House of Commons
Wednesday 20 October 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Committee of Selection
That Mike Freer be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Michael Tomlinson be added.—(Stuart Andrew.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The COP26 President was asked—
COP26: Policy Objectives
Our overarching objective of COP26 is to keep within reach the goal of limiting average global temperature rises to 1.5 °C. To achieve that, we have been asking countries to set out ambitious emissions reduction commitments and to come forward with adaptation plans, and asking developed countries to deliver on their climate finance promises and for us collectively to reach agreement on the outstanding elements of the Paris rulebook.
Given the Government’s recent wise decision to recognise that environment-saving gene-editing technology should be recognised differently from GM—genetic modification—will Ministers use COP26 to champion this and other cutting-edge science and technologies that provide some of the best solutions to the problems of sustainability and climate change?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Science and innovation are crucial to tackling climate change and delivering green growth. Innovation will be discussed at the world leaders’ summit at COP26. On 9 November, we will provide a particular focus on discussing and indeed showcasing science and innovation’s role in tackling climate change.
Along with the national and global policy objectives of COP26, many local voluntary organisations are already raising awareness of the impact of climate change, including Climate Action Wendover, in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the work that such organisations do is important in helping people to understand that the only way to reach net zero is by everyone changing the way they behave, at home, at work and in their local community?
I congratulate my hon. Friend and Climate Action Wendover on all their work in encouraging climate action from local residents and businesses. Local communities across the country are playing their part in tackling climate change, and the cities, regions and built environment day at COP26 will provide a focus on local community action.
The Minister will know that there is widespread concern about a lack of clarity, as we get so close to COP26, as to what will actually be happening at the summit and what the priorities will be. What discussions has he had with the small island developing states to make sure that their concerns are fully represented, that they have a voice at COP26 and that we come away from it with something that really helps them to meet the challenges they face?
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point. I have a regular dialogue with representatives of the small island developing states. I have been clear that one thing we want to do through this presidency is champion them and the developing countries that are at the frontline of climate change.
It is good to hear that the COP President is interested in the challenges of those developing countries. Climate change’s most severe impacts fall heaviest on those developing countries that had least to do with causing it, and many consequences of climate change are already locked in, regardless of mitigation efforts. Given that, it is vital that COP26 includes an agreement on loss and damage compensation. Are the Government aiming for an equitable loss and damage agreement that compensates developing nations and recognises the disproportionate role of developed nations in causing that loss and damage?
Loss and damage is an issue that Ministers have debated at both the London ministerial meeting that I hosted and the pre-COP in Milan. Clearly, what comes forward at COP will be a consensus agreement, but I can tell the hon. Lady that we are determined to make sure that the Santiago Network is operationalised, and of course we will see that further discussions take place on this issue.
There will be a delegation coming from China. As my hon. Friend may know, I was there in September, when I had constructive discussions. China, along with every other country, needs to come forward with ambitious plans to cut emissions by 2030 before COP26.
Progress on Limiting Global Heating
The commitments by countries at Paris in 2015 bent the curve of global warming to below 2 °C. The International Energy Agency, in a report published last week, has concluded that if countries deliver on all their recent commitments, we are on course for around 2 °C. In order to keep 1.5 °C within reach, all countries, particularly the G20 nations, need to submit ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets and of course commit to net zero by the middle of the century.
The Minister talks of ambitious plans, but the net zero road map published by the Government yesterday is weak on land and agriculture, and 20% of the UK’s annual emissions come from natural resources. No plan can claim to build back greener unless we do everything in our power to achieve the 2° target or, indeed, the 1.5° goal. Peatlands are the biggest carbon store and continue to be burned. The Government’s ban includes only a third of upland peatland, allowing the rest to burn, so what are they doing to shut down the loophole that they created?
The net zero strategy is a coherent and comprehensive plan that has been welcomed by many people and by business. It is about emissions coming down and the creation of jobs. The hon. Lady will know that we have already published a peat strategy, which I would be happy to share with her.
Does the COP26 President agree with me and the all-party parliamentary group for “left behind” neighbourhoods that sometimes the way to engage people is with things that matter to them, such as the cost of heating their house, as opposed to changing the green agenda every time? If we go for different agendas for people, we can get a lot more acceptance and buy-in.
With 10 days to go before COP, much is riding on the shoulders of the COP26 President and we wish him well, but to deliver the 1.5° target we have to cut emissions by 28 billion tonnes by 2030—a halving of global emissions. So far, the pledges made for Glasgow amount to 4 billion tonnes at most, so we are not yet where we want to be. Does the COP26 President agree that we need to be honest about the maths? If he does, what is his assessment of how much of the gap we can close at Glasgow to keep 1.5° alive?
The right hon. Gentleman and I agree that we have to ensure that we close the gap and halve emissions on the 2010 baseline by 2030. As I said in answer to an earlier question, so long as the commitments that have been made are followed through on, we are heading towards the 2° target, but clearly we need the G20 to come forward with its emissions reduction targets, and we will then need a consensus view on how we reach agreement for the next few years.
May I suggest to the COP26 President that the rest of the UK Government could make a difference, even in these final days, by not undermining his work? The Secretary of State for International Trade should not be giving big emitters a free pass by doing a deal with Australia that allows them to drop their temperature commitments; the Prime Minister should deliver on the promise made at the G7 to vaccinate the developing world by the end of 2022; and the Treasury should stop undermining the green transition at home and help to build the international coalition that we need by reversing the cut to overseas aid in the Budget. Does the COP26 President agree that acting on those suggestions would help him to deliver on his historic responsibility at the COP?
The whole Government are committed to our net zero strategy, which was published yesterday. It is about creating 440,000 jobs by 2030 and getting another £90 billion of inward investment, some of which we saw coming through at the global investment summit yesterday. The whole Government are committed to ensuring that we have success at COP26. The very fact that the Secretary of State for International Trade is sat next to me on the Front Bench shows her commitment to COP and to her work on adaptation.
Global Green Investment Bank
I know that my right hon. Friend shares my view on the importance of unleashing investment for climate. Although a global green investment bank is not on the COP agenda itself, we are working with all levels of the global system—treasuries, regulators, multilateral development banks, central banks and markets—to mobilise private and public capital.
I congratulate my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench on the net zero strategy that the Government published yesterday. Unlike Opposition Members, I see that a net zero strategy backed by business is the way to go. Taxpayers are not going to pay the full cost, and it is down to us all to be committed to that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that because the UK has such strengths in our financial services sector, we can, by promoting greater investment in renewable technologies around the world, promote not just decarbonisation but better jobs and economic growth for all our citizens and those in the developing world?
Wind and solar power are now cheaper than coal and gas across the majority of the world, and continuing to invest in those unabated fossil fuels is likely to create a risk of stranded assets. The opportunities for business investment into green technologies have never been better, with green, high-quality jobs across not only the UK, but all countries, as they also invest in their green technologies and those revolutions that drive the opportunity to boost global GDP by up to 2.4%.
Clean Energy: Safeguarding of Human Rights
The UK works with all countries to deliver ambitious action on climate change and ensure that human rights are placed at the forefront of our climate action. Under the UK’s COP presidency, we are bringing forward a declaration for donor countries to support the conditions for a just transition from high-carbon industries into quality, decent, new jobs.
Human rights abuses, such as the treatment of the Uyghurs in China, are hugely relevant to COP. An investigation earlier this year found that 40% of UK solar firms were built using panels from firms linked to forced labour in Xinjiang, China. How does the COP26 President intend to approach the need to work together with countries such as China while also meeting our moral obligations in relation to these abuses?
The allegations are, of course, a cause for concern. Further detailed investigations are required to establish to what extent that forced labour is present in the solar supply chain. We are thoroughly investigating those allegations. On 12 January, we announced a series of measures to help ensure that no UK organisation is complicit in human rights violations or abuses taking place in Xinjiang, including strengthening the overseas business risk guidance to support businesses making the right choices.
COP26: Community Engagement
I have met a range of society and youth groups in every country that I have visited in my COP role. Alongside that, I co-chaired the COP26 civil society and youth advisory council. Last month, I attended the Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition conference to hear at first hand almost 400 youth climate activists representing 186 countries.
The big disappointment for me is the chaotic and shambolic way in which SNP-led Glasgow City Council has approached this major global event that is coming to Scotland. Can the President reassure me that, whatever the inadequacies of the council, it will not detract from the event or its ability in future to positively reflect on communities in Glasgow and across Scotland?
We have had a good working relationship with delivery partners across the piece and it is very important that that continues. Obviously, my right hon. Friend has highlighted a number of local issues. If he wants to get in touch with me, I would be very happy to see what we can do to try to solve the problems.
Two weeks ago, I saw Harrogate High School, St Joseph’s primary school and Zero Carbon Harrogate promote their walk-to-school day. Talking to pupils, I found that their interest in environmental progress was very strong, so has my right hon. Friend shared the feedback on his consultations with other Government Departments to promote work such as sustainable transport both domestically and internationally?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and, of course, Harrogate High School and Zero Carbon Harrogate for promoting sustainable travel initiatives. He will know that the COP unit is working very closely with other Government Departments to try to support business on sustainable transport initiatives. I want to give him one example: the Zero Emission Vehicles Transition Council is working with Ministers representing leading car markets across the world to accelerate the move to electric vehicles.
As MP of the constituency where COP is taking place, I look forward to welcoming you all to Glasgow in the coming weeks. However, many businesses will be affected by COP and forced to close. They are finding it very difficult to get answers from the Cabinet Office on how much compensation they will be entitled to for the closure of their businesses. I would be grateful if the President could meet me to try to resolve some of these matters because businesses are very worried that they will lose out significantly as a result of COP coming to Glasgow.
As the hon. Lady will know, I have written to local Members of Parliament to tell them that businesses within the secure perimeter will be compensated for any loss of revenues. Of course, the number of people coming means that this is also going to be an opportunity for businesses across Glasgow to benefit, but I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the matter.
New Oil Wells: Surrey
The 2019 decision of Surrey County Council to grant planning permission for four new bore holes is currently subject to a legal challenge, which will be heard by the Court of Appeal in November. It would therefore not be appropriate for me to comment on the specifics, due to the ongoing litigation.
The International Energy Agency has warned that if the world is to reach net zero by 2050, the exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must stop this year, yet there are currently proposals for multiple new exploratory oil developments across the UK. With just 11 days to go until world leaders gather in Glasgow, how can the COP26 President justify these developments against the Government’s stated aim of keeping global warming to 1.5 °C?
As I announced earlier this year in my former role, the Government will be introducing a climate compatibility checkpoint for any new licences issued, in order to assess whether any future licensing rounds remain in keeping with our climate goals. The checkpoint, which we have committed to launch by the end of this year, will be used to assess the climate compatibility of any future licensing rounds.
Climate Adaptation and Resilience
Supporting vulnerable communities around the world to adapt to climate impacts is a top priority for COP26. We are encouraging improved adaptation planning, integration of climate risk into decision making, and increased and more accessible adaptation of finance to deliver effective, inclusive adaptation, and loss and damage action on the ground.
The most climate-vulnerable states need and demand more assistance from the developed world for climate transition and adaptation. This has the potential to derail COP26, so can the Minister tell us: what are the Government’s aims for increasing the level of support at Glasgow to help transition and adaptation in the poorest countries, and particularly whether it is the Government’s intention to lobby for that aid to be in the form of grants, rather than loans?
Travelling the world this year in the role that I have the great honour to hold—UK International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience—has, if nothing else, made it clear that the challenges for so many countries are often ones of access to finance. The COP unit and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have worked tirelessly all year to find better ways to ensure that access to finance, and to ensure that the $100 billion is committed by developed countries so that they have the finance they need to make those sorts of adaptive changes.
Success at COP depends in part on developed countries finally honouring that 2009 $100 billion promise, yet with just 12 days left there remains a staggering £14 billion shortfall and the German-Canadian delivery plan still has not materialised. Will the Minister therefore tell the House whether the Government agree that it is essential that the $100 billion commitment be met before delegates arrive in Glasgow, and whether she concedes that the UK is likely to have to reassess its own contribution in order that it is?
My right hon. Friend the COP President-designate has spent, and continues to spend, an enormous amount of time on ensuring that we can reach that $100 billion figure, which is a clear symbol of intent. He continues to have conversations with the Germans this week, before we get there. This is a key focus for the team and all those who know that it is a terribly important marker to meet, and we want to ensure that it is able to reach those who need it most.
Nationally Determined Contribution Commitments
Overall, the NDCs that have been put forward are not adequate, because by 30 July 78 countries had still not published updated NDCs. However, the 113 updated NDCs that had been submitted would lead to a reduction in emissions of 12% by 2030. If we also take into account the subset of 70 countries with updated NDCs and net zero commitments through long-term strategies, those would lead to a 26% reduction in emissions.
My right hon. Friend is right. This is just another example of the UK leading on climate ambition. We remain fully committed to global action to tackle international aviation and shipping emissions through the international processes at the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation.
When the UK took on the COP26 presidency, less than 30% of the global economy was covered by a net zero target; that figure is now 80%. Under the UK’s G7 presidency, for the first time every G7 country has committed to ambitious near-term emission targets aligned with net zero by 2050. However, to keep 1.5 °C within reach, every nation, particularly the biggest emitters, has to step forward in what needs to be the decade of ambition.
The net zero strategy has committed to provide a public update every year from 2022 on progress against the delivery pathway to net zero set out in the strategy, and this will include an update on progress against the targets and ambitions that have been set out.
Waste management is a critical part of helping us to reach net zero across the planet. I was very pleased to see in the Duke of Cambridge’s Earthshot prize awards on Sunday that the Indians had a really interesting solution to the problem that ensured they could reduce their waste management and not have to burn their crops.
There is no festival better than a climate action festival. I congratulate Harrogate District Climate Change Coalition, which has brilliantly demonstrated that tackling climate change is an all-of-society endeavour bringing together business, civil society and government.
Business action is critical if the Government are to achieve the goal of reaching net zero by 2050. That is why, since the COP President-designate took on the role, he has been actively calling for business to join the race to zero—a UN-backed campaign supported by the UK Government. It requires businesses to take robust short-term action to halve global emissions by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible. There are now 4,470 companies that have signed up to Race to Zero.
It was a wonderful visit and I thank the right hon. Gentleman and the community for welcoming me so heartily. All these new technologies will help us meet net zero, not just in the UK but across the world. We want to continue to see investment in them. I know that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) will continue to champion these issues.
Reaffirmed by our 25-year environmental plan and our fisheries White Paper, the Government are committed to sustainable fishing and the principle of maximum sustainable yield. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are also committed to helping industry to reduce the adverse impacts on the marine environment and to adapt to climate change.
The Prime Minister was asked—
David Amess and James Brokenshire were both tragically taken from us. Both served this place with integrity and served their constituents well. As we offer our heartfelt love and prayers to their families, their families have offered us a new path to a new politics, built on kindness and love.
Sarah Everard and Claudia Lawrence were both from York. Right now, women are feeling unsafe—many women are unsafe—and the very people who should be protecting us are telling us to engage with potential perpetrators to identify them, to flag down a bus or to know the laws of arrest better. That has taken a toll on confidence in the police. As women, we are confident and determined to change that, so that every girl and every woman can live at home without fear, can go to school or work without harassment, can go online without objectification and can walk our streets safely again. What steps will the Prime Minister take to ensure that women with lived experience can lead on this work, and by when?
I thank the hon. Lady very much for her question. She raises a most important issue—one of the most important issues that this country faces. I want all people in this country, particularly women, to feel confident in our police force, and I believe that they can and should. What we are doing now, to ensure that women in particular feel safe at night, is investing in safer streets, better street lighting and more CCTV, but as I think the whole House understands, what we must also do is deal with the systemic problems in the criminal justice system. We must ensure that men—I am afraid it is almost always men—get prosecuted for rape and for crimes of serious sexual and domestic violence in the way that they should, that we secure the convictions that we should, and that when we secure those convictions, those individuals get the tough sentencing they deserve. That is what this side of the House believes in.
I will make sure that my hon. Friend has the relevant meeting as fast as we can organise it. I know that many parents, particularly those who have premature and sick babies, feel that the current system is not working well for them. That is why, I can tell my hon. Friend, we will legislate to allow parents of children in neonatal care to take extended leave. Details of the policy were published last year and we will bring forward the legislation as soon as possible.
Can I pay tribute to Ernie Ross, a formidable campaigner who served this place and his constituents with great distinction for three decades? I will pay my respects and tribute to James Brokenshire immediately after Prime Minister’s questions.
I thank the whole House for the way the tributes to Sir David were handled on Monday. We saw the best of this House, and I want to see if we can use that collaborative spirit to make progress on one of the issues that was raised on Monday: tackling violent extremism. It is three years since the Government promised an online safety Bill, but it is not yet before the House. Meanwhile, the damage caused by harmful content online is worse than ever with dangerous algorithms on Facebook and Instagram. Hope not Hate has shown me an example of violent Islamism and far-right propaganda on TikTok. What I was shown has been reported to the moderators but it stayed online because, apparently, it did not contravene the guidelines. I have to say, I find that hard to believe.
Will the Prime Minister build on the desire shown by this House on Monday to get things done and commit to bring forward the Second Reading of the online safety Bill by the end of this calendar year? If he does, we will support it.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the spirit in which he has approached this issue. I echo what he says about the need for co-operation across the House, because the safety of MPs—indeed, of all public servants and everybody who engages with the public—is of vital importance. The online safety Bill is of huge importance and is one of the most important tools in our armoury. What we are doing is ensuring that we crack down on companies that promote illegal and dangerous content, and we will be toughening up those provisions.
What we will also do is ensure that the online safety Bill completes its stages in the House before Christmas—or rather, that we bring it forward before Christmas in the way that the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests. I am delighted that he is offering his support and we look forward to that.
I think from that—this is not a challenge; it is to clarify—that the pre-legislative scrutiny will be finished in early December and the Second Reading could be before the end of this calendar year. We do need to get on with it.
Telegram has been described as the “app of choice” for extremists. If you can believe it, Mr Speaker, as we were paying tribute to Sir David on Monday—as we were paying our respects—Telegram users were able to access videos of murders and violent threats against politicians, the LGBT community, women and Jews. Some of those posts are illegal; all of them are harmful. Hope not Hate and the Board of Deputies have said that Telegram
“has facilitated and nurtured a subculture that cheerleads for…terrorists”.
Tough sanctions are clearly needed, yet under the Government’s current proposals, directors of platforms failing to crack down on extremism would still not face criminal sanctions. Why is that?
This Government have brought forward an online harms Bill and the right hon. and learned Gentleman has heard what I have said about the Second Reading before Christmas. In the collegiate spirit in which he began his questioning, I can tell him that we will continue to look at ways in which we can toughen up those provisions and come down hard on those who irresponsibly allow dangerous and extremist content to permeate the internet. I am delighted that he is taking this new tough line and I very much hope that he will get the rest of his party to join him in the Lobby with us.
I did start in a collegiate spirit, and I will continue in a collegiate spirit, because I listened hard to what was being said on the Government Benches on Monday about the concerns about this issue. We need to recognise the measures in the Bill, but we need tough and effective sanctions—that means criminal sanctions—and that does matter. It is, frankly, beyond belief that, as the Mirror reported yesterday, 40 hours of hateful content from Anjem Choudary could be easily accessed online. The Prime Minister and the Government could stop this by making it clear that directors of companies are criminally liable for failing to tackle this type of material on their sites. We do not need to delay, so in the collaborative spirit we saw in this House on Monday, will the Prime Minister commit to taking this away, looking at it again and working with all of us to strengthen his proposed legislation?
I have already said that we are willing to look at anything to strengthen the legislation. I have said that we are willing to bring it forward, and we will bring it forward to Second Reading before Christmas. Yes, of course we will have criminal sanctions with tough sentences for those who are responsible for allowing this foul content to permeate the internet, but what we hope for also is that, no matter how tough the proposals we produce, the Opposition will support it.
We are making progress. We have the Second Reading committed to before Christmas—that is a good thing—and I think the Prime Minister has now committed to criminal sanctions. At the moment, they are a fallback position at the discretion of the Minister. They should, in my view, be on the face of the Bill as the automatic default for the failure to act. If we are making progress on that, then we are beginning to address some of the issues that were identified across the House on Monday.
I turn now to the report of the commission for countering extremism, which was set up in the wake of the horrific Manchester bombings. Eight months ago, that commission made recommendations to plug gaps in existing legislation and strategy—gaps that extremists have been able to exploit and are continuing to exploit—yet Sir Mark Rowley, formerly head of our counter-terrorism policing, who led on those recommendations, said just this week:
“I have had no feedback from the Home Office on their plans in relation to our report on the absence of a coherent legal framework to tackle hateful extremism”.
Given the seriousness of the matter and the clear need for action, why have the Government not responded to this important work? Will the Prime Minister now commit to act swiftly on the commission’s recommendations?
The Government and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary work with all parties to tackle violent extremism. The UK has one of the strongest counter-terrorism and counter-extremism systems in the world, as a consequence of which we have foiled 31 terrorist plots since 2017. I pay tribute to the work of Sir Mark Rowley, with whom I worked extremely closely while I was in London, and all those who were involved in foiling those terrorist plots. I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that they will receive the complete support of this House and of this Government; nor will we allow those who are convicted to be released early from prison, because that was one of the most important things that this Government passed and which the Labour party opposed.
Really, after the week we have just had, I do not want to descend to that kind of knockabout. [Interruption.] Either we take this seriously—I am taking my lead from what those on the Government Benches were saying on Monday about the need to tackle this—and go forward together, or we do a disservice to those we pay tributes to.
There are clearly problems with the Government’s counter-extremism strategy. Internet users are increasingly likely to come across extremist content online. The Government’s own independent reviewer has said that there is “no evidence” that the Government’s key deradicalisation programme is effective—that is the Government’s independent reviewer saying that—and we have seen a spate of lone-attack killings, with the perpetrator invariably radicalised online. We all, across this House, want to stop this, but at the moment things are getting worse not better, so what urgent plans does the Prime Minister have to fix these glaring problems?
I am all in favour of a collegiate and co-operative approach, in which case I think it would be a fine thing if the Opposition would withdraw their opposition to our measures to stop the early release of serious extremists and violent offenders. That is all I am trying to say, in a collegiate approach, and I am sure that that is what the people of this country would wish to see. But we will continue to do everything that we can to strengthen our counter-terrorism operation and to support all those who are involved in keeping us safe. Obviously, it is too early to draw any particular conclusions from the appalling killing of our colleague, but we will draw all relevant conclusions from that investigation.
The inescapable desire of this House on Monday finally to clamp down on the extremism, hate and abuse that festers online is incredibly welcome. However, closing down anonymous accounts would not have prevented the murder of Jo Cox or of PC Keith Palmer and, although we do not know the full circumstances surrounding his death, neither would it have saved Sir David. If we are to get serious about stopping violent attacks, we must stop online spaces being safe spaces for terrorists. We must ensure that unaccountable and arrogant social media companies take responsibility for their platforms. We must end the delays, get on with the legislation, and clean out the cesspit once and for all.
I have prosecuted terrorists and I have prosecuted extremists. I have worked with Sir Mark and others. Dozens of Labour MPs have worked hard on tackling social media companies on these issues. I started collegiately, and I will continue collegiately: we know what it takes, and we can help. Will the Prime Minister now capture the spirit that we have seen this week, and agree to work with us on a cross-party basis so that we can tackle violent extremism, and its enablers, together?
I am delighted to join the right hon. and learned Gentleman in committing to tackle online harms and violent extremism together, and that is what the Government are doing. That is why we brought forward the online harms Bill, and that is why we are investing record sums in counter-terrorism. In addition, I think what the whole country and the whole House would certainly want to see—and I say this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a collegiate spirit—is a commitment by the Labour party in future to support measures, and not to allow the early release of terrorists and those convicted of such offences from prison. If we hear that from the Labour party, I think it would be a fine thing.
I thank my hon. Friend, who I know has a very active interest in this area. We will consider recent advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on reducing barriers to research with controlled drugs, such as the one he describes, and we will be getting back to him as soon as possible.
May I join the Leader of the Opposition in sending condolences to the family of Ernie Ross?
In 11 short days, world leaders will gather in Glasgow for COP26. This is our best chance, and very likely our last chance, to confront the climate emergency faced by our planet. That is why it was such a devastating blow that, on the eve of COP26, the UK Government rejected the Scottish cluster bid to gain track 1 status for carbon capture and storage. Today, The Press and Journal, has said that there is
“no valid reason and no acceptable excuse”
for that decision, and it has called for an immediate U-turn on that colossal mistake. We know that the decision was not made on technical or logical grounds; this devastating decision was purely political. Scotland’s north-east was promised that investment in 2014, but it is a promise that has been broken time and again. Will the Prime Minister finally live up to those promises, or are they simply not worth the Tory election leaflets they are written on?
We remain absolutely committed to helping industrial clusters to decarbonise across the whole country, of course including Scotland. I know that there was disappointment about the Acorn bid in Aberdeen. That is why it has been selected as a reserve cluster. There can be no more vivid testimony to this Government’s commitment to Scotland, or indeed to fighting climate change, than the fact that the whole world is about to come to Scotland to look at what Scotland is doing to help tackle climate change. I congratulate the people of Scotland on their efforts.
People across Scotland are looking for answers today, and they are getting none. All they see is yet another Tory broken promise. It is bad enough that this UK Government are holding back carbon capture in Scotland, but they are proving an active barrier to renewable energy opportunities across the board. Tidal stream energy has the potential to generate 20% of UK generation capacity—exactly the same as nuclear. All the industry needs is a ringfenced budget of £71 million, a drop in the ocean compared with the £23 billion that this Government are throwing at the nuclear plant at Hinkley. But the UK Government are failing to give that support, threatening shovel-ready projects such as MeyGen in the north of Scotland. At the very least, Prime Minister, stand up today and guarantee a ringfenced budget for tidal stream energy and save that renewable industry from being lost overseas.
Actually, do you know what, Mr Speaker? I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on raising tidal energy. He is absolutely right. I have seen the amazing projects that are under way. I think the House will acknowledge that we are putting huge sums into clean, green energy generation. The right hon. Gentleman is far too gloomy about the prospects of Acorn in Aberdeen. I think he needs to be seized with an unaccustomed spirit of optimism, because the Acorn project still has strong potential, and that is why it has been selected as a reserve cluster. He should keep hope alive rather than spreading gloom in the way that he does.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing for fishing, for coastal communities and for Brixham in particular. I understand that the fish market in Brixham was outstandingly successful the other day. We are going to make sure that we continue to support fishing and the seafood business across the country. The scheme has approved funding in Brixham, Salcombe and Dartmouth, and a further £100 million is being made available through the UK seafood fund to support our fisheries.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llefarydd.
If COP26 is to be successful, people must be at the heart of our net zero emissions strategy. For too long, the UK economy has left too many people behind, with wealth and investment hoarded in the south-east of England. Devolving powers over the Crown Estate would bring half a billion pounds-worth of offshore wind and tidal stream potential—assets, of course, currently controlled by Westminster—under Welsh control. Scotland, meanwhile, already has those powers. Will the Prime Minister support my Bill to devolve the management of the Crown Estate to Wales?
As the right hon. Lady already knows, the Crown Estate works closely with the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales. I am sorry to have to tell her that my view is that the devolution of the Crown Estate in Wales would fragment the market, complicate existing processes and make it more difficult for Wales, as well as the whole UK, to move forward to net zero.
Well, Mr Speaker, I am not surprised to say that my hon. Friend is completely right. This Government are determined to give the people of this country the homes they need. We are building record numbers of homes, but we owe it to our kinder, gentler politics to be accurate about what is going on in our constituencies. This Government do not set local housing targets. I understand that the draft Bassetlaw local plan is subject to consultation. I encourage him and his constituents to make their views known.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this anniversary. She is right to commemorate the victims of the Clarkston disaster. Our thoughts and our condolences continue to be with the families of those who lost loved ones. Of course, we must do everything in our power to make sure that no such tragedy is repeated.
Yes. It is vital that people should have the confidence to speak up against wrongdoing wherever they find it, particularly, of course, in the police. I believe that the people of Greater Manchester deserve better. I support and agree with what my hon. Friend says.
I will just say one thing. It is the responsibility of the Mayor of Greater Manchester to ensure that the police force acts—not a point that will be taken up on the Labour Benches—swiftly and decisively to address the failures that his constituents are currently finding.
What we are doing is ensuring that we keep the costs of heating down with the price cap. We have increased the warm homes allowance by £150 for 780,000 homes. We have just given local councils another half a billion pounds to help poorer families over the winter. The most important thing that is happening in this country is that wages are going up. There is a huge jobs boom now, thanks to the policies that this Government have pursued.
My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner on this issue and he has done a lot of good things in this area. No one should be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live, and I think the time has come to reconsider the Vagrancy Act—and also to redouble our efforts to fight homelessness, as I think we have done successfully over the pandemic but must continue to do.
I join the hon. Lady absolutely in condemning attacks on all public servants and particularly on NHS staff, who are trying to save people and help people in their lives. What we are doing—what we have already done—is to toughen the sentences for those who assault or harass public servants.
Given the recent tragic circumstances, there has inevitably been a focus on the security of Members and their staff. One aspect that is often overlooked is the fact that it is our staff who are on the frontline in receiving the abusive emails and correspondence, and they take the hostile phone calls. They are private citizens, simply trying to earn a living, put food on the table and pay for their rent or their mortgage, yet they are caught up in this vicious cycle of venom and abuse that is directed towards us. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to acknowledge the fantastic work that our staff do and give them the credit that they so rightly deserve?
I think that my hon. Friend spoke there for the entire House of Commons, because we all know that it is our staff, our caseworkers and our office managers who are so often in the frontline, who have to deal with anger, with intemperate behaviour and with abuse, and they cope with it magnificently. We all know the risks that they run in their daily lives and, indeed, we have seen how some House of Commons staff have paid for their sacrifice even with their lives. I thoroughly echo, support and concur with what my hon. Friend said.
The House observed a one-minute silence.
James was a politician who commanded affection and respect from colleagues, no matter which party they represented. In a parliamentary career spanning 16 years, James’s contribution to public life was immense. He served in successive Governments in ministerial roles across the Home Office, as well as serving as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and later as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. His commitment to serving his constituents in Old Bexley and Sidcup was also obvious to anybody who knew him.
I will always remember James for his positivity, for his good sense of humour and for being one of the most friendly, thoughtful and well-liked people in the House of Commons. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] His passing is a profound loss to us all. Our thoughts go out to his wife Cathy and their three children, who are here today to watch our tributes; I just want to remind people that the family are with us. It is great that they have turned up today—thank you.
We will now take points of order. The Prime Minister will start the tributes.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the whole House will join me and you in expressing our deep sorrow over the tragically early death of James Brokenshire and in sending our heartfelt condolences to his wife Cathy and their three children Sophie, Jemma and Ben, who are with us today, for the loss of a beloved husband and father. The many tributes paid to James are a testament to the affection, respect and esteem with which he is remembered and to his skill as an able and effective politician who served his country under three Prime Ministers in some of the most sensitive and demanding positions in government.
I worked closely with James for the first time when I was Mayor of London and he was the hon. Member for Hornchurch and then for Old Bexley and Sidcup. I saw how much he cared for the interests of his constituents, always taking the time to stop and talk to people and listen to what they had to say. He was unflappable, earnest and sincere, and he brought those same down-to-earth qualities into other areas of his life—being photographed baking cakes in his kitchen or starting a Twitter frenzy on the vital question of whether he owned two ovens or four. Once, when challenged by an interviewer to choose between Southend and the south of France, his reply was swift:
“Southend. I’m an Essex boy and proud of my roots.”
He would be delighted to know that his birthplace has now achieved city status in tribute to his friend Sir David Amess, whose campaign he supported.
It was James’s diligence, composure and experience as a lawyer, steeped in the art of negotiating last-minute deals, that proved so valuable to the Government. He held five ministerial jobs, including two in Cabinet as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and every one of them was fraught with traps for the unwary and opportunities for error. The fact that he improved his reputation in each post shows that we have lost an astute politician of rare ability.
James served with particular distinction in the Home Office as security and immigration Minister, where he was fondly known by civil servants as JB: “Oh good,” they would say, “we’ve got JB on this one.” He often reflected that to work at the Home Office was to be on the receiving end of incessant incoming fire from the media. It usually fell to him to brave the barrage when things got really sticky, so it is no wonder that on his last day officials presented James with an authentic military-grade tin hat.
During that tumultuous period, which I remember well, James helped to keep our country safe. He oversaw the superb security operation that protected the London Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012; he was central to getting rid of Abu Qatada, sending him packing after more than a decade of legal wrangles; and he steered the groundbreaking Modern Slavery Bill through Parliament, giving the police and law enforcement agencies the powers that they need to combat some of the most dangerous and repellent criminals of all. Through all this, he would help individuals in need, and that included taking the time to meet people with direct experience of Government decisions. It was after a conversation with a homeless man in Bristol that he acted to strengthen the rights of tenants and give them a greater sense of security in their homes. We can only imagine how much more good he would have done if he had been given the chance.
James was in the prime of life, with a huge amount still to offer his country, and it was the cruellest of fates that he, a non-smoker, should have been struck down by lung cancer. His tenacious fight showed the depths of his courage and his character. As colleagues will remember, after his first bout with the disease he was back in this House within weeks, serving in Government and helping his constituents. He campaigned for better lung cancer screening, becoming the first Member to secure a debate on this issue in the House. He sought to dispel the stigma and misperceptions surrounding the disease, and when he fell sick again earlier this year, even in the midst of his ordeal he summoned the strength to record a video message encouraging others to seek help and early treatment. Every member of this House willed him then to pull through, but sadly it was not to be.
James was a gentleman politician, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) will allow me to quote her words:
“Politics and parliament would be the better if there were more people of his calibre involved and politics and parliament are the weaker for his loss.”
I could not agree more. James’s absence will be sorely felt in this House, in the great Departments where he served, and by all the people whose lives he touched.
One of the first things I learned when I arrived in the House was that there are not many glamorous roles in opposition. No one gives you a guidebook on how to do these jobs; you are appointed, and off you go. Of course you can ask older, wiser heads, and you can appoint excellent staff, but generally you are on your own. There is one little-known exception to that rule—a secret in Westminster—and it is this: when you shadow a Government Minister of such decency and courtesy, and with such a sense of fair play that they reach out across the divide and provide helpful pointers, you are not on your own. And so it was for me. When, as a new MP in 2015, I was appointed as shadow Immigration Minister, I shadowed James Brokenshire.
I have to admit that I was unprepared for the vagaries of the Bill Committee rules—even years in the criminal justice system had not prepared me for the complexities of those arcane processes—but in one of my first outings in a Bill Committee, I almost missed my cue to make my argument. Now, some would see that as a blessing, but James was far too decent for that. He would not take advantage. He went out of his way to ensure not only that I was heard, but that I was heard with respect, and that was the characteristic—that was the character—that was James. From that day in 2015, we forged a friendship which lasted until his untimely death. On these Benches, my story is not an unusual one. Anyone who got to know James, who worked with him or against him, ended up respecting him and liking him and willing him to pull through.
At the time I got to know James, he was widely seen as an upcoming star of this House. As the Prime Minister has said, he had already played a key role in the creation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and had begun to carve out a reputation as an unassuming but very effective Minister. He was a party leader’s dream: happy to roll up his sleeves and do the tough jobs with little regard for self-promotion. However, advancing your career in any walk of life is not just about hard work and talent, although James had those in abundance; it is about who you are, and it was little surprise when James got a full role in the Cabinet, first as Northern Ireland Secretary and then as Communities Secretary. He brought his calm and understated manner, his effectiveness and his respect for others to both roles, and he will be long remembered for that.
When someone is taken as young as James was, by a cruel disease like cancer, there is an inevitable sense that they were robbed of fulfilling their potential, and James was. He had achieved so much, but I strongly believe—we all strongly believe—that he had so much more to give. Characteristically, right to the end he was campaigning to remove the stigma from lung cancer in order to improve the lives of others—a cause I hope this House continues to champion in his memory.
James’s wife and young family are with us here today, and we send them our condolences. If I may say so, they should be very proud of their husband and father. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] They should know that across this House on all these Benches he commanded enormous respect and goodwill. Among his constituents, he was very well liked. He was a friend to many of us across the House, including me. Our politics is poorer without him. We will miss him, but we will all ensure that his memory lives on.
On 30 April 2018, Mr Speaker said:
“It sounds as though mealtimes chez Brokenshire were enormous fun.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 6.]
That was when James said that he used to discuss local government with his father when his father was the chief executive in the borough that I then served. In that debate, James used seven words to describe his father, saying that he had a sense of
“focus and dedication as a public servant.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 10.]
James learned that lesson. He also said that private leaseholders should not have the costs of fire remediation passed on to them. In order to fulfil his dedication as Housing Minister, I invite the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to discuss how that can be fulfilled, because at the moment those costs are being passed on to those leaseholders.
I think we all share the real sense of sadness that, in the space of two days, we are meeting again to pay tribute to another deceased colleague. Two colleagues taken in very different circumstances, but both taken well before their time. James Brokenshire was a young man who clearly had so much more to give. That is what must be so tragic for his colleagues and friends on the Government benches, and we are all conscious of and compassionate to the pain they must be feeling this week. But most especially, we think of James’s young family. The thoughts and prayers of all on the Scottish National party Benches are with his wife Catherine, his son Ben and his daughters Sophie and Jemma. It is important to mark the manner in which the family have dealt with their grief, because I know they have been deeply involved in remarkable fundraising efforts since James’s untimely death. The spirit the family have shown since his death is no doubt a tribute to the way in which James himself dealt with his illness. All of us across this House looked on with deep admiration and awe at the sheer bravery he showed while bravely battling against the cancer that, sadly, ultimately took his life.
My own experience and engagement with James was mainly when he was a Home Office Minister. When he was Immigration Minister, I remember dealing with James in some detail on a particular case concerning a family in the highlands who were being threatened with deportation. I am glad to say that, after some considerable effort from all involved, the family eventually got the resolution they desperately needed.
I know from colleagues in Northern Ireland that, although his time there came during a politically delicate and difficult period, he remained on very good terms with all the parties during his period as Secretary of State. It is fair to say that that, in itself, is no mean feat for any British Secretary of State who serves there. I can only think it was because of the way he approached people and the way he approached his work.
It has been very rightly said that he was not a man who was interested in the insubstantial distractions of politics. He quietly got on with his job. He was, above all else, diligent and determined. The mark of the man, and our memory of him, will be of a dedicated Minister, a loyal friend and a dedicated father. James battled to the very end against his cancer. Now that his battle is over, may he rest in peace. God bless you, James.
I had the enormous privilege of working with James Brokenshire in government, first for six years in the Home Office and then in his roles as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and as Communities Secretary. James was a remarkable man, an outstanding Minister, a great constituency Member of Parliament and a true friend.
Words have been used by others such as “diligent” and “hard-working,” and he was both of those. As a Minister, he was assiduous in dealing with the briefs he read, thoughtful in his consideration of the issues and careful in his decision making, which is what you want from a Government Minister. He gave his time and effort because he understood the importance of the decisions he was making. He cared about people and he cared about the work he was doing, and that came through in all the decisions he made and in the way in which he reached out across this House to ensure those decisions were the right ones.
James was an outstanding Minister, but he was also a very good constituency MP. Very often if you try to contact a Minister on a Friday, they are in their office. More often than not, James was in his constituency. He understood that all of us are here because our constituents have placed us here, and anybody who is fortunate enough to become a Government Minister is only there because their constituents have placed them there. We should never forget that that is the basis of our being here and of our responsibilities.
James was a true friend. If, from what I and others have said, you get the impression that he was just a hard-working workaholic, I can say that James was great fun. Evenings with Cathy and James were evenings of fun and laughter. He was also a loving family man. I remember when he was first diagnosed with his lung cancer and he was stepping down from the Government. His first thought to me was about the impact it would have on Cathy and the family. He was a loving family man, he was out there in his constituency and he gave dedicated public service to this country.
The Government are the poorer for his loss, this Parliament is the poorer for his loss and our country is the poorer for his loss.
James and I must have first met in 2003, when he was selected as the Conservative candidate for Hornchurch and I was the sitting MP. In 2005, James won and I lost. It is sometimes quite easy to be bitter and angry when you lose, but I could not be bitter and angry at James because he was such a nice bloke. He was so helpful. In the run-up to that campaign, during it and afterwards, I cannot remember ever having harsh words with James, never mind falling out with him. That is what I will always carry with me about him.
Since then, James and I always kept in touch. Obviously we both ended up in Parliament together, so we ended up working together. We always had a very pleasant relationship, and we always got on very well. I saw him quite recently, as most of us did. It was a few months ago, when he thought he had beaten the illness. Sadly, he had not beaten it.
As the former Prime Minister just said, this place is much the poorer for James’s loss, so is the country and, although it may be none of my business, so I suspect is the Conservative party.
I rise to make two points, about James and the work he did and about James as a friend.
I followed James in two ministerial positions. I took over from him as Minister with responsibility for modern slavery when he became the Minister for security and immigration, and then I followed him into the Northern Ireland Office. His were very big shoes to fill. Goodness me, the way that officials talked about him: “JB will do it, JB will sort it, JB has this organised.” It was quite overwhelming at times to follow in those footsteps and to see the work he had done.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) summed it up. James was diligent, he was careful in his decision making and he was thoughtful. He always remembered that people were affected by the decisions he was taking. He never took decisions in the abstract. He always thought about the people who would be directly affected.
I had to cover for James for a couple of weeks when he was Immigration Minister—I covered his role while he had a medical procedure—and, typical James, he made sure it was during a recess so that he did not take any time away from this place. I was astonished when one red box arrived for me and then two red boxes arrived with James’s work. Every single day, James was getting through at least double the workload that anybody else in the Department was covering, and he read every single one of those letters, particularly the letters about immigration. He dealt with them all personally, and he thought carefully about what he was doing to try to make sure that the people affected were helped.
In Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire should be the person who is remembered as the architect of the agreement that got Stormont back in January 2020. If not for James’s diligent work, Stormont would not be sitting now. He achieved so much, and I know from the messages I have received from people across Northern Ireland how warmly he was regarded there.
James was my friend. He had a great sense of humour. We keep hearing that he was nice. He was so much more than nice; goodness me, his sense of humour was wicked at times. He was so easy to talk to, but he also had judgment. He could give advice and wise counsel. We were both at his 50th birthday party, Madam Deputy Speaker, and it was a wonderful occasion. His family put on the most marvellous tribute, and we all learned so much about James and his life.
I will miss him so very much, and I am so grateful to have been allowed to speak in this debate.
James was my constituency neighbour. I remember on election night, when I had just been elected, James came over to congratulate me and to introduce himself. While he was introducing himself, I remember thinking, “I know exactly who you are.” That just goes to show the humble person he was, never taking it for granted. We discussed having a catch up in Parliament when I had settled into my role, but due to the pandemic and his falling ill again, we did not get round to it and I am very sad about that.
I recently went to Bexley civic parade, my first in my role as an MP, and it was the first big event we had after the lockdown restrictions eased. I was walking alongside the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett), and I am sure he will agree that James’s absence was clearly felt. Although it was nice to be there with the right hon. Gentleman, it was oh so sad that James was not able to take part. It was then that the seriousness of his illness began to sink in with me.
Since James’s death, I have spoken to many community groups, individuals and Labour activists from his constituency, and they have had nothing but nice words to say. Anashua Davies said that James would often be seen on a packed commuter train. She remembers asking him to support her in the campaign for a second referendum, and he was never dismissive. He was always open to a bit of light ribbing from Labour activists on issues on which they disagreed. I know my Labour activists, and I know what she said is true, that he was a true gent.
Claire and her dad said that James supported many events with the Irish community. Teresa Gray said he supported the food banks when they first started in Bexley. Dave Tingle, who stood against James, told me that he went out of his way to help him when he had a fire in his house. The mayor of Bexley, Dave Easton, on behalf of staff at Bexley Council, said that James was a wonderful individual, totally dedicated to his residents—a man of utter integrity, who cared so much about Bexley. Daniel Francis and Grant Blowers both told me that James reached out to them when their wives had cancer. That was typical of James’s character: he was always inquiring about and offering support to others, even as he had his own battle with cancer. No matter where you were on the political spectrum, James represented everyone in Old Bexley and Sidcup. To James’s family, let me say: I hope you take comfort in knowing what high regard he was held in, in Bexley and beyond.
It is with mixed feelings that I address the House today: feelings of pride in having known my dear friend James Brokenshire, and feelings of deep sadness that he is not here in his rightful place to carry on the outstanding work that he did for his constituency, for my party and for our country. James and I share a birth year, 1968—I like to think it was a very fine vintage indeed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) rightly said, at his 50th birthday party, we were able to share really happy memories and positive thoughts about a life that had been well and fully lived. At that point, unbeknown to us, his friends—his family knew about the diagnosis—it was a life about to take a dramatic turn for James. The last three years have been challenging and tough for Cathy and the family, but they have also been positive in terms of what James achieved for research into and the profile of the disease of lung cancer. As we speak today, the Roy Castle Lung Foundation will already be richer to the tune of more than £50,000 because of the tribute page that has been set up in James’s memory by Cathy and the family.
I would advise all Members to look at the tributes on that page. I want to read out one, which is from an anonymous donor. This person clearly was an official who knew James well. He said this:
“I have not worked with anyone finer. A man of true integrity, always entirely across his brief, fiercely intelligent and incredibly kind. He was respectful to his officials, as well as rigorous in his questioning of and the testing of policy and legal positions presented to him. He was fantastic at distilling complex information into articulate and clear responses in Parliament. I had nothing but respect and admiration for how he did his job and his dedication to public service.”
Amen to that.
The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) mentioned Bill Committees. At one point, we thought that James was about to gather the record for the number of Bill Committees he conducted as a Minister. Indeed, in the particular Committee that the right hon. and learned Gentleman remembers, I was the other Minister sparring with him. We were lawyers together, but it was done with not just the respect for process, but a thought as to the outcome. James was rigorously focused on the outcome: what solution could we bring to the problem and what benefit could we bring to the wider country?
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands said, the word “nice” just does not cut it for James. Let me give the House the adjectives I would associate with my friend: driven, quick, persuasive, funny, kind and decent. Don’t make the mistake of confusing those qualities with mere niceness; he was much, much more than that. Farewell, my friend. Thank you for everything.
There is so much that we can all say and want to say about James, and I would like to try to give everybody who wishes to speak the chance to do so. So although we want to say so much, can we please try to say it as briefly as possible?
In the midst of life, we are in death. Here we have no continuing city. Those prophetic words tell us something of the suddenness of the passing of our colleague and friend, a much missed Member of this House. It teaches us that this is for real, there are no dress rehearsals, and we have got to live this life and live it well. Your colleague and your friend, and our colleague and our friend, lived his life well, he lived it dynamically and in a manner that was upright and noticed by those around him. The words “decent”, “honourable”, “kind” and “helpful” have all already been used today in this House and will remain as a true reminder of our colleague.
It is my honour to pay tribute to James Brokenshire on behalf of my colleagues here on the Ulster Benches. James was a well-respected Secretary of State. He was an unknown quantity when he first arrived, but, with due respect to the others who followed, he was much missed when he had gone. He was indeed a man who had genuine qualities that were reflected in the way in which he took decisions on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. His many years of service in Parliament are marked by service to the people of not only Great Britain, but all of the United Kingdom, which of course includes Northern Ireland. So we salute that memory, with honour and, I hope, with dignity. To his beloved wife Cathy and to his lovely children, we extend our sincere condolences, and we hope that they find some rainbow of hope over the deep valley of tears that they have wept.
It bears repeating that James was a charming, kind, funny and intelligent man, devoted to his constituency, his country and, above all, his family. He was joy to work with, collegiate and considerate, as the Leader of the Opposition mentioned. Those of us who had the pleasure of travelling abroad with him will also know that, occasionally, as we would have said in Scotland, some drink might have been taken. In an era when we have come to question the conduct of some in our political life, he was courteous and good-humoured to a fault, at the Dispatch Box and beyond. I hope it is not going too far to say that James was self-effacing, humble and without ego, almost to the point that one might wonder what he was doing in this place to begin with.
James wanted something good to come from the illness that he suffered and with which he coped with such dignity and courage. There is an urgent need for lung cancer screening in this country to improve long-term survival and save lives. As the Prime Minister said, James was the first to hold a debate on the topic in the House of Commons, after returning to work following his initial diagnosis and treatment. Cathy and the rest of the family wanted to support a cause that he cared so passionately about. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland) has said, the Roy Castle Lung Foundation, of which, I am pleased to say, my wife is the medical director, has benefited by more than £50,000 because of the work that James did.
As we have seen with James, lung cancer is a disease that can affect anyone, young and old, male and female, smoker and non-smoker. Lung cancer is the UK’s most common cause of cancer. It is responsible for more than a fifth of all male and female cancer deaths. Approximately 48,000 people are diagnosed in the UK every year. When James passed away, on Thursday 7 October, another 95 people will have died on the same day of the same disease. It is sobering to think that one person dies of lung cancer every 15 minutes. James wanted me to give the message that less than a fifth of people with lung cancer are currently diagnosed at stage 1, and two thirds are not diagnosed until they reach stage 3 or stage 4. Symptoms are vague and can often be missed. We therefore need to find a way to get ahead of the disease that claimed James’ life all too early. We need a lung cancer screening programme, and I urge the Government to treat this with priority in our health policy. We cannot bring James back, but we can ensure that others live because of his legacy.
I rise to underline what has been said about how James was liked across the House. He was my parliamentary neighbour across the borough boundary between Bexley and my constituency next door in Greenwich, and we got to know each other when he moved to Old Bexley and Sidcup from Hornchurch in the middle part of his career in this House, if I can put it that way. I also faced him across the Committee floor when he was a Home Office Minister and I was a shadow Home Office Minister, and I got to know him a bit better then. One thing that I learned about James was that if you were going to face him across the Dispatch Box in the Chamber or in Committee, you had to be well-informed, because he certainly was. He did his job diligently, he was extraordinarily talented, and he was a convivial and decent opponent. I would just like to say to his family that I send them my deepest sympathies. They have lost a wonderful person and an extremely talented politician, and my heart goes out to them.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to pay tribute to my friend and our colleague, James Brokenshire, who, very sadly, as we have heard, lost his courageous battle against lung cancer only two weeks ago. To lose one colleague is a tragedy, but to lose two in two weeks is almost too much to bear.
There is so much that I wanted to share with this House about my experiences with James. Much will be and has been said about James the politician, but I want to talk about James, my friend—the James I met some 45 years ago at Staples Road County Primary School. We grew up in the same area of Epping Forest. We joined the local Conservative association. We fought local elections together, either as candidates, helping each other, or when helping others to get elected. We supported the fantastic Member of Parliament for Epping Forest, Madam Deputy Speaker, to ensure that she—you, Madam Deputy Speaker—was elected in 1997 and retained her seat at every election since. You must feel this loss as keenly as many of us here, Madam Deputy Speaker, and it is unfortunate that you are not able to express that. James and I worked together to support Robin Squire in his attempt to regain his Hornchurch seat in 2001. That seat eventually sent James to this place in 2005, and that inspired me to find a seat that I could win.
James was the embodiment of all that is good. He was decent, honest and faithful. He demonstrated integrity and good humour in everything and was respected by all. Now, we have to say goodbye. Goodbye to James, taken from us all, especially from Cathy, Sophie, Jemma and Ben, all too cruelly and all too untimely. I send my deepest regrets and sympathies to them. As we have heard, as a tribute to James, Cathy has set up a muchloved.com page, and when I last checked well over £50,000 had been raised in memory of James and in support of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. I am sure we all agree that that is a fitting tribute, and I encourage people to visit that site—as Bob Geldof once said, “Give us your money”—because it will make a difference. But I look for the Government to do more. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, our UK science base is capable of extraordinary achievements at breakneck speed, when required. Now, as we move past the pandemic, it would be a fitting use of our science superpower status to lead the world in finding better treatments and cures for this cruel disease.
I could share with you, Madam Deputy Speaker, so many occasions on which James and I shared good times together, whether over a glass of wine at our Wasters Wine Club or just out on the campaign trail, but I fear that time is my enemy, so I will simply say: James, I will miss you greatly. Please, rest in peace, and, by the grace of God, rise in glory. Goodbye, my friend.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in everything that he has just said. I am going to break the rules for one second to say that they were my boys—James and his friends in Epping Forest—when I was the new MP 25 years ago. They worked for the cause in which we all believed and I watched James grow from being a Young Conservative to being a Member of Parliament, to being a Minister, to being a Cabinet Minister, with great pride. Now, we will watch James and Cathy’s children follow in his footsteps. He was and always will be so proud of them, as we all are of James as our friend. He will be so greatly missed and never, ever forgotten.
I am grateful to you for breaking the rules occasionally, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I want to add one adjective to the list that has been provided, and that is the word magnanimous. I think you could see, in every single moment of any engagement that you ever had with James, even if you were completely and utterly disagreeing with every single word in his sentence, paragraph or speech, that there was magnanimity in the way in which he dealt with you and in the way he dealt with everybody in this House. I can imagine it was exactly the same in his constituency.
I will let the House in on a secret, which is that there is something of a cancer survivors club here. I always hoped that James would always be in that club. He was magnificent with me when I had my cancer a few years ago, and I know that many others had exactly the same experience. Cancer is a bugger: you think it has gone away and then it comes back. You had no idea that it was there and suddenly find that you have stage 3 or stage 4 cancer. That is particularly true, as the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, in relation to lung cancer. You think to yourself, “Why didn’t I spot it earlier?” So it is not just sadness and fear that you and your family are surrounded with; it is anger, guilt and all sorts of complicated feelings. I am sure that for many of those in the House who have had cancer there will be a sense of guilt that some of us are still here and James is not.
What does that leave us with? A simple feeling that we must—we must—devote ourselves, especially after this year of covid, to making sure that early detection is possible for everybody and for all the different cancers, and there are so many different kinds. It would be helpful if Mr Speaker could circulate the details of the memorial website so that we might all be able to contribute and a bit more money goes back into cancer care. We need to get a lot of the cancer trials back up and running. We need to make sure that people are not frightened of going to the doctor, that they get seen and that all the backlog is dealt with.
My final thought is this. I do not know whether Members have ever read Thomas Hardy’s book “The Woodlanders”, but at the end Giles Winterborne has died, and the woman who has always loved him addresses him directly and says:
“I never can forget’ee; for you was a good man, and did good things!”
I would like to pay my tribute to my friend and parliamentary neighbour, James Brokenshire. He was a hard-working, efficient and effective Minister, and a strong champion for his constituents in Old Bexley and Sidcup.
During the past decade, I have been privileged to really get to know James and to work closely with him on so many issues and campaigns on behalf of our borough of Bexley. He was serious in his work, but he had a great sense of humour, which we experienced at many Bexley social occasions. We will miss him at all such future occasions.
James was a devoted husband and father. I pay special tribute to his wife Cathy, who gave such great support to James in so many ways over so many years. We are grateful to you, Cathy, and the family, for all that you have done in Bexley while James was a Member of Parliament.
James was a devout Christian and a man of honour and integrity who will be sorely missed locally and in Parliament. Our country has lost a great public servant, and in Bexley we have lost a real friend and an excellent Member of Parliament. We thank you, James, for all that you have done. We will always remember you with pride, love and affection, aware of all your commitments to causes that we must continue to support and develop in memory of a great man.
I first became a friend of James when he joined the shadow Home Office team about a decade and a half ago. It was a time of huge controversy and, as Members can imagine, it was a heavy-duty team. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and Dominic Grieve were members. There were four future Cabinet members in that team.
I thought that this incredibly self-effacing and amazingly modest man—certainly given our profession—would take a bit of time to get up to speed, but not a bit of it. In no time at all, he had a reputation as a safe pair of hands. That may sound terribly mundane, but it is not; it is a curse, because it attracts every hospital pass there is. You have seen how it works. I get in for the morning meeting and say, “Right, this is difficult. Give it to James.” “Oh, this one’s a nightmare. James will manage it.” “This one’s impossible, but James can do it.” That is how it worked.
Of course it became leitmotif of James’s career. Every job that he was given was both impossible and thankless: Minister of State for Security and Immigration under my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May)—what the hell?; Northern Ireland Minister dealing with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) and co. and getting on with all of them; and, more seriously, taking on the Department of Communities and Local Government after Grenfell Tower. These he took and did. He did the impossible: he went into the ruck and came out the other side without a hair out of place—that is of course allowing for his haircut.
That was the James that we knew and loved. Our nation needs people like James. My right hon. Friend, the former Prime Minister, was right: we need people like James. When the unimportant flash and crackle of politics is gone, the nation depends on those like James who do their jobs brilliantly but quietly. James served this nation with great honour, total integrity and enormous skill and he will be sorely missed by all.
I just want to say two things. First, to James’s family, we do not get occasions like this in the Commons very often. There are not many of us who could command this kind of collective tribute from across the House, and that says that this was a very special man indeed.
Secondly, during the past few months, James dealt with his illness with incredible bravery. If you spoke to him, it was just like a normal conversation with James. It was like the world was just carrying on, and yet, behind all of that, he was carrying the most incredible burden and he did so with decency and bravery beyond anything almost anybody could have done, and that is an enormous tribute to him. We have lost, I have lost, this House has lost and this country has lost a great man, but, for me, I have lost a great friend.
I could spend a very long time talking about James Brokenshire. I knew him for the best part of a decade and a half. Indeed, for the past 11 and half years he served as my local Member of Parliament in Old Bexley and Sidcup, but James to me was so much more than that. He was a dedicated and exceptional public servant, but he was also a very loyal friend. Above all, James was a family man and my heart goes out to Cathy, to Sophie, to Jemma and to Ben.
The courage with which James faced up to his illness and the determination with which he fought it, his refusal to feel self-pity and his steadfast determination to remain positive really was the mark of the man. He was taken from us far too soon. His constituents and his country have lost a great public servant, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) has said, and we have lost a much-valued colleague. I will miss him terribly, but I will always be grateful for the privilege of having known him and the honour to be able to call him my friend. James, rest in peace.
I, too, have more to say than I have time for. Others have talked about James’s ministerial career. I first met James when we were elected together in 2005, and when I became a Minister in the Home Office, he was my shadow. As others have said, you always had to be on your mettle, because you knew that he would be on the case. I often reflected on the fact that, when the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) was Home Secretary, she was very lucky to have James in that post. I did notice that his portfolio seemed to grow in that Department, but every tricky area of the Home Office—having been a Home Office Minister I know all of those tricky areas—came to James because, in all the best traditions of this place, he was an assiduous and proper Minister. In a period when we have a lot of fracture in our politics and in society, and in an era when being a YouTuber or a celebrity is seen as something very important, James did the job really well and really properly. That is often underplayed, but it is really important. All of us, whether we are in government or we aspire to be in government, should use James and the work that he did as a model for how to do the job.
The last point I want to make is about his courage. When he was Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government post-Grenfell, he gave a ministerial direction to set up a £200 million fund to provide money to deal with some of the dangerous cladding. Many Ministers do not want to give ministerial directions—that is when they have to instruct officials that they are going to spend taxpayers’ money—and he did not do so lightly; he thought it through. I remember him saying to me in a conversation that, in one case, there were about 89 owners of a block, and if he had not made this decision, it would have got caught up forever and the people living in those homes would have suffered. There is still unfinished business there, as the Father of the House has said, but James set the tone and made a bold decision. He was courageous, he was good and we will miss him in this House.
As we have heard, James was a model of what we would want our MP, our Minister, and, most of all, our friend to be. I first met James in the shadow Home Affairs team before the 2010 election and then as junior Ministers in the Home Office for four years, and he was the perfect colleague. Many was the evening we spent giving each other mutual support not just because of the pressures of the job, but because of the added pressures of working for an exceptionally demanding Home Secretary. He was diligent, thoughtful, collegiate, and an absolute team player. To revive an old cliché: he was absolutely a man whom you would go into the jungle with—he would have your back.
All these tributes to his political effectiveness are not just standard conventional remarks to make on an occasion like this. We can simply look at the facts. James was appointed and reappointed to a succession of really difficult ministerial jobs by all three Prime Ministers since 2010. Almost no one else has negotiated those particular rapids as successfully as James has. In paying tribute to him, of course we mourn with Cathy and the children, but we should also celebrate James’s political legacy, because, above all, he showed that it was possible to be a completely admirable human being and a successful Member of Parliament, and, in these times, that is a great and important memory to leave all of us.
It is an honour to contribute to this debate. So much has already been said about James. I regard it as a huge honour to have been a friend and to have seen him as a friend. High office is actually a very lonely place, as many people around this Chamber will know, and the ability to be able to speak to someone openly and not to think that that will appear on the front page of tomorrow’s paper or to be part of online speculation about yourself or colleagues is hard to find. When I was a Cabinet member, a Minister and a shadow Minister, James was someone I always felt I could speak to in total confidence: somebody who would give support, in a way that was for my benefit, not for any benefit to him; somebody who would be candid; and, as we have heard, somebody who would be funny about it as well, because you can be nice and be very funny too, with a wicked sense of humour. I am very grateful for the support that he gave me when I was a Minister.
I was also struck by James’s self-effacing nature. As we started this discussion, I looked at the last exchange of messages that I had with him about his situation, and it was his thanks to me for my concern. It was the fact that all of us had given him so much love and support over the period that he was so grateful for; he wanted to convey that and said it had sustained him in some of the most difficult times.
The final point I want to make is that I was actually with Sir David Amess in Qatar when we heard the news of James’s passing. David really was very upset by that news and was effusive in his tributes to James. I am sure that if he had been in the Chamber today, he would have wanted to make such a contribution. As we heard earlier, social media is not the friendliest place, but there is a great picture that was put up on Twitter, which shows Sir David in this Parliament, advocating the case for Southend as a city, with James sitting over his shoulder, laughing. That is the picture that I would like to retain in my mind of those two great parliamentarians—great men, who have contributed so much to our national life.
The House has paid tribute to James’s kindness and his courage in facing his illness, but I would like to underline his effectiveness as a Minister and the consequences of that for ordinary people who perhaps are not aware of the impact. When he was Northern Ireland Secretary, the Bombardier aerospace company was facing a ruinous trade dispute with Boeing, which, had James not immediately sprang to life and activated the very considerable networks of influence and friends of Northern Ireland in Washington, would have been the end of that employer in Northern Ireland. As a result, against all expectations, the dispute was settled in favour of Bombardier, and many thousands of people owe their continued livelihoods to James’s brilliant advocacy.
It was fitting that James became Local Government Secretary because, as the Father of the House said, his father Peter had been the chief executive of Epping Forest District Council before he was the chief executive of the London Borough of Greenwich. James was widely admired, not just by his officials in the Department —although, as my right hon. Friends have said, that was universal—but by councillors of all parties, up and down the country. In fact, his permanent secretary, Melanie Dawes, described him as
“a dedicated, brilliant and kind man”.
I think she spoke for all of local government.
I last met James in July. Our daughters were classmates at school and we last met at the speech day, which was our daughters’ leaving day at that school, so my last image of James is a happy one: celebrating the wonderful success of his daughter; seeing her move on to the next stage of her life; having succeeded in raising a wonderful young woman. He will be greatly missed by his family and by this whole House.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you and Mr Speaker for allowing time for us to make these tributes to James—tributes that he would never have expected and which he deserves all the more for that.
Some of the tributes to James that I have heard have said that he took his work seriously but never took himself too seriously. That is true, but I think it should also be said that he was taken seriously—by those he worked with, by those in every area he had responsibility for as a Minister and by all those he sought to help. That matters, because if you want to get things done in politics and in Government, people have to believe that you care enough to want to help, that you have the capacity to help, and that you will put enough effort into helping to be effective. No one who dealt with James was in any doubt on any of those counts: they knew how much he cared; they knew he was capable; and they knew he was committed. That was true in every one of the difficult areas that he dealt with as a Minister and in every case brought to him as a constituency Member of Parliament.
I will remember for a long time the weekend that the Wrights went to visit the Brokenshires at Hillsborough Castle, when James was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In the course of that visit, I was struck by how James, who had not been in the job long at that point, was widely recognised and warmly welcomed at all the community events, which, James being James, he was keen that we all went to during that weekend. That included, I recall, a gathering of the llama farmers of Northern Ireland, of whom I think there were about four. James went, as always, to take an interest, not just to take a photograph.
When we contemplate the two empty spaces on these Benches this week, we think about underrated qualities in politics. James had in abundance those qualities that perhaps the parliamentary sketch writers are not terrible interested in, but which are fundamental to meaningful public service. He was intelligent, brave, determined, compassionate and wise. There was no Cabinet meeting that I attended with him and no Cabinet that he was a member of that was not immeasurably strengthened by his presence.
Of course, his family will miss him most. Cathy, Sophie, Jemma, Ben—you know that you have our love and prayers as you mourn him and as you are unfailingly proud of him, as so many of us are too. For the many of us who will think of him first and foremost as our friend, we will remember him that way, but all of us should remember the example he set of how to be a public servant, and strive to follow it.
As Essex boys, James and I got on like a house on fire when we were both elected in 2005. Interestingly enough, as we became Ministers together, we shared Departments. I have listened very carefully to the fact that James got all the difficult bits and the Policing Minister didn’t—some of that was news to me!
When we were both shadow Ministers, we used to drive home together and we would chew the cud about many things as new Members of Parliament. James was a wonderful human being and he was a family man. We invariably talked about family things on the way home. I knew that I would have to move my daughters out of their school in Southend to my new constituency in Hemel Hempstead, and he talked to me about how difficult that was going to be for me.
I apologise to Cathy: we sat outside your house many a time when I was dropping him off, and he did not come in quite as soon as he should have done because we talked about other things as well, particularly his haircut. For those who did not know James in his early days here, he had a wonderful flat-top—and how carefully it was trimmed. We used to spend hours talking about it! People may think that men do not talk about that sort of thing, but we did. We talked about our kids and life in general, as well as the greasy pole.
When James went to Northern Ireland, he said, “You’ve been there, Mike. Can I take some advice from you?”. We have heard so much in this House about people taking advice from James, but he was a sponge; he wanted to listen to other people’s experiences, whether in the constituency or as former Ministers. He continued up that greasy pole while some firemen, like myself, disappeared down it, but he was absolutely brilliant at putting his arm around you when you needed that five minutes.
I phoned James a couple of weeks before his sad death, and we chatted about the usual banter and bits and bobs. I apologised for phoning him because it was obvious how poorly he was at that time, but he said, “Nah, it’s all right, mate. We’re Essex boys together; we can have a chat.” That was James, and I am so proud to have known him for so long.
It is a particular privilege, Madam Deputy Speaker, to have the last word in these tributes to our friend and colleague. Like the last three of my colleagues who spoke, he and I were members of that very exclusive club, the 3-05 club—we were elected on 05/05/05. It was very clear to all of us in that intake that our friend James Brokenshire was going to rise to high ministerial office. On that, I do not need to say any more—my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and many others have paid tribute to his effectiveness as a Minister.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland) rightly said that James was so much more than a nice man; he used a whole load of adjectives to describe him. The three I will remember, like most of the 3-05, is that he was collegiate, compassionate and charming. He congratulated all of us on our way up and put his arm round us and gave us sympathy on the way down—and I needed that more than most. I send my sincere condolences to the family.
Next week, on Tuesday evening, that exclusive club, a year late, celebrates 15 years in this House. The most fitting tribute we can pay to our friend and colleague is that there will be an empty chair and a toast raised. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
Sexual Misconduct in the Police
Before I call Harriet Harman to ask her urgent question, I wish to remind all Members that the House’s sub judice resolution means that no reference should be made to cases in which legal proceedings are active, which includes those where an individual has been charged with an offence. I would also ask Members to exercise caution in discussing matters that are subject to current police investigations. I call Harriet Harman.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like, first off, to endorse the heartfelt tributes that have been made to James Brokenshire and send my deepest sympathy to his family.
I am grateful to Mr Speaker for granting this urgent question—
Abuse of position for sexual purpose by a police officer is abhorrent, betraying the trust of victims from a position of power. The Government are working closely with the National Police Chiefs Council and other policing stakeholders as part of a new national working group to implement the right strategies, policies and products to help forces to tackle those officers abusing their positions for sexual purposes. In February last year, the Government strengthened the powers of the independent police watchdog, the Independent Office of Police Conduct. Now all allegations of abuse of position for sexual purpose must, by law, be referred to the IOPC. For the first time, the Home Office will also now be able to collect and publish data on issues of internal sexual misconduct by officers, and we aim to publish the first tranche of data in the new year.
But we are determined to go further. The heinous murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer shook our country to the core. I know that the thoughts of everyone in this House will remain with Sarah’s family. The public are in urgent need of reassurance; so too are the vast majority of police officers who serve with courage and professionalism and who rely on all their colleagues to uphold their values. This is why the Government are launching a two-part independent inquiry. The first part will examine the recruitment and employment of Sarah’s killer and whether there were opportunities to have intercepted him along the way. I would expect the second part to look at a range of relevant issues, from policing culture to whether enough is being done to identify and report patterns of behaviour of those individuals who could go on to abuse their policing powers. We will appoint the chair of the inquiry shortly and then agree terms of reference. The Home Secretary will, at that point, provide the House with an update. We have also asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake an urgent inspection of forces to look at their vetting and counter-corruption arrangements, as well as focusing on how well forces can identify unacceptable behaviour.
We recognise that sexual violence is a broader issue in society and we must leave no stone unturned in confronting it. The Prime Minister will therefore launch a taskforce to drive cross-Government action and to help maintain public confidence in policing and our many thousands of outstanding police officers. The police have a unique and vital role in our society and we rightly expect them to meet high standards of behaviour and professionalism. Across Government and policing, we must continue working ceaselessly to protect the precious bond of trust between officers and the public.
I thank the Minister for his statement and the work he and his colleagues are doing on this.
Wayne Couzens used his Metropolitan police warrant card, his Metropolitan police handcuffs and his police powers to kidnap and kill Sarah Everard. Since the full horror of this was made public at the sentencing hearing, there has been an outpouring about the failure of the police to deal with misogyny and sexism within the force. Women need to be able to trust the police, not fear them. That means that we need to be certain that allegations of sexism and misogyny result in immediate suspension—not just removal from the frontline but immediate suspension from the police—that findings of sexual misconduct lead to instant dismissal, that vetting and training is sorted urgently, and that if you are in a WhatsApp group that deals in sexual violence and misogyny you should not be in the police. The official inquiries that the Minister mentioned are under way are welcome, but even before those inquiries report, these basic issues should be tackled now.
We need firm leadership from the police—from the top of the police—in recognising that big change is needed, and a determination not to stand in the way of that change but to make it happen. I know the Home Secretary agrees with us on that. I do not believe that will happen under the current Metropolitan police commissioner, who should, I believe, step down so that this vital change can happen and happen now.
Of course we all agree with the sentiments expressed by the right hon. and learned Member. This kind of behaviour has no place in British policing. She is right that we need to pay constant attention to the processes and products that policing has so that we can root out this behaviour and deal with it once and for all. She will know that the office of constable is a sacred and special one within our society, and certainly within our legal system. We must do all we can to protect its integrity, but at the same time recognise that even constables are owed due process, and that where complaints are made, we must have a robust system around those complaints and detecting abhorrent behaviour. Where that abhorrent behaviour is detected, the system must enable us to examine the behaviour, give a fair hearing, and then deal with those officers accordingly.
The right hon. and learned Member will know that there has been significant work in this area over the past few years following a report by the inspectorate back in 2019 that looked at the specific issue. The National Police Chiefs Council has, as I say, set up a working group in which the Home Office participates to try to strengthen these routes. The inspectorate reported then that excellent progress has been made but there was still much more to do, not least in the detection and internal reporting of these matters. I am hopeful that the inquiry, when it completes, will give us the tools we need and the work processes to pursue to enable us to make sure that the net is ever tighter in maintaining the integrity of British policing.
We know that sexual abuse in our schools, our universities and our colleges is endemic. It is part of the culture that too many people still grow up with in our country, so little wonder it continues on into the workplace, including the police force. We have to change that culture. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the police, and indeed all employers, should stop using non-disclosure agreements to cover up allegations of unlawful behaviour at work, including sexual misconduct, and that anonymity should never be granted to protect the identity of police officers who are found guilty of sexual misconduct?
I applaud the sentiments behind my right hon. Friend’s work in this area. NDAs are profoundly to be avoided. I cannot, I have to say, envisage the circumstances in which they would be used in policing, not least because, as I said earlier, following changes in the law, offences of this type have to be referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. Decisions are therefore taken independently in terms of the investigation and the proposed sanction. The disciplinary structure around police constables, which then follows those allegations or charges, is an independent one, run by an independent panel and with an independent qualified chair who makes decisions about disclosure or otherwise regarding the case. I cannot see that an NDA would necessarily be applicable in those circumstances, but she is right to point out that they are deeply undesirable.
Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I add my voice to the tributes we heard earlier to James Brokenshire. I worked with him, and always found him to be charming, committed and thoughtful.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for tabling this urgent question. The killings of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and others have shone a light on the epidemic of violence against women and girls. Zoë Billingham, from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, defined this epidemic in her recent report. She said:
“The problem is known, consistent and deep-rooted in its presence, and growing in the forms it takes.”
We cannot hope to tackle violence against women and girls unless we can be sure that those who are here to protect us will not turn on us. Every police officer I have spoken to since Sarah’s murder has said the same: they, more than anyone, want to root out any opportunity for perpetrators to join our police service, and they want to ensure that the culture and climate in every force enables victims to have the confidence to come forward.
To rebuild the trust and confidence of women and girls in police, there must be a comprehensive, independent inquiry on a statutory footing. The Minister said that the public are in urgent need of reassurance, and that is absolutely correct, but a non-statutory inquiry cannot act in the same way as a statutory one. It cannot compel witnesses to testify, it cannot demand documents and the evidence it hears will not be under oath, and we do not believe that is good enough. It is clear that we need to look at the whole system: the vetting process, the misconduct process, working cultures, misogyny and sexism within the police force and training processes. This could be a watershed moment, and it must not be left to women and girls to make this happen.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) asked this week, when will the Home Secretary implement the recommendations of Zoë Billingham’s report? When will the Government reform and invest in our police force, our criminal justice system and wider public services so that we are ready to start tackling this epidemic? For women and girls everywhere, and for our police officers who are devastated at the betrayal of everything they stand for, things cannot remain as they are. We would work with the Government, and thank them for it, if they took this moment to bring profound change.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. On her substantive point about the inquiry, she will know that a statutory inquiry is a very long-winded affair to set up, and a non-statutory inquiry can be much quicker. She will also be aware that it is contrary to regulations, since a change in the law recently, for a police officer not to co-operate with such an inquiry, whether statutory or otherwise, and they would be subject to disciplinary proceedings if they did not co-operate. Having said that, if the chair of the inquiry feels that he or she is not getting the co-operation or the information they need, we have reserved the right to convert the inquiry into a statutory one.
The hon. Lady is right that the inquiry forms part of a suite of tools that we need to restore and enhance the confidence particularly of women and girls in our police forces. One of those processes is what we are seeing with the uplift programme, which is essentially a greater feminisation of UK policing. We have moved over the past 10 years from 25% of the force being female to just over a third, and we have a number of forces where more than half of new recruits are female. I am hopeful that that progress will mean that women and girls feel that the police force better reflects them and may result in better contemplation of these issues.
I am sure my right hon. Friend would agree that any barrel can have a rotten apple. Most of our police are law-abiding, honest folk going about their job, protecting us properly. I know also that he will agree that this is not just an issue for the Metropolitan police, but is something affecting the whole police family and the nation’s confidence in policing in our country. Can he assure me on two things? First, can he assure me that the widest part of the culture of the police understands that because they are there to enforce the law, that means they are not beyond it? Secondly, can he ensure that when a police officer changes to another force, they are vetted as if from scratch, rather than just for specific serious tasks, usually involving the carrying of a weapon? When people move too quickly between constabularies, as in any other job, it usually should ring alarm bells.
On my hon. Friend’s second point, these are exactly the issues we want to learn from as part of the inquiry. He is right that we need to ensure that the vetting net is as tight as possible. He will know that police officers are vetted at a number of points during their careers, and often on transfer, as he says. We need to ensure that that is happening and has happened. If there are lessons to be learned, we will learn them. He is right that this is not necessarily a problem just for the police in one particular area or for the police as a whole; it is one that we have to face as a society generally. I have to reassure him that some of the strongest advocates for change, some of the individuals most outraged by previous events and some of those most committed to maintaining the integrity of the police force are police officers themselves.
May I associate myself with the comments of others across the House and pass on my condolences to James’s family?
The murder of Sarah Everard has truly shocked and saddened us all, and I once again send my condolences to Sarah’s friends and family. We on these Benches welcome the independent inquiry and the announcement of a taskforce, but more details must be given on exactly what will be put in place. The statutory inquiry must be put in place.
I recognise that this issue is not solely confined to the Met. As recent inquiries and news have shown in Scotland, there is a real problem and a culture that pervades establishments. The Scottish Government are taking this seriously and will take any concerns or issues raised seriously and ensure that those responsible are held to account.
Dame Elish Angiolini referred in her report to “a canteen culture” and
“racist, misogynistic or emotionally damaging”
conduct. While good policing will not end male violence against women, trust in the police is vital, yet over the past 11 years, more than 750 Met police officers and staff have had accusations of sexual misconduct, including accusations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and using their position of power for sexual gain. Of those 750, only 83 were sacked. Does the Minister feel that those figures reflect sufficient accountability and, if not, what action is needed to address that?
I obviously cannot speak to the individual cases that the hon. Lady has outlined, but like most of the British public, I need to have faith in the independent structures that are put in place. All offences of that type must by law be referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, and all disciplinary proceedings within the police force are dealt with by independent panels chaired by legally qualified chairs. That is the due process that produces these numbers.
We hope that the work we are doing through the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the reforms that we have put in place around the IOPC and the lessons that will then come out of the inquiry will form a suite of information and tools that will help to bolster the faith that the vast majority of the British people have in the vast majority of police officers. As I say, our job is to help the police to rebuild that bond of trust, whether in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland, and we will do our best to stand alongside them.
A recent freedom of information request showed that more than 600 members of the police had been the subject of allegations of sexual misconduct since 2018. Most worryingly, nearly 10% of those had left the force before the disciplinary proceedings had concluded. In the public’s mind, that will raise a real worry that those people who do not have a black mark on their disciplinary record could rejoin an alternative force at a later date. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that those who are accused cannot leave the force and then rejoin?
We brought about reforms in the law to produce a police barred list, which is there precisely to stop police officers who are convicted of offences or disciplinary matters from rejoining the police. My hon. Friend raises a good issue that, in theory, when a police officer rejoins the police, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) referred to, that should come up on their vetting report. As part of our inquiries, we will have to make sure that the processes are in place to detect exactly the kind of information that she is looking for. As I say, following this dreadful event—the killing of Sarah Everard— our job is to make sure that the vetting net is as tight as possible and those are exactly the sorts of areas that we will need to explore.
The Minister and the police forces have rightly talked about the importance of rebuilding trust. When serious allegations are made against police officers about sexual assault or domestic abuse—offences that, by their very nature, involve controlling behaviour, the abuse of power, the abuse of vulnerable victims and misogyny—why are they not suspended immediately while investigations take place?
The Chair of the Select Committee is right that such offences or allegations need to be dealt with swiftly and robustly, but she will understand that the decision to suspend a police officer primarily lies with the chief constable, for important reasons. Obviously, we are working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to make sure that we have a consistent approach to those kinds of offences across all police forces, but that is definitely a matter that falls into the area of operational independence, so the policy is decided on a force-by-force basis, albeit that the College of Policing issues guidelines. Given her long history in the area, I know that she will recognise the importance of a chief constable taking responsibility primarily for the suspension or otherwise of the officers in that force.
The truth of the matter is that sexual violence against women is too common and, as a consequence, it shows up in our police service. A few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke at the Conservative party conference about the need for a broken windows theory of tackling crime. Against that background, what thoughts does the Minister have about applying that principle to the whole area of sexual violence? The simple fact is, if we let low-level sexual banter escalate, that is exactly what we end up with. Is it not incumbent on the whole of society to make every bit of sexually aggressive behaviour towards women and girls totally socially unacceptable?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. She is right that we can put in place all the structures and processes that we like but, unless there is a significant change in the culture, such practices will often go undetected. There is, however, a strong movement in British policing now to deal with the issue. For example, a large number of male officers are involved in the HeForShe campaign within the Metropolitan police, led by the deputy commissioner himself, in trying to bring about the recognition of the need for transparency and reporting, and the recognition that everybody has a job to do to help to root out that kind of conduct.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for securing this urgent question. I also thank all the good police officers who we have in our constituencies and here in Parliament. It is important to mention that, not just because it is true, but because whenever we talk about the police and bad apples, I for one am inundated with a lot of abuse on social media, especially from people with a thin blue line as their picture who claim to be former police officers. If they are former police officers and they levy that abuse towards me, I wonder what they were like when they were serving police officers and what they did on the street when they had all those powers.
Sarah Everard’s killing—her brutal murder—has shocked us all. Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman’s murder came before that of Sarah Everard and the police officers acted appallingly inhumanely by taking pictures of their dead bodies and posting them on a WhatsApp group. I understand that the officers in that WhatsApp group have still not been punished. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, we have to deal with the culture in the police force. At every single stage, whether the abuse is misogynistic, racist or sexist, we have to deal with it, because the same people are committing crimes over and over again. When police officers are accused of domestic violence, the police often surround them and protect them as if it is more important to protect each other than the public.
I thank the hon. Lady for recognising that there are many thousands of police officers out there doing an outstanding job. I know that they will appreciate her recognition of their work. If she is receiving abuse online from individuals purporting to be police officers, ex-police officers or otherwise, I ask her please to report every single one.
Well, I am grateful that she does, because gathering that kind of intelligence is exactly what we need. As she will know, there is an ongoing review of MPs’ safety and the kind of hatred and abuse that she and others have to put up with online.
In terms of the wider issue about cultural change, the hon. Lady is right. I cannot comment on the individual disciplinary proceedings around that horrendous murder in north London, but she is right that part of our restoring the trust and sense of integrity in British policing is making sure, when such events happen, that the disciplinary proceedings and consequences are swift and certain; that they are conducted with rigour and alacrity; and that there is transparency about them so that the notion that the police are defensive on those issues is completely dispelled.
I associate myself and my party with the tributes paid to James Brokenshire earlier, and I send my condolences to his family.
The Minister mentioned the increasing gender diversity in the police force. A way to continue that trend is to ensure that we effectively demonstrate that internal complaints are being dealt with appropriately. A Unison survey four years ago found that the more serious the behaviour, the less likely to challenge it police staff were. Some 39% said that they would find it easier to keep quiet. As a former police officer, I sadly suspect that little has changed. What consideration is being given to the management and encouragement of reporting of internal complaints, particularly those that do not necessarily become criminal but do constitute misconduct and suggest a potential course of conduct?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who brings her experience to bear on this area. The message we get from the inspectorate, which has looked at the issue over a number of years and no doubt will again, is that there has been change and improvement in a number of police forces, but it is too patchy, and that the greater resource and greater use of software in many ways—for reporting and for detection—could be more widespread.
The hon. Lady will know that a number of forces have software that detects when officers are accessing certain kinds of material on databases about victims or witnesses, which is useful. We have had several situations where officers have been caught illegally accessing that information and disciplinary or criminal proceedings have resulted from that. As she rightly points out, however, there is still a hell of a lot more to do, and I hope and believe that the working group that the NPCC has set up, in which, as I say, the Home Office is participating, will bring about the real change she is looking for.
Any woman who rings the police seeking assistance when they are suffering domestic violence or any form of abuse has to have the confidence that the officers who turn up will treat the matter seriously. If those officers have themselves been accused of domestic violence or any form of abuse, are they likely to do so? Can women have confidence that those officers will treat their concerns seriously? Surely the police need to adopt and enforce a zero-tolerance policy so that women can have confidence in the police force.
As I said earlier, these are necessarily matters that fall under the operational independence of a chief constable. One would hope that chief constables in those circumstances might, for example, place an officer on restricted duties or indeed suspend that officer if the allegation were serious enough.
The right hon. and learned Lady is shaking her head, and I understand that she finds that unsatisfactory, but there are important reasons why chief constables must be the primary source of responsibility, both for suspension and for discipline, in maintaining the integrity of their own police force. Having said that, the inquiries and reviews that are under way will teach us lessons about what more we can and should do to improve this situation. I would hope and believe that, when we come back with the conclusions from those pieces of work, we can talk again about this issue.
I also want to pay tribute to my constituency neighbour my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for securing this really important question.
I want to come back to the Minister’s last reply, in which he mentioned that it is up to chief constables. The Minister will be aware of the former chief constable of Nottinghamshire police, Sue Fish, who has said:
“When I tried to address this I was denigrated, isolated, marginalised by many senior people because they didn’t see it as either important or necessary”.
That goes to the heart of the issue we are discussing. Police officers are still in post while those women and girls are fearful, and those women and girls are reporting it to their relevant police officers knowing that nothing will happen. That includes the many women and girls who have come to me in my Vauxhall constituency highlighting the issues of reporting crimes at Brixton police station. We have to change this culture, and warm words will not help those women and girls, so I want to ask the Minister: what help will the Government be giving to those victims?
I agree with the hon. Lady that things have to change, and that is what we are trying to bring about. She will know that, if she has specific constituency cases of people who are dissatisfied, alarmed or concerned about their treatment at the hands of the police, they can go to the Independent Office for Police Conduct and seek satisfaction through that route. They do not have to rely on the police themselves.
As I said earlier, we have to divide two issues here. First, there are allegations of serious sexual offending, which must now by law be reported to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The issue generally of suspension or otherwise for a police officer does at the moment fall to chief constables. Obviously, they are accountable to the local police and crime commissioner—in the hon. Lady’s case, to the Mayor of London—and policy will be set between those two. As I say, there are important reasons why a chief constable must be responsible for the suspension or otherwise of an officer. That is separate from the requirement in law to report these offences to the IOPC, where an independent investigation can take place and then disciplinary proceedings follow, if possible.
I realise that many Members of the House believe that this process appears long-winded. Our job is to balance two things: the right of a constable to due process against the right and the need of the public, particularly women and girls, to have a sense of trust in the system. That is exactly what we will try to learn from and improve through the inquiries we are undertaking and the work that we are doing with the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
I understand that 750 police officers have been accused of sexual misconduct between 2016 and 2020, including 40 from Welsh police forces. While the numbers are in the public domain, in many cases the outcomes of the accusations are not, even though, as I think everyone here would agree, there is evidently an issue of legitimate public interest. I appreciate that the inquiry will be independent, but I think the public want to know that there is consistency of sanctions when the findings uphold those accusations. Could the Minister make a commitment to me that, in his dealings with the independent inquiry, he will be urging it to consider that within the terms of reference?
I am happy to consider that issue—absolutely. As I said earlier in my statement, we are about—I hope in the new year—for the first time to publish internal force statistics which will give us the full picture. At the moment, we publish national statistics to do with the IOPC inquiries in this area, but a number of allegations are dealt with internally in a force. Once we have that data and it is out in the public domain, we will be able to make a judgment, exactly as the right hon. Member says, about consistency of disposal, and consider what more needs to be done.
What concerns me about the response of the Minister so far to the issue of suspension of police officers who have been accused of domestic abuse or sexual assault is that this could lead and does lead to inconsistencies all around the country, and it seems to me that there is something the Minister could do. Has he had any conversations with chief constables about what the expectation would be when dealing with officers who have such allegations made against them, and whether suspension is the right way forward?
As I say, I am merely stating a fact that, at the moment, suspension falls to the chief constable, but it is in the nature of this that, with 43 chief constables across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there will be a variable approach. It is in the nature of any—[Interruption.] It is in the nature of any organisation that that is the case, in the same way that we have a variable approach to detecting and prosecuting different types of crime. Our job at the Home Office—[Interruption.] Please allow me to complete my answer.
Our job at the Home Office, exactly as the right hon. Lady is seeking, is to try to embed a sense of consistency of approach across all of those forces to make sure that the British people can have trust in their police whether they are in London, Manchester, Belfast or Edinburgh. That is the work we are trying to get done through this working group with the National Police Chiefs’ Council. It is very apprised of the importance of this issue, and I have been pleased by the commitment it is showing to this stream of work. I am hopeful that we will reach the greater consistency she seeks in the months to come.
Despite his horrific actions, several Met police officers, inexplicably and alarmingly, spoke in favour of the murderer of Sarah Everard at his sentencing hearing. It has also been reported that he was apparently referred to jokingly as “the Rapist” or “Rapey”, as well as having three previous allegations of indecent exposure. Does the Minister agree with me that offering such support to a brutal murderer reveals a disturbing and unacceptable attitude by some policemen towards women and towards the seriousness of this crime?
The hon. Lady has stated a number of matters as fact that may not be the case. I do not want to prejudge the conclusions, certainly of part 1 of the inquiry. The whole idea of that inquiry is to look at exactly the entire career of that monstrous individual to learn lessons about what may or may not have happened—for example, what previous forces knew about him, and whether he did have that nickname in the previous force—and what lessons we should learn from that about wider policy in maintaining the integrity of the police.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for giving us the chance again to discuss this essential issue, which cannot leave our radar. I was astonished when a female criminal solicitor recently told me that she and her female colleagues often experience ongoing ridicule and belittling from male custody officers at my local police station. I find this outrageous. Does the Minister agree with me that this disrespect towards female solicitors is very much part of the culture of misogyny within the police force, and that these disgraceful attitudes and behaviours must be tackled and rooted out of our police force?
First, I thank the Minister for his response to the urgent question. This is a very important issue, as has been illustrated. The Minister is aware that the bedrock of a successful police force is integrity and community relations. We have seen in the past in Northern Ireland what the appearance of two-tier policing does to the erosion of confidence. How does the Minister believe confidence can be restored within communities about the integrity of their police force, and in particular for frightened women?
The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the button, and there is no single answer to restoring, building or even maintaining that kind of trust. He will remember, because of his long history in this House, that some years ago a measure of confidence in policing was produced, and a huge amount of academic effort and work went into understanding what would move that confidence measure—what they could do in policing to shift it and grow confidence. Much of that research went into a dead end. In the end there were broadly two conclusions. One was to do a good job fighting crime, and the second was to be transparent and open, and to have a great relationship with the local community. That is what the vast majority of police officers aspire to. Our stream of work in dealing with the dreadful offences that are committed against women and girls across the country on a daily basis and driving those numbers down, while at the same time working hard to build and restore trust between the police and women and girls, and with all groups in society, must be critical for the health of British policing, and for our greater safety.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On Monday, in answer to my supplementary question during Home Office questions, I believe—I have obtained guidance on the law from a senior lawyer—that the Minister for Crime and Policing most inadvertently misled the House, and I humbly invite him to take this early opportunity to correct the record. The Minister stated that the process for the rescheduling of compounds is that approval is given for a medicine by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, and advice is then taken from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs about the rescheduling, as happened with Epidyolex. Nothing in the legislation requires MHRA authorisation for a compound drug to be moved to schedule 2 to 5 under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.
The effect of the Minister’s statement means that in practice, compounds will largely not be researched to become medicines. That would require market authorisation as, under the apparent new policy, which has so far never been presented to the House, compounds can never escape the rigours and expense of schedule 1. For British scientists that is a particular barrier to the exciting science around the psychedelic class of drugs that is now more easily developed and researched in North America than it is in the UK, where the science began. For those British scientists denied the opportunity to do that research, due to the costs imposed by the scheduling, it is a constant frustration that there is no recent scientific basis to support the scheduling in the first place.
The Minister’s statement was contradictory not only in logic, but also given recent precedent because—ironically, on the basis of the example given by the Minister—market authorisation for Epidyolex was granted two years after cannabis-based medicines and medicinal products as a whole were placed in schedule 2, precisely to facilitate the prescription of non-MHRA approved special medicines.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me notice of his point of order. I have reviewed my words carefully and I do not believe I did, inadvertently or otherwise, mislead the House. He asked about the rescheduling of psilocybin, and I outlined general Government policy, which is—quite rightly—to follow MHRA authorisation on advice. He did not ask me about the law. His point on the law is, I believe, correct, but that is separate to the process of Government policy, which is to take advice on the rescheduling, or otherwise, or the use of substances, either medicinally or otherwise. I know he would not expect me to reschedule a hallucinogenic compound purely on his say so; he would expect me to do so following the examination of serious scientific advice, and that is what I was intending to communicate to him on the day.
The hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record, and the Minister has responded. If further conversations need to take place, perhaps they could be outside the Chamber. This is obviously a complicated subject, and I suspect that even more detail could be entered into if we left it at that.
Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No.23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to place duties on the Secretary of State to decarbonise the United Kingdom economy and to reverse inequality; to establish a 10-year economic and public investment strategy in accordance with those duties which promote a community and employee-led transition from high-carbon to low and zero-carbon industry; to require the Government to report on their adherence to the strategy; to establish higher environmental standards for air, water and green spaces; to make provision to protect and restore natural habitats; and for connected purposes.
With just 10 days to go until the critical COP26 climate talks begin in Glasgow, it is vital that the Government show that they have understood the scale and scope of the climate and nature crises, and that they understand both the work to be done, and the opportunity that that presents to build better lives for us all. We do not need just a 10-point plan, we need a 10-year plan—a comprehensive green new deal that mobilises every part of Government, and every person in these nations: workers and investors, creatives and care workers, scientists and engineers, administrators and accountants, farmers and factory workers.
The Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill, also known as the green new deal Bill, lays out the framework that would make that unprecedented mobilisation possible, and move us from talking to doing. I have stood up in this Chamber so many times over the past 11 years to make the case for bold action in response to the climate and nature crises, as have so many of my colleagues. In each of those 11 years, evidence of the accelerating emergency has become ever clearer, and sadly this year has been no exception. In August the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what has been described as its “starkest warning yet”. Human activity is changing the earth’s climate in ways that are unprecedented in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, with some of the changes now “inevitable and irreversible”. As its report set out, only rapid and far-reaching reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent climate breakdown.
However, just as the issues have become clearer over my time as an MP, so too have the solutions. In this millennium, energy sources such as wind and solar that move us away from fossil fuels have come of age. Those energy technologies have been matched by an explosion of social technologies, community wealth building, new co-operative forms of enterprise, and an understanding of the social and environmental value of, for example, a shorter working week. It has become increasingly clear that the economic path we have been following is destroying the ecosystem we depend on, increasing inequality and impoverishing lives. Not only is it trashing the planet, but it is failing to deliver for millions of people across the UK. If we fail to grasp that, we will fail the climate test. That means that we cannot limit our imaginations to tinkering around the edges of the problem, or to creating a world that is not quite so bad. We must expand our imaginations to encompass a world where we do not treat people, or our living breathing planet, as expendable.
Our greatest threat now is the delayers, and those who would kick creating a better world into the long grass because they profit from the current destructive system. On that, the Queen is entirely in agreement with climate activist Greta Thunberg when she complains that, “They talk, but they don’t do.” The time for talking is over. It is not inevitable that the news gets worse year on year. We can create a better world. All that is currently lacking is the political will. This is our chance. Every mind, every policy decision, and every spending decision should be focused on the transformation ahead of us.
The Bill sets out comprehensive criteria for a plan that would renew almost every part of our economy and society, together with the means to deliver it. It is not only my work, as it draws on expertise from across the House and every corner of the UK, including from the hon. Members for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana), for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome), for Oldham East and Saddleworth, for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter), for Belfast South (Claire Hanna), and for North Down (Stephen Farry), who are co-sponsoring the Bill. The Bill has had input from scientists and civil society groups, unions and campaigners, and tax experts. It shows what we can do when we work together.
The first part of the Bill sets out targets to reduce emissions in line with our commitment to stay within 1.5° C of global heating, to restore nature and to reverse inequality. The Bill then sets out a framework for the reform of our financial and economic system so that the Government are free to work with all sectors to mobilise the resources necessary to invest in the complete renewal of our economy and society. That would put the Government, and not markets, in charge of the economy so that we are able to make the big economic decisions that will affect our futures.
We saw what was possible in the early phases of the covid pande