Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more.

House of Commons Hansard

Commons Chamber

20 February 2017
Volume 621

    House of Commons

    Monday 20 February 2017

    The House met at half-past Two o’clock

    Prayers

    [Mr Speaker in the Chair]

    Business before Questions

    Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Health Service Commissioner for England (Answer to Address)

    The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 24 January, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Robert Fredrick Behrens CBE to the offices of Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Health Service Commissioner for England, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.

    Oral Answers to Questions

    Work and Pensions

    The Secretary of State was asked—

    Benefits Cap

  • 1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the benefit cap on households in Scotland. [908755]

  • 23. What assessment he has made of the effect of the benefit cap on households in Scotland. [908779]

  • Work is the best route out of poverty, and the benefit cap has been successful in encouraging people into work. Since its introduction, almost 62% of households in Scotland have found work, reduced their housing benefit claim or no longer claim housing benefit at all after having their benefits capped.

  • Does the Minister agree with paragraph 90 of the fiscal framework, which states:

    “The Governments have also agreed that the UK government’s Benefit Cap will be adjusted to accommodate any additional benefit payments introduced by the Scottish Government.”?

  • Of course we agree with the fiscal framework, as the Government drew it up, in conjunction with the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government already have extensive benefits powers if they wish to introduce them, but the fact that they do not is a matter for the hon. Gentleman to take up with his colleagues in that Government.

  • Writing in today’s Daily Record, Scotland’s First Minister has commented that the Scottish Government have yet to receive “confirmation” from the UK Government that when we abolish the bedroom tax the benefit cap will not be applied. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to guarantee that there will be no clawback of social security funding when Scotland abolishes the hated bedroom tax?

  • I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), because it is for the Scottish Government to take these decisions. They have the power to give benefits, increase benefits and make supplementary payments beyond the benefits available throughout the UK. It is noteworthy that they fail to exercise those powers and Scottish National party Members come to this House to complain about benefits in Scotland, despite having the power to do something about it themselves.

  • I support the Government’s strategy in this area, but does the Secretary of State accept that those who support it have concerns about what might be happening, certainly in the short run, to families so affected? What research is he carrying out to make sure that those who can move into work do so and that those who cannot do so are looked at sympathetically?

  • The right hon. Gentleman makes a characteristically reasonable point, to which I make two responses. The first is that those who are put into hardship have available to them discretionary housing payments, which have been extensively used by local authorities throughout the country precisely to avoid the problem that he suggests. Secondly, on the other point he makes, some of the research we have done shows that households that have been capped are 41% more likely to go into work than similar, uncapped households. So the policy is very successful in encouraging people to get back to work, which of course is the best thing for them in the long run.

  • During the passage of the Scotland Bill, UK Ministers gave me and others clear assurances that any income derived from new benefits or top-ups introduced by the Scottish Government using new powers would not simply be clawed back from claimants through the benefit cap or other forms of means-testing, and those commitments were reflected in the fiscal framework. Will the Secretary of State therefore give a cast-iron assurance that that is still the UK Government’s position?

  • The UK Government’s position has not changed at all and nor, so far, has the Scottish Government’s, which is that they are not prepared to take or exercise the powers that they have.

  • With respect, that is just nonsense; the Scottish Government are working towards the already-published timetable. But there should be absolutely no ambiguity here, so will the Secretary of State now commit that he, his Ministers and his officials will engage positively with Scottish Ministers as they use those new powers to abolish the bedroom tax in Scotland?

  • I, along with both my Ministers and my officials, engage positively with the Scottish Government all the time. I know that because I go to the meetings, and I have engaged positively with them on this and all the other important issues that we have to discuss in this field.

  • Mental Health: Support

  • 2. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that people with mental health conditions are supported into work. [908757]

  • 8. What steps his Department is taking to support people with mental illness into work. [908764]

  • We have been seeking views on this through the “Work, Health and Disability” Green Paper. We are also investing £100 million in trialling voluntary employment initiatives to consider what works for this group, including embedding employment advisers within the NHS talking therapy services.

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that local voluntary groups, such as the Talk It Out mental health group in my constituency, do invaluable work to help people to be work-ready, and that we must do more to support them?

  • I agree that voluntary organisations have huge insight and expertise that we can tap into, and I commend the work of Talk It Out in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We are recruiting 200 community partners throughout the Jobcentre Plus network so that we can ensure we reach all those organisations and benefit from their huge experience and wisdom.

  • What consideration has been given to providing tax breaks to employers that hire employees with a certified mental health illness, as proposed by the National Autistic Society and others?

  • My hon. Friend has hit on a theme of the Green Paper. Much work is going on in this area, not only for those with mental illness but for those with a learning disability. One health trial is currently looking at discounting business rates for employers with good mental health practice.

  • The Government’s laudable aspiration to halve the disability employment gap is completely meaningless without a date being attached to it. What is the Minister’s latest assessment of how long it will take to halve that gap?

  • The target of halving the disability employment gap is at the same time both hugely ambitious and hugely underwhelming. We should be working to ensure that everyone can reach their full potential. I have asked the Department—the right hon. Gentleman’s office will have been supplied with this information—to look at the local need in all our constituencies. How many people with a learning disability do we need to ensure can get into work? How many people with particular conditions are we focused on? We need to focus on those numbers, not on some arbitrary formula that will change with all sorts of other factors. The labour market survey will still contain all the measures it has contained in the past, but if we are really to crack this issue we need to focus everyone locally on the local numbers.

  • I agree with the aim that the Minister has outlined, but in my constituency office the overwhelming issue, particularly for those with mental health conditions, is the assessment process for personal independence payments, which is causing individuals real distress and great worry about their future and their ability to support themselves. I welcome the work being done with local partners, because at the moment the system is not working. The sooner the Government realise that, the better.

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. We are clearly looking to reform the work capability assessment on employment and support allowance. That affords us some opportunities to look at the PIP assessment process, to which there have already been many improvements. If we can ensure that both those systems are sharing data properly, we should be able to reduce the burden on the claimant.

  • 12. What are the Government doing to raise awareness of the Access to Work programme and the support it can offer to employers who want to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities? [908768]

  • The Access to Work programme is popular, and is just one of the Government’s schemes to provide support and financial assistance to employers. One way in which we are publicising that is through the Disability Confident scheme, which we relaunched last autumn. Around 4,000 organisations have now signed up to it, and it is one way of ensuring that employers really do understand the support that is there for them, as well as the huge talent and insight that this group of people can bring to their workforce.

  • Many people with mental health problems pay the bedroom tax. Three months ago, the Government lost three cases in the Supreme Court that had been brought by disabled people over the bedroom tax. How has the Department identified other disabled people who should not be paying that tax, and when will disabled people in Bermondsey and Old Southwark and across the country stop having to pay it?

  • As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a discretionary fund that is administered at a local level. Many local authorities have not accessed the fund. The vast majority of people, including those who are disabled, are exempt from the scheme. If he has examples of cases where that is not happening, he should write to us and let us know.

  • 22. What are the Government doing to draw on the expertise of charities and other third sector organisations to help find the best way to support those most in need into the workplace, as many charities have much experience in supporting those with mental health conditions? [908778]

  • In addition to the community partners that we are recruiting to ensure that we have local networks plugged into our Jobcentre Plus scheme, we are also looking at opportunities for where that sector can increase the services that it already provides and derive an income from them. One such example is our one-stop-shop hub for employers, which can be a shop window for many of the organisations that already provide support to employers and that want to do more.

  • Will the Minister say a little more about how ESA and PIP assessments for those with mental illnesses work? I have six cases where mandatory reconsideration letters are identical to the letters providing the original decision. I have four cases—she knows of one of them because she has written to me about it—where the wrong information, about other people, has been cut and pasted into the mandatory reconsideration letter.

  • Let me point out that only 3% of those decisions are overturned. The vast majority of the assessments are good. The hon. Lady should let me know if she has examples of where that is not the case. One thing I have done to ensure that we get more timely information about where things are going wrong and where standards are not being maintained is to establish a claimant user rep panel, which will go live in the next few weeks. It will be rolled out on a very large scale across the country. In the meantime, she should keep on flagging up the issues that she finds.

  • Perhaps the Minister could talk a little more about the ESA assessments for those with mental health conditions, with particular regard to regulations 29 and 35 of the Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008, as they are causing much distress to disabled people.

  • We are looking at the assessment process. A huge amount has already been done to ensure that assessors and those in our Jobcentre Plus networks have been trained to recognise the needs of people with a mental health condition and to ensure that what they are doing is fit for purpose. The Green Paper on work and health will provide us with the opportunity to re-evaluate entirely those assessment processes primarily for ESA, but it will also reveal some opportunities for PIP.

  • People with mental health conditions and autism whom I met recently in Bristol told me of the difficulties they face getting into work. They also told me about the issues relating to PIP, work capability assessments and sanctions. Those in the ESA support group fear that the Green Paper spells out that they will be targeted next after cuts to people on the ESA work-related activity group in April. How does the Minister justify ESA WRAG cuts, cuts to employment support, jobcentre closures and the liberal use of sanctions as helping disabled people into work when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

  • We are doing more for that group of people, which is why, despite the hon. Lady’s request, I will not be pulling the personalised support package that will take effect in April.

  • Young People in Work

  • 3. What assessment his Department has made of recent trends in the number of young people in work. [908758]

  • The number of young people in work has increased by 235,000 since 2010, and is up 38,000 in the past three months. Nearly nine in 10 young people are in education or work, and youth unemployment is the lowest it has been since 2005.

  • I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer. I warmly welcome the fact that the youth employment jobs figures are at near record levels. Will he join me in welcoming the work of the Dorset Young Chamber, which helps to match individual businesses in and around my constituency with particular schools and to bridge the gap between education and employment?

  • I am happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the work of the Dorset Young Chamber. I have seen the great work that my local chamber of commerce, Kent Invicta, does in schools. My hon. Friend chairs the all-party parliamentary group for youth employment, so he will be pleased to know that the youth claimant count in his constituency has gone down by 74% since 2010 and by 7% in the past year alone.

  • More young people are claiming benefits in Newcastle Central this year than they were last year, and the north-east has the overall highest unemployment rate in the country. Too many of our young people have to leave the region to find good jobs, so when will the Secretary of State make the northern powerhouse a reality for the north-east?

  • We are determined to make the northern powerhouse a reality. As the hon. Lady says, youth unemployment is higher in certain areas than it is in others, but I hope that she recognises that youth unemployment as a whole has come down markedly in recent years in her region, as in all others. Some 86% of 16 to 24-year-olds are now in full-time study or work, which is a record high, and the employment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds who have left full-time education is up by 0.4 percentage points in the past year.

  • Apprenticeships are solid routes for young people to secure work. What work is the Secretary of State doing with his counterparts in the Department for Education to ensure that all our young people have access to apprenticeships?

  • We work closely with colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that the Government meet their commitment to having 3 million new apprentices during this Parliament. We are on target for that. In particular, we wish to ensure that apprenticeships are available not only to young people leaving school for the first time, but throughout the age range so that we can make a reality of the phrase “lifelong learning.”

  • What would the Secretary of State say to areas such as mine, where youth unemployment has actually risen in the past month? Will he please look at working with colleagues in the northern powerhouse to ensure that the benefits of Government investment are shared across the north-west and north Wales as a whole?

  • I am happy to listen to the right hon. Gentleman’s latter point. One purpose of the northern powerhouse and, indeed—more widely—of the Government’s consultation on the industrial strategy is to ensure that the success of the economy is spread to all regions of the country. I am more than happy to talk to the right hon. Gentleman about any specific points he wants to make on his region.

  • Auto-enrolment

  • 4. What assessment his Department has made of recent trends in the number of people saving into a pension scheme as a result of auto-enrolment. [908759]

  • 6. What assessment his Department has made of recent trends in the number of people saving into a pension scheme as a result of auto-enrolment. [908762]

  • Almost 7.3 million eligible workers have been enrolled into a workplace pension because of automatic enrolment. This is an unseen revolution; the way people are now saving will lead to more freedom, more choice and more security for the pensioners of tomorrow.

  • Does the Secretary of State agree that it is quite clear that many people who would otherwise not save into a private pension will now have a pension for their futures, and that young people, who often do not save for a pension now, will have a secure future in retirement?

  • I agree with my hon. Friend, particularly on his point about young people. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has done some research showing that participation in auto-enrolment among those aged 22 to 29 increased from 28% in 2012 to 85% in 2016. That is a very impressive improvement.

  • Auto-enrolment has been hugely successful. However, a number of people are still opting out. A business in my Southampton, Itchen constituency suggested that up to 50% of its staff may be opting out. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to encourage people to continue to save for their retirement in a workplace pension?

  • I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that his example is an exception. When the Turner commission reported and suggested this kind of scheme in 2005, it estimated that about 25% of people would opt out, but the opt-out rate is about 10% at the moment. There is always more to do, as my hon. Friend’s example suggests, which is why we are currently conducting a review to ensure that such schemes are even better in the future in order to work for all kinds of individuals, particularly those in small businesses.

  • The Library is not able to supply me with any evidence that tax relief on pension contributions—costing £30 billion a year or more—encourages savings. Can the Secretary of State supply me with such evidence?

  • I can supply the hon. Gentleman with evidence that we have transformed saving over the past few years. People have often said that young people in particular do not want to save, but the facts I have just put before the House suggest that that is no longer the case. If the hon. Gentleman is advocating taking away all tax relief for pensions, I would be interested in his ideas—as, I am sure, would his own Front Benchers.

  • Ministers have been clear on the need for transparency in the pensions industry, including in master trusts dealing with auto-enrolment. In his Second Reading speech on the Pension Schemes Bill, the Secretary of State spoke of it. In a speech to the TUC, the Pensions Minister said:

    “We have to get transparency. It’s not an option to do nothing.”

    On Report in the Lords, Lord Freud said:

    “We want pension scheme members to have sight of all costs and charges”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 December 2016; Vol. 777, c. 1528.]

    Despite those fine words, all the attempts to deliver on transparency in the Bill Committee were dismissed by the Government, so can the Minister tell the House what they mean by transparency in the pensions industry?

  • The Bill—I note the Labour party did not vote against it on Second or Third Reading, so the hon. Gentleman cannot have objected to it that strongly—actually set up a new system of regulation, particularly of master trusts, that deals with not just transparency but a whole range of aspects, so this relatively new form of financial body is now much better regulated than it was before. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed it—actually, he did welcome it.

  • Learning Difficulties: Support

  • 7. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that people with learning difficulties are supported into work. [908763]

  • The Green Paper consultation, which concluded on 17 February, asked a range of questions about how we can better support people into employment and has highlighted learning disabilities as an area for further work. We will bring forward shortly schemes to support this group in their ambitions.

  • Will my hon. Friend join me in praising the work of the Balance community interest company in Surbiton, which provides employment support for people with learning difficulties? I urge her to raise awareness of organisations such as Balance and, indeed, of the Government’s own Access to Work scheme, so that everyone knows what support is available out there.

  • I am happy to join my hon. Friend in praising the work of Balance CIC. This is a group of individuals we want to do much more for. We will be bringing forward a young person’s work experience scheme shortly, and we wish to open up apprenticeships, but more is needed in this area, and organisations such as Balance can help us do that work.

  • The disabled students allowance has been a great help to students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia in gaining the qualifications they need to enter the world of work. Will the Minister not accept that the £200 fee is acting as a real deterrent to the uptake of this allowance and that it is unfairly penalising students who need that extra help?

  • We are looking at a range of things we can do in particular to help young people with learning disabilities, with autism and with mental health conditions. They need more options available to them, and they need more financial support in some of those areas. I am happy to look at what the hon. Lady suggests if she would like to write to me with evidence that these things are happening.

  • Governments of all persuasions have tried and failed to shift the employability rate of those with learning disabilities from 6%. That rate is an absolute waste of the huge amounts of talent and enthusiasm that are out there. That is exactly why we brought forward plans to open up apprenticeships and to have a special disability apprenticeship scheme. Please would the Minister update the House on where we are with creating those opportunities?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the apprenticeship scheme. We wish to open up the opportunities such schemes bring to those with learning disabilities, and we are making good progress on that with the Department for Education, but we need to do other things as well. When we talk about people with learning disabilities, we are talking about a huge range of individuals. We have not done enough for those who are at the highest-need end of that spectrum, and I hope we will be able to do more shortly.

  • Personal Independence Payments

  • 9. What recent representations he has received on the process for assessment and reassessment of personal independence payments. [908765]

  • I receive regular representations from disability organisations and hon. Members regarding personal independence payments. As I have previously stated, we want to do more to create real-time feedback across the whole country. We will shortly be introducing service user panels to feed directly back from claimants on PIP and employment and support allowance.

  • Unfortunately, I have to tell my hon. Friend that I am still receiving complaints from constituents about the procedures regarding personal independence payments, so what is she doing to improve the process, reduce delays and support people through what is often a traumatic assessment process?

  • The goal is clearly swift, accurate and admin-lite assessments. Good progress has already been made in many areas—for example, reducing the average time it takes for a claim from point of registration to decision by more than three quarters from over 40 weeks to 10 weeks as of October last year—but there is more to do. One reason we have set up the service user panels is that it is incredibly important to be aware that, while things may be generally going well, there are certain hotspot areas where they are not, and identifying those in real time is critical—but there are many other things in the PIP improvement plan as well.

  • Yet again, one of my constituents has been to see me about a PIP assessment that has led to her Motability vehicle being taken away from her. She is currently appealing, and I have written to the Minister about the case. What reassurance can she give me and my constituent that this vehicle, which she needs, will be returned to her?

  • There are 70,000 more people making use of the Motability scheme than there were in 2010. The hon. Lady will know that there are improvements that we want to make to the Motability scheme. We have been working very closely with that independent organisation; we are now attending its board meetings and are able to work much more strategically. I have spoken at length, so I will not repeat it, about the areas where we wish to see better customer service. We hope to be able to make some announcements shortly.

  • Will the Minister make strong representations to the Ministry of Justice that it should reduce the length of time that unsuccessful claimants are having to wait for their tribunal, so that they can process their claim successfully?

  • We are concerned with all aspects of the claims process, whether for ESA or PIP. We want this to be swift and admin-lite, and we have some opportunities, which I have already outlined, to achieve both those things.

  • Last year, the Government announced that those with chronic progressive conditions would not be subjected to continual work capability assessments. Why are constituents of mine with progressive conditions like multiple sclerosis continually being called for reassessment?

  • If the hon. Lady has cases she wishes me to look at, she must write to me about them. We are currently still outlining the criteria for the scheme to be introduced, but in the meantime, as she will know, we do not wish to call people for reassessment who would be in that category, so if she has cases where that is happening, she must let me know.

  • At present, 65% of all claimants have their PIP appeal upheld by tribunal—an all-time high. It should be a source of huge embarrassment to the Government that, even after the introduction of mandatory reconsideration before appeal, the majority of claimants who go to tribunal win their case. How does the Minister justify forcing vulnerable claimants to navigate the complex and gruelling process that the appeal system demands, often with little or no support? Will she now get a grip and reform this clearly broken system?

  • I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. She is not correct: 6% of the caseload is overturned, but there are many things that we wish to do to ensure that that is improved. Some opportunities will come after the consultation in the Green Paper with the reforms that we want to make to this part of the system to improve it and reduce the administrative burden on those also claiming PIP.

  • Universal Credit

  • 10. What estimate his Department has made of the number of households in which a person in work will receive less income in universal credit than they would have received in tax credits. [908766]

  • It is not meaningful to compare against an unchanged tax credits system, but the national living wage, help with childcare and the straightforward taper in universal credit all mean that people can earn more, and a higher income tax allowance means that they can keep more of it.

  • A single parent working full time on universal credit will be up to £3,000 worse off than someone in the same situation on tax credits, as a result of this Government’s cuts. Does the Minister accept that those cuts are creating an unjustified disparity in the in-work support received by people in similar circumstances?

  • Anybody who changes from tax credits to universal credit as a result of managed migration can get transitional protection. For those who are coming into it with a new claim, it is a wholly different system with a completely different support set, including much more child care support. There are various other reforms from which the individual to whom the hon. Gentleman refers would also benefit.

  • Does my hon. Friend accept that universal credit, which now reaches almost a third of the unemployed people in my constituency, is a much simpler system and the first major new benefit introduced in my political lifetime that has not resulted in a whole string of correspondence from people with difficulties?

  • It is indeed a dramatic and critical reform for our welfare system. I will highlight just one statistic: for every 100 people who moved into work under the old jobseeker’s allowance system, 113 do so under universal credit.

  • Last week, DWP informed Members of Parliament that our constituents would have to give specific and precise explicit consent if we are to help them with full universal credit claims with which they have difficulty. I think that that will significantly inhibit our ability to assist our constituents. Will the Minister reassure the House that measures will be put in place to ensure that MPs can support our constituents effectively?

  • Of course we want hon. Members to be able to support their constituents, but the universal credit full service system is different because the online account allows the user to access a greater breadth of their data. The claimant holds the key to those data, and implied consent cannot be assumed. A claimant can give their consent via their journal, and that is what has to be done to enable a Member to act on their behalf.

  • Currently, families have to wait at least six weeks to receive universal credit after they have made a claim, which is leading to some people being in rent arrears and at risk of eviction. Research by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Trussell Trust found that about 30% of food bank users were waiting for the outcome of a benefit claim. What urgent action will the Government take to cut the delay at the start of universal credit claims?

  • Universal credit, as the hon. Lady knows, is a monthly benefit, but benefit advances are available where people cannot make it through to the first pay day. The fundamental point is that universal credit is helping more people into work, and once they are there, it is helping more people progress in work, and that is what is putting down the better foundation for their future.

  • Many families on tax credits and universal credit will lose out when the two-child limit comes into force in April. The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects a 50% rise in child poverty by 2020—the biggest in a generation—and it says that a key reason will be the impact of tax and benefit changes on families with three or more children. Do the Government think that some children matter more than others?

  • The policy to which the hon. Lady refers relates to new cases. I remind her that relative poverty is down by 100,000 children since 2010.

  • Pension Investments

  • 11. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that people have accurate and clear information to inform decisions on the use of their pension investments. [908767]

  • The Government are committed to providing free impartial guidance through Pension Wise to help people make informed and confident decisions about how they use their defined-contribution pension savings in retirement.

  • What further steps is the Department taking, working with other Departments, to ensure that protections are in place for those in receipt of their pensions who may be at risk of falling foul of financial scams in their retirement?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that really important question. She can be reassured that a cross-Government consultation on further measures to tackle pension scams closed very recently—on 13 February —and it included a proposal to ban all cold calling in relation to pensions. We will announce our next steps once we have considered the responses we have received to the consultation, but I assure her that we will take action as soon as possible.

  • Jobcentre Plus (Closures)

  • 13. For what reason his Department did not carry out an impact assessment prior to the announcement of the proposed closure of Jobcentre Plus estates on 26 January 2017. [908769]

  • We have been mindful throughout of the impact on staff and customers. Analysis and local knowledge have informed the proposals, which are all subject to consultation with staff and, where appropriate, the public. A full equality impact assessment will be carried out.

  • Following the Minister’s advice, I went to see the regional manager of my jobcentres last week, but she had absolutely no information on the number of employment and support allowance or income support claimants that will be affected by the proposed closure in my constituency; the plans for outreach in relation to what will replace my jobcentre after its closure; the amount saved by that closure; the necessary spend on increased capacity at the alternative centre; or projections of footfall at the centre destined for closure. I hope that such work has been undertaken internally, so will the Minister commit to publishing all that information not only before a decision has to made, but preferably before the end of the consultation period?

  • First, ESA and IS claimants are not required regularly to attend the jobcentre in the same way that JSA claimants are. We want to look at outreach and other opportunities in working with partners. As the hon. Lady will know, the consultation closes on 28 February. On the overall approach for the city of Sheffield, this is about consolidating the amount of available space and using that space better to get a better deal for the taxpayer, while being able to provide enhanced services for customers. It will raise utilisation across Sheffield from 51% to 69%.

  • In 2010, there were three jobcentres in my constituency. The coalition closed one in 2012, and now the Minister’s Government want to close the remaining two. Just under 3,000 people—not an insignificant number—have to access the jobcentre in my constituency at least every two weeks Why did his Department not conduct and carry out the full equality impact assessment before the closure of the consultation?

  • The proposals will raise utilisation across the city of Liverpool from 66% to 95%, which will make better use of buildings. Where movement from one jobcentre to another involves travelling less than three miles or 20 minutes by public transport, we consider it is reasonable to ask people to make such a move.

  • Disabled People

  • 14. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that employers are encouraged to recruit and retain disabled people. [908770]

  • In “Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper”, we asked about the barriers preventing employers from recruiting and retaining disabled people and people with health conditions. We will shortly bring forward measures to address those barriers.

  • I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I recently held an engagement event in Lowestoft in my constituency to consider the Green Paper. The conclusion reached was that the disability employment gap is best tackled with bespoke local solutions worked out with local employers. Will the Minister give this approach fair and full consideration as she assesses the feedback from the consultation?

  • First, I put on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend and Members of all parties in the House who have held local consultation events. Doing so was incredibly important and has made this a very good consultation, but it is also vital in establishing and building such local networks. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the solutions have to be local ones, not least because healthcare is commissioned locally. I can give him reassurances that we will bear that in mind as we go forward.

  • The all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery has heard compelling evidence about how people enslaved in the UK have post-traumatic stress disorder and similar serious disabilities as a result. Will the Minister commit to meeting the relevant Minister in the Home Office to look at practical ways in which those victims of exploitation can be supported into work and be enabled to work in companies?

  • The right hon. Lady raises an important point. I can give her assurances that both my office and that of the Minister for Employment are working very closely with the Home Office on precisely the group of individuals she mentions and other vulnerable people such as refugees. I am very happy to raise any points that she wants me to make.

  • I am holding a Disability Confident event in my constituency on 28 April. The Minister will be very welcome if she is able to find time in her busy schedule to join us. In the meantime, will she look at what incentives can be given to employers to give disabled people a chance to prove themselves and to show what they are capable of if they are just given that chance in the first place?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for holding a Disability Confident event. We are looking at what further support and, in some cases, incentives we can provide for employers. We need to raise the profile of the fact that these individuals have much to offer any business. We will be holding events in March in this place to enable all Members of all parties to become Disability Confident employers and to ask for their assistance in signing up 30 targeted organisations in their constituencies. I hope all Members will take that opportunity.

  • This question is highly relevant to what Members have been saying. I am sure that the Minister will agree that to change attitudes towards disability in the workforce, we need more businesses to become role models in this area. In Taunton, sadly, very few businesses have signed up to the disability awareness register. Will the Minister join me in encouraging local businesses to attend a special event to be staged by Taunton jobcentre on 13 March to promote the Disability Confident initiative?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for what she is doing in her constituency to promote the scheme. It is important that employers realise not only what opportunities are presented by employing these people, but the support and advice that go alongside it. The more people who know about that, the closer we will be to achieving the goal of ensuring that every citizen in this country can reach their full potential.

  • Jobcentre Plus (Closures)

  • 16. What support his Department is providing to staff and service users before the proposed jobcentre closures announced in January 2017 take place. [908772]

  • The proposals are subject to consultation with staff and, where appropriate, the public. Should they proceed, the Department will support customers through any change of jobcentre. Staff will continue to offer the same support and services to customers and to maintain the relationships they have built up over time.

  • Now that the Glasgow consultation is closed, can the Minister tell us the following: when will the consultation responses be published; when will the equality impact assessment be published; and when will the decision be announced? On the announcement, will he assure the House that it will not be slipped out in a press release or a written statement, but that he will make it from the Dispatch Box?

  • As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the consultation on the jobcentres in Glasgow has closed. We are working through a number of responses and will do so within the timeframe. I anticipate making announcements in April.

  • I have met the 83 people who work at Vinovium House in my constituency—another office that is scheduled for closure. Will the Minister explain what the impact of the closure of that child maintenance back office will be and how it can possibly be efficient to close an office in one of the most low-rent towns in the entire nation?

  • The entire estates review has come about because a 20-year private finance initiative contract comes to an end at the end of March 2018. That has presented the opportunity—indeed, the requirement—to review almost the entire DWP estate. We are trying to consolidate it into less space to save money for the taxpayer and to do things more efficiently. In terms of the people who work in those places, particularly in back-of-house locations, we do not want them to be made redundant. We are trying extremely hard to find other opportunities for them elsewhere in DWP or in the public sector.

  • Employment Trends

  • 17. What assessment his Department has made of recent trends in the number of people in work. [908773]

  • The UK labour market is the strongest it has been for years. Over the past year, the number of people in employment has increased by 302,000. The employment rate stands at a new record high of 74.6%. The unemployment rate remains at 4.8%—the lowest rate in over 10 years.

  • I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will agree that long-term unemployment is particularly damaging for a young person. What steps is his Department taking to ensure that no young person falls through the cracks?

  • My hon. Friend is right: long-term unemployment can significantly damage anyone, particularly young people. I welcome the recent employment statistics, which show that 3 million 16 to 24-year-olds are full-time students, and another 3 million have left full-time education and are working. Together they account for 86% of all young people in the UK, the joint highest on record. She is right that there is always more to do, which is why, in April, we are introducing the youth obligation to ensure that young people are fully supported as they progress into work and while they are at work.

  • PIP Assessments

  • 20. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that personal independence payment assessments are undertaken fairly and efficiently. [908776]

  • We are committed to ensuring that claimants receive high-quality, objective, fair and accurate assessments. The Department monitors assessment quality through independent audit. Assessments deemed unacceptable are returned to the provider for reworking. A range of measures, including provider improvement plans, address performance falling below expected standards.

  • My constituent Neville Cartwright is living with just one lung following a battle with lung cancer, yet he lost his Motability car when his PIP was cut last year. He began his appeal in June, but has still not had a tribunal hearing. Does the Minister agree that an eight-month wait to find out the result of an appeal is totally unacceptable?

  • I do agree with the hon. Lady, which is why we have been trying to work more strategically with Motability, thrashing through the issues I am very aware of on appeals and on matters such as when an individual leaves the country. We are looking to reduce the amount of time that appeals take and at what we can do with the running of the scheme so that the precise scenario she outlines does not happen.

  • Self-employed People: Support

  • 21. What steps the Government are taking to support the self-employed. [908777]

  • We are building on the success of the new enterprise allowance. From April 2017, eligibility will be extended to include universal credit claimants who are already self-employed.

  • There are 40 new businesses in Banbury currently supported by the new enterprise allowance, with about 100 more going through the developmental stage. Can the Minister reassure us that the programme is not just there to set up new businesses, but to enable them to grow?

  • Absolutely. The 40 new businesses in Banbury are a great example of what the NEA can do. In phase 2, we are introducing additional features to continue to promote sustained success in self-employment, including extending the mentoring period and ensuring there is a pre-workshop to outline the responsibilities and realities of being self-employed.

  • Topical Questions

  • T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [908745]

  • Today, we published our Green Paper on defined benefit pension schemes. The schemes provide an important source of income in the retirement plans of millions of people. The majority of the nearly 6,000 defined benefit pension schemes are run effectively. We are fortunate to have a robust and flexible system of pension protection in the UK. However, it is clear that experiences differ from scheme to scheme. Some employers are clearly struggling and the system may not be working optimally in all circumstances. The Green Paper is an opportunity to look at the schemes to ensure the system remains sustainable, while still ensuring members’ benefits are protected.

  • Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on universal credit inquiries on behalf of constituents, does the Secretary of State not accept that putting in this extra hurdle is disadvantaging people who are in a very vulnerable situation and flies in the face of Information Commissioner guidance?

  • As my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment explained, the data are now held in a different way. They are entirely owned by the claimants, who can and should give any Member of Parliament permission to act on their behalf. With that permission, all of us can do our job, as we traditionally have, on behalf of our constituents.

  • T5. Last October, the Secretary of State announced that people with severe lifelong conditions would be exempt from reassessments for employment and support allowance. This was welcomed by leading charities in the sector. Will the Minister tell the House whether motor neurone disease will fall within the exemptions? [908749]

  • May I first praise the work of the all-party group on motor neurone disease, and the work of my hon. Friend as its vice-chair? Following the announcement, we are working to develop a set of criteria to switch off reassessments for people with the most severe health conditions or disabilities. We have sought feedback from stakeholders, including many motor neurone disease organisations. They will not be about a specific list of medical conditions; they will be based on a number of other factors, in particular how conditions are impacting on people.

  • In April, the Government’s two-child policy will mean that a woman who has a third child after being raped will have to prove that fact if they are to get child tax support. At the same time, the Government are cutting widowed parent’s allowance by an average of £17,000 for each bereaved family. In 2015, that benefited 40,000 children who had lost at least one parent. Will the Secretary of State please think again about these punitive measures?

  • I do not agree with the hon. Lady that the measures are punitive. To take just one of the two that she brought up—bereavement payments—as she knows, this measure is bringing three payments into one. The original system was devised for a world in which women often would not work at all and so needed lifelong support, rather than the extra support that they will be offered after such a tragic event. I think she will find that the new system is much fairer and more effective at providing support when it is most wanted.

  • Andrew Rosindell—not here.

  • T9. Does the Minister agree that it was important to introduce the cap on out-of-work benefits to deal with the excesses of a system that used to see a single household being given £100,000 a year in housing benefit? [908754]

  • My right hon. Friend is right to point out that the benefit cap is working. It has brought about behavioural change, and evaluation of the current cap level has found that capped households are 41% more likely to go into work than similar, uncapped households. More than that, 38% of those capped said that they were doing more to find work, a third were submitting more applications and a fifth went to more interviews.

  • T2. New recipients of support who are in the work-related activity group will cease to receive the work-related activity component payment as of this April. As we have only a short six weeks until those claimants are hit by this change in policy, can the Minister tell us exactly what additional support they will receive? [908746]

  • The first thing I would say to the hon. Lady is that although the policy is being introduced in April, it will not start to have an impact on individuals until the summer. There is a personalised support package—13 measures that are outlined in the Green Paper—and she will know that we are also looking at ways in which we can reduce an individual’s household outgoings that are not related to finding work.

  • Does the Minister agree that we must do all we can to support into work people with mental health issues, disabilities and learning difficulties, but that, equally importantly, we must ensure that businesses are equipped to help them to sustain their employment?

  • I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. This is about people being able to reach their full potential and make use of all the benefits that come with having a pay packet—all those opportunities and that choice. Employers have a huge role to play. I have been very encouraged by the results of the consultation, particularly from employers wanting to do more, and we must ensure that they have the tools and expertise to do more.

  • T3. As part of the Government’s welcome proposal to halve the disability employment gap, will the Minister ensure that a work support plan is in place before a disabled person is made a job offer, thus increasing the chances of success and reducing the risk of wrongly applied sanctions or accusations that the person does not want a job? [908747]

  • This consultation affords us an opportunity to look at a person’s whole journey. Generalising, the earlier someone can have a conversation with somebody about their ambitions and the support they will need, the better that journey will be, so I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman.

  • I suspect that the Employment Minister may not be aware of the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920, but it is a concern to the Heritage Railway Association and others, who have had advice from leading counsel that young people cannot volunteer in industrial undertakings. We have now written to the Health and Safety Executive, but I wonder whether the Minister will meet me to have a conversation about it.

  • I would be very happy to meet my right hon. Friend about that issue. There is a huge amount of work going on to ensure that young people, but others as well, can make use of all opportunities to expand their horizons, and I would be happy to meet her about the specific points she raises.

  • T4. Of the 17,000 sanctions on benefit claimants in Bradford West in the past six and a half years, how many could have been avoided if the Government had the yellow card warning system in place? Why has it not been rolled out nationally, following a successful trial in 2016, and when are this Government going to get it done? [908748]

  • We are looking at the early warning system trial that took place in Scotland. We are still evaluating it. We will publish the results of the evaluation shortly. Obviously, we will have to do the evaluation first before we decide what to do next.

  • Last week, I attended two excellent business breakfasts in my constituency—one organised by the Rockingham Forest hotel and the other organised by Corby Business Group. There was a lot of expertise and experience there. In what ways does the Minister think we can use that experience to support young people entering the world of work through mentoring?

  • Mentoring has a critical role to play, and I would encourage those employers in my hon. Friend’s constituency, if they are not already doing so, to get in touch with local schools and colleges and to seek out more opportunities.

  • T7. Will the Minister look at the assessment of people with long-term progressive conditions who are applying for PIP, in the light of some of the issues that have been raised? Would she consider removing the need for continued assessment of people with long-term progressive conditions when, by the nature of those conditions, they are getting worse and not improving day by day? [908751]

  • The hon. Lady makes a good suggestion. We are looking at that, and if we can share data better—not just across our own systems but with local government—we could improve things, because we could cut down on a huge administrative burden for claimants.

  • Have Ministers identified the critical difference that makes a recipient of universal credit so much more likely to get into work than someone on jobseeker’s allowance?

  • There are multiple features of universal credit that make that so much more likely. The critical thing is to remove the barriers that create differences between being out of work and being in work. Having the rent paid directly to the individual is one thing; there is also the additional support that people get from the work coach in the jobcentre; then there is the visibility of the fact that people know how much they will retain for every extra hour worked and extra pound earned.

  • T8. Brixton jobcentre, which serves many of my constituents, is situated in one of the most deprived areas of London. How can the Minister justify deciding to close Brixton jobcentre and dozens of others across the country before any assessment of the equalities impact has been undertaken and without any consultation with the public? [908753]

  • We are very mindful of our duties under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, and we do indeed carry out the equality impact assessments that the hon. Lady mentions. She and I have had a chance to talk about the specific jobcentre. What we are doing is making sure that we have a good spread of jobcentres across the country that are accessible to the people who need to use them, but also utilising space better.

  • Last week, I visited a number of successful factories in my constituency that were taking on additional employment. Does the Secretary of State agree that our long-term economic plan has worked and that the Opposition Members who opposed it should now be contrite? Does he also agree with me that it is rather surprising that until two minutes ago there has not been a single Liberal Democrat Member in the Chamber?

  • I am not remotely surprised—

  • The Minister is not responsible for the presence of Liberal Democrat Members. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman wants to ventilate, I am sure he will do so.

  • I am grateful for your advice, Mr Speaker, because I would be horrified if I were responsible for the attendance record of Liberal Democrats. I am happy to agree completely with my hon. Friend about the long-term economic plan. Our labour market is in its strongest position for years, which is a tribute to a successful economic policy for the past seven years.

  • On behalf of my constituent, Miss Leslie, may I ask the Secretary of State to get personally involved in her case? The victim of a house fire when she was 12 weeks old, she has no hands and has multiple physical problems. In the migration from DLA to PIP, she could not open the envelope telling her to go for her assessment. On 1 February, all her benefits ceased, and on 10 February, her Motability car was taken away. This cannot be right; please help.

  • If the hon. Lady wishes to contact me directly and urgently about that case, we will take it up.

  • Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no evidence to suggest that we are going to lose 3 million jobs, as we were so often warned would happen if we left the European Union? Given the recent announcements that thousands of new jobs would be located in this country by the likes of Google and Amazon, does he agree that this country remains a very attractive place in which to do business?

  • It is perfectly clear that this country is an extremely attractive place in which to do business. I am delighted at the number of big companies—particularly in the tech sector, but in others as well—that have decided to move jobs to this country in recent months, and the Government will do all they can to ensure that that economic success continues.

  • Leytonstone jobcentre, in my constituency, is threatened with closure, which has spread alarm and despondency among some of the most vulnerable people whom I represent. The nearest jobcentre, in Walthamstow, is more than 3 miles away, which breaks the Minister’s own guidelines. Will he undertake a proper impact assessment and publish the results?

  • Of course I will look into the position, but the criterion is that consultation takes place if a jobcentre is both more than 3 miles away and more than 20 minutes away by public transport. Within that, if either of those conditions is met, it is reasonable to ask people to move.

  • On Friday I visited Shipley jobcentre to hear at first hand the concerns of staff about its closure, and their concerns for its clients. Will the Minister agree to meet me so that I can go through that list of concerns and, hopefully, he can find a way of addressing them?

  • Of course I shall be happy to meet my hon. Friend, just as I have been happy to meet other Members on both sides of the House to discuss such concerns.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Single-sentence questions, I hope. Alison Thewliss.

  • I am astonished that the Secretary of State said that the rape clause was not punitive, given that, in their response to the consultation, the Government said that many respondents considered it

    “unacceptable for Government to ask women to re-live the ordeal of a rape just in order to make a claim for benefit.”

    Will the Minister and the Government accept that the policy is simply unworkable, and absolutely despicable?

  • I do not accept that, and I do not think the hon. Lady’s description of the exemptions to that clause accord with reality. The system that we are proposing is not remotely punitive; it is entirely sensible and workable.

  • What plans has the Secretary of State to reduce the cost of telephone calls to his Department, which can now cost up to 55p a minute? Is he still having discussions with the Social Security Advisory Committee, which believes that all telephone calls to the Department should be at no cost to claimants?

  • I am, obviously, in constant contact with the Social Security Advisory Committee. People who phone the Department always have an opportunity to ask to be called back if they do not wish to continue their own calls.

  • Point of Order

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

  • I understand that the point of order flows directly from a question, so, exceptionally, I will take it if it is brief.

  • I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. I wish to follow up the answer that the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work gave me a few moments ago about the work-related activity component of the employment and support allowance. The Minister said that no one would be affected by the change before the summer, but the DWP website says—and, indeed, I think we always understood—that it will take effect in April. I wonder whether you, Mr Speaker, will invite the Minister to clarify or correct the record.

  • It is not a matter for the Chair, but the Minister is literally itching to appear at the Dispatch Box.

  • I am happy to clarify the position. The policy change will happen in April, but it will not start to have an impact on people until later in the year because of the process that they will be going through. However, all the elements of the personalised support package, and all the other things that we are seeking to do to help with individuals’ liquidity, will be in place by April.

  • Vauxhall/Opel: Proposed Takeover

  • (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if he will make a statement on the proposed takeover of Vauxhall and Opel by PSA.

  • Vauxhall is one of our oldest and most valued motor manufacturers. It has been making cars in Britain for 113 years and has been owned for the last 92 years by an overseas investor, General Motors. There are over 40,000 people employed directly by GM or in Vauxhall’s retail or supply chain in this country. Last Tuesday, news emerged that GM was in discussions with French company PSA about the future of GM’s European operations.

    I spoke to the president of GM by telephone that afternoon and communicated the importance we attach to Vauxhall’s presence in the UK and to its workforce. I am grateful to Mr Ammann for travelling to meet me in my office last Thursday morning. In our meeting, he told me that no agreement with PSA had been reached and discussions were ongoing, that he shared my assessment of the success of the Vauxhall plants in Britain and the Vauxhall brand, and that GM’s intention was that any deal should be about building on the success of these operations, rather than seeking to rationalise them.

    Following my meeting with GM, I travelled to Paris to meet my counterpart in the French Government, the Industry Minister, and following those discussions I met with PSA board members for two hours later on Thursday night. I emphasised once again the importance I attach to the continuing success of Vauxhall in Britain and the recognition of its workforce. The PSA executives said that they, too, greatly valued the Vauxhall brand and the commitment of its workforce, and that any deal would build on these strengths. They also emphasised that their operational approach in recent years has been not to engage in plant closures, but to focus on continuous improvements in plant performance. On behalf of the UK Government, I emphasised our commitment to securing continued mutually beneficial access to European markets, and our intention, as part of an ambitious industrial strategy, to enhance the competitiveness of the UK economy generally—including, of course, the automotive sector. Earlier today, my Minister of State spoke to his German counterpart.

    We remain in close contact with GM, PSA and the French and German Governments, and I look forward to meeting Carlos Tavares, PSA chief executive, later this week. Of course, I have also met, and will continue to meet, with the trade unions and Members of this House with constituency interests. I will do everything I can at all times to secure the best possible future for Vauxhall and its workforce. Our unity of purpose in seeking this good future should be a source of strength in the House, and I will keep the House informed at every opportunity.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for his response and for the helpful way in which he has kept me and other interested parties informed as matters have unfolded. As he said, not only are thousands employed directly at the plants in Ellesmere Port and Luton, but there are tens of thousands of other people working in the associated supply chain and sales network.

    I want to make it clear that Vauxhall is a British success story. The plants in Ellesmere Port and Luton benefit from dedicated and highly skilled staff, who are among the most efficient anywhere in Europe. If this takeover does go ahead, we need to get the message out that risking the closure of either facility would be a retrograde step not just for the UK economy, but also for the new owners. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government stand ready to use all the tools at their disposal to safeguard British jobs at Vauxhall?

    Of course, this is a worrying time for everyone affected, but it is not a new experience. There have been threats to the plants in the past, but they have been seen off by industry-leading collaborations between unions, workforce, management and Government. I want that to carry on, so can the Secretary of State confirm that he will continue to work closely with everybody at every stage?

    Although it would be an over-simplification to characterise the proposed deal as being entirely down to Brexit, there are understandable concerns about Brexit’s potential impact, particularly if tariffs were imposed. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the future of the automotive sector is put front and centre of our negotiations and that a redline will be that there will be no deal that imposes tariffs—not just on the finished product, but on components in the supply chain?

    We are very proud of our automotive sector in Ellesmere Port and Neston, but we know we cannot take it for granted. I will do everything I possibly can to fight for the future of Vauxhall, and I expect nothing less from the Government.

  • I commend the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to update the House on these matters. I completely agree with him about the importance and the success of the workforce at both Ellesmere Port, his constituency plant, and Luton, and of course the supply chain, the retail network across the country and the call centre and customer service sector.

    Every part of Britain has a stake in Vauxhall, so I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman: we will do everything we can. My personal commitment, and the commitment of this Government, will be unbounded to make sure that the future, building on the success of the plant in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and the workforce, will be maintained. That is my purpose, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for that. I will of course work with all the groups, including the trade unions and the workforce, to make that case to the new owners, if new owners there are to be.

  • Vauxhall has been a huge name in Bedfordshire for over a century, and that tradition continues with the building of the excellent Vivaro van at the IBC plant in Luton. I want to see the Secretary of State doing everything he can to secure those jobs, but will he also say something about the pensioners in this country, many of whom are in my constituency and across Bedfordshire? They will be worried about the future of their pensions, so will he say a little bit about that issue as well as about the jobs?

  • Of course, the continued welfare of the pensioners is of great importance in any prospective takeover, and I have mentioned in my discussions with GM and with PSA how important it will be. No deal has been concluded yet, but both those organisations are well aware of the importance that I, and my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), attach to that matter.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for his response and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) for his question. Vauxhall employs over 40,000 people in the UK, as the Secretary of State said, including 4,500 at its manufacturing plants in Ellesmere Port and Luton and tens of thousands in its retail and support arms and in the supply chain. It is, as we have heard, a great British success story.

    I would like to raise a number of questions. First, the French Government own a 14% share in Peugeot, which has prompted many to suggest that any job cuts are likely to fall on Opel’s six plants in Germany, the UK and Spain. The German Government have already demanded that there must be no job or plant losses as a result of any deal, and German papers reported yesterday that PSA had pledged to continue operating all four of Opel’s German production sites. Will the Secretary of State tell us what action the Government are taking to obtain the same assurances for the UK? Will the Prime Minster demand that no jobs or plants will be lost when she meets the PSA chief executive?

    Secondly, at the 2016 Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister stated:

    “We are the party of workers”.

    To make good that promise, will the Secretary of State confirm that he will demand equal treatment for UK workers, compared with workers in France and Germany, in any final deal package?

    Thirdly, the UK’s automotive industry is dependent on the EU for sales and components. Nissan’s special deal provided assurances of unencumbered EU market access, more UK-based suppliers, and support for green vehicle research and development and for jobs and training. Can the Secretary of State confirm reports that PSA has been offered the same deal, and whether, in return, it has given an assurance that no UK jobs or plants will be lost? Is it not the case that all UK industries require certainty and stability? Would he agree that a haphazard and crisis-led approach is quite simply the very antithesis of an industrial strategy?

  • First, I welcome the hon. Lady to the Dispatch Box and congratulate her on her appointment. She will find that there is no one more prepared than I am to be active in supporting employment prospects in every constituency in the country, wherever they might be. In our discussions with industry, including the automotive industry, about overseas investment, there has been tremendous enthusiasm and warm encouragement for our industrial strategy. This is something that has been pursued in other countries for some time. I think the hon. Lady described our approach as haphazard and random—

  • Haphazard and crisis-led.

  • Indeed. I am not sure that the hon. Lady, in speaking from her Front Bench, is in the best position to talk about that. She made some important points, however. She mentioned the fact that the French Government own a significant stake in PSA. That is why I felt it was important immediately to have a meeting with my French counterpart. That meeting was very constructive, and he recognised the importance of ensuring that the whole of Europe should be treated fairly in these discussions. We agreed to stay in close touch on that, and I was grateful to him for seeing me.

    On the treatment of plants across Europe, one of the points that the PSA executives made to me is that, since the new management of PSA has been in place, they have taken pride that part of their strategy is not to close plants. The discussions are clearly continuing and no deal has been done, but I share the view of the hon. Lady, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and Members on both sides of the House: it is very important that our successful enterprises with successful workforces should be able to continue that success in the future.

    As for questions about the European Union, many of GM’s operations in Europe are in Germany, which is not about to leave the European Union so this is not a Brexit-related transaction. I have said very clearly that our commitment, evidenced in black and white in our industrial strategy, is to build on our strengths in advanced manufacturing, including in the automotive sector. That is available to all players in the sector through the Automotive Council, and in our industrial strategy we mention electric vehicles, battery storage and training, which are important to all members of the sector and, as I began by saying, have attracted enthusiastic support from firms all over the world.

  • I welcome my right hon. Friend’s characteristically speedy response to this new situation. Can he confirm that the UK automotive sector is not only integral and important to our industrial strategy but will play a vital role in shaping our future trade relationship with EU member states post-Brexit?

  • I agree with my hon. Friend. One of the strengths of our automotive sector is that it is particularly international. It benefits from and is strengthened by trade to and from not only the rest of Europe but the whole world. Vauxhall’s being owned by GM for such a long time is a reflection of the fact that the motor industry has long been international beyond Europe. The industry will be very prominent in our discussions.

  • I congratulate the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) on securing this urgent question. I welcome the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) to her Front-Bench position, and I look forward to working with her in that role.

    Like every Member of this House, my party’s thoughts are with those affected at the plants in Ellesmere Port and Luton and with all those who work in the supply chain or for the company in other ways. I welcome that the Secretary of State has led from the front in his interactions with the French and others.

    What assurances has the Secretary of State sought and/or received from the French Government or from PSA about the plants, employment and, in particular, the terms and conditions of employees and pensions? We cannot ignore the impact that Brexit might have on this issue. If there is direct competition between a German plant and a UK plant—regardless of the undoubted strength of UK plants—given that 75% of a UK plant’s components come from, and 80% of its exports go to, the single market, it will be at a comparative disadvantage with European counterparts.

    Given that the Secretary of State has said that he will do everything he can at all times to rule out the hard Brexit that has been proposed, will he reassess single market membership? We can leave the EU, but we do not have to leave the single market, and staying in the single market would protect employees at Vauxhall and right across the economy.

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. I thought it was important to have discussions immediately with both parties to the negotiations. It is fair to say that, as a deal has not been concluded and discussions are continuing, the prospective purchaser is clearly not in a position to give contractual guarantees. One of the important reasons for meeting was to have a clear understanding of the prospective purchaser’s purpose and to commit to having further meetings as the discussions continue—I will be having a further meeting later in the week. Of course, the conditions for workers and pensioners are uppermost in the discussions.

    In the context of Brexit, I made it clear, as the Prime Minister did in her speech at Lancaster House, that we want to negotiate the best possible access to the single market, free of tariffs and bureaucratic impediments. It is also important to reflect on the fact that we have a very strong and successful domestic market, with Vauxhall having a particularly strong share of it. That was mentioned to me by both parties, GM and PSA; they are very aware of that, and we will emphasise it in the days and weeks ahead.

  • Are the Government considering their policy on when, why and how to intervene in mergers that could be damaging to British jobs and the public interest?

  • In the context of the Hinkley Point C decision, we said that we would come forward with measures to govern the critical national infrastructure regime. In addition, we have proposed some changes to our corporate governance regime, and we will be making suggestions as to how we can keep our merger regime up to date.

  • In an earlier answer, the Secretary of State said that this will not become entangled in Brexit, but the concern will be that the issue of this important company’s future in Britain will become collateral damage in wider negotiations and deals on Brexit. In the face of elections in France and Germany this year, does he think that nations will have to engage in an ever-rising bidding game in order to maintain production facilities in their countries? If so, what will he do for British manufacturing?

  • The hon. Gentleman should reflect a bit more positively on the success of Vauxhall in this country. The two plants we have been talking about are among the most efficient in Europe and, therefore, the world. So this is not about altruism; these are successful plants, which is a tribute to their workforce, and they are competitive. As I said a few moments ago, the other side of the equation is that the Vauxhall brand is a very successful one in this country. So we start from a position of strength and, as he would want, I will be vigorous in promoting those strengths and influencing the negotiations so that this excellent workforce can continue and go from strength to strength in the future.

  • My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the importance of this plant to the Cheshire and greater Cheshire economy. Will he assure the House that he will ensure that PSA understands the skill and efficiency of the plant and its workforce?

  • I will indeed, and from my initial conversations I can say that I think that is well understood. It is matter of pride that our automotive industry in general and those two plants in particular are such high performers, and nobody will be more vigorous than me in reminding all parties to the transaction of that.

  • Does the Secretary of State believe that it will be much harder for companies that are looking at their integrated European operations to want to base themselves in the UK, because of the uncertainty surrounding our leaving the single market and the customs union? Does he agree that in those circumstances they are going to need some very attractive sweeteners? What sweeteners has he offered? Are those sweeteners also going to be available to the medium-priority and low-priority areas that the Government have identified, such as fisheries and chemicals, and steel and telecoms?

  • I would say to the right hon. Gentleman what I said to the Chair of the Select Committee: he should reflect on the competitiveness of our automotive industry. Companies choose to invest in Britain because we are a competitive place from which to do business, we have a skilled and flexible workforce, and we have fantastic research and development facilities. We have been absolutely clear in the industrial strategy consultation that these strengths will be extended so that we continue to be a beacon of success in this and other industries.

  • The Secretary of State has clearly made some reassuring noises to the firm. We need transparency on those, so will he now respond to the Treasury Committee request to publish the letter he sent to Nissan on 21 October giving reassurances to that company?

  • My right hon. Friend may not have noticed that, some time ago, I said that of course we would release the letter sent to Nissan at the time when it is no longer commercially confidential.

  • I commend the Secretary of State for his fast action in meeting all the parties. I represent people who work in the Ellesmere Port factory. We local MPs are all justifiably proud of the work that has been done there to keep the production process as one of the most efficient in the world. We bow to no one in the world when it comes to efficiency and productivity at the Ellesmere Port plant. Nevertheless, given that it is effectively much cheaper to get rid of British workers, because of the nature of employment rights in this country compared with those in France and Germany, what can the Secretary of State do to ensure that, when it comes to possible cost cutting, the equation is evened up so that we can support British production and British jobs?

  • Like the hon. Lady, I am proud of the performance of the two plants, as well as that of the other plants in our automotive sector. The PSA executives communicated to me that performance is their guide to strategy. The two plants have very effective performance, so I want and expect them to be major parts of the future of an expanded group, if the transaction proceeds.

  • I welcome my right hon. Friend’s action on this incredibly important issue of retaining the plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton. Most investment in motor manufacturing in this country comes from overseas, with the exception of Aston Martin and Triumph. What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage British-based investment in motor manufacturing so that we do not always rely on overseas investment?

  • I am very proud that we attract the world’s best automotive companies and that they see Britain as a place to prosper and succeed, so I am always encouraging that level of investment. Of course, it is not only about the major manufacturers; the supply chain is increasingly important in all advanced manufacturing, including the automotive industry. We have an increasingly good record of attracting small and medium-sized businesses either to locate here from overseas, or to grow from the bottom up. My hon. Friend will know that our industrial strategy makes a great focal point of the opportunity to grow our supply chains.

  • The Secretary of State understands the importance of the plant at Ellesmere Port, and its suppliers and retailers, to the wider north-west’s automotive sector, which includes Jaguar Land Rover at Halewood. What will he do to ensure that we do not lose some of the essential skills, jobs and firms, and that the sector in the north-west does not shrink as a consequence of factors that are completely out of the control of the Government and the people who work at the Ellesmere Port plant?

  • The hon. Lady knows from the work that we have done together that it is possible to make a case for attracting investment and commitment. She is absolutely right that the plant is important, and not only to the north-west but to the whole country, if the dealership network is taken into account. My ambition, as is the case for the rest of advanced manufacturing, is for our automotive sector to be more successful and to employ more people in the future. That does not happen by accident; it will involve our being engaged with the sector and making sure that facilities for research and development and training establish our reputation as the go-to place in the world for motor manufacturing, as we are for other sectors. I will work with the hon. Lady and others, and I will be vigorous in making sure that that message is very loudly understood.

  • Leyland in my constituency has a long and proud history as a part of the automotive sector. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tell the House what specific support for the automotive sector will be included in the industrial strategy?

  • The automotive sector has been one of our most successful sectors in recent years. That is partly due to the effective arrangements that have been put in place through the Automotive Council, whereby firms, including small and medium-sized suppliers, can work together to support each other. An example of that is the National Automotive Innovation Centre, which I visited recently, where new facilities are being made available not only for the majors, but for people with new ideas who are setting up new businesses. That can reinforce and continue the success of one of our most effective industrial sectors.

  • A number of my constituents work for Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and Unilever in Port Sunlight. If there are Members who think that everything in our economy is rosy, I invite them to come to Wirral South this weekend and say that. When it comes to the high-value manufacturing that the Secretary of State has talked about, does he realise the importance of the customs union, and has he made a great and important contribution to the Prime Minister’s strategy on Brexit with regard to keeping us inside the customs union?

  • The automotive sector, like others, trades across borders. That is one reason why the Prime Minister and I have been very clear that we need to be able to negotiate trading arrangements that maintain our access across those borders without tariffs and without bureaucratic impediments—that is clearly understood. Those negotiations have some way to go, but it is important to emphasise, as I and the Prime Minister have done, what our intention is.

  • What guarantees might General Motors USA be required to make to General Motors GB with respect to the pension deficit before any disposal can take place?

  • As my right hon. Friend knows, the independent Pensions Regulator is the arbiter of any changes to pension arrangements. It is absolutely right that such robust independence is in place. I emphasise that discussions are still continuing. No agreement has yet been reached but, as I have said to a number of colleagues across the House, the future of pensioners is very important to me, as it is to all Members.

  • I was involved in the discussions that took place the last time that GM considered selling its European brands in the wake of the financial crisis. At that time, we had a successful resolution, in that the company decided to retain the brands. The Secretary of State is right that Vauxhall is tremendously successful. The Astra and Corsa are among the top 10 best-selling cars in the UK, but those cars are made by a Europe-wide company that has a Europe-wide supply chain. In any of the discussions that he has had in the past week, have exchange rate movements over the past year been raised?

  • We have of course discussed all aspects of Brexit. One feature of the decisions that are being made about investment is the opportunity to locate more of the supply chain firms nearer to the production facilities. Across the board, it is important to emphasise our commitment to negotiating the best possible access to the single market, and also that the intrinsic competitiveness of the UK makes it attractive to overseas investors.

  • If I were on a board of directors of a very successful vehicle manufacturing outlet in the fifth biggest economy in the world and that economy was about to leave the EU, I think that I would want to invest more in that facility and make sure that I did not put all my eggs in one basket. Does not the future for Vauxhall look rather good and not the reverse?

  • I agree with my hon. Friend that we have in Vauxhall a very successful firm that is well regarded in the domestic market and across the continent. It is building on the success that is in prospect, but it is important that, through the discussions, that is secured in the future arrangements of the firm.

  • Many of the thousands of people employed at Vauxhall Ellesmere Port live in Wirral and they are understandably concerned about the future of their jobs following the announcement of PSA Group’s acquisition of Opel. Some 80% of the cars made at Vauxhall Ellesmere Port are exported directly to EU states, and 75% of the value of each car is imported. The Prime Minister is reported to have received a meeting request from the chief executive of the PSA Group, which Downing Street has said will take place

    “in principle, subject to diary availability”.

    Will the Secretary of State suggest that the Prime Minister makes a space in her diary as a matter of urgency?

  • I think that the hon. Lady started by saying that the deal has been agreed, so let me first say that the deal has not been done. Secondly, no one could be under any illusions as to the vigour of our response. Of course, the Prime Minister will need to find the time in her diary for a meeting, but we are keen to continue the close contact we have had.

  • The various takeovers that were talked about over the weekend show the importance of having robust and enforceable rules on takeovers and mergers. When will the Government come forward with new policy so that we will know not only how we will handle takeovers when we leave the European Union, but how we can intervene in deals that we do not want to take place?

  • It is important to reflect on the context: our reputation as an open economy that attracts overseas investment is one of the foundations of our success. We need to maintain that success and reputation. We have said that we will bring forward proposals, as we will regarding corporate governance. We will do that in due course and I will update the House at that time.

  • As a trade union official, I supported the management and workers at Ellesmere Port through new model bidding processes three times. Each time, they demonstrated themselves to be productive, efficient and flexible, and their plant to be profitable. Unfortunately, those attributes cut no ice with Peugeot, which has form in this area, as any Coventry Member will attest. May I suggest that the Secretary of State uses this opportunity to beef up his industrial strategy? I also suggest that any public procurement of motor vehicles, for example by police forces, local authorities and Government Departments, should involve only the purchase of cars from companies that build in the UK, and that those that choose not to build in the UK should not be considered?

  • Of course, I discussed with PSA the context of its closure of the Coventry plant. It was pointed out to me that the company has new management and a different approach was described. These are early stages, but that was a better message to receive than the alternative. However, like the hon. Gentleman, I want to ensure that it is reflected in practice. On procurement, it is obviously important that we get good value for money, and we have changed the procurement rules to take into account some of these wider impacts.

  • Opel has not made a profit in the EU since 1999, and Carlos Tavares, the chief executive of PSA, has a record of drastically reducing costs. What further tools does my right hon. Friend have in his armament to ensure that PSA does not move vehicle producing factories and the supply chain out of the UK?

  • The discussions are at an early stage. The leak of the discussions came out only in the middle of last week and I have had a number of meetings since then. I have been clear to the House that the successful operations in this country need to be maintained. The PSA side of the discussions has pointed out quite recently that Vauxhall is not yet its company to make contractual statements about, but the direction in which the discussions are going is clear. I will continue to be vigorous in extracting the best possible agreements about the future of Vauxhall here.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and what he has said so far. It is clear that Vauxhall’s UK plants are run to a high standard, with above-normal efficiency ratings, so will the Secretary of State outline what support he will offer to ensure that the plants are retained—and, indeed, enhanced—and that jobs are secured during any takeover? What influence, including financial assistance, can the Government exert to help?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. Again, I come back to the fact that Vauxhall’s UK operation is successful. It is efficient and effective, which is the reason, as with other car companies, why investments come to this country. We have had a successful programme of joint working with the automotive sector in areas such as research and development, and in training and upskilling the workforce. That programme continues and is available to any manufacturer that participates in the sector.

  • The UK car sector and steel manufacturing are inextricably linked, so what role does my right hon. Friend see the industrial strategy playing in the betterment of both?

  • The benefit of an industrial strategy is that we can look at the connections between areas and between sectors. Of course, a thriving automotive sector in this country is good for the steel industry.

  • Does the Secretary of State agree that the weaker protections against dismissal that are afforded to UK workers make them more vulnerable than their European counterparts? Given the Conservative party’s supposed recent conversion into a party of the workers, what plans does he have to strengthen protections for UK workers?

  • I would say two things to the hon. Lady. First, the standards we have for workers in this country are very exacting, and we have made a commitment to maintain them as we leave the European Union. The second thing is that our record of employment is one we should be proud of—in just the last few days, we were able to report employment of record numbers. That shows that the environment we operate in is attractive to investors, and the consequence of that is good jobs for British workers.

  • As the Secretary of State said, the UK automotive manufacturing sector has been extremely impressive in the past decade. However, what is striking is that the one advanced industrial nation that has not invested in the UK sector is France. Does he believe that a French business such as PSA will really choose to invest in the UK when we are outside the European Union? Will not such a business invest in France and Germany? Will the Secretary of State therefore urgently look at a British solution to the future of the excellent Ellesmere Port plant, which provides work in north Wales, on Merseyside and right across the north-west?

  • Notwithstanding—in fact, in many cases, as a result of—the successful partnership with overseas car manufacturers, 2016 was a record year for car production in this country, which was at a 17-year high. Providing that the arrangements are right, we should welcome other countries’ confidence in this country. The conversations that I have had with PSA lead me to believe that its intentions, as communicated to me, are to invest in performance, and we have a proud record of that.

  • The Secretary of State approaches this issue with great calm and carefulness. I am sure that he has looked at the impact on the firm of being inside or outside the customs union. He wants a zero-tariff regime with Europe, but we have heard that a high proportion of the components are imported. Would the Vauxhall cars that are exported meet the threshold for being made in the UK under the rules of origin?

  • The hon. Lady takes us further ahead than these preliminary discussions about a prospective sale of GM’s assets to PSA have got to. I have been very clear with not just PSA but every auto company—indeed, every manufacturer—that our intention is to pursue constructive negotiations and to have the best possible access to the single market, respecting the need to avoid bureaucratic impediments and tariffs.

  • I was born in Luton and spent the first 40 years of my life there, so I know how losing the Vauxhall plant would absolutely rip the heart out of the town. However, the issue is much broader than that, and the anxiety felt by Vauxhall workers is shared by others in the manufacturing sector as we face Brexit. What assurances can the Minister give that he is building into the Brexit strategy and the industrial strategy something that will embed those manufacturing jobs in our communities?

  • I am delighted that the hon. Lady makes that point. I hope that she will respond to the consultation on the industrial strategy, because it is very clear that it reflects on and proposes ways to strengthen what are already pillars of success, including our excellence in research and development in terms of the efficiency of the industrial processes and the skills of the workforce. We cannot stand still. We need to prepare for the future, and that is precisely what the industrial strategy, which has been warmly welcomed by international investors, sets out to do.

  • This deal would inevitably lead to job losses around Europe. The Prime Minister has said that we might have to leave the EU without a deal, so tariffs on vehicles and components are now a possibility. Does that not mean that UK employees will inevitably be at a disadvantage compared with their colleagues elsewhere in the European Union?

  • What the right hon. Gentleman misses out of his analysis is the efficiency and success of our operations here in this country, and also our strong domestic market. It is necessary to negotiate and to get the best possible terms for our Brexit arrangement—everyone is clear about that—but he should not underplay our strengths that attract businesses to invest in this country.

  • Points of Order

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It would appear that there has been no change in the processes of the House as a result of the change at the Table—that is, no wigs, which I very much welcome; I wish it had happened a long time ago. With regard to the message received from the Queen—from the Head of State—that occurred at the very beginning of our proceedings, I wonder whether the message could be communicated to the House by you, Sir, instead of the Whip coming in with the stick, and the rest of it.

  • I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The answer is that the message that is delivered comes from the Government, and so I do not see that there would be an obvious logic in its being delivered by me. [Interruption.] I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but Her Majesty communicates through Ministers, and that is what has happened. With regard to his other observation, I note what he has said. Without my rehearsing the whole issue, he will know that the request for a change came from the Clerk of the House and his senior colleagues, and it was agreed to unanimously by members of the House of Commons Commission. When I responded to points of order, I made no bones about the fact that I welcomed that change, but it was proposed by others and agreed by the Commission, chaired by me.

  • Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Needless to say, I agree entirely with what you said about the wigs. On the procedure at the beginning, despite the explanation you gave, on the advice of the Clerk, as I understand it, I wonder whether it could be altered so that there is more emphasis on the message from the Head of State—from the Queen—rather than all the attention being on the Whip coming in, whether he will be able to march backwards without difficulty, and the rest of it. It does not give the impression of a modernised House of Commons.

  • I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have made the point before, and I am happy to repeat it—I think that most people, certainly including the hon. Gentleman, will accept it—that change in this place comes about by the will of the House, and it is right that that should be the case. If he wishes to initiate a process of attempted change, it is absolutely open to him to do so and for the case to be argued either way. I think we will leave it there for today.

  • Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords]

    Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Order of 31 October 2016 (Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:

    (1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.

    (2) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion, at today’s sitting, two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

    (3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion, at today’s sitting, three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.—(Tracey Crouch.)

  • I wonder whether the Minister could explain why we are changing the programme motion.

  • I allowed the scope and the momentary wait, and the hon. Gentleman has taken his opportunity. I am extremely grateful to him for an extremely succinct speech. It is open to the Minister to respond, if she wishes to do so, but she is not under any obligation to do so.

  • The Minister does not seem to wish to take advantage of the enticing opportunity that has been offered.

    Question put and agreed to.

  • Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords]

    Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee.

    Clause 3

    Offence of serious violation of Second Protocol

  • I beg to move amendment 4, page 2, line 6, at end insert

    “, which includes a digital attack if the cultural property in question is in digital form.”

    This amendment would make explicit that an offence is committed if the act committed under paragraphs (a) to (e) of paragraph 1 of Article 15 of the Second Protocol is a digital attack, where the cultural property in question is in digital form.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 5, page 2, line 17, at end insert

    “, or

    (c) a foreign national serving under the military command of the UK Armed Forces.”

    This amendment would ensure that an offence is committed if an act described in paragraph 1(d) or (e) of Article 15 of the Second Protocol is committed by any foreign national serving under the military command of the UK Armed Forces.

    Amendment 1, in clause 17, page 8, line 12, leave out

    “or having reason to suspect”.

    Amendment 2, page 8, line 12, leave out “having reason to suspect” and insert “believing”.

    Amendment 3, page 8, line 12, leave out “having reason to suspect” and insert “suspecting”.

  • The amendment seeks to probe the Government’s thinking on whether digital attacks on cultural property would be considered as damaging cultural property under the Bill. I say in passing that we very much support the Bill, having first introduced it ourselves, but sadly we ran out of time in the Parliament prior to 2010. The Bill will bring into domestic law the offence created by article 15 of the second protocol to the 1954 Hague convention, so it is not before time. I am glad that there is House-wide support for the Bill, but we want to probe a few more points during the remaining stages, to make sure that the Government’s position is clear and on the record before it is sent for Royal Assent.

    During previous debates, both here and in the other place, there have been many discussions about the digital reach of the Bill. Given that the original convention was written in 1954, with a subsequent protocol, that was obviously long before issues of digital property would have been actively considered. We welcome the numerous assurances provided by the Government, including by the Minister in Committee, that cultural property in digital form could be protected. If it is true that digital property is protected under the Bill, it would be natural that digital attacks on that property are also covered. The purpose of the amendment is to get the Government to confirm whether that is the case.

    It would not be reasonable to recognise digital cultural property but not digital attacks on such property. Given that the Bill involves creating criminal offences, it is important that the Government put their thinking on the record. Their response to an amendment discussed in Committee highlights the need for clarity. We debated whether the cultural emblem of the blue shield, which the Bill introduces from the convention and which marks a protected item, could be shown in digital form. The Minister said:

    “For modern, born-digital material, such as films and music, in practice we would expect the emblem to be displayed on the physical object on which the material is stored or on the building in which the physical storage object is kept, rather than being displayed digitally. That would help to ensure that the emblem is readily visible. That is not to say that it cannot also be depicted in digital form.”––[Official Report, Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) [Lords] Public Bill Committee, 15 November 2016; c. 9.]

    That could be interpreted as assuming that cultural property, even that which is digital, would be attacked only in a physical sense—in other words, that any attacker would be in close physical proximity to the item and able to see the blue shield on its casing. In reality, however, digital content is more likely to be attacked by way of hacking, in which case the question of how the blue shield could flag up digital cultural property to a potential attacker is relevant. Somebody hacking into a database of some sort will not see the shield on the hard drive’s casing.

  • We want to know whether the Government have considered the possibility of digital attack, and we want to know their response to our amendment so that we can get that on the record. Will the Minister strengthen her previous wording and assure the House that it would be possible to show the blue shield in digital form in conjunction with a physical marking on the casing or the location of the digital property? The Minister also said in Committee that a roundtable on the particulars of implementing the convention was scheduled and that this item would be on the agenda. When she responds, will she tell the House whether the roundtable has happened since the Committee stage and what conclusion has been reached about the digitisation of the blue shield?

    Amendment 4 is also a useful way to probe further the digital reach of the Bill more broadly. Despite reassurances, the digital relevance of pre-digital legislation is not as simple as it seems. I want to draw the attention of the House and of the Minister to two specific issues relating to the digitisation elements of the Bill. The first relates to what the Minister said in the letter, dated 19 December 2016, which she helpfully sent to members of the Committee and others interested in the Bill following the Committee stage. In response to concerns about whether digital content is covered by the convention’s definition of cultural property, she said that it is covered. She also said:

    “We do not believe that interpreting the definition in this way would lead to inconsistencies with the international approach, but believe that attempting to expand the definition in our Bill could.”

    We have heard that line of argument throughout the proceedings on the Bill. It seems to us that either the protection of digital material is a fair and clear interpretation of the convention that would garner the required international consensus of all those who are party to it and could therefore be set down in writing in some way or other, or it is not. It would be useful if the Minister clarified which of those is the case.

    Furthermore, I understand that Wikipedia sought to be listed on UNESCO’s memory of the world register three years ago, which would have secured its protection as cultural property. However, that attempt was unsuccessful due to the difficulties of listing a digital-only and constantly changing website. Is the Minister able to shed any light on that? What consideration has been given to such issues in relation to the Bill? Have such classification issues been considered with regard to attacks on cultural property, as well as with regard to the definition of that property?

    We do not intend to press amendment 4 to a Division because we support the Bill, but we want the Government to provide as much clarity as possible for those who have to implement the law in the future. Given that the Bill will create criminal charges, I am sure the Minister agrees that it is absolutely necessary for us to have such clarification before we pass the Bill.

    Amendment 5 would ensure that foreign nationals embedded in the UK armed forces are bound by the second protocol of the convention. I am sure that many people will have noted that I and my hon. Friends tabled a similar, if not identical, amendment in Committee, which I agreed to withdraw after listening to what the Minister had to say. I have retabled the amendment on Report on the basis of some new information from the Government. I think it is useful to put that information on the record and get the Minister’s response on behalf of the Government.

    In Committee, I mentioned that I was disappointed to have been denied information in response to my written question to the Ministry of Defence about the number of foreign nationals embedded in the UK armed forces in each year since 2010. In an answer submitted on 14 November 2016 at 17.00, the Minister for the Armed Forces responded:

    “This information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.”

    I had asked the Secretary of State for Defence

    “how many members of foreign armed forces have been embedded in the UK armed forces in each year since 2010.”

    I was surprised that the Ministry of Defence did not know how many members of foreign armed forces had been embedded in the UK armed forces in each year since 2010, so I raised that surprise when we discussed the matter in Committee.

  • The question is slightly harder to answer than it might initially appear. On operations, foreign armed forces are embedded with and serve alongside British troops in various guises and in many different capacities. Unless the hon. Gentleman can be more specific, I can understand the MOD’s difficulty.

  • It is certainly within the power of the Ministry of Defence to answer the question in terms of its own definitions. However, it cannot have been that hard, because the Minister for the Armed Forces subsequently changed his mind and wrote to me, telling me that he could give me some information. It is always dangerous to intervene too early during the development of an argument. On 28 November, the Minister decided that he could provide some information, albeit not as precise as one might have desired.

  • I will give the hon. Gentleman five out of 10 on that basis. The Minister for the Armed Forces wrote:

    “As my formal PQ response made clear—a definitive response to your question could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

    However, it is roughly estimated that at least 200 members of foreign armed forces are either liaison officers or on exchange officer roles annually across the three services.”

    He went on to confirm that the Department “does not routinely collect” the requested information about embedded foreign armed forces.

    That does at least tell us what kind of numbers we are talking about, albeit not in precise terms. However, the point of my question was to get a general idea of how many people might be impacted by this legislation and to understand whether the Government had a grip on the rough ballpark figures.

    Our concern was how the Bill would impact on foreign nationals embedded in the UK armed forces who were involved in the destruction or illegal exportation of cultural property. In her response to my amendment in Committee, the Minister said that

    “if a foreign soldier were to commit an act set out in article 15(1)(d) or (e) while embedded in a UK unit, we would dismiss them and send them back to their home state to be dealt with for disobeying orders. The individual would face the consequences of their actions on their return home, and there is no loophole for embedded forces; that would apply whether or not a foreign state had ratified the convention or protocols, as the individual would be disobeying an order.”––[Official Report, Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Public Bill Committee, 15 November 2016; c. 14.]

    Now that we have a figure from the Government on the number of foreign nationals to whom the Bill will apply, albeit a rough one, I just wonder—

  • I appreciate that these are probing amendments, because if the hon. Gentleman were to press them to the vote, I do not think he would get much support from the people behind him. However, will he explain what he thinks is the difference between the terminology in the Bill, which is

    “a person subject to UK service jurisdiction”,

    and that in his amendment, which is

    “a foreign national serving under the military command of the UK Armed Forces”,

    because he has not answered that question yet?

  • I do not think that is a question for me to answer. It is one for the Minister to answer in her response. As for his comments about those on the Benches behind, I always prefer these odds when debating in the House of Commons.

    What assessment has been made of whether this matter constitutes a risk or a loophole? In Committee, the Minister mentioned that when a foreign national is embedded,

    “a bespoke status of forces agreement or memorandum of understanding is drawn up that sets out responsibility for the individual involved.”—[Official Report, Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Public Bill Committee, 15 November 2016; c. 14.]

    Is responsibility for protecting cultural property a part of that understanding? If it is not, will it be following the passage of the Bill?

    As the House knows, the UK armed forces already abide by the terms of the convention. I very much welcome that, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to their work and their outstanding contribution. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the House that although the armed forces are a complex organisation, the application of the Bill will be consistent for everybody who serves in them.

    The other amendments in this group were tabled by Government Members. We had fairly extensive discussions in Committee on the impact of the Bill on the arts market so I do not propose to say anything further on that matter.

  • I am very sympathetic to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). He has ploughed a lonely furrow, but has done so with great elegance and humour. At least he can claim to have 100% support from the representatives of the Labour party today. I am not entirely sure that I can, but I will have a go and see whether I can tempt the House towards supporting my amendments—amendments 1, 2 and 3. I am very happy to say that they were co-signed by my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) and for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham). Like the shadow Minister, although we are few in number we are very high in quality.

  • Modesty is not a word I have ever heard of. It may be, to refer to the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, a cultural object, but clearly one that is far too expensive for me to have ever clapped eyes on.

    If I may, I would like to tease out from the Government further information on, and their thoughts about, their policy in relation to clause 17, which sets up the offence of dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property. I should say by way of introduction—if, three minutes into my speech, I am entitled to call these words an introduction—that it strikes me that the Bill is, by and large, entirely uncontroversial, deeply unexciting and about 50 years too late. That said, if we are to introduce uncontroversial Bills 50 years too late, we might as well get the law right. It strikes me that clause 17 contains a self-evident defect, which I dealt with on Second Reading on 31 October 2016. If I may, I would like briefly to rehearse those arguments for the following reasons.

    I convinced myself—I remain convinced and have yet to be persuaded otherwise by the Government—that the second element of the criminal intent provision in clause 17, which I criticised, is legally incoherent. Beyond that, I have yet to be persuaded by the Secretary of State and the Minister of either the content or quality of the counterpoints they made in response to the concerns identified in my three amendments. We have had a number of meetings, both one-on-one and collectively —possibly with my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, but certainly with other representatives of the art market—and I think it is fair to say that our concerns about the wording “having reason to suspect” in clause 17 have not been answered satisfactorily.

    There has been some assertion: “This wording is better,” say the Government. There has been further assertion that the wording that I prefer, which comes from the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, has failed to lead to the prosecution of any people guilty or suspected of being guilty of offences under that Act and that therefore the level of criminal intent needs to be lowered.

  • I apologise for missing the start of my right hon. and learned Friend’s speech—

  • That was the best bit.

  • My right hon. and learned Friend does himself an injustice: repetition can be a good thing, if he is right, but it might not be such a good thing if the point is overstated. I refer him to the Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003, as well as the EU Council regulation on Syrian cultural property, where the wording is:

    “had no reason to suppose”.

    That is similar to the wording in the Bill, and I understand that there has been no grave injustice served on those law-abiding, prudent antique dealers who have been observing those provisions.

  • My hon. Friend anticipates me: that was the fourth point I was going to make in due course. The difficulty in his making that point—I am grateful that, either through his own research or thanks to assistance from other hon. Friends, he has been able to make it to me—is that those are statutory instruments, which were never debated on the Floor of the House. I am not even sure they were debated in Committee. The whole point about passing criminal legislation that could lead to an individual being sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment or, if a company, to an unlimited fine is that we ought to pass good law. We ought to debate it and we ought to allow an idea to be tested, sometimes to destruction. The Afghanistan and Iraq orders that my hon. Friend talks about have not been tested in this place. The 2003 Act was tested in this place and this Bill is being tested in this place, and if the Government do not enjoy that, well I am sorry for them.

  • My right hon. and learned Friend is dealing with his fourth point, but I wonder whether one of his subsequent points deals with international best practice in relation to United Nations resolutions, including paragraph 7 of Security Council resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 or Security Council resolution 2199 of 2015, which focus on the same provision of “reasonable suspicion” that is in the Bill, which are obviously binding on all UN members and which are also part of the international legal architecture of our accession to The Hague convention.

  • I am sure that my hon. Friend will have plenty of opportunity in the next two or three hours to make his own speech, but I am always very happy to take his interventions. If, however, he looks at The Hague convention—which is being brought into our criminal law by this Bill—he will see that there is no rubric or form of words that are required by that convention to be imported into our criminal law. If we are to base our criminal law on a form of precedent, I would look to the most recent statute, which is the 2003 Act, rather than two undebated and, I think, time-limited statutory instruments. But anyhow, my hon. Friend will no doubt have an opportunity over the next few hours to develop the points that he has thought a great deal about.

    I have yet to be persuaded that the Government’s counter-arguments, which I rudely describe as mere assertions, deal with the points that I made on Second Reading. I will not repeat what I said on Second Reading—I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff West, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, has carefully read what I said on 31 October and recited it every week at the Labour party parliamentary meetings, which is why Labour Members have not attended this afternoon—but I make a serious point: the content of clause 17 sets up two systems, which is to say, actual knowledge, which is fair enough, and “reason to suspect”, which in my view is not fair enough and could lead to the conviction of people for lacking curiosity or being careless, rather than for having the requisite criminal knowledge.

    During the meetings, as I say, the Government undertook to find out from the Crown Prosecution Service how many cases had been dropped or not pursued by virtue of what was described as the high level of criminal intent required under the 2003 Act. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—there is no information to support that assertion. That argument, it seems to me, falls away.

    To persuade me and those who think like me who come from the art market rather than from Parliament that this is a perfectly acceptable way to design this clause, it has been said, “Don’t worry; we will produce some guidance to the CPS, or the CPS itself will produce some guidance, which will inform the decisions of the police or prosecutors about whether to prosecute under the ‘reason to suspect’ arm of clause 17.” Of course, we have not seen that guidance, and we do not know where it is or what it will say; neither do we know what its legal effect will be.

    I repeat that we are here creating an offence that could lead to somebody being sent to prison for seven years. Now if I am about to be sent to prison for seven years, I would rather like to know why. If I am to be prosecuted—even if I am later acquitted—I would again like to have some clearer information about the basis on which I am to be prosecuted.

    I would hope, too, that all of us in the Chamber would like to keep an eye on the public expenditure implications of running prosecutions. We all know that the court system is overloaded; we all know that bringing prosecutions is expensive and has to be paid for by the taxpayer. If we are asked to introduce into our criminal law wording that foments uncertainty and a sense of unfairness, we should all be a little more careful before permitting such wording to go ahead.

    As I said a few moments ago, I shall not repeat everything I said on 31 October, because it is there on the record for everyone to see. Let me finish, however, with this plea. If the Government are not persuaded to get the law right, simply because so few people are interested in this subject, and they know that they can whip the Government party to come in here and vote for whatever it is they want, I say fair enough in that I accept the arithmetic of our legislative democracy. It would be foolish of me to think that by standing up and speaking on a Monday afternoon I could persuade others to defeat the Government.

    I am not going to press my amendments to the vote. I do not know whether my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) and for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) have other plans, but for my part, I shall not urge them to press these amendments. What I do urge, however, is that the Government at least condescend to tell us what on earth they are on about. So far, we have not had any genuine information or any genuine evidence or any thoughtful response to the concerns that I have expressed. As I said on the previous occasion, these are not just my concerns; they are shared by many who have worked for many years in the art market and have practical experience of the difficulties caused by woolly wording.

    My arguments have also been assisted by and based on what has been said by people who have far greater legal expertise than I have. I listed their names on Second Reading. They include a former Lord Chief Justice, a professor of law at Leicester University, a highly respected Queen’s Counsel who specialises in criminal law, and many others who—while approving of the policy behind the Bill and the inclusion of this ancient convention—fear that we are setting off on a wrong track that may lead to injustice. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister hates injustice of all sorts, and I suspect that, when she finds it in a Bill of which she has the conduct, she will probably want to do something to correct it.

  • Let me begin by repeating what I said on Second Reading. Both the SNP and the Scottish Government welcome the Bill and the purpose that it serves. Like the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), I support its enactment.

    When talking about amendment 4, the hon. Gentleman made some good points about the use of the blue shield in digital form, which seems to be an eminently sensible idea. I also agree with his amendment 5. It is only right that foreign troops who are embedded in United Kingdom forces adhere to the same standards and rules as those forces. The Government can be assured of our support for this important legislation, so that the United Kingdom can ratify the 1954 Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, and accede to both the 1954 and the 1999 protocols.

    Although the United Kingdom has never ratified the Hague convention, it is widely and rightly acknowledged that UK armed forces already comply fully with it during military operations, and that they also recognise the blue shield, which is—as the hon. Gentleman explained—the emblem that identifies cultural property that is protected under the convention and its protocols. I think it would be useful if the Government considered extending it to digital property. Ratifying the protocols would allow the Government to give our troops formal responsibility when they are operating in armed conflict.

    We firmly believe that, no matter where it is located in the world, we all benefit from having a rich and diverse historical and cultural heritage, and that every effort must be made to protect that in time of war—and, indeed, at all times. I do not expect to hear many, if any, dissenting voices when it comes to the principles of the Bill. We all recognise that a people’s culture is a crucial part of who they are now and what they were in the past. For virtually all communities, regardless of where they are in the world, cultural heritage is a symbol whose importance cannot be overstated.

    With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall return to a theme on which I touched briefly on Second Reading: the fate of the Parthenon marbles, which are still referred to by some as the Elgin marbles in memory of the man who misappropriated them from the Parthenon just over two centuries ago. What better way could there be of marking the passing of the Bill than allowing the Parthenon marbles to return to—

  • I have tried to allow the hon. Gentleman some latitude, but, as he knows, we are dealing with amendments rather than with Second Reading speeches. Tempted though I was to hear the hon. Gentleman’s Second Reading speech again, I must keep him within order.

  • I will be very brief indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker.

    We know that there has been systematic looting of priceless artefacts, and that a flood of artefacts are coming on to the market throughout Europe, America and the far east. We must do everything that we can to protect those artefacts, and I hope that the Government will take on board the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Cardiff West. I think it incumbent on all of us to protect the cultural heritage, regardless of whose it is. I look forward to supporting the Government, and I am sure that they will accept the amendments.

  • I declare that I am president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association and that I have also been advised by the British Art Market Federation, the Antiquities Dealers’ Association and LAPADA, all of which have made written representations on this Bill. I concur with the comments of my colleagues that the art and antiques industry is fully supportive of the principles and aims of this Bill.

  • Turning to the amendments in my name and those of colleagues, clause 17 relates to the most important point made in the submissions from the art and antique trade. Members have spoken before of the need for certainty in law—that is the point that needs to be clarified—so that well-intentioned and honest dealers and auction houses are clear as to exactly what is permitted. That is even more important when, as others have said, there is the possibility of a criminal conviction. The concern is over the level of knowledge of wrongdoing required before a dealer or auctioneer can be judged to have committed a criminal offence—what I understand lawyers call the mens rea point—and whether that has been expressed with an appropriate level of clarity in the Bill as currently worded.

    Clearly no one objects to the word “knowing” in the relevant subsection. If a dealer knows that cultural property was unlawfully exported from an occupied territory, they are guilty of an offence. The problem lies with the additional criterion for committing an offence when someone has “reason to expect” that an item was unlawfully exported. Despite carrying out appropriate provenance checks on an item of cultural property, a dealer or auctioneer might, just prior to exhibiting it at an auction or antiques fair, receive an unsubstantiated allegation that it was illegally removed from an occupied territory.

  • Does the hon. Lady take any comfort from the Government’s impact assessment of the Bill, which envisages that there would be one prosecution every 30 years under the Act?

  • Of course we all hope that is the case, but that is why we all in this House, jointly I believe, are seeking clarification: we do not want unsubstantiated allegations that something was illegally removed from an occupied territory, or a request for something that was legally exported. The allegation might be totally groundless when something is just about to be sold or exhibited, but the seller, genuinely believing that the item had not been illegally exported, would fear that the allegation could be deemed “a reason to suspect”, and that could lead to the item then being withdrawn from sale. The time-dependent opportunity to sell it would be lost and the very act of withdrawal could well then damage the artwork’s future saleability. The mere making of an unfounded allegation that an item was unlawfully exported from a potentially occupied territory after 1954 may place in the mind of a potential dealer or auctioneer a reason to suspect that it has been unlawfully exported, and although that might not later turn out to be the case, he will not go near it because it has been tainted.

    I give as an example an old master picture that has changed hands on the legitimate open market in Europe in the past few years. It is sent to London for sale by auction. Due diligence is carried out and its known provenance is investigated, as is its sale history, and checks are made that the item has not been stolen. The picture is then included in an auction catalogue which is published several days before a sale. An allegation is then made that it was removed from an occupied eastern European country in the 1960s. Time is necessarily short to investigate whether that is true. Attempts to resolve the matter beyond doubt before the auction do not succeed, and even though it may well prove groundless, the allegation itself represents a reason for suspicion under the terms of the Bill as currently drafted. Not wishing to run the risk of prosecution, the auction house has no alternative but to withdraw the picture from the auction, to the disadvantage of its owner who, at best, will have to wait for another auction and, at worst, will face financial loss, as marketing it for a second time could adversely affect its value. The rarer and more valuable a picture or piece of art it is, the greater is the risk that a successful sale will be prejudiced by its withdrawal from an auction. In time, the allegation could well prove groundless, but the damage will have been done.

    I recall the Secretary of State saying on the Floor of the House on 31 October that

    “It is important that we are clear that the Bill will not hamper the way in which the art market operates.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 700.]

    The closest existing legislation to the current Bill is the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough referred earlier. It is concerned with illegally removed archaeological material and objects that have been taken illegally from monuments or historical structures. However, unlike the Bill—in which the types of cultural property covered are extensive and could even include cultural property in people’s family collections—the 2003 Act does not cover works of purely artistic interest. The Act states:

    “A person is guilty of an offence if he dishonestly deals in a cultural object that is tainted, knowing or believing that the object is tainted.”

  • My hon. Friend refers to the 2003 Act. She and I will recall that the genesis of the Act was the ministerial advisory panel’s report on illicit trade, which was published in 2000. The report suggested that the gap in the Theft Act 1968 should be filled by what became the 2003 Act and by the “knowing or believing” test for mens rea. Is it not a pity that the Government do not seem to remember that, and that they seem to be moving down a different route?

  • I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving us the benefit of his experience, which I hope will prompt the Government to reconsider.

    As the British Art Market Federation and others have stated, the existing statutes mean that a dealer acting with honest intent and conducting reasonable due diligence is highly unlikely to run the risk of prosecution, unless it can be shown that they have wilfully acted dishonestly. I understand that the Government have cited article 21 of the second protocol of the convention as justification for a lower level of mens rea, but I draw my hon. Friend the Minister’s attention to article 15 of the protocol, which indicates that an offence has occurred if a person intentionally commits an act of theft or misappropriation against cultural property protected under the convention. Surely that suggests that an element of dishonest criminal intent is required by the convention. I seek that assurance. If the Bill were to introduce a lower threshold of mens rea, that would amount to gold-plating, which appears to run counter to Baroness Neville-Rolfe’s assurances in the other place that

    “the Government intend to do only what is necessary to meet our obligations under the convention and its protocols.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 June 2016; Vol. 773, c. 586.]

    For all those reasons, I am concerned that the words “having reason to suspect” are inappropriate. Terms such as “believing” or even “suspecting” carry greater certainty and clarity. I emphasise that this is a point of law; it does not weaken or water down the Bill. We all understand that the objective is squarely to target those with criminal intent. I ask the Minister to consider these views and those of the art and antiques industry when drawing up the detailed regulations that will ensue from this legislation.

  • It is a pleasure to take part in the later proceedings of this important Bill. I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cultural heritage; it is excellent to see the Bill on its way and at long last to enable our ratification of The Hague convention, which will be very welcome. Having said that, I very much respect this level of scrutiny and the concerns outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick). We also had exchanges on this issue in the Bill Committee. I welcome that because the concern among dealers has been outlined, not least to the all-party parliamentary group.

    The British Antique Dealers Association, the British Art Market Federation, the Antiquities Dealers Association and LAPADA all made considered written representations, which need to be fully respected, and I join them in wanting to ensure confidence in the market. The last thing we want to happen is for the Bill in any way to provide uncertainty or ambiguity in the codes of practice and guidance, which are very welcome—they are welcomed not least by the all-party parliamentary group. We want London to be the centre of excellence for dealers’ associations, and we want there to be true confidence in the market.

    The all-party parliamentary group has deliberated on some of the scaremongering stories out there. We recognise that the London dealers’ market has a very good record, and we want to ensure continuing confidence in that market. I have due respect for the concerns that have been expressed, and I look forward to further roundtable meetings and the publishing of guidance.

    My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, a former Law Officer, pleaded for guidance to be published at this stage. As he will know, some of us who scrutinised the Bill in Committee, including the shadow Justice team, are on his side in pleading for such guidance to be published before the end of our proceedings. Sadly, those pleas have been made in vain in some ways. I share his concern that there should be as much transparency as possible.

    It is important to recognise that other stakeholders are concerned about amending clause 17. Although the antiquities and antiques dealers’ associations are important and must be listened to, we must also listen to the police. I understand that police representatives have said that they support the Bill as currently drafted. I have an interest as a criminal defence solicitor, and I am not necessarily surprised that the police support the current wording, but it is worth taking account of other interested parties, such as the British Red Cross and the British Museum.

  • I was puzzled by the reference to the British Red Cross in a letter from the Minister, so I checked it with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and she, too, was a little puzzled by the reference. I am not sure that the Red Cross has anything whatever to do with this. This is all about preventing the unlawful trade in items unlawfully exported from occupied territory. The Red Cross has lots of things to worry about, but I am not sure its main aim in life is supporting this Bill.

  • I do not often disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend, but the British Red Cross has a great deal of interest because, in many ways, it is the pre-eminent body in dealing with issues of international humanitarian law. What we are doing here is ratifying The Hague convention, in which the Red Cross plays a crucial role.

    I quoted Mr Michael Meyer, the head of international law at the British Red Cross, in Committee. If you will forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will repeat what I quoted because it is of direct relevance:

    “However, it appears that, in practice, the clause should place no greater burden on dealers than already exists to conduct appropriate due diligence. In other words, the threshold of ‘reason to suspect’ is not so low as to have an adverse impact on the legitimate market, while at the same time acting as a necessary and suitable deterrent for those who may be less scrupulous. The wording is somewhat similar to that used in the existing Iraq and Syria sanctions orders. There is also very similar wording found in section 17 of New Zealand’s Cultural Property (Protection in Armed Conflict) Act 2012.”

    That Act followed New Zealand’s ratification of The Hague convention. What that international lawyer says is relevant because, although I respect the well-made point that this Parliament is considering how the convention is applied domestically through our courts, we are catching up on ratifying The Hague convention and setting ourselves on an equal footing from an international legal standing. I pray that in aid.

    I am arguing against myself to some extent here, but I recognise that if we were dealing with a simple issue relating to another dishonesty offence being added to the criminal legal handbook, I would be joining my right hon. and learned Friend in expressing concern about the disparity on mens rea in respect of this offence and the normal panoply of dishonesty offences. However, we are dealing with a unique offence in unique circumstances.

    The shadow Minister made a point about the impact assessment and the view that there will be one prosecution. That is relevant because we are talking about an exceptional prosecution in respect of an exceptional piece of property that comes through to the market in this country and how it is then dealt with. We should therefore not overstate the concern, and we need to take into account the confidence of the market. We are dealing with exceptional cases, which need to be dealt with appropriately and carefully. That is why we need to have regard for what is already in place, not least how other cases are dealt with in international practice and how we have applied other relevant legislation.

  • The Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003 was a statutory instrument that did not have the level of scrutiny we are afforded in dealing with this Bill—that is why we are undertaking this scrutiny. It is important to look at the impact of what has been in place since 2003. That order contains the words:

    “and had no reason to suppose that the item in question was illegally removed Iraqi cultural property.”

    That is particularly relevant here, as it is an equivalent provision to the one in clause 17. Interestingly, the provision is more onerous, as it shifts the burden on to the defendant, with the onus on them to prove that they had no reason to suppose that the property had been illegally removed, whereas in clause 17 the onus is on the prosecution to provide the proof. I have not heard concern from the dealers’ association and others about this order and how it goes even further in shifting the onus in respect of people dealing illegally with removed Iraqi cultural property. I am not aware of any case in which an antiquities dealer has been unjustly convicted—or, indeed, even prosecuted or arrested—under that order, even though it goes a lot further than clause 17 in shifting the burden on to the defence.

  • Does it follow from what my hon. Friend is saying that he does not know whether any convictions under the statutory instrument have been for the “knowing” or for having “had no reason to suppose”? He does not know either way, does he?

  • What I do know either way is that no antiquities dealer has come forward about being unjustly convicted and there has not been a campaign about such. None seems to have been unjustly convicted under this order—or there has been no evidence that there has been an iniquity in relation to an arrest, prosecution or seizure under the order or, indeed, under the other relevant provision, the European Union Council regulation on Syrian cultural property. That refers to

    “Syrian cultural property goods and other goods of archaeological…importance…where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the goods have been removed from Syria without the consent of their legitimate owner”.

    Again, I am not aware of any antiquities dealer having fallen foul of those provisions, with the complaint being that the net is cast too widely.

    I concede that, in terms of mens rea, there is a difference between normal dishonesty offences and this particular offence, but in respect of the actual impact of the Bill, I am not aware of a serious problem. Rather, the answer is that, with the appropriate legal advice and the due diligence that one would expect of any decent, law-abiding antiquities dealer, they will be able to chart their way through the legislation.

    Another relevant aspect is international practice. We are in the process of ratifying The Hague convention and putting ourselves into line internationally. It is important to refer to paragraph 7 of UN Security Council resolution 1483, which came into being on 22 May 2003 and is obviously binding on all UN member states. It was made in direct response to the looting of cultural institutions in the immediate wake of the invasion of Iraq. All member states signed up to taking

    “appropriate steps to facilitate the safe return to Iraqi institutions of Iraqi cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious importance illegally removed from the Iraq National Museum, the National Library, and other locations”.

    Paragraph 7 says specifically that that should be done

    “by establishing a prohibition on trade in or transfer of such items and items with respect to which reasonable suspicion exists that they have been illegally removed”.

    Similar wording is used in United Nations resolutions.

    That similarity continued in paragraph 17 of UN Security Council resolution 2199, from 12 February 2015. Again, it is binding on UN member states. It was adopted in direct response to the looting of Iraqi and Syrian cultural property in the course of the ongoing armed conflicts in those states. The Security Council reaffirmed its decision and recognised that there was a corresponding obligation for cultural property illegally removed from Syria since 15 March 2011. On the standard of knowledge considered sufficient by the Security Council, of which the UK is of course a permanent member—we want to ensure we are right up there in terms of signing up to ratifying the two protocols—there was the same equivalence in relation to reasonable suspicion.

  • On the point about the uncertainties, perhaps the Minister could clarify whether the legislation is going to be retrospective. Is it going to apply to items that are imported in future, or to items that are currently in the country? Alternatively, will it apply only to what happens after the Bill is passed? We are talking about items that move from country to country, particularly those in areas of potential conflict, so it would be helpful if there was clarity in the Bill about the date on which an item was imported.

  • I am happy to facilitate the Minister’s being able to respond to that question.

    On 18 January 2012, before the adoption of paragraph 17 of Security Council resolution 2199, an EU Council regulation emphasised the same points made in the Security Council resolutions. It referred to situations in which

    “there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the goods have been removed from Syria without the consent of their legitimate owner or have been removed in breach of Syrian law or international law”.

    The amendments have been tabled in good faith and are well intentioned, and in ordinary circumstances I would think they were well merited and had substance. In this particular case, however, given the context, I do not think they are necessary or, indeed, desirable, especially when one takes into account the international best practice or hears from stakeholders such as the Red Cross and the British Museum. I shall conclude with the words of the latter:

    “We feel it is particularly important that there is no watering down of responsibilities or requirements in the Bill. Specifically, we feel that in regard to the Clause 17…it is imperative that the working should remain ‘knowing or having reason to suspect that it has been unlawfully exported’”.

  • I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this good debate on Report. I propose to respond to the amendments in the order in which they have been grouped.

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for his explanation of amendment 4. He and Lord Stevenson have been passionate about ensuring that digital property is protected—I congratulate them on their efforts. The hon. Gentleman raised really interesting points about the risk of cyber-attacks. We should always be vigilant in protecting against and resisting such attacks. This is a complex and, indeed, developing area, but the amendment is both unnecessary and inappropriate. It is unnecessary because we consider that article 15 of the second protocol is already capable of covering cyber-attacks in the context of an armed conflict. As clause 3 is drafted with reference to article 15, the Bill is also able to cover such attacks.

    The amendment is inappropriate because the precise meaning of article 15 is a matter of international law and we should not seek to elaborate on its meaning. The amendment would risk creating a divergence in meaning between our own law and international law, and not only would that be unhelpful, but it could ultimately place us in breach of our international obligations. Clause 3 as drafted is sufficient to implement the convention effectively in the UK, so I must oppose the amendment.

    Let me briefly address the other issues that the hon. Gentleman raised about digital property. The roundtable on implementation took place on 5 December with representatives from the heritage and museum sectors, and experts in cultural property protection. On the subject of the cultural emblem, we discussed its digital display, which stakeholders broadly welcome. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that digital issues will continue to be fully considered as part of the ongoing discussions about this particular aspect of the Bill.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for tabling amendment 5, not least because it allows me to highlight the tremendous work of our armed forces on cultural property protection. Our military already take the protection of the world’s cultural heritage very seriously. Not only is respect for cultural property upheld across the UK’s armed forces and reinforced in policy and training, but the joint military cultural property protection working group provides an important focal point for progressing numerous aspects of cultural property protection.

    Planning for the new military cultural property protection unit is continuing apace. The unit will ensure that cultural property is protected from damage and looting, and it will provide advice, training and support across our armed forces. I am sure that the whole House will join me in commending this important work.

    Amendment 4 would extend the UK’s jurisdiction over the offences described in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of article 15.1 of the second protocol. If it were passed, foreign nationals committing those offences abroad would be subject to our jurisdiction if they were serving under the military command of the UK armed forces. This issue was raised in Committee and, to be helpful, I will be more than happy to set out our position again. Before I do so, however, let me respond to the hon. Gentleman about the reply he received from the Minister for the Armed Forces regarding the number of foreign personnel embedded in UK armed forces. That is a matter for the Ministry of Defence, and I am really sorry to say that I have nothing further to add to that correspondence.

    In Committee, I stated that we should not extend our jurisdiction beyond our obligations under the convention and protocols. Clause 4(3)(b) currently covers all those subject to UK service jurisdiction, regardless of nationality. Although that is not expressly required by article 16.1, it does no more than reflect the existing position under the Armed Forces Act 2006. This is quite a different matter to extending jurisdiction to all foreign nationals serving under UK military command, which would be inappropriate. It is important that we respect the service jurisdictions of our allies in relation to their personnel when they are embedded in the UK military, as we rightly expect our service jurisdiction to be respected when our own service personnel are embedded in the forces of another state.

    Such arrangements are often reciprocal. If we try to impose UK jurisdiction on foreign embedded forces, other states will be less willing to allow UK forces to be embedded with them. Clearly, that would be detrimental to the operation of UK armed forces. As I explained in Committee, these arrangements are reflected in status of forces agreements or memorandums of understanding, and a foreign soldier committing a serious violation would be dismissed and returned to their sending state. It should also be remembered that, as required by the convention and protocols, jurisdiction over the acts described in sub-paragraphs (a) to (c) of article 15.1 of the second protocol already extends to all foreign nationals committing the gravest offences abroad.

    The scope of jurisdiction set out in clause 3(4) is in line with that required by the second protocol, taking into account existing provision in the 2006 Act. This ensures that all people subject to UK service jurisdiction can rightly be prosecuted on the same basis, regardless of nationality. To go any further would be to interfere needlessly with the service jurisdictions of our allies in a manner that would be at odds with standard military practices. Given that explanation, I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff West will not press amendments 4 and 5 to a Division.

  • I turn to amendments 1 to 3, which relate to clause 17. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) for setting out their concerns, but I am afraid that I cannot agree to their proposals. I explained the Government’s approach when we considered clause 17 in Committee, but I am sure that it will be helpful to the House if I briefly to go through the main points again.

    I stress that the Bill is about protecting a small but very special category of cultural property: that which is

    “of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people”,

    as defined in article 1 of the convention. The dealing offence in clause 17 applies only to this most important cultural property when it was unlawfully exported from occupied territory after 1956, when the convention and first protocol came into force, and if it has been imported into the United Kingdom after the Bill comes into force. I hope that that provides some clarity with regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. However, dealers should always be concerned to ensure that any objects in which they deal have good and lawful provenance. If there is any evidence to suggest that an object might have been unlawfully exported from its country of origin—wherever and whenever that export took place—dealers should not deal in that object.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington raised this issue by using the example of an old master. I know that art market stakeholders are concerned that claims about the provenance of an object that are made in a phone call or published on a blog shortly before a sale could stop that sale from proceeding. That might be the case on very rare occasions, but this is already an issue for the art market and it will not be solved by watering down the Bill. If new, convincing evidence is presented about an object’s provenance shortly before an auction, we already expect dealers to pause and consider whether they need to undertake further due diligence. If, however, a claim is made with no evidence to back it up, it may be perfectly legitimate for a dealer to disregard that and proceed with the sale. Such claims are unlikely to be considered a reason to suspect that an object has been unlawfully exported. When unlawfully exported cultural property is imported into the United Kingdom, it is important that we are able to protect it by deterring and, if necessary, prosecuting those who would deal in it.

  • The Minister’s point is confusing. She says that the examples she gave do not provide reason to suspect. In fact, they provide reason to suspect, but it might be that that suspicion is not true. That is the distinction that the Government fail to understand.

  • But my point is that this issue already exists in the art market—the Bill does not alter that at all. Art market dealers should be carrying out due diligence in all cases. The hypothetical circumstances and examples that have been given make no difference as to whether such cases are covered by the Bill or by existing legislation. The Government consider that the offence as drafted is the most appropriate way to achieve the protection needed to deter people from unlawfully importing exported cultural property into the UK.

    The offence created by clause 17 is consistent with similar offences created by the Iraq and Syria sanctions orders, which use “reason to suppose” and “reasonable grounds to suspect” as the basis for determining criminal liability. The offences in the sanction orders are the most appropriate comparators for the offence created in the Bill, as they also deal with cultural property that is unlawfully removed from conflict zones. We therefore refute the suggestion that the drafting of the Bill is novel or contentious, as some have suggested. The Iraq sanctions order has been in place since 2003, and the Syria sanctions order since 2013, and they have not had an adverse impact on the art market. While I hear what my right hon. and learned Friend says about the fact that they are statutory instruments, they are still the law. The fact is that they have not had an adverse impact on the art market, and we still think they are the best comparators.

    Thirdly, key stakeholders, including the police, academics, museums and the Council for British Archaeology, support us in our view that the threshold is appropriate. One leading academic, Professor Roger O’Keefe of University College London, has confirmed his view that the drafting of the offence reflects international best practice, as was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). Furthermore, we have discussed the issue at length with art market stakeholders, and we have listened to their concerns carefully, but they have provided no clear evidence that the mens rea in the Bill would create insurmountable problems for the market or increase the due diligence that dealers need to undertake. It will, however, provide a deterrent for those unscrupulous dealers who might be tempted to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property.

    My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough also mentioned guidance. To reassure those with concerns on this issue, we made a commitment to work with art market stakeholders, with a view to providing guidance where necessary to assist the art market in understanding the new dealing offence and complying with the Bill. My officials are taking that forward with art market stakeholders, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. A meeting to discuss the issue was held last week, and a further meeting is planned for 1 March.

    With that, I hope my colleagues are reassured and feel that they do not need to press their amendments to clauses 3 and 17.

    Amendment 4 negatived.

    Third Reading

    Queen’s consent signified.

  • I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    Today is an important milestone in our drive to protect cultural property not only in this country but around the world, and particularly in places where it is threatened by armed conflict. The 1954 Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict and its two protocols are an important part of the international legal framework for protecting cultural property. Since 2004, successive Governments have promised to bring forward the legislation required to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the convention and accede to the protocols. I am delighted that this Government have finally been able to do so, and I thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) and for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) for securing time for the Bill in this Session.

    The Bill, together with the Hague convention and its protocols, fits into the wider framework of our initiatives to protect cultural property. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the British Museum to learn more about its Iraq emergency heritage management training scheme, which is helping to build capacity in the Iraqi state board of antiquities and heritage by training staff in a wide range of sophisticated techniques of retrieval and rescue archaeology. The scheme is supported by £3 million from our new cultural protection fund. That fund, which is managed by the British Council, is so far supporting nine projects to the tune of £8.8 million, using British knowledge and expertise in places where cultural heritage is at risk.

    The first group of Iraqi participants completed their training in November. One of them has already been appointed by the Iraqi state board to lead the assessment of the site of Nimrud, which was recently liberated from Daesh control. The second group of participants is now in training at the British Museum, and I am delighted that they are in the Public Gallery to witness our debate and the passing of this important piece of legislation.

  • I commend the Minister on navigating us through to this stage. She has now become an international advocate, having travelled to conferences to extol the virtues of our commitment to cultural property. Will she also pay tribute to Professor Peter Stone of Newcastle University and the UK Committee of the Blue Shield, who want us to establish a centre of excellence for the collection and sharing of information on threats to cultural property worldwide? We are an exemplar on that, and we could perhaps do more with more funding.

  • I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I am sure that the Prime Minister was paying close attention to our proceedings in Committee, during which my hon. Friend asked me to consider going to Abu Dhabi for an international convention on cultural property, because, shortly after he made that request, the Prime Minister wrote to ask me to attend that convention. I am really pleased that I went to that excellent convention. I met some leading figures from around the world, including the head of UNESCO, and the event gave us an opportunity to show that the UK is leading the way on this matter. I will come to my hon. Friend’s point about praising Professor Stone later.

    The creation of the new cultural property protection unit in the British Army—a modern-day version of the famous monuments men, and of course women—will ensure that respect for and protection of cultural property is embedded in our armed forces. The unit is expected to consist of between 10 and 20 specialist reserve officers. It will provide advice, training and support across the armed forces, ensure that cultural property is protected from damage and looting, and be able to investigate, record and report cultural property issues from any area of operations. I congratulate Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick on his work so far to develop this unit, and I look forward to following its progress.

    Those initiatives are ensuring that the United Kingdom is a world leader in the protection of cultural property. Passing this Bill, and becoming a state party to the Hague convention and both its protocols, will cement that position. The Bill introduces into UK law the provisions that are necessary to ensure that we are able to comply with the convention and protocols when they come into force. Together, they provide protection for the most important cultural property—that which is of the greatest importance for the cultural heritage of every people. As I confirmed in Committee and in my subsequent letter to hon. Members on 19 December, the definition of cultural property set out in the convention is broad and flexible. It could include cultural property on film and in digital form, provided that it satisfies the requirement of being of the greatest importance for the cultural heritage of every people. The Bill makes it an offence to attack or destroy such cultural property during armed conflict, in violation of the convention or second protocol. It regulates use of the cultural emblem—the internationally recognised sign used to identify cultural property that is protected by the convention. It also makes it an offence to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property from an occupied territory, and ensures that we are able to protect cultural property that is brought to this country from areas of conflict until it can be returned.

    This has been my first Bill as a Minister. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be responsible for such an important measure that has become so widely and internationally welcomed and supported, not just in Parliament but beyond. The Bill has been well debated and scrutinised in both Houses. I am grateful to all hon. Members who contributed to our proceedings. I thank the Opposition Front Benchers, particularly the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), for their support. I also thank the Whips and the Clerks for their assistance. Looking back, I thank the Culture, Media and Sport Committee for its scrutiny of the draft legislation in 2008. At that time, the Committee was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, who championed this cause by ensuring that we could introduce the Bill during this Session. I thank the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have been fully supportive of the Bill. This has been an excellent example of us working together as one United Kingdom to achieve a common goal on an issue of great importance to us all.

    My thanks also go to the many stakeholders who have advised and supported us during the preparation and passage of this Bill: academics, particularly Professor Roger O’Keefe and Professor Peter Stone; the police, including Chief Constable Paul Crowther and his team; specialist agencies such as the Red Cross—I am pleased that Michael Meyer is in the Gallery today to show his support—and many other representative organisations. They have all contributed their specialist knowledge and expertise, which has been most welcome and much appreciated.

    Last but not least, I thank the officials who have worked on this Bill—not only those who have supported me and my ministerial colleagues in taking the Bill through Parliament, but their predecessors who worked on these issues, drew up the draft Bill 10 years ago, and ensured that that was not forgotten but was ready when a place was found for it in the legislative programme. Their efforts have finally borne fruit, and it is only right that we should acknowledge their contribution.

    Passing the Bill moves us one step closer to finally ratifying the Hague convention, acceding to the protocols and, I hope, achieving our aim of becoming the first permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to do so. Indeed, it seems that our initiative in introducing the Bill might well have encouraged France and China to begin their own procedure to accede to the second protocol, proving once again that the UK is the world leader in the protection of cultural property.

    We look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners and stakeholders to develop and enhance the protection of cultural property in this country and around the world. It has taken 60 years for us to get around to ratifying the Hague convention. The Bill has been waiting for almost 10 years to get on the statute book. That it is finally on the verge of becoming law is true testament to this Government’s commitment to protecting the world’s cultural heritage.

    Although I have acknowledged that the Bill seeks to protect a limited class of cultural property, it should not be lost on Members that, in passing it, we will be taking essential steps to protect the world’s most pre-eminent cultural heritage for the benefit of all people and future generations. At a time when cultural property is facing global danger, that cannot happen soon enough. I commend the Bill to the House.

  • I echo all the thanks given by the Minister. I also note our achievement in saving A-level art history along the way as well. We raised the issue on Second Reading and managed to save the Government from themselves, so this outbreak of cross-party collaboration has been worth while.

    We do not oppose the Bill, as we have said all along. On the contrary, we are very proud to support the ratification of the 1954 Hague convention. The Bill has been 63 years in the making and I am pleased that the ratification of the convention will show that protecting cultural property is a UK priority. Culture is essential to society. It is not an added luxury. It preserves our past, inspires our future and enriches us as human beings.

    The convention is particularly laudable in its internationalism and collectivism, and in its acknowledgement that the culture of one is important to the culture of all across the world. As has been pointed out many times during our debates, the process of ratifying the convention has been done on a cross-party basis in this House and in the other place. The process was begun by the last Labour Government. Unfortunately it was not completed by 2010, but I thank my colleagues and former colleagues for putting the issue on the national agenda as far back as 2004 and for publishing a draft Bill in 2008. In 2015, the Government announced their intention to ratify the convention, and thanks are due to the right hon. Members for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), the former Secretary of State, and for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who played a part at that stage.

    Likewise, I thank the Minister for her contributions in this Chamber and in Committee; for her responses to the sometimes annoying amendments that we tabled in Committee; and for granting us access to her officials during the course of the Bill, which was extremely helpful. The Bill is about co-operation and mutual respect, so it was entirely appropriate that we co-operated across party lines in order to get it on the statute book. The way in which the Minister has steered the Bill through and the courteous manner in which she has conducted herself throughout the debates is a useful example that all Ministers in her Department and others should follow.

    Likewise, we should thank all those individuals and organisations that submitted evidence and participated in discussions, as well as those who campaigned for the convention’s ratification in the intervening years. I also thank my colleagues in the other place, particularly Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Collins of Highbury, for their robust and informed questioning as the Bill went through its respective stages in the House of Lords.

    I am also grateful for the previous work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and for the work of the Clerks, Hansard recorders and Door Keepers in making possible the passage of the Bill.

    Before our debate comes to an end, I want to re-emphasise a point I made on Second Reading that, in the light of recent events, has sadly become even more relevant. The destruction of Palmyra in Syria has been mentioned many times during our debates as a tragedy and an outrage that made clear the importance of ratifying a convention that pledges to protect cultural property, even if it does not directly apply to that circumstance.

    While the Bill was proceeding through its stages, the Government recently announced their plan to suspend the scheme inspired by Lord Dubs’s amendment and to stop accepting unaccompanied young refugees. All of us who strongly support the Bill would assent to the notion that Governments should be judged principally on how they treat people, rather than how they treat palaces. I hope that rather than being an inconsistency, the passage of the Bill will mark a turning point in this Government’s thinking. We should extend to Syrian people fleeing conflict and seeking refuge the same respect and protection that we are offering to their ancient architecture.

    Again, we are proud to support the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill. It is not often that the House is united in passing a Bill of such historical significance with such a degree of consensus, and I also welcome the support of SNP colleagues throughout this process. I hope that the passage of the Bill gives the UK an opportunity to demonstrate international leadership and to create a legacy of which all of us can be proud.

  • I thought, listening to all these paeans of praise, that I had wandered into the BAFTAs, but they are well placed, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister. She says it is the first Bill she has conducted through this place as a Minister, and I hope it is not the last. I wish her every success.

    That having been said, as we used to say, this is not simply formulaic; there is a purpose in having a Third Reading debate, albeit that such debates are now very truncated and that as I think we all agree, apart from my point of disagreement, this is a wholly uncontroversial and utterly worthwhile piece of legislation. Its genesis was several decades before my hon. Friend was even a twinkle in her parents’ eyes; sadly, I am older than the convention, but there we are. Perhaps I am a cultural object.

  • I know I am a treasure, but the Minister is so kind.

    I will make three quick points, if I may. First, it is important not to confuse evidence for an offence with the definition of an offence. Those are two different legal concepts, and in our enthusiasm to pass this Bill into law, we are in danger of allowing that confusion to remain. Despite the fact that I accept the political reality, I think clause 17(1) is and remains flawed, and I am not yet convinced that what the Government propose is the right answer, but there we are, I have lost that particular argument.

    Secondly, I hope we will see the guidance for prosecutors and the police soon. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) said, Governments often talk about guidance and secondary legislation is often drafted to achieve clarity. It is no good just saying things; we need to do things. I hope that we will see the guidance long before the end of the summer, and that it will be available to be considered in published form.

    Thirdly and finally, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to press the Foreign Office to come up with some form of definition of “occupied territories”. It is a movable feast, and I appreciate that the facts on the ground and the law relating to the status of particular parts of the world change almost week by week. However, if there is to be guidance on whether it is appropriate to prosecute under clause 17(1) for “having reason to suspect”, we equally need guidance on what an occupied territory is as a matter of fact and as a matter of law.

  • As president of the British Antique Dealers Association, I know, as I have said previously, that the arts and antiques industry fully supports the aims of the Bill. There are still areas of concern, however, which have been mentioned. In particular, it is important that honest and well intentioned dealers and auction houses do not risk criminal prosecution when conducting reasonable due diligence. We have discussed the aspects of the Bill concerning the trade that relate to avoiding uncertainty in the art market and ensuring clarity in the practical operation of the law. There is no doubt that uncertainty hampers any market. It is reassuring that the Minister has made it clear on the Floor of the House today and previously that she does not want the market to be hampered. I thank her for that assurance.

    The clause 17 offence of dealing in unlawfully exported property depends directly on the clarity and understanding of what is meant in the Bill by the term “cultural property”. As it stands, the punctuation that is used in article 1(a) of the convention, which is reproduced in schedule 1, means that cultural property is not limited to

    “property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people”.

    Although the Minister has previously reassured us that cultural property can be protected if it is of great importance to every people, the market seeks absolute clarification on these points, as has been said by other hon. Members. Other categories of property are covered by the definition, regardless of their cultural significance, including

    “works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest”.

    I am delighted that the Minister today confirmed her statement in the House of 31 October that the Government intend to take the same restricted approach to the definition of “cultural property” and that the clause 17 offence of dealing in unlawfully exported property will apply to only a very small but special category of cultural objects—those that are of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people.

    Another area of uncertainty is an auctioneer or dealer’s ability to identify the occupied territories to which the law applies, particularly if an item may have been here previously. Of course, a lot of trading goes on between countries all the time. That is why the points that have been made about certainty and the dates of an occupied territory need to be clarified.

    Clause 16 states that the Secretary of State’s confirmation that a territory was occupied is “conclusive evidence” of that status once legal proceedings have begun. If the Secretary of State’s word may be provided after the beginning of proceedings, cannot the list of occupied territories, together with the relevant dates of occupation, be drawn up for all to see? Alternatively, could the criteria that the Secretary of State would apply when determining whether and when a country is considered to have been occupied be clarified? I could add to the list east Jerusalem, the west bank, northern Iraq, Libya or southern Sudan. I am sure that other countries could be added. For the avoidance of doubt, art and antique dealers need to know at what point since 1954 a particular territory is covered by the legislation, and whether or not that will be retrospective.

    Even if those operating in the art market can identify the territories and the periods when they were considered to be occupied, there is the added issue of determining whether objects left those territories during the period of occupation or at another time, and whether those objects were here before, during or after that period. We need that clarity. The precise historical date or year when an object left a territory could well be difficult to ascertain, which is why the trade asks for clarity in and guidance on the final definitions. We are talking about territories that were deemed to be occupied prior to 1954, so surely this is historical and factual information that should be readily available to the arts and antiques trade, and others, to provide absolute clarity.

    In 2008, the Government’s response to the territory question was that a dealer who had carried out proper due diligence checks would be unlikely to be convicted of a criminal offence. I urge the Minister to ensure that that response is clarified and brought up to date.

    The Government added that they were unaware of any other parties to the convention having drawn up such a list. I struggle to understand how a law concerned solely with objects unlawfully exported from occupied territories can be expected to operate effectively when there is no means by which anyone is able to identify those territories. Do the Government expect a dealer or auction house to submit requests for confirmation of a territory’s status to the Secretary of State on a case-by-case basis, prior to handling an antique, as part of their due diligence? I urge the Government to prepare a list of the territories covered and the relevant dates, so that proper guidance can be given. As the application is retrospective to 1954, that information must be available and must be a point of record. I ask the Minister to consider these points and others when preparing the regulations governing the Bill.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read a Third time and passed, without amendment.

  • High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill

    Consideration of Lords amendments.

    Clause 4

    Power to Acquire Land Compulsorily

  • I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.

  • With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments 2 to 54.

  • Let me say right away that the majority of the amendments are technical clarifications, corrections and updated references. The Government accept all the amendments to the Bill made by the Lords. I will provide some comment on the amendments of substance. Before I do so, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Lords for their scrutiny of the Bill. I pay particular gratitude to Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon for having very skilfully steered the passage of the Bill through the other place, and to my noble Friends Lord Viscount Younger and Baroness Buscombe for their diligent work in assisting Lord Ahmad during the Lords stages of the Bill. It would be most remiss of me not also to thank Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe for his distinguished chairmanship of the Select Committee that considered the petitions against the Bill in the Lords, and to thank the other members of the Committee.

    Lords amendments 1 and 2 were introduced by the Lords Select Committee and concern the removal of a strip of land in the Chelmsley Wood area of Solihull from the Bill. The Government were proposing to acquire the land to re-provide public open space for local residents. However, the Lords Select Committee concluded that this was not necessary. As we set out in the Government’s response to the Lords Select Committee report, the Government regret that that means that the residents of Chelmsley Wood are to lose permanently a portion of public open space, but we will be working with Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council to consider, within the limits and the powers of the Bill, reasonable ways in which to reduce the temporary impact of construction and the permanent impacts of the operation of the railway. Clearly, any solutions agreed that fall outside the limits and powers of the Bill will be for Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council to deliver in its role as the local planning authority.

    Lords amendment 4 was also introduced by the Lords Select Committee. It removes the power in clause 48 that made provisions for the Secretary of State to promote a compulsory purchase order to acquire land for regeneration purposes related to High Speed 2. It was always intended that the power would be used only as a backstop if commercial negotiations failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion and if a significant regeneration opportunity would otherwise be lost. However, the Lords felt that given the broad nature of the powers and the fact that local authorities already had similar powers, it was unnecessary for the Government to take the powers. The Government accept that ruling and will continue to work with local authorities to ensure that opportunities for regeneration arising from phase 1 of HS2 are not missed.

    Amendments 3, 51 and 52 introduce a new clause and schedule in relation to traffic regulation orders. TROs are a mechanism for local highways authorities to impose temporary or permanent restrictions on the use of highways in their areas in order to control traffic. Local highways authorities will need to make a range of TROs in relation to the construction of HS2. They will also need to ensure that they do not make TROs that conflict with the construction of HS2. The amendments ensure that local highways authorities will be required to consult with the Secretary of State for Transport before making any orders that affect either a specific road identified for use by HS2 or other roads related to HS2 construction works. This will avoid TROs being made that might otherwise inadvertently cause problems for the construction of phase 1 of HS2.

    The amendments also allow the Secretary of State, if required, to make TROs himself and prohibit or revoke TROs that unnecessarily hinder the delivery of the railway. These powers are similar to those that the Secretary of State already has under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and will ensure that TROs necessary to deliver phase 1 of HS2 in a timely and economic manner can be made.

  • I appreciate that there would be a desire, particularly in central London, to prevent any local transport authority, whether the local authority or Transport for London, from frustrating the building of the railway, but will the Minister give an assurance that the Secretary of State’s powers will be used sparingly? In London we already have democratically elected authorities, through the local authorities and Transport for London, that are able to represent the public interest in this regard, so it is a slight concern that the Secretary of State could use the powers less sparingly than might be desirable for democratic accountability.

  • My right hon. Friend makes an important point and I can give him the assurance he is looking for. The powers would only ever be used in a very sparing way, as he suggests is appropriate. Basically, the right way forward is for HS2 and the Department and local highways authorities to work together to agree some kind of consensus; these are just powers that might be necessary should situations arise. An example of success in that would be Camden, where there has been agreement between the borough council and the Department and HS2 Ltd on how to take forward the TROs required.

  • Although we may be seeking consensus, if there is disagreement, these provisions would ultimately give the Department for Transport the power to proceed by fiat and override the local authority or, indeed, local residents’ concerns, would they not?

  • The Bill certainly does give the Secretary of State the power, if required, to make TROs himself and to prohibit or revoke TROs that unnecessarily hinder the delivery of the railway. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is therefore yes, but we cannot allow a significant national project to be held up over the small matter of a TRO. As I have said, the best thing to do is to work with the highways authorities; these are some backstop powers, just in case that does not deliver the consensus required.

    The powers were subject to significant debate and amendment in the House of Lords, and I am glad to say that the powers we are considering this evening represent the correct balance between giving the Secretary of State the powers necessary to construct HS2 and providing reassurance to local highways authorities about how they will used. Clearly, we hope there will be little or no need to rely on them, as the regular meetings established with local highways authorities will be used to consult, agree, monitor and generally supervise the local traffic management plans. However, the powers are needed to ensure that, if those arrangements fail, HS2 can be delivered in an efficient manner.

    The remainder of the amendments make technical clarifications in relation to the changes to the Housing and Planning Act 2016, update references and make corrections. I urge the House to agree to the Lords amendments.

  • I am pleased to contribute to the progress of the Bill once again. I was fortunate enough to have been able to contribute to it in Committee, and I know the Minister will share my enthusiasm for the fact that this Bill will soon receive Royal Assent. High Speed 2 is, of course, the brainchild of a Labour Government, but I give credit to the coalition Government and the present Government for providing continuing support.

  • For purposes of clarification, HS2 was the brainchild of the last year of the last Labour Government. All previous Transport Ministers had treated it with considerable scepticism.

  • I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s clarification, but if a party is in power, it is in power. Whether or not this happened in 2009 or 2010, Labour were still the Government of the day.

    There are some points of disagreement between the Opposition and the Government on HS2—I shall return to them later—but the consensus that exists across the House and among businesses and industry experts on HS2 is to be welcomed. Projects of this scale often require the support of successive Governments and support from the Government and Opposition Benches, so it is reassuring to see a consistent approach to this critical investment in our nation’s rail infrastructure.

  • Is not the hon. Gentleman rather ignoring the fact that most Members are not affected by this project, so they show very little interest in it at all? If MPs’ constituencies are affected by the project, Members are of course passionately engaged. In fact, that consensus has really gone by default.

  • Order. Let me say that our time should be devoted to the amendments, and I am bothered that we might stray into other areas that should not be debated. I have allowed a little latitude, but I do not want us to open up into a general debate. Let us keep to the amendments.

  • Let me just say that this project benefits the entire country in its construction and its reach. I shall leave it there, Mr Deputy Speaker.

    HS2 helps to address the severe capacity constraints on our rail network and improve connections between cities in the midlands and the north of England and beyond into Scotland. HS2 is vital for unblocking the capacity constraints that are undermining punctuality and constraining economic growth.

    I would like to place on record my thanks to all Secretaries of State and Ministers, shadow Secretaries of State and shadow Ministers and Members of both Houses who have contributed to and carried the Bill forward. I want to pay tribute to all the Clerks who managed the petitioning process and provided invaluable advice and guidance throughout. I would like to pay a particular tribute to the great professionalism and dedication to his task of the late Neil Caulfield who as Clerk to the Committee was immensely patient and attentive, giving me his time to ensure the smooth progress of the Bill. He is very sadly missed, but not forgotten.

    This is a large and complicated piece of legislation and has been subject to the highest levels of scrutiny throughout the process, and we now have a much improved Bill. We will support the Lords amendments to it. The majority of the amendments are without controversy and simply seek to tidy up the legislation and make small changes where necessary. It is not necessary to debate them in any detail.

    The most significant change to the Bill is the new schedule on traffic regulation, which, given the identified effects of the redevelopment of Euston station, is particularly pertinent for the London Borough Camden. I acknowledge the consultation that took place following Committee with local highway authorities, which informed the changes to the new schedule. Entirely legitimate concerns were expressed that the new schedule as originally drafted would have given powers that were too wide ranging and could have caused a lack of proper regard for the residents of London—concerns expressed by Camden Borough Council and Transport for London. To a large extent, these concerns were addressed in the changes made to the new schedule, but some issues are still outstanding. I understand that the discussions between the promoter and both TfL and Camden Council are ongoing, and that an undertaking has been negotiated, but not yet received. I understand that the undertaking will say that the use of these powers will not affect bus lanes, cycle ways, the safer lorry scheme and the congestion charge zone.

    Is the Minister able to give assurances that the promoter of HS2 will meet the costs incurred by local authorities in putting in place and removing traffic regulation orders required by the Secretary of State? Can he also give assurances that the Secretary of State will be required to provide justification when seeking to use these powers? The powers are needed for construction, but Labour’s position from the start has been that the impacts of construction on affected areas must be mitigated as much as possible, and such assurances would be appreciated. Pursuant to the new traffic regulation, will the Minister tell us what plans the Department has to minimise the number of HGV journeys on London roads, in the interests of the environment and public safety, during the redevelopment of Euston station? No fixed target has been endorsed, and the issue is crucial to London residents.

  • Labour supports the progress of HS2, a hugely important undertaking which will not only remedy the considerable capacity problems that currently exist, but bring enormous economic benefits. There will be immense opportunities for young people, who will be able to spend their entire careers in high-speed rail. It will showcase Britain at its best to the world, and will serve as a real manifestation of our national pride and confidence in ourselves. We are more than capable and good enough to build HS2, and more than capable and good enough to run it when it has been built.

  • I think that the hon. Gentleman has strayed off the point, but I am sure that he is approaching the end of his speech.

  • There are two more sentences, Mr Deputy Speaker.

    HS2 does not have to be a Deutsche Bahn HS2 or an SNCF HS2 or Nederlandse Spoorwegen or Trenitalia state-run HS2, but it can be—if I may paraphrase the Prime Minister—a British red, white and blue HS2, and the Government should guarantee it.

  • HS2 may well embrace young people’s entire careers, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) suggested, and they will have good careers out of it if it is built. However, I do not underestimate the fortunes being made—by the top echelons of HS2, certainly, but also by people who are benefiting from very lucrative contracts at the taxpayer’s expense.

    I presume—and I am hardly surprised—that the Government have accepted the Lords amendments. A number of them correct inaccuracies, many of which have been and continue to be attached to this project, and which have been a source of great anxiety on the part of people directly affected. I join those on both Front Benches in saying thank you to their lordships, who were restricted in what they could do. They were unable to amend the Bill significantly—they could not make any additional provisions—and we are therefore dealing with a group of amendments that the Government are, of course, able to accept in their entirety because they do not do that much to the Bill.

    I must say that I would welcome the acceptance of Lords amendment 4, which I call the “land grab” amendment, because it would limit the power of the state to acquire land compulsorily in association with the project for the purposes of regeneration or development. I think it fair to say that the current Secretary of State for Transport, when lobbied by me and by many others—particularly the CLA—responded very positively. Such a sweeping power would have added insult to injury, namely the plundering of property that has resulted from a project that is as ravenous for land as it is for taxpayers’ money. Without the amendment, the Government would have been able to buy up land for lucrative developments virtually without control.

    However, some of my constituents have serious concerns about schedule 16. They believe that HS2 has only to give 28 days’ notice to enter, do what it likes to the land and pay no compensation until the job is finished, which they believe could take many years. During those years, my constituents would have to shoulder the loss of value to property and income. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) believes that there are constituents fighting to prove that they are affected by HS2, whose applications for compensation have been successful, but who are still struggling to agree on a value for their property. When the Minister responds to these amendments, I wonder whether he will care to say something in relation to that and this land grab amendment, which I am grateful the Government are accepting.

  • Anti-land grab amendment.

  • My right hon. and learned Friend intervenes from a sedentary position, and he is right that this is an anti-land grab amendment.

  • I, as much as anybody else, have supported the right hon. Lady for a long time in respect of this scheme, and she raises an important point. I have constituents who cannot get a penny of compensation because they do not meet the necessary requirements. I think something very serious should be done about that, and I hope the right hon. Lady agrees.

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and this is what has worried me about this project: it has been a David and Goliath project, and Goliath has won. It has crushed the spirit of so many people, and it is going to affect people who do not yet know how they are going to be affected. I worry for the years of disruption that will come, as I will discuss later.

    Amendment 7 will improve the reporting on vocational qualifications, but when it comes to personnel—this is an amendment about personnel—a project such as this should have had continuity and strong leadership. Far from that, there have been three Prime Ministers, five Secretaries of State, four permanent secretaries and three chief executives over the past six years. Young people joining this project to obtain the vocational qualifications that amendment 7 reflects will want assurances that the personnel and training functions are being run by reputable contractors and a reputable organisation.

    Questions are being asked about the relationships between the Department, HS2 and contractors such as CH2M. CH2M has already been paid hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in connection with this project and its director has been placed in temporary charge since the very highly paid Simon Kirby departed to Rolls-Royce. It has had so-called Chinese walls during the latest bidding process and now another director of the same company has been appointed as the new permanent CEO on less money than the departing CEO.

    We have read reports in the Financial Times this morning that the losing bidders on phase two are considering legal action because CH2M could well have been party to information from the CH2M professionals embedded in HS2 on phase one. I ask the Minister to clarify this: he needs to give assurances, or else the pall of suspicion will continue to hang over the top personnel of this project and will affect those young people referred to in amendment 7, whose vocational qualifications are going to be reported on.

  • Order. The right hon. Lady knows very well that she is stretching not the patience of the Chair, but the terms of the debate in order to allow it to continue. We have to concentrate on the amendments, so we do not want to get into salaries and comparisons in that regard. I am therefore sure the right hon. Lady is coming straight back on to the amendments before us.

  • I take your admonition, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am trying to use these amendments to make the points that my constituents would expect to be made in the House. They do not understand that we have to try to stick exactly to the final letter, but I do understand that, so I shall attempt to stay in order and not try the patience of the Chair too much.

    Lords amendment 11 updates references to environmental regulations, but I am afraid that HS2 continues to be environmentally unsound. The promoters of the project will never be forgiven for the violation of a nationally protected area of outstanding natural beauty, when the technology and capability exist to have tunnelled the whole of that protected area. In fact, the line emerges now from a tunnel near the railway’s highest point.

    The derision with which campaigners have been treated is no better reflected than in the words of Lord Snape during the Lords debate. He said that what extra protection was achieved in the Chilterns through tunnelling was

    “as a result of demands, including semi-hysterical demands from a then member of the Cabinet, which in the view of many of us who have taken an interest in the project has added unnecessarily to the cost and makes travelling by train less pleasant.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 January 2017; Vol. 777, c. 84.]

  • I think that my right hon. Friend was in large measure responsible for getting the extra tunnelling in the Chilterns. Perhaps she should take the comments of Lord Snape as a token of approbation.

  • My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. Lord Snape was always a real gentleman when he was in this House, and I can see that he has gone on to maintain those credentials of politeness and to be a champion of equality. His elevation was undoubtedly deserved.

    Lords amendments 12 to 25 correct references to local roads, and Lords amendment 51 covers the traffic regulation changes. The residents of Great Missenden parish still have concerns about the siting of the north portal and the effect of construction traffic in the area. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me which of the traffic regulation changes will reassure my constituents, who are disappointed that there has been no relocation of the haul road. Great Missenden Parish Council has noted that

    “residents were aggrieved that an undertaking to move the haul road further north is not to be met”.

    The mitigation package of assurances for Great Missenden was first discussed in October 2016, but it has still not been formally entered on to the HS2 register of undertakings and assurances. I hope that the Minister will also be able to comment on that.

    All the major changes to traffic referred to in Lords amendments 12 to 25 will require good community engagement. When it comes to engaging with local communities, however, HS2 still has a lot to learn. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and I know that we and the constituents we represent are not being treated with due respect.

    My constituents have instances of HS2 experts failing to take local concerns seriously, even to the extent of giving incorrect information. Indeed, many of these amendments contain corrections to inaccuracies in the legislation. I understand that this is now a matter of formal complaint, but HS2’s actions have continued to fall short of what is expected from a public body. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam has noted that people often have to resort to freedom of information requests and to petitioning Select Committees because communication with HS2 is so poor. It is really disappointing that HS2 Ltd has not shown more empathy or understanding of the human cost of HS2, even now.

    With Royal Assent will start a right royal assault on the people still living on and around the route. The disruption that will be a daily part of their lives during this project’s construction will go on for many years. It would be fitting to say that this has been a life-changing experience—not just for me, but for so many people in the Chilterns and beyond. We are discussing these Lords amendments today, but I have learned that the House of Lords could actually prevent Members of Parliament from speaking up on behalf of their constituents. I was amazed that our locus standi was challenged by the Department for Transport’s subsidiary, and that any Member of Parliament wishing to put forward constructive ideas could be shut up by a House of Lords Committee.

  • I support my right hon. Friend’s point. It is incomprehensible to our constituents, who have elected us to speak for them, that we should be prevented from articulating the real concerns that have arisen since this legislation left our House. There are very strong feelings among our constituents about that prohibition.

  • I would have thought that in a democracy, and particularly as elected representatives in a representative democracy, we would have the freedom to speak in these Houses but, no, that is not the case. The Lords amendments were arrived at without the help and support of the elected Members for the affected constituencies. The process certainly taught me a lesson, and it changed my life and my view of democracy.

  • Does the right hon. Lady share my regret that MPs were shut out from representing their constituents by petitioning the Lords Select Committee? There are constraints at the various stages of a Bill’s consideration in this House, and the Lords Select Committee was an opportunity for our points to be made in detail on behalf of those we represent.

  • Order. Before the right hon. Lady answers that question, I remind the House that the amendments are very, very narrow. The amendments are really quite typographical, and they have nothing to do with what happened over there.

  • Thank you very much for reminding me of the rules, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am trying to stick very closely to the amendments. Of course, I am referring to the Lords proceedings and to these amendments. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) that it is extraordinary that Ministers who represent constituencies along the route, and who were therefore unable to speak in this House, were prohibited from speaking to the Lords Select Committee because the locus standi was challenged by the very organisation set up by the Department for Transport—in collusion, in other words. MPs were shut up on this issue, as they have been in many instances since the project was first thought of.

    With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will now pay tribute to people such as Hilary Wharf and her husband Bruce Weston. They helped to lead the brave HS2 Action Alliance, which still gives advice to beleaguered people and tries to stop or improve this project. My county council, ably led by Councillor Martin Tett, has put an enormous amount of work into the Bill, as has my district council, Chiltern District Council, led by the formidable Councillor Isobel Darby. I particularly mention my parish council, which is struggling to find the resources, alongside the larger councils, to carry out the work necessary to protect and inform its residents.

    An additional burden runs from the amendments on traffic regulations, for example, and those costs will fall on our local councils. The amendments covering flood risk, possession of land and changing traffic flows, for example, will lie at the feet of our financially challenged councils, and there is little chance of the full costs being restored to those councils for all the extra work that has been forced on them, unless the Minister tells me different at the Dispatch Box today. In other words, our constituents are paying not once but two or three times over for this project.

    Will HS2 be a success? I am still not convinced. Will these amendments make it a success? We learned from last weekend’s newspapers that the Department is so concerned that HS2 may be overtaken by new technology, such as driverless cars, that it is trying to encourage technology companies such as Google and the ever-popular Uber to take a financial stake in the recently announced combined franchise for the west coast main line and HS2 in order to offset the risk that HS2 is, in fact, old technology.

    This is my last opportunity to speak on the Bill, and I want to acknowledge, as did the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, a couple of other people who tried to help those affected by HS2. I think particularly of Neil Caulfield, who tried so hard to help people through an obscure and often frightening process. He was a credit to this House and to the Clerks Department. He was scrupulously fair, and nothing was too much trouble for him. Quite frankly, he went above and beyond the call of duty to try to deal with an arcane process that really should be banished from our procedures in this House.

    I also want to mention an amazing constituent, Mr Ray Challinor. He was chairman of the Hyde Heath village society, and his commitment to our community and social action was second to none. Sadly, his family laid him to rest this afternoon. I would have liked to have attended his funeral to pay my tribute to him, but I pay my tribute on the Floor of the House because he was not a man who supported HS2. He was a man who was fiercely protective of our local community.

    Lastly, I should mention all those individuals who have supported the campaign to either stop or radically change HS2. These are people who often could not afford to donate but did so because they could not believe that the state could ride in such a roughshod fashion over the very people who put it in charge.

    The Government will get their way—Royal Assent will be given—but this legislation and this project are tainted by the way in which their people have gone about their business. In a democracy, there should not be a process that is so unequal, giving the state such powers over its citizens without the balance that we would expect from a fair society. I hope that at some stage we will be able to consign this hybrid Bill process to the history books. I wish I could say the same about HS2.

  • I shall be brief, as I am well aware that for some people in the House this has been a long process and it is good that we are getting to the end of it. I caught the end of the previous debate, in which people were saying that the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill was 64 years in the making, so this Bill has, in fact, taken somewhat less time. My party is generally supportive of this bold proposal from the Government, but we would like it to be bolder in the long run as it is important that HS2 extends to Scotland. We also need improvements to the existing line north of Crewe in the meantime so that we can have shorter journey times up north.

    I am well aware that I am supposed to be speaking to the Lords amendments. As they have improved the Bill, we support them. We welcome the amendments to clause 48 relating to compulsory purchase order powers. It is important that the Secretary of State sticks to his commitment that any CPO powers will be used sparingly and as a last resort.

    As I said, we are supportive of the concept. My background is in civil engineering, so I appreciate the value that infrastructure investment can bring in long-term wider business and economic benefits. On that basis, I would like to see the project go forward and I look forward to the start of the construction. I am well aware that some enabling contracts have been let. While we want to see constructing starting, I again remind Ministers that we need improvements north of Crewe, and we need this line to get to Scotland sooner rather than later.

  • It is not every day that one walks into the Chamber to find parts of one’s constituency, villages or parishes singled out in legislation, but Lords amendment 1 does precisely that. Madam Deputy Speaker, you reminded us that these amendments are narrow, describing them as largely “typographical”, but I wish to impress on hon. Members that this is a topographical amendment. I should not want any Member to leave this Chamber without understanding exactly what we are talking about. The lovely parish of Bickenhill is perhaps where some hon. Members have disembarked from the west coast main line at Birmingham International station. Perhaps they have stood on the platform looking across to the National Exhibition Centre, but they might not have been wholly aware that they were in the green belt. Very close by is Chelmsley Wood, one of the largest council estates in western Europe. I mention those topographical points because, as I am sure that hon. Members can see, names such as Bickenhill and Chelmsley Wood conjure up images of lovely rural locations, yet people there are at no point further than 8 miles from the centre of either Coventry or Birmingham, so we are talking about land that is precious to those who try to keep the balance of green space and urban density.

    Bickenhill parish lies in what is known as the Meriden gap, and ever since I have been a Member of this House, I have fought strenuously to protect it, because it is the green lung that holds Coventry and Birmingham apart. Although a matter of 3 or 4 hectares of green space may not theoretically—maybe abstractly—appear to be all that important to everybody else listening to this debate, it is an important issue for the residents of Chelmsley Wood, because the estate has a very high population density of 60 units of accommodation per hectare. The loss of green space in the area is therefore significant.

    The local authority, Solihull Council, made representations when the Bill was considered by the Lords Select Committee because every hectare of green space in our green-belt borough is a matter of great importance to all of us who share completely in the local authority’s motto of “Urbs in Rure”. All Latin scholars will realise that that tells us everything we need to know about the balance we need to strike between urban and rural sustainability, side by side. I would therefore say that this is a bit more than just a typographical matter, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is really important for my constituents.

    Will the Minister consider whether the Government’s proposals are compatible with their commitment to biodiversity offsetting? As the 2012 “Natural Environment” White Paper set out, the whole principle of biodiversity offsetting was to make it clear that when we destroy green space, we should create new green space to make up for the loss of natural capital. When he responds, will the Minister be clear about whether he has considered that important dimension?

    If, by chance, the Government have not thought about the compatibility of their proposals with biodiversity offsetting, I impress on the Minister the enormous opportunity that exists to do something ambitious, at scale, to offset the loss of green space of the type referred to in the amendment. A good proposal to regenerate the Tame and Blythe river valleys has been worked up by a professor at Birmingham City University and presented to the Department. Rather than glossing over a small piece of green space, should we not seize the opportunity of working together to ensure that people who prize green space in urban areas get proper compensation for the green space that is so important to them?

  • My right hon. Friend is articulating, through the medium of this small amendment, the fears of many people about environmental matters. Does she agree that we face a huge danger because the costs of the project are spiralling out of control, and we all know that it is environmental payback that gets sacrificed if the project cannot afford it? As a major infrastructure project has never been delivered on time and on budget in this country to date, that is the danger.

  • I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. The fact is that we now know so much more about the true value of green space that is lost—we can actually calculate the value of the natural capital. I set up the Natural Capital Committee, which reports to the Treasury, so that we no longer make decisions on the assumption that nature provides things for free. That is not true, because when we take away natural capital, there is a cost to our economy, so it is important that there is proper offsetting.

    When the Lords Select Committee discussed the issues relating to Lords amendment 1, it was stated that there is already enough public open space in the locality. Well, I beg to differ. With a housing density of 60 units of accommodation per hectare, there is obviously great pressure on what public open space remains. We should not regard the situation as static, because from the moment the high-speed railway is built, the pressures on the parish of Bickenhill will be enormous. People are always trying to put some new development in the Meriden gap—we already have the M6, the M42, the west coast main line, Birmingham airport and the Chiltern line. We almost had the national football stadium, and we have the National Exhibition Centre. Space will be at an enormous premium, so to disregard the significance of just 4 hectares of green space is not a little matter, which I why I particularly wanted to raise it in this debate.

  • My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) dubbed Lords amendment 4 the anti-land grab amendment, which I think will go down in posterity as a good description. I welcome the change it brings. This is very important for precisely the reason that I have just outlined. The effect of building the high-speed railway will be to make the land adjacent to it considerably more attractive for development. The Government were entirely right to constrain the power of HS2 to acquire more land than it necessarily needs for the construction of the railway. I commend the CLA for its very strong campaign to get the balance right on this issue.

    May I just impress on the Minister the importance of this matter, particularly when one thinks about the parish of Bickenhill or indeed the wider borough of Solihull, because the local authority already has important plans to improve the connectivity to the first station outside London? There will be a 31-minute journey time from Birmingham airport to London Euston, which makes that locality very attractive for other uses. Solihull Council has come up with a proposal for a garden city that would connect to my council estate in Chelmsley Wood. For the first time in its existence, this housing estate, which was built at the same time as other garden cities, would be connected to 21st-century transport infrastructure. That would mean that people would feel included, which is important, because as one of the main aims of the new Prime Minister was to underline inclusivity. That can be achieved, but only if we strike the right balance between what HS2 takes for the purposes of building a railway and what other key stakeholders such as the local authority might need for housing or other purposes.

    While the amendment is very important to my constituency, it is also very important to the airport, which is another key stakeholder in this very sought after piece of transport infrastructure. Getting the balance right between the different players is crucial, so I impress on the Minister that using this power judiciously will be important for a sustainable outcome around the new parkway station.

    Although the Transport Secretary said that the powers conferred by clause 48 would be used as only a last resort if commercial negotiations failed to reach satisfactory conclusions, the Lords Select Committee concluded that it was

    “not sound law-making to create wide powers permitting the expropriation of private property on the strength of ministerial statements, not embodied in statute, that the powers would be used only as a last resort.”

    Let me tell the Minister that trying to deal with compensation cases is a life-changing experience for any MP and their staff. A handful of Members are bearing a disproportionate burden of dealing with what are sometimes very complex and distressing cases, such as when the site of someone’s retirement home is required for the construction of the railway. I am concerned that we strike the right balance with this measure, because I have seen malpractice in the form of pressure being put on my constituents to concede their private properties at prices that they would certainly deem to be below some of the estimates of their true market value.

    In one case, enormous pressure was put on one of my constituents to concede what he saw as a below-market price for his property, but he was not allowed to make any reference to it before appearing before the Select Committee. Such undue pressure on our constituents has been completely unreasonable. I am concerned about the conclusion that there will be sufficient powers to protect our constituents. Some of the compensation cases are still outstanding. Despite writing to the outgoing chief executive, David Higgins, in August about a particularly difficult ongoing case involving a very vulnerable constituent of mine, which he had promised to expedite, there is still no conclusion to that case in late February 2017. As we consider Lords amendment 48, we need to give some ongoing thought to the fairness of the compensation process and to where our constituents will turn in the absence of any third party to oversee that fairness.

  • My right hon. Friend mentions David Higgins. In fact, the outgoing chief executive is Simon Kirby. Sir David Higgins is the chairman. He has just joined the board of Gatwick, and he is also on the board of an Australian bank, so he is doing three jobs at once. I think that my right hon. Friend has made a mistake, which I would love her to correct.

  • There has been a bit of change at the top of HS2—my right hon. Friend is right. However, I received a letter from David Higgins, and, despite my reminding and re-reminding the offices of HS2 that the case needs to be expedited, it still has not been dealt with.

    Lords amendment 51 deals with traffic regulation, which will be very important during the construction phase. I do not pull my punches over this issue with my constituents. We are going to be a building site for at least five years, and that will be extremely disruptive around one of Britain’s busiest transport nodes: the midlands motorway crossroads. I impress upon the Minister that a continuous haul route is very much sought after in my constituency. We have so far been unable to secure undertakings that construction traffic can be prevented from thundering through some of our villages.

    Such a village is Balsall Common, which is just outside the parish of Bickenhill. It carries the Kenilworth road, and an alternative for haulage needs to be found because the thought of construction lorries going through the village centre, where children walk to the secondary and primary schools, gives me and their parents real cause for concern. Is there anything the Minister could do to assist with this? David Higgins showed real interest when I raised the possibility of finding a solution under the legislation. It is not in HS2’s interest to have its construction traffic thundering down the centre of villages where children walk to school, but all the alternatives cost money.

    Local authorities just do not have the money to create new roads to take five years of construction traffic away from centres of habitation. There is a very real prospect of a good legacy project arising from achieving a continuous haul route so that permanently, and once the railway has been built, people who want to use it do not tear through the centre of the village trying to catch a high-speed train. Perhaps the Minister could make a note of the importance of that for my constituency. Of course, we really wanted a tunnel, which would take some of the pressure off, but rather like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), we recognise that some of our early requests have not fallen on fertile ground.

    I also pay tribute to the work of Neil Caulfield. It is important, particularly with the Clerks of the House present in the Chamber, that we share with colleagues that he was a man who went the extra mile for our constituents. I always think that the Clerks go the extra mile for us as Members of Parliament in a way that the public often do not see, such as by helping us with amendments to Bills and finding ways to give expression to the things that our constituents want to see in legislation, but Neil went even further than that. He interacted with a huge case load of people’s needs. These people were desperate to find solutions to the threat of losing their home, or at the very least to get proper compensation. I remember that he took the trouble to come away from the Houses of Parliament to visit the constituency with the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Committee in order to see it all for himself. That was a remarkable commitment by a Clerk of the House. Although the Chair of the Commons Select Committee is not present in the Chamber, I am sure that all members of that Committee, who put in many hours of listening to our constituents’ needs, would like to ensure that we recognise the special role that Neil played.

    I give my last word to my constituents, who have gone from being shocked at the proposal when Lord Adonis first mooted it, to believing that it would never happen, to having the dawning realisation that we have to work with how it turns out in practice. I commend Solihull Council for creating a working group that meets once every month—I attend the meetings—to talk through the day-to-day implications as the project unfolds. However, there is no disguising the fact that this is going to be a life-changing experience for the constituency of Meriden and especially for those of my constituents who are most directly affected. They will read this debate and listen to our deliberations, and I would like them to know that I will not give up fighting on their behalf to ameliorate and mitigate the impact of the railway, which will fundamentally benefit our region, but whose impact will fall disproportionately on a few homes.