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Commons Chamber

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 6 December 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

The Clerk at the Table having informed the House of the unavoidable absence, through illness, of the Speaker from the sittings of the House this week, the Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker (Standing Order No. 3).

Oral Answers to Questions

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked—

Inflation and Public Spending

May I say how sorry I was to learn of the death of Baroness Kinnock? I met her when I was an intern in the European Parliament many years ago, and I have never forgotten how fearless, remarkable and determined she was. I send my deepest condolences to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and the wider Welsh Labour family, who also mourn the death of Allan Rogers, who served in this House as the Member for Rhondda for 19 years.

The UK economy has outperformed expectations this year, and the Prime Minister has delivered on his pledge to halve inflation. Following the Chancellor’s announcement at the autumn statement, the Welsh Government will receive £305 million in additional funding, which can be used to support public services in Wales.

Tory inflation and austerity mean that the Welsh budget is worth £900 million less than it was when it was set, and the autumn statement consequentials do not make up for that. The Institute of Welsh Affairs has called the autumn statement “a return to austerity” with

“tax cuts at the cost of cuts to public service delivery.”

It is the people of Wales who are suffering poverty and cuts to public services, so I ask the Minister: instead of the autumn statement tax handouts to the wealthy in London and the south-east, will the Secretary of State not urge the Chancellor to tax the wealthy to better protect Welsh public services?

The House will not be surprised to learn that I completely disagree with the hon. Lady’s assessment. It is not the amount of money the Welsh Government are receiving but the way in which they are mismanaging public services that is the problem. The 2021 spending review delivered the Welsh Government a record settlement of £18 billion a year, so I think that she needs to recognise that the problem is on her own side in Wales.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her role and thank her for her tribute to Baroness Kinnock and to Allan Rogers. Glenys Kinnock was an inspiration to our Labour movement, to her many friends and colleagues around the world, but most of all to her family. As the Kinnock family grieve, we send them our love and deepest sympathy.

On public spending in Wales, the Prime Minister promised, when abandoning HS2, that the north Wales main line would be electrified, at a cost of £1 billion. In the past eight years, construction costs have increased by 7% a year, because of the Government’s economic mismanagement. Will the Minister confirm that the last time any cost assessment was done on electrification was in 2015 and that the scheme will now cost between £1.5 billion and £1.8 billion?

I join the hon. Lady in her comments about the Kinnock family.

It is important to recognise that this Government are the first in many decades to commit to that project. I am sorry that she appears to agree with her colleagues in the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay, who seem to say that this is not a priority; Conservative Members feel that electrification and economic growth in north Wales is a priority, and I am sorry that she cannot agree with that.

If it is such a priority, why has nothing been done since 2015, when the cost assessment was undertaken? The hon. Lady’s Government promised to electrify the south Wales main line, but they did not do so. They promised to improve journey times and connections between south Wales and London, but they did not do that either. She has not given an answer on whether the Government will fully fund electrification, so how can she stand there and claim to the people in north Wales that this project has any prospect whatsoever of being completed by this hapless Government?

I say again that the hon. Lady’s party has already dismissed this project as not a priority. I also say again that north Wales is a priority for this Government; we are determined to level up right across this country and especially to focus on areas that the Welsh Labour Government, in south Wales, have completely ignored.

I add my condolences and those of my party to the Kinnock family on their sad loss.

Wales’s public services, assailed by inflation and austerity, now face the further difficulty of recruiting the skilled migrants who have become so vital to caring for our ageing population, as the family threshold is to rise to £38,700. That is £8,000 higher than the average wage in Gwynedd, with many of my constituents earning significantly less. Will the Minister tell me what representations she—or, rather, the Secretary of State—has made to the Home Secretary on the effects of the new threshold on Welsh public services?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Secretary of State has regular discussions with his Cabinet colleagues about the issue. It is absolutely vital that we take tough measures to make sure that we sustain sensible levels of migration. That is exactly what the Home Secretary has announced this week.

The change in the salary threshold will affect real people with real families and real people receiving care. My constituent Daniel Griffith was due to marry his Brazilian partner next year. They intend to make their home in Wales, but it is far from clear at present whether they will be able to do that under the new income rules. Why should Daniel, unlike the Secretary of State, the Minister and everyone else in this Chamber, have to choose between his wife and his country?

Some of the policies put in place by the Welsh Labour Government, aided and abetted by Plaid Cymru under the co-operation agreement, are disadvantaging Wales, putting off investors from creating investment and jobs in Wales. Again, I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is his colleagues in Cardiff Bay who need to have a look at what they are doing.

Narrow Gauge Railway Tourism

2. Whether he has had discussions with the Welsh Government on promoting and supporting narrow gauge railway tourism in Wales. (900417)

Narrow gauge and heritage railways are important for our tourism sector. Although tourism is, of course, devolved, the UK Government have demonstrated their support for the sector. The Secretary of State saw that at first hand on 2 June, when he opened Corwen station, which was partly funded by the UK Government’s levelling-up fund.

First, I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box; it is a pleasure to see her there.

A little while back, a friend of mine from Rouen, Thierry Fontenay, came over to Tywyn in Gwynedd. I asked myself, “How can I amuse him?” I took him on the Talyllyn railway, and we went from Tywyn to Abergynolwyn. He was over the moon—he took photographs of the engine and went on to the footplate. He told me that there are no narrow gauge railways like that, if at all, in France. What can we do to promote in Europe these wonderful narrow gauge railways that we have in Wales?

My hon. Friend is, of course, right: Wales’s narrow gauge railways are part of our unique tourism offer, so it is vital that they are marketed to the world. That is why Visit Britain works to ensure that Wales’s brand values are reflected in the broader GREAT campaign. Let me do Visit Britain and Visit Wales’s job for them and warmly invite Monsieur Fontenay to come and see the premier narrow gauge railway—the Brecon Mountain railway.

Impact of Autumn Statement

The autumn statement set out the UK Government’s plans to grow the economy and incentivise work so that economic growth can be felt throughout the United Kingdom. That will include a national insurance tax change from January, which will put £324 back into the pockets of 1.2 million workers across Wales.

North Wales has always been the poor relative to south Wales, where the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff fund their voter bases. However, thanks to the foresight of this Conservative Government, money is now flowing from Whitehall to Wrexham—£13 million from the levelling-up fund, £20 million from the towns fund, £24 million from the shared prosperity fund and the prospect of a £160 million investment zone. We are working on a civil service hub. Does the Secretary of State agree that, after 20 years of neglect from the Welsh Labour Government, this Conservative Government have put Wrexham firmly on the map?

I am absolutely delighted to agree with my hon. Friend: the UK Government are putting Wrexham on the map. I was, of course, delighted with the £160 million investment zone across Wrexham in Flintshire, which was marked by a visit from the Chancellor to the area. The £20 million towns fund for Wrexham will ensure long-term certainty and investment for the area and for the growth deal. I believe that the freeport in north Wales will also benefit my hon. Friend’s constituents.

According to research from the Bevan Foundation, nearly one in four Welsh children have reported having recently been worried about being cold, and around one in eight have worried about being hungry. What are the Government going to do about that?

The UK Government have spent £96 billion on measures to help the least well off across the United Kingdom throughout the difficult times brought about by the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine. On top of that, in the autumn statement we were able to announce a cut in national insurance, which will put more money into people’s pockets. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be talking to his constituents, who are no doubt hit by the highest taxes in the whole United Kingdom as a result of the policies of the Scottish National party Government.

May I join others in paying tribute to Glenys Kinnock, who was much loved by us all?

Earlier this year, the Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) that his Government would prioritise helping the most vulnerable, yet Welsh households still face the consequences of 13 years of his Government’s economic failures, with a historically high tax burden and his own constituents paying on average £240 more each month on their mortgages. Can he explain, then, why his Conservative colleagues in the Senedd are calling for the Welsh Government to withdraw their £40 million mortgage support scheme for those at risk of repossession?

The UK Government have already brought forward a mortgage charter to support anyone getting into difficulties. I hope that the hon. Lady agrees that the fact that the Government have delivered on their pledge to halve inflation over the past year will mean that everyone in Wales is better off; that the cut to national insurance will mean that everyone in Wales is better off; and that the increase in the living wage as well the Government’s commitment to ensuring that pensions and benefits are uprated in line with inflation will mean that everyone on low salaries is better off.

Tourism Sector Visitor Levy

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the potential financial impact of proposals to implement a visitor levy for Wales on the tourism sector. (900419)

The UK Government are investing in Wales and in the Welsh tourism industry, which has been evidenced most recently by the decision to allocate £500,000 to the Hay Festival—a project championed by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. It is a pity that the Welsh Government are not taking the same view about the importance of the tourism industry and are introducing a tax that signals that Wales is closed for business.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. It is no surprise that hitting tourists with a tax is likely to deter them from wanting to visit Wales, despite the natural beauty of places such as Snowdonia and the attractions of visiting locations such as Anglesey. Alongside highlighting the folly of this move from the Welsh Labour Government, will he ensure that anyone advocating for a tax on tourism anywhere else in the UK is reminded of the negative impact that it would have on our tourism sector?

I can assure my hon. Friend that not only will I be reminding the Welsh Labour Government about the importance of supporting the tourism industry and the folly of introducing a tax, but my Conservative colleagues in the Senedd will also be making that point. I hope that the Welsh Labour Government will listen to them and also listen to the Wales Tourism Alliance, which has said that this tax will be a tax on jobs and a tax on an industry that employs one in 10 people in Wales.

Rural Communities: 20 mph Speed Limit

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the potential impact of the 20 mph speed limit on rural communities. (900420)

14. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the potential impact of the 20 mph speed limit on rural communities. (900429)

All of us support speed limits in places where there is a risk to life. I have supported speed limits outside schools, hospitals and other places in my constituency, but the Welsh Labour Government’s policy of bringing in a 20 mph speed limit on all 30 mph roads—a blanket speed limit—is damaging for the economy. By their own figures, they have suggested that it could create a £4.5 billion hit to the Welsh economy. They need to think again.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. More than 8,700 people on Ynys Môn and almost half a million across Wales have signed the Senedd petition to rescind and remove the disastrous 20 mph law. In fact, more people have signed the petition than voted for Labour in the last Senedd election. Unlike the Welsh Labour Government, will the Secretary of State listen to people across Wales and join me in calling for the Welsh Labour Government to reverse this new, disastrous 20 mph law?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and call on the Welsh Labour Government to rescind the policy of a blanket 20 mph speed limit across Wales. At the same time, I call on them to rescind their policy of building no new roads ever again in Wales, and I call on them to scrap their policy of bringing in road charging for using the motorway network. Is it not interesting that not one Labour Member present is willing to stand up to defend their own Senedd Government policy?

We have already heard about the importance of tourism to the Welsh economy. Has my right hon. Friend made any assessment of the impact on tourism, which will disappear from Wales as a result of this blanket ban?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. People will now not only have to pay extra money to come into Wales as a result of the Welsh Labour Government’s tourism tax, but find it a lot slower to get around Wales as a result of the Welsh Labour Government’s speed limits. In my constituency of Monmouthshire, the Labour council has recently decided for the first time ever to bring in charges for people who want to use the shops on a Sunday over the Christmas period, meaning that it wants us to slow down, but not to stop.

Local authorities in Wales have had the opportunity to exempt roads and villages from the blanket application of a speed limit. Devon County Council has had less discretion. In May this year, 105 parishes in Devon applied to the county council to have a 20 mph limit, but only six applications were granted. Does the Minister accept that an opt-in system for 20 mph zones depends on local authorities having enough funding to exercise discretion?

The hon. Gentleman’s party is in charge in Powys—I am not sure whether he is aware of that. The reality is that local authorities across Wales need more funding to implement such policies, which have cost £30 million. The Welsh Labour Government are diverting money from local authorities so that they can spend it on their pet schemes, including extra Senedd Members.

Impact of Autumn Statement

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the autumn statement on households in Wales. (900421)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues regarding UK Government support for households in Wales, so I was absolutely delighted that in the autumn statement the Chancellor announced a 9.8% rise in the national living wage, providing an extra £1,800 to the annual earnings of full-time workers.

We are all thinking of the lovely Glenys Kinnock and her family, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), at this sad time.

The number of emergency food parcels distributed by the Trussell—[Interruption.]

Order. Does it occur to hon. Members when they are conversing in a normal speaking tone, rather than whispering, while a Member is asking a question that it is really rude and discourteous?

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The number of emergency food parcels distributed by Trussell Trust food banks in Newport West is on the rise. In 2018, the number of parcels distributed was 1,971. In the same period this year, over 3,000 were distributed to families. There was nothing in the autumn statement that would make that situation better. Why not?

With respect, I disagree with the hon. Lady. The fact that inflation has been halved will be of benefit to anyone receiving food parcels. The fact that there has been a cut in national insurance will be beneficial for people. The fact that there has been an increase in the living wage will be beneficial for people. The fact that pensions and benefits are going up in line with inflation is going to be beneficial for people in her constituency. What is not going to be beneficial for her constituents is the Welsh Labour Government wanting to spend over £100 million creating extra Senedd Members.

The Minister will be aware that he UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly has been meeting in Westminster this week. It was made clear by the co-chair, Natalie Loiseau MEP that Glenys Kinnock had made a huge contribution in the European Parliament, particularly in advocating for women’s rights. That was something that she wanted to record, so it is not just in this Parliament that Glenys Kinnock will be remembered for her role in politics.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cut in national insurance contributions, the improvement in the national living wage and the cutting of inflation are crucial to Welsh households, as they are across the UK?

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend on all those points—first, that Glenys Kinnock made an enormous contribution to politics in this country, as has her husband, to whom we send our condolences, and as does her son who, at this very moment, is working hard to support steelmaking in south Wales. It is a pleasure to work with him on the transition board in Port Talbot, even though we have disagreements from time to time on political matters. May I add to the tributes and support everything that my right hon. and learned Friend said?

I agree that the recent changes in the autumn statement will be beneficial for people in Wales.

Floating Offshore Wind: Celtic Sea

7. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on expediting the development of floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea. (900422)

I have regular—in fact, frequent—conversations with Cabinet colleagues and stakeholders to support the floating offshore wind industry, which will create high-quality jobs in Wales. The Government fully support plans for up to 4 GW of floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea, and we are working to bring forward an additional 12 GW through the 2030s, with the potential to bring forward up to £20 billion-worth of investment.

Previous offshore wind developments on England’s east coast have shown that appropriate planning is needed to minimise disruption to communities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the development of floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea should mean single-cable corridors—one to his side of the water, and just one to the north coast of Devon or Cornwall—to reduce environmental and societal disruption?

I know that the electricity systems operator is currently reviewing the design of connections for offshore wind projects. Last week—or possibly earlier this week—I met the Crown Estate, and I have been meeting National Grid to discuss some of the issues around cabling and the reconfiguration of the grid. The decision as to where the cables will go and how many of them there will be is a fairly technical one that I fear I am not qualified to take a view on, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Crown Estate and National Grid would be more than happy to talk to her about that.

Any onshore and offshore wind in the Celtic sea will affect fishermen in Northern Ireland as well. Can the Secretary of State assure me that, when it comes to plans for offshore wind, the fishing organisations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will all have input on where it happens, so that fishing will not be affected?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In sparking a floating offshore wind industry, certain challenges need to be dealt with together with various other Government Departments—he has made reference to one challenge. I can assure him that I have already had informal discussions about that, and will be looking to have more such discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other Government Departments to ensure that we overcome all the challenges and create a vibrant, sustainable industry for the future.

Energy Bills

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a variety of issues, including the cost of energy bills. The Government recognise the challenges posed by cost of living pressures, which is why we are providing on average £3,700 per household from 2022-23 to 2024-25 to support households and individuals with the cost of living.

The Minister may not be aware of the very successful Warm Wales programme in the noughties, which saw tens of thousands of homes have their cavities and lofts insulated, saving residents in Neath, Port Talbot and Wrexham hundreds of pounds every year. Do the Government recognise that concentrated schemes of that nature have a major impact on fuel poverty, and will Ministers steal our plans, which would see hundreds of thousands more households benefit?

I am well aware that there are a number a renewable energy schemes that could have a positive benefit on householders in Wales, which is why the UK Government have been so supportive of the potential for floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea, and why, in the last round, we arranged higher strike prices for tidal energy. We are looking at a wide range of renewable energy systems that can bring benefits to people in Wales. At the same time, in recognising the cost of living pressures, the UK Government ensured that we were paying around half the average fuel bills for homeowners during the last winter period.

Farming

Last week, I had the pleasure of talking to farmers at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society winter fair, and at livestock markets in Sennybridge and Talybont in my constituency. The UK Government are committed to backing Welsh farming, most notably by allocating more than £900 million to the Welsh Government. That delivers on our manifesto commitment to maintain funding for farmers and land managers at 2019 levels.

Farmers across the UK—from those in the country of Wales to those in the village of Wales in Rother Valley—face increasing pressures. The Minister will know that I am holding my next farmers’ forum with the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), early next year in Rother Valley. What is my hon. Friend doing to support farmers in the country of Wales, farmers in the village of Wales in Rother Valley and farmers across the whole of the UK?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work to ensure that the voice of farming is heard by the Minister. Like me, he understands that farmers across this country are the beating heart of the rural economy, driving growth in rural constituencies such as mine. I must say, that attitude stands in stark contrast to that of the Labour party in Wales, which has already cut £37 million from the Welsh agriculture budget. We wait with trepidation to see what damage Labour will do to Welsh farmers next week.

I call Stephen Doughty—[Interruption.] Order. That just proves the point: Members are not paying the least bit of attention to a colleague who is about to speak—he could not even hear his name being called. It is rude to keep talking when someone is trying to ask an important question.

Rail Infrastructure

12. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the adequacy of rail infrastructure in Wales. (900427)

Thank you for your generosity, Madam Deputy Speaker. I, too, pay tribute to my very good friends in the Kinnock family after the loss of Glenys, who was a dear friend to all of us, and note the sad death of the former Member for Rhondda.

I ask the Secretary of State—

The UK Government are committed to building a strong rail infrastructure network across Wales, which will improve connectivity and drive economic growth.

My constituents want the parkway station to be built at St Mellons. That will require important work on the south Wales main line for relief lines. Will the Minister meet me and colleagues, with the rail Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman)—to ensure that this important national investment is made, so that the station can go ahead?

I will be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that and the investment that the UK Government are already putting into rail infrastructure in Wales.

The Secretary of State and the Minister should know that I have campaigned for years to close the dangerous level crossing in Pencoed in my constituency. No levelling-up funding or transport bid funding has been approved for any of the applications. Will the Minister please talk to Department for Transport officials to resolve this, rather than allowing DFT officials to keep announcing more and more rail services, which means closing the crossing more by stealth? That is not acceptable to my constituents.

I worked well with the hon. Gentleman when I was in the Government Whips Offices and I very much look forward to doing so again. I will write to him to offer a meeting about that.

Before we proceed to Prime Minister’s questions, many colleagues have asked me to pass on their best wishes to Mr Speaker in his absence. I am happy to inform the House that, although Mr Speaker has tested positive for covid and therefore cannot be present in the Chamber, he is rapidly getting better. Just as soon as that little test shows negative, he will be straight back here in his Chair.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

West Midlands: Economic Growth

Q1. Whether he has had recent discussions with the Mayor of the West Midlands on economic growth in that region. (900527)

I welcome you to your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that the whole House wishes Mr Speaker a speedy recovery. Before I answer my hon. Friend’s question, I also know that the whole House will want to join me in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Alistair Darling, Glenys Kinnock and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. They each made an enormous contribution to public life and will be deeply missed.

The Hillsborough families have suffered multiple injustices: the loss of 97 lives, the blaming of the fans and the unforgivable institutional defensiveness of public bodies. I am profoundly sorry for what they have been through. Today, the Government have published their response to Bishop James Jones’s report to ensure that the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated. I am immensely grateful that they shared their experiences. I hope to meet them in the new year, and the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will make an oral statement after PMQs.

Turning to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), the Government continue to work closely with the Mayor of the West Midlands to develop fully his plan to deliver growth.

I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the Hillsborough families.

It is thanks to Margaret Thatcher and her robust treatment of militant trade unions in the west midlands, and to her contribution of £10 billion at today’s prices to the motor industry in the west midlands that iconic names such as Jaguar and Land Rover still exist. Does the Prime Minister share my boundless joy that on the road to Damascus and in recognition of her great heritage and all that she achieved, another fanboy has joined in her great belief—the Leader of the Opposition?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for his area, and because of the pro-business policies of this Government, I am delighted to see that Jaguar Land Rover has invested billions of pounds in its move towards electrification in the region. He is absolutely right: I am always happy to welcome new Thatcherites from all sides of this House, but it says something about the Leader of the Opposition that the main strong female leader that he could praise is Margaret Thatcher, not his own fantastic deputy.

Engagements

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

The Government are set to close the household support fund in March, cutting off crucial free meals for 12,000 of Rotherham’s children in the lowest-income families. With the Government’s cost of living crisis in full swing and energy prices about to increase again, how does the Prime Minister justify taking food from the mouths of my poorest children?

What we are doing is ensuring that no child should grow up in poverty. That is why we have not only provided considerable cost of living support this year, worth over £3,000 to a typical household, but provided more support this winter for pensioners, a record increase in the national living wage, and a full indexation and uplifting of welfare for the next financial year. When it comes to children and food, not only do we fund free school meals for almost 2 million children, but we introduced the holiday activities and food programme. That programme provides not just food but enriching activities to deprived children up and down the entire country, including in the hon. Lady’s local authority.

Q2.   If there is one place where everyone should feel safe, it is in their own home, but the reality is that for some of the most vulnerable people, home is precisely where they can be most at risk. They are terrorised by criminals who target them, move in, take control, and set up a base camp from which they sell drugs or facilitate prostitution in a horrendous form of exploitation known as cuckooing. It has happened in Eastbourne, and it is happening across the country. It is not an offence, but it should be; it was not cited in the Criminal Justice Bill that we debated last week, so will my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary meet with me and concerned colleagues to further discuss the issue? (900528)

I agree with my hon. Friend that cuckooing is an abhorrent practice that often preys on the most vulnerable in society. As part of the Government’s antisocial behaviour action plan, the Home Office engaged with relevant stakeholders about whether a new criminal offence was necessary. The results of that engagement demonstrated that a range of existing powers can be used to disrupt that activity, but of course I will ensure that the relevant Minister meets with my hon. Friend and updates her on the work we are doing to share effective practice to tackle this abhorrent problem.

It is very good to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. We wish Mr Speaker a speedy recovery.

This week, we lost two giants of the Labour family, and I thank the Prime Minister for his comments. Alistair Darling was a man of unassuming intelligence, warmth and kindness. He brought a calm expertise and, in private, a cutting wit, and his devoted love of his family was ever present. Our thoughts are with Maggie, his wife, and Calum and Anna, whom he loved so dearly.

Glenys Kinnock was a passionate campaigner for social justice who changed lives at home and abroad. She was a loving and supportive partner and mother, and her death is a huge loss to all of us. We are thinking of Neil, Stephen, Rachel and all the family. I also echo the Prime Minister’s comments in relation to Lord Douglas-Hamilton.

In relation to the Hillsborough families, they deserve justice. In a previous capacity, I worked with the families. They waited a very long time for the findings, thanks to people in this House, and they have waited a long time for this response, but I am glad it is now coming.

If the purpose of the Rwanda gimmick was to solve a political headache of the Tories’ own making—to get people out of the country who they simply could not deal with—then it has been a resounding success. After all, they have managed to send three Home Secretaries there—an achievement for which the whole country can be grateful. Apart from members of his own Cabinet, how many people has the Prime Minister sent to Rwanda?

As I have been clear before, we will do everything it takes—[Interruption.] We will do everything it takes to get this scheme working so that we can indeed stop the boats. That is why this week we have signed a new legally binding treaty with Rwanda, which, together with new legislation, will address all the concerns that have been raised. Everyone should be in no doubt about our absolute commitment to stop the boats and get flights off, because—this is the crucial point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not understand—deterrence is critical. Even the National Crime Agency has said that

“you need an effective removals and deterrence agreement”

if you truly want to break the cycle of tragedy that we see. What we heard this morning from his own shadow Ministers was that they would scrap the scheme even when it is operational and working. Once again, instead of being on the side of the British people, he finds himself on the side of the people smugglers.

When the Government first announced this gimmick, they claimed Rwanda would settle tens of thousands of people—tens of thousands of people. Then the former Deputy Prime Minister quickly whittled it down to mere hundreds. Then the Court of Appeal in June made it clear there is housing for just 100. The current number of people sent there remains stubbornly consistent—zero. At the same time, article 19 of the treaty says:

“The Parties shall make arrangements for the United Kingdom to resettle a portion of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees in the United Kingdom”.

So how many refugees from Rwanda will be coming here to the UK under the treaty?

The treaty, as I have said, addresses all the concerns of the Supreme Court, but it is a point of pride that we are a compassionate country that does welcome people from around the world. Let me just get the right hon. and learned Gentleman up to speed on what we are doing: we have reduced the number of illegal arrivals from Albania by 90%; increased the number of illegal working raids by 50%; and because of all the action we have taken, the number of small boat arrivals is down by one third. But what is the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s plan? What it comes down to is that he simply does not have a plan to address this problem. [Interruption.] No, no, I am probably being unfair, because he does have a plan: it is to cook up a deal with the EU that would see us accept 100,000 illegal migrants.

Migration has trebled on the Prime Minister’s watch, and all he can do is make up numbers about the Labour party. It is really pitiful. I am not actually sure the Prime Minister can have read this thing. Article 4 says the scheme is capped at Rwanda’s capacity—that is 100. Article 5 says Rwanda can turn them away if it wants. Article 19 says we actually have to take refugees from Rwanda. How much did this “fantastic” deal cost us?

As the Home Secretary was crystal clear about, there is no incremental money. [Interruption.] There is no incremental money that has been provided. This is about us ensuring that the concerns of the Supreme Court have all been addressed in a legally binding treaty that will allow us to operationalise the scheme. But I am glad the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised the topic of legal migration, which I agree is absolutely far too high. That is why this week we have outlined a plan, bigger than that of any other Government before, to reduce the levels of legal migration by 300,000. It is an incredibly comprehensive plan, so if he cares so much about it, the simple question for him is: does he support the plan?

He clearly hasn’t read it. Annex A says that, on top of the £140 million he has already showered on Rwanda, when we send people there under this treaty, we will have to pay for their accommodation and upkeep for five years. And that is not all: a Minister admitted this morning that anyone we send to Rwanda who commits a crime can be returned to us. I am beginning to see why the Home Secretary says the Rwanda scheme is—it was something to do with bats, wasn’t it?

What does the Prime Minister think first attracted Mr Kagame to hundreds of millions of pounds for nothing in return?

I have slightly lost the thread of the question. The simple point is that if you believe in stopping the boats, as we on this side of the House do, you need to have effective deterrence and a returns agreement. It is as simple as that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not interested in stopping the boats, which is why he is not interested in the Rwanda plan. In fact, we know they do not want to tackle this issue, because even when this Government were trying to deport foreign national offenders from this country, they opposed it. Multiple shadow Front Benchers signed a letter to me to that effect, but I do not need to tell him that, because he signed it too! [Interruption.]

I would say that this treaty has more holes than a Swiss cheese, but I do not want to wind up the Prime Minister by talking about a European country again.

I have to give credit to the Rwandan Government. They saw the Prime Minister coming a mile off. I can only imagine their delight and sheer disbelief when, having already banked £140 million of British taxpayers’ money without housing a single asylum seeker, the Prime Minister appeared again with another offer they cannot refuse—a gimmick will send taxpayers’ money to Rwanda and refugees from Rwanda to Britain, and will not stop the boats. There was mention of Margaret Thatcher earlier—[Hon. Members: “More!”]

Order. There is understandable excitement about the mention of the name, but the House must listen to the Leader of the Opposition.

When it comes to this European thing and Margaret Thatcher, this is the week that the shadow Foreign Secretary did not rule out rejoining the European Union. The Leader of the Opposition can roleplay Margaret Thatcher all he wants but, when it comes to Europe, his answer is the same: “Yes, yes, yes.”

Forget the private jet; the Prime Minister is obviously on a private planet of his own. Daily Mail readers learned this week that he has begun to feel sorry for himself. He has even been heard comparing his plight to his beloved Southampton football club. I think that is a bit harsh, because the Saints have been on an 11-game unbeaten run while, as the song has it, the Prime Minister gets battered everywhere he goes.

If we want the perfect example of how badly the Tories have broken the asylum system, last week the Home Office admitted that 17,000 people in the asylum system—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

If we want the perfect example of how badly the Tories have broken the asylum system, last week the Home Office admitted that 17,000 people in the asylum system have disappeared. These are its exact words, and they are hard to believe:

“I don’t think we know where all those people are”.

Now, you might lose your car keys, you might lose your headphones, you might lose your marbles, but how do you lose 17,000 people?

On the topic of football teams, the right hon. and learned Gentleman used to describe the Rwanda policy as immoral, yet his football team have a “Visit Rwanda” badge on the side of their shirts. In the week when he made his big economy speech, we are still waiting to hear how he is going to borrow £28 billion and still cut taxes and reduce debt. It is the same old thing: the sums do not add up. While the Opposition are struggling with their calculator, we are getting on and delivering—a new treaty with Rwanda, the toughest ever measures to cut legal migration, our schools marching up the tables, and tax cuts for millions. Whether it is controlling our borders or lowering our taxes, just like the Saints, the Conservatives are marching on.

Q5. I am getting fed up of sitting in traffic jams in my constituency caused by contractors digging up roads, involving lane closures and temporary traffic lights, often invoking utility company emergency powers when it turns out not to be an emergency and often with no sign of anybody doing any work, particularly over weekends. I set up a campaign to name and shame these inconsiderate contractors, but it turns out that when they cause all this chaos and breach the rules of their permit, the maximum penalty is an £80 fixed penalty notice. Will the Prime Minister back my campaign and support better enforcement and realistic levels of fines? (900531)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We have set aside £8 billion as a result of our plans on HS2, which is enough to resurface over 5,000 miles of road to improve journeys—a cornerstone of our plan—but we are also introducing a range of measures, as my hon. Friend says, to reduce congestion from roadworks. Contained in the plan for drivers is a scheme for greater fines and penalties to ensure that works finish on time. I will make sure that we look at his suggestion, and I wholeheartedly back his campaign.

Is the Prime Minister worried that he is projected to be the first Conservative party leader to lose a general election to a fellow Thatcherite? [Interruption.]

Order. We really must hear the Prime Minister, and we have a lot of questions to get through. [Interruption.] It is not the Prime Minister’s opponents who are giving him trouble.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that Margaret Thatcher’s view was to cut inflation, then cut taxes and then win an election, and that is very much my plan.

Of course, it is not just in relation to Margaret Thatcher that the Tory and Labour leaders appear to agree; the same is true of the Government’s latest migration policies. Those of us on these Benches are not afraid to say that we believe migration is a good thing. It enriches our communities, it enriches our economy, and it enriches our universities, our schools, our health service and, of course, our care sector. Why does the Prime Minister think it is acceptable to ask people to come to these shores to care for our family members, while we show complete disregard for theirs? What has become of this place?

That is completely wrong. As we have already said, we have a proud track record of welcoming those who are most vulnerable around the world—over half a million over the past few years from Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Hong Kong and elsewhere—and that is what this country will always do. But at the same time, when it comes to economic migration and other forms, it is absolutely right that we take strong action to curb the levels that we have seen, because they are simply far too high and place unsustainable pressure on our public services. I make no apology for saying that or, indeed, for saying that it is important that those who come here contribute to our public services.

Q8. I welcome the Government’s significant funding increase for two-year-olds’ pre-schooling in 2023, but the illustrative 2024-25 Department for Education funding to Dorset Council for two-year-olds’ pre-schooling looks to be a net 17p per hour less than it is today, and that is giving West Dorset preschools some nervousness about their sustainability. Will my right hon. Friend support me to ensure that educational funding formulas will take into account the challenges of rural living and allow excellent preschools to— (900534)

In a couple of years’ time, we will have increased spending to over £8 billion every year on free hours and early education, which will help working families with childcare costs; indeed, it is the single biggest investment in childcare in England ever. But my hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and that is why we will ensure that there is a discretionary supplement in the local authorities’ local funding formula for rural communities to account for the smaller economies of scale, so that they can continue to deliver their vital work.

Nine months on from the Windsor framework, I thank the Prime Minister for his ongoing efforts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. However, if and when the institutions are restored, they will still be plagued by the same structural weaknesses that have seen repeated collapses and unfairness on things such as designations. This week, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee published a report calling for a review of the Good Friday agreement. Many architects of the agreement, such as Tony Blair, John Major and Bertie Ahern, have recognised the case for reform. Will the Prime Minister commit to an early review of the agreement to improve its stability, effectiveness and fairness?

I recognise the hon. Member’s campaigning on this issue and I have great respect for his position. Indeed, we have spoken on a number of occasions both here and on my visits to Northern Ireland. My focus right now is on getting the institutions up and running, and my overarching priority is to get public services in Northern Ireland back on track, which I know is an ambition that he and I share. Any reform of institutions is best dealt with with the support of all parts of the community. When it comes to restoring the current institutions, the Government are doing everything they can to support efforts, and I know that the Secretary of State will be in touch for engagement with the parties imminently on that point.

Q12.   Yesterday, 13 men died by suicide; today, 88 men will die of heart disease; tomorrow, and every day, 90,000 men will wake up in prison; and today we have 2.2 million boys living at home with no dad. Thankfully, we have an excellent Cabinet Minister for women, and an excellent Minister for Women. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the merits of a Minister for men and boys? As Warren Farrell has said, when one sex loses, “both sexes lose”. (900538)

My hon. Friend should be commended for his tireless campaigning on this issue. He is particularly right to focus on suicide, and I am grateful for his engagement with the suicide prevention strategy, which sets out the actions that we will take to reduce suicides in the coming years. It was thanks in part to his campaigning that on International Men’s Day we announced that we are appointing the first men’s health ambassador and launching a men’s health taskforce. I look forward to continued collaboration with him so that we can represent his concerns adequately.

Q4. Convicted criminals are being held in police station cells across West Yorkshire because the Government have completely failed to deliver more prison places. Two thirds of prisons are overcrowded, criminals are let out early—if sentenced at all—only 2% of rapists reach court, serious violence is up by 60%, knife crime is up by 70%, and nearly 65,000 cases are waiting to be heard. How can the Prime Minister reassure the residents of Wakefield that they are safe on our streets? (900530)

We have a clear plan to protect victims, punish criminals and cut crime. We are in fact investing £400 million more in prison places on top of the £4 billion that I announced as Chancellor, which is delivering 20,000 new cells. We are also making sure that rapists serve every day of their sentences and ensuring that life means life for the worst offenders—something that I hope the Labour party will be supporting soon.

My constituents Ceri and Frances Menai-Davis, who are in the Public Gallery, lost their son after a long battle with cancer, during which they visited him in hospital every day. They have set up a charity called It’s Never You to help parents in that situation, and on Monday I intend to present a Bill that will ask the Government to report on what support can be given to those parents. I hope the Prime Minister might ask Ministers to discuss that with me so that we can find a way forward to help parents in that dreadful situation.

May I express my sympathies to my right hon. and learned Friend’s constituents for what they have been through, and commend them for setting up the It’s Never You charity? I will ensure that he and the organisers get the appropriate meeting with the Minister to discuss its important work. He is absolutely right that parents who are in that situation should have all the support they need, and we will make sure that that happens.

Q6. One in five of my residents lives in fuel poverty and, according to Cornwall Insight, this winter looks to be the most brutal yet, with the current trajectory in energy prices expected to be the new norm for the rest of the decade. As the Prime Minister will know, one of the best ways to support households is through the introduction of a social tariff. He promised a consultation by summer this year, but we are still waiting. When will the consultation be released? (900532)

We have also provided considerable support in the here and now for households with their energy bills: £900 of direct cost of living support this financial year on top of a record increase in benefits, along with winter fuel payments of up to £300 this winter for pensioners, because they are particularly vulnerable. We will continue to look at all the support we have to ensure that those who need it are getting the help they deserve.

During COP28, will the Prime Minister salute South West Bedfordshire’s contribution to our nation’s energy security for having had the tallest wind turbine in England, the largest battery in Europe and now the most powerful wind turbine in England, which has local support? Can we also ensure that my constituents now get cheaper energy bills for hosting this vital infrastructure?

We are looking exactly at how local communities can benefit when new infrastructure is in their vicinity, as part of our new plan for increased energy security. May I commend my hon. Friend’s local area for the contribution it is making to our clean energy transition? It is a great example of this country’s fantastic track record in delivering net zero and decarbonising faster than any other major economy, not something we will hear from the Labour party, but something that those of us on the Government Benches are very proud of.

Q7. The Government failed in their legal duty to publish a report on spiking by April, stating that they were reconsidering whether their rationale for not introducing a specific offence for spiking was sound. Will the Prime Minister clarify when and if the spiking report will ever be published? Does he agree with me and colleagues right across the House that the only sound approach to this issue is to create a specific criminal offence for spiking? (900533)

This issue has been reviewed by legal police colleagues. My latest understanding is that existing laws did cover the offence of spiking, but I am happy, of course, to ensure that the hon. Lady gets a letter that explains the position.

Not content with being the third-most indebted council in England, with a debt of £670 million, Liberal Democrat Eastleigh Borough Council recently refinanced its failed One Heaton Heath housing project to the tune of £148 million, with no houses built and interest payments of £386,000 per month. Will the Prime Minister now ask the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to intervene and independently investigate the development? May I ask for a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss this terrible decision by Eastleigh Borough Council?

I am aware that some local authorities, including the one my hon. Friend mentions, have taken excessive risks with borrowing and investment practices. That is why we have taken a range of measures to strengthen the regulatory framework to prevent that from happening. They include new powers that make it quicker and easier for the Government to step in when councils take on excessive risk through borrowing. I will ensure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to raise his concerns, because his constituents deserve better.

Q9.   National Energy Action says that 13% of North Tynesiders are in fuel poverty, 3,000 homes have legacy prepayment meters and we are in the bottom 5% for energy efficiency, but the Chancellor announced no new funding to help people this winter. We are now in advent, so what Christmas message does the Prime Minister have for my constituents who are freezing in their homes? (900535)

As I outlined, we have provided considerable support for particularly vulnerable families this year and through this winter. We are also investing record sums in improving the energy efficiency and insulation of vulnerable homes through our home upgrade scheme and the warm home discount, which on average can save people hundreds of pounds on their energy bills when they receive that support. We are expanding those programmes across the country, including in the north-east.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan KC, has concluded his first visit to Israel and Palestine, and has said:

“We must show that the law is there, on the front lines, and that it is capable of protecting all”.

What support will Britain offer the International Criminal Court to enable it to conduct investigations of the conduct of all parties in Israel, Gaza and the west bank before and since 7 October?

As is well known, we are a strong and long-standing supporter of the International Criminal Court. When it comes to the situation in Gaza, we have been consistent in saying that international humanitarian law has to be respected. All parties must take every possible step to avoid harming civilians, and I can say that I stressed that point specifically just yesterday to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Q10. The Prime Minister is aware that the household tax known as the television licence fee is due to rise in April in line with inflation. Given the ongoing household budget constraints with which all our constituents are faced, such as increasing childcare costs, as well as ongoing unresolved staffing issues at BBC Northern Ireland, national BBC television and national BBC radio, is this really the right time to proceed with an even larger £3.7 billion licence fee budget, enhanced yet again? (900536)

We have already agreed a fair settlement with the BBC that will see the licence fee remain frozen until 2024. However, the hon. Member has raised an excellent point. I have been clear about the fact that the BBC needs to be realistic about what is possible in an environment like this, and the licence fee should rise only at a level that people can actually afford. The Culture Secretary has said that “we are looking at” this issue right now, and she will set out more details in due course.

Longton, the largest town in my constituency, has not benefited from future high streets funding, from town deals, or from the latest long-term plan for towns. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that it can have some investment from the Government, and does he agree that some of the latest National Lottery Heritage Fund award to Stoke-on-Trent should definitely be invested there?

My hon. Friend is a tireless champion for his local community. I know that there has been considerable investment in his area over the past few years in plenty of ways, but he has made an excellent point about making sure that no one misses out on the considerable resources that are being invested in Stoke, and I will ensure that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities takes his concerns very seriously.

Order. We are running way over time. I appreciate it would be a great disappointment to Members whose names are on the Order Paper if they were not called, so I am trying my best to call them all, but may I please make a plea for brevity?

Q11. When the Prime Minister is taking a dip in his pool or is on the beach at his place in California, he does not have to worry about swimming in sewage. The rest of us do not have it so good, so why will he not back Labour’s plans for criminal liability for water company bosses who fail to clean up their act? (900537)

We have already brought in regulations that ensure there can be unlimited fines for water companies, and there have been dozens of criminal prosecutions. I would also say, however, that when we had a debate in the House on exactly a plan that would do all this, who did not show up to vote? It was the Labour party.

In recent weeks I have seen at first hand the extraordinary work conducted by specialist care staff in accident and emergency units. As politicians, we are often guilty of using the NHS as a political football, but when it becomes personal, one is reminded that what we have in the UK is very special. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking our superb NHS staff in Bracknell, across Berkshire, in neighbouring Basingstoke and Frimley Park Hospitals, and beyond?

NHS staff are at the heart of what makes our health service work. There would not be an NHS without them—without their skill, their expertise and their dedication. I was delighted I could pay them my thanks last week in person. I join my hon. Friend in thanking NHS staff not just in his constituency but across the country for their dedicated hard work and public service.

Q13. It is now six years since Bishop James Jones published the Hillsborough report, and only today, finally, do we get the Government’s response. When will the Government introduce not just a voluntary charter, an independent public advocate or a code of ethical policing, but a full Hillsborough law to force those in public office to co-operate fully with investigations, and to guarantee fairer funding to enable those affected by a major tragedy to challenge public institutions? (900539)

As I have said, I am profoundly sorry for what the Hillsborough families have been through, and my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will be making a full statement immediately after PMQs.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Having worked as a junior doctor, I understand that it is a demanding job and have sympathy with the challenges they face. However, the strikes that are planned for the festive period threaten public safety and will delay treatment. Causing patients suffering in the pursuit of more money for oneself is, in my view, morally indefensible. What concrete steps is the Prime Minister taking to prevent the strikes, and will he bring forward minimum service legislation to protect patients in case they do go ahead?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and speaks from a position of experience on this issue. The Government have now reached settlements with every other part of the public sector, including, most recently, consultants, and I am grateful to them for their constructive engagement with the Government. The junior doctors are taking action in the face of a recommendation from an independent body of a 9% pay rise, on average—the highest increase across the entire public sector. The Government have gone beyond that in conversations with them, but they have still decided to take damaging strike action. It is wrong, and that is why we have introduced minimum service levels, to ensure that we can guarantee a safe level of care for patients across the NHS. It would be good to hear from the Labour party, at some point, whether they will get off the fence, condemn these strikes and back these minimum service laws.

Q14. Universal credit is broken. One constituent told me that the Department for Work and Pensions is refusing to reimburse her childcare payment because it was four days late due to a phone being broken. She is down £1,200 and is unable to pay for childcare. She has lost her job and will likely have to move house. With three weeks to go before Christmas, she is extremely anxious and distressed. Does the Prime Minister realise the real consequences for real people of this broken system? (900540)

I am sorry to hear about the circumstances of the hon. Lady’s constituent. If the hon. Lady writes to me, I will make sure that we get specific support in place for her constituent and ensure that she can access what she needs. When it comes to universal credit, I strongly disagree with the hon. Lady. It was only because of the actions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) that universal credit was implemented, and the only reason we were able to get support to millions of vulnerable people during the pandemic was that we had replaced the legacy system with universal credit, and that was opposed at every step by the Labour party.

It is always a pleasure to work closely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) in delivering important projects, such as the Llanymynech-Pant bypass on the border with north Shropshire, and today is another example of our partnership. He is unfortunately unable to ask a question, given his role as the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, so will the Prime Minister join me in highlighting my right hon. Friend’s work with the Famers Union of Wales in organising the terrific celebration of Montgomeryshire Day in the Jubilee Room straight after Question Time?

My hon. Friend is an excellent campaigner for his constituents, as indeed is my right hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams). It is fantastic to see these local projects being delivered in their area—and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for teaching me how to pronounce “Pant-Llanymynech” for my first Budget. I am delighted to declare from the Dispatch Box that today is now officially Montgomeryshire Day, and I look forward to everyone celebrating in the Jubilee Room straight after Question Time.

Q15. I beg your indulgence briefly, Madam Deputy Speaker, to wish my constituent who was attacked in yesterday’s serious incident in Aberfan a speedy recovery. I thank the emergency services and school staff for their swift and professional response.Britain is getting smaller on the world stage on this Prime Minister’s watch. His climate failures mean that our children and grandchildren will bear the brunt of the costs. His plans are undermining Britain’s energy security and bills are still sky high for working families, yet he is hiking the tax burden and real living standards are falling by more than 3%. Tinkering with a reset just does not compensate for 13 years of failure, does it, Prime Minister? (900541)

First, can I say that my thoughts are with the victim and her family after the awful incident that took place on the streets of Aberfan? We wish them a full and speedy recovery, and I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking the emergency services for their immediate response.

The hon. Gentleman talked about leaving our children and grandchildren with costs. He is right to raise that because it is important that we do not do that. The question, then, for him and the Labour party is: why do they want to embark on a green borrowing spree of £28 billion a year that will just mean higher taxes for our children and grandchildren and higher mortgage rates? It is the same old story: reckless borrowing and the British people paying the price.

Hillsborough: Bishop James Jones Report

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s response to Bishop James Jones’s report, “‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’—A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated”, and on the steps we will take to respond to the points of learning contained therein.

Bishop James has done our nation a great service and his report is an exceptional piece of work. I salute the Hillsborough families for the assiduous care they have given to help to create the report and forge the response that flows from it. I had the privilege of meeting many of the families in Liverpool in June this year, alongside the former Home Secretary. I was deeply moved to hear of their experiences, and by the dignity with which they shared them, but perhaps even more affecting was their unflinching determination to make sense of the senseless and bring about change for others. That is the true mark of compassion: campaigning selflessly for change, knowing that nothing that any Government can do will bring back their own loved ones or temper their grief.

The Hillsborough families have, through their determined efforts over decades, created a lasting legacy—a national legacy—that is a tribute to their loved ones. At the start of his report, Bishop James expressed his hope that

“we might be a better nation for having listened to them.”

We are, and they deserve the thanks of our nation.

I also pay tribute to those in this House who continue to campaign on behalf of the Hillsborough families and for families bereaved by other tragedies, including the right hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) and the hon. Members for Halton (Derek Twigg), for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne). I thank former members of the House who have given important support to the families, including Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, and I of course thank the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I also thank Glenn Taylor for his vital work on the ongoing independent forensic pathology review.

Quite apart from its important recommendations, Bishop James’s report laid bare the truly devastating experiences of those bereaved by the Hillsborough disaster on 15 April 1989. An unimaginable tragedy unfolded: 97 innocent men, women and children ultimately lost their lives; hundreds more were injured and traumatised by what they saw. But for Hillsborough’s bereaved and survivors, that terrible day was only day one of an enduring ordeal, and in the days and decades thereafter, it became clear that they suffered a double injustice. First, there was the abject failure of the police and others at the ground to protect their loved ones—failures described in Lord Justice Taylor’s 1990 report as

“blunders of the first magnitude”.

Then, they faced years of unforgivable institutional defensiveness.

Secondly, the Hillsborough families and survivors suffered what can only be described as cruelty, as innocent fans were cynically blamed for their own deaths. But that, as was later to become clear, was a web of lies spun by those seeking to protect their own reputations. I emphasise that point because although the disaster may have been more than 34 years ago, such baseless narratives inexplicably persist in some quarters today, so let me take this important opportunity to restate what is not a matter of opinion, but unassailable fact: fans attending Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989 bear absolutely no responsibility for the deaths and injuries that occurred. In making that statement, I echo what was said seven years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead at this Dispatch Box when she read out the full findings of the second inquests—namely, that 96 men, women and children were unlawfully killed.

Since then, Andrew Devine, who suffered life-changing injuries at Hillsborough, passed away on 27 July 2021, becoming the 97th fatality of the disaster. I would like to place on record my deepest sympathies to Mr Devine’s family and friends, and indeed to all those who lost loved ones.

The Government’s response to Bishop James’s report has been a long time coming—too long. For some of that time, it was necessarily held back to avoid prejudicing the outcomes of criminal trials, but there has been delay since and I recognise that this has only compounded the pain of the Hillsborough families and survivors. The Government apologise for that.

As the House will be aware, the Government’s response follows that of the police, which was published in January this year. Today, the Chief Coroner is also publishing his response, which relates to his leadership role regarding the coronial service. Collectively, these responses address the points raised by Bishop James, but this does not stop here. We will, of course, continue to listen to the families of those involved in all major incidents and to their concerns.

Bishop James’s report contains 25 points of learning. While he said that he considered each to be “vitally important”, he was clear that three in particular were, to use his word, “crucial”, so let me turn to those. First, he proposed the creation of a charter for families bereaved through public tragedy. Bishop James made it clear that he wanted to

“help bring about cultural change”

through commitments to change

“related to transparency and acting in the public interest.”

It is worth reflecting that, in setting out point of learning 13 regarding the Hillsborough law, which I will come on to, Bishop James says that he has “drawn heavily” on that law’s principles in the drafting of the charter, so it is worth taking a moment to consider the language of that charter. It commits signatories—the leaders of public bodies—to strive to place the public interest above the reputation of their own organisations; to approach all forms of public scrutiny, including public inquiries and inquests, with candour in an open, honest and transparent way; and to avoid seeking to defend the indefensible.

The Deputy Prime Minister has today signed what will be known as the Hillsborough charter on behalf of the Government. Other signatories to the charter include the National Police Chiefs’ Council on behalf of all 43 police forces, the College of Policing, the Crown Prosecution Service, the National Fire Chiefs Council and others. We want the charter to become part of the culture of what it means to be a public servant in Britain, so the Deputy Prime Minister will be writing to all Departments to ensure that everyone who works in Government is aware of the Hillsborough charter and what it means for the way they work. A reference to the charter will also be added to the central induction to the civil service for all new joiners. The Hillsborough charter and Bishop James’s report have also been added to the curriculum for every recruit who joins the police. This charter will now be embedded in our public life.

The second crucial point of learning from Bishop James’s report is what he described as the “pressing need” for the

“proper participation of bereaved families at inquests”.

Inquests are, first and foremost, about answering four questions: who, where, when and how an individual has died. However, as Bishop James highlighted, the Hillsborough families were let down by the very process that should have given them answers during the first inquests, and they then had to endure a second, which had been ordered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead. At the first inquests, the families were forced to fund their own legal representation, with a single barrister between them.

We recognise that proper involvement in an inquest will, in appropriate cases, mean that bereaved families should get legal representation, especially when the state is represented. That is why changes have been made such that, had the Hillsborough tragedy happened today, the families would have been eligible for free legal aid through the exceptional case funding scheme. The Government are determined to make this process as straightforward as possible, which is why in January 2022 the Ministry of Justice removed the means test for representation in relation to ECF cases and in September 2023 the means test was removed for legal advice at inquests. We want to build on this progress, so I can announce today that we will consult on an expansion of legal aid for families bereaved through public disaster where an independent public advocate is engaged—I will come back to that—or in the aftermath of a terrorist incident.

I acknowledge that Bishop James talks broadly about the proper participation of bereaved families at inquests where the state is represented. We will seek to further understand the experiences of these individuals, and I would welcome a conversation with Bishop James on that early in the new year.

We support the principle raised in Bishop James’s report that public bodies should not be able to spend “limitless” public funds on legal representation. That is why we have, for the first time, set out a requirement on Government Departments to

“consider the number of lawyers instructed bearing in mind the commitment to support an inquisitorial approach.”

We will now go on to set out that central Government public bodies should publish their spend on legal representation at inquests and inquiries, reaffirming that this spend should be proportionate, and never excessive.

We have also published a set of principles to guide how public bodies should instruct lawyers at inquests. These include a requirement to approach the inquest with openness and honesty and to keep in mind that the bereaved should be at the heart of the inquest process. We will also publish guidance to set the clear expectation that central Government public bodies must instruct their lawyers in accordance with the principles of the Hillsborough charter, because how lawyers engage with the inquest process and with the bereaved families matters.

I shall turn to the third of Bishop James’s three crucial points of learning: a duty of candour for police officers. As he described it, there is

“a gap in police accountability arrangements”

for officers who

“fail to cooperate fully with investigations into alleged criminal offences or misconduct.”

That is why a new offence of police corruption, applicable to police and National Crime Agency officers was introduced in 2017, punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. In 2020, we updated the Police (Conduct) Regulations to introduce a new duty to co-operate for individual officers during investigations and inquiries. Failure to do so can result in disciplinary sanctions, including dismissal. Last month, we introduced legislation to place an organisational duty of candour on policing. Through the Criminal Justice Bill, we will place a duty on the College of Policing to issue a code of practice for ethical policing, and for that code to include a duty of candour. This duty is designed to promote a culture of openness, honesty and transparency, and chief constables will be held to account for their forces’ performance against the code. The new code of practice has been laid in Parliament today.

We want to go beyond the police to consider healthcare settings too. In response to recent concerns about openness in those settings, we will be conducting a review into the effectiveness of the existing duty of candour for health and social care providers—the terms of reference for that have been published today.

I am aware that the Hillsborough law calls for a duty of candour on all public authorities. Since the Hillsborough disaster, a comprehensive framework of duties and obligations has developed, which covers public officials and the different official proceedings, such as inquests and inquiries. First, in central Government, the civil service code requires civil servants to act with honesty and integrity. A breach of the code can result in a range of sanctions, including dismissal. This sits alongside the Nolan principles providing that:

“Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.”

Secondly, the legal framework surrounding criminal investigations, statutory inquiries, inquests and most other formal proceedings requires that all individuals, regardless of whether they are a public official, co-operate with them. For example, there is a duty of candour in judicial review, which amounts to a duty on public authorities to lay cards “face up on the table”. When it comes to inquiries, importantly, these carry the potential for custodial sanction—prison sentences in plain English.

Thirdly, where a public official demonstrates a lack of candour, and where this forms part of their duty as a public office holder, they can potentially be guilty of misconduct in public office, which is a criminal offence. We will keep these changes under review to ensure that we achieve that culture of openness, honesty and candour, and we will not rule out taking further action if it is needed.

Today, the Government respond to all 25 points of learning, but I have focused this statement on those that Bishop James described as “crucial”. Very meaningful progress has been made, but we will not hesitate to go further if required. The discussions will continue, and the Government have committed to another debate in the new year to ensure that that dialogue progresses. I would also be happy to meet the Hillsborough families should they wish to discuss any aspect of the Government’s response.

Finally, I turn to improvements in the justice system. Bishop James made it searingly clear that the justice system, which should have supported victims and the bereaved after the tragedy, was not set up to do so. Our response sets out the steps this Government have taken to ensure that bereaved families and survivors in the immediate aftermath of a public tragedy are guided through what can be a difficult, complicated and forbidding process. Through the Victims and Prisoners Bill, we have introduced legislation to enable an independent public advocate. Once established, the IPA will be a strong voice for victims, the bereaved and whole communities affected by major incidents. The IPA, as promised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, will make sure that those affected by major incidents know their rights, can access support services, and have their voices heard at inquests and inquiries. Its design has been informed by the very difficulties that the Hillsborough families faced and our commitment to making sure that other families do not suffer the same injustices. That can include holding public bodies to account for their commitments to abide by the Hillsborough charter. I am also grateful for the contributions of some of the families of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and of the Manchester Arena bombing, telling us what would have helped them most in the aftermath of those terrible events.

After listening to concerns of the Hillsborough families, set out so powerfully when I met them earlier this year, as well as contributions from colleagues across the House—I am looking at the right hon. Member for Garston and Halewood here—I decided that we must go further by establishing a permanent IPA. It is vital that the IPA can be deployed as soon as possible after disaster strikes and that they have time in advance to be as prepared as possible. A permanent advocate will be able to advise the Government on their response to major incidents, such as any subsequent inquiries or reviews, and will ensure that the views of families are heard. Importantly, they will also report independently to government about the experiences of victims and bereaved families, as well as publishing an annual report. All such reports will be laid before Parliament.

The Hillsborough families have been unrelenting in their pursuit of justice, and Bishop James has done essential work to support the families and has faithfully discharged the commission put upon him by the then Home Secretary and former Prime Minister to capture their perspective, so that it was not lost following the second inquests. Today is therefore an important day. It does not provide closure for the families, of course. As Bishop James himself wrote,

“there can be no closure to love, nor should there be for someone you have loved and lost.”.

Grief is indeed a journey without a destination. But today is a milestone on that journey. It is a moment, I hope, when families will feel able to pause and take quiet pride in the enormity of what they have achieved, not for themselves, but for others—for the British people. But I hope they will serve to cement and strengthen the Hillsborough families’ legacy—the changes they have made to benefit an entire nation and to help ensure that never again can our people be so betrayed by the very organisations and institutions meant to protect them. I commend this statement to the House.

It is customary to thank the Government for advance sight of the statement, but given the gravity of this matter, the fact that the report being responded to has been with the Government for many years and the length of the Secretary of State’s statement this morning, I am disappointed to have received the copy of his statement much later than is customary.

To describe the events of 15 April 1989 as “far-reaching” is wholly inadequate. To say that they were “tragic” misses the point. The name “Hillsborough” stands to this day as an indictment of institutions, individuals and an entire culture in which transparency, accountability and even simple human compassion were absent. I was a child in 1989, when 95 people died at Hillsborough stadium in the worst sporting disaster in this nation’s history. Ten years later, alongside thousands of other law students, I learnt about the shockwaves that the events of that day were still sending through our courts, to the continuing pain of the families. That included the death in 1993 of the 96th victim, 22-year-old Anthony Bland, who spent four years in a persistent vegetative state before a court made legal history by agreeing that it was in his best interests to withdraw his feeding tube. Let us not forget that it was just two years ago that the disaster claimed its 97th victim, 55-year-old Andrew Devine, who had lived with a serious brain injury for more than three decades. It has now been 34 years, and to say that justice delayed is justice denied would be a significant understatement in this context. It is simply unendurable for any family to be made to wait this long for justice.

I wish to echo the words of the Secretary of State by paying tribute to Bishop James Jones; to the many campaigners, both inside and outside this House, who have worked for so long to establish the truth; and, above all, to the bereaved families. They have gone beyond what anyone should have to endure to secure justice not only for their loved ones but for the victims of future disasters. They are an inspiration, and I speak for the whole House in saying that all of us here know the debt we owe to all of them.

I turn to the detail of the remarks by the Secretary of State. The purpose of the Government’s response must be centred on the experience of the families, just as Bishop James’s report was, to ensure that their suffering is remembered and, crucially, is never repeated. That is the commitment that the Opposition, too, make: we will work to ensure that the Government’s proposals deliver meaningful justice. We welcome the commitment to consult on expanding legal aid for families bereaved in a public disaster, but there is nothing in what we have seen from the Government to date that goes as far as we believe is necessary to require public authorities to act with candour and transparency.

To the public, a duty on all public bodies to be forthcoming with the truth is a basic requirement if justice is to be done in the wake of terrible events that scar communities and change lives forever. Many will be shocked to hear that this does not already exist as a matter of law. The Hillsborough Law Now campaign which, as the Government know, includes bereaved families who are still fighting for accountability 34 years later, has told us that without an effective duty of candour in place, the risk is that reform will simply add another layer of bureaucracy to what victims must already endure. It is for this reason that over a year ago, the Leader of the Opposition committed to a Hillsborough law that would first and foremost impose a legal duty on public institutions, public servants and officials to act in the public interest and with transparency, candour and frankness when there has been a major incident.

The Secretary of State knows that we have sought to amend his recent Bill to introduce that more effective duty of candour during its passage through Parliament, but it is an approach that the Government have so far rejected. We will continue our efforts in that regard, because the Government’s requirement for a code of ethics is not enough.

We also welcome the commitment to a standing, independent public advocate, and have supported the change to the Victims and Prisoners Bill. However, as the Secretary of State knows, we also believe—and have said to him repeatedly—that the duty of candour is the missing piece, and it is vital to add it to make effective the changes that have been introduced in respect of the independent public advocate.

This issue is above party politics, but we have a duty to say to the Government that what they have announced does not yet go far enough. They must deliver on that vital promise that what happened in 1989, and has continued to happen to the families for 34 years, will never happen again.

I thank the hon. Lady for her response, and I shall seek to address each point in turn.

On the issue of legal aid, we absolutely accept that in this particular case there was a manifest and completely unacceptable lack of equality of arms, because it was treated as an adversarial process, which was completely inimical to what the inquiry should have been designed to get to the bottom of. The culture was wrong, in terms of how the lawyers approached it, and the equality of arms was non-existent. We have sought to address that in two ways. First, in appropriate cases that become adversarial because people are defensive as they have probably got something wrong, it is necessary for the families to have the legal arms to take that on. That is why, if this happened today, that funding would be in place. This is not small amounts of funding; the total amount spent, quite properly—I have no complaints about this—in the second inquest was around £65 million. This is a very significant change that has already been made. As I say, we are consulting on whether we should go further still.

The critical issue is, of course, about candour. The importance of changing the culture runs through Bishop James Jones’ report like a message through a stick of rock. Across the House—as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, this is not a party political issue—we must do everything possible to change that culture. On the IPA, it is important to note that in point of learning 1, which was about the charter, Bishop James said:

“I welcome the government’s commitment…to create an independent public advocate to act for bereaved families after a public disaster. Once a public advocate has been appointed, I offer the charter to them as a benchmark against which they may assess the way in which public bodies treat those bereaved by public tragedy”,

before going on to talk about the text of the charter. We hope that it will play a very important part in embedding that culture and holding people to account, but this job is not over. We continue to have the discussion, and I look forward to engaging with the hon. Lady about it.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his statement and welcome the Government’s response, although like him, I bemoan the fact that it has taken so long to respond to this report. Not only did I commission it when I was in office, but it reported when I was still in office.

What underpinned the approach of the organs of the state at Hillsborough was a desire to protect themselves and their reputation, rather than serve the public they were there to protect or, indeed, search for truth and justice. That attitude did not occur just on that day: it has continued from those public authorities through the decades since. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree, therefore, that almost the most important point in the charter is that it requires organisations to place the public interest above their own reputation? What specific steps will the Government be taking to ensure that that culture is instilled across the whole public sector.

As always, my right hon. Friend gets to the heart of the matter. The critical and most important point in the charter is No. 2:

“Place the public interest above our own reputations.”

As my right hon. Friend has said, those are words; she has asked how they will be woven into the culture. One powerful example is that today, the code of practice for ethical policing is being published. That code states in paragraph 4.5 on page 7, under the chapter heading “Ensuring openness and candour”, that

“Chief officers have a duty to ensure openness and candour within their force, which will include the following. Implementing the Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy (see Hillsborough stadium disaster: lessons that must be learnt).”

It will be there at the point of training for officers and induction for civil servants. It is going to become part of the warp and weft of this country—part of the culture of what it means to be a civil servant in Britain.

As someone with great affection for the people of Liverpool and Merseyside, I start by saying that our thoughts are once again with the Hillsborough families. I join the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) in her qualified thanks for advance sight of the statement. I was pleased that the Lord Chancellor thanked and congratulated hon. Members, as well as Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, for their work in this area.

I have three questions for the Lord Chancellor. First, the chief executive of the College of Policing has described Hillsborough as a touchstone for change, but in the years since, we have sadly seen a familiar culture of cover-up in relation to tragedies such as Grenfell and the infected blood scandal. The Lord Chancellor appears to accept the principle; does he also accept that at some point, the public will tire of hearing about promised cultural change without visible action accompanying it? Secondly, no police officer has been disciplined or convicted of any offence relating to the Hillsborough disaster. Does he agree that in cases where it is proven that false evidence was given or inaccurate statements were made, retrospective action up to and including prosecution must take place?

Finally, part of the reason why the police were able to avoid full scrutiny around Hillsborough for so long was irresponsible reporting of the disaster by sections of the media. Is the Lord Chancellor convinced that reforms in that area have gone far enough, or does he agree with many of us that more reform in that area is sadly needed?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those helpful and pertinent questions. Let me turn first to the issue of the police. Yes, it is one thing to set the culture, which, I think it is reasonable to point out, will now be woven into police training, but accountability matters, too. One thing that matters is that schedule 2 to the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020, which, of course, post-date the report, includes the following: police officers must be

“honest, act with integrity and...not compromise or abuse their position”,

and

“Police officers have a responsibility to give appropriate cooperation during investigations, inquiries and formal proceedings, participating openly and professionally in line with the expectations of a police officer when identified as a witness.”

Those standards are in the regulations. Their breach would provide a powerful case, as the hon. Gentleman may think, for dismissal or other suitable sanction.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about retrospectivity, plainly, if evidence comes to light about behaviour at the time, it can be considered in the normal way. I hope that he will be encouraged by knowing that the offence of misconduct in a public office is being considered by the Law Commission, with its usual and typical diligence, and we will respond in the new year. It is reasonable to observe that it has not operated as we might have liked, and is susceptible to reform. We are giving that very active attention.

On the media and irresponsible coverage, my goodness, the hon. Gentleman has a point. I think that there still needs to be a live conversation about whether things have gone far enough.

The delay in the report has been unacceptable, but it is absolutely no fault of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. I thank him for his statement, for its tone, which was characteristically generous-spirited, and for the work that he has done to expedite it.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it will be important to pick up on some of the learning from two Justice Committee reports on the coronial system and on pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Victims Bill? Does he agree that, to achieve the proper outcome of a legacy for the victims of Hillsborough, we should work to the position where it would be the norm for there to be proper legal representation for victims and bereaved families at inquests? That should be the norm rather than any form of exception.

Secondly, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the duty of candour should extend, in terms of legal representation by Government Departments, to the fullest and earliest possible disclosure of all relevant materials that are in the hands of Departments and their lawyers? Thirdly, does he agree that we should work with the excellent current Chief Coroner, whose predecessor gave powerful evidence to our Committee, to ensure that there is greater consistency in the standards and approach within the coronial system, which has not always been the case in the past? Does he agree that those are important matters, together with the assurance of equality of arms across the piece?

Those are very helpful points. First, I pay tribute to the Justice Committee for its work, particularly the work on coroners’ inquests. Indeed, in preparation for this statement, I went back and re-read some of the evidence given by the then Chief Coroner, Mark Lucraft, in which he talked about this important issue of equality of arms. He made the point—from his position as Chief Coroner, no less—that, yes, there are of course cases in which it is important to have legal representation. We have made enormous strides, as has been indicated. Equally, there will be those in which legal representation sometimes does not help terribly. That is why we have to proceed with care.

The key issue is equality of arms, as my hon. Friend rightly points out. The business about candour as regards early disclosure is critical. One important point that can sometimes be lost is that, lest we forget, under section 35 of the Inquiries Act 2005, it is possible for someone to be held criminally liable, on pain of a custodial sentence, if they fail to act with candour in terms of producing information to an inquiry. That, it seems to me, is an important sanction, and I hope that judges will not hesitate to use it in appropriate circumstances.

Bishop James called his report “The patronising disposition of unaccountable power”—the key word is “unaccountable.” Thirty-four years after 97 men, women and children were unlawfully killed at a televised event, for which the public inquiry interim report pinned the blame on the police within four months, no one has been held accountable for what happened at Hillsborough, and now nobody will be. Accountability is key here. Although culture change is good, we need legal change, too. The failure to legislate for a full duty of candour for all public officials or to put the charter for families bereaved by public tragedy into statute is inexplicable. As the Lord Chancellor knows, I still think that the independent public advocate’s powers need to be beefed up

As the Lord Chancellor knows, I still think that the independent public advocate’s powers need to be beefed up to include an ability to compel transparency and be a data controller in order to torpedo attempts to cover up—what went wrong at Hillsborough was a cover-up, as much as anything. Will the Lord Chancellor reconsider his apparent unwillingness to legislate to make it clear that this House and our nation require accountability, require candour and require public authorities and those who work for them to act in the best interests of those bereaved in the appalling public tragedies that have occurred and will continue to occur?

I thank the right hon. Lady and say, entirely fairly, I hope, that the merits in this response—and it can reasonably be observed that there are a great number—are due in considerable part to her efforts in engaging with me to make changes and improvements.

On the issue of the independent public advocate, for example, there is no doubt—others have fed in as well, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), the former Prime Minister—that the IPA will be permanent. That was not the original proposal. It will be able to make reports of its own motion come before this House, and not just at the instigation of the state. It will also be able to make recommendations about what sort of inquiry should take place afterwards. That could be, as the right hon. Lady knows, some sort of independent panel along the lines of the ones set up by Alan Johnson as Home Secretary, or it could be a statutory or non-statutory inquiry. This IPA is of a different order of muscularity from the one originally envisaged, and the right hon. Lady has played an important part in that.

The right hon. Lady and I have discussed the Hillsborough law. There are countervailing considerations, as she knows, but the point is that my door remains open, the conversation remains live and we will have a debate about the issue, I hope, in the new year. I look forward to discussing these matters further.

My right hon. and learned Friend’s statement goes some way to tackling the institutional behaviour that puts the reputational damage of organisations and public confidence in them ahead of the interests of the people they are meant to serve, but his comments have been very much in the context of major public incidents. How far does he think the expectations enshrined in the charter can be applied to individual cases? I speak with particular reference to suicide. Quite often, bereaved families attend inquests where the players are keen to avoid any suggestion of liability; that could conflict with what he has described in terms of a duty of candour.

I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that critical point. The issue is not just about major disasters, important though they are. When something dreadful has happened, the victims and families do not want to find themselves in an unnecessarily adversarial situation or one where people are, frankly, trying to save their own skins and showing institutional defensiveness.

A lot of the issue comes down to culture, frankly; we are aware of that. There are two things to say. First, on the equality of arms, if exceptional case funding is involved—that is to do with article 2; there are certain thresholds—there will be legal representation. On culture, we have provided a new document, which includes the principles guiding the Government’s approach when they hold interested person status at an inquest. Those include approaching

“the inquest with openness and honesty, including supporting the disclosure of all relevant and disclosable information to the coroner.”

In other words, the state should not be in the position of being defensive, whether there has been a major disaster or the case relates only to an individual.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his statement today and for the empathy and decency he has shown on the subject of Hillsborough. I also thank him for his words about football supporters not being to blame; that means a lot to a lot of people.

I am sorry, but that is where my thank you ends. Like many others, I feel let down today—as if we are a world away from the effective legislation that we desperately need. I am really worried that what has been decided will not prevent another Hillsborough-style state cover-up. Bishop James Jones called for a duty of candour on police officers, but the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill mentions the duty of candour in clause 73 only in the context of a code of conduct. I feel that that is an insult to those affected by state cover-ups and to the memory of the 97. It does not establish or define the duty in law and provides no mechanism for compliance. Crucially, the Government will not today introduce a statutory duty of candour on all public officials, as demanded by Hillsborough Law Now campaigners and, thankfully, supported by my own party.

Secretary of State, without a legal duty of candour on all public servants hard-wired into our justice system, we will see continued injustices from public officials who lie on the stand, acting with impunity and no consequences. I had hoped that today the Secretary of State would push back against the powerful vested interests that do not want to see this accountability in law, but, sadly, I feel as though they have won once again. Will the Secretary of State reflect on the comments from across the House and work with us to ensure that we get a true Hillsborough law that the 97, and everyone else who has suffered injustice at the hands of the state, fully deserve?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words at the outset. I listened very carefully to what he said subsequently. He asked me if I will reflect. Of course I will reflect. I will listen very carefully to what has been said. We are here to respond to Bishop James’s report, which was not principally about the points that have moved on since, which I know we all recognise. We want to change the culture. We remain committed to changing the culture, and I will continue to have conversations about how we achieve that most effectively.

I was just reflecting on the fact that the last time we were here in the Chamber talking about this issue we were advised that the response would be produced in spring, so it is welcome to have it today. I welcome its general tone and nature. It was not just a lack of interest in finding the truth that was the issue; it was the fact that organs of the state set out to smear people, to lie and to cover up in order to save their own skin. We can say that it was 30 years ago, but we saw worrying similarities at the Stade de France—although it is not in our jurisdiction—when there was an attempt to blame fans for a complete overreaction from the French law enforcement authorities to some incidents there.

I found it interesting when the Secretary of State talked about the spend on legal representation, which is often disproportionate. He says it will be proportionate. Who will determine that? Let us remember that some of the public bodies thought it was perfectly proportionate to waste millions of pounds on trying to save their own skins, rather than on finding justice.

That is an excellent point. My hon. Friend asks who will determine what is proportionate. The whole point about encouraging Departments to publish material is that the public can make an assessment of whether it is proportionate. Frankly, that is an ordinary English word and people should know what it means. If they do not, that will become clear.

I, too, thank the Lord Chancellor for today’s statement, which, as he conceded, is long overdue. I add my tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) for the painstaking work she did to expose the evidence that existed but had never been taken into account. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who recognised that there was an injustice that had to be put right and who set up the process by which Bishop James was able to bring all the lies and cover-ups to light.

Following the Hillsborough disaster, I and two of my constituents—Mr and Mrs Joynes, who had lost a son at Hillsborough—attended part of the first inquest. I was shocked by the extent to which that inquest was such a travesty; it seemed to be aimed at blaming the fans, rather than the authorities, for what happened. One thing that came out of that—I have said this before—is that there was a massive effort to stereotype football fans as responsible for something they were actually victims of. I welcome the fact that there will be a public advocate, but to be absolutely certain, we need to put that role on the statute book.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the support he has given to his constituents. I can confirm that the IPA is being put on the statute book.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor for bringing forward today’s statement. Hillsborough is synonymous with cover-up. Innocent victims were blamed for the failures of the police and the emergency services, and whistleblowers were pivotal in bringing forward a lot of the evidence. It is important that we have a duty of candour within the police service. Right across public services, candour should be the golden thread that links them together. With whistleblowers being so important on this issue and others, will he also look at having an office for the whistleblower so that, rather than simply relying on the duty of candour, people in organisations would know where to go to raise an issue or to get help?

I thank my hon. Friend for that typically thoughtful and helpful suggestion. She makes an excellent point. Already in the civil service code, there ought to be arrangements for people to do precisely that, but, if we need to go further, let us discuss that. I would be happy to have that conversation with her.

I wonder if I could explore with the Lord Chancellor what he said about Bishop James’s recommendation on the pressing need for the proper participation of bereaved families at inquests. In the summer, the Joint Committee on Human Rights held an evidence session on a proposed Hillsborough law and strengthening human rights. We were particularly interested in the impact of the inequality of funding for legal representatives between the state and bereaved families at inquests and inquiries. In evidence, witnesses argued strongly that there should be proportionate equality of arms, distinguishing that from mere parity of arms, and they saw the wider use of exceptional case funding for article 2 cases as one way of achieving that. Does he agree with that evidence?

The hon. and learned Lady makes an excellent point. Of course, we think there should be equality of arms. The only point of potential hesitation comes from the evidence of the Chief Coroner—as I said, I was reading that in my preparation—who said that there are some cases where although the state is represented and is an interested party, adding lawyers would not necessarily assist. As he put it in paragraph 97 of his written evidence:

“There are also arguments which could be advanced that simply adding more lawyers in to the system would not necessarily, uniformly help bereaved families in all cases.”

In our view, it will depend on the case. There will be some cases—this is one—where it is manifestly necessary. There are others where there must be a more judicious approach.

I am privileged to be able to watch regular football in Bracknell, Reading and Aldershot. Following the Lord Chancellor’s statement, is he content that sufficient legal and institutional protections are in place to help prevent another event like Hillsborough?

I think that most recognise that significant changes have taken place. I hope we can feel confident that something like that could not happen, but, in the dreadful event that it were to, we need to be sure that the resources and support are in place so that families do not have to suffer as those years ago did.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for the manner in which he opened his statement, but it is really not good enough that it has taken so long to get to this point. I want to put on record my deep disappointment that we have waited this long for today. I also think that to get the change that has been described, what is being proposed is not good enough.

To achieve what we want through the legal process requires, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) pointed out so correctly, public bodies to place the public interest—that of the citizens of our country—above the reputations of their own organisations. As the Lord Chancellor said, it is not just about who is represented but about how lawyers engage in the inquest process and indeed with the bereaved families. It is about not just about establishing inquests and inquiries but the culture of candour day in, day out, which he talked about. I am not a lawyer—he is—but I think that lawyers respond to the law. That is at the heart of why we are so disappointed not to have a Hillsborough law. I do not want a debate in January; I want a law. Will he meet me and other Members of the House to discuss how we move forward from this point?

My door is always open. Of course, I will speak to the hon. Lady and others. It is also important to recognise that part of the statutory framework has moved on. I have talked about the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020, for example, and I recognise, as did Bishop James Jones, that the key thing we want to do is to change the culture, and the law plays a part in that. There have been changes, so let us have a discussion in due course.

We cannot repeat often enough, because I do not think it is understood, just what a web of deceit and lies was put forward by parts of the state, particularly the police and others, over the years. That had an effect on the families who lost loved ones. I was there on the day, in those terrible circumstances. We do not forget how bad it was. I sat through a number of days of the second inquest, and lies were still being told until the families’ lawyers produced video evidence to say, “There you are. You didn’t do what you said.” I was astounded. All those years later and people stuck to those lies.

As I said to the Justice Secretary earlier, we can have a culture change, but what happened at that inquest, and all the way up to it, shows that the problem is so deep that it needs something stronger. That is why the duty of candour needs a basis in legislation. I understand that there are some issues, whether it be national security or confidentiality, but we can get round that. The Justice Secretary has indicated that he will listen, so will he listen and make sure there is a legal, statutory duty?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who speaks with particular authority on these points. He talks about the second inquest, at which people continued to demonstrate a kind of institutional defensiveness. He may feel that what made a difference was that lawyers were there to hold people to account—that is the equality of arms point. I respectfully suggest that it is important to recognise that we are now in a situation where, in this kind of case, there will be lawyers to try to expose precisely that kind of defensiveness, which is extremely important. I deeply respect the points that he makes, but he knows there are countervailing issues, to which he briefly adverted. Of course, we will have a conversation in due course.

There are Members of this House who had not been born when Hillsborough happened, and we have all had lives, careers and families. For the families of the victims to have waited that length of time for justice is intolerable, and it has been compounded by not having the one thing that would ensure they felt justice—the knowledge that it cannot happen again. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that perhaps the only way the families will ever feel they have justice is if we have a Hillsborough law to prevent it from happening again?

The critical thing, of course, is that we have to change the culture and ensure that people are held to account for that culture. There are important changes in these measures, as I hope the House will agree. I have indicated that I am prepared to discuss what further steps are required.

It has taken six years to get to today’s Hillsborough charter but, like many, I ask why it is not a Hillsborough law. The delay for the families of the 97 has been completely unacceptable. Can I press the Lord Chancellor again on why the Government have launched a consultation on improving legal aid for victims of public disasters? Why not simply legislate to do it?

Because we have already taken very great steps. As I indicated, the sums involved are very significant. The second inquest alone was around £65 million. We are consulting on going further in respect of terrorism and cases where the IPA is appointed, but as no lesser authority than a former Chief Coroner has indicated, one has to proceed with caution in this space. We will have a consultation, and we will take sensible steps thereafter.

I start by paying tribute to the families and my city for their determination for justice, and to James Jones for his report. However, six years and seven Home Secretaries later, it does not go far enough. We need a duty of candour, so can the Lord Chancellor confirm that the families seeking justice for Grenfell and Manchester Arena will get the support and the justice they deserve?

I thank the hon. Lady, and she is absolutely right that there needs to be a duty of candour. Indeed, that is the single most important thing that comes out of the Hillsborough charter, and it will be buttressed and supported, and people will be held to account, by an independent public advocate.

On the duty of candour set out in the “Code of Practice for Ethical Policing”, which has been published today, why is the duty to “ensure openness and candour” only on chief officers? Why is it not on every individual officer?

Well, it is. There are two aspects to this. Under the code, it is right that chief officers should have to be responsible for the culture and practice within their organisation. But there is also a further duty that exists on police officers, through the 2020 regulations I referred to earlier, and those can of course sound in disciplinary sanctions, including dismissal. So it is available for both.

Contaminated blood, Grenfell, Hillsborough—the one thing they all have in common is that ordinary people suffered an incredible tragedy, and then the authorities and the establishment circled the wagons to deny them justice. What this report has exposed is a failure at the centre of the establishment to serve the public. This report is calling for candour from the people who represent such public bodies, so why is it that the Government, after all this time, have come back and said no to that one request?

Respectfully, that is not quite a fair representation. Bishop James Jones, in his point of learning 1, talked about the Hillsborough charter, and in paragraph 3 of that recommendation, he talked about candour. We have accepted that entirely. Bishop James Jones’s report was not about the law, although he adverted to it. As I have said, we are going to have further discussions, but it is important to notice what steps have been taken thus far.

People, including those personally affected by the Hillsborough tragedy, will have listened to the Government’s response today and been deeply disappointed. What is needed, among other things, is a duty of candour right across all public organisations, but also private organisations that are public-facing, such as those involved in social housing, for example. What is also needed is real equality of arms—not just some legal aid for the bereaved, but full equality of arms, meaning the same spending for victims as for public bodies.

The Opposition support a Hillsborough law, and a Hillsborough law is necessary, as the families have called for, to deliver this. Since the Opposition support it, the Government could have got this through and passed it in a number of weeks, and they still can. I urge the Government, before the next general election, to work with the Opposition across the House to get this passed. It is what the bereaved families and those communities deserve, and it is what people in future deserve as well.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his observations, which I listened to with care. On the issue of equality of arms, it has to be observed, I hope, that the changes that have been made are extremely significant, not least because there is a commitment to ensure is proportionality, so we can no longer go back to a situation where the state is apparently using its deep pockets to unfairly load the dice against victims. That is being changed, and we are very committed to that direction of travel.

I listened very carefully to the Lord Chancellor’s very considered statement, and the question that comes to mind is: why not? Why not have a Hillsborough law? That has not been answered.

This has, of course, been considered very carefully across Government Departments, and there are countervailing interests, which I am very happy to discuss with the hon. Member. There are issues of concern, and if we look at how the Bill was initially drafted by Andy Burnham, there was a very low bar—[Interruption.] Well, there is a lot of complexity to it, and I am very happy to discuss it with the hon. Member. However, the central point I want to get across today is that Bishop James Jones was talking about changing the culture. As he himself has noted, legislation is not always the answer; changing the culture is critically important. Through this charter, with the IPA, we will make enormous strides towards ensuring that this is part of what it means to be a public service in Britain.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his statement, and I commend the right hon. and hon. Opposition Members who have fought doggedly the whole way through. At the heart of any announcement about Hillsborough should be the victims and the families they left behind, who are devastated by the lack of urgency that they see from the Government. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that at the crux of any legislation for a public disaster, the onus should be in favour of the victims and their families? Will he ensure that the correct provisions are in place finally to compensate those who still live with that tragic event each and every minute of each and every day?

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. For the victims, the pain never ends, and “grief is a journey”, as Bishop James Jones reported. It is totally unacceptable for victims to be left floundering in the agony of their grief in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy. That is why we set up the IPA and why it will be permanent, ready to swing into action not just to provide assistance, support and information, but to hold the relevant agencies to account.

I have listened carefully to what the Lord Chancellor has said, and I thank him for his measured, comprehensive and frank approach. The primary question to be asked is whether he genuinely believes that the families of the bereaved and those affected will be satisfied with what he has said.

This statement is intended to respond to the 25 points of learning in Bishop James Jones’s report. Of course, because of the delay, which I have been pretty candid was too long, there has been a development in thinking thereafter, but the three of those points that were identified in particular by Bishop James Jones—the Hillsborough charter, the equality of arms and the police duty of candour—have been fulfilled, and I think they have been fulfilled in a way that massively advances the state of our country. Of course people want to have further discussion—I respect that and will of course accommodate them—but it is important to note that in terms of what was requested, very significant changes have been made.

Gender Recognition

It is this Government’s policy that the UK does not recognise self-identification for the purpose of obtaining a gender recognition certificate. However, the Government are determined that everyone should be able to live their lives free from unfair discrimination. We are proud to have passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and Turing’s law. We also introduced a modernised and affordable gender-recognition process, while recognising the need to maintain checks and balances.

Today, we are laying an order to update the list of approved overseas countries and territories for parliamentary approval. That is provided for under section 1(1)(b) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and follows previous periodic updates. This is long overdue. The list of approved overseas countries and territories was last updated in 2011. A commitment was made to keep the list under review, so this is a further step in implementing our response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation.

We are doing this because some countries and territories on the list have made changes to their systems and would not now be considered to have similarly rigorous systems as the UK’s. Inadvertently allowing self-ID for obtaining GRCs is not Government policy. It should not be possible for a person who does not satisfy the criteria for UK legal gender recognition to use the overseas route to do so. We also need to ensure parity with UK applicants: it would not be fair for the overseas route to be based on less rigorous evidential requirements. That would damage the integrity and credibility of the process in the Gender Recognition Act.

We have finalised details of overseas countries and territories to be removed and added to the list laid today via an affirmative statutory instrument. We have undertaken thorough checks in collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to verify our understanding of each overseas system in question and measure it against the UK’s standard route to obtain gender recognition.

My officials and I formally engaged with colleagues and Ministers from devolved Governments in advance of laying this statutory instrument. The Government are committed to ensuring that this outcome of the 2020 Gender Recognition Act consultation is followed through and upheld, and the overseas list will be updated via statutory instrument more regularly in future.

This work is important because of the complex interactions between the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010. The complexity of the legal situation was reinforced by the judgment in December 2022 by Lady Haldane in the judicial review brought by For Women Scotland, upheld on appeal last month by the Inner House of the Court of Session, which effectively stated that a gender recognition certificate changes a person’s sex for the purposes of the protections conferred by the Equality Act. Labour’s Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Equality Act 2010 did not envisage that the words “sex” and “gender” would be used as differently as they are today. That is having an impact on all policy that draws on those Acts, including on tackling conversion practices and guidance for gender-questioning children.

To that end, I am exploring how we can rectify these issues across the board and provide legal certainty. That will reduce the tensions that have emerged as a result of the confusion around the terms “sex” and “gender”, first by ensuring that we are evidence-led in the approach we take—for example, when considering appropriate treatment of children on the NHS, we should be fully informed by the final report from the Cass review, which is due early next year; given the complexity of this area, the review is understandably taking longer than originally expected—secondly, by ensuring consistency in how we implement policy across the board; and thirdly, by exploring whether we need more clarity in law. For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recommended that we clarify the definition of sex in the Equality Act, while ensuring that any further proposed legislation fully takes into account the complexity of issues.

We should not leave ordinary people to suffer unintended consequences because we in Parliament are shy of dealing with difficult issues. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for Women and Equalities for advance sight of her statement. I welcome the chance to respond to her on these important issues. Such opportunities are vanishingly rare, given that I believe this is the first oral statement she has made on the women and equalities brief this year. Like Santa Claus, it seems she gets to work when Christmas is around the corner.

I started this morning by joining a debate on the Government’s continued failure to ban conversion practices, a promise that was made over half a decade ago. I was sorry not to see the Minister there to explain that failure in person—no conversion practices ban, no commitment to making every strand of hate crime an aggravated offence in order to tackle the staggering rise in violent hate crime targeting LGBT+ people, and no provision to schools of the guidance that has been promised repeatedly but not delivered. She has been unable to deliver in any of those areas, and she even tried in her statement to say that legislation passed over 13 years ago has caused those delays—you couldn’t make it up.

Let us be clear. There are millions of British LGBT+ people in this country. I would love to hear from the right hon. Lady what she is doing for them, after her Government ditched their LGBT action plan, disbanded their LGBT advisory panel and frittered away taxpayers’ money on a cancelled international conference that LGBT+ organisations refused to attend.

Of course it is important that the list of approved countries is kept up to date. That was what Labour provided for when we passed the GRA back in 2004. The list was last amended in 2011, when two countries were removed from it and nine added. At that time, the Government said that they expected that it would be necessary to update the list

“within the next five years.”

Here we are 12 years later and the Minister has just got around to it. That is the kind of timescale our country has grown used to when it comes to Conservative delivery. Indeed, even she herself said that it is long overdue.

The right hon. Lady outlined several changes, and it is important that we understand fully why the decisions have been made. Why is there so little information on why they have been taken? As just one example, as I understand it, Germany approved self-ID this summer, but it is still on the list. Is that because its changes apply to birth certificates rather than to GRCs—it does not have such a certificate—or is it because of the timing of its reforms? There is no clarity and no information. We are talking about likely very small numbers of people, but for those individuals it is important to get this right. It is extremely difficult to determine the Department’s approach on the basis of an extremely thin explanation.

Many people living in this country who hold GRCs from the overseas route will be worried about what this means for them. Will the Minister be clear—do the changes impact their rights in any way? What about those with applications that are still outstanding?

As a result of the changes, many countries that are close allies of the UK have been removed from the list. Will the Minister explain whether she has had bilateral discussions with each of them over the implications of this move? She referred to thorough checks, but not to any bilateral engagement; does that mean that none took place? If so, why was there no such engagement on an issue on which I suspect we as the UK would expect to be consulted were the shoe on the other foot?

On that note, what assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the changes on the mutual recognition of UK GRCs in other countries? Did she consult her newly appointed colleague in the other place, the Foreign Secretary, about the diplomatic impact of the changes? If so, does he agree with them? I note that, for example, China is now on the approved list, but our four closest Five Eyes allies are not.

The Minister mentioned that there was consultation with the Scottish and Northern Irish authorities, but she did not say what the upshot of that was. She also did not indicate what the impact of the change is on our arrangements with Ireland. Will she please clarify that?

Finally, changes to the rights of foreign nationals in this country may lead to wider concerns about the mut