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House of Commons

Tuesday 30 October 2012

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

City of London (Various Powers) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 6 November (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sudan/South Sudan

1. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the situation in Sudan and South Sudan. [125207]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): I welcome the agreements reached in September between Sudan and South Sudan, following months of intensive negotiations on borders, security and economic issues. We are working with the African Union to ensure that these are fully implemented and that remaining differences are settled.

Paul Goggins: I warmly welcome the Minister to his new and important responsibilities. Is it not outrageous that, as the Sudanese Government protest at the bombing of an arms factory in Khartoum, they continue to bomb their own people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, causing untold suffering for hundred of thousands, including the largely forgotten people living in the caves in the Nuba mountains? Will he and the Foreign Secretary continue to put pressure on the international community to ensure that, in turn, it puts pressure on the Sudanese Government to allow safe access so that humanitarian assistance can get into those areas as a matter of urgency?

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcoming remarks, and I certainly look forward to doing this job to the best of my ability. He is absolutely right to raise the recent incident, but it is a matter for the Government of Sudan. He will be aware that they have written to the President of the UN Security Council, who will be investigating the matter, and we, along with all Governments, await the results of those investigations. His points about the ongoing conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are right, and I can assure him that the UK Government, along with regional players, including the African Union and the Arab League, are doing all we can to ensure that humanitarian aid and access are given to those particularly challenging areas as soon and as fast as possible.

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Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): Although the new agreement signed between north and south is welcome, is the Minister aware that the arms factory just alluded to is supplying arms into Sinai and possibly Gaza, and is Iranian-owned? Does he agree that he should be telling the Sudanese Government that such activity simply has to stop?

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. As he will be aware and as I stated earlier, the Sudanese Government made a request to the UN, and an investigation is now ongoing. We will be watching the thoroughness of that investigation extremely carefully, and will decide what to do once we have received the results.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Does the Minister agree that the Government of North Sudan must allow the safe, unhindered access of international aid to areas that so far have been inaccessible in order to ensure full accessibility for everybody and an end to bloodshed?

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. To reduce and negate the suffering in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, it is essential that we enable humanitarian access to get to these areas as fast as possible, but it is extremely challenging. She might be aware that an agreement was reached in August between the tripartite—the UN, the AU and the Arab League—and signed by the North Sudanese Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North to allow humanitarian access. We need to ensure that that agreement is implemented as fast as possible to alleviate the suffering.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new position. The issue of the arms factory that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, mentioned was accompanied by visits by Iranian warships to Khartoum. Will the Minister do all he can to reduce tensions in the region? This is a very unwanted development.

Mark Simmonds: I agree with my hon. Friend. We have consistently and strongly encouraged the Government of Sudan to set themselves on a path to becoming a stable, prosperous nation playing a positive role in the region. In that regard, we do not consider such political and military engagement with Iran to be helpful.


2. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Swaziland. [125209]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): The Government remain deeply concerned about the continuing decline in good governance and human rights in Swaziland, and the lack of progress towards democracy. The UK has called on the Government of Swaziland to abide by the 2005 constitution, which guarantees the rights of all Swazi citizens to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

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James Duddridge: I thank the Minister for that reply, but what more can he do for people such as Mario Masuku of PUDEMO—the People’s United Democratic Movement, the leading opposition party in Swaziland—with whom I worked in Barclays Bank in Swaziland? What more can the Minister do to encourage King Mswati to be a little more sympathetic and tolerant of the existence of political parties?

Mark Simmonds: I know that my hon. Friend has a particular interest and knowledge of Swaziland, and I can confirm to him that the UK continues to urge the Government there to ensure that all political parties are able to operate freely and participate in the elections scheduled for September 2013. We believe that the people of Swaziland want political parties and we call on the Government there to respect their wishes. I can also confirm that our high commissioner will be visiting Swaziland in November to participate in discussions and will use the opportunity to underline the UK’s concerns about the current political and economic environment and press for reform.


3. Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): What assessment his Department has made of the fairness of the trial of the former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed; and what representations he has made to ensure that the trial is fair. [125210]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): We have sought and received assurances from President Waheed of the Maldives that any trial of former President Nasheed will be fair and free from political influence. No trial date has been set. The next court hearing is on 4 November and we expect international observers to be present.

Karen Lumley: What effect does my hon. Friend think the trial of Mohamed Nasheed will have on a sustainable political outcome in the Maldives?

Alistair Burt: The trial process is, of course, a matter for the Maldives, but there is international concern that if it results in the former President being prevented from leading his party into the elections next year, it will be seen as though the process was designed for exactly that object. We urge political stability under all circumstances in the Maldives, and that will no doubt be enhanced if the former President is allowed to lead his party and take part in those elections.


4. Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): What recent reports he has received on progress in uniting Syrian opposition forces around a credible transition plan for a post-Assad Syria. [125212]

6. Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): What recent reports he has received on progress in uniting Syrian opposition forces around a credible transition plan for a post-Assad Syria. [125214]

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11. Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): What recent reports he has received on progress in uniting Syrian opposition forces around a credible transition plan for a post-Assad Syria. [125219]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): We judge that co-operation between opposition groups is increasing, but there is much more to do. They need to unite and to appeal to all Syrians, regardless of religion and ethnicity. Our special representative is in constant contact with opposition groups and there will be a further meeting with them in Doha next month—next week, in fact—to work on that more united position.

Mr Frank Roy: In light of the failure of the recent ceasefire, what recent discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the United Nations about reinstating a monitoring mission in Syria?

Mr Hague: That is of course a difficult thing to do because of the situation in Syria. The Arab League had a monitoring mission; then there was a United Nations monitoring mission. All of them found it impossible to do their job because the regime did not keep its word and fighting continued, so that is not on the table at the moment in Mr Brahimi’s proposals. I will discuss with Mr Brahimi this afternoon what his next proposals will be. We continue to work for a diplomatic solution and to advocate the creation of a transitional Government in Syria, but so far our efforts to do so have been blocked or not carried forward by Russia and China.

Thomas Docherty: Given that we cannot fully track where UK donations are going, may I press the Foreign Secretary to explain how we are ensuring that they are not ending up in the hands of jihadist forces?

Mr Hague: The first thing to say is that our assistance is non-lethal. We are providing to the opposition equipment such as generators, communications equipment, water purification kits and things of that kind. We make every effort to track such equipment and ensure that we know where it is going, but as I have explained to the House before, the risks that we take in this area are outweighed by the risk of not giving any assistance to such groups and to civilian populations in Syria, who are in a dire situation. The balance of risk suggests that we should give assistance to them.

Mrs Glindon: Can the Secretary of State say what progress he is making with the Governments of Russia and China on their position, which is clearly proving a stumbling block to action by the UN Security Council?

Mr Hague: We continue to try to make such progress. I and all the EU’s Foreign Ministers met the Russian Foreign Minister two weeks ago for a further discussion about this in Luxembourg. There is no change in the position of Russia as things stand, which is a tragedy for Syrians and the world. In fact, since the last attempt to pass a chapter VII resolution was vetoed by Russia and China, more than 13,000 people are thought to have died. This is a major block on our diplomatic progress. In the absence of that, we are giving non-lethal support to the opposition, we are the second largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, we work with

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other nations to prepare for the day after Assad and we continue to assist the opposition in coming together as a more coherent force.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as I suggested at the time, it was really a mistake for the west to encourage a civilian rebellion against the dictatorship in Syria? That rebellion has been joined by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the jihadists and al-Qaeda, among others, while the Alawite regime is being supported by the Christians, the Kurds, the Druze and Russia. As I predicted, this has become a secular civil war and it is already threatening the stability of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Given that the United Nations route has failed, that even Governor Romney has ruled out military intervention, and that the Russians are seriously concerned to prevent the conflict from spreading to the Caucasus, surely the time has come for my right hon. Friend to make further bilateral suggestions to Russia to find a joint approach that will end the bloodshed.

Mr Hague: I can assure my right hon. Friend that there has been no shortage of bilateral and multilateral suggestions being made by us to Russia. I will pick him up on something that he said at the beginning of his question, when he implied that we in the west had encouraged a rebellion in Syria. That rebellion did not require any encouragement from western nations. That was the people of Syria rising up against an oppressive regime, and they did so without any incitement from western leaders of any kind. There is the sectarian tension and conflict to which my right hon. Friend refers, as well as a genuine desire to get rid of an oppressive and tyrannical regime.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): But is it not the sad truth that Syria is bleeding to death because of a military stalemate in which the insurgency is incapable of bringing down the Assad regime and the Assad regime is incapable of putting down the insurgency? May I suggest that the only way to break down that military stalemate is to break down the political stalemate at the United Nations? Do not recent events in Lebanon serve to underline the fact that the risk to regional stability is now very considerable? Is it not in the interests of Russia and others to seek to bring an end to the political stalemate?

Mr Hague: My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. I hope that if any good can come of the events in Lebanon, they will serve as a fresh wake-up call to the world about the dangers of the Syrian conflict. This is not a containable crisis. A regime is waging war against its own people, and the longer it goes on, the more extreme will be the forces that are drawn into it, which is the very thing that Russia says it is worried about. We warned about all those dangers when we called on the United Nations Security Council to act, and those predictions have so far been proven to be true. Of course we will continue to work on this at the United Nations and to support Mr Brahimi, as I have said, while in the meantime doing all that we can to alleviate suffering inside Syria and on its borders.

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the political programme coming from the Syrian resistance movement?

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Mr Hague: There is a variety of political programmes from a variety of opposition groups. I pay tribute to the people I have met, some of whom have come out of Syria to tell us about their experience, for the extraordinary courage and determination that they have shown in the face of overwhelming odds in trying to fight and work for a better society in Syria. However, they do need a more coherent programme for transition, and it is important for them to make every effort to win over the middle ground of Syrian opinion. That includes minorities, Christians and the business community, who need to know that there can be a change to something better than the Assad regime.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I have listened with care to the answer that the Foreign Secretary has just offered, but it is worth bearing in mind that it is now more than 18 months since the beginning of the popular uprising and that neither unity nor a credible opposition plan has yet emerged from the Syrian opposition movement. The right hon. Gentleman referred in a previous answer to the Doha meeting as the next significant step, but would he accept that that meeting has already been postponed? Will he set out what practical steps can be taken with partners in the regions to try to effect the unity that has so far proved elusive?

Mr Hague: Yes, it is true that that meeting has been postponed, and there have been many meetings with Syrian opposition groups. It is, of course, not possible or desirable for people in other countries, including our country, to try to impose on them any particular programme. The whole point is that Syria’s future should be for Syrians to decide, so they have to take the decisive steps to come together with a coherent platform. Our special representative works with them on a daily, usually an hourly, basis, and our pressure on them for the forthcoming meeting is co-ordinated with the United States, France, Turkey and leading Arab nations. It is very clear that the Syrians know that the world is looking to them to come together in a more effective way.

Mr Alexander: Does the Foreign Secretary accept that there is a relationship between whether such a transition plan emerges and the capacity of the international community to break the diplomatic logjam that we have heard about already in the course of our questions? If there are to be further discussions with the Russians and the Chinese in particular, which I sincerely hope there will be, the emergence of a credible transition plan is going to be one of the bases on which the optics of that conversation can be changed from the last 18-month stalemate.

Mr Hague: Yes, that is quite right. I would not want the right hon. Gentleman or the House to think that it would necessarily bring about an end to that diplomatic stalemate, but it is one of the necessary ingredients, and it is one of the arguments of Russian leaders that the opposition is divided and that there is no single interlocutor with which to deal. It would indeed be very advantageous to remove that argument in trying to bring peace and stability to Syria. I think we are all very conscious of that, and will be very conscious of it over the coming months, and that, indeed, this has gone on for 19 months

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in total and more than 30,000 people have died. We will continue our work for a peaceful, sustainable transition in Syria.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Given that over 30,000 people have died in this struggle, does my right hon. Friend share my view that the most important thing is for the opposition groups to come together and offer the Syrian people what they really want—the hope of a better future?

Mr Hague: Yes, absolutely. Again, I want to pay tribute to many people who risk their lives to support the opposition and to many who have worked in the Syrian National Council, for instance, to set out a clear intention to create a better future for their country, but it is now important that they come together in a more effective way. I have often explained to them that in the history of this country when we have faced an existential threat, all parties have come together on a common programme. Syria now faces an existential threat to any peaceful or stable future; it has to do the same.

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): If, in the right hon. Gentleman’s answers to questions, I have detected a change of tone from the previous insistence on regime change above all else, may I welcome that? Will he explain his own view that what we are faced with is a civil war—a civil war not just at the present time, with around a third of the people backing the barbarity of Assad out of fear of something worse from Sunni domination, but the continuation of a civil war following a simple collapse of the regime? What we therefore need is his insistence on a transitional Government.

Mr Hague: Since I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the need for a transitional Government, I do not want to disappoint him too much in respect of the start of his question. It is not that the western world has set out on regime change in Syria, but it is certainly our analysis, and it has been for a long time, that peace cannot be brought to Syria without the departure of President Assad. There is no viable peace; there is no peace that the people of Syria would accept without that. I am not changing tone or policy on that. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right about the need for a transitional Government. We agreed in Geneva at the end of June—with Russia, China and all other leading nations—about the need for that. What we do not have is the active participation of Russia in bringing about such a transitional Government.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Does the Secretary of State have any reports about the growing anti-west resentment and feeling by the Syrian people in the opposition as a result of the west not doing enough to protect them?

Mr Hague: As my hon. Friend will know, there is a great variety of views. I find that there is enormous gratitude for what we have done and what we try to do diplomatically, and for the huge amount of humanitarian assistance that is provided, but yes, there are also members of Syrian opposition groups who would like us to do something different, and who would like a military intervention from outside. As I have explained to the House before, we do not rule out any options. We do

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not know how the situation will develop. However, for reasons that I have given the House many times before, it is very different from the situation in Libya last year.


5. Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): What his policy is on proposals to give Palestine enhanced status at the UN. [125213]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): No application for enhanced status is currently before the United Nations. The whole House supports the right of the Palestinian people to have a state of their own: that state cannot come soon enough for them, and for the peace and stability of the region. We support a sovereign Palestinian state on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital and a just settlement for refugees, and we will judge any proposal at the UN on whether it advances that goal.

Mr Brown: Following the announcement from President Abbas that the Palestinian authorities will be seeking observer status at the United Nations, can the Foreign Secretary give the House any kind of assurance that the Government intend to support such a bid?

Mr Hague: : The hon. Gentleman is right: President Abbas has stated that intention. However, no proposal is currently before the UN. In our view, the priority is for the United States—after the election, obviously, and whoever is successful—to lead a major push to restart negotiations and arrive at a two-state solution. The opportunity to do that is slipping away, and may have slipped away completely within another year or two. For the present US Administration it is absolutely crucial, and we have already said that to President Obama and to Governor Romney. Any decision on votes at the UN must be made on the basis of actual proposals.

I think the hon. Gentleman will infer from what I am saying that we believe that actual negotiations would be infinitely preferable to divisive symbolic gestures, and we are advising President Abbas not to go down the path of tabling such a resolution at the moment.

Mr Speaker: Order. We need to speed up a bit. We have a lot to get through.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): We all want to see significant progress towards a two-state solution, but does the Foreign Secretary agree that any attempt by the Palestinians to declare unilateral statehood might provide an obstacle to the opening up of real negotiations, without preconditions, with the Israelis?

Mr Hague: We will only arrive at a two-state solution through successful negotiations. It is therefore very important that the Israelis and Palestinians are prepared to enter into those negotiations, and, as I have said, that the United States is ready to put its full weight behind them in 2013, after the presidential election. That is the way forward. I think that if the Israelis and Palestinians or the United States fail to do that, we shall enter into a new and even more dangerous situation.

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18. [125227] Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): If President Abbas did present proposals to the UN within the next month for Palestine to be accorded observer status, and if the UN General Assembly approved them, would that not constitute an important statement by the international community of the primacy of a two-state solution, and would it not have the potential to break the diplomatic impasse?

Mr Hague: That is a hypothetical question. Of course it could be argued that it would be a very important statement. As I have said, I think that Members on both sides of the House believe in the importance of bringing about a Palestinian state, but if that cut across the ability of a re-elected or new US Administration to put its full weight behind this, and if it made Israelis less likely to enter into constructive negotiations in the coming months, it would take us further away from our goal rather than nearer to it.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): But what other options are available to the Palestinian people as they see a programme of settlement building increasingly closing the door on the physical possibility of a Palestinian state?

Mr Hague: That is an understandable question. As my hon. Friend knows, we have condemned the expansion of settlements. The settlements are what is bringing about the urgency of the issue, because they are making a two-state solution in the coming years less feasible. However, I reiterate that the best hope of achieving a solution is a major push by the United States in the coming months and over the coming year. Everything else is second best to that.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): But what progress has the Foreign Secretary made by failing to adopt a position on this matter?

Mr Hague: I do not think we are short of positions on this matter, and I have just explained the Government’s position on it. It is one of the great foreign policy frustrations for this country and for people across the world, but as we know, and as all previous Administrations have known, there is not a magic or overnight solution to it. The solution is negotiations on a two-state solution, and we now have an opportunity to make a major push for that. If that does not happen, we will be in a new and more dangerous situation, and that will require many nations to reconsider their approach.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government policy is as set out by the Prime Minister in his excellent recent United Jewish Israel Appeal speech, when he made it clear that there is no substitute for face-to-face negotiations without preconditions and that the United Kingdom Government would not support a premature move to statehood at the United Nations?

Mr Hague: As I have explained, we believe it is very important to return to those negotiations—and my hon. Friend can be assured that Government policy is always as it is set out by the Prime Minister.

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Occupied Palestinian Territories

7. Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What legal advice he has received on the banning of all imports from illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. [125215]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): I have neither sought nor received any legal advice on this issue, because the policy of successive UK Governments has been not to ban the import of settlement produce, but to support the policy of voluntary labelling to ensure consumers are fully informed.

Mr Bradshaw: Has the Minister seen today’s report from 22 Churches and charities, showing that we in Europe import 15 times more from the Israeli settlements than from the Palestinians? Is he also aware of the growing body of international legal opinion that all trade with the illegal settlements is itself unlawful? Will he therefore now seek that legal advice, so we in this House can be confident that Britain is following its obligations?

Alistair Burt: I have seen the report and I note that one of its main recommendations is to commend the United Kingdom on its policy of voluntary labelling and to encourage other European Union countries to do the same. There is active consideration in the EU about doing just that, and we are taking part in that. So far, however, I have not seen anything that would lead us to change our policy in relation to boycotts, but I will, of course, look at all the recommendations in the report.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Will the Minister give the House his opinion of the apparent legal inequality between children who live in settlements in the west bank and Palestinian children, who do not?

Alistair Burt: As my hon. Friend and other Members will be aware, there has for some time been concern about the legal rights of Palestinian children in particular. The UK Government part-sponsored a recent independent report looking into these issues. We remain concerned about the inequalities, and I have drawn these issues to the attention of Israeli Ministers when I have had the opportunity to do so.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that one-sided boycotts and sanctions will not resolve this complex and tragic issue, and does he applaud the fact that life-saving Israeli pharmaceuticals will now be made more generally available across Europe?

Alistair Burt: Yes, I do broadly agree with the hon. Lady. Successive Governments have not followed a boycotts policy because that would put at risk the relationship we wish to retain with Israel. A recent change in EU pharmaceuticals legislation will help the products she mentions to be made available, but as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has just said, such things are also caught up in the need for an overall solution to the problems between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. All the issues raised will not be settled until that

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happens. That is why we must urgently address the search for a solution in the way the Foreign Secretary has just outlined. These issues will only be resolved then.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the way to solve the settlement problem is to have direct, final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and that any academic, cultural or trade boycott will simply prove counter-productive and will damage this country’s ability to move the peace process forward?

Alistair Burt: Yes, and I hope I conveyed exactly that in my previous remarks.

Oil and Gas (Cyprus)

8. Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the political consequences in the middle east of the exploration for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus. [125216]

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The discovery of oil and gas resources has the potential to bring greater prosperity and energy security to the region. We hope that all countries in the region will work to overcome their differences to develop those resources in a mutually beneficial way.

Jim Sheridan: I thank the Minister for that response. He will be aware that Cyprus has moved on from olive oil to crude oil, and there are genuine concerns among all Cypriot people that the illegal occupying forces in the north may wish to assist the exploration of that oil against the best wishes of the Cypriot people. If that were to happen, what options would be open to the UK Government, given that we are a governing power and we do have a significant military presence on the island?

Mr Lidington: We have repeatedly stated publicly our acceptance that the Republic of Cyprus has sovereign rights to exploit its mineral reserves within its exclusive economic zone. We think that the prospect of the greater prosperity that would flow from the successful exploitation of hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean is one of many reasons why it is in the interests of Cyprus—all communities in Cyprus—of Turkey and of Greece to reach a settlement to the maritime disputes in that region and a final settlement to the Cyprus question, too.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Given the stalling of the political search for a solution to the Cyprus problem, does not this exciting prospect of the exploration of hydrocarbon reserves highlight both that Britain has an important role as a guarantor power in ensuring that these are resources for the whole island of Cyprus, and that reunification of the island is an economic necessity for Cyprus and the greater region?

Mr Lidington: It is certainly important that these resources are seen as being developed for the benefit of all communities in Cyprus, not just for one section of the population there. Any settlement that endures in Cyprus has to have the wholehearted consent of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. That is

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why, although we want to support the work towards a settlement, it is right that that process towards—we hope—a final settlement has to be Cypriot-led.

Shaker Aamer

9. Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): What recent representations he has made on behalf of Shaker Aamer; and if he will make a statement. [125217]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I have raised Mr Aamer’s case numerous times with Secretary Clinton and, in June, my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary and I made representations to Secretary Panetta. Any decision regarding Mr Aamer’s release remains in the hands of the United States Government.

Jane Ellison: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that reply and for the work that he and Ministers have undertaken on behalf of Mr Aamer’s family in Battersea. Obviously, the next months offer a window of opportunity, as there will be a change of personnel, even if there is not a change of Administration. Can the Foreign Secretary assure me that he will continue to seek waivers, particularly to the National Defence Authorisation Act, with counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic?

Mr Hague: Yes, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on this issue. Senior US officials have confirmed that the National Defence Authorisation Act 2012 has the potential to make Mr Aamer’s release more likely than the Act of the previous year, but no releases have yet taken place under that Act and the criteria for the national security waiver remain unclear. We will certainly be pursuing this with the re-elected or incoming US Administration.


10. Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): What steps his Department is taking to ensure the continuing education of girls in Afghanistan following the military draw-down. [125218]

14. Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to ensure the continuing education of girls in Afghanistan following the military draw-down. [125222]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): The United Kingdom can be proud of the role it is playing in ensuring that more than 2 million girls are now in school in Afghanistan. At the Tokyo conference in July, the Afghan Government reconfirmed their commitment to the rights of women and children. My right hon. Friend Baroness Warsi made the point again during her visit to Afghanistan in the past couple of weeks and got a further assurance from the Afghan Government.

Meg Hillier: I thank the Minister for his answer. Last week’s International Development Committee report said that the status of women and girls in Afghanistan would be the “litmus test” of whether we have succeeded in improving the lives of ordinary Afghans. What is

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his assessment of the Afghan High Peace Council’s commitment to include women in Afghanistan’s political process?

Alistair Burt: There are already a number of women in the Afghan Parliament; some 31% of Afghan Members of Parliament are women, and there is a clear commitment in the declared aims of the Government, which they reaffirmed to the United Kingdom as part of our enhanced strategic partnership on the rights of women. The truth is of course that the cultural issues are extremely difficult, and we will continue to press them and to work with the elements in Afghanistan who wish to see continuous progress. I do not think any of us can disguise the fact that it is not easy, but there are elements in Afghanistan who clearly want to see progress.

Yvonne Fovargue: While mainstreaming women’s rights and status is important, what specific projects have the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or colleagues in the Department for International Development, funded?

Alistair Burt: We fund a variety of projects through our conflict pool to encourage the participation of women in the political process, through elections and education and through supporting particular women’s rights advocacy groups, and to assist in their work in the media. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID do that work collectively, and we do it multilaterally with other international agencies.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Did the Minister see the important article in TheSunday Times this weekend, which made it clear that after 2014 the Taliban will be targeting all the progressive steps that have been taken, and will he therefore seek to open the Government’s mind a little more to the prospect of trying to preserve those gains by supporting the concept of a strategic base in the area after 2014 for international security assistance forces?

Alistair Burt: How the use of forces will be made after 2014 is still to be considered. My hon. Friend has made this plea before. I would say in response to his point about the Taliban that one of the most significant events in recent weeks has been the public response to the Taliban in Pakistan, in support of the young girl Malala and her right to education. Bearing in mind the links between the Taliban in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, that assertion by the people of Pakistan of the importance of women’s rights and women’s education may be the best response we have yet seen to the demands of the Taliban, and a consideration that they may not be accepted by the people themselves, which would be the best guarantor of women’s rights in the future.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): The education of girls is of course very laudable, but does the Minister agree that the main reason we are in Afghanistan is to deny that country being used as a base by international terrorists?

Alistair Burt: Yes. The reason we are in Afghanistan is for both our national security and theirs, and to ensure that the use that was made of Afghanistan’s territory in the past is not made in the future. That is why we have been there; our forces have done a remarkable

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job and so have the development workers. They will continue their work post-2014 to ensure as best they can the future stability of that country for its own security and for the security of the rest of us.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): As the Minister rightly identified, since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 the number of girls going to school has risen from fewer than 5,000 to 2.2 million. That is an achievement Britain can be proud of. Maintaining that progress is crucial, both to the development and the future security of Afghanistan, so what initiatives is he taking with the Government of Afghanistan and, equally importantly, with neighbouring powers to ensure that progress continues after the draw-down of ISAF?

Alistair Burt: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the progress that has been made. There are two things in response. The first is the Tokyo international agreement in July; the United Kingdom has been asked by Afghanistan to co-chair the first review of it in 2014. It is a series of commitments made by the Afghanistan Government in relation to a variety of matters, such as social and economic development, including the rights of women. In addition, the enhanced strategic partnership that the Prime Minister signed with President Karzai in January this year also includes commitments on women’s rights, and we will be looking to ensure that those rights are confirmed in the future as our development support continues.

UK Exports

12. Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): What progress his Department has made in its efforts to support UK exports. [125220]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): My Department is supporting UK growth and helping to realise our ambition to double UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020. We have a good story to tell. We are transforming the level of commercial awareness in the Department through secondments and training. We are supporting small and medium-sized enterprises exporting to emerging markets, including helping them to manage the risks involved, through our overseas business risk service.

Laura Sandys: My thanks to the Minister. I am very pleased that the Foreign Office is taking such a leading role in our trade efforts and that UK Trade and Investment held a successful event in my constituency. What other steps are we taking to expand missions in our embassies and the appreciation of trade on the ground?

Mr Swire: My hon. Friend raises a very important point, which is getting hon. Members to understand that the facility is available. The more people who do, the better we can export. We have UKTI, and small and medium-sized enterprises will take part in its export week from 12 to 16 November, when more than 100 events will be organised across the UK. We have the overseas business risk service, and members of my Department spoke to members of the Kent international trade office on 18 October about the help that the Foreign Office can offer. I am glad that it is working with her, but I urge right hon. and hon. Members across

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the House to make use of the facilities for their local small and medium-sized enterprises. We can help—we are here to help—and if Members have any problems and encounter difficulties, my office door is always open.

22. [125231] Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): Despite what the Minister said, exports of goods in the second quarter continued to fall, and the £10.2 billion trade deficit in June was the worst since 1997. UK exporters tell me that the increasingly isolationist rhetoric by members of the Government has done little to develop the notion that Britain is open for business, and suggests that the Government just want to be alone.

Mr Swire: I do not know how to respond to that. It may have escaped the hon. Gentleman’s notice that there has been a bit of economic turbulence in the eurozone, which is an important market for us. The network shift over which the Foreign Office is presiding involves more people in more places, particularly in emerging and re-emerging markets. We are opening up 11 new embassies, and eight new British consulates and trade offices. We are redeploying 300 extra staff in more than 20 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. If that is his definition of isolationism, it is not mine.


13. Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): What discussions he has had with his international counterparts on sectarian violence in Rakhine state in Burma. [125221]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): Yesterday, I called the Burmese chargé d’affaires into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss our serious concerns about the violence in Rakhine state. This follows the meeting of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with Burma’s Foreign Minister in New York in September, and my own meetings during the UN General Assembly. There is an urgent need for an end to the violence, for the Burmese authorities to ensure security in the region, and for humanitarian access.

Jonathan Ashworth: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Given the levels of sectarian violence that have unfolded in recent days, particularly against the Rohingya community, but also against all communities, with thousands of homes destroyed and thousands of people displaced, and people being killed, do we not need the clearest possible assurances from the Burmese Government that they will end the violence, ensure an end to impunity and work with the UN to address the underlying causes of the tension in that region?

Mr Swire: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing a Westminster Hall debate on the Rohingya community a few weeks ago. It is worth pointing out that any suggestion that the violence has been orchestrated by the Burmese Government is erroneous. We look forward to hearing from their independent investigation commission, which will shortly report on what has caused the violence. In early October, the British ambassador led the first independent diplomatic mission to Rakhine state to meet key leaders and visit camps

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sheltering internally displaced people from both communities. I am pleased to say that we are doing a lot on aid, but we need this to be settled, as it is extremely worrying to everyone who is following these events.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Burma’s failure to address the welfare of the Rohingya people and, indeed, Bangladesh’s failure to recognise them at all, means that they are virtually stateless. Will the Minister ensure that he takes a bilateral approach to the problem, so that we can secure the safety of people in Rakhine state?

Mr Swire: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. The British high commission in Dhaka, along with our EU partners, has had regular conversations on the matter. It is important to talk to Bangladesh, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to Sheikh Hasina, as has the Prime Minister. It is important on two counts: first, to ensure that those people receive humanitarian aid on the Bangladeshi border and, secondly, that people are allowed free movement across the border, because there is a serious humanitarian problem there.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): With reports by Human Rights Watch of major human rights violations, along with the displacement and the killing of 78 people, what action has the Foreign Secretary taken to secure international pressure on the Burmese Government, because previous representations have clearly not worked, and we need urgent action?

Mr Swire: I do not think that that is particularly fair on the Burmese Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I discussed these matters extensively in New York. We await the report from the Burmese Government, and our ambassador has been to the area. We think that the Burmese Government are doing what they can with their army and police. Inter-communal violence has gone on for a number of years in that part of the world, as the hon. Lady will be aware. The matter needs to be resolved, not least the issue of citizenship for the Rohingya people.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent support for a review of the 1982 Citizenship Act which, as we have already heard, is one of the underlying factors rendering the Rohingya stateless. It is also important that Bangladesh is brought into discussions about citizenships. Will the Minister tell the House what efforts are being made to bring those parties to the table?

Mr Swire: The hon. Lady is right. I alluded to that in my earlier remarks. We think citizenship is important. We have been pressing for many years for the Burmese Government to recognise this. The Foreign Secretary raised the matter with his opposite number back in September. On Bangladesh, yes, again the hon. Lady is right. Bangladesh does have a role to play. The first thing is to solve and to stop the violence that flared up again as recently as a few days ago. That must come to an end. We must make sure that there is proper humanitarian access and that aid gets in to those people who are displaced and homeless, and then we must see the report that comes out from the Burmese Government.

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Certainly, any long-term solution needs to address the long-standing issue that has too often been ignored about the right of those people to have a state. That needs to be resolved in the round. I wholly concur with the hon. Lady’s remarks.

Topical Questions

T1. [125232] Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): Tomorrow we will welcome the President of Indonesia on a state visit. We are intensifying our diplomatic and economic links across south-east Asia. As well as having one of the world’s most thriving economies, Indonesia is in the vanguard of the political change shaping Asia, and this visit will be an opportunity for us to build on the strong partnership established over the past decade.

Huw Irranca-Davies: For nearly a decade I have been a supporter and patron of the Bereaved Families Forum Parents Circle, a grass-roots organisation which brings reconciliation and tolerance in Israel and the Palestinian territories. May I ask the Secretary of State or his Minister to pay tribute to this organisation and, at his earliest convenience on their next visit to the UK, to meet me and members of the group to discuss their work and how they can be further supported?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): Yes, I can indeed commend the hon. Gentleman for his work with that group, which we know and think very well of. Its members do a difficult job trying to bring together people from both sides of the divide through their grief. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and members of the group when it is convenient for both of us.

T3. [125237] Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): Like many others in the House, I welcome the Government’s efforts to keep the EU budget in check. Will my right hon. Friend be taking any lessons on that from the past example or present policy of the Labour party?

Mr Hague: That would be a strange thing to take any lessons from, because when the shadow Foreign Secretary was Minister for Europe, the Labour Government signed away £7 billion of the British rebate with nothing in return. It is notable that last year Labour MEPs voted against a budget freeze in Europe because they wanted an increase instead. It is also notable that in the time that the shadow Chancellor was a Treasury adviser and in the Cabinet, the annual EU budget increased by no less than 47%.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): Let me return to the subject of Europe, but its relationship with Iran. I associate myself with the latest round of sanctions that have been imposed. Given the imminence of the elections in the United States, what does the Foreign Secretary regard as being the next steps in the diplomatic engagement on the

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nuclear issue with Iran? In particular, following a rather well-sourced, I understand, piece in

The New York Times

last week, how does he judge the prospects for bilateral discussions between the United States and Iran on this issue?

Mr Hague: The United States and Iran have both denied the prospects, let alone the existence, of such bilateral talks. The next step is for the E3 plus 3 nations, of which we are one, to consider what we can do in any further negotiations with Iran. Our experts are meeting on this. Of course, it is necessary for the US elections to be completed before any further round of negotiations can take place. We are open to those negotiations. We are considering whether to amend our approach in any way, but it remains the case that for them to be successful, Iran would have to engage with those negotiations in a much more meaningful way than before. In the absence of that, we have agreed intensified sanctions on Iran in the European Union, and I want Iran to know that as long as these negotiations are not successful, we will go on intensifying the sanctions pressure upon it.

T4. [125238] Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): For over a decade the United Kingdom has supported Sierra Leone, both financially and through military involvement. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will do all he can to ensure that next month’s elections in Sierra Leone are free and fair?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important matter and can assure him that we are monitoring events carefully. For the edification of the House, the elections in Sierra Leone are on 17 November. All parties have completed their nomination procedures, political supporters have been active, there has been no serious trouble so far, thankfully, and the electoral institutions are making progress, but I acknowledge that there is more to do. The Department for International Development has a programme for the electoral cycle, from 2010 to 2014, and the high commission is engaged with the political leaders and, on election day, will provide a team of observers to ensure that the elections are free and fair.

T2. [125234] Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): In the earlier discussion on Syria we did not talk about the refugees, but of course hundreds of thousands of people, both internally and in neighbouring countries, are now homeless and face a desperate situation. What are we and the international community doing to assist them?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to draw attention to that. There are now up to 350,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, about 1.2 million people are thought to be internally displaced in Syria and about 2.5 million need humanitarian assistance. It is a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis that will only get worse in the coming months. The United Kingdom is the second largest bilateral donor to the relief effort. We have so far given £39.5 million and consideration is being given to what further assistance we can give. We are also helping

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directly as well as through UN agencies, particularly in Jordan, so we are doing everything we can to alleviate the suffering in the crisis.

T5. [125239] Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): In the past three months our exports to the EU fell by 7.3% while our exports to the rest of the world rose by 13.2%. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Britain’s future relies on strong trading relationships with the emerging economies that were largely neglected by the Labour party?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we are opening the 19 embassies and consulates to which the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), just referred. We are determined to expand Britain’s market share in the fastest-growing economies. In the past two years, from August 2010 to August 2012, we have seen an increase in our exports to China of 46%, to South Korea of 69% and to Thailand, which I will visit next week, of 118%.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): The civil war in Syria and the estimated 100,000 refugees are having a seriously debilitating impact on Lebanon and remind us of the horrors that took place in that country between 1975 and 1990. What steps are the Government taking, through the international community, to try to return some stability to that country?

Mr Hague: Again, that is an absolutely crucial issue. It is not a containable crisis, as I said earlier, and the impact on Lebanon is the starkest and most worrying example of that. We are working closely with the authorities in Lebanon. After the recent bomb outrage, the Prime Minister spoke immediately to the Prime Minister of Lebanon to urge stability, and our ambassador there is very active. We have increased the assistance we give directly to the Lebanese armed forces and, of course, much of the humanitarian assistance we are giving is going to Lebanon.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the EU annual budget and multi-annual framework increased at least a dozen times while Labour was in power but that to accuse that Government of being responsible for all those complex and EU-wide budget increases would be as simplistic and opportunistic as the attack made by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) on this Government yesterday?

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I think that we have to judge the previous Government on the basis of what they actually did while in office. The fact remains that they took decisions that conceded the loss of a quarter of the United Kingdom’s hard-won rebate and left us with a current financial framework for the EU that was £13 billion over what they said in office would be the maximum they would accept. They let our country down, and they let it down badly.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): What contact has the Foreign Secretary had with the Government of Turkey concerning the ongoing hunger strikes of Kurdish political prisoners and the demand for the release of

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Ocalan so that there can be negotiations on a future for the Kurdish people in Turkey whereby their language and their culture will be fully recognised in accordance with the recommendations of the Council of Europe?

Mr Lidington: We always try to make it clear in our conversations with the Turkish Government at both ministerial and official level that it is important that Turkey continues to make progress towards political reform and full implementation of the rule of law measures that we all want to see. I hope that the discussions between the Turkish political parties on a new constitution take us several steps forward. I would be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman further about the particular case that he has described.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend update the House on developments in Somalia?

Mr Hague: Yes, absolutely. We welcome the election of a new President of Somalia, to whom I spoke directly after his election. The new Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), has already visited Somalia with the International Development Secretary. Important progress has been made since the London conference on Somalia, with a reduction in piracy, al-Shabaab in military retreat, and now a new and legitimate President. The United Kingdom will continue its strong support for these developments and the international leadership that we have given in relation to them. We will place just as much emphasis on Somalia in the coming year as we have in the past year.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): What assessment has been made of the monitoring report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on the outcome of the Ukrainian parliamentary elections?

Mr Lidington: We have had a preliminary report from the observers that indicates a number of shortcomings. We hope that in the remaining stages of the electoral process, in any appeals that follow, and, crucially, in how the Ukrainian Government conduct themselves after the elections, we will not see the wholesale democratic backsliding that we fear and that would set back Ukraine’s relationship with Europe.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): Many emerging economies such as China are showing significant interest in investing in energy projects off the East Anglian coast. Will the Minister outline his plans, working with other Departments, to maximise these trade opportunities to create jobs?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): Indeed we can do that. We are in a good position with China at the moment, not least following our acceptance of the very important investment of companies such as Huawei, which places us very well to take in further investment. We have been talking about exports, but it is worth pointing out that the flipside of the coin for this country is inward investment, with some £250 billion-worth of opportunities in our infrastructure between now and 2020. We do need Chinese investment. We need investment from around

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the world, and we welcome that. If my hon. Friend has good examples in his constituency, that is all to the good.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Kelvin Hopkins. [Interruption.] I thought that the hon. Gentleman wanted to ask a question. Well, it will have to wait for another time; fair enough. I call Mr David Winnick.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I hope that the nation will appreciate that, Mr Speaker.

Is it not of interest that both United States presidential candidates have emphasised in the debates that took place between them their support for sanctions rather than any military strike against the Iranian regime? Does not that very largely express the mood in the United States, let alone here, that warmongering, which unfortunately some people are involved in—certainly not the Foreign Secretary—would be wrong and counter-productive?

Mr Hague: Both candidates in the presidential debates have, yes, been talking about the policy that I have been talking about in this House. I am sure that the two candidates for President of the United States are the experts on the mood in the United States more than any of us can possibly be here. Our approach, and that of the United States, is based on sanctions and negotiations. The United States is part of the E3 plus 3 nations that I have been talking about, and its sanctions are as strict as anyone’s, so it clearly believes in this approach.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Is there not a democratic imbalance—I know that the Foreign Secretary will agree with this question and so give a good answer—in allowing every 16-year-old in Scotland to vote on whether to remain in the Union while ensuring that no one in this country under the age of 55 has ever had a chance to vote on whether we should stay in the European Union?

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Mr Hague: Since my hon. Friend seems to know that I will agree with him, I am not sure why I am bothering to answer to question, but the rules of the House require me to do so.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Tell that to the Prime Minister.

Mr Speaker: Order. Mr Bryant, calm yourself. I am worried about you—you are supposed to be a statesman.

Mr Hague: That does not mean that I am going to give a very full or enlightening answer. My hon. Friend is comparing apples with oranges when he talks about the voting age in one referendum and the time elapsed since another referendum. I am sure that he appreciates that.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In Azerbaijan there is continuing arbitrary detention, torture and trumped-up charges against human rights defenders, journalists and now even YouTube uploaders. What active interest is the Government taking in relation to a number of recent and current cases in the courts?

Mr Lidington: We raise both general concerns and individual cases in the regular conversations between our ambassador and the Azeri authorities. I also do so myself when I have what are quite frequent conversations with the Azeri Foreign Minister.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but as I have said before this is a box office occasion and I hope that colleagues disappointed this time will not be disappointed next time.

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Winterbourne View

12.35 pm

Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement on the steps the Government have taken to ensure the safeguarding of former Winterbourne View residents.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Norman Lamb): The review into the abuse at Winterbourne View hospital, established by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), set out 14 actions to transform care and support. Central to the review is ensuring the safety and well-being of these very vulnerable people. I shall publish the final report before the end of November.

When Winterbourne View closed, NHS commissioners put in place independent clinical and managerial supervision and commissioned an independent assessment of every patient. The Care Quality Commission worked with commissioners to relocate Winterbourne View patients to suitable alternative placements.

In March, the Department of Health review team commissioned NHS South of England to follow up the 48 patients who had been in Winterbourne View, and there was a further review in September. The first review in March revealed that 19 former patients were the subject of safeguarding alerts. In response to this, officials asked commissioners to take appropriate action and confirmed that a follow-up would take place in six months’ time. I was extremely concerned to be informed that this follow-up had revealed that there are current safeguarding alerts for six former patients. I am assured that these are all being followed up to ensure the safety and well-being of the individuals concerned. That is extremely important. Furthermore, the September follow-up exercise revealed that 32 Winterbourne patients were now living in the community in their own family homes, in supported living or in a residential care home, with 16 still living in hospital settings.

The priority is to improve commissioning to develop the good local services that will prevent people from being sent to hospital inappropriately. We are working closely with the NHS Commissioning Board, the Local Government Association and directors of social services on what support local services need. Although a small number of people will need hospital treatment, we expect to see—and, indeed, must see—a substantial reduction in the number of in-patients.

We intend to strengthen safeguarding arrangements to prevent and reduce the risk of abuse and neglect of adults in vulnerable situations. Where there are safeguarding concerns, the local safeguarding adults boards need to be closely involved. The boards will be placed on a statutory footing for the first time, ensuring a co-ordinated approach to local adult safeguarding work.

The Government will put in place the necessary legislation for safeguarding adults boards, and local councils should bring clarity to their roles and responsibilities, but it is the responsibility of the care provider—we must remember this—to ensure a culture of safety, dignity and respect for those in their care, including stopping abuse before it happens. Those providers must be held to account for the care that they provide.

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Liz Kendall: I thank the Minister for his statement, but there remain serious concerns about whether the Government have taken all necessary steps to ensure that the former patients of Winterbourne View are now receiving safe and effective care. Last night’s “Panorama” programme revealed that 19 patients have been subject to safeguarding alerts since leaving Winterbourne View. Not all those alerts mean that someone has been harmed, but “Panorama” said that one was due to an incident of assault and another had resulted in a criminal investigation. Is that an accurate reflection of the picture?

Have the families of all patients with a safeguarding alert been given the full details? What specific action has been taken as a result of the alerts, and can the Minister guarantee that the patients in question are all no longer at risk? Can he also guarantee that all local commissioners responsible for all the former Winterbourne View residents now have a proper plan in place to ensure that they receive good-quality care?

Has the Care Quality Commission recently inspected all the providers that former Winterbourne View patients were moved to, and are the Government confident of the CQC’s findings? Last night’s programme raised particular concerns about Postern House, which the CQC inspected in January this year following the Winterbourne View scandal. The CQC said that it met all the essential standards of quality and safety, and that suitable arrangements were in place to ensure that people were safeguarded against the risk of abuse, yet “Panorama” revealed a number of problems at Postern House over several years and the fact that a former Winterbourne View patient had a safeguarding incident there in June this year. Is the Minister confident that all patients currently in Postern House are safe from the risk of abuse?

The Minister rightly said that responsibility for the care of people with learning disabilities lies with providers, commissioners and the CQC, but it is Ministers who set policy and have responsibility for ensuring that it is implemented. The Government have a particular responsibility to ensure that former Winterbourne View patients never have to suffer from such appalling abuse again. Organisations such as Mencap are also very concerned that the Government are not moving quickly or strongly enough to end the practice of sending patients with learning disabilities to long-stay institutions far away from their family and friends.

The Minister must answer our questions about whether former Winterbourne View residents are all now guaranteed safe care, and he must urgently bring forward proposals to reform learning disability services properly for the future.

Norman Lamb: I thank the shadow Minister for asking the urgent question. The view is shared on both sides of the House that what “Panorama” exposed is utterly intolerable and has to come to an end. I am absolutely determined that when I make the Government’s final response by the end of November, it will be robust and clear so that everybody understands what has to happen.

When I came into my job, I heard briefings about the whole saga and how long it has gone on. For years and years, public money has been spent on putting people into inappropriate settings, often putting them at risk of

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abuse. That is a national scandal, and it has to end. I will be very clear about ensuring that we take robust and effective action.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that Ministers are here to set policy, and that is what I intend to do. Since my appointment, I have been working to ensure that we set the right policy to protect vulnerable individuals. She is right that they must never suffer from abuse. Of course, there is always the risk of rogue individuals who behave very badly, and they must be dealt with through the criminal law, as has been seen with Winterbourne View staff. I have also made the point that the corporate owners of such organisations must be held to account for things that go on in their homes if those homes have been neglected. I want to meet the parents of those who were at Winterbourne View to hear from them directly, and I will seek to make arrangements for that.

The hon. Lady mentioned the 19 safeguarding alerts. In fact, that intolerable figure was in March but by September, the number was down to six. She is right, of course, that not every safeguarding alert means that something awful is happening. It means that concerns have been raised, and it is important that people raise their concerns. I assure her that I will do everything I can to end this scandal and ensure that we have proper safeguarding arrangements in place.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the alerts are being actioned and dealt with? We know that on previous occasions, South Gloucestershire council and Avon and Somerset police received countless alerts, but if it had not been for the BBC and “Panorama”, we would never have found out about this issue. When I saw the programme last night, I was appalled that patients can be moved hundreds of miles without their families—and their parents in particular—being told. I thought that was an outrage.

Norman Lamb: My hon. Friend raises extremely important points. First, we must ensure that the alerting system works effectively. We are putting safeguarding boards on a statutory basis. That is important and means that all key players will have a part in ensuring that adults in vulnerable situations are kept safe. We must ensure that alerts always work effectively in the future.

My hon. Friend’s point about individuals being placed a long distance away from home is of absolute concern. It strikes me that if someone is placed far away from their community, in what is effectively a closed setting, conditions are created for potential abuse to take place. That has to stop.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that there can be no excuse for abuse in any setting at any time? Is there not a profound problem that many of our most vulnerable citizens up and down the country are looked after by people who are poorly trained, poorly qualified and paid the minimum wage for 12-hour shifts? Is that the underlying root of this problem?

Norman Lamb: First, it is important to make it clear that many highly dedicated care workers provide fantastic quality care for elderly people and other adults in

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vulnerable situations. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to address the fact that we need to raise standards across the board. We are working with Skills for Care to ensure there is a code of practice to implement proper standards, and that minimum training standards apply across the sector. We must also ensure that we keep people in good health and well-being in their own homes as much as possible, reducing the number of people who go into care and nursing homes. That will make it possible to spend more on those people who do need to go into a home, and ensure that standards are maintained at the right level.

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): As we learnt from Winterbourne View, the absence of safeguarding alerts is not necessarily a sign that everything is okay. Winterbourne View was receiving £3,500 a week for some of its residents, yet it was delivering very poor care and allowing its staff to abuse. In future, can we ensure that the contracts let by social service departments and the NHS are written not by the provider, but by those who are buying the service in the first place to get the right quality of care?

Norman Lamb: I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work in this area. He draws attention to the fact that there is a serious issue about the quality of commissioning and the work done by primary care trusts and, in some cases, local authorities. Too often, people seem to be placed in those settings and then to all intents are purposes forgotten about, which is not acceptable. Standards of commissioning and ensuring that contracts contain the right terms are extremely important.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that this whole dreadful saga—which he rightly describes as a national scandal—underlines the importance of self-advocacy for vulnerable people? In his legislation and any guidance that may follow from it, will he take steps to ensure that the voices of these most vulnerable people will be heard directly wherever possible?

Norman Lamb: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valuable point, and I would be happy to discuss that with him further. Too often in the past there has been a paternalist approach in which others have decided what is best for individuals. Hearing the voice of people with learning disabilities is absolutely central to getting this matter right.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): People who watched “Panorama” will know that a tall, flame-haired young man named Simon Tovey was one of the patients who suffered horrific abuse. His mother, Ann Earley, is my constituent, as is Simon, who has now returned to a lovely community care home in West Lavington. Mrs Earley believes that the views of parents in particular were not heard under the system—they knew for years the problems pertaining to Simon’s care. What reassurance can the Minister give to Mrs Earley, and the House, that the views of parents and other responsible adults will be included when seeking to avoid these tragedies in the future?

Norman Lamb: It struck me when I listened to the story of that family that I would like to meet them if they are interested in having that discussion. Just as it is essential that people with learning disabilities have their

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say, it is critical that the family is involved in the discussions before the commissioning takes place, so that they are partners in the decisions that are taken in respect of those individuals.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Can the Minister reassure the House that there are sufficient inspectors to go around those establishments during the day, during the evening and at night to ensure that standards are maintained?

Norman Lamb: Inspections are essential to ensure that we identify where problems exist. The role of the Care Quality Commission is critical in that respect. We need to do more to open up those establishments to public view. One role that the new local HealthWatch can take is to go into care homes, nursing homes and so on to see for itself. The more there is a culture of openness, the less likely it is that abuse will take place.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I commend to my hon. Friend the work of organisations such as the Swindon Advocacy Movement, which does so much work not only to advocate for service users, but to train volunteers, so that more adults with learning difficulties can stay in the communities in which they live, work and thrive. In that way, the nightmare scenario of Winterbourne View can be avoided in future.

Norman Lamb: I absolutely commend the work of the organisation to which the hon. Gentleman refers and would be interested to hear more about it. The scandal is that so many people over so many years have been put into institutions and ended up there for years when their care would be much more appropriate for their needs if it took place in their communities through supported living or in a care home. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) mentioned, the extraordinary thing is that we were spending public money—on average, £3,500 per patient in Winterbourne View—to put people at risk of abuse. Often, an appropriate care package costs less than that, and gives the individual the care they need in their own community.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I have raised with the Minister and his predecessor the problem that, often, the responsible authority does not know where people are placed. Families might have died since the placement, and yet there is no national audit of placements of people with learning disabilities, who are often placed a long way from their home. When the Minister returns to the House in November, will he ensure that there is an audit of where people are placed so that we can track them properly?

Norman Lamb: I shall certainly consider the hon. Lady’s point and am happy to discuss it further with her. At the end of the day, we must ensure that people in highly vulnerable situations are adequately protected. I want to ensure that all the steps we take are aimed at that goal.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): The Minister has mentioned raising the standard and quality of care providers. Will he consider the introduction of a starred grading system for care providers, so that we have

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absolute transparency on how well they are performing, and so that we know the most excellent care providers and the worst?

Norman Lamb: My hon. Friend raises an important point. One thing we are doing on the NHS Choices website is having quality indicators for every care home, nursing home and so on. That means that any individual looking for a care home for a loved one will be able to find out much more about the quality of the care that an organisation provides. In due course, the website will include user reviews, so that people who have experienced care in those homes will have their voices heard. That openness of information could have a transformational effect in driving up standards.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): It beggars belief that some of the vulnerable adults who were subjected to the most appalling and horrific abuse at Winterbourne View were moved to other providers where they were either abused—according to the “Panorama” allegations—or at risk of further abuse. Will the Minister reassure me that all local commissioners responsible for each of the former Winterbourne View residents have a proper plan in place to guarantee that they are now receiving safe and effective care?

Norman Lamb: I share the hon. Lady’s view on what has happened. We must make absolutely certain that every commissioner is held to account. My understanding is that proper arrangements are in place for all those individuals, but I will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that that remains the case. We must be alert to the interests of the 48 residents who were in Winterbourne View, but we must also focus our minds on the 1,500 people who are in settings of that sort—assessment to treatment centres—often for years. The interests of all those individuals are important.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): To put it bluntly, after all this, is the Minister still confident in the CQC and does he believe that it is fit for purpose?

Norman Lamb: I tend to the view that we have had too many changes of regulator over a number of years, and that continuity would be a good thing. An assessment of the CQC earlier this year indicated that it was on the right track. I have met the new chief executive and am reassured by the plans he has in place. It is seductive to believe always that it is an attractive proposition to abolish an organisation and set up a new one, but is there any more chance that a new organisation will be better? Let us therefore make the CQC work properly.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I welcome the Minister’s response—he is sincere in his desire to address these issues. Does he recognise the important role of whistleblowers? Does he have any information on concerns raised by whistleblowers in respect of the alternative provision before Winterbourne View patients were transferred?

Norman Lamb: The role of whistleblowers is central. Importantly, the Government have funded a whistleblowing helpline, which is available to any worker in the care sector—it covers all care homes. It is important that any worker at any stage feels they can raise their concerns

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with the relevant authorities so that they are properly investigated. What happened with the whistleblower at Winterbourne View was not acceptable, because their concerns were not taken up effectively.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I welcome the Minister’s statement. On inspection, can he clarify what provision exists for inspectors to speak to patients? How will that be further enhanced?

Norman Lamb: I am sure that inspectors can speak to patients, and that they routinely do so, but I will check on the important point the hon. Gentleman makes. We mentioned earlier the views of those with learning disabilities and their families, but it is essential that the regulator hears directly from them of their potential concerns.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I am not sure that the Minister has made his position clear. Is it his intention to end the appalling practice whereby vulnerable people can be transported to establishments hundreds of miles away from their home town at the whim of the authorities and without the knowledge and consent of their families?

Norman Lamb: I have tried to be clear on my views on what has been happening—it has been going on for years. As I have said, the fact that someone is sent 200 miles away from home creates the conditions in which abuse is more likely than if they are in their own community. I want that to end—I want to be as clear as I can that that is a national scandal that needs to be brought to an end.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Minister for his comments. I also watched the “Panorama” programme last night and was horrified. According to the local council and the Minister, changes have been made. Will he confirm that the lessons learned will be conveyed to the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that this terrible abuse never happens again anywhere in the UK?

Norman Lamb: The hon. Gentleman makes an essential point. Wherever people are, they must be protected from potential abuse and benefit from high standards of care. I will give him my absolute assurance that we will work closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that people receive that benefit, wherever they are in the UK.

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): I heard the Minister’s earlier answer on the importance of whistleblowing, but will he set out what further steps he will take to encourage staff to whistleblow and to ensure that, when they come forward with concerns, they do not suffer retribution as a result?

Norman Lamb: The legal framework is satisfactorily in place to protect whistleblowers who raise their concerns with the relevant authorities, but this is about culture. We must do everything we can to ensure that providers encourage their staff to raise concerns—internally first, if possible, but with other authorities, if necessary—whenever they see abuse or neglect taking place. We

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must also encourage individuals to feel safe about raising concerns. The framework of protection is there for individuals to do that.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): There are two problems. First, the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality has meant that thugs have been able to get away with terrible behaviour in care homes. Secondly, despite the enormous advances in ischaemic heart disease, cancer and diabetes, for example, the amount of money invested every year to find solutions and treatments for mental health conditions remains very poor.

Norman Lamb: On the first point, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that these closed settings and institutions too often create the conditions for abuse to take place. It is all the more important, then, to get the regulation right for the sake of those individuals who have to be in such institutions—a minority have to be there for their own safety or that of the public. On the second point, he raised the general issue that for a long time—probably, it has always been the case—mental health has been a poor relation to physical health in terms of the amount of money spent on research and how the money flows within the NHS. I seek to address that.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): In Bristol, we face the closure of care homes, while south Gloucestershire is outsourcing the in-house home care teams. Following the case of Winterbourne View, which is just outside my constituency, there is a lack of confidence in the area in the private sector. What can the Minister do to reassure people that it is safe to place vulnerable relatives in private sector care homes?

Norman Lamb: First, abuse is unacceptable and horrifying wherever it takes place, whether in the public sector or the private sector. The review that followed Winterbourne View being exposed revealed poor standards of care in too many places in both the public and private sectors. We need to be clear on that. Secondly, I have questioned whether there is adequate corporate accountability and whether adequate rules and regulations are in place to ensure that accountability. If people are making a profit out of providing care, they have to be held to account for the standards of that care.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): May I raise with the Minister my concerns about the relaxation of checks on people who work with vulnerable adults and children, as set out in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012? As a new Minister, will he undertake to look at the specific provisions in that Act and see whether he is satisfied that our most vulnerable people are protected?

Norman Lamb: I am happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Lady. It is clear, though, that when a care home provider seeks to recruit a member of staff to work with people in a care home setting, they have to—[Interruption.] They are obliged in law to carry out criminal records checks on people who work within that setting. I repeat, however, that I am happy to discuss the matter with the hon. Lady and to look again at the issues.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): As the Minister has made clear—his commitment is coming through—the care provider is key. As he moves forward, will he look at whether there is any disparity between private and

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public sector provision? In cases that I am aware of, there has been a qualitative difference: vulnerable individuals are not being looked after as well as they ought to be by some private sector providers.

Norman Lamb: We probably all know from our constituencies of fantastic private sector care providers that provide a fantastic quality of care to older or younger adults with disabilities and so on, so we must be careful not to condemn the whole sector. My clear view is that wherever there are low standards of care it is unacceptable. But let us remember Mid Staffordshire hospital, where hundreds of people lost their lives unnecessarily owing to poor standards of care. It can happen in both public and private sectors. We must find it intolerable in both.

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Points of Order

1.5 pm

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During yesterday’s urgent question on ash dieback, we discussed the Government’s reductions to forest research, and I inadvertently misled the House. I said that they had cut it from £12 million to £7 million, but in fact the figure is £10 million. I hope that the House will accept my apology and that the record can be put straight.

Mr Speaker: I am sure that the House is extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. What she said is now on the record.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In response to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on the burial of what we hope turns out to be Richard III, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), wrote on Friday that

“the current plan is for them to be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.”—[Official Report, 25 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 997W.]

That answer was welcomed and seen as very exciting in the city of Leicester. Last night, however, the Department appeared to backtrack. When asked, it refused to repeat her words and simply said:

“We will await the results before any burial arrangements are made.”

No one would want to accuse the Government of now U-turning on Richard III. Will you advise us, Mr Speaker, on whether the Under-Secretary has given notice of her intention to come to the House to clear up the confusion?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. In response, I make two points.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): A hearse, a hearse, my kingdom for a hearse.

Mr Speaker: We are always obliged to the hon. Gentleman for chuntering from a sedentary position about hearses. I hope he will be good enough to allow me to intervene on him and respond to the point of order from the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth). First, I think that his late majesty has been dead for long enough to evade our normal rules on references to monarchs. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman has put the matter on the record and attempted to obtain clarification, which will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, but beyond that I am afraid that it is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): Further to a point of order that I raised in the House yesterday evening, Mr Speaker. Have you received any notification from the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), that he intends to apologise to the House, or at least clarify the comments that he made yesterday in the First Delegated Legislation Committee about wild animals in circuses? He

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inadvertently—I am sure—misled the Committee by claiming that a full ban on wild animals in circuses had been part of Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech to this Parliament. That is not the case. Since the approval of that order is on today’s Order Paper and will have to be dealt with by the House, surely it would be appropriate for him to come to the House to apologise or clarify his comments.

Mr Speaker: The short answer to the first question in the hon. Gentleman’s attempted point of order is no. I have received no indication of the Minister’s intention to make a statement. The hon. Gentleman is a wily and experienced hand who has made his own point in his own way, but I know also that he would not seek to embroil me in his controversy with the Minister, for that would be unworthy conduct of which I feel sure he would never be guilty.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that the Government, uniquely, withdrew a statutory instrument on cuts to injuries compensation from a Committee and said that they would listen to the concerns on both sides of the House about the cuts. Are you aware that the statutory instrument is being brought back unchanged to a Committee this Thursday? Have you had any request from the Government for a Minister to make a statement to explain their abject failure to listen to Members and the public at large on this important issue?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Again, let me seek to engage with him directly. The answer is no, I was not aware that the statutory instrument was being brought back, as he puts it, unamended this Thursday. I am sorry if he feels that I have been inattentive in not being aware of that salient fact, but the truth is that I was not. More importantly, however, whatever he thinks about the matter, there is nothing disorderly about it. The matter can be debated in that Committee, and I have a hunch that it probably will be.

Mr Smith indicated assent.

Mr Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman assures me from a sedentary position that it will be. We are grateful to him.

Bill Presented

Mental Health (Approval Functions)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Hunt, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Secretary Hague, Mrs Secretary May, Secretary Chris Grayling and Norman Lamb, presented a Bill to authorise things done before the day on which this Act is passed in the purported exercise of functions relating to the approval of registered medical practitioners and clinicians under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time today, and to be printed (Bill 83) with explanatory notes (Bill 83-EN).

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Protection of Workers

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Mr Speaker: We come now to the ten-minute rule motion. I call Mr Graeme Morrice.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: Not that “Graeme Morrice”. We have heard several times from the hon. Gentleman today and are enriched by the experience, but on this occasion I have Mr Graeme Morrice from Livingston in mind.

1.11 pm

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to create a specific offence relating to assault on those whose work brings them into face-to-face contact with members of the public; and for connected purposes.

Anyone who assaults or abuses someone who is going about their work should face the full force of the law. I am pretty sure that there would be absolute unanimity on that point in the House, and I want to thank colleagues, including Government Members, who have supported early-day motion 574 on my Bill. However, far too often, assaults on workers, which most research indicates are increasing, still go unpunished. This Bill addresses the real day-to-day experience of verbal and physical assault, which is all too common to many thousands of public-facing workers across the UK. The Bill would build on the good work done on this issue in recent years, supporting victims and ensuring that those who break the law are held fully accountable for their actions.

Currently, the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006 and the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 give emergency services staff extra protection under the law. I understand and support the case that was made for giving extra protection to police officers, paramedics, firefighters and others in the emergency services, and I pay tribute to the trade unions and professional bodies that fought for that legislation. However, I believe there is a strong case for all public-facing workers to receive the same additional protection. Why should, for example, teachers, shop workers, health visitors, posties or bus drivers—all groups of staff who face high levels of verbal and physical abuse at work—not have the right to extra protection under the law? All these people and many more provide important services to the public, but are often in fear of being attacked or assaulted while at work. That is totally unacceptable and something that we should be constantly reviewing to ensure that everything possible is being done to reduce the potential for workers to come to harm simply for doing their job. The Bill will address the current differences in legal protection and give added penalties under the law to those convicted of assaulting a public-facing worker.

I believe that the Bill is necessary because of the increase in physical and verbal assaults on front-line public-facing workers in the UK. Research published by the British Retail Consortium in January this year highlighted the fact that in the past 12 months incidents of violence and verbal assault against retail staff had increased by 83% compared with the previous year. The survey highlighted the fact that 26 offences are committed per 1,000 employees. The charity Retail Trust has also

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published research, which indicated that 60% of those working in retail reported being treated aggressively at work. It also found that 56% of those affected had been the target of aggressive behaviour on more than three occasions in one year.

I am sure that each Member will be aware of examples of this type of crime from their own constituencies. One example recently brought to my attention that highlights the often premeditated nature of the violence perpetrated against staff is that of a shop worker in a busy city centre store who was working at the checkout. She had to tell off a customer for trying to push in at the front of the queue. The individual concerned was verbally abusive to the shop worker and other customers, but did leave the store. However, he then returned to the store in the evening, when it was much quieter, and assaulted the member of staff, hitting her over the head.

I am pleased that there is some emerging evidence to show that assaults on emergency service workers have declined since the introduction of emergency worker legislation across the UK. I hope and believe that the introduction of the Bill would have a similar impact on assaults against other groups of public-facing workers. The Bill would seek to create a specific offence relating to assault on people whose work brings them into face-to-face contact with members of the public. The Bill would provide for a new offence, with prosecution under summary procedure and a maximum sentence of 12 months and a £10,000 fine. The purpose of the new law is to provide additional protection to workers whose employment requires them to have at least some face-to-face contact with the public.

I believe that the proposed new law would be used in the following circumstances: when a worker has been assaulted in the course of his or her employment and the offender either knew or ought to have known that the worker was acting in the course of their employment—for example, a shop worker requiring proof of age to sell alcohol. The new law would also be used when a worker was assaulted by reason of his or her employment and the assault was at least partly motivated by malice towards the worker by reason of his or her employment—for example, someone spitting on a shop worker because they believe that they have been asked to wait too long before being served. The sentences would be the same as those for common-law assault, but there is an expectation that sentences handed out for the new statutory offence would exceed those imposed for common-law assault. The Bill would cover assaults on public-facing workers, including shop workers, public transport workers, local government staff, Royal Mail and Post Office counter staff, non-emergency health workers and so on. That is not an exhaustive list, and I would be keen to hear the opinions of others on the exact definition of the categories of staff that would be covered.

I would also like to note that my Labour colleague in the Scottish Parliament, Hugh Henry MSP, introduced a similar Bill at Holyrood in 2010. Unfortunately, the Scottish National party Government failed to support the progress of the Bill and voted it down at its first stage, leading the general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers to comment that:

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“Scotland’s shopworkers have been very badly let down by the SNP.”

The SNP Government have also stopped recording this type of offence in the annual Scottish crime survey, which is another lamentable decision. I hope that the SNP Members of this House have had time to think about that decision and will support this measure to increase protection for workers.

Before drawing to a conclusion, I would like to commend the shop workers union USDAW for its tremendous work on the issue of violence against workers and, specifically, on promoting the Bill. The union’s “Freedom from fear” campaign, which it has been running for the last 10 years, has been a huge success and has played an important part in raising awareness of the issue. We welcome the fact that progress has been made, but USDAW is the first to acknowledge that the same issues still persist. That is why the union has been instrumental in campaigning for this legislation. USDAW and the other unions that represent public-facing workers will be important partners in taking the Bill forward, but I shall also seek to work with employer and business organisations and those representing the retail sector, as well as with major retailers and large charities with front-line staff, to progress the Bill.

The Bill would impact on the lives of the hundreds of thousands of public-facing workers who face verbal and physical assault at work each year. It would help to ensure that the public looked at those groups of workers differently and that those who failed to treat them with the appropriate respect were properly punished. I very much hope to have the opportunity to progress the Bill, and I look forward to the whole House supporting it.

Question put and agreed to.


That Graeme Morrice, Michael Connarty, Mr David Hamilton, Grahame M. Morris, Ian Lavery, Ian Mearns, Mr David Crausby, Jim Sheridan, Mr Michael McCann, Alex Cunningham, Steve Rotheram and Lindsay Roy present the Bill.

Graeme Morrice accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 February 2013, and to be printed (Bill 84).

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to try your patience, but I wonder whether you could offer me some advice on the circumstances in which a Minister has made not only a contentious statement but a statement that can be proved absolutely untrue. Taking a random example plucked from the air, a Minister might have said that the Queen’s Speech contained a specific measure, yet it turned out that that measure did not exist. Can you confirm that it would be entirely up to the Minister concerned to take responsibility for correcting the public record?

Mr Speaker: It is up to the Minister concerned to take responsibility for correcting the record. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

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Mental Health (Approval Functions) Bill (Allocation of Time)


That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Mental Health (Approval Functions) Bill:


1. (1) Proceedings on Second Reading, in Committee, on Consideration and on Third Reading shall be completed at this day’s sitting.

(2) Proceedings on Second Reading (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

(3) Proceedings in Committee, on Consideration and on Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at the moment of interruption.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

2. (1) Notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.

(2) As soon as the proceedings on this Motion have been concluded, the Order for the Second Reading of the Bill shall be read.

(3) When the Bill has been read a second time—

(a) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills not subject to a programme order) it shall stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put; and

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

3. (1) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(2) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

4. For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1, the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others) in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

5. On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

Sitting on Wednesday 31 October

6. At the sitting on Wednesday 31 October, the House shall not adjourn until—

(a) any Message from the Lords has been received and any Committee to draw up Reasons which has been appointed at that sitting has reported, and

(b) the Speaker has reported the Royal Assent to any Act agreed upon by both Houses.

Consideration of Lords Amendments

7. (1) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

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(2) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under paragraph 7(1) shall thereupon be resumed.

8. (1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 7.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question already proposed from the Chair and not yet decided.

(3) If that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment the Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any further Amendments to the Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House disagrees to a Lords Amendment.

(6) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees to all the remaining Lords Amendments.

(7) As soon as the House has—

(a) agreed or disagreed to a Lords Amendment; or

(b) disposed of an Amendment relevant to a Lords Amendment which has been disagreed to, the Speaker shall put forthwith a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown and relevant to the Lords Amendment.

Subsequent stages

9. (1) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(2) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under paragraph 9(1) shall thereupon be resumed.

10. (1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 9.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided.

(3) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on or relevant to any of the remaining items in the Lords Message.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.

Reasons Committee

11. (1) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the appointment of its Chair.

(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.

(3) Proceedings in the Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.

(4) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 11(3), the Chair shall—

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(a) first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair but not yet decided, and

(b) then put forthwith successively Questions on motions which may be made by a Minister of the Crown for assigning a Reason for disagreeing with the Lords in any of their Amendments.

(5) The proceedings of the Committee shall be reported without any further Question being put.


12. Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

13. (1) The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

(2) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to those proceedings.

14. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

15. (1) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to re-commit the Bill.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

16. (1) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

17. (1) This paragraph applies if—

(a) a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) has been stood over to 7.00 pm, 4.00 pm or 3.00 pm (as the case may be), but

(b) proceedings to which this Order applies have begun before then.

(2) Proceedings on that Motion shall stand postponed until the conclusion of those proceedings.

18. (1) This paragraph applies if the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(2) No notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

19. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.—(Norman Lamb.)

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Mental Health (Approval Functions) Bill

Second Reading

1.23 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Norman Lamb): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is simple, but urgent. The Secretary of State described to the House yesterday how the need for it arose and came to light, and I hope that hon. Members will bear with me if some of what I say today repeats what he said then. May I begin by reiterating my gratitude to Opposition Members for the highly constructive approach that they are taking to the issue, without which we would not be able to respond with the necessary speed?

Detaining a mentally ill person in hospital and treating them against their will is clearly a matter of the utmost seriousness, and it is treated as such by the law and by health and social care practitioners. The statutory framework is contained in the Mental Health Act 1983, which sets out that, for assessments and decisions under certain sections of the Act, including detention decisions under sections 2 and 3, three professionals are required to be involved: two doctors and an approved mental health professional, usually a social worker. One of the two doctors must be approved under section 12 of the Act. When strategic health authorities came into being in 2002, the Secretary of State at the time quite properly and lawfully delegated to them his function under the 1983 Act of approving the doctors able to be involved in making these decisions.

Early last week, the Department of Health learned that, in four out of the 10 SHAs—North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, West Midlands and East Midlands—the authorisation of doctors’ approval was further delegated by the SHAs to NHS mental health trusts over a period extending, in some cases, from 2002 to the present day. The issue was identified as a result of a single doctor querying an approval panel’s processes. I was informed later in the week, as soon as the extent of the issue became clear, and since then, the Secretary of State and I have been kept informed of, and involved in, the action being taken.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): This is an issue of great concern. Can the Minister reassure the House that the four areas that he has identified are the only areas in which this has happened, and that it has not taken place in other regions?

Norman Lamb: I can assure the hon. Lady on that point. All SHAs have undertaken an assessment of the position, and the position has been regularised for future cases in those four SHAs. Of course, individual patients may be moved to different parts of the country, but the problem relates to those four SHA areas.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): Rampton and Ashworth are involved, and patients from Wales travel to those hospitals. Have there been any discussions between the Minister’s Department and the Wales Office or the Welsh Government on the implications of this for patients from Wales?

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Norman Lamb: Yes, I can confirm that that is the case. The Secretary of State spoke to the relevant Health Ministers this morning. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman reassurance.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Following on from what the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) has asked, may I ask the Minister, in relation to Northern Ireland, what investigations have taken place to ensure that no one was detained illegally, and whether there are likely to be challenges from people who have been sectioned? I am afraid that they might have reason to claim against the Government for that purpose, given that no legislation was in place. Please excuse the condition of my voice, by the way.

Norman Lamb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I am afraid that I struggled slightly to hear all the points that he was making. Perhaps the best way of dealing with all this is to ensure that I respond in writing to all his questions. I can also assure him that the Secretary of State spoke to the Northern Irish Minister yesterday and briefed them fully on the situation. There is good liaison there.

Our current assessment is that about 2,000 doctors were not approved properly in line with the provisions of the 1983 Act, and that those doctors have participated in the detention of between 4,000 and 5,000 of the patients currently detained in NHS or independent sector hospitals. There are two important points that I would like to make clear now. First, the decision to detain a patient under the Mental Health Act is primarily a clinical one. There is no suggestion, and no reason to believe, that the irregularity of the approval process for these doctors has resulted in any clinically inappropriate decision being made, whether the decision was to detain or not to detain. Nor is there any suggestion that the doctors approved by mental health trusts are anything other than entirely properly qualified to make these recommendations.

All the proper clinical processes were gone through when these patients were detained. There is no reason why the irregular approval process should have led to anyone being in hospital who should not be—or vice versa—and no patients have suffered because of this. The doctors had no reason to think that they had not been properly approved; they acted in total good faith and in the interests of the patients throughout this period. As of Friday last week, the SHAs concerned had corrected their procedures and all the doctors involved had been properly approved. I hope that that addresses the question raised by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds).

Hywel Williams: This may be a naïve question, but will the Minister tell us whether doctors approved in one SHA area are then approved automatically for other parts of England or possibly parts of Wales, or is the approval confined to the particular SHA area?

Norman Lamb: My understanding is that people are approved for the SHA in which they work, but it is an important question and I will happily confirm the position to the hon. Gentleman in writing.

In the light of our legal advice, we do not believe that any decisions made about patients’ care and detention require review because of this irregularity. Doctors should continue to treat patients who are currently detained under the Mental Health Act in the usual way.