3.7 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing this debate and I salute his leadership in Bosnia. Along with many others in the House, I am deeply impressed by what he did in his time in command. It would be hard not to be moved by the experiences he shared in his speech and by some of the things that have happened since. I thank him for that.

We remember those who were murdered in July 1995—more than 8,000 Bosniaks, mainly men and boys, in and around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian war. The killing was perpetrated by units of the Army of the Republika Srpska—the VRS—under the command of General Ratko Mladic. The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, described the mass murder as the worst crime on European soil since the second world war. That gives an idea of the magnitude and horror of what took place.

I am sure that we all remember the coverage from 1995—it would be hard not to—and, as we were reminded by the first speech, it was shocking in its intensity. I can vividly recall not being able to believe or understand the senseless genocide that was taking place. I was looking at the TV and thinking, “Is this happening, or is it unreal?” Yes, it was unreal, but it was happening in front of our modern society’s eyes.

The paramilitary unit from Serbia was known as the Scorpions. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) used biblical language to describe them as a

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lion looking for whom to devour. That is what they were doing. They could have called themselves other names, but they chose the Scorpions, and they were known for their evil, wicked depravity and murderous thoughts. Officially, they were part of the Serbian Interior Ministry until 1991, and they participated in the massacre, along with several hundred Greek volunteers.

In January, the conviction of five men from the former Yugoslavia was upheld, which was welcome news to all those who remember the sheer horror of these events. However, more than five men were involved, and more than enough time has now passed by this, the 20th anniversary, for action to have been taken. We all believe it is time that those involved—from inside and outside Serbia—were held accountable.

In 2004, in a unanimous ruling in the case of Prosecutor v. Krstic, the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which is located in The Hague, ruled that the massacre of the enclave’s male inhabitants constituted genocide—a crime under international law. The evidence of the forcible transfer of between 25,000 and 30,000 Bosniak women, children and elderly people that accompanied the massacre was found to confirm the genocidal intent of the members of the VRS main staff who orchestrated the massacre and who need to be held accountable.

In 2005, in a message to the 10th anniversary commemoration of the genocide, the Secretary-General of the United Nations noted that, although blame lay first and foremost with those who planned and carried out the massacre and those who assisted and harboured them, the powers with the ability to respond had failed to do so adequately. He said that the UN had made serious errors of judgment and that the tragedy of Srebrenica would haunt its history forever, and that is clearly the case.

Serbia and Montenegro was cleared of direct responsibility for, or complicity in, the massacre, but it was found responsible for not doing enough to prevent it and for not prosecuting those responsible, in breach of the genocide convention. The preliminary list of people missing or killed in Srebrenica, which was compiled by the Bosnian Federal Commission of Missing Persons, contains 8,373 names. As of July 2012, 6,838 genocide victims had been identified through DNA analysis of body parts recovered from mass graves. As of July 2013, 6,066 victims had been buried at the memorial centre in Potocari. Almost 1,500 victims have still not been identified. Let me put that into perspective. As the hon. Member for Beckenham will know, approximately 3,000 people were killed over a 30-year terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. In three days, almost three times that number were killed in Srebrenica.

There is a lesson that has been taught so many times, but that I fear we are not learning: we must take action before things reach this stage. An apology for a massacre is not enough. There must be a determination that we never allow these things to happen again. There must be not just words, but deeds. There is so much happening in the world that we need to act on, and it is my firm belief that action must be taken, lest our children stand in this place in 20 years’ time lamenting the fact that we allowed the actions of ISIS, among others, to happen. That is for another debate and another day, but it is not

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disrespectful to the memory of the men we are talking about to plead for us to learn from the inaction we saw and to take action when needed.

I was proud to be one of the hundreds of parliamentarians who signed the Remembering Srebrenica book of pledges, and I will be prouder still to be remembered as a parliamentarian, in a House of parliamentarians, who learned the lesson taught by atrocities and who honoured the memories of those who so senselessly lost their lives by doing all in my power to prevent a repeat of such atrocities.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): My hon. Friend talks about learning lessons. Does he agree that those of us who have lost loved ones in more normal circumstances cannot even begin to understand the pain and anguish felt by those who, 20 years later, still do not have the remains of their loved ones and who cannot have a burial so that they can begin to grieve properly? We have seen that in Northern Ireland over 40 years, but the scale in this case is unimaginable, and we need to do what we can to resolve the issue.

Jim Shannon: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is impossible to gauge the unfathomable enormity of what took place. In Northern Ireland, people disappeared, and some of the bodies have not been accounted for. We feel for their families. However, if we magnify that a thousandfold, we get a sense of what these things mean in Bosnia.

In conclusion and as this important anniversary approaches, I hope that all political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the wider region, will focus not on the politics, but on the human tragedy of not just Srebrenica, but the war as a whole, and will take forward reconciliation with greater urgency. There can be no more fitting tribute to the innocent victims of war than that we remember each and every one of them today and that the Government do their best to make changes and to hold people to account. Twenty years after these events, we need to hold those responsible accountable. We all know, of course, that they will be held accountable in the next world and that they will have to come before a judgment seat to answer for what they have done, but I would like to see them get their just rewards in this world before they reach the next one.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair): Order. Three more people wish to speak. I do not wish to impose a time limit. If each Member speaks for a maximum of five minutes, we should be able to fit them all in.

3.15 pm

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. Often, when we contribute to debates in this place, we find ourselves following far superior contributions. In this debate, that was inevitably going to be the case, given the personal experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), whose contribution was poignant and moving, as I have come to expect from him. As ever, the modesty he shows hides much about this difficult and awful time in European history, and I am sure he will always keep that to himself.

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for securing this important and timely debate and for the work he has done on many aspects of this awful experience. I also pay tribute to him for yesterday’s commemoration service in Westminster Abbey. It was an extremely important moment, which clearly meant so much to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and, most importantly, to the survivors and the families who lost loved ones.

Sitting in the peaceful surroundings of the abbey yesterday, and listening to the addresses and readings, I could not help but reflect on the horrors of the events we are talking about. The idea that such genocide could ever happen again on European soil would have been unthinkable before the events in Bosnia, especially given how much the continent had suffered during world war two, and it is staggering and shameful that such things did happen again, just half a century later. Demonising people for who they are was something we had all prayed and hoped would never happen again.

My experience of Bosnia is nothing compared with that of my hon. Friend or many others taking part in the debate. My first visit to Bosnia took place at the beginning of the previous Parliament. I was part of a delegation of Conservative Members of Parliament and MEPs from across Europe. We went to Bosnia as part of a social action project called Project Maya to help refurbish a school for children with special needs, and anyone arriving in Sarajevo is instantly struck by the bullet holes in the buildings and the scars of war.

We were also there to meet politicians, young people and organisations involved in rebuilding the nation and in ensuring that these events are never forgotten and that lessons are learned. One of the first visits we went on was to the International Commission on Missing Persons, which the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned. It is impossible to understand how anyone would feel losing a loved one in the horrific circumstances we have heard about; however, not knowing what has happened to them or where they are, and not being able to have a dignified burial or the acknowledgment of their death, must make the grief unbearable. The commission was tasked with trying to resolve those issues for families.

What made things even worse was that the bodies of those who had been killed were not only buried in mass graves, but dug up again and buried in other places. Identifying them has been a mammoth task for the commission. If that were not enough, suspicion and fear have meant that many families have felt reluctant to give DNA so that bodies could be identified. We saw how the commission tried to overcome that through confidential bar coding and other measures. I understand that now some 71,000 blood samples have been taken to help with the identification process. So far 91 mass graves have been uncovered in Srebrenica, yielding some 6,800 positive identifications of more than 8,000 missing people. Some people have been able to bury their loved ones, but, tragically, some have had to do so again as more body parts have been found. Not being afforded the opportunity to go through the natural cycle of bereavement makes the atrocity even more cruel.

For me, the most moving visit was to Srebrenica itself. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth described the countryside, and that is what struck me: it was beautiful, but we were about to visit somewhere where such a terrible thing happened. There was an

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eerie silence in the factory when we went round it, reminiscent of my visit to Auschwitz. In the film I saw the faces of the men who were terrified and knew that something awful was happening. Seeing all the names on the stones at the memorial was really moving.

Going up to the village, I spoke to some of the mothers. They gave a moving speech about what had happened to them. I felt utterly powerless and weak in the company of one of the women; I went up to her and said privately, “I am sorry that the west stood by.” Her reply was remarkable. She said, “It is not your fault; you were not around at the time. You were not in a position to make a decision, but if ever you see people suffering again, please don’t stand by and watch it happen.” Those are words that will stick with me for ever.

I will never forget the visit to that country. It has had a lasting effect on me. On this 20th anniversary, it is right to remember, but it is also important to learn the lessons—to make sure we do not again stand by and let such atrocities happen, and that, when people are persecuted for who and what they are, we stand up and support them. We should also pay tribute to the work of Remembering Srebrenica. It does some great work with young people in our country, including 750 educational visits to enable people to learn.

I pay tribute to all those who continue the fight to make sure that we do not forget—especially the mothers. There was testimony yesterday in Westminster Abbey from the president of the Mothers of Srebrenica:

“Europe and the world bear responsibility for the genocide in Srebrenica. Silence on genocide is its approval. However, I firmly believe that twenty years later, Europe and the world can make things better.

Help us find the bones of our children! Ease our suffering by protecting the mother from the murderer of her child. Take the uniforms off our children’s murderers. If there was no justice and mercy for more than 10,000 innocent men, women and children systematically murdered back in 1995, then please show some mercy and justice today.

We still believe in goodness. We believe that truth and justice are on our side. We bear no hatred towards those who executed this inhuman plan, because hatred is weakness and we refuse to be weak.”

Those are incredible words from people who have suffered so much, and we can learn much from them.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham again on the debate. It is important to remember, and it is important that as a free nation we should always stand by the people affected if we ever see atrocities happening again.

3.23 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing the debate and on all the work that he has done over the years with Remembering Srebrenica. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Srebrenica, which was set up about three years ago. I want to thank right hon. and hon. Members who have supported it and its work.

My interest in what happened in Bosnia stems partly from having seen what happened during the war in the former Yugoslavia, as it disintegrated before our eyes. In addition, I worked for two years with the United Nations mission in Kosovo, from 2000 to 2002, so I had a chance to see at first hand some of the things that

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happened in Yugoslavia. I did not have the opportunity to travel to Bosnia, because of various security issues and concerns at the time, but I had the chance to speak to people who had been there—and, of course, to people generally across Yugoslavia. I am sure that Members are aware that there were many massacres in Kosovo too, carried out by Miloševic and his people. I had a chance to see mass graves there.

I am grateful for the fact that we are remembering Srebrenica and the 8,344 young boys and men who died in the massacre, but it is also right to remember that those were not the only deaths. About 100,000 Muslims died in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. In addition to the killings, as is almost inevitable in wars, thousands of women were raped. We have heard accounts of how that happened consistently—and it seems almost to be a pattern in war.

I was humbled yesterday to be one of the 20 people to light a candle in Westminster Abbey. It was a wonderful event. I thank not only Members of the House who have given cross-party support, but the United Kingdom; we were the country that years ago pushed in the European Parliament for an annual day to commemorate Srebrenica. It is sad that even though the Parliament passed a resolution that the event should be commemorated every year in all the European countries, we are probably the only one still doing it properly. The rest of Europe has a lot of catching up to do.

I pay tribute to our country and our Parliament for what they have done, and for the assistance given by the Foreign Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government. I hope that the commemorations will come to be held in not just a few towns and cities, but every town and city in the country. The events in question should never be forgotten.

Much has been said about the details of the horrific crimes that happened. I met some of the mothers and survivors about three years ago for tea on the Terrace. The hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) spoke about dignity and forgiveness, and how the mothers bear no malice despite everything that has happened to them. Perhaps the world at large can gain understanding from such things. People were killed for their religion, sometimes by neighbours—one of the mothers said that some of the people who turned against her family were neighbours.

We need to learn the lesson from the fact that such dehumanising hatred can build up—that we are mistaken if we target groups and tarnish our view of them because of race, ethnicity or religion. Treating a group constantly as not part of our society, or not fitting in with our values or doing certain things, is the sort of thing that can lead to such genocide and neighbours turning against each other.

I want to touch on genocide or killing that is still happening; Syria has been mentioned. Conflicts are sometimes confusing, and the situation in Burma is also relevant. May I have another minute, Mr Chope?

Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair): The hon. Lady has the Floor, but I hope to fit in Mr Kerevan as well, and we need time for proper winding-up speeches.

Yasmin Qureshi: I just need two minutes, and I will stop.

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George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): No, it is important.

Yasmin Qureshi: I thank the hon. Gentleman very much.

I want to mention Burma, where ethnic cleansing is happening and many are being killed. I am sorry that the international community has not been doing much about it. Perhaps we need to move on that.

3.29 pm

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): I pay tribute to my gallant friend, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), for organising the debate. “Gallant” is an important word, because it is a truism—true in this case—that the people who hate war and its aftermath most are former soldiers who have experienced it. We should remember that.

I will briefly explain why this debate is of significance to me. I was born at the end of the 1940s and am of the generation brought up in the shadow of the Nazi holocaust. It was axiomatic to us that such mass, clinical, industrial murder could never take place again in Europe—but it did. I was shocked when it happened in Srebrenica. I had thought that it could never happen again, but it will always happen again if each generation does not learn the lessons and if we do not preach the lessons to the young of our country. We have to go on doing that; it will happen again unless we go on preaching the dangers.

I also want to speak because I have a Bosnian Muslim constituent. Campaigning in the general election, I knocked on a door in Haddington, a country town in Scotland, in East Lothian. A happy family from an immigrant community answered the door and it turned out that they were from Bosnia; they had come over as refugees in the aftermath of the war. I did not know that a number of refugees at that time had been relocated to Haddington to keep them together and to form a local community. It is now 20 years on, however, so I happily asked, “Are any other Bosnian families still here?” The people in the door laughed and pointed next door and up the street and I discovered that quite a significant community had made its home in Haddington. They were talking with broad Scottish accents, as is the way if someone lives there for a while. We have made them welcome, but they have joined us and entered our community despite all their traumas, so I thank them.

In my past life I was a documentary filmmaker, and I have been so moved by this issue over the years. We made a documentary film about the survivors of the massacre with Samir Mehanovic, an old Bosnian Muslim friend of mine who suffered and lost family in the crisis, but now lives here. It will be shown in an edited form on BBC World and we are premiering it in Sarajevo at the weekend. The film is designed for the cinema; we wanted people to see things on the big screen, in the dark, to achieve immediacy, rather than having it go on in a living room on the small screen, which does not have the same impact.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned some of the footage taken by the Serbian irregulars and the Serbian army of the cruel things they were doing. I could only watch some of the scenes once. I actually argued with my friend Samir

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in favour of taking the footage out of our film, but he would not have it—it traumatises him to watch it, but he wants people to see.

The message of our film is the one I wanted to bring to the Chamber, however briefly: we should not only honour and remember the dead, but remember the living. There are many survivors—most are now in Tuzla—but they have found it difficult to find work, their memories are still in their heads and they still need help, support and solidarity. We must remember that fact, which I commend to the Minister. There is still work to be done for the living as well as the dead.

My final point involves Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, who in the past few weeks has been doing his usual thing of denying the massacre. He has even been to the massacre site and denied that it ever took place. There have been contacts between the Bosnian Serbs and the Moscow regime; pressure is put on Moscow to continue to operate at the United Nations in an attempt to stop proper UN recognition and continuing investigation of the massacre. I commend that fact to the Minister.

There is still work to be done at the UN to ensure that we go on remembering Srebrenica, seeking justice for the victims and remembering those who are still alive.

Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair): I call Stephen Gethins for a maximum of five minutes.

3.34 pm

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Chope. Others have done this, but I thank in particular the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for bringing this timely debate to the House. This event was one of the most devastating of the 20th century—something we hoped never to see again, but did. All of us are thinking about the people of Srebrenica this week. They will certainly be in my prayers over the coming days.

I want to say something about the hon. Gentleman; if I may, I shall call him my hon. Friend. The events in Bosnia were important when I was growing up—at school, as a student and when I travelled to Bosnia in 1996. I remember watching the hon. Gentleman on television, giving one of the first positive views that I saw coming out of Bosnia. His bravery at the time came across the television screen to the young man I was. I also pay tribute to the work that he has done since—he never left it behind, but kept going.

The conflict shaped my view of the world; it had that effect on many people. However, in a previous life I also spent many happy times working in Bosnia. It is a wonderful country. The tributes that we pay today must also go to the people who have built Bosnia since. The bravery of the country is reflected in the fact that so many have attended the debate in the Public Gallery. That, too, takes bravery—to come and sit through the debate, keeping the memory of Srebrenica alive. I hope that hon. Members will join me in paying tribute to those who have joined us today.

In the House, we often disagree on issues, but I want to pay tribute to the UK Government for what they are doing at the moment. They are, to quote President Izetbegovic of Bosnia, “leading the way” in Europe in remembering Srebrenica. This week there has been a service

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in Westminster Abbey and on Friday I will attend a service in Edinburgh with our First Minister. It is great to see that there will also be a service in Belfast city hall and one led by Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales. That is tremendous.

My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) led a Scottish delegation to Bosnia and Srebrenica last year. He said:

“We must never ever forget the act of genocide that happened at Srebrenica and it is a duty of every one, irrespective of race or religion, to teach the generations that follow us to challenge the evils of hatred, racism and extremism at all times, which is why the Remembering Srebrenica’s ‘Lessons from Srebrenica Visits’ are so important.”

I pay tribute to his work.

Many of us have talked about the lessons that are needed. There was a failure of not only the UK, but Europe and the international community only 20 years ago. Paddy Ashdown, who puts it better than I ever could, said:

“Whether through error, misjudgement, an inability to comprehend, or just inattention, we stood aside when we should not have done. We should therefore remember Srebrenica, not just to bear witness to those who suffered, but also as a warning to us all of what happens when we turn our back.”

My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan) said that we need to honour not only the dead, but the living. In honouring the living, we reflect on man’s inhumanity to man. We think about the other conflicts in the world and the lessons that we can learn from them. We might not always agree on what those lessons are, but it is important to learn them.

I again thank those who have attended the debate and who continue to work hard to keep the memory of Srebrenica alive. They do a service to us all.

3.38 pm

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope.

Every time the story of the terrible events in Srebrenica 20 years ago is told, it is as shocking as it was when the truth was first revealed. As we have heard today, what happened in that small mountain town in the Balkans stands apart as one of the darkest chapters in European history. It is the story of thousands of families who believed that they were in a place of safety and shelter, but who were brutally and systematically put to slaughter. It is the story of how more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men lost their lives and of how rape was inflicted on countless women and young girls as a weapon of war. It is the story of how an entire community were stripped first of their dignity and then of their humanity, just because of the names that they were born with. The crime was described by the United Nations as

“the worst committed on European soil since the Second World War”.

Many of the details of what the victims experienced are simply too harrowing to put into words. That is why it is so important that we mark this anniversary.

I therefore congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing this important debate. He spoke with all the passion and expertise we would expect from someone who served as he did with great distinction in Bosnia. I take this opportunity to thank him for the great service he has done for this

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House in bringing us together to mark this terrible tragedy. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), and the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), for East Lothian (George Kerevan) and for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) for their excellent contributions to the debate.

What the hon. Member for Beckenham said had particular resonance for me. As a young officer in the British Army, one of my first deployments was to Kosovo during the conflict that took place there in 1999. Although we were several hundred miles away, we could still feel the legacy of what happened at Srebrenica. Forces loyal to Slobodan Miloševic were on the march, again seeking to cleanse towns and villages. I saw at first hand how division and hatred can tear a country apart, ripping apart families and destroying people’s lives. I remember discovering the scene of massacres and the piles of people’s personal possessions. Those memories will never leave me.

We must never allow the terrible crimes of Srebrenica to be forgotten. It was genocide, as has been declared by both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and it is important that we use that word. As we mark two decades since those atrocities, I offer three brief reflections.

The first is that justice must always be done, no matter how long it takes. The perpetrators of those terrible acts must be brought to justice. The international community, including the UK, has made an important contribution to that, through both the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the Bosnia and Herzegovina state court. Twenty senior Bosnian Serb leaders have been indicted over the past two decades and both Radovan Karadžic and Ratko Mladic are now on trial in The Hague. A further seven people accused of taking part in the massacre were arrested by the Serbian authorities as recently as March this year.

It is right that Britain has provided support to the state prosecutor’s office to help ensure that those guilty of war crimes do not go unpunished. We must continue to stand in solidarity beside Bosnia and Herzegovina and provide what support we can. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister updated the House on the latest efforts that are being made to that end.

Does the Minister agree that we need to extend every possible support to the families who lost loved ones at Srebrenica whose fate is still unknown—a point rightly raised by the hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham)? Many of the bodies of those who lost their lives in those July days have never been recovered, and too many families are still looking for the remains of their loved ones so that they can give them a proper burial. As well as the 8,372 who perished, more than 15,000 men fled across the mountains to Tuzla to try to escape the slaughter. Many of them would never make it. Some were ambushed; others, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, were tricked by forces wearing stolen UN uniforms to lull them into a false sense of security. The locations of

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many of the mass graves that they were buried in are still undisclosed. That must be resolved as a step towards broader reconciliation.

Secondly, we must make every possible effort as an international community to ensure that such appalling events are never repeated. It is easy to say, “Never again”; the hard part is ensuring that our words are matched with deeds, as the hon. Member for Strangford said. There is a particular responsibility on us, Great Britain, to play our part in living up to that, as a leading member of the United Nations. As the hon. Member for Beckenham said, history has long accepted that failings by the UN contributed to what happened at Srebrenica. Those included delays in providing support to a UN peacekeeping force that was ill-equipped and ill-prepared. As Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General, wrote in 1999:

“Through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.”

The blame for what happened in Bosnia will always rest with the people who carried out those hateful and heinous crimes, but those who stood by or did not act readily enough also have a burden to carry. Our duty today is to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. We must work together to ensure that the international community has both the will and the capacity to act in response to cases of genocide or crimes against humanity. That approach is enshrined in the UN’s responsibility to protect, but in recent years cases such as Darfur and Syria have reminded us that there has not always been willingness to act. Does the Minister therefore agree that, as we mark 70 years since the signing of UN charter, we must ensure that our actions continue to live up to its founding values, to protect

“the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”?

I welcome the Government’s role in drafting a resolution at the UN to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. That decision was not without controversy; indeed, some Serbian leaders have called for the resolution to be dropped. If anything, the tensions over the resolution remind us of the challenge that remains in healing the wounds of the past.

3.46 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.1 pm

On resuming—

[Hywel Williams in the Chair]

Dan Jarvis: Before the Division, I was welcoming the role that the Government have played in drafting a resolution at the UN to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. I would be grateful if the Minister could update the House on what progress is being made on agreeing the text of a UN resolution on Srebrenica and what efforts the Government are making to ensure that it commemorates the anniversary in a suitable and respectful way.

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Let me raise a separate but related point. The Minister will be aware that the French Government and others have floated the idea of permanent members of the Security Council suspending the use of the veto in cases of genocide. That was not the issue at Srebrenica, but it does have relevance for preventing any future atrocities like it, so I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm what the British Government’s attitude is to that proposal.

Thirdly and finally, we must continue to bear witness to what happened at Srebrenica. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the countless charities and organisations working to ensure that the lessons of genocide are passed on and never forgotten: Remembering Srebrenica, the Fund for Refugees in Slovenia, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust and many others.

I also welcome the fact that the UK has contributed funds to the memorial complex near Srebrenica. Nothing will make up for the horrors of the past, but the first step we can take to ensure that they are never repeated is to ensure that future generations know what happened in Bosnia in 1995. They need to know that genocide is not just something that happened many years ago at the end of the second world war. It can happen today, and it could happen in the future if we let down our guard.

I end with this reflection. It is particularly appropriate that we are holding this debate today, a decade on from the terrorist attacks of 7/7. In preparing for it, I reflected on an event that I attended in Parliament last week at which I was honoured to meet survivors of the holocaust. Of course, our country is still recovering from the painful blow inflicted on a beach in Tunisia just 11 days ago. Whether we are reflecting on what happened 70 years ago in Auschwitz, 20 years ago in Srebrenica, 10 years ago on 7/7 or two weeks ago in Tunisia, those events are all bound together by the same thing—hatred, extremism and contempt for human life. Above all, that is what we must overcome if we are to ensure that our world is never again darkened by such atrocities. We need to educate all our young people about the importance of tolerance, respect and always challenging racism, discrimination and hatred. If this anniversary reminds us of nothing else, let it remind us of that. That would be the best tribute that we could possibly pay.

4.4 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The genocide in Srebrenica—the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys—represents the worst atrocity in Europe since 1945. It is also probably one of the darkest moments in the history of the United Nations. Twenty years on, it is right that we recall those events, pay tribute to the victims of the atrocities committed at Srebrenica and remember those from all sides who have lost family members and friends during the conflicts in the Balkans. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) both for securing and leading today’s debate and for the way in which he has spoken up for Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the memory of Srebrenica and its victims and for the western Balkans region overall during his time in the House.

Hon. Members have rightly said during the debate that alongside those who lost their lives at Srebrenica, we need to hold in our thoughts the survivors, who to

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this day mourn the loss of their family members and friends. The testimony of Nedžad Avdic, which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham included in his speech, was a searing testimony to the appalling nature of the events that took place in and around Srebrenica 20 years ago. While commemorating those events, we need also to redouble our resolve to continue to push for the perpetrators of war crimes in the Balkans and elsewhere to be brought to justice.

This is an opportunity to encourage greater reconciliation both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the wider western Balkans region. It is also a moment to pause and reflect on the lessons learned and commit ourselves to making “Never again” not just a slogan, but a reality.

The United Kingdom is leading the drafting of a United Nations Security Council resolution to commemorate the victims of the genocide in Srebrenica and those who suffered on all sides in the war. That resolution encourages further steps towards reconciliation and a brighter future for Bosnia. The draft text that we have tabled also affirms our determination to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and to use all the tools at our disposal to do so. The Security Council is due to vote on the resolution in New York this afternoon.

As the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) said, Srebrenica is an acute reminder of the extreme consequences that can occur when divisions are allowed to prevail and when we fail to stand up to extremism and hatred, so this is also an important opportunity to reflect on what can happen when hatred and discrimination go unchecked.

Of course, part of reconciliation is about justice. It is for that reason that UK funding has provided immense support to the state prosecutor’s office, where financial support to the Srebrenica team from 2004 until December 2012 has had a direct impact on the number of successful prosecutions for Srebrenica-related war crimes. Our embassy in Sarajevo continues the valuable work on justice, supporting programmes to bring Bosnia’s justice and security sectors into line with international standards.

However, there is a great deal more to do. Reconciliation is also about rebuilding the damaged relationships to ensure that communities can live alongside each other in a cohesive and integrated manner and that intolerance never again divides Bosnia and Herzegovina or Europe. I am therefore glad that regional leaders of all faiths and ethnicities will join citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and representatives of the international community at the burial of more than 130 people and in shared commemorations at Potocari cemetery. Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal will represent the United Kingdom at the ceremony on Saturday 11 July.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham asked about the work done by the Fund for Refugees in Slovenia. I can tell him that Lady Nott is due to speak to my officials later this week, and we will obviously be interested to hear her ideas at that point, although the fact that the Department for International Development does not at the moment have an in-country programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina means that one obvious potential source of funding is not available.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) asked me about the recent article in The Guardian. He was generous enough to say that he did not expect me to go into detail about it, but I have

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read the article. Comprehensive documentation has been published by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and the detailed Harland report in 1999 gave the official United Nations version of events. I think that the best thing we can do is to learn the lessons and resolve that we will never again stand by and close our eyes to atrocities of the sort that were committed two decades ago.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the International Commission on Missing Persons. I have seen for myself the work that it does in Sarajevo and Cyprus under extremely difficult and challenging conditions. We have been a strong supporter of the ICMP since it was established and we have provided more than £3 million in funding over the past 15 years. In the last financial year alone, we provided several hundred thousand pounds to help the ICMP to excavate a previously unknown mass grave site at Tomašica in north-west Bosnia and Herzegovina, which could produce evidence that will have an impact on ongoing cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. I assure the House that our commitment to the ICMP will continue.

We are spending about £4.75 million this year on projects that promote security and stability in Bosnia, including on peacekeeping, security sector reform, good governance and community reconciliation. We want Bosnia and Herzegovina to fulfil its potential as a stable, prosperous nation in the heart of Europe. When I have been to Sarajevo, I have found it encouraging to talk to young people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, who see their future as being in the mainstream of European civilisation and who want not to forget the past, but to come to terms with it and build a better, more united future for their country.

In February last year, the entire international community heard the concerns of the Bosnian people. The demonstrations brought into stark relief the urgency of addressing key political and economic challenges, such as creating jobs for young people in their own country. That is why in November last year, our Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and

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Weybridge (Mr Hammond), alongside his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, led a new initiative to try to re-energise Bosnia’s path towards EU integration, a plan that has been adopted by the EU as a whole. The focus of that initiative is on delivering real reform and changes that will have the most direct impact on the Bosnian people. That does not mean that we can avoid addressing difficult political and constitutional issues, but I believe it is right to move ahead as quickly as possible with changes that will make a difference for the better to the lives of ordinary families from every community in Bosnia. Bosnia’s political leaders have signed up to that approach, and they need to implement reforms that will move the country forward and create a society that will bring opportunities for all its citizens. It is vital that old, divisive nationalist politics does not get in the way. Last year, in response to the appalling floods, Bosnians from all ethnicities showed that faced with a crisis, they could work together.

The bloodstained nature of recent history means that the path will not be an easy one, but we have a public commitment by party leaders from across the political spectrum in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The international community has a responsibility to support the people in holding their leaders to account to improve the lives of their citizens. All citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve lasting prosperity and stability, and that will be achieved only when hope and good will for the richness of all members of society prevail over division. Building a secure, integrated, reconciled Bosnia and Herzegovina is, I believe, the best way to ensure that we can in truth say, when we reflect on Srebrenica, “Never again.”

4.14 pm

Bob Stewart: I thank everyone who has taken part in this important debate. I end by expressing my gratitude for the support we have had from behind us—from the Mothers of Srebrenica and some of the victims, who are here today. It is probably not parliamentary protocol to say that, but we are here for them. God bless them.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.

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Avon Ring Road (M4 Link)

4.15 pm

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the M4 link to the Avon ring road.

I rise to make the case for what I believe to be the most important road infrastructure project in my constituency, which could benefit not only my constituents in Kingswood but the whole city of Bristol and the surrounding region of south Gloucestershire. As the local MP, I believe that we desperately need a new junction on the M4 motorway to link to the Avon ring road, which runs through my constituency.

I appreciate that the Minister is new to his post, and I welcome him to the Department. I am sure that he has already received many representations from people calling for roads to be built, extended or dualled, but I believe that the case for an M4 link to the Avon ring road should be considered as a priority for the Department and the Government. Local people in eastern Bristol have the limited choice of accessing the M4 at junction 19, which is the junction with the M32, or at junction 18, which is the turn-off for Bath.

For hundreds of my constituents who journey along the M4 daily to work, the situation proves to be a commuter’s nightmare. Those who want to access the motorway are forced to travel up the Avon ring road past the Hambrook lights at Frenchay and access the M32, which takes them on to the M4 at junction 19. The frustration of commuters wishing to take the M4 eastbound, who wait in the traffic that builds up on the ring road at Emersons Green—not helped by the 2-plus lane—is hardly improved by the fact that they can almost hear the sound of the vehicles on the M4, because the motorway at that point is less than a stone’s throw from the ring road.

If we look at a map, we see that the Avon ring road, the A4174 and the M4 run so close together in parallel that we could be forgiven for thinking that they are adjoining carriageways on some sort of superhighway. At the Wick Wick roundabout or the Westerleigh Road roundabout on the ring road, where access points already exist and bridges cross the M4, the motorway lies tantalisingly close, but motorists have no other option than to wait patiently in a queue that stretches for miles along the ring road, and then to travel—against their instincts and better judgment—in the opposite direction for three miles before turning back on themselves. In the end—after a wait of, at times, an hour—a commuter will join the M4 at junction 19 and travel back past Emersons Green, where they started.

Understandably, such delays leave my constituents furious. The delays and the ensuing congestion result from the fact that the only way to access the M4 from the eastern side of Bristol is at junction 19. That has caused the M32 to become a pinch point on the M4, which is struggling to cope with the rising volume of commuters. With the development of new housing at Lyde Green, next to Emersons Green, and the planned housing at Filton, the Bristol area is set to expand significantly.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, and I commend him on a brilliant campaign. Does he

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agree that although we want to unleash enterprise and create more jobs, and new housing is much needed, we have to have the infrastructure in place to support it?

Chris Skidmore: I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for his comments. He has led the way in developing a suitable mix of housing and employment land at the proposed housing estate at Filton airfield. He is absolutely right that we may have employment, land and housing, but we need transport infrastructure in eastern and northern Bristol to ensure that the city can expand appropriately and to reduce congestion. With thousands of extra cars on the roads, there will remain only one access point to the M4. The time has come to provide a solution by delivering a new junction, junction 18A, at Emersons Green. With the M4 and the Avon ring road effectively touching, the project would be moderate on the scale of other Members’ requests. A new junction would link with the Avon ring road, providing instant and improved access to the M4 for the eastern side of Bristol, thereby reducing congestion on the M32 and at junction 19.

Junction 18A is such an obvious, and some might say easy, solution that the Minister may wonder why it has not been thought of before. Well, it has: the scheme was first proposed back in 1985—I was four years old—when plans for the Avon ring road were being developed. The junction and link road were given the go-ahead, but they were never built. The blame lies with the local authority of the time, which apparently spent the non-ring-fenced money elsewhere. What may have happened decades ago in the 20th century, however, should not cloud the fact that, as we approach the third decade of the 21st century, Bristol and its surrounding region urgently need a new link road to the M4.

I am determined to press the case for what is known locally as the “M4 link”, as I have done repeatedly over the past five years since becoming the MP for Kingswood. I held a debate in Parliament on this issue back in May 2011, and in April 2012 I handed in a petition of more than 1,500 local residents supporting the M4 link. I put on record my appreciation for the determination of local councillors such as Colin Hunt, James Hunt, Rachael Hunt and Dave Kearns to keep fighting locally for an M4 link, which has resulted in South Gloucestershire Council commissioning a feasibility study into the junction that will report later in the year.

Only last year, in July 2014, I met the Minister with responsibility for roads, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), at the Department to make the case for a new junction and link road. On 25 March 2015, during the final Prime Minister’s questions of the Parliament, I raised the case for an M4 link with the Prime Minister himself. He responded by stating that the Secretary of State for Transport would be pleased to receive representations. I was delighted that, in April, the Transport Secretary was able to visit the proposed site of the M4 link and to listen to local businesses and councillors making the case for a new junction and link road.

Since then, the campaign for an M4 link has, pardon the pun, stepped up a gear, with the launch of a new cross-party campaign, Gateway2Growth. Several representatives of the campaign are in the Public Gallery today, and they are calling for junction 18A to be built at Emersons Green. The campaign includes the Bristol

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and Bath science park and Business West, which represents 18,000 businesses across the south-west, and its purpose is not only to highlight the transport and congestion need for an M4 link but to make the overwhelming economic case for a new junction. Above all, a new junction would help to put the thriving community of Emersons Green on the map.

Emersons Green is a success story in the making. It is the location of one of south Gloucestershire’s largest ever housing developments. A consortium of developers is currently working to deliver 2,500 new homes, schools and community and leisure facilities at Lyde Green, and some 2,800 homes have been built at Emersons Green West since the late 1990s. The area is currently home to the Bristol and Bath science park, Airbus, the Harlequin business park and the National Composites Centre, and it has the potential to grow even further. The area contains a flagship employment site for the west of England, which was recognised by the Government in the establishment of the Emersons Green enterprise area. There is the potential for developing 45 hectares of employment space, which would provide economic growth for the creation of some 7,000 new jobs. At the heart of that employment site is the Bristol and Bath science park, which is home to more than 40 successful businesses and is a crucial hub for young and emerging science and technology companies to grow and thrive. One of the park’s success stories has been the National Composites Centre, which has become an internationally renowned asset for the delivery of world-class design and rapid manufacture for sectors including aerospace, automotive and heavy infrastructure.

It is vital, therefore, that the surrounding infrastructure matches the area’s ambition so that it is able to reflect the present day Emersons Green while also being able to cater for future demands. A new junction 18A at Emersons Green, providing access to the M4, would help to turbocharge economic growth in the area. Back in 2006, the Bristol transport study estimated that a junction would provide an economic benefit of around £270 million; I believe that figure would be far higher today. In order to understand more fully the economic benefits of the proposed junction, the Gateway2Growth campaign has commissioned an independent study exploring the business benefits of junction 18A. The study will be conducted by Dr Phil Tomlinson, senior lecturer in business economics, and Marc Betton, PhD researcher, from the University of Bath. The comprehensive report will have its national launch at the House of Commons on 16 September, which will be attended by local MPs, councillors, business leaders, academics and residents. I personally invite the Minister and his departmental officials to attend the launch so that they can hear for themselves the economic benefits of the proposed junction 18A and M4 link. I request that the Department seriously and urgently considers the case for junction 18A as part of any future Government transport infrastructure commitments.

The phrase “long-term economic plan” could have been designed with the lengthy campaign for an M4 link in mind—the campaign has certainly been extremely long term. However, I assure the Minister that my resolve, and the resolve of local businesses, the Gateway2Growth campaign, local MPs—including my hon. Friends the

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Members for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall)—and the people of Kingswood and the surrounding area, is to argue that the case for a new junction has not diminished, nor will it. The case for the M4 link has never been stronger and, with the foundation of the Gateway2Growth campaign, never has our local area been so united behind the common ambition of delivering better road infrastructure for the Bristol area.

4.27 pm

Luke Hall (Thornbury and Yate) (Con): Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr Williams. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) for securing the debate, and I welcome the new Minister to his place.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood was four years old, I was not even born when the scheme was initially proposed. My constituency of Thornbury and Yate borders his constituency at precisely the point between junctions 18 and 19 of the M4 where the new junction is proposed. Since the building of the Emersons Green development, there has been a significant increase in the volume of traffic in the area. The A4174 between the site of the proposed junction and junction 19 of the M4 is particularly congested at peak times, which has a large knock-on effect on the villages in my constituency between the Emersons Green development and junction 18. There has been a steady increase in traffic movements through villages such as Pucklechurch and Hinton, where cars are using country lanes to access junction 18.

The local South Gloucestershire district councillor, Ben Stokes, has highlighted specific concerns about the junction of Cotswold Way and the A46, where traffic regularly tails back due to the volume of traffic on the A46. Motorists are becoming increasingly vulnerable as the pressure on junction 18 and the A46 increases. I also thank Councillor Steve Reade, who has pointed to the increasing volume of vehicle movements along the A420 through Wick in recent years. Residents of Kingswood, Bridgeyate and Oldland Common are exiting the M4 at junction 19 and travelling through Wick, rather than using the more congested junction 18.

My constituents have also raised concerns about the increasing difficulty of walking or cycling safely around the village of Pucklechurch. I fear that more pressure will push more people into cars, which will add to local concerns about air quality on the A420. The 2,500 homes planned at Lyde Green, which reaches from my hon. Friend’s constituency slightly into my own, will lead to a further increase in vehicle movements and more pressure on our villages’ already strained local infrastructure. Pucklechurch and Wick are small villages with a community atmosphere. They were never designed to be used as a daily bypass for commuters, nor were the roads that run through them.

Part of the solution is the construction of junction 18A, giving motorists a quick and effective route to the M4 and creating new capacity to absorb the traffic created by the new housing developments and growing businesses in the area. I know that a great number of my constituents make the daily commute to Bristol to work, and the current congestion means that a journey from Yate to Bristol always takes more than an hour. Although many commuters

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would still use the same stretch of road, the pressure on the ring road would be greatly relieved by the proposed junction.

I believe that the proposal will provide us with additional capacity for commerce to enter Bristol, which will connect new businesses, encourage trade in the region, help reduce unemployment and, crucially, create more skilled jobs in my constituency. I ask that the Government consider the proposal as a long-term investment in a thriving part of the country. As more families move into the area, we must encourage businesses to grow and to trade with each other locally and nationally.

In summary, the proposal will significantly reduce journey times into Bristol for many of my constituents, improve access to the M4 and reduce the traffic burden on the villages affected by the growing population. If we want our infrastructure to match our ambition, it should be seen as a vital part of the future of south Gloucestershire.

4.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams, for the first time in my new capacity. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) on securing this afternoon’s debate on the M4-Avon link road. He is right that since starting in this job, I have been besieged by colleagues with cunning plans for which they are seeking investment. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) highlighted how old they are, and therefore how old some of the rest of us are. In 1985, when this campaign started—I remember it clearly—I was working for B&Q. Things move in different directions.

I am aware that this topic has been the subject of previous parliamentary questions and debate. I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood for continuing to highlight the growth that will take place in Bristol and south Gloucestershire and the important role that good transport infrastructure will play in building a sustainable and strong local economy. I am also aware of the excellent work that he has done to represent and promote the interests of Kingswood since he came to Parliament. He has been a vigorous local champion and has won a deserved reputation for it.

I will address the points raised by both my hon. Friends, but I will start by setting out what we have already done as a Government to invest in infrastructure in the area. I applaud the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and other Members of this House in championing the campaign for access to growth. As he said, the Emersons Green Bristol and Bath science park development will create 7,000 jobs, part of an estimated 60,000 jobs across the wider west of England concentrated on six local enterprise areas and the flagship Bristol Temple quarter enterprise zone. There will be 95,000 new jobs in the west of England by 2030, in addition to much-needed new homes.

The west of England lies at a crucial point in our national transport network, providing road and rail access not only to the south-west and south Wales from the midlands and the south-east but to international markets via the Severn ports. It plays a key role in our national economy and our national transport network. The west of England road and rail network provides

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access for local people and businesses and keeps our nation moving. As my hon. Friend highlighted, reliable connectivity enables west of England residents to access jobs and local businesses to reach the marketplace.

The Government believe that investment in infrastructure drives economic growth and improves lives. We have ambitious plans for infrastructure investment, whether in road or rail, as part of our economic plan. We have an infrastructure deficit, as we have a financial deficit; we have not invested in infrastructure. That applies to all parties over many years. We are playing catch-up with the investment that we need at a time when our finances are under pressure, but this Government’s clear will is to address that deficit. A significant amount of cash is being allocated to doing so.

Roads play a huge part in that. Nearly every kind of economic activity depends on roads in some way, and a high-performing road network improves the health of our economy. Our commitment to deliver a step change in investment in transport infrastructure was made clear in the road investment strategy launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the end of the last Parliament. The RIS sets out how £15 billion will be invested in more than 100 schemes across the road network between 2015 and 2021. In the west of England, that will include a new junction on the M49 at Avonmouth, to support access to the 14,000 jobs planned for that area, and work on the A417 near Birdlip. Both schemes have been championed and prioritised by the local enterprise partnerships and local businesses, which has been an important factor in their selection.

Roads are not the only transport mode in which we are investing. In the west of England, the Government are investing £113 million in three metro bus schemes to provide a 50 km bus rapid transit network that will link key economic and employment centres and regeneration and development areas in the greater Bristol area, including the enterprise area at the Bristol and Bath science park in Emersons Green. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood will be aware, construction has already started on those schemes. The metro bus is designed to extend the choice of transport modes, particularly for private car drivers, encouraging them to make a modal shift to public transport.

The schemes represent an investment of £182 million, of which £113 million will come from the Department for Transport, with the remainder coming from the council and third-party contributors. As part of the work, the new 23-mile north fringe to Hengrove route will improve sustainable access to the Emersons Green science park area.

South Gloucestershire and Bristol councils have recently received £13.9 million from the Department for Transport for major maintenance and enhancement of the A4174 Avon ring road. The scheme will improve the A4174 between the A38 at Filton and the A4 at Hicks Gate. It will involve major structural maintenance of three structures, extending the life of the existing carriageway and providing footways and cycleway maintenance and enhancements.

Altogether, the West of England local enterprise partnership has secured £230.7 million from the local growth fund over the period up to 2021 to drive forward the growth of the region’s economy. It has prioritised more than £50 million for funding the MetroWest phase 1 rail scheme, which will reopen the railway line to Portishead

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and provide other rail enhancements in the west of England area. The LEP has also committed £20 million in local growth funding to support sustainable transport schemes.

I wanted to give the context of the investment in infrastructure taking place in the area. Investment in local transport infrastructure such as I have outlined is critical to local communities and the local economy. It is essential that we continue to develop our transport network to meet new needs. The local enterprise partnership has highlighted the development of the Emersons Green Bristol and Bath science park in its strategic economic plan. I fully understand why both my hon. Friends and the business community in the region support the call for improved links to that growing area from Avon to the M4. It is an understandable economic case.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood will know, the A4174 link road is part of the local road network, whereas the M4 is part of the strategic road network, meaning that there are two main paths through which investment can be secured. Sadly, I have not come here bearing a large cheque to deliver the scheme, but I can provide guidance on routes ahead.

Investment in the strategic road network is handled through the road investment strategy, which involves 100 schemes and £15 billion in investment. We are basically moving to a system of road investment that is comparable to the rail investment system, with control periods and projects identified for delivery in five-year units. We announced the first RIS in December last year, and we are developing the process for the next one, which will run from 2020 to 2025.

The first RIS was built on a detailed assessment of the needs of the road network—existing points of pressure and places where new development would be possible. In many places, that included building better links between the local and national road networks, which is exactly what has been identified this afternoon. I am keen for the second RIS to deliver in exactly the same way as the first. I want the process to be open, find the best way to get value from our roads and encourage all groups with ideas for improvements to get involved and contribute.

The Infrastructure Act 2015 commits us to a series of route strategies that assess the needs of the whole road network. Highways England will use the strategies to engage with local stakeholders, identify current and future constraints on economic growth and explore how investment will address constraints and unlock opportunity. I expect to announce how we will develop the second RIS after the party conference season. Highways England has already committed to publishing its route strategies over the next 18 months or so. They will be the platform from which to take forward the opportunity for a new M4 junction and see whether we can build it into the next RIS. A very strong case has been made, and I would strongly support all my hon. Friends from the area contributing their views and local expertise to the process. I will ensure that officials in my Department and Highways England keep my hon. Friends fully aware of the opportunities to get involved.

I am trying to make the process more open, to encourage a greater contribution from local economic drivers, such as chambers of commerce or local enterprise

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partnerships. That is a bit of a change from the earlier RIS. I want to increase the emphasis placed on economic development and what road investment can do to unlock it. The scheme discussed today is exactly the type that would be appropriate for consideration. Ahead of that process, I suggest to my hon. Friends that they continue the campaign and work with local groups to ensure that everyone is aligned and that there is consensus that the link is the best way to address the area’s transport needs.

That is the route for national funding for the strategic road network; I shall now address local sources of funding. The west of England councils are undertaking a joint spatial plan and joint transport study. They will consider strategic needs up to 2036 and assess a potential strategic transport package for the area. Prioritisation of potential schemes has not yet taken place, so the debate is timely. Once the local enterprise partnership has established the priorities, it will then explore funding options. Access to Emersons Green Bristol and Bath science park is identified as a shared concern for the agencies that would deliver such a scheme. I would therefore encourage the local enterprise partnership, South Gloucestershire Council and Highways England to work together to develop a proposal that will meet the needs of both the local economy and the strategic road network, in a way that can be delivered in financial and engineering terms and, above all, is safe for road users.

It is important to consider all the options, including the proposal that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood outlined. He put forward a strong case, and I will ensure that it is considered extremely favourably within the Department. I can commit to joining him on the 16th for the launch of the local plan; it is a kind invitation. The Government are committed to investment in infrastructure and to providing clarity into the future, so that contractors can scale up and skill up and we can have more appropriate planning to deliver greater economies. We must make every effort to address the long-term historical infrastructure deficit I mentioned earlier.

We remain committed to growth deals and to providing ongoing support for LEPs, which are delivering growth and jobs. Funding for proposals such as the link could come through growth deals or LEPs, and there are also opportunities in the road infrastructure schemes. I hope that I have provided a little bit of a clue as to the way forward for the campaign. I would be happy to help, and a very strong case has been made. I understand entirely why the link matters. It would open up opportunities and improve the quality of life in the area. I am aware of the congestion as people come down the M4 before taking the motorway spur into the centre of Bristol. The economic growth of the area is vigorously championed by local MPs.

I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood on securing the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate on his eloquent contribution. The Government are committed to modernising local and strategic transport infrastructure. That is part of our long-term economic plan, which is already delivering infrastructure needs that were unmet by previous Governments. That work will continue, and my hon. Friends will have my support in delivering for their area.

Question put and agreed to.

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Jobcentre Plus

4.45 pm

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That this House has considered reform of Jobcentre Plus.

It is once again an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams. It is good to see you back in your place. This is the first time we have been in a debate together since you were re-elected, on which I congratulate you.

Since the early 1970s, we have tried 34 different schemes in an effort to get long-term and young unemployed people back to work, at a cost to the country of more than £13 billion. Each scheme has had varying results, but in the main has failed. Welfare dependency and long-term joblessness continue to scar our society. That is not just a failure of policy, but a moral failure. Joblessness damages families for generations. It sets people and groups against each other. It divides people into tribes with no common purpose. William Beveridge said:

“Unemployment is like a headache or a high temperature—unpleasant and exhausting but not carrying in itself any explanation of its cause.”

From the youth training scheme to the new deal for young people, and now the Work programme, multiple schemes have not tackled the causes of unemployment. Long-term joblessness remains stubbornly high, at over 32% of the unemployment rate. No real effort has been made to reverse decades of long-term unemployment or welfare dependency. Our attitude, across this House, needs to change. We cannot accept that long-term unemployment is here to stay or that people will waste their lives on welfare. People should never accept that they will have to lower their ambitions to go into low-paid, insecure jobs. Our welfare system has to be a ladder to success, not a way of life. It is not attitudes that must be shifted; we can deliver change only if the right processes are in place.

The first port of call for any jobseeker is Jobcentre Plus. Jobcentre Plus should exist to get people back into work. Despite claims over the weekend that Jobcentre Plus has helped 100,000 people into work, it still has a record of failure. Policy Exchange research, as outlined in its report “Joined Up Welfare: The next steps for personalisation”, found that only 36% of JSA claimants found a job within six months of claiming benefits and kept it over a seven to eight-month period. Others did not find employment or cycled in and out of work. Only one in five people sent to colleges to increase their vocational training ended up in employment. That research is underlined by Ofsted, which found that in some examples the success rate of Jobcentre Plus schemes is as low as 1%.

The Policy Exchange report identified the root causes of the problem, which is that the design of our employment services has two main issues: the signposting of services does not occur from identifiable points and the delivery of services is nowhere near specialised enough. Policy Exchange could not have been clearer:

“The dominance of Jobcentre Plus on employment support services prevents the development of more specialist providers and personalised welfare services.”

Policy Exchange concluded that Jobcentre Plus is not fit for purpose. Given my experience as a constituency MP over the past five years, I tend to agree. It does not

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reflect the modern job market, where employees no longer stay in the same job for life—it is more like less than a decade, and falling. It also does not reflect globalisation, whereby people have multiple careers in their lifetime. It is not suited to supporting, helping and retraining people, as necessary.

If someone were to ask for help now, Jobcentre Plus would direct them to the Universal Jobmatch site. The good jobcentres would offer to help people with their CV, but in effect someone would have to wait for six months before a jobcentre really started to help them. Jobcentres are not even attractive places to visit. For far too many people, they are the places they go to be sanctioned; furniture is nailed to the floor and there is a security guard at the front door. Beyond that, the system’s one-size-fits-all model does not reflect the individual needs of jobseekers or understand what employers are looking for.

The situation is even worse for young people. We all know the stories about the Work programme, whereby people with degrees were forced to leave volunteering programmes that would help their future to work in jobs that would not. Some progress has been made, especially in south-east Wales with the work coach delivery model, which provides a single “work coach” for a jobseeker’s entire period of unemployment. However, it seems that much of this activity is too little, too late. Even now, people are getting just a maximum of 20 minutes with a single person—20 minutes to help someone to begin a life-changing process. It is all part of another attempt to make a broken system function just a little bit better.

It is time to change the entire system. Doing anything less would mean that long-term unemployment was not being tackled, and we would create yet another generation of people dependent on welfare. That would fail not only the young people who cannot get a job, their families who often have to support them and the long-term unemployed who are stuck on welfare and want nothing more than to work; it would fail our entire country.

The Prince’s Trust calculates that the cost of youth unemployment to the nation is £10 million a day. To put that into context, that amounts to more each year than the combined budgets for the Cabinet Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Change will cause pain in many areas, but the decisions that secure long-term, sustainable employment for everyone in our country are worth the short-term hurt that would be caused. It will require a generational effort, but we must start now. The first stage is to abolish Jobcentre Plus.

Jobcentre Plus must be replaced with an agency that exists to contract charities and private recruitment companies to provide a service based firmly in the communities of the long-term unemployed. That service would ensure that there is localised, individualised and specialist support for jobseekers, delivered by groups with a proven track record of success in their locality.

As the Policy Exchange report identified, it would be more effective for funding to flow to different providers, following the individual jobseeker to the service provider best able to get them into work, rather than funding remaining static in one organisation, as it is now with Jobcentre Plus. If someone loses their job on Friday, they should expect to have a personalised discussion with a jobsearch expert by Monday about what employers in the area are looking for, what they want to achieve,

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what barriers are stopping them from achieving their goal and how they can get the skills that they need and that employers want.

The providers must work hand in hand with local employers. They must know the skills that employers need, the jobs that need to be filled and how candidates can be successful. Once these things have been identified, the local providers should work with jobseekers to get them the skills that employers want, rather than forcing them into jobs through sanctions.

This is not a matter of right versus left; it is simply a matter of following what works. The OECD’s 2010 report, “Off to a Good Start”, found that countries such as Australia, which have moved from a “work first” approach to a “train/learn first” approach, achieved much greater progress in helping people out of work into sustainable, long-term employment. The same report highlighted that

“A move towards early and selective intervention…helps to avoid the build-up of a large pool of youth at risk of becoming long-term unemployed”.

It is by partnering with the people providing jobs, determining what they need and then delivering it that we will tackle long-term unemployment.

A similar model has worked before. In the 1960s, Bobby Kennedy, the New York Senator and presidential candidate, pioneered a community development corporation in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn. That organisation succeeded in turning Bedford-Stuyvesant from one of the poorest areas of New York into one of the most desirable places to live in New York. The CDC is a not-for-profit, community-based corporation that is free from central Government control. It provides a localised and personalised service, and supplements employment programmes with economic development activities and community development. It is driven by a board made up of established local business leaders, charities and—most importantly—local residents, who are brought together in partnership by government to harness the best of private enterprise and the best of social action, with the clear aim of creating and expanding locally owned businesses, and providing residents with the training they need to work in those companies.

The CDC designates each local entrepreneur with a single contract person, who is given full responsibility for helping them to establish and grow their new business, creating growth, jobs and prosperity for the entire community. The CDC contract-holder provides a range of services, including providing guidance in gaining funding, negotiating with banks, finding the best location, and selecting the right equipment, staff and resources. In effect, it provides the services that an entrepreneur needs to start their company and make it a success.

Once the company opens its doors, the CDC increases its efforts. It will be the responsibility of the contract-holder to make that company a success, so that it adds to the economic prosperity of the community. These new companies will be good for communities and for reducing unemployment. The CDCs will support entrepreneurs and help to grow companies, which will create new employment opportunities.

The CDC model has worked before, but it must be updated for the modern world. Employment service providers must bring about a system targeted purely at

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need and demand. We should use this form of partnership and competition to deliver the jobs that we need for the future.

However, as with all things, there is an elephant in the room. Anyone who has worked in business—especially in small and medium-sized enterprises, as I did in my days at a bookmaker—knows that taking on a new employee is a risk, especially one who has been long-term unemployed. I can understand why firms often choose not to do so. That is where the Government must step in and encourage companies to employ the long-term unemployed. The Government are large enough to take the risk away from companies. We can give employers tax breaks for taking on the long-term unemployed. Yes, there will be a cost, but doing nothing has a greater cost; there is a greater cost in allowing joblessness and welfare dependency to continue.

That is why we must be clear to people. The Government will play their part, creating the new jobs and helping the jobless to get the skills they need to fill them, but jobseekers must play their part as well. As the philosopher John Rawls has said, in a just society

“all citizens are to do their part in society’s co-operative work.”

For me, that means that no-one can be allowed to have a life on welfare. I support the Government’s welfare cap—work must always pay more than benefits. However, for far too long sanctions on jobseekers have had exactly the opposite effect to the one we want. Often through no fault of their own, and in many cases because of the faults of Jobcentre Plus, people are being sanctioned, which traps them in a cycle where they cannot find work and cannot receive the support they need.

In the last Parliament, a Work and Pensions Committee report, “Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley review”, found that at present the sanctions regime does not achieve its aims, and that often all sanctions achieve is harming vulnerable people and causing financial hardship, further trapping the jobless in welfare dependency.

The solution illustrates how, more than any other problem, the issue can be solved only by using both the left and the right. The Policy Exchange report called for the creation of “citizen support centres”, operating separately but alongside employment support providers. These centres would act as the primary and central hub for accessing Government services, including all benefits. That would make the process of receiving payments distinct from receiving help into work.

However, that is not enough. What is also needed was identified in the Institute for Public Policy Research report, “It’s All About You: Citizen-centred welfare”, and it is welfare responsibility contracts. They are legally binding contracts between jobseekers and the Government that outline in plain terms what is expected of jobseekers, what sanctions they will face if they do not fulfil their obligations, the Government’s responsibility to them and the responsibility that they have to the Government and society.

I will end by restating a simple fact. This issue is not about Labour or Tory; it is not about left versus right; and it is not about political advantage. It is about doing what works. In the past 40 years, welfare dependency has been allowed to become a way of life in many of our communities. Joblessness has become the norm for too many families. Low pay, insecure jobs and the lack of a future have been allowed to become part and parcel of

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people’s lives. Poverty of money and ambition are all too often just facts of life now. No Government of any hue have managed to solve this. Simply put, we have failed our country and our constituents. We have tried the same thing over and over: ineffective training programmes, irrelevant to the real needs of business; sanctions for those who cannot get jobs; and subsidies for low pay through tax credits. We have tried time and again to reform jobcentres, but to no avail.

We need a new approach built around partnership between Government, charities, private enterprise and local residents, in which the individual needs of the jobless and of businesses are properly catered for, in which we harness the right structures and right techniques to create new jobs for the unemployed at a local level and in which support from Government is matched by responsibility from the jobless. We have no future as a country if these problems continue to exist. Communities across the country such as the one I represent have no future when unemployment and poverty are a fact of life.

Let me be clear. It is our duty in this place to get Britain back to work. This is the only future our country has: one in which we work our way out of poverty, out of low pay and off welfare dependency. The great American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that to govern:

“demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.”

We have tried the current method of getting people back into work for the past 40 years. It has failed. It is time to try another.

5.1 pm

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) on securing this important debate.

Job seeking is often a stressful, unpredictable journey that is usually travelled alone. Losing a job is difficult, not only for the individual, but often for their families as well. The search for work—perhaps following redundancy, or however a job is lost—is never easy, and although for most people it is over within six months, many are left to endure cycles of short-term work and long periods of unemployment.

Jobcentre Plus has remained the single biggest gateway into the world of work for generations, with jobseekers culturally bound to the process of examining the jobs board at their local job centre, or dole office as it used to be known. However, research shows that although 75% of people claiming jobseekers allowance gain employment within six months, only about half of claimants leaving JSA are still in work eight months later.

Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) on securing this important debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) sets out powerfully the statistical case relating to Jobcentre Plus. Does she agree that there has been a problem with the Government’s rhetoric, which is exacerbating the position of the unemployed, because rather than accepting that unemployment is a difficult

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time in a person’s life, people have been stigmatised as shirkers? That has made the atmosphere around Jobcentre Plus far more difficult than it needs to be.

Christina Rees: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I agree. The rhetoric often binds people in cultural divisions.

The process simply is not working. The world has changed since the inception of the jobcentre and, indeed, Jobcentre Plus. To be fair, the Department for Work and Pensions has implemented changes that take account of the increasingly digital way in which people access services and information. Its aim of “digital by default” ways to sign on is a clear move to base its services in the computer-centric world where many people exist.

However, the Welsh Government’s “National Survey for Wales 2013-14” confirmed that 21% of the Welsh adult population aged 18 or over does not regularly use the internet. In the local authority area of Neath Port Talbot, where my constituency is situated, that figure is almost 41%. Although 82% of people use the internet for email and 74% for general browsing, only 17% used it to look for work. Youth unemployment in Neath Port Talbot in May 2013 was 9.7%, compared with 9.0% in Wales and 7.8% for the UK as a whole, and 2% of young people had been out of work for more than six months. As those statistics suggest, there is a great need for good quality job search, support and advice in Neath, and other constituencies like it.

I wish to highlight two examples of how community-based organisations have improved the job prospects and quality of life for people in my constituency of Neath. One is in a community suburb of Neath town centre, called Neath East, and the other is in a small village called Banwen, at the top of the Dulais valley. The people of Neath East came together to try to regenerate their area, first establishing the Melincryddan Community Conference, known as MCC, and later joining forces to create the Neath East Communities First partnership. This partnership has sought, and continues to seek, the views and participation of community members in deciding on actions to regenerate the area.

One of the first needs identified was provision of advice to be available locally, which led directly to the provision of Melin advice centre. Initial consultations revealed that many claimants were being turned away from Neath Jobcentre Plus, as they lacked the necessary IT skills and/or access to fulfil the three basic criteria of day one conditionality—compiling a CV and having an email address and a Universal Jobmatch registration—and the staff at the jobcentre did not have the time to assist them.

The MCC/Communities First partnership put staff in the jobcentre to provide a two-phase approach, with funding secured in 2014 from the Jobcentre Plus flexible support grant. First, it helped claimants with the immediate task of meeting their conditionality requirements, ensuring that they navigated the systems properly and were armed with the requisite documents. Secondly, it directed claimants to its own advice centre for more tailored, in-depth advice that aimed to secure them better long-term employment prospects.

The Melin centre offers a range of services and facilities, including adult learning classes, welfare rights advice, and employment search and support. It also

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delivers a range of health and wellbeing activities, employing more than 15 members of staff. It is now working with between 50 and 130 people each month, all seeking support to meet the day one conditionality criteria.

MCC has succeeded in helping people in Neath East to gain employment opportunities by helping them to navigate the systems properly. That has vastly improved the services being offered by Jobcentre Plus and is therefore improving the quality of life for those in the community.

The Dove Workshop in Banwen was formed during the 1984-85 miners’ strike as a response to the need for the community to come together and share skills and solidarity. Led by women, for women, the organisation began as a way of offering adult education and skills training, so that local women were better equipped to find work during the year-long strike that saw their partners and fathers out of work and on the picket line. Although the strike came to an end, Dove Workshop did not. Instead, it grew in strength, scale and scope, working not only with women, but with all parts of the community, providing education and a range of services and projects. It has acted as a union for the community during times when not everyone worked, and it recognises that those who are working work in disparate sectors, industries and places.

Dove now employs 30 people in a community where jobs are rare. It continually supports its staff to undertake training and further education, providing a number of services associated with learning, offering opportunities for volunteering, work experience, IT drop-in services, employment support, CV writing, and much more. One project delivered by Dove is “Building Livelihoods and Strengthening Communities”, funded by the Big Lottery Fund in partnership with Oxfam Cymru. This project, together with Dove’s own advice service, works to support local people in their pursuit of good quality, sustainable employment.

As with MCC, for many years Jobcentre Plus in Neath has sent many jobseekers to Dove because Jobcentre Plus staff were unable to assist them directly, as they lacked the time and resources to do so. Dove also applied for the Jobcentre Plus flexible support grant, but was unfortunately denied funding. However, Dove has never turned away someone seeking help, and it continues to provide advice today. To me, Jobcentre Plus is a conveyor belt whose purpose seems to be to offer unemployed people the prospect of six months’ work. However, MCC and Dove cater to an individual’s needs, ambitions and quality of life, so that they can fulfil their potential and make a meaningful contribution to the community.

5.10 pm

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): It is a pleasure, Mr Williams, to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) on securing this important debate on a matter that we discussed at some length recently in our discussions on the Scotland Bill. I speak as the Scottish National party spokesperson on fair work and employment, and this issue is close to my heart. I will come on to that point later.

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It would be fair to say that Jobcentre Plus and related employment support programmes have at times been seen as unfit for purpose, and that has been said by Members on the Opposition Benches today. Many aspects of the system have had a damaging impact on people looking for work. The SNP wants to see the full devolution of welfare powers and the Jobcentre Plus network to enable the Scottish Parliament to create a fairer system of welfare and employment support. Recent statistics show that nearly 150,000 sanctions were applied in Scotland between the end of 2012 and September 2014, affecting nearly 85,000 individuals, including nearly 3,000 disabled people. We have said that we should be getting people off benefits and into work, but how can making them hungry and unable to pay bills and increasing their debt support them in finding a job?

Professor David Webster has highlighted the fact that the number of sanctions resulting from the Work programme has been considerably higher than the number of people obtaining jobs from the Work programme. In Scotland, 46,265 sanctions were applied between June 2011 and March 2014 because claimants failed to participate in the Work programme. In the same period, 26,740 job outcomes resulted from the Work programme.

Moving on to sanctions and conditionalities, the UK Government have reformed Jobcentre Plus in recent years as part of their welfare and employment support reform programme. As we have acknowledged, there is no doubt that those working in jobcentres are doing their best, but one of the most pernicious aspects of the Government’s changes has been the intensification of the welfare sanctions and conditionality regime. Under the Government’s welfare regime, jobseekers are monitored on the jobs they apply for. If they fail to apply for enough vacancies, they are faced with sanctions, whether those are reductions or suspension.

The hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) made reference to the digital aspects of the system. Scotland, like many parts of the UK, has many rural areas. It is often a challenge for people to get online to access the system to apply for jobs. If a jobseeker voluntarily leaves work or refuses a notified vacancy, the first sanction period can be up to 13 weeks, the second up to 26 weeks and the third up to three years. The Work programme, which took effect in 2011, is mandatory for all jobseekers who have been out of work for more than nine months and requires jobseekers to take unpaid work experience, often in poor-quality opportunities such as retail. Those who fail to comply with certain conditions are often sanctioned.

The sanctions and conditionality regime, which is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus, has had a particularly worrying impact on poverty and inequality in Scotland, and it is fair to say that the powers being devolved will not give us the opportunity to intervene early. We tabled a proposal on that for the House’s consideration, but sadly we were defeated. Child poverty organisations have warned that by 2020 an additional 100,000 children in Scotland could be living in relative poverty after housing costs because of UK Government welfare reforms, and those estimates do not yet factor in the additional £12 billion of cuts to the annual welfare budget that we will no doubt hear about extensively in tomorrow’s Budget and the debates on it.

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Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): The hon. Lady talks with passion about the impact of sanctions, but does she agree that the whole business of claiming JSA is based on a contract signed by the benefit seeker and Jobcentre Plus? It is a commitment on both sides. Jobcentre Plus rarely uses sanctions. They are used only as a last resort. It is a stick and carrot approach. The reducing level of unemployment across the country shows that the approach is working effectively. Does she agree?

Hannah Bardell: I am afraid I do not. I have a number of examples, and I will happily cite one that comes from Citizens Advice Scotland. An east of Scotland citizens advice bureau reports that a client was sanctioned for failing to attend an appointment that he missed because he was on a forklift training course. He was advised by the jobcentre to attend after he finished his course, but was sanctioned for not coming on his normal signing-on day. The client was married with a young child and required a food parcel to feed his family.

Sadly, the stream of people coming through my constituency office door has not indicated that the job programmes are working. We want full devolution to Scotland so that we can have Scottish answers to Scottish questions on some of these matters. I have no doubt that there may be areas where sanctioning is working, but there seems to be a consensus that modernisation is required. A Poverty Alliance report in February 2015 found that action to increase state benefits, end the punitive sanctions regime, address in-work poverty, raise the minimum wage and promote the living wage that will ultimately have the biggest impact on stemming the growth of food poverty in Scotland.

The Scottish Government have done a lot to mitigate some aspects of the UK Government regime, and they continue to do what they can with the resources they have to alleviate the impact of welfare reform and cuts. Current and planned Scottish Government funding will result in an investment of around £296 million over the period 2013-14 to 2015-16. The Scottish Government are also providing £33 million in funding for the Scottish welfare fund in 2015-16 to mitigate the impact of benefits reform. We will have to see what we can do on the further cuts. They are also providing local authorities with £35 million in 2015-16 to allow them to top up discretionary housing payments to meet the estimated £44.8 million required to compensate for the cost of the bedroom tax.

The proposals in the Scotland Bill to allow the Scottish Government to top up reserved benefits are welcome, but Scotland is expected to mitigate the impact of welfare cuts from a budget that is being cut year on year. Scotland must have full control of working-age benefits to create a fairer system that provides adequate support for those who need it.

We have done a huge amount on the living wage—we are halfway towards our target of having 500 private companies paying it. We reached the 250 mark two weeks ago with a nursery just outside my constituency in West Lothian. However, the Scotland Bill as it stands restricts the devolution of employment support programmes to those for long-term unemployed and disabled people. That would prevent the Scottish Government from providing effective early intervention for those recently out of work and from joining up employment support

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services with previously devolved services, such as skills and education. The Smith commission report stated:

“The Scottish Parliament will have all powers over support for unemployed people through the employment programmes currently contracted by DWP (which are presently delivered mainly, but not exclusively, through the Work Programme and Work Choice) on expiry of the current commercial arrangements.”

We must intervene early, and we must have the powers to do that so that we can effectively help people out of benefits and into work. Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training, has said:

“The Work Programme as it stands is not fit for a modern Scotland but there may be aspects of the current system that do work for individuals and organizations and we want to hear those views too. Professor Alan McGregor and members of the advisory group will play a key role in drawing in views from all areas of the country in as many sectors as possible.”

The Scottish Government will have responsibility for the Work programme and the Work Choice programme within two years. They have set up an advisory group so that we can work on that.

The Smith commission’s recommendations went further than the Scotland Bill’s limitations on employment support, and the SNP wants to go further yet and devolve the Jobcentre Plus network in Scotland to Holyrood. That would deliver the complete and coherent devolution of welfare-to-work functions, ensuring co-ordinated support for those out of work. Having responsibility for universal credit sanctions and conditions would also empower the Scottish Parliament to ensure a more effective, supportive and socially just approach to getting people into work. With those powers in Scotland’s hands, we could rectify the failings of the jobcentre network and the damaging changes to welfare and employment support that are harming so many in Scotland.

I want to finish by explaining why this subject is so close to my heart. I recently employed a young man called Marcus Woods who had worked passionately behind the scenes on my campaign. He had been out of work for some time and gave his time to my campaign free of charge, with great dignity and passion. I recently employed him full time. I am proud to have taken someone who had been on benefits and long-term unemployed out of unemployment and into work. I have seen with my own eyes how the opportunity to be involved in the democratic process in Scotland has inspired someone to come into full-time employment.

5.10 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) on securing this debate.

Jobcentre Plus performs a crucial public service, and I put on record my thanks to the staff who are coping with immense changes to the welfare system. Many Jobcentre Plus staff are doing an excellent job in demanding circumstances and are dedicated to improving the lives of the people they serve. Nevertheless, as we have heard clearly this afternoon, there are undoubtedly concerns about service quality, claimant experience and outcomes. There are also questions about staff morale and whether Jobcentre Plus has the resources and capacity it needs.

The major reforms with which Jobcentre Plus staff are grappling—such as universal credit and Universal Jobmatch—have been beset by systems problems, resulting

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in poor service to claimants and major delays. Although more people are moving into employment and Ministers like to claim that welfare reforms are the reason, people are not moving into work and out of poverty, and in any event there is considerable dispute about the contribution of welfare reforms to the rising employment rate.

Last year, the then Work and Pensions Committee carried out a review of Jobcentre Plus that looked at some of the major challenges it faces and how it is coping with them. The Committee made a number of suggestions for improvements, on which I hope the Minister will be able to update us today. Perhaps I can start with universal credit, which Ministers have claimed will transform the prospects of those who are out of work. The project is in total disarray. Today, some 65,000 people are on universal credit; when it was first introduced, we were told that 1 million people would be on it by April 2014. That is less than 1%—

Hywel Williams (in the Chair): Order. I am afraid that that is outwith the scope of the debate.

Kate Green: I accept your ruling on that, Mr Williams, but universal credit has of course been argued to be the tool by which Jobcentre Plus will be able to move people into employment. Clearly, if the universal credit programme is way behind in the number of claimants it is supporting, it cannot be fulfilling its function and Jobcentre Plus cannot be taking advantage of it in order to move people into work. The problem with universal credit is that it is shrouded in secrecy. We have not seen the business case that would show us whether it is indeed going to be an effective tool for Jobcentre Plus staff to use to fulfil their role of supporting people into work.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) has recently written to the Secretary of State with some questions, and I want to ask the Minister the same ones. Will she ask the National Audit Office to publish quarterly progress reports on universal credit, to be laid before Parliament, and will she publish the full business case and plan? Will she also explain how Jobcentre Plus staff are being supported with the roll-out of universal credit?

As we have heard, Jobcentre Plus has the important role of supporting people into employment and, if they are further from the labour market—perhaps they have been out of work for a long time—routing them on to more specialist support programmes. There are a whole range of interventions under the “Get Britain Working” banner, and for the long-term unemployed there is the opportunity to be routed on to the Work programme or, for some disabled people, the Work Choice programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn was right to observe that those programmes have not often performed well for jobseekers and those experiencing long-term or youth unemployment—particularly long-term youth unemployment.

That is why Labour proposed a compulsory jobs guarantee so that every young person who was unemployed for more than a year would be guaranteed a job, education or training, or the opportunity to undertake proper work experience. That would be modelled on the future

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jobs fund that we introduced in 2008, or the more successful programme in Wales, which, as my hon. Friend highlighted, draws on factors that make for a successful labour market programme: it is commissioned locally; it involves local authorities, specialist local organisations and, crucially, local employers; and it is designed around the needs of the local labour market.

Hannah Bardell: The hon. Lady mentions working together and programmes that have worked both throughout the UK and in devolved areas; will she join me in welcoming the Scottish Government’s Opportunities for All scheme? The Scottish Government have worked with local authorities, and it has been a huge success, with more than 90% of young people going on to positive destinations. In my own county, West Lothian, that proportion is over 96%. Perhaps, with the Minister, we can have cross-party discussions on the potential to incorporate the various programmes that have been mentioned today into Jobcentre Plus in the short term. That way, we could see how to achieve future success.

Kate Green: I note what the hon. Lady says. She highlights the importance of devolving to a local footprint—although perhaps not to one as small as a local authority area in all cases—that can properly recognise the players in and needs of the local labour market. She is right that Ministers should be working with all authorities, local, regional and national, as well as with Members, to look at which programmes have been successful and what can be learned. It is clear that for many people the Work programme has not been successful.

Last year’s Work and Pensions Committee report on Jobcentre Plus highlighted some significant difficulties with expertise in the needs of people who experience worklessness. It highlighted a particular lack of experience in relation to lone parents, and the need for related training. I hope that the Minister will be able to update us on that. Will she also tell us what is happening with lone parent flexibilities? How are Jobcentre Plus staff applying them?

Will the Minister say something about the disabled people who are being routed by Jobcentre Plus on to the Work Choice programme? The programme was intended for the most severely disabled people who are furthest from the labour market, but increasingly it seems to be used for those who are likely to be able to get into work quite quickly and easily. Mencap in Trafford told me recently that as a Work Choice contractor, it was being measured on getting people work-ready within 13 weeks, and that it was unable to get outcome payments for those with whom it would need to work for a much longer period.

The Select Committee also raised doubts about the flexible support fund. The workings of that fund, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), are opaque. We cannot see what the money is being spent on and we cannot see who is receiving it. Will the Minister say, for example, whether it is being used to help lone parents with childcare costs? Will she begin to make proper information available to Parliament about the use of the flexible support fund?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) identified problems with Universal Jobmatch in 2014. He highlighted duplicate jobs, fraudulent scams and posts advertising jobs at the other end of the

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country. The Select Committee highlighted an overemphasis on Universal Jobmatch as a tool to monitor compliance with conditionality, which it said should be secondary to helping claimants find a job, with Universal Jobmatch enabling more time to be spent on advice and support.

What help is being offered to jobseekers and employers to make the best use of Universal Jobmatch? Can the Minister say that scams and duplicates have now been eliminated and that claimants are not being penalised if they do not apply for jobs that are unsuitable or miles away? Do the Government intend to continue with Universal Jobmatch when the contract is up for renewal next year?

My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn and a number of other hon. Members mentioned conditionality and sanctions at Jobcentre Plus, which are an area of big concern. Labour Members are not against a conditional system for benefits, nor are we against sanctions that are fair, proportionate and transparent, or come with appropriate safeguards. Rates of sanctioning, however, remain high. Ministers were caught out only this week by the UK Statistics Authority in a letter to Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, accusing them of presenting figures in a way that is not supported by rigorous statistical analysis.

We have repeated anecdotal reports of irrational and unreasonable decisions. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Jobcentre Plus is measured on getting people not only into sustained employment, but off flow—so sanctioning people and driving them to cease claiming benefits altogether, because to do so is too difficult and awkward. As a result, we are measuring the wrong thing. I strongly support last year’s call by the Select Committee to move from a measure of those going off flow to one of sustained employment.

Everything points to an oppressive culture. We still have reports of informal sanctioning targets in some Jobcentre Plus offices, which Labour is absolutely opposed to. I hope that the Minister will be clear today and deny the existence of all targets, formal or informal, once and for all, across the whole network, or say that she will be taking steps to stamp them out.

Jobcentre Plus has a vital role in supporting people to look for work, find work and get the financial support that they need. For many years it performed extremely effectively, but now it is under huge pressure and is fraying at the seams. I am interested to hear from the Minister her vision for the future of Jobcentre Plus—for the claimants and its staff. At present it is translating into a poor experience for too many claimants and poor value for money when it fails to get people into sustained work.


5.31 pm

The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): I congratulate the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) on securing the debate and I pay tribute to many of his remarks. He rightly stated that Jobcentre Plus is important and nothing to do with left or right on the political spectrum. The debate is about people; it should not be about structures or institutions, although I will come on to speak about the jobcentres and various programmes and partnerships.

Importantly, the debate is about many of the bigger societal issues to do with unemployment and about the challenges that we face as a society in all our communities,

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given what unemployment and the spiral of worklessness mean for individuals and families. That was the focus of our welfare reforms in the previous Parliament under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, as it will be of this Government’s agenda. We are on the side of working families and individuals, and we aspire to achieve full employment and, rightly, to do more to support those individuals who are furthest away from the labour market. Those are the individuals on whom we must concentrate Government resources, to help and train them and to secure real opportunities for them.

I thank everyone who has contributed to this important debate, which has covered a range of significant employment issues, including support to help people in work. In my view, work helps to transform people’s lives, which is about the wider world consisting of individuals as well as of society.

Jobcentre Plus, however, is the core theme of today’s debate. Labour Members will not be surprised that I will categorically disagree with claims that Jobcentre Plus is not fit for purpose. Like the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), I pay tribute to everyone who works in our jobcentres and in Jobcentre Plus. Every day up and down the country our advisers work with individuals, local authorities and local organisations in the community to support and help people not only to come off benefits in the long term, but—importantly—to get access to the labour market. We want to help them on the journey to secure long-term employment.

Every day our work coaches conduct nearly 100,000 interviews across a network of more than 7,000 jobcentres. They work closely with local employers—as is right and proper—which I have seen for myself in my constituency. If I remember rightly, back in 2010 in Witham, I too was almost critical, because my perception was that jobcentres did not have enough of a locus in the local employment market and were not making enough connections with local employers. That has now changed, and I have seen that for myself in the jobcentres I have visited. I can speak with some conviction about the Witham jobcentre, which now works with local employers.

Importantly, our jobcentres and work coaches have a clear understanding of the local labour market. They know where the skills shortages are and who the training providers in their community are. They provide the guiding role to support claimants who come to them in search of local employment opportunities. Therefore, I take issue with the overall assertion that Jobcentre Plus is not fit for purpose. It is doing a good job and we should pause for a minute and recognise that we now have one of the highest employment rates in the developed world and the second lowest unemployment in the European Union. That has been achieved through our network of jobcentres, obviously, but also through rightly focusing on support and assistance to people who need that to access the labour market. That has been achieved, yes, through the wider economic reforms of the Government, but also by creating the right economic conditions for businesses to grow and thrive. It is important for sustainable businesses to employ people, to sustain employment and to invest in people, jobs and economic growth. Jobcentre Plus also has a vital role in all our local communities.

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Hannah Bardell: I am sure that everyone in the Chamber and across the political divide pays tribute to the work of people in the jobcentres. However, we are discussing their expertise and increasing their powers, as the Minister rightly said. What is her response to my example of twice the number of people in the Work programme being sanctioned as are actually getting work through it? Surely that statistic suggests that such programmes are not working.

Priti Patel: We touched on this during debate on the Scotland Bill last week and I told the hon. Lady that if she wants to bring me the evidence of such cases, I will look into them myself. I have also said that to her party colleagues—bring me the cases and I will intervene personally, look into them in more detail and see what can be done. I want to come on to the Work programme as well.

Hannah Bardell: I thank the Minister for that commitment.

Priti Patel: It is important. We want to ensure that we are doing the right thing for individuals and supporting them, because the issue is not only one of institutions, processes and structures, although they are there for a reason.

I will highlight a couple of points about Jobcentre Plus. There has been some criticism of it, but the National Audit Office reported that it responded well to the challenge of the recession from 2008 onwards and the recovery. The OECD stated:

“The UK experience suggests that merging the public employment service and benefit agency has improved employment outcomes”.

Furthermore, Jobcentre Plus has added £5.5 billion to UK GDP since its introduction. In the previous Parliament, the Work and Pensions Committee commented that Jobcentre Plus has performed “effectively” and “is cost-effective”. Last year, Jobcentre Plus achieved or exceeded every one of its labour market performance measures. That is important.

Jobcentre Plus is a high-volume national organisation, and so not every experience will be perfect. That is a fact of life with such an organisation—not everything will be right. We monitor performance and have service standards, but more can always be done to improve quality and professionalism. We are conscious of how we can improve services, and improvements are based on feedback that we receive. I experience that personally when I visit jobcentres.

I turn now to the issue of partnership. The Government cannot achieve our objectives on employment on our own. We can do so only by working in partnership with others in the private and voluntary sectors, at national, regional and local levels. I have touched briefly on my own experiences going out and about to jobcentres, and I have seen that partnership work in action. I know about the partnership work taking place in the constituency of the hon. Member for Islwyn—we see it in case studies and he will be fully aware of it—and I pay tribute to all the community-based and local organisations in his constituency. One is Groundwork’s Routes 2 Life, which provides work experience and skills training for over-50s—again, this issue does not just affect young people but runs across the age range. It is relevant to the fuller working lives agenda, as well as how we can

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support those young people who may face challenges when trying to get a foot in the labour market because they do not have the right work experience or CV. Borough councils are involved as well. Across Wales, there are plenty of great examples of partnership, and they should be developed further.

Importantly—this is always a challenge for central Government in my view—this is a question of integration: how we join up working, and how that joined-up approach delivers results. We need the right outcomes, not just for the structures and systems but for individuals. I am also clear that I want more local authorities, in particular, to work more closely with voluntary sector, charity and other community and labour market partners.

On a national level, there is much more integration. Following the general election, my party has committed to achieving full employment, with more focus on young people getting the support they need. We have also made a commitment to help more women get work and to support more individuals with disabilities getting into work. We can do that only by working across Government. That is right and proper, and we will use every lever at the disposal of central Government to integrate our services and support everyone across the age range, as well as young people and people with disability or health issues.

On devolution, there is, for example, the Manchester devolution deal for the combined authority. Projects in central London are working with local authorities, and—together with Glasgow City Council—we will launch a programme to support employment and support allowance claimants in finding and remaining in employment. That is the right way forward. We should devolve to our communities, and the Government support that agenda.

I am pleased to say that there is greater partnership integration with the Work programme, including getting people access to apprenticeship opportunities, and there is more to do on that. We want a more constructive joint-working approach to ensure that, for example, claimants in Wales are able to access the full range of support that they need. That includes projects funded through the European social fund, which are targeted at particular disadvantaged communities; naturally, we want to do more to support them.

The Work programme aims to support claimants at risk of long-term unemployment. It has been successful and, to date, has supported over 400,000 long-term unemployed people in getting back into work. As a result, we have been able to get more people back into work and support people through very challenging circumstances.

Kate Green: The Work programme has been improving after a shaky start, but it is still not performing well for disabled people. Will the Minister tell us how she intends to improve performance for disabled people and answer my question about the role of the Work Choice programme in that?

Priti Patel: Absolutely. I will. My point is that the Work programme has been successful—it has been one of the most successful employment programmes in the United Kingdom’s history. At the end of the day, that should be welcomed and supported by all of us.

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The Government are clear that we want to support more individuals with disability into work. A lot of work is being done with Work programme contractors and providers to concentrate more resources and investment in that area. If I may just share an anecdote, last week I sat down with Work programme providers to look at what has been working and some of the successes and strengths of the Work programme, and how we can address some of the real challenges for individuals with disabilities. That is the right thing to do, and we should all be focusing on that. We should also look at what support and interventions we can put in place not just for individuals with disability but for other individuals who are further away from the labour market—for example, those with health conditions.

Richard Graham: Am I right in thinking that there will at some point, probably before the end of the year, be a review of some of the criteria for selection for

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contractors for the Work programme? I believe that the current contracts come to an end at the beginning of 2017, so there is an opportunity for all Members—and for Select Committees, all-party groups, and so on—to chip in ideas for the Government to consider over the next few months.

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is right. We can never stand still on this issue and it is important that we learn the lessons as we go forward. On that basis, I would welcome Members’ views.

To conclude, Mr Williams—

Hywel Williams (in the Chair): Order.

5.46 pm

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).