All 32 Parliamentary debates on 6th Sep 2023

Wed 6th Sep 2023
Wed 6th Sep 2023
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
Commons Chamber

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Wed 6th Sep 2023
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Wed 6th Sep 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 6th September 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Wednesday 6 September 2023
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Wednesday 6th September 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks 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]

Speaker’s Statement

Wednesday 6th September 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I wish to inform the House that I have received a letter from the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), informing me of her resignation as the Chair of the Petitions Committee. I therefore declare the Chair vacant. I can now announce the arrangements for the elections for the Chair of the Petitions Committee and the Chair of the Business and Trade Committee, which was declared vacant on Monday. Nominations for both elections will close at noon on Tuesday 17 October. Nomination forms will be available from the Vote Office, the Table Office and the Public Bill Office. Only Members from the Labour party may be candidates in the elections. If there is more than one candidate in either election, the ballot will take place on Wednesday 18 October, between 11 am and 2.30 pm, in the Aye Division Lobby. Briefing notes with more information will be made available in the Vote Office.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wednesday 6th September 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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1. What recent discussions he has held with the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the potential impact of changes in the level of funding for policing in Northern Ireland on crime.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Chris Heaton-Harris)
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Today is my first anniversary in this amazing role—one of the very best jobs in Government. Some things, alas, have not changed in that time. Obviously, Stormont is not sitting. Some important anniversaries have been marked, including the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and some things have really moved on and changed, including the Windsor framework resolving many of the issues with the Northern Ireland protocol, and indeed my former shadow, the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). I warmly welcome his replacement, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), to his place, and indeed his deputy, the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson). May I place on the record my thanks to the hon. Member for Hove and his deputy for all the work they did with me in the course of the last year?

Policing in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter, as is the funding for it, and it is the responsibility of Northern Ireland Departments to allocate resources as they see fit.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon
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I congratulate the Secretary of State on his anniversary. In July, the former chief constable warned that the force was at risk of being left unrecognisable due to budgetary pressures that could see the loss of more than 1,000 officers by 2025. With the force already at lower-than-ideal numbers and the recent data leak likely to have an impact, what discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland and with the PSNI about how those pressures can be eased during this difficult time for the force?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I had a number of conversations with the former chief constable about this issue. The budget for 2023-24 gives the Department of Justice a total allocation of £1.2 billion. Obviously, recognising the unique security situation in Northern Ireland, the UK Government make additional contributions to the PSNI’s counter-terrorism work through the additional security funding. The UK contribution for 2022-23 is £32 million. I am fully aware of the obvious issues that we talked about in the recent urgent question, and I am sure that we will get on to those a bit later in questions.

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

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
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I wish my right hon. Friend a happy anniversary. I also thank, as he did, the outgoing shadow team and welcome the new. He is right to reference the recent data breach, which will have very much changed the backdrop of the morale of the police in Northern Ireland—and not just officers, but those in support services. Budgets are under pressure, as we know, but the security and safety of serving officers and those who work for the PSNI is always important, particularly post the data breach, given the potential risks from dissidents that that creates. Can he assure me that he will do all he can to deliver safety equipment, protection and security for those who are feeling most vulnerable at this time?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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Yes, I absolutely can. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the PSNI’s senior leadership team, who have a wealth of experience and are dedicated to keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe. I know that they are continuing to work closely to ensure the very best possible response to this breach. Just to give a tiny bit of detail, very briefly, the PSNI and security partners will continue to take proportionate action to protect their officers, staff and families and they have full Government support in responding to the data breach. At the moment, our focus remains on providing specialist support and expertise to the PSNI from across Government.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
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I congratulate the Secretary of State on his first anniversary and welcome the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) to his new role as shadow Secretary of State. We look forward to working with him.

This Secretary of State has rightly said that many aspects of policing in Northern Ireland are devolved, but the data breach is a matter of national security because it includes officers who work with the Security Service in a very specialist role involving counter-terrorism and intelligence in Northern Ireland. Will he assure the House that whatever resources are required by the PSNI, not only to fulfil that function but to protect its own officers and staff, will be made available?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for congratulating me on my anniversary. I was hoping that he might give me a different anniversary present, by heading back to Stormont, but perhaps we can have that conversation later.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I have to ask, haven’t I?

The right hon. Gentleman asks a very sensible and serious question, for which I thank him. I obviously cannot answer some elements of his question in public, but any additional funding required by the PSNI would be submitted through an established process. We are currently at the very beginning of that established process, so it would not be right to pre-empt that. The Government are clear that security is paramount, and our focus remains on the items I set out. It will move on, but it is currently specialist support and expertise in response to the latest assessments.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson
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I thank the Secretary of State for that response. In his earlier answer he referred to the PSNI’s senior leadership team. For the record, my party fully supports the PSNI in its impartial implementation of policing across all communities in Northern Ireland, but we are in a crisis situation, not only with the data breach but with the loss of confidence internally within the PSNI. Although it is the responsibility of the Policing Board to make appointments, does he agree that perhaps what we need now, in the absence of a chief constable, is for someone to be brought in who has the experience and leadership credentials that are needed in the interim period, pending the appointment of a new chief constable, to take control of this situation?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question, the way he poses it and the point behind it. The senior management team is a strong and effective unit, and the Policing Board has a lot on its plate at this point in time. I believe it has even launched a review into how the Policing Board itself operates. I am quite sure that questions are being asked about what can be done in this space but, as of now, I can update the House only on what I have done.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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2. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the increased cost of living on people in Northern Ireland.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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7. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the increased cost of living on people in Northern Ireland.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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The UK Government are acutely aware of the cost of living pressures experienced in all parts of the UK since the onset of war in Ukraine. We provided an estimated £2 billion of financial support to Northern Ireland, including more than £1 billion in the form of the energy price guarantee and the additional £600 payment to help households with the rising cost of energy. Tackling inflation continues to be a top priority for this Government.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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Every country in the world is having to deal with the impact of the war in Ukraine and the impact of the pandemic, but only one country is having to deal with the impact of Brexit, which is what is driving up prices and the cost of living for people in Northern Ireland and across the UK, isn’t it?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I am inclined just to say no. The reality is that this conversation will keep going to and fro. We have left the European Union and we are staying out of the European Union. Our task is to make sure that we flourish as a nation outside the EU, and I wish the hon. Gentleman would just get behind it and move on.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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In June this year, according to research by the Trussell Trust, one in six people across Northern Ireland faced hunger, with nearly half of those referred to Trussell Trust food banks being children under the age of 16. In Scotland, primary school children get a £120 uniform grant and secondary school pupils get a £150 uniform grant, but the amount in Wales in Northern Ireland is almost a quarter of that. Given that parents are choosing between spending money on back-to-school supplies or on food, what steps is the Minister taking to ease the cost of living pressures on families in Northern Ireland?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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As I said, we provided a large sum of money to ease cost of living pressures in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman mentions food banks, which are very much on my mind, given the scale of the food bank in Wycombe. I am very well aware of the cost of living pressures in Northern Ireland. We continue to put large sums of money into Northern Ireland, but it would be much better to deal with all these issues in the presence of a restored Executive.

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con)
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May I join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his first anniversary? I also thank the new shadow Secretary of State for the huge contribution he has made as vice-chairman of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. In welcoming the money that has been provided to Northern Ireland to help with the cost of living pressures, does the Minister agree that it would be even better, and more efficiently spent, if the Executive were back up and running?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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Yes, I absolutely do; my right hon. and learned Friend is right on that. Time and again we are asked to intervene, and every time we are asked to intervene that is a call for direct rule. We do not intend to get into direct rule. It would be far better if local decisions were taken by a locally accountable Executive.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)
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The Government have shown their commitment to supporting the people of Northern Ireland through the recent increase in the cost of living. In the absence of an Executive—we all accept that one is absolutely necessary—will my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will continue to intervene where necessary for the people of Northern Ireland?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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We will continue to work for the people of Northern Ireland, respecting the devolution settlement. For example, in recognition of the cost of living pressures faced by workers across the UK, the Government increased the national minimum wage rate by 9.7%, to £10.42 per hour for workers aged 23 and over, at the spring Budget. We will continue to be seized of the need to help those least well off.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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The cost of living crisis is clearly continuing to bite hard in Northern Ireland, with footfall at stores across Northern Ireland falling by 5% throughout August. What steps is the Department taking to enable people to take full advantage of the highly privileged economic status and market access that Northern Ireland now has, which this Government have deprived to the rest of the UK?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s use of the term “deprived”, but I am happy to tell him that next week we have the Northern Ireland investment summit. We are determined to attract private sector investment into Northern Ireland and to promote inclusion in that growth. Northern Ireland has a fantastically vibrant economy, and I very much hope that the least well-off will have opportunities through our investment in skills to develop themselves and to secure more better paying jobs in Northern Ireland, so that they can move on.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
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3. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the Northern Ireland economy; and if he will make a statement.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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We routinely monitor trends in the Northern Ireland economy. It has the ingredients required for economic success: exceptional talent, creativity and innovation. Although challenges persist, recent indicators suggest resilience and the potential for growth. This Government remain committed to fostering a productive environment for economic development and prosperity in Northern Ireland. I look forward to our investment summit between 12 and 13 September—next week—which is a fantastic opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland’s economic potential to the world.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Robertson
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I thank the Minister for that encouraging response. He will be aware that Northern Ireland’s largest trading partner by a very long way is Great Britain. It is therefore important that there is frictionless trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so will he update the House on what discussions he has had on the future operation of the green channel?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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One of our priorities now is the successful implementation of the Windsor framework and that green channel. We will continue to have conversations with colleagues in the Cabinet Office who lead the Windsor framework taskforce. I assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to ensure that that system works as seamlessly for everyone.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
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Will the Minister confirm that at next week’s investment conference the Government will proactively market Northern Ireland’s dual market access under the Windsor framework?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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Yes, I can confirm that. I am absolutely determined that we shall do so. Indeed, next week I shall chair a session on that issue. This is not just about access as of right to the UK market and as a privilege to the EU market; it is also about being under our services regulation, which is an advantage, in combination with access to our free trade agreements, such as the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. This is a unique opportunity in all of the world, including right across the EU, and I am convinced that he and I, and we all, should make the most of it.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
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4. What steps his Department is taking to help restore power sharing in Northern Ireland.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Chris Heaton-Harris)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and it is good to see him in his place. Our focus remains on delivering for the people of Northern Ireland, who expect and deserve locally elected decision makers to address the issues that matter to them. I continue to engage regularly with all party leaders and speak to them very regularly indeed.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
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I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but the lack of a functioning devolved Government in Northern Ireland means that there are direct consequences for its people, as is evidenced by the highest waiting lists in the UK, which would not be tolerated elsewhere. In the absence of a restoration of power sharing, there needs to be a plan B—what is it?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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Obviously, all my energies are spent on trying to resolve the issues in order to allow the DUP to come back to Stormont and get the Executive up and running. There are myriad options available if we were to go down different routes, but I am afraid none of them is as ideal as Stormont functioning and the institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement all being stood up.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
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There is a big opportunity over the coming weeks to restore the Northern Ireland Executive. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that key to that is the UK, Dublin and the EU listening harder to the concerns of the DUP about implementation of the Windsor agreement?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank the former Secretary of State for that question; he is absolutely right. We have been listening in great detail to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson), the DUP leader, and his team of negotiators over the course of the summer. We have had very detailed negotiations and I believe we are homing in on what is actually required. That might well mean we need conversations elsewhere, but let us see where we get to in the course of the next couple of days.

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

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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The Windsor framework, which was agreed seven months ago, was a great achievement, but it was also intended to enable the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland. That has not happened. What is the Government’s plan? The Secretary of State refers to the conversations he is having, but what is the plan to get Stormont back up and running?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I sincerely welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his place and thank him for his question. Currently, there are issues with one particular political party. We are talking to that party on a very regular basis at this point in time. Those talks have moved forward substantially, but he would have to check in with the DUP leadership to see if I am correct. Just because the right hon. Gentleman cannot see that does not mean that it is not happening. One thing I have learned, as I have said many times from this Dispatch Box, is that just because talks are being held in a confidential manner does not mean that they are not taking place and moving forward.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn
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The Secretary of State knows that there are concerns in the Unionist community about unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses trading with Great Britain. The Government said last month in the border target operating model that they are committed to that access, as we all are, and that:

“These arrangements will be enshrined and further strengthened in domestic legislation”.

Can he tell the House when that legislation will be introduced?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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Hopefully in very short order, dependent on making sure we have got it exactly right, so it answers the questions and allows Stormont and the Executive to re-form.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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5. What steps he is taking to help ensure that postal communications between Britain and Northern Ireland are delivered without customs declarations.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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Under the Windsor framework, sending parcels to friends and family in Northern Ireland will be as smooth and easy as it is today, removing any burdensome paperwork, costs or delays. Northern Ireland consumers will be able to order from businesses in the rest of the UK and receive goods in the post as they do now, without customs processes or burdensome costs. This will maintain consumer choice for British goods in Northern Ireland. Businesses sending goods to other businesses will use our new green lane.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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A number of constituents and consumers have contacted me to highlight that many eBay or Amazon providers will no longer ship to Northern Ireland as they state that they cannot afford the enhanced fees, demonstrating that Northern Ireland continues to be treated differently. It is costing small businesses and individuals the ability to shop around. What steps can the Minister take to revisit the framework with our EU counterparts, to ensure free and fair trade throughout the United Kingdom that is clear and easy to follow for all businesses?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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Under the protocol as it was, all parcels would have needed to complete full international customs processes. I believe that the suppliers to whom the hon. Gentleman refers will be making their plans under the protocol as it was. Under the Windsor framework, parcels to consumers will not be subject to those burdensome processes. He reminds us all that we need to redouble our efforts to communicate to suppliers the message that they will be able to take advantage of a new green lane and supply to consumers in Northern Ireland. It is a subject close to my heart, and I can see that it is extremely close to his too.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
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6. What steps his Department is taking to ensure the sustainability of Northern Ireland’s public finances.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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The Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Bill 2023-24 is progressing through Parliament and is due to be debated in the other House next week. The Secretary of State has used his powers to request information and advice from the Northern Ireland civil service on measures that could generate revenue and improve the sustainability of public finances.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell
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I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I congratulate him and the Secretary of State on their anniversaries and pay tribute to them for all they have done in the past year.

Some have suggested that we could reform the Barnett formula to address the sustainability of public finances in Northern Ireland, but does my hon. Friend agree that that is not a silver bullet, and that trade-offs will need to be made to fund public services?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. This is a very important point. Although we will remain open to discussing proposals put to us by the Northern Ireland parties, it would not be a silver bullet to reform the Barnett formula. An Executive will still need to make trade-offs when they decide to spend scarce resources. Negotiations between the Welsh Government and the Treasury on a fiscal framework, which included an adjustment to the Barnett formula, took place over seven years, so, with the best will in the world, it is not an issue that can be solved overnight. What we need is a functioning Executive and we stand ready to work with that Executive. In the meantime, we will continue to engage with the Northern Ireland civil service on a range of measures that could improve fiscal sustainability.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let me welcome the shadow Minister.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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Early years services are vital for children to reach their potential, but they are underfunded and at risk in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a childcare strategy. According to the Department for Education, it was delayed again because early years faces potential significant budget reductions. When can hard-pressed families in Northern Ireland expect the childcare strategy? Will the Minister commit to early years services receiving the increased multi-year funding that is needed to invest in children?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I am glad to welcome the hon. Lady to her place. As she knows, education is devolved in Northern Ireland and it is a matter for the Education Department there to take these decisions, but her point is well made, and I am confident that, when she makes her first visit to Northern Ireland, like me she will be engaging with all parties on just such issues.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
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8. What recent discussions he has held with the Department for the Economy officials on electricity generation and supply after 30 September 2023.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Chris Heaton-Harris)
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My officials and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero are engaging with the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy to understand the facts and to assess any extra requirements. Energy is a devolved matter.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Campbell
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I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but can he indicate to people who are concerned about recent newspaper speculation on the future of generation and supply in October and beyond that it is secure and that there will be no hiccup or hiatus between now and Christmas?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary question. Northern Ireland benefits from being part of the United Kingdom with access to electricity from Great Britain through the interconnector, and it also benefits from being part of the single electricity market on the island of Ireland. I and the Minister of State worked hard to ensure that that was preserved during the UK’s exit from the European Union. We are working very closely with all officials across Government here and in the Northern Ireland civil service to ensure that the right preparations are in place for the winter.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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9. What recent assessment he has made of the availability of (a) veterinary products and (b) horticultural stock in Northern Ireland.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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The cliff edge on veterinary medicines has been removed, protecting the supply of those medicines in Northern Ireland through to 2025, while we work through sustainable, long-term solutions. We are much more optimistic about reaching those solutions in the context of the Windsor framework. There will no longer be any need for costly phytosanitary certificates for each movement of plants staying in the UK. We have paved the way for 11 banned plant species to move again by the time of the next planting season. These were priority cases identified by the industry itself, and we have progressed further cases since announcing the Windsor framework. We are working closely with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that gardeners, farmers and growers can access plants and seeds from a wide variety of sources.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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With regards to veterinary medicines, I fear the Minister’s sunny optimism may be somewhat misplaced. After all, his preferred stakeholder—Mr Bernard Van Goethem, the deputy director general for food sustainability—has made it abundantly clear to DEFRA and the UK Government that the negotiations on this matter are “over”. The deal is done. There will be no change to veterinary medicines. This means that insulin will no longer be available in Northern Ireland for animals. Veterinary medicines for botulism—144,000 were issued last year—will no longer be available. What will the Secretary of State and the Minister do about this?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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The hon. Gentleman has presented me with information about which I was not aware beforehand. I am certainly happy to look at what has been said, but what I would say to him is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did the deal that no one said could be done. That has transformed the relationship with the European Union, and I am therefore confident that we will be able to deliver a deal on veterinary medicines. As we sometimes say, I do not recognise the information that the hon. Gentleman has presented. It is new to me, and I shall be glad to look at it, but we will certainly have to deliver a deal.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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The Ulster Farmers Union estimates that 1,700 veterinary medicines could be withdrawn from the market in Northern Ireland unless the Windsor framework is fixed. I urge the Minister to do that.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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Certainly. My right hon. Friend makes her point with great clarity. Of course, having made it on an occasion such as this, it has been heard by a wide range of Ministers, and I am confident that we will be able to redouble our efforts to deliver what we need on veterinary medicines.

The Prime Minister was asked—
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I welcome everybody back to Prime Minister’s questions.

Louie French Portrait Mr Louie French (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con)
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Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 6 September.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak)
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I would like to start by congratulating Sarina Wiegman and the Lionesses on their fantastic performance at the World cup. We are all incredibly proud of them. I also know that the whole House will join me in sending condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Sergeant Graham Saville. It is testament to his bravery that he died in the line of duty, and a terrible reminder of the work that the police do every day to keep us safe.

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

Louie French Portrait Mr French
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The Labour party used to claim that it represents working-class people, but Labour’s ultra low emission zone expansion to Greater London will now hammer millions of working people with bills of £12.50 per day, or £4,500 per year. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is unacceptable that Londoners and those in surrounding counties face this regressive and unacceptable tax, and will he do everything that he can to help working people?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I agree with my hon. Friend. It is disappointing that last week the Labour leader allowed the Labour Mayor to introduce ULEZ, charging hard-working people £12.50 every time they start their car, adding to the burden of the cost of living. All I can say is that while we focus on helping hard-working families, all the Labour leader does is punish them.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the Leader of the Opposition.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab)
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I join the Prime Minister in congratulating the Lionesses, and also in his comments about Sergeant Saville; I think we speak for the whole House when we speak on that subject.

I also extend the warmest welcome to my hon. Friend the new Labour Member for Selby and Ainsty (Keir Mather). He has already made history for the Labour party by overturning the largest Tory majority ever in a by-election. I also welcome the hon. Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell) and for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke).

The roof of Singlewell Primary School in Gravesend collapsed in May 2018. Thankfully, it happened at the weekend and no children were injured. The concrete ceiling was deemed dangerous and liable to collapse, and everyone knew that the problem existed in other schools, yet the Prime Minister decided to halve the budget for school maintenance just a couple of years later. Does he agree with his Education Secretary that he should be thanked for doing a “good job”?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I know how concerned parents, children and teachers are, and I want to start by assuring them that the Government are doing everything that we can to fix this quickly, and minimise the disruption to children’s education. We make no apology for acting decisively in the face of new information.

Let me provide the House with an update on where we are. Of the 22,000 schools in England, the vast majority will not be affected. In fact, in two thirds of inspections of suspected schools, RAAC—reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete—is not actually present. To tackle the 1% of schools that have been affected so far, we are assigning each school a dedicated caseworker and providing extra funding to fix the problem. In the majority of cases, children will attend school as normal, and the mitigations take typically just days or weeks to complete. We will do everything we can to help parents, support teachers and get children back to normal school life as quickly as possible.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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Wood Green Academy in Sandwell was on Labour’s building list in 2010. The Conservatives scrapped it, and now children there are in a crumbling school. The head of the National Audit Office accuses the Prime Minister of taking a “sticking plaster approach”. The NAO report says he cut £869 million. The person who ran the Department for Education says the Prime Minister is personally responsible. On Monday, he leapt to his own defence, saying it is “utterly wrong” to blame him—so why does literally everyone else say it is his fault?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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The professional advice from the technical experts on RAAC has evolved over time. Indeed, it is something that successive Governments have dealt with, dating back to 1994. As new advice has come forward, the Government have rightly, decisively and swiftly acted in the face of that advice.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about school budgets and what I had done, but let me just walk him through the facts of what that spending review actually did, because he brought it up—[Interruption.] No, he brought it up, so presumably he would like to hear the facts. Funding for school maintenance and rebuilding will average £2.6 billion a year over this Parliament as a result of that spending review, representing a 20% increase on the years before. Indeed, far from cutting budgets as he alleges, the amount spent last year was the highest in a decade. That spending review maintained the school rebuilding programme, delivering 500 schools over a decade, a pace completely consistent with what had happened previously. It is worth pointing out that, during the parliamentary debates on that spending review, the Labour party, and he, did not raise the issue of RAAC one single time. Before he jumps on the next political bandwagon, he should get his facts straight.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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Carmel College in Darlington was on Labour’s building list in 2010. The Conservatives scrapped it, and now children there are in a crumbling school. On the one hand, we have the Prime Minister saying it is nothing to do with him, and on the other hand we have the facts. There is a simple way to clear this up. Why does he not commit to publishing the requests from the Department for Education for the school rebuilding programme and what risks he was warned of before he turned them down?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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The right hon. and learned Gentleman has now brought up twice the Labour school rebuilding programme, so let us just look at the facts surrounding it, because we do know the truth about that programme. The NAO, which he has called on, reviewed that programme later on, and what did it find? It found that Labour’s school rebuilding programme excluded 80% of schools. Next, what did it find? It found that it was one third more expensive than it needed to be, needlessly wasting resources that have gone to schools. The worst bit—because now he is talking about the physical condition of schools—is that that programme allocated funds solely on the basis of ideology, with no regard whatsoever to the physical condition of schools. That is why the independent James review described the programme as “time consuming” and “expensive”—just like the Labour party.

None Portrait Hon. Members
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More!

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. We do not want to start off with somebody leaving early, because that is what will happen.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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Well, Mr Speaker, Conservative Members want more, so let me continue. Ferryhill School in County Durham was on Labour’s building list in 2010. The Government scrapped that, and now children there are in a crumbling school. The truth is that this crisis is the inevitable result of 13 years of cutting corners, botched jobs and sticking plaster politics. It is the sort of thing you expect from cowboy builders: saying that everyone else is wrong and everyone else is to blame, and protesting that they have done an effing good job even as the ceiling falls in. The difference is that in this case, the cowboys are running the country. Is the Prime Minister not ashamed that, after 13 years of Tory Government, children are cowering under steel supports stopping their classroom roof from falling in? [Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Seriously, calm down. I understand that this is the first session and people are excited to be back at school, but we expect better behaviour.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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This is exactly the kind of political opportunism that we have come to expect from Captain Hindsight here. Before today, he has never once raised this issue with me across the Dispatch Box. It was not even worthy of a single—[Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. The same applies to those on the Labour Benches. We will have a calmer Question Time going forward, because I want to hear the questions and the answers, just like your constituents.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Before today, the right hon. and learned Gentleman never once raised this issue with me in Parliament. It was not even worthy of a single mention in his so-called landmark speech on education this summer. If we had listened to him, our kids would have been off school and locked down for longer—it is as simple as that. He talks about 13 years; well, let us see what has happened. When we came into office, two thirds of schools were rated “good” and “outstanding”; now, it is 90%. We introduced the pupil premium to get more funding to the most disadvantaged pupils. Today, they are 75% more likely to go to university. And, as a result of our reforms, we now have the best readers in the western world. That is what 13 years of education reform gets you, all of which was opposed by the Labour party.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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The Prime Minister claims to be a man of detail, but there have been 100 parliamentary questions from the Opposition on this issue, and an Opposition day motion. Let us continue: Holy Family Catholic School in Bradford was on the Labour building list in 2010. The Government scrapped that, and now children there too are in a crumbling school—[Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Mr Holden, I have heard enough. This is the last time; make up your mind. Either you go now or you are quiet for the remainder.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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If you can believe it, Mr Speaker, in April this year, the Education Secretary signed a contract for refurbishment of her offices. It has her personal stamp of approval on it. It cost—I cannot quite believe this—£34 million. Can the Prime Minister explain to parents whose children are not at school this week why he thinks that a blank cheque for a Tory Minister’s office is better use of taxpayer’s money than stopping schools from collapsing?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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What I say to parents is that, on the receipt of new information, we have acted decisively to ensure the safety of children and minimise disruption to education, as we have laid out and communicated extensively. That is the right thing to do. I also gently point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, while the Department for Education started this process 18 months ago in spring of last year, as far as I can tell, Labour-run Wales still does not know which schools are affected.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman brought up funding, so again, let us look back to what happened in that spending review. In that spending review, I increased the Department for Education’s capital budget by 25% to a record £7 billion; it tripled the amount that we spend on children with special educational needs and disabilities; it improved the condition of the overlooked further education estate; and it set the course for per-pupil funding to be the highest ever. Crucially, it also invested £5 billion to help our pupils recover the lost learning from covid. He might remember that, because we wanted pupils learning; he wanted longer lockdowns.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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I just do not think the Prime Minister gets how, “It’s all fine out there” is at odds with the lived experience of millions of working people across this country.

Let us go on—this is a long list. In 2010, at least six schools in Essex were on Labour’s building list; the Government scrapped them and now children there are in crumbling schools. The Prime Minister will not admit that the reason he cut budgets and ignored the warnings is quite simple: just as he thought his tax rises were for other families to pay, he thinks his school cuts are for other families to endure. Does that not tell us everything we need to know? He is happy to spend millions of taxpayers’ money sprucing up Tory offices, and billions to ensure that there is no VAT on Tory school fees, but he will not lift a finger when it comes to protecting other people’s schools, other people’s safety and other people’s children.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman comes here with prepared scripts, but he has not listened to a single fact, over six questions, about the record amounts of funding going into schools, or the incredible reforms to education impacting the most disadvantaged children in our society—a record that we are rightly proud of. Yes, we can name the schools: that is because we are reacting to information and publishing it so that we know where the issues are—something that we are still waiting for from the Welsh Government.

Of course the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to score political points from something that we are dealing with in the right and responsible way, but I note that he has not mentioned a single other thing that has happened since we last met at the Dispatch Box. He talked about hard-working families across Britain, but what has happened to energy bills? Down. What has happened to inflation? Down. What has happened to small boat crossings? Down. And what has happened to economic growth? It has gone up. The right hon. and learned Gentleman tried time and again to talk down the British economy, but thankfully, people were not listening. His entire economic narrative has been demolished, and the Conservatives are getting on delivering for Britain. [Hon. Members: “More!”]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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There will be more. I call Nicola Richards.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards (West Bromwich East) (Con)
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Q2. Against a backdrop of improving economic news, inflation falling, energy bills coming down and growth up, people in the west midlands are disappointed to see that Labour-run Birmingham City Council has gone bankrupt. As a Sandwell resident and a West Bromwich MP, I am no stranger to Labour incompetence. Does the Prime Minister agree that Labour have demonstrated yet again that they always run out of other people’s money?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend is exactly right. We started by hearing how Labour in London are charging hard-working people with ULEZ, and now we are hearing about how Labour in Birmingham are failing hard-working people, losing control of taxpayers’ money and driving their finances into the ground. They have bankrupted Birmingham; we cannot let them bankrupt Britain.

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

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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The public need no reminding that today marks a year since the Prime Minister’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), took office. Upon her speedy departure, they will have thought that things were going to get better, but unemployment figures are higher, food prices are higher, mortgage rates are higher, and economic growth is stagnant. When is the Prime Minister going to get off his backside and do something about it?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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What the hon. Gentleman failed to point out is the amount of times I have sat across the Dispatch Box from him and his colleagues and heard how somehow, we were a laggard when it came to growth. He did not take the opportunity to correct the record now that figures have been published, which demonstrate that in fact, we had the fastest recovery of any European economy after covid.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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Mr Speaker, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Prime Minister thinks everything is all right, but let us look at his proposals for a winter cost of living package. On energy bills, his plan is to do nothing; on mortgage bills, his plan is to do nothing; and on food bills, his plan is to do nothing. When the Secretary of State for Education said earlier this week that everyone was doing nothing, she was referring to the Prime Minister, wasn’t she?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I think the hon. Gentleman is a little out of practice, because we have paid around half a typical family’s energy bills over the past year. That is support worth £1,500, benefiting families in Scotland. On mortgages, the Chancellor’s mortgage charter covers 90% of the mortgage market, and ensures that a typical mortgage holder can save hundreds of pounds a month on mortgage refinancing. On energy, thanks to the actions of this Government, we are supporting the hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Scottish oil and gas industry, securing this country’s energy supply, which he opposes. I will always do what is right for the people of Scotland, and it is time the SNP did the same.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Q6.   I was delighted when the Prime Minister said last year that, on his watch, we would “not lose swathes” of farmland to solar applications, instead rightly arguing for solar to be installed on rooftops, yet my constituency sees a constant flow of planning applications for solar farms and battery storage plants on food-producing land. Can I ask my right hon. Friend: when will his pledge become a reality?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Solar is one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation, so it is right that we try and see more of it across the country, but we do need to protect our most valuable agricultural land so that it can produce food for the nation and increase our food security. That is why, thanks to our changes, the planning system now sets this out explicitly with a clear preference for brownfield sites. Of course, we want to do more to encourage barn-top solar, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be updating the House with further information on that policy in due course.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Reclaim)
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Last week, the Prime Minister stated that he was “proud” of his furlough scheme. I wonder if he is equally proud of the £400 billion he put on the national debt and the inflation it has caused. Is he proud of the jobs lost, businesses closed and lives crushed due to the lockdowns? Is he proud of the increased NHS waiting lists, premature deaths and the 1 million young people now needing mental health support? Finally, is he proud of the excess deaths affecting every one of our constituencies that nobody wants to talk about, and will he give an undertaking to the British public—a solemn under-taking—that they will never be inflicted upon them again?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a formal inquiry regarding covid, which will examine all the decisions that were made, including lockdown, and the impacts of them. But with regard to the furlough scheme, I am proud that, at a time of extreme anxiety in the country, facing an unprecedented situation, this Government put their arms around the British public to ensure that we protected 10 million jobs. As the report from the Office for National Statistics showed last week, those actions, combined with all the other things we did to support the economy, ensured that we had the fastest recovery through the pandemic of any European nation.

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
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Q7. As we are a nation of animal lovers, the Conservative Government’s record on animal welfare is a source of great pride, but, sadly, too many abuses remain—from pet theft, the smuggling of puppies and heavily pregnant dogs and dogs with their ears horrifically cropped to the illegal export of horses to Europe for slaughter. These issues are personal to me as a veterinary surgeon and to my constituents, especially animal theft and livestock worrying. Can the Prime Minister reassure the House that animal welfare is a key Government priority, and that he will bring forward the necessary legislation to tackle these issues as soon as possible?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I thank my hon. Friend for both raising this issue and also his work and expertise in the area? I am proud that, thanks to the actions that previous Governments have taken on things like cat microchipping, the ivory ban and raising the maximum sentence for animal cruelty to five years, we are now the highest ranked G7 nation on World Animal Protection’s animal protection index, but we are determined to go even further and deliver on our manifesto commitments individually during the remainder of this Parliament.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins  (Luton South) (Lab)
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Q3.   The Prime Minister has said he will lead a Government of honesty, accountability and integrity, so can he explain how he was found to have breached the code of conduct, this time for failing to declare his wife’s shares in a childcare agency that received a monetary boost from measures in his Budget?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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If the hon. Lady reads the full transcript and the full findings, she will see a detailed explanation of what happened, which the commissioner described as a “minor and inadvertent” breach, given that at the time I was not aware of the policy that was being discussed with me, and corrected it later on and could have corrected it with slightly different language. She will also know that I am not the only person across these Dispatch Boxes that has had the same thing happen to them.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
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Q9. May I interest the Prime Minister in proposals from the commission for carbon competitiveness, which I chair, that would deliver net zero cheaply and without deindustrialising our economy? It would help British manufacturers facing imports from countries with lower energy costs, make our exports more competitive everywhere, and cut fuel duty at home. We have strong backing from Britain’s heavy industries, and cross-party support from the excellent hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), whose name is also on the Order Paper. Would the Prime Minister consider adding his name to our list of supporters as well?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend and the commission for carbon competitiveness for the report that he has worked on and highlighted, and the Government are absolutely committed to putting in place the necessary policies for UK industry to decarbonise successfully. As he will be aware, the Government recently consulted on addressing carbon leakage in particular, with a range of potential options. We are in the process of considering those responses, and will issue a formal response in due course.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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Q4. Every year, billions of wet wipes go out into our rivers and oceans, and clog up our sewers. I have been campaigning for years to ban plastic in wet wipes. The Government have finally promised to ban plastic in wet wipes, but that was five months ago and there has been nothing since then. Will the Prime Minister today finally give a date for when that ban will come into force and make a difference to our environment, or is this another broken promise from his zombie Government?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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In the comprehensive “Plan for Water” that was published by the Environment Secretary in April, we confirmed our intention to ban wet wipes containing plastic, subject, as is legally proper, to a public consultation. That consultation will be launched in the coming months, in autumn this year, and I know Ministers will keep the House updated on progress.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con)
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Q12. I would like to offer some assistance on the small boats issue. Has my right hon. Friend considered the incongruity of the fact that a UK dinghy manufacturer trying to sell into the EU market would have to apply the CE marking, customs codes and could be stopped and checked, and a similar situation applies, perversely, with a simple thing like Great Britain to Northern Ireland trade? But none of that applies, seemingly, when huge, supersize, dangerous cut-and-shut dinghies are taken from Turkey, across the EU border into Bulgaria and Greece. Is my right hon. Friend as confused as I am by the EU’s double standards on that matter?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we must do all we can to stop the boats and tackle illegal migration. We know that the export of small boats across parts of the European continent is a vital element of the smuggling gangs’ tactics. That is why, specifically, we are stepping up joint operations with Turkey—I raised this with the President when we spoke—so that we can tackle organised immigration crime, and specifically disrupt the supply chain of boat parts that are used for these dangerous crossings. I will continue to keep him updated on our progress.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke  Pollard  (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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Q5.   Two years ago in Plymouth, we lost five people in the worst mass shooting the country has seen for a decade. The Government have finally consulted on firearms reform, but after pressure from shooting groups, even those sensible measures look like they could be watered down. Will the Prime Minister bow down to lobbyists from the shooting industry, or will he stand with the grieving families, and with those in Plymouth who want to see no tragedy like this ever happen again, with stronger gun laws?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know how important this issue is to the hon. Gentleman, following the horrific shooting in his constituency, and my thoughts are with the family of all those who were killed. He will know that firearms are subject to stringent controls, and rightly so, but those controls are kept under constant review. For example, we have taken action to improve information sharing between GPs and the police, to ensure that people are not given access to firearms without their medical conditions being checked. There is statutory guidance that the chief officers of police have been improving, so that how people apply for firearms is assessed properly, including checks on social media. On the matter that the hon. Gentleman specifically raises, the Home Office is in the process of considering responses to that consultation, and will respond in due course.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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Q13.   Later today, I am bringing forward a ten-minute rule Bill, to include the provision of automated external defibrillators in all new housing developments of 10 dwellings or more. Will my right hon. Friend support that provision, and ask his relevant Cabinet colleagues to engage with me to ensure that these life-saving pieces of equipment can become commonplace where they can have the most impact, close to people’s homes?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of these lifesaving devices. That is why the national planning policy framework already expects planning policies and decisions to promote public safety, but it is also why recently the Government launched a million-pound fund that will place around 1,000 new defibrillators in communities across England to help improve equality of access to these lifesaving devices.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
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Q8. In 2019, the Outwood Academy Riverside free school application in Middlesbrough was approved, with its first year 7 intake arriving the following year. There have been further intakes every year since, but there is still no new building. I have had no response to my request for a meeting with the Secretary of State, but that original intake are destined to spend their entire secondary education in various temporary adapted premises. With pupils being shunted around old buildings, talk of levelling up and addressing the GCSE attainment gap rings hollow. Will the Prime Minister and his Education Secretary get off their derrières and sort this out?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets an answer to his specific question on that school, but more generally I am proud of what the Government are doing in Teesside and Tees Valley to support education, not only with the recent announcement of new sixth forms, but also it is an education investment area receiving extra funding and resources. That is why we have seen standards in reading and maths increase considerably, and we are determined to keep going.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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The Prime Minister is aware of how the RAAC issue has affected schools in Essex. We have a high number of schools that have been impacted. He has rightly said today that the Government are doing everything they can to get children back to school. I know there is a debate on this later today, but will he commit to fully funding both the capital and revenue costs associated with getting children back into school?

I hope he will commit to meeting the leader of Essex County Council, because it is pioneering some great reforms right now, where it is looking to support maintained schools as well as academy trusts. I think the Government could get some good insights into how we can get children back to school fast and look at the funding model.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I thank my right hon. Friend for her constructive engagement with the Department. I pay tribute to her school leaders and local authority for everything they are doing. I am happy to give her the reassurance, as the Chancellor has already said, that new funding will be provided to schools to deal with this issue. To ensure that we can get through this as quickly as possible for my right hon. Friend’s constituents and parents—and, indeed, everyone else’s—the Department for Education is in the process of increasing the number of dedicated caseworkers from 50 to 80. We have 35 project directors regionally on the ground to support, and we have more than doubled the number of survey firms, so that we can rapidly over the next few weeks fully assess all the relevant schools and have a mitigation plan in place.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
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Q10. Steel- workers in my constituency have watched in frustration as other Governments have pumped investment into decarbonisation while successive Tory Governments have sat on their hands. When will the Prime Minister finally conclude the talks with Tata Steel? Can he guarantee that level of investment will match what other European Governments are doing on decarbonisation? And will he guarantee that the conclusion will be based on serious engagement, comprehensively with the steel unions?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Steel is absolutely vital to the UK. This matter is of course of interest to the hon. Gentleman, but I have also discussed it extensively with my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), and that is because the industry supports local jobs and economic growth. Conversations with specific companies, such as Tata, are ongoing, but they are understandably commercially sensitive. We share the ambition of securing a decarbonised, sustainable and competitive future for the industry in this country. In the meantime, we are supporting the sector with our energy-intensive industries exemption, which provides discounted energy bills. We also have the industrial energy transformation fund, which supports steel companies with their energy bills and the transition through capital to a greener future.

Mark Fletcher Portrait Mark Fletcher (Bolsover) (Con)
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Two weeks ago the Government announced that the Bolsover School’s bid for a sixth form in my constituency has been successful. Across the country, some 52% of school leavers at 16 years old go on to a sixth form, but in Bolsover it is 23%, in Clowne it is 22%, and in Shirebrook it is 7%. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking the Redhill Academy Trust, Matthew Hall, the headteacher of Bolsover School, and all those who have helped to bring a sixth form to Bolsover?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate Redhill and everyone involved with the successful bid for the new sixth form in Bolsover. I am delighted that the bid was successful. I know that my hon. Friend shares my desire to ensure a world-class education for every single one of our young people across the country, because that is the best way to provide them with the opportunity for a better life. The new programme of sixth forms will deliver that in his constituency and many others across the nation.

Ian Mearns Portrait Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab)
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Q11. The north- east has been underfunded in terms of transport investment for decades. HS2, which was meant to be an economic development and connectivity lifeline, is now not coming anywhere near, the A1 Northumberland dualling decision has been delayed yet again, and our regional rail services are still running on outdated infrastructure and rolling stock.With all that in mind, will the Prime Minister commit the funding to reopen the Leamside line from Gateshead to County Durham to take pressure off the east coast main line and aid economic wellbeing and the movement of passengers and freight services in the north-east of England? Or is levelling-up just rhetoric?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously, it would not be right for me to comment on specific projects, but to give the hon. Gentleman a sense of our commitment, what I can tell him is that in real terms since 2010 we have spent over a third more in central capital investment in northern transport every single year compared with Labour’s last six years in government. That is what we are doing for northern transportation. Specifically, when it comes to reopening and restoring railway lines, where was the first one that we did? From Ashington to Blyth.

William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)
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I have a cheerful question that I know my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will find impossible to resist. He will be aware of the work that I have been doing with No. 10’s UK Ambassador for mental health, Dr Alex George, to establish early intervention mental health hubs across the country. We have got the pilot, which seems to be lost somewhere between the Treasury and the Department of Health—I know he will sort that problem out—but will he meet Dr Alex George and me to discuss it further? These hubs will make a massive difference in constituencies across the country. We all know the problems with child and adolescent mental health services and the perverse situation where children and young people have to get progressively worse before they get the treatment they need. I know that the Prime Minister will be very supportive of this one, Mr Speaker.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my hon. Friend is rightly a passionate advocate for improving mental health support for young people, which is something I know we are doing, and I am proud of our record, particularly in increasing the number of mental health support teams who work with schools and expanding community services. I know that the Department of Health and Social Care is looking at the role that early support hubs might play in this plan, but I am happy to meet my hon. Friend personally to discuss how we can push this through.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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Q14. We have heard far too much lately about ministerial posteriors and little about prosperity for the country. Even in these dying days of a lame-duck Government, will the Prime Minister stop prevaricating and subscribe to the Horizon programme for the sake of vital British science, innovation and cancer research?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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This Government are investing record sums in British science and research and development, because we believe that is critical to a brighter economic future and spreading opportunity. Our priority and preference is to associate to Horizon, but we want to make sure that that is on terms that are right both for the British taxpayer and for British science and research. I can commit to the hon. Lady that we have been extensively involved in discussions. I hope to be able to conclude those successfully and, when we do, I hope she will be the first to stand up and congratulate the Government.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
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September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, but it also marks two years since the death of my constituent Sophie Fairall. She was only 10 years old. Every day in the UK, 10 young people will be diagnosed with cancer, and two of those will not survive. Those who do face a lifetime of side effects from treatments that are just not designed for small bodies. When will the Prime Minister publish a childhood cancer action plan?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I extend my sympathies to her constituent’s family, as she raised. She is right to continue campaigning in this important area. I hope she will understand that I cannot pre-empt the specific contents of the strategy, but I can tell her that it will draw on previous work, including submissions from childhood cancer charities and stakeholders to our recent calls for evidence. Of course, we want to hear from them to highlight and get a sense of the issues that she specifically raised, but I will ensure that we write to her to give her a sense of the timing.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
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Q15. Every year the SNP Scottish Government mitigate against the cruellest of Westminster policies by spending £84 million on supporting hard-working families against the brutal bedroom tax and over £6.2 million on covering the two-child benefit cap. Astonishingly, we have learned over the summer that the Leader of the Opposition is an enthusiastic supporter of these Tory cruel welfare policies, with U-turn after U-turn from the Labour party. Given that the Tories and Labour are two cheeks of the same arse—[Hon. Members: “Oh!]—offering no change, no vision and no hope, does the Prime Minister agree that the only way Scottish voters can rid themselves—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I am not going to have us both stand up; one of us is going to give way, and it will not be me. Let us think about language. Let us be more temperate and make sure that the pride of this Parliament shines through—that certainly will not be by using such language.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law
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I am happy to change the offending word to “bottom”. Given that the Tories and Labour are two cheeks of the same bottom, offering no change, no vision and no hope, does the Prime Minister agree that the only way for Scottish voters to rid themselves of these heinous policies is to vote for the SNP to leave Westminster forever?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Obviously not. I think the thrust of that question was directed at the Leader of the Opposition rather than me, and I would not want to get in the middle of that. What I can say is that we want to ensure a welfare system that is compassionate and looks after the most vulnerable in our society, while supporting into work those who can do so, because that is also fair for everyone else and British taxpayers. I believe that is a system that we are achieving. Right now, we are providing people in Scotland with thousands of pounds of support to help with energy bills and everything else, and we will continue to do so.

Points of Order

Wednesday 6th September 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
12:42
Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition had never raised the issue of school building safety before, and he specifically mentioned his education speech earlier this summer. That is categorically untrue. I wondered if the Prime Minister wanted to correct the record. My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned it as part of that speech, in fact. It has also been raised by the Opposition more than 180 times in this House, and was the subject of an Opposition day debate, in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, in May. I am sure that the Prime Minister would not want to give the House the wrong impression.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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The hon. Lady has raised the point of order quite correctly, and has corrected the record herself. I am sure that the Prime Minister will be notified of the point she has raised. We will leave it for now and see what happens.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your guidance on how hon. Members may hold energy companies to account for their shortcomings with their business customers? I have been in contact with EDF Energy for a number of months over its multiple failures that have severely impacted The Circle, a wonderful community interest company in Easterhouse. EDF’s multiple failures to correct the mistakes are incredibly worrying. I seek your guidance on how a Member of this House might be able to use its procedures to hold energy companies to account.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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It is disappointing to hear about EDF and the way that it is not responding. As an experienced Member, I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that the Table Office can advise him on the various ways that he can pursue EDF on this matter.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions, the Leader of the Opposition accused the Prime Minister of spending taxpayers’ money to refurbish “Tory offices”. I believe the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) was referring to the Department for Education, a Whitehall, Government, non-partisan civil service office. Will you, Mr Speaker, ask the Leader of the Opposition to come back to correct the record?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I do not think I need to be told by the hon. Gentleman what I have to do. He has certainly put it on the record, and it will have been heard by the Opposition. You were right to raise a point of order, Mr Stafford, but do not start instructing me on what I need to do. We will leave that there at this stage.

Automated External Defibrillators (Housing Developments)

A Ten Minute Rule Bill is a First Reading of a Private Members Bill, but with the sponsor permitted to make a ten minute speech outlining the reasons for the proposed legislation.

There is little chance of the Bill proceeding further unless there is unanimous consent for the Bill or the Government elects to support the Bill directly.

For more information see: Ten Minute Bills

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

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
12:45
Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the provision of automated external defibrillators in all new housing developments of ten dwellings or more; to require developers to provide funding for the maintenance of such defibrillators for a period of ten years after installation; and for connected purposes.

My Bill aims to increase the number of automated external defibrillators by ensuring that, in future, they are an essential feature of every new housing development. That is a vital step in our endeavour to increase cardiac arrest survival rates. Crucially, my Bill also requires funding for the continued maintenance of defibrillators. First, I will outline the scope of my Bill and its links to important debates that the Commons has had on defibrillators. Secondly, I will highlight the scientific evidence from around the world that overwhelmingly supports the introduction of my Bill, and I will present the important argument for a maintenance provision in the Bill.

I am grateful to Dave Bowling, a community first responder in my constituency, for providing the inspiration for the Bill, which, as this speech will demonstrate, has the potential to save many lives. The powerful benefits of defibrillators have already been highlighted in Parliament. My Bill follows the 2018 Defibrillators (Availability) Bill, brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), and the 2023 Automated External Defibrillators (Public Access) Bill brought forward by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Additionally, the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) recently led an important debate on public access to defibrillators, and a sponsor of my Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), has been advocating for greater uptake of AEDs through his leadership of the all-party parliamentary group on defibrillators. I also note with appreciation that the Leader of the House of Commons, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), was the first MP to call for all MPs to complete defibrillator training. Such discussions and endorsements in Parliament are of great value in increasing public awareness of defibrillators.

I acknowledge the very positive steps that have been taken to provide defibrillators in every school and on our high streets, and the funding that the Prime Minister mentioned earlier, but the Bill targets an area that is yet to be addressed: private residential homes. It is crucial to note that in the UK, most out-of-hospital cardiac arrests—70%, according to the Resuscitation Council UK—occur in the home. However, when I looked at my constituency and others on the “Defib finder” website, it was apparent that defibrillators are predominantly installed in non-residential areas. That is a problem. In Sweden, researchers have found that a person is three times more likely to survive a cardiac arrest in public than at home. That statistic could be mirrored in the UK, which is why I am calling for a legal requirement to ensure that all new housing developments have a defibrillator—an essential piece of life-saving equipment.

When cardiac arrests happen, it is crucial that a defibrillator be nearby. According to a study by Sarkisian et al., the survival rate for cardiac arrests decreases by 10% for every additional 100 metres between the patient and the defib. It is therefore concerning that, according to a recent study by Burgoine et al.—many Members will have read about it in the papers last week—the median distance of a publicly accessible defibrillator from any given postcode in Great Britain is 726 metres.

When someone has a cardiac arrest, their heart stops, and it is a race against time to ensure that oxygen continues to travel to their brain. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation—chest compressions with rescue breaths—is essential for maintaining the flow of blood and oxygen during this time. However, the use of a defibrillator is the only method that can seriously improve survival rates, by shocking the heart and causing it to resume its normal rhythm. That restores the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. If a defibrillator is used before an ambulance arrives, survival rates from cardiac arrest increase from less than 10% to more than 70%.

Given that there are 60,000 cardiac arrests in the UK every year, it is crystal clear that my Bill is necessary to increase the number of defibrillators in private residential areas, and I hope that this will not be a controversial issue for the House. Some may suggest that the Bill will impose an additional financial burden on housing developers, but the cost of a defibrillator is small in relation to the entire budget of a housing project: just over £1,000. The Bill will also empower residents to learn about defibrillators, and to know where they are and how to use them. Everyone should know what a defibrillator is and, hopefully, where to find one.

The second part of my Bill requires developers to provide funding for these new defibrillators for 10 years after their installation. If defibrillators are to work and to save lives, they must be maintained. So what maintenance is required? First, there must be an electricity supply to maintain the temperature of the defibrillator; this protects the battery life of the device. Secondly, batteries need to be replaced after four to six years. Replacement batteries typically cost just £300. Thirdly, electrode pads need to be replaced after two years. Five replacement pads cost only £360. As for who would carry out the maintenance, I believe that a number of organisations would be well placed to visit each defibrillator in an area once every two years for that purpose—for example, the fire service; the first responder network, including the local ambulance service; or even, perhaps, the local authority. Funding for the maintenance could well be achieved through a section 106 agreement between housing developers and local authorities.

My Bill has two important aspects: the provision of a defibrillator in every new housing development consisting of more than 10 dwellings, and the provision of 10 years’ maintenance funding, all for an additional cost of about £2,500, or £250 per property. That is a small price to pay for immediate access to a lifesaving defibrillator. The scientific evidence overwhelmingly emphasises the impact that the Bill could have, and I hope that the House recognises that and decides to take action to improve cardiac arrest survival rates.

Let me end with Dave Bowling’s call to action: “defibrillation for the nation”.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Stephen Metcalfe, Anna Firth, Mr Mark Francois, Jackie Doyle-Price, Carol Monaghan, Jonathan Gullis, Sir Chris Bryant and Giles Watling present the Bill.

Stephen Metcalfe accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 360).

Consideration of Lords message
Clause 18
Immunity from prosecution
00:00
Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Chris Heaton-Harris)
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I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 44D, 44E, 44F, 44G, 44H and 44J.

Let me begin by reminding the House that the Government have sought to make a realistic assessment of what we can best deliver for families more than a quarter of a century after the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday agreement, nearly 30 years since the first ceasefires, and well over 50 years since the troubles began. The backdrop is that current mechanisms for addressing legacy matters work for only a very small number of people, rather than the overwhelming majority, and established criminal justice processes are increasingly unlikely to deliver outcomes that people desire, especially in respect of prosecutions.

We have only one issue left to debate today: conditional immunity. The purpose of this legislation is to give people more information in a shorter timeframe than is possible with the current mechanisms. We do that by creating an effective information recovery process that relies on a conditional immunity model. I attended a decent chunk of the debate in the House of Lords yesterday, and although I am sympathetic to the intent behind Lords amendment 44E, which is to give family members a role in deciding whether immunity should or should not be granted, immunity risks undermining the effectiveness of these provisions and the principal aim of information recovery. For example, the “public interest” consideration element in condition D would lead to uncertainty about the circumstances in which immunity will be granted, undermining the clear and transparent approach that we have developed over time. If we are to ensure that the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery can obtain as much information for families as possible, we need to ensure that the right incentives are in place for individuals to come forward to provide that information.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I appreciate that the Secretary of State—whom, by the way, I greatly respect—has come here to try to deliver the Bill as it is, but may I make this point to him? A great many people out there have lost loved ones over the years—we all know who they are—and on every occasion, they seek justice. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), even if there is only a candle of light of a possibility that someday, those who had murdered someone’s loved one would be held accountable for it, that is what we need. Let me say, with respect, that today the Government are extinguishing that light for all those who have lost loved ones. There are many people in the Chamber today, and in the Public Gallery, who have lost loved ones. On behalf of all those families, I implore the Secretary of State and the Government to think very carefully about the direction that they are taking, because the families’ right to justice is being extinguished, and that cannot bode well for the future.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, for the way he has raised it, and indeed for the numerous conversations we have had on these matters outside this place and within it. He knows the answer that I am going to give him. I will never, and can never, put myself in the shoes of the people who have lost someone. I just cannot. However, I can see a process that has worked for only a very few people, considering the quantum of people who were affected by the troubles and who lost people. Indeed, the chances of getting justice for them are dwindling all the time.

The Government have come to the conclusion that this is the right way forward because we hope that we can, in good time, at least get some information recovered for those families that ask for it, and also through other elements of the Bill that are not the subject of this package of amendments. If someone misleads the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, there are criminal processes involving perjury and a whole host of criminal investigations that can take place. A whole host of things have changed that I hope will allow lots of information to be recovered in quick time for families.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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The Secretary of State says he cannot put himself in the shoes of the victims, but he could listen to them. Can he tell us how many or what percentage of the victims he has met have shown support for this piece of legislation?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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Very few have shown support for this legislation, but I have met many, as has my Lords Minister, Lord Caine. In fact, part of the process of changing the Bill has come from those conversations. I understand that lots of families do not want this Bill, but the question then is: if not this Bill, then what? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) says “Stormont House”, but he knows that Stormont House did not have cross-party agreement at the time and that the Ulster Unionist party did not agree to it—

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I happily give way. Please correct me.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna
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Would the Minister acknowledge that it did have cross-party support—the Ulster Unionists deferred on one small matter—and that it was recommitted to by his Government and the Irish Government as recently as January 2020?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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And it did not move forward because of the different political issues that came about.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood
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The Minister made this very point at an event that I was at at the weekend, but it was Chatham House rules so I am not allowed to talk about it. He puts forward the argument that the parties just could not agree, but I was involved in many of those discussions and I can tell him that the British Government dragged their feet month after month around the issue of onward disclosure. That is what happened, and it is important to put that on the record. The vast majority of political parties and victims’ groups in Northern Ireland supported Stormont House but the British Government just did not want to do it. That is why it did not get delivered.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I am afraid I do not quite believe that that is the case. However, the British Government have committed to full disclosure to the ICRIR, which allows for a huge amount of information to be put forward in those circumstances and the possibility of ensuring that the commissioner can obtain as much information as possible from families.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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The Minister said that if families were to have a say on whether immunity should be granted, it would undermine the whole thrust of the Bill, but the point of the Bill is to ensure that people and families who have been hurt, traumatised and damaged by what happened as a result of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland over 30 years have their say. Surely the best way of giving them justice, after they have heard what the circumstances of the case were, what the attitude of the individual is and what can be disclosed, is to at least let them have the final say on whether they feel that the individual concerned should be granted immunity.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point. The many amendments to this Bill throughout the last year have included measures on how families should be engaged with and how their views should be heard throughout the process. To ensure that the commission can obtain as much information for families as possible, we need to ensure that the right incentives are in place for individuals to come forward and provide that information. The possibility that eligible individuals who co-operate fully with the commission could then be prevented from obtaining immunity from prosecution is highly likely to act as a significant disincentive for individuals to disclose that information.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
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This was never going to be an easy issue, or an easy Bill. If it was easy, it would have been done many years ago. What the Government are proposing may be right, or it may be part right and part wrong. I certainly think that giving those survivors and their families a right to veto would be the wrong step to take, so the Government are right on that. However, I think the House will find comfort in the fact that the Secretary of State will keep the progress of the enactment under review, and if there is abuse or things that are wrong, we can revisit it, tidy it up and make it work better. This cannot be seen as a closed chapter, job done. Rather, it is the start of a new process—quite experimental in some ways—of learning from other people’s experiences. If we have that comfort that this is amendable and reviewable, it might help to assuage some, if not all, the concerns.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his point. He will know that other amendments I have tabled have tried to make this body as independent as it can possibly be. I am sure he will have taken great heart from the appointment of the chief commissioner designate, Sir Declan Morgan, and from the comments he has been making about how he intends to go about his business. He is engaging widely, even at this point, and will do so even further when the Bill gets Royal Assent and becomes an Act. Just in the practice of Sir Declan in putting the flesh on the framework that we are building here for the commission, I think my hon. Friend will see that there are lots of opportunities for it to do exactly what he wishes it to do.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is understandably an emotional and difficult topic, and it is one that means a lot to me, having served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir Brandon Lewis), and also having loved ones who lived through the troubles on either side of the border. The discussions were difficult and I want to give my support to the Secretary of State on this. If there is a threat of prosecution down the line, it will be the families of British soldiers and the families particularly in Unionist communities who will not get the answers they rightly deserve. It will disincentivise people from coming forward and presenting evidence.

Even though justice might not be served in a court, there will at least be answers to the questions that family members have been asking for a long time. It will offer some small hope of reconciliation for those families if they can finally get the truth about what happened and who was involved, in order to allow Northern Ireland to heal and move on. I have engaged regularly with members of the Northern Irish community, and they want to talk about education and about creating more high-skilled, high-wage jobs. They are desperate to see prosperity for their great country, and those are the things that that nation wants to move on to look forward to, rather than continuously looking backwards.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank my hon. Friend for his point and for his committed work in my Department. I was not there at the time, but I know of it. I understand the point that he makes. Over the past year, we have endeavoured through amendments to make the Bill very much focused on all victims of the troubles, so that all victims can, if they choose to do so, contact the commission and start a process that will hopefully get them some information in relatively quick time.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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We have recently had an example of a Roman Catholic priest who was involved in IRA activities. When talking about his role, he said that his only regret was that his efforts were not more effective in killing people. If that kind of evidence is elicited—if people come forward and show no remorse and no regret, and offer no comfort to victims—does the Secretary of State really think victims will feel any better? Would not giving them the opportunity to say, “In the light of that man’s attitude, I do not believe he should be granted immunity,” be a better way of ensuring that justice is at least seen to be done for those people?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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Unbelievably evil things were done in the course of the troubles. Unbelievably hideous acts were committed, and none of us can change that. As I said at the beginning of my contribution, it has not been possible to give justice to a huge number of those families even today, even after the passage of all that time and even after numerous investigations in some cases. This Bill tries to get some information to families who contact the commission to request it, so they can better understand the situation. It will not change anything that happened in the past—it simply cannot.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way again. The premise of his argument and some of the arguments we have heard from Members on those Benches, which are sometimes extremely condescending to victims who have been going through this for many decades, is that people will come forward with the truth if we grant immunity. Well, there is one glaring example that proves that is totally wrong. During the Bloody Sunday inquiry, the soldiers were granted immunity within the context of the inquiry. One after another, they lied through their teeth, and that has been proven by an international public inquiry. With the disappeared, again, IRA people were provided immunity within the context of the organisation that was looking to find those bodies, and we still have bodies out there that have not been found because those people did not come forward and tell the truth even when they were granted immunity.

The lie that is being used to sell this Bill is just that: a lie. It is patently untrue and it will not do anything to give people the truth and justice they desire.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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The hon. Gentleman characterises it completely incorrectly. There are no guarantees that the Bill will bring information forward but, as I tried to outline, very little new information has come to light that has led to new cases. Very few people have been able to receive justice. He mentions the point that, in the past, some people might have misled a judge-led inquiry. Well, that is perjury, and perjury is now part of this Bill. The Bill has changed a huge amount over the past year, and it is worthy of support.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This may well be our last chance to discuss the Bill in this Chamber. May I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on the fact that virtually every independent human rights expert including, most notably, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which has statutory functions, does not believe that the Bill is human rights compliant? Even Sir Declan Morgan, who has been appointed to head up the ICRIR, could not give a categorical answer to that question in a recent newspaper interview. Indeed, it is anticipated that a whole series of cases will need to be brought forward to clear up the issues around human rights compliance.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand that point and, again, that is the purpose of all the amendments we have made. The hon. Gentleman will know that I was not comfortable with the Bill that I inherited because, as there would be a gap in investigations, I did not believe it could be article 2 compliant. Amendments have been introduced that completely change that and I believe that the Bill is now compliant, but that will undoubtedly be tested. Only when it is tested and the results come forward can anybody actually say that the Bill is article 2 compliant, as Government lawyers truly believe it is.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State was unhappy with the Bill he inherited, which is the context of the amendments and changes that have been made to this Bill. Has he consulted with the chief commissioner-designate on the Lords amendments he is rejecting today? If the chief commissioner-designate was consulted, did he agree to reject the amendments?

13:14
Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I determined not to speak to the chief commissioner-designate, so that I could maintain his independence when the Bill is enacted.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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In several of the Secretary of State’s answers to questions from Opposition Members, he has said, “If there is extra evidence”. Has he or the British Government had the opportunity to speak to the Irish Republic Government about their role? I believe the Irish Republic Government, through the Garda Síochána, have an evidence base on the murders that were carried out by the IRA along the border. I am very conscious of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan in 1989, Lexie Cummings in 1982 and Ian Sproule in 1991. The people who did that escaped across the border, and the Garda Síochána has indicated—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I am very conscious of time. You are down to speak, and you have made your speech already. Other people need to get in. This is a very important issue, and I want to make sure that people can make their speeches.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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Forgive me, Mr Speaker; I was trying to take as many interventions as possible.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know. We all know that Mr Shannon is very good, but it is the amount of time. Interventions have to be short and punchy, not speeches. He is going to make a speech later.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I can assure the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that I have been speaking to the Irish Government about elements of what he mentioned.

The commission will grant immunity from prosecution only if an individual provides an account that is true to the best of their knowledge and belief. We have developed a robust test for immunity, in which their account must be tested against any information that the commission holds. If an individual does not provide a truthful account of their actions that could be passed to families, or if they do not participate in the immunity process at all, immunity will not be granted and they would remain liable to prosecution should evidence exist. Where a prosecution takes place, and should a conviction be secured, an individual will not be eligible for the early release scheme under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. Again, that is a result of amendments made in this House.

Similarly, although I acknowledge the sentiment behind introducing licence conditions under Lords amendment 44E, I respectfully suggest that the Government have sought to address these issues through amendments that were adopted on Report in the other place. These amendments send a clear message that, once immunity is granted, individuals who are convicted of offences that could impede reconciliation will lose that immunity. In the Government’s view, this approach strikes the right balance between providing sufficient certainty as to the effect of a grant of immunity necessary to encourage participation and ensuring that there are appropriate consequences for those whose behaviour after being granted immunity is not compatible with the fundamental aims of the Bill.

The alternative proposed by the Opposition would not support an effective information recovery process, and I therefore ask that the House joins me in disagreeing to amendments 44D, 44E, 44F, 44G, 44H and 44J.

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

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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May I take this opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) to the Front-Bench team, and to express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for all the service she gave during her time as part of the shadow Northern Ireland team?

As the House will be aware, we do not support this Bill, but I do not understand why the Secretary of State is seeking to overturn the amendments tabled by Lord Murphy and passed in the other place yesterday. I listened very carefully to the arguments advanced by the Secretary of State, but I do not think they stand up, because the Lords amendments would not take away the commission’s ability to issue immunity to an individual who comes forward and gives truthful evidence about what happened. Lords amendment 44E is not a veto, but it would allow the families of those who were killed or seriously injured in the troubles to have some voice in the process—I understand that relatives of those who were murdered are with us in the Gallery, and they are still seeking justice.

Let me turn to the other provisions, relating to licence conditions that would apply to the person seeking immunity. I acknowledge what the Secretary of State just said about other changes having been made to the Bill, but these provisions seem very sensible and reasonable to me. I include in that the requirement that the individual in question should not approach or otherwise communicate with a victim, in the case of an injury, or with a victim’s family, in the case of a death, unless they consent. So we will vote against the Government’s motion to disagree with the Lords amendments today.

The Secretary of State has talked quite a bit about a disincentive to people coming forward, but I say to him that it is not entirely clear that immunity will achieve the purpose that the Government have for it. Given that every other means of justice is to be closed down, and given that the commission appears to have a lifespan of only five years, those who have committed dreadful crimes only need to sit it out. I say to the Secretary of State that if that were to happen and after the five years are over those individuals start to talk about, boast about or write books about what they have done, how will he explain to the families of those they murdered why the Government allowed that situation to arise? That would be the consequence of taking away from people, as this Bill does, the means of justice, however hard, however long, however uncertain. I acknowledge the point that the Secretary of State made about that.

This is the last occasion on which we will debate this highly controversial legislation, which concerns how we come to terms with the terrible legacy of violence and brutality during the troubles in a way that enables those most affected—the families—finally to know what happened to the person they loved and to ensure that justice is done; to hold those responsible to account. This is the first time I have talked about this, given that I was appointed only on Monday, but I recognise how hard this is and I acknowledge the changes that the Secretary of State has made to the Bill during its passage, including his comment that when he inherited it he was not happy with it. However, he must accept that this legislation does not command the confidence of the people to whom he is trying to offer reassurance and comfort.

The most important word in the title of this Bill is “reconciliation”. We all want that to happen, but the Bill has self-evidently not achieved its aim, because all the communities in Northern Ireland are clearly not reconciled to its contents. It is so striking to see the extent to which the Government have failed to win support for their approach. The list of people and organisations opposed to this Bill is frankly astonishing: all of the political parties in Northern Ireland; the Churches in Northern Ireland; victims’ groups; the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; the former Victims’ Commissioner; the Irish Government; the Council of Europe; and the United Nations. Most extraordinary of all, it is reported that the person who has been appointed as the commissioner-designate, the highly respected Sir Declan Morgan, said recently that he would expect legal action by the families of victims of the troubles to try to challenge the Bill on whether it is compliant with the European convention on human rights.

That is the scale of the coalition that the Government have managed to range against themselves, but instead of reflecting on that, their approach has been to put their head down and plough on regardless. That is why, for all the Government’s good intentions, they have failed to win public confidence, even though the Government said in 2018:

“In order to build consensus on workable proposals that have widespread support we must listen to the concerns of victims, survivors and other interested parties.”

Doing the wrong thing is not a justification for this Bill, and if there is one lesson we must by now have learned about how to make progress in Northern Ireland, it is that it can only be achieved patiently, slowly and carefully, so as to build a consensus. I am sorry to say that the Bill does not do that and it will not achieve the purpose Ministers claim for it. That is why we are committed, as the Opposition, to repeal it, if we get the opportunity.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I am well aware that time is limited; you will be pleased to hear, Mr Speaker, that so too is my capacity for repeating arguments that I have made many times previously. My party believes that this Bill is wrong in principle and that in practice it will not achieve the aims that the Secretary of State believes, no doubt with great sincerity, that it will. We will therefore be joining the official Opposition in voting to support the Lords amendments.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
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I am grateful for the contributions made by Opposition Members thus far. A number of comments have been made this afternoon that relate more to Second Reading than to the stage we are at. It should come as no surprise to those in the Chamber to hear that to us this is an irredeemable piece of legislation. Even though we were highlighting in this Chamber on Second Reading and so on the areas where significant flaws were ultimately going to prove fatal to support for this Bill, the Government entrenched themselves. On a number of discrete issues, they committed in this democratically elected Chamber, where they ignored our requests, that they would proceed with such amendments in the Lords. I find that unsatisfactory, although I recognise that my colleagues in the Lords continue to push on those issues. With Lords Dodds principally among them, they have ensured that some of the commitments given have been honoured. However, that does not change the fact that this is a fundamental assault on justice, with the erosion of hope for victims and of the opportunity to get the answers they seek and the outcome they desire. Those things have been snuffed out by a Government who have entrenched themselves, and I greatly regret that.

This afternoon we have an opportunity, with discrete and sensible amendments before us, as the shadow Secretary of State has said. They were tabled by the Labour party in the House of Lords, and were advocated and supported by Members across the other place yesterday afternoon. This is an opportunity for the Government to salvage at least some appropriate involvement for victims, whereby they can have their say and a sense of the outcome that they seek.

A contribution was made yesterday by Lord Eames, and it is worth repeating. He said:

“Yes, there have been attempts to bring the concept of victimhood into the legislation that is proposed, and yes, the Government can claim that they have made efforts, but, in God’s name, I ask your Lordships to consider the overall impetus of what changes have been made to try to recognise the needs of victims and their families, and of those who, in years to come, when they read what has been said, attempted and failed to be produced, will find it incredulous to understand that the Mother of Parliaments has ignored their crying.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 September 2023; Vol. 832, c. 343.]

Those words were worth repeating this afternoon because Lord Eames is somebody who has led the Church of Ireland but is in this Parliament as a peacemaker, and who went through an ill-fated attempt to reconcile issues of legacy in the past, in a consultative report with Denis Bradley in 2009. Within this Parliament and within our society, he is somebody who probably buried more people in Northern Ireland during the troubles than anyone else. When he exhorts in such clear terms that there is an opportunity finally for the Government, at this last gasp, to show some recognition of the pain, trauma, harm and pursuit of justice that victims show, the fact that this Government would not accept it is a great shame.

The list of organisations has been given—it was given by a former Secretary of State, Lord Murphy, yesterday in the House of Lords and by the shadow Secretary of State here today—showing the lack of support for the legislation. We will go through the Lobby this afternoon to register yet again our disappointment at a failed opportunity by this Government, who are more focused on what they can get out of this Bill as they campaign for the forthcoming election than on solving the intractable issues that have plagued our society for so long.

13:29
Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry
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To start with the specific amendments before us, the Government’s approach, right to this eleventh hour—five minutes to midnight in terms of the Bill—reinforces the premise behind the Bill. Immunity is the central foundation stone on which this flawed Bill has been designed and taken forward, and the immunity clause goes to the heart of why there is no confidence in the legislation and why it has been rejected by so many stakeholders, most notably victims groups. That opposition spans the entire political spectrum in Northern Ireland.

Reference has been made to the history around this issue. I do not want to dwell on that overly, but there is a notion that the Stormont House agreement was not agreed to and was in some way flawed, and that we needed an alternative. Stormont House was agreed by virtually every political party and there were efforts made to implement it, but beyond the political parties it had the confidence of victims groups and the approval of independent human rights experts, so it was the basis of moving forward.

As has been said, as recently as “New Decade, New Approach”, Stormont House has explicitly been the policy of this Government. Within three months from the launch of “New Decade, New Approach”, we had, in effect, a handbrake turn, with a written ministerial statement by one of the Secretary of State’s predecessors, the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir Brandon Lewis). It was very clear that the immunity concept, alongside the Conservative party manifesto, was driving that, so the whole premise of the Bill is driven by the politics of the Conversative party, not the needs of Northern Ireland. That is the fundamental reason why the Bill will never be seen as legitimate in any sense in Northern Ireland. Further, I do not understand the logic of a Secretary of State saying that Stormont House does not have full support, so we cannot proceed on that basis, and then, by extension, introducing a Bill that has no support from any political party or victims group in Northern Ireland. That seems utterly nonsensical to me.

I will not reiterate the point I made about human rights compliance, but I acknowledge that the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) echoed and reinforced the point that we will see legal challenges to the legislation.

Finally, I welcome what the shadow Secretary of State said about the repeal of the legislation. If we see a change of Government after the next election, I hope that will be a priority for the incoming Government.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood
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There are a lot of things that get me angry in this job, but this has got me more angry than anything I have ever had to deal with. The people sitting on the Benches occupied by Members representing Northern Ireland’s constituencies have had to deal with, get to know and work with the victims of our terrible past for decades. Frankly, I am embarrassed today, as I do not know what I am going to say to them when I speak to them after the debate, because as a whole—as a body politic—we have failed them.

We have a peace process, we have peace and lots of us have been able to move on, but we have left a very significant cohort of people behind, and we are rubber stamping that today. Some people will walk through the Lobby coldly, without having the names of the victims ringing in their heads. I have their names going around my head right now—I have put many of them on record in this Chamber during the passage of the Bill. I am deeply ashamed that we are doing this today.

There is a pretence in the proposal for the Bill that somehow the British Government were not an actor at all in the conflict in Northern Ireland. That is patently untrue. They say that local political parties in Northern Ireland are just squabbling, cannot come up with any answers or deal with the problem. That is patently untrue. We came up with the answer, which was Stormont House. The reason it was not delivered is that the British Government dragged their feet and changed their policy after “New Decade, New Approach”. That is a fact.

I really hope that the Irish Government listen to the calls by some of us to take this UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, because the Bill is an affront to human rights and article 2. Every single expert I have spoken to agrees with me on that, and every single victim agrees with me on that as well.

The Secretary of State used the phrase “effective information recovery process” a lot of times. “Effective information recovery process”? I can take him to families today whose children—14 and 15 years old— were shot in the troubles and their cases have been closed by this Government until 2064 and 2065. Those people tell us they want an “effective information recovery process”, but the Government are denying victims “effective information recovery”, so that tells me that the Bill is based on a lie. It is an attempt by this Government and dark forces within the security apparatus of this Government to close down access to truth and justice.

We all understand that justice will be hard to get for many families, but most of those families have not even had any truth. The process of investigation gets them truths. I can take Members to loads of families today who never once even met a police officer, even though a loved one was murdered. Does anybody here believe that the IRA are going to come forward and tell us who bombed a particular pub or who shot a particular person? It is utter nonsense.

This is an attempt to close down access to the truth and it is an affront to democracy. Immunity? It is impunity, giving people a licence to murder people on the streets of Derry, Belfast, Newry and across Northern Ireland, and also on the streets of London. I do not understand how any politician can stand and look at the faces of crying victims and tell them that this is the right thing to do. I am ashamed that this is happening today.

Let me say one thing to end: I know these people. They have had to struggle for decade after decade. This will not be the end for them and we will be with them in support, right to the end.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I wish to add a few words. I will not be labouring too long in the Chamber, but it is important to make some comments in relation to where we are, as I again find myself in a position where I cannot support what the Government have put forward. While some Members on the Government Benches try to apologise and condition their support for the Bill, Members on these Benches, including those from my party and our spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), as well as Members representing other parties, including the hon. Members for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for North Down (Stephen Farry), have put forward their comments very clearly.

I have many concerns over the processes in place for victims and the fact that there are not enough answers. There will be ongoing investigations, but will any of those investigations be into collusion over the border? In my intervention on the Secretary of State earlier I referred to discussions that the Secretary of State and the United Kingdom Government may have had with the Republic of Ireland in relation to collusion in investigations, which in some cases involved some members of the Garda Síochána, and to the fact that the Republic of Ireland gave sanctuary to IRA murderers who escaped across the borders. Those are issues that some of my constituents wish to know about.

In his reply, the Secretary of State said that he has had discussions with the Republic of Ireland in relation to those matters, but has the Republic of Ireland responded, given evidence or investigated in the way it should have done?

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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The Government of the Irish Republic, again interfering in the affairs of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, have threatened to go to the European court on this issue. Does my hon. Friend agree with me, given how tarnished they are in regard to legacy, that whether we agree or disagree with the legislation that is being brought forward, this is an internal UK matter and should be dealt with internally, through the processes within the UK, not by an interfering Irish Government?

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. He has put on record very clearly his point of view, and it is one to which many of us here subscribe.

Let me return to the points that I was trying to make about the Secretary of State’s reply. Have those discussions taken place? Has the evidential base been gathered? Have the accusations of collusion between the Garda Síochána and the IRA been considered? There was the murder of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan in a car bomb on the border in 1989. The information that we have been made aware of indicates that details were passed to the IRA on what time they would be crossing the border. That is collusion. That is an evidential base for what happened. That information should be brought forward by the Republic of Ireland Government and conveyed to the Secretary of State and the Government here. There are many other such cases. For example, the murderers of Lexie Cummings in 1982 escaped across the border. The murderers of Ian Sproule in 1981 escaped across the border, and, again, the murderers of my own cousin, Kenneth Smyth, escaped across the border.

Paul Girvan Portrait Paul Girvan (South Antrim) (DUP)
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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. As this was raised in an earlier intervention, it would be interesting to say to the House that someone came forward and volunteered information, saying that they had been involved in the IRA campaign, and yet they have never served one day either in court or in prison for that. They were questioned in 1988 and denied the allegation, but as recently as 2019 they made a full admission of their involvement in IRA activities. The case of the Hyde Park bomb, which saw 11 people killed and 51 injured, was never brought to court in relation to that. That was somebody who came forward recently and made that admission.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that matter. He has clearly outlined an evidential base, which has to be part of this process. Unfortunately, though, with this Bill that process does not continue in the way that we hoped it would.

I wish very quickly to speak to the Lords amendments. They have established minimum criminal justice standards for a “review” along the lines of Operation Kenova. The amendments would require the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the standards to which reviews by the Independent Commission for Reconciliation & Information Recovery are carried out, including what measures should be used to ensure that reviews comply sufficiently with the obligations under the European convention on human rights. The shadow Secretary of State, whom I welcome to his place, referred to that specifically in his contribution. I was very encouraged by his comments here today—I think we all were—and look forward to constructive engagement with him as we move forward. What is also covered is whether as much information as possible should be gathered by reviews in relation to death or harmful conduct, and whether all evidential opportunities should be explored by reviews. Victims must be consulted, and regulations can be changed if reviews are conducted in a way not envisaged.

That is what the Lords amendments were hoping to achieve. It is disappointing to me personally and to all of us who represent Northern Ireland that that has not been fully considered by the Government. It is regrettable that the Government have resisted efforts to embed minimum criminal justice standards at the heart of how the ICRIR conducts reviews. They seem intent not only on narrowing the legal routes, but weakening investigative standards in those aspects that remain. It is hard not to reach the conclusion that the distinction made between “review” and “investigation” in the context of the Bill is more about drawing a line under the past with minimal fuss in the shortest timeframe possible, than about actually securing the answers and information that the victims and their families deserve and crave.

In conclusion, it grieves me to stand against the Government on these issues, but, on behalf of the victims, I wish to say very clearly that those in the Public Gallery today expect to see all those who perpetrated and carried out crimes to be held accountable. That is not happening. The unfortunate thing for all of us here—those in the Public Gallery who have lost loved ones, we in this Chamber who have lost loved ones and for all of us who represent Northern Ireland—is that this is a retrograde step. It extinguishes very clearly the hope for justice that we all want for those people who lost their lives to the troubles.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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With the leave of the House, I will answer a couple of the points that have been raised. I am grateful to all hon. Members for their contributions in the debate today. I know that the time that I have is relatively short, so I shall try to keep to it.

As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was just speaking I was reminded of a question that I received from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) in the second but last Northern Ireland Office questions. She was approached by a constituent who was after information about what had happened to one of their loved ones. So there are people out there who will try to find, and do find, information about their loved one if it can possibly be done. The fact is that if people do not co-operate, they will not be granted immunity and therefore they will remain liable to prosecution, and that will mean using all the police powers at the new body’s disposal. The Government’s position is that we still feel that the prospect of successful prosecutions is increasingly unlikely, but, none the less, that prospect remains.

13:45
If I may, I will correct one thing that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said—it is a straightforward correction and is not meant in any political way. It is not correct to state that the ICRIR has a lifespan of five years. The commission will be wound up by the Secretary of State at the time via affirmative resolution only once it has discharged all its functions as set out under clause 2, so its lifespan could be quite a bit longer than five years. I just thought that I would share that.
I do recognise that this is a hugely difficult Bill and a hugely difficult task—an unbelievably difficult task—which is reflected in the number of valiant attempts made to address the issue since the Good Friday agreement.
Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
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The Secretary of State is outlining the difficulty surrounding this entire process. Given the convoluted, protracted nature of this for such a long time and given what inevitably will happen when this passes as it will, it will end up in the High Court. Does he understand that this will be an entirely convoluted, academic process that will end up nowhere?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I am afraid that I do not.

I was saying that a number of valiant attempts have been made to address this issue since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. As I have reminded the House in the past, in one debate that I attended with some of the women who were behind the Good Friday agreement, one was asked what was her biggest regret about the time. The regret was that nothing was done for victims.

A number of these attempts were undertaken when the right hon. Member for Leeds Central was a Minister in Government. Indeed, I slightly worry about his brilliant academic mind and his recall for any of our future exchanges, but I know that he will remember all too well the difficulties and complexities involved in these issues. None the less, it is incumbent on us to ensure that any process for dealing with the past focuses on measures that can deliver positive outcomes for as many of those directly affected by the troubles as possible.

That comes—it really does—with finely balanced political and moral choices, including a conditional immunity process, which I acknowledge is difficult for very many, but we must be honest about what we can realistically deliver for people in circumstances where the prospects of achieving justice in the traditional sense are so vanishingly small. That is why the Government are unable to support the Opposition and will be disagreeing to Lords amendments 44D, 44E, 44F, 44G, 44H and 44J.

I will close my comments by recognising that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central has come to this debate with a fresh pair of eyes. Quite understandably, he has not had much more than 48 hours to go through what is a very detailed piece of legislation, but I know that he has followed these debates in great detail from the Back Benches. I know that in due course he will look at this and reach his own conclusions. I encourage him when doing so to reflect on the immense difficulty of this task, and to consider how the Government have genuinely sought to strengthen the legislation with encouragement from his party. He may also want to consider the toughest of all questions: if not this Bill, then what? I hope that upon Royal Assent the Opposition will engage constructively with the chief commissioner to help to ensure that the new commission can deliver the better outcomes for all those affected by the troubles that everyone across this House would like to achieve.

Question put.

13:50

Division 321

Ayes: 288

Noes: 205

Lords amendments 44D, 44E, 44F, 44G, 44H and 44J disagreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H(2)), That a Committee be appointed to draw up a Reason to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to Lords amendments 44D, 44E, 44F, 44G, 44H and 44J;
That Chris Heaton-Harris, Robert Largan, Alexander Stafford, Tom Hunt, Chris Elmore, Tonia Antoniazzi and Richard Thomson be members of the Committee;
That Chris Heaton-Harris be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Mike Wood.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.
Business of the House (Today)
Ordered,
That, at today’s sitting, notwithstanding paragraph (2)(c) of Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement of public business), business in the name of the Leader of the Opposition may be entered upon at any hour and may be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours; proceedings shall then lapse if not previously disposed of; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Penny Mordaunt.)

Opposition Day

Wednesday 6th September 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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18th Allotted Day (Second Part)

Safety of School Buildings

Wednesday 6th September 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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14:05
Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there will be laid before this House by 13 September 2023 the following papers –

(a) submissions from the Department for Education to HM Treasury related to the spending reviews in 2020 and 2021; and

(b) all papers, advice, and correspondence, including submissions and electronic communications (including communications with and from Ministers and Special Advisers) within and between the Cabinet Office (including the Office of the Prime Minister), the Department for Education and HM Treasury relating to these submissions concerned with school buildings.

Today we seek the release of papers that would tell us what has and what has not been happening in our schools—papers that the Government refused again yesterday to release and about which the Prime Minister again evaded questions today. However, this debate is about much more than just the documents. It is about more than reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete. It is about more than school buildings and their safety. This debate quite simply is about responsibility, and whether the Prime Minister will come clean about the allegation that he knew the risks, that he was warned, that he was told.

That is the issue in the motion before the House today: whether the Prime Minister was told that urgent action was needed to secure the safety of schools, but instead he slashed the cost of champagne; whether he will accept responsibility for his choices and whether he will be clear where responsibility lies. All of us are here with deep responsibilities to our constituents, to be open, to be honest, to take decisions objectively and selflessly, to accept accountability, to have integrity and to show leadership.

Let me be clear right from the outset that a Labour Government would have shown leadership on this, not just in the last few weeks but for years on end. That was our record in government. A Labour Secretary of State, faced today with a sudden crisis such as this, would have got those lists of the affected schools out quickly, would have been straight back to London, would have been communicating every day to parents and above all to children, would be taking steps not just to mitigate the immediate challenges around safety—[Interruption.]

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. She is not giving way. Perhaps she will give way later.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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We would remember the lesson from the pandemic that every school day matters. We would be ensuring the continuity of education for every child in school. We would be ensuring in-person learning for all our children. We would be doing that right now, and we would not be looking for plaudits, blaming others, or demanding praise. We would accept responsibility for what had gone wrong on our watch, and we would take responsibility for fixing it—fixing it fast, fixing it to last and fixing it for good.

The Government cannot even fix sending out their suggested interventions for today’s debate to the right set of Back-Benchers. It is hardly a surprise that they cannot fix the chaos in our schools. Here we are today, because of the utter shambles that has accompanied the start of a new school year for so many children. The public realm is literally crumbling around the next generation. The defining image of 13 years of Conservative Government is children cowering under steel props to stop the ceiling literally falling in on their heads.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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Is it not always the case that when the Conservatives are in power, our schools crumble? In 1997 one in five schools were inadequate and needed to be rebuilt by a Labour Government. Because the Conservatives slashed the rebuilding programme, under this Government we are in the same dire situation again, and the only party that can fix it is a Labour party in government.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Like him, I remember the transformation that that Labour Government delivered. I will come to that in more detail during the debate.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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The Welsh Labour Government have complained that the briefing they received lacked the technical detail required to take forward the work on schools. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Secretary of State should provide the other Governments with full details from the working group when they become available?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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I know that Conservative Members have a keen fascination with all things going on in Wales at the moment, and that Ministers have not always been in full possession of the facts at the Dispatch Box, so I will put a few on the record so that we can all be clear about the situation in Wales. In Wales, school capital funding has increased by around 122% in cash terms, and 23% in real terms, between 2014-15 and 2023-24. Perhaps we can use that as the basis for slightly more informed debate during today’s discussions.

Today, our first priority must be safety—as it must always be. Guaranteeing that safety must ultimately be the responsibility of Ministers and of Government. That is why I repeatedly pressed the Secretary of State to publish a full list of all the schools with concerns about RAAC, which she has at last published today. However, I gently note that there could be omissions on that list, a number of which have already been drawn to my attention. I hope that we can get full clarity about the situation across our schools.

Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
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The hon. Lady has made a whole series of allegations and challenges about the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, but surely, in a devolved arrangement, all those responsibilities and challenges apply equally to the First Minister. She has recognised that the list of schools in England has been published; why has such a list not been published for Wales? Does she accept that that is an example of the Welsh Government failing education and schools in Wales?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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The difference between the Labour Government in Wales and the Government here in Westminster is that, over the last 13 years, the Welsh Government have continued with a school rebuilding programme, unlike the UK Government, who have cut funding and cut support to our schools time and again.

We want to be clear, open and honest with local authorities and multi-academy trusts about the steps that the Secretary of State is taking to get in place the protections and mitigations that are needed. She said on Monday:

“Absolutely nothing is more important than the safety of children and staff. It has always been the case that where we are made aware of a building that poses an immediate risk, we have taken immediate action.”—[Official Report, 4 September 2023; Vol. 737, c. 52.]

Yet she was keen to spread the responsibility for the concrete crisis through time and space, including to her colleagues, who I understand had been sitting on their backsides; to the Welsh Government—a topic of interest for Members—whose ability to act swiftly has been hampered by key information not being shared; and to the last Labour Government, who left office 13 years ago.

The Secretary of State was keen to emphasise that it was not her Department’s responsibility, or hers, to ensure the safety of our children at school. Pushing responsibility on to others—local authorities, the schools themselves, multi-academy trusts—without the powers, resources or support they need, is very simply passing the buck, and my word, there has been an awful lot of that this week.

As Ministers have been keen to remind us, concerns were first raised about RAAC back in the 1990s. By then, the wider issue was that too many schools, built quickly and cheaply in the previous 50 years, were approaching the end of their design life. The issues were many: RAAC, asbestos and the simple reality—in the school I went to and in so many other state schools across our the country—of buckets in corridors, classrooms blackened by mould, windows that did not close and doors that would not shut.

I was at school back in the mid ’90s, but I know how serious Labour politicians took those warnings, and I am proud that as the scale of the challenge became clear, Labour Ministers rose to it. In 2004, the Buildings Schools for the Future programme was launched to rebuild every secondary school in our country over 15 years. In 2007, Building Schools for the Future was joined by the primary capital programme to give every child the chance to learn safely in a first-rate learning environment. That was done not because it was simple or quick, nor because there were no easier, more popular or more eye-catching choices, but because it was right, because it was responsible, and because that Labour Government believed then, as we do now, that excellence must be for everyone, and that every child deserves the best start—not just some children, but all our children.

The change we saw in 2010, when the Conservatives entered Government, reflected a very different approach: an entirely botched cancellation of existing programmes not by Ministers long since retired, but by the Minister for Schools, the right hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), who is still sitting on the Treasury Bench today, and by a former Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who is still in the Cabinet. Ambitions were reduced and timelines extended. Ministers knew the consequences when they took those decisions. They banked the savings and left our schools to rot slowly, quietly and inexorably.

Meg Hillier Portrait Dame Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
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Does my hon. Friend not think that the vast, overinflated amounts of money spent on some free school sites could have been better spent dealing with the collapsing schools?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all the work that she has done over many years, as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, to draw our attention to the problems. I will say a bit more about the recent report by the National Audit Office on many of these issues.

When we leave risks unattended, they worsen and, in time, things start to fail—first quickly, then suddenly. In July 2018, a ceiling suddenly collapsed at Singlewell Primary School in Kent, where RAAC failed without warning. Mercifully, no one was hurt. Months passed, and an alert from central Government and the Local Government Association went out that autumn emphasising the risks. It said:

“The limited durability of RAAC roofs and other RAAC structures has long been recognised; however recent experience (which includes two roof failures with little or no warning) suggests the problem may be more serious than previously appreciated and that many building owners are not aware that it is present in their property.”

Let me emphasise that final point: many building owners are not aware.

A few months after that, in May 2019, the Standing Committee on Structural Safety issued a note on the failure of RAAC planks. It said that all those installed before 1980

“are now past their expected service life and it is recommended that consideration is given to their replacement.”

It was not until March 2022—almost four years after that ceiling collapsed—that the Department for Education responded to the challenge of RAAC. How? It sent out a survey—not a surveyor, not a team of surveyors, and not even funding for surveyors, but a survey. If the issue was such a priority, and if the Secretary of State and her Department believed in immediate action, why, after a school collapsed in July 2018, did it take almost four years for the Department to send out a survey about RAAC in March 2022? I appreciate that the Secretary of State was not in post throughout that time, but responsibility in Government is not merely individual; crucially, it is collective and enduring. It stretches across Government and down the years. If she does not understand that point, perhaps she could seek advice from the Schools Minister, who has been in post for so many years, as he is today.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
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The key fact is that the Welsh Government ordered surveys only in May 2023, while the UK Government started engaging with schools in 2022. Surely that shows a woeful lack of responsibility.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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I have here a briefing document. It would save us all a bit of time and energy if Conservative Members just gave us the number and let us deal with it. The Welsh Labour Government have been taking consistent action to rebuild schools during their time in office; the hon. Gentleman might not like it, but it is a fact, and that stands in stark contrast to what has been happening here in England.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. The Work and Pensions Committee highlighted last year the growing number of retired schoolteachers succumbing to mesothelioma because of exposure to asbestos during their working life. At the current rate of progress, it will take 350 years to remove all the asbestos from schools. Does she agree that the Department must get a move on with that?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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My right hon. Friend is right to draw our attention to that matter, and I appreciate the work that his Committee has done on it. It would also be helpful if we had some clarity today from the Secretary of State about the risks that might arise when RAAC interacts with asbestos. If she could say a little bit more about that, I am sure all Members from across the House would be grateful.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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I am just going to make a bit more progress.

For a responsible politician, being in government is not simply a matter of pressing the agenda of their political party, their donors or those who profit from Government contracts. It is about rising to the challenges that face our country, and accepting the blame when things go wrong as the price of acclaim when they go well.

The point about RAAC was made very ably by the Secretary of State, who said:

“a school can collapse for many reasons, not just RAAC”.

They can indeed! So many things are wrong right now with our schools estate: there are faulty boilers, inadequate insulation, roofs leaking, and asbestos in around four out of five of our schools; and as the pandemic taught us, ventilation is simply not good enough in too many of our schools. How do we know that? The condition data collection tells us all of it. By the Department’s own admission, that exercise was not even a proper structural survey, despite coming 20 years after the risks of RAAC were first flagged, and seven years after the Government cancelled Labour’s school rebuilding programmes, having not even looked at hazardous materials.

The condition data collection found that more than 7,000 elements of the school estate were in poor condition and needed to be prioritised for replacement. Were all those someone else’s responsibility, too? Even the money that the Department did commit—the spending allocations of which the Minister for Schools speaks so proudly so often, with the keen pride of a Minister wholly oblivious to the scale of their own failure—was not all spent. Again, whose fault is that? Whose responsibility might that have been?

We are told that part of the difficulty in recent years has been finding the skilled labour to deliver the work that our schools so desperately need. I invite Conservative Members to reflect briefly on why exactly that might be. Could it be the dramatic overall drop in apprenticeship starts, the shortage of construction apprenticeships in recent years, or the utter failure of the Government’s apprenticeship levy to deliver spending on skills at the scale and pace we need? Could it be their wider failures on further education and in-work training? Thirteen years into a Conservative Government, who will take responsibility for that?

It was a Conservative Prime Minister who once savaged the press of this country for seeking “power without responsibility”. Today, that is the entire ideology of the whole Conservative party. That failure to accept responsibility is not merely the ethic of the Secretary of State and her Ministers; it comes right from the very top. Today’s Prime Minister was yesterday’s Chancellor, and we know—not just from the former most senior official at the Department for Education, but from the Schools Minister himself—that at the 2021 spending review, when even Ministers knew that the problems needed tackling urgently and the rate of rebuilding needed to soar, the now Prime Minister said no, and every Conservative Member accepted that. Cheaper champagne, yes; safer schools, no. There has never been a clearer picture of the priorities of the Conservative party.

The Prime Minister, fond as he is of private donations to his old school, has form on saying no to high standards in schools for other people’s children. He said no to the proper pandemic recovery plan that the Government’s own recovery tsar recommended. In 2021, he said no to the capital spend that would have kept our schools safe and our children learning. Last spring, he said no to the desperate pleas of civil servants in the Department for Education for the resources to make schools safe. In his spending review speech back in 2021, he even boasted of returning overall real-terms education spending in a few years’ time to the levels of the last Labour Government. That was not an admission, wrung as a repentant confession; it was a boast, made with pride, that one day—but perhaps not yet—he would take education as seriously as Labour.

Those who complain about party politics might reflect for just a moment on whether they would level the same accusation at the National Audit Office. In June, the NAO reported that

“Following years of underinvestment, the estate’s overall condition is declining and around 700,000 pupils are learning in a school that the responsible body or DfE believes needs major rebuilding or refurbishment. Most seriously, DfE recognises significant safety concerns across the estate, and has escalated these concerns to the government risk register.”

Just yesterday, in respect of RAAC, the Comptroller and Auditor General was clear that

“the long-term risks it posed took too long to be properly addressed”.

On the sustained inadequacy of the Government’s capital programme, he went even further:

“Failure to bite this bullet leads to poor value, with more money required for emergency measures or a sticking plaster approach.”

Failing to bite the bullet; poor value; a sticking-plaster approach—13 years into this Government, those are absolutely damning words from the Government’s own spending watchdog.

Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend will be aware that Jonathan Slater, the former permanent secretary, said that civil servants told the Government that there was a “critical risk to life” because of the dodgy buildings, and the failure to follow advice and invest in making sure our schools are safe. Does she agree that this Government are seriously putting children’s lives at risk through their incompetence and negligence, and through the failure of the Prime Minister to make sure there is proper investment in our schools?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If Ministers are confident about everything they have done and the decisions that were taken, they will back our motion today, allow us to see the papers, and be transparent with this House.

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen (Luton North) (Lab)
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I should be shocked by the lack of humility from Conservative Front Benchers, but sadly, I am not. Schools are literally collapsing around us, and the Conservatives want people to thank them for it. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Education Secretary needs to get a grip and explain why her offices got a £34 million refurbishment while schools are crumbling under this Tory Government?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a very important point.

Finally, let me turn to the wording of the motion. I know that many Conservative Members share Labour’s concerns, and I ask them today to think of the young people and the school staff in their constituency. However loyal they have been in every past debate, I ask them to help us put truth and transparency first, and to force responsibility on their Front Benchers. It is time for the full truth to come out about why our schools are unsafe today, and whose decision that was. It is time at last for Ministers, and the Prime Minister in particular, to take and accept responsibility for the broken country they will leave behind. I commend the motion to the House.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Before I call the Secretary of State, it will be obvious to the House that a great many people wish to speak this afternoon, so there will be a time limit of approximately five minutes on Back-Bench speeches. I give that warning; I can see that colleagues are looking at their long notes, and hopefully taking a few pages out of them.

14:27
Gillian Keegan Portrait The Secretary of State for Education (Gillian Keegan)
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This Government are committed to making sure that every child in this country gets a first-class education and every opportunity to make the most of their abilities. More than that, underpinning that commitment is a deeper one: to ensure that children are safe and secure in the places where they learn. I am glad that the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) has chosen to raise the issue of the safety of school buildings and investment in the school estate. Nothing is more important than the safety of children and staff in our schools, and no issue could highlight more my willingness to take the right decisions, even if they are politically difficult. The country, and the children in our schools, deserve nothing less. As I set out in the House on Monday, the Government will not shy away from that responsibility, no matter how much the Labour party descends into the political gutter.

I understand that parents, schools and this House are concerned about the issue of RAAC; we are acting responsibly and moving decisively to address it, and minimising disruption to education. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) is shouting from a sedentary position, so I will answer her question: £34 million was signed off for a Government building for the Department for Education. That was signed off by the Department’s commercial director, and was nothing to do with me. That was based on a decision made in 2019, before I was Minister. The right hon. Lady is very experienced, so I am sure that she will understand that Ministers do not sign off on Government buildings. It was the commercial director of the DFE who signed that off in 2019.

To go back to the issue in this case, because that was very misleading, we are dealing not with an issue caused in the last year, the last five years, the last decade or even the last 20 years, but with a legacy issue dating back to the 1950s. As the Chancellor set out, we will not shirk this responsibility and we will spend whatever it takes to keep children safe.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
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In Leeds, our school repair backlog is over £66 million, and the council is given £6 million a year by the Government to tackle that. The lead councillor for education, Councillor Jonathan Pryor, has written to every single Secretary of State for Education since 2018. Eight letters have been sent to raise school condition funding, but all pleas have been ignored. Does the Secretary of State really think that is acceptable?

Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
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I will look at Leeds specifically, but we have awarded millions to Leeds. The biggest difference between our programme and any programme that was ever done by your Government when they were in power—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. I think the Secretary of State means “his Government”.

Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
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I am sorry. Unlike the hon. Gentleman’s Government when they were in power, we actually did a conditions survey. We have done two conditions surveys and we have done a full RAAC survey, which we are now finishing with the responses that are coming in. We know the conditions; previously, the Labour Government did not know anything about the conditions and no decisions were made based on the condition of schools.

Lyn Brown Portrait Ms Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab)
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St Francis’ primary school in my constituency identified RAAC problems way back in 2019. It had to fund its own survey to do that. Since 2019, St Francis’ has submitted two bids to make its roof safe, and both were rejected. They appealed both times, and both appeals were rejected. Can I ask the Secretary of State how she can justify the rejection of those bids, and how can she justify the potentially much higher costs that must now be paid from the public purse to make St Francis’ safe?

Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
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The hon. Lady raises a good point, because of course the responsible body, St Francis’, has done the right thing by doing its survey. That is what everybody was asked to do in 2019 and in 2018, and in guidance since then. There are conditions and condition-based requests, and if the school wants to get in touch and give us the details, I am very happy to look at that case. I am very serious about making sure that we get rid of RAAC in our schools.

The school estate consists of over 22,000 schools and sixth-form colleges, with over 64,000 blocks. Of course, the condition varies across the estate, and a number of buildings are reaching the end of their useful life. That is why we have a 10-year rebuilding programme, and why the spending reviews in 2020 and 2021 allocated more than £7 billion for maintenance allocations for schools on top of that programme.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
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I should make a bit of progress, because I do have an awful lot of this in the speech. I really do want to satisfy people with detailed information because I have a lot of it.

Although local authorities, academy trusts and other bodies are directly responsible for school buildings, we support them by allocating significant capital funding each year, delivering major rebuilding programmes and providing guidance on effective estate management. Responsible bodies’ local knowledge of their estates and their work to maintain their estates make them much better placed to ensure that school and college buildings are kept safe, compliant with regulations and in good working order. However, the Department always stands ready to provide additional support on a case-by-case basis if we are alerted to a safety issue by those responsible bodies. This is the normal pattern of maintenance—a careful and calibrated local response.

However, we judged in this case that the issue of RAAC required us to take a much more proactive and direct approach. This approach is unprecedented across the UK, where England is leading. Sensing the scale of the potential challenge, we improved our surveying so that we had the capacity to act, even if we did not need to do so. Our condition data collection, which ran from 2017 to 2019, visited nearly all 22,000 schools and sixth-form colleges, and is one of the largest data collections of its kind. It helps us to understand what is needed in schools and to target our efforts in the way that best meets needs. In contrast, over the 13 years of the last Labour Government, there was not a single comprehensive review of the school estate. Yes, that is right: they were simply in the dark. Individual reports from the condition data collection—

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
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Will the Secretary of State give way?