the British people at the last election. Our new, fairer, firmer, skills-led points-based system will align the treatment of EU and non-EU nationals and deliver for the whole of our United Kingdom. Some routes are already open and most remaining routes will be open from 1 December.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Contrary to some of the arguments put forward by those who oppose a fairer immigration system, can he reassure the House that the new points-based system will, in fact, make it more straightforward and easier for medical professionals, from wherever they are around the globe, to be able to come to work in the United Kingdom as part of our NHS?
Yes, absolutely. The NHS and health and care sector, including Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, can continue to access the best and brightest from across the world under our new points-based system. The health and care visa was launched on 4 August and thousands of statuses have already been granted under it and those eligible benefit from fast-track visa processing, reduced visa fees and will not pay the immigration health surcharge.
Domestic Abuse: Victim Protection
This year, in response to the pandemic, our work to tackle domestic abuse has included additional significant investment of £27 million across Government to domestic abuse charities and service providers to bolster the support they give to victims and survivors. We have also run a public information campaign, #YouAreNotAlone, which we continue to build on, and the police have been proactively targeting perpetrators. We also continue to work on the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will help to support victims in the longer term.
I thank the Minister for listing that extensive programme of work. One of the reasons why I backed last week’s national restrictions with such a heavy heart was their impact on domestic abuse. Will the Minister say loud and clear from the Dispatch Box that one of the reasons that someone can leave their home is to flee abuse?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that really important point. I know that hon. Members across the House will very much have borne in mind the impact that further restrictions may have on victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I am more than happy to reiterate loud and clear that victims of domestic abuse can and must leave their home address to seek help, if they are able to. What is more, the Prime Minister made that very clear in his public statement to the nation at little over a week ago. I ask all hon. Members please to send that message loud and clear to their own constituents—that is, if someone is facing harm or injury at home, they can leave their home to seek help.
I join the Minister in her calls just now. I also make further calls to ensure that when people do need help, there is some help there for them. Due to a decade of cutbacks to our court system and the coronavirus crisis, there is a backlog of around 50,000 Crown court cases. I am sure that the Minister will have heard from those who have bravely come forward—just as I have been told by distressed survivors of domestic and sexual abuse—that trials such as these are being delayed, in some cases by up to two years. In light of these terrible delays to justice, will the Minister answer the calls of the domestic and sexual violence sector, and the Labour party, to ensure that sustainable, long-term funding is put in place beyond March, at least for community-based domestic and sexual violence advisers? Currently, those going through very delayed court cases could end up without the correct support because their court case will certainly run for longer than the funding allocated for their support.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the point of courts. Another message that we can all spread to constituents—please—is that under this set of restrictions, the court system is remaining open. Last time, some courts had to be closed. There were, none the less, still criminal and family courts open; indeed, domestic abuse and other forms of personal violence were prioritised by the courts. This time the courts remain open and absolutely can seek justice, and we have seen reports of increased orders, including domestic violence protection orders, issued by the police during the previous lockdown.
On the hon. Lady’s wider point about funding, I would say that it goes further than funding independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers, absolutely vital though they are. It is also about a wholesale change in how we deal with victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and with the perpetrators of those crimes. The Government are investing in more perpetrator programmes precisely so that we can stop the cycle of abuse. We will also be piloting integrated domestic abuse courts so that victims and survivors can find an easier atmosphere in which to secure justice, because that is what they deserve.
We are taking action on every level to cut knife crime. This week sees the instigation of Operation Sceptre—a nationally organised week of intensification against that crime. We are also investing millions of pounds in prevention and early intervention to stop young people being drawn into violence in the first place.
In 2017, my constituent Ryan Passey was killed with a knife inside a nightclub in Stourbridge. Absurdly, the perpetrator was acquitted. I am grateful for the work done by the Government so far on sentencing, but does the Minister agree that we need to be tough not just on sentencing, but on all aspects that have thus far allowed the perpetrators of knife crime to go free?
My hon. Friend raises a terrible case. The family of Mr Passey have our deep condolences. Over the past 12 years, I have met far too many parents of children and young people who have sadly been murdered and killed on our streets and in nightclubs, often by people who they regard as friends. Back in the early part of the previous decade, we thought we had beaten knife crime, but unfortunately it is back. My hon. Friend is quite right that we need to concentrate on every aspect of this—from enforcement through to prevention and, frankly, long-term work with young people that shows them that carrying a knife is dangerous not only to others, but fundamentally to themselves. There is a better way. We all need to stand shoulder to shoulder with my hon. Friend and her constituents to show young people that way in life.
Public Order: Covid-19
The vast majority of the public have come together, followed the law and helped to prevent the spread of this virus. Our police forces face unprecedented challenges right now in terms of maintaining public order, but they have been working exceptionally throughout this crisis and have done so with a great deal of determination.
My right hon. Friend may well be aware that, while our police forces such as in Lincolnshire have been checking in with pubs and policing the 10 pm curfew, for example, in Lincoln, other crimes are still continuing and on the rise in some cases. What steps are being taken to ensure that our police forces do not take their eyes off the day job?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I praise his local police force in Lincoln for the outstanding work that they are doing and have been doing throughout coronavirus. He raises an important point about additional help and support. He will be well aware of the additional £30 million that has gone to local police forces across the country to really assist them in tackling the root causes, keeping on top of crime prevention and going after the criminals, but, specifically with coronavirus, going after the egregious breaches while also working with the community on the principles of the four Es— engage, explain, encourage, enforce—and encouraging people to comply.
While I much regret that we are having another lockdown, Essex police are doing a brilliant job under challenging circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend please spell out again what the powers are to enforce social distancing and to stop illegal gatherings such as those happening too often in Old Leigh in my constituency?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think I can stand with him with a degree of conviction and praise Essex police for the outstanding work that they have been doing. I was with the chief constable just over a week ago. My hon. Friend asks about the powers that the police have. The regulations and the guidance are very clear in terms of police powers on fines and going after individuals who are breaching the covid regulations with egregious activities such as mass gatherings. We have seen the £10,000 fines being used very effectively, and in Essex as well.
The Government take hate crime very seriously. The police recorded hate crime figures have benefited from an improved understanding on the part of the public but also, importantly, improvements in the way that the police record these crimes. Interestingly, the recent crime survey for England and Wales, which provides wider information on the nature of hate crime and is not affected by how the police record crime, shows a decrease of about 40% in the experience of hate crime over the past decade. However, we do not rest on our laurels on this. As well as doubling hate crime funding for places of worship this year, the Government are working closely with the police to ensure that all forces are providing reassurance to affected people and encouraging hate crime reporting during the pandemic.
Reported hate crimes have more than doubled since 2013, and it is a well-established fact that these crimes often spike with an increase in political rhetoric. When the Home Secretary brands Travellers as criminal and violent, and reportedly explored options to house asylum seekers on Ascension Island, what responsibility do the Government take for these increases, and does the Minister agree that it is time for our own lowering of the temperature?
I welcome any call from Labour Members with regard to working together to tackle these dreadful, dreadful crimes, but I again draw the hon. Lady back to the fact that the reports that people make to the crime survey show that there is not the same increase that we are seeing in police recorded crime. The importance of police recorded crime is that it suggests very strongly, first, that the public are recognising when they are victims of the crime, but also that the police are recording it better. That must be key to us tackling this terrible crime. If we measure it properly, then we can make sure that our methods to address it are doing exactly that and stopping this terrible crime.
Tell MAMA is running its “No2H8” campaign this month, and the Home Office has acknowledged in its own stats that this year’s rise in hate crimes is partly driven by far-right groups targeting Black Lives Matter campaigners. Will the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to support groups that they have been recognised as victims of an increase in hate crime?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we published the hate crime action plan in 2016 and refreshed it in 2018, and we have seen significant improvements, as I have said, which goes back to the point about police recorded crime as well. We are also investing. Through schemes such as the places of worship scheme, we can have a real impact on the local communities most affected by hate crime. In terms of the Black Lives Matter far-right counter-protest, there was a rise in racially or religiously aggravated and non-aggravated public order offences in June and July this year, as compared with the previous year. To push back a little on what the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) said earlier, we must all fight back against extremist politics, whether it is the far right, as the hon. Gentleman has just talked about, or indeed the far left, because there is an awful lot of hatred coming from that direction at the moment. I welcome the calls—I am taking them to be universal—to lower the temperature, to be responsible with our use of language and to ensure that we have the sorts of discourse in politics that I am sure we all wish for.
Unaccompanied Child Refugees: EU Transition Period
The United Kingdom tabled a full draft agreement to the European Commission back in May, which included provisions for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children family reunion. That has sadly so far not been agreed, but the negotiations are still ongoing, and I ask the hon. Lady and others to put pressure on the European Commission to constructively respond to the draft text we tabled. When it comes to the United Kingdom’s record on looking after UASCs, we currently look after more UASCs than any other European country.
I understand that on 9 August this year, the Home Secretary announced that she had appointed a clandestine channel threat commander. Can the Minister confirm precisely what powers the commander has and why the elements of the role could not be addressed by Border Force?
Given that the problems posed by cross-channel small boat crossings, as we discussed earlier, are unique, serious, dangerous—as we have tragically seen—and facilitated by ruthless criminals, the Home Secretary and I felt it was important to have a dedicated person with proper experience. He is a former Royal Marine and can work on completely stopping these crossings. That is the safe thing to do, the humanitarian thing to do, and the right thing to do legally.
Police Officer Numbers
This Government are committed to increasing the number of police officers by 20,000 over the next three years, and I am delighted to say, as the Minister for Crime and Policing has already this afternoon, that we have made a great start on that thanks to the commitment of all forces across England and Wales. In recent weeks, we have announced that so far we have recruited 5,824 additional officers, and they have all joined the police force as part of our uplift programme as of the end of September.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government not only are committed to increasing police officers, including in rural areas, but will look at increasing the number of police stations in rural areas, such as reopening Bakewell police station in my constituency of Derbyshire Dales?
I thank my hon. Friend not only for her question, but for her commitment to law and order in her constituency. She is indeed a strong champion of that, including with her representation for getting more police stations opened in her constituency. We have already recruited 72 additional officers for her local area, and her chief constable and police and crime commissioner should be equally as receptive to not only receiving new officers, but the additional resources that would lead to more police stations being opened.
West Lancashire and Chorley police do a cracking job, but a number of concerns have been raised in rural areas about groups of youths, potential drug use and certain amounts of antisocial behaviour, especially in Tarleton, Croston and Rufford. Does my right hon. Friend agree that some of the additional police officers that Lancashire is benefiting from could be used to target these rural areas, where the force is stretched a little thin?
My hon. Friend is right. Of course, community concerns about crime should be addressed at the highest level with police and crime commissioners and the chiefs. She has an outstanding chief constable, who is increasing policing and police patrols across the region. In a rural area, that means more resources and putting more officers on the beat to deal with rural crime and the issue of antisocial behaviour.
Yorkshire has some similar problems to Lancashire. Following a break-in at Robert Wilkinson Primary Academy in my constituency and increased reports of antisocial behaviour in the more rural areas around our city of York, does my right hon. Friend agree that our efforts to increase the number of police officers should be used to improve rural police response times and not just be focused on our city centres?
My hon. Friend is right. As he has heard the Policing Minister and I say this afternoon, we are absolutely committed that the additional resources going to all forces across the country are there to bolster our communities when it comes to keeping the public safe, including in rural communities, and tackling the root causes of the crimes that are taking place in his constituency.
West Midlands Police: Crime Reduction Support
West Midlands police are receiving up to £620.4 million in funding this year—an increase of more than £49 million on last year. We have also invested £12 million over two years in bolstering their capacity to respond to violent crime swiftly and robustly and given £6.7 million for a violence reduction unit across the west midlands to address the root causes of crime.
Recently, West Bromwich town centre has seen an appalling spate of crime, and I thank the Home Secretary for her support on this so far. Last week, I held a meeting with the town’s main stakeholders and local police to see what we can do. Will the Minister continue to work with me and the police to put more officers on our streets, to make West Bromwich East safer, so that we can be proud of our town centre once again?
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this to my attention. I had a look at some of the incidents that have taken place in West Bromwich town centre, and it is a shocker, to be honest. Hopefully, using the convening power of her office, she can pull all the various groups together, and the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable will pay attention too. I recently had a good meeting with West Midlands police to discuss their general violence reduction, with a particular focus on reducing murder. It sounds like West Bromwich could do with some attention, and I am grateful to her, as I know her constituents will be, for bringing that focus to an area that obviously needs it.
The police funding settlement for 2020-21 set out the biggest increase in funding for the policing system since 2010, with Dorset police receiving up to £144.3 million in funding. That is an increase of £8.8 million on the previous year. We are giving the police the resources they need to fight crime and keep the public safe.
Can I thank the Minister very much for his answer? My constituency of West Dorset is served very ably by Dorset police, and they have historically managed their finances very well, but in the national funding formula, we do not fare quite so well, being below average, with 48%, compared with the average of 64%. Could he give me some reassurance that the police in Dorset are valued as much as other police forces around the country?
My hon. Friend need have no fear: every officer and every force in the country stand in equal regard by the Home Office, although I know that Dorset police are close to his heart. I will say two things. First, it is very important that the good people of Dorset elect a Conservative police and crime commissioner in May next year who can continue that good financial management. Secondly, I remind him of the commitment that I gave at the Department’s last questions session. While the police funding formula is currently the best basis we have for allocating funds across all forces in England and Wales, it is a bit elderly, and we have undertaken to review it before the next election. During that review, I know that he, along with all the other Members of Parliament from Dorset, will be lobbying hard to ensure that that beautiful county comes out of it well.
County Lines Drug Trafficking
County lines trafficking is a heinous crime, and tackling it is an absolute priority for this Government. This is why we are delivering £25 million over two years to surge activity against these ruthless criminal gangs. This includes investment in national and local law enforcement activity to roll up county lines, and funding for dedicated one-to-one specialist support for county lines victims and their families.
To effectively tackle county lines drug trafficking and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation—both issues of great concern to my Slough constituents—sufficient, desperately needed resources must be given to our police force. Having first cut more than 21,000 police officers, the Government thankfully did a U-turn and have pledged to deliver 20,000 extra officers, but the recruitment funds have since been repurposed for the covid response. Can the Minister categorically confirm that the recruitment funds will be made available to the police?
The hon. Gentleman surely welcomes the 260 new officers that have been appointed to his local area as of 30 September. We are absolutely clear—this is a manifesto commitment, and one which I know the public took very seriously—that we will recruit an additional 20,000 officers. In addition to those 20,000 officers, we are specifically targeting the heinous crime he has set out—namely, county lines. In Thames Valley alone, we are developing a multi-agency violence reduction unit to the tune of £2.32 million, combining the expertise of the police, local government, health and education professionals, community leaders and others to identify the causes of serious violent crimes, including county lines, and deliver a multi-agency response to it.
Sorry, but I am going to have to go on to topicals. Those who did not get in may get picked up if we can get through topicals a bit quicker than we got through the other questions.
During these difficult times we will not forget those who feel especially vulnerable as we all spend more time at home. For the victims of domestic abuse, I want to be very clear: even during these tougher restrictions, you do not have to stay at home if you are at risk there. Our #YouAreNotAlone campaign has helped domestic abuse victims and the public know how to access vital support. The site alone has received over 330 million online impressions. We have stepped up our work with the National Crime Agency, pursuing child sex offenders, doing more to keep children safe online and supporting charities working with vulnerable children. Of course, the Work and Pensions Secretary this weekend announced £170 million of support to vulnerable children and families, and the police are stepping up in this space as well. My message is clear: for anybody who is subject to abuse, you are not alone and you must seek help from the police.
I agree that the new national restrictions this Government have introduced are absolutely necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus, but for vulnerable people and victims of domestic abuse it has not been an easy week. I have also had the great pleasure of meeting my local Barnardo’s, which works with children who have witnessed domestic abuse at first hand and are therefore victims themselves. I thank my right hon. Friend for the measures she has outlined to protect and safeguard the most vulnerable people from abuse.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and may I thank her for the conscientious way in which she has been raising this issue, but also tackling it locally? I am abundantly clear, and Ministers have spoken of it in the House this afternoon as well, that the support is out there. We continue to work with police forces across the country, which will continue to use the tools of law enforcement to go after abusers, but also to make sure that victims are protected.
With your leave, Mr Speaker, I begin by warmly congratulating American President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris. It is historic that we will see the first woman and the first woman of colour to be vice-president. Their victory is a lift for all around the world who believe in decency, value the truth and recognise the unifying power of hope.
Last week, we saw far more depressing news at home, where it emerged that at least nine people have died waiting for compensation for the Windrush scandal and just 12% of people who have applied have received compensation. Those figures are shameful. May I ask the Home Secretary what message she would send to those who are still waiting for justice?
I thank the shadow Home Secretary for raising the important issue of Windrush, and he will know of my own personal commitment, not just within the Department, to tackle the injustices that have taken place in the past. He is right in the figures he gave about the nine individuals who have passed away, and all our thoughts are with those families. We continue to work specifically with those families, to make the claims and ensure that compensation is still paid out to families of claimants who have passed away. Importantly, the compensation scheme has now paid out more than £1.6 million, and a further £1.2 million has been offered. As the hon. Gentleman will know from all the discussions and from each time I come to the House, I am determined to go further and faster. Let me add one other point: it is important that we treat everybody humanely. These are individuals. They are people and not just cases.
I recognise what the Home Secretary says, but the Windrush taskforce was set up more than two and a half years ago. Another five months have passed since June, when the Government promised that it was time for action, and the Home Secretary told the House that she had individual cases passing across her desk. Let me be clear: the Home Secretary will not regain trust on this issue unless the process starts delivering. Let me make a suggestion. Will she work to apply targets to the process, and give victims binding guarantees about how long claims will take, so that they can be processed efficiently? Surely she must accept that things cannot go on as they are?
I have been clear that we are absolutely determined, with conviction and commitment, to support those who have been affected by the whole Windrush scandal. This is not about targets; this is not just about cases. This is about people, and it is right that processes are in place. I have offered the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues across the House, the chance to work with us and see how those claims are assessed and processed. It is right to pay attention to detail with these cases. Detail was missed in the past, which was how we had that great sense of injustice. I am committed, as are my Department and officials, to righting the wrongs of the past, and we will do that in a thoughtful and proper way.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that question, and he heard the Minister with responsibility for immigration compliance speak about that issue today. This is an issue, and we want to ensure that everyone who is seeking asylum comes to our country for the right reasons, and in the right way. Currently, our efforts are being undermined by people traffickers and issues of which my hon. Friend is well aware. We will bring forward legislation—I have been clear about that—to address problems in our asylum system, and ensure that we go after those individuals who are trafficking people, and who frankly are abusing vulnerable people who are seeking to flee persecution.
We have been told that the Government want to use Interpol databases as an alternative to the SIS II database after 1 January. Will the Home Secretary tell the House how many EU27 countries have agreed to upload all their information on wanted criminals, missing persons, and other crucial information on the SIS II database, on to the Interpol databases? How far will they have completed that task by 1 January? Can the Home Secretary guarantee the House that the police and Border Force will still be able to get access to that crucial criminal information?
Order. May I just say to Members that it is unfair to those the call list if I cannot get through it? We were slow on the last set of questions, and topical questions are meant to be short and punchy. Please let us work together. It is not fair on those who are missing out.
As the right hon. Lady has highlighted, in the absence of SIS II we will use Interpol channels to exchange information with EU member states on persons of interest. All incoming Interpol circulations, notices and diffusions are uploaded to UK border and policing systems. Our use of Interpol predates our SIS II access, and provides the capability to exchange data and communicate with all our international partners quickly and securely.
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is right that we support victims and work with the police to give them the tools they need to do so.
Last week I met Peter Krykant, whose pilot scheme for safe consumption spaces in Glasgow last month saw 74 protected injections take place over 40 hours, with zero blood-borne viruses transmitted, zero overdose deaths and 74 needs safely discarded. Will the Home Secretary agree with me that those figures appear to support the conclusion of the Scottish Affairs Committee that safe consumption spaces are proven to reduce the immediate health risks associated with problem drug use?
The hon. and learned Lady will know that the Policing Minister, working with the Department of Health and Social Care, has been working assiduously on our plans to deal with drug abuse. Those findings will come out in due course, but a great deal of work is being undertaken by this Government through the Dame Carol Black review. We are undertaking a range of work, including some pilot work, on drug abuse.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this concern. We are, of course, fully committed to tackling terrorism in all forms, and hateful ideologies as well. That is part of our CONTEST strategy and we are constantly reviewing all actions in light of the changing world we are living in.
The hon. Lady will be well aware that the Government are fully committed to serious violence reduction. We are working on this with our National Policing Board, as well as her chief constable. She is right to highlight the seriousness of the corrosive aspects of knife crime across society. The police have the tools and the powers to go out there and pursue individuals who are carrying such weapons, and we have the policies we are applying by working with the police.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I thank Sussex police. I have seen at first hand their work in dealing with county lines, drugs and protecting vulnerable individuals. She is right to highlight this abhorrent crime. We see far too many vulnerable people being used by criminals for criminal purposes. A great deal of work is taking place, in particular on county lines but also on safeguarding victims and vulnerable people.
Of course, the answer is absolutely yes. The hon. Gentleman will be very aware of the work the Government have done over recent years when it comes to resettling asylum seekers and refugees through our resettlement scheme. I am very happy to discuss that with him.
My hon. Friend raises an important change that is coming through our points-based immigration system, with simplification coming into the system, as he will be aware. He is absolutely right; part of our mantra as global Britain is that we are open to the world and, in particular, to those who want to contribute to our economy and our country.
The hon. Lady is right: that is a much needed change required in the law, and I will make further comments on this in due course.
I refer my hon. Friend to the comments I made earlier. He will be well aware of the way in which we have empowered the police, who are going out there to ensure that victims are protected while at the same time going after the perpetrators of domestic abuse. My message is absolutely clear: if you are perpetrating abuse, the police will find you and come after you. We are putting more money and support into the system to protect the vulnerable, and we are asking those who are subject to domestic abuse to leave home and seek advice through many of the portals that we have stood up.
Of course I will meet the hon. Lady. If she can give me the specific examples that she is referring to, I will look at them.
I have been speaking very regularly to people working with asylum seekers in Glasgow. Just last week, I spoke to Aileen Campbell, the Communities Secretary, and I have spoken—I think twice now—in recent weeks to the leader of Glasgow City Council. We are doing a great deal of work with those providing services to asylum seekers in Glasgow. We have managed to reduce the number of people accommodated in hotels from over 400 to about 200. It is regrettable that Glasgow City Council still has 600 people in hotel accommodation.
I am eternally grateful to you for calling me, Mr Speaker. On 1 October, the shadow Health Minister and I wrote to our counterparts in Government asking why it was taking months to process the one-year visa extensions promised to healthcare workers, leaving them without their biometric residence permits, which is exposing this country’s heroes to the hostile environment. We have not had a response to that letter, so I will ask again: now that we are in a second national lockdown, why was the visa extension scheme closed at the start of October and why are the permits taking so long to process, only compounding the pressures on healthcare professionals rather than alleviating them?
First, if the hon. Lady has not received a response, I will ensure that she receives one. The fact of the matter is that we are doing everything in our power to support the NHS heroes who have been working flat out throughout this coronavirus crisis, and there will be more activity on this front to come.
Greater Manchester police officers keep blowing the whistle to the Manchester Evening News about the failures of the new computer system, iOPs—the integrated operational policing system. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said that the system is putting vulnerable people at risk of harm. The system released the details of victims’ names and addresses online earlier this year. The £27 million scheme is massively overspent. Has the Secretary of State made a recent assessment of the project?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware—he has referred to this—we have sent Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Tom Winsor, to look at what has been going within Greater Manchester policing with iOPS. The cases that we have seen and the inability to record crime data—the points that the hon. Gentleman has made—are clearly unacceptable. We are keeping it under review, and we will keep him and other hon. Members informed of the progress of the work that is being undertaken on this front.
The Centre for Social Justice report “It Still Happens Here” estimates that 90,000 victims of modern slavery went unidentified under the previous lockdown. Under the second lockdown, what proactive steps will the Government take to identify, rescue and protect victims of modern slavery?
I thank the hon. Lady for her really important question. She is right about the report published by the Centre for Social Justice. I am acutely aware, as are officials across the Department, of the scale of modern-day slavery. Much of it is underground, in the black economy, where people are captured and put into bonded labour. There is extensive work taking place in the Home Office and with law enforcement, and I would be very happy to share some of that work with the hon. Lady.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for a few minutes.
Before the urgent question, I wish to make a short statement about Divisions. Following the changes to the proxy system agreed by the House last Tuesday, there are now at least 370 proxy votes in operation. In view of this, I will reduce the voting time before the doors are locked from 12 minutes after the start of a Division to 10 minutes. In due course, I may reduce this further to the normal time of 8 minutes. As at present, the occupant of the Chair may extend the time in a particular Division when there is evidence of delays or problems getting to the Division Lobbies.
Jonathan Taylor: SBM Offshore
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on what steps HM Government have taken to secure the return of Jonathan Taylor to the UK in order to complete inquiries into corruption by SBM Offshore.
I am very aware that my right hon. Friend has been taking a very keen interest in this issue. Mr Taylor exposed corruption at the Monaco-based Dutch multinational SBM Offshore in 2012. He was arrested in Croatia on 30 July this year on an Interpol red notice issued by Monaco for charges of corruption and bribery.
At this time, we have no evidence that the arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. However, Mr Taylor has alleged that the arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities. On 3 October, the Croatian extrajudicial council issued its decision to extradite Mr Taylor to Monaco. Mr Taylor has been on bail since 4 August.
Mr Taylor appealed against his extradition to the Croatian Supreme Court, which has advised that the UK should first be asked if it wanted to extradite Mr Taylor as a UK national. We understand that the Crown Prosecution Service has advised that it has no outstanding case against Mr Taylor. Therefore, the UK has notified the Croatian authorities that we are not seeking to extradite him. The Croatian court will now reconsider the issue.
We are following the progress of Mr Taylor’s appeal very closely and will continue to do so. We have approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request the details of the specific charges against Jonathan Taylor. We have also spoken to Mr Taylor’s UK lawyer to understand the grounds on which he is appealing the charges, and we are providing consular support to Mr Taylor. We have stayed in very regular contact with Mr Taylor and sought updates on the case from the Croatian judge.
Consular staff spoke to airport police on 30 July, when Mr Taylor was first arrested. They spoke to Mr Taylor and provided him with a list of local English-speaking lawyers. Staff have spoken to the judge for information on the local legal process and for regular updates on the progress of the case, to the prison social worker to check on Mr Taylor’s welfare, and to the president of the extrajudicial council. They have also spoken to Mr Taylor’s wife.
Since the decision to extradite Mr Taylor, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office staff have been in contact with Mr Taylor on multiple occasions and have spoken with Judge Djordjo Benussi of the county court in Dubrovnik. If we receive any evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will of course consider what further steps we can take to support him. However, it is a requirement of the Vienna convention on consular relations that signatories do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. We cannot interfere in the legal proceedings of other countries, just as we would not accept similar interference.
I met the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and a co-chair of the all-party group on anti-corruption and responsible tax on 15 September. More broadly, my right hon. Friend may be interested to know that the UK has seconded a senior lawyer to the Interpol taskforce working to prevent abuse of Interpol systems.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s obvious interest in this case. As she says, my constituent, Jonathan Taylor, is a whistleblower who has provided evidence to numerous agencies across the globe, including our own Serious Fraud Office. He is currently detained in Croatia under a European arrest warrant and is trying to prevent what he describes as a politically motivated extradition to Monaco.
My hon. Friend has stated the Government’s position with no ambiguity—the FCDO cannot and will not interfere in the judicial proceedings of another country—but in this case the FCDO has been explicitly asked by the Croatian court to provide a statement. She has highlighted that the National Crime Agency is not seeking Mr Taylor’s surrender under the EAW, but we do not know whether the FCDO has separately responded to the court. If it has not, why not, and if it has, may we have details of the response? Although my constituent may not be wanted by the NCA, he has been providing information to the SFO regarding the actions of his former employer. Has that been considered when stating that Her Majesty’s Government are not seeking his surrender?
We know from other cases where British citizens are detained abroad that the FCDO does comment—indeed, the official Twitter account referenced one such case just six days go—so the UK does get involved, but apparently not in the case of whistleblowers. That sends a chilling message to others thinking of doing what my constituent has done in blowing the whistle on his former employers, SBM Offshore—a company that paid $240 million to settle criminal charges over improper payments to officials.
What consideration has been given to Mr Taylor’s human rights? Does my hon. Friend have absolute confidence that he will receive a fair trial in Monaco? What conversations has she had with authorities in Monaco regarding the case, and can we have details further to the one she referenced? I know she will not comment on the quality of the evidence provided, but its flimsiness has caused lawyers concern. It is not satisfactory to repeat that Her Majesty’s Government do not get involved. My constituent has whistleblower status and deserves the appropriate protection.
I shall endeavour to answer my right hon. Friend’s questions as best I can, but I think it is important to recognise that it is a requirement of the Vienna convention on consular relations that signatories do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. I am sure she understands that.
As I said, we have no evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. If evidence emerges or if there is an indication that the process is incorrect, we will of course look again.
My right hon. Friend asks about contact with Monaco. The British embassy in Paris has approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s officer to obtain more information about the charges against Jonathan Taylor, which are not specified further than bribery and corruption; we await a response. I assure her that we are providing consular support, and we are in contact with Mr Taylor and his family. We have also spoken to his UK lawyer and to the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request the details of the charges. I can only reiterate that, if we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will consider what further steps we can take to support Mr Taylor.
I start by extending my best wishes to the Foreign Secretary, who I understand is self-isolating.
I thank the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) for securing this urgent question. There is no doubt that the case of Jonathan Taylor, as she said, sends a chilling message to others who find themselves in a similar position. That is why it was so disappointing to hear the Minister’s response today.
Does the Minister agree that the charges of bribery and corruption brought against Mr Taylor bear all the hallmarks of a retaliatory act by the Government of Monaco for the widespread wrongdoing his evidence helped to expose? Mr Taylor’s legal team, whom she referred to, have stated repeatedly that there is no basis in law for the red notice issued by Interpol for his arrest and have challenged its legitimacy as a clear abuse of process.
Mr Taylor has spent 100 days since his arrest in Croatia awaiting the outcome of legal proceedings that will determine whether his extradition to Monaco is granted. Why, during those 100 days, have the UK Government failed to make representations on his behalf to the authorities in Croatia or Monaco? The message this inaction sends to potential whistleblowers is serious: that a British citizen who brings to light bribery and corruption overseas can be pursued by foreign powers without protection or intervention from their own Government.
The Monégasque authorities have failed to instigate a single criminal investigation into the corruption that Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing brought to light. I was pleased to hear that the FCDO has approached the Monégasque authorities, but I remind the Minister that it was only four months ago that the Foreign Secretary stood at the Dispatch Box and praised Sergei Magnitsky for his bravery in highlighting corruption and wrongdoing. Will she tell us what has caused the Government to review their position?
The Minister said that the UK Government are unable to intervene in the legal processes of Croatia and Monaco, but surely she accepts that abdicating their responsibility to a British citizen is a clear contradiction to the interventions the Government have previously made on citizens facing similarly spurious charges elsewhere.
Finally, what message does the Minister think this inaction sends to British citizens who unearth the kind of widescale corruption that Mr Taylor brought to light, who believed that the granting of protected witness and whistleblower status would safeguard them from harassment and persecution? What message does it send to foreign Governments about the willingness of this Administration to stand up for and protect their own citizens abroad? The silence from the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers is deafening, and it will be heard throughout the world unless the Government change course and take the steps necessary to bring Mr Taylor home.
I will certainly pass on the hon. Lady’s good wishes to the Foreign Secretary.
On the case of Mr Taylor, I absolutely do not accept the charge that we were abdicating responsibility. I have tried to make it clear that, in the first instance, we are providing consular support. We are in contact with Mr Taylor and his family, as I am sure the hon. Lady would expect. We have spoken to his lawyer. We have spoken to the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request the details of the specific charges. As I indicated earlier, if we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will see what further steps we can take to support him.
I referred to the Vienna convention with regard to consular relations. I reiterate that we cannot interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, just as we would not expect similar interference here. Mr Taylor has appealed to the Croatian supreme court and that process should be allowed to run its course. We understand that Mr Taylor is facing charges of bribery and corruption, and we have approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request more information.
I assure the hon. Lady, as I endeavoured to assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), that we take this matter very seriously.
The Vienna convention is important, but it does not overrule the Foreign Office’s duty to protect British citizens while they are abroad and it does not overrule the presumption of innocence. In Croatia in particular, it does not overrule the European Union whistleblowers directive of 2019. As a first measure, will the Minister remind the Croatians of their duties under that directive, which requires them to protect whistleblowers and, in my interpretation, requires them to return Mr Taylor home?
Secondly, will she speak to the Monaco authorities? Monaco is known to be a tax haven, but if its authorities choose to interpret that to make it a centre for corruption and to defend corrupt practices and if they do not uphold justice, this country should review its double taxation arrangements with them, which would be very painful for them.
Under EU law, before deciding the Monégasque extradition request, Croatian courts should ask the UK law enforcement authorities if they wish to extradite Mr Taylor to the UK. It is however important that I explain that this is a CPS/police matter, and they do not wish to extradite Mr Taylor to the UK.
I commend the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) for bringing forward this issue; it is important for the House to take stock of it. I note the Minister’s comments on the Vienna convention and the inability to interfere in Monégasque or Croatian legal proceedings, but UK nationals have a right to avoid malicious prosecution and there is credible evidence that casts doubt on the case against this gentleman. The Minister said that the Government have been in touch with the Monégasque authorities. When do we expect an answer? Will the Minister assure us that, if the evidence brought forward is not credible, she will be vocal in her view that it is not credible and basis for extradition?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to obtain more information. I cannot be certain about when we will get a response, but we continue to take the case seriously. As I have made clear, if further evidence comes forward, we will look at that.
In 2005, I was very unfairly arrested on a Europol red notice in Ukraine. I fully realise that the Government can do little, especially if this gentleman is accused of corruption, but will my hon. Friend ensure that Mr Taylor gets as much support as possible in Croatia—and Monaco, if he goes there—from the British Government?
I assure my hon. Friend that we have already given a lot of consular support to Mr Taylor and we will continue to do so.
May I join in congratulating the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing the urgent question and thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it? The all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax has taken an interest in this issue for some time, and I thank the Minister for meeting us. We provided her with the evidence she needs that both links the case with Mr Taylor’s action as a whistleblower and shows that due process has not been followed.
Jonathan Taylor has blown the whistle on bribery and corruption across the globe, from Brazil to Angola, from Iraq to Equatorial Guinea and from the USA to the UK. He is a British citizen, and this brave man’s evidence has led to arrests, convictions and nearly $1 billion-worth of fines across many jurisdictions. Will the Minister explain what on earth the Government are waiting for? I simply cannot understand it. What else will it take for them to make the obvious, straightforward, necessary and important representations to both Croatia and Monaco to stop this ridiculous extradition process and bring Mr Taylor back home?
I am well aware and appreciate that the right hon. Lady takes a close interest in the case. As I said in my opening remarks, I met her and her fellow co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax. I must reiterate however that there is a process and the Vienna convention to follow, and we have no evidence that the arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. Mr Taylor has alleged that the arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities. On 3 September the Croatian extrajudicial council issued its decision to extradite Mr Taylor to Monaco. He appealed against his extradition. We understand that the CPS has advised there is no outstanding case against him.
What actions are the Government taking to ensure Interpol’s systems are not abused?
The UK has seconded a senior lawyer to the Interpol taskforce, working to prevent the abuse of Interpol’s systems.
We owe a debt of gratitude to whistleblowers such as Mr Taylor, and corruption thrives at times of chaos, such as in a pandemic, for example. Transparency International has shown that there is a risk of global corruption rising as a result of this pandemic. Does the Minister not accept that this Government’s inaction sends the wrong signal to the very whistleblowers who we need on our side right now, and further to that, what are this Government doing to ensure that transparent processes are being followed during this pandemic?
What I do not accept is that this Government are not acting. I have repeatedly explained what we are doing in terms of support for Mr Taylor, particularly along the consular grounds, and I have made it very clear that we have no evidence that his arrest is linked to whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore.
Does the Minister not believe that a whistleblower such as Jonathan Taylor, who is continuing to support UK law enforcement agencies in their battle against corruption, deserves the urgent support of his Government, the UK Government? Why are the Government repeatedly refusing to support one of their own citizens?
I have made it very clear that we are supporting Mr Taylor and his family with consular support, and we are in contact with his lawyer.
The targeting of Jonathan Taylor, years after notifying and assisting the UK Serious Fraud Office, as well as investigators in Brazil and the Netherlands and the FBI and the US Department of Justice, regarding the $275 million-worth of bribes made by SBM Offshore raises serious questions about the protections granted to whistleblowers. What further protections will Her Majesty’s Government grant to whistleblowers and investigative journalists in the light of Jonathan Taylor’s case?
As I am sure you will understand, Mr Speaker, for the purposes of this UQ, I am very much focusing on the case of Mr Taylor and the support we are giving to him and the allegations he has made that his arrest is linked to whistleblowing activities. I assure my hon. Friend that we take this matter incredibly seriously.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) recently scorned the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s claims that the UK can operate more effectively to safeguard British people from outside the EU post Brexit. This is contrary to the remarks that the president of the Police Superintendents Association made in today’s Independent newspaper. Can the Minister provide this House with an update on the security talks taking place in the UK-EU negotiations, given that they will affect each and every one of us in fewer than seven weeks’ time?
The hon. Lady is trying to draw me into a debate about EU negotiations. It would be wrong of me to get drawn into that today, but we have left the EU, and the end of the transition period will be at the end of this year.
I believe that I am correct in wishing my hon. Friend a happy birthday. Given that we need to protect whistleblowers who bring home the issues of corruption across the globe, can she update the House on what measures we can take to allow whistleblowers who are arrested on foreign soil to return to the UK and be properly protected?
I thank my hon. Friend very much; alas, due to covid restrictions, I cannot share my cake with anyone, so I will eat it all myself. On his more serious point, my hon. Friend raises a very important question, and the simple answer is yes. That is why, if there is any evidence that Mr Taylor has been charged because of his whistleblowing, we will urgently consider what action to take.
The Minister says that the Government are following due process, but it has now been 100 days since Mr Taylor was arrested. There has been a request from the Croatian Supreme Court for information, but the Government do not appear to have responded. What signal does that send out, not just to him but to other whistleblowers in the future?
I do not accept that we have done nothing. As I have repeatedly set out, we have made it clear that if we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will consider what further steps we can take to support him. Rest assured we are providing consular support, and we are in contact with Mr Taylor and his family.
Will the Minister kindly outline for the House exactly what type of support the United Kingdom has provided for Mr Taylor?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are providing consular support, and we are in regular contact with Mr Taylor and his family. We have spoken to Mr Taylor’s UK lawyer and to the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request details of the specific charges. At the risk of repeating myself, if we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process has not been followed, we will consider what further steps we can take to support him.
The only plus for Jonathan Taylor, now languishing in a foreign jail after exposing wrongdoing, is that he is represented by my constituent, the brilliant barrister Toby Cadman. Can the Minister answer a question for both of us? Should not the European convention on human rights apply to every British citizen whenever their rights are under threat, because every rule in the book is being broken?
As I have set out, we continue to support Mr Taylor. If any evidence comes forward that he has been charged because of his whistleblowing, we will urgently consider it, and if there is evidence that the process has not been followed, we will consider that.
I am interested in this case as the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on whistleblowing. The Minister says that we do not intervene in other jurisdictions’ legal cases, but we have done so in Iran, with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. If the evidence is pointing towards this being a retaliatory act, and if we fail to act to protect this individual, who is a British citizen, what message does that send to other whistleblowers who may be in similar circumstances? Does this not strengthen the case for an office for the whistleblower to advise and support whistleblowers?
My hon. Friend raises some other cases of whistleblowing, but it is really important that we recognise the need to examine each individual case carefully. As I have said, if there is any evidence that Mr Taylor has been charged because of his whistleblowing, we will urgently consider what action to take.
Mr Taylor’s action should be applauded. He should not be pursued, and we condemn Monaco’s action on this. Failure by the UK to support whistleblowers will send a terrible message to those who we need to speak out. I know that the Minister does not want to answer this, but it is important that she does. What measures will the UK Government now take to protect those who need to speak out in future over such issues?
I have been very clear about our response to the case of Mr Taylor, and I think that it is really important that I remain focused on that. We are continuing to give him consular support and, as I said, at this time we have no evidence that his arrest is linked to his whistleblowing on corruption, so I think that it would be wrong of me to speculate.
I am sorry; I like the Minister but her answers are about as much use as a bath full of blancmange. They are not going to do Mr Taylor any favours, and the real problem is that whistleblowers around the world are going to take away the message that the Interpol red-notice system can be abused with impunity because countries like the United Kingdom are not even going to say boo to a goose. We have seen it repeatedly, time and again: countries such as Russia against Bill Browder and lots of other countries—authoritarian regimes—are completely abusing the Interpol red-notice scheme. Do we not now need proper reform?
I do not accept the hon. Member’s assertion about saying boo to a goose at all. I have been very clear about the support that we are giving to Mr Taylor, and that at this time we have no evidence that this arrest is linked to his whistleblowing on corruption.
The only reason why we have any idea at all about the murky, corrupt and usually criminal world of offshore tax havens is leaks such as the Paradise papers or the Panama papers, or, now, the activities of Mr Taylor. Does the Minister not share the concern of Opposition Members and others in the House that there will be fewer such leaks to help us to bring tax havens to justice and to stop their nefarious activities, which, frankly, are corrupting huge parts of the way the world operates?
I would of course always be concerned about stories relating to corruption, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, but I have to reiterate that in the case of Mr Taylor we have no evidence that this arrest is linked to his whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. We are continuing to give Mr Taylor consular support through the FCDO.
I wish the Minister a happy birthday.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I now suspend the House for three minutes.
Future of Financial Services
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to update the House on our plans for one of the UK’s most productive and innovative sectors: financial services. They will be essential to our economic recovery from coronavirus, creating jobs and growth right across our country. As we leave the European Union and start a new chapter in the history of financial services in this country, we want to renew the UK’s position as the world’s pre-eminent financial centre. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will lay the foundations later, through the Financial Services Bill. I would like to put that Bill into context now by setting out for the House our plans to make this country more open, more technologically advanced and a world leader in the use of green finance.
Financial services have been fundamental to Britain’s economic strength for centuries and they remain fundamental today. The vigour and creativity of this industry adds over £130 billion of value to the UK economy, employs over 1 million people and has been a critical source of revenues to support the NHS through coronavirus, contributing nearly £76 billion in tax receipts last year. Let us put paid, once and for all, to the myth that financial services and the City of London are synonyms; two thirds of the people employed in financial and professional services work outside London, in places such as Edinburgh, Leeds, Durham, Cardiff and Belfast. About half of all financial services exports come from outside London too, with the north and midlands alone exporting as much as the entire financial services industry of France.
This is the start of a new chapter for financial services. The industry is better regulated, better capitalised and more resilient than it was in 2008. Coronavirus has reminded us that financial services are essential services, and the whole House will share my gratitude to the people keeping their local bank branches open, supporting vulnerable customers and working at extraordinary pace to deliver over £60 billion of new loan schemes, reminding us that this industry is at its best when it puts the interests of consumers first. As we leave the EU, we have an opportunity to set out a new vision for this sector—a vision based not on a race to the bottom, but for a financial services industry that is open, innovative and leads the world in the use of green finance.
I am taking three steps towards that vision today. Our first task as we write this new chapter for financial services is to give certainty on our approach to regulation after we leave the transition period. One of the central mechanisms for managing our cross-border financial services activity with the EU and beyond is equivalence. I remain firmly of the view that it is in both the UK’s and EU’s interests to reach a comprehensive set of mutual decisions on equivalence. Throughout, our ambition has been to manage these co-operatively with the EU, but it is now clear that there are many areas where the EU is simply not prepared to even assess the UK, so we need to now decide on how best to proceed. Of course, we will always want a constructive and engaged relationship with the European Union, but after four years I think it is time for us to move forward as a country and do what is right for the UK. To provide certainty and stability to industry and deliver our goal of open, well-regulated markets, I am publishing today a set of equivalence decisions for the EU and European economic area member states. Of course, we are ready to continue the conversation where we have not yet been able to take decisions, but in the absence of clarity from the EU we are acting unilaterally to provide certainty to firms, both here and in Europe.
I am also publishing today a detailed framework for our approach to equivalence more generally. Our approach here will be simple: we will use equivalence when it is in the UK’s economic interest to do so, taking a technical, outcomes-based approach that prioritises stability, openness and transparency. And of course we now have the freedom to build new, deeper financial services relationships with countries outside the EU. We are making good on that promise already, progressing our partnership with: Switzerland, the second biggest financial hub in Europe after the UK; India, holding a significant economic and financial dialogue just two weeks ago; and Japan, agreeing a new partnership that goes further than the EU’s own financial services arrangements.
Equivalence is not our only tool to ensure openness as a jurisdiction. Control of our own regulatory regime means that we need to be clear with our trading partners about how our overseas firms access the UK’s markets in a way that is predictable, safe and transparent, so I am announcing today that we will launch a call for evidence on our overseas regime before setting out our future approach next year. To boost the number of new companies that want to list here in the UK, I am setting up a taskforce to make recommendations early next year on our future listings regime. To build on the 113,000 jobs already supported by investment management, we will shortly publish a consultation on reforming the UK’s regime for investment funds. To encourage UK pension funds to direct more of their half a trillion pounds of capital towards our economic recovery, I am committing today to the UK’s first long-term asset fund being up and running within a year. To ensure that UK financial services exports to the EU remain competitive, we will treat those exports the same as we do for other countries. That means that UK firms will be able to reclaim input VAT on financial services exports to the EU—support for British industry and jobs worth £800 million.
We are known in this country not just for our openness, but for our ingenuity and inventiveness, too. The second part of our new financial chapter for financial services will use technology to deliver better outcomes for consumers and businesses. We are building on our existing strengths as a leading global destination to start, grow and invest in FinTech, and I look forward to welcoming Ron Kalifa’s report in this important area. We are staying at the cutting edge of payments technologies where we have just concluded the first stage of our payment landscape review and will shortly publish new plans to support the sector. We will make sure our regulatory environment is ready to manage the far-reaching implications of technology on money itself. We will publish a consultation shortly to make new forms of privately issued currencies, known as stable coins, meet the same high standards we expect of other payment methods. The Bank of England and the Treasury are considering further whether central banks can issue their own digital currencies as a complement to cash.
Finally, this new chapter means putting the full weight of private sector innovation, expertise and capital behind the critical global effort to tackle climate change and protect the environment. We are announcing the UK’s intention to mandate climate disclosures by large companies and financial institutions across our economy by 2025, going further than recommended by the taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and we will be the first G20 country to do so. We are implementing a new green taxonomy, robustly classifying what we mean by “green” to help firms and investors better understand the impact of their investments on the environment. To meet growing investor demand, the UK will, subject to market conditions, issue our first ever sovereign green bond next year. This will be the first in a series of new issuances, as we look to build out a green curve over the coming years, helping to fund projects to tackle climate change, finance much-needed infrastructure investment and create green jobs across the country.
We have set out today our vision for this new chapter in the UK’s financial services industry, a vision of a global open industry where British finance and expertise is prized and sought after in Europe and beyond, a technologically advanced industry, using all its ingenuity to deliver better outcomes for consumers and businesses, a greener industry, using innovation and finance to tackle climate change and protect our environment and, above all, an industry that serves the people of this country, acting in the interests of communities and citizens, creating jobs, supporting businesses and powering growth as we direct all our strength towards economic recovery. I commend this statement to the House.
We have become used to disjointed, last-minute policy making recently in this House. Today’s events—with a statement entitled “the Future of Financial Services” on the very day that the Financial Services Bill is being debated—surely takes this to new heights.
The UK produces 1% of global emissions, but companies and financial institutions based here produce 15% of those emissions. Action from the Government to match the green ambitions of many in financial services cannot come too soon. Recent developments have unfortunately gone in the wrong direction. Over the last decade, the UK has pumped £6 billion into overseas fossil fuel projects via UK Export Finance, so will the Chancellor do as Labour has demanded and immediately ban the financing of fossil fuel projects through UK Export Finance?
Labour supports the move to greater disclosure of climate-related information. Two months ago, we called on the Government to show leadership and introduce mandatory reporting ahead of COP26. The Chancellor’s announcement and that of the Financial Conduct Authority this morning are positive, but they only relate to a “comply or explain” basis, with full implementation not set for many years—until 2025. The climate crisis demands bolder action. Will the Chancellor move to mandatory reporting in the 2021-22 reporting year?
Again, the introduction of green gilts is welcome, but they are mechanisms, not ends in themselves; they obviously depend on where the money raised is then invested. So far this year, the UK Government have announced around £5 billion in green investment. That compares with £36 billion in Germany and £27 billion in France. Where is this Government’s ambition for a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis, and where is the replacement for the green investment bank that the Conservatives sold off?
As the Chancellor rightly said, the financial sector is of course critical in ensuring that start-ups and scale-ups can access the capital that they need to grow and succeed, and that is so important right now. But that must go hand in hand with oversight and protection. The drive to encourage more tech companies to list on our stock exchange cannot come at the expense of corporate responsibility, so what will he do to ensure the long-term health of British companies and the protection of British investors? And where is the action here to protect people’s access to local bank branches and to cash on their high streets? There is more in this statement about stablecoins—hardly the talk of living rooms up and down the land—than there is about people’s access to cash.
While we debate these often welcome measures, we must not forget the elephant in the room: this Government’s mishandling—I am calling it that because that is what it is—of ensuring market access for our firms to our largest trading partner. One in every 14 UK workers is employed in financial and related professional services, yet the City of London Corporation has recently said that the approach to negotiations makes them feel like the
“neglected child of an acrimonious divorce”.
With weeks to go until we leave the transition period, we still do not know whether the EU will determine that our rules are equivalent to its own. The Chancellor’s predecessor said that
“achieving equivalence on day one should not be complicated.”
The deadline for achieving equivalence was June of this year. By that date, the UK had filled in just four of the 28 forms that it needed to complete. This Government cannot even complete the paperwork on time to secure market access to our largest export industry. The Chancellor said that today he was setting out our approach to equivalence. That should have been done months ago; it is such a critical aspect of the UK’s economy.
We have already seen damage being done. EY research suggests that over 7,000 jobs have already gone and that £1.2 trillion in assets are set to be relocated from the UK, with potentially worse to come as firms making plans decide not to locate those plans and jobs within our borders. It is too late now to strike a deal that would preserve market access securely; too late now—a phrase, sadly, that we are coming to associate with this Chancellor. Let me ask him, when did one of our most important sectors fall so far down his list of priorities?
I was hoping that this would be a rather more technical discussion. It was telling that we had all those questions from the hon. Lady but not really, until the last sentence, any word of praise or recognition for this industry. [Interruption.] Absolutely, it was about trying to score political points, sneering and sniding, with no recognition of the importance of this industry up and down the country and all the people who are employed in it—no recognition whatsoever. When I talked about the hard-working people in this industry who were making sure that customers had access to their branches and access to loans during the coronavirus, all I heard was muttering. That is not the right praise for the people in this industry because they have been working very hard and it is appropriate that they get the recognition that they deserve for that—and they will get it from this Government.
The hon. Lady asked about the TCFD disclosures and comply or explain. Comply or explain is the approach that others have taken. We will be the first major economy—the first in the G20—to mandate disclosures by 2025. A road map has been published today. It is the most ambitious timetable that any major economy has done to date. In fact, it goes far beyond what was recommended by the taskforce. I think that is something that Government Members at least will very proud of.
The hon. Lady asked about access to cash. She should know that, in the middle of October, on about the 15th, we published our access-to-cash call for evidence, which I announced back at Budget in March. The responses to that will inform our future legislative strategy. We laid out clearly that we believe it is important that everyone has access to cash. Depending on the responses to that consultation, we will decide on the appropriate next steps.
The hon. Lady commented on our response to the equivalence process from our EU partners. I think she was trying to accuse us of being slow in replying, or not quite replying sufficiently. That will be news to the team that has spent months producing 2,500 pages of responses to the Commission responses. I might add, as she seems more willing to defend the EU in its conduct of this process, that we have not had a single question back from the European Union after sending 2,500 pages of responses over to it. I might also add that we did not feel it necessary to send it thousands and thousands of pages—we adopted a constructive approach that required very little answers, given that we know its current regulatory arrangements because we all share the same ones.
We have chosen to take an approach that prioritises financial services. Rather than wait, we have acted unilaterally to provide certainty to our financial services firms and to enshrine our reputation as a place where global firms can come and do business, because this will always be the most open, the most competitive and the most innovative place to do financial services anywhere in the world.
We have two withdrawals, so I come to Alison Thewliss, the SNP spokesperson.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Chancellor said in response to the shadow Chancellor that he was expecting a technical discussion. Well, technical discussion might have been possible if we had not received a heavily redacted statement at one minute to 4, which is disgraceful and disrespectful to Opposition Members. He does it time and again, and it is just not on.
Financial services are of huge importance to Scotland. I note that the Chancellor did not mention Glasgow, where we have the huge Barclays complex coming out of the ground as a sign of confidence in the Scottish economy. It is not uncommon that financial services companies have been planning on moving their assets from London to elsewhere in the UK, and the Chancellor really needs to get behind that. Things have been moved out of the City of London to right across these islands because these are important, good-quality jobs.
This year, coronavirus has overtaken Brexit for financial services in terms of focus and capacity. As a consequence, there has been significantly reduced bandwidth for people working in financial services companies to prepare for the disastrous consequences of Brexit. So can the Chancellor tell us how he will support companies with their preparations, particularly as we do not know what we are preparing for—details of the relationship with Europe are so scarce because we still do not know what that relationship is going to look like? Given that instability and uncertainty are anathema to the financial sector, can the Government provide any clarity on what people ought to be preparing for in only a few weeks’ time?
We welcome the introduction of green gilts. The Treasury Committee has been looking at them, and 16 other countries have done this, including Germany and Sweden. Can the Chancellor tell us how this will impact on Scotland? What discussions has he had with the Scottish Government on this? How will he ensure that Scotland gets its fair share of any investment to come? Will the UK Government take this opportunity of new financial powers to back the transition to a low-carbon future, to accelerate their net zero targets and to match the Scottish Government’s ambitious commitments?
Equivalence is a point in time, and as the UK diverges, there is a huge risk to our access to European markets. As the Association of British Insurers has pointed out, equivalence has been used in the past as a political weapon, so how does the Chancellor plan to mitigate that?
Lastly, the Government must put their own house in order on green issues. The Treasury has a good opportunity to work across different Departments, such as UK Export Finance, to ensure that they are all making their contribution to a greener future. The Chancellor must take this seriously right across the Departments if he is going to come to COP26 in Glasgow next year with anything worth the candle.
The hon. Lady talked about moving jobs out of London. It is already the case that the majority of financial and professional services jobs—two thirds—are out of London. I completely agree with her that Scotland has a proud heritage in financial services, and long may that continue.
With regard to providing certainty for firms and the support given to them, the hon. Lady will be aware that we put in place a temporary permissions regime some time ago, which provided that certainty to overseas firms needing to continue operating here after the transition period. They have known about that for a while, and it has been warmly welcomed. With regard to specific financial support, I point her to the announcements on input VAT, which will ensure that UK exports of financial services to the EU are not at a competitive disadvantage. Those firms will be able to reclaim input VAT, which will be worth several hundred million pounds in benefit to them, wherever they are in the UK.
The hon. Lady mentioned the ABI. I think that the ABI will warmly welcome the review that we have put in place on Solvency II. The feature of our insurance industry is the prevalence of long-term annuities. The capital treatment of those is not well managed by European rules, and there is an opportunity for us to improve things in that area, which is why the ABI has, I think, warmly welcomed our review of the Solvency II insurance regulations.
Lastly, the hon. Lady talked about the fact that others might wish to use equivalence as a political weapon. As I have set out, that will not be our approach. We will approach equivalence in a technical and outcomes-based way and seek always to provide transparency and stability, because in doing that, we will cement our reputation as the best place to do financial services in the world.
I listened carefully to the Chancellor, and he announced a green curve, a landscape review, a call for evidence, a taskforce and, God help us, a road map. Where is the bold action that is needed on green jobs and green finance? What people want is not a technical discussion but the sort of initiative that will allow things such as the Swansea bay tidal lagoon to be developed. Is he just paralysed by Treasury orthodoxy, which killed that key green project?
The hon. Gentleman asks about bold action on green measures. I have announced today that we will be the first major economy in the world to mandate the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, doing so across the economy by 2025. That demonstrates both boldness and leadership on this vital issue.
Financial services are worth over £130 billion to the UK economy and support over 1 million jobs, two thirds of which are outside London, so I wholeheartedly welcome this statement. I also welcome the announcement on the sovereign green bonds. Can the Chancellor confirm that those bonds will fund crucial projects to tackle climate change, such as the restoration of the moorlands in the Peak district and vital infrastructure investment to improve public transport across the north of England?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The transition to net zero will require enormous sums of capital to help finance it. Along with all the other market developments that it will catalyse, this bond will ensure that we can attract that capital into the UK to build the infrastructure we need.
My hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor was right to raise the fact that this Government needlessly sold off the Green Investment Bank in 2017, because when the transition period ends and we cease to be part of the European Investment Bank, we will become the only country in Europe without a public investment bank. So can I ask the Chancellor: how does he propose to fill this gap in our green finance ambitions?
I would urge the hon. Gentleman to wait for the imminent publication of the national infrastructure strategy, which will address that specific concern.
Can I warmly welcome the announcement of a sovereign green bond, and may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) on his tireless campaigning on this issue? Can my right hon. Friend say whether he agrees with me that these green gilts will help tackle climate change and create green jobs in firms of all sizes, including the many micro-businesses in my constituency of Aylesbury?
I think my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The transition to net zero will create enormous economic opportunity for companies large and small, and I know that he will champion his small businesses as they seek to benefit from it and help not just drive our recovery, but create jobs in his local area.
The Chancellor mentioned that jobs are leaving London for the rest of the UK. I would point out that jobs are leaving the UK for Europe and assets are leaving at a frightening rate—£1.2 trillion. The announcement about the green gilts is welcome, but again it is too late. We had a Green Investment Bank in this country, and at that point we could claim to be ahead in the fight on climate change. So does the Chancellor appreciate why constituents such as mine in Edinburgh West, the second largest financial sector base in this country, are concerned that this Government simply are not on top of what is happening and up to date with what this country’s economy needs?
What the financial services sector needs is a vision for the future that will ensure we remain the most competitive place to do financial services in the world, and the announcements that we have made today will ensure that that becomes a reality.
Can I thank the Chancellor for his statement and for bringing very often to this Chamber some good news? He is absolutely right about the financial and professional services work outside London. In Belfast, there are some 24,000 jobs playing a very significant and key role. Therefore, all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland benefits. Bearing in mind the need for small and medium-sized enterprises to export their products and services to the global economy—and for that to happen and take place, financial services and banks must be regulated by the FCA in a more efficient way—could I ask the Chancellor to outline how this can be done and how it can be better achieved?
I would point the hon. Gentleman to the phase 2 consultation that is currently outstanding of our future regulatory framework review. The key purpose of that review is to ensure that our regulatory regime, after we leave the transition period, is fit for purpose. It will take into account a wide range of inputs from stakeholders, and I would urge him and his small businesses to feed into it.
I particularly welcome the Chancellor’s recognition that our financial services are critical not only to our national interest, but to the long-term funding of our public services. Against that background and with a shared objective of maintaining the position of the sector in its pre-eminence, will he confirm that, while we have set out our own equivalence decisions, we will continue to seek, wherever possible, the closest agreement and alignment with the EU, which remains an important market, and that the door is not closed upon that; and, secondly, that as we develop the very welcome proposals for a new regime for listings, a new regime to deal with the investment funds and also with the overseas persons regime, he will not hesitate to draw on the very real expertise that exists—particularly in the City, but elsewhere—for example, through the International Regulatory Strategy Group and the Financial Markets Law Committee?
My hon. Friend has long been a fantastic champion and advocate for this sector, and he is right to be so. I agree with him about the importance of making sure that our listings regime is as competitive as it can be to make sure that we attract companies to list here in London. I look forward to getting input from him and the bodies he mentioned in the forthcoming review that we have commissioned.
Would the UK Government not be in a better position to deploy these bonds if they had not flogged off the Green Investment Bank, which is headquartered in my Edinburgh South West constituency? Will the Chancellor consider passing these bond-issuing powers to the devolved Governments so that they can be put to best effect in facilitating low-carbon developments across the United Kingdom?
Sovereign gilt issues will remain a reserved competency, but one of our hopes is that creating a sovereign green bond market will catalyse a domestic green bond market, as we have seen elsewhere, which would provide a benchmark for private companies to issue private green credit. I hope that will provide more capital for more companies in every part of the UK.
I thank the Chancellor for his statement. Does he agree that our financial system should also be the cleanest in the world and free from dirty criminal and corrupt money? Would he look further at the failure to prevent economic crime across our financial sector?
My hon. Friend has focused on that issue for as long as I have been in this House—and rightly so. He will know that we passed the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 the year before last, and in the Budget we said we would consult on introducing an economic crime levy that would provide additional funds to combat the scourge of crime in our financial system. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will be outlining further measures on market abuse in the debate on the Financial Services Bill.
We do not see very much of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this place. I wonder what it could possibly be about the Monday after the electoral routing of populism in the USA over the weekend that makes him want to come to the Dispatch Box and speak about climate change. Never mind the good management of his reputation, his Government cannot escape the consequences of Brexit and the lack of the deal that was promised for financial services. Given the shape of the UK’s economy, the consequences will be far worse for those workers that we keep talking about who are in financial services outside London and in other regions. Will he confirm what he believes will be the relative regional impact of the current state of the Brexit negotiations? What is his policy to stop Brexit making regional inequality even worse?
It would not be right for me to give a day-by-day commentary on the negotiations. As we heard from the Prime Minister at the weekend, we have made significant progress. Those talks are ongoing and it is clear that a deal can be done, but it will require both sides to act constructively. We remain ready to do that and are working hard at it.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Yet another statement—he seems to be here more often than not. Although I recognise that two thirds of the 1 million-plus jobs that the financial services industry supports are outside London, it is the City of London, in my constituency of Cities of London and Westminster, that is the heart of financial services in this country and supports those jobs across the UK. What further measures will the Government take post transition to ensure that the UK maintains and enhances its global competitiveness in the financial services sector?
My hon. Friend is rightly proud of this industry, given her constituency, and she is right that we should not rest on our laurels. We may be world beating today, but we want to remain the most competitive place to do business. The initiatives that we have launched today, for example the listing reform, which was mentioned, the investment funds regime reform, or Solvency II, will provide opportunities for us to tweak and flex our regulation going forward, and attract capital and business so that the industry can continue to grow and go from strength to strength.
Citizens Advice tells us that 6 million of our constituents have already fallen behind on a bill during the pandemic. One group exploiting the FinTech explosion that the Chancellor is talking about are the legal loan sharks of the credit sector. In the last financial crisis, the coalition Government waited too long to act and the Wongas of this world ripped off millions of our constituents, yet someone is now better protected if they take out a payday loan than credit card debt, because at least the interest rate is capped. As millions of our constituents face a terrible Christmas, will the Chancellor please learn the lessons of the last financial crisis when dealing with the financial sector? Will he please bring in a cap on the cost of all credit, so that we make sure that some of these new FinTechs—the buy now, pay laters of this world—are not the kinds of financial companies that we get coming to our shores to exploit our constituents yet again?
I know the hon. Lady has spent an enormous amount of time in this Chamber focused on these issues, and rightly so. The FCA is currently taking action to address the issues in the buy now, pay later sector, but more generally to her important question around debt and consumer credit, it is worth bearing in mind that we have provided around £38 million to debt providers this financial year, bringing the total to £100 million. Colleagues will know that from May next year, the breathing space initiative that was recently passed in this place will provide a period for individuals who are struggling with debt issues to take a pause and agree a repayment plan. Indeed, in the Bill we are considering later, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) will be introducing provisions for statutory debt repayment plans, which will further help those who are struggling paying back credit.
I thank the Chancellor for the statement and all the financial support he has given to my constituents in Gillingham and Rainham during covid-19. My question is specifically in regard to the work of the Financial Ombudsman Service and the six-month statute of limitation when dealing with complaints, as raised with me by a constituent in Gillingham and as faced by constituents around the country. With all other ombudsmen, such as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, there is a 12-month statute of limitation. Can the Chancellor explain that discrepancy? Will he be kind enough to take the matter away on behalf of my constituent in Gillingham and look at this anomaly in the interests of fairness?
I am very happy to take the issue away, and I look forward to discussing it further with my hon. Friend on behalf of his constituents.