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In conclusion, China’s economic rise has been impressive, but if it is to be sustainable, its economic progress needs to be matched with more freedoms for its people and with foreign policy restraint. The Chinese are great historians, great diplomats and great survivors. The Communist party will know that it cannot hold back the tide of its own people’s rising aspirations, growing expectations and more informed view of their place in China and the rest of the world. The party’s future will not be secured by stirring extreme nationalism or fostering xenophobia. China’s Communist leaders need to allow change or sooner or later they will be changed. They can work with their people or against their people. Let freedom reign in China.

3.2 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this debate. I agreed with the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) when he said that the hon. Gentleman had got the tone of the debate exactly right. His speech was measured and balanced.

We can talk about many positives when discussing China. According to market research, 86% of the Chinese population are happy with their Government, which is a rating that many of us in democracies around the world would be happy to achieve. In many ways, it is clear that China is a wealthier, more liberal, diverse and, in some respects, freer society than it has ever been before.

There are some examples of extraordinary tolerance of democratic systems. We must remember that it was widely feared that Hong Kong might lose its multi-party system, independent judiciary and freedom of expression when it became part of the People’s Republic, but all have been preserved. The country may not be democratic in quite the way that we would like to describe ourselves and other countries around the world, but those things have nevertheless been respected.

There is, of course, the phenomenal economic achievement, which benefits this country enormously. In the first two years of the coalition Government, British exports of goods to China increased by 40%. The Foreign Office estimates that Chinese investment is worth as much as £8 billion a year to the British economy, which is not to be sniffed at. Companies such as Huawei are making an important contribution to telecommunications and, however controversially, they are also investing in such things as nuclear power stations.

There are, however, many alarm bells. The hon. Member for The Wrekin was right to point out that China does not do itself any favours or earn a good reputation in many areas. I will quickly run through seven alarm bells. Domestic human rights is only one of them and is still a major problem. Reports in the last year from Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, Pen International and Reporters Without Borders have put China in the bottom few countries of the world in terms of respect for human rights and for freedom of expression. Many of them put Tibet in the worst category of all. The most recent Foreign Office human rights report, issued in 2012, still mentioned the

“use of unlawful and arbitrary measures to target human rights defenders… These included enforced disappearance, house arrest, restrictions on freedom of movement, communication and association, extrajudicial detention (including ‘re-education through labour’

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(RTL), ‘black jails’ and involuntary psychiatric committal) and harassment of family members. Human rights defenders also continued to be subjected to criminal charges and procedurally flawed trials, often involving the poorly defined category of offences encompassing ‘endangering state security’. Diplomats and media were repeatedly refused access to their trials.”

That kind of active physical oppression is mirrored on the internet, where, as hon. Members have said, access to sites such as Google and the BBC is restricted. It is clear that China is far from being a good example to the rest of the world on human rights.

As China’s economic power grows, so does its influence in many other parts of the world. Its record on its impact on human rights in other countries is also pretty terrible. Regimes such as Sudan and Zimbabwe have benefited from Chinese patronage. Despite supposed international trade sanctions, China provides a large amount of funding to the North Korean state, which has an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 political prisoners detained in concentration camps, where they perform forced labour and risk summary beatings, torture and execution.

Topically, the Chinese Government have been friendly towards the Government of Sri Lanka, openly providing weapons and military equipment, which was used against the northern Tamil population—perhaps legitimately during the civil war, but perhaps not so legitimately since then—in the way that has been much discussed in this place recently. There is also, I am afraid to say, the close relationship between China and Syria, which we have also discussed at length.

It is not only that there is tolerance of dictatorial regimes; China has enormous economic power that it is now beginning to wield in Africa, where Chinese investment has overtaken that of the USA and is proving quite controversial in many respects. Chinese demand for ore, timber and oil is forcing African states to specialise at the bottom of the value chain, meaning that they are not developing their economies in a positive way. There is large-scale Chinese immigration into many African countries, which, in places such as Ghana, has flared into violence with many Chinese being brutally beaten and some 200 being deported. This frankly pretty careless attitude towards its impact on other countries is a matter of grave concern.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin mentioned the environment, specifically animal welfare. Again, it is not only animals in China that are affected; rhino and elephant populations around the world are affected by the demand for ivory and other products and shark-finning affects shark populations. Within China, there are ill-planned hydrological engineering projects, which interrupt the natural flow of rivers. The conversion of wetlands for agriculture and unsuitable construction and infrastructure projects on flood plains have destroyed ecosystems and driven species out of their natural homes. That most iconic of species, the panda, has been left fighting for survival in many places as its habitat has been cleared to make way for agriculture, timber and fuel wood.

It is not that we can always stand in the way of economic development or that it is possible to develop a country economically without some disruption to the environment. However, other countries have learned that they must protect the environment as they grow and develop—India has certainly recognised that—and

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that if they do not, they lose something enormously precious; indeed, in biodiversity terms, it is precious to the whole planet.

To those concerns, we could add others about intellectual property rights. Businesses that try to do business in China still have to struggle with problems over the respect for patents and intellectual property. There are also problems with cyber-attacks, including the toleration of repeated attacks on commercial and governmental institutions, which seem to originate in China. Finally, we have the worrying picture of militarisation in east Asia, which must be giving some of the democratic countries and some of our traditional allies in the region real pause for thought.

The overall picture is one of an enormous global power awakening and becoming a superpower once again. All its potential partners appear to have a working assumption that it will always exercise its power benignly. We are somewhat like rabbits caught in the economic headlights: we see the enormous value of trade and business, and we are so worried about any risks to it—particularly after the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister met the Dalai Lama, resulting in the freezing of relations with top officials for several years—that we try to brush the complex picture of policy I have described under the carpet in the pursuit of economic relationships.

It was rather sad that the coalition agreement, of which I am, in many respects, very proud, had only one line about China. It said:

“We will…seek closer engagement with China, while standing firm on human rights in all our bilateral relationships.”

In other words, we will pursue trade, and we will perhaps go through the motions of the rather formulaic human rights dialogue we have with the Chinese Government. However, we do not seem to have appreciated the complexity of China’s impact on democracy, the environment, human rights, trade and peace all over the world.

The Government need to have a more comprehensive and holistic China policy, and we need to encourage the European Union to have one, too. We probably need to encourage the Commonwealth to develop a China policy, given China’s deep involvement in Africa and fact that some of its membership comes from Africa. Democracies around the world, including Japan and other countries in eastern Asia, might also need to develop a comprehensive and holistic response to this emerging superpower. Simply pursing trade at the expense of everything else could be quite a dangerous policy in the long run, and we have to be a little cautious about that.

3.12 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing the debate, which is particularly timely given that the Chancellor and the Mayor of London have recently visited China and that the Prime Minister is due to visit at the beginning of December.

We have heard about China’s economic importance to the UK and about the fact that it is the world’s second largest economy. Some projections indicate that it will overtake the US economy in just three years’ time.

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To put that growth in context, it was suggested in 2004 that China might become the world’s largest economy in 2035, but it is now expected to be 2016. I visited the country with the all-party group on China two years ago. People have to go there to see for themselves the phenomenal scale of development in cities such as Shanghai, Chengdu and Beijing and really to appreciate the extent to which China has industrialised and modernised in recent years.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) mentioned that China’s overseas investment has expanded dramatically. He raised concerns about the perhaps somewhat cavalier attitude of some countries, particularly in Africa, to the Chinese presence, and he talked about how we can raise those issues through our relations with them. China’s overseas investment rose from $17 billion in 2005 to $130 billion last year, and it is on an upward trajectory.

Given China’s rising global standing, the importance of a strong bilateral relationship cannot be overstated. That is why the Labour Government published a UK-China strategy on a framework for engagement in 2009, covering China’s growth, including boosting our business, educational and scientific links; the need to foster China’s emergence as a responsible global player, including action on climate change; and promoting sustainable development, modernisation and internal reform in China. Human rights was very much part of that third element, and I will come to that later.

The Government are right to seek closer economic ties with China, but there needs to be a broader focus on co-operation across a range of areas. At the moment, it seems that the UK is being held back by a lack of strategic vision and an insular focus on commercial opportunities to the exclusion of other factors. As the shadow Foreign Secretary said recently, we need an Asian step change in the UK’s foreign policy to ensure dialogue is not limited only to commercial matters.

The Foreign Office should seek to engage better with China on a range of issues, including climate change, technology and international issues such as the middle east and Africa. We must recognise that our EU allies are also working to strengthen their ties with China. Germany’s exports to China far exceed the UK’s and so, to a lesser extent, do France’s.

Given that our countries share common goals, I hope the Minister will agree that greater collaboration could increase European engagement with China to the benefit of all our nations. Additionally, by working with our allies across the Atlantic, we can strengthen our position, working together to negotiate with China, including on trade rules, intellectual property and an agreement on binding global emissions reductions.

Although China has ratified the Kyoto protocol, it is not required to limit emissions, as a non-annexe 1 country. We cannot ignore the environmental implications of China’s sheer size and rapid economic development. It currently has the highest carbon dioxide emissions in the world—more than the USA and India combined. Although its cumulative footprint is obviously not as great as that of countries that developed much longer ago, evidence suggests that China’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising by 10% each year. To its credit, China has taken some positive action in recent years, with greater use of environmental regulations and advances in mitigation techniques as a result of the development of its technical

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expertise. There has been considerable investment, for example, in alternative energy, but despite that, the country is still heavily reliant on coal.

China is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with increasing temperatures and rising sea levels a threat to its long coast line. Glacier melt in Tibet is also a serious concern. Furthermore, the World Bank has estimated that China is home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities. Interestingly, there have been dramatic increases in environmental protests in China, and surveys indicate considerable support for more robust environmental regulation.

Encouragingly, there are signs that the Chinese Government are responding. Chinese Ministers have confirmed to GLOBE International—I believe they are meeting at the moment—that they will introduce comprehensive legislation on climate change over the next two years. It is imperative that the UK and the wider international community engage with China to secure its involvement in global efforts on this front.

Recently, there have been discussions on energy, with the Energy Secretary announcing the Chinese investment in Hinkley Point following his recent visit to China. As the hon. Members for The Wrekin and for Cheltenham mentioned, the investment is welcome if it enables us to diversify our energy mix, but any agreement will require thorough scrutiny, given the 35-year guarantees offered to the companies involved.

The Chancellor has announced a relaxation of visa requirements for Chinese visitors, which is perhaps an indication that the Government now recognise some of the tensions and contradictions in their immigration policy. The issue was certainly raised when the all-party group visited China a couple of years ago. Businesses there told us that, although the UK was seen in the past as the premier destination for students wishing to study abroad, there was increasing competition from Australia and America. That was partly linked to the visa requirements and being able to stay on and work in the country for a few years afterwards.

Organisations such as the British Council and the university of Cambridge, and companies such as Tesco, which has a presence in China, made the point quite strongly. There is a strong educational link between our two countries. Chinese students are the largest foreign contingent in UK schools and universities, but the Government’s net migration targets are perceived as a threat to that situation. The news on visas is welcome if it will help with that.

Human rights have been covered in surprising detail during the debate, which I expected would be more about the economic side of things. I welcome the raising of human rights issues. As we heard, after the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister met the Dalai Lama last year, the bilateral relationship became rather strained, and it was reported that the Prime Minister’s visit to China was postponed as a result. He was not welcome in the country, and ministerial contact was reportedly cut off.

Following the thawing of relations it seemed that the Chancellor, on his recent visit, was keen to reassure China that the Prime Minister had no further plans to meet the Dalai Lama. Undoubtedly the trip took place in delicate circumstances, and reportedly there were tensions between the Treasury and the Foreign Office

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about how to reconcile China’s strategic importance, particularly on the economic front, with its human rights record. The answer—I hope that the Minister will agree—is that neither can be ignored, which is why human rights were central to Labour’s strategy for building a closer relationship with China.

Mark Pritchard: These debates are not party political, particularly on human rights matters. However, for the record and the sake of clarity, will the hon. Lady tell me whether the Leader of the Opposition has met the Dalai Lama, and, if so, whether he intends to again?

Kerry McCarthy: I do not want to speak off the cuff. I think that my right hon. Friend has met the Dalai Lama, but I am not aware of his intentions. I simply cannot answer for him as I have not discussed the matter with him.

The Government recently published their action plan on business and human rights, which said that the promotion of business and respect for human rights should go hand in hand. There is concern that the Treasury in particular has not signed up to that script. Following the Chancellor’s visit, I tabled a question asking what discussions he had had with the Foreign Secretary before he went about human rights in China and the Government’s action plan on business and human rights. I also asked what discussions the Chancellor had during his visit about freedom of expression, freedom of association, the rule of law and Tibet.

Somewhat mysteriously, the question seemed to be transferred to the Foreign Office. I received a letter from there, telling me that it had been sent back to the Chancellor for a response. The Chancellor chose not to respond, and passed the question to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who had not even been on the trip, although I believe the Financial Secretary had. The Economic Secretary responded on 4 November at column 11W but would not tell me whether the Chancellor had discussed human rights with the Foreign Secretary or with officials he met in China.

That is not really good enough. When the Chancellor goes on a trade mission, we expect him to be concerned primarily with economic matters, but human rights should be woven through our bilateral relationship with any country, and should be raised as part of the delegation. Reports from the visit suggest that the Mayor of London was also reluctant to raise those issues. He was quoted as saying:

“I don’t just walk into a meeting and say, ‘I say, you chaps, how’s freedom doing?’ ”

I appreciate that he was there to represent not the Government but London, but his flippant remarks demonstrate the need for a clear strategy on how to raise challenging and troubling subjects with a nation whose partnership is highly valued, but which is also designated by the Foreign Office as a country of concern with regard to human rights.

The Foreign Office’s latest human rights report noted that in China

“progress on core civil and political rights was limited in 2012”,


“increased online censorship and harassment of human rights defenders”.

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Some positive developments were noted, but concerns still included

“the inadequacy of safeguards in China to guarantee the rule of law and access to justice”.

The UK cannot strengthen its relationship with China by being timid; we must acknowledge where China has made progress and be frank where there are shortcomings. More recently, as other hon. Members have noted, there have been some positive developments, such as last week’s reports about the relaxation of the one-child policy and reported moves to abolish “re-education through labour” camps.

Mark Pritchard: Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a tragic irony in the fact that the Communist party was formed in part for workers’ rights, but now oversees much industry where workers have very few rights in what is a modern form of Chinese sweatshop? Any dialogue should include that issue, along with human rights.

Kerry McCarthy: I agree entirely. We should at every opportunity talk to the Chinese about, for example, the International Labour Organisation standard on workers’ rights. There is concern that when people try to raise questions of how workers are treated, the forces of repression prevent their speaking out. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The reports of the abolition of the “re-education through labour” camps are welcome, and I hope that the Foreign Office will keep a close eye on progress on that.

There were also reports earlier this summer that China would soon begin to phase out the use of executed prisoners’ organs for transplants. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the campaign about forced organ harvesting, although it is not in his portfolio. His views on that, and on restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, including the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, would be interesting. The use of the death penalty and secrecy on the number of executions carried out in China are also matters for concern.

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Lady is being generous in giving way. Is she aware of a report by ChinaAid that more than 20 Christian believers from the Nanle county Christian church—a church sanctioned by the Three-Self movement—were detained between yesterday morning and today and that Pastor Zhang Xiaojie was arrested along with others? No charges that stand up to scrutiny have been laid against them. Will the hon. Lady join me in calling for their immediate release?

Kerry McCarthy: I was not aware of that report. I get the impression that the hon. Gentleman has just received notification of it, but I am a member of the all-party group on international religious freedom or belief, which sends out excellent e-mails almost daily, updating members on such incidents around the world. It is worrying that that has happened, and I would be happy to support the call the hon. Gentleman makes. The oppression of people purely for their religion—or, indeed, their lack of faith—should not be tolerated wherever it happens.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin mentioned animal welfare, which I know is dear to his heart, and the hon. Member for Cheltenham talked about it in some detail,

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too. The one issue that I do not think was mentioned was tiger farms. At the moment there are more tigers in captivity in tiger farms in China than there are in the wild throughout the world. There are about 3,500 in the wild and at least 5,000 in tiger farms, which are often used as tourist attractions. That was raised at the convention on international trade in endangered species meeting in 2012. The UK Government and, I think, the Indian Government urged that the farms should be phased out. I should be interested to know whether progress has been made on that.

As to Tibet, while we respect China’s sovereignty, we cannot ignore the serious human rights issues that arise—the disturbing number of self-immolations and the reports of arrests because a friend or relative has self-immolated. It is important that the UK should continue to raise concerns about the treatment of people in Tibet and promote dialogue. The UK-China human rights dialogue is one cornerstone of our bilateral relationship. The 20th round took place in January 2012, and the Foreign Office’s March human rights update reported that it was waiting for China to respond to the proposed dates for the 21st round. That was not included in the June or September updates, but I hope that progress is being made and that the Minister will agree that it is important to continue that long-standing dialogue and get the 21st round in the diary as soon as possible.

From next year, the UK will be working with China on the Human Rights Council. Given that the Foreign Secretary has said that his priorities for the UK’s term on the council include championing freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief, it is important for the UK to press its new colleagues on the council on such issues and to emphasise the value of visits by UN special rapporteurs, as well as championing the issues globally.

To conclude, we support constructive long-term engagement, but it needs to be political as well as economic engagement across Government. The long-planned autumn statement has now been rearranged because of the Prime Minister’s visit to China next month. The number of the Prime Minister’s overseas trips has given the impression that he is concentrating on trade to the exclusion of human rights, so I hope that the Foreign Office will ensure that he is fully briefed on the UK’s commitment to the UN guiding principles on business and human rights and on the reasons why the Foreign Office includes China among its countries of concern.

As I have said, climate change must also be on the agenda. In preparation for the visit, I hope that the Prime Minister will not only liaise with UK businesses, but consider the opportunities provided by our place in the EU and by our close ties with the US, looking beyond commercial factors to see the wider contribution that China can make to the global community.

3.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): It is a pleasure, Mrs Main, to serve under your guidance and chairmanship this afternoon.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this important and timely debate and on the extremely knowledgeable

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and articulate way in which he introduced the topic. As other Members have said, he put his case across in a measured way, but he was also absolutely clear in highlighting the importance of China’s history, culture and historic civilisation and, importantly, in putting on the record the huge economic progress in China over the past 30 years or so, as well as the real progress in making it easier for and enabling United Kingdom businesses to invest in China. I also congratulate all other hon. Members who participated in this high-quality and well-informed debate.

Slightly unusually, I have time—hopefully—to address all the points made in speeches and interventions, so if hon. Members are patient, I will try to do so. At the beginning, however, it is important to say that the time is significant not only for the UK, but for China, in their relationship. The debate is particularly timely because of recent visits to China by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Mayor of London, as well as the visit to China mentioned by other hon. Members—to be made by the Prime Minister at the beginning of December.

November marks a year since the new leadership was anointed. President Xi is beginning to make his impact felt. This month’s third plenum was hailed as a key moment for economic and other reform by senior leaders—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). I will address that in a little more detail later. China’s rise represents a huge opportunity for Britain, but it has clearly prompted bilateral and regional stresses, which it is important for us to understand and to help to manage.

The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) rightly outlined some of the key statistics of China’s economic rise and transformation, as did other hon. Members. The stark one for me was that McKinsey believes that China’s economic transformation is happening at 100 times the scale of the first country to urbanise—the United Kingdom—and at 10 times the speed. That is a really transformational and expeditious economic rise. That remarkable growth is primarily taking place in China’s cities. In less than 10 years, China’s urban middle class will be in excess of 600 million people.

That rapid transformation presents clear opportunities for the United Kingdom. Our economies are set to enter a new, more complementary phase. There will be a demand for products and services not only in the obvious economic sectors but in important sectors where the UK has expertise, such as in health care and education—exactly the point made by the hon. Member for Bristol East—as well as in the creative industries. Furthermore, luxury goods will continue to grow as urbanisation continues. Those are areas of British strength. We already excel at producing what the future Chinese economy will demand. In addition, our university sector is first rate. Expertise across the full spectrum of creative disciplines makes us unique in the world, and we are well placed to offer increased scientific collaboration.

China’s growing middle class increasingly sees Britain as a tourist destination and as a place to educate their children. In the second quarter of this year, we issued approximately 150,000 visas to Chinese nationals—40% more than had been issued in any previous quarter. In the five years to 2011-12, the number of Chinese students in the UK rose steadily, reaching more than 90,000, or 21 % of all overseas students in the United Kingdom.

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The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), who is no longer in his place, raised an important issue in his intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about the announcements made by the Chancellor in his recent visit to China. We are keenly aware of the issues arising from the Schengen visa system for Chinese visitors to Europe. The Chancellor has announced pilot measures to allow joint applications for UK and Schengen visas from certain tour groups taking part in the approved destinations scheme. We clearly maintain our own separate visa system—a point made articulately by my hon. Friend—but those administrative measures will help to address any issues. We estimate and anticipate that the number of visa applications will be more than 1 million a year by 2017. To make the process easier and faster for Chinese nationals who want to visit the UK for business, study or pleasure, the Chancellor followed up any concerns with his announcement in China of new measures, including a 24-hour visa service and streamlining the UK and Schengen visa application processes.

We have much to learn and gain from each other, not only economically but culturally, sharing each other’s rich cultural history and traditions. We can see that collaboration and the growth of societal knowledge in visitor exchanges between our two countries and in the important collaborations between our museums—there is currently an excellent and acclaimed exhibition of Chinese painting at the Victoria and Albert museum.

Before discussing the human rights issues rightly raised by hon. Members, I will turn to some specifics on trade and inward investment, which is an important component of the China-UK relationship, in part because the UK rightly has a reputation as the most open economy in the world, driving unprecedented Chinese investment into the country. We are also creating the right environment for Chinese businesses to operate in, and we are now home to more than 400 mainland Chinese companies

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin rightly mentioned the investment by Huawei, which is a prime example. Rather than blocking Chinese investment in that particular important economic sector, we have welcomed investment of £1.3 billion into its UK business over the next five years, including a new £125-million research base that will create up to 300 new jobs. As my hon. Friend also said, however, we of course take the security and integrity of all equipment used by the Government and the public seriously. GCHQ continues to work closely with Huawei, as with a number of other telecommunications suppliers, to ensure that the products are safe, secure and resilient in the United Kingdom.

We are particularly keen to encourage investment from China—as from elsewhere in the world—in our infrastructure, which we hope will bring about £200 billion of projects over the next five years. My hon. Friend mentioned the investment in the UK’s new generation of nuclear plants at Hinkley Point C, with two Chinese companies as minority shareholders.

Investment is only part of the story. Our bilateral trade with China is now worth more than $70 billion a year and we are on track to meet the target of $100 billion a year by 2015. UK exports of goods and services to China have increased 10% in the past year alone, and are growing at the fastest rate of any major EU nation—a testament to Government policies. The Foreign and

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Commonwealth Office has put prosperity at the heart of its mission, and as part of our network shift we have 60 new staff working in China, a third of whom are focused on less well-known but increasingly commercially important provinces. Alongside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK Trade & Investment has helped many companies to succeed in China by providing support and advice through a network of offices and in collaboration with the China-Britain Business Council.

In addition to our efforts to support British businesses, we want to help China to improve the environment for foreign business by developing the rule of law and enabling a stable, secure and corruption-free environment to allow foreign business to thrive there. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin and the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) were absolutely right about the necessity and importance of encouraging the Chinese not to block flow of information through the BBC or Google. We strongly believe that a modern knowledge economy must be built on the free flow of ideas. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right. We continue to raise concerns about freedom of expression with the Chinese authorities, and outline our position in our annual human rights report that the hon. Member for Cheltenham quoted.

China’s economic growth is only one part of a wider regional story. Asia-Pacific continues to be one of the fastest growing regions economically, and as British business seeks to take advantage of the opportunities offered by that growth it is fundamental that the region enjoys peace and stability. We have a clear interest in managing the security challenges that risk undermining the region’s economic and political development. The tensions between China and Japan are well documented. We do not take sides in the underlying sovereignty issues but urge all parties to seek peaceful solutions. The effective development of a regional security apparatus is important to stability and we are working closely with the US as principal security guarantor in the region.

I turn now to the important issue of human rights, which has been raised by a number of hon. Members. It is right to say that our prosperity, security, values and global interests are clearly interconnected. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we must have a foreign policy based on our values, and the Government believe that respect for human rights is good for economic growth. We want China to continue to succeed. We believe that the development of an independent civil society and the application of human rights under the rule of law are essential for China’s long-term prosperity, along with the free flow of ideas that is an essential part of the growth of a knowledge-driven economy. That is why we welcome the reforms announced during the recent third plenum to deepen judicial reform, end re-education through labour camps—a point raised powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East—and increase reproductive rights.

Dr Julian Lewis: The Foreign Office does not always receive praise when praise is due. Looking back to the era of the closing stages of the Soviet Union, the Foreign Office showed great skill in the way in which it interlinked progress on human rights with other issues of contact between the two countries. Will the Minister

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confirm what seems to be the case, namely that there is a good institutional memory of the techniques employed in that era, which can be applied now in trying to take matters forward with China?

Mark Simmonds: My hon. Friend makes, if I may say so, a typically intelligent and perceptive point. He is absolutely right to make that comparison and to comment on that interlinking, as well as the importance of engagement and external lobbying to ensure a transformation over time in these important areas. I assure him that the expertise that was gained in the Foreign Office from the positive activities and outcomes at the time he referred to is infusing and informing the direction of policy at the moment on engagement with China.

On the specific point my hon. Friend made about the ending of re-education through labour camps, although I acknowledge that we are still waiting for the detail about the time frame under which we hope that will be delivered, we welcome the progress that has been made. The new leadership is serious about both economic and financial reforms, and those other reforms. We hope that the authorities will plan not just to abolish reform through labour camps but to end all forms of arbitrary and extra-judicial detention. That is a priority for our engagement with China and was a key part of the statement we made on 22 October that was referred to by the hon. Member for Bristol East.

Where there are additional concerns about human rights, we raise them. To give confirmation to the shadow Minister, we are seeking to agree dates for the next human rights dialogue with the Chinese Government in 2014. We continue to discuss human rights issues with the Chinese authorities, including Tibet, which many hon. Members raised; I will say a little more on Tibet in a moment. We are concerned about the continuing arrest and disappearance in China of activists, lawyers and journalists and others who attempt to exercise their right to freedom of expression and association.

As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin powerfully articulated, we remain concerned about the restrictions placed on freedom of religion in China. Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental right, and we believe that everybody should be free to practise their religion according to their beliefs, in accordance with the international frameworks to which both the United Kingdom and China are party. We made a statement at the United Nations universal periodic review of China on 22 October, focusing on concerns about extra-legal and arbitrary detention, ratification of the international covenant on civil and political rights, freedom of expression and association, the death penalty, Tibet and Xinjiang. We consulted civil society when drawing up our recommendations. We also fund an array of strategic projects focused on areas including the rule of law, the death penalty, women’s rights and civil society.

We have different histories and systems, however, and are at different stages in our development, so there will be areas where we disagree. That is why we are committed to continued dialogue and that is why the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that we want to have a strong and positive relationship with China to our mutual benefit.

I turn now specifically to Tibet, so that colleagues will be under no illusions. The issue was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for The Wrekin and for

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Peterborough (Mr Jackson), the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), and the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), for Cheltenham, and for Bristol East. We continue to have serious concerns about human rights in Tibet. We believe that meaningful dialogue is the best way to address and resolve the underlying grievances of the Tibetan communities, and we urge all parties to restart talks as soon as possible. However, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have stated clearly that our policy is unchanged, and is consistent with that of the previous Government, in that we recognise Tibet is part of China. The Prime Minister has no plans to meet the Dalai Lama.

I turn now to the particular and specific concern of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about illegal wildlife trade. He will be well aware of the Foreign Secretary’s engagement with the issue. I want to confirm that the Prime Minister has invited China to send a high-level representative to attend the London conference on illegal wildlife trade in February next year. We hope that that conference will agree to action to tackle the three main aspects of the problem: improving enforcement; reducing demand for illegal wildlife products—that aspect is particularly important in relation to China—and supporting sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by illegal wildlife trade. We hope to work with China and other global partners to address the destabilising effects of the trade, particularly on developing countries. I can assure my hon. Friend and others who are interested that in my travels across Africa, where countries are affected by this plight, I raise the issue as a top priority to try to encourage African Governments to engage with us.

Mark Pritchard: The Minister talks about endangered animals and species, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s invitation to the Chinese Government to send a high-level representative. What representations have been made? If none have been made, can they be made, and if they have been made, what was the conclusion vis-à-vis bear farming and bile from bears?

Mark Simmonds: I am not an expert on bile from bears, but I will certainly write to my hon. Friend and put a copy of the letter in the Library with the details he requests.

Kerry McCarthy: I am sure the Minister will be reassured to know that I will ask him about something that is in his portfolio. Concerns have been raised with me recently about a link between wildlife crime and international trade in endangered species, and funding

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for terrorism in Africa, particularly with al-Shabaab in Somalia. Is that on his radar, and is the Foreign Office planning to address it?

Mark Simmonds: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that important issue and I hope that she will understand if I do not go into details. Yes, we are aware of that, we are looking at it, and we are working with our multilateral partners to address it cohesively and collectively.

The hon. Lady referred in her speech to environment and climate change. It is important that we continue to work with China on such issues, which we do. Clearly, China’s rapid industrialisation has put strains on the environment. Other hon. Members mentioned that, and China’s third plenum also recognised it. It is important to establish ecological civilisation. We continue to work with China at all levels, not just with central Government, but at provincial and local level on a multilateral basis to try to encourage process and improvement in environmental standards, and to encourage the use of renewables and energy efficiency, which are a key component of this important agenda.

Another point that hon. Members raised is the importance of Chinese engagement with Africa. We welcome that engagement in Africa. China plays an increasingly important role in security and prosperity on the continent. Both the UK and China share a fundamental interest in promoting sustainable development and maintaining regional stability. The Chinese are now involved in UN peacekeeping operations in Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in anti-piracy issues off the horn of Africa. We are building a partnership with China in Africa to help to reduce poverty and to achieve the millennium development goals. Chinese and UK businesses are working together to maximise the beneficial impact for those living in Africa. I could not allow this debate to close without emphasising some of the positive things that China is doing in Africa.

We are entering a new phase in our relationship with China. The United Kingdom has significant expertise that complements China’s needs, not just in the private sector but in the Government sector. Our global interests are more closely interlinked than ever. We will continue to approach UK-China relations constructively based on our values and shared interests. We can deliver real prosperity and security benefits for the UK, China and Asia. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin for providing the House with an opportunity to debate this significant, timely and important relationship.

3.54 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Navitus Bay Wind Farm

4 pm

Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): Having been closeted in the Whips Office for a while, I take great pleasure in being back in Westminster Hall and able to stand up and fight for the rights of my constituents.

I start by saying that it is a great pleasure to see so many Dorset colleagues. In no particular order, the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) and for South Dorset (Richard Drax) are here.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), my constituency neighbour, is also here—we have both been putting in for debates on this subject, so which one of us starts the debate and which one comes second is a matter of pure chance. I also attended the debate on this proposal that my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset secured earlier in the year. It says something about people’s concern over the proposal that all of us are here, interested and wanting to put on the record the views and concerns of many of our constituents.

Whatever view we take, we are all very disappointed by the process, which, as one understands it, is that following the Crown Estate identifying a site, in comes a preferred bidder who floats a number of potential scenarios. People are never quite sure what they are dealing with—how many turbines, how big, or what will be generated. The proposal goes through various phases of consultation, and it is only towards the end of the process that we get it firming up and we start to see what the shape of the development will be. That makes it very confusing and difficult for constituents, who mostly do not understand the process—indeed, Members of Parliament sometimes have great difficulty dealing with it.

The reality, therefore, is that later in the process there is a more specific application that eventually goes either to the Planning Inspectorate or to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. A decision is taken without councils being involved, although they will be consulted—Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset will be consulted—and without Members of Parliament being able to have their say, apart from getting up and whingeing in a debate.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) has come in to add to the array of talent in the Chamber.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so early. There are a number of issues to cover. He touched on the Crown Estate, which is the genesis of this entire discussion because it gave the footprint and suggested the area that we need to consider for use for wind farms.

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that that very footprint that we now call Navitus Bay was, in fact, incorrect, because it included areas just off Weymouth that are military zones for shooting? They could never have been included in the first place for consideration as a place for wind farms to be erected.

Mr Syms: The Crown Estate identified several sites, including the one we are discussing. I think there are

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areas around our coast that may be the most appropriate for offshore wind, and I know that in Redcar and Thanet there is some support for such proposals.

As I shall say in a moment, Dorset is an area of tourism, not only because of the beauty of the county and of the view, but because of the hard work put in by many thousands of businesses in South Dorset, Bournemouth, and Poole that promote and invest in the area and want to promote the area for tourism. It is a great disappointment to them that the proposal could well, if it goes ahead, and as Navitus Bay has acknowledged, lead to a reduction in tourism, which is very important for jobs.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD) rose—

Mr Syms: The hon. Lady mentioned to me earlier that she wanted to put something on the record, and I am perfectly happy for her to intervene.

Annette Brooke: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way—it is nice sometimes to get my own way—and I congratulate him on securing the debate.

What is most important is that the evidence is properly evaluated. There is not great evidence that tourism will necessarily be affected, and at the end of the day a Minister will survey all that has been presented. Lots of myths surround the whole application, and I think that is down to the process, which is very difficult for local people. However, I want to put on the record that I am, in principle, in favour of offshore wind farms. It is very important, however, not only to get the details right for our local populations, but to assess the evidence and the facts at the end of the day.

Mr Syms: I thank the hon. Lady for putting her views on the record. I understand that she has concerns, but that, in principle, she is in favour. Other Members here today probably have more concerns, and I shall start to go through those.

The biggest concern is visual impact. We have heard that there could be up to 218 turbines—they will be very tall and they have to have lights on top. The turbines will be about 12 miles off the coast of Bournemouth and Poole, although there may be points at which they are less than nine miles off the coast of South Dorset, which is a Jurassic coast and a great asset to Dorset.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Not only is it a Jurassic coast, but it is a world heritage site. It has the top designation; the Great Barrier reef is one of the other areas with the same designation. As I have said in the many speeches that I have made on the subject, I hate to think what the Australians would say to us if we suggested that they put 218 turbines as close to the Great Barrier reef as is suggested for our world heritage site. In fact, I know exactly what they would say. Will my hon. Friend comment on the issue of the coast’s being a world heritage site? The point I object to is that the windmills will be too close.

Mr Syms: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. The coast has a UN world heritage site designation, and there are also areas of outstanding natural beauty. As

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we all know, onshore, there is heathland and a variety of sites of special scientific interest. Those constrain the planning authorities, yet just a few miles out at sea, we will have a proposal that may have a major visual impact.

I have mentioned tourism, which we may argue or disagree about, but I am sure that there is genuine concern about the impact on it. What is not up for debate is that thousands of jobs rely on tourism, whereas not many jobs will be generated by the proposal. Once it is built, some people will have to maintain the wind farm, but on the whole, it will not be a heavy employer.

The concern about potential noise has also been raised. I know of many colleagues in the House with wind farms—certainly onshore wind farms—in their constituencies who say that it is not true that they do not make any noise. There is noise. It may depend on which way the wind is coming, but many of my constituents have raised concerns about that issue.

Sailing and navigation have been mentioned. The Solent and the area around Poole bay are among the busiest areas for sailing and navigation. If 218 turbines are to be put offshore, they are bound to have an impact on shipping and the variety of vessels and ships in the ports of Poole and Southampton. Of course, we have a local but small fishing fleet, which it is very important to nurture.

Not a great deal has been said about birds, but clearly 218 turbines will have a major impact on bird life.

Annette Brooke: I understand that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has not objected to the proposed wind farm. I would be happy to be corrected on that point, but again, we need to look at the evidence.

Mr Syms: I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. Concerns about that and a variety of things have been raised by hundreds of my constituents and by local people, many of whom are members of the RSPB. It is very important that we use this opportunity to put the concerns that have been expressed on the record.

The development is very substantial and will have an impact on the communities that we represent. I have had several hundred e-mails and letters from people objecting, while I have had fewer than 10 in favour. Even if we accept that in this world, more people would object than support a proposal, it is clear that there are very real concerns. The proposers of the scheme have to lay those concerns to rest and I do not think they have been able to do so with this process.

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend touches on an important aspect of the matter, which is the views of the residents. I concur with him on the ratio to which he has just referred. Many residents of Bournemouth perhaps approve of the concept of wind farms, but are very concerned about their proximity to the coast. I think that that is what we are debating: what distance is agreeable?

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are Government guidelines that suggest that the nearest to the coastline that wind farms should be is 12 nautical miles? The company has proved that it can build such wind farms in other parts of the continent. I do not understand why there is such pressure to build so close to the shoreline when that will have such an impact on tourism, as my hon. Friend has already outlined.

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Mr Syms: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, of course. If a cable has to be run from the wind turbines to connect into the grid, the longer the cable is, the more expensive the proposal is. If there are maintenance teams, wherever they are based, going out to maintain the turbines and they have to go out an extra 2 or 3 miles, clearly that adds a real cost to the operation of the wind farm.

That issue has to be part of the proposal. I think that if the Navitus Bay proposers had come forward and said, “We’re happy to push the wind farm out so that it is out of sight or as far out of sight as can be,” and if its scale had been smaller, they would have got a better hearing. What shocked people was that when they saw the footprint that the Crown Estate had given us, the wind farm was very close to the shore and very close to the view that many of us who have stayed in Bournemouth hotels know.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Does my hon. Friend have any information on how much public money will go in subsidies from British taxpayers to the Dutch-owned company that is planning this development?

Mr Syms: I do not have any firm information. I know only that when I saw the recent and very welcome announcement on the Hinkley Point C proposal, there was a great deal of criticism of the rates of subsidy that the Government were giving—I think very sensibly—and that offshore wind has twice the level of subsidy. One would have to say that this is the most expensive way of generating electricity and, given that the wind does not always blow, it may not be the most efficient way of dealing with the situation.

There are things that we can do on renewable energy. There are many things that we can do, if we insulate homes and make changes to electrical equipment and so on, to save money. But I am not sure that this is good value for British taxpayers. Coming back to the specific proposal, I think that what is proposed is too large. I do not think that it has public acceptance and it will change very much the offer that our area has for many people.

Mr Ellwood: I am sorry for testing my hon. Friend’s patience; he has been very generous indeed. The guidelines about the distance from the shoreline to the leading edge of the wind farm are important. My concern is that the 12 nautical mile guideline that has been created was designed when wind turbines were only 100 metres high. We are now hearing that these turbines might be as high as 218 metres. They stick up higher, so I suggest that that leading edge—12 nautical miles—should be increased even further to ensure that they are out of sight.

Mr Syms: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. As I said, because of aircraft, there would have to be lights on the top. A number of us had meetings with representatives of Bournemouth airport a few weeks ago, in which they stated that there was a concern about what impact there would be on the navigation facilities at the airport. The navigation facilities have been upgraded, so that is less of a problem than it used to be, but there clearly will be a navigation problem if there is a large wind farm in the sea, just offshore from a major international airport.

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There are many concerns. I do not think that my constituents have been reassured by the process. The process needs looking at, certainly, but I have a feeling that whatever the merits of offshore wind, this is the wrong place to put the wind farm. Many of our constituents have invested a lifetime in businesses such as hotels. Bournemouth borough council has certainly been out there investing in tourism, attracting people and putting on lots of events to get people into Bournemouth. I am just concerned that this proposal will offset that offer, which has been built up over generations.

I know that we do not always agree 100%, as the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole said, but I wanted to use today’s debate as an important opportunity to put my concerns on the record. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West, who also wants to say a few words.

4.14 pm

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) on securing the debate to highlight this very important issue. He has been very active on this subject. After I raised it with the previous Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the gentleman who is no longer a Member of the House, my hon. Friend and I went to see him to put on the record our concerns about the process of this development.

Let me pick up a couple of points that colleagues have made. I say to the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) that the critical difference between her constituents and those of other hon. Members present is that her constituents will not have to look at this wind farm. All of ours will, so the impact, by definition, will be greater on the constituencies represented by other hon. Members here.

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) intervened twice on the point about the distance from shore and the definition that the Government lay down. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to give us some clarity on that point. I put it to the company before the closure of phase 4 of its consultation; I raised the issue that my hon. Friend raised about the 12 nautical mile limit. In the reply to my letter of objection, Mike Unsworth, the project director at Navitus Bay, said:

“Regarding the wind farm’s distance from the shore, I would emphasise that the Government has not issued guidance that stipulates a 12 nautical mile limit. Indeed on 10 October 2013, the Climate Change Minister Greg Barker was clear that DECC ‘has not issued guidance on the distance that offshore wind farms should be placed from the coast’”.

He was quoting from column 342W of Hansard for 10 October 2013. I ask the Minister to give us some clarity on what the Government’s position is on distance.

Richard Drax: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. As I understand it, the EU guidance refers to 23 km, which is not 12 nautical miles, and the Crown Estate had identified eight other sites, which my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) was talking about, totalling some 22,000 sq km. There is no world heritage site in those sites; there is no coastline in sight. Why cannot the company go there?

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Conor Burns: My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. Even if the company has to go within the development area that it has been given on this site, it does not have to go within the area of the development site that it has chosen. It could go significantly further out to sea.

All hon. Members, at the beginning of this process, were very open in engaging with the company. We have no in-principle objection to wind farms or wind energy at all. That is the policy of the Government. There is no point in arguing on that, whatever our views. We are arguing on the impact that this proposal will have on our local economy and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) says, on a world heritage site.

Bournemouth attracts more than 6 million visitors annually. The tourism economy is worth in excess of £425 million to the town’s economy. It supports in the region of 16,000 local jobs. Navitus Bay’s own research suggested that one third of summer visitors questioned would not return to Bournemouth during the construction period, which it is estimated will last for five years. That would be a devastating blow to our local economy. I have to question how many of the town’s businesses, which rely on tourism, would even be in business at the end of that five-year period if those figures—

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend has been a passionate advocate in looking at the detail of this proposal. Does he agree that one concern is about the shape of the bay? On the left, in the east, we have the Isle of Wight, and on the right, Studland bay. That offers a frame from which visitors can look out to sea. It is very different from Blackpool and other areas, where there is just an open expanse of water. These are reference marks whereby people can measure the height and, indeed, the intrusion of the wind farm. That is why we have been pressing, as my hon. Friend said, for the wind farm to be pushed back as far as possible.

Conor Burns: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point well. The bay and the beach are the hook on which the local tourism economy hangs, and anything that had a detrimental impact on that visually would be very serious. My hon. Friend will know the figures. Navitus Bay’s own research goes on to say that 14% of visitors surveyed—these are the company’s own figures—said that they would never return to the conurbation if there was a visual impact.

There are other things that we still do not know, because the company is sitting on information. Several reports vital to our assessment of the impact of the scheme are ongoing or have not been released, including the assessment of the noise impact, which my hon. Friend the Member for Poole referred to, the night time visual impact report, the climate and microclimate assessment and outstanding issues in the landscape, seascape and visual impact assessment.

The Minister will be aware that even at this stage, the company will not tell us how many turbines there will be, where they will be or what configuration they will be in. When we do not even know what type of turbine the company has in mind, how are we to believe that it has produced accurate visuals on which the public can reasonably comment? The fact is that it has not done so.

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That is at the centre of our argument about the flawed nature of the consultation process that Navitus has entered into.

Last year, Navitus told us in terms of great rejoicing that we should all celebrate the proposed reduction in the number and height of the turbines. I question how we were supposed to celebrate that when we had not been told how many turbines there would be, what height they would be or where they would be. It is absolutely vital that we know and understand exactly what the proposal looks like. In his letter, Mike Unsworth says:

“It is vital that the views of the public are taken into account.”

The public overwhelmingly want their views on the views that they enjoy to be taken into account, and that cannot happen without accurate visuals.

There was a news story on the subject in October in the Bournemouth Daily Echo, and one of the comments on the story—it is often wise not to read the comments on the Bournemouth Echo, but I did on this occasion—called those who were opposed to the plan “NIMBYs”. Someone commented below:

“Simple answer. My Back Yard is a World Heritage Site.”

4.21 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) on securing today’s debate on the proposed Navitus Bay wind farm—a topic of great interest to his constituents, as well as to those of my hon. Friends the Members for South Dorset (Richard Drax), for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) and for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), and of the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke).

I know that my hon. Friends understand that I cannot comment directly on the merits or otherwise of the proposed Navitus Bay wind farm, because any application for development consent for the proposed wind farm and any associated onshore and offshore infrastructure will be examined by the Planning Inspectorate before it makes a recommendation to the Secretary of State on whether consent should be granted or refused. The Secretary of State will then have to consider the recommendations and the report that accompanies them and make the final decision on the application. In those circumstances, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the proposed development, because that might be interpreted as being prejudicial to the eventual decision.

Mr Ellwood: May I underline my thanks, and that of my colleagues, to the Minister for the frequency with which he has been willing to listen to the concerns of our residents, which we have expressed in this place and in the main Chamber? Does he have in mind a date when the Secretary of State will eventually see the proposals? My concern is that that might happen on either side of the general election, and much as I hope that there will be a convincing Conservative win, there is a possibility that the decision might be left to another Secretary of State who was not so sympathetic to the needs and concerns of Dorset residents.

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Michael Fallon: I have no information on the likely date of the Secretary of State’s consideration, but it might be helpful to my hon. Friends if I explained the process for the consideration of nationally significant infrastructure projects. Navitus Bay is classified as such a project under the Planning Act 2008 regime.

The process can be broken down into several stages. The first stage is pre-application—the stage that the Navitus Bay proposal has reached—and is when an applicant has notified the Planning Inspectorate of its intention to apply for development consent. During that period, an applicant is expected to carry out extensive consultation on the proposal in question, the results of which will feed into its thinking on the configuration of the project before the application is submitted.

The second stage is acceptance. Once the pre-application process has concluded, an application for development consent is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate, which must decide within 28 days whether the application meets the required standards for acceptance.

The third stage is pre-examination, in which an examining authority—an individual or a panel of examiners—will be appointed by the Planning Inspectorate. Members of the public and other interested parties can register with the Planning Inspectorate and provide summaries of their views on the proposals. I encourage all individuals and organisations with an interest in the proposal to engage with any public consultation when it is launched. The inspectorate will convene a preliminary hearing at which the process for consideration of the application will be set out and questions about it considered.

The fourth stage is examination. The Planning Inspectorate has six months to carry out its investigation of the application, which will be undertaken by way of hearings, and to consider any written representations submitted to it. During that process, the examining authority will give consideration to all important and relevant matters that are brought to its attention. The examining authority will also consider any relevant national policy statements that set the policy framework for determining applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects, which were themselves subject to public consultation and scrutiny in the House.

The fifth stage is recommendation. The examining authority must prepare a report and recommendations for the Secretary of State within three months of the close of the examination period.

The final stage is decision, in which the Secretary of State has a further three months to decide whether consent for the proposed development should be granted or refused.

Conor Burns: The company has told us that, as it understands the rules, it can change the terms of the application—the height, distance from shore and configuration of the wind farm—after the Secretary of State has given permission for the development to go ahead. Is that the Minister’s understanding?

Michael Fallon: That is not quite my understanding, but perhaps I could write to my hon. Friend on that point. Applications for development consent can include infrastructure, which, as the name implies, is associated with the main development in some subordinate capacity.

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Where that is the case, the planning issues that might affect any of those works will be considered alongside the application for the main development.

I was asked about how far offshore wind farms have to be from the coast. I confirm that we have not issued guidance on any minimum distance. The offshore strategic environmental assessment clarified that the environmental sensitivity of coastal areas is not uniform, and in certain cases, offshore wind projects may be acceptable closer to the coast than in others.

In conclusion, I hope hon. Members understand that interested parties’ concerns about the potential impact of such projects will be thoroughly considered during the planning process, which is designed specifically to encourage participation by all interested parties. I repeat that people or organisations with views on projects that are subject to such applications to the Planning Inspectorate should be encouraged by my hon. Friends to register their interests and to take a full part in the process.

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Identity Documents (Home Office)

4.28 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Main. I thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I am grateful for the chance to raise issues that are of great concern to me, my constituents and I think, given the number of examples passed to me in the past few days by other hon. Members, many others across the country.

The debate about immigration to this country is complex and multi-faceted. I do not intend to dwell on wider concerns about the system. I am sure that all Members, on both sides of the House, and members of the public with wide-ranging views on the nature and scale of immigration agree that, whatever system we have, it is crucial that it operates efficiently and responsibly and that those who participate are treated with dignity, respect and even-handedness.

I am pleased to see the Minister for Immigration here today. He will concede that we have exchanged a great deal of correspondence on individual cases. I give genuine thanks to the front-line Home Office officials who regularly engage with my office and other hon. Members. The fact that we often see him pursued by a queue of unhappy Members from all parties, including me, wherever he goes in the House is no reflection on the personal courtesy that he and his office have shown other Members and me in listening to our concerns.

4.30 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.37 pm

On resuming—

Stephen Doughty: Although I appreciate the courtesy that the Minister and his officials have shown, the cases I will discuss today raise serious concerns about the competence of senior Home Office officials, the processes put in place and ultimately, I am sorry to say, ministerial oversight of the immigration system. Importantly, the cases do not merely relate to the soon-to-be-defunct United Kingdom Border Agency, but to the new immigration and visas directorate under Home Office control. I have come across numerous cases where documents, such as passports, birth certificates and travel documents, have been misplaced or permanently lost, which has led to lengthy delays, erroneous decisions, expensive appeals, tribunals and compensation payouts and a great deal of personal anguish for constituents, with results ranging from being unable to attend funerals of family members and being wrongly stigmatised as illegal immigrants, to being denied work, social security and the normal family life to which they are entitled. There is disturbing evidence that documents are not being opened or included in a person’s case, and wrong decisions may be made as a result.

The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration report in November 2012 found that at one point more than 150 boxes of post, including correspondence from applicants, MPs and their legal representatives, lay unopened. The independent chief

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inspector told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that inspectors had come across the problem of lost files “in every inspection”. Worryingly, he said that 7% of the 400 files sampled were incorrectly filed—in other words, not in the right place. He said that he

“would like to see a much more rigorous approach taken to data management and file management generally.”

He emphasised that part of the cultural problem was that staff at UKBA did not see the human faces behind the mounting files. At a time when numerous concerns are being raised about the integrity of our immigration system, such reports hardly inspire confidence. I hope that the Minister will be able to outline any progress made since the report and say whether he is satisfied with that progress.

I would like to highlight some specific areas of concern with clear examples to which I hope the Minister can respond. I have encountered a number of cases in which the Home Office has wrongly advised constituents that their documents have been lost, only to locate them subsequently on the premises, sometimes years after denying their presence. Constituents have advised me that in addition to spending time and energy pursuing these matters, they have been unable to enrol in university, accept job offers, travel for work or even manage daily affairs as a result of the loss.

One phrase that crops up frequently in such cases is that the documents were “with another team”. That was the experience of one of my constituents who submitted his passport and biometric residence card to support his children’s application for naturalisation. The Home Office website advises EEA nationals that they can expect to receive their documents within 10 working days. In order to ensure a speedy return, my constituent had taken the liberty of enclosing a self-addressed envelope affixed with a paid special delivery stamp and a covering letter requesting that the documents be returned promptly, as he is frequently required to travel overseas for business.

The Royal Mail tracking system confirmed that the parcel was received, but when my constituent contacted the Home Office, he was informed by an official that the package did not contain his passport and biometric card. That information later turned out to be untrue. I am pleased to say that eventually the documents were located and returned to my constituent, but unfortunately he was extremely frustrated by the incompetence that he had experienced and missed a business trip as a result of the misplacing of his passport and documents.

In another case, the Home Office advised me initially that it had returned my constituent’s documents 12 months ago, only to apologise eventually and confirm that it had in fact retained his documents following a failed application. In other cases, documents have been located years later in files archived in error. I have been told by a reputable organisation of a case involving a family granted settlement earlier this year who received their biometric residence permits but whose passports were not returned. They phoned the Home Office and submitted the return of documents form by e-mail. The Home Office advised that it had returned the documents but could not find the recorded delivery reference number. The family contacted their MP to try to find out what had happened. After repeated phone calls from May 2013 onwards, in which the MP’s office was also advised

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that records stated that the passports had been returned, the Home Office eventually agreed to recall the family’s paper file, which had been sent to storage. Lo and behold, the passports were found and returned to the family, but not until August 2013.

Such cases cause frustration and serious short-term consequences, but in other cases, recovery has not been possible, with much more serious implications. Asylum seekers and refugees are required to send their documentation, often including passports from their home country, birth certificates and education qualifications, to the Home Office as part of their asylum claim. Such documents are almost impossible to replace, particularly given the circumstances in which individuals have fled their original country. There is concern that where such crucial evidence is lost, erroneous decisions in either direction may be made. The Welsh Refugee Council has advised me of several cases in which asylum seekers’ files have been lost prior to the refusal of their application. That then affects their ability to return home voluntarily or even by forced removal, as many countries refuse to accept individuals without documentation who claim to be nationals of that country, leaving them in limbo.

In another case that was brought to my attention, an asylum seeker was advised that his passport would be retained following the refusal of his application in 2001. The individual appealed against the refusal of asylum and, after a series of mishaps and appeals, was finally granted indefinite leave under the legacy programme in 2011. However, although he provided the Home Office with a copy of its own letter confirming that it had retained his passport, it continued to deny any record of holding it. After the intervention of his MP, the Home Office finally admitted that it had lost his passport in 2012. Given the serious circumstances in which such individuals flee their home countries, what confidence does the Minister have in the system, which is supposed to support and protect some of the most vulnerable people in the world?

I am sorry to say that the situation for many other non-asylum applicants is no better. In one particularly serious case with which the Minister is familiar, the former UK Border Agency returned the documents of my constituents Mr Conde and Ms Mane to their former address, rather than to their solicitors as they had requested. It was then impossible for them to retrieve their documents, as they had no access to the address. As a result, Mr Conde was unable to see his sister before she passed away or even to attend her funeral.

In another case, despite the fact that my constituent, Ms Chekera, informed the UKBA of a change of address and received a written acknowledgement, her details were not updated on the system and letters requesting that she enrol her biometric data were therefore delivered to the wrong address. The UKBA subsequently voided her application because she had supposedly not provided the information and returned her supporting documents to her old address. Because she was aware of the delays in processing applications, she did not contact the UKBA to ask for an update on her application until some months after the initial mistake. She was then devastated to discover that unbeknownst to her, she had been living and working in the UK illegally for several months, with potentially serious ramification for both her and her employer.

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Employers have a statutory responsibility to ensure that people have the right to work in this country, but to open up the risk of stigmatising people who have the right to be here but are missing crucial documentation through no fault of their own is unfair and unjust. I hope that the Minister will concede that it risks diverting resources and attention from tackling those who are attempting to abuse the system.

In another case brought to my attention by a Member of this House, the Home Office lost an individual’s identity documents, meaning that he was unable to prove his identity for work purposes and thus remained unemployed despite wanting to work and faced a prolonged risk of destitution. The Welsh Refugee Council has raised with me cases in which the loss of documents has prevented settled individuals from demonstrating their right to social security. In one case, the Home Office lost the birth certificate of an applicant’s child, meaning that the applicant’s access to child benefit payments was seriously delayed, resulting in significant financial hardship.

Those are the immediate human consequences of incompetence. I hope that the Minister will issue an apology to all of them on the Government’s behalf. I would also like to challenge him on a number of other points. First, with regard to compensation for individuals when there has been a mistake, claims for redress should be considered in accordance with the “Managing Public Money” standards guidance issued by the Treasury, which emphasises that Departments should attempt to return the individual to the position that they would have been in had there been no maladministration on the Government’s part. More often than not, that is simply not the case. Many are left significantly out of pocket as a direct result of incompetence or mistakes.

Although the documents lost in many of the cases that I encountered are irreplaceable, where it is possible to source a replacement, applicants face the challenge of arranging and financing the replacement of their documents up front and then submitting claims and supporting evidence to request reimbursement. I find it extraordinary that according to a recent parliamentary answer, the Home Office does not readily hold data about the total compensation paid as a result of losing passports and other travel documents. I can assure the Minister that it is an expensive pursuit. As he is aware, the constituents that I mentioned earlier, Mr Conde and Ms Mane, have spent well over £1,500 to date on arranging replacement documents, but they have yet to be reimbursed a single penny. Other constituents are in a similar position. Does the Minister think that it is reasonable to expect people to resort to taking out loans or enduring financial hardship to finance the cost of replacing documents that the Home Office has lost, then to spend months trying to reclaim the money, while never being sure that they will regain the full amount?

The second issue is how documents are sent through Royal Mail. When documents have gone missing in transit and the Home Office is not responsible for the loss, it usually advises the applicant to pursue the matter with Royal Mail directly. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to retrieve the documents, so the applicant is tasked with claiming compensation from Royal Mail.

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Royal Mail advises customers that its special delivery service is

“ideal for sending valuable items”

and includes compensation cover for loss and damage up to a maximum of £500. However, it has come to my attention that the Home Office often returns people’s documents to them by recorded delivery rather than special delivery. Recorded delivery includes compensation cover only up to a maximum of £50, meaning that when documents are lost due to an error by Royal Mail—not by the Home Office in these cases, I concede—the maximum amount of compensation that the applicant can receive is £50, regardless of the cost of replacing the documents. That is a drop in the ocean compared with the total expense incurred. Is the Minister aware of any plans, or does he have any plans, to review the policy and consider making the system safer and more secure for the constituents who use it?

A number of examples raise serious questions about whether the Home Office is acting in accordance with data protection legislation. In one particularly serious case, I have had to raise the matter with the Information Commissioner as well as the Minister. I was approached recently by an honest and careful constituent whose documents had been returned, but along with them was the original birth certificate of an unrelated child. My constituent is from Sierra Leone and has no children, whereas the birth certificate belonged to a child born in a different part of the UK to Nigerian parents. It eventually ended up in my office.

The Immigration Law Practitioners Association has advised me of a similar case in which an Algerian national visited her legal representatives clutching correspondence that she had received from the former UKBA, despite the fact that she had requested all correspondence from the agency to be sent directly to her representatives. The correspondence had been sent to an address at which she was no longer resident. Most disturbingly, it contained a passport and other documentation belonging to a Liberian man whom she had never heard of rather than her child’s birth certificate, as the covering letter stated. Understandably, she was concerned that her own original documentation had been sent to some arbitrary and possibly untraceable location. Were it not for her honesty, the passport and documents of the Liberian could have ended up elsewhere.

Another colleague advised me that the Home Office recently wrote to a constituent of his, amalgamating the constituent’s case details with that of another unrelated individual. The Minister is aware that applicants are required to provide highly sensitive information in such applications, ranging from family and financial circumstances to allegations of torture, violence and persecution if, for example, the application is for asylum or humanitarian protection. This information is given on the understanding that it will be treated in confidence and held securely. It is therefore extraordinary that breaches such as this have occurred.

I wrote to the Minister about my constituents’ experiences and the wider problems of data protection on 18 September, but have yet to receive a response. I hope that the Minister will comment on that. I welcome his wider reflections on those serious cases. What discussions has he had with the Information Commissioner and senior officials in his Department?

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I could go on—I have a litany of other cases—but I hope that, as I have highlighted a significant number of cases, as have other hon. Members and leading organisations working in the sector, the Minister will concede that what I have described appears to be a systemic issue, in some parts, rather than a few isolated incidents. In that regard, I was hardly reassured by some answers given to other hon. Members and me in a recent roundtable by a Home Office director, Sarah Rapson. I welcome outreach by the Minister and his officials—it is good to see that happening—but I do not feel that the system is improving. I have not seen signs of improvement in those cases. The number of people coming to me with cases suggests that there is a serious issue.

These cases clearly have serious and sometimes devastating implications for the individuals concerned and raise wider concerns about the integrity of the immigration decision process. It is my sincere hope that, as a result of my highlighting these cases, the visas and immigration directorate at the Home Office will undertake an urgent review into the problems I have discussed—not just the specifics, but systemic issues—and institute an effective system to ensure the safe receipt, storage and return of documents in a timely fashion; to address the massive backlog of cases; and to re-establish parliamentary and public confidence in a crucial aspect of our immigration system.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): I remind the Minister that the debate is now scheduled to finish at 5.7 pm.

4.51 pm

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): I reiterate what the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said; it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I do not think that I have done so, either, if I remember accurately. That is clearly an oversight by the House scheduling authorities and it is a great pleasure to redress it.

The hon. Gentleman raises a number of cases. It is difficult to comment on the specific cases for which he has not furnished the details, but I will try to comment on the general points. I thank him for what he said about the front-line Home Office staff and the MP account manager team that supports his office. I know from conversations we have had that it does its best to support his office, as it supports other hon. Members. We have been trying to put a great deal of effort particularly into supporting Members of Parliament. That does not mean that there are no issues, but in terms of the ability for MPs to get swift answers on operational matters and to resolve issues, both the director general, Sarah Rapson, whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and myself have made it clear in the organisation that, when an MP account manager is pressing for information or action, they are acting on my behalf and that of the director general to resolve the issue for hon. Members. That message is getting home. MP account managers are therefore empowered to seek answers from the Department. Of course, if hon. Members are not happy with the response from the MP account manager, or if the MP account manager has not delivered it, they have the option of raising the matter directly with me, as the hon. Gentleman is doing today.

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Before I move on to the care and custody of documents, let me respond to the hon. Gentleman’s mentioning the time taken to make decisions and how many cases are ongoing. That is a good point, because a number of the hon. Gentleman’s examples stem from the length of time that cases took to decide. Some cases were a result of the backlog of lengthy decision making in asylum cases. Clearly, if somebody’s case file is being held and the arrangements take the best part of a decade, it is not surprising that mistakes and errors happen with paperwork. One solution is to make faster decisions and return the documents in a timely fashion.

The hon. Gentleman knows—I have been frank about it in the main Chamber—that in the 2012-13 financial year what was the UK Border Agency in its in-country operations, which are those within the United Kingdom, where a lot of these issues stem from, did not do a good job at making timely decisions and we had a backlog of cases. I am pleased that in this financial year we have made significant progress, although we are not all the way there, in reducing that backlog to the extent that we have a relatively small number of weeks of cases on hand and we are largely, although not entirely, within our service standards. That important factor will enable us to both make more timely decisions and deal with issues about managing paper and valuable documents.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned valuable documents, including passports and biometric residence permits. We take the custody and care of the documents seriously. For context, I shall set out some data. We deal with about 1 million in-country applications every year for study, work or refugee status. Last year, we received 469 complaints about the loss of valuable documents—down from the year before. In about 42% of those cases, the Home Office was partially or fully responsible. Yes, that is 469 too many, because in an ideal world we would not lose any documents and documents would not go astray, but that is less than 0.02% of cases, which, putting it in context, suggests that we are not doing too bad a job. However, that can cause a great deal of annoyance and inconvenience in each individual case, and in a case that the hon. Gentleman highlighted, which I will come to, there was a certain amount of distress for the constituents concerned.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that we have recognised that we need to do things differently, particularly in respect of managing valuable documents. He spoke about ensuring that staff are properly trained and that they complete the mandatory training on protecting personal information, not just to be aware of the procedures and policies, but to understand the consequences of the loss of such documents. He was right to say that it is important that staff are aware of the people behind the cases, not just of cases to be processed. That mentality will enable people to take more care.

The second thing that we are doing, which I think will help, is that, having listened to customer feedback on our holding on to valuable documents until we have made a final decision, we are moving to system in which we will only retain copies of the documents once we have validated them. Customers will send in their application with their valuable document—their passport or biometric residence permit, or whatever—and once we have established the bona fides of the document and made a note of them, we will take a copy of that document and return it to the person at that point, as opposed to

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hanging on to it all the way through the process. That will help, because we will return the documents on a more timely basis, so reducing the opportunity for loss.

The final thing that we are doing—this comes back to some comments that the chief inspector made—is that, rather than maintaining valuable documents at different locations around the country, with what should be standard but in practice turned out to be variable care, we will record and track the receipt of those documents at a central location, where we will manage and store them and where people with expertise will take proper care of them and look after them. When we hold documents, we will hold them in a more secure and better-managed environment.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the postal system and correctly said that we always send documents by recorded delivery. He made a fair point about how Royal Mail compensation for recorded delivery compares with that for special delivery. I will look at our strategy there, at the cost of those two services and whether the point that he raises in practice—it is clearly a theoretical problem—relates to cases where that has been an issue. It would help if he told me about specific cases, if he has not done so previously, because I could use those examples to see whether they raise wider issues. I am happy to do that, because he is right. Clearly, if Royal Mail loses valuable documents and we and his constituent have done everything right, Royal Mail is responsible for the compensation. We must consider whether the compensation that Royal Mail pays for the service that is used is adequate for the task. That is a perfectly reasonable point, and I will take it away. Whether or not I decide that we need to make a change, I will write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library, so that other Members may know what I have concluded.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about compensation where we are at fault. My understanding is that, in the case that I considered, we will pay compensation and refund the cost of replacing the documents, including associated costs such as travel. I accept his point that that requires the person to deal with the situation and claim back the money, but the flipside—he talked about managing public money—is that we also have a responsibility to ensure that, where we compensate people, the claim is genuine, which it is in most cases, but we have had examples in which people claimed costs that they did not incur. That is why we insist that people reasonably evidence the costs before we pay them. My understanding is that we will pay not only the direct costs but the associated costs, including travel.

Where we find that we have lost a document, we have a departmental security unit that considers the root cause of the problem. Was it human error, or was it just poor management? Is there a systemic process involved in that part of the operation that we need to fix by putting something in place?

The hon. Gentleman raised two specific cases involving his constituents, and I have some information on those cases. He did not name the constituent who was sent the birth certificate of an unconnected child in her application for leave, so I will not name her, either. We are grateful to her for returning the document, and I confirm, as we have confirmed to her, that the document had no bearing on the decision-making process. Such things happen

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infrequently, but we are continuing to investigate how it happened, and we will take appropriate steps. As the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter, I will ensure that I am briefed on the appropriate steps that are taken in that case.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a specific constituent, whom he named—Mr Conde. Frankly, it has taken too long for us to reach a compensation agreement with Mr Conde. I confirm that I have investigated the matter. I gave officials instructions to address the situation, and I confirm that today we will be dispatching a letter to Mr Conde with what I think, based on what he is claiming, is a much more reasonable offer of compensation, which I hope he will find acceptable.

After this debate, I will write to the hon. Gentleman with details of the offer. I did not write to him beforehand because I wanted to see whether he would raise any other concerns. The letter will set out what has happened in the case, what we have offered and the thinking behind it. I hope the offer is acceptable and that we will be able to resolve the matter. I have asked officials to consider the matter not only by the book, but in terms of what is reasonable, particularly as his constituent was unable to attend his sister’s funeral, which clearly caused him significant distress. I hope that my response is helpful in that specific case.

Stephen Doughty: I appreciate the Minister’s personal efforts on those cases, and I look forward to seeing the replies.

On compensation in general, it would be helpful for hon. Members and members of the public to see the scale and extent of the problem. Will the Minister furnish us with a detailed figure on the overall compensation paid, so that we may understand the scale of the problem?

Mr Harper: I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s speech, and he referred to a parliamentary question. One of the challenges, of course, is that this is always a balance of resources. When answering parliamentary questions, we have to consider how much resource we have to put into extracting the information. He will know, as I know to my cost, that the systems in the Home Office for recording and tracking information are not the best in the world. There is always a balance. The information is available somewhere in the Department, but pulling that information together from multiple systems can be very costly.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s parliamentary question stated that the information is not held centrally. I cannot remember whether we simply did not have the information centrally or whether pulling together the information would have cost more than the prescribed cost threshold for answering the question. I will go away and see what information is readily available on overall compensation. That information might not be brilliant, but let me see what is available. Again, I will write to him either with what is available or, if the information is not any better than the parliamentary answer, I will tell him so. Again, I will place a copy of that letter in the Library.

I have one-and-a-bit minutes left. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the care of valuable documents is important. I have set out some significant process improvements that are being introduced by the Department

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and UK Visas and Immigration in our in-country business to safeguard those documents better, to make faster decisions and to ensure that there are fewer issues. He raised a sensible point on how we transfer those documents through Royal Mail, and I will consider whether the compensation is appropriate in that specific example, which I thank him for raising. I hope that we can resolve his constituent’s case satisfactorily. I will write

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to him after the debate, and he will receive his and his constituent’s letter in the next few days. I am grateful to him for raising those issues today.

Question put and agreed to.

5.6 pm

Sitting adjourned.