All 26 Parliamentary debates in the Commons on 10th Jul 2023

Mon 10th Jul 2023
Mon 10th Jul 2023
Mon 10th Jul 2023
Police Stations
Commons Chamber
(Adjournment Debate)
Mon 10th Jul 2023

House of Commons

Monday 10th July 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Monday 10 July 2023
The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

Monday 10th July 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Monday 10th July 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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1. What recent assessment he has made of the potential implications for his policies of levels of antisemitism in the last 12 months.

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Michael Gove)
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We have paid close attention to the concerning figures produced by the Home Office and the Community Security Trust, which have shown the continued prevalence of antisemitism in our society. We are considering Lord Mann’s recent reports on the subject, which we will respond to in due course, and we have increased the annual Jewish community protective security grant to £15 million in 2023-24.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
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Did the Secretary of State see the research from King’s College London, showing that those who believe in conspiracies are most likely to be antisemitic? Much of that antisemitism takes place online and is legal but harmful. What is he doing to tackle conspiracism, misinformation and fake news; why are the measures to tackle them in the Online Safety Bill so weak; and why have the Government removed the legal but harmful provision, which would protect so much of the Jewish community?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a significant overlap between antisemitism and conspiracy theories, and many of the tropes that conspiracists use are drawn from the antisemitic library. However, with the Online Safety Bill it is important to balance the right to free speech with vigilance in dealing with hate, and this Government are absolutely committed to combating antisemitism wherever it rears its head.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)
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2. What steps he is taking to level up all parts of the UK.

Carol Monaghan Portrait Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP)
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22. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of increases in the cost of living on his Department’s levelling-up agenda.

Dehenna Davison Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Dehenna Davison)
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Levelling up is not just a slogan—it is an imperative, and that is why it is a driving mission of this Government. I fear that if I outlined every step we are taking to level up, my extensive answer would take us beyond time, Mr Speaker, but to name a few highlights, we are establishing investment zones and freeports to create high-quality local jobs, delivering billions of pounds of investment into vital local projects and empowering local leaders through devolution deals, putting power and funding back into local hands. That is levelling up in action, and there is more to come.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett
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All those words are just empty rhetoric. It is a con trick. The truth is that in a single decade the Government cut £540 billion from public services, and by March they will only have put about £500 million—one tenth of that—back in through levelling up. Is it not clear that to level up properly, we need an end both to this Government and to the economic system they have established?

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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Absolutely not. This is a Government that have put levelling up at the core of every single thing we do. That is not going to change. The only way to ensure levelling up remains at the heart of Government is by voting Conservative at the next election.

Carol Monaghan Portrait Carol Monaghan
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Data from the Times Health Commission reports that nearly 11,000 people in England last year were hospitalised with malnutrition. Malnutrition itself has quadrupled since 2007, with a shocking rise in Victorian illnesses such as scurvy and rickets. Can the Minister explain how such shocking figures fit within her Government’s levelling-up agenda?

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting that. She will know that the wider 12 levelling-up missions cover a range of areas, including health and healthy life outcomes. It is important that we all work together, across parties and across Government, to try to tackle this issue.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
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The Minister understands that regeneration of our high streets is key to the levelling up of our communities, yet she is aware that in Gosport that is being paralysed by unfair council tax being slapped on houses in multiple occupancy—very high-quality ones that are key to the future regeneration of our high street. As part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, the Secretary of State launched a consultation to address that question, but it concluded weeks ago and we still have not had the result. When will it be published?

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her engagement with me and the Secretary of State on that vital issue. Unfortunately, I cannot give her a specific date right now, but I will meet her as soon as we have the result in place, because I realise it is a vital issue that we need to address.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for recent visits to Mansfield and the east midlands to support the many levelling-up projects we have going on in our region, from freeports to development companies, integrated rail plans, investment zones and levelling-up and towns fund projects, including in Mansfield. All that amounts to billions of pounds. What impact does my hon. Friend think that will have on my constituency?

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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My hon. Friend has done a great job of highlighting the incredible level of support going to Mansfield and the wider east midlands. A lot of that is down to great local leadership from him and his colleagues. That will have an enormous impact on the people living in the east midlands and on their opportunities to get on in life, which ultimately is what levelling up is all about.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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Up and down the country, communities are struggling with the Tories’ mortgage crisis and the cost of living crisis. Those hit hardest often live in communities that were promised levelling-up funding, yet the Government sit on £1 billion of promised levelling-up fund money—money that could make a difference to those who need it most. Where on earth is it? Will the Government commit today to starting a process for the allocation of it?

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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I find myself a little confused, because we got a lot of criticism from the Opposition about round 2 of the levelling-up fund. They wanted us to get round 3 right, and we are taking the time to ensure that we get round 3 allocations right. We will, in due course, announce details on how we will allocate that money, which will change people’s lives.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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3. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the capacity of local authorities to respond to unexpected costs arising from businesses entering liquidation.

Dehenna Davison Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Dehenna Davison)
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The local government finance settlement of up to £59.7 billion for 2023-24 increases core spending power by 9.4%. Most of that funding is unringfenced, as local authorities are best placed to understand their local priorities. The Government also spend approximately £8 billion through targeted long-term investment in high streets and small businesses.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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Residents in the Marsh area of Lancaster, Lancaster City Council and I are concerned about the future of a skip site on the Lune industrial estate that has gone into liquidation. The cost of clean-up is higher than the value of the land. Will the Minister make time to meet me and Lancaster City Council to discuss what steps the council can take to ensure that residents know that the environment they are living in is healthy and safe?

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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I understand that the hon. Lady is in touch with the Environment Agency about that, and that there is an ongoing investigation. Although she will appreciate that I cannot comment on any specifics of the case, I would, of course, be happy to meet her to discuss the wider issue of waste remediation. Our Government are committed to tackling waste crime: we have increased the Environment Agency’s budget by £10 million per year and tightened the law to make it harder for rogue operators to find work in the sector and easier for regulators to take action against criminals.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
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4. What progress he has made on allocating funds through the community ownership fund.

Felicity Buchan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Felicity Buchan)
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The community ownership fund has been a significant success, and has so far awarded £36.8 million to 150 projects across the UK. A total of £25.5 million has been allocated in England, £5.2 million in Scotland, £3.2 million in Wales and £3 million in Northern Ireland.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes
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Does the Minister agree that the community ownership fund provides tremendous potential for community organisations in Clwyd South and elsewhere to take ownership of assets and amenities that risk being lost, and that the current bidding round is benefiting from the positive changes to the fund that were announced on 12 May?

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan
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I agree that the community ownership fund has huge potential in Clwyd South and, indeed, across the UK. The changes that my hon. Friend alludes to—extending the maximum funding available from £250,000 to £1 million, reducing the match funding required, and allowing applications from parish, town and community councils—will mean that even more cherished assets and amenities can be saved for local communities. I remind the House that window 1 of round 3 will close on July 12.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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The community ownership fund is an ideal fund to support Udney Park Community Fields Foundation, which has been working tirelessly with the community in Teddington and Twickenham to bring Udney Park playing fields and the war memorial pavilion back into community use for the benefit of local grassroots sports organisations. The site has gone to rack and ruin since two successive and badly advised developers bought the site eight years ago from Imperial College London. As the site goes back on the market, will the Minister agree to look favourably on any application from the foundation for that asset of community value?

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan
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As the House will understand, I cannot comment on individual bids, but the hon. Lady makes a compelling case. The relevant Minister is happy to meet her.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Lab)
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5. What recent assessment he has made of the potential implications for his policies of the impact of increases in inflation on local authority budgets.

Gareth Bacon Portrait Gareth Bacon (Orpington) (Con)
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13. What recent assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of local authority funding.

Lee Rowley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Lee Rowley)
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We recognise that councils have faced challenges since covid, which is one of the reasons why we allocated billions more in subsidies to local authorities in the financial year 2023-24. Discussions on public spending often require hard choices and trade-offs on many worthy intentions, but we hope that the additional billions allocated demonstrate the Government’s commitment to local authorities.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford
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Council budgets have been impacted by huge costs due to covid and the triple whammy of increases in demand for services, fuel prices and inflation. The Minister will know that people are scared and running out of hope, so will he outline what support is available now to ensure that councils can still provide the vital services that people need?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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As I outlined, we have allocated additional funds to local authorities in this financial year. It is also a statement of fact that a number of local authorities in England have increased reserves as a result of covid. In the last financial year, additional grant funding of nearly £7 million has gone to the hon. Gentleman’s local council, Bury Council, for adult social care.

Gareth Bacon Portrait Gareth Bacon
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Does my hon. Friend share my view that one way to support local government finance and to reward well-performing local authorities such as Bromley Council would be to introduce multi-year funding settlements? Will he commission a review into the merits of this, so that local authorities can better plan for the future?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a testament to the good work of Bromley Council that he can demonstrate this and talk about it with knowledge and experience. Multi-year financial settlements are something that we all aspire to. One of the reasons we brought forward the policy statement for financial year 2024-25 was to ensure greater clarity for councils at the end of this spending review, and we hope to be able to return to multi-year settlements in future Parliaments.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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Discretionary housing payments administered by councils are a vital resource in staving off homelessness. The figures—£140 million in 2021-22, £100 million in 2022-23 and remaining flat for the next two years—show a £40 million cut and further cuts owing to increasing demand and inflationary pressures. Section 21 evictions are not slowing down, the number of households facing rent arrears is soaring and the number being forced into temporary accommodation is skyrocketing. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has ultimate responsibility for homelessness, so when will Ministers at the Department tell their colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions to wake up and smell the coffee?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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One of the reasons why we have given local government additional funds in this financial year, as I just told the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), is precisely that we recognise that there are challenges. The Government have also allocated an additional £100 million for the most vulnerable households, to be administered through local authorities, which demonstrates the commitment to both local authorities and the most vulnerable in our society.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)
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6. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on long-term funding for local authorities.

Lee Rowley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Lee Rowley)
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The Chancellor, his Ministers and his officials are in regular contact with the Secretary of State, me and departmental officials on matters pertaining to local government finance. The final local government finance settlement for this financial year, 2023-24, makes available up to £60 billion for local government in England.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes
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Local authorities have lost £15 billion of funding since 2010, as the Government have sought to outsource both the pain and the blame for their punishing approach to the public finances, with only a fraction allocated back on a piecemeal, time-limited and ad hoc basis. The reality for local authorities up and down the country is that it is increasingly becoming far too difficult to deliver all the services that local residents rely on. When will the Secretary of State stop treating local government like a pawn in his political games, and start treating local government finance with the seriousness that both residents and hard-working local government officials need?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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Difficult decisions were taken in the years after 2010 precisely because Labour failed to make those decisions in the years before 2010. One of the reasons why we have made available additional funding for local government in this financial year is to demonstrate that we understand the challenges local authorities face. Ultimately, however, as I said to the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), this sort of issue requires hard choices and trade-offs—something the Labour party continues to fail to demonstrate it understands.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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As inflation impacts on local authority budgets, planning departments are becoming especially squeezed. Councils are meant to approve big planning applications within 13 weeks, but over the last year only 19% have been approved in that timeframe, down from 57% ten years ago. What can the Minister do to improve funding for local council planning departments?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend highlights an important place where further progress is needed. We recognise that there are challenges in this area, and I know that the Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), who is the Housing Minister, and the Secretary of State are well aware of these challenges and seeking to address them. My portfolio includes nationally significant infrastructure programmes, and we have brought forward the NSIP action plan, demonstrating our commitment to speed up projects and decisions within them as much as we can.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) (LD)
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Shropshire’s Conservative-run council is trying to save £1 million a week just to balance its budget this year and restore its reserves to a safe level. Part of its problem is that the funding allocated to rural councils does not reflect the additional cost of delivering services in rural places. Will the Minister consider reassessing that allocation, so that rural councils can get the revenue they need to support the cost of the services they need to provide?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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We are absolutely aware of the challenges that rural councils face. That is one of the reasons why we increased the rural grant within the most recent financial settlement by £10 million. Where there are pressures in local government finance in the coming years, we will continue to work with colleagues across the House to address them.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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Stoke-on-Trent City Council is facing unprecedented pressure, particularly because there are now over 1,000 children in the care of the city council, as well as multiple education, health and care plans that require children to be taken out of the city to find the provision that they deserve. Will my hon. Friend meet urgently with the leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Councillor Jane Ashworth; its chief executive officer, Jon Rouse; and Members of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent to quickly find a way forward and ensure that our finances are in the best possible position going forward?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks with knowledge and experience on these issues. I would be happy to meet Members of Parliament from Stoke-on-Trent to talk about this matter in further detail.

Tom Randall Portrait Tom Randall (Gedling) (Con)
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7. What steps his Department is taking to increase devolution in England.

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Michael Gove)
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We have made significant progress in our mission to extend English devolution. In the past year, we have announced five mayoral devolution deals, which will bring devolution to over half of the English population. Most recently, I was delighted when the wonderful new leader of East Riding council, Anne Handley, signalled her ambitions for greater devolution.

Tom Randall Portrait Tom Randall
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Last week, I attended an evidence session for the all-party parliamentary group on the east midlands’ inquiry into investment in the region, which has been historically underfunded. Business leaders told me that the east midlands combined authority needs to be headed by someone with sharp elbows to get things done in the region. I know there is a man in Mansfield who meets that description, but can my right hon. Friend commit to giving that combined authority the powers to effect meaningful change, including considering west midlands-style powers?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point: there is a man from Mansfield who would be an absolutely outstanding metro Mayor for the east midlands, and we need to give him all the power he needs. He has not only sharp elbows but a keen intellect, and he has the interests of the east midlands at heart. What Andy Street has done for the west midlands, Mr Ben Bradley can do for the east midlands.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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You got there.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the West Midlands Combined Authority that the selfsame Andy Street presides over is the second worst performing CA in the UK, judging by its growth figures. In that circumstance, should the public of Warwickshire not have a say in any potential merger with that combined authority, as is proposed in the Secretary of State’s levelling-up Bill that is going through the House of Lords?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but why does he think that Warwickshire cannot compete on the world stage as part of the West Midlands Combined Authority? Why does he have such little confidence in the people of Warwickshire? He has referred to the Mayor of the combined authority. Andy Street is the Mayor who has done most to deliver and, indeed, exceed housing targets as Mayor of the west midlands. Who has done the worst? Labour’s Sadiq Khan.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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8. What assessment he has made of the implications for his polices of the Regulatory Policy Committee statement on the Renters (Reform) Bill impact assessment, published on 3 July 2023.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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What a facile answer! Does my right hon. Friend not accept the criticisms of the RPC that the impact assessment is very weak in that it fails to address the impacts of the Bill on competition, innovation and investment, and on landlords who run small businesses and microbusinesses?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I was very pleased that the impact assessment gave the Bill a green rating. I was particularly pleased that it indicated that the likely additional cost would be £17 a year, and that the benefits—both monetised and non-monetised—would be significantly greater than that. It is a progressive measure, which I hope my hon. Friend will be able to join me in supporting.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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Renters’ reform is important, as is safe housing. Residents of Norfolk House, a block of flats in my constituency, have suffered burst pipes, dangerous cladding, and sewage and hot water leaks that have ruined multiple flats. Residents have called it a “ticking time bomb” to see whose ceiling will collapse next. Both Galliard, the property developer, and Southern Housing, the housing association, are refusing to address those issues. Will the Minister commit to looking into that case, which has blighted the lives of residents for years?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that, and of course we will. Both the housing association she mentions and the developer she mentions have come to the attention of our Department before, so I am not surprised, but I am disappointed, and we will take action.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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10. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the provision of affordable housing in (a) Chesterfield and (b) England.

Rachel Maclean Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Rachel Maclean)
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The Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing, which is why, through our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, we will deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes for both sale and rent in communities up and down the country. When it comes to Chesterfield, I am aware that the local plan was adopted in July 2020, but ultimately local authorities are responsible for plan preparation and decision making, and they interpret national policy and guidance according to local circumstances.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I am grateful, but that is not really an answer to my question of whether the Minister considers that the amount of affordable housing is adequate. Under the Conservatives, the number of new social rented homes has fallen by over 80%, and there are now 27,000 fewer socially rented homes built each year than there were under a Labour Government. Meanwhile, hard-pressed mortgage holders are facing the highest interest rates in a generation. Is it not clear that neither renters nor buyers can afford another year of this Tory Government?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that Chesterfield Borough Council is under the control of the Labour party, which, with the assistance of significant Government grant funding, is responsible for delivering affordable housing in the area. It is up to Chesterfield Labour party, in control of that council, to work with developers to make sure that planning obligations deliver the houses that local people need.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
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We know that a lack of affordable housing can contribute towards an increase in homelessness. Of course, it is a big responsibility for different areas to tackle homelessness, and I am proud of what Ipswich does, particularly through organisations such as the Ipswich Housing Action Group. I am concerned to hear, though, that neighbouring authorities in the eastern region are sending their homeless people to Ipswich. Does the Minister agree that those authorities should shoulder the responsibility to tackle homelessness in their own areas and not send those homeless people to Ipswich? Will the Minister confirm that the Labour-led council can stop that happening if it wants to do so?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this vital issue to our attention on the Floor of the House. Of course, we expect local authorities to work together to tackle homelessness and to alleviate those pressures on the most vulnerable people. It is right for his Labour council to work with any other council that has responsibility for that.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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11. What assessment he has made of the strength of the Union.

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Michael Gove)
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The Union, and support for the Union, is strong, and I was delighted to note that, in the most recent opinion polls, support for independence in Scotland is plummeting.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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That is a very interesting definition of “plummeting”, when that support consistently remains higher than it was in the independence referendum of 2014. We were told during that campaign and afterwards that Scotland would have one of the most powerful wee devolved sub-state legislatures in the entire world, if not the universe, so what is the Government’s baseline for that? Can the Secretary of State give us some examples of Parliaments that are more or less powerful than the Scottish Parliament?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I would just note that, at the referendum to which the hon. Member refers, support for independence was at 45%, but it is currently at 37% in the polls, and 37 is eight less than 45. More broadly, the Scottish Parliament has significant powers. It is a pity that the Scottish Government do not use them and, unfortunately, as a result Scotland’s people are let down when it comes to education, where Scotland is tumbling down. Scotland, sadly, does not have the reforms that we have had in England, which have seen us rise up international league tables. It used to be the case that Scotland’s education system was the pride of the globe, but it is now England that has the best readers of the western world.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I want to ask the Secretary of State some questions on his role as the Minister for Intergovernmental Relations and drug policy, of which he has said a number of interesting things. He is on record saying this:

“public health measures, which are backed by strong scientific evidence, which follow the lead of the doctors, the clinicians, we should look seriously at them.”

Drug consumption rooms and the decriminalisation of possession of small quantities of drugs have been proved to work throughout the world, and they have now been proposed by the Scottish Government. Does the Secretary of State accept that the outright rejection of that by the UK Government at the weekend—out of hand—undermines the Scottish Government, undermines those campaigners and those who help drug users, and undermines the Union?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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No, I do not accept that, but the hon. Gentleman raises a very serious question. I have had the opportunity to discuss with the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) some of the challenges that she faces in her constituency. The hon. Gentleman and I both know that drug deaths in Scotland are unacceptably high, and there is no single answer to that problem, but I believe, as was outlined clearly by politicians from both the Government and the principal Opposition party, that the Scottish Government’s proposals are the wrong proposals at the wrong time.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but the heads of all 31 UN agencies have called for possession decriminalisation, and more than 30 countries have made changes that have cut deaths and incarceration. There is no reasonable, rational and evidenced cause for the UK Government, or the Labour party, to reject the proposals out of hand. May I ask him seriously, in his role as Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, to be the grown-up on his side of the Chamber, and work and engage with the Scottish Government and drug campaigners on the issue?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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As the hon. Gentleman points out, this is a complex, challenging and heartbreaking issue. It is right that the Governments should work together, and with the NHS, law enforcement and others, to deal with this challenge, but I believe that the specific proposals for decriminalisation of possession proposed are not the best way forward.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)
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12. What steps his Department is taking to support house building.

Maggie Throup Portrait Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con)
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14. What steps his Department is taking to support house building.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)
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15. What steps his Department is taking to support house building.

Kate Kniveton Portrait Kate Kniveton (Burton) (Con)
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16. What steps his Department is taking to support house building.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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20. What steps his Department is taking to support house building.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)
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24. What steps his Department is taking to support house building.

Rachel Maclean Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Rachel Maclean)
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House building is a priority for this Government. We have announced £10 billion-worth of investment in the housing supply since the start of this Parliament, and ultimately, our interventions are due to unlock over 1 million new homes. We are also investing £11.5 billion in the latest affordable homes programme, to provide tens of thousands of new homes across the country.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson
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As my question concerns Wolverhampton, with your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to Councillor Ian Brookfield, the leader of City of Wolverhampton Council, who sadly passed away last week, aged only 57. Ian worked with many Ministers and the Secretary of State when the Ministry’s second headquarters moved to the city of Wolverhampton. He will be greatly missed by many people.

The Government have made a series of big investments in Wolverhampton, and that has positioned it as the centre of the home building industry. That includes millions of pounds for the National Brownfield Institute, the city learning quarter, and the Modern Methods of Construction taskforce. Will my hon. Friend the Minister support my campaign for an investment zone in Wolverhampton North East, stretching from Springfield brewery to the science park? That would help attract businesses to Wolverhampton, where they could capitalise on the expertise that our city now has in home building technology, and attract high-quality jobs to my constituency.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute, on my behalf and on behalf of all Ministers in the Department, to Councillor Ian Brookfield.

I thank my hon. Friend very much for her question. She is an absolutely superb advocate for her constituents and the city of Wolverhampton. I am pleased to tell her that the investment zone programme is under way; a shortlist of eight places in England selected for inclusion in the programme was announced in the spring Budget, and the west midlands is one of them. We are co-developing proposals, and we will look very carefully at her proposal, for the reasons that she set out.

Maggie Throup Portrait Maggie Throup
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I draw my hon. Friend the Minister’s attention to the uncertain future of the housing development in Long Eaton in my constituency. It has been at a standstill since the termination of the house builder’s contract 10 months ago. What further support is available to encourage the site owner to complete the more than 100 homes planned for the site, so that the development is not left to deteriorate beyond repair?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I am of course concerned to hear about the situation that my hon. Friend highlights, and I would be pleased to discuss it with her in more detail, if that would be helpful. More generally, we are introducing a range of measures to increase transparency about build-out, to ensure that when development proposals are brought forward, the development actually gets built.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney
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Labour-run Kirklees Council is taking in millions of pounds from housing developers through the section 106 levy, but local people are losing confidence in the system, as they just do not see the money being spent on local schools, local roads or local health services. Does the Minister agree that developer contributions, which are given to improve local infrastructure that is affected by major housing developments, should be spent on just that?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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My hon. Friend highlights a most unsatisfactory state of affairs from Labour-run Kirklees Council. We are introducing a new infrastructure levy that will bring much-needed transparency. Local authorities, including Kirklees, should be spending that precious money on the infrastructure needed for local people.

Kate Kniveton Portrait Kate Kniveton
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With the growth in development of new housing across my constituency, we must ensure that adequate provisions are in place to meet the essential needs of residents, such as at the Bramshall Meadows development, where residents are waiting for the play space they were promised, and at Branston Locks, where new healthcare services are needed to support that development. Can the Minister provide an update on what is being done to guarantee the successful and timely integration of these vital facilities in new housing developments?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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My hon. Friend highlights well on behalf of her constituents the vital and pressing need for the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which includes measures to tackle exactly the issues she has highlighted. It will introduce a new infrastructure levy, which will reform the system of developer contributions, bringing certainty and transparency over the infrastructure needed to be delivered alongside development.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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To address the housing crisis, we need to be building more homes for social rent, and planning departments must be properly resourced in personnel and funding. Will my hon. Friend set out the steps she is taking to address those two specific issues?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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My hon. Friend speaks with considerable expertise on these matters. We know that many local planning authorities are facing capacity and capability challenges, which is why we have developed a programme of support, working with partners across the planning sector, to put more skills and capacity into planning authorities. Our levelling up White Paper is committed to increasing the supply of social rented homes across the country.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes
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Lib Dem-run Eastleigh Borough Council, which is developing 2,500 homes on Horton Heath, last week passed a planning amendment to recklessly remove all affordable housing obligations, despite its being the developer of the site. Will my hon. Friend condemn that cynical move and assure me that no Homes England money will be used to backfill the gap?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the reckless behaviour of his Liberal Democrat-run council. I completely agree that it is a disgraceful state of affairs. The council should be using that funding secured to deliver the affordable housing that his residents rightly need and deserve. As he suggested, Homes England will definitely not be contributing to backfilling that need.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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I do not doubt the Minister’s good intentions on house building, but does she accept that, according to her own Department’s figures, housing starts fell by 12% year on year in the first three months of this year? That is down to a figure of just more than 37,000 starts, which is half the figure needed to hit 300,000 homes a year. On that basis, does she conclude like me that not merely is her policy not succeeding in hitting the housing targets, but it is considerably contributing to their failure?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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The hon. Gentleman brings his considerable knowledge to this matter, but I will take no lectures from him and the Labour party on house building. This Government delivered 242,000 houses in 2019-20—that is the highest level for more than 30 years, including the entire time that the Labour party was in government.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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We do not just need to build affordable homes; we also need to build high-quality homes that are fit for the future and climate-resilient. In the past six years, the average cost of repairing a home from flood damage has been £60,000 a property, and Aviva calculates that one in four homes is now at risk of flooding. Will the Government ensure that their proposed national planning policy framework will finally prevent unprotected homes from being built in flood risk areas?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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The hon. Lady raises an important issue. The consultation on the NPPF has been well subscribed. We are analysing the responses now, but I am sure we will be able to say more in due course.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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In Westmorland and Lonsdale, average house prices are 12 times average household incomes. The danger we have is that when we see houses developed, we are meeting demand, but not need. Should the Government not give us far greater planning controls, so that we can ensure that we do not see 100 homes built that are a waste of bricks going into the second home market? Instead, we should ensure that they are affordable homes, socially rented for local families.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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Local authorities have a huge amount of freedom. They have been given the tools by the Government through legislation, through developer contribution powers and through Homes England grants to deliver affordable homes. The hon. Member will also know about the wider work we are doing on second homes to enable local authorities to raise council tax. I hope he can see that the direction of travel will help alleviate some of the pressures he has highlighted.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Government are notoriously bad at disposing of public land—I need only look at NHS Property Services and the seven-year wait on the Bootham Park hospital site, and at Ministry of Defence land—so will the Minister look at how that can be co-ordinated and handed over to Homes England so that we can get building the housing that is desperately needed in places such as York?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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The hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that this is a priority for us. I take issue slightly with her comment that we have a poor record of disposing of public land. Often, that public land is needed by hospitals and the MOD. So we are working closely and looking at where such land can be brought forward for housing. If it can, we absolutely will be doing that.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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Among the SNP failures that the Secretary of State chose not to mention is the fact that, since the SNP came to government in 2007, we have been building new council and social-rented houses at nine times the rate of any Government covering England. Does the Minister accept that if successive Labour and Tory Governments had followed the SNP’s example in Scotland, the housing crisis in England would be far less than it currently is?

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister very much for her responses. One of the key issues is for urgent planning decisions to be made. The Minister has a keen interest in Northern Ireland, where the population has risen by about 100,000 up to 1.9 million. One thing that needs to be done is on infrastructure decisions, which need to be made here nationally, not regionally. What discussions has she had with the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that those decisions can be made to the benefit of all of us in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Only if the Assembly sits.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank the hon. Gentleman so much. He is an active participant in all the debates we have on these issues. I continue to work closely with him and his colleagues in Northern Ireland, because we can work together and learn lessons from each other.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab)
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Do the Government realise how absurd all of this sounds? Their own flagship Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords, has measures in it to block new homes from being built, and yet the Minister stands here berating councils for getting in the way. All of this is happening because Conservative Back Benchers have more control of housing policy than their Government. So when the local Conservative MP in Cambridge says that his latest scheme “will not happen”, he is probably right, is he not?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I do not quite know how to give that a serious response. I have just set out in huge detail all the work backed by public funding—taxpayers’ money—going into delivering the houses that people need up and down the country. As far as I can see, the only people blocking housing development are those such as the hon. Lady, who is objecting to developments in her own constituency.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy
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It is literally in the Government’s own Bill—they are trying to block new houses from being built. They have had 17 housing Ministers and three planning overhauls, and house building is at its lowest level for a generation.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy
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The Secretary of State wants to talk now—why did he not take the question? I suspect it is because he has again run into so much opposition from his Back Benchers about a story briefed only yesterday that he has had to abandon it. One hundred small and medium-sized house builders have been protesting to Downing Street and mortgages have gone through the roof. It really does take some brass neck to present that as anything other than an appalling record.

I have in my hand an analysis that shows that all this chaos will cost the economy £44 billion. Are the Government the only people left in Britain who cannot admit that the housing crisis, the mortgage crisis, the cost of living crisis and the economic crisis have one cause: Tory government?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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That was a flight of fantasy with several hundred questions. I am happy to engage with the hon. Lady on the detail of the clauses in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, but I am proud of the Government’s record in bringing forward levelling-up across the whole country, with house building backed by billions of pounds of public funding and taxpayers’ money. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), our house building record is greater than that of her party for the entire time they were in government.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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17. What steps his Department is taking to end rough sleeping.

Felicity Buchan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Felicity Buchan)
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The Government are committed to ending rough sleeping. Last year we published our cross-Government strategy “Ending Rough Sleeping For Good”, which set out how we are investing a huge £2 billion over three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. In 2022 there was 25% less rough sleeping than the 2017 peak, and 28% less than in 2019, before the pandemic.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
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The best way to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness is to increase the supply of houses for people to live in. A joint report has been released today by the all-party parliamentary group for housing market and housing delivery, which I chair, and the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi). The report found that we could bring 20,000 houses on to the market through conversions. Will the Minister meet me and a local charity that is very keen to do that, to discuss how we can take that forward?

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan
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I would be delighted to come to Milton Keynes to meet my hon. Friend and his local charity. I want to reassure him that this Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing and to ensuring that all houses are safe and of a decent standard. I look forward to reading in detail the APPGs’ recommendations.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood (Dewsbury) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Michael Gove)
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I have been delighted to confirm that Lord Morse will be the new chair of the Office for Local Government. We are advertising the post of chief executive, which would suit someone with experience of local government who is looking for a new role, so I will pass on details to the shadow Secretary of State.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood
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Following the wonderful news that the Leslie Sports Foundation, based at Shelley Community football club, has been awarded £318,456 from the community ownership fund, will Minister visit the foundation to view its existing facilities and discuss its exciting plans for the newly funded one?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a brilliant advocate for that project. I have no doubt that the work of the Leslie Sports Foundation will make a huge difference to the lives of people in his constituency. The Minister for Levelling Up, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), would be delighted to visit.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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It is now over four years since the Conservatives promised to ban section 21 no-fault evictions. It needs strengthening, but the Government finally published a Renters (Reform) Bill in May this year. Given the desperate situation that many renters are currently facing, and the urgent need to provide them with greater security and better rights, why have the Government not lifted a finger to progress that legislation in the weeks since it was published?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to do more to help people in the private rented sector but, as he will have heard, we wanted to make sure that we had a fit-for-purpose impact assessment so that the House could reflect on the changes that we are making and the benefits they will bring.

Andrew Lewer Portrait Andrew Lewer (Northampton South) (Con)
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T3. What assessment has the Department made of the use of cash retentions in the construction industry and of possible measures that could prevent the practice, which causes cash-flow issues and costly administrative burdens for subcontractors, including those involved in house building?

Rachel Maclean Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Rachel Maclean)
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My hon. Friend will know that that policy area is led by the Department for Business and Trade. Nevertheless, it is important that we work closely with a wide range of stakeholders and businesses to achieve a consensus. It can sometimes be challenging, but we are clear that any solution must be a sustainable one that works for the industry and its clients, addressing the need for surety and fair payment.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Lab)
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T2. It has been more than 50 days since the Renters (Reform) Bill was introduced to Parliament. Despite ample parliamentary time, the Government have failed to set a date for Second Reading. In the last few weeks alone, the House has finished at 2 pm and 5 pm due to the Government bringing forward no business. Why do the Government not care about renters?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The Bill, as you know, Mr Speaker, is beautifully formed, but the impact assessment that goes with it, as I pointed out earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), needs to be read in the round to see what a great piece of legislation it is. One thing that would enable us to bring forward legislation is if the Labour party were to end its pointless opposition to our Illegal Migration Bill. It is curious that the Labour party seems keener on being on the side of people smugglers than it is on the side of the private rented sector.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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T5. The recent transfer of the administration of home equity loans from Target to Lenvi has gone appallingly badly, with my constituents reporting unanswered emails and phones that ring out with no reply when they are looking to transfer their home in a time-critical phase. Will my right hon. Friend update me on what is going on with the administration?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I have been having daily meetings with Homes England and the service provider. It is the case that there have been some issues with the transfer, as my hon. Friend highlights. I want anyone listening to this to know that they can contact either their local MP or the service line, and we will resolve it. I have insisted that additional call centre staff are available and extended working hours. We are very much seeing the issues being worked through at pace now.

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
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T4. According to figures from PricedOut, over the last 50 years housing has become over 13 times more expensive and tenants are now spending up to half their income on rent alone. If that trend continues, only one in three people born this year will own a home before they are 50. The Government’s scrapping of housing targets and surrendering to Back Benchers opposed to new housing will only make the situation even worse. When will the Government grow a backbone, stand up to those MPs and build the houses we need to avoid catastrophe?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman but, as was pointed out earlier in these questions, the area of the country where housing numbers are worst, where planning permissions are being built out most slowly and where the fewest planning permissions are being granted overall has been London, under a Labour Mayor. I want to work with the Mayor to see him emulate what the Conservative Mayor in the west midlands, Andy Street, has done to deliver housing.

Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)
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T7. My right hon. Friend will know from my constant lobbying of him that it is my belief that the revenue support grant mechanism is inherently unfair and means that rural authorities such as Dorset, and particularly in West Dorset, receive little if any revenue support grant compared to the tens of millions that many urban areas, such as Wandsworth, receive. Will my right hon. Friend kindly tell me what he is doing to restore that balance and fairness for rural areas?

Lee Rowley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Lee Rowley)
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My hon. Friend has absolutely made this case on multiple occasions, both to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to myself. He is a champion for West Dorset and for rural communities in general. We will continue to work with local MPs who are concerned about this, but I would just gently point out that the primacy and the desire of the local government sector in this financial year has been for clarity and consistency, which is what we have provided to them through the local government financial settlement this year.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)
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T6. While the Government drag their heels on section 21, thousands of families are being evicted through no fault of their own by rapacious landlords—let’s be honest about it—with 2,000 families in May alone this year. That is not acceptable. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State has been having cosy meetings with private landlords’ associations, which gives the impression he is on the side of the landlords and not the renters. Will he at least say now that the Bill will come back in September?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch heard the careful case he prosecuted when he said I was on the side of the landlords. In fact, I am on the side of a healthy private rented sector. The overwhelming majority of landlords do a brilliant job and I want to pay tribute to the National Residential Landlords Associations and Ben Beadle for their effective work in this area.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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T8. The Department has a very large number of consultations either going out to consultation or being assessed right now. Now that my private Member’s Bill, the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill, has received Royal Assent, when will my hon. Friend start the consultations required to enact it, so that we can kick out rogue landlords?

Felicity Buchan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Felicity Buchan)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent private Member’s Bill, which the Government were happy to support as it tackles a very real problem. The Bill has received Royal Assent and will become law on 29 August; we will start the consultation as soon as is practicable thereafter.

Simon Lightwood Portrait Simon Lightwood (Wakefield) (Lab/Co-op)
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Last week at business questions I raised the case of Tyrrell Court in Wakefield, where the social landlord, Wakefield and District Housing, has added a new service charge for communal lighting on top of the charge for window cleaning and communal cleaning, despite people having been tenants for 20 years without ever being charged that fee before. It adds up to £125 extra per year. Is the Secretary of State as concerned as I am that landlords are introducing these charges when people can afford them least?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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It does indeed sound a concerning case, and we will follow up.

Gareth Johnson Portrait Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con)
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T9. Property management companies are undoubtedly holding back home ownership. New homeowners are often obliged to sign up to contracts that they cannot leave. That leaves them stuck with inflated fees, and very often with poor services. I am sure the Minister agrees that management companies need their activities curbed; they need legislation imposed on them so that we can get back to a fairer system of housing.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I agree entirely. I thank my hon. Friend for the excellent debate that he brought to Westminster Hall, in which we discussed these issues in detail. I am happy to reiterate to the House that we will legislate, when parliamentary time allows, to deal with many of the issues that he has raised that are affecting freehold homeowners.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State said that he had the noble aim of abolishing the feudal leasehold system. Could he update the House on his progress on the abolishment of that feudal system?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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It will be in the King’s Speech, God willing.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
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The A38 is the main route to the largest city on the Devon and Cornwall peninsula. This nationally significant route needs substantial work between Carkeel and Trerulefoot in my constituency. What work is the Department doing with the Department for Transport to make that a reality?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend highlights the importance of nationally significant infrastructure programmes all across the country. It is vital that we speed up those projects and make sure that they deliver for local people more quickly. My hon. Friend is a champion for the A38; I know that she will be talking to the Department for Transport, and I am happy to do so as well.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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The Secretary of State says that the Scottish Government are not using the powers that they have, but it is his Government who keep vetoing Scottish Government policies and legislation that has been passed by the Scottish Parliament. Does that not just show that the Conservatives never wanted devolution in the first place and can now barely contain their glee at getting to roll back the powers of devolution?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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No, it was the Scottish National party that did not want devolution; it wants independence. It is in the name, isn’t it? They are nationalists and they want to break up the United Kingdom; we extend devolution within England and we support it in Scotland.

Saqib Bhatti Portrait Saqib Bhatti (Meriden) (Con)
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Thanks to the Government’s brownfield land release fund, Solihull Council is getting on with the job of regenerating Kingshurst village centre, including by building new environmentally friendly houses. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State accept my invitation to see at first hand the progress of the regeneration of Kingshurst village centre, and see how it can be supported further by a successful levelling-up fund round 3 application?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Once again, my hon. Friend makes a brilliant case on behalf of the residents of Solihull borough.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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Fife Council is currently working on the details of the levelling-up fund, which gave us some of our own money back under the last round. Most of that money—over £14 million—is for connectivity projects related to the very welcome reopening of the Levenmouth rail link. Since the bid was put together, it has become clear that by far the most important connectivity project associated with that reopening is the construction of a pedestrian footbridge to maintain the ancient public right of way at Doubledykes crossing in the middle of my constituency. If it becomes clear that the project has support from the community, will the Secretary of State allow Fife Council to reallocate the funding—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Please—these are topicals. I have given you the advantage of having two goes. Don’t take advantage of the rest of the Members, please.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I will investigate the matter. It is important that public access is maintained. I do sympathise with the hon. Gentleman: given that there are now no Labour Back Benchers left to ask questions, he has to take the Opposition responsibilities on his shoulders.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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May I thank the Levelling Up Minister for her time when we met to discuss community projects in Bracknell? East Berkshire would also welcome its fair share of levelling-up love, so could she please advise on the how and when for the next tranche of funding?

Dehenna Davison Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Dehenna Davison)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for outlining the concerns of local residents, showing why levelling up is also needed in parts of the country like Bracknell. We will imminently announce full details of levelling-up round 3, and I will, of course, provide him with those details when we have them.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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To strengthen the Union, and with the Windsor framework not able to answer all the difficulties due to the Northern Ireland protocol, what recent discussions have taken place with Cabinet colleagues on pressing the EU for a common-sense approach and on making the necessary adjustments to keep Northern Ireland a functional and integral part of the UK, which is the will of the people?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is the clearly expressed will of Northern Ireland’s people to be embedded in the United Kingdom, and we need to make sure that the EU takes a constructive approach, following on from the publication of the Windsor framework. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary are taking that forward.

Caroline Ansell Portrait Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con)
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Eastbourne secured £20 million in round 1 of the Government’s levelling-up fund, part of which is set to transform a disused dairy and downland farm into a world-class visitor centre. Will previously successful constituencies, such as mine, be eligible to apply for the forthcoming round 3? We have big plans for the seafront.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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My hon. Friend continues to be a fantastic champion for Eastbourne. We will be announcing full details of levelling-up round 3 in due course, but we are taking on concerns, from those who have previously received funding and from those who have not, to make sure that we get this third round absolutely right.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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So Chorley will do well?

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
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Playgrounds are often a godsend for stressed parents. They are great for kids’ development, and they are free entertainment during all these cost of living pressures. Will my right hon. Friend consider earmarking a fund so that parish councils and community groups can bid to improve areas that are in a poor state or that lack the inclusive equipment we all want to see?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend is a brilliant champion for better provision of playgrounds and stronger support for families and young people. The community ownership fund is available for some of the purposes she mentions, but I look forward to working with her to do more in this area.

Rape and Sexual Violence: Criminal Justice Response

Monday 10th July 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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15:31
Sarah Dines Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Sarah Dines)
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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on measures to improve the criminal justice response to rape and sexual violence.

This Government are unswervingly committed to protecting the public and fighting crime. As I am sure Members across the House will agree, few parts of that mission are as important as the ongoing effort to tackle rape and sexual violence. As I heard on my recent visit to Greater Manchester police, these are sickening, destructive crimes that can only have a significant impact on human dignity. They are a betrayal of everything we stand for as a law-abiding society, and they can have profound and lifelong consequences. My thoughts and prayers are with every single victim.

Although we are united in our outrage at these horrific acts, sadly we cannot turn back the clock. What we can do, and what this Government are determined to do, is ensure that the criminal justice system does not add to the suffering and trauma experienced by victims and survivors. On that note, I will update the House on the work being done to drive improvements in the criminal justice response to rape and sexual violence.

Two years ago, in the rape review, the Government set out steps to transform support for victims and to ensure cases are fully investigated and rigorously pursued through the courts. Crucially, we heard that many victims who have reported to the police feel that they are the ones under investigation and do not feel believed. For example, we know that victims have faced digital strip searches, with intrusive requests for access to their mobile phones. Last year, we changed the law to end such distressing and intrusive practices, and to protect victims’ right to privacy where it is necessary. We are introducing new legislation through the Victims and Prisoners Bill so that therapy notes and other personal records are accessed only when necessary and proportionate to an investigation. But we must go further. The investigation of rape must be no different from the investigation of any other crime, with the focus firmly on the suspect.

To support policing to transform its response to rape, the Home Office has already provided over £6 million to Operation Soteria, bringing together more than 50 world-leading academics from across the country, led by Professor Betsy Stanko and Professor Katrin HoL, and frontline officers from 19 police forces, to develop the new national operating model for rape and serious sexual offence investigations. This model, launched today, means that all police forces in England and Wales will now have the tools they can apply to conduct suspect-focused investigations which ensure victims’ needs and rights are central; through the College of Policing, they can access learning to develop their skills and build a comprehensive understanding of the psychology of sexual offending.

Nineteen police forces have participated in the programme, and we have already seen signs of change. All pathfinder forces have seen an increase in the number of cases being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service and a reduction in the average number of days taken for a charge outcome to be assigned. Charge volumes in Avon and Somerset have more than tripled, rising from seven charges to 22 charges in October to December 2022. The Met has seen an 18% reduction in victims withdrawing, with this falling from 743 cases before Soteria to 611 cases in October to December 2022. The charge rate in Durham has increased, rising from 2.6% to 12.6% since that force’s involvement in Operation Soteria. The number of cases being referred to the CPS by West Midlands police has doubled, with it rising 108%, from 26 to 54 cases; and charge volumes in South Wales have increased by 110%, rising from 10 cases before Operation Soteria to 21 cases in October to December 2022.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I are encouraged that all police forces in England and Wales have committed to implementing this new approach. We have already met, or are on track to meet, the ambitious targets set out in the review ahead of schedule: to more than double the number of adult rape cases reaching court by the end of this Parliament; and to return the volumes of cases being referred to the police, charged by the CPS and going to court to at least 2016 levels.

We want to go further and faster, and we are doing exactly that by providing a further £8.5 million to continue to support the police to improve their response to rape. That will be used to establish a new joint unit with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing to oversee and support forces as they implement the model, continuing to draw on academic expertise and oversight. We will continue to roll out a Government-funded uplift in technical capacity and capability to ensure that no adult victim of rape is without a phone for more than 24 hours.

The NPCC and College of Policing have also made significant commitments: 2,000 police investigators will complete specialist training on the investigation of rape and sexual offences by April next year. A new first responder course will be compulsory for all new police recruits from April next year, to ensure that victims of rape get the right support and treatment they need at the time of reporting. We will also consult policing partners on the most effective way those officers can be used, including the effectiveness of dedicated rape and sexual assault investigatory units.

Operation Soteria has shown the importance of scrutiny to drive progress, which is why the Home Secretary has also commissioned His Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services to carry out a thematic inspection on forces’ implementation of the Soteria model. I want to be clear: there is further to go and there is no room for complacency. We want victims to have the confidence to report these crimes, knowing they will get the support they need, and that everything possible can and will be done to bring offenders to justice. This Government will work with policing to do everything in our power to ensure that happens, and I commend this statement to the House.

15:38
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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I of course welcome today’s statement—any progress on this issue is to be welcomed—but I would outline that the rape review was commissioned in 2019. It then took two years to publish, and we rightly got an apology from the Government for the catastrophic decline in prosecutions. However, the report contained only piecemeal changes, which is why, another two years on, we are here today discussing progress, yes, but marginal progress.

In the data outlined by the Minister on the number of cases now being charged, she did not make it clear that hundreds of cases were still not charged in each police force area she spoke of. The Government seek to get back to 2016 standards, without recognising that it was on their watch that the system crashed. Charges and prosecutions dropped to their lowest levels on record, just at the time when rape offences recorded by the police skyrocketed to record levels. What the Government are celebrating today is simply the beginning of a reversal of their failure of survivors—like smashing a vase and celebrating when it is half stuck back together with sellotape. In this time, countless rape victims have been left unsupported, or have dropped their cases or never even come forward. This morning, I received a text message from a rape victim I have been supporting, who waited over five years for her case to be heard. She said:

“Is there anyway I can see you this week? I really need to speak to someone before all this gets any worse, I just cannot deal with my own head right now.”

She, like thousands of others, has been let down by the system, and the public have been left at risk, with attackers still walking free.

The numbers that the Government have not mentioned today are those for outstanding rape cases, which show a record high of 2,040, up from 1,379 a year previously. More rape victims are waiting longer than ever before. The Government’s own scorecard for 2022 has the attrition figure at a staggering 62%. Survivors are still being left unsupported and are dropping their cases. Will the Minister say whether the Government will back Labour’s proposal for all rape victims to have legal advocates, when my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) pushes that amendment tomorrow in the Victims and Prisoners Public Bill Committee? Rape Crisis has called for it, the Labour party would do it, and the victims need it. Will the Government vote against support for rape victims tomorrow?

The green shoots of police improvements from Operation Soteria are welcome, as is its roll-out as a national operating standard. However, to be successful, it must maintain that academic rigour and independent input throughout the national implementation. It cannot just be a good pilot that is spread out to police forces as a checkbox. Will the Minister confirm that the academic rigour that the scheme started with will continue in every one of the 43 forces, as it is rolled out? The total number of charges for adult rape in quarter 1 of 2016 was 2,270. In quarter 4 of 2022, it was 1,748, a 23% drop.

Labour announced over two years ago that we would implement specialist rape courts, listing rape cases as a priority and fast-tracking them. The Labour party has called again and again for specialist rape and sexual offence units in every police force, something that still does not exist. The Government say today that they are having a think about them. I ask that they think a little faster. If they had listened, they could have all been rolled out and could be supporting survivors now. Labour would also increase the number of prosecutors, to put rapists behind bars and reduce the record backlog across the courts. We welcome progress, but the Government could and should be doing much more.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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I thank the hon. Lady for those comments. I am afraid that I do not accept that the work has been piecemeal. This is a sea change in how the model is being operated. I have done some research, my civil servants have done some research, and I have spoken to the academics and the people who meet victims all the time. There is no other country in the world, that I can find, that has a similar operating model. Over 50 academics have worked tirelessly with some excellent officers. This is not piecemeal; this is a sea change, but there is a lot more to do.

I do not accept that the change is marginal. It is fundamental. This is a different way of looking at victims and the suspect. It must not be forgotten that all crime, not just particular, different sorts of crimes, needs to be hammered down and stopped by the Government. That is what we expect from the judiciary, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Yes, rape cases are of course far too high; they are coming down, and more must be done. I, too, am concerned about attrition. We must change that, so that we can support our women, and boys and men at times, who have been raped. There is academic rigour, and it will be rolled out. There will be proper monitoring, and there is a proper unit to make sure that the operating model is rolled out properly.

The question of specialist rape courts is brought up often by the hon. Lady. Of course, it is a very complex matter. With respect, all victims of crime deserve decent, proper courts. We should not be singling out one offence over another, because all these crimes are heinous and they all deserve a resolution to the complex situation.

We have already completed a national roll-out of pre-recorded evidence, which is one of the main things victims ask about when they want special rape trials. Through that roll-out of pre-recorded evidence, we are sparing victims the ordeal of appearing before a live courtroom, which helps them to give their best evidence. We are talking today about evidence.

To ease the court process further, we are updating the victims code, so that members of the Crown Prosecution Service team must meet rape victims ahead of their court cases to answer their questions and allay any fears they have. In the next phase of our specialist sexual violence support project, we will ensure that at participating Crown courts, including Snaresbrook, where I commonly worked, Leeds and Newcastle, the option to remotely observe a sentencing hearing by video link is available to any adult rape victim who needs it, subject to the judge’s agreement.

These are complex issues. The work is on evidence, not rhetoric. We are getting there, but there is a lot more to do.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
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I gently say to my hon. Friend the Minister that some kinds of offences can and should be singled out. Actually, that is exactly what we have done with the strategy on violence against women and girls, with the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, because we have to recognise that sexual offences against women have a particular personal, traumatic impact, and we need to do more.

However, I was pleased to hear her single out Avon and Somerset police, and I pay tribute to Chief Constable Sarah Crew, who is the most amazing woman and has spearheaded efforts in that police force to ensure victims are treated sensitively, appropriately and swiftly. The same cannot be said about every police force.

We are now some four months or so on from the Casey review into the Metropolitan police, and too many women still say to me that they do not want to report a crime against them to the Met because they have no confidence that it will be treated fairly and properly, and that they will not end up being the ones on trial. What more can my hon. Friend the Minister do to instil, as she put it, “confidence to report crimes”, when it comes to our capital’s police force?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend; I know she does great work in this area. I too have been thoroughly impressed at my many meetings with Sarah Crew. She really is a breath of fresh air and I put a lot of hope in the way that she has managed to roll out new ideas about how to police this area. Of course these are heinous crimes and very special offences.

In relation to the Metropolitan police, I have met the commissioner and the deputy commissioner, and I sense there is a change. The oil tanker is moving. At the moment, it is moving too slowly; it needs to move faster. I am optimistic about the new training that new officers are receiving. The emphasis on specialist trained officers is encouraging and I am sure we will see progress.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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I associate myself with the words of the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). I agree with everything that she just said. More than a year ago, the Home Affairs Committee recommended that all police forces should establish specialist rape investigation teams. We know that they produce better decision making, can address delays and improve communication with victims and the CPS.

We also urged the Government to collect and publish data on the number of police officers in each force with specialist rape and serious sexual offence training. Can the Minister explain why specialist rape investigation teams are still not in place in every police force and what she will do about that? Can she confirm how many serving police officers, as of today, have received specialist training on rape and serious sexual assault? What proportion of the 20,000 new recruits will also receive that specialist training?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her incisive questions. I suggest that the issue is about specialism, rather than specialist units. All police forces have different operational ways of working. She will recall the evidence of Sarah Crew, who said that there is no quick fix for each particular force. She said that every force must look closely at the way they are operating. However, specialism of training is key. The National Police Chiefs’ Council is very firmly looking at what will be rolled out. The modules in relation to domestic abuse and to rape and serious sexual offences are being updated. The right hon. Lady is quite right to point to training, as that is important. She mentions data, which is also very important. We are improving and collecting more data—far more than has been collected previously, as far as I am advised. I am optimistic that we are working together. Her Committee plays a vital role in assisting the experts and informing the way that they work.

Alberto Costa Portrait Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire) (Con)
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I welcome the Government’s measures on rape and sexual violence, but I invite the Minister to consider this: Colin Pitchfork, who brutally raped and horrifically murdered two teenage women in my constituency is being provisionally released by the independent Parole Board. I know that she does not have responsibility for the Parole Board, but what my constituents and, I think, the wider British public do not understand is how somebody who has committed appalling sexual violence against two young women can possibly be released? Does she agree that that position can only be regarded as irrational?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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I agree with my hon. Friend. The case of Colin Pitchfork is dreadful, and I am very aware that the Ministry of Justice are working hard on that. Recently, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said that he expected more work to be done in this space. I commend my hon. Friend for the hard work that he does in his constituency and nationally in this area.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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It is clear that Operation Soteria is seeing improvements, but, frankly, the bar is very low. I associate myself with the comments of the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee that the crime that we are discussing is different. Faith in policing and the justice sector more generally is impacted when a force that was using Soteria—the Met—was found in the Casey report to have

“a strategic and operational failure to tackle rape and sexual offences…which compounds the harm of the victims.”

I note in the Minister’s statement comments in relation to the thematic inspection. It is not just about training, but about ensuring that those resources have the time and capability to be able to investigate those crimes. Will the thematic inspection be looking at that?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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As far as I have been instructed, the inspector will be looking at that. The Casey review made for very sobering reading. It is paramount that public trust in the Met is restored, and we have to work hard on that. The Home Secretary has made it very clear that standards must and will improve in the Met as a matter of urgency. She, like me, will continue to hold the commissioner and the Mayor of London to account for delivering that change. I thank the hon. Lady for her continuing interest in this important area of work.

Kate Kniveton Portrait Kate Kniveton (Burton) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that, in order to rid victims of the feeling of shame associated with rape and to encourage more victims to speak out, the investigation of rape must focus on the suspect, rather than the undermining and digital strip searching of the victim?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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My hon. Friend makes one of the most important points so far this afternoon. The shame and blaming must change: we need to treat rape sensitively and focus a little more on the aggressor—the alleged rapist—to ensure that there is more fairness and justice in investigations. That has been lacking. The Government were clear about that when they apologised recently for the way that this issue has not been looked into sufficiently. We need to believe the victim and make sure that there is fairness in the way that the evidence is obtained.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
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We all welcome progress, however small that may be. The Minister has said that the tanker is slowly turning, and there is a lot more to do. Does she not agree that one major issue is around people having the confidence to engage with the system, which would be better served by its embracing the principles of the independent legal advocate scheme?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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The Government do not agree at this stage that that is the right way forward. The crux of the matter lies with specialism of the investigation—with sensitive policing, listening to victims and letting them know, for example, that they can have their digital equipment and their telephones back in 24 hours, rather than having them taken by the police and on some occasions left for weeks or months without being returned. It is all about confidence, but it is also about specialism of the investigating officers and of the prosecutors.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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I have a constituent who was brutally raped in the ’80s. Despite presenting the evidence then and again more recently, she never got the support or the justice she deserved, due to failings within the Met. Can the Minister spell out what precise support historical victims of rape will receive following the review? Will it mean that, for my constituent and other victims of rape, justice will finally be secured?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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As far as I am aware, through the Ministry of Justice’s new Victims and Prisoners Bill, all victims will receive further assistance. These are heinous crimes, and whether the crime happened a day, a year, a decade or 50 years ago, all victims deserve support. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the amount of work that she does in this area and I will be happy to write to her, or to get the relevant Minister in the Ministry of Justice to write to her, with more particulars.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, the Government introduced pre-recorded cross-examination to allow victims to pre-record their evidence and spare them the trauma of attending court in person. What progress has been made across the court system with those new procedures? Also, can the Minister reassure me and my constituents that, when sentenced, rapists are now serving longer in prison than they were before?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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Giving confidence to anybody who appears in court is important, particularly with this sort of heinous crime. As I mentioned earlier, we have completed a national roll-out of that pre-recorded evidence, which spares the victims of those ordeals and really makes a massive difference. It is one of the things that is brought up time and again when I speak to victims: they want to give their evidence in a fair way and not to feel that they are on trial. That is exactly why the Government are rolling out pre-recorded evidence. The victims code will go even further in allowing and in fact mandating prosecutors to meet people who are about to give evidence and who have been the victim of an alleged rape. It is a really good step forward and I commend the victims code to the House.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister very much for responding to questions and for her statement. While I welcome the fact that the 43 police forces in England and Wales are to implement a new approach to investigating rape, can I ask the Minister what information sharing there is with the regional Administrations about these protocols, and what additional funding is available to help the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland justice system to see this apparently attainable improvement replicated in Northern Ireland?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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This holistic new approach is supposed to affect and influence the whole way we deal with fighting rape—investigating, gathering evidence and getting cases before the court. I want to see that specialism and those measures rolled out everywhere. I would be very happy to get the relevant Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman to explain what more we can do to assist the special situation and what we have in Northern Ireland. It does not matter where someone lives; if a woman or a man has been raped, they deserve to have that support. I am grateful for the question.

Points of Order

Monday 10th July 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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15:58
None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let us take points of order one at a time. We will start with Andy McDonald and then go across to the Government side.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Friday The Northern Echo’s front page and editorial lamented the apparent decision of Advanced Cables to build its new facility on the Tyne rather than the Tees, quoting Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Sir Simon Clarke), who both blamed me for the company so deciding, without a single shred of evidence for such a ridiculous notion.

Companies, of course, make their decisions on the basis of their own assessment and due diligence processes. However, such personal and unfounded attacks are not without consequences. Last week a senior corporate lawyer, Andrew Lindsay, posted on his LinkedIn account:

“If it turns out the enquiry concludes that ‘there is nothing to be seen here’ and in the meantime some investment and jobs are lost, local Labour MP, Andy McDonald…should be dragged through the streets of Teesside and lynched.”

That has deeply upset and alarmed my family and me.

I have reported the matter appropriately, but given the murders in recent years of Jo Cox, of Sir David Amess and of Andrew Pennington, Nigel Jones’s personal aide, and not forgetting the stabbing of our right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), I seek your guidance on what can be done to ensure that legitimate debate on matters of such significance to our constituents does not spill over in a manner such that the appalling comments of the likes of Mr Lindsay are increasingly likely. What more can this House do to protect and support Members who are on the receiving end of such abuse, and to reduce the likelihood of such dreadful outbursts, be they on social media or elsewhere?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. As he says, people are entitled to make their views known inside and outside this House, but threats to Members are very real, and those who comment should consider the potential effects of their words before posting injudiciously, rather than afterwards. I take this very seriously. When he texted me on Friday, I also spoke to people about security issues. I will not go into that part of it, but he can rest assured that we will defend Members on both sides of the House. Nobody should be threatened as they carry out their duties. We will certainly not forget those who were murdered carrying out their duties.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. After a Westminster Hall debate on 4 July, in which the House reasserted its commitment to never forget the genocide of Srebrenica and the need to safeguard the Dayton agreement, I was deeply alarmed to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was threatened by the President of Serbia, who said in response to her speech:

“we are already conducting an investigation against you to see what you are doing, to see who is paying you, and to see why you are putting the Republic of Serbia in such a position. If the Government of Great Britain is not willing to react, it is not a problem; we will be forced to react.”

That is an unacceptable statement from a Head of State. It is not just a threat to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton but an intimidation tactic against all MPs. Can you reassure me, Mr Speaker, that no pressure brought to bear outside this place, especially by foreign Governments, will ever endanger the security or privacy of MPs, and that the full weight of Parliament will be used to prevent and dissuade bullying tactics and ensure that MPs can speak the truth? Do you believe, Mr Speaker, that this is a moment at which the Serbian ambassador should be called to explain that position and that statement?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. It is fundamentally a constitutional principle that MPs should be able to speak freely in proceedings of this House. Threats to Members doing their jobs are totally unacceptable, whoever makes them. Beyond that, I remind him that we do not discuss operational security matters in public, and he would not expect me to go further than that, but I will say that, of course, we take this seriously, and Members should, no matter their position—be they a Back Bencher or a Chair of a Select Committee—be able to speak out openly and freely without intimidation.

As a reminder to foreign states: they have no right to threaten anyone in this House. To go a stage further, I am sure that the Treasury Bench will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s request to summon the ambassador. As he knows, that decision is not a matter for me, but I have certainly echoed his request for that to take place.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. For the past 13 years, I have had the privilege of being the patron of Stockton Rugby Club, a tremendous community organisation that works with more than 500 boys and girls who play the game and runs several youth and adult teams. Today, I am proud to wear the junior academy tie. Would it be in order for me to invite you, Mr Speaker, and colleagues across the House to join me in congratulating the club on its 150th anniversary and wishing it well for the next 150 years?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Of course, even if it is rugby union, I am happy to recognise those 150 years of playing rugby. It is just a tragedy that the club did not take up rugby league when the Northern Union was formed but, despite that disappointment, of course I congratulate those at the club—150 years is a significant milestone in any sport.

Privileges Committee Special Report

Monday 10th July 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the privilege motion. No amendments have been selected.

16:04
Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Penny Mordaunt)
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I beg to move,

That this House,

(a) notes with approval the Special Report from the Committee of Privileges;

(b) considers that where the House has agreed to refer a matter relating to individual conduct to the Committee of Privileges, Members of this House should not impugn the integrity of that Committee or its members or attempt to lobby or intimidate those members or to encourage others to do so, since such behaviour undermines the proceedings of the House and is itself capable of being a contempt; and

(c) considers it expedient that the House of Lords is made aware of the Special Report and this Resolution, so that that House can take such action as it deems appropriate.

In accordance with the convention on matters of privilege, as Leader of the House, I have brought forward this motion to facilitate the House’s consideration of the first special report of the Privileges Committee, published on 29 June 2023. The motion notes with approval the Committee’s special report, and seeks to reaffirm essential principles underpinning the protection of parliamentary privilege and the functioning of this House and its Committees, making it explicit that the House considers that those protections are fundamental to investigations of the Privileges Committee.

Paragraph (c) draws to the attention of the House of Lords the issues raised in the report through a formal message. The House may wish to know that the Leader of the House of Lords has written to me to emphasise that these are serious and important matters, while recognising that each House is responsible for the organisation of its own affairs. The report has been placed in the Lords Library, and I know that my noble Friend Lord True is continuing conversations with others in that House on this important matter.

In my speech on 19 June, I took some time to explain the role of the Privileges Committee and why it matters to all of us here and to our constituents that it exists and that it has people who are prepared to serve on it. In that debate, we also heard some of the things that members of the Committee had to endure while they carried out the duties this House had required of them. I shall not repeat those points, but I wish to make two further points: first, a pre-emptive strike on an issue that may arise during today’s debate and, secondly, a personal reflection.

Undermining a Committee should not be confused with the expression of legitimate concerns about the work or its processes. Members must be free to raise such concerns and there are appropriate ways of doing so. Indeed, the Committee’s report highlights the various ways this can be done, in particular citing the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who raised matters before, during and after the Committee’s original inquiry in a perfectly proper way. If an hon. Member has concerns about any matter of privilege and the internal affairs of this House and its Committees, they may write to the Speaker, who may afford the issue precedence for consideration. Those are the appropriate channels for raising such issues and it is every Member’s right to do so.

I would like to highlight that this an exceptional situation. It is not the usual cut and thrust of politics. A special report of the Privileges Committee regarding interference in its work is entirely unprecedented and that has led me to consider the reasons why. Is it perhaps because the nature of politics has changed so much, or because the obligations we have towards one another, and to this place and the esteem in which we hope it is held, are less clear? Perhaps it is because we feel little responsibility towards other right hon. and hon. Members, even those in our own party, and still less for what our words and deeds may encourage others to do outside this place. Is it that personal honour matters less, or good manners? I hope not.

I hope that the colleagues named will reflect on their actions. One of the most painful aspects of this whole affair is that it has involved animosities between colleagues of the same political view, but I know of at least one Member named in the report who has taken the time to speak with regret to some other members of the Committee, and I applaud them for doing so. I hope that some speakers today will acknowledge that obligation we have to one another as colleagues. If Castlereagh and Canning could adopt polite civility after fighting a duel, I live in hope that today will be the end of this sorry affair.

16:09
Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Lady.

Over the past few years, the Conservative party has dragged the reputation of this House through the mud and left it festering in the gutter. When the Privileges Committee published its report three weeks ago, which found that Mr Johnson lied to this House and the people of this country, many people must have thought that standards in public life had hit rock bottom—that they could not get any lower. However, the shameful actions of senior Tory MPs, spelled out in the report we are debating today, have damaged the public’s trust in Parliament further still.

Some MPs, I am afraid to say, attacked the personal character and integrity of individual members of the Committee from the comfort of their own bully pulpit TV shows. Some accused the Committee of not following due process and did everything they could to whip up an atmosphere of distrust, throwing their toys out of the pram as if it were one rule for them and their friend, and another for everyone else. They were quite wrong. While their attempts to undermine and attack Britain’s democratic institutions are shocking, it is important that we remember that they were not successful: this House did vote to approve the Committee’s report into Mr Johnson in full and sanction him appropriately. Just like their friend who they were trying to get off the hook, unfortunately, the named MPs are having to be held accountable today for their actions.

I share the desire of the Leader of the House for those Members to use today’s debate to set a line and show that they have recognised what they have done, so that we can move on. That matters because we have to approve the report in full. As it says,

“our democracy depends on MPs being able to trust that what Ministers say in the House of Commons is the truth. If Ministers cannot be trusted to tell the truth, the House cannot do its job and the confidence of the public in our whole political system is undermined.”

In other words, telling the truth is the foundation of a functioning Parliament and, when there are allegations that a Minister has not told the truth, we simply must have a mechanism for investigating them. If we did not, there would be no way to hold them to account. That is the role of the Privileges Committee. The motion we are debating today protects the Committee and allows its members to continue to do their job on our behalf when we instruct them to do so. It ensures that they can carry out their work, so that we and the people of this country can trust what Ministers say. This is about protecting democracy.

The motion puts into effect the report’s recommendation, aiming to stop MPs putting improper pressure on the Committee and its members in future, because improper pressure was put on the Committee during the inquiry into Mr Johnson. That was an exceptionally important piece of work that went right to the heart of the public’s trust in politicians. This report now makes it clear that, to varying degrees—examples are listed clearly in the annex to the report—the named Tory MPs attempted to discredit the Committee and its conclusions, in some cases before they had even seen them, and even pushed for resignations. That ultimately amounted to a co-ordinated campaign by Mr Johnson’s allies to influence the outcome of the inquiry in favour of their friend.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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Co-ordination of a campaign—where is the evidence of that in the report? It is just an assertion, is it not?

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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I said that it amounted to a co-ordinated campaign, and it did. Every single one of those examples adds up, encouraging others—members of the public and other politicians—to take part. As I have mentioned, that was made worse by the fact that two of those mentioned as mounting the most vociferous attacks did so from the platform of their own TV shows. The named MPs accused the Committee of being a “kangaroo court” and the process of being a “witch hunt”. In reality, as they must know, that could not be further from the truth. The Committee detailed its processes in advance. It took every possible step to ensure fairness. It took legal advice from the right hon. Sir Ernest Ryder, from Speaker’s Counsel and from the Clerks of the House on how to

“apply the general principles of fairness, the rules of the House, and…procedural precedents”.

Lia Nici Portrait Lia Nici (Great Grimsby) (Con)
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On the basis of fairness, does the hon. Lady believe it is fair that Members of this House were investigated and listed in a report without prior knowledge that that was going to happen?

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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The Committee was open to the Members concerned making their representations to the Committee in the proper way, and they did not do so. The Committee published a report last summer setting out its intended processes, and Members could have taken part in a number of ways, which I will detail. It made further public comments on its workings when appropriate, and gave Mr Johnson further time to respond to the evidence and make his own submission. In short, the Committee did everything it possibly could to ensure fairness and transparency.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that when the Privileges Committee is meeting, it cannot engage in answering allegations about what it is doing in the press, but has to continue its work until it is completed, and that the rules of the House require that other people should refrain from commenting on it or calling it into disrepute until the actual document is printed and the report has been laid before the House?

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. A cursory glance at the Standing Orders of this place would have informed those Members of that.

I do want to take a small moment to put again on record my thanks to the members of the Committee, from all sides of the House, who worked so hard to come to a unanimous conclusion, and to the Clerks who, under considerable pressure, continue to work to uphold the integrity of this House and its standards system.

In my view, the named MPs should apologise. Unfortunately, some of them so far have instead doubled down, claiming that what they have said is merely their exercising their right to freedom of speech. That is absolute nonsense. They tried to interfere in a disciplinary procedure that was voted for unanimously by this House; nobody voted against it. If those Members had wanted to, as the report sets out, there were other legitimate ways open to them as MPs who want to influence any Privileges Committee inquiry. I will refresh their memories: they could have had their say on the MPs appointed to the Committee: they could have opposed the motion instructing the Committee to look into this in the first place; and they could have submitted evidence. There were any number of legitimate avenues open to them, but instead of properly engaging, they pursued illegitimate ways.

I am afraid this all comes back to integrity in politics. Last month, when the Committee published its report into Mr Johnson, the current Prime Minister also had an opportunity to draw a line between him and his predecessor. He could have shown some leadership, he could have pressed the reset button and he could have lived up to his promise of integrity, professionalism and accountability, but, mired in splits and division in his own party, he was too weak to stand up to his former boss.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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Does the hon. Lady not think that, in a debate on privileges, perhaps now is not the time to enter into cheap party politics?

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that we are all bound by the same code of conduct, and that includes the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister found time last week to comment on cricket, but could not even find time to comment on the lies of his predecessor—I am responding to the hon. Gentleman—or to the Committee. He could have shown some leadership, but as well as not voting, he could not even bring himself to give us a view.

At the Liaison Committee last week, the Prime Minister said that he had not even read the report. It is not long, and it is about his own MPs. Has he read the report now? Does he understand why this matters so much, and if so, does the Leader of the House know if we will get to hear what he thinks of today’s motion? Does he accept the Committee’s conclusions? Will he be voting to approve the report in full? He is the Prime Minister, and this matters because it was a predecessor Prime Minister of his who has brought us to this point by lying to this House. If we want to turn the corner, if we want to move on and if those Conservative Members shaking their heads really want to turn the corner, it matters that the current Prime Minister has failed even to draw a difference between himself and his predecessor.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con)
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I feel the hon. Lady did not fully give an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici). How would the hon. Lady feel if, on a Monday, she had a letter from a court saying she had been found guilty, after a court hearing on the Friday, when she had no prior knowledge of it, no summons and no opportunity to give her evidence? Does that feel like natural justice? After all, this is nothing to do with Boris Johnson. That is so last week; this is today.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention because it gives me the opportunity to remind the entire House that this is not a court. It is a procedural Committee that was assessing evidence that was publicly available. We are talking about tweets and TV shows, none of which was hidden.

The Prime Minister also claimed that Lord Goldsmith had quit as a Minister after refusing to apologise for his actions. Lord Goldsmith said that was not true, so which is it? Did the Prime Minister ask him to apologise? More importantly for today’s debate, has he asked his own named MPs to apologise, and if not, why not? Will he do so, and has the right hon. Lady, as the Leader of the House, spoken to her colleagues about this?

I end by reiterating that the Privileges Committee is a key piece of Britain’s democratic jigsaw. We must not allow the Committee to be caught up in a Tory psychodrama; its work is far too important for that. All credit to all the MPs on that Committee for putting their allegiances to one side and being able to do the work. Labour respects the Committee. We respect the rules and processes of this House. We know that without them, our democracy fractures. I stand ready to vote for the motion today and to approve the report in full, and I urge colleagues in all parts of the House to do the same.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Father of the House.

16:20
Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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Paragraph 19 of the report reads:

“We consider that the House should maintain its protection of inquiries into individual conduct referred to the Committee of Privileges in the same way that it does those being considered by the House’s own Committee on Standards and Independent Expert Panel.”

I agree with that.

The motion before us is as recommended in paragraph 20, which was read out by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and referred to obliquely by the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire)—I preferred my right hon. Friend’s approach to the issue.

Paragraph 8 lists the ways that

“MPs have control and legitimate means of influence over any Privileges Committee inquiry. They have the right: to object to and vote on Members appointed to the Committee, and subsequently to raise any alleged conflicts of interest on points of order; to vote against the motion of referral or to seek to amend the motion; to make comments on the Committee’s procedure to the Committee itself; to submit evidence to the Committee; and to debate, vote and comment publicly on the Committee’s final report once it is published and the investigation is completed.”

That paragraph seems pretty comprehensive. I think the report is acceptable, and if the motion comes to a vote, I will support it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We come to the SNP spokesperson.

16:21
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Briefly, I commend the motion on this serious matter, the wording of which was put forward by the Committee of Privileges. As the special report sets out, the Committee is

“in practice the only mechanism…which the House can use to defend itself in the face of a Minister misleading it.”

Unfortunately, throughout the inquiry into Boris Johnson, the former Prime Minister and several of his close allies sought to discredit the Committee, the integrity of its members and the parliamentary process. Their actions did not affect the outcome of the inquiry—thank goodness—but that should not absolve those individuals of responsibility or scrutiny.

Senior politicians—one of them a Minister at the time, and others of them former Front Benchers—applied “unprecedented and co-ordinated pressure” on the Committee, as the report makes clear, and waged what can only be described as a campaign to disparage it. They took to Twitter, newspapers, radio and even their own TV shows to make their claims, and referred to the inquiry as a “witch hunt” and a “kangaroo court” not befitting a “banana republic”. Those are among the jaw-dropping comments listed in the annex to the report. Conservative Members might need to read the annex, because they do not seem familiar with some of those comments.

It is customary for the Privileges Committee to be chaired by a member of the Opposition, yet there were sustained efforts to undermine and question the impartiality of the Chair, who was appointed to the Committee by unanimous decision of the House. The pressure exerted on Conservative Committee members, who made up a majority of the Committee, was clearly intended to force their withdrawal or impede the conclusion of the inquiry.

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
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The hon. Lady said it was customary for the Privileges Committee to be chaired by a member of the Opposition; actually, under Standing Orders, it has to be chaired by a member of the Opposition.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I thank the right hon. Lady for that clarification. I agree with her; she is quite right. The report also emphasises the significant personal impact that the campaign had on Members who were simply trying to perform their duties. They should not have been subject to such treatment.

It has hitherto been understood that Members should refrain from interfering in the work of the Privileges Committee, but that was ignored. Explicit protections are already in place for House of Commons standards cases involving alleged breaches of the code of conduct for MPs. When it comes to those cases, Members are prohibited from lobbying the Committee on Standards, the Independent Expert Panel or the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. It seems evident from this episode that those safeguards should also be applied to privileges cases.

The claims that the changes would restrict Members’ free speech are misguided. Members already have the right to object, to vote and to raise conflicts of interest regarding Committee appointments, as well as to vote against or amend referral motions, to provide evidence, to comment on procedure and to publicly discuss the final report after its publication.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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On the issue of being able to comment, can the hon. Lady define for me what “impugn the integrity” means for what people can say?

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Forgive me, but the hon. Gentleman is going to have to elaborate a little further.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
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With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will repeat the question. The hon. Lady was talking about the ability to comment, and one of the report’s key recommendations is that Members should not

“impugn the integrity of that Committee”.

Can she define for me what constitutes impugning integrity?

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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For goodness’ sake, that is a ridiculous question. It is clear from the annex attached to this report what impugning the integrity of the Committee means and what it does not. The comments in the report were jaw-dropping. I was shocked that anybody could make such claims when the Committee was in the process of its inquiry.

Getting on to that very point, there are appropriate channels to make our views heard during investigations, and the thing is—Members on the Government Benches do not appear to appreciate this—that this whole saga has further undermined the public’s faith and trust in not just this place, but in democracy itself. It can only fuel the existing sense of cynicism and frustration that we see across society in the UK today.

Boris Johnson was shown to have lied to the House and to the Privileges Committee, yet some of his most ardent supporters sought to interfere, undermine and attack the integrity of the Committee and its work. It seems appropriate, as I said, to consider whether such campaigns should result in disciplinary action. It is no wonder the public are scunnered with it. This whole saga has undermined people’s faith in this place and in democracy itself. The Prime Minister and most of his Cabinet were not here for the vote on the Committee’s findings on Johnson, and the Government Front Bench is sadly looking pretty empty again today. As one of my constituents put it to me in a surgery just days ago, “If those at the very top won’t bother observing or even showing their support for the rules, why should we?”. That leads us to a dangerous place indeed. We support the motion.

16:27
Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
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There are some issues with this report, beginning, as it happens, with its title referring to a “Co-ordinated campaign of interference”. As was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), there is no evidence that it was co-ordinated. Speaking on my own account—I may get support on this from the Whip on duty and, indeed, the 10 Downing Street press office, were it able to comment—I am not often co-ordinated with the official line to take. Indeed, I have always thought it politically important that Members should be independent in what they say and how they vote. Therefore, to make an assertion of co-ordination without evidence is a problem with this report, but it is not the only problem.

I question footnote 1 on the bona fides of this report. It states:

“The Committee of Privileges is not able to initiate inquiries on its own initiative, but once matters are referred to the House it has ‘power to inquire not only into the matter of the particular complaint, but also into facts surrounding and reasonably connected with the matter of the particular complaint, and into the principles of the law and custom of privilege that are concerned’ (CJ (1947-48) 22, 30 October 1947).”

However, that is surely superseded by the vote in 1978 on how privilege matters should be dealt with. Paragraph 15.32 of “Erskine May” sets out the procedure and explains why it is as complex as it is. It states:

“The procedure is designed to prevent frivolous complaints of breach of privilege. The following safeguards are in place: the Committee of Privileges does not have power to inquire at will, but can only deal with complaints which are referred to it; decisions as to whether to refer a matter of privilege to the Committee of Privileges are taken by the House as a whole; and Members require the permission of the Speaker to raise a matter of privilege.”

That was not done, and the 1947 Commons Journal entry was preferred to the 1978 motion. That seems to me to have been a mistake. That is not to say that this is necessarily not a serious matter, but the whole reason for the procedures is to ensure that only serious matters are subject to these reports. Why did the Committee not follow the procedure properly set out by the House in 1978? Why were the safeguards ignored?

That is before we come to the matter raised by others about individuals being named and referred to without any ability to answer. I am not too worried about that. I have said things on the public record, and if people want to quote me and wish to refer to my television programme on GB News, which they may be jealous of, or whatever other concerns they may have, that is absolutely fine. I do not mind that personally, but I do mind that people say they are following the procedures of the House when the procedures seem to be rather different in “Erskine May”.

There is also a modest discourtesy to the House of Lords. The House of Lords has exclusive cognisance, and implied criticisms of peers are against the practice of this House, and that is unfortunate. That is unfortunate more from our point of view than from theirs. Why do we have this idea of exclusive cognisance so clearly in mind? It is because in the days of the Supreme Court being the House of Lords, ultimately membership of this House would have been determined by the other House. We have therefore always jealously guarded our right of exclusive cognisance, but, in return, we have given it to their lordships. I am concerned that the report has touched and trespassed on that.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle
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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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It would be an honour, delight, joy to give way.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has referred to the Privileges Committee—it notes this in the report—as a kangaroo court. He said:

“I think it makes kangaroo courts look respectable.”

He also referred to the members of the Privileges Committee during its hearings as “marsupials”. On reflection, might he like to apologise for that use of language?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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The hon. Lady kindly leads me to what I was going to say next. I had absolutely no desire to impugn the integrity of individual members of the Committee, some of whom I hold in very high regard.

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)
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Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, or will he at least acknowledge, that comments made by Members named in the special report raised the risk significantly of harm to members of the Privileges Committee, to the extent that the Parliamentary Security Department felt it necessary to carry out an urgent review of their personal safety, constituency offices, constituency events and homes?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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Many Members of this House have faced issues with security. I do not believe that criticising the actions of a Committee has that effect. If the hon. Gentleman really takes that route, we will have to agree with each other the whole time. Admirable though I thought the Leader of the House’s request was that we should get on better, I am afraid that was knocked for six by the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), in her rather cantankerous comments that followed.

I want to make it clear that I had no intention to impugn the individual members of the Committee. I do indeed hold many of them in the highest regard. I served on the House of Commons Commission with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) and on the Privileges Committee, under his chairmanship, with the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue). I have always thought it is important to get on well with people across the House and to be courteous to them, as the Lord President of the Council suggested, but that does not mean that one cannot criticise them. It was legitimate and it is legitimate to question the position of the Chairman of the Committee. We must be clear about that.

In the previous debate, I quoted at some length the House of Lords setting aside the Lord Hoffmann judgment because of his association with Amnesty International. That made it very clear that the question was the risk of the appearance of partiality. It did not question Lord Hoffmann as a man of honour and integrity, and I certainly do not question the honour and integrity of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who is a most distinguished Member of this House, but I do not think that she was wise to serve as Chairman of a Committee when she had tweeted her views. We have just heard from the shadow Leader of the House how shocking it is to tweet anything, but it is all right for someone to tweet something when it prejudges a case they are about to hear. That seems to make no sense.

I question the report further. As the Father of the House noted, paragraph 8 sets out how we may question the Committee. However, footnote 10 in paragraph 15 seems to object that I did exactly that in the debate that followed the Committee’s report. The previous Prime Minister used to get accused of cakeism, but that seems to be an extreme level of cakeism. The position of the Chairman was fundamental. As it says in Galatians,

“A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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I am listening with interest, although at times the precision could be greater. The Privileges Committee matter mentioned in the footnote referred to Mr Johnson being referred to the Committee rather than this report, which followed subsequent events. I also read footnote 10 on page six, to which my right hon. Friend refers, as explaining the answer to the question he raised over Hoffman, not supporting what he said about Hoffman. Was I wrong?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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I was pointing out that, from a reading of paragraph 15, what I said is seen as part of a sustained attempt to undermine and challenge the impartiality of the Chairman in the very debate in which, under paragraph 8, we are allowed to make criticisms once the report has been brought to the House. It is a very odd footnote at the very least, and unclear about what it is trying to achieve.

The problem with the Chairman’s position was that it undermined the whole validity of the Committee, because it is well known that if a body comes to a conclusion, with one person on it whose partiality is questionable, the whole process is then nullified and needs to start again. There is also, as we know, currently an investigation into my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), but that was not known during the course of the Committee’s deliberations. Therefore, nobody could raise that as a question of impugning his integrity until, as I understand it, the report was completed. There may have raised questions and there may have been valid questions to raise, but they were certainly not raised by me or by any others.

Let us delve into the details of the report. It bases its privilege claims on “Erskine May”, but I have a nasty feeling that the Committee read just the headline of “Erskine May” without reading the relevant footnotes and examining the Commons Journal to see what they refer to. I have done that, with considerable help from the Library and the Journal Office. Footnotes 5 and 6 of the report point to “Erskine May”, 25th edition, paragraph 15.14. That paragraph has 35 further footnotes. The House may be relieved to know that I will not go through them all, because many are irrelevant to the report.

The footnotes deal with matters such as assaulting Members en route to Parliament, which is deemed a breach a privilege—one that seems to happen most days to some, but never mind. It is a breach of privilege of great antiquity that the Committee seems unconcerned about. The footnotes deal with reflections on the Lord Chancellor or allegations of corruption—none of that applies. However, notes 4, 7, 21, 22, 26 and 27 are worth looking at. Note 4 concerns “insulting or abusive language”. The first example cited comes from 1646. We are making a claim for privilege based on a time when this House was at war. And what was it? The claim was that one Francis Godolphin—a turncoat who had been ruling on the Isles of Scilly—should not in future be criticised because he now supports the House of Commons. The House of Commons was protecting one of its own in a time of war. That is hardly the greatest precedent for Committee members not being able to withstand a little criticism today.

In 1660, there was rudeness in the Lobby—an outsider was rude to a Member in the Lobby, and Members were very shocked. In 1877, Dr Kenealy was rude to another Member in the Lobby and was forced to apologise. Likewise, in 1887, Dr Tanner was rude to another Member in the Lobby. On that occasion, the motion of censure was withdrawn. There is a clear precedent, I accept, that we are not allowed to be rude to fellow Members in the Lobby. I was very careful throughout this whole process—had I done other, there would have been grounds for complaint—not to talk to any members of the Committee about what was in front of their Committee. That, it seems to me, would have been improper and private lobbying that should not take place. I was careful, as I say, not to do that, in spite of the fact that inevitably I met one or two of the Conservative members on many occasions during this process. That seems to me to be covered in broad terms by what is set out in footnote 4.

We come now to footnote 7. Footnote 7 is why I think the Committee did not bother reading the footnotes, because—if this is not my proudest achievement in Parliament, I do not know what is—I have actually discovered a mistake in “Erskine May”. I see the Clerks at the Table almost swooning with horror at that thought. I thank the Commons Journal Office for pointing this out. The footnote quotes the 1862-63 Journal; it is in fact the 1863-64 Journal when a Mr Reed was summoned to apologise to the House for writing a rude letter to a Member of Parliament. Madam Deputy Speaker, what a pity the Privileges Committee has not got on to that! Just think how busy it would be if it looked into every rude letter sent to a Member of Parliament by a constituent. Perhaps it should have done a rolling report, with powers accrued to itself to do that. I might have one or two I could send in myself. One or two remainers write to me in the most excoriating terms, but I am afraid I have always taken that as part of the flotsam and jetsam of political life.

If we go to 1890, a Mr Atkinson was suspended for seven days for offending the Speaker, both on the Floor of the House and in correspondence. Epistolary offence was given to Mr Speaker. That is a much more serious matter—surely, Madam Deputy Speaker, you would agree with this—than it is to argue with a member of a Committee, or indeed even the Chairman of a Committee. In 1781, the wonderfully named Theophilus Swift was called to the Bar and had to apologise for causing offence, and a couple of duels were claimed by Members against Members. In 1845, Mr Somers, the Member for Sligo, challenged Mr Roebuck, the Member for Bath; and in 1862, a rude letter was sent to Sir Robert Peel by The O’Donoghue, the MP for Tipperary. These were considered to be great breaches of privilege, though only apologies were required—no further sanction. There was a challenge from Mr O’Kelly, who apologised to Mr McCoan for another duel.

A Mr France was admonished at the Bar in 1874 for being rude about the Chairman of a Committee, but in 1968-69 it was deemed that criticising the impartiality of the Chairman of a Sub-Committee was not contempt of Parliament, when it was thought the issue faced by the Chairman of the said Sub-Committee was one where he had a constituency interest and therefore could not be impartial. So I would say—it is unlike me to be such a modernist—that the more modern precedent is on the side of being able to challenge the position of a Chairman of a Committee.

In 1900, there was a letter written by a non-Member about a Select Committee on Government contracting being partial. It was deemed a breach and motions were put, but what did the House decide? The House decided not to vote in favour of the motion, or on the amendment to the motion, but that it now proceed with the business of the day. Once again the House in recent centuries, let alone decades, has become less and less prissy about this type of privilege, because it risks ridicule when it stands upon its honour in this way.

In 1901 and 1926, there were arguments with the Daily Mail—some things never change. It was suggested that the editor of the Daily Mail be brought to the Bar of the House. I believe the Bar is the gift of Jamaica. If we pull it out—which we are not meant to do, because it usually has a sign on it when the House is not sitting saying, “Please do not touch”, although I confess I have pulled it out and it is very interesting to see—it says it is the gift of Jamaica. The editor of the Daily Mail was not called in. In 1901 he said that had a Member of Parliament criticised him outside of the House in the way he had been criticised in the House, he would have sued for libel. That was deemed to be threatening, but he was not called in.

Perhaps my favourite case is from 1880. It is a very interesting case. A certain Mr Plimsoll put out a leaflet to the electors of Westminster wherein he said that Sir Charles Russell, the Member of Parliament for Westminster, had used a parliamentary tactic to stop a vote on a Bill. Some of us who come on Fridays—I am looking to catch the eye of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope)—may think that using tactical efforts to stop Bills is not such a bad thing altogether, but Mr Plimsoll took offence at it and put out a rude leaflet. This was brought to the attention of the House, and the House voted:

“That, in the opinion of this House, the conduct of the honourable Member for Derby in publishing printed placards denouncing the part taken by two honourable Members of this House in the proceedings of the House was calculated to interfere with the due discharge of the duties of a Member of this House and is a breach of its Privileges:—But this House, having regard to the withdrawal by the honourable Member for Derby of the expressions to which the honourable Member for Westminster has drawn its attention, is of opinion that no further action on its part is necessary.”—[Official Report, 20 February 1880; Vol. 250, c. 1114.]

I wonder whether hon. Members have worked out what the Bill was that Mr Plimsoll was bringing forward, for which he had to apologise to the House—a precedent quoted indirectly by this report, favourably. Mr Plimsoll was trying to get a Bill through to put the Plimsoll line on ships to save hundreds of lives, and this House criticised him for breach of privilege.

We should be very wary of standing on our dignity, because this House is the cockpit of freedom of speech. It is where democracy must run. When we try to silence people because they say things that we do not like, we risk looking ridiculous.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the Chair of the Committee of Privileges.

16:46
Harriet Harman Portrait Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab)
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I thank the Leader of the House for tabling the motion, which arises out of the special report of the Privileges Committee.

When it approved with an emphatic majority the report of our inquiry into Boris Johnson, the House made it clear beyond doubt that honesty in our Parliament matters, that Ministers are required to be truthful and that there will be consequences for any Minister who is not. The House was endorsing the outcome of the Committee that it had mandated to undertake that inquiry.

The present motion asks the House to give its approval to our special report, because we want to make sure, if the House ever again mandates the Privileges Committee to undertake an inquiry into a Member, that there will be Members who are willing to serve on the Committee, and that the Committee and its processes are protected while an inquiry is under way so that the Committee is able to undertake its work in the way that the House wants. The motion makes it clear that when a Privileges Committee inquiry is ongoing, Members should not lobby, intimidate or attack the integrity of the Committee. They should not try to influence the outcome of the inquiry or undermine the standing of the Committee, because that undermines the proceedings of the House.

No Member needs to feel disempowered by this. On the contrary, Members own the entire process. Any Member can object to a Member being appointed to the Privileges Committee. Any Member can speak and vote against any reference to the Privileges Committee or the terms of any reference. Any Member can give evidence to the Committee. Any Member can debate and vote on the report of any inquiry.

This is not a process imposed on the House by the Privileges Committee. The opposite is the case: it is the House that imposes this responsibility on the Privileges Committee. It is the House that chooses the members of the Committee; it is the House that decides on an inquiry and its terms of reference; and it is the House, by its Standing Orders and precedents, that lays down the processes that will apply.

Our special report makes it clear that it is not acceptable for Members, fearing an outcome that they do not want, to level criticisms at the Committee so that in the event that the conclusion is the one that they do not want, they will have undermined the inquiry’s outcome by undermining confidence in the Committee.