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Mr Hague: My hon. Friend’s constituents are representative of opinion across a wide swathe of England, which is why so many people in England want to see this issue addressed and the injustice that has emerged put right for the future.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): These proposals fundamentally breach the theory advanced by William Pitt and William Wilberforce in the Act of Union 1801, which declared that all Members of this House should be equal—whether they are on the Back Benches or Front Benches, however big their majority and whatever kind of constituency they represent. The proposals will also lead to a bifurcated Government and they will drag the Speaker, whoever they may be, into constant party political decisions about whether or not a Bill is an English-only Bill, which is why I fundamentally disagree with them. But will the Leader of the House explain why it can possibly be right for Baron Smith of Kelvin in Glasgow to be allowed to vote on legislation on which the Member of Parliament covering Kelvin in Glasgow, who is elected, will not be allowed to vote?

Mr Hague: The answer is that Members of the other House are not elected representatives of any particular part of the country. [Interruption.] That is the answer. If the hon. Gentleman did not know the answer to that, he does not know the answer to very much. He should be careful about going into the history of the Act of Union with Ireland. He is quite right that William Pitt the Younger advocated that all Members of this House should be equal, but that is because the Irish House of Commons voted itself out of existence in 1799, and the decision was made to have a Union Parliament without any devolved Parliaments. What has happened in the past 15 years is the introduction of devolved Parliaments, so we have an entirely different situation from that prevailing in 1800.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): The issue of cross-border health care, which has been mentioned on a couple of occasions, demonstrates the unfairness of the current system. I have constituents who are registered with GPs in Wales over whom there is no democratic accountability whatever. The cross-border health care issues demonstrate the unfairness of the current system and the urgent need to introduce English votes for English laws.

Mr Hague: Yes, as my hon. Friend says, this can be unfair in both directions. He makes an important point about his constituents, and it is a further reason why we have to enhance the rights of English Members of Parliament on English matters in this House.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Instead of making allegations about our views, as the Leader of the House did in his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), could he explain why he is introducing far-reaching proposals for this House without having any reform of the House of Lords to make it more geographically representative of the nations and regions of the UK?

Mr Hague: I am not making allegations about the Opposition’s policy; I am just wondering what it is, because there is nothing on it in the Command Paper.

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The point about the House of Lords is that for 103 years we have been debating in this House the reform and the further reform of the upper House without reaching a conclusion on the matter. Saying that these issues should be inextricably linked is a means for some Opposition Members to delay consideration of the implications of devolution for England and put it off for many years. The issues are not linked and must be treated on their merits.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I warmly welcome the moves towards English votes for English laws, and the sooner we can make the procedural changes necessary the better. The Leader of the House has already acknowledged the importance of local decision making, and the further we move away from Westminster, the greater the demands are for that. However, successive Governments of both sides over the years have reduced the powers of local government. Although this Government have done a great deal to improve things, will he take the opportunity that this debate presents to revitalise local government and, if necessary, to restructure it?

Mr Hague: Revitalising local government is an important part of the Government’s approach, but we are not advocating the restructuring of local government, which has often been expensive and time-consuming. However, we are advocating giving more powers to local government, and the details of how we could do more of that over the coming years are set out in the Command Paper.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I remind the Leader of the House that devolution to Northern Ireland occurred not 20 years ago, but 95 years ago next year, and it was not without its problems. I ask him to reflect on the constitutional proposals that were made by his then hero in the 1980s which would have changed the relationships on these islands altogether. There were three proposals, and the Iron Lady rejected them with her immortal refrain, “Out, out, out!” Should that refrain not be echoed today at a proposal that appears to me as a Member of this kingdom to be more about a party political necessity than the needs of the Members of all this kingdom?

Mr Hague: It is about not only the needs of the whole kingdom, but fairness to the voters of England and to the representatives in this House of the voters of England. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the Command Paper and look at the options, because some of them are designed to determine whether there is English consent on English matters without excluding from those matters Members of Parliament from other parts of the United Kingdom. I will be interested to hear his views when he has considered that.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I greatly welcome the statement by the Leader of the House and the Command Paper. The enhanced settlement of devolution to Scotland and Wales inevitably means that the English question must be addressed. Does he understand the concern of the current Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire, and indeed any future Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire, that almost the entire health care delivery to that constituency is delivered in

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England—not a part of it, but almost all of it? It seems inconceivable that that MP would not have any say at all on those powers.

Mr Hague: As I have already said, I very much understand that point. My hon. Friend has been very assiduous in making that argument over recent months. That is why at least one option does not exclude Members of Parliament from other parts of the United Kingdom from speaking and voting on these issues while determining whether there is English consent. It is also why we must be careful in how we define the cross-border issues, so that MPs are not unfairly excluded when there is such a strong structural relationship between the health care needs of people in parts of Wales and its provision in England.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House explain why his party in the 50 or more years that there was a devolved Parliament in Northern Ireland never proposed the sort of things we are talking about today? Could it be because his party used to be the Conservative and Unionist party and today it is morphing into an English nationalist party?

Mr Hague: No, it is because throughout that period, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there was a reduction in the number of MPs from Northern Ireland. The existence of a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland was treated in a different way in this House, by reducing the number of Westminster MPs from Northern Ireland. I do not think that he would want to advocate that now for Wales, so we have to deal with this in a different way.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): My constituents tell me every weekend that English votes for English laws is a basic principle of fairness. Talking of fairness, I have more than 81,000 constituents, but a neighbouring Member has just 67,000. How fair is that?

Mr Hague: It is not fair. We have debated previously in this Parliament equalising the size of constituencies, and indeed reducing the size of the House, and I believe that both proposals remain important priorities for the future. The first is very important for fairness for people casting their votes in future elections.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): How many Bills in this Parliament would have been affected if we had had English votes for English laws?

Mr Hague: A great many, because these options could be applied to parts and clauses of Bills as well as to Bills as a whole. They could therefore have affected a large proportion of the Bills that have been before the House in this Parliament.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The Leader of the House mentioned planning. Many of my constituents believe that we have a top-down approach to planning through the national planning policy framework, which favours developers over local people. If he is serious about localism and devolution, will he support changes to the planning system that consider local people and are not just a developers charter? I suggest that he starts by looking at the excellent recommendations in the Communities and Local Government Committee report on the subject published today.

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Mr Hague: The details of the Select Committee’s report, of course, are for my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, and those matters have also been debated in the House recently. I will certainly draw what the hon. Gentleman has said to the attention of ministerial colleagues. I also point out that part of what is happening with more localism in recent years is the introduction of neighbourhood plans. Over 1,200 parishes, with about 5 million people, have now adopted a neighbourhood plan. They have become a very important factor in planning decisions.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The English people should be trusted to speak for England. Devolution in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London was led by referendums, and the early ones were not in favour. Does the Leader of the House believe that Westminster knows best when it comes to the English regions?

Mr Hague: I think that many of the cities and regions know best, which is why we are giving them more powers and responsibilities. That is what we are seeing with the agreement with Manchester and the prospect of equivalent deals in many other parts of the country. We are trying to ensure that there is much more local decision making across the cities and regions of the country, in place of decision-making here.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): The Leader of the House came here in 1989, and I came in 1992, and during my 22 years here this place has been full of anomalies. Only yesterday I was told by the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries):

“This has nothing to do with firefighters in Scotland”.—[Official Report, 15 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 1157.]

But the debate had everything to do with Scotland, as a consequence of the fact that the Scottish nationalists introduced only part of the deal required by firefighters. On that basis, is it not true that we will now have, as a result of his proposals, second-class MPs in Scotland?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman is quite right that there are many anomalies in how we do things in this House, although the injustice for the voters of England is now sufficiently great to be considered more than an anomaly. When it comes to deciding who votes on matters in other parts of the United Kingdom, it is English Members of Parliament who feel that they are second class. That is why we must deal with the issue. Otherwise, it will damage this Parliament and damage the United Kingdom.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) right that the Leader of the House plans to hold the Speaker responsible for determining what constitutes

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England-only matters and, if so, has he consulted you, Mr Speaker, on how that might work?

Mr Hague: It is envisaged in most of the proposals that have been made for English votes for English laws that the Speaker, or some other impartial authority, would have to certify what is English or English and Welsh legislation. Of course, there are other ways of doing that, for example through a panel of Chairs or some other impartial authority. I look forward to discussing these matters with you, Mr Speaker, as I do on so many matters, and with other Members of the House.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab) rose

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: Oh, what a delicious choice. I call Mr Wayne David.

Wayne David: Good choice, Mr Speaker.

Following the Leader of the House’s previous answer, has he had any consultations at all with you, Mr Speaker, on possible options for deciding what is English-only legislation?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman has waited all this time only to find that his question was asked by the Member who spoke just before him. The answer is the same. You, Mr Speaker, do not play a role in determining the policies of the Government—you have enough to do in keeping order in the House. However, where there are implications for the job of Speaker, I and other Ministers will of course wish to consult the Speaker now that we have made our proposals.

Mike Kane: I put it to the Leader of the House that publishing the Command Paper is shutting the constitutional stable door after the horse has bolted. His own Chancellor has agreed a devolution deal with Greater Manchester. If he does not believe in English votes for English laws, why should anybody else?

Mr Hague: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Chancellor believes very strongly in English votes for English laws. He is quite right to have agreed the deal with Manchester, and we advocate in the Command Paper agreeing similar deals with other city regions so that they can have the same control over local affairs that Manchester is going to enjoy. However, that does not involve the devolution to Manchester of the legislative power of this House. The issue of English votes for English laws, therefore, must still be addressed on top of decentralisation and greater powers for areas such as Manchester.

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Post Office Card Account

1.56 pm

The Minister for Pensions (Steve Webb): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Post Office card account—potentially a slightly less contentious topic than the previous statement, but we will see.

The Post Office card account provides a basic payment service by which people who are without a traditional bank account may receive their benefits, pensions, allowances and tax credits. Although most people have a bank account, there are certain groups for whom that is not viable, and for them the Post Office card account provides an important lifeline. The account is used by around 2.5 million people, including over 1.3 million pensioners. It was introduced to support the move from order books to direct payment into an account, and it was due to come to its natural conclusion in March 2015.

I am pleased to announce that the Government have agreed a new £250 million, seven-year contract that will protect a key service for vulnerable pensioners and benefit claimants as well as helping to safeguard the future of the post office network. For those people who cannot access mainstream banking, the Post Office card account is a vital facility. Through this agreement, we are ensuring that their needs are met. The contract with Post Office Ltd will ensure that the Post Office card account remains available until at least the end of 2021. That long-term deal is good news for the users of the service, good news for the Post Office and for sub-postmasters and good news for taxpayers.

The new contract provides a minimum of 10% efficiency savings over the life of the contract, saving the taxpayer over £27 million, while protecting the income of sub-postmasters. That is an important contribution to reducing the costs of providing contracted services, and the savings are commensurate with what has been achieved in other service contracts.

The new contract will be provided through the FOCS—front office counter service—framework. FOCS was awarded to the Post Office in 2012 following a competitive tender, with the intention that other Government services could be provided through a framework in the most efficient way possible. FOCS provides the Post Office with a gateway to win future Government business. I am pleased that we have been able to use the framework to deliver the new Post Office card account contract.

The latest Post Office card account contract, which was signed by the previous Administration, was due to reduce the number using the service. However, that did not happen as planned, which means we are starting the new contract with more customers than originally anticipated.

The Post Office card account was always intended to be a stepping stone to mainstream banking. The new contract continues to support that important principle of movement into financial inclusion. I welcome yesterday’s announcement that banks will remove punitive charges from their basic bank accounts. Increased access to basic bank accounts is a huge step forward for those who have previously struggled to open an account, and it supports the delivery of universal credit, breaking down the barriers to financial inclusion and work.

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Like most other bank accounts, those basic bank accounts are accessible at the post office. This means that those who prefer to collect their money at the post office can continue to do so, preserving footfall for sub-postmasters. The Post Office also has a range of financial products which are currently being trialled in various parts of the country, and are due to go nationwide soon. This contract allows a further seven years for the Post Office to develop these accounts and move to a secure and sustainable business model.

The benefits of financial inclusion cannot be overstated. Claimants who are paid into a transactional account are more likely to find long-term employment, and can more easily manage payment of utility bills and direct payment of housing costs to landlords. But we recognise that certain groups remain unable to access such services and the Post Office card account is designed to meet their needs, even if it is as a stepping stone to mainstream banking. The Post Office card account is simple and easy to use and is readily accessible. People with a POCA can collect payments and check their balance either over a post office counter or by using one of a network of almost 2,500 Post Office ATMs spread across the UK network. Such accounts can be opened without a credit check, which means, crucially, that they can be accessed without difficulty by people with a poor credit history.

The Post Office card account is invaluable for those people who rely on someone else to collect their money for them, for example because of a disability. Just over half of Post Office card account users are pensioners, including a significant number over the age of 80. This agreement means that they can continue to receive their payments into a POCA and collect them at the post office, as they do now. I know how important the sense of continuity and familiarity that comes from using their local post office is for many older pensioners. I also know how important the local post office is to local communities. This contract provides certainty for the Post Office and sub-postmasters and helps safeguard the future of the post office network. The new agreement will help sub-postmasters to retain footfall and generate income for their important local businesses.

In 2010 this Government committed £1.34 billion to maintain a national post office network, modernise branches and safeguard the future of the post offices that play a vital role in urban, deprived and rural areas. In 2013 we committed a further £640 million to support the modernisation of the post office network over the next three years. Since then, the post office network has been at its most stable for 20 years. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who has responsibility for Post Office and postal affairs, is here to support this statement.

To conclude, this £250 million, seven-year contract with Post Office Ltd for the Post Office card account represents good value to taxpayers and security for sub-postmasters, protects local services and ensures that we continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable users. I commend this statement to the House.

2.2 pm

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): This is a welcome announcement from the Government, especially for all those who rely

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on Post Office card accounts. Indeed, it is the only sensible decision for consumers, pensioners and small businesses and for the Government. After all, it was this Government who promised to make the Post Office the front office of Government, to the tune of contracts worth £450 million per annum.

In the context of that promise, today’s statement raises as many questions as it answers. This is a not a new contract, but the renewal of an existing contract. What is the value of this new contract to the Post Office relative to the current contract? Where will the £27 million of efficiency savings come from? Does this mean more money for the Post Office or less? Does this statement take the Government closer to or further away from fulfilling their broken promise to the Post Office of an annual income of £450 million from the provision of Government services?

Before this renewal, Government services accounted for about £130 million of Post Office income. What is the total amount of Government income through the provision of Post Office services which will be in place following the contract renewal? Again, does this mean more money or less for the Post Office and for sub-postmasters? The National Federation of SubPostmasters urges the Government to fulfil their promise to deliver £450 million of income per year. Can the Minister be clear to the House about whether the statement takes the Government closer or further away from delivering that promise?

As the Minister knows, the Department for Work and Pensions had several pilots under way, which the Post Office was undertaking on its behalf. Will the Minister update the House on the progress of those pilots? They involved, for example, verification for national insurance and verification of documents for the Pension Service. What stage have those pilots reached, and will they contribute to closing the gap between the promise made and not delivered to the Post Office during the botched privatisation of Royal Mail?

More widely, the Minister rightly reflects on the importance of Post Office card accounts to those with disabilities and to pensioners. The Post Office Local programme is part of the network transformation and can, in some circumstances, reduce the number of counters available that provide privacy to those undertaking POCA business. What is the relationship between the post office modernisation programme and the ability of Post Office card account users to continue to enjoy the privacy that they associate with post office transactions, especially pensioners and the large number of Post Office card account holders who are over the age of 80?

The Minister referred in his statement to the number of transactions undertaken through Post Office card accounts. Does he seek to arrest the decline in usage? Is he clear that there has been a decline both in the number of people using POCAs and the number of transactions? His statement is ambiguous on that point. Finally, will he be clear about whether the Government have a strategy to increase the usage of Post Office card accounts or whether they are happy to let the decline continue?

This is a welcome announcement for all those who use post offices, but as far as we can see, it takes the Government no closer to—indeed, it takes them further away from—meeting that broken promise to the Post Office about Government services and making it the

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front office of Government. Can the Minister provide clear answers about the value of the contract, what it means for the Post Office’s total income and what it means for all those who care about the Post Office and Post Office card accounts?

Steve Webb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his characteristically enthusiastic welcome for this very important announcement that will help to safeguard the post office network. The big contrast between the past four or five years and the preceding 13 years is the hours that hon. Members are not having to spend running “Save our post office” campaigns. The hon. Gentleman talks about decline. The policy of the previous Government was to have rounds of post office closures; this Government have invested £2 billion in preserving the network. This contract will be a further fillip for postmasters.

The hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing to reverse the decline in Post Office card account use. Back in 2005 there were 4.2 million people using POCAs, and in 2010 there were 3.4 million. Under Labour the number of people using POCAs fell by 800,000, so the idea that continuing decline in the use of POCAs is a new phenomenon is news to me. What is happening is that older pensioners, sadly, die and do not use a POCA any more. Newly retired pensioners tend to be more familiar with banking, so the number of pensioners using the POCA will gradually decline, but when Labour set up the previous POCA contract, it asked the Post Office to migrate 700,000 working-age people off these accounts to save money. In fact, this did not happen. When Labour set the contract, its intention was to reduce the scope.

I made it clear in my statement that we believe we will keep the POCA over the next seven years for pensioners. People of working age, as they come within the scope of universal credit, will need a transactional bank account, so although the most vulnerable universal credit recipients will continue to have access to POCAs, we will seek to ensure that wherever possible people of working age have a transactional banking account that will allow them to benefit from direct debits, budgeting and so on. That is where they want to be.

The hon. Gentleman asked about post office locals. I am advised by my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for postal services that customer satisfaction, which is presumably the yardstick in these matters, is up in post office local branches. The hon. Gentleman asked about privacy. Presumably, when customers decide whether they are satisfied or not, privacy is one of the things they consider. In answering our questions, they say that they are more satisfied than they were before the investment went into these post offices.

The hon. Gentleman asked about efficiency savings in the contract. Unlike the previous Government, we do look to make those savings, but we have not reduced the price that sub-postmasters get for each transaction. We could have said to Post Office Ltd, “Save us some money—give the sub-postmasters less”, but we did not do that because the sub-post offices are our priority. He asked about the figure of over £400 million. That is not a target that the Government have set for ourselves.

The hon. Gentleman asked about other services. We are exploring the use of identity-related services at the post office. We run a cross-government service called

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Tell Us Once for customers to report births and deaths, and we are looking at whether that can be carried out at the post office and linked with ID verification. There is plenty of potential for new services. Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency counter services have gone into post offices, as has Check and Send, an excellent service from the Passport Office. The crucial thing about this seven-year agreement is that it allows plenty of time for new services to be developed so that our post offices have a long and prosperous future.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Between 1997 and 2010, under Labour, Pendle lost 17 sub-post office branches. I am therefore delighted by this statement on the Post Office card account, with £250 million of support and a new seven-year contract. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the front office counter service framework will allow the Post Office to bid for, and win, more Government business in future?

Steve Webb: Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The front office counter framework was competitively tendered. The Post Office won because of its unrivalled network and what it was offering, and that meant that the contract could be awarded much more straightforwardly. Using the framework, we have already been able to award other contracts for DVLA counter services, for example, and the Post Office will be able to bid for other Government contracts as they arise.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): In his statement and his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont), the Minister made it clear that the POCA will not become a transactional account, and it is therefore less likely to be suitable for people who have been moved on to universal credit. The Government promised that jam jar accounts would be developed. Clearly, the POCA is not going to be a jam jar account, as some people had hoped. What are the Government doing about this? Who is going to provide these jam jar accounts, because as yet we do not know of any?

Steve Webb: I am grateful to the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee. We have not added features to the Post Office card account because, for example, adding direct debit means that the credit check threshold suddenly gets much more serious. Instinctively, I am with the hon. Lady on this. My approach would have been that the POCA is a good thing, so why should we not add nice things to it? We have not upgraded it, however, because one of its attractions is that people who have poor credit histories or who would struggle with some of the identity checks can be enabled to access it. In developing universal credit, my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary is working with local authorities and the banking industry to look at different sorts of accounts, including, as the hon. Lady suggests, budgeting accounts. The basic bank accounts that were improved yesterday will be part of a suite. We intend that there should be the right sort of accounts for the right people.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central) (LD): I am delighted by today’s news that the Post Office will be able to serve customers using the new POCA well into the future. As

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the Minister said, that will enable the Government to achieve their commitment to protecting the post office network, unlike the previous Labour Government, who closed thousands of branches in every single constituency across the entire country. How many customers does he estimate will access the new accounts, which will bring trade into these post office branches, and how many are unable to access bank accounts at the moment?

Steve Webb: I am grateful for the work that my hon. Friend has done on this. As she will recall, we met to discuss how we could deliver this contract when she was postal services Minister. About 4,000 people in her Cardiff constituency currently have Post Office card accounts, and they will welcome this announcement. She is right that we have to work out how we can develop and expand this in future. We are trying to make sure that we have the right accounts for the right people. The number of pensioners with these accounts will gradually decline. For people of working age, we want, where possible, financial inclusion and transactional accounts. Many people with POCAs do have other bank accounts—for various reasons, they hold both—but we will make sure that the most vulnerable people have access to their money at the post office.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): I am sure that it will be a great relief to many people running post offices to know that the contract is going to be extended in this way, because there was uncertainty for some time. On being able to move from the Post Office card account to a basic bank account, I understand what the Minister said about credit checks, but would it not be possible for the Post Office to establish a basic bank account to which people could migrate, because that might speed up the movement of people into proper transactional bank accounts?

Steve Webb: Post Office Ltd is coming up with a range of accounts, some of which have monthly charges and other different features. The basic bank accounts of the largest nine clearing banks, among others, are all Post Office-accessible. The key thing is that Post Office Ltd is a business that can develop accounts of different sorts, as it is now doing—perhaps it has taken a bit longer than we might have wished—and customers can choose between them. For us, the crucial thing is that people will, if they wish, be able to get their cash at the post office, whether from a POCA, a basic bank account or a Post Office account.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): This announcement is vital for customers in our local post office network. The previous Labour Government presided over more than 6,000 post office closures. Labour MP after Labour MP queued up to have their photograph taken before coming down to Parliament to vote to close those post offices. To what extent will this announcement protect our existing network?

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There has been a sea change. Of course, nobody notices something that does not happen. For the past four years, we have not seen these mass organised closures. It was not just attrition, but at least two rounds of organised post office closures. This Government, despite difficult financial situations, have made it a priority to address

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that. Not only have we have invested in upgrading the network, but the post office local model means that people will be able access their cash on a Sunday morning if the shop is open, and that will be good for business. This is a seven-year contract, so it covers a very long period. The intention is to give the post office network breathing space to develop new products for the longer term.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): This statement is very welcome. Will the Minister tell us how it will apply to the network in Northern Ireland and assure us that it will be proportionate across the whole of the United Kingdom?

Steve Webb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The social security administration system in Northern Ireland is a significant user of the Post Office card account, and we anticipate mirroring provision in Northern Ireland as well.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): As deputy vice-chairman of the all-party group on post offices, I greatly welcome this announcement on the Post Office card account. Because of the new local branches across my constituency, we now have over 300 extra post office opening hours every month. Does the Minister agree that this signals an end to the 13 years of decline in our wonderful post office network?

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is right; 2010 marked a sea change in the attitude of central Government towards the Post Office. I pay tribute to him and to the all-party group for their work on this issue. I recall attending a meeting of that group. The coalition parties have shown persistently, in very concrete terms, their commitment to the post office network in a way that the previous Government did not.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I welcome the Minister’s statement. In my constituency, the local credit union uses the card accounts to allow people to deposit and access their cash. What discussions has he had with the Post Office about developing further services with local credit unions, such as jam jar accounts?

Steve Webb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We set great store by credit unions. As he knows, we have invested about £38 million in the credit union expansion project. Previous Government interventions in this space were well meaning but did not create a new sustainability for the credit union movement. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who is a former Minister, says, “Rubbish.” The previous Government put up money for loans, the money got lent, and the credit union was no more sustainable at the end of the process than it was at the start. We are taking a different approach whereby we are trying to ensure that there is an infrastructure that makes running a credit union cost-effective. We are also very open to the possibility of a link with the post office network.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): As chair of the all-party group on credit unions, I was going to ask almost exactly the same question as the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). I commend the Minister for this statement, which is good for pensioners, good

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for consumers, and good for our post office network. Under this Government, seven local branches in Worcester have been upgraded; under the previous Government, our last Crown post office closed. That is quite a contrast.

Steve Webb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his work on the crucial issue of financial inclusion. I stress that we see the Post Office card account as being particularly suitable for vulnerable people such as elderly pensioners. Over the next few years, people of working age will move from these types of accounts to more transactional accounts. The credit union movement is clearly an important part of this financial inclusion agenda. The crucial thing is to ensure that whether it is through a POCA, a basic account or any other sort of account, people can, if they wish, go to the local post office for their money, and they cannot do that if it has been shut.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): It might be the Christmas spirit, but I find myself in the unusual position of actually welcoming a statement from the Minister. The Post Office card account is welcome, but I have to say that the Minister is wrong in what he says about Post Office modernisation. Many of the post offices in my constituency are suffering changes, with stand-alone post offices being closed in favour of local post offices. There is real concern about the lack of positions for POCAs in local post offices, where queues can build up—many quite large communities have only one local post office to serve the whole community—and banks are beginning to close some of their branches. In those circumstances, how can he be certain that the POCA will be a stepping stone to mainstream banking?

Steve Webb: I will take what I can get: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his enthusiastic response. The 3,760 POCA holders in his constituency, as of last year, will welcome this announcement. On the issue of post office locals, each proprietor has to think what works in their premises, but I am advised by a normally reliable source—the Minister with responsibility for postal services—that queuing times are falling in the local model.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I really welcome today’s statement about real investment in this vital public service—our local post offices. May we have a bit more information on how soon POCA customers who do not already have a basic bank account will be able to pay their bills by direct debit and therefore secure the best deals on their utility bills?

Steve Webb: There is a real tension between an account that is easy to open—limited identity checks; designed for people with poor credit histories—and an account that is sophisticated and transactional, and we feel that basic bank accounts offer a bridge between those two accounts. I was delighted by yesterday’s announcement by my Treasury colleague, the Economic Secretary: one of the things putting people off basic bank accounts is getting hammered with fees, say if a direct debit fails or something like that, and the fact that those fees are no longer in place is an important step forward for people making the transition to more regular sorts of accounts.

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1297

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): The Post Office card account was always intended as a stepping stone to a transactional bank account, which is a gateway to other financial services. The basic bank account agreement with the nine banks is to be welcomed, but there is still incredible suspicion in the marketplace about transactional bank accounts. What more will the Minister do to persuade POCA holders that it is in their interests, as well as in the interests of everyone else, to move to a transactional bank account?

Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are testing and trialling approaches to try to work out which sorts of accounts are most suitable for which people. It is important to understand the revolution that universal credit will bring in, because people will get the whole of their benefits—tax credits, and potentially help with housing—and they will have to budget from that one relatively large sum. An awful lot of work is going on to trial which sorts of accounts work best for which sorts of people, but over the coming years we will clearly contact people of working age to indicate to them the merits of a transactional bank account.

Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): Malcolm Fuller, the sub-postmaster of Eaton post office in my constituency, will step down from his role in the new year after decades of service to the local community. How will today’s announcement support initiatives to encourage new sub-postmasters to come forward, and to encourage existing businesses to deliver post office services in their communities?

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for the more than 5,000 POCA holders in his constituency. He is right that one reason why we are delighted to make the announcement is that sub-postmasters have told us they want an end to the uncertainty. For example, if they were selling a business, the person thinking of buying it needed to be confident that the business had a long-term future. We believe that the seven-year horizon gives sub-postmasters that confidence. We hope that it may unblock some sales, and enable new people who are prepared to move on to the next generation of services to plan for the future. Crucially, to respond to my hon. Friend’s question, it will give post offices the breathing space in which to do that, which they lacked in the past.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the Minister for his statement, because the POCA clearly provides accessibility for many people, particularly elderly people, who rely on the service. In that context, what other Government financial services does the Minister contemplate treating in that way, particularly at a time when many of the mainstream banks are closing many of their branches and people do not have accessibility?

Steve Webb: We are trying to ensure that a range of Government services, not just financial ones, can be accessed at post offices. I recently renewed my family’s passports. The Post Office Check and Send service before the passports went off provided peace of mind and meant that they came back quickly. The Post Office is very good at providing that very valuable service. Identity verification will become increasingly significant: as Government services move online, the way in which

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1298

someone proves their identity online will become important. As a trusted brand, the Post Office could play an important role as one of the potential providers of those services. Not only will services that Post Office Ltd is willing to offer on a commercial basis be available at post offices, but so will a range of Government services.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): The Minister referred to the fact that the Post Office card account includes the facility to enable someone to allow another person to collect their money for them, which is particularly useful for the disabled. Under the new contract, will the account still provide for the issue of a second card for someone who wants one?

Steve Webb: Yes, I can confirm that. There is a system called simple payment for some of the most vulnerable people, who used to have giros, but for those with Post Office card accounts we will continue the facility of a second card for a family member or a carer.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Last week, the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) had an Adjournment debate in the Chamber on a LINK project to try to put ATMs in locations, such as villages, where there are not any ATMs already. For that reason, I very much welcome the Government’s announcement, which is really good news. Will the Minister confirm what the changes are in using the new system at post offices, and will the Government work alongside the LINK project to reduce or nullify charges for usage of the Post Office card account?

Steve Webb: As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is clearly already possible to access cash from a Post Office card account through the network of Post Office cash machines fee-free. As the number of Post Office card accounts drifts down and working-age people move to transactional banking accounts, one danger was that cash machines in rural and deprived urban areas would become unviable and be withdrawn from the network. One of the things we have specifically done through the new contract is to ask the Post Office—this is ensured as a term in the contract—to retain cash machines in rural and deprived urban areas.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his announcement. It is good news for all the village post offices in my constituency and the pensioners who use them. It guarantees the long-term future of such post offices, and it is a contrast with the attitude of both the previous Government and the banks that are shutting rural branches. For the long-term survival of such post offices, the Post Office needs to develop its own basic bank account. Will my right hon. Friend encourage it to do so?

Steve Webb: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend as an officer of the all-party group on post offices and, indeed, as a persistent thorn in my side on this issue, which he recently raised at Business, Innovation and Skills questions. He has shown his commitment to post offices, and I know that his constituents will respect the work that he has done.

We have left Post Office Ltd, as a commercial organisation, the freedom to design bank accounts of the sort it feels appropriate. It has come up with a series

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1299

of accounts; for example, some have a monthly charge, and others have different features. It is obviously testing the market, starting—if I remember rightly—in the east of England. That is clearly a commercial issue for it, but we are keen to make sure that a range of accounts are available to people to meet their needs.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): Does this contract provide more income or less income for post offices?

Steve Webb: To be absolutely clear, the amount we pay sub-postmasters per transaction will be the same. We have protected that. The number of Post Office card accounts has been falling and will continue to fall, because older pensioners die, new pensioners have a tendency to use banks more and the working-age population generally moves towards other forms of transactional accounts. However, if someone moves to a bank transactional account that is accessed at a post office, they can still go into the post office and the post office will still get the footfall. The volume of POCAs is clearly going down, but the value that we are paying in the contract per transaction is staying the same.

bills presented

Local Planning and Housing Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Sir William Cash presented a Bill to make provision for the clarification and improvement of local planning procedures; to make provision in relation to housing supply; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 9 January 2015, and to be printed (Bill 139).

Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr David Ward, supported by Graham Stringer, Stephen Lloyd, John Hemming, Sir Bob Russell, Greg Mulholland and Mr Adrian Sanders, presented a Bill to make provision for the establishment of a compulsory registration scheme at the point of sale for all off-road motorcycles and quad bikes; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January 2015, and to be printed (Bill 140).

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1300

Equal Pay (Transparency)

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

2.29 pm

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to make Regulations under Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 to require employers of more than 250 employees to publish information relating to the pay of employees for the purpose of showing whether there are differences in the pay of male and female employees; and for connected purposes.

Forty-eight years ago, the women of the Transport and General Workers Union at Ford Dagenham got up from their machines and marched for equal pay. Today we have the privilege of having some of those women here in Parliament. Sadly, they are not here to celebrate a victory won, but to support a campaign to deliver on the promises that were made by Barbara Castle and this Parliament when we passed the Equal Pay Act 1970. I am ashamed to say that 48 years on from that historic strike and 44 years since the Act was passed, equal pay is still no more than a promise.

Women in Britain earn, on average, just 81p for every £1 earned by men. In my constituency of Rotherham, women earn just 77p for every male pound. Over a lifetime, that means women miss out on a staggering £200,000—enough to buy a house outright. Young women in their 20s, who the Government like to claim do not face the problem of the gender pay gap, get paid an average of £1,570 less a year than their male peers. In 10 years, that amount will buy them a car or pay for a deposit on a house. It is a life-changing amount that young women are denied.

It is not just women who are poorer because of the pay gap; it is their families too. Equal pay is an issue for all of us. No father, husband or son wants the woman they care about to work in a world where they are valued less for being a woman. The Government may claim that there is no need to worry and that the gender pay gap is falling, but I would hardly call a small fall last year, after a widening gap the year before, a victory. It is true that the last Labour Government closed the pay gap by almost a third, but even that progress is too slow. Women should not have to wait another 44 years for the gap to disappear.

Birmingham city council and, more recently, Asda demonstrated that pay inequality—being paid less as a woman for doing work that is of equal value and demands equal or even higher skills—is still a factor for women across the UK. We have progressed from the days when jobs would be advertised with one hourly rate for men and another for women, but that does not mean that the biases do not continue—they are just more subtle. According to the Chartered Management Institute, the average man’s bonus is £11,000 more than a woman’s.

The inequality becomes self-perpetuating. Men who have earned more in one job enter at a higher salary than women doing the same job who are already employed. That is justified not by performance, seniority or skill, but by the realities of recruitment. Sometimes, as in the case of Birmingham city council workers, there are historical pay inequalities that have simply never been rectified. All I am asking for is equal pay for equal

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1301

work. Whether on the shop floor or the trading floor, that principle is as relevant now as it was back when the women of Dagenham marched.

Pay transparency—the simple act of a company publishing its gender pay gap—would mean that these differences were public for all to see. Why should the burden be on women to investigate pay inequality and to ask their colleagues how much they earn? How can we expect women to call out their employer if they do not even have access to the evidence? We should not have to wait for whistleblowers. We need to empower women to use the equal pay laws that are already in place.

Of course, the pay gap is not only about how much workers in the same job are paid. It is about equal reward for equal work. It is about valuing people’s skills and experiences equally, regardless of their sex, whether they are a parent or have just returned from maternity leave, and whether they are working part time, flexitime or full time. It means not only being paid for the job that they do, rather than the person they are, but being able to expect that if they do a good job, they will be promoted; that they can keep progressing in their career; and that reaching the highest-paid role is possible.

The workplace is changing and there are many examples of businesses that are committed to breaking down these barriers and of women who have made it to the top of their professions. However, today, in this very Government, there are 18 men in the Cabinet and only five women. In the Chamber, 23% of MPs are women and the majority of those are Labour. The Liberal Democrats have not even appointed a woman to the Cabinet in their four and a half years in government.

Pay transparency would push companies to focus on why the pay gap still exists, whether it is because women working on the shop floor are paid less than men in the distribution centre, despite doing work of equivalent skill and responsibility; because men in the company are getting higher bonuses; or because the highest-paid roles in the company are held by men. All those factors require changes to be made to allow equality in the workplace.

This is not about naming and shaming, about telling companies what to do or about micro-managing them; it is simply about changing the emphasis. Pay transparency places the responsibility on employers to be actively conscious of the law on equal pay, and to have policies to address the gap. It is a simple ask, and we know that because some employers, although too few, do it already. PricewaterhouseCoopers recently announced that it would join Genesis Housing and the three other companies that publish their pay gap.

This is not a vast new administrative burden on employers. It would apply only to employers of over 250 employees, and would be as simple as publishing the information in the companies’ annual reports. What it will do is focus minds. Businesses that already publish their figures tell us as much. The insurer Friends Life says that it publishes its pay gap by each pay grade for two key reasons:

“one is trust and the second builds on the old adage, ‘what gets measured, gets managed’…This was shown to be the case when we reported a slight widening of our gender pay gap at two middle management grades in our 2013 Report. The issue was investigated and the explanation included in the report.”

Openness and transparency are principles that this House should be voting for and that Governments of

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1302

all colours should champion. However, on entering Government in 2010, the two coalition parties announced that they would not be implementing section 78 of the Equality Act 2010, which the last Labour Government introduced to enable pay transparency. The former Lib Dem Equalities Minister, the right hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), made a speech in June 2012 in which she said:

“I firmly believe that for most companies who are trying to do the right thing, voluntary business-led initiatives are key. They secure more buy-in and achieve more lasting change than the big stick of legislation…It is not about forcing companies to report information they don’t want to.”

The Government believed that that passive approach would bring about lasting change.

The “Think, Act, Report” scheme has been hailed by the Liberal Democrat Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), as bringing about “significant steps forward”. However, when asked, the Government admitted that only four—it is now five—of the 200-odd companies that were signed up to the scheme had published their pay gap. That is hardly surprising when the Government’s website for “Think, Act, Report” tells companies that they should publish information on their gender pay gap only

“if they feel comfortable doing so”.

That is hardly robust encouragement from the Government.

It appears that the Liberal Democrats have had a change of heart. They now admit that section 78 of the 2010 Act was the right approach all along. We still have time before the election to make pay transparency a reality. It does not require primary legislation. Section 78 already gives the Government the power to make regulations to require pay transparency across all large employers.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to Grazia magazine and its readers for their fantastic campaign, “Mind the Pay Gap”, which has seen tens of thousands of women sign the petition to enact section 78 for pay transparency. I also thank Unite and all the other unions that have championed equal pay for decades for the thousands of working women across this country.

Today, Parliament has the opportunity to take a big step closer to making good on the promise of equal pay, which was fought for and won by the women of Ford Dagenham 48 years ago. MPs of all parties must listen to the voices of women up and down the country and support pay transparency today.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).

The House divided:

Ayes 258, Noes 8.

Division No. 117]


2.39 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Adams, Nigel

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brooke, rh Annette

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Carmichael, Neil

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Farron, Tim

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gilbert, Stephen

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hames, Duncan

Hamilton, Mr David

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Havard, Mr Dai

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Latham, Pauline

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Dr Julian

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Luff, Sir Peter

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Mills, Nigel

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mosley, Stephen

Munn, Meg

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

O'Donnell, Fiona

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Percy, Andrew

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Stephen

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Randall, rh Sir John

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Russell, Sir Bob

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Henry

Smith, Nick

Smith, Sir Robert

Spellar, rh Mr John

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Stewart, Rory

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Swales, Ian

Tami, Mark

Teather, Sarah

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Thornton, Mike

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Walley, Joan

Ward, Mr David

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

White, Chris

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williamson, Chris

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Phil

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Tellers for the Ayes:

Susan Elan Jones


Julie Hilling


Afriyie, Adam

Burley, Mr Aidan

Chope, Mr Christopher

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Whittingdale, Mr John

Tellers for the Noes:

Bridget Phillipson


Heidi Alexander

Question accordingly agreed to.

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1303

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1304


That Sarah Champion, Ms Harriet Harman, Gloria De Piero, Fiona Mactaggart, Kate Green, Sheila Gilmore, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Stephen Doughty, Andy Sawford, John Mann, Mr Steve Reed and Andy McDonald present the Bill.

Sarah Champion accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 February, and tobe printed (Bill 138).

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1305

Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill

[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 3 December 2014, on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, HC 838; Written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, reported to the House on 3 December 2014, HC 838; Oral evidence taken before the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 26 November 2014, on counter-terrorism and human rights; Written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on counter-terrorism and human rights, reported to the House on 26 November 2014, HC 836; Oral evidence taken before the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 3 December 2014, on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill; and Written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, reported to the House on 3 December 2014, HC 859.]

[3rd Allocated Day]

Further considered in Committee

[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]

Clause 21

General duty on specified authorities

2.51 pm

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 30, page 13, line 34, at end insert

“and must also develop capacity to combat and reject the messages of extremism”.

This amendment introduces a requirement to support work combating the ideology of extremism as part of preventing people being drawn into terrorism.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Mike Weir): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 21 stand part.

That Schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 22 and 23 stand part.

Amendment 19, in clause 24, page 15, line 6, leave out “may” and insert “must”

Changes it from optional to compulsory for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to accompany the statutory obligation provided for under Clause 21.

Amendment 31, page 15, line 7, at end insert—

‘(1A) Any such guidance should include a requirement to develop capacity to combat and reject the messages of extremism”

This amendment introduces a requirement to support work combating the ideology of extremism as part of preventing people being drawn into terrorism.

Amendment 20, page 15, line 21, leave out subsection (5) and insert—

‘(5) Before giving guidance under this section, or revising guidance already given, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament—

(a) the proposed guidance or proposed revisions, and

(b) a draft of an order providing for the guidance, or revisions to the guidance, to come into force.

(6) The Secretary of State must make the order, and issue the guidance or (as the case may be) make the revisions to the guidance, if the draft of the order is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(7) Guidance, or revisions to guidance, come into force in accordance with an order under this section.

(8) Such an order—

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1306

(a) is to be a statutory instrument, and

(b) may contain transitional, transitory or saving provision.”

This would ensure that statutory guidance produced under Clause 24 was subject to an affirmative resolution of each House.

Clauses 24 to 28 stand part.

Amendment 21, in clause 29, page 17, line 29, leave out subsection (7) and insert—

‘(7) To support panels exercising their functions under this section the Secretary of State must—

(a) provide guidance on the exercise of those functions;

(b) provide a list of approved providers for de-radicalisation programmes that may be referred to under subsection (4);

(c) ensure that the providers listed under paragraph (b) are subject to monitoring.”

This would give a greater role to the Secretary of State in supporting the role of local support panels. The Secretary would have to provide guidance (rather than it being optional) and she would also have to provide a list of approved providers for de-radicalisation programmes and ensure they would be subject to monitoring.

Amendment 22, page 17, line 41, at end insert—

“(c) the responsible local healthcare commissioning group; and

(d) local representative of the National Offender Management Service.”

This would include local health bodies and the probation service on the assessment and support panels.

Clauses 29 and 30 stand part.

That Schedule 4 be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 31 to 33 stand part.

New clause 12—Review of international best practice around deradicalisation

‘(1) The Secretary of State Shall, within three months of this Act coming into force, lay before both Houses of Parliament a review into international best practice around deradicalisation.

(2) The review under subsection (1) shall include in particular—

(a) examination of best practice in—

(i) Germany;

(ii) Denmark;

(iii) Sweden;

(iv) other countries as determined by the Secretary of State.

(b) the role of community-based organisations in developing and delivering strategies to prevent radicalisation and to deradicalise individuals.

(c) evidence-based recommendations for the rapid implementation of a comprehensive deradicalisation programme in the UK.

Hazel Blears: Before embarking on my remarks on the amendments, I want to say a few words about the appalling events that have taken place in the past 24 hours that illustrate the importance of the work we are doing this week in Committee. I am sure the Committee will join me in sending our deepest sympathies and thoughts to the families of Katrina Dawson, the young barrister, and Tori Johnson, the café manager, who were killed during the 17-hour siege in the Lindt café in Sydney. Those were horrendous events and the whole community in Sydney is shocked. Our thoughts are with them and their families.

Also in the past 24 hours, we have seen a terrible attack on a school in Pakistan. I understand that at this moment the figures are hard to determine, but about

16 Dec 2014 : Column 1307

128 people have been killed, the vast majority children under the age of 16. As far as we know, six gunmen broke into the school compound, entered every single classroom and killed the children. Locals heard the screams of students and teachers. This has been described as a national tragedy and utter barbarism. I am sure the Committee endorses those sentiments. The work we are doing this week sometimes does not necessarily attract as many Members to the Chamber as other topics, but it is of the utmost importance to national security.

Amendments 30 and 31, tabled in my name and that of the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), seek to address what we consider to be a really important gap in the proposed legislation. We welcome part 5 of the Bill as a whole, and we had a good debate on it on Second Reading. The Government’s proposals to put the Prevent strategy and the Channel programme on a statutory footing are absolutely welcome.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): Will the right hon. Lady join me in saying how disappointed she is that part 5, which is a critical part of the Bill, does not extend to Northern Ireland? Young people in Northern Ireland are not immune to being radicalised and entreated to join terrorist organisations.

Hazel Blears: The hon. Lady has deep, if not unique, experience of the practicalities of these issues in her community in relation to Northern Ireland terrorism, which we have faced for many decades in this country and in Ireland as a whole. She makes a powerful point. I am sure that the provisions aimed at preventing young people in particular from being drawn into terrorism would have the same applicability in Ireland as they do in our country. In fact, I am sure there are many lessons we can learn from the dreadful experiences in Ireland that could inform our policy and practice in England, Scotland and Wales. I hope she will return to that in her remarks later on.

I welcome part 5 of the Bill and putting the Prevent and Channel programmes on a statutory footing. I hope that that will succeed in achieving more consistency, better practice and the sharing of projects. At the outset, I say to the Minister that I was very grateful for the recent briefing given to members of the Intelligence and Security Committee on the operation of some of these programmes. I think I saw a step change in intensity, breadth and depth in some of the programmes being implemented. I give the Government credit for doing that. As ever, I will say to him, “Good try and good effort, but there is much, much more we can do,” but I was pleased to have that information.

Amendments 30 and 31 are small, if not quite perfectly formed, but I hope that they will enable us to have a good debate on one of the most important things we ought to be doing to stop people being drawn into terrorism: challenging and combating the ideology that is the foundation of many of the problems we find here and across the world in the global jihad movement and in extreme political Islamism. I hope the amendments will be a catalyst for debate and I am very interested in what the Minister has to say.

Amendment 30 relates to clause 21(1), which puts a general duty on local authorities and other agencies to have regard to work done to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism when they are exercising their functions. The amendment specifically requires that

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when those duties are being carried out, they must also develop capacity to combat and reject the messages of extremism. Amendment 31 relates to clause 24, which provides that the Government should produce guidance on how those duties in clause 21 are to be carried out. I am very disappointed that the guidance has not yet been published. The Government’s explanatory notes to the Bill state that the guidance will be published in tandem with the Bill. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to have the fullest possible debate that I want us to have, without having some guidance in front of us. A key question for the Minister is when the guidance will be available. Will it be available before Report at the very least, so that we can have a full and proper debate when the Bill returns to the House? Amendment 31 states that the guidance should include provision on developing capacity to combat ideology.

The purpose of the amendments is to fill a gap in the Bill. My biggest concern is that part 5 of the Bill is couched in terms of addressing the vulnerability of individuals being drawn into terrorism. Clause 28 refers time and again to working with individuals who are already at risk of being drawn into terrorism. There are two things to say about that: it is a narrow interpretation that deals with individuals, but it also deals with individuals when they are already on the path to radicalisation. I believe there is a real gap in the Bill. As well as work with individuals, work ought to be undertaken on a broader basis with families and communities to build resilience so that people are able to withstand and reject the messages of extremism in the first place.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for all the amazingly important work she does on this issue. She is making a very powerful argument. Do we not also need to reassure families that the purpose of participation in those engagement activities is not punishment but rehabilitation? We have had far too many examples of families ringing up and reporting young people at the centre of this only for those young people then to be broken away from their families. It is important to keep the family unit close together when dealing with these issues.

Hazel Blears: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. He is correct to say that much of this work needs to be done with families in a supportive environment. People who are already involved in terrorism are another matter. Unfortunate though this may be for some of the families affected, there will often be a case for prosecution when people cross the line and engage in criminal activity. Before that point, however, if we can find at the earliest possible stage people who are just beginning to be groomed—this is about grooming, which is relevant to other contexts as well—and who are about to take that path, and if we can support them and get good families and the rest of the community around them to give them resilience, we will have a much better chance of keeping them out of trouble than if we let them go down that path. It is much harder to bring people back than to stop them getting on that conveyor belt in the first place. That is why this work is so important.

3 pm

Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (Ind): I agree entirely with the right hon. Lady that we have to start the process as early as possible, but the real problem in

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my city, which has been suffering quite badly from extremism—we have already lost four young men and there are others still out there—is how to give confidence to families in the community that, first, they will be taken seriously, and secondly, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has said, that, somehow, their children will not be punished. How do we get to the families? I have yet to hear a decent argument that will give confidence to families.

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The work is difficult and complex. It is not easy. During my contribution I shall give a couple of examples that I hope will reassure him that we have made more progress over the past couple of years than in the past on exactly the area he mentioned.

I want to cover several aspects. Why is this work important? Who is best placed to do it? That is a key issue. I also want to address the importance of having an online presence these days, because so much is done through social media. I also want to address the role of religious leaders and scholars. That is a controversial area, but it is absolutely essential to work with them. I shall also give some practical examples.

Why is the work important? Young people are being drawn into situations and scenarios that are absolutely horrendous for them and their families.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The right hon. Lady is a good friend of mine and one thing that has not been mentioned so far is friends. Does she agree that the peer group is probably as important—and sometimes more important—in influencing young people? I speak as the father of four teenagers.

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman, whom I count as a friend in the House, makes an extremely important and valid point. Interesting research has been done lately on the contrast between exposure to radicalisation online and peer groups. It is very interesting that we concentrate on having a presence on online social media, but evidence is emerging that peer group influence is just as important—possibly more important—than online messaging.

This work is very important, particularly for young people who are even more vulnerable. Quite a lot of research has been done on people with mental health problems and how vulnerable they are at certain points in their lives. We had a good discussion about that on Second Reading. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked about the tipping point and what we really know about the issue. The work is also important because it counters the justification for terrorism and the powerful narrative about grievance and victimhood, which underpins all the work done by our Contest counter-terrorism strategy.

In the past such work was seen as something of an add-on to the Contest strategy: the important thing to do was to pursue the terrorists, disrupt plots, prosecute and convict. All that is absolutely essential, but because the Prevent strand of our work is about emotional vulnerability, mental health problems and families, friends and peer groups, it is much more difficult to have a direct and targeted strategy. It was therefore almost

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seen as a second-order issue. I am absolutely delighted that Prevent has now been put centre stage not only because the Bill puts it on a statutory footing, but because of the contributions of many Members. Of the 500 young people who have gone to Syria, 250 have come back, some of whom will be radicalised and pose a threat to this country. There is now an increased focus on that aspect, and I am absolutely delighted about that.

I ask the Minister whether that increased focus will be reflected in the money to be allocated to the Prevent programme. I would be very interested to know how much of the £130 million that the Prime Minister promised will actually be allocated to Prevent and Channel work.

Lady Hermon: I am sincerely grateful to the right hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene on her once more. Church leaders are another very important and influential group. I speak from the horrible experience in Northern Ireland. My late husband was the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary during the worst of the troubles—indeed, he was the longest-serving Chief Constable—and the late, wonderful Cardinal Cahal Daly, the leader of the Catholic Church, condemned, without hesitation, IRA violence and beseeched young people not to get involved with the IRA. The involvement and contribution of religious leaders is hugely important.

Hazel Blears: The hon. Lady makes another point illustrating the depth of her personal experience of the issues under discussion. The leaders of our faith groups play an essential role. Increasingly, Muslim leaders are condemning many of the atrocities, even so far as to issue fatwas and to say that they are un-Islamic activities. There is, however, further to go, because it is one thing to condemn something, but the big challenge is to build an alternative narrative that says it is not justified by religion or Islam, and that the way in which quotes from the Koran are twisted and perverted to justify violence is absolutely wrong. Government cannot play that role, and nor should they: it ought to be the role of respected scholars and religious leaders in the community. That work is essential, because the violence is justified by reference to a perverted view of a religion, which is a betrayal of mainstream, moderate Muslims.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): Is the right hon. Lady aware of the distrust and suspicion in some communities of what might happen? After the Bradford riots, many parents escorted their children to the police thinking they would get told off, but they ended up with long, extended prison sentences for actions that, at the beginning of the day, were simply not in the minds of those young people. There is a danger that people will be reluctant to come forward because of the way in which they will be dealt with by the police.

Hazel Blears: I am very much aware of the difficulties faced by people in such circumstances. It can be a dilemma for families and friends to take those steps, but what I will go on to say might reassure the hon. Gentleman to some extent.

Sara Khan is the director and co-founder of We Will Inspire, which might be an unfortunate name, given what has been said so far in the debate. The group works with Muslim women and empowers them. Sara Khan says:

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“When I was growing up I was exposed to a moderate British Islam which talked about integration, active citizenship, love for one’s neighbours and it was this theological grounding that played a significant role in making many young Muslims that I knew resilient to the extremist narrative.”

She goes on to talk about a project she did:

“Earlier this year, Inspire completed a 6 week challenging extremism programme in Leeds to help educate women about the extremist threat and taught them key theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology. Many of the participants lived doors away from the homes of the 7/7 bombers and participants time and again stated ‘if I knew this information ten years ago when my children were teenagers, I would have taught them about the issues raised in this course. This is the first time I’ve been educated on such a crucial and important topic.’ These women expressed feelings of disappointment in religious and civic Muslim leaders in not providing their children with a contextualised understanding of Islam and their inability in directly challenging extremist ideas so easily available on the internet.”

When such work is done, therefore, and people feel confident in being able to rebut those arguments, it is absolutely possible to provide that kind of community assurance.

Mr Mike Hancock: I agree entirely with the right hon. Lady about the role of women in the community. I have talked to women in communities in Portsmouth, some of whom have lost their sons. They wished they had had more information and had been aware of what was going on. The trouble was that those young people had been radicalised outside the home and, in most cases, outside their working environment. Most of those young men were in further education and that was where they had been radicalised, which led them to go to Syria and, ultimately, to lose their lives.

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is right. He will see that in schedule 3 to the Bill there is a list of educational organisations that will be subject to the general duty in clause 21. I am pleased about that, and hope that the Minister will give us the assurance that, as well as formal education institutions, madrassahs will also be covered by this kind of work. Sometimes informal educational settings do not have standards that are as robust as we would all like.

Sara Khan has also given a good example of where community resilience building has worked really well, in Bristol. Five or six years ago, when local people were worried about young people being drawn into extremism, they set up an organisation called Naseehah, which trained 25 local people to recognise radicalised people, and then support and deradicalise them using Islamic theology. A potential suicide bomber who wanted to blow up Bristol town centre was sent to prison, where he was deradicalised. He then sent a message of endorsement to the community organisation, saying how important it was to challenge extremist ideologies.

That is one of the best illustrations I have seen of preventing extremism. It is about building resilience in communities, directly challenging the ideology, supporting vulnerable individuals and then referring them on to a channel project for an early intervention. If all the parts of the circle work together, we have a really powerful mechanism. At the moment, the Minister has a general duty on Prevent and his Channel provisions, which deal with individuals. I honestly think there is a gap on challenging ideology and building the resilience of communities so that they can take that work forward.

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When I have raised that matter previously in the context of the Bill, people have said that that is implicit in clause 21—if there is a duty to prevent people being drawn into terrorism we will have to challenge the ideology. If it is implicit, what is wrong with making it explicit? The Prime Minister has said time and again—in his Munich speech, for example, and in his speech in Canberra—that this is a long-term generational struggle. It therefore ought to be explicit within the legislation. [Interruption.] The Minister talks about the Prevent review, but that was in 2011. I hope to persuade him today that it is a tiny step to say that work under clause 21 will include combating ideology.

I will move on now to online messaging. We have discussed previously some of the excellent work done by Erin Saltman of Quilliam, who has pointed out that, yes, it is important to take pernicious material off the internet so that people cannot access it, but that is not enough. People will find other ways to put that information back up, perhaps via another website, as there is still the technology. Therefore, what Quilliam has classed as counter-speech is very important. The hon. Member for New Forest East has talked a lot about that issue and has a lot of in-depth knowledge on it.

Quilliam has been good at saying what that counter-speech should look like. We need three things: a good message, credible messengers and a means of getting the message across. Quilliam has made the distinction that that should be done through a partnership between civil society, the Government and local government, and has pointed out that civil society organisations are often the best placed to deliver that message. It is not always the case that the Government have to do everything; they can facilitate, help, encourage and provide financial assistance, but the people out there in civil society organisations are crucial to efforts on this matter. Quilliam has made the point that many extremist groups are themselves peripheral civil society groups, so what better way to challenge them than robust civil society groups with really good values that want to do the right thing?

3.15 pm

That point brings me on to the role of scholars and of theology. We have already had a good discussion on that. Ed Husain, who is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has written a very good article, called “Until We Understand ISIS, We Cannot Hope to Defeat It”. He talks at great length, in a much more expert fashion than I can, about the way in which religious ideology drives ISIS. He talks about the Salafis and their adherence to a violent creed around Islam:

“To the violent Salafi, tawheed is political as well as credal. To rule by democracy is to violate God’s sovereignty. Man-made law is the ultimate violation of pure tawheed”—

that is, under the ISIS version—

“and, to oppose this corruption of monotheism, extreme Salafis will walk the path of jihad. Their jihad is not to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or a secular government; it is to create ‘God’s government’ or a caliphate that holds up God’s law by applying their form of sharia.”

That is an interesting analysis of why people hold so dearly to that kind of ideology. Fortunately, only 3% of Muslims hold to that creed, but it can be influential in the wider sphere. When something is explained by reference to religion—the things that people hold really deeply and have a real adherence to—that can be very powerful indeed.

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Ed Husain goes on:

“Isis offers a caliphate and death. Our message needs to be of life, an Islam of the Muslim majority supported by 1,400 years of history.”

So he has an optimistic message as well as a dire warning. Many of us in this House will never have that depth of knowledge and expertise; if we are not of the faith and have not been brought up with it, we will have some knowledge, but being able to work with people who have that depth of understanding will be really important for us. Will the Minister make absolutely sure that when we are doing Prevent work and building resilience, we draw on all the skills and talents of people who increasingly are doing a lot of academic research on this area and have a lot of in-depth knowledge?

In other places around the world, people are engaged in exactly the same work as we are. In Singapore, a religious rehabilitation group has set up a counselling centre and reference centre for religious teachers, researchers and the community. The Australian Government have just produced their first strategy on countering violent extremism. That strategy discusses building

“community cohesion and resilience to violent extremism”

and the need to work with communities,

“both through their own activities and in collaboration with government”

to do this kind of work. If building community resilience can be in the Australian strategy on countering extremism, I am sure we ought to be doing precisely the same in our legislation.

This is an emerging area of study. As we said on Second Reading, no one has all the answers. It is a complex and developing area, and we are learning a great deal as we go along. I was heartened to see Bradford’s action plan for the Prevent programme for the next two years, “Working Together to Challenge Extremism”, which is very practical. I was pleased to see that it says:

“Our approach is centred on challenging the ideology which leads individuals to extremist views and actions. Prevent will work with young people offering them forums to express themselves. Through education and dialogue we will provide access to a wide range of knowledge and opinions enabling groups to further develop ‘critical thinking’ skills and to make informed choices.”

That is a really good encapsulation of what the duty in clause 21(1) should be doing. If in their action plan Bradford Prevent workers can talk about combating ideology, I am again at a loss to see why we cannot incorporate amendments 30 and 31, on combating ideology, into the Bill. That is a really important message that we should be sending out to people in everything we do.

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): I will not pre-empt my speech by seeking to respond to all the points made so far, but I thank the right hon. Lady for the manner in which she is approaching the debate. Let me assure her that the fundamental aspect of challenging ideology is at the core of Prevent and the intent of putting this on a statutory basis is to endorse the work of Bradford and many other local authorities and organisations that are doing absolutely that.

Hazel Blears: I am grateful to the Minister for putting that on the record in such trenchant terms and I still want to encourage him to take the extra small step of

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putting it on the face of the Bill as well as putting it on the record in


. Perhaps we will be able to do that together with our colleagues.

I have a few questions for the Minister. First, does he agree that tackling the ideology is important? He absolutely does. Does he agree that there is a gap in the legislation, in that it does not refer specifically to this work? Does he agree that this work should specifically be included in the guidance? I would be very interested in his response on that point. We might actually see the words “combat ideology” in the guidance, which would be very helpful. Perhaps we could return to the issue on Report to see how far we have moved.

My final questions are about resources. How much of the £130 million announced by the Prime Minister will be allocated to Prevent and Channel? We cannot do this work without the resources and the funds to do it. When does the Minister expect to be able to publish the counter-extremism strategy that I know he and the Home Secretary are working on? That would provide an important backdrop to the legislative work we are doing to make this happen.

I think there is a great deal of consensus across the House. I wish we were not having this debate and that we were not faced with the terrorist threat that we are, but as we are I am pleased that the Prevent part of the counter-terrorism strategy has become more central to what we are doing. There is recognition that if we stop people being drawn down this path, it not only would be good for them but would mean that we would not have to spend millions and millions of pounds on disrupting the plots that unfortunately threaten the essence of our nation. As with many other programmes, if we invest in prevention we do not have to pick up the pieces at the end of the day.

I am an optimist and although this work is difficult, I believe that if we work together—communities, central Government, local authorities, families, practitioners and academics—and ensure that we put every bit of our energy into preventing people from being drawn down this path, we can all learn together, although it will take time, and we can ensure that we live together as communities in peace and prosperity rather than being driven apart, as we are at the moment, by the hatred of this pernicious ideology, which is causing so much heartbreak and concern to communities across the world.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I rise to support the thrust of the argument made by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears). We have worked on these issues in tandem so many times that if they were put on to a DVD, we would be in danger of compiling a box set between us. However, by returning to the same subject again and again and often in the same terms in our campaign to get the Government to do more in this field, we are illustrating the principle that the Government ought to be applying when they do that—namely, if one is to win an argument about or involving ideology, it is not good enough to set out one’s stall a single time as though one were a university professor and to think that that is the end of the matter. One must keep the message coming over and over again until one gets one’s own way. We are saying that what is lacking in the machinery is the ability to consolidate and wage counter-propaganda warfare—I use that term in a non-pejorative sense—against this barbaric ideology,

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and we are talking about doing it in a way that will have an effect at a much earlier stage of the process than most of what is proposed in the Bill as it stands.

It is quite understandable, in the light of atrocities such as 9/11 at one end of the spectrum and what happened in that restaurant in Sydney in Australia at the other, that the Government’s first concern must be countering and impeding what in IRA terms used to be called the “men of violence”. I fully accept that as long as there is a totalitarian ideology at large in the world, in most societies, even democratic ones, there will always be a few people extreme enough, unbalanced enough, criminal enough or at a loss and vulnerable enough for indoctrination to subscribe to it. Even in this day and age, we can find supporters of Aryan theories of Nazism and supporters of Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism, but the key point is that those supporters are absolutely isolated from the wider communities in which they live. We are not concerned about the ability to prevent, by persuasion or counter-indoctrination, every last person who is susceptible to becoming an extremist from becoming an extremist. We are talking about ensuring that that minority remains a minority and that their poison does not leach out into the wider community and, in particular, that the counter-measures taken by the state against what they are doing do not have the effect of radicalising the wider community.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is always very generous in these debates. Although I agree with almost everything he says, I have a small concern and perhaps he could talk me through some of it. He talks about “combating” extremism and ideology, but does he not think that the whole notion of combat and conflict was one of the things that got us into this trouble in the first place?

Dr Lewis: I disagree. When one is dealing with an intolerant ideology, one cannot simply say that one will, through some calm rationalisation, remove all the barbs, evil and poison. I am talking about what must be done to counter the pernicious ideology with which we are confronted.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr Lewis: I had not quite finished, but of course I will.

Mr Davis: Although I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, I rather agree with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that we are sometimes very unwise in our choice of words. When we choose words such as “war on terror”, we give the other side the standing of soldiers when often we are dealing with criminal misfits. Should we not be more careful about our language?

3.30 pm

Dr Lewis: Absolutely, and by using concepts such as “the war on terror” as part of our counter-propaganda campaign we may indeed be scoring an own goal. But in discussing techniques for what we are doing in this place, believe me, there are not a host of radicals

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hanging on every word we use in this debate about the machinery that we should set up. Once we have set up the machinery, we can then go into the niceties of which expressions we use and which we do not. But let us be frank; this is a battle of ideas. It is a battle between barbarism and civilisation. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire and others can shake their heads as much as they like but were I to make, for example, a similar argument against racist and Nazi exterminatory ideology, they would not blame me for couching the argument in the terms of a battle of ideas. It is a battle of ideas; the people who subscribe to this extreme doctrine have declared war on our civilised standards of democracy and tolerance.

I always mention—it so appropriate and someone always forces me, or perhaps I should say, incentivises me to do so—what the late great Sir Karl Popper described as the paradox of tolerance in a free society. He defined it in the following terms: you should tolerate all but the intolerant because if you tolerate the intolerant, the conditions for toleration disappear and the tolerant go with them. I make absolutely no concession to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire or indeed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). My right hon. Friend was talking about something slightly different—what we do when we are engaged in a battle of ideas—so I will give my right hon. Friend that get-out. But I make no concession to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire about using the phrase “a counter-propaganda battle.” That is exactly what it is. We used to wage it against fascism and Nazism and against communist ideology and extremism. This is the latest incarnation, albeit one that goes back to a time hundreds of years before those terrible and extreme ideologies came on the scene to terrorise mankind.

It is fully understandable that a Government’s first concern has to be with the end of the conveyor belt at which fully formed terrorists spring into action, either on what they call a “spectacular” scale by killing hundreds or even thousands of people, or what we on the Intelligence and Security Committee prefer to call the self-starter end of the spectrum. We use that rather than the “lone wolf” appellation for reasons similar to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden. But whichever it is, by the time we reach that end of the conveyor belt nothing can be done. I venture to say that even the best counter-radicalisation and counter-extremism programme will not prevent some individuals from getting on that conveyor belt and travelling all the way to the end. The question is how we isolate them from the majority and prevent them from infecting the majority.

In the amendment, my opposite number—and friend—the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles and I are trying to get something stronger in the Bill. For example, we are trying to add to clause 21 words about developing

“capacity to combat and reject the messages of extremism”.

I am terribly sorry but the word “combat” is in there; I make no apology for it. The clause says that a

“specified authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”

I think having “due regard” is a pretty weak obligation and, as the right hon. Lady said, much of the focus here is on the obligations of various organisations and authorities

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covered by the Bill towards individuals who have already been identified as being vulnerable, at risk or on the path towards radicalisation. But we need to do something else. We need to try to create an atmosphere and a climate that is totally hostile to the propagation of the basic extreme ideology so that it becomes increasingly difficult to find anyone who is on that path to radicalisation because the whole concept of the ideology is anathema to society as a whole, or will be by the time we have finished.

Bob Stewart: I have been listening to my hon. Friend talk on the subject of ideology. One thing that crosses my mind is that some of these gentlemen may well have no ideology whatever, beyond the fact that they think that it is a good cause and they are a jihadi and are suddenly big men in their community. They can swank around and say “I’m a jihadi and I’m going off to fight.” After all, did not one of them have “Islam For Dummies” in his bag when he left?

Dr Lewis: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and the insincerity of some of those who do these sort of things is an important issue. It is important because if we succeed in making adhesion to the ideology something that nobody in the community would want to touch with a bargepole, it makes it much more difficult for anyone motivated by the desire to say “Look at me: I’m this glamorous figure and I’m going on jihad”, particularly if they know that the rest of the community would respond with “What are you saying? Are you mad? Why do you think we should admire you for saying that you are signing up to this ideology?”

A related point common to all these totalitarianisms is this: it is interesting to note how often everybody else gets wrapped up with the historic inevitability of whatever extreme cause it is or the God-given duty to follow it, but funnily enough, it is the people at the top who always seem to end up having supreme power over everyone else. Is it not convenient if someone is an megalomaniac to have to hand an ideology that justifies doing whatever the person wants to do in a society in which civilisation has broken down? As the famous philosopher Thomas Hobbes said, life would be “nasty, brutish and short” in such circumstances.

In reality, these extreme ideologies allow psychopaths and megalomaniacs to get to the top and exercise untrammelled power—but not, of course, for themselves. No, they are doing it because God has laid down that society should be run this way. I feel that, over many hundreds of years, our civilisation has torn down this edifice of extremism, and most of us feel that we will be damned—I use the word almost literally—if we do not stand up to prevent it from being re-erected in the heart of our own society or other societies.

Mr Mike Hancock: I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not fall into the trap that his hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was leading him into—of believing that these young men and women who have gone to Syria were parading themselves around the community saying that they were on their way there. I do not think that any available information suggests that that is the case. In fact, it is the very opposite of the case.

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Dr Lewis: Indeed. It is certainly true that, for obvious reasons, many of these journeys are undertaken in conditions of great secrecy. I cannot help interjecting one of my concerns—I have to be careful not to step into judicial areas and I make no reference to any particular recent case even though there might have just been one—which is about judges who take the view that they want to set exemplary and terribly harsh sentences on people who have come back when we do not know whether they have done anything while overseas other than commit the crime of going overseas to fight in the conflict. Handing out a sentence that would be commensurate with the sort of sentence someone would get in this country if they have committed manslaughter and taken a life, must be a huge discouragement to members in these communities—mothers, for example—to co-operate with the authorities when they are trying to get their sons back and when there is no reason to believe that their sons have any evil intent to carry out terrorism on their return. That is why we sometimes feel there is a need for greater co-ordination and that the issues should not be managed within just one Department. We should try to work out an integrated strategy.

Let me return to the point about counter-propaganda. I learned this lesson many years ago in an entirely different context—in fact, in several different contexts where time and again one would see extremist minorities hijacking moderate majorities and purporting to speak in their name. Where that sort of thing was going on repeatedly, it was almost like trench warfare or a battle of attrition. In those days, such battles would be carried out in the letters columns of the newspapers. A particular organisation or cause might get report after report in the media—and nobody would be answering. The way to deal with it then was to ensure that every report was followed by another report—or, alternatively, a critical letter in the press—so that eventually the radicalisers and the counter-radicalisers would be neutralised, and the wider community would say “We are sick of all this bickering—why don’t both of you just shut up and stop?”

We are not talking about some idealised situation in which we shall be able to let down our guard because there will never again be a small number of people who are willing to try to carry out terrorist acts at the end of the process. We are talking about a wider threat: the danger that, however effective we are in catching terrorists at the end of the conveyor belt that leads to their crimes, there will always be plenty more being fed on to the beginning of the conveyor belt by people who, shall we say, have a certain strategic grasp of what they are trying to achieve.

I thank the Committee for its patience in listening to my speech. As I said earlier, the sort of counter-campaigning that needs to be done on the issue of extremist ideology is, in a sense, demonstrated by the fact that we have to keep returning to this subject until the House gets sick of hearing from us, and the Government decide that the line of least resistance is to toughen up the legislation and create an agency that will be able to supervise, co-ordinate and resource the efforts of moderates in our Muslim community to ensure that their own communities are not hijacked by the barbarians.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I want to say a little about new clause 12, which I tabled. I believe that there is strong evidence from countries that

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are already investing in deradicalisation programmes that they are effective, and I think that we need to look more closely at those programmes—as well as counter-radicalisation programmes—and learn from them.

Let me make it clear at the outset that none of the programmes is a substitute for effective counter-terrorism legislation. They are, however, an important tool that we can and, I believe, should be using to better effect in tackling terrorism. They acknowledge that someone becomes radicalised for a reason, and suggest that therefore, in principle, that person can be deradicalised.

Members who were in the Chamber yesterday may have heard me read the words of Abubaker Deghayes, a Brighton man whose two sons were recently killed while fighting in Syria. He warned:

“The strategy you are using with our sons does not work. You are criminalising them just out of the fear they might become a threat to this country.

Do not push them to be radicalised, used by groups like Isis who are out for revenge and thirst for blood.”

He feels passionately about the need not simply to take urgent, effective action to curtail suspected terrorists, not simply to wash our hands of those who may have become radicalised, and not simply to generalise about who people of this kind are. He believes that we need to understand more about who they are, and why they have become radicalised.

I met Abubaker Deghayes, the father. I met his solicitor, Gareth Peirce, and I met campaigners from organisations such as Cage UK. All of them have a wealth of experience related to the impact of counter-terrorism legislation, and all of them paid tribute to the difference that deradicalisation programmes can make. I hope to host a parliamentary meeting early in the new year, before the House of Lords debates the Bill, in order to give colleagues an opportunity to hear from a range of experts, including police officers, who are engaged in such programmes in other European Union member states.

Before I say any more, it might be helpful if I defined my terms. In doing so, I shall refer to a very useful paper published by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which has conducted a comparative evaluation of counter-radicalisation and deradicalisation approaches in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. It describes deradicalisation programmes as those that are

“generally directed  against individuals who have  become radical with the aim of re­integrating them into society or at least dissuading them from violence.”

That is notably distinct from programmes such as Prevent, which are concerned more with counter-radicalisation, which the Institute for Strategic Dialogue defines as

“a package of social, political, legal, educational and economic programmes specifically designed to deter disaffected (and possibly already radicalized) individuals from crossing the line and becoming terrorists.”

Hazel Blears: I, too, have read the paper from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Would it be fair to say that a lot of the evidence that has been gathered is about deradicalising people from far-right groups, because the work around political Islamism has not yet been developed to the point at which we would be able to get a lot of useful evidence? We need to do much more work in that area of threat facing us, because the far-right work is not necessarily completely comparable with the other threats we face at the moment.

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3.45 pm

Caroline Lucas: The right hon. Lady makes a perfectly fair point. Most of the evidence is coming from that direction. I agree that we need more evidence gathering specifically on the Islamist threat, but none the less I think the point I am making remains that we need greater understanding of why people are radicalised.

I was talking about counter-radicalisation and Prevent, and I wanted to flag up the fact that, as Members will know, Prevent has been criticised for failing properly to engage at the community level and instead making some communities feel singled out and stigmatised. I think that is a lost opportunity and we must redouble our efforts and engage in effective community-led counter-radicalisation programmes, learning from other countries that have done just that.

Deradicalisation is more relevant to the debate we are having now. I draw Members’ attention, if they are not already aware of them, to programmes in places such as Denmark, where a programme called Back on Track has been operating. Its targets include prison inmates who have been either convicted of terrorism or involved in hate crimes or other extremism-related crimes. The aim of the project is to support inmates through mentoring to become better at handling everyday situations, problems and conflicts. Another key element is to focus on engaging families and social networks in order to offer inmates long-term support when re-entering society. Other Members have already underlined the importance of family and kinship groups.

Back on Track has been running alongside another programme, De-radicalisation-Targeted Intervention, which uses mentoring to support individuals who are trying to leave an extremist group. It is focused particularly on being proactive by reaching out to potential beneficiaries and motivating them to participate. A key objective is helping them to find constructive social alternatives to extremist groups.

Germany has what is known as the Hayat programme, which has been developed to reflect the premise that the minds of young Europeans intent on practising jihad in Syria or Iraq are perhaps less likely to be changed by politicians’ threats or force of law than by their next of kin. One of Hayat’s family counsellors says:

“Families are the closest social community that most radicalised young Muslims have. It is the perfect living counter-narrative to radical Islam.”

Since 2012 Hayat has operated a national helpline, which families who are concerned about their sons or daughters drifting into radical Islam can contact.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): While I agree that there is much we can learn from what happens in other nations, does the hon. Lady agree that significant work already goes on in our communities, both with the Prevent programme and without it, which takes the lead and which also co-operates with other nations along the lines she is outlining? On the deradicalisation programme, it strikes me that we have to deal with incredibly difficult issues, but I am confident that a lot of thinking is going into this and there is a lot of co-operation between nations, particularly on the very large number of returning jihadis, which is an even bigger problem, in numbers terms at least, in places such as France and Germany than it is in the UK today.

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Caroline Lucas: I do not doubt that much work is going on, some of it very good, but I wanted to pinpoint the experience of young people who have got caught up in some of these things. They have gone to places such as Syria and they want to come back, and at the moment it does not feel that there is a path that is particularly encouraging to them to come back. We talked about this yesterday when we discussed the temporary exclusion orders and whether or not that means someone will go straight into criminal proceedings.

What I would like us to do is look at some of the models in places such as Germany and Denmark, so that when we have someone who is trying to come back and who is turning their back on what they have done, we do not automatically put them through the criminal process but instead devote a lot more time to trying to see how they can be reintegrated. Obviously one would not do that at the expense of wider security issues, but neither do I think that this is a soft approach. I think, in fact, that it could be a way of making us safer in the long run if some of these deradicalisation programmes work. There is a bit of a gap there, and it is an area that I would like us in this country and our Government to be looking at in more detail.

Mark Field: Does the hon. Lady not recognise that we are some 20 weeks away from a general election and so, unfortunately, the rhetoric about throwing away the keys will inevitably come from party leaders? However, in their heart of hearts they all recognise the importance of looking at this issue in a much more holistic way. I agree with her that it is in the interests of our intelligence services, apart from anything else, that we make common cause to find out about some of these returnees, as they can perhaps co-operate. I suspect that work of that order is going on, as well as the range of programmes to which she refers. In many ways, it is understandable that tabloid rhetoric has its part to play, but our authorities are bringing to bear a much more sophisticated, nuanced approach to this very real problem.

Caroline Lucas: Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I would not be as relaxed about the tabloid rhetoric as he is. I certainly do not think we should be stoking it in this Chamber because that sends out a message that is heard out there and makes young people believe it is too dangerous to come back. I am aware of people from my constituency and the wider area where I live who are out in places such as Syria and do want to come back, but are terrified of doing so. It is not in the interests of wider security that we just send out the same messages; we have to have different messages and learn from countries that seem to be doing a better job on some of this work than we are.

Pete Wishart: The hon. Lady was on to a powerful theme when she was describing some of the other initiatives we witness across Europe. I am familiar with some of the programmes in Germany and Denmark that she mentioned. Would she say that the major difference in character is that Prevent seems to be a more prescriptive solution whereas the initiatives in Europe are much more organic and involve the community more? The language of “combat”, “taking on” and “fighting” seems to be the prevalent language in Prevent. If the Minister and the Secretary of State were to look a

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little more carefully at the European models, they might find a more useful model of working within our communities.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He rightly says that in this country it feels very much more as though deradicalisation is done to people, rather than being something people get involved in, and therefore own and are more likely to be part of.

James Brokenshire: In the light of the previous intervention, I should make it absolutely clear that Prevent is a locally based approach. The right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), in her initial contribution, highlighted clearly the excellent local work done in a number of different areas, including by civil society groups. I assure the hon. Lady that the Government continue to look at other programmes from various parts of Europe—indeed, I was in Scandinavia last year visiting various Governments for that very purpose.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the Minister for that. If it is all happily happening as he suggests, I hope that he will be able to agree to new clause 12. I suspect it is not happening, which is why young people in my community tell me that they feel that the Prevent approach is stigmatising. That is not a criticism of the local people in my constituency who are doing their very best to deal with what they themselves feel is not a terribly helpful approach. It is a criticism that echoes what the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) just said about the feeling that the approach targets people in a very stigmatising way, as though they are the problem, rather than asking the wider questions we have a responsibility to ask about how and why people become radicalised. If we ask those questions, we might find ourselves rather more responsible for some of the answers, in the broadest sense, than if we simply assume that this is somehow outside our control and our responsibility.

Lady Hermon rose—

Hazel Blears rose

Caroline Lucas: I give way to the hon. Lady.

Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady, who had a difficult choice to make. I am curious about why she did not look a little closer to home at the best practice that has worked in Northern Ireland. We have former republican terrorists who have committed the most appalling terrorist crimes and former loyalist terrorists who have committed equally appalling crimes, including just murdering Catholics because they were Catholics, who have turned their back on violence and turned young people away from the path of violence in Northern Ireland. She has cited what has happened in Denmark and Germany, but I say to her that good lessons could be learned from experience in Northern Ireland.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Lady for a well made contribution. She was perfectly right to make such a point, and it does not undermine the position that I am advancing. Indeed, I would love to learn more about the experience she describes. I suspect that the

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success of the scheme was not achieved by making people feel excluded or terrified about coming forward. I worry about the context in which we are having this discussion, which is the proposed legislation that the Government are setting out right now.

Hazel Blears: I echo the points made by the hon. Lady, but I just wonder what projects she has visited. Some of the work I have seen has been about not stigmatising individuals but putting on drama in schools to enable these issues to be brought to the surface and then challenged in quite provocative ways. There is training for teachers and some community-based projects. She is making the point that I made to the Minister, which is that I want to see more of that kind of work, because it is about enabling us to build community resilience rather than targeting individuals. There is some excellent practice in this country, as well as in Ireland.

Caroline Lucas: I completely agree with the right hon. Lady. I have seen and been part of some of those extraordinary community engagement processes. The drama in particular has a huge role to play. I come back now to the wider context. I am simply reporting to her what young people have said to me, which is that when they hear the Prevent programme being talked about and the kind of language and rhetoric that get used when we are talking in the abstract it feels to them as if this is something that is stigmatising and off-putting. They feel as if they are the problem. The programme does not seem to be the most conducive thing to engage them, even though when they get to it, they might find that it is something as constructive and as community based as she describes.

Dr Julian Lewis: There is a vast difference between stigmatising individuals who are at risk, which is not proposed, and stigmatising a barbaric ideology, because the idea is to save individuals from being sucked into the ideology.

Caroline Lucas: I think that I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. There are problems with the way he describes things in a black and white way. Of course I would be the first to say that we are seeing barbaric acts, which are part of a barbaric ideology. But to continue to use that language is not helpful when we are talking about young people. There are young people who have got mixed up in this in an ignorant way. I am not trying to excuse what they have done; I am just trying to understand it. If we think in terms of barbaric ideologies, that suggests someone who has spent an awful lot of time becoming involved in this, understanding it, knowing it and thinking of themselves as ideologues rather than as people who may have mental health problems, who may be excluded, who have faced massive racism in their lives and who have ended up in a very unfortunate position for a huge number of reasons that are not necessarily helpfully described when we talk about a barbaric ideology.

Dr Lewis: The hon. Lady is very kind. This will be my last intervention, so she has an open goal after that. I simply say that nobody hesitates to describe Nazi ideology and communist ideology in terms of their barbaric nature. If we are to succeed in saving people from being

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drawn into this form of barbarism, we have to get it into the same category, because, fundamentally, it comes from the same drawer of ideologies.

Caroline Lucas: I have no problem with talking about barbaric ideology or about actions that are barbaric, but if we frame the whole debate in those terms, we do not get any closer to being able to understand why some young people are getting more and more attracted to going out to take part in wars in Syria. We certainly do not get any closer to understanding how we can get them back safely and deradicalise them. All of us share that as the overriding priority. What we want to do is to keep our country safe by trying to ensure that people who get involved in this kind of activity are prevented from doing it in the first place and by deradicalising them if and when it happens. I am simply arguing about the best way to reach out to those people. I am not sure that what the hon. Gentleman is describing is the best way to do so.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The situation in Northern Ireland has already been mentioned, where the emphasis has been on a process of inclusion, rather than one of labelling and exclusion. Indeed, there is a veritable infrastructure for inclusion through EU moneys and other mechanisms that were used precisely to work at community level to ensure that people had a real stake in new beginnings and new processes. Attempts to exclude through broadcasting bans, vetting of community funding and all the rest of it did not work. We have to take people at the level they are at so that they can move forward while thinking that they retain the integrity of their outlook.

4 pm

Caroline Lucas: I definitely thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution, which is immensely helpful and really sets us back on track to where I think we are best placed to move forward on the issue.

I will begin to draw my comments to a close, because I have spoken for longer than I had originally anticipated. In conclusion, analysis of successful deradicalisation programmes suggests that the most effective identify how individuals become radicalised, rather than simply labelling them. They examine whether and how the process can be reversed, and how Government-led initiatives can help ensure that committed terrorists avoid illegal activity after they are released from custody. We know what some of the ingredients are; we have talked about the importance of family members, education, vocational training and religious dialogue, for example.

Religious engagement is one of the more contentious elements of deradicalisation programmes. It may be effective in reforming radical Islamists, but primarily because it provides an environment that is conducive to behavioural reform, not necessarily because it encourages ideological reform. Some of the reports from the Council on Foreign Relations seem to suggest that focusing on rehabilitation, rather than ideological change, is particularly sensible if it is acknowledged that committed ideologues might not give up their beliefs but might just change their behaviour, which I think is what we want them to do.