“We are disappointed that the LGA was not made aware of these proposed clauses until they were brought before the Deregulation Bill Committee.”

How can the Government possibly justify their failure to discuss this change with councils in advance of the parliamentary process?

In my city of Brighton and Hove we have 1,800 drivers who serve our city well. I share the deep concerns of many of the drivers whom I have met. They are worried that the Government’s attempt to rush through changes to taxi and minicab regulation will be bad for consumers, bad for our city and potentially dangerous.

The changes will allow, as others have said, anyone with an ordinary driving licence to drive a minicab when it is off duty; minicab operators to subcontract to operators licensed in a different district; and fewer licence checks. The measures weaken protection for the public and they should be stopped. The licensed taxi

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industry has served the public well down the years, but the Government’s desire to shrink the state means that good systems in place for good reasons are under unprecedented attack.

Safety is an integral issue. Taxis are essential for so many people, such as women at night, schools or people with disabilities. They have to have confidence and trust in those with whom they are sharing the vehicle. Deregulation could hit safety standards and cause chaos. It is yet another example of a Government who talk up localism while ripping up local powers in the interests of big business. Our tremendous passenger safety culture, which has been established in the industry over many years, cannot simply be disregarded in such a way. There is real concern that the Government amendments could lead to more women being put at risk of assault or attack when they have to travel late at night by unlicensed and unregulated drivers. The deregulation of the taxi industry could also lead to rogue taxi drivers—criminals posing as drivers—passengers being ripped off and chaos on our streets, with people unsure about whether the taxi that they have just flagged down is legitimate.

We need to ask why such potentially dangerous changes are being rushed through. We know that good money can be made from the taxi and private hire or minicab industry—Addison Lee has made so much that it is giving it away in large quantities to the Conservative party, and are we supposed to believe that Addison Lee has had no influence on the move to push amendments through before the publication of the Law Commission’s in-depth review of taxi and PHV legislation?

John Griffin, the boss of minicab giant Addison Lee, was embroiled in a cash-for-access scandal in 2012, after his firm gave £0.25 million to the Conservative party. At the time, Mr Griffin was quoted at saying:

“Politicians are not running the country. Businessmen are. They are the housewives. We give them the money.”

We can make of that what we will, but we read that last year Mr Griffin kept up his company’s generosity with an individual donation of £500,000 to the Conservative party—reportedly, the third largest donation in the three months to the end of September.

Mr Griffin is clearly a man who has a potential political agenda for the minicab business. For example, he appears to hate cyclists. In comments that beggared belief, he described deaths and serious injuries among inner-city cyclists as “inevitable” and primarily the fault of “untrained riders”. That controversy came less than a week after he had spent several days in the spotlight because he had ordered the drivers of his company’s 3,500 vehicles in London illegally to use bus lanes while promising to indemnify his staff against any fines. Clearly, he thinks he is above the law, and we cannot help but ask ourselves what he might want in return for his large donations.

The Government’s wish to sweep away regulation in the interests of their industry mates represents a systemic and systematic attempt to water down the standards and rules that should have been, and have been, designed to serve and protect the public. The Government should be heavily criticised for showing an extraordinary disrespect for those who rely on taxis and minicabs, for councils and for drivers. I urge Ministers to scrap their rushed and misguided amendments when the Bill returns to the House of Commons on Report. Instead, the Government

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should be following the 2011 proposals of the experts on the cross-party Transport Committee: listening to users, in particular vulnerable groups, to the trade and to local authorities, and keeping the situation simple and local.

3.3 pm

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Chope, for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing it and on expounding a well worked-out argument, with which I am certain that most hon. Members in the Chamber agree. The Law Commission consultation is extensive, asking many questions and offering several sensible proposals. I will focus on my concerns about the accessibility of taxis and private hire vehicles for disabled people.

At the beginning of this year, Boro Taxis, which operates in the south Middlesbrough part of my constituency, hit the headlines in national and local media outlets following what many might see as exploitation of and disregard for disabled passengers. On 31 December 2013, Middlesbrough council’s licensing department was reported to have found that a number of private hire operators were charging disabled passengers—wheelchair users, in particular—up to twice the standard fare, with licensing officer Tim Hodgkinson arguing that this was a “widespread” practice and a “direct consequence” of passengers’ disability.

The council sent notices to the relevant operators advising them that it considered the practice to be in breach of their regulatory and statutory obligations. I am sure that most hon. Members find such flagrantly discriminatory practices repugnant. Disabled people throughout the country struggle to access transport as is, and to charge them extra because of their disability strikes me as totally wrong.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the fundamental principles underpinning the Equality Act 2010 is that disabled customers should not be treated on less favourable terms than able-bodied customers, and that surely extends to the price that fare-paying taxi customers are charged for the same journey? If that happens under the existing regulatory framework, what on earth will things look like if the deregulation programme goes ahead?

Tom Blenkinsop: I agree with my hon. Friend. Such circumstances are occurring now, while the trade is regulated, but my fear is that with further deregulation, instances such as the one I described will become increasingly common and harder for local authorities to monitor and to manage.

On 11 January 2014, somewhat astonishingly, the owner of Boro Taxis, Mr Bashir, admitted that his own company policy at the time was “morally totally wrong”. The firm, however, subsequently started to refuse to carry any wheelchair users, arguing that it would be “uneconomic” to do so. News of the Boro Taxis decision resulted in a ferocious backlash, and thousands of social media users, many of whom were likely customers, called for and pledged to a boycott of the firm.

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The company quickly performed a welcome U-turn on the decision, given the ensuing negative publicity, but the issue continues to be one that users of the taxi service talk about and it is often referred to when the firm is discussed. That there was even such a proposal in the first place, however, I fear shows an unwelcome eagerness to discriminate and to treat disabled passengers as liabilities, rather than as valued customers. My main fear about the proposed deregulation of the trade is that such practices will become more common.

That is only one case, but it demonstrates a problem that I suspect, from communications from disabled people throughout the region, to be systemic. The Law Commission is therefore correct to identify equality and the needs of disabled passengers as an area in desperate need of legislative reform. In the consultation, disability groups highlighted the lack of training and disability awareness among taxi and private hire drivers, with issues such as an increased risk of injury due to wheelchairs not being properly secured, or a deaf passenger being unable able to communicate effectively with the driver. That is of course a two-way street: drivers may also injure themselves while helping disabled passengers in an inexpert fashion. Employers have to ensure that their drivers are trained and compensated properly for such training.

Some excellent training schemes are available to drivers on all aspects of dealing with people with a disability, such as loading and unloading wheelchair users, securing the wheelchair, or how to operate the swivel seat, the hearing loop and so on. More importantly, however, training will ensure that drivers and indeed taxi firm owners are aware that it is imperative to treat all people of differing abilities with dignity.

Various training schemes have been adopted by local authorities, but I firmly believe that national safety standards should be applied as a minimum and that this should include disability awareness training. On a business level, there should therefore be a fair playing field and a good standard of customer services maintained for all, especially disabled people, nationally. Furthermore, a statutory requirement should be placed upon licensing authorities to take steps to ensure taxi and private hire drivers’ compliance with their equalities obligations.

Middlesbrough council’s report into accessibility, which highlighted the issue of charging disabled passengers extra, was a welcome step. It will have made a real difference for disabled people in the town. That should be the practice nationwide, and it should be done on a regular and standardised basis. I am aware that some councils are hesitant to undertake monitoring and testing due to concerns about the safety and welfare of their employees, but a statutory requirement of that kind could be met through regular consultation with disabled passengers by licensing authorities, and through improved and easier reporting structures for recording incidents.

3.8 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to be able to take part in the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing one on such an important issue. I also declare that I am a proud member of Unite the union, which has an interest in the taxi trade.

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Two weeks ago, my two Bolton colleagues and I attended a meeting in my constituency, which had been called by the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers. In attendance were people from the Law Commission, the Local Government Association, the National Taxi Association, the National Private Hire Association, Unite and the GMB, the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester and councillors from a number of Greater Manchester authorities, including Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale, Trafford, Stockport and Salford. It was interesting that those attendees, from a vast range of different backgrounds, all spoke with one voice. They did not understand why the clauses affecting taxis were being rushed into the Deregulation Bill. They wanted them to be withdrawn, and instead wanted holistic legislation, focused on the Law Commission review. In a meeting of such a diverse group of people it is unusual for them all to speak with one voice.

We know that there are already problems in the system. For instance, in the north-west, Rossendale has licensed over 1,000 hackney carriages, most of which are being used not in Rossendale but elsewhere. Where are checks carried out, and by whom? We do not have national standards, so we could have a situation in which a taxi that is licensed in Rossendale but would not reach the standards required by authorities in Bolton is driving around in Bolton, and a passenger in Bolton who wants to complain about the taxi cannot do so to officers in Bolton, as they have no right to inspect the vehicle or check the driver.

Let us look at the situation in Sheffield. North East Derbyshire district council has licensed a Sheffield-based operator that uses hackney carriages licensed by Gedling borough council. Effectively, no council has regulatory control. Sheffield council is particularly powerless when there are complaints from Sheffield residents about taxis overcharging or poor driver behaviour.

Rehman Chishti: There is a similar situation in Medway in Kent. Drivers from Tonbridge and Malling are operating in Medway, which according to my local taxi drivers is exceptionally unfair. The local authority has said that it makes enforcement difficult. Does the hon. Lady agree that taxi drivers should operate in the area in which they are licensed? That makes enforcement easier and makes things easier for the people who use taxis.

Julie Hilling: The interesting question is why Rossendale, for example, is licensing so many taxi drivers. Why is that happening—why are firms going to Rossendale or to Gedling for licences? Is it that the regimes in those places are much easier to get through or that it is cheaper to get vehicles licensed there—what is it about the system there? When the system as a whole is fractured, there are all sorts of ways through it for disreputable drivers, disreputable companies or people who are simply trying to make the cheapest buck they can.

There is also the question of whether operators should be able to carry out journeys across local area borders. The legislation does not solve that problem. We need to look holistically at what we do about those cross-border journeys to ensure that there can be enforcement of regulations. Wherever a taxi was licensed, if is operating in Bolton why cannot Bolton enforcement officers be allowed to enforce regulations on that vehicle? I am not sure that the answer is necessarily to say that it is not

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possible. We need a framework in which it can happen, under which local authorities can get remuneration to enable them to carry out checks when licensing has been carried out by a different authority. The situation is complicated and is not solved by the legislation.

This issue came to my attention when the parents of a 13-year-old girl came to one of my constituency surgeries because they were concerned about a specific incident that had happened to her. She had taken a taxi. To start with, she was going into Bolton, but part of the way through the journey she received a call from her friend to say that they needed to meet elsewhere. It would appear that at some point during the journey the taxi driver turned off all his monitoring equipment—his GPS and everything else. The 13-year-old was taken to quite a remote estate in the constituency. The taxi driver parked up there and said, “I’m just waiting for a friend to bring me a phone charger—we just have to wait for them to turn up.”

The girl started to get agitated. She had told the taxi driver that she was 16, because her mum had said that she should tell people that she was a little older, thinking that that would protect her—in fact, in the circumstances it appears to have done the opposite. The girl became concerned about the questions the taxi driver was starting to ask her about her social life and so on. Fortunately, she had the nous to get out of the taxi. She played a ruse; she said, “I just want to pop to the shop over there,” got out of the taxi and ran like hell. Fortunately she met a bystander who listened to her, took her to a McDonald’s, called the police and waited with her until they turned up.

It transpired that the taxi driver had a record of past misdemeanours. He was taken through the tribunal system and lost his licence, so is now unable to operate in Bolton. But, like me, the girl’s parents were absolutely horrified to learn that although the driver is banned in Bolton he could become a taxi driver anywhere else, depending on whether another local authority were to do a police check—and because he was not actually prosecuted, a police check may not throw up the fact that he is a danger to the travelling public and, it would appear, to young women in particular.

I asked the Department a written question on what proportion of local authorities in England and Wales require a disclosure and barring service check on applicants before issuing a taxi or private hire vehicle licence. I have received this response:

“The Department for Transport does not hold this information. Local authorities are under a statutory duty to ensure that any person to whom they grant a taxi or private hire vehicle driver’s licence is a ‘fit and proper person’. As part of this process they can undertake criminal record checks on applicants but we do not keep details of the assessment policies and procedures adopted by local authorities.”

That “can” seems inadequate. I have asked questions about whether all local authorities carry out police checks, but as nobody holds the information we do not know. That is another reason why we need holistic legislation that ensures that licensing authorities carry out proper checks on drivers. We need a system in which if a person is banned by one local authority they are banned, full stop. The changes proposed in the Deregulation Bill will make the situation worse, not better.

The hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who is no longer in his place, asked why family members should not be allowed to use a taxi when it is off duty.

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I was puzzled myself about that when I met operators and others involved in the industry, and was not wholly convinced by the answers I got, so I asked about whether taxi markings could be removed. I was told, basically, that that would be extremely difficult for taxis operating in my own local authority area—I would guess that would also be the case for all those operating outside London—because they are marked clearly as taxis. Another issue raised was what would happen in areas where taxis are allowed to use bus lanes. What happens to an off-duty taxi then—how would we enforce proper use of bus lanes?

We already have a massive problem in all of our areas with unlicensed taxis touting for business, particularly late at night. I am not often in city centres late at night, but I have been there in the past, and it has to be said that one becomes quite desperate for a taxi. In particular, when young people have perhaps been drinking more than they should have, they will not be rigorous about checking the identity of the driver or the car. In those circumstances people are simply pleased to get a lift home. We should not bring in any measure that weakens regulation and makes it more likely that people will be in a vehicle that is driven by someone who is not the licensed driver.

There are real problems with the system as it is. I ask the Minister to look seriously at removing the provisions from the Bill and to make sure that we have holistic legislation based on the Law Commission report. It seems a nonsense that we are looking to pass the Bill with those provisions, and I ask him wholeheartedly to remove them.

3.19 pm

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): It is important to recognise that 99.9% of taxi drivers, if not more, provide a fantastic service to many of the public. A lot of taxi drivers go beyond their duty, at times. We are not here to have a go at taxi drivers—quite the opposite. We are here to support them and the industry as a whole.

I am not sure why on earth the three new clauses to the Deregulation Bill were tabled. It is beyond me. If it is believed that there is a need for legislation, and if that is contentious, perhaps it is in everyone’s best interest to consult the people who work in the industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) eloquently said, the Cabinet Office suggests that there should be at least 12 weeks’ consultation for any contentious legislation.

Where was the consultation in the present case? Why has there been none? There were 10 days’ consultation—what on earth was the reason for that? I know the Minister will give a full-hearted answer to that question; I just will not be sure about it. What I am sure about is that when the coalition Government come forward with legislation—particularly to do with the Deregulation Bill—it will never be good news for the people working in an industry. I am positive that that is true about the issue we are debating.

The Law Commission is currently drafting a Bill, which is due by the end of April. Is it not slightly confusing that the Government should have commissioned it to draft that Bill and that before it has even been published they have tabled amendments to the Deregulation

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Bill? It is fair to ask why those reforms have been made in a rush, as last-minute and very contentious—and questionable—new clauses to the Deregulation Bill. I see the Minister smiling. I am sure that he has the right answers, and we all want to hear that the changes are in everyone’s best interest.

The Minister has ignored everyone who works in the industry—the people in the trade, and the trade unions, which have been asking for meetings to discuss the matter: Unite, GMB and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which take the health and safety of the general public seriously. There have been no consultations with the trade unions or the trade. There is just a cabal of people from Government who want to push through legislation against ordinary working people.

I appeal to the Minister to recognise that there is a threat to passenger safety. The Government’s reforms to licences could increase the number of unlicensed drivers. That is something that no one here wants. Unlicensed drivers who can masquerade as legitimate present a huge problem for the general public. I am like anyone else: I have been in the city centre and needed a cab—it need not even be a city centre, but could be somewhere quite isolated. If someone calls for a cab they need to be confident that the driver of the vehicle that comes is a licensed driver for an organisation that they can have full confidence in.

Even if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) mentioned, someone rolled out of the pub—and there are no MPs who do that, by the way—slightly inebriated at night in the city centre, and there was a taxi there, I am sure they would not knock on the window politely and say, “Excuse me, is this for Mr Ian Lavery of 42 Chiltern close? Sorry, what is your licence number?” That just does not happen. That is why we must ensure that the safety of the public who use the services is paramount.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) raised an important point about subcontracting. There have been problems in the past, and legislation has been passed about disabled people in cabs, which has been positive, to be fair. However, there will be problems. I want to raise the issue of rogue drivers. What problems might arise? Someone—perhaps a disabled person—who did not have confidence in a particular firm might ring another, but if that firm could subcontract without permission, someone from it could turn up in an isolated place to pick up the individual or group. The problems could be immense, and that is not what we want.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): My understanding of what the Law Commission is trying to do is not that the broad thrust will be deregulatory at all. In my central London constituency, we have great concern about pedicabs and stretch limousines—two matters that the Law Commission recommends should be brought within the scope of taxi and private hire regulation. Does the hon. Gentleman share my view that it is desirable that the Law Commission should stick to that position and include pedicabs in the scope of regulation, rather than taking a deregulatory approach such as he has described?

Ian Lavery: I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman says, and other coalition Members have made similar remarks. It has been suggested that the Law Commission

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report should be looked at. There has not been any consultation about input into that, and it has not yet been published. People have not yet had the opportunity for input, as the hon. Gentleman was perhaps suggesting they should.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): It is simply wrong to say that there has been no consultation on the Law Commission report or that no contributions have been given to the Law Commission. More than 3,000 contributions and submissions have been made to it about the likely report.

Ian Lavery: I fear the Minister picked up the wrong thing from what I was saying. I am complaining entirely about the fact that such contentious measures as clauses 8, 9 and 10, which should have had the full consultation period of 12 weeks, as outlined by the Cabinet Office, have been given only 10 days or so. Whether I put it over wrong or whatever, that is the point I wanted to make. There has been very little consultation about a contentious measure. It might be helpful if the Minister mentioned, when he has the opportunity, whether he believes the clauses are contentious. From what I have read, I think that the Government are saying they are non-contentious, and that would be alarming to say the least.

From the Opposition’s point of view, the clauses are deregulation gone mad. They are ideological—an attack on ordinary people and a blinkered pursuit of deregulation at all costs. They risk damaging the taxi and PHV industry, and threaten public choice and safety. Someone mentioned the red tape challenge, but I would rather talk about the challenge of bloodied red bandages. That is how I look at things—with regard to health and safety. The key test that any reform to private hire vehicle regulation should pass is whether it will improve passenger safety. If the clauses do not pass that test, they should be withdrawn.

As hon. Members on both sides of the House have agreed, it would be sensible to have full and proper consultation about all and any changes. I simply ask the Minister to withdraw the three amendments, to have full and proper consultation, to listen to the trade unions—the RMT, Unite, GMB and all other unions—and to listen to the people in the trade who operate licences. He would then be in a better position to say where the law needs to be altered.

3.30 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): It is a pleasure, Mr Chope, to serve under your chairmanship again. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing this important debate and other hon. Members—I counted 12—on their excellent contributions. They covered different aspects of the issue, but were united in asking why it has come forward at this time and in this way.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) said, we must recognise that taxis and private hire vehicles are a critical but often overlooked public service. They are vital to enable people to get from A to B early in the morning and absolutely vital late at night. They are often the only form of transport available in remote areas for people who cannot afford to run their own car. That is why it is so important that regulations

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covering the sector are based on the needs of passengers and why the bodies responsible for enforcing the regulations must do that with passenger safety and effectiveness in mind.

It is widely accepted, including by the Transport Committee’s comprehensive report into the sector in 2011, that the current legislation is outdated and needs reform. As this debate has shown, regulations governing taxis and private hire vehicles are complex and often contentious, so one hopes that the Department for Transport will approach reform in an inclusive, comprehensive and balanced way. As hon. Members have said—I highlight the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti)—this reform is not being carried out in that balanced and comprehensive way.

Speeches and interventions today have revealed the grave problems resulting from the attempt to sort the situation out with last-minute amendments to the Deregulation Bill. That has undermined confidence in the previous reform process—the Law Commission’s investigation. There is serious anger and concern from various stakeholders who have felt ignored or marginalised in the process. As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington explained, the Government’s guidance on consultations stresses the importance of adequate time, engagement and transparency with key stakeholders in policy making. However, in this case and despite the fact that, as the Minister said, the Law Commission was already consulting before introducing these proposals, Ministers decided that informal consultation based on piecemeal reforms would be enough and that it would take 10 days—eight working days.

I hope the Minister is aware of the views of a host of organisations that have expressed concern: the National Private Hire Association, Unite, which is my union and that of other hon. Members here, the GMB, the RMT, the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers, the Licensed Private Hire Car Association, the National Taxi Association and the Local Government Association. They are not just one set of interest groups; they represent a crescendo of concern.

The Local Government Association said:

“Changes to regulations should be considered in the context of the legislation as a whole, rather than in piecemeal fashion...The failure to discuss these proposals with councils…significantly reduces the opportunity for councils to provide constructive input on the feasibility of the proposals and their potential impact.”

I will echo what my hon. Friends have asked. Given that Government guidelines say that up to 12 weeks is necessary for adequate consultation, why does the Minister believe that 10 days is adequate in this case? Why was it not made clear to stakeholders involved in the informal consultation that these measures were intended for inclusion in the Deregulation Bill? It would be helpful if the Minister clarified why the measures were not initially proposed on Second Reading of the Bill. Was there a specific reason, or was it to minimise parliamentary scrutiny and opposition?

My hon. Friends have made points about the impact of the proposals. First, changing who is eligible to drive a private hire vehicle risks increasing the number of unlicensed drivers pretending to be legitimate. We have heard from hon. Members today about the real safety risks that could accompany that. At the moment, we at

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least have the safeguard that only licensed drivers can drive PHVs, but the Government propose to remove that without giving councils additional enforcement powers. Currently, licensing officers have no power to stop moving vehicles, to prevent drivers from driving off or even to request a driver to reveal their identity.

The Minister will probably say, “Don’t worry. It works in London, in the capital.” As has been made clear, the situation in London is different. Since responsibility moved to Transport for London, I understand that on-street enforcement is conducted with a police presence, or the police are called on to act when necessary. We simply cannot assume that that would be the case elsewhere. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) said, the health and safety consequences are very real indeed. It is simply not good enough for the Government continually to dismiss these widespread concerns. When will the Minister recognise that additional enforcement powers are necessary if he is going down this road? If he recognises that, what should they be?

Secondly, changing licensing terms will make it even harder to monitor and take action against non-compliant drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles. The vast majority of drivers are excellent, and—pardon the pun—will go the extra mile for their passengers, but we know that things sometimes go wrong. If we need more reminders of that, we can do no better than to remember the story from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West about the 16-year-old in her constituency. If the Government introduce the proposed requirements, how will they ensure that they are effectively policed and monitored?

The Government propose to implement an extremely contentious policy to enable some subcontracting by PHV operators across different licensing districts. We have been told today by my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) about some of the problems that may arise, particularly in respect of people with disabilities. When will the Minister accept that the drafting of the clause is completely inadequate if we are to make cross-border hire work effective?

Grahame M. Morris: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point that I did not cover properly. Does he share my concern that, far from increasing employment opportunities, as has been suggested, the contracting-out clause, which is the most damaging, is likely to dilute and drive down earnings if drivers are subcontracted in from neighbouring areas at a lower rate? That would be bad for the taxi drivers as well.

Richard Burden: I am sure it would be bad for taxi and PHV drivers. The key point that the Minister must address is how the system will be policed. If we know that local authorities already have inadequate control and powers for effective policing, how can an extension of cross-border work be policed effectively?

In the light of strong and widely held concern about enforcement, the Law Commission’s July 2013 interim statement recommended that, if reforms are to be implemented, they must be underpinned by tougher

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powers for licensing officers, such as the ability to stop licensed vehicles, to impound PHVs and to issue fixed penalties. Those powers, if they are to work, would need to apply in respect of out-of-area vehicles to ensure that cross-border hire can be implemented safely, too. Why, therefore, have the Government not listened to the Law Commission? As the Government have said, it has had an extensive consultation process on a complex issue, including more than 3,000 written responses from across the trade, a four-month series of 84 meetings and an industry survey.

As Frances Patterson QC, the law commissioner responsible for the review, said:

“The legal framework governing the taxi and private hire trades is complex and inconsistent. The purpose of our review is to improve and simplify it, and ensure it is fit for purpose.”

Amen to that, but if Ministers are determined to plough ahead with reforms before the Law Commission has reported, was the review that they commissioned just a complete waste of time and taxpayers’ money? After continuous delays, the Law Commission’s final report and draft Bill were finally expected—we were told—in April. We now know that they will come in May, after the local and European elections, it seems—presumably because the issue is so sensitive. Is that not clear proof that the Government’s proposals are far too controversial and complex for the paltry 10-day consultation that they had in this case?

The Government are making the point—and will no doubt argue again today—that the reforms are about cutting red tape. However, as my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have made clear, far from cutting red tape, they could increase it. They will increase uncertainty and the potential danger to passengers. The Government state that the reforms will reap benefits for the trade. In light of the concerns I have raised, I want to ask the Minister this: if he really feels that, does he have a shred of evidence to back it up?

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington for giving us the opportunity to debate these issues today; sadly, the Government have not provided the House with such an opportunity so far. They have tried to rush the proposals through without adequate parliamentary or public scrutiny, as today’s debate has made abundantly clear.

Taxis and private hire vehicles are important parts of our transport system, but as we have heard, the legislation regulating them is complex and contentious. It requires close collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders if it is going to be reformed effectively. The Government’s attempts at deregulation have not only been woefully inadequate in doing that, but, as I said, they have undermined the process that they established with the Law Commission investigation. The result is a set of piecemeal proposals so poorly thought through that they threaten public safety and are set to increase bureaucracy and litigation for the trade.

I urge the Minister to reconsider these rushed reforms. If he will not do that today—and I hope he will—I assure hon. Members that when the Deregulation Bill reaches Report, Labour will move to delete new clauses 8, 9 and 10. To do otherwise would represent a complete disregard not only of the taxi and private hire vehicle sector, but—perhaps even more importantly—of the interests of the public, who rely on the sector as an important means of public transport.

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3.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. Like everybody else, I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing the debate on the proposed reforms to taxi and private hire vehicle regulation that we have been discussing. A number of contributions have stressed continuing themes: first, the lack of consultation; secondly, concerns over safety; and thirdly, concerns about the proposals being piecemeal.

I hope to address all those points in my speech, but let me start by saying that important issues were also raised about accessibility and, from the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who is no longer here, about guide dogs. Let me put on record right at the beginning that nothing in the measures impacts on accessibility in any way. If anything, there are real opportunities to improve accessibility. Let me make it absolutely clear that there are no plans to change any relevant legislation with regard to guide dogs. The Government are considering commencement options for section 165 of the Equality Act 2010 that will set out in greater detail the requirements of drivers when assisting wheelchair users. I also point out that a lot has been made of subcontracting and of potential restrictions. Of course, subcontracting would allow private hire vehicle operators who do not have wheelchair access vehicles to subcontract to private hire vehicle operators who do.

Grahame M. Morris: On that specific point—the assurances the Minister gave that nothing would be changed in relation to disabled access—one criticism I have received representations about is that the amendments, hastily drafted as they are, have not addressed case law where some of those things could have been looked at. It would obviously be more opportune to look at the issue in the round with the Law Commission report, but is it not a bad thing not to address previous case law, particularly in relation to discrimination against disabled people and access?

Stephen Hammond: As I have set out, we are looking at commencement orders that will set out some details and obligations more carefully.

There has been a huge amount of talk this afternoon about the trade, which many of us rely on heavily on for our everyday lives. The sector is also made up of thousands of small businesses; indeed, the single owner-driver is a typical feature of the industry. As the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) said, these businesspeople are experts who often go the extra mile. That was something I certainly agreed with him on, although I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I did not agree thereafter.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) made the point that it has been clear for some time that the law covering this transport mode is both archaic and complex. In many ways, it has not kept up with a number of other pieces of transport law and more importantly, it has placed a number of unnecessary burdens on small businesses. That is why the Government asked the Law Commission to carry out a comprehensive review of the law. As has rightly been pointed out, it will present its report—it will not be presenting a Bill; it will

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be presenting a report in the next few weeks—and at that stage, as with all reviews and reports, the Government will review the whole of those detailed findings and recommendations.

We gave the Law Commission a simple instruction, which was that it should carry out a review with a clear objective to deregulate as far as possible, and after careful consideration, should the Government decide to take forward legislation arising from the review, we will do so in a way that removes burdens and ensures that safety is still paramount. The publication of the Law Commission’s report has been delayed by several months, so there was no chance to have a dedicated Bill in the final Session in order potentially to introduce some of the wider reforms that the Law Commission will shortly recommend.

Julie Hilling: I wonder what the point of the Law Commission report is if the clauses are put in the Deregulation Bill. What if they are contradictory and what happens to the rest of the Law Commission’s work? I would be grateful if the Minister could explain to us what will happen with the Law Commission report if it comes up with some really positive suggestions.

Stephen Hammond: I expect the Law Commission to come up with a lot of positive suggestions and a lot of recommendations on removing some of the more archaic aspects of the existing legislation. I do not expect any of what is being proposed to contradict in any way that report. We have had to weigh up the case for finding a suitable opportunity to look at pragmatic changes in the immediacy rather than looking at the possibility of waiting until everything is reviewed. The Government have chosen to operate and act pragmatically, and to introduce limited measures at this point, because it is clear that the care we are taking to introduce the amendments will make life easier for small businesses and allow them to remove some restrictions that are completely unnecessary. That opportunity has been presented by the Deregulation Bill. It allows us to make immediate progress to assist both taxi and private hire businesses.

Mark Field: My hon. Friend the Minister is absolutely right. This issue is a frustration for us all. As I mentioned in my earlier intervention, I would like pedicabs to be brought within the scope of regulation and the Law Commission is quite keen that they be regulated. But clearly, once the Law Commission reports, it will take some time before a Bill gets on to the statute books. I say to all Opposition Members that it surely makes sense that elements of deregulation that apply to all small businesses, whether in the private hire vehicle industry or elsewhere, should become apparent sooner rather than later, given that it will probably be, I fear, the next Parliament before we can get the fruit of the Law Commission’s work into a Bill that, I hope, all of us will be able to support in Parliament going forward.

Stephen Hammond: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right. The measures that we are introducing via the Deregulation Bill will apply in England outside London and Wales. They represent the first part of a longer journey towards a deregulated trade. As I said, my hon. Friend is right. I remember in the last Parliament arguing in this very Chamber that

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pedicabs should be regulated and the member of the Government saying that they should not be. Perhaps there has been a change of view on regulation. I see this as the first part of a journey that my hon. Friend is right to say is likely to take longer than the lifetime of this Parliament, because of the necessary review of the Law Commission report. Let me just state this on the record. I do expect there to be more comprehensive reforms. We have asked the Law Commission to undertake extensive consultation, and it has done that. I referred earlier to the more than 3,000 responses that there have been already. It is worth stating on the record that each of the measures that we propose we have already discussed in detail with the Law Commission.

Richard Burden: If I am reading the Minister correctly, he is saying, “Why hang around if there are simple things you can do now?” In that case, may I put to him one of the proposed changes, which is removal of the requirement for annual licensing? We know—we heard this from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling)—that a number of drivers do not always do what they should do, which is to report criminal convictions, bans and so on. The Institute of Licensing has said that if we move away from annual licensing and the licence period is

“extended to 3 years…a great many unsuitable and potentially dangerous persons would remain licensed for longer.”

That surely is not something simple and uncontentious. It requires rather more scrutiny than the Government are giving us today.

Stephen Hammond: The whole issue about people who choose to put their licence at risk is about enforcement. I will come on to that direct point in a moment, but I want to set out exactly what these three measures are designed to do. We want to work with private hire operators to help businesses to flourish and grow; we want to make life easier for passengers; and we certainly want to ensure that safety is at the forefront of all that is being done. Private hire operators have said that the existing restriction on sub-contracting such that people can subcontract only to operators based in the same district is frustrating for many of them and artificial. It means that often they have to tell passengers that they cannot take their booking.

Allowing private hire operators to subcontract to operators licensed in a different district is a simple change. It will have a huge impact on the ability of operators to meet passenger needs and to grow their businesses, and it should help to make the passenger’s experience much more convenient. In short, it is a liberating measure. It will allow the private hire trade to operate in the way that it sees fit, not just in the way that the current legislation dictates.

There has been some talk about accountability. It is absolutely clear that there is no compromise to the liability in respect of passengers. The Bill makes it absolutely clear that the onus is on the original operator, who accepts the booking and subsequently passes it on, to retain liability for the satisfactory completion of that journey. It is also clear there is a duty on the operator who takes the booking to keep a full record and to report the full record of that journey.

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The second measure proposed in the amendments to the Deregulation Bill will save the private hire trade many thousands of pounds. At the moment, private hire vehicles can only ever be driven by a licensed private hire driver. That creates a substantial burden for the trade, as in many cases people have to buy a second car for family members to drive. That is an unacceptable restriction, particularly in the current economic climate. It came about only because of an unexpected interpretation of the law in a legal judgment back in 1997. At a stroke, that meant that thousands of families had to buy a second car in order to remain within the law. That is a burden too far and one that is ideal for reform using the Deregulation Bill. Therefore, we propose to change the law so that any person with the appropriate driver’s licence and insurance can drive a private hire vehicle when it is off-duty—when it is not in use in connection with a hiring for the purpose of carrying a passenger and not immediately available to an operator to carry out a booking. In that way, private hire vehicle owners and their families stand to make substantial savings.

There is a precedent for the change that we are introducing The judgment was made in 1997. Parliament took account of that judgment when framing the much newer legislation governing private hire vehicles in London. The Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 allows a person who does not hold a private hire driver’s licence to drive a licensed private hire vehicle while it is off duty.

Quite rightly, some concerns have been expressed about safety and the effective enforcement of the measure. That is why in the clause that introduces it, we introduce a reverse burden of proof. If a driver without a private hire vehicle driver’s licence is caught driving a private hire vehicle with a passenger, the clause puts the onus on that person to show that the vehicle was not being used as a hire vehicle at the time when it was being driven. That reverse burden of proof will make things substantially easier for enforcement officers and overcome a number of the concerns about enforcement that are being raised. Of course, in most cases, it will be abundantly clear in a matter of seconds that the passenger is in the vehicle as part of the general domestic use. It will also become apparent very quickly if the driver’s sole reason for being in the vehicle is to undertake private hire work. It seems absolutely reasonable to put the burden of proof on the driver to show that they are not driving for private hire purposes. That reverse burden of proof is significant and it enhances the enforcement powers. If people consider it carefully, they will see that that safeguard goes a long way towards meeting the concerns about safety and enforcement.

The third measure relates to taxi and private hire vehicle driver and operator licence durations. Again, there has been much talk about cost, but there are also savings. This measure will save about £9 million for the trade, as well as a great deal of administrative hassle. At present, the law allows local authorities to grant taxi and private hire vehicle driver’s licences for a maximum of three years. However, far too many authorities are opting for shorter periods. Therefore, three years will be the standard duration for all taxi and private hire vehicle drivers. That seems to me to be a perfectly sensible standard to move to.

I appreciate that some concerns have been expressed about adverse safety implications from allowing drivers to have a licence for three years. The safety of the

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general public is of course paramount. The licensing system, though, should be proportionate. It should recognise that where there is a requirement, there is also a cost. It is a question of striking a balance. As the hon. Member for Wansbeck said, 99.9% of drivers are safe and responsible. The licensing of those drivers should be proportionate.

I hope that in the few minutes available to me I have been able to demonstrate that the Government have considered the measures carefully. They are pragmatic amendments to the Deregulation Bill. They will allow substantial scrutiny in Committee and will reduce the burdens on the taxi and private hire trade. They are effective and safe steps along the longer deregulatory journey.

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Music in Prisons

4 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I am pleased to have been able to secure this debate on music in prisons. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who has responsibility for prisons, is unable to attend, but he did me the courtesy of speaking to me personally to apologise and I know that he has briefed the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on the issues that we are debating.

The Prisons Minister is well aware of the efficacy of the arts, and specifically music, as a means for the rehabilitation of prisoners. Research by the National Offender Management Service into the arts in prisons concluded that

“arts projects are effective at improving in-prison behaviour (such as compliance with rules and engagement with the regime) and individual psychological factors (such as depression and a sense of purpose).”

In 2008, a study by Cambridge university stated that

“it is clear that the Music in Prisons project contributes to the Prison Service’s aim to provide ‘safe, secure and decent regimes’”

and it concluded that music projects

“play a role in fulfilling the NOMS ‘Seven Pathways to Reducing Reoffending’.”

I could go on citing evidence on the matter, but I know that the Department and the Minister are well aware of it. As the Prisons Minister said to me in answer to a question in the House on 18 March:

“He is right that music can be a method of rehabilitation.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2014; Vol. 577, c. 637.]

I know, therefore, that the Prisons Minister accepts that that is the case.

Given that well established consensus, I was surprised earlier this year to start receiving letters from prisoners who knew of my interest in music, telling me that new rules on incentives and earned privileges meant that they would no longer be permitted to keep steel-strung guitars in their cells, and they were having to hand them in. One wrote to me

“have you ever visited a prison and seen first-hand the power that music has, in particular learning a musical instrument, to change prisoners’ attitudes and lives for the better?”

I have visited prisons in my former position as a Minister for skills and education, and I have seen the kind of power that such programmes can have on rehabilitating offenders. The prisoner went on to describe how the new restrictions were impacting on prisoners. That is just one of the many representations that I have received.

I raised the matter with the Prisons Minister at Justice questions, and his answer gave me some encouragement that he was prepared to look into it. I was slightly disappointed—I will not put it any more strongly than that at this point—when the follow-up letter that I received from him simply confirmed the policy and did not offer any rationale whatsoever for it. I applied for today’s debate to pick up the thread and find out what it is all about.

Most people who hear about the change in policy assume that some kind of security risk is at its source, but nowhere in his answer to me in the House or in his

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subsequent letter did the Minister make any such suggestion. It is true that a prisoner might do harm with a guitar or with guitar strings, but that is equally true of nylon guitar strings, the thicker of which—the bass strings—are wound with steel in any case, as the Minister acknowledged in his letter.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. The issue is important, and I support the thrust of his argument. I should make a declaration in relation to the book that I published last year on prison reform, which is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although we should encourage music in prisons to the greatest extent possible, it is a legitimate and proper part of the prison rehabilitation process that the Government—and, to be fair, the previous Government—have been engaged in to make music part of an incentive programme?

Kevin Brennan: I absolutely accept that proposition, but I will go on to show that I do not think that it applies in this case. I believe that this restriction, however it has happened—perhaps by accident—is without any rationale. I might add that I would offer to send a copy of the hon. Gentleman’s book to some prisoners, so that they could read it, but of course we are not allowed to do that any more.

I have not been able to discover any rhyme or reason for a blanket ban on steel-strung guitars. In fact, the NOMS incentives and earned privileges instruction, which I commend to the hon. Gentleman and which brought the policy into effect from last November, helpfully lists all the restrictions on items approved for prisoners on the standard and enhanced scheme and places a convenient “S” next to any item that is restricted for security reasons. Of course, there is no “S” placed next to the guitar string restriction, so the change is not to do with security.

Why should this really matter? What difference does it make whether prisoners are permitted nylon-strung or steel-strung guitars? I accept that it is not the most important issue in the world, or even in prison policy. For a guitarist, however, there is an obvious difference between nylon-strung and steel-strung guitars, which is not simply to do with the sound that they make or the style of music for which they are suited. Even more crucially, it is to do with the way in which the strings are attached to the body of the guitar, which is completely different in each case. As a result, existing guitars that prisoners have bought out of their prison wages for use in their cells can become redundant, and they have become so in many cases. Prisoners wrote to me to explain that, and I quote from one of those letters:

“There are a lot of devastated guys who are having to hand back electric guitars and steel strung acoustics. Many of them would have saved up over months or years, from their £14.47 per week prison wages, to buy their instruments.”

The vast majority of guitars in prisons are steel strung. The Prisons Minister said in his letter to me that the guitars donated by the Jail Guitar Doors initiative, which was founded by the musician Billy Bragg, are mainly used in organised settings outside the cell. That is correct, but to gain any benefit from a musical instrument,

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it is necessary to be able to practise. I would have thought that that was the very definition of a purposeful activity, which is what the Government want to incentivise.

Guy Opperman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Kevin Brennan: I will not, because it is a conversation between me and the Minister, but I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s interest. I would like to use the time that I have, but perhaps he can intervene on the Minister if there is time. The Minister rightly wants to incentivise such purposeful activity, and for that to happen, a prisoner has to have the same sort of guitar available in their cell as they are using in their lessons.

I assume that the Minister has seen the letter in today’s Guardian—I am sure that he is an avid reader of that newspaper—signed by an impressive array of musicians, starting with Billy Bragg. I am sure that we all agree that he has done tremendous work for many years, taking on the mantle of the great Johnny Cash in helping to spread the message of the rehabilitative and redemptive power of music in our prisons. The letter was also supported by guitar legends such as Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths—I understand that even the Prime Minister is a big fan—Richard Hawley, formerly of Pulp, and, in this year of the 60th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, who owns the Stratocaster with the serial number 0001.

Those musicians understand how music can transform lives. They also understand, as they make clear in their letter, that an ill-thought-through, unnecessary restriction of this kind can have a serious effect in our prisons. In their letter, they ask the Secretary of State to look urgently into the rise of self-inflicted deaths and self-harm in our prisons and to consider whether some of the new restrictions may be a contributory factor. That is not as far-fetched as it may sound to some people. Last year, researchers at the university of St Andrews found that playing a musical instrument, even at moderate levels, can benefit brain functioning. Ines Jentzsch from the university’s school of psychology and neuroscience said of the research:

“Our findings could have important implications as the processes involved are amongst the first to be affected by aging, as well as a number of mental illnesses such as depression.”

Earlier today, I spoke to the fiancée of a prisoner who told me that the prisoners who play guitar in the prison where her fiancé is serving a sentence have been devastated and depressed by the recent decision because, in effect, it meant that they had to hand in their guitars. I want to be charitable to the Minister, and to the absent Prisons Minister, because I get the sense that they probably did not intend this outcome, not least because when I first raised the issue in the House the Prisons Minister told me that he was unaware of the detail of this restriction.

Many other parts of the new restrictions are controversial, including the restrictions on books—to which I alluded earlier—and clothing. I am sure that Ministers will have to look at them again. Nevertheless, this debate is about music, so I urge Ministers to look again at this decision with a view to reinstating prisoners’ permission to have steel-strung guitars in their cells. We have already established that the relevant NOMS document does not name security as a concern, and noise or nuisance cannot be the issue because steel and nylon-strung acoustic guitars

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make similar levels of noise. If electric guitars are the concern, rather than banning them completely, restrictions could be placed on amplification, not least as it is perfectly possible to insist that such guitars are played through headphones—they can effectively be silent and not disturb anyone. That would be a sensible restriction.

One prisoner who wrote to me said:

“I am not sure why this change in national policy has occurred but, as one prison officer put it, the prisoners who are learning a musical instrument are generally the most well behaved”.

I understand that the Minister, who is deputising for the Prisons Minister, might not be in the position to reverse the policy here and now, but will he report back to the Prisons Minister on this afternoon’s discussion? Will he also ask whether the Prisons Minister will agree—I have reason to think that he will not—to meet me and the musician Billy Bragg, if we can synchronise diaries, to explore the issue further and discuss the possibility of changing the decision?

The Prisons Minister is a reasonable man and I think he has understood that neither I, the prisoners themselves, Billy Bragg nor the other musicians who have supported the campaign are arguing that, when they commit a crime that leads to their imprisonment, prisoners should not lose many of the rights that they would have on the outside. However, we are all arguing that a significant public investment is made in our prisons, and most of the prisoners in them will eventually be released into the community, where they will live among us.

Music is a proven aid to rehabilitation, and restricting access to it will, in the end, cause more problems than can be justified by the as yet unknown reason for such an unnecessary and counter-productive restriction. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. As an optimist I have every confidence that good sense will eventually prevail and that prisoners will once again be able to play their guitars and prepare for a new beginning when they get out of jail, perhaps by playing and singing the old Bob Dylan song with which I am sure you, Mr Chope, are familiar:

“Any day now, any day now

I shall be released”.

4.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Chope. I would like to thank the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for securing this debate on such an important subject. It is abundantly clear from what he has said that he has great expertise and knowledge on the subject. I assure him that I will ensure that what he has said today will be conveyed to my hon. Friend the Prisons Minister. Also, I am more than happy to facilitate a meeting for him, to the extent that he feels one is necessary after I have said my piece.

This is an important debate. I welcome the opportunity to speak about the important role that music plays in our prisons and set out the position regarding prisoner access to musical instruments. Let me be clear: facilitating access to musical instruments for prisoners is an important part of their rehabilitation. Whether individual prisoners learn to play musical instruments or music is played in a shared environment, such as a prison chaplaincy, music can provide focus, encourage positive social interaction and provide constructive activity.

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In chaplaincy, we see activities involving and using music in a range of ways. As well as music being used as part of some of the main acts of worship, a number of chaplaincies have choirs or chapel bands, which allow prisoners to be part of a creative shared experience. They can also help prisoners to develop listening and communication skills and engage with others in a positive way.

In education, there is significant provision for learning about music. The offender learning and skills service, which has been commissioned jointly by the National Offender Management Service and the Skills Funding Agency, works with offenders to identify their learning needs and advise on what learning and training opportunities are available in prisons. Vocational opportunities are available towards the end of a prisoner’s sentence, to ensure that any training undertaken is current and relevant to the local job market on release.

The offender learning and skills service—OLASS—also funds personal and social development, which may include recreational learning, such as music activity. Personal and social development is particularly helpful when engaging with resistant learners who might not participate in more formal learning. In the 2011-12 academic year, there were 580 enrolments on OLASS courses that included music as part of the course title. A range of courses are available, including the awards for music practitioners, in music theory and in sound engineering and music technology.

Aside from learning, prisoners are also able to listen to music in their cells by listening to CDs in their possession or to the radio. As well as the availability of national radio, prison radio is now installed in 102 prisons.

Guy Opperman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for giving way. I have appeared on prison radio and experienced its quality in Brixton prison, which is one of the hubs for prison radio, so I would like to say first of all that it is doing a fantastic job and should be supported by the Ministry of Justice. Secondly, I can assure the House that although my book, quite rightly, cannot be posted at random to a prisoner by any person, however esteemed, it is available in prisons via the usual channels and is being read.

Mr Vara: I am sure that those prisoners who are regular and avid readers of Hansard will take note of that plug for my hon. Friend’s book, which is easily available in the relevant prison libraries. I note what he said about the prison radio service, which is available in many prisons. The Prison Radio Association delivers national prison radio, and prison radio tutors work with prisoners to develop new and innovative content. As well as output that is focused on reducing reoffending and encouraging engagement with education, training and opportunities in prison, music is broadcast. Many individual prison governors also engage with local community and voluntary sector organisations, which facilitate music-based activities.

There is plenty of music to be heard in our prisons. I recognise, however, that the hon. Member for Cardiff West is particularly concerned about changes that we have made to the incentives and earned privileges policy framework and what those changes might mean for prisoners who want to play guitars. It important that I explain the intention behind the changes and what they mean in practice.

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The policy on incentives and earned privileges underwent a thorough and detailed review, the first such review for more than 10 years, to ensure that the revised framework would properly address reoffending and that the public could have confidence in it. The review of the policy included extensive consultation with prison operational staff.

Since the changes came into effect on 1 November 2013, the absence of bad behaviour has no longer been enough to earn privileges; now prisoners must also work towards their own rehabilitation and help others. The focus on rehabilitation resulted in numerous other changes to the framework. For example, prisoners can no longer sit in their cells watching television when they should be out working or in education, and they can no longer spend much of their days in the gym.

An important part of our changes was ensuring that prisons operate to a consistent standard in allowing privileges to prisoners who have earned them. That is why we introduced the standardised facilities list, which identifies and limits the items of property that prisoners can retain in their cells, subject to their IEP level. The list is available for each governor to select from as they consider suitable to the specific population, physical fabric and regime of the prison.

The changes have not prevented prisoners from playing musical instruments. The greater the commitment a prisoner shows to the requirements of the IEP framework, the more money they can earn from working, the more they are allowed to spend and the greater the range of property they are allowed to have. Prisoners who work hard, engage and achieve standard and enhanced levels can purchase a musical instrument to keep in their possession at the governor’s discretion. Prisoners who do not engage are not permitted to possess a musical instrument. The standardised facilities list sets out a number of different instruments that prisoners can purchase: for example, a flute, a harmonica or an acoustic guitar.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West is particularly concerned about the position in respect of prisoner access to guitars and the type of strings permitted. Prisoners on the standard and enhanced levels of the IEP framework can be allowed an acoustic guitar with nylon strings. For the bass notes, that can include nylon strings with metal coiled around the outside. Guitar strings can be issued on a one-for-one basis, subject to risk assessments. Full metal guitar strings are not permitted. As I have mentioned, the revised policy was subject to a significant amount of consultation with the operational line and other interested parties. The consultation extended to the contents of the standardised list itself. In the light of security concerns, a decision was made not to allow full metal strings.

Kevin Brennan: I am grateful for that information. As far as I am aware, that is the first time that Ministers have mentioned any security concerns. If that is the case—incidentally, I hope to persuade the Minister that

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there need not be with regard to nylon strings—why is that not indicated in the National Offender Management Service list of items and restrictions, and why is there no security “S” flag on the document?

Mr Vara: I am not saying that there is no security risk with nylon strings, because I think it is acknowledged that there is. It is just felt that there is a greater risk with metal strings. As for the specifics that the hon. Gentleman requires, I am mindful of the time limit on this debate and keen to put as much on record as I can, but I am happy to return to the issue later.

Kevin Brennan: Before the Minister moves on, there are six minutes left and this is the heart of the matter. The NOMS document does not say that there is a security concern. I would be grateful if, following this debate, he would send me the details of the concern and of how it was raised during the consultation, and perhaps indicate why it is not signalled in the NOMS document. However, I am grateful for his earlier offer of a meeting with the Minister to discuss it further.

Mr Vara: I am certainly happy to follow up on this debate by supplying the information that the hon. Gentleman has requested and providing the explanations that he has sought.

I am keen to get everything on the record in the limited time that I have. The hon. Gentleman referred to electric guitars, particularly with reference to a letter that he had received. The standardised list does not allow prisoners to have electric guitars in their possession. It was certainly not the case before the standardised facilities list came into effect that prisons routinely allowed prisoners to have electric guitars in their possession; it has always been more usual for prisoners to have access to electric guitars in a supervised setting. I know that charities such as Jail Guitar Doors have donated numerous electric guitars to prisons over the past few years. Those guitars are most often kept in educational or chaplaincy departments for prisoners to use in a supervised environment, rather than kept by individual prisoners. It is important to be clear that none of the changes involved in IEP should have affected the use of electric guitars and other musical instruments in a supervised setting. The changes to IEP involve the property that prisoners can possess in their cells.

Inevitably, when deciding what items prisoners can possess, there will be a variety of views on whether particular items should be allowed. We are clear, however, that the items that we have included on the standardised facilities list provide a suitable range from which governors can select so that prisoners can be rewarded consistently and appropriately for engaging with the requirements of the IEP policy framework and that, with appropriate access to musical instruments, the quality of their lives can be improved and their chances of successful rehabilitation enhanced.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman again on securing this debate, and I reiterate the assurance that I made at the outset that I will facilitate the meeting he requested with the Prisons Minister and follow up with the outstanding information mentioned in this debate.

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Syrian Refugees (Support and Aid)

4.27 pm

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): The River Euphrates on the Syria-Turkey border should be a place of peace, calm and holiness. Instead, at the Nizip Syrian refugee camp, which lies on its banks, the consequences of the Syrian civil war are all around. On a visit there in January this year, I, along with other colleagues present, saw 17,000 men, women and particularly children existing in giant compounds, waiting for the conflict to end so that they could go home. The refugees in Nizip, helped as they are by British overseas aid, multiple charities, some other countries and a supportive host country in Turkey, are the lucky ones. The colleagues who went there with me spent four days in the camps, and we saw at first hand and had a good chance to assess what life was like in a refugee camp, and we saw a good camp.

I want to address the state that Syria is in, the progression of the conflict and its impact on the Syrian people and their neighbours, the nature of our aid operation outside Syria itself, which is frankly very good, the limited aid in Syria and the problems that it is causing and what we can do both in Britain and as part of the United Nations to exercise greater influence and impact on what is going on. However, we must accept the harsh reality that it is everyday Syrians—the men and women in the street inside Syria—who are fundamentally affected by the conflict and who are not receiving the aid that they need to survive. Only this week, BBC journalists on the ground in Aleppo reported:

“A trickle of aid makes its way across the border but Syrians feel shunned by what they see as the indifference of the outside world. They are defenceless in the face of incessant attacks, caught between two sides determined to fight to the bitter end and with little hope of either respite or relief.”

The reality is that the Syrian conflict is a problem that will not go away, either for Britain or for the United Nations. For my part, I believe and will make the case that the United Nations must do more. Put simply, it needs to add some bite to its bark. Syria forces us to examine our consciences and ask ourselves searching questions, such as: what is the role of the UK Government and the United Nations in confronting the conflict, how do we physically save the lives of refugees who are affected by that conflict, how do we convince our voters of the wisdom—I believe it is wisdom—of spending UK taxpayers’ money on humanitarian aid and how do we ensure that that aid gets to the recipient who needs it in Syria? Put simply, what more can we do?

We have thus far chosen diplomacy as our major approach to this matter. The crisis that began in March 2011, with protests against the Assad Government, has long since escalated to a civil war between Government forces and an array of rebel militias. Having decided not to intervene in the conflict, Britain and the UN have chosen to pursue diplomacy to resolve it, but this has failed to prevent the killing and, with the war now in its fourth year, this conflict is fragmenting into ever more complex disputes. At the same time, the death toll, as we all know, has exceeded approximately 150,000 people and the number of displaced persons is a huge 2.6 million people and rising fast. Inaction is not an option.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and thank the Government for all they are doing to support the Syrian

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people. Does not my hon. Friend agree that there are two problems? There are now actually more than 3 million displaced people—1 million in Lebanon, 1 million in Jordan and 1 million in Turkey—and 7 million internally displaced people. Does he agree that it is a priority to get the international community, particularly the UN, to ensure that there is support for Security Council resolution 2139, which says that aid must get to the Syrian people who are currently displaced internally and with no support?

Guy Opperman: I totally agree. It is significant, is it not, that as we began the fourth year of this conflict, the United Nations finally took significant action on 27 February and passed resolution 2139, which deals with the humanitarian crisis inside Syria. Adopted unanimously, it calls for an immediate end of all violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights; it demands that all parties fully implement the provisions of the Security Council and asks them immediately to lift the sieges of populated areas and to provide unhindered cross-border and cross- line access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, stressing the need to end impunity for violations. I will talk about that in more detail.

The UN has helpfully conducted a 30-day review of resolution 2139, which means that every month it is reviewing how aid is progressing from outside into Syria and the impact that the resolution is having. I urge all parties that are interested to study those reviews— I have copies here—and note that, in reality, aid is not getting through to any great degree or in any meaningful assessment. Therefore we have to ask ourselves what more we are prepared to do.

Mr Newmark: My hon. Friend is missing one part of resolution 2139, on the cessation of barrel bombs. Barrel bombs are highly destructive and are exacerbating an already bad humanitarian crisis. It is important that we give more teeth to the resolution, to stop the Assad regime dropping barrel bombs on its own people.

Guy Opperman: The one action that we have taken is to attempt to stop the chemical weapons. Three shipments of chemical weapons have been destroyed already. Russia says that Syria should complete the transfer of its weapons stocks and they should be totally destroyed by 30 June. The problem is that, chemical weapons having been taken out of the game, almost—we are getting there—the preferred weapon of choice is the barrel bomb. I endorse what my hon. Friend said. The barrel bomb is wreaking havoc within Syria and is making life extraordinarily difficult, not just for Syrians, internally, but in respect of how we get humanitarian aid to those people. With barrel bombs being used regularly, it is exceptionally difficult.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Is not the central point that the way to solve the humanitarian crisis is to bring the conflict to an end? The way to bring the conflict to an end is to force Assad to the negotiating table and we will not do that while he thinks he is winning the military conflict. Surely, the answer is to ensure that the Free Syrian Army is properly armed and equipped and able to prosecute this conflict more effectively and to force Assad to the negotiating table, so that the conflict can be brought to a conclusion and the humanitarian crisis can be solved.

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Guy Opperman: I totally respect the point that is made. All hon. Members in this Chamber and in the House, and everyone everywhere, would like a resolution to the civil war. I am concerned that, even if all those points were made, this is not a war that is going to end within six months or, in all probability, in 12 months. Even with all the actions that the hon. Gentleman legitimately and fairly mentions, that humanitarian crisis is worsening by the day, week and month. The expectation is that at least 1 million more refugees will attempt to leave Syria by the present process that we are engaged in, even as it goes ahead.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I was with him in Syria. I take his important point, which is that we should look at the aid being given within Syria, but there is a third category of those who are out of Syria but outside the camps. In Turkey, there are 600,000 refugees, but only 250,000 are in camps. UNICEF made the point that those outside the camps are not being educated, so in some ways they have many of the problems of those within Syria.

Guy Opperman: I endorse my hon. Friend’s point. We were lucky enough to go to the Nizip 2 camp, which is the gold standard of modern refugee camps, supported as it is by this country and others and by a multitude of aid organisations and charities. It is good at this point to say that we should make it clear that the work of the likes of Oxfam, Amnesty International and all the various charities involved is massively to be applauded. I am sure that the Minister will go on about the £600 million that this country is spending and I endorse and support that. That spending is popular in my constituency. Whether it is expressed by the churches in my constituency or at the pub quiz that I went to on Easter Sunday at the Feathers Inn in Hedley on the Hill, where they raised money for the Syrian refugees, there is a strong view that we are doing the right thing by supporting people in this way.

We saw in Nizip a strongly supported camp. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) mentioned education. I went round the classrooms there, as several of us did, and saw how those involved were trying to provide education. I met Suleiman, a former engineer in Homs, who is now a teacher of year 6 and 7 children in the camp. He spoke movingly of the family members he had lost and of his desire, one day, to return, and about the difficulties of trying to provide education in a container or a tented camp on the Syrian border.

Aid is being provided outside Syria and I think that no one would dispute that this country is doing everything it possibly can in terms of the financial contribution and diplomatic and other efforts being made to ensure that the refugees, whether in Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, are getting as much support as they can. We should make it clear that those three countries in particular have gone above and beyond the expectations of many and are to be supported and validated. It is noted that they have done a great deal to support the Syrian people.

I am particularly concerned about the situation inside—

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this rather important debate. He rightly mentions the support in all our

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constituencies for the humanitarian assistance going to those outside Syria but of Syrian origin, and rightly mentions the lack of support inside Syria. I am sure that he welcomes the open letter today from humanitarian law experts, saying that there is no legal blockage to UN cross-border operations in Syria on a humanitarian basis. Would he support calls to the UK Government to back such operations?

Guy Opperman: I certainly want the UK Government to do more. I have not seen that specific letter, but I take what the hon. Gentleman says. I would like the UK Government to do considerably more to enforce the resolutions and the law that operates to allow international aid through. I have received briefings from a number of organisations, including UNICEF, Oxfam, Amnesty International, Christian Aid and many more. Amnesty, for example, makes the case that the Security Council must ensure that resolution 2139 is effectively implemented by both the Syrian authorities and the armed opposition groups and that non-compliance should result in further measures being taken. Amnesty cites the application of sanctions and full arms embargoes against any groups suspected of human rights abuses. One has to question whether more should be done, and I will try to address that question in a second.

There are strong obstacles, and I accept and endorse that, in the statement by the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary on 14 March 2014, the UK Government made it clear that they condemn those who are stopping such aid getting through. But the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of the parties on the ground, primarily Assad but also some extremist and opposition groups, are preventing that aid getting through, and we need to consider the further steps that the Security Council promised if non-compliance persisted after 30 days. Those 30 days have been and gone on two occasions. The last report was barely a couple of days ago. Although there have been small successes—I cite the 9 April 2014 delivery of aid to a besieged neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo and other small examples of ongoing aid that is getting into Syria—the vast majority of aid is not getting through. The consequences are significant. Frankly, the parties that are still in Syria believe there is no prospect of survival and are therefore looking to leave. The reality is that there is effectively ethnic cleansing because people are being forced out by another means. To a certain degree, there is no need to kill those people. If those people’s lives can be made so unbearable that they are forced to leave, Assad and others will think that they are going to win.

Mr Newmark: Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Ali Gunn, who travelled with us to Nizip and sadly died a couple of months ago? My hon. Friend and I have discussed using the Nizip refugee camp as an example of best practice. Surely one of the things the UK can do is to ensure that the best practice we saw in Nizip is shared with other refugee camps, particularly in Jordan, which seems to be fairly chaotic at the moment.

Guy Opperman: I endorse both of my hon. Friend’s points. We need a detailed understanding of what the UK Government are going to do. First, what representations will they make to the United Nations so that it considers resolution 2139? For the first time—some

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could argue this has taken too long, but we are where we are—we have a common United Nations resolution agreed by all parties that provides a framework for getting things done inside Syria, but that resolution is not working. That may not surprise any of us who have watched, observed and visited the Syrian conflict. The question is what more we are prepared to do. It is a question not of picking a side and fighting for that side but of specifically trying to understand how aid will get into Syria.

There is a degree of pressure on individual aid agencies and charities working on the ground in Syria because, to be blunt, most of their work is limited to the Damascus area because the situation is exceptionally difficult and complicated, but they have to ask themselves whether they are doing what they need to do to ensure that their work happens.

Secondly, the British Government and the United Nations have to look specifically at how they will enforce resolution 2139. I would like to see efforts made to ensure that the United Nations, which has considerable clout even in these difficult days, does what it said it would do, because what is the point of such resolutions if we do not try to enforce them? I hope the Minister will address that point and take the message from this House that Members are keen that more is done to ensure that humanitarian aid gets through to Syria. We must recognise that we have to do all we can to support the Syrian people, because few can imagine their plight.

4.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Lynne Featherstone): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) on securing this important debate. As the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, I genuinely welcome his efforts to bring the plight of Syrian refugees to the House’s attention. I will give a broad description of what we are doing, but I hear loudly and clearly his message on what he feels is impotence in the face of a security resolution that is not being fulfilled on the ground. I will address that point.

We continue to be very concerned about the Syrian refugee situation and the impact that the crisis is having on neighbouring countries. There are more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees in the region. Neighbouring countries have been extremely generous in hosting Syrian refugees, and we urge them to continue showing that generosity by welcoming those seeking safety from violence and by keeping their borders open. Stretched services such as water and health care, however, are under increasing strain. Rents, food prices and unemployment are on the rise. Access to education and protection for refugee children, particularly girls, are major concerns.

As many here today will be aware, the UK has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response in Syria, and I thank my hon. Friend for praising the Government’s actions. The UK’s total funding for Syria and the region is now £600 million—three times the size of its response to any other humanitarian crisis. Of that total, our support for Syrian refugees and host communities in the region amounts to £292 million. That money is reaching hundreds of thousands of people across Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt and provides food to 190,000 people, safe drinking water and sanitation services to more than 213,000 people and more than 71,000 medical

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consultations. The money is also delivering a range of shelter and essential relief items to Syrians displaced by violence.

Food, water and medicine are not enough. More than 1.3 million children—my hon. Friend raised the plight of children—have crossed the border to escape the bloodshed. Some have seen their families split up, and some have seen their parents and friends killed. Away from their homes, many face neglect, exploitation and abuse. Even very young children are being sent out to work or beg, and girls as young as 13 have been sold into early marriage.

Guy Opperman: Does my hon. Friend also welcome the fact that this country has approved more than 3,500 asylum applications and that the vulnerable persons relocation programme started approximately a month ago? Will she make the case that we should not be encouraging our young men in particular, but also our women, to go to Syria to try to get involved in the struggle? We should be deprecating and stopping such involvement as much as possible because the situation is well looked after by both the UK Government and individual charitable organisations.

Lynne Featherstone: This country has an honourable history of receiving asylum seekers, and I am pleased that the first refugees under the new scheme arrived in March. Our young people are going to fight in Syria with what I hope are misguided good intentions. The Foreign Secretary and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have made it absolutely clear that such activity should not be embarked on, as it is dangerous beyond belief and can lead to no good for those individuals or their families.

A destroyed childhood is a destroyed life, and as the crisis rages on, an entire generation of children is being shaped by this relentlessly brutal war that has ripped away every bit of normality. That will have long-term, profound consequences for Syria, the region and further afield—we cannot afford to let those children become a generation lost to conflict. That is why, right from the start of the crisis, the UK Government have highlighted the plight of vulnerable children and focused on ensuring that they have the basics they need to survive.

In September last year, the Secretary of State for International Development helped launch the “No Lost Generation” initiative, which is designed to galvanise a global co-ordinated effort to provide Syrian children with the education, protection and psycho-social support they so desperately need. Slightly off topic, but not very far off topic, is our work in Sudan. The loss of 20 years of education to the children of Sudan has affected the recovery there. As can be seen from the problems that Sudan is experiencing, a lost generation is something that we cannot afford.

Earlier this month, the Secretary of State convened a high-level summit to underline the critical need for renewed financial and political commitment for the “No Lost Generation” initiative and announced a further £20 million of funding for it, bringing the total UK support to £50 million.

Anas Sarwar: The Minister is rightly outlining some of the humanitarian assistance, particularly for children, happening around the Syrian conflict. Will she break

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down specifically what support there is in Syria? What additional support can go into Syria within the legal framework?

Lynne Featherstone: I will come to that. It is important to recognise the impact the refugee crisis is having on the host communities, which is why we are working with partners to ensure that host community needs are incorporated into all programmes. If the host communities are not supported, only the refugees are getting support, which causes all sorts of knock-on problems. The UK also gives £12 million of funding to targeted programmes to meet the specific needs of host communities.

Conditions inside Syria continue to drive the refugee crisis as neighbouring countries’ capacity to support growing numbers of Syrian refugees is limited. We are working hard to ensure that more aid is delivered inside Syria. The UK has allocated £249 million to partners to provide assistance to all 14 governorates of Syria. That is delivering food for approximately 380,000 people and helping to supply drinking water to more than 1.4 million people.

Guy Opperman: Will the Minister give way?

Lynne Featherstone: I will, but I want to get to my hon. Friend’s point.

Guy Opperman: I am sure the Minister does. No one disputes that the UK Government are allocating money, resources, food and all manner of things to individual organisations and on the ground, but the problem is that it is not getting there. The question that the UK Government have to ask themselves is about what they are specifically going to do, whether alone or as part of the United Nations. I assure the Minister that she has more than seven minutes left.

Lynne Featherstone: I thank my hon. Friend. I am keeping an eye on the time, because I want to address the specific points raised. Although aid is getting through, it is not enough. Access is extremely unpredictable. Thousands of people in desperate need wait each month for relief that does not arrive because humanitarian agencies are prevented from reaching them.

To address the point more directly, I should say that the UK lobbied strongly for the UN Security Council resolution on access, and it was unanimously agreed. It was the first time that the UN Security Council came together in support of a humanitarian resolution since the start of the conflict. It is vital that the Syrian regime and its backers respond immediately to those demands, which they clearly are not doing.

On the changes we have seen since that resolution was delivered, the report on the implementation makes it clear that the regime continues to obstruct humanitarian operations, in violation of the resolution. We are expecting a further update later today—the one that my hon. Friend said was leaked.

Guy Opperman: I have a copy of it here.

Lynne Featherstone: Indeed. I do not doubt my hon. Friend’s access to it; I am merely explaining that it was to have been released officially later today.

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We need to maintain pressure on the regime and its allies. We need to maintain our dialogue with neighbouring countries, regional partners and the opposition. As the resolution makes clear, we fully intend to take further steps if the demands it sets out are ignored; I accept that they are being ignored. We will return to the UN Security Council to consider further measures. It is vital to the credibility of the Security Council that it acts when its will is so clearly undermined. I have heard loudly and clearly the message that my hon. Friend wants me to take back to my Secretary of State and to the Foreign Secretary about applying more pressure and going back to the UN Security Council to say, “This is urgent. These people are in desperate need. We cannot wait for things somehow to resolve.”

Obviously, things such as humanitarian corridors have been looked at, but they are simply not feasible at the moment. It therefore behoves us to press the UN Security Council to take further steps to put pressure on the Syrian authorities and on the opposition. The Syrian authorities could certainly be seen to be arbitrarily blocking access to refugees, particularly in opposition-surrounded areas.

Anas Sarwar: Would the Minister support UN cross-border humanitarian operations?

Lynne Featherstone: There is a legal discussion going on at the moment. The UK Government agree that providing partial humanitarian aid cross-border without explicit regime consent is not unlawful in circumstances in which the regime is arbitrarily denying consent for humanitarian access across borders over which it has no control and in the light of the fact that the regime is employing starvation as a method of warfare, which is against international law, against its own people. Such aid, however, must fulfil the requirements of humanity and impartiality.

On whether the UN should give cross-border aid, humanitarian agencies should deliver aid by the most effective route possible to get aid to those who need it. A decision on the UN going across borders without regime consent must be taken after consideration of not only the legal arguments, which we are having now, but the security risks and the risks of regime retaliation against humanitarian operations in other parts of the country where we are getting access to those who are in need. There could be reprisals and then more difficulties created, so worsening the situation.

We continue to urge the United Nations to do all that it can to ensure that aid reaches those who need it. It is indeed a hugely frustrating and dangerous situation, and a desperate one. Although there has been an important step forward, the UN report to the Security Council on 28 March made it clear that obstruction of humanitarian operations is going on in violation of the UN resolution. That is why, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, I will take the message back loud and clear that the UK Government need to consider what our next steps will be to press the United Nations on what further actions it might take. Baroness Amos will provide further details later today, although my hon. Friend already has the details of her proposals—I cannot comment on why his information is better than mine. I assure him, however, that the UK will do everything possible to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian

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refugees in the region and outside Syria. We call upon other nations to contribute their fair share in this humanitarian crisis.

I thank hon. Members for their interest and concern about such a desperate situation. The Department for International Development, working hand in hand with the Foreign Office, will continue to focus efforts on ensuring that humanitarian needs are being met, while

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working hard to find a political resolution to the Syria crisis—although seemingly not in the offing, that is ultimately the only way in which the region will find peace.

Question put and agreed to.

4.59 pm

Sitting adjourned.